Tag Archives: Ideas and Inspirations

The Perfect Couple: Writing prompt 5 mins

Prompt: The Perfect Couple
Timed writing: 5mins

Time:1986

The first days of snow had come. It was a Sunday and my grandparents were at church. They had given up forcing me to go after I had a huge fit in the church parking lot screaming about how if God was so great why did he take away everyone in my family. I don’t think it was so much that they didn’t have an answer, but that all their church friends were watching us, and they were embarrassed. It is very important to my grandma that everything looks perfect and happy. This was something that both my dad and his brother used to complain about whenever they would get together. On all the family holidays when we would be together, grandma would always do something to make one of the parents mad. She would follow our moms around the kitchen cleaning up after them, and criticizing about how or what they were cooking. Or she would comment on how my uncle was dressed or that his kids were not presentable enough. She thought my dad was the perfect son, but he had made one huge mistake, and that was marrying my mother.

My dad had had a pretty blonde girlfriend when he was in high school, and she came from a rich family that had a lot of connections in the town where my dad had grown up. She had been a cheerleader and was, as my dad called her, traditional. She always had her hair perfect, and her clothes always ironed and starched. She wore the latest conservative styles. White butterfly collared shirts and pink cashmere sweaters with delicate embroidery that she did herself. I knew all these things about dad’s high school girlfriend: butterfly collars and embroidery and that her favorite color was pink,  a lady’s color, because my grandmother would talk about her almost every time she was around my mom. Mom had told me that grandma even brought it up at their wedding. My grandmother was crying because she was actually heartbroken that my dad was not going to get back together with his high school sweetheart. My dad said, he had liked the girl that she was nice enough, and a good person, but that she was exactly like his mother, and if there was one thing a man did not want to do it was to marry an exact replica of his mother.

He said they had met at a business function where his father was meeting with the girl’s father, and grandma fell in love with her at first sight. Dad explained it like grandma wanted to marry her herself. It was pretty much an arranged courtship. Grandma constantly inviting the family over for dinner and arranging the meetings. Her family was liked dad’s family, and he was certain that both parties involved were planning a wedding. Since they were business people, and as dad called them the new salesmen rich, it was not acceptable to get married before college. So both dad and the girl were sent off to separate colleges. He was to get prepared to be a businessman, and she was being groomed to be an educated wife who could host respectable dinner parties. Since it was important which school you went to, the girl was shipped off to a private girls’ school on the east coast, and my dad went to Stanford. Dad had said that he had felt sorry for the girl because maybe he would have liked her if it was allowed to happen naturally, but because it was forced he began to resent the girl, especially because the night before the business function where his father had dragged him along, he had finally built up the courage to ask Sally Renton out for a date. He had had a crush on her since the fourth grade. That night they were to go out to a movie. He said the movie was called Dr. No, and he was so upset that he had to cancel just so his father could show him off to a couple of his work colleagues. He said that it had ruined his chance to ever go out with Sally Renton. My mom said she was glad that his mother had ruined his future plans for love because without her meddling they would never have met.

Obviously, my mother was  not Sally Renton.

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The Burden

From a photograph

Before the sun rises we will walk out to the river and say good-bye to my daughter. It is the way. I know this. I know— we know— that HE will take all of us one day, at anytime, and it is a blessing, and that is why we are thankful .

It is offensive to show any sadness because to be sad is to show anger to Him, to not trust Him, and that is a sin. There is much to be grateful for and I show it through my silence and my peace. She was a girl, and with the death of a girl there is celebration because now there will be space for a boy. Food for a boy, a future for a boy. And, I am pregnant now so it will be a boy. The girl is gone and in His kindness he has put a boy in my belly. We know this. Yet, I feel empty. Somewhere inside of myself where my daughter once slept curled like an egg warming my blood and filling me with something I can only call love, I feel a hole. A deep hole like a well that reaches no water.

As the sun rises from the dark brown line of the earth and pushes the thin rainless clouds away our toes touch the edges of the water. It is all the women of the village who are with me, but they are not for me they are for Him, because they too must give thanks. In the river I wash the white linens that I will use to swaddle her body. She was little so I do not have to use much, but I wish it to be as white as the lily. The other women partake in the ceremony- they murmur, hum and wail in painful tones of remorse and prayer. They give praise and thank Him for taking her, my daughter, and releasing us from the burden of yet another girl child.

The water flushes over my fingers and in-between the fibers. It is warm and smells slightly of urine. I do not always think it is good, but HE has provided it and therefore it is good. I walk deep into the folding river wringing the white cloth, focusing on cleaning and cleansing them. I think about the preparations for the evening. The dying walk with the white candles, how we must prepare the candles for the ceremony, but she keeps poking her baby fingers into my head. I feel her arms around my  neck. Her fingers tangling in my hair, and she is bound to my body as she had always been when I had washed the clothing in the river. I gasp and pull the linen to me and hold them like I had held her. They smell like her and I feel like I will shake until my knees break and I will then collapse into the dirty river. I want to fall and join her my most beautiful child. My first child. But, I cannot. She has been taken for a reason so the boy can live. I must tell myself this until I believe it.

I walk to the shore still holding my bundle of linen tightly to me like it is my daughter, but suddenly I am aware of where I am and what I am doing, and I hope that none of the other women have noticed me; noticed my weakness. It is a sin to be mournful when a girl dies when there is so much thanks to be had before us. Save the tears for the loss of our boys. I know this, and I can be beaten for such a display of sorrow even on the day of burial.

I drape the linen, heavy with the river’s water, over thick branches and slap out the wrinkles and lines of fabric with my open hand. The sound like a wet drum beat in my ears. Soon the other women are doing the same, pounding out the their linens of many different colors, the rhythm rising toward a song. Coolness and warmth pass over me. It is the breeze warm from the sun and wet from the great river, but there is a thin veil of cool that licks the sweat from my neck and shoulders. She is beside me and I know this because I can feel her. I want to say her name, but it is forbidden.

***

The sun will be setting soon. I have been washing all day, and I continue with the final washing as the dark folds over the sky and I wrap the wet cloth over my body, and my head covering every part of me. The heavy wet fabric gathers about my head and ankles and the weight is like that of a human.  A human child. We return to the village wearing the wet fabric around our bodies, and carrying the dry linen in baskets on our heads. We sing songs of praise as our bare feet pass over the dusty road that will take us to our village. Once we arrive, and hang the last of the wet cloth, I will wrap the white linen around the body of my dead child, and once again we will take the slow walk to the river. The river that gives us life the river that gives us death.

All things have been prepared. The older women have painted her and oiled her. Her face has been dusted the red of the earth and black coal circles her eyes that are closed. White dots divide her face in half. Her arms glisten against the flicking lights of the candles and I inhale the scent of oil. Although she is not a boy she is anointed and praised because HE brought her to us and HE has been kind enough to take her away. Perhaps she will return as a boy and her life could be better in the next life. I wish for that, but at the same time I feel sad that she will not ever be a woman.

The night is blue black and the stars blink and weep as we began our walk to the river. The men carry my daughter on a plank of wood on their shoulders. I want to call out her name, but it is forbidden. The villagers have been singing and as we move closer to the river they sing louder. The night is dark now and only the candles show us the way. The scent of wax and smoke fill my nostrils and I can no longer smell her. My eyes begin to burn and I can feel the wet of my tears streaming down my cheeks. This is a feeling of great sadness and I must not feel this but I am overcome. It is only the smoke. I will say it is only the smoke.

We reach the river and my husband and all the men are the first to place their candles into the water. It is like they heave a great sigh of relief. A daughter is such a burden. We are all relieved—but something… something is empty and there is no relief in my heart. They place her body into the water and push her off to float and get carried away into the mouth to be forever swallowed up by Him and all that HE has given to us. We thank him for releasing us and we pray that the boy in my belly is strong. I place my candle in the water to give thanks to Him who took her. I must say a prayer of gratitude, but all I can say is her name; Kalaya.

In the Tenderloin

The Tenderloin. 11:30 a.m. November. 

Hey, you how ya doing? You look lovely today.”

He was youngish, somewhere between 19 and 30, with dark brown skin the color of wood smoked oak. His head shaved with new hair growing a shadowy crown of ebony. His face was fine; Swazi nose, Zulu chin, Xhosa face, a child of ancestral Southern Africa whittled away over a century of abuse, and replaced with poverty, drugs and anger. An American boy.

He was such a good boy when he was little.” Grandma used to say. “Such a nice boy.”

(Grandmothers cry a lot these days. )

His dark brown slacks sagged slightly over a practiced limp in his walk. Swagger. His jacket oversized and bulky, black, and worn, but kept as clean as the streets allow.

“Thank you.” I said. My heels clicking against the sidewalk. The sound loud and obtuse. I had bought them recently, put them on layaway and made small payments. I had wanted nice shoes. Heels that were good for my feet but also flattering. This was an expensive requirement that took two months to pay off. They seemed too loud now.

He matched my step never looking at me always looking around or forward. If he glanced my way it was only to look at my body never my face. I forced myself to look at him to not allow fear keep my head down. A “nice” woman keeps her head down. This tactic has never worked in history, and yet we repeat, repeat, repeat.

He pulls out a phone from his coat, and I wince at the movement. Don’t be silly, don’t be silly, I think, keep walking, don’t slow down, don’t speed up, maintain the pace- maintain the pace. Nothing is wrong and I am not scared.

“Can I have your number?”

I keep walking. I don’t change my speed. I keep the same pace. I wonder how long he is going to walk with me. He holds his hand behind his back, and I wonder what he has hidden there. It is mid-day, but the light, and the people do not give me feelings of safety. I have stumbled unsuspectingly into the Tenderloin.

He leans heavily onto his right leg and swings his left forward in a well rehearsed strut. It’s so rehearsed that now it is his natural walk.

“When he was a baby he would stick out his belly and it would lead him around.”

Another man, gaunt face, chestnut skin pulled taught over his high jutting cheekbones, passes us. As he does he holds up two fingers. My unwanted companion nods. The chestnut man brushes against my shoulder, like a dying twig on a fall branch snags a sweater, and I am like a ghost to him; invisible in his world.

Another man pulls his car up to the curb. He rolls down his window and sticks his out his shaved head. His dark eyes and high cheekbones eclipse all other features nearly erased by his bone skin. He reminds me of pictures of boys in Southern Eastern European. I can see his blue track suit and automatically I think he is Russian. I secretly smile at my assumption- how do I know he’s Russian? Television? Magazines? Track Suits? He probably is Russian. He nods to my unwanted companion and lifts two fingers in the same manner as the chestnut man. My new-friend nods in response, but never stops walking alongside me.

As we share this walk, on a San Francisco street block that in my mind suddenly became the size of four city blocks, more men pass with nods and raised double digits. We were waking through a wave of nods and fingers.

His hands have been behind his back the entire time hidden under his heavy dark jacket. I wonder what he has under that jacket and if he will use it on me. I balance on the edge of fear and reason.

“So what do you do for work?” He asks me.

“I’m a teacher.” I say.

“A teacher?”

“Yes.”

He takes this information in like a fine cognac, inhaling first before placing the words to his lips and slowly sipping, then swallows with a nod to no man on the street but himself. He shifts his hands and arms but doesn’t reveal  them.

‘You know,” he begins, “I’m tryin’ to get back on my feet.”

“Such a good boy. And so smart too. Just whip smart.”

I don’t say anything. I just keep walking. I know at this point that he isn’t going to ask me for any money, not that it mattered, but if he didn’t want money, what did he want? Why the long walk?

“So, can I have your number?”

“I dont live here.” I say.

“I don’t either.” He says, “What does it matter? I want to be your friend. I’ll go where you are.”

“You gonna go to China?” I say, half smiling at his friend request. I still want to see his hands.

“I’m tryin’ to clean up. I’m thinkin’ about gettin’ my G.E.D.”

“You should.”

“I don’t know what I want to be yet.”

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Grandma asks. “I wanna be a police man so I can save people!” Baby says.

“Doesn’t matter.” I say, “Start with your G.E.D. You can be anything. Imagine what you can be.”

Grandma must have said that more than once. “Momma? Poppa? Can I be anything? Anything I want? Momma? Poppa?”

I look at his face. His young dark face already too old. Twenties? Thirties? Maybe, just maybe a teenager in the body of a hardened man.

“I wanna be your friend.” He says, “Can I be your friend?”

He never looks at me. Never looks at my face not the way I look at his face. I make him human he doesn’t do that for me.

He brings his hand out and holds a phone ready to take my number.

“We can’t be friends.” I say. “We can be acquaintances.”

“What’s that?” He says finally looking at me.

“Doing what we are doing right now. Walking together to the end of a block. We talk. We’re friendly. We say good-bye. We leave each other.”

“Oh. Well. I don’t want to waste anymore of my time.” He spins on his heavy leg and turns back up the street.

And leaves me with no good-bye, and like that I was dumped. In the Tenderloin.

My are you lookin’ lovely today!” A  giant black man with shiny skin is standing akimbo and yelling at me as I walk toward him. His white bleached shirt white as his teeth and tucked into pressed blue jeans stretched over colossus muscles. Huddle at his legs like a frightened children are a frail lady tweaker and a pile of rags with a toothless grin. They all smile at me. The woman’s skin which was once white is yellow and dry with a red sore on her chin and one on her cheek. Too much picking. Her clothes are dirty, but no where near the level of muck that is the Raggedy Cousin It hunched beside her.

“You sure are lovely.” The man yells again, and his voice is booming a deep rich baritone. The tone is to warm to be bothered, and only exasperated amusement rises into my being.

“Thank you.” I boom right back.

They were all children once too.

They all smile, and laugh cheerfully as I step off the curb onto the next block.

This new block is empty except for a schizophrenic man who is yelling to his invisibles.

“I know! I know! I’m upset! Yes! Yes! I am because that’s not what it’s about! I’ll gut it! I swear, I’ll gut it out! They’ll get it! They’ll get it!”

I walk pass him without incident. I am not a part of his visions.

I smile in the Tenderloin.

The banter is not cheap on the sidewalk, and it’s full of visions and monsters. Men and women who were once children shrink into reptiles because the light is too harsh and too cold. This is a place where the light is evil and the dark is good. A person can’t help where they were born. Not everyone was given equal opportunity, no matter how American one is.

“Fluorescents! It’s the fluorescents!” The man yells, and his voice falls behind me.

I agree with him it is the fluorescents. The grey pale light steals all the color. Whitewashes even the white.

Hunger suddenly diverts my thinking. I too am reptilian. I think of food. I could snap in a single jump to catch my prey, and everything else like fear of the street, fades in this one impulse of hunger. I must eat.

The Olympic cafe.

An old diner with faded pink linoleum tables, and a black and white checkered floor. Black  stools line the bar. I take a seat at a small single style booth. This is a place that once had smoking and non-smoking separated by this side of the room and that side of the room. I order bacon and eggs and black coffee.

Sometimes, I want to be an old man, anonymous, and alone with my shot of whisky, my cup of hot coffee, and my cigarette: “You youngsters you look at me and think I am sad, lonely, and pathetic, but I’m just sitting here being fine lost in my thoughts. My stimulants are small as you binge in your excess of partying such reckless youth. Now, I, I ease into my drink like a sage wrapped in a single sheet of bourbon: not a lake, there is no need to drown just to float. I am not waiting to die like Dylan Thomas. I am not gently waiting for the night to take me; I’ve a fine life. Leave your projections at the counter”.

I dream about being an old man. I will be an old woman. I want them both.

My thoughts are interrupted by an old black man his skin ash with age and the street. His hands in prayer shaking with pious pity and true religion. The owner of this timeless diner stares through the glass with dark Greek eyes. Pain through pane glass. The owner slowly shakes his head closing his eyes, he is hard-nosed, but not angry. “No.” He says.

They have a history these two.

Two old men. Old Americans: one stolen, sold, and bought; one who sold himself to come to the new country. Choices and no choices. America in the Tenderloin. The Tenderloin in America.

All babies grow old. Come little children, let’s play kick the can ’cause all babies grow old. Hey, little baby’ll be an old woman soon. An old grandma looking at old men staring at each other through windows of pain. I want to be them both at once. I want to be the old America, the grizzled broken dream; the death of a salesman and the raisin in the sun.

I eat my eggs, and drink my coffee in the Tenderloin.

Version 2

 

Hello From Žižkov-Chapter 5, pgs. 181-187

We fought our way into the birth canal bar. I thought about calling it the fallopian tube, but it had a little more space than that. It was three in the morning, and the place showed no sign of emptying out. Sedik lead the way to a table that was occupied by a couple, and everyone squeezed in till the couple was nearly pushed out.

“Anna, Annabelle.” Ian was yelling into my face. “Yeh worked today r’oight?”

“Yes” I yelled back.

“Can yeh buy me a beer?”

“Christ, Ian. Sure.” I got up and pushed past him to the bar fighting to get attention from the bartender. I ordered a pivo, and a coke for me. I turned to hand the beer to Ian.

“Wot’s that?” He yelled at me.

“It’s a coke.” I yelled back.

“Just a cola?”

“I need caffeine.” I yelled.

“I ‘ave somefing bet’er for ya. Keep ya up all night.” He yelled.

“Not now.” I yelled back.  “But on second thought.” I turned back to the bartender and ordered a glass of wine. Then pushing Ian aside I fought my way back to the table. I sat across from Sedik. His eyes were dying coals — the burning veins showing even in the dark light. His head swung back and forth on a pendulum to the rhythm of the music. Sometimes in a sudden jerk he would pause and press the back of his head against the wall and close his eyes then open them again and sway his head back and forth. Everyone was dancing in whatever space they could find. Francisco was dancing with the two girls in between tables, Marco was dancing in the aisle between the bars and the rows of tables, and Endres was all over the place.

“Annabelle?” Sedik called across to me. I reached my hands over the scared and graffiti wooden table to touch his long black fingers. They were rough from age and hard work but they had a security to them. “You are not dancing tonight?”

“Not yet. I’m a little tired.” I yelled back at him. “How about you Sedik?”

He slowly pulled a cigarette from a pack that had been lying on the table beside our hands and placed it between his lips. After what seemed an eternity to light he took a long and slow deliberate drag; he made smoking look desirable. As he blew the smoke out above his head he swayed it back and forth and looked back down at me. “Maybe later,” He yelled, and then he closed his eyes and nodded off with the lit cigarette between his lips. The room had gotten so crowded that people had spilled out into the space between the two bars. The strong scent of sage and hash filled the room. I turned to watch Francisco as he stomped and threw his arms up and down in a kind of punching action. It was hard to believe less than an hour earlier he had been knotted in a sick ball. Whatever was in Endres’ doctor’s pill revived him. He danced erratically about, his arms and legs stiff and straight like they were fused at the joints. I didn’t know if this was a result of the drugs or if he was really that bad of a dancer. This thought made me laugh at myself. He caught my smile and a grin tore over his face. It was kind and familiar like we had been friends since childhood. I could tell already that he had several personalities. There was a force in that body that couldn’t stay under the skin. I also could tell it was unpredictable, but that smile was overflowing with wicked charm. He came over and danced in front of me till the girls pulled him back into the crowed. Ian pulled a chair up directly in front of me, blocking my view of all the dancing. He started yelling something at me.  I scowled a bit at not being able to watch everybody, and attempted to look over his shoulder as he spoke.

“I ‘ope I didn’t insult ya the other night.” He said yelling into my ear.

I felt like getting a real drink. “Lets get a shot of Bechorovka!” I yelled back to him. “Watch my chair.” I yelled down to him as I forced my way into the crowd to the bar. A few minutes later I was back with two shots of Bechorovka and another glass of wine. “Salute!” I yelled and toasted him. Ian threw the shot back and slammed his glass down on the table, jolting Sedik awake. With a startled expression Sedik mumbled something about leaving, and he got up and rushed out the door. As soon as he moved people filled up the space where he had been sleeping.

“So Annabelle- like I was sayin.” Ian started yelling again.

“Annnnnnna!” Endres was dancing next to my chair. He was moving like a blouse in the dryer swaying dangerously close to people but somehow not making contact with anyone. He started dancing around me as I started laughing.

“Yeh look like a roight fool.” Ian growled.

I continued to laugh as Endres danced. He danced his way to a white wooden chair, pulled it up beside me, and sat down. But as he did it shattered and splintered under him tossing him to the ground in such a force that he slid under the table behind him. Everyone bent at the waist to get a look at the angel boy under the table.

“Are you okay?” I laughed as I got down to my knees to help pull him out.

Ian crossed his arms over his chest. “Wot a fuckin idjet.”

I pulled him to his feet.

“I’m okay Annnnnna.” He said looking around for another chair, which he found and pulled over, but before sitting, he pressed his hand to the seat to check for stability. “Hi Annnnnna”

“Hey Endres.” I yelled.

Marco danced over, grabbed my hand and pulled me to him in a dance. This was familiar. We used to dance together all the time, especially when we lived together in Paris. Anywhere there was dancing, even if it was playing from the window of a building, he would grab me and pull me into a dance and there we would dance on the street. It was a favorite thing to do together. I threw my arms over his shoulders as he wrapped his around my waist, and our legs slipped between each other’s. Marco shimmied me down to the floor and back up. Our hips pressed together as Marco moved me around the room then back to the table. As he dipped me, I dropped my arms over my head. Endres ran his fingers along the inside of my arm from the soft dent of my elbow to my wrist.

“Wot the fuck.” Ian yelled at Endres.

Marco pulled me back up to him and pressed me into his chest till we were nose to nose. We laughed into each other’s mouths, and he pushed me out into a spin, pulled me back into his arms, and dropped me into a final dip. We bowed to each other after we finished dancing. A girl ran up to Marco and begged him to dance with her. He grabbed her forcefully around the waist and pulled her tightly to him, turned to wink at me, then danced the girl onto the dance floor.

Endres had his hand on the chair where I had been sitting to save it. He beckoned me to sit back down.

“I think I want another drink,” I yelled.

“Are you and Marco lovers?” Endres yelled to me.

“No. Why do you ask?” I yelled back.

“Oh well, the way you dance together. It is so nice the way you move together. You look like lovers.” He yelled.

“No.” I yelled back, “We are best friends. We just happen to dance well together.”

He smiled. Then grabbing my arm he pulled himself to my ear and leaned in close enough that his lips brushed against my earlobe. “Annnnna, I think I am attracted to you. But I must go to the bar. I can no longer stand on my own.”

“Okay.” I yelled. He used my shoulder to help himself stand. “I’ll see you soon?”

He nodded and then stumbled to the bar.

Ian, with his arms still crossed, was scowling next to me. I jumped up from the table and danced over to Francisco and his two girls. Marco reappeared from the dance floor to join all of us. I felt a tug at my jeans and then one at the back of my shirt by the elbow. I turned to see Ian still sitting.

“I fink yer very beu’itful!” He yelled.

“What?” I yelled back. I had heard him, but wasn’t comfortable with the attention. I preferred to dance.

“Nofing,” he said turning away from me.

I returned to the music.

Once the lights came on people forced themselves through the double front doors like a flood rushing onto the morning streets of Žižkov.

“I’m too old for this shit!” Marco yelled, straining his neck and head back toward the morning sky.

Francisco, Marco, and I linked arms and walked home together.

“You and Marco perform well on the dance floor,” Francisco said, leaning into my ear. “I am an excellent dancer you know, but not so excellent when I have to share the dance floor with another body like you and Marco do. I have a great envy over it.” He paused and looked out over the buildings as they rose to greet us in our homeward stumble. “But I still get plenty of vagina.”

Marco and I started laughing.

“I just do not want any tonight. I have that right.”

“Yes. Yes. You do.” I said still laughing.

“You a muthafucka.” Marco laughed.

I heard the sound of laughter fading behind us, and looked back to see through the morning haze. Ian and Endres had their arms draped over each other’s necks and shoulders as they stumbled and fell on their way to the nearest non-stop. At least they had each other.

CIMG8116

Hello From Žižkov-Chapter 5, pgs. 164-170

The daylight was blaring and harsh. Yet, aside from the need to brush the moss from my teeth, I was feeling pretty okay. I didn’t take it as a great sign that my body was adapting to the copious amounts of booze that I was pouring into it, but at the same time I was happy to feel relatively healthy.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to find my way back. It was all about landmarks. Pass the park; cut across the college with the bronze statue of Winston Churchill; across the tram tracks; down past the chicken place; and a sharp right turn up the cobbled shit-covered potholed street to the lime-green building across the street from the faded and dirty lavender building with the angel awning. I hit the buzzer and waited for my queue to open the door. I had made it. Success.

“I accomplished something today.” I said to myself as I climbed the four flights to our flat. I reached the door and knocked once before Marco yanked it open and stood in the doorway like a diva glaring at her costume girl who didn’t buy the right perfume.

“My leg’s broke.” He said. He spun away from me, and walked without a limp into the kitchen. “My shit is fucked!” I heard him yell as I shut the door behind me. I followed him into the kitchen where he was slumped over in the mustard colored easy chair.

“I think I threw up in the corner of the bar.”

“You did? When?” I sat down in the wooden chair across from him, and watched as he effortlessly moved to the sink on his allegedly broke leg to wash the dishes.

“I don’t know. I think I did.”

“I did see you making out with some girl.”

“Oh god!” He dropped the washrag and looked at me. “I hope I didn’t throw up on her!”

I started laughing, “I don’t think you had the time.”

“I hope I didn’t.” He said, shaking his head and going back to his dishes.

“I’m sure you’ll find out.”

“I know.” He wiped a plate dry with a blue rag then put the plate on an open shelve. “Oh shit, I gotta walk you to work.”

“Uh huh.” I opened the mini fridge and pulled out a carton of nectar and soda water then poured myself a glass. I stood looking out the window staring into the skeleton of the building under construction. There were two men in overalls and hardhats sitting on the sixth floor, their legs dangling over the edge. They were eating sandwiches. The building didn’t even look worth saving.

Marco sat back down in the easy chair.

“My leg’s broke.” He moaned.

The door to the kitchen flew open and Francisco stumbled in rubbing his jaw. “Someting is not right. I have feeling of being punched to the face. Did you see some person hit me?” He asked me.

“Not that I saw.” I said, “Maybe you and Marco beat each other up.”

They looked at each other.

“I was of the opinion dat was possible, but the conclusion was no it did not happen dat way.” Said Francisco.

“Well it may remain a mystery.” I said, “I’m going to take a nap.”

“You’re in my room now.” Said Marco, “I already put your things in there. You can take the bed under the window.”

“Yah, You need the most premium of sleep to keep up to me.” Francisco smiled. It was a sly almost flirtatious grin, and I suddenly didn’t know what he meant by keep up.

“Okay.” I shut the bedroom door.

I heard Marco’s voice. “I saw that muthafucka.”

“What?” Francisco.

“She aint gonna be interested in yor nastiness.”

Francisco laughed loudly. He had a huge roaring dark laugh. It was warm and simultaneously dangerous.

I curled up on my new bed. It was firm but comfortable. A nice change from the quarry pile I had been sleeping on previously. I couldn’t imagine that Francisco thought it was comfortable. Then again I couldn’t imagine that he cared. As I was drifting off to sleep I heard Marco asking Francisco if he saw him puke on a girl at the bar.

*

The evening sky was turning lavender as the light faded behind the buildings.

I was ready for work and I waited for Marco to take a shower so he could walk me to the Joyce. I was brushing my teeth in the kitchen sink and heard the large explosion from the water heater. “Shit!” I heard Marco yell. I spit into the sink and watched, mesmerized by my own spit and foam, as it spun and swirled into the drain.

I could hear Marco talking to himself in the bathroom. “What are you doing tonight that you are able to walk me into old town?” I yelled to him.

Marco stepped out of the shower room wrapped in a dingy grey towel with frayed edges. He rushed into his bedroom and shut the door. A few minutes later he opened the door and sat down on the side of his bed while pulling on a pair of boots. “I have to meet my Korean student for English lessons.”

“Oh right. Kim.”

“She better not fuckin stand me up again or I’m chargin extra.” He stood up and threw his bag over his shoulder. “Let’s go.”

We walked out of the kitchen shutting the door behind us. Francisco’s door was open. He was lying on his bed, wearing a tiny pair of blue and beige boxer shorts, and reading a book.

Marco stuck his head into the room. “Hey, you going out today?”

Francisco looked up from his book and glanced out the window behind him then back to his book. “When the sun goes down.” He said.

“A’ight. See ya.”

Marco led me to the Joyce. As we walked through the confusing streets he pointed out important landmarks: the strip club with the live sex shows; the alleyway with the crying gargoyles hanging over the rounded archway; all to help me find my way back home. We had arrived early, and I had time to walk with him to the place where he was to meet his Korean student. We walked up Wenceslas Square to the statue of St. Wenceslas sitting on his bronze horse frozen in a forward march. The great horse’s front hoof permanently poised to strike the earth. Standing at the top of the square, which was more like a long boulevard, I stared back down the hill toward the buildings that stood like a Titan’s army flanking both sides. My eyes followed the long street to the cluster of buildings at the base of the boulevard pass the green tree-covered hills and on to the pendulous soft lilac clouds in the distance.

Everything was so old, so immense, so— resplendent. I had the sensation of standing on the edge of a diving board like an Olympic diver. I felt the impulse to raise my arms over my head and dive a perfect swan dive into the thin line of a pencil falling until the tips of my fingers broke through the green grassy hills and I disappeared into them without leaving a ripple. I felt my body heave a great sigh and my breath drop into my feet feeling the concrete beneath my rubber soled shoes, which reminded me that I was still standing under the shadow of St. Wenceslas, and his great metal horse. All these statues and monuments to the dead, the great men, the conquerors, and the leaders, dead so many year’s before my country was ever discovered by Europeans. What would have happened to someone as small as me? I knew nothing about St. Wenceslas except that he was murdered by his brother and cut into pieces, the stuff that inspired Shakespeare. I always learned the gory details before the history. The square was crowded with people taking pictures and pointing in various directions. Marco tugged at my shirt and we wandered down to the photos of the two students Jan Palach and Jan Zajic. They did not have a statue. My fingers traced over the dates of their deaths. I remembered reading about them when I was younger. Prague spring. I remember learning about the Prague spring, not in school, but from a movie. I had been in high school when the Berlin wall came down, but even then we never learned about the velvet revolution or the orange revolution. I learned about these revolutions from movies and then from my own curious research. I knew about these boys. They had set themselves on fire right where we were standing. It didn’t stop the tanks and no one was able to save them. To end the regime, to have freedom. That’s why they did it, but they weren’t carved into bronze. I stared down at the black and white faces of the young dead men. I didn’t know oppression; not real oppression. I was not willing to die for anything at this point in my life, to kill myself in protest. I hoped I would never have to feel what they felt. I wondered what they were like when they were little children. Tourists snapped photos of the photos, and then turned to take photos of the statue.

“Can you imagine setting yourself on fire?” Marco asked standing beside me.

“No.” I said, without taking my eyes away from the Jans.

“I mean you gotta be certain that’s what you wanna do. Fire, kerosene, burning flesh, shiiiit. I’d be like, I changed my mind somebody throw some water on me. Somebody get a bucket.”

We walked back to the statue and sat on the steps beneath the hooves. Marco had told me this was the best place to meet anyone and that was why there were always so many people standing or sitting around the statue. Kim, his Korean student, was nowhere in sight.

I left him alone and grumbling about tardiness, and how much he was going to charge her. I had time to kill so I decided to walk over the Karlov Most and wander into Nove mestro. Hordes of people crossed the bridge daily. I knew it was best to avoid the bridge during spring break, but I couldn’t help myself; I had never walked over a 14th-century bridge before, in Prague anyway, and I wasn’t going to be deterred by a small crowd.

I wasn’t able to make it to the other side. Between the tourists, the artisans, the buskers, the suits, and those just wandering around, it was impossible to walk in a straight line. I found a space between a craftsman selling jewelry and a woman selling photographs of the bridge. They were set up beside the statue of Christ hanging from a cross with statues of a kneeling Mary Magdalene and Virgin Mary on either side of him. It was too crowded to enjoy. I leaned far over the bridge to stare down into the dark water of the Vltava. A couple of jet skis shot out from under the bridge. They chased after the waves that were created by a large tour boat that carried people dressed in bright colors and flashing cameras that sparkled in the darkening purple sky. This was my Prague right now.

CIMG8052

 

Hello From Žižkov-Chapter 3, pgs. 106-112

Marco looked over my head right before I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to a young man smiling down at me. A blue light was shining behind him giving him a glowing cerulean aura, but it hid his face in a dark shadow so all I could make out were his white teeth and the whites of his eyes.

“Hello.” He said. “Do you speak Czech?”

“No.” I answered.

“What is your first language?” He asked.

“English.”

“Oh you are English?” He asked.

“No. I’m American.” It felt like I was being grilled by a cop. Suddenly it occurred to me: my god, he had just seen us take the beads.

“Oh, American.” He appeared excited at my answer.

I looked toward Marco who was just staring at the guy then to Endres who had his head down and was staring into his beer. Neither of them appeared concerned at the interrogation that was underway. This could be the last moment I’d see them before I got dragged away to some prison for eating one-third of an unknown pill, and these guys were just spacing out. Some friends.

“Yes.” I said looking back up at him holding my own. I knew I would have to take care of myself in this situation.

He crouched down to my eye level and held out his hand. “I am from Prague. My name is Josef. I am a photographer.” We shook hands.

“Oh. Hi.” I said letting go of his heavy handshake. He was wearing an 80’s throwback sweater that was black and grey with geometric designs like hexagons and lightning bolts. There was no way he was a cop or a drug dealer. Not in that sweater.

“Yes. And I like to make movies. Like American movies.” He said.

“Oh really?” I said. Like porn? I thought. I looked at him trying to figure out what he wanted.

“I wanted would you like to come and drink with my friends and I?”

I looked over my shoulder in the direction of his eyes and saw three guys sitting at a table watching me. They all lifted their beers in a toast when they saw me look over.

“Um. No thanks. I’m with my friends right now. Thank you anyway?”

“Oh hmm.” He stood and stared at me for a moment like he was trying to figure out why I’d choose to stay with my friends rather than sit with four strange men. He looked over to Marco and Endres who were now engaged in a conversation.

“Well, she was actually bad in the sex area.” Endres was saying to Marco.

“In the what?” Marco asked.

“In the sex area, in the bed.” Said Endres.

“Oh, right. I thought you were talking about something else.” Marco huffed and shook his head.

They were not paying attention and it wasn’t exactly the conversation I had hoped to break into, especially if Josef was into making American movies like porn. I gave a strained smile back to Josef. He crouched back down again to be at my eye level.

“So what are you doing in Prague?”

“I’ve moved here.” I said uncertain of where this was going.

“Oh. You moved to Prague? Prague is a wonderful place.” He said. He grabbed the edge of the table accidentally shaking it. It sent miniature shock waves to Endres’ beer that sloshed in tiny puddles onto the graffitied wood.

This motion seemed to have awakened Endres and he looked up from his beer. He noticed Josef crouching at my feet as if for the first time. “Hello.” He said grinning in familiarity.

“Uh, Josef, these are my friends Endres and Marco.”

“Hello.” Josef said. He turned his face back to me and opened his mouth to speak.

“You are from Prague?” Endres interrupted.

Josef looked at me with a sad panic.

Endres stood up and stepped to Josef pushing him out of my space with clumsy excitement and swallowing him up with his wide sweeping gestures. I was grateful for the interruption.

I turned my head to Marco. “I’m not feeling anything from those little pills or beads of a pill.” I said to him.

He snorted an inaudible response.

Josef walked back to his table as Endres sat heavily into his chair with a pout and crossed his arms over his chest. “Hmm, I guess he wasn’t that interested in speaking with me.”

“I’ve had that happen to me before.” Marco said to Endres.

“Hmmm?” Endres pendulum head swung to look at Marco.

“Been with a woman that was bad in bed.” He said.

I said, as if I had been in the conversation the entire time. “Can a woman really be bad in bed? I mean really? I mean can a guy even tell the difference?”

Endres looked at if me as if I had just slapped him. “Annnnnnna. If he’s a good lover he does of course.”

“The gloves are on.” Said Marco before taking a drink.

“There’s no gloves. I was just joking.”

“Of course you can tell Annnna.” Endres still seemed to be reeling from my comment.

“Look,” said Marco leaning in, “she’s bad in bed if she just lies there, like all cold and shit.” He laughed. “Like you’re peein’ on her or somethin’. Unless of course she likes that.”

“Or she seems bored. Or she’s faking it.” Said Endres, “maybe she doesn’t really like sex. She just does it because it’s what you do. Like a next step. Or maybe she’s using you.”

“Part of the package.” Said Marco holding his beer up.

“I was just kidding guys. I know you have feelings, and all that stuff.” I held up my hands in surrender.

Endres had been digging through his pocket like he was looking for something then with a nod he lifted his head and a vacant yet quizzical expression washed over his face. “Well, Annnnna, you know I never understand why the woman would want to sleep with me if she thinks the sex is boring. She pursues me, she asks me to bed, we do the sex, and then she just goes to sleep. Why doesn’t she say something to me about how to do her? I feel maybe she is using me for something, but I don’t understand.”

“There you fucking go, right? Marco snorted. “Just usin’ us for our bodies. Makes you feel cheap don’ it? Used.”

“Whatever, Marco.” I nudged his shoulder with the palm of my hand.

“She may even want to sleep with me again. But she asks she pulls me to her then says I’m done good night.” Endres nods to himself.

“She wants yo’ baby.” Marco said.

“Marco.” I glared at him. “Why would you sleep with her again if you think she’s just using you for something?”

“Because you want to get laid.” Marco leaned back in his chair lifting the front legs off the floor. “You’re telling me you’ve never had sex with a guy that you knew was bad in bed just because you wanted to get laid and you knew he was easy?”

“Bad sex no. Easy. Yes.” I said.

“What-eva’.” Marco hit Endres on the shoulder.

Endres shook as if he was just woken.

“I’m much more selective than that.” I said crossing my arms. “I have some serious standards.” I looked down my nose at them as if I had the upper hand.

“I think we should talk about Annabelle’s sex life.” Said Marco.

“I don’t think so.” I said.

“What do you think Endres? Don’t you think we should talk about sex with Annabelle?”

“Oh, yes.” Said Endres sitting up and nodding his head.

“Very funny, nice sentence structure Marco.” I said. I felt another tap on my shoulder. I turned around to see Josef standing behind me again. “Hi.” I said surprised to see him back.

“Would you like to share a splif?” He asked me.

“Oh, no thank you, I don’t smoke, but my friends do.” I said gesturing to Marco and Endres who were leaning in together giggling like fourteen year olds.

Josef’s face dropped slightly as he walked back to his table. The boys were still snickering. I wasn’t sure if they were snickering because of their immature seventh-grade gang up or because Josef had come back. “You two are stupid. I’m getting a round. Do you both want some?”

They nodded and I headed to the bar. When I returned, Marco and Endres were smoking a splif. Josef was standing beside them. He gave me a weak quick smile and then went back to his table. I was pretty certain he was trying to hit on me, but it was such a bizarre and awkward attempt. There is no way a woman is going to sit at a dark table with four strange men in a foreign country. At least I didn’t think so.  Marco and Endres were smiling like they just got a birthday present.

CIMG6879

No One Said Life Was Fair

“Some of us are born losers.” My mother said, “but not you honey, no, you’re special.

It was the 80’s, and I was in high school. I wasn’t exactly sure where her words were coming from, but I could guess. She had just lost her job or maybe it was her boyfriend or maybe both. Something prompted her to say it. Maybe it was me. Maybe I was crying. I cried a lot in high school. Maybe I asked her why something didn’t work out for her; why those people at the store sneered when she took out her food stamps; why we never had any money; how come the IRS was auditing her, a poor woman, who made less than 10,000.00 a year, and not some rich white man who made over 10,000.00 a month.

“Life is not fair!”

“No one said life is fair. Life.” She paused and I could see the pain and sadness in her face. “Life is not fair honey. Life is hard.”

 

The day I got attacked at school by a group of four or five kids I decided I was ready to throw the towel in on this whole life thing.

“Kids are mean.” My mother said. “They’re just jealous.” She said. “You’re so beautiful.” She said.

“You say that because you’re my mom.”

“That’s not true.” She was shocked that I would accuse her of such a thing.

But it was true. She did say it because she was my mom. I knew this because we live in a democracy, and the majority rules, and the majority of kids at school said I was scum.

Kids can be so cruel.

I never told her what happened. I never told her about getting held against the lockers. Never told her about hiding under the bathroom sink. I could never explain the level of humiliation. It was too hard to tell her. I felt like too much of a failure. A failure to her, and to her God. If I told her about what was going on at school, what was happening to her baby girl, that her baby was stupid and ugly, that she was scum; trash. I couldn’t tell her God did not look upon me as more special than the neighbor’s kids. I couldn’t tell her that my life was not enough for her to keep on living. If she knew the truth would she die? No, I knew she wouldn’t die, but my pain was too great and I couldn’t carry the hurt she would feel. I knew she would blame herself. She didn’t teach me to be strong. She couldn’t help me. I learned from example. I needed her to find something else worth living for something inside herself.

“God brought you to me, honey.” She touched my face and her eyes sparkled with love. “You’re the only reason I’m alive.”

 

**************

 

I had this dream. A desire. A want. It hit me one day. It hit me hard. I had been out of school for a few years lolling about helpless trying to figure out what to do with my self. I could not for the life of me figure out what I was doing on this planet and then it hit me. I wanted to work for National Geographic. I considered my self a conservationist and a humanitarian, and I grew up with the magazine. My fantasy life began to unfold. There I was traveling, interviewing scientists, trudging through the jungles of exotic landscapes, meeting people of diverse and varied cultures, becoming educated and sharing that education with the world at large. Yes! I was going to write for them. Take amazing cover worthy photographs for them. I would be giving people the opportunity to open a book and discover Macedonia or Jane Goodall or the realities of a nuclear fall out. I was going to go back to school to study writing, and photography and, of course, science.

Sometimes I miss her. Mother. We live so far from each other now. Her love crushes, sometimes, to a point where I can not breath, and I need to be away from her. But, I worry. I worry all the time like she might die. Our relationship is not like in television or in the parenting books, and sometimes I want a mother.

I called to tell her about my new plan for my future.

“Mom, I’m going to work for National Geographic.” I said this after mentioning signing up for science courses.

She is silent on the other side of the phone.

“Mom?”

“What?” She says.

“What do you think?”

“What do I think about what?” She says.

I’m annoyed. “What do you think about my idea?”

“What do I think about your idea? What do I think?”

“Yeah.”

“You want to be a scientist? You? We’ve never been any good at math. You know that. You’ll fail.” She was beginning to yell.

I was silent now. It was the only way I knew how to communicate.

“What!” She barked. “What? Are you mad now?”

“Well, yes, I’m a little upset.”

“Ya, wanted to know what I thought.” She said.

“Well, I didn’t expect you to be so harsh.”

“What did you expect.”

“You’re my mom!” I was yelling now. “You’re suppose to be supportive! It was just an idea.”

“Well how ’bout this: next time you call why don’t you just tell me what you want me to say.”

“Mom, I was trying to tell you what I wanted to do with my life.”

“Life? Do you wanna know what life is?” She asked. Anger and something heavy like a decrepit house shook in her voice. “Life is you’re born poor, you struggle and struggle, and next thing you know you’re old scrubbing some person’s floor as you’re just waiting around to die.”

“I’m not talking to you.” I hung up. I knew she was talking about herself. I knew she was scrubbing people’s floors. I knew she wanted to die. I knew it was about her, but I couldn’t separate us. She said, we’ve never been good at math. She couldn’t separate us.

I never had a mother, I thought this after hanging up the phone. I had an adult child. It was like Mork and Mindy when Jonathan Winters joined the cast only it wasn’t funny. It wasn’t funny when Jonathan Winters joined either.

 

She called the next day.

“Honey, I’m so sorry. It’s my hormones, they’re off. I’m going through menopause. I believe in you. you’d be a great scientist.”

I’d be a terrible scientist. I didn’t want to be a scientist, but it didn’t matter. I would have believed her if she hadn’t been talking this way all my life. Her philosophy has always been life is hard, we are born poor we will die poor; life is not fair and some of us are just born losers. Menopause was only going to make it worse.

**********

My mom’s sister died when I was five. It was an “accidental” suicide. She had hurt her knee and to kill the pain she swallowed a bottle of codeine and washed the pills down with a bottle of vodka. Ta! Dah!

I can still remember the night she died. Mother woke me from sleep, and half carried me to her grey-blue Volkswagen bug. She had loved that bug. I don’t remember the drive. I remember the sound of gravel beneath the tires. I remember my mother’s face terse and strained. I remember the flashing lights sparkling like an amusement park. I remember it was warm out and I was wearing my pjs the one with the built in footies. I was holding my blanket like a doll. My mother pushed me down onto the black vinyl seat. It was the 70’s and children were allowed to ride in the front. She leaned over me and her long blonde hair draped over her face like a veil and cascaded into mine. She was so young then, only 26 or 27. Her hair was golden and the lights from the ambulance and police flooded around her head and reflected against her hair. She was like an angel.

“You keep your head down. Don’t you dare look out the window you understand. You understand?”

I nodded yes. She slammed the door leaving the car rocking gently. I stared up at the tiny dots in the white ceiling cover of the bug and watched as the lights dance as my aunt died.

 

I don’t remember what she looked like, my aunt. She had red hair. I know my mother loved her more than anyone else in the world aside from me. My memories of her are nebulous. I’m not positive they are memories of truth or if they are memories of stories. I think I have a memory of sitting on her lap. The both of us shrouded in white. She said I was like an angel. The freckles on my face were angel kisses. The mark in my eye was a starburst. I was so special God had picked me out and gave me to my mother. I was a beautiful child. We were all angels.

“For some of us honey, life is so hard, and you just get so tired of living, and you just want to go to sleep, just for a little while, and I think that’s what your aunt did. I think she just wanted to take a nap.”

Angels are never alive in the first place.

****************

I hadn’t seen my mother in two years. The last time I saw her she was impoverished with worn holes in her clothing. She lived in a room and took care of an elderly man. The elderly man whom she lived with was like her new child and she loved him dearly. She had always been such a kind woman. After he died my mother was never compensated for her time, and since she had no education, and no back-up she became jobless at 56. She was living with her boyfriend an ex-junkie and an ex-con who for some reason could not work. Something to do with his previous career. Then the stroke happened. The boyfriend forgot to tell me about the stroke. The phone call came weeks later from her.

“I had a stroke. They are going to evict me from my house. Why didn’t you visit me? You don’t love me.” She cried.

“I didn’t know.” I whispered. I didn’t know.

She cried more and more.

I feel helpless when she cries because I can’t take care of her. I’m still poor. I failed her. I followed in her footsteps. Born poor stay poor.

I had a dream I was at my mother’s house and a semi-truck ran purposefully through her house. I managed to jump out of the way, but it ran over her sleeping body.

 

************

She identifies herself through me and I try to separate us. She reaches for me and I can feel her tugging my essence like she’s trying to shove me back inside her. She steps through me and eats me till I feel like there is hardly any of me left and I am her or her sister or her cruel mother. Who am I? Am I my mother? A born loser? Is it only a matter of days till I scrub the floors of other people and wait and pray for death? When I die will I have to apologize to God for being a failure?

 

Conversation with GOD:

“It’s not my fault. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.”

“When are you going to make some money honey? So you can take care of me?” My mother has interrupted my conversation with God.

“You’re not old mom! You’re only in your fifties!”

“But, I made you special,” God says shaking his white glowing orb of a head.

“I know Lord, my mom told me that, but I didn’t feel special. It didn’t protect me and I grew up with majority rules. Special wasn’t enough.”

“Please don’t let me die in a home. Please take care of me when I’m old. Don’t leave me.” Mom is crying again. I hate it when she cries. She doesn’t notice I’m talking to God. She just wants me not God. “I hate it here. I want out of here.”

“I know momma. I’m trying.”

“It’s not fair Lord.” I say.

“Well, honey,” The Lord places his ethereal hands on his omnipotent hips, “who ever told you life was fair?”

“Nobody did.”

He actually looks like a god with the brilliant light shining through his akimbo stance.

The semi-trucks growl in the distance as the houses shake.