Writing

Nonfiction — “Honest Seafood”

My sister will not eat seafood. She is a brown-haired, brown-eyed girl, all inherited from my mother, and she is picky, an inheritance from no one. Or perhaps a suspicious ancestor—maybe the caveman who ate the poisoned mushroom?

We (the boys) are wide, sandy, blue-eyed beasts. We’ll eat anything, be it a bagel or small dog. It’s that cavalier attitude Mom rewarded with meals that stretched the definition of food. She was not the best cook, and sometimes pizza would be recast as “lumps,” or toast as “carcinogens with a side of yeast.” Nor was she the most honest about ingredients. She wanted us to eat, after all.

So, Sis found herself in a constant state of seafood consumption. She’d eat tacos and realize afterward: “These were fish tacos!” She’d eat red beans and rice to discover soggy shrimp.

My poor sister. She’s had more sushi than a sushi chef.

Writing

Fiction — “Little Omens”

There were millions of diners, but Grandma Dee only cared for three. They were the breakfast buffet at the Country Village Senior Center, a small commissary, and an old Mom & Pop’s which after a lengthy annulment was now just Pop’s. Dee would assemble an exact dish of eggs and sausage and toast, order a side of bacon, then fold the bacon into her napkin for the cats.

It was usually up to me to navigate the conversation unless she had a newspaper, in which she found the poor guy at 7/11 who slit his throat or the latest development in privatizing the lake. Dee blended superstition with the rituals of life. A day without the eggs, without sausage and bacon, without newspapers, was a day that would go poorly.

So we were drinking coffee and sitting by the dusty windows at Pop’s, a lot greasier and sadder now that Mom was gone, on the verge of delivering three cats to an animal shelter to be put down at $25 a piece. Neither of us liked the idea of a cat ceasing to exist on our own initiative, but Dee’s backyard had become a breeding ground for gingery longhairs and they were marking and leaving litters. If they got in, they’d chew through bread bags and piss in discrete places. This hadn’t stopped Dee from tossing them cat feed and giving them the garage and, as mentioned, bringing them leftovers, but now that a county retirement was becoming a reality and Grandpa was gone…

“Grandma, you have any superstitions?” I asked while we paid the check.

“God, maybe.”

“Be serious.”

Writing

Fiction — “Dulcinea”

[I wrote this story based on a prompt that a friend gave me: “What if your grandmother had super powers?” I tried my best to take this mediocre concept and turn it into something engaging. I failed. Here’s the messy result.]

The first thing Grandma did when she found she had super powers was beat up her son.

Dad had built walls around her in fits of helpfulness. He’d segregated her backyard with chain-link fences, here a horse pen, here a chicken coop, there pigs. A fence divided the car and the RV, a fence corralled the garden, a third formed an antechamber between the street and house. Then Dad worried about the clutter. Porcelain tea pots, trash bags of old acting costumes, a broken washer/dryer being used as an ironing board, memento pictures in memento picture frames. Every plastic memory. Better get rid of it.

He filled those jumbo storage containers. The ones you get from Staples. In one day, he shipped all her life’s savings to Salvation Army. He’d abused her when he had the advantage. Now the advantage was hers.

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Life

Nonfiction — “Static Movement (Family)”

My parents are an amazing, oblivious people. After a quarter of a century, their clumsy attempts have ceased to be frustrating⁠—have, instead, slipped into the realm of ridiculousness. I hope I don’t come off as condescending. It’s just that through their undertaking to gratify my interests or reject them, I have been able to understand my parents as the loving, literal-minded, and culturally-stunted people they are.

Growing up, every experience had to be shared or rejected. If they couldn’t understand it, or if my younger siblings couldn’t take part, than my involvement was betraying the family’s interests. There was this notion that the family had to stick together, which is probably why I wasn’t allowed on sleepovers⁠—Dad and Mom couldn’t come.

And everything was shared, especially toys, even if it meant scratching all of my DVDs and scattering my legos between my siblings’ rooms. I was banned from watching television unless we were all watching it, and I didn’t care much for Fox News.

My bedroom had a window which looked into the living room. Or, from a more accurate perspective, my parents sitting on the couch in the living room could look into my room. My door locked from the outside.

Hiding in the restroom with a book became my escape from the ant colony. I was intrigued by the savor of stories, the sweet and sour taste of lies, the pasty sweet smack and blackened results of poetry, the prologue’s d’oeuvres and the epilogue’s bitter aftertaste. I began to regard my parents’ diet as having a sort of rot that their tongues, burnt, numbed or blunted by scriptural verbatim, could not detect.

For a long time I wasn’t aware of their literalism (paired, as it often was, with an unwillingness to participate in pop culture). I read The Hobbit, and enjoyed it, but wasn’t allowed to start Lord of The Rings because it was “unchristian.” (I did anyway.) But I could read Every Young Man’s Battle, the Biblical Art of War against masturbation.

Imagine my confusion when Dad recommended I read The Screwtape Letters. I was disappointed to find very little screwing.