Monday, August 8, 2011

Flirted With You All My Life

Hi folks:

I'm premiering a few flash pieces from one of my favorite writers, Jeremy Rice.  This is the opening chapter of his debut novel, KEEP THAT GOOD SPIRIT ON YA

Feel free to read a couple of the pieces and come back for more. Sip it like good scotch. And if at the end of a few fingers you decide you enjoy them, buy it. 

It's pound for pound and penny for penny some of the best prose out there. 

PS: the customer call piece is my fave. 
1. "Flirted with you all my life"

December 25, 2009

Asheville, NC. Christmas. I stand in the perfect center. The frigid court is like the surface of a bell. Each time the fox pummels it with leather the air sings. He pounces around the court like a cat chasing a cricket, yells to me, Take a shot mate! My legs puckery blue, arms stitched down by my pea coat, I don't feel up to a game, would prefer to thaw out. The basketball clapped in the fox's paws lava and sunlike -- look above -- round and cold as the circle of orange juice cascading to my mouth when I was little in front of the TV and Moms was in the kitchen I love Moms Moms slits her arms with razors. The fox slings me a razor -- Ack! Fox notices my face. Are you straight? -Can we go somewhere warm please? Dismay. He enjoys being a fox in the cold.

Destin's house. We dose her. Destin: blue comfy pullover with frayed sleeve ends and a hole she can slide her thumb through without thought, notice, pull it out and shove the sleeves up her arms. She has soft cello music going. If I were to reach forward and grab a fistful of Destin's skirt I would smell in its fibers powdergreen tea and the smell of Destin herself. Between her skirt and her feet in dusty sports socks Destin wears straight pretty unshaven legs. Greta, who is at her trailer with my son, also has hippie tendencies: soft nests under her arms, hemp, honey and beeswax in her bathroom products. We used to take showers in the trailer. She scraped my body with a loofah and scrubbed my butt with a silky-sud finger and lookaway sly smile. After every bathing she glazed her entire body with lotion and the smell of it hovered off her.

Destin right in front of me holds in one hand a camera, in the other something tender and luminous: a half-peeled tangerine. She's handing me my son. And she will take a picture. Oliver is so little. I have a son. Flash. Textbook image of Hiroshima. Freeze consciousness.

In Athens, GA, Vic Chesnutt overdoses on muscle relaxants and dies.

January 27, 2009

There is a pain between my ears that pulses a hundred and twenty times a day. Every chime announces a new customer call. I work for the bank. A lady from Connecticut has chimed in. "I'm so sorry. So sorry. You don't understand, I never do this. I don't overdraft my account I swear, I swear I'm good I'm a good person, I don't do this sort of thing. I am so angry at myself right now," and she wavers into sobtalk that's musical. 

Earlier I got a call like this: "You are a whiny sniveling shit I can't stand the sound of your voice what do you mean the computer won't let you, you're the bank, right, are you not? I called the bank. I called the number. This is the bank. You're the bank. Give me my money. You stole my money, sissy. I am a police officer. I am a police officer for the city of Detroit." I replied: "And I am a phone bank operator in Asheville, North Carolina, sir."
My supervisor cruises the cubicles, flashing thumbs ups, her big cheap jewelry dangling and clacking. 

I wonder if I should transfer the Connecticut freaker to anti-suicide. "May I put you on hold a minute and check something, just check all our options here? Miss Sandstrom?" "Call me Kelly." "Kelly. Putting you on hold?" (she mumbles.) "Excuse me?" "...You will come back right?" "I promise I'll be right back." Closing my eyes I see dollar sign sculptures composed of diamond and sheer crystal and police shattering bullets into them. I feel without body and I feel the woman on the line is without body and we are two voices alone raging for one another. Click. "I'm back. My supervisor is telling me. I don't know. She's telling me her hands are tied, our hands are tied." "Oh my god oh my god." Losing the grip of her breath. "I can't believe this is happening right now of all times just when I was trying to show my mother, to show my mother, this is how pathetic I am, forty years old and I live with my goddamn mother, sorry for saying that oh god, I don't care, you don't care do you?" -- "I don't mind, you're fine, go on Kelly." "You're a good listener. You're good. What was -- ? Forty years old and my goddamn mother she talks at me like I'm a kid. And... I've spent time in hospitals, too. I'm not perfect. And I've done a lot of things... Listen... you're not going to... cancel my account?" "No. Not one bit necessary. You really haven't done anything to feel bad about, Miss Sandstrom, Kelly, I mean, I've overdrafted my own account more than once. And living at home is nothing to feel ashamed of. You probably just need some time to sort yourself out, get back on your feet. Kelly... I'm not supposed to do this, but I'm looking through your activity this past year, and this is your first mistake, you've been an awesome customer, so just cool off, take a minute... I'm authorized to offer you a one time rebate of the full overdraft fee, thirty-seven dollars. That leaves your account only four dollars negative. What I need you to do, Miss Sandstrom, Kelly, lovely Kelly, pretty Kelly, silly Kelly, she'll find her way Kelly, is run down to the bank in person before two o clock and hand five dollars cash to the teller. Can you do that for me? And then you're in the clear." "I'm in the clear?" "You're in the clear."

The chimes chime chime chime until quittin' time. Out front a guy who looks pretty eaten up fishes through the ashtray, stashing butts into a Ziploc. I gift him two from my pack and smoke one talking to him. Can you give me a ride? he wants to know. I tell him I'm waiting for the bus, but would he like a coffee at the Burger King down the hill? 
We drink coffee. I order small fries but we don't eat. The guy is whacked either from huffing gas, which he alludes to obliquely, or from schizophrenia. I tell him I have a date to look forward to. He tugs the grey behind his head, floored to be alive, asks again if he can call his sister. I repeat I don't have a phone. He confesses finally, collapsing across his arms: his sister is dead. I pat-pat and sad smile and hasten to make the bus.   

First date. Greta's three girlfriends accompany us. We bring red boxes of Massaman and Drunkard's Noodles to the trailer, smoke pot out of a halved Pepsi bottle gravity bong, watch Fantasia and pass Sailor Jerry. Greta mutes the TV and puts on a record: Black Sabbath. Ozzy moans: Now I know just what you're looking for. The mops are chopped to bits. Two of the girlfriends sit really really close to each other. Greta stands on long legs, stoops over the Pepsi bottle, presses her lips to its mouth, rises, falls -- red-faced and leaking -- kisses me and breathes into me hot smoke. The girlfriends make out. We are supreme. I have washed ashore before Circe and I may never escape.     

August 7, 2008

I can barely stand music.

I visited Moms today. She had taken her art off the walls and put it into folders. "Honey, are you drinking too much?" I went into the bathroom to see what pills she was taking. There were pine needles on the floor and a stack of library books on the table and soy burgers in the freezer. She seemed to be trying, maybe even painting, but she complained about her eyes, said she felt disoriented, afraid to go outside. I told her: "I can barely stand music. All my music reminds me of Chloe. Only thing I can stand to listen to is a Vic Chesnutt album called Drunk. You'd like it."

Moms said she had trouble sleeping but the black cloud was over there. Her ferns looked happy. I took with me a folder of her art. My house is sick I mean it feels like it has the flu. It makes me nauseous to be here. The tub overflows with wrinkled and soiled clothing most of it Chloe's she needs to come and get. It reminds me of hiding in the back bathroom as a kid. There was a tub in there filled with Moms's old wool. Moms's watercolors veer in and out of psychosis; the woman figure is trapped trapped trapped trapped and is jeered at and has scars where she has carved herself. A black outline, a woman facing a mirror, dabbing a paintbrush into the red-burst on her wrist, blood-painting her own reflection. An unsprung face awash in pink angry haze facing its own pronouncing finger: Iamaworthless pieceofshit Iamaworthless pieceofshit.  

December 25, 2009

The fox sculpts a self-portrait with modeling clay. Destin fingerpaints with her eyes closed, hair aswirl, baby blues and canary yellows. I am frozen to the couch. My friends can tell I'm roughing something out and they let me be. Let a bad-turning trip turn itself around. Ashamed of needing empathy I long for them to know that I love them and I can pull out of this I can stutter free from panic. Mad at myself. 

September 10, 2009

The Grey Eagle. The beer special is Sweetwater. I take a pint and leave a tip, make my way to the stage, wait for the show.
Once Greta told me I needed to fast. It would detoxify my system and my soul. "My intuition tells me it's right for you," she said, "and I trust my intuition."
"But why should I trust your intuition," I said.
She threw my tarot. She didn't like what the cards declared about us, our future. I said, "If it makes you feel any better, I think it's all bullshit."
That didn't make her feel any better.

I was at her first ultrasound. The interviewer was petite, pretty and blonde and probably only had sex with her boyfriend. She glanced at her clipboard and asked babysoftly: "Is there any history of cancer in your family, sir? mmhmm Is there any history of mental illness in your family, sir? mmhmm" -- big smile, perfect teeth -- "Do you play volleyball, sir? mmhmm This is such a special time for you two And you make Such a pretty couple And ooh We're going to find out what color to paint the bedroom! Do you have a preference Boy or Girl do you Want one or the other?" Lima bean image on the weird little screen. Greta, bulging, looked me in the eyes. I excused myself, went to the bathroom, knelt on the tile. The smell of Lysol assaulted me. The puke was sour and mean, speckling the toilet.

Vic Chesnutt rolls onto the stage. He usually plays with a full band, but tonight is a rare solo show, just him, his wheelchair, his guitar and a stack of papers that contains his lyrics. He shuffles the papers and tunes the guitar. He shifts in his seat and plunks a chord. He clears his throat and says, "I guess I'll play this one. It's a new song. It came to me whole, in a dream, the song did. The thing is, I lost the final verse. I couldn't remember it, when I woke up, so the song's missing a verse."

January 1, 2010

The trailer is still in Christmas mode: piles of fake snow, fluttery tinsel, plastic santa, silver tree and blue, red, gold bulbs. Greta looking pink and laughing and alive. Her mom a bit hot-wired but passing out bottles of water. The fox all wooly and ebullient about new family. Moms on the couch holding her first grandbaby, who isn't yet two months old. Moms is alive everyone is alive wow. Oliver is passed around and returned to my lap. I cradle him. Last night I dreamed of him. He had his baby head but the body and agility of a cat and he twisted and darted away from me. 
Eyes closed, head nestled in my hand. 
Greta says: "I've been putting him on the windowsill. See how his skin looks a little yellow? The doctor said to hold him up to the light. I think it's helping." 
Later, at the bar, I tell Moms I would like her to design me a tattoo. Hidden within the hellscapes of her watercolors are angels of sorts, pink and green dragon insects, turquoise seahorses. I want one of her creatures imprinted where I can see it always, a reminder of zany little miracles. Moms is alarmed: "You don't want to mutilate? Your body is pure!” Grimacing into my Jack&Coke: "My body is pure?" I smile so big at Moms her forehead wall-smashed her arms ladders of scar I start laughing ha-ha-ha-ha-HAHAHA -Haha! Moms! have you ever heard of the Germs?? Moms! what do you know about Punk Rock??

Jeremy Rice hails from Asheville, NC. 
He dreams in couplets with mad beats.

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