The coffin-sized pit in his basement wasn’t freshly dug. “If I was burying Cub Scouts, I wouldn’t have let you down here,” he joked, his voice thin.
It was pretty logical, but I was too creeped out for logic. Six months together! I said, “The truth.”
“The truth? You shouldn’t have come down here, you shouldn’t put me on the spot like this.”
I backed away toward the stairs, gripping the railing behind me, waiting for him to grab an axe; instead, I saw self-righteousness melt into tears.
“You think I’d hurt you? I’m the same person,” he blubbered. “You loved me five minutes ago.”
I didn’t answer.
“I dug it four years ago, the day I found out I was positive.” He waited for me to speak, like this was some answer. “I laid down in it. Pretended I was dead. It… it was good.”
“You’re not going to die,” I reminded him. “Not now.”
“Duh,” he said. “You said you’d love me no matter what.”
I let go of the railing. “It’s spooky! You could have told me.”
“Tell you I think I should break up with you, just to spare you eventual doom?” He gasped for air and pulled away when I touched his neck.
I climbed into the pit and beckoned, arms open. He wiped his eyes and breathed deeply, then climbed down. I put my arm around him and imagined our future as I held him in the dirt.
Category Archives: John Wentworth Chapin
Pop-pop and Lily were in the garden again. His hands were knobby and mottled, ugly things, but she took them without hesitation when he offered them to lift her out of the dirt or onto his knee, setting her there like a giggling princess. Pop-pop couldn’t talk since the stroke, but his gestures were broad with warmth and love.
Dee, Lily’s mother, watched from the porch, hiding her rare cigarette from her father and her daughter. She was as ambivalent about Kent III’s as she was about her formerly monstrous father charming his granddaughter. For a long bit of her childhood, he’d come drunkenly into her bed and made a mess of her life; it started after she quit ballet and ended around her first period. She had to count the years on her fingers, but she remembered the markers.
She forgave him, she supposed. It had been easy to do so at the hospital when he was gray and papery. Now, it took a cigarette to steady her when she watched him touch Lily, another drag to quench the fire when Lily shrieked with delight. Dee trusted him, but she couldn’t look away. Yearning, horrified, resigned.
Perhaps he was hollow, without memory behind his now watery eyes. Perhaps this was a peace offering. Perhaps it didn’t matter. They were a family, now, these three: child, widow, widower.
Lily aped a pirouette and collapsed giggling onto Pop-pop’s lap. Dee inhaled.
“Dammit, I am good at what I do,” Evie slurred, overly loud. Her wings ached.
“You got one job and you do it, Evie. You do it good, the hive thrives. You do it bad, we all die. You want praise? Pfft. We all bust our stingers around here.” Shirley stubbed her cigarillo out on a dead chunk of honeycomb. “Be happy. The queen crawls around and squirts out your future all day long. You want that shit job?”
A drone raised his honey-soused mandibles. “Shut your trap about Her Holiness.”
“Mind your own beeswax,” Shirley warned. Goddamned uppity drones. “You got freedom to fly, at least, doll.”
“I’m not complaining, Shirl. Well I am, but not about the work. Why do we do it? We don’t see no payoff. No one does, not you, not Her Fatness. We just continue on, year after year, pollen, babies, honey. What’s the point?”
“I puke up honey and squeeze wax out of my ass for a living. If I don’t work, I don’t eat and then we all die. I don’t want to die. There’s your motivation, babycakes.”
Evie stroked her thorax drunkenly. “What if I refused? What if I wanted to sleep in one morning?”
The drone gaped. “She’s thinking about herself,” he half-whispered.
Shirley eyed the drone warily. She’d have to eat him before he spilled the beans about Evie to the hive.
She’d have to keep her eye on Evie, too.
When he was seven, he and his four-year-old brother hunted raspberries in the ravine. They found an old abandoned refrigerator covered in brambles. He continued filling his coffee can with blood-red berries, maneuvering carefully around thorns, eating any over-ripe fruit. He called for Will but got no response; Will’s can was perched on the old off-white refrigerator. Will was inside: warm, not breathing, limp as a wet towel. He pulled Will out and their jeans and skin caught on the brambles. He tried to drag his brother, but it was too much. He ran for home, screaming for help in the silent ravine. A hollow space opened inside him.
His mother gaped as he blabbered incoherently, dripping his own blood and vomiting bloody red raspberries onto the linoleum. He couldn’t make her understand; he was hollow. He ran from the house with his mother on his heels screaming at him to stop and come inside.
When they got to the bottom of the ravine and she saw what had been Will, she ran to her boy, flaying herself on the brambles, shaking him and pounding his chest and kissing her baby. He threw up again. The hollow space engulfed from within, emptying him.
“What did you do to him?” she howled at him, at the brambles. But he was a blown egg now, fragile around nothing. He had no answer for his mother, then or decades later, long after she stopped asking.
I knew Courtney Love was hot even before she finally brushed her hair and took a shower sometime after Kurt Cobain shot himself. One look at that mouth and you know she gives kickass head when she’s not passed out or saying stupid shit. Someone that talented should be a fucking superstar, but what’s so hot about Courtney is she’s so damaged. If I met her I’d be cool and sort of a dick to her and she’d eat it up, and we’d end up with her straddling me in my back seat, probably. And she’d be pissed off about it, too, because I’m a nobody and look how far she’s fallen. She’s always had one foot on a pedestal and the other in a gutter. Every Courtney episode is just so screwed up and it makes her all the hotter. It’s not like I’m fixated on 1994 Courtney or rehab Courtney or Golden Globes Courtney or whatever – I accept all of her. You know, I bet no one else does – not anyone who isn’t drawing a paycheck off her. She would hate me for being nothing and I would love her for being famous but nothing. I’m the one who could make her happy. I’d probably have to treat her like shit a little, but that’s okay, because I want to see what she does next, even if I’m already fucking her.
Steven blurts it out: he cheated on her, broke into the lab, time-travelled back, fixed it. Technically, no cheating… they wouldn’t even know he broke in at work. Now it is all fine…except his conscience: fancy dinner and confession.
“You’re ridiculous. Time travel is impossible, Steven.” Her lobster tail is getting cold, drawn butter congealing.
He persists. “For the sake of this $200 meal, let’s pretend it’s not…. So are we good?”
Luann sighs, sucks a claw. “You think I care if it physically happened? If it temporally happened? You didn’t just fantasize. You screwed her – so you cheated. Pour more Perrier Jouet, asshole.”
“But it never happened! The universe has no record of it!” Steven looks triumphant: NASA-nerd triumphant, like when he beats a video game. She has no patience for it.
“Do you remember it?” Luann asks. “Did you get off?”
“So there’s record.”
“But I made it so I never even met her!”
“Plus, you are a work-breaker-inner and coverer-upper.”
Steven’s brow furrows and he considers the diagonal weave of his napkin as it curves at a fold.
“Okay, Mister space-time engineer. You didn’t meet her. You didn’t boink her. But I’m a therapist… and I know you will. Or did. Or whatever.”
Luann tries to enjoy her lobster. She knows her husband: he’s sneaking back to the lab and this meal will never show up on the Visa bill.
Steven knows she knows: time travel is better than bulimia.
It’s blistering hot on the balcony, and everyone’s trashed, including you. They’ll be hooking up, puking, passing out, fighting, talking about old cartoons, crying, the whole human drama. The only way you can sort everyone out is Monday morning: the pretenders ride the train to work and the fuckups are sleeping in.
Mrs. Horne is in her chair near the window, a blanket on her lap, bright sun streaming across her shins and feet. She was parked here about an hour ago, bathed in warmth and looking at the bleak institutional lawn beyond. For the last twenty minutes, she’s been getting colder as the shadows lengthen, but the staff is busy with the folks who really need them.
Our children: a dream. Tall, my hair, your skin – beautiful. If you were mine for more than just tonight, I’d imagine more, but I’m going to stop there, before the darkness sets in.
I want to put the lilies down in front of their gravestone; the florist put a green easel on the back so they’d stand up. But something in me can’t stand to bend over like that in front of the grave – I was going to throw up or scream and that would piss my sister off. I kick the leaves away but end up leaving the flowers on the stone. My sister stubs out her cigarette at a safe distance.