Even knowing you don’t, I can’t help but.

I covered my face – though no one but god was watching – and sobbed, the water of the shower washing my tears down the drain, wasted just like my feelings. I blew my nose in my palm and washed that down the drain, too. I slapped myself.

Snap out of it. Don’t spend yourself.

Well, I have to afford it. The grief shows me that I am not cold, isolated, or bitter.

I felt the imagined loss as if it was real, and I mourned it. I mourned you and the believed-death of beauty in potentia. I asked myself why? Because I do, and I can’t help but.

Apex

He considered himself no different from cats or orcas – animals that enjoy toying with their prey before delivering it unto Death. Like them, he used only the weapons nature gave him, and he didn’t always eat what he killed. He considered most of it practice, a honing of skills and body.

He watched an episode of Blue Planet that showed a pod of killer whales stalking a blue whale and its pup, taunting the mother, nipping at the babe. When the pup was exhausted, they toyed with the mother until she could no longer defend her offspring.  The orcas circled and jabbed, like a pack of boxers, and when they finally separated mother and child, they killed the pup but ate only its cheek meat – the choicest cut, so to speak. After the orcas left, the mother whale swam around the pup for hours, nudging it.

The unspoken questions were obvious. Were the orcas evil? Did the blue whale love her pup? He knew such questions had no meaning in nature. He wondered where humans got off thinking they could be evil or just or loving. Just because they believed they had souls, because they thought themselves civilized with advanced language skills, they were somehow better and accountable to the notions of morality and decency. Ants were civilized, and they sure as hell didn’t have ethics. Mounds often went to war with one another. Yes, he knew it was bullshit.

When he killed, it was because it was in his nature because he was of nature and not bound by a fabricated sense of right and wrong. When he killed his own kind, it was no different than the male dolphin, orangutan, or lion that slaughtered his competitors’ offspring and mated with as many females as possible to increase the odds of leaving a significant genetic footprint amongst the species. What he did was normal, and those who said differently were kidding themselves.

Pantera

Sitting on the concrete bench in front of the building, I smoked between classes. I liked the spot, a kind of perch atop the wide stairs that overlooked sidewalks, flowerbeds, oaks planted after the campus burned during the Civil War, and the crosswalk. Despite a flashing neon yellow sign that read, “Stop for pedestrians,” someone got hit there every semester. Stupid kids, driving like stupid kids, and hitting other stupid kids like they were squirrels.

I hogged the bench. I had my feet up, my knees tucked up to my chest. I liked sitting that way – the way they made us hunker during tornado drills or actual tornados when I was in elementary school. With my right arm wrapped around my knees, I clasped my left arm just above the elbow. With methodical timing, I bent my elbow, took a drag, and straightened my arm. Then, I watched as the smoke wafted out of my gaping mouth or streamed from my nostrils. I’m a dragon, I thought childishly and smiled at myself.

“Hey,” someone called to me.

Like a Viewmaster, I blinked to switch from what I thought to the real world. I looked two steps down to find the guy-in-the-Pantera-T-shirt. He always wore one with faded, black jeans, black Chuck Taylor’s, and three wallet chains. This day, he wasn’t wearing his dog collar bracelet or armor ring.

“What’s up?” I asked.

He tossed his backpack at the base of the bench and took out his pack of cigarettes. Since he meant to sit, and I felt polite, I swiveled, letting my feet drop, and sat on the bench normally. He patted himself, and knowing what he sought, I offered him my lighter, keeping my hand out as a reminder for him to return it. He did and sat beside me.

“How’re you doing in this class?” He waved his cigarette at the building.

Simultaneously, we turned our heads and blew smoke over the azaleas instead of in each other’s faces while never breaking eye contact. I rubbed my cigarette under the bench to put it out, not minding when bits of hot tobacco stung my hand, and set the butt on the bench between us.

“Good,” I said in answer to his question.

“I thought so. Could you maybe help me? I mean, I can pay you, some.”

“Yeah, I’m real busy.” After a glance at my watch, I knew I had time for one more, so I bent sideways to fish out a smoke from the front pocket of my backpack. Pantera bumped my arm and offered me one of his.

When I took it, he said, “Yeah, I figured, but look, I’m serious. I have to pass this class.”

I lit the cigarette and took a drag, exhaled and took another, making him stew just a bit. “How about Saturday?  There isn’t a game.”

He winced. “I can’t do it then. My friends and I…we build rockets.”

My eyebrows darted up at that. “Really?  Like fifth grade science class?”

“Well, not dinky ones.”

“You build rockets,” I mused and thought of the little engines that looked like rolls of coins with tampon strings. “Do they have parachutes?”

He laughed and looked off into the bushes. “Yeah, and one weekend, a buddy of mine had his dad down and he helped us make napalm.”

I choked. “That’s just…not normal.” Then, I laughed because anyone who spoke to me for more than five minutes knew I wasn’t normal. “Yeah, okay Pantera-Napalm-Guy. When are you free?”

We made plans to meet at the library on Thursday afternoon, and when he finished his smoke, I said I’d meet him in class. I sat a bit longer, wondering how much money the University spent on grounds upkeep. The azaleas were quite beautiful, cotton candy pink.

When I stood, my bottom was numb from sitting for so long on that hard, concrete bench. Nintendo butt, my brother called it, like Nintendo thumb. Except now, there was Sega thumb, X-Box thumb, and Playstation thumb. I wondered if anyone had ever used a Playstation dual-shock controller as a vibrator.

I pinched my cigarette just above the filter and rolled it between my fingers.  When the hot rock fell out, I scrubbed it across the concrete with my boot and flicked the unburned tobacco free. I always left that little bit because I hated the taste of burnt filter.

After buying a coffee from the street vendor, I pitched my butts into the trash and headed back in the building to class.

Decartes

It’s painful to care about someone who doesn’t acknowledge your existence unless you’re in the same room together. Mariposa was the first person I ever met with this ability. I have always wondered if she is this way because her mind is so full of other things – worries, school, work, her lover, herself – that she has no room for anyone else, or if deep inside her, she believes that no one really exists unless she thought of them. She is the creator. She could bring me into the world or remove me with a thought.

When I send her an email, does it cease to exist until she chooses to receive it and open it?

And not just her. So many sociopathic gods. I ask myself these questions: how do they do it? How do they convince themselves that someone they met, someone that made an impact (for better or worse), is no more?

To all the gods, if I meant something, even if you can’t define it, how can you ignore me?  The only answer I find is that you tell yourself that I don’t exist anymore.

But, you won’t read my words or hear my voice because you’ve already forgotten me.

Even so and throwing like a girl, I send out the digital version of a message in a bottle. My message reads like a fortune cookie fortune. It isn’t really a fortune, just some vague advice or nonsense that’s funny when “in bed” is tacked to the end, and then is tossed it into the trash bin with the used napkins. I’ve grown used to it to the point that I’m not sure I exist unless I think of me. Then my head hurts because I’m a paradox.

Worry not. I think of you, all the time. I’m keeping us here.

 

Update

Until very recently, I have not had much time to write. I had to re-read several of my books to get back into the feel and voice of some of the characters. Since I had that chance, I have now written about 8k words on the final book in the Camellia series.  Two of the major conflicts are resolved, and the end is nigh!

I know that, after this book, I won’t write anymore books with Camellia as the main character. However, I might write about someone else in her universe. Before that happens, I have another work that needs re-tooling. I think it’s good, but it could be better. My MC needs more people to play with regularly, and I need to make up my mind whether the MC will stay a he, or if I am in for a huge rewrite to make him a she. Great things can come from both rewrites. We shall see what time permits.

The thing is, he never has been okay.

See here:

Like too many ice-coated mozzarella sticks dunked into the fryer,

Everything outside flashes to steam,

Bubbling up, catching fire, and burning anyone nearby,

Triggering angry red whelps and blisters and curses,

All of which will leave permanent marks,

And the instantly-molten inside bursts free,

Contaminating the oil and leaving nothing

But a golden brown husk.

One Percent Other: The Duke of Hazards

From the first time someone paid Brazen to jump off the roof of the elementary school, he knew he wanted to be a stunt man.  He had no sense of self-preservation.  Anyone who hung out with him could attest to it.

In a school that was 49% white, 50% black, and 1% other, Brazen was one of the few in the “other” category.  He was unusual to look at, having inherited his Iranian father’s skin tone and coarse black hair as well as his ginger mother’s summer blue eyes.  His mid-teen growth spurt left him with awkward long legs and arms.  When he wasn’t in school or up to no good, he was running, knees and elbows pumping, and a foot-long braided rattail flailing behind him.

Brazen loved to do stuff no one else would dare, and he would do almost anything for almost nothing.  His toady and his best friend watched him eat twenty cockroaches, the big kind, for fifty bucks.  Any given weekday, he could be found taking money from other kids in exchange for an exhibition better suited to a sideshow than lunchroom entertainment. He always gave his audience what they wanted, and he craved the attention, which made him perfect for Ms. Cornell’s drama class.

When he wasn’t running lines or painting sets, Brazen passed the time walking across the auditorium on his hands, trying to see how many folding chairs he could jump, or just sitting in a circle of mostly girls and telling stories of the many and varied ways he’d broken bones.

They sat rapt, and he told the story well, despite the inevitable cracks that come with a boy’s changing voice.  “So three summers ago, my mom was dropping me off at the skate park every morning, at like nine, before she took my sister to band camp.  G-Man’s dad has a pick-up, so he brought the ramp.  P-Dawg has a friggin’ six foot half-pipe at his house, but my mom won’t let me go over there anymore since we got caught smoking, so we were at the damned park everyday.”

“Brazen, don’t cuss at school,” Ms. Cornell called.

“Sorry,” he sang back and looked at Toady.   Dropping his voice, he said, “You know she’s pregnant?”  The kids in the circle turned to look as Ms. Cornell, a tight-bodied, smoking hot redhead, as she gave stage directions.  The other kids whispered that they heard she got knocked up by a twenty-two year old, and she would be thirty in a few months.  “Yeah, well, if it’s true, then she’s a MILF for sure.”

“Ew,” Rasia, a pretty, light-skinned black girl who Brazen hoped to get to second base with, said.  “Tell us about the skateboard.”

Brazen looked at her, cocked his head, and gave her his best pirate smile.  “If it pleases m’lady.”  He batted his eyelashes at her.  “Yeah, so we did tricks all day, and we got bored real quick, but it was like an hour before my mom was supposed to get me.  So, we set the ramp up near some cars in the parking lot, and I hung out by the red light.”  Brazen paused to let the suspense build.  “So, this guy in a truck drives by, and I grabbed his bumper, staying low so he wouldn’t see me in his mirrors.  When I got near the ramp, G-Man yelled at me to let go, and I like swerved over,” his hand shot out toward the girl next to him, “so I could hit the ramp.”

“Man, it was wicked,” Toady said.

Brazen grinned at him.  “I hit the ramp solid.”  The fingers of his right hand swooped across the palm of his left.  “I caught some serious air.  I even made it over the car, but when I landed, I shattered both tibias.  My fucking knee caps—”

“Brazen!”

“Sorry, sorry!”  Brazen bumped the edges of his palms against the middles of his shins.  “My knee caps were down here.  G-Man had his cell phone.  I thought my mom would kill me.”

Eyes wide with sympathy, Rasia said, “I can’t believe you can still walk.”

After soaking up as much attention as he could, Brazen ran through his lines, which he’d already memorized, and then counted down the seconds until the bell rang.  He visited his locker, and then visited Rasia’s locker where he was rewarded with a kiss for his heroic feat and recovery and a hand slap for trying to cop a feel.

When Brazen walked out the front doors of the building, he felt as though his day had been fairly productive.  Then, he saw Ms. Cornell cranking her car.  Tossing his books aside, he ran and leapt onto the hood just as she backed out of her spot.  When she realized she had a fourteen-year-old boy clinging to her car, she slammed on the brakes, which sent him slamming into her windshield.

“Get the fuck off my car you crazy child,” Ms. Cornell shouted through the glass.

Brazen just smiled.  “You shouldn’t cuss at school, Ms. Cornell.  Give me a ride home?”

Ms. Cornell rolled down her window.  “No.  Your mom is probably already here, so go on and get off.”

“Okay, I’ll get off,” he said as he scooted over to the driver’s side of the car and stuck one foot on the ground.  “I get off to you all the time.”

Ms. Cornell frowned.  “That is just,” she shook her head, “go on.”

After blowing her a kiss, Brazen did just that.  On his way to his mother’s van, he accepted a congratulatory high five from a boy two years older than him and decided that his day turned out far better than he could’ve hoped.