Red Sky, Ghost Cries

I glance out the window at the red sky. It’s just the way the setting sun hits the cumulonimbus clouds, I tell myself. But when a sudden clap of thunder rattles the legs of my bed against the hardwood floor, I wait for it to rain blood.

Suiting for the time we live in. A live-action horror film. When cars speed through crowds, crush the skulls of babies. When aged statues are brought down on their worshipers’ heads.

I plug in my ear buds, play a track from my deceased father’s rock band. Lately I’ve had the desire to listen to his ghost. Sing to me about the power of love. Overcoming political corruption, separation by race, pointless fighting in streets. When the world will know peace.

I play it over the thunder, nearly deaf after three repeats. When the song ends, I turn everything off. The house silent, the storm passed. I hide under the covers, knowing I’m alone. But my bedroom door is slightly ajar, and after lying still for over an hour, unable to fall asleep, I hear a light tapping on the other side.

Now I know the dead have done more than turn over in their graves. Our callousness has brought them back, absorbing energy from the uncanny storm to manifest.

I only pray this one sings to me.

—Nortina

English #frapalywo: Warrior’s Return

Love Haiku #8

I hear crickets chirp
in the fields as the door creaks
open, and the wind

blows your mint cologne
to my bed. Your boots tread the
carpet—home from war.

—Nortina


Written for English #frapalywo. #Frapalywo is a German poetry challenge for Mrs. Paulchen’s poetry week. All this week, we are writing poems about our theme, noise. Today we end the week with one last prompt: “in the night.”

New Beginnings (Buried Series conclusion)

I didn’t want to go back to his apartment. I didn’t want to go home. But it was dangerous to stay in Virginia. How soon would his ex’s body wash up on the banks of the Dan River? How soon would the local news air video feed from traffic cameras showing us dumping the suitcase over the bridge? How soon would Danville police track down his car?

He fell asleep at the wheel twice. The first time, he claimed he was only looking down at the dashboard, checking his gas levels, checking his speed, checking the time—it was almost dawn, but the sun had yet to rise. I wondered it would ever again. We belonged in the darkness, the shadows. The light of the sun would reveal the blood on our hands, permanently stained. No soap, no water would wash it away. We’d go through our daily lives carrying our shame like a scarlet letter. Anything we’d come in contact with would spread the mark—a hand shake here, a passing of papers there. It would spread like a plague until the whole of the earth was consumed. Maybe that was where original sin came from—Adam and Eve’s disobedience passed down through the generations. We were they reincarnated, repeating the cycle, bringing down the curse of death, just so he could keep the fruit of his loins. I doubted even God would save us now.

When he fell asleep the second time, his foot went heavy like lead on the gas pedal. The engine moaned as the dial on the speedometer passed ninety. I beat my fist on the steering wheel and honked the horn to jolt him back to consciousness. I wouldn’t risk a third time. As soon as we crossed back into North Carolina, we would find a cheap motel, pay cash so we couldn’t be traced.

Super 8 has a first floor room available on the back side of the motel, facing a construction lot containing a dormant tractor and mounds of clay piled ten to twenty feet high. It was the perfect place to lay low. Instead of pulling up in front of the room door, he parallel parked into three spaces in an empty corner of the parking lot on the edge of the construction zone, right next to one of the taller clay mounds. With the age of his car, passersby would think it had been parked there unnoticed for weeks, maybe months, possibly abandoned. It wouldn’t appear to belong to a guest staying at the motel—a guest police might be looking for.

The ceiling in the bathroom was peeling—crumbs of plaster swept behind the door. A faint brown ring lined the porcelain siding of both the toilet and the bathtub. There was a layer of smudge on the mirror, similar to his murky windshield, but I didn’t need to see my reflection to know I looked terrible. Deprived of sleep, the bags under my eyes weighed my face. I struggle to lift my neck. My body was heavy, as if I were sinking, drowning under the surface.

I pulled his oversized sweatpants over my hips, turned off the light, and stepped over the large stain on the carpet just outside the bathroom door—probably from a drunk hooker’s vomit, or pee. This was no hotel of luxury.  This was a place where people disappeared from the grid—the cheating husbands, the drug addicts, the “honorably” discharged civil servants, the criminal scum dodging the cops. We were the latter. If we were lucky, the place had bedbugs too. We’d need them to corroborate our story about his mattress and box spring anyway. If one of his neighbors ever asked, we could roll up our sleeves, lift our shirts, and reveal the raised red welts on our arms and backs, where the tiny critters feasted on our flesh.

I worried for Stephan, however. Already tucked into the bed closest to the closest, Stephan lay still, curled under the covers, sleeping with his thumb in his mouth. He didn’t deserve this punishment. He didn’t deserve to lose his mother; he didn’t deserve to lose his father, either. No child should have to suffer the blunt consequences of his parents’ selfish decisions.

“Why’d you kill her?” I could barely hear my own voice. He stepped out of his shoes, kicked them toward the dresser on which the TV sat. “I mean, it couldn’t have been just because she took Stephan,” I added.

“Why not?” He pulled his shirt over his head and tossed it onto armchair by the window.

“I don’t know. I guess . . . I thought there was something more.”

She’d taken their son, erased him from Stephan’s life for almost a year and a half. That was his motive. No one would’ve blamed him if he hunted her down, found her sitting alone on a park bench in a small rural town—isolated from witnesses, yards away from the children playing on the swings—and snapped her neck. But I couldn’t wrap my brain around why he killed her after she’d come back, after she’d brought their son back. Without any persuasion or prying from him, she’d picked up the phone and promised to come home. Why go through killing her after she’d already fixed her wrong? Did she threaten to take Stephan again? Or was it much for him, seeing everyday how big Stephan had gotten, knowing he would never have those memories of watching him grow? He couldn’t forgive her for taking what she could never return?

It was much easier for women to forgive a lover’s wrong than it was for men. Maybe the man I dated before him never forgave me for aborting our baby, either. Maybe he dreamed of killing me too. And just as Stephan’s mom couldn’t save herself,  my obsession with becoming a mother now wouldn’t bring back the child I’d killed. What would he do to me if he learned of my past? After tonight, I knew at least one of us was capable of murder, but would I make the mistake of provoking him to kill me? Would I stoop down to the level of his ex—of my past self—and snatch a child from a father again?

I leaned over the bed Stephan lay in and kissed behind his ear. “Sweet dreams,” I whispered. I prayed he would never have to remember this night, or anything that happened before. I turned around just as his father pulled the curtains shut, but I caught a glimpse of the pink sky in the distance, behind the mounds of clay outside the window. The sun rising would signify a clean slate for us, a new beginning—all of our guilt buried in the night, the dark depths of the river, floating downstream, hopefully to larger bodies of water and eventually feeding out into the Atlantic Ocean, past  local, state, or federal jurisdictions, past territorial waters, and out of our lives forever.

But even as he slid into bed behind me and pulled his sweatpants down to my knees, my eyes wandered to the remote control lying on the nightstand, and I couldn’t help but think about pressing that power button, changing to one of the local stations, and waiting for the top of the hour breaking news report, between the weather and traffic . . .

Grisly discovery made in suitcase washed ashore . . .

—Nortina

Catch up on previous installments:
Buried
Screaming
Motherhood
Accessory
Drive
To Live
Murderer
Body
Odor
Ringer

Buried (Buried Series)

I hadn’t thought about what we would do once we crossed the border into Virginia. Truthfully, I didn’t think we would ever reach this point—that eventually he would come to his senses, or I would. Instead, we subconsciously watched ourselves perform like actors in a suspense film, screaming for us to stop, stop and face the consequences, call the police before it was too late. But when we still stuffed the body into the suitcase, when we still put it inside the trunk of his car, when we still took her sleeping child along for the ride to unknowingly witness his own mother’s disposal, our subconscious stared on horrified, unable to tear eyes away.

The Virginia border was just under two miles ahead, and I had to think fast of what we would do next. Would we try to find a park near the highway where we could bury the suitcase, or would we just pull onto the shoulder and find a spot in the woods? Even if we did find a place to bury her, what would we use? I didn’t think to ask if he had a shovel before we left, but why would he even need one? He lived in a second floor apartment, he had no yard,  he barely left home unless he was going to work. Where else could we easily find one? Going to the store to buy a shovel this late at night would only raise suspicions—not to mention it was unlikely we would find a hardware store open 24 hours.

Why was the decision left to me? He didn’t weigh out his options with me before he moved her into his apartment. He didn’t consult me before he decided to end her life. But he pushed all the responsibilities of eradicating the problem down onto my shoulders. I couldn’t stand on my own two feet underneath the weight. Eventually my knees would buckle, and I would fall forward face first into the ground, inhaling dirt, and in the end, when he no longer required my quick mind to hide his shame, he would bury me right beside her.

As we approached the “Welcome to Virginia” sign, he turned to me. “Well?”

I shrugged. “Maybe we could hide it somewhere in the woods on the side of the road.”

“Are you shittin’ me?”

“What?”

“What happened to ‘we can’t just toss it. You’ll get caught’?” he asked in a nasal voice, mocking me.

“Better here than in the lake behind your apartment where someone’s sure to identify her!”

He shook his head and returned his attention to the road. A pair of signs notifying us of an upcoming split in the highway passed overhead. Ignoring them, he pressed his foot down on the gas pedal, and we lurched forward. He turned the volume on the stereo as high as it could go. The speaker vibrated against my leg and the windows rattled as if about to shatter.

I checked Stephan in the rearview mirror. He was still sound asleep. Was it possible that he was deaf? I couldn’t remember if I’d seen a hearing aid in his ear. Maybe he never had one. Maybe his mother kept it a secret. Jobless, she couldn’t afford doctor’s visits, had to pretend he just wasn’t listening to her—children that young had short attention spans. Or maybe she’d become so vindictive she’d allowed his father to believe Stephan didn’t like him, didn’t want to be near him, when in actuality he couldn’t understand him, couldn’t connect with his voice, match it to his first memory of his father long forgotten.

Maybe I could convince him that we should add Stephan to my insurance, schedule an appointment with an audiologist sometime next week when everything settled.

The fork in the road was slowly coming into up, and he was still driving a steady 70 miles per hour.

“Are you gonna pull over?” I asked.

“I don’t know where I’m going!” he snapped.

I read the sign above our lane. We wanted to go to Danville, but this sign was leading us down a business route. Anything “business” would take us right into the heart of town—the last place we wanted to be with a dead body in the trunk.

I pointed to the sign for 58. “Take the exit!”

He swerved at the last minute, treading across the grass, almost clipping the exit sign with his side mirror.

We merged onto a two lane highway, as empty as the last. There were no street lamps, and the trees on either side of the road created a pitch black barrier that narrowed as we drove along. I watched him drum his fingers on the dashboard and steer with the other hand, screaming along with track, “All these things I hate revolve around me  . . . Just back off before I snap!” My brain shook against my skull, and I covered my ears, expecting to feel blood ooze through my fingers from all the noise.

“Do you think you could turn it down? Please!”

“So are you gonna tell me what we’re doing?”

“I don’t know! Just keep driving!” I smacked the dial with my palm. Finally in silence, I laid my head against the window. The forest outside was peaceful, undisturbed. I wanted to disappear behind the curtain of leaves, lie amongst the shrubs, let the cool breeze sooth my exhausted mind and rock me to sleep.

“Why can’t you make a fuckin’ decision?” he groaned. “You said you would help me.”

“I didn’t tell you to kill her!” I banged my forehead against the glass. The music was gone but the headache pressed on, squeezing against my temples. I looked up and perked when I saw the yellow diamond: BRIDGE ICES BEFORE ROAD.

It wasn’t ideal, but it could work. We wouldn’t have to get our clothes dirty, or scrape our arms on branches, or leave behind our footprints in the dirt for someone broken down on the side of the road and waiting for the tow truck to get curious and follow them right to the makeshift grave. All we needed was the arm strength and the prayer than no car would pass by as we pushed the suitcase over.

The headlights illuminated the sign: DAN RIVER — JAMES LESTER TRAMEL BRIDGE.

“Stop,” I said, tapping the window. “Stop right here!”

He braked hard and jerked the steering wheel right, nearly colliding with the guardrail.

“Smoothly!” I whined.

“What the fuck are we doing?”

“We’ll throw it in the river,” I told him.

“The river?”

“Do you have a better idea?”

He sighed. “I just want this shit to be done.”

“Well let’s hurry up before a car comes.” I checked on Stephan once last time before following him to the trunk.

The smell of rotting flesh had permeated inside, and the whiff nearly knocked me out when he lifted the lid.

He covered his nose with his forearm. “You take the one with the sheets,” he said through his sleeve. He extended the handle to the larger suitcase and pulled it out. It hit the ground with a loud thud, and the wheels, unable to properly roll under the weight of her crumpled body inside, scraped against the pavement like chalk on the blacktop.

He dragged the luggage behind him, and just as he was about to heave it over, I shouted, “Wait! It might float.”

“Dammit, woman!”

“We gotta figure out how to weigh it down.” I moved the other two suitcases around and patted the inside of the trunk in the darkness, feeling for a weight, or crowbar, or maybe even the tire jack, anything that would sink the unlikely coffin down to river floor.

“Didn’t you say better here than back home?”

He was using my own words to mock me again. Before I could rebut, he pushed the suitcase over the edge and stormed toward me. I backed out into the highway, held out my arms. I was next. Without the sun, water temperatures were much cooler at night, maybe even freezing. This was how it would end for me. Death by drowning or hypothermia, whichever came first. I turned toward the eastbound lanes, anxious to see a pair of headlights, a witness. How soon would they get here before he hauled me over his shoulder, dumped me into the black abyss?

“What are you doing?” he asked.

I dropped my arms.

“Get in the damn car,” he said then snatched the second suitcase out of the trunk and tossed it into the river.

—Nortina

Next:
New Beginnings

Catch up on previous installments:
Screaming
Motherhood
Accessory
Drive
To Live
Murderer
Body
Odor
Ringer

Screaming (Buried Series)

We didn’t speak. On Highway 29 North to Danville, we were the only car for miles. He drove in the right line, repeatedly drifting toward to the guardrail until the loud vibration from the rumble strips under the tires caused him to jerk the car back onto the road.

“Are you sleepy?” I asked, but he didn’t answer, remained focused on the road—though, how he could even see the road through his foggy windshield, I wasn’t sure. He’d tried to clean it twice, but that only made it worse. The windshield wipers had smeared a cloudy layer of dirt and wiper fluid across the center just as we were approaching a curve, forcing him to suddenly hit the brakes and wait for it to clear so that he could see well enough to continue driving. Still, it was like peering through muck.

Maybe the glass was just old—aged with the car, a ’96 Camry—and he never thought to replace it. Years of sweaty palms and fingers touching the glass, of food and drinks spilled due to a careless knock of the elbow, of bird droppings in the spring, of bug guts splattered at fifty miles an hour in the summer, of dirty rain water spread from corner to corner by dull wiper blades had added up to a cataract-type vision driving down the empty highway in the middle of the night, barely able to see the road ahead or the dashed and solid lines marking the outside of the lane, even with the high beams on.

Before we  left, I had insisted on putting Stephan in his car seat. I surprised myself at how quickly I’d done it without hesitating or asking for direction, pulling tightly on the seatbelt to make sure he was secure, as if my brain had suddenly registered that I was a mother now and trickled all the necessary knowledge down to the rest of my body. When I leaned forward to kiss his forehead, I felt another force control me altogether. Stephan was now my primary concern. He’d just lost a mother, and contrary to what his father might believe, he’d lost a father in infancy. I was his only hope for a normal childhood, a normal life. All my actions that night meant nothing if I didn’t return to him doting parents who would love and care for him unceasingly, even if one of those parents was me.

I turned to check on Stephan, to make sure his car seat  hadn’t fallen forward or slid across the backseat into the door due to his father’s sporadic driving. He was sound asleep. His head bobbed only when we hit a pothole in the road— nodding “yes,” shaking “no,” answering questions in a dream, in a police station, sitting next to a man with a badge. Do you know what happened to your mother? Did your father do it?  The anxious thoughts invaded my mind suddenly, and just as quickly, I replaced them with images of Hershey’s chocolate bars and Hot Wheels Thunderbirds and projected them into his dreams. If not for the darkness, I believed I would’ve seen his lips curl into a smile. My first motherhood test passed—expelling the nightmares. Not even the thrash of heavy metal from the radio would stir him—I hoped.

I never thought of his father as someone who enjoyed rock music. I’d always assumed he listened to urban hip hop—Lupe Fiasco, or Wale—but without a word, he’d slipped Bullet for My Valentine’s The Poison into the CD player, and we continued down the highway under blood curdling screams.

“Is this really appropriate?” I asked, thinking of the dead body in his trunk, of how perfectly it matched to the lyrics— “. . .betrayed one more time . . . you’re gonna get what’s coming to you . . . now is your time to die . . . cover her face . . .” —as if it were the soundtrack to his violent break-up. I envisioned him turning the stereo in his apartment up full volume to muffle her screams as he straddled her torso and pulled the pillow over her face, driven by his hatred of her and the aggressive shredding from the speakers egging him to press harder, not to let up, until her arms stopped flailing.

“It might wake Stephan,” I added, and my voice sounded so out of place against the rock music, like a dove trying to coo over a lion’s roar. He only turned the dial down a notch, as if that would make a difference, but Stephan didn’t move, so I kept quiet the rest of the ride—cracked the window so that the inrushing air would slightly drown out the music and relieve my ringing ears—until we were fifteen minutes from the border, and he finally asked, “So what are we gonna do when we get there?”

—Nortina

Next:
Buried

Catch up on previous installments:
Motherhood
Accessory
Drive
To Live
Murderer
Body
Odor
Ringer

Attempted #frapalymo

Night is like a silent sea
reflected in the sky.
I raise my arms above my head,
into the ocean I dive.
Stars adorn the barren floor. 
The moon illuminates the waves
that push me back onto the shore,
expels me from my grave.

—Nortina


frapalymoThis poem is written as part of #frapalymo which Bee will be translating into English for us at The Bee Writes…  Today’s prompt is on the classical side. It is the first line, “night is like a silent sea,” from the poem, “The Night-Flower,” by Joseph von Eichendorff. As the original German poem looks to have a rhyme scheme, I decided to embrace the classical theme altogether and give my poem a rhyme scheme as well.