The Pacifist

*Left punch.

Nose dripping, eyes watering, salty blood pours from my mouth, and a spine-tingling throbbing spreads to my head.

*And a right hook. 

*I stand there and continue to stand because it doesn’t matter how many times fist meets cheek, chin, right or left eye, stomach, back—I’m a pacifist who doesn’t know how to surrender, and there are only two ways I’ll get out of this: If I get knocked out and spend the rest of my time on the floor; or my opponent stops pounding me, but then I’ll be stuck here, with this guy circling me—this infinite space where no bell will signal the end of this fight as he struts around the ring in a dance with his mouth wide, eyes gleam, teeth shine and circles me waiting for the chance to strike me again as the crowd chants, “Knock her out!” while my hands rest limply at my sides.

*Straightening my back, I raise my chin and try to open my half-closed bloodied eye while I tighten my muscles and wait

—for the next blow to fall.

Unapologetic

Laura reclined back in her cushioned work chair. Her hand on her mouse, she scrolled through the columns of the spreadsheet with expenses for the Marriott hotel, receipts from restaurants, gas, rental car, and airfare charges. 

Heat pricked at her cheeks, and her eyes stung.

Knock, knock.

Frustrated, Laura sighed.

The headache had started a couple of hours ago, and now her skin tingled from the pain. The “knocking” on the frame of her workstation only made the pounding in her head worse.

“Hey Laura,” Jan said as she grabbed the spare chair from the corner of her cubicle and rolled it close to Laura’s desk.  

Laura’s jaw tightened.  Expenses for the Sales Team must be submitted to the Chief Financial Officer by the end of the day today. She hoped whatever Jan had come for wouldn’t take long.

Jan said some words about an incident from the weekend that made headlines because of what could have happened but didn’t.

 Laura touched her swollen, warm lips.     

 Jan was mad. Angry that on the first warm spring day where birch, balsam firs, and oak trees lined the paths, the parents with children, the teenagers, and seniors that were there, well, none of them had helped a boy who nearly drowned.    

Laura offered excuses: Perhaps, some had heart conditions? Or maybe they didn’t see him? Still, others may not have known how to swim.  Other people may have been in denial about what they witnessed and didn’t have time to react.

Jan left.

Before she left, though, she pushed her caramel-colored hair back, harrumphed, and returned the chair to the corner of the cubicle. Jan shook her head and said, “How can you defend them?”

Laura shrugged her shoulders as her chest throbbed.

Jan spun on her heels and trudged off down the hallway. The clip-clop sound faded. Laura sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose as she stared at the expense sheet for Joy Thatcher.   

 The lines on the spreadsheet, the cells Laura remembered they were called, blurred together.

Concentrate, Laura. Concentrate. It’s only noon. 

***

Other people were around.  But, she wanted to remember the boy.  

Slowly, she’d limped back to her car. Her coat sagged. So, Laura peeled her black jacket off and threw it in the trunk. God, her sweater clung to her like forgotten cilantro in the fridge still in its plastic bag. Then her car chirped, the doors unlocked, she opened the car door and almost got inside.

A woman’s soothing voice said something from behind her. Laura stopped and spoke with the white-haired woman in the black hat who told her she was a retired nurse. The woman said: You should get checked out.

But Laura wanted to go home. She squeezed the woman’s hand once and reassured her that she was okay. Then she watched as the grey-eyed woman walked away.

Once Laura was in her car, she rubbed her hand to her face. Then she watched as two paramedics lifted the boy strapped onto a gurney, and loaded him into the ambulance. Not long after, the transport vehicle’s lights whirled, and the siren screamed as it left the parking lot.

***

There was the hum of vibrating beeps. Over the noise, a clinical voice said, “The time of death for Laura is . . . ,”

There’s a wish that Laura had, something she’d never said, and it’s this: She hoped the boy would be okay.

Weapon

Others love them.

They talk about the length and thickness of them. Sometimes, we’ll dress them up, dab black ink on them. Make them more defined: longer, more prominent, richer. Only when I joined the TET Club, did I find out about the secret others already knew. I’m still a new member. I joined, out of necessity, when, like everything else, they retaliated against me six years ago. It’s been a long six years. Worse yet, I know this battle will go on for decades.    

My enemy hides by tucking in amongst the others. You should know too, it also changes its color to white. This makes it hard to see. It reminds me of a polar bear that ambles across the snow-covered Arctic. Hard to know where the snow ends. And the bear begins.  Kind of makes it hard to pluck out the thing from the landscape that will kill you.

The silver glistens with the sun’s rays. Pointedly, it’s sharp. I tap a finger across the top as I bathe it with soap and rinse with warm water. It’s a requirement: the weapon must be sterilized. I’m still new to this. The older members of the TET Club, they know. Know what positions to be in, or have a contact name and number where they can hire a professional to make it, so.

Instead, here I am. My hand shakes. But I know this has to be done. If I lack the will to do it, I know I’ll spend my days blurry-eyed in slimy regret. I grab the top and bottom of the eyelids. Hold them wide open. Clasp the hairs down. The blue eyeball flutters at me. Tearful. But, my resolve is firm. It will take more than watery eyes to convince me to stand down.

With a flick of my wrist, I grab it—and tweeze the rebellious hair from my eyelid!

“Ow!!!!” I scream.

I place a hand on my eye to soothe the throbbing. Now, it’s only another eight curling, twirling, microscopic eyelash hairs that need to be plucked. Snapping the arms of my tweezers together, I ready myself. Then, I raise my weapon and point it at my new target.

The Quicksand of Dona

In the quicksand of Dona, he waits. Saer sees nothing, though, as he tiptoes close by. Still, Saer searches the sand. He’s heard about the monster.  Today, the creature made things personal.

Saer stares up to the grey marsh tree where rope-like strings hang from it. The ropes would entice anyone to climb up its limbs, and temptation for a child is difficult to ignore.  Hands clasped into fists at Saer’s side, the marsh tree is the only one he’s ever seen. Gods, laugh, it’s almost as if the Creator placed it beside Quickie on purpose. 

Saer’s fear is trampled by rage.

He knows what his grandson wanted: Just a look at Quickie. One evening, when they’d stared up to the golden starred lights, his grandson had told him his plan to climb the marsh tree to see the monster. The child said he’d be safe from the beast. The grandfather did what any grandfather would have done—he told Ron not to do it. But as little boys are prone to do, he discarded his grandfather’s advice and did what he wanted. Or, that’s what Ron’s stricken, shaking friend Astrid said when she returned and told the people in Gerstar what happened to Ron. Still, Ron’s only six-years-old and should be allowed to make some mistakes—

No! Shaking his head, Saer won’t believe itnot yet.

“Where are you, Quicky?” Saer shouts. The old man stomps his feet on the river bank as he unpacks his forty-five-pound salamander shark from his bag. It was Saer’s prized catch, the one that would feed him and his son’s family for the next month. His son was always a quitter when he faced obstacles. So, of course, he’d begged him not to come.

Saer shakes his head. Is that fair? Jacob wept when he asked him not to risk his life because he was convinced Ron, his only child, was dead. After all, no one had ever survived a taking.  

Saer huffs, swears, and hisses between breaths. Saer is an old man, with more life behind him than in front of him. He came anyway. Old men and little boys are both the same. Stubborn. And yes, right now, fish are in short supply. Still, his grandson meant more to him than a full belly. They would find other ways to feed themselves. 

“Quicky!” the man barks.  

Red dots move in the sand. If Saer blinked, he wouldn’t have seen them. But Saer’s determined, and that makes his mind sharp. And there’s something else—something, no one else knows. He heard a word said today that he’s never heard before. The phlegm-filled gargled voice croaked one word, trade, and it was said when no one else was around. And before Saer knew his grandson had been taken.

Is it a trap? Does Quickie want to turn him into his dessert? Or does the monster really want a trade? More importantly, if the beast can talk to people, why has Saer never heard of this before? Was it even Quickie? Or is he an old man who now hears voices? “There are no guarantees,” Saer whispers to the mud. 

The hairs on Saer’s arms stand up from the northern wind. His feet sink into the mud, and sniffing once, he catches the increasing stench of rotting food.

Saer squints at the spot and watches the red dots circle. Moving in closer, Saer swings the shark across his shoulder. One black dot flutters back and forth, up and down. Then the white-bearded, white-haired man runs with the fish across his shoulder and jumps into the sand with the heels of his boots slamming down on a gel-like round form.

The serpent screeches! His thirteen tentacles rise up, and then the rippled, suction-cupped arms shake as if they’ve been jarred by a hard object. Something from ol’ Quickie is flung high into the air and lands on to the muddy, moss-laden embankment. 

“Here!” Saer says. “Take this! You wanted it!” Then Saer heaves and swings the shark at Quicky. A tentacle rises up and snaps the fish up in one sweeping motion. Saer jumps from one of Quickie’s arms to another, riding the limbs as if they were marbles on the floor. The grandfather shifts, lurches, and then finds the steadiness of his feet, only to lose them again when he leans to the right. Swaying, Saer moves closer to the quicksand’s edge, and then he jumps and dives next to whatever Quickie had thrown.

Ron lies on the embankment. Black webbed saliva drenches the child’s still body.  The six-year old’s chest rises and falls.

Saer hears a hissing from behind him. The red dotted with black pupil eye stares at the grandfather and the boy. One of the thirteen tentacles holds the shark. Then, Quicky recoils his limbs and slinks backward before he sinks beneath the sand. 

The grandfather doesn’t see this, though. His skin pricking with excitement, he runs towards Gerstar with his grandson in his arms.

The Sound of the Band Playing

I’m grateful for the whirl of the microwave humming that is followed by the smell of silky butter in the air. As if the microwave and air popper are creating some song, the popcorn thumps to its own beat and produces white puff balls that roll into an awaiting bowl. Once I combine the popcorn, butter, with a dash of salt, the crunchy taste of my movie meal lifts my mood, and I’m ready to settle down to binge-watch almost anything.

It’s Your Fault

I’m waiting in the sterile no-scent room of a reproductive clinic where chubby-cheeked babies with expectant glistening eyes stare back at me from framed photos on the wall. Everywhere I look, happy newborns and toddlers are dangled in front of me in a carnival-like atmosphere as if they were a prize I could win if I followed the rules of the game. The truth is: I already haven’t followed the rules. So, would a bouncy, blue-or-pink-clothed bundle of drooling joy escape me for the rest of my days?  Secretly, I hoped not. Publicly, I told my friends and family it didn’t matter.

“He’ll see you now,” the receptionist says to me.

I enter the doctor’s office and settle into a chair on the opposite side of a grand mahogany desk. Odd to me sometimes, how the medical profession is set up that the Doctor sits over there, I sit over here, and together, we’re expected to come up with a plan to fix my problem. Yet, right from the start, I don’t feel we’re playing on the same team.

Bespectacled doc flips through his notes and says, “We have several problems. Your fallopian tubes are blocked and you’re not ovulating. We can attempt hormone therapy. But you’re not a good candidate for in vitro fertilization given your age and other problems.”

His words cut me.

Smiling, I nod, and say, “That’s alright. I didn’t want to go to extreme measures. If it happens, that’s great. If it doesn’t, well, my fiancé and I, we tried.”

He closes the file in front of him and folds his hands over the folder. “Listen,” he curtly says. “Given your age, you’re close to the end of the time when I’m permitted to help you. It sounds like you don’t care, either way. So, if you’re not committed to this, why should I invest any more time?”

My mouth gapes and my cheeks burn. I slowly say, “Uh…well…Antonio wanted to see if it was a possibility. He would like children.”

The Doctor snivels at me and says, “That’s your fiancé?”

I nod my head. I’ve lost my ability to respond with words.

“Well,” he says. “I suggest you give him the information that I shared with you today. If he still wants children, maybe you guys should think about parting ways.”

I begin to nod my head as I gather my coat and purse.  “Thank you for your time,” I manage to say as I slowly reach for the door. As I stride out of the office I gather more speed, and when I’m out of the building I run across the parking lot towards my car with tears streaming down my cheeks.

I’m embarrassed that I even tried to seek out professional help—and angry that the Doctor never asked me why I didn’t try to have children sooner.

Chains

Knotted chains clink against the freezer that stores leftover meatloaf from last Thursday’s dinner.

Maria’s eyes are wide. She flicks them from right to left, then left to right.

Tugging at the sheets she pulls them up to her chin.

Pressure pinches against her temples.

Sweat gathers on her back.

Heart palpitations begin.

One second later.

She falls….

over.

The Lighthouse

Green hills overlook the North Atlantic Ocean. In the water, rocks protrude from the watery abyss. The sharp edged natural swords have sent many ships to their graves with those who travelled on them.

On top of the hill is where I stand.  A white light blinks at me. Thunderous electric lightening crashes above the historical watchtower that helps to guide ships into port. Briefly, the light illuminates the dark sky.

Thunder crackles again.

In the window of the lighthouse I see a small, pale, angelic singular face peer back at me. I’m too far away though and I don’t trust my eyes. In these conditions, I know my mind will play tricks on me.

Somewhere in the distance I hear a screeching sound of a baby’s cry.

Instinctively, I turn, searching for the location of the noise. But I know the infant isn’t real. It might be a phantom baby that’s come to haunt me.

Thunder crackles.

Glancing towards the lighthouse, I search for the child. He’s no longer there though. Ghost child and a phantom baby are working together today playing with my subconscious.

I inhale the cold sharp air that surrounds me.

The baby’s wail begins again—louder—and with a fiercer intensity this time. In that moment, I’m hit and I’m lifted high into the air, before I fall backwards on the emerald fields.

I can’t move.

My eyes flutter at the four-year-old boy who stands above me with soft curly hair and green eyes who holds a small infant. He gently moves my arms together to form a cradle and places the crying baby there who’s wrapped in a pink blanket. Tears roll down the sides of my cheeks when the little girl’s crying slips into a contented gurgle. She rolls closer to me and then drifts off to sleep.

White light illuminates the boy who smiles down at me and my sleeping baby.

The Words Whispered By The Fairy

“I wish I could.”

“I can’t.”

“I shouldn’t.”

These are the slithering, hissing sounds of absolute words that protect me—from me.

Conformity is a harness that holds me up, preventing me from falling off roofs, off buildings, or down cliffs and is my life preserver that keeps me alive.  But a harness is weighty: my feet drag along the roof as I fumble to manipulate the line while scouring for the tools I need to place the next shingle down. After some time, physical fatigue sets in and I misjudge where I’m placing my feet and hands; I slip and start sliding down off the roof only to brace myself lace minute before going over the edge. The harness provides protection, but is not absolute. I’ve heard stories of people who’ve died while wearing such a device.

When I finally unstrap the harness from my waist it’s a release and I glide down sidewalks as if Tinker Bell has given me fairy dust to move.  Once my body is able to move freely, the fairy leans in and sings-whispers Shakespeare’s words from Hamlet into my ear to unclog the gutters of my mind:

 

“To Thine Own Self Be True.”