Monthly Archives: February 2014

Some Things Stick With You, Pt. 8

The old man narrowed his eyes, the act of squinting turning him from a bulldog into a pig. His eyes were bloodshot as they usually were, the air hanging around him heavy with the yeasty scent of spilled beer. He didn’t look drunk, and if memory served, he usually wasn’t this early in the morning, but that didn’t necessarily mean he hadn’t already begun drinking. Frank Calavera was always a man of insatiable appetites, and his tolerance for alcohol was impressive, as far as such things impressed anyone. “Well, shit. If it ain’t the prodigal fucking son.”

“The prodigal fucking son and the worthless fucking dad.”

Frank took in a deep breath and let it out through his nose. “You drive all the way out here just to piss me off, Pup? You want to go ten rounds and may the best man win?”

“Not at all.”

“Then what do you want?”

Richard pulled his hand from his pocket and held it up in front of Frank’s face. A bright light went off and the old man grunted.

“Goddamnit! What the hell?” Frank rubbed at his eyes with both hands. He’s getting old, Richard thought. Someone flashed a camera in his face when I was growing up and he would have pounced on ’em even if he couldn’t see shit.

Richard pushed past the older man, checking him into the doorframe with his shoulder. He snarled at that. “I’m here to take some pictures.”

“You’re a couple years too late for that CPS shit, Pup. Even Louie’s an adult in the eyes of Uncle Sam now.”

“An adult that still thinks you’re the goddamn bogeyman.” The inside of Frank’s house was worse than Richard remembered it, but exactly as he’d figured it would be. Pizza boxes and take-out cartons and cans and bottles everywhere. Without their mother around to try and keep the place in some kind of order, it had collapsed into filth and decay, just like Frank himself.

Richard turned to the older man and smiled, his eyes humorless and his face cold. “But I’m going to fix that. I’m going to show him these pictures so he can see exactly what you are. Old. And pathetic.”

Frank’s face twisted in rage. He raised his hands, balled them into fists, dropped into a boxer’s stance.

Richard’s smile turned into a grin. “I’m not a kid anymore, Frank. You really want to see what a trained soldier of the United States Army can do to your decrepit old body?”

Frank was silent. He didn’t move. His muscles relaxed and he stood up as straight as he ever did and he grinned, his eyes piggish, his teeth stained and ugly. “Well, look at that. I guess balls are standard issue now, huh?”


Some Things Stick With You, Pt. 7

The high-rises and skyscrapers of the city gave way to the squat houses and boxiness of the suburbs, and finally to the nothingness of the desert. Dusty roads and buildings untouched since the 1950s and 1960s and rock and sand. Meth labs disguised as trailer homes. Nothing to do but drink and fight and fuck. A nothing place that bred nothing people.

Richard’s teeth ground together. His hands gripped the steering wheel so tight the color started to drain from his knuckles. He turned up the radio, but the noise didn’t distract him. He turned up the air conditioning, but the chill didn’t help him focus. Alright, take inventory. What’s going on here? What am I feeling?

Anger.

Anxiousness.

Fear.

Richard winced. It was fear. Four years and he was still afraid of the man. He’d been trained to kill, had done it more than once, and Frank Calavera still scared him.

Am I ready for this?

It didn’t matter. He was already pulling into the dirt road that passed for the old man’s driveway, all weeds and gravel and broken glass and rusted bits of metal. And to think, Richard and Louis played there as kids. There had been a clothesline trailing from the house to a metal pole stuck in the yard that their mom had dried the wash on. Frank had been too cheap to call a repairman when the dryer broke down and too proud to admit that he had no idea how to fix it himself. The entire property was a museum of broken things. Disassembled engines and moldering appliances and ruined lives.

Richard stepped up to the front door and checked the time. Ten in the morning. The man had to be awake by now, but even if he wasn’t, that wouldn’t stop Richard. He pounded on the door, heard someone groan and mutter, “God-fucking-damn it!”

Frank Calavera threw the door open. He was still tall, but his back had a hunch to it that hadn’t been there four years ago. He’d gotten fatter, his belly hanging off of his body like a lead weight and his arms thick, but his shoulders were still broad, his forearms and hands still strong. His cheeks drooped now, his eyes sunken into his head, his hairline higher than ever before, and the man looked for all the world like an aging English bulldog. Old and ridiculous, but still senselessly vicious enough to bite.

“What the fuck do you want, buddy?” the old man said, not recognizing who was before him.

Richard stood in silence. A sneer came to his face. He crossed his arms, stood up as straight and as tall as he could. “Hi ya, Pop.”


Some Things Stick With You, Pt. 6

The sun wasn’t up yet, wouldn’t be coming up for another couple hours, and here he was driving almost two-hundred miles to go see Frank Calavera. Like the man was worth a damn. Like he wasn’t a walking pile of shit. Like he wasn’t almost certainly living in the same hole he’d been living in all Richard’s life. Seventeen years he’d been trying to get away from the man. He’d wanted to get away from him so bad he’d convinced Frank to sign the release form and let him enlist early. Frank had done it without a moment’s hesitation, too. “Let Uncle Sam feed and house your worthless ass for a change,” he’d said.

Four years not seeing or speaking to the man. Four years of anger and resentment festering inside him look a wound that wouldn’t heal. Four years of drill sergeants and commanding officers who’d tried to put the fear of God into him but never quite managed to match the senseless cruelty of Frank Calavera. Four years was too few. A lifetime would be too few.

It didn’t matter. Richard would call in sick to work when it did, and he’d already resigned himself to missing the afternoon’s classes. He’d talk with Frank. Get him to admit what he’d done. And probably he wouldn’t, but he was an old, spent alcoholic now. If nothing else, he’d get some photos to show Louis how pathetic the man really was, get some evidence to confirm that he had no idea what had become of his children and didn’t much care anyway. Maybe that’d be enough. Maybe that would bring them both some peace.

Shit’s a long time coming. Should have done this years ago. Should have killed that fucker years ago. Too late for that now, but we’re going to have a little talk. Yes, we are.


Some Things Stick With You, Pt. 5

Louis collapsed into bed early that night. He could still hear Richard in his room listening to music and playing games on his laptop, but he ignored it. Sleep came easily despite his worries about falling behind on studying, on keeping up with his classwork. He closed his eyes, tossed and turned for only a few minutes, and then sank into a deep, dreamless sleep.

The screaming woke him up at four in the morning. He glanced at his clock and was relieved to see that he’d gotten a good six hours of sleep this time. Richard had probably only been sleep for half an hour or so, but he kept odd hours anyway. If the kid could get back to sleep, he’d be fine, and he usually could.

Richard had already stopped screaming by the time Louis opened his bedroom door. The younger brother was sitting on his bed, arms wrapped around his knees, eyes wide. He hadn’t pissed the sheets, but he looked even worse than the night before somehow. Absolutely terrified. Almost catatonic.

“You okay, man?” Richard asked.

Louis shook his head, his eyes unblinkingly locked on some distant point only he could see.

“What happened? Same dream?”

Louis shook his head again.

“Still the Thin Man?”

He nodded.

“Come on, man. I need you to talk to me if I’m going to help.”

Louis turned to look at his brother for the first time since the door had opened. “He found me. He knows where I am. I could see him, man. See him creeping around in the shadows, standing up as tall as the window and looking in, eyes fucking shining like flashlights and grinning, grinning, grinning.

“What are we going to do, man? Where am I going to go?”

That’s it, Richard thought. Time to have a little talk with Frank.


Some Things Stick With You, Pt. 4

So what’d you think of the lecture today?”

“Fascinating stuff, Julia. Same as ever.”

Julia slapped Louis hard across the back and stepped alongside him, grinning her bright grin, green eyes shining and red curls bouncing in the sunlight. For whatever reason, she’d befriended Louis, her small, fair form standing in stark contrast to his own hulking swarthiness (as she had called it,) and now she felt comfortable enough around him to swat him on the back and tease him outside of class and make him laugh inside it. She was never around for very long before or after their psych lectures, probably because she was out hanging out with folks her own speed, privileged and fair like she was, but Louis appreciated the moments they shared. He didn’t understand why they shared them, but he appreciated it nonetheless.

Some days, when he needed a distraction from the he was even grateful for it.

“What’d you think of it, Julia?”

She smiled brighter than before. “I thought it was dry and boring.”

Louis smirked. “Maybe you ought to pick a different major.”

She pouted at that. “I’m allowed to think a class is boring without having to think that I should be in a different major. Not everyone has to think every aspect of their chosen career is ‘super fascinating stuff.’”

Louis snorted. “I didn’t say ‘super’ fascinating.”

“You didn’t have to.”

Louis let his feet carry him towards the nearest dining hall. Julia followed, walking a few feet to his side, studying him with a quizzical look. “Yes?” he finally said after a few minutes. “Can I help you?”

“What got you interested in psychology in the first place?”

“I don’t know. What about you?”

“My dad once said that people get into pysch to figure out what’s wrong with themselves.”

“Is that so?”

“Themselves or the people around them.”

Louis tried to keep from frowning. He didn’t want Julia to see that her words were getting to him. “If you say so, Freud.”


Mithridates On His Deathbed

Back in town. “Some Things Stick With You” continues tomorrow! In the meantime, here’s a sonnet about self-poisoning.

My father wore armor to save himself,

Great plates of iron crafted to withstand

The evils of the world. I chose top-shelf

Poisons instead, drafts to numb the tongue and

Turn the stomach, calcify the body

And still the mind. They were for me. I took

The poison and fled where no one could see.

Seven years alone in the woods, I shook,

Sweat, screamed, bled, vomited, but I survived.

The evils that took my father would not

Have me. Where his strength failed, I would not die,

Immortal even as all else rotted.

But in this final hour, I am not strong.

I outlived what I loved; they are all gone.


Rejected: How to Write About Your Recently Departed Bunny (McSweeney’s Internet Tendency)

So for whatever reason your bunny has recently departed. Maybe you opted to get rid of it yourself. Maybe it decided to leave instead. Maybe it was simply time for it to move on, as bunnies are wont to do. Whatever the cause, there is now a bunny-shaped hole in your life. This can be a painful, trying time, and its a natural and healthy response to want to explore your feelings and emotions via writing.

Start simply. Recall the physical aspects of your bunny. Visualize it. Picture its ears. Envision how its body looked, both at rest and in motion. See its cute little nose that some might have thought was a bit too big but you found adorable. Sketch what you see in your mind’s eye. Start over because you’re not very good at drawing. Start over a third time. Crumple up your sketches and throw them in the trash. For the purposes of this exercise, you’re a writer, not an illustrator, damn it. Stick with descriptions. Write down what you come up with. It’s okay if the images and descriptions you come up with are disjointed. You’ll assemble them into a more cohesive whole later.

Move from the physical to the abstract. Focus on the emotional responses you had to the things your bunny did. What was it like to see it being silly and playful, to see its eyes light up when you came home from a long day at work? Could you feel its simple satisfaction over a hearty meal as if it was your own? Write it down. Move from the general to the specific. Try and capture the feeling of waking up and seeing the summer sun playing across your bunny as it lay next to you in bed. How did you react? Did you admire the interplay of light and shadow? Did you finally feel at peace for once in your life? Take your time exploring these feelings. Write them down.

Now change the scenario. Recall the time you woke up and saw a string of drool running from the corner of your bunny’s mouth, down its cheek, and onto its pillow. Did you think it was disgusting? Did you roll over so you could ignore the string of drool and never bring it up again, or did you tease your bunny about it? Did you realize then that you loved you bunny, drool and all? Did you tease your bunny anyway? Write it down.

When you’re ready, move past descriptions and emotions and instead think about communication. Think about all the things you told your bunny that you’d do “later.” You may feel a sense of relief that you’re no longer under any obligation to do those things now, and that’s fine. You might also choose to do them anyway. Perhaps you’ll only do the ones your bunny wanted you to do because it wanted you to be a better person, and that’s fine, too. Whether you decide to forget those old promises or to run more like your bunny suggested (but only because running’s good for you, not because you owe your bunny anything,) write down your new resolution and put it somewhere you can see it every day.

Now think about the things your bunny might have said to you. When your bunny told you it loved you, did you believe it? Did it surprise you to hear those words come from some bunny’s mouth? Did you think, “No bunny’s ever really loved me before?” Were you pleased with your clever puns between “body” and “bunny?” Stare at the bathroom mirror in the morning until you’ve convinced yourself of your own worth. You’re very good at puns, after all. That’s got to count for something. Write that down. Write it all down.

You’re almost finished. Look through all the writing you’ve done. Spread the sheets of paper out like the pieces of a puzzle. Stare at the words like they’re written in an alien language. It must fit together. It has to. It was all so perfect in your head, but look at it now. The memories all run together, like a picture smudged and faded by time. Didn’t the guide say you’d assemble everything into a cohesive whole earlier? Go back and re-read the beginning of the guide. It did say that. It said those words exactly, and here you are, everything more jumbled up than ever before. What a load of crap.

Pour yourself a drink. Make it a double. You need it. Hell, have another. What does it matter?

And now it’s time for the last step! Tear up the paper and cry softly because your words will never be able to capture how much you loved your bunny, how much you still do. Ask yourself if your bunny still loves you, wherever it is, whatever it might be doing? Will it love you forever, like it said it would? Could any bunny? Pour yourself a third drink. Go to bed and wake up the morning with a headache, a fuzzy memory, and a sick feeling in your stomach that grows stronger every time you look at the confetti you evidently threw all over the place. Wait a week before you finally clean up the scraps of paper, but don’t throw them away. Invent excuses why not.

Congratulations! You have now successfully written about your bunny. If you need further advice, please consult our follow-up guide, “How to Not Call Your Bunny at 3 in the Morning a Month After It Departed.”


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