There is an underground attic inside of me that holds my damaged pieces.
Once, a boyfriend found the hiding place. He listened, tried to be tender. He swaddled me in soft cotton, whispering sugar into my ear. “Ashley,” he said, “it’s going to be all right.”
I wanted to believe him. I leaned close, heard my heart scudding up against his chest like a bumper car unable to find forward or reverse. But he was only a hard set of lungs, not at all pliant like I needed him to be, and so I knew. I knew he’d never understand.
You don’t expect the world to be fair, yet what a surprise to learn how evil it’s gotten, so clever and blatant, too.
We were cramped inside the transit, chins to chins. Overfilled with so many people, the bus felt sweaty, but safe. A second later, men wedged me into a corner, pressing and owning me with wire rope and a cloth gag while we rocked through the long black tunnel, strobe shadows ricocheting.
My father is learning to visit less. Yesterday he said, “It’s time you got out of that apartment.”
But he also didn’t believe at first. “It couldn’t have been more than two minutes,” he said. “Wasn’t there a crowd on the bus?”
I know the world is a heavy place for strong people, and so I keep lifting myself from one corner to the next. I am almost ready. Any day now, I’ll be there.
Category Archives: Len Kuntz
I’m still searching for us, for our core.
We are three that are one that will always be linked: Ron, Rex and me.
Rex is home this week for saying to a junior, “Only fags wrestle,” and then dismantling the stunned guy after practice. Rex is large and surly, and so the kid’s family is suing.
Ron is writing new songs and trying out the lyrics on his Taylor guitar. When I press my ear to the wall that separates our rooms, the words from the other side lift and break apart and the cadence catches me off guard so that I have to put a hand over my mouth in order to hide my sobbing.
I keep the lights off in my room, let the lava lamp run while watching the glowing worms reshape and seek new identities.
I was the first one of us out of the womb but I am third. I am both the fag and the girlfriend in a song. I am someone’s choke hold and a broken guitar string making the wrong music.
After tonight, I’ll be the first one gone from this world and I’ll leave it up to them to decide whether that makes them twins then.
They’d become such a minority that the world’s remaining readers were set up in communes on a crumb of land the size of Delaware.
This being the future, space was at a premium, and as their numbers continued to diminish, the readers were relocated to an abandoned estate belonging to someone’s deceased, millionaire aunt.
In less than a few years, weary governmental officials shuttled the dwindling bibliophiles to a split level home in Hackensack, where angry neighborhood dogs nipped at cyclone fencing and nightly air raid drills produced unmanageable migraines.
Months later, the further shrinking squad was shipped off to a one bedroom utility that doubled as a pantry for discarded, but well-used, kitty litter.
After a short shedding of weeks, the few readers that remained were dropped into a root cellar which had once hid Prohibition rumrunners.
But even this earthy hole was a waste of space, too roomy, with its hollow nooks left unfilled.
So, alas, the final surviving readers were stuffed inside a box.
Years later a young child stumbled upon the box by accident. Finding a smattering of bones at the bottom and, thinking them exotic drumsticks, the child began to beat the sides of the crate, until, tuckered out from so much physical activity, she went back to her multiscreen lap pad, playing video games, exchanging Facebook gossip while texting, streaming reality television and using Skype, busy but bored all at once.
She was known as a conventional woman, but shocked people by marrying a blind man named Eugene.
Before their union, she’d met Eugene on a dare, he being a palm reader at the county fair. He smoothed her hand as if it were a sovereign flag and, wearing a straight face, declared that she would wed him within the year.
Initially, Eugene’s audacity repulsed her, but as days passed she found herself picturing him tracing his fingers over her face, Eugene’s fingers like paint brushes across her body, eager to fill in her open spaces with bright, hopefulness.
They wed on a remote island, and when Eugene fell ill, the dutiful new wife went in search of stomach medicine but found instead a small house-front offering tarot and palmistry readings.
The discovery of the place in an exotic land just hours following their matrimony seemed a good omen, so she strode confidently through the rope of beads hanging in the doorway.
Cowbells clattered. A man, stooped but handsome, appeared and told her to sit.
She slipped off the wedding ring, feeling her pulse rippling where bone would be.
His fingers felt hot and certain on her skin. Sure enough, within minutes, he did it—he claimed they would be wed by the following summer.
She screamed, “No!”
“It’s true,” he said. “Either that or your death.”
She put her ring and ran out the door, into the busy street, not seeing the careening tourist bus that would run her down.
To make it work, she borrowed babies–blue ones with bloated cheeks and the rheumy eyes of old men. In the dressing rooms she crawled beneath the stall slits while customers examined themselves in mirrors, verbose salesclerks lurching over shoulders like bleach-blonde jack o’ lanterns.
The junk people carried around astonished her. She’d been taught to ignore it, just grab cash, but still their oddity had a perverse attraction, like the strong pull of pornography, and so she kept some items: a gold-plated nail file, an old-fashioned opal broach with a rusted clip, day glow condoms, a paring knife, one lone shotgun shell.
She always brought the babies back by dusk. The exchange was not dissimilar to summers when she’d unload gunny sacks of potatoes from her Uncle Ernie’s truck. Uncle Ernie with his Polish jokes, his ratchet laugh and carrot-thick fingers busy up inside her.
Now, one of the infants follows her movements as if it wants to be hypnotized.
“He likes you,” the mother or relative or whomever says.
The other babies blink and bawl at the sound of an adult voice somewhat happy.
“He don’t like me,” she says, angry now. “He’s starving. Don’t you ever feed these kids?”
The babies go still.
She takes the baggy filled with bindles. She can’t tell by their weight if it’s a fair exchange. Later when it’s cooked up and boiling in her veins, she’ll know for sure.
Since the apocalypse, we are all in search of new skins.
People troll dark places. Shadows are temporary havens where we tread in foul clouds. Withered forests roil underfoot, eager to pull us down.
The youngest amongst our group are the most vicious–toddlers who don’t know how to play gentle. We watch them wild-eyed, this new breed of evil gnomes, shredding each other with their claws and fang teeth grown unwieldy.
We’ve had all the time in the world to make sense of our destruction, yet the experts’ answers have kept us confused. Some say we had the wrong world leaders, that we gagged the environment, that we were greedy or not greedy enough.
We’re told there is a way out if we are reasonable.
There are abundant solutions but no one has the right password. The world is too gray to see, its people forever distracted.
So, our old dermis shrinks more each day, pain and pressure squeezing our skulls. We scurry and scratch, searching in panic for new skins.
When we find loaves in a shed, a happy wailing goes up.
As we eat, one wise person points to the faded wall sketch—a portrait, a seven, a series of numbers. We’ve seen it before, years ago, in a dream or book, heard it recited from someone’s animated lips, but now another of us finds a great cache of soup cans, so we wail again, we hoot, we set about making fire.
In the dream, she runs. Miles pile up like layers, like safe things, fireplaces, quilted blankets and locked doors, a soft ballad sung by her favorite singer, while in the distance the apartment building resembles nothing frightening at all, just a sad black pimple.
When her alarm rings, she blinks away the night. The sun is so stark, so bright that it makes her eyes water.
At the window, she counts how many stories up she is. She knows, but she counts anyway.
If she squints, she can see his sedan sulking near the complex dumpster where people put their trash, their bloody blouses and scar tissue. It is a long ways down, yet not far enough for her.
He will knock any minute, so she pries open the window. She remembers as a little girl believing that she could fly. She never told anyone her secret. She hadn’t needed to then. Her favorite color was still tangerine.
She fingers the fresh bruises, their color so much like mishandled fruit.
She steps out. The wind is unsteady and cool, tousling her hair the way an enamored paramour might. She makes the air her groom, lets him lead. She pictures him carrying her over a threshold, as light as gauze, and into another room.