rain

The whole of the affair started and ended with rain.

She was a cautious driver. Her paternal grandmother was killed on a deserted road five miles from the house; she wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and swerved (everyone said to avoid an animal because she was caring in that way) and she careened into a ditch. The coroner’s report said that she fractured her neck and she suffered blunt force trauma to the chest. The report preceded the internet, and so she did not know what blunt force trauma was at the time. The diagram accompanying the report was wholly useless, but she understood that it was painful.

It killed those her grandmother left behind.

The death for the left behind was temporary, though, for her father was always an erratic driver. He drove as though demons were on his tail and he was chasing the devil, weaving in and out of traffic. He himself survived many accidents, and when last she saw him, he had survived another wife. Her mother counted herself lucky as she left before his string of tragic affairs.

But she herself was a cautious driver. She did not text while driving, though she found herself daydreaming a great deal. In the car on the road she imagined herself in a film—always a tragic film, and her imaginings always took place at the climax. Her music—droll and forgettable—served as the soundtrack.

In her driving recitations she was dying or leaving or in some way irreparably injured. On this day she was revealing to her husband (in her post driving life she was single, painfully so) that she did not love him.

She stood, she imagined, in the rain. She was leaving him and he was crying and she was crying, too. She held out her hands to the rain and she laughed. “Rain,” she imagined herself crying. “It makes all things clean.”

Remarkably, as tears welled in her eyes, it began to rain. She was not religious, but she thought it poignant that rain fell as her tears.

In the corner of her eye she discerned it.

A solitary drop fell from a cloudless sky and landed smoothly on the passenger window. It slid down slowly, leaving a trail of itself in its wake. She was transfixed by this drop, which, to her, resembled a face. Crystalline and otherworldly, the rain’s formation on the glass held her. The face itself was not unique, and could she look back, she would not know why she stared at the drop for so long.

She would not look back. She would careen into the back of the tractor trailer and, unlike her grandmother, she would not suffer blunt force trauma. She would fracture her neck and that would be enough. She would not hear that her organs would be harvested and she would save countless lives and she would not feel the shaking hands pressed lightly against her and she would not hear the voice that beckoned her back.

**

They spoke of him in whispers. He was old enough to know his own prognosis (he even knew the word prognosis), but they were cautious around him. His mother tried to smile at him at awkward moments, which was the absolute worst. Nothing felt like the speedy flight of death the way a mom’s pursed, doe-eyed smile in the middle of a lame cartoon. Sometimes he thought that she felt like “reminding” him that he would die before he left the donor’s list was cruel. She didn’t seem to understand that talking as though there would be a next year was even more cruel.

He hated the pictures on the walls of the hospital. He was sick, that he knew. He had always been some type of sick. He had never drawn one of the framed pictures, though. He was terminal and it didn’t get worse than that, but he had never been given the chance to say no. He would have said no, of course. The drawings with the tiny card giving the name and age of the artist made his heart leap painfully in his chest. Emily Frank, age 6. Joshua Turner, age 4. Evelyn Landry, age 14. He wondered—and he was certain others did the same—if the artists were still alive. He supposed you had to be a hospital lifer to have enough time to decorate.

His heart was failing even at birth, and he had made it to thirteen. It didn’t seem like enough time, but he figured that ninety wouldn’t seem like enough either. When he was admitted last year and they told him The News, he wanted to be mature. He didn’t want his mom to see him cry. He was supposed to be strong. She called him her rock so often he’d began to believe it. He made it, at first. He didn’t cry at all.

But then he saw those damned pictures. His mom called him those damned pictures, and he didn’t think she’d mind that he thought of them that way. He saw those damned pictures and he thought, “I’m not going to have time to draw one,” and he couldn’t help it. He didn’t cry. He wept.

His breath came in rattled, drawn out gasps now. There wasn’t much they could do. His mom left the room frequently, claiming sneezes and needed a breath of air. He knew she wanted to dry her eyes without him seeing.

The storm came upon the hospital quickly. He liked the rain. It was comforting and quiet, and it made him tired. He could see the green beyond the hospital—the campus (he wasn’t sure why it was called a campus) was surrounded by hills and trees and the vivacity of nature. He could see his mom return but he stared out the window. When the rain began the two images for a moment joined, and it looked as though he and his mom were crying the same thin, streaking tears. They stared out the window so long they did not hear the urgency in the doctor’s voice. The borrowed tears drew him and he couldn’t focus.

Donor.

Heart.

Now.

He heard the words through a vacuum, and the wet from the rain dripped from his chin and onto the gown. He commented on the rain in the room before laughing lightly at his mistake. He turned to meet his mom’s eyes, and saw that she had rain on her face, too. She kissed the rain from his cheeks before backing away. He would have a long day. He hoped it would still be raining when he got out.

He had been in the room for so long, he didn’t think he would leave. He didn’t want the sun and blues. He wanted rain to wash him and make him clean.

**

When he awoke his eyes were drawn again to the window. He was, according to his mom, in “recovery.” She gripped his hand so hard it hurt. The rain still soaked her cheek. He turned to gaze out of the window. The pane was still dripping, and in the drops he imagined a face. An immense sadness threatened to overwhelm him, and he gasped for air, deep heaving gasps that were nothing to do with his new heart and sore lungs. Panicked, his mother offered him a cup of water.

He refused.

“Rain,” he insisted. “I want to taste the rain.”

She left the room, and might have been gone for thirty seconds or thirty minutes. She returned with a cup, rainwater barely clearing the bottom.

“This isn’t clean,” his mother whispered, but he smiled softly. It was his smile, but older. A lived smile.

“It’s rain, Mama,” he replied. “And it makes all things clean.”

vernon

 

Death and Mr. White: Vernon

Sweat would bead hot on his brow; it would skirt through the deep crevices of his leather face. The ropy veins of his once firm arms would rise and his unused muscles would burn awake, tearing through him as lightening. His eyes would water and burn, but he would not lose the light. When his knees finally buckled and his heart rapped quickly to its halt, he would tear a lasting piece from his accuser; he would not move forward easily and without sound.
The soundlessness and quiet traveled easy with him, but he would not end this way. When he rose again his voice would pierce the veil and his accuser would kneel; he would meet Death as an equal.
Vernon harbored no illusions. Death had come for stronger men. Death would assuredly come for him.
He preferred The Others on their knees. He would grip them and they would tear at the wall and he would pull their faces gently towards him at his moment–theirs always came first–he would whisper to Them “open your eyes” and They would, wildly, and he would gaze into Them, Their faces broken open and Their souls exposed for him, and a piece of him would break away.
Vernon did not kiss The Others. This was before the film that made Barbara uncomfortable; he did not kiss The Others because he did not want to see their longing for more. He was comprised of pieces, and he could not offer them more than this. He did not wish to.
He would not kiss them, but he would hold them after, for a brief moment. When he first began seeing The Others he would shower. He would scrub his golden brown skin until pink shone. Barbara was fascinated with the paleness of his skin, how close to White he might have been had he only avoided sun. He would consider this, her fascination, as he scrubbed the traces of Them from his body; he removed the scent of them from everywhere but his mouth. It was vulgar, he understood. He kept that souvenir cruelly for her, Barbara. She would not kiss him, Barbara, even before. She did not like the way mouths moved against each other, she did not want that caress. She did not want his eyes to meet hers. She did not want him rooted in her soul.
After, he would return home to find Barbara in the kitchen. She was always in the kitchen, fretting. She would meet him at the top of the stairs and her eyes would meet his for a moment before darting away. She would smooth down her apron self-consciously. When the boys came she would gaze at him over their heads in a way that she believed was loving. He would capture her eyes then and he would remember The Others and his breath would catch. Not guiltily, of course. He needed something and he could not remember what, and in the moment that he captured her eyes all thought of that need vanished.
He would move close enough to touch her, Barbara, but he would not. She would not think it proper, and he was uncertain their bodies would still complement. He would be close enough to touch her, to ghost his fingers along her dress, but he would not. He would allow his breath to dance along her neck, and for a moment he would remember and she would remember.

Barbara was poor and dark skinned and unpopular. She was cute enough, but Vernon was handsome. His skin was a light golden brown, his eyes hazel. Barbara sat at the front of the room and to the left, and when he was bored Vernon watched the way the sunlight glinted from her long, pressed hair. She was prim and shy even then, and when he finally spoke to her she would not look at him.
Barbara walked home with her sisters; Vernon drove his car. He drove slowly beside her, yelling out of the window, his friends crying with laughter. Barbara tucked her head down and did not respond to him, only pressed her mouth into a firm line. Vernon sucked his teeth at her and sped off; in his rear view mirror he saw her wipe her cheek.
Vernon heard from her cousin that Barbara’s family hated him. He bristled at this; how could he be hated? He was wealthy. Handsome. He had a future. Barbara was poor and homely. He was better than she. He began to watch her. She held her head at an angle because she was shy, but even then she expressed defiance. There was a fire suppressed within her, and Vernon wanted to root it out. Barbara did not keep her head down because she believed him better than she. She was uncomfortable with their eyes meeting. She did not want to want him more than he wanted her.
Vernon chased Barbara because he could, at first. He could have any girl he wanted; they all wanted him. He wanted Barbara to want him.
She did not. She was studious but she was not brilliant. She was sweet and she did not want to be seen with him. He obliged her and met her in secret. When he had her she made him turn down the lights so that he could barely make her out. Her eyes captured his and held them the entire time. There was still a fire there, just below the surface. He wanted to out it. He would out it.
Barbara’s uncle begged her not to marry him. Vernon was not present for the conversation, and Barbara never shared this. Rather a cousin spilled it over a cocktail and a Persian rug.
“He offered her a car if she said she wouldn’t marry you.” the cousin revealed snidely. Vernon’s vision dimmed then and he swallowed past a deep lump in his throat. He wondered–he should not–how long it took Barbara to turn the uncle’s offer away.
“She thought about it for a week,” the cousin continued. Later, as Barbara slept next to him, her fingers lightly grazing his, he burned.
“Do you love me?” Vernon demanded. Barbara jumped at his sound–he spoke rarely, but authoritatively.
“I do love you, Vernon.” She offered her love as a plea and he accepted it without knowing why. Had she loved him? He was certain she did, but he did not believe she was in love with him. She loved him as one loves a savior–obligatory love. A self-sacrificing love. A love that placed Vernon above and Barbara beneath.
Their years were measured by a dance that both understood, but never at the same time. Vernon began searching for Others as anyone does–because he was bored. He could find Others easily. In his early forties he was still trim and desirable. Barbara desired him as she always had–silently, and in the dark. On her back she would peer up at him and she would bite her lip and he only saw her fully here, she only offered her soul, and only then in pieces, here.
He engaged the attention of Others because he wanted her, Barbara, to feel desperate; he wanted her to consider how lucky she was. It was this luck that drew his attention when he met Death for the first time.
He was engaged in an affair with an Other when he received the call. His father was dead. The body must be identified. He must do it.
It did not occur to Vernon to call Barbara. She would be home, in the kitchen. She would be devastated; she liked his father. She would not weep, though. Her tears would move softly, and she would look to Vernon for direction.
The face presented on the cold steel was indeed Vernon’s father. Vernon shared his father’s nose. It was strange to see his father there, unmoving. His father was a strong ,statuesque man. He exuded life and power; his shadow covered the world entire. Vernon crumbled into himself on the bench outside of the morgue. He felt the presence before he saw it, and when his eyes moved he only met a blur, first.
“He went easy,” the voice offered. The voice was cold and wet, but not unkind. Not kind either.
It simply was.
“What was easy?” Vernon demanded, his voice gravelly and not his own. He blinked firmly, wanting to be strong even before this stranger.
His father was never as clear as the face before him. Vernon started, gasping. The eyes pierced him, deep green with flecks of gold.
“Your father,” the man with his father’s face stated. Vernon’s heart throbbed in his chest.
“You killed my father?” The man did not answer, only stared at Vernon. Vernon’s throat constricted with knowledge.
This was Death. He wondered, faintly, if Death had come for him.
“Not yet,” Death offered Vernon.
“I wasn’t considering it, yet,” Vernon lied. Death nodded knowingly. Vernon ached with the knowledge that his father moved into the next easily. Why did he not fight?
“I’ll fight you,” Vernon stated. “When you come, I’ll fight you.”
Death stared into Vernon. He grazed Vernon lightly as he passed; when Death looked upon Vernon, Vernon felt the weight of himself lifted for a moment.
The moment passed, and Vernon was alone. Vernon wept.
Barbara responded to the news as Vernon knew she would, and he hated her for it. He wanted her to cry, to scream at him. He wanted her to mourn his father, to cry for him, to beg him to stay. Why would she not fight?
She collapsed into herself and he could not reach her.
When she finally asked about The Others, Vernon was unprepared. Barbara poured his coffee as she always did, offered him two cubes of sugar. She folded her apron neatly and sat at the table across from Vernon. Jonathan was still sleeping, and the gray at Barbara’s temples was pinned back. Barbara, as always, seemed self-conscious. From the corner of his eye Vernon saw her playing with her ring. The light glinted from the silver in her hair and he thought her beautiful.
He wondered if he should tell her. He had not said the words aloud before, and he wanted to, desperately, but they solidified like cement on his tongue. He swallowed his coffee without tasting it and he heard her words, whispered into her lap.
“How many women have you gone to bed with since we married? Vern? How many?” Startled he dropped the cup. His ears burned and he rose from the table angrily.
He had wanted her to ask all the while. He wanted her to notice. He wanted her to lash out, to feel, to defy him.
Instead she mumbled the words into her lap.
“Shut the hell up,” he shouted. He didn’t know those were the words he would cast at her, but they were out and he did not want to reclaim them. Her eyes darted up and met his then, and he saw her fully. She was proud but still fragile; in her eyes he saw the poor girl from the other side of the tracks. The fire that once was was dim, but it was not out.
Barbara did not leave him then. Even when The Other called at dinner she did not leave. Her eyes met his again, and he saw the light again dim, but it did not fade.
Barbara left quietly. She packed her things and moved to the room across the hall. A thousand times he called her back, he responded to her shouts in the dark.
But she did not shout, and his lips did not move.
Their years passed slowly and without sound; days crashed into each other, and Vernon found himself missing time. He forgot her birthday, first. Then their vacation.
Then the girl. Not one of his. Jon’s. He’d forgotten that she was supposed to be hidden. He asked about her, would have sworn that she was ten; just the day before he’d told Cheryl to keep her.
“She’s a blessing,” he revealed, his voice shaking. He did not see the blessing for many years, and they pretended the blessing did not exist.
But then he forgot. “Where is Jherine? Is she coming?” Barbara’s eyes narrowed and heat flared from them.
“She’s gone,” Barbara’s mouth formed the words and they dripped like venom. The fire that he had long desired whipped forth and burned him; Vernon recoiled.
“Where?” Vernon asked. He could remember, vaguely, something about her, the child.
“Just gone,” Barbara stated.
When next Vernon saw Barbara the heat was present again. Jon’s mouth was moving, but Vernon could not quite make out the words.
Barbara’s fire had made it to the surface. She would not accept this.
She would die if she did not, but the fire could not be contained. There was something that he wanted to tell her, he was sure, but he could not remember the words.
Vernon thought Death would come for him first. But it swept Barbara softly, and the fire in her dimmed and then outed.
Vernon remembered. “You are beautiful,” he wanted to say. He searched for her but he could not find her.
“Jon,” Vernon gripped the boy close to him. “Tell your mother she’s beautiful.”
Jon swallowed. “She’s gone, Dad,” Jon sighed.
“When she gets back. Just tell her.”
“Alright. I’ll tell her.”

Death came while Vernon was sleeping. He could feel the presence looming over him. When his eyes opened he saw Barbara. She gazed at him fully, her eyes dancing. He wondered. . .
“Did you know that I thought you were beautiful?” He begged. She nodded, silent. He wondered, with his leathery skin and his weakened arms what she thought of him. If she still thought him handsome. If she loved him.
For a moment he considered fighting. But Barbara was here, staring into him. She allowed him to see her, in the light.
“I–” he wanted to offer her an apology, to give her the last piece of himself, but she shook her head.
She held out her hand for him to take, and he did. He gasped at the familiarity.
“I said that I would fight,” Vernon stated. Death nodded.
Vernon leaned into Death as a lover, and they moved from life easily, and without sound.

The God of Small Things

Sterling Clay Printz’s house had seven windows on its face. All seven windows were too small.
The two flanking the front door–the house was porchless; you stepped up to the door and more or less fell into the house–were higher than normal windows and seemed as though they should have been bay. But they weren’t. They were small, bathroom windows really.
Above the front door there was a tiny window that would have presumably served as a skylight, had the builder any idea what a window’s actual functionality might be, or had the builder any idea where the sky was located.
The second floor windows were stationed in lonely singles flanking one lonely pair of windows, each with their own dilapidated shutters bulging from the gray edifice.
More than being too small, the windows were useless.

Sterling Clay Printz didn’t see the uselessness of his windows, though, for his back was always to them. Once inside the comfort of his home he remained; he preferred the solace of its small hidden rooms and even smaller closets. There were no windows in the rooms he preferred, no natural light, or light of any kind. Sterling Clay Printz preferred the silence and the dark.
Sterling Clay Printz’s road was dirt, perhaps one of the only dirt roads left in this paved state. His road was shared by eight other neighbors whose houses were closer to the highway than his. Sterling Clay Printz’s house was the last on the road, at least a quarter of a mile away from the nearest turn-around should one of his neighbors’ guests find themselves lost. Even if the large Spanish oak tree didn’t obstruct the sky and obliterate the world around the house the windows would have been useless, for there was no one coming up the drive to see, no one strolling down the drive to greet.
Sterling Clay Printz used to find himself standing at his own front door staring out into the hopeful dusk kicked up from somewhere down the road. Every morning before work and every afternoon after he would stand on his stoop facing the place he presumed the sun to be. He did this until the afternoon he met the mailman’s eyes.

Sterling Clay Printz lacked self-awareness, but somehow the watering of the mailman’s eyes coupled with his sad “cheer up fella” smile, made him feel gawked at. He wondered if the mailman mentioned him later. What kind of story would the mailman tell about him? Would dinner center around him?
Sterling Clay Printz didn’t mind being the center of attention, of course.
One of Sterling Clay Printz’s biggest problems, his mother would remind him, was his tendency to over share information.
“You can’t let things grow, Clay,” she would condescend to him as he lamented another failed friendship. “You shoot your load the first go.” She had a knack for mixing metaphors, but her greatest gift was her uncanny ability to make Clay feel slightly uneasy with himself.
Rather than take his mother’s oft repeated advice, Clay over shared.
On Facebook he posted enough about politics to embarrass his friends into complete silence.
On Instagram he tagged celebrities in photos of his face awkwardly positioned near half empty Starbucks cups.
On Twitter he found religion and the many gods of education.
Clay’s mother’s gift was for bringing grown men to their knees in the dark to weep silently like children, and Clay’s own gift was for shedding unnecessary light on the mundane. This was almost expected of one who over shares–eventually all of the large stories will be taken.
“Red or blue,” was the original caption for his photo of his ties. He had staged them beautifully, his rapidly cooling Starbucks accenting the background. He is partially nude and will most definitely be late, but this will be a beautiful photo and he must retain evidence of this for posterity.
The caption serves many purposes: the filter he chose changes the color scheme, so he must identify the color for his patient followers. He also wants feedback. Perhaps he should mention donkeys and elephants? He checked his phone ten minutes ago and discovered he had one like for the photo posted from the stadium. He considers deleting it, but changes his mind. They’ve only had a few hours to respond.
He chooses the caption, “Red or blue: never know when you’re going to be a democrat or republican!” He gives his phone a satisfied smile.
In the end he chooses blue. In ninth grade a girl (Sasha? Sarah? Antoinette?) told him his eyes were cornflower blue like those which grew in her grandmothers garden. He wasn’t particularly fond of blue then, but he very much liked the compliment.
As Clay drives easily to work and pulls into his designated parking space it occurs to him as it does every morning that he has surpassed the expectations of others. He knows he shouldn’t have others so often on his mind, but he can’t help it. Before he exits his truck he pulls out his phone again.
Two likes.
Before unlocking the door to the building he takes a quick stroll around campus. It is beautiful in the silent dark, and for a moment he holds his breath and stares out into the loneliness.
Then he pulls out his phone and shares the moment.
Before he can put it away he receives a text: running late; can someone unlock my room?
He sends a response with a smiling emoji, but his face never moves.
He lingers for a few moments checking emails mindlessly. He adjusts his tie and enters his office.
He has a smile that he has practiced for so long it doesn’t sting as much now as it once did.
He offers this smile robotically before she catches his eye. His eyes narrow as he focuses on her, the rest of the world tuned out.
She walks as though she has been here for as long as he has. This shouldn’t bother him and she shouldn’t so often be on his mind, but he can’t help it.
As if she can feel his gaze she turns abruptly and meets it. She holds his eyes until he tears his away.
She makes him angry.
He knows what she says about him. His school is like a small town and he considers himself the mayor. It is his job to know. She’s small and new, but her words bother him all the same.
He sends a text—Did you finish Janine’s observation? I want that asap.
He receives the reply—on my list for this morning; I’ll send it to you after I’ve finished—almost immediately.
It isn’t that she’s beautiful. He’s certain that’s what she’s said. That’s one of the rumors he hasn’t heard, but he’s almost positive she’s said it.
He can hear it condescended from her lips now. “He hates me because he’s in love with me.” She’s said it.
Of course she has. She wears bright red lipstick that emphasizes the perfect bow of her lips. She only wears black clothing paired with sky-high heels. She walks with her head high and when she chooses to look at him she always stares longer. She offers him a raised brow but she does not smile.
She tells others that his ship is not his.
This bothers him even more than her arrogance. They listen to her.
Some hate her. They hate the way she talks and dresses, the way she sizes them up with a look. But they hate him more and they listen to her.
“Mr. Printz!” The hair on his neck bristles. Her. He fixes the smile on his face and turns to her carefully.
“Hey Janine! How are you?”
“I’m great. I just wanted to know if you might have time to talk to me this afternoon? I wanted to know how we’re going to address diversity in the curriculum? I’ve noticed that it’s extremely white.” She offers him a tight smile at the end of her statement, her deep brown eyes searching his. He is stunned into silence for a moment.
A pin could drop in the hall. His throat constricts as he struggles to contain himself.
She is new. Too new. Who is she to ask questions?
His mother would think this is small. She would say it that way—“Clay, why are you so angry? This is all so small and mundane.”
“Check with Lydia,” he offers, turning away from her. “She’ll put you on my calendar.”
“Another thing—are you not getting my emails?” She has a tone. Her face is expressionless. But the tone is there.

“Make sure you’re always copying Lydia on all emails.” He pats her arm as he brushes by her. “Thanks, Janine.”
He sends an email reprimanding the hourly staff on their continued use of the mass email. After this he walks into the lunchroom and the lunch ladies are conveniently too busy to meet his eye.
He inspects the trays of the kids in isolation for something to do.
“Mmm, school lunch,” he jokes so that he has something to say.
He attends a meeting that includes forty-five minutes of a mother berating him. He prides himself on his calm.
No ma’am, your daughter will still face consequences for skipping.
Yes ma’am, missing an entire class without permission is skipping.
No ma’am, it doesn’t take anyone an hour and a half to get from one side of campus to the other.
Yes ma’am, that is my boss.
He pulls out his phone again—he has ten texts. Two are from the same teacher from this morning stating she’ll be back late from a doctor’s appointment. He makes a note to keep an eye on her attendance. He needs to build his case carefully.
One is from the superintendent stating a review will be conducted soon.
One is from his mother telling him God loves him.
One is from one of the PE coaches asking for an administrator.
One is from the same PE coach stating never mind.
One is from a member of the old guard asking if she can meet with him during lunch to discuss a private matter that he overheard her complaining about publicly just this morning.
One is from Ms. Pride-Hall, stating the observation was complete.
One is from her, stating that her kids are going to the lab.
One is from Starbucks, telling him he’s a gold star member.
He ignores all of them, opting to check his Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Two more likes, one comment, and a retweet.
He spends a few minutes selecting a song for his special announcements. They aren’t until Friday, but he likes to do a soundcheck early Friday morning and he doesn’t want to come unprepared. The kids like his announcements, he thinks.
She smirks when he passes her in the hall after, but then she smirks at him all the time.
She must know she is on his mind because she arrives promptly.
For the duration of their conversation she is pleasant and he wrestles with himself. He wants to yell at her. He wants to shout. He wants to stun her, to tear from her that calm exterior.
What meat does she eat that makes her grow so large? She is uncomfortable with Julius Caesar and would hate that reference. It makes him chuckle.
After she leaves his office Ms. Pride-Hall enters.
“Well,” he begins expectantly. Ms. Pride-Hall swallows visibly.
“She’s great. You’re not going to go into her room and see anything but good teaching.” For a moment he allows his shoulders to fall.
“But—“ Ms. Pride-Hall offers him an opening and he leaps.
“Yes?” He wills himself to prompt her calmly, but internally he’s singing.
“She wants to file a grievance against you.” Lava boils up inside him and burns.
How dare she?
“Why,” he asks, though he doesn’t actually care for the answer.
“She said that, and I’m quoting here, “if I died you would roll me under the desk and keep teaching.”” He pauses for a moment.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” he responds, and Ms Pride-Hall shrugs.
“That’s what she said.” He considers her words. He considers them for so long he fears they will leave a mark.
He swallows hard, calming himself. “I think it’s time to have a serious conversation with her.”
He sends a message to Lydia to ask Janine to swing by his office at 3:30.
His discussion with Janine might as well take place in a vacuum for all he hears.
At some point she tells him that he is a tyrant. She doesn’t use those words, but she implies it. Her eyes harden as she speaks to him directly.
“You walk around and you don’t see anyone. You didn’t notice that last week when you asked Kentavious if he’d registered for College night that he was uncomfortable—he doesn’t want to go to college. You know how I know? I spend time asking people things. You don’t listen. You only want to hear how great you are. You are so busy looking at all of the small details you don’t actually know what you’re missing. You’re missing the people. There are actual people behind those numbers.”
He catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror behind her and briefly he wonders if he should have chosen the red tie.
He lowers his voice and he attempts to quell her anger.
“I don’t have to give you a reason. I like you. You’re not happy here.”
She interrupts him. “It isn’t the place I’m unhappy with.” His heart skips a beat. There she is again.
He sees her clearly now. Everyone else is wearing the school colors. They know the rival. They know to smile at him and they know to be colorblind. They know to ask the right questions and give the right numbers and even the ones that look like her know how to behave.
Why doesn’t she know that? Why is she wearing black even now? Even her hair—it coils from her head reaching the sky, seeming to defy him.
“You aren’t right for here,” he tells her. She is stunned. He can see it in the way she blinks rapidly, the way she jerks back as if slapped.
At last he has silenced her.
He continues while he has time. “We just aren’t a good fit for you. Do I think you’ll be great somewhere else? Absolutely.”
He thought she would cry. The last time this happened the woman cried.
Janine’s face is dry, her eyes dark and deep.
Her voice is passionate and fierce, and he has to lean forward to hear her. “In a few years you’ll still be here wondering why they don’t all like you. It’s because this place is small and even smaller with you in it. You’ll have my resignation in ten minutes.”
She must note his surprise because she smirks, “I’ve had it ready and waiting. After so many threats it loses its appeal.”
She turns on her heel and leaves his office.
He turns to send the email to human resources. She is a problem and he wants to make certain he’s covered himself.
He loses himself for awhile in the email, because when he turns back he discovers a Starbucks cup on his desk—Venti. Hot. The handwritten note says “we love you, Clay!”
He smiles to himself, sighing heavily.
As he leaves to head to the field he receives a few greetings. The lunch ladies still don’t meet his eye.
A letter from her lay in his box.
In the stadium his voice reverberates all around and when he says cheer they cheer.
He shakes hands and kisses babies and his mouth hurts from the talking.
He gets that tell-tale thrill down his leg when he is introduced as the principal.
This is his town. He is the mayor. He has earned this.
On the ride home he belts out the words to the song half a beat behind.
He stands in front of the door for a long while, wishing he could see the sun from his house.
In the dark loneliness he feels a god.
As the door closes behind him he thinks he hears a car pulling up the drive.
He pulls his phone from his pocket at the same time, though, and he is too busy checking his phone to open the door again.
He can’t see from the windows, and as he disappears into the empty house he curses those small useless things and wonders not for the first time if he is too big for them, if they are not too small even for him. He wonders what visitors he missed, what small slips of sun they keep just beyond his reach.

between strangers on a train: soliloquy

I pretend you moved away from a house you never lived in.
Words I never said are in your mind as you ride a different train in a different direction.
On your different train, in your different direction, briskly you pass by a girl who looks like me and I imagine that you notice her, and then you remember me.
On your different train, in your different direction, crooked hearts on the window catch your eye, and I imagine that we stood when everyone else sat, our breath mingling and our fingers touching as we left traces of ourselves.

My train is little more than empty, my head is down, my heart as empty as the train that carries me, and in the lull of an endless melancholy melody I hear a voice,
“Do you mind if I sit here?” and I look up and our eyes meet.
And in your eyes recognition.
My heart catches in my throat, freezing in time.
I imagine a soliloquy drips as honey from my lips into your ear in response; and caught under my spell you forget your question and I don’t answer.
In reality I offer a terse smile and I shake my head and you flash your brilliant smile at me and you wait, respectfully, for me to make room.

You didn’t have to wait, of course; there was room for you already.

monster

I have been born and I have died a thousand times. Millions of prayers have gone up against me, praying to he who has never cared for them, praying that he grants one wish.
I imagine Frankenstein’s monster, nameless as I am nameless.
What pain he felt when hewn together by the castaways and broken things.
Made to be a monster, from ashes he was not created, and to ash he could not return.
From afar I hear their voices and I wonder if I could ask their god to save me.
I am a monster and no whole pieces are in me; even my soul is made of excess.
I wonder if I should ask for my mother, but she is nowhere and does not exist to me and what would I say.
They want my words to carry; my words are more than my name. I will haunt their vision little; my words will be immortalized.
I give them nothing and they will mark me out of history entirely.
I will be a monster.
In the darkness of my own mind I am alone but I am not lonely.
In my mind is the veil and it lifts in anticipation.
I am soon to join them in everything or nothing.
Her gaze pierces my flesh before they do and I wonder if she will find peace.
I am what they say; I must be, because I hope that she does not.
She will take the image of me sleeping and it will be her salvation. He answered her in my death.
A life for a life.
I do not wish to go easy or at all. A slow moving ice travels my veins and it is the last touch I will feel.
I have imagined this moment and at first it seemed a peaceful thing, to know. A mercy.
It is not. I have prayed to their god and hoped that he would hate me as they do and take back my soul and recreate me in the image that he used to create them.
He did not. I am a monster.
I have avoided her last moments because I do not wish them to be mine.
Was I there for hers? That is the question that they ask but it remains unanswered.
Does it matter now? Did it ever?
I am a monster, hewn together from her pieces.
I have borne and I have died death a thousand times over. Do not
Do not
Do not
Resurrect me
Again.
Do not give my name to God as evidence of
The wrong or right. Leave me there, nameless if you must.
Frankenstein’s monster should not go to my grave.
If only my heart bury the human pieces that are left.

There is no light now, but maybe it will come after.
Maybe there is a place for me.
Maybe I will return

Metanoia: Day One

Day One.

There was a crack in the ceiling, just there, a hairline fracture, really. Thin and faint and unnoticeable I watched as it spilled from beneath the light in the foyer, the one that jutted from the ceiling like a lone milky-white breast, stiff and dead, obscene and grotesque.
The crack seemed to begin beneath the breast, stretching just beyond the boundaries of the foyer and into the library.
The house itself was old, reminiscent of antebellum fortitude and the lie of possibility. Erected in close proximity to the square just before the war–here they call it the war of northern aggression–it is prominent and beautiful, the colonnades crisp white, the expanse of lush green yard flanked by large oaks and richly colored perennials. Even now I hear the lark songs, the distant hum of a content mower, the periodic spray of the sprinklers. The house has aged well, the thin black pole marking its elegance placed gingerly in the yard with the name, “Williamson Bradford House, circa 1850” etched in gold solely for the edification of passerby. They are to marvel at this symbol of The South, the inability of the North to traverse across our collective strength. See how the house stands, unbowed against time?
But the crack.
Remy spent most of her time looking up; at the ceiling, into the heavens and beyond. She had a particular eye for disrepair, and yet it went unnoticed by her, too close for her eyes. I noticed the crack, she saw beyond. I pointed it out to Mark.
“What is that?”
He glanced up, only briefly, after scanning over the mail. Flyers and ads beckoning us to come to church for the everyday sinner. He dropped his keys haphazardly onto the tall boy. I picked them up and placed them on their hook.
He offered me a half smile before responding. “Oh. Maybe the paint is chipped.”
I shook my head at that, and he began to walk away. I grabbed his arm, only to get his attention, but he jerked away from me as if I’d burned him.
I imagined I would see fingerprints under his starched shirt and dress coat, he pulled away so quickly.
In unison we glanced at Remy, but she tugged Martin forward and they disappeared into the darkness of the house.
“Jane–”
“Just look! What if there’s a crack in the foundation?”
“There isn’t.”
“How do you know?”
He sighed and loosened his tie. He ran his fingers through his hair and I wondered how long he would continue to pretend it might come back.
“I just know,” he breathed. He narrowed his eyes at me then sighed again. “Look. If it gets any larger I’ll call someone.”
“Who?”
“I’ll let you decide.”
He made dinner. He must have. I leaned against the stairs staring up at that hideous fracture and when I looked down again the house was dark around me and the children were asleep.
Mark frowned at me when I entered the bedroom, Emerson clutched to me.
“Jane! She was sleeping.”
“I don’t get to see her during the day! I’ll put her back.”
When I awakened in the morning sunlight was draped over me and Emerson was gone.

I only intended to fix the crack. The children were with Mark’s parents and he was working late again. I watched as it expanded and contracted, breathing over the house. My chest began to constrict as I splashed water over my face. I couldn’t call Mark, he wouldn’t answer and he hated when I interrupted meetings. I pulled out the ladder, staring in disgust at the cobwebs covering my fingers.
The cobwebs were sticky and wet even before the bleach. It only stung briefly; the sting faded but the webs stayed. Grabbing the kitchen knife I made my way up the ladder. I pressed the knife gently into the crack first, plaster falling into my eyes. The second jab into the ceiling was deeper than the first, but necessary. Before plastering the crack I needed to know how deep it reached. The knife buried into the ceiling to the hilt; I paused for a moment, admiring my reflection in the library. I looked mad, covered in white powder perched at the top of an eight foot ladder with a butcher knife in my ceiling.
I couldn’t hear the door because of my laughter. The ladder began to tip and I felt more than saw Mark reaching out for it–or me–and briefly, a sting, and then nothing.

When I came to I noticed bandages on both arms. How strange. The knife glanced off of my arm, assuredly, but both?
Murmuring distantly but then the words became clear, a newly tuned radio.
“Mrs. Wilkes. Mrs. Wilkes. Can you hear me?” I nodded.
“Do you know where you are?” I nodded again.
“Do you know why you’re here?”
Pause. “I had an accident.”
“Can you tell me what happened.” I glanced at the man. Small and gentle, his eyes were hidden behind gold rimmed spectacles. His pants were too short.
“I fell. I was fixing the ceiling.”
“What was wrong with the ceiling?” What an odd question.
“There was a crack. I wanted to plaster over it, but I had to know how deep it was.”
Pause. “I see.”
“Am I okay to go home?” Where are the kids and Mark, I wondered.
“We want to keep you a whole longer for observation. I’d like to talk to you a bit.”
“Why?”
“Mrs. Wilkes. We want to make certain when you return home you’re feeling your best.”
“But I am–”
“Mrs. Wilkes there was no crack. In the ceiling. Your husband claims to have found you on the top of the ladder…you had slit your wrists. When you saw him you jumped.”
“What? No. No no no. I swear. He has it wrong. Just let me see him. Let me talk to him. He just misunderstood. Is he here–”
“Mrs. Wilkes. Please remain calm.”
“Mark. Where is Mark?” My voice began rising as ice gripped my chest. “Just let me talk to him. He’ll understand when I talk to him!”
A chill ran through my arm and my body was forced back, string hands pressing into me. His voice was distant again, but even if he were clear I would hear none of it.
I can only focus on this ceiling, so unlike my own and yet the same. I marvel at the crack.

Workers Hands

Workers hands. Calloused and yellowing, hardening at the bend of bone and palm they cannot be made soft by anything beyond the knowing eyes of a lover.
When I took her hand–crooked and bony, blue tendrils crawling up like long forgotten roots–I remarked how frail she seemed. How birdlike.
I dared not say it aloud. She smiled at me in the way that only she can, showing the bridge in partial so fast that you wonder, morbidly, how many of those terrifyingly perfect things are hers, grimaced really before remarking–“you’ve got workers hands.”
A true southern debutante over ripened and far too sweet her voice swept over me gracefully, the poison of her tone lingering after. The bitter whistling of a lone lark sounded in the distance, an afterthought. Frozen in time I stood solid, eyes drawn to my own hands. Workers hands.
Raw cacao fading into unripened peach with deep brown furrows across the palms. The nails unfiled and unpainted, the cuticles overgrown. The knuckles of the long fingers large and prominent, the thumbs angular and proud. A scar has settled there, the only evidence of a childhood skirmish beneath the shade of willows and youth. My critical eye creates and fills the silence.
George’s tea was prepared as she likes, without sugar and lukewarm, the biscuits crumbling onto the service and forgotten in the carpet. Her hands shake as she stirs in cold cream to soothe the bitterness, and my eyes travel from the floating leaves back to my own hands.
Almost as large as George’s they engulf the cup. An intricate floral pattern of violets and roses with a whisper of gold on the lips the china is as diaphanous as the skin of its owner. This cup in its frailty is not made for me and my hands and I place it, too gently, back into its saucer.
She speaks again and her voice creaks from disuse, her eyes narrowing over the rail thin bridge of her nose.
“And your parents? What do they do?” Her question is a statement, formed in the midst of a one-sided conversation that she must have been holding with herself.
George stills beside me, his spoon scraping the side of the cup of nothing over and again. I touch his hand lightly and it stills beneath my own.
“My mother is a teacher. My father is in sanitation.” Her lips disappear against each other and she does not speak again.
George leaves for the restroom down a dank hall, the scent of mothballs wafting back to us from the unknown room that swallows him.
Her hands shake against the counter, and I stare down at the web of her hands, immensely horrified.
Grotesque and gnarled they are hands that have never seen work. Frail and skeletal they are themselves the in-between, more dead than alive. Dusted above the translucent skin and lost into the wrinkles she is mottled; the earth brown beautiful on me is sprinkled haphazardly upon her in decaying gruesome disarray. Her emaciated, aged hands shake profusely as she grapples for a bottle, orange and bulky, with small ocular pills filling its contents. Her bluish lips make a reappearance briefly, the teeth flashing before hiding away. Her hands shake ever more and she drops the bottle, and we both watch in silence as it hits the counter.
A weak breath escapes her, scrapes against her shallow bones as it exits with haunting finality. Hesitating briefly I save her from her shame, scooping the bottle with ease.
The callouses of my hands sound loudly against the bottle as I press it gently against them, the top pushing deep into the time-toughened skin. I pass the bottle back to her, top first, demonstrating a smile.
When George returns he laces his hands in mine.
His thumb soothes the new ache that has settled in my palm, and I turn to her again, marveling at how very pale and thin her neck appears. She opens her mouth and casts thanks at me and I hold up my hand, callouses facing her.
“Workers hands.”