Tag Archives: Alienation

KNOWING ALWAYS COMES TOO LATE by Michael Radon

It was a bright sunny day, the day of Roxanne’s burial. From across the road I could hear children laughing, playing even. Just another slight I’d take the Creator to task for when I got a chance. The sight of that box going in that dirt hole was enough to wear me down. Knowing something is a lot different than seeing something, and the sight of that killed a big part of me.

I used to fawn over her and tell her how perfect she was, which certainly was not true. Every time she broke my heart without batting an eye, or made me cross with rage by some comment crafted just so to pierce right through my resolve, it was like I was plucking those flower petals to get to “she loves me not,” and when I got there I packed my things and left. I know that wasn’t the gentlemanly thing to do, especially considering that meant leaving her to keep raising Melinda on her own, but know that flower metaphor had an awful lot of petals.

Word came to me through one of her old friends, who I kept in touch with through the odd holiday letter. I’d ask about her, and Melinda, and didn’t feel like such a monster then, and for my diligence, I’d get some kind of report about Roxanne as a footnote. I guess the sickness came fast, because it had only been five months since the last letter, and there wasn’t any news of it in there.

She told me Roxanne had passed and I had to stop reading for the night. She asked me to attend the services, said it was the honorable thing to do by her, and to hell with what anybody might say to me. She assured me that it wasn’t a ploy to take Melinda on, she’d gone to stay with Roxanne’s mother, and even if I wanted to make an effort to get her from there, I doubt the respectful Mrs. Stevens would have even let me on the property without calling for my head. I spent a long time thinking about what to do with that. I wrote back and said I wouldn’t be able to make it, but I arranged to send some flowers for the thought.

That only made me feel worse.

Tried drinking it away, tried to forget it and just move on. Death just happens. No sense in making a fuss over it. But that made me feel more the asshole. Finally, I resolved to go in secret, pay my respects, and leave town again. That would just be a chapter in my life I’d finally have to turn my back on completely, and live out my days treating that history like a war – significant, but better not dwelt on daily. I owed her a lot more than an apology, but that was all I could focus on without blubbering.

It got me to thinking that I hoped that when you die, you get to take in the knowledge of everything. Everything people thought about you, and think about you, and what all transpires. You get to take it all in like a sudden eureka and process it without any of the fuss of having to be alive to deal with it. The thought of that gave me a little peace, that maybe she knew I was sorry for giving up and leaving.

All was said and done very quietly and somberly. I saw her friends, her family, I saw Mrs. Stevens crying, and I know she didn’t see me or she would have stopped to give me an earful at best. I lingered around in the shade of an oak tree a good ways off from Roxanne’s grave in the hopes that maybe I could get a few moments alone with her to put it all to rest. I sat against the tree, lit a cigarette, and smoked it in sighs.

It was getting dark, and the last few cicadas of the season were stubbornly begging for more summer. There wasn’t much wind, and if the kids hadn’t gone home already, I wouldn’t have heard them playing over the tires kicking up gravel as all the cars were leaving. A few more minutes and I’d say my goodbyes.

“Annie told me you weren’t coming.”

Surprised, I turned my head quick and saw Melinda, her face looking a lot more composed and strong than mine. I guess after everything she’d been through, her mother dying was just another drop in the bucket for her. Then I noticed she was holding a sleeping toddler in her arms.

“Shit, Melinda. I’m a grand dad?”

“No, just a father of two.”

I flicked the cigarette away to the side. “Can’t say that provides me any more peace of mind.”

“You piece of shit.” Melinda whispered. “So what, you sneak in through the window to get your kicks with mom and not have to see me?” She looked ready to hit me.

“Don’t go makin’ it dramatic, Melinda. Show some respect for your mother.”

“Respect? Did you respect her by walking out and leaving her to raise me by herself? Did you respect her when you got her pregnant again without even being a big enough part of her life to know between now and then? Tell me, dad, when exactly did you respect any of us?”

“What do you want me to do? Take you both in, take care of you? ‘Be a dad?’”

“No.” Her voice started to shake. “Never.” She clenched her open fist and looked right in my eyes. “I just want you to go away.”

I stood up, brushing the dirt off the back of my pants and looking for the right thing to say, the fatherly thing to tell my daughter, but the words didn’t come and I don’t think she wanted to hear them. “Okay.” I took a last look at my young son and then walked away.

Melinda stood still. Didn’t run after me, didn’t want the last word, just wanted to make sure I was gone for good. I try not to entertain thoughts of her ever forgiving me, because that day may never come. I think about it a lot, though, the same way I saw Roxanne clearly when she fought with me; that’s the way I like to imagine Melinda as the years go by. Independent, fierce, her mother’s daughter.

Maybe when my card is pulled, I’ll know if she really hates me as much as she said.

MICHAEL RADON‘s lifelong obsession with digital media makes him an ideal addition to your local pub trivia team. His latest project is growing a beard in an attempt to make people believe him when he says he writes for a living. His irrelevant observations are recorded daily through his blog and twitter.

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WRITER’S BLOCK by Jack Bristow

Dallas Grady, thirty-eight, good looking in spite of a life of hard drinking, pill eating, and two divorces, lay on the motel room bed, cigarette in right hand, fumbling through The Yellow Pages with the other. He was working on his magnum opus, his novel, his written testament to counter the notion that his life had been a waste.

He had told the voice on the other end to bring him over a date with blonde hair and brown eyes—she had to have brown eyes, he instructed, more than once. The voice on the other end had been very accommodating. Dallas swore the man was from the east coast originally—something about the voice. He hung up the phone after giving directions to the room and took a swig from the Southern Comfort bottle, walked over to the typewriter and unwound.

The story was only twenty-five pages so far. It was about a war hero whose wife kicked him out after him having returned home from the war. The woman had blamed the man’s drinking on their divorce but the man had known better. His father had always told him, “Dall. You can’t change the past—so don’t you ever try.” The woman he had married—the naive, brown-eyed cheerleader from Detroit—no longer existed when he returned home from Iraq. In her place was this well-read and independent woman, who had gone to too many political rallies, anti-war, and met a lot of people. A lot of men.

Dallas cringed at the thought. Another veteran. Another goddamn veteran of the same goddamn war who had thrown all his decorations over the fence and onto the White House lawn. And Debbie thought that was just great. Wonderful.

And when he got home she’d wanted him to do the same thing. Bullshit. For what? For who? He had earned his medals—they were the only thank-you the man would probably ever receive for putting his life on the line. Why get rid of them—why throw them out on some silly, unfounded whim?

“Shit.” He yanked page thirty-six from out of the Selectric, red-faced huffing and puffing. That was the thing about us Irish, Dallas had thought miserably. We can’t ever hide anything.

He has having tremendous difficulty merging reality with art. But, goddamn it, he would finish the novel. He just needed some human contact. Some intimacy.

He smirked as he looked into the mirrored wall. His face was so different. No longer rosey and filled with life. Sallow. Rings under his pale grey eyes so dark it had almost looked like he was wearing mascara.

The man in the story had made a lot of friends. Chuck McAnderson. Sergeant Darren Thomas and Curtis de Wade. He had wanted to call them, to really tell another human being something but they, too, were in the past. The brave men he had served with no longer existed. Other men bearing those names were with their families now….

He’d hoped to God they’d at least had families who would miss them, that would be able to tell they weren’t the same people they’d left as. That was the thing about war—not wars, because all wars were the same—but war would keep you more in the past than anything.

He had been gone only two years. One tour. But it had seemed like a lifetime.

Knock knock knock on the door. Dallas hobbled off the chair and unlatched the four-chain locks and deadbolt. A grinning man stood in the doorway with a blonde dressed in cheap ivory colored spandex and fake fur. He had recognized the man’s voice from the telephone.

“Hi there. I am Clayton and this is Luicna. Your date.” And then he had told Dallas the rules. “You can do anything with her you like. I don’t care. She don’t care, neither. Back-door. Missionary. Go downtown. It don’t matter. Just no hitting, no punching. Absolutely no cutting and/or strangulation.”

Dallas nodded solmenly, as if this fine, upstanding gentleman were her father, and Dallas some acne-faced geek escorting her to the prom.

“Another thing. And this is mandantory,” the pimp explained. “I’ll be waiting out here for forty-minutes, but I’ll need some collateral first—something to know who you are, just in case you breach our agreement.”

“No problem.” Dallas handed the man his driver’s license. Expired. The face inside it had seemed a little more colorful and vibrant. But this man standing in front of him was Dallas Grady. There was no mistaking that.

***

Dallas looked into those eyes as he went to work on her. Brown. His body kept going up and down coolly, confidently until there was that unmistakable intense feeling, and then it was all over with.

Brother, he thought. Twenty-nine years old and you still make it like you were seventeen.

Luicna looked at her Mickey Mouse wristwatch— the only thing she was wearing. “That was only twenty minutes. You still have another twenty. You paid for it. Just wait and regroup. Most guys your age, it only takes ‘em what? Five, ten minutes? That’ll give us another ten minutes.”

Dallas grinned evilly. A considerate whore. Now he had seen it all. But he knew when she had grabbed his tricep consideration had had nothing to do with it. She had liked him. And only one of them had gotten their cookies.

“No thanks. Sweetheart. Busy night.”

He saw a mild sadness in the whore’s face. This had made him feel important. Wanted.

“Don’t worry, precious. We’ll have other dates.” He pinched her cheek.

***

At the Selectric now, pounding the keys furiously. His fingers barely able to keep pace with his mind. This was the way to do it—the only way you could write about Debbie without going crazy.

JACK BRISTOW has written for several zines, including Inwood Indiana, The New Flesh, Hobopancakes, and Indigio Rising.

ANTISOCIAL by Dan McEwen

DAN MCEWEN is just another stereotypical artsy neurotic hippie goth misanthrope. He’s a Korean man with a Scottish last name living in Lancaster, PA, where there’s actually a small city and less Amish people than you’d think. He’s also the author of a self-published minicomic called Drawing Blanks, draws and paints, silkscreens, and makes music and noise.

http://etsy.com/shop/drawingblanks

http://facebook.com/danmcewenart

THE REASSESSMENT by John Bruce

Jim sat in a junior high school language arts class in Canterbury, New Jersey, stealing glances out the window at a promising spring afternoon and watching the clock. The teacher was running an exercise where students had to make little extemporaneous talks on randomly assigned topics. Each student had to write a topic on a scrap of paper and drop it into a paper bag; then the victim, at the front of the class, had to draw one of these topics from the bag and say something about it that sounded intelligent.

It was actually good training, since it seemed like every adult in Canterbury was either a doctor, a lawyer, an MBA, a CPA, or married to one, and the need to think on their feet, keep up a glib line of patter, and make quick excuses while still sounding like an expert would be valuable in the future careers of their children. On the other hand, Jim dreaded the prospect of what he’d be hearing for the next 40 minutes (in this, he was wise beyond his years). He had a not-fully-formed notion that the whole town was basically off its rocker, and he envisioned a lot of droning on subjects like the need to maintain a healthy body weight while avoiding eating disorders, or the challenge of climate change.

He did, however, notice that the teacher wasn’t monitoring very closely how the topics were being put in the paper bag as it passed around the room. When it reached him, he saw that she was preoccupied elsewhere, and he decided to take action. He quickly wrote several slips with topics that included “Dump Trucks” and “Kansas City, Missouri”, removed a number of previously deposited slips from the bag, and inserted his own. This, he thought, should improve the odds of having an interesting class.

Laurie Hinkle was the one who had to get up first and give am impromptu talk on one of the random subjects. Some would have said that she was a fine example of Canterbury’s rising generation: smart enough to get into an Ivy League school (as we shall see), natural blonde, medium height, a well-developed figure. Her face was attractive in a way not altogether insipid, and her clear blue eyes seemed almost sincere.

Laurie reached into the paper bag and drew out a slip. Her eyes widened a little bit. She read out the topic, but she dissolved in giggles as soon as she got the words out: “Dump Trucks”. She kept on giggling. She shook her head. She looked toward the teacher with a plea in her eyes. She had nothing, nothing whatever, to say on the subject of dump trucks.

”All right,” said the teacher. “Draw another one.”

She did. This time she read out, “Kansas City, Missouri.” It seemed the bag hadn’t been shaken as well as it might have been. Laurie couldn’t giggle this time; she’d used that one up. She still looked toward the teacher with a plea, but the teacher seemed not to notice. “Kansas City – Missouri?” she asked the ceiling. “I thought – I thought – it was in Kansas.” And that’s about all she was able to say. Perhaps for the first time, Jim noticed that Laurie’s eyes were tinged, just slightly, with disappointment – in fact, maybe not just disappointment, but something almost like tragedy.

Some would have said that Laurie was a fine example of Canterbury’s rising generation, but that opinion wasn’t universal. One afternoon not long after the class with the impromptu speeches, the phone rang at Jim’s house, and he picked it up. “This is Laurie Hinkle,” said the voice at the other end. It was very convincing, but in hindsight, the saccharine ingénue tone was overdone, and that should have been a warning. “I’m giving a party next Saturday, and you’re invited.” She went on to give the details.

In fact, the voice was that of Roberta “Chewie” Zimowski, and the party invitation was a prank concocted by the alpha girls of the eighth grade. It isn’t known how many people besides Jim were invited, and the fact that Jim was singled out at all suggests that he wasn’t any more popular among the alphas than Laurie. A day or two after the call, he saw her in school and thanked her for the invitation. “What?” she asked. “No – no – there isn’t any party.” The details of the plot emerged soon thereafter via the grapevine.

Whatever his earlier opinion of Laurie, and whatever other impressions he’d formed from her response to the impromptu topics, he felt a vague sympathy for her if all the right people in Canterbury – or at least, those of them who were in the eighth grade — made her the butt of jokes. After all, if the whole town was off its rocker, what was one to think of anyone the town itself thought in any way strange? But Jim noticed again in the wake of this episode that Laurie’s eyes were tinged, just slightly, with disappointment – in fact, maybe not just disappointment, but something almost like tragedy.

A couple of years later, Jim’s family moved away from Canterbury, or more accurately, they moved to a different town in a different state, but it was still basically Canterbury. Each such place sends a contingent of its high school graduates to the Ivy League every year, and Jim, a member of that town’s contingent, got to the Ivies and found many of the people he used to know in Canterbury there. One night, at a mixer, a blonde haired, blue-eyed lady came up to him. “Jim, do you remember me?” she asked. “I’m Laurie Hinkley.”

He did remember her. She hadn’t lost the saccharine ingénue tone of voice that Chewie Zimowski had so successfully imitated, and she hadn’t lost the hint of disappointment in her manner that was almost tinged with tragedy. But this renewed the question he’d been working on a few years earlier: in Canterbury’s view, she was different. And if Canterbury was crazy, was she sane, or at least sympathetic? More than that, crazy, sane, sympathetic, or none of those, she was at least good looking. So he chatted with her for a while at the mixer, and by the by, he got her contact information.

Jim had been discovering that the great unspoken subtext in Ivy dating centered on whether a guy had money, and failing that, whether he planned to become a doctor, lawyer, MBA, or CPA. Any other ambition, or lack of same, suggested he was gay, on drugs, or otherwise beyond the pale, though enough money could cancel any undesirable quality out. Whatever else might be said of Laurie Hinkle, in the chat he’d had with her, she didn’t seem to have that particular agenda.

So he invited her for a weekend. Mostly it turned out to be ordinary and unmemorable. On Saturday night, they went to a film, and when they got back to his room afterward, they started kissing. She seemed eager enough about it. But then, after a while, he put his hand on her boob, and that changed everything. She sat up, an expression of shock on her face. “I – I hadn’t expected that at all,” she said. Jim was nonplussed. All she actually had to do, after all, was tell him not to.

She got the look of disappointment tinged with tragedy on her face. This time, the tragedy won out. “I’m going to have to leave,” she said. “Can you take me to the bus station?”

”Are you sure there’s a bus back this time of night?” he asked.

”Yes. There’s one at eleven.” She’d checked the schedule already, it seemed. He took her to the bus station. There was nothing else to do. No matter how he looked at it in subsequent days, he couldn’t get around the idea that the whole town of Canterbury was off its rocker.

JOHN BRUCE’S writing has appeared recently, or will appear, in 13th Warrior Review, The Bare Root Review, Bound Off, Cantaraville, decomP, Diddledog, DOGZPLOT, Fiction at Work, Greenbeard, The Journal of Truth and Consequence, Long Story Short, Lyrical Ballads, Pank, Pear Noir!, Press 1, Short Story Library, Underground Voices, Why Vandalism?, and Word Riot. He has degrees in English from Dartmouth College and the University of Southern California and lives in Los Angeles.