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.

Parental Advice Versus the advertising industry

A short piece written in 2011.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Advice. The combination of advertisements and vice. The persuasion of vice on the platforms of advertisements. Blond, full-lipped women felating glass bottles of fizzy brown sugar water. A smooth skin-chiseled man with Greek statue muscles grips a hamburger between perfect fingers. Ketchup, mustard, relish and a slice of tomato fall onto his chest after a monstrous bite. His hand swiping a golden starch-stick to wipe up the burger ejaculate.


“Son, what you need is a good woman. I don’t necessarily mean a good looking woman, because you can be attracted to a lot of women. By a good woman, I mean a woman you can talk to. A woman that you can be around after you’ve gotten over your urges. The truth is they all have vaginas, so what you really want to look for is what’s on the inside. Because after a while you won’t be young any more, you’ll get older and you’ll hopefully grow a little wiser, which means you’ll have more depth and when you get to that point, looks won’t be the most important thing anymore, especially if you’re with a really good woman. The type of woman you get along with, you can talk to, laugh with, tease, fight with. The type of woman who is her own person and who isn’t concerned with the way she looks before being concerned with the way she feels. That’s the kind of woman you want son. They all have vaginas so don’t get distracted by that. Look for a woman you can talk to.”

Advice. The warning label on a pack of cigarettes is no substitute for experience. The unwritten hacking, scratchy-throated, black-lunged history of the losers destined to repeat itself. Maybe a gap in generations but bloody sputum just the same because the apple doesn’t rot far from the tree.

Golf

A short piece written in 2008.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

When I was around eleven years old, my dad got me a set of golf clubs. There were five clubs. A driver, a putter, a 5-iron, a pitching wedge and a sand wedge. All the clubs needed to start and finish a hole. My dad’s not a golfer. Neither am I, but we both have clubs.


Dad and I used to play once every year at my high schools tournament. We played with another father and son who were as equally skilled and practiced as we were. The tournament rules were that each team played the best ball hit; meaning all four of us would hit our dimpled balls, then select which shot was best for the next shot. We never won. Our highest achievement was second to last, which was a change of pace from our usual dead last position. Our foursome had the most fun guaranteed.


When the tournaments ended all the teams headed to the closing ceremony. While all the other teams were asking around, checking their scores against everyone else, we waltzed in thinking only of food and the memories of the day. When my dad sent a drive skidding along the grass just short of the ladies tees. When my buddy and his dad drove too fast in the cart and spun out on the slope of a hill. When all four of us spent 10 minutes searching for ALL of our balls in grass up to our knees. We remembered the collective nervousness of being forced to drive in front of other teams as we slowed the pace of the tournament, (spending 10 minutes a hole looking for little white balls adds up).


So by the time we arrived at the club house, we had no idea how many strokes we shared. The math would have been far too complicated and unnecessary. There was no talk of mulligans or handicaps. The other teams, upon arriving at the table at which we were already stuffing our faces, would begin to smile before even asking, “what was your score?” I can’t speak for all four of us but I know what I saw in each of their eyes. My father, ever the diplomat, would smile and say something to the affect of, “Oh, we didn’t keep score. We just play for fun.” It was true. In those moments however, when those men came with the full knowledge that we had not come close to anyone in the tournament, I wanted to play to win. Fuck fun, I wanted murder.


At age 30, I began playing golf again. By this time my father had bought me a few more clubs. I also borrowed quiet a few of his clubs. Between the days of playing golf with my dad and our friends much had transpired. I developed a tooth, much like those teeth given the “sweet” nomenclature. My tooth, teeth, tongue had developed a liking for alcohol. I went to rehab, struggled with the idea of Alcoholics Anonymous and with sponsors but those are experiences for another chapter. One virtue I learned from those experiences was discipline. Golf takes an incredible amount of discipline and patience. Not typically the virtues of young men and definitely not my forte.

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.”

A lunch from a long time ago

A short piece written in 2011 or 2012

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

My aunt pregnant for the first time loses her baby. I am sad but I am too young to understand the impact a tragedy of that magnitude has on the person closest to it.
My aunt is a strong woman, full of love, confidence and wit. Perhaps a judgmental, albeit human, eye with a warm hug regardless of how she see’s you.
I make a habit of pushing myself into the spotlight of my mind but cuing the music to cut myself off early on the stage of life. My thoughts consume my relation to everything and everyone. I have learned that I need not waste time on people now if I will see them in heaven. What am I saying, there is no heaven. Childhood teachings are really sticky.
My narcissism is making me sick but I can’t stop thinking about me. The earth revolves around the sun, not the son of Christofer and Ester Chapman.

A lunch with my Aunt in which I cannot clearly remember if I was intoxicated or not. I remember itching for a cigarette as soon as I wolfed down the turkey salad on rye. I remember shaking my head and repeating “I’m fine, no, I’m fine. I’m okay. I’m okay.” The first lie we tell ourselves to convince the mirror that it will never shatter. My aunt relayed an observation about my 5-year-old self that has lingered and wriggled around in the back of my mind like a severed lizards tail.

Something changed when I was 5 years old. I can’t remember my childhood. It is as fuzzy as a booze fueled night on the town (or in my apartment). What happened to me? My heart races. Perhaps, this will be the tragic excuse of molestation. A victim of pedophilia turned poet. A writer who has been in the gutter and can paint it in a perfect-bound, hard cover copy of his first novel. How can I use this for immortality? I want to live forever. That narcissism can’t pull its gaze from the reflection.

My aunt lost a baby, maybe even two and I’m left wondering if I’ve ever been touched inappropriately or left in a toxic environment. Where do I get off feeling sorry for myself? Nothing has ever happened to me that I cannot handle. And there it is again that me word. Its all about me. Not you or him or her or them or it. Its all about me and yet I put myself in the lowest category of the last file in the dustiest, rustiest cabinet of life and all humanity but I insist to myself that everything is about me. Every hug, kiss, smile, squeeze, laugh, smirk, giggle, round of applause, slap on the back, is all about me. I am narcissistic and I don’t even think very highly of myself. Am I truly this selfish or do I indulge for the namesake of these pages? Both are scary prospects for an obsession that runs circles around my attention to anything else.

I have an excuse but you are simply stupid. I made a mistake but you have ruined my life. I forgot but you are careless. I am sick but you are lazy. I was wronged but you don’t stand up for yourself. I had a bad day but you have a bad attitude. I may gossip but you should get a life. I am frustrated but you simply don’t know what to do. I am not perfect but you think you’re better than me. I have an excuse but you are just stupid.

What is really going on here? The words follow the emotion, which rushes in after an experience. I feel less like a swan and more like a parrot. Obsessed with my own image and copying the noises closest to me. To be clawing through the same self absorbed drivel, session after writing session is enough to make me want to rip out my own heart and feed it to my brain just to get a taste of pure emotion. I am supposed to write for myself not about myself. This constant cycle of narcissistic thought is welling up in my chest I want to scratch out every letter “I”, “m”, “e” and hyper drive into some god like perspective. An uninvolved point of view. Place myself on the objective alter and slit my throat letting the Deus ex Machina of my psyche take over. To sever and shatter the ego from the self. Who am I supposed to be? Don’t follow me. We’re getting back into those dark slimy corners of the mind again. So deep down that I must slowly return like a deep sea diver coming up for air. Too fast and the chaos never leaves. Attempting never to dwell in the past I move ever forward so fast that the hair is being ripped off the front of my head and sticking to my back. Time whips past me and the closest I’ve ever come to the truth is a question. Does anyone get this right?

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).

Delirium Tremens

A short piece about the experience of alcohol consumption from 2014.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Fade up on a moment of clarity. Enter SELF.

SELF
It occurs to me the faith I will
need as one by one my brain cells
are killed in action. How many
neural connections do I require
before I divorce completely from
all logic and reason?


A shadow is cast over self. Enter EGO.

EGO
Will I transform into a carnivorous
vegetable reminiscent of a 1950’s
horror film: eating only everything
that comes close to my drooling
mouth?
(beat)
It’s only fitting that a man with
the caliber of a water pistol be
the recipient of a horrible, slow,
embarrassing death.

SELF
Is it actually dying or more of a
shift in existence?

Stars bounce around the periphery, disappearing before the
eyes rack focus. I, we cough.

SELF (CONT’D)
Sober now, my eyes, ears, nose,
tongue, and nerve endings sharpen
focus. I sense the rawness of
reality manifesting on my lower
legs. A bought of eczema, just
begging a handful of jagged
fingernails to claw, scratch, and
tear it off.
(Down on knees)
Just a minuscule drop of relief. A
small taste please.

I, we wheeze.

EGO
Sobriety, the stoic’s drunkenness.
It all still feels fake.

BACK TO:

INT. BEDROOM – NIGHT
I am visiting the set of my favorite TV show for the first
time. The dissected apartment disillusions me. A RED GLOW
bounces off my face in harmony with the electronic HUM and
CLICK of flashing signs marked ‘applause.’

3 OMITTED
thru
1346


1347 INT. BEDROOM – NIGHT (CONTINUOUS)
I wake up rubbing my temple. GOD, an octogenarian with a full
head of white hair, exits the building. However, its
SCREECHING echoes still crash around my head.

GOD
(Sniveling)
My son did not commit suicide. You
killed him.

I step out into the light. Blinking like an old projector, I
take in the images at increasing frame rates.

24 FRAMES PER SECOND
I lick my lips.

30 FRAMES PER SECOND
The corners of my mouth defy gravity.

60 FRAMES PER SECOND
Through cracked lips, an unfamiliar voice squeezes out a
SUBTITLE:

ID
(Submerged)
I’m out in society.

Familiar voices respond.

SELF
Is this me?

EGO
Or some other beast entirely?

I wipe SMOKE out of my eyes. The angst making a meal of my
LIVER, LUNGS, SPINE, and ever more fragile GREY MATTER.

SELF
The only advice I have been willing
to flood me has been vice.
Acceptance needs to seep in.
Drained dry and clean of my old mentor.

SELF (CONT’D)
It has to.

The echoes of my ego still reverberate in the walls of my
skull. Spiraling down my spine, giving us CHILLS, SPASMS,
and NAUSEA while gripping a toilet bowl.

I, we stick to the script.

ID
I’m okay.

The new mantra begins to sink in like an unused snip of 8MM FILM in a tar pit (slowly).

EGO
I’m okay.

ZOOM IN
One thousand raised pink SLASHES from wrist to armpit.

SELF
I’m okay.

FLASHBACK
BLOOD drips, spelling out a phrase on the floor:
“Blood: I”M OKAY.”

An ellipsis SPLATTERS on the linoleum behind the mantra:
“BLOOD: …”
I inhale.

INT. EMPTY SHELL OF A MAN – QUITTING TIME
The partiers arrive. The bouncer lifts the rope, introducing
4,000 queer chemicals to the pulmonary party. They work the
room and make acquaintances with the rest of the body.

Reluctant to leave at last call, the SMOKE stumbles out
leaving sticky SCUFF-MARKS on the dance floor.
(On judgement day I’ll
still most likely say…)

GOD
I’m okay.

SELF
I’m okay.

CUT TO:

Where are my teeth?

A short piece of prose, or something.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

You get so up in your head that you want to flash back to your BMX with the two pegs to ride down the street and back as fast as you can.

Weeks go by. Years go by.

You get so far into your projections. You want to change.

Years go by. Decades go by.

You see your family the same but they’ve all changed but they haven’t stayed the same. You make the same mistakes but with bigger consequences. All around you the t-shirts change, the science changes, sensitivity changes but it’s all still the same.

The body ages but the mind grows chaotic: A frantic camper in the rain racing to drive down stakes into mud. Stuck to stories growing mold, fuzzy but always staying the same.

The sandman doesn’t sprinkle you with dust. St. Nick can’t give you what you want. Christ could be relatable if only he’d made mistakes. You bought the world’s spirits, elixirs and potions but snake oils only erase time for nothing in return. The tooth fairy took all your teeth but I think she also has your innocence, and you never saw a dime.

Too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the soup. Too many voices in your head spoil the creativity. You can spend time but you can never buy it.

The only option is to drive down stakes into moments you never want to let slip.

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.

Hall, Light, Doctor

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

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

In the hall, where transitions take place. Shuffling from one idea to another. On my way to eat over there. On my way to shit over here. On my way to paint in the room next door. On my way to sleep in that room.

Always on my way to something but never appreciating the place in which I make the transitions. A cheap whore is the hallway, used to and fro without a thought or care. In the middle of my house but never the center of my attention.

The light in the hall has two switches, never pointing in the same direction. One is always up. One is always down. Neither ever looking in the same direction. One is off. One is on but the light always changes when one looks the opposite way.

Where do I go from here? The hallway leads to all areas of my home. Where I sleep. Where I eat. Where I shit. Where I shower. Where I work. Where I fuck. Where I watch TV. Where I stare at the painting and think about all the things of which I need to think.

I’m 34. I’ve been to the doctor more times than I wish. They don’t know shit but what you tell them. They are hallways, clueless unless you already have a direction in your mind. They speak with authority, are necessary evils but really don’t know anything unless you have an idea in your head.

So here’s to the hallways which we all traverse, mindlessly, thinking about what’s ahead, never thinking about the journey.

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.

Cart, Applied, Pop

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

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Sometimes I feel crazy

the thought of
what makes something
normal
tells me so

Is crazy that light
bleeding into sepia prints?
Does crazy cart around sanity
like a 5-pound sack of corn meal?

A lust
for love is
a corvette
at 96 MPH
swerving
in zones
marked 25 MPH

Forever
is the theory
of love
applied science need
not apply

Crazy in life
crazy in love
shaken
soda pop
unopened
crazy

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

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


Factor, Attic, Fill

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

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Fill what’s empty
plenty
one to twenty

space unrecognized
sized
brain disguised

Addict’s eyes
compromise
Attic’s rise

March backwards
hcram
stuffed clam

Time to rhyme
Logic and
Reason be damned

Not a factor
Nonsense
wheal-less tractor



Grass, Thin, Theft

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

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Seas of blades
giants run, jump
make love and
sleep

Collapsing thuds
checkered cloths damp
with dew

Wrapped in wind
Robinhood thieves
pick-pocket hearts

Twisting chiffon
Spring steps
blades bend

Love is Molasses
Care is water
The thick and thin
of thieves.


Topple, Rebellion, Penny

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

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

The Penny Rebellion started with an Instagram user, @toppletopkym. He was wearing a mask, as was the necessary trend of the time, to decrease the spread of the virus. Short videos of the rich and famous had spread of them showing mountains of paper money. So user, ToppleTopKYM, filmed a short video of his own. Up to that video, his account was frequented by family and friends, mostly concerned family and curious acquaintances, not so much friends.

ToppleTopKYM mimicked the other videos. Where as they would lay on their beds on top of piles of paper money, or hold stacks in their hands and swipe single sheets into the air until they floated down in a confetti of money, he converted his meager income into pennies. Using the camera on his phone, ToppleTopKYM made a series of split-screen videos where he mimicked the celebrities and their braggadocios content but with pennies. He laid on his bed making a snow angel out of copper, while next to him a clean-cut A-lister pretended to do the breast stroke through a pile of 100 dollar bills. He through pennies in the air and let them clank to the ground while next to that video played a man with sunglasses indoors and a gold chain making it rain 100 dollar bills.

He made these videos for quite a while, not really gaining any notice, until he made a post simply titled Penny Rebellion. This video began with the screen split. A chubby man was tied up in a throne on one side with stacks and loose piles of cash around him. On the other side of the screen sat ToppleTopKYM in a metal folding chair with towers of pennies. On his side of the screen, he began striking matches and throwing them at the pennies. He did this a few times before shrugging, then turning towards the other screen. He struck a match and began tossing it towards the stacks and piles of paper money. The man in the throne widened his eyes.

ToppleTopKYM, after unsuccessfully lighting either of the piles, metal or paper, walked to the throne side, revealing they were in the same room. Then he struck a match and held it to a pile at the foot of the throne. Smoke slowly rose, then a small flame and then the whole pile was alight. ToppleTopKYM walked back to his metal chair and sat down, scratching his head comically. He lit a match and held it to the pennies until the flame burned his fingers. He tried again and again.

By this time the tied up man was screaming but they were muffled by the gag in his mouth. Then ToppleTopKYM walked towards the camera and said, “Fire licks Metal until it’s black but it eats paper until it becomes ash.”

Then ToppleTopKYM turned and began kicking the towers of pennies. When they were flattened, he turned to the burning paper and began kicking them onto the throne while the king on the throne tried to scream. The video ended mid kick and scream.

This video went viral. People started making their videos showing their wealth in pennies. People began paying for everything in pennies, and it was legal tender, businesses lost countless hours counting. Then the videos took on a life of their own. There were videos of how to make bullets, knives and even guns out of pennies. People got tattoos of pennies and graffiti-ed images of pennies all over the buildings where they lived.

Then it became a movement. “Show us your pennies.” Meaning, show us you’re one of us.

Politicians, terrified, always terrified of losing their image began making speeches about how their fathers and grandfathers came to this country with nothing but two pennies in their pockets. To that the people replied, “show us your pennies.”

After much violence, spectacle and shifting of power the people grew tired of using so many papers. They eventually went back to paper and its practicality; it could be folded, you could carry a lot and ultimately it wasn’t about the currency, but really more about the pricks who flaunted it, or pretended not to.

And that, was the Penny Rebellion.

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.

Production, Costume, Healthy

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

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

There was a calm in the crowd. That moment the lights flicker, signifying everyone to take their seats. Moments before there were members of the audience everywhere, in the aisles, restroom lines and mezzanine bar. Now they gingerly took their seats and made themselves comfortable. It was a professional crowd, each one doing their part to create a cohesive beast of attention.

He stood, stage right, peeking out of the curtain, watching them. Some opened the programs, others sipped drinks and in the balcony, a few focused their binoculars. They were nearly ready.

He looked down at his wardrobe; adjusting the lapels of his jacket, straightening the collar, un-ruffling his pants, and straightening the noose around his neck. Tonight’s performance would be his first and last. All 23 years of his life led up to this moment.

In the general public, out there where the world communicated in double-speak, entendre’s, metaphors and straight lies, his act was intolerable. Why would a healthy young man of 23 with nothing but future ahead of him take his own life? Why? Why? Why?

The stage would be his answer. He would deliver a monologue explaining his life, experiences, doubts, fears and perceptions. He would be joined on stage periodically by doctors, lawyers, therapists and his own parents. They would ask him questions and he would respond honestly. Then, after he’d make his exit, the audience would have an answer to the question of why, while staring at his swaying corpse.

The idea was that those viewers who accepted his answer may be closer to their own little productions than they would like to admit. And those who still did not understand were either in denial or what the actor playing the psychologist might say “in a healthy state of mind.”

Taking one more breath, he waited for the lights to dim and the spot to shine on the step stool center stage. No music, no sensationalism, just light and then darkness.

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.

Ladder, Boat, Housewife

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

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

She came out of the water dripping. A scene of a movie during a time when movies objectified women. Could have been last Summer’s blockbuster. I digress. She paused at the aluminum ladder dipping into the water from the dock. She pulled herself up a rung to get her mouth and nose out of reach of the wake washing over her. A speed boat passed a few meters away, probably not seeing her. I’m sure it wouldn’t have passed so fast had she been standing on the dock, her full person visible.

After a few minutes she came the rest of the way out of the water and grabbed her towel resting next to a coil of rope. Drying her hair, she laid out the towel and sat down. Another boat passed, this one slowing its engine to a low growl when passing the dock. The men in the vessel, a cigarette boat, hooted, whistled and hollered at her. She laughed to herself, not out of flattery but because her 31 years of life had taught her a new law of nature, when she appeared, men gawked.

Now she was a housewife. Married to a man who had at one time had dreams. He had since achieved them but still rarely came home. He cheated. She wasn’t stupid. But she still knew, at one time, there love was true. She hadn’t sacrificed most of her 20’s waiting for him to finish medical school, then residency, then research, trials and awards. His ambition seemed to know no bounds and his cock didn’t either.

She stood up, grabbed her towel and walked up the dock toward their lake house. She passed through the tennis courts, pool, fountains and eventually made it to the open french doors leading into the back of the kitchen. Her bare feet slapped against the polished concrete floors, wet from the grass leading back to the house. She stopped at the fridge to grab a beer. Propping the cap against the counter and tilting the bottle at an angle, she slammed down her right hand, sending the cap spinning somewhere around the marble counters and tink-tink tinking down onto the concrete.

She had all the things her mother and father, church, school, friends and acquaintances told her she would want. But she didn’t. They told her she could live to a ripe old age, keep her looks up to her sixties and never want for anything. She would have rather lived 3-5 short years with a convict, running from the law, staying in cheap hotels with single digits in their names than to sit in luxuries lap, just waiting for something to move.

She took the winding staircase one step at a time into the master bedroom. She stepped into the shower and rinsed off. Another day to kill. Too much time and no life.

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.

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.

Crystal, Axis, Angst

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

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

There is an angst that comes with the threat of suicide. Not one’s own, but that of one someone loves. It’s jarring. I love you so much so why would you not love yourself? That’s the question I find myself asking. Where will you go? If you are away from me, what will I do? Where will I be? How much time will it take me to get back on the path of “being okay”?

If I allow anyone to rotate around my axis, to be my moon and stars, how long will it be before they leave me? What have I been doing or not doing that removes them from my orbit? I am not the center of the universe but I like to gaze at the other stars, moons, planets and suns that grace me with their presence.

Don’t leave me. You’re light refracts from me. It reflects from me. I enjoy it’s rays coming to and through me. If your light is not there I am afraid of the darkness that will take over. I may find a new light but it will never uncover the shadows you have left.

A few have left me. A few leave everyone. Confused and contemplative of where we are left when those we love go away, whether from time or death, we stay and think. So I am here thinking.

I do not know where my crystals have gone. What will guide the light towards me when they are gone? When you are gone?

To punch the truth in the nose, why do some of my friends message me via text and never respond? “Hey, let’s hang out!” “Okay, what days and times work best for you?” I reply. But there is never a reply to mine.

Where will you go if you are not with me? Am I not adequate enough? because I feel that you are adequate enough for me, more than adequate. I love you but you leave me. So what do your words mean when they don’t match your actions?

A kitchen knife down the veins of a forearm. A car sitting idle in the garage. A man swimming out as far as he can to make sure he can’t swim back to the sand that grounds him.

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.

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.

Fantasy, Census, Mill

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

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

There was an explosion in his mind, a spectacular explosion of imagination. A world appeared out of thin air. It moved, breathed, projected light and shadows. Creatures moved in and out of the darkness and light. Buildings pocked the land from castles to shacks. It was a world of his own creation, built from scratch through memory and imagination. A world so vast and ever expanding it was impossible to keep a running record of all its inhabitants.

The walnut shaped mill in his head kept churning his thoughts into fantasy.

Everything was imagined from mythical beasts to majestic feasts. Yet he could not conjure her, even in his own memory. She would not appear in his imagined world.

The waiting room in which he had dozed had grown in occupants. Nearly every seat was filled with someone coughing, bleeding, clutching their chests, or nodding off to sleep. An EMT made her rounds through the room, checking vital signs and taking temperatures, just enough to ensure people were alive in that purgatory before a hospital bed.

He’d come in to the waiting room many times before. Sometimes for food from the vending machine, sometimes for warmth but mostly for a place to sit. He often waited a full day but it was still a nice reprieve from sitting by the highway or sleeping behind the rubble of an abandoned lot. Here he had to be seen, if not immediately, then eventually but he would be seen and heard and felt and spoken to.

Here in the waiting room, they were required to pay attention to him. To hear him out. Listen to him speak and speak back. Here he would be counted among the living, even if just before they died. There would be a record of him, no matter how menial the numbers of his blood pressure were.

He nibbled at the vending machine egg salad sandwich, savoring each bite. Here he was a person, waiting like all the rest to be seen.

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.”

Box, Swing, Touch

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

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Six sides, 8 corners, and hollow in the middle or sometimes the vessel of some great surprise. It’s potential, opportunity, pregnant with possibility. A box.

The stomach holds the great tangled nest of intestines, large and small. Like the patterned maze of the brain, the stomach holds all the feelings. The butterflies, the guilt, the shame, the regret, the excitement. It bares the burden of our most pivotal moments. It’s that spot in the dirt where heels dig in to turn directions and change course.

To rub Buddha’s belly is a sign of good luck, it will bring good fortune. It’s hard not to think of the Buddha being tickled by so much rubbing, with that big grin permanently etched into his golden face. To run a mindless finger around the belly button, to feel the grooves and smoothness of worn away stone or metal, is an act of meditation.

Momentum. The tick and tock of a clock. The up and down of the yo-yo. The yin and yang of life. The back and forth of the swing. The push of feet against concrete against the pull of gravity. To what end? Gravity always wins.

Box, swing, touch. Everything is connected.