The Enemy - a Flash Fiction

by Elison Alcovendaz

I've been sitting on a blog about Robin Williams for three days now. I wanted to connect his death to thoughts about whether or not the supposed connection between creative genius and madness was legitimate. I had anecdotes from my past. I had statistics from scientific and sociological studies. I had at least three different drafts. But then I read an article about irresponsible writing when it came to things like depression and suicide and I realized that's what I'd be doing, writing irresponsibly about things I really knew nothing about. So, for this next blog, I want to post something I do know something about: stories. Here's a flash fiction to read about a topic that might be timely:

For Thomas there is nowhere else but his room.  The bedsprings that stick through the top.  The window that doesn’t open.  The motionless ceiling fan.  For life, the flicker of the TV.  The click of thumbs to controllers.  The splats of boots to the enemy’s face and the gunshots through the enemy’s belly and the screams of the enemy run over by tanks.  

Thomas often forgets about The Sergeant downstairs.  The Sergeant sits on the edge of the couch as though waiting for something.  But he is only watching the news.  With a cup of cold coffee an inch away from spilling on the rug.  For a week The Sergeant has not called out Thomas’ name.  He does not see Thomas, except at noon and midnight, when Thomas tiptoes down the stairs and crawls across the living room to avoid the windows and opens the refrigerator to make a sandwich.  At midnight, The Sergeant slides behind the pillows and watches Thomas from the edge of the couch.  He is proud of Thomas.  He is proud of Thomas for walking down the stairs without making a sound. 

Sometimes The Sergeant will read the front page.  He checks all the windows before snatching the paper from the front door.  Then he sits on the the couch and unrolls the newsprint across the coffee table.  He reads about Afghanistan.  He mutters to himself and shakes his head and looks through the windows again.  Then he closes the curtains and tosses the papers into a box and watches the news.

Sometimes Thomas looks outside his window.  He ducks under the windowsill and peeks out to make sure the outsiders don’t see him.  He surveys the park across the street.  He finds all the good hiding places, like up in the big tree in the middle or behind the dumpster.  Sometimes a girl sits on a picnic bench near the batting cage and draws.  Other times, she talks on the phone and cries.   He stares at her with one eye closed and wonders if he has good aim.

One early morning, The Sergeant gets off the couch and tries to ascend the stairs without noise.  But when he reaches Thomas’ door, Thomas is already staring at him from the edge of the bed.  The Sergeant points outside, down to the group of Thomas' schoolmates getting on the bus.  He asks Thomas a question.  Thomas stares at the kids then turns back to the TV.  Thomas presses a button and picks up a rifle and slides a bullet through the enemy’s head. 

The Sergeant stands in the threshold and smiles.

 

A Love Letter to Literature

by Elison Alcovendaz

Dear Literature,

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You probably don’t know me, but I love you. It wasn’t love at first sight; actually, I avoided you for most of my young life. And it wasn’t like you didn’t try. I know that you tried and I want you to know that I know that. In my preschool years, you had parents and teachers and teachers aides read to me that wonderful poetry by Dr. Seuss and Silverstein and the stories of Winnie-the-Pooh, but I was too busy picking my nose and looking at what came out to understand. In the elementary grades, you tried to scare me into noticing you; you put Goosebumps in my way, but I was too busy chasing the girls around the playground for no apparent reason that I just didn’t have time for you. In middle school, you sent me those trusty buddies, Frodo and the Narnians, but I was too busy figuring out that hormone thing that I stopped listening to you after the first chapter. You deserved more attention from me then. I’m deeply sorry for that. 

In high school, you called to me in different voices – Orwellian and Steinbeckian and Whartonian and Hemingwayist – but I think you were trying to teach me something about the Iceberg Principle, because you were so subtle that I didn’t even notice you. Then you tried to Shakespeare me, with your sonnets and iambic pentameter and star-crossed lovers, but I was too busy hanging out with your evil cousin, Cliff, who always told me your stories in easy-to-understand Notes so I never actually had to spend time with you. You tried to enchant me with The Count of Monte Cristo and Cyrano de Bergerac; you tried to teach me with Homer and Plato; you tried to challenge me by making me enter the Heart of Darkness and the Inferno; and still, I stuck with Cliff because he was, well, an easy guy to hang out with and wasn’t that demanding of my time.

In college, you got angry and disappared and I should’ve noticed (you have no idea how much I wish I would’ve noticed). Instead, I was spending time with your long lost cousins, learning how to go from Good to Great and trying to figure out Who Moved My Cheese. I spent time with case studies of businesses; I even went over to the dark side and took Math out on a couple of dates. I should’ve known she would be too calculating for my tastes. There was a semester I could’ve come back to you, too, but when I visited your sister, Theater, I couldn’t think about anything except how she talked too much. So I went back to your Rich Dad, Poor Dad and they taught me The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which pushed me so far away from you that I never gave you a second thought.

When I went to work, I met your mortal enemies: sales manuals and insurance contracts and privacy disclosures and profit margin printouts. In the past I’d at least visited your house every now and then, but for those years I didn’t step foot in the library. As time wore on, I got more and more acquainted with the modernized usage of your blood (your words) lol j/k :) WTF? Even if I’d remembered you, even if I’d had the time, I would’ve cast you away. I became conditioned to 140 characters and scrolling status updates. I lost my mind (literally metaphorically). My brain changed. I wouldn’t have had the capacity or the patience to see you again. In a way, I’m glad you stayed away. It wouldn’t have worked.

And then you sent the kid with the lightning scar my way. It was almost an accident, a gift for my roommate. It wasn’t your best work, of course, but it was one of your better ones, and in one night, I remembered you. I went back to college to find you. I learned so much. I slayed a monster with Beowulf and got Paradise Lost; I travelled with Candide and hunted Moby-Dick. Then when I didn't understand right away, you got mad. You turned me into an insect in The Metamorphosis, took me to The Waste Land, and taught me what it meant to be an Invisible Man. But just when I thought I was so close to understanding you, you confused me via Deconstruction; you Marx’d me as capitalist; you made me fear the Panopticon and Said something about my own hybridity. And just when you were about to lose me, you pulled The Great Gatsby on me and that was it. I would've traversed a million Labyrinths to find you. I would've Love(d) (you) in the Time of Cholera. This wasn't a House of Leaves or a Catch-22 or an Infinite Jest. I fell in love with you with something more than a Pale Fire. This was real. I was yours.

And now that I've come to know you, I want you to know that I understand your pain about people not understanding. They say you are an escape and to some degree, that’s true. We live lives that get boring, sad, tedius, angry and sometimes, coming to you provides an escape from all that. But more than that, you’re an example. You teach us about life, the world, people, ourselves, so that when we go back to that sometimes boring, sad, tedious, angry world, we know how to handle it better. You build us up. You show us War and Peace in A Handful of Dust - you lend us insight to the unexplainable.  When we are asleep, you shake us with The Awakening. When chaos rules, when our minds are filled with The Sound and the Fury, you guide us to The Road. You show us the truths that sometimes need 100,000 words to be felt, absorbed through the skin, and filtered through our blood. You break down our walls. When Things Fall Apart, you bring us together and show us The Power of One. And the best part about it is, you are always there, even when we forget you.

So my promise is this: when life gets busy as it always does, I will always come back to you. I will treat you with care and respect. I will continue to get to know you as deeply as I can and I hope, one day, you will get to know me too.

Love,

Elison 

 

Howl

by Elison Alcovendaz
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Barkley ran around the backyard, pooping in the corner, pissing in the other, and I followed him around, a taut hand on the leash, trying to lead and not to be led, when he finally began to doze off on a pile of leaves I had neglected to rake the last two weeks, and since it was only 10am on a Monday, and the suburbs were quiet, I went back inside and grabbed my guitar, moved a picnic chair to the middle of the backyard patio, and began to run my fingers across the fretboard, but something wasn’t right and at first I didn’t know what it was, but then I realized it was off tune, and since I’m tone deaf I couldn’t tune it by ear, I decided not to play, but then Barkley woke up and began to howl, and soon all the dogs in the neighborhood were howling, and I began to howl too, but inside, and by the pitch of the collective howls I tuned the guitar, and started to pluck the strings, and sing a song about being free, and by the time I was done all the dogs were silent and Barkley was sleeping again. 

 

Trust (or The Clothes in the Hamper)

by Elison Alcovendaz

You wake up in the morning to your alarm clock. The time on the phone is right. It's smart, after all. You know it. You'd put your career on the line to that clock. You go take a shower and let that water into your mouth and eyes because you know - you know - that water is safe. The city said so. They got testers. They pay people for that. You watch your wife put on her make-up. You brush your teeth with that toothpaste you bought at that store, you put on that deodorant, that lotion, and nah, of course none of those things have long-term effects. The FDA said those things were good. If not, some other official organization. Official, like, they report to people. They report to leadership. Those experts about stuff that work in that building somewhere.

You put on warm clothes. The meteorologist said it would be cold. You set the alarm to your house. You lock your doors. You see the fence but you don't ever think about it. What's there to think about? It's a fence. It keeps people out. Before you get to your car you wave at your neighbors. Those neighbors you've said three words to in six months. Those neighbors respect that fence just like you respect their fence. It's six feet tall and has splinters in it. No one would climb that fence. People don't do that. Just like people don't break windows. 

You kiss your wife before she gets into her car. You get in your car. The one those guys at the dealer you always go to serviced last weekend. Those guys know cars. They even listed them on the receipt they had you sign. There was proof they knew stuff. It was right there. You start the car. It works of course. All those parts working together like that is just amazing. You put your kid in his car seat. They said it should no longer be rear-facing - I mean, they said it. You buckle him in and then buckle yourself in. You drive. You see other drivers. All those people who have been deemed worthy to drive because they understand the rules of the road are driving those multi-ton machines built by that factory in that country over there and are whizzing by you and your child, everywhere. You stop at that light. You see a cop. You see a green light. You drive. 

You drop your kid off at a babysitter. Nothing can happen there. You have vetted this babysitter. Your friend said she was good. Or if your kid is older, you will drop him at school. He will be taught all the right things by people who love their job and are good at it, too. He will read books. There are a lot of books he will read. Books that a group somewhere decided were the best books all kids should read. He will play with other children who will not do anything to him. I mean, these are other kids we're talking about. He will learn things that some agency that was put together to decide stuff said was necessary to learn. He will learn these things even though there are 35 other kids in his classroom with him. Taxes fund these schools. You pay your taxes. He will learn these things.

You get to work. You won't get paid until the end of the month but you know you will get paid. I mean, it has happened for two straight years now. The money is just there and then you start on the next month. You work on a computer that is protected. It has things like firewalls on it. Only you and your IT staff can see it. That's the way it is. You lock your sensitive documents in that locked drawer. It stays locked when you go to lunch. There's another key somewhere, but, well, no one does those kinds of things.  

At lunch you got to that cool new spot and check-in on Facebook and order the sandwich, the one with the meat and vegetables and bread that came from that place that collects these things and delivers them to the restaurant. You order water. You drink it. While you are waiting for your food you get a text. It is from your wife. It is from your wife because it says so. I mean, who else would be texting you at this time and you know her phone number, they assigned it, its right there on your phone - there's even a picture that pops up! - it is her. You text for a while then you get your food and you eat it. It is delicious. You give the waiter your credit card and he goes to the back to run it. You drink more water. You get the bill and sign it and leave the receipt there on the table with your signature on it. You go back to work.

When work is done, you pick your son up. He isn't crying. Everything is fine. Or, he says school is fine. Everything is fine. You go home. The fence is there. You wave at your neighbors. You go inside. It was hot all day so you shower again. Your son is playing a game on his computer. Your wife isn't home yet. You put a microwave dinner into the microwave and you heat it up and you cut it and you give it to your son. Then you make one for yourself. It is the perfect temperature.

You watch the news. They are talking about Syria. They are telling you about Syria. You watch another channel. They are also talking about Syria. They are telling you something else about Syria. We shouldn't intervene, you think, or we're talking to long to intervene, you think. You go online. You read some articles about other things. You didn't see the game but your team won. The score says it right there. You read about an animal that's going extinct. You read about a scientific discovery they made. You read about how to prevent skin cancer. You read about why GMOs are bad. You read about the hundred new healthy diets that all purport to do what exactly you're not quite sure. You read the mainstream news. You read the not-so mainstream news. You check Facebook. You get unsolicited life advice from your friends.  You see a person you haven't seen since middle school. You add them, even though it doesn't look like them. You put your birthday on your profile. What an easy way to connect. Your wife still isn't home.  

Your son is still playing that game, the one those people made. That one agency rated it a PG so you know it is okay. Your home phone rings. Someone is calling you. It is not your wife. She would not call the home phone before calling your cell phone. You know this. You let it go to voice mail. The voice mail will take the call for you. That's how it works. That's what it was built for. You listen. It is a damn telemarketer. The telemarketer is selling you something. You hate telemarketers. You delete the message once the person stops talking.  

You put your son to sleep and turn on the baby monitor. Those things are genius. Or, your son is still playing that game. You check your phone. No calls. No texts. It is an old phone but it works. She has not called. She has not texted. You go online and the computer boots up just like that. You connect to the internet just like that. You have a firewall too. And a password for your wi-fi. You go to that website and buy that shirt you were looking at last week. You put your credit card in and hit send. The same credit card you gave to the waiter earlier that day. You check your emails. She has not emailed. You know she hasn't because there is no email from her in your in-box. Or in your spam. She has not communicated at all. She has not texted, called, or emailed because your phone and computer said so. You check your phone again. 

It is late when your wife arrives. You are already in bed reading a book about the Gulf War. She opens the door and you see her hair is messy. Her clothes are wrinkled. Her hair looks askew. She tells you a story. She tells you how her car broke down on the way home and her phone died and no one would stop and help so she walked the whole ten miles home. You ask where the car is and she says some street near her office. You wonder if you heard a car pull up before you heard her open the front door. She goes to the bathroom and takes a shower and brushes her teeth and gargles with mouthwash. She tells you what she heard about Syria. She tells you she loves you. You look at her and tell her you love her too. When she falls asleep, you go the bathroom and reach into the hamper to check her clothes.

 

 

 

 

Telling people you're a writer...

by Elison Alcovendaz

inevitably comes down to the "What do you write?" question and you want to scream "Words!" but instead you say "fiction," which leads to the next inevitable "what kind of fiction?" question so you say "young adult" because that's easier than explaining what "literary fiction" means since no one knows what literary fiction is anyway and you do write young adult fiction which you then explain is for teenagers and when they ask if you've been published you say "yes, in several publications," never mentioning their names because they expect you to say in The New York Times or some other publication you and everyone you know personally will never be published in, and when they ask "Have I read any of your work?" you will want to say "shouldn't you be asking yourself that question?" and "how am I supposed to know what you read?" but you just smile and shrug and say "probably not," and then there is a long silence, the kind where people check their wrists even though the watches have long been gone and then they ask, "have you written any books?" and you will say yes and before they ask something about finding it on Amazon you say that an agent is looking at it, which always sounds like a lie even though it's true, and they nod sympathetically as though they understand what getting rejection letters every other day is like, and you begin to feel sad, the inside layers of your eyes peeling away like onions, wondering when it will happen, that big break, wondering if you even want it, that big break, and then your thoughts are interrupted by "So what did you think of such and such book?" and you glance sideways, their eyes raised expectantly as though your response will validate their aesthetic compass, and you try to hide that you hate the book because it is trite and boring and formulaic, but you've learned that even though it is stupid to question doctors because they have studied medicine and it is stupid to question lawyers because they have studied law, your more informed opinion about books, which has been shaped by years and years of detailed study, is not considered expertise but instead elitist and snobby, so you say "it was great" and they smile and say something about how they loved the characterization or plot or some other word it is very easy to throw in a conversation about books, and your eyes peel back even further, tears stinging the inside of your face, because this is what it is now, this is what people think is great literature, this is the extent of your writing "career," these random conversations, and this is when you realize the world doesn't care about what you care about, so you politely say you have to go, and you drive home, greeted by the cursor on that blank screen, and when you start to crawl your fingers across that keyboard, you'll think of that conversation and wonder what kinds of funny things you can do to him in that new book you're writing that three years later will become the number one New York Times bestseller and when someone asks "What do you write?" you will have something very specific to say.