1. a meeting: futile as any

    The Embodiment of Proximity, a tall strong but somewhat lanky fellow, with touchy feely tendencies and barely any need for private personal space, sat, sprawled, in the chair across the desk from The Embodiment of Gravity. Gravity was not quite as tall, but very broad, very stout, very stern. His arena of personal space shifted, depending on who he interacted with — the mass of their presence, their demeanor, and their size being key determinants. 

    Both Gravity and Proximity had grown accustomed to their positions, as extremely powerful forces in the Department of Social and Interpersonal Interaction. Both had suffered recent declines in the scope of their influence.

    For Gravity, the change had been more a shift of power and control, from laws and acts that controlled the individual bodies of creatures, to policies and regulations governing the construction of physical social infrastructure. Gravity still exerted a great deal of impact on the everyday lives of humans but more and more this effect was indirect, reaching human activity only by way of controlling how easily humans could connect with technology. Human transportation and communication technology had gone a long and significant way toward neutralizing his control over individual humans. In their virtual worlds, he was barely recognized. 

    For Proximity, the loss of power was even more significant. Every hit on Gravity from the direction of virtual worlds technology had been a devastating blow to Proximity. The combination of two newly dominant and partnered forces, The Embodiment of Overpopulation and Crowding and the The Embodiment of Social Awkwardness and Discomfort worked directly in opposition to Proximity, encouraging and making it more and more acceptable for humans to avoid concrete, tangible, physical contact. 

    I used to have so much control over who connected with whom. I worked so well with The Embodiment of Practicality… well the old Practicality, that is.

    Proximity had progressed well on into a full whine by this time. 

    This new so-called Embodiment of Practicality, pft! I’d hardly even call this one the same entity, barely even the same species. Sheesh, a whole new breed, that one. We don’t even speak the same language anymore. 

    I mean, take friendship for example, once upon a time, friendship was ruled by the forces of daily proximity. We built on the natural foundation of Social Need the Embodiment of Evolution embedded in the design of humans and we gave them a controlled and well defined range of other humans from which to act it out with. 

    Now! Now, we’re nothing. Friendships are all based on interest.

    Here Proximity used a baby-voiced, mocking, tone on the word interest, screwing up his face in total disregard of the word’s aptness in this context. 

    There are no limits. It’s all taste and preference. Humans will never be able to handle it. They are going to ruin everything with their gluttony!

    Gravity raised a large and heavy hand, lifted, seemingly with great effort, into the air above his desk. Then, brows furrowed, lips turned down at the corners of his mouth, eyes as stern as ever, he let his huge meaty palm drop. Drop! Landing with a loud thud and quieting Proximity abruptly. 

    Enough!

    Gravity growled.

    I’ve no time for this now. Besides there is nothing you can do until you have become completely obsolete. Humans have grown more and more incapable of seeing anything relevant to them, as long as it exists in their current environment in any way shape or form. Collectively they are horribly unself-reflective. Once you become part of the past, entirely and officially, that’s when they’ll notice you again.

    Until then, Proximity, I suggest you sit up a little straighter and draw your knees in and learn some patience. 

     

  2. all different kinds of…

    She hated that you could see the shit come out of birds when they were flying in front of you. There was a lot to like about spring but that was not something. She kept seeing it in her car, when birds crossed her path. That was bad. Bad enough. Seeing it as she walked the floor at work, in the giant warehouse. It was almost too much. She tried to never look at the floor. 

    She tried not to think about the year when all the crows and all the black birds came back. More than ten years ago, now, she was still nearly almost a girl. There had been some disease. Wiped them out one year and drought the next two meant it was several before they came back. Meanwhile, her parents had installed a pool among the trees in the middle of the grass in the huge flat back yard.

    They had cleared a ring in the trees for the sun. The pool was shiny and wet all the new crows and black birds, the year they recovered, all at once it seemed they came back in droves, and nested all around the pool. It was a regular avian arena of towering trees covered in nests full of baby birds. And they swooped and dove and perched and dropped every bit of baby bird shit they cleaned from their happy little betwigged homes directly into her pool. She hated birds for their shit. She hated that she loved their flying but in the spring she had to be reminded how much they shit. 

    Just the thought of it, the very self narration made her teeth grit and her jaw clench. Her own reaction only enraging her more. They were just birds being birds, after all. On a scale of activities unnatural, her erecting and filling and fussing and constant chemicalling of the water in her pool had to be higher, these acts grosser in their afront to mother nature than all that floating poo. But still, there it was, she hated the birds and their shit and she hated herself more for hating them, too. 

    She stomped on the break then and listened as her tires skidded on the gravel driveway, grinned as the back wheels pitched crooked and the pigeons on the roof of the garage flew off, uproosted and all a twitter. She stuck her arm out the window and gave them the finger, laughed and choked a small sob back in her throat, into a cough. She knew they would be back soon but she drug her feet on the gravel heading indoors, nonetheless. 

     

  3. hands and heart clenched

    White-knuckling it, a horrid pun, unintended but too appropriate to ignore once I’d written it. The situation is hideous. Stuck between rocks and harder places, white-knuckling it in every direction. No matter which unacceptable way we go.

    There is no way to think sanely about racism. When it rears its ugly head in the worst possible way, death of an innocent, the cry of outrage is both for the individual and against the system that made it possible. 

    To offer comfort for one is to neglect the much larger other that sits over it all, a fat cat watching mice mourn. 

    "The outside agitators are making the situation worse."

    True, if you are looking for an end to the ruckus. True, if you are looking for the solace and comfort that will tell you this is an isolated tragedy worth white-knuckling through.

    Through to what, though? Through to the other side, in the hope that when our pain subsides, things will somehow automatically align for a better future. 

    We all know that is a magic not true. 

    Unwilling to trust the system that is in charge of ensuring the safety of children, many women will stay with dangerous and irresponsible men. They do this to avoid being forced to leave the kids unsupervised with him. A thing nearly guaranteed to happen in most cases if they leave. The threat of it being, at any rate, very real to them. To women who have seen this system in action too often, too often to tease themselves with dreams of justice.

    These women are not stupid, they are not masochists, not lazy, not martyrs. They are wizened. They have learned the wisdom in keeping close to your worst enemies. They are too in touch with reality. 

    There is always a larger threat to freedom. The threat of the failing system for protection and care. The need for survival. The need for survival that trumps the need to revolt. 

    I hate to admit it, but I believe it must only get worse, before it gets better. I don’t know how to go there. I don’t want to. I do not know what to do.

    I want peace for Ferguson. But I hate the idea that quick peace means simply waiting for the next incident. To realign with a system unchanged, in the name of immediate safety and peace, to wait for more of the same rotten thing to happen somewhere else. It feels unacceptable, now. 

    I have been that woman. This feels all too familiar. I am tired of waiting, I am ready for change. And there is nothing that scares me more. 

     

  4. annie’s story

    this is a {repeat} post of a story i posted in sections last night. it is reposted here with all the sections in order in a single post. 

    They were five girls: Janie, Lena, Tammi, Annie, and Marybeth.

    Read More

     

  5. annie’s story

    this is the final section a short story. you can read it from the beginning, in it’s entirety, at this link: annie’s story

    So Janie took no action when it came to Annie. She did use her research connections at the newspaper to discover that Annie’s father had recently died, of cancer. Her older brother died three years prior in a drunken car accident. Annie had not been listed as a “survivor” on either brief obituary but her mother was mentioned in both. Janie took this as evidence that Annie had moved on, that she no longer wished to be connected with that part of her life. Understanding this and respecting it, Janie did not investigate further. 

    She did continue to think of Annie. And Janie absolutely continued to think of and call herself a feminist. It was such a small thing, she thought, and yet she had had occasion to defend the choice more frequently than one might imagine in this day and age. Janie did fund raising work for the local domestic violence shelter and she often shared her own story with the young women who volunteered along side her. Janie never felt compelled to share Annie’s story, but she did think of it often and felt it was an integral part of her “feminist identity”. Feminism was also an important part of how Janie raised her daughter and she had no doubts, made no bones, about it. 

    What bothered Janie most about Annie’s story over the years though, was a sense that the story, that its tragic truth, was somehow squandered. Her sense of indignance and pure disgust over the fact that despite all the clear signs of abuse, the indications that there was something very seriously wrong, no-one ever managed to get any help for Annie. Instead Annie suffered double for acts that had nothing to do with her, acts done to her that she had no control over. It all happened so close, so close and under all their very noses. That they had all noticed so many of the symptoms and yet nothing was ever done to stop it, to help Annie. This made Janie’s stomach roll. This made Janie feel a twinge of pressure to tell the story. 

    Whenever Janie had that thought, though, she only felt worse. How could one tell such a story, how can one tell any story of rape from within a “rape culture” without coming off as… fucking tantalizing or at least sensational. It seemed impossible to find a way to be unforgivingly, brutally raw and graphic without running a nearly sure risk of coming across as provocative in some way. To spell things out seemed exploitative, to merely point to horrors without depicting them felt like innuendo. 

    Janie thought about it, off and on, over the course of the next ten more years. She kept up an interest in new women authors and read some feminist works but did not do an exhaustive study or become an expert on past or current gender theory. She took her daughter to rape and physical assault defense classes and she spoke out in favor of women’s rights often. She still identified, personally and publicly, as a feminist. No qualifications, not as a “bad feminist” or a “neo feminist” or a “cis feminist”. She was obviously a civil rights advocate as well as a staunch believer in all rights queer and trans. In her mind, these causes aligned well and well worth any trouble. She guessed that made her an intersectional feminist. She wasn’t entirely sure. 

    Janie did not know if she would ever tell Annie’s story. But if she did, there were some things she knew for sure. She would not make the villian - the rapist - a poor man, not a brown man, not a suffering victimized uneducated man of any kind. No. If she ever told Annie’s story it would be clear who the criminal was. It would be clear that a rich, white, educated, working man had taken advantage of every bit of power and privilege at his disposal to meet his own selfish needs at the expense of the innocent.

    Janie also knew that if she did tell Annie’s story, there would be no scenes of defiance and tension between Annie and her father, no titillating confrontations spelled out in sweat and spitty resistance. No almost physical descriptions of the temperature in the room or the pleased look on the man’s face. Janie knew that if she ever told Annie’s story she would not use the phrase “soiled herself”. No if she told Annie’s story there would be piss and its rank smell and the consequences suffered would be made uglier than seemed possible in their realness.

    If Annie’s story was to be told it should be set right there in America, in glorious old middle class America where fancy and convenient appliances are king and children’s hearts and bodies get broken and left so inadequately attended. Janie knew for certain that if she told Annie’s story it would not be offset or interspersed with chapters that depicted anyone’s romantic “fairy tale” life. If Annie’s tale were to be told there would be no euphemistic phrases like “injuries that required reconstructive surgery”. If Annie’s tale was to be told it would be told as the tale of a tragic fistula. Because that is exactly the tragic tale it was. Nothing else. No redeeming it, no making it fit for the best seller list. 

    In the end, Janie never did feel like she had any answers, nothing that solved any of it. All she had was the story and the truest way she knew how to tell it. 

     

  6. all the way back

    Her first memories begin at age five years, seven months, marked by the birth of her first sibling, a sister. She remembers the infant as a source of great happiness and has no memories of her life prior to being an older sibling. Despite the baby’s frequent crying during its first year, she recalls thinking of the baby as interesting and curious and she has nothing but pleasant feelings associated with these early memories. She remembers being puzzled by her parents’ serious emotional reactions and the alarm they showed toward her younger sister’s distress, but she remembers feeling like their attitudes toward her remained positive and stable. In short, her earliest memories are of being a happy, well-loved child, delighted to have a shiny, glowing, magical mini-human on which to bestow her love. 

    The first thing he remembers is the slightest flash of psychological pain, the awareness of intentional cruelty as some sweet fruit is offered and then whisked away. It is merely a fragment a vague impression that suggests a high chair and some sort of teasing, however accidental or not, at mealtime. It is dated somewhere around the middle of his second year.

    The next, more fully-formed memory is tied to the first month of his fourth year of life, during the construction of a new residence on the family property. He remembers his sense of stealth, his successful circumvention of the assigned supervision by some adult relative. He remembers the feeling of having gotten by with something to climb through the nearly complete duct work in the freshly installed heating system to recover a kitten no-one had known was missing. He remembers escaping punishment only precariously, based on this act of accidental toddler chivalry and the fast talking wings of his mother’s convincing speech. It’s his first memory of a dynamic surrounding a harsh father, of which there were many to follow.

    Another boy also associates two traumatic events with his earliest memory, both involving his harrowing and last minute rescue at the hands of rash acting adults who were normally utterly subdued. The first memory is dated around age four and includes the vague impressions associated with a cut to the forehead, when he tripped and fell into a window sill. The near panic of an emergency car ride, the offering of a clean expensive handkerchief, the drowsy feeling driving home while under the tranquilizing effects of survived trauma. The second, later memory puts him at age six years and two months. It involves an incident when his screaming grandfather chased away a snake, yelling as he swung a rusty hoe  about the small boy’s head. Both incidents were remarkable for the alarmed reactions of the adults, in contrast to his mother’s more typical failure to acknowledge his presence ,let alone respond to possible dangers. He characterizes his own response to these memories as confused and excited. 

    One subject, a girl, connects her first memory with a television program, a televised circus. The purchase of a larger, color television set shortly thereafter dates the event and places her at age five years three months. She can’t recall exact details but knows her own reaction to the program triggered a sudden negative and angry response in her father, who ordered her mother to remove her from the room and take her directly to bed. The child remembers feeling disdainful, sour and also somewhat self-righteously sorry for her father, dismissive and judgmental of her obedient mother. She remembers thinking her parents were obnoxious, sympathetic bordering on pathetic and transparently deceptive. She remembers a sense of having both given in to them and disregarded them. 

    The list of early memories, tied to participant ages based on contextual facts and details, was as long and varied as the list of participants. The first memories were universally rich in spatial, contextual details; a vast majority included remembered emotional overtones. The list went on and on…

    this is part 3 of Ellie’s story: which begins with up and out and continues with back in 

     

  7. soaked in

    i was fifteen years old then. taller, i held the umbrella. 

    i stood next to my sobbing grandmother for the fifth day in a row. i stood next to my sobbing grandmother, at the gravesight of her philandering lover and i watched her crying harder than she ever did over my grandfather’s grave.

    i asked my grandmother why, why she cried so much harder for old hank scalliwag than she did for my grandpa. i asked her and she told me.

    darling, your grandfather was a good a man but he needed me, she said, blowing her nose and then shaking out her handkerchief  on the grass for emphasis.

    he stayed with me all those years and he was good to me and we were the best of friends and lovers sometimes too and there were some things about me he maybe did really appreciate.

    she paused, furrowed her brows as she took a deep breath and spoke in a deliberately stern voice right at me.

    but your grandfather needed me!

    grandmother shook her finger at me then, as if i had committed the crime of needing her. which i had. but she didn’t seem to notice because she went right on.

    oh! she wailed again, looking back at old hank’s grave.

    your grandfather might have even loved me more but more than that, more than loving me, he always needed me

    her tone was definitely accusatory as she glanced back over at me. now i was the one staring out at the cemetery.

    hank here, he never once needed me. he had a wife, hell, at one point he may have actually had two wives, who knows, but he always had a wife, always had a girlfriend, had three sisters he saw every week for christ’s sake! he had a whole gang of men who hung around nearly worshiping him.

    hank never needed me for a single thing, what!? - what’s he gonna need me for? the peanut butter and jelly sandwich i made him when he’d sneak over early in the morning before he even had breakfast? i don’t think so. he didn’t need me to cook for him or do laundry for him (although i did a few times, with pleasure), he didn’t need a damn thing from me, i did not have to be anything for him, anything i did for him was fine, he wanted me. he wanted me in a way he never could have afforded to want me if he had needed me, you see? 

    i shrugged, but didn’t look at her. i understood then, by that time. i could see she was right even if i didn’t want to admit it.

    your grandpa, he needed me to be the strong one, the firm one. the authority figure with your dad and your uncles. he needed me to keep the household and our family accounts. he needed me to always be the one thinking ahead and coming up with a plan when we needed bailing out. he was good to me, oh yeah. and loyal and he trusted and believed in me, i think more than anyone on the earth could trust another person. your grandpa worked hard for me. but it was because he needed me. 

    and that meant i wasn’t free. it meant i had to be the me he needed. 

    so, lovey, you’re not wrong. i feel hank’s loss harder. 

    i cry harder for hank. hank who never met a single one of my worldly needs, babe. neither me for him either. we did not need each other but oh, oh how that left us free to want each other. whatever we could get of each other. it was wild, it was totally unconditional what we felt for each other, i tell you. it was pure and it was want and it was all about love no matter what honey. 

    wow so… you guys were really important to each other then

    mmhmmm. bet your ass. wasn’t a week in thirty-two years went by i didn’t put my arms around that man

    but you think it was because you didn’t need each other

    damn straight

    not because you did

    you got it. that is it exactly.

     

  8. back in

    As you are aware, you are now a participant in a research project.

    Ellie tucked her winter-boot clad foot up under her as she read the screen. She was seated on the second floor of the socio-psychology building in a climate and sound controlled cubicle designed to make her as physically comfortable and alert as possible. She pushed the touchscreen for the next slide and read on.

    According to the terms of the agreement you have just electronically signed using your four-digit subject pin, the identifying information you provided will be used to access the sum total of your recorded professional and recreational activity as it exists online. Your entire life output up to this date will then be assessed and assigned an overall creativity score based on the standard measures of creative value. This score will then be anonymously encoded along with the data collected from the current study and used to explore and better understand the relationship between creative work and memory. The data you provide, both historic and current, will be forever severed from your living identity via the highest anonymity codes and practices as regulated by the council of human subjects in research. In short, you will be providing invaluable contributions to our cumulative knowledge and growing understanding in the field…”

    Ellie tapped the next button without reading the remainder of the paragraph. This was not the first time she’d participated as a subject. It was a requirement for graduation. She knew the spiel about how her identity was protected. She wasn’t sure if she believed it, but there was really no practical reason, at this point, to consider it further.

    "Let’s get this show on the road," she thought, "the library is waiting and my dog won’t sleep forever." 

    She dutifully and routinely flipped through the next several screens, entering her pin as necessary to confirm her comprehension of the terms and to document her willingness to consent. 

    The background color of the text changed then, and she knew she had entered the prebriefing stage of the actual study. 

    The current study is interested in better understanding connections between your earliest memories, your intellect, and your creative patterns and choices of behavior over time. 

    While some common wisdom and lore suggests that brighter, more creative people begin forming long term memories earlier, a careful examination of the data suggests the situation is far too complicated to explain with such a simple and direct connection. Likewise, studies hypothesizing that more creative and intelligent people tend to form their first long term memories at a later age have also come under serious question.

    This is precisely why your most honest, heartfelt and accurate answers to the current study are so invaluable. We cannot stress enough the importance of answering as truthfully as you can. 

    "Gotcha," Ellie thought. "Well done and nicely written, Mr. Researcher. I am now confused and skeptical enough about any preconceptions I may have had about earliest memories and intelligence to set aside all concerns for social comparison and manipulating the results to make myself look good…" she released a heavy and impatient sigh, both out loud and to herself inside her head. "Can we please get on with it now?"

    you can read the first installment of Ellie’s story, "up and out", here.
    you can read the next installment of Ellie’s story: all the way back, here 

     

  9. i like to think about the photos i uploaded and saved as a draft, from my phone to tumblr’s platform nearly half an hour ago. experience tells me that they have not been eaten by anything lurking in the virtual world in the meantime and that eventually they will appear as a work in progress in my online work space.

    but until then i have absolutely no access to them, i cannot cancel them nor edit nor hurry their journey to the shared places of perception.

    to me they are currently as big a mystery as a lover’s thoughts, a sleeping girl’s dreams, a dead man’s personality. where did they go, what, if anything, is holding them together and by the force of whose will?

    every distraction brings me back eventually to the original questions

    the answer being that it depends on how much you like to dance and play and act goofy and wiggle-ass around in front of the answers - until you are ready to sit still and listen to them.

    i think the thing to do, in regard to both choices, is to always take lots of breaks. 

     

  10. up and out

    From dreams awash in early morning alarm, she woke without a clock or bell tolling, to the madness of pretending there was sanity in performing her way through another day.

    It was gray. The sun was not up. She stumbled on dog toys on her way to the coffee maker. She muttered, “fucking lava” at the orange linoleum as she hopped from one scrubby beige carpet sample to the next down the hallway and into the freezing cold kitchen. 

    She grabbed the cord draped across the door of the lower cabinet and plugged the space heater into the socket next to the coffee maker. She cleaned out yesterday’s grounds and smiled as the heat wafted immediately up the back of her t-shirt. She stopped wobbling her knees back and forth to stay warm and stood still; she listened to the pot gurgling and dripping.

    She took the bread and the toaster down from the cabinet and made raisin cinnamon toast . She grabbed a styrofoam cup of ramen out of the cabinet to stuff in her pack for lunch and felt guilty about the packaging - even if she was using them to start seedlings at the garden co-op, there was no way to safely disintegrate the cups afterward. She ate her toast standing, did not move from the small circle of warmth forgoing juice from the refrigerator. 

    Coffee in hand, she was distracted on the way to the shower with trying not to spill it. She forgot about styrofoam and landfills and her cold feet and walked directly on the icy floor. In her head she coached herself, going through the things on her list of tasks for the day. Undressing and stepping under the steaming, almost-too-hot water she took a moment to be thankful for this one abundantly warm moment and then moved on to thinking about the prompt for an upcoming art assignment.

    As was typical, her voice was a running conversation with herself, out loud inside her head. She had tried to learn to quiet it. Was still practicing letting thoughts fall away in a ritualized meditation session every day, at night before bed. She was lousy at it. Like this morning, the running discussion, her own words, in her own voice, talking constantly to herself in her head. 

    Until the moment, in the shower, when almost suddenly the inner voice fell silent. Almost as if her thoughts paused for a deep breath and all the surrounding sound came tumbling in. She was immediately intimately aware of so much noise she had been completely avoiding, utterly distracted from. Noises loud and interesting. Water howling up and down pipes and out the spigot. Water spraying so loud against the porcelain, the sounds of splash and trickle, the exhaust fan and it’s breathy whirring. It felt musical, it felt like a chorus of sounds. She realized she could listen and hear each one without letting her naming voice creep in. She was conscious of it all but not narrating. Her eyes got wide and she smiled, then, as she listened.

    Then, her vow to continue practicing the meditation, her acknowledgement to herself that it was working, these marked the end of the silent inner voice. Before she realized that she’d stopped realizing, she was busy into deep conversation with herself again, out loud, in her own head.  She was talking to herself about the sounds she had heard, though. Imagining how she might turn them into images for the artwork, alternately checking off all points on her personal hygiene list, and reviewing the list of sounds she had noticed. A fourth voice was contemplating outfit choices. 

    Before long she was dressed, the dog was fed and walked dutiful around the perimeter of the back yard. He lay curled up snug at the end of her made bed. She flung her backpack over her right shoulder, slipped her left arm into the strap and headed out the door into the cold. On her way down the walk she stopped to pick up two pine cones, which she carefully placed on the ground along the fence, in line with a pattern of other cones that would eventually spell out “happy holidays and merry new year.” These two cones completed only the second “p” in the first word, “happy”. But there was time. She skipped a tiny bit as she stepped back onto the sidewalk and headed toward campus. 

     

  11. in the half turn of screwy events

    Where just moments before she was commenting on the way her own understanding urged on her growing capacity for quiet, the way words were growing ever more inadequate to express who she was, at that precise moment she found herself, instead, again, with her foot planted deeply, so far back, in her own throat that she could scarcely breathe. Then she choked. Finally falling, silent. 

    Tagged #prose #jillc #gah
     

  12. bernard

    He began, pen in one hand, pad in the other, concerned that his effort to avoid a broad nervous grin was turning his face into an even more distressing grimace. As he reflexively lowered his chin in embarrassment, his floppy gray hair slid forward and slapped against his forehead, not unlike a wet shower curtain. He found himself then, using his energy to resist the urge to blow up from the deck of his pouting bottom lip, cartoon-quail-like, to push the hair back without lifting his hands from the desk.

    By any and all means necessary he was determined to avoid looking around the room at the others. He would not draw attention to himself and his sweaty anxiety, again. He’d spent the whole first class, last week, darting his head this way and that - a nervous bird looking from one student to another. The instructor had unkindly explained, when he found Bernard’s blank page at the end of class, that he need to actually look at the model, not at everyone else, if he expected to make a drawing of her. 

    This week Bernard vowed to himself to do better. He’d developed a mantra and he’d been repeating it over and over in his head all week: “Eyes on the model, pencil to the paper. Eyes on model, pencil to paper. Eyes…” He pushed up his glasses, looked at the model, concentrated, put the graphite tip into motion and then stifled a groan. His mouth turned unquestionably down into a grimace, a painful grimace, as the makeshift cardboard boner shield he’d designed, constructed and installed into his suit pants with duct tape, engaged his swelling penis. 

    The stupid thing had worked great when he tested it at home, standing in front of the full length mirror. It had hidden his hard-on almost perfectly and slid just where it needed to, giving in all the right places to provide smooth comfortable protective discretion. He hadn’t considered how the change in angles might affect the apparatus when he was seated at a desk; hadn’t thought to set up his pad on a standing easel in the back of the class.

    And now here he was, dick-pinched, red in the face and running out of time, again. He had to get something drawn before the class was over…

     

  13. business as usual

    Brian leaned back in his chair, one rubber-soled loafer crossed over the other khaki knee. Both arms stretched back behind his neck, resting on his open collar. Occasionally, he reached down and took a carrot from the veggie plate, dipped it in ranch, popped it in his mouth. He was actively listening or talking the entire time, but his posture and overall demeanor dangled out just over the edge of boredom. 

    They were gathered around two long work tables pushed together in the break room. The surface was covered with assorted food, cupcakes, sliced fruit, potato chips, finger sandwiches, nuts and the veggie plate. Behind them several crocks were plugged in the wall and lined up on the counter, baked beans, meatballs, hot cheese with peppers. Paper plates marked their spaces around the table. Sharing food was fairly routine, the occasion for it, that day, was not. 

    They were celebrating a coworkers departure. People rarely left. The pay was too good, the work too easy. This assistant department director had lasted only two years. He was not even vested. His name was Peter and he sat across the table, upright and smiling, both feet on the floor, hands folded but relaxed in his lap. He chuckled often and his lips stretched wide and he glanced frequently in Brian’s direction. 

    "We’ve had a few lookers," Peter answered good-naturedly when the administrative assistant asked about his progress toward selling his house. "But no serious offers yet."  He was moving his family, a wife and two babies, seven states away to his new job.

    "Huh." said Brian, leaning forward and taking a fresh pea pod from the vegetable tray. "Meanwhile here I am with offers to buy my old house and a wife who won’t even consider selling it."  He stripped the seam of the pod and picked each pea out one by one, popping them in his mouth between words. Then, he pushed the shell into his mouth whole, chewed and swallowed, reached for another.

    There might have been a moment of awkard silence after the comment, but Peter leaned forward, then, his torso twisting quick in a kind of spontaneous jerk.

    "What are you doing with that peapod?" he said. "Why are you eating it like that." The question wasn’t hostile, not a passive aggressive attack of any kind, not a barely suppressed challenge. Rather it seemed impulsive, more a burst of childlike, frustrated curiosity sneaking its way forward and slipping out. Finally. On his next to last day.

    Brian, looked up quick, eyes cast through his lashes, over his arm as he slowly reached for his next pea pod. His broad smile belied his coyness, made a joke of it as he shook his head ever so slightly and answered, “Because I like to take things apart into smaller pieces.” he said. “I’m good at it. It’s what I do.” 

    He swept his eyes around the table once then, before resting them on Peter. He came as close to a wink as one can, without winking. Then he added, “Right?”  And he looked around the table again, hands uplifted, palms open.

    "It’s what I do." He said it again and laughed. 

    The rest of the people who worked in the department looked down then, nodded, murmured. Felt bad. Said nothing. The lunch break was over shortly thereafter and Peter left the next day. 

     

  14. illinois landscape no. 2

    The prairie was an ocean of grass. River bluffs were the sole source of ground elevation. Back then there were even less trees than now. Cottonwoods the common species, spread sparse and sprinkled along creeks or rivers. 

    Cottonwoods are hardwood trees but the softest among them. Fast growing, they often survive strikes of lightening, being tall but thirsty and slow to burn green. Many live to be a hundred years old, with their thick deeply furrowed bark and their seeds floated out on tufts of cottony old lady hair loosed from pods. Wispy it fills the air and lands atop full waterways each spring. 

    By late summer, the wispy cottonwood seeds were long gone. She was laying back in the wind, by the river. He noticed her watching the leaves dance far up above. They made a silhouette-kaleidoscope in the brisk late afternoon breeze. When she saw him she smiled with her whole face and pointed up at them, naming them her reward, a gift for the work she’d done earlier. He agreed and told her it was a cottonwood tree. 

    He told her how, as a very young man, working on the summer road crew for the township, he’d once been ordered to cut several cottonwoods down. It was the rainy season, early spring and the water, he said, poured, just poured from the cut in the trunk and down the sides of the stump after the tree was felled. 

    She gasped and groaned, turned to him and frowned at this part of the story. 

    "I know." he said. "I felt kind of bad about it, then, too. It didn’t just drip either, I’m telling you. It poured. Water just poured out of that stump. And for nearly an hour afterward."

    She read about the cottonwood tree later. Everything he told her was true. She also read that cottonwoods were often considered a nuisance tree and less than useful. Their fast growing limbs had a tendency to become tangled in infrastructure and the soft wood combined with lightning strikes meant dead and falling debris were often an issue for homeowners. The wood produced little heat for its volume and it was too soft for use in construction. The fluffy white cottony seeds had been known to clog drains as had the root structures become an interference with more elaborate underground drainage systems. 

    Apparently the township had technical reasons for ordering the death of those particular trees. At that time, before conservation was a concern, the trees may have been removed based solely on their reputation as troublemakers.

    She couldn’t find any pictures or videos of cottonwood stumps pouring water as he had described, but this did not shed any doubt on the truth of his tale. She felt honestly relieved not to see it herself with her own eyes. The thought of it was enough. She had watched one clip that lasted more than six minutes while a crew waited for a huge dead cottonwood to fall, creaking and cracking, after being sliced more than three quarters through with a giant chainsaw. It had been dead and she was glad there was no water to pour up, already gathered by its roots. 

    After that, she read that “while cottonwoods are often considered problematic for real estate development…” they are extremely important and useful for wildlife. A large number of insects and birds and small animals eat (and she thought drink, or at least hydrate themselves) from the leaves and bark of the living cottonwood. In addition, fallen rotten limbs and eventually the rotted out trunk of cottonwood trees that die of natural causes provide an excellent home for a wide range of small mammals and insects, including honey bees.

    That was the year before their daughter left for college. Whenever she missed her and whenever she cried about it, she thought of the cottonwood trees. They seemed like the same thing somehow and together they seemed not so bad. 

     

  15. the end {part jillc}

    inanotherdirection:

    In my dream, I am in the shower alone and you are the one singing. 
    I can hear you and I am forced through into memory.
    We are on the beach and you have written.
    A story trails along my arm in black ink.
    Further down the beach, my name,
    Drug in the sand with your footprints in large loping block letters,
    Capital in posture but swirling and loopy.

    Dream memories fill with raining. 
    I am lathering myself in the storm,
    As grainy lines lettering my name melt,
    Fading. We argue over the parts we plan
    To trade and what to give away.

    I say Jesus was a trickster meant to teach us
    The folly of individualism. Spiritualism
    Is collaboration. The definition of messiah
    Is a lie. 

    You kick the waves and taste my soap,
    plunge and dive and float up
    singing.

    In my ear, your ringing voice.
    I am rinsed clean again.
    In my dream you are there then a towel humming
    the last bars of your song and my skin dry.

    this is my piece from the collaborative project happening at inanotherdirection and organized by epea-pteroenta

    i’m pretty excited about it and think it will be a fun read
    anyone wants to head on over and follow, that would be grand :)

    and/or join in, i believe there is still room {more details of the concept are on the blog, here with a tentative schedule here}

    the piece that “spawned” my piece above is called Wilson Blvd. by epea-pteroenta. 

    got all that? rock on. check it out, okay? :}