Archive for the Fiction Category

8-15-30

Posted in Fiction on January 31, 2011 by kwhobson

When he was eight, his parents moved his bedroom from one end of the house to the other. His baby sister was old enough to need her own room, and so she usurped his, the one closest to his parents’ bedroom, and he was exiled to the front of the house.

His new room was adjacent to the living room. In the nights that followed, he would be able to hear the “Dallas” theme song blaring on the TV after his parents had put him to bed. The room also had windows looking out onto the main road outside, past which cars would vroom and screech, and crazies would amble well past midnight shouting “Fuck You!” “NO, FUCK YOU!” back and forth to each other at increasingly large distances.

But on moving day, he sat in his new room, surrounded by the cacophony of things stacked loose in disarray, and fingered the high-pile carpeting, which was gray and scratchy, not brown and low like in his old room. The walls were brown paneling, not painted blue like in his old room. There were four windows, not two, and the ceiling was covered in white tile squares instead of stucco.

As his mother and father worked to assemble his “grown-up” bed, complete with wooden headboard and everything, he sat on the floor and pulled off strands of the strange, wormy carpet. In that moment, the awareness of the inevitability of change overcame him like a rouge wave, and he began to cry.

“What is it? What’s wrong? Do you miss your old room?” His parents scuttled over and surrounded him with anxious questions.

He looked up at them and wiped the tears from his eyes. “I don’t want to die.” He said.

There was silence. His parents stared at each other, and looking back, he would one day understand the silent conversation between them, the one that said: “Shit. We aren’t ready for THIS.”

From the back of the house, his sister’s high keen broke the silence. His mother stood abruptly, perhaps relieved at the timing, and left the room to tend to the baby. His father sat cross-legged on the floor with him and put his big hand on the boy’s knee. “You’re not going to die for a long, long time, James,” his father said. “And even when you do die, you’ll live on in the lives of the people you touch, your family and your friends, and in the work you do—I’ll live on in the lives on my students, and in you and your sister… it’s just the way of things.”

James nodded, and sniffed a string of snot back into his nose. His father’s students would die someday too, along with he and his sister, and eventually, his father would be forgotten. He didn’t say this, though. He thought about growing up, and how he would do something wonderful with his life, become famous and touch the lives of many, many people, so that the whole world might remember him long after he was dead and gone.

“Now,” his father said, rising again to his feet and pulling James up with him. “Where shall we put your dresser?”

* * *

When James was fifteen, he ate hallucinogenic mushrooms for the first time. He and his friends were holed up in Adam Parker’s the garage, which was more of a hangout place/music room than an actual place to store cars.

As the mushrooms took hold, James found himself unable to keep himself from rubbing his hands over his face. The feel of his scraggly teenage beard against his hands sent electric shivers through his palms, all the way through his body and down into his groin. “Now I know why hippies have beards, man!” he announced.

When the walls of the garage started to close in on them, they took a walk around the quiet suburban neighborhood. The night was purple and the moon was full and smiling down on them. The trees and bushes all had red auras, like their life was emanating off of them in waves.

They sat on an embankment and smoked a joint. His friend Terry disappeared for a moment and came back holding a cat in his hands. “Here,” Terry said, placing the cat gently in James’ hands. “He’s hurt.” The cat did not struggle, and as James felt it settle into his arms, he felt something else in his hands, strange and wet and grainy.

“What the fuck is wrong with this cat?” James cried. The strange substance felt like the insides of the cat spilling out all over him, and a sudden panic rose to clench at James’ throat. He threw the cat to the ground and looked at his hands. In darkness, he could see the mushy substance, dark and radiating a red aura. “What the fuck is this!?” he held his hands out to Terry.

Terry collapsed in laughter. “Dude, it’s just sand. Wet sand, man!”

James looked again and worked the stuff through his fingers. Sand. It was indeed wet sand. The cat stood dumbly at his feet, looked up at him and mewled. “You’re a fuckwad, Terry,” James said.

They walked back to the garage, James still vibrating with adrenaline. The world seemed instantaneous and unquestioning, and he thought this must be how animals feel all the time—alert, awake, and terrified. “Am I going to feel like this forever?” He said aloud. His friends all laughed.

* * *

Today is his thirtieth birthday, and James is walking home from work. It’s a crappy job with crappy pay that makes little to no use of his art degree. He will celebrate his birthday tonight with a few friends out for a small dinner at a moderately priced restaurant.

Everyone is telling him that life begins at thirty, that you finally start to have a sense of who you are and what you are doing, but James is skeptical. He remembers his eight-year-old self, sitting on the floor of his new bedroom, crying over the realization of death, and he feels just as hollow and lonely. He remembers his fifteen-old-self, holding a cat and a handful of sand, and he feels just as terrified of life and its frailty. Shouldn’t those things have changed by now?

It is a cold and damp fall afternoon, and the streets are glistening with recent rain. The cars on the street make a beautiful trailing sound as they pass, their tires singing against the wet pavement. James cuts through the park, down a path shaded by overhanging trees. He looks at his feet and he walks, his brown leather shoes darker around the toes from the water they’ve absorbed.

When he looks up he sees a feather, white and curled like an apostrophe, floating in the air before him. It arcs towards the earth in pendulum crescents, swaying from side to side like the cradle of his sister’s basinet. And then, buoyed by a sudden updraft, the feather alights higher into the air. He watches it dance, twirling and swiveling like some twined ballerina, held aloft by staging wire and the magic of imagination.

When he was eight he would dream that he could fly. They were vast, epic dreams where his feet left the ground and the air howled in his ears and the earth disappeared beneath him. When he was fifteen he would dream he was famous, a celebrity of ambiguous renown, but known enough to play beer pong with Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston at a frat party on the moon.

These days his dreams, if he remembers them at all, hardly leave the planet. He dreams he is at his job, only it isn’t really his job. Or he is at his house, only it isn’t really his house, and he is talking with his friends, only they aren’t really his friends. James doesn’t have to think too hard on what his dreams mean.

He looks again for the feather and realizes that it has fallen back to earth. It sits on the ground, stuck to the pavement, the white strands turning gray and warping as they absorb the cold surrounding moisture. The moment is over, and whatever might have happened – he missed it.

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The Recycling Program

Posted in Fiction on January 8, 2011 by kwhobson

We built a house from the unused phonebooks left on the doorsteps of the city.

Book by book, block by block, we stacked ourselves a quaint little two-story Victorian in the lot of an abandoned gas station.

We boiled down more phonebooks into a sticky paste to use as mortar so the place would sit airtight, and used the plastic bags the books came wrapped in to cover the roof and to make the sinks and toilet-bowls. A ball of rubber bands became a perfectly good front doorknob.

When we were done and settled, the air smelled terribly of dry paper and made our noses bleed, but a humidifier was out of the question, as were scented candles. You quoted the old axiom “People in paper houses shouldn’t light candles.”

When the rains came, the fall leaves started to rot in the plastic-cup gutters, and the doorknob started to grow bigger as more and more takeout menus were left by zealous restaurant promoters.

In the winter, we papered the walls with junk mail and debated the merits of officially changing our surname to “resident,” while the cat pawed around inside the flatscreen TV box.

In the spring, the paper beetles found us; their constant gnawing filled the house with a Vesuvian layer of paper-soot and the incessant hum of their digestions became the white-noise soundtrack of our dreamscapes.

By summer the roof had too many holes to mortar up. At nighttime, purple-black light shined through the little bug-eaten holes. Stars polished the darkness with tempting bits of silver, so we fashioned a telescope from paper towel rolls and looked up the constellations on our smartphones. But all we could see were satellites, arcing slowly through the night in their twisting orbital ballet.

When the layoffs came, we boiled down another round of books and fashioned a sludgy alphabet soup that wasn’t too different from the mortar holding the whole place together.

We ate the Aarons and the Abramsons first, and by the next winter we were having the Smiths for both Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.

On New Year’s you grimaced, pushed your plate away from you and said, “If I never eat another Smith it will be too soon.”

When summer vacation came back around, our feet started to itch on their bottoms, and construction started on a new gas station in our lot, so we built a car out of a second round of unused phonebooks.

We gave the car a bio-diesel engine, of course, and after dumping used French Fry Oil over everything, all those Smiths didn’t taste quite so bad anymore.

With some clever rearranging, our phonebook house became a phonebook trailer, and we hitched up our wagons and headed north up the 101 towards the towering Redwood high-rises of the forest.

In Laytonville we stayed with a friend in a treehouse built from unread catalogs. In the guest bedroom we read through our Bed Bath & Beyond pillowcases and ordered what tempted us online with our smartphones.

In Arcata we met a man named Jeremy Anderson and you muttered to me “I think we might have eaten him once.”

You might have been right, but there were over 40 Jeremy Andersons in the phonebook, so we’d never really know which one he was, now would we?

Jeremy told us he was building a spaceship from the plastic packing shells of printer cartridges and batteries and children’s toys and iPod headphones and anything else that needed to be hermetically sealed from the world before it could be purchased.

You looked at me and wondered “now why didn’t we think of that?”

When we left for the depths of the forest, Jeremy asked us if we’d like to subscribe to his newsletter, to keep updated on his spaceship project. We both politely declined; our email inboxes were already too cluttered with spam as it was.

“Now spam,” you said as we made our way deeper into the forest. The trees shot up all around us, misty with fog and dew, while thin shafts of golden light cut throught he canopy and dappled the bark-strewn floor. “There’s something we should really figure out how to eat!”

We settled our trailer-home in a secluded grove of redwoods and ferns that got plenty of afternoon sunlight. You trekked back into town for supplies and returned with a new printer, because it was cheaper than buying a new printer cartridge for the old printer—even though you knew this would make Jeremy Anderson sad, wherever he was.

We printed out the last three month’s worth of spam and prepared ourselves a feast.  For appetizers, we sautéed some “Cialis Without Prescription only $1.55 – USA Express Delivery!” over a bed of shredded “Let’s grow your smallDick with this Effective PenisEn1argement pill xlxa.”

For the main course we roasted some “Rep1icaCartier watches ensuring the highest quality and excellent,” and for dessert, we top everything off with a mélange of messages from disposed African royalty.

After the meal, wiping your mouth with “Pfizer – 80% now,” you looked chagrined and said “I hate to admit it, but I’m kinda craving some good ol’ Smith…”

We snuggled in under our tabloid covers and listened to the song of the paper beetles.  The rainy season was coming, and in the morning we’d have to boil some more phonebooks down to fill all the holes they’d chewed.

But for tonight, we laid on our backs and read the starlight through the tattered the ceiling; the trees above us framed the night sky with their inky shadows and seemed to curve oddly inward, as if they were reaching across the yearning void to touch each other.

We found that old telescope we made and looked up into the sky again and still only saw satellites, blinking solemnly as they spun through their crisscrossing trajectories.

They circled us and circled us and eventually would be sucked back in by the gravity of the world, only to burn up once they came too close and started to enter the atmosphere.

You said, “If I were to die in a tragic accident, I’d like to be crushed by a falling satellite.”

I looked up and wondered if Jeremy Anderson had finished his spaceship yet. We never did get his email address, and he told us he wasn’t on Facebook. I thought that I’d like to get in touch with him, if only there were some way how.

Maybe one of those satellites was really he and his spaceship blasting off into the great, unknown vacuum of space like a modern Icarus with wings of post-consumer plastic and the earth just a shrinking blue-green dot in his rearview mirror – nothing more than another pin-light fleck in the vast, bug-eaten ceiling of the universe.

Dreamscapes

Posted in Fiction on November 2, 2009 by kwhobson

Visit dublit.com to hear Kevin reading an excerpt from his novel “I Am a Figment of Your Imagination” called “Dreamscapes.”  The reading was a part of Lindsey Wolkin’s “Image and Text” event.

Dreamscapes

Awake.  Fall awake like trapdoor victims.  From earth-toned dream worlds ticking clocks, gasp awake into slate penumbra of spartan room.  Sunrise shadows cast blue through fog, windows, curtains.  Breathe deep, sunny cuddle of fresh linens.  Roll away beneath blankets, heavy-woven with lead and yawn.  Eyes plat shut, slabs of clay fallen from heights upon potter’s table.

Clocks thickly ticking, faces melting roman numeral drips. What reverie, swarmed by timepieces atop high desert plain?

Her last bit of waking chastises herself for such daguerreotype Dali-scapes.

Wind gusts, clears ticking haze to reveal wide valley below.  Diseased alluvial basin, dry and crackled skeleton plain.  Empty riverbeds branch away and away and away into nothingness, infinite fingers of some alien hand.  Winds hum dirges.

Clouds gather red-black ahead, high above cusp of fan, where barren channels start fractal splitting.  Or?  Where tributaries find convergence?  In dry places of sleep and insinuation, telling fails.

Infant child, babe of glass, there in arms, quiet.  Shivering ants march thousands down arms.  Hold tight to baby in arms.  Sing lullabies:

“Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall,

Ninety-nine bottles of beer,

Take one down, pass it around…”

Clouds rumble mnemonic menace, burst forth erubescent deluge.  Blood spatters across dusty plain, thicker drops than melting clocks.  Glass breaking, glittering cry, and shattered baby—myriad floating crystals—falling up and up into red downpour with it we are falling, falling up again into wakefulness.

Lucy sits up and tosses the heavy quilt aside.  Her hand is at her groin—even through her underwear she can feel it starting.  That dark and sunken shape in her mind from the night before—it rises to the surface and dissipates like vapor, leaving behind a wash of relief, and a hole in the shape of a child.

She hops out of bed and skips into the bathroom, thanking god for her period.  The bathroom tiles shiver glee up her damn beautiful legs and she plops down on the toilet and urinates out the first bright red globules of blood.

Often I take these mornings to revel in my love—remembering the times when my hands graced her curves and folds and her flesh quivered beneath my touch.  But today, I don’t know.  There’s a vacancy carved in me and I feel it most when I look at her.  A cavernous longing.

I float away from the drone of her piss hollowing the toilet water.  Her bathroom’s yellowed wallpaper is waterlogged from shower steam and is starting to warp at its seams and shrug in its corners.  The grout between the floor tiles is black with mildew.  All of the in-between spaces are infected or dying, and here I am, trapped in my own in-between space, watching the only person who makes me feel like I’m anything at all.

She’s still gloating, wiping herself with a fold of toilet paper.  The ink-stain on her hand flashes between her thighs and she thinks of the drinks last night.  Her chest shivers with guilt and hindsight.

My imaginary stomach flips.  Would it be so bad to have our child?  An abortion would be preferable?  Is that with any baby, or is it just mine you don’t want?  No, no, it’s Casper’s you don’t want.  Yes, that must be it.  If it were just me in the picture, well we’d be married with two-point-five and a picket fence by now.  But as usual, Casper is the one to go fucking up the mix again.

In her shower, the faucet knob is reversed.  It turns left for cold and right for hot.  Lucy turns the knob to the left and waits for the hot water with her hand under the gurgling spray—she’s become so accustomed to the faucet’s backwards quirk that when she reminds herself, “the faucet runs backwards,” she actually makes a second compensating flip and runs it “normally,” thinking that “normal” is “wrong” and “wrong” is “normal.”

Lucy thinks this is the story of her life, but I have no idea what she means by it.

She turns the faucet all the way right and the water steams.  She always forgets to tell her guests about the shower’s quirk.  Sometimes they ask, and sometimes they just take cold showers.  Casper, the morning after Halloween, he never asked about it, but the mirrors were fogged up good.  She guesses he figured it out on his own.  Perhaps his shower runs backwards too.

She steps into the shower and the memories pour down over her like water from a scalding kettle.  Casper snakes through her mind, intertwining with Jeff’s hazy, soft-focus dimples.  Jeff’s adoring eyes and sweetly pathetic one-liners.  Casper always said just the right thing, even in those moments when she didn’t know herself what the depths of her mind were hoping to hear.  Jeff’s tongue probing her mouth meekly during that farewell kiss while her eyes stayed locked on Casper, dark and skulking in his shadows.  Casper.  He is suddenly everywhere, plastering the walls of her mind like the swollen bathroom wallpaper.  Casper on Halloween, wild and rabid, his tongue lapping at her navel and all the parts below; Casper drunk and murmuring declarations of love in a voice that didn’t seem his own, pumping away inside of her; Casper fetal and sobbing as he rolled away from her, his come cooling in a pool on her belly.  Casper, the schizophrenic outcast, somehow still haunted by the memory of a brother he never even knew.

Lucy studies the diluted trickle of blood sliding down her leg.  The space where my stomach would be writhes as I watch the trickle swirl the drain.  Lucy turns the faucet all the way back to the left and the water goes frigid.  She turns a quick circle under the icicle claws and slams the knob in.  In the stillness she’s left shivering and gasping for air.

When Lucy was a child she believed in ghosts.  She believed in magic and unicorns and faeries and the world was brighter somehow and the rain was just god laughing tears of joy.  She believed Casper when he said “we” and would ask “well, what does Paul’x think?”  We’d offer to draw her a picture and she’d ask for two, one from him and one from me.  Her chest shivers with more guilt and hindsight.  She thinks she encouraged him, facilitated his madness.  But the truth is, she was the only one who ever believed in me.  I burrow deeper into her mind and pull up those old, hidden memories— back when we were kids, and she believed it really was the two of us sharing one body.

I make her remember:  When we were twelve we climbed that tall black-oak, but Casper got scared.  She called out to me from her perch up there atop the highest branch “Paulie, make him climb!  You guys can do it together!”  The wind rustled and shook the tree and I never knew it until now but she was scared up there by herself.  Looking out across a dry summer valley at the ocean crashing whitecaps ‘til the horizon, and the sound of birds and rustling leaves in her ear, and the smell of dead moss and lichen in her nose, the metallic taste of fear rose in her throat—not of the heights or the shaking branch, but of being up there all alone.  Un-companioned.  The solitary girl in the solitary tree.  “C’mon Paulie!” she called down again.  “I know you can do it!”

And I could.  And I did.  Casper huddled in the corner of our mind and I took control of both sides of the body and up and up I climbed until there I was at the top with her with the breeze and the birds and the ocean at the horizon.  And in her memory the fear washed away like driftwood as soon as I was there—we both remember how she threw her arms around my neck and we teetered in our high-branched perch and almost fell.  Lucy moved her hands to grab the branch between our legs and in her haste touched the young erection taught in my pants.

She said nothing, only widened her eyes and left her hand frozen on my lap.

“Do you… want to see it?”  I offered meekly.

A tiny smile pursed her mouth but then another gust of wind shook the tree and we teetered again and Lucy finally moved her hand down to the actual branch between my legs and cackled laughter and cheered “Hold on!  This one’s a doozy!”  And we sat in the tree with the wind blustering us about, laughing together and holding on for dear life while Casper hid in his corner.  It was our moment, just her and me.

 

Copyright © 2009, Kevin Hobson

Bridge and Tunnel

Posted in Fiction on October 19, 2008 by kwhobson

Hello?  Hello can you hear me?  Sorry, I get nervous.  I get nervous sometimes when I don’t know if anyone’s listening.  I get nervous and I just talk and talk and hope that someone’s listening, that someone hears me.  It’s really bad in times like right now when I’m riding BART.

I get so nervous on BART when we go under the water—I talk and talk and talk to anyone and everyone.  The other day I had to take BART to the East Bay because my car was on the fritz.  The starter was busted, or something, the darn engine wouldn’t turn.  There was no spark, no connection.  I must’ve sat there chugging and chugging at it for a half-hour that morning.  Probably flooded the thing, but I knew that wasn’t the only problem.  So it was to the mechanic with the car and there I was stuck riding BART.  I was running late that day and afraid I’d miss my transfer, so I was extra nervous.

Now, there was this elderly Chinese woman on BART that day.  I sat next to her.  She wore one of those pink and purple neon windbreaker outfits that look like they’re made of paper and they crinkle and swish with every move?  The sound would drive me crazy, but I guess she couldn’t hear it because she was Deaf.  I could tell she was Deaf by the piece of paper that was bobby-pinned to her head, tucked right in there with her thinning hair, a torn scrap that said DEAF.  Strangest thing.  You’d think a tag on the shirt or something would do the trick, but the note was pinned right there to the side of her head, just like that.  Her face was mottled with liver spots and her hands were folded like birds in her lap and she just sat there, staring out the window, silent.

She was a great person to talk to.

And I wondered: Do the Chinese Deaf use the same sign language as the America Deaf do?  I mean, do you think they can all communicate with each other, or only if they speak the same kind of sign language?  I asked the old woman about it, but she just looked at me and pointed at the sign on her head.  I kept talking though.  I was nervous—we were about to go underwater.  “I’d like to think it all works the same,” I told her, “otherwise you’d see Deaf people getting into silent fistfights over silly misunderstandings, you know, like one Deaf person’s ‘Hello” is another deaf person’s ‘I fucked your mother!'”

I felt so bad when I said that last part—there were children on the BART with us, a mom with her baby in a stroller and two little kinds bouncing around on the ugly BART seat cushions.  I never like to swear around children, them being the future and all.  I apologized to the woman, too loudly I guess because everyone in the car looked at me all of a sudden, everyone except the Deaf Lady who just stared out the window.

I kept talking, because the BART was underwater now, I could tell by how my ears get plugged up and I asked the Deaf Lady if she could feel her ears getting plugged up too. She just looked at me and pointed to the sign on her head again.  I told her about how nervous I was and how I hated the tunnel when we went underwater.

“I’m okay with a tunnel when it’s running underneath the city,” I said.  “The MUNI is no problem.  It’s just the underwater part that gets to me—somehow all of that concrete and steel overhead seems far more stable than a million gallons of water, you know?  To me, ‘underground’ evokes secret clandestine safety, while ‘underwater’ means drowning to death.  I guess I worry about making across, about the transition across the water through that unnatural connective tube.  I feel like I’m neither here nor there.

“I’ve never been afraid of bridges, though.  I trust them.  Why do I trust bridges and not tunnels?  I don’t know.  Maybe it’s because a tunnel is a negative space cut through the solid world, while a bridge is a solid piece stretched across a negative space.  It seems more natural, more meaningful somehow.  I blame politicians.  They always talk about building bridges, I guess the rhetoric just stuck.  You never heard anyone talking about digging a tunnel to the twenty-first century, that’s for sure.

“Digging tunnels,” I told the Deaf Lady, “that reminds me of a story from when I was young, how my friends and I were playing that age-old rite-of-passage game where we tried to dig a tunnel to China.  I wonder if you tried to dig tunnels to America when you were a little girl.  Is that a universal thing?

This is the story I told her:

We were what, eight, nine?  It was my friend’s backyard, he had a house in Twin Peaks—the only friend with a real dirt backyard so we were over there all the tome, you know.  We’d dug maybe three feet down, when my friends’ older sister caught us.

‘What the hell are you dorks doing?’

‘We’re digging a tunnel to China!’

‘Don’t you learn anything in school?’  I remember the tone of her voice, like how much smarter she was than us, it made me drop my little metal digging spade.  ‘First off,’ she said ‘that’s not a tunnel, that’s just a hole.  You can’t call a hole a tunnel until there’s an “other side,” somewhere for the light to come through.  That’s why they say “The Light at the End of the Tunnel,” and not “The Light at the End of the Hole.”  And secondly, did you ever look at a globe?  You manage to dig a tunnel to the other side of the world, well, besides probably winning Nobel prizes, you’d end up at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, and all the water down there would drain out like an emptying bathtub and then spout up here like a geyser and flood the whole state, and how fun would that be?’

‘Cool!’ We all started digging with renewed enthusiasm.  The sister sighed dramatically and went inside.

Of course, we never did turn that hole into a tunnel.

“Maybe that’s why I like bridges better than tunnels,” I said, “because I like the idea that at least an unfinished bridge is still kind of like a pier, jutting out into the water, that even without a connection it can still have value.  But an unfinished tunnel is nothing more than a hole in he ground, one more empty thing to fill up again.”

But the Deaf Lady was slumped over in her seat by now.  I guess she’d fallen asleep.  I’d love to be able to sleep like that on BART, but that high-pitched whine keeps me awake.  Another reason I like bridges better.

“My uncle is terrified of bridges, though, and so is my mother, to a lesser extent.  I guess it runs in the family…maybe it skips a generation?  Maybe my kids, if I ever have any, will be terrified of bridges too.  And maybe my grandkids will be afraid of underwater tunnels.

“In a way,” I told the sleeping Deaf Lady, “that’s a kind of soothing idea.”

“Now, my uncle is so terrified of bridges and when his job moved from the City out to San Rafael a few years ago, he moved his whole family over there to follow it, just so he wouldn’t have to commute across the bridge every day.

“I asked him once why he was so afraid of bridges.  He said that when he’s up on a bridge, especially a high up bridge, he gets dizzy and panicked, like vertigo, from being so high up above the water, and he starts to feel like he might lose control of the car and swerve and plow through the railing and crash into the water.  Ker-splash, you know?

“But here’s the thing: all that stuff isn’t really what freaks him out about bridges.  Sure the vertigo and the fear are uncomfortable, but he knows that he’s not going to lose control of his car.  He trusts himself enough to make it through the fear.

“The part that really scare him, get this, is the idea that there’s someone else driving on the bridge, at the very same moment who has the very same set of anxieties, the same vertigo, but who can’t make it through the fear, who will lose control of the car, who will crash, of course into him, and kill them all.  And it’s that idea, of the uncontrollable other, that really scares him about bridges.

“My aunt joked, ‘He’s just as terrified of letting me balance the checkbook.'”

The sound of the BART changed then, as we came up out of the tunnel and into the daylight.  “Well, looks like we made it through this time,” I said to the Sleeping Deaf Lady.  “Thanks for listening, well, you know what I mean.”  My stop was coming up next—I had to transfer trains, so I shook the old Lady awake, so she wouldn’t miss her stop.  But she didn’t wake up.  I shook her again and my hand crinkled against that ugly neon tracksuit, but nothing.  I put my fingers under her nose—she wasn’t breathing.  I was about to tell someone, call for help, but then the BART slowed to a stop and the doors slid open.  I left the Deaf Lady sitting there in her chair, slumped to her side, her mouth dangling open.  What could I do?  It was my stop, and I had a connection to make.

Copyright © 2008, Kevin Hobson

Tea on the Train

Posted in Fiction on October 15, 2008 by kwhobson

In Newburgh the tea is too hot for even sipping.  The cup knows it as soon as the tea is poured, can feel the heat radiating through its bone china bones.

A mouth pulls in air and hot tea with a breathy ‘hoop’ sound.  Lips and tongue are scalded, and the bone china teacup is set back in its saucer with a hasty clink.  The train rumbles and shakes along the track and the teacup rattles in its place on the table in the dining car.  The tea sits in the teacup, breathing steam, choppy with little golden hot waves.

In Poughkeepsie there is clear water in a stainless steel teakettle and a cellophane-wrapped pouch of gauzy paper filled with dry leaves.  Before that there is rain and a seed in the ground.  In Newburgh there is hot tea scalding lips and tongue and in Yonkers there is yellow urine pushing against the round of a bladder.  In New York there is a seat on a toilet and a satisfied groan.

A man with a newspaper flips his business section like an old maid snapping a clean sheet across a half-made bed, and the crease in the center of the paper stands at attention.  In Poughkeepsie it is the sports section.  In Newburgh it is business and in Yonkers it is the obituaries, where the amn sees that his high-school sweetheart was killed last week in a car accident.  He feels sad for a moment, and then congratulates himself for riding the train.  Across the way he sees a woman sipping her tea, her face a hasty grimace as she sets the cup back in its saucer.  In New York he tosses the paper in the trash.  The paper is a tree.  The paper is a blanket for a homeless man.  The homeless man is a boy, a father, a corpse.

The woman sipping tea has cold hands, has always had cold hands, will always have cold hands.  She wraps her fingers around the teacup, wincing at the sight of her knuckles, which she thinks are too bony.  The heat of the tea through the bone china warms her hands.  Her eyes close and the warmth creeps into her too-big knuckles.  Her too-big knuckles stretch against the heat and expand larger still.  The knuckles swoop and close fingers around metal jacks and open fingers again to catch a rubber ball.  The knuckles hold fingers tight around needles to pull thread and stitch fabric.  The knuckles swell and creak with arthritis.

The woman opens her eyes and sees the man with the newspaper watching her.  The corner of her lips arc in a smirk and the man’s lips do the same before he rustles his paper and feels the dry smell of ink rubbing off on his fingers.  His knuckles are small, too small he thinks.  In Yonkers there are lingering glances, in New York there are words and cards exchanged.  There are calls, dates, too-big knuckles and too-small knuckles interlaced, bodies interlaced, babies, laughter, tears, and a sunny breakfast nook where morning newspapers are read and hot tea is sipped.

The woman lifts the teacup off the saucer and holds it against her lower lip, breathing out air across the surface of the tea.  The golden tea ripples with hot little waves.  Steam rises and condenses on the window, beads into droplets and rolls to the sill.  The woman sips cautiously, making a breathy ‘hoop’ sound and funneling the tea through the circle of air inside her lips.

Copyright © 2008, Kevin Hobson