Antediluvian Banker’s Boxes

“I used to write poetry,” Viola tells me. “A million years ago, before I got old and fossilized.”

“You aren’t old,” I say. “You’re just a baby.”

“I’m the same age as you, Bastian. We are antediluvian.”

We are in the back yard of her house, seated in wrought iron chairs around the matching iron table. We are not masked in this time of plague, which is fine. The both of us are vaccinated, and we do not go anywhere, do anything. This is the world now. We make do as best we can.

“I have a banker’s box in the attic,” she says. “Lots of pages of scribbles and nonsense. Notebooks. Journals. All that stupid love crap.” She gently spins the coffee mug on the table in front of her. “What a waste of time it all was.”

“Writing’s never a waste of time,” I say. “It always adds up to something.”

“Sure,” she says. “It adds up to a banker’s box in the attic. That’s about it, though.”

I don’t know how to respond to this. I have a banker’s box of my own, as well as the digital equivalent of one spread across hard drives and old floppy disks and ancient abandoned laptops stacked at the bottom of the bedroom closet. “I never could get the hang of writing poetry,” I say. “It always looks off to my eyes when I read it. I need paragraphs, you know? Sentences and punctuation.”

“I need air in my lines. Space to breathe. Pauses and naps.”

“I would like a nap,” I say. “From now until this plague is over.”

“It’s never going to be over. It’s just going to keep spiraling forever.”

I don’t know what to say to this, so I don’t say anything. I take a sip from my own mug, the coffee gone cold. An October breeze picks up, and the orange and yellow leaves in the yard crackle and drift across the grass.

“I think I need a road trip,” she says. “I haven’t been anywhere in almost two years. I’m going stir crazy, Bastian.”

“I can’t go anywhere yet. I’d be too nervy, you know?”

“I could do it. There’s enough room in the back of the Volvo to sleep in, so I wouldn’t need a hotel. It’s like camping, except in a car.”

“Sounds like a good way to get murdered.”

“I’ll bring my machete. A good offense in the best defense.”

“As long as I don’t see a Netflix documentary about you, is what I’m saying.”

“Nah,” she says. “HBO or nothing. Their docs are way better.” She leans forward and puts her elbows on the table. “I think I’m going to do it. Load up a cardboard box with Wonder Bread and peanut butter, get a full tank, and head out. I’ve got so much vacation time I haven’t used. It’s just accruing. Throw in sick days, I can probably be out for a couple of months, no problem.”

“All your plants will die if you go for two months.”

“They won’t,” she says. “Because you’re going to come water them while I’m gone.”

“Be sure to send me postcards. None of that Instagram shit. I want real snail mail.”

“The snailiest,” she says.

“And presents. Stupid road trip crap. Like shot glasses refrigerator magnets.”

“The magnetiest.”

I raise my mug and finish my coffee. “If we were still in college, you’d actually take the trip.”

“If we were still in college,” she says, “you’d come with me.”

“Nah. You’re the poet. You’re the one who likes space in her lines and room to breathe. I like paragraphs and punctuation. Besides, if I go on a road trip, I’m not going without my wife, and there’s no way she’s going to sleep in the back of a car for two months. We’d all end up in that documentary by that point, buried in shallow graves in the desert.”

The wind rises again, and Viola stuffs her hands into her coat pockets. “I don’t think I can actually take two months off,” she says. “Gas costs too much. And the Volvo is twenty years old. She wouldn’t survive a road trip.”

“Real life,” I say. “It’s a bitch.”

“Fucking hell.”

“Fucking hell, indeed.”

Two crows ride the wind above the yard, cawing at one another. They drift easily in the air, then I lose sight of them as they pass over the roof of Viola’s house.

“Fuck it,” she says. “I’m just going to write another goddamn poem.”

“Another banker’s box, Vi.”

“Always another banker’s box, Bastian. Always.”

Rocket Man

My phone buzzes, and I pull it from my pocket to see who is calling. Rivi.

“Did you watch?” she says by way of hello when I take the call.

“Watch what?”

“The Shat,” she says.

“I’m sorry. The what?”

“The Shat. Shatner. Captain Kirk.”

“Ah,” I say. “That thing. Yes, I saw it. Boldly going, and all that.”

“More like oldly going.”

“Yes, Rivi. You are very funny.”

“I’ll bet he shat on the way up, too.”

“I’m hanging up now, Rivi.”

“Had a photon torpedo in the tube.”

“Goodbye, Rivi.”

“Probably dropped a captain’s log.”

“Talk to you later.”

“You love me,” she says.

“The rumor persists.”

“Goodnight, Sebastian.”

“Goodnight, Rivi.”

 

Plans In the Fading Light

“Sit on the end of the bed,” I say.

“Hands in your lap.”

Tina does as I ask, putting her hands together, letting them fall slightly into the space between her thighs. She is wearing an old cardigan, a whisper of blue still clinging to the thin fabric. It’s open in the front, revealing to my eye, but I know that when I take the photo, the curves beneath will be lost in the shadows painted on her by the fading evening light.

“Don’t move,” I say. I go to her, and with the tip of my finger, I move the hair out of her face, guiding it away from the light on the left side of her, and into the darkness of the right. I step away from her until my back is pressed against the bedroom wall, and raise the camera to my eye.

“I’m going to kiss you after,” she says. “When you get your shot.”

“Uncross your legs,” I say. She’s not wearing pants. The light on her bare skin is warm, like drifting campfire smoke.

“And then I’m going to write it in my book.” I can see her book in the background of the frame, on her nightstand on her side of the bed, the side closest the door. She’s kept it there every night for the past six months, since we moved in together. She has never told me what she writes in it, and I’ve never looked inside it.

“I’m going to kiss you twice,” she says. “Then you’re going to kiss me back.”

“Raise your chin just a hair. Little more. Stop.”

“You’re going to kiss me anywhere I tell you.”

Through the lens, the edges of the bed push in toward her as they move away from her, seeming to draw what little light there is inward and around her face. The dark wood of the headboard puts a comfortable halo of darkness behind her, which further brings her forward into the image, softly, gently.

“Six months,” she says. “It’s not an anniversary. I don’t know what you call it.”

“Don’t move,” I say. I hurry to the window and adjust the sheer white curtain in front of it, taking out a line in the fabric that was distracting to my eye. The light is fading quickly, and I want to get the shot.

“Hex? Isn’t hex six? A hexiversary. That might be it.”

I stand against the wall again, and lift the camera.

“Do you feel hexed?” she asks.

“Look at me,” I say.

She moves her eyes at me, but it’s off, removed from the moment, not a part of it. She’s looking at the lens, but not at the man behind it.

“No,” I say. “Look at me.”

She knows what I’m asking, what I’m needing, and so she shifts her view, the barest of motions, almost imperceptible… and then with that, everything is perfect. She is perfect.

Click.

“Is that it?” she asks as I lower the camera.

“One and done,” I say. “It’s your hexiversary present.”

“If you want yours,” she says, “I’ll have to take this sweater off.”

“We have dinner reservations. It’ll screw up our plans.”

She stands up from the bed, then lets the cardigan fall to the floor. “You of all people know how bad I am at following a plan.” She steps over the sweater and comes to me. She puts one hand behind my neck and draws me down, and then kisses me once on the mouth, and then once more. “Now you kiss me,” she says, and I do, letting my lips linger, her taste on my tongue. When we finally pull apart, she says, “Now put your camera down and come to bed. We can get pizza later. It’s a hexiversary tradition.”

“Now that,” I say, “is a plan I can definitely get behind.”

The Bones in Her Throat

Unsplash Crow FenceOlivia Script

The rain falls on me, heavy at first, then lighter, then heavier again. I am soaked to the skin, and I am hoping that the backpack I’m wearing is waterproof. I’m afraid to open it to check, and so I leave it on and just keep walking.

The further I go along the street, the fewer people I see, the fewer parked cars, the fewer buildings. Soon the sidewalk runs out as well, replaced with a grassy shoulder along the road, and there is nothing to either side of me except fields speckled with the occasional group of oaks, and a line of white fencing that extends forever in front of me.

A flash of lightning rips across the sky, and a pattern of shadows races across the field to my left, thrown from the trees nearest me. I am startled enough by the unexpected light, but what unsettles me more is that the shadows continue to move after the light dies down again, flowing like water across the grass, an afterimage in motion. They race across the field toward me, quickly, far too quickly, and I step back from the fence at the field’s edge, stepping up onto the road. The shadows hit the fence at a terrific speed, silently crashing against it, and although there is no sound of the impact, the fence creaks and vibrates as though it has been hit by a considerable weight, and water splashes from the boards and onto the pavement at my feet.

I take another step into the road, putting more distance between me and the field, and I pick up my pace. Keep to the road, the woman in the leather coat had told me. You’re safe as long as you keep to the road. She had also said it was only a mile to the houses, but there’s no way that’s true. I’ve been walking for at least an hour now, and I’ve yet to see anything since leaving the town that’s not fields and trees. I’m certain I’ve not taken a wrong turn, simply because there has been no other road to follow but the one I’m already on.

There is another flash of lightning to my left. I don’t turn to look.

How many miles now? Five? Seven? All I have to gauge by is the brightness in the sky, and although I can’t see the sun through the clouds, I have a sense that it won’t be long before night overtakes me. The rain continues to fall for what seems like hours, and even though the trees become greater in number, and clump together in thicker groups, and even though my feet are cold and wet and aching, I don’t leave the road to go sit in the dry places beneath them. Though I’ve seen no more wild shadows in the blasts of lightning which illuminate the countryside, I feel no decrease in my worry about what might be on the other side of the long white fence.

I don’t know how much longer I walk before I notice that the rain has stopped, or that the skies have finally grown clear. Looking up, I see a vast scattering of stars, bright swirls and spirals of them, brighter than I’ve ever seen before, freed from the dimming and blurring of city lights. I’m no astronomer, but not a single constellation looks familiar to me. A green ribbon of an aurora stretches across the sky, dividing it like the channel of a river, from one side of the horizon to the other.

I realize I am shivering, that my teeth are chattering, that in the brightness from the stars and aurora, I can see my breath clouding in front of me as I walk.

There is nothing good about this situation.

I take off my backpack and kneel down, setting it on the damp pavement, and nervously unzip the main pocket. I fear the worst, but I’m relieved when I put my hand inside and find that my clothes have remained dry throughout the rain and long walk. At least something is going right for me this time.

I am not about to leave the road in order to change, and so I awkwardly take off the wet clothing that Sullivan had given me back in his shop, and let it drop to the pavement at my feet. I take my jeans and T-shirt from the pack, the clothes I’d been wearing a million years ago when I’d walked through Mr. Middlemost’s door in the shed in California, and fumble to put them on in the dark. I put on two pairs of Sullivan’s socks, and slip my feet back into my wet shoes.

When I am done, I at least feel warmer, and I savor the moment. I’m afraid that small victories are the only ones I’ll be having from here on out.

I don’t know what else to do with Sullivan’s wet clothes, so I wring them out as best I can, and tie them to the straps of the backpack. I don’t want to leave them behind. I might end up needing them again.

The book of photos I put inside the plastic bag that had been holding my socks, adding some extra protection for it, just in case.

I am just settling the backpack against my shoulders again when I hear the first whisper from the other side of the white fence.

What is it? the whisper asks. I smells it on the road.

I turn and look, the field bright from the light of the stars and aurora. I see nothing but grass and trees, but I sense that emptiness is an illusion.

It’s a her, a second whisper replies. A so-close-to-us her.

A sigh, light as a breeze, and a smell of rot and undergrowth drifts like smoke across me. I wants her. I wants to touch her hair.

Have her hair. I wants to feel her fingers. Soft, I bet they are. Like butterfly stomachs.

I want to run, but I force myself to keep to a fast walk. The night is bright, but I don’t want to stumble in a rut in the road. A twisted ankle would make this more of a horror movie brought to life than it already is.

I wants her teeth. And the bones in her throat.

Follow her. Breathe on her. Lull her.

Again there is a sigh, and again the stink slips over me. I feel covered in a patina of mildew, and I wipe at my face with the back of my hand. The taste of it is in my mouth, like moldy bread.

Her skull for a bowl, the voice whispers.

Her eyes for my eggs, the second voice murmurs. Her belly for my nest.

Again the breath against me, fetid and moist, and my throat is full of burning coals. I stumble, falling forward and scraping my hands against the pavement as I am swept away in a fit of coughs, heavy and thick, stars at the edge of my vision.

So close, sighs the first voice.

So near, breathes the second.

Something begins to pull gently at my hair, tugging, insistent. Still coughing, I try to crawl further away from the fence, to the other side of the road, but then the invisible fingers in my hair tighten, and yank my head back and to the side. Like I am on a leash.

Bring her.

To us.

I fall to my side, helped along by the tugging in my hair, and roll onto my back. The stars are bright above me, the aurora shimmering at the edges, vibrating and indistinct. Another wave of rotten air blows over me, and the stinging of it brings tears to my eyes. I blink against them and put my hands to my head, trying to free the phantom fingers there that are pulling harder, yanking me backwards, moving me toward the fence despite my attempts to scramble away from it.

Closer.

Nearer.

A touch on my shoulder, and then a painful iron grip.

We has her.

We does.

And then I feel the grass beneath me as I am pulled off the pavement and onto the grass running along the long white fence. I slip beneath the bottom of the fence, and as much as my fingers dig into the damp wood, as deep as the splinters bite into my skin, as much as my muscles strain against the tidal pull…

Her is ours.

Bones for us.

A Chess Game of Cards

Unsplash ChessSebastian Script

 

I am meeting Suzi at the Palace of Fine Arts, beneath the giant dome on the edge of the pond. The crowd is much larger than I’d been expecting, a thick herd of people milling about, blocking my way, nearly tripping over one another as they walk the grounds. I’d forgotten it is Memorial Day weekend, which explains why I’d had to park in Timbuktu and walk a million miles to get here.

My phone buzzes, and I see that it’s Suzi calling me. “Hello,” I say, answering it.

“Hi,” she says. “I’m here. I have no idea where you are, but I’m here.”

“I’m here too. Under the dome.”

“Me too,” she says. “Raise your hand. I’ll find you.” I put my arm up into the air and start waving it. “I see you. Don’t move, I’ll be right over.”

“Stay on the line,” I say. “In case I get crushed by the throng. You can hear my last words. I’ll keep waving like an idiot though, because that’s a good look for me.”

There is a touch on my arm from behind, and I turn around, finding Suzi standing there. “Hang on a minute,” she says into the phone, which she then takes from her ear and presses against her chest. “I’m sorry,” she whispers to me. “I have to finish this call.” She lifts the phone again and says into it, “So look, I’ve got to go, because I found you in the crowd, and it’s kind of rude for me to be on the phone now, you know? Makes a bad first impression.”

“No, absolutely,” I say into my phone. “Do your thing. I’m sure I’ll talk to you soon.”

“I’m sure you will,” she says. She disconnects her phone and puts it into her back pocket. “So hi. I’m assuming you’re Sebastian, since you have his phone and all.”

“I assume I am too, since my picture is on his license.”

“Do I need to show you mine,” she asks, “or can you assume that I am who I say I am?”

“We’re in a crowd,” I say, “so odds are that if you’re a serial killer, you’re not going to try anything here in public.”

“Probably not,” she agrees. “And it really is insanely crowded, isn’t it?”

“Memorial Day,” I say.

“How about we walk in a non-touristy direction, and find someplace a little quieter for me to murder you in?”

“I think I saw some lovely alleys to the south of here. Full of dumpsters and hobo urine.”

“Sounds perfect,” she says. “Lead on.” We begin weaving through the crowd, heading back in the direction of where I had parked my car. “So Rivi told me there are two things I’m not supposed to ask you about.”

“Oh she did, did she?”

“Yep. I’m not supposed to ask you about Hannah, and I’m not supposed to ask you about your vestigial tail.”

“Uh-huh,” I say.

“So of course now I really want to know about the tail, but I was specifically told to pretend that I don’t know about it, so I’m not really sure how to go about asking to see it.”

“Rivi may have been full of shit on that one. Not saying for sure one way or the other, but the odds are not in her favor.”

“Too bad. That sounded kind of hot, actually.” We stop at an intersection and wait for the light to change. “I shouldn’t ask about Hannah either, obviously.”

“Obviously.”

“So who is she?”

“If I knew you better,” I say, “I’d tug on the sides of your face to make sure you aren’t Rivi wearing a Suzi mask.”

“Ridiculous. Rivi already knows who Hannah is.”

“Is this how all your first dates go?” I ask.

“I wasn’t really treating this as a date,” she says. “I don’t do blind dates, and this would be one, if we were actually doing it.”

The light changes from red to green, and we start across the street. “Okay, then it’s not a date. What should we call it?”

“An outing?” she suggests.

“Outing is good,” I say. “Sounds like we should be having lemonade and riding in a horse-drawn buggy.”

“You’re dodging the question, by the way.”

“Which question was that?”

“Who Hannah is.”

“This really isn’t a date?” I ask.

“Totally not,” she says. “Just an outing.”

“So I don’t have any pressure on me to be charming and full of wit?”

“No way,” she says. “Screw that. Why should you have to work that hard when it’s not a date?”

“And is this an outing where there is food or drink involved?”

She takes her phone out again. “Depends on what Google has to say about it.” She types a moment. “There’s something near here that claims to have rustic Italian fare and wood-fired pizza. I think those fall within the boundaries of an outing.”

“Brilliant. I’m a fan of both pizza and rust, so that should be just perfect.”

“Then we keep walking this way,” she says, “and then we turn that way, and then you can keep on trying to dodge my questions.”

“I’m not dodging anything. I’m just choosing not to answer.”

“See?” she says. “This is also why this isn’t a date. You’re already seeing someone.”

“I’m not really,” I say. “She’s just a friend.”

“Rivi said you’d say that. She also said I should say that you’re full of shit and you should just hop on that train already.”

“I’m sorry, why exactly did you agree to go out with me on this outing? I’m a little confused about your motivation here.”

“I am a mystery wrapped in an enigma.”

“Now who is dodging the question?”

“Fine,” she says. “Rivi is fun, and she likes you, so I thought that boded well for an afternoon’s distraction. How’s that?”

“Rivi’s also insane,” I say, “so there’s every possibility that I could be a nutjob.”

“So could I, so it probably just cancels out somehow. Besides, I have a bottle of bear pepper spray in my pocket, so I’m not really worried about you.”

“I should have armed myself ahead of time. I’m always severely underprepared for fake dates.”

“Guess we know which one of us is getting dismembered in an alley today then,” she says. “Also, I’m not going to ask you about Hannah again. I just wanted to hang her name out there as garlic.”

“I’m sorry?”

“You know, garlic against the vampire of expectation.”

“You’ve totally lost me.”

“We’re not a date,” she says, “so I’m sneakily reminding you that you shouldn’t think we’re on one.”

“Just telling me wouldn’t have worked?”

“Maybe, maybe not. Garlic always works though. For the record though, this outing so far? It’s going really very well.”

“Is it?” I ask. “I wasn’t really sure.”

“Trust me, it is. Just don’t get any ideas.”

“I never get ideas,” I say. “It’s one of my strong points.”

“Oh, I know,” she says. “Rivi already told me that.”

“I’ve seen you naked,” I say. “I just want you to keep that in mind while we’re eating wood-fired pizza. Just so you don’t think you hold all the cards here.”

“Silly boy. You think we’re playing cards, but really it’s a chess game we’re having.”

“A chess game of cards,” I say.

“That’s not a thing,” she says. “It’s totally not.”

“And also I really do have a tail. I play tambourine with it and busk on the wharf every Tuesday. Did Rivi tell you that too?”

Suzi stops short suddenly at the corner. “Last chance,” she says. She points to the east of us. “Google claims there is pizza three blocks that way. Come with me now and I won’t ask you about tails or pretend girlfriends anymore.” She then points back the way we have just walked, towards the Bay. “Go back that way, and you’re free and under no obligation to spend an afternoon with my weird ass.”

“First off,” I say, pointing further south down the street, “my car is parked that-a-way, so I’m not going back the way I came. Secondly, you can ask me about anything you want to, but only if you are fully aware that I’ll be asking you about as many awkward things as I can think of in return. Thirdly, if there is booze available with this pizza, I’m not going to be drinking it all by myself.”

“Fourthly,” she says, “I’m not sure if ‘fourthly’ is a word, but fourthly, if you continue to be as not charming and not witty as you have been so far, then I will have no choice but to ask you out for a second outing at a time and place yet to be decided. Also not a date.”

“I’ve already seen you naked,” I remind her. “Therefore an actual date would be unnecessary. The objective has already been achieved.”

“Then your decision is pizza?”

“My decision is always pizza,” I say. “Always.”

She regards me a moment, and when I start to speak, she holds up her index finger to shush me. “Quiet. I am making a decision. Don’t speak.” After a few seconds, she puts her finger down. “Right. Let’s go get pizza.” She turns and walks down the sidewalk, and I hurry to catch up.

“Was that your decision?” I ask. “Pizza?”

“Nope,” she says. “I was deciding you don’t look like you get seasick.”

“And that’s a thing because..?”

“Because for our second outing, I’m going to ask you to my houseboat.”

“As long as it’s not a date,” I say. “I haven’t got time for that nonsense.”

“No promises,” she says.