by Richard Thomas
1. Because You Left Me
A handful of assorted shapes in a rainbow of colors, but these aren’t Skittles. The faded patchwork couch is pulling me in, the scarred table in front of me holding my arsenal. A swallow of bourbon and your face drifts to me. There was a time I was your everything. You bought me my first mountain bike and then later that week, a week of firsts, you masturbated in front of me. You wore combat boots out to the clubs, a sundress in a floral print, a Celtic tattoo wrapping around your bicep, bits of silver in your ear. I gave you years of my life and when you lost interest, you moved on. My grandmother’s ring was a mistake. It wasn’t even a band-aid—it was nothing you ever wanted.
2. For My Family
A handful of pills and a swallow of bourbon takes me back to your hand across my face, Dad, a band of gold tearing the skin across my cheek, and you proved your point. You proved that as a man you could intimidate a teenager—a child. And for that indiscretion you got my eternal hatred. Every time your wallet sat open on the end table, stuffed to overflowing with twenty-dollar bills, I’d slip one out and disappear. I’d find a way to emulate you by drinking myself unconscious, fading into the background. I don’t know which is worse—a father who couldn’t wait to take off his belt and beat my backside or a mother who stood by and watched. Incense drifts up to me—sandalwood and patchouli, and the scissors in my hands cut out the faces of every photo that I own.
3. For My Heartache
A handful of pills and a swallow of bourbon. The cat circles my feet, her food bowl overflowing with dried bits of kibble—she knows that something isn’t right. She’ll be my undoing, this innocence, when all I really want is to wallow in the mire. My mouth tastes like metal, rusty copper. A hundred angry faces appear, each with their own agenda—none of them hesitating at the door. Loser, drunk, asshole, pervert, stop calling me, stop calling me—or next time it’ll be the cops. No more smoke-filled venues, no more sushi and Sapporo, no more standing at the lakefront out of breath, covered in sweat. It was the last time I ever saw you. And I never thought it would be like that. I’m not a statue—these were things that you spoke about in the anonymity of the dark. You asked me to spank you. Squirming, you smiled—and it was ours.
4. For My Headaches
A handful of pills and a swallow of bourbon. Maybe I needed to fail better. When the phone rings, tiny pinpricks dot my skin. Too late. No more mornings vomiting into the toilet, retching, my gut twisted in a tightening knot, a strand of saliva stretching to the polluted water below. No more head split open from the night before, all in pursuit of the unattainable. Done. As I bang my fists on my knees, the cat darting for the kitchen, there is a familiar phrase echoing through my skull. I just don’t care.
5. For The Lonely
A handful of pills and a swallow of bourbon. For a while there, before I was seen, the phone rang off the hook. Jennifer and Elise, Katie and Laura, they all wanted to know what I was doing, where I was going, would they see me later on. And then, it stopped. Sometimes it was before we were intimate—a lazy evening ordering in Kung Pao Chicken, drinking some beers, watching a movie, the lamest thing on Earth. Other times it was after the flesh, a haze of sweat and desperate slaps, mouths devouring, bite marks, begging—you asked me to take you there. And now I’m the bad guy, your shame a mask you wear when slinking to the door. Now the phone doesn’t ring, the places you used to be, no longer your haunt. Bartenders shaking heads, buying a shot out of sympathy, standing in the corner watching the pool players, until finally someone yells out last call.
6. For My Sorrow
Swallowing, it’s almost all gone. The littlest things are prophetic now, an ocean. The cat sits in the windowsill behind the drapes, her shadow still but for the movement of her head, and she makes a strange cat call, a guttural cracking—she wants to eat the bird. I’ve seen it before, the tiny robin with its little black death mask, breastplate covered in blood. It hops from branch to branch and the cat tracks it, a base hunger driving it to desire this animal—she wants to grab it, hold it and become one with it. I know how the cat feels. Footsteps in the alley, doors opening and closing, there is a world outside that I’ve abandoned. I ache to find the light.
7. For No Tomorrow
Last handful of pills and there is only beer left now. Things I’ll never do: go to Europe, write a book, get married, have kids, buy a stupid house in the suburbs. I won’t front a band or buy a wedding ring—I won’t have grandchildren at all. Not one. No new car for me, never. I’ll never tell my father how I really feel, stand up to him for once. I’ll never tell my mother how she turned her back on me, how it framed the man I would be. No New York City. No road trip. No white water river rafting. No parachute or bungie cord. No daughter to look up at me and tell me that she loves me, ask me, Daddy, can you play with me? No son to toss a ball around, tell him how to treat a lady, how not to cry when things get tough. Wait—I don’t know, wait. Hold on.
8. I Forget What Eight Was For
Swallow. I forget a lot of things. Sometimes I’m not sure what day it is anymore. I can sometimes tell by the traffic outside that it’s not a weekday, when it’s quiet during rush hour, the drapes pulled shut, the whoosh of metal, the dull roll of garbage cans getting wheeled out to the corner, a broken beer bottle, or maybe somebody yelling for a cat. She’s my cat now. She likes it here. No tags and skinny, a dirty old thing. The bath was like a tornado of claws, holding her down and yelling at her, telling her that this was for her own good, her panicked eyes screaming one word—drown. Later, bandages on my forearms, she’d sit in my lap, finally dry, and understand that I did what I had to. Unconditional.
9. For A Lost God
I can’t find the pills, or the bottle. I think they’re done. The only word that floats in the ether is forsaken. Despite the stained glass visions, your whisper in my ear, longhaired son of yours with his hand on my wrist, pushing the blade away, covering the veins, I manage to finally complete something. There is a buzzing at my wrists, an opening up and a release. There is no more expectation, no more chance for failure. And it’s a relief. I’m tired. I pray for forgiveness, for even as the walls fade, I am afraid. I fear a reckoning. I’m not a monster.
10. For Everything
For the way you shoved your tongue in his mouth, his hands on your breasts, a hunger washing over you, something I’d never seen before. Back rooms, alleys, at the edge of parties—I saw everything you did. And I loved you anyway. That was my mistake. I let you in. I should’ve left, not you. I should’ve demanded more, not you. I should’ve—fuck it, this won’t be your victory as well. Instead of this gift, where is that phone, instead of this, cat move, look out, instead of—I can’t find it, it was right here, and fuck you, fuck you in all your righteousness. It keeps slipping out of my hands now, I can’t find the buttons, but when I do I’ll push them, I’ll
Richard was the winner of the 2009 “Enter the World of Filaria” contest at ChiZine. He has published dozens of stories online and in print, including the Shivers VI anthology (Cemetery Dance) with Stephen King and Peter Straub, Murky Depths, PANK, Pear Noir!, Word Riot, 3:AM Magazine, Dogmatika, Vain, and Opium. His debut novel Transubstantiate (Otherworld Publications) was released in July of 2010.