Our Story

*previously published in American River Review Literary Magazine

yellow dress

A tall man and a little girl walk into a bank on, say a Tuesday, although it should be a Saturday with all the teenagers milling around the parking lot among the Priuses and the Volvos, sporting CoExist bumper stickers and spilling out gaggles of children.  So we’ll make it summer in one of those Northern California coastal towns where the women wear long, flowing skirts and the men sport long, flowing pony tails and the kids have perpetually dirt-smeared faces and eat gluten-free bread.

     The tall man wears polyester pants and orthopedic shoes. He is the guy in the grocery store who sings For Sentimental Reasons off-key but it doesn’t bother you because you can just tell he has this magnificent love story inside him and you’d give your last ten bucks to sit with him on a park bench and drink in his story. The little girl, marveling at her black patent Mary Janes, the lace ruffles, trimming her socks, bouncing with each skip, reaches up and takes the man’s hand while she converses with her imaginary friend named Fred who always wears green stripes and only eats ice cream. 

     They should be having one of those Norman Rockwell kind of days. You know what I’m talking about. Those kind of days that you didn’t recognize as particularly special until they were behind you. They’re the days compiled of colorful snapshots that sneak up on you when that certain song plays on the radio, or the smell of freshly mown grass wafts in your direction. A day you cling to as your loved ones move away or pass on. A memory that slips in bed with you when you’re sick or makes you miss the exit on the freeway.

     Yeah, let’s make them have one of those kind of days.

     They fall into line between the velvet ropes and wait their turn while the little girl spins in circles, her yellow dress flaring wide and twisting against her waist as she stops short, slapping her shiny shoe on the carpeted floor, asking the tall man if this is the house where money is made, and if it is, could he please buy her one because her friend, Elsie, needs a giant birdhouse for the blue jays in her backyard that get cold in the morning.

     Now let’s say there’s ANOTHER man in the bank who’s pacing and sweating as the banker lobs phrases at him comprised of familiar repeats like I’m sorry sir and my hands are tied sir and the man’s face and eyes are red. His khaki Big Ben work shirt is dark with sweat down his back. His Levi’s are held up over hips too thin that hang by a belt that’s down to its last hole. Words like divorce, repossession and bankruptcy dive bomb him from all angles like a swarm of angry yellow jackets. He smacks the desk, screaming about working hard his whole life, about needing just a few more days, about harassing phone calls and notices, about calling an attorney everyone knows he can’t afford. He collapses into the black leather conference chair, the one with the shiny, wood veneer frame where loving, young couples celebrate as they sign mortgage papers for their first home, where eager teenagers nod in agreement as their parents co-sign on their first car, where his final attempt at redemption hangs asphyxiated as he bends forward, his elbows digging in his knees, his head sinking in his hands, where he sobs openly in public for the first time.

     Then let’s have the tall man nod to the little girl and watch as she slips beneath the velvet ropes because she sees the clear crack in the man’s heart, in a way only children can. So she approaches, without any fear that the angry yellow jackets striking him might sting her too.

     Now I know that it’s highly unlikely that the tall man steps over the ropes and whispers for her to go ahead but this is our story and we can change the ending. We can remove the gun that the man slipped in between his waistband and the small of his back when he left the house this morning. We can crawl inside his pocket and tear up the suicide note he’d written to Lucille and the kids. We can erase the balding county coroner, in his signature navy windbreaker, who might, in say an hour, sign off on six, make that, seven bodies.

     Yes, we can have that little girl who believes fairies are the only ones who place dewdrops on giant green leaves in the morning; who whisper dreams in your ear at night just before you fall asleep, reach out to him, a stranger, and squeeze him with all she’s got, her face scrunching and smiling because she knows that he needs a piece of her heart to mend his.

     Let’s have that little girl reach into her purple purse and remove her clear plastic smiling frog, the one with the tiny red heart floating inside, and fold it into his hand as she forces eye contact and tells him, with a truth in her eyes that is hard to disbelieve, that Mr. JoJo will make everything better. That she wants him to have it because she knows it works because Sarah Perkins stopped picking on her the first day she took him to school. Because Mr. JoJo helped her find the ring her grandma gave her, the one with the balloons on it, the one she thought she’d lost, under the beanbag chair in the living room. Because he was with her last Thursday, when Mrs. Simperelli gave a surprise quiz on the most ridiculous spelling words and she got 100%.

     Because, sir, you cannot buy luck like this even in the house where they grow money.

     Remember, this is our story. Won’t you just believe with me, for a minute, that a plastic Mr. Jo Jo and a long hug from a little girl with ruffles on her socks can posses the power to pull a man free from the bottom of his black hole? That a kind of magic could envelope and blanket his khaki clad shoulders and completely erase his troubles. That innocence could triumph over pain with one touch, one gesture.

     Just for today, on this Tuesday that, remember, should really be a Saturday, can we give the three of them, and maybe even ourselves, this one magic moment, that Norman Rockwell snapshot, to hold onto and believe in? I’m telling you it could happen if we just make it so.

Sweet Elaine

motelpic

That sweet Elaine
That sweet Elaine
I do not like that sweet Elaine

Do you like these bloody stains?

I do not like them sweet Elaine
I do not like these bloody stains

Should I slice her here or there?

Do not slice her here or there
Do not slice her anywhere
I do not like these bloody stains
I do not like them sweet Elaine

Would you like her deep in dirt?
I’ve removed her bra and shirt

I do not want her deep in dirt
Please put on her bra and shirt
Do not slice her here or there
Do not slice her anywhere
I do not like these bloody stains
I do not like them sweet Elaine

This one’s so young and we could eat
Her kidneys such a tender treat

Not in the dirt
Not with a shirt
Not cut from there
Not anywhere
I do not like these bloody stains
I do not like them sweet Elaine

Would you? Could you?
In a bar?
Eat them! Eat them!
Here they are.

I would not, could not, in a bar.

Would you? Could you?
In a car?

Not in a bar! Not in the car!
Not in the dirt? Where the hell is her shirt?
I do not like these bloody stains
I do not like them sweet Elaine!

C’mon, my dear, you asked me to
And so I did this just for you.
I never was enough you see
But now I know you will love me.

I never asked, I never would.
Elaine you are not being good.
I do not want her in the dirt
Please put on her bra and shirt
Why did you slice her body there?
I cannot stand her vacant stare
I do not like these bloody stains
I do not like them sweet Elaine

Kill her fast! Kill her fast!
I did as told
It’s what you asked

Please drag her off these motel sheets
Get plastic, wrap her bloody feet
I taught you better sweet Elaine
I showed you how to hide the stains
And now you make more work for me?
I did not want this, don’t you see?
I did not want these bloody stains
I do not like them sweet Elaine
And now I’m left with just one choice
To draw my knife and raise my voice
From you, I wanted so much more
I like the way you hit the floor
Your blood, her blood all in a pool
You should have listened while in school
I kind of like these bloody stains
I just might miss you sweet Elaine

creep

A STORY PUBLISHED!!

You can find this story at Piker Press. Here is the website: http://www.pikerpress.com/ Please fee free to make comments on their page! It’s a great magazine!

confessor1

Confessor of Two Evils
by Patti Santucci (short, PG-13)

Image credit: Sand Pilarski.
Are your shivering movements heard? Your breath? Your pounding heart?
~~~

You hear a thud and hope it’s just the cat that knocked something over in the kitchen, that the sound wasn’t as ominous as you thought. You rationalize that it was probably part of a dream and ignore the tightening in your chest. You push away any fear and convince yourself the sound was just your imagination but the doubt lies under the covers with you like an unwelcome bedfellow, a daddy long leg crawling up your spine so lightly that it feels like hot, warning whispers moving the body hair on the back of your neck.
There is no mistaking the second thud and your head cocks slightly against the pillow before you sit straight up. Your heart is beating faster and harder, so hard that it tries to crawl up your throat and release itself in a non-human whimper. The second floorboard to the left of the hall, the one that always creaks, makes a sound. You know that sound. You’ve heard it a thousand times but you can’t even make out shadows. You curse yourself for buying those blackout curtains as your hand instinctively reaches for your husband, make that your ex-husband, who no longer shares your bed. You can almost hear Rick saying, “You’re the one who wanted the divorce. Miss me now?”
You inch out of bed feeling both ridiculous and terrified but certain that footsteps are coming closer and you know the cat is not heavy enough to trigger that creaking sound. You know that. You pull the covers back quietly and slide your feet to the floor folding off the edge of the bed and wriggle under, pulling the lace bedskirt back in place as you inch your way to the center. You pretend that the king-sized bed will protect you; that whoever’s out there will not have arms long enough to grab your ankles and rip you out.
You hold your breath and then exhale slowly and quietly into the carpet, scrunching your eyes shut and listening. You never stop listening. The footsteps are in your bedroom and your throat closes and in a matter of seconds you are thrust into one of those 20/20 crime stories you’ve watched on TV. You cover your mouth, trying to make your shallow breaths quieter, to stifle any uncontrollable screams but your hand is not your own anymore as it shakes beyond your control. No amount of willing it to stop will keep it still, and that leaves you paralyzed.
You can hear his breathing. The air under the bed has become thick, smelling like vomit and bile making it hard for you to breathe. He’s standing at the foot of the bed, his worn white tennis shoes violating the innocence of the lace and you ever so quietly try to draw your legs up praying you can somehow be made invisible.
And you wait.
You wait for him to peer under. You wait for his face, for his hands to grab you as you try to prepare to fight but you’re not sure if you’ll be able to move and you think of the last time you saw your mother and what her face will look like when she gets the news you’ve been murdered, too afraid to blink because in an instant, he will be upon you and you can’t tamp down the fear that winds around your windpipe.
You stare at the black smudge mark on his left shoe that mocks you from the slit between the carpet and the bedskirt and silently prohibit his feet from moving.
But his feet do move.
They move because your cell phone chimes in an email alert; the cell phone you charge across the room because you read somewhere that to leave it too close on the nightstand, next to your head, can cause cancer. You choke back vomit because you know now that he will find you. No one goes out without taking their cell phone. Your eyes search for a weapon but the only thing under your bed are some rolls of Christmas wrap and you suddenly have the bizarre notion that if you can just make out the image on the paper, he will go away. But it’s so dark, so damn dark, and panic is running up and down your body like a trapped, rabid wildcat trying to get out.
The drawers of your dresser are pulled out and you can hear the contents being dumped on the floor and know he’ll find all the cash you’ve squirreled away for the past year and a half. It’s right there with your underwear and you chastise yourself for entertaining the ludicrous thought that he’ll find the white envelope filled with hundreds and twenties and leave. Leave you under this bed. Untouched. Unbroken.
You hear the drawers drop to the ground, on the bed, another slammed against the wall, and the crash makes you recoil and unrelenting tremors rack your body and despite your efforts a tiny, audible sound spills from your lips. Regret hangs in the air and you try not to blink, certain the sound your eyelids will make will be deafening. You can no longer see his feet but the whoosh of his breathing is like a pillow over your face, a knee in your chest, a promise of violence to follow. Watery rattles echo in the room as he mumbles under his breath and sings “Hush Little Baby, Don’t You Cry” and you feel like he is singing to you. You know he knows where you are. You can feel it.
He inserts YOUR NAME into the chorus and you go cold instinctively trying to pull your legs up again but they smack the underside of the bed. You lie there, shake your head no and wait because while you internally beg your body to move, it won’t. He has control over your limbs, your breath.
You hear his footsteps travel down the hall, away from you, and you wonder if he is getting a knife from the kitchen. You have to make your move. YOU HAVE TO MOVE!
But you can’t.
You always thought you’d be the kind of person to perform under pressure but your body is frozen. Your teeth are chattering. Your heart, your breath, your body, your tears are not your own. You lie there, feeling your body convulse with terror and the world spins around you.
You have never been more alone.
The kitchen door slams and the silence feels false, a trick, and you begin to rock back and forth on your side in the fetal position, the only position that provides you any relief and you wait. No sound, just dead air. A stillness that feels alive. A reaper sitting in your bedroom chair smiling, waiting to greet you with a swing of his scythe.
Minutes? Hours? You’re not sure how long you wait for a floorboard to creak, a mucous filled breath, a sinister lullaby. Silence fills the room with too much air like a balloon just waiting to pop but you decide you have to crawl to your cell phone. You tell yourself he is gone. You beg God to keep you safe and immediately feel guilty because you know you never give God time of day until you’re in trouble. You promise to go to church.
Just keep me safe. Just keep me safe.
You inch out from under the bed slowly, your legs jelly, unable to help you move. You pull with your arms towards the spot where your phone is, feeling the carpet burn on your elbows and stomach, searching blindly.
Then you hear it. Another thud and some Other You enters your body and begins frantically searching, whimpering, crying and muttering. You find the charger cord and follow it only to discover the phone is gone. You hear the word, NOOOO, fly out of your mouth and you sound like a child as you begin to break apart, collapsing, losing.
You swallow back the vomit that threatens, succumbing to the crazy that takes hold. You crawl on all fours down the hall, rabid, a caged animal whose claws grip the carpet, whose teeth clip the air, whose hair and sweat cloud your vision, every shadow escalating your jangled body into a four-legged primal run. Vomit spews from your mouth but you don’t stop. Forcing your legs to rise, you turn the doorknob, gagging on the smell of your own liquid fear.
No time now. RUN you scream, commanding yourself. You don’t look to see if anyone is waiting. You run, your head down and leading, pretending some kind of invisible shield protects you from the violent blows, the meaty thrusts from hooked knives, the drilling bullets that might cleave fire through your organs, the clanging belt buckle sound that precedes a rape that could rip you in two, all of it, none of it, lurking in the darkness.
You run toward the light, clamor onto the porch, hoping someone will answer. You pummel the neighbor’s door. Out of your mouth come animal sounds of terror; screams and sobs. Noises you have never heard yourself make. Noises you have never heard anyone make. You plead eye contact with your neighbor as he cracks the door. Something inside you pushes him with a strength that nearly knocks him flat as you watch your body clamor to gain ground. Call the police, you think you scream a thousand times, feeling a relief that leaves you hugging your knees and thanking God for mercy.
* * *
I knew you’d be home. I’d been watchin’ you for months now workin’ your noon to eight shift at that hipster salon where you massage strangers with your whory little hands. Girls like you make me sick. Everybody loves that smile, that laugh, but try to get close to you, really get to know you and they’d discover, just like I did, what an icy bitch you really are. Jimmy thinks so too. I wanted to teach you a lesson about what it means to show a little every-goddamn-day kindness but Jimmy said to make it look like a robbery.
I can’t believe people around here are still hidin’ their house keys under pots, along door frames, inside those rocks made of plastic that wouldn’t even fool a shitfaced retard. A few robberies, some smashed car windows and the whole fuckin’ neighborhood goes on terrorist watch. You were the one actin’ all scared and shit at the Neighborhood Watch Meeting. What a joke. Let’s get all the neighbors together and, Can we have a show of hands? Who’s home during the day?
All me and Jimmy did was try and talk to you after the meetin’, invite you over to throw back a beer but you didn’t have the time. Gave us that look you pretty girls use to show how disgusted you are, like us breathin’ the same air as you makes your unsliced skin crawl.
When your phone went off, I wanted to laugh out loud. Pretty but stupid, like all the rest. I knew I could just bend down, grab your ankles and yank your skinny ass out from under your lace-covered slut sack, but I gotta say, Jimmy was right, it was much more fun listenin’ to you squirm under there.
Jimmy said to leave right away but I got a way of knowin’ these things. I could tell just from lookin’ at you. So I slammed the kitchen door shut but didn’t leave, sweetheart, and sure as shit, it didn’t take you long to come crawlin’ down that hall, nekkid. I’m right, every goddamn time! It’s like I’m psychic or shit! I told Jimmy, “That chick sleeps commando, perked up and ready for action.”
You didn’t see me walk out the door behind you, watch your sweet, taut flesh sway in the starlight. For a half a second it damn near hypnotized me like them bouncin’ sing-a-long balls on kid’s shows.
You ran right for it. I mean I wasn’t sure if it would work but, I’ll be damned if you didn’t follow the script just like Jimmy said you would.
So now you know darlin,’ what it’s like to be neighborly.
Like that old commercial, we left the light on for you.