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Abort

abort

 

Karen and I are drinking dirt-cheap beer and laughing through a season of “It’s Always Sunny” when the connection in my TV goes out.

“No worries,” I say, standing and facetiously beating my chest. “I shall fix this! Come citizens! Follow me!”

We’ve pounded our way through a twelve pack, so we both kinda stumble down the hall to my room, where my laptop sits charging on my desk. I open it and bring up Netflix, and soon the Paddy’s Gang start their antics right where they left off. She and I drop down on my mattress and watch through a beery haze.

I’m drunk enough I actually don’t notice her hand start to move between the snaps on my shirt. Honest to God, I don’t actually catch on to what’s happening until one snap pops, and when I look down her cool palm is running its way across my ribs.

“Whoa,” I say, sitting up and moving back a bit. Karen’s fine and all but, uh, this isn’t us. We aren’t…

“Oh, what?” she says. She’s smiling, her lips a darker red than I can remember ever seeing them before. She scoots closer as I scoot farther.

“I..we aren’t…”

“Oh, fuckin’ come on,” she says, rolling her eyes, and now she’s working down the strap of her purple tank top. “It ain’t like it was never leading to this.”

She’s pressed against me now and in the warmth I become so much more aware of her than I ever have been before. The crotch of her jeans scrape against my fly, and my heart rockets when I realize that soon, very freakishly soon, my skin will be pressed against the skin wrapped so tightly in those jeans.

She looms over me, wolfish grin and locks of distressed brown hair. The curl of her right eyebrow mimes the curl in her sneer. Porcelain white teeth threaten to eat me alive in the most comforting way imaginable. She pulses then, in a deep red light.

I look up and see the big red button, flashing bright. It reads: ABORT For some reason, I slap it.

And I wake up.

It’s Thursday morning. Practically the start of the weekend for me. Landscaping work is tight this time of year, so I wake without the usual strained aches of hard labor. Four crushed cans of Old Milwaukee litter my nightstand, and my laptop hums by my feet. Netflix tells me it has timed out due to inactivity.

I sit, still in the jeans and white tee shirt I fell asleep in. I rub my eyes and mutter “Aw, shit” over and over to myself.

***

Karen and I are drinking cheap drafts at a little hot dog place we tend to favor. Shamefully, I’m in the same wrinkled clothes I woke up in, because when you landscape for a living your perception of clean and dirty is fundamentally altered. She’s got on a brown sweater and tight jeans, the tightness of which I don’t think I would’ve noticed before last night’s dream. I drink a little faster when the memory comes to me.

“Ugh,” she groans, nudging a loose plastic stool on the eating station beside us. “Fucking seventy degrees in the middle of goddamn January. Someone needs to tell fall it’s time to give it a rest.”

She pulls off her sweater then, and underneath she’s wearing a deep purple tank. I almost spit my beer back into my plastic cup.

“You okay?” she asks me, loose hair cascading over her brown eyes as she looks at me.

Oh, goddamn it. God. Damn it.

***

Later we make our way back to my house, and Karen helps me swap out my engine mounts, which means that we actually have to lift the motor up and out. Before heading over we’d loaded her engine net into the bed of her pickup, and now with it set up in my driveway she and I curse and hiss and finally have the block loose enough to haul into the air. While she locks it in place I slide an engine stand underneath, then grab the mounts from the trunk.

When we get everything swapped out, we lower the engine and hook it back up, Karen complaining the whole time. “Goddamn motherfuck,” she groans, “why’d you ever buy this fuckin’ bitch, anyway?”

“Bitchiness is an appealing quality to me,” I answer back, pretending not to notice her shaking cleavage as she wrestles hoses into place.

When we’re done it’s dark. We’re sweaty and scratched up, and our skin and our clothes are smeared in grease. “I need a fuckin’ shower,” she says, grabbing a beer from my cooler and wiping grease from her wrist on the ass of her jeans.

“Go for it,” I tell her, lugging the cooler inside behind her. “Least I owe ya is some hot water.”

“Yer goddamn right you do.” She shotguns her beer and tosses it in the cardboard box I use for recycling. “Won’t take me fifteen.” And she disappears down the hall.

I sit in my threadbare recliner and keep drinking, and I guess I fall asleep ’cause I feel someone running their hand against my face. I have to blink for almost a minute because I can’t make out who’s standing in front of me. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when I finally see it’s Karen, ’cause really who the fuck else would it be?

What does surprise me, though, is how comfortable she is standing around naked.

Her hair is dripping wet, and without thinking I reach out and put my hand to her hip. Her skin is soft from scrubbing and cool from drying, and she sets her hand against my wrist and moves it lower. Her leg is so smooth I have the weird impression she’s melting from the heat of my hand, like cream. Her skin is deep brown and sun-kissed.

She leans down, her mouth open, and her lips are so close to mine I honestly don’t know if they’re touching or not. My mouth is open too, more out of shock than anything, and I can feel her breath coming and going across my tongue.

There’s a shimmer of light from behind her, and I look over her shoulder and see a massive insect’s wing wafting behind her. There are two of them, one on either side, and I look to her side to see a second, smaller pair below them. They shimmer with pulses of what seems like sunlight, and as they flutter the sunlight drips through the air like rain against a window. The liquid light spatters across my carpet, soaking deep into the fibers, and after a moment little hands reach into the air. Smaller Karens stand, emerging from where the light splashes. These Karens also have wings, pulsing, dripping, sunlit wings. It occurs to me that, if I keep watching, even smaller Karens than the ones I see will begin to appear. She is flooding my home, soaking it in shimmers.

There’s a different light now, a flashing red standing out against the pulsing white and yellow rays of sunlight. Across the front, the red glowing button reads ABORT. Without wanting to, moving mechanically, I move my foot to it and press it with the toe of my boot.

Fairy Karen’s fingers disappear from my cheek. I’m alone in my dark living room. When I check the time I see a text on my phone. “Didn’t wanna wake ya. I’ll be back tomorrow to grab my motor caddie. Sleep easy. Thanks for the beer. You need more conditioner. – Karen”

***

When Karen comes to get her motor caddie, she’s in canvas cargo pants and a thick flannel shirt that almost makes me think she knows what I was dreaming about. We laugh and drink beer at her place, slugging each other’s arms when we need to shut up or we’ll miss a good part of whatever show we marathon on Netflix. This morning, I dreamed we were lying on our sides in my bed, just looking at each other. The warmth under the sheets told me neither of us were wearing anything. We didn’t touch, didn’t kiss, just lied there with it feeling like we should. Her brown eyes held mine. The side of her mouth curled in a smile. Her right eyebrow was cocked, mimicking the curl of her lip. If I’d moved my head an inch, our noses would’ve touched.

But for the flashing button between us, I could’ve.

It’s Sunday, and we drink a lot. It starts to get dark, and it dawns on me I’ll have to head back soon.

“I need to cool it,” I tell her, waving away the offer of another beer. “Gotta drive back eventually.”

“Oh, fuck that.” She waves her hand. “Just sleep in back. Bobby ain’t due back in town for another couple days.”

Bobby. The boyfriend. I know him. He’s a good dude. A good dude who never makes an appearance in my dreams. In my dreams it’s just me and her.

But I persist, and when my buzz wears off we hug and I make my way back home. When I go to bed the space across my bedspread where I dreamed her is cool and smooth. Eventually, some undetermined time after I finally fall asleep, she’s there again, smiling, eyebrow cocked.

Her expression seems to say the same thing it seemed to say this morning. What happens now?  And this morning, what happened was a slow, regretful push of a button.

Now again we lie and look at one another, the ABORT button flashing between us. Now I drag a pillow across it, and lay my head closer to hers. Now, here in my dream, our noses touch.

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Written Out

writing

 

The humid air probably isn’t good for his computer, but Bruce keeps the window open anyway. The smoke probably isn’t good for the machine either, but he lights another cigarette and drinks more coffee. The stereotype is something he tries not to think about.

The apartment is cheap but relatively quiet. Bruce sees nothing but trees, hears nothing but tree frogs whenever an obnoxious neighbor isn’t driving by. Luckily the obnoxious neighbors seem to work the same long shifts he does, so shitty pop-rap is only an occasional irritation.

The window is a cheap pinewood frame set in discolored drywall. The glass is foggy and streaked no matter how often it’s cleaned. The Georgia summer heat is the kind that finds you through a million particles of steam. Every few minutes something bulky and jointed thumps into the window screen, its bristled legs tangling for a moment before helicopter wings beat it free. A feral cat walks by, stops, and looks back at Bruce. Then it snarls at rustling monkey grass, and chases a possum through the buzzing southern twilight.

It’s a quarter to ten. Bruce needs to go to sleep. He has work in the morning.

He saves the poem and shuts the computer down.

***

Bruce washes Mr. Price first thing, wiping the old man down with a dry lather so he won’t get chilled. Chills become invisible monsters in retirement homes. They creep upon prey despite the summer heat.

“Didn’t you say your granddaughter just had a baby?”

“Fresh out the college, too. Time gets away.”

He cleans him a section at a time, drying and dressing him as he works his way down. He cleans his legs after removing the trousers and setting them aside for laundry. The soiled adult diaper is removed and sealed, to be thrown out in a biohazard bin. He cleans the man’s feet, then his legs, his perineum and groin.

Mr. Price grimaces. “Oh Lord, I can’t hold it.”

Fast and practiced, Bruce has the jug in place as soon as the urine flows. The old man’s face relaxes, then contracts again in embarrassment. Bruce holds steady until he’s done, then quickly moves the jug out of sight and cleans the groin again.

“You get any pictures yet from your granddaughter’s graduation?”

“A couple. She a doctor now, ya know. Not like the ones give you shots, but you know. The kind just really knows what she’s talkin’ about.”

Another adult diaper, then a fresh pair of trousers. Bruce strips away the tee shirt with the stained shirttail and wipes Mr. Price’s waist and armpits. He applies unscented, hypoallergenic deodorant, then puts on a fresh shirt. He combs and smooths Price’s whitening hair, grooms his mustache. The old man’s ninety but could pass for sixty. He could’ve passed for less if his beard and hair hadn’t gone white.

“She’s a psychologist, right?”

“Gon’ be. The kind tells kids where they oughtta go to college.”

Price takes each pill as soon as Bruce has them on the counter. He takes big swallows of water, like he’s never had a drink in his life. Almost every medication he’s on gives him dry mouth. His diaper will be finished in another thirty minutes.

Bruce strips off his gloves, throws them away, puts on another pair, and grabs the removal bags. Yellow for laundry, orange for disposal. “Mr. Price, I’ll be back in an hour to check on you.”

Price laughs. “I’ll be here.” Even in the chair, his legs shake from the diabetic nerve damage that’s plagued him since he was seventy. Bruce’s lifetime ago.

Bruce is filing care information when Stevie comes by for lunch. “You wanna get out of here and go to Mel’s?”

“Can’t. Only got a half-lunch today. Maybe we can run to the Subway next door and eat here?”

Stevie shrugs. “You registered for classes yet?”

“Still waiting on word for the second half of the internship. You?”

“I got the exploratory literature program going on. Basically a bunch of advanced lit students collaborating on that poetry collection the school wants to sponsor.”

“Oh, yeah.” The insurance company demands three copies of everything to prove Ms. Wallace is alive. They seem to resent the facility’s denying her demise. They’re awfully eager to see paying clients dead. What’s worse is Ms. Wallace keeps insisting the company shouldn’t have to pay for her care, though that’s all they exist to do. She loves everyone at the home as family. She tells Bruce he’s old enough to think about getting a job. It’s possible she thinks he works out of a kind of familial obligation.

Stevie shrugs, a lie. “It’s kind of a pain. You’re expected to stay until the group unanimously decides to leave. I hardly have any time for my own material.”

Stevie is rich by college standards and well-off by those of the rest of the world. Writing about a straight man’s affair with his uncle has eased his worries about money considerably. Stevie and Bruce shared Applied Poetic Theory together.

“You given any thought to the collection?”

“A…little.”

“Having a prepared collection would really impress the internship committee.”

“I know. I’m thinking about it.”

“Well, it’s a week from tomorrow before you’d have to meet with them.”

Bruce fishes out eight bucks and offers it to Stevie. “Turkey sub. Half sweet tea, half unsweet.”

Stevie waves his hand. “Hey, no man, I got it. Don’t worry about it.”

Stevie’s novel was a bestseller. Stevie was paid two hundred thousand over the course of two years.

“But seriously, get those poems together. I’ll even help you arrange them. I mean, not to be a hardass, but you really need to have a collection or something.”

Bruce looks to Stevie for a moment, his hand still hanging, still holding the cash in the air. After a moment he tucks it in Stevie’s pocket, his friend unconsciously alarmed even though Bruce’s fingers don’t come a mile within his dick.

“Turkey sub, no chips. Sweet/unsweet.”

***

“Read your poem in the paper,” Mr. Price tells him after lunch. Bruce sweeps his own straw hair off his face and blots his forearm with the sleeve of his thermal shirt. The sleeve of his attendant’s scrub top is dotted with perspiration absorbed from his temples. He wheels the lift swing out of the room, wheels the lunch tray to Mr. Price’s bedside. The empty wheelchair is rolled into a corner.

“Any good?”

“Good enough.” The old man has a hearty laugh, tempered from the days when there was more belly to pump with. “Yeah, yeah, it was real good. You write a lot of ‘em?”

“When I can find the time.”

“Uh oh.” A grin, well-cleaned dentures. “We ain’t eatin’ into your schedule, are we?”

Bruce grins. “Mr. Price, you are my schedule.”

Mr. Price is a man who slaps his things when he laughs.

***

Stevie’s back when Bruce’s shift ends. Stevie is so burdened by his one extended class he doesn’t even go today.

“You wanna get some coffee? We can get your laptop and you can show me what you’ve been working on.”

They walk down the hall leading to the employee exit. They pass a room with an RN stripping a bed, wiping the rubber mattress with a rag and spraying every fifth swipe with cleaner. A man white as bone sits in a chair outside, watched by an orderly. The orderly nods as the two men pass. The old man lays his head flat on his shoulder, and snores whether he inhales or exhales. He isn’t asleep.

“Jesus.” Stevie looks to the woman cleaning the poly mattress. “I can’t imagine being stuck here.”

Stevie pities the nurse who never fell into her job. She doesn’t make two-hundred thousand in a single year but will make a steady pay until she retires. Her art is in daily absolutes. Stevie scratches at the shoulder of a blind animal.

They step outside, and both light cigarettes as soon as the door closes. They smoke beside Bruce’s old Honda. Stevie almost matches the snow. Bruce’s hide is yellowed from his summertime habit of opening windows.

“So be honest…how much work have you done?” Stevie asks him.

“A lot. It’s an intensive internship.”

Stevie rolls his eyes. “I meant your writing.”

“I know.”

“So how much?”

Bruce shrugs. “Maybe thirty pages total.”
Stevie smokes, considers, slowly nods. “Alright. Yeah, we can work with that. With poetry, anyway. You working under any kind of theme?”

“There’s kind of just the one.”

Stevie sighs. “You want to be precise as possible if you’re asked. They’re impressed with precision of intent.”

“I don’t think I’m gonna try for it anyway.”

Stevie gives him a sharp look. “Why? The profs who run this thing have direct connections to publishing houses.”

Bruce shrugs, grinds his smoke into a sandy ashtray. He cocks his head to the hospice. “I already have the one internship. I’m not sure I can fit another.”

“But this is one that matters.”

“They all are. Who works for free?”

“Bruce: you can finally get your work out there with this. I’ve told Dr. Hunt about you. He said he’d keep you in mind if you contacted him.”

Bruce shrugs again. “But I don’t really need to. This ties directly into my major…”

“Dude, don’t let life hamstring you. This might not happen again.”

“I know.”

“And?”

“I took the opportunity.”

“You’re already in the program?”

“Yep.”

Stevie smiles. “Oh, shit, I didn’t even know! That’s awesome! Are you gonna use the writing lab they have on weekends? Because…”

“I’m not taking the writing internship.”

No smile now. “But you said…”

Bruce climbs into his car, starts it. “Yeah.”

“You’re seriously going to let this happen?”

“No.” Bruce checks his blind spots, backs out. “Didn’t just happen. Had to petition for it and everything.” He looks to Stevie before he puts the car in drive. “See you in twenty?”

Unsure: “Okay.”

Bruce puts the car in gear.

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