Tag Archives: short story

Boxes

What I remember most about my dad was all the boxes.

Every few weeks, my dad loaded up his car with recyclables: boxes heaped with yellowed newspapers, boxes stacked within other boxes, boxes of glass bottles clinking against each other as if toasting to their imminent end. 

The recycling drop-off center was an industrial garage a few miles out of town. My dad drove inside the building, parked his car next to a dumpster, and told my brother and me to start tossing recyclables wildly into their respective containers. The din was tremendous, a cacophony of objects doomed to meet their re-creators. 

For all the times I’d helped my dad unload the recycling before, I still was surprised by the heaviness of the boxes, and I inevitably dropped each one on the floor. Even the smallest box was a bigger burden than my spindly arms could carry—I staggered unsteadily under its weight.

My dad, looking up from across the room, started laughing. He walked over and hoisted the box I was struggling with onto one shoulder and carried it away easily. I felt suddenly unbalanced once the weight was gone; I felt empty-handed, useless.

I busied myself with the glass bottles instead. There was an inexplicable satisfaction in throwing a bottle into the air, watching it fly over the side of the container, and hearing it shatter into pieces in some unseen glass graveyard.

One by one I threw the bottles, until there were none left to throw. 

On the way home, I stared out the window, my eyes glazing over the passing scenery outside, the recycling center already long forgotten from my mind. I never gave it a second thought. I never wondered where the recyclables went or how they would be used in their next lives.

I never considered how destruction could be a catalyst toward creation. 

* * *

She looks like him, pale and frizzy-haired, walking on toothpick legs up the overgrown sidewalk to her grandpa’s old house. 

She hasn’t been here since he died. 

I open the door and wait for her reaction—tears, a gasp, some quiet expression of grief. But she’s surprisingly calm; she says nothing. She knows why we’re here.

The house echoes with emptiness. She walks inside slowly, almost cautiously, and sits down in the living room, looking around at this strange place. It’s only been a week, but everything’s changed. My brother was here a few days ago, cleaning closets, moving furniture, sorting through as much as he could while I was still in the hospital. Now piles of photos, books, and clothes line the living room and hallway, waiting to be packed up and carted off.

We spend the morning in near silence. In a few hours we’ve put everything into cardboard boxes labeled for sale, donation, or trash. 

After sitting on the floor for so long, my body aches. I leave her to explore the photographs stacked on the table and carefully rise to go to the bathroom. The door clicks closed behind me. I lift my shirt and gingerly remove the old bandage from my abdomen, crumpling it into a plastic bag in my purse; there’s not even a trashcan here anymore.

The incision looks fine: raw, full of sutures, but healing. I run two fingers over its rough surface, knowing I shouldn’t touch it but unable to resist. Underneath this scar lies the only thing of his I have left, after all. 

When I finish applying a clean bandage, I look at my reflection in the mirror. It’s then that I see myself through his eyes, that same wide-eyed girl, bigger now but staggering again under an intangible weight. I stare at the mirror for as long as I can stand to; then I pull away, a lump suddenly forming in my throat. You were supposed to help me. You weren’t supposed to die.

Her voice breaks my reverie. “Mom, is this you?” She sounds so small. Quickly wiping my eyes, I open the door and go to her. She’s looking so closely at the photos in one of the albums that her nose nearly touches the page. I look at the photo she’s pointing at: an old one, my dad and me in our front yard, raking leaves into a pile larger than I am. I simply smile.

She turns the page. My dad glances up at her from each photo, his face rooted in memory, his eyes permanently fixed on hers but unseeing. Time passes in the photos as he poses with his daughter, his baby granddaughter, his growing granddaughter—and then time stops. 

One by one we turn the pages, until there are no more photos to see.

She closes the album, stands, and walks to one of the boxes lining the wall, placing the album gently inside. It’s unspoken between us, but we know it’s time to leave. It’s time to pack up this house, these memories.

My doctor told me not to lift heavy things for six to eight weeks. By then I’ll be strong enough.

Until then, she helps me carry the boxes.

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The Day the Sun Collapsed

I.

The day the sun collapsed, Nick One Feather woke up to a black dawn. Mites of dust floated above his bed, barely visible. His skin cracked from the dry air, his mouth parched from open-mouth breathing in the usual high temperatures all night, Nick glanced up from his bed out the window to see only a slate-colored sky resting dully above the earth.

It was dark. Too dark. Although he felt surprisingly rested, Nick felt sure he had woken up hours too early. He sat up, squinting, and reached for his glasses on the nightstand. His vision cleared immediately, but the darkness was not abated. Nick checked his watch: 8:43 a.m. He was late; his body had tricked him into sleeping in too long.

He swung his legs off his bed onto the floor and stretched wearily. The moment his bare feet touched the floor, he recoiled and pulled them up again—an icy jolt had surged into his skin up his whole body, as if the floor had sprouted frost overnight. Hm, Nick thought. It wasn’t like that yesterday. The geothermal heat setting must be broken again. The air around him even felt colder, an observation made apparent now that he was out from under his blankets and his skin was exposed to the unusually chilld air. He shivered and made a point to jot a note down in his record book about the sudden temperature drop.

Standing up now, Nick felt the blood course through his body and he felt more awake. He cursed himself for sleeping in—it seemed there was never enough time in a day. He walked to his living room, where all of his digital tools for record-keeping were kept, and wrote down a couple notes about the temperature drop; and he was about to walk to the kitchen to make his morning cup of coffee—noting regretfully that he had run out of his favorite coffee blend—when he noticed the people standing just on the other side of the kitchen window.

It was quiet, the crowd standing outside, but large; and when Nick had donned his specialized temperature body suit and went outside, hardly anyone noticed his presence. They were all too busy staring up at the sun through their own veiled visors—or, more accurately, where the sun used to be. Now all that was left was a tiny white dwarf star, a pinprick of a dot in the sky that emanated heat beyond its core.

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The Wall

One by one they arrived. At dawn, their silhouettes stretched down the sidewalk, their grey figures waving back and forth in the brisk sunlight. Some of the figures stood alone, their hoods pulled up over the heads to protect themselves in the cold January air. But most stood with their arms outstretched and their gloved hands entwined with the hands of their children standing next to them. Their rosy faces nearly hidden underneath layers of clothing and covered by hats and scarves, only their breaths in the cold air showed signs of life.

Manhattan was always full of people, but this morning, a Saturday, the crowd that had gathered at 263 W. 38th Street stood in silence, a stark contrast to the bustling traffic around them. The crowd, primarily women and children, stood fidgeting in the cold as the people waited. A man near a building checked his cell phone for the time. A young girl standing by her mother stood with mouth agape at the people; her mother reached down and wiped her nose. A woman with a dark complexion wearing a hijab and a name tag walked through the crowd of people hanging out candles; as she went, the flame from the first candle she had lit followed her as people shared the light.

The girl with the runny nose watched this woman work from the side of the crowd where she stood. She could barely see around the legs of the taller grown-ups who stood around her, but she peered cautiously around her mother’s own legs to see what this woman was doing. She was still walking through the crowd, handing out candles to adults and leaning down to the children she saw and whispering into their ears—children who made up the majority of the crowd that had gathered now. The girl tugged at her mother’s pants. “What is she doing, Omi?” she whispered.

“Hush, Zafirah,” her mother said. “Wait until she gets here.”

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The Villa

Someone was always ringing the doorbell these days. Usually on Tuesdays Carl could barely go fifteen minutes without the resonant tones of the bell going off, and he would hasten to the door to let another guest in. Mondays were often busy, too. And sometimes the place could get crowded on Friday and Saturday nights, especially in the springtime, when the weather improved and the leaves started budding vibrant green again.

Carl had known by now to have pastries prepared all day for the influx of visitors he expected on any given day. They were always hungry and usually took a cookie or two with a guilty look on their faces, muttering that someone else would probably need the cookies more than they would. But Carl always shrugged and told them it was fine. They nibbled at their snacks nervously, eyeing the other guests with suspicion and shame.

On this particular Tuesday Carl was especially tired. There was a strange lull in visitors that afternoon, and more than an hour passed without the doorbell ringing once. Carl lounged on the couch in the living room, the front door of the villa 15 feet diagonal from where he sat now. In the break in guests arriving, Carl made the mistake of blinking his eyes for longer than three seconds, and before he knew it he awoke again to the suddenly harsh tones of the doorbell. He swung his feet to the floor with a thump and stood with a creak. The doorbell rang again, twice in a row; Carl sensed the urgency of the tones beyond the door.

“Just a minute!” Carl shouted hoarsely, then cleared his throat. “Hold on! Don’t leave!” With soft stockinged feet he paced quickly to the entryway and swung the door open, fearing that his visitor was too anxious and had already left. When his eyes focused Carl looked straight into the eyes of a sweaty middle-aged man with a worn hat ring around his forehead; the hat itself he wrung nervously through his fingers, bending the brim back and forth. His eyes changed to an expression of relief when he saw Carl open the door.

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Westerly Winds

In eastern Wyoming snakes a narrow creek along the vacant landscape, its muddy waters barely trickling from north to south parallel to Highway 18 as the area’s few travelers pay it any mind. In the middle of the creek, on a lonely island displayed modestly beneath the blinding sun, sways a single narrowleaf cottonwood tree in the unceasing gales, the only sign of life above the surface of the dull waters.

Old Woman Creek, they call it. Legend has it the locals named it after seeing the ghost of an Indian woman dancing in the moonlight along the banks. They say she still visits the creek during the full moon every month, and some seasoned elders, gray and haggard from the country sun, even say that the creek runs backward those nights.

I’ve never seen the creek reversed, but I’ve seen it dried up, and from the way the locals talk, that’s the old woman’s fault too. She’s haunting us, they say; don’t go anywhere near that river. They say she lives in that cottonwood tree now and she dances on those banks even still.

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A Perceptible Break

Gus Porter woke from slumber at precisely 5:45 a.m. as he did every morning and sat up in bed, stretching his shaking arms above his head as far as his arthritic elbows would allow, the flab of the skin on his biceps drooping back down into his pajama sleeves. The light was just peeking through the cracks in the Venetian blinds adorned to his frost-covered window, and he yawned to welcome the new day. He groaned with the aches and sleepiness of a man in his ninth decade, and when he swung his veiny legs off the side of the bed into his worn suede slippers and stood up, he walked straight out of the room without turning around to notice thad he had left his body lying prone and deathly still in the bed behind him.

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Intersection

A couple stands at the intersection holding hands loosely, their fingers intertwined but relaxed, indicative of the stage of their relationship when passion is not their priority but a physical connection is. The girl, who can’t be older than 17, wears a knee-length pleated floral skirt above laced-up leather boots under which her feet are surely sweating in the dry July heat; the boy, who looks even younger with his apparent inability to grow facial hair, holds her hand calmly while fidgeting in his shorts pocket with the other, twisting the cloth back and forth below his fingers. His shirt has a silhouette of mountains on the front of it and a Colorado flag as a backdrop, indicating his tourist status to this mountain town — likely a souvenir from the t-shirt shop down the street. The couple stands at the front of the line watching the cars pass back and forth in front of them, waiting only for the little white neon man on the light pole fifty feet away to tell them it’s safe to walk. She taps her toes twice and draws a circle with the toe of her boot on the unresistant sidewalk; he looks at her and lets go of her hand. They both stand with their hands on their hips waiting to cross.

A bicyclist swerves up next to them, jutting his wheel out into the intersection mere inches from traffic turning right on the adjacent street. He wears a helmet and sunglasses and doesn’t look either direction; he stares only straight ahead, waiting also for the traffic light to become red so he can cross safely. The couple gives him a side-eyed glance as he leans on one foot and one pedal entirely too close to them for comfort. Music blares from his headphones, the cord attached to which hangs dangerously close to his handlebars; first only a faint drumbeat can be heard through the headphones from a few inches’ distance, but when the song picks up it can clearly be identified as “Livin’ On a Prayer.” The girl hears the beat and begins unconsciously nodding her head to it; her boyfriend looks over at her and smiles; she smiles back sheepishly. The music seems to propel the bicyclist, and he inches forward slightly into the intersection but the white neon man doesn’t change for the biker’s will. A row of cars farther down the next block impedes everyone’s views from the oncoming traffic, and the biker is impatient for the light to change. He, too, must wait.

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Big news!

The Priest_coverHello, lovely readers! I have more news for those of you who visit this blog!

I’ve taken the next steps in my writing and publishing adventure:

1. First I’ve just published my novella, The Priest, on Amazon! This is the longest piece I’ve ever written, at 37,000 words, and it was a blast to write the whole way through. Please go check it out!

2. In the spirit of promoting my work, I’ve just made a Facebook page and a Goodreads author page for posting updates and excerpts from my work. I’m just getting the hang of both of these sites as promotional resources, but please check them out and stay tuned.

Thanks for your continued interest! I’ll still be posting poems and short stories here, but it’s been a whirlwind lately with all this other stuff I’ve been invested in. I promise I’ll be back here soon!

 

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Author’s note: The Mush Hole is published!

51gce5CAL%2BL._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_Hello readers! Exciting news on this blog! My story “The Mush Hole” is officially published! I have been working on self-publishing some of my work, and this story I wrote last year is up first! Please go take a look and purchase it if you’re so inclined! (And spread the word!) It’s available for Kindle and Kindle varieties right now, and I will be looking into expanding these options in the future as I get the hang of self-publishing.

And as I begin working on longer stories this summer, I intend to publish those on Amazon as well, and I will put links here that you can follow to find them.

So without further ado, here is “The Mush Hole”!

 

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Rhythm 0

The rules were simple: there were no rules.

There were no rules, and no restraints; no obstacles, and no limits. As long as she was alive in the end, anything was fair game.

She was in the newspapers for months before she did it. “Performing artist to test physical limits;” “Audience invited to participate in performing art;” “Police caution Mehari against audience violence;” “Mehari eager to explore artist boundaries.” The newspapers ran her name sparsely at first, as just another bizarre art project in the city; then, when the press got wind of the experiment she was about to undergo, it had a field day. Everyone wanted to see her; everyone wanted to talk to her. As the date of her performance drew closer, she receded slightly from the public eye — she wanted to concentrate on her spiritual being, strengthening her resolve for what she knew would be a profound and arduous task.

The night before the exhibit she stood alone in the shadows of the performing arts center, carelessly waving her fingers and hands in the light and watching the shadows cast themselves three times larger against the walls. One set of lights was mounted to the floor 40 feet away from the north wall; two other sets were fixed perpendicular to the first set, creating a box of light where the focal point would be Zahra, standing motionless at the back of the wall. Behind her hung two pieces of wood crossed over each other with strings hanging from either end. She would start by tying herself to those strings against wall, facing the audience head on. Twenty more feet in front of her would be placed a small table with 33 objects on it, one for every year of her life. That was the entire performance.

Tonight, the night before it was to take place, Zahra walked around the room in the shadows, carefully realigning each object on the table exactly the way she wanted them: a ring, a rose, a straw hat, a box, a blanket. On the table next to a set of instructions were all 33 objects, placed in order of increasing lethality, ending with a candle, a scarf, a hammer, a serrated knife, a loaded pistol.

Zahra walked to the table and picked up the first object, then the second, then the third. She became detached from herself, imagining the possible ways a stranger might use each object. She had to be prepared for any reaction from any person who used her, although she told herself she would keep the performance going no matter what.

Her manager, George Kelly, had argued with her the entire planning process of this exhibit, which she called Rhythm 0. Someone is going to kill you, Zahra, he’d shouted, flailing his hands in the air as he walked around her apartment in a frenzy the day after she called to tell him the museum space was booked. Then they kill me, she’d responded blankly. She’d only stared at him before he stormed out with the same widened, steely eyes that would stare back at the audience members who used the objects on her the very next day.

Then they kill me, she repeated to herself now, staring at the objects. Somehow these words meant nothing in her mind now; she knew she could die, and she felt nothing.

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