The Music

Light shines into my charred room and illuminates one tiny patch of unblemished floor. songSomewhere, in the background, a piano plays Rachminoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” – both melancholy and sanguine. All those enchanting chords bounce off the barren four-walled space and remind me something is waiting for me outside. Hope. I touch the light. I feel it’s warmth on my hand. I let a smile spread across my face.

Someone, somewhere, believes in me. I need to believe in me too.

A cloud covers the light, and I’m plunged back into darkness. Stepping into the corner, I touch the walls. Fire has scorched the room. My fire. Anger over my inadequacy will never diminish. I’m in a prison of my own making. The music swells but is swallowed by blackened wood. Faint traces of “Stairway to Heaven” reach my ears and fade.

I will never amount to anything.

I crouch into the corner and tremble. When will this end? I think of all the times I have tried to escape my fate. I am reminded of all the times I failed in some way. I have spent the better part of my adult life being told “You’re so smart. You’ll go places.”, but that hasn’t happened yet. Am I meant to be a permanent reminder to all? You can work hard and do everything in your power to get ahead in life but “in the end, it is about who you know and not what you know.” I have had opportunities to achieve my dreams, and every time I have lost. I’m a failure. Maybe it’s time to give up on moving up?

The clouds fade away, and the light returns. It shines into the other three edges of my self-made cell and touches my toes, my fingers. The tempo changes. It’s a full orchestra – it’s a choir – it’s Mozart’s “Requiem in D Minor”.

“You got the job!” I hear over the throng.

Success. I have finally reached the success I’ve craved.

The warmth tries to envelope me, but I inch further into the adjoining walls. I stand rigid as the light creeps closer. It tries to cover me whole, but I won’t let it, shrinking further into that dark recess. Why is my fear and anger of inadequacy still here? Why does it dominate so? I want to be happy.

I want to be happy.

(Feature image source)

The Principal’s Office

I clutched the note in my hand and walked through the halls of the school with a 10lb backpack swung across my right shoulder. My eyes were focused on the toes of my shoes, each step harder than the previous. My knees seemed to buckle under the pressure of the words stamped across the top of the note: “From the Principal’s Office.”

The weight of the letters was heavier than the six textbooks I carried. What could the principal want from me?

I was a band and choir geek. In that small Texas town, sports were more important than the arts, so it couldn’t be about that. I wasn’t the smartest kid in school, so I wouldn’t be winning some award. I wasn’t naughty. I don’t think I was, at least.

I approached the office desk. The long countertop stretched out across my full field of vision. The dark hallways gave way to a light-filled administrative space speckled with desks three times longer than any students are allowed. Of the staff of six, none bothered to even look up at me.

I rubbed the note between my fingers until the edge was rolled into a mini scroll. I shifted my weight and swallowed to spite the dryness in my throat.

One of the staff coughed uncomfortably without even looking up from her desk, and finally a clerk shot up and walked to stand in front of me on the other side of the counter.

“Yes?”

My mouth opened, and a tiny squeal escaped. I handed her the note, and heat swelled my cheeks.

“Oh. Yes. This way,” she said.

She pointed towards a door around the corner, and I followed her direction.

The principal was waiting for me behind a large oak desk. His pensive look, complete with pen in mouth, stared back at me from within.

I stepped forward and heard the door close behind me before he spoke, “Please take a seat, Melony.”

I nodded and sat down in the first of two cushioned chairs.

“One of your peers,” he said before a slight cough. His eyes fell to his desk before looking at me again. “One of your peers has lodged a concern with my office today.”

My eyes narrowed. What did I do? I don’t remember. 

“They saw something yesterday. At your home,” he continued.

My head lifted a tad and eyes grew. A girl was riding on my street yesterday. I remembered her pedaling past when Daddy…

“Oh that was nothing,” I blurted out.

The image of the moment was burned into my mind. Daddy was drunk. He was angry. I don’t even remember why. The why was never important.

“This is a very serious accusation,” the principal said, swallowing air loudly. “She says he was hitting you.”

Daddy’s tirade had started and ended in the carport. He held in his hands a splintered wooden rake. It may have been the source of the anger, but I couldn’t even remember the next day. He swung it into the post sending showers of wood into the three of us. We crouched to avoid chunks landing on our face or eyes. The onslaught continued until the rake was in two.

I shook my head, “He wasn’t. I promise. Daddy has never hit us.”

I blinked sending tiny drops down my cheeks, and I sniffed the moisture away.

The principal crossed the room and sat beside me. “If you ever need someone to talk to, my office is always open.”

I acknowledged him with a nod, but all I kept thinking was don’t send us away. Please don’t take me from my family. Please don’t take me from my daddy.

“If anything ever happens, you’ll be the first to know,” I said. I stared straight into his eyes and drove the lie home.

He patted my shoulder, smiled, and sent me on my way.

I walked out of the office burdened by the weight of my books and the certainty that life was about to get a whole lot more complicated. He would have to report this to Child Protective Services. He had a duty of care to his students. There would be an investigation, and just like last time, I would be ripped from my parents’ arms.

But there was no investigation. His duty of care must not extend to students who don’t want out of their abusive homes. There were no calls made to my parents. My worst fears were not realized. 

I kept the exchange to myself, life moved on, and I continued to travel along it on a roller coaster with a drunk conductor.

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The Arcade

Rachel’s stomach churned as the acrid stench filled her lungs. She tossed what remained of her chocolate bar aside and steeled herself through the broken glass door.

It was well past midnight and well past her bedtime too. She could hear her big brother, Vinnie, laughing uproariously. Somehow, he had coerced her to tag along with temptations of wholesome fun. So far his version of excitement was breaking curfew, trespassing, and vandalism.

“This used to be the place to be,” Vinnie said. His voice rebounded off the grey walls.

“What happened?” Rachel asked nervously. Shards of glass cracked beneath her feet.

Ash and dust settled into her throat, and she tried to expel it with a cough.

“A fire. Bad wiring or something,” Vinnie said.

Rachel shuddered. 

“Doesn’t look like anyone has had our idea,” Vinnie snickered. “Throw me the bag.”

“There won’t be any money left in them,” Rachel said with a grunt.

“Don’t be such a girl!” Vinnie said as he grabbed the bag mid-air.

The temperature was dropping inside, but Rachel tried to ignore it. Her nerves were already frayed. This was not her idea of fun.

The video arcade was a shell of its former self. The pinball machines and games still stood, but not much was left of them. The marquees, sides and bezels were either blackened or destroyed.

Rachel shuffled around the arcade and rubbed her arms. She was at the next aisle of machines when movement caught her eye. With a jump, she turned to see if it had been Vinnie.

Vinnie was still pulling out screwdrivers from the bag.

She walked down the aisle, heart in throat, and attempted to investigate.

A streak ran past her and knocked the wind out of her. 

A light breath touched her ear, “You should not be here!”

The hairs on the back of her neck stood up. With a scream, Rachel ran, and the arcade sprang to life. 8-bit sounds echoed, and the machines flashed shades of green, blue, red, and yellow.

“Vinnie!” she called as she rounded the corner. His hands were on a pinball machine, and his eyes fixed on the flashing lights. He didn’t even acknowledge her.

She pinched herself and blinked to make sure it was real. All around her the arcade games were playing themselves. The buttons were moving up and down, and the sticks moved left and right, forward and back.

Panicked, she sprinted back to Vinnie. The pinball machine buzzed with messages of “High-score! Double!” Vinnie high-fived the air as cheers and laughter rose in the room.

Rachel shook her head and rubbed her eyes. When she reopened them, she saw group of kids standing around her brother. Their heads turned toward her with toothy grins and villainous eyes.

With a shriek, she stepped back; her hand landed squarely on the closest machine, sending a jolt through her body.

“Play,” she heard.

She pulled away and called out to Vinnie. He turned to look at her.

“Play,” he said. His soulless gaze peered right through her.

She coughed and held her hand over her mouth as a haziness settled on the room.

Her mind cloudy and her chest tight, she spun towards the door. Smoke filled the room and blanketed it in a fog, but still she tried to push forward. She stumbled and struggled to regain her balance. Somehow she knew if she touched the machines, she’d be lost.

The sound of the games echoed in every chamber of her mind, and she longed to play. One game. That’s all. Just one round.

Her fingers grazed the machine. She pushed away but returned a second later, unable to resist the chilly invitation.

“Your turn,” the voices echoed.

Mesmerized, her hands clutched the joysticks, and she started the game. 

“You’re mine,” a single voice said.

Her reflection shone through from the monitor. Her own sinister eyes and venomous smile stared back, but she just smiled deeper and laughed.

Rachel ignored the cold embrace, ignored the pulling on her soul, even ignored the fire surrounding her. Her eyes stayed fixed on the little 8-bit hero on her screen, on her opponent, and on her score. She was one with the machine, and she was never leaving this arcade.

 

 

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The Dog Park

“I hate them, almost as much as the people who brings them,” he grumbled. His greying eyes half-squinted, half-glared at the scene outside. The low guttural exultation left clouds on the window behind the blinds.

A tiny bark was followed by a louder bark. He smashed his cane against the window frame, shaking the vertical plastic, and yelled, “Shuddem up!”

Outside, a couple turned their heads, but they just smiled and waved at the grouch. They turned back to their chatter, lattes in hand, and barely paying attention to the dogs running around them. 

He lifted his phone from the telephone table beside him and dialed a number.

“Thank you for calling Harmony City Council. Your call is very important to us. Please select the extension you require. For general enqui-”

He smashed his finger down on the keypad and waited. The hold music made him grind his teeth. 

“Good morning, Mr Alsop,” a tired voice on the other end said.

“Not a good morning, sweetheart. Not a good morning at all.”

“I understand, Mr Alsop. I’ve explained to you. Your complaint has been registered. We have to follow procedure.”

“Fuckyourprocedure!” 

“We need more than a complaint from one person. We have even issued letters to every neighbor. No one else is complaining about the dog park.”

“You politicians don’ care about me. You tell that mayor I won’ be voting for her next election.”

He slammed the phone down on the receiver and stared out the window. 

Mr Alsop watched as a Pomeranian and Wippet drank water from the same chained bowl. His scowl loosened to contemplative if only briefly. He watched as the owners put leashes back on the dogs and led them out of the park. He even watched until it seemed that no more dogs would come back and the sun set in the horizon. 

When darkness fell across the dog park, the crotchety old man left his house with a large bottle. He shuffled across his front lawn and across the street to the gate of the park. A chuckle rose from his throat. 

***

A few of days later, Mr Alsop stepped out of his home; a big smile was across his face. He glanced over at the empty dog park and stifled a laugh. 

He was barely aware when the police pulled up in front of his house. It wasn’t until the moment that the police cuffed him that his revelry was broken. 

He stared the police down and let out an uproarious laugh. “I don’ care if you lock me up. It was all worth it!”
 
 
 

Doing Stupid Shit

I was pretty sure that night I was going to get drunk. It had only really happened one other time in my life, and at 23 I was running out of time to do stupid shit and be able to blame it on the booze. My friends, Robby and Kurt, were keen to just have a quiet night in Robby’s apartment with some drinks, weed, and then a party later that evening. I decided to tag along since Robby and Kurt were both in relationships. Their significant others were working and at study, respectively, so I was pretty safe with them. I also had no desire to be with either one.

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Yep, a bit like this

We started at the bar around the corner from where we all worked. The number of drinks I had proved what a lightweight I really was. We went to the liquor store after and grabbed a big bottle of sangria. I’d heard the name before. Apparently it was tasty. I didn’t realize that sangria shouldn’t be bought in a bottle in a liquor store at that time. I thought I was being posh.

We took them back to Robby’s place and enjoyed a glass or two. Then the weed came out.

Tipsy. So tipsy.

“You should show me your breasts,” Robby said, breaking my revelry.

What the hell did he just say?

“No!” I said, indignant.

Robby laughed as my face turned red. “I was only joking.”

I joined in the laugh. It wasn’t funny. Uhh, maybe it was.

I looked down at my glass. So very empty. How long since I last filled it? I walked to the bottle of Sangria sitting on the counter-top and poured. The remaining drops of the bottle trickled out. Why didn’t I buy more than one? Was I not meant to drink this much? I think I wasn’t. Hmm. It’s fine. I’m fine.

I take another swallow and laugh at the joke Kurt just told. I clumsily settle back down into the couch and giggled at the blurriness of the room.

“If you show me your boobs, I’ll show you my dick,” Robby said.

“No! I’m not that kind of girl,” I said.

I wonder what it would be like to see an actual willy. I’ve never seen one before. In fact, until earlier this year I was disgusted by the thought of sex.

He’s got a girlfriend, though! He shouldn’t be asking me this.

We smoked another joint. I confessed my virginity. He confessed he was fourteen when he lost his. It was a weird bonding experience.

“You definitely should show me your boobs,” he said with a wink.

I stared at him for a moment before I said, “No.”

He really needed to stop saying it. It was starting to annoy me.

I emptied my glass, and he poured me a glass of something. I drank it all. As the final dregs dropped, he stood up and laughed, “Boobies.”

Ughhh! Why won’t he just shut up about it already? I told him no three times.

“Fine! If only to get you to shut up about it,” I said as the fury took hold.

I stood up and lifted my top, revealing my bra. I dropped my shirt as fast as I lifted.

“No. I want to see them. Not your bra,” he mocked.

Ugh! Fine!

I lifted my top and my bra with it. He unzipped his pants and revealed himself, “Oh, look! It likes you!”

I gasped and stormed out of the room. Kurt had sat staring at the screen trying to sink as low as he could into the cushions.

Robby received a call moments later. The party had started. I told him, “I’m ready to go home.”

“That’s fine. We’ll drop you home, then,” Kurt said, pulling my arm towards the apartment door.

Robby let out a boisterous bellow and grabbed his keys.

As he locked the door, he muttered, “I wonder if your vag is as nice as your breasts.”

I tried to slap him, but I lost balance and had to use the wall to right myself again.

“Let’s just get her home,” Kurt said.

My place was only ten minutes away from his, so it would be a short trip. But it seemed to go for hours. My head swayed and eyes couldn’t focus. The world was a whirlwind of lights and bitumen.

“How’s about it?” Robby said. “I wouldn’t do anything. Just look.”

“No.”

I laid my head on the door and tried to drown out his laughter.

Kurt said something on my behalf, but I missed every word, consumed in anger, frustration and annoyance.

“It’s not like I’m going to stick it in. It’ll be completely harmless,” he suggested.

“No.”

“I’m just playing. I don’t really want to see it. It’s probably just a bunch of bush anyway.”

My head snapped up and glared at him. “Whatever.”

We pull up towards my townhouse. As the car slows down, he winked at me, “Bet you do want me to see it. I know you do.”

“FINE! Shut up. Just shut up. Come up and look and leave,” I growled.

But Kurt jumped out of the car the moment it stopped and helped me up the stairs forcing Robby to stay in the car.

“Get some rest,” he said, as he helped me balance.

I opened the door, staggered inside, closed it, and screamed.

I sat in the dark for another twenty minutes before my housemate came home and saw me, tears streaming down my face and onto my knees.

As I recounted the night, his fists clenched tighter and tighter. The natural reaction a man should have when a woman is taken advantage of.

I recovered, albeit slowly. I decided then and there I had used my quota of doing stupid shit when I was drunk.