Monday, September 15, 2008

Verb: To Crumple

Reader Alert: Language

I stared down at my ramen noodles. A woman on the TV was selling jewelry made with pink tourmalines. The hand model turned her hand ever so slightly in the artificial light causing them to glisten through the screen. My wrist trembled causing my fork to clank against the side of the bowl.

The dark blue glow of the TV made shadows look long. The dark side of the recliner leaped off of the floor and traversed the ceiling above.

It took all I had to stand up. Scalding water spilled over my wrist and forefinger. It slowly crept down, cooling as it made its way to my elbow. I flipped on the kitchen light.

I pushed some beer cans aside to make room for my bowl. They screeched as they slid across the Formica.

I stood there staring at them, my reflection glaring back at me. I cupped my right hand under the side of the bowl and lifted with all my strength. The bowl flipped and splattered its contents across the sink and on to the side of the refrigerator burning my hand in the process.

"Fuck…..God damnit mother fu," I slammed the bowl on the kitchen floor. Cheap white ceramic scattered to all corners. Then the hum of the fridge beckoned me.My eyes squinted as the light from the fridge changed the chromaticity of my face. I pulled out a Pepsi.

Ssssslllump. The door closed.

I swayed back and forth as the cola filled the dirty glass. Bubbles popped and fizzed. Just right was always half full. The Captain will take the rest.

"Arrr me matey," I yelled raising my glass to the sky.

My hand drifted down till it was stretched out in front of me.

"You fuckers," I screamed as I stumbled forward.

"You mother fucker…you. You are a mother," I fell into the couch spilling most of my concoction.

I pulled myself up on to the back of the couch like a drunken cripple. I swayed heavily as I moved to the window.

"Why God. What the fuck," I took a deep breath, "Is this it? Is tonight the night you mother fucker?"

A stroke of lightning illuminated the back yard.

"You son of a bitch. You wont let me be happy will you," I pulled the glass to my lips and a stared at the bottom.

"Tonight is the night isn't it you fucker," I screamed. The backyard lit up casting white counter-shadows around me. It was God himself. He wasn’t going to miss this. This was his triumph. His glory. It was his masterpiece.

"Well I got news for you asshole. That's right. I got some fucking news for you. You can't win," I laughed, "you wont win," I chuckled, “ I’m going out there tonight.”

For a split second I had recognized what I had said. The words never really left the air. I swayed looking at the crumpled wreck.

The sheriff said they had left her personal affects in the vehicle. The man at the wrecking yard wanted $65 a day to keep her car there. It was…
"Highway fucking robbery! You don't think I’m strong enough? I'm strong eno," my words trailed off as I made my way to the back door. My feet were heavy.

I opened it and the sound of the rain engulfed my ears. It had been raining for three days. Two of those three days I had locked myself inside that place. The cold damp air filled my body and my clothes. It felt like I was sneaking out with her for the first time.

"Emily, don’t you remember," I stumbled back a little.

"Don't you remember," my eyes welled up.

"Emily don’t you remember when we snuck out to go sit in the park and look at the stars," I asked the ceiling. Tears streaming back towards my ears.

"Emily, don’t you remember it was late. And we walked through the park. Honey …..and the sprinklers turned on," I laughed out loud. Tears stormed down my cheeks.

"And we ran. Ha ha! We ran Babe. We fucking ran! Don’t you remember," I paused.

"You were so beautiful…… Ahhh Emily. You were so beautiful. We….we…."

Emily and her family moved into the house on the corner when I was 15 and we quickly became best friends. We would spend our afternoons in my room exploring the depths of our memories and making new ones. I knew everything about her, and she knew everything about me, except that I was completely in love.

As our senior year was winding down I became increasingly nervous about what would happen to us. She had plans to go to Northwestern, and I didn’t have many plans at all except working at my dad’s insurance office and going to community college. She was so excited to start her life on her own, meeting new people, and experiencing everything that college had to offer. I was genuinely happy for her and excited too, but being happy wasn’t what kept me up at night.

Unlike all prior school dances, we decided to go to our senior prom together. I’m not really sure why we hadn’t gone to a dance together before then, but it probably had something to do with every guy in the school asking her to go with them. I was always left asking a mutual friend or going stag, the latter being more common.

11:45 snuck up on me. The gymnasium was quiet for a second. The DJ’s voice cracked through the speakers.

"Ok Class of ’85! Grab that special person and head out to the dance floor. Its time for the last dance!"

My lungs were filled with bricks. Emily slowly walked over to me as Open Arms by Journey poured through the sound system. Her sky blue dress flowed around her like an apparition as she walked along the side of the dance floor. Her eyes rose and met mine. We didn’t say a word. She brushed a few strands of her golden hair from her face and held out her hand.

As we slowly moved back and forth I tried to take in every detail. I didn’t want to look back and wish that I had taken in more of the moment. Her head seemed light on my shoulder. My palms became sweaty as I rested them on the small of her back.

"Charlie. I’m worried about you," she said quietly. A few strands of her hair tickled my face, but I wouldn't have moved them for the world. I said nothing.

"You haven’t even said anything about what you plan to do after all of this, you know, High School."

My fingers fidgeted with the ruffles of her dress. Her arms slid away from my neck and she placed her hands on my shoulders. She looked at me inquisitively. The thin blue and green strands of her irises were the threads holding my entire universe together. The linings of my lungs stretched and split sending bricks tumbling into my legs. We stopped dancing.

"Charlie, what do you want to do with your life?"

The disco ball sent little patches of light swirling all around us. They jumped and soared from the floor, up the folds of her dress and blazed across her eyes. My heart raced as I knew the song was coming to an end. The ends of my mouth quivered.

"I want..I want to sp..spend it with you." I dug deep. Good or bad I wasn’t going to say sorry or that I was just kidding. I wasn’t going to laugh, and I wasn’t letting her go. She looked right through me. A shard of light from the disco ball danced off of a tear on her cheek.

I stood upright holding my ground. The sound of jostling polyester dresses faded away with the music. The punch bowl tipped and flew through the wall. Rented tables and chairs flipped upside down and tore through the gym ceiling crashing through the lights unleashing a shower of sparks.

My eyes focused on hers.

The walls groaned, tore from their foundations and disintegrated into flying oblivion. Blue and silver streamers were sent screaming after faceless students as they were sucked into the abyss. Strips of wood from the gym floor broken free from their nails twisted and rattled, then peeled away leaving empty black spaces underneath. The wind rippled the fabric of her dress in slow motion and space moved away from us toward some unknown singularity.

A single light shined down onto us through the emptiness. All was still.

Her lips met mine.

Water crashed over my forehead. John the Baptist dunked Jesus's head beneath the cold river.

"Emily," I shouted stumbling down the stairs.

"Emi….Emilllly," I cried. My left hand slid along the side of the house as I walked to the back yard.

Emily ……Emilllly!

The neighbor’s porch light turned on.


I could see it. The light blue glow of the flood light showed every droplet on the twisted wreck and I ran to it shielding the rain from my eyes.

"Emily," I screamed running my hands through the beads of water collecting on the trunk. My hands slid upwards and onto the roof of the car. The windows were opaque with microscopic droplets of water that refracted the flood light. Water infiltrated every fiber of my sweater and it hung low. I breathed heavy. Rain dripped from my nose, only to be inhaled into my mouth and spat out into the night.

"Emily," my hand was on the passenger door handle.

The sheriff said it was quick. He said it was a shame. He said she must have been on her way home. The revolving blue and red lights raced back into my mind. My hand gently lifted the handle.


I could feel my pulse in my fingertips. The door opened with a little resistance, and it let out a screech as I opened it.

The sheriff warned me. He said not to take it back here. He said it wasn't worth it. He said there wasn't much left. He said that she was conscience for a little while after they arrived. He said she mumbled about me. He said she died with my name on her lips.


The sound of my heart was all I could hear.

I struggled to see inside the darkness. The flood light made large dark gaps in between light shades of greenish blue.

As my eyes adjusted, more artifacts drifted to the surface.

The driver’s seat was popped up and turned, its back resting on the passenger seat. CDs littered the floor accompanied by the contents of her purple corduroy purse which was also lying on the passenger side floorboard. My eyes made out some makeup including lipstick that was clearly melted to the inside of its clear plastic cap.

I opened my mouth to scream, but only a squeal came out. A pool of coagulated blood and broken glass looked like a red and blue mosaic covering the dash board. The car smelled like her. Like her perfume, mixed with the iron smell of steamed metal pipes.

Water ran down my pants and into my shoes. I felt as if I were sinking. My breath became shallow and interrupted by sobs. I coughed and picked up the purse, holding it to my cheek. I hated that purse. It didn’t match a damn thing she had, but she wore it anyway. It was a birthday gift from her friend Emma last year. I think she bought it just to piss me off. She knew I would hate it.

Her wallet and some more makeup fell out as I held the purse to my face. I breathed in deeply through my nose, making sure to take advantage of every last scent molecule. The wallet was open revealing an empty space where her driver’s license was kept. The plastic covering stared at me as if she were erased. I haven’t been able to look at her license since the sheriff gave it to me. I folded my hand around it and buried into my pocket.

They called at exactly 2:46 am. I was up watching reruns of Family Matters. It was the episode where Steve Urkel builds a machine to turn himself into his sexy alter-ego Stephan.

No one ever calls the house phone except my mother, and apparently the sheriff. He asked if I was the resident at 2215 Glenwood Crest and if I knew Emily Charleston. I said I did, and explained that she was my wife. He told me that there was a police cruiser out front. I checked. There was. He told me to get into the car and the officer would take me to the scene of the accident. There was a knock at the door.

I placed her wallet back inside the purse and set it back onto the floor uncovering a folded paper on the seat. I picked it up and started unfolding. I struggled to make out the words in the darkness.


I am writing you this letter because I cant seem to tell you how I feel and I think writing you a letter is the best way I can tell you. First of all I promise I will never walk out like I did tonight. It wasn’t right for me to do that and I am sorry. But it was the only thing I felt I could do. I just had to get away for a few hours. It’s the way that you talk to me Charlie…

Sweat from my thumbs and forefingers soaked the paper. I knelt down resting my elbows on the seat as my knees sunk into the flooded grass. They were too numb to feel the cold. I tried my hardest to hold the paper still, moving it into a better sliver of light.

…you make me feel like an idiot and I am not an idiot. I know that you say you don’t mean it or you are just kidding but I know you’re not. I know that it’s the way your father speaks to you. I have heard it myself. You sound just like him. Things are going to have to change Charlie if you want this to work.

A knife pierced my abdomen. It inched slowly towards my sternum as it flipped upright and slid across the bottom of my rib cage. It moved, twisting, fraying the cartilage, separating connective tissue from bone. Heat filled my ears as a scalpel carefully slit every capillary in my body. Blood burst into the whites of my eyes. My skin and hair ached.

Again I screamed, but nothing came out. Lighting illuminated the cars interior, and for a second I saw her.

Snot ran from my nostrils. I could taste saltiness in my mouth. My lips became numb.

I hope you do Charlie because I love you. I really do and I hope that you love me enough to make a real effort to change. I hope that you love yourself enough to make a change too. Charlie, I love you and I always will. And I am sorry.



I could hear hairline fractures run through my bones, splitting and spiraling, compacting, bending and snapping, their percussion rattling my innards. I winced, clinching my teeth. Silver fillings came loose as each individual tooth cracked in half letting the sensitive nerves escape through the crevasses. Chips of bone slid off slicing through my muscles as I collapsed. I rolled out of the car and onto my back. Water splashed up onto my arms and side. I held the letter up to the light. Rain collecting on the paper pooled then soaked through making it seem translucent. Blue ink flowed, spread and swirled. Her words became slurred and incoherent. I rolled over onto all fours.

I tried to shield the paper by placing it under my chest but it was no use. I held the letter in my left fist and wildly pounded the wet earth with my right. My fist sloshed into the soft wet grass. The blades gave way exposing the dark mud beneath and it splashed onto my face, hand, and the letter.

What started as a whimper quickly rose to a roar, "this doesn’t happen. Who…this isn't happening! This isn't fucking happening!”

Saliva and mucus dripped from my face and joined the million gallons of rain on the lawn. I looked into space and screamed into nothing.

Camera 1 started from behind me and slowly rotated counter-clockwise around me. I screamed again, and again only a whisper could be heard. The soundtrack started.

Camera 1 continued to rotate taking in the mangled car. Blue paint gave way to twisted steel. Metal folded over itself, the drivers side door was completely smashed in and clung to its hinges, and wires hung down to the grass. Magma flowed through my veins. Screams were dulled by the sounds of soft piano.

A minor, C Major, A minor, F major7

Hard Cut to Camera 2 positioned just above the flood light. Individual rain drops could be followed as they passed through the blue illumination.

I screamed again causing a crescendo of violins.

Camera 2 descended downward toward me. The sound of my breath was slightly audible under the orchestra. Still descending over my rain soaked hair it reached the side of my face. It focused downward to the mangled grass. The letter in my fist. My cheek and ear were out of focus, but in frame.

The music stops. Lighting flashes, and thunder rolls overhead.

I whispered, "I'm sorry."

Submitted by Leslie Johnson

About the Work: "This is a short story based loosely on a song I wrote in high school."

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