Voluntary Purgatory

grave, purgatory
 

We wait:

staring at laminated infographics plastered around the doctor’s offices;

staring at our phones, holding our breath and hoping to receive a text.

We wait:

rereading the inspirational poster stuck to the ceiling, hoping the dentist’s drilling will end soon;

counting down the days to the next holiday, the next vacation, the next party.

We wait

for that person we like to say something first.

We wait

til the alcohol kicks in before we admit to our feelings.

We wait

until they’re gone to tell them how we feel.

Better to wait for the right time,

wouldn’t want to look stupid.

Rock Bottom

Droplets of water clung to the window screen, suspended in a row like mini planets. The rumbling of thunder from the retreating storm was faint, more of an echo. Outside, yellow police tape marked off the edge of the trees. I couldn’t see her body from my bedroom, but less than a yard away were the tread marks from the gurney. The police found her too late. Hell, maybe the Amber Alert was too late.

Cause of death: Suicide. Not self-induced asphyxiation. Too personal. Don’t want to give other teenagers ideas. But I saw the police carry the rope to the car. It was yellow, the kind you’d use to hang a kid’s swing. It looked ordinary.

We’d graduated high school together only a month ago, survived teenage torment. I hadn’t lived it yet, but somehow real life seemed worse. No safety nets, only rock bottom. We were baby birds jumping out of the nest praying to God we wouldn’t fall. Not hard to imagine how someone would crack under the pressure. If we all die, why endure the struggle?

***

I asked my parents for black-out blinds. I stopped looking out the window, avoided all windows actually. Each day I passed the police tape. The investigation closed quickly. The tape had been abandoned, forgotten. Maybe they left it up as a deterrent, so kids wouldn’t go in the woods. Maybe no one wanted to remove it.

Three Places

St. Louis, places, location

Bustle of the District

where people rush around in suits.

So much to do, work hard, play hard, focus and accomplish a lot.

 

Calm Kentucky

with rolling hills

and space to hear yourself think.

Where the focus is family

and marriage

and hospitality.

 

St. Louis, the island, the small town city mutation.

Comfortable, but not safe downtown.

Diverse, but not progressive.

 

The distance is difficult.

Far from family and friends.

An adjustment.

But it’s freedom.

Freedom from memories that hold like quicksand.

Freedom from that box of other peoples’ expectations.

A new perspective, a chance to find me outside of them.

Like Sisters

Image via cherylholt from Pixabay

The dust settled on the pitcher’s mound as the boys cleared the field. The drone of “Good game, good game, good game,” drifted back behind the metal bleachers where two girls squatted over a tube of lipstick. Dirt stuck to the black, marbled exterior of the tube. The older girl popped the lid off, revealing an outrageously red stub. She raised it to the younger girl’s lips.

“What do you have?” The mother’s harsh voice cut through the chatter of boys reuniting with their families.

The older girl held the tube out to her mom. “We want to wear it.”

The mom capped the lipstick and tossed it into the trashcan on the end of the bleachers. “That’s yucky.”

“But why?”

“You could get a disease. You can’t share make-up.”

The girls didn’t have make-up yet, only soda and candy flavored chapstick. “Are they in trouble?” The older girl’s brother snickered.

“Mind your own business.” The younger girl pouted.

The brother’s eyebrows scrunched. “Butt out, Anna.”

“Hey! Be nice.” The mom snapped. “No, they’re not in trouble.”

The older girl stuck her tongue out when the mom wasn’t looking. The brother shoved her and Anna. “Don’t be a baby, Anna.”

Anna’s puppy brown eyes grew wide. “I’m not a baby. You’re only a year older than me.”

“So?”

The older girl pinched her brother’s boney arm. “Leave her alone.”

“You’re not mom.” The brother sneered.

She pinched harder. “No, I’m worse.”

The brother rolled his eyes, but he apologized and rejoined the other boys. Anna hugged the older girl, surprising her. “Thank you,” Anna said. The older girl patted Anna’s head; maybe they would be close friends. Like sisters.

Losing Reality

Staring at the mirror and knowing

that she could

so easily

slip.

She likes the letting go

and the bravery

and the party.

She likes people wanting her

(who doesn’t)

but she likes the jolt before

the touching hands

and the way the girls

just grab hers,

rest their heads like it’s nothing.

Flirt like it’s nothing.

Kiss like it’s nothing.

And maybe it is.

Can’t it just be playing?

 

She feels the pull,

the dangerous addiction to excitement and numbness and nothing.

To Survive

Ella Andrews burned it because she had to. She snuck out after most of the girls in her boarding home were asleep. The books felt smooth and thick in her ungloved hands. Though it was the dead of winter, she wanted to touch them as she let them go.

Several blocks down the street stood the grove. The smells of dew and mud mingled with the pages. Knowing the sticks would be too wet to light, Ella had brought her own logs. She only used magic to dry the ground, a circle for the fire. This had to be a human act. It was humans who were driving her to burn the grimoires.

It took time to start the flames. Her hands being numb from cold didn’t help. She wanted to quit, to lock her books away. But that wouldn’t be good enough. If they were hidden, they would eventually be found.

The pages crinkled, folding in on themselves and burning brown to black. Ella couldn’t look away. Spells from her ancestors became lost to memory. She was the only one who knew all of them, the last in her line. And in that moment, she knew they would die with her. It was too dangerous to teach magic to anyone unrelated. Plenty of witches had turned in exchange for amnesty. You couldn’t be too careful.

Ella watched until the fire burned itself out. Then she ground the ashes into the mud and planted flowers on top of them, a few irises. Using an invisibility spell, she made sure no one traced her movements. In bed that night, she could feel the weight of her ancestors’ sorrow pressing on her. But she ignored them. She had done the right thing.

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Things We Hide

hide, secret

“I am a      .”

“I am a witch.”

She wrote

over and over

as if she would

forget.

 

These words were          .

DANGER

She could be persecuted,

be treated differently.

 

The words stood

dark blue

against the smooth, white background.

The paper was flimsy,

could disintegrate in the rain.

She was tired of hiding,

pretending to be

something else.

 

Pretending is easy when

people would never assume.

But she tired of holding

back words,

of censoring

herself.

Nobody’s Home

bus, organized crime

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watching other people through their reflection in the glass of the bus is an art. You can’t stare for too long at one time; people can feel your eyes on them. I glance at the suit-wearing man in front of me, a commuter. The left arm of his blazer is faded slightly compared to the right one. Not surprising. He sits on the left side of the bus every day. I know that he’s a man of habit because his tie is out of fashion, too fat at the bottom.

His hair is balding in the back. Does he notice? Does his barber tell him?

I’ve picked him. He might have family; there’s no clear indication. The needle pricks the back of his neck just above his fat roll.

It doesn’t take long. Beads of sweat form on his hairline. When he starts to get up, I put my hand on his shoulder, hold him down. By the time they try to run, they’re too weak to fight.

We get off near the convention center. It’s busy with the right  kind of people, the people who mind their own and stop for no one. Cigarette smoke rolls out of the Tiger Pub. The man moves to go in, but I pull him around into the ally and press his face against the brick wall. “Who do you work for?”

“A design company.” The man doesn’t hesitate. He’s never had to pretend before, never been caught.

“Who do you really work for?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Now he’s getting angry. Fool’s move.

I bring out the knife, blade half serrated. The man’s face pales; his eyes spark with recognition. I’m not fucking around. I hold the knife in his line of sight. “Last chance.”

He whimpers something, starts crying. He’s a small fish. The real ones don’t cry. The real ones don’t talk.

“They’ll kill me.”

No shit. “Yeah, or I will. Your time is limited.”

“They’ll torture me.”

“Tell me what you know and I’ll be quick.”

“Really?”

Funny how death makes us sniveling children. “Cross my heart.”

He trips over the words, rushing to get them out. He works for who I thought. He knows nothing of importance. Wasted attempt, my third this week. There will be hell to pay.

“Do you have a family?” I ask.

He shakes his head.

“Good.” Less casualties. I end it quick. I keep my promises.

Her Happy Poem

notebook, poem, poetry

She wants to write a happy poem about love

and success and hope.

She wants to write about moving

and her world changing.

She’s stronger now,

more herself,

even though she’s terrified and misses home.

 

Writing it is difficult.

The words fly, then dip

down under the water

where she can’t breathe.

Because getting here means

losing there.

 

This poem is happy.

In the end, she is happy.

She had to do this happy.

_____________________

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Disaster

subway, disaster

Nine lives hurtle towards their deaths on the subway completely unaware. They are annoyed that the train is so packed. A woman stands in her uncomfortable heels on her commute home from work. She curses the tourists and wishes the couple behind her would shut up. The couple talks about the zoo, the best zoo that they’ve ever been to, and about how they will take their children there once they have kids. The woman hides her disdain in her book; the couple isn’t even engaged.

Across the aisle, a young man watches this unfold. He turns his music off and listens, waiting for the woman to snap. Sitting beside the young man is a dad. He has to get off at the next stop to pick up his daughter. His husband will worry if he’s late. The dad pushes his glasses up his face and readjusts his grip on his brief case. He’s ridden the subway for months now, but he can’t get used to sitting this close to strangers. The smell of bodies packed in stale air makes him sick.

They are almost to the stop. They don’t make it. The newspapers report that the train derailed, but no one can explain why.

The most religious woman on that train, the one with the short, kinky curls, would have said that it was their time. She would’ve sworn that she felt it, something off. She would’ve said that she’s at peace.

I call bullshit. There were three kids on that train: one bringing donuts home for his mom’s birthday and two siblings heading to a baseball game. Why end their lives before they lived?

Maybe it’s the guilt. I was on that train, got off one stop before the problem. One stop. I chose to transfer early. That’s the difference between life and death, one choice. What if I had chosen wrong?

Anyway, the newspapers didn’t disclose the names. That section of track shut down for awhile. All of the trains stopped for 24 hours, more in fear of another problem than in remembrance. It became a thing across the country. These incidents always become things. Things to be dealt with, things to recover from. Problems and lawsuits and carelessness.

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