She sifted through the somber snow
Searching for her prayer
She knew she’d left it there
Amidst the screams of rage and shrugs of apathy
And after an exhaustive search
She simply sighed
“I don’t care”
All Press is Good Press
“Would you like to read your obituary?” she asked in a sickly sweet voice, like the oozing of rotten strawberries. She continued, attempting nonchalance, failing. “We write them early, so we have them ready at the exact hour we first hear about it. All we have to do is add in time and cause of death, and we often have a pretty good guess as to what cause of death will be to begin with.” All her statements end in questions. I thought that died out in Midwest malls in the eighties. Everyone I know keeps their voice even and dry and unmodulated, free of any hint of expression. Emotivity is weakness. You could say we talk like robots. Her frenetic anxiety was betrayed in just those few sentences.
I declined. Anyway, I knew what it would say.
She persisted, a savage gleaming in her artificial eyes revealing the fallacy of her mimicry of friendliness. But I’m not easily intimidated, in fact, quite the opposite.
In this ‘relationship,’ I have all the power. I’m a star; she’s a stargazer. I live, she writes about the way I live. And when I fall, she applauds, along with billions of others.
And so, my tour ends. The producers consider this fair preparation for the role I will play. The role I will hopefully play. If I can manage to not fuck up by getting fucked up. Or rather, by getting fucked up publically. I don’t know if it’s worth it. Probably not.
Some Mexican drives me to my house. My sprawling empty fortress. Not empty, full. Full of boxes, full of clothes, full of handwritten thank you notes. Thanking me for wearing this or talking about that. It’s the only thing I get paid for now anyway, that and disaster pictures, if I choose to cooperate. I don’t, and they still print them. So now sometimes I do, if I need to. I’m starting to need to often, too often. If you’ve got it, flaunt it. If you don’t have it, flaunt it. Just flaunt it.
Some woman is coming tomorrow to pick out my furniture. She has to talk to me about my “taste.” I have no taste, just the taste on my tongue of blood from chewing on my broken lip. Anyway, she means my sense of style, of where I want to live. But I don’t have that, and that’s why I hire her. That’s why I hire most people. To choose my job, my clothes, my hair, my parties, my vacations, my exercise routines, my detoxification, my rehabilitation, my prescribed relaxation, my predicted relapse, my subsequent demise.
And, to feed me lies. About how things are great, I’m great, I’m the most talented, I’m the most beautiful, they all love me. But they never realize that they don’t need to tell me how everyone loves me. Because I know which ones don’t love me, and I kill those cunts.
She sweeps up the house and she fills plates with food
Her father lays about, crippled, helpless, weak
He screams in the night with a terrible black hoarseness
And the full moon streams silver through slits in the shutters
While she rocks in chairs, and he mutters
Raspingly, desperately, hopelessly, lost
When daylight closes in she melts, bored and lonely. The laundry must be done and the house is never clean. Church bells ring, melodious and empty. “Wake up, wake up, wake up,” she whispers. Her father snores haltingly; his forehead clammy cold. She gives up, then she slips out the door all alone.
Mass has begun when she arrives. Black skirts rustle at ankles as parishioners kneel in the pews. Lines shuffle to communion, she floats in, sticks out her tongue, lets the host melt as she contemplates her sins.
And then the mass ends. Go in peace, and all that. But people don’t go, lingering idly, speaking with wide open vowels. Finally, she’s left alone to light votive candles.
“Child,” croaks the pastor, with palpable caution, “Where is your father? It’s been quite a while.”
“He’s sleeping at home, still ill,” she replies.
Glistening grass blades attest to the pouring light of a round moon. She’s stick straight, surrounded by violets on the ground. Inky hair splayed out above her tangles through the gentle buds. Her bare feet are crusty with thick streaks of mud. A pure white dress bunches up to her knees. And one hairy spider crawls, heading down the dark crevice dividing her breast.
She reaches two fingers to grab it by one leg. It dangles frantically from her talon-like nails. Wordlessly, hypnotically, she blinks before she bites.
The pond right beside her rustles, preparing to break. Out bursts a plain woman, as dry as any mountain day. She wears a pale blue veil. She glows.
“Hail, child,” she lyrically greets our fair maiden.
Unastonished, the girl we know makes no reply.
“You know why I’m here. I have a mission for you. You know in your heart there is cleansing to do. This town has forsaken our God. You alone worship sincerely. You alone faultlessly lead sinless days. But that’s not enough, now you must act on your thoughts. Go in peace.”
The figure floats back down. Water ripples.
Kneeling, our girl blesses herself.
Barks echo in alleys, attesting to pleasure, the pleasure that only stray dogs seem to feel. They release without reticence, without fear of reprisal.
“But that can’t be right,” our girl says to her patron, “they’ve sinned, they must pay.”
Both those dogs die that day.
A pretty patterned floozy prances lightly in a daze. She’s unaware of daggers shooting out of dark blue eyes. And literal daggers. So she dies.
“I knew it!” the priest croaks gleefully. “You sick, sick girl, he’s been rotting this whole time. Probably has been for weeks! You wicked thing! You belong to the Devil! I’ve known it this whole time. You tempt, you tease, you try to transmute piety through pert white breasts and long straight legs!”
The water is gel-like. Waves froth salty in her mouth. Eyes straining open underneath, she can finally see. She stops breathing as she goes. In peace
THE ART OF BEING GUILTY
If it can’t be good, then make it clever
Then try again, and make it better
There’s nothing left to hang upon
So strive to find a ledge
For Your Information
There is someone in your life for whom you would do anything. Self sacrifice is more than just a willingness to die for someone…it is also the willingness to live in Hell to make that person’s life even a little better. Those who understand this best are halfway—half oblivious to their own existence and half oblivious to the existence of others. They live in a shadow world where everything is Just.
Just, as in right. Just, as in only. They play life like music, just because. Because it is natural and whole and good.
And, of course, that makes them vulnerable.
And, of course, vulnerability provides dramatic dynamism.
That’s why we hear stories about downtrodden princesses and roses trampled on by trolls.
And that’s why I’m telling this story to you.
Once Upon a Time…
Once upon a time…there was a little girl. She was little, but she didn’t look little.
You know that’s a curse, don’t you? People don’t treat you like you’re little when you don’t look little, and you don’t understand.
Now, before I go on, I want to let you know that everyone in this story is good and everyone in this story is bad. Except for the ones who are just there. They’re just there.
So, the little girl. She lived in a crumbling castle. You hear about them all the time because they are all over the place. Generations of piles of money diminish and all families of fortune find famine. Then, all they have left is their homes…their castles.
Her family had sold everything else, but what with the real estate market as it was, no one wanted to buy a castle. Castles, even the castles owned by impoverished people, are expensive, hard to maintain, drafty, and, to be honest, a little gaudy.
So, our heroine lived in a castle with her grandfather and ate potato soup and stale bread for every meal. Their stomachs growled and growled and growled because they were always hungry, but still couldn’t force themselves to eat more than a few bites of potato soup and stale bread. They had to lie on their backs when they tried to sleep, because their stomachs were sore and they were paralyzed by the pain.
The grandfather was disintegrating into weakness. His skin was translucent with age, crinkled paper with two dull ink blots for eyes. He had a face that seemed as if it was symmetrical in his youth, but as he aged it began to slope down on the right side to the point where it almost looked as if he were the victim of a stroke because of the severity of the asymmetry.
They only lived in a few rooms: the parlor, the kitchen, and a bedroom. The scent of the parlor was all molding plaster and moth-bitten upholstery, reminders of history, like aromatic ghosts. The kitchen was warm, but as we know, it only contained potatoes and bread and some salt as far as food goes. Other than that, there was a cauldron and a marble table (they would have sold the marble table if only it weren’t too heavy for anyone to want to move it). They shared a big bed in a small room for warmth and emotional comfort, and also—you should know this—the girl was afraid of the dark. Really afraid.
They hurt too much to talk, but they loved each other so much that they were subsisting fine, until they weren’t.
Chance is Kind
The grandfather developed a broken hacking cough and gooey eyes and swollen bones. And they were running out of potatoes, which is also important, but less immediately so.
Obviously, these two didn’t get out much, but they still went to church.
Getting to church was an ordeal. They shuffled down the mountain to the town, and that part took a whole hour. Once they got to town, they stopped in a lightly trafficked piazza to clean themselves, since a few times their stench had been so off-putting that they had been impolitely asked to leave.
I didn’t tell you this before, though you may have guessed, but the girl was pretty. Really pretty and really poor. It was a bad combination for her, as it often is.
She walked in dripping wet to church every Sunday, and every Sunday she looked more and more like a woman. Altar boys dropped bibles, priests dropped syllables, and husbands tried to drop their glances so they wouldn’t get hit on the head with a hymnal by their wives. She only owned a single white dress and due to overuse, it was tattered and yellow-brown—and fairly flimsy. It would get cold in the high-ceilinged church and everyone could see her goosebumps and shudders and all the men wanted to hold her and do other things to her. This was all aggravated by the fact that mass was as boring as you would expect, which always encouraged lewd daydreams and still does today.
However, she and her grandfather were untouchable, literally and figuratively. It doesn’t matter why, really, just assume that you are right about the reason for all this. The point is, no one from town ever approached them.
That was the unfortunate case until one day, when a marshmallow shaped businessman caught a glimpse and fell in love.
Don’t be hasty with your hatred, please. He just wanted to take care of them! He pitied them. Both of them. He had no family of his own and they so obviously needed his help.
So, he introduced himself, and asked if they would like to share some brunch with him. He hadn’t found a permanent home in town yet, but if they knew of a place to eat…
So, they took him to the parlor, and, for the first time in a long time, opened the blinds.
You might feel like you know the girl and the grandfather quite well by now, but you don’t. See, people lose all their personal qualities when they are struggling the way those two were struggling, but if you get some food in them, they are completely new characters.
If you starve for a long time, it’s hard to suddenly eat a full meal, so our heroine scarfed everything down with doglike vigor and promptly threw up in her lap. She was young and didn’t understand that the vomit was connected to the eating, so she did it a second time, but that time she kept some of the food down. Even so, she felt more sick than ever, so the marshmallow businessman gave her something from his home…a hot toddy…which was supposed to make her feel better and did.
Off came the puke-ridden dress and on went a cotton slip, and the marshmallow businessman watched, uncomfortably aroused. The grandfather was all but catatonic with sugar bliss and wouldn’t have noticed any of that anyway. The marshmallow businessman softly closed the door.
The Day After
Suddenly, our heroine had energy, and with energy came a brassy urge to defy the situation in which she and her grandfather had been living. She decided to go to the piazza to wash her dress, and then consult a doctor about her grandfather.
Into town she practically skipped, all bare and smooth in a cotton shift with an armful of greenish slime. Obviously this invited stares and glares, but she went about her way.
The doctor knew immediately what was needed to cure her grandfather…I don’t remember what he was diagnosed with or what the cure was, but keep focused on the important parts please. And yet the medicine was expensive, and the girl had literally no money and no way of getting the medicine. She knew the marshmallow businessman could help and asked around about him, who he was and what he did, but no one seemed to know whom she meant.
She walked home hopeless, and he was standing behind a bush near her front door. She could have cried from happiness
She threw herself at him, full force, and he fell down. She glowed at his face and screechingly yelped for his help, help for her grandfather, not her, of course.
“Yes, but eat this first,” said marshmallow businessman.
Obediently, she ate, but not everything. She wasn’t that hungry. She wanted to get the medicine!
“Please? For me.” He cloyingly requested, staring at her with a ravenous sigh.
She ate and gagged, ate and gagged, ate and gagged, and then they ran down the hill, her jumping, him panting with exhaustion and guilty craving.
Trial and Error
The first medicine didn’t work, nor the second or third. Through all these attempts, the marshmallow businessman stared and sighed, but he would never lay a finger on the girl. However, medicine was (and is) expensive, and he was a businessman, not an oil baron, so his monetary supply was running low. And besides, he was supposed to go home soon anyway.
So, he became disenchanted by the situation, and struggled to find a way to leave. After all, even though he had no family, they weren’t his real family either. And it’s hard to want something and not have it, especially if you feel guilty for wanting something.
Meanwhile, the girl had become disgusted by the marshmallow businessman. He heaved his chest and ate her with his eyes and his sweat smelled like pepper and rotten milk. He talked loudly and often and in a completely stilted approximation of her own language since it didn’t come naturally to him. He was tiresome.
Our heroine was sly though, and she knew that if she wanted her grandfather to live and new clothes and a clean home and food to eat that this was a golden opportunity. But she really didn’t know how to make the marshmallow businessman stay and she could tell he was ready to leave.
She would do anything.
A newly married nurse dressed in plain blue dosed the grandfather and chatted with the girl in rapid rude language, so fast that the marshmallow businessman couldn’t understand a word. She told the girl what the marshmallow businessman meant with his gaping mouth and long slow blinks. She made fun of him and admired how clever the girl was for tapping into his resources so effortlessly. The girl was confused and laughed along, but eventually shared that she wasn’t sure how much longer the marshmallow businessman would help her. Well, young girls love to share juicy information that turn other girls eyes into saucers and mouths into straws, and the nurse was fairly young, though not as young as the little girl. So she explained how to procure a secure future, and the girl followed every word.
The marshmallow businessman started packing his things quietly by candlelight while the girl and her grandfather were asleep. Only, they weren’t asleep. At least, the girl wasn’t. She slipped out of bed and sailed into the marshmallow businessman’s room, barefooted and barely dressed and fully prepared.
Inside she wavered a little. He had been so nice already! He probably didn’t have much left to give! What if she died underneath his thousand poundcake weight?
But her grandfather coughed and so she sighed and so the marshmallow businessman was startled and turned around to see her there.
He staggered to the wall and she slowly slinked forward. He shuddered and hardened when she just brushed his arm. He knew her intention and knew he should stop her but wanted a memory of one little kiss to keep him satisfied for the rest of his life.
But she didn’t kiss his cheek, she didn’t kiss him at all. She touched his leg lightly and brushed her own sleeve aside, she slipped her dress downward but not all the way, she unzipped him, undid him, licked his stomach, sucked his neck, and he thought of England to keep himself at bay.
And there was a flash at the window, like a star dying.
Polaroid pictures print pretty quickly; the girl had them practically right away. And then she had marshmallow businessman money and a slight twinge of guilt for the rest of her life.