Spring 2009, Volume 6

Fiction by Michael Martin

She Was Such a Vulture

The sun set awkwardly the afternoon Denny collapsed and almost died. It all began with Emily Dickinson's top-bang and ended at the foot of the porch steps, little poetry involved. Denny didn't mind mind-games, swear words, or the occasional sex at the Days Inn. "There is a loyalty only your one and own can smell. So when that scent 'vaporates," she said, "Then there's trouble in your teeth," too often.

Denny grinned a certain way after saying poetic things she hadn't meant poetically: her lips curved, head tilted, left eye a thin slit, a half-wink. And when you smiled with her she scowled and pinched your flesh between her dirty nibbled nails. Denny wasn't beautiful. She was ordinary but had a glimmer only real psychics knew.

The first time I noticed her glow my eyes were closed. I was trying to will the grainy eggs and soggy butterless toast on my plate into an edible meal. Her stub-heeled shoes clacked as she danced around the diner, table to table, aviating on the automation I'd come to recognize when she grew tired of me. The infinite blackness before my eyes warmed to a membraned red. I peered through my eyelids assuming I fell asleep, and a new day was cresting to replace the shittiness that had been Sunday. But it was Denny watching me sleep, I believe, watching the machinery of my mind churn and struggle—she could see through brain matter and melded bone. Into the claptraps the 20th century told a new generation to tell their psychiatrists. Some things a person is not meant to remember on their own.

After I tipped her generously and she finished her shift, she sat beside me. The other side of the booth is clear I told her. My first words other than "Food mouth please." There was something disconcerting about her willingness to say screw-all to personal space and embrace the closeness Americans regained, and then lost again sometime around the Vietnam war. She kissed her own hand when she introduced herself.

"Denny," she said, "Or Din-Din if you're a toddler." She grabbed a slice of burnt toast from my plate and slurped it between her teeth.

"Why did I tip you so much when the plate ain't even cleared off the table?"

She shrugged.

Denny enjoyed awkward silences like a speech therapist, allowing the uneasiness in my eyes to shift my body, feeling compelled to say anything, as being this quiet while living was no different than being dead. Later, after leaving the diner, later, after she touched the exposed thigh my shorts abandoned, she told me silence was a blind man's dirty nightmare.

"Everything goes to your ears when you're trying to listen. Feel it? Don't you feel it?" She spat passionately, hand roughly holding my bicep, "When a blind man hears utter silence, not the buzz, but the silence, he figures he's dead and’s just now figuring it out. As a Romanticist might say, it becomes the bane of his existence."

In the beginning, I could never get her to shut up. I didn't understand what she wanted. Where I lived people wore their words around their neck and wrists and flaunted sensibility like leprosy. You stood at a safe distance. And it took a real block-head to not understand the seriousness of a particular situation. Basking in Denny's glow, cowering actually, I felt like an idiot who only knew she was idiotic upon discovering her face in the dictionary, beside unsavory definition.

Denny pinched my thigh-flesh until I reflexively smacked her mouth. She only enjoyed silences she induced. She grinned, tongue licking tingle-shocked lips. "So you do have balls," she said, voice muffled by the attention currently about her mouth.

"Balls? No," I parroted, "No balls."

"Stress balls feel good in the hands."

I pointed a pinky at a fat man wearing a green trucker-hat with matching jacket. He slipped a quarter in the gumball machine. "Then go palm his crotch and de-stress yourself."

"Yeah, well," she fumbled, "I don't like getting stressed out."

That was the first and last time she ever sounded uncertain.

It took weeks of visiting art exhibits before Denny revealed she disliked Van Gogh's paintings, remarking them as childish though not endearingly. She violently gestured at a multicolored chicken painting and traced the simple lines. "You see," she shouted in a whisper, "You see? I could've done this. My nephew could've done this."

"It looks fine to me. I like the colors."

"Not the point—if they can do it, and Van Gogh can do it, what's the fuckin' point? See now?"

I shrugged, which made her angrier. She poked Van Gogh's chicken.

The Curator coughed, arms behind her back, leaning forward on her worn shoes polished to look new. "Yooouuu," The Curator went, "are not supposed to touch the genius." If The Curator was years younger, fitter, happier (indents between her eyes and around her mouth stated her disdains), I might have sprawled her on the tile and licked her brains out until the janitor came by with a mop, grumbling about Damn sex-brains.

Denny poked me in the arm. We were outside in the cold, on the curb, hearing wet tires hiss watered streets. "She made us leave 'cuz of you."

"Of me?"

"You. Couldn't keep from eye-fuckin' her, made her all nervous. I know that look. All heated like a goddamn bobcat." Denny poked me in the shoulder, finger pushing me into the soaked museum wall. "Tail poofed up. I know you, I can see it.” She poked me again, harder, with all four fingers, "Can't fool me, I know you. I can see."

I grabbed her wrist, cradled her back and kissed her, tongue rough between her lips like a dehydrated dog, muzzle in her water bowl. I drained her of the jealousy. Then released. "Push me like that again, I'll make you swallow those beads they put in shoeboxes."

"So forceful. I shiver and rain when you're forceful baby. Shiver and rain." She was close enough to kiss me. "And it's called Silica sweetheart." She clamped my nose between her teeth. Giggled. "Heard it is quite the rage."

Denny and I could not agree to disagree. The washing machine she sat on rumbled against the back wall, lopsided load abusing interiors. Her hands were hidden between her thighs, ankles crossed, rubbing. A red buckle pump dangled from her big toe by the strap.

Denny trembled and lightly crooned, "Oooh … this … Oooh … damn girl this feels better than you!"

Her hands traveled away from her knees, upward, tanning beneath the shadow her tartan skirt poured over her thighs. "Mmmmm," her throat vibrated.

I sat next to her and the washing machine quieted a bit. "You know for a fact," I licked my lips and bit the tip of my tongue at her, "for a fact you prefer flesh to steel and ceramics." Denny's fingers walked from her thighs to my waist and pinched. I didn't jump. She smiled, then shoved me off the washing machine; the rumble returned.

Still smiling, eyes sparkling, she moaned "Ooooh—baby!"

I opened the dryer-door and pulled half-dry clothes into a wheeled hamper. "I never know when you fake it."

Denny and I truly agreed on a single thing—"Carnivals provide the best eye into humanity's heart." We especially surprised one another by speaking in sync; especially concerned, considering we were watching Mickey Mouse presents and half asleep when we randomly blurted it out. Although Denny said it more eloquently than I did.

"They buy tickets, step closer to death, or some feigned version of it. Pay to watch distorted mirrors, laugh at distorted reflections, but damn sure they stop laughing when in front of normal mirrors, you see?" Denny ranted, "You see? When their distortion's kept in a mirror it's safe. Rubber razors. But when it reflects our fuckedupness we drown—hm … Trouble in your teeth."

The sun set awkwardly the day I kicked Denny and she almost died. I exhaled a held breath as the kick-kick her mantra arrived and remained so naturally through my brain-nerves. Her purse, her kangaroo-pouch angled as she rummaged, back to the wire screen door, one foot on the porch landing, the other just beginning the ten stair descent to the street. She searched for her car keys. I reveled in her voice's absence. Minutes before she had winked, saying how ugly I looked wearing vintage blue pumps and red lipstick; how difficult the question to be ugly or not to be ugly must be when pertaining to me. When she laughed her body laughed, and while staring upon her sleeping in the hospital room days after the incident, doped up, she chuckled and twisted and writhed like she had at the bottom of those steps. Body corrupted, infested, slithering snakes beneath the skin. Visiting the doorframe of her room, I dared to move. I chewed the unbit portions of my fingernails and dared myself closer to test the extent of her fear's agony. The carbon dioxide traveling from my lungs to my lips gripped her body and squeezed. She clapped her eyelashes, shook her head and only then did I realize who the strangest person was between us. I left before she could focus her eyes.

Our relationship didn't fizzle down or twist up and snap like rubberbands, it simply, one day, non-existed and the world returned to pre-Denny. The Dali's she insisted decorate every intelligent person's home, blinds she claimed infomercials promised saved on the energy bill, acrylic fingernails bit at and tore off hours new from the salon, wigs obsessively ordered through shady internet companies, sex toys never put to use, oversized t-shirts she slept in from before she decided women played her instrument how it should be played—it melted, drained and seemed to only exist on the atomic level, where dust mites nipped at its coat tails. Where souls viewed it with lukewarm amusement.

BIO:  Born in Jackson, Mississippi, raised in northern and southern California and 9th Ward New Orleans, Michael Martin has incidentally seen more of the U.S. before he was 12 than most see in their 20s, mainly due to all the family reunions in the states where he wasn't grow'd up. He reads as often as possible and believes used bookstores are the bee's knees.