One week from tonight, Noir at the Bar NYC is in full effect. Reading will be a stellar cast of the bards of bastards, the troubadours of trouble, the chroniclers of… Shit the only word that comes to mind is cocksuckers, but I so hate using that as an insult.
Ah, fuck it. It’s crime fiction being read by writers. Come through, it’s a good time had by all except the easily offended. Don’t bring the kids.
It’s that time again.
Noir at the Bar NYC, held at Shade on the corner of Third Street and Sullivan in the heart of Greenwich Village, a neighborhood with a deep literary and musical history that now mostly functions as a place for children on their first drunk to vomit in the gutters and for young men with overabundant of testosterone and lacking social skills to shove each other and scream because no self-respecting woman would let them near the vaginas.
So it’s a perfect place for this event, attended by scumbags and rousabouts of the highest level, some of them reading, some of them listening and ALL of them drinking.
Come one, come all. I’ll be reading from my story “One More Day Can’t Hurt,” now available in Issue Five of Thuglit, the web’s most awarded crime fiction website.
Even when it was still open my feet sometimes left tracks in the dust between the shelves of that little used bookstore downtown. It’s gone now, don’t bother looking for it, but before it closed I found what follows written on a piece of notebook paper. It fell from the pages of a heavy book I as looking at, I don’t remember the title, something about gardening or cooking, and at first I took it for a page come loose from the binding. I opened the book to put it back, looked at the top of the piece of paper for a page number and instead saw blue lines and handwriting.
Do your collarbones still taste like the stars?
Has anyone ever told you that? Because it’s true and has been for all the empty years in between here and there. I wonder if you even still live in that big house at the end of Sparrow Lane, its white sides and lattice guarded by a line of oak trees. Those hours spent slicked with sweat and ignoring mosquitoes in your room, summer hours between noon and three in the afternoon. Your mother left for tea at noon, your father got home from the office at three and you tied that red scarf to the rail of the balcony outside your room to let me know the coast was clear.
I still have the scar on my knee from when I spilled racing to you on a backway street. You gathered me inside and cleaned it with something from the medicine cabinet and I tried not to wince. We fell upon each other afterward, my still-bleeding knee staining your bedspread, clumsy and eager and younger than I can imagine looking back now.
I hid my bike in the bushes behind your house and you balanced a heavy book on the edge of a table by the door with a teacup on top of it.
An early warning system. We thought we were very clever.
Today when I visited my knuckles fell shy of the door. I am not a boy any longer like I was the day when the door opened and the book fell and the cup shattered on the kitchen floor. You flew into your clothes, I flew out to the balcony and over the side, landing rough and tumbled toward my Schwinn.
I never saw your red scarf again that summer or any after.
Are those sheets still stained with my blood?
At a bookstore in town I bought a heavy book, tucked this note between its pages and left it on the porch of your house. Susie did you find it? Did you read it? Will I ever see you again?
I could find my old bike, you could find that red scarf and we could do our damndest to charm away the afternoons and make three hours seem like a blink.
I slipped the note back between the pages and put the book back on the shelf. Maybe Susie found it.
The knight’s path to the castle on the rock spire was long, twisted like the branches of dead trees that hung over the road supporting a gray and swollen belly of sky. His lance fought to drag in the ground, the heavy plate about his shoulders and hips grew heavier by the mile, his horse would collapse at any moment, he was sure. He might never reach the castle that he could see in a distance that seemed to grow with every step and had dropped his clarity of purpose by the side of the road like ash knocked from his pipe. He no longer felt sure of what he would do when he reached the castle, but it seemed to happen between blinks that he found himself at the base of the spire and a narrow trail. He dismounted and dropped his lance, patting his horse on the neck and started up without bothering to hitch the animal to anything. He walked against the height and the weight of his armor, against his sword that banged into his legs, the stupid weight of his armored greaves and boots.
The door of the castle was tall and made of scarred wood. A declaration that John loves Stacy existed forever on the door in the center of a carved heart next to the dents from the battering rams of barbarians, black streaks where fire had tried and failed to consume it.
The knight laid a hand against the door and it swung open. There would be a dragon or a demon, a beast in the basement on a horde of gold and a maiden in the highest tower. That was why he had come, wasn’t it? He could not remember anymore.
The castle’s hall was empty and silent. Sand gritted under his steps and piles of it sat in the corners of the room. In one pile was a pail and shovel, baby blue and child-sized. Shaking his head the knight walked past them and chose a corridor at random, and then a set of stairs. Days passed as he searched and he was not hungry, thirsty or tired. He found neither beast nor bounty, no smiling and grateful maiden.
Back in the main hall, he laid down his sword and sat against a pillar. There must be something, he thought, nowhere has nothing. He again noticed the pail and shovel and picked them up, scooping sand into it and then dumping it back onto the floor. He built small piles of sand, making hills and reconstructing from memory the land of his boyhood. Here was his father’s home and here was the hill from which you could look down on the whole province. There was the church spire which was taller than everything else. Consumed with his building, he removed his helmet so that he might see better and his armored gauntlets so that he might carve the suggestions of windows with his fingernails. The skirt of mail and the plates hinged by his hips prevented him from sitting comfortably so he removed them too, followed by his cuirass and backplate because they made it hard to balance. Soon he was without armor, his sword laying some feet away as he began to create worlds that he had never seen, built houses he would like to live in one day. Spreading the sand thin upon the ground he drew the face of a woman that he hoped would love him even though he didn’t know her name.
Time had no meaning absorbed as he was, but it passed and a day arrived when he looked up and saw something outside of the window. Getting to his feet he left his armor and sword where they lay, walking out of the tower in nothing but his rust-stained tunic and leather trousers. A sliver of daylight was visible between the doors as they closed behind him, a bright sliver of breeze and sunlight that carried a hint of spring.
The wash of dawn just made the nightmares seem worse, and before he opened his eyes he’d dropped somebody’s throat on a lot of broken glass and stared into the red yawn of their neck.
A woman. When before all his dream adversaries had been men or monsters.
The ceiling was a smudge in the early morning, out of the window the sun was turning the space above the skyline blue like a brush of lavender across a pretty girl’s heavy lids or a cool hand on his brow. The dawn seemed to say, ‘no more sleep for you tonight, but that’s okay, I am here.’
The main avenue near the apartment was empty, just a few men selling roasted chestnuts and circles of bread crusted with sesame seeds. He buys one and a bottle of water, some cigarettes and the bread tastes good mixed with the water and smoke. He exhales long, empties his lungs and expects to see the rest of the black nightmare wash out with his last puff, but daylight has softened the shadows, made them sleepy, even the ones in his heart.
On the other side of the bridge, past a dozen men and birds fishing in the waters far below, three mosques call the faithful. Haunting, that song, beautiful even to a heathen.
“I wonder if I walked inside and whispered please, would you take the dreams away?” He asked the cool morning air, the wailing and lilting song washing around him indistinguishable from the wind.