Their houses are on the hill. Near the temple. In the richest neighborhood of the whole city. Lights blink on and off from square boxes. They clap their hands and rub them. They stuff their mouths with chocolate or salty popcorn and crack their knees or their backs or their necks. Or they line up lines of powder to sniff and they burn chemicals. Breathe them in and blow them out. Whatever it takes to light up. Spark up. Bring some fireworks to their oversized mutated brains.
All the housewives have been getting up early to head to the mall to find the perfect stockings. Others are heading to the gym to tone up their legs or to the beauty salon to even out their skin tones. A few of the mothers are showing their daughters how to apply make-up. Not too nice but just enough to make them look good.
And the men? They button up their shirts to their chins and strangle their necks with knotted cloth. They come home late. They don’t know what happens during daylight hours.
A tall blond is going door to door making everyone try them on. Pink shoes. He has movie star good looks. Mothers comment on his flat stomach. They can see the ripples. And his pencil mustache. Un- ironic. He pulls out his boyish dimple to offset his muscular frame. He knows the handshakes. He has the orders. A light blinks across his forehead. A long line of lights zooming one way then the other. Fast to the right; slow to the left. They say zrooommm zroom. When he comes to Klara’s house we will be long gone. On a greyhound to Vegas or Reno.
BETTER TO BURN OUT THAN FADE AWAY
I rolled up the bottom of my jeans for her. To be like retro 80’s Candy. Imagined her hand touching the bottom of my belly. She ran her finger around her shirt buttons. Slowly. In circles. And I wanted to make the hay with her. I drew comics for her. She was Wonder Woman and I was Cat Woman. I gave her Marvel. I told her if we had world enough and time her coyness wouldn’t be a crime. But it was a crime. We had neither world nor time. She just kept saying Rachel honey and shaking her tush for YouTube. I told her she hadn’t listened to the songs or seen the movie. Growing old doesn’t just suck. It more than sucks. I told her to gather her rosebuds. And she just smiled. Said I was already an old fart. A sappy old fart.
She stood there with her hands in her jeans pocket. She said Rachel honey. Rachel honey. Rachel honey. I might have honey but I was also horny. Horny for love. What is love? Silly question. No one knows. OK maybe we do. It is the only thing that really has meaning. But it’s gotten all twisted. OK maybe it’s not so simple. In our biology class the guys thought they were all cool and rational when they said love is nature’s trick to get us to make more life. Make babies. And we live in an animal world. The only purpose is to make more life. More of our kind.
Klara put her hand into her back pocket. Her back pocket had a little upside triangle that said Guess. And she was guess. She was the spokeswoman for guess. She said guess what. She said guess with a perky voice. She said guess guess guess with gusto and élan and esparto de coup. She was the trivia champion of Chokecherry Ave. When she played the trivia machines she pocketed enough money to pay for our spa day. We got facials and body scrubs and hot rocks and streaming water and still water and water falls and a warm white robe. I watched all the bubbles in her bubble tea as she sucked them into her straw. I looked into her shiny face. I can only guess if she saw what I saw.
Candy. Candy was older than us. She wore a different Duran Duran t-shirt everyday. She wanted to film french kissing. And upload it to youtube. I said what makes us so special. I said everyone thinks they are special. She said if we didn’t want to be in her movie then that was fine. Just fine. Our loss. She said she could make the movie viral. And don’t we want to go viral. Klara said viral sounds like a disease.
We watched 21 Jump Street from the 80’s. Candy believed the 80’s was the last great era of self expression and now we had been smutted. Sold out. But who did we sell out to I said. She shook her head. Said if you don’t get it you don’t get it. Maybe someday when we were older we would get it.
Candy stopped playing spin the bottle after that. She said she was tired of pretending. We followed her one day and saw her in an abandoned building with a Johnny Depp 21 Jump Street look-alive. She banged her hair. Popped her gum. That guy struck a match and lit her extra long cigarette. She blew the smoke from the side of her mouth.
WAITING FOR THE PARACHUTE TO OPEN
I am a kid of Arville. Arville apartments. When we were kids Klara and I gathered in the desert near the apartments. We shot a little miniature rocket into the air. We watched it climb and climb. Waiting for its parachute to open. I was shielding my eyes from that bright noonday sun but Klara just looked straight into it. We waited and waited but the miniature rocket just kept going.
PRETTY IN PRAGUE
Klara was pretty in Prague. I was her Russian frog. We didn’t have a costume for the frog. She had everything for her Czech princess. I hopped around. I didn’t mind. When we kissed she put her hand in front of her mouth. So I kissed her hand. One day I moved her hand away when she wasn’t expecting it. We didn’t get carried away. But her lips had electricity. From all the shuffling on the carpet with our socks. She laughed. I laughed too. But I was having another kind of electricity. Or not exactly electricity. That’s not right. More like going over the camel humps on our BMX bikes. That feeling you get in the stomach.
MORE ORANGE THAN RED
I dyed my hair red. Like Molly Ringwald. But it’s more orange than red. And that’s OK too. What makes me so different? I have some taste. I didn’t have to choose between a suave guy and a nice guy who gets me nowhere with my peers. I didn’t have that problem. It was just me and Klara. And Klara liked Pretty in Pink too.
Klara spent her Saturdays researching the handshakes in the library. Her mum told me she dropped her off in the mornings and she stayed there all day reading. Then she came home right before our weekly youth dance and threw on some clothes. She never wanted to get ready with me anymore. I told her I like to pick out clothes that match the inner me. She said yes yes. But I don’t think she gets it. I don’t think she gets me anymore. When she saw the look on my face she did the giggle and everything was fine again. That’s just Klara I thought. No biggy.
He was looking for the right foot. The right handshake. The sign of the nail. The patriarchal grip.
We built a fort in the desert and we played dress up. We had been educated in the retro. Klara was Mad Max. She put on goggles. We stockpiled weapons. All roads lead to war she said. I said come on. All roads lead to love too. And she said that was shitty. War and love. Love and war. She said it was all pathetic. Klara said it was better to create your own world. That insanity was sanity and sanity was insanity and death. She said we needed to stockpile ninja stars and black outfits.
LIPSTICK ON TEETH
When we put lipstick on each other I said we can rub our lips together to even out the lipstick. That was our second kiss. I brushed her lips with my lips. I did a good job. But Klara got some of the lipstick on my front teeth. I kept it there for the whole school day. As a reminder. But she didn’t even notice.
The blond policemen taps his nightstick against his cotton trousers. He is wearing a suit. A fitted suit with a silver tie. When he knocks on the doors he puts the nightstick away. And the lights on his forehead stop zooming.
He is all smiles for the mothers. He is coming for their daughters. He sucks the straw of his Big Gulp and blue liquid slides up. He sticks his thumb between his belt and belly and unclips a black beeper. He’s got the shoes in his hands. All the mothers are waiting.
A BLOODY SPONGE
Klara said our brain was a bloody sponge. A big bloody sponge. I said it was more complicated than that. She agreed and then she switched her image. She said our brain was a big chewed gum ball. I said OK. Fine. But who’s doing the chewing?
And she didn’t answer.
She looked down. She said no no. Our brain was a big bloody sponge.
Then she pulled out the book. It was hidden inside a bloody sponge.
The Arville children were all over the desert on little trucks. Klara tucked in her shirt and pulled out some cans of near beer and we sat on a red rock and drank them. We had a burping contest. I said I think I feel something happening. She said don’t be silly. It’s not real beer. Then she got that look. That look she kept getting lately. And she waved her arms around. She said none of this. None of this is real. I listened to her latest but really I was just watching her mouth move. Watching the way her lips moved up and down and her tongue move to the front of her teeth and back again as she made sounds with her mouth.
THE CINDERELLA COP
I am waiting behind a wall near Klara’s house. I have the tickets in my hands. I have the cash in my bag. I have seen the movies and read the books. I know the problems of the world. We can work our way up from greasy spoons. We don’t belong here.
The cop taps his nightstick against his cotton trousers as he knocks on Klara’s door. Her mother is running around in an excited panic. I can hear shuffling and scraping and pleading. And then I see Klara walk down the stairs from her room. In full make-up. It doesn’t look like her. Her mother has her elbow. She is smiling. And putting her finger at the corner of Klara’s mouth. Making her mouth turn up. Getting her to smile. Showing her how to walk. Showing her the way to place her hands. Straightening out her hair. And then I see Candy. Candy is at the bottom of the stairs. Waiting for Klara. Klara stumbles in her high heels. And Candy grabs her other elbow as they open the door. The Cinderella cop does not put his nightstick away. His beeper beeps. The lights zoom across his forehead.
Marcus Slease was born in Portadown, N. Ireland and immigrated to the Las Vegas at age 12. He has lived all over the world as a teacher of English as a foreign language and is the author of five books of poetry. Recent poetry, flash plays and fiction have appeared (or are coming soon) in: Forklift Ohio, Gesture, Have U Seen My Whale, Thought Catalog, Juice is Dead, Gayng, Housefire Books, Metazen, So and So Magazine, Spork, InDigest, NAP, and Little White Lies (among others). Part one of The House of Zabka, a bizarro fairy tale from Poland, is forthcoming in 2013 from Deathless Press and Poor Claudia just released his latest book of poetry Mu (so) Dream (window). He lives in London and blogs at Never Mind the Beasts.