My short story, “Sleepwalking,” will be appearing in San Diego Writers, Ink Anthology Vol. 4, edited by Jericho Brown & Laurel Corona. I’ll be attending a release party for the book this evening and I’m excited to see my work in print for the first time!
Contributors to the anthology will be reading excerpts from their at the party. Here’s what I’ll be reading tonight:
My bed was sweaty after hours of my tossing around and trying to sleep. I left it and got up to visit the bathroom. I slunk down the hallway, past the plastic houseplants and neatly framed photographs, pausing when I thought I heard a noise. My toes curled deep in the carpet as I tensed, listening to see if our mother was sleeping. Our father always snores. He snorks and growls his way through the night, announcing his slumber to the world at large, but our mother; our mother is far more subtle. She lays curled in on herself like a crescent moon, three quarters of her mind eclipsed by undifferentiated darkness, and one quarter still brightly aware. One quarter of her mind stays open all night silent, distant and patient as the cold satellite that revolves around the earth. The white crescent of her body lays bright in the darkness of her bed and listens for noises in the dark. In the hallway I swayed my weight from left to right, producing an experimental squeak from the floorboards. I received nothing, save my father’s snores, for an answer.
Streetlight trickled through the bathroom window, casting shadows in the basin of the sink. The countertop was cool against my skin as I laid my arm on it, inspecting the toilet seat cover. It was still blue, still plush, but it was completely free from stains. I rubbed my fingers in it, pulling apart the pile, searching for a remnant of my memory. I knelt that way for a long time, crouched on the cool bathroom tile. After a while I leaned back on my heels and tried to remember if the seat cover had been replaced since Darlene’s accident, or if a stain that deep would ever fade away.
Reading Catch-22 inspired me to start a new shorty story tentatively titled “Operation Roger”. Here’s what I have at the moment:
When the new CEO said that he wanted The Company to run with “military precision” Yolanda knew they were in trouble. The new CEO was middle aged and Dutch. The previous CEO had been old and English. Both CEOs seemed faintly exotic to Yolanda, was young and American and did not posses a Visa.
After work Yolanda went home and told her boyfriend about the changes at her office. Her boyfriend, Todd, was marginally older than Yolanda but felt himself far more worldly, as he had travelled to both Mexico and Canada.
“They own the company now.” She told him.
“Who?” Todd had been playing a video game that required him to steal cars and shoot people.
“The Dutch conglomerate.”
“The Dutch?” Todd asked. “Are they still around?”
“Yes! They bought my company and they have ideas about precision!”
“How does that make you feel?” Todd’s mother was a licensed psychotherapist.
Yolanda wasn’t sure how this made her feel. The old CEO was interested in tradition and values. He made up words like “boundrylessness” and had them emblazoned on pencils and distributed to the staff. As long as the staff graciously accepted their pencils and used them to write memos while remembering to use their made up words, the CEO seemed happy. This did not seem as if it would be how things worked with the new CEO. Yolanda decided that this made her nervous.
The sound of a single gunshot woke me from my slumber. The room was dark and I was sweaty from sleeping pressed between two women I barely knew. My internal clock told me it was somewhere in the early hours just before dawn. Even if there had been daylight it couldn’t reach this windowless room deep inside the presidio. We were surrounded by adobe brick walls more than a foot thick. Back in the 1700s priests and soldiers used this room to store valuables like gold, flour and cloth. It was a strong room and safe, or so we hoped. I tried to roll over, to relax, but my body wouldn’t let me. One of the women next to me muttered in her sleep “Go back to bed Bobby. Big boy bed…” I couldn’t remember the woman’s name, but in that moment I hated her and everyone else who could just close their eyes and drift off.
Another pop broke the night. I was tempted to count the seconds between shots, like they teach you to do with lightening and thunder when you are a kid. If you do it right you can estimate how far away the storm is by doing that. I sighed and sat up. Trying to sleep again was just as useless as trying to count the seconds between gunshots. Those pops in the night were not thunder. Each one was Vasquez squeezing the trigger on his rifle and planting a bullet in the brain of another zombie. I didn’t need to guess when the storm would arrive. The storm was zombies and they were already here.
My bed was sweaty after all my tossing around. I left it to visit the bathroom. I crept down the hallway, past the plastic houseplants and neatly framed photographs until I came to my parents bedroom door. It was slightly ajar. My toes curled deep in the carpet as I tensed, listening to see if our mother was sleeping. Our father always snores. He snorks and growls his way through the night, announcing his slumber to the world at large, but our mother; our mother is far more subtle. She lays curled in on herself like a crescent moon, three quarters of her mind eclipsed by undifferentiated darkness, and one quarter still brightly aware. One quarter of her mind stays open all night waiting, silent, distant, and patient as the cold satellite that revolves around the earth. The white crescent of her body lays bright in the darkness of her bed and listens for noises in the dark. In the hallway I swayed my weight from left to right, producing an experimental squeak from the floorboards. I received nothing, save my father’s snores, for an answer.
River checked on the unconcious scavs still bundled in their work clothes. She had to unwrap several layers to find a dog tag on the man. He was Scavenger 11 “Woodsmoke”. Probably named for his looks she thought, noticing the funny brown grayish tint to his skin. Using her thumb she gently pulled up an eyelid and noticed the man’s eyes were almost the exact match of his skin and hair. River hadn’t seen anyone with coloring like that and wondered if it was normal for scavs. He looked healthy in all other regards. The woman’s tag indicated she was Scavenger 12 “Petal”. No obvious meaning to the name, just a healthy, wind burned woman with fair skin and frizzy brown hair. Still, the name bothered River. It was familiar, but she couldn’t think why she should know it.
River undressed the scavs, marveling at their heavy clothes and strange tools. She had never been outside the building. Judging from all the gear these two carried, it seemed to be a complicated and dangerous affair. Both the man and the woman wore tool belts with loops for knives and hatchets, as well as mysterious little pouches that held powders and flat rocks. The strangest object had been on a loop around the woman’s neck. It was a round disk with a glass top. Under the glass there were the letters NWSE and a thin red pointer that spun and jiggled when she moved it around. It was like nothing she had seen before.
I lived in a room con otras mujeres that worked in the clothes factory tambien. Las otras mujeres, they were not of the two tongues. They had only Espanol, and were lost in the frosty white world fuera de “the brown side of town”, or outside the walls of the factory. Las vidas of those women were narrow, porque no they were lazy or stupid, but because they never had time to look up from their work. From the time they were small to este dia they worked for food for their stomachs and casas for their cabezas y the cabezas of their mamas y papis y tios y tias y hermanos y hermanas y hombres y ninos. Pobrecitas, these peoples, they weighed down on the necks of the women so heavy that they could never look up from el trabajo long enough to see the world around them.
I had no peoples to hang on my neck. Mi madre, she was con Dios and my father, he was gone to a place that men go when they disappear in la noche. Mi vida, it was as empty as the desert. I was not like these women with their weight and they saw this in me. Cuando I came into the piso they would stop their lenguas morenas porque they saw I was not morena like them. I am amarilla, a yellow Snake Woman and there was no place en las vidas de ellas for me.