Lisa

Excerpt from ‘Mortals’ by Jack Lee Taylor

 

She hates him so much. Down to his little bones. Bones that can break; but – no – Lisa, stay away; you’ll just make things worse. We’ll take care of him. Every time.

Stupid little brother.

Even at this moment, when the rain has stopped, and the clouds are thin vapors where the blue of the sky cuts through, he’s there stomping on the puddles, making the bottom on his jeans turn to the color of shit.  Like their driveway. A shitty driveway. A shitty house. A shitty family.

“Look how high I can make the water go,” the little turd says. And, yeah, there he is jumping up and down on brown water and ruining his sneakers. They won’t care. Mom will say ‘boys will be boys’ or something meaningless like that.

He never gets in trouble. He never gets yelled at the dinner table. Or in the morning. Or at night. Or at whenever.

He’s perfect. And she’s not.

“Leesee-“, he says. “Did you hear?”

“No,” Lisa says and then goes back to gazing up at the sky. When does the blue end? She had asked her father than once and dismissed whatever nonsense he spewed back at her. He doesn’t know. No one does.

When does the sky end? That’s easy. There is no sky. It’s just space. Clouds, atmosphere, and space. And then after that? Nothing. No heaven. No god, no angels or fairies or dead grandmothers. There’s nothing after that. And the crazy part of it all is that she’s brave enough to admit it. Why lie about it? Or even worse, why try to brainwash her with churches or bible verses? We live and then we die. How difficult is that to accept?

A red car. A muscle car, she thinks. Because if it’s loud, bulky, and all bulging like on steroids, it’s called a muscle car. It streaks pass her driveway and she thinks: wow, Seb was probably five feet away from the speeding car. He probably would have died if he got hit. Or even worse, the driver would try to swerve and miss him and hit their neighbor’s two-story and die on impact. That would totally screw Seb’s chance of not getting in trouble. My brother, the murderer of the muscle-car driver.

And all that is stupid, too. Because, Seb’s just five. He’s just… five. And that means he’s stupid, but he’s still five, and that, she’s guesses, is the reason why he’s stupid. Why he so perfect and doesn’t get in trouble.

Lisa imagines a digital rewind button dangling in front of her, a white button suspended in the air beckoning for her to push. She takes her thumb and presses it in the air, noticing the gloss of her blue fingernail polish reflecting the sharp blue of the day.

This time the car doesn’t speed by. Seb is jumping. Talking. Laughing. He’s jumping his small jumps that barely impact the ground, and he becomes a three-foot tall Pogo stick, bouncing and bouncing like an ugly Tigger. His eyes are shut and full of stupid glee. She’s guessing he thinks he’s made the perfect storm from shallow puddles. Inches. Inches. Then feet. The driveway below his water-stained sneakers becomes asphalt. Becomes the street. And here it comes.

Lisa sees it all happen in real-time. And, no, it’s not slo-mo or, what is it? Every second feels like an eternity. It’s real-time, and she watches.

Seb is a Pogo stick and then plants himself on the street like… like, well, a kid on the street. And the muscle-car runs him over so fast, he goes from vertical to horizontal in an instant.  Real-time. That’s the only way to know if it really happened. Real. Now.

But it didn’t happen.

Pogo stick is still there, chanting, jumping, and making stupid little brother noises.

Sunlight beams down on Seb Freeman like a spotlight, the boy’s eyes and smile glinting in the daylight. He’s cute. Of course, he’s cute. And he’s special.

Lisa knows he’s special, more than her parents want her to know. She remembers the scraped knees. The band-aids that covered the fingernail scratches on his face. Her scratches, a reminder to him a few years before of who was boss in the family. They would cover up his wounds. But she knew even then, there were lights and sparks underneath the bandages. Doors closing so fast. Get out, Lisa. Go to your room, now! In other words: nothing for you to see here.

It’s not a muscle car this time. It’s Mrs. Burton’s Prius humming four houses down. Humming, but humming a bit louder and faster than Lisa cares for.

Because Pogo stick is now on the road. Laughing. No, not just laughing. He’s talking. Talking to no one. He’s such an idiot.

Except, he’s still on the road, and Lisa’s already on her feet, her pace slow at first and then picking up speed.

Because it’s in real-time, and she knows she’s paying for wishing there was a rewind button before. This time there is no rewind, pause, or stop button. It’s just Lisa. Thirteen. Full of ideas and dreams that no one knows or cares about. She just happens to be the older sister of Seb Freeman, and she understands now that she has just killed her brother.

She feels her feet moving faster, her brother growing in height and size in front of her eyes as she reels toward him. To her right comes Mrs. Burton’s silver orb on wheels, not slowing but moving forward like a rolling snowball gaining size as it heads downhill toward Seb Freeman.

Lisa is yelling. Of course, she’s yelling. And before she can bring the hate she has toward her parents – where the hell are they? – she is pushing; her hands connect to boy-body, a feeling of a bony, bird frame in her palms.

The smack of ground leaves a pain so intense to her nose that her eyes water.  For this brief split-second of real-time as she lands face down on the road, she takes in the wet, tarry smell of asphalt. She barely feels the heavy weight of the car tires crush into her back. Only after Mrs. Burton’s Prius rolls over Lisa does the young girl understand she can’t suck in breath. For a fraction of a second.

Then it’s many seconds.

How foolish had she been? Real-time. Really?

Seconds without breath do feel like eternity.

When she does breathe again, her body shudders as she takes in a weak breath, trying to fill her broken lungs with life. Her ears ring and then follow a melody – an awful one. Her brother’s screams.

“LEESEEE!”

He’s alive.

She draws breath once more and has time for one last thought before she dies.

He’s so stupid.

 

The Library – A Short Story by Sydney T

One clear, summer morning, Mom had dropped me off at the school library with a couple other kids who I had no clue who they were.

“Goodbye, darling! Have fun!” Mom yelled at me as I opened the car door to enter the tall building. I shuddered as I looked up at the school. ‘Wells Middle School’ I read.

“I can’t believe I’m back.” I murmured to myself, as I met my librarian and the rest of the group toward the doors.

“Hey… Chloe.” Mrs. Smeltz read off my name tag. She introduced me to the rest of the children, “This is Aaron, James, and Haddie.” She pointed to each one of the students as she said their names.

“Hm…” I mumbled, keeping my head down, trying the avoid all contact with anyone as much as I could.

“So, I hope you all understand why you’re here.” Mrs. Smeltz said, walking back and forth in front of us. She lead us inside to the book museum and sat us down at the blue desks. “What you have done to the school is unacceptable!” She scowled. “Vandalizing? Especially what you wrote is horrendous!”

“Just tell us the punishment,” Aaron shouted, pushing back his chair to stand up, but instantly got that ‘Death Glare’ that moms give you.

“Ma’am,” He quietly said and sat back down.

“You children will have to organize my books,” she told us. Everyone shrugged, including me. I was fine with cleaning around the library. It was better than listening to my sister’s phone calls with her boyfriend.

“No, you hang up!” She would say. “No, you!”

I sighed of relief.

“Also, you have to dust the bookcases! I want them extra clean for next year.” She walked over toward the four dusters she brought.

We all agreed. Once again, I was fine with that. What I didn’t want was to go to the very back of the room. Apparently, it’s been haunted by some ghost guy from a book. There have been rumors that a child name Cole Smith got murdered when he went to return a book he had borrowed.

“Oh, and one more thing,” she said, “I need you to clean up a spill in the very back of the room. One of the staff spilled something while we had a meeting. Stupid teachers.” She shook her head as she walked away.

We all looked at each other in horror. “The back of the room?” James asked in disbelief. Haddie nodded. We all got up and went toward the bookcases. As we were heading toward the books, we grabbed a duster, ready to pay the price.

“This duster looks old.” I said, surprised to hear my own voice. Aaron agreed.

About an hour later of reorganizing the bookshelf and cleaning, we all decided to head toward the back. Everyone else was huddled up while I stayed as far away from the group as I possibly could.

“Well, we’re here.” James said.

“What’s that?” Aaron asked, pointing toward a crack in the wall.

“What do you mean?” Haddie questioned. She looked around, feeling cold and scared.

“There!” Aaron said, pointing at something no one could see.

“Where?” I finally asked, looking where Haddie and James were looking.

“We don’t see anything- Aaron?” James said. He stepped back in horror; blood was smeared all over the floor.

“Ah!” Haddie yelled. Aaron’s body was on the ground.

“Okay, let’s go back. Please!” I yelled. I gathered the remaining kids up to run away.

“It’s too late,” Haddie said, still facing the same direction as the dead body.

“What do you mean?” James asked.

“I’m next.” She answered, as she slowly fell to her knees, collapsing to the floor.

 

THE END!

SJT

Patriot

I was one of five. The middle boy bookended by four sisters.

Sara, the youngest, was my favorite sister. Six years my junior, she had a wisdom that surpassed me even before I reached adulthood, her own conviction and passion rippling positive change into the world until those threatened ended her life with cowardly bullets.

I thought of her now as they bound me with rope, unforgiving tethers that choked into my wrists and ankles. They forced me down onto my side and pulled the ropes taut until every knot ground in protest. The rough pores of the concrete floor in the death room poked at my cheeks, my bare legs.

“It will be over soon,” one of them said, kneeling behind me.

“It doesn’t matter,” I said.

The one behind me huffed a small laugh and then cupped a leather-gloved hand on my sweat-drenched hair. The touch was curiously gentle.

“You are probably right, my friend.”

I had once told Sara that life is over the moment you are born. The rest of your days are spent denying it. She had slapped me so hard for saying that, her small hand unleashing a powerful sting across my nose.

Love yourself, brother! If not for yourself, then for me. For what I do is for you and every other soul that lives in our country.

The man lifted his hand and squeezed my shoulder, a last effort at calming me before the inevitable bullet would silence me forever.

“Do you know what your problem is, my friend?”

I stretched my head to look behind me, but the ropes held me fetal-like on the cold ground.

He continued. “You tried to fight the world. That only works if you yourself are like the world, no? You have to be more powerful than the world to do that.”

“No,” I said. “You just have to do what’s right.”

The man snorted. “Right. Wrong. For the weak, it doesn’t matter. You’ll be dead soon, no? And what comes of that, my friend? No one will remember you.”

I gave a sigh to close my resolve. “Maybe no one will. But the choices I have made – for that is the gift my sister showed me – will always stay with the world. A mark left on the world in some way.”

“A very small mark,” he said. “But…yes. I believe that as much as you, my friend. Tell me, when all that are left of your people are gone, and there is no more of you to cause trouble for us, what do you think will happen?”

“We will never truly be gone. For our voices have been heard and will echo into the next lives that will listen and know what we stood for.”

He sighed tiredly and then stood up behind me.

There was a metallic click, and I understood the bullet was chambered and ready.

I closed my eyes and thought of Sara.

“For you, sweet sister.”

 

THE END

JLT

 

Flower Lady

The neighbors call my mother the Flower Lady.

Her front yard is practically a canopy of plant-life, while her backyard is a dense trail festooned with prickly bushes, pastel flowers, and a pond brimming with ornate goldfish.

At least, all that was true about a year ago.

Now, the front yard droops with unkempt vines.

The backyard trail is now smothered by wild, uncut after-growth; the goldfish long dead.

There’s a strangeness here not from the lack of upkeep, but from my mother’s unwillingness to tend to the joys of plant (and fish) life that only she could enjoy.

All of that upkeep takes a lot of energy, anyway.

Try this.

Tell someone something amazing you just remembered. Tell it to this person with pure alacrity, your blood pressure and heart rate up from the excitement. Energy runs afflux in a fast stream throughout your body. After this revelation, converse on other things with this person, your body calming itself to homeostasis.

After a few minutes, repeat this whole process again and again.

Do this for a half hour and your body will grow weary — energy levels depleted.

This is where my mother’s energy has gone to. And why she no longer desire the title of Flower Lady.

I never thought of Alzheimer’s as a slow life-sucking vampire, but then I’ve never seen it firsthand until now.

As I prepare a journey of support and care for my mother’s next stage of life, I’m reminded of how this Flower Lady had created and maintained a landscape of beauty around her house for many years. And at this point, no matter how much anyone can take over her labors of love dwindling outside, her life — like her yard — will never be the same.

Nor will mine.

JLT

 

So Why Are You Here?

The spattering of cells, those rival spagellas whipping and lashing.

Moving faster than the speed of mammal machination, reaching an orb that is undefined and dormant.

Plunder and pillage. An unwelcomed guest making itself at home.

Oh, grow up, will you? Listen to your spawners. Clothe thyself. Become the endless cycle.

Or are you worried about the meaning of it all?

Gestate. Engorge. Enlarge. Decide. Whither. Decompose.

Simple is the common among us, but we lavish complexity. Throw the feces at the window. It’s too clear. Too clean.

Oh, habitat. Save me from my discomfort. Look at the outlier that is me. Babble. Laugh. Cry. Kill. Make speeches. And scroll through the uninteresting.

Pace and calm.

And death to us all.

Live.

Successor

Bars was good at holding it in. He could really blow when he wanted, a blast of rancid wind called at will.

Of course, his audience egged and encouraged. So much glory in heralding the disgusting traits of walking upright, being foul under the sun.

Bars had no family, save the little girl that followed him wherever, whenever. He didn’t quite know her name, though she frequented most of his resting spots where he’d proclaim his talents.

“Here,” he said among a crowd of six. “Who’s brave enough to come closer?”

Heads bobbled and craned, onlookers uncertain of what their place was here on the corner of Broadway and Commerce.

“I only need one,” Bars said. He twirled a finger up into the air and then rolled it downward, a motion congruous with his awkward bow toward the onlookers.

“What do you?” a patron asked. This one was a small boy, his neck goosed up over the shoulders of the other five, his young eyes straining to leer at Bars. Or was it the girl the young boy was asking of?

“I merely tempt the brave to come forward and witness the miracle of my talents, young man” Bars said, peeling his lips back to show smiling, white teeth.

“Here now,” the boy said. “What’s she to do with ya?”

Bars frowned. “This one?”

He put a hand on the small girl’s shoulder, herding her in front of him. “What’s she to do with me, you ask?”

“You’re as dumb as you are ugly,” said the boy. “But you know what I mean, plain as I said. What’s she to you?”

Bars looked down at the girl — the girl leaning back her head to meet the puzzled gaze above. She had been there at nearly all of his gatherings over the past few months. Watching. Listening.

“I’m his fire,” the young girl said.

“You’re his what?” the boy said, stepping in closer to the man and girl.

Bars cleared his throat. “Now look, boy. I am a street performer. A man who revels in the arts of flatulence. Surely one as you can understand the beauty and humor of such arts?”

The small crowd murmured with approbation, though Bars was used to hearing more noises of anticipated approval before his climactic surge.

“I think you false,” the boy said. He pointed at the girl next to Bars, the boy’s fingers jabbing at the girl’s hair blown wild from the gusts around her. “She be the real farter.”

Laughter erupted from the onlookers. Bars grunted. “Now see here, boy. It is you who speak false.”

“Is it?” the boy dared. “Have you two show your goods, then.”

More murmurs of unrest. Bars sighed. This was not going as he wished. He would need more steam from within to woo these people, to be sure.

“As you will, boy,” he said. “A contest, then.”

“You mock me, sir,” said the boy. “She’ll not do while you stand upright.”

Bars goggled at this, his eyes then scrunching with perplexity. “Do you ask me to lie while practicing the arts?”

“You mean the farts,” the boy corrected. More laughter.

Bars looked down at the girl, her eyes knowing.

Without warning, the young girl bent forward and blew her trumpet sound across the stagnant air.

Four of the onlookers collapsed instantly to the ground, including the boy, all of them covering their faces to shield away the sound and smell.

The Maker!  Bars thought. Such power in this child!

Silence.

Bars walked slowly toward the panting girl, her eyes now looking at him with hopefulness. He then turned to see the boy’s eyes reel in their inflamed sockets, a spiral of brown and white swirling within reddened eyelids, eventually resting to wide ‘O’s of surprise.

“She is done,” Bars said dryly, hoping to temper his amazement. “Now.”

He raised his hand and bent in slight bow. “’Tis my turn.”

Bars strained, his abdomen crunching underneath his bellyfat. He would let loose years of untapped gas that came from the very source of his soul.

“No, sir!” the girl screamed, understanding on her face. “You dasn’t.”

“Oh, but I das,” Bars said, sweat pouring hot from his temples. The ripping had finally come.

The air grew thick, reeking of sweet rotting meat. Only… only, Bars could not stop.

He grabbed at the girl. “Help me, child. Help me!”

“To…” the girl hesitated, covering her nose with doll hands. “To you, sir. I cannot. Please stop!”

“I cannot, girl” Bars cried. He fell to the ground, convulsing as if in apoplexy before shuddering to stillness. “I have done my last, good girl.”

He rolled on the ground, writhing as songs continued to dance from his bottom. Songs of tomorrow, sulfuric and noisome.

When he was done, he breathed in what was set loose in the air, closing his eyes.

“Do you know the price for what I do?” he asked the girl looming over his body.

“Aye sir, that I do.”

Bars held his dying breath to say his final words to his successor.

“Then let go, child.

Let go.”

 

THE END

 

Love. Always. Wins.

All newborn babies are cute little things, right?

No?

Not all newborn babies?

Oh, I see.

Yeah, that wrinkly alien-thing with the one eye open.

Ooh. And that one with what looks like pubic hair on its head.

And that. Clean yourself up, you icky thing.

Okay, so not all newborn babies are the cutest thing known to humankind.

Oh, but look at them.

Aw.

All together in the nursery. Quiet and content. Even that colicky one over there in the corner.

They are precious, aren’t they?
When I was a wee lad living in the poorer parts of middle Tennessee, I was scooped up every Wednesday night by a battered van filled sporadically with churchgoing kids.

What I remember most on those Wednesday night children services was that I was the ‘yellow’ kid.

As the song went: Red, yellow, black, and white. They are precious in our sight.

The preacher would line us ethnically diverse kids up in front of the congregation. My sole job was to stand still between the Native American (The ‘Injun’ as she was so pleasantly called) and my buddy, who just happened to be blackish.

When those lyrics hit the air, the preacher would touch our heads in succession: Red; Yellow; Black; White.

It was a dirty job, but I did it well. With no perspective.

Okay, the mid-70s were a shocking mixture of mundane-meets-offensive. Don’t believe me? Just watch an early episode of ‘All in the Family’ and see how many times you can count the word ‘nigger’.

But years later, here I am trying to put in all into perspective and all I can think about are the babies in that nursery room.

All those babies in that nursery room, cooing, crying, or pooping. They actually have no real agenda. No real political motives.

It’s so trite of a thing to write about. The innocence of children.

But look at that crowd of hatemongers. Those grown-ups. Imagine them in that nursery. Not yet walking. Not yet talking. That’s them. Those grown-ups full of self-validated hatred. They were once in that nursery. Holding their own feet. Their diapers full of shit and piss. Their mouths aching for the nipple, plastic or real. Their eyes open to what the world offers.

We gathered as babies. Surpassing the insurmountable odds of not being born. Only to grow up adding hatred to the world.

Adding sorrow to our nursery.

It’s a contribution that takes away contribution.

If it’s your right to prolong a hatred for another newborn that just happens to share the nursery room with you, know that you were once like that other newborn. Struggling to become alive. Seeking love first. Seeking comfort and safety.

Seeking each other.

 

Love. Always. Win.

 

JLT