Monday, October 10, 2011
I want to be a cook!
So I take out all the pots and pans and plates and cups and put them all over my kitchen floor! Then my mom pulls her hair...
I want to be a monkey!
So I climb the couch, the tables, the shelves, and all over my dad's desk, too! Then my dad shakes his head...
I want to be an artist!
So I paint the wall, the floor, the stove, and even my dog Doughnut! Then my grandma makes her eyes real wide....
I want to be a gardener!
So I dig my yard, my sandbox, the weeds, and spray the hose everywhere I can! Then my grandpa laughs...
You know what? I want to be everything!
But most of all I want to be with my family, because they let me be whatever I want to be...as long as I clean up when I'm done.
Sunday, October 9, 2011
I grew up on a dead end road with five other houses. The type of road there was no reason to ever go down unless you lived there. So when I found my dog run over at the side of my driveway, I knew it meant something: it meant one of my neighbors did it. It meant they killed Jessie, and they drove away.
So two days later, after I lost my voice from crying and regained it, I went door to door to question each neighbor - a ten year old detective. I wanted to know where they were during the time of the accident, which I knew happened between 8am and 3pm. I wanted to know if there was blood on their car, which, after seeing Jessie’s body severed in two, I imagined there to be buckets of. And, most importantly, I wanted to know if they had a reason to kill my best friend.
I got no answers. Just confused stares from middle aged men and women, no doubt wondering what kind of child would go from house to house accusing people of a hit and run, and what type of parent would allow them to do so. But the last house I went to was different.
It was at the far end of my road, partly hidden by trees, owned by a woman I knew nothing about. Never spoke with, never waved hello to, nothing. But regardless, I was determined to get answers from her - the last suspect I had in Jessie’s killing.
I walked up her porch holding a notebook and a box of cookies.
“Hey!” a voice said from inside, before I could even knock. “I don’t want any girl scout cookies.”
“I’m not a girl,” I said.
“Well, I don’t want any boy scout cookies either.”
The door opened, and there she was: late fifties, thin, with hair so red I knew it must have been dyed, but by her pale skin and light green eyes, I imagined it was the color she once naturally had. She was beautiful. Off, but beautiful. She looked like fire with an hourglass figure. And I knew this was my killer.
“My dog was run over,” I said. I adjusted my notebook, preparing to take notes. “I got off my school bus two days ago and saw her dead by my driveway. Everyone on my whole bus saw it.”
“Hey!” the woman said. “Can I have a cookie?”
“Excuse me?” I said.
“A cookie! I’m not buying one, but if you’re gonna hold them there like a carrot stick, I want one for free.”
She grabbed a cookie and held it to her side. And, just as quickly, I started wondering if she was insane.
“So what’s this all about?” the woman said. “You think I killed your dog or something?”
“No,” I said.
“Then why’d you come here? Did someone tell you I killed your dog or something?”
“No,” I said.
“Was it Debra? Two houses down? I bet she told you I killed your dog, didn’t she?”
“I don’t know who Debra is,” I said.
“Ah, fucking Debra.” The woman reached for another cookie, now holding two, and scratched behind her head. There was a large patch of hair in her armpit, also dyed red.
“Hey!” the woman said. “What’d you do with the dog?”
“Excuse me?” I said.
“The dog. Your dog. After it was dead. What’d you do with the dog?”
“I buried her in my backyard,” I said.
“Did your farther burry her?” she said.
“No, I buried her,” I said.
I knew she wanted to ask why my father didn’t do this, as if that was the unspoken job of a man to take care of dead animals, but she said nothing. She may have been crazy, but she also knew what it was like not having a man around.
“Heyyyyyy,” the woman said, as she tapped my open notebook. “You can draw.” I’d written nothing since interviewing my other neighbors, but had taken the time to draw a large sunflower, which the woman was now staring at with wide eyes.
“I’m a great drawer, too,” she said. “But I used to be even better.” She then lifted her left hand, the one not holding any cookies, revealing the stub of three missing fingers.
“Want to know how I lost my fingers?” she said.
I looked away. Seeing a mutilated body only reminded me of Jessie. And I began wishing I hadn’t come here.
“I had a daughter named Adrienne,” the woman said. “And one day when she was four months old, I picked her up out of her crib, and she died. No coughing, no crying, nothing. She was alive, and then she was dead. A blink. Right in my arms.”
The woman talked in an even tone, not a tremble, like how a stranger might describe the weather.
“So that night I had too much to drink,” she continued. “I went driving places I didn’t know, and I crashed.”
She lifted her hand again, as if showing her mutilated fingers was the only way to finish her story. Then she reached for another cookie. She did it so hard and fast I almost dropped the box.
“See what I’m saying,” the woman said. “Sometimes people just go down roads. It doesn’t matter if they live there or not. People just do things. They go down a road, they kill a dog, and then they leave. Got it?”
I nodded, but kept my eyes down. I wanted to write what she was saying, like it somehow explained what I was looking for, but I couldn’t. I could only think of Jessie. So I ran. I dropped my notebook, my box of cookies, and I ran off the porch. I remembered thinking she would yell at me for doing this, but there was nothing. I didn’t even hear the door shut behind me.
At home I went to my kitchen: defeated, no answers, a failed ten year old detective. My mom was sitting at the kitchen table when I walked in. I knew she heard me, but she didn’t turn. I wanted her to ask if I sold any cookies that day, which I told her I was doing, a lie to avoid the actual reason for going door to door. But she never asked. And as I stared at my mother’s arched back and thinning hair, I knew she never would.
“Hi, Mom,” I said.
Outside I went to my backyard. I walked over to Jessie’s grave. The dirt I buried her with was still fresh, a darker color than the rest, and a few red and orange leaves were sprinkled about. Jessie used to love rolling in the leaves.
I stood there for a long while, looking at animal tracks, which I assumed belonged to raccoons. They were probably digging for Jessie, I thought. Trying to eat her. That’s just what animals do, I remembered thinking. People just do things.
And then the wind picked up. The leaves blew away, circling my legs as if the world was trying to hold me in place. And I saw my notebook. It was partly buried in the dirt, sticking right out of Jessie’s grave. The same notebook I used to question my neighbors, the same notebook I dropped on the woman’s porch. I bent down and saw the page with my sunflower flipped open. It looked different, though. It looked finished. There were more petals on it, more color, as if someone knew how to make it perfect; make it beautiful in a way I never could.
I picked up the notebook and saw a note.
“Hey!” it read. “I kept the cookies. But you keep the notebook. You keep drawing. Keep drawing pretty, pretty flowers. And hey…I’m real sorry to hear about your dog.”
My Uncle Moved In
My uncle moved in today. My mom says she needs help around the house, to clean and to cook.
My dad used to be a great cook. He made spaghetti and his own tomato sauce. He even let me roll the meatballs.
My uncle tries to help me with my homework. To help me read and say big words.
But my dad was better at it. When he read to me he always used funny voices that made me laugh.
My Uncle tries to take me to the supermarket, but he buys all the wrong food.
My Dad knew all the foods I liked. He even let me have special candies and chocolate cereal!
My Uncle tries to play catch with me, but he throws the ball too soft. I hate it!
My dad threw it hard because he knew I was good at sports and could catch anything.
My uncle tries to put me to sleep at night, but he does it all wrong. He reads the
wrong stories, puts too many blankets on me, and never leaves my door open the right way.
Dad did it perfect.
So I decide to run away. I pack a picture of my dad, my baseball glove, some candy bars, and I run into the woods. It doesn’t take long for me to hear sirens. I know people are looking for me, but I don’t care. I’m never going home again. Never.
Soon I hear someone walking towards me in the woods. It’s my uncle.
“Why are you here?” my uncle says. “Everyone is looking for you.”
“Because this is my special place,” I say. “It’s a fort I built with my dad.”
I bet my Uncle wants to say he’s good at building forts, too. I bet he wants to take away what my dad did, but instead he just smiles.
“I bet your dad was the best at building forts,” my uncle says.
“He was,” I say.
“I don’t know anything about forts,” my uncle says. “But I want you to know something. I love you very, very much.”
We both sit still for a long while, until I decide to take my Uncle's hand. He’s got big hands, just like my dad did.
“I’m ready to go home,” I say. And we walk together, one step at a time.
Thursday, August 4, 2011
Someone new is in my house
There are tiny hairs on his head
Someone new is in my kitchen
Where he likes to be fed
Someone new is with my daddy
And he yawns and he sighs
Someone new is with my mommy
He’s got little round eyes
Someone new is on my couch
He grabs my nose with his hand
Someone new is in my park
And he can’t even stand!
Someone new is in my room
Where sometime he sleeps
Someone new is in my library
Where he screams and he weeps!
Someone new is with my grandpa
They dance and they chuckle
Someone new is with my grandma
They sit and they cuddle
Someone new is in my family
And we share things together
Someone new is my brother
I will love him forever
Thursday, July 28, 2011
Yesterday I stopped to smell a flower. It was purple, and at the border of each pedal was a string of white, as if lightly dipped in a pool of cream. I know nothing about flowers; it’s one of the many things I’d love to learn more about, but for now I simply appreciate the fact they make the world a prettier place.
I licked my lips, inhaled, and then a few feet ahead of me a man fell off of his bike. BANG, skidded to the ground, cut his left knee and even rolled a few times. So I moved towards him, away from the flower. I was about to bend down, see if there was anything I could do, but he quickly got up, brushing off debris and pretending nothing happened. He was obviously embarrassed of his fall, and therefore made no eye contact with me, regardless if I was only a few feet away, concerned and hovering.
I licked my lips, exhaled, releasing the smell of the flower I’d just taken. And the man limped. He pushed his bike until he was far, far away.
Someone told me something a few days ago I can’t get out of my head. “It’s amazing we’re alive. All the craziness in this world. It has to catch up with us.” This is by no means an original thought. On the contrary, it’s so ordinary that it’s easy to overlook.
So today I bought a book on flowers.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
I just watched someone’s entire life on facebook.
One of my coworkers, an elderly woman, friended me today. I’m not particularly close with her, but we’ve had pleasant conversations over the past year, most of which had to do with me being a writer.
“I wrote when I was younger,” she likes to say. “Poetry.”
And then she recommends an author or two.
Her facebook pictures go from present day back to her youth. Days where she's much younger than I am today. She’s maybe 19 in some: standing by lockers, holding umbrellas, and wearing dresses that are too long and puddle at her bare feet. She’s beautiful. Dancing, kissing a boy, standing at the bottom of a mountain. One of the pictures stuck out to me the most - she was in a kitchen, which looked like it belonged to an old cabin, cooking in a white t-shirt and short shorts. Long, long legs.
“Who wheres short shorts?!” someone commented; an old friend of hers, I’m assuming, since his profile picture was that of an old man.
She responded with a smiley face.
And the pictures went on. She aged, got married, had a baby, another baby, and slowly turned into the woman I know today: a pleasant old lady. Someone who still wears long dresses. Someone who is still beautiful and likes to talk with me about poetry.
I wouldn’t say I know her any better now. Of course I don’t, I’ve only seen pictures of her youth. But still, I can’t help but look at her differently. I know that in another world, or another time, we could have been more than just friendly coworkers who smile as they pass in a hall. And that would have been nice. Maybe we could have been best friends.
So yeah, I accepted her friend request.
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
THE PERFECT FIT
A shoe store. BERNIE, dressed in a white button down shirt and tie, paces in front of shoe boxes and shoe racks. There is a stopwatch around his neck.
In a nearby chair is JOEY, dressed in a similar outfit.
So…You think you got what it takes to be a shoe salesman?
Yes, Sir! I’m a fast learner and hard worker-
Well, you better be! Because that’s what being a great shoe salesman is all about…hard work. It’s not just measuring feet and rubbing tired ankles.
What? Too much for you? This ain’t for the weak, Sonny. I’ve seen things you wouldn’t believe here.
Oh, don’t worry, Sir, I’m no stranger to shoe stores! I was the floor manager of Sporty Sneakers back in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Sporty Sneakers? Allentown…Pennsylvania? Sonny, you ain’t in Kansas anymore.
You mean Allentown?
I mean any small town! This is New York City! The shoe capital of the world! And in this store we don’t sell “sporty sneakers”! We sell the best! A top of the line, cream of the crop, grade A place to take your feet!
Joey stands. He goes to a shoe rack and picks up a shoe, showing how good he is with it by tossing it in the air and catching it like a ball.
Yes, Sir! That’s why I moved here! You see, shoe stores in Allentown were just holding me back! I needed a bigger place to spread my wings! And this is it! This is the perfect job for me, Sir!
Bernie takes the shoe from Joey mid air, catching it, clearly a bit nervous Joey will drop the shoe and break it.
Is that right…Well, let’s see how good you really are then, shall we. Test A!
Bernie points a remote to the back screen. A picture of a teenage girl appears… maybe a bit wacky looking.
When a customer walks in you need to know exactly what type of shoe they are. Loafers or sandals? High heel or boots? You need to feel their inner shoe…So tell me, Mr. Allentown, Pennsylvania, what does this customer need?
Oh, um…um…easy…She’s looking for high tops! Something to use around the basketball court!
High tops? Basketball? WHAT?! This is clearly a young lady looking for prom shoes: high heels, blue, sheek, with a silk grey ribbon on the side.
Bernie hits the remote and the above shoe appears on the back screen.
Oh, sure, of course, that’s what I meant to say, Sir!
So think you can find them?
Those shoes? Right now?
What? Too hard for you, Sonny? Don’t have what it takes?!
No, Sir! I was born for this job! I can do it!
Joey jumps up and down as if preparing for a race. Bernie looks at his stopwatch.
We’ll see…Ready, set…Find those shoes!
Joey runs and looks for the shoes in different racks and boxes. Bernie watches like a coach.
Faster! Every passing second means a lonely pair of feet! And lonely feet mean cold feet! And cold feet mean a lost customer!
Joey throws the shoes in Bernie’s direction!
Bernie catches them, but not with ease.
You can’t just throw shoes! These are new high heels: blue, sheek, with a silk grey ribbon on the side! What were you thinking?!
That’s how we did it back in Allentown, Sir! You see, we were the fastest shoe store there was and-
Oh, never mind Allentown! Time for test B! Ready!?
Joey runs to Bernie’s side and jumps up and down again.
Bernie points the remote at the back screen. A picture of an old lady appears.
Now what does this customer need? Think hard…What’s her inner shoe?
Um…Easy, looks like she, ah...she needs…Volleyball shoes! A nice pair of volleyball shoes for the big game!
Volleyball shoes?! Big game?! Come on! Focus! Inner shoe, remember? This is clearly someone looking for glass sandals: clear, cute, with extra back support for weak heals. Size 8, deep arc, with a flower pattern of daisies on the side!
Bernie hits the remote and the above glass sandal appears on the back screen. Joey looks at Bernie amazed.
Hard work, Sonny…it takes hard work to get where I’m standing. Now find those shoes!
Bernie starts the stopwatch.
Go! Go! Go!
Joey runs all around, much faster than before.
Hurry, hurry!…I hear sad feet. And nothing in this world makes me sadder than the sound of sad feet.
What do sad feet sound like?
Just keep looking for those glass sandals, Cinderella! You want this job or not?!
Joey hikes a shoe box between his legs like you would a football. It falls to the ground short of reaching Bernie.
Bernie goes over to the box and examines the glass sandals. They’re broken due to the fall.
There they are! Glass sandals, clear, cute, extra back support, size 8, deep arc. There’s even the daisy pattern on the side! Pretty good, huh?!
Pretty good? Pretty good?!?! They’re ruined. I told you not to throw anything!
I didn’t throw them. I hiked them, just like we did in Allentown! The fastest shoe store there ever was-
We’re not in Allentown! Jeez! How many times do I have to tell you that?!
Bernie hits the remote, clearly upset. The screen goes back to normal.
Oh, I’m sorry, Sir, let me try again-
No, you’re done here!
But I can do better!
Listen, you want to know why I’m hiring someone? Because I need help, okay! Shoes ain’t selling like they used to! And I need the perfect salesmen to turn this place around!
Well, that could be me! Maybe adding my moves could help your store!
Joey picks up a shoe and prepares to throw it. Bernie quickly stops him.
No, no, no! Nothing new! I need someone who knows shoes, not throws them! Someone who can find the perfect fit! And I’m sorry, but that’s not you. Now leave!
But I can’t!…I left everything for this, okay. My family, my friends, my job. I left it all for the big city! To work here! The shoe capital of the world!…Please, Sir, just give me a chance. One chance!...I promise I won’t let you down...
Pause. Bernie looks at Joey with a bit of sympathy.
A chance? I’m sorry, Sonny…but I can’t give you a job based on a coin toss…
Bernie tries to leave but Joey gets in his way. Song starts…
The Perfect Team
I’ll stack every box
Faster than a fox
I’ll tie all the laces
Make big happy faces
You’ll wash all the cleats?
It’s no easy feat
You’ll dust the loafers?
Can’t be no joker!
I’ll throw you high heels!
While you make all the deals!
We’ll be the best team in the world!
You toss the flip flops?!
While I put us on top?!
We’ll be the best team in the world!
JOEY & BERNIE
Just hurl up some boots!
While we make all the loot!
We’ll be the best team in the world!
I’ll pay my dues
To work in shoes
Just like Allentown
I’ll never slow town!
You’ll get every clog?
And never just jog
For shoes that tap
You always must clap!
JOEY & BERNIE
Throw the high heels!
While we make all the deals!
We’ll be the best team in the world!
Toss the flip flops!
While we put us on top!
We’ll be the best team in the world!
Just hurl up some boots!
While we make all the loot!
We’ll be the best team in the world!
We’ll be the best team in the world!
We’ll be the best team in the world!
See! We work great together! With your brains and my throwing arm, we could be the fastest shoe store in the history of shoes!
Faster than Allentown?!
You bet! We’re gonna turn a top of the line, cream of the crop, grade A place to take your feet into something even better! The perfect team. What do you say?
The perfect team?
The perfect fit.
Bernie thinks about hiring him. Suddenly, a group of old ladies enter.
Excuse me? Do you gentlemen think you could help us out?
Bernie and Joey turn to each other.
Here’s the final test, Sonny. Get this one right and the job’s yours! Remember…find their inner shoe….
Bernie pats Joey on the back. Joey runs over to the ladies.
I can help you ladies out! Let me guess, you’re looking for…um…
Bernie cheers Joey on from the side.
Inner shoe…You can do it!
You’re looking...for…um…um…high heels: ½ inch high, pointed toe, turquoise with a pinch of glitter on the front?
The old ladies look at each other in amazement. Bernie and Joey wait for their response…
Well…that sounds perfect!
Joey jump up and cheers! Bernie hits his stopwatch.
Now get those shoes, Mr.! Pronto! Go! Go! Go!
Joey goes through boxes and throws shoes to Bernie. The old ladies laugh.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
By Sean Kenealy
Jake could feel it between his toes. The dirty water and the hair and the clumps of day old soap. He usually took his morning shower with Clair; both half asleep, soaping their naked bodies and waking up to the reality of life with the lust of a recurring dream. Their own 15 minute routine. Jake had been at it alone for the past week, however. Alone in a shower and ankle deep in filth.
“Is it clogged again?” Clair asked.
Jake stood in the kitchen with a towel wrapped around his waist. He was shaking, cut off from his bedroom and the warmth of his thick work day clothes. His feet dripped brown water.
“I thought you asked him to fix it,” Clair said.
“Well, clearly it didn’t work.”
“Okay, I’ll ask him again.”
“Don’t ask him, Jake. Tell him”
Jake nodded, and Clair made a huffing noise that said everything while saying nothing. She picked up two duffle bags, filled with clothes, makeup, and a hairdryer. Clair had been taking her showers at the gym for the past week.
“Hey,” Jake said. Clair turned from the front door and brushed away her greasy blond hair. Her eyes were puffy, half shut; awake but not ready for the start of the day. And her cheeks, which were usually round with a tint of red, were shapeless and white, a void no dimple could find home in. Jake would never say it, but Clair looked like an old lady in the morning. Nothing like a 26 year old should look. “I love you,” he said.
Clair sighed. She stared at a thin puddle surrounding Jake’s feet and adjusted her two bags. The filth was reaching towards her.
Downstairs Jake saw his landlord with his three young daughters.
“Jake!” the girls yelled. They ran to his side as if seeing a carnival ride in the distance.
“Show us another magic trick,” one of the girls said.
“Do the one with the three cups!” They laughed and jumped, scrunching up their small noses.
“Girls, please,” the landlord said. “Jake needs to go to work.” He smiled at his children and shook Jake’s hand, a greeting habit of men that the landlord never seemed to grow tired of.
They were an Indian family. They were beautiful. Small and stout, everything about them trying as hard as it could, and Jake knew they were proud of it.
“All good with the tub?” the landlord asked.
“Well, you just let me know if there are more problems.” He shook Jake’s hand, firmer than before, as if to reiterate their understanding and silent bond as men.
The girls stared up, eyes so petite and dark Jake could have mistaken them for music notes. They were still, all of them, all of them waiting for a laugh, a trick, or for Jake to do anything at all.
He only winked and was gone.
Jake called in sick that day. He’d called in sick the entire week. Instead of going to work, he’d spent his time at a toy store down the street from his office building. It was an old fashioned store, everything appearing handmade, having a magical feel that is often lost with mass production. The store was filled with children, and the children were always smiling. Jake watched it all, handing down puzzles, teddy bears, and games like a helpful employee would.
Today Jake saw a little boy crying. He faced a corner, blockaded by toys he could never reach, shaking his tiny shoulders.
“Why are you crying?” Jake asked him. An older woman stood in the distance, dressed in a business suit that didn’t quite fit her body. Jake wondered if she was his grandmother, though by her complete lack of interest he had his doubts.
“I want a toy,” the boy said.
“A toy?” Jake said. “I love toys.”
Jake smiled. “Of course you do.”
What Jake loved about children was despite them often being upset, their problems and wants were easy to understand. Not easy to solve, necessarily, but anyone could relate to them. Wanting a toy for instance: who couldn’t sympathize with that? It was simple. It was beautiful. Aging didn’t make people more complex, Jake thought, it just gave them more time and material to convolute their lives, making problems Jake had difficulty sympathizing with, not like he could do with children.
“Well, why do you want a toy?” Jake asked.
“Because,” the boy whimpered.
“Because they’re fun?”
The boy had stopped crying, as if too distracted by Jake’s questions to even remember why he was upset. The woman then walked closer, for despite her obvious lack of interest in the boy, the sight of a man seemed to gain her attention.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“We’re talking about toys,” Jake said. He smiled. She smiled back, seeping warmth into a face Jake would have assumed was as tangible as dry ice.
“I like toys with wheels,” the boy chimed in.
Jake knelt down, to the exact height of the boy. If handshakes were the bond of men, Jake knew size was the bond of children. Big meant grownups; small meant something else.
“But what about magic?” Jake asked.
He moved his hands in the air as if painting a sky with an invisible brush. He closed his eyes; he hummed, he then reached behind the boy’s ears with calm, steady movements. When he pulled his hand back there was a dollar in it. This was the magic.
The boy laughed, sincerely and innocent, the way only a child can do. Jake handed him the dollar.
“See, who needs toys when there’s magic everywhere.”
“Very impressive,” the woman said. “Your own kids must love that.”
“More, more, more!” the boy yelled.
Jake stood; quickly, as if not just standing, but ejecting from the child’s world.
“Not today,” Jake said. The boy stopped jumping; the woman frowned, both of them appearing let down by the end of this impromptu magic show. Jake then reached down and took the dollar from the boy’s hand, pulling it past the soft grip of his tiny fingers.
“I’m sorry,” he said. He walked down the aisle, bordered by toys he’d spent the better part of the week helping children get down. Now he wasn’t even looking at them. In the background he heard cries.
Jake left the store running. He went twenty three blocks, steady breath, his body sweating evenly, as if used to this routine and knowing the most efficient way to cool itself down. Jake’s body was fit, something he took pride in. He often ran to just prove he could run.
He ended at a city building that looked just like the rest. It had hundreds of windows, it was the color white, it was one in a thousand. The building looked pretty from the outside, but Jake knew it was broken. He knew water leaked from its pipes, and that that past its polished shell were clogged drains.
Jake fell to his knees. He grabbed his legs and rocked like a child watching a movie at the edge of their bed. Dozens of people walked by, though no one stopped.
“What?” Jake yelled. “What?”
He moved his hands to his crotch and cupped his erect penis.
Clair came home earlier that day. She walked into her bathroom and screamed, pushing against a wall and knocking over a shelf filled with white towels. Jake was in the tub, immersed in the filthy water, his body pruned as if he’d been sitting there for hours.
“The tub is still clogged,” Jake said.
“Jake, what the hell are you doing?”
“I called in sick today.”
“I called in sick all week.”
Clair opened her lips, as if expecting to have a quick response like she always did. She said nothing, however, and slowly sat at the edge of the tub.
“Jake, what’s wrong? Tell me.”
“I tried donating sperm.” Jake was silent, waiting for Clair to digest his comment, knowing it was something she wasn’t expecting to hear.
“They give you a hundred dollars you know.”
“A hundred dollars.”
“Jesus.” Clair could see his naked body in the tub, all of his curves and colors past streams of dirt and hair. “Why would you do that?”
“Because we need it.”
She stood from the tub. Their bathroom was comically small, though she still managed to pace. “You should have told me about this, Jake.”
“We need the money.”
“I don’t care what we need. You should have told me.”
Jake looked down. He sank deeper into the water and began to cry. He covered his face and sobbed, revealing veins on his forehead. Clair was silent, standing above him like a mother would a child.
“I’m sorry,” Jake said.
“Don’t cry, Jake. Jesus.”
And he cried harder. Clair rubbed her eyes and blinked over and over.
“Jake, we can ask our parents for money if we need to.”
He turned away, revealing lines of long hair from the bathwater strung across his back.
“I’m not mad at you,” Clair said. “I’m just.” She slowly sat back on the ledge. “I’m just-“
“They didn’t accept it,” Jake interrupted. He gasped for air, mixing his own saliva and snot into the bathwater. “My sperm. I went back three times. Used different names. They never accepted it. So I went and asked why. They usually don’t say, but I kept going and…” Jake leaned up. He wiped his tears and purposely stuck out his wide chest. “I know we’re not trying. Maybe we never will…But you should know this.”
Clair looked at the tub. Even in the filthy water she could see her reflection. She wore makeup, her cheeks were round with a tint of red, and a dimple was at the side of her mouth. She looked nothing like she did in the morning. Everyone told her she was beautiful.
“Get out of the tub, Jake. The water’s disgusting.”
She stood. Jake leaned forward, trying to hide any evidence that he had been crying. When he was about to stand he noticed a brown bag at the entrance of the bathroom.
“What’s in your bag?” Jake asked.
Clair continued to stare at her reflection, which was now broken in the water.
“Clair,” Jake said. “What’s in your bag?”
“A fucking plunger.” And she walked out of the room.
Jake hummed. He felt bubbles surface at his sides. He lifted his hands and moved them like a magician before his final trick. There was nothing to appear.
Jake then reached for the shower handle and turned the water back on.
Sunday, May 8, 2011
I saw a couple fighting on the side of the street today. They kept their voices low, doing their best to hid themselves, but by their body movements and mean, scrunched up faces, it was clear to me and every other onlooker that they were having a heated debate.
The man grabbed his hair. He moved his arms up and down, like a baby bird seeing a predator for the first time.
The woman just laughed. She turned in circles. She smiled. There was obviously nothing funny going on, anyone could tell you that, but she seemed to be having a grand old time.
But you know what? Who gives a shit! People fight. Right? And couples especially fight. But what I thought was interesting was that both the man and the woman were holding large paper bags that said, "Contain Yourself." And after a few minutes of their silent screams, the man tossed his bag down and dozens of Tupperware came pouring out; sprinkling the sidewalk like golf balls of hail. He then left, leaving the woman alone, laughing. I got up from my bench after that. I imagined the woman was going to cry soon, and honestly I didn't want to see it. But, naturally, curiosity got the best of me. I turned back halfway down the street. The woman wasn't alone anymore; she wasn't laughing either. The man was there. He was on his hands and knees, as if praying, picking up the Tupperware, and, as I imagined, the woman was in tears. I think the man was, too; slowly picking up the plastic containers and putting them back in the large paper bags.
That was that. I left, feeling like I just watched a bizarre TV ad:
Tupperware: save your leftovers, save your relationship.
Thursday, May 5, 2011
I've been tested for HIV three times in my life. Each time felt like a near death experience without being near anything. I was just waiting, flipping through magazines. It's not often we ask about deadly diseases. We go to the doctor, of course. We get "check ups." We let them tell us what's wrong. But asking outright 'Do I have this?' and then waiting - that's something different.
I don't know anything past the flu. I guess that's lucky? Yes. I'd say that's fucking lucky. But when you're waiting; sitting in that stupid room, that stupid chair, everyone wonders. They wonder about count downs. Of course having HIV doesn't mean you're dead. It doesn't even mean it will kill you. But it does remind you that something will. Get's ya thinkin'.
Car crashes, assaults, or any near death experience for that matter, they say it makes you appreciate life more. I like that. But it's different. Those are near something: they end. Sitting in a waiting room, know what you have? Magazines. You have time to think about your time.
Maybe we should all get tested more.
Saturday, April 30, 2011
by Sean Kenealy
“Excuse me? Were you just staring at me?”
I look up from my book and see a middle aged woman.
“Right now. While drinking coffee. You stared at me. You rolled your eyes.”
“I didn’t roll my eyes.”
“Yes, you did. It looked like this.”
She rolls her eyes, using her whole head and neck to emphasize the gesture.
“I didn’t do that.”
“Yes, you did.”
“Why did you roll your eyes? Was it my phone?”
“My phone.” And she pulls out her phone: wide screen and bright light. “I was checking my mail. Not talking. Not doing anything to bother you, so why would you roll your eyes at me?”
“Because I was being rude? Is that why? Because I need technology?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“But you thought it.” People are staring at us now. The entire café. “Oh, I get it. I know what’s going on. It’s all clear to me now.”
“You. You’re clear. You look around, you see smart phones, and you think the most ridiculous thoughts.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The end of human connection; virtual versions of people, how smart phones are the downfall of civilization.”
“But it means nothing. Your thoughts. You can’t describe them. You have no idea what you’re actually thinking. You just like to blame. Like to roll your eyes.” She rolls her eyes again. “You’re not clever enough to do anything else.”
“Excuse you. That’s right. And you like to pretend you’re more connected to
“society” because you don’t have a fucking smart phone.” She shakes her phone. I don’t say a word.
“You know what I do for a living? I work for a children’s protection agency. And know what that means? It means I find foster homes for children who’ve been abused. That’s why I was checking my mail right now. I was contacting a family to meet a child tomorrow. A child that has no one in the world, and soon she will. Because of this.” She shakes her phone, this time much closer to my face. “I couldn’t have done it without it. Not as quickly, at least. A lot of people do amazing things with smart phones. We’re not all updating our statuses and social networking.”
Again, I say nothing.
“And what the hell do you do? Work at a bookstore? An artist? In your head all day? I suppose you don’t have time for smart phones. No time to check your e-mail, even if it is for finding someone a family.”
The woman coughs, wipes her face, and I notice how skinny she is, too skinny. I wonder if her clothes will shake off.
“And you see that book you’re reading?”
I look at my book.
“Guess what I have?”
“What do you have?”
“I have a Kindle. And I bet that really makes your eyes roll. I bet you think I’m destroying publishing; destroying an art. But you have no idea! Do you even know what would happen if we stopped printing books? That the book industry produces the equivalent of 12 million metric tons of carbon every year? Jesus, I mean, that’s what you’re fighting for. That’s why you want to look cool with your vintage novella, sit in café’s like this, and look down on people with smart phones and Kindles who are really just trying to do some good for the environment and find children homes.”
She shakes some more, out of breath, and I see veins surface on her neck.
“But it’s easier just to think we’re robots, isn’t it? Easier to roll your eyes without asking.”
She reaches for my book, rubbing against my sweaty hands, and tosses it to the table. We’re silent. The whole café is silent.
“Do you have a record player?” she asks.
I don’t say a thing. Too frightened. Wondering if she’ll hit me, throw coffee in my face, laugh like wild. But she’s still. She’s alone. And then she cries. Until she bawls, shaking her skinny body.
“I have a record player,” she says. She gasps for air. “It was my moms.” More tears, more stares. She then wipes her boney cheek and I see bruises on her arms. Some look bumpy, others scabbed. There are dozens of them, and I know right away she’s in pain.
“My mom,” she cries. “My mom. My mom.”
She then grabs both my hands, as if making sure to have every ounce of my attention. She does. I’m not rolling my eyes anymore, just staring straight ahead.
“Listen to me,” she says. Her eyes are red, but there are no more tears. “Technology could do a lot of good if you fucking people would let it.” And she’s gone, walking out of the café like she was never there. A ghost. In her purse I hear rattling.
Everyone exhales. I’m silent. I stare down at my book, breathing heavier and heavier, the last few minutes catching up to me in the last few seconds.
“Fucking cunt,” a voice says. I look up and see a young man. He’s about my age. Dressed similar, too. We both have clear skin. We both have old books.
I don’t respond. I just rub both my hands, cold from the woman’s touch, and I wipe them on my ripped jeans.
I abandon my book.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
A man sitting next to me on the subway sneezed. So I said this: "Bless you."
Know what he said? Nothing. He just gave me a look. Like he couldn't fathom hearing "bless you" on a morning commute. And then he rolled his eyes - real, real big.
Au contraire mon ami.
I'm not a big man, but a little above average in height, making it easier to mask my actual size. So I sat up straight. I stared at him and taped his shoulder. He wasn't happy to hear from me...
"God. Bless. You."
And this time he was still, but by the muscles in his forehead I could tell he wanted to roll his eyes. Instead, he just gave a small nod and returned to his phone.
That was that.
So what do you think: is it worse to not having manners, or to want to rip someone's head off for not saying 'thank you'?
Either way, I have a funny feeling that will get me into a lot of trouble one day.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Not my best...but it's my b-day, so I had to share a story about an old man.
by Sean Kenealy
Seventy three year old Tate Gilbert was pleasantly surprised to find dog food and rat poison on the same shelf of his local supermarket. He bought both items, as well as twelve cans of spam in order to not look suspicious in the checkout line. Plus, Tate loved spam.
Tate returned home and mixed the rat poison into the dog food one scoop at a time, giving it a beige color that resembled the skin of a damp, leftover meatloaf. He laughed, knowing how ridiculous it was to take such preparation for an animal accustomed to eating its own feces, though Tate needed it to look perfect. It’s how he felt towards all food; a habit from his thirty year run as a Navy cook.
Tate carried the poisoned dog food on a metal plate and placed it on his front yard. The grass was knee high, the only house on the suburban street without a freshly mowed lawn. He then sat, heavy as could be, rocking on a wooden rocking chair to the side of three rusty lawnmowers. The only house that had these, too. Tate smiled. He looked out from his porch. And then he saw Penny.
Penny was a sheepdog, and she appropriately looked like a sheep. Bushy white hair, a fro body, and curly locks covering her eyes, which she often had to shake away like a teenage girl. Penny had no specific owner, and instead belonged to the entire suburban street just outside of Savannah, Georgia, peddling from house to house and doing what she did best: spreading joy, a true love to everyone she touched. Except for Tate that is; his true love was dead. And soon Penny would be, too.
Penny stopped at Tate’s lawn and scratched behind her left ear. She stared up, innocent as a puppy on her first day at the pound.
Little shit, Tate thought.
He whistled, encouraging Penny to trail the poison with her pink rose of a nose. She then walked, past the tall grass and the occasional lawnmower, closer and closer to the poisoned dog food, as if catching the scent of a forbidden flower. This is it, Tate thought: peace. He leaned forward. He swallowed. His lips quivered, though the rest of his face showed no emotion, like he was holding the most important hand in a poker game he would ever have. And that’s when Penny found the metal plate, hot and sticky; dripping with poison from the scorching Savannah sun. She sniffed it, nice and slow, and adjusted her adorable, fluffy ears. Beautiful, beautiful peace. And for the first time ever, Tate saw Penny just like everyone else did: a true love.
And then she took a shit on the metal plate; perfect aim. Legs spread and face shaking. Dogs can’t smile, Tate knew, but in this moment, Penny would if she could.
“Fucking dog!” Tate yelled. He stood from his rocking chair as fast as his seventy three year old legs would permit, yelling and flailing his arms. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!”
It’s what always happened.
Tate then turned, and as if on cue, saw a neighbor standing at the edge of his freshly cut lawn. Like all neighbors, he regarded Tate with a curious smile. His name was Franklin, middle aged, standing with his three little boys, all dressed in identical overalls.
“Everything okay, Sir?” Franklin asked. Tate usually would have liked being called Sir. Coming from Franklin, however, it sounded condescending, like he was viewing senior citizens in the same light as a toddler.
“Fine,” Tate said. And Franklin laughed, a bit unsure of himself, like he was watching a rabid monkey behind a thick pane of glass. Penny continued her shit.
Franklin was a rich man, which Tate easily assumed by the fact he never worked and took vacations weeks at a time. He was humble, however, too humble, always dressed like a farmer and explaining to anyone who’d listen that he came from “ordinary means.” As if done to reiterate this, Franklin had a gentleman’s farm in his backyard: six chickens, a half acre of vegetables, and two goats, all of it cared by outside help, none of who dressed like farmers. That was Franklin’s job.
Penny finished her shit and walked to the family’s side, letting each boy pet her fluffy body. One of the boys, Tate saw, held a chickadee, a new addition to Franklin’s gentleman’s farm, which Penny sniffed like a mother would a baby. Even animals loved her.
Disgusting, Tate thought. What kind of dog won’t kill a chicken?
Tate frowned, alone and hunched over. He wanted to explain why he’d yelled at Penny; tell the family he was more than just a crazy old man who swore at dogs, regardless if the current scene said otherwise. Tell them how Penny had tortured him for years, no matter how many times he screamed at her, sprayed her with a hose, or even called animal services, but she still came to his house each day: and it wasn’t to spread joy. Penny came to shit on his lawn Clockwork: fresh dog shit, always on a new section of Tate’s property, as if purposefully placed to better his chances of stepping in it.
It was enough to drive any man crazy.
And there was also the mail. Penny chewed Tate’s bills, his magazines, greeting cards, which were very, very occasional, until Tate began racing her to his mailbox each morning. And although he usually won these “races,” he was still the looser, for the simple fact he needed to race a dog; feet covered in shit. This was Tate’s retirement.
Franklin and his boys stared up at Tate, silent, all seeming to blink and swallow at the same exact time. Tate knew it was pointless to tell the family any of these things, for to them, and everyone else on the street, Penny was perfect. The winner. A dog everyone loved but him. And that was the real reason Tate hated her. It wasn’t because she tortured him; it was because Penny would always be their friend. And Tate, well, the moment he died he’d be just one thing: forgotten.
“Boys hunger?” Tate asked, and he picked up the metal plate dripping with dog shit and poison.
That evening Tate began planning other ways to kill Penny. The most obvious being his gun, which he quickly decided against. Other than that, he considered knives, archery, even electrocution, though they all had the same problems: one, very messy, two, they would all point to Tate. Tate was a grumpy old man, but not stupid, well aware that killing a dog, especially one as well liked as Penny, would surely toss him in jail or the loony bin: not the retirement he’d planned. Instead, he needed something that looked like an accident, or better yet, something no one would ever know.
And it was at 1am Tate woke up from a recurring nightmare, wide eyed, sweating; and now knowing how to kill Penny.
He walked to his front yard in pitch darkness. The street was still, as it usually was after sunset, and he began digging. In an hour he had a hole two feet deep and six feet wide. And in three hours he had something large enough that required a ladder to climb out of.
Tate then dragged two lawnmower engines into the hole, which he easily found on his dumpster of a front yard. From here, he adjusted the piping of each engine so small bits of metal and blades were facing straight up. Tate smiled, testing the sharpness of a blade with his index finger and slicing it. Blood dripped down, and he laughed like a madman.
The next morning there was no hole, or at least you couldn’t see it. It was now covered with a thin sheet, and the thin sheet was covered with dirt, leaves, and ripped up grass. Any person who saw it wouldn’t suspect a thing. Dogs, too.
Neighbors had often complained to Tate to clean up his lawn, so why not start by burying a few engines? And if Penny happened to fall into the hole and land on a sharp blade, how could he be held responsible? And better yet, if Penny happened to fall in, died, and then was buried before anyone saw it, who would know the difference? At least that was the plan.
Tate rocked in his wooden rocking chair and stared at his lawn. He rubbed his shoulder, sore from the previous nights work, a pain he’d not felt in many years, at least since retiring and battling Penny became his full time job.
Little shit, Tate thought.
Tate used to love sour muscles. After his days in the Navy he started a landscaping company. Tate cared nothing about his own lawn, never did, but kept all property under his company’s service as trimmed as possible, leading to sixty hour work weeks and utter exhaustion. But Tate loved it. He loved the work. It was the feel of lawnmowers vibrating against his body that he never grew tired of. It reminded him of being back a sea, with the infinity of space before him that only an ocean can hold. It’s odd, but Tate never much liked the feel of land.
Tate looked at his watch and saw it was noon. Penny was late. He then closed his eyes, letting the sun settle on his aged skin, rocking in his rocking chair and dreaming of a far away life. He dreamed of Penny: falling into the hole, over and over; his own piss and shit one day leaking into her soon to be coffin of his front yard. He thought of the ocean, cool water splashing against his bare flesh, naked as the day he was born. And he thought of peace: beautiful, beautiful peace, until soon he was fast asleep.
Tate woke up an hour later to a loud scream. Franklin’s little boys, still dressed in overalls, stood at the edge of his lawn, motionless, as if too frightened to enter the property. They were all staring down.
“Chicken!” a boy said.
Tate wobbled off his porch, right leg still asleep, and looked into the hole, no longer covered with a sheet.
“What the fuck?” he yelled. And the boys all jumped, obviously not used to such harsh language.
“What happened?” Franklin asked. He ran to their side, out of breath and sweating through his flannel and trucker hat.
“Mr. Gilbert killed a chicken,” a boy said.
“I didn’t kill no chicken!” Tate said.
And now they all looked down, at a bloody chicken sliced from a lawnmower blade, guts sprawled to its side. Franklin’s animals often escaped his gentleman’s farm, something Tate had not taken into consideration the previous night as he dug.
“Oh, my god,” Franklin said. “Is that Deborah?”
“You name your chickens?” Tate asked. And Franklin gasped, as if wanting to shout there was nothing wrong with naming ones chickens.
“Jesus,” Franklin said. He held his boys tight, like he’d never seen such horror. “Thank God, Penny got us. Another one could have fallen in!”
“Penny got you?” Tate asked. He looked down; not surprisingly, his feet were covered in shit.
More neighbors soon poured from their houses, forming a circle around the hole and staring at Tate.
“I was just burying some engines,” Tate explained.
“Burying some engines?” Franklin repeated. “What for? What if one of my kids fell in there!”
And it was then, between moving limbs and disapproving glares, Tate saw Penny at the edge of his lawn. Today, she was torturing from afar.
Tate was silent, knowing there was no need to explain himself. They were all thinking the same thing, after all: an innocent child could have died today because of Tate’s stupid lawnmowers. As for Penny, her nose was up. She then walked through the crowd, accepting lovable pats with each step, and began tugging on the sheet. It seemed no one had noticed it before, too distracted by chicken guts and blood, though Penny wouldn’t let it go unseen.
“What’s this?” Franklin asked, and everyone looked down, at a bloody sheet still stained with evidence of camouflage. It was done. Penny was the winner, and like every other time before, Tate was nothing but a tramp.
“I’m sorry,” Tate said. He sighed, wanting to say goodbye but not knowing how. And in the distance, still spreading her joy, Penny licked herself.
“Little shit,” Tate said. There was no point in just thinking it anymore.
He then walked, hunched over, alone, back up his porch. After a moment’s pause Tate carried his rocking chair inside.
Tate spent the following night in his car. Besides occasionally checking its engine, he hadn’t driven it in over eight years, preferring to either walk or take buses to the limited places he went. Tonight, however, Tate wanted to reacquaint himself. How the leather felt against his skin; how the steering wheel seemed to wrap around his calloused hands. He remained awake the entire night, turning the engine on and off, over and over, staring at his closed garage door.
In the morning Tate pulled out to the road. It was 9am, the time Penny usually began peddling from house to house. Tate drove with ease, watching children play on their freshly cut lawns and parents reading paperback novels on their porches: the American dream wherever he looked.
When Tate saw Penny, he smiled and sped up. Closer and closer. The front bumper of the car was dented, leaving half of it to hang down and spark against the pavement. Tate, a handy man, was more than capable of fixing this, but never did; wanting to remember the accident that caused the damage. He wanted to remember Cheryl.
And Tate drove closer.
Tate met Cheryl after his time in the Navy. He was fifty six years old, an age where he never thought to look for a companion. It was two weeks after starting his landscaping company, however, that Cheryl began requesting Tate’s service to mow her lawn, not wanting any of his much younger employees. She had him over twice a week, regardless if her property only required to be mowed half as much. Cheryl, a widow, spent the majority of her time on carpentry, owner of a small business which made homemade toys and furniture. She could make anything from wood, a true artist, always working on her projects outside as Tate mowed.
“Lemonade?” Cheryl asked. She wore sundresses, long necklaces, and very light makeup when Tate was there. Cheryl, who considered herself a natural woman, rarely wore makeup, but had begun making small exceptions for Tate.
“It’s delicious,” Tate said, taking a large sip. “Want to hear a little trick, though?”
Cheryl leaned in.
“Use frozen fruit, not ice. Doesn’t dilute the water as much. And add some fresh ginger. Most people don’t know about that one.” Tate smiled. He had a trick for all foods.
“You’re handy, and a cook,” Cheryl said. “What can’t you do?” She blushed and stroked her long, brown hair.
“I can’t carve things like you,” Tate said. “Everything you make is beautiful.”
“I just made a rocking chair. Would you like to try it?”
Tate sat, his muscular, sweaty body fitting right in, and he began to rock.
“It feels like the ocean,” Tate said.
“You like it?”
“I like it.”
Cheryl refilled his glass until it overflowed. “How about you stay forever then?”
And they were married two months later. Tate never knew a person like Cheryl: a person who made his flaws perfections. If Tate didn’t bathe, Cheryl didn’t mind; she liked the scent of him because he was a man. If Tate didn’t trim his lawn, Cheryl never cared, because she thought it was natural and carefree. And if Tate had leftover food on his shirt, which he always did, then Cheryl thought it was charming, nothing else. They were in love. Tate cooked her elaborate dinners, all with fresh, organic foods, and she carved him submarines and cars out of small pieces of wood. They stayed out late, danced, and often made love in Tate’s car, just to feel silly and young.
When Tate was sixty five, he and Cheryl decided to retire in Savannah, Georgia: to live out their lives in beautiful, beautiful peace, Cheryl said. They picked a house, had everything packed, and began driving to their new home, taking a road trip across half the county. And it was fifteen miles into the trip that Tate hit a gap in the road, which seemed to appear out of nowhere, and Cheryl’s neck broke against the dashboard. Tate didn’t have a scratch on him. That was the joke. He stayed in the car for over seven hours, holding Cheryl’s body until an ambulance came.
Tate never trusted land after that. He never trusted being still. Always rocking in his rocking chair, the same chair Cheryl first got him to sit in. He retired to Savannah alone. He shut down his landscaping company, though took many lawnmowers with him, and prepared to live out his life like he always imagined: alone. And it was then he met Penny. Penny. A sheepdog who surfaced childhood nostalgia in everyone she touched. She even tried with Tate, snuggling against his wrinkly legs, though Tate only shooed her away. He yelled at her; loathed her with all of his heart, until one day they were enemies. Until one day the entire suburban street hated Tate. And until one day he was driving down the road with Penny in his sights.
That day was today.
Tate sped up his car, tears now streaming down his face. Penny, as if feeling Tate breathing on her neck, began to run. She turned off the road, now heading towards a large tree. Tate followed, not caring what he hit, who he killed, or what damage he caused. He wanted just one thing. Penny continued towards the tree, shaking her adorable, fluffy hair, and Tate continued towards Penny. And it was just seconds before they hit that Penny ducked under a stump into a large hole, safely hidden from the car, and Tate crashed headfirst into the tree. His face hit the steering wheel, splitting his nose in two. His left ankle broken, crushed under the pedal. The looser. Tate opened his eyes and saw blood and smoke, just like he saw in the accident with Cheryl. He fell from the car, spitting out teeth. As for Penny, she was right there, as if knowing there was no reason to run, ready for Tate to scream and flail his arms, but there was nothing. Tate just stared at her, breathing heavier and heavier. He even smiled, as if understanding everything there was to understand about Penny. Tate then reached behind his back and revealed a handgun. He’d spent the entire night holding it against his heart. Tate raised it, blood still streaming down his face, and Penny was still. She looked out with large brown eyes, as if knowing what was coming, and accepting it with honor. Tate cocked the gun. He limped closer. He pointed it directly at Penny’s pink rose of a nose and closed his eyes. And then he heard sirens. Tate turned and saw a police car just yards away. A young officer stood outside of it, completely still, as if he’d never seen such horror in all of his life. Behind him were the neighbors. All of them, once again watching Tate with eyes reserved for a villain. Tate wept, he bled, and Penny began to whimper.
There was a knock on the door. Tate stood from his rocking chair as fast as his seventy eight year old legs would permit.
It was Franklin, dressed in a cowboy hat and tight jeans. “How are you, Sir? Haven’t seen you in a while.”
They were still; both realizing how much time had passed by their aged faces.
“I’m here because of Penny,” Franklin continued. “She’s been…Well, I just wanted to know if you’ve seen.”
Tate smiled. They both knew he hadn’t seen anyone in a long, long time.
“You see, I was petting her the other day and she bit my hand,” Franklin said. “And she also killed one of my…” He removed his cowboy hat as if showing respect for the dead. Franklin was beginning to bald. “She killed one of my chickens.”
Tate burped. “Why don’t you just use it for meat then?”
“Well, we’re a vegetarian family, Sir.”
“Oh,” Tate said. He hated vegetarians; always the hardest to cook for. “Oh.”
“I just wanted to know if you’ve see her, that’s all. We don’t…We don’t want her to bite anyone else. Especially a child.”
“You mean you’re trying to get rid of her?” Tate said. He smiled and scratched his crotch.
“We’re not trying to get rid of her, Sir. We loved that dog. All of us. Fed her, cleaned her, but…” Franklin stuttered, as if holding back what he really wanted to say. “She’s just getting old, that’s all…Things change.”
Tate stared at his wife beater stained with spam. “Yes, I suppose they do.”
“So you’ll let us know if you see her?” Franklin asked. He put his cowboy hat back on and smiled his humble smile. “I know the community would really appreciate it.”
Tate pushed his tongue against a gap in his teeth.
“Finally killed a chicken,” Tate said, and he slammed the door.
Tate returned to his rocking chair. He didn’t sway like usual, however, but instead was completely still, as if reconnecting with land.
He thought of Penny; the dozens of people who used to love her, just like Franklin said, and how they were all gone. She didn’t have a home anymore. She just had the woods: a whole sea of it, and for the first time ever Tate saw Penny as she actually was.
Tate cracked his nose, still bent from the car accident into Penny’s tree five years earlier. He then stood and looked for his gun.
Franklin woke up the next morning and found all of his chickens dead. There were eight of them, each shot in the head. Or the heart.
“What happened to our chickens, Daddy?” one of Franklin’s boys asked. He was crying, looking down at the horror. Some were stabbed, others decapitated, all of them tortured.
Franklin was shaking. He turned in circles, beginning to hyperventilate, and saw dozens of neighbors standing on their freshly cut lawns.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck,” Franklin yelled. He vomited on his son’s overalls and collapsed to his gentleman’s farm.
Back at home Tate sat on his couch. He ate chicken cordon bleu with a side of fresh vegetables and rice. Today wasn’t a day for spam. At his side was Penny, eating the same meal with three extra chicken bones served on a glass place. Two other chickens were frozen in the freezer, soon to be turned into another gourmet meal.
Tate burped. He rubbed Penny’s neck and felt ticks between his filthy fingers.
They might as well have been kings.
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
The Work Hazard
By Sean Kenealy
No one was quite sure what to make of Mary Whemple’s behavior. For the past week she had spent all of her lunch breaks by the entrance of her office building looking up at the sun. Eyes closed, legs spread, still as she could be for the entire forty five minutes of each break, ignoring anyone who walked past her and the overabundance of confused stares. You would have thought she was watching an eclipse. When the occasional coworker did ask Mary what on earth she doing, however, she replied the same to each: “Vitamin D.”
And that was the truth. Mary needed the sun. At least that’s what her doctor told her one week earlier. She was deficient in vitamin D, a work hazard commonly associated with a fulltime office job, or in Mary’s case, a fulltime job that had kept her indoors 45 hours a week for the past 30 years.
“A pill to give you hours of sunlight,” her doctor said.
He wrote out a prescription in the famous illegible text that all doctors have, adding to Mary’s ever growing collection of tablets to fulfill one of her basic bodily needs.
Mary smiled, puffing up her chubby cheeks. Everything about her was puffy. She wondered why her doctor hadn’t just told her to spend time outdoors, go for walks, sunbath, perhaps, but Mary already knew why. At sixty three years old she was simply waiting to die, and everyone knew it. She worked, she ate, and she slept. A chubby, pale old lady who answered every question she could with a timid smile.
Mary returned to her office and filed her prescription in a folder appropriately label personal prescriptions. This was between personal mailings and personal withholdings; with sub folders in each. This was Mary’s life. She worked in human resources for the Sherman Right law firm outside of Dallas, Texas. Mary knew only the commonalities of law, but she did know the ins and outs of retirement. 401K’s, IRA Conversion, Capital Growth, Pensions. Paperwork is where she excelled; all of it geared to helping the employees of Sherman Right plan their retirement, her own included, though Mary gave little thought to that.
“Glad you’re back,” Mary’s boss said. He stood above to her cubicle holding a coffee mug with a picture of a dog on it. His name was Danny, a little man nearly half her age, someone Mary suspected only received his job because he was born into a generation that had an innate understanding of computers that she would never have. Danny wanted to go digital. He was the antithesis of filing.
“Doctor appointment go well?” Danny was nothing but nice to Mary, to everyone for that matter. He had a carefree approach to life that seemed to solve any problem around him in a timely fashion without him looking the least bit stressed. And Mary hated him for it. He was too good at being good, she thought. And if this wasn’t superficial enough to dislike him, there was also his name. Danny? For a grown man? Daniel or Dan would have been acceptable in Mary’s eyes, but Danny was the name of a child, as if he purposely chose it to remind Mary of his eternal youth and her incoming death.
“Well, we’ll talk more later,” Danny said, and he strutted off, not giving Mary the time to respond, a habit of many bosses who attempt to show interest in their employees without having the actual want to do so. In Mary’s case, however, Danny never needed to wait for her answers, because they were always the same: agreeable.
Can you stay late? Yes.
Extra work? Yes. A timid smile for everything.
On the day Mary returned from her doctor’s appointment, however, she wasn’t in the mood for timid smiles. A pill for the sun, she thought. What a silly idea. Arthritis was one thing. Ulcers, too. Both aliments which Mary subscribed to. But a pill for life? No.
And so it started, at 11:59am Mary decided to spend her lunch breaks looking up at the sun.
“What are you doing?” a coworker asked. He was exiting the building and saw Mary standing still with her arms wide: a crucified, lobotomized office worker sunbathing in a cheap woman’s suit.
“It’s my vitamin D,” Mary said.
“I don’t get enough sunlight.” Mary shrugged, as if this simple movement was enough to answer any other questions he may have.
It was the same for the next week. Every day, every lunch, Mary stared at the sun. It was done as an experiment at first, something she assumed she would grow tired of and return to her 30 year habit of eating at her desk. But she was wrong. The sun reenergized her; made her whole. She could feel it lay on her face, her hands, and her wrinkly neck, as if the wind had soft lips that choose to press against her flesh. Mary had felt lightheaded for years, she now knew, and the sun had given her the needed gravity to touch the earth. It didn’t clear her mind. It just made her feel it. It wasn’t coffee. It wasn’t diet coke. It was just life. Mary’s life. Though not everyone saw the positive effects in her newfound lunch activity.
“Looking Tan, Mary,” Danny said. He smiled and sipped his coffee. This mug had a picture of a hedgehog on it. “You know, there’s a park just ten minutes from here. A strip mall, too. Might be a better place to spend your breaks.”
“That would cut into my lunch,” Mary said.
Danny raised an eyebrow and rested his elbow on the partition of her cubicle.
“I have a forty five minute break,” Mary continued. “Taking a ten minute drive to a strip mall or park would cut it in half.” Danny looked at a large filling cabinet at Mary’s side, as if imagining she had printed out the documentation to prove her statement and could reveal it at any moment.
“Well, there’s a bench by the back,” Danny said.
“Those aren’t in the sun.”
“Well, I thought you liked to eat at your desk anyway.” Danny sighed, as if he had exhausted all of his attempts at being nice. “It’s distracting to have you standing by the entrance, Mary. Please just find another place.”
Mary smiled, but there was nothing timid about it. Instead, she showed all her teeth like an aggressive monkey. Danny walked away, less carefree than ever before.
At 12pm Mary didn’t stand at the front entrance like usual. Instead, she moved to the center of the parking lot, submitting to Danny’s orders in her own roundabout way. It all also put her in prime location for every employee at Sherman Right to have a clear view of her. Before, you only saw Mary if you happened to be entering or exiting the building during her 45 minute break. Now everyone with a window saw her. Not to mention anyone parking their car. Each day lawyers, secretaries, and even the custodial staff would peak out of a window and see if Mary was there. And she always was. Noon to 12:45pm became known as the “Whemple break.” Mary knew they were watching, of course. But she didn’t care. For the first time in decades she wasn’t someone just waiting to die. That 45 minute break gave her the time to think: life, friends, love, even retirement, which Mary never thought would actually come. She began going for walks after work. Saw movies, read more. It was safe to say Mary became addicted to the sun, soon rolling up her sleeves and pants, exposing new bits of flesh each day to expose new bits of life. And it was then, two weeks in to Mary’s sunbathing that Danny requested a private meeting with Mary, along with Mr. Sherman Right himself, the company’s owner.
“I tried talking to you Mary, I did,” Danny said. They sat across from Sherman in his large office; all of it seeming to be cut from an expensive oak. “I didn’t want to have to call you here, but I had to.”
Danny turned back and forth between them, directing the harsh part of his sentence to Mary and the pleading part to Sherman.
“What were you thinking, Mary?” Danny asked. “We talked about this and-”
“Enough,” Sherman said. “Let her answer your question.” He smiled. Sherman had a sweet face, large cheeks and soft features. It was a face Mary rarely saw in the office, but was always happy to find. Sherman had hired Mary 30 years ago, his oldest employee. They hardly spoke over the year, but had a quiet bond, one that can only be understood by two people who had grown old with one another. They had seen each other turn grey. They had shared a lifetime of friendly nods and hellos; decades of stares. All the while knowing nothing about each other’s lives. That’s what Sherman and Mary were.
Danny sighed and cleared his throat, causing Mary to look up from her pale hands.
“It’s my vitamin D,” she said.
“Oh,” Danny said. “Vitamin D. Yes, I’ve heard this.” Danny was sweating, regardless of the cool temperature Sherman kept his office at. “We can’t have you standing in the entrance, or in the parking lot, Mary. These aren’t unfair requests.”
Mary turned to Sherman, who was now looking down, hiding his sweet face. He was even older than Mary.
“Not on office property,” Sherman said. And that was all.
Danny smiled, as if finally hearing something that made sense after being subjected to hours of gibberish.
“It’s okay,” Danny said. He leaned in close to her side. “We all have are problems. But that’s what family’s for.”
And Mary began to cry. Her cheeks became puffy and her face bright read. It was the most color either Danny or Sherman had ever seen on her skin. Both men were still, letting howls filled up the oak office whole.
Family is where we go for are problems, Mary thought. Mary had no family. But she did once. At 28 she met a man named Bryan. A shy, skinny man with short curly hair who taught preschool and was an excellent musician. The only job Bryan ever seemed to want, however, was to love Mary. He played the flute, a passion he was always embarrassed of until Mary came along. He played for her every night, often rocking her to sleep with his music. He wrote over 30 songs for Mary; about her face, her body, her mind, and how beautiful he thought she was. Bryan was the first man to ever say Mary was beautiful. And he meant it. They were married at 29. Had a child at 30, a little girl named Deborah, and Mary’s world felt complete. Bryan was a horrible cook, an ongoing joke of their relationship, but over the years became excellent with eggs and pancakes. Breakfast was his unspoken job, which every relationship has. And it was a Saturday morning when Bryan was returning from a grocery store holding eggs, bread, fruit, and two year old Deborah in his skinny arms that a speeding car ran them both over. Their bodies mangled between eggs and leaking orange juice. Mary saw it all from the window of their apartment. After that, Mary never fell in love again. She never listened to the flute again, and she never ate breakfast again. Just two months after the death of Bryan and Deborah, Mary took a job at Sherman Right. She was placed in human resources, retirement, helping employees plan their future so Mary never had to think of her own. She worked, she snacked, and she stopped thinking about life, until one day she was an old lady: overweight, pale, puffy, with arthritis and ulcers. A sixty three year old woman who had spent her life waiting to die. And on top of it all, now she was deficient in vitamin D.
Mary left Sherman’s office and ran down the hall. She bumped into three people, knocked over a stack of papers, and began hyperventilating. It was as if she was underwater and oxygen could only be found in the sunlight. Mary didn’t care if it was time for lunch or not.
Outside, sweating and out of breath, she ran to the center of the parking lot. Everyone was watching from the windows. They sighed. They laughed. They wondered what she would do next. And that’s when Mary tore off her blouse. She threw it to the pavement and laughed like wild. She pulled off her skirt, kicked it to the side, and revealed to the world her pale skin that had been denied of sunlight for over 30 years. Only her bra and white underwear covered her flesh, which she began to take off until something happened that Mary had never expected. It began to rain. Then it began to pour. Clouds covered the sky and the world became dark. Cold and shaking, Mary stared back at her office. She saw dozens of scared face.
Mary then fainted to the sound of thunder, it sounded just like a car crash.
“Glad you're back,” Danny said. “Last week wasn’t the same without you.” He stood above Mary’s cubicle holding a mug with a picture of an elephant on it.
After Mary’s incident, which became known as the “Whemple incident,” she was advised to take a week off from work. She spent all of it in bed.
“You know,” Danny said. “Not sure how you feel about this, but maybe you and I could have lunch together sometime. Would you like that? I’d like that.”
Danny smiled and tapped the partition of her cubicle. Mary did nothing. No timid smile. No aggressive smile. Nothing, and Danny began walking away.
“You didn’t let me answer your questions,” Mary called after him.
“Don’t ask questions if you don’t want people to answer them.” They stared at each other for a moment until Mary returned to her filing.
At 11:55am people began to squirm. Mary’s first day back brought with it numerous questions, the most obvious being would the “Whemple break” live on. At 12:05pm Mary was still at her desk. She took from her purse a frozen pizza and a yogurt you could squeeze from a plastic tube. She stared at the items, and then up to her cabinets. Mary never remembered them being so tall.
Mary walked past the main entrance, past the parking lot, and stood on the side of the road, just a foot outside of the property belonging to Sherman Right. She was so far away that people back inside could only see Mary if they squinted their eyes, which they all did.
“What the hell is she doing,” a coworker asked, standing by a window.
“She’s not on office property,” a woman responded with a smile.
Mary felt the wind from the passing cars splash against her body. She would only have to move a few steps to touch them; only a few feet to end it all. She stared up at the sun, but instead of closing her eyes like she had done so many times before, Mary tried as hard as she could to keep them wide open. She wanted to see what it was that gave her life. Not just feel it, and tears began to stream down her face. When Mary could take no more, she looked back at her office and once again saw dozens of faces in the windows, except now there was something new. Sherman stood at the entrance: a little old man. He slowly walked to her, keeping his eyes straight ahead, only on Mary. Inside, the whispers and stares grew stronger.
It’s funny, Mary thought. For the first time in her life when she was excited to retire, excited for all the possibilities this world could offer, she would be fired. Mary knew only the commonalities of law, but she did know she was acting crazy. She knew she deserved what was coming.
Sherman stood at her side. He was still, looking out at the world with the eyes of a little boy. Mary smiled. Oddly enough, after knowing each other for over 30 years this was the first time she had ever seen him outside. He was as pale as her.
“I’ll stand with you, Mary.” And Sherman slowly took her hand.
That was all. There they remained, hand in hand for another forty minutes until Mary’s lunch break was up. People inside watched every second; you would have thought the entire office shut down. They stared in wonder; they stared for Mary, at two souls who needed nothing in the world but each other's soft touch. In this moment, they didn’t even need the sun.
Monday, March 28, 2011
“Wake up,” my father said. “I have something to show you."
In my bunk bed, in the dark, I only saw his thin face. The rest of his body below me and gone.
“Can we wake her?”
He rubbed his dark eyes and scratched his thick stubble.
“Come,” he said. “There’s not much time.”
We drove in his truck along the dirt road. No lights where we lived, only houses then fields.
“Where we going?”
The clouds in the sky covered the moon and the stars. The trees at our sides were moving but still. Only a dim light from the truck to shine on our path.
“One day,” my father said. “One day. One day.”
The truck pulled over and my father got out. He didn’t ask me to follow, but I knew that I should. I was in my pajamas; cold, no jacket. My father took out his long riffle.
“Look,” he said. There was a fox at my side. Its body was mangled, but its face still alive. It turned back and forth, blinking and moaning. Its eyes bright blue, wide and afraid.
“You see it?” he said. “Look at it long.”
And I looked at it. We both did. We both could say nothing.
“It came out of nowhere. I couldn’t miss it. I couldn’t.”
He adjusted the gun and rubbed his dark eyes. He nodded. I nodded. The the bullet stung both my ears.
At home he was smiling, I saw dents in his teeth. He lifted me high and put me in bed. Higher and higher up to my bunk. He hadn’t lifted me so high in so many years.
“I love you, boy. Remember, I do.”
My eyes were closed, but I knew he was there. Just his face at my side. His body below me. His body was gone. Humming all night a song that didn’t exist.
In the morning was mother.
Friday, March 25, 2011
By Sean Kenealy
It was a belt buckle, that’s how I recognized him; a brass image spelling the name Irv. I remembered seeing it when I was a little boy, worn by my mother’s estranged cousin from New York City, a man she rarely spoke of, but always referred to as “something special,” with an eye roll and a lovable tone.
At twenty-two, fresh out of college and new to the city, I gave no thought to finding Irv, family or not, but that didn’t seem to matter. Because there he was, in broad daylight, amidst millions of strangers; a coincidence wrapped up in the shape of a man I only recognized from childhood memories and dated photos: my flesh, my blood, my second cousin Irv; brass belt buckle to prove it.
“Irv,” I said. “Hi, I’m Dan Reily.”
He stood next to a long car, dressed in a suit, looking past dark sunglasses so I couldn’t read his expression.
“Or Dan Kemen,” I continued. “My mother’s maiden name.”
He lowered his glasses, as if accepting the fact I wasn’t crazy and deserved to be seen in the natural light. Irv had an old face, a face of someone who had worked their entire life because they knew they had to. He looked just like I remembered.
“Kemen?” Irv said. “You mean Susan’s little boy?”
I nodded, unsure if being “Susan’s little boy” was good or bad.
“Susan’s little boy,” he repeated, and he walked closer, revealing his combed over hair, round belly, and tanned skin I could have confused with my own.
“You grew up,” Irv said.
“And you got tall.”
He smiled, as if reliving years of his life in this one moment, not seeing me as I was, but as he remembered, a shy eight year old boy.
“And you got hair on your face, too!” Irv said.
I laughed, won over by his simple observations, which anyone could have made, but coming from him seemed like the most exotic, sincere discoveries in the world.
“Man oh man,” Irv said. “This is something! Wish we could do something special right now. Wish I could just drive us out of here!”
He tapped the roof of the car, as if trying to clue me in.
“Oh, that’s right, you’re a driver,” I said, piecing together details of his life I remembered hearing as a boy.
“Susan’s little boy!” And he tapped the roof of the car again, much harder this time, as if too in awe of my presence to address anything I said. “Hey! You know what I would do right now if we could do anything?” He pointed at me and bent his knees. “Go to Coney Island. You ever been there?”
“When I was a kid.”
“But have you ever been there been there?” Making it obvious he thought physically being somewhere didn’t mean you had actually been there.
“We used to go down there when we were kids. Me, your mother, a bunch of other cousins. Man on man!” He laughed, like sharing secrets with me was the most natural thing in the world.
“Drinking, causing, trouble…Shit. That’s where I wish I could take you right now. Over any place in the world.” Irv sighed. He looked out at the city, at the millions of strangers surrounding us. He was an old man, I was a boy; two people who knew nothing of each other. All we had was blood.
“You know they’re tearing Coney Island down soon,” Irv said. “The whole thing. Isn’t that a shame?”
He tapped the roof of the car, this time much softer than before.
“Well,” Irv said. I smiled. All I could do was wait.
A young man walked over, dressed in a tan, sleek suit that made me realize how cheap Irv’s suit probably was. Irv held the car door open for the young man, keeping his eyes down and mouth shut; it seemed like a practiced routine.
I knew he would leave soon. Drive off is what drivers did. But I wanted more. For him to ask how I was, what I was doing, where I was going, all the things you were supposed to ask your family.
“Well,” Irv said again. And that was all. He put his glasses on, pointed at me, and drove off. We never said goodbye.
If it weren’t for the skyscrapers, Irv would have driven off into the sunset.
It had been five years.
“Irv died,” my mother said over the phone. I adjusted the receiver and stared out at my girlfriend lying naked on our bed. We were both naked. “You didn’t know him well. But he visited once or twice when you were a little boy.”
“I remember him,” I said.
She was silent, as if waiting for me to say more, to tell her a story, to tell her about the one time I saw Irv five years ago because I recognized his brass belt buckle, which I never did. Not then, not now.
“There will be a funeral,” my mother said. “You don’t have to come, though. I know you weren’t close.”
“I’ll go, Mom. He’s family.”
She sighed, which quickly turned into a laugh. We were hundreds of miles apart, but I knew she was rolling her eyes.
“I’m sorry, Mom,” I said. “I love you very much, you know.”
“Well,” my mother said. She sighed again. “I love you, too,” and she hung up the phone, giving me no chance to ask about the funeral or how he died. To ask any of the questions you were supposed to ask your family. I could have called back, of course, but I didn’t.
And then I collapsed to the floor. I flailed my arms, kicked my legs, and cried harder than I’d ever cried in my entire life. A shaking, sobbing, naked body. I had no reason to be so upset. My mother was right, I didn’t even know Irv. But maybe there was something more. Maybe it was our blood. Maybe it was because we never went to Coney Island, or because deep down, even if no one wanted to say it, maybe it was because we both knew we would never go. It will be gone soon, anyway.
Or maybe it was because Irv was something special.