Tag: unfinished

Only Children, Part One of Two

The farm grounds are always empty the day after the sky lantern festival. Anthony stares out at the lie of the land, the shape and swell of hillocks and wet fields. For these few hours in the year, he is completely alone. The part-time boys, those lads continually slipping up and letting loose heifers into haylofts, they’ve run off with buttery, peppermint-smelling schoolgirls. The carpenter has been collecting them all morning, shining kerosene lamps on bright-eyed children in forested areas, cutting short elopements inspired by the glory of last night’s lanterns. He brings them to attention with a few prods of a pitchfork, and in the instant between the end of their dumb, warm solitude and that harsh reintroduction into the biting air of the ugly universe, the carpenter catches in their faces the pathetic and raw look of true love.

Beddington is normally in charge of lecturing the dimpled and disgraced couples in the front room of the main house, but even he has pulled a disappearing act. Anthony had found his uncle in the spare bedroom behind the greenhouse around midday, wrapped around a soft and supple milkmaid. Her ankles, hanging off the bed, were marked with the crenulated imprint of woolen socks. Beddington had one hand in her fair hair.

The landowner and maid have an understanding, put into practice only once yearly. Unbeknownst to them, Anthony is well-aware of the liaison, and though he’s not sure if he approves, he goes above and beyond the nephew’s call of duty to protect them. Every year, a week or so prior to the festival, Anthony gathers the farm boys in the barn and terrifies them with legends concerning a greenhouse ghoul, coated in constrictive vines and red lilies. For days afterward not even the carpenter will enter the greenhouse, something Anthony’s uncle thinks is indicative of spiritual approval (“even ghosts want us to be together” he whispers to her in the corridor). Beddington and his home-grown, milk-fed inamorata are convinced the gods are looking after them.

Though they lie now in flagrante delicto, there is no chance of detection so late in the morning. All of the farmhands have long made for neighboring villages. They are visiting their Ma and Pa, or buying confectioner’s sugar and cake flour with their holiday bonus. The postman has come and gone, bearing the usual: advertisements for this fertilizer or that brand of halters, and a love letter or two for a Beddington employee. Anthony and the carpenter, who open the mail together, observe the former with more distaste that the latter. Beddington’s is a dairy farm and has no need for fertilizer nor halters, but both men  have been contaminated with a secondhand appreciation of adolescent desire and the sickness that inevitably accompanies it. Sometimes they make brief corrections to the letters, usually purely grammatical but recently varying into stylistic territory (“how terrible, ‘love’ and ‘grovel’ do not rhyme”).

It is Anthony’s eleventh consecutive year at Beddington’s. He does not stand much taller than he did at fifteen, and the core of him conserves most of the same traits, including the prodigal memory that made him a brief county legend. Though this particular knack is what convinced Beddington to hire him, Anthony often wishes he could remember less.

For example: Anthony can recall, with an easy accuracy and perfection that mortifies him, his first and last sky lantern festival. In his mind’s eye, there he is, a barely pubescent kid, standing in line to collect his wages from the overseer. Pockets heavy with coins, fodder for wire and lights, there he is zipping across plots and over fences. They arrive in time to set up the preparations: tables dragged from townhouses and lain in the square, piled high with cretonne and oil paints, smart girls in pantyhose standing beside them, leaning against beaus and balustrades. The farmhands tighten wire and curl it around their wrists, shaping it into perfect circles. Anthony remembers holding the fabric down while the ladies put wax pencil to paper and draw for hours, dots and curlicues framing pastoral scenes and red barns. Fermented juice is passed around, leaving the artists tipsy and giving way to drawings considerably more risqué than the township is used to, filled in with warm orange pastels and off-set with pink lace. Anthony had refused all drink and so his recollection of the hours that followed is considerably clearer than that of his compatriots. At midnight they’d gathered up the lanterns, like mothers picking up children, and carried them to a nearby field. Standing in the grass, they struck matches together and lit the candles tucked into the wire chassis of the lanterns. For a moment nothing happened, and they all felt silly, gussied up as they were in their best and brightest, holding out greasy paper trimmed with ribbons and copper. Then, slowly, as though uncertain and unhappy to be leaving home, as though they were only cautious and frightened children, the lanterns began to rise, trembling. There was no wind, and no moon, and for once adolescents looked up at the night sky and thoroughly ignored the stars. They stood rooted as the lights rushed up, in a sudden gush of longing, towards the timberline and, from there, to the heavens. Watching them go, aligned perfectly in what seemed like a divine order, Anthony was sure he’d found God.

It was not until later, when he had jumped over the fence and was nearing the Beddington property, that he began to think differently. In the darkness he only noticed the blood by the time his boots were in it. The outline of her grey silhouette quivered, and her head was flat on the ground, turned towards him. Anthony remembers that her eyes had been open, and for a few seconds a lantern floating just overhead illuminated the silky whites and red-ringed pupils. Anthony can’t recall, for the life of him, the interval between those eyes and his dragging his uncle Beddington from the sleepy milkmaid’s arms (“what, slow down, hey, let me put on my – hey, hey, Anthony!”). It seems cruel to him that those minutes should have been erased, but not those that came immediately afterwards: running across the grounds, thump, her huge black-white back and maw, filled with wire, Beddinton’s “oh damn”. And his own hands, the ones that carried the rifle.

The Last Three Days of Nissil And Henny, Part the First

It’s interesting how unpreocuppied he is with her naked body. In fact, he seems more interested in the contents of the medicine cabinet, entertaining himself for the better part of half an hour. He laughs softly at the oddly shaped containers the hotel management stocks, the ugly lime green complementary shower caps, the plastic toothbrushes that crack like eggs at the least pressure. Every so often he’ll find something of note, most often personal items left by the previous occupant of the room. There’s a bottle of prescription pills labelled “Metadate CD”, a pack of half-empty menthol cigarettes, a deflated pink balloon and a severely outdated map of the region, marking the city limits as they were before the construction of the railway.

“A flighty, lonely female tourist,” Nissil says, looking closely at the photograph of open heart surgery on the cigarette box, “let’s name her Belinda.”

“Hardly,” Henrietta says, lifting one arm out of the grey water. She wags a finger at him, still hurt by the little attention he is paying her, “Belinda sounds too much like the heroine of a soap opera. A Belinda wouldn’t be staying in a musty hotel in the fall, unaccompanied.”

“Unaccompanied? You think so?”

“Absolutely.” She puts her hands on the rim of the bathtub and peers outward, trying to get a good look at the washbasin. “I see no can of shaving cream, no disposable razor. Belinda’s leading man was not with her.”

“Poor Belinda,” Nissil muses, “all alone, pretty Belinda!”

Henrietta scoffs. “Hyperactive, clumsy Belinda. Tragically abandoned by her don Juan.”


“Metadate is ADHD meds.”

“Really?” He considers this information, lips pursed, nodding slowly. It’s the exact same expression he had worn when she had told him she loved him, exactly four days prior. He sits down on the yellow linoleum floor, back against the wall. In another era, they could have been a boyish sailor and his heartless mermaid inamorata. Though, in all truthfulness, Henrietta is not beautiful enough to pass an otherworldly creature, and it is she who has pursued the distant clear-eyed babe. It pleases her, this reversal of roles, to think of herself in the white and blue mariner’s costume, one finger under Nissil’s chin, keeping him from leaving with the tide.

“How’d you know that? That ADHD business?” He asks suddenly. Henrietta is quiet for a few moments. In one swift movement she rises from the bathtub and wraps herself in a powder blue towel. She arranges herself on the toilet seat. She takes her time answering him, fetching Belinda’s forgotten cigarettes and takes a pretend puff.

“My sister used to take them.” She says finally. My sister: these words come easily and painlessly. She is conscious, however, of the specter they bring with them. In her mind’s eye Noreen takes shape, considerably vaguer than she once was, but important parts still intact. There are the dark blue eyes Henrietta did not inherit, the cropped hair and quick smile. Not even the knowledge that she has only three days left lessens the power of Noreen’s memory.

“Oh. Oh, sorry, Henny.” There’s Nissil’s face. He’s standing up now, pulling the cigarette from her hand. Does he worry she’ll actually go ahead and light it up?

“What are you apologizing for?”

“I made you remember.”

Now she laughs bitterly. “Naw. I’m always remembering it.”

Nissil pulls a hand towel from the rack and begins drying Henrietta’s dark hair. His touch is soothing and purposeful, fingertips reaching the nape of her neck, those spots of her skull where she is most vulnerable. It is this quality that first drew her to him: this insistence that springs forth from that awful aloofness sometimes, this persistent desire to care for the upset and needful. She remembers how, in elementary school, he’d stopped during a physical education run and helped a fallen classmate up. Henrietta, who begrudged the other girls their prettiness and stellar grades, Henrietta, who sought approval but found it difficult to dole it out: she found him impossible to understand. She was possessed by a need to hurt him, to test his unnatural capacity for compassion.

Underneath the towel, her voice rises, soft but angry.

“Maybe it’s a good thing we only have three days left. What really is the point? It’s a relief. Now I just don’t have to off myself, the universe will do it for me.”

He stops. She waits for him to cry “Henny!”, but the reprimand does not come. Fearful, she pushes the towel away from her face and looks at him. In the mirror opposite them, she can see a reflection of his swimmer’s back, hunched over her, covering her almost entirely. His shoulder blades are twin icebergs protruding from the huge expanse of muscle, quivering slightly.

“Sorry.” Now it is her turn to apologize for making him remember.

“Shush,” he says, shocking her once again with the speed and sincerity of his forgiving heart, “it’s alright.”

He finishes up and, after folding up the towel and returning it to its place (an exercise in futility if there ever was one, Henrietta thinks, but she says nothing) leaves the bathroom. She hears him lie down on the king size bed and turn on the news.

“Is he still gone?” she asks.


She goes to him, still only clothed in the towel. The hotel room is exactly the sort of place she’d wanted to spend her last days: sparse, containing only that which was was essential to her life, a category that as of four days ago includes the sixteen-year-old Nissil Easterly. Her school uniform remains piled on top of his button-up shirt at the foot of the bed, next to both their shoes, shined so carefully by him that morning. She can still recall him, seated on the beige carpet floor, undoing the knot in the laces of her dress shoes, face in shadow despite the yellow light coming in from the open windows. His presence there had seemed strangely fulfilling, marking her like the imprint of a hand on a polished surface.

“Henny, look at that!” he cries suddenly. The screen has gone dark, remaining in that condition for a few seconds before they hear the sounds of a camera coming back to life. Seated in the previously empty anchorman’s chair is a young girl in a yellow blouse, hands folded neatly on top of the table. She is around their age, smiling broadly. Henrietta’s eyes widen, and one hand goes to her mouth.

“Christ, is that…is that Faktorowicz?”

“It sure is.”

“So that hotshot Dahlia took my advice, huh. Fancy that. Good for her.”

As if to acknowledge the compliment, Dahlia clears her throat and jumps into the broadcast, hands curling into firsts on the table.

“Good morning, Juniper! This is the Daily Morning Newscast, and I’ll be your darling host, Dahlia Faktorowicz. Today is Monday April 7th and we are seventy-two hours away from the Apocalypse.”

Henrietta rolls her eyes. “How very melodramatic, Faktorowicz. She loses points for that.”

/ˈælfə sɛnˈtɔri/ Part The Fourth

On the third day the question of the bell arises. That morning Mina had brought over a baker’s dozen pamphlets detailing the touristic marvels of Mirana Seaside: seasonal dunes, salt marshes, sandspits. Dahlia’s lips curl and pucker with wonder at the glossy blue photographs and lovingly-written captions (“The birthplace of thousands of seagulls”, “Turn to page 7 for the story of the last frilled squid, dead at Red Point”). Mina is as enamored as Dahlia, hurriedly encircling places to visit with a felt tip pen. But the beaches and tide pools they encounter on subsequent day trips provide a reality different to the one in the bright booklets: littered with bottle caps, chalky rock strata burned through by acid rain, piles of phosphorescent fishing nets, and, in a secluded corner, the puzzling remains of a purple Volkswagen minibus, so far eroded it’s impossible to determine its age, but looking for all the world like a close cousin of the dethroned Greek shipwrecks sinking into the Black Sea.

“Didja know, princess,” says mermaid Mina with three fingers dipping into the hazy waters of a pool, “that there’s a difference between wreck and wreckage?”

“Nu-uh! They’re synonyms, silly.” Spitfire Dahlia retorts in her mother’s most hoity-toity tone.

Mina looks over at her disdainfully.

“Naw, I’m joking, joking. What’s the difference?”

Wreck is used when the structure is still recognizable. Wreckage is used when it no longer is.”

“Huh. Is that right?”

“Yeah, yeah.”

Dahlia returns to her inspection of the rotting pier. The sky is a perfect white, and all around Dahlia lie colorless barnacles and deep green algae like shredded party streamers. The wood creaks and sighs as she steps on it in her cobalt Mary-Janes , exuding sweet-smelling water. It’s cool and very quiet. Only Mina’s clumsy humming breaks the spell of the tense waves and brittle landscape. Dahlia licks away the last taste of that morning’s orange juice from her lips, staring out at the featureless ocean. A few minutes pass before she notices the carcass immediately to her right.

“Oh great Gods!” she cries. Mina comes to her side, as close as possible without touching her. She follows Dahlia’s gaze and finds the bird. It is lying on its back, head turned to one side. Beginning at its throat is a clean gash, making its way through its miniature organs and tissues before tapering off midway. The insides have swollen and cracked in the heat, bursting out and bubbling up. Blood and yellow plasma has been soaked up by the boards and the wing bent back.

“Wreckage.” says Mina.

“The deathplace of thousands of seagulls.” says Dahlia bitterly. “Jeez, this is awful.”

“Princess, you ain’t kidding.”

“I’m going home. I just, oh jeez, this was supposed to be nice. I’m going home, dammit.”

“Wait. Hey, wait a second.” Mina has her hand on Dahlia’s bony shoulder. “Hey, listen.”


Mina eyes her closely. “Okay. Well. Have you ever heard of the bell?”





/ˈælfə sɛnˈtɔri/ Part The Third

On the fifth day, Dahlia follows Mina around the amusement park. The stalking hadn’t been a planned affair, but somehow seemed inevitable. There was that way Mina kept her hair tied up in elastic, fingers red and constantly in the company of each other, that manner of looking shaken-up and in need of a shaking-down. Mina the waif. Mina the lurching urchin. It keeps Dahlia nearby.

The amusement park Mirana, a seaside collection of spit-bright surefooted young’uns and their mechanical rolling counterparts, fossilized plum-colored planks twisting up in dramatic curlicues, emanating a suffocating blue heat. The Italian owner had had space divvied up and colored in the style of his home country: Dahlia’s quick eye spots Mina the fiend disappearing into the golden boughs of Toscana.

Tracing her steady voyage, it’s easy to see where she’s headed. At eleven in the morning, when Dahlia had started following her, she’d been in blue-white Sicilia, onwards to Calabria (all-you-can-eat pizza, Miss Oliver Twist has seconds and thirds), Basilicata, Campania (fun house in which Dahlia catches a thousand reflections of Mina in as many scalloped mirrors), Lazio, Umbria, leading up to Toscana. It’s a trip marked by indications, which Mina reads aloud as she passes them, taking care to step only on the orange tiles of the color-alternating path:

THIS WAY TO FLORENTINE FERRIS WHEEL ((Hello lovely blog readers (all six of you), Emma here, à la glorious footnote. National Novel Writing Month starts tomorrow! Please wish me luck and fruitcakes.))

/ˈælfə sɛnˈtɔri/ Part The Second

At her mother and Samson’s wedding reception, Dahlia steals candy buttons from gift bags and tells Auntie how upset she is at not being able to walk around the house topless any more.

“Can’t do it with him around,” she says, licking her lips colored Yellow Number Five. “and even if I did, just look, just look at ‘im! He’d snitch to Momma for sure.”

Auntie chomps down on her teeth, Pan-Cake foundation wet on her hook nose and sloping collarbone, offering Dahlia nothing. She knows better now, than to give the child reason to believe she agrees with her. Momma! Auntie thinks your new hub’s a tattler too, she went and told me so! Ohoho, not going to happen again, Auntie’s determined, the babe can be kamikaze all by her lonesome.

Auntie’s eyes paw Dahlia’s courtesan’s bouffant and fingernails, painted with orange permanent marker and glitter glue.

“I know, Auntie,” Dahlia whines, “but how was I supposed to get dressed up for this, huh? It’d be like letting Momma win.”

Auntie’s sympathizes, but not enough to brave the primeval waters of mother-daughter conflict. The cellophane mammalian eyes, which through the magic of natural selection are also Dahlia’s own, circle once, twice, careening from the daylily flower arrangements (Dahlia thinks monocotyledon, sophomore Biology, Miss Rittenhouse’s China red cardigans) to the collapsing Neapolitan ice cream cake dead center (Dahlia thinks sacarose, fructose, lactose, I want to go home, I want to go home).

Color-alternating strobe lights, Mr. and Mrs. Samson Faktorowicz waltz by, merry-go-round, tight turns and whorls quick enough to make the brand-spanking-new Dahlia Faktorowicz’s head spin. It’s a storybook affair, but Samson ruins the effect by letting his hands stray below Dahlia’s mother’s waist, and she, the DayGlo princess rotting, lets him, drunk and reveling, revolving, revealing.

“Oh Good Gad,” Dahlia says, “great Gods. Save your humble servant.”

“Better get used to it,” Auntie says, unable to resist getting a hit in with her perilous problem niece, “you’re going on their honeymoon, aren’t you?”

Churning loud, huffing and puffing, a wounded Dahlia skulks out to the parking lot.

/ˈælfə sɛnˈtɔri/ Part The First

Even from several hundred meters away, her feet are clearly visible. Pink socks, it seems, carnation pink like a decomposing hog’s tongue. She’s in what appears to be a large woman’s blouse, gauzy fabric that billows out behind her as she pads along the sand. The shirt her sails, the long neck her mast, and that dark whip of hair? Flag. A flag to match the red one set up by the Red Cross on the shore, meant to mean: these are not safe waters.

On the first day, Dahlia goes out to meet her. Dahlia’s been taken on her parent’s second honeymoon, a word she’ll associate for the rest of her life with Maraschino cherries and ungainly coitus. She doesn’t try to avoid her mother and Samson’s frequent displays of affection, though she doesn’t avoid stating how distasteful she finds it either. It pleases her, to see her skittish skylark skank of a mother go out of her way to find privacy, to avoid her daughter’s critical grin. Dahlia opening the closet to see her mother with her coils fingering Samson’s hair, lipstick marks like tiger stripes.

March the fourth, and Dahlia’s tired of hide-and-go-seek with her skinny Ma and her pseudo Pa. She spots the girl and runs to her, heaving, feet sinking and staining the beach: Dahlia’s size nine cobalt blue Mary-Janes. She wraps her hand on the girl’s shoulder, bony joint coated in thin blouse like white sea-glass.

“Hello,” Dahlia says, bringing the unknown to a standstill. She’s small, smaller even than Dahlia had anticipated, a veritable scrap, shipwreck. The skin in the folds of her knees is pale and clear, but the rest of her is burnt black. The color has spread even to her eyelids, like watercolors, or wildfire.

“Hi.” She answers, quite coolly, turning to face Dahlia. She has a pert nose and squinty eyes, maybe thirteen years old to Dahlia’s seventeen.

“I’m Dahlia,” Dahlia says. This is how she operates, stun, shock, wait for a reaction. This is why Dahlia doesn’t have a boyfriend, and why she couldn’t stay back home while her mother and Samson rode out this vacation. No one wanted to keep her, and no one was willing to leave her alone.

“I’m Mina,” she says, and from that moment (and various moments in the twelve day span that followed) onwards, for the rest of her life, Dahlia will associate pink socks, blouses, boats, bells and dying with that name.

Here We Have Sebastian Tomofumi.

After each tenant leaves, Mr. Tomofumi does a thorough check of the apartment. He brings a plastic pail filled with cleaning equipment, a radio-cassette and a mix tape up three flights of stairs. To the tune of “Michelle”, Mr. Tomofumi spreads out the curtains and airs out the mattresses. By the time Elgar’s violin sonata comes on, he has settled into the odor of wet rags quite nicely, dedicating the circular movement of his hands on the window glass to the fluid bops of the music, a crescendo here, spraying lemon-scented liquid along with the cry of fortissimo there. Mr. Tomofumi knows his dance well, and he is nothing but the most excellent of performers.

Mr. Tomofumi sticks his head in the crack between the refrigerator and the wall, he cleans the bottoms of the sofa cushions, he carefully paints over the marks left on the doors. He makes a note of all the damage caused to the five rooms, not that he will ever press the former occupants to pay for repairs. He prefers to think of himself as a forgiving individual. After all, he has been luckier than his other landlord friends; his tenants have never been rowdier than the norm, they have never made the upkeep of his apartment particularly difficult. There is only ever a slight discrepancy in their behavior: they often leave things behind. But even this, as his friends tell him, is hardly odd in the business.

By the time he has flipped the cassette, Mr. Tomofumi has arranged the apartment to his liking, and has piled the remains of his customers in a corner of the living room. He enjoys tackling these possessions, fancies himself a doctor of nostalgia, an interpretor of that which is left behind. Afterwards he relays the finds to the landlord crowd: souvenirs from Europe, self-help books, typewriter keys, classic novels. Mr. Tomofumi sometimes encounters something particularly nice, a sheepskin sweater once, and then a collection of coasters in alternating colors. But the just Mr. Tomofumi never keeps these things, though he might want to. Some part of him still claimed by superstition believes these possessions will never belong to him.

Mr. Tomofumi feels a kind of tenderness for the objects, even the few he does not mention to anyone: full photo albums, explicit magazines that even he, at twenty-three, is embarrassed to flip through, and, today, one hundred and forty packs of playing cards in a purple felt bag.

Now, Mr. Tomofumi holds the felt bag filled with playing cards in his arms. He knows how many there are because he has counted them. Most are aged, but a few are new, and bear the logos of hotels, casinos, strip bars. Mr. Tomofumi feels awkward going through the amassed collection; he shudders visibly upon touching the cards, feels reviled somehow, feels disgusted somehow.

Once, Mr. Tomofumi had found a small altar in a bathroom cabinet. There was a picture of a three-year-old girl, surrounded by candles and small mementos of childhood. On another occasion, he had discovered the diary of a sixteen-year-old boy. Five-hundred pages, Mr. Tomofumi remembers, because he had counted them, filled with photographs and poetry, depictions of girls to love, poor doodles of the backs of heads, on the last page: should I tell you now, what’s really brutal?

Mr. Tomofumi thinks back to the last lease he had signed. It is difficult for him to recall clients, this is how little they mean to him. Mr. Tomofumi does not like having any kind of relationship with previous, current or future tenants. He appears to them thrice: with lease papers once, monthly afterwards for rent, and one last time to clean the apartment. He does, however, vaguely remember the pair who had been his last occupants. Boy-girl, in the lanky style of the young. Mr. Tomofumi actually thinks that, “lanky style of the young”, even though he also remembers that the boy had been older than him. This is because Mr. Tomofumi looks out at the world as Mr. Tomofumi, never as Sebastian.

Mr. Tomofumi goes about the house and gathers up his equipment, stacking it in the pail and shutting off the music before returning to the matter of the cards. His is a little hungry, but for now he ignores it. Mr. Tomofumi does not allow external forces other than gravity in his apartment or in his body. He thinks about throwing the cards away or donating them to the Salvation Army, but he does neither of those things. He calls his roommate and asks him to read aloud the new address of the boy-girl from a file in his bedroom. He writes it down on the back of a magazine. Then he slings the felt bag of cards over his shoulder, gripping the pail and radio-cassette in both hands, and locks the door behind him.