Between the Seats

Remy took a deep lungful of air once outside the bar. The cold burned her nose, but it was better than the press of bodies inside. She zipped up her jacket and took shelter beneath the roof’s overhang, watching the icicles drip.

Cheryl emerged minutes later as promised. “You sure you’re okay to take me home? My shift is so early, I almost didn’t come out at all.” Cheryl said, tripping from one word to the next. “If David hadn’t insisted I wouldn’t have… do you think all surgeons drink like that?”

“Surgeons come from medical fraternities, I think they learn it there.” Remy said quietly with a soft smile behind her scarf. Cheryl grinned, and Remy pointed out her car on the other side of the street.  They leaned into the wind as they marched towards it, hands crossed over there stomachs and shoulders bowed.

“And you’re okay to drive?” Cheryl asked over the sedan’s roof, over-enunciating the words with the sudden surge of responsibility.

Remy nodded and unlocked the car, ducking into the drivers seat and closing the door in a single movement, graceful with familiarity. Cheryl rolled herself in, winter coat swishing loudly, and still talking. “That’s fair, I didn’t see you drink anything– wow I have not seen one of those in a long time.”

Remy turned the key to get the engine and the heat started. The thrum of guitar and frontman blasted from her modest car stereo, A little drunk, waiting on your phone call, A little numb, maybe I can’t feel at all.

They both jerked and Remy jammed a finger against the volume, twisting it down so the music only burbled in the background. Won’t you say something, I really wish I hated you

Now Remy followed Cheryl’s attention back down to the center console where an ipod was hooked up and bright with scrolling track names. Cheryl explained again, taking in Remy’s confused stare, “an ipod, I just haven’t seen one in a while. Everyone just uses their phones.”

“Its not mine.” Remy said, eyes on the shiny silver device.

“What?” Cheryl asked.

“I don’t have — its not mine.” The heat was starting to pick up and Remy felt sweat prickle on the back of her neck. Slowly she reached down and took the ipod, turning it over. “I don’t know why its here– hooked up.” Back on its front, Remy could see it was playing from a playlist. The words at the top of little screen read, every song I sing is still about you, Remy.

Cheryl leaned over and gave a theatric gasp. “The car was locked, you’re sure its not– holy shit, are you having problems with an ex? Could they have–”

“I don’t have an ex.” Remy whispered, not able to draw enough breath into her lungs to speak properly. The sweat on the back of her neck, under her scarf, went cold. She jerked the ipod and its cord from the console. The music cut off.  She dropped the ipod unceremoniously and fumbled to put the car in drive.

“This is messed up. Wait, you don’t have an ex? Not one?” Cheryl’s eyes were unfocused and overly round again, her hand gripping the door handle like she needed it to stay upright. Cheryl was quiet at first as Remy pulled them aggressively back towards the main road. “Remy?”

“I don’t date.” Remy said tightly.

Cheryl didn’t say anything. Without music, the only sounds were the car, the road, and their own softly panicked breathing. Finally Cheryl let out one long breath, unable to keep the tension. Her quick smile was forced, “don’t really blame you right now.”

Remy flicked a look to her passenger, but said nothing and kept her attention on the road, far away from the ipod playing soundlessly where it had fallen between the seats.

Another music challenge, decided to get nostalgic with this southern California punk rock gem. The challenge was to write something to, including, or inspired by the below:  

Inconvenient Curiosity

Aiden drummed his thick-soled sneakers against the bus’s floor in an impatient patter as he watched the stops click by. It was a bit of a ritual, getting down to Arts. The roadside slush got dirtier, the winter coats stopping being designer, and Aiden got less guilty about sneaking out and more excited for his day.

The halfway house was always Aiden’s first stop, and sometimes his only one as there was usually something to learn or someone new to talk to.

Today though… Simon had no patience for him, but then he never did, shoving Aiden away from his projects of sparking tangled wire before Aiden’s quick fingers even got close. In the garden, Sparrow gave him a chance and set him pulling little weeds from beneath the plastic sheeting. But after a bout of Aiden’s questions, the tall man set aside his shovel and suggested he help Cymbal in the kitchen. That wasn’t long lived either, he’d only stolen a few morsels from the pan before Cymbal hustled him out with fluttering hands, smiling with exasperation in her soft round eyes.

He let them herd him out onto the sidewalk, apparently the house wanted none of his inconvenient curiosity today.

So he paused on the sidewalk, scrolling through the numbers in the ugly squarish phone he used when he came to the arts district. There were others that would have him in the neighborhood filled with oily musicians and dirty-eyed poets — Jake, with his heavy forehead, easy smile, and love of old cars. Mason, rough-handed and ego-driven, or Dev who spoke in a beautiful voice of his start-up plans. Friendly sorts who liked Aiden’s quick fingers and odd inquisitiveness, they waited for him in dive bars and vegan cafes.

Aiden let his fingers hover over their numbers, waiting for some sort of choice to manifest. He kept scrolling back to Liam. The sensitive, well-built cook and fledgling photographer was at work and would be for all of the day. The thought of Liam’s too-serious gaze made the prospect of the rest of them sour.

He sighed, watching his breath float up in mist. There was one other person he’d give almost anything to roam and wander the neighborhood with. Aiden pushed the selfish thought away before it could root, much less bloom into an idea he’d be tempted to follow. There was a reason he snuck down, used buses and cash, and always watched the time.

There had to be something to get into down here, even by his lonesome. Better by his lonesome, Aiden teased around in his head as he started walking looking for something to get into.

Clean Hands

Bloody hands are something to be proud of in my family. Once bloodied, a boy can stay in the room after the cigars come out and the muscle retreats outside the door, allowed to listen and watch as his barrel-chested elders, thick with muscle gone to fat, settle in on scuffed antique furniture. There’s gore beneath their sterile talk of shipments, profits, and supply. Those shipments breath.

My hands have seen more blood than any in that room. Some of it has been theirs, beneath shaking teenage fingers and scalpel at first, now under my practiced and licensed hands. My mother doesn’t understand why I stopped eating her rare steaks and famous beef stroganoff, but I tell you, open someone up and its meat in there.

Reid is under my knife tonight, a bullet wedged beneath his rib. His hissing through his grimace, teeth tight. He always looks like he’s grinning, even now as I maneuver forceps, scalpel, and needle inside my oldest friend. The wound itself is not fatal, his bones did their job, the blood is clean. An easy night.

I clean my hands, Reid chugs pills, and they haul him off my apartment’s kitchen table. Something happened tonight and they don’t tell me what it was. They dump Reid on my couch and leave without telling me how he got there. Its been this way since I stopped eating meat. Reid might tell me tomorrow when he wakes up. Probably not though, he knows more of my life than he lets on.

My phone lights up on my coffee table and I’m glad Reid is drugged into a healing stupor. Carson calls one more time before he gives up, leaving two missed calls, a voicemail, and fifteen texts festering on my phone’s screen. There was a concert tonight, someone I wanted to see, and Carson was humoring me. The voicemail will tell me he’s breaking it off, for good this time.

I pick up my phone. It would be better to call– but Reid could wake up. I text instead, lie and tell Carson there was a family emergency and I’ll be gone for a few days. Otherwise, he’d show up at my apartment and my kitchen is a bloody mess. Carson’s hands are clean, he wouldn’t understand.  Its why I need him back.

Getting Back into Music Challenges, this one inspired by MCRs return. Gimme that angst. See what was done with song at too!

House, Couch, Bed.

True unease didn’t set in until Alec’s apartment complex was small in Lark’s rearview mirror. What had he just done?

The return home was mechanic, a hazy combination of muscle memory and long practice, with Lark staring numbly through the windshield repeating the events of last night. The watery light of the morning sun didn’t help him penetrate the surreal shame growing in the car. At some point he could blame momentum, Alec had been at his house, on his couch, in his bed. That sequence almost made sense. It’d been replicated before with different names, dozens of them, before Alec. House, couch, bed.

Except—Lark had changed things with Alec.

He parked in sub- garage, collected his things from the center console, and went upstairs imagining he could still smell Alec’s cheap bodywash in the hallway. The house was a mess. Their dinner, jointly made, was still caked over dishes in the kitchen sink, empty pints of ice cream remained out on the coffee table, and upstairs Lark’s sheets would smell of nothing more than Alec’s damnable bodywash.

The sequence had been different this time. Cooking, movie, cuddl—

Lark gagged a little at the word and forced himself to take a deep breath through his nose. That was not how things were supposed to go—House, couch, bed, sure, but with entirely different activities. Last night had been almost domestic.

Embarrassed and unsettled, Lark realized there was no coming back from this. He’d devolved into something he’d only mocked before, made a fool of himself in front of Alec of all people, and – Lark exhaled. This would have to be fixed.

He maneuvered his phone in one hand from his pocket, long fingers scheduling the maid service to come today—no, now. Lark needed the evidence gone. Then he flipped over to his contacts, found Alec’s, and deleted it.

The small pang at its vanishing was enough to assure Lark he’d made the right choice.

A Girl Was Missing

A girl was missing. Reid took a candle and stood with the vigil crowd in the evening shadow of the church. The entire town gathered, adults holding small children, teenagers with tears on still chubby faces. At their center the shrine’s picture frames only reflected the hundred little candle flames. Reid drew his red hoodie up against the cold.

There were too many people, just enough distress, that no one realized that not one of them had ever seen Reid before.

No one that mattered anyway. Across the parking lot, a girl, not the missing one, but another girl watched him. She drove her a distant glare into his back and Reid ignored her. She and her friends hovered outside the crowd like wolves circling a fire, unwelcome in shabby clothes and thick eye makeup.

They knew better than to draw attention to themselves at an event like this one. The wholesome town, gathered before the church house and clutching thin candles were desperate for something– the girl, her reason for vanishing, someone to blame. Reid also knew better than to draw attention to himself.

So he listened to the parents begging the crowd and the universe for their daughter back, and to her classmates as they shuffled up with purposefully-stoked tears. Reid knew the community would recover– the parents would move away, the school might have a memorial next year, but not the one after that. Children went missing all the time, especially the quiet unpopular ones. If the worlds had anything in common it was benign neglect that occasionally bloomed into random cruelty, this little corner of Tellus was no exception.

For all he was only a handful of years older than the students on stage, Reid knew that fact well. However,  his employer had told him to make sure the missing girl was not the missing girl, her missing girl. He was here, clutching a thin sickly candle with a paper disk around it and listening to a fourteen year old hiccup through a premature eulogy.

Movement at the edge of his vision drew his attention. He had to push back the edge of his sweatshirt hood to see her. One of the parking lot delinquents, the girl who’d watched him come in with narrowed eyes pale in the sunlight was now just paces away. She met Reid’s gaze with eyes that now shown in the candlelight like a tarnished blade, flat and sharp.

He arched a brow in a clear ‘what?’ 

It was only when she didn’t respond, just raised her chin a little, that Reid’s stomach twisted just a hair. This could be bad.

Sweet in Summer

Spiget reached her fingers past the curling sweetbriar for the blackberry. It came away ripe and easy, but before she could bring it to her lips, a soil-stained hand slapped her wrist. Spiget squeaked and the berry fell to the mud. Spiget glared at her assailant, feeling lines rise over the backs of her hands from the thorns’ cruel edges.

Lively sighed. “No black-caps after Goosefeast. The cold poisons them,” the ember-haired woman explained and picked up her spade again, bending to continue their work slicing at the bramble.

“Never heard that—it’s a weed sure tell, but the berries are sweet.” But Spiget didn’t reach her fingers into the bramble again, instead going to knees to dig at the roots with her little trowel.

“In summer. In winter, black thorn, black cap, black lips.” Lively sang softly with exhales of breath, plump arms corded with hidden muscle as she brought her spade against tangled fiber and leaf. They worked well over the hour, clearing and raking the ground for the deep roots. When they stood, breathing heavy mist into the fall air, they surveyed the little cleared patch and the still tall bushes of thorn and fruit that crept closer to the holding’s modest fields.

Lively’s shook her head, hair escaping her braids in fiery tendrils. “Who let these creepers so close? Their roots will choke anything in spring-plant.”

“The woods grow with them, grew up getting sticked by the thorns,” said Spiget, her dress was soaked up to her waist in mud and she began to shiver in the cold. She looked about for her yellow plastic coat. “Utah kept them growing tall about her station not far from here, for the rabbits that hide inside, and the thorns.” Spiget pointed to where the abandoned radio station hid behind the deep trees. The old blackberry thicket was so thick, no one could approach Utah’s but through the main path kept burned clear. It had served the diminutive radio host well in her past feuds with the holding.

“Utah?” Lively’s darkly-freckled cheeks were already red with the work, but the flush crept down her neck. She jerked off her leather gloves and spiked them onto the ground. “That poisonous – no wonder they grow so strong. Mark me, the weed’ll creep into the holding, just as she has.”

Spiget’s smile was hesitant. “Utah didn’t creep, she sickens bad in winter so she was invited to move inside the walls,” she reminded the holder’s wife gently. “Peaceful like.”

“And we’ll reap that. Same as we’ll reap this.” Lively waved a hand towards the threatened fields. She picked up her spade and gloves, face held tight, and stalked towards the primitive gate between the makeshift fence of concrete rubble.

Spiget watched the retreating muddy figure and her determined, furious pace. She went about gathering her coat and her tools, bundling them for easy transport back to Concord. The red lines across her hand still stung, and Spiget made a quiet bet on who would win out in the end, Lively or — the blackberries.

Prey Drive

For context, check out the earlier piece Half-Time.  My posting schedule has been decimated by dissertation writing, so these will be going up at best once a week in the future. 

Don’t walk too fast, Vera reminded herself as her boots hit sticky concrete. What had her brother said– teenagers have high prey drives. They see you running scared and they can’t help but lunge.

The bleachers were hard to navigate. Shambling packs of Vera’s schoolmates clogged the lower walkway that led onto the field, calling out to the players as the game started its second half and the cheerleaders brandished glittering pom-poms between them.

Vera watched between heads and shoulders as she walked, searching for a particular number to flash out on the field. He’d offered her a ride in the middle of a thunderstorm and Vera, not realizing how often the storms were in this state, had refused in favor of walking. The rumbling of the sky then had carried down into her rib cage and it’d felt momentous, elemental, enough not to be hurried though. Vera winced, it’d thundered all the next week.

She wondered who he’d told.

The stadium concession vendor was at the top of the field, equally spaced between the home and visitor bleachers. Even if she walked with bored stroll of a senior, Vera had a lot of time before her family might worry.

Fifteen minutes later she was sipping a cherry soda and meandering back, trying to ignore how everyone else walked in pairs, when the path ahead of the bleachers devolved into fight. The crowd surged too quickly for Vera to see whether drunk students or drunk parents were to blame. Vera stopped and narrowed her eyes at the circled, hooting, onlookers. Many of them were adults.

She took the path that would lead her around the back of the bleachers, dark beside the yellow lamps turning the concrete and metal various shades of yellow and shadow. Now blocked from the field and the fight, the game’s noise became a distant thrum without meaning.

Vera thought she was alone at first, until a lighter clicked alive beneath the metal risers. Little groups milled and leaned against the web of cross-beams, dodging the spilt drinks and popcorn from above. She smelled weed smoke and could make out low sniggers of laughter and hushed conversation. Her pause was noted when shadowed faces lit by cigarette ends and phone screens turned to stare her down.

With a start, Vera realized she was staring back and felt her insides wither with embarrassment. She almost bolted, heedless of the instinctual teenage hatred of weakness. A girl emerged partially from the dark to lean forearms on the crossbeam between them. Dark curly hair fell out of her hood and down over her shoulders, framing a heart-shaped face with too much eyeliner. Her smile wasn’t particularly friendly, but it didn’t have the slit-eyed glee the more popular kids had when they descended on their prey.

“How was that thunderstorm?” The girl asked.

Vera groaned audibly.