01 10 / 2012
My short story “Luz” is featured in the latest issue of Molotov Cocktail!
Check it out here:
31 5 / 2012
Old men break my heart. I don’t think this will change as I get older. I can see myself as a seventy-five year old woman still looking upon a man my same age the way a mother gazes at her newborn son upon first hearing his desperate, singular cry. She imagines a pain only she can put to rest. This is what I see in the face of every elderly man I encounter in the grocery store, or the library, or waiting in line for coffee. There’s a tenderness I project upon them, a warm innocence.
The same is not true of old women. I assume they are severe and carry rulers or wooden spoons. I half expect them to tell me my skirt is too short, or that I’m wearing too much mascara. I live in these assumptions, not wanting to know the details that will shatter my generalizations. But the cat I think, the cat desires to know the truth.
The cat is a dignified stray, impeccably groomed. She is a petite calico with a patch of orange below her right yellow eye. Three of her paws are white and when she washes her face, it appears from afar that she is wearing white gloves. She sleeps belly up in the flower bed, as if she’s sunbathing. I laugh to myself, as I watch her from my kitchen window, sometimes I’m so distracted I wash the same glass for five minutes straight. Long enough I hear a squeak. The suds swell between my fingers, soapy little clouds I’m slow to rinse off.
I have no cat of my own. No children. No husband. I have the shiniest glass tumblers you’ve ever seen, though, and a heart that falls apart at the sight of an old man with a curved back, a walker, a straw hat, and a crumbling, pitiful remnant of a voice.
This man is Charlie and the cat has set her sights on him. If it were any other neighbor, I would be jealous. After all, how many nights had I tried to make the cat my own, opening cans of tuna, leaving a trail of cat food right through my open sliding glass door? How many times had I called her in just for her come to an abrupt stop as if an invisible barrier kept her out. I believe the tangible loneliness of my home had become so thick, so heavy, it took up all the space in all the rooms, and the cat could not come in, not even with as small as she could make herself.
No, it was Charlie she wanted, not me. But Charlie, although noticeably amused by her charm, did not invite her in. He would speak to her, and she’d offer up a strange, laughable attempt at a meow. I would watch and grin, and Charlie would laugh a little, but not too much, or else he’d start to cough, and not be able to stop.
“She really likes you!” I finally said one morning.
Charlie turned to me, confused, a little startled. He nodded, but it was obvious he didn’t hear what I said.
She danced between his legs, rubbing up against his calf, then did the same thing to the metal legs of his walker. It was as if to her the device was an extension of Charlie, and every piece of him deserved her adoration.
“Get now,” he said first gently, then again, but this time with the slightest tilt and nudge of his walker, a small threat to show he meant business.
He was only about two feet from his door, and I called out that I could open the door for him, and I walked towards him, and the door, and the cat, and I hoped I could get there in time, hoped that there was something he needed from me, something I could give him, maybe cook him soup, or help him find the remote, or read him the paper. I hoped that I too, could become a petite calico. I watched the small cat with her tiny grace, run between his legs, ready to sprint inside the moment the door slid open.
Instead I froze. I stood watching Charlie slide open the door, watching the little cat lift one paw, and carefully creep forward into a place where she would not need to shrink, but she could stretch, and blossom, could fill the spaces I had yet to uncover.
28 5 / 2012
I forget sometimes that my father was once young and that inside him
somewhere, is a Montana farm boy climbing trees and falling off horses. I
forget that inside him are all the same ribbons and coils that made him,
him. I tell my daughters about Grandpa, tell them how he climbed a water
tower when he was three, tamed a stallion when he was barely five. I tell
them how before Grandma died, Grandpa pedaled a blue ten-speed six miles
a day at age seventy-five, and that he went back to school at age
seventy-eight to earn his GED. My daughters don’t hear much outside their
ipods, don’t see much beyond the abbreviated texts that beep every two
minutes: OMG! LMAO. FML! I touch my four fingers to my belly fat. I take
note of the bumps, the cellulite, the stretch marks that remain even
thirteen years after having carried my twins.
I forget that none of us ever really overcomes loneliness, that it
follows us, and gropes our backs with its sticky fingers. I call my
father to remind him we’re together in this cold, gray vacuum, and that
of all things, it’s our sadness that binds us, not our DNA, not our
family history. But when I hear his fragile voice drowned out by the
television, (Jeopardy, I think) I stop. My father takes his pain on the
rocks. Figuratively speaking, since my dad has never touched a drop of
alcohol. In fact, other than television in the evenings, my father has no
crutch, no vice to dull the senses. His Love has died. He is alone. His
heart beats slower every day while the blue body of his bike collects
rust and other damage.
I forget that everyone has a right to say when they’re done. That
is, without the help of self-pity. I wonder how dad will say goodbye.
Will he be taken overnight like mom? Or will there be other signs, the
giving away of property, final words of advice? I try to decipher the
long pauses over the phone. He clears his throat and I imagine tears. I
feel my neck and throat sink into my heart. But then dad asks, “How old
are the twins?” I look over at my girls, and they’re as clueless as I was
at their age. They won’t know their Grandpa until he’s long gone, and by
then he’ll be nothing short of a legend, the mythos of our family tree.
“Thirteen,” I say, and I tell him, “Tell me who you were at thirteen
dad.” It’s better I think, to talk about the distant past, rather than
this thing we cannot process, cannot accept. His stories take us
somewhere that’s easier to breathe. The words “I love you” are like an
unopened letter or an unpaid bill. But still, I feel us fighting it,
fighting the shadows together.
21 5 / 2012
** This short story of mine was previously published in an anthology by Girl Child Press called “Just Like a Girl.” It has also been posted on A Word With You Press. It is my tribute to my hero, and one of my greatest inspirations, outsider artist Henry Darger.
The Conscience of Spiders
by Kristy Webster
Before I was a woman, I was a spider. My footsteps were silent. Cold, dark places were my home. I took what I needed and left the excess. No one told me what I was. I was born knowing it all, my purpose, my strength, and my prey.
Eventually I tired of the basement’s dank, moldy laundry. I wanted to nest in a higher place, to know the world at a distance, guarding my solitude with anonymity. That is how I came upon the old janitor.
He was called Henry Darger. I spun a web inside his apartment window. Other curious spiders joined me and Henry’s quiet audience grew. His apartment never knew day from night, and no one knew him but us.
We watched him glue portraits of baby-faced girls to watercolor landscapes stretched across the walls, the floor. Henry painted his heroes the Vivian Girls–little girls with penises who fought off monsters and men in military coats. We his spider daughters argued amongst ourselves. Is he a deviant or an innocent? Some decided he was the pornographer gone mad in his isolation. Others like me decided he was a child, clueless of the rules. The only undecided Daughter of Darger silently crawled across a wet painting until she reached the face of an unfinished pig-tailed girl, and blossomed from the child’s mouth like a tiger lily.
Henry’s thick, coarse, and charcoal stained hands are unspoken evidence of invented magic, places lit by his imagination. That’s when I envied the dreaming. Henry, in your dreams do the little girls defeat the evil monsters in the Glandolinian War? In your dreams have you spotted me, your protector of secrets?
Henry’s life took place on pages, tens of thousands of pages. But sometimes words were spoken into the deceivingly empty apartment. One year Henry cursed God for the snow, cursed the church for leaving him both fatherless and childless. These are moments I was tempted to reveal myself, but I knew Henry was a maker, something more than an ordinary man, capable of creating his desired company. I was superflous.
In Henry’s room, there were no empty bottles of liquor or wine, no excess articles of clothing strewn about the room. And in the thousands of pictures piled, stacked and sometimes scattered, there were no traces of Henry’s past, only the traced, drawn and painted faces of his little girl heroines, the pilars of his blooming story.
Henry is a snowflake in hell. My capsule of a body carries the hot poison that could melt him. But I want him to finish and I want the little girls to steal the waves of grass back from the dragons and soldiers. I want to know that the littlest beings can show the Giants the secret places they’ve been missing.
Thousands of water colored pages later, our Henry dies in his sleep. Not on his mattress which was buried in pages, but in his chair, at his desk, still in navy-blue janitor overalls, his hands and head resting on his latest collage of the Vivian Girls, who’d claimed the final victory.
People enter his sanctuary, our sanctuary. Strangers interpret the old janitor’s room. A woman in a pompous yellow hat calls him a recluse. The word rings true, resonates with me. I am the same. I spring towards the yellow to become a star atop the woman’s hat. I am invisible, her worst fear.
Little did I know that once I released my venom into the woman’s skin, I’d be caught and killed and this would be my last life as a spider, a small, unnoticed predator. If I had known that I would be reborn as the very same thing I poisoned, would I have let the strangers interpret our Henry’s works without interference?
In my new body I am a clumsy mess. Now gaudily visible I can no longer disappear into cracks, or make homes of windowsills and curtains. Even houses won’t conceal me.
Though I’m a woman now, I sometimes remember having been very small, and having hung from high places. In my home the smallest, most hidden places take precedence and I welcome silent visitors. The venom of my new existence is Time. I wait for the next rebirth. I ache for a transformation to be once again a selective danger.
16 5 / 2012
Everything I say to Joanna is a regurgitated lie I’ve told every girl I’ve brought to this restaurant. Joanna has just announced to me she’s a vegetarian. I’m tempted to order the bloodiest plate on the menu. It’s our first date. I’m to flatter her shamelessly and forget all about him.
He ate strawberries with his eyes closed. Like an infant each time he opened his eyes he discovered a brand new world. He could only do this with strawberries. Everything else he ate with eyes wide open sometimes never even chewing.
Alex first tried to kiss me in the parking lot of Applebee’s. We’d worked late and decided to grab a bite to eat. The food was atrocious, but we couldn’t stop eating, as if the next bite might change our minds. We drank beer and talked about Laura from Human Resources and what a cunt she was. We laughed at the waiter’s unbuttoned pants. We exchanged mischievous grins.
I had the keys in my hands and we were still laughing about Laura. Alex said good night but he didn’t move. I said goodnight again. I started to turn towards my door when I felt a hand on my shoulder. Alex pulled me toward him by the back of my head, giving me a full kiss on the lips. It was the first time I’d hit anyone. I hit him hard. I hit him so he wouldn’t forget.
The next morning Alex showed up to work with a black eye. I never saw him leave his cubicle. Not all day. I didn’t see him leave to use the restroom, or leave for lunch. I know because I stayed behind.
I waited for him in the garage. He froze. I leaned up against his car and waited. What do you want? He asked me. I stay silent. What is it? I still don’t answer him. I wanted him to say it for me. Come here, I finally told him. Halfway trembling he approached me. He looked both ways for witnesses. There were none. Once he was close enough I reached my hand towards his face and he flinched. I drew my hand back. That’s when he understood.
Weekends were bliss. Weekends were sealed off dimensions, a private world, and another life. Weekends were what we had for two years. Now weekends are comas and only the ghosts visit.
I opened Joanna’s mother’s door and helped her with her bags because Alex said the way to get over your own misery is to reach out. I don’t remember that sixty-something woman’s name anymore. But I remember how it felt I picked up the orange that fell from her bag, how when I handed it back, her face lit up, as though I’d dropped a sunrise in her palm.
Alex is gone. Alex and his strawberries. Alex and Applebee’s. Alex and me. Us. The world has sealed me out because I no longer have the right combination. I try on women on one after another, thinking eventually one might change my mind.
Here comes the bloody steak. Here comes the truth. Nothing is sacred.
This Man sitting across from me is a mirage, the table between us a desert holding Her sand still. My mother had insisted that I try. He’s clean cut and smells nice. He’s never been married. He’d helped her unload groceries. This Man does not know my mother has died, and I’m only here to fulfill her wish.
My mother evaporated into a Sunday night without warning. I pick up the phone because I forget that now I’m left with only my father’s lumpy distance, my father’s vacant heart. He’d loved only one person, my mother. Now my father is an empty cage.
I can’t eat anything that has ever been alive. Not since Sunday night. How did we ever convince ourselves to do it in the first place? One moment the deer walks elegantly without worries. The next, its life collides with glass, devastating my mother’s windshield. Somewhere, something knows the deer has left this world. Now all I can think of when I see meat is the remains of something that once flew or grazed or fed its young.
My mother insisted I try This Man. Not often you get a man who takes you to some fancy place, not often at all, my mother would say. My mother is really talking about my father. My mother has left my father to review his mistakes. Mistake number one: Never took your wife out to some fancy restaurant. One more after that, and he’ll lose count.
This Man orders. Steak of course. Caesar and pumpkin bisque for me.
My mother’s essence drops down the insides of my heart. It’s my mother’s dark moon face, my mother’s deep chocolate eyes, and my mother’s Oil of Olay scented neck that I imagine. Her songs reside deep inside my skin. The echo of the music rises to my chest and the warmth spreads into my throat and face.
What should I do with the food when it comes? Imagine my mother’s potato leek soup. Imagine her hand on the top of my head. I’m back to being a child. Just like that, I’m a child on a date with a thirty-five-year-old man. The youngest in my family I’ve should have crawled back into her womb.
Sunday nights are my new religion. This is my first sacrament.
Three: THE ORANGE
The woman with soft eyes, black hair, the blue wristwatch, singing along to the AM radio hasn’t returned. She sniffed me once and put me in a bowl.
I’ve heard that sometimes you wait for hours, even days. Sometimes you wait and nothing happens. Or you think nothing is happening until you smell it. My tangy scent is turning sour. I’m breaking out, fuzzy green and white blemishes.
The real tragedy is that I was never peeled. I rot from the inside out without the chance of anyone ever tasting my insides. I was once fresh. If she were to bite into my crescent shapes she wouldn’t be able to stop. That’sthe way it should’ve been for me.
New hope. People appear, shuffling through rooms, carrying empty boxes in, carrying bulging boxes out overflowing silk scarves. This must be what happens when people disappear. How long will it take before they notice my sick condition and toss me out?
Thank God for the window, for the trees, the clouds, the rain, the wind, and for the last of me, fading.
14 5 / 2012
My mother told me about a young woman who had a son but no husband. The father was gone. She worked as a maid scrubbing caked mud off lobby floors. She picked up wrappers left behind by children. She carried two buckets of water at a time, up six flights of stairs. Her black hair turned white and straw-like in just a few years. The skin on her hands turned so translucent you could see the blood pulsing beneath the surface. The woman’s body aged so much that passersby believed she was the boy’s grandmother.
My mother told me that this woman worked herself into an old lady, so her son could go to college. She imagined him as a doctor, a business man, a school teacher. She imagined him never immersing his hands in buckets full of Clorox Bleach and hot water. Never scraping gum from under tables, never eating slices of orange off the floor left behind by hurried crowds.
When the boy became a man, the mother took out a schoolbook from many years ago, that she never learned how to read. Inside, she had carved a space where she had stashed the money she’d bled for all these years.
“This is for your dreams,” the mother told him, with tears in her eyes.
He grabbed a few bills from the top, to make sure they were real.
“My dream,” he told her, “is to wander the world, on my own, with nothing but my shirt, and hat. My dream is to dig my hands in the soil, and make my own way. My dream is to walk circles around the world, until the day I find my father. Then I will rest.”
The son put the bills back. He closed the book. He kissed his mother on the cheek, put on his hat, and walked out the door.
The woman threw the cash in the stove. She collapsed and cried so hard, her tears flooded the kitchen floor. The empty book floated to the surface. The woman reached out just before going under. Her wrinkled hand fit the carved out space as if the two were made for each other. Black letters appeared on her fingers and palms, grew into sentences, then paragraphs, and lastly, pages. She still couldn’t read the words. She didn’t need to.
13 5 / 2012
The igloo was your idea. I hurry to catch up with you, rush pink rubber boots onto my bare feet. You’re three steps ahead, digging a cross into the snow with the heel of your boot. You tell me it’s not a cross, it’s an “X.” I plunge into the center and make a snow angel.
“C’mon, Lily!” Your boot’s a shovel. You kick and dig and turn until you form a bowl. Flakes are floating down and I catch them on my tongue. You yell that you need my help.
I start a small snowball, rolling it into the fresh snow until it grows into a cylinder.
“How do we make them into bricks, Molly?” I ask.
“God Lily, just keep going!”
You keep kicking. The snow explodes and falls back inside the bowl, swallowing you up. I cup my hands trying to dig you out. You yell, “Build the walls!”
And I do.
10 5 / 2012
Maria dreamed she saw a fat boy lead a parade of blind people and spry deer. She knew the boy was real. Monday afternoon she’d seen him pedal his red bike past a caution sign and bright orange traffic cones.
The next morning she stopped to let Wolf cross the street. Previous cars weren’t so thoughtful and Wolf had been waiting all morning for the stillness she gave him. Wolf lurked as far as the start of the pavement, beyond the edge of the woods. He sat and smiled.
Maria took this as an invitation and started to call him.
“Here boy,” she guessed, “Come here.”
She opened the van door and Wolf climbed in.
Inside her apartment Wolf went straight for the fridge. “He must have been hunting a deer when I found him and here I’ve ruined his breakfast.” She offered a bran muffin. He politely declined, pushing it away with his black nose.
“Of course, not.” She put her finger to her frowning lips.
An egg? Nothing. Sausage? Curious. Still no. Maria wondered if he might eat her. She took off her dress, stripped down to a pink bra and underwear. She laid herself out on the kitchen floor and closed her eyes.
Wolf started with her toes, sniffing and licking, then her knees and the curve of her hip. He stopped at her navel and put his hear to her belly to listen, as though that’s where her heart lived.
“Do you love me to the moon?” she asked, her eyes still closed. Wolf backed away from her.
“Do you love me to the sky?”
Wolf groaned, shook his head.
“Do you love me to the ceiling?”
Wolf crept from her belly to her face, running his nose along her forehead.
“To the ceiling then? To the ceiling is pretty good.”
Wolf ate every strand and howled as he finished.
Maria kept her eyes shut, her cool and unencumbered scalp new and sweet. She stroked the skin below her bellybutton.
“Right here,” she said. “Put your head here.”
Maria took both her palms, put them behind his ears, and massaged them with her thumb and forefinger. Wolf hummed a low hum, one like the static off the T.V., the vibration of the refrigerator.
But Wolf began to moan. Maria sat up and watched her hair cascade from his heaving throat. The hair matted in saliva, took the shape of a cocoon. She put one hand on Wolf’s back the other under his belly. Dry heaves continued, followed by a bowel-anchored howl. Maria watched as Wolf’s throat engorged until finally he coughed up the culprit—a pair of red handlebars. Wolf trembled and fell to the floor.
“The boy?” Maria asked, “The boy on the red bike?”
Wolf closed his eyes, the fur between his ears waiting for Maria’s stroke.
“You really are an animal!” Maria pulled back from him.
Wolf growled and bared his teeth.
Maria wrapped herself in her hair cocoon concealing her contours and curves. She left Wolf the apartment, keys, and car. Barefoot she seemed to float into the nearby woods. Half a mile from her home Maria found the place where houses and streets vanish and only trunks and leaves remain. The sky’s pale-blue fabric, an expanding roof ready to cave.
Meanwhile on a hidden street beyond the edge of the woods, a fat-faced boy parades his shiny new yellow bike, sterling compensation for his scraped knees, his slight bruises.