Folio

Table of Contents

Owning.   poem

CREATED: [2021-08-26 Thu 23:00]

Take a pot, and love it well -
A cushion, napkin, fork or spoon -
The curtain you part to see the moon -
The lamp you light to see the foolish things you're writing as you write
The surface you are sitting on, when you do this in the night.
  The foolishness of things is like the foolishness of written words,
A simple rearrangement of things you've seen and heard
    In other places, other rooms.
What you mean now when you say "mine"
To a new-made thing upon your page, or
    A pretty something on your shelf
    Is the shell you draw, the thing called self
    Around the things you'll use again.
Words on a page are nobody's until they're read, and read again;
Again, again, until the thing you are is them, or is them too.
  To hide from this becoming, what we say is they belong to you.

A town sleeps on my back, and   poem

CREATED: [2021-07-18 Sun 01:20]

Its streets ring with my lack
And when the children wake to the bells that ring, they
Look out to the sea, where once my lover
Went away, away, and when I wake, I look beneath
Myself a sword, the sea my sheath
My eyes submerged, my yawning teeth
That children play on off the streets
They hear my calls in morning bells
For love I've wept for, long and loud
"come back, come back!" - I was once proud
The sea became my graceless shroud.
My love is deep, and here I float
The city on my back's a child on which I dote
To be their boat, I stay between
The air and sea, the blue and green
And call out loud, come back to me
Don't stray so far out in the sea
But my love can't or will not hear, for what they love is being free.

Why … obtrude?   poem

CREATED: [2021-07-12 Mon 22:41]

Why shove your way into a corner or out of a corner, into the middle,
Where uninvited, where regretted, where reconsidered
Inviting consideration onto oneself
(it now cannot but be the self, needing defence
(The only defence for rudeness is personality))
It's rude.
A word we use to confuse the rude, because all it means is something a human hasn't touched yet,
But what we're saying is that we don't want to touch the thing ourselves.
Obtruding is waiting, out convexly in space,
For others' vexation to subside, so they may consider you properly. As a strategy it seems
Horrendously vulnerable.
Demanding, really,
Well, obtrusive.
I would never want to do it.

and if you ask, why died I not   poem

CREATED: [2021-06-17 Thu 18:02]

that fleck of sea foam you forgot
that tail and feeling scale you flay
those eyes that just won't look away
go on, ask, I'm still around
why on earth I'm still around
why I'm still around on earth
thrashing and slipping on the ground
and why I never make a sound
silent, see, I'm not a sound mind, don't ask, I don't try to lie
stay still until I'm looking right, stay down until I gain the right to generate what people say to people who will say the same and play that game until I die and fall into the sea again
I say, again, why died I not, the womb won't let me walk away
I play the game and play the game and walk the path and stay the same and change my tune and change my ways and wait for change to touch my days
I stay afraid, I stay awake, I lay awake, I count my stake,
I take and take and take and take
I fall asleep in self defense to hide from things I didn't make
Uncommon sense, uncrowded lens, no arguments, a quiet lake
I ask myself, why died I not? Wherefore is life, why life and sun?
Why do I beg, but never reach,
 for back where life had not begun?
 I've overgrown, I'm not my own
I catch and I do not release
I'm on my knees, I'm on my knees
and every single breath is grief
There's no relief there's no relief
I do not want to make a sound.
another round, another round,
I don't know why I'm still around.

Fine, and with your feeling hands   poem

CREATED: [2021-05-08 Sat 17:58]

Find the rocks and pick them out,
And with your fingers wear them out
Till they fall through the sieve.
Let us meet, but ten years hence,
When all the rocks have been worn small –
 we couldn't help but let them fall –
So clasp our hands, and grieve.

I will say, "remember when"–
But once we need a "which" or "when"
The thing that won't come back again
Is past - and when you say
"I do", and ask me back the same
That, too, is back the way we came
We'll come ten years and play this game,
Since we came all that way.

Desire   poem

CREATED: [2021-04-23 Fri 17:36]

What is it you need of me?
If I could I'd find a way to give it, so you'd leave, and stop this
Asking after things I'd rather leave beneath the dust you found them in.



Dress me, then, in dust of attics
Shelves above the kitchen shelves
Where we keep our Occasional Selves
Like Traveler or Murderer.

Dry me in the summer sun,
Pleasure in its fullest bloom
Is punishment in winter rooms.
Breathe, and weep, and shed your fear.


Transmute pain out of our fun,
Perhaps that's far enough you've run.

ways to say I love you without saying I love you   poem

CREATED: [2020-08-08 Sat 23:32]

Leaf in the middle and glass on the left
(You eat with your right hand and ought to sip water
Though everybody disagrees on just how and when)
Salt isn't asked about, sweet's always yes
The rest of it, you can try to say yes or no
And there's rules about everything that you won't know
But the grandmother next to you (grandfather's at
The head of the table, and we wait for him to eat)
Will make sure you follow them and explain if she's nice.
You're lost, and you'd drown, without this advice.
Later, when you realize that they laughed when you sprinkled
The water round your plate like you'd seen them all do
Because imitation doesn't work when the rule's just for you
And your grandmother's in the kitchen, eating after she serves
Not how the only girl child of her generation would
If she could be quiet, and appear to be good.
When the womenfolk eat, I lay out their food
The salt and the sweet and all of the rest
And they say yes or no based on what they like best.

Oeuvre   poem

CREATED: [2017-03-03 Fri]

I loved. I loved, and I was not I
And you were not you
And we were not two
An oeuvre is written in an hour of the night
And none of it true.

Pretty   poem

CREATED: [2017-03-03 Fri]

The prettiest thing that you ever saw
Wasn't as pretty as I am today
Nor half as attractive in most of the ways
It's important to be.

The prettiest I ever was is today
But I'm as pretty or prettier every today
Today is a day that I know and I care
And I notice you stare.

War Games   poem

CREATED: [2017-03-03 Fri]

Smoke and the burn and the restless mad turn
Of the wheels in my head that all churn out cliches that I somehow don't mind and I somehow don't pause
And a million and one stupid thoughts without cause
And the cleverness I somehow catch when they're listening
And foolishness inside my safe simple mind
And rhymes that need use of the useless word glistening and all of the pretty young thoughts I can find
And I wish I could dredge up my histories in ways
That make them anew for me, not just them
Who will sometimes sit down and hear what I say
And I really do try to entertain where I can
And my reader you see, hasn't found herself yet
And my reader, she hasn't found me, but she's looking
And while she looks, foolisher rhymes will keep cooking
And words are invented, and rearranged more
For the pleasure of war games than the business of war.

Doom   poem

CREATED: [2016-09-30]

Those we count as friends, know the dates of our funerals

And can write our eulogies.

Let them speak.

Fear   essay

CREATED: [2016-07-11 Mon]

You know the greatest fear?

The greatest fear is thinking you once thought something that might have changed the world. It's too terrible a truth to face up to. We shy away from it. But you see, I have. I have read the thoughts of people who looked to change it, who succeeded, if in nothing else, in leaving their mark. Many times they are people who did more. And I have thought what they thought.

This is the fear.

It is an opportunity that has passed me by. It is a wound that I might have healed. It is people, who have suffered or died or lost their faith without another to replace it, because I did not care to pursue or develop or share what I thought.

It has happened too many times to count. It has been happening since I was a small child. Of course it has.

I am not exceptional. So, I conclude, it must happen, if not to everyone, then to a great number of people. And yet the world continues to run as if having thought of something first is worth something, as if it is possible to trace an idea through its million conceptions to some ultimate parent; as if there is value to be found in that. I live in a world where the creator is cast automatically as the best defense for an idea, where the creator's particular version with all its baggage and peculiarities is a privileged 'canon' which can be revered and reviled in its entirety as if it were a useful thing to do. It is not a world where people behave as if they have thought of many things before. Or if it is, it is one where they can't admit to it on pain of death.

Metrics backpropagate. If the world behaves as if the originator of an idea bears rights and responsibilities to it, one can choose to hold oneself to that metric, and fear the overwhelming weight of the error they have made in not pursuing the potentially transformative idea they have re-encountered in someone else's work; or one can see if perhaps the metric has erred in measuring what you expected it to measure. We don't take the second door often; we rarely stop even to question what a metric is measuring in the first place. In this case, there is another fear whose shoulder is pushed up against that door: the reluctance to acknowledge that the passing thought we see echoed was never our own, that notions of claim do not reach inside one's mind to cast a protective shield around its innards. Our ideas are not unique, not necessarily and not even in practice; therefore, necessarily and in practice, they are not our own.

There, in a stroke we are free from the yoke of our own imagination. And so the pattern goes: freedom is bought at the price of one's self. Independence from the outside is achieved by blurring the boundaries between within and without. It's quite simple: a few feats of everyday magic, and the world is a different place without having risen from one's chair, without having to exercise anything at all, beyond one's faculties of comprehension. And if the old notions of claim, ownership, and control were to apply, one could argue I've taken over your brain. But you see, all that's happened is that you've understood.

And that's all that we're talking about, really.

Siren   riddle

CREATED: [2015-04-05]

It calls to you from the empty space beyond railings. It's there, waiting, between the cars, tangled with the motorbikes, in every gulf of city road and every chasm of dark highway whose surface sings at the stroke of approaching wheels like the strings of a double-bass. It weaves long, slow spells around the piling trash and unwashed sheets of the cubicle you live in, until it convolves the world into a point of fiction; until your bowels don't have anything left to process and the clawing of your belly seems as much a dream as anything else. Because you have to, inasmuch as you have to do anything, you walk on by.

Adamant   poem

CREATED: [2014-08-10]


My secret soul that hides between
What parts of my world count as seen
Is sometimes moved
And sometimes bruised
And one day it may die.

All the words I ever knew
Won't give it away to you
It sometimes screams
And sometimes dreams
And does it all alone.

It holds within an ageless ache
Because, you see, it cannot break.
It sometimes sleeps
And else, it weeps.
I feel it in my bones.

Kiss me, I may say, and hope
You'll draw it out upon a rope
You lower through
What's told as true
And taste it where it lies.

Conversation   story

CREATED: [2014-08-10]

“Conversations always end too soon for me.”

“Do they now.”

I chewed on my lip, trying to frame my answer. “Either it's awesome, it's working, and the other person says it's over out of the blue, or it just peters off, and I don't know where it went.” No, that wasn't right. “It's not that they're silent, more that it stops working like it was.”

He seemed perfectly content to stand where he was, looking at me or through me as we went on. “You make it sound like a machine.”

“Conversations? Yeah. Lots of delicate little bits that go in very specific places.”

“And a lot to get wrong.”

I twisted a corner of my mouth. “Yeah. That's where the problem is. It's like everybody I talk to works with only half the blueprint I've got.”

The damp seeped into our clothes as the mist curled. Fingers of it licked at his ears. He rubbed his jaw, and I followed the motions of his white, smooth hands. “What is it supposed to accomplish? This machine of yours?”

I blinked, and pinched a slip of tissue from behind my lip between my tongue and teeth. “I don't know.”

“Well, that's an easy answer.”

“If I don't know, that's it, isn't it?”

He shifted to face me better. He'd been alternating between this and facing the street to my left for the past half hour, always leaning against the waist-high fence I was sitting on. “It doesn't explain why you keep trying to build it.”

“Maybe I'm just curious.”

“Oh, come now.” He was smirking, but he was serious. “That's not an acceptable answer.”

I sighed. “No, it isn't.”

He let me be silent, trying to think it through.

“Maybe it is. Say I find a way to build the whole thing – someone with the whole blueprint I have Or enough to bullshit the rest of their way. Then I'll have finished, and I'll see what it means, right? That's what I want.”

I looked at him, and he had his own moment to chew that over. Then he grinned. “I just hate the word. 'Curiosity'. It sounds so flimsy. Compare it with someone saying, 'I want to know.'”He'd lost the grin at the last, and put it back with practiced timing. “They don't seem like the same thing.”

I was nodding along. “The second is more powerful. As though it could shake your bones.”

“Split them and eat the marrow.” He laughed, falling back on the fence to face the street again. I smiled, and looked down.

When I looked up again, he was watching me, and the pause had stretched too long.

I didn't try to break it.

Somehow, he found the moment, and spoke again. “Maybe this is the solution to your problem.” He stopped, and looked at me. I couldn't open my mouth – it had been glued shut from being kept too long committed to staying that way. He smiled as if he knew the issue. “How about I stick around until you want me to leave. We don't have to say anything.”

When I could, I said, “You don't have to do that.” My voice, nervous, was too soft, and I had to repeat myself.

He rubbed his jaw again. There were red spots on his hands, behind his knuckles, between his tendons. It bought him a moment or two to consider what he said.

“I'm reasonably certain I want to. I'm not done with this yet.”

Damp made his hair heavy, and it was beginning to drip onto his forehead.

I hopped off the fence, and stretched forward with my hands still on it. Then I turned, and jerked my head to my right.

“Come on, let's go inside. We'll get a cold.”

He lifted a corner of his mouth. “Why not. You have hot chocolate?”

On Obsession   story

CREATED: [2014-08-10]

She tried to picture the quiet of her meditation hall, timeless, without a beat, without a count, with only the steady progression of forms, the position and reposition of the body, every action of muscle corresponding to an action of breath. One began with palms flat against each other, fingers facing up, held against the sternum, pressing into the bone like a knife-edge lightly held in place; knees and back held straight, unmoving but relaxed, still but not rigid; feet together, facing forward, eyes as well. Ekam.

“It's next stop.” Spin's voice rang low and clear in her ears, despite the muting effect of the dull murmur that enveloped the immediate environment like a blanket. Around her, the dank smell of commuter traffic filled her nose, bearing its own personal stamp along with all the typical elements: in addition to the sweat and the smell of once-fresh cotton and linen and nylon were the faint whiffs of tired, once-strong spices, fried meat and vegetables, oil and horseradish and chili. The remnants of lunch. The shifting crowd began to rearrange itself with practiced steps, as some spilled out of the overfull container of bodies and some forced their way in. The person on her right took seven steps, minor shuffling rearrangements of position. Seven people brushed against her as they moved around. It looked like rain. She could see people exiting putting up umbrellas and hoods, quickening their pace. Inside the train car as well, hoods went up in anticipation of disembarking. She counted seven in her field of vision.

She took a deep breath as the train doors closed. Seven seconds after the third person disembarked. Or seven and a half. Which meant that it was seven seconds since the interval between persons three and four. Seven seconds since three and a half?

The palms were then opened, facing downward as the arms extended in front of her, held to continue the line of the arm; and then the arms were raised, slowly, above her head, until they continued the line of the torso; and then taken back further as, without a pause, the torso tilted back from the hips to arc the body into a single line of action, curved like an unstrung bow, as her chest filled with air to curve it further. Dve.

The train's movement was gliding and untextured, more like flying than land travel in its smooth feel. The arms of the passengers around her were nevertheless stretched upwards to hold onto the provided handles, a matter of comfort or habit more than any real need, she supposed. The odd forest of human limbs above her head crisscrossed and broke up the windows into irregular panes, in her view. One window to her left was split into seven by the limbs blocking it.

She turned her head to find Eane watching her, dark eyes flatly assessing through wispy black bangs, and took another deep breath, this time slow and even enough not to be obvious.

The torso and then the arms were then unwound from their position, the bow defying its own laws of tension as it straightened with ease; and the arms were swung forward deliberately, looking as though they extended in length when the back curved to hang them farther down, until the forehead met the unbent knees and the palms were flat against the ground next to her feet, the whole body folded in two, locked to itself like the edges of a silk fan, air released from her chest and stomach in a steady flow to note the compression and mark the change. Trini.

Telephone poles whipped by; she flicked her eyes to the window again quickly, and counted seven before she turned away. She pinched the bridge of her nose, head falling forward for a second. She lifted it immediately when she saw three and a half pairs of shoes in her visible range, and looked back at Eane, willing herself to calmness.

The hips dropped and the right leg extended far back, so that the left knee bent to tuck into the armpit neatly. The head was lifted to look up, neck arching to create the curve that extended through to her right foot. Again a breath was taken in. Chatvari.

“We're here.” Spin's voice was brisk now, and she automatically moved to follow its directive, following the dance steps neatly to exit the monorail car. The station was above ground, the sky ominous but rain still holding off.

The left leg was taken back to rest parallel to the right, ramrod straight, and using the soles of the feet as a fulcrum, the entire body was turned on the hinge of the hips so that the arms and torso aligned once more and the hips, held in the air, resembled the peak of a mountain. Air was deliberately exhaled, downwards to mark the support drawn. Pancha.

Fourteen people were wearing yellow on the platform. Seven heads stood slightly taller than the rest. Seven turnstiles stood in a row, gleaming silver. Stainless steel, minimum ten point five percent chromium. Seven times fifteen, a hundred and five. Above her head were thirty-two spanners holding up the roof. Sixteen times two. Sixteen minus two was fourteen. Numbly she felt a hand pull her through the station, out to an exit, onto the sidewalk where cars whizzed by. Twelve cars passed the spot she stood at for three seconds before she was propelled further along. Twelve divided by three was four. Three plus four was seven. Two of the cars had been red. Twelve plus two was fourteen. Hysterical bubbles of laughter rose to her throat, but her mouth was paralyzed and wouldn't open. Instead, the low sound began coming from her throat, through her nose, nearly inaudible, but deep and rolling, arrhythmic in its delirium.

The knees were collapsed onto the floor,the body folded onto the lower legs, arms outstretched still, forehead to the ground, a position of total supplication, breath indrawn. Sata.

Six.

She began to shake.

Blind   poem

CREATED: [2014-03-12]


We die; we are killed, we are weathered, are felled, are decayed,
We remain living, watching the ghosts that our murders have made
We suffer our punishments at unseen, untouchable hands;
We write our poetry in languages no one else understands.

I look at you, and my mind is unbound, unfettered in storm
Undoing ghost, what were the murders that made such a form?
I write myself over once more for your unseeing eye,
I look at you, self-written cryptic, and suffer, and die.

Evil Prompter   song

CREATED: [2014-03-12]

Who is the person holding the cue cards
and what does he want today?
Sleep ran off with Night, so I drank with First Light
She washed all my lines away
Sometimes they're blank, and sometimes they're written
in languages I never learned
Sometimes he's filled them with absolute nonsense
And sometimes he's holding them turned

Who is the person holding the cue cards
and what does he want with me?
We've never met, and we've never spoken
So why can't he leave me be?
Everyone sees him, but don't seem to notice
It's me that they're looking at funny
Is he Somebody's nephew or Somebody's boyfriend?
/Is Somebody taking his Money?

It's driving me to my limit
It's time to get out of this business
I fail to see what's in it
For me anymore

Wave me goodbye and kiss me
Lie to my face that you'll miss me
As you were, I'm sure you're busy
I know the way to the door

Look what the cat dragged in.   story

CREATED: [2014-03-12]

"But I love you," he pleads, eyes streaming and voice shaking; a mess of quaking limbs and blotched skin, dressed in dirty thirdhand rags and alley-cat hair, on his knees on the expensive carpet I had had selected and arranged just last week. I sniff, disgusted. Does he honestly expect his snivelling to make any difference to me? One would have thought he’d know better by now at least.

Gingerly, I brush at a trailing, fraying bit of cloth with a foot. I’m not even sure it belongs to any garment – it seems perfectly possible that he fished it out of the gutter outside a tailor shop.I try to lift rather than press at it – I don't want to riskdamaging the carpet any more than he has already. It’s likely beyond repair, but one hasto show at least that modicum of consideration.

I’m quick enough to pull away before he catches my leg, thankfully. I just finished getting myself in order and presentable five minutes ago, and heaven only knows what kind of destruction he could wreak on my coat with those filthy hands. The lunge he makes towards me is pitifully weak, but it’s enough to topple him over; he could be made of wire and gelatin, all quivers and stiff joints. He lies, sobbing, with his cheek pressed to the shag pile. He tries and fails to lever himself up again, and sobs some more. I sigh a little.

A glance at one of the servicemen standing in the background is enough. They know what’s needed, and will handle it without my needing to trouble myself one whit more than I have already. I give the heap on the ground a last look before turning towards the balcony. It’s the only place in the house where I can be assured of escaping his stink.

It's a nice night. I wish I didn't have to disturb myself, when I could otherwise spend the time enjoying it. The air is balmy, the smell of the sea is coming in from the slight, warm breeze; the lights twinkle above and below – flickering pinpricks like dust in the sky, and the more vulgar multicoloured flashes shining up from the spread of land below. The lights climb the low hills to the south. They look like bleeding fingers, metrically lit avenue-strips leaking pools of muted rainbows. It appeals to the nouveau riche aesthetic, I suppose. I’ve been there, but never lived there. I wouldn’t want to; for all their vulgar sprawl, those estates make me claustrophobic.

For myself, I prefer to be in town, not those suburban excuses for city life.I’m placed directly at the nerve-centre of the network of lights, but elevated to remoteness from it; prized territory rather than profligate. It’s well decorated and cosy, with nooks to hole away in and oversize cushions for naps. The art is bold and abstract. The furnishings are Art Deco. The colours are soothing. I pay for comfort, and I pay for taste.

I watch now, perched on the wide railing, as the even patterns shift and dim. It’s late, for night-blind folks.

He's pushed onto the deck through the French windows; they close silently behind him. I look him over sidelong, unwilling to displace myself excessively and slightly afraid he’s still in that obscene state he arrived in. As expected, however, all is well. He's clean, hair washed and combed, in a cotton shirt and silk slacks, shod in the smooth, buttery-soft house moccasins set aside for him. Sweet, generic gardenia perfume wafts its way to my nose. While the cringing expression and stance is annoying, it takes low priority. I beckon him closer lazily. Thankfully he's unable to find anything to trip over in the expanse of empty, sanded wood between us.

He stands awkwardly over me. The silence stretches. He never can handle much of it. Practice has given him about a minute's worth of liver, and then, on cue, he snaps.

“Princess. Princess.” he looks at me, desperate. I can read it in his eyes, the panic that prey undergo when they realize they're trapped – nothing worth doing, and yet they struggle, blindly, because their brains tell them to. He has to say something, but he doesn't even realize what's coming out of his mouth.

“Look at me, princess. Won't you believe me? Why won't you believe me? Princess, I love you, I love you so much. Isn't that enough for you? You said it was, you did, you did. Princess, look at me—”

His pupils crowd his irises out of the way. He's talking without pause for breath, but cuts himself off as I open my mouth. More fool him – I’m only yawning. He watches me, and I can see the threads unravelling from his mind as the situation truly sets in and he realizes where he is, what he's doing.

“Come with me, Princess. You said you would. You said you would you said you would you said you would you—” a gurgle of sorts interrupts his litany in his sort. He's collapsed, sobbing.

It's actually somewhat amusing, in one light. What does he expect me to do?

I sigh. The balcony is no longer silent, and I abandon what slim hopes I had of salvaging some part of my nice quiet night. I hop down and saunter past him, close enough to cross his shadow – just to spook him some more, for the fun of it. He starts violently away, tipping over again;and lies trembling as he follows me out with his fixed prey-stare.

The door is opened for me. As I pass through, a soft, delicate hand travels along my back, nape to tailbone, in one smooth stroke. I stretch into the touch, pleased; my head curves back to glance archly at the demure black-and-white figure.

She used to be dressed in cotton and lace once upon a time, when the old steamboat was alive. Now she’s in silk, from her fair, bare silky hair to the toes of her soundless, spotless black ballet flats. My orders, of course.

It was the steamboat, in her ticklish feathers and nubby, itchy velvets, who left me all this. She won it all from her old mate, of course, but that was far before my time.

Idiot lady. Somewhere she had told somebody that the house and the moneywent to either me or her new mate, whichever stayed in the house with her corpse for thirty days. The fool sitting outside hadn’t made it a week before running. I think it must have broken him a little bit, inside his head.

Milk-boned twit. It hadn’t exactly been easy for me either. Three days in, and the smell was on everything. It made me ravenous. Still does whenever I think about it.

It took a week after the carcass left – minus a few nibbles, and who could blame me? – but my peteventually madeit so you’d think you were in an edelweiss field fourthousand foot square, right in the middle of the city. I had had about five minutes to enjoy it – the last of the old upholstery had just gone out the door when this fool had tried to let himself in, and his reek with him.

“We’ll throw him out, my sweet. Don’t you worry.” She massages my back some more, her long fingers exactly the trick for my sore nerves. We’ve never needed words between us, my pet and I; she’s mother and lover and attendant. She knows what I need.

She clucks now, the sound musical in her throat. “The hag had terrible taste in some things, didn’t she, sweet? What she saw in this fool to marry I’ll never know. And to think he still had a key!I took it, of course, but we’ll need the locks changed anyway.”

She looks at me, indulgent. “And to think he wanted to make off with you. But you’d never look twice at that mangy upstart alley lurker, would you, Princess. He never made you turn a hair.”

I feel her smile in her fingers, more than I see it. She picks me up, holds me against her soft silk-screened bosom. Her fingertips tease behind my ears. “Why don’t we make a show of it, and have him dragged out by his shirt tails?” Her voice is musical, soft. It has none of the screechy pitches of the idiot outside, and none of the overloudboom that the steamboat’s had possessed.

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you, Princess? And I suspect I would, too.” She laughs, low and throaty, at her own joke.

I purr again, long and loud, in counterpoint.

A Dystopian Story   story

CREATED: [2014-03-12 Wed]

"Put that cheapot down, Helen."

At the sound of the high-pitched voice, with its imperious tone, Helen jumped so badly that the cornflower-blue teapot nearly fell out of her hands. With hands still shaking, she slotted the teapot back into its hexagonal niche in the wall, and the pneumatic door slid closed in front of it almost before she could withdraw her hands again. Helen's daughter stood crossly in the doorway, hands on hips.

"I don't know why I haven't gotten rid of that filthy old thing yet. In fact, I think I will tomorrow." With a gusty sigh (made somewhat less impressive by her tiny lung capacity), Helen's daughter skipped across the room towards the large plush purple beanbag in the center.

"Daughter, no, please, please don't-"

The small child spun on her heel to face Helen, and stomped her foot. She pressed a button on the remote control dangling from her wrist, and Helen had to grit her teeth to hold back the scream. Helen always had to be careful about her screams when she was punished - some children liked them, she knew from the Manual, but not her daughter.

"Don't argue with me."

Helen knew she wasn't really that angry - she had remembered to spin on her heel and stomp her foot, after all. That meant she was doing it for show. It was only respectable to reprimand a parent for speaking out of turn, and PurpleLava was eminently respectable.

It was also only respectable to have the teapot vaporized if she expressed a wish to preserve it. It broke just about every rule of respectability in this enlightened era to preserve an object established as old, on the entreaties of a parent. Helen knew it was hopeless, could feel it in her aching spine. Still, she had to give it a try.

"I'm sorry, daughter. I shouldn't have said that, should I have?"

Helen's daughter calmed.

"No, you shouldn't have. But that's okay, if you know that." She fidgeted with the pin-and-purple plastic beads on her wrist. "Why should I keep it, anyway?"

Helen smiled. She knew she was much better off than most parents were in their homes, with a daughter like hers. PurpleLava (that was the name she had most recently picked for herself, and the folks at the Development Centre said that it was a sign of an out-of-the-box, progressive bent of mind) was on her way to being a Scientist. That made her more open-minded to ideas that Helen put forward, even if they were by definition backward ideas, coming from a parent.

"It's a curiosity. It's not something that you see everyday, is it? Even if it is filthy and old." PurpleLava rolled her eyes.

"It's a boring curiosity. It was invented how long ago? It doesn't matter at all." She scoffed. "What kind of a name is cheapot for a curiosity, anyway?"

Helen tensed; she had to pick her words yet more carefully. "Yes, but nobody in the latest generation has looked at it yet. It's so old, it's almost a natural object, isn't it? So maybe you could see something in it that people couldn't before. And you can always rename it."

PurpleLava considered this, her thumb in her mouth. Then she took it out and nodded. "That's not such a bad idea. Even if it is filthy and old, I guess I could look at it a bit before we vaporize it."

Helen nearly collapsed with relief. It would be months before the question of the filthy old thing in the wall occurred to her daughter again. Until then, the teapot was safe. With shaking fingers, she pushed the button to close the receptacle. It slid shut with a pneumatic hiss.

PurpleLava was already skipping off, headed for her home lab. She had already lost interest. Helen would have been a Scientist in her day - but there was a genetic weakness in her mother's side, and she came down with a disease when they were children. Helen had been quarantined for three years, and hadn't been able to attend the Development Centre at the right ages. She had stayed at home spending more time alone with her mother than was considered healthy for a modern progressive child. Her mother had been a foreigner, and she had had a number of filthy old things with her. One by one, Helen had had them vaporized - they weren't respectable in the slightest, and her visiting colleagues would have found them disgusting - but once she started staying at home, she did this less and less; and the last one, the teapot, was left until after her mother turned forty, and she couldn't bring herself to get rid of it.

She hadn't always been called Helen. She had been GreenPony, and Starry, and SunsetButterfly, but had eventually changed her name to what her mother had always called her. No one knew what it meant, but Helen was sure it was old. PurpleLava didn't like people to know that it came from Helen's parent - a parent's parent, a thought vaguely nauseating in itself. It was a serious embarrassment to her. Helen was often punished for it when PurpleLava was in a bad mood, but parent names weren't that important anyway, so none of her colleagues ever found out, and Helen was allowed to keep it.

Fingering the bruised skin around the electrode at the back of her neck, Helen wondered what PurpleLava would say if she knew that Helen still sometimes used the word mother in her head. She also wondered if Purple Lava knew what the teapot was made out of. Probably not - she had never even touched the teapot before, and she hadn't seen the stuff before either. Helen tasted on her tongue that foreign idea, the idea that she knew something her daughter didn't. It wasn't a new idea to her. After all, she knew because her mother had told her. What it was was something called tchina. Her mother had owned a lot of the stuff. If it broke, the pieces would be sharp.

Helen turned the idea over and under in her mind, considering.

Nocturne   poem

CREATED: [2014-03-11]

Long did I travel, from home I was far
When I saw you make love to the evening star
That home I've forgotten, and can't find anew
For my world has faded to that star and you.

Venus is fickle, but her lovers are true
You've yet to return from wherever you flew.
I'll shadow her—though she seems dark to me too
I'll wait in her darkness to once more see you.

Horrorstory   story

ID: 405618af-b6a4-4409-a5e6-aa5c82444c4d

Preludes

CREATED: [2014-08-10]

The problem with the world today is a lack of destruction.

I say this despite knowing that most will find the notion perfectly counterintuitive – and that's the problem: we have come to a place, in our collective psyche, where we find the necessity of destruction counterintuitive. This is far from a natural or healthy state.

Humans aren't born with respect for only creative or preservative processes; we're born without the barriers that tell us not to pull things down, to tear them apart, to kill them or crush them or stomp on them. They are inverse twins, creation and destruction, that build cycles that hold eternal fascination and infinite beauty for our minds; it is a beauty we learn before we are old enough or slow enough to be properly taught anything. You see it in children: blocks are used to create the most elaborate, storied constructions, as tall as their makers, which are really only built so they can be torn down again – fists are punched through their centres, cornerstones are pulled away, and small palms are clapped in glee as the castle comes crashing to the ground. (“Building blocks.”) The pattern is ubiquitous to all childhood: Sand castles slaved over for hours get kicked up when the tides come in. Girls' pigtails get pulled. Low tables get turned over. Milk gets spilled. Knees and hands are torn up in efforts to run as fast as legs can carry you. Childhood, after all, is the passionate pursuit of entropy, through any and all means. Nothing in childhood is ever repeated. Nothing acquires that dull, comfortable sheen of sameness to other things that characterises our every attitude towards the world as adults. The best agents of entropy are creation and destruction, and we find their dichotomy everywhere in the exercise of children's agency.

The structures we are taught to think in, on the other hand, rely on sameness. We reduce all thinking to the manipulation of it, kill the openness of our minds with grey walls of abstraction to fence all our experiences; we build entire cities of invariant boxes that claim, laughably, to represent what they contain. We give them the contemptible, paradoxical moniker of 'systems of thought'; and posit with desperate conviction their sufficiency for all human activity; and invent new ones to hide behind whenever the whisper of truth reveals to us the converse. Language. Logic. Science. Politics.

Inexorably, inevitably, piece by required piece, we become so reliant on these grey walls and the mountainous, intractable structures they've been assembled into, that we lose sense of what they are and what we are. Like fools, we call their mess, their senseless profusion, the same names we had for the glorious, ephemeral beauties of things we last properly saw too long ago to remember; equality becomes our stand-in for diversity, war becomes our stand-in for battle, monument becomes our stand-in for art. We mistake complexity, and scale beyond comprehension, for entropy; and proceed to spend our life adding to it in some effort to replicate the effortless feeling of childhood, when everything was madness, madness that words couldn't pin down and that no one else could ever see.

But we are, against our best efforts, still human, and our inherences don't change; and we still love what we learned to love before we were taught anything, to tear things down. It is impossible in the world we created, and unthinkable to tear the world down. So we compartmentalize and rationalize the love away, trying to lose it in structure so that we don't have to look at it straight. We call it the cost of change, we call it a perverse urge, we call it rage, we call it stress, we call it progress. We call it genius or psychosis in others so we can pretend not to understand. We try to medicate it away. We try to find acceptable targets for it, and acceptable ways to indulge it. We try to relegate it to other places a thousand miles distant, miles measured over oceans and mountains and lines on maps, so we can tut at it like pigeons and pretend to be powerless about its effects.

There are those of us who enjoy watching this structure and these people as they tick forward by degrees into their own destruction; against odds, we remember and face our love of falls, of breaks, of violence. We sit at the edge of the stage, eating popcorn as if we were audience, and every so often we get up to go among the main players and walk around, and stroke people's backs to make them shiver, or claw at their cheeks from behind, and say, “Boo!” so that they jump out of place or forget their lines. We cackle madly as some corner of the play derails, and the chances for the production's success grow yet worse.

This is one such stage corner. Some would call it a horror story.

Exposition

CREATED: [2014-08-10]

She was pretty. She knew it, too, and used it shamelessly to her advantage whenever she thought it would give her the slightest edge in anything. Her face was well enough structured, but it was her skin, pale and creamy and only ever charmingly blemished, that did it for her; that and the way she used her face, the expressions. She was petite but healthy-bodied. She attracted attention, but not stares. She smiled often, and had a repertoire of smiles, one for every occasion and desired outcome.

Socially speaking, her one perhaps redeemable feature was her temper; it blazed at the slightest annoyance, and gave her scowls; but died down just as fast. She refused to be embarrassed by it, and carried on blithely once any issue it caused was resolved. Whatever her other virtues and failings, it was this for which people liked her, because it made her both imperfect and nonthreatening. There is nothing as toothless as an easily appeased temperament.

She was only ever truly beautiful when she danced.

It was what I loved her for.

The first time I saw her was in a group of five. The occasion was meaningless, one of the many half-baked internal - “inter-house” – events foisted on our free time for the sake of generating the facsimile of a diverse almanac that the institute presented prospectives with. The performance was pitiful, really, with the steps repetitive and exaggerated, and all the dancers out of step to the point where one wondered if they were even performing the same routine. Front and centre, put there to bolster the overall appearance and remind the others of what they were doing, she stood giving life even to those dull motions. Enthusiasm formed the basis for why their group won; the other dancers' as well, I suppose, but mostly her own. She seemed to take up the entirety of the pitiful stage, tiny as she was physically. The other dancers were little more than flawed extensions of her presence.

That magnified personality was the first hint I had of her possessing any character to speak of.

It wasn't much unusual, though; just a moment of reflection that betrayed her being human. Character is the property of not being superfluous to a story – any story – worth being written, and stories are forgiving things; by this measure you would be hard pressed to find someone without an ounce of character to speak of over the course of their lives and pasts and deaths. This was simply the moment where I realized she was worth my interest; an epistemic phenomenon purely. The first moment where I could decisively say she interested me came much later; how it came about, though, causally or chronologically, seems both perfectly obvious and utterly shrouded in mystery.

We were friends, or were defined as such in the social structure of our surroundings, almost from the first day. In my mind at that time, she was only someone I spoke to. It was a matter of circumstance – or at least, not fully relevant – that I spoke to perhaps three people out of a hundred-odd in my immediate environment, and seven in the extended; not counting those with whom communication was unavoidable but mercifully scripted. She bored me much of the time, but possessed flashes of insight into matters that honestly interested her, as opposed to the many things she did for the sake of being able to say she had done it, or for the sake of impressing or ingratiating herself with the others.

“Maths?” she'd say. “I love the subject. You can get a hundred in maths.” I would roll my eyes, and she would look at me sidelong. “Don't act like you're so much above all of this marks bullshit. You care about it more than most of these idiots.” And I did care, much as I tried to hide it: whatever anybody said they hated in public, they wanted in private. She was perceptive because her world was made of these sorts of absolutes.

Everyone wanted to be better. The best wanted to be better at something else. Work was always the last resort. Being nice avoided trouble. Slightly dim girls were endearing and got treated well. Whatever it was one wanted to accomplish, there was always someone somewhere willing to strike a deal that would accomplish it for you.

Some of these were reflective, and some were algorithmic. It was rare that she found herself wrong, because she constructed and applied her rules very well. She was generally thought smart, but by her own design she appeared much less intelligent than she was.

In hindsight, I did talk to her quite a lot, even in those early days. Her own insecurity and mine centred many of our conversations on why and how precisely we enjoyed each other. We shared every detail of our lives and histories, in a passive-aggressive bid to outdo each other in the levels of pathos and anger we could manufacture from them.

“I hate my father so much.”

“Me too. He should just leave the house already. My mother has spent half her life completely miserable because of him. I don't get why he doesn't just leave.”

“You haven't seen the half of it. Thank God mine isn't home right now. The things he used to…ugh, I can't even think about it without feeling like screaming.”

“Like what?”

I seized upon whatever dregs of empathetic feeling I could find in myself to try and justify my curiosity; the moment, the unfamiliar flavours of falseness, remain vivid in my mind. She was looking for it; she was in a boasting mood, after all, and how without an audience ready to eat out of her hand? She would pause for a moment, perfectly timed, as she bit her lip in a show of nervousness. You would feel by the way she looked at you as if you were in her deepest confidence; and yet I had heard the same spiel given to others: different context, different content, same beats. With other people, it would be others' secrets she would share. She had a measure of trust in my closed mouth, because who would I open it to?

I loved to play her game, because she elevated it to an art form.

I couldn't say where among these million small processes and occurrences I began to observe as closely as I did; or when within that observation, I began to be fascinated. In hindsight, situation and circumstance made it perfectly obvious, a given even, what was going to happen. But if I were to attempt a causal map, a true recount of the hows and wherefores of our outcome, I would find myself unmoored. For concrete events I have only one true instance I can point to, and that was the moment, that unbearable, forceful moment crystalline in my memory; when, on an interminable bus ride back to the campus from some unimportant competition, she touched the tips of her fingers to pointed toes on an outstretched leg, gracefully, showily loosening her cramped limbs across the empty aisle. Her hair fell forward across her shoulders and onto her knees, curls at the nape sticking there with sweat; the pleats of her skirt fanned out, hanging just above the floor; her eyes, large and direct, were focused on her pointed shoe; and her bare shin was laid out at waist level, square in my field of vision. The airless interior became vacuum to my lungs, and I realized I was obsessed.

Myth

CREATED: [2014-08-10]

To what extent does what we hear about the world shape the way we speak to it? All our lives we’re fed fantasies of the perfect partner, the other half, the feelings of incompleteness that will not manifest until their resolution is immediately present; the problems that you didn’t know existed until their solution was manifest. This gross appropriation on the part of love of every other myth one can find oneself immersed in is nothing short of criminal at times. The currency of the myths is the intangible and unknown; truths about oneself hidden even from oneself. In a world where love has, like a destructive parasite to a host, appropriated all the resources of the soul, that ought to be available to fuel heroism, martyrdom, rebellion, psychosis, freedom, identity, thought, art – in such a world, I have no interest, but I am afraid of it.

Love and romance make poor candidates for the only myths in the world. Romance, in its flush, exists before love is made concrete. Other myths need to carry it forward, or love will die. And if love itself is thought to be myth, unreliable and yet reliant on faith – in such a world, romance, seemingly safer, is the sole refuge of the weary heart, and its final traitor. Like clockwork, the same tired motions and mechanics do little but mark time for the weary souls serving as cogs and hands and cuckoos. Myths are cyclic, but they need to convince; one cannot begin the circuit already weary at the thought of its end.

To that end, we were lucky. We were young. Our bones were limber, and hadn't ground down with a thousand repeated strains of one pattern. We simply hadn't yet had the time to do them injury.

But our myth was neither love nor romance. It was rebellion.

Interregnum   story

Inevitable

CREATED: [2014-08-10]

My voice cracked, but it was so far past the point where that would have mattered. “You bastard. You bastard. You left anyway. You're going to do this anyway.”

His hand shook, hesitated, but I'd never witnessed an action that felt as inevitable as when he lifted it to my cheek. I couldn't bear to look at the gentleness on his face.

“It isn't me if I don't.”

I covered his hand with mine. It took me a moment to realize why it was damp.

And I knew I wouldn't try to stop him.

Red

CREATED: [2014-08-10]

Sensation began at my ears, and pulsed through my head like successive underwater explosions; blurred echoes rippled to the edges of my skull, and stirred me from consuming stupor. I'd heard somewhere that, once upon a time, underwater cannons were how they recovered a drowned body – the pulse shook it loose.

I became aware of my head in its entirety through the disturbance that consumed it, beginning at the ears and ricocheting in unpredictable ways. For a moment, nothing else existed.

The sound solidified and sharpened until it hurt to hear. I tried to turn away, and must have made a sound. The clapping stopped.

It didn't seem to matter. My head was still pounding to the rhythm of the claps, between my ears and behind my eyes. I whimpered again, and didn't care that I was doing it.

Feeling returned to my face, my neck, but no further. It wasn't pleasant, but it would be much worse in a few hours. I could feel the telltale effects of painkillers in my system – the disorientation, the slow, ambiguous return of sensation. I tried not to tense up, paid attention to each bit of returning feeling to make sure I wasn't tensing the muscle. It was slow, which meant they must have used the good stuff. That was to be expected, for all that our stock was dwindling, given the circumstances.

It was both too silent and not silent enough. The background noise was faint but constant, but near me was quiet. That was the first and only warning sign.

I opened my eyes to red.

Trainwreck   story

Rorschach on Parquet

CREATED: [2014-08-10]

The dress was two-layered, and baggy around the torso, falling straight from the shoulders and held in place at the waist by an elastic band. On a thinner woman, it might have looked airy or draping.

A much, much thinner woman. An anorexic woman.

From the elastic, it fell nearly to the ground – would have, if not for the heels that acccompanied it, strappy plastic-gloss patents in a shade that brought out the florid pinks of the print flowers vividly against the black backing. That inner layer lasted only until an inch above the knees, leaving the chiffon layer – slit high at the sides – perfectly transparent to the skin. The wispy ends wrapped around her ankles in the breeze, getting caught on the silver clasps of the shoestraps. They were far too insubstantial to actually hinder movement, but it seemed like they would cause her to trip at any moment. Her unsteadiness on her feet didn't help matters.

The whiskey sloshed around in her heavy-bottomed lowball glass as she sipped from it, raised it high in the air in salute, moved it in circles as she gesticulated. There wasn't much left in the glass, but small splashes found their way out nonetheless, coating her hand and making faded designs on the pale parquet. The rim of the glass was covered in lipstick smudges, almost all the way around; near the crook of her finger was a neat, tiny kiss print, in rich pink that made it visible from a distance. Her voice, uneven in pitch and volume but rarely pausing except to breathe and drink – echoed faintly along the corridor.

The spills were wiped away almost the second they landed, and the talking could be muffled if it came to that – but her shoes were scuffing the floor wax.

This was the chief worry.

There wasn't much time left to do anything about it. The waxing happened once every three months, and was laborious, requiring several days of work, coordinated meticulously to ensure minimal obstruction of the household's everyday functioning; sections of the floor partitioned and choreographed like a garba or a Broadway musical. The wax was an import, and the workers who applied it were from Delhi. Nobody knew anything about the process beyond this.

There were fifteen, perhaps twenty minutes left.

Warm water was suggested, and the unfortunate speaker roundly abused. Water was anathema, this much was known. Various cleaning solutions were considered, but none could say which was safe and which not.

Five minutes passed. Panic was setting in. Several of the less experienced looked about to faint. Hushed voices became hisses.

And in the midst of it, a small canister was produced by a familiar hand.

A moment of utter silence passed before it was snatched away; a rag was produced, hisses became excited whispers as it was wet and applied and the marks disappeared like magic. Bottled absolution.

This done, a few looked up at the saviour, who had moved on ahead of the train, to catch up with its leader. The procession was stopped by a hand on the wrist, and the crowd caught up as well, spilling around the spectacle.

Quiet, firm words were spoken. A pout was elicited.

The whiskey would not be given up, but a bargain was struck to take the shoes and put them away. House slippers were produced, and the bargainer bent to effect the change.

She watched, and giggled, swaying forward as if the sound came up out of her stomach. Then she swayed some more as her foot was lifted, swatting away an offered hand. When she put it back down shoeless, she cocked her hip, jutting her leg out of the dress's side slit. She giggled some more, and there was a collective gasp as she upended her glass over her shoe-remover's head.

After a moment, with movements perhaps a little more abrupt, the other shoe was removed. The new problem now stood and stepped back, and there was a rush to wipe away the giant yellow Rorschach blot that had been left behind. A towel was offered and used; hair was rearranged. Once-neat cotton, mercifully dark, was dabbed at.

Abruptly, everyone dispersed. The problem was resolved and time was up. The chiffon caught on the door its wearer had been whisked through, and was tugged free. The towel was snatched away mid-use.

And he came walking down the corridor, house slippers soundless.

The scapegoat had already been seen, but no breath could be heard, even in the silence of the arcade.

He moved at a measured pace.

He never turned his head. When he reached the stiff figure standing frozen at the fringe of the path, he paused; sniffed twice, examined it briefly, and shifted his gaze straight ahead once more.

Two doors past her was his office. The sound of his door closing echoed faintly in the silence of the corridor.

The unfortunate took a shaky breath, and walked in the opposite direction; and two left turns later, entered a room and closed the door.

It wasn't as quiet a corridor as the other, but it wasn't a busy one either. Anyone who heard the muffled screams from inside passed on their way after a moment. It stopped off soon enough.

Waterbody   story

Prologue

CREATED: [2014-08-10]

It was a piece of emptiness that we all drove around - the place where nothing could be built, nothing could be planted, nothing could happen that humans could have a hand in. Satellite imaging gave us all we really knew about the space that we had to skirt, every single day, just to make it to where we needed to be; that was that it was overgrown, and that the foliage was darker than that immediately surrounding. Once in a while, the image on Google Earth was refreshed, and we caught a vague glimpse of reflected sky piecemealed in brown water. It would stay there for a month or more, until they took a new picture from up high.

The first time I'd seen that happen, I'd print-screened, not knowing how else to save the image at the time. Silly, really, the icon was right there on the toolbar…but I'd just started using the application at the time, and I'd been irrationally panicked, thinking I'd lose it.

We were told a great deal more about the place. Crescent Lake wasn't much of a lake anymore; it had eutrophicated some fifty years ago, and was something akin to marshland now. It was more expensive to drain than most marshland, because it had a connection to the aquifer that sat under the town - it took special equipment to keep from polluting it with half a century's worth of nitrogen buildup and chemical leaching. Too expensive a project if the mayor's Clean and Green running slogan were to be kept free from any damaging irony next election.

We were also told, on occasion, about young idiots who wandered into the expanse, and wasted taxpayer money on search parties that had started to become monotonous for the rest of us to hear about. Local news seemed to get a great deal of play out of stories that always turned out the same. Each time it happened, yet more flyers went out to paper the school walls, talks were given, and vigils were held. The red-eyed parents could be glimpsed, seated in the front row of the auditorium as people for whom photo opportunities were a part of life proselytized their cause under cover of expressing a community's grief. Rules were tightened, curfews were discussed, talking heads bobbled at each other about the deeper political meaning of everybody's opinion's and decisions were made or not made in closed rooms nobody knew much about. Nothing really happened. Life went on. The hole in reality fell out of the spotlight, and was not discussed. It wasn't something people wanted to dwell on.

To my life, it was essentially background noise; for all that I was one of those that counted and saw the missing faces. I woke up on time, exercised, ate a balanced breakfast, packed a balanced lunch, went to work and came back. I spent absurd amounts of time cooking dinner, ate it as I reviewed tomorrow's notes a final time, and went to bed reading, at ten thirty and no later.

The faces, the details, they faded into the background. I could remember any of it if I thought about it, but where was the need to?

In retrospect, it looks a great deal like I was begging for something to go wrong.

Date: 2016-05-10 Tue 00:00

Author: Sahiti Chedalavada

Created: 2021-09-18 Sat 10:49

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