Here are two pieces of writing: a piece of flash fiction (The Town was Bombed) and a short story (Ransom for the Captured Babe).
A brief description of each:
The Town was Bombed is a brief episode about the construction of a ‘Superstore’ posing a threat to the life of a rural family’s convenience store — Ace and Quinn’s — that is running a meth-operation out of the back.
Rocket Slave follows public defender Lucian Fugo through their day leading up to a bi-lateral orchiectomy (castration operation) exploring themes of justice, childhood trauma, and sexuality.
The Town was Bombed
The remaining family of Ace and Quinn’s service station, eponymously named after the owning couple, sat on its porch watching a building go up further down the road. They passed around a pair of binoculars so everyone could witness it.
“It is really happenin’, isn’t it? Lord, I pray you know what You are doin. If Sal’s heart didn’t kill him, this sure would have,” said Ace’s mother and Quinn’s aunt — Crissy — sitting straight up in her wheelchair. She had worn at least one black article of clothing since her husband had died. Today, it was a skirt.
“We got to call Sheriff Braxton immediately,” she said wagging her fingers at them all.
“Aw hell Ma, Sherriff Braxton can’t do a damn thing about this. This requires goin’— well goin to the county seat,” said Ace.
“I got friends down at the county,” said Crissy.
Ace stepped forward flailing his hands in the air. “Maybe 20 years ago you did, Ma. The chief executive is now a colored folk. Haven’t you read the paper recently?” Then he froze and looked over at Less, the service station’s attendant. “Hey Less, those are your people down there! Go grab my pump-action and stop this madness.”
“I’m afraid I am nobody’s people Mister Ace. I have heard of this empire though; they talk about it on the radio. They call ‘em a Superstore. They say it’s like a retail cathedral.”
“Sounds like the devil in disguise,” said Quinn, showing off her chompers that were beginning to show signs of becoming more like oyster-shell fragments.
Ace and Quinn’s child, Grace, of just 2 years was off to the side trying to zap insects with her magnify glass. Her scoliosis framed her back a contorted shape as she hunched over.
They all sat there in silence for a bit— reflecting on their fate— desperately trying to subvert it. It was like having a tidal wave coming for them on the horizon. Their 5,000 person population was dwindling and the Superstore was a gamble by the county to get people to stay.
Quinn walked up to Grace and saw those bugs scrambling for their lives — ambushed from an unconquerable force. Her heart sunk for a moment, and she saw herself running. In a cascade of dysphoria she knocked her child right in the side with her foot.
“Stop that Grace, right now!”
Everyone stepped back a bit — unsure what to say.
Quinn picked up her child. “I’m sorry Gracey, please forgive me. I’m sorry, oh I’m terribly sorry.”
While Quinn attempted to pacify her child, a local farmer named Fil pulled up in his olive pickup truck for his routine lunch stop. He plodded up to their spot on the hill and saw how their rocking chairs faced towards the construction down the road.
He gingerly rubbed his bushy mustache and clenched his sun-hat as he commenced his speech: “See fellas, I’m a grower, so all this makes perfect sense to me. Take a garden, for instance, that is filled with low-lyin’ flowers, vegetables, and the-like. What would happen if you planted a hardwood right smack-dab in the middle of this garden? Well, it would start to take the water and nutrients; it’s branches would hover over and soak up all the sunlight; the roots would stretch and tear through the soil. You see what I’m sayin’. Nothin’s gonna survive that. It’s a nuclear bomb. That’s what’s goin’ on down there.”
“A nuclear bomb — I haven’t heard it said any better Fil. And we’re right in the blast radius”, said Ace as his head nodded in a trance. “You came at the perfect time. We’ve just been discussing what we’re gonna have to do to deal with — well with that nuclear bomb that’s dischargin’ right in from of us.”
“It’s like swimming against the tide — fighting isn’t gonna change it. Trust me, if I could go lead a crusade and get rid of it, I’d be on my way. I did bring you the ammonia though. That’s another thing too: the superstore has all the ingredients ya need to make speed. Like I said, it’s gonna screw up everything,” said Fil.
Ace’s mouth warped in all sorts of shapes trying to verbalize the right words but his mind was bungled. “Now, I’m sorry, but that don’t make no sense. What kinda place is this again?”.
Ace’s left foot had begun to tap with crescendo and his fingers were all grabbing at each other. “Like I said, it’s the most destructive force to come to this town. Even more so than a colored politician. It’s a damn empire. As for the speed, they disguise their products as ingredients for a homemade kit that can all fit into a backpack.” Suddenly, a blue pickup truck with a gray cross painted on the side of the door sped by the store with an older lady in a pink bathing suit yelling out the window. “A sure sign the rapture is coming! Seek salvation save yourself from torment in flames!”. She had her finger pointing down the road right at the conundrum they had been studying all morning.
Fil started grinning. “Well this thing sure has everyone in a state — doesn’t it? She’s ‘bout crazier than a Jehovah’s Witness”.
“This ain’t no jokin’ matter,” said Quinn, “if everything you’re saying is true, then this is the end of us. Maybe you really should start readin’ the Bible more. I’ve never seen you at a service in years, mind you. And have you read the paper this mornin’; they busted another lab only 5 miles from here. I swear that building’s a sign we’re being infiltrated — hunted, I should say. I’m goin to clean the chamber of my 1911 Defender in case someone makes the mistake to come messin’ with our chivalry. But first, I’ll go get your tuna sandwich Fil, I assume it’s what you want; it’s not like you’ve ever tried something different. Crissy, let me wheel you back inside. Less, why don’t you go out back, feed the cats, and see how our batch is cookin’”.
“Yes mam”. Less nodded at her politely.
Less shuffled off, looking beyond the open field out back filled with purple-lovegrass, humming a tune that the radio had been playing earlier that day: “Dear one the world is waiting for the sunrise / Ev’ry rose is covered with dew / And while the world is waiting for the sunrise / In my heart is calling you”.
Today is the day I finally claim my sanity. I took a rare day off, so I can undergo an operation. I am engaging in a type of transformation — and I would say: emancipation. I contacted the hospital a few months ago with the inquiry of having an orchiectomy. I did not enter this process blindly, as I did extensive research regarding the surgery. The medical consequences were benign: an increased susceptibility to osteoporosis due to the hormonal changes that a simple medication can fix. The worst consequence was a rather frightening dysphoria. The hospital referred me to a doctor to press me about my uncommon request to be castrated. I took care of this by simply telling them who I was. They praised me for my service to the state and were eager to help me by any means. I did have to follow the protocol of filling out a form for the record. Part of this form asked why I was getting the surgery. My central reasoning, although not entirely true, was that I was ready to begin the process of a sex change. In my mind, this was true because I was tired of my sex — the diabolical hormones that brought out the brute within me — but I was also misleading by writing that I eventually wanted to be a woman. Instead, I wanted to be somewhere in between, but I found myself, like in difficult situations, having to lie and tell the truth simultaneously to get what I wanted.
The operation is, I think, fittingly schedule on my birthday. I do not usually celebrate holidays but considering the operation, I am going to enjoy it unapologetically.
It is 10 a.m. , and I am driving down the highway to Jimbo’s furniture store: The Parlor. I have decided to stay busy during the morning of my operation, and I plan on buying myself a present in the process.
Jimbo resides forty minutes outside the city — closer to where I lived with my mother until her death. She contracted HIV which developed into AIDS, which slowly crippled her away. After her passing, I was left as a refugee of sorts and migrated to the city to seek higher education. As for Jimbo, he took up the family business and became a furniture maker and collector.
Driving down the road, I go back in time as the signs of life become more infrequent and the buildings become more decrepit. I have a mock conversation in my head, resurrecting my past vernacular. I see a mile marker indicating I am halfway there, and I roll down the window — demanding that the temptations of anxiety fly out.
I get there and Jimbo greets me. He does not know about my operation this afternoon, and frankly, he does not need to. I have not and am not planning on telling anyone. I do tell him that I want to buy myself a birthday present. He delights at this, and we go inside to look for my prize.
Although a great craftsmen with refined taste, Jimbo is prone to behave like a hoarder. The front of the story is tidy for public display, but the back rooms are a mixture of rubble and heirlooms. We head there, and after a few minutes of tossing aside old cookbooks, paintings, and furniture pieces, I come across an unpresuming but offbeat piece.
“What can you tell me about this one Jimbo?” I say.
The dust levitates as he unburies the hardwood heirloom. The wood still possesses its arresting allure despite its scars. “Oh, lookee here. Now, this is a butcher’s block table. This one here is early-to-mid 20th Century. Ya’ see, it’s narrow and comes up almost four feet, right below the chest. This way you don’t have to bend over to cut your meat or vegetables.”
I stand outside the doorway studying the condition, the grain. Jimbo’s hands run along the table’s legs, blending in with the dark hue.
“Not bad, Jimbo. I reckon the patina it has could only come with at least fifty years of age. I like the looks of it, and it’ll do my spine a service doin’ prep work in the kitchen. How much can ya’ do for it?”
“Considering it’s your special day, I could do a hundred and fifty dollars. I even got this ole butcher’s knife — a brutal cleaver — I’ll throw in for free. It’s got some rust on it but just let it soak in some white-vinegar and the acid will eat through.”
I start gritting my teeth and I imagine an acid soaked cleaver piercing my pelvis, but I quickly eject the thought from my head. “How about this: the table with the cleaver, and… this walking cane right here for one-fifty?”
Jimbo’s face beams as if no one has ever noticed it. “You like that there, huh? It’s hickory, which is, as you know, very flexibly strong wood. But you’re a young feller, why you needin’ a cane?”
“Aw Jimbo, I think I tend to plan way too far ahead. Maybe next year I’ll have to buy some wood from you to start building my coffin,” I joke.
“Alright Lucian, I’ll do one-fifty for the bundle.” We shake hands, marking another one of many deals we have made together.
Jimbo helps me cover the table with a quilt and rest it in the trunk of my sedan.
“Alright Jimbo, say hello to Stella for me when ya’ get home.”
“She’s cookin’ a chicken a wild rice casserole tonight — why don’t you come eat with us? I got some of that smokey bourbon you like too.”
“You know I hate turnin’ down Stella’s cookin’ but these cases have taken a toll on me lately. I’m just gonna have to go home and pack it in early. I am tellin’ the hospital to call your insurance though after I chop my fingers off with this cleaver; you gave me a real humdinger,” I say, swiping the blade through the air.
Jimbo lets out a good laugh. “You do do the Lord’s work those helpless women and men. God bless you Lucian. Stella and I’ll miss you. Take care of yourself, and happy birthday.”
It starts to rain as I ride home. The radio crackles out the words of a preacher who is bellowing out sentiments of tribulation and sacrifice. I try to apply the preacher’s message to my own circumstances: Martha comes to mind — specifically, the memory of her explaining she couldn’t stay with me if I went through with the operation. I did my best to explain that I was doing her, and all women, and even all men, a favor. She just could not accept it.
I turn off the radio as I reach the outskirts of town, preferring the sounds of the storm. The clock says I have two hours before I check in. I do not have any apprehension about my decision; the past few months have affirmed its my destiny.
I pull in the gravel driveway of my inner-city home. The wood shingles within the white trim of the walls have been prone to curl due to weathering much like unkempt hair. I see an orange glow intensify and fade on the porch.
“Look whose here,” I say to myself. “Hyacinth, is that you?” I shout.
She steps off the porch with a plate of yellow goop and a taper candle standing aslant in it. She is wearing ripped jeans, a hooded raincoat, and takes a long drag of a filtered cigar as she walks.
“Happy birthday Mr. Fugo, I hope you like banana pudding. Make a wish.”
I shut my eyelids and the phosphenes shoot off like fireworks. I do not believe in making wishes, so I think about Hyacinth and know she means well.
The smoke from her breath and the candle’s extinguishment dance together in the air briefly before disappearing.
“Well thank you very much. I just got back from ole Jimbo’s. I thought I’d buy myself a present; I hope it doesn’t seem conceited.”
“I think it was a great idea, sir. Let me help you carry it in.”
I met Hyacinth a few months ago at the magistrate court. She was an indigent defendant after she got charged with a misdemeanor for prostitution. I only had to represent her at the arraignment because she pled guilty. She was assigned community service and mandatory AIDS test. After getting a job at a local diner and financing her own apartment, she rediscovered my business card and called to thank me for treating her well. We had a cordial conversation — so much so that we began to talk once a week. Due to my mother’s history, I have a soft spot for how women are treated who find themselves selling their bodies. She told me over the phone how she used a payphone, drowned in vines, outside her building to call. Initially, she felt ridiculous for even trying it. She said she laughed as she pressed in the quarters, dialed the number, and held the phone against her ear — waiting. Then, my voice reverberated from the phone to her skull. I made it clear that I only wanted to speak over the phone. I feared, maybe irrationally, that she wanted a safe partner, like myself, to have sex with while she tried to quit the prostitution business. I made myself believe she needed someone to help wean her off the drug of intercourse. Once I developed enough trust though, she came over, and it ended up being me who started to display the awkward mannerisms of someone under the spell of a crush. I was impressed and honestly aroused by her ability to reset her life; I felt unnecessarily proud, like she owed me for helping her. I kicked myself over it for weeks — the delinquent hypocrite that my body and mind can be together. After carrying the table onto the porch, Hyacinth begins to ash her smoke out, making me wonder whether she intends to stick around or not. As much as I would like to, I do not have the time for company today.
“I’m going to head back home. I gotta be up early tomorrow and go to social services to get a new EBT card before my lunch shift starts.”
“Do you say? I know one or two of the caseworkers down there. If you have any trouble, please notify me.”
“Thank you, sir. Also what was that cane doing in your car? Did you hurt your back, or do you have an older friend?”
“Oh, I got that at Jimbo’s too. It reminded me of growing up in the country.”
“You’ve mentioned that before,” she says. “I really admire all the work you do Mr. Fugo. I sure know you’ve helped me. Happy birthday.”
I wave my hand from the porch as she leaves. I swallow the spit in my mouth and feel a slight stiffness in my pants. I would be more ashamed of myself, but I intend on this being the last time I have a reaction like this. As she gets out of site, I go and retrieve the cleaver and cane out of the car. I make sure to wrap the cleaver in a rag to not draw attention to its barbaric nature.
As I tread the walkway, I lean in to the cane intermittently to test its strength. I recount the memory of my mother having to ask for my hand as she grew more frail. I thought that I may have trouble walking too, after my operation.
Inside the house, I decide to sit down at my upright piano and perform a finalé before I depart to the hospital. I am working through Chopin’s twenty-four preludes, one for each of the twelve major and twelve minor keys. I am on number nine which takes place all in the bass clef. My ability as a pianist is enhanced by my diagnosis of arachnodactyly or spider fingers, and I command the keys with this advantage. I finish the piece with a finely executed diminuendo and subsequently depart to the hospital.
My-body is naked and chained to the face of an incredible amethyst rock. My-limbs are buckled onto it by the wrists and ankles. I, hovering above as an invisible bystander, observe. My-body is battered and raving from the mouth.
A dark horse materializes out of the dust, and the chains unlatch around my-limbs. My- body stands up soberly and mounts the horse without hesitation.
This scene dematerializes and a new one appears: my-body is walking down the side of a barren highway, and the night sky is lighting up with magnificent green flashes. A bus materializes, and my-body boards the vessel.
These scenes of desertion and rescue unfold rapidly like a flip book for quite some time, until a scene appears of my-body, still unclothed, sitting with a monkey and a tiger under a tree. The monkey says its tired of living and asks the tiger to kill it. The tiger refuses, so it asks my- body to do the deed. My-body picks up a stone and smashes it on the monkey’s-head. The rock shatters, and its head is left unscathed. The monkey and my-body ride the tiger around the jungle trying to find an executioner’s block. My-body tries drowning the monkey in the rapids of a waterfall and throwing it off of a cliff, but they all fail to do the trick. The monkey begs the tiger to swipe its paw at its heart, but the tiger, again, resists. Once the night comes and the tiger is asleep, the monkey jumps on it in a rage. Frightened, the tiger lashes out at the intruder. Its claws cleanly tear through the monkey’s chest, and it dies. The tiger tells my-body to kill it for it has sinned. My-body throws the tiger off the same cliff and, upon hitting the ground, its-body shatters into a million pieces of sapphire.
My eyes open and my heart jumps immediately. My senses reboot, and I feel as if I just traveled from another world. I quickly put together that I am in the hospital. I have never been put under anesthesia, and I abhor the idea of any life being reduced to a flop of flesh. I look down at my gown and feel the open air between my legs; it fully registers what I have just woken up from. I gently tighten my abdomen which contracts my cremaster muscle ever so slightly — which I learned is what raises and lowers the testicles inside the scrotum — and I feel nothing but a slight stiffness where I am guessing the incision was made. I smile as I play a back and forth game in my head whether I want to look or not. I do, but I don’t need to because the affirmation is literally running through my veins. I decide to use this quiet moment to reorient myself before a nurse walks in. Now is the time to deliberate: how will I react to the first human I see? It will be dispassionately. How will I represent my clients? It will be reasonably. How do I measure my self control? Autonomous — I am my own breed.