Ima skipping my normal monthly blog spiel–the one with the anecdote– because I want to talk a little about the Blogmas thing I’m doing with the editor of the Alphabet Anthology series I’ve been a part of, Rhonda Parrish. Every year she organizes a blog tour of her fellow writers to benefit the Edmonton Food Bank (Rhonda is Canadian). Back in ’05-’06, I worked at the Manchester Food Bank in New Hampshire as part of my 2nd Americorps year. The job itself…didn’t work out (on the day that I arrived, they promoted one of their own to the particular position I was filling; they’d 100% forgotten about me; the rest of the year went like that)…but working for the Food Bank itself was rewarding. Food banks serve such a vital role in addressing needs that countries such as Canada and the US shouldn’t even have. And funding is always, always, always an issue.
So I’m asking you to PART. WITH. DAT. MONEY! According to Rhonda, “Because of the Edmonton Food Bank’s buying power every dollar that is donated to them can be turned into three meals. Which means, if we hit our $750 goal this year we will have provided 2,250 meals to hungry people. And that’s not nothin’.” In return, I’ve included a story of mine that I’m very fond of: Where the Dead Go to Disco. It was published back in 2015 over in Australia at fourW. So you know it’s good.
Below is a brief Michael update. Below that is the Blogmas story and links to the person who came before and after me. Read it. It’s great. And PART. WITH. DAT. MONEY!
This flash fiction piece at Pidegonholes–Teeth–is my favorite flash that I’ve written.
Spec Script: This one is about Ryan Reynolds. I stole the plot from the seminal King Missile song/video
Barrelhouse let me ramble on and on about Riverdale, a totally batshit show. Thanks, guys!
And here’s my fellows on the Giftmas Advent Tour:
Where the dead go to disco
After the funeral, Mona called and said, “Want to go to the Styx? I need the old times.” She switched off her mother’s radio, cut the song in mid-twang. She avoided country music ever since moving to Baltimore ten years ago. “I had, like, three Xanax. I can’t sleep.”
“I’m sorry I missed the funeral,” Derek said. He paused and Mona heard babies crying in the background. She wondered if they looked like him, thin and severe. “I just couldn’t make it.”
“It’s ok,” she said, thankful he gave no excuse. She touched her brown hair, her pale round face, felt nothing. “I just need familiar faces. Someone who knew them.”
He sucked in breath. “I’ll call you if I can come out.”
She said fine, hung up, sat there and stared at the walls of her old bedroom. It hadn’t changed. It was still painted a dark purple, with black plastic roses stuck on the window shades and posters of men and women in heavy makeup taped to the walls.
“Was this me?” she asked the still air. Seven years seemed too long a time to not visit home. She never had many visitors in the city; Derek came a couple times in the beginning. She remembered how he hated Baltimore, her new hair, her new pastel wardrobe.
“This isn’t you,” he’d said on his last visit, his voice hard and tight.
“You don’t like it?” she’d asked, tossing her dyed-back-to-brown pixie cut.
“Why would I? You don’t look like you.”
She had paused, looked at her reflection. She thought she looked pretty: she’d been too pale for the old heavy black tresses and makeup that pleased him.
“I look like me for the first time,” she’d said, ignoring his disapproving glare.
The phone rang and she snatched it up, pushing the memory away. “Derek?”
“Yeah, it’s me. Meet you at the Styx at nine, ok?” He didn’t sound happy; in the background, Mona heard the baby still crying.
Mona looked at her watch. She had about an hour to get ready and all the clothes she brought with her were piled on the floor. “I’ll be ready,” she said.
She pawed through the closet. Decades-old party clothes were still neatly pressed on shelves and hung from cedar bars, seemingly untouched in the between-years. When she left, it’d been easy to let “Mona” die and introduce herself to everyone as bright, cheery Ramona instead.
Before she’d packed the U-Haul, she spent three hours practicing her smile in the mirror, laughing at the sight of all her teeth. “Hi, I’m Ramona. Hi, I’m Ramona. Nice to meet you.”
Now she turned to the mirror. “It’s me, Mona. Nice to see you again.” She didn’t smile.
It took the full hour to get ready. Everything was tight in weird places. Even the corset that she strapped herself into constricted more than she remembered. Accessories were easier: silver necklaces, black eyeliner, black earrings. Lipstick? Deep red. Fishnet stockings? Yes.
She glared at the face in the mirror that was fuller and prettier than it used to be; glared at sunburnt short hair. She scratched herself through the stockings and where her tummy peeked out. Her skin was no longer fish-belly white. She even had traces of a tan.
She’d gone to Florida by herself for a week, danced with locals, eaten shellfish. She’d had fun, but upon her return, her answering machine flashed red.
“Hey, Mona. Could you call us back? It’s Mandy and Ivan.” She remembered biting her lip in confusion; she hadn’t thought of them in years. They were part of the gang, a gang she wanted to forget, though they had been nice enough. Mandy, especially had seemed too sweet for their sad group in chunky black boots, Ivan slow and dull.
She had called them back, curious, and when they talked about the tragedy, all her blood disappeared into her stomach. Her breath caught in her throat. “It’s such a tragedy, we wanted you to hear it from a friend,” Mandy had said.
She had wanted to know their definition of tragedy. Tragedy was avalanches and terrorist attacks; starving babies and penguins covered in crude oil. Tragedy was friends she hadn’t thought of in years telling her about her parents, dead in a car crash.
Just before nine, Mona dashed away angry tears and called a cab instead. She gave her address and said, “I’ll be under the dying elm.”
There was a pause. The man on the other end breathed deep. “Are you joking?”
“God, no,” she said. “Everything’s dying.” She waited under the elm in her front yard, the one covered in red tape warning of rot. It would be gone soon, sawed down to prevent spread of disease. She wished she could drive herself. It wasn’t an option.
When the funeral had ended, she’d waited for a bus to take her back. She couldn’t imagine driving, not so soon after they died. She hadn’t driven since their death.
She was under the elm when the cab rolled up, George Strait blaring from the speakers, songs about country roads and whiskey. Her father had listened to George Strait. She’d always wished he’d shut that shit off.
The driver smelled of cigarettes and his eyes followed her breasts in the rear-view, then her stony eyes when she glared at the speakers.
“Can you turn it down, please?” When he did and drove away, she refused to look back.
Derek was waiting for her at the Styx, with Mandy and Ivan. He was still tall, painfully thin, dressed in a velvet black suit and black tie (she assumed his cufflinks were the silver skulls she’d given him). Ivan and Mandy had matching wedding bands. They’d ballooned as if they’d eaten themselves.
“Hey, sweetie,” Derek said. He gave her a hug and held on for a shorter time than she liked. His ribs felt good. He pulled back, actually looked at her. “You look good, Mona.”
She watched for a smirk, but he seemed sincere. Maybe he had changed; they’d been young, after all. His marriage, she figured, that must mean something.
Ivan mumbled and nudged Mandy, who stepped forward. “It’s good to see you, Mona. You look the same, like a day hasn’t passed.”
Her corset suddenly cut off her circulation. She wished a day hadn’t passed. She banished her flush, controlled her breath. “Thanks.”
Derek must have seen how upset she was. He fished a cigarette out of a silver case and offered her one. At her first drag, she sighed. She hadn’t smoked in years. She coughed as smoke drifted into her eyes. What was she doing here? She wiped at tears with the back of her hand and wished her parents were alive and in their bed and that she was back in the city where she belonged and that everything was back to the way it used to be. She wanted to say that she had no idea how she was doing now that her parents were gone.
She wanted to yell that she had no idea who she was now, but instead she said, “Let’s just go inside.” She tugged at her corset. “I need a drink so I don’t feel like a tourist in Goth-world.”
Everyone shuffled their feet. Mandy reached out for Ivan. Their wedding rings clinked together, though she couldn’t have actually heard it. She laughed, remembering them as they used to be: Mandy, bony and awkward; Ivan, chunky and boring. God bless.
Inside, little skulls stamped on their hands, they got a drink and stood in a half circle.
“We’ve missed you, Mona,” Mandy said. She had pretty blue eyes.
“Yeah, those were the best times.” Ivan had a salt-and-pepper beard that suited him.
She said nothing. They were shadows of people she used to know. She needed to get away. She mumbled and darted ahead into The Styx’s bowels.
The Styx was the same club as it had been all those years ago. It used to be a Catholic church until it caught fire. The pews, the sanctuary, everything had burnt to ashes. The stained glass was stained with smoke damage and cracked from the building settling. Some enterprising soul had bought it and turned it into an all-ages club. A bar stretched along one wall, half-rooms were made with pillars and painted-black plywood, everything in dark hues. She felt not quite child-like and there was a rush of something close to adrenaline.
Pretending to be depressed was big back then. Now that she was actually sad, back on The Styx’s dance floor, where she’d spent so much time in her youth secretly ecstatic, she frowned, smiled, frowned again. Why was it wrong to feel not-sad?
Mona felt years fall away from her, layer by layer. She let the ponderous, sludgy music thud in time with her heart, swinging her hips in slow circles. She lifted her arms and she was back to her teenage self, when her parents were alive. Derek, a beer in his hand danced next to her, the others nearby. Around them, black-clad people – some with drinks, or clove cigarettes, or on black leather couches – watched. She paid no attention.
Derek faced one direction, then another, his body turning a hundred-and-eighty degrees. She watched him, puzzled. He used to dance like he was marching in place. As she watched, he slid on the slick floor, his hips bumping hers. She laughed, grabbed his arm.
“Goths can dance like this, right?” she asked. Hooking her arms around his neck, she sidled in. “You were always embarrassed to dance.”
“I guess so,” he said, one hand finding her hips. He sighed, swayed with her.
Her heart skipped as the tempo sped. Beads of sweat formed on her temple. “Do you remember when we used to make out in front of your parents’ house?”
“That was awhile back,” he said. He scratched at his neck.
“Sorry.” She wished a hole would open beneath her feet.
“It’s fine.” He shook his head and grinned. “Come with me.”
Derek took her hand and led her off the dance floor, past the leather couches, past their friends who stared after them. She wanted to yell into their bovine faces that her parents were dead and if she wanted to dance with her ex-boyfriend, she’d fucking do it.
“Here we are.” He let go of her, sat on a pew, his half-finished beer beside him. They were in an alcove in one corner of The Styx, wooden pews nailed to the wall. A chest-high, stained-glass window stared into the night: under the window, a carving into the wall. She remembered carving a simple Mona and Derek years ago.
“What am I looking at?” she asked, her heart beating rapidly. She turned to him and before she thought about it, sat in his lap. He grunted, squirmed and then leaned into her hair. For a moment, she felt safe, protected, like she did before.
She grabbed his hands and enclosed herself in his arms, craving safety, the heavy metal band of his wedding ring cold on her hot skin. Sweat formed along her breasts and neck. His beard itched her and she wriggled to put a little distance. Up close, he smelled of sour breath and baby powder. She breathed through her mouth.
She let go of his hands and squirmed, ready to stand. “I don’t know.”
“It’s ok,” he said. “I’ve missed you so much.”
“Don’t do that,” she said, standing. “That’s not what this is about.” She retreated until the opposing pew buckled the backs of her knees.
“Shit. I misunderstood, I guess,” he said, groping for his beer.
“What could you possibly misunderstand?” She laughed, picked at her cuticle.
“Damn it, Mona.” His voice low, he asked, “What is this about then?”
“I just wanted to feel like I was a kid again.” The carving under the windowsill stared at her. Another nearby was of a heart impaled by a syringe.
“Mona, come on.” he said, his throat full of soggy anger. “You called me on the day of your parents’ funeral. We aren’t kids.”
“God,” she said, “why the hell would you say that? I just wanted to pretend for a second.” A bulge grew in her throat. For a moment, she’d forgotten.
She spun and stalked away, her stomach flipping. A sob escaped her throat and she started to laugh. “I need to go home,” she said, not caring who heard. “I miss them.” She walked onto the dance floor – full now with writhing bodies. Someone bumped into her, hard, and she slipped to a knee. Pudgy hands grabbed her by her armpits and lifted.
Ivan said, “You don’t look so good.”
Mandy said, “Let’s get you out of here.”
She didn’t know them anymore, but they had been friends and she was so tired.
They snaked out the front door to a blue Civic with a baby seat in the back. Suspended from the rear-view, she saw one of those little viewfinders sold at amusement parks. As they buckled, Mona in the back seat, she leaned forward to grab it and looked inside: a knee-high girl and a swaddled infant.
They drove in silence until Mandy broke. “Are we taking you home?” She kept her hands on the wheel, but her voice quavered … with sympathy? Mona couldn’t decipher emotions.
She thought about the dying elm tree and the empty house. “No,” she said. “Is there some place I can rent a car? The airport maybe?” She was tired, yes, but she needed to get out of here.
Ivan turned. “Don’t you have stuff at the house?” he asked, his voice soft.
“I’ll get it later. I just need to go.” She rested her forehead against the cool window.
He asked something else, and at her silence, said, “We’ll take you, of course.”
Time passed until Mona said, “Could you put on some music?”
Mandy turned the radio on and the pre-set jumped right into the twang-y kind of music they used to make fun of. Mona laughed and said, “Dolly Parton?”
Ivan shrugged and said, “It’s something to ignore. We’re parents, you know? All growned up.” He touched his wife’s leg.
While paused at a four-way intersection, Ramona closed her eyes. Her parents hadn’t died there. But for just a moment, she pictured the outline of a ghostly station wagon driving through darkness, teenaged Mona dressed in black in the back seat, trying not to smile at her parents as they sang country songs she couldn’t hear.