Published by Bananafish Magazine March 2010
I’m standing on the front porch landing, and these red stilettos are killing my feet. But they’re the best pair I have. Really, they are the only pair I have, because these are the ones I had on when I left Sweeny’s place last night. And I had to leave.
I see the screen door is fixed now. I don’t even think this is the same door, which makes sense because I slammed it one too many times trying to get out that night. That seems like such a long time ago now. Most people don’t know how strong a sixteen-year-old can be. When she knows all there is to know in the universe and doesn’t need anything else explained, when she’s certain that her sixteen years is all she needs. And I didn’t know a sixteen-year-old girl could sprint down a flight of steps and break a screen door lock like that. But she can.
Grownup girls can sprint, too. I found that out last night back in Albuquerque. I didn’t have the time and had to leave my Manolo Blahniks, all the Gucci sling-backs, and even the black leopard-print stilettos that rub my ankle raw worse than these red ones.
I see they painted the shutters, too. Thank God, because I hated those green shutters. Yellow is better.
I hope nobody is up yet. It wouldn’t be polite. The polite thing would be to ring the doorbell three or four hours from now and say I used to live here, that I’m just passing through my old neighborhood to see how things have changed. They’re probably a nice family, too, with a philodendron in the foyer and honey-toned walls in the sitting room - all of it stitched neatly together like the IKEA catalogue, a nice family with a nice sixteen-year-old. Her father wouldn’t be shouting from the window framed by those damned throw-up-green shutters, telling her that he wasn’t going to have any whores living in his house.
I’m glad they didn’t paint anything orange. I’ve had enough of orange. Most people think orange is harmless, but really, it can be deadly. Yellow with a little red mixed in, and it’s deadly, like a doomed fetus in the first trimester, like the sun going down over strip clubs, like the dust of Albuquerque. I can’t do orange after Sweeney, with his million-dollar patio and his orange potted marigolds dying in the sun. Most people don’t know that marigolds - especially the orange ones - actually give off a smell when they die. You can smell it even under the stench of underarms, arthritic cream, and cigars. When you’re lying on a patio surrounded by marigolds choking under a hot New Mexico sky, you can smell death mixed with the funk of sex.
But they’ve got potted geraniums planted in the ground around the porch here, and you can’t go wrong with pink geraniums. Sweet-sixteen pink. Although, in this twilight, they look blue, like those fluffy baby-blue slippers the girl probably wears here. Probably it’s the first thing she slides into on a Saturday morning like this. The smell of bacon and eggs coming from the kitchen will wake her up in a couple of hours. She’ll pop on the slippers and head downstairs. She’ll be thinking of how she’s going to spend her allowance at the mall later.
My allowance with Sweeny was thirty thousand dollars. But he didn’t get the chance to give it to me - not with his headless torso on that chaise, and not with his fingers floating in the toilet. Most people don’t know that special people will lend you a lot of money, but you have to pay it all back. I don’t think Sweeny knew that. But all that was in Albuquerque, and now I’m back on the porch.
And it’s a good thing it’s early, because I don’t know what I would say if the lady of the house was to open the door right this minute and ask me what the hell I’m doing here. She’d give me that half-smile with limited eye contact that people give to Jehovah’s Witnesses and drunks at funerals and crazy people at the park. I’d excuse myself and leave, but I wouldn’t be sorry. Because this was my porch first.
Published by Ascent Aspirations Magazine Aug 2008
There wasn’t a day that went by that she didn’t think about him, her blood chilled by his presence in the shadows. Selling the Ford Explorer and leaving town hadn’t done the trick. He was still there. He would always be there staring at her, his eyes ablaze. Gripping the steering wheel in the gloom of the garage, she could still see his face.
Forty-nine days of Gordon Jeffries. His name was an iron bit in her mouth, unspeakable, though it rang all day in her head. Forty-nine days of sweating through her pillow at night, of jumping at the sound of every siren, of watching the news- white knuckles clutching the chair. Worries crawled from underground, feeding on her nerves like legions of the damned, relentless and undying.
She turned the key in the minivan’s ignition and tapped the remote on the visor, dreading exposure, obscurity her only ally. The garage door slowly creaked open, illuminating the cavity. Every muscle tensed as the world rushed in, invading light cutting her breath. Relax, she told herself, thinking of the twins’ cheery faces waiting at the day care. She wondered how long that would last, every rising sun threatening her chance to see it set.
Those happy smiles were all she could think of on Sycamore Lane that day, when she hit Gordon Jeffries with the front end of her Ford Explorer. He had come out of nowhere, an apparition appearing in the instant she reached in the back seat to give one of the twins a bottle and turned around again. His bugged eyes burned through the windshield just before impact. In the thick moments afterwards, the trees lining the street had begun to elongate, bending into bars around her.
This did not happen, she’d convinced herself in those seconds, pushing back images of black robed judges, gray cells, and child protective service workers shaking their heads. Driving away, she’d had to look past the blood splashed on the asphalt and the bowels the phantom had let loose on himself to keep the twins’ smiling faces from vanishing forever.
Her pupils collapsed in the glare. The green digits on the dashboard clock blinked angrily, demanding she forfeit her remaining time, the idling minivan waiting for her to make a move. Breathe, she thought. But then she remembered that Gordon Jeffries wasn’t breathing. Not anymore, and the evening news had said so. Man dies in hit and run on Sycamore Lane today…Police have no leads and there appear to be no witnesses. If you have any information, please call….
There were no calls. No red and blue lights flashing through the windows of her house at night. No sharp knock on the front door. Now, there was only the bloodletting of trepidation and the scraping away of bits of her soul. But always, Gordon Jeffries was laid out in a parlor of darkness, heavy curtains drawn over his tomorrows.
She’d heard that those closest to you are with you even after they are gone. And he would remain near, fixed upon her for all eternity. Long after guilt had worn her down to silt, and everything she loved flew as ashes on the wind, he would be there. To her unknown end she would move through this life, secretly wed to his death. Solemnly, she put the car in reverse and backed toward the light.
Published by Underground Voices September 2008
I am suffocating in the thickening sap of an AMBER Alert, the bends buckling the air sacks in my lungs, my bowels at the gate of my body. My son’s name and picture flash across my cell phone, and I will his image to be blasted from every satellite circling the planet.
I stand, thunderstruck, among fairies and phantasms in front of the Haunted House. My eyes pivot to faces of balloon wielding children all around me, and I damn each one for not being the face I want, I need, I must see.
And I hate, with every fiber of my being, all the parents who do have their children by the hand, in the stroller, on their shoulders, on their hips. And I want the sun to stop burning, and the wind to stop blowing, and the earth to stop turning, and I want everyone everywhere to stop living until I get my son back. And I curse God for making a love too thick for me to breathe in.
I swoon from smells of cotton candy and burnt popcorn, my head swinging with the bushy eyed pirates on the swing ride and spinning with the giant red teacups, and slowing with the rainbow of horses on the merry-go-round, stopping at the woods to the southeast. I have not noticed the gang of trees until now. Why haven’t I noticed them until now? We were here the whole time you licked strawberry ice cream, waiting in line for the Demon Drop, they say, laughing, shaking their leafy heads at my silliness, at my carelessness.
And I am sinking, sinking down through armies of pedophiles on websites, and shadows holding out lollipops and puppies, and brown, windowless vans, and cinder blocked basements.
And then I see Phlegyas walking toward me to take me across the River Styx, where I will find my son on the other side, waiting for me in a valley of smiling, missing children. His man voice is muffled by giggles, and carnival music, and babies crying, and It’s a Small World After All, and death embracing screams from Demon Drop. Something shiny on his chest burns out what is left of my bloodshot eyes, his lips moving, mouthing, saying something I cannot hear.
What is he saying? I do not know, because I am still sinking down, riding a child size casket to the ocean floor, my husband’s angry eyes glaring at me through the bubbles floating up.
But Phlegyas is mouthing still through the darkening blue, waving his hands across my face, and snapping his fingers. Someone else says, "Ma’am?" Has something happened that they would call me Ma’am? Because I was Miss just a minute ago, and now that I cannot find my boy, I am Ma’am.
What are they saying? I butterfly stroke up from a gorge of amber and despair, my head cresting the surface in time to hear the police officer say, "We have your son, Ma’am. He’s fine."