July 1, 2012: First Sentences. CWE 273

She knew shit was bad when lines from poems kept popping in to her head when she waited in line at the grocery store or shaved her left knee without shaving cream. Snippets of heartbreaking poems woke her like bad dreams. She felt like an aluminum popcorn popper shaken over the stover burner, bursting with sadness and apathy and anxiety. She was tired of herself.

She quit drinking on a Thursday. She woke up after being awake since 2:00 AM which is what always happened when she drank too much. She was, as she always was, disgusted with herself and reeling and thinking about how much she sucked at life. She stood in front of the bathroom mirror after she showered, and her skin looked pinker and fresher than it had for years. Her teeth were whiter and her eyes clearer and her hair was drying in a kind of wavy, fancy way instead of hanging limp. This was strange because she had not slept and was still likely drunk and all around, she was hating herself and this day pretty intensely considering that it was only 6:45 AM.

His house was the size of a postage stamp. This is a true story. The roof was even edged with scallops, just like old fashioned stamps were. The kind you had to lick.

When Noreen touched her, she felt like she was being prayed over. And under and through and into. Noreen wrote prayers along her arms and across her stomach and she wrote prayers in the air around her and pulled her hair into long, shiny prayers that were very heavy and very light at the same time. Noreen filled her like water tipped into a vase so that things could begin blooming and the air hummed with yellow and prayers and flowers breaking open in the morning air when the sun burned off the last parts of the night.

It wasn’t so much that she was bossy, although it’s true that the was bossy. It’s more that she was what her grandmother would call a Nervous Nellie. She could work conversations in a certain way, building up interactions and breaking down others. She pulled this string and that leg kicked. She pulled that string and this hand raised.

Title? Prayers, Puppets, and Pumpernickel

She lived in an apartment above a liquor store. All windows to the liquor store had been boarded up years ago. Her attic apartment had to windows at either end, and beams of sunlight met in the middle of the floor.

She sat at her desk going through unimportant emails and she reached down beside her hips to grab two ends of a seatbelt.

I knew the potatoes weren’t soft enough. I knew they should cook longer. I knew I didn’t need another beer. I knew things were getting worse.


She kept biding her time, waiting until something came along that was a joy. She kept waiting for joy. I told her over and over that that wasn’t how joy worked. Joy wasn’t going to come along and sit its fat ass in her lap and let loose a bouquet of balloons into a sky washed with a paintbrush dipped in blue. Joy didn’t work that way.

She didn’t listen. She didn’t ever listen. It didn’t matter. I was desperately in love with her. I wanted to name each curl that sprung from her scalp. I wanted to give them middle names and throw each curl a bat mitzvah and a confirmation party and a sweet sixteen. I was at all times twisting garlands of paper streamers and breaking broccoli trees into manageable little bushes to roost beside bowls of dip. She was the party of my life.

I met her in an economics class. It was the second time I’d taken the class. I failed the first time. It was a hard class, but really I failed because I stopped going. That whole experience taught me the importance of failing. Failing will sit you in a plush seat in an ampitheater and raise a red velvet curtain with a fluorish. The curtains will part like the seas and there’s no need for Moses because she will be standing there in the wake, her curls snapping, her eyes flashing.

I haven’t seen her in years. I’ve bought three houses and sold two and cleaned my fridge maybe two hundred times and shaken out clean sheets over a quilted mattress maybe seven hundred times. I’ve made love over and over and slipped my head in to the laps of a parade of women. She still sits in my lap with a carboard book of matches, lighting one match after another and giggling while they fizzle. She still sits her fat ass in my heart, building bonfires and pumping the billows. I smell like sulphur and have spent years in the burn unit.

To contemplate: a story about someone who fell in love with you, instead of a story about you falling in love.


February 23, 2012: Brothers, cont. CWE 144

Every Sunday afternoon, their father drank beer from plastic cups while watching Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. The gorgeous ladies were fierce. Their bangs were teased into tidal waves that crested over their foreheads. Joe’s dad said their hair looked like armpit hair. Joe disagreed. He thought the wrestlers were exotic and beautiful. They stared at him intensely through the TV screen. Their eyes were heavily made up with metallic shadows and thick black eyeliner that tapered into points at their temples. They looked like they were wearing superhero masks. They were angry and mysterious in electric green onesies cut up to tightly belted waists, and the floor of the ring bounced under their strong thighs.

The boys’ father was sweaty with beer and enthusiasm, rallying the boys and cheering for Babe the Farmer’s Daughter and Brittany the Brat. Joe and Billy kneeled on the sofa with bowls of pretzels and bounced on the cushions.

By dinnertime, their dad was asleep in the pilling recliner. Joe practiced his moves on Billy, chop dropping him over his knees and body slamming him against the sofa. The cushions exhaled clouds of dust motes in the air above the boys’ matching buzz cuts. Billy’s laughter rang bells in the corners of the family room, and his smile split the seams of his face like an overripe tomato.

He was six years old and weighed thirty four pounds. He didn’t take up any room, like thoughts that float through your mind as you fall asleep, never resting anywhere and gone when you wake in the morning. He was nervous all the time but sweet and quick to smile, especially at Joe. A small boy sketched out quickly on grainy pieces of tissue paper and glued together with dots of paste. Joe lifted him easily but carefully, picturing Billy floating in a straw basket when he hoisted him over his head like a trophy. The boys spun in a haze of dust motes floating in the TV’s blue glow.

They lived around the corner from St. Mary of the Assumption and walked to school together in the morning, dry leaves tearing under their leather shoes. In the schoolyard, Joe left Billy with the first graders and ran off to play football with his friends on the low hill. Billy watched him, squinting his eyes against the morning sun and licking his lips. Freckles tiptoed across his nose.

When the boys passed one another in the hallways, Joe gave Billy low high fives. Billy sat at his desk in his basement classroom and watched Joe’s class playing dodgeball in the school parking lot. Joe was a team captain and he bent low before winging the ball across the cement and hitting his classmate behind the knees. Billy chewed on his lips and worked in his phonics workbook.

The whole school went to mass each Friday afternoon during Lent. Joe slid down the hallway in his leather shoes with the rest of the class. The boys pushed each other from behind. Girls in plaid jumpers pulled at one another’s elbows. They whispered secrets and passed plastic tubes of chapstick, sliding thick layers of warm wax across their lips. Shannon’s hair hung in long spiral curls to the middle of her back. Her bangs were swept into a perfect poof and held on top of her head with a gold barette. Her ears looked like small clam shells and big silver hoops pierced them. Joe reached for one of Shannon’s long curls and pulled it. She smiled at him and swept her long hair over her shoulder. A teacher held up a finger and blew sharp breaths through her clenched teeth. She cut her eyes at the students, and they floated into two long navy ribbons as they walked into the church vestibule.

Mrs. Finn lined up the squirming first graders under the arch of the rainbow painted on their classroom wall. Billy stood by a round white cloud at the rainbow’s end and licked his lips. His pink ears fluttered around his head like powdery moths. They reddened with heat when the fluorescent lights caught them.

Groups of children puddled around the baptismal font and the flat shelves holding pamphlets about the holy sacraments. Joe and the boys laughed and clapped one another on the back. They stood together like parade of lions. The girls reached down, pulling up knee socks and flattening skirt pleats. Their hair was teased into nets that framed their unlined faces. They blinked often, their eyes outlined in black.

The first graders trailed in with Billy at the end of the line. He pushed his fists into his pockets. His cowlick stood up and he licked his lips. With his hands in his pockets and his bent elbows tight against his sides, his scapula showed through his white shirt like wing plates, flapping along the hinge of his spine. He caught sight of Joe, and his cheeks colored pink. Joe lifted his arms in the air and shook his head, mouthing, ‘Chammmpion!’ Billy smiled and licked his lips until they were shining under the vestibule’s lights.

‘Who’s he?’ Shannon whispered across a few students.

‘My brother,’ Joe replied.

‘Why do his lips look like that? He looks like he’s been sucking his thumb all day,” she said, pulling her nose into a pile of wrinkles in the middle of her face. The oil of flowers was thick in the air.

Joe watched Billy’s thin chest crack into wet halves like the split breast of a chicken thawing on the kitchen counter, but he couldn’t stop even as his arms loosened at the shoulders and his legs pulled away from his pelvis. ‘Yeah,’ Joe said and laughed. ‘I’m always telling him to stop that shit. Makes him look weird.’

Billy’s back was a box of spilled toothpicks. He stood very still so he didn’t upset the pile.

The heavy church doors opened slowly, and the students shuffled forward in groups. Joe knocked his fist against Billy’s shoulder and said, ‘I’m just messing with you, man.’

Billy’s eyes picked up the shine from the floor’s slate, teardrops pooling like two tiny blue universes. His eyes and lips were wet and shining. He walked into church with his class, the cool air pulling a gritty tongue over his wet lungs and liver.