Different Floors of the House

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Good news to report! I've just joined the team of local Portland reporters at Examiner.com. I'll be hosting a page devoted to Portland area (and beyond) political stories. The entire Examiner zine is chock full of good info and people that care about their communities. Make an effort to check in on that site as often as possible!

With this news, I'll be posting most, if not all, my politically motivated reports, opinions, articles and senseless bloviating over there. I'll be posting my stories here, however, so if you want to read me, this is the place I'd start.

Thanks guys,

Chris L.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

June: Short of the Month

As promised, I'll be publishing one or two of my stories here each month. I know some of you have asked for Marco's Tongue but I'm not quite ready to post that one yet. And yeah, I know I promised to get copies of A Perfect Circle out to some of you, maybe I'll post that one later on in the week. Anyway, this story is a workshop exercise where the first line is given to you and you go from there...This one was called: The First Man, and I believe it was extracted from Camus' unfinished work, Le Premier Homme, but I probably have that wrong.

Three Men
I met the first man as I was going home from a dance at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall. He stumbled around in his black tuxedo. He nearly ran into me without even looking up at me. He stank of bad scotch and lipstick—the candy kind that smells like artificial strawberries that little girls wear.
He saw me, recognized me, and tried to dart down the street. But it was dark and he was drunk and upset. He ran into a G.I. and a girl who had been kissing in the shadows. He apologized in a slur and slumped away with twisted steps then tried to stand up straight as if he forgot I was even there.
I grabbed his arm before he fell over again. The scent of a coming rain collided with his strawberry scotch.
“You need a ride home.” I said. “I can get you one.”
He kind of brushed my hand off of his arm, or tried to. He was severely drunk. And had been since I saw him at the wedding. I remember hearing him talking to someone at the reception. He was angry, I think it had something to do with the bride. I was standing on the far end of the bar. I don’t drink, I hadn’t had a drink since the war.
I didn’t see the man he was talking to, he was behind the wall on the opposite end. The first man could have been talking to a wall I guess, actually, maybe he was. He said she was a lying, conniving, backstabbing bitch. He never gave references. Just said she was a bitch. I didn’t think much of it then, because at one point in his tirade he sang Old Macdonald replacing pigs with bitches and horses for whores. I figured maybe he just got dumped, I don’t know. He turned around in his stool, spilling scotch on his pants as he used his drinking hand to point rhythmically at all the women in the crowd. ‘On his farm he had some bitches…’ He did, for what it’s worth, stop short of slenderizing the eleven year-old flower girl. He stopped between ‘there a slut’ and ‘everywhere a slut, slut’ for a second or two, pouring his eyes over her. I looked over at her from my vantage point. A young girl, golden curls, puffy white dress and bright pink lips. I knew her parents. She was an angel. I felt so bad that I could never remember her name.
Well, when he resumed his bandy, it got louder. He got a little too loud I guess. Someone, a woman, walked up and whispered something in his ear. He didn’t do anything, I mean, anything violent. He just waved his hand at her, got up and disappeared down the dark hall.
“Everything is so dark.” He said finally. I had been holding him up before. But now he was grasping onto my coat sleeve with one arm and a burnt out street lamp post with the other,
I looked up at the street lamp because he did. It was one of those old kind, I suspect it used to be gas powered before the first war. They put bulbs in them now and they run off electricity. But this light hadn’t worked for years. Don’t ask me how I knew that, I just remember thinking it because he mentioned it as I was thinking about it.
“Hasn’t worked in years.” He said. Then he tugged at my coat and started off down the street.
“I can get you a ride, sir.”
“You can.” He never looked back at me. He just kept going forward as best as he could in his state. “But we’re not going far.”
Well, I figured this was an invitation to walk him home, and since I kind of felt like I knew the guy, I thought it was the best thing I could do for him.
He didn’t say much on the way. He muttered this and that, slipped back into a rendition of Old MacDonald. Except this time it was death and modes of death.
“Old MacDonald had a stroke! E-I-E-I-O!”
He got real loud again, but I figured it was better to let him yell out here on the street—away from any more scotch. Besides, I thought we were going to his home.
“Where do you live, friend?”
“…and on his farm he had some emphysema!”

He stopped his song, turned around, fixed his eyes on me and informed me that he was most definitely not my friend.
Ok. I thought.
“Well, do you have a name then?”
“…with a hacked up lung and a hacked up lung! Here a lung, there a lung, everywhere a lung, lung!”
At some point along the way I looked at a street sign and realized I wasn’t familiar with the street. Sanguine St. Maybe it was Sanguine Street. Maybe I’m making that up. It started with an S.
He stopped singing about a block away from where we ended up. The houses were sparse and dark. There were no lawns. No mailboxes. I looked around, trying to gauge where we could possibly be. It was a flat, open place, with rusty fences and a few houses—old house that were abandoned and falling apart.
“Where the hell are we?” I thought we were totally lost, but just then I saw something coming from the pitch black at the end of the street.
“Old Macdonald had a gunshot wound to the head! E-I-E-I-O!”
“Seriously, you have to stop that now! I need to know where we are going. Who is that coming up there?”
Everything got louder. The black-cloud sky was spinning above me. The rusty fences vibrated and clapped in the wind. There was a bicycle bell ringing and ringing and ringing. My ears hurt. The doors of houses became laughing mouths, the windows, glaring eyes. A shot rang out. And a flash of light.
The first man stopped singing, stopped everything and fell, like a signpost in the wind.
The little girl rolled by on her bike, ringing the bell, smiling at me with lips smeared with strawberry and scotch.
“Mister.” She said as she stopped her bike near me. “That man did you wrong?”
“Yes he did.” I said.
“Something wrong enough to shoot him like that?”
“Yes he did.” I said. But she didn’t need to know about it. The house that sits on the brink of the darkness is my house. And that’s where I was going.
The second man I saw running across my back yard trying to put his shirt on as he climbed the old metal fence. The trees in the yard grew arms and pointed at him, making a perfect target that I did not miss.
I cleaned of the muzzle of my gun with my tie and walked onto my porch, into my house. I hate that smell. Scotch and strawberry lipstick—my wife’s lipstick, and my scotch. I walked past the foyer, down the hall, into the living room. There was a fire burning. She was lying there on the floor, naked in her golden curls with biscotti in one hand and a scotch in the other.
I stomped as loud as I could over to the table. I placed the pistol down with the barrel pointed at her and poured a drink for myself.
“My wife.” I said as I sat down and picked up the gun. “Wife!”
She said nothing. She just lay there, sipping scotch.
“You’re not my wife. You’re just some woman that lives in the house my father’s father built.”
“It was your mothers father’s farm.”
“E-I-E-I-O” I said.
I got up and looked around the room. I looked out the window at the corpse slung over the fence.
She buried her toes in the rug, dipped her cookie in the snifter and giggled.
“He’s not here.”
I hated that giggle.
I didn’t know how it came to this. I raised the revolver toward her head as I finished off the scotch. So long, so dry. It tasted good. So sweet. I looked at the glass. Her lipstick was on it.
She knew I was getting serious. But she didn’t move. I couldn’t believe it. I cocked the gun and turned my eyes toward the glow of the fire as I squeezed off a shot into the floor beside her. I looked back toward her.
The woman hadn’t moved. She just lie there on the rug, licking biscotti. Smiling.
“He’s really not here.” She said
I already knew he wasn’t. But I didn't want her to know that. Something might be done.
It was then I saw the third man. A policeman. Staring at me in the mirror.
“I don’t care. You’re going to be sorry.” I said.