The guy living to my left screams at his girlfriend. He plays his music loud. The songs are never familiar, just bass thumping and siren-like wailing. I’ve seen his girlfriend in the hall. She’s pretty and nice but looks worn down, her verve brutalized by this guy, this harsh city. She needs sunlight, someone to say nice words to her so she can lift her head, brighten her eyes. I want to invite her into my apartment for coffee and hearty soup. But I’m afraid of this guy, his voice, his muscles, his tattoos, his t-shirts like blood-spattered inkblots. I’d invite her over, explain to him, it’s not what you think, I’m a soup-making guy. But he looks like a guy who wouldn’t believe.
An old friend knocks on my door. We shake hands. He hands me a religious pamphlet, says he’s converted. Have you considered eternity, the coming day of reckoning, he asks. That’s heavy, I say, stunned by who he has become, then ask, how are you, did you and Gina get married? He says, face stiff, I’m great, and no, Gina’s gone. The pamphlet is glossy, the cover picture a Hubble-like supernova. I’m not sure what religion he’s pushing. You want to come in, I ask, catch up on old times? I can’t, he says, I have to knock on doors, spread the word. As I’m closing the door, he says, I’m pure now, no longer drinking, and I think, another friend, long gone lost.
Category Archives: Christian Bell
Flat lands, flowing wheat, blue sky. The only souvenir we got were these postcards, free rest stop goods. We went to Indianapolis. They stole our team, Dad kept saying. He would’ve cried seeing the Colts logos if he weren’t seething with anger.
Wish You Were Here!
Clear sky, foamy surf, untouched beach. An obnoxious relative, likely drunk, is bragging about how the sand burns your soles, how laidback each day is, how margaritas magically appear before you wherever you are. Meanwhile, here, it’s -34 degrees and snowing eighteen inches per hour. Mom says, nope, don’t wish we there, striking this relative’s name from the Christmas list.
Crow Native American
Faded black-and-white photo of somber Native American male. His hair braided, his eyes penetrating time. Doesn’t this guy look mean, the sender wrote in blue cursive. What do you think, dipshit? He probably blamed the photographer for the slaughter of his people, the end of their lifestyle, his relatives succumbing to drink. Man, now I’m talking like my father.
The Last Postcard
Solid black. The last postcard, kept in a secret place in the postal system, ready to be sent to the person who breaks the system. It’s your fault, the postmaster general will write, it’s you that’s ruined everything. Because of Seinfeld, the postmaster general must be Wilford Brimley. I’m comfortable with that. Postal apocalypse—it’s the right thing to do, and the tasty way to do it. Dad, though, would want Clint Eastwood.
The last time I shouted at my parents, they made me leave. Mom cried. Dad pushed me out the door. Their dog growled at me.
Zitana, my psychic advisor, was old school. Crystal ball, gypsy clothing, stiff Tolkienesque speech. She looked ancient but was mentally keen. I wasn’t sold on psychics. So, why see her? Well, because of Mom, of course.
Last week, Zitana gave me six losing numbers. For the MegaMillions, she said, untold riches await you! I followed her advice. Not one number came up.
Occasionally, she was right. She said once, you will soon meet someone special. Four months later, I met Lara. For five months, we were ferocious. Then she ditched me for her financial advisor.
Dad disliked Zitana. He said, you’re wasting money. They would argue. When a stroke killed Dad, Mom said, Zitana predicted this! Mom, though, never relayed this dire forecast.
So I returned to Zitana, bogus numbers on newspaper, said, not even close. She was at her desk, Maury on rabbit-eared television, half-eaten cheeseburger Happy Meal before her. Her usual garb had been replaced by jeans and Disneyland sweatshirt.
Unconcerned about her character breach, she studied the paper. Well, I didn’t mean this week. Keep playing.
On Maury, a woman had nine children by eight fathers. When will I win, I asked. The crystal ball doesn’t reveal that, she laughed, biting her cheeseburger. Otherwise, I’d be in Tahiti.
Mom died ten years ago. Pharyngeal cancer. I never knew if Zitana had predicted it. Near the end, unable to speak, Mom handwrote on paper, don’t forget Zitana. So, I haven’t. Maybe one day, those numbers will hit.
I told my wife, don’t eat the crab, remember what happened July 4th, but she shrugged, couldn’t resist. Then she complained of feeling hot, lightheaded. Then the hives came. Then she had trouble breathing. So I gave her Benadryl, rushed her to the hospital, told the scared kids, I’ll call. I went through two red lights, wanted some credit , but she wasn’t watching. Inside, the breathing’s better but still labored. She’s seen immediately. Doctor came by, asked, why’s she eating crab if she’s shellfish allergic? He had thick black glasses. His chiseled physique and perfect tan threw his career choice in your face. We didn’t know, I said, omitting, do you think I’m stupid? He asked about vomiting, diarrhea, anxiety. He mentioned anaphylaxis. He asked about drug, bee, nut allergies. The nurse administered epinephrine. My wife had an electrocution moment. Then she’s fine. The nurse hooked up an IV, said, you should be fine. Before calling home, I said, you look good now, but damn that was scary. Why am I having problems now at 39? I shook my head, looked at her. She was scared, like the first time she was pregnant. I refrained from saying, I said don’t, and did you see me maneuver through traffic. I remembered our wedding reception. I tasted the crab cake, pulled her from greeting people, said, you have to try. And she did. Now, I said, forget crab, we’ll try other things. I wrapped my arms around her. Then she cried.
Tell me you’re wearing a ——-
What? Who is this?
Just tell me you’re wearing a ——-
This is lewd, This is offensive. This is disgusting.
If you’re not wearing a ——-, please hang up, put one on, and call me back. My number is ###-####.
Is this ——-? I told you not to contact me. Do I have to call the police again?
No need for guesses. Just answer the question, please.
If this is my stepfather, I’m going to puke.
Look, are you wearing a ——- or not? I have other calls to make.
I could just hang up. Why don’t I hang up? I have this problem—I can’t hang up.
You’re compelled. You’re smitten. A yes or no—that’s what I’m looking for.
I’m home alone. I just vacuumed the couch. After I eat a sandwich, I’m going to scrub the toilet.
I could make assumptions from this response but I need hard yes or no confirmation.
I could be lying either way. What if I just lied?
Look, I know we’re total opposites but we could be good together. We could meet at the local —–, grab a drink, get donuts, fantasize.
Wait! Let me sing a song. Let me put my love into you, babe. Let me cut your cake with my—
I’m hanging up. Goodbye.
Wait! What you’re wearing now, is there skin showing? How about showing some —-?
She wrote a list of the things she wasn’t supposed to do. Stay out past midnight without calling home first. Smoke cigarettes in the car. Drink alcohol more potent than 80 proof. Mom had died two years before so she had promised dad—alone, not dating, lost in mathematical theories and shows about cars—that she’d follow his simple rules as she finished high school, enrolled in community college. I was young once, he said, I know you will do certain things. These are just some simple parameters. Take any drugs beyond pot. Drive after having more than one drink. Be on the west side of town after dark. He told her that mom died from an undetected heart defect while staying overnight with her sister, but she knew that mom was having an affair, that she overdosed on heroin in a seedy motel room while her lover did nothing. Dad had hunched shoulders, small sad eyes peering through wire-rimmed glasses, a self-clutching demeanor like a pastor who knew he was losing. She was at best a C student in math. Car shows made her eyes tear with drowsiness. She kept the list in her purse, never showed it to friends. If she knew her words would not break him, she would say, it should be stricter, not so permissive. But she didn’t. She nodded while he talked combinatorics and the Poincaré conjecture, drifted asleep during a history of sedans. She kept the list and adhered.
Mom was a makeshift optometrist. She made a few extra bucks working in the basement, keeping the neighborhood in glasses. She had an old phoropter she got at auction, cardboard boxes of used glasses bought in black market bulk. For awhile, she dabbled in home dentistry, but that involved too much screaming—it scared the dog and the seven cats and raised hairs on us kids too. But no matter what Mom did we thought she was amazing. She was sixty different women, feeding us meals, stitching our clothes when torn, keeping our house together. We would kneel on the couch and look out the window, see if Dad were ever coming home. She’d say, voice cracking, sorry, kids, your Dad and I—let’s just say my vision was bad before but now it’s improved. Once, crowded outside the kitchen out of view, we overheard her say, I’m not the other woman, sobbing to a friend over the phone, that’s the one woman I could never be.
One summer night, you say to her, come outside, bring the wine and food. The sky clear, full of stars, the moon full and close, ripe grapefruit waiting. The backyard chirps with crickets, rustles with windblown leaves. There’s a cannon-like contraption in the yard. You say, follow me, let’s take a trip. Where, she whispers, always your nighttime conspirator. To the moon, you say. From the contraption you launch grappling hook and rope upward, catch that low-hanging moon. She says, how, but you cover her mouth with your hand, say, no questions, we’ll put food and drink in my backpack and climb. She and you ascend. Don’t ask questions of science, you say. Time, distance, gravity, vacuums, breathable air. Don’t ask, how do you do this. Most importantly, you say, don’t look down.
In mere minutes you arrive. The surface powdery, wide field of impact craters. You point to where Neil Armstrong walked, show her the planets. Look, the Earth, you say. Her eyes become bewildered, spinning to re-grasp reality. Since I can’t ask, she says, tell me anything. I’m a cartographer of celestial bodies, you say, I’ve drawn maps of this desolate rock in dreams. In days and weeks that follow, you’ll tell her about your special powers. She’ll reveal to you hers. Together you’ll halt the world. For now, though, both of you sit, drink the wine, hold hands. Don’t worry about climbing down, you say, always conscious of her fears.
Stars twinkle. Glasses clink to a toast. To the universe, our maps waiting to be drawn.
Sundays on CBS. The movie has baby Wookiee Lumpy, Jefferson Starship singing “Light the Sky on Fire,” Art Carney and Bea Arthur sleepwalking along with the original film cast. It sucks—even Lucas disavows it. Watching grainy, static-lined footage from 1978 can be painful. But it’s always been about camaraderie.
This year, I sit near Vince, old college buddy, thinning hair, two-marriage veteran. Cartoon Boba Fett appears on screen. Beth’s pregnant, I say, life’s changing fast. Congratulations, he replies in monotone, finishing his eggnog. Vince’s second wife cheated on him, peddled his comic collection to buy heroin.
Beth never comes but she indulges me. Five years ago, pre-Beth, I told newcomer Rose, it’s trippy, like doing acid. Her face crinkled below her pink-blond hair like I’d farted. She walked away. The following year, no Rose. By then, I was engaged to Beth.
The night ends. We exchange goodbyes, Merry Christmases, Happy New Years. Outside, crisp cold air. My head twinkles with eggnog. Car doors slam, engines fire. Quickly, there’s silence. I look skyward, remember how I used to ponder stars, what worlds orbited them. Whenever I asked Beth, what if Star Wars was real somewhere, she’d reply, the Empire’s dead, babe. I drive home, think about Beth and the baby, our new world.
Do you fancy me is what she asked me. Now, in the intervening microseconds, I ponder my answer, as I’ve asked another woman the same question who hasn’t yet answered me (though, being a schmuck, I was willing to give her time); perhaps she’s also asked a different man and so on, an infinite chain of unrequited fancying. She’s asked me this and, only now, I realize it wasn’t wise to date multiple women simultaneously, as this is the typical conundrum in which you inevitably find yourself.
Yes, I fancy her, would be my answer, but not like I do the other woman who if she fancied me would make my world perfect. Of course, I’m here in this moment, this woman before me, and based on her tilted head and raised eyebrows, she’s expecting an immediate answer, so I can’t stop, make a call and ask, well? If I say, no, I don’t fancy you, then I risk losing her and, if the other woman says the same to me, I have nobody.
My mother always said, don’t settle for second best. But she and dad met in high school, lived happily ever after. The world then was infinite interlocking couples, not this infinite chain of incompletion I imagine circles the globe. Microseconds are accumulating into uncomfortable pause. Her head is moving the other direction. Her lips are closing tight. A bead of sweat, an eye blink, just answer the question.
Your Love Is Breadfruit, Falling from the Sky by Christian Bell
He never mentioned his song “Breadfruit” fell from the sky, landed in his hand. The song climbed the charts: most downloaded, most played, most everything. People everywhere humming the lyrics, your love is breadfruit, falling from the sky, slicing me open, heart primed to fly. He never revealed one day he awoke to pouring rain, thought he heard someone strumming his guitar. He walked to his living room, walls of windows, the world outside wet green grass. Inside him, a feeling. Go outside, walk, over the hill, to open field. His first experience with such a feeling.
He moved through scrambled eggs and crisp smoky bacon. Next to him an open sketchpad for lyrics. Steady rain became sun and breeze. The feeling still there. He said, what now, echoing in the room. The feeling pushed him. So he went outside, across wet grass, water and pine scented breeze. Over the hill, into open field. He stopped, looked skyward, extended an open hand. How dumb, he thought, then suddenly, a falling object. A green sphere, surface like sandpaper, landed gently in his hand. Breadfruit—somehow, he knew, without ever seeing one before. He stood there, gazing first at the breadfruit then to the sky, fear moving to wonderment. He spoke: breadfruit, falling from the sky.
That happened six months before. Since then no more feelings. Some mornings, though, he awoke to phantom guitar strumming. Some mornings, he looked to the sky, thought, I’m wide open, I’m ready to catch what’s next.