To Howl, by Brandon Diaz
I’m into my second brown cocktail when I see him there, below that shelf. He’s tearing open boxes with fancy labels and eloquent French names. The Chateau something or others people pretend they’ve had. I’m pretending to have him, using my eyes as magnets, hoping he’ll look this way and undress the muted shapes of my office attire. I like to postulate that I’m not on his radar because he is adamantly in work-mode at the beginning of a shift. But he is gorgeous and youthful and kind of resembles Sean, my husband. A messy Sean.
He’ll let his eyes wander down the bar later, when the happy-hourers have gone back to their condos, and calico cats. I’m a part of that crowd and we have to be in bed early.
After the autumn sky has gone peach and purple, the catches of the day come in with their jeans and heels and buoyancy. I say, I don’t want to be like them. Thank God I didn’t turn out like that. But I am lying and I am resentful and I am jealous. He breaks down the last box and walks back behind the bar. He is called Nicholas and is the only reason I come here. I busy myself with the contents of my purse until he’s in position enough to be asked for another drink.
The bar’s décor is contemporary. Hand sanded wooden slats lacquered dark, protruding from the wall in different reliefs. Something that could be seen at the MOMA. He has a black t-shirt with the name of an obscure band—Melting and Molly, and hasn’t shaved in a few days, at least. The blank moon swings in the air and now and I’m howling on the inside when he reaches up for the good bourbon for my next Manhattan.
Luxurious, the two rows of fancy champagne and desert wine. Dark hard bodies stacked side by side like shimmering soldiers of sexy. Some labels vary in sparkle and color. Their contents used to close the deal for hopefuls: the suave, the daters, the celebratory anniversary folks.
I grew up to hugs, and kisses and discipline. The rules of our Christian household were supposed to make straight the bent backs of the weak and set fourth new households with flourishing herds. Sean calls my family good stock. I feel fortunate when he says so, but don’t believe that hugs and homework and Jesus have remedied my inner-evils. The third night of our honeymoon I looked out the window of our hotel room out toward the vermilion moon when I could not get to sleep. Turning over, Sean muttered, What’s wrong? Can’t sleep, you werewolf? Did he not know? This is where religious people have it easy. Fight your urges by falling back on the churches guided set of ABC’s. If only he had the silver, then.
Nick the beautiful bartender falls away from where I’ve stationed myself toward something in a laser-blue cocktail dress. Her etiquette for getting a drink is leaning over the top of the bar, lead by her breasts and a sultry voice. Bad stock, perhaps? I think that I have her same parts, and that she must be cold. A group of male co-workers peer over and gawk at her through their chicken wings. Her pumps embellish the length of her legs. A tattooed scene of violence drips down her thigh below the bottom of her dress, she orders a pink drink. I’d take the bet that she considers her hair strawberry-blonde, but it is indeed red. And she’s wrong for Nick. Too much pretty, not enough smart. A brief fulfillment of lust with—romance that lasts a quick as a pop rock. Then gone, exploded on the ground. Soon I will be turning, and if I see her near him again, I’ll dig the insides out of her pelt. Her remains like plastic, scattered among the streets.
I became like this as a particular summer was ending. I was not yet married to Sean.
Thumbing through my pains I recall the deathblow that made my teeth sharp and my nails grow.
I arrive at a skinny man in a green shirt. He is stilt-slim arms raised at the sides like the crucifixion. I’m squinting to bring him to focus. He stretches distorting in and out. On the other side of the sour yellow air he’s without movement. Then, there’s the lunch date where Maya spilled the beans about the end of my relationship with the skinny man.
She suggested a rainy day hop along to a sushi restaurant. A white mechanical cat greeted us in Japanese as we entered. We ordered a bit too much for lunch and were surprised everytime the waitress returned bearing more gifts. The lighting was orange, which glowed obnoxiously off of the white coloring of the restaurant’s interior.
We had almost an entire roll left to eat, when she told me she met Gabriel’s girlfriend. A woman with thick curls like mine that he brought to the soft-opening of some gallery. He and I had been fighting for months and giving one another space, on account of my new job and his budding social career in the art scene. Maya spilled the news like a death rattle, waiting for my skin to break like glass.
That fall, the Earth’s axis wobbled while my smell grew keen. The wet weather had come early, and before we poked into our last tiger-roll, my stomach had closed up like a Venus fly-trap. I wrung Maya out for details, clarifying if he’d introduced this impostor as his girlfriend.
Yes, ‘Maya, meet my girlfriend’ so-and-so. I, I don’t remember her name, but she looked like a less-cute you.
She said she was going to tell me over coffee, but got hungry for Japanese instead. I thanked her and we went our separate ways.
The hair on my arms stood on end as the defroster blew a chill into the front of the car. The wipers paced frantically and I re-dialed Gabriel relentlessly. I crashed through puddles, and dialed and dialed as the horizon inhaled red break-lights of the cars in the distance. An artist like Gabriel wasn’t at work, and I had battery to spare. His freckles hid in shame as he finally answered and began exhaling No’s through the receiver. Are you seeing someone? Are you fucking someone? Just tell me. Are you with someone? Like Aunt Lisa could kneed into us for the confession of childhood sins. Yes, I ate the cookies…
He paused before the admission of guilt, a pause that was three years long and as cold as snow. My Volvo careened through the reddest red-light burning up the September chill. I drove on through the city as it spun like a top, a jaw only held on by strings of saliva and snot. It was coming down when I pulled the car to the side of the road. This type of crying happens in slow-motion. Swing the door open to brace for vomiting. Sobbing, and spit and puddles and stomach pains. Eyes deconstruct the foreground into objects, shapes, meat, and flesh. Teeth sharp as knives. A drowning face. There are puddles, but it is also raining.
And there in my stomach the watermelon pit grew into a lush green bulb like my second-grade days as a sinner.
The autumn day passes cold and bleak like creeping death. Sun is much lost to the days, fighting with the tilt of the planet to shine, but gives in to routine and tradition. A season with two names; I prefer fall, seems more fitting. On this clearest day, 1 p.m. is a still sepia. An almost there—lighting. God’s mood-setting for winter’s hospice nurse. My lips are chapped and my mouth tastes syrup of nausea. The lingering coffee resin coating my mouth does not help.
When I sit in the driver’s seat the heart in my chest bangs a rhythm more like a hum, than a constant pound. The speed at which my blood is traveling has crippled my order of operations. Out there, in that world, a thin woman is jogging in place waiting for the signal to change because work on her physical image is never done. A lively golden dog is walking his fat pet. I relearn that the gearshift doesn’t click into drive until the key has been pushed into the ignition. Nerves are shepherding my rush to leave. I’m not bothered with buckling up.
A woman in a blue car is yelling over N.P.R., gesturing with a frustrated hand at the Volvo that just blew the stop sign. Inside a car that portrays the image of comfort and stability. Tires crunching browns and reds. The bleak Earth has put November cold onto deciduous leaves, sugars long since having left. I long to be evergreen.
9:53 am on a fall morning makes the blue lettering of the cafe look sleek and refreshing. I am bringing coffee to Nick in exchange for validation. There is young couple in workout clothes carrying their reusable grocery bag. I think about what organic items they have, and how healthy do they really eat? Something about having your cake and eating it, too. Myself and a husband and a lover to visit. It nears 11 am, when Nick is drifting back into sleep as my eyes reach across his bedroom grabbing snapshots of his furniture with my mind. The cool of the sheets rides me to a safe doze. I’m cloudy-minded staring at the mouth of the waste-basket. There in that can of discard lies the scraps of bills, snot-rags, dried leaves from the house-plants and cough-drop wrappers. Hovering around the plastic rim syrup of time I borrow and return. Sometimes to plop in its bubble is suffocating. Other events fly by, motorized with magic and then gone too soon. The safety is nourishing, cleansing with the tilted light of the day. Amidst the wastebasket at my feet, I’m scolded by the excess, the waste, the want, the consumption, the things gone, and the things left behind. The syrup of time is dense and sticky as I dirty my knees crawling to the finish-line. A vibration on the floor is redundantly reminding me of missed calls. It is my husband. He is calling again. He is calling now.
Sean’s voice is crackling in my ears. He’s choking on spit and tears. With eyes closed I see saliva strings break onto the soft of his bottom lip. He’s trying to tell me his mother has been killed. This takes five ruptured sentences. He chokes on anguish. His diaphragm is blowing his belly in and out.
I visualize how the scene looks on the other side of the phone.
“On my way, baby. I’m leaving right now,” I tell, eyeing my bare breasts, hips, vagina in the mirror.
On the clearest fall afternoon, 12:35 p.m. is emergency-orange. I try to flood my nerves with comforting fantasies of the future—thoughts of complacency and routine, like my parents pedestrian marriage. I relearn to click the hazards on when stopped in the red zone to ask a young man for a cigarette. It’s the last in his pack, which he concedes without hesitation. The stranger interprets my dire urgency to obtain calm. He sees the flush of my face, my stare a million years into the future, where I’m a divorce’ cutting my brandy with egg-nog. I thank him for his Parliament-light and hustle back into driving mode.
Sean will smell cigarette smoke when we embrace. Hugging will happen as soon as I walk through the door. I can tell him…I can tell him nothing; smoking is his nemesis, and I won’t be able to pawn my shame off on despair from his mother’s death. The cigarette is tossed to the wind as I wind up the hill towards home, our home. He will be crying and inquiring about cigarette smoke.
About gifts—who goes Christmas shopping for the morning and comes home with no presents? I will say they were left in a rush, emphasizing their non-importance. Perhaps they are tucked away in the trunk, because Sean you can’t very well see your Christmas presents yet. He doesn’t ask anything when I walk in. I’m not Sean’s concern.
1:45 p.m. looks gray, black, blue like a cartoon bruise. His feet hang off the edge of the couch, toes pointing toward strewn throw-pillows. His eyes are swollen and red, lips cracked from the moisture-stripping autumn cold.
He is telling me “I can’t reach my brother, Marla. His phone is dead, or off. I’ve tried and tried and tried.” Answer your fucking phone Nicholas! Oh my God, Marla. What’s Nick gonna’ think? Mom’s gone. Where are you, Nicholas?”
A tilted Earth is pulling lengthy shadows out of the world’s people, as I stare down my husband. Recoiling to Indian-style from where I stood, I begin to cry, and my claws protrude. Fall looks like my distraught husband Sean consoling me while I playback the smells of his beautiful brother’s bedroom. Strands of my hair littering his pillowcase. Style’s of bedside lamps that I prefer. The napping man I left to rush home for an emergency.
Brandon Diaz is an Oakland based fiction writer and a graduate of the San Francisco State University Creative Writing program. After a journalistic stint with the online music magazine, GreenShoelace.com, Diaz began teaching Creative Writing, and is set to become the editor-in-chief of the short fiction anthology AuntieChrist. He is an avid reader, and loves to write prose poetry and flash-fiction.
1 reader loves this story!
Tags: affairs, betrayal, brandon diaz, death, lies