She came in with a storm

Her boots pounded down the stairs, slowing as she came to the concrete below. A wash of relief ran over her. She stood at the foot of the stairwell, running over it all in her head.

“It’ll be easier for you to explain what went wrong and why, once you tell me why you brought him here.” I said 

“I just…wanted him to meet you. I thought it would be cool. I didn’t think he’d flip out. Sorry. It was stupid.”

“Not stupid.”

“Whatever.”

“What now, since your date ran out on you?”

“Watch Netflix?”

“And think about your jealous BF, racing around.”

“I know.”

“You knew he’d bounce out of here like that. Skittish pussy cat.”

“So?”

“So you did it anyway?”

“It’s not my problem that he can’t handle his jealousy like an adult.”

“Then you knew he would… Whatever.” I actually could not care less. I’d locked that thought down when I first met her.

“I want you to tell me a story.”

“James?” I asked

“Sure.”

Mind swiped clean like a fresh desk.

Not for the first time

“How much more of this story do you want me to tell you?” I asked

“Um, all of it.” Adaline replied

“I’m tired of telling stories.”

“Don’t be like that.”

“What?”

“Don’t be like that” she said matter of factly. 

“No. You tell me a story.”

“Like about what?”

“I don’t know. Whatever comes to mind. I’m fading fast.” I was. Whisky and codein. A dangerous duel ensuing inside of me.

She was radical with ideas.

“I was… Now, this is something that’s been playing over and over in my head recently.”

She looked down. Grounding her thoughts.

“I was,” she began to say. 

I thought, look at all that conflict in her mind.

“I fell for love this one time. A kid named Elliott. I can remember.

“Fuck! My mom just shot herself. Everybody wanted to help out. And every person I met felt fake, like they were trying to be sympathetic when they weren’t. You can’t live like that. But then there was this kid I met when I used to run away and camp out in forest park. It was perfect at night. Just perfect.”

And, like I said, his name was Elliott. Kind of a curious name, but he was playing this guitar, and out there, three miles in, there’s nothing but you.

He didn’t know I was there.

In drop D, he played Whale and Wasp, into the night. He strung me up like a puppet with that song.

I didn’t talk to him that night, but I meant to the next Sunday, when I saw him again. But, again, I just couldn’t. So I waited and waited and maybe two months later, he came to me, to my little camp, and it was like we knew each other our whole lives. …”

She paused and looked over, into the silence, like at the railing at the edge of a great void. Trying to imagine counting how many feet to the bottom, of the story.

“I heard his song. This one he wrote for me. It’s just the most… But I heard it perfectly.”

“Where did you hear it?”

“When I first met you. You were humming it.”

We sat in this troubled silence.

What happened to him?

“I don’t know. I wonder sometimes, but still, I’m pretty sure it’s a good thing that I don’t know.”

Bummer.

Yeah. Bummer.

“I need to sleep.”

“I don’t want to leave.”

“I can’t be involved with you.”

“I didn’t say I wanted you to be.”

“You don’t have to.”

“Fine. I’ll go.”

“You don’t have to do that either.”

She sat and we spoke with our eyes and our breath and our conversive silence.

I fell asleep. She was gone when I woke up.

Under the basement

I learned not to drink with Ambien one night. I woke up in Gresham with a broken arm. Cozy. Fucked, I know.

I’d say there are twelve steps down to the basement, but I only take three to get there. I take the back door.

The rest, I contest, are too steep.

“I am Ian. I am Ian. I am Iam,” I keep sayin’.

I escaped to the basement. Rock bottom. I wasn’t buying any anymore.

Only what I had left over. The older stuff. That honey bourbon, from when… 

With Penny, When I was making it.

But when it’s over it’s over..

Good, good

Good, good

Good will never be enough, Simon.

Good, good.

I was looking at our fingertips, Simon. Do know what I saw?

You will

The man in the belt

So, anyway. I roll up to the scene. All the lights are out. Electricity. All of it. One dark, ruinous night, silent, all but the sea God howling its horrifying howl.

And the young couple. A Lance Corporal. He was. And the adjunct high school dream girl/drop out. Sweet strawberry blonde in dark washed jeans, appropriately snug. That was her. Danni. 

I sat there in the back of the squad car,  not so cozy in the hard shell seat, for a few minutes while the Private sorted it all out and got the go ahead to pull me out. Once you’re on the scene, you’re basically a tool in a box.

As the on scene investigation developed, the MPs chattered about it. 

She had a nasty habit of sleeping with other boys. He had a habit of getting violently quiet. Neither was conducive to their marriage. 

Oh marriage! Antiquated contract. That’s what we ought to say. We’ve gotten to such a point of confidence and respect for one another in this relationship that I feel can only be properly tested by tying it down with a legally binding contract, to complicate and ultimately extinguish any flame of passion we’ve cultured. Aka, let’s get hitched.”

We don’t say that though. We actually sell this shit proposal with alcohol and optimism, Oreo sandwiching it in between dinner and adventure, with our entire egos on the line.

These kids had the right idea. This guy, Philip Briggs, Philly, LCpl if you’re nasty, gave it to her cut and dry. Here’s the facts, Danni. That was her name. This is how I imagine it went.

They dated on and off throughout high school. She had a self confidence deficit due to a shunt of a step dad. He always reminded her of the old drunk cut. So sure of himself, despite nicotine stained teeth and a wire and bone physique. He knew he would be a Marine long before she knew him. 

A man with trajectory. A man in motion, with aspirations, inspiring. A devoted man. Skilled, lethal and restrained. She wanted a weapon to adore her.

But she didn’t want Philly. Only a man of that metal.

But he left for boot, and others to college, and others to a barrage of jobs. And others still into the drugs they all knew. And she was alone, telemarketing for Pizza Hut, working graves, on a friend’s cat pissed couch, passed out through afternoons in a marijuanna fugue.

When he called, he knew nothing. She was the strawberry blonde he dreamt of for three months of hell, and first girl he thought of when he discovered how much easier life could be in the Marine Corps for the next four years, if he were just married. 

It wouldn’t be permenant. Just a certificate. She could be anyone. She just had to be present.

He made the proposal over the phone. She cried. He flew home two weeks later for recruiting assistance, and flew back in a month, a married man. Boom.

They were together for a year before he blew out his shoulder, and subsequently, his career.

As he waited on light duty for several months, he began to drink. Heavily. No more were there weeks spent in the field in tactical exercise. No more were the nights with her lover, filthy and passionate in her marital bed.

No more thrill, or escape. No more relief of coming home to a beautiful wife he adored. Always home, with tension like static electricity arcing between them as from a Tesla coil.

And the arguments and belittlement. “You’re always here.” “You’re always drinking.” “Then get a job.” “Limp dick.” “Fat bitch”.

Love is an inconvenience, and a burden. I love you, was the one declaration he swore never to tell her. She made him. He promised. It seemed fair. They’d had their time to find love at school, but with each other it was never there.

This was a marriage purely of convenience. They always get complicated.

That night he told her, “it came through. The board approved my discharge.”

“I’m not going back to Fresno, Briggs.”

“We don’t have to for long.” 

“You’re still not listening. I don’t want to go back, Briggs.” Danni said, stressing every syllable, punching his name with disdain.

“Why do you call me that?”

“Your name?”

“You know what I mean. That’s all…it’s messed up.”

“Why,” she goaded.

“Cause you’re my wife.”

“I’m not ‘YOUR’ anything.” Her stone washed denim hip drove her point with contempt. “Remember? This whole thing, this ‘marriage’? It’s a fucking joke. I’m not leaving, so you wanna leave? Go. Go!”

“They’re kicking me out, Danni! I don’t have a choice. Medical discharge means…”

“Don’t yell at me cause you’re a broke dick. It’s not my fucking fault.” Danni said, almost gently, were it not for pursed lips and snake eyes.

They tread water in an inimitable silence, neither looking directly at the other.

“Then where?”

“No.”

“Anywhere. We can literally go…”

“I don’t fucking want to!”

“We never really even had a chance.”

“I’m seeing someone.”

… Outside their kitchen window, facing their yard sale table and chairs, the sound of a tree limb crushing a car like an oak fist filtered through the boards outside and the dissectable silence.

“I love you,” he said

“No. There is no fucking way you just said that!” Danni was genuinely stirred. “No fucking way.”

“I love you Danielle. I’m not good at it, but everything’s fucked up. But it’s over now and we can go and actually have a shot at this. You know, happiness.” He raced through it all, every being necessary, any one being key to incite her epiphany that she needed him. “I can’t do this without you. You’re all I –“

CRACK! Was the sound she struck when smacked him hard across the square of his cheek.

He was startled but he took it. Even a little relieved, really. She stared at him violently in the eye, reeled back to take more, then paused.

“Do you know why I started fucking David in the first place? Because you can never get it up. I’m naked, spread eagle, and you’re standing there with this little limp Wiener and that sad mangy mutt face with big brown eyes. I don’t even get why you’re still trying. You couldn’t even satisfy me, rock hard. You’re just fuck stupid.”

She was swept. He reached out like a wraith and took a hold of her face.

His hand was an iron mask across her face, his fingertips like talons drove themselves deep into her hair, her flesh, her bone, her brain, her future. He held the face of her, and just squeezed, as if to keep exactly and perfectly still, with a thick desire to crush it. His palm across her mouth, and all of this all of a sudden. 

In that flash of a second, he grabbed her, and then she realized it was happening again. She swung aimlessly.

Held her head like a basketball in his fist, and snatched her throat like a monkey bar.

She gave immediately into it, devoting every thing to it. For hours the winds outside were consistent, till suddenly they grew pissed, insistent. The walls shook.

He let his hand loose and lifted it away, and let her see all the pain in his eyes. And just held her throat like an axe. And then let go, stalking her with his eyes like a wounded cat.

She came close to him. Close enough to not touch but feel every pulse of sexual tension.

He pushed his jock into her abdomen, drawing her closer, angrier, faster heartbeat. His cock swelled against her body. 

“Oh, Philly. Why won’t you come in me anymore?” She asked, cradling it with her hand.

She unzipped them and slid down and took him in her hands on her knees. And watched him as his cock shrunk to nothing, despite all her efforts.

Nothing was broken by the shivering and howling, tearing apart that house by the hurricane that wailed and raged everywhere outside.

Not until, she on her knees, his sleepy cock in her hands, everything electric suddenly dies, and the lights and distractions vanished. His sleepy cock in her hands. An insulting disappointment.

She stood and left, into the fury, slamming the door shut behind her.

She went next door to the other house in the duplex. A friend. She stayed there for the next several hours as the storm got bad and worse, by candlelight with cheep box wine. She forget about Briggs completely.

For two hours he sat at the dining room table by the boarded up window that shuddered and shivered, pants fully buckled.

“It’s over. That’s everything,” he said to himself. 

He imagined himself, on the plane. He sees that he’s alone and his heart begins to amp pace, and then remembers everything that she’s said, and he remembers she intentionally tried to hurt him. He couldn’t live with her and couldn’t live without her.

I went to the wall closet at the opposite end of the room. It was in the small corridor that split to the bedroom on the left side and the bathroom on the right.

He took the khaki belt from his service uniform, ran it over the hanger rod and slipped the other end through the rings.

He made a noose of his belt in the coat closet, I mean to say.

But the coat rod barely stood at five feet.

He took a bitter decimated breath, hatefully looped the belt around his neck and dropped to his knees, but was just short. He hanged to death with his knees two inches from the new carpet.

But before that, the door swung open, right out of Danni’s grasp. 

She came back lit, ready to start some shit, looking for her toothbrush and panties and a perfectly good explanation for her actions. 

But across the room, just beyond the couch and the lamp and coffee table, Philly dangled by his throat, hanging with a belt around his neck. He was no longer human, but a life, struggling desperately to stay in this world, clawing and swinging, as the belt grew tighter like a choker, until his body tensed to plank, and the chunky snap meant his neck broke.

He fell limp like a garbage sack tied to a branch.

Danni watch the whole thing in the doorway.

She called an hour later and lied, saying she found him dead.

I wasn’t used for a solid hour, until they needed to move him. He was white, skin like toothpaste, no shirt on. His face hung grey.

I shot him in the closet, though they’d already cut him down, but the imagines half for the job, and half for me. This was an original experience. I was child minded.

Then they laid him out on the Walmart rug. Turned his head to me, and opened his eyes. 

“We need some shots of his facial features.” They then pried open his dead mouth to reveal his purple swollen tongue.

His clay eyes stared back at me, seeing me through dimensions, knowing me. Threatening my soul.

I woke up late for formation the next day and couldn’t explain away what I’d seen that night.

I still see a man hanging by a belt in my closet. He’s always there. I’ve come to learn how not to see him.

“Gives new meaning to skeletons in your closet, doesn’t it?” Adaline spoke with a wry grin. “What’s the deeper meaning here? Beyond your nerve racking PTSD nightmares.”

“It’s… Well -“

“Tell me you love me.”

“What, though?”

“Just tell me. You know you mean it.”

“I do. I love you.”

“See.”

“But it’s not like that. Or… I don’t want to take anything or -“

“You love me. I love you too. And I agree. It’s not like that. But you know that and I know that and now, because we aren’t idiots, that will never happen to us.” She and I high five, and mean it. 

The rest of that night vanishes. Every time I think of it.

 

The man and the belt

“Tell me a story.” She’s always so engrossed in my guitar. Sometimes I’d wonder if she was infatuated with it and endured me alone.

She played across an A. That thick disjointed harmony she plucked from slow persistent notes. Harmonizing with the words within me, like rings evolving in a cauldron, deliberate. The pause. Contingent on her emotions.

I could always tell what Adaline was feeling by the notes she spent, and never one for granted.

A minor. Always sounds heavy finer from her finger tips. Like a mothers heavy sigh to a baby in the throes of a dying evening. She’d put me into a rare form of sedation.

A story

“Cold or warm?”

“Cold. Tell me about calamity.”

I’m in love with this girl.

“Well. It was the first time I’d ever seen a dead bod… No. Yeah. It was the first time I’d seen a body. I was 19. I think. Pretty sure.

“Anyway, there was a hurricane that came with rage and ruin, and ripped through the day before. By this point it was terrifying after thoughts. We all, the graphics section and A/V and U.S. In the photo section, we’re all bunked at the lab. The photo lab on base. We slept on the floor. Like a fat fuckin’ marine corps sleep over.”

“You have a…” She started to say, and her slow symphonic draw halted unconsciously.

“A what?” When she spoke, she meant exactly what she said. When she paused, it meant more than anything she could have chosen otherwise.

“You speak with a rhythm. I like it. It’s like a heart song, and I hear this poetic signatures. It hurts my heart to think one day I’ll never hear them again.”

“Then don’t.”

“Ian.”

Neither of us persisted at this point. That’s what we were always about. Engulfed in the magic of a night. Not a human thing. A spiritual thing. A kismet whathaveyou.

“So anyway, there I was. Where was I?”

“Your photo lab on base.”

“Right. Marine Corps base, Camp fucking Lejune. And this hurricane just sodomized us. There were branches on the strip, every road really. No buildings destroyed bit a buttload of broken windows.

“And of course, and I’d been in this lab for two nights now, smelling and looking like a goddamn…”

“Like you were boxed up in Chinatown for a hot minute.”

“Them’s the words. And suddenly, no fuckin doubt, they called.”

“MP’s”

“Looking for the duty photographer.”

“Cause I…”

“Was the shitbird and thusly…”

“I was the duty photographer. So, I Axe’d off my cammies, shoved some 300 ISO rolls in my bag and hoped my flash would hold a decent charge for once in its life as I waited for them to come for me. And right away, they came.”

“Psh. Military men.”

“Precisely. 

“It was a harrowing drive. Rubbish in the streets, branches, etc. on base, things were dealt with. But out there past the gates, the city was ravaged.

“And we get there, and we’re in base housing. Every home is identical. Everyone has a cavalier or an old Grand Prix or a newish Nissan in the driveway. And a truck or some such on the street.

“I waited in the car for like a fuckin eternity. And finally, this dick private…”

“Privates are always dicks.”

We both paused to savor it. Oh the sweet taste of shitty puns.

Histories and Melodies

“When You’re a kid, and you see your cool uncle put out the candles at thanksgiving dinner with his fingers, just before mom brings out coffee and dessert, you think, WOW! That’s fucking Incredible! You wanna know how, like viscerally NEED to know HOW? But then you get older and learn, it’s better when you don’t lick your fingertips.

“And it’s always better when you mean it.”

“Do you ever feel like everyone you know is just a figment of your imagination?”

“i didn’t realize you were gonna get all James A. Markle , experimental and shit. I’d have brought my hooka.”

“It’s not that. Who the fuck is James A. Markle.”

“Some guy I dated that literally thought he was the reincarnation of Plato. He would spew shit philosophy like a tall lanky thousand year old elf, on the spot, whenever you get him relaxed. You actually couldn’t smoke with him. He would ruin it completely.

“And the worst part is, he was so good. Like, really, really hot. Dirty. All of it. The whole she-bang. So to speak.”

“Bummer.”

“Yeah. A real, fucking bummer. I was gonna have crazy babies and grow old listening to their ex’s tell me gruesome stories of how they got fucked into true love and destroyed. But he turned out to be limp. In the end. Not through most of it. For the most part he was hard as a douglas fir. Seriously unbelievable stamina. It’s a metaphor… Anyway.”

“Why did you bring him here?”

“What do you mean?”

“…”

“what do you mean by that?”

“i don’t know.”

“You know what, fuck it. I gotta go.”

Adaline sat for a moment and watched the ground. Fixated on exactly what she needed to not say. Then, swift like an eel, evaded her seat and the room, and then the door shut deftly respectful.

I was alone in my cellar.

I watched the wall play histories and melodies in colors and…

And then i woke up by the river, under the Hawthorne Bridge, covered in blood. I had been bitten. The taste of blood on excited gums said I bit back. Hard.

I couldn’t remember my name

But all of this passes.

And life continues to unfold like it was yesterday.

I already know. I killed again. And I do again not long from now.

That’s right.

I’m Vetihver.

Where’s that whiskey?

At first it was a knock. Thum, thum, thum. Then a pause. I was too abstracted, cement in the seat, alone in the dead lit room, sitting before a paint peeled wall and a vision of my imagination. I was lost in a fugue of drunken imagination, watching life like a kaleidoscope of memories and color, splashing against the pealing canvas of after math.

It came again at the door. Thum, Thum, Thum. Pause. Tap on the door handle that rattled, brass. Thum, Thum, Thum. Silence.

The air in the room was distraught and kicked around like kids in a bus, silent though. And again, Thum, Thum, Thum, tap-rattle. Thum, Thum, Thum. Then a claw dragged for several seconds, then Thum, Thum, Thum, Tap, scratch from one end of the door to completion, and immediately, Thum, Thum, Thum.

I lept with resurrected life and took the handle like a poneytail, turned and drew the door open.

“Fuck, man. I was just about to get freaky.”

“Get freaky off my door.”

“Of course. That’s cool too. Where’s that whiskey?” she was of harsh texture and a trim of velvet. Rage, masked in trepidation. The tattered pelt of a used up teddy bear. She smelled like natural lilac and sex. I let her in, mostly to shut her up, and I took a jar from the cabinet. Time skipped between steps. I was far too gone for guests.

“I think I might be a Pan.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Not like a…”

“I know,” I said

“Yeah.”

“Some of us are.” I watched her turn. She didn’t want anything. She’d made this connection a thousand times. She’d said it to men, wanting for them to see danger, I could see. And they had, seeing a girl, and wanted to taste danger and feel danger and fuck danger. And they may have. But she was just a storm in the stroke of a young life.

I poured two fingers of my favorite batch. I had one jar left. I’d made it when Penny was still pregnant. This was a recipe I thought would go somewhere. It was one of the last I had hoped I could shop around. Since then, it’s all been white dog and drunk dissolve.

“So what’s with the kid?”

“The uh… Oh. Chris.” She realized and her face fashioned a grimace and a grin in quick succession. “Yeah, he’s a… I thought it was love at first.”

“Of course you did”

She had pulled my guitar into her lap like a Labrador, and began to pet it and caress my strings.

“He gets all upset. Ever since he started to figure it out.”

“What?”

“That I don’t love him anymore.”

“He’s a boy.”

“You sound invested.”

“You don’t.”

“I’m not,” she said as she finally looked up, my guitar’s body drifting away from hers lethargically. “As I fuckin’ said. I don’t love him anymore.”. “They don’t take that well. And yes. Guys do figure that out. I know that look. That, sad puppy look.”

“So what. Do you look for it? That…”

“That…?” She watched me, waiting skeptically for that wisdom.

“That light to go out?”

“No. I try avoid seeing it. But yeah. It’s eventual.”

“Yes it is. And then it gets messy.”

“Doesn’t it though.” Her attention was split between where we two were in the moment and a melody she began to play with, her fingers finding a dance across the strings, on open chords.

“I don’t remember the first time I fell out of love,” I said and finished my glass. “The first one I can remember was, what, seventeen.”

“So like a decade ago.”

“Pretty much.”

“Did you really love her?”

“harder than I’ve ever loved myself.”

“So kinda?” She grinned.

“I made a lot of mistakes.”

“Not when you fell out of love.”

“How’s that?”

“I dunno. Like I said. I’m a villain. I just don’t really care. I fall in love and it’s like…It’s like my life blood. I feel high on it.”

“The way they look at you.”

“How they touch. Guys…when you’re in love…when they say they love you, and you corroborate it.”

“When I fall in love, I do it relentlessly. When I fall, I dive, and I give everything. I’m starting to realize it’s just…”

“Cruel.”

“Cruel.”

“You tell them what they want to hear.” She says this, still locked onto me, now locked onto me. This conversation begins to occur before and after this moment I’m regailing it. It’s the type of conversation that exists in reverberation, as though it existed before we began to speak, and happens again as I think of it. She began to sound like my own voice in my own mind, skewed by my fugue, my drunken fucking malady.

“I say what I have to. I feel like, sometimes, I pour so much of my soul into it, and they give so much back to me, and it’s this cycle, like, I’ve been…me… for so long, when I fall in love and I fucking roll my soul out, and I play for them… I write songs for… Kuren. Penny. I used to write songs for Penny. I wrote her songs and would play them for her over the phone while she was at work, but you know what the fucked up part was?”

“You actually got more out of it than her?”

“yeah.” I thought on it. “I probably…I believe…believed I did.”

“fuckin’ pissed you off, didn’t it.

“Yeah, I imagine. I mean… it’s difficult.”