Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Black Box

Traditionally, a child becomes an orphan when he loses both parents to death. But a child can become bereft of mother and father, deprived of them, in other ways just as devastating.
Jason sat in the sand, watching grains slip through his fingers, yellow jackets buzzing around his blonde head.
He was four.
He was unattended.
Someday, he would grow up to be a superhero, an anti-hero dressed in black leather and a sarcastic, irreverent wit. His mythos would talk about how his parents died when he was young, lost to the violence of a random murder. The truth was they just left him alone. They couldn’t bother to pay attention to him. They had better, more interesting things to do with their time than cater to a snot-nosed kid who their friends thought a bit odd.
Jason, orphan by neglect.
Consequently, the monsters hunted and haunted him early and often.
“You’d be helping them,” said Kanis, the dog-faced demon. He nudged Jason towards the teal and white 1962 Studebaker. “Fill it up.”
Jason poured sand into the tank. This act would get his parents’ attention. They’d be proud of him. He’d save them some money.
A miscalculation on Jason’s part. His ability to get things wrong was monumental.
While locked in the bathroom, Kanis visited him. His parents deposited him in the guest en suite while they had a party. The trick with the car got him isolated. Beating him would require effort on their part.
Jason was glad he had friends, but it would be nice if he could count on his parents. It was clear even to Jason’s young mind that they just weren’t interested in him. He had no idea why he even existed or how he came to be.
Bathrooms were not safe-havens. They were cold and stark: way too bright with the lights on and ominously dark with them off. As hard as it was to see in the glare of florescent illumination reflected in mirrors and ceramic tiles, it was best to know what crawled out of the faucets or what clawed its way from the toilet bowl if Jason forgot to close the lid.
He tightened the hot and cold knobs on both the sink and the tub. The smallest drop of water could allow a fiend into the room. He knew better than to wash his hands. Being shut away for being a dirty, filthy child was nothing compared to the beasts of the pipes.
The dragon swooped down upon him from the vents in the ceiling, popping the light bulbs. It swallowed him whole from his head down to his feet. It was wet and dark and muffled inside the dragon. Jason rode the tunnel of the animal’s throat up then down, the gullet soft and slippery like a squashed tomato mixed with an over-ripe banana.
Jason slid past the dragon’s lungs and into his rib cage. The heart of the dragon beat as loud as a base drum. The pounding vibrated through the beast’s bones, a woofer on steroids. The throbbing consumed him, fusing him to the animal’s flesh.
He cried, fat drops falling from his eyes. His sobs matched the beat of the animal’s pulse. The added pressure of the boy’s weeping was too much for the dragon’s muscles. They contracted, loosened, tensed, relaxed, squeezed, let go. Jason passed through the monster like food through a boa constrictor’s belly only in reverse. The dragon expelled Jason like regurgitated bird food. His tender toddler skin red and blistered.
Jason’s tears mixed with the dragon’s saliva. When he finally broke free of his reptilian prison, he was dehydrated from fifty years worth of crying. He lay on the bathroom floor staring at the ceiling vent as the dragon’s tail slithered through the slats and disappeared.
The bathroom walls were slathered in shaving cream, covered in cartoon characters drawn in pink lipstick and dark brown eyebrow pencil, plastered in toilet paper squares attached by hair spray.
Foam brewed in the toilet bowl like a bubbling witches’ cauldron, round rainbows dripping to the floor and floating in the perfumed, steamy air.
Kanis sat perched on the shower curtain rod looking down at Jason, laughing at the little boy.
“You’re in for it now,” he said. “This place is a mess.”
“I didn’t do it.” Jason’s voice broke. He tried to sit up, but his little body shook. “I was inside the dragon the whole time.”
“Who’s going to believe that?”
“It’s true.”
“No one wants the truth. They want to know what they already believe.”
Jason lay on the floor all afternoon. He watched the sunlight fade. The room turned dark, black. His stomach ached and gurgled with hunger. His throat clenched from lack of water, but he couldn’t risk letting in more monsters.
The knob on the door turned. Light poured in. Jason closed his eyes against the blinding light.
“Hey, there’s a kid in here,” said a man.
“You’re joking,” said a woman.
“Nope, look.”
“Is it alive?”
“He’s breathing,” said the man.
“Look at the walls,” she said. “I can’t stay in this mess.”
“Do you think they know he’s up here?”
Their voices faded as they went out of the room, leaving the door open.
Jason found a soft, black wool coat in the pile on the bed. He pulled it around him to stop his shaking, stumbled to his bedroom, and crawled into his closet.

No one came to look for him.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

I See Dead Bodies

I don’t know if anyone else grew up in a family fascinated by the dead. On long car rides into the Pennsylvania mountains, my mother would point out all of the dead deer on the side of the road. When I objected to being forced to view the mangled bodies, she told me to stop living in my fantasy world. Carcasses were a metaphor for reality, and we must not shirk our duty to real life.

On Sundays, when I was a young child, my Oma and mother and I strolled through the neighborhood graveyard in Hallein, Austria. They commented on those who went before us, nodding and greeting fellow visitors, as I followed behind them. Funny, I don’t recall going to Mass first, even though I loved going to church in Austria. Every church was like a cathedral, every Mass in Latin with incense and chimes and holy water sprinkled on my, even then, Pagan soul.

There might be a viewing going on in which we had to participate. In the small town, my Oma knew everyone, so whoever died was a friend or enemy or a relative of either. Proper manners and curiosity dictated that one go through the viewing building. Since I was a child, I didn’t have always to go inside which was good since dozens of flowers covered the caskets. The stench of the sickly sweet blooms always made me queasy and faint. Most times, I stood outside and looked through the big single pane window. Being outside was better until I remembered that my mother’s only full-blooded sister, Katy, was buried just outside the viewing room entrance.

We had to pass her eternal home every time we entered the cemetery. They told me, every time we entered the cemetery, my mother’s only full-blooded sister had died as a small child. They buried her right there. I felt guilty that I was alive while the only important person in my mother’s life was stuck there in the ground. She was quiet and still in a way I never was or could be. She had a stone plant urn right next to her, solid as a rock.

I’d follow my Oma and mother into the cemetery, pass my long dead properly behaving aunt, peek in at the newly deceased, my nose pressed to the perfectly clean window, staring at the waxy corpse and the viewers parading by, hoping it wasn’t someone my Oma knew too well, so she would go faster. If she knew the dead body, she’d linger, perhaps remembering fond times or childhood antics. I’d stare hard at her so she would hurry and so no one would talk to me. If I pretended they weren’t there, I wouldn’t hear any of the voices. Sometimes I couldn’t tell the difference between the living voices and the dead voices. I mean to tell you, that’s some scary shit.

My Oma and mother would come out and we’d walk around like we were in some park. Most times, I just followed behind, kicking the stones of the well-tended path, glancing at a fancy headstone if it was of an angel or a lily in high relief.

This one time, though, I noticed the small sizes of the plots in one section of the graveyard. Plots were outlined in stones, creating well-defined rectangles. There was no way you’d be stepping on anyone’s grave there. You’d trip over the little stone walls. All of the plots were maybe three feet by six feet, or maybe two by five. I was only five or six at the time. What did I know of measurements? We walked past these graves, along the front path, turned the corner to the left, went a little way and the graves were smaller by three-quarters, one by two.

I don’t know why all of a sudden I saw them. I had been there many times before. But I noticed them. I asked why they were so small. They shushed me. I asked again. I kept asking until they told me. These were the graves of babies. I stopped walking. I stared at them. I couldn’t move. How on earth did babies die? I couldn’t fathom such a horror. Babies. I said it to the air since my Oma and mother had walked beyond me.

I burst into tears. Right there. In the cemetery. Surrounded by stoic Austrians. I caused a scene over long-dead babies that no one even remembered anymore. They couldn’t get me to stop crying over the babies. I was ridiculous. They dragged me from the cemetery. I didn’t want to go until someone told me how it was that babies could die. They wouldn’t. They couldn’t.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Scars Aren't Just on the Inside

I have a scar below my lower lip in that space just before my chin starts.

I bet it has a name.

*pause to google*

It's called mentolabial sulcus. Aren't you glad you asked?

Well, I have a scar there. I got my scar when I was five.

We lived in Frankfurt at the time. For anyone geographically challenged, that's in Germany. My father was in the Army and stationed there. Things were different back in the olden days, so I wasn't always well supervised.

One day, I was playing on the playground. I was younger than everyone else and unwilling to be left out. The older kids were climbing on top of the monkey bars, flipping around sideways and hanging down. I don't even know how I managed to get up on top. Once up there, I had to do the flip like all the rest of them. My five-year-old honor demanded it regardless of how high up or scared I was. I never could resist a dare, even an implied one.

I lay on the horizontal bars, my legs dangling over one side, my head and shoulders in the air on the other side, looking down to the sand and gravel far below me. I reached around under my body, my little hands slipping on the smooth, slick cross bars. I gripped the metal, kicked my feet up and over my head, gravity making me cumbersome. My feet kept going until they were above my head again, my fingers broke free and I plunged face first into the ground.

My teeth pierced my mentolabial sulcus. I sat up, looked around. The other kids scattered. I walked home, calm.

My mother tried to clean out my wound, gently dabbing at me with a soft, damp cloth. I screamed and pushed her away. She took me to the hospital.

I sat quietly as the doctor pushed my teeth back through my skin. I didn't make a peep as he scrubbed my flesh with a fingernail brush, removing sand and small rocks. Never made a sound as he stitched the hole closed.

My mother went white. She had to wait out in the hall. The nurse helped her to a chair.

I got serious street cred for my ordeal.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

How's It Hanging?

My brother keeps getting older. I don't. It's important that he is reminded of these facts.

Here's the lovely card I made to show my love.

Look how pretty and stylish.

Just to prove this was all me.

Aw, nuts.