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.

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.

Monster, Note, Chauvinist

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

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

I don’t know the type of monster I became that night. Wandering the streets and alley ways looking for a fight. A wrong look, a look for too long or the wrong note played on a piano would be enough to begin growling and pawing at the dirt.

It happened that a male chauvinist made himself known to me. Saul, who was just a man for the evening, told me it was a creature of the worst kind. A rapist. That the chauvinist had at one time in his youth taken advantage of a woman.

After being confronted by a man with fight but no reason to do so, my adrenaline was pumping. So when I finally had a reason, the fight came with it. My hands became anvils, my arms pistons and my legs stanchions for the movement of my upper torso.

The creature in front of me was well groomed, the worst kind of monster, with manners. A hannibal lecter, harvey weinstein or jeffrey epstein. In front of me, yet another male adult too scared to face life like a man and so they became beasts wildly using the worst of their nature to feast.

By the time Saul had revealed the man’s nature, it was too late, but the fight was still with me. And so I became a monster, looking for someone to fight, winning or losing were not the point, it was simply about the fight.

There is a cliché that goes something like, you become the very thing you hate. I imagine that goes along with being vigilant of ones mind and guarding against it. I was not vigilant and so only the fight took over.

Flower, Lamp, Sandwich

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Swiss on rye with pickles. That’s that I ordered. What the deli worker gave me 25 minutes later was ham with mustard, mayo and a single piece of lettuce.

Fuck it. I was starving, but I looked at the price and saw it was the same amount, so again, fuck it.

Then I checked out the dollar store to see if they had any Maruchan soup for 29 cents a package. I could live for month on those for about 20 dollars.

On to the rite-aid for some ice cream, a scoop with a cone for a dollar a some-odd cents. A pretty good day. I felt like I had lived like a king.

On my bike ride home, I passed a house with a row of roses. I stopped and leaned over to stick my nose in the red petals. You know that old saying, I don’t remember how it goes but it meant something like taking time to appreciate life or the small things. Something like that.

Starting to pedal the bike again, my legs felt heavy. Probably due to the ham and the rocky road digesting in my body. Most likely not the preferred diet of Lance Armstrong, but then again, I also wasn’t on steroids. These thighs were all natural.

I got home and locked up the bike. Walked into my dark apartment, making my way by memory to the lamp in the corner of my room. I pulled the chain and a plastic stocking-ed leg lit up. Above the leg, a red lamp shade. You know, from that one Christmas movie with the kid that gets his tongue stuck to a frozen pole on a dare. It was a movie about Christmas, I can remember the title.

I turned on some Seinfeld and filled up a cup with ice. Then poured myself a glass of vermouth. I drank in bed until I passed out. The last thing I remembered thinking was, don’t forget to smell the roses. Well, that day, I had.

Dinosaurs and Jesus

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman
576 words

I picked up Saul after work. He was standing outside of a hole-in-the-wall Taqueria, smoking a cigarette. He got in the car and we headed to his girl’s trailer home. 

            “While I was standing out there a cop rolled by and stared me down.” Said Saul.

            “That’s always annoying no matter what you’re doing.”

            “Yeah and I was smoking. Loma Linda has a ban on smoking.”

            “Jesus, they’re making weed legal and banning cigarettes all in the same state.”

            “Someone told me there was a proposal to ban cigarettes or all nicotine stuff in the military.”

            “There’s no way.”

            “Yeah, some health nut politician.”

            “And replace them with what? Prayer beads? Crystals?”

            “I can barely walk outside without needing a cig, I can’t imagine sitting in a foxhole, bullets flying, you die right next to me and I’m not supposed to smoke?”

            “If that’s not the time, then when?”

            “Right.”

            He pulled out another smoke just as I pulled up next to the trailer home.

            “I just need to give this money to Paula’s mom.” He said, his lips pressed around the cigarette. Then he disappeared around the corner of the motor home.

Saul was in town for a few days before he moved out to Santa Barbara. He traded in his TV and PlayStation to get Paula a guitar. His plan was to find a campsite, set up and tune out. Off the grid. She would panhandle while he looked for a job. Her disability checks were also mentioned.

I was envious. The thought of my girl, some trees, cigarettes and booze were better than any heaven I had been told about in school. And those were the same people who denied the existence of dinosaurs while standing in front of the nearly intact skeletal structure of a Triceratops, their imaginations must have been out of this world. But Saul was looking everything right in the face and saying no.

He came back around the corner and hopped back into the car.                                                        “Jesus, not another second with her.”

            “You’re my hero.” I said, shaking my head. He grinned.

We had talked about shutting off the world many times and he was a few days and a couple details away from freedom. Tracking time in cigarettes and answering only to his bodily functions.

I changed the subject.

            “Stell?”

            “Sure, I could go for a cup of coffee.”

I made a right. We laughed at all the things we passed and listened to classic rock. Too soon we walked into the coffee shop. 

            “A mug?”

The lady got it right but today I was unusually optimistic. 

“A mug and a cookie, please.”

Saul ordered a beer and excused himself to the restroom.

Saul and I met in rehab. We got sober together. A few months after, Saul had jumped off the wagon.

Would they really take away cigarettes from soldiers? How would they cope with stress? I couldn’t imagine a soldier right after a battle also needing to fight off a craving. It was not likely to happen.

Our drinks slid onto the counter. I grabbed them and took a table outside. Saul came out, lighting a cigarette as he sat down.

I restrained my need for nicotine.

            “You still not smoking?” said Saul.

            “Yeah, but it’s a horrible feeling.”

He took a long drag.

            “Good for you man.”

Saul’s going to live off the grid. He’s winning the war.

end

Rating: 1 out of 5.