I am the muck that bubbles and a fever that shrieks from the bowels of pigs. I consecrate the flesh of sorrowful ones who peer into the fathoms of space in order to see their reflections in the blossoming stars. With wind and fire, teeth and blood, I meld myself onto my host like dead skin, burrow and bury myself in slits, in cuts, to the sliced open spaces. It is here in the abattoir and there in the muck that I wait and button tight my coat for the cold tonight is a howling frigidity. This fever: I shake in misery. This fever: I pass cup from lip to lip, a fever that dances itself into the brain where bugs burrow and flies swarm. You can feel them writhing and scratching at your throat. They drink the currents of your blood. They feast on veins. It is their birthright and they forge new paths through the body. You shriek. You find yourself in the field with the weeds on the periphery of the abattoir, an industrial complex with tubes, fence and smoke, shrieking at clouds that threaten to cover such glorious moons as these, shrieking at birds that answer you with diseased cackles. The door before you is a door that you have opened so many times that you can trace the path through the halls in your memory and see yourself lying on the table waiting for the doctor to begin to dissect. You smile with black teeth, tell them that the flies have begun to escape through your several orifices and the doctor she knows, she listens, nods and takes notes; she has heard of these cases and worked on these cases as few as four a day. Her assistants scrub you with soap that is slippery. Your naked body is slipping under the woos of the injection: the glistening needle that they plunged in the thick of your gums. The straps that bind you to the table are tight against your wrists and ankles. The bugs are swarming now behind your eyes trying to gobble up as much as they can. Your vision as it looks up at the cement ceiling can only see blurs, gobs, blips. The teeth of the bugs nibble out your eyes but the doctor reminds you that the swirl you feel is a swirl that you can subtly sink into. It is a consummation. Her voice, which up until now is delicate and precise, lowers in pitch, slows to a sludge that drips in your ears. The good doctor, she swirls away and floats down the stream. She is waving at you laughing with the scalpel in her hand. You hear them begin to saw and then all is nothing. It is then that you wake bleary eyed to the empty room. The straps are slashed. There is no one there but blood and smatterings of gore on the walls and blood on the table; your stomach has been sewn up and the cut is beautifully long winding like a path through the hills, from neck to nub. You find your bloody clothes in a heap on the floor and button your coat. It is cold out there. Somewhere in the distance a bow is scraping a string. You hear the squealing of the pigs deep in the abattoir and that, too, is a grating squeal. Fever bursts through your head and the sweat rises from the pits of your arms; you stand there wet and drip and you notice the utensils that were used by the doctor, the blood on the floors and walls is not your own you think, but you are not sure now and can only remember the swirling vortex of the stream and something about a scalpel. You no longer feel bugs. Your eyes feel like eyes when you take your finger and press on them. Your eyeballs are smooth to the touch. The cut from your stomach is leaking blood and thick yellow fluid. The leak stains your clothes a bright red. You didn’t know that your blood was that stunningly red. You take off your clothes, wipe down your body with a dirty towel, put the clothes back on again and walk outside with your coat buttoned tight. There is a domed light above the door. Flies are swarming around the light. The flies follow you and swirl about your sewn head, nip at your face but you let them do this and wonder if they are kissing you goodbye and that if these are the flies that were inside your body, behind your eyes, in your blood, then you think that they, too, deserve to be missed. You wish them well and tell them so. They converge in their swarm and disappear into the cold on a journey that you will never take. You find a cigarette in your pocket and the smoke in your lungs cuts nicely into your blood. You can feel the smoke seep into your brain as if your brain is being dipped in syrup but you think about the operation and are unsure what exactly happened, touch the back of your head, feel more thread and feel skin that has been joined together, touch your face and feel thread, realize that you have been sewn back into one piece and look to the ground and see so many bugs freezing into clumpy piles. You wish you could help but the fever is shaking your body such that you drop the cigarette. There is more hair on your hands. The blood is still leaking from your wounds. You lick the blood with your tongue as it runs from a wet spot somewhere on your face and down into your mouth. It tastes good, holy, like the cup that passes from lip to lip. You let the sound of the squealing pigs calm you and walk away from the abattoir door and out into the night.
Jamie Grefe licks his wounds, hugs his wife and pets his dogs from a high-rise in Beijing, China, where he teaches Literature by day and sips black coffee from a Craven A tin by night. He also, on occasion, creates experimental/improvised music with contact microphones and shortwave radio transmissions. His work appears or is forthcoming in Mud Luscious Press (Online), New Dead Families, Danse Macabre, Wonderfort and elsewhere.
She reached for the door and watched me from her car parked in the driveway as I stood in my front yard. Yards turned into miles. Miles turned into highways, exchanges, on-ramps, and states. This distance molding into something longer, a dark void that swallowed all light and happiness into a desolate nightmare. It opened a gap of infinite possibilities, none of which shortened the mileage between us, took her hand off the car door, or brought her back into my arms. I reminded myself this had nothing to do with me, it wasn’t punishment or condemnation for the person I was or could be. This was an opportunity for the love of my life and it did not include me.
And then I physically fell. The sidewalk leading up to my porch didn’t give and I felt it scream through my bones. I punched the concrete and it tore my skin. My fist drove through the nights we slept together and the nights we were curled up on the couch. On those nights we imagined the places we could go. We dreamed about the future. I finally felt whole with her fingers twisted in mine, a hurt and a hope in every bend that now breaks my heart. The air was knives, serrated and sharp, sawing at my lungs and throat. I refused to inhale, I refused to breathe. And I kept punching.
“Please don’t hurt me like that,” she said once, the sorrow in her eyes pleaded. I wanted to burn everything down for her and start again, like it all never happened, and give her the life she deserved. Forests would grow back and the birds would return, looping under the rainbows of God’s vow.
Instead, I agreed, giving her some long rambling speech with every word crafted for comfort, each pause laid before her to put her at ease. And then I punctuated my promise with a handshake. She made me stupid, and the official gesture had her laughing the way I knew it would. She nuzzled into my shoulder and a happy sigh rose from her throat, untying the bow around my world. This was what the poets wrote about, this need for which so many songs begged.
A warmth grew in that dark room.
And it grew the first time she kissed me. She wanted to be at this place with these people, none of which I knew, none of which I wanted to know. They weren’t malicious or suffering from poor hygiene. None of them were making faces or poking fun, or god forbid, discussing the stock market. They were just new and weren’t of any interest to me. They were antithesis of private time. She was midsentence with a bachelor’s degree-carrying enthusiast for combing out his hair gel, when she stopped, grinned her evil little smirk, and kissed me. The flecks of fire still burned in her hazel eyes, then.
“What was that for?” I asked. She shrugged and said that I looked bored.
The warmth grew every time she fit perfectly in my arms or tucked her head under my chin. Every time she curled against me, two warped puzzle pieces locking into place, that warmth expanded. Each time she called me by my name, omitting my surname and replacing it with my middle initial, it was a coy plea for my attention. The outside of her left foot acted as a pivot as her heel swung in time with her shoulders, her head tilted to the left, her dark chocolate ponytail, a direct contrast to her milky white skin, swaying, lower lip bitten; every time my mind wandered, she did this, this whine for my focus, to bring me back, a siren luring me back home. Then, that warmth exploded in my chest. She has been my salvation, my reward for growing up through all of the drama, the hurt and the pain that life brings.
And it grew when she rested her hand on my knee while we were out running errands. She talked about when all of our separate dramas were over and we could be official. Despite her looming departure, we could be together, and her father would want to make sure I was handy. He would want to know that I was aware of what a wrench looked like, that I could change the oil on her car, that his lovely daughter would be cared for and protected. Her eyes scanned the roadway into the future, and the smile on her face saw it all with certainty and joy. Our lives would straighten out and we would come together as more than just the emotional cushions that we were in that moment. It grew because I finally knew she felt it too.
Each day, however, was preparation for this moment, for this soul crushing sound in my ears, a cyclical dirge on the Top 40 station, going over and over in my head. The pop of that door handle. Both of us playing stoic and strong before she left for school. Signals and static sparking between us, thoughts and messages relayed through the humid air, fizzling out before it reached the other. Pleas for hope. Hope for peace. The unrequited cries to not leave me. Good luck. Drive safely. Please let me know when you get there.
Don’t forget to love me back.
I had a bad day once and she couldn’t deal with me. Days leading up to her leaving were getting smaller in both time and number. I don’t know what I was trying to do. Prepare, maybe mourn a little ahead of time, so I wouldn’t be so ridiculous, so I could be gallant when it came time for goodbyes. And I got so wrapped up and emotional in the preparation that she just couldn’t handle me. I was so immersed in the future emotion that I wasn’t enjoying and appreciating the time we still had together. The destruction to which this was all leading was greater than myself, and I conceded that I was being selfish, smothering her with half-hearted apologies that came from the bottom of my soul, and underneath it all that might have hurt more. Protecting her from me. From the words I wanted to say, the things I wanted to do. From wrapping my arms around her ankles, locking her keys in the car and pushing that damned car into the ocean. From launching torpedoes and watching it sink. Keeping her here, keeping her from following her dreams, keeping her all to myself.
Swallowing all of that has been bitter, but I’ve done it for her. Time and time again I’ve done it for her. I’ve prayed for warships armed to the teeth with torpedoes and dreamed about sinking her car over and over. I’ve wished I could drop to my knees and punch the ground, lash out and scream, break my bones and show the world, that this woman, this woman was my entire being. She had me, I was hers completely. Without her I am nothing.
“I’ll miss you,” she said.
And I smiled. I smiled for her.
Click: the sound of slim heels on the church tiles, click click.
Click: her long nail on the wheel of the iPod, shutting it down, to silence, that reverential, pregnant, church silence, the kind of quiet that suggests something is about to happen.
Click again: the sound of her compact mirror shutting; she’s just checked herself and she’s more than ready, pout-perfect, long-lashed, blushed, and enough cleavage showing to fracture the fault lines of any faint heart.
Click: an old woman exits the door of the confessional; it’ll be Sarah’s turn next, another Saturday and she’s more than ready. Up for it.
Most of her friends are still hanging around their rooms, still in pyjamas, some feeling sorry for the thunderous headaches, the punishing post-binges, others watching pop videos, apologising to parents for their manifold misdemeanours, but already scheming their Saturday night. More of the same. Week in, week out. The parents are tired of it. Most of the parents just dog-tired.
I am in her mouth and she swallows, gags, coughs, pauses briefly to catch her departed breath and I am in again, warm strings of tears tracing down her soft skin, and this is how it always is, because she doesn’t know how to handle it, her judgment methodically/chaotically impaired by his inability to love her the way she wants to be loved, thus in her darkest, most vacant moments it is I she turns to, in whom she confides, whose careless prescription never suffices to heal, only systematically destroys her, slowly erodes her with the despotic treatment she persistently calls upon me to supply, from which she cannot escape, and yet through all the pain she returns to me time after time, imperceptibly transforming into an enervated slave as the pillars of her life crumble to dust all around her, and she uses me and I her—the same scenario played out, repeated, with each interlude, ending only when she collapses in a wretched heap of puke and hair and spit on the icy, pitted tile, wallowing in salty tears with a stomach full of bitter-hot liquid until she finds me, brings me in again, tomorrow and the next days; I’ll be waiting for her at the liquor store as always.
Daniel Donche is an avid liar, most especially of the written variety. In addition to a handful of self-published novels, his shorter work can be found desecrating otherwise upstanding websites throughout the electronic realm. He can be found at home on http://dandonche.co.
Available now is the Warmed and Bound anthology, brought to you by the good folks at The Velvet, and featuring stories by Nefarious Muse authors Amanda Gowin, Bob Pastorella, Caleb J Ross, Chris Deal, Christopher J Dwyer, Craig Wallwork, Doc O’Donnell, Gary Paul Libero, Gavin Pate, Gordon Highland, Nik Korpon, Pela Via, Richard Thomas, Rob Parker, and Tim Beverstock.
Also featuring new short stories by NM favorites Craig Clevenger, Stephen Graham Jones, and Brian Evenson. With a foreword by the amazing Steve Erickson.
Purchase your copy today. Available in paperback and ebook formats.
this letter to Norman Court is a novella consisting of 22 sections (each around 1250 words) I am releasing by way of serializing the piece across blogs, by reader request. A little hub site is set up at www.normancourt.wordpress.com that has a listing of the blogs that have featured or will feature sections—please give it a look, get yourself all caught up if the below piques your interest.
It is my simple hope to use this as a casual, unobtrusive way to release this material to parties interested. As of now the 22 slots have all been requested (cheers to everyone for that) but if you enjoy what you read please do get in touch with me via firstname.lastname@example.org. I welcome any and all comments on the piece (positive, negative, or ambivalent) or general correspondence about matters literary.
It was strange stepping out off the train, into the station close to four in the morning, strange recognizing immediately and deeply the city I lived in, nothing specific, just the laziness I could walk with, the unconscious understanding how far I was from here or there, feeling I’d not had since stepping on the train originally, letter from Klia to Norman not even open.
Went down the storage area the basement of Murray’s building, reached in through the hole in the wire fence of his little cubby, took the spare key from under the towel on top the boxes I knew had most of his books in them, elevator up to his floor, let myself in. He wasn’t around, supposed he had the night shift as it was just midweek.
Took a long shower his body wash, shampoo, conditioner, used a new one of his disposable razors to shave. Smiled that my Kroger brand pizzas were still in his freezer, tucked to the side of the three half empty boxes of popsicles, only grape flavored ones left, heated one of the pizzas and drank a two thirds full bottle of cold water the fridge, refilled it from the tap. Read more…
Part I: The Beginning, the Bliss, the Edge of the Cliff
She whispers in my ear and, though I don’t hear what she says, I’m hers. And I think she knows it. Jukebox music and chatter collides in the air leaving a steady hum. No sound is complete. Indecipherable. She could have said: If you want to live, call 000 now. I’d still give her my heart, my soul, my everything. Not that it’s much. But it’d all be hers.
I follow her and her friend around. She throws me glances from behind a veil of heavy black eye-shadow, letting me know that she knows.
Her red lips look like they’d be sticky to the touch. I imagine kissing her. Elastic strings of red pull me back when our lips separate.
I stop drinking beer and start sipping water. Clearing my head.
Her friend’s found a fella and wandered into a corner for hand-up-the-skirt kisses.
She sits at a table, alone. I move to her, counting my steps. Left, right, left right. I’m worried I’ll trip and give away my sober cover. Our eyes meet and she flashes a quick smile. Not giving too much away. But enough that I think it’s an invitation. She knows I want it all. She has to.
That water? she says.
I hold up my glass, a schooner. She doesn’t need to know I’ve stopped drinking for her. Not yet.
Vodka, I say.
Course not. With water.
So it is water then.
Well, yeah, I guess. Can I sit?
I don’t know. Can you?
She smiles. A proper smile this time, a soul-crushing smile. Or maybe it was a soul-swelling smile. Not sure yet. I sit because I want to make her smile like that until her cheeks hurt.
We talk about nothing, about everything. The night moves along but time becomes irrelevant. Seats fill and empty and fill again around us.