Menace to Society

I am taking a 2 week online writing class during this time of social isolation. Every day I will receive a prompt to write from. I figure I might as well put my efforts up here. They are first drafts and not well researched. I am not going to include the prompt because they are from the class and I don’t want to take the teacher’s content. These stories are fresh and raw and I want to share them with you.

 

“Marni , change your shirt. Your wings are poking through the back.”

“Oh. Sorry.” Marni ducked her head and went back upstairs to change. She was stupid to think she could pull off a racerback tanktop. Sure, it was what all the girls were wearing that summer, but she wasn’t all the girls, as her grandma never tired of reminding her. When she’d left the bedroom, her wings had stayed tucked neatly between her shoulder blades, but leave it to them to start poking out the minute she turned around. Stupid things. They had a mind of their own. Marni pulled off the tanktop and stood with her back towards the mirror, trying to look at the wings sternly.

“Could you stop showing off?” she asked them. “Could you just let me be normal for once?”

They didn’t have to say a thing for her to know the answer to that. She would never be normal. She would never be anything but a freak.

Marni couldn’t remember her mother, but she had a letter from her. She found it in a book of fairy tales that had always lived in her bookshelf. “Dear Marni,” the letter said. “You are a miracle. A girl with butterfly wings! What a magical wonderful being you are.” Marni used to read that letter over and over. But one day she made the mistake of telling her grandma about it.

“You’re mom always was a nut,” she laughed. “Should’ve been locked up, that one. Good thing she passed when she did; she was a menace to society.”

Marni knew that she would be a menace to society too, if she were to ever let anyone see her wings. Such things were not acceptable. Best case scenario, she would be locked in a lab and poked and prodded for the rest of her life. Worst case scenario, they’d rip her wings off and burn her as a witch.

She came back downstairs wearing a pink t-shirt that said Arizona in sparkle letters. “Can I meet Rachel and Gina at the mall?” she asked.

Her grandma flicked her blue lighter, lit a cigarette, and waved her off, coughing and leaving a plume of cigarette smoke encircling the air above her. Marni got on her bike and rode through town toward the old mall. Half the stores there were closed and it smelled like mold and stale popcorn, but the AC worked and it was the only thing to do in the heat of summer. Cooling off at the lake wasn’t an option. It was like stepping inside of a vat of sweat, and you never knew when a mutated fish skeleton might float by.

Marni didn’t think it had always been like that. She had a distant memory of getting into the bed of a big truck with a bunch of neighbor kids and going to the lake, and the water had seemed cool and clean. But it was warm and murky this summer, and that’s the way it was last summer too. Things always seemed to be getting worse, but no one wanted to talk about it.

For example, they could no longer eat vegetables for dinner, because of some toxin or something. One morning she had found a piece of fruit in the backyard—she couldn’t remember which kind, but she tossed it into the garbage heap because she was too afraid of what it might do to her. Half the roads were melting and so you never knew when your car might get stuck, and if you did, you had to abandon it forever because it was part of the landscape now. Junked cars lit the byways like cell phone towers of old, almost blending in, almost part of the scenery, but not quite.

In town, Marni watched an old man yelling at a child. She winced and screeched to a stop. Used her leg as a kickstand. Everywhere, horns were honking, drivers sticking their middle fingers out of their windows. “Get out of the way!” A driver yelled at her. She looked again at the kid. He was only three or four and looked so sad and helpless. But she was in the way, allegedly, so she balanced and pedaled away.

At the part of town where the buildings got more broken down and dilapidated, Marni pedaled faster. She didn’t want to read the insults and racial slurs spray painted on the crumbling walls. She closed her eyes. In this part of town, she knew, they kept children in cages, separated from their parents. With her eyes closed, she flipped over a boulder and landed sprawled against the asphalt.

She lay there for a long time. She lay there and a shadow crossed the sun. A bird with white wings. She squinted at the bird. Sat up and shielded her eyes. It was a bird, wasn’t it? Was it a bird, or was it a child with wings?

Could it be so easy? Could she just fly away from this place? It was a question she would keep asking herself all that day. She would ask herself at the mall, when her friends made rude comments about her baggy t-shirt. She would ask herself that night at home, burnt mac n cheese and Grandma shouting at her to scrape the pan good. It was a question she would keep as the world kept dying all around her until finally one day she felt a lift beneath her shoulder blades and answered it herself.

I Was Wrong

I am taking a 2 week online writing class during this time of social isolation. Every day I will receive a prompt to write from. I figure I might as well put my efforts up here. They are first drafts and not well researched. I am not going to include the prompt because they are from the class and I don’t want to take the teacher’s content. These stories are fresh and raw and I want to share them with you. 

 

In my fever, I thought that I had dreamed you.

Shadowed, you perched against my windowsill

strange bird against a sooted sky.

Maps and fortunes encircled your wrists and ankles

I twined myself, painted gold stars above your eyelids.

Charred flesh we burned through bedrooms

Shattered  glass shimmering blood at my ring finger

streaming stars your mouth hot, broken ballerina, my hair brushed the floor.

You swept me up.

Singed kisses blackened my mouth.

Sometimes I wanted to peel off my skin and walk away bones white and unattached.

“You’ll regret this,” you said when I was leaving.

“I don’t think so,” I said as I left.

black feathers

I am taking a 2 week online writing class during this time of social isolation. Every day I will receive a prompt to write from. I figure I might as well put my efforts up here. They are first drafts and not well researched. I am not going to include the prompt because they are from the class and I don’t want to take the teacher’s content. These stories are fresh and raw and I want to share them with you. 

Elizabeth opened her eyes and focused for a moment on the dust motes that seemed to rise against the wall. Ordinarily she would spread out her arms and her legs, just to feel the straw mattress beneath her body. She would make angels in the linens of her parents’ bed. But her skin burned and ached. She held up her hand and her fingernails were still black, blacker than before even.

The plague doctor had stopped coming by, with his terrifying mask and his bag of potions. No one came in anymore, except for her mother, who looked thin and pained, as though her soul had left her body and it was occupied now by something mostly dead. She came and emptied Elizabeth’s bowls of blood and left her with water and the mostly emptied bowl.

Now the door opened and Elizabeth’s mother shoved her littlest brother into the room. “He’s got it now too,” she murmured. “Shove over Lizzy. Make room.”

“I can’t move,” Elizabeth tried to say through tears, but her mother roughly pulled down the blanket and the bed screeched as John lay down beside her, sucking his thumb. “Mama, please stay.”

“You know I can’t. The others need me. Take care of him.” She moved briskly, closing the door behind her.

John was only three years old, and all he ever did was cry and wet the blankets on the floor where the children usually slept. Elizabeth eyed him coldly. He sucked his thumb and looked at her with big brown eyes.

“How do they know you have it?” Elizabeth asked. It hurt to talk, but she also hadn’t realized until now how much she missed it, talking, like she missed the flowers and the clouds and hiding behind the wood piles with her cousins. She missed everything. She had been in this bed forever. That it had once seemed a luxury, this bed. It had now become her prison.

John lifted his arm and she saw it there in his armpit, the plague boil, black and egg shaped. It made her want to cry, but she hadn’t the energy. “Don’t pee the bed,” she said sternly. “If you do you’ll have to sit in it.”

But he would pee the bed. She knew it as she knew that she was going to die, that no doctor and no God could save her, and that it would happen soon, probably before the sun went down. She could already see the black angels in the corners of her vision, pointing, planning. Black wings like crows. They were waiting to carry her away.

“Do you see them too?” she asked John, and he nodded, eyes wide. “They won’t hurt us,” she said, “they’re just here to bring us to heaven.” But she knew there was no heaven. She knew it when she closed her eyes and saw red cows in a field, wide expanses on fire, flames on the inside lids of her eyes. A flurry of black feathers. She knew quite a lot, suddenly. That she would die, and that John would too, and maybe more of them, maybe them all.

But she mustn’t let John know. He was too little. So she told him stories about heaven until his eyes began to close, and when she felt the warm urine at her charred legs, she continued on and on and on.

Just this

I never wrote to purge. Perhaps this has been my weakness. No great glots of self loathing or chalices of hope. I meditate on every word and there is little room for play. Even my earliest journals (grade 4) were sarcastic or ironic and I was never willing to fully bleed glitter and crocodile tears on the page. Maybe this was my practiced blockage; I hold back, I am unwilling afraid to explore, to make a mess, and I am embarrassed about the messes (Oh spilled glitter and macaroni and strands of dusty glue) I have put down. I want to be dignified, but I want to write too, and I hold myself back and that is a road block but it is also the reason I am working toward change.

Sage

Yesterday, I was leaving to take my son to a birthday party. We were running a little late and I managed to back into my garage door, breaking it and rendering it inoperable. Today I was cutting into a pomegranate when the knife jumped and sliced deep into two fingers. I was holding them in a (reddening) washcloth when the man came to fix the garage door.

“What happened?” he asked when he saw my hand.

I told him and laughed as I pointed at the garage door. “I’m having a rough few days,” I said.

This man, who spoke with a heavy accent answered, “Yes, I know how that is. We all go through black lines. I recently went through a black line myself. But you know, you can’t stay in the black line. You can’t put your head down and…” he mimicked crying. “Because then…” again, he made motions with his hands, like trying to grip a dribbling ball.

“You attract more of it.”

“Yes! Exactly.”

I love that. I took it inside with me while he repaired my garage door. I hold it still. A black line. Like a strike-out covering your life like a palimpsest.

So I will take this lesson: Be mindful. Slow down. Pay attention. And there is this: If I hadn’t broken the garage door, I wouldn’t have connected today with this sage. And that, I think, would have been a shame.

 

Into the Desert

I stayed in Simi Valley longer than necessary, especially since when it was time for me to go, I saw that my driving time had increased by over an hour. Also, my route changed, freeing me from heavy traffic on the 210. I say the 210 because I’m originally from Southern California, and Southern Californians place the article before the highway name. I still say the 10, the 405, the 605, but I say 80, I say 50, I even say 5 because I never drove that highway until I was a Northern Californian, and Northern Californians cut to the chase when it comes to talking about their freeways. My GPS took me through what to me has always been uncharted territory: Pearblossom Highway, straight through the town of Pearblossom. My husband had warned me that the drive would be bleak, and indeed the drive home, along the 10, was trafficked and uninspiring, aside from the dinosaurs in Cabazon, which I hadn’t expected, surrounded as they were by outlet malls and casinos. But that came much later, after the weekend, after hours of yoga and offerings of bliss.
The town of Pearblossom exists along a cool strip of desert: a shock of early Joshua Trees and yuccas, wooden structures, brown-skinned white people with long beards and cowboy hats. In retrospect I might have stopped, but at the time I thought if I kept driving I might still make it to the early check-in yoga practice, which turned out not to be the case.
No worries, I kept driving as the road became a smooth series of dips and undulations. I don’t like driving. I was in a pretty bad accident several years ago and it has made me shy on the road, not even to mention all the asshole drivers and the police cameras at every intersection, but this road was lovely to drive along. I went fast, cresting and falling. The road like an ocean, like a heartbeat. I stopped for gas. I thought this might be the last gas station I would see, as it seemed as if I was entering deep desert.
Then suddenly, the desert spit me out. I was near San Bernadino, surrounded by fast food chains and traffic and strip malls. I got out of there as fast as I could and was happy when I turned onto the 62 and the landscape again began to settle itself. I was listening to Like Water for Chocolate on my CD player and I pulled over to read my screenshotted directions, and I read the word Kickapoo Trail at the same time the audiobook reader said “Kickapoo Indian.” That kind of thing happens to me sometimes; I drive a lot and listen to a lot of audiobooks when I drive and there are moments of synchronicity where I see a sign that says, for instance, “Wholesale,” at the exact moment the reader reads the word. But Kickapoo seemed random as hell; it had to mean I was heading deep into something magical, and indeed I was.
The sun was setting when I arrived in Pioneertown. I was alone on the road, or maybe I was alone on the moon. I ejected my audiobook and found a classic rock station (or anyway it was a station that was playing Aerosmith) and I drove along this dirt road on the moon with my music and my sleepy exhilaration. It had been a longer drive than I had counted on, but I could see the lodge up the hill. I paused for a jackrabbit, and then I made my way past the windmill and the Joshua trees.

to be continued…