Saturday, March 25, 2006


It was very important for Alistair to look impeccable. Standing in front of the mirror, he added a dab of eyeliner, pulled out the powder again-- his skin just wasn't pale enough no matter how little sun he saw, a source of constant frustration. He bared his teeth experimentally. Still as white as ever; now those he worked hard on. His hair was starting to thin, unfortunately, although color wasn't a problem. Naturally brown-haired, he used black dye to perfect his look.

Of course it couldn't appear too contrived; that would ruin the whole thing. His reputation was staked on his professional looks, really. Alistair Morgan, always... impeccable. "Impeccable," he said thoughtfully, relishing the word. He looked, he decided, good enough. The hard part was that he had to stay subtle, or people would write him off as a crazy man. The way he looked now was good. Not perfect, but almost.

Satisfied, Alistair swirled out of his house and drove to the bar. "A very Bloody Mary on the rocks. As usual." He examined his nails; they had healthy white margins still. He was improving.

"How's it hangin', Al?" said the bartender, Dominic, handing over the drink and noting Alistair's appearance with approval.

"Well," said Alistair loftily, sucking on the straw's tip. "I must say this drink is rather good, Dominic. Better than your usual."

"Well, we got a B-type. Much rarer than the O's, and more gourmet."

Alistair was impressed.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

This WILL be edited-- it's been consuming lots of my time

Colin was the Reverend's son, so he had access to the church. Since childhood he had liked to go in during the week, to sit on a pew and bask in the quiet. Once at a young age he had gone up to the shrine and tried to hug Jesus on the cross, to give him some comfort. His father had been very angry when he had caught him. "Colin! What are you doing? Show some respect!" He had been belted and could hardly sit for a week. Fifteen years later, thoughts of that still made Colin mad.

That incident had tainted his thoughts of God, in a way. His father hadn't helped. The Reverend worked all week on his speeches. He would pace their small house while reciting in a booming voice, keeping Colin, his brother Devon and his sister Mary from playing, or even doing their homework. When they disturbed the Reverend, he hit them with the flat of his hand. It wasn't meant as anything more than a shock; the Reverend was not a violent man. But he did not shy away from punishing. The Reverend was righteous.

Agnes, the Reverend's wife, was quiet. The Reverend didn't hurt her, ever. Agnes he loved. Agnes loved the Reverend, too. More than the children, they thought sometimes. They would escape to the fort in the backyard, Devon, Mary and Colin. Devon liked to skateboard, and Mary liked to sew. Colin was the only one that thought the church was a fun place to be.

When his father had found out that he went there often, he hid the key. It was a family key and usually hung by the door with all the other ones. Now it went around the Reverend's neck. Colin thought that this, too, was unfair. If the church was God's place, why should he not be allowed to spend time with God? The church, unlike many, was not often open to the public, and besides when anyone else was there it was no fun. Colin liked being alone with God and the stained-glass windows and the unhappy Jesus on the cross.

Years passed; Devon graduated high school, then Mary did, then Colin. Devon fled to San Francisco; Mary merely moved across town. Colin went to the state university, for lack of anything better to do. He didn't do a lot in college; he wasn't very social. He managed to make a few friends, but mostly worked hard. By the end of it he was at least financially stable.

Agnes, his mother, died young-- brain tumor. The family reconvened and mourned as one. The Reverend spoke at the funeral, of course. Mary played the flute, Devon the acoustic guitar. Colin gave a piano rendition of a church song his mother had liked. Several people he had not seen since high school complimented him; he had grown into a man, somehow serene-looking with his gleaming brown skin and chunky glasses. Mary and Devon pretended nothing had changed; in a way nothing had. They were all still the same people, even if (as Devon said) half-orphaned.

The Reverend was stoic. You could tell he was wounded by his wife's death, but outwardly he acted the same. There was just something underneath, a trembling somehow.

He died five months later. Everyone said it was very touching, very tragic, very sad but sweet. Devon, Mary and Colin got together again. They spoke at the funeral, sifting their lives for good things their father had done. He had been kind. He had wanted the best for them. He had taught them ethics. He had taught them to love God. The congregation clapped and several women dabbed at their eyes. The church would miss its Reverend.

While emptying the house of his parents Colin found a key-- a large, stately one which he placed immediately. Seeing the key didn't depress him, or swamp him with thoughts of his childhood and parents. But he pocketed it. He wasn't sure why.

Later that week Colin found the key in his pocket. He added it to his keychain, where it stuck out like a giant among dwarves. He didn't use it; he lived miles from the church. Colin worked at computers, which was tedious but paid well. He took up smoking and bicycling. His siblings got married and had children; at length, at last, he found a girlfriend.

Harriet had impossibly small elbows and a petite frame. She was intellectual and she and Colin were well matched. They were a quiet pair that kept to themselves. Harriet had sisters, and the families got along, but neither of them had many friends.

Eventually Colin and Harriet married. They got along so well that there was no point in trying to find anyone else. They loved each other, but it was a very mature love, with none of the passion of youth (although they were both under thirty).

One day Harriet noticed Colin's key. "What is this, Colin?"

"It's the key to my dad's church," said Colin. "Their current Reverend has one, too, of course, but this was my dad's. I got it when he died."

"What kind of fellow locks a church?" asked Harriet skeptically.

Colin told her about his father.

Harriet was calm and collected and suggested very rationally that they go to the church and do something that would "sort of symbolically spit on your father's grave. Deface the church somehow."

"We can't do that, Harriet. Just because I still have anger toward my dad doesn't mean I want to disfigure the house of God."

"Something that won't leave lasting marks, then, but will be the kind of thing we can look back on forever. And sort of feel secretly glad that we did it. In the church."

"Sex," suggested Colin immediately.

They drove to Colin's childhood hometown. It was eight p.m. on a Thursday; the church was locked. Colin unlocked it and turned on the lights (there were a few). The pews gleamed. Christ writhed on his cross. They couldn't see the designs of the stained-glass windows in the dark, but Colin had them memorized.

They lay awkwardly between the rows of pews and did the deed. The floor was hard and cold. Then they got up (having left no traces), grabbed hands and went out, Harriet locking the door. They drove home laughing all the way.

Things were better after that.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Miranda [an assignment from January, based on a book- guess which]

Miranda is something of a tortured soul. She is understood by no one and loved by few-- namely, her parents and, cautiously, her older brother Eric. Liam and Alexandra had dreamed of having seven children, but after Miranda they stopped. They couldn't risk another like her.

Miranda sucks up money like a vacuum cleaner. It's not really her fault; her parents want cures, no matter how expensive. As it stands now, she is a burden and little else. A girl who can't control a single muscle in her body is not exactly a big contributor to the good of society.

When they take her outside for some sun, the pattern is always the same: Miranda is happy, then confused, then angry. Pedestrians shrink from her as though she were a monster. Liam or Alexandra or Eric, pushing the wheelchair, offer up apologetic smiles and continue quickly, ashamedly, on. Without Miranda they are fine, of course. Liam is a trim, gray-templed professor with a false air of competence. Alexandra is a bronze beauty (so to speak); she looks almost like an Amazon warrior, and often acts like one. Eric inherited his mother's height and muscular build. He's a chronic basketball player and popular at his high school, where he is a senior. He doesn't have a girlfriend, consistently turning down the offers. His dewy-eyed parents suspect that it's because he needs to spend the time caring for his sister. No one knows that Eric is gay.

Miranda, who for lack of anything better to do spends her time observing, has guessed. But she doesn't betray her brother's secret, of course. She wonders sometimes if even he realizes it. She believes he can solve his problems on his own.

Miranda has cultivated an interest in the arts. Her parents often sit her down in front of the television set for hours. They don't know what channels Miranda enjoys, but when they're nearby and commercials come on they change them. Thus Miranda has learned how to (in theory) make a score of exotic dishes; she could name a trivia fact about every character on Friends, Seinfeld, Will & Grace, Everybody Loves Raymond, Sex & the City, and Buffy; she understands which brushes create which effects on an easel; she can tell you how many people died in all the major battles of the Civil War, and she has seen and subsequently memorized hundreds of music videos. When Eric matter-of-factly tells their parents that Coke can remove stains, she thinks of Myth Busters and knows he is wrong. But she has to keep that knowledge to herself. She can't even control the convulsive movements of a finger or an eye.

It's hard, being totally unable to communicate. Inside, Miranda sometimes has flashes of insight that she wants to share. More trivially, she wishes she could at least tell her family that she hates lentils and likes pasta, or that the Disney channel makes her want to smash the TV. She feels as though she lives in a box that she can see out of but that no one can see into. To be subjected to countless daily humiliations, not being able to do even the simplest of things for herself, is terribly frustrating. Sometimes she wants to kill her caretakers; she has a foolish belief that when they are gone she will be freed. Then it passes and she is grateful she has no physical ability to destroy. She needs them, her prison wardens, after all.

Miranda is not only interested in the arts, but is, mentally, an artist. She tells herself stories over and over in her head, trying to ward off the inevitable moment when they will be forgotten, slipping away like impatient children dressed in gorgeous silks. She imagines objects in the house rearranged in such a way that every facet of beauty is drawn out and proudly displayed. None of her dreams are ever realized.

Over the long fifteen years of her life so far, Miranda has developed a world in her mind, one so real she can lose herself in it. In this world she is accepted. In this world reside creatures taht take her aside and tell her secrets: philosophical, cynical dragons. One in particular, although nameless, is a close friend of Miranda's. They sit and smoke and he tells her about his travels. He is old and wise and has been to a million places. Now he simply remains at home watching over his family.

The funny thing is that sometimes the dragon's stories are true. What he has told her of Paris corresponds exactly with the TV show on 1920s France. What he says of physics is reaffirmed by honored scientists. He tells the truth, and it's still the truth in the world outside Miranda. She loves to make these cross-connections.

At those times she is happy.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

this is a whiny poem by me about me

my creativity is very limited
when I read other people's writing
or when I listen to music
I realize that those people can come up with ideas
in a way that I cannot
my ideas are not amazing
occasionally I have an epic idea
or a cute one
but even those are not amazing
or really very original
my ideas are usually specific moments
(such as someone having sex in a church)
while they come up with truly creative ideas
thus my creativity is limited
and back to the beginning again.

It came with a price

Carol wanted a lot of things. Nearing thirty, she was married with a daughter, middle-class, working at a desk job (9 to 5). Her life was not miserable but not joyful, exactly. Her daughter was four years old, named Kristen.

Lee, Carol's husband, loved her. He was an architect and had on occasion slept with a secretary, but Carol was (so he was sure) his soulmate and he took care not to jeopardize their relationship too much. He was towheaded, and Kristen had inherited his hair.

What Carol wanted, and she was too ashamed to tell anyone this, was money. They had enough money to scrape by, and they weren't going hungry, but Carol wanted more. She wanted a swimming pool, and before it was filled with the clear blue water she wanted to stuff it with crinkly green cash and she wanted to swim in it. She wanted to be able to casually donate billions to charities and still have billions left for herself, to buy every book and record and article of clothing and television set and computer upgrade and God knew what, she just wanted to have the wealth. She told no one this, but she knew that if Satan himself came to her and offered her a trade, her soul for ten billion dollars, she would accept it with no hesitation.

There was no free lunch, she had learnt that early on, and she knew, logically, that there would be a price even for the money. Her soul, if one believed in fairy tales. More likely it would be her free time that flitted away, or her health, or her relationship with Lee or Kristen. None of that mattered to her. Once she made enough money to last her a lifetime, she would be able to fix up those things using it. She had some fifty years left in her life and if earning money cost her ten, well, she'd have forty more afterwards to enjoy it with.

She dreamed about the devil sometimes. She had been raised Protestant, although she wasn't religious; she disliked Christmas and Easter, and they celebrated them only for Kristen's benefit. God was never in her dreams, but the devil was. He didn't scare her much. He didn't look like the devil in the storybooks; he was just a man, but somehow, in the hazy way of dreams, she knew what he really was. He greeted her casually always, and she nodded and smiled. He was like a boss that she was a little bit afraid of. He never threatened or bribed her.

One Tuesday Carol found a lump in her breast. A frantic rush to the hospital later, she was diagnosed with a benign tumor, not cancerous. The scare had shaken her up, and she downgraded to working part-time, bonded with her daughter more. Kristen turned five and they celebrated her birthday. Lee went on a business trip for two months and returned glowing, happy and slightly richer. They were saving. Carol was glad she only had one child: college educations cost so much these days. It was lucky she hadn't gotten cancer after all, or the hospital bills would have been debilitating.

They made enough to buy a second house, and this made Carol excited. They could rent out the smaller one and make all the money back, and then some. Things were going well.

More time passed: five years, to be exact. Kristen turned ten. Lee began to get gray hair. Carol wanted cosmetic surgery, but she told herself it would happen later, once she had enough that the cost would seem like spare change.

A year later, while reluctantly writing a check, she realized that that would never happen. Even if she had billions, like her dream, she would scrimp with pennies. Because pennies added up. That was the kind of mind Carol had.

At that point she quit her job, treated the family to a month in Hawaii, and began to go shopping every other Sunday. It was difficult at first, but within months she began to think of money as simply a means to an end, not as an end itself.

She got pregnant again in September. Her life was still not miserable; it had, she told herself, improved, become more joyful.

Carol still had a coin collection, though, and could spend hours poring over the currency. And she still dreamed about the devil, sometimes.

Monday, March 06, 2006


"A little to the right. Just a hair more. Yes. Yes! Right there. Now don't move, just purse your lips-- no, not that much. Yes, like that. Well, close enough. No!"

Jaime sighed, rolling her eyes. She didn't mind humoring Galen, but this was a little over the top. He was a damn good photographer, she had to concede that, and Jaime didn't have much of an eye for art. She had managed to convince him to let her wear gauzy fabric draped over her-- "like some kind of Greek goddess, you know." He had wanted to take nudes. It wasn't that he just liked to look at her body. She knew Galen; he was a romantic, he thought clothing ruined the beauty of humanity. He had often told her with earnest conviction that he belonged in the era of the Renaissance. "When are you going to take the shot already?"

He shook his head and snapped a photo reluctantly. "That one won't make it into the collection, you know. Becuase your head was off. It all has to be perfect."

"I'm not a statue," Jaime said.

"You're a living, breathing model and that is where the magic is in this thing we call photography." Galen stuck another canister of film into his camera and adjusted his thick, black-rimmed glasses. "If I were a painter, it wouldn't matter. I could make up your posture. But photography is about things that are real and those who look at these photos will know that you actually moved your head like this, that you actually were in this pose. It's real. Non-fiction. Let's try it again."

"Galen, I need a break." Jaime turned her back, shrugged off the gauze, pulled on a T-shirt. "This is exhausting. It's so much easier just to look through the, the viewfinder and press that little button than it is to manipulate your whole body, you know? You should try modeling sometime."

Galen laughed self-deprecatingly. "Not me."

"Why don't you get your girlfriend to do this?" she asked desperately.

"She doesn't mind me having you pose for me."

"So? Why can't you take pictures of her instead?"

Galen put the camera down on the table, like a precious thing, and faced Jaime. He lifted a hand, ran his thumb down her cheek. She froze. "Because although Melissa is gorgeous, she's not beautiful the way you are. You are so goddamn photogenic, Jaime, you have no idea. Lissa... her beauty is in the way she moves, the way she lives, and it doesn't hold in photos. Yours does. It's in your lines."

Jaime colored. "My body isn't that great." She was tall and slender, with small breasts and a jaw just a bit too prominent.

"Your body is amazing," he scoffed. "It's not perfect, of course, but no one is perfect. If you were perfect it would ruin everything. You're just right, believe me."

She relented and smiled a little, looking at him. He looked like Buddy Holly, with those glasses and that curly dark hair. He really did belong in another era. Most of his photographs were black and white, yet another testament to that. She liked hearing his sincere praise; his speaking habits were so clear, with so little hesitation and stumbling over words. That was the thing about Galen. He was so literate, somehow, and he always knew what he wanted to get across.

A knock on the door. "Come in," said Galen, and Melissa entered. She was curvy, thick-waisted, with chin-length curling brown hair and a lipsticky grin. She was more or less the opposite of Jaime's blond delicacy.

"Not working, I guess?" she said conversationally.

"We're taking a break," Jaime enunciated. She wiped her mouth and glanced down at herself: her legs and feet were bare. Sometimes she wished Melissa wasn't so trusting.

"How goes the photography? I brought you some apples." She was, Jaime saw, carrying a brown paper bag, and set it down now (precariously by the camera). "Green apples in there. Your favorite, Galen."

"Thanks, love." Galen moved to her and they kissed, in the carefree manner of lovers. He picked up the camera again, to protect it from the bag, and Jaime couldn't help but smile. "You are thoughtful," he said. "Here, Jaime--" he handed her an apple-- "once you're done with this we can start up the picture-taking again. All right?"

"Okay." She wanted Melissa to leave, with her overbearing dresses and hair and makeup and God knew what, she just wanted her to go.

Something up there answered her prayers, because Melissa said, "I'm gonna go unload the rest of the groceries from the car. I'll leave you two alone."

"No, you don't have to," Galen began, but Jaime cut him off.

"Okay, go ahead, Melissa."

They made eye contact for a moment. Then Melissa nodded and left, shutting the door of the studio behind her.

There was silence for a moment. Galen looked at Jaime.

"She could have stayed, you know. We're not working. It wouldn't have done any harm."

"I didn't want her being around," Jaime mumbled, looking down. She wasn't hungry, and her apple was soft, which she hated. She set it down on the table. Then, with ferocity, she jerked her head up and gazed into Galen's blue eyes. "You know what? I'm ready to go back to work." She took off her T-shirt boldly.

Galen, always willing to shoot, gestured toward the gauze.

"No gauze. Forget it. Go ahead and take your nudes."

His eyebrows rose for a moment; he looked as if he were having a fascinating internal conversation, and Jaime, unabashedly naked, watched him. Galen.

"All right," he said as if to himself, nodding a little. "All right. We can do that."

"Okay," said Jaime.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

filler poem

she was listening to bob dylan when the car crash happened
several cars ahead of her; traffic stopped
it made her pout a little, and tilt the rearview mirror and reapply her lipstick
(she was going to see anthony)
and she saw, then, the man behind her who was taking the opportunity
of the jam
to hold up a note:
i love you
written backwards so that she could read it
it covered his face and she couldn't see who it was
but she always wondered who the man in the blue sedan was