Welcome to the Phoenix Nest

I stepped out of my quarters, the familiar weight of the place pressing down on me. The scope of my assignment here was being expanded dramatically alongside the director’s growing regret of having me here. He was giving me free room and board in exchange for my expertise in criminal investigations; so far my service had been tested by a single case of stolen identity when one of our older guests had mistakenly ordered meal service using another’s account number. My pager was ringing more frequently and I was becoming more of a problem solver and less of an investigator. To be honest, I didn’t mind the extra work. I couldn’t very well sit in my quarters for the rest of eternity waiting for one of us to become a murder victim. Even if that did happen, the pool of potential suspects would already be artificially limited to the 144 souls who lived down here in the Nest. It gave me a chance to meet everyone here, as well as find out how many doors my neat little swipe card would really open in this place. I had a feeling it wouldn’t open them all.

My Grandfather’s Ears

I have my grandfather’s ears.  I was sitting in the barber’s chair when I noticed this today. He had enormous ears.  I remember his massive ear lobes hanging from the sides of his head next to his gray hair that he still styled like he was a young soldier.  High and tight, short sides faded up to a waxed and parted top.

My ears look like my head is shrinking.  Apparently my ears keep growing while my head stays the same size.  I remember learning something like this in science class in high school.  Your epidermis will always continue to grow as you get older.  It’s the only part of us that does this.  That’s why old people are covered in wrinkles and hanging jowls (which I’m also lucky enough to inherit from my grandfather).  Sort of like the opposite of your eyes when you’re born.  You eyes are the same size when you pop out of your mom as they will be when you’re forty.

He was my father’s dad.  He used to pull quarters from behind my ears.  I remember at family reunions he would be sitting at the piano (every house I remember visiting as a kid had a piano in the living room) and playing old tunes.  Tunes that I never recognized but all the older people would sing along to as they drank their manhattans and whisky sours and vodka tonics.  If he wasn’t playing the piano and leading singalongs he was blowing solos on his chromatic harmonic while my grandmother accompanied him on the keys.

One night my grandmother called the police for help.  My grandfather had run out of the house in the middle of the night.  He was wearing pajama shorts and a t-shirt.  He was screaming about the people who were in his house.  There were several of them and he didn’t recognize any them.  The police arrived and spoke with my grandmother.  They all gently walked my grandfather back inside and showed him that he and his wife were the only ones in the house.  He went back to bed and forgot about it all.

I have my grandfather’s harmonicas now.  They sit in a small pile in a cabinet that I keep next to my piano.  I know the keys and the notes of the piano, but I never learned how to caress the keys like he did.  I also don’t have the same charisma that my grandfather had.   He was always able to convince even the most reluctant of aunts and uncles, cousins and kids to sing songs to which they barely knew the words.  Often we just needed to be reminded that there’s comfort in company, that there’s an instant bond that can be formed when we all join in the shared discomfort of singing out loud.  When you look around, awkward and unsure, and see that everyone has the same apprehension in their eyes, the shy smiles as the words come out in whispers at first before building in a crescendo of laughter and love.  My grandfather could bring out that love in a room.

I remember going to their house for a barbecue as a little boy.  I was a nervous and shy kid.  I was cursed with sweaty silence at every social function.  On that day my grandfather strode across the lawn to our Buick.  I climbed out of the back seat and watched him coming over, a big goofy grin on his face.  He wore a pastel polo shirt tucked into plaid shorts.  They must not have sold athletic socks where he shopped because he always wore black dress socks which he paired with white leather loafers.  When he reached up and pulled that big old coin from behind my ear he cut right through my anxiety and I knew I was going to make it through that visit.

Soon after that he would start to get angry.  We stopped going to their house and I only saw him at my aunt and uncle’s house down the block.  He would sit quietly on the sofa.  Everyone would hover around him, watching him, waiting for something to happen, whispering to each other.  He would sit there for hours with a confused scowl, his eyes darting around from face to face as he wondered who we all were.

Eventually my grandmother would show up pushing him in a wheelchair.  He would be wearing gray pants and a sweater hastily buttoned.  Brown shoes that fastened with velcro.  His hair would be too long and unkempt.  His hands shook constantly.  I was terrified when my parents forced me to introduce myself to him.

My cousins took his place at the piano.  Every so often my grandmother would play a tune or sing a duet with one of her sisters.  The songs were different, from a younger era, and people stopped singing.

I have my grandfather’s ears and  I’ve inherited his harmonicas.  I’ve never mastered his charm though.

Clare

Her love is a river

constant and strong.

It shows me the way

pushes me along.

 

Her love is the sun

that we circle around;

It keeps us on course

gives us warmth unbound.

 

Her love is a lesson

of giving and care.

Try as I may

I might never be there.

 

To Charlotte you are Anna.

To Ellie you’re Mama.

To me you’re my soulmate, my inspiration, my best friend,

my love and my wife.

Why She Left

“You’re a fucking lush, Daddy.”  Lydia stood at the front door, the spare key in her hand.  Candace stood behind her sister, watching me with her big sad eyes.  I wanted to disagree with Lydia but the mostly-gone bottle of gin in front of me wouldn’t have helped my case.  Shame rose through my gut like a scalding steam.  I stood up from my spot at the dining room table and walked towards the kitchen before the tears started.   Lydia pursued me as I left.

“Did you even look for work today?   Or yesterday?  Or any day this week?”  I dropped the bottle in the kitchen sink as I passed and kept walking.  Candace took a small step into the house and closed the door behind her.

“Christ, Lyd.   Give me a break please,” I pleaded over my shoulder.  “This hasn’t been easy for me.”  I wiped my eyes and stopped at the stairs.  It hadn’t been easy.  It had been goddamned hard, in fact.  Who was she to scold me?  She and Candace still had each other.  And they both hated me.

“No shit it’s hard for you.  But it’s been hard for Candace and me too.”

“That’s not right, Lyd,” I said as I turned to face her.  She had her mother’s fierce eyes and my stubborn determination.

“Do you realize how hard you make life,” she said.  “It doesn’t have to be this – this complex.”

“I don’t see it as complex, Lyd,” I replied.  “I get up in the morning.   I drink a bottle of gin.  Then you and Candace ambush me in my pajamas at four in the afternoon and bring me dinner.  Seems simple enough to me.  Candace, please come in and sit down.”  She didn’t.  

“Really, I don’t know what you want from me, girls,” I continued.  

Lydia furrowed her brow as she gazed at me in a way that I had gotten to know very well since her mother left.  Today’s look had a different shade to it though.  

Candace spoke from the living room.  Her voice was rushed, like she hadn’t used it in a long time.  

“We’re leaving,” she said.  “We’re going to live near mom.”  She shared a look with Lydia and I knew immediately they were serious.  

“And Lydia is right,” she said.  “You are a fucking lush.”  Candace turned and walked out the front door.  

“Goodbye, daddy.”  Lydia kissed me on the cheek and left.  Jesus.  Jesus fucking Christ.  What the fuck just happened.  I walked to the kitchen sink and pulled out my bottle of gin.  I sat down at my spot at the dining room table.  I filled my glass, emptied it, and filled it again.  

daily prompt: Lush

Make Me Fall

I wrapped up my store about my scooter-driving co-worker named Libby and finished off another beer.  Owen had laughed at all the right spots, so I knew my political satire was gaining ground among my peers.  I tossed the empty bottle off the side of the building.  It was the side that faces the alley – so I knew if it hit anyone, it would only be some sorry streetperson – and offered Owen a cigarette.  He didn’t smoke often, but drinking on the roof was as good a reason as any, and he took one and searched his pockets for a light.

I artfully produced my gold Zippo and zipped up a little flame for him.  I must have gotten a little too close as a breeze whipped across the roofline and pushed the flame into his face.  He shuttered a little and took a step back.  Owen lost his footing on what must have been a crack in the asphalt and went tumbling backwards.  I watched in stunned amazement as his foot clipped the low edge and his body disappeared over the side.

I dropped my lighter and rushed towards him.  I looked over the side and saw Owen’ body on the sidewalk six stories below.  A large pool of dark blood was rapidly flowing out from a great hole in the back of his head.

Owen’s fall had been an accident.  But as I tried to make sense of his life before he died, I began to wonder whether he had wanted to die.

The Red Machine

She gazes up at the red machine towering over her. Her mouth agape.  Eyes unblinking.  Ponytail hanging over her shoulders.  Between trembling fingers she grips her quarter, careful not to let it slip.  She holds it tightly to her chest.  She watches the clear globe sitting atop the red machine.  It is filled with smaller but to her still enormous globes of pink and blue and green and yellow and red.  For only a moment she lowers her eyes to find that mysterious contraption she knows she must surrender her quarter to.  Slowly she raises the quarter to the opening above the big silver dial and drops it into the slot.  It fits perfectly.

Her eyes dart back up to the clear globe full of those colorful globes. She grips the dial and turns.  She is hesitant at first, hoping that the pink one will fall, pleading to whatever god she knows, whatever power of will she can summon to find that pink ball of sweetness and beauty and let it fall away from all the others that just won’t do.  She turns until she can’t turn any further.  She resets her hand and finds a new grip and turns that dial with a renewed fervor and determination, passing through the clicks until there are no more clicks to pass.  She clasps her hands together at the waist of her dress.  Rattles and clicks echo from inside the machine, the heavy drop of the gumball as it is released from the clear globe and into the belly of the great red machine and navigates the mysterious course of tubes and turns and slides.  She can hear the rolling gumball rolling towards her on that last ramp like a great shiny boulder down to the bottom of the machine.  It bangs the inside of the metal trapdoor with a delicious weight.

The machine stands silent. She glances quickly up at me with wonder-filled eyes as she steps close to the machine.  She cups one hand lightly underneath the trapdoor, lifts the little door with her other hand, and lets the sweetest, most beautiful little globe she has ever seen fall into her hand.

Daily Prompt: Tremble

City Soldiers

The valley it glows
Like burning red coals
A furnace of fear and regret

The battle was old
But the pain scars still hold
Past the end for a man I’ve not met

Attention is called
While the wind whips us all
Eyes forward back straight no more tears

A boy says his prayer
For a father not there
A reminder of what we all fear.

A First Kill

The third sun had set and the night was cooling.  The sand had been absorbing the warming light of the day and it would glow a gentle fuscia until the suns came up again.  Yousef stood up and dusted off his robes.  He looked up at the night sky and silently named the constellations he knew.  How quiet and peaceful it seemed up there.  Then he closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and began walking towards his village.

Yousef could feel the excitement coursing hot through his veins.  He knew he decision was the right one, and to hell with what Father thought.  Grandfather came here in search of a new start, and he almost lost his life with that new start barely in sight.  The Zhukin saved Grandfather’s life, and by extension gave Yousef his life.  Yousef owed his very existence to a race of beings that must have seemed very strange to Grandfather.

The Zhukin are very much like humans, but they are so much more advanced.  Humans and Zhukins look almost identical, with eyes for seeing and a nose for breathing, but a Zhukin has neither ears nor a mouth.  He doesn’t need them because they have evolved with the ability to communicate using brainwaves alone.  They make no sounds at all.  Grandfather must have found it quite bizarre the first time he walked into a Zhukin hall and found it to be absolutely silent.

The Zhukin had welcomed Grandfather and his companions as if they were Zhukin themselves.  They were given care and food, homes and opportunity, and protection from the Zukhani.

For all the empathy and peaceful nature of the Zhukin, the Zukhani had none of these.  Zhukin and Zukhani had been closely related, but generations of evolution and the Zukhani’s own genetic alterations of their DNA had created stark differences.  The Zukhani were a violent and dominating people, and would have either killed Grandfather’s group or forced them into slavery.

Yousef was deep in thought when he noticed movement on the other side of the road.  It was a figure walking towards him, but it didn’t seem to have noticed Yousef.  Yousef was always quiet in his mannerisms and kept his movements to only those necessary.  He was well-obscured by the night.  Yousef stopped completely.

The figure continued walking and passed Yousef.  Yousef watched and saw that the man was a Zukhani.  He was also alone.  Yousef picked up a rock and silently crossed the road.  The Zukhani must have sensed Yousef’s presence because he wheeled around in one fluid motion.  He threw off his robes, revealing a pale torso and long, reedy arms.  His mouth gaped open, his teeth short and pointy, his eyes nearly closed in slits.  He held a long knife in his right hand.

Yousef cocked his arm back and smashed the rock with enthusiasm into the Zukhani’s face.  They both fell to the ground and Yousef raised the rock and brought it down in the Zukhani’s face over and over.  Dark blood, first a trickle, now exploded out of his head as Yousef broke through his skull.

Yousef sat on top of the motionless body next to the road.  He dropped the rock and wiped his face with his robe.  He stood up and looked down at the man he just killed.  It has begun, thought Yousef, and he continued walking home.

Enthusiasm

My Rubik’s Cube

Every so often I’ll take a break from my bedtime book and pick up the Rubik’s Cube that shares the couch cushion with me.  I turn it over and around in my hands, feeling the corners and edges, rubbing my thumbs along the tiny cubes that make up the bigger one, making sure the edges line up just so perfectly.  When my examination is complete, I pick one color to work on and determine my best strategy for success.

Some nights I have two blues already lined up on one side leaving only seven squares to work on.  If I’m lucky I’ll have the remainder of an unfinished campaign from the night before when I managed to line up all but one or two squares.  Most nights though my cube just looks like a broken Lite-Brite.

Some nights I spin with a purpose.  I try to find a method to the madness that is a Rubik’s Cube.  If I turn this side up, then the middle twice to the left, then move that side back down, that should do it!  Sometimes it does do it, sometimes not, but almost always it carries unintended consequences someplace else on the cube.  Other nights I turn randomly, hoping that somehow the colors will line themselves up.  Still other nights, I find myself noticing that some of the stickers are so off-center on their square and wondering who put these things on anyway?

Eventually the Rubik’s Cube break will end the way every break has since I bought the thing.  I put the cube down and pick up my book, my mind satiated and calm, and I begin to read again.