Category Archives: Fiction

Alternate Ending

It was the Sickness that made them go. It was the Sickness that won the war. Without it, Longhorn and all the First People would have been decimated. Armed with only knives and skill, the white man’s guns would have killed them all.

It was south in Peacehope’s hills, the ones covered with scrub pine and carved by arroyos, that the white man first became ill. It began with a fever. Sometimes Peacehope’s babies would catch it. Some would pull through, some not. In the lands far west with the longest beaches, the Sickness would sometimes bring down entire families. But most years, it was only the very old and very young who succumbed, and the medicine men and women knew many herbs and healings.

The white man had no such knowledge. They lay in their square tents, burning. If the fever didn’t break within three days, there was no getting better. The white man buried his brothers in large holes in the ground, pounded wooden sticks lashed together in the shape of a T next to the sites. Peacehope, Longhorn, even Angry Cloud respected the holes in the earth filled with dead white men.

Soon there were more men in the holes than digging them. The remaining who could walk ran to the coastlines. Those east of the Great River found ships waiting for them.

Here, Longhorn and the Winners of the Great Battle watched their last foe climb aboard.

As the boats pushed off from the shore, Longhorn stood atop the hill. His robes of white animal hides hung to his ankles, his necklaces of teeth and bones grazed his ribs. Thousands of his people stood behind him, dotting the landscape like buffalo on a western plain.

Thank the sky and the rain and power of the wind for this white man, thought Longhorn. Without him we would still be warring tribes, looting, slashing, losing men and women and children to pride and ego.

Now, thought Longhorn as he craned his neck to watch the sails of the seven large wooden ships catch in a wind headed east, we are one.

A great tribe united by a common enemy.

f12936_174878258506c4df1b925219ff549874

Peaches Part I

He went to the farmer’s market every Sunday afternoon. He bought onions, red and yellow, from the stand that let shoppers stuff a plastic bag with produce for ten dollars. He packed in carrots, potatoes, rutabagas, patty-pan squash, spinach, melons and green beans. Sometimes he lingered by the Kettle Korn stand, chatting with the owners, a middle-aged couple, as they stoked their enormous black furnace. He usually picked up a baguette to eat with dinner that evening, and every once in a while, a box of strawberries or blueberries to sprinkle on his breakfast cereal. But what he really wanted to buy, more than anything else, was peaches.

Western slope peaches, from C & R Farms in Palisade. The C & R stand was always completely loaded with peaches, dripping with the ripe, fuzzy fruit. White paper bags bulging with peaches covered every inch of the four tables set up under the red and white C & R sign. Little white bags cost five dollars and big bags cost ten. If he looked at the peach stand from halfway across the market, (as he was prone to do, for longish periods of time) from in front of the Sunflower Bakery’s booth, for instance, and squinted his eyes, the white paper bags bedecking the peach stand from Palisade began to spell out love poems by Rumi, their semicircular, upright handles morphing into exotic Arabic text, slanting invitingly in the bright Colorado sun.

He never bought any peaches, but not for lack of money. His pockets had enough cash to bring home the entire truckload of C & R’s cargo. He wasn’t allergic to the fruit, either. He liked the taste, though not as well as green apples, which were his favorite fruit by far. In fact, his favorite snack was green apples and chocolate covered granola bars, eaten very carefully by taking one bite of apple, and then one bite of bar, and then repeating this process in order until finished.

Peaches. They were no apples, but they were alright. But he never bought a single one because he couldn’t get up the nerve to approach the woman selling them, the farmer herself. She was the most delicious, exotic, exciting woman he had seen in a long time. Her hair was peroxide blonde and fell, slightly wavy and very dried out from too much bleach and blow-drying, just to her shoulders. Her face was tanned, either from a life of picking peaches in the sun or from roasting in one of those Fake-n-Bake salons. The skin on her arms and hands was leathery and wrinkled. Her face was not a beautiful face, by standards, or an ugly face either. Her rather long nose drew attention away from her eyes and mouth.

But her face was not her most noteworthy feature—nor her nose nor her arms nor even her hair. No, what had caught his eye that first Sunday and what he stared at now, were the dozens of silver bracelets lining her forearms like the armor of a twelfth century Crusader. Her collections of shiny silver bracelets began at both wrists and did not end until one or two inches away from her elbows. The bracelets appeared, at a distance, to be made from good quality silver (perhaps sterling) mixed in with some of the cheaper bangle-y kind. They made a wonderful jangling noise as she picked up bags of peaches and put them back down, reached into crates to pull out more bags of peaches, and plunged her hands into her apron pockets to make change for customers. Chink, chink, the bracelets never ceased. CCHHHSSHHH. They made a continuous whirring noise, the white noise of silver that to him was a lullaby, lovely background music, the soundtrack to the Farmer’s Market.

Clink, clack, swish, bsshhhh. She packed and unpacked, lifted and reached. He popped a cherry tomato into his mouth and stared at her. Why on earth would a farmer wear so much jewelry? Was the first thing he wondered when he saw her that spring Sunday, back in April, after wandering into the market out of boredom after church. The parking lot where the whole shebang went down was close to his house, on his way home from Grace Presbyterian. That day his hand put the blinker on like it had a mind of its own and the next thing he knew he had pulled in and parked his car. He recognized some of his fellow parishioners wandering around in the sun out there in front of Ace Hardware and couldn’t help but think they looked kind of funny, all dressed in their Sunday best, Mr. and Mrs. Lipkel treading daintily across the steaming tar towards a farm stand manned by tobacco-chewing teenage boys. He sat there behind the steering wheel for a few minutes listening to the end of This American Life on NPR before getting out of the car. And then he heard them. Swwwiissssssssssssssh. Clack. Tinkle tinkle click. Bssshhhhhhhh. Unlike the other organic sounds of the market, paper bags crumpling, bread ripping, coffee slurping, the silver bracelets lining the peach farmer’s arms banged against each other in a metallic, mesmerizing reverie.

Florence had never worn any jewelry but her wedding ring. It was a thin gold band with a miniscule diamond popping up out of it, better suited for slicing open skin than impressing people. Florence was why he had been going to Grace Presbyterian for the last 25 years. She never actually forced him to anything, but he couldn’t have let her go to church alone. After Florence died, he kept going to church on Sundays. But they had never stopped at this market. The sun was hot and Florence wouldn’t have liked that. But she would have loved the smell of the fresh-baked bread at the Fiona’s booth. The cinnamon raisin cakes and the black-olive and rosemary round crusty loaves. She would have liked the young mother with her curly-haired 3-year-old daughter selling homemade soaps at the Earth Sun Moon Organics tent. Florence’s sensible shoes with the black rubber soles and sturdy black laces would have protected her feet from the hot sticky asphalt of the parking lot. But Florence didn’t eat peaches.

He took a giant and loud bite of a Granny Smith he’d just paid a dollar for from Grant Family Farms and stared across the piles of fertilizer and compost at the forearm-armored peach farmer, whirring away at her brisk sales. Pastor Greg had suggested that innovation keeps the brain young and vital in today’s sermon. His right hand fluttered about his front and back pants pockets checking for his wallet, his keys. Maybe he would buy some of that cilantro he’d seen for sale at the booth on the corner, the one with the giant white coolers stuffed with grass-fed chickens, and sprinkle it on his microwave burrito tonight at dinner. He’d heard that cilantro was delicious.

For Real

1-lot-2-Mannequin-Manequin-Manikin-Dress-Form-Display-Children-Mannequin-Dress-Form-Flexible-Child-Flexible

Marta stared at the human forms dominating the window display at Champion Sports. She dreamed of sneaking in at night and switching these hulking, grey, male mannequins with the lean, white, female ones from Forever 21–the ones with the high-heeled feet. The Champions would gather in groups, shoulder to shoulder, angled as if to whisper secrets to each other, sporting yellow lace tops, mullet skirts and thin leather belts over their buff bodies. The Forever 21s would place fists on hips, tilt petite chins into the air and show off Nike swooshed shorts, two-piece tankinis and New Orleans Saints caps.

The new a.m. manager at the Cinnamonster, wearing a name tag that read Josh, smiled as he handed Marta her coffee. “Will that be all, ma’am?” She still hadn’t gotten used to being called that, after nearly a year in the South.

The bags under Josh’s eyes hinted at a hangover. Settling her coffee into its holder atop the baby stroller, Marta remembered the last hangover she had. It was three or four years ago, after a friend’s Christmas party back in Colorado when she’d stayed up all night doing shots of Jagermeister with some guy she didn’t know. They had missed her husband’s buddy’s wedding the next day because she couldn’t stop vomiting until four in the afternoon.

Marta unhooked the tray from the stroller and let Jackson climb out. He padded off down the empty, half-lit corridor, waving his arms over his head. The mall in its early morning hours was cool, quiet, and free of charge. Occasionally, the security guard would stop and tell her the same story about spending a winter in Cheyenne back when he was a drummer in a band, or one of the older women who sometimes speed-walked in sneakers would squeal “It’s my little buddy!” as Jackson waddled past.

But today the halls were empty. Marta steered her son towards the gumball machines and gazed at the two-foot high mannequins at Baby Gap, their cloth bodies sewn together at the joints, carrying plastic buckets and shovels to the beach.

The Moment that Ate Stu Fairchild

He stood perfectly still. A vein in his upper leg twitched with anticipation. The sweat on his palms felt cold and damp. A mosquito bounced around his face.DSC01838

“Come on!” yelled one of the swimmers bobbing below him, out of sight from where he stood on the cliff. “Just do it!”

Fifteen or twenty feet back from the edge, he could barely hear their voices, the splashes of their treading.

““You can do it, Stu!” He recognized Christina’s voice through all the others. Lovely, sweet Christina in her pale yellow bikini. Her voice washed over him like molasses and Stu imagined what her slender body would feel like in the water, her bare legs pumping out and down in the scissors kick, knocking into his, strong from running the fifty-yard dash. He imagined his hands on her smooth, tiny waist, untying her top from behind, just under the surface of the water where no one else would see.

But the water looked a mile away. The grass ended ten feet in front of him, and then there was just exposed rock. After that, after the edge of the cliff, was a blank space and then flat blue water, so far away, water further out into the lake than where his friends floated, waiting for him, calling his name.

In diving, there is a moment when the diver must subvert the rational mind. The intellect of a human being cannot agree to the suggestion of hurling the body into thin air, of handing the reins of life so calmly and completely to gravity and chance. The mind will never agree to this suggestion. It tugs at the diver, pulls him away from the idea. It knows better.

In order to achieve a dive, one must go round this intellect. Sidestep it. The diver steps to the side of his rational mind like a stream of spilled water on a kitchen table that bumps into a saltshaker on its way to the edge. The water hesitates for a split second, then changes direction, pivoting left or right or sometimes in both directions to get around its obstacle.

In this split second, Stu Fairchild was trapped.

Sitting in his kitchen in his motorized wheelchair, thirty years since he stood on that cliff (or any cliff for that matter) Stu slipped into that moment again, for the one hundred billionth time, and stared blankly at the side of the refrigerator.

He could feel the grass and the small rocks pressing into the bottom of his feet as he clenched his toes into the earth. The mosquito now hovered just outside his left ear, threatening to invade. He heard his friends splashing in the water below, the sound of the wind in the trees overhead. He felt the roadblock of fear in his mind and realized, clearly, quickly and completely that in order to jump he would need to disobey his own mind.

The stream of water gathered, stood still with all the potential of the future, then burst to the left.

Stu’s feet pounded the already matted grass. He pumped his arms to gain momentum. He inhaled a deep breath to last until he resurfaced from his plunge and flung his body off the side of the cliff.

“Carla!” called Stu, irritably to his nighttime aid, who was probably curled up the armchair in his living room, flipping through one of his AARP magazines and listening to her iPod. He just wanted a soda, but needed Carla to open the refrigerator door, lift the can off the shelf, tug open that silver aluminum tab and place it in the cup-holder welded onto the side of his chair.

Carla didn’t answer.

Stu never thought about what happened next—the moments that followed the moment that all divers experience. He never replayed his head hitting the boulder, so unsuspectingly lurking just under the surface, the blood in the water, or his friends screaming. Christina with red all over her pretty bikini, running in tiny streams down her smooth, wet stomach as they struggled to carry his limp body out of the water.

No, it was the moment that preceded that horrible series of events that lived in his wrecked body like a parasite, dominating him from the inside. The moment lived within him at all times, sometimes dormant, more often rearing its head in the night, larger than life, bigger than the universe.

“Carla?!” Stu rolled his head agitatedly around on top of his neck, the only movement that still came freely to him, the only act any part of his body other than his face could commit to convey his emotions, his personality, his desires.

He felt the grass under his toes. He heard the mosquito just outside his left ear and the whish of the wind in the cottonwood leaves.

“Carlaaaa!”

He heard the laugh of beautiful Christina, bobbing on the surface, her wet shiny locks floating in circles like seaweed around her shoulders.

But this time, Stu could not escape. The walls of his kitchen gave way to the woods of his youth. Where wallpaper had hung were now trees and the hum of his frig became the ring of late afternoon bugs.

The beige khakis covering Stu’s atrophied legs began to quiver. The mosquito buzzed. His hands, having felt nothing for three decades, began to twitch. His fingers wiggled. The sun began to set over the blue water.

Carla, setting down the AARP magazine, uncurled her legs stiffly and rose out of the chair. She pulled the earphones from her ears as she walked slowly down the hallway towards the kitchen, wondering vaguely if she should make herself a cup of tea while she was up.

Rounding the corner, Carla froze in the doorway. Where Stu had been sitting, now stood an enormous wicked Moment with legs like tree trunks and the hair ribbons of young, innocent girls in its teeth. Its muscles rippling with power, it stood tall, agile and erect.

It smelled like the slow-motion memories of right before a car wreck, and had the gleam of perpetual torture in its eyes as it worked its lips slowly into a smile. The spokes of Stu’s wheelchair formed its gigantic teeth and its head swarmed with mosquitoes. Water dripped off its awful body and spread out across the linoleum floor. It wore only men’s swim trunks, red with a number seven on the side. Like an athlete’s number, thought Carla, like a track runner’s shorts.