Four Stories


Clown, with Maggots in Mouth


At my college boyfriend’s undergraduate art show there was a piece called “Capitalism,” a life-size sculpture of a clown head with tiny detailed maggots flowing from its mouth. I looked away from it, was repulsed, and instinctively grabbed my boyfriend’s arm. He laughed at my reaction, and I said the art was bad, was trite and purposely ridiculous. He said that’s the point, the artist is saying capitalism is also bad, gross, oppressively trite. I said big fucking deal, and he got angry at me, saying I just didn’t understand art. It bothered me to be bothered by such a stupid sculpture, to have my revulsion laughed at. Yeah, I agree capitalism sucks but I didn’t ask to look at a grotesque clown on a Wednesday evening. Did the piece make me feel differently about the world? Grossed out about clowns a bit and of course I continued my lifelong distaste for maggots, but show me someone who actually likes maggots, even the medical kind, which I must add are only typically used as a last resort. At night I couldn’t sleep, I kept thinking about that fucking clown, so I spent hours googling car accident death photos, people crushed by tractor trailers on freeways, one person eviscerated in a smart car accident. It didn’t bother me. None of it bothered me as much as the clown. I dug deep through the rotten.com archives, looked at videos of people shooting themselves, jumping off high buildings, but it just made me angrier and angrier at the clown sculpture. I wanted to buy stocks. I wanted to ditch my Socialist Party card. I called my boyfriend the next morning and said it just wasn’t working out. He said he didn’t want to be with a philistine anyway, and that also I was kind of a bitch lately, and that also he had cheated on me with one of his professor’s graduate assistants. This was years ago. If I’m alone in my home and I need to wake up early my brain still pulls up that clown, maggots pouring out of its mouth, and I’m up for hours more. My ex became a corporate lawyer, and a mutual friend says he pulls in a half a million dollars a year but he’s “not happy.” Me, I’m trying to get my plays produced by the community theater and am on food stamps. I’m also “not happy.” Are we both victims? What ridiculous wounds have we been letting fester all this time?




Disappointment


We are in the midst of a long road trip and in the hills of Tennessee just north of the Alabama border we are suddenly stopped and traffic is still there is a chugging black plume of smoke not far ahead but it is around a mountainous wind of trees we cannot see the fire the median is a steep ditch and there is no close exit on the interstate we see emergency vehicles drive the other way and then make their way up our shoulder ten minutes later we turn our cars off many of us wander out of the doors of our vehicles somebody ahead needs a jump and is jumped but we cannot tell if it is successful as the cars are still on the AM band we pick up a smattering of uncensored early 90s hip hop there are small bursts in the plume pops in the air like transformers exploding in a hurricane all of our eyes focused on the plume and yes some cameras it is a brief idol our conductor against the blue monster of the sky eventually it dissipates as whatever fires below are put out and we turn our cars back on slowly inch up the highway and prepare ourselves for a scene of scars and crushed metals surely no one could have escaped but it is only a tractor trailer full of empty cars that has burned and yes they all burned completely and the trees on the side of the road are also singed but we feel empty or cheated is it wrong to be disappointed that no one was hurt that we were inconvenienced only for the destruction of property and our personal safety we had clenched our fists against our wheels as the trees and road unfurled the char to us we thought we were going to have a panic attack wondered if we should beg our passengers not to look spare them the scene take it all for ourselves and only ourselves.




Light Terror


In the night woods where we have gone to smoke pot and shoot off my friend’s dad’s vintage Colt .45 there is a patch of light suddenly, a half mile from any buildings, as though the sun suddenly broke through the murk of the midnight sky. My friend shoots the gun at it, and nothing. We haven’t lit the joint yet, we haven’t done anything. And even light in context becomes the ferry of terror. Sudden lingering flash at the bedroom window at night. The flicker of cop cars on your home block. Waking from a midday nap briefly believing you’d gone to bed at night. The lights in the movie theater suddenly coming up, the mystery of emergency. The light here in the woods is only a couple yards wide, as though a small piece of daytime was misplaced. No animals hover near it, or we scared them off with the gun. Of course we move to stand inside it. Of course we are surprised by its lack of warmth.




Measure for Measure


A list of the dead. A man on the phone. A reason for madness. A cup all emptied. A ghost in the doorway. A river of blood. A flotation device has deployed. A creature needs me. A wallet of bills. A rose by any other name. A case has been reopened. A story of mechanics. A history in pictures. A load of genuine garbage. A beginning with no end. A sky opening up. A tale of several cities. A found notebook. A connection has been lost. A sea of stones. A wedlock of doom. A getaway car is refueled. A victim breaks free. A mouse in the attic. A ghost in the doorway. A question of love. A broken coffeepot. A hole opens up. A river of stones. A wind-carried scream. A joy and a fear. A road leads us nowhere. A tile all cracked up. A catastrophe averted. A ghost in the doorway. A dandelion all pressed. A real true thing.  

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