Concept Albums Explained

September 4th, 2022

by Paul-Newell Reaves

Transcontinental Drift
Lyricists’ Watch
2014

Debut EP from jazz-punk band Lyricists’ Watch, “Transcontinental Drift” is a roadtrip concept album with an unusual destination, and much to ponder before it gets there.  The album title alone– playing as it does on an aimless drifter crossing the continent and the unstoppable surge of tectonic plates in the Earth’s crust– lets us know that we will be encountering some serious word smithery.

And with all 10 songs combined onto a single 28 minute track, listening to “Transcontinental Drift” becomes a journey unto itself. [read more]

Fan Voting for the 2022 !Short Story Contest! has closed.
Winners announced Labor Day (US), Monday, September 5th.

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But less than 60 hours for Fan Voting

September 1st, 2022


Fan Voting for the 2022 !Short Story Contest!
will close
Saturday, September 3rd
at the stroke before midnights

— that’s but less than 60 hours away!

Our distinguished panel of judges have all made their decisions,
and the competition is very close indeed.

Cast your votes now, for–
with over 1,000 votes already in–
the race is down to the wire.


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Concept Albums Explained

August 31st, 2022

by Paul-Newell Reaves

Berlin
Lou Reed
1973
 

A one-time Andy Warhol mentee, Lou Reed had a tough act to follow– his “Transformer” album of 1972 had broken him out into popular success, and its lead single, “Walk on the Wild Side”, was in the top twenty on the charts for both the US and the UK.  But Reed and David Bowie– who produced the “Transformer” album– fell out, and fell out hard. Reed needed a fresh direction for his new found stardom.  So for the follow-up album, “Berlin”, Reed junks the glam rock superhits and heads back to the moody, weird music of his 1960s group the Velvet Underground, the group so greatly championed by Warhol.  Yet for its lyrical content, “Berlin” remains on that wild side, that wild side of hustlers, derelicts, streetwalkers and prostitutes.  

Over heartbroken, tinkling piano, the first words of “Berlin” count to four in German, followed by the American “Happy Birthday To You” song in English.  30 seconds into the work, and Reed has developed a rounded character– an American growing up in Germany… [read more]



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Like the stars, which you don’t always see, but you know that they are there!

August 28th, 2022

an excerpt from “Because of My Guardian Angels”
by Francesca Alicea

Just as every sunrise and sunset has its uniqueness, every runner has theirs. The remarkable Nelva, the “little” runner who I thought had given up on running, only to discover that she had been “secretly” training for her first Ultra race also has hers.

When I first met Nelva at ARC, she reminded me of my two children who are about the same age. Missing my two who were off exploring their horizons, I instantly felt a bond with Nelva as well as other young runners in the run club.  In my own way I guess I was trying to fill my “empty nest”.

Nelva did not make many of the Thursday runs so I thought she had lost interest in the sport. When I joined the GP Night Runners, I was ecstatic to see Nelva again.

On many occasions she’d run alongside me always pushing me to give it my all. I knew she just slowed down for me, but that did not matter much. It was breathtaking and I felt good running along with her, (pretending I could keep up with her) just to listen to her escapades and stories of all the mountains she had climbed.

Here I thought she’d given up on running, but she had moved on to greater distances.  She was training for her first 50-mile Ultra Race.  At first, I thought “don’t do it Nelva, that’s a lot of miles”.  Then I thought, “Wow I totally admire that tenacity and dedication in someone her age, or of any age for that matter”.

To my surprise she did it and finished with the biggest smile. Then “Fifty Mile Smile Nelva” totally took it to another level and soon became “One Hundred Mile Smile Nelva”.

I’ve not seen much of Nelva lately. I’m sure she’s training for even longer endurance runs.   But I can still feel her reassurance and the purist of friendship, which are irreplaceable and by far most important. 

She’s like the stars, which you don’t always see, but you know that they are there!





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Running With The Night Runners

August 24th, 2022

an excerpt from “Because of My Guardian Angels”
by Francesca Alicea

Running with the GP Night Runners came with many blessings as well as challenges. I’d only been running road races, before joining this group of trail night runners. So understandably  I was not familiar with the trails, safety or the rules of the trails.  All this was overwhelming and too much to try to master at one time.   Never mind the fact that I have a poor sense of direction.

I learned quickly that whenever I did veer off the given course all I had to do was to listen for Amber’s distinctive laugh. That laugh was very comforting to me. Once I heard it, I knew I was not far from the runners and it led me back to them.

Not only was she my guiding light, but she always made time to listen to my stories about the ups and downs of my running feats as well as my defeats.  She’s a very good listener, a quality worthy of admiration!

Known for the one who got easily lost, I recall her telling me, “Don’t go anywhere by yourself young lady”. I liked the part of “young lady”, so I might have gotten lost on purpose on occasion just to hear those words.

When I ran the Ridgecrest 30K, I got lost and did some extra mileage.  Amber’s exact words upon hearing that I got lost were, “I knew it”.

The runs and hikes to the top of Mount Baldy as training for “The Run to The Top” race will forever remain etched in my mind.  I recall once on the way up, we were trying to scramble for songs to sing to make the time go by as we inched our way to the Summit. For the life of me, I still think that the elevation just messed with me so badly, that I just could not think of one single song. Amber thought of many. She was leading the hike as well as the chorus. I was a little jealous.

I’m not quite sure if it was the elevation, exhaustion or hunger, but when we arrived at the Summit that day, we were all a little childish; we were blowing bubbles, posing for some silly photos, and just telling ridiculous stories. Truly great times with remarkable company.

We were having so much fun, that we lost track of time. So, despite Amber’s precarious choice of trails, “a short cut” as she deemed it, we arrived at the restaurant a little too late for Amber to have the French Toast she so badly wanted and talked about all the way up to the Summit.

Amber you are truly a Gemstone. I will always remember your serenity and support, but most of all your exclusive laughter. “Young Lady”, you are as special as the place that’s been set aside for you in my heart.




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An Open Letter to the Ballet Camp in Vermont I Went to in the Summer of ’96

August 23rd, 2022

by Chantelle Tibbs

Dear Ballet Camp somewhere in Vermont, 

When I was twelve years old you hurt me in a way that I’ll never forget. 

I was so excited when I found out I was going to ballet camp in Vermont that Summer. I remember when my mom, brother and late father dropped me off. We discovered the sandwiches in Burlington were nothing compared to the hoagies of our small town in New Jersey. But breakfast was and still is my favorite meal of the day. I fell in love with the syrup instantly. 

When I got to camp all seemed fine. It was my literal dream, full of ballet classes, talented dancers from all over the world came to teach us. One teacher I grew to have a crush on. I don’t remember his name. I had a big old crush on him and I told just about anyone who would listen to me about it. But I was naive. I was young. It didn’t hit me that I stood out like a sore thumb. I was one of maybe two black girls at camp and I had no idea that that would paint a target on my back. 

My roomies, I don’t remember their names,  seemed like so much fun. I was introduced to the Beastie Boys and I felt like I was making friends. I didn’t pay much attention to the sneers behind my back about not bringing sandals for the shower, or how my type of hair really didn’t fit into a bun so well.

And then, one day at camp I could feel everyone looking at me. I wondered why everyone was keeping their distance. As it turns out, some girl lied and said that I was going around saying I had sex with the ballet teacher I told everyone I had a crush on. The part I remember most vividly is that I was the monster. Not the teacher, by any means. No one ever thought to feel bad for me even if they did believe this rumor. I was instantly branded a trouble-making slut who was ruining this wonderful guy’s reputation. 

There was an investigation. The head of the camp, I don’t remember her name, made sure to interview me herself. She was seething and condescending. She put words in my mouth, she made me feel stupid and let me know my behavior was so bad that she was considering kicking me out of camp. I’ve never felt so scared. I remember sitting at a table with two girls whose names I don’t remember, who looked me in the face and said that I was talking about how much I liked the ballet teacher and that I brought this all on myself. I couldn’t help but defend myself saying, what’s wrong with having a crush? They ate in silence. They couldn’t think of an answer on the spot to justify the horrid way in which they were treating me. 

When I called my mom I could tell she knew something was wrong. I didn’t have the heart to tell her about anything. I knew she had saved up money for me to go to this camp and it took a lot for her to get me there. I never wanted my mother so badly in all my life and I had never felt so alone. But it got worse. 

A girl had put a used maxi pad on one of the window sills in the dorms. Everyone in the dorm was interviewed separately to see who had done it. I heard other girls talk about how at the end of their interviews the person giving the interview told them they knew they didn’t do it. At the end of my interview no one said that. I was blamed yet again for something I didn’t do, despite the fact that when this was discovered I was in ballet class.

My treatment got worse. People went on to outright scream at me for no reason. Where there were harsh whispers behind my back, now girls would say things loudly about me in front of my face speaking as if I wasn’t there. “She can’t afford black tights for the recital? How embarrassing.” I didn’t know how much longer I wanted to go on at that camp. But I still didn’t want to tell my mom what was going on and in my heart I knew I had done nothing wrong. I thought it best to see it through. 

At one of my lowest points, another male ballet teacher pulled me aside before a morning ballet class. He looked into my eyes and asked me point blankif I told everyone I had sex with the other male ballet teacher who he mentioned was his close friend. He explained to me that accusations like that were a very serious thing. I remember his name. It was Robert. I looked him in the eye and told him the truth. I told him that I told some of the girls that I had a crush on him but I never said I had sex with him. Robert took me in completely. He was the only person who actually held space for who I was and the only one who listened to me. He assured me he believed me. He said he could tell I was telling the truth. It meant everything. I felt like I could breathe again. 

The last day at camp we had our last ballet class. The head of the camp, the woman- if you can call her that- who interrogated and belittled me and put words in my mouth, was teaching the class. She had us all lay down on our backs. She went around the room saying that the perfect ballet body came from Europe. They had a flat rear end and thin legs and when they were on their back you couldn’t see their rear bleed out to the sides unlike women from other cultures such as Africa. She stood over me as an example and looked down on me in disdain. 

My family came to pick me up later that day. They had leased a new Acura Legend, it was dark green. The color of the Philadelphia Eagles. When I saw my mother, I ran up to her and gave her the kind of hug where she knew I was not OK. I still remember her eyes looking back at mine. The look a mother gives their kid when they know they are hurt. I know the look, I have a son of my own now. 

A lot of feelings run through me as I write this letter, but the one that has risen over all others is the quiet knowledge that in all my struggles in life I never stooped as low as the people who harmed me at camp, whose names not I or anyone else of real value will ever remember, in a place I’ll never visit again.

Today, I keep my syrup Canadian. I never cared much for the Beastie Boys. It turns out the man hungry monster I was made out to be was actually a lesbian. My round posterior is the envy or lust of young women I meet who wish they could be as thick. I found the right counselor for me, the right guidance and I healed enough in my life to find love. I see beautiful photos of Misty Copeland dancing ballet and I think to myself “Get it woman.” Through hard work and God’s will I landed myself quite the beautiful life. 

So I’ll leave you with yet another truth. You didn’t break me, ballet camp. You didn’t make me either. 

Truthfully, 
Chantelle Tibbs



FAN VOTING is open for the 2022 !Short Story Contest!

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!Fan Voting Now Open!

August 21st, 2022

You may access the ballot, here
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And here’s our
Defenestrationism.net
End of Summer Posting Schedule :

Tuesday, August 23rd
An Open Letter to the Ballet Camp in Vermont I Went to in the Summer of ’96
by Chantelle Tibbs

Wednesday, August 24th
Running With the Night Runners
an excerpt from
I am who I am… because of my guardian angels
by Francesca Alicea

Sunday, August 28th
Like the stars, which you don’t always see, but you know that they are there!
an excerpt from
I am who I am… because of my guardian angels
by Francesca Alicea

Wednesday, August 31st
Concept Albums Explained: Lou Reed’s”Berlin”
by Paul-Newell Reaves

Friday, September 3rd
Fan Voting Closes

Saturday, September 4th
Concept Albums Explained: Emilie Autumn’s “Opheliac”
by Paul Newell Reaves

Labor Day (US), September 5th
Winners Announced

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for our Autumnal Season
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The hour is approching…

August 20th, 2022

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shortly after 7 o’clock AM in Eastern Standard Time
on August 21st.

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If Anything Changes

August 14th, 2022

By Ross West

When the front desk clerk at the Reykjavik Manor Hotel eyed Kat’s dusty duffle bags and asked if she needed any help carrying them to her room, she said she could handle it just fine by herself. She lugged the bags into the elevator and pushed the button for the twelfth floor. The whir of the machinery reminded her of the whooshing sound of meltwater reflecting off the smooth rounded contours of the ice caves she’d been exploring all week . . . sunlight filtering through the glacial ice, tunnel walls glowing an otherworldly blue. She piled the duffle bags on the bed in her room, dug her phone from her rucksack, and checked it for the first time since getting back within cell coverage. The message was there: a voicemail from the dean, sent two days ago. She listened—the committee had made its decision, please give a call. The dean’s voice was cheery—he’d left both his home and office numbers. Kat pumped her fist and danced around the room. The university would be offering her the position.

She found a tiny bottle of champagne in the minibar, poured it in a plastic glass from the bathroom, and held it high, reciprocating a toast from a room full of admirers. It was evening, a little late to return the dean’s call—but not too late. First though, she needed to calm down.

In the shower, she bounced on the balls of her feet, arms hugging her torso, water falling on her like hot rain. The tenure-track position would open doors she would run through—to Patagonia, Greenland, Antarctica. Plum gigs on National Geographic expeditions. And more books, definitely more books. Another TED talk. Maybe a special science advisor appointment. What incredible luck to be in a field so flush with opportunity. She recalled Reuben’s joke—the really great news for glaciologists is that global warming will be frying the planet for decades to come.

Toweling her straw-blonde hair, she considered how the job would require a move to North Carolina—at least for her. Reuben wouldn’t want to leave Seattle. They could keep their house there. He could keep his job. But she couldn’t possibly turn this down. Maybe she’d commute.

Pacing around the room in the hotel’s white terrycloth robe, she tossed down the last of the champagne and phoned the dean. They chatted and laughed; he talked enthusiastically about the Center for the Study of Women, Science, and Society. The phone to her ear, Kat walked to the window, rested her free hand on its smooth cold surface, and gazed down on Reykjavik spreading to the harbor, the ocean extending to the horizon. Her eyes filled with tears. She accepted the position.

Kat called Reuben, told him the university had made the offer. No, of course she hadn’t accepted it—not without talking with him. They could discuss it when they met up in Alaska.

She suddenly felt very tired and slid between the cool sheets of the bed with a relaxed sigh. Her last thought before sleep was of flying between Seattle and Raleigh-Durham . . . east then west then east again . . . striding down the long airport concourse, her wheelie suitcase rolling smoothly behind, errrr-errrr-errrr. It wouldn’t be a problem.

*     *     *

Turning the key in the front door lock, Reuben frowned. Could the timing be any worse? Not an hour ago he’d signed-off on the Halloween campaign for the ad agency’s biggest client; now home to pack and fly off early tomorrow for a vacation in Alaska that would leave the restaurant chain’s Thanksgiving campaign in the hands of . . . Well, nothing he could do about that now. Plans were plans.

He set his briefcase, keys, and phone on the kitchen table and poured himself a Scotch. After a first sip, he decided to take one more look, just to be sure; the news of Kat’s job offer had left him preoccupied all day—he could easily have missed something important. He opened the briefcase and paged through a folder of the approved artwork for the Halloween menu, print and online ads of various sizes, in-store posters, on-table placards, and take-out bags promoting this year’s Freaky Five: Scary Cherry Shake, Frankenstein Fries, Double Deluxe Dracula Drumsticks, Zombie Pastrami, and Fear-o Hero. He scanned each page for color mismatches, registration errors, bad spacing, text mistakes, anything. He slipped the files back into the case, snapped the latches shut, rubbed his tired eyes. Let it go.

After dinner, Reuben packed, emptied the fridge of food that would go bad, took out the trash. The last item on his list was the cacti. Carrying an eyedropper and a juice glass of fertilized water, he moved from windowsill to windowsill where his dozens of species of prickly and spineless cactus lived in their little clay pots. He cooed words of encouragement to them while feeding them with the dropper, giving each one what it would need in his absence.

A second Scotch in hand, he took a seat at his computer. Best not to surprise her up in Alaska. She’ll need time to think it over. He opened a new e-mail message and typed.

Dear Kat,

Love you. Miss you.

Congratulations, again, on getting the offer! What an honor! You rock!!!

He sipped and pondered how to begin.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since we talked last night. Mostly I’ve thought about where we want to be in five, ten, twenty years, and what we do to get there. It seems we’ve come to the point of making some decisions—and not just to accept or not accept the UNC offer.

Did he want her to take the job? Did it even matter what he thought? She wanted it and she’d take it. She hadn’t always been so driven—or maybe she had been, maybe he just hadn’t seen it.

Everything suddenly feels so serious.

He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes until the words came to him.

Most of all, I want us to be together and I’m willing to do anything to make that happen. I thought back on all our not-very-specific talks over the years about having kids. Remember when we used to dream about kids and getting a Jack Russell terrier? I want us to have those kids. I want us to have that life.

You’ve listened to me bitch for years about how much I hate being Management, and all my half-baked fantasies about going back to being a production artist or quitting and setting up my own studio.

But here’s what I’m thinking now. My salary is enough so you could keep building your career in Seattle, doing all the field work you want AND we could have a family. For that, I’d be willing to do anything, including change how I feel about my job.

No, I’m not being a martyr. I would, in fact, be really, truly, genuinely, honestly happy and grateful to do this.

I know we can work it out one way or another. What I want is for us to be together always. Everything else is just . . . everything else.

All my love, my dearest one. See you soon,

Roobie

PS: You’re still on flight 374 (Reykjavik/SF/Juneau) arriving at 8:45, yes? Call if anything changes.

He read the note and read it again. She wouldn’t want to hear this, wouldn’t want the pressure. If she took it wrong, it would be a week of her scorn and dagger eyes in Alaska. Still, it had to be said, their future depended on it. He tapped the send key. In her court now.

*     *     *

The Adventure Quest churned northward through the frigid waters of Alaska’s Inland Passage. The shoreline was blanketed with evergreen forests and, farther off, a range of sawtooth mountains white with snow. Their first evening on the water, the hundred Eco Tours Expedition passengers gathered in the ship’s dining room. Kat and Reuben took seats next to one another at an unoccupied table for four and ordered a bottle of wine.

She glanced at Reuben while he read the menu. It was there in his pinched lip, the tension in his brow—he was thinking he’d written his thoughts in the e-mail, and now it was up to her to respond. But not yet, not here. Put it off a while. Tell him more about Iceland—the three minke whales off Húsavík. No, they had said they would talk, they should talk. But where to start? She sipped her wine, read the menu again.

“Well, hello there,” a voice chirped from nearby. Kat and Reuben looked up to see a petite woman with perm-curly hair standing beside a lanky balding man. The woman extended her hand, “Cynthia and Robert Grossmeyer.”

“This is Kat. I’m Reuben.”

They shook and the Grossmeyers sat, with Cynthia explaining in a flurry that they were from Peoria, that Rob was an optometrist and she, an avid birdwatcher and gardener—it was absolutely breaking her heart to leave her vegetables at this time of year—was active in the PTA and the Beautify Peoria Parks Campaign in the few scant moments she wasn’t busy raising their fifteen-year-old fraternal twins currently at summer camp—sort of a dude ranch, really—in Wyoming.

“What about you guys?” Rob asked.

“We’ve met some of the most interesting people while cruising, haven’t we Rob?” Cynthia said. “I mean, really, really interesting people. From all over. We just love it.”

Rob nodded.

Between the business of giving their orders to the waiter, Kat and Reuben told about living in Seattle, his job at the ad agency, how this was his first cruise and first time in Alaska, how her aunt and uncle lived not far from Peoria. They tiptoed around mention of Kat’s work, fully aware of what would happen once the Grossmeyers learned she was one of those interesting people they were just dying to meet.

Reuben tilted the wine bottle toward Kat. She raised her eyebrows, yes, and he topped off their glasses.

Cynthia fixed Kat in the stare of her perky bright-blue eyes. “So tell us about you.”

*     *     *

As soon as they finished the baked Alaska and decaf, they exchanged a glance, and Kat told the Grossmeyers how nice it had been to meet and how, tomorrow being a big day, they were turning in early.

Descending the stairs to their cabin’s deck, Reuben chuckled and imitated Cynthia’s voice, “It’s not like I don’t have a life of my own or anything, but gawd, Kat, you are just so interesting. Isn’t she, Rob?”

“Our new best friends, the Grossmeyers,” Kat said with a mock shudder and a roll of her green eyes.

Reuben held open the cabin door for her. She entered, switched on the bedside lamp, and stood in the stillness and soft light watching him kick off his shoes.  

“So,” she said, “your e-mail.”

He settled onto the bed, propped against the headboard, arms wrapped around a pillow on his chest. She pulled up a chair and sat.

 “I keep thinking back to how things were when we moved in together,” he said.

“The apartment with the lovely sloping floors.”

“And the crazy drummer always pounding away next door.” He smiled at the memory then continued, choosing his words with care. “I was working and you were going back to school so you could get a job you wanted . . . and then we’d have a family.” He looked at her. “That was it, that was our plan, wasn’t it?”

“And we’ve done pretty well making it happen.”

“We have, and I’m not taking anything away from that. At the same time, what I want is to be with you. And I want—”

“Aren’t we here right now?”

He shot her an annoyed glance.

Her heartbeat quickened. She always cut him off when they talked like this. It wasn’t how she wanted to be, but it was what she did.

“And when we dock,” he said, “we fly back home and in two days you’re off to . . . I don’t even remember where.”

“New York, to meet with—”

“Your agent. Right.” He took off his glasses and rubbed his face. “I can’t tell you how big the hole is when you’re gone.”

She wasn’t sure what to say. Yes, she was away a lot. But—

“Everything’s coming your way—and that’s great,” he said. “But if we put things off much longer . . .”

“You want kids—with your family, all your cousins, I get it. I guess I get it now in a way that I didn’t when it was more . . . theoretical. So yes, a family, okay. But I don’t know, maybe more like . . . later.”

He stiffened.

“When something big comes along you can’t ignore it,” she said. “You win the lottery or get cancer, it changes everything. It doesn’t make sense to pretend it’s not happening.”

“You want us to put everything else on hold?”

She leaned toward him, her eyes pleading. “I never thought I’d have so little time.”

“How long do you want to wait?” His voice was brittle. He was tensing up, the discussion would become an argument. But this was worth fighting for. And it didn’t have to be a fight, just give and take. Lay out a position, make a stand—if he didn’t like it, he could come up with something different.

“I don’t know,” she said. “A while.”

He slumped forward, his face contorted by some emotion—disappointment, resentment, anger, or all three. His head shook slowly back and forth—maybe working himself into a rage.

“I did have one other idea,” she said. “Sort of a compromise.”

He turned to meet her gaze.

“I’d still be traveling a lot, but you could stay home, get all the family time you want.”

He swallowed, his eyes wide, expectant.

“If we moved to North Carolina, you could quit the agency and,” she paused, nodding her head several times, “we could adopt.”

He stared and blinked. His lips opened, about to speak, but he hesitated and turned away.

“You could freelance or work part-time, work from home—whatever feels right. We could get a nanny.” He wasn’t listening, was withering before her eyes. “Your mom could come visit.” What had she done? “I’ll have great insurance.”

*     *     *

They held one another in the dark for a long time, spoke not a word. Then their bodies entwined and writhed and thrashed with an intensity unusual in their lovemaking.

Their panting subsided, they lay side by side holding hands. Her mind raced—she was horrible, selfish and horrible. Yes, they had planned. Yes, she had agreed. And now it was, oh, hey, sorry, new plan. When she had said adopt, she’d crushed him. She hadn’t intended to. It wasn’t like an ultimatum or anything. Just an idea. A wrong, bad, stupid idea that she should have never said.

He stared at a small red light on the smoke alarm. After a while her breathing quieted and then became regular with sleep. He took his hand away from hers and rolled onto his side,facing the wall. A tear pooled in the corner of his eye and slid down toward his ear. Another ran to the end of his nose, hung there, dropped onto the pillow.

*     *     *

The Adventure Quest floated in Solstice Bay, anchored a quarter mile from the sheer towering ice wall that marked the terminus of Alaska’s third largest glacier. The air was still, the water like a mirror. Many of the ship’s passengers had signed up for either a nature photography class or a workshop on boreal ecology and ice-core sampling. Others had already departed in motorized Zodiac boats to view wildlife and hike on a nearby island. Reuben and Kat stood on the open deck near the ship’s bow in a group of twenty who had chosen to kayak among the bay’s icebergs. They listened to one of the tour’s naturalists, Megan, a tall, square-shouldered woman about thirty. Her Eco Tours parka glowed a vivid orange against the lapis sky and the blinding whiteness of the ice sheet’s face.

“You’re looking at ground zero for global warming,” she said. “The glacier is shrinking; sea level is inching ever higher. Scientists predict rising water will flood hundreds of millions out of people from their homes.”

She turned to the shore, staring at the ice long enough for the group to consider its fragility. Facing them again, she said, “Okay, enough with the gloom and doom, let’s focus on what’s happening right in front of us. This glacier is a river of frozen water flowing slowly into the sea. When the forces of fracturing exceed the forces of cohesion, pieces of the glacier body break off, or calve. Sometimes it’s only a small avalanche, a few hundred pounds of ice. But keep your cameras ready,” she said, flashing a playful smile. “On a glacier of this size you just might see fifty million pounds of ice do a bellyflop.”

Kat and Reuben wriggled into their dry suits, gloves, and neoprene booties. They donned personal flotation devices and adjusted the straps, loaded their cameras and dry bags and water bottles into sleek canary-yellow kayaks, and launched.

Once all the boats were in the water, Megan called out, “Everybody pull in close.” A tight flotilla formed, with Kat and Reuben bobbing beside one another. “We have two special rules on this bay. Numero uno: stay within sight of each other. And numero dos: never get any closer to the glacier than I do. Got it?”

Heads nodded.

“Okay, let’s head on over to bergville.” Her kayak sliced forward; the others fell in behind.

Reuben’s shoulders warmed with the exertion of pulling his boat through patches of slush and past refrigerator-sized blocks of ice. He stroked around larger and larger obstacles until the group reached the gallery of ice sculptures jutting from the water.

He stopped alongside a gargantuan berg and peered down into the water. The submarine ice descended ever farther, ever fainter, until it disappeared in the dark depths.

Kat eased her boat next to his. Her short blonde braids peeked out from under a knitted Icelandic wool cap. “Is this awesome or what?” she said, cheeks aglow and green eyes merry. Taking his gloved hand in hers, she squeezed. “Did you see that one?” She bobbed her chin toward what looked like a giant glass mushroom. “I gotta get a picture.”

She dug her paddle into the water and cut a sharp turn while thinking how happy he looked and how she loved it when he was happy. Roobie-doobie. No way she could hurt him. Close to the mushroom, she stopped her boat and stared for a long time at the strangely shaped berg. What if they had the kids? People do it all the time. It wouldn’t be the end of the world. The university would accommodate.

Megan found a high archway through a weathered ice formation and led the procession of kayakers under it. The first boater following her let out a gleeful yee-haw as he passed beneath the ice bridge, and each one that followed let loose as well. Reuben belted a whoo-hoo andthought of the many times Kat had shown him pictures she’d taken from berg-filled bays like this around the world—nearly every time mentioning how the beauty took her breath away. Now he understood.

The group followed Megan into a narrow canyon winding between tall walls of smooth glistening ice. The curvy surfaces reminded Reuben of whitest alabaster carved into the form of a voluptuous human body. He let the others pass by, turned his boat, and aimed his camera back at the canyon. The angle was right, the light unbelievable. He took shot after shot. Would he ever see anything so beautiful again?

He steered toward the other kayaks now far ahead, but his strokes had little force as he gawked left and right, distracted by each new sight. Everything around him was as staggeringly gorgeous and inspiring as the canyon and the arch. It was all perfect. The elemental purity of ice, water, sun, and sky, the extreme white, the piercing blue. The salty granite smell of the thick cold air, each breath alive in his lungs. The gloop-gloop of the eddies swirling around his paddle blade, the sound of each splashed drop plopping back into the water. He and Kat, too, he suddenly saw with great clarity, were perfect. What they had, perfect. It wouldn’t matter so much what they did. No one right way. Every path its own song.

He sat still and drifted in the current. She had to take the offer. He couldn’t keep her from what she loved. If he was willing to sacrifice . . . quit his job, move . . . she’d feel connected if the kids were her own . . . it would work . . . somehow. If they wanted it badly enough, it would work.

The other boats disappeared around the corner of a bulky ice outcrop leaving Reuben alone among the bergs. Overwhelmed by the expansive solitude, he closed his eyes and raised his paddle high above his head. As if weightless, as if hurtling untethered through space, he felt free.

When he opened his eyes, he noticed the current had taken him nearer the glacier. Its vertical face now loomed much taller. The vast ice sheet’s incomprehensible mass, the glowing blue-white color, the shush of ripples lapping gently at its base. Entranced, he paddled slowly closer.

Voices called out from somewhere far behind him—Kat, Megan, others—a singsong chorus echoing off the ice, like they were searching for a lost child.

“I’m here,” Reuben hollered over his shoulder, and he began turning the kayak to rejoin the group when from the top of the glacial cliff came a sound like twisting metal girders. Looking up, he saw a hunk of ice the size of a house tremble then lurch downward until it smacked into the water sending a splash shooting high into the air. A wave rushed toward him. Two quick strokes aimed the bow into the swell just as it arrived, the boat bucked up and over.

A jolt of adrenaline surged through his body. He craned his neck—had the others seen the calving? He heard another sound, only on a far grander scale, as crisp and sharp as a harsh crack of thunder. His eyes snapped back to the cliff where a whole huge section of the wall shuttered and fractured from the glacier. As if in slow motion, it tilted into the void, fell, and slapped the bay in a titanic explosion.

Water and ice rained down on Reuben. He made himself small in the boat’s cockpit and raised his arms in front of his face. A jagged chunk of ice as heavy as a block of concrete slammed into his head. He folded to the left, nearly tipping the boat. The mountain of a berg bobbed in the water like a colossal polar bear; a tall collapse wave rolled outward and, meeting the kayak, capsized it. Reuben spilled from the cockpit and floated face down.

The others raced toward him, Kat paddling furiously, paddling faster than anyone.


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Fifty Miles South of Disney

August 7th, 2022

by Steve Loiaconi

The door screams across the dirty linoleum floor, rousing me from a shallow, uncomfortable sleep. The light pouring in from the outer room obscures my view at first, but I hear two sets of footsteps. As they approach, I get a better look at the second man shuffling along next to the guard who has been checking on me periodically all night. The new guy has a scruffy beard and long brown hair. He’s younger than me, stumbling in a way that suggests he’s drunk or injured. He trips and, before the cop can catch him, his head crashes against the steel bars of the cell. This close, I can smell Jack Daniels on his breath and see blood drying on his tattered white dress shirt, his gray pants stained with dirt.

The officer unlocks the cell door, metal jangling against metal as the bars slide. He gently nudges the man in. He peers down at a clipboard in his hand and looks at us, sighs, and shakes his head. He slides the bars closed, and the clatter reverberates in my ear. The lock rattles into place. The officer walks away, whistling a pop song I can’t quite recognize but I know I hate with a fiery passion. He closes the door to the cell block behind him with excessive force.

I briefly make eye contact with my new cellmate. If it came down to it, I tell myself I could take him.

He looks down at his cot. As he surveys the room, I think I hear him laugh just a little. He walks over to the sink and rolls up his sleeves. He looks like he works out, a nagging reminder of that gym membership I’ve had for years and hardly ever use.

“You’re awake, Wally,” he says, in an irritatingly familiar way.

“Do I know you?”

“You were sleeping when they brought me in. Just went to use my phone call.”

“Who’d you call?” I sit back down on my cot. “Lawyer?”

“Dominos.” He pauses, presumably to allow for laughter. There isn’t any. “Yow. Tough room. Okay. I was trying to call my wife.”

He turns on the faucet and splashes cold water on his face. He runs his hands through his curly hair, shaking free bits of dirt, and adds, “She didn’t pick up.”

Despite myself, I feel compelled to respond. “Neither did mine,” I say.

I’ve been in this holding cell at a police station 50 miles south of Orlando for I don’t know how many hours. Fighting myself, wrestling with intangible black emotions, wondering how southern Florida could be this cold in late July, and searching for a way out of this corner I painted myself into. None of it is going particularly well.

I dialed my wife’s number when they first brought me in, using the ancient rotary pay phone in the hallway. My finger circled the dial quickly as I tried not to think of the other men who used that phone over the years and things they must have done to get here. Waiting for her to pick up, that brief silence between rings seemed endless. My mind desperately fumbled for the right words to say to her. The magic explanation that would make all of this go away, sweep it under the rug of things we pretend never happened. When the call went to her voicemail after the fourth ring, I found I could say nothing. Sitting here watching my new cellmate shake water out of his long hair like a freshly bathed dog, I can’t say my situation has improved any.

He takes his shirt off and tries to dry his face with it. Unprovoked, with his voice slightly muzzled by the fabric, he says, “I know, you’re wondering about the beard, right?”

“Not really, no.”

“I’m Jesus,” he says. His speech slurs just enough to make me wish I was drunk. “I play Jesus, I mean. At the The Holy Land Experience down off I-4. At least, I did. I got fired last week. Now I’m just a guy with really long hair and a god complex. Call me Max.”

“The Holy what now?”

“Land Experience. The Holy Land Experience. It’s like a big living Bible. They do famous scenes, they all wear costumes. You ever been to a kids’ school Christmas pageant?”

“Many of them.” I think of my daughter up on stage, standing in the background in a ramshackle sheep costume she and I stayed up all night putting together.

“It’s like that,” he says. “Except we got paid and there’s a huge indoor model of Jerusalem circa 66 AD. I still remember most of my lines if you’d like to see a little of my routine. I mean, it’s not going to be the same without the props, but still.”

“This is going to be a long night,” I mutter to myself, apparently louder than I intended.

“It already has been,” Max says as he leans over the sink, beads of water occasionally dripping from his beard. I lie back down. He returns to his cot and sits. Just as I close my eyes to try to sleep again, he says, “Wondering what I’m in for?”

From his tone, I know he’s going to tell me no matter what I say.

“There’s this restaurant in Orlando,” he says. “It’s racing-themed. All kinds of exhibits. Cars everywhere, a few hanging from the ceiling, signed uniforms, trophies. They’ve got these big screens all over so you can watch famous racing crashes while you eat. It’s pretty fucking cool. You know the place?”

“No idea.”

“Come on. They also have the world’s biggest monster truck.”

“What can I say? I’m not from around here.”

“It’s awesome. You need to check it out sometime,” he says. I think he’s serious. “So me, my wife Diane, my friend Joe, and his wife, we decide to go out for a romantic dinner.”

“Nothing says romance like the world’s biggest monster truck.”

“I know, right? Anyway, we get to drinking pretty heavy. And I guess that’s where the whole thing sort of went off the rails.”

After an unnecessarily lengthy description of his meal that does little more than remind me that I should have been sitting down for a 7:30 dinner reservation with my family hours ago, his story quickly devolves into bad porn.

“So,” Max says, “I’m eating this perfectly-cooked steak and I notice my wife and Joe’s wife giving each other these sultry glances, like the kind she used to give me before we got freaky in a Denny’s restroom. Probably should have known something was up, but then they shimmy their seats closer together during dessert. Again, weird, but I didn’t think much of it. We’re out in the parking lot after dinner and I’m 60 percent sure I see them kissing in my side view mirror as I’m unlocking the car. I tell myself it’s nothing. We get back to my place, I pour some drinks, Joe and I get to talking, eventually we realize our ladies are conspicuously absent.

“We hear some giggles from the bedroom, creak the door open, and… Bam! Our wives on the bed, like five-eighths to three-quarters naked, all hot and horny, writhing and groping at each other and whatnot. So me and Joe stand there in the doorway a minute, just slackjawed, like we don’t know whether to be devastated or aroused, you know what I’m saying?”

“I really don’t,” I respond when I figure out that wasn’t rhetorical.

“Yeah, you do,” he nods. “So I stand there, admittedly longer than might be considered polite. Once the ladies make clear I’ve worn out my welcome, I notice Joe’s gone. I find him outside on the sidewalk just staring at a streetlight. I try to talk to him, but all he says is, ‘I need to hit something.’”

“We live on a quiet street, which is normally just ducky, but the silence. The silence, man.” He pauses for a moment, thinking. “I don’t know, I punched him. Like, hard.”

Across the cell, Max’s face is half-hidden in shadows.

“I’m not sure exactly what happened from there,” he says. Whether it’s because he really can’t remember or he just doesn’t want to say it, I can’t tell. “It’s all a blur. I pushed him through a plate-glass window at some point.”

“You pushed him through a window?” I ask, slightly disconcerted.

“You say it like you wouldn’t have.” Somewhere in the back of my mind, I hear Goofy laughing. Then he adds, “Twice, actually.”

“You pushed him through the window twice?”

“Not the same window. Two different ones on the same guy’s patio. Man, that dude was pissed.” His voice walks a thin line between pride and shame. “So yeah. Assault, disturbing the peace. And destruction of property. I think Joe’s in the hospital now.”

I shake my head and lean against the wall, silently counting cars as they pass by outside. I try not to think that every dark minivan that slows down out there could be my wife.

“Don’t worry,” Max says. “You don’t have to tell me why you’re here.”

“Was I going to?” I ask, turning away from the street.

“I already know,” he says. He points to his forehead. “I have low-level psychic abilities. I predicted the death of Sir Alec Guinness to an accuracy of within four weeks.”

“Why were you trying to predict the death of Alec Guinness?”

“Sir Alec Guinness. Respect the knighthood. It was a celebrity death pool. Pick an aging celebrity, pick a death date. Make a couple hundred bucks if you’re right. Bonus if you guess the cause. You want in?”

I think about it for a moment. As oddly tempting as it may be, gambling is somewhere on the list of things that I have, at one time or another, promised my wife I would never do again.

“No, thanks,” I say.

“Suit yourself. Anyway, all I’m saying is, I know why you’re here. You’re a male prostitute.”

I stare at him in silence.

“No? Okay. You been putting poisonous snakes in ex-girlfriends’ mailboxes?”

I shake my head and look down into the sink. “Hell of a gift you got there.”

“Damn. This usually works better.”

I run water over my hands, trying to rinse off some of the dirt and dust that has gathered on them from these walls and these bars. He watches me from his cot. An uncomfortable tension fills the space between us.

“So,” he says after an awkward pause, “what are you in for?”

****

The morning started well. Sun shining into our hotel room, fresh bagels, coffee, semi-educational hyper-kinetic cartoons to keep the kids occupied while my wife and I got ready for a long day of waiting in lines and pretending to be thrilled by the prospect of sitting in giant, slowly spinning tea cups.

The police chase, obviously, came later.

Things began rolling downhill as soon as we pulled into the absurdly massive and absurdly crowded Disney World parking lot. You would think with a lot the size of Rhode Island they could accommodate everyone who needed to park under a giant picture of Donald Duck, but you would be wrong. After a half hour of weaving through aisles of parked cars and being cut off by the same bright red Volvo at every turn, I saw a space at the end of a row. I sped toward it, seeing the Volvo creep around the corner, skidding into the space just seconds ahead of it.

When we finally got to the entrance, I looked back and realized I had no clue where I had just parked. I asked the family if they knew how to get back to the car. My son and daughter pointed in opposite directions and I felt an unwelcome tinge of frustration. I paid something near what my first car cost to a disinterested teen in a ticket booth for four passes to get in.

The thing about amusement parks is, you love them or you hate them intensely. The bright colors, the long lines, the screaming kids, the repetitive rides, the incessant need to pander to the perceived IQ of the sub-average 4-year-old. The only hope, the one even remotely shimmering silver lining of it all is the look on your kid’s face when he gets to the front of the line and has the chance to do the one thing that really mattered to him for the last fifteen minutes.

He gets to drive a bumper car.

And you sit there next to him, placating the ride operator who requires that he have a responsible adult in the car with him to play a game where the object is to drive as recklessly as possible and get hit as much as you can. You let him steer. You hold him when the car gets hit and pretend it disorients you as much as it does him. And you make sure he hears you laugh and sees your most sincere smile. Constantly.

No matter how many times you do it, how stupid it all looks in retrospect, how ridiculously sentimental you feel when you think about it, that really does make it all worth it.

It’s the only thing, besides the thought of getting home, going to sleep, and dreaming of being anywhere but here, that you have to look forward to when you’re out there, boiling in your own sweat in the Orlando sun. When you’re deprived of that smile, that look, you’ve got nothing.

So when we get to the front of the line for Space Mountain, after nearly an hour of standing in 100 degree heat, my kids’ excitement growing with every step toward the ride we took, when, after all that, some goon in a…whatever the hell Goofy is…costume stops us, takes me aside, and tells me my daughter is too short to go on the ride, I think I was justifiably upset.

I tried to reason with him.

I thought about trying to reason with him. Instead, I hit him.

****

Max laughs harder and longer than I’d consider appropriate. When he stops, he says, “There’s something missing here.” He thinks for a second, then snaps his fingers. “Got it. Cigarettes. We should be smoking.”

“What?”

“Two guys in prison, talking as men do. Times like this, a fella should be smoking.” He mimes smoking a cigarette like I might not know what one is. “It’s just a natural thing.”

“We’re in a holding cell in Leesburg, not death row at San Quentin.”

“Whatever. My point is, and I know you tell your kids what you got to tell them, teach them what’s right and what’s ‘cancerous,’ but here and now, mano a mano, come on, let’s just say it: smoking is cool. It is.”

“I don’t smoke,” I say. Anymore, is the truth. I don’t tell him I had to quit because a few years ago my daughter invented a game where she’d hide my packs of cigarettes as soon as I bought them and I’d have to go out and buy new ones. It was more fun for her than it was for me. Half the time, I couldn’t figure out how she found them—in my car, in my briefcase, she even managed to swipe a carton from a locked drawer in my desk on Take Your Daughter to Work Day. I was certain her mother put her up to it, but neither of them would ever admit that.

Max whistles. I’m jolted out of a sort of daze. “You okay?” he says. “You went off to your own little world there for a minute.”

I rub my eyes, stretch my aching legs and think, No, I am very far from okay.

****

I didn’t expect to hurt him. I mean, come on, these guys wear giant plush suits that feel like they’re layered with cotton candy. How much could one punch in the face hurt?

A lot, apparently. Especially when it knocks him off balance and sends him hurtling over the guardrail and through the roof of a pretzel stand below. His mask released a muffled scream.

It was at that point that I did something perhaps stupider than punching Goofy.

I ran.

Somewhere in my mind, I knew this was a bad idea. One punch wasn’t that big of a deal. I could have stayed there and explained to the police what happened. I’m sure other people would have backed me up. I mean, who doesn’t want to hit one of those guys?

And yet, I ran.

I ran with my wife frantically calling for me to come back and restraining my son by his shirt collar as he tried to run after me, leaving them behind, feeling the emotional impact of that punch still resonating in my fists, not wanting to admit it felt pretty good. I looked back frequently, but eventually, I turned and they weren’t there anymore. I was alone in the happiest place on earth, strangers swimming through the crowd around me, towing their families along with them, brushing past me like I didn’t exist.

There was a very brief moment when the appeal of being on the lam seduced me. Perpetually moving, wearing disguises, hiding behind false identities. News reports warning the public that I could be armed and dangerous. Federal marshals cursing my name and dispatching a small army of agents to hunt me down. Dodging bullets, running through forests, leaping off cliffs and into rivers. The adventures a 36-year-old father from Delaware never gets to have.

The Fugitive, starring Wally Allen and Tommy Lee Jones.

I was pulled out of the fantasy by a security guard shouting my name from behind me. I turned and saw him approaching, with several others close behind him. I had imagined a security force made up entirely of Goofys, Mickeys and Donald Ducks. I was a bit disappointed to see a bunch of overweight dudes in uniforms riding Segways. Again, though, I had the opportunity to stop, to give up.

Again, I ran.

I was able to regain some distance on them, running faster and breaking toward where I hoped the parking lot was. I slowed down as I approached the exit of the park. I tried to be inconspicuous, shuffling through the center of a German tour group. I ducked into the labyrinth of SUVs and minivans and pushed onward. I wanted to get back to my family, but I didn’t know where they—or my car, for that matter—were. My wife had my phone in her purse because I hadn’t been able to fit it in my pocket this morning.

I decided I needed to find a car I could break into and at least borrow until I found them. I stopped at an old Toyota that didn’t appear to have any kind of alarm system. I was composing a polite note to the owner in my head, apologizing for the inconvenience and telling them how to contact me to get it back, as I prepared to try to break the driver’s side window with my elbow.

It hurt.

I tried several more times, my arm growing almost unbearably sore and not even cracking the glass, before a larger problem occurred to me: I don’t know how to hotwire a car. I mean, you do a thing under the steering wheel so you can pull down a bunch of wires. You do another thing, connect the right wires and the engine starts, but I don’t know which wires.

Panic set in. I was totally lost. I had to get back to our hotel, is all I was thinking. They’d have to go there eventually, right? My mind raced and I started to feel dizzy. Then I looked around and saw a man walking away from his car with his keys in his hand, trailing his wife and daughter by about 100 feet. So I took what seemed to be the only reasonable action at the time.

I ran out from behind the Toyota and tackled him. His head thudded against the asphalt and I ripped the keys from his hand and bolted for his car. It was a relatively new Lexus. I unlocked it, got in and started the engine. I could see through the windows of the Jeep next to me that the man’s wife was helping him get up. I shifted into reverse, whipped out of the space, put it in drive and slammed my foot on the gas.

As I sped away from the park, heading northwest on the highway, I kept playing out different scenarios for where this goes from here in my mind, each more elaborate than the last and none of them ending well. At some point, I missed the exit for our hotel, continuing south, not even noticing it.

****

“This is the part that’s hard to explain,” I say, attempting to figure out how to put the best possible spin on what happened to me next.

“Beating the crap out of a father in front of his kid?” Max says. He’s looking down, holding his head in his hands. It’s like he’s embarrassed for both of us. “Yeah, that’s tricky.”

“All I did was tackle him,” I say with a defensive shrug.

“And steal his car.”

“I had to.” I’m slightly unsettled that I nearly believe myself. “Alright, you know that guy you see on the news speeding down the highway with like twenty cop cars behind him and you’re watching thinking, who is this idiot and how does he think this is going to end?”

“That’s damn good television,” Max says. “But it makes sense to me. Who wants to get caught?”

“See, I think it’s more than that,” I say as my eyes dart toward the window. “What I think is, he’s thinking, there’s got to be a way out. He knows the odds are against him, but he has faith that there is always a way out. You just need to keep looking until you find it.”

Max just stares at me.

“Faith is a dangerous thing for an irrational man to have,” I add.

“Or the guy just really, really doesn’t want to get caught,” Max says.

He’s not wrong, but I like my version better. It makes it sound almost noble.

****

After about a half hour of driving aimlessly, the red and blue lights of a police car flashed behind me. I slowed down to let it pass, but it slowed with me. I pulled over onto the shoulder and it followed. An officer stepped out and walked toward me. Watching him, I realized how serious the situation was. And I realized I had to keep running.

There’s always a way out. Isn’t there?

I slammed my foot on the gas and drove off. In the rear-view mirror, I saw the cop stumble and race back to his vehicle. I also saw the lights and heard the sirens of several other police cars in the distance, catching up fast. I drove on, swinging through traffic, trying to maintain control of the car. A hovering police helicopter tracked the Lexus, its spotlight shining down on me from above. I looked up at it through the car’s sunroof, letting it distract me for a moment, and when I turned my head back to the road, I was seconds away from crashing into the back of a Volkswagen. I jerked the wheel to the right, slammed on the brakes and skidded across two lanes of traffic, spinning off onto the shoulder and screeching to a stop. My heart was raging and my whole body was shaking.

I fainted just as the police surrounded me and I woke up in the back of a police car. Raw, tired, ashamed, and wondering how my children were.

****

Max glares at me for a long time. I’m fairly certain he’s judging me.

“All this over Space Mountain,” he says eventually. “If it’s any consolation, I went on it a few years ago and, dude, the ride kind of sucks.”

“It’s not.” I walk to the bars and focus on the cell block door.

“Yeah, I guess it wouldn’t be. But come on, you hit a cartoon character.”

“I know. But he was just standing there looking so damn…”

“Goofy?” he says with an insincere smirk.

“I don’t know what it was.” I search for justification I know I don’t have. “He wouldn’t let my kid on the ride. I guess I just snapped.”

“And that explains stealing the car too, huh?”

The pain in my head returns. I’m a 36-year-old investment banker and a few hours ago I stole a car. I stole a car because I didn’t want to get arrested for punching a theme park employee. I punched a theme park employee because my kid couldn’t go on a stupid ride. And now I’m in jail. I can see clearly how I got from A to B. All the dots connect. That doesn’t make me feel any better about having done any of it.

I think of my wife, what she might be doing right now. In our hotel room, hysterical, calling hospitals and jails all around Orlando while at the same time trying to calm the children, telling them everything will be okay and wishing she could believe it. My mind tries to calculate the longest possible time it could take them to find me out here. I also think of the possible sentences carried by the several felony charges I might be facing. In my head, I see her going back home to Delaware with the kids, reluctantly admitting to all of our relatives that I abandoned them at Disney World and went on a mad crime spree. I see her at holidays, cocktail parties and weddings, searching for a delicate way to explain to friends that I’m incarcerated. I see her in our bed, watching TV at night, feeling desperate nostalgia when our favorite shows come on, storing them up on the DVR until she runs out of space. I see her at my son’s grade school graduation, clapping softly, an empty seat beside her, trying not to look too out of place. I see her five to seven years from now, waiting for me as I step outside a state penitentiary, her new husband idling their trendy SUV across the street as she gives me an awkward handshake and walks away forever.

I sit down on my cot and wonder if Max notices my body trembling.         

“Couple of years ago,” he says suddenly, and I realize he’s too lost in his own thoughts to notice anything about me, “somewhere out west. LA, San Francisco, I’m not sure. It’s raining. People have umbrellas up. Crowded streets. Way it is in big cities. So there’s these two guys, they pass each other. Umbrellas collide. No big thing, right? Well, one dude stops, closes his umbrella, lances the tip of it into the other guy’s eye. Thing pierced his brain.”

“He stabbed the guy in the eye with an umbrella?”

“Does it really sound that crazy?”

Images of a giant dog-like creature in overalls being pounded into the concrete by a man who looks unsettlingly like me flood my head.

“No,” I say. “I suppose it doesn’t.”

“One thing leads to another leads to another leads to this,” he says a moment later, gesturing to the walls around us. “Sometimes, life is just one long slippery slope. Right?”

I don’t answer. I just lay there peacefully and try to fade away.

****

I wouldn’t call it a dream because I know I’m not asleep. It’s just this scene that’s been playing out over and over in my head all night as I twist and turn on the cot:

One of the officers tells me I have a visitor. He leads me out of the cell and into the bright station lobby where my son sits waiting and surveying the walls of the station with a sense of fear that even I can feel. It takes my eyes a moment to adjust.

“Five minutes,” the officer says, checking a pocket watch.

I hug my son. 

I wipe a tear from his eye.

I hug him again.

As he pulls himself away from me, I ask him, “Where’s Mommy?”

He stands.

“Goodbye, Daddy,” he says.

He walks out the door.

****

Sick of watching my boy walk away in my mind, I open my eyes and sit up. I survey my surroundings, disoriented. Max stands over the toilet in the corner.

“Bad dream?” he asks.

I feel a sharp pain in my forehead. I lean forward, resting my head between my knees.

 “Long fucking night, bro. Long fucking night,” he says. I hear him zip his fly. “So I just been over here thinking, there’s gotta be a way I can make some money off this professional Jesus thing. Like do some infomercials or a hidden-camera prank show. I’m leaning toward, like, a discount electronics warehouse or something. You know, ‘Looking for a good deal on a flatscreen TV? Come to Jesus! Our savings are divine!’ Something like that.”

“You’re taking this jail thing strangely well, you know that?”

“I’m still pretty drunk,” he says. He talks over the flushing toilet. “But come on, you need a new stereo. Who you gonna trust—some high school dropout at Best Buy…or Jesus?”

I lie back down and turn away from him, my headache subsiding a little.

As he washes his hands, he asks, “You know something else I was thinking about? The Hulk.”

I turn toward him and sit up. “Like from the TV show?

He gives me a brief confused look. Then he shakes his head and says, “Oh, yeah. I forgot. You’re old. You would have been, like, a kid when that was on.”

“I’m 36. I can’t be more than seven or eight years older than you.”

“You’re only—geez, really?” He stares at my face for a moment. “You look older. Anyway, no, I was thinking about the comic books. When I was young, I always thought smashing stuff like he did looked fun. Ran around being all ‘Max smash puny human! Max smash!’ Shattering my mom’s dishes on the kitchen floor. You know how it is.”

“I really don’t.”

“But now—” He cuts himself off and looks at his hands. “Hey, do your knuckles hurt?”

“No. Goofy was kind of, you know, plushy.”

“My knuckles hurt.” He’s flexing his fingers and trying to open and close a fist. “I think I might have broken something. You ever hit anybody before? Before tonight, I mean.”

“In high school, I guess.” I think back hazily. “A few times. Everybody does at that age.”

“I didn’t.”

“Did other people hit you a lot?”

“Depends how you want to define ‘a lot.’”

“I’ll tell you,” I say, “the reason they hit you is because you never hit back.”

“Also because I was fat, I had asthma, and I had a pink backpack.” He shrugs, “But I’m just saying, tonight, the smashing? Not as fun as I hoped.”

He lies down and within minutes I hear him snoring.

****

I watch him sleep, jealous. Tired as I am, I don’t even close my eyes at this point. Like I’m afraid logic is going to shiv me in my sleep and spill whatever’s left of me onto the cold, hard floor. So I just lie here, starting to get used to the feeling of the hard mattress. I look up, studying the way the one light bulb illuminates long, jagged cracks in the white ceiling paint, like bolts of lightning, that reveal glimpses of the older, tarnished surface underneath.

“Handcuffs are not comfortable,” I hear Max say suddenly. He sits up, holding one wrist with the other hand and gazing at it like he’s looking for bruises. “I mean, duh, obviously. But seriously, more than you’d think, right?”

I look down at my own wrists and see the faint outlines of where the cuffs had constricted around them. “I was surprised by that too,” I say.

Max looks to the window. “Not much traffic around here this time of night,” he says.

He tries to assess the damage to his hands again, turning his palms over, raising them toward the ceiling light. He balls his right hand into a fist and jabs it against his left palm, the smacking sound of the impact echoing in the silence. After the fourth or fifth time, he stops.

“Yep, that’s painful,” he says. Then, he looks over at me. “Hey, it’s kind of taking your woman a really long time to find you, isn’t it?”

“It’s a big state,” I say. It’s a reasonable question, one I’ve been avoiding because I don’t like any of the possible answers. But to be honest, the more I think about it, I’m not sure I’m ready to face my wife yet.

I wonder if she is even really looking for me or if she’s leaving me here for the night in one of her attempts to teach me a valuable lesson about something.  I don’t want to let myself think that she might not be coming at all, but I know it’s possible. We’ve been together for more than ten years and, sure, we’ve had our good days and our bad days, but this is one of those tests neither of us ever prepared for.  Nothing in our wedding vows addressed how one of us should react if the other beat up a fictional character and stole a car.

Lack of foresight on our part, I suppose.

I think about rotting here in this cell for god knows how long, or being transferred to someplace worse and sharing cells with real criminals, going on trial and being sent to a prison full of killers and rapists. I grit my teeth and try to block out the fear. It doesn’t work.

 Briefly, my mind turns to this meditation class my wife made me take once. It’s never worked before, but I close my eyes and try to focus my energy, become aware of myself and what’s happening inside me. I sense my blood coursing through my veins, my muscles tensing and relaxing, my lungs operating, my heart beating.

“Question,” Max says, snapping me out of it. He strokes his beard. “Do you think people would pay to have Jesus appear at their kids’ birthday parties?”

“No,” I say. I take another look outside. Only a few stars break through the smog and clouds above, drawing a crooked line to the barely-visible half moon above.

“Come on,” he says. “It’s just like having a clown or a mathamagician. Except it’s Jesus.”

“I don’t think kids would be into that,” I say. I step away from the window.

“I’d have business cards,” he adds. “’For a miraculous birthday, call Jesus!’”

He continues to think out loud, rambling enthusiastically about turning water into Kool-Aid and walking across swimming pools, but I tune it all out.

I lie back down, close my eyes, turn to the wall, and wait for the light to burn out.






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