My friend’s horrible, no good, very bad morning.

I didn’t write this.  I didn’t live this.  My friend wrote this AND lived this, this morning.  I’m just appropriating it for my blog, because I feel that it’s brilliant, entertaining, hilarious, and a great example of the truth being stranger than fiction.  Thanks, Donnell!

(Only some people can make this look good.)

My morning:

Awoke to the feel of a cat foot in my eye.
Walked dogs and slid in fresh poop.
Ready to leave the house on time at 7:00 but decided I had 5 minutes to start a load of laundry.
Left house at 7:10.
Drove 1 mile and noticed that I didn’t take the recycling to the road for pick-up.
Drove home.
Put recycling at road.
Left Home.
Got one mile up the road and got stuck behind a school bus, one that stopped every 12 feet so we could wait while little Paleo and Stormy finished breakfast, loaded their backpacks and then meandered to where the bus was detaining about 83 cars.
Drove for almost 8 uneventful miles.
Got within sight of campus and noticed that I had left my cell phone at home.
Drove home and got cell phone. And since the load of laundry had finished washing, I switched it to the dryer it and started a dark load.
Left Home.
Avoided running over ground hog in road (an omen, I believe), and then ended up in another line of 80 cars behind a three car accident on our road (which had to be the logical consequence of a school bus road rage incident).
Took a brief off road journey to turn around in some guy’s pasture (not to worry Lor, I didn’t bottom out the ‘Roo) and drove back past home.
Completed the 8 mile detour to get around the accident.
Stopped at Mickey D’s to get a coffee.
Dumped coffee in lap.
Pulled over and doused crotch with one of the 16 half empty bottles of water that roll around in my car on any given day.
Drove back to work, again, arriving at 8:20.

So, probably not a day to ask for much of anything from me…

 

Hope you enjoyed it!

~Thanks!

Accio, BOOKS!

If only . . .

If only . . .

So excited!  My nine year old, who was a bit slower to find reading fun than her older sister, is now reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire out loud to ME!  I still read most of it to her, but she has started taking the book away from me and reading it to me, and she’s doing a great job.  (We’ve read books one through three over the past year.)

We’re at the part where Harry has finally mastered the summoning charm.  Man, I wish I could do the summoning charm.  Don’t you?

Hope you guys are all having a happy Spring!

~Thanks!

My Serial Novella: The Judgment Store, Part 6

The Judgment Store

After her father’s death, Uriel gets a job at a store that is much more than it seems.

Part 6:

(The Final Installment:  Ok, ok, I can’t do math.  I originally said it would be in 10 parts, but it’s only 6.
This is the end.  Hope you enjoy!)

“I’ve decided to quit my job at The R&P,” I think as I thunder into the store.

            “You don’t get to quit,” Mr. Ianus says, plucking out my thoughts.  “The Moiras are gone now, retired, since you did so well this past week.  It’s all you, Uriel.”

            “I don’t want this job any more,” I say quite firmly.

            “Sorry,” he smiles, out of both mouths.

            The doorbells chime, and I turn quickly in shock.  How is anyone moving?  Time is standing still.  I feel all the blood drain out of my face when I see who it is.

            My mom.  I look in panic at her, and then at Mr. Ianus, who has resumed his single face.  “How is she . . ?”

            In my head I hear his answer cut off my question, “I have allowed her to come.”

            “Mom!” I cry, and then, because I can’t think of anything else to say right then, I ask her “Who’s running the greenhouse?” My tone sounds too accusatory even to my own ears.  And why would it matter who’s running the greenhouse anyway, when the rest of the world is frozen in time.

            “Hello to you, too,” she says.  “I thought you’d gone to the school.”  Then, to Mr. Ianus, “Is she this rude to customers or just to her mother?”

            Mr. Ianus lets out a little huff of a laugh.  “Ah, Uriel’s mom.  Welcome to The R&P.  Family gets half-off, you know.”

            “NO!” I scream in my mind at him.

            “Remember our rules: always give the customer what she wants,” he chimes back angrily.

            Mom walks to the damn jewelry counter – eyes drawn, just like Mr. Frank’s had been – Oh, God, Mr. Franks – to the shiny sparkly things that I didn’t even think she had a taste for.  I surge behind the counter, looking madly about to make sure there are no silver hoops in there like the ones I’d seen in my vision of her death.  I don’t see them anywhere, and I breathe a sigh of relief.  I figure if she ends up liking anything I’ll just tell her the price is some exorbitantly high amount, and she’ll realize she can’t afford it, even at half-off.

            “Ooh.  Those are nice,” I hear Mom say.

            “What?” I snap my attention to where she’s looking, and there, under the glass, are the silver hoop earrings.  “But . . . but . . .”  I turn to Mr. Ianus and assault him with the full force of my glare.  “Those weren’t there a second ago!”

            I see both of Mr. Ianus’ sets of eyes squinting at me, “They’re what she wants,” is all he chimes.

            “I’ve always wanted a simple, tasteful pair of sterling silver hoops like those,” Mom says.  “Would you get them out for me so I can take a closer look?”

            “No . . .”

            “Of course she will.  Here’s the counter key, Uriel,” Mr. Ianus says, sliding it over.

            “No.”

            “What do you mean, no?” Mom asks in that don’t-use-that-tone-with-me-Uriel voice.

            “They’re actually platinum – way too expensive.  Maybe we can get some sterling ones in for you soon,” I say.

            “Stop lying to the customer!” he shouts inside my head.

            “Stop trying to push the merchandise onto my mom!” I shout right back.

            “I can tell the difference between silver and platinum,” Mom says defiantly, and I realize just how much she sounds like me – when I’m at my most difficult.

            “You’re so right, ma’am,” Mr. Ianus says, “Those are certainly silver.  Go ahead and get them out, Uriel.”

            “No.”

            The chimes in my head double in strength and volume, as both of Mr. Ianus’ mouths scream at me at the same time, in a strident chord:  “SELL HER THE EARRINGS!”  He snaps his fingers, and my mom joins the rest of the flesh-and-blood mannequins of the world, poised mid-thought behind the counter, with a captured look on her face of curiosity and confusion.

            I take the time to actually look at her – to actually see her.  Her hair is astray, strands poking out every which way.  She is again in Dad’s old flannel shirt.  There’s dirt on the elbow.  Her beat-up purse is unfastened – one strap on and one strap off her shoulder; it has papers she can’t quite keep organized sticking up out of it.

I realize that she always looks like this.  It’s like she can’t help being the way she is.

            Or can she?  Father Monotone reminded me that I have free will, that we all have free will.  But everything about this store says otherwise.  I look at Mr. Ianus.  “Which is it then?” I ask him.

            He narrows his eyes – all four of them.  “Which is what?” asks his chord of two voices.

            “Do people have free will, or are their fates decided for them?”

            “Ha!  You ask what much more learned individuals than you have been asking for millennia, girl.”  He crosses to me and leans very, very close, so close I can feel the heat of his body and the breath of his right head as it lingers near my face.  I try not to flinch as he speaks.  “Empty your mind of this question.  Your work here at The R&P renders it pointless anyway.  Just do your job, and everything – as they say – will come out in the wash.”        

`           “I have no intention of letting my mother’s death ‘come out in the wash!’”  But I take a few steps away from him, giving myself more personal space with which to consider his words.  “I sold Mr. Frank the ring, and he gave it to Coach Adamson.”

            “Yes,” his left face says.

            “They kiss or something, in public apparently, and half the football team decides to beat them both to death.”

            “Yes,” his right face agrees.

            “Doesn’t that seem strange to you?”

            Right Face:  “How do you mean?”

            “It might have been more believable if just a few of them did it.  But half the football team can’t be homophobic, can they?”

            Right face:  “Can’t they?”

            I squint at Right Face, then purposefully turn to address Left Face.  “Can they?”

            Left Face blinks in hesitation.  Right Face:  “Don’t answer that.”

            Aha!  Dissension in the ranks.  I address Left Face:  “Something’s wrong, isn’t it?  I mean, fate can’t be so melodramatic – so unrealistic – can it?”

            Left Face frowns.

            I push on.  “And having Ella and Sam both die tonight, right on the heels of Mr. Frank’s and Coach Adamson’s death – that’s too much.  That’ll bring too much attention.  It’s not . . . feasible.”

            Right Face:  “Fate is rarely feasible to the Fated, Uriel.  Don’t be tedious.”

            “I’m not speaking to you,” I tell him.

            Left Face:  “You’re asking if it’s all a bit too much, right?”

            I nod.

            Left Face:  “Actually, that’s what I’ve been telling him for millennia.”  He rolls his eyes at the head beside him.

            Right Face:  “Oh, shut up.  Sometimes that’s just the way it is.”

            “And another thing . . .” I go on, this time addressing both of Mr. Ianus’ faces, “What’s really the deal with this store?  I mean, bad things and good things have been happening to mankind forever.  Don’t tell me this little store has always had its hand in it.”

            Left Face:  “This ‘little’ store is just an illusion, a fabrication, of the Fates’ center.”

            Right Face:  “Their headquarters, as it were.  Where they dwell in modern times.”

            “But they’re gone now, you say?”  I ask them.

            Both faces look sad, and they both nod.  “Yes, gone.”

            “So I am Fate now?”

            Left Face:  “Yes, we told you this.”

            I turn abruptly then, and return to the counter.  I take the key, open it up, get out and raise the velvet display to take a better look at what it holds – or what it may, at my command, hold.

            “What are you doing?” both faces ask.

            Instead of answering, I consider the many jewels laid out before me.  Then I look up at my mother.  She has another smudge of dirt on the side of her nose that I hadn’t noticed before.  Considering my night so far, I don’t know why seeing that makes me happy, but it does; I smile.  I take comfort in the familiarity of it.  Then I look back at the jewels, and there is a piece of costume jewelry: an enamel flower vase with red carnations erupting from it.  I take it off the velvet, walk around the counter and approach my mom.  I pin it to Dad’s shirt – her shirt – right over her heart, then smile bigger.  It suits her.

            “What are you doing, Uriel?” Mr. Ianus asks again.  Do I detect a note of panic?

            “I don’t have any money on me, but you can take that out of my first week’s salary, I expect.  Don’t forget the employee discount.”

            “You can’t do that.”

            “Sure I can.  I just did.”  I look back at the velvet, and this time I see something really interesting:  A tie pin, or cravat pin, or whatever they’re called – a tiny little gold pin with a decorative top.  I lean in to look at its design better.  It’s a tree – some sort of fruit tree – probably apple – like the one in Father Monotone’s stained glass window.  I reach for it.

            “Don’t touch that!”

            I pause my hand right over the pin, glancing over my shoulder at him.  Both of his faces have merged again.  He is one – for the time being.  But I disregard him, and grab it, and lift it up out of the case.  “Let me ask you something else,” I say, “These things we – I – sell?  Are they even real?”  I watch the little tree begin to glow from the inside out.  Its tiny little apples begin to pulse.  I feel a pang of hunger because I can even smell them.

            “They are real if you will them to be,” he answers, begrudgingly.

            “This would look nice on you, I think, Mr. Ianus,” I reach the apple tree tie pin towards him.  “May I see what it looks like on you?”

            “I’m not wearing a tie . . .” he looks down at his chest – at the overlarge satin ascot that hadn’t been there a moment ago.

            “Yes, you are,” I come closer to him with the pin.  “Two can play this game.”

            He backs off.  “You can’t force that on me.”

            “Can’t I?”  I advance, straightening my spine, hoping against all hope that I have all of my various mythologies and theologies right in my head.  “It’s what you want, isn’t it?  It’s what the Moiras wanted.  A release from this Fate business.”  I channel my very best shop-girl, my very best persuader, my very best flatterer. “Like the genie in his bottle, you want Free Will for yourself.  I can . . . sell . . . it to you.  It would look really good on you, Mr. Ianus,” I smile at him.

            He shakes his head as if to clear it.  His nostrils flare.  He backs up another step, but he cannot take his eyes off of the golden apple tree tie pin in the center of my palm.  “What’s the price?” he asks.

            I glance at my mother for an instant, for strength, before pressing on, “I believe that I was hired for a reason.  If the Moiras don’t want to do this anymore, if in fact, they are truly gone, then it’s just a matter of time before you must go, as well.  The old ways are dying.  You are very, very old, aren’t you?”  He doesn’t respond, but I see a layering of the ages in his eyes. “I think you would like it if I kept on dealing out Fate the way the Moiras have always done it, wouldn’t you?”

            Mr. Ianus doesn’t answer, but I see his jaw grinding with tension.

            “But, you don’t have the power of Fate.  You don’t get to make those decisions, do you?”  I’m right up to him now.  Now I can feel his breath coming in and out in shallow pants of fear.  He turns ashen, as if he’s going to be sick.

            “No,” his voice is tiny, and singular, “No, I do not.”

            “Then my price, is that you leave, retire like the Moiras, and just let me do this business my way.”  Slowly, slowly, I take the pin out of my left palm, grab it gently between the thumb and forefinger of my right hand, and bring it to his chest.  I slide it into the gray silk, millimeter by millimeter.  My ears, like my eyes, are magically acute now, and I can hear the gold piercing the untouched silk – forcing its way in, and down, until it clasps the tie to his shirt.

            Before I can take my finger off the little apple tree, I feel the itch grow stronger.  I feel the power gather like a rush, and there is a tremendous chilling of the air of the store.  The glaring overhead lights sputter, smoke, black out completely – plunging Mr. Ianus and me into inky darkness.  Electricity charges up from within me, as if from my core, my gut, my womb, up, up through my torso, down my arm, and out of my fingertips – with a blinding hiss.  The  power charges into the little golden apple tree, and another zap of it flings itself out of my other hand, and I see it, out of the corner of my eye, leap across the store to my frozen mother, and land on the little enameled vase brooch I had pinned to her heart.  The only light in the room is the powerful glow now of Mr. Ianus’ apple tree and my mother’s red carnation flower vase.

            I soar into precognizant vision:

            Mom’s greenhouse has moved, to this store, which is no longer The R&P, and is re-opening – with a shiny new sign and name to go along with its shiny new building:  “Uriel’s Florals” is printed in bold above a painted vase of rich red carnations, and a line of customers like we’ve never seen before.  Mom has a genuine smile on her face.  She’s still dressed in her grungies, of course, but she’s smiling, and the smile allows a beauty I’ve somehow never noticed before to shine out of her face as she checks out customers and arranges flowers, and issues directions to a . . . Oh, my God!  A staff of two other people besides me!

            And Mr. Ianus . . . well, Mr. Ianus appears as if on a far-off hill.  A rich, green, picture-out-of-a-storybook hill.  He is under the biggest apple tree I have ever seen – the tree of life or knowledge – laden with the heaviest apples that pull its branches low.  He looks at me from far away, piercing time and space with the strength of our shared vision, then reaches up and plucks down a shiny red fruit, brings it to his lips, and savors a bite with what I can only imagine is a satisfying crunch. 

Then strangely, I see an opening in the trunk of that apple tree – light lines square edges as the blotchy wood reveals itself into a doorway.  With one last glance at me, Mr. Ianus, and his apple, step through the doorway – forever.

***

“Your friend Sam Wiseman came by right before you got home.”

Head rush.  A bad one.  “What?” I ask my mom.

“Sam . . . your friend Sam.  He came by.”

“Um . . . what did he want?”

            “He bought a corsage.”

            I feel a surge of bile and have to swallow it convulsively.

            “I’ve never made one out of marigolds before,” she goes on, oblivious to my reaction, “but that’s what he wanted.  Said it was just the perfect shade of yellow to match his date’s homecoming gown.  He seems like a nice boy.  Who is he taking to the dance?”

            Yellow, not green.  “Um, Ella Maloney.”

            Mom looks at me in that pointed way she has sometimes, like her eyes are x-rays.  “You like him, don’t you?”

            I look back at her, no sense lying about it to her.  “Yeah.”

            “Is it serious between him and Ella?” she asks, cleaning up, shutting down the greenhouse – wandering around her nightly task of watering and fertilizing and rearranging.

            I take a long time to answer.  Perhaps I’m waiting for the piercing sound of sirens to come screaming down our street, announcing the horrible deaths of Mr. Franks and Coach Adamson.  I wait.  No sirens.

            “Well?” Mom pauses her sweeping.  “Is it?”

            I look more closely at her.

            She’s wearing the pin – the red carnation vase pin.

            “No,” I shake my head.  “No, I don’t think it’s serious between them.”

            She smiles at me and resumes her sweeping.

~The End~

My Serial Novella: The Judgment Store, Part 5

The Judgment Store

After her father’s death, Uriel gets a job at a store that is much more than it seems.

Part 5:

I cut school on Friday, too, and that afternoon go back to The R&P.

            “Just in time,” Mr. Ianus says when I come in.

“Please tell me what’s going on,” I say.

            “Not now, Uriel, you have a customer.”  On that cue, Gabby steps out of the dressing room, wearing a dress very similar to the one Ella tried on the other day.  That thought alone starts to bring the hysteria back.  But Gabby’s gown is an unflattering marigold color:  unflattering because it brings out her jaundiced complexion.

            “Gabby?”  She looks worse than she did when I saw her last, frailer, more tired.  I wonder why she’s here shopping when she should be home resting after her procedure.  There’s a manic look to her expression, though.

            “What do you think?  How do I look?” she asks, twirling slowly, as if she’s about to fall down.  I rush toward her and clutch her arm, worried she may do just that.

            “How are you?  Did you have the biopsy?  Did you get your results?” I pound her with questions.  She sways still more on her feet, so I guide her over to the settée.

            “Haven’t gotten the results yet,” she says, and she talks through a thick tongue, as if she’s been drugged.  Maybe she is on drugs – painkillers for the cancer.

“What are you doing here?  You should be resting,” I say.

            “Nonsense,” Mr. Ianus interrupts, gazing at us.  “Retail therapy is just what Miss Mitchell needs.”

            I look at him sharply.  “How do you figure?  She’s sick.  Gabby, let’s get you home.”

            “But I love this dress,” she protests in an almost robotic but feeble voice.  “It’s so beautiful.”

            “Always give the customer what she wants, Uriel.”  Mr. Ianus’ chimes push their way into my brain.

            “And what will happen to her if I do?” I think-ask him.

He raises a bemused eyebrow.  “I see that you begin to learn the game.  Good for you.  Moira A. wasn’t sure you would.”

            “Cut the crap.  What will happen to her?”

            “What do you see happening?” he throws my question back.

            I focus inward, and instantly the itch rises from my feet all the way up my body until it hits my brain.  Maybe it’s triggered by the power of the store, as a locus, like Moira said; I slip right into a precognizant vision . . .

            Gabby, hair coiffed perfectly, face painted on like a wax sculpture, clad in this vomitous shade of yellow, laid out in her white coffin.  I am so effing sick of coffins.  I stand over her, looking down into her dead face. 

She’s not buying this dress for homecoming.  She’s buying it for her funeral.

            Time stops.  The dust particles in the air hang suspended.  The resonance and vibrations of the surfaces of the store still – a frozen eternity.  Gabby sits there pale, sickly, yellow – the aura of death so clearly surrounds her, and it makes me feel completely enraged, knowing that her life, so young, is not going to last much longer.

            Only Mr. Ianus and I can move, can speak, can think in this perfect stillness.  “It can’t be the dress that causes this.  How can it be the dress?”

            He doesn’t answer.

            “If the green dress and the corsage that Sam is going to buy her cause Ella to have a severe allergic reaction and die . . . and Sam dies rushing to the hospital behind her . . . and Mr. Frank gets beat up by the football team because they find out he’s gay . . .”

            “Well, actually, the football team will beat him because they find out he’s Coach Adamson’s lover.  I believe they’ll beat him too,” Mr. Ianus pronounces.

            “Because of the ring?   And this yellow dress becomes Gabby’s funeral shroud . . .”  I break off.  I slam the door of my mind shut.  I refuse to believe this.  “That sounds like fatalism to me.”

            “Of course it is,” he answers.  “The R&P, my dear.  Haven’t you wondered what it stands for?”

            I frown at him.

“Reward and Punishment.  These items you sell them are the catalysts of their fate.”

  I get up in his face and nearly scream:  “What are you talking about?  How is any of it areward?  Or a punishment?  What did Gabby do to deserve it?  What did Sam do?”

            He smiles.  Actually, only one of his faces smiles.  The other one, for I can see now, in this paused moment, that he has two faces.  What I had perceived as a blur before was really two faces on either side of his head.  One of them smiles with satisfaction. The other purses its lips in disapproval.  In my continually mounting hysteria, I almost giggle: I wonder if he is often in disagreement with himself?  “What are you?”

            “I see you didn’t mention the terrible fate of Miss Maloney,” he doesn’t answer my question.  “Perhaps you think she deserves to die, for bullying you for years, for stealing your man?”

            “No,” I pause.  “No one deserves to die.  Not like that.”

            “And Sam?  Did you feel angry with him for choosing Ella over you?  Just a little bit angry, Uriel?  Better be careful.  Your power is strong but not honed.  One little wish . . . one little flash of desire . . . and you cause someone’s fate to be sealed.”

            “But how?”

            Mr. Ianus’ faces both sober for a second and then merge into one.  “Everyone, at some point in his life, asks himself why things happen.  Why do bad things happen to good people?  Why do good things happen to bad people?  You, Uriel, happen to be blessed with the ability to decide which it will be:  Good or bad things.  Don’t bother asking how or why.  It is as it is.  You are the arbiter of fate.  An angel of doom.”

            None of this can be real, can it?  “But if it’s fate, how can I have any control over it?”

            “There is always a higher power determining things.  Otherwise chaos reigns.”  And with that Mr. Ianus melodramatically snaps his fingers – hitting the play button on the remote control of reality, and time resumes.

            Gabby inhales.  “So you really don’t like the dress?” she asks me.

            “I really don’t, sorry.”  I try to speak normally for Gabby’s sake, but I still can’t wrap my head around any of it. “But there’s a new shipment of merchandise coming soon.  Isn’t there, Mr. Ianus?”  I look warningly at him.  “I’ll let you know if something is just right for you,” I assure her.

            She gets unsteadily to her feet, “Okay.  Can you help me get unzipped?”

            As I help her in the changing room, I wonder if I’ve managed to thwart her fate just now, if getting her not to purchase the dress means I’ve somehow postponed her fate – or simply caused it to morph into something else?

***

            After work I join Mom in the greenhouse and sit on the rickety stool behind the counter, watching her putter and clip and water growing things.  I wonder how to ask her why or if she’s contemplating killing herself, and if she thinks that orphaning me is somehow the best thing – to get the life insurance money, or something.  Eventually she becomes unnerved from my watching her so intently, I guess, since I’m usually boarded up in my room or otherwise making myself scarce.  “Your friend Sam came by right before you got home,” she says

            “What did he want?” I can muster no surprise, happiness, or even dismay at this news.

            “He bought a corsage.”

            I feel a surge of bile and have to swallow it convulsively.

            “I have never made one out of Hellebores before,” she goes on, oblivious to my reaction, “But that’s what he wanted.  Said it was just the perfect shade of bright green to match his date’s homecoming gown.  He seems like a nice boy.  Who is he taking to the dance?”

            “Ella Maloney,” I nearly choke on the name, no longer because I’m insanely jealous of her, but because now I’m terribly afraid for her.  I cast about for a change of subject when I notice she’s trimming the stems of a bunch of red carnations.  “Mom?  Why the red carnations at Dad’s funeral.  He really didn’t like them.”

            She sighs and puts down her shears.  “Did he tell you he didn’t like them?”

            I consider, then frown.  “Well, no.  He just said that he didn’t like getting them for you . . . for Valentine’s day and anniversaries and stuff.”

            She smiles a sad, faint smile.  “It’s not that he didn’t like them.  He just thought they were cheap, too common.  When we were dating, he couldn’t afford roses, so he always bought me cheap red carnations from the corner drug store.  I always told him that I loved them, that they were my favorite flower.  But he seemed to think I was just saying that to make him feel better.  He always said I deserved red roses.  The thing is, we talked about it while you were in school last week . . . not long before he died . . . and I told him, honestly, that they really were my favorite, that I wasn’t joking.  They smell so much better, sweeter, than roses.  He told me that  . . .” and here she pauses to wipe her eye and clear her throat, “He told me that they had always been his favorite too.”

But I can’t respond to this explanation, because there is an explosion of sirens that tear down our street, shrills from ambulances, honks and whirs from police cars and fire trucks.  My heart explodes in my chest, as I know . . . I know with every subatomic particle in my being, with a certainty granted to me by some obscene power, and by the itch that suddenly tingles ferociously all over my body, that fate has arrived.

***

            I run outside.  Our street is on the straight shot from the high school to the hospital.  I run in the direction of the emergency vehicles – towards the school.

            We only have two news channels, but each of them has sent a broadcast van.  There are pockets of people everywhere.  I approach the nearest one; it contains freshmen –boys in crisp white dress shirts, girls in spaghetti strap dresses shivering even with their dates’ jackets gallantly draped over them.  “What’s going on?” I ask.

            “Football team went ballistic!” says the tallest boy who is all elbows and knees.  “They beat the shit out of Coach Adamson and Mr. Frank,” he says, “I saw one of the paramedics shaking his head.  Don’t think either of them will make it.”

            I look toward the bloody pulps on twin gurneys being shoved into twin ambulances.  I can tell which one is Coach Adamson and which is Mr. Frank only by their shoes: Coach only ever wears athletic shoes; Mr. Frank wears brown loafers.  I feel a stab of sadness that they can’t even die together in the same ambulance, but since I doubt that either is conscious, I don’t suppose it really matters.

            One of the news crews starts broadcasting right beside us.  Their bright lights lend an even harsher quality to the scene.  “This is Channel 8 News.  Almost half the football team is being taken into police custody right now.”  To underscore the reporter’s words, the camera zooms in on a dozen hulking teenage boys, fresh from their homecoming game win, covered in blood, hands zip-tied behind them, being hauled into two waiting police vans.  “This appears to be the biggest hate crime our nation has seen in years.  Witnesses say that these football players, as a group, went into some sort of extreme homophobic rage when they saw their coach and his lover kissing . . .”

            “All of them?” I ask, still not believing it.

            “Pretty much,” says the lanky freshman.

            The dance had only just started, coming on the heels of the game.  I’m sure it’s going to be canceled, but I can’t see the principal or the assistant principal anywhere.  Everyone is just standing around.

            And then, all the way across the parking lot, I see Sam and Ella.  Even though I’m very far away I can see that he’s carrying a clear plastic box, which I know contains the unusual green corsage.  He hasn’t given it to Ella yet.  Maybe I can stop it from . . .

            But now he is opening it.  She’s reaching inside and pulling it out, drawing it up to her nose for a deep inhale.

            “No,” I hear myself whisper.  Then, “NO!”  I scream, but in all the pandemonium, and across all the people, and the entire expanse of asphalt, Sam and Ella certainly don’t hear me.

            I would take off running, but all I can really do is push and shove my way towards them.

            He’s pinning it on her chest right over her heart.  She’s bending down and inhaling some more.

            God, no!

            The thing about anaphylaxis is that it is extreme, and it is fast.  I can tell, even as I struggle to reach them, that something is already wrong with Ella.  My vision tunnels until all I can see is her, grasping her throat, her skin blotching and puffing, her lips turning blue.

            Finally I reach her.  Where is my cell phone?  But Sam’s already dialing 911, and shouting, screaming.  But there are no more ambulances here.  They’ve already gone with the dead or dying Mr. Frank and Coach Adamson.  It’ll take the paramedics a while to get back in here, to reach us, and by that time . . .

            Ella sinks first to her knees, convulses, then falls flat on her face, and blood, probably from a smashed nose, slowly seeps out under her hair.  The corsage is still attached to her dress.  I bend over hurriedly, put my hands under her, push her over onto her back, and rip the damn thing off of her.  “It’s the flower, Sam.  I think she’s allergic.”

            Sam is with me, beside me, but we’re helpless and hopeless.  We can’t do CPR.  Her throat is swollen shut.  People are pushing around us from all sides.

            I feel it start vaguely.  It’s hard to concentrate on my own extremities while I’m watching someone die right in front of me, but eventually I notice the itching.  I close my eyes and block out all the sounds and shoves.  I concentrate.  I did this once before, didn’t I?  Back when Mr. Frank had thought I’d cheated on my Faust paper.  When I hadn’t realized I did it, or could do it.  I could change things.  So I concentrate on the itching.  Let it have its way.  I feel myself trembling, like my skin is going to crawl right off my body.

            Then that shock of static electricity, enough to make a bzzzz, and my hair lifts off of the back of my neck, off of my arms.

            And the world stops.  I open my eyes at the three dimensional portrait of chaos.  Ella is nearly dead beneath me.  Sam is sitting back on his feet, numb with shock.  Hands are reached out all around us.  People are stuck mid-push, mid-shove, mid-shout, mid-gasp.

            I haven’t saved Ella.  I’ve only paused fate for who-knows-how-long.

            But for now, that fate is frozen.

            I stand, wobbling slightly, and wend my way around live mannequins knowing where I have to go.

***

 

My Serial Novella: The Judgment Store, Part 4

The Judgment Store

After her father’s death, Uriel gets a job at a store that is much more than it seems.

Part 4:

I run down the sidewalk to school until I get a stitch in my side, and then I come to a complete stop, bend over, and if I had any breakfast in my stomach, I would have puked it into the storm drain.  I don’t know why I was running.  I’m late for school; but who really cares?

            As I stand there, ignoring the looks of drivers and pedestrians, I am not at all surprised when the itching attacks me.  Not surprised, but I still hear a grunt escape my lips when I feel the electrical current release from my finger tips.

            There’s a tiny space, a separate gas-heated “greenhouse within a greenhouse” in the very back, where Mom keeps tropical orchids.  She doesn’t like me to go in there.  Sometimes I think the orchids are her real children, and I’m just a poor excuse.  Mom cranks the propane heater up high; it’s been frigid outside, and she likes to maintain about 80 degrees or more in there, to make her babies feel like they’re in Hawaii.  But then she closes the two outside air vents and stacks pots to partially cover the crack of the door. 

            Why is she doing that?

I had botany last year but didn’t pay much attention. (Of course I didn’t, the one subject Mom wanted me to pay attention to, and I have to be passive-aggressive . . .)  However, I know that there aren’t enough plants in the orchid greenhouse to replace the carbon dioxide with oxygen, or to clean the carbon monoxide that is starting to build up, or however the science works, but Mom just works on . . . for hours and hours. 

Most of these visions I see are nearly instantaneous, but not this; this is painfully long – painfully slow.  She spends the day trimming here, pruning there, spritzing them with a spray bottle, re-potting a couple, and generally laboring on as if she weren’t suffocating.  I see her work more and more slowly.  Eventually, finally, she reaches her dirty hand to her forehead and rubs, as if to relieve a headache, leaving behind soil fingerprints.

“Mom!” I try to yell, but I can’t speak, because I’m not even there.

It’s too warm.  Mom, sweating, waters her babies over and over again, to keep them from wilting, not even bothering to get herself a drink, even though she’s been working all day.  She starts bobbing her head and then convulsing, and then she dry heaves and vomits, what little she has in her, into a galvanized pail.  I cringe and feel myself start to hyperventilate through both my mouth and my nose.  I can smell the loam of the soil, the odor of the flowers themselves, the oppression of the humidity, the faint sulfur of the propane heater, and the sour stench of my mother’s pitiful stomach contents. 

What I can’t smell is the carbon monoxide.  It’s odorless, colorless, ruthless. I feel angry at the orchids silently sitting there.  It’s like they’re aiding and abetting her suicide, and for that I could uproot and kill every single one of them, if I could move.

Mom sinks down the glass wall to the floor in slow motion, worn out both by dehydration as well as asphyxia, and I hear the soft slide of her flannel shirt against the damp surface.  “Mom!” I sob, but again, nothing. 

With what seems to be a last bit of strength, she reaches over and turns off the heater – to save her precious plants, no doubt.  I see something sparkle as her hair slides away from her ear.  She’s wearing a small silver hoop earring – which, out of everything I’m seeing, strikes me as the oddest.  She doesn’t own a pair of earrings like that.  I know this, having raided her beat-up jewelry box countless times. Then she falls asleep there, seated against the greenhouse wall.  Her head lolls to the side.  Her breath comes and goes in decreasing rises and falls of her chest, until it stops completely. 

This whole agonizing time I’m rooted in place like one of her plants, potted in another reality, chained in place but astral-projected, only to watch her die. 

I watch the whole thing, just like I watched my dad. 

***

            I cut school and run to The R&P.  The store’s not open until 9:00, and Mr. Ianus hasn’t entrusted me with a key, so when I get there, I just start pounding on the door.  I return the nasty looks passersby are giving me.  One poor lady looks me in the eye and actually crosses the street.

            Under the pounding of my fist on glass, I hear the tinkling of the silver bells on the inside, as they jostle with every blow to the door.  Abruptly, the door pushes open, and I nearly fall in.  It’s not Mr. Ianus who admits me, but one of the Moiras.

            “I thought you’d gone,” I accuse her.

            “I came back to talk with you, Uriel,” she says, locking the door again behind me.  She’s wearing heavy perfume, the kind old ladies wear.  It tears into my nasal passages worse than formaldehyde.

            I drop my backpack to the shiny floor.  “I need to talk to Mr. Ianus.”

            Moira shakes her head.  “No, I think you need to talk with me.”  She takes a step toward me and the lights glint on a strange pin on the upper right side of her business suit, it’s a miniature pair of gleaming golden scissors.

            “Why?” I ask.  Something pulls at my memory – something from ninth grade Greek mythology . . .

            “I think you’re starting to figure it out,” she answers.  Her makeup and manicure are both perfect and complimentary in an odd shade of plum.  Even her hair seems to be vaguely highlighted in a purple sheen.  But it doesn’t look silly; on her it looks regal.  She’s beautiful.  All three of the Moiras, if I’m remembering the other two accurately, are beautiful.  This Moira is mysteriously so.  She looks like she could be in her thirties. But when I look at her, I feel an overwhelming sense of age – ancientness, even.  As if what I see is a false image and what’s beneath is . . .  “Yes, I am very old,” she reads my mind, “and very tired, Uriel.  So are my sisters.”

            “Your sisters?”  If she was referring to the other Moiras, I can only assume they had different fathers.

            “We’re looking to retire from this work.  Mr. Ianus is in our employ.”

            Sisters.  Adolescents reading aloud in mind-numbing bored voices from Greek mythology stories in Mrs. Bennett’s ninth grade English class.  Moiras?  The Moirae.  One who spun the threads of people’s fates, one who measured the lengths of their lives, one who cut and brought about their deaths.  This Moira’s golden scissors wink at me from her lapel. 

But I stop this line of thinking: I don’t want to think it even in my own head, because to admit that I know who she is, who her sisters are, is insanity.

            “If you’ll excuse me, I need to go.”  Have myself committed.  I make to gather my backpack and get out of here.

            “You’re not insane, dear,” she says.  Have you seen the dolly zoom effect in movies, where it looks like the background is rushing at you, or like you’re falling off a tall building?  The entire store rushes at me like that all at once, and the impossibility of my situation – the utter fantasy – nearly knocks me down.  Moira reaches out a hand to hold me up, and her touch shocks me.  Literally shocks me.  “Ow!” I flinch.  I am getting tired of all these shocks.

            She pulls her hand back.  “Sorry.”

            “I don’t underst . . .” I splutter.  “I have to sit down.”  I rush over to the velvet setée designed for people who are waiting outside the changing room, for bored husbands and tired kids.

            “Head between your legs,” she reminds me, sounding oddly like my mother.  “It’s okay.  Here,” she waves something, one of the more elaborate glass perfume bottles un-stoppered under my nose.  Without thinking, I inhale deeply, and the smell of it hits my brain like I’ve just huffed spray paint.

            My awareness spins abruptly, and all of a sudden clears, and I sit up, look around, and sense everything with ultra clarity and focus.  Even my breath, when I inhale, seems to taste richer and more complex.  I realize dust particles in the light are tiny planets teeming with subatomic life.  The molecular construction of every surface of every item in the store registers in the ebb and flow of heat and energy and time, blending together as one unrelenting construct, just a cross section of the infinite universe.

            I look at Moira, who is all aura – purple and gold with a black center.  “What was in that perfume bottle?” I ask.

            “It’s good stuff, isn’t it?”  She joins me on the settée, not touching me, but I feel the crackle of her energy all along my skin, even under my clothes.  “We sell it here at The R&P, but for everyone else it’s just perfume.”

            “What is it for me?”  I ask.

            She smiles beautifully, “We call it ‘Nectar.’  You could drink it, but you wouldn’t be able to handle the rush – not yet, anyway.”  I don’t quite know how to respond to that.  “But if you do decide to try it, Uriel,” and the look she beams at me is pure caution, “Just a tiny sip, okay?”

            I may very well be insane, but at least I’m not alone. So I decide to go with it.  I scour my brain for what questions need the most immediate answering.  “What is this place?”

            She nods at me, as if this is a good start.  “Consider it a locus – a place to focus your power and energy.”

            “What power?”

            “Precognition, for starters.”

            The whole reason I came here.  The vision I’d had of my mom.  Oh, God.  “My mom?”  I ask, through a dried out throat.

            “Yes, and Ella Maloney, Sam Wiseman, and John Frank.”  She gets up and paces away.  I stay put, however, if only because the hyper-reality and shimmering view of the very fabric of the universe is still unsettling.  I don’t trust my feet to hold me up yet.

            “So what I see are things that will happen?  Or are they things that just might happen?”  I realize I sound like Ebenezer Scrooge, begging the ghost of Christmas yet-to-come for a second chance.  “Please tell me they don’t have to happen.”

            She snaps at me quickly, accusingly.  “Precognition isn’t your only gift, Uriel.  You sell judgment, you know.  People come in here and buy what you sell them, but only that which they deserve.”

            I rub the sides of my head.  This is all too much.  “I just don’t understand . . .” I repeat.

            “Oh, stop.  Fine,” she rolls her eyes. “Let me put it in simple terms.  Consider your actions as the beginning of a domino effect.  Ella’s dress, for example.  Sam will buy her a corsage made from the fragrant green Hellebore flower – from your mother’s greenhouse, incidentally – that coordinates perfectly with that green gown you sold her.  But Ella just so happens, unbeknownst to her, of course, to have an acute allergy to anemonol, a chemical within that flower.  Most people will get sick if they ingest it, but all poor Ella has to do is inhale it.  One sniff, one deep inhalation of its delicious fragrance, will send her immune system into a cataclysmic explosion of histamine.  Her throat will squeeze itself shut, blocking her life’s breath, and she’ll die on the way to the hospital in the ambulance.”

             “That’s . . .  insane.  You’re crazy.  You’re . . .” but I can’t think of a strong enough word.

            “No I’m not.  I’m Fate.”  I hear her capitalization of the “F.”

            “Moira,” I say.  Moirae: the Fates.

            “Yes,” she says with finality, and her eyes flash gold, just like her scissors.  “And now, you are Fate.”  Again, capital F.  She grabs my hand, and the painful shock drops me to my knees to the floor.  I scream as electricity flies and sparks around our clasped hands.  The agony of it is like nothing I’ve ever felt.  It’s worse than when I broke my arm falling off Gabby’s monkey bars in the second grade.

            “Quiet, girl!” Moira yells above the cackle of the electricity flowing out of her hand and burning into mine.  A few millennia – though probably only seconds later – she pulls her hand back, and I fall onto my back, slamming my head.  I see three of her then, looming above me.  But is it really three of her, seen through pain-drunk eyes, or have her sisters rejoined her?  “My sisters and I are retiring,” she says again.  “And whether you like it or not, you have the job.  Mr. Ianus will instruct you.  Good luck . . . not that there is such a thing.”

***

            I don’t bother with school today.  After you’ve seen visions of people, including your mom, dying horrible deaths, school just doesn’t hold much interest.  Instead I just sort of wander aimlessly around town in the cold air, until I come to St. Christina’s.  I have attended this church exactly once: at Dad’s funeral just a few days ago.  I find the front door open.  It opens with a warm swoosh, and I walk into the entry room – the “narthex,” it says on a labeled diagram framed on the wall.

            “Hello, Uriel,” comes a low voice from the shadows.  I jump, startled out of my wits.  My vision is still affected by the huff of Nectar.  Under my regular eyesight, I see the teeming molecular energy that is all matter, and Father Monotone – can’t recall his real name – emerges as a frenzy of light.   “What brings you here today?” he smiles.

            “Um.  Can I just . . . sit here for a while?”

            “Sure,” he gestures into the sanctuary, lit through stained glass by the cold sunshine outside.  The holy people painted in these windows are vibrating.  In the picture to my immediate left, the snake coiling down the forbidden tree actually flicks its tongue, and both Adam and Eve make eye contact with me.  I swallow convulsively and sit in the uncomfortable rear pew.

            “One of our parishioners is a friend of yours,” Father Monotone says.

            “Oh? Who?”  I ignore the fig-leafed couple.

“Sam Wiseman.”

            Sam, I think, and whether it’s because there is lingering God-knows-what in my system from the “Nectar” Moira gave me or because I’m crazy, I feel the terrible itching begin again.  I groan, and am thrown into a vision I’ve already had before, of Sam, wearing a new starched suit for his homecoming date with Ella, chasing behind her ambulance, and a violent car crash no one could possibly survive.  I clutch my head and even shake it, to clear this awful scene – like a home movie from hell – from my brain.

            “What do you see, Uriel?”  Father Monotone asks, and his voice barely pokes through my awareness as if from a bad phone connection.  “Tell me what you see.”

            I wait until my vision clears, until all I can see is the here and now, even though my here and now is still tinged with auras and an inhuman perception of the fabric of space-time.  “Father, I’m losing my mind.  Seeing things, horrible things.  I don’t know what’s happening.”  I hear hysteria lacing my voice, and the tears I refuse to let fall make my eyes ache.

            Father Monotone nods calmly.  “You have a gift, Uriel.”

            “A gift?  This is most definitely not a gift, Father.”

            “May I?”  At my nod, he sits down on the pew beside me.  “I am a man of faith.  Allow me to give you a piece of faithful advice.  We are all given gifts, and we may or may not choose to use them.  That is free will.  Never forget it.  You have free will.  Humanity has free will.”

            But I wonder if I’m even human anymore.

***

My Serial Novella: The Judgment Store, Part 3

I’ll be releasing my novella, The Judgment Store, which is an urban fantasy piece, in ten parts, illustrating each part with some appropriate images.  Hope you enjoy.  Comments are welcome!  Enjoy!

~Thanks!

The Judgment Store

After her father’s death, Uriel gets a job at a store that is much more than it seems.

Part 3:

 

After checking out zero customers, watering a hundred potted plants and an explosion of seedlings, trimming lilies, and shoving buckets of long stemmed roses – gently – out of the way of the counter area, I slink to the stool and slump in exhaustion.

The greenhouse door opens with a cold blast of air.  In walks Gabby.  “Hey,” she says softly.

“Hey,” I watch her open Mom’s glass-fronted cooler doors and sniff every single bouquet.

“I love how it smells in here,” she says.

“I don’t smell it anymore,” I say.

She looks at me in surprise.  “You must be immune.”

“Must be.”

             “So, I may have cancer,” she says without any lead up at all.

It’s not a surprise, but her blunt statement nearly knocks me off my stool.  “I’m . . . sorry.  I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be, you’ve been through enough of that lately.”  She leans against the counter, idly fingering the tendrils of a hanging spider plant.  “I’m having a liver biopsy done tomorrow.  I don’t really know how long I’ll be out,” her face is matter-of-fact.  “I hate missing school.”

“I’d say missing school is the upside to it,” I say.

“Not me.”

“Well, you’re a nerd,” I tell her.

“Yep,” she agrees.

 “So, I heard Sam Wiseman is going to the homecoming dance with Ella Maloney,” she says, looking cautiously at me as if to gauge my reaction.

“Yeah, I figured.”  I’d rather talk about cancer.

“Why don’t you tell him?” she asks.

“Tell him what?”

“That you like him; he’d drop her in a second if you did.”  One side of Gabby’s mouth turns up in a friendly smirk, as if it would make her whole year if I did just that.

“I doubt that.  It’s not as if he asked me to the dance,” I remind her.

“It’s not as if he asked her, either,” she points out.

“Whatever.”

She frowns in disappointment.  “Look, I gotta go.  I’m tired.  I’ll see you in a few days.”

“Call me,” I tell her.

“Sure.  Sorry again about not coming to the funeral.  Funerals are important, you know.”

***

            “I didn’t even ask your name yesterday,” I tell the man Tuesday afternoon.  “And, is it okay if I change here?  I didn’t want to wear this to school,” I hold up my garment bag.

            “Of course you may, and my name is Robert Ianus,” he pronounces it ee-Ah-nus, emphasis on the “ah.”

            “Mr. Ianus?” I say as I make my way back to the dressing room.  “How did you know my name yesterday?”

            “You told me,” he answers in a flat voice with his back to me, as I shut the door to the dressing room.  But I hadn’t; but I don’t think it’s a good idea to argue with my new boss.

            I emerge, not sure who I am, dressed in silky knit black pants, a royal blue tunic top, and strappy sandals that actually fit my feet.  “Ready,” I tell him.  He turns to me, and for the briefest of moments, it looks like his head blurs – like I’m seeing it through a long-exposure camera – like he almost has two faces.  I shake my head slightly, trying to shake the image away.

            “Hmm.  Something’s missing, Uriel.”  He squints at me for a moment, then pulls out the tray, still covered with the jewelry that blonde Moira ran her creepy fingernail through during my “interview” yesterday.  He selects a simple white gold chain necklace with a pale blue stone pendant – expensive no doubt – beckoning me forward to take it.  My eyes see the necklace, but my mind flashes back to a decomposing intestine, and I hesitate.  “Nothing too showy; that wouldn’t be you, would it?” he says.  He moves his finger in a circle, directing me to turn, and then fastens the thing around my neck.  He doesn’t so much as brush his fingers against my skin, but I am chilled nonetheless, as if he has caressed me with ice.  But the chain warms quickly against my skin.

            “All of the merchandise at The R&P is one-of-a-kind.  Some brand new; some are estate pieces.  In our other stores, we’ve actually had a fair number of customers who have acquired from us and then had their items returned upon their deaths.”

            Okay, that’s not creepy at all.

            “Kind of like they were only renting,” he chuckles.

            I stroll around the store, beginning a thorough inventory in my mind. “Why are there no price tags?”  I ask him.

Mr. Ianus turns his head again, and there’s that brief blur of two-facedness, like I’m drunk and can’t focus on him.  “I think it’s uncouth to have price tags,” he says. “I keep a digital inventory of all our items here.  Just look them up.”  He gestures at a tablet computer on a sterling silver stand.  “And when they check out, you just slide their card over the screen.”

“What about cash?”

“I only accept credit.”

Wow.  Mom’s got a beat-up old money sack with a broken zipper, and an antique register with a stuck dollar key and no card scanner.

“Your job is to sell merchandise, but not in the traditional way.  See, first, you must understand the rules of clerking here at The R&P.”

            “The rules?”

            “Yes.  Firstly, you are to be polite and friendly at all times, to every customer, regardless of who they are or how they behave.  Do you understand?”

            This sounded a little too much like the rules of the greenhouse for my taste; my mom wouldn’t have half the business troubles she had right now if she wasn’t always so big-hearted, letting her few customers run all over her; but I nod.

            “Secondly, always give them what they ask for.”

“What if we don’t have what they ask for?” I reason.

            “Oh, we always have what they ask for, Uriel,” he says enigmatically.

            “But . . .”

            He raises one finger to shush me.  “Thirdly, and finally, no returns or exchanges once the item leaves the store.”

             “But you just said . . .”

            “Well, no returns until after the customer has died, of course.”

            I am Alice in Wonderland, fallen down a retail rabbit hole: curiouser and curiouser.

            “Where are the Moiras?” I ask.

            “They’ve gone on.”  I watch him as he sets out a lazy Susan with several bottles of men’s cologne and ladies’ perfume mingled aesthetically together.  “Oh, would you go hang this from the door?” He hands me a tinkling chain of silver bells, the kind that announce when customers arrive.  I walk it over to the door and drape it over the door handle.  I no sooner head back around and walk behind the u-shaped counter than I hear the bells chime.

            Ugh.  It’s Ella Maloney.  “Uriel,” she says, in between blowing, popping, and sucking back in a gigantic gum bubble. “Glad I found you.  I lost your cell phone number.”  Probably because I never gave it to you.  “I went by your mom’s greenhouse, and she told me that you were working here.”  Ella looks around critically, halting her obnoxious gum chewing, as if searching for a reason to disapprove of the store.

“Did you need something?” I ask her.  Mr. Ianus shoots a glare at me, and almost faster than I can process it I hear his voice ringing in my head; it sounds like the chime of the silver door bells, “Polite and friendly at all times, Uriel.” 

            Having bells talk inside your brain is not only painful, it’s disturbing.  I look at Mr. Ianus’ lips; they do not move, but I swear I hear him talking: “Now, serve your customer.”

            “Uh . . . I’m sorry, Ella.  May I help you?”

            She looks from me to Mr. Ianus and resumes chomping her gum.  “I guess I need help with my Faust paper.”

            “Faust paper?”  Mr. Ianus interrupts.  “Do tell?”

            She looks dismissively at him before turning back to me.  “Yeah, I gotta do a rewrite.  Can I give it to you to read over, and maybe give me some suggestions?”

            I reach out to take it from her, glancing at the large red F on the cover.  I stash it in my bag.  “When do you want it back?”

            “Tomorrow?”

            Great.  On top of my own homework, my new job, and mom probably wanting me to water all fifty million of her damn plants, I have to revise this bitch’s paper tonight.  Mr. Ianus looks warningly at me.  “Sure,” I say, pasting on my sweetest smile.

            “Better, but it looks artificial.  Work on that,” says Mr. Ianus’ bell-voice in my mind.

            “Thanks,” she turns to go.

            “Oh, and Ella?  Please have a look around,” I say, acting the best clerk I can be.

            She shrugs but then lingers by the gowns, probably looking for a homecoming dress.  “How much is this one?” she asks, pointing out a bright green one.  I have to admit that it would be fitting for her.  As I get up close, I can see that it sets off the flecks of greed in her eyes.

            “Why don’t you go try it on while I look it up?” I ask.  It occurs to me that if she falls in love with it, it may not matter how much it costs.  I feel Mr. Ianus’ approval from across the room.

            There’s something familiar about that dress, though.  I struggle to remember where I’ve seen it.  It seems as though I’ve seen it before on Ella, but I don’t think that could be.

            In the end, I sell her the dress, along with coordinating earrings and a pair of sling-backs, and actually have the rest of the afternoon customer-free to make edits to her heinous paper.

***

Wednesday afternoon: the door chimes, and in walks Mr. Frank.  What is this?  The shopping place for my least favorite people?  “Mr. Frank,” I greet him, “Welcome.  Can I help you?”

“May you help me, not can you help me; ‘Can I’ is a colloquialism,” he lectures.

I feel Mr. Ianus’ eyes boring into the side of my face, but his silver chimed voice stays out of my head.  “Sorry.  May I help you?”

            “Just looking.”  He saunters around a bit aimlessly at first, before paying rapt attention to our largest jewelry display.  I let him browse for a bit before sliding behind the counter facing him.

            He’s looking at rings.  Men’s rings.  “What size do you need?”  I ask him.

            He looks up, seemingly surprised I’m still there.  I kind of wonder if he even knows who I am out of the context of his classroom.  “Never mind,” he says, “Just looking,” he repeats, but I can tell he really likes one of the rings in the cabinet.

            “Are you sure?” I use my most helpful voice, ducking my head to meet his eyes, which have gone downcast.  I see a blush rising above his collar and up his face.

            “I . . . um . . .well, sure.  I like this one.”  He points to a simple platinum band, thick, but with no blinged-out inlaid Polished-Stainless-Steel-Ring-P13974425diamonds.

            “Size?” I ask again.

            He shakes his head.  “I’m not sure.  Big.”  Must not be for him, then, if he doesn’t actually know the size.  I unlock the counter from behind and slide my hand in to grasp the band which is cut for a small man’s finger, unfortunately.  But as I pull it out and cradle it in my palm, I swear it grows.  It must be a trick of the ultra-shiny lights in here; the only ring I’ve ever seen change size was Lord Sauron’s.  By the time I hand it over to Mr. Frank, this ring is huge, massive, cut for a freaking body-builder.  The lights from overhead make it twinkle, and it shines in Mr. Frank’s eyes.

            He is nodding.  Smiling.  “It’s perfect,” he says, in a weird tone of awe – like Gollum.  And for the briefest shining moment, I glimpse pure happiness on his face.  It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before.  This is not my English teacher, not by a long shot.  This is a man in love: not in love with the ring, I sense, but with the person he plans on giving it to.

            But then the expression is completely replaced by pale fear and his watery gray eyes dash quickly from gazing at the ring to looking full on into mine.  I actually see faint beads of sweat break out on his forehead.  “It’s okay, Mr. Frank,” I assure him.  “It’s nobody’s business but your own.”

            He looks down again and says, almost too quietly to be heard, “It’s not that I’m ashamed. . . but I’m a private person, and . . .”

            “It’s okay,” I reassure him again.  “No one will hear it from me.”

            “You know,” Mr. Ianus calls from across the store, “We offer engraving?”

            We do?  “Sure.  Would you like it engraved?” I ask Mr. Frank, who gives the question due consideration.  “Free of charge,” I tell him, and see Mr. Ianus raise an eyebrow at that.

            “Well, yes, then,” he says. “Please put ‘My Living Soul’ along the inside of the band.”

            “From Faust,” I remark.

            I daresay he looks smug – as smug as I feel.  “That’s correct, Uriel.”

***

            I oversleep, and mom doesn’t get me up on Thursday.  She’s nowhere in the house.  I look in the greenhouse.  She’s seated, sprawled on the floor, amongst a bunch of broken pots and vases, scattered baby’s breath, smashed blooms and petals, and spilled puddles of water everywhere, seeping into her jeans.

            “What the . . . ?” and then I see that the front glass panels of the greenhouse, the side facing the street is smashed in, and a brick lies at the edge of the carnage.  Mom’s greenhouse is at least half demolished.

            But Mom looks . . . well, Mom looks fully demolished.

            “Mom?”  She doesn’t look at me.  She doesn’t move.   “Do I need to call the police?  Mom?”

            “You’re very late for school.”

            “Well, that’s nothing new.” I bend over and start gathering things, pieces of crockery.  I look behind the counter for trash bags.  I get the broom and begin sweeping.

            Mom still hasn’t moved.  “Did you call the police?”  I ask as I sweep.  “Did they steal anything?”  But I don’t think so.  There doesn’t seem to be anything taken, just vandalized, and I know the cash register didn’t have much in it last night.  It never does.  The tinkling of the glass as I sweep it into the dinged up old dust pan sounds just like the silver chimes at The R&P, just like Mr. Ianus’ voice chastising me in my head.

            “I’ll clean up,” Mom says. “Go to school, Uriel.”  She rises to her feet and relieves me of broom, dust pan and trash bag, but her face is vacant, her eyes dead.  “Go now!” she shouts, and I stumble back, into the house, to grab my backpack and get away from her.

I remember my dad’s eyes the instant he died, before Mom closed them.

            They were just the same.

***

My Serial Novella: The Judgment Store, Part 2

I’ll be releasing my novella, The Judgment Store, which is an urban fantasy piece, in ten parts, illustrating each part with some appropriate images.  Hope you enjoy.  Comments are welcome!  Enjoy!

~Thanks!

The Judgment Store

After her father’s death, Uriel gets a job at a store that is much more than it seems.

Part 2:

“Uriel, you were planning on winning the Laurel Scholarship, weren’t you?” Mr. Frank asks.  Ella hitches the hip of her designer jeans on the edge of her desk, eying me with suspicion.

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“The awards committee doesn’t take kindly to plagiarism, regardless of the reason,” Mr. Frank spits out.  The angry look on his face seems all out of proportion to the situation.

            “You think I plagiarized my Faust paper?”

“I think you plagiarized your friend Ella’s, here.”  He thumbs to the “friend” in question behind him. Ella has now assumed a look of innocent victimization.  Who knew she had the acting chops?

“What? Why?”  I just shake my head back and forth.  “I wrote that paper after school in the lab . . .  I didn’t see Ella’s paper.”  But, now that I think about it, Ella had been in there.  I had left my paper up on the lab screen only for a couple of minutes when Mom had called me to get home quickly because Dad was . . .

That bitch.

Mr. Frank’s heavy eyebrows rise precipitously.  “My policy is that if there are two papers, one so obviously plagiarized off of another’s, I take the first one given to me and fail the second.  And, since you were the last one in class to hand in her paper . . .”

This time the itching is not only fast, it’s fierce.  It floods up my skin from my toes, straight up my feet and legs, over my torso, and out my fingertips.  There is no mirror for me to check, but I have a feeling that little sparks of lightning probably just shot out of my hands, because Ella gasps and Mr. Frank takes an astonished step back.  Adrenaline makes my vision tunnel and my breath come in heaves, and I squeeze my eyes shut because my brain starts spinning around in my skull.  What the . . . ?  I ask the universe, but the universe has no answer.

Images spiral behind my squeezed tight eyelids, double HDTV stereo-vision screens in my brain. Mr. Frank is at the bottom of a pile of ruthless fists and kicks – the entire football team – it looks like – beating him into bloody and bruised oblivion as first he screams, then moans, then whimpers, then silence.  Ella is grabbing her throat in the universal gesture of strangling, as her eyes, lips and cheeks swell up, and she turns blue and sinks first to her knees, convulses, then falls flat on her face, in asphyxiated silence, and blood, probably from a smashed nose, slowly seeps out under her hair . . .

***

“Uriel, you were planning on winning the Laurel Scholarship, weren’t you?” Mr. Frank asks.  My brain stops spinning.  I crack open my eyelids.  He is looking at me with absolute normalcy.  Ella hitches the hip of her designer jeans on the edge of her desk, eying me with suspicion.

“. . . What?” I pant, trying not to be sick all over Mr. Frank’s floor.  My internal GPS resets after a wrong turn into the county of confusion.  Déjà vu, much?

“Your Faust paper was the best one I’ve read in a long time, much as it pains me to admit it.”

“Huh?”  Am I being punked, or have I finally lost my mind?

“I’m going to recommend to the committee that they give you the scholarship,” he says in a flat voice, as if it pains him to admit this.  “I asked you to stay after class because Ella here needs tutoring.  You two are friends,” he says, How on earth did he ever get that idea?  “She needs to rewrite hers, and I know she would value your help.”  His eyebrows are set so intensely, it’s as if he’s daring the two of us to contradict him.  I glance at my paper.  The angry question marks and exclamation points are replaced now with a large red letter A and scrawled note that looks like it says “You have the measure of Faust” – whatever that means.

And Ella appears to have swallowed a large toad, which is not an unnatural expression on her.

“Uh, sure.  Ella, when would you like to meet up?”  I ask.  If the room and its occupants would suddenly morph into grainy black and white, I wouldn’t be surprised.  Dad watched marathon episodes of The Twilight Zone while he lay dying; I caught one or two of them.

“After school?” she asks.

“Not today.  I have a . . . thing.  Tomorrow?”

“Sure.  Let me give you my number . . . ”

***

At the end of the day I still can’t wrap my head around it.  Depression-induced shock?  Mental breakdown?  Back at my locker, my door opens easily now, ever since Sam used his magic touch on it, but there is a little smear of dried blood from where it slashed my hand.  I look down at myself, and I’m still wearing the lender shirt and Ace bandage; so that happened.  I look over at Ella, who is deep in conversation with Sam, until she glances up, meets my eyes, and then shoots me a vindictive grin.

That grin makes my stomach roil, because I’ve seen it on her face before – usually right before she does something really awful and nauseates the hell out of me.  She is pointing at the homecoming poster, and Sam is nodding.  He’s nodding.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what they’re talking about: he’s going to go to the homecoming dance with her. 

I make a mental note to acquaint Mr. Frank with the term “frenemy.”

“So, I won’t be at school again for a few days,” Gabby says from behind me.  I turn to her.  “I have a . . . procedure tomorrow.”

Several questions want to spill out of my mouth all at once: “Are you okay?  Do you have cancer?  What’s your prognosis?  What can I do?  Are you okay?”  But I cut them all off.  Instead, “What are you doing this afternoon?” I ask.

“Nothing, why?”

“Well, I have a thing right now, but later on, why don’t you come over and keep me company at the greenhouse?”

“Sure, okay.  5:00?”

***

From a distance, The R&P blends into the other storefronts in our revitalized uptown.  It has the same decorative white picket fence lining its brick wall, a green and white striped awning, and a brass-handled front door.  What’s different about it is that it doesn’t have the simple expanse of glass in the front so that you can make out what’s inside; instead, it features a decorated window scene that could rival Barney’s New York.

Inside the window are three tall, white, two-dimensional mannequins, each covered with hundreds of tiny silver hooks in the places where major body organs would be – brain, heart, lungs, gut.  Hanging from all these hooks are rings, bracelets, anklets, necklaces, earrings, brooches, men’s rings, watches, tie pins, and cufflinks.  It all looks shiny and expensive – like the autopsy reveal of the insides of a genie.  I make out calligraphy words scrolling up the middle mannequin’s leg:  “What You Ask For.”

I place my hand on the old fashioned door handle, and am shocked with another stinging jolt of static electricity.  I’ve felt this same jolt more times in the past twenty four hours than I care to repeat.  It doesn’t hurt, really, but it startles me, since there was no itching of my skin to warn me this time.

Without even the slightest push, the door, which doesn’t look automatic, glides open by itself.  I take a step into the store.  “Welcome to The R&P,” says a man from behind a clean white horseshoe counter directly ahead of me.  I look around his store.  The lights that hang down from the white ceiling seem to have halos; they’re too bright, making all the surfaces of the store gleam.  I see myself reflected up from the dark waxed hardwood floor.  Even the chrome racks and hangers seem to emit their own light, which glints through purses, dresses, shawls, coats, cloaks, pants, belts and scarves hanging on them.  The objects themselves, all the things for sale in here, seem hyper-real, more vibrant than natural objects really should be. I look carefully at a black sequined purse hanging just to my right.  It mesmerizes me, as if it’s pulsing, breathing.  I shake my head to clear it, wondering if have a migraine coming on.

I look directly forward again at the man behind the counter.  He’s kind of captivating – tall, dark haired, elegant, in a gray suit with no tie.  I wonder how old he is?  His eyes, like everything else in here, sparkle.  “Looking for anything in particular?” he asks, but those eyes bore into mine with such force I feel for an instant like he already knows the answer.

I don’t see anyone else in the store but the two of us, but I hear quiet voices coming from a back room.  “A job, actually,” I tell him.

He smiles, and, of course, his teeth gleam – too perfectly.  “Well, that’s fortunate; since I’m looking for a new clerk.”  He turns toward the door behind him, “Moiras!  We have a candidate!” he calls to the voices in the back room.  He turns back to me.  “My assistants are retiring,” he says.

“Retiring?” I ask, “But you just opened up.”

“They just helped me get the place up and running.  Our grand opening is tomorrow, and then they’re off.  Which is why I need to hire someone.”  His eyes are both beautiful and creepy – dark like coal, all iris, no pupil that I can see, like the demons’ eyes in movies.

“Um,” I walk a little closer to the counter.  “I can only work part-time, though; I’m still in school.”

He cocks his head.  “No problem.  I’ll be here the rest of the time.”  Three women walk out and join him.  “Ah, Moira C., Moira L., and Moira A.,” he introduces them.

“They’re all named Moira?  What’s the chance of that?”  I ask.  I receive only enigmatic smiles from the four of them as a reply.  “So, do you have an application I can fill out?”  The first Moira, who looks like she might be the youngest, a short blonde, pulls out a silver tray and black velvet bag from under the counter.

“No forms.  We’ll just interview you right now, if you don’t mind,” the man says.

              “Okay,” but my gaze is drawn to the shiny tray and bag.  The blonde Moira unties the bag and empties its contents onto the tray.  Out spills a heap of jewelry.  She traces her long, red fingernail around and around through the rings, necklaces, and other baubles, causing them to sparkle hypnotizingly.  I can’t take my eyes away, but as I continue to look, my consciousness shifts, another daydream, and the glitter of jewels, gold, and sterling, turn into something other – something glistening, oozing, and entrailsbloody.

I inhale loudly, push back from the counter, run my hand over my eyes and look again.  The tray covered in entrails – bits of organs and intestines – has changed back into jewelry.  The blonde Moira looks at me curiously.  “I . . . I . . .” I can’t get words out.

“Are you alright?” the man asks.

“Uh . . . yeah.”  It’s official.  I’m losing my mind. 

“Moira?” the man asks the blonde.  The other two women flank her, gazing down at the tray of baubles, as if they’re reading something there.   The blonde nods to him, saying nothing.

“Well,” the man says to me, “We think you’ll do nicely.”

“Excuse me?”

“You’re hired.  Moira, will you measure Uriel here for her work clothes?  Can’t have her fronting in that.”

The second Moira smiles beneath fuchsia lipstick and comes around to me, with an old-fashioned tape measure hanging around her neck.  She kneels and measures my leg from ankle to waist.  “I can’t . . .”

“It’s policy,” the man interrupts.  “You’ll get a clothing allowance.”

“Really?  Wow,” I say.

“You can start tomorrow?” It counts as a question, by the barest uptick at the end of his sentence, but something warns me that it’s really not a question at all.  Like I don’t really have a choice.

“Sure.”

“All right then,” he turns and exits the back door with the last Moira, leaving me with the measuring Moira and the augury Moira.

I leave a while later, with no fewer than seven unbelievably beautiful outfits inside an overstuffed garment bag.  It isn’t until I reach home that a fog clears from my head, and I realize that so many things were weird about that job interview.  I was never told how much I’d be paid, what my hours were, or what exactly my job would be.

Or how the man knew what my name was when I hadn’t told him.

***

“You’re here, thank God!” mom says when I creak open the greenhouse door.  She checks out a rare customer with an order of fresh cut gerbera daisies, grabs her checkbook from behind the stack of terra cotta pots, and throws herself at the door.  “I’m late.  Dinner’s in the fridge.  Oh, and, some boy named Sam called for you.”

“Sam called?”  Why couldn’t she have led with that?

“Yeah, said he didn’t have your cell number.  Gotta go.  I wrote down the note somewhere.”

terracotta-potsAfter she goes, in the still moist air of the greenhouse that my mom struggles to keep open for the occasional customer, amidst hibiscus blooms, ferns, perfume roses, and pungent kitchen herbs, I locate the little memo book my mom keeps for orders and messages.  There are no orders on it, but there is the one message.

Uriel: Sam called. Said to keep the shirt.

I’m pretty sure that a newly discovered Shakespearean sonnet, or a top forty love song, or even a billboard message on the side of the highway dedicated to me wouldn’t cause my heart to explode with squeaky glee any more than that simple phone message.

***

My Serial Novella: The Judgment Store, part 1

I’ll be releasing my novella, The Judgment Store, which is an urban fantasy piece, in six parts, illustrating each part with some appropriate images.  Hope you enjoy.  Comments are welcome!  Enjoy!

~Thanks!

The Judgment Store

After her father’s death, Uriel gets a job at a store that is much more than it seems.

Part 1:

Sometimes I get that itchy feeling on the soles of my feet and tips of my fingers like when you put your hands on one of those static electricity globes. The itching feels like that, but worse.  I have come to the somewhat scientific conclusion that I get these annoying itches whenever I feel a strong, usually negative, emotion.  I’m itching right now, in the middle of my dad’s funeral.   It’s sort of distracting, but at this point I don’t mind being distracted from the gnawing depression.

I’ve been depressed for months, ever since dad was diagnosed.  But I’ve been bored, too: bored of having to help mom take casket flowerscare of him as he lingered in our converted dining room on his hospital bed.  I’m angry at mom for choosing red carnations to decorate dad’s casket.  His least favorite flower in the whole world, and she blankets his entire casket with them.  But would she listen to me when I told her to use roses? . . . But sitting here thinking about it, I guess the emotion I feel strongest is guilt – guilt over the sense of relief I’d felt three days before, when he finally died.   And it’s the guilt, I think, that’s causing today’s itch.

I squirm my feet inside my one-size-too-small dress sandals, and rub my hands on the borrowed black crepe skirt Mom made me wear: up down, up down, trying to relieve the awful itch, until I see two little sparks fly in the dim light of St. Christina’s small side chapel.  That’s weird:  I was just thinking about static electricity.

All of a sudden the blanket of red carnations Mom had arranged, slides off and falls to the floor with a tremendous swish-thump.  Mom and I, and probably everyone behind us, squeak backwards – startled – in our folding chairs.  The priest pauses his monotonous lecture on the valley of the shadow of death or whatever, and two gray suit funeral home lackeys make a mad scramble to gather up the wayward floral arrangement and hang it back over the casket.  One of the carnations is left behind on the floor; so gray suit number two hands it to me.

As I take the loathsome flower in my itchy fingertips, it’s as if I have a split-second daydream: I see Mom’s greenhouse – her flower and herb shop – boarded up, with a permanent “Closed” sign on the door. 

The itching stops.

Mom looks over, frowns, and squints accusingly at me as if I had somehow made the flowers fall.  I don’t look in her eyes, though, because for an instant during that split second daydream, I had felt genuinely happy.  I hate that greenhouse as much as I hate the red carnations.

The priest resumes his boring sermon as if nothing had happened.

***

After the service, and after all the heavily-iced Bundt-cake-bearers leave, mom and I depart to our separate sides of the house. She to her stupid greenhouse off the enclosed side porch; me to my room.

The itching returns.  I pace around my tiny cave, restacking books and teddy bears, shelving three knotty sweaters I’d picked up at the thrift store last week, but none of this activity relieves the itching any more than smearing over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream would.  Yes, I’ve tried creams; no effect.  I need something to get my mind off Dad being gone.  To get my mind off having no money for a car, or college, or even a dress to the homecoming dance that I won’t get asked to anyway.  To get my mind off the rest of my crap life.  I need something quick.  So I channel myself into homework, of all things – thank God I had gotten my Faust paper done in the computer lab Thursday . . . and fall asleep, still in my funeral clothes.

            “You’re gonna be late for school,” Mom says from my doorway.  I look at her through bleary eyes, hunched over the mess spread out on my lap.  Mom looks like hell, dressed for a day of work in her money pit greenhouse – worn blue jeans, dad’s worn flannel shirt over a holey t-shirt, raccoon circles under her eyes, hair pulled back in a circa-1988 scrunchie.  Even so, I’m sure she looks better than I do.  I throw my homework into dad’s old Army-Navy surplus backpack, and then rush past her without a word, jumping into the shower.

“You’ll be back in time for your shift so I can get to the supplier?” she asks me when I head out the door.

It’s all I can do not to groan at her.  Most kids in high school have after school jobs.   Most of them also get paychecks for these jobs.  I don’t.  Mom won’t pay me right now; finance’s are tight.  Finances are always tight.  I glance back at her.  “I may be a little late.”

“Not too late,” she frowns.  I shrug my shoulders and walk away.

I need a job that pays.  I need money to pay my tab at the thrift store – those old, sorry – “vintage” – sweaters aren’t going to pay for themselves, and Mrs. O’Mooney has threatened, only half-jokingly, to send her nephew to break my kneecaps if I don’t pay her by next week.  What Mom doesn’t know is that after school I intend to stop by that funky-looking new store, The R&P, that’s opening uptown.  It had a help-wanted sign last time I walked by.

Most people would stay home on the day after their dad’s funeral, but for me staying home and moping would be worse.

The football team has its own special P.E. class first period, and it’s like shouldering through a brick wall to get through them as they high-kick-jog in formation down the driveway and back up.  They look like something out of an old Nazi newsreel.  Coach Adamson, gym teacher/football coach/neo-Nazi-Commandant hands me a blue tardy slip.  I don’t bother looking into his diabolic eyes; instead I focus on the looming Homecoming Dance poster above his head. “Fifteen tardies, Uriel,” he pronounces.  I grunt; I may have been wrong about school being better than staying home moping.

There’s still a traffic jam at the lockers.  “Hey, Uriel,” Ella Maloney says – with a tone of pure snark.  “Who did your hair today?  The dog groomer?” Almost everyone in the locker crowd laughs, except for Sam Wiseman, the one tolerable boy in the entire school.

“Shut up,” he says.  “Can’t you be nice to her even for one day?  Especially today?”  He looks at me in apology.  I shrug it off but feel my face heat up.  I give him a little smile for sticking up for me.

“Oh,” Ella stammers, then: “Oh yeah, right.”  It has only just now occurred to her that I buried my dad yesterday.  “Sorry.”  I’ve gotten rather good at ignoring Ella Maloney, even though I’ve pretty much hated her since kindergarten.  It is a sign of pure evil that the school district insists on placing her in every single one of my classes, every single year.

“You okay?” Sam asks me.  My answering nod is a lie, of course.  Oh yeah, I’m fantastic.  I just put my dad in the ground; my life is in the crapper; and I still have to deal with Ella Spray-Tan Maloney, but I’m amazing!

There’s another gaudy homecoming poster right above my locker.  Its glitter has sprinkled down onto the tiny ledge and around the floor. I manage to work my way through my lock combination as the crowd around us disperses, leaving only me and him.  After the padlock pops, my glittery locker door won’t open.  I try pushing up on the handle, but the upper left edge keeps getting caught in the frame.  I throw as much of my weight into shoving it up and out, but my hand slips and scrapes along a sharp edge, slicing into the soft skin from my pinky down to my wrist.

I gasp, drop my backpack into the pool of glitter on the floor, and notice blood seeping down onto the cream white sleeve of my cheap vintage sweater.  Groan.

“You okay?” Sam asks again, this time more urgently.

“I’m fine.  You’re late for class,” I gesture with my uninjured hand for him to go, but he doesn’t.  Instead, he opens his own locker again and roots around for a while, pulling out a long-sleeved t-shirt and an Ace bandage box.  “Here,” he hands me the shirt. “It’s clean.  I brought it for soccer; you can put it on after you get that cleaned up.  And keep the bandage.  Mom got me a whole crate of them since I’m always injuring myself.”  He hands me the box.  Then, like a knight in shining armor, opens my locker door.  Grasping the shirt, bandage, and my backpack, I pick myself up and turn away quickly because I don’t want him to see my tears.

I didn’t cry all day yesterday during or after my dad’s funeral, but Sam coming to my rescue like that just defeats me.

I rush off to the bathroom to clean up, forgetting to thank him, but as I wash the blood off my hand and wrap the bandage around the cut, I feel my palms, then my fingers, and finally my feet itch again.  I ignore it.  I can barely see my blotchy face reflected in the stainless steel mirror.  To be honest, I don’t even want to see myself; I know I’m hideous as tears pour maddeningly down my cheeks, and my nose runs.

Somehow I manage to change out of the blood-stained sweater and into Sam’s shirt and thrust my ruined sweater into my pack, but I’m so late for English it’s ridiculous.

I wipe away every last tear with my itchy fingers.  Zaaaaap.  An electric spark leaps right out of my right index finger and crackles into the air.  I blink quickly – having seen this happen so fast in the mirror that I’m not sure it really happened.  But then Itruck wreck have another split-second daydream, like the one I had yesterday, and I witness Sam in his pickup, deafeningly blindsided by a gigantic blue Hummer crashing point blank into the driver’s side door.  There’s no way Sam could survive something like that; he’d be pancaked.  I shake my head quickly, pushing this vision away, and the already-weak fluorescent lights in the bathroom flicker twice before going out completely, leaving me in pitch blackness.

That was awful . . . and weird.  My heart pounds in my chest, but the itch is gone.

I manage to feel my way out of the bathroom and head down the hall to class.

“So lovely of you to join us, Uriel,” my least favorite English teacher in the history of all the English teachers I’ve ever had – Mr. Frank – says.  Instead of bothering to explain my tardiness, I just fall into my seat and exhale, ignoring the various looks of my classmates.  “Faust paper?” he demands from right in front of my desk, hand outstretched like a collection agent.  I pull it out of my bag for him, and he strides away, flipping through it as the rest of the class chit-chats.

I watch Mr. Frank speed read through my paper.  That’s his thing: skims through them right as they’re handed in, grades them promptly and hands them right back, while the class just sits and entertains itself.  That’s how he teaches, too.  He never lectures, doesn’t allow discussion, doesn’t actually “instruct.”  He just gives us reading assignments, paper assignments and tests – like it’s a bother to interact with us.  Thankfully, English is my best subject.  Unthankfully, it’s my most boring class.

“Sorry I didn’t make it yesterday,” says Gabby from the chair beside me.

“It’s okay, Gabs,” I cut her off.  I don’t want to talk about the funeral right now.

“No, it’s not.  I’m really sorry,” she insists.

“You’ve been sick.”  She has been out a lot lately.  This thought just now occurs to me.  I look more closely at her.

Gabby Mitchell is, if anybody could be, my best friend.  I’ve known her since kindergarten, too.  We’ve weathered Ella Maloney together.  I look at Gabby now and feel reality shift like an earthquake under my feet.  Gabby’s so pale, but her skin is an unnatural yellow.  Even her eyes, where they’re supposed to be white, are yellow, like there’s something very, very wrong with the fluorescent lights above us.

“Okay, class.  Finished.  Not happy, but finished,” Mr. Frank says in an even more annoyed voice than usual. “I’ll pass these back to you, along with your next assignment . . . and I’ll need to see Ella and Uriel after class . . . ” but I barely hear him, because I am too busy staring at Gabby and considering how familiar her coloring is.  Familiar because I last saw that exact shade of jaundice yellow on my dad’s face, now dead from liver cancer.

“Uriel?  Did you hear me?  Stay after class,” Mr. Frank repeats.

“Wha . . . okay,” I say.  He hands me my paper, which doesn’t actually have a grade on it.  Instead, there are a series of question marks, then exclamation points throughout, and a note on the last page saying simply:  “Do you think I’m stupid, Uriel?”

I look up in confusion, but he’s already turned his back on me.

***

To the Valentines, to make much of Time.

For Valentine’s Day, I’d like to quote to you one of my favorite poets, Sting.  But, hey, you say – Sting’s a musician, not a poet!  Well, technically he’s both.  In fact, his lyrics are poems.  (Ok, all lyrics are poems.  But Sting’s are just particularly literary, scholarly, and poetic…..probably his English teacher background.)

Enjoy!

“A Thousand Years”

A thousand years, a thousand more,
A thousand times a million doors to eternity
I may have lived a thousand lives, a thousand times
An endless turning stairway climbs
To a tower of souls
If it takes another thousand years, a thousand wars,
The towers rise to numberless floors in space
I could shed another million tears, a million breaths,
A million names but only one truth to face

A million roads, a million fears
A million suns, ten million years of uncertainty
I could speak a million lies, a million songs,
A million rights, a million wrongs in this balance of time
But if there was a single truth, a single light
A single thought, a singular touch of grace
Then following this single point , this single flame,
The single haunted memory of your face

I still love you
I still want you
A thousand times the mysteries unfold themselves
Like galaxies in my head

I may be numberless, I may be innocent
I may know many things, I may be ignorant
Or I could ride with kings and conquer many lands
Or win this world at cards and let it slip my hands
I could be cannon food, destroyed a thousand times
Reborn as fortune’s child to judge another’s crimes
Or wear this pilgrim’s cloak, or be a common thief
I’ve kept this single faith, I have but one belief

I still love you
I still want you
A thousand times the mysteries unfold themselves
Like galaxies in my head
On and on the mysteries unwind themselves
Eternities still unsaid
‘Til you love me

Sometimes it takes a while to upload.

This is where I am.

Where are you?

~Thanks!

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