No Peace; Tasteless Beer

Nagging.  I hear my wife’s insistent voice, but the words are far away and…mushy, like.  Sometimes it’s like that. I dunno why.  I hear almost everything else fine.  The birds outside the windows.  The steady hum of the refrigerator in the kitchen. But sometimes her voice sounds like it’s coming from real far away…or through water.  Now, I can’t hear exactly what she says, but after 34 years of marriage, I know that tone well enough.   I just want to sit in my chair and drink a beer, watch the game.  I’m a simple man.  I’m a simple man, and like most women, she’s a complicated woman.  I love ‘er, Lord knows I do, but sometimes I just wish she’d stop talking.

I give up.  Can’t taste the beer anyhow.  So I get up and drift to the bedroom.  I feel tired, but I’m not sure how that can be. Why can’t I taste the beer, but I can still feel tired.  Dead tired.  Hardy har.  Maybe it’s on account of all that nagging.  It always did wear me right out, squabbling with her, even when she did most of the talkin’.

Now that I’m in the bedroom and just wanna sleep, all of sudden, her voice is clear as a bell, like she’s whispering right in my ear.  How can a man sleep like that?  Oh, well…at least she’s not nagging anymore.  But this may be worse because now she’s crying softly.

Why did you leave me?  I miss you so much… I’m so lost without you.  I’ll never let you go.

I tell her to hush, that’s it’ll be okay, but she doesn’t hear me, which seems to set her off to nagging again.

Why won’t you talk to me?

I should be aggravated, but now I’m sad, because, dammit, I miss her too.  I can’t touch her…but she won’t leave me alone.  And somehow that makes it worse, having something or someone so close, but you just…can’t…reach ’em.

Somehow the thought makes me more tired.  So I wish she’d just stop talking altogether, just for a while, so I can get some rest.

Jesus, woman.  Even dead, I can’t get no peace.

Reddit writing prompt:

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Made for Each Other (Fiction)


Marisol stared at the dirty plate and single set of flatware in the sink. Yesterday had been Jerry and her first anniversary, one year married after a whirlwind six month romance. Her friends said they made a perfect couple, no doubt secretly cattily dismayed by the brevity of the courtship. Her mother was ecstatic, no doubt secretly relieved of the fear of having her only daughter turn into a lonely old spinster because she was too busy wasting her youth on a pesky career to find a man. Marisol was happy.

Yet while she couldn’t exactly say the honeymoon was over, that plate grated on her nerves. She had made Jerry an elaborate and romantic dinner the evening before, complete with candles and a cheap bottle of wine she’d picked up on a last minute’s inspiration, from the convenience store down the street. Jerry hadn’t drunk any of it, but he seemed pleased enough with his meal, and afterward, she had cleaned up, done the dishes, and they cuddled on the sofa for a bit. Then a quickie, and off to bed. Thank you, ma’am.

Tonight Jerry was in the den, in the recliner watching TV, and the dirty plate in the sink was mocking her. She had already made dinner and washed all the dinner dishes, along with Jerry’s breakfast dishes. Today had been particularly busy at work; Marisol was a paralegal for their town’s most prominent lawyer. Her boss was the closest thing to a local celebrity the town had, and though Marisol never divulged much, even to Jerry, she found out much juicy town gossip working in that office. Who was divorcing whom for cheating, who was on probation for drinking and driving. Who had a TRO for domestic assault or was being sued for back child support.

And though Marisol was aching to sit down and maybe have a glass of that cheap wine from the night before, she had done all the accumulated laundry, made dinner, and even had time to run the vacuum through the small ranch style home. She’d hopped in the shower and finished up just in time to greet Jerry with his meal. She’d felt satisfied, as if she’d had a fairly productive day, and she was ready to relax.

But that dish rankled her. It was a wart marring the face of her immaculate kitchen, but more than that, it represented more work to her. And Jerry was on the couch watching TV.

Of course he deserves a break too. He just got off a work, Marisol told herself.

So did I, but I made dinner and then I did all the dinner dishes. Why can’t he wash his own damn dessert plate, instead of leaving it for me to do? she answered herself, in what she had come to think of as her Other voice. This was the voice she heard more often now, although she tried to quell it. That voice was trouble. It was an argument waiting to happen, and Marisol hated arguments, though she and Jerry had never actually had a significant one to speak of.

It’s not a big deal, she told herself, not worth nagging over. Marisol didn’t want to be one of those wives that nagged. She wanted that even less than she wanted to argue.

But the Other voice persisted. It’s not a big deal. Not by itself. Unless you consider all of the other ways he takes you for granted too.

It’s a not a big deal, she repeated patiently.

No, but if you bottle it up, these things add up until it is a big deal.

She had nothing to say to the Other. She just stared at those dishes, dismayed in the recognition of the first tiny seeds of resentment. Her lip curled unconsciously at the chocolate drying to a blackish crust on the tines of the fork.

Just then Jerry came into the kitchen behind her. He was heading to the cabinets, no doubt to rummage for another snack, and only seemed to notice she wasn’t actually doing anything, when he had to walk around her idle form.

“What are you doing?” He sounded slightly annoyed; why that should be she didn’t know. He’d been sort of sour ever since he had gotten home from work.

That note of annoyance in his voice sparked her own. She opened her mouth and a bit of the Other came out. Yet even that was tempered by her desire to keep the peace. When Marisol heard herself speak, she was irritated at the supplicating tone of her words. “Nothing. It’s just, well, I finished all the dishes, and it would be nice if you could wash your own dessert plate so I don’t have to later.”

Pain exploded in her face in a white hot flash, and when it subsided and she could see again, she was sitting on the cold linoleum. Through watering eyes, see could see Jerry looming over her, his face calm but hard.

Don’t tell me what to do, Marisol.”

Her mouth hung open and she sat immobilized, vaguely wondering what would happen next.  Jerry stared at her a moment longer before wordlessly helping her to her feet and then walking out of the kitchen.

Marisol raised a hand gingerly to the her lips, which were already swelling. Still, when she withdrew her hand, she stared at the blood on her fingers a moment before the full realization of what had happened descended upon her like a black wave. She felt a creeping numbness spreading up from her feet and down from her neck, so that her bruised face was the only feeling of which she was aware. The voice of the Other was whispering ceaselessly in her ear, but she couldn’t make out the words. Marisol went to the sink and retrieved the dirty plate. From the dish drainer, she took cast iron pan in which she had cooked that night’s meal. A few beads of water still clung to it, shining like black eyes on the matte surface of the pan.  Her mind felt strangely blank and she stared at those tiny black eyes and walked calmly to the den. She did not expect Jerry to beg forgiveness, and he did not. He didn’t even look away from the TV. She brought the pan up, and with as much strength as she could muster with one hand, swung a vicious arc at his head. The sound of the pan hitting home was like nothing she had ever heard, a hollow and unforgiving sound. Marisol dropped the dirty plate on his still chest. She turned back to the kitchen and, on legs that felt as numb as her mind, she went to the phone on the wall, picked up the receiver, and called her boss at home.

Note: this story started out as a single moment in my mind, along with a question; “What would it feel like in that moment (of complete shock) when a woman is hit by her abuser for the first time?” Somehow, though, the story morphed and took on and even darker tone. I blame Stephen King. Darn his subversive influence.

Navajo Wolf (excerpt: What Are Dreams?)


Joseph?” The voice sounds distant, like something heard through cotton in the ears, or as if his head is high in the clouds. “Joseph?” It is insistent, this voice, forcing it’s way into the forefront of his thoughts, and now he’s back in the doctor’s office, firmly grounded in a worn, but deeply comfy leather armchair.

“Sorry.” He shifts in the chair, as if motion alone will be sufficient to keep his thoughts rooted to the present. It seems so difficult to stay focused these days.

Dr. Reed smiles benignly in his direction. She says she’s not a doctor, she’s a LCSW, and he can’t remember exactly what that stands for, but it’s academic, because to him, she is a doctor. “Mind telling me where you went just now?”

“Nowhere.” A lie of course. One of no consequence, but a lie nonetheless. Now he is unsure just how much he wishes to tell this stranger, however kind and disarming she may seem..

Casey- she says to call her that- raises her eyebrows. “Are you sure there’s nothing else you want to talk about?” She glances at her watch. “We have a few minutes left.” She must not really have expected an answer, and his reply seems to surprise her. She raises her eyebrows again in that curious way she has.

“Do you believe dreams mean anything?”

She considers the question in silence a moment. “Well, one theory among the scientific community regarding dreams is that they are nothing more than the subconscious’s data consolidation and filing system. Others believe dreams are nothing more than the brain’s attempt to make sense of meaningless stimuli while sleeping.” She pauses a moment, and her eyes seem to drift over his shoulder as a slight frown line creases her forehead in between her eyes. She is trying to remember something. Then her brow clears, her eyes refocus on him, and she continues, “Freudian theories lean towards dreams as the expression of subconscious and unfulfilled desires.”

“Is that what you believe?”

She pauses again, and despite his anxiety, Joseph is momentarily surprised into appreciation at the fact that the doctor-not-doctor actually gives serious thought to his question. “Well, given that dreams are sometimes completely random in nature, and yet other times their meaning is quite obvious… I believe perhaps dreams are merely an amalgamation of things heard, seen, or otherwise experienced in the course of a person’s day, week, or entire life.” And then, with practiced ease, she redirects the conversation to Joseph. “Have you had a dream you’d like to discuss?”

Joseph drifts away again, just briefly this time, and alights on the memories of the dream, like a moth dancing around a candle flame. He does not want to remember too much, does not want to recall the feelings evoked by the dream. After all, this is not his idea really. The doctor. Casey. She can’t help.

“Tortured animal cries and mournful howls hang in the air like greasy smoke. They follow me from my dreams…”

As always, Casey tries to be equanimous, but that slight vertical line between her eyebrows betrays her dismay. Finally she says, “Yes, I understand. Especially powerful dreams often seem to linger, their emotional effects lasting hours and sometimes even days…”

But she doesn’t understand. She is smart, easy to talk to, disarming, and someone with who he might even be friends, in other circumstances,outside of this professional doctor/patient setting. But she does not understand.

He feels an overwhelming urge to tell her, despite the warning voice in the back of his mind. He abandons the tiny voice of reason.

“It’s my wife. She’s cursed me.”




The Cycle (V)

*I like doing segments of the same story for my prompts.  Maybe they will equal something like a whole novel one day.  More likely I’ll have to hack away at them, cutting and pasting until I get a useable short story.  Today’s prompt (“I’m being followed”) is courtesy of BareKnuckleWriter.   I just started following her.  I think I’m gonna like ‘er! 

The Cycle (V)

Many criminalists, and probably most anyone else who a longstanding career in most any aspect of criminal law enforcement, would probably agree that a woman should follow her instinct in regards to “bad feelings.”  If you feel like you’re being watched, you likely are.  If you think you’re being followed, it pays to be paranoid.  As the great author Joseph Heller once said, Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.  

Kurt Cobain agreed, and look how he ended up.  He chuckled at his own tasteless joke with evident self-approbation.

The women he had followed had no idea they were being watched.  When he finally approached them, disarming and all smiles, they had no idea they had likely seen him before.  He took no great pains to avoid being seen.  That was how you got noticed.  Someone trying to hide behind a hoodie or a menu, or surreptitiously slip into a doorway appeared suspicious.  His great talent was blending in.  He knew he was too classically handsome, too good-looking, to go unnoticed entirely all the time, but he had perfected the art of looking nonchalant or preoccupied.  Too busy to notice anyone, let alone be approached.

Even still, every once and a while, a woman would approach him.  Not usually the one he was observing, thankfully, but some clueless, brazen bitch who had no idea that the inconvenience of her advances far outweighed any minute ego boost which he might derive.  Yes, sometimes the shyer ones would just try to catch his eye, offer a tentative smile.  But then there were the ones who practically sauntered over.  Try to buy his coffee, make small talk, perhaps actually thinking they would leave with a phone number or a date.  He was usually able to shut them down quickly and effectively, without hurting their pride too much– a wounded woman would remember him– but he always had to abort whatever mission he was on so as not to draw any further attention.

Even those instances where he’d been “spotted” did not concern him greatly.  He’d had plenty of practice over the years, plenty of time to perfect the art of the hunt.  There had been plenty of times when he’d followed people just to see if he could.  There had been many times when he had no intention of doing anything but following.  He didn’t consider it time wasted.  Rather he thought of himself as an actor learning a part.  Like those prissy Hollywood types they called “method actors.”  Only he didn’t get so involved in his work that he wanted to go home and swallow a bottle of pills or drown in a bottle.  He liked his work.

And after his work became less random, more focussed on what came next, he began to be more selective about the object of his attentions.  When he finally moved on to phase two (what he was scarcely aware that he mentally referred to glibly as “the meet and greet,”) he was pleased to discover an unintended result of his “blending in.”   Often the women he engaged had in fact noticed him, but were largely unaware that they had noticed him.  Sometimes they said things like, “Do I know you? You look so familiar…”  The fact of his having been an unobtrusive presence in the background of their local grocery or coffee bar had resulted in a sort of false sense of familiarity, of which his targets were not consciously unaware.  In his efforts to learn master his craft with minimal mistake or misadventure, he had unintentionally perfected the art of being present just enough to be familiar, but not enough to be creepy.  The end payoff was that the women were often easier to lull into a false sense of security.  Their early warning systems, their “bad feelings,” had essentially been short-circuited.

The Cycle (IV): Kintsukuroi

I’m going make this week’s prompt another short story in the same series.  You may find all the previous installments under the title “The Cycle,” with a theme and number, in the Hive Index.   I’ve been lazy about my fiction, and lately a reader has asked me about this story series, so…here goes. 


The Cycle (IV):  Kintsukuroi

Angela had spent the whole weekend with her husband’s journal.  That journal and not much else.  She took the phone off the hook.  She didn’t eat.  Her path through house consisted of a truncated and zagging path between the armchair by the cold fireplace, the refrigerator where she kept multiple bottles of Evian, and the bathroom on the first floor.  It had been hard enough to sleep in the bed her and her husband had shared, ever since his crimes were laid bare…literally.  After she found the journal and read the first few entries, Angela gave over the idea of sleep completely.  Every time she closed her eyes, a fusillade of gruesome images kept her from achieving anywhere near the peace of mind required to relax into sleep.  Most of the images were montages conjured by her own mind– the few details the detective had shared with her from the crime reports , and the faces of the women as they had been before her husband had “fixed” them.  With these details, and the sickly ambiguous writing in her husband’s journal, prose that were somehow equal parts self-important, saccharin, and terrifying, Angela tortured herself with vivid scenarios of what had happened to each of the women.  In these scenarios, she recognized her husband’s face, his handsome face, but his eyes burned with the light of insanity, practically glowing, like the eyes of a comic book demon.

That he thought of these women, his victims, as finished products– as his art– was sickening.  That he thought he was “fixing” them, making them better somehow, like a craftsman repairing a piece of broken pottery with powdered gold, was untenable.   But his vanity and the truth of his hedonistic pursuits were revealed by the fact that all of the women had similar characteristics.  Petite, pale blonde hair, tiny aristocratic nose…   Fragile looking, yet with an undefinable verve.  Like a flower.

Like her sister.

Jill.  It was impossible to tell if the obsession had started with her, or ended with her.  Were all his victims merely substitutes, or were they practice for his endgame?

Or had Jill’s disappearance merely been a result of her conveniently fitting his ideal victim type?  No.  There she was, fooling herself again.  At the very least, he knew who Jill was when she had taken her.  She figured in to all of this somehow.

All of these horrid images and ideas chased one another through her mind, keeping her restless and nauseous, and wearing at her sanity like an angry dog wearing a groove in the ground at the end of its leash.


The Cycle (III): Meraki

*in keeping with the past two segments of Prompts For the Promptless in which I participated (courtesy of Rarasaur,) I’m going make this week’s prompt another short story in the same series.  Here are the first and second shorts in the series.  I kind of like doing it this way because it allows me to keep to the same story idea, but frees me from having to worry too much about pacing and tying together chapters.  It allows me to play with different styles of writing with each segment.  Plus, Rara’s prompts give me a theme to work with.  So without further pontification on my part…

The Cycle: Meraki

She didn’t find the journal until several months after he’d been in prison.  It didn’t seem as if he had taken great pains to hide it from her.  Rather, he’d likely felt confident that she had no reason to mistrust him or to snoop through his belongings, so complete was his hold over her.

And, damn him, he’d been right.  A simple leather bound book with a snap, the journal was right in his car console, masquerading as a benign looking day planner, or maybe a forgotten address book.  In fact, she thought that’s what it at first, and only opened it in a sort of distracted and automatic way.  At least that’s what she told herself.

Only were the contents nothing like what she expected.  Still, had she found the journal a half a year ago, she might have passed off the contents as nothing more than lines from some obscure film, or perhaps her husband’s attempts at some creative writing.  But now the lines of obsessively neat script seemed damning–not to him.  He’d already confessed when he knew he could no longer make any reasonable claims to innocence, and yet here she was, knowing she would have given him the benefit of doubt with almost eager self-deception.

(photo: courtesy of Immortal Longings on Etsy)

(photo: courtesy of Immortal Longings on Etsy)

…It’s my art. The first thing I’ve cared about in a long time.  First, the woman- she is a blank canvas, and I paint her with blood.

But there’s more- the performance art.  All the world really is a stage, and everyone I meet is a bit actor, but they don’t know it.

Or a chess board, and they are all pawns.  I’m not the king though.  The king is weak, with no freedom of movement.  I am more like the queen- I move, silently and lethally, and the pawns never see me coming.

The Cycle (II)- Schadenfreude

*the following short fiction excerpt is a combination response to Rarasaur’s Prompt for the Promptless and answer to the interest shown by some readers on my short story The Cycle. Enjoy, and feel free to comment.

The Cycle- Schadenfruede

She could remember when she had loved him, been enamored with him.  She remembered it in the way one sometimes remembers a dream, like a detached observer.

…Their first meeting, on the back patio of the bar where she and her friends from work had gone after the dull and seemingly interminable company party…  The tentative anticipation and exhilaration of finally meeting someone who could potentially hold her interest for more than a few weeks.  She remembered his dark good looks and his easy charm.  The electricity of their first kiss.

Even now, she could remember his effect on her.  How she had lusted for him and had to force herself to wait even the short week before they fell into bed together in a furious tangle of limbs.  Now, the thought of her lust for him sickened her.  She felt nauseous and ashamed, disgusted by the memory of his face, still handsome and seemingly unaffected by his time in prison.  Disgusted that she had fallen for him, even though, objectively, she could still remember why she had loved him.

But mostly she was disgusted that she had been so completely and utterly fooled by him.  She felt used and stupid.  She felt responsible, as if, in her stupidity, she had somehow been an accomplice to his crimes.

Because now, casting a harsh eye back over the past ten years of her life, she could clearly see– she should have seen– that something was wrong.

He had handled her too easily on too many occasions.  They had fought little throughout their courtship and marriage.   He always seemed so considerate of her feelings, even when her fears or feelings may have been irrational.  He always knew the right things to say, or when to say nothing.  She could see now that what she had taken to be easy-going, what she had thought was just his generous nature, insouciance, had really been an expertly veiled sort of scorn.  The smug bastard had let her have her way simply because he could.  And he enjoyed being able to manipulate her so easily.

Once they had been together for a while, once her trust in him was complete and unwavering, he had enjoyed free rein to pursue his other...hobbies.   He had complete control over her, and she hadn’t even known it, because he had never harmed her, never threatened her, or even said so much as an unkind word to her.  

Now she found herself on some level wishing, perversely, that he had hit her, insulted her or belittled her…given some sign of his true nature.  His abuse had been so much more insidious.  It was in his contentment and pleasure in the  role he was playing– the doting husband–  and in his wife’s utter ignorance.