Issue #82 Guest Editor Lindsey Gates-Markel was previously featured as Storychord's Issue 13 writer. She is an actor and writer born in Illinois in 1983. She recently starred in The Thinking Molecules of Titan, a film adaptation of an unfinished short story by Roger Ebert. Her short fiction has most recently appeared in Sundog Lit, Hobart, and Whiskeypaper and is forthcoming in Little Fiction. For more, visit Lindsey online at lindseygatesmarkel.com.
by Sean H. Doyle
It would take all of the neon in the world to make brightly-lit signs of my cowardly acts. Those signs would be so glow you’d be able to see them from space. Those signs would be so glow they’d disrupt cellular and satellite communications. Still, they’d be mine, and I’d be proud because why not be proud of your cowardice when cowardice is so innately human and alive and endearing?
Heroism, much like America, is just an idea.
Issue #82 soundtrack: The Beauty Shop "Nightcrawlers"
The tip of my tongue is always cut up. There is a chip in the back of the space between my top front teeth and it is jagged and I constantly run my tongue over it and it rubs my tongue raw and sore and I think I do this because I like this. It burns when I drink coffee and I drink a lot of coffee. It burns when I eat hot food and I eat hot food. It feels cruddy when I smoke and I smoke all the time.
My teeth are a fucking graveyard.
Drugs will fuck your teeth up. Years and years of doing drugs rots them at the root and then years later, after you’ve hopefully wised the fuck on up and been clean for a while, that rot turns to money you have to dole out to some dentist to fix the damage you did to a part of your body you really need. I’m not one to complain about medical care because I’ll be damned if medical care shouldn’t be an everyday thing for everyday people, but dentistry is expensive as all get-out. Young me was always like “pull that fucking rotten thing, don’t need it,” and now older me is like “fuck, I should have let them fix/rebuild and kept that goddamn tooth even though it was rotting in my head and painful because now you can see a sinkhole in my face if the lighting is just right and it’s hard to eat when you’re missing so many fucking teeth because it puts stress on the teeth that are borderline good and ends up fucking them up, too.”
I am never not dragging the tip of my tongue through the graveyard.
Cocaine is stupid. Trust me.
The other night I dreamed I had lost my glasses and nobody would help me find them, everyone laughing at me and telling me to learn how to see with my other eyes.
There is some good meat on that bone.
When I first got back to The City after my pop died, I promised myself I wasn’t going to juice my sadness with my usual predatory sexual habits. Wasn’t going to hang in dive bars and try to shark seal pups out on the town for the night after using fake ID to get on in and get loaded. None of that. I tried real hard to keep my shit together and not inflict my sad into anyone. After a couple of weeks of that I started burning so much, like, every millimeter of my flesh was screaming for someone to touch it, lick it, rub up on it with their fleshiest and softest parts. I set up a godforsaken online dating profile, lied about my age, and subsequently started waking up in random apartments all over the Upper East Side next to beautiful and naked schoolteachers.
I was totally content to keep on doing it until one of them called me on my cell and screamed at me, accusing me of stealing her purse after I’d slipped out as she dozed off. I marched right back to her place and she had already found it, so she asked me to come back in for another romp and then I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirrored hallway and knew it was time to fuck off and stop fucking with people and their hearts.
It is very hard to love someone when your politics differ, but it can be done.
What I was saying about the need to be touched and touch is a real thing. When something traumatic happens to me, my body/mind action will usually want to use the genitals as a method to heal. There is obviously more to it than that, but that will almost always be the first impulse—to stick and be stuck to lick and fuck to fight and bleed and spill seed—and I honestly don’t see a reason not to follow that impulse, within reason. What I did learn, however, was that I was hurting others as I was doing this. I mean—I’m not the best dude in the history of dudes, but I am damn sure doing my best to be a better dude and all that—my impulse control track record certainly doesn’t scream “THIS IS A GUY WHO HAS YOUR FEELINGS IN MIND WHILE HE’S TRYING TO NIBBLE YOUR EARLOBE WHILE YOU TO TELL HIM THE FINER POINTS OF YOUR FAVORITE SITCOM,” nor does it lend itself to anything other than me admitting I have some issues and I own them, but, you think maybe we can make out near a dumpster in Chinatown at dusk?
While all of this was going on, it was also my Last Ride—the last year I was going to use/drink/swallow pills/snort brown powder/smoke everything green—which sort of complicated things. I knew I was self-medicating on the simple things, but it took me a bit to realize I was doing the same thing with naked flesh and fluids and late night admissions of the desire to not be able to walk the next day. I was also working two jobs, visiting my Great Aunt in the hospital after she had stroked out so badly she could only talk with her eyes and those eyes were filled with so much terror I still see them as I sit here writing this. I sweet-talked her nurses and they’d late me stay way beyond visiting hours and they’d all watch me as I sat there with my Aunt, telling her about my day and about how good it was to be back in Brooklyn and how much I loved her. I did everything I could to try and settle her eyes. I’d stand over her and rest my lips on her forehead and hum songs to her. One night I took a fistful of valium after drinking a pint of whiskey. I nodded out in the chair and one of her nurses woke me so kindly, so sweetly. She was rubbing my head and asking me if I needed a blanket. I just smiled. I was so fucked up that I balled that sweet and kind nurse, right there in the bathroom of my aunt’s room at Maimonides in Borough Park.
Wait. Why did I just tell you this?
I do not miss the people but I do miss the desert. I miss being able to drive far out and away from everyone and everything and be in that kind of dark stillness, that kind of star-filled empty. I miss the way the desert floor would smell after a downpour and the way it would feel under foot. I miss being able to lay back in the bed of a truck in the earliest part of a day—before the light, before commerce—and feel the heat begin to rise from the dirt and know that a day was being born, a day that had unlimited possibility and an unstructure that would jut out from that moment until the next.
I was snorting poorly-crushed chunks of methamphetamine off of my hand in a stall in a terrible strip club in west Phoenix—a club where all of the security personnel were white power skinheads and all knew I was Jewish and all wanted to murder me on sight but couldn’t—the last time I heard my mother’s voice. It wasn’t real. She had been dead for a couple of years. But it was real, because I heard it and tears started falling out of my face onto my hand, soaking the stepped-on chemical powder with salt and rendering it useless to snort. I lapped it up with my tongue as I convulsed and ached and tried to understand why and how my mother had spoken to me. I felt the burn on my tongue and fought back the urge to throw it all up. I reached my unpowdered hand into the toilet bowl and brought a scoop of cool water to my pate, rubbing it into my scalp, counterintuitive to the burning of the chemicals now rushing through my blood and brain.
“You are not my son,” is what her dead voice said to me, “my son would never be the person you have become.”
When I came out of the stall to collect myself and go back out to the main room and let strippers grind on me, one of the skinheads was standing near the sinks, arms folded across his chest. He had prison tattoos on his forearms, red braces, red laces, had a jackal’s grin. I am sure he saw the fear on my face and the redness of my eyes and had heard me crying and snorting in the stall.
“Instead of me kicking your kike ass out, how about you just give me your drugs and leave, Jewboy?”
I wish I could tell you something heroic happened, but I gave him my drugs and I left that club and never went back there again. I wish I could tell you that I stood up for myself. I wish I could tell you all sorts of things.
I cowered and complied.
Talk is supposed to be cheap but lately when I find myself talking there is a price. Price is not meant to annotate something bad or bad-seeming here—everything has a cost and sometimes the cost is worth it—because I am always willing to pay in blood and time. Blood and time are worth it if you gain a little of either in return. I’d much rather, at this point in my life, get some time back because blood can only take you so far into a thing before the thing needs more blood to stay alive. I used to only want the blood. I used to only want to taste. Now I want to breathe a little and see a little and catch a scent that sticks around and triggers time slowing down and hands brushing hands and legs twisting into legs and tongues being tongues.
Sit still long enough and every tiny movement is a marathon.
I am burning things today. I started with the usual—cigarettes—and have moved on to my late-afternoon-rituals of incense, trying to jar the fog and write the words and watch the word count rising and falling. Doesn’t matter—the words are the words and will not come out unless they are ready to come out but still I sit here and push like I am crowning and in pain and unable to do anything but scream inside of myself—what ritual I choose to use/abuse. This is the time when things slow just a bit and then rush out like fatty tissue from a stab wound. Have you ever seen a stab wound? Always so gruesome and frightening, what with the initial tearing of skin and then the layers exposed like the opening of a flowering bud and the fat coming out around it, seeping and clumping out. I was stabbed in the thigh with a screwdriver once, by an angry skinhead who knew it was his only chance to wound or maim me before I loosed myself on him. He was wrong, though—I did no such thing. I pulled the screwdriver from my thigh and played with the wound, looking at the fat seeping like runny cottage cheese and feeling queasy and ready to pass out, but I didn’t, because I wanted him and everyone else to see I had no fear of death and no fear of my own blood. Both of which are/were lies. I fear my own death. I fear the sight of my own blood.
That was the night of The Acid Party, the night I babysat fifteen of my supposedly closest friends and allies, the night I burst through the door into a back bedroom and attacked a group of young boys who were taking turns having sex with a girl who had no idea where she was, who she was with, or what was happening to her. Or so I thought, because afterward, in the driveway, sharing a cigarette and a soda with her, she told me she had initiated it and all the boys were nervous to do it and that I had ruined things and that all of the boys were already afraid of scary Sean and now I had given them all reason to fear me even more. I have never forgotten the way she looked at me that night, the way her face contorted into so much sad and so much resentment. That night was one of the last nights I spent with that group of people. I left soon after, for the military and a new mask and a new heart and new reasons to continue to overthink the actions of others outside of myself.
I have seen her since—or at least many different versions of her—and still my heart feels so much.
Inclusion is such a bastard of a thing, isn’t it? We all want it so badly, working so hard to feel it, to taste it, to know it. I have learned to rely on the self because I used to destroy so much with arrogance and petulance and by allowing the broken thing inside of me to stomp and crush anything that could possibly be seen as good or inclusive. I watch young people now—working so hard to appease and please and blow smoke—and how much it hurts to see. Sometimes I want to plug them into my hard drive and show them how little the inclusion matters, show them how much being self-reliant can help them overcome herd mentalities and help them move beyond the false promise of acceptance. Then I remember. I am not a doctor. I am not a therapist. I am not a social worker. I am not a parent. I am barely anything at all.
Just a man.
Just a man.
Just a man.
I remember when I was crazed and on drugs and I was sleeping in a park with a Vietnam vet and I got the dude super fucking high and then the dude kept on telling me about the VC and about how they would terrorize the GIs by sneaking into the camp and fucking with their shit only to sneak back off without ever killing anyone or firing a single round. I remember watching his hands moving in front of his face and how I could see galaxies between his fingers and his words would push out of his mouth and the dust would float in and out of the pockets of light and I remember how I could smell his sweat change as his stories got more intense. I remember how he would get quiet for a moment and look off into the empty midnight park and rock on his hips a little before he’d dive back into his nightmare and I remember thinking to myself that this man was spat upon by people when he came home and now he’s on the streets stuck with his nightmares and ain’t a solitary fuck being given about him by anyone. I remember thinking about my own nightmares about Kuwait City and the animals in the zoo and the mines left behind and the bodies hung from streetlights and still—still motherfucker, be still—all I could do was listen and nod and try to get inside of his no longer outside and hear him out.
Don’t talk to me about your goddamn revolution or your goddamn student loans or your goddamn problems with your publisher or your problems with your still living parents or your having to walk through slush to get to a bus.
Some people walk through blood.
You gonna walk through blood?
I wrote your name in a pile of salt and poured oil on it and lit that shit right on up to heaven.
I dreamed about a flood, but I didn’t save anyone.
Sean H. Doyle lives in Brooklyn, NY. He works hard every day to be a better person and is learning how to love himself more. His book, THIS MUST BE THE PLACE, is forthcoming from Civil Coping Mechanisms in 2015. Visit the author online at seanhdoyle.com.
Langston Allston's drawings spring from thousands of hours spent watching Rap City and Dragonball Z, paging through Boondocks cartoons, and fantasizing about sneakers. His work discusses Black male representation through myth with the intent of opening up a discussion about representation and misrepresentation, and of engaging with the complex web of history and fiction that makes up contemporary masculinity and identity. Contact Langston via email or follow him on Instagram.
The Beauty Shop was a small band from a small town in IL, lead by a small man named John Hoeffleur. They did OK, put out some records, made some waves. They aren't a band anymore, and that's totally OK with most people. So what.