The Prayer


My baby complained of migraines. So we prayed on a beach of shells for God to take them away.

Fourteen summer’s later: we went hiking in the woods and, naturally, came upon the man with the ax. He was seated near an expired campfire, sharpening the blade of his ax with a stone. “I’ve been waiting.” He stood and with one swing chopped my baby in half at the waist. “You’re welcome.” Then he returned to his home in the woods, felling pine trees and evicting birds along the way.

My baby lay bleeding in ash, without legs, yet professed to be miraculously healed. “No more drilling behind the eyes.” For a short while I mourned the loss of running 5k’s together. “It’s alright. Pick me up and let’s get out.” I carried my baby piggyback down the looping dirt trail. Bushes that had previously stood in our path now stepped aside. Mountain ranges changed out of their skins. “It’s funny...” I looked back and said: “What is?” My baby reached out with a free hand and plucked a golden maple leaf off from a tree, hanging on for a hard second before letting go.

Buoy


The stone fruit tree in my garden made its confession: “I am barren.” I did as my mother had instructed. I took its branches in my hands and pressed the warmth of my cheek against the bark. “Are you certain?” In the gusting winds the tree looked to be nodding, a buoy in the waters. I thought of all the fruit that will never know the insides of my mouth. I spelled p-e-a-c-h-c-o-t in my head and swallowed. “My leaves are falling off,” the tree said. And: “When will you send for the man with the ax to chop me by the ankles?” I consoled the tree with hushed sounds and There, There’s. This technique was of my own design. “No one is coming,” I said. “You are still my beautiful tree.” The winds picked up and we swayed together for a long time. Back and forth, back and forth.

Zebra Play

originally published in Corduroy Mountain


Nothing on television. So the man went into the garage and removed the fire axe from the rack and walked back into the living room and hacked off the TV’s power cord plugged in the wall. Then he carried the doctored television up the stairs and stepped out onto the balcony and shot put it over the railing. It tumbled slightly as it fell. Cracking open on the artificial grass lawn.

His wife was waiting for him in the hallway, a tube of airplane glue in her hands. That makes five, she said.

Put that away, the man said. Now’s not the time for fixing.

He walked past her and went down the stairs and out the door and stood in the street, Handy Street. The neighborhood was real quiet. No signs of any Saturday morning children at play. Every front door closed and locked. Somewhere a dog barked a timid bark but that was it. He thought about refueling his chainsaw and dividing the houses into thirds. Then he heard it. A clop clop sound coming down the street. Coming towards him quick. As he swung around two zebras loped by just a foot from where he stood. They’d escaped from the zoo an hour earlier but the man did not know it, these godsend beasts.

They turned and faced one another and stood on their hind legs. Boxing without touching. Teeth bare and possessive. Grunting zebra sounds. All for him to see. He thought he could feel the beating of their hearts under his feet and he wished then to be like them, racing throughout the county, evading captivity.

The zebras went down on fours and headed west beyond the visible horizon. He stood there for a long time after.

When the hour passed he went back into his home and settled like he’d always done. Later that night he dreamed of wandering through rows of cherry trees, collecting the fallen cherries from the ground into his shirt pocket. He came into a clearing and saw a mountain lion sunning on a slab of rock. The mountain lion saw him. The two stared at one another. The man took a handful of the cherries in his pocket. He goaded the lion into teaching him what it meant to run for his life.

Maui Eyes

originally published in Corduroy Mountain


I reached out and touched the spot slightly below the girl’s elbow and at once she dropped her textbooks and went tiptoeing down the hallway like a ballerina, her arms flowing from third position to fourth. They stopped and watched her, teenagers wearing backpacks crammed with notepaper and thick books. Together we stared as she went into a short run and leapt forward, legs split front to back, her feet and the weight of her all landing on the floor with a gentle thud.

She stopped at an orange locker and spun the combination wheel clockwise, counterclockwise, then clockwise again. She lifted the metal handle and swung the door open, her skinny fingers and skinny arms reaching in and pulling out a chocolate cupcake with an unlit candle claimed in its fudge center. A Korean boy came out of the chemistry lab and she offered him the dessert.

“Make a wish,” she said. “Close your eyes and wish the continent.”

I came up behind her in careful steps. I pinched her left earlobe with my thumb and forefinger. She released and the cupcake fell to the ground, rolled on its side. Then I saw that the girl was looking at me. For the first time, she was looking at me. I could see the whites of her eyes darkening to the color of ocean, that shallow heart of the Pacific. Like the surrounding waters of Maui. The kind of blue where tropical fish swim, streaked in yellow and black, their noses like little trumpets.

“I know you,” she said.

I stepped back. “What?”

“From middle school. You’re Kenneth. Tell me your name is Kenneth.”

I looked away, through the window, somewhere else. “No,” I said. “That’s not me.”

“Thomas, then. Jules. Yes, your name has to be Jules.”

I took hold of her narrow wrists and squeezed. At first, nothing. Then a sound out of the sky, something like trees buckling under the wind and splintering in half, something like the cry of a wounded animal lost in the gross blackness of a cave. There was a shout of light, a pause in time, and the world seemed to breathe in deep and exhale slow. It was quieter now, the world.

I blinked and saw that the girl’s head was on fire. She was burning and a ladder of smoke rose from the top of her head up to the ceiling, quickly casting itself out wide until no ceiling was left to be seen. Someone’s voice was yelling for water. Another for the glass to be broken and the fire alarm pulled. Students and teachers were heading down the stairs, some with shirts pulled over their noses and mouths, others coughing into a hand.

The floor emptied and only the girl and I remained. She lowered her burning head as if to bow.

“Make a wish Nicholas,” she said. “Close your eyes Kale and wish the stars. Wish the great wall of China.”

I closed my eyes. I thought about my name, its letters and the way it appeared on the signature line. How the tongue touched the roof of the mouth whenever it was spoken. My name was the fire in that girl’s hair and the liquid melting down the sides of her face. It was in the gray of the smoke and caught in the people’s lungs. My name, my name. I took a long breath and in one blow snuffed the girl out.

Commandments

originally published in Keyhole Magazine online


1
You shall be well-mannered and say “May I” and “Thank you” and “Please”.

2
You shall be careful. You shall bathe your hands in hand sanitizer gel. You shall look both ways, and then look once more, before crossing the clear street. You shall keep your distance from unleashed dogs.

3
You shall not leave your shoes in the hallway, for this stirs up my anger, which can ignite quickly, like grapevine fires.

4
Obey and respect your mother, who loves you. When visiting your real mother in Santa Ana you shall not listen to a word she says about me, for she is a liar and her thoughts are evil all the time.

5
You shall not curse.

6
You shall not do as the Horgan girls do.

7
You shall not date boys. You shall not hold their hands or kiss their faces or engage in any flirtation or sexual immorality or sexual impurity with them. You shall not look at a boy lustfully. You shall have no friends except those born to be women. This law is binding until you reach twenty-seven years of age.

8
You shall dress modestly.

9
You shall not demand attention. You shall be a quiet, reserved child.

10
You shall be fluent in French and Italian, as I am. You shall not travel overseas. You shall not cross state lines. You shall never be too far from home.

11
You shall not dwell on what might have been.

12
You shall forever cherish that week at the lake. How the leaves changed color and fell and decorated the earth. You said from the backseat, God must be passing through.

13
You shall learn this pattern: ignore then forget, ignore then forget, ignore, ignore. This will help you in your dealings with men.

14
You shall smile when in my company. You shall take an interest in what I say. You shall love me. You shall try, try.

15
If you must cry, then you shall do this in your room with the door closed. Play music. Wash your face afterwards. You shall not come to me in tears unless there is blood.

16
You shall want nothing more than for a man to look upon you and declare that you are beautiful.

17
You shall prefer loneliness to company. You shall be demanding of everyone. You shall be hated on account of me. You shall go a month without saying a word. You shall golf on Sundays. You shall enjoy running before the coming day, when streets are cold and house windows are painted black. You shall find peace in watching stingrays swim. You shall sometimes wander up to houses and admire their long driveways.

18
You shall not be late. You shall not be quick to forgive, or forget. You shall not ignore my calls. You shall not say to friends, My father is dead. You shall not love any one man for very long.

19
Remember our first walk together in untouched snow. Remember how your boots were enveloped in white. Remember how you looked up to see my face and saw only stalks of sunlight.

A New Monkey

originally published in Yippee magazine


A new monkey was born. In Yuma, of all places. I found it in the Painted Desert writing chemical elements in the sand with the tip of its yellowed tail. It held rotten banana skins in its left hand, kept tight to the chest like a rag doll. I came slowly forward on hands and knees and when I was close enough to reach out and touch the monkey’s shoulder I sat and waited. The clouds drifted in the skysea and unveiled the noon sun like a glory not meant to be seen by man and the earth was alight in all that which brings life and the monkey stopped to consider this. It scratched its hairless jaw. Eyelids open a thin rim to the heavens. Then it looked right at me and said, Where are the others? Others? I said. The monkey said, Others like me. There are other monkeys, I said, but none quite like you. You’re the first of your kind. The only.

The monkey snorted and its breath was hot on my hands. It touched the undisturbed sand with its tail and continued writing, now the words: Art thou mindful of me? Will thou visitest me? Where is thy promised crown of glory and honour? Somehow the monkey knew I had questions of my own and before I could ask them it pressed its black forefinger to my lips and whispered, These words are to remain unspoken. I nodded. I scribbled them in my moleskin, the questions of monkey and of man. When the monkey saw this it took me by the hand and together we wrote on the desert floor till the sun bled open the horizon and the country was a canvas of red dust and gold. That night we lay on the dunes and muttered prayers to the dark abyss above, hopeful someone up there would hear us and cast their message down, even upon our heads.