mad drunk genius

I used to have all sorts of problems. Now there's just the one.

Tag: fiction

Scattered storms, like ideas, are heavier in some places than others

  1. A bigot / misogynist who mistreats robot / AI. He renames his Siri-equivalent a slur, pretends at living in the antebellum South. The voice isnt recorded by anyone but automatically generated. The fellow is a miserable person, the sort who’d kick a dog if he had a bad day & people still owned dogs. But he doesnt. He doesnt own anything, even the AI. He pays a subscription for it. How you feel about the story depends on what sort of jobs he has. Maybe that’s the end of it: he leaves for work, and it isnt specified what the occupation is.
  2. An alien species without malice. Hermit crabs who find a species capable of sentience in order to grow them, make them capable of progressing technologically enough to get off the planet & onto others. No, that sounds too much like Prometheus. But I cant imagine why space-farers would choose to inhabit the ruins of other civilizations, as was the original idea.
  3. Humanity starts using viruses to re-write DNA and fix problems, like eyesight, congenital defects, etc. But it mutates & changes scent. People start to identify others by smell, physical reaction to those who don’t smell ‘right’. Society re-structured around pheromones, exile akin to death. But people can still communicate as long as it’s not in person, or they’re wearing containment suits. Protagonist has to be someone who lacks an identity.
  4. It’s the future, and there’s little meat left except what’s in carapace. There is beef & chicken, but allocations of only 1kg of beef per year & 1kg of chicken per month, per adult person. Tastes terrible, only comes from animals that have died of age or disease. The poor can auction off meat ration to wealthier people, but also have first rights to their own family’s flesh.
    1. Corpse meat can also be sold to Eaters of the Dead cults, or sold or rented to ravishers, who generally pay the most & buy bodies whole.
    2. Church of Eternal & Righteous Love targets drug rehab centers to convert young to religion in hopes they’ll sign over their bodies before a fatal relapse.
    3. Church of the Final Revelation started the trend off.
    4. Story is of a family eating last meal with terminally ill mother, her tasting meat for the last time, and discussing what to do with her body. Treatment exists but too expensive; discussion of cost includes possibility that illness runs in family & money from selling body could provide for testing/treatment of children.
    5. ‘They were right about everything. It just had nothing to do with their daughter.’
    6. Title is In Remembrance Of
  5. The easiest way to add to life is stop sleeping
    1. Pill lets you sleep for 2 hours, give or take, while remaining fully conscious and hallucinating.
    2. Need prescription based on argument of utility. Need to have a useful job, be a ‘producer’ rather than a consumer, so only the wealthy can qualify.
    3. ‘There was a girl missing. Like all missing girls anyone cares to find out what happened to, this one was pretty. She also played saxophone more than decently and wore a short skirt and tall heels[?]. Her family thought that she’d been kidnapped or murdered. They wanted me to find out how and why. They could pay a month’s worth of No Doze, a quarter now to make sure I could stay hot on the trail, but three quarters when I’d done my job. But I’m an android. I have no lust for sleep or dreams. ~This has to be two ideas, not one.

My body is a temple, but all that’s left is the wailing wall.

When I trip, I try to find a way to see God, but
usually just catch glimpses of the devil.

I am the same person  I was as a child tho no atom, idea or possession remains as it was.
Identity is same-lifetime reincarnation.
——Drinking is its own activity.
Alcohol has more than enough variation & substances, more than an alcohol
ever will appreciate.
——Inebriation lies beyond the laws of math — one becomes ten immediately.
I can tell I’m old because I need sincerity even in parody.

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I took a shower and met a nymph

She rose out of the drain. She kissed me on the cheek and waved, then disappeared again.

“What was that, dear?” I heard Jenny say beside me. I pulled the shower curtain back and saw her sitting on the toilet with her pants down and doing her makeup out of her purse.

“Nothing,” I said. “Hey, what time is it?”

“8:47.”

“Shit, I’m going to late for work.” I started washing the shampoo out of my hair.

“O, you’re always late. You know that.”

“I know that,” I said, grabbing my towel and stepping out as I dried off. “The problem is so does my boss, and I promised him I’d be on time today.”

I stepped toward her, still dripping and reached for the pair of boxer-briefs I’d sat on the back of the commode before getting into the shower.

“Ugh,” I reeled back once the smell got in my nose. “Why didn’t you tell me you were taking a crap?”

She looked down at the bowl between her legs and rolled her eyes, then went back to doing her makeup. I grumbled curses as I put on my underwear and went to my room to finish getting dressed. I didn’t bother brushing my teeth or combing my hair; a stick of mint gum and running my hands through my hair during the drive there would do just as well.

My clothes were laid out for me on the floor where I’d dropped them. When I got home today, I’d watch television in them, surf the computer in them, then climb into bed in them again. Every day the same glorious repetition. Sisyphus would be proud.

I grabbed the keys off the counter, said good-bye to Jenny, and went out the front door, already the nymph forgotten and the day’s magic used up.

”So this is the source of all knowledge, then?”

The protagonist asked, looking at the ruined stone arches and crumbling walkways beneath his feet. The rose-colored pool on either side swirled constantly, probably because of the stiff wind, and the weeds occasionally took on the appearance of familiar shapes or faces. The protagonist assumed it was just tricks of the eye and mind and was thoroughly unimpressed.

“Yes,” said the robed figure standing under one of the broken arches, “This is that place.”

“I guess knowing everything really means knowing everything but masonry, huh?”

“Or perhaps when one has all knowledge, one does not concern one’s self with works of stone,” the robed figure replied.

The protagonist shrugged and glanced down at his feet where some weeds had blown out of the pool and onto the walkway. They moved almost like a sentient thing for a moment before sliding slowly back into the water. The protagonist rolled his eyes.

“Then let’s get on with the omniscience, shall we? I’m already sick of caring about architecture, so it shouldn’t be much of a change.”

The robed figure nodded and disrobed. The clothes fell at his feet and revealed that he was a him in only the non-gender-specific sense. He lacked all genitals and even normal orifices. When he spoke again, the protagonist saw his mouth—his everything, actually—was covered by flesh and the only openings on his body at all were the pus-seeping sores dotting him, head to toe.

“Kneel and drink from the pool on either side of you,” the now disrobed figure instructed, “Drink and know all you have ever desired. Know all and more still.”

The protagonist cocked an eyebrow and knelt cautiously. His hands nearly touched the water when he drew them back to his side, shaking.

“Tell me, good-lookin’, what happened to you with the skin and sores wouldn’t happen to have anything to do with drinking from this pool, would it?”

“When one knows all, one’s vanity ceases to be important,” the disrobed figure said, jaw moving up and down behind a curtain of skin.

“Be that as it may,” the protagonist said, “I am quite vain now, and certainly quite pretty. This is part of who I am. Maybe not my most attractive quality, but part of who I am nonetheless. I want to know everything because I’m ambitious, but the narcissist in me wants nothing more than that: to be myself and know everything. If I know so much I no longer care about appearances, I don’t suppose you could really call me ‘me’, could you? In fact, I think it would mean I’d be you. And no offense, but I do not envy you.”

“This is because you are ignorant, ignorant of the present as much as the future. Even of the past you are ignorant and forgetful. This was a long journey, was it not?” the figure said, drawing the robes back over himself and placing the hood to shade his face once again. “Turn away now, and you will be condemned to your ignorance forever. There is no greater ignorance than the grave, forgetting all, learning nothing, perceiving nothing. Drink and you will live forever.”

The protagonist scratched his chin and looked back into the swirling water. A group of weeds seemed to turn into the face of his father for a moment before coming apart again. The longer he looked, the more people he saw. Brothers, lovers, friends, strangers. All alive at some time and dead now, or whenever their deaths became now. He hadn’t even let a drop touch his lips, but maybe the vapors were enough for him to see with total certainty the eventual demises of everyone he had ever known or in fact would ever know. And then at last he saw his own death, the death he would receive if he walked away from this opportunity now.

He switched his hand from his chin to the back of his neck and continued thinking for another moment.

“You know, as much as I’d love to live forever, I’m also quite lazy. I thought knowing everything might make lfe easier, but if I’m going to know how never to die, that’s quite a lot of work, and I’m not sure I can handle that,” the protagonist rambled, “Plus, there’s all of that pus that has to get all over your robes and after a while it must really smell awful. Not that you have a nose to notice…”

The protagonist frowned then looked back at the re-robed figure, but found he’d already begun to walk away into further ruins.

“Hey, you know everything, don’t you?” the protagonist shouted, “Just tell me what I’m going to choose already so I can hurry up and get it over with”

“You will do the opposite of what I tell you in order to prove a point,” the figure said, “So you walk away from the water when I tell you you will drink it.”

The protagonist grinned.

“I knew this omniscience was load of shit,” he said, standing up again, “It’s just a bunch of doubletalk and horseshit.” The protagonist took a step back from the edge of the walkway, and stopped. “Whatever you received, I’ll receive a double portion.”

And with that the protagonist leapt into the rose-colored waters and sank like a stone into the midst of the weeds at the bottom. He smiled as wide as his mouth would allow the moment before his lungs accepted the water. When the protagonist screamed, no one could have noticed any change in the surface of the water just as no one could have noticed the grin spread across the robed figure’s face. But then he had been grinning throughout the entire conversation.

So then what is yours?

In the play that is my life, I am the protagonist. I am important and irreplaceable, but this is not a one-man show.

There are supporting characters who must remain the same or else the show can’t go on, but they’re really just roles, you know. Roles that can be filled by any talented actor.

There is no one more important than the rest. Everyone is replaceable. Everyone has a role and if they decide to leave it, someone will pick up where they left off so the show can go on.

We’re all actors, but in my play, everyone must have a role.

‘You shouldn’t.’

 You’re going to have to speak at his funeral, you know. Under normal circumstances, you wouldn’t, but there is no one else, and besides, these aren’t normal circumstances.

You shouldn’t have smiled.

 

Your father was a good man and had been as long as you could remember. Your mother used to like telling you of the days when he was not, but you were still very young when the change had come over him and remember nothing of before.

“Do your best to love others, and you shouldn’t have any regrets.”

That’s your first memory of him, although there must be hundreds of them merged together to form it. In the memory you actually have, he was sitting in his favorite blue recliner reading the newspaper and drinking a cup of coffee before he went to work and you went to school. He had on a flannel shirt rolled up to the elbows, a pair of thick black work pants with brown boots below them, and even though his hair was still dark then, he was already rapidly balding. You stood in the hallway watching him and he looked up from his newspaper, noticing you finally. He sat his coffee aside and folded up the paper, then called you over to him. Something about him frightened you, but you obeyed. He picked you up and sat you in his lap, staring at you with his brown eyes, stern and with a gravity he couldn’t possibly expect you to understand, yet did.

“Do your best to love others, and you shouldn’t have any regrets,” he said.

You nodded, then he nodded and sat you back down.

 

Over the years his clothes differed, his hair grayed and receded, the circumstances changed—in the lap, across the table, a weekend visit, a phone call—but the words and the voice never did. When you saw them, the eyes were always the same, too, but you preferred not to.

He never judged you, though. Certainly not out loud, and you didn’t think he even did so in his thoughts. For all of your problems growing up, he cast no stones and pointed out no splinters his neighbor’s (or progeny’s) eye. But then he didn’t have to. When you stood next to him, the judgments were bound to come from others, and you would always be found wanting.

“How on earth are you his child?” their eyes would ask.

“Is that really Frank’s kid?” they would whisper.

 But not him. His eyes commanded you to love and live without regret, and that was all.

 

He always tried to live up to his words. Driving home from a football game with him, you had stopped at a Whataburger. There was a man in the parking lot begging for money to fix his car so that he could make it to the first day of work. The story was more complicated than that, but you remember knowing it was ridiculous and wondering how the man could possibly expect anyone to buy it.

“Okay,” your father said, “What time do you have to be there?”

“Six-thirty,” the man said, as stunned, no doubt, as you were.

“I have to be at work at seven. I can’t give you money to fix your car, but if you’d like, I can take you to work until you earn enough to get it taken care of.”

The man tried to ask for just a little money—five dollars, ten dollars, whatever your father could spare—but eventually agreed and worked out a plan as to where and when he would be waiting to be picked up. Then your father bought the man a burger meal and drove him to his home, the same place he was to pick up the man the next morning.

He drove there the next morning at six o’clock and waited for over half an hour, but the man never came.

“He probably found another ride,” your father said when your mom asked him about it that night, “but I made it to work early so I really ought to thank him.” And he laughed.

As far as you knew, he never saw the man or spoke of the event again, but then your father was known for such things, anyway.

Everyone remembered the Sunday a crazy black guy, shaking and smelling of all things foul came into church requesting money for food. He was very skinny, but it was obvious a lack of food wasn’t his biggest problem. Out of guilt and an embarrassed desire to get the man to leave, some people started pulling out their wallets or digging through their purses, but your father got up and offered to take the man to the grocery store, an offer the man agreed to. Another man got up to go with your father, and together the three of them went to the local Walgreens.

Originally, it was just a loaf of bread, but the list quickly exploded into a shopping cart full of canned goods, frozen dishes, and hygienic products, your father footing the bill for all of it. They drove the black man back to his home across town from where he had earlier walked and helped him unload his things.

Upon return to church, the service was already over, and other fellow who’d gone with your father had told everyone gathered outside about the whole adventure.

“And I don’t know why you wasted all of that money on him, Frank,” he said at the end, “You know if he doesn’t turn around and sell it for crack money, he’ll just let it all spoil.”

“Yeah, maybe,” your father said, “But if he does, he’ll regret not eating the food later, and I still won’t regret buying it for him.”

And everyone nodded.

Later, your father had confided in your mother and you that the conditions of the man’s home had been almost unimaginable.

“The floor was just old, broken up wood with roaches running everywhere. There wasn’t a bed, he had a mattress on the floor, and the smell from the whole place was terrible. People aren’t supposed to have to live like that. Not in this country, they aren’t.”

“Maybe if he didn’t spend all of his money on drugs he’d be able to take care of himself and wouldn’t need our money,” your mother had said, very upset since things were very tight financially for them then.

“We’ve had rough times, Mary, and we may again, but never like this. ‘There but for the grace of God,’ and we’ve used up our share already.”

 

No one understood why your mother decided to leave him, why despite all of his attempts to reconcile, she wouldn’t even consider living in the same city, much less the same house, as him.

“But Mary,” her friends said, “You stayed with him all of those years when all he did was drink and could barely hold down a job, and now that he’s finally turned himself into something, you want a divorce?”

They didn’t understand, but you did. Maybe your mom loved your father the way he was when they first met. Maybe she didn’t like everything about him, but that was the man she’d fallen in love with. And maybe she liked all of those years when people asked her how she could stand living under the same roof as a worthless drunk like him and didn’t like it when clerks asked her why she was buying beer if Frank had given it up. Maybe she didn’t like the looks they gave her when they realized it was for her. Maybe she didn’t want a perfect man because she wasn’t a perfect woman and everyone expected her to be.

And maybe you weren’t perfect either, and that’s why you’d chosen to go live with her instead of him.

 

You still loved your father and enjoyed the every other weekend you spent with him. Some of your fondest memories are sitting in front of the television, eating Ramen Noodles with him in front of the television (because your mother had always cooked, and he didn’t want to give you burned or undercooked food to eat). He asked you about how things were going at school, how your mother was doing. You talked about other things, too, but that was all he really wanted to know, and his stern eyes turned to water every time you left again.

You loved him, but he loved you more, and you both knew it.

 

No one understood why your mother had left him, but you did, and when she died, you were one of the few true mourners she had. She never stopped smoking and the doctors didn’t catch the cancer in time. It was slow and it was painful, and she didn’t quit smoking until the very end when all the tubes got in the way.

Your father drove up the same night you told him for the first time how bad things really were. He was there the next day when she slipped away and they unhooked her from everything. He held you while sobbed, just like you were a little kid again. And he sobbed too.

You sobbed together again as they put her in the ground, but he sobbed harder. She was the most important woman in either of your lives, and you missed her. But he missed her more. Because he loved her more. And you hated him for it.

 

 You barely spoke to him in the years after your mother passed away. You were busy with other things and it was natural to drift away, especially once you had your own job, your own life. When your aunt informed you he was in the hospital following a serious heart attack, it came as a complete surprise. News of it had spread quickly, though, especially once members of his church found out about it. The waiting area outside the emergency room was packed with people, crying and talking in hushed tones, and holding hands in a circle, praying. Everywhere praying. 

By the time you got in, he’d already died and been brought back three times.

“Oh? You’re Frank’s kid,” they said, “You should have seen it. It was a miracle. He should have been dead, but Jesus isn’t quite ready for him to go home yet, I guess.”

They poured out their pity onto you, hugging, patting your hand, whispering tearful words of encouragement into your ear. It wasn’t really meant for you, it was meant for him, but you were the only one there to accept their attention. And why shouldn’t you?

A nurse came in every half hour or so with the latest report on his condition.

Your father could go any moment, be prepared for the worst.

He was recovering, but no one should get their hopes up.

He was stabilized, still in the emergency room but he should be okay until morning. Everyone could go home for the night, nothing was likely to happen for a while. He was still unconscious but family would be allowed in to see him in a few minutes.

You hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast, and as the people in the lobby rejoiced at the latest news and shuffled out, you realized you still had a long night ahead of you. You went over to the snack machine to get something to eat. Cheetos sure would hit the spot. You put the coins in, pressed the buttons, grabbed the fallen bag, and began inhaling them.

And that’s what you were doing when the doctor came out the doors.

“Are you all here for Mr. Frank Thompson?” he asked those of you remaining in the room.

“Yes,” your aunt said, “Is it all right for us to see him yet?”

The doctor hesitated, and in that hesitation everyone knew, but they didn’t let themselves realize.

“A little over ten minutes ago he suddenly took a turn for the worse and we lost him. We haven’t been able to bring him back yet, but people are still trying. With the amount of time his brain has been without oxygen now and the previous damage done…” the doctor sighed, “Even if we succeed in bringing him back, there’s no guarantee how much or if any of his cognitive skills would be the same. I’m sorry.”

He looked directly at you now, and everyone else’s eyes followed his. You didn’t know what to say. Your orange stained fingers brought another piece up to your mouth. In the silence of the room, everyone could hear the crunch.

Your aunt put a hand on our shoulder.

“Frank wouldn’t want to live like that, Sweetie. He lived a good life, now it’s time for him to go home.”

You nodded and ate another Cheeto.

“Okay,” the doctor said, “I’m calling it.” He turned to walk away, but stopped and turned back. “I’m very sorry for your loss. From what I saw in the people here today, he was a great man.”

Then everyone started crying as they let themselves realize what had happened. It was a violent, uncontrollable outpouring of emotion, and everyone felt it. Everyone but you. There was no shock. The only surprise for you had been that he hung around as long as he did. Mentally, you’d been preparing for this all day… or hoping?

Your aunt had been the first to pull herself out of her own sadness and turn to you, thinking you would need comfort right then. Both sets of your grandparents were long dead, your mother was only an only child, and so were you. Except for your aunt, no one should have been closer to your father than you, no one should have grieved his loss more. She, your last remaining blood relative, had looked to you expecting that, expecting at the very least to see some trace of it on your face. You’d known she was looking, too, but hadn’t been able to control it. The twitch betrayed you.

She jerked away suddenly, and when she did the others looked up and caught it, too. It hadn’t been more than a second, if that. But they’d all seen it. They’d all seen it.

 

You’re going to have to speak at his funeral. You should say something stirring, emotional. You should probably break down crying a few times. You should proclaim your love for him and what he meant to you as a dad. What he meant to you as Daddy. You should call him that, in fact. You should make sure they all go home worried you’re going to kill yourself out of grief and distress. You should do anything to get their mind off that night in the hospital.

You shouldn’t have smiled.

‘I’m gonna get away from this place some day, you know.’

A teenage boy looked up into the sky and said the words countless teens in countless sleepy little towns have said and thought, probably since the beginning of time. And just as everyone before him had and everyone after him would, he meant it with all his heart, knew without the hint of a doubt that he’d go to exotic places and do important things. He was fifteen, after all, and sure of a great many things.

His youthful outlook didn’t extend to his appearance’ he didn’t have a man’s figure and was still having problems growing a mustache’ he just looked tired. His hair was baked and dusty, his skin was tanned, already beginning to wrinkle, droop, and grow leathery. He had all of the beauty of a blown-out tire on the side of a road. Everything about him looked worn and used. From a distance, he might have been an old man, he carried himself such.

His friend sat on the ground under the shade of a rare tree as the dust from the almost barren landscape whipped by the both of them and stung the little flesh that they left exposed, but neither gave any notice to it. The friend uncorked the large, squat bottle he’d brought with him but waited to drink from it

“God bless ya’, Justin, you was born on this planet the son of a farmer, yo’ father was born on this planet the son of farmer. His father was born and died on this planet the son of a farmer, same as his father before him, same as every damn body far back as anybody can remember. An’ I say planet, but that’s just bein’ generous. You know ain’t none of ’em left this goddamn county, neither. You’s is gonna’ be a farmer just as they is. It’s best just to a’cept it now. Ain’t such a bad life, anyhow, that you got to go on and on about how ‘you’s is gonna’ run far, far away,'” he mocked in a falsetto, “like you always does.”

The friend took a swig of some vile brew that didn’t do much in the way thirst or taste, but helped lower his inhibitions and raise his blood alcohol level, as was his intention. He was also fifteen, but muscular and ruggedly handsome, possessing all the pleasurable attributes of youth. He was already shaving, something which irritated the other boy to no end, and had a disarming smile that came easily, making him well liked almost without exception. He was attractive in manner, more so than appearance, and able to get the favorable attention of women almost twice his age, though the results of this attention led to rumors the boy never acknowledged or discredited.

Justin scowled, an expression that made him look even older and more unattractive, but didn’t look at his friend in the eye. Instead, he preferred to watch the rocket that traced its way up the sky, off above the horizon. He imagined himself in one of them, leaving to go away from this place and touring the entire galaxy, from one end to the other—but his friend kept talking.

“An then you’s is gonna’ get a girl pregnant, prob’ly marry her, have a couple of kids yo’self. You’s is gonna’ have a son that’ll grow up to be a farmer, and a daughter that’ll grow up to get pregnant by and marry a farmer. Then you’s is gonna’ die here. But this ain’t so bad a place to live or to die. They’s is worse places out there, you know.”

Finally Justin gave up his delightful reverie, conceding that for the time being it was ruined.

“No, I don’t know, Dylan. That’s just the point,” he said, turning back around, “I ain’t never been further than twenty kilometers from my own damn house. I come to town with my old man to pick somethin’ up and then I go back and help ‘im on the farm. I don’t wanna’ spend my whole life just goin’ back and forth. I don’t wanna’ spend my life workin’ like a dog just to scrape out a livin’ on some backward planet, in some backward quadrant an’ end up just another broken down old geezer with nothin’ to show for it.”

“Hell boy, ain’t nobody wanna’ do that,” Dylan agreed as he downed another mouthful, “If I had my choice, I’d marry some rich little thing in the Central Planets and have all my cares taken care of till she kicked the bucket an’ I could take the rest of her credits for my own self. But that ain’t gonna’ happen, now is it? As it be, our fates is sealed. But they ain’t bad fates. I hear o’er in the North Quadrant the damned trolls be bombin’ they’s own cities for no reason. Hell, total war is goin’ on on some planets, pirates is razing cities to the ground, people killin’ one ‘nother over land and resources. Now tell me, who in they right mind is gonna’ come out here? People have trouble makin’ enough to feed themselves. There ain’t shit worth takin’. We’s is secure. We’s is secure, you fucker, an’ I’ll take security and boredom over ‘citement and danger every damn day of the week. Nothing gonna’ happen here, nothin’ ‘ticularly good, nothing ‘ticularly bad. An’ nobody from here gonna’ do nothin’ important, neither.”

“Not me,” the boy argued stubbornly, “I’m a-gonna’ do somethin’ with my life.”

“Yeah, says you,” Dylan laughed, “says you.”

“Yeah, says me.”

Dylan drank, but said nothing more. Justin felt satisfied that he’d won that exchange. They let an awkward silence hover for some time, Dylan drinking, Justin looking at nothing in particular until someone else broke it for them.

“Come on, boy,” a man called out to Dylan as he threw a sack into the back of his truck, “We’s’d better be gettin’ on home, lest yo’ momma have my ass for messin’ around in town too long. And you’s better drink the rest a’ that fo’ we get home, ya hear? You know she don’ like it when you drink in front a’ her. An’ when momma ain’t happy—”

“Ain’t nobody happy,” Dylan finished as he got up and jumped into the back of his dad’s truck next to the sack, “Later, Justin.”

Dylan’s father walked around to the driver’s side of the truck but before he got in, Justin started walking up toward him.

“Uh, Mister Rhodes, you seen my old man in there?” Justin asked uncomfortably. Dylan’s father glanced back at Justin before facing away again.

“Well, yeah, I seen ‘im. Listen boy, you’s best find yo’self some place to wait fo’ a while. He prob’ly gonna’ be a long time comin’.”

The words proved all too true. The sun had already sunk far behind the horizon when Justin’s father finally came out of the same all-purpose store as Dylan’s father had, staggering. Unlike Dylan’s father, he had nothing in his hands except a bottle half full of liquor.

“Gawddamn thieves in this town, boy, a bunch-a gawddamn thieves,” his father slurred as he slowly made his way over to the tree Justin had been dozing under, “Did I ever tell you how-”

“Yeah, Pa, you told me,” Justin said, attempting to avoid the same speech he’d heard too many times, “You actually manage to keep any of the money from harvest this time?”

“Don’ you take that tone with me boy, I’ll-”

His father lurched forward and tried to take a swing at Justin, but instead he lost his balance and fell on the ground, vomiting. Justin sighed. He helped his father up and started walking them toward the truck.

“I didn’t think so. Come on Pa, I’ll drive.”

This is her story.

She woke up one day and saw God. Then she went back to sleep, because God knows she has better things to do than talk that early in the morning. She woke up an hour later, showered, got dressed, and went outside to smoke. It was cold as hell, but the devil didn’t feel like talking, so she went back inside and made herself breakfast.

After another hour, she was at work, smiling at the people she had to put up with everyday while they smiled back and put up with her. Jesus came by to say, “Hi,” but didn’t have anything important to say, really.

At lunch she decided she needed to diet and only wanted to smoke, besides. Mephistopheles chatted with her outside about this and that, then told a dirty joke she didn’t feel deserved a laugh. When she finished her second cigarette, she went back to work until thirty minutes before she was supposed to get off, and she couldn’t help but stare at the clock and count down the seconds until she could leave.

The half hour passed slower the rest of the day had up until then and by the time she finally did get home, she saw God had tried to call her, but hadn’t left a message. She didn’t bother to call him back.

She ate a television dinner in front of the television screen until she started getting sleepy, then went and got ready for bed to go to sleep. It was another dull day ahead of her, and if she didn’t get her sleep, she’d get so tired she’d forget she was alive.

It’s over

He loved me. I really believe that, even after all that’s happened, I will continue to believe he loved me. I loved him, too, not that that ever mattered to him. I indulged him, and that was what made him love me. But then I never cared why he did, only that he did.

I don’t believe there is another person like him anywhere. He would always say the oddest things, where they came from I certainly don’t know. In conversations, once a topic would finish, he would bring up another widely divergent to the one just discussed, or make some comment relative to absolutely nothing I could ever discern. That was one of the things I loved about him, but it also showed how he was always in his own little world.

That was okay, though. I was willing to put up with him to be a part of that world, even when he did nothing to show he appreciated it. I had my life to live and he had his, but I was the one who had to bridge the gap. Maybe I should have made him reach out to me more, but I don’t think it really would have changed anything.

When we met, it was the same. He was eating alone and I sat down across from him. He looked up, blinked twice, and smiled with that smooth grin I came to be so familiar with.

“Hello,” I said, “I hope you don’t mind if I eat with you.”

“I’m used to eating alone, but no, company is always welcome. My name is James.”

“I’m Alex,” I said, “Nice to meet you.”

The rest of the conversation I don’t remember, except that he had an abhorrence for jewelry which wasn’t practical or significant, including his class ring as an example of significance, but nothing related to religion. I’m not sure why I remember this part of the conversation, except that it’s an example of the typical subjects and opinions that would come from his mouth, with little or no prodding.

I wasn’t smitten, but I was entertained. He, I think, enjoyed having a receptive audience.

We hit it off immediately, but it was another week before we actually got together again. Another week and a half after that before we even considered dating. After considering it, it wasn’t long before we were actually doing it, though. We went out often, eating, drinking, even shopping. We were always happy together, but the first few months were bliss. We were always just happy to see one another and be in the same room together. It was a special event, and being apart seemed to be torture.

I suppose it’s not surprising moving in with him was what changed everything. I’m still glad for the next two years I had with him, but those first months are probably the only part of our relationship worth remembering. Once we were living together, being with one another obviously wasn’t special anymore. Even sleeping together became a routine, rather than exciting or romantic. We shared duties around the house, alternated cooking when we were both home for dinner at the same time, and were partners in the way two people are supposed to be, but it wasn’t a partnership. Once I moved into his place, I was his. He had conquered me and I was no longer his audience, I was his possession.

The spats happened as they will between couples, with rising and falling frequency, but the general trend was for fights to become worse and more common. I spent the night with friends on more than one occasion, promising them and myself that I was going to get all of my stuff and go somewhere else. But then there would be the apologies and the promises that everything would be different and back like it was before. We both believed what we said because we loved one another, and loved the way things were during the good times.

I don’t even remember how the last fight started. It was something small. Hair on the soap or something trivial and cliche like that. It escalated until we were talking about things that had happened a year before and bringing up every negative aspect of the relationship. The usual name calling took place, and I stormed out, off to spend the night with one of my friends who I hadn’t used yet.

He ended the relationship for us by putting all of my things outside for me to find when I came back the next day. If he hadn’t, we’d probably still be together.

It wasn’t a healthy relationship by any means, but he made me happy in a way no one else has since. For all of his cruelty and selfishness, he could be charming and funny and tender, too. I prefer to remember those things about him.

James moved on, too, and I hear about him every now and then. His first love has always been himself, so I’m not surprised he hasn’t done any better than I have.

It’s not a surprise that we didn’t last, but a part of me still can’t believe it’s over.

Panic Attack

It’s really weird how nervous I get when I am judged in any way. Today I had two tests that just nearly killed me, even though I knew most of the material backward and forward. But there was also something that made me nervous like I haven’t been since maybe track.

See, I played sports in junior high and high school. Before football games and cross country meets, I was always really nervous because of the pressure to perform. Once I got going, it wasn’t a big deal, but before it started, I was always greatly distressed.

Track was something different. I don’t know if I explain exactly what it was, but I think there being a stadium full of people and running heats was part of it. See, in football there’s a lot of people to watch on the field, not just you. In cross country, there’s not many people bothering to watch, and you know that the linemen forced to do it as part of offseason training will be way behind you regardless of what happens. But some track events are run in heats with some very fast people participating. It is entirely possible to come in dead last, and everyone to see it happen.

I had difficulty breathing before I would run an event. I would feel physically ill. When I got up on the line, I would shake, I was so frightened. But once the gun went off, I was usually too busy concerned with running as fast as I could so I wouldn’t be one of those guys who straggle in last.

The something today that reminded me of track was having my short story examined in Creative Fiction. Examined and criticized. I think I very nearly had a heart problem in the minutes before class. I could feel the blood pumping in my left arm and it was hard to breathe. Again, I felt physically ill. This was me, in a room with a dozen or so other people, having my self-worth graded. Because the story was a sincere act on the part of me to accomplish something. If it failed, I failed.

At least I think that’s what’s going on somewhere in my head. I’m not really sure what else could cause such an intense physical reaction. But I was terribly afraid they would “realize how much my story sucked”. When I read what I write in certain moods, I think it’s all just worthless. And of course being a perfectionist, all I can focus on are the flaws, not whatever merits might exist. I expect people to behave the same way.

It went over fairly well, so I am okay now. My confidence was boosted somewhat by a few comments after class so I guess I felt like I could live with myself, and then I started swinging the other way.

Unfortunately, I do what I most fear. When I criticize someone else’s work, I treat it like my own. That means all I can see and tell them about is what’s wrong with it, with very little mention given to the positives.

I think I made a mistake in how I criticized, even though I absolutely believe in the things that I said. I think the two other stories that were graded were not worthy of being published, one because it was in such a rough state, the other because it was too ordinary. Luckily, both other writers have a lot of talent and can turn what they have into really nice, publishable stories. I wish I spent more time in my comments talking about that, but I don’t and can’t think of that until it’s too late. I see flaws first, and I want desperately to see them become perfect. This is how I act with people too, to a much lesser degree, but with works of fiction or art, it’s almost compulsive. I wish I had shown more respect for the people who showed respect to my story, but it’s not that I hated what they wrote, I just didn’t like it, whatever the promise they had was.

I’m going to have to face them again, harsh as I was, and my panic attack will be worse then. But at least they’d already written down everything by the time they got to mine on this one.