Parenthetical #1

Rodney Smith
At the top of the stairs he took a step down.

(he saw himself falling away. He saw himself falling down. He saw himself tumbling. He saw as a film reeling in his mind a stumbling bouncing fall. Head. Knee. Ankle. Arm. He heard his bones breaking. He heard his bones crunch. He flipped and landed like dimes on tile. His body shattered. And he was screaming and pushing. He was saying no no no no no).

And at the bottom he said I love you. And in the parking lot the engine cranked and rolled.

(he was himself under the hood with black fingerprints. He felt his palms hot and heated. He felt his palms burning. And he knew the belts were worn but they hadnít snapped. And he knew the oil was thick and rancid but it wasnít dry. And he said fuck fuck fuck turning the key again and hearing noises like metal on metal on metal. Turning the key and going nowhere. Resting his head back on the seat and going nowhere).

The car started and he drove. Work was miles. And it went from horizon and pinpoint to forefront and building.

(in a tiny blue car jettisoned from a highway he flew through the glass front walls and impaled the store. His head cracked open on the steering wheel and blood spilled. His head cracked on the windshield and a million butterflies poured out. His head cracked and lay open like a melon. His head lay open in pieces. His head lay open in halves).

He said good morning and unlocked a cash register. He nodded to people he didnít know.

(there was smoke suffocating the room. And the room was expansive and enormous and so the smoke was thick. The smoke was thick and looming. The smoke was big and growing. The racks were flames and the flames were pits and the pits were evenly spaced on the floor. And he was coughing and choking in the fire and the smoke but people went on shopping. People went on holding things up to their bodies. People were holding up flames to their bodies. People were holding up flames to their bodies and lighting themselves on fire. People were burning and he went on suffocating).

The ones were low. The tens and twenties were fine. The fives were fine.

(the flames seeped into the walls and crept out the doors. The flames were like people walking away. And the people were burning and walking outside and lighting the world on fire. The world was spinning covered in flames. Covered in fire. Covered in people burning and smoking. Smoldering like coals. People black as cola and burning).

In an office a fat man with no hair handed out crisp bills and crumpled bills and bills with painted lips and marker scrawls.

(in the manís mouth was a sock. And the man was tied to a chair with belts and straps. His thighs were lined with pressure and bubbling fat. His voice was grunting. It was scratches and not words. It was moaning and not words. It was forced and stunted and nothing like words. He strained against the lines. He struggled against the belts and the straps and the chair but it didnít help. He was trapped and waiting. He was sweating and scared).

In the register he shoved the money and an old woman handed him a dress of dried flowers. It was pink and pale blue. It was dusty and warped and on clearance.

(in a coffin sheíd be. In a coffin sheíd lay and exist. In a coffin sheíd die. The lid would close and he could see her eyes not twitching anymore. Her eyes not moving anymore and her lungs not breathing and her heart not beating and her fists not shifting at all. He could see her death. And the dress of pale blue and clearance flowers would smolder in the earth. It would never get dusty. It would never fade in sunlight. It would never exist).

She paid and left. And another paid and left and another paid and left and another paid and left. And he stood there taking money and giving money and taking money and giving money. He worked.

(he worked and saw himself without arms. He saw himself without arms and there was a long line of people wanting to hand him money. There was a line that wound and wrapped and snaked through the clothes. And all the people were weary and unforgiving. And all the people had handfuls of things and drapery. And all the people had money in hand. But he was armless at the front crying into the register. He was looking at an old woman with a pale and faded dress holding up bills to him. And he was crying with stubs where his arms should have been).

At lunch he ate and his sandwich tasted vaguely like cardboard and plastic. And the tv was a game show. He stared at it with unchewed plastic and cardboard bites in his mouth.

(the set rocked and rattled and people began to scream. There were flats glittering and green that toppled and broke. And the host said motherfuck motherfuckers. The host was looking vague and uninspired. And the contestants were answering questions with colors. Red. Blue. Yellow. Green. And there were dollar bills floating down from the rafters. And there were audience members running through walls and hanging themselves with extension cords. And it was like the world was ending. And it was like the world was ending and everyone knew it but him. It was like the world was ending and nothing was different).

Back again he took money and made change. And he watched a parade of hideous clothing. And he stood and felt the arches of his feet ache and throb.

(now he was without feet and trying to balance. His fists clenched and unclenched with his frame. Because he was ballooning up. He was one fifty then two hundred then two fifty then elastic and growing. Blimp sized and laughing. He expanded until he burst. He expanded until he burst and lay silent and exhausted on the floor. Silent exhausted and without feet. His ankles were like crushed cigarettes. And his skin was flapping in a breeze from opening and closing doorways. And he laughed and laughed and laughed).

And his feet felt better touching the gas pedal and the brake. He felt better heading to his apartment. He felt better getting back to something that wasnít work.

(he saw a garage sale on every street corner. He saw a garage sale and they were selling his stuff. They had packed up his things and they were selling them. The things were labeled with bright colored dots and they said things like twenty five cents and thirty five cents and fifty cents. They were selling him on every corner. Pimping and prostituting him out. Selling him away like pieces of himself battered and used).

He unlocked the door and opened it.

(behind the door was a man with wings instead of shoulders and black beads instead of eyes and blue lips instead of bright and red ones. He was the devil or he was a vampire or he was a man of the electric co-op come to rectify a bill. And when the door clicked unlocked and swaggered open he thrust his arms around someoneís throat and squeezed squeezed squeezed. And things became gentle and clear. And the world went starry white. And the breathing stopped and the knees went and the man stepped over a body on his way out the clicking and swaggering door).

She kissed him and said hello. And she was blindly beautiful.

(she was taking pictures of herself for him. She was picturing herself for him. She was tipping herself for him and pouring herself out for him and filling filling filling. Because she was whispering moths at him and he was feeling their brush and tangle against his cheek. So he closed his eyes and felt the feeling and waited for the way she was to beg him on like it always did).

And with words she punctured him. She said in gasps and chokes itís here itís here itís here.

(he leapt into her arms and she was tackled. And he pushed himself off. And he hoped she was okay. And she was. And she was laughing. And she was smiling and he was smiling and they both were laughing. First in giggles and then in full laughs and then with tears. Crying again. And sometimes in between they looked at one another and said things with their eyes. But then it was laughing and crying again. And they rolled and enclosed each other in arms).

But he just said yes with a question mark and o my god with a set of ellipses and that was it. And she smiled and he thought he smiled back. But it was a poor excuse. It was transparent.

(he saw them rolling each other like his engine had rolled. And he saw fireworks outside a small and tepid window. And there were chiming bells and rapture and glory. And a sun the size of the world lowered itself onto their backs and made them glow. It didnít burn but glowed. It didnít burn. And they smiled at the warmth and everything of a seed glowing and already and fitful).

So he made dinner the same as always and it collapsed her like an unfunctioning lung.

(his hand was burning. He set it down on the coiled orange of the burner and it was sizzling and crackling. It was cooking and spoiling. It was burning. And he was on fire like the world and the people in it. He was on fire. Because heíd always thought himself better than the old ladies who wore tattered dried flower dresses and touched pits of coal and set themselves alight. But he wasnít any better because he could smell the skin on his right hand singeing to its veins and its cells and its bones).

Itís what happened today.

(he leapt from the window that was their bedroom. And he landed in the pool with a splash and a gulp and he went back up the stairs to try again. This time it was the living room window and he landed on the sidewalk and he was much more pleased with himself. This time he was busted and taken out. This time he was dead. This time he was dying and the ambulance wouldnít make it. This time he was right with the way his legs pushed him).

J. A. Tyler has recent work in Pindeldyboz, Feathertale Review, Thieves Jargon, Word Riot, and Lamination Colony. His debut novella is forthcoming from Ghost Road Press in 2009. He is also founding editor of the online literary review Mud Luscious. Find more at www.aboutjatyler.com

© 2008 Underground Voices