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Love you, Sweet Pearl

By 1967, Janis Joplin had left Texas twice, survived a toxic relationship and debilitating addiction, and discovered a ‘voice’ unlike any other. But still, the past held on, inflicting wounds and scars from the words of her contemporaries. She was ugly, strange, wild. Her ingenuity, her looks, even her femininity were criticized. It forged her into a steel-hard singer and leader of a cultural shift. Her long hair, marred skin, bra-less repose and open mouthed antagonism, all with a longing for acceptance, opened wide a new world. The beads around her neck, those beads of the past, those invisible chords of attachment, swung as she banged on an invisible door. Release, release, joyful release. Euphoria in this bottom of the barrel gluttony. I survived, you survived. We’re all gonna make it. Hey, baby, are you as angry as me? Are you as happy as me? You been through this shit too? Then, come on, baby. Dance. Those chords, those beads. One strand breaks and falls to her feet. A crowd cheers. She bends over and picks it up. The past has been severed. Ain’t never goin’ back to Texas again. I’m free.

You know the story. Janis became famous with Big Brother and the Holding Company, quit, formed two other bands, and then died on October 4, 1970 in a California hotel room, alone. Drug paraphernalia lay hidden inside a bedside table. Damn you, insecurity. Damn you, death.

She was a child. She was timeless. She sang about a world that was hers and welcome to it. She was the 60s and the 70s. And beyond. Her sound, her voice, those mannerisms, they were real and irreplaceable. There will never be another Janis.

Gone, but never forgotten. Love you always.

In honor of her life (and death) Cimarron Man and other stories is free today.

Have a beautiful day. Enjoy your beautiful life.

CImarron-Man

Coming Soon . . .

Woodsocketusanew

My Zygotic Creation

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In My Zygotic Creation fifteen-year-old Frankie Weaver navigates life through secret-stalker love notes in the shape of origami animals, a mom in denial over looming health issues, a dad with a drinking problem, a step-mom with a needy problem, a crush with a boy who smells like bacon but has perfectly placed dimples, Syfy smashups like Calinomi and Sharktanic, cats, cats and more cats, and the ethereal world of Charlie Chaplin. It’s quirky and funny, but also serious. It’s real life: divorce, death threats at school, transgender issues, Facebook drama, and knowing that what you want isn’t always good for you in the end.

My Zygotic Creation is free today and (I think) tomorrow, and if you haven’t read it yet, please give it a try. Frankie is a funny girl. She’s based off women like Carol Burnett and Gilda Radner, whom I love madly. Also, if you enjoy silent movies and small towns and remember being fifteen and all sorts of awkward . . . you might just love this book. I truly enjoyed writing it.

Thank you. Amazon link

The Moonflowers

I love the 1970s—the music, the clothes, the naivete of all things social, sexual and political—but mostly what I love is how real people were back then. They were open and honest about their lives, and everyone seemed to be on a journey of self-discovery. In The Moonflowers, Jane wants to escape a bad marriage and unlock her repressed female self, something a girl raised in the 40s-50s would have had trouble understanding. Things change when she meets injured Vietnam vet Eric Church who believes in a life unfettered. Jane’s son Keith wants something similar, except he has the disadvantage of being only fourteen. I say disadvantage because the world is a hell of a lot more confusing when you’re that age, and when it comes to sex you’re just about as dumb and mixed up as an intoxicated rabbit. Below are the first two chapters of The Moonflowers. If you like what you read, please consider purchasing the book and leaving a kind review. Thank you.

Chapter 1

 

Stagnant air pooled like hot syrup in the back section of the IGA, three o’clock on a Friday afternoon. Jane, pits itchy with sweat, thumbed through magazines and paperbacks but couldn’t decide on Good Housekeeping or a copy of The Hite Report. Good Housekeeping had an article on how to keep your upholstery clean, but The Hite Report was about orgasms and all the secret stuff of life. On impulse, she threw them both into the cart, followed by a box of Ritz crackers and a discount box of Dreft. No one in town needed to know she was an idiot about orgasms.

The world, still wet from Vietnam, had discovered a new controversy to pine over: women and sex. Namely, what they thought of sex. The author, a young and blonde Shere Hite, had conducted the research by asking real women real questions, and now the world wanted to know the truth: did the average woman enjoy having sex, and did some know how to get off on their own? These were things Jane would like to know herself as up until now she’d been stumbling through the process like a damn idiot.

Married for almost fifteen years, she had yet to experience true pleasure. That meant something was wrong with her. She didn’t know what exactly. Sometimes she woke up at night and ached. Maybe she was dying. A recent visit to the doctor had uncovered a slight thyroid problem, but nothing serious. Still the pain came and went, a deep, unsatisfied pain which sometimes felt like loneliness.

Just then Jane’s best friend Suzanne came around the corner, shopping cart in one hand and the shirt collar of her son Danny clutched in the other.

“Oh hi,” Suzanne said, puffing a bit. Danny struggled to break free in an apparent need to look at comics. Suzanne lifted a hand and he shot off like a bird from an electric cage. “I raised a brat. I told him if he wants to save up to be in the Archie Fan Club then he’d better mind me more often, but is he listening?” She slapped Jane on the arm. “Hey, I missed you last night at the PTA dinner. I mean, really missed you. How come you didn’t show? Well, anyway, it was boring as hell, but I had to go because Sally signed me up to make Jell-o, and then I got shamboozled into sticking around while she talked to all her friends. I was going to let her walk home with them, but she’s been mentioning some sixteen-year-old boy she met at a dance and I figured I’d better keep an eye on her. How are things?”

“Fine.” Jane took a quick moment to make sure she’d covered The Hite Report.

“Fine,” Suzanne repeated. “You always say that. Well, when I’m fine, I’m fine, but I think when you’re fine, you’re really bummed out.”

“Not everybody can be as fine as you, Suzanne.”

“True. Do you think it’s my big raven hair or my big ass? Don’t answer that. The ass is what gets me in trouble.” Pursing her lips, and posing in a mock Marilyn, Suzanne swiveled her hips in a slow circle. It ended with a pelvic thrust much too provocative for a weekday shopping trip at the local supermarket. The two women laughed.

Unlike Suzanne, Jane had never found herself being quite so free from social conscience. It stuck to her like fly tape.

They rolled their carts to the next aisle of breads and cereals. Danny remained behind, reading his comic.

Jane scanned the grocery list she’d written, though she didn’t have to as the items never changed from week to week: coffee, bread, milk, corn flakes, Jell-o, bologna, potatoes and lots of pork and red meat. If she forgot something, her husband Grant had a small fit and sent her back.

“How’s everyone?” Suzanne asked. She took a bite of a strawberry from a little plastic crate and shoved it back in. Many of the strawberries had bites in them. Jane wondered if any inside the pack would make it to the checkout counter intact.

“Grant’s okay. Keith’s okay. They’re at the ball fields right now, for a game.”

“Grant coaching again?”

“No. He, uh, decided not to do that this year.”

Jane wanted to tell Suzanne the truth, but couldn’t. A few weeks ago, the local baseball committee had told Grant that the other parents had started a petition to keep him off the fields. He was still allowed to attend, but at a distance of two-hundred feet. It was because of all the cussing and yelling. He now watched from behind the wheel of his car using a pair of cheap binoculars, and he often took Jane along. Those were some long, hot summer evenings. Jane tried her best to endure them, using paperbacks and fans made from thrown-out fliers.

Keith had admitted to her one night how secretly happy he was and asked if it was okay if he quit playing altogether. Jane told him a boy should be sad to lose their parent as a personal coach, but Keith hadn’t looked one bit sad at all.

Keith was thirteen, almost fourteen now. The same age as her when she’d decided she hated her father.

“Grant has a lot of things on his plate,” Jane said.

“Don’t we all.” Suzanne threw a box of Fruit Loops into her cart, looked at it, then put it back in exchange for Wheat Bran. She turned to Jane. “I’ve been meaning to ask, how are things? I mean, you know what I mean. How are things?”

“Oh, they’re fine.”

“Really? Is that the truth?”

“Of course it is. We’re fine. He’s fine, I’m fine, and we’re fine.”

Suzanne let out a snort. “Of course you are, honey. I just felt like asking. But, listen, if things aren’t fine, you know you can always talk to little old Suzanne and it won’t go anywhere but right here.” She touched herself somewhere above the belly button and somewhere beneath the bosom.

They rolled their carts forward.

“Can you hand me a pumpernickel?” Jane asked. She didn’t like pumpernickel, but if it took Suzanne off the topic she’d eat it anyway.

“Sure, and listen, honey, times have changed. Damn.” Suzanne put a fingernail to her mouth, displacing a thick layer of drug store peach frost.

“What?”

“I need to get me some mini-marshmallows. Will you hold on? I’ll be right back.”

“Sure, I’ll hold on.”

Suzanne hurried down the aisle in a hip-swaying swagger more familiar than show, and Jane laughed. A round spy-mirror up on the IGA ceiling turned the scene into a fisheye distortion.

It was true that her marriage to Grant had issues, but the problem wasn’t something she could go on and on about until there was an actual plan to fix it. And as far as fixing went, how was a woman supposed to fix a marriage when she already did all the work and was left with an unwilling partner? The fixing had to come in two different forms: Grant fixed himself, or she fixed a divorce. Both of those options wouldn’t come without a fight, she knew it. Pressure was building. All those hot evenings in the car had opened a space in her mind she’d never known existed—a space which had no room for good wife thoughts. It was angry, and tired. It didn’t like men. It didn’t like marriage. And it didn’t like Grant.

Jane reached under her pile of goods to retrieve the paperback. She shoved it in-between two loaves of Wonder Bread on the shelf, and after staring a moment, pulled it back out so she could flip through the contents. One woman talked about doing it with her boyfriend, another spoke of the joys of marital sex, and a third woman said she didn’t need a husband at all, or any man. She liked herself just fine.

There were graphs and diagrams.

Suzanne’s black leather flats and bright red hips came around the corner and Jane reinserted the book back into its protective pile inside her cart.

“You okay, honey? You look sort of sick.” Suzanne’s face showed genuine concern.

“It’s just hot in here.”

“Yeah, it sure is. Let’s pay for all this junk. I was going to talk to the butcher about getting a side of beef for that new freezer Sasha bought, but I need a cigarette so I think I’ll just go home real quick. You want to come over?”

“No. I need to take these things home.”

“You want me to drive you?”

“No, thanks. I can walk.” Jane walked everywhere, something people frequently teased her about since her husband owned a used car lot. She could have any car she wanted, they said, but that wasn’t the point. The point was, she liked to walk.

Suzanne yelled for Danny to put down whatever he was reading and get the hell back to the cart. He didn’t respond, so Suzanne yelled even louder. “I didn’t want to be a yeller, but sometimes I swear he doesn’t have any eardrums. Or, at least, they don’t seem to work when it comes to my voice. I probably need to get his hair cut.”

That looked like a possible contributor—his brown hair was so thick it hung down similar to a cocker spaniel’s. He came into the aisle with a sullen look, then followed them to the checkout lane in silence.

As Suzanne piled groceries on the motorized belt line, the dread built. Jane decided she didn’t want The Hite Report after all. It was too much trouble, she didn’t want anyone to see it, and when would she ever have the nerve to actually read the thing? Hesitating, she looked behind to see if she could back out of the lane. If Suzanne asked, she’d just say that she had missed an item.

A large man sullied by a multitude of tattoos stepped into the line. His hair was pulled into a loose ponytail with wisps sticking out here and there. His white T-shirt was dirty, his neck was dirty, and something about him shouted devil-may-care.

“Whoa,” he said, avoiding the shopping cart from running over his toe. “You want out, lady?”

“No, I’ll stay.”

Damn it all to hell, as her mother used to say.

She maneuvered the cart back into place and accepted that fate had intervened in her life. For some reason or the other she was meant to read about orgasms.

“You sure?” the man asked.

“Yes, I’m sure. Thank you.”

Aside from the bells and beeps of the cashier typing, things grew silent after that. The man laughed when the cashier rang up the half-eaten strawberries.

“Only a woman can get by with that,” he said.

“Or, only Suzanne,” Jane corrected.

They listened to the cashier again. The bells stopped and then there was a price check being called out on the overhead speakers.

“You read a lot?” he asked.

Jane turned around with a stomach as tight as a macramé chord. Why would he ask her that question unless he knew about the book?

“You go to the library every day. That’s why I asked. I often see you when I ride past on my way to the Laundromat.”

The chord loosened. She realized she recognized the man. He was new to town and rode his motorcycle when other people worked. A set of dog tags hung around his neck, and there was a little scar above his right collarbone. But still, she was in shock because of his question. “Well, your assumption is right. I read a lot. I read so much it’ll be bad for my eyes one day.”

“That’s sorta funny. Why worry about that right now?”

“I don’t know why. I guess I shouldn’t. I have perfect vision.”

“Then don’t worry about it. Live your life.”

“I will, thank you.”

The cashier finished and Suzanne paid. She waited for Jane with two brown paper bags balanced on her hips, like toddlers. Danny stood waiting as well.

“Why don’t you meet me outside?” Jane said. She hurried to get her items on the belt.

Suzanne shrugged. “Sounds good to me. Come on, my brat.”

Danny shoved at her arm. “But I want a bottle of RC Cola from the vending machine.”

“I said, come on!” Suzanne grabbed him by the ear—though it was mostly hair—and led him out to the parking lot.

Jane grabbed The Hite Report and plopped it on the counter with the Good Housekeeping. There, if he saw it who cared?

He placed his items down behind hers, with a few inches to show whose was whose. A package of Twinkies, pork rinds, a box of fried chicken from the deli and a couple of bars of chocolate, were his contributions.

She couldn’t help it, she had to say something. She was irritated, and it was hot in the store. The smudges on his shirt looked like oil. Jane thought to herself that he’d be a good candidate for bleach. “Oh boy, that does not look like a proper supper.”

“I ain’t interested in proper. I just want to eat.”

The cashier rang up her items and a stock boy piled them into a paper bag, book of orgasms on top. When Jane tried to shove the book down, the man snickered.

“I eat trash, and you read trash. Guess we’re even.”

Jane left without saying anything.

She was nearly run over by Suzanne’s light blue Chevelle outside. It pulled up and idled in the lot. Suzanne rolled down the driver’s side window with a lit cigarette shoved between two fingers. “Why don’t you come over so we can chat about things?”

Jane knew what kind of chat Suzanne had in mind. The marital kind. Once again, she wanted to tell her about Grant, but couldn’t. “I have to get these groceries home.”

“Well then, how about tomorrow?”

“Fine, I’ll come over tomorrow.”

They said their goodbyes and the Chevelle sped off.

The sun beat down as she stood there on the asphalt. Something about it made her stomach and crotch seize with the familiar ache. Behind her, a motorcycle roared to life. It revved on and on, choking a few times with big, explosive hiccups. That popping, raucous sound came near her, following her steady walk. Jane looked over her shoulder, through her hair, to see.

The long-haired man rode with one foot skidding along the pavement. “I’m sorry about what I said back there. How about a ride to wherever you’re going?” He didn’t wear a helmet or a jacket. It was just him and the bike, like they were one obnoxious, untamed creature.

“No, I’m all right—thank you.”

“You ever ridden before?”

Jane laughed. “Once, as a child. But I didn’t care for it. I guess I know why other people like them, though.” To be in the wind. To let loose.

“You must’ve had a bad driver. A good driver would make you want to ride again and again.”

Jane got the drift. She didn’t need The Hite Report to know what he was talking about. Something in her marveled that she was being hit on. “Oh, I see. Well, thank you, but I’m just not the type.”

“You ain’t, huh?”

“No.”

He stared at her blouse. Maybe because it stuck to her with sweat. “You look over heated, and that bag sure looks heavy. You live far?”

“Just down the road.” Jane lifted her left hand to brush away a strand of hair.

“Yeah, I see you’re married. Just offering a ride, that’s all.” He revved the bike again.

She hadn’t meant to show her marital status, at least, not on a conscious level. Sometimes it came in handy. “I really am sorry,” she said. “Maybe another day.” She felt like a liar.

“Don’t worry. I’ll see you around.”

He kicked something on the bike and jetted off like a silver rocket. He didn’t even look back. No doubt he was breaking the speed limit. She could hear him all through town, until the sound of the engine faded—not died—just faded, which meant he’d left, for whatever reason, for whatever goal.

 

 

Chapter 2

 

A white Spalding bullet arched across the sky toward Keith Day. He thrust his mitt up to catch it, but lost sight when its trajectory met the sun. Swearing, he backed up, but the ball hit the ground like an asteroid to the moon. That was the fifth one he’d missed today. Through a rush of blood in the ears, he heard the unmistakable sound of someone’s gravelly voice yelling from a great distance—too far to see. But he knew the voice, it could wake him from death.

Keith scrambled to retrieve the object he’d grown to hate so much in his short existence. It liked to play games with him, rolling deep into grassy crevices, flying over fences, and sinking into pits that he tripped over, over and over again. His father’s yelling grew louder. Still ball-less, Keith lifted his chin, cap partially blocking his vision, and saw the other thing he feared most in the world storm across the parking lot with uneven, furious strides.

“Shit!”

He’d better get that Spalding and return it to home base before the old bastard reached the stands. If coach saw, shit would fly.

Keith dug into the hole and managed to grab the ball. Second and third had already made it to home, but there might be enough time to stop the fucker who’d hit it in the first place. “Why didn’t you just bunt, you asshole?”

He pitched it into a straight line. The catcher, Mike Deforest, captured the ball in no time, yet grazed the runner’s left shoulder blade a half-second too late. Mike turned to Keith with a glare and a raised finger.

Keith threw his glove down and kicked the worn-out leather. An acid sun burned through the itchy fabric of his uniform. Helpless, he watched his boiled lobster father approach the invisible territory of the stands like an American into Cuba, then saw the moment Coach Vic caught sight. He rose off the bench, flicking a newly lit Marlboro to the ground with an arc of smoke and ash. A war started.

The whole team stood in a silent paralysis of the building crossfire, consisting mostly of vulgarities. Keith knew quite a few of those himself. He muttered them in a long string, like a calming prayer.

He sucked at baseball. He hated the game so much it kept him up at night. Sometimes he lay stretched across his bed, eyes directed up to the glittery popcorn ceiling, and thought of millions of ways to tell his father how much he hated the game and all the stupid times he’d been forced to play every summer of his stupid life. But not too much talking happened when it came to his dad. You shut the fuck up and listened, that’s what talking to his dad meant.

The team surged the stands. They wanted to see a fight in close proximity; maybe catch a drop of blood should it come flying. Keith held his position in right field. Like a statue. A KISS song started up in his head. A few minutes later he saw the inevitable, his dad heading straight for him and no one doing a damn thing to stop him. “Just take your kid and get the hell out of here!” Coach Vic yelled.

Keith kept up the KISS song; it rose in volume until it was loud enough to block the screaming, belligerent voice that came straight into in his face, spitting out words and saliva like shrapnel.

Keith saw lips moving; he was being shaken, but he couldn’t hear or feel a damn thing. Something smacked hard at his ear. It was beautiful bliss, the art of a survivor. Sometimes his mother said she didn’t know what to think when his face went all blank like that. “What gets in your head, kid?”

“I don’t know, Ma. It’s like I’m a cosmic music station. Like I’m not even here at all.”

She started calling him Sony after that.

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To purchase on Amazon: link

Free Friday

Hello folks! If you’d like to read one of my books, head on over to Amazon and snag yourself a copy. Thank you!

My Zygotic Creation: Still healing from her parent’s divorce, 15-year-old Frankie Weaver longs to know if she’s the result of stupidity or true love.  Amazon.

The Moonflowers: During the summer of ’76, mother and son Jane and Keith Day face the heartbreak of divorce and new love amid a small town setting. Amazon.

The Starlights: A sequel to The Moonflowers. Through Keith Day’s deeply personal viewpoint we experience the helplessness of suicide. Scared his friend Mark will do it again, Keith acts a clown and counselor, but in the process finds himself doing stupid things just to keep sane. Keith knows it’s wrong to be with the older, married Suzanne, but loneliness and fear tears him apart. Does Suzanne really love him, and is it really possible to stop someone from suicide when they don’t have any will to live? Amazon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Free for a few days

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Happy Friday! Thank you so much for the likes, I very much appreciate it! If anyone is interested, the new book is free until Monday and who doesn’t like free? I certainly do, wink wink nudge nudge. Alrighty then, I really do hope you enjoy it and here’s to a great weekend. Peace.

LINK

Frankie’s Delimma

Frankie’s parents are divorced, but neither of them have ever told her why. Why did they break up? What was it that caused them to stop loving each other? Did they ever love each other . . .

Usually she sees Dad at the local movie theater, a crackerjack box deal that’s empty most of time. He shows old movies: silents with Charlie and Buster and Joan. But now he wants to see her more often, he wants her to see Reba more often. Begrudgingly, Frankie agrees to a Sunday dinner at their new house, but only because she wants to see Dad. Not Reba. Anyway, Mom said that Reba might go for the kill, and Mom’s usually right.

From My Zygotic Creation:

“Dinner’s about ready,” Reba says. “Why don’t you two go sit down in the dining room and I’ll get your plates made up?”

“Dining room?” I whisper to Dad while following him under an arched doorway into a room painted rose red with gold-framed paintings and fresh flowers on a useless looking table in the corner. “It’s like a hotel.”

He ignores me and takes a seat in an ornate, fabric-covered chair of dark red silk. I plop down into one on the opposite side of the table. “Reba decorated this room all by herself,” he says, tapping his fingers. He looks at everything for the longest time. “I never actually sit in here.”

“Mom’s probably on the couch at home eating a corn dog,” I let out, sort of not thinking, but part of me wants him to remember that the life he was once part of still exists. Mom can’t be forgotten and left behind. He was the one who screwed up, not her. Okay, Mom has her problems too; she isn’t the friendliest person on the planet. She hates people . . . and things. Okay, she’s a bitch sometimes. But she’s funny, and she used to make him laugh—he has to admit that. He must have loved something about her, to create me. For one moment in time they had feelings for each other. Right?

“Dad?” I ask quietly. “Did you love Mom?”

“Frankie . . .”

I wait for him to say, Of course I loved her, but he doesn’t, he taps his fingers and gives me a look of apology. “I loved her as much as I could.” Then his face turns sour. “But remember, she threw me out. I didn’t want to go. I wanted to stay there for you, even if our marriage wasn’t the greatest. What does she do with those checks I send? She’d better be spending them on you. That’s what it’s for.”

Oh God, no. I don’t want to talk about money. I want to talk about love. Did they ever really love each other? For real. No one seems to be able to answer this, and it’s a really simple question.

I’ll take ‘Questions Kids Ask Their Parents,’ Alex.

For five hundred dollars, it’s the answer Frankie Weaver’s parents give when asked if they ever really loved each other.

Beep. What is . . . I don’t know?

Ding. Ding. Ding.

Correct. That puts you in the lead.

“I think she spends it on groceries, Dad.”

He gives a laugh. “And eBay. A whole bunch of crap nobody else wants. That’s what she buys. She’s a hoarder.” His hands start to shake real bad.

Reba walks into the room holding fancy plates piled with food.

“Don’t talk about her like that.” I feel like leaving. It’s so shitty of him to talk about her like she isn’t human. I bet he and Reba talk about her, and me, all the time. How our house is always a mess with all the cats, and how we don’t have a car anymore because it stopped working and it was easier to sell than fix. Anyway, it was a Ford Delusion. We practically owned stock in Exxon and jumper cables. I look down at my bedazzled shirt and see a couple of holes and tons of cat hair.

Reba lowers a plate in front of me, and all I can do is sit there and stare at its arrangement of layered chicken with glossy peas and little almonds on top. I can’t eat. I just pick, looking for bacteria, like Mom said, that might kill me. I don’t really think Reba would kill me on purpose, but maybe she’d do it on a Freudian level, so I won’t be around anymore to clutter her life with Dad. Of course, she’s the one who wants me to come over. Why?

Beep. What is . . . ‘Because she wants to embarrass you?’

New Book Release!

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Well, not to get too excited, but I am happy! This book was truly a  labor of love. A seven-year process. I hope you get a chance to pick it up (kindle for the moment) and I really hope you enjoy reading about fifteen-year-old Frankie Weaver, and cats, and silent movies. Frankie Weaver is a funny girl and I love that. As a writer, I was surprised to find myself laughing out loud at some of the things she says. And then as I watched The Carol Burnett Show reruns each night before hitting the sack, I had an epiphany that I had drawn up Miss Burnett in Frankie without even knowing it. A redhead funny girl who loves movies and whose father is an alcoholic. My own father ran reels in our local theater, and was an alcoholic. It’s all a far-off connection, but real. So real.

Mostly it’s about life. So, if you like life, you’ll love this book!

Thank you for stopping by.

Amazon link

In commemoration of the new Star Wars movie, a shameless scene from my book

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photo credit: 70s Lino via photopin (license)

 

In the small Midwestern town of Stultz, you don’t haggle over which movie to see. The fact is, there’s only one: Star Wars. It came out in ’77 and never left the theater. And now that it’s well into ’78, everyone’s got the darn thing memorized. Keith isn’t thinking too much about Darth Vader or Yoda or how to save the Universe from a dark entity. The dark entity is his heart. If only he had a light saber to protect it.

 

From The Starlights:

The popcorn is too salty. I’m going to suck all my soda before the movie even starts. I’m down to ice when the familiar Star Wars theme starts up. We’re halfway through when I look over and see Mark slipping Birdie the tongue, and she’s letting him. She likes it. I never would have figured. Her for him. Him for her. I seem to be wrong about so many things, even things about myself. I know nothing. Absolutely nothing.

“Fuck,” I say, grabbing my pop. “I need a refill.”

“Can you do mine too?” Sally asks, and I grab her empty cup and head down the aisle. This is going to cost me and I wish I would’ve taken some of that money, but not all of it. Just enough to get by without sending the message to Suzanne that I’m a loser. She must think I’m one if she hasn’t called all week. It’s like she’s avoiding me. It hurts. It hurts so much.

I want to be with Sally, I still love her too, but now she’s annoying to me because I can’t have Suzanne. Everything’s rubbing me the wrong way. I just wanna scream, break something, get in a fight. In the lobby I see Doug Flemming and Carl Yoder, the guys Mark and I battled back at Garbucci’s Pizza a few weeks ago. It seems like longer than that. I’ve avoided them at school, and they’ve avoided me. But maybe we shouldn’t be avoiding each other anymore. I’m still pissed about the guitar. Sure, I got a new one, but that first one was the real one. The one I wanted. Someone’s always taking shit from me, holding it out of reach. When Carl walks past with an armload of snacks, I stick my foot out a few inches and watch him go down in a cascade of popcorn and Coca-Cola. I even call him an asshole and laugh about it because, what a klutz, right? Other people are laughing too.

He looks up from the stained lobby carpet with Dots and melting Junior Mints everywhere, and I swear he’s got smoke coming out of his ears, just like in those old cartoons. “Did you do that on purpose?” he asks.

I shrug. Can’t wipe the smirk off my face, though I know I outta. This feels too good. Losing my guitar doesn’t hurt so much now. It’s been killing me since it happened and now I feel happy. But yeah, I’m a little scared too. Carl’s a big guy, and here comes Doug with a crapload of snacks balanced on his Popeye forearms.

“I saw you stick your foot out, fucker. We’ll be waiting for you after the movie.”

“Really? I’m trembling.”

“You should be.” He shoves a handful of popcorn into his mouth.

“Oink,” I say, before heading back to the movie. Carl’s still picking up all his shit.

But then when I sit down next to Sally, it starts to sink in. What I just did. Sure, I felt like fighting, but not the girls, not Mark. Look what happened last time we met these guys? I hand Sally her Coke and slide down in my seat. Princess Leia is flying around on a motorcycle thingy with Luke Skywalker and I feel like I got lead in my soul. A little bit later, Doug and Carl pass by and I catch their eyes. Pissed. Off.

“Crap.”

“What is it?”

“Doug and Carl. I’m worried.”

She watches them head down to the front section of the theater where Barbara and Tricia sit with their feet hiked up on the next row of seats.

“They don’t scare me,” Sally says.

You don’t have to fight them.”

“Why does anybody have to fight them? Did they bug you out in the lobby?”

“Yeah. Something like that.”

“Well, I’m not worried.” She keeps staring at me in the dark and I don’t know why. Finally I turn to look at her. “What?”

She eyes my face for a long time, and I can tell she wants me to kiss her.

“Don’t you want to watch the movie?” I ask.

“No.”

“But this is the part with Yoda.”

“I don’t give a shit.” Her hand slides to my chest.

I lean in and give her a kiss and I’m so confused I can’t think straight. I really do love her, don’t I? Sally is hotter than ten boxes of Hot Tamales stuck together. I love the way she looks, talks. I love that she’s not like all the other girls. But she’s not Suzanne. She’ll never be Suzanne, and that’s the problem. After a few minutes, I shove her off and throw my head back to breathe.

“Has your mom been busy or something? How come she never answers the phone when I call your house?”

“What?”

“She never answers anymore. Does she hate me or something?”

That hand leaves my chest and there’s only a weird coldness afterwards. She gets out of her seat. I grab her arm.

“Where are you going?”

“Somewhere. Anywhere.”

“Why? What did I say?”

She yanks my hand off. Mark and Birdie have stopped tasting each other long enough to watch the current goings on. “Sally!” I get up and follow her down the aisle. She’s fast. She should join track. “Sally, hold up!” We’re nearing the lobby.

“You asshole. You still love her, don’t you?”

“Love who? Come on, Sally. Stop walking.” Too late, she’s already in the girl’s bathroom. I’d follow, but it’s right next to concessions and there’s a bunch of people watching. “Shit.” I lean against the doorway. And wait. Chicks come and go. Ten minutes pass by. I hear toilets flushing and water going on and off. A sour smell wafts out every once in a while. “Please, Sally,” I say with my head rested into my arm. Every girl that comes out gives me the look, the one that says I suck huge donkey balls.

I stop one girl with red hair and ask if she’ll tell the hot girl with black hair to come out before the movie’s over. “And tell her I’m sorry!” A few minutes later Sally comes to the door, and her face is all splotchy red.

“Jesus.” I cram my hands into my back pockets.

We head back into the movie theater. Mark and Birdie crane their heads up as we sit down.

“I’m sorry, Sally.”

“Who cares?”

“I really am. I shouldn’t have mentioned her.”

“But you can’t help it. You love her.” She starts to sniffle.

“I don’t love her. I don’t.” I reach and grab her hand. I lean in to kiss her again. “You know that.”

Her lips are salty from the tears and sweet from the candy. She’s trembling. I want to kiss it all away, make her believe me, even if I don’t believe myself. I’ll fix this. I’ll forget Suzanne. That’s the answer, ain’t it? Suzanne is wrecking my life and it’s time I did something about it. I gotta stop caring, stop thinking, about her. Mark said so, Eric said so.

We kiss until the movie’s about to end, then pick up our stuff and get the hell out of there. I’m relieved, because it means I can avoid Doug and Carl. Everything’s better now. Sally likes me again. That lead feeling eases from my body and I put an arm around Sally’s shoulder when we head into the street.

We walk to Mark’s place. We play a word game.

“Star Wars,” Mark says, then changes it to, “Scar Wars.”

“Scar Wad,” I say.

“Suck Wad,” Mark says.

“Obi-Wan Kenobi,” Birdie says.

“Open van and boobies,” Mark says.

We all laugh.

“How about, Death Star?” I ask.

“Porn Star,” Mark says.

“That’s all you think about,” Birdie says.

“Sex? It only takes up a small portion of my brain capacity. The rest is full on fucking genius.”

“I’m sure it is.”

“I don’t even have to study. College is too fucking easy.” We don’t talk about why Mark’s not in college anymore or what happened a few weeks ago with the pills. I’m glad Mark is happy. Still don’t know why he likes Birdie so much. He sees things I can’t, but whatever, at least he’s not lying on the floor anymore.

Sally’s still trembling from the cold. A few blocks and we’ll be there, I tell her. Then we can hang out for a while. I wish I had the Pontiac already. I’ll take the test in a few days and then it’ll be mine. God, life can’t be so easy all of a sudden. I don’t trust it. But maybe it can, if I forget Suzanne.

It’s over, it’s over.

A car pulls up.

“Hey motherfuckers, we waited for you after the movie.”

“Just keep walking,” I say. Mark’s face, it’s white like milk.

“What do they want? I thought we settled shit with these assholes already.”

“I got into it with them out in the lobby earlier. I tried to fix things, but they’re determined.” What a fucking liar I am. I should just admit I started the whole thing, but I feel so bad. Doug’s hanging out the driver’s side window of his Ford and Carl is next to him, a metal bar in his hands. Christ, I’m gonna piss my pants right there in the street. “Sorry you tripped in the lobby, but it ain’t my fault.” My teeth are knocking together.

“Yeah, sure it ain’t.” The car stops, the guys get out. We’re a block from the apartments. When they rush at us, I tell Sally to get the fuck out of the way. Go the fuck home. She and Birdie scramble to the ditch and I think one of them’s crying.

All I can do is punch at whatever is nearby, which happens to be Carl. He’s got that metal bar. I feel the sick thud of it slam against my shoulder. It’s exactly like I always thought it would be, pain so bad you wanna fall down and die. Then it hits me in the neck. He was aiming for my head. I manage to grab it before he strikes again, and throw it into someone’s front yard. Now I have to keep up with his fists, and who knows what’s happening to Mark? It’s all a hurricane of knuckles. I zero in on one of Carl’s blue eyes and give it a good slug. Crack. Then I go for his nose. I miss. He’s got me in an arm lock and then my face is in the street. Jesus, hell, it hurts. Maybe my tooth’s even knocked out or something. I hate these guys so much. If I had that metal bar, I’d crack both of their head’s open wide, and who cares about prison? Who cares about anything? I just hate them so much.

“Trip me again, motherfucker, and see what happens.” Carl slams a boot into my ribs. I cry out. He kicks me three more times, and I wonder if he’ll keep going, but then Birdie and Sally have found that metal bar and one of them’s swinging it at him. They’re saying all sorts of horrible things, and then they’re at the Ford, smashing it in too. The front headlights explode. I want to get up and help, but I can’t move at all. I can’t even breathe.

One thing I can do, is look at Mark. He’s bent over, holding his wrist like it’s broken or something.

After the guys drive off, I try to roll over. Something splinters inside me. All my bones, cracking at once. Or maybe just that one rib. Sally comes running over and tries to help out. “Don’t move if it hurts,” she says.

“Too late. Oh God.” I run a tongue along all my teeth. They’re still there. “Do I look like shit?”

“Your eye’s swollen. Can you get up?”

I try. It still hurts too much. “Hold on.” I count to twenty and take a few deep breaths, and get to my feet. Then I’m running to the ditch to vomit, which hurts worse than anything at all.

Mark is still holding that wrist.

We make it to his place and he and I fall onto his couch at the same time. Birdie stands near the door and Sally runs to the kitchen sink to get a wet dishrag. She checks in the freezer for ice. The trays are still empty.

“Do you think he broke it?” she asks, pulling up my shirt. Her fingers are little knives against the skin. The rag feels good though.

“Maybe. I’m gonna kill him.”

“Don’t even talk to him. Carl Yoder is a grade-A douchebag, and you know it. Just stay away from him, and Doug. Did you really do what he said back at the movies?”

“I might have. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Mark.” I turn my head and look at him, but he’s staring at the blank TV set. Birdie’s still standing over by the door. “I’ve fucked everything up, haven’t I? I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to.”

Mark breaks out of his silence and kicks at his coffee table. “I’ll buy a fucking gun tomorrow. That’ll teach those assholes.”

You can purchase The Starlights here: Amazon