Devotion [Repost]

Prompt: Time

fish

My given name is Adolph G. Zenith, though my friends always called me Zen. The “G” means nothing; my parents merely thought it gave my name more gravitas, and lacked the imagination and time, I suppose, to find a suitably, equally formidable middle name to compliment “Adolph”, and that also started with G, George, Gregory, Gerald notwithstanding. So Adolph G. Zenith it was.

You might have heard of the Zenith family. We were frequently in the news for a groundbreaking campaign for science- and bible-backed eugenics. My parents were large, powerful people who tried to live as they preached: god-fearing, white-proud, “true” Christians. Both were tall and muscular, infused with presence and charisma. Hopes for me, their son, were high.

I was not even remotely a formidable child. Instead I was plagued by allergies, was asthmatic, was very thin with delicate skin prone to dryness and sunburn, and had sparse, ash brown hair. Hardly the model Aryan boy my parents so vehemently wished for.

We travelled the country, and sometimes ventured overseas, attending rallies where my father spoke for hours at a time, sometimes replaced by my mother when he needed a drink or a bathroom break, and I was to stand proudly behind him with his “stage staff”, looking young and strong in a blue slacks and a white shirt and a blue blazer.

While preaching, my father would often take his jacket off, revealing a short-sleeved shirt, and loosen his tie, to demonstrate that he was a man of the people, sweating, passionate, and powerful; but I was not permitted to remove the blazer no matter what the temperature, because shoulder pads were sewn into the jacket, without which I would look like the underweight, bony, fragile child I was. More than once my mother had to hustle me off the stage before I fainted in front of hundreds, sometimes thousands of people.

They tried to bulk me up with red meat, which I was fed at least twice a day; and some fruit juices which they heard were “cleansing”, but except for potatoes there was not much in the way of vegetables set before me because they personally did not find them appealing. Nothing in my diet seemed to change my core appearance. I was not a poster child for their movement and never would be.

I grew up under a cloud of palpable disappointment, a daily routine of sighs, eye rolls, impatient instruction, and whispered, disapproving comments. I could read at an early age, and was good at spelling, and had a knack for model building and climbing trees, but not at running, swimming, aerobic exercise, weight-lifting, growing tall and blonde, or understanding or explaining the philosophy of race purity and pride.

My father was not averse to a good whack across my temple with a meaty, open hand if I transgressed, sometimes knocking me to the floor. “It’s for your own good,” my mother would say, as if I didn’t know.

To be honest, I don’t remember much of the dogma or the philosophy of my father’s speeches. I developed an ability to completely tune out whatever came out of my parents’ mouths, possibly as a defence mechanism, since they often brutally smothered or slandered things that were important to me, like my love of rock and roll, my satanic curiosity about parapsychology, my devotion to fishing, and my friend René. To survive long evenings on the stage, to avoid a wallop across the head, to attempt to build a core that I recognized as me, I would zone out and travel in my mind, float across oceans, relive kind moments, play scenes from films in my head, try and communicate with René across the miles.

As a teenager, I was able to worm out of many of the stage performances, if not the sermons and some of the prominent, televised protest marches. I was still thin and unthreatening, but I was quick and newly certain that everything my parents did and said was wrong, as teenagers are, except that I felt righteous and outraged and on the side of the true god.

Zenith was not our real name. Father had it officially changed when he learned his heritage. “I’m not a Jew,” he said, “not even close, it’s passed down through the mother, my mother was not a Jew.”

“You have Jew blood,” I said, using the only phrase I knew, which now makes me cringe.

I was sixteen, and about to be kicked out of the house. He had confiscated my cellphone and laptop in order to confirm that I had not been communicating with undesirable people, and that I had no porn nor access to porn. I was angry; but more painful than the anger was the loneliness I felt without being able to text René or visit the forums that connected me to a greater world

“I have no Jew blood,” my father said, and his face flushed, and his eyes darkened. I tensed and flexed, ready to dodge a blow.

“Nothing wrong with Grampa’s blood,” I said defiantly. Grampa was a grumpy old thing, dead six years, but he was kind to me, and never hit me but once.

“You’re an ignorant fool, always have been,” said my father.

“Thanks,” I said, and instinctively ducked. For the first time, my father’s hand missed my face. He looked startled, and I felt a surge of power and confidence. This was new to me.

But I was not quick enough to avoid the next blow, which was a closed fist against my upper cheek. I fell to the floor.

“Respect,” my father said.

From the floor, I said the most hurtful thing I could think of: “Grampa’s blood is in you, you are a Jew.”

My father kicked my shoulder, hard, and I fell on my back.

He spoke to me then, in a dangerously low voice, about how the “Jew blood” had been flushed from his system, pint by pint, and he was pure, but somehow bad blood had infected me, his son. I’d heard this before, though hadn’t thought he meant it literally, which he had.

“I’m a Jew,” I said. “Thanks to you.”

He kicked my in the mouth, ostensibly to silence me, and that’s when my mother appeared from upstairs, and saw the beating had been taken too far, and banished me to my room without checking where the blood was coming from.

I didn’t ever get my phone or laptop back. And yes, I’d been communicating with undesirable people and looking at porn, so chances are I would have been booted out anyway.

Ten years later, in Portland, Oregon, I met a girl name Addy, and changed my name to Ted (short for Teddy, short for her nickname for me, “Teddy Bear”) Rickman (a family name on my Grandpa’s side), and was able to renew my friendship with René before he died.

As far as I know, my parents never tried to contact me or see what became of me. They continued touring for a while, then settled down with a congregation in a town called Green Falls, which they hoped (according to an obscure news article I found) to convert to an all-white, all Christian community. I heard nothing more, nor do I look anymore.

I supposed I was erased from their lives, and no longer inhabited their consciousness or their memories. They had the kind of minds that could exclude anything painful or conflicting or unpleasant.

I don’t have that kind of mind.

I think of them daily.


  • Original Prompt: Inhabit, August 25, 2017
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Fairy Tale Ending [Repost]

ice cream sprinkles

We sat on the sunporch, though it was after midnight. They usually didn’t arrive until after two am, but it was impossible to rest, knowing they were coming. So we didn’t rest. We gathered in skimpy clothing, because it was so very hot overnight. The men were bare chested, shiny with sweat and the women wore tank tops glued by the heat to their bodies.

We played Yahtzee. It was the only game that did not incite physical fights. It was the perfect blend of luck and skill… you could not justifiably kill a person because of the random numbers on the dice.

The children ate ice cream in the kitchen. We didn’t force them to bed at the children’s time because it could be their last hour, too. They had sprinkles to put on their ice cream, if they wanted, and chocolate milk. It would be their best last night, if that’s the way it turned out.

I went to the doorway and looked out at the night. It was so beautiful it made me miss a heartbeat; deep, intense and fragrant, with moonlight shining through the lush and tiny leaves of the trees, shimmering like light upon the water.

My parents and grandparents were dead. It was pointless to lay blame with them. They thought everything would work out. They had the optimism of deniers. They chose not to see what covered them like a blanket. They chose to be blind. They dreamed of a lush and welcoming world for their children, and lived on faith.

They were criminally wrong.

When the things came, a little earlier than 2 am, the screens held for a long time. They had no evil intent; they were trying to survive, just as we were.

It was breathlessly frightening, listening to them trying to breach the screens. At those moments I thought of my parents and grandparents who could have laid out a different path for us. They knew about beauty and caring and value and wisdom, but not about survival, not about reality.

I want to say they were misled, or lied to, or simply not aware.

But they knew. And now our children put sprinkles on their ice cream, before they died.


  • Original prompt: Screen, March 6, 2016

 

Devotion

Prompt: Inhabit

fish

My given name is Adolph G. Zenith, though my friends always called me Zen. The “G” means nothing; my parents merely thought it gave my name more gravitas, and lacked the imagination, I suppose, to find a suitably, equally formidable middle name to compliment “Adolph”, and that also started with G, George, Gregory, Gerald notwithstanding. But my parents were busy people, and did not have the time or inclination to pour over baby name books. So Adolph G. Zenith it was.

You might have heard of the Zenith family. We were frequently in the news for a groundbreaking campaign for science- and bible-backed eugenics. My parents were large, powerful people who tried to live as they preached: god-fearing, white-proud, “true” Christians. Both were tall and muscular, infused with presence and charisma. Hopes for me, their son, were high.

I was not even remotely a formidable child. Instead I was plagued by allergies, was asthmatic, was very thin with delicate skin prone to dryness and sunburn, and had sparse, ash brown hair. Hardly the model Aryan boy my parents so vehemently wished for. We travelled the country, and sometimes ventured overseas, attending rallies where my father spoke for hours at a time, sometimes replaced by my mother when he needed a drink or a bathroom break, and I was to stand proudly behind him with his “stage staff”, looking young and strong in a blue slacks and a white shirt and a blue blazer.

My father would take his jacket off, revealing a short-sleeved shirt, and loosen his tie, to demonstrate that he was a man of the people, sweating, passionate, and powerful; but I was not permitted to remove the blazer no matter what the temperature, because the shoulder pads were sewn into the jacket, without which I would look like the underweight, bony, fragile child I was. More than once my mother had to hustle me off the stage before I fainted in front of hundreds, sometimes thousands of people.

They tried to bulk me up with red meat, which I was fed at least twice a day; and some fruit juices which they heard were “cleansing”, but except for potatoes there was not much in the way of vegetables set before me because they personally did not find them appealing. I was allowed sugary drinks and pastries, but nothing in my diet seemed to change my core appearance. I was not a poster child for their movement and never would be.

I grew up under a cloud of palpable disappointment, a daily routine of sighs, eye rolls, impatient instruction, and whispered, disapproving comments. I could read at an early age, and was good at spelling, and had a knack for model building and climbing trees, but not at running, swimming, aerobic exercise, weight-lifting, growing tall and blonde, or understanding or explaining the philosophy of race purity and pride.

My father was not averse to a good whack across my temple with a meaty, open hand if I transgressed, sometimes knocking me to the floor. “It’s for your own good,” my mother would say, as if I didn’t know.

To be honest, I don’t remember much of the dogma or the philosophy of my father’s speeches. I developed an ability to completely tune out whatever came out of my parents’ mouths, possibly as a defence mechanism, since they often brutally smothered or slandered things that were important to me, like my love of rock and roll, my satanic curiosity about parapsychology, my devotion to fishing, and my friend René. To survive long evenings on the stage, to avoid a wallop across the head, to attempt to build a core that I recognized as me, I would zone out and travel in my mind, float across oceans, relive kind moments, play scenes from films in my head, try and communicate with René across the miles.

As a teenager, I was able to worm out of many of the stage performances, if not the sermons and some of the prominent, televised protest marches. I was still thin and unthreatening, but I was quick and newly certain that everything my parents did and said was wrong, as teenagers are, except that I felt righteous and outraged and on the side of the true god.

Zenith was not our real name. Father had it officially changed when he learned his heritage. “I’m not a Jew,” he said, “not even close, it’s passed down through the mother, my mother was not a Jew.”

“You have Jew blood,” I said, using the only phrase I knew, which now makes me cringe.

I was sixteen, and about to be kicked out of the house. He had confiscated my cellphone and laptop in order to confirm that I had not been communicating with undesirable people, and that I had no porn nor access to porn. I was angry; more painful than the anger was the loneliness I felt without being able to text René or visit the forums that connected me to a greater world

“I have no Jew blood,” my father said, and his face flushed, and his eyes darkened. I tensed and flexed, ready to dodge a blow.

“Nothing wrong with Grampa’s blood,” I said defiantly. Grampa was a grumpy old thing, dead six years, but he was kind to me, and never hit me but once.

“You’re an ignorant fool, always have been,” said my father.

“Thanks,” I said, and instinctively ducked. For the first time, my father’s hand missed my face. He looked startled, and I felt a surge of power and confidence. This was new to me.

But I was not quick enough to avoid the next blow, which was a closed fist against my upper cheek. I fell to the floor.

“Respect,” my father said.

From the floor, I said the most hurtful thing I could think of: “Grampa’s blood is in you, you are a Jew.”

My father kicked my shoulder, hard, and I fell on my back.

He spoke to me then, in a dangerously low voice, about how the “Jew blood” had been flushed from his system, pint by pint, and he was pure, but somehow bad blood had infested me, his son. I’d heard this before, though hadn’t thought he meant it literally, which he had.

“I’m a Jew,” I said. “Thanks to you.”

He kicked my in the mouth, ostensibly to silence me, and that’s when my mother appeared from upstairs, and saw the beating had been taken too far, and banished me to my room without checking where the blood was coming from.

I didn’t ever get my phone or laptop back. And yes, I’d been communicating with undesirable people and looking at porn, so chances are I would have been booted out anyway.

Ten years later, in Portland, Oregon, I met a girl name Addy, and changed my name to Ted (short for Teddy, short for her nickname for me, “Teddy Bear”) Rickman (a family name on my Grandpa’s side), and was able to renew my friendship with René before he died.

As far as I know, my parents never tried to contact me or see what became of me. They continued touring for a while, then settled down with a congregation in a town called Green Falls, which they hoped (according to an obscure news article I found) to convert to an all-white, all Christian community. I heard nothing more, nor do I look anymore.

I supposed I was erased from their lives, and no longer inhabited their consciousness or their memories. They had the kind of minds that could exclude anything painful or conflicting or unpleasant.

I don’t have that kind of mind.

I think of them daily.

Rescue

Prompt: Zip

dog rescue nepal

“So, you’re the parents,” said Bob.

Envy tensed involuntarily. God, Bob, please don’t. We had a talk about your Radical Honesty. Please zip it this one time. Don’t tell my parents what I’ve said about them. Please please.

“Yes,” said Envy’s mother. “We are Envy’s biological parents.” Edwina Applegate was small and energetic, with grey-streaked smokey hair pulled back into a loose bun at the nape of her neck. She wore a very expensive red sheath, that hung upon her spare frame in a perfect, flattering drape. The “biological parents” remark was meant to be amusing. Actually, Envy did smother a tiny smile at her mother’s refusal to take the bait that Bob seemed to be offering, but on the other hand she felt the sting of her mother’s words too, because they implied what Envy knew to be true: that she was a disappointment to them. No one envied her beauty, and no one envied the wealth that her ex-husband had mostly squandered.

“I’ve heard a lot about you,” Bob said, honestly, taking her father’s outstretched hand and finding the grip rather overdone, as if Mr Applegate was making a point. He was a big man, his sturdy stoutness disguised by a loose, charcoal-covered sports jacket and an open shirt. He had a healthy crop of light brown hair, probably tinted since there was no grey at all.

While they enjoyed cocktails before dinner, Envy was careful to keep the topics of conversation neutral, knowing Bob’s honest opinion on the wet spring, the number of potholes in suburban and rural roads, and the dearth of fuel efficient cars outside of Europe would not cause offence to anyone.

“I take it Cash and Virginia and the baby aren’t joining us for dinner,” said Envy. She took a sip of her Bloody Mary, suddenly wishing it was bloodier (more alcoholic) and suppressed a sigh.

“Echo has colic,” said Edwina. “And you know your brother.”

“He’s becoming quite the doting mother,” said Darwin Applegate.

Bob’s honesty extended to his facial expressions. He looked surprised.

Envy said quickly, “There’s nothing wrong with Cash loving his baby daughter.”

“I bet you wish you’d had more time to spend with your kids, Mr Applegate,” said Bob. “You know, up-and-coming millionaire and all.”

This was met with an uncomprehending silence, until Envy coughed and said, “Bob trains dogs who rescue people from earthquakes.”

“Like when buildings collapse?” asked Edwina, an unwitting ally.

“Exactly like that,” said Envy.

“Do you personally supervise the excavations?” asked Darwin.

“No,” said Bob. “I just train the dogs.”

“Oh,” said Darwin.

They took their seats in the smaller family dining room. The table cloth was a white embroidered coffee-coloured sateen, with fresh-picked violets packed into three tiny vases set evenly spaced upon the table. They would wilt within a few hours.

A server brought in their dinner, platter by platter; each of them were casually passed around the table. Steak, roasted vegetables, truffled mushrooms.

Envy put her hand in her lap and glanced at her watch. Oh god. Seriously? We’ve only been her forty-five minutes? She looked around the table. No one was smiling. It could be worse, surely?

“This chimichurri is outstanding,” said Bob, making an effort.

“Thank you,” said Edwina. “Our cook, Connie, is from Peru.”

“Legally?” asked Bob.

Envy discreetly reached under the table, put her hand on Bob’s thigh, and squeezed. It was a warning and a plea. Bob took it as encouragement. He put his hand on hers and squeezed back.

“Just what do you mean by that, Bob?” asked Darwin, his voice disturbingly neutral in tone.

“Well I hear a lot of servants are in the country illegally, I mean it is commonplace. Probably all your friends do it too.”

“Connie was hired via a respectable agency,” said Edwina.

“Ah,” said Bob. “Good on you, then.” He lifted his wine glass in a toast, and emptied it in one gulp. He turned to Envy and smiled. His expression was, See? Not so bad after all, right?

Pretty bad, Envy’s eyes told him. She wasn’t sure if he got the message, because as the server was refilling his wine glass, Bob was staring at her mother. Then a quick glance at her father, and back to Edwina again. Woman past her prime. Rich old bigot who dyes his hair.

An odd kind of group telepathy seemed to occur. Edwina looked up and caught his Bob’s eye. Darwin looked at them both. No one looked at Envy. In a flash she knew what Bob was thinking. Don’t say it Don’t say it Don’t say it.

“I believe in family values,” said Darwin abruptly. He knew what this fucking young and ignorant man was thinking, oh yes he did.

“In my experience, family values people are the first ones to cheat on their, uh, spouses,” said Bob. He cut a roasted carrot into tiny pieces. “You know those bible thumper types, always being caught with their pants down.”

“That’s ridiculous,” said Darwin. “We believe in Jesus Christ in this household, and the Church believes in the family above all else.”

“Catholic, right?” asked Bob.

“We are Catholic, yes,” said Envy. Jesus God, if you’re there, help!

“‘We’?” said Bob.

Oops. She hadn’t told Bob that she’d returned to the church after Marcos tried to kill her. Was that an important ommission?

She stood up. “We have to go,” she said.

“Sit down, Envy,” said her father.

“No, we really do. We have tickets,” Envy said. “Bob?”

“If they have tickets, Darwin…” her mother said, the colour starting to return to her face.

Bob stood up. Someone fetched their jackets. Bob didn’t speak again until he said, “It was sure interesting meeting you both,” as they shook hands in parting.

Her parents, not being honesty radicals, were silent.