Monthly Archives: October 2015

the handless maiden

The Handless Maiden by Ericka Lugo

Once upon a time, a miller lived with his wife and daughter at the edge of the forest on the outskirts of a beautiful kingdom, miles away from the village. Generations earlier, a special path had been cleared for the Queen’s horses through the wood, and for many years it was the exclusive mill of the entire kingdom. However, a new mill had been erected in the village with the latest technology, employing not one but several millers, and within only a few years, the new mill had grown so large it overshadowed the little mill by the forest. The miller even lost his account with the Queen.

Hard times fell upon the miller. He had once been prosperous, even wealthy, but now he was very poor. He had once pampered his wife and daughter, and they had an esteemed position in the village. He had hoped that his daughter would marry one of the king’s court by the time she was of marrying age. Now, even the lowliest villager would not take her. His wife and daughter foraged for food in the forest and picked apples from the trees behind the mill to sell at market. The miller’s wife begged him to take a position at the new mill and put his skills to use. But his pride was too great, and he refused.

When the miller’s wife grew hot and bright with fever, there was no money to bring her to the doctor. The sickness spread throughout her body and within a week, she was dead. The miller’s daughter had tried in vain to nurse her mother back to health. At her bedside, she had solemnly promised her mother that she would take care of her father. Through her grief, she took over all of her mother’s duties, and she still foraged, cleaned, bought and made household goods, and sold apples at the market. She cared for her father the best she could, but he was inconsolable.

The miller took to drinking sour mash, and spent his days in a drunken stupor. He cried and prayed for his fortune to change. One day when his daughter was at the market, a strange visitor knocked on the door.

“Whaddya want?” The miller slurred.

“I want to help you,” the stranger answered.

“You want to help me? You can’t help me. Can’ya bring my wife back? Can you bring my mill back? Can you restore what has been taken from me?”

“Yes.”

The miller roared with bitter laughter. “How?”

“Give me what is behind the mill.”

“And then what?” The miller asked, thinking of the rows of apple trees behind the mill, their only source of income.

“Then you will have a new wife, a new life, and all the riches you desire.”

“Sounds like you want me to make a deal with the devil.”

“Only if that is what you want.”

The miller and the stranger looked each other in the eye for a good few minutes, as if trying to read the others thoughts.

“Give me what is behind the mill, and you will have your heart’s desire.”

The miller thought about his daughter, and the back-breaking work of picking and selling the apples. He imagined her good, sweet face, so much like her mother’s.

“Okay,” he said.

“It’s a deal,” the stranger said, extending his hand.

The miller took his hand, and for a second, he felt a hot jolt course through his arm. Their handshake was hard and firm, binding.

The stranger bowed, “thank you, Sir. I will go collect her now.”

“Her?” The miller asked quickly, but too late. The stranger turned on his heel and was already out the door.

The miller ran after him. His daughter was under one of the trees with the bushel next to her. His heart dropped. He watched as the devil approached her.

“No,” he shouted, running towards them.

The miller’s daughter turned around in alarm. She saw the stranger approaching her. She saw the pain and anguish on her father’s face as he rushed toward her.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

“My dear, your father has just given you to me,” the stranger said, smiling.

“No I didn’t!” The miller shouted.

“We just sealed the deal with a handshake,” the stranger reminded him, and the miller’s hand flashed as if on fire.

“No …” the miller said weakly, clutching his burning hand to his chest.

The stranger reached for the miller’s daughter, but when he tried to take her hand, he realized that he could not touch her. She was too pure; she was protected. He growled with anger, then turned and walked away.

“Cut off her hands!” he instructed the miller as he rushed past him. “I will be back.”

The miller sunk to the ground.

“Father, what is going on?” his daughter asked him.

“He asked for what was behind the mill … the apple trees … in exchange for … in exchange for …” The miller couldn’t continue. He broke down crying.

“What?”

“I won’t let him take you. I won’t.”

“Who is he, Father?”

“The devil.”

The miller’s daughter shuddered. She knew that her father was in a bad sort these days, but now he thought he was making deals with the devil? She was very worried about him. She brought him into the house and made a pot of tea. She consoled him in the ways that she had watched her mother console him, with food and drink and nonsense words, then she put him to bed like a child. She found his stash of sour mash and threw it away. Her father’s drinking was out of control.

She replayed what had happened over and over again in her head. None of it made sense. She decided to stay home and watch over her father instead of going back to the market. She had returned early because she sold all of the apples she had brought and wanted to get more. There was much to do at home anyway, and she began her household chores. She checked on her father regularly; he was sleeping like a baby.

Hours later, another visitor knocked at the door. The miller’s daughter started, afraid that it was the same stranger from earlier that day, but it was not. It was a local man from the village, come to talk with her father about business. He explained that the mill in town had an overage and he wondered if her father would be interested in contracting some of the work.

“Yes,” the miller’s daughter answered for him. “He will be ready to begin tomorrow.”

The little mill on the edge of the forest prospered, and the miller and his daughter fell into a comfortable routine, the visit from the stranger long forgotten. The miller’s daughter had grown to enjoy selling apples at the market, so she continued, even though it was no longer necessary. Day after day, the miller’s daughter grew more beautiful, rosy and healthy. Sometimes the miller watched her and was reminded so strongly of his wife, he felt his heart swell. Sometimes, as he hugged her good-night, his body responded before his mind, and his erection was swift and hard, pressing.

Months passed, and the miller became obsessed with the idea that his daughter was his wife’s replacement in nearly every way, except one. She looked so much like her, she could have been her twin. She loved him, she cared for him, she cooked and cleaned for him. He loved his daughter, but he desired a wife.

The miller’s daughter began to feel a little uncomfortable under her father’s hungry gaze, though she did not know the reason behind it. She was a young woman, no longer a little girl, but she was still innocent. There was a man she had met at the market who said he loved her. Once, he kissed her on the mouth, and she felt her soul sing. He wanted to ask her father for her hand in marriage, but the miller’s daughter wanted to wait. She wanted to make sure her father would be okay without her.

“Father, when do you think I should get married?” she asked one sunny morning after her father had awoken in a particularly good mood.

“Do you think you are ready?” the miller asked, his brow starting to furrow.

“Yes,” his daughter answered.

“Are you telling me that you met someone?”

The miller’s daughter’s face flushed.

“Where?” he asked sharply, his mood quickly turning.

“At the market, father.”

The miller’s face grew dark. He left, returning to his bedroom. After a few moments, his daughter knocked softly on the door. He opened the door angrily, his face contorted with rage. He grabbed his daughter by the arm roughly and pulled her into the room. She stood, shaking with confusion, as he held her by the shoulders and kissed her hard on the lips. The miller’s daughter shook her head, trying to get away from the terrible kiss.

“Did he kiss you like that?” the miller said angrily.

“Stop, father. Please …” she said, caught in his tight embrace.

He pushed her onto the bed and his full weight fell on top of her. He removed his belt with one hand while holding her down with the other, then he used the belt to bind her hands above her head. She rolled from side to side, trying to get away, but he was too strong, he overpowered her. He pushed her skirt up with one hand while unbuttoning his pants with the other.

“No …” she cried, moving her body violently, bringing up her knees to kick him. He staggered from the blow, and she rolled off the bed, hitting the floor with a thud. With her hands still bound, she used them as leverage to stand, and then she ran, out of the room, out of the house, and into the woods, as far and as fast as her feet would carry her.

But she was off balance, and she tripped and fell on the path. Her father caught up with her, and found her lying helpless on the forest floor. He bent over her, and grabbed her arm. He held her steady, her hands still bound. With his other hand, he pulled the belt around her wrists higher, immobilizing her outstretched arms. In one swift motion, he drew a long sword from the sheath on his back, the sharp edge glittering briefly in the light before it fell upon her wrists, slicing through skin, blood, bone.

“Let the devil take you,” he said.

She was stunned by the blow, in shock from the loss of blood. She did not scream. She did not make a sound. A murder of birds in the surrounding trees flew up suddenly, releasing a cacophony of shrieks and caws, leaving a throbbing silence in their wake. Her hands gone, the belt loosened and fell to the ground with a dull thud. Her father released his grip on her arm, letting her fall among the dirt and dried leaves.

She cried and cried, her tears cleansing the wound. And when there were no tears left, she cried more; she was wounded, her soul blindsided, her heart broken. The devil hovered around her, but still he could not touch her; her tears had washed away even the sin inflicted upon her, and she was still pure. At one point she gathered enough strength to stand, but she could barely walk; she staggered piteously until she got caught in the thorny bramble that had overrun the path, and she tripped again, and fell unconscious.

Perhaps it was the scent of the blood, or the hand of fate interceding, but the prince’s dogs led the hunting party astray. They had been down the ragged, unused path for over an hour, and it seemed that the dogs had taken over the expedition. A sense of urgency had replaced the hunting party’s earlier joviality, and one of them wondered aloud if they should turn back.

“No,” the prince said.

“But, there’s no game in this part of the woods. We’ve been out here for hours … soon the light will be gone …”

“Keep going,” the prince said, his sense of desperation growing. His dogs had never acted like that before, and it was making him anxious.

Far ahead on the path, the dogs started barking.

“Finally!” someone shouted, and the hunting party ran to see what the dogs had found.

None of them were prepared to find a human body among the tangled bush. None of them were prepared for all the blood.

“Is she dead?”

The prince stepped forward, carefully clearing a path through the thorns and bramble as he advanced. He knelt next to her, trying to find a pulse before realizing that the young woman’s hands had been brutally chopped off. Blood had soaked through the front of her dress, but there seemed to be no other wounds. Her heartbeat was weak, but she was still alive.

“We need to go back. We need to get help,” someone said.

“I won’t leave her …” the prince said, tearing off pieces of his shirt to make a tourniquet for her wounds.

Another member of the party came up with a quick plan, and they dispersed. Two would search for the village doctor, another would alert the Queen to prepare for their return, and the last would herd the dogs while the prince carried the young woman back to the castle.

Each day, the young woman grew stronger. Each day, the prince loved her more. She was so sweet and beautiful; she was a child sent to him downriver in a bulrush basket, and he promised heaven and earth that he would love and care for her for the rest of his life, if only she would love him in return. He needn’t have worried; she had been cast from her home and into the dark forest, left for dead, then rescued by a prince. She loved him so much she thought her heart might burst.

Within a few months, the prince and the handless maiden were married. As a wedding gift, the prince commissioned a pair of silver hands to be created for her. Though her silver hands were not functional, they were amazingly beautiful, as delicate and light as a piece of lace. She imagined that they were like a piece of jewelry, an adornment, and she loved her husband’s heart for thinking of the gift. With time, she was able to manipulate the appendages like a simple machine, and she could pick up and move some items using her silver hands, albeit clumsily.

In marriage, the handless maiden and the prince loved each other fiercely. Each night, she fell asleep in his loving arms, safe and protected, thinking this must be what happily ever after feels like.

The Queen was overjoyed with the union, and the entire kingdom rejoiced when only a couple of months after the wedding, they announced a pregnancy. In the far away, fairy tale kingdom, true love ruled the minds and the hearts of the people. Outside the kingdom, however, war loomed. Though the prince wanted to stay for the baby’s birth, it soon became a necessity for the prince to oversee negotiations with a hostile neighboring kingdom. The Queen promised that she would care for the handless maiden, and write him immediately after the baby’s birth. The prince left, promising the entire kingdom that he would stay until a peaceful resolution had been reached, no matter how long it took.

After the baby’s birth, the Queen did as promised, and sent a message to her son, telling him that the baby was a beautiful girl, and that both mother and child were fine. A messenger was sent directly, but it was a long trip to the neighboring kingdom, and the messenger stopped mid-way at the crossroads, seeing a shady tree that would be perfect for a short rest. Unbeknownst to the messenger, the devil was waiting there, and while he slept, the devil changed the message to say that the baby was hideously deformed.

Upon receiving the message, the prince was surprised; however, he sent another message back immediately, saying that he loved his wife and child, no matter what. Again, the messenger took a brief respite under that same shady tree, and again, the devil was waiting to switch the message. After the note had been delivered to the Queen, she sent for her most trusted advisor. When he entered her rooms, he found the Queen in a debilitated state. She shakily handed the note to him. He read it quickly.

“This is not from the prince,” he said.

“It has his seal.”

“He never would have written those words.”

“It is his hand.”

“Something is very wrong.”

“I know,” the Queen sobbed.

Early the next morning, the Queen told the handless maiden that it would be best for her to leave the castle until she figured out what was going on. Right now, both her and the baby’s life were in danger. The Queen packed a bag of provisions, and placed it carefully on the handless maiden’s back. Then, she swaddled the baby and strapped her to young woman’s chest. They would be safer in the woods.

“A week, my sweet child,” the Queen said with tears in her eyes. “Hide well.”

“What if he can’t find me?”

“He will find you. His love for you is true. I would swear my life on it.”

“I’m afraid,” the handless maiden said.

“You are stronger than you know,” the Queen said. “I would swear my life on that, too.”

And with that, the handless maiden was cast into the woods once more. The baby was breast feeding, so she did not have to worry about her nourishment, but the handless maiden grew weaker as the days passed, and she began to run out of provisions. After two weeks, she stopped counting the days. She walked and walked, stopping only to find shelter for the night. She rarely stayed in the same place for more than one night. She was lost in the dark forest with a baby strapped to her, not knowing where she was going or what she would find when she got there.

Days, she felt brave and free, and she sang with a chorus of birds to the baby, enjoying simple, quiet moments with her child under the sun dappled canopy. Nights, she burrowed with her child close to the ground, their shelter camouflaged under bushes. Though it offered no real protection, she tried to feel safe, and she pressed her baby to her breast, her heartbeat strong and loud. Never had she seen such a quiet, happy baby; it was as if she understood that it was best to be quiet in the dark forest, to hide until it was light again.

One day, the handless maiden was feeling especially weary. She had been moving through a dry area of the woods, and had not had anything to eat or drink for days. She did not know that the devil was watching her relentlessly. He had only three chances to take her, after the deal he had made with her father, but he could not take someone so pure. Because of that, he had already lost two chances; he was biding his time, waiting for the final opportunity to present itself.

When the handless maiden came across a small pond, she nearly cried, she was so thirsty, and she bent over the fluid surface to drink. The baby, swaddled and attached to her chest, saw something shiny in the water, and lunged forward to reach it, falling head-first into the pond. A pain she had never known seized the handless maiden as she plunged her useless silver hands into the water, to save her child. When she pulled the baby out from the depths, the handless maiden nearly fainted from shock; her hands were no longer silver, but flesh and bone.

She knew that no matter what happened next, she would survive.

When peace had been restored between the kingdoms, the prince returned home to find his wife and child missing. He searched the woods day and night, but he could not find them. The weather began to turn, and dry leaves fell from the trees. He found one of his wife’s silver hands washed up by the edge of a pond, and he began to fear the worst, but he would not leave the dark forest without them.

He had found her once before, unconscious, wounded and broken. He would find her again. But when he saw the apparition before him on the path, a beautiful young woman singing to a baby, alive and whole and happy, he thought he must be dreaming. He approached cautiously, but the woman sensed his presence and looked directly at him. She was no longer the handless maiden, or the miller’s daughter, or even the prince’s wife. She did not need to be saved. Everything had changed. Still, he reached for her hands, and brought them to his lips, kissing her palms and the tips of her fingers. Nothing had changed; her heart was the same heart, and he loved her.

He picked up the baby, took his love by the hand, and together, they left the dark forest and returned to the castle, where they all lived happily ever after.

*

the handless maiden by doncella mancaThe Handless Maiden by Doncella Manca


reading series 10.2

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One of the interesting parts I find about being a writer is the pieces I do not publish. On my computer, I have many stories and poems that I’ve collected throughout the years that are in varying states of completion, sketched out in drafts, or finished but not likely to be published. There are even novels and plays that I have never (not yet!) completed. I believe that this is true for most artists.

The reasons why these pieces linger are as varied as the states I’ve left them in. I have many ideas for stories and poems, and there is a certain necessity to putting them down in written form, but that does not necessarily mean that they are ever intended for the public eye. There are stories that didn’t make it into my dark and erotic collection (Into the Woods) for different reasons; one I thought was way too subversive, another way too romantic. Will I publish them elsewhere? I have no idea. When you write to write, and not with an eye towards a specific market or specific publication, many times these pieces of writing linger in a purgatorial state. When looking towards publication, there is always a question of fit, and many pieces I have do not appear to fit anywhere. So, they linger. I’ve found places for some of these stories years after their writing, which is always interesting. I’ve revised stories years after their initial drafts. Even work that is accepted for publication can take up to a year to be actually published. “New” work is rarely “new.”

One of the reasons I started this reading series was to share some of these lingering stories and poems in a direct way with readers. These are the stories and poems that I am not looking to publish as part of a collection or an anthology. Many times, I’m sharing work that doesn’t seem to “fit” anywhere else, but I still like them for whatever reason, and don’t want them to stay trapped in a doc file. Sometimes I share things that have been published, and wish to impart a sort of contextual lens to the work. Other times, I share stories from my life, written specifically for this purpose, as in my “stories of failure” series.

Awhile ago, I came across this idea: “You are not reading what I wrote.” I think this is always true, even as it applies to myself with work that I have written. This is the idea that readers bring something very important to the process of writing. I believe that good writers leave a lot to the reader’s imagination, making them an active part in the process of creating the story. “What I wrote” is only the beginning of the process. Readers are essential in bringing a story to life, by bringing their own sense of meaning and connections to the words they read. In this sense, “what I wrote” will be a different story to every person who reads it. Furthermore, it will be different to each person at different points in his or her life. This is one of the major reasons why I love re-reading and revisiting not only books that I love, but my own work as well.

In thinking of what to share today, I kept coming back to a story that I wrote a very long time ago. This story is called “Kill your television!” I wrote this story even before I attended my MFA program, which is now quite some time ago too. For many years, I considered myself a poet and fiction writing was elusive to me. One of the reasons I wanted to receive a MFA was to study fiction, although I wound up studying playwriting, which is another story altogether …

Nevertheless, I brought this story into one of the workshops, and everyone liked it a lot, but even then, no one could offer suggestions in which to change it. It was a slice of life, a little piece about college life, a time capsule. People in the workshop felt that it was a throwback to the 70s, which was something that I had not even anticipated (the title itself was a partial reference to a song that was relatively popular in the early 90s, when I began my college years. I also felt that the television was a substitute for the self); however, I see the threads my fellow students saw to 1970s subculture more clearly now.

For me, I was writing about some of my college experiences a few years after the fact. Like so many writers, I drew heavily upon my personal experiences in creating my earliest attempts at “fiction.” This is a fictionalized account, but it is also surprising at how much of what I wrote was thinly veiled truth. I just wrote it. I never intended on publishing it. I wasn’t even sure it was a proper story. Yet, this is a story that still makes me smile when I re-read it. I remember how I was trying to wrap my mind around telling a story, working on dialogue and character. I think that it is interesting that my voice is pretty much the same. I also love some of the lines, such as:

“Yaron threw the television out the kitchen window as dawn gave way to day on Wednesday morning, before Diane had the abortion, before Thom od’d, before I told James I was leaving and he painted all the red doors in his apartment black.”

“My room was my refuge, my safe haven. I had painted the walls forest green, and because I was inept with a roller, ragged green edges that looked like grass surrounded the parameter of the still-white ceiling. I had plans for the ceiling, and I used to lie on the floor, looking up, imagining what I would paint. When I moved out, the ceiling remained white, only slightly imprinted by the will of my imagination”

“He was offering me a path that would only lead further and further into darkness. I had spent nearly three days in seclusion, trying to figure out a way in which to live. I had already figured out all the ways in which to die.”

“Before I had time to answer him, he kissed me. I had been numb for so long I didn’t recognize the space between us expand and contract, or that my body moved according to his. I didn’t know how it was that my breath caught under his touch, against my more logical inclinations. All this, and I kissed him back, breaking my heart so he wouldn’t have to.”

There is also a bittersweet element to reading this story, because it does contain some elements of truth. That was my room when I lived off-campus, painted dark green with ragged edges that looked like grass extending around the perimeter. I did used to lie on the floor, imagining blue sky and clouds instead of the chalky white above me. Reading this story brings me back to that time, a time of great uncertainty in my life. It is amazing to think of how far I have come in the past twenty or so years.

Reading this also brings to mind the idea of publication, which is another thing that I think most writers struggle with. Publication is an important part of the writing process, but it is not the only part, and I think it is far from the most essential part. In our contemporary time, the idea of publication has also expanded greatly. Since I am writing this on my website, one could say that I am inherently “publishing” my work. Some would say that it is only through 3rd party publication that one is truly “published.” Is not publication the opportunity for others to read what you have wrote? Is that not the reward for any writer … to be read?

Relatively recently, I came across a post from a writer who was lamenting the lack of opportunities to be published in the erotica field, due to some major publication houses closing and the lack of monetary compensation awarded for stories. This writer has also posted an extensive collection of stories on her website, which is available for free to all. The irony is that she was lamenting not the opportunity to be published exactly – she has been publishing her stories on her own site for many years. What she was upset about was the opportunity to be paid for her work. Only a few short years ago, it was common to be compensated about $100 per story in the erotica field. In today’s market, $25 is considered to be in the high range for payment. There are many reasons for the depreciation in value, but I have to divorce the monetary compensation from the freedom many writers have (including her) to publish their own work across the internet, without the somewhat limiting hand of external publishers.

I’ve also recently come across a post from a writer complaining about the nepotism in a well known and respected sci-fi/fantasy/horror website. Apparently, there is a tie between a certain writing program and the publisher, and a disproportionate number of graduates have been published there, many within a year or so after graduating said program. Are they being groomed for publishing? Perhaps … sometimes people go into specific MFA programs because they are well connected. That is a reality. However, I truly feel that this a short-term success. Writing is life-work, and no matter how well you are connected through a MFA program, long-term success rests solely on the writer. Writers are meant to grow and evolve. While MFA programs can be transformational spaces, their function is to help emerging writers learn the craft of writing. Two years with a specific set of teachers can only teach so much.

As I said, writing is life-work. Our true teachers are those who have written in the past, those who have left their legacy through their work. Teachers of creative writing know this. There is always more to learn. There is always room to grow. As in any craft, one learns most by doing, by living and breathing through their work. Anyone can follow a formulaic plot line or keep regurgitating the same material. The writers we celebrate are often the ones who have unlearned what they learned, who have created new ways of expression, measuring their success by their own measure, and not what society has defined that as. Is Tom Clancy a success? Of course he is a best selling author. There is a big publishing house behind him. He also doesn’t write his own books. He has become a name, a brand, a pre-formulated, calculated machine meant to churn out books to the general public. That is not my idea of success.

Ah, I am getting tangential again. Where was I? I am posting in this reading series, taking about a story that I wrote a long time ago that I never intended on publishing, something I wrote when I was young and searching for meaning, standing at a precipice between life and death, choosing life.

To read “Kill your Television!”, click here.

 

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kill your television!

kill your television bw by shanti knapp

 

Yaron sat alone in his room, watching television. No one knows what provoked him. He mentioned that it was fucking with his head. Grasping the bulk with his arms, he picked up the television and ripped the plug from the wall. He staggered from his room, across the hallway and into the living room, where, it was told; he appeared suddenly like an avenger, like someone reclaiming something.

The three or four people left in the living room gaped at first, and then shouted their encouragement. Someone tried to help, but Yaron shrugged him off. Yaron did not falter in his movements, though his arms strained against the weight. He was followed into the kitchen, where he shouted “Open the god damn window!” Someone did.

The revelers gathered on the fire escape before helping Yaron back out through the kitchen window, still clinging to the television. It was as if the television were some sort of odd growth against him, so that when he thrust it forward, over the rail, it seemed that, for a minute, he was throwing part of himself to the ground below.

There were only a few seconds of free fall before the television made impact. The sharp crack and the sound of shattering glass cut through the silence of night. A few seconds after releasing their collective breath, everyone laughed and shouted in triumph. Yaron laughed with the rest of them. He laughed so hard that tears sprung to his eyes. He laughed, fighting the unbearable urge to break down and cry.

Yaron threw the television out the kitchen window as dawn gave way to day on Wednesday morning, before Diane had the abortion, before Thom od’d, before I told James I was leaving and he painted all the red doors in his apartment black.

Yaron was the one who started it all. It was he who broke the thread. He threw the television out the window on Wednesday and was gone by Friday, without a note or word of explanation; the only clue lying in the balding grass in the back lot of his apartment. The empty shell of the cracked television was left to lie in shattered glass, dirt and weeds until the landlord cleared it away in May.

Tuesday night started no differently than any other night in our small college town. Diane came over after her evening class. She was one of the few who actively attended school; the rest of us had either dropped out or graduated. I was decidedly in the “dropped out” category, in my room listening to Iron Butterfly, contemplating the creation of being and non-being, when my roommate knocked sharply on my door and announced Diane’s arrival, saying “Jesus, open a window.”

Diane walked in and smiled as I handed her a joint. She took it between her thin fingers and sat down on the floor cross legged, inhaled and handed it back to me. Diane and I knew each other well; we had lived together in the dorms before I left school and moved to an apartment off-campus. “I need you to come with me to Yaron’s,” she said.

“Now?” I asked. I hadn’t left my room in the three days I had been off work, and I really wasn’t in the mood to go anywhere.

My room was my refuge, my safe haven. I had painted the walls forest green, and because I was inept with a roller, ragged green edges that looked like grass surrounded the parameter of the still-white ceiling. I had plans for the ceiling, and I used to lie on the floor, looking up, imagining what I would paint. When I moved out, the ceiling remained white, only slightly imprinted by the will of my imagination.

“I don’t want to stay that long,” Diane told me, looking into the window above my mattress and smoothing her long dark hair, “I need to talk to him about something. Besides, he told me he has something for us.”

Diane tilted her head to the side. “Please, Kim… I really don’t want to go alone.”

She looked at me plaintively, her beautiful face drawn in a mock pout of sadness. “I promise we’ll just go, I’ll talk to him for a few minutes, then we’ll get the stuff and leave.”

“What do you have to talk to him about?” I asked. Yaron was in love with her and she knew it, yet; she had no interest in pursuing anything with him, even though they were sleeping with each other. She told me that she had no interest in the politics of domesticity.

Diane sighed and blew out a couple of lazy smoke rings, each perfect O hanging in the air between us.

“I can’t tell you right now. I need to talk to him first. Then, I’ll tell you. Okay?”

“We can’t just leave,” I said, “You know he’s going to want to smoke with us.”

She sighed again, this time more deeply. “You’re right. So, we’ll hang out for a little while.” She stretched and stood up. “You ready?”

“Is anyone else going to be there?” I asked.

I was hoping that Yaron would be alone, but it was unlikely. He lived with three other guys, one of whom was Thom, and I had been avoiding Thom since that night of the party, when he lured me into his bedroom with the promise of seeing his photographs. I had heard that he was a really good photographer and I suppose I was naïve, but I really didn’t expect him to push me onto the bed the minute we walked into the room.

Diane thought he probably didn’t even remember that night; he was so drunk. But I could never forget the violent blue of his eye, the way he held me down on the bed. He made me nervous. He said I was just like him; we were twin souls, searching desperately for meaning in this blurry and overexposed world.

“I’m sure it will be the usual.” Diane said. “But we’re not staying long. Okay?”

“I really don’t want to see Thom.”

“I know, I know,” she said. “You’re paranoid. Thom’s a cool guy. I don’t know why you don’t like him.”

I didn’t tell Diane the extent of what went on in Thom’s room. Sometimes, she could be insensitive about such things. If it was just sex, she would have understood. But it wasn’t just sex. We didn’t even have sex. We kissed on his bed in the blackness of his room and talked about dreams, nightmares, emptiness. Mind expansion, self-destruction. He wanted me to save him, when I couldn’t even save myself.

“It’s not that I don’t like him.” I said.

“Well, even if he is there, he doesn’t share the same part of the apartment as Yaron. So… don’t worry. Besides,” she said, looking me over, “it will be good for you to get out.”

I nodded and crushed out the joint in the ashtray, placing it in my pack of cigarettes. I stood up and turned off the record player while Diane blew out the candles.

We left the incense burning and I shut the door to my room. My roommate gave us a dirty look when we passed her bedroom. “Don’t forget your key this time,” she called out to me.

“Okay Mom,” Diane replied.

Diane and I started laughing. We barely made it out the front door. She tripped on her long skirt and I walked into the bookcase; we were that stoned. Before I closed the door, Diane asked me, quite innocently, “Do you have your key?” and we fell into each other, laughing again.

Outside, the night was clear and cool. It was almost spring and the snow was just beginning to melt. The sheer contrast of being outside sobered us a little while we walked the six or seven blocks to Main Street. Main Street ran the length of the town, and housed numerous bars, restaurants and random shops. Yaron lived only a block away from the restaurant where I worked.

As we got closer, Diane broke our silence and asked tentatively “So, what’s going on with James?”

I took out a cigarette and lit it before I replied truthfully, “Nothing.”

James was my boss. We had been hanging out before his ex-girlfriend the pharmacist came back into his life. She rode up to the restaurant one day on a loud Harley, bearing prescription drugs. I had never seen her before, and I was surprised that she was so different from James. James was a quiet man, who gave free meals to the residents of the outpatient mental health clinic nearby, in exchange for a few lithium, valium, artane, whatever.

The first time I hung out with James, we barely spoke to each other. He asked me to smoke with him after work. He seemed really cool and shy and nervous and within an hour, he had a seizure. I hadn’t known he had epilepsy. I stayed with him the entire night with his head on my lap, afraid to leave or go to sleep. I had memorized the features in his face before he woke, and when he did, we loved each other. Or, I thought we did.

“He’s still with the ex-girlfriend?” Diane asked. Cruelly, I thought.

“I guess she’s not his ex-girlfriend anymore. I don’t know.” James said he loved us both. Theoretically, I could understand. I just wished it didn’t hurt so much.

“I always thought he was really strange… Do you have an extra cigarette?”

We stopped at the corner and I extended my pack to her. She lit the cigarette and we stood, smoking, watching people spill out of the bars and onto the street. The area was loud and disjointed with several conversations going on at the same time. I closed my eyes. It had been getting harder and harder to leave my room.

“Are you ready for this?” She asked and I nodded weakly in assent.

We walked a few more feet down Main Street and stopped abruptly in front of Yaron’s door. Diane rang the bell and he buzzed us in. I walked up the long stairway behind her, trying to discern who was there by the voices we heard shouting over music as we ascended the stairs.

Yaron greeted us at the top of the steps. He looked really happy and really drunk. The army green hat that he always wore was askew. He extended his arms and yelled “Diane!” before embracing her in a vice-like hug. Diane hugged him back much less enthusiastically, but he didn’t seem to notice or care.

“Hey, Kim,” he called out to me and I smiled my response back to him.

He put his arm around Diane and led her to the left, which I knew to be a bad sign because Yaron’s area of the apartment was to the right. The left side held the kitchen, living room, Ed’s room and Thom’s room. Diane looked behind her shoulder at me, with one of her “I’m sorry” looks. I had no choice but to follow as they entered the living room, where about ten people were sprawled out over the two couches and the floor.

Several people were involved in a heated discussion about the nature of explicit environmental and structural racism. The air was stagnant with the smoke of cigarettes and marijuana. Beer cans and bottles of liquor crowded the surfaces of the room. Books were stacked precariously on the coffee table.

“You all know Diane …” Yaron interrupted. He introduced Diane to the few people she actually didn’t know. It was hot in the living room. Something loud was on the stereo, a bong was being passed around and Thom sat on the floor in front of the only clear spot on the coffee table, cutting lines. I spotted him just as he turned to look at me. He smiled and gestured for me to come closer. I shook my head. “I know you want to,” he said, almost whispering, before bending down.

I did want to. He was offering me a path that would only lead further and further into darkness. I had spent nearly three days in seclusion, trying to figure out a way in which to live. I had already figured out all the ways in which to die.

“Yaron… it’s too crowded in here,” Diane said, pressing herself against him to whisper in his ear. “Let’s go into your room.”

Yaron nodded. With his arm still around Diane, he began to walk out of the room. Diane reached out and grabbed my arm, “You too, Kim.” Yaron looked crushed and I felt bad for him. Not bad enough to stay in the living room though. He looked at me and I shrugged my shoulders, as if to say “what can I do?” No one said no to Diane. I think he understood.

It was so much quieter in Yaron’s room. We went into his room and he put on Black Sabbath. He turned the volume up as the first dark chords began to fill the room. We sat on the floor while he took out about five bags before handing them to Diane to choose. She decided on two before handing the bags over to me.

“What do you think, Kim?”

“I weighed them before… they’re all about the same.” Yaron said, “I think that one has bigger buds… that’s why it looks a little smaller…”

“Either one,” I said to Diane, handing her back the bags. “I can’t decide.”

“Okay, we’ll take the one with the buds.” Diane reached into her pocketbook to give Yaron the money. He waved her away. “Don’t worry about it.”

Diane looked at me for help, but I wasn’t giving any. She sighed before saying okay, then “Well at least let’s smoke from this bag.”

Yaron took out a packet of rolling papers from his pocket and handed them to Diane before sitting down next to her, nonchalantly. Diane tossed the papers to me and said “Kim, you roll it…” Yaron reached over and tucked a piece of hair behind Diane’s ear. Diane said “Move closer to us, Kim. You’re too far away.”

I moved closer to them. We sat with our legs crossed, so that our knees touched, forming a triangle, a warped trinity. “Wait.” Yaron said, before he stood up and walked to his closet. We watched him return with a bright yellow blanket. “Let’s clambake.”

Diane reached out to help him with the blanket. Yaron sat back down and we resumed our trinity position. We each took some of the blanket and put it over us. The light in Yaron’s room filtered through the thin blanket, and the yellow of the blanket became golden. “It’s like sunlight!” Diane said.

“I feel like I’m in another world.” Yaron said, dreamily. And it was true. Under the blanket, we created a gauzy, bright yellow, golden world. Yaron and Diane held hands. We smoked the joint, close under the blanket, telling stories from our childhoods, trying to define a perfect world.

“What the hell…” A voice cut through our laughter. We looked at each other, caught, and then we began laughing again. “Yaron? Are you under there?” That made us laugh even more and we gasped for air through the smoke. We threw the blanket off us and a cloud of smoke visibly dissipated in the air above our heads.

Thom was standing at Yaron’s door. He stared at us for a second, smiling and shaking his head. “I’m not even going to ask… Listen, Chuck just brought over some acid. You guys up for it?”

“Yeah, man.” Yaron said and extended the joint to Thom. Thom walked over and sat down on the floor beside me. “What about you?” He looked at Diane briefly and then his gaze rested on me.

“No way. I’m really fucked up.” Diane said. She looked at me and then added, “In fact, we should probably be going soon.”

“I know Kim will say yes, won’t you, Kim?” Thom said. He looked into my eyes, and I could feel myself falling into the seductive abyss.

“No.” I said. “I have to work tomorrow. I’d still be tripping if I took it now.”

Diane stood up and told Yaron that she wanted to use the bathroom before we left. They walked out of the room, leaving me alone with Thom. I felt the heat rise on my face. I wanted him to leave. He didn’t leave.

“Every time I see you, you won’t even talk to me.” Thom said, moving a little closer, so that we were sitting face to face, our knees practically touching. “Joe used to tell me all the time about this girl in the dorms who was just like me. Then I met you, remember? We were waiting on Dave’s porch, talking about shit, and you said that you wanted to experience everything, and I said you were just like me … Why are you afraid of me?”

I didn’t answer him. I was afraid of him, of his need.

“I’m sorry if I freaked you out that night.” He said, pulling the band out of his long hair. His hair fell like a black curtain around his shoulders, unnatural and imposing against his pale face and clear blue eyes.

Before I had time to answer him, he kissed me. I had been numb for so long I didn’t recognize the space between us expand and contract, or that my body moved according to his. I didn’t know how it was that my breath caught under his touch, against my more logical inclinations. All this, and I kissed him back, breaking my heart so he wouldn’t have to.

I heard Diane and Yaron and pulled away from Thom. He bit his lip. I stood up and walked over to Yaron’s records.

Yaron and Diane were arguing outside the door. “Please, Diane … I don’t want you to…” Yaron’s voice lowered so that I couldn’t hear the rest of his sentence; his voice rose again, angrily, “What about what I want?” before softening into a desperate “I love you.”

“I’ve made my decision, Yaron.” I heard Diane say, accenting his name with finality.

Diane walked into the room purposefully, her face flushed.“Kim, are you ready?” I was.

Yaron entered the room after her, looking as if he had been punched in the stomach. I looked at the floor. Thom asked if Yaron still wanted the acid, and Yaron did, so together they went into the living room to finish the night with a trip. I followed Diane down the stairs. No one said goodbye.

 

 

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