Saturday, November 26, 2011

Writing by Dreamlight, Toeing at Boundaries, and "The Swim"

Writing by Dreamlight, Toeing at Boundaries, and "The Swim

Lately, I've been dreaming about writing a lot. Waking up, catching a thread of narrative or a line of a poem that I am determined to hold onto, only to have it vanish only seconds later. Dreaming of writing short stories. Dreaming of expanding my writing horizons into short stories, novels, or some form other, mysterious form that only makes sense to me only in dreams. Sometimes I dream that I have written entire short stories or long poems. I see them on the page but they vanish the moment I rise to the surface of consciousness. 

I see myself--now at least--as primarily a poet. I've dabbled here and there with short stories and even novels but nothing much ever came of them. As I have begun to write a new series about work, I am feeling an expansion within me, a strong urge push beyond limiting myself to "only" poetry, and to explore some more expansive forms of writing. Short stories? The now defunct and oft-slighted form of Magical Realism, which I am only now beginning to discover and love, long after its heyday? I don't know. I just know that there is a voice that is rising up and pushing my writing past "just" poetry; a need to push past some boundaries I've set for myself. This is probably very foolish and possibly even vain, but it's also very compulsive, and the more I fight it, the less I am able to write, to flow with what's going on in my head. 

I've written only one short story I've ever been happy with. In the spirit of nostalgia and longing and mid-winter angst and my own desire to delve back into my past longing to write short stories, I'm posting the story in it's entirety here. It was written at least four years ago, before I started writing poetry. It came out of a larger concept of linked stories, none of which I have completed, of course. 


--Kristen McHenry

The Swim

I’m furious. Lucretia, that gother-than-thou little bitch upstart, got the Saturday night shift and she’s only been here a week. Drake knows I’ve been after that shift for months, that bastard. I’ve paid my dues around here but he’s still mad about the time I called in sick three days in a row. He’s thinks he’s showing me, but what’s going to happen is that I’m going to show him. I’m going to shove a drink tray right up his pleather-clad ass and I’m going rip his stud out with my bare hands. But what happens is I cry. When Sean left me, I got behind on rent and I need those tips, but that doesn’t soften his heart any, no sir, not Drake. Lucretia upsold more in her first week than I have in a year, and the primo shifts go to the peak performers. Drake is a capitalist yuppie pig in filed canines, and I hate him. I leave his stud alone but I do flip him off and on my way out I knock a full bottle of Maker’s Mark off the bar onto the concrete floor; splat. Fuck ‘em. I’m going to get a job at Dante’s and clean up on Slave Nights. They’ll love me. I light a cigarette in the parking lot and key Drake’s Mazarati. 

On the bus a pregnant woman is hogging the last empty seat. “Excuse me,” I say. “Just so you know, I have cancer and I’m very weak from chemotherapy right now.” I glare at her until she gets up and waddles to another seat. Sucker. “What the fuck are you looking at?” I snap at the passengers. “Haven’t you ever seen anyone dying of cancer before?” I flop onto the seat and crank up my I-Pod. Stupid people everywhere. Someone left some stupid brochure stuffed into the seat crack. I pick it up and look at it so I don’t have to look at people’s bland idiot faces.

On the front is the giant slick gray nose of a dolphin, bright black eyes and a big embecile smile, with a rainbow coming out its head. “Essence of the Dolphin Experience” is scrawled across the top in curly writing.

"Imagine being bathed in the warm, gentle, aquamarine waters of Bimini, flowing in complete synchronicity with your dolphin friends in a new and magical environment. Feel the alignment of every nerve and fiber of your being, and a heightened ability to take charge of your life and guide it by design, accessing your 'Super Self'. "

"Essence of the Dolphin Experience is a blend of exhilarating physical and mental activities which expand self-concept, clarify life vision, and provide tools with which to achieve that vision. This powerful combination adds up to the ultimate in a transformative vacation."

I need a trip. I need a vacation on the water. That fucker Sean owes me a trip to Essence of the Dolphin Experience so I can get over him dumping me for that vapid blonde skank. I get off the bus two stops earlier than normal and walk around the back of Sean’s place; a shit basement apartment in a duplex with rotting wood and old sliding windows. The blinds are still bent in the same place and stained piss yellow with cigarette smoke. He always keeps the window open, even in the winter. He’ll be playing his gig at Sonick and then be out with his friends sucking down shots at Atlas all night.  I reach my hand through the gap and slide the window open all the way, easy as grease. I brace myself on the wet grass and work my way in, feeling for the pull chain on the Rainier beer light. It clicks on just like old times, and I can see the mirrored closet door glowing blue and orange in its light. The little chip on the left side that I used to stare at during sex is still there. I open the closet and find the sport sock where he keeps his emergency stash. I count out all the cash. I go through the apartment for signs of the blonde skank, but I don’t see anything of her. I pop the top off a Bud in the fridge and chug it, then for good measure I swipe the dime bag in the cupboard behind a row of dusty soup cans.  

I’m going. I’m going to have the biggest experience of all of them all. They’re all going to be in awe of my deep connection to the dolphin force and the instructor will say, the student has surpassed her teacher, and I’m going to get special privileges and live out my days on the dolphin boats in Bimini, blowing whistles and bossing around encounter groups. 

I start making calls and then I’m on the plane and then I’m in a cab and then I’m standing in a tiny room with a fat woman named Luminous. Luminous has long grey wavy hair and is the type who wears purple caftans. 

“Did you make that name up or were your parents hippies?” I ask.

 She just looks at me calmly. “Can we have a conversation about establishing some boundaries for our time together?” 

Luminous has special needs around the lighting, Luminous doesn’t want any meat brought into the in the room because the smell lowers her energy vibrations, Luminous would like her morning and evening meditation times respected, and Luminous is sensitive to “all manner” of chemically-based hygiene products. “Would you be willing to respect those requests?” asks Luminous. 


She smiles like she’s fucking St. Teresa. “Do you any have requests of me?” 

“Yeah. Leave me the fuck alone.”  I flop onto the bed and cover my eyes with my forearm. 

At night after Luminous finally falls asleep and starts snoring, I take my baggie of weed and go out on the deck and look over the water. I look for the dolphins. I want to be the first to spot one. 

In the morning, Luminous wakes me up with her Patchouli stench. I’m slow and congested from a pot hangover and my mouth feels sticky. “Awareness group is starting” she informs me.

The group leader is Teddy. We’re supposed to close our eyes and tune in to the energy of the dolphins. We’re supposed to ask the dolphins for a message. Teddy has a hemp bracelet on his arm and long brown hair. He’s kind of hot. I stare at him, thinking of ways I could shock him in the sack. Thinking of things I know about sex that he probably doesn’t on account of his being on the boat all the time communing with dolphins.

As we suit up, this skinny girl named Haley looks over the bow and shrieks, and there they are, four of them, following the boat. I’m scared of the dolphins and I don’t know how to swim, but I dive over the rail and after a minute in the cold my muscles burn and I’m short of breath. And one of them is here, suddenly, right next to me, with its wrinkled charcoal eye and its downturned smile. Its skin is slick and blue and it’s looking at me with this awful kindness, and I feel my chest fill up with hurt, so much hurt I feel like I’m going blow apart. I hit him at hard as I can on the nose with my fist. He shrinks back like a flame and then he’s just a quicksilver trail, his wake washing over my ribs.

"Wait!!" I scream. I push as hard as I can against the water, trying to find him, trying to chase him, to get him to come back to me, but he’s far ahead, gone.

I’m in my quarters spraying Aqua Net on Luminous’s pillow when Teddy shows up in the doorway. He looks indignant and stricken at the same time. “Were you aware of our rules about interfering with the dolphin’s natural environment?”

“I guess.”

“I need to let you know that by hitting the dolphin today, you violated those rules. And anyone in violation of those rules is asked to leave The Essence of the Dolphin Experience.”

“Do you even care about my side of it?”

“We’ll have a cab waiting to pick you up when we get back to shore. It would probably be more comfortable for you if you had your belongings packed and ready to go at that time.”

“What about the encounter group? I’m entitled to be at group. I paid fair and square like everyone else.”

“I’m sorry Evie. I think it would be best for the group and for you if you just focused on packing your belongings before we dock.” Joseph nodded and turned to leave.

“You know that shitty little bastard tried to attack me, don’t you?” I screamed. “He came right at me his big stupid smile and I thought he was going to rip me to shreds. I felt violated!”

But Teddy had already vanished to the deck. I throw Luminous’s bottle of Eucalyptus oil after him, which cracks and slithers down the door in a wet thud instead of ear-splitting shatter I was hoping for. 

At the airport, I drink three mimosas in the Space Lounge, and lurch onto the plane, sore and irritable. I tipped my chair back and curl up on my side, looking out the tiny window at the gray tarmac. When I fall asleep, I dream of the dolphin. He swims back to me, his eyes black and bright, and I follow in his wake, flowing along in the water, momentum moving me forward, blending, no effort, space opening up around me, the deep blue rushing into my ears.

--Kristen McHenry


Steven Cain said...

"... blowing whistles..." love it.

Kristen McHenry said...

Thanks for reading, Steven! Glad you enjoyed it!