Leaves for a Pillow (short fiction)

I remember writing this creepy little story while at my son’s taekwando practice…and then, as I do with so much of my writing, completely forgot about it. I did a little tweaking here and there and am mostly satisfied with it. Why you would gather leaves for a pillow is beyond me, but that’s what the character insisted on doing, both during the first draft and this morning. So be it.

Now that my health is back under control, I’m writing again but not as frequently. I have zero interest in submitting poetry, so I’m taking a break from that. Instead, I’m combing through stories and poems written during the last year and seeing what can be salvaged.

Here’s the story. As always, thanks for reading.

 

leaves.jpg

Image courtesy of Flickr and the Creative Commons license

 

“You’re very kind,” the girl said, kneeling on the ground and gathering leaves.

The boy watched. He wasn’t kind, but the girl didn’t need to know that yet.

When she had enough leaves, the girl walked back toward the farmhouse. Not enough for a pillow, but a good start. The boy followed but stopped on the porch while the girl opened the door and went in.

“Do you want to visit for a while?” the girl asked. “Mama won’tt mind. She’ll be in the kitchen, fixing supper. Daddy’s gone to town for the day.”

The boy studied the girl. He liked her bone structure, her fine ankles, the tilt of her head and the slow blink of her eyes. She dazzled in a bar of sunlight. He nodded.

“You don’t say much,” the girl remarked, turning and facing the boy. “Or anything, really. Can you talk?”

The boy nodded.

“But you don’t have anything to say right now?”

The boy nodded again.

“Well, then,” the girl said, “I need to get these leaves in a pillow case and gather more. I’ll introduce you to Mama first. Come on.”

The boy followed the girl into the kitchen, where a tall woman stood over a sink snapping beans. She turned and regarded the girl and boy.. “And who’s this?” she asked.

“I don’t know his name,” the girl said. “I found him in the woods. He’s very kind.”

The boy studied the girl’s mother. He didn’t like her bone structure. The girl didn’t favor her at all, lacked the woman’s long face and protruding brow.

“We don’t take in strays,” the woman said. “We don’t have an extra plate, if it’s food you’re after, and we don’t need help on the farm.”

The boy didn’t move. The girl said, “He doesn’t talk.”

“I can see that,” the woman said. “Is he deaf?”

“No,” the girl answered.

“This is my house, you understand?” the woman said, tossing the beans into the metal colander and closing in on the boy. “You’re not welcome here, no matter what my daughter says. Go back to where you came from.”

The boy still didn’t move. The girl said, “Can he help me put leaves in my pillow.”

“No, he can get himself out of here.”

The boy flicked his right hand and the woman disappeared. The girl gasped. “Where’d she go?” she demanded.

The boy shrugged.

The girl thought for a while. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad with her mother gone. She could be quite cruel, and the boy was very kind. Her father might be a bit put out. Maybe the boy could make him disappear, too.

“Would you like to help me now?” the girl asked.

The boy nodded and followed the girl upstairs to her room.

Mr. Kermit P. Shipley and the Fish (poem)

fishy

Photo courtesy of Flickr and the Creative Commons License

I use Fake Name Generator more for fiction than poetry, but in this case, the site served me well.

Mr. Kermit P. Shipley and the Fish

Mr. Kermit P. Shipley screwed
in his good glass eye and told
the fish she was a tall drink of water.

The fish, who had two functioning
eyes, looked over at Kermit and
made a sound like a distressed cow.

Kermit couldn’t help but be smitten,
dying cow noise or no, and his mouth
split into an an approximation of a grin.

The fish’s mouth opened and closed
as she realized she was not in water,
and she in vain tried to breathe herself

because Kermit had said she was a tall
glass of water, but she wasn’t…she was
just a dying fish who could mimic a cow.

They remained this way, stuck as if on
the event horizon of a black hole, never
making any progress toward or away.

 

Leaves for a Pillow (a brief story)

After the first line, this quite short story wrote itself. It’s not perfect, but it sent a chill up my spine, so maybe it’s on the right track.

Leaves for a Pillow

“You’re very kind,” the girl said, kneeling on the ground and gathering leaves.

The boy just watched. He wasn’t kind, but the girl didn’t need to know that yet.

When she had enough leaves, the girl walked back toward the farmhouse. Not enough for a pillow, but a girl start. The boy followed but stopped on the porch while the girl opened the door and went in.

“Do you want to visit for a while?” the girl asked. “Mama may not mind. She’ll be in the kitchen, fixing supper. Daddy’s gone to town for the day.”

The boy studied the girl. He liked her bone structure, her fine ankles, the tilt of her head and the slow blink of her eyes. She dazzled in a bar of sunlight. He nodded.

“You don’t say much,” the girl remarked, turning and facing the boy. “Or anything, really. Can you talk?”

The boy nodded.

“But you don’t have anything to say right now?”

The boy nodded again.

“Well, then,” the girl said, “I need to get these leaves in a pillow case and gather more. I’ll introduce you to Mama first. Come on.”

The boy followed the girl into the kitchen, where a tall woman stood over a sink snapping beans. She turned and regarded the girl and boy with narrowed eyes. “And who’s this?” she said coldly.

“I don’t know his name,” the girl said. “I found him in the woods. He’s very kind.”

The boy studied the girl’s mother. He didn’t like her bone structure at all. The girl didn’t favor her at all, lacked the woman’s long face and protruding brow.

“We don’t take in strays,” the woman said. “Get gone, boy. We don’t have an extra plate, if its food you’re after, and we don’t need help on the farm.”

The boy didn’t move. The girl said, “He doesn’t talk.”
“I can see that,” the woman snapped. “Is he deaf?”

“No,” the girl answered.

“This is my house, you understand?” the woman said, tossing the beans into the metal colander and closing in on the boy. “You’re not welcome here, no matter what my daughter says. Go back to where you came from.”

The boy still didn’t move. The girl said, “Can he help me put leaves in my pillow.”

“No, he can get his ass out of here,” the woman said.

The boy flicked his right hand, and the woman disappeared. The girl gasped. “Where’d she go?” she demanded.

The boy shrugged.

The girl thought for a while. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad with her mother gone. She could be quite cruel, and the boy was very kind. Her father might be a bit put out. Maybe the boy could make him disappear, too.

“Would you like to help me now?” the girl asked.

The boy nodded and followed the girl upstairs to her room.

Gabrielle (flash fiction)

Earlier this morning, I read an excellent article about flash fiction and then wrote the following. Flash fiction isn’t one of my strengths, but I work on the craft from time to time.

“Are you a serious poet or not?” Gabrielle asked, leaning against me, having drank too much, having breathed in the dust of bad memories, hazy and crazy as her hair.

“No, I just fuck around on the page,” I said, half meaning it, half wanting to smack Gabrielle across the room. Of course I was serious, serious as the blood in my veins, coursing like a loping dog…that is, slower than I’d like for it to, because I’m getting older, as Gabrielle pointed out yesterday as we lay in bed after a mid-afternoon tryst. It was brief and brilliant, the memory of it still hanging in my chest and clear in my mind, not muddled a bit by her drinking, which you’d think I’d be used to by this point. Jesus.

“I’m a serious poet,” Gabrielle said and swayed over to sit on the piano bench. Don’t play, please, I said to her with my mind because sometimes she hears me. Not that time. She opened the keyboard cover and trailed her fingers down the keys. The sound set my teeth on edge and I nearly dashed over and grabbed her off the bench. Instead, I forced my muscles into stillness and listened to her horrible plunking of the keys and drunken nonsense.

“I’m going to publish a chapbook and you’re not,” Gabrielle said, the fingers of her right hand curling to strike a chord—F major, so it should have been her thumb, middle finger, and pinkie, but she fucked it all up and used her thumb, index, and finger finger, the latter of which slipped and so butchered the chord.

“Are you now?” I said.

“And it’s going to win some major fucking award and I’ll get an agent.”

“Poets like us don’t get agents, Gabrielle.”

She—my girlfriend of two years, my lover, my Lost Girl, my Burning Angel, the source of my hatred and long—smiled at me, her teeth stained with coffee, wine, cigarettes. “There’s no us when it comes to writing, you presumptive bastard,” she said. “It’s just me while you trail somewhere behind.”

Gabrielle wasn’t like this sober, which was less and less these days. I moved out of the room as she continued trying to play chords and mostly failing.

I poured the last of the wine down the sink and tried not to listen, which is kind of like trying to not breathe. The massacred notes bombarded the kitchen for a few minutes and then suddenly stopped. When I came back into the living room, I found Gabrielle curled up and sobbing on the sofa.

“Do you hate me?” she cried out as she slammed her hands against her head.

I wanted to…but I didn’t. I sat beside her and gathered her heaving form, cradled her like a child, whispered soothing things into her hair.

When she finally fell asleep later, I undressed her calmly, put her on pajamas, and tucked her into bed. Then I sat at the piano, playing songs from memory, knowing the sound wouldn’t come close to waking her.

Just Try Harder (flash fiction?)

I guess this is flash fiction. Maybe it’s prose poetry? Whatever it is, it’s redolent of sadness, wrecked relationships, and deep pain. It’s not from personal experience, but I recognize enough of myself in the lines to be sympathetic and somewhat horrified.

I.

Did you bring me comfort or dead flowers? you want to know, and I guess I don’t blame you. I’ve done both, and I’ve got more of a thing for wilted plants than hugs. Sorry about that, but not really.

II.

You need help, you tell me. Do I? Maybe. I swim in the waters of myself, take my own medicine, and shine the brightest light in the universe right into my ugly eyes. I know what I am. I know how easily I can hurt you, and you think it’s fucked up that I know it and keep doing it, and then you blame yourself for letting me come around. I guess we both need help.

III.

I’m moving. Don’t try to find me, you say, and I break myself against the wall. You tell me to stop, but I don’t. I do it again, and you cry. I tell you to look at the pieces, and you do. Then you gather them and put them back together as best you can.

IV.

Just try harder, you say. It’s a dumb line, but I don’t laugh. Instead, I take your hand in mine. I don’t crush it. I kiss it and lie, Okay.

Arthur Radish and the Cut-Up Girl (poem)

Who is Arthur Radish? An inter-dimensional being, I think. A trickster figure. A frightening and sad, helpless and utterly destructive force that sometimes has difficulty tying his shoes and often annihilates entire civilizations with a sneeze. He’s a god, I guess, who doesn’t know he’s a god.

As for the girl…I’m not sure. My wife thinks she’s made of paper. I like that.

Arthur Radish and the Cut-Up Girl

She, at the induction point, made a right bloody sight,
her handbag packed with the glass that cut her feet,
her hands, and her side worse than any nail or spear.
Her unblessed forehead soared miles above her body
and glowed in the light of a frighteningly close harvest moon.

Meanwhile, Arthur Radish chewed his nose and thought
seismic thoughts and daydreamed of waves that bore his name
and hissed against cold shorelines: Radishhhh, Radishhhhh….
From his late Cretaceous perch, he watched the evening unfold
and beheld the girl bereft of seraphs, though deserving of more.

Bent of frame and keen of eye is he, thought the gruesome girl
as Arthur shifted space-time and wormholed toward her,
gathering momentum until he was distilled quicksilver.
When they met, he took her into his crooked arms and moaned,
and the girl closed her red eyes in what she hoped was bliss.

“You Can’t Just Pet My Head and Expect Me to Poop Out Jewels”

I didn’t intend to write this, but that’s how it goes sometimes. I like to think that in an alternative universe, Isaac and Charlie are working on a new album.

“Well, you can’t just pet my head and expect me to poop out jewels,” said Barney Carter, confusing and disgusting the patrons gathered at Stumpy’s Bar. But bass player Isaac “Pinky Man” Ray and guitarist Charlie “Bugaboo” Ramirez perked up, got out their instruments, and launched into a crazy improv number that turned into “Jewel Thief.” The song entered Billboard’s Blues Album chart in the summer of 1996 and climbed to number twenty.

“It was a trip when that song started doing well and getting picked up by radio stations, man,” Ray says. I’m sitting with him and his musical co-conspirator Ramirez after they tore up at stage at Asheville, North Carolina’s Bluesville Festival. “I mean, it wasn’t many stations, but I heard it a few times driving around in my truck. I was like ‘That’s far out.’ I never expected any of our music to reach the masses, let alone that song.”

By the summer of 1996, Ray and Ramirez had been playing for nearly thirty years in the Burnin’ Junk Blues Collective, a huge band with rotating members and only Isaac and Charlie as the only permanent fixtures. At one point, they even convinced Barney Carter to hit the road with them, despite the fact that he played nothing and couldn’t sing.

“Shit, Barney was crazy, that’s why we brought him on the road,” says Ramirez, fingering chords on his bright blue ’67 Telecaster and smiling. “We just wanted him there for the good times, you know? He always brought that with him. He jumped in on a few tracks of our Catfish in Heaven album, just making all kinds of hoots and hollers. We had him do one of his fucked-up spoken word things and we were going to have it as an intro, but decided against it.”

“Yeah, [producer Rick] Arnett was not down with that,” Ray picks up. “He didn’t even want him in the studio, period. Said he stank too much, which was true. Barney wasn’t too keen on baths and he slathered himself with that god-awful Patchouli oil.”

Of the inspiration for “Jewel Thief,” Ramirez says, “Barney was always spouting out shit that didn’t make any sense to anyone else but him. He was pretty fried all the time and drank this foul mushroom tea that sent him somewhere like the 5th dimension or whatever. I just kind of thought the idea of Barney pooping out jewels was funny, and so I came up with the riff real quick, and Isaac began cooking on the bass. We wrote the whole thing in, like, ten minutes.”

Ray laughs and takes a drag on his Marlboro Red. “It’s not like any of our songs are all that complicated or took all that long to write,” he adds. “The longest time we ever spent on songs was when we were making our last album, Shock Proof. Damn, the second track [“When the Cat Bites You, it’s Done Passed Time to Get a Dog] clocks in at eight minutes forty three seconds, but we wrote in under an hour and told the rest of the guys, ‘Do whatever you want to fill in.'”

As for their future, Ray and Ramirez are hopeful but also practical. “We had a modest hit in 1996, and now it’s 2016. I’ve got grand kids older than that song, and you know what? They don’t give a shit about it. They’d just like me to come around more often and take them fishing.”

Ray, who’s been married to his wife Bonnie since 1979 and has four children and seven grand children, feels similarly. “We’ll keep playing festivals like this from time to time,” he says, “but I like hanging out at home. Plus, carpal tunnel’s a bitch. We’re not the Stones, man. If we had that kind of money, maybe we could be. I don’t know.”

I ask about Barney Carter, the man who unwitting inspired a hit song, and both Ray and Ramirez chuckle. “I wish I knew where that bastard was,” Ray says. “I mean, he might be dead, or maybe he got clean and is living in a cabin or some shit. Sounds like something he might do.”

“Your job is to find him and report back to us,” Ramirez instructs me. “You got it? Using your reporting skills or whatever and find Barney Carter.”

“And if you do,” Ray says, “tell that old sonofabitch he needs to come up with another idea for a hit song.”