by Mitchell Grabois
I walk into the house. I see that my wife has decided to remove the popcorn ceiling. In fact, she’s removed it. I told her we needed to get it tested for asbestos first. She said we didn’t need to. She sits on a wooden chair, wet crumbles of the former ceiling strewn around her. Her smile is triumphant. It was even easier than they showed on YouTube.
A book is in her hand.
What are you reading? You’re not reading that trash again, are you?
She recites: From a very tiny, underused part of my brain – probably located at the base of my medulla oblongata near where my subconscious dwells – comes the thought: He’s here to see you. My wife begins to unbutton her blouse.
Jesus, you’re reading Fifty Shades of Grey again…
I feel the color in my cheeks rising. I must be the color of The Communist Manifesto. My wife throws her blouse to one side atop a pile of popcorn litter. She wears no bra. Her tits are small, but “perky.” We make love on the wet asbestos. Afterwards we take a shower together, but the damage has been done. I already feel the cracklings of MESOTHELIOMA in the lobes of my lungs.
I wake at 5 a.m. to drive a neighbor to cataract surgery. I drop her off and go to find a McDonald’s with Wi-Fi, but find none between the clinic and the Front Range, just a Jack-in-the Box. Standing at the counter I peruse a poster, a man with a Jack head and an athlete’s muscular arms. I didn’t get this body eating chocolate milk shakes, the caption reads. Sometimes I got vanilla. I take a table, drink bitter coffee, and remember Bob W. in high school, a tall skinny guy with long, lank hair and a comical face. I remember his night-time raids, stealing Jack-in-the-Box heads from drive-throughs, leaving the “restaurants” bereft of their mascot. Some businessman would be really pissed in the morning, but that was part of the point. There was a connection between the Jack heads and the U.S. military (Bob lectured us as we smoked dope in his bedroom) and the atrocities they were carrying out in Viet Nam. It took me a couple of years before I understood, and then I became an activist member of the small cadre of Jack- head thieves. I finally got caught (though Bob never did) and spent some time in Juvenile Detention, to my parents’ everlasting shame.
My wife falls asleep. She’s like her Lithuanian grandmother: she can sleep on a manhole cover.
I grew up and moved to “Paradise,” where bougainvillea vines and Poinciana trees blazed, and escaped iguanas made a commune on my front porch. I fed them slices of banana from my palm and regularly refilled the shot glasses I left on the rail with iguana adult beverages, namely water with lime.
But I was exiled from “Paradise” by ugly politics, a kind similar to what Adam experienced in the Garden of Eden.
The goldenrod of my new, Midwestern home made my head swell. Wasps stung me in the face when I entered the barn. Holding my spray can of poison, I couldn’t find their nests. Maybe they were high up in the eaves, or hidden somewhere in the hay mow. But the expansive fields of corn and soybeans were a kind of meditation.
I drive to my one-room schoolhouse.
It was the Amish school for a while, until the local Amish community suffered a rift. The elders ordered everyone to disband, to scatter like dandelion seeds drifting in the wind.
But while they were still here, the Amish children drove little wagons to school and put the horses in the horse barn, out of the snow, across a miniature ball field next to the schoolhouse.
The horses were bored while the kids were in school, and chewed on their stall boards. It’s amazing how much wood a horse can chew in a school year. After the community failed, I bought the schoolhouse. I thought I might start an art academy, buy some abandoned farmhouses nearby for dorms, use the barns as studios, but the more I thought about it, it just seemed like too much work.
The industrial turbines were built, over our protests. By then I was a member of the community, sort of, though my cousins kept their distance. When I was walking on the road and they drove by in their vans or pick-ups, they wore sneers. The turbine blades sliced the air. Surely to say that is metaphorical, but why did I start finding streaks of blood on the floor of my front porch? I had recently scraped it and painted it glossy grey, and the blood was vivid against it.
I bought a chain saw, the most expensive one Farm Supply had, went into the horse barn and sawed out the horse-chewed boards. They were old boards, probably milled on the adjoining farms. I put them in rough frames, branded them with the image of a laughing horse, called them: Horse-Chewed Board #1, Horse-Chewed Board #2, up to #26. I shipped them to my agent. The art world was astir, me coming out of retirement. Some folks had assumed I was dead. Each piece went for about two-hundred grand. They sold out within the month. My total cut was about 3 mill, if I remember right. I love art. I was reconsidering starting an art school, out in that verdant township.
As in a horror film, the streaks became small pools, scattered across the porch floor like grisly polka dots. Hypotheses straggled across my mind. Had animals been fighting there?
Eventually it became too much and I took to the road. The Front Range rose before me like a mirage, as if I were a Spanish pilgrim on the trail. But I have no faith so I can’t be a pilgrim. I’m merely homeless, like so many others, like the refugees of the Dust Bowl.
by Mitchell Grabois
Dear God, let everything broken be unbroken.
Tiffany: The roadway is not asphalt but the bodies of Doberman Pinschers. Sometimes they come back to life.
Still, an urge to swim in her father’s pool, her breasts desperate for her children, or needing violence against her pale skin, a voice whispers: run run run.
Global warming has stopped ice bridges from forming, isolating the wolves who live on this island, as if fenced in barbed wire, trapping the Doberman Pinschers who inhabit Tiffany’s nightmares, trapping Tiffany as well on this Alcatraz-like place.
Inbreeding has made the wolves as twisted and angry as those humans who live in my township (off in another part of the state), in which the wind turbines, erected too close to our homes, have destroyed our health, the enjoyment of our property, the value of the property itself.
Everything is gone, but they demand I get out of bed and brush my snaggle teeth. Can’t you hold me, Hank? Close, as if I were beautiful?
After years of hospital work, I am ubermensch with x-ray eyes. Under ugliness, I see beauty,
under dysfunction, capability. I see Tiffany before illness’s smears. She kneels in sunshine, in rich earth, like Mary Magdelene.
Greed shows itself in infinite forms, as does grief.
Soggy collard greens.
Tiffany is not here.
Toilet graffito: Eternity—too long to be wrong.
At Highcastle Pharmacy, I stand in front of the lipstick display and read the names of colors.
She said: You buy me a tube. I shake from medication and you guide my hand,
I gaze at her new-colored lips. What if all the barriers —including her illness—suddenly collapsed?
So porcupines hurl themselves from trees at the greedy, climate changing humans, making themselves suicide bombers, though each hopes he’ll survive to bomb again. They have plenty of quills, and know how to hide as skillfully as French resistance fighters during WWII.
At the grunge band crash-pad: Dax: prison tattoos, ragged hair, pinwheel eyes. Couch-bound,
he stares at the ceiling, his electric guitar on his chest, its neck between his legs.
“Wazzup, man…? Tiffany? Yeah, she’s here. Shaggin’ our new drummer.”
My heart soars, then falls to the pit of my stomach. I am ready to vomit with elation.
Dax leads me into a room with a bare, cum-soiled mattress, crushed PBRs on the floor.
“Probly went to score. You gonna bust her?”
“She’s a chronic schizophrenic, an escapee.”
“Dig, you gotta let people tune their own karma. You can’t just lean in like a shade-tree mechanic, spray ‘em with WD-40, and re-torque their mind with your kryptonite wrenches”
“So terror and confusion are Tiffany’s fate, and we should let her die under a freeway?”
“I’ve got to head for the McJob, man”
Drowsy, I lie on the couch, cover myself with his Fender. I’m a three-headed dog, Cerberus, at the gates of Hell.
I awake in deep dark, sneeze four times, feel dizzy. There’s meth in the couch cushions. I stand, grip the guitar—an ax—and head for the cum room. No grunge punk is gonna interfere with my treatment plan.
As long as climate change continues, the porcupines will remain at war. If some call them terrorists, so be it.
Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois has had over a thousand of his poems and fictions appear in literary magazines in the U.S. and abroad. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, The Best of the Net, and Queen’s Ferry Press’s Best Small Fictions for work published in 2011 through 2015. His novel, Two-Headed Dog, based on his work as a clinical psychologist in a state hospital, is available for Kindle and Nook, or as a print edition. To see more of his work, google Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois. He lives in Denver.