preview :: selected shorts
John spends his summers in a shady forest clearing making new... friends?
It all flickered green. Even the cool water in the pool, the pond muck at the edges a deep moss. Only John knew that there are as many shades of green as there are all the other colors combined, and only John saw each one.
He lay on his back at the edge of the pool on the high ground where it was dry in the summer. Smelly emerald Zelda t-shirt over his small chest and holey jeans over his skinny legs. Dirty bare feet. Tennis shoes somewhere nearby. He didn’t bother with socks.
Occasionally a leech snuck into his shoes when he was happily squishing through the oozy pond goo and discovering. Once he’d made it all the way home and chucked off his sneakers and taken a step. Only then did he discover the leech on the bottom of his foot. It had been brown, and not green. So gross.
All things green were his favorite. The salamanders he’d come hunting weeks ago were deep chestnut, or mottled black, or gray with a red stripe. He had been fond of saying they were his favorite and the reason he always returned to the forest. They weren’t.
John stopped squinting at the sun through the fir trees as they whispered in the breeze and turned his head. He smiled at the giant avocado colored sword ferns. Rich and dull on the biggest blades. Cinnamon spots speckling them. Beneath those, the tiny baby fronds were technicolor lime. Unfurling their tendrils day by day and waiting to become big and deeply verdant.
This was his place and so he knew the fern on his left. Knew the big ones and the tiny growing little ones too, shooting from the base and tightly coiled. He could have named them as he watched them become, day after day. He reached out to poke at one.
“Would you like a name?”
It sprung back and responded. “Yes.”
The cycle of abuse is destructive in ways we can't - and often don't want to - imagine.
I’m not used to handling real guns. Growing up in Oklahoma, my brothers had spindly B.B. guns we all played with. Their rifles weren’t for me. But the B.B. guns, that was fine. Mom was okay with that. We shot up pop cans and chucked their riddled aluminum bodies in our creek to see how long they could float. But a B.B. gun and a Glock 9mm are different.
We live in Pueblo, Colorado now, instead of home, because that’s where the work is. I told my husband I didn’t want to come here. I didn’t want to leave Stillwater. I didn’t know anyone out here. It’s just me and the boys and their dad. Like it was with my dad and my brothers at home after mom was gone.
My palms were damp when I walked into the gun store, after I dropped the boys off at school this morning. I searched on my phone and there was one just a couple blocks away from the house. I snuck through the door like you do in high school when you’ve been out after curfew with your girlfriends. Even if you didn’t do anything really wrong, you’re still breaking the rules. I knew I was going to break the rules today though, so I guess that’s not quite right.
I didn’t know how big the place would be. A warehouse without windows, full of buzzing white lights. I was overwhelmed. I started pushing my wedding band around my sweaty finger. There were literally hundreds of choices. Oak and glass display counters with wood-grip handguns like you see in westerns, midnight matte automatics like you see in cop shows. Steel racks on all four walls covered with shotguns and assault rifles.
The woman who helped me was my age. Her name was Rosie. She had a blond ponytail and wide-set green eyes with deep laugh lines. I felt calmer the longer we talked. She sounded like maybe she smoked. She knew everything, and that made me confident again. I stopped worrying about keeping on track.
The old saying "life isn't fair" is hardly a complete sentence.
I don’t know how the bus missed me. I know a man, a stranger, shouted at the last minute. Not the last minute. The last second, the very last second, split second, when I had time to look up, then stop. Even then it was damn close. I hadn’t planned to stop and my body wasn’t ready to hear the message. My mind said stop but the rest of me nearly carried the whole package forward off the curb and smack into the eastbound 187.
That’s my body for you. Betraying me at every turn. Gangly and lean in the wrong places. Bulging and limp in the wrong places too. Where it ought to be fat it’s skinny. Where there ought to be nothing, there’s always something, and the other way around.
The bus, the near sight and acrid smell of it, roared by inches from my nose. Road grit bit my eyes. The orange and silver on the side became a smeared streak broken by a colorful collage that was probably an ad for the California Lottery. Or Planned Parenthood, or the local news. It was so close to my face I couldn’t make it out as it sped past at thirty miles an hour. Another flash of metro colors, a hot gust of dry diesel fumes that tipped me back in my red Chuck Taylor hi-tops, then nothing. It hadn’t even had time to slow down.
I was lucky for a couple reasons. First, the warning shout. The fact that the guy hadn’t been totally absorbed in his phone like I was and had actually been looking at the world go by. Add to that his ability to choke out a noise during a moment of extreme horror. I mean I’m sure he saw it all go down in his mind the split second before he alarmed. Pictured me not stopping and pictured me – what? Plastered to the front of the thing? Folded over the commuter bikes mounted on the nose like wet laundry over a drying rack?
Since 2016, the Chechen government, under Sharia law, has been abducting, torturing, and murdering gay men.
I have stepped outside to the balcony to smoke, and to cry. Inside the apartment, the American journalist makes hurried notes. The small woman he has brought with him to translate sits perched on the edge of a metal folding chair, leaning forward, staring at nothing. Her legs are neatly crossed. Her hands are grasping her knees and her fingers flutter now and again against them.
In the alley three stories below me is a girl of maybe ten. There is a brown, long-haired dog as well but it is just passing through. The girl is not wearing enough clothing. It is March and she has no coat, only a ratty red woolen sweater, which is no good, because it has been snowing and the sweater looks heavy with damp. She is squatted on her haunches, skirt covering just to her dirty knees. With a stick, or maybe a chalk, she is scratching something on the street that looks like a heart, while singing to herself a song, which is simple and repetitive and must be a nursery rhyme. It is unfamiliar to me. It would be tempting to say, that with her dark hair and disregard for the cold, she reminds me of my dead sister, but she doesn’t. She is unfamiliar to me. Everyone and everything in Moscow is unfamiliar to me. It is not that I want to return to Chechnya. It is only that everything now is unfamiliar, and the strangeness is like always hearing one side of a conversation.
The cylinder of ash on my cigarette is precarious and long. I flick it and the gray powder falls and collides with a snowflake before disappearing. The cigarette was supposed to outlast my desire to cry, but it hasn’t. It was supposed to calm me, but it hasn’t. I have not smoked long enough for that to be the effect. The nicotine is still the arrival of a rattling train through my nerves coming to a shuddering, jerking stop at the center of my chest with every pull of smoke.