To Grandmother’s House We Go

“I want zhir to taste me in zhir mouth,” the young woman said to the witch. She had been heartbroken by a short-haired kid in worn Chuck Taylors who worked on the line at Olive Garden. “Whenever zhe kisses anyone else, and zhe will, believe me, I want zhir to taste me.”

“I’ll need a kiss, first,” said the witch, “so that I know what I’m replicating.” The young woman, so pissed, so insulted at this heartbreak, leaned in and kissed the witch like she was trying to suffocate the old woman. “That will do.” The witch said.

After the girl left, the witch got on the internet, went to Google Witch (witch.google.com), spoke some magic words, typed some Latin phrases, and got access to a search engine that would make the NSA fall over in jealousy (though the NSA should take heart, because we all know Google will kill Google Witch sooner or later, since it has such a small, albeit loyal, userbase). She typed in the short-haired kid’s name and was able to see the short-haired kid through any reflective surface zhe went by—blurry in the stainless steel fridges at work, sharp but dark in the tinted windows of zhir car, and finally, clear as a bell, in the mirror in zhir bathroom, zhir flank long and smooth, zhir fingers lingering right at the softest bit of zhir slight belly.

And there was someone else with zhir, a tall artist in his white briefs. He came up behind zhir and leaned around and, just when he was about to kiss zhir, the witch opened her mouth, gently eased her tongue out, and set the artist’s mouth to tasting like the witch’s angry, jilted client.

On this went for weeks, the witch ruining a string of sweet kisses for the short-haired kid. She would never venture far from her laptop, carrying it with her to the bathroom so that she wouldn’t miss even a sneaked smooch. Every one of them, ruined for the short-haired kid by the taste of zhir old love.

But as must happen (or this wouldn’t be much of a story), the witch saw something on her screen she hadn’t expected. The short-haired kid went for a drive (the witch watching in the mirrors) and ended up at a small house on the other side of town. Zhe knocked at the door and, eventually, a little old lady answered. The witch couldn’t hear what they were talking about, but she watched as the short-haired kid changed a lightbulb for the old woman, helped her get her garbage to the curb, and then sat on the couch with her while she went through some old photo albums.

The witch called for a crow to come to her aid. “Go find out who that old woman is!”

While the crow was gone, the witch continued to watch as the short-haired kid did dishes after the old woman had fixed them lunch. Say what you want about zhir catting around, zhe was very good to this old woman.

“What’s their deal?” the witch asked the crow when it returned.

“That’s your client’s grandmother,” the crow said. The crow had learned the old woman’s name, so the witch opened up another tab and began to watch the grandmother. She learned that the grandmother was very popular in her neighborhood and that the neighbors were as good as one could hope about checking up on her. She learned that the ladies from church would drive the grandmother to services and to the supermarket. The short-haired kid visited once a week, usually the day before garbage day. Zhe took the cans to the curb. A neighbor brought them back. And the witch learned that her client seemed to never go to her grandmother’s house.

“Well, perhaps she’s sweet now, but was a tyrant when my client was younger,” the witch said to the crow.

“How much younger could your client be?” the crow scoffed.

“Go check on that short-haired kid,” the witch waved the crow away, caught up in the charming dullness of the grandmother’s life.

But then there was the short-haired kid, once again, on the grandmother’s couch. “Does she have a cat?” the witch wondered out-loud to herself as she typed the question into that enchanted search engine. Yes, two—Jerry Garcia and Ken Kesey. “Oh, Granny,” said the witch, “you must have been fun in the 60s.”

Then the witch turned her thoughts to the cats and, just by thinking about it a little harder than you’ve ever tried, poof, she was listening to the grandmother of her client and the short-haired kid talking about life.

“Here’s the thing,” said the short-haired kid. “When we were together, I felt like I was drowning in her. Everywhere I went, there she was. If she wasn’t there, she was calling or texting or sending one of her friends to keep an eye on me. And, finally, I was like, well, fuck it, if I’m going to get treated like a cheater, I might as well cheat. And, for a while, that felt like freedom. But now, I still feel like I’m underwater with her and I can’t stand it.”

“Listen,” said the grandmother, who was more fragile than we’d hope someone who had been so vibrant and free could ever become, “when spreading yourself out to so many leads to heartache, take some time to be alone, to regroup. Think of your own metaphor. When you think you’re drowning, the first thing to do is not to grab a hold of others and drag them down with you, but to put your feet under you, and see if you can’t touch bottom. You’ll be surprised how often the water is more shallow than you realized.”

The witch slammed her computer shut. She looked around the house for anything that could be reflecting her, but she was careful. There was nothing. So, how could this grandmother have spoken words that would hit the witch so close to home?

The next time the short-haired kid went to kiss someone, the witch did not interfere. She was busy making her way to the grandmother’s house and knocking on the door and waiting in uncertainty, hoping she’d be let in.

Whatever came of it, her client never knew. She was already in love with someone else, always already too busy to visit her grandmother.

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Me. Fine. Me.

I don’t really like pictures of myself. I guess that’s pretty common. But then that dude painted a picture of me. And it kind of gave me the heebie jeebies. I can’t really explain it. I didn’t like it. And I didn’t like it not because I thought it didn’t look like me. I mean, I think that is recognizably me. But maybe because it was too much like me in ways that made me uncomfortable and not enough like me in the ways that I do comfort myself with. I mean, to be more specific, that even when I’m like “Oh, god, I feel hideous” I still rest assured that my hair will be doing something strange and wonderful because that is the nature of my hair. Or that, even if everything else is going wrong with my face, my eyes are nice. But I didn’t find those landmarks familiar in this face.

But then quite a few people all told me the same thing–that this looks like me in a moment they recognize, right before I laugh. Which, admittedly, is not a moment when I’m normally looking in the mirror. And then, this morning, my dad said, “I think it looks like my dad, like him before he laughed. I didn’t realize you shared that, but now I see it.”

And it has warmed my heart to that picture.

Last Night at Mad Donna’s

Aside from a little rain chasing us indoors, I think it went really well. From the stage, the bar looked like something from The Shining. The band, Old Hazelwood, did weird, creepy music while their daughters danced and provided background vocals. The girls added an extra layer of creepiness as they cheerfully sang about how terrible things were and the perils of Christmas. I mean, really, you have to imagine. Their dad was dressed in this really 1860s steamboat captain manner and their mom was all in black, with this cool black shawl and they were singing this really… well, I don’t have to describe it. This is them. And the girls were young, maybe five and seven? I’m bad about ages. But they were cute and smiley and had bouncy dances they did and sang with such enthusiasm and it was both hilarious, and also wonderfully weird. Like if you saw kids happily singing The Battle Hymn of the Republic, and not the burning of the school one.

I really liked reading the pieces I did back to back, since they dealt with the same thing–the Devil and Elizabeth Bennett’s affair–but the story deals with it as a legend and the piece I read from The Wolf’s Bane is how it works as a story between new lovers. It also made me proud because, though I think “The Devil Lives on Lewis Street, I Swear” is a good story, reading it back to back with something I wrote more recently (though, god, that’s been almost a year now, too. Publishing. It takes a while.) really showed me how much better a writer I’ve become.

God, honestly, how weird is it that I get to stand before people and read my shit and they like it? And it’s all because of this here blog and you good people encouraging me. I’ve been very lucky. Thanks, you guys. Thank you so much.

Speaking of The Wolf’s Bane, I got to see some concept art for one of the chapters last night. It’s so wild. It will never not feel completely and wonderfully ridiculous to know such talented people are so engaged with my work.

Anyway, it was a good night and, apparently, it will be some kind of podcast or internet radio show soon and I’ll post a link and you all can listen to it, if you like.