Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Huntsman
[This story is an entry to the #flashfictionchallenge July 16, 2017]

            Once upon a time, he was somebody's little darling, today he was nothing to nobody.

            I knew details about the kid I was to take into the woods, a lad who stole from the wrong person. Snow White was the name he went by. He was a young lamb from the Middle Lands with an angel's face. He was cocky, brimming over with the bright hubris of sweet youth. He'd made a bad mistake, two bad mistakes really. The first was to heist a kilo of prime market product worth 100K from his employer, a vicious dealer named Queenie. The second was not to get out of town as fast as possible. Queenie didn't play. She was the meanest of them all. The old crone was willing to pay me a lot of coin to find the errant thief.
            "Ice the bitch," was her last command.
            To me, he was just a paycheck. I didn't think about the work. This is no job for thinkers. I was going to shake him like a piggy bank.
            In another far away era, I might have been a dragon slayer. Alas. I set out to find him.
            He was hiding in plain sight at one of those exclusive spots where rich brats go to dip their perfect surgically altered beaks in 40-dollar bourbon. I was definitely not on the list.  The squat knave who was acting like a bouncer silently pocketed my silver and nodded me past the double doors. I slipped into the club, a glass cage that looked out on an expanse of river and star filled sky. At the bar with drink in hand I had a decent view of the crowd.  Cinderella Chandler, heiress to the hotel chain, walked around with her left boob hanging out of a knit halter top. She didn't seem to notice, or didn't care. She was high as the moon.  She had a wonky eye and a cracked smile, still everyone said she was hot. A yapping shitzu poked its head from a bag Cindy carried that costs more than I make in a month. Rumplestiltskin, red faced and loud, was telling anybody who'd listen that he could spin straw into gold. No one cared. There was the usual collection of trolls, an ogre or two, and two of the three bears. Goldilocks had been and gone. Some young damsel, about to get her heart broken, was kissing Bo Peep.

            They were dancing, a shuffling movement under strobe lights. Jack, nimble and quick, and coked to the gills, jumped over candlesticks. Lords were leaping. One of the fairy godmothers, the one with the chin wart and the sex tape that made her famous, pranced in jade earrings and blackboots, and not much else.

            In the middle of the floor was my boy, screaming like a wolverine. He was shirtless and sweating, whiffing poppers and twirling to the pulse of music. I felt something move in my thorax. It's not often I have a pang. He was something to look at. And hey, I'm half human.

            I followed him into the men's room, and waited a few minutes for him to do whatever he was doing. There was a lot of giggling. Two dwarves left the stall, the door swung open, and there was the child with a straw in his left nostril. Even then, he was beautiful.
            "Queenie sent me."
            The sneer died on his face. His skin was white as snow.
            "This is no life for you.”
            He shrugged.  A flock of sadness clouded that young, lovely face. “Why should you care?" 
            “I'll never know.”
            “I didn’t take it.” he said, looking at me dead on. His eyes were green, as green as the sea, but they were still the eyes of a liar.
            “Too bad,” I sighed, “it’s a shame to kill you for nothing.”

            He went to make a run for it. I grabbed him. His arm is stick thin. I could've snapped him like dry twigs right then.
            But I don’t.
            I’ve never hesitated before.
            My insides flipped at the thought of the task at hand.

            “Please” he said. He’s close enough that I can feel his animal warmth through my leather jerkin.
            He moved.
            "Let me go."
            “I got orders. I get paid to do a job.”
            “I could pay you more." He put his soft hand, smooth and paper thin, on my chest. It rests there, feeling my heartbeat.
            "Please, Sir."
            "You got magic beans?"
            "If you can get me in to see the Wizard, we can make a killing."
            "No one sees the Wizard."
            "We can split the score. Take me to see him."
            His free hand reaches inside the back pocket of his ripped-up jeans. He pulls out a brass key. Some part of me wants to take him and run away to someplace that isn’t cold or dirty or sad or ugly, someplace that’s green and clean, some place that doesn’t exist, except maybe in children's stories, or dreams. 

            I called Queenie.
            “It’s done,” I said.
            “Where’s my shit?”
            “I don’t know. I was contracted to axe him. Period. It’s done.”
            She's not happy. I don't care.
            “I’m going out of town a while. I gotta get out of this hell hole.”
            I don't wait for her answer.

            I board the coach just as its wheezing engine fires up. I make my way to the back seat.
            I pat the velvet bag. The Wizard’s money, the take we got from the sale of Queenie’s stolen rock, all those golden coins, makes a lovely sound.
            Snow White has his hand in mine, his head rests on my shoulder.
            “I could sleep for a thousand years,” he says “I’m so tired.” He drifts off as he’s telling me all the things he wants to do, when we get to where we’re going, some place far, far away from the barren blighted forest.

            Grand fool that I am, I almost want to believe him.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

this piece is accepted for publication in Sick Lit Mag

“Cut it all off,” I say.
"Yes,” he nods, as he lays the drape over me. He hums and tightens the snap collar around my neck.
“My hair doesn’t grow out well,” I say, hearing my voice that sounds small inside the overly bright place. I keep talking, just to talk, as I settle into the chair, words just tumble out: “it doesn’t lay flat or flop, or hang in my forehead, it doesn’t sweep, it just grows up and out, I have cowlicks all over.”
"Yes," he says. Without further ado, the clipper buzzes pleasantly, it vibrates through my skin, into my skull. The physicality of body sensation grounds me. I’m sitting in the chair, my feet just touch the metal rest, I tap a toe softly to test the hardness, the realness of it, my hands grasp the armrests. I breathe.

Soon, the scissors are snipping. His gentle hands smell clean and pepperminty, they move briskly, efficiently around my head. I watch the silver accumulate on the scarred linoleum, a snowfall of hair.

“How are you today?” he asks. His English is as good as my Arabic. His words are spiced with hard consonants and resonant vowels. Over the years of our acquaintance, we’ve developed a comfortable repertoire. Sometimes I catch his soft brown eyes, but he is shy and looks away. He has that swarthy skin, the look from the Fertile Crescent, the thick dark hair and Mesopotamian brow of his people.  He is beautiful.
“I’m ok,” I say, “how are you doing?”
“Ok, I’m ok too.”
For the moment, we’ve exhausted our usual topics of conversation, so I look at the rain streaking down the plate glass window. It’s a wet, windy November day. It feels like the day when the last tree has shed its last leaf, when all seems naked and cold. It is that lonely late afternoon hour, yawning and blank and vast, when time feels heavy, when I need to find those little things to do, errands to check off my list: buy lightbulbs, mail that check, pick up some shirts at the dry cleaners, get a haircut. These small islands of activity make the day seem a little less empty. Already, the darkness is creeping in.
 “Night comes so quickly these days,” I say out loud.
“Yes,” he says.
“It’s hard to believe we’ll be in a new millennium, in just a few weeks.”
“A whole new time,” he nods.
His thumb lingers on my cervical vertebra as he deftly, gently strokes a quick razor over my nape. My skin tingles in the cool air of the place. This slight touch surprises me, I cannot remember the last time I was touched, my flesh craves and cowers, but then the moment is gone. Again, briefly, I catch his eye in the mirror. He looks away.

Two other guys await their turn, one riffs through a men’s magazine, the other sways to music on his Walkman. NPR drones, crackling on the old sound system, a story about a breakthrough in AIDs medications, a new cocktail, a story that breaks, too late for us. Too late for you, too late for me. The story is over, but here I sit still, the last widower of a plague. I am the survivor, left to stumble through the days with no guiding star.  An icy finger nettles my insides with a tickling fear, a dread quiver of animal panic. If I closed my eyes now, I might be lost. The small shop’s walls are covered with sports posters: the Sox, the Pats, the Celts. In the periphery, lurking in the shadowy shimmering edge of tangibility, just beneath the smooth hum of the ordinariness of things, out of sight of the others, something I cannot name stirs. That dread sensation makes me jump in the chair.

He pauses, the blade lifts off my cheek. "OK?" he asks.
"Yes, Ok, sorry," I say from far away. I am not unmoored, not yet, but the knot that once held, gently slips a bit. I feel the unraveling begin, that fraying of the tethering cord.
In the other chair, a handsome Harvard boy is getting a neat trim. His hair does flop and sweep, it hangs in his forehead with that casual smugness that will never be mine.
“OK?” says my barber.
I look at myself, newly shorn and clean, I run my hand over my scalp. It feels  soft, velvety, smooth.
I smile, a tiny twitch of my upper lip.
“Good?” he smiles back.
“Good.” I nod.
He brushes me down with soft bristles, shoos away pesky hairs off my sweater. He sweeps up the pile of dead hair to make ready for the next customer.  
At the register I pay and hand him his tip, he thanks me and holds something out to me.
It’s a lollipop, red, the kind they hand out to little boys after their first haircut.
“See you next time?” he says.
“Yes,” I say.

Outside I bundle up, zip up. Mass Ave is loud with traffic. Buses rush by, cabs and cars and bikes all jam the street. The rain has stopped. I trudge through wet leaves that clutter the sidewalk. My battered keds are damp. In a coffee shop the tables are crowded. People are warming up over steaming mugs tea. There are scones and cakes and delicate blue plates full of crumbs. Laughter and jazzy  music comes from the place. In the window, I catch my reflection: the lollipop in my mouth, my slivery cropped cut, the face that looks back at me.

I slip again into that empty space, that voided place, adrift. The night will be fathoms deep, and cold, a little death that waits for me. Once more I fall into it, into the depths of a lone, starless sky.