The cold metal of the gas pump hurts his hand because he didn’t wear gloves because this shouldn’t take long. But it feels like it’s taking long.
His phone rings and he remembers a past year when getting gas was private, and made accidental contemplation happen, when you didn’t have to be anyone until someone wanted you to. Now, someone might want you to at any time.
He becomes someone so he can answer the phone. The new person shifts his weight, feels the cold of the car where he leans on it, looks at the phone and sees that it’s his mother, which reminds him that he has a mother, which reminds him that he once was a child. Or at least that there once was a child, who was a different person than he is now.
He says hi into the phone, which reminds him that one day, he’ll answer the phone and someone he loves will be crying, and suddenly the machinery of his life will be in the wrong lane.
His mother isn’t crying. The machinery is upright.
That’s fine, sure, I can do that, he says to his mother, rearranging his plans, repurposing the machine for something it isn’t quite meant to do.
He hangs up the phone, puts his hand back in his pocket. The gas is done pumping. He wishes it weren’t. He becomes the person who was waiting for the gas to finish, but it’s not the same now—the particularities of being himself matter again.
The noise from the stage runs up his spine, the electricity of the microphone patched directly into him, the singer crooning directly into his frontal lobes, gentleness lost somewhere along the signal path.
He wants to leave, but he told his friend he would come. He wants to return to the stark realness of home, away from the cheap surrealness of the concert.
If this were a time from his personal history wherein he had a lonely apartment and still drank, he would slam two shots right now. They would give him the courage to break his promise, and would spare him the shame of drinking alone at home. If he were still barely employed and living alone, he would take his time on the walk home, avoiding the linoleum and fluorescent lighting of his apartment, avoiding the sheets he hadn’t washed in too long. He would avoid the window that made it too hot when it was closed and too loud when it was open. He would float drunkenly down the sidewalk and revel in an amniotic non-place of interstitial street-ness, of a social para-reality brought on by nighttime, of disorganized muscular tension obscuring to himself how he habitually moves and so who he habitually is.
He would, eventually, though, arrive at his apartment, and at the linoleum and fluorescence, and at the too-hot-or-loud window, and at the sheets he could smell. The situation would force him toward thoughts of a better future wherein he was married and wherein there wasn’t enough drama to fuel basic thought.
Those are these days now, when he won’t break his promise to his friend, when his back is getting sore from the electricity of the singer’s microphone.
There’s a scent in the air of a storm hovering. He feels the smell in his brain more than in his nose, which makes him wonder what organ he’s even using to sense—it feels like the pure fabric of his mind, smoothed and laden with animal focus on impending rain. Everything poised to receive the unthinking sky.
It’s a mysterious time of day, later than afternoon and earlier than evening. Pregnant air bends light into colors and brightnesses he can’t name—maybe combinations of familiar things, or singular, foreign ones.
The horizon is unusually distant. The ends of the quiet street he lives on are distended past where he knows they go. His self-ness liquifies, drawn out along the new length to somewhere that didn’t used to be.
The moment is so still that it can’t be moving forward, can’t be progressing toward future moments in which suffering might reside.
It’s completely bearable here, now. The unknowableness is frank and static, contrasting all the moments of seeming certainty that inevitably break in the hands of the unexpected.
David Evan Krebs has navigated meaning and chronic health issues through the arts since childhood. He’s recently been uprooted from a long stint in his hometown of Lawrence, Kansas in favor of the Southwest.
death is a genderless god grappling for a good hold
on a damp dirty sphere polished on the arc of
a scythe that once leveled fields of yellow-dry wheat and
october poppies like phlegethon tides
and death is a blacksmith of
epic proportions, the fleshy heartbeat of grave dirt is
a song in the way amplifier feedback is
a song worth singing to, but this is not about the killer, this is about
the bones in their neat-sided pine case
and the little brush between the anthropologist’s inquisitive fingers and the
sweeping off of my
hips built just so and you say “girl” you say “girl” when you see me
with yellow carnations on my casket and green velvet lining the
wedding bed because is this not a marriage to my
scythe-man? my hero? the one who un-haunts me?
it is relief, to be gift-wrapped
death is a genderless god grappling to take the weight off my shoulders
and lay what’s left to rest.
on the thirty-first you step on a mum and we are all bones anyway.
stuck my arm between the wolf’s teeth and said bite
my mom got this dog and she calls it her son
well, it’s hers with her boyfriend who is a structure
in my periphery in the same way grave dirt is an epilogue
but anyway she has this dog and she calls the dog
her son and it makes me laugh because i have been her
(daughter/son/kid/daughter/son/kid et cetera) and the particular syntax
of it sounds like d-o-g because her voice breaking
around a guttural howl of “stop that!” is all the same whether it is for me
or her (dog/son/dog/son et cetera)
sometimes i look at her with one thin hand clamped in the scruff of the dogs neck
and i think about concentric tree-ring bruises or else about
a caress and how they feel the same because
a mother’s love is wolf-teeth and a femoral spurt like
that jar of smuckers raspberry i dropped in the kitchen
and it is like all the prismatic shards catching light
and it is like, sometimes, something
in my periphery the same way pomegranate seeds are eucharistic
or her love (peperone piccante calabrese, the bitch’s toothy smile)
the dog is funny because he is stubborn and that is charming
to my mother who hates the same in me but then
he is her (dog/son/dog/son et cetera) and
i am her (daughter/son/kid/daughter/son/kid et cetera)
and anyway the dog sings along to el vivo when i
used to turn the volume knob on the dvd player down to polar zero
with the countenance of one of the forgotten on calvary
so maybe the dog is her (son et cetera) and
i am her (dog et cetera) or maybe (this part is funny)
i look at the dog and want to grab his scruff like
a mother would and meet his ice-blade eyes and
bark back louder, loudest like the deaf cry, or else give him a shake like
my mother taught me, maybe she is the expert or maybe she is
a sunsoaked tuscan grape vine like the kind we walked through
all those neat rows, a patchwork quilt draped over a sleeping body
only she is wrapped up in my rib-space like the pachysandra
that chokes our flower beds out front, god, i know nothing good breaks ground here
the same way i know i am her.
Giovanna D’Arco is studying English and Creative Writing at Rutgers University, where they sing in choirs, argue how short stories are very queer actually, and spend hours admiring the intricacies of bagels and crunchy peanut butter. They are previously published in mags such as Zeniada and JUST POETRY!!!, and recently received the Rutgers Faculty Choice Award for Essay.
Unsummery, that’s how it felt. The once perky grass had lost its bounce under a forgotten sun. Again. Starlings swooped and swirled in shifting clouds, readying themselves – for what they cannot say. And yet, quietly I stood – permanently listening, silently heeding their unsung song… until he came.
They say you can tell the makings of a man by his walk. If that is true, this one was unmade – like some crumpled puppet lolling along, the weight of his world pushing him down, deep into the limp grass – his strings snapping, to gravity’s reprieve. I knew this walk for I had seen its shadow before, like the starlings.
Brandy was an unusual choice, I thought as he gulped with gusto. Neat. His grubby sleeve eagerly dismissing unkempt drips, until the bottle lay dry and empty and alone like him at my feet. Silently, he sat answering questions unasked by me. Only his occasional conniptions punctured the unpollened air, briefly startling the black clouds away… only to reform like water on a slope. Gravity. Maybe it was Brandy’s fault he’d lost this fight? From up here, age is as hard to tell as the weight of a man’s punch. He reminded me of how I feel in the winters: fed up and cracked and old, and tired – tired from all the gravity.
What brings him here to me today, to cry? Men don’t often cry, even when the cheap Brandy’s gone; at least, not the men that I’ve seen – those boyish men, cowering in groups, covering their cracks in hot air. Man alone is different. It would be unkind to ask him why now, even if I could… and so he sat undisturbed, gutlessly watching starlings swirl, casually catching the odd tear on an unhugged sleeve.
What a strange thing for any man to unfurl from a pocket – two tiny, silent maracas. Would his daughter not miss them? I hoped he had not planned on skipping here – here, on the saggy green carpet at my feet. Men don’t usually skip – well, not lazy boxers like him.
And so up onto my cracked skin he climbed, desperately hugging at my core. Undeterred. Occasionally, he glanced back towards the Brandy he knew was long gone like hope; his plastic coat snagging as he went – cheap too… yet, on he fought. From under familiar sleeves, his fumbling fingers grappled at my tired skin, gripping onwards until about my longest limb his silent maraca swooped – my clear blood drawn.
I know knots, but none so tight as these.
He sat for an age, unhugged… until finally, the last maraca swished, filling his jugular from above. And with one final silent sigh he was gone – his perch finally unfelt. Only the unforgiving scrape of his unskipping rope remained, pendulously gnawing its path into me and my flesh. Gravity. I have known a dead weight before. Once. She makes everything heavy; but this rope, with handles of kin had never known such strain. Friction eventually killed her encouraged swing on my chaffed skin, now broken – until eventually, still and unpendulous he hung.
Above our heads the thurible’s unwavering starlings swirled, ephemerally filling the unhot air – they will not resist his lazy push again. And yet, all I can do is stand still and wait – not for some fatherless daughter missing this rope – but for the Brandy-less tears of some passing dog-walker…
Undead – that’s how I am. People think because I am bare and brown and broken that I have gone, but they are wrong – they cannot see under my skin. I am here. They cannot see my workings, what is beneath my surface – for there is plenty. The limp grass might well have lost its bounce, but the spring is awaited – she will come. Starlings should swoop and swirl and dance, for they too know – they have been here before, like me – like I have always been. I will know a dead weight again. Probably. Gravity: pulling everything together, in equal and opposite attraction – Newton’s reaction. But as ever, unpendulous and still they will hang – suspended in her grasp – to pull everything apart.
It’s hard to tell when they will come – the men, or the starlings. One cannot say for certain, but I know that they will. Undoubtedly. Again.
Michael J. Daly is an award-winning writer and medical doctor living in Dublin, Ireland. To date, he has written predominantly for the stage and screen. ‘Un’ is his first short story.