Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Just Perfect

Joanie wanted to be the next big star
of home improvement TV shows.
She and her husband, Nick,
would transform old, outdated homes:
cover them in shiplap and subway tile,
tear down the barriers
between the kitchen and the living room,
rip up carpet to reveal old hardwood floors,
decorate the walls with artwork:
inspirational phrases written in a looping script
on stained wooden plaques,
family photographs given a new home
in vintage frames.
And their clients, as well as the television audience,
would gasp and cry, “It’s perfect!
Just perfect.”
Nick wasn’t nearly as ambitious as Joanie was
and not as skilled a builder as she’d like him to be,
but they could afford to hire a lot of help.
She just called that “a little TV magic.”
They were filming their pilot episode
in their hometown.
The Old Palmer House had actually been purchased,
despite the whispered rumors and campfire ghost stories.
A young couple from out of town
who had inherited a small fortune from a grandmother.
They could buy the house for a steal,
then spend three times that much gutting the home
and remodeling to their taste.
Joanie was excited to have such a large budget to work with.
“It’s perfect!” she declared. “Just perfect.”
Strange things started happening almost immediately.
If Joanie were filming in the kitchen,
there would be a loud banging sound
from the master bedroom above,
but these sounds would never be caught on camera.
“It’s probably just the house settling,” Nick reassured her.
“Or maybe even a raccoon in the attic.”
Occasionally the camera crew experienced 
strange equipment malfunctions,
but it wasn’t the newest and best equipment.
A candle spontaneously lit itself on the dining room table.
That was harder to explain.
One afternoon, Nick was tearing up the floor
in the master bedroom.
“Joanie!” he called in a panic. “Joanie!”
Joanie raced up the stairs.
Buried in the floor was a skeleton
dressed in a wedding gown,
clutching a bouquet of dried roses.
Joanie screamed, then turned to the crew.
“Turn off that camera!” she shrieked.
“Turn it off!”
But before the cameraman obeyed,
he captured the image
of the bedroom closet opening,
then something unseen grabbing Joanie’s leg,
knocking her to the floor
and dragging her screaming inside.
The door slammed shut,
and she was never seen again.
Nick abandoned the idea of a media empire.
The young couple never moved into
their dream home.
The Old Palmer House stands to this day.
Sometimes homeless people or stoners
break in, but they never stay long.
It’s said you can sometimes hear a soft voice at night,
saying, “We’ll add a new backsplash
and update the appliances.
It will be perfect.
Just perfect.”

A New Assignment

I got transferred to the Delta Six-Nine system.
Specifically, I was assigned
to the Sigma Epsilon Thirty Three moon base,
which was a bit of a letdown.
I mean, it’s a nice little base.
Well-populated, with all the amenities.
Frequent ration drop-offs.
You can get tons of exports from Jupiter Nine.
The moon itself is rich in natural resources.
The weather is pretty decent;
you only need to worry about acid showers
a few months out of the year.
But I don’t know.
It just feels like getting assigned to a giant mall.
It’s such an old base;
I can’t imagine being able to discover anything significant.
I heard it’s one big giant boys’ club at the top.
I’m probably not going to be able to advance
out of the small lab where I’m being transferred.
I guess I just hoped for something more.
I originally requested Theta One as my first choice.
I hardly told anyone because they’d tell me
I was nuts.
My stepfather would have tried to stop it, for sure.
I’ve heard they never send women there,
but no one knows why.
There’s no formal base.
We’ve sent people to explore,
but they’ve never come back,
and we’ve lost contact with them.
I know they’ve sent expeditions
just to find out what happened to the previous expeditions.
And maybe it’s a suicide mission,
but I want to know
I want to know what’s there.
I want to see things no one else has ever seen.
I want to name the animals and the flowers
and be the first to gaze at the stars in its night sky,
standing alone in a forest or a desert or tundra,
whatever they have there.
But I was never considered the best and brightest of anything,
and I guess I never will be.
So I’m going to Sigma Epsilon Thirty Three,
to my mother’s delight.
“They have the best spas in the galaxy there!” she squealed.
She promises to visit once a month.
“Sure Mom,” I said. “That would be great.”

Wednesday, November 20, 2019


A thick wall of grey clouds lined with black
Ragged fingernails chewed to the quick
A loudly ticking clock in a silent room
Do you smell that? Is something burning?
That girl looks at you from afar and starts laughing.
Your dad is angry; he's shouting and cursing
while you lie awake in your dark bedroom.
The rumbling of thunder in the distance
Stuck in the middle of the intersection when the light turns red,
a chorus of angry horns blaring behind you
Your dog sneaks up behind you and suddenly barks
A slamming sound in your house when you’re alone at night
Your boss wants to know if the project is finished,
but you forgot to do it; you never started it.
A phone call at two in the morning
A blood test for a life-threatening illness:
we’ll have your results in about a week to ten days.
The squealing of a dentist’s drill
The feeling of falling in your dreams,
then opening your eyes, realizing it’s too late.
You missed it.

Cosa Nostra

Autumn morning waiting for the school bus.
Wendy is fishing for compliments, as usual.
This time, she says her uncle is in the mafia,
as though that would be something to be proud of.
I look at the faces of the kids gathered around us;
no one is really buying it.
“If I wanted someone gone,” she begins,
then drags a finger slowly across her throat.
“Oh shut up,” Rebecca replies with rolled eyes.
“You’re so full of it.”
Wendy’s bravado shatters in the face of this challenge.
“Am not,” she mutters quietly.
She stands a little apart from us until the bus arrives.
Just before Christmas,
Wendy stopped coming to school.
Her uncle had been arrested, as well as her dad.
They weren’t mob bosses or hit men,
but they did boring illegal things for money.
“Where’s Wendy?” Paul finally asked our teacher.
“Did she, you know, get whacked?”
He sounded like a character in a Scorsese film.
Mr. Ross stared at us, mouth agape.
For the first time in his career,
students stared at him in keen fascination.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he scolded.
“Her parents are…separated,
and she’s moving away with her mother.
Kansas, I think.
Or Missouri.”
Satisfied that he had settled the matter,
Mr. Ross returned to our math lesson.
Paul turned to me and shook his head,
“She was totally whacked,” he declared.


Rowena handed me a clear liquid in a shot glass.
“Drink this,” she commanded.
I sniffed at it suspiciously.
“It just tastes like black licorice,” she said. “Drink up.”
I swallowed it quickly,
my face crumpling into a grimace.
My throat wanted to reject it immediately,
so I coughed into my napkin for a bit.
Ro rolled her eyes at me.
“So dramatic,” she said.
“I’ll get you another.”
I grabbed her arm, shaking my head.
“Just a beer, please,” I asked.
She headed to the bar,
vanishing in the crowd.
I don’t know what she had given me,
but the world grew fuzzier while she was away.
An 80s cover band was playing on the stage,
much too loudly,
and one middle-aged woman was dancing
on the floor in front of them.
She kept waving at her friend to join her,
and her friend shook her head with embarrassment,
and the woman kept dancing alone,
and someone was filming her on his phone.
The taste of black licorice was thick on my tongue,
and I hate black licorice.
Rowena returned with my beer
and spilled a little on my jeans as she set it on the table.
“Sorry,” she muttered.
I wished I were home then,
wrapped in my warm down comforter,
with the TV on all night,
repetitive chatter of infomercials invading my dreams.
I yawned, and Rowena playfully elbowed me.
“Don’t you dare go to sleep on me!
The night is young!”