I'm in the shower at eight in the evening and it feels like joy, because this morning, because of the high winds, the power went out at four a.m., and I lit candles and I made a sandwich for breakfast, and I went to work with dirty hair.
Where I work, they have showers you can use. They're like little offshoots of the restrooms. I don't know who uses them. This morning when I got to work, I thought okay, if the power stays off all day... and all night... and then tomorrow morning... maybe I'll have to bite the bullet and shower at work.
Would I need to take my bathrobe with me? Would it be weird to walk into work with this big red bathrobe? What if someone I worked with walked in on me in there naked?
When I was with the Clyde Beatty Cole Brothers' Circus, we took communal showers every day. Well, not communal showers, but in the clown truck, where I lived, there was a shower room we all used. It was the last compartment. The rest of the truck was broken up into sleeper compartments, two clowns per compartment, and at the end of every working day, we took our makeup off in that last compartment, standing in front of two adjacent mirrors in front of two adjacent sinks. My stupid memory: I can picture those two mirrors and sinks, but I somehow can't picture the shower. What kind of curtain did it have? How many spigots? There were eight clowns in the truck; how did we arrange to take showers and not walk in on each other naked?
What I do remember vividly for some reason is one day early in the run when I walked past one of the open doors of the truck and found John there sitting on the end of his bunk with his head hanging down. When I asked what was wrong, he said that during the overnight jump, his laptop computer had fallen off the shelf and shattered on the floor. I never knew what to say to someone's unhappiness.
John was a new clown, just out of Ringling clown college, and unready for the rigors of the road. No one had said he might not want to leave a computer sitting on a shelf when the truck was making a jump to the next town. He was young and fresh-faced and sweet. He had this thing where he always shrugged but with his head, one little quick twitch of his head, like oh, my laptop smashed, but it's okay, everything's okay. He was the first person I felt comfortable around on Beatty-Cole - and I'll admit one of the few people that this shy, awkward girl felt completely comfortable with in my whole fifteen years in the circus.
He left before the season even ended, to go off to college.
Years later, I friended someone on Facebook with his name. It turned out this John was some other guy who lived in France. Soon after I friended him, he died. His feed was full of people's pictures of him superimposed with hearts and roses. People grieving openly, in English and in French. Sometimes I'd go on his page and read the remembrances of this man I didn't know. The most recent post, April of last year, says, "7 ans aujourd'hui .... 7 ans que tu as rejoinds les etoiles."
Seven years today. Seven years since you rejoined the stars.
On the bus to work, my traveling companion—kind of—is a graphic of a dog on the window. It’s made out of a black grid of small holes and is pointed in the opposite direction of the bus, its head over my shoulder and its tail just to the left of me so that when I look out the window I’m seeing cars and houses and food carts through the semi-transparent shape of a happy tail.
I’ve been reading a good book, but periodically I have to look up and out the window because when you’re gifted with the shape of a dog in your window, you shouldn’t neglect to take advantage of it.
As we come toward the end of my ride, I put the old airline ticket in my book to mark the place and put the book in my bag. Sort of sad to leave my odd traveling companion. On impulse, I reach out and with one finger touch the glass at the tip of the tail.
I kind of want to pretend to pet the dog. Would that be weird?
Across the aisle from me, a woman has her eyes down, reading a book.
Well, the list isn't random. It's basically a favorite line (or two or three) from each story, in the order in which they appear in the book. But all put together, the list looks pretty random. But I was just thinking about some of my favorite passages, and feeling thankful, again, that these lovely writers gifted our book with them, and I thought I'd like to share. Some of my favorites are the landings to stories (for instance Kevin Meyer's last line to his story "Out of Order" is one of my favorite last lines of a short story ever), but in the interest of not popping spoilers, I'm not including those.
There was only the sound of wind, and then rain, and that curious sound sun makes, when it is speckling on the flowers.
I recognized her in the motion of her eight elegant arms, the way she plucked that kid from the ground and squeezed the life out of him with deliberate grace.
I wanted to go on Craigslist and search for a new housemate. While I waited for the happy face screen to pop up, it occurred to me it might look suspicious if I advertised before filing a missing person report.
She let go of life. Her body drifted from the sleeping pod across the moonlit water. Her daughters woke at sunrise, knowing. The echolocation of grief resounded on the rock walls.
“I wonder if this was a nice place,” Red said. “For the creatures we destroyed, I mean.”
“Hey, boys,” he says to his Santa minions. “On Christmas day I give toys to all the good girls and boys. What do I do the other three hundred and sixty-four days a year?”
“Raise hell, Santa,” they all start shouting. “Raise hell.”
She stole the blue right out of the sky on a rare Oregon clear day, the kind of midday that makes shopkeepers lean against doorways, mothers sit and linger on swings next to their children, and dogs stretch out on driveway sunspots.
Shit shit shit fuck shit this shouldn’t be a thing I hate this place I hate biospheres I hate huge mystery buildings I hate the stupid fucking City of stupid Roses and Aisha’s dead and fUUUUCKKKKKKK.
He’s excited to see me, and we run around in the back yard. I show him how dexterous I’ve gotten at fetching, rolling over, and playing dead. This brings him joy, happiness, w0+w1∑j=1tγt−jCRj+w2∑j=1tγt−jEVj+ w3∑j=1tγt−jRPEj, what the Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran called “your sorrow unmasked.” I, in turn, feel its biomimetic equivalent.
The Yay-yay tilted her head and looked at me again with those same Christian eyes. Those eyes, he died for you. Those eyes, he gave you his one and only son. Those eyes, Yay-yay, she didn’t know nothing about all of that. The guilt and the guilty. The make believe. It all came from me.
And I especially didn’t want the dog once I started playing Polybius, the blackouts started, and the dog was dead set on chewing my face off.
I’m inhaling an atmosphere so thick with information that my lungs are full of whispers. I think I’m on the brink of becoming conscious of myself as text, as a transcribed dream, as something printed on pulp, exuding a cloud of dancing atoms that someone on one of the loftier levels might already be breathing.
I wondered, how would it feel to climb up onto the railing of that bridge at night, to look down into the darkness? How would it feel for that one brief instant to be released from any contact with the earth?
The colors veered around the walls. He wavered on his heels, waiting for his balance to return. Light and dark swapped places, then slowly swapped back.
Sometimes she can still feel the ghosts of the little butterfly flutters in her belly, the somersaults and loop-de-loops of another living thing sharing her body. Little fish swimming along, heartbeat under her heartbeat, until it wasn’t anymore. Just another lost thing.
Her face long like it was, no makeup but the orange lipstick she put on every day. The eyebrows she drew on with the little pencil. All my life she drew her eyebrows and wore the orange lipstick.
The door to the basement is slowly closing, but before it does, I think I catch a glimpse of drab muslin and maybe scales disappearing into the gloom. An appropriate supernatural rustling sound accompanies the creaking door.
Tiny black and brown Henri, a foxy mutt with huge, furry ears and round, brown eyes. When Henri became ill, his eyes filled with slate. Robert and Henri lay together most days, both sleeping their way toward God.
The vampire has a problem with his backside that he’d rather not discuss.
He’s uglier than sin on baby Jesus’s birthday.
The threat of crying kept cropping up inside of my nose the way disappointment does. Abject disappointment, if you wanted to get all SAT prep about it.
She likes the apartment, though the neighborhood itself, with its thousand porches, bothers her. Porches have hippies. Hippies have smells. Smells have water. Water has bugs. Bugs have eyes. Eyes have caps of flesh.
Alex squeezed his bottom lip, which escaped, worm-like.
At first I was like, “Oh, great, more yuppie chic from Uncle Thrak!” But I have to say, heating my mammoth rump with fire was life-changing. Intentionally burning your food (or “cooking,” as they call it) really unlocks the mammoth-flavor. I kept thinking how great it would be paired with a marionberry compote or live ants.
“I’m a window,” he said. “Look at me like I’m a window.”
I looked at the window.
My name is Melquiades, and I am, in that misleadingly innocuous phrase from your police procedures, the “person of interest” wanted for questioning in connection with the disappearance of some twenty thousand of your city’s residents. Before we take up the matter of those missing citizens, nearly all of whom are quite safe, I assure you, you must first understand with whom you are dealing.
Virginity melted down into the earth with the stegosaurus bones.
“I found a jar of mayonnaise a few days ago,” Weisman said, chewing slowly, his eyes distant.
Martin perked up. “Really? What’d you do with it?”
“I left it. A man can’t just eat mayonnaise."
The irises of your eyes got all squishy after the X. Your black irises were a painting my vision could change. I could smear the paint job of your end-of-India eyes to match the world as I saw it. The weight of your forearm, heavy on my back, our two bodies fed into each other, skin was weight and energy and bodies and warm.
The authors, in order of their passages: Rene Denfeld, Brigitte Winter, Leslie What, Leigh Anne Kranz, Dan DeWeese, Brian Reid, Stefanie Freele, Jonah Barrett, Jonathan Hill, Andrew Stark, Bradley K. Rosen, Kevin Meyer, Jason Squamata, Susan DeFreitas, Karen Munro, Nicole Rosevear, Doug Chase, Linda Rand, Kirsten Larson, Justin Hocking, Sean Davis, Suzy Vitello, Leni Zumas, Art Edwards, Mark Russell, Kevin Sampsell, Stevan Allred, B. Frayn Masters, Jeff Johnson, Adam Strong
I pull up to the curb and sit a minute, listening. I rarely listen to music on my commute to work, but today I impulsively grabbed a John Lennon CD, and now I’m just sitting here listening to the wheels go round and round, and I don’t want to turn it off. But I got a late start and I should go in.
Listening to John Lennon makes me feel my childhood in a very visceral way. It makes my body feel weekend trips to the lake, feel myself lying in bed at night unable to go to sleep until I reach the end of the Beatles tape I’m listening to… that one vivid memory I have of riding to the dentist with Mom behind the wheel of the van, and Lennon singing, nobody told me there’d be days like these. Strange days, indeed. Most peculiar, Mama.
I have only a memory of a memory of a memory of the day he died. My mom on the phone crying. Talking to my aunt Kathy. I wasn’t even at my peak personal Beatlemania yet when that happened. With as obsessed as I was, as a kid, with all things John, Paul, George, and Ringo, I know that part of that obsession was my wanting to love everything my mom loved.
I turn off the car, grab my bags. Cross the street in a rain so fine it’s like walking through a memory of rain.
There's a heaviness under my ribcage.
My childhood is so far away.
It’s strange to think that I am so much older than he would ever be.
Open the door to the office and walk down the hall to the time clock. Punch my numbers in, in the tiny rhythm I always do.
I open the front door, dog in one arm, in time for Stephen, just home from work and the store, to head up the walk toward me with his grocery bag. As he reaches the steps to the porch, he glances down at the little pocket knife sitting on our top step.
That thing has been sitting there for two weeks. We came home one night after the theater and found it sitting there. It's kind of creepy to find a pocket knife on your step. You try to pretend a friend lost it or it belongs to your postman who keeps it on his key chain in case of mail emergencies, but it seems more likely that a thief tried to jimmy the lock and got scared off, leaving his tool of trade behind.
Two weeks, and neither Stephen nor I has moved the pocket knife. I don't know why. Part of it for me might be that it feels like a tiny, evil thing that I wouldn't want to touch. That thief's tool of trade. It's not like it's diseased. But I don't know what I'd do with it if I did pick it up. It's not like I'd want to use it since it's not mine. And I don't like throwing things away.
Part of it is that it feels fitting sitting there, this tiny, evil thing. After the tiny, evil start to our year, with Stephen's middle-of-the-night fall out of bed and then the ER and then Urgent Care and then my mammogram and my followup mammogram and my followup biopsy - just too many trips to the doctor and too many worries in too short a time for us both.
And part of it is that it's become familiar, this thing I always see. The other day I came up the steps and didn't see it. For a second, my brain felt disappointed and then I noticed it was still there, just off to the left a bit, lying perpendicular to the porch instead of slanty. I wondered how it got moved. I felt possessive of it: Who moved my tiny, evil pocket knife?
Sometimes I wonder if Stephen just doesn't notice it. I mean, we both saw it that first night but maybe he's just forgotten about it and hasn't noticed it since. It's very small. But he notices everything. How can you not notice a knife sitting on your porch step? Maybe he notices it and leaves it there like me. But if so, why? It seems so unlike him, not to tidy something up.
Now, grocery bag on one arm, he clearly notices it. He takes a step up, toward it.
I'm afraid he'll pick it up and this will all be over.
With one foot, he gives a nudge to the pocket knife.
Just one nudge.
"It should be slanty," he tells me.
He hefts the grocery bag up the last step to the porch and follows me through the door.
Just about ready to leave for work, Stephen asks, "Do you have any fives? Can you make change for a twenty?"
I grab my bag and start hunting around. "I don't know. I know I gave Doug three fives on Thursday. Ooh!"
I pull one out.
I hunt some more. A one. A ten. A receipt.
Past the checkbook, past the folded up directions to somewhere I probably don't need to go again.
I pull one out.
A chapstick. Another chapstick.
A two dollar bill that I'll never spend because two dollar bills are cool.
Past my one set of sunglasses. Past my second set of sunglasses that looks exactly like the first set of sunglasses that I thought I'd lost once but hadn't.
I pull one out.
Past old, used theater tickets, an old, used airline ticket, doggy poop bags, another receipt, a gift card that might have some money on it, an old packaged tiny biscotti from an airplane that I just might need if I ever get trapped on an elevator.
And down at the very bottom:
I pull it out and add it to the pile.
Stephen grins and pulls out his wallet. "Excellent! OK, here. Wait." He leafs through bills in the wallet. Finds the twenty.
"It was filed in the wrong place," he says.
He hands me the bill. I take it. I feign distress. "It was filed in the wrong place?" I say.
I look into the bottomless pit of my bag and toss the twenty in.