There he was. I would recognize that red, velvet lined guitar case anywhere. I removed my hand from over my mouth and felt an involuntary twitch in my top lip. I felt the train lurch underneath my feet and then jerk me back. I swallowed hard and felt a dry lump form in the back of my throat. My head began pulsing like a beating drum as I counted how many rows he was in front of me. I whispered aloud,
“one..two..three..four..five.” The cold air from the train cooling system kicked back on and circled my face. I began to quickly grab my things and wait for the portly man standing at the front of the train to give the passengers permission to exit.
Finally, the lights flashed on and illuminated the train compartment and people started standing up and began talking to each other. Dozens of conversations swirled in and out of my ears from the passengers surrounding me. People talked on and on about what they were having for lunch, and reminded each other not to forget certain items on the train. I could hear the monotonous tick of my wrist watch slowly seep deeper into my temples. Observing more than a hundred exaggerated yawns and stretches from the people surrounding me only ignited my frustration. Finally, the train attendant’s voice came booming over the loudspeaker like a medieval trumpet instructing everyone to exit the train. My mouth opened and when I closed it my jaw ached as I tried to keep my focus on the guitar case. I saw the case being removed from the floor in the isle, and thrown over someone’s shoulder. The passengers began to march like ants towards the front of the train. Scrambling out of my seat I tried to push through the people in front of me, but their feet were like cement attached to the floor boards. I bumped into a bald man who rubbed his shiny, rubbery head and scowled at me with disgust. I still had my eyes glued on the guitar case, until a woman in front of me propped up her child onto her chest blocking my view. I trudged through the isle of people back to my seat and stood on top of the bouncy cushion.
“Mike!” I yelled and clapped my hands together a few times trying desperately to get his attention. The women’s baby boy in front of me turned to look at me and dropped the pacifier from his mouth. He let out a shrill cry and the mother glanced toward my direction. I looked forward. No guitar case. I lost him.
When I finally reached the train exit platform I felt a strong hand clasp the back of my shoulder. My heart sped up and I whipped around only to realize it was the chubby train station attendee I saw earlier. He grinned at me through his full red mustache of coarse pine needles.
“Hey there, pretty lady. You forgot this.” He handed me my red bag and began to play with a toothpick in his mouth. I grabbed the bag without looking at it and said nothing. As I turned around, I heard the man shout, “I hope you find what you’re looking for.”
We all fall down in life at some point. My life operates like a never-ending roller coaster, and I am the only one on the ride. My free time is usually spent in my bedroom underneath my covers. To avoid life easier I took my seclusion a step further by tacking dark blankets over my bedroom window.
For weeks I had been trying to get a hold of my older brother to ask him for advice. My brother cared about me, but had a bad habit of being unavailable. He’d graduated from Auburn University in Alabama three years before. About two years after he graduated, he decided to move back home to Louisiana, and I was ecstatic. My brother and I are very different. He was the typical Alabama country boy through and through. As long as my brother had access to barbecue, beer and anything involving the use of mud he was happy.
When I finally got home, I plopped onto my bed and reached to grab my TV remote. When I switched on the TV, the screen was white and frozen. I got up and hit the top of the TV a few times. I thought about how my brother’s solution to fix all forms of technology was to beat it up a bit. I almost laughed out loud when the TV began to make a sizzling, popping noise similar to the sound of making microwave popcorn. Not really too concerned about watching anything specific on TV, I gave up and pressed the power button off.
Setting the remote on the night stand, I looked over at my brother Mike’s picture. The silver frame holding the photo gleamed in the lamplight. He was twenty-six in the picture and looked like the human version of a Ken Barbie doll. The picture was taken Christmas morning in Disney World about five years ago. He looked happy. I threw the covers over my head and closed my eyes. I thought I heard it begin to rain outside as I drifted off to sleep.
When I opened my eyes, I decided to inspect what time it was by ducking my head under the blankets covering my window. It was dark outside and strangely quiet
“Hey, crazy girl. Look what I got!” I wiped the condensation from my window and saw my brother Mike. I was happy to see him, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the shiny red car he was standing by. The red sports car was gleaming and looked like it was painted with red, shiny nail polish. Immediately I pictured the car as a showcase prize on The Price is Right. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Vanna White appeared as Bob Barker’s voice would say, “you’ve won a beautiful red sports car!” When I released the ridiculous grin from my face my jaw was aching. I unlocked the latch on my window and opened it a crack.
“Is that why you were on the train today, to go pay for this?” I laughed with my eyes and whispered, “You lucky bastard. What year is it?”
“C’mon, silly girl, let’s go for a ride. By the way, what the fuck is up with your window? Are you and Davy Crockett holding down the fort at the Alamo in there?”
“Fuck you, I will be down in a sec.” I laughed and stepped down. Before I closed the window I heard my brother say, “Don’t forget your coonskin cap. It’s a little chilly out here.”
I snuck out my backdoor and walked toward my garage. My brother was leaning on the side of the garage with one leg crossed over the other smoking a cigarette. He was sporting his usual weekend outfit which consisted of jeans, a t-shirt and his signature red leather jacket. I always thought he looked ridiculous, but he thought he looked like the cowboy version of James Dean. Before I knew it his arms were around me, and I could smell cigarettes, cinnamon gum, and the faint smell of his deodorant. My brother always said he hated cologne, but always bought the strongest scented deodorant he could find. When I was little I always told him he smelled like a pine tree.
I couldn’t wait to get this whole mad tea party over with. I wondered which pot bellied bullock they had for me today. I yawned and went to stretch my arms forgetting they were cuffed. I yawned again, this time hard enough to feel the long scratch on my forehead expose itself a moment. Finally, three uniformed frightened little blokes grabbed the back of my wrists and pulled me into the interrogation room. It was dark and all you could see was the warm glow from the lamp above the table. It was cheap looking like the lights that are used to showcase buffet dishes in Las Vegas. The wee little soldiers left before the sweaty, tubby little bastard who was going to grill me stood up.
“That’ll be all guys.” The merriment of this idiot was shining off his sweaty brow. He pulled up his pants that were too tight, and began to try and makes himself look busy.
I walked three feet and sat on the metal chair. I looked at the fucker’s round butterball ham head and waited for him to check me out, they always do. The twit took his free look at me and turned around quickly to grab the voice recorder. Before he could blink I silently swept my foot across the table and bent my knee to allow the piglets pack of Kools to drop into my lap. Mr. Brilliant sat down and slapped his hand full of chubby stumps on the table like a fool. He then began looking for his cigarettes like a blind scallywag before giving up and fetching some from his bloke’s pack behind him. He smiled at me and said nothing. I pushed my eyes toward the tape recorder as if they were my hands pressing the little black box towards him. He paused and popped his suspenders before pressing play, just to make sure I knew it was his idea to start rolling the tape.
“Name?” he said while taking a puff from his cigarette as if it was a Cuban cigar. The ingrown hairs on his face peeked out from under the over head lamp like dead ants, as his little mouth exhaled with tootsie pops of smoke. I cleared my throat, and leaned towards the recorder like it was a microphone.
“Madison Ali.” I breathed while slowly sitting up in my chair.
He sniveled and I noticed his tities were about to start producing sweat under his un- tailored shirt. One faded red strip caught some of his sweat and brightened up the color. My wrists smiled.
“So, Miss Ali is there anything you want to tell us that we don’t already know?” He kicked his feet up on the table looking dreadfully uncomfortable.
“May I?” I pointed to his borrowed box of Reds on the table with my nose.
“Just one,” he said as he placed a cigarette into my mouth. His hands were shaking so hard he barely touched the cigarette as he lit it. He almost dropped the lighter, while looking all the way through me towards the door.
Stuffed Animal Suicide Tea Party
My father was a traveling sports writer, and didn’t make very much money. I always understood that my dad loved his job so much because traveling was involved. I came to understand at an early age that teaching myself how to tie my shoes wasn’t going to be the only thing I would have to do on my own.
From the beginning I knew I was screwed. My parents have spoken to me like an adult since the age of four. My grandfather died before I was born and left my mother a very large inheritance. My father always told me that before my mom got the money she was just a quiet southern bell who wasn’t very interested in material things. The mother I came to know walked around our house like it was a palace, and smoked cigarettes from a long, jewel covered formal cigarette holder. She also never left her bedroom without a fur coat on even in the summer. My father says my mother was born in Alabama and before the money used to have a soft southern drawl. The mother I came to know had some kind of European with no specific origin I think she just takes every haughty accent she has ever heard in the movies and mixes them all together to make her own. I think my mother believes she looks like the late princess Diana, and sounds like Marry Poppins. To me she looks like Cruella DeVille on crack and sounds like the French cook Julia Childs.
When my mother bought me a golden retriever puppy for my seventh birthday, I thought my loneliness would finally disappear. Six weeks later I came home from school and couldn’t find my new best friend.
“Uhhh mom?”’ I said while closing my eyes as tight as they could shut.
“Where’s the dog?” I asked her holding my breath.
“Well I am sorry plumb-cake, but that little beast was harshly frolicking with my begonia bush. I sent the dog away to run around on a farm in the country.” My mom smiled at me revealing her blinding over bleached teeth, and brought a small cup to her mouth while pretending to take a sip. She put the cup down and it clanked on the gleaming silver tray below it.
“Would you like some tea dear?”
I moved toward her and looked down to see my disappointed reflection bounce off the base of the shiny teacup set.
“No thanks I’ll pass,” I say too loud.
“Well I hope you like the tea set I just got you as a new gift to replace that varmint who eats flowers.”
I smiled with my teeth clenched and grabbed the cold silver handles on either side of the tray. I lugged it all the way upstairs then into my room, and placed it on my small pink table. I set the table by placing a tea cup in front of each chair, and stood up to marvel the ridiculousness of the situation.
When I heard the garage door open I knew that was my mother’s way of telling me she was leaving. Sometimes I would get lucky enough to run after her before she sped off, but I stopped because she would pretend to not see me anyway. I ran downstairs to the hallway closet where my dad kept his clothes. I stood on my tippy toes to unhook some of his ties and ran back into my room. I took five of my least favorite stuffed animals and tied their necks to the back of each chair and propped them up into a sitting position in each pink chair. I stood back and looked at my stuffed animal suicide tea party. I left them there for three months before my mom noticed.
I looked up at the sky before I opened my mouth and saw the clouds were a sickening shade of gray as lighting and thunder danced together in the sky. The sudden feeling of emotion found its way inside me and I could feel intense heat rush up my chest. My tarred heart began to race and slowly burn. I took a deep breath and clutched onto the bundle of tissues in my pocket. I swallowed hard feeling the dry lump in my throat, while praying my nose didn’t start to bleed again. I looked down from the pulpit towards my feet and visualized a fierce, roaring waterfall. I closed my eyes and tried to convince myself the tiny drops of rain on my face were coming from the turbulence under my feet. If the mirage of escape existed I would have taken the opportunity to jump without hesitation. I would gladly endure breaking every one of my bones as I went down. I would pray for my body to hit the rocks on the way down, tearing and ripping my skin. I heard someone clear their throat, and realized that was some assholes way of queuing me to begin.
I slowly began to allow my mouth to form words and said, “Mateo Bradley Porter was a good man who was loved by many. His overwhelming kindness and huge heart brings all of us here today. He was born in Honolulu Hawaii on December 24, 1983. My….” I stopped speaking when I felt a cold hand lightly touch my lower back. I turned around to see my Aunt Sarah’s horrified face. She slowly cupped her dry perfume smelling hands around my wrist and guided me off the stage. In the past few months I had become so internally numb, I didn’t even question why my aunt stopped me from reading the eulogy. She led me to the bathroom door and pushed it open. That’s when I saw it; the girl in the mirror that looked like me had blood coming from her nose. I put my hand to my nose and saw red realizing the girl was me.
My recent adventures with Mateo had awakened parts of myself that I never knew existed. He taught me how to love, and rescued whatever was left from my lost childhood. That was all over. The hardest part of letting Mateo go was that there was nothing I could do to bring him back. The reason I couldn’t bring him back had nothing to do with death. Mateo wasn’t dead, in fact; I knew for sure he was very much alive. The police found his truck a month after he had been missing. His black shiny truck that he always took such pride in was found smashed beyond recognition. It had been sitting in a grocery store parking lot three hundred miles away. A destroyed vehicle doesn’t solidify the way in which one has died. Yet the mere discovery of his abandoned truck was justification enough for those who loved him to put him to rest. Healing themselves with this ridiculous ceremony was so selfish it filled the air with a sweet nauseating scent. Unlike them, I wanted to feel pain.
I was so dead inside; so irrevocably empty, I would have welcomed pain with open arms. Today, now; three years later I am still shaking, still bleeding and still in a constant state of emptiness and shock. I have tears but they are always dry, and stop before they trickle down my face. I am so numb to pain that I wouldn’t feel a knife cut my skin. I wish I could blame myself, but it was out of my control. There was nothing I could have done to stop her. Mateo wasn’t dead. Sarah took Mateo.
I couldn’t wait to get out of here. The gas station was almost empty and there was only one person in line so I didn’t think this would take too long. Once in line, I could smell the old man in front me with his morning coffee breath and unshaved open locked jaw. He licked his hand and smoothed back his gray lifeless hair and gave me a wink. The gas station was hot and muggy and smelled like burning uncooked pinto beans. It shouldn’t take this long for me to buy one pack of cigarettes. I heard the automatic doors slide open, and six more people decided to join the party in line.
I noticed as I stood in line and admired all the purchases of the people in front of me. A magazine, chewing gum, beef jerky and a hot dog were among the items that these people decided they just couldn’t live without. The old man with the coffee breath was taking forever. He obviously came to the gas station without knowing what he was going to purchase. He acted startled when the cute gas attendant girl to said, “How can I help you today sir?” After she asked her question the older man scratched his freshly slicked back hair and said nothing. He was probably thinking about which scratch off ticket to buy.
The female gas attendant must have been high on caffeine because she was wide eyed and grinning at the old man like she would wait on him forever.
I took a deep breath and twisted my watch around to hoping these people would leave before something happened. The paranoia began to subside and was replaced with noise. No one in at the gas station was talking but their presence and anxiousness was making me hear nervous stitches and their feet tapping. Then it was suddenly very quiet. That’s when I heard his voice.
I felt his hot breath trace the sides of my neck and a cold hard piece of metal push on the surface of my side temple. “Sorry baby,” he said in a grunted sarcastic tone. “I had to go pay the cable bill.” I laughed and reached behind his back pocket to pull out my pistol.
I pointed it at the old pervert in front of me with a toothy grin and said, “Hey old man will you kindly ask your boner to open up that register for us; unlike your nasty ass we are in a hurry.”
Fuck the way you fucked me.
Good and understood.
Fuck the way you didn’t treat me.
They way you knew you should.
Selfishly and blatantly I was consumed by your fire.
I should have known because I lit the match with my desire.
You made he feel so genuine.
While I was so incomplete.
I fought you back with fists and knives.
Yet you still swept me off my feet
Then you got what you wanted.
Damn it! I should have known.
I saw you with that bitch who you replaced me with.
She looks just like my clone.
So fuck the way you fucked me.
Good and understood.
I will never trust another one.
Especially one like you.
I will never trust another guy that fucked as good as you.
Remember the moment our senses crusted out skin.
A smile would split like a long row of uncooked peas.
Our eyes would breathe air and we felt it.
The discovery was something that didn’t hide the moment.
Remember when we laughed when things were not making our stomach ache with joy? Remember when a ripe peach or apple would make you feel adult; not a little girl or little boy.
Remember when we didn’t know how fast our limbs would grow.
Remember when we used to be scared of only needles and now our pain is deep below.
Remember when we couldn’t even remember why we ever complained.
Remember how you figured out the past was so mundane.
Remember when we would fall on purpose just to see if someone cared.
Remember when distinctions were ever categorized. Remember when the only fears you had could only come at night. .
Unknown future appears truthfully reflecting fear.
What once they always wanted to see now ignites the truth and fear.
The stupendous dream was black only noise directing the static. The rust of chains caressed the cuts of blank.
Their faces shine to those who cannot see their pores glow with blame cast on them. Their unjust innocence pours out with grief.
There biting chapped hands and lips feel rotten.
They cannot smell taste or touch the wooden splinter filled plank swiveling underneath. Their belief has disappeared like fever broken though.
They not only forget the image of their face but every belief is untrue.
They see the platform and the people jeering with one sound.
The cascade of images consumes their delusions.
Looking forward hearing their own voice whisper and scream through their ears. They do not know who is screaming everything has disappeared.
To frightful to be conjuring the present as a fear they have known.
Every natural fiber exposes its mold and moans.
The rotting fumes do not detect the fire coming fast.
There is no power there is no plan.
There will never be free at last.
Wincing is replaced with forgetting their social steps.
Now they are caged animals in a stuck in a world with no knowledge or inclination of regret.
Assuming the determent of someone else’s soul can never be the one who doesn’t expose his or her own mold.
I was always meant to have two names. I liked the fact that day and night defined my two different realities. By day I was the Kara; the meek, plain looking girl working inside the highway toll booth. By night I was the Countess, a no holds bar stripper with an inferiority complex. Some might assume living two lives is exhausting, but when you have no one to answer to it’s the easiest life to live.
I snapped out of my daydream and slammed my hand down on the big red button inside the toll booth and heard the buzzer hum then tickle my ear drums. The car in front of me sped away and the window slid closed. I could still taste the smell of exhaust inside my little box shaped space. I heard the coins click and clang down the chute as more cars zipped past. I saw hundreds of people pass me by every day, but could never remember one of their faces after the day was over.
The point of my day job is a mystery labeled by a floating question mark. I am fully aware that the pervert who drives my neighborhood ice cream truck is more occupationally recognized then me. Every time I tell someone anything referencing to my occupational hazard; they either just politely nod or ask a range of moronic questions filled with ignorant intrigue. Earlier I was taking a break outside the lot close to the highway. I was smoking a cigarette and a middle aged woman approached me. She was heavy set and wearing so many accessories that she looked like an eBay themed Christmas tree. She grabbed the strap of her purse nervously with both hands.
“Are you that lovely lady that works in the toll booth over there?”
She smiled and waited for my response.
“Yep that’s me.”
Before she began to speak her top lip nervously went up and she looked like she was showing me her best Elvis impersonation.
“If you don’t mind me asking..where exactly do you use the restroom?”
]The lady asked me as if it was her right to know.
I didn’t answer and spit out my gum missing the ladies shoe by only inches. That encounter was sadly the most interesting part of my day. This job was worse than slowly eating glass, but it made me feel better about myself to say I had a day job.
Finally, the clock was working in my favor. I didn’t want to be late for my night gig, and luckily I usually never was. Big Henry was the chauffer at the club and always picked up the girls with day jobs working the night shift. No girls were allowed to drive their own car to Guys and Dolls. One would assume that rule was enforced to ensure security, but the real meaning is a lot more twisted than that.
Two minutes later a blacked out town car pulled up. I opened the back door on the left, slid on my sunglasses and shut the door. Henry sped out of there like he was operating an airport shuttle and I felt the clean misty air wet air sprits and dance all over my face.
“Hey there Countess, how’s life treating you today?”
Henry’s voice bellowed and sounded deeper than the bottom of a well. His words almost seemed to hum like a tuba playing one constant baritone note. He had dark skin that resembled the color of beautiful onyx gemstone, and looked the human version of an action figure. It was so funny that this man who looked like he could easily snap you in half like a piece of crispy bacon was the sweetest guy I knew.
“Same old same old Henry. I’ve had quarters thrown at me all day and now I am on my way to dollars bills.”
Henry laughed his usual way, with loud chuckles followed by loud coughs.
“Bucky’s got a new girl tonight, just giving you the heads up.”
Henry took a swift left turn and I slid across the black leather seats hitting my head on the side of the car. Henry’s muscles were so big that it looked like two huge cantaloupes in front of each other were steering parallel on top of the wheel. Henry could drive fast, but he lacked in a few other areas. He turned around and I could see his signature small silver hoop earring dangling in the rear view mirrors reflection. His black bura hat was now sliding half way off revealing his hairless head that looked like it was hot waxed every day.
“You all right Countess?”
“Yea Henry. You know I hate seatbelts. Don’t like things holding me down.”
“So where did Bucky find this girl from?”
“Not too sure Miss. I’m gonna roll up the screen deely so you can change.”
It usually took Henry about two or three times to successfully close the screen behind his head. The screen would buzz and move up a little, stop; then move down a little; then stop again. Finally, it would close and seal me into blackness. I reached for my wig and looked in my lighted pocket mirror. My right temple was bleeding.
Out of nowhere a strange feeling snuck upon me. It caught me so off guard it felt similar to when someone tries to scare you out of the hiccups. I had a strange homesick feeling twist and turn in my gut. I hadn’t had that feeling since I was eight years old at a slumber party.
The first time in twenty-four years, I felt homesick; but didn’t know where home was even if I wanted to go there. Suddenly I knew tonight was going to be different than other night at “Guy’s and Doll’s.”
No One watched us today.
They shot the white girl first.
We had waited for sixteen hours. All five of us were in the back of the smoky foul building. The sun was blinding our eyes and the black top was chewing on our legs while biting and slicing what was left. I didn’t cry.
Our backs faced seventy two pound boilers that seethed of metal and simmering acid stew, bubbling with foam that hit our peeling shoulders. The blonde girl started to cry again. Her eyes were gray now and her once cherry red lips were translucent and almost blue.
“Shut up stop you’re crying if you know what’s good for you.” The man who watched us glared at her and smoothed his beaded purple tongue over his top teeth. The few teeth the vile creep did have were incased in silver that looked like the metal surrounding canned yams. They had taken the girl the most. They tried with me once but I played stupid and numb. They wanted someone to scream or moan or cry; I didn’t. They backhanded me in the face with belts, and racked my kidneys with a wrench and I still didn’t flinch. I didn’t act as though I was strong because they would have killed me. I just acted numb. I went to my other place and stayed there.
The girls lip started to quiver and her eyes became very stoic. She let out a sob and a trickle of blood creped down from her nose. I knew it was coming and looked the other way. They had gotten what they wanted from her. I heard the pop and smelt the powder and felt the others bite their tongues and tremble.