"Doesn't this random scattering... seem desperately random - like the elaborations of a bad liar?"
Polls are now closed. Thanks, you guys, for participating. Announcement to follow later today about just what the hell it was all about.
We drove with the windows down, letting the cool pre-Autumn breeze flow into the car, across our faces and through our hair. It had a more calming effect on me than my son, who only looked out the window bleary-eyed and blinking out the occasional tears.
"It wasn’t my fault," he said for the hundredth time, hoping that would validate his actions better than all the previous utterances.
"I know, champ."
His anguish was hard to look at. He really felt, deep down, he was right; if given another chance, he might perfect his method to exact the maximum damage before being pulled off. To see my son’s face twisted so savagely… right or wrong, nobody was ever going to be on his side. How much was a boy supposed to take?
"Daddy," he said quietly, not turning his gaze from the window. "Are they going to punish me?"
"They already have, son." Meaning, he wasn’t allowed back on the premises.
"No. I mean, will they punish me like mom?"
God, I thought he’d forgotten about Claire’s breakdown. Charlie finally looked away from the window and gazed steadily at me with red and moist eyes. I feared he might attack me at the slightest scent of bullshit.
"No," I replied heavily. "I won’t let that happen. OK?"
"Are you?" I pressed. "OK, I mean?"
Charlie shrugged. “I wish Davey didn’t make fun of mom.”
"You’re going to have to learn to tune it out, little man." This was about as close to any solid advise as I could give today. "Other people are mean just because they want to make other people mean."
"What I did—was it wrong?"
"There is a time and place for things—"
Charlie cut me off. “Was it wrong?”
"Yes." My throat tightened, choking back a sob. "It might have seemed like a good idea to attack Davey at the time, but there are consequences for your actions."
"Consequences," Charlie parroted.
"Things that happen after you do something." Good, I thought. Keep him talking. "Like today: you attacked Davey, so the school sent you home."
"But Davey wasn’t going to get in trouble," Charlie pressed. The color quickly returned to his face. "Someone had to punish him!"
"Believe me, kiddo. I really wish life were that easy."
"But isn’t it?"
As soon as I opened my mouth to say something, I closed it. No sense in telling him that, no, even at his age life was tough, and it only got tougher as he grew older. He would learn these things, for better or worse, as they happened. Until then, there was no sense wrapping his mind up.
"Enough of that," I said, brightening suddenly. "We’ll worry about all that another time. Let’s go pick out a movie and get some pizza, OK?"
Charlie nodded eagerly and wiped his face. In its odd way, his smile assured me he was going to be OK, that he’d always be OK. Nothing was ever going to be simple—nothing except that smile—and that might make it all a little more manageable.
In one word, what does your memory tell you of the weather ten years ago today?
I awake to a filtered light
ribbons of grey and gold
find coarse rhythms
Mornings are cold now
summer doesn’t love me
in its last, slanted days
Time creaks like bones
a season aged into old men
taking warmth with it
how the abscesses of reaching waves
black as early twentieth century
think they’ve a right to my dreams
i will show them resurrection
in the fires of extinct mayan cultures
beating upon closed doors
we won’t ever be denied
feeding upon inflicted screams
they can have their stolid fortunes
my nights have an army of ghosts
wrapped in mighty spears
roaring louder than war paint
your feet will shatter upon my country
No, variety. You aren’t all that. You might be the spice of life, but spontaneity—that’s the whole meal and a breath mint.
When Big Kadza slipped quietly into the bar, Mitchell knew something was up. The big man rarely drank, and was seen in bars even fewer times. He had a hunted look about him, like an insect trying to get out of the way of a falling sky.
"Whaddya have?" BIg Kadza asked as he settled into an empty stool next to Mitchell.
"Rum’s all we got round here."
"Gimmie a double."
"Whoa," Mitchell whistled. "Take it easy. What’s got your gullet on fire tonight?"
"You hear about them strikes?"
"Yeah, I heard." Indeed, the whole industry along the shore heard about them. Or at least, the potential of them. Like most other rumors, they simply faded away with enough time. "You mean Fenix isn’t looking to quell them?"
"Nah, too big for that." The bartender set a glass in front of Big Kadza, who downed its contents in a swift gulp. "It just cost me my old lady, who dinnt wanna hear nothing more about my worries."
"No shit?" Mitchell’s eyebrows raised at the news. Kadza and his mate were together fifteen years, always on the verge of marriage, but one obstacle or another crumbled their plans.
"No shit," Big Kadza echoed. "Seems people are more scared as ever since the scandal broke."
MItchell knew the one. Some poor shmo in the city contracted the shambles and had undergone numerous treatments without his knowledge. Now the people began questioning The Authority en masse.
"Didn’t The Collective bring those rumors down?" Mitchell fumbled for names. "Ellis & Macomb, Fenix and—"
"It don’t matter," said Big Kadza as he tapped the bartop for another round. "The Authority is openly threatening White-Ops treatment to silence the disssenters. If they do, our whole industry is fucked."
"Does this have anything to do with the skitters?"
A noticeable shiver passed through Mitchell. Even the name—the skitters—conjured thousands of arthropod legs (namely, spiders) treading upon skin. The trouble was, no one knew what the hell it was.
"And how are you sick with no symptoms, anyway?" blurted Big Kadza. "Isn’t that the whole point of being sick, to know what you’re sick with?"
The big man was right, but there was no point going down that road. It was an illness, and people were required by law to get themselves examined every week to make sure they hadn’t contracted the illness. Most people were fine, some didn’t return.
"You know what I think," Mitchell said, his words now slurred. "The whole thing’s a sham. The Authority is tightening the screws on us and it’s driving us crazy. They want us to go crazy, to fuck up in some way to better control us."
Big Kadza stiffened. “Is that what you really think?”
"Naturally." Mitchell ordered his last round and downed it as soon as it came. "The whole city is clamped in the grip of The Authority. Who are we to challenge it?"
"If you could do something about it, would you?"
Mitchell’s glassy eyes fixed on the big man and he nearly laughed at the man’s frightened face. It was a strange night for strange tales. Why not cross the threshold, since the door was open? He nodded gravely.
"Kadza," Mitchell said, his words tumbling wretchedly from his lips, "there might be a time when it all gets to be too much. And then, yes, I might do something about it. What it is, I couldn’t say now."
Mitchell patted Big Kadza on the shoulder, paid his tab and left the bar. On his walk home, he wondered if it wasn’t the alcohol that betrayed the truth buried in his secret heart. He’d only confided to his wife, Marta, how he felt, but on this strange night for strange tales, it was possible he’d had enough.
No sooner than he stepped through the door Marta came at him violently and struck him with clenched fists and growling like he’d never heard before.
"Why?" she sobbed angrily. "Why? Why? Why? Why did you have to open your big mouth!"
"What—?" Mitchell barely had time to contain the barrage of blows raining down upon him to think what Marta was saying. "What are you talking about? Open my mouth to who?"
"Who!" she cried. "Big Kadza, that’s who! He ran to your superiors about what you told him—what you confided to me—and they’ve run you out of the fishing district!"
It wasn’t what he said to Big Kadza that had Mitchell thinking, he knew all too well what he’d admitted, and it wasn’t the fact that the big man betrayed him. No, he was thinking about the rum that loosed his tongue. And then, he realized what it was: the skitters. The realization changed everything.
No one could tell they had the skitters, but when they suffered from that terminal inability to keep from telling the truth, they knew they had the affliction, and right quick.
"I hate you," Marta seethed through the sobs that still racked her body.
"I hate you, too," Mitchell replied, lowering himself to the ground. "And that’s why we love each other."
He pulled Marta close and opted not to say one more word.