Soapin the Streets

He’s out there on the corner soapin the streets at Foster and Walcott, the bodega owner’s son, or nephew, or cousin or whatever. If he’s even related to the owner. Maybe he is the owner. He looks too young to own his own corner store though, I don’t know. In any case he’s out there washing away the winter, the remnants of leaves and gravel and coagulated exhaust, broken glass, and shards of bud light cans and cig butts. Swept away on the first day of the year that smells like spring, the sidewalk perimeter lathered and brushed coarse, as shiny as dull concrete.

It’s astonishing how this city changes from the cold months to the warm. Chicago Depression: it’s a regional-seasonal-emotional condition, and it’s a pandemic. Seems like the winter eliminates 30% of the public space here. The sidewalks are trenches (when shoveled), or lunar surfaces (when the owner is a dick). The streets become an obstacle course of dibs and snow mounds, and the parks don’t really exist because you can’t actually go there. Urbs in Horto? Just fuck you. The aforementioned horto is covered in 26 inches of snow that’s been here since November, concealing a Noah’s Ark of dog shit. But I haven’t noticed that the parks don’t exist because I haven’t left my house for non-essential business since Thanksgiving.

Then one day, you walk outside and your coat is a little too heavy, your hat unnecessary, your scarf just an accessory. You’re waiting for the bus and your hair is actually hot. The streets don’t have that snow barrier. People are lying on blankets in the park. Things are vibrant. The music in your headphones sounds just a little better today than last week. Maybe things aren’t so bad after all.

That day is today. It’s the first warm day in Chicago.

Writer: Kevin Borgia
Location: Foster & Walcott

Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind

We leaned against the theater building
as if we were waiting in line for tickets, but
the show got out over an hour ago and

I’m still waiting for you to take me to dinner. So
I un-roll the program and re-read the same
actors statement.

We are under a broken streetlight, but down
the corner to my right is another couple waltzing
in a lit pool.
My red 034 lips part and I click my heel even faster.

And your tie is blowing in the air and you are still
whistling at an empty street
trying to hail a taxi, but you are not from this
wind blown town and I’m just watching you

inhale even harder. But now, the couple is tripping
over their laughter and I am growing jealous of
their Brunello laced evening.

And I think they too missed the show.

 

Writer: Sonja Lynn Mata
Location: The Neo-Futurists

Opening Day

I never knew my grandfather. But I honor his memory where Clark meets Addison, in the shadow of Wrigley’s rotund red marquee. There in the 1950s, every Opening Day, he would sneak my young father into Cubs games through a conveyer belt that rolled fresh beer from the street to the ballpark. With the flair of an Irish-born Chicago cop, he’d flash his badge at the gate for entry, strut to the beer room, and reclaim his son while slaking his thirst. After the game, the ushers would enlist young fans to choose a row and upturn every green wooden seat from one end of the park to the other. For his troubles, each boy would receive a free ticket to the next day’s game. My dad performed this daily duty all summer long, year after year, securing him free season tickets for a decade. It was a different time. You could do that then.

Writer: Matt Herlihy
Location: The Friendly Confines

Volunteering At The Hull House

Ryan is this Heirloom Farm’s only game in town, labor-wise. There are volunteer hours during the week, but for most every day it’s Ryan, pulling weeds, watering, planting, maintaining. He wears a blue baseball cap, sunglasses and flip-flops. The garden was begun by a Hull House Executive Director who is now moving on to other projects: as such, Ryan finds himself with a bounty of vegetables with no clear outlet. The series Rethinking Soup, in which the Hull House distributed soup every Tuesday, along with a lecture, performance or cultural event, has closed for the season. By the time new decisions are made for the future of the farm, the growing season will be over. Ryan occasionally donates bushels of produce to local organizations. I occasionally munch on the purslane we are weeding from around the leeks. For most of the afternoon, we train tomatoes along trellises. The trellises are giant stakes in the ground, branches twisting upward, and our task is to lift the sprawling tomato plants off the ground and velcro them to the stick in a way that faces the plant southward—without damaging it. Ryan emphasizes that there is a front and a back to a tomato plant. It’s labyrinthal, the task. It’s important to trim secondary branches off the tomatoes, to make sure they don’t get too heavy and prevent them from growing upward. But at the same time, large trimmings represent a kind of wasted energy on the plant’s part. It’s a shame to be doing this so relatively late in the plant’s growing life. “It would be less difficult if the plants weren’t so mature,” he says. But since Ryan is the tomatoes’ only gig in town, with banks of kale, okra, leeks and all else, it’s difficult for him to keep up with everything. We pluck whole ripe tomatoes off the vines and munch as we go.

The heat beats down, steady and persistent. To take a break, we head over to the Hull House basement, where, to my secret joy, there is garlic hanging. It’s a bit of a quirk that it’s hanging in a supposedly haunted basement—Ryan tells stories of Jane Addams chasing off exorcists, not being a believer in ghosts herself. I’m inclined to side with Jane. And while the garlic looks just the slightest bit spooky in the cellar light, it’s just too damned awesome that there is garlic curing in a museum basement for me to be spooked. The garlic does not have fancy labeling or demonstration windows, it is not on display for the Hull House to show off its garlic curing methodology. It is curing in the basement because that’s what makes sense. It’s the Hull House garlic, and now, Ryan will take it home and clean it while he’s watching the olympics.

I have a little time left towards the end of the afternoon, and get assigned the independent task of planting okra and zucchini. By the end of everything, I am hot and dusty, covered in the dirt of work.

Writer: Meghan Moe Beitiks
Location: Hull House

Notes from the Mainframe

Tonight, I will be reading along with a few fine folks for the Guild Literary Complex reading series, Applied Words. This session will bring left and right brains together as writers in technology share their stories. There’s also an open mic. Event starts at 7pm, readings 7:30pm at FreeGeek Chicago.

Guild_NotesfromtheMainframe_flyer

Where I Slept

My homeless year began early October 1985 and ended in the last day of August 1986. I was thirteen, and then fourteen, and it’s a story I’ve never told in part because I slept so many different places that year. I slept in the broom closet of a friend’s apartment building. The closet was just inside the entryway, past the eight slotted mailboxes. It was the size of a single bed, crowded with mop buckets and cleaning solutions, and I could stretch all the way out and my toes would just touch the door. The building itself was a tan/yellow brick four flat. Kwan lived with his parents and grandmother in a two-bedroom on the second floor, part of a wave of Korean immigrants arriving on the north side of Chicago in the early eighties on their way to the suburbs along with the Kurds and Russian Jews. When I would come over to visit after school his grandmother would clutch my head in her bony hands and pray for me.

“She wants to know if you’re going to church,” Kwan would interpret. When it was time for dinner Kwan would politely ask me to leave.

I had a leather bomber jacket my father had given me in one of our better moments, and some clothes, and I wore all of it when I slept there. It was just as hard and cold in the broom closet as it was outside and it was winter in Chicago and I was thirteen. I could see my breath pooling in the dark and woke shivering in the middle of every night. I had a watch so I knew it was usually three and then I waited until six and I went to the laundromat on California Avenue and sat there trying to get warm. But after a while I couldn’t get warm and even in school I was shivering all the time, vibrating in my big jacket.

But this isn’t about school (I was in eighth grade). And it’s not about my father handcuffing me to a pipe and leaving me there in the basement of his old house. And it’s not about the hotel room I ended up in one homeless evening with a white man in a nurse’s uniform and a wig giving head to three black men, lines of coke spread haphazardly across the table. All of that is true but this is just a list of the different places I slept. It’s the only way I can get any perspective.

I slept at home. I went home several times. I had a large bedroom and the walls were covered in wallpaper that looked like an open sky full of birds and clouds. I had a down comforter and two pillows in Charlie Brown pillowcases. I had a manual typewriter I banged on and I taped bad poetry over my walls and listened to Pink Floyd albums on the cabinet record player. I made dinner from endless cans of Chef Boy ‘R Dee and stacks of frozen steaks. If I was to guess I would say that between rapprochements with my father I slept at home a full month out of the eleven I spent as a homeless child in Chicago. Friends who ran away would climb in through my window and sleep beneath my bed.

I turned fourteen in a basement I had broken into with my friend’s Albert and Justin. Justin was often homeless that year and he slept many different places as well. The floor was blue cement and we sat up most of the night against the wood storage sheds working our way through pints of vodka and confessing to things like masturbation. In the morning the police woke us with flashlights and boots and sent us back to the streets.I slept in the police station, the 24th District, the flat dark building with the giant parking lot on Clark Street. I was arrested for curfew, then drug possession, then breaking into parking meters. I slept on the scratched steel cot inside the cell in the juvenile unit or sitting upright with my wrist next to my ear, handcuffed to a steel loop in the wall.

A Jewish man found me in the broom closet. He seemed confused. He couldn’t understand why a child was sleeping there. He probably owned the building. He was probably just coming to get a mop. “It’s OK,” I told him, gathering my things in my arms, careful not to look in his eyes, and walking away. I was fourteen. I didn’t want to answer the obvious questions. The broom closet was locked after that.

On the coldest nights when my lashes became icicles I snuck into a boiler room and slept next to the warm pipes and left when I heard the banging that meant someone was coming down the stairs. I walked along Devon Avenue when the bank clock read twenty below. I had hypothermia. It was like a circuit at times: roof, roof, boiler room. Other times it was a pattern and I would go to the same place over and over again and go to sleep just like anyone else.

I slept at my father’s girlfriend’s apartment on a couch in her living room and I watched her sleep through the half open door to her bedroom, her blanket riding up her naked thighs. She slept flat on her stomach with her head turned breathing softly into the pillow and her legs slightly spread. I watched the balls of her feet, the curve of her toes and her tan calves. This is not about her struggling to hold on to me arms wrapped around my waist while I lunged for the doorknob, my father on his way, upset over the social workers that had begun to bother him about his homeless child. Or the violence that would occur after he found me walking late that night down Chicago Avenue covered in snow and took me home for a single night smacked me across the face and shaved my head.

I slept in my grandparents small flat outside of Sheffield, England. My grandparents are dead now, both of them. They weren’t expecting me. I drank barley wine at night with them and my grandfather told me stories of the great war and made jokes about his missing thumb. When they went to sleep I journeyed out to the pubs and I drank some more. During the day I hiked the Uden valley, watched the sheep in the long green fields. I found my first strip club in the back of a small pub with a broken window. Several times I hitchhiked into Sheffield to watch punk rock bands and met people who were looking for fights. I wasn’t looking for a fight. After a week my grandparents sent me back to America.

I slept above the Quick Stop on Pratt and California, only a block away from my grammar school. I climbed the gutters to the roof and laid in the corner beneath the lip to block the wind. Sometimes I would poke my head up and see the crossing lights and the black empty streets and I would feel so lucky and free. There were video games in the store but I wasn’t allowed inside. The teachers knew I was homeless and bought me lunch but no one offered to take me home. My friends parents also didn’t offer to take me in. At PTA meetings parents were warned to keep their children away from me. I was a known drug user, an eighth grade drinker when I could get the money together. One time Justin’s father chased me down the sidewalk in his Taxi, trying to run me over. When I jumped the fence to get away he pressed a gun against my friend Roger’s chest and demanded he tell where I was. But Roger didn’t know, and that, like so many other things that happened that year, is not what this is about.

I stole food from the dumpster behind the Dominick’s, cold packets of meat just past date. I slept at the canal where we built fires and planned adventures, all the neighborhood’s forgotten children, the ones whose parents didn’t notice them missing or didn’t care, dancing near the flames. Nobody looked for us. We named things. The tree I sat in was called Steve’s office, the fire pit was Pete Brown’s grave. Pat had a throne dug into the dirt below the path and Rob had Rob’s chair, which was just the tip of a boulder protruding horizontally from the slope. We respected each other’s space most of the time. We built a fire every night and we threw rocks at the rats as they scurried in and out of the filthy water. We had wonderful times at the canal playing heavy metal music and popping acid while trying to stay awake for cops and tougher kids that might want to beat us up. One time Fat Mike came running, out of breath. He had seen headlights near the baseball stadium. “Dude,” he said. “Could be a cop car, could be a party car, I don’t know.” We laughed for hours over that. We woke up covered in dirt, reeking of smoke, and went to school.

I slept at home. My mother was dead. My father didn’t always notice me when I came back; other times he woke me with a loud whistle. He never reported me missing when I left again, we didn’t want each other, and eventually he moved himself to the suburbs with his new wife and didn’t bother to get me his forwarding address.

I slept three nights with a Christian man who did painting work for my father. He lived in a small apartment and his wife was dying rapidly, like my mother had. I went with him to church. I ruined his baking pan cooking hamburger on his stovetop. It wasn’t working out, he told me. Years later my father still tries to contact me demanding I write his Christian friend a thank you letter.

There was a man named Ron. He had an apartment beneath Pat’s mother’s apartment. Pat’s mother was a junky and Ron was just a twenty year old slacker who would one day go to community college and get a degree in hospitality that would allow him to work in a hotel. I had stolen some money and bought a quarter pound of marijuana and Ron let me stay with him until the marijuana was gone. Pat’s mother is dead now. Justin’s parents are also dead. Roger’s dad is dead. Dan’s mom is dead. It has nothing to do with the story but my friend’s parents all died young.

I slept beneath Brian’s bed and when Brian’s father caught me he kicked me out then he beat Brian. Brian’s father saw me stumbling down the street drunk with my shirt off in the middle of winter and he said to his daughter, “I ought to put him out of his misery.” He did too much coke and had a bad heart. He died too.

I slept in the closet of an independent living home for wards of the state. The home was on Sacramento. A normal, boxy looking house in the middle of the street with a small basketball court in the backyard. Eight boys lived there, transitioning between group homes and living alone. Some of the boys snuck me inside. The closet was small and I had to sleep with my legs crossed sitting up. I was discovered by the staff and they fed me a bowl of cereal. Someday soon the state would take custody of me and I would also be a ward of the state and I would live in that very home for a time.

More often than anything I slept outside. I slept in parks and in the woods and on the neighborhood rooftops. But when you can fall asleep anywhere you often do. I was always the last to leave the party. I never had to go home.

Sometimes Justin would have a girlfriend and I would sleep on the couch and he would sleep in the bedroom. Justin was popular that way. He was beautiful, like a woman, with his long black hair. Sometimes Justin and I slept together on a gravely rooftop and he would wrap his thin legs over my legs and his sinewy arms across my chest and hold me tightly his face buried in my neck and I was never sure if he was doing that because he wanted to or because he thought I expected it from him.

Justin and I slept at the Maxworks, a hippy commune in Jewtown. The neighborhood doesn’t exist anymore. They’ve paved it over to expand the University campus. Maxworks was a three-story abandoned building taken over by radicals many of whom lived there for twenty years. They smoked dandelions and banana skins and made pocket money selling handmade pipes to the junkies sitting around garbage cans outside. Justin and I were too young to recognize what we had stumbled on, the failure of an earlier generation’s promise. They gave us acid, yellow sunshine, and one of the women, in a flowery skirt with unshaven legs and armpits, had sex with Justin. I don’t remember her name but I remember her spinning in circles in a trash heap near a fire. Her arms were outstretched and dress translucent. I was so jealous but there was nothing I could do about it. I was an ugly child and sometimes my ugliness kept me safe.

From the Maxworks, over the next eight days in the summer of 1986, Justin and I slept our way in cars and trucks across America. The truckstop in East Los Angeles was a sea of flashing lights, the air wavy with gasoline, open trailers filled with rolls of carpet, men standing on dock ladders or leaning back in their rigs chatting lazily on the radio in the deafening hum of the motoring engines. I slept in the cabin of a truck while the driver molested Justin in the front. I slept right through it and in the morning sitting in a donut shop under a blank grey sky surrounded by highways and the roar of traffic Justin told me he wanted to kill that man. He had stolen our only bag and inside was my poetry and our maps. I thought that was what Justin was talking about, the poetry and the maps, but it wasn’t. Years later when I was at a party telling my favorite story, about hitchhiking from Chicago to California with my best friend, he would interrupt me and say, “Steve, I was molested.”

“Why didn’t you wake me up?” I asked, which was a dumb thing to say. I was so angry.

In Las Vegas we slept in the juvenile detention center. We had caught a ride with a German and he took us from Los Angeles to the strip. He wore shorts and drove with a beer between his legs. Good beer, he said, from Germany. He stopped in a convenience store and bought cheap beer so we would have something to drink too. He had a small bong in the glove compartment and a pillbox filled with weed and we smoked that as we drove into the desert and he dropped us off at Caesar’s Palace where we stocked up on free matchbooks and wondered what to do next.

A state trooper answered that question. We were out on the entry ramp, trying to hitch a ride out of town. Our clothes were muddy and ripped. We were put in jail as runaways. They contacted my father who stopped in the printer and told the woman working there, “They arrested my son in Las Vegas. I’m not going to get him.”

“No offense,” she told me when I met her years later. “But I didn’t give a shit.

”I said goodbye to Justin in his small room with white walls on the ground floor of the institution. It was early in the morning, the desert sun rising above the low buildings, and he wasn’t quite awake. His dark hair covered his eyes. His gym shoes were in the hallway in front of the red walking line and he asked why I was being let out first. I told him I didn’t know. They drove me to the Greyhound station and then they took my handcuffs off. I slept on a bus for three days as it snaked slowly across the country from Las Vegas into Chicago. They gave me four dollars when they let me out and I spent it on cigarettes and candy bars. We stopped at the McDonald’s dotting the highway and a state fair in Carbondale. The man next to me fed me whiskey in a coffee cup and I slept against his shoulder at night. He was fresh out of prison and asked if I would be willing to snatch someone’s purse. I said I didn’t think I would be very good at that. Justin wouldn’t get out for several more weeks and when he did he would be re-arrested on an outstanding warrant and he would go to audi-home and his parents would refuse to pick him up and the state would take custody of him and he would spend the rest of his childhood in a state home in the Chicago suburbs.

When I got back to Chicago I slept on the streets, as I had been doing for so long now. I slept on a friend’s porch until his mother found out. I slept on the same rooftops. I hooked up with a children’s agency and they put me in Central Youth Shelter. It was a gladiator arena filled with children awaiting placement stuffed thirty to a room. We sat around during the day watching television or playing basketball in the fenced in yard. The shelter was understaffed and nobody would tell me where I was going or when I would get out. Then I walked away.

I slept for a while in a house connected to a Catholic church and in private homes of people that had volunteered to take in children while the state waited the requisite 21 days to decide if they were willing to take custody. There was something wrong with the adults that took me in, all men living alone. I think they were pedophiles and I was a disappointment to them. I played pool with other homeless children at the Advocates center beneath the Granville train tracks. There was a girl there, a year older than me, tall and thin and freckled. She always beat me and then did this little victory dance with her hands, fingers stretched like wings. She had the biggest smile.

Then I slept in the house I had grown up in which my father was in the process of selling. It was an obvious mistake.

I woke into his fists and I tried to cover my face. He dragged me into the kitchen where he had clippers, forced me to my knees in front of the cabinet, and he shaved my head. It was the second time he had done that. There were giant bald patches from where his hands slipped and I looked like a mental patient, which was ironic. He must have been waiting for me, or searching the neighborhood. He had planned to do this. Revenge for something. The meanest thing possible, worse even than the beating, worse than handcuffing me to a pipe, to be humiliated in front of everyone. To be a circus freak. It was an act of raw cruelty well within my father’s emotional range. Something he felt was owed him for the negative portrayal of himself as a parent, for the hatred he saw when he looked in my eyes. But that’s not what this is about at all. This isn’t about hate or love or what went wrong between my father and I or the kind of resentments that never go away. This isn’t about splitting the blame between bad parents and bad children. It’s not about culpability. It’s about sleeping and the things that are important to that like shelter and rain.

That night was the last night of my homeless year. It was the end of August and high school would start in a couple of days. I had cut my wrist open and there was a bright red gash that bled through the afternoon. It was hot and a festival was underway in the park. A soft breeze cut around the sleigh hill and a few clouds pocked the long sky. I solicited beer and people bought me beer because they thought maybe I was crazy or maybe they could get me to leave. I asked one man if I could go home with him and he said, “Look, I bought you a beer,” which was true enough. As night fell a band ascended the stage and I danced while they played, slamming in the moshpit at the top of the baseball diamond, my wrist still open splashing traces of blood on people’s clothes. Proof I was there.

I crawled in the entryway of an apartment building across from the park. I didn’t care anymore. I slept in the open and I heard footsteps pass and a door. The floor was small tiles held together with cement and the door was a glass case barreled in dark wood. I rested with my head on my arm and my knees pulled toward my chest. I had a sack of clothes somewhere. A friend’s parent had given it to me, long white shirts and discarded pants, but I couldn’t remember where I’d left them. My jeans were torn and I wore a black rock and roll t-shirt. I knew it was only a matter of time until the door closing became a phone call and the phone call became swirling red and blue lights and the lights became a backseat and a window with bars. The police came and they asked where my parents were. I told them I didn’t know, which was true. The police weren’t mean or angry. They were just doing their job. In the morning I met a different set of officers who didn’t wear uniforms or carry guns. The new officers offered me sandwiches and something to drink. They asked what happened to my wrist and I told them I fell on a tin can but they didn’t believe me. I was taken to a hospital and a kind nurse used surgical tape to close the hole in my wrist.

“Why would you do that?” she asked and I wanted to laugh at her. I wanted to ask if she was offering me a place to stay. But she was just concerned and nice and I would meet a lot more people like her. Things got much better after that though it took me a little while to recognize it. Things were going to work out fine save some scars.

 

Writer: Stephen Elliott
Location: California & Devon, to name one

____________
This story originally appeared at Tin House and The Rumpus.

Stephen Elliott is the author of seven books including the memoir, The Adderall Diaries. He is finishing directing a feature film based on his novel Happy Baby. And he is the founding editor of the online magazine, The Rumpus.

Getting To Know Each Other

Scott:  You’re driving through Colorado on your way to Oregon to go camping/climbing with friends. You’re passing through the mountains and it starts raining HARD. The area you’re in is really remote but thankfully you see one of those neon hotel signs buzzing ahead with “Vacancy”.

At the front desk is a slimy meth head-looking lady, about 48 with really shitty, hand-done tattoos. She’s mid-argument on the phone when you walk in and hastily throws the phone down and greets you with a warm “What?”. You get your room and the rest of the night passes without anything unique happening.

The next morning you check out, walk outside and the lady from the front desk is creeping around your car. She sees you and rushes away. You hop in your car and start your trip back up. 50 miles down the road three cops pull you over, guns drawn.

What do they charge you with?

OliveNoShow:  Duh. The mass murder of all those friends. By “camping” you really mean “burying them in a remote area away from where you live.” And those “friends” are really all stuffed in the trunk. You almost got away with it, but the one and only victim you ever left alive 20 years ago saw and recognized you. Even after years of PTSD that rendered her incapable of holding a steady job except as a desk clerk at a shitty hotel off a remote road, she recognized you as the monster that made her turn to a life of meth and isolation. So when she realized you were at it again, but unable to recognize her because you were blinded with disgust and judgement for her poorly drawn tattoos, she saw her chance for justice.

So now you’ve been caught. Cops surround you. What do you do?

Scott:  It’s always those minute details.

THANK GOD [sic] for that meth addiction. Being the sly self-motivated, devoid of emotion and empathy human being that I am, I pin everything on the meth head. With such horrible teeth and tattoos, it’s a little hard to argue she knew a few TOO MANY details for this to be a casual sort of encounter. Sure my camping knife is big, but I’m a man, a hunter possibly (nope). My knife was only there for camping necessity.

I turn this into a case of entirely bad luck; my god, what are my “friends” going to think when I don’t show up for this camping trip on time?! Can I borrow your phone? How long is this going to take?! This is too crazy, this isn’t my life!!!!

The cops see how in control I am and default their basic stereotypical judgements (stupid cops) and I’m let off, free to continue my trip to Oregon.

How does my fortune unfold?

OliveNoShow:  You make it to your “camping” trip. Unload your cargo and have a pretty relaxing weekend. The weather was nice and the beers were cold. Years go by and now you’re a middle aged man who’s carved out (no pun intended) a pretty good life for himself. One night, you’re in the study of your suburban 4-room house and there’s a knock at the door. You’d never thought you’d see her again, especially after what happened so long ago, but there she is…who is it?

Scott:  “Her”, or at least that is how she is known in my mind. In my early years she was “The One”. My world, my teacher, my Jesus; but time changes everything, right?

I’m shocked to see those eyes staring back at me; those same eyes that have always encouraged me toward the edge of sanity. She’s doing it again.

We don’t say anything audible for the first 30 seconds, just stare. Our past flashes through my mind; the first time I caught her breaking her vows, the first time she caught me breaking bones, all the times that followed, breaking bones and making cuts together.

Truly a love-hate relationship. Broken promises, broken dreams, broken hearts yet she is the only person to ever see the real me and survived. Years of distrust mixed with the closest and most trusting relationship I have ever had.

My mind stops wandering, immediately focused again on who is staring right back at me.

Her eyes: clear, hate-filled, that subtle-bright glimmer in the corner of her iris that shows a bit of life & insanity. They are eerily exact to mine… well I guess maybe not eerily.

“Hi mom”

OliveNoShow:  She remains silent. Unable to find the words. Well, even if she could, there would be no use. The last time you cut her you went too far, cutting too deep into her throat. For the better part of your adult life, all you got from her were grunts and mumbles that sounded more like hums. But mostly stares so deep they cut you to the core. And she made sure of it the way she’s making sure of it now. She lets the silence linger for as long as you’ll stand it. Because she knows that every passing second is a painful reminder of what you did to her. To your world. Your teacher. Your Jesus.

You’re so wrapped in your own guilt that you almost miss it. A slight uncertainty in her eye. She always had a tell. And you almost forgot it. But it’s as visible as a single crack on an icy surface. She’s up to something and for the first time in your life, you’re caught off guard. Before you can put the pieces together, she steps aside and there he is.

“Monster” you always called him. The reason you became THAT. The only one that makes you feel powerless. A feeling you always took out on others. But could never take out on him. You feel the life drained from you and regress back to a little boy scared running to mom. You look back at her grasping for sympathy, for a sign that everything will be ok. But all you find is a familiar sadistic satisfaction. She’s enjoying this. She’s been waiting for this moment…and that’s when it hits you.

Scott:  Life doesn’t change.

Insecurities are never settled, fear is never confronted. Everything we do is some sort of cover, some sort of compensation for those initial moments when we felt fragile, malleable; when we realize the power we try to pronounce is equal to some mating ritual of brainless animals; all posturing. We follow a pattern of compensation that can never be satiated.

But that is the great thing about humans, we have the ability to consciously recognize and adapt. Facing this stark realization and immediate regression into youthful frailty you realize you’re no longer a child. While some of that beautiful wonder has left the world, in its place exists a certainty in pattern.

You’ve embraced this certainty for all of those years on your own and it has empowered you through the tough spots you’ve faced, brought you to the point in your life where you are today.

In this flash of realization you stare back at “The Monster”, confidence renewed.

He was never supposed to be better, stronger, or smarter than you. But all those years the little brother won out. Was he really better than you or did you simply underestimate his abilities, relying on the “age-old-adages” about superiority due to being the first born? Finally your confidence wins out.

With your mind dissecting every detail you do the last thing expected and open your arms.

OliveNoShow:  He stares you down, puzzled, as if he had never seen you in his life. The same way he looked at you the day you met. You were born strangers and only became brothers through broken vows. And even on that first day, you instantly knew he was somehow superior to you. What was it that he knew that you didn’t? What was his secret? Your curiosity didn’t last long, though. He made sure to “share” his pain with you until he turned you into what he was. Because misery loves company, but evil loves recruits.

After what he used to call “The Initiation,” you two were inseparable. Him at the helm, you his loyal soldier. Loyalty based off of fear? Perhaps. And he made sure of that. Controlling your every move, every thought, every decision all while giving you a false sense that you were the one in control of yourself.

But seeing you standing there, arms wide open, all fears and self-doubts gone, stirs a familiar darkness in him. With one small act, you’ve stripped him of his power over you. The only real power he’s ever had.

Sensing this, you put your arms down and step aside, silently inviting them in. You don’t know where it comes from and you certainly didn’t plan it, but you say something so surprising that it would have been a total lie had it not come straight from the heart.

“I’ve been expecting you.”

Scott:  On second thought, how surprising is it really? Over the last decade or so certain things have simply fallen into place. Guilt and shame over your desires, needs, deeds, it has all evaporated. The blessing of living independently of all the souls who initially shaped you has forced you to survey and judge yourself honestly, it has turned you into a self sufficient pathogen.

Social obligations have always been your way to blend in, learn the habits of the other side, advance your camouflage. After so many hot dogs and cucumber sandwiches you noticed something though; no one is being real. These encounters are everyone’s opportunity to play the part they’ve been watching on TV or reading about in magazines and the occasional airport novel; their opportunity to be the archetype of the strong human.

With your own Adam and Eve wandering into your garden you identify the characters. You are the serpent, the purest evil, seductive and persuasive. This isn’t a desire, this isn’t a character, this is you. Your invitation should have been rejected immediately, after all, who knowingly walks into the bears den.

Yet here they are. Yours.

You’ve loved them, you’ve ruined them, and now you realize you are done with them.

Knowing what you are about to do you say a silent “thank you” for the house being devoid of all other living props.

“So what now?” you say as you openly and casually grab a large, meticulously maintained carving knife from your kitchen knife set.

OliveNoShow:  You wake up with a startle, disoriented and filled with the initial vulnerability that comes with it. It takes you a second to snap to it. And last night’s events slowly start trickling into your memory. You, in the study. That fateful knock at the door. Her eyes fixated on you. The Monster. Your newfound strength.

Everything else is a blur. Like a Fellini movie, you can’t distinguish reality from the subconscious.

Did you finally regain your power from The Monster? Or was that simply a recurring dream?

Was she really there? Or was that the same desire you’ve always had manifesting itself in a new way?

Did you finally get to cut him one last time? Or did your imagination get the best of you again?

Are you really done with them? Or do you regret last night’s impulses?

With all these questions looming over your head, you start to feel a familiar stirring deep within you. You haven’t felt this in years, and you have to do something about it. Now.

Scott:  Wash your body clean, no invisible traces.
Put on clean (still packaged) clothes.
Grab the emergency cash fund.
Find the knife.
Light a fire.
Drive.

* * *It’s a little different in the daylight, a whole lot more arousing. The idea of walking with your prey, blending as you are, pick of the litter.First rules first though, hide all emotion. Not a hard rule to remember butthe one time you slipped…

Focus.

Your head follows the 99% on their ritual Sunday activities. Scanning each face, each walk, each stutter for the air of familiarity. You need to find them.

A man’s shoulder bumps you hard from behind. You stumble forward, keeping your feet but exposing your back, your right hand immediately darts to the knife’s handle in your waistline.

The aggressor greets you with simple indifference. The man keeps walking; he’s not a piece of the story, just an asshole with a puffed up chest.

He doesn’t fit what you want, he isn’t like them, he’s no disciple. Yet there he is, catching you off guard, making you feel weak. He should pay, right? Right?

Yes.

You start walking a little faster en route to a safe following distance, gauging his awareness of you. WAIT.

Focus. NO. When you break the plan it’s empty. An increase in possibility without a decrease in thirst. Last time you swore you’d never parch your thirst with salt water again.Focus.

With focus back on your side you turn around in time to see… nothing. You just hear a loud dull “thump” hitting you in that place that is the fusion of skull and neck. Your legs give out and less than a second later your consciousness wanes as well. That was long enough to see the shoes though; always the same pair.

Writer:  Scott
Location:  Washtenaw & Haddon
map view, Chicago literary map

The Deer

I’m coming home from a cold meds run to Walgreens. It’s dark. It’s winter. Most sane people are in their homes. I’m tooling down Matson in my shitty minivan when the fog clears and there you are. Fucking 12 point buck. I know people in Alabama who would shit their pants if they saw you. You look like a special effects version of a buck, like you were painted by Thomas Kinkade on a plate. You are perfect.

20 yards back, I just roll to a stop, and stare. I’ve been dealing with sick kids and a busy wife for two days. My house is hip deep in wadded-up tissues and there’s a faint reek of eucalyptus, like we use it for an air freshener. My kids are piled onto the couch against my wife like snot-crusted bookends. They’re watching terrible television and coughing without putting their hands in front of their mouth. They can barely speak, they cry a little every time they hack one up.

And I’m no worse, I’m a solid peelable crust from head to foot. I haven’t showered for two Tuesdays and every time I breathe in I can feel the exact shape and size of my lungs, as if two smoldering loafs are catching fire in my chest. I have the window down because February air in Chicago is like a gust of knives slicing under my hoodie and raking down my back and it feels freaking awesome on my fever skin.

But I stop. I take you in. You’re standing there under the lonely streetlamp by the forest preserve, right in the broad halogen halo, just looking at me. You are archetype. You are unhurried. You are unafraid. You own that fucking road. Yet, I feel like I’ve seen you before. Like we know each other. The feeling is so sudden and so crisp; I rack my memory for some other time in my 10 years living by the forest preserve golf course in Chicago when I’ve had a run in with a buck like you but I get nothing. You drop your head, sniff at the asphalt. Your ears twitch. Your tail twitches. Then you lift your head into the classic hunt club silhouette. Perfectly still. I open my door as quietly as I can. You turn toward me and the sense of familiarity is overwhelming.

And what is this thing that’s happening? I believe in symbols, like we’re avatars in a great universal video game and moments like these are Easter eggs. We are given high-level instruction at these peak moments, instances soaked in synchronicity and groaning under the weight of symbolism. Why a deer? Why a 12 point buck? Now, when I’m racing home to administer bubble gum flavored acetaminophen to my broodlings? Why the overwhelming sense of fraternity? Like the buck is my wild self, torn loose and freed the instant my first born slipped out into the light. Now come back to judge me, to harangue me, to remind me that we are still brothers, that there is still a wild child waiting to tear it up somewhere inside me.

I take one step toward you just as headlights come around the far corner and you charge, nearly running into me, leap high over the fence into the narrow space between the gold course pump house and the containing pond. No sound at all, I swear.

The car comes barreling past me, kids on a drunk. Someone yells, “asshat!” and I remember: You look exactly like the fucking deer in the old Hartford Insurance commercials.

Writer:  Bull Garlington
Location:  Mason & Matson Avenue

Matson & Mason