Friendship

A story I wrote years ago, with minor amendments. Progress is slow.

He stood in silence. Jake didn’t mind, really. And, if he did, it was not as though he could show it. Paul listened. Breathing, mechanical hissing, footsteps and whispers – the usual repertoire of lifeless sounds. He looked around. The room was orderly and clean, the sheets on the bed unruffled and pale. He tried to take a deep breath and almost choked. He needed some air, the night, a less painful quiet. He needed a light.

A good friendship is many things. First and foremost, though, it is the mutual desire to share. We share our time. We share stories, memories and ideas. When we meet someone cute and funny; when parents give us shit about decisions; when there is something we want desperately, our friends know. Relationships are built upon words, nourished by the music of laughter and strengthened by strife. But what happens when the words fade? When the laughter subsides? Paul pulled out a cigarette.

The hazes swirled away in the night chill. Funny, he thought, how even smoking reminded him of the accident. Jake was never a fan of sleep. He hated his bed, called it a prison. He always greeted the morning with a happy vengeance. Even after his wife’s passing, he sought to make others smile. He lived a normal life in many ways, but his heart was abnormally large, his eyes unnaturally bright and his story helplessly addicting.

Paul still remembers the day he met Jake. It was the middle of fourth grade, near Christmas time. Paul had just moved into the neighborhood and didn’t know a soul. He ate lunch alone. Walked home the same. Told his parents he was making tons of new friends. Then, one day, someone sat next to him in the corner of the cafeteria and asked Paul if he wanted one of his Lunchables pizzas. Paul offered applesauce in return. Everything changed. Paul came to love school; waking up with dread was a thing of the past. He took one last drag on his cigarette before crushing the butt under his foot. Waking up, for Jake, was a thing of the past.

He stepped into Jake’s room as he had at least once a week for the past eight years. Jake lay still, oblivious to his friend’s devotion, staring blankly into the universe that twisted his fate into a hopeless knot. Paul sat and wept. He remembered the high school dances, the late-night study sessions in college, their marriages. He didn’t know what to say. Indeed, ran out of words years ago. But, he knew what he wanted. He wiped his snot, glanced at the screens, and dropped lids to their resting place.

 

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show don’t tell [1] – fear

This shall be another kind of series, of exercise. I shall take no less, no more, than 30 minutes to show and not tell. I will likely disappoint. I invite your critiques. And I invite you to give it a try. Try not to worry so much about how the tale turns out. We do that enough in life. Take the half of an hour. And if you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to read what comes about. Cheers, then. Here we go.

Christopher began the long walk over to his aunt’s house. The darkness of the day had arrived recently, and the young little man felt the shadows nipping at his heels. His block was a few blocks away, and so he had to distract his thoughts as he passed the other houses. The sidewalks that rose and fell, had ridges and slopes in between. The lawns that had chain-linked fences, more weeds than grass, and sat silently under windows often decorated with boards and adjacent to the signatures of rival gangs. The globes of illumination that fell from the posts in between homes was spotted, inconsistent, unworthy of the notion of continuity. So some parts of his familiar surroundings seemed more ominous, depending upon where the light happened to be falling. Christopher usually got along well with his aunt, indeed, the whole of his mom’s side of the family. Sue was his mom’s oldest sister. Both ladies were born in the city, raised there, educated on poverty and disturbance. The stereotypes are a pity, thought Sue as she sat in her kitchen, sipping on some whiskey. The trampoline is broken, and the couch needs fixing, Sue thought as she made herself a sandwich and took her position in front of the television. The people in my life are worthless, and I still have to put up with them because it’s better than feeling lonely, Sue felt as she opened the door to greet David, the guy she was seeing, one of the many who liked himself a good once in a while a healthy beating. The crickets had started chirping, and Chris was eager to get to his destination. He wished his mom wouldn’t send him over so late. But, she also had little say in the lining of the school districts, and it was better that he wake up at his address, near where the bus comes in the morning. The night was swaying, as if there was an energy imbalance, as if the streets were conspiring with the architectures of the firmament. The diagnostics were alarming, the redness blaring, and Christopher’s imagination was reeling. The car on the corner was bouncing, and there was a couple walking with a couple guns in their back pockets, marking territory, making the rounds, living with a purpose, clarified meaning. And he wondered about his fate, his path – was he the one doing the step taking? The school was largely filled with those with other stories, kids with patterns of speaking and fabrics of experience with different stitching, knitting of a different order, and though one culture may be superior to another, it seemed unfair to compare when one has been playing unfairly and the other subject to its immorality. The tension in the house was immediate, disconcerting, as soon as Christopher entered the lair. He could tell that Sue had been drinking, and that perhaps recently there had been a disagreement of sorts. The kitchen was accented by a pile of dishes, a floor with visitors crawling in different directions, lights without bulbs, a half-open fridge and overflowing recycling bin, and specks of blood in various locations. On two of the walls, a cup on the counter, droplet cities navigated between and among by tile critters.

“Christopher, is that you? Let me hear your voice, sweetpie.”
“Good evening, Aunt Sue. Are you in the living room?”
“On the lazyboy. Please, come in. I’d get up to greet you, but I’m just so comfortable here.”
“Sure thing, Aunt Sue.”

Christopher turned the wall that opened up into the living room, and dropped his backpack. He wanted to scream, but something inside his mouth was not working. It was loud in his head. Though he couldn’t hear anything reaching his ears from outside of them. The aunt whose spirit he usually equated with her cherry pies was standing in the middle of the living room, most of her face bloody and an opening on the right side of her upper head, the hairs were jagged and mixed with what seemed to be dried blood and glass, and she held a knife in her hand, a blade that was still wet, and seemed to have dripped away from a puddle, a silent mass, a curve that resembled that which a body takes when resting on the ground, the flesh that was once called David, in a heap marinated in less frequently oozing, cooling blood. And the noise turned into a din, a steady drilling, a piercing note that was emitted by all objects, living and plastic, and Chris turned at once to leave, run back home, to safety. His feet started to move, and he felt the earth tremble behind him, as a predator took its form, dug in its feet, began to move stealthily. She took steady steps, strides, to offer Christopher a sense of confidence and reassurance. Cooing and motioning looming, Christopher found the doorknob uncooperative, frozen in the winter’s stubbornness. His aunt’s shadow was first seen making its way along the passage, moving and covering multiple walls, the size of the fateful encounter was growing with seconds inflated into momentous eternities, and the beating of his heart beat to the drowned chorus of uncertainty as what seemed to be the point seemed like a spear in the play of the light, and then his aunt’s body summoned and consumed the wraiths, which proceeded to reunite in full force in a maddened countenance. A cry, a wail, a wish for warmth and home, mommy’s arms and cookies at night, his aunt put on a smile, approached with a hug, loosed soothing syllables as she tightened her grip on the knife, and gave her little nephew a kiss that lasted a night.

who’s there?

Marco walked the streets of the night, the music blaring from a distant window, people with drinks and lit sticks in hand, some clumsy, some less drunk, some in arms and some lonely, going and coming to and fro, the singing of the moon’s adventures could be felt humming through the air, like the beating of bee wings, or the soft pulsating chambers of an airy breeze. he was one of those who lacked pleasant company, but no matter, for the time was his, the events on the itinerary undecided by he, the sole decider, and of others at any rate he had little need. the sights around were aglow, the yellows of standing lamps shedding upon facades and windowpanes, the paved and cobbled streets, the old car here and the still-wet-from-the-rain motorcycle there. roofs oft slanted, angles that tipped hats to a wanderer with no debts, the dipping of man’s structures, the engineering of entreaties, bowing buildings, yes, to his majesty. the night was one like most of the others. drinks. scouting, hunting ass. working, working, slaving for a kiss, a grab, a squeeze, a look that has some unforeseen intention, a dance that resonates, hips that continue swaying, give memory a tune to swing, a sticky dance floor with light but heavy feet, ordinary streets and where, oh, to where am I walking?how did I get here? the questions that repeat, inquiries that lose meaning as objects all persons seek, most like children whipping air at a caricature hanging from a string in the backyard of a couple that will soon hardly tolerate the presence of one another and come home anguished to know that the bed they share with the person they loved will be a cold and foreign place and what was hoped and aspired to ended up being much like anything else, disappointment, a failure, something that could not be followed through, that is, if the couple is not already there. the questions that one finds asked as they find their feet on paths, bush, brush, jungle, jumping through vines, shadows with eyes stalking a half-naked boy looking for shelter and nourishment, a hungry jaguar that may have a motherly instinct, the concrete divisions that pit people, chain ambition, schools disintegrated and history told by those who are too afraid to look in the mirror because the soul that rapes suffers metaphysical blindness, pits, snakes, demons and whispers, the doubts that circle and rise, wings that hover high, eying carrion, the feast of dead bloody dirty flesh, shards to be shared, the eating far away, on chairs and cushions while the unknown toil, toil, toil, and grind their very essence into the plastic we throw into oceans and poison with which we raise future generations. the uncertainty of his present condition, his purpose and direction, they floated into the atmosphere and mingled with the notes of salsa and merengue, reverberated off stony and uneven walls and passages for machines that take transportation and turn it into obligation, they ran and soaked his clothes, made his toes itch, his socks feel warm suddenly, the environment a chorus of ghouls, faces that made no sense. what chance did i have? the certainty of waste, the disposal of what is assigned function, be of value, be labeled by what you are and look like, and how you speak and what you believe, have a name, a name to your fortune, a home, a clothing that marks your style, be a man of this world, a social creature, one that participates in the games and trolling that other people need to continue doing what they wake up for, because we cannot be satisfied to think and know that no designed mechanism or divine creator would ever manufacture a monster so monstrous as the human being and not feel shame, the slaughterer who sleeps in his mother’s belly, the liar who slits his sister’s wrists and then beds her daughter, the villain that will let children starve and die of thirst while they fly around and fuck dumb bitches who think their ass and tits leave them empowered as they’re used and tossed around and off boats. by bimbos who think they’re men. the night’s wonders are lost to me. the ecstasy of the stars, the embrace of distant counterparts, undeniable appendages of identity, their spirits offered light but no warmth, presence but no words. a corner approached, a meeting point, and Marco turned his head, looking this way, and he noticed a young man leaning against a wall near a door. Marco’s head began to move away, to turn to perceive something else, because i’m tired, exhausted of being so used to life, so accustomed to custom, hooked on normality, lying in bed watching TV thinking about my dreams but too afraid to tell my loved ones or friends or people who i hope are friends because i never made an effort to challenge and know myself and so now the people who surround me are just shells of people with passions as frivolous and stupid as my own, the couch, the late nights eating shit and talking shit about people who don’t matter, the streets that you roam with your squad because you’re the shit and what else would you be doing god forbid reading a book that you actually like to read oh wait because you never learned to read and so i’m here in this godforsaken village where people wait on tourists and get excited because there’s a new restaurant or hostal, where the world happens to simple minds, where meal is a processing of sustenance, a feeding, a fulfilling of what is always empty, to ensure that tomorrow’s tasks are accomplished, that the rhythm of the global enterprise that funnels riches into the hands of smiling White wolves that parade their ambitions with philanthropy and flashiness reminds everyone else that they aren’t good enough for greatness. his head goes to turn, and the door opens, and out comes the head of a young girl, one who looks across the street, both ways, checks, lets the boy in, quickly now, so no one sees, and then immediately closes the opening behind him. at this time of night. what was she worried about? hiding? who are they and what are they doing? Marco found himself thinking, pondering, realizing, standing and no longer walking. mystery is around me. i just wasn’t looking.

Know, Mom, that you will never know how much I love you

Dear Mom,

Hi : ) . So, first of all, Happy Mother’s Day! This is a day, the day, every year, that we set aside to appreciate our mothers – and with good reason. When I tell you this, Mom, know that I mean every word. Every single one.

I know of no mother, no person, no thing, in this universe, that is more worthy of appreciation than you. I appreciate you every, single, day, Mom. Do I believe in God? I’m not sure. Is there a God? I don’t know. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t think about God. About the what the word ‘God’ means, and how to find that meaning (if I can at all) in this life. But, if someone told me to look for God, Mom, the first place I would look is in your direction. I would look right at you. And if I didn’t find God there, I would probably just stop looking.

There have been plenty of times in the last four years when you have asked me, “What is wrong, beta?” “What are you thinking about, betu?” And more often than not, I would say something like, “Nothing.” You usually didn’t believe me, because you knew I was lying. I usually told you not to worry. Though that never stopped you from worrying. Though, you usually told me that you believed me; only to follow up with the  reassurance that if at any moment of my life I wanted to talk, you would be there to listen. Don’t worry, Mom. This time, just listen.

I usually didn’t give you the answer you wanted, Mom, because I knew something, too. I knew that knowing about my suffering, seeing it, would only make yours worse. You could say all the words you know in all the languages you speak, and your eyes would still tell me what you wanted. All you wanted, the only thing you needed. For me to be alright. For me to be happy. How could I tell you the things that I saw when I had nothing to distract me during my freshman year? How could I tell you how I lost both my self and the voice to scream for help? How could I tell you that I didn’t know what to believe? How could I tell you that I held on to love, because I was going to fall for a long time if I let go? How could I look at the grace of your love, the beauty of your person, the resilience of your soul, and do anything but try to pretend to be the same?

It’s been almost four years since that August. Almost four years. I think about you, Mom, about that night, about the days that only we know, and I do not understand. I do understand how to show you how much you deserve to be happy. I do not understand how to show you how proud I am to call myself your son. I think of the greatest people in history, Mom. I think about people that changed the world, and all the credit they get for it. I think about these people, Mom, and I cannot help but think that they would be honored to be in your company. Maybe your name will never be a household one. Maybe your memory will fade sooner than that of a president or an inventor. But, what that shows me, what that proves to me, is that greatness is not about how many people know your name. Greatness is about the people who know that you love them. Your love is your legacy, Mom. I have always known that you love me. For that alone, I am eternally grateful. But that’s just what you do, Mom – you love. And, well, know, now and forever, that I love you, too. And you deserve every bit of it, Mom. You deserve every bit of love in this thing we call life.

There are so many times, Mom, when I just wanted to give up. There are so many times when I thought about my pain, your pain, our pain, and I just wanted it to stop. I just wanted the feeling to stop. But, from the moment I cried on you in that miserable meeting room in that f***ing police station, I knew that to give up on me would be to give up on you. How could I give up on you, Mom? How could I give up on the one person that commands my heart as the winds do a vessel? How could I give up on the team of which I had been a part for more than 18 years? How could I give up on the person that I was crying on, the person that always has, and always will, hold me up?

There is something I need to tell you, Mom. I need to say it here so it is forever stitched in the fabric of nature. I need to say it to you, now, so you have it forever.

Thank you.

I weep, Mom. I weep as I spill these words and fill my trash bin with tissues because, Mom, there is nothing that I know to be truer. I know, Mom, that your love is in me, and I hope that you have found my love in you. What do I believe, Mom? I believe that, together, we make life better. I believe in you. I do not understand, Mom, how you have the courage to be who you are. And how you blame yourself at the same time. How dare you blame yourself for anything but love, truth and happiness? How dare you blame yourself for anything that didn’t remind someone how good this life is? Stop. Please, stop. No more. No more blame.

I do not understand, Mom,

How to thank you for what I am about to say to you – I, am, happy. I do no understand, Mom, how I did it. How we did it. But, we did it, Mom. You found me in a place where things are not supposed to be found. You are the reason, Mom, why the idea of Mother’s ‘Day’ is foolish. Mothers, mothers like you, are to be cherished every, single, day. Know, Mom, that I cherish you. That I love you more than anything in this world. And that I am happy. That, is my gift to you on this Mother’s Day, Mom. I am happy. Don’t worry. Believe me. This time, believe me, Mom.

Love,

love

The Pomegranate

Sheridan approached the table slowly. He took his seat and pulled on the gloves. Not a single person condemned to the Red Trial had ever successfully completed it. The crowd loved it. Expected it. Hoped for it. He could think of nothing else as he grabbed the uneven, red ball. He stared at it, as if confused. He held it, as one would a babe newly born. He realized suddenly that the quiet continued to reign. He looked up and around. Not a single pair of eyes did not meet his own. He looked at the dais. At the king and the queen. At his son. With a deep breath, he began to dig into the tough, outer skin.

“He is innocent, I tell you,” the queen once more asserted to her husband, the protector of the realm, the keeper of justice.
“Do not be fooled. Your spirit compromises your reason.” The king did not raise his voice. His breathing did not change. His face remained expressionless.
“At the very least, reconsider the sentence. No man deserves such a fate.” She was pleading.
“Treason is intolerable. The people need to know as much.” He swept past her on his way to the courtyard. It was time.

Sheridan sat in the black silence of the dungeon. Drops of water echoed in the distance, making their way toward him as they bounced off the uneven walls. Sweat rolled down his face as his thoughts raced his heart. Days after the sentencing, disbelief and terror still held their ground. They still held his breath. Things were so different only a few days ago.

Sheridan’s life was simple. He and his son lived on a farm nestled deep in the rolling countryside that surrounded the castle. Rane, but twelve years old, was still too young to understand most things. Though, he knew with certainty that his family was different. It was smaller than most. He did not know his mother. He did not even remember having met her. His father told him and anyone else that asked that she died while giving birth and never a word more. Still, Rane would occasionally ask about her, hoping to come away with something, anything, that helped him see her in his head. On such occasions, Sheridan looked away before telling Rane that he no longer remembered.

Sheridan’s life was peaceful. He did not meddle in the affairs of others, and he expected, and generally received, the same treatment in return. Rane was his purpose. He hoped to give to his son a better life than his own. He worked from dawn until dusk so Rane wouldn’t have to. He invested in Rane’s scholastic and military education to give his son the privilege of choice. He taught his son to aspire to the strength of a knight, the virtue of a saint and the wisdom of a king. Rane would be more than a peasant. With such thoughts Sheridan rose in the morning, and with such thoughts Sheridan retired in the night.

The dungeon denied him rest. His sleep was fitful and his body haggard. As he wavered in and out of consciousness, his thoughts marched to the rhythm of the distant dripping. He loved his son, the joy of his life. Drip. Sheridan did not know why he was accused of treason. He did not understand how he was found guilty. Drip. He wanted to close his eyes and feel his son’s body wrapped up in his burly arms, struggling to wriggle away. He wanted to see his son smile as he ran home towards supper. Drip. Rane’s mother was beautiful, and she loved him dearly. Drip. His son was his purpose, and his son had been taken. Sheridan felt failure, resentment, pity, and he wept. Drip. Does blood fall softer? Does it sound at all? Drip.

A key ring chimed. A guard pulled open his cell. It was time.

He dug grooves into the shell of the fruit with the slight edge that remained of his fingernails through the lining of the glove. Dig too deep, and the red flows. Dig not deep enough, the fruit does not open – and still the red flows. He carefully traced two intersecting circles that wound their way around the pomegranate’s surface. He took the orb between his hands, cupping his palms around the fruit. Most people met with fate at this junction. One must apply pressure inward and outward at once to break the whole into pieces. Only then can one begin to excavate the deeply entrenched seeds. Sheridan observed his hands. They did not tremble. Sweat did not distort his vision nor loosen his grip. He was focused, determined to free his son, resolved to triumph. He pulled. And the chunks came apart without a single seed falling. Without a single seed dying. A sigh of relief escaped him.

The courtyard at the center of the castle was massive. Yet, people swallowed nearly all of the smooth, gray stone. Masses of farmers and merchants, hordes of banners and flags, throngs of screaming fists and impassioned gibberish saturated the space. The king and queen sat upon an elaborate dais at one end, surrounded by armed guards and bearded counselors. Attendance was obligatory, noncompliance punishable by death. Only enemies of the realm would not wish to see justice served. Sheridan was escorted to the small square of space reserved for him at the center of the madness. A rock caught him in the cheek. Spit collected in his hair and on his clothes. The words, though, were the worst. That is, until he entered the space reserved for him and lifted his eyes. Upon a table sat a pomegranate. And beyond, bound and deathly still in a heap at the king’s feet, was his son. Sheridan screamed. The deafening crowd took that, too.

The king slowly lifted his right hand, and silence fell.

“Welcome, my loyal denizens. Today, we bear witness to the Red Trial, for we have before us a traitor, a vile and abhorrent abuser of the king’s trust and the peoples’ faith. Do you understand what it is you are to do and what is at stake, villain?” The king addressed Sheridan directly, who, unable to speak, just shook his head.
“You will don the gloves that lie upon the table. You will then proceed to extract every seed from the pomegranate there placed. The slightest bit of juice that falls on a glove will render its entirety a crimson red. You must injure not a single seed. Should both of your gloves turn red before you have completed your task, I will behead your son. You will then share the same fate.”
“Please, my lord, is there no other way? Is there nothing I can do to save my son?” Sheridan found his voice in search of hope. His attempt to look at the king was thwarted by the blur in his eyes. He wanted to appeal to the queen, but his fear would not allow it.
“Someone akin can willingly take your son’s place. Have you a wife, traitor?” The king did not raise his voice.
“No, my lord.”
“Siblings? Other children? Parents?” His breathing did not change.
“No, my lord.”
“Then it is settled. You may begin.” His face remained expressionless.

Sheridan set to work on the largest of the chunks. He carefully pulled back a thin membrane that coated the seeds lying on the outermost edge. Pulling the gloves as tight as possible so as to gain maximal dexterity with his fingers, he began to wedge the seeds out of their resting places. The seeds could not be plucked like apples or oranges. Squeezing them was too risky. Instead, one must push on one side, hoping that the root gives way and falls harmlessly to the table. Intense and unified was his concentration. Too much so.

Stirring awake, his son rolled over to look out at the crowd. He saw his father, his best friend and only family member, his protector and his caretaker, his inspiration and his happiness. And he called for him, not thinking, only feeling. “Father!” With a gasp, Sheridan looked up. The crowd gasped as he looked into his son’s eyes. Rane yelled again, this time louder, more hysterically. The roar erupted anew. Sheridan looked down. Blood coated both his hands.

“No! Please, no! Please, do not do this! I’ll do anything.” Sheridan watched in agony as the king reached for his sword. Silence fell.
“Let this be a lesson to you, traitor, and to all those in attendance. Prosperity and peace are no less fragile than the seeds of that fruit. They come at a price. Sacrifice and justice are inseparable.” The executioner brought to the dais a block. Rane’s head was placed across it.
“No, please, have mercy. Have mercy” He sobbed, begged, as one does when he is about to lose the only thing he cares for in this life.
“Have you any final words for your son?” The king did not raise his voice. His breathing did not change. His face remained expressionless.
“Enough. ” The queen rose. The crowd stood unnaturally still, paralyzed as reality shattered violently around them. Rane looked up through bleary eyes at his queen, his mother. Her face bore a smile tragic in its love, triumphant in its defiance.

It was time.

– JiNiT