Archive for February, 2009

52 stories, week 6: yellow 0

story 6 yellow

52 stories

Just as they could hear the tires of the pick up truck nearing the house, his mother shooed him into the shed and told him to watch from there. He was grimy, his mother said. No place for grimy children up front.

He hadn’t meant to get dirty, but it was hot and thick outside and all the dust and blacktop and stuck to his sweat. Besides, he really didn’t want to be up front. All the commotion scared him a bit and from the way the other kids were talking, Mr. Jacob would be sitting in the back of the truck, his dead body propped up like he was still alive.

“No, Matthew. Mr. Jacob is in a box. A coffin.”
“Can he breathe in there, mom?”
“He’s dead, Matthew. Dead people don’t breathe.”

Matthew left it at that because he didn’t want to talk about what it means to be dead. That’s all his brothers and sisters were going on about and listening to them made him feel like someone was poking holes in his stomach.

He found a milk crate in the shed and shoved it over to the side window. He wouldn’t miss a thing from there. The shed - once a place where his father kept his tools and now a rotting corpse of crumbled brick - looked right down the driveway and towards the street, giving Matthew a fine a view of all his family and neighbors gathering by the roadside. He settled in and waited. For what, he wasn’t sure. But he knew from the way the older kids were talking that they had done this before and that it was a big deal to have a dead guy paraded down your street. He just wished Mr. Jacob wasn’t the one being dead today. He liked Mr. Jacob. He was the only grown up who ever smiled like he remembered what it’s like to be happy.

Yellow. Years later when Matthew would think about this day he would recall how everything was tinged in yellow. Not the yellow of daisies and crayon suns, but a brownish, dirty yellow that cast an eerie glow on the death circus he watched from the shed window.

For three days after Mr. Jacob died, the sky had been bloated with thunderstorms that wouldn’t budge. Matthew’s mother and father stood outside every morning and said “gonna be a big storm today,” but it never rained, never thundered and the sky just turned yellow and gray and brown like it was rotting. And as Mr. Jacobs’s funeral procession approached Matthew’s house, all rumbling tires and crying women, the clouds seemed to sink under the weight of the storm they were holding in and the sky felt lower, like it was pressing down on them and forcing the whole world to bathe in its weird storm-glow. The dirt road, the dry hedges, the gossiping women and stoic men and oblivious children playing by the porch - they were all tinged dirty yellow and it hurt Matthew’s eyes to look.

The pick-up rounded a corner and was headed toward Matthew’s house. Every child stopped moving. Every woman stopped talking. Matthew held his breath, afraid to make a sound and break the spell of revered quiet. There were only a few sounds; tires doing a slow turn over dirt and Mrs. Jacob, held up by Matthew’s mother and aunt, praying and crying. Her whispered sobs carried loud like echos.

Matthew, still holding his breath, watched the trick get closer and only when the noise of the wheels on dirt was enough to drown out Mrs. Jacob, he began to breathe again.

The truck was open in the back and had a makeshift wooden bench on each side of the truck bed. On each bench sat three men and between them, on the floor, was Mr. Jacob, resting comfortably dead in a wooden box. The men were all dusty boots and squinty eyes, dressed in the same hats and flannel shirts and faded work pants. Their expressions never changed as they stared into the crowd of people that followed them on foot. Their faces were worn and filled with lines like etched stone and as the wind kicked up and the hems of their pants ands cuffs of their shirts flapped and fluttered, they never flinched not even as wind-carried dirt settled on their lips and flew into their eyes. Every few seconds the long box would shift and the men would all bend down at once and push the box back.

As the truck moved right in front of Mrs. Jacob, the men all took off their hats and bowed their heads and Mrs. Jacob wailed, a sound that made Matthew’s heart feel squeezed and tight. Matthew’s mother and some other women were trying to keep the widow from running into the street, but Mrs. Jacobs’s grief carried her away from grasping arms and she ran toward the pick-up truck, trailing it, holding up her long funeral skirt as she half-ran, half-stumbled and the driver of the truck sped up just a little and later - years later - Matthew would wonder if the driver was trying to get away from Mrs. Jacob or trying to keep her from reaching the truck bed. His brother would say to him “same thing, ain’t it?” And Matthew would shake his head. “No, not at all.”

Later, when the sky finally cracked and the rain flushed the yellow from the sky, turning it black and brown, Matthew sat on his front stoop with his mother, eating a piece of pie and looking at the very spot where just this morning Mr. Jacobs passed by his house for the very last time. Matthew knew then this would be one of those things he would remember forever, that one day he’d be sitting on the porch like his father before him, telling stories about his childhood, and this would be one of them. Even if as the years went on the colors would change or the pitch of Mrs. Jacob’s cry would get louder or tiny flaws of memories would change the snapshot in some way, it would always be there, hanging like a poster in his mind.

rough draft of a right foot 5

This is a rough draft of a very short story that’s been rattling around my head for a few days. I’m going out on a limb here and probably subjecting myself to all kinds of humiliation, but I thought I’d let you all give me feedback before I rework it. Tell me what you think. Don’t be shy. What works, what doesn’t, should I toss it in the recycle bin or fix it up.

This is an experiment, I suppose, in how much criticism I can really take. Remember, ROUGH draft.

My Right Foot (temp title)

There were thousands of stories as to how he lost his foot. They were all true stories, and even if the people who listened to them did not believe, they were still awed.
Tonight, he was telling the original story to the small crowd gathered on the street in front of him: He was the spawn of a demon father and a not-quite-human mother, neither wanted him to be born. They spoke of killing him, of burying him alive in the desert, of holding his head under the river. They spoke of these things with glee and in his mother’s womb he grew angry and resentful of these beings who created him, but did not want him. When the time came for his birth, he broke free from the womb and seized his mother’s heart in his small, demonic hands. He squeezed the heart until it burst, until he heard his father cry in anguish and until he was sure his mother was dead. As he tried to exit his mother’s body, he found that her umbilical cord was wrapped around his foot. The cord, like his mother, was not-quite-human and impenetrable, so he did what any demon baby would have done under similar circumstances; he chewed off his own foot and crawled out of his mother’s vagina.
He came into the world slimy, bloody and without a right foot. These things in and of themselves were bad enough, but he had to contend with an angry father, one who did not want him alive, and was very much angry his lover was dead. But his father, a man of god-like strength and devil-like anger, did not try to kill him. Instead, he slid his clawed, demon hand into her vagina, rooted around for a bit, and pulled out his son’s foot. He then hurled the foot into the universe, where it took flight and traveled through time, space and other worlds. As the father did this, he let loose a torrent of words unknown to the demon baby; words in languages he had yet to hear, words that shot out of his father’s mouth lit with flames and dripping venom. His father had cursed him. He did not know what the curse was, but he was pretty sure it had something to do with his airborne foot.
He soon realized that his curse was to spend his life looking for his foot. So he roamed the worlds, taking on new forms to fit into each one. At least his father’s genes had given him that much; he may not have a demon’s strength or the power to curse, but he could recreate himself to fit into whatever world he currently inhabited. Each time he changed forms, he would start out with two feet, but his father’s curse was stronger than his own demonic magic, and within minutes, something would happen where he would lose his foot again.
Once, he had been riding in a sidecar, one of the Hounds of Hell driving. They overshot their turnoff and ended up in a ditch. When he came to, the hound was gone, as well as his foot. Another time, he was in a dark forest, when he came upon some Kingsmen hunting for boar. Marksmen they were not, for they only hit his ankle when they shot, and he left his torn foot behind when he jumped off a cliff to escape. There were hunting accidents, wars, battles with otherworldy creatures, sharks, botched robberies and a spectacular game of Truth of Dare with God and the Devil himself. Each time he came away footless. Of course, it was his own foot he needed in order to finally live at peace; not the foot of a soldier or biker or warlord. He just thought it would be easier to complete his life’s mission if he wasn’t so hobbled all the time.
One night he found himself in a city; it was a small city filled with quaint shops and strange people, quite like the city in which he was born. There were no gods and demons here, just people who believed they were either. They mingled on street corners late at night, exchanging drugs, money and shared miseries. They were there during the day, too, selling handmade crafts instead of drugs, sometimes playing music in front of the stores. He noticed many of the people did not leave the streets for home; the street was their home, as well as their place of business. They slept in the same alleys and doorways in which they sold their wares or just stood around looking helpless and forlorn enough that strangers tossed money at them. At night they drank together, and huddled under blankets together.
He was intrigued enough by the city that he decided to change his form and stick around. He was a young man with a fuzzy goatee, wearing a Minor Threat t-shirt , carrying a skateboard. He waited for the inevitable and in the dark of night on a quiet street, a drunk man on a small motorbike took care of his right foot. He needed no medical attention; he was glad his father had at least given him that much. His body healed quickly and he hobbled on his newly stump-legged back to main part of the city. He sat down on corner and tried to blend in.
And then they came, inquisitive tourists and other corner dwellers like himself, asking how he lost his foot. So he told them. He told them about the wars and gods, about the demons and hell hounds, about the car accidents and angry husbands. He did this every night, and they never tired of his stories and he never ran out of tales to tell. They gave him money when he talked about his foot, mostly coins, but sometimes paper bills, and someone gave him a box into which the people could put the money. Ostensibly, the pay for his stories was to be for food, but as a demon, he needed no food to sustain him. Instead, he would go around in the middle of the night distributing his coins and bills to others sleeping on the street. He saved a few dollars for himself here and there, for he found there were woman who would sleep with a footless man if you gave them enough money. He found no pleasure in food or drink or drugs, but he was, after all, part human, and he had the human need to fuck.
He stayed longer in this body than any other; he found he liked this life and was feeling something unfamiliar to him before then, a contentment of sorts. He still had the urge to look for his foot, he supposed that was something that would never leave him, but the urge was dulled somewhat by the joy he found in telling his stories.
Then one night came when he was fast asleep in an alley, dreaming of his birth, as he did every single night since he crawled out from his mother’s womb. In his sleep, he heard a sound; a thump and jingle of coins. Someone had put something besides money in his little cardboard box. This happened before, usually it was a 40 oz of malt liquor that he would give to another lost soul in the morning. He woke himself from his dream and looked into the box. There, amid the coins and bills and half a sandwich, was a foot. It was the foot of an infant. A foot that apparently had been chewed off. His foot. He stood up, looked around for a glimpse of whomever left this gift for him. In the distance, he saw the dark shadow of a broad, clawed demon moving swiftly into a park. He saw no figure to go with this shadow, just the shadow itself, but he did hear a familiar roar as the shadow disappeared.
He knew what he was to do; a sorcerer long ago had told him. When he found his foot, he was to put it on. Just like trying on a shoe. It would fit, just like that, he would be whole again, and he could be at peace. He stared at the foot. His foot. He would not have to live this life anymore. He would no longer have to switch bodies or tell stories or search the worlds for completion.
The sun had come up; the city was coming to life. He wrapped his foot in a blanket and tucked it into his backpack. He moved his box in front of him, propping his footless leg upon it and the people came to him, all day long and he told his stories and watched their reactions and smiled as they did.
That night, he unwrapped his foot, took it to the park and buried it beneath a tree. Eventually a squirrel or other animal would unearth it, eat it and he’d never see it again. He went back to his space in the alley, slept and did not dream.