Alt Journey

Part 2

Shana’s soul trembled as it received an iota of Phoebe’s light-filtered grief, then sighed and settled in peace. Sequestered in their barred galaxy, Tri-Eloh felt the friends’ unbreakable soul bond shred yet hold, but one angel felt an ancestral golden thread unravel as the hem of its’ Mother skirt fell out. A future for the soul in the tiny green star aligned with a threat to an ancient angelic bloodline; if its’ contract wasn’t renewed, other descendants would be spiritually weakened. A single soul rarely appreciated their own import. The Tri exhaled stars into the inky center of their galactic home, then settled in the corners of a triangular cavern as light glanced off a breathing scroll of silver sheets cradled in golden fleece. Alive with a baritone hum, it was encircled by 3 ruby chains, each link embossed with sleeping faces of their descendants on Earth-as a newborn, as a child, as a mother or father, and as an elder. Easy to spot, the link they sought displayed a break where Shana’s older faces had been. Although expected, the prior “If we find an error in Shana’s debts versus karma plus Death’s receipts, the Office of Terminations might pass her on for an audience.” quickly evolved into “We will find an extra somewhere and later, we will audit ALL contracts.”

An expressionless face at the door at 3 a.m. instead of Shana laughing about losing her key again, dead-panned words in a staccato of blasts to her heart, a piece of paper shoved in her hand, all of it a living nightmare Phoebe resisted to her core. Accusing eyes scanned the loft while she sobbed, unable to catch her breath, “Shana, nooo, nooo”. The Tri’s foresight didn’t extend beyond Phoebe’s fierce denial, her wild bedhead and snotty t-shirt in sync with the ugliness she felt, the officers who tossed the loft and took her prescription sleeping pills “for testing”, her desperation with a weary social worker who seemed stuck on repeat, “Did you and your friend use heroin together? Where do you get your heroin?” No mention of the towers of undisturbed textbooks-biology, anatomy, European history, Spanish poetry and modern lit, on the dining table between them, two of each, undisturbed sign posts to their future. The next day Phoebe would go to the county morgue in a daze and identify Shana’s body per parting instructions from cracked lips and also in bold letters on the piece of paper. Further down the sheet she would see an 800 number for survivors “if needed”, and wonder how a stranger with an intact life could possibly understand her blown up world. An 800 number to heaven, she’d think, if I could just talk to her, tell her I love her, I need her. They knew she would be handed a bag of Shana’s belongings including the rose boots she’d given her for Christmas. What Tri-Eloh didn’t see were hellish visions in her mind, massive guilt about staying home, about not really wanting to be with her friend lately. They didn’t know Phoebe would wash her misery away with two cups of Shana’s belladonna tea, or they may have acted sooner.

Nothing and no one in the entirety of the universe escaped El’s all-seeing/feeling/knowing, yet nothing and no one could confidently describe seeing El. For this reason, Tri-Eloh hurriedly reviewed Shana’s contract. “Delivering it in time for bandaging prior to the hearing will render this small transgression into nothing at all, you’ll see.” The other two angels intuited in tandem, “Count the addiction aspects first, then betrayals, then a sum total of abuses. We’re tallying Death’s receipts. No way we have time to figure in Karma. Those records are in The Halls under Archangel guardianship.” In truth, El forgave them instantly and moved on to universally important matters.

While hierarchy did not exist in the ethereal realms, Blissful missions and Divine missions did, both assigned eons after a soul fully ascended.

In the underworld, hierarchy was strictly observed with brutal punishments meted out as rewards for souls addicted to pain, and admittance may be earned in as few as ten lifetimes if the soul lusted after power enough. Death, giddy at their success with Shana, asked again why the demon before him sought punishment and lowered it into the icy salt water when it tried to reply. “Kazmir!”, Death bellowed. Often sidetracked by its desires, Kaz should have returned with a report by now. One of Death’s oldest and most effective demons, Kazmir often took liberties, but also delighted his boss with tales of surprise cruelties undetected by most Guardian Angels. It was dedication like Kaz’s that drove the wheel of life downward, into unconscious competition, violence, and for the long game-thwarted dreams and grief. For a while, Death thought they might lose, but they were an ultimate pessimist. Kaz appeared before them with a rush of decaying stench. “May I congratulate you, Boss, on winning such a prize soul today”, it went on, eager to please, “Soon enough, it will be your pet”, one bulging eye swung out of its’ socket to point at a cage made specifically for Shana’s soul when she was ten years old, a cage of human bones where she often found herself in nightmares. Death would have ordered its’ construction sooner, “S” etched on each bone, but discretion was crucial when tormenting a young soul before puberty, the allowed starting line for their race with life. El disqualified an enraged Death every three seconds for cheating demons who often caused souls to cry out for El’s help. “Did you twist up the other half’s mind yet, Kazmir?” “Not only did I gift her with torture audio and visuals of an endless fiery sea, I also sent unhelpful humans to harass her, and set her up for lucid dreams tonight. Would you like to draft her nightmare?” Once again, Kazmir became Death’s favorite. “You know me so well, Kaz. Let’s involve Doyle. He showed promise, but took too long in pushing Shana to break her contract. See to it, while I console Phoebe”, he laughed.

Doyle Regan dreamed of Shana, her heart-shaped face smiled up at him framed by her raven curls reflecting dappled sunlight, her deep brown eyes looked into him with a smile and acceptance; love he didn’t deserve, never asked for even. She took his hand in her small one and together they walked through the park as they’d done dozens of times over the past year, down the winding path by the flowering trees where they stood as petals floated down on them. Tears slowly made their way single file to fall from his chin as Doyle saw the red and purple marks on her neck. When he awoke, the dream lingered. As he made his way into the shower, scalding water did nothing to fade the image. Doyle wondered how Phoebe was handling her first day without Shana. Phoebe seemed so capable, so responsible. He thought about calling, but decided instead to bring her some of the lemon chicken soup she loved from the Coney Island. Doyle had to make her understand it wasn’t his fault.

Liars – A Short Story

Never shoulda told her.  She said nothing bad would happen.  Out of all of them, Linny’s Mom is the only one ever asked about the marks on my hands, the only one ever brushed my hair out of my eyes to look at me.  She promised I’d be safe if I told her the truth.  Instead, I stood up and lowered my jeans right there in Linny’s kitchen and watched their surprise, then horror, as they took in the welts on my thighs.  Linny’s Mom cried, “Good Lord!”, and enveloped me in a warm cushy hug that felt just like I’d imagined.  I closed my eyes until she let me go and told me to pull up my pants.  Linny is so lucky, I thought for the millionth time.  My eyes followed her mom as she wiped mascara streaks off her cheeks with both hands, sniffed long and deeply, then picked up her phone.  Linny slid off her stool and softly took my hand in hers.  She shook a little, like I do when Mama’s boyfriend is in the room.  Probably never seen her Mom cry like that.  “Yes, this is Mara Kivich at 1335 Lafayette Street.  I need to talk to someone about a child who’s being abused’, Linny’s Mom said to who I guessed was the cops.  She turned her back to us then mumbled, “Uh-huh… no, bruises and welts from a belt, oh… ok.”

Cops never did anything when they came to our house.  Mama always said we were fine, it was just “a yelling match”.  Dave was usually gone by the time they got there, slamming out the door like somebody did something to him instead of the other way around.  The cops wrote down Mama’s stories in little notebooks they flipped closed with one hand.  She had slipped on a wet floor and ran into a cabinet door that hit her right under her eye or stumbled on our steep basement stairs while carrying a laundry basket.  The fingerprint bruises on her neck were never asked about or explained and they never asked me anything, either.  An officer often said something like, “We want to make sure you’re safe, Mrs. Batch.  Please give us a call if you need anything”, or “We’re here to help if you need us”, and gave Mama another of their cards.  Upstairs I rehearsed what I would have said if they asked and pressed my face against the window glass until each cruiser turned the corner.

A wide shaft of sunlight fell across the kitchen island and landed on our feet while Linny’s Mom listened to the cops and mumbled a word once in a while.  Not for the first time I stared at a Fruit Loops box on top of a giant silver refrigerator with Linny’s drawings, spelling tests, and pictures stuck to the front with magnets shaped like stars.  They never ran out of Fruit Loops and there were juice boxes and grapes that Linny could just take from the fridge whenever she wanted.  My gaze moved to the Cookie Monster cookie jar on the counter.  I wished we were still scooted up to the island dipping our cookie halves in milk after scraping sugary filling off them with our two front teeth.  My stomach flipped while a “you ruined it” chant taunted me.  I never shoulda told.  Linny’s Mom hung up the phone and looked at me, her sagging shoulders and wrinkled forehead said it before she opened her mouth.  “They are going to get in touch with your Mom this afternoon, Sweetie.  I’m..I’m sure they’ll get this all straightened out.”  Linny dropped my hand, and ran to her Mom, who folded her into her arms just as she had done with me ten minutes ago.  I felt alone, the same relentless chant circling in my head.  “I’m…uh”, I stammered and looked away from Linny and her Mom, “gonna go”.  “”You can stay for dinner, Cam”, Linny’s Mom said in a weird high voice, like nothing unusual had happened, like my Mom often sounded.   She let go of Linny, but Linny’s eyes stayed closed and her arms remained locked around her Mom’s waist.  “That’s ok.  I have to ask a day ahead of time”, I reminded her.  Her arms circled Linny again as she nodded.  “Thank you, Mrs. Kivich.  Bye, Linny”, I said and walked quickly down a hallway lined with smiling vacation photos and out the front door.  Tears welled in my eyes, but I would not cry.

For a couple of days after a whippin’ the rules were looser, but getting home more than 15 minutes late was chancy, so when Dave called “Cam get in here!” as I came through the door I thought I’d had it.  “You almost missed it!  Your boy is about to fight for the featherweight title.  Come ‘ere.”  He patted the couch cushion next to him.  I forgot about Linny and her Mom as I watched Conor McGregor hammer another wiry guy on the mat, relentless until the referee pulled him off.  “Daaaamn!”  Dave threw his arm around my shoulders and squeezed.  “You see that, little girl?  One punch!  Bam!  Dude’s on the mat and what does he do?  What does he do, Cam?”  “He keeps beating on him ‘til he wins!” I yelled and bounced my sore butt off the cushion as the new champ strutted around the octagon, an Irish flag held high between his bloody fists.  “Look at me”, Dave said.  I pulled my eyes away from the T.V. and tried to look in the black pools of his eyes. My smile faded.   “Don’t you ever let anybody think you’re weak, whatever you gotta do.  Your dude there,” he pointed toward the screen, “he just showed the world not to fuck with him.”  He took a drag off his cigarette, exhaled in my face, and laughed.  “You understand?”  No, not really.  I rarely understood Dave’s wisdom.  I understood anger though, and Conor McGregor exploded with fury in the ring.  I nodded my head.  “Yeah, I get it.  No mercy.”  Dave smiled and stubbed out his cigarette in a sparkling clean glass ash tray.  My mother washed them and sprayed air freshener around every night before going to bed.  You’d never even know a smoker lived here.

When Mom came home she didn’t seem any different, just said “Hi, Baby”, but nothing about the cops or Linny’s Mom.  Dave left for the bar after we ate goulash and watched the news.  Sometimes he came in my room kinda sniffling after he got back and woke me up to say he was sorry.  He said if I learned to behave he wouldn’t have to whip me, if I would just be good he wouldn’t have to be so hard on me.  I always told him I would be better, and tried to figure out how until I fell back asleep.

Linny wasn’t at the bus stop the next morning, so I sat in our seat by myself and played who-lives-in-that-house.  I liked it more when Linny and I went back and forth and made up stories about people in the big white house with peeling paint and pink roses growing up one side or the triangle-shaped yellow house with a huge golden dog stretched out in the driveway.  Linny was silly and our stories much funnier than the ones I made up by myself.  She walked into class and sat down just as the bell rang, but Linny wouldn’t look at me.  I wanted to whisper to her, but Mr. Malcolm did not play around and he’d take away my recess if he heard.  All morning long I stared at the back of her head.  “Cammie Batch”, the teacher said, “please use “intention” in a sentence”.  He seemed irritated.  I looked down at my desk and tried to remember what intention meant, but all I could think of was going to Linny’s house for Oreos after school.  Mr. Malcolm put his hands finger to finger in a steeple like he did when someone else took a while to answer, like he could wait all day.  Normally I was good at this, but today my words disappeared.  Finally, the recess bell rang.  “Cammie, come to my desk”, Mr. Malcolm said as I watched Linny’s head disappear into the hall with everyone else’s.  After Mr. Malcolm reviewed the word intention (it was nothing but a hope, really) and told me to pay better attention that afternoon, I raced down the hall and out the doors.  There she was, right outside the building.  “Oh good, you waited”, I said.  “Cause I have something to tell you”, she said and shuffled her feet, her arms crossed tightly.  “I can’t be friends with you anymore.  My Daddy and Mommy said so.”  She looked relieved.