Muzzle blast cackles and Molotov cocktails,
Storefronts in blazes and ambulance sirens,
News choppers circling high overhead,
These are irrational, angry things.
Stomping on backs of some lost, lonely kittens,
Unloading bullets on women and children,
Giving some hobo a knife in the ribs,
These are irrational, angry things.
When the boss shouts,
When the bank calls,
When I'm feeling sad,
I'll simply act out on how poorly I feel,
And I won't feel so bad.
Strolling long-legged past downtown skyscrapers,
Name's in the radio and all the newspapers.
Bodies in heaps and blood running in streams,
These are irrational, angry things.
When the cops come,
When the judge's done,
They'll declare me mad.
They'll wheel me away to my padded cell,
And I won't feel so bad.
It's time for a sing along.
I've got a fist in my left pocket,
and I'm gonna punch out all your teeth.
I've got a knife in my left pocket,
and I'm gonna stick you full of holes.
I've got a gun in my left pocket,
and I'm gonna plug you full of lead.
I've got a bomb in my left pocket,
and I'm gonna make the news.
I've got a flower in my right pocket,
and I really wish you'd notice me.
A cold man slumps against a skyscraper
dreaming the days away as he sinks deeper into the bottle.
Meanwhile the salmon in the suits fighting the current
put their days up their noses.
The man in the snow's got that thousand yard stare
and Pete Townshend sings: "I can see for miles and miles..."
The bottle never fills but gets bigger every day.
Standing at the bottom looking up, its mouth laughs and stretches ever skyward.
Someone once said that there is no art without angst. If that's true, then what follows qualifies as art, though we have our doubts. We've always been skeptical of our own poetry. Nonetheless, for your reading pleasure we present you this week's feature, a poem entitled The Light Under The Basket, which reminds us that when times are dark you can rest assured that they can only get darker. And so, without further ado...
I prefer not to see the light shining through hard times.
When it’s dark you can’t see just how bad you have it.
But when even the faintest of light glimmers in, is when you realize
The mess that surrounds you.
If there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,
It’s probably the train headed my way.
Better that the light be off,
So that I needn’t see the number of the train that hits me.
Take me down. Put me in a cave. You can take my eyes but not my vision.
Lock me up. Throw me in a cage. You can take my wings but not my freedom.
Chain me down. Stick me in your irons. You can take my hands but not my works.
Stuff me up. Wire shut my jaw. You can take my mouth but not my...
If there's a certainty to life
It's that some things never change.
The universe is impotent,
Deaf, dumb, and deranged.
Once I knew the dream was dead,
The future all but lost,
I shed a tear and tossed the dirt,
Called a priest to make the cross.
And on my way to heaven
I got lost in the halls,
Knocking on the doorways
Painted on the walls.
Purgatory is a ten-hour layover in Madrid's Barajas airport.
To start, the enormity of the complex approximates the vast sameness you would expect from floating in a dimensionless limbo. Ground to ceiling, the place soars to thirty feet in height. Corridors stretch in seemingly endless straight lines -- looking far down along their paths, your eyesight gives out before you get even halfway through.
Walking the corridors end-to-end gives this bizarre feeling that you're not really going anywhere. Everything looks the same. It makes you question whether the sensation of the ground under your feet is truly real. Marching down the moving walkways doesn't help much. They just get you to your nowhere destination faster, if you ever get there at all.
And then there's the feeling of hollowness. The place is so big that whole sections are devoid of travelers. And when you do come across some lost souls, they've always got this blank expression that reflects how utterly lost they (and you) are.
Perhaps worst of all, the airport is quiet. I suppose when you're sent to purgatory, you're sent there to repent alone, in silence.
It sits on the bedpost and watches me as I lie here.
It isn’t much to look at, small and dark, only six inches tall, round hairless belly that never shakes when it laughs. Black eyes, all pupils, watch my blue, watery ones. When I look at its eyes, it looks into mine.
Drool spills down my cheek, but I can’t stop it. My twisted mouth opens more when I try to speak or call out for help, only increasing the stream. Six weeks I’ve been lying here, unmoving, watching it watching me.
Every two hours, a caretaker comes to my room, moving me into a new position to prevent bedsores. How do they know what feels comfortable? I can’t tell them, and they don’t usually ask. If they do, they pay no attention to my eyes straining to make contact with theirs.
My flannel sheets soften the hard mattress, but the large wrinkle pushing against my arthritic hip keeps me awake until I’m turned once again.
The staff are gentle, but hurried. They come and they go, leaving me with four beige walls, an empty bed next to mine for company and a window too far away to see. Sometimes, they change the television channel to a station they think my son said I like.
It drops down from the small gray TV set fastened to the wall onto my dresser, sitting now on top of the flower arrangement left by my pastor. It nibbles on the petals, turning their edges brown and withered. It belches and urinates on the flower. The plant wilts.
At two thirty, I face the clock on the wall. It’s an institutional style with large black numbers and a second hand painted red. The red hand hurries like the staff here, around and around, moving by rote, without thinking about what it’s doing or having what could be a conversation with the other hands. But, they at least catch up with one another occasionally and share gossip. I hear them whispering to It: “How long does she have? Where will you take her? How?”
It just smiles that wide-toothed grin, its greenish teeth gnashing and its black tongue waggling at me between its fangs.
Today, at six forty-five, my son Harold sits down on the bed beside me and takes my hand. He smiles and squeezes my fingers.
“How are you, Mom?” he whispers.
My eyes fill with tears, and he turns his head away from me.
“I brought you fresh flowers.” His voice strains to sound as cheerful as the bright card on the potted greenery, waxed and stiff, wrapped in purple foil and strangled with a bright white bow. He sets the large plant on the dresser in the exact spot as the last doomed cuttings. This one is still alive, its root ball crowded and overwatered, but, like me, yearning for the earth.
A knock on the door relieves him of further obligation. Harold kisses my forehead with promises of another visit tomorrow. I watch the back of his thinning hair as he disappears through the door, passing my next visitor.
It is back, swinging on the doorknob. It flies through the air and lands again on the bedpost, teetering there for a moment, then somersaulting onto the end of the bed to watch my treatment.
John, my physical therapist pulls my arm out and in. He moves my legs next, following the same rhythm, too fast. His tattooed arm lifts each leg, bending my knees. I watch the dragon tattoo swirl around his elbow, leave his arm to glide onto my sheets.
It leaps and lands on the dragon’s back. Long talons dig into the dragons scales; blood spurts onto the sheets and my face as they thrash on the blanket. I can taste the dragon’s blood in my open mouth. I try to spit, but only manage to drool again.
"I’ve got it, Mrs. Prendergast." The nice young man pulls a tissue from the box on my nightstand and dabs at my lips. “You’re moving much better tonight. Let’s see how you do tomorrow. I’ll get Wanda to give you your nightcap and maybe you can sleep better tonight."
He winks. "She said you were awake half the night. No midnight parties for you, you need your rest.” He laughs as he pats my arm.
The dragon has thrown It down beside me and slithers back onto John’s arm. There is no blood on him or on my sheets, but I still taste it.
The clock hands rest at eight and Nurse Allen comes in to change my urine bag. She adjusts my intravenous fluid bag, looking at her watch and flipping open a phone that she had concealed in her pants pocket, now playing a soft jazz tune. As she turns from my bed, It crawls under my bedspread. I lie on my back and watch the small lump move from the edge of the bed toward my leg. I feel its rough body climb onto my knee, pricking my skin with his claws.
It stands up now making a tent with its obscene body. The lump under the blanket waddles up my leg, pausing on my stomach. I feel its small weight pressing on my bladder. The blanket over me rises again and again as It
jumps in place, using my body its trampoline.
Nurse Allen turns back to glance over her shoulder at me, still arguing with her ten-year-old. She smiles at me before snapping her phone shut and sliding it into her pocket. “Your bag’s filling up again, Ms. P? I just changed it two minutes ago. I’ll bring another one later. Don’t do anything else before I get back, you hear?”
I hear the door shut and the sound of her laughter grows muffled. The blanket slowly rises and falls over my stomach. A loud snore comes from underneath. I feel Its cold weight curled up on me. I strain at my right arm and my arm moves, finally, after all these weeks. My right leg moves just a bit as well. The left side of my body lies still as death.
I move my right arm up and stare down towards my body. It is there, as I thought, snoring low now. It sounds like purring. My hand moves toward It and my fingers (bless them) open up to grasp. Its eyes fly open. A low growl rumbles between the green teeth that clamp down on my fingers. Blood seeps from my fingertips and I
scream silently. It releases my hand and I draw my fingers slowly to my face. It settles, satisfied to have made Its position clear, back on my stomach and closes it eyes.
Nurse Allen enters my room, sees the blood and my hand raised. "Oh, my goodness, Mrs. P., did you bite yourself? You must not be yourself. I’m going To have to restrain you."
She wraps my hand in a towel and pulls the alarm. Three orderlies race into the room and assist her in tying my legs and arms to the bedrails. My eyes shout to them, "Not me! Not me!" but they mistake my fear for anger.
The youngest orderly hangs back as if I might throw off my restraints and devour him next. He exits before Nurse Allen can explain that they need to visit me every hour tonight “until she calms down.”
“Mrs. P., I’m going to go call your son. He won’t be happy about this, but I’m getting off in thirty minutes. I can’t sit with you all night. Well, you take care. I’ll see you Tuesday. That’s two days from today, in case you’ve lost track.”
The door shuts again and she’s gone. They don’t bother to turn me this night, as that would entail undoing the crazy lady’s restraints. It sleeps, stretching occasionally, sometimes emitting an odor like stagnant ditch water. The stink permeates the room.
Sleep comes finally, just as sunlight pushes through the blinds.
I awake to Dr. Treble’s voice and his hands, removing my restraints. "Mrs. Prendergast, I hear you had an eventful night." He shines the pen light into my eyes.
It is awake now, too. It peeks out from beneath the blanket, yawns, and begins to crawl up toward my face. It wraps my hair tight around its claws and clambers up the side of my head. It sits on my forehead with a sickening squish as the doctor continues his examination. Its putrid odor wafts down to my nostrils.
“Can you move your arm again for me?” The doctor is moving my right arm. He lays my sore hand gently at my side. I close my eyes and will my arm to move. I raise my elbow a few inches into the air and stop before my arm flops back onto the bed. We continue in this manner for several minutes.
“This is splendid,” he concludes. “I was speaking with your son yesterday. I told him as soon as you could move and begin eating, you could go home with him. But, I’m not sure if it’s safe to discharge you if you continue to hurt yourself. Let’s give it a few more days. I’ll check back with you on Friday.”
He closes the beige folder with my name printed on the cover, hands it to Nurse Greene and leaves without looking back.
“Tch, tch,” It chides from my head. It slides backward down onto my nose so that its eyes are inches from mine. It rotates so that its bare buttocks face me, waggles its cheeks as it leans toward the tip of my nose and inserts
its fingers inside my nostrils. The sickening smell fills my head, my eyes water. I bring my hand halfway to my
face, and then remember.
Nurse Greene turns from filling my chart and sees my hand hovering in front of my bleeding nose. “Lord, she’s done it again,” she says. She bats at my hand, knocking it down on the bed and sending a pain soaring through my arm.
I moan, and this time the sound comes out loud and strong. It digs harder now; the blood flows across my mouth and onto the pillow. My head is turning. I’m turning my head! I shake it back and forth, but Its claws are
inside piercing my flesh It only retreats when Nurse Greene brings a wet washcloth over my nose. She pushes a button and I’m sitting up, the wet cold cloth a welcome relief.
It flicks blood droplets onto my face as it slides down my pillow. Jose and Gabriel, the day orderlies arrive and refasten my restraints. Nurse Greene inserts a needle into my IV fluid and I sleep.
Thursday arrives with tingling feelings in my left side. My left hand moves up a few inches. I grasp the blanket’s edge with my right and lift. It snores softly, head on the pillow It made from my nightgown. I lower the blanket squeezing the edge as I do, practicing, and building my strength.
A loud knock on my door startles It. I see the lump under my blanket rise; it tunnels toward me like a bed mole. It sits on my left cheek when John enters. He walks backward into the room pulling a wheelchair, tentative smile lighting up his young face.
“How’s my girl today?” he asks. “Feel like a spin around the farm?” I try to smile, but my face is still partially frozen. I imagine how grotesque I must look to him. He pretends not to notice while settling me into the chair, fastening enough straps to hold a gorilla, not an eighty-pound partially-paralyzed woman.
John places a cotton cloth in my right hand. “See how long you can hold this for me, Mrs. P.”
The cloth falls onto my lap as we enter the therapy room. I squeeze the fabric in my hand until the pain shoots up my wrist, and I count to eighty-five before my fingers release. How long does it take?
It does not follow us when we leave. It sits on my pillow, waiting, as I’m pulled back into my room, staring at me, black, thin lips drawn downward, eyes narrowed. I grasp John’s arm with my right hand as he lowers me to the bed.
It does not move. I raise my head to keep from touching down and John laughs.
“I won’t drop you, Mrs. P. Don’t worry.”
My head falls back onto Its mouth, open with teeth bared. They sink into my scalp and a scream leaves my lips. John scans my face, sees nothing and places his hand on my forehead. The blood seeps from beneath my head.
“Help!” I whisper, my voice gravelly from nonuse. Nurse Allen calls for the emergency doctor on site. I don’t know him or recognize his name. He and Harold whisper near my door, then throw looks back across their shoulders as they continue their conversation in the hallway.
Other voices come and go, some raised, some stammering. Harold becomes louder so that I can understand every few words.
“Needle... pillowcase? Irresponsible... morons! How could this happen? My mother...” Then, “My lawyer… not another night,” comes through the faux wood door.
Dr. Stevens appears by my bedside next, trembling, his large face reddish purple. “Mrs. Prendergast, I’m so sorry for what happened to you this morning. There was a terrible mistake… we’ll get to the bottom of this. Your son is taking you home. He’s bringing the car around. Is that okay with you?”
I stare past him. It sits on the bedpost, licking its thin black lips. I manage a twisted smile and narrow my eyes at It until It pushes out Its lower lip into a pout.
I wait until the doctor turns his back and then I push my tongue out between my teeth. I feel a laugh rising inside when It turns away, wrapping its arms around its body and rocking back and forth.
My son brings the wheelchair and John lifts me again, setting me down this time with only a waist belt attached. Harold pushes me toward the open door, spins me around and starts pulling me back.
Another wheelchair appears in the doorway being pushed by Jose. An old, frail woman stares ahead without seeing, weaving from side to side.
“Mrs. P.," says Jose, "meet Mrs. Johnson. She’s taking over your room."
Harold glares at him.
Jose moves the wheelchair over to the empty bed by the window and turns down the bedspread. As he lifts Mrs. Johnson onto the bed, It turns slowly. Black lips draw back from green teeth as It swings down from my bedpost,
scurries across the carpet and begins to climb up the bedspread of the other bed. I watch as her eyes grow wide, mouth frozen in silent scream.
I blink back the tears as I turn my head forward.
Harold rolls his eyes at Jose and leans into the wheelchair handles, pulling me out and into the hallway. We head to the glass door with the Welcome to Divine Care sign painted in silver flourishes.
I don’t look back.
About The Author
This piece, Mrs. Prendergast, was penned by Kathryn Rose Jacoby. She grew up catching fireflies and bees and making frog houses. In 2012 she published her first novel Delores Fletcher, Cobweb Catcher. She resides in eastern North Carolina with her husband, Henry, and their maltipoo, two tabby cats, and the occasional wild rabbit.
Story and photo by the author.
Connect with her:
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The alarm clock went off but it didn’t wake me, as I wasn’t asleep. I’d been up for hours lying in bed. Just thinking of the sleep I wasn’t getting was keeping me up, to say nothing of all the other tasks on the day’s punch list. I turned over to face the alarm clock. It blinked 5:05 a.m. in incandescent red. 5:05. SOS. In hindsight, I should have known better than to go to work that day.
This is the story of how I went insane.
The office was a long way off but the commute was short. At 5:20 a.m., expressway traffic was light. If I really stood on the gas, I could get to work in half an hour. All the better for me that there was no one on the road, as I was at the office in what seemed to me a blink. Piecing events together after the fact, I figured I’d dozed off at the wheel for a few miles. I was exhausted.
I pulled into the car park and took the elevator up to the eleventh floor. As usual, I was the first to arrive. The time-activated lights in the office wouldn’t come on for another ten minutes, at 6:00, but by then I’d already had a cup of coffee and gotten started on my second.
Well before the sunrise, I was already at work.
My desk was covered in file boxes, looking like an overstuffed filing cabinet had gone on a bender the night before and puked all over my desktop. Not a square inch of faux wood saw sunlight.
That last thought made me take pause. For nearly a year that I had been working for the firm of Banco Banque and Banquiao, I hadn’t seen any sunlight either. Every day I woke up before sunup, bedded down at midnight, and spent the hours in between at the office. Even at eleven stories up, the office never felt more like a subterranean cavern. My pasty white complexion was proof of this.
The boss checked in at 7:05. I met him in the break room and had a coffee with him. At 9:00 I was due for another, as the effects of the first were starting to wind down. The rest of the office staff filed in at 9:00, and so I thought it best to get a fresh mug before the support staff emptied the pot.
By 10:00 a.m. my caffeine-addled heartbeat felt like a flock of hummingbirds trapped in my chest, yet I was still nodding off at my desk. It annoyed me to no end that I was falling asleep where I least wanted to sleep, and just hours ago I could not sleep where most I wanted to.
There was no time to sleep. There was no time even to live. The billable hour is a thing of the devil, and it had me in its grip.
The office required me to account for every minute of my work time, and expected each minute to be devoted to making my boss money. This I did to an admirable extent: of the fourteen hours spent at work daily, on average I captured twelve billable hours. Two of those hours were spent doing those ancillary, non-billable things I needed to do to support the billable time, such as book-keeping, drinking coffee, and using the bathroom, though I knew of co-workers who had discovered ways to bill the client even while on the toilet.
Of those twelve billable hours, every day my boss skimmed another three off the top, nicking fractions off of each of the billable activities I’d completed. Every week, before writing big checks to the firm, the client would review my time report and knock off another hour or two each day. The firm where I worked would grudgingly acquiesce, thankful to accept some payment over none. By month end, half of my billable hours would be gone, and the boss would drag me into his office by the scruff of my neck. Our discussions were always the same: “Get your hours up, or you’ll get canned.”
It had gone on this way for ten months. As long as I’d been working there, the firm had had it in mind to fire me.
Things really started to get strange at 11:00 a.m. It was Monday, but I had to keep reminding myself because I’d worked fourteen days straight. To me, it felt like the middle of the week.
The days were running together, as though days past and days ahead had melted into a pudding and were blobbing up together. I kept reminding myself to do things I’d already done days ago, because I’d forgotten I’d done them, and because they were super important and needed to be done. I doubted whether I’d actually driven in this morning or just spent the night at the office. My dreams - when I could sleep - were of things I had done at the office or things I needed to do on arriving there. That I was sitting at my desk seemed surreal, like some bizarre yet mundane deja vu.
Lunchtime rolled around. At the bottom of my desk drawer was a bag of apples. I ate one whenever I got hungry. For several days straight I’d eaten nothing but apples, going through a half-dozen daily. At the time - and this is the scary part - it made perfect sense. Eating apples was a boon to efficiency. They were healthy, they needed only one hand to eat and left my other hand free to do work, and since they came in a bunch, I could eat these all day without ever having to leave my desk.
Hungry as I was, I tried to keep the drawer shut as much as I could. The bag of apples was see-through, and underneath it was the resignation letter I had written three months before. I hadn’t signed it, but I’d come very close. It wasn’t dated, but that was intentional, as I could just as easily write in the date when I felt it was time.
I called my wife to let her know I wouldn’t be joining her for dinner at home. Although I told her that I’d be home at 7:00 p.m., I’d already devised a plan for the day. I didn’t tell her this while on the call, but at 7:00 I’d call her and tell her that I needed to stay a while longer. Then, at 9:00, I’d send a text saying that I’d be at work ‘til midnight. Everyone would have gone home by then and the office would be quiet, making it an optimal environment to net a ton more billable hours. Then, when I needed to, I’d sleep at my desk and wake up at 5:00 a.m. the following day (still at my desk) to start the day off. Thankfully, I’d stashed extra clothes in my office, so I could change into them and none of my co-workers would be the wiser that I’d spent the night at the office.
I revised my plan after I’d had another coffee. I didn’t need to sleep. Sleep was beneath me. I shuddered with giddy laughter. I was thinking so fast I was almost prescient. It felt great. My hands shook and my typing speed took a tumble, but these losses could be recouped tonight since I had no need to sleep. And the feeling in my chest that my blood had turned to glass shards as it coursed through my heart could be ignored as a passing inconvenience.
Furtive whispers accompanied shuffling up the hall. “Someone’s fallen.” A man in the building across the street had hurled himself from the top of the car park. What a mess he’d made. He’d ruined his suit, which didn’t matter much anymore, because it didn’t fit him as well as it must have before he took the dive, as the man was spread out for yards across the asphalt.
A question struck me then, as suddenly as an open-palm blow to the forehead: what could drive a man to leap from an otherwise structurally sound office tower? This question may as well have been rhetorical, judging by how quickly the answer came.
I rubbed my eyes, elbowed past the crowd thronged at the glass to get a better look at the dead man lying in the street. In a blink he had gone from wearing pinstripes to brown trousers just like mine and back to pinstripes.
That was the wake-up call, more so than the alarm clock buzzer at 5:05 - SOS - a.m. I went back to my desk and wrote a two-sentence resignation email, completely forgetting about the carefully drafted letter that had sat in my desk drawer for months. I threw the bag of apples into the wastebasket. I didn’t know it just then, but I would develop a taste aversion to apples that would last months.
I powered down my PC and sat, elbows propped on the desk, with my face in my hands. A partner at the firm shoved through my office door without so much as knocking.
“Get your stuff and get out,” he said, which was polite enough, considering he refrained from punting me in the ass when he said that.
That same day my name was removed from the associate roster, and my profile and all signs that I had worked at the firm for nearly a year were obliterated. The Egyptians did no less a job with Hatshepsut.
I went home and slept for two days straight, not rousing even to eat. When I awoke, a shooting pain between my eyes rippled my vision and threw off my sense of balance. As I hadn’t had any coffee during those two days, my body was furious. You don’t come down easy from a ten-month caffeine binge.
I rolled out of bed. My first piss in two days looked like infield clay and collected into silt at the bottom of the toilet bowl. I felt like I was ninety-nine years old. Even shuffling around the apartment in sandals got me winded. It would be a month before I was in any shape to do anything more physically demanding than shopping for groceries.
Without any sense at all of the time, I went outside and stood in my apartment’s parking lot. The sun was out, shining in the center of a cloudless blue sky. A single tear rolled down my cheek. More followed. Many, many more.
It seemed such a trivial thing to forget over so short a time as a year, but I remembered then, that the sky is blue.
In his tower of glass and steel, the man in the pinstripe pants wrings his hands.
Sidewalk slabs fan out into a chessboard.
There are no knights, bishops, queens, rooks;
Only pawns, in their inexorable idiot’s dance in the dark.
One step forward, never back, never around.
Black and white meet in the middle and stalemate.
The boulevard bard sings the song of the streets,
Of concrete and crooked streetlights
And the blood that runs down to the gutter.
The packed lines on the sidewalks smell like tuna fish
Churning nonstop into a lockstep march of suits and ties.
A pinstripe banner to unite us all,
Bind us at the ankles
And keep us from running.
The televisions in the storefront reach out to shake you,
Snatch your pocket change
And boot you to the curb with a few missing teeth.
There are no humans in the resource department,
But there’s a camera in everything.
Work hard and earn your vacation time,
But God help you if you think to use it.
Suck a pipe or stick a needle and get ten years,
Or burn five bucks a pack a day and lose thirty.
Choose the right faith and you may be reborn,
Meanwhile heathen vampires never die.
Handshakes and smiles are ubiquitous and cheap.
I don’t know who you are or care
But my job depends on my saying “Have a nice day” when I take your money.
Have a nice day means “Get the hell out,”
Said with a smile
And sometimes a handshake.
In his tower of glass and steel, the man in the pinstripe pants steps down.
The king is laid sideways across the board.
The boulevard bard sings of fresh cracks in concrete
And the blood that runs down to the gutter.