Good for the Soul

Kamilah shouldered into the dim bar and looked around for Jay, a little out of breath from her swift walk from the bus stop. The sound system switched from r&b to sad country as she scanned the place. Jay was on a stool, waving his hands at the bartender in the midst of some story. “You bothering this poor young man while he’s trying to work?” Kamilah slid into the seat next to him.

Relief softened Jay’s features and he held up his beer bottle and two fingers, ordering for her. “Thought that Chungie’s closes at 10? Its past midnight.”

“My boss kept me, and I don’t say no to hours.” Kamilah smiled gratefully at the bartender, who despite a well-puffed beard, couldn’t be any older than her own son at nineteen. No wonder he’d been being nice to Jay. “Sorry though, thanks for waiting.” She leaned over and brushed her lips against his jaw and the graying stubble there.

“Of course girl.” Jay grinned back, a little drunk. The bartender opened a condensation slick beer and set on the scuffed bar in front of Kamilah. Jay put his elbows on the bar, head turned and still smiling. “You work too much. If you didn’t come in so tired I’d think you found someone else. Still no time for a boyfriend?”

Kamilah shook her head, “Jay, I got two jobs and I’m in the market for a third.”

“You just here for the free beer then?” He asked, causing her to sputter as she drank hers with a laugh.

“No, no I–” Kamilah started but the country song filled in the void, bittersweet lyrics filling her pause a little bit of hooking up is good for the soul. The singer went on to describe past lovers while Jay and Kamilah laughed again together this time. For a moment Kamilah didn’t think of her shift in seven hours, it was nice to just laugh next to man who called her girl even though she hadn’t been one in a good long while.

“So we gonna listen to the song and go? Your place?” Jay took his chance, throwing a twenty down from his pocket to pay for their drinks.

“I got kids. I don’t bring men home. Not til Ashlyn’s out at whatever fancy college she’s got her heart set on.” Kamilah made sure her voice held no wiggle room. It wasn’t Jay in particular, she liked Jay, trusted him even, but she’d heard too many horror stories to risk it just cause she was lonely. “Sorry Jay, its a rule of mine.”

“Oh come on, their teenagers right? They’re probably not even there it being Friday night at midnight. That age, I raised all sorts of hell when my parents were working.” Jay reasoned, resting a hand on the small of her back as they walked from the bar.

“My kids are good kids. And they have better sense than you.” Kamilah retorted, but she was thankful he pressed just a little. It was nice to have someone trying and she kissed him on the sidewalk so he knew she appreciated the chase, even if it wasn’t leading anywhere. “Goodnight Jay.”

Music challenge time. This week Judd and I wrote to Jenny Lewis’ Heads Gonna Roll. See Judd’s piece here. 


Sound and Fury

“This was a mistake,” she whispered to the air above her wine glass. The skytop lounge grew busy in the span her first drink. She’d need another soon. Starkly dressed men and women orbited each other and leaned in and out of conversations. So far none braved the corner she’d claimed, leaving her to take in the brilliant towers of the skyline alone.

A mistake, she thought again, in a succession of them. This was a minor one compared to the rest, but present and loud as she sat alone. She imagined herself awkwardly here for an hour and then taking a cab home to a styled but unloved apartment. Now, if she hunched her shoulders enough, scowled distantly, emanated cold– the rest of the lounge might leave her to carry out the next hour of pennant loneliness in peace.

She finished her first drink listening to the lounge’s soft noise and quick tapping beat. It had a sound and lonely fury all its own. She set the empty glass on the aesthetically hewn coffee table.

Time to retreat. Call this a failure and gather herself for tomorrows battles.

Except that wasn’t why she’d come out. A win. She’d needed a win. She had wanted to slip among their slender silhouettes and carelessly pass over her card for sleek cocktails. Revel in the untouchable safety money and a hundred stories above the stained sidewalks could afford.

She turned to watch the gathering crowd. Most were here with someone or many someones. It made her stand out alone in the corner.

It made him stand out alone at the bar.

Hurricane grey suit in daring cut. Arms in a right angle on the bar so his back hunched, arched like a stretching cat. Eyes tired, lidded heavy as he waited for a drink.

Clench teeth, curl fingers, breath in. What was she scared of? Didn’t she need something she could face?

She picked up her empty glass and set her eyes on the slim, empty spot next to him at the bar.

This week Raw Rambles chose Dido’s Hurricanes for our music challenge. Check out her piece here.



The Door

Three blocks.

Aiden tore down the sidewalk. The streetlamp glow of the city streets cast the open alleys as waiting cave mouths and Aiden darted a round-eyed look over his shoulder. Behind him, an engine revved and headlights flashed on rain-soaked cement.

He twisted and pitched himself into an open alley, stumbling at first in the sudden dark.  Aiden’s sneakers slapped the broken pavement and soggy grit loud enough to echo, but he didn’t slow. Overflowing dumpsters and peeling backdoors flashed in his peripheral.

A car door slammed at the alley mouth. Behind Aiden, footsteps poured after him in cacophonous pursuit.

Two blocks.

A hand from behind closed around Aiden’s collar, yanking him back. Aiden twisted, down, around and spun himself out of the captured clothing. He stumbled again and kept running, leaving his would-be-captor with an empty jacket.

They came from all sides, rushing from alley and cars. Aiden vaulted a low brick wall into a park and his shoes slid on the muddy grass. Cold stung his nose, his throat, his now bare arms, but his chest heaved with each breath burning.

Flashlights swept the grass, Aiden slunk into the trees on trembling legs and set out for the other side of the park.

One block

Aiden slipped under the burnt out and broken streetlights of the historic district. Lacking the after hour diversions of clubs or bars, the rich day tourists left the promenades and quaint shops when the sun set.

Those remaining watched Aiden pass from beneath their makeshift shelters of blanket, tent, and tarp. They didn’t bother him. Aiden’s hunched shoulders and furtive steps spoke of trouble and they had their own.

All looked up when headlights flooded into the usually abandoned nightscape. Aiden ran, ducking down a set of concrete steps that took him beneath the cobblestone streets. The rest withdrew beneath their tarps.

The door.

Aiden shuffled sideways through the cracked entrance of underground tunnel, careful not to touch anything for too long. Everything hummed. Those ignorant to the place’s import would ascribe the charged air to the pipes and lines running above in the underground tunnels. But Aiden could hear the words behind the thrum.

Water dripped around him. Between the plunking drops, Aiden could  hear people above him shuffling and cursing. They’d find the crack he’d slipped through eventually. And they’d come down to find where he walked now, just a round about tunnel that circled back on itself. Some old path designed for maintenance before the city expanded.

Aiden closed his eyes to the dark and listened. Not with his ears, but something else, and when he spoke it wasn’t with his voice. Words, not in any language a human tongue could make.

He blinked his eyes open to the new glow filling the old tunnel. An arch pulsed on the wall with a color Aiden had no name for. Beyond the ethereal door another tunnel shown wetly in the dark, but this one was of the blackest, stone, each sharp faced flashing in the arch’s unearthly light. But with each beat the glow grew weaker. The door already closing.

The corner his mouth twitched, drawing his mouth hesitantly into a smile. Aiden rolled his shoulders and stepped through.

Late, and to my own Music Challenge. I charged myself and Raw Rambles with writing something to or inspired by AFI’s Trash Bat. Check out her’s here. 

The temple you be.

They mistook her walks and wanderings for a love of growing thing, some attachment to dappled glens and chorusing water. It was not.

Romantic souls, them.

It was a deliberate act, to fall deeply into love with places no one had loved before, virgin soil and sodden trunks.

Solitary beings, still and standing.

To make her skull a hospitable home, sanctified by air burning her nose with cold. Unbreathed and hers.

A creature alone, holy.

Thanks to Raw Rambles for this weeks Music Challenge, where we must both write something to or inspired by Jamila Woods’ song, Holy

Little Bird

The men don’t know what is in the old mine. They don’t warn their sons away from the north road which runs down, descends with rain broken dirt, from town and through the winter trees to funnel all things into a deep mouth.

But the women, they have an idea. They pinch, and nag, and hound their daughters until the girls watch the north road with squinted eyes and unmoving feet. Girls turn to women with an idea of what waits and shifts in the old mine. They tell their daughters.

Be bold, the stories tell boys. The stories are wrong.

Be wary, the stories tell girls. The stories are right.

There is a girl, her name is Wren, who was told no stories. Her mother is gone, left, taken, somewhere else. Wren does not know where or why her mother is. Only that when she places her feet on the north road, no warning words shepherd her to safety.

Wren follows the fluttering sounds to the deep mouth, where they beat deep beneath the dirt. She walks inside, bold and unfearful, unfettered by stories, below the stone and sliding earth. Through dark warrens laced with silky veins of metal. And when she finds it, it unfolds its wings for her.

Wren does not emerge for a very long time. She greets the air with grey stone eyes and sunless skin. She unfolds her wings.

This week I challenged Raw Rambles with Thom Yorke’s Unmade. Check back in every other week for more Music Challenges, where we challenge each other to write something to or inspired by different bits of music. 

Big White Dress

And my bitches with me pretty, too, they look like bridesmaids
And they all bloody gang so don’t be talkin’ sideways

“That’s kinda –”

“What Madison?” Cassie twisted to wither her bridesmaid with a stare honed with black liner and false eyelashes. Pulsing from the speaker set in the center of the hotel suite, and controlled by Cassie’s phone, the swaggering beat and lyrics strutted over them. Around the room, other young women in the same powder blue dresses milled about searching and grousing for pins, their glass, and cosmetics fallen to the tragedy of the commons.

“I was gonna say intense.” Madison held her mouth tight, jaw pressed forward.

“You have complained about each song I’ve played.” Cassie turned back to the mirror, tilting her chin to cut one way and then the other.   “Besides she’s got a point about you all.”

“That’s because this playlist is just every song that mentions bridesmaids.” Madison sucked in her breath and held it as she misted her loose curls with hairspray, brandishing the can in short angry jerks. “What do you mean a point?” She asked, barely moving her lips, eyes closed against the cloying chemical spray.

“About bridesmaids. Brides started having bridesmaids so any roving bands of bandits and jilted lovers wouldn’t know which fancy, made-up lady was the bride. Ya’ll are here for my protection. My gang.” Cassie spread her painted lips, cocksure from the song’s trailing boasts and the last few metallic notes.

Madison chortled, and went to pour mimosas, bent far away from the hotel desk to protect her powder blue uniform. Two nearly clear mimosas ready at the brim of their cheap flutes, Madison floated them over to Cassie. “Bandits can’t figure out its the bitch in the big white dress?”

Cassie burst a laugh, not taking her drink until she was able to control herself for the sake of her big white dress.

It was my turn to challenge Raw Rambles and I did so with Cardi B’s Money Bag. For every music challenge we write something to or inspired by a song. Check out Raw Rambles blog for the challenges and more. 

The way things are won…

A gentle clink of poisoned glasses, purring of low voices, the jangle of rope, harness, and coin. These are the sounds of Naleem. His one time home still stirred in the dark hours of the morning. Lark had taken the city through guile, artful plot, and patience, the way all things are won in Naleem.

His rooms were crowded now. Friends and associates, new and old, leaned over the maps there, discussing what was to be done with the rest of the continent. When he wasn’t there, or tangling up bedsheets with Dras, Lark smiled across dinner tables and ballrooms at men and women who would prefer him as an ineffectual bloated corpse.

Those well-wishers ensured Lark had someone watching the space between his shoulder blades at all times. This kept him effectual, attractively slim, and most importantly, breathing. It was also driving him a little mad. Lark did not hold this against his fellow merchant princes, nor his bodyguards, this was Naleem after all. The measures simply made finding solitude an endeavor. An endeavor Lark began with a sleeping aid slipped into Dras’ wine over their evening meal.

With the sunrise hours off, Lark left his villa alone for the first time in months. He took a path through the kitchens, avoiding maid and cook, and climbed the back wall like a rebellious child.

By his logic, this was his city and he was entitled time to get reacquainted. Not that others would agree; Lark bet on being back before anyone noticed and could imagine his name slid angrily between their teeth should he fail. Quite like when he’d been a rebellious child, though hopefully more successful in his gambles.

In the first quarter hour of precious solitude, Lark ruined his boots in the muck of an alley, dissuaded two thieves through liberal application of glare and stiletto, and laughed at a bold doxy who thought she’d have anything to offer him. He was grinning by the end of it.

Tomorrow he would dine on stuffed pheasant, sip champagne, and flatter the princes who wished him dead. That was Naleem. But so was this, Lark thought, striding through the narrow maze designed to entrap and ambush and watching flicks of shadow dart above him over the roofs. Assassins making their last visitations of the night. Mud and machinations, carnage and coin, silk and sabotage. He loved it all.

For this music challenge I made Raw Rambles write something to or inspired by Ludovico Einaudi’s Divenire, and I did the same above.