Ode to Converse


People wondered why we didn’t work
What happened
When it seemed we were a perfect fit
Our pro list outweighed the cons

How to explain the intangible discomfort
The puzzle that fit but was jarring to the eye
The plaid and polka dots and stripes all vying for attention
Within a dusty slate

Like wearing rented bowling shoes
They don’t fit quite right
They smell a bit funny
They look a bit tacky
You have to tread carefully
Because it’s easy to slip and fall

Like the most beautifully sexy pair of heels
That were too tight and hurt with the first step
Like the ungainly weatherproof boots
That smothered you from the elements
Like the cozy slippers, filthy and fungal
That you knew needed to be discarded

Nothing could satisfactorily cover the naked foot
And I didn’t realize it until I found Converse to comfort me.

Exit Stage Right

She sat on the hard chair on the stage squinting to see beyond the stage lights. There was a man speaking to the assemblage. Was it an audience? A tribunal? She knew it would be her turn to speak soon, but as she had just arrived in this body, she had no idea what she would say. The girl who used to live here felt like an imposter, now Janet WAS an imposter.

The old man, thankfully, droned on and on, reveling in the sound of his own monotone basso voice. He was quoting poets and entrepreneurs as if joining the two in a sentence wasn’t supposed to be jarring. She tried listening but after he butchered a quote from Keats, she tuned him right the hell out. Hearing a muffled chuckle, she realized she wasn’t alone waiting on stage. A young man sat next to her, head down, hand up to his chin, partially covering his mouth. Yes. He was laughing. She looked at him with eyebrows up. He looked back and whispered to her, “If you can keep your wits about you while all others are losing theirs, the world will be yours.” She looked at him questioningly. “That’s what he was trying to say. He said ‘friends.’ Maybe he hasn’t any.” She barely knew what he was saying, but she liked the twinkle in his eye and smiled anyway.

She wondered how much longer before she had to take center stage. The floodlights shined like interrogation lamps back at her. As if reading her thoughts, the man next to her leaned a little and said softly, “I think we’re gonna be here a long while.” While he smiled, she felt herself relax just a fraction. She looked around, hoping for a clue or a sign as to where she was. There were a lot of young faces in the crowd. A school perhaps? The room was not shaped like a typical auditorium. Maybe a theater. There were thick red curtains. If only she could run behind them and have some time to figure out She looked at her clothes and then at the man next to her. They both wore some sort of black corsets with fishnet stockings. Wait. That’s what she wore. He wore a dark suit with a red plaid bow tie. What the hell was this?

“Janet? Are you OK?” the man next to her asked.
“I don’t know,” she honestly said. “I… I’m not feeling like myself.”
“You look pale. Let’s get you some fresh air.”
“But we can’t just leave, can we?”

He took her hand and led her behind the curtain stage right. Somewhere in her cluttered memory she knew of an adage about bad luck and exiting stage right and saying something Scottish, but it was all a jumble. She tried to just focus on breathing normally when she realized he was still holding her hand. She struggled with what to say.

“Thank you. I think I’m all right now. I just need…”
What did she need? Someone to tell her who she was? Where she was? Why she was wearing a corset and was about to speak to a theater full of young people?

“It’s OK,” he said very softly. He led her to a dressing room nearby and they sat on soft chairs somewhat covered by discarded clothing and fabric. It was quieter and darker and she could breathe. Especially with him still holding her hand. She wasn’t sure what would happen if he let go.

“You’re a Warper right?”
He smiled. “You have a small red tattoo behind your right ear that looks like lips. I can tell you’ve done the Time Warp. I have too. I’m Brad.”
Flickering images suddenly behind her eyelids. Fishnets, lipstick, stars, music. She HAD done the Time Warp. And she wanted to do it again. But not alone. Not anymore.
“Can we Warp together” she asked.
“Oh, my yes,” he said pulling her into a warm embrace. “I’ve waited a long time for you and I’m not letting you go. Let’s dance.”
And they went back out on stage, hopping and grinning.

Stay Hungry


So hungry. She put her sunglasses on and adjusted her cap as she walked across the parking lot. She chose a large shopping cart and headed into the grocery store. She could still taste her last meal on her tongue… a little salty. Mmmm. Maybe something sweet would be nice now. Something small. A little morsel. She turned down the candy aisle. There was a little girl picking out a bag of lollipops. That looked good. She was young, tender. Her parents were nowhere in sight.

No! Not in the middle of the afternoon! She couldn’t do this again!

She took a bag of marshmallows, smiled at the girl and kept walking. She felt herself growing warm with anger, thankful to still feel something. That meant the change was not complete yet. Damn him! Here she was, stuck in this small town, lured by his charm. The few nights they spent together, the “love bites” she still word under her turtleneck, all were still fresh and where was he? What was he for that matter? She needed answers. Her afternoons at the library had not turned up much; just some fables and fairy tales involving the undead. But she felt so alive! How could she be dying? Colors were brighter, taste tangier; smells were sharper, sounds clearer, touch, more intense. Other than being cold all the time, she felt very much alive, in a heightened sense, like the time she tried smoking dope in college.

She took off her glasses and turned into the aisle with chips and pretzels. Maybe people would see her bloodshot eyes and just think she was stoned and not a zombie shopping for a snack.

Don’t look at me and judge my choices, she thought as she put several bags of chips in the cart on top of the cases of soda. We all have to survive. She hurried past the fish and poultry and honed in on the smell of blood. The butcher was grinding some meat behind the counter. She stood there a little too long, feeling the drool pooling in her mouth. God, that smells good, she thought. I’m so damn hungry!

Throwing some fresh meat in her cart, she walked past the pharmacy, bumping into an old man with a cane. So easy, she thought. He was slow, seemed confused. Ah, but he weighed nothing. Not very nourishing. No! Not here at the grocery store! But where? Where else could she shop for the food she most wanted? Where else could she go without people judging her choices?

She drove the car loaded with sugar and salty snacks and drove to the old trailer outside of town. Maybe he’d come back today. Maybe he could help her or at least explain what was happening to her. Yeah, and maybe she’d finally have a good hair day. Or maybe her mother would stop trying to set her up with friends’ single sons.

She was putting the last of the food away when he walked in the door, dragging a cooler on the ground. He was smiling and looking a little less grey than when she had last seen him. He smiled at her and said “Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas.” Then he opened the cooler, which she then noticed had a hospital logo printed on its side. Oooooh, God. The smell was even better than a Thanksgiving dinner.

Blood, marrow, brains… he had brought her the world. Better than diamonds.

Eternal Shine of a Haunted Mind


Like setting up shop in a haunted house. That’s what he said he felt when he was plugged in to my thoughts. Well, it was his own fault for choosing the Eternal Shine of the Mind option rather than the Eternal Shine of the Ass option. He could have had squeaky clean rear instead of a mind cluttered with disturbing ideas.

The problem wasn’t the technology. As usual, the man just couldn’t leave well enough alone and follow directions. He had to follow his own way. And that led him to my cobwebbed-brain. Scientists found you couldn’t completely erase memories or ideas (trying to ease the pain of trauma victims unfortunately turned them into Cuckoo’s Nest zombies). But you could “scrub them clean” and alter their content. The tricky part was inserting ideas that wouldn’t further upset the patient. Scientists found that scientists weren’t very good at coming up with soothing thoughts. Long story short, after researching, they began tapping into storytellers for ideas that could soothe or inspire.

That’s where I came in. I had the unfortunate talent of being able to write treacle for greeting card companies. I could churn out that crap like there was no tomorrow. Need a pick-me-up for when you’re sick? Missing a deceased pet? Got a new job? Having a baby? Proud of letting another driver pull ahead of you in traffic? I had the perfect words to put in a card for the occasion. So eventually I was tapped by the Eternal Shining Bodies scientists.

I supplied the teams with ideas of picnics and clouds and carousels. Then I met him. He was a charmer. (Like a snake charmer, now that I think about it). He was on the R & D team, looking into the possibility or inserting edgier ideas into willing subjects, the hopes being high for future filmmakers and authors to cut away from the mediocre offerings of Hollywood. But before long, edgier ideas became harder to come by. He found from our late night excursions my predilection for the dark, disturbed, deranged. (Don’t ask. This is not that kind of story.) He wanted to know first-hand what it was like to have that kind of mental edge. So we hooked up over some wires and some electrodes and some other stuff that’s not that important here and we opened a link between us. I saw mental images that would have been right at home in 1950’s Levittown. He saw things that could have existed on Elm Street (as in Nightmare, get it?).

There was a snafu with the electrodes and when we logged off, we found we were still connected. And not in a loving, mushy way of feeling joined with another soul but in a spooky, annoying way. I didn’t want to know how often he wanted to grab himself or how he wanted to know the number of marshmallows he could fit in his mouth at once. He didn’t want to know… well, do I really have to share my dark thoughts here? Can’t you just imagine a few? Remember, this story started with his comment about my brain being like a musty attic. Or something like that.

So my ideas sold, movies grew more textured and there were novels that read like literary snuff films. My deranged thoughts were in high demand with an ever-growing segment of the patient population. Not just creative bohemians but white collar workers who wanted a glimpse at danger without putting themselves at risk. What started as an elite group who could afford the high test thoughts (and coincidentally they were the same people with the largest space for rent mentally) became an addiction for those who dabbled. They wanted dark. Odd. Scary. Otherwordly. Little romances about vampires and adventures about wizards weren’t enough of an escape for many.

So I toiled and wallowed a bit on the dark side. Funny how keeping myself in a dark place mentally was so easy and how it actually helped me lighten up in my real life, recall my dormant sense of humor. But that was hard for him to take. He really liked his version of Pleasantville. Being connected to me brought him success yes but also to a place he felt left him adrift. He once told me that he couldn’t get the image out of his head of walking through a never-ending corridor with flames at his back preventing turning around but with rushing water coming straight for him, threatening to drown him. He said he got that feeling every time he was near me. Not exactly roses and endearments a woman waits to hear.

We thought physical distance would help sever our bond. We parted briefly but were brought back together by forces stronger than any fiction. Our senses dulled by distance, we could still read each other’s thoughts from across the state. I no longer knew his every thought but I knew when he felt anger or fear or arousal. He knew when I felt joy or despair. There ultimately came a day when our wayward thoughts led us rushing back to each other, speeding on the highways in the blustery early spring. It may sound completely absurd, but our cars barreled toward each other. I could see through his eyes the landscape rushing by. He could see my view of his oncoming car. We smashed into each other and melded and fused in as many metal, grisly pieces as you can imagine. But our conjoined thoughts… they’re still there, in the ether. You may pick up on them sometimes when you have an odd thought or get scared on a sunny day.

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