by Jessica Bonder
There was John the Saint, rescued dollhouse on his shoulder, salvaging the damned from its curbside purgatory. The trash heap cross the street from 24 Cleveland, the punk house John the Saint calls Heaven, for what was a Tuesday, he’d been eying the lot. The amassed sinners—busted electronica, three-legged chair, neck-crooked lamp—spilled out into the street like drunks down an alleyway, unforgiven vagrants. Throwaways. Squatters loiterers deviants weirdos—to the forlorn rejected, John the Saint could relate. The family cross the street, apparently, was moving; or cleaning out their garage; or maybe they died. The dollhouse turned sideways, its insides exposed, gutted and empty. Abandoned memory, it needed saving. It needed a reason.
John the Saint’s legs like exclamation points, skinny and black, exact. Navigating a maelstrom of anarchist artists, girlfriends passed out, stepping over their bodies. A game of tic-tac-toe just to get to the door, the Saint’s paint-splattered Docs tap-dancing through chaos. In the front room, what was once a living room, before milk crates and fixies and a drum kit took over, knelt Tomás at his shrine, his sacred vinyl reliquary, spinning 7-inches. Rad. The latest Meat Sweats, limited edition LP, Do the Shit My Way, Side B. Oh the temptation! To abort the mission, pull up bucket overturned, pop a squat and flood heardrums. Talk shop. But no! John the Saint’s committed—after all, he’s a saint—committed to his calling, his ministry to the lost. Call it recovery. Of the dollhouse he spied, from his perch on the roof, dead leaves mildew cigarette butts pigeon poop. For Luz, he thought, it’ll be a gift for Luz. Mascara plastered procumbent Luz. Luz on the floor on vodka on vicodin. His almost-bride, his last-chance wife. Last night or this morning, they’d had a fight.
Hey John man, where you goin’, que pasó?
Be right back yo, gotta go get somethin’.
Luz had been a lot of places and had seen a lot of things. None had been nice—there’d been no nice things. Even on days blue sky and birds chirping, days standard beautiful, did Luz fascinate the ceiling. Did Luz lay wasted, did Luz lay waste, closed curtains on a sun so badly wanted in. John the Saint met Luz down at Veterans Park, she had been pepper-sprayed, there was a protest. Luz coiled on the ground, tight as a spitball; John a fallen angel, reluctant descendant, apostate apostolic. As it happened that day, Cupid copped the enemy—his bow riot shield, his arrow, baton. Upon John did her immolated eyes first fix, Luz the first thing saying: My name means light.
It was love instamatic, a Polaroid love.
John loved Luz because Luz knew his past. Knew the things he did, knew he wasn’t no saint. Luz had the goods on this stray of a man, his fleas, ticks and bruises. Took him anyway.
Luz coming-to is Dorothy out of Oz, from black-and-white to color, homecoming to night. What is that, she says, scrounging for a ciggy, spoon-banging Mr. Coffee to evict las cucarachas. The machine was infested again. Stuck it in the freezer, doused it with vinegar, Luz tested all remedies, swore nothing worked. God! She hated living here, really she did, this two-story infection, open-plan open wound. So what is that, plays Luz on repeat, fractured princess pointing her rusty spoon wand. Misfit bent permanent. Gone. It’s a dollhouse, says John, and lays it at her feet, her feet bare and dirty. Splintered toes. Scabby bug bites. Half-shell nailbeds coated obsidian, dagger rose ankle—she was no Venus. John says here, it’s a gift for you babe.
I got this for you.
Do you like it.
What sounds a dollhouse before it crashes, prior its defenestration, ruled not a suicide? What sounds a dollhouse launched out a window, when a tiny home humbly meets the sky once? What sounds the site before the asteroid hits, comet of pretend, implodes on the lawn? What sounds a mad girlfriend, storming up the stairs, hated gift piggybacked, she be little but she be strong? What sounds a bedroom door, kicked down and dreams flown, en route to the highest ledge in the joint? From the zenith of despond, does Luz pitch the offering, with a fuck you John, she wants a ring. A ring with a diamond. A ring that is gold. The dollhouse rots, grows dandelions in spring.
What sounds a question asked over and over.
Tell her John tell her.
Why can’t she have nice things?
Jessica Bonder is an American fiction writer. She has published short stories and prose poetry in The Stockholm Review, The Lonely Crowd, The Honest Ulsterman, STORGY Magazine, Split Lip Magazine, Black Heart Magazine, The Bohemyth, Vending Machine Press, The Fiction Pool, and Unbroken Journal. Honors include: Nominated for the 2017 Pushcart Prize by Black Heart Magazine; Longlisted for the 2017 Berlin Writing Prize; Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train’s Fiction Open (March/April 2017); Longlisted for STORGY Magazine’s 2017 EXIT EARTH Short Story Competition; Finalist in Split Lip Magazine’s 2017 Summer Mix Tape Flash Fiction Contest; Shortlisted for Short Fiction Journal’s 2017 Short Fiction Prize; First Place in STORGY’s 2015 Short Story Contest.