Is Jesus coming before the Police?

A short piece written about a loved one’s suicide attempt. 2003.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

“Is jesus going to come before the police do?” a stampede of swine grunting, squealing and snorting away from the long splinter-scarred finger of gods only child run whole-heartedly off the edge of a cliff. The creator of everything Ferrero Rocher and pneumonia, sits behind the belt-buckle tightened around Orion’s waist. The long wrinkled finger of a guilt infected old man leads a boys gullible gaze to the twinkling stars, winking and nudging the darkness. One finger towards god but four curled back to underline the butt of his cosmic joke. A shitty Korean car idles in a closed garage. A special snorkel from exhaust to cracked window helps the old man understand the punchline. The swine fall through the roof before the chicken can get to the other side. The stars wink and nudge the darkness. “Is jesus going to come before the police do?”

Of grunting and groaning

Thoughts on politics, more specifically, the September 29, 2020 presidential debate.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Like a good American I am more concerned with what I’m having for dinner, playing with my dogs, checking to see who liked that picture of me on social media and protecting my right to leave the house freely and unencumbered. I wear a mask, of course, mostly to ward of judgement, but I do it. I’ve been keeping my distance from all of you all my life, so it’s great that everyone else knows to stay 6-feet away now as well.

A presidential debate, you say? Sure, I’ll watch. I care about the future of my backyard.

So it began.

I got up in the middle of the “debate” to roll back the sliding glass door to the back yard. My dogs ran out and sniffed for their spots in the dust patch I call a yard. The English Bulldog on left and the Boston Terrier on the right.

The bulldog scooted his hind legs underneath and pushed out his rear dumping a couple mocha jumbo-sized carrots. The terrier scooted her hind legs underneath and pushed out her rear, dumping a few dark-chocolate tootsie rolls. If I get up close to either one, I can hear them grunting.

They kicked up dust and ran back into the house.

The debate went on but I had a realization: That I could not watch my dogs take shits anymore. Why should I know so much about them as to describe the length, girth and color? All I can do as their owner, is pick up the shit and keep the yard clean and free from stench. I thought about a scenario in which I would no longer need to pick up after my dogs. When (and I hope this day is long in coming) I would have to put them BOTH down. I’d never want another dog again. A big change for sure, but a different life could be found afterwards. I could manage.

The debate ended and I thought about my grunting dogs and cleaning up their shit.

Memories

A short piece written in 2005.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

I don’t have clear memories. Ask what I did yesterday and I sound like a slacking student during a pop oral exam. The ‘um’s’ and uhs start to stumble out. Luckily there is a script for moments like this, one word of dialogue, “nothing.” Which translates into nothing worth telling you about or nothing I would like to share with you. That is my answer to the question of what I did yesterday, so my childhood is a black hallway with shapes, noises and the odd flash of light on a moment. I’m not sure how other peoples memories function. Mine seems to flash on and off like hitting a flashlight with corroding batteries against my palm. But why? I’ve watched too many TV shows, films and read too many stories about children and the experiences they suppress. I’m afraid to explore for fear I may find I’ve been poked and prodded by aliens or worse, someone I know. The feeling is almost relieving. The feeling is eerily giddy, like snuggling under the covers during a storm. The feeling surrounds the thought that I may have an excuse. If what I, think is true then I’ve found my despair, the muse of all writers with lasting work and something to say. I have a reason to be miserable and pretend to enjoy other peoples company. If what I think is true then ill have a cigarette, hell ill have a black and mild and suck it back until it melts the plastic or burns the wood. Depending on who did what ever it is I think might have been done, I may have a drink. Hell, I may even go on a week-long binge because everything I know is a lie, the mirror I’ve been staring at has shattered before my eyes. If what I think happened actually happened. where do I start? Ask my mom if her only son may have been treated like a flesh-light? Will I honestly be traumatized? No doubt if such a thing is true I will be shocked if I discover who it was. However I’m not convinced that the trauma of the discovery will out-weigh my excitement about the possibilities of a reaction. Do I somehow wish that I was a kiddie who was diddled simply to justify a drink? Yes and who would blame me? Any reaction other than a drunk binge would seem strange. If I don’t remember what difference does it make to me if someone tells me its true? Reliving a memory is not the same as repeating a fact. The difference is between standing in the shallow end and thrashing in the deep end.

Is who I am the result of this possible event? My skepticism blurring with cynicism, my tight lipped nature, my apprehension at physical touch, the duality of my personality split between my family and myself. The truth is an open festering wound but with enough morphine…what’s on TV?

Orion’s Belt

A short piece written about my grandfather in 2017.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

My grandfather was a mechanic. I remember the bar of soap he used to clean off his hands. A dry bar with deep black and grey grooves. I wasn’t sure which was doing the cleaning; his hands or the bar. At the dinner table I distinctly remember how clean his hands appeared. The smell of his shirt a mixture of sweat and grease. It was a comforting smell. A smell I wanted to emit when I became a man. Before every meal I would hold hands with my grandparents while my grandpa blessed the food. After dinner he would read his bible, old and worn with nearly every page highlighted, underlined or dog-eared. His favorite book was Revelation. He always talked about Jesus coming back and taking us home. How he couldn’t wait for the day Jesus came back. How it wouldn’t be long now before Jesus came home. He pointed out all of the signs in Revelation and said how we were living in end times.

I remember the things he said. At the time they didn’t mean very much but now thinking about him they make me sad. My grandfather isn’t alive anymore but before he died in his nineties he tried to end his life in his seventies.

Entering my grandfathers garage from inside the house I was met with the heavy smell of grease mixing with my grandfathers body odor. After walking My grandfathers garage was a monument to tools and craftsmanship.

Looking back now the things I wish he would have taught me like how to change the oil in a car, change the brakes, check the fluids, take apart and re-build an engine, all of those things he always stopped when I got to his house. Instead he taught me about the bible and about Jesus. I think I’ve gotten past deconstructing everything he told me. Now I’m at the point where I am reconstructing Jesus, the bible and my cultural/religious upbringing for myself.

From what I’ve gathered, everyone, upon reaching adulthood does some relearning and reconstructing of things they were taught as children. Well this has been the most painful, slow remodel of all the constructs so far. The way life goes, the reconstructing will probably never end.

When I was four years old my grandfathers white Chevrolet station wagon broke down on the 5 interstate on our way from Oakland to Redlands, CA. I was in the back seat by myself, my grandma in the front passenger seat and my grandpa driving. I only know this because my grandma doesn’t drive. The rest of the story I’m not sure if I remember or if I’ve heard so many times that I’ve mixed it in with my memories. I’ve filled in a few details. It doesn’t matter.

The Chevy breaks down, grandpa grumbles and grunts out of the drivers seat and lifts the hood of the car. Grandma’s jet black beehive hair turns around and she smiles showing the wide gap in her front teeth. She gets out of her seat, grabs some blankets from the trunk and sits with me in the back. Grandpa walks back from using the call box and gets in the back seat on the other side. It’s a cold night and I’m snuggled between grandpa and grandma while we wait for the highway patrol to show up. We’d been waiting for a couple of hours. While we sit their Grandpa points out the stars through the sun roof.

I have a vivid memory of his finger dotting the sky, leaving tiny bright lights in ancient shapes. My grandfather did this on more than one occasion. I remember my grandpa telling me where Jesus would come from when he came back to earth.

“You see that star right in the middle of Orion’s belt? That’s where Jesus is right now. That’s where He (capital H) is going to come from to take us home. That’s where heaven is.”

Presumably where Jesus cleansed the temple, leaving many disappointed millerites and thus a new cell of religions virus split off and they called it Seventh-Day Adventism.

After my grandpa said this, they tell me that I sat their staring at the middle star in Orion’s belt . They tell me that I looked like I was thinking. Then, they tell me I said this, “Is Jesus going to come before the police do?”

They did. The police came and drove us to a motel 6. And that’s it.

At the hotel, they tell me I was so restless I jumped from bed to bed before crashing. A couple of hours later my aunt came and drove us the rest of the way home.

But when they tell me, they stop after what I said. And while they are laughing and smacking the table I think about that little kid and everything he saw after that night. Everything I remember.

11 years later, when I was 15. My grandparents now living in Redlands, a few minutes away from my house. My grandfather started his car, closed the garage, and breathed in the exhaust from a hose he pinched in the driver’s side window that ran into the exhaust pipe. He sat and waited for Jesus to come.

But again, the cops came before Jesus could. My grandma found him in the garage and dialed 911 just in time.

Then I ran. I ran from everything, including my roots in the Adventist church, a part of my culture. I denied any affiliation with Adventists and hated the fact that I knew what Nuteena and stripples were. That I knew what the blood of the lamb was supposed to mean even though I didn’t really understand it. I hated the fact that I felt guilty about listening to music that made my head bob and felt guilty about smoking and drinking. So I drank more and thought about a god that let my grandpa down. If jesus couldn’t save my devout grandfather, what chance did I have?

But I never blamed my grandpa. In fact for many years I defended him saying that suicide is taking matters into your own hands. I would tell myself that he was like Hunter S. Thompson and went out on his own terms, knowing that he always would. I was kidding myself.

I don’t know about a moral to these stories.

The questions of god, purpose and existence zip around in an infinite loop in my head. I do know this, the pedestal I built for my grandfather no longer exists but the love I feel for him is still alive. I remember giving him a hug at the behavioral medical clinic where they took him on a 5150 after his suicide attempt. He was wearing a gown, his eyes glassed over from the cup-o-pills, and his few remaining hairs tousled. he gave me a dopey smile and a big hug.

I experienced my own great disappointment and it was my grandpa that disappointed me. He clung to the church like a lush grips their liquor. And now he’s a husk of what I remember. If spirituality is the ocean and religion is the vessel my grandfather never learned how to swim. And when the storms came, the foundation he clung to didn’t hold up. The great disappointment wasn’t a singular event, my grandpa relives it every single day.

Blackout Drinking

A short piece written in 2005.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

The first time I reached zombie state. My body was still moving but my mind was gone. Bumping into people and things full of alcohol, hops and vomit jostling around after every step. I don’t think I ever felt better in my life. I had on a button up shirt and some jeans, I mumbled something unintelligible through shiny lips and heavy eyes. I saw someone smoking a cigarette that I would have never imagined. My threshold for surprise is changing right before my eyes, which are going blind. Oh god pull over now. Jesus. Ive never felt worse in my life.


BLACK
BLACK
BLACK
BLACK
BLACK

Telling Dad I drink too much

A short experience written in 2008.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Hey dad, I think I drink too much. I’ve had alcohol at parties but I’m starting to find that I’m drinking or having more drinks outside of parties than I do when I am at them. I drink to do homework or stay in my room and drink. I’ve even gone to a few classes after drinking. I’m not sure what to do and I know sometimes for some things, they get worse before they get better and I wanted to nip this in the bud just in case this was one of those things. Well, thanks for listening.


“Hello. Yes my father sent me over here to talk about, well I think I’m drinking too much. I drink all the time. Do I think I’m an alcoholic? Well I don’t know. I’m not always red faced and waddling around. I mean I keep a little stubble on my face and my hair isn’t really styled but I don’t drink out of a paper bag and live under a bridge, I’m in college and I’m doing well, academically.”


“Whiskey mostly. I drink beer too, 40 ounces at a time when I do but most of the time whiskey because it gets me to the feeling quicker and to be honest I don’t feel as heavy when I drink it. Yeah, that’s true all of the people I know drink, it seems normal at my age. You’re probably right. College is a unique experience. I’m sure it’s just a phase too, you’re right. Thank you, I feel better. Oh well, and you seem to be doing alright. So I think I’ll be fine. Thank you for your time, how much will that be? Okay, do you take cheques? Perfect. Thanks again. Oh and thank you for the copy of Alcoholics Anonymous.”

Shitstorm

A short fictional piece from a long time ago.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

“You’re a good writer.”

Lucy always told me that after I mentioned a new piece I was working on. I never believed her. I never believed anyone unless they told me they didn’t like it. I have no confidence in my writing. I think that’s why I keep doing it. Once I stood up on a surfboard I called it quits. I had done it.

That’s the problem with me, I need reassurance. I keep track of dates, remember peoples birthdays, show up at the same place at the same time every day until we apologetically call in with a raspy voice in between vomits to tell our bosses we can’t come in today (I’m not a fan of run on sentences, they never seem to end).

I guess it’s all a cruel joke. I write because my head fills up. Like a gray cloud and when it rains it pours. A class four hurricane is less chaotic. A confident writer is like a four-eyed teen on his first date. I try to believe it but I’ll always know the truth.

If I could just have it all; confidence, whit, humility, a fresh perspective, a unique point of view without any pretension. I might be happy. I might be able to participate in my own existence rather than simply write about it.

Lucy thinks I should let loose. I’m neither up nor down and unless I’m interested, nothing sticks. My interests are excessively fickle for any promises. I drink to have conversations, to care, to show concern and consideration (Next I’ll try expressing myself with words that begin with the letter D).

It takes everything I have to be sincere. being drunk simply makes the spinning slow down for a while. Or maybe the spinning speeds up so fast I don’t notice that I can’t concentrate. Blackout. Either way alcohol nurtures society but absolutely obliterates the individual. I choose not to be a martyr for booze. I don’t believe I ever had the courage to live absolutely on the fringe. Yet I have just enough disdain to keep the television off.

You or me

A short piece, September 16, 2020

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

It is far riskier to live than to be dead. I will die, so I may as well behave as if I never will. Life is made miserable by the well-intended and mal-intended alike. Both similar in their impositions on life, though one may have the self in mind while the other follows their ego.

In the quest for all our somethings, we choose to be seen by what we do for ourselves or by what we do for others. I want to consider the other but not at the expense of self. I want to consider the self but not at the expense of the other.

Existentialism lacking altruism or altruism lacking existentialism. A panacea for existence does not exist.

And so, remember, I wrote this under a yellow porch light, slapping at mosquitoes, coughing up smoke from wild fires and thinking of me or you, or me.

The Fool’s Pleading

A short piece. I don’t know.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

The panting dogma of nuns, “O God, God, wherefore art thou God?”

A burlesque bureaucracy.

Earthen gates whisper of conspiracy. They have no plans other than “hold on tight, stick to the script.” Creativity be banished, taken down into the fires of hell where they will be forged with the devil’s brand. Rising as dead souls battling the young. A past that has already traveled and seen fighting against a speeding future. And the present whispering into the ear of tomorrow, “full steam ahead, cowboy.”

The mulling query of Darwins, “O Truth, Truth, wherefore art thou Truth?”

An algorithmic disco.

Where am I to derive the juices flowing from the nut in my skull, its fruit spilling viscous memory and fantasy in the same drop? What’s in my head? Will I be the breath of tomorrow’s baby or the mustard gas of victory’s soldier? Standing in a smoky battlefield, squinting through tears to find a shape like mine. Whom will I become?

The pandering memes of Narcissus, “O Me, Me, wherefore art thou Me?”

A tango of mirrors.

Follow me and I shall follow me. That is the golden rule. Achievement of the cracking of the nut, opening to a seed of nothing. Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you only lies. Traveling through the haze maze, the last marine on the beach. The spirit testing my muscle with its fluttering.

Watch the temple crumble in its own skin folding under the coat of gravity. Destruction by the hands fumbling in the dark relying only on memory. Is it where we be or where we are from that twists and pulls at our subconscious minds? Shaping us through the heavy bars of past and future tense, our hands only need to reach out and grasp the memory of cold metal, that taste of iron on the tongue, our memories and all the agony as useless as our blood. Never present.

We survive as animals but live as more. Begetters impossibly tasked with protecting fresh souls. Those tenacious in their duties receiving only resentment as thanks. Push them, gripping at the bars, to the signs ahead. God is the time we have here. Love it. Nourish it. Worship it. Find another life and share it with them, living one and living an others’ vicariously.

The collapsing heart of the writer, “O Wall, Wall, wherefore art thou Wall?”

A decaying waltz.

The lonely freedom of a star in the sun’s sky.

To become un-tethered from the darkness of all we think we know, only to find we’re suspended in a vast emptiness, alone on that island of confidence. Peering over the edge, tilting that careful balance of assurance and sending the mind spiraling down again. Sit in the middle. Creating tethers. Battling the force of emotion, so fast and fickle with its betrayal of memory. The force of wounded spirits capable of wounding. The blind lead the blind, those that can see, stop and look. We cannot help, we can only hope to carry each other. To feel the weight of another is to realize it’s heavier than our own. To love.

I want to cage that spirit living within, but I must sit in the middle.

The echoes of rejoicing muted by the island’s sands. Drowned by waves of realization that we are sound itself reverberating off of infinity’s pretzel-ed pipe.

The muted programming of Eve, “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?”

Would that we could hold hands, screaming forever, licking the juices of that forbidden fruit.

Social Security

A short poem, 2013.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

A little boy sat on a bench in a park,
watching old men play their game. 

One moved his piece,
they frowned and they slouched,
then the other accomplished the same. 

The castles moved straight,
the horses made hooks
as the black and white shapes met their fate. 

The boy slightly shifted,
his gaze never lifted,
as the sun slowly made her escape.

The men’s eyes creased wrinkles
as moves spotted became twinkles
and their hands became part of the pieces. 

The boy closed his eyes,
looked up to the skies
and asked god why this game never ceases. 

God gave its reply
in the form of a sigh
but the men and their game stayed the same. 

The boy shook with cold,
looked back at the old
and decided that he would proclaim:

“I know I’m too young
for all of your fun
but it’s getting quite cold you see. 

My mother is waiting
but I’m still debating
if this is the game for me. 

I wanted to know
before I did grow
who would be left with his king. 

So I’m asking quite nicely
if you’ll play concisely
and finish this game before spring.”

The men gave a chuckle,
one grabbed his buckle,
as the boy cocked his head to the side. 

The old men gave advice,
hoping that would suffice
but the boy sauntered right up beside. 

Without making a scene,
he reached for the Queen
and moved in a line that was straight. 

The old eyes got wide,
the boy swelled with pride
as the man on the right cried,
“Checkmate!”

My first song after choosing to be sober

A short story, 2019, draft.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

I shimmy through a sea of arms and shoulders. Eyes watering from clouds of cologne. My angel grabs tight to my fingers, pulling us through. I am in the pub. Tonight will show me what life is like with everything in sharp focus.


Our party is already seated. The walk to our table seems straight forward. First, we need to pass the thirsty bar-stoolers, fingers tapping lazily on the bar for their next hit. The smell of wet oats and alcohol hits me. I shake my head to stay focused.


Next obstacle; stairs. Hang on to the railing and hope the next step rises to the occasion. I hope my knees can take it. Good, the ground is exactly where it should be. My angel lifts her hand and moves it side to side, gaining the attention of the beings we are meeting. She stops in front of an empty chair.


Quick! While I’m distracted, step onto the floor! I land with both feet on the same plane. So far everything is as I perceive it to be.


The table is covered in cloth and surrounded by chairs. The other patrons seem to be seated comfortably. I keep myself steady with one hand on my angel’s back, under the guise of
rubbing her wings. On closer inspection of the table, I see a plate aligned with a chair along with a rolled-up cloth. I reach out and grab it. Something inside, silverware, or so my instincts (what’s left of them) tell me.


I press a corner of the napkin between two fingers and let the other digits loose. CLANK! As I suspect, a fork, butter knife and a spoon collapse and lay still. I look around the table. The other patrons, I presume my fellow dinner mates, begin rolling their napkins on their laps. I grab the fork before pulling out the chair my ass will be occupying for the evening.


I notice the lighting. No sun. Only lamps. Again, as it should be or at least as I’ve perceived it before. Strings of bulbs on wires hang from bare wood jutting out of a concrete ceiling. The wood, slats of brown, knotted, un-sanded 2×4’s or 4×8’s or 8×16’s or 16×32’s or whatever. For a split second my arm stretches to the ceiling, my hand drops the fork and rubs against the beam. Splinters press into the skin of my fingers, bulging under the fingernails and squeezing into the palms. The chair squeaks and the splinters pull out of the hand as the arm collapses back into its socket. I take my seat.


I look around at the others seated at the table. I don’t know yet if they’re people. I haven’t even figured out if I am to be human for the evening. I search their faces for a clue, a cue to mirror their behavior, but careful not to mock.


The smell of the room seemed to be a mixture of cooking, alcohol, cigarettes, perfumes and lotions. Smells I was familiar with, the smells of death. I began to feel as if I belonged. My neck loosened and I looked around the room. Steaming dishes balanced on the extended fingers and outstretched arms of the runners. The runners wear small square hats with a wire running down to the corners of their mouths keeping them in a smile. A small trough extends from their belts and collects the drool sliding down their chins. The runners shuffle quickly from table to table nodding, taking, placing and scribbling in notebooks with final stage Parkinson ferocity.


A runner waddles up to our table, she wipes saliva from her notebook and asks, “How are we all doing this evening.” The collective response transports me to a farmyard with a herd of lowing cattle, indecipherable mumbling and grunting. We remain rather porcine, no matter the sophistication and setting of the trough. I cluck, feeling a string pull one side of my mouth upwards, or at least away from my chin.


The runner seems either satisfied or uninterested in our bovine reaction and continues, “What are we having to drink tonight? What are we having to drink tonight?” the voice lowers six octaves, “What are we having to drink tonight?” The voice now lisps. “What are we having to drink tonight?” The voice slips behind my eyes and massages some dusty grey matter. Perhaps I have been here before, perhaps this is something I know, but the voices are different. The faces different. It is the experience that is familiar. “I’ll have a water.” The feeling of familiarity stops. The runner scribbles furiously as the heads around the table call out their orders.


I watch, admiring the confidence related to their vices.


The runner shuffles off, leaving a string of drool on one of the face painted long haired beings. They call it she and they call me he. She doesn’t notice and her unassisted smile is my hint to stay quiet. Across from me the angel glows. Next to me the being is morphing. He morphs. A loose shape whose ghost I catch glimpses of with each flicker of his movements. It is, I suspect, the man’s shell. The ghost living just outside of the man’s conscience. It lags just long enough for me to catch the eye of his self. He turns to me and smiles. My subconscious smiles back and we release the grip on our Freudian handshake.


The runner returns, alcohol hoisted proudly on a silver platter, like the head of John the Baptist. The runner shuffles around the table, she sets down my water and I notice a muscle on her cheek struggling under the pull of the wire. The runner catches my eye and winks. “Are we ready to order?”
The table produces an audible lowing but the being next to me manages to force out their words, “Yes.” I point and nod at the menu. The runner’s wrist scribbles furiously, as if possessed by each order. The runner smiles and continues around the table.


Three men walk into the room carrying instruments. One a drummer, one a bass guitarist and one a pianist. The lull of voices, clink of glasses, steps of runners, coughing, laughing, and chewing continue around the room. The three men walk past me. I turn my head and pull my upper body around to look, bracing myself with one hand on the chair.


The pianist carefully pulls out a seat tucked under the piano. He sits and peels back the upper lip of the piano, revealing yellow and black teeth. The pianist scratches his beard, losing his fingers in the red and grey mat. White flakes drift onto his lap. Having escaped his beard, his fingers now press together, crushing each other with audible “pops” and “cracks”. Then the pianist flicks the pianos teeth.


The chatter in the room continues; the runners take orders and carry edibles on platters. The sounds of laughter, eating and drinking fill the room. The guitarist sits on a chair designed to furnish potluck halls and meeting rooms of whatever Anonymous. He flips the latch of his case and unsheathes a white bass guitar. A glint makes my eyes jump to a spot on its edge.


It leads my eye down aluminum strings to a spot where the bassist places his hand. He begins thumping the fat belly of the guitar.


I look up to see the bassist’s face and catch the end of his glance. Either his eyes are rolled back in his head or he is blind. He looks down at a little black box with the whites of his eyes and inserts a card. A deep hum and vibrating buzz creep into my ears and for a moment, meld with my own neural connections. As the guitarist begins to strum faster, I look over at the drummer.


I hear the taps of the snare lock as he pulls a hand free from under the drum. His left foot presses the peddle into the flesh of the biggest drum. He picks up sticks with his right hand and runs his thumb along the edge of a cymbal. His hand jerks back and he sucks it, closing his eyes. I crane my neck to see what happened. He pulls his thumb away from his mouth and puts a drumstick in each hand. He starts tapping on the overstretched skins below him. Red trickles down the neck of the rightmost drumstick.
The mouths around the room continue expelling their contents. The runners move from table to table, smiling and drooling. Glasses and silverware clink, clank and chip dishes. I turn my back to the musicians. My angel smiles and begins eating. I look down and notice my own food below me. I reach for a utensil but stop short. The dissonant, sometimes melodic growling of the bass guitar jerks my head back towards the three men and their instruments.


The growl is met with the screams and howls of the piano. But it is the steady panting and pawing of the drums that paralyzes me. It rips away my attention and leaves me with just enough breath to continue using my eyes. I no longer feel my body against the chair. Am I beginning to float?


A hot brand sizzles in my back, twists me around and sends my eyes spinning in all directions, looking for the person who said my name. I stifle rage. I know how unsightly raw emotion can be to those without drink. I pull the square box from my pocket. I place it on my head and extend the two wires that end with small hooks, sharp hooks. I stretch the corners of my mouth up to each hook and hang them there. The pain cranks open a valve and the rage steams out. With what I know to be a smile on my face, I reply, “Yes, what was that?”


“What do you do?” I tap the box on my head, the wires pull my lips up and dig their hooks in deeper. “I work in a place doing things.”


“Oh, really, that’s neat. Do you like it?”


“Yes, very much. What do you do?” I tap the box on my head, my right eye is beginning to water. While they reply, I dab the tear away with the back of my finger.


“I work in a place doing things. I like it.” I nod and look around at the others catching lines from the script. “He said something, she didn’t like it, they got mad and now I’ll tell you my opinion.”


“Well, I was born, then I learned, now I spend time doing something.”


“I had my eyes open and saw a picture of a man telling me to buy food here, so I told other people what the man told me and now we’re here.”


The beast with three bodies paws and snorts behind me, drowning out the sets of clacking teeth in front of me. I catch the face of my angel smiling. Out of habit I glance at the top of her head already knowing that she does not need a box to pull her mouth away from her chin. Her smile indicates that all is normal.


The beast screeches behind me. I turn. The bass guitar roars and stamps at the ground, pounding its blunt hooves in through the sides of my head. Each flick of the finger against the steel strings threatens to rip open my rib cage. The drums boom and thud against my chest. Each attacking wave threatens to steal the beating of my heart and replace it with its own. Or still my heart forever.


Through the roaring and the pounding, the pianist keeps my hair at attention. His vibrations travel under my skin, leaving bumps up and down the lengths of my arms and legs.


The corners of the pianist’s mouth begin pulling up, wrinkling his eyes and changing the shape of his beard. My eyes catch a drop of red splashing next to the pianist’s foot.


The pianist’s hands contort, twist and convulse. Some element is being exorcised from those hands. They bounce off of the piano’s teeth. Another drop of red splashes onto the floor, this time adding to the percussive flurry banging my ear drums. A third drop falls and before the slow-motion crown of liquid impact can rest, a fourth red drop breaks it.


In a distant, foggy memory I can hear clinking glass, silverware scraping on ceramic, idle chatter and clacking teeth. The beast in front of me abducts my senses and possesses my body. I convulse back and forth in time with its movements.


I close my eyes, but darkness does not greet me. My mind splayed and folded, projects out onto the skin of my closed eyes. The stuff of dreams, ideas and memories pool together, and the beast pushes me into the deep end. I rock back and forth in furious rhythm while my head sways side to side.


The box on my head tilts backwards and pulls my cheeks up to my ears leaving my mouth wide. Deep red lines curve up the sides of my cheeks. Red drips from the corners of my mouth. I watch it pool around my feet and soak into my lap.


The pianist seems to enjoy his plight. Blood from his hands ooze from the piano’s teeth and waterfalls down to the floor. As the musicians grow uglier and closer to death, the music they play grows sweeter. More mesmerizing. The musicians cling to their instruments, or try as much as possible to hang on while their bodies deteriorate.


Blood makes its way from where the musicians play to the steps I earlier descended. No one else seems to notice. The runners splash through the rising stream. Blood soaks up their pant legs and the occasional chunk of gore sticks to their uniforms.


A patron at the bar slumps off his stool and falls face first into the now raging river. Blood drips from his hands and off of his eyelids. He slaps one bloody hand on the bar stool and the other grips the edge of the bar. He sits up and reaches for his drink. As he drinks, blood from his hand falls down the glass and collects around his lips. In the corners, the blood mixes with the alcohol in his mouth. He doesn’t seem to notice.


Staring at the intoxicated barfly, I notice a ringing in my ears, the same ringing that occurs when one speaks out loud and hears the echoes of his own words in his mind but nothing banging on his eardrums.


The blood now up to my neck I stand up and turn to see the musicians slumped over their instruments, nearly submerged. The diners around me continue their droning, utensils and glasses now pinging like radar from a submarine. A few of the listeners attempt to clap but the amount of blood in the room only allows for splashy, muffled thuds that sent red flecks on their faces.


Cool and calm the entire evening, my eyes begin darting around the room. Every one of my senses are plugged into the buzzing amp of the bass guitar. I wade through the blood toward the barfly; I know the way out is just beyond him. Pulling myself in his direction, I catch a glimpse of the light from fluorescent streetlamps peeking through the windows. My foot slams against something hard. I lose my balance and am instantly submerged in the blood.


My arms flail frantically, my hands create whirlpools of blood as they grab at nothing. A hand touches my back, and another grabs my hand. Panic leaves and my feet touch solid ground. I emerge, wiping blood from my face and turning to look at my rescuer. It is my angel who parts the red sea and seems untouched by the clotting blood. Her hand still grips mine; we move to the door; the blood seems to have drained.


We pass the barfly, now covered in a brownish cracking paste, still guzzling his beer. Cold air blasts me and I turn to see my angel pushing the door open. I blink and my senses return. I can hear myself breathing. I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol, instead I swam in the bloodbath.

Kids

A short story, 2018.

By Marcus Jonathan Chapman

I stepped out of the Vault.  I could only stomach so many drinks on open mic night.  I lit a cigarette and closed my eyes for the first inhale.  The pure puff.  I didn’t need a reason to drink but the first cigarette after wetting my throat was as good as any.  I could feel the smoke coating all the way down to my esophagus.  I held for a second then let the smoke waft out of my mouth.

I had gone out by myself.  The feeling was exhilarating because I knew how others looked at the lonely guy at the bar.  Going to parties or out with friends was predictable.  Sure, I would laugh and make others laugh but there were so many other emotions.  I flicked my cigarette and headed for the underground bar located two blocks away.  I had only been there twice before.  The crowd out front usually consisted of sun burnt felons with purchase stickers on their flipped-up baseball caps.  The thought and the alcohol made my blood angry.  I lit another cigarette to relieve the unwanted stress.  Rounding a corner, I looked across the street at the entrance.  A kid about 7 years old stood out front squatting down, tilting back and forth.  After crossing the street, I saw it was a little girl.  I was curious.

     “What are you doing out here?”

She didn’t look up but responded cheerily.

     “Waiting for my mommy.”

It was nearly midnight.

     “Where is she?”

I became conscious of my cigarette.

     “She’s downstairs.”

     “In the bar?”

I flicked my cigarette away from her.

     “Yeah.”

I thought about being noble and telling her mom off but decided that getting rid of my cancer stick was enough.

     “Okay, well be careful up here.”

     “Okay.”

     “And don’t talk to strangers.”

     “Okay.”

It wouldn’t ruin my evening because nothing beats the excitement of entering a bar.  It feels like waiting for the ball to drop at the roulette table.  Except the odds are always in my favor.  I walked up to the bar and placed my bet.

     “A jack and coke, please and a pint of whatever.”

I pushed the chair next to me a few inches further away.  I always got too restless at the counter.  The barkeep came back with my drinks and grabbed the money I put on the table.  I was a winner.  What I did with my winnings was unpredictable.  Often, I never knew how an evening would end.  I finished off the jack and coke in three gulps.  There was more beer, so it took a few more swigs.  It was time for a cigarette.  The trip upstairs was a little more cautious than the jog down.  I had plenty of time to pad my fresh pack, rip the plastic, tear the paper and flip a fag up with my thumb.  I pulled the cigarette out with my lips and stepped outside.  A couple were doubled over laughing and trying to say…something.  I smiled and raised my eyebrows as I fished for my lighter. 

The boyfriend made his way to me.

     “Dude, dude, dude.”

     “What’s up?”  I chuckled to be polite, but his laughter was contagious.

     “We just saw this homeless man.”

This sent them both into a guffaw.  I sent out an amused snort, realizing I was trapped, at least until he got to the punchline.  The girlfriend composed herself.

     “We saw this homeless guy walk by and his pants were sagging all the way down PAST his ass.”

The boyfriend picked it up from there.

     “And he was pushing his cart in front of him and shuffling like Frankenstein.”

The two lost it again and I thought about correcting the boyfriend.  Doctor Frankenstein was the creator of the creature.  The creature had no name.  A device probably used to further the creatures struggle with its identity.  I realized I was boring myself and didn’t think the couple would give a shit about what I had gleaned from my literary criticism class.

     The couple’s laughter died down and we talked.

     “I’m Charlie, Cigarette?”  I offered.

I don’t remember their names, but we talked.  Where you from?  What do you do?  How long have you lived there?  They were nearing the fork in the conversation where strangers either become friends or never see each other again.  Then the boyfriend said something that really impressed me.

     “Well now that the bullshit is out of the way, how about some weed?”

I thought about it for a few cigarette drags.

     “I appreciate the offer, but I had an experience with a demon in a bathroom the last time I mixed.”

     “Oh shit, you trip out?”

     “You could say that.”

     “I’m sorry bro.”

     “No worries, now I mainly stick to spirits.”

     “Then let’s get a drink!”

We hoofed downstairs and livened up the near empty underground bar.  We ordered drinks.  The couple would talk.  I would talk then we would all laugh.  Nothing would be remembered in the morning.  We all spoke freely. The girl sat down while the boyfriend and I laughed and patted each other on the back.

The boyfriend was getting horny.

     “Babe, you tired?  You want to leave?”

     “No let’s just get out of here.”

     “She’s right.”  I said, “This place is dead.  Let’s go to the Vault.  It’s a bar just a couple blocks away.  I want a cigarette anyway.”

We started our final trek up the stairs and the boyfriend shouted out.

     “Fuck this place!”

I laughed and high-fived him while his girlfriend looked mortified. 

I was drunk.  I handed out cigarettes and cut across the street toward the Vault.  By this time all the amateurs would be gone.  It was time to do some drinking.  The boyfriend ordered us three beers.  I was extremely grateful, but I ordered another jack and coke.  I didn’t like to take chances. 

We bullshit some more.  The couple danced.  I can never remember names.  Then the girl danced alone.  I was towing the line between drunk and insanity.  I sat quietly responding on auto-pilot.  The girl stopped dancing and the boy went to the bathroom.  She sat across from me and stared into my eyes.  She bit her lip.  Leaning on one arm she slid her finger up and down her bra strap. 

I watched the tip of her finger from the top of her shoulder to the top of her breast.  Her leg touched mine and mimicked the motion of her finger.  I looked toward the bathroom.  I stood up somber and put a cigarette in my mouth.

     “Cigarette?”  I offered.

She didn’t take the bait and continued lusting.  I looked toward the bathroom.

     “I think I’m going to take off.  Where did your boyfriend go?  What was his name?”

     “Why don’t you stick around.  He’ll be in there for a while.  He’s sick.”

     “Oh, well I’ll give him a cigarette when he comes out and call it a night.”

I was intently staring at the bathroom and looked up.  I wanted to get the fuck out of there.

     “Here, why don’t you give him the cigarette.  I’m in and out of consciousness.”

I handed her the cigarette.  She continued to stare. I could feel her horny, cheating eyes following me out the door. I stepped out of the Vault and lit a cigarette.  I closed my eyes, feeling the smoke coat my throat, esophagus and lungs.  I exhaled.  Alone again.

Sabbath Mourning

A short piece, 2012.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

I used to be such a good boy. Making promises to my mother about keeping all my senses away from trouble. Every sight, sound, smell, flavor and texture was a blessing from God. Back when tattooed men were frightening and loud talking women made me angry. When skunks didn’t remind me of smoking and mint was just for candy. When a quarter was more valuable in my piggy bank than in my pocket. Back in the days when guns were made of plastic, bullets out of foam and soda was not a mixer. Back when I only had one face. Now here I am on the other side of the coin. And having seen both ends I know that you need both sides to buy a soda.

Vitriol

A short piece, September 10, 2020.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

You might read this and you might know me, or at least think that you do, but only those close right now know what I’m up to. I’m not the past, I’m not my experiences, or my family. Those may inform my choices but I am really only what I choose to do right now. So fuck you.

I sharpen my pencil when the letters get fatter on the page. Like a drop of blood sucked into the syringe of an addicts needle, you turn away your attention when my words bleed into your idea of me, just before plunging in your comfortable narrative.

Me? What a crazy concept. A ball of indie movies and music with arms and feet. A scarecrow mixed with contrarianism and a middle finger.

If you want it, chances are I don’t. if you’re talking about it, chances are I haven’t heard it. If you photograph it, chances are it’s not worth remembering.

This piece of vitriol brought to you by truth. Truth discovered by waving a machete through the dank foliage of your hashtags, peace signs, fake idealism and fear masked by makeup and dancing. Hacking at your need to defend yourself when no on is attacking.

My tips getting fat, it needs to sharpen again. It reminds me of you, I think you should get sharper too. Stop talking about what they tell you to talk about and start talking about why they tell you anything in the first place.

If you’re really against “flaming hot cheetos” that run “democracies” (your word, not mine) like dictators, then either put a bullet in his head or give your jabbering jaw a little slack. I know at least my ears will stop ringing from all your white noise, and it is white noise in more ways than one.

I am a man

A short poem, 2013.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

I cry
I curl up under blankets with my hands between my knees and feel safe
I squeal and feel my heart bouncing when I see my dog or baby cousin
My body is beautiful with all its hair
I admire my tattoo’s
I take time to do my hair
I enjoy compliments
I have a hot temper
I am confident in changing a tire
I tremble when jumping a car battery
I struggle with expressing emotion
I feign humbleness when receiving a compliment
I cook breakfast, lunch and dinner
I am a man

I was a lover

A short piece from 2013.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

I was a lover before this war and don’t tell me that mental pictures created by TV on the Radio don’t have the power to change chemistries. I am weary, sick and scarred from too many battles in the war of who could care less. When Uncle Ben Folds Five times and still doesn’t learn that the house of the Rising Sun never loses. We know then for whom the bell tolls. A sickening ring that continues its echo, repeating its cold brass answer.

It tolls for thee, for me, for she, and for he. And I refuse to continue wincing at questions of christianity (lowercase, improper noun) or other. It’s not as simple as loving my brother. So I shrug my shoulders at religion, at theology, and democracy, my politics apply only to me. I shrug at the dividing notions of this versus that because I wish to see through he and through she before I get to me.

I walk barefoot on the sand to feel the process of my steps. In the sun or in front of the stars. I open my eyes to fill my mind with everything the light reflects. My ears are open to fill something inside that can’t be described. To write is the most frustrating thing because there are emotions and experiences that will never exist in words. The contrast between black shapes on white space.

I was a lover before this war and I already know the ending. The question of my last breath is either sober or whiskey soaked. The continuous monologue in my mind reaches the end of its reel. I am not making sense but its my senses that make me. I don’t wish to Confucius you but the way of the tao (lowercase, improper noun) is better paved than that of christianity (lowercase, improper noun). If christ (lowercase, improper noun) was the way then that way was tao (you know).

Tonight

August 23, 2020

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

I bounce my legs to keep the flies, gnats and mosquitoes from biting my feet. My elbows jump out to shoo them away. It’s still 90 degrees out, whatever that means. There is a breeze and the sun is blocked by a neighbors trees three houses west of mine. The wall unit is buzzing. A pool has formed from the steady drip of water, soaking the mat on the back porch. The dogs are splayed on the linoleum inside.

Saul’s visiting his kid. His bed is still in the living room. With only the wall unit to cool the house, we sleep in the living room, me on the couch, Saul drags out his mattress. Tonight he’s sleeping at his kid’s grandparents house.

I got a tattoo on Friday, wearing a mask the whole time. It’s a small piece, a couple of words, “live deliciously.” The implications are of pursuing a Bacchanalian existence. An almost ironic statement given the amount of societal distancing lately and, possibly for the foreseeable future.

I can hear the parrots that roost nearby in the Summer. Not native to Southern California but escaped from a local pet shop and thriving in their own gurgling, trilling, whistling and squawking bacchanal. I envy them tonight, and many nights lately.

I let baby girl out. She’s sitting at my feet, panting. I look down at her when the neighbor’s dogs bark but she doesn’t seem interested.

In a few minutes I’ll head inside to paint but I don’t feel like I can abandon my writing before landing on some deeper meaning, some understanding for the day. Today, perhaps, I must be satisfied with simply writing about the present.

What it’s like to meet a wonderful woman in the midst of divorce.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

It’s like washing up on shore after shipwreck and a two-day storm. You need time to figure out what happened, where you are but you still get down on your knees and kiss the sand.

It’s like wandering through the desert for 28 days. You’re thirsty, hungry, lips cracked, skin red and aching but you’re grateful for the water at the oasis. However, you’re still wondering what happened, where you are.

It’s like crawling for hundreds of miles on your elbows and knees and someone, suddenly, helps you to stand. You are grateful and relieved but also feeling tired and looking down at your bloody joints.

It’s like buying a plot of land, planting one thousand seeds, watering, weeding and watching the plants grow, for years, until at the point of harvest, they bear fruit and someone comes at gun point to take it from you. You wander off the property and are suddenly given land that is double the size with fruit ready to be picked. You wonder how, why, where you are and what happened but you’re all at once grateful, excited and ready to move on. At the same time, you’re wondering what happened, always wondering what happened.

It is getting divorced and finding, on the same day, a girl, a woman, who touches your arm and says, “hi.” Six months later, you’re in love but, you’re wondering where you are and what happened. You’re grateful, excited and ready to move on but at the same time you’re wondering what happened, always wondering what happened, so that you’re not doomed to repeat your mistakes with the unicorn who touched your arm and said hello.

April 28, 2020

Evening on the patio.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Living alone is survival. Life is being in a relationship. Life is a relationship. it’s strapping into a roller coaster with someone else and taking the ride. It’s seeing that person as the moment.

I wish I had taken more photos and videos of our time together. There is no poetry in that last sentence, only a cold realization. I have only memories and those fade and morph into abstract shapes. Blurry lines that only just begin to provoke a feeling. A photograph shakes the rest of the memory awake, giving that moment a life in the mind.

I was mistaken. The moment to be lived was not the place where we were or the thing we were doing. The moment was her. It was her reaction to the view, her laughter during the show, her smile after dessert. That was the moment and I missed it. I missed them and now they’re fading, leaving me with only lines and abstract shapes.

I came outside, after sobbing in bed, to write. Pincher pugs crawl everywhere and, though I don’t see them, crickets chirp.

I happened to pause and look up at the night sky, exactly at the moment that a shooting star entered the atmosphere and disappeared milliseconds later. That has happened to me more times than I can remember.

It was told to me, or maybe I read it somewhere, that to see a shooting star is an extremely rare occurrence. Not for me.

My instinct is to ask what it means. What everything means. What does it mean that I seem to see an unusual amount of shooting stars? If it is, in fact, unusual.

I’ve learned to stop myself, however, from asking those unanswerable questions of meaning. Rather than appreciate a thing for what it is, my mind moves to construct some larger, overarching truth that must apply to me. A virus that attaches to my brain and distracts me from what is, by pushing my mind to think about what must be. It manifests itself in religion, ideologies, and philosophies by feeding me thoughts that reaffirm or justify my actions. A virus that blinds me to the simple truths directly in front of me by forcing my mind to interpret instead what I wish to see.

The first step is admitting to myself that I am infected by the virus of meaning. I must admit to myself that everything I see, hear, smell, taste or touch does not necessarily bare itself into some greater truth. the virus, like a giant rolling ball of tar, picks up those things and tells me they are all related to the never-ending monologue in my mind.

That everything has meaning to me or that there lies somewhere in the depths of the ocean a cosmic truth that is false.

The next step I take will be in the wrong direction. I’m flickering. I’m not receiving any signals. The channels are fuzzy and the batteries in the remote are dead. I have nothing but the buzz of static to keep me company. No regularly scheduled programs, no advertisements, just a fork in the road and no information in my head. The glow of my screen the only source of light. A television with nothing to show. A television with no shows.

Then I met the girl that showed me the stars, that showed me her scars and the channel switched and the show changed. I changed. I can see something new, something new. Something better.

April 27, 2020

Evening on the patio.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

I’m beginning to understand how kings of old grew fat and angry. Staying in their castles with only pleasure to occupy the mind. The mind, my mind, needs a challenge, something to which it can lend itself.

I’m growing fat and lazy, less ambitious. Hungry only for scraps. There is a sort of deterioration that occurs in the mind during a depression. A deconstruction, that for a writer leads to excessive personal pronouns; I, me. A narrowing of walls that somehow the rest of the words squeeze through leaving me with all the “I’s” alone.

My own

April 26, 2020 – Evening on the patio, thinking about all things.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Jesus loves you, marriage is between a man and woman, dinosaurs aren’t real, win big with McDonald’s Monopoly, doubts lead to temptation, houses are a tax relief; a few things I was told, among others, that turned out to be lies.

This is the part where it ends and where there is peace, you know I will not be.

I don’t want to be alone. The glorious comfort of a star within Orion’s Belt being the home of Jesus does not comfort me. Lying to grandpa on his deathbed was a kindness, a little white lie. I do not know if there is or is not a heaven.

He lied to me so I repeated grandpa’s lies back to him.

These are the truths I hold as self-evident; I have the urge to fuck, to dance, to write those words that combine themselves into a sort of truth. The rest I was told by others, like a trash can spilling its contents, I’m full of shit.

April 26, 2020

Evening on the patio.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

A smoke and a tall boy on the back patio. The smell of orange blossoms wafting, every so often in the breeze. Deakan and Baby Girl sniffing at the weeds, chasing crickets and staring off into the yard where Edison does not reach.

I need a new mask, the strap broke on my old one. Too much stretching on and off for every trip to buy necessities, convenience and what-the-hells. Money is on the mind but so is pleasure.

The tall boy’s are sweating. The Black & Mild is sweet. Tears don’t come but I can feel them howling, getting closer like coyotes trekking through the desert, chasing a mirage, feeling the ache of relief but never reaching it.

It wasn’t yesterday or the day before, I don’t remember the date but it was a Friday when we agreed to get divorced.

The études of Philip Glass keep me company as I try to figure out what happened yesterday. Not yesterday, but some time long before it.

I do drink but no bars are open, no restaurants and no parties. The alcohol mixes with sadness. I don’t have a good reason but are things, all choices, justified?

Maybe, like a virus killing off percentages of human potential there is some thing out there pursuing balance. The wild dances of the flame are paid for with the price of a match stick.

In a maze of metaphors I lose my train of thought. I am too easily distracted by the loftiness of deeper meanings of life and its choices.

The magic of a marriage is not in the illusion of happiness but in the preparation and repetition of the illusion itself. The little things that go unnoticed so the grandeur of the illusion is preserved for its audience of one. My time would have been better spent on those little things. Those little things that would have made the whole experience so much more magical.

Smelling candles, trying on clothes, perusing all the aisles of a Target “just to see what they have,” pretending on the occasions when it was important to preserve her excitement, making her lunch, stopping whatever thing I was doing just to say hello, hugging her when I couldn’t fix “it,” hugging her when I didn’t understand her, never interrupting, kissing her goodnight, kissing her good morning, being as excited about my birthday as she was, pushing aside my gripes about buying Christmas gifts and getting lost in her excitement of finding something each person would like, waiting on line and making her smile instead of dismissing it as “too long,” not putting up a fight about the little house things she buys, losing myself in the thought of her excitement when I chose to focus instead on my beliefs about religious holidays, never rolling my eyes in annoyance, never making her wants my observable burdens, expressing my authentic sexual nature to her, getting those tattoos, not telling her to be independent but standing next to her and watching her be it, telling her she’s strong, telling her she’s one-of-a-kind, sharing my doubts, sitting with her while she does something, treating her as equal but also showing that I care, showing her she’s important and not just anyone else.

I know, I have a feeling at least, that there will be more things I think of for years to come.

The difficulty for me is not in all the sudden changes to my external life. The difficulty is in finding the truth in the swirl of thoughts, emotions and new choices without her.

Maybe its not finding truth or not simply finding truth. Maybe it’s something else, one of those words we use to underline our circumstances; a reason, a catalyst, a problem, an answer, etc. I don’t know. There is a piece in all this that is missing. Maybe it’s her. Maybe this is that time between flames when only smoke and charred wood remain, when the next match is scraped against the bottom of a shoe, just before a new fire bursts into existence.

Block, Oral, Solve

A short piece incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Oral?

Yes.

Oral, as in…

Yes.

As in the type of examination?

Oh. Yes, that too.

Okay, I’ll have to perform orally. Actually I’m more comfortable with the term verbally if that’s alright with you?

*I prefer oral…

What was that?

Nothing, yes, perform verbally.

And I just stand here on my blocking?

Right where you are standing, that’s fine.

On the black tape X, correct?

Yes, where you are standing is fine.

I’ve read through the monologue, I think I understand who the character is but I’m not sure what his motivation is. What problem is he solving in this scene?

*Jesus Christ.

I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you.

Your character is ordering fast food at a drive-thru. He’s solving his problem of hunger.

Okay, I did think of that but then I thought, well is my character really starving or is he high? Is he just stress eating? Does he have a high metabolism? Or does this meal represent his first meal after going nearly 3 days without food?

Why don’t you go with your instinct and we’ll have you say your two lines, then I’ll see if it works or not with the director’s vision.

Okay.

I’ll start reading all the other parts, you read your characters.

Okay.

Exterior, Billy’s Burgers, night. one car pulls up to the drive thru and begins to order. Our main character, Sally, listens, slightly annoyed. Sally – Welcome to Billy’s, what will you be munching on this evening?

I’ll have the billy cheeseburger, fries and a pepsi.

Will that complete you’re order?

Yes, thanks.

Customer #2 drives around to the window…and that’s the scene. Thank you. That was great. We’ll let you know–

–Well, that was my take with my character driving through with the munchies.

Okay.

I’d like to try again but this time my character is simply stress eating, not hungry.

Fine. We’ll take it from your line.

Actually, could you read the line before mine, it helps so I can react.

Sally – Welcome to Billy’s, what will you be munching on this evening?

I’ll…have…the billy cheeseburger (long pause) and…fries…and a pepsi.

And scene. Great, that was different. Thank you for–

–Okay just one more but this time.

No, I’ve seen enough to make a decision. I’ll call you with the directors decision.

What about the verbal part? I mean the oral part.

We can skip that today.

No, I want to do this right. If nothing else I need the experience auditioning.

No need, you did fine.

Please, I insist. I’m new to acting and even just getting auditions and going through those is helpful.

We don’t always do the oral, um, examination.

Well, could you do it today?

It’s a little unorthodox, but this is Wollyhood, you understand? It’s a different town, we do our own thing out here.

Yeah, sure, I can go with the punches.

The test is really more about seeing if an actor has what it takes to perform under pressure.

Okay.

We like to see that under the most stressful, uncomfortable conditions, an actor can take art to the next level.

Okay.

That by passing the oral exam, they show us just how committed and confident they are.

So what’s the test.

Kneel down and suck my cock.

Exemption, Marine, Slot

A short piece incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

It was a losing combination but they met at cherry, grapes and seven. She was a marine, he was a truck driver. She was killing some time away from the barracks, not looking but maybe looking for something different. He was playing the slots like he was filling out paperwork for a 401K and life insurance policy all in one. Gripping the black stick he pulled it down, putting the machine into gear and starting its flashing lights, beeps, and boops.

She was adjusting her camo cap and looking at the roulette tables across the casino, to her right. She bumped into him. They looked at each other and then at the combo that stopped on the screen; cherry, grapes, seven. He chuckled to himself then stood up, “excuse me ma’am.” and gave a limp salute.

She smiled, “At ease, I bumped into you. Let me buy you a drink.”

“That isn’t necessary, ma’am. I’ve already got my security blanket here.” He twirled his glass so that the ice clinked.

“Well, if you change your mind I’ll be at the bar putting on my dancing shoes.” She smiled and looked him up and down.

He smirked and looked down at her tan boots. “I bet you could cut up a rug with those standard issue’s.”

“What’s your name, soldier?” she asked.

“Tom.”

“Staff Sergeant, Mary Maline.”

“Mary, it’s a pleasure to meet you. If your offer still stands, perhaps I’ll slip on some dancing shoes at the bar as well.”

The two made their way to the bar in silence, glancing at each other every so often. He looked down at his drink and around the flashing lights and sounds. She adjusted her cap and looked around at the flashing lights and sounds.

They reached the bar and she ordered. “Two Bulleit whiskey’s, neat.”

He raised his glass to her and finished off his drink, setting it on the bar with a clink.

“Where might two people move their legs and bodies around in a show of complete tom foolery?” he asked.

“I don’t believe the club is open, but there is music playing at the food court, if your up for dancing with complete exemption of social norms.” She answered.

The bar tender set their drinks on the bar. She paid. They toasted to warm casino nights. She grabbed his hand and they zig zagged through the smoke, illusions of grandeur, lights and sound of the casino toward the food court.

There was some contemporary pop playing, they rested their drinks on a deserted table with discarded Chinese food. Then they danced.

Race, Cry, Item

A short piece incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Starter pistols tuned
to octaves heard by few
rabbits sprint ahead
tortoise’ lumber through

furs blur
cotton tails fly
shells drag
Heads stir

Cataloging status
caterwauling malice
hare dares to stop
tortoise keeps his clop

quickly darting all positions
Slowly, slowly moving on
rabbit rests
tortoise tests

tortoise never rests
rabbit seems to test
finish line in view
rabbit stops for stew

cracking feet
steady beat
tortoise seize
the rat-race cheese

springing feet
halting beat
rabbit freeze
its cocky knees

line is crossed
rabbit lost
rabbit cries
tortoise never stops

Qualify, Screen, Reaction

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Entitled by deed
Entitled by greed
Entitled to feed
Entitled to breed
Entitled to bleed
Entitled to stand on one’s own screed.

Begging for chances
Begging for advances
Begging at feet
Begging to eat
Begging for meat
Begging for the right to one’s own dances.

Burn up the screens
Burn up the scenes
Burn up the teens
Burn up the jeans
Burn for the queens
Burn to find out what everything means.

Tear down the bricks
Tear up the flix
Tear down the walls
Tear up the dolls
Tear down the malls
Tear of the curtain to see all the tricks.

Build up your scheme
Build up your cream
Build up your steam
Build up your dream
Build up your stream
Build to make the status quo scream.

Follow no man
Follow no plan
Follow no klan
Follow no fan
Follow no ban
Follow the instinct that tells you, “you can.”

Go up
Go down
Go left
Go right
Go in
Go out
Go

Presence, Genuine, Recommendation

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Haunting impressions of weight all around
Hairs raise, spine tingles, eyes dart
Feelings unnoticed when presence is visible

Not seen, indescribable
Not truly what something is said to be
disingenuous

Authority proposes, recommends, imposes
Impotent listen
all are blind

All have a key, a few have influence
Some listen, some give orders
balance

Chaos, agent of too many free thinkers
Order, agent of few thinkers
chaos is order with none of the rules and all of the consequences

I think
I drink
I think
I drink
I

Projection, Obstacle, Hour

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

His mind projected to him what he wanted to see. Perhaps not what he would ever consciously want, what his ego would want, but what his id was subconsciously saying to him. A figure with a beard down past his knees. Gaunt cheeks yellowed with jaundice, as was the rest of his naked skin. His ribs showed and the skin between his collar bones sagged enough to hold a shot of whiskey on both sides.

What he faced now was the inevitable state of his future, if he kept at his current pace, actions and emotions. Somewhere within him, it felt only an hour away. The future he now saw in the mirror.

The only obstacle to this vision of fury, wasted away was that constant voice of societal pressure, pounded into his head since childhood that one must keep up appearances, maintain a stiff upper lip, keeping up decorum triumphs over weakness of the spirit. To see a well groomed, well-maintained, well-dressed figure in front of him would, should and could keep him within the acceptable realm of sanity.

He wanted to be in sanity. Completely doused in rubbing alcohol, clean and pure. Free of the germs of doubt, low self-esteem and decay. Though he secretly felt that what modern psychologists labeled as deficiencies of the mind, were really just the variables that made up a persons character and personality. The stamps of an original individual.

Why should his sanity ever be in question when it swam in the same pool of saturated judgements and opinions as those who were insane and those who labeled others insane. It was all the same doggie paddle, just different ends of the pool.

The difference, he thought, was that some very few felt comfortable swimming completely naked, while most felt the need to cover themselves with that seasons flavor of bathing suit. They were all naked, and sex assured that everyone viewed the clothed and unclothed alike, as naked or potentially naked. And so that question of sanity ran down the same track.

He smiled and wondered just how far into the deep end he could swim. How far he could dive before needing to come up for air. How long he could last before feeling the need to cover his nakedness in front of those who pretended not to be naked behind their trunks, one pieces and bikinis.

What was the point of the bathing suit if everyone already knew the truth underneath?

Sex, Win, Deposit

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Nose lost in cascading curls of hair
tongue tapping ear drums
flesh taught with bumps

Torso writhing
slipping on sweat beaded skin
sweet sweat

Adventurous fingers
traversing dunes, peaks and valleys
pushing in territorial flags

Allied conquistadors
Friendly foe
Choreographed wrestling

Negotiating deposits
Salivary transactions
biting lips, grabbing hips

Incan, Aztec, Roman, Egyptian
Games played ancient
always two winners


Cover, Relation, Hilarious

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Crown me King
I am at
the center.
You may be
sister
cousin
father
mother
brother
but I
am king.

An empire of
foxtails
dust
rotted fence posts
chipping paint

My loyal subjects
crickets
spiders
roaches
ants

My closest relations
anger
acrylic paint
sadness
drink
loneliness
my right hand
anxiety
my bicycle

The crown is
light
The scepter is
missing
The freedom is
looking out
through hard
plastic
packaging,
my case
my cover
molds
to me.

I am king and queen
prince
and princess.
I am jester
jester
Jester

I am dungeon master
and
shackled prisoner.

I am lord and lady
in waiting.
I am peasant
pageboy
Knight
and horse.

I am king
and you
are alien.

I am king
and you
are nothing.

I am jester
and I point
and laugh
at the king.

I am king
and I
am nothing.

Trace, Estimate, Satisfaction

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

His fingers traced the groove that ran down the center of the barrel of the gun. The pointer finger taking a sharp right turn down to the end of the handle.

“And you know how to use that sweaty?” He licked his lips after he said it.

Her thumb clicked the safety off and moved up to the hammer, cocking it back. She double squeezed the trigger as if clicking a computer mouse. One, two shots went into his chest. The second bullet assisted the first through his chest cavity, and past T5 and T6 of the thoracic vertebrae. Her employers required such details so they could verify them with the coroners office and newspapers.

He was wide eyed and taking short halting breaths.

“To answer your question, yes, I do know how to use this thing.” She let it flop back and forth in her hand. “It’s pretty easy really, just squeeze. It’s like using a weed whacker or hand blender. Pretty straight forward.” She holstered the gun in her bra and put her white gloves back on.

“If I had to guess, you have about 10 to 15 minutes of living left to do. That’s a gift in my book, not many people are given the satisfaction of knowing how much time they have before, well you know.” She sat with her legs crossed, bouncing her right foot over her left and her hands stacked on her right knee.

“You…” he tried to say something but the effort produced bloody spittle on his lips.

“If I were you I would take time to review your surroundings. Start with this beautiful hard wood floor and work your way over the Persian rugs, carefully laid over one another as if haphazard, follow them to the base boards and their precision cuts all the way around the room. Take in the eggplant colored walls and up to the crown molding with its striking bevels, curves and lines so elegantly dividing the wall from the ceiling. Take in the Spanish style texture of the white ceiling and follow that to the center piece of the room, the French empire crystal chandelier. Note how it’s trimmed by Swarovski crystals. I bet you never bothered before today, huh?” She winked at him.

His eyes were glazing over but he laid back and stared straight up at the bell shaped light fixture dangling above him.

“If you don’t mind, I’m in a bit of a hurry, so as you pass I’m going to search your pockets for the information I am required to find. I’ll do that now.” She paused, as if waiting for permission, seeing him blink she proceeded.

Bus, Defeat, Miracle

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

He hopped on, paid the fair and took an open bench seat towards the back. Someone had vomited in the seat across the aisle from him. Gripping the handle above him, swaying with the bus, he lifted himself into the window seat and stared out.

The rain drops on the window made all the head lights look like shooting stars passing him. No one was walking the streets. Homeless were huddled at bus shelters, doorways and underneath shop overhangs.

Then, once again, he thought about her, a new her, a more recent her. As quickly as it had begun it had ended and instead of the hurt subsiding, it was rising again.

He lowered his sleeve by raising his arm and twisting his wrist to check the time. 40 minutes to get home, review what he had written so far, think about the new direction for the project and then call Larry. The new project was about his divorce but he couldn’t stop thinking about the girl friend he had had shortly after signing all the paperwork. He had lost her too.

Maybe lost wasn’t the right word, she had come and gone. He had to sit with that. Accept it and not hold onto it. It was too easy, with everything that had happened over the past year and a half, to not view things as defeats stacking up. He was winning in defeats. He snorted and smiled to himself, checking the neighborhood they were in. Two more stops.

No one saw the smile because of the mask he wore, everyone wore. The pandemic was still raging and he thought about how much social distancing he had already lost, now this “act of god.” It would be nice to experience a miracle some time soon rather than disaster after disaster.

One more stop. The bus pulled away from the curb and he watched the red and blue lights of a cop car across the street. They bounced all inside the bus when they passed.

He had to force himself to think about the story. At first a good idea. Taking his recent experience with divorce and creating a fictional horror out of it, exaggerating the feeling of loneliness, strangeness of the once familiar and the questions of what he had done wrong.

The bus stopped, he grabbed his bag and jogged around the corner to his building. Someone was exiting and held the door for him.

“Thank you.” he said passing.

“No problem, it’s nice to catch a brake sometimes.” The old woman laughed and let the door slip from her hand.

He kept going, trying to force himself to think of the story, to write what he knew but be separate enough from it to tell it coherently. Unlocking the door, he nearly tripped over his dog, Marty who was nearly seizing from excitement.

“Marty! Not now. I got work to do, bud.”

Setting his bag on his desk, he pulled out the notes he had begun taking. Reviewing all the acts and asking himself, what small details can I add that provide some relief to the heaviness of the story?

And I write.

A poem.

And I love you
even though
you are gone.

And I sit
in my feelings
and enjoy them
because I am alive.
And then
I feel
the next thing
that comes.

And ancient
cosmonauts
hold up
scepters
in a statue of liberty pose
in the kingdom
of outer space.

And wolves
drip bloody howls
into snow.

And red haired girls
dance
in fields of flowers
with their eyes
closed.

And
I write.

And
I love you
Forever.

Pilot, Hair, Wolf

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

…only beginnings

At mach speed it screams through me, mixing with my chemistries, passing through the shudder down my spine and ripping through my rib cage. I’m left with a glimpse, a still of a needle nosed jet driven by a figure with a helmet and tubes. Intimate is the moment, a photo, a tingling, an ache.

Follicles salute bloody snouts. Extending past split ends, peering at red snow, hearing howling, growling and snarls. Patellas chatter with tibia, fibula and femur. The vertebrae conga twists and sways. Visceral macabre discos, danced by ancient biological giants and jolted still by animatronic technologies. Everlasting, never changing pirouette’s dedicated to the unknown, to fear.

Notes bounce jagged lines over tympanic membranes. Hear and let beat what needs beating. Listen: I can be fulfilled alone. I let things come and go. There are only beginnings…

Cope, Oppose, Manage

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

An ocean of booze is not enough to forget. It’ll still spit you up on shore and you’ll squint at the sun wondering how you got there. But you don’t forget. You never forget. So you jump back in, swim as far as your arms and legs will let you and stop, maybe thinking of something else, but you’ll eventually crawl back up the sand and feel the hot sun.

You wade back into the water, jumping the small waves, diving under the big ones until again, you’ve reached the chop of the ocean. Then you find yourself spitting out sand and protecting your eyes from the sun. You take a skiff out until the engine runs out of gas. You can’t see the shore and so you think this enough. So with no life preserver you jump into the water, moving your arms and legs just enough to keep your mouth free for air. You don’t want to die, just forget. Yet you find yourself stuck in the rocky crags at the mouth of the bay. Hands, feet, sides and head bleeding from the beating your body took to get back to shore.

After climbing back to the sand, you lay down, exhausted. The tide begins lapping at your feet, your legs, your thighs, your hands and you remember. You jump in a plane and fly for hours until the view below is all blue with ocean. You jump and think you’ll never remember again. Your body slaps the water, bruising all over. Later you wake up with coast guard above you and family members crying. And still the waves lap at your feet, you can’t forget. You never forget.

Now you hobble back down to the waters edge, your legs are wobbly, arms feel like lead and that little ball of light inside you is dimming. You fall into the water pushing yourself crawling into the deep of the ocean. Why not just turn around and forget the water completely? Why keep trying to find the deep?

How do you cope with what you can’t forget? How do you manage what you remember? How do you prevent the memories from drowning you if you never stop jumping into the ocean?

Spirit, Reflection, Amber

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

When the lighter’s flame gets pulled into the leafs of tobacco tucked into the cigarette’s tip, a spirit is born. It dances and twirls like the gossamer on wild cactus. It bends and twists like the strokes of a painters brush. It flees off the white capped end of the cigarette like a stream of melting snow down a mountain. Its thin opacity creates a colorful reflection in the morning sun, a shape shifting stained glass window. It’s wispy shards equally as dangerous as broken glass but just as beautiful. It will take breath away.

At dusk, the end glows like ancient amber lodged in a fossilized tree. It’s color dimming and brightening with each inhale or gust of wind. The cherry end glows and fades like the spinning of a lighthouse lantern, the blinking of airport lights or the frantic braking of LA traffic.

The pleasure end stains with each dragging breath. From white to mustard to brown, the filter, a tributary for the waste of those dancing streams.

At its end, the cigarette is left curled up and alone in a mass grave of butts all spent and bent into the fetal position.

False, Leave, Posture

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Was it false? Her posture said yes when eventually she did leave. Her slow steps, that quick glance at the dogs, the fumbling with the lock she had opened hundreds, even thousands of times. Was she trying to convince herself of something? Something that she didn’t want in her mind but that her heart couldn’t support; not making the effort to pump blood to fingers, feet and eyes to make her way confidently out of the house.

I couldn’t know either but I suspected she wasn’t quite sure either. Decisions of the heart are never made in confidence. We may tell ourselves they are prudent choices but the heart plants a seed of doubt and only time will tell us if that doubt will grow into regret or die buried deep. I imagine that small unborn seed remains there, not growing but never truly dying, keeping its small hardness somewhere in the chest.

I wonder if it gets easier. Growth, nurturing, planting, giving, sharing time and energy. Or do those nutrients get lost with those seeds that never grow? Does the soil around those seeds grow into dust, leaving less and less space in the heart?

Then the weeds come. What did I do wrong? Was it this? Was it that? Was it all the things I was blind to? Was I selfish? Did I lose myself and become someone else? Will I be enough for anyone?

I’m only at the beginning but it already hurts to open up. It hurts to moisten and till the soil for new plantings. The first time, there was no pain in preparing for love but the more it happens, the more pain seeps into the process. The more those seeds of doubt poison what’s left of the soil around them.

What is love? Baby, don’t hurt me.

Resort, Trait, Separation

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Yeah, there were palm trees, cabana’s, poolside drink service, as many towels as you could request, a 24-hour buffet and plenty of security. A complete separation from what was actually just outside of the resort. They told me to stay within the confines of the property, you know, for my safety and shit. But what was out there? There was nothing at the pulga vieja that I couldn’t find at a Los Angeles or Miami beach.

I wanted to know what this country was like. What did they really eat. I was almost positive they didn’t eat Wagyu sliders and tapas, I was almost certain they didn’t bring you a towel and when you said thanks they would respond, “para servirle,” or “to serve you.” No, I imagined they were just like me when I was at home. Annoyed with herds of tourists crowding the places that I thought were beautiful, the places I enjoyed because they were part of my home.

So I grabbed a bag, called a local taxi number and got picked up in front of the main entrance of the resort. The guard at the front gate was trying to shoo away the cabbie when I got there. I told him it was for me and immediately his demeanor changed, though he tried to warn me against leaving. Was I being kept in the resort, where everything was charged to my room? Where the more time I spent inside, the more likely I was to purchase food and drinks?

I got in the cab and told him to take me downtown. With what little of the language I knew, I tried to talk to him. From our limited conversation of gestures and using only the words we knew in each others languages, we found understanding. He lived in a smaller city just a few kilometers from the main city, the tourist city. It was a quite place, he said. His wife worked in a small shop making some sort of food and he drove a cab.

We got downtown and I waved good bye, cinching up my backpack. I stayed where I had gotten out, in front of an old hotel I had read about in certain novels. The sort of novels that men in the 1950’s wrote about, pretending to be about grit and truth but really living in luxury without spending their millions and ignoring the people that had lived in that location for centuries, even millennia for all I knew.

I started walking down the street. There were luxury shops I had seen in downtown’s across the U.S. and Europe. There were street vendors selling the things I had seen about this place on television and movies. I got the sense that they had set up shop for all the backpack carrying people who needed sunscreen applied every 2 hours.

I stopped in front of a shop and ordered some of the local food I had heard so much about. It was good, but somehow didn’t sit well. Maybe it was the family of tourists at the table next to me, who looked like me, complaining about the service. Maybe it was the fact that just a couple blocks down the road I spotted a Kurber Bing, with its iconic scepter holding out a juicy burger (a burger, I might add, that never looked like it did in the advertisements).

I went down to the beach, removed my shoes and walked on the sand, looking out at the sea. Cruise ships were coming and going. I followed the line of oversized ships to the port where hoards of people, with backpacks, disembarked.

I took a seat in the sand and looked up at the sky. Not much different than where I called home. I looked down at the sand. Not much different than where I called home. An old lady made her way up to me, holding up a book with postcards of the scenery I was currently enjoying. I smiled and politely waved her off. Some kids came up to me with small toys that lit up with they made impact. I laughed and tried my best to tell them no in their native tongue. A young man came up to me and tried to sell me sandals, saying they were made by his grandmother. I said no thank you. I saw another woman coming up to me, about to sell me something else.

I was annoyed. I got up and started walking back downtown, ready to hail a cab. I wondered what this place would be. I had traveled so far but found that it seemed only to cater to me. What would this place look like if all eyes were not on me? I suspected that it was the way it was out of necessity. That it was this way because people like me kept traveling, expecting something authentic but only receiving what we expected.

Base, Meet, Deep

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Lemuel picked up the ring on the table, size 4 finger. It had fit for a while, then in the middle of their marriage she had gained some weight. After much struggle she was able to slide it off. Butter, go figure. When she slimmed down again, the ring was back on for a week but came off again. A lot of things became off after she lost weight. Lemuel’s base instincts knew something else was off.

Then a few months later, like a bad movie, he found the evidence that became the catalyst to their divorce. She would meet others, Lemuel didn’t know them. She wouldn’t answer the phone. Lemuel couldn’t sleep. She never slept with him. Lemuel puffed out his chest and stuck out his chin as if it didn’t matter, but there was too much darkness down deep to keep pretending his confidence came from the light.

Lemuel tried, for a while, to pretend it didn’t bother him. He reached out to friends, family and without telling them what was going on, pretended to have a change of heart that bent towards connection. Really he was trying to fill that new crevasse that had split him open after the earthquake of her absence.

Because he had reached out to loved ones, they began reaching out to him. But the darkness was taking over, even if he didn’t realize it. One day he was in its shadow and the next he was swallowed whole.

After a night of hard drinking, Lemuel loaded his dog into the car, grabbed some clothes and food, and drove in one direction. East. East would let him drive farther, too far west and he’d need a boat. Too far North or South and he’d need a passport. All things he didn’t have the capacity to deal with.

He stopped. There were rows of wooden cabins that looked like something gold miners during the rush of early California days would build quickly to sustain them for sleep and food. An inn that allowed pets and plenty of space from one room or cabin to the next.

Lemuel paid for a week and moved all his things into the room. Keeping the dogs in the air conditioned inside, a detail that he was thankful to be added, despite it’s historical gold rush inaccuracy. Lacing up his boots, grabbing a bottle of Bulleit Kentucky Straight Bourbon whiskey, or what he referred to jokingly with his ex-wife as his dancing shoes. And so Lemuel laced up his dancing shoes and waltzed into the desert.

Taking shade in an outcropping of boulders, Lemuel rested. A pain emanated from his stomach. When he pulled up his shirt, he saw something moving underneath his skin. Always carrying a pocket knife, but rarely using it, Lemuel found the perfect opportunity. He flipped open the knife and poked his stomach where the bulge had emerged. The stab hurt, but it was a duller, less urgent pain. Sure the blood would run and he might feel faint, but it wasn’t the sort of pain that wrapped his head and heart in butcher paper, pounded by a tenderizer 24/7.

The bulge emerged at his side, between his last bottom two ribs. He poked and dragged the blade, this one made him wince, but nothing came out. However, he did feel a small sense of release which also felt like relief. He stood up and wandered back to his cabin, wondering what HBO might have on their station this evening.

Retain, Function, Analysis

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

I haven’t the faintest idea how much I have drunk. I can see what’s left in the bottles and count the beers but those are no indicator as to the capacity or volume of liquid. At least not with my vision in the state it’s in. Perhaps an analysis of my personal ability to consume would be helpful if not at the very least interesting.

My ability to function with certain amounts of H20 and alcohol sometimes astonishes me. Bottles and cans shiver, empty next to the trash can, their use outlived, their spirits transferred into my being. I know that I am able to keep their contents long in the memory of my gut. My guts retention is amazing. A true American in all its glutenous, consumptive old glory.

Like those bottles and cans waiting to be tossed, I too shiver at the thought of needing more. A deep valley, is my body, slowly filling with the trickle of some Joshua tree property hose.

Yet, I still bob my head to the music, play with the dogs, wash the dishes, respond to endless streams of asinine emails and rub out those liquid pearls. What is a man to do with is time, his animal instincts and his intellect? To eat, to masturbate, to read, write and paint. That is how time is measured; in tasks, ideas, grunts and the reckonings of shame and regret.

Some of us take up our kitchen knives and create memories for our bellies. Some of us take up our kitchen knives and create outlets for pain. So much pain. What do we do with this pain? I don’t know, refer to how I spend my time.

The optimist believes in something greater, always better, a rising sun. The pessimist believes in nothing, see’s everything, the rising of the sun, its heat, its cancer, its vitamin D and its setting. The pessimist sees what is and optimist sees what could be. No one is only one of those things. It’s impossible to board an airplane and never think of its crashing.

Reasons to drink

Thoughts on growing up middle-class in America.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

At 3-4 years old I was asked which animals I wanted to pet in heaven. I was told from which star our savior would come. I was taught how to pray.

At 10-11 years old I got in trouble in my school for reading a book about my favorite dinosaurs, Velociraptors.

At 15 my grandfather attempted suicide. It was never talked about from that day forward, even though I saw him in a sterile facility, hair wispy, with a wrist band and hospital gown. I was asked if I wanted to go to church. I stayed home and watched stand-up instead.

At 33 I separated from my wife.

At 35 I get divorced.

At 34 I meet a real woman, I pee in my backyard, rent out a room to my best friend whom I met in rehab and do my best to limit my smoking and drinking.

And at some point I’ll stop listening.

I grew up in the land of mid-sized sedans, mini-vans and low-end luxury vehicles. The land where rap was tolerated as a phase instead of the gospel of fellow Americans. The land where men wore suits but ordered water when eating out on occasion. Where they preached loving they neighbor but threw their money at stained-glass windows and steeples.

I grew up in the land where causes had the opulence of being accessorized, awarded, badg-ed and medal-ed in. First place goes to the woman with her heart on her sleeve. What’s her prize? A podcast, followers and the right to perceive. Second place is forgotten.

I grew up where cultures were worn on the runway; tagged, liked and put to bed with the 24-hour news cycle. Where smiling with brace-corrected teeth was more important than listening. Where dents on garages were ignored for blue-tooth mirages. Where the placation of expressed problems were as cute as a stay-cation meme.

Meme, meme, me, me, me ,me: a virus of non-essential, feel-good, self-righteous, resting above comfortable but just below content ideas spread through imitation. Where love is shared with those who succeed and for those who don’t, martyrs are made. Where thought, like above, are unclear, influenced by what’s trending, not by what’s right.

I grew up where grandfather’s worked hard, father’s built empires and grandson’s teetered on their shoulders reaching for wisps of clouds. My hands are too soft, my mind too dull and my heart too brittle.

Where quarantine is spent at home with no reduction in grocery bills and no one wonders if today is the day. where there’s the luxury of debate, unpopular opinions and fundraising for traveling missionaries.

I grew up in the land where 14-year-olds built houses in foreign countries. Where 15-year-olds drove Mercedes-Benz and 16-year-olds started thinking about their parent’s colleges.

I grew up where authority is referred to on bend-ed knee but you don’t know what authority is. Authority is a running tally of wrist scars. Authority is counting days sober. Authority is orgasm at will. Authority is false teeth, cauliflower ears, and a crooked nose. Authority drags around an oxygen tank with wheezing breaths. Authority isn’t found on any screen, it rolls in a wheel-chair and dictates its will to on one.

I grew up where drugs, alcohol, pornography and other vice are worshiped for six days and absolved on the seventh. Where respect goes to the shiniest cars and the tannest chins. Where those who care the least are crowned the Kings and Queens of cool. A land of illusion where death is a shock at any age and life comes with medical, dental, optical and, a life insurance policy. Where people wait for bread with crossed arms and a tapping foot. Where necessity means a lack of excess and ignorance is an offer color joke chuckled at in church parking lots.

I grew up in the land of recycled boxes. Where one hundred rolls of toilet paper will never sell when on the self next to one-thousand roll packs for just a dollar ninety-nine more. Where emotions are changed by the click of a remote or swipe of a playlist.

No one taught me how to drink but Bukowski. No one taught me love but Shakespeare. No one taught me life’s lack of meaning but Seinfeld. No one taught me how to become a garbage pail for any drug passed my way but my lack of satisfaction. but I have a foot print on my ass the size of the middle class. Its kicked into my dockers in the direction of complacency, American democracy and mediocrity.

Rugby, Hair, Hammer

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

A real bruiser, this guy. He had a head that looked like it had been pressed by vices, one smashing his chin and nose, another pressing against his ears. His neck was about as thick as his skull. The rest of his body looked like a sculpture in progress. A cube of marble with arms, a chest, stomach, legs and feet with none of the ripples and bumps of a completed piece. He was a block.

He was most comfortable and alive in the middle of a scrum. Locked arm and arm with two other bruisers, pushing against the entirety of his opponents. His team would always say that they swore he was doing all the work and that they were just along for moral support.

He was one of those guys that stayed in shape from 18 to 50 years old, no matter how much he ate, drank or otherwise consumed. Teeth might fall out of his mouth but the rest of him remained an absolute unit, as they would say on the sidelines.

He would have kept going, there was no signs of him slowing down. Except one day his picture appeared in the paper. His face was caved in by a hammer. It appeared that someone wanted to put a little more detail into his bulky features.

And so he was remembered, briefly, by family, friends and team mates but will be all but forgotten when they also pass on. Hopefully by less artistic means.

Nipple, Mustache, Sprinkler

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

It was pierced. Some sort of small barbell that ran the diameter of the aureola. A few tattoos; praying hands, rosary beads with a cross, some biblical texts and a bloody Jesus on the cross on his back. He had slicked back hair and a lady tickler that seemed to be frozen in a crawl up into his nose and down into his mouth. Though, this priest wasn’t tickling ladies with that mustache.

“Turn, bend over, spread your cheeks and cough.” He paused and looked at the other freshly imprisoned men complying. His clothes black with a strip of white, wadded up on the floor behind him.

He finally turned and overheard someone say, “he’s going to be in that position a lot.” He wasn’t sure who said it, could have been a guard or an inmate, but it didn’t matter. The truth in his head was verbalized.

They shuffled down the corridors being shown to their cells. He reached his and a man, small, bone thin and not a tattoo visible would be his celly.

“What you in for?”

The priest hesitated with his answer as his cell mate looked him up and down. Seeing he wasn’t going to answer, the cell mate continued.

“It’s probably better not to answer that question or make up a lie. I have the bottom bunk, you’re on top. Keep your shit until I’m not sleeping, I don’t want a rude awakening.”

The priest set his clothes and things on the top bunk. He looked around at the toilet, the desk, the bunk bed, the bars at the end of the cell and the cobwebbed sprinklers on the ceiling.

“I’m Henry.” He said, still gazing up at the sprinklers.

“Well, Henry, I’m willing to bet that your pregnant pause when I asked why you were here was something that really only God can deal with. And their ain’t no sprinklers in hell.”

Eye, Leader, Raccoon

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Through the peep hole, all I could see was that big blue window into her soul. I smiled and knocked again. She opened the door but the chain kept the door open just a crack. Maybe she didn’t recognize me. Maybe I had the wrong house. Then her head peaked through the crack.

I smiled a little wider this time.

“Hi, it’s me.”

She only stared. Not saying anything. I could hear the sounds of a house full of living. Pots, pans, yelling kids, a TV.

“Is this a bad time.”

“What are you doing here?”

Now the words caught in my throat. I folded my hands behind my back and cleared the uncertainty welling up.

“Well, I wanted to be the first to tell you that I got that movie made. It was purchased and now there’s some director looking for actors and…well, I just wanted to tell you. You were always so supportive of that.”

She looked at me. Then closed the door. I heard something scratching and then the door opened all the way. She stepped onto the porch, shutting the door behind her. It took every ounce of social conditioning and domestication that had been thrown my way to not instantly through my arms around her shoulders and pull her head into my chest.

She crossed her arms slowly and then looked up at me.

“You couldn’t have called or texted?”

My cheeks flushed. I knew she could see that.

“I’m sorry, you’re right, this isn’t fair of me.”

“No, look, I think it’s great. That’s what you’ve always wanted. It sounds like you’re on your way to something great.”

I knew she was just extending a guilty hand. I looked around the yard and spotted chains and a lock on the lids of their trash cans.

“So you keep a pretty tight lid on your trash now, huh?”

“What?” She looked where my gaze held then laughed. That sweet laugh. “Oh, yes, well we have some pretty tenacious little bandits that dig around and spread it out every night if we don’t.”

She uncrossed her arms but took a half step backward.

“I’m sorry, again, I should have called, I just thought it would be cool for you to know when the trailers came out and stuff. You’d see them on TV and know who made the movie.”

She looked at me for what seemed like a full moon cycle. It was only a few seconds before she spoke but I could see that familiar glint, somewhere buried back behind her new life.

“Well, it’s just that, it’s hard to see…”

Another pause. I knew what she was going to say, something to the effect of it’s hard to see me but it wouldn’t work, it never worked. Despite what I thought to the contrary.

“Alright, well it sounds like you’re busy in there with the little ones. I just wanted you to know and now you do. It was great to see you.”

“It was great to see you too.”

I turned to go down the steps. She turned to go back inside.

I thought about the most memorable people in history. The presidents, kings, bishops, popes, captains, outlaws, revolutionaries and wondered how their greatness was shaped. I wondered if they didn’t have their own broken hearts and so turned the world into their anvils, beating it into the shapes that suited their desires.

As I got to the gate, she yelled out to me.

“Hey, I’m gonna see your movie the day it comes out.”

I smiled and thought about an empty theater playing my movie with only her big beautiful eyes to watch it.

Failure, Clock, Wagon

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

He tapped it a couple more times. The hands stayed frozen at 3:15. AM or PM? He couldn’t remember the last time he looked at his watch. The old grandfather in the corner of the room struck snake eyes. The dings of the clock’s bells conjured up a memory. A train station, a whistle, some bags he hadn’t packed but carried for someone else. Someone he used to know.

She didn’t even look out of the window as the engine yanked the cars forward and away from him.

The grandfather stopped its whining. He check his watch out of habit one more time then slid it off his wrist. Another thing he thought he could count on gone.

Sitting in his chair, letting the momentum of its rock jostle up more thoughts, he looked at the wagon through a window. It was parked in front of the porch. The mare in his barn, really a shed, hadn’t been on a ride in a while.

Rocking the chair forward and pushing off his feet, he stood. Too quickly. Little stars danced around his head, just outside his vision. She’d asked him once if he was happy and the only thing he could say was that happiness were like fire flies in the eyes, you could only see them if you didn’t try.

Cinching up his belt, he grabbed the bit by the front door. The night was cool, bright with stars and the light of the moon. No breeze, just the world holding it’s breath. He took the three steps down to the yard one leg at a time, listening the groans of his tired knees. He’d learned to stop holding his breath a long time ago, she wasn’t coming back.

The latch to the barn door was cracking and splintering. He grabbed it carefully and lifted, swinging the big door open in the same motion. The mare pawed at the ground and snorted. He smiled.

“Atta girl.”

She trotted past him and out into the yard. He patted her back and fit the bit in her mouth. He hitched her to the wagon and pulled himself up onto the seat. Yes, a night ride always did him good. For fifty-some years, it was the only time he saw the stars.

With a click of his mouth and gentle tug of the reins, they moved toward the old dusty road, rutted from nightly rides. The wheels creaked and he bounced in his seat but with one hand gripping the reins and the other stroking his beard, he was content.

Content to think about his short comings. Maybe if he had wound it religiously. Maybe if he had carefully dusted its face. Maybe if he had taken it apart once a while for a good cleaning, the watch would still work. Maybe if he had just paid more attention to it, the hands would still be faithful to him.

Or maybe if he had paid more attention to her…

Beast, River, Turbulent

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

It’s a gorgeous creature. I can see it from the burbling banks. I’m sitting behind a tree. The low leaves and uncut foliage provide enough cover for me, but not for… whatever I’m looking at.

The silky white skin pops out from the greens and browns of the forest. It approaches the water one step at a time, looking around with every gentle paw print.

Then the thunder clapped. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a flash of lightening. I didn’t flinch, my gaze fixed on the creature. I forgot about my hunger. I forgot I about my thirst. Maybe I just ignored my basic needs. The creature moved so elegantly on the other side of Sacramento. In between us the sound of rushing water. I was able to ignore that too.

I stubbed out my cigarette. The smoke would be a signal. The burning cherry a red eye in the middle of the forest. Looking through the scope, the creature looked around one more time before bending over to lap up the river water.

The creatures pause gave me a chance to look at it through the cross hairs of the scope. An elegant white skin with bright orange dots all over. Something I’ve never seen before.

Long arms that bent like a bulldogs. Legs that rippled with muscle. Hair that ran from it’s head down to where I imagined some sort of sexual organ. I was attracted but not sure what sort of creature I was looking at.

My knees shook from sitting for so long. The rifle dipped and I gripped it with a “Click.” The creature looked up, seemingly straight at me, through the scope and into whatever part of me people call the soul.

I was terrified to breathe. What I had considered a burbling brook a few minutes ago seemed now like a turbulent vortex. It started to rain.

The creature looked up to the sky and roared.

I watched, now with my rifle lowered. Across the banks, I realized it was twice as big as me. It pawed at the dirt, backing up a few paces and began to charge the river bank. Just before touching the water, it leapt.

It seemed to hang in the air for an hour. I stayed in my position with the rifle’s barrel digging into the dirt. I was too enamored with the creature.

Just before it landed in front of me and roared I thought how I would do everything to make sure the creature would exist, forever.

Right in front of me, the creature opened it’s mouth, revealing yellow piles of teeth. Sharp and dripping with saliva.

Before the beast took its bite, I wiped away a bit of saliva so I could watch. It grabbed my throat and shook. I didn’t put up a fight.

If I could nourish such a magnificent creature, then I was doing the lord’s work, as grandpa would say.

Cake, Rooster, Ocean

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Rooster’s don’t have teeth. At least that’s what he was told. He was also told to go to college, get married and buy a house. That shit didn’t work out. So did rooster’s really not have teeth?

His fingers curled over a smooth rock and he felt it in his hand. The smoothness reminded him of the doorknobs he would swipe his hands over in the eleven room mansion in which he was raised. He gripped the rock, knuckles white, and whipped it into the surf, thinking it would skip. The hungry waves bit down on the rock almost instantly.

He thought about those rooms. All those rooms filled with strange paintings and things. Things was the best word he could think to describe the objects he saw. Things hanging from the ceilings by chains. Things penetrating from the floor into the ceiling. Things that were flesh colored. Those things were scary but intriguing.

He remembered once a table as long as a football field, or at least that’s what his 7-year-old brain told him it was. A table filled with cooked birds, platters spilling over with vegetables, meats, cheeses, fruits and bread. Dishes with green garnish, plates with sandwiches, and giant decanters in shapes that suggested the things he noticed in all those rooms. Then there were the cakes, spheres as tall and sturdy as elephant legs towering over the table.

The memories were coming back to him. The rhythmic sound of the waves chomping down into the sand seemed to hypnotize him.

He remembered pushing open the kitchen door and seeing pigs sprawled out on the counters. Fat butchers with equally fat cleavers slamming down into the flesh and making the pig smaller. Hooves fell on the floor, a rump, then a head.

He watched giant pots of soup, steaming into the chefs spectacles, forcing the chef to clear his vision every few seconds. Then he heard the chickens clucking.

They bobbed their heads around in the coup just outside the kitchen. A chef would grab one by it’s neck, twist it around like a towel being rung to dry and then slam a knife into a wooden block, separating the chickens body from its head.

One time, he noticed a rooster with the chickens. Not a common sight. An absent minded chef grabbed the rooster twisted its neck around and decapitated it. The chef tossed the head carelessly into the doorway of the kitchen. He remembered looking down and seeing the grin of a beak full of teeth. He remembered it as clearly as the first time he broke an arm, the first time he kissed a girl and the first time he had sex. That rooster had teeth.

But they don’t. So what else was he not remembering correctly?

Tree, Fork, Boat

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

The tree was dripping with honey. She looked down at her shoulder and dabbed at the drip of bee juice spreading over her freckles. The taste was too irresistible to worry about the bees. She hiked up her skirt above her knees and gripped a knot in the old oak. Pulling herself up closer to the humming of the drones orbiting the nearest honeycomb. From her purse she pulled out a fork. She pressed the tines down into the comb just the way father had taught her to press into a boiled potato before mashing it.

She watched the viscous gold ooze out of each pore and drip onto the ground, down the tines of the fork and onto her hand. The sensation of the collapsing comb beneath her hands force was satisfying. Like popping packing bubbles or pressing a gigantic pimple before it popped.

The honey kept coming and the bees kept buzzing, louder, angrier. The nectar began dripping from more and more areas of the comb as the fork went deeper, and her hand nearly swallowed by the beeswax warehouse. Honey oozed onto her arm, dripped into her hair, stuck to her white dress and splattered onto her bare legs.

The fork hit something hard, the bark of the tree. Already straining to lift her arm to reach, she pushed up from the know in the oak to lift up the honey comb and bring down to earth. Straining, she lifted up her arm just enough to loosen the rare treat. With that move, she lost her grip and fell down to the ground, the honeycomb smashing next to her.

Getting to her knees, she bent over the honey, beginning to mix in the sand, making sweet mud. She licked the fork, her hands, her arms. She squeezed the honey into her hair and tussled it all into a wild nest of red tufts.

She ate her fill of honey, leaving it all over her face. In the sun, she could feel the stickiness pulling at her cheeks when she smiled. Looking down, she saw her dress was above her waist, leaving her black panties exposed. Feeling satisfied from the honeycomb that came from above, she began to work her fingers to feel that satisfaction that came from within.

As the sound of the birds singing and bees humming crescendo-ed so did that sweet feeling inside. At the moment of clim–

–“Hey, babe! babe! I got the boat. The guy gave me a pretty sweet deal too! It just needs a new motor and some paint but we can still go out and float a little bit tonight, have that adventure you were talking about.”

She stopped, sat up and walked past her husband. He wouldn’t know adventure if it stuck to his hair, face, arms and legs.

Chauvinist, Television, Attention

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Little Johnny stacked his potato chips on the TV tray. His eyes were glued to the salted yellow starch disks while Wally and the Beaver “gee whizzed” and “golly’d” all around their picket fence neighborhood. So concentrated on balancing his Lay’s, Johnny didn’t hear his daddy come home.

Daddy walked past little Johnny, into the kitchen where Johnny’s sister was. Little Suzy was drying the dishes.

“Where is your mother, Suzy?” Johnny heard his father ask.

“She’s outside.”

Johnny heard the sliding glass door leading to their backyard open and shut. Though the sound was muffled, he could hear the familiar conversation.

“Madge, you’re out here smoking reefer again while the kids are inside taking care of everything. Johnny can help with the house stuff. Instead you have him stacking potato chips on his tray like a retard in front of the God Damn Television. Suzy’s working her ass off in the kitchen. What the fuck are you doing? Practicing for a Coca-Cola commercial that no one will ever see?”

Johnny heard the clatter of a ceramic pot breaking. It was the sound of his mother’s favorite response. He knew that later, Suzy would be the one to pick up the broken pieces. Once, she had cut herself and her mother had screamed at her to be more careful because she was getting blood on the white shag carpet.

“Raymond, go fuck yourself. You’re not a man. You can’t talk to me that way. As a matter of fact no man can talk to me that way.” Johnny’s mother lisped.

“Madge, I’m talking to you as the father of my children. I go to work so we can have a lot of these things. You’re welcome to get a job. Or do some of the housework. But you can’t have the kids be doing the work. They need to be kids.” Johnny’s father pleaded.

“Gee Whiz Wally, do you think mom will let us keep the dog?” Johnny looked up to see how Wallie would respond to the Beav.

“Golly Beaver, I just don’t know. We’ll–“

“–Fuck the mailman or even the milkman. I was this close to sending the kids down to the liquor store for some groceries so I would have 20 minutes of fooling around.” Johnny’s mom pulled his attention away from the show and into a realm of adulthood that made Johnny quiet and still.

“Is that what you want Madge?” Johnny’s father was barely audible, but Johnny recognized the pattern and now knew the words by heart. This time, however, there was genuine fear coming from his father.

“Madge, what are you doing? Hey, be careful, you’ll cut yourself. Ouch! hey. Stop! Fuck! Ow–”

“Gee whiz mom, can we keep him, huh, please, can we keep him?” Johnny turned his attention back to the TV.

The sliding glass door opened and Johnny’s mother through heavy breaths called his sister. “Suzy, bring me those rags and shut your eyes. Johnny, leave your tray on the sofa and go down to the corner store for some bubblegum, there’s a nickel on your father’s dresser.”

Johnny blew a big, fat bubble as he walked back up his driveway. POP! Wiping the gum from his face, he saw a rag soaked red hanging from the trashcan outside. Suzy must have cut herself again. Gee whiz.

Smile, Miracle, Painter

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

It crept up the corners of her mouth and stuck like the bend in a banana. She stared at the splashes and splotches of oil-based chunks daubed on her canvas. This was truly majestic. An act that defied nature, more miraculous then that J.C. born of a sexless act. The textures, colors, shapes and composition from which she could not tear her gaze were indescribable beyond the basic elements of a painting.

She dropped her brush. The desert’s grit clung to the paint stuck to the brushes toe. The once indigo splash was now a textured nib of yellows, oranges and browns from the Mojave’s sands.

Tears began pouring from her eyes, as a memory flashed in her mind. Her father calling her by her name, Lucy. The image she had plucked from the fringes of the intangible was now reinforcing the meaning of her name; light.

Lucy’s name had meaning now beyond that crass coat hangar of a word that pulled her neck to look in the direction of anyone who called it. Lucy. This was her name, all in an image. All in the ethereal. The painting seemed to twist and bend, a galaxy of exploding stars, planets created and worlds extinguished.

Lucy. Light. See.

She could not move. Her being had found root in that moment. Presence. This was her purpose, meaning, the yin to her yang. She belonged here, in front of this painting, as audience and creator. An infinite loop of admiration, disgust, praise and critique, darkness and light. All equal parts of the whole.

The sun was disappearing behind the molars of the San Gabriel mountains. In the mouth of the valley she was left standing as a sigh of relief whipped up the desert sands. The paint, not yet dry, made for the perfect trap and in a single gust of wind, the painting was erased by the desert.

Lucy, shaken out of her trance, picked up her 12-oz. Fresca, wiped the sand from the rim and took a sip. Then she kicked over her easel and walked to the car.