Numb

The cello hums a warm melody through the laptop speakers.  I am no stranger to this sound.  My lungs move with the instrument’s faint swell-drop, characteristic of its hollow, wooden body.

The ocean undulates ferociously.  Waves crashing against the rock-hard barriers that keep water away from the shore.

Meanwhile, on land, all is dry.  The villagers have no embellished tales of fish, extravagant beasts washed to shore in the night’s storm.  They know the legends of mermaids and sharks as large as ocean liners, fictitious feathers of hope that something interesting might happen, if they pray hard enough.  They gaze at the black clouds above them: perhaps tonight is the night.

The floods come hard and fast, spilling jellyfish and bottles and unanchored ships onto the sand.  They bury themselves beneath the dust, sculpting homes of the wet, grainy clay.  The salty ocean swallows them before dawn.

***

            Bluish laser lights cannot penetrate the thick, graphite brick that rests somewhere inside my skull.  They can blind me all they want, but they will never disrupt the safe, neutral mass of minerals I have allowed to accumulate between my ears.

…or so I think.

The artificial sun is hot enough to form crevices where there was once a flat expanse of gray.  Heated rays spread lonely particles across the wasteland to where they, too, will transform this uniform object into something unsightly.

All the earth’s work, falling to waste.  This brick took years to form, fitting the mold just so.  At this rate it will never form a house; it will see the sad day where it is mechanically separated into slender cylinders and divided equally among the wood.

***

            The percussion of pots and pans affects me more than the steepest high note, the loudest shout to leave my lungs.  My vessel-lined alveoli shrivel into their pink mothers, asking why this chaotic noise has to happen to them.

Iron lungs are no longer iron, for iron rusts too fast.  They are bricks laid around a wooden frame, massive twelve-by-twelve squares too heavy to be mobile.  The patient must lie inside, wrapped in the safety of the oxygenated cocoon.

“What a sad way to live,” the villagers say. “What a lonely way to go.”

There comes a time when the patient must choose how or if he or she wishes to communicate, to know the humans outside without choking on their pollution.  To leave the lung would spell danger.

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Lunch at Noon

He tossed together:

Lettuce,

Mushrooms,

Cheddar,

And peas.

Salad.

 —

He stacked hungrily:

Buttery bread,

Fatty ham,

Butter,

And onions.

Sandwich.

He poured carefully:

Coffee,

White milk,

In a glass,

A fragile glass.

Latté.

 —

He stepped

On the stairs.

And

            He

                      Fell.

(Confuse your friends with the original version.)

The Classy Coat Club

It was a sunny day in September when mommy gripped my arm, whisking me away from the thronging crowd, and into the department store.  It was three stories high, I remember, with escalators and ramps twisting up its middle.  It was called Kelly’s, like Barbie’s sister.

Except, unlike Kelly, nothing was cute.  The dull-colored suits hung stiff, cardboard-like on their oddly-shaped hangers.  Massive plastic women with painted-on lips wore some of them, trying to make the customers think they were fashionable or mysterious because their hats covered their eyes.  Why would you want to wear something that makes you blind?  They couldn’t see how silly they looked, with their legs all spread apart and their elbows tensed.  Mommy grabbed my arm, again.

            Come this way, we’re going to the little girls’ section.

I couldn’t imagine it would be any better than this, and it wasn’t.  I stood still as mommy locked me in the dressing room, surrounded by glimmering mirrors and the shimmering fabric of maybe ten ruffly dresses.  Even before I tried them on, I knew I would hate all of them.  Mommy knocked on the door, reminding me I had to come out and twirl around for her once I chose an outfit.  She sounded impatient, so I chose a green dress.  I think impatient people have a permanent green light blinking in their heads: go! go! go!

Oh, does that not look pretty with your hair.  Twirl around for me.  Yes.  Um, we might have to get it altered around the cuffs, but yes.  We’re taking this one.

Happy that I had done the right thing, I went back into the room and put on my normal clothes, which had been picked out for me pretty much the same way the dress had been.  It was only a matter of time before mommy had my arm in her hand, and we would be on our way to the pop shop, I hoped.  I didn’t mind shopping as long as we stopped to get a root beer.  Maybe mommy would let me get a float.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw it.  It was green, like my dress, but it was a green I liked.  It had a whole bunch of flowers on it, and, oh, winter was coming.  It would match my new dress just perfectly.  I would be the prettiest girl at the Christmas party and, oh mommy, could we get that coat, too?  Please?

She said yes, because I had done such a great job of trying on a nice dress.

***

            I wore the coat out of the store.  Mommy didn’t mind, because it was “tailored just right” and made me look like a “little lady.”  She even said we could get a float.  As I sat at the stool kicking my feet, I felt a tap on my shoulder.  It was another girl, wearing a coat that was like mine, but red.  She was older than me, and had shiny black hair.

“Hey.  I see you are fond of classy coats.  Yours isn’t bad, and we’re looking for new members.”

I asked her who “we” were, because I wasn’t going to let myself be stolen and forced to work in a sweatshop.  She told me she was the leader of the Classy Coat Club, which sounded like a group of girls who walked around while wearing coats.  Of course, their meetings were only as long as the weather would allow.  Sometimes they would get pops, and other days they would go to the matinée at the movie theater.  The only rule was you had to wear your coat, and that your hair couldn’t look like a bear had attacked it.  Her name was Joan, and she lived just a few blocks from us.  I asked mommy if I could go visit her sometimes.

Yes, but please be home before dinner.

And that’s how we were formed, the Classy Coat Club.  I felt really grown up, probably how mommy felt when she became a part of The Parents’ Organization at my school.  I was ready to drink floats with them, and to go to the movies like some of the other girls on my block.  As I waved good-bye to Joan, I started calculating in my head all the quarters I would have to earn to pay for these endeavors.

In the September sun, I sweltered.  I didn’t care, though, because I was now a member of the Classy Coat Club.

 

Gone Batty

September 25th marks fifty years since Lance Lambert, a native of the Cowper, Indiana, began carrying with him a giant, wooden bat.  Tilting the wood over his shoulder, he carries his bat proudly with him from the market, to the barber, to church, and not to many other places.  In Indiana, there aren’t many other places you can go – what’s necessary is there, and everyone gets by without as much as the occasional specialty coffee.

Lance Lambert is an eccentric man, but his ways have become the norm in the Cowper.  He served as the leader of a new group, numbering to five-hundred at the last census, which carries with them a bat wherever they please.

“We’re protecting our rights,” they say, and they are.

September 25th also marks fifty years since the assault weapons ban, which prevents gun-owners from bringing any weapon larger than a pistol outside their homes.  The mandate was voted into effect in 2020, after a town official opened fire on the Islamic State Convention.  While we will not disclose his name, we can recall his words regarding the incident:

“They were everywhere, attacking me at all sides.  I had to protect myself from these criminals, may God bless them.”

The shooting, which left forty dead and ten injured, was one of many events that lead to the restriction of assault-grade firearms in a public setting.

“It’s a violation of my rights, as far as I’m concerned,” argues Leland Leland, owner of the Leland Retirement Community, “Guns serve no different purpose now than they did when the Declaration was signed, and they’re not much more powerful, either.  The only different thing is the types of criminals, which are ranging from blacks to Asians to terrorists.”

The diversity of Cowper has increased over the past decade, causing the overall Caucasian population to fall to a staggering 95%.  It comes as no surprise: the Cowper school district is one of the best in the state, having ranked top in both math and reading for the past fifteen years.  The growing racial gap of the region, however, has struck fear in the heart of another long-time citizen, Randall Gale.

“When I was about fifteen, in the year 2008,” he recalls, “our high school became segregated, and you can see all the problems it’s caused.  If you go over there, you will see they [terrorists] are training our kids to go over there and join them.  They’re even teaching them their code languages.  It’s no surprise I need to defend myself, when my own grandkids are being taught how to kill.”

The language, French, is one that is growing in popularity among global businesses and trade.  It is also the primary communication language of people from both Europe and Asia, when English is not their native tongue.  Other high-need languages taught in the Cowper Schools are Arabic, Chinese, and Japanese; all which are necessary for business of any nature.

While both the sale and carriage of weapons have undergone a supreme makeover, it is important to remind readers that they are not entirely illegal.  According to the Cowper County Police, there is little chance of firearms being restricted any further than the home.

“There are some people who would like to see them gone altogether, but there are amendments out there that won’t let that happen,” comments Cowper County Sheriff Daniel Baker, “We’re simply trying to keep the terror and the fighting at a minimum.  We don’t need any more dead innocents, no matter what race or religion they are.  The bats can put someone in the hospital; but the rifles – the rifles could kill on contact.”

What does Lance Lambert, now eighty, have to say?

“The day I stop carrying my bat is the day I die.  You would have to be blind to not see those n—lovers out there, watching my every step, even at Meijers.’  They might have taken my guns, but they haven’t taken my freedom.”

Tomatoes

I had never really given it much thought, when I decided to pull all of the little tomato plants from my garden.

It was a dreary day in August, as the burning haze of late summer simmered into a cool, damp, gray September.  The tomatoes, lined in rows behind my house, were less plants than they were corpses, hanging useless and inviting the pluck of winter’s sinister hand.  Their stems, withered and yellow, shrunk from the sun; hopeless limbs despairing to cling to that final breath of life.  I gazed at them, my face as bleak as the sky.  This year, winter would come early.

It was not strenuous, the work of deracinating each malnourished creature.  As I pulled, I reminisced about the lives they had given me, and their potential in the ground.  Six in all, the tomato vines had produced for my family but thirteen tomatoes, gobbled up in one Sunday evening feast.  Covered in the sweet essences of raspberry, onion, and cream, their acidic flesh slid down our throats with a velocity that more than doubled that of their harvest, their wash, and their preparation.  They were more effort than they were worth, the little things.  The phrase, short and guileless, was what I surmised I would later tell my daughters, who would come home from school surprised and, I thought with regret, sad.

These plants were their ideas, their work, and I was responsible for their untimely demises.

Still in the skinny, withered trunks, I speculated, could be some stubborn, healthy genes that only a few months in the earth could pull to fruition.  That is what I would tell the girls when they held me hostage in the dining room; in the foyer, even, as they were removing their shoes.  That is what I would tell them, when they asked me about their precious plants.  I was their mother, of course, and mothers always have top authority when it comes to yards, gardens, and the little plants that sprout within them.

That is what I would tell them, that is what I would tell them.  I found myself lost in a cycle of thought, tossing the strawlike figures into the yard.  I might say this, I might say that.

The creak of brakes signaled my young ladies who, heads turned from the sun, marched inflexibly up the straight, hard driveway.  Hastily, I removed my gloves and scurried into the home, through the back door so as to not be detected by the hyper-sensitive percipacities of their youthful ears.  The door clicked and, with the cautiousness of a cat, I assumed my role:

“Hello, girls!” I greeted them in my usual fashion.  Perky without worry, but not so energetic as to arise suspiscion.

“Hey, hi,” My oldest and youngest, only two years apart, responded in tandem.

They walked to their rooms, and I was left to wonder at their lack of interest.  Did they despise me?  Were they planning my own demise?  What slimy assumption had slithered into their heads?

At dinner, as we dug into the lackluster salad, I theorized at their lack of alacrity to paint the meal red.  Their eyes dull, they drenched it with the same gray oiliness as any other day, letting it pass their lips and sink into their stomachs without so much as a,

“This dinner looks so nice.  I love stroganoff.”