Grim Siblings – An exercise in fiction

 

 

 

“The room is getting smaller!” Dale’s persistent screaming wakes me out of my accustomed semi-sleep. I roll to my side and one-eye him. Maybe he’ll stop if I don’t react. A lifetime ago I would have jumped at his unease. So much has changed since then. My brother runs his hands along the inner walls of the room. Although his fingers tremble I can hear rhythmic counting in the back of his throat. Soon he will determine that there are the same amount of wooden wall panels as there were the last time he counted. Seventy two long, twenty three wide. These numbers have come to confine us in our current reality. Never more, never less, never changed.

“Sit down man, you need some sleep.” I say out of habit.  He disagrees just as he always does, and seemingly he is correct. He hasn’t slept since we arrived. At first I thought we had been abducted after the car accident, you know, crazy horror flick kind of stuff.  I expected some lunatic with a machete to bust in through the door (that, by the way, only leads back into this exact room) at any moment and chop us into human sushi rolls. That never happened though. One of the most difficult things I’ve had to do since landing here was come to terms with the fact that my brother and I were not the victims of some crazed psychopathic break. After that realization came to pass, the pressure of waiting set in. It’s like that disquieted feeling you get before a long trip. The sensation that something is about to happen but just hasn’t hit yet. That’s how this place makes you feel.

“Do you know how long it’s been?” He asks me. His eyes are wide and disturbed.

I don’t. Centuries I’m guessing. Logic says otherwise, but I am no great follower of logic these days. Our bodies show no signs of dehydration nor starvation, despite our lack of both water and food. Since arriving here we haven’t had so much as a hunger pang.

“I gave you one job Jason,” Dale lowers his voice and glares under his brow at me, “one goddamn job and you can’t even do that. You were useless before and you’re useless now.” My brother has adopted the coping method of verbally abusing me to make himself feel better. To be truthful the guy can be an asshat and my feelings aren’t anywhere close to ironclad.

“What you do want from me man?” I stand up to match his height. “I tried marking the walls to keep track of the days but they just faded away. There is nothing in this room to keep records on, not so much as a scrap piece of paper! There’s not even a damn window in the place! Can’t you see that we aren’t supposed to keep track?”

There is an unease in my sibling’s eyes, something that use to be a faint glimmer. Nowadays it is becoming more concentrated. Will he ever be able to escape it?

He has not come to the same quiet conclusion I have about our predicament and I am afraid if I let him in on my theory he will lose his few remaining threads of sanity. He turns away from me, I think he is trying to hide the recklessness that is taking hold.

Over these endless eons we’ve become distant. A heaviness pulls over me. Will my brother and I be destined to sit in this room, having these thoughts and anxieties for the rest of time? Will it end? I know the answer, but choose not to confess it. Not right now anyways.

“You thinking about Mom?” I ask.

“Yeah, same old.” He leans heavily on his hands. Even here, in this place we now exist we haven’t managed to lose that extrasensory thing where we can recall an identical thought simultaneously. It’s always the same memory that comes to mind and it’s always the same numbness which it brings. We both become sullen, grim, for what we are seeing is ugly. There is comfort in knowing I am not alone in this feeling.

 

 

A woman’s scream tears through the quiet dark. Mother. She is crying and there is a slur to her voice—a sound that is not alien. Mom drinks because Dad drinks or maybe it’s the other way around. She is saying our names, but it is not to beckon us. She finds consolation in talking about her “babies” while indisposed. She is speaking with as much conviction as she can, but her words come out limp and dismal.

“Dumb bitch.” Dad says in a tone that defines normalcy. If not normal, it’s habitual.

A small blond head bobs across my bedroom floor. When it reaches my bed I can see that it is tear streaked and scared. What a face for a three year old, I think, and shove myself over to make room for him. We don’t speak but find sleep easier now that we have each other.  Later, once we are too old to share my single sized bed, we will work out a knocking system through hollow walls. KNOCK KNOCK= okay, KNOCK= not okay.  Lightly now, we don’t need them hearing our code.

Moments later animalistic grunts and moaning fill the hallways of our doublewide. Their drunken quarrelling turns to love making. I don’t know whether to feel relieved that the scary part is over or confused at how comparable these two sounds can be.

 

“Do you remember the last thing you talked about” I ask. It seems to be beneficial to talk about the before times. We are sitting in the same giant armchairs that we found when we first arrived here. They are identical replicas of the one our grandmother would rock us to sleep in when Mom and Dad would vanish during one of their proverbial disappearing acts.

“She had called me. She was upset.” I hear him say. For a moment I look around the room and I can envision the kitchen of my suburban home. It is clean, decorated and smells of pancake syrup. My wife sings happily in the kitchen to our children. I smile privately and turn my attention back to Dale. “It was just after the repossession, I told them they could stay with me until they got back on their feet.”

“I can imagine how that went.” I said. How did I have no clue about this conversation of theirs? Why hadn’t it come up?

“Yeah, he is a stubborn old bastard. God knows why she stays with him.” Dale replies. I think of my last conversation with Mother. I am about to tell him but for some reason I stop myself.

“Both of them refused, they wouldn’t even consider it. Said they couldn’t stand the thought of being a burden.” His voice is curling desperately around each word that he says, gripping the significance of it—he is looking for some kind of unwarranted redemption. “I told them they were going to die alone out there on the coast.” He looks directly into my eyes and it shoots a lightning bolt of angst up my spine. “That was the last thing I said to her.”

“That’s not on you man.” I don’t know what else to say. Why hadn’t I made the same offer to them that my brother had? The suggestion hadn’t even crossed my mind. Raindrops of bitterness begin to pop in the deep of my gut. My heartrate speeds. Why does the thought of them do this to me? I am a grown man. A successful man. I’ve made a decent living, I have a beautiful wife. Three happy and healthy kids. Once, I had it all.

“I know.” He says, and we sit in a comfortable silence for what seems like years.

The last time I talked to my mother her voice was breaking up over a bad connection. She was travelling through the mountains she said. Invisible eddies of anticipation, I’m sure, were twirling from her head and out towards the compressed skyline of the west coast.

The voices of men drowned her out; I had to strain to hear her.

“I did it sweetie, I finally did it!” She said.

“Did what Mother? Where the hell are you?” I asked.

“I left him.” A man’s voice that was not my father’s came dangerously close to my mother. He was using the word “baby” a lot and I had a feeling that he was not talking to an infant.

“You left Dad? What happened?” For as many years as I’ve been telling her to leave the prick a drape of sentiment still fell over me for Dad. What was he doing now? Who had made him his dinner this evening? What kind of words had the man who took her away exchanged with my father while Mother flitted around the house claiming her worthless knickknacks and dusty photo-albums?

“That asshole had it coming.” There was a brief pause for some dead air space. “Beck’s been telling me to leave him for months now.” A juvenile giggle was followed by, “oh stop it; I’m on the phone with my kid!”

From the time I was young my mother had attracted attention. My father hated it, but he was partly to blame with the double D’s he had bought her when they were first dating. Back then he wanted eye candy; that notion miscarried though once he got too old and fat to scare away the catcalls.

“Who the hell is Beck?” Had she talked about Beck before? Probably just another regular at the dive bar she was waitressing at.

“Oh you know Beck,” She said, “I’ve told you about Beck before.”  Nervousness gurgled in back of her throat. “Anyways…” The phone cut out and all I could hear was static for a few seconds.

“Mother? Ma, you there still?” More static.

The words “north”, “diamond mines”, “roughing it” were intermingling with the harsh sounds of a poor connection. I told her to call me back when she got into a better location.

I hung up and instinctively began to dial Dad’s cell phone but stopped short after the area code. I couldn’t face him; I couldn’t stand to hear what his voice would ultimately tell me. Would it be laden down with guilt and sadness for what he had lost? Would a pitiable half taut noose be strung around each excuse he rummaged up? Would there even be remorse in his words? Worse yet, would his usual predisposed voice answer my call? Would he say, “Yell-o” in his regular way, not vaguely scathed by the evacuation of his twenty-something yearlong marriage? Had he only been waiting, biding his time, for something like this to happen? Would his reaction be as disinterested as it was the day I told him I was leaving?

 

A recollection of cigarettes and an empty Folgers coffee can flood my brain. A few months before the wreck my wife had placed it on the deck so I would stop throwing my stubs in her garden. The thought uplifts me—always so concerned about that damn garden, I think as I chuckle to myself. My brother and I sit, calmly. I am remembering the oversized tabby that wanders down our back alleyway, surely on the prowl for some easy leftovers. My brother looks towards the roof. He has settled but I have to wonder how long it will be until he begins counting wall panels again. There are so many things I should talk to him about. However, the things I need to say are complicated and more than a little convoluted. My ideas on what has happened to my brother and I remind me of when a plane passes over; leaving a thick cloud of smoke in its wake and then just as quickly disappearing. Moments later the humans on the ground beneath will have overlooked that it was ever there at all.

I try to push the coming anxiety involving my parents away, the same way I did when I was playing tag with my kids or making love to my wife.

“Dale,” I begin, “Do you remember what happened right before we turned up in this room? Do you remember the bus? The screaming?” The stranger’s cries are something I don’t think I can ever forget now. I pause and look at my little brother. He shows no signs of acknowledgement but instead stares off imagining entire universes upon one of the four walls of this room. It is not the right time. He is too fragile. His psyche cannot handle it. So I wrap up my thoughts inwardly.

It would explain why every time I think of my wife and children only an easiness floats through me. For those few seconds I don’t feel the waiting or the anxiety. I don’t feel the unease. They will always be a beautiful memory. It’s everything else that needs to be sorted out. In truth, this notion that has been developing in my mind could explain everything. The car accident, the feeling that something bigger is coming, the way my body yearns for nothing at all. There is nothing left for us in that life, except, acceptance over the bad things that once happened. Soon that life, those memories, will simply be a fading jet stream in a yawning sky.

Eventually I’ll tell him. Perhaps together we can talk our way out of this purgatory. This last thought makes me wonder about the people who have to do this alone. For now however I will join my brother in his quiet reflection. If I’m right about this, then I’m sure we can spare a few minutes, or, whatever it is that keeps time in this place.

We do, after all, have the rest of eternity.

New Site!

Hey guys, yes yes I know what I said.

But I’m not back for long, just wanted to swing by to give you a link to my new fiction blog, Tales From the Trunk.

Writers often call stories and books that never make it to the publishers, their “Trunk Stories” these are the ones that basically don’t make the cut. I’ve got a plethora of them hidden in the deep dark corners of my laptop which gave me the idea for my newest blog site. With a little shining and some heavy editing work I will whip those babies back into shape and put them out there for all to read!

Now Friends, I want to remind you that I’m strange and I really like strange stuff (it enthrals me) I like strange reading. So naturally my writing is going to be a little strange too. Okay it is a lot strange and dark and weirdly therapeutic. For the last few days as I’ve been spit-shining these tales up and I continue to wonder what section of my brain they are being birthed from and if I should be worried about such imagery that’s busts forth.

Of course I’m not worried, I’m embracing this new adventure of writing wizardry. And I couldn’t be more excited for what is to come.

So please, if you enjoy the odd short story pop by Tales From the Trunk and take a browse!

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To Whom it May Concern,

 

If my life were the water that fills a five gallon bucket I would currently be overflowing. Between my beautiful husband, kids and our family business I have about a 2 inch depth left for writing. And that’s okay; that is more than enough to work with…until I want to focus on growth.

A few days ago Sophie told me that she didn’t want me to write on the computer about her anymore. It came to me as a shock and at first I wanted to cry because that is what The Blogging Mama’s foundation has been built upon. It’s right there in the name for fuck sakes. What the hell am I going to do now? I thought.

I always told myself that as soon as the kids said that they wanted me to stop writing about them I would. No questions asked. But I just didn’t think it would be this soon. Well it is and now I have to come to terms with it.

However it’s a good thing someone up there is looking out for me and my compulsion to string sentences together or I’d be a bloody headcase right now. The entire point of writing is, A) because I couldn’t not write and B) because everyone needs something that reminds them of who they are.

A few months ago I really started going strong with some fictional short story writing. It is going well despite the fiction market being a tough barrier to breach-worlds more so than non-fiction platforms. After all anyone can write a funny blog about parenthood (well, mostly anyone) but it takes some special (Steve King) talent to transform an entire world into fictional lore over someone’s home computer screen. Ahem, challenge accepted I do say.

Which brings me back to the damn bucket. Yeah of course I could keep writing funny stories about me, Jamie and the shop. I could perhaps slip a few quips in regarding the small humans. I could keep doing what I’m doing and stay the same forevermore.

Or, I could try something different. Hone in on a new set of literary skills. Follow every urge in my body that is screaming at me to challenge myself to see what the results could bring. Maybe I am not made for fictional writing. Maybe I just won’t make the cut. But if so, at least I will have tried. At least I will know as I lay dying and decrepit on my hospital bed in 60 years from now (I’m very healthy) that I put myself out there and I did all I could do.

So with that my friends I bid you adieu, for now at least. I am going to take an indefinite hiatus from The Blogging Mama in hopes of finding the time, energy and creative well in which to pen a new kind of story.

Adios Amigos, I’m sure we will meet again (because I’m going to use most of you as fictional characters in my cool new stories. MWAH MWAH MWAH—evil laughing: going to have to work on that.)

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Thankless Jobs; and Why They Are Sometimes Worth It.

As a writer one must adopt the knack to take criticism positively and use it constructively. It is a difficult feat sometimes, especially when you’ve toiled so hard on a project only to have to revamp and once again revise, revise, revise. Nevertheless the writer knows what must be done to achieve the overall fulfilment they will eventually reap from their work. And this entire process, I’ve come to realize, is quite similar in the long journey of parenthood.

Just recently I’ve decided to expand my reach by submitting a few short fiction stories to some literary magazines. I’ve had a severe love affair with science fiction and the fantasy genres for as long as I can remember so I thought it was high time to send some of my own fictitious tales of escapade out into this big literary world. For weeks I poked and prodded at the ten short stories I had decided were worthy for submittal.  I read and reread the overall storylines; I cut characters and added more interesting ones. I custom made my sentence structure; I was witty (but don’t worry not annoyingly so). I murdered, I schemed, and I plotted (in the stories of course) and I repented over none of it. By the end, these tales I had created were a part of me. They live in the depths of my mind and their characters will forever survive in the warm caverns of my imagination.

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Yet some do not see it that way. This morning as I argued with Sophie over why she must brush her extremely knotted hair I glanced at my phone to see I had received an email from one of the magazines I submitted to a few weeks ago. My heart gave a little skip but immediately thereafter faltered.  I opened the email to find yet another rejection letter. I’ve lost count currently but if I had to guess I would say it was about the twelfth or thirteenth, “sorry not for us” reply I’ve gotten.

This however is all okay, and that is because of one simple quote I’ve taken on as my personal mantra, “By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.”― Stephen KingOn Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.  Leave it to one of the great “king’s” of literature to craft such a vast beacon of hope for aspiring writers everywhere.

Now all of this talk about rejection has started me thinking about how similar the feelings that arise from parenting can be. We work so damn hard to be the mothers, fathers, and caregivers we have to be. We laugh with them, rack our brains to come up with awesome activities to keep them stimulated. We love them unconditionally. We’d murder, scheme and plot for them if it meant their safety and happiness. And yet we expect nothing in return.

Much like writing it can sometimes be a thankless job. We will collect unwanted, unwarranted commentary from our peers because they would do it a different way. We gobble up the criticism from the experts and call it constructive because what on earth else are we supposed to do with that information?

Parents and writers are constantly on the search for recognition, and yet in reality it is so seldom that we find it.  This morning after I received this particular email I quietly retreated to my bedroom. I once again thought about that famous quote from Mr. King and it made me realize that it not only applies to the rejection we feel as writers but also the rejection we can feel in everyday life. It occurred to me that no matter what has got you down, the key is to keep moving forward.

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Yes sometimes our parenting endeavours can feel unappreciated. It is a job we do out of candid love rather than for acknowledgement or praise. And even when the girl child refuses to brush her hair or the boy child tells you you’re the worst mom ever for not letting him play the tablet, you will still carry on. We do this because of that tiny voice inside reminding us to always do best for the small humans we are bringing up in this world.

And one day, just like my creative writing, our hard work and effort will pay off and we will hear the words, “You did great, thank you” and just like that we will fail to remember how complicated it once was.

Identity Renting: The Illness of Infatuation

The year is 2093- a newfangled fad called Identity Renting is hot on the rise. It is a privately funded program where individuals with enough cash can walk into a laboratory and within minutes become fully immersed into another human beings body & life.

It is typically a recreational venture that lasts 2 to 24 hours long. Participants are said to find the experience mind-opening and exciting.

You can choose to be anyone you’d like that is listed in the Identity Renting directory. The statelier of a person the more expensive they are to rent. One registers themselves to be in the Identity Renting directory. Sometimes they do this for the publicity, or money, or simply interest in the program.

This is one human’s journey through the steamroller that is Identity Renting.

***

Now before I begin- please don’t get me wrong

I love who I am, I love my own song.

But there are some times when my mind

Gets to thinking

And I ponder the possibilities of change and

Re-imaging.

Strange and unnerving when the idea first hits the ear

But truly and utterly, they tell me, there’s no need to fear.

To walk in the shoes of your best friend or foe

To understand what it’s like to partake in diversified flow.

It all sounds too interesting and exciting and neat

The deed of publicity is all-around great.

Yet ominously I hear in my left waxy clogged ear,

Side effects may include- profuse sweating,

Bed wetting,

Everlasting loss of memory, extreme swings of mood and mind

Not to mention the slight change of getting

STUCK in recipients body and living out the

Rest of your days as someone that is not you.

And of course, like always, possible death.

But we live to take chances and try things that are new

So now I will begin to ponder the more important question of who!

Who can I be, who will I chose

To hack into their life to become my VERY personal muse.

I could be as witty as Ellen De G

Or try my hand on a throne as a prominent queen.

I could be mysteriously handsome like the talented Depp

Then no one would think I was a miserable schlep.

What if I could sing notes reminiscent of footsteps,

In new fallen snow-

Creating wondrous imprints wherever I’d go.

With the voice of an angel so sultry and sweet

The attention I’d get would be no difficult feat.

I could be tough- a right bitchy ol’ broad

And no one would mess with me in fear they’d get clawed.

I flick through this directory of thousands of lives

And wonder if the word ‘hijack’ is much too contrived?

Once I delve in to this rapidly unnerving heist

My body too will be hung up, valued and priced.

At any moment I could be caught unaware

Be locked in subconscious while a stranger takes over my stare.

Upheaval would sully my everyday life

Chaos taking over- resulting in nothing but strife.

And for what?

For a few extra kicks?

For a few hours of unaccompanied bliss.

For a rush of triviality. For a rush of the new.

I am willing to toss all that is true?

Because really I am a pretty wonderful catch.

I’m talented, funny, and all around fresh.

I’m bright and adventurous, I’m audacious and cool

And to become something I’m not would make me a

Self-sacrificing silly old fool.

If I am quite happy in the skin that I’m in

To change that would be the most awful of sin’s.

I won’t do it, I can’t! I will be myself and be free

I will live in the life I was meant to be.

But wait…OH NO!

I’ve waited two minutes too late

And I find myself sealed to a table of fate.

Men in white jackets encase me in fear

There are no soothing voices, no settling cheer.

They work with quick fingers- their goal in plain view

As I try to explain what I do not want them to do.

But as hard as I try my words are all mute.

My body no longer is a pristine working engine

The last thing I view in that room

Is a large multi-colored injection.

And as my mind fuzzes over with the influence of preparation

I silently curse the illness of infatuation.