Blackness All Over the Bed

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It was easy to break her marinating heart on a Friday night when she was sat at the candle-lit kitchen table, chain-smoking and listening to Janis Joplin, or The Eagles, or Rod Stewart; sometimes I didn’t, but most times I did because the tone of my voice, or the choice of my words, or the sound of my lungs breathing poisonous air reminded her of my dad. She’d always taught me to be honest, but never liked it when I was honest in the dim firelight encircled by her blackness. The blackness was viscous like the bile she’d vomit after everything else had come up at 3 a.m.

I found her once in the bathroom when I was fourteen years old, passed out in a pool of rejected alcohol, and I left her there, half-hoping she’d asphyxiate. I packed a duffel bag that late afternoon, and ran away with my best friend. We were only gone a few hours; I was relieved to come home and find my mother alive in her bed, heavily asleep.

I can’t believe I’d left my sister. I don’t recall the specifics of that day, but shit must have been head deep, because I cannot imagine abandoning Tara.

Tara. I’ve always looked after her, but now that our mother is gone, the responsibility I feel is heavier than ever. Taking care of my sister is something that’s always been expected of me. I don’t mean like, “hold her hand on your way to school.” I mean legit parenting. But we’re both adults, so that makes the weight all the more cumbersome. And Tara, she’s a fierce woman. She doesn’t need me to parent her, nor does she want me to. But habits are called habits for good reason. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to relinquish the charge of looking after my sister.

Even though I’m tired.

I’m so fucking tired.

My mother was tired when she died. However, I don’t think she was so tired that she was ready to go away. She’d just welcomed a new granddaughter into the world. And her oldest granddaughter is getting married this summer. My mother was tired, but she was also looking forward to so much. I was looking forward to so much; over the past couple of years, she and I had made huge steps towards healing our relationship. She’d cut down significantly on her drinking, and I’d begun to see more of the mother I knew before alcoholism took hold of her. So now, I just feel fucking robbed.

Two nights ago, I was cooking dinner, and thinking of my mother. I had to stop what I was doing, I was so overcome. I went into my bedroom, and screamed until my throat went hoarse.


Then I threw up blackness all over the bed.

 

© Kindra M. Austin

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Founding Fathers by Nicholas Gagnier (an excerpt)

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I am out.

This little game Vic and Syd have concocted, in which we terrorize people and weaponize pigmentation, is not something I’m willing to partake in any longer.

At least, that’s what I assure myself approaching the turn from the Boulevard onto Lord Street, my car groaning every step of the way.

Come on baby, you got this, I tell her, praying I won’t need a tow truck in the next 24 hours. Or a casket.

The lights are on in the glass windows that run around the building beneath the roof’s trim, but the air is quieter, and detrimentally so.

I am out, I remind myself, consequences be damned. If they can’t accept that fact without putting a bullet in me, I’ll be dead. If they can, I get to walk away.

Sixty-forty odds.

Inside the warehouse, the stage has been replaced with a set of long folding tables and hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of computer equipment. Several men of varying roughness, age and size talk amongst themselves in groups.  A short, balding man in a checkered shirt with wiry spectacles and a bad limp floats between groups, asking questions in a hushed voice, getting his answer.

In a far corner, I recognize my friends Larry and Barney from the night before, playing a game of cards and looking bored and resentful.

In the middle of it all, naturally, is Vic. His back to me, calm still radiates from him, as he observes his operation for signs of weakness. The man in the checkered shirt limps over to him and whispers something in Vic’s ear.

The man sees me, and we lock eyes over Vic’s shoulder. He is gaunt and wiry, his lips pale and teeth behind them stunted and stained. He squints, piercing my whole existence with his stare. He talks fast but too low for me to hear. I can only tell when his expression changes that he’s alerted his boss to my intrusion.

Vic turns to face me. Back in his suit, he has become a different person from the one that had me deliver drugs only yesterday afternoon.

“Peter!” he exclaims, approaching me with a huge grin on his face. He enthusiastically shakes my hand. “So glad you made it.”

He wraps his arm around my shoulder and guides me toward the tables and his new friends. Larry and I share a gaze. He nods like we’ve known each other for years. Barney and I share a similar moment.

“Gentlemen,” Vic says to the others, “I’d like you to meet a friend of mine. This is Peter York, and he will be working with us indefinitely.”

Don’t speak for me yet, Viktor Quinn.

“My friends,” he says, “the future is bright. For years, we have heard about recessions being the reasons we can’t progress. Failed bipartisanship is the logic behind all the moral larceny we endure, apparently. We know what it really is, don’t we?” He pauses, but knows we won’t steal the revelation from him.

Except for Larry, who does.

“Women!” he guffaws, looking at Barney who vigorously shakes his head in return, trying to escape immediate association with the joke.

Vic’s cheery disposition vanishes. All eyes are on Larry, the poor bastard with a big mouth, finally realizing what poor timing the comedic gods gave him.

“The fuck did you say, Ronald?”

I liked my name for him better.

“Uh, nothing, boss.”

Vic reaches for the inside of his blazer and unholsters a silver pistol. He waves it in the air as he speaks.

“Did you come from a woman, Ronald? Do you not have a mother?”

“Sure do, boss.”

“And sisters? Do you have them? Daughter too, if I recall correctly?”

“All of the above, boss,” Larry replies.

“What about you, Andre?” Vic asks Barney. Come to think of it, he does look like an Andre. “Got kids?”

“No, sir,” Barney concedes, “Live with my old lady. She’s old, and well, I don’t get out a lot.”

“Well,” Vic says, “then I guess that decides it.” He raises his pistol and fires three rounds into Barney. One in the stomach, one in the chest, a final one in the head.

Pop.

Pop.

Pop.

The sounds happen in quick succession. No one blinks but me, eardrums ringing. Larry, instead, screams as Barney convulses against the bullets buried in his organs, but the man dies too quick to understand. His full weight collapses to the floor where the rest of him crumples like a paper ball.

“Now,” Vic tells a sobbing Larry, “I hope that will teach you to respect women more, Ronald. Set a good example for your children going forward, or Andre here died for fuck all. Now- get this piece of shit out of here. And someone call his mother. Send her flowers, too. Poor woman has nobody left.”

My eyes can’t tear themselves from Barney’s broken form, bleeding out on the floor of a Lord Street warehouse. Television always made shootings seem so much cleaner.

“You okay?” Vic asks me. “Peter, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

I am rage, but have no more strength than a whisper.

“You killed him.”

He shares a look with his colleagues, who give us the room, shuffling out the red metal door in single file.

Larry drags Barney’s corpse across the floor, leaving a trail of blood in his wake. The dude is adrenaline at the moment, grunting and heaving to get as far away from here as possible, maybe to run home to his girl and hold onto her for dear life.

When the door closes behind him, Vic and I are alone. He stands with hands in his suit’s pockets, as I try to avoid meeting his dead eyes.

“I can’t do this, Viktor,” I say. The image of Barney’s life leaving him, followed by Vic holding the gun at eye level (pop, pop, pop) play in my head on an infinite loop. “This is not my fight.”

Vic smiles, as if he has both heard me and the same argument from people all his life. It all rolls off him.

“I want to show you something, Peter.” He drifts to the farthest table, where a black laptop is hooked up to a projector. “Get the lights, would you? Back wall.”

I oblige him, wishing I had traded places with Larry. Burying an overweight bodyguard in the middle of fucking nowhere seems much more bearable than this.

The projector whirs to life, lighting up a square block of light on the darkened wall.  A map of the United States, devoid of state lines, drenches our faces in blue glare.

“The Internet is an amazing thing. To think that sixty years ago, the fastest way to relay information across great distances was Morse code. It took minutes to transmit a full sentence to the other side of the planet. Telephones existed, sure, but they weren’t what they are now.

“That this smorgasbord of ideas and free speech exists is an act of God, Peter. A wonder of science. That it has passed to us peasants is the seed of revolution.

“Jihad embraced it. Russia embraced it. Meanwhile, our own government seeks to curtail it at every turn. But that’s because every revolution requires a spark.”

“So if I’m reading this right, you’re going to kill people?”

Viktor laughs. “Nothing so extreme. If heads roll, it will only be because the greater good compels it. We act merely as an intermediary, Peter.”

“I still don’t understand, then.”

“Put it this way. In 1955, if someone had killed your whole family, this guy’s family and maybe some other dude’s clan- enough to force people to care about a serial killer, that is- and the government did, I don’t know, fuck all about it? That seems to be the standard reaction they have to anything, so why not?

“Let’s say…this was happening everywhere, in little towns across our great nation. Just for the sake of argument, how long do you think it would take to mobilize nationwide in 1955?”

I shrug. “Days?”

“Fucking weeks, Pete. Weeks. Communication was still in the Stone Age. It’s a wonder anything got done at all, unless you were Uncle Sam himself.”

“Now you’re the one speaking Morse Code, Vic. Can we get to whatever fucking point you have?”

Vic is pacing back and forth now. His hands have grand gestures for every grandiose statement, a unique mask to terrify me for every ounce of conviction he carries.

“We live in an age where I can tell the Internet, ‘Hey, fuckwads. These poor saps are taking your livelihood, eating up your hard-earned tax dollars and living on your food stamps. Let’s get together and show this country we don’t tolerate it!’  How long do you think it would take to get angry people into the streets?”

Viktor answers his own question.

“Seconds. Minutes. A fucking hour at most.”

“So we’re protesting, then?” I ask, trying not to look at the trail of blood by the door.

“I prefer ‘asserting our position’, personally,” Vic replies, “People are weak. They spend so much time worrying about the consequences of acting, they forget to consider the ones where they don’t act in their own best interest. And that is the definition of fallacy, Peter. There are people who would let the rapists and murderers into your house, because they think these people can be saved.”

“You know they’re not all killers and rapists,” I tell him.

“Guilt by association, Pete.”

“Vic, that would be like saying the Westboro United Church speaks for all Christians. I mean,” I say, wishing my internal dialogue was less unhinged by witnessing murder. “Protest all you want, but you’re thirty-two. I’m twenty-eight. We’ve both lived in this country long enough to know the government doesn’t serve us.”

“See,” Vic says, continuing to pace back and forth between the grey folding tables, “this is where I know you’ve misunderstood. We’re not pussy-footing outside an abortion clinic, Peter. We are manufacturing change.”

There’s that phrase again.

“Here’s what I don’t get. What I’m struggling so hard to reconcile, Vic,” I say, “What in the fucking world are you getting out of this shit? You look like an Irishman trying to be made in the mob. You have more military-grade equipment here than my crazy cousin Kirk has guns in Utah, man. I don’t see you as a politician anytime soon. So what the hell are you getting out of this?”

Viktor stops pacing, looking around his feet and then back up at me. “Do you know why Adolf Hitler was so…accepted, Peter? We glorify him as some sort of monster, but he really was a simple man. He spoke to people like you and I, the feudal servants of society who had lost everything to dynasty. They started a war, people like us waged it on their behalf. And for that, they lost everything they had.

“National identity. Their money. Standard of living. Hitler fucking took that, that fire, and carved their anger into an instrument of vengeance.”

He also murdered six million people for their ethnicity. At least, I hope Viktor can acknowledge that.

“You ask me what I want, Peter?” Vic says, lighting a cigarette from the breast pocket of his stone-coloured suit. “I am no fucking prophet. But surely, this is not what our Founding Fathers had in mind for us. To be overrun with the vermin, see our ‘Promised Land” infected? America was supposed to be our gateway of opportunity, wasn’t it? A key to prosperity. Instead, it’s become a cesspool of shit-skinned equality.”

He resumes pacing. Inhaling. Exhaling, words spewed from his mouth like smoke.

“My father, his name was Harry. He was a good man, once. But the drink got into him, and he became something else entirely. A shroud of himself. Black, like the darkest night, and yet, with just enough light left to want to save him.”

Exhale, waxing monoxide.

“That man took every sense of purpose from me, except making sure he didn’t kill my mother. And when he died, ironically, I felt more lost than ever. In and out of prison, stealing anything that wasn’t nailed down.

“My point is, Peter. I finally have a purpose. I speak the words that so many want to say themselves, but for whatever reason, haven’t. Because the other side? They want us all to have thin skin like them and bow before these third world peasants? You call them liberals. I call them insects; a swarm of nuisance that is ruining this beautiful nation.

“We are Americans,” he says. “When our home is threatened, it is upon us to protect it. And seeing how no one else in this God-forsaken country seems to be willing to lead the charge, I will. You and Syd are my lieutenants, and the people will be our army.

“Against that,” he smiles, “and the Internet in our hands, what chance does a government stand?”

 

© Nicholas Gagnier

Magpie in August (an excerpt)

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I hate the day you were born. I said this to Mom once, and she slapped me hard across my face. She never does understand the meaning of things I say. I do hate the day you were born, not because I don’t love you, but because your absence crushes me.

Tomorrow is your eighteenth birthday. Your eighth death-day. I don’t know that you’re aware of birthdays, ordinary days—the passage of time. I don’t know that you’re aware of anything at all, but I talk to you anyway. Do you hear me, Renny? Can you read my thoughts? Do you know how much I hate going to the lake? I would rather visit a quiet green cemetery, where I could deliver flowers and love letters to a grand marble headstone. I know it doesn’t really matter where I go to honor you; you are everywhere I look, yet nowhere to be found. You are no more a part of the water than you would be part of the earth, had you been returned to it. But you didn’t drown in dirt, and I suppose that fact is what makes the difference for me. The lake is evil, and I don’t like to remember you there. I only go for Mom. She doesn’t understand my position at all.

© Kindra M. Austin

Magpie in August (an excerpt)

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(Bleeding Hearts)

Suddenly she’s dumb, glassy eyed and slack jawed. Reminds me of that vacant look she gets whenever she’s had enough to drink. She’s fixed on the flowerbed, but I know it’s you she’s watching, and not my Bleeding Hearts. She sees you out past the buoys, thrashing and splashing, crying for help between fatal gulps of Lake Huron. It isn’t a real memory, just a fabrication; it’s a violent scene sprung from a mother’s grief. I used to hear her screaming in the middle of the night. After Dad left, I would have to shout at her and shake her awake, and then we would both be up until dawn. She would cry and tell me about this nightmare, her memory of seeing you drown. She wasn’t even on the beach that afternoon. I was. And I have relived that moment thousands of times over—that moment when you’ll die thousands of times more.

The sun was full that day, a disc fierce yellow against a perfect blue sky. The beach was crowded at the swash, the dry sand too hot to be tolerated, and the lake was absolutely heaving. There were so many bodies, too many bodies, and no-body noticed you were sinking. Nobody, but me.

You’re dead, Renny. And it’s my fault.

© Kindra M. Austin

For You, Rowena (an excerpt)

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Herald Saw Her Ending  

11 June, 2017—Saturday

Herald was lounging in the grand bay window that overlooked the flower garden when the end came calling. Curled up on the yellow seat cushions amongst a few magazines, he’d been surveying the backyard through drowsy eyes. He was a keen hunter once, ages ago in his youth. Still, olden as he’d grown, Herald could sometimes sense a warm-blooded body stirring someplace it oughtn’t be, or catch the glimpse of something flitting, and his heart would beat with familiar eagerness.

On this day, it was a peculiar scent drifting into the kitchen that perked his attention; he squinted in aversion, and noticed the glint of sunbeams bouncing off serrated steel. Herald maneuvered his arthritic body into a crouch, and stared wildly through the window screen. The woman he loved was outside in the garden barely three feet away from him, and she smelled like the earth she’d been digging. Down upon her hands and knees, she was overshadowed by someone Herald had not long forgotten.

He couldn’t comprehend what it was that he was watching; his woman and the caller struggled against one another for just a moment. Then the tang of her escaping blood filled Herald’s nostrils, provoking a rumble that emerged from the pit of his chest. His growling went unnoticed, and all was still in the garden for an immeasurable space of time. He remained in the window seat, round-eyed, and vibrating with tension. When at last the backyard   darkened, and the bats began to fly, the killer rose up from the rose bed, and kicked the face that had been made silent. Herald cussed through the window screen like a sentry willing to defend his castle. But when the sound of frenetic footfall entered the house, grey Herald fled from the window seat, and took refuge inside a kitchen cupboard—the one that stored his food.

Click, clack! Click, clack! Click, clack! Herald recognized the sound. Click, clack! Click, clack!

“I can never unknow you,” the intruder mocked.

Those hollow words were the last human noises that Herald would hear for two desolate days. And then, the screaming would begin.

© Kindra M. Austin