Posted on: June 26th, 2011 Train Ride Out of Oakland

By Jennifer Hurley

The train was to be four hours late, so I walked back to the bus carrying my bags, the parrot on my shoulder. The bus driver just raised his eyebrows; he recognized me, and sighed, and let me on, even though the bus strictly forbade bicycles, food and drink, shirtlessness and shoelessness, and presumably, birds. The bus chugged along toward the old hotel, where I hoped to get a cup of coffee and sit by the fireplace. My hands were rigid with the cold, my feet tingled, and the parrot and I both sent out plumes of fog as we breathed.

The hotel smelled of Lysol and of the chickens going around and around on the rotisserie. The parrot went wild for the smell, cawing EAT, EAT, EAT in his nasal, rapid-fire voice. The man at the coffee counter looked alarmed, but he didn’t dare ask me to leave: I might have been a lunatic; I might have ordered the parrot to attack his jugular. So the parrot kept up his EAT, EAT, EAT, and I smiled politely at the man at the counter and ordered a coffee and a banana, and then the parrot and I went to sit at the counter, a dirty, sticky counter that looked out on a busy street corner where women in their polyester city skirts strode along the sidewalk, some of them stopping when through the glass they saw the parrot clutching the shoulder of my coat. Before the parrot, no one used to look at me in public—I was invisible, a rather petite woman of nondescript features, nondescript clothes—but now they all stare at me a little nervously, and the best ones smile at the corners of their mouths.

After the coffee, for me, and the banana, for the parrot, we walk the long walk back to the train station. It’s warming up. The sun is filtering through the gray Oakland sky. I can hear the train roaring and jangling and hooting its way up to the station. The doors hiss open. The conductor sets the yellow stool in front of the platform so that I can step comfortably into the train. Then he spots the parrot.

“Miss, you can’t—” he begins, but the parrot breaks in. “HANDSOME, HANDSOME, HANDSOME,” screeches the parrot, and the conductor, who isn’t the slightest bit handsome, with his stoop and his slack European cheeks, can’t help but smile.

I smile back, and wait.

“Well, I suppose it won’t cause any harm,” he says, “but next time, leave the parrot at home.”

The parrot and I get on the train. We take a seat on the right side of the train because the parrot likes to see the water; he likes to look out over the bay and say “FAR, FAR, FAR” as the train shuttles past all of the troubled scenery of this place: the graffitied walls and the children standing knee deep in a swamp, rescuing their only toy, an old tire.

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Posted on: June 12th, 2011 Tincture of Regrets

By Kate Marshall

He defines himself by subtraction. Not a poet, not an athlete. He lacks spontaneity and the urge to settle down, has no sense of wonder, little prejudice; he is missing half a thumb on his right hand.

*

In the photo he stands by a house and a lazy, swollen river.

He does not remember the river, or what he did there. Nor does he recall picking up the knife, laying it against his flesh, the creases of his knuckle a convenient guide. He does not recall drawing back his arm, striking down in a swift blow, parting bone from bone and flesh from flesh.

He does remember the blood, packing a dishcloth against the stump, the pulsing pain of the thing. He knows the why: willing the part of him he could not bear into one lump of meat, and carving it away. All his evil coagulates the blood; not a drop seeps from the severed digit. He would throw it away, but he can’t recall what evil he forced into the thing. An incurious man by nature, he keeps it nonetheless, tucked away where he need not watch it shrivel.
The thumb: sliced neatly at the knuckle, withered, brown, skin pulled tight at the ragged nail. It sits at the bottom of a Ziploc bag, hidden in a drawer with leaky ballpoint pens and paper clips bent straight in fits of gradeschool habit.

*

They meet in a bar; she checks off the steps of courtship in her mind. Smile, touch, head cocked to send hair tumbling to her cleavage.

She is a singularly unimaginative woman, every trajectory and moment mapped, plotted. When they make love it’s like she’s solving an equation, and every variable must balance. She’s the sort to alphabetize her hand creams, and when she laughs her teeth cut off the sound.

*

She finds the thumb but says nothing to him. She has no real sense of wonder or intrigue, but it’s a variable she has no value for. She tucks the thumb in her purse. She thinks and waits and wonders.

A sliver of desiccated flesh is enough, steeped in alcohol and blunted with water. She drinks it down with a grimace, and digests his secrets. They do not sit well with her, and she stares at her own hands, the instruments of sin.

*

She starts at the last knuckle of her pinky, but she still sees water and weeds and the current lapping, tugging. She raises the knife again.

When her hand lays divided on the cutting board the blade moves up, and up, and when they find her they are sure she could not have done it to herself.

*

He finds the river in the photo. The leaves are bright as her blood, the river a narrow rope choked with silt. He leaves his memories in the mud, and drives away.

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