l a n c a s t e r    c o o n e y

It's gotten so, that I don't know what to say


On Tuesday evening a baseball crashes through the living room window. I'm seated on the sofa watching a PBS special on tectonic plates and the inevitable annihilation of Yellowstone when the tiny orb skips across the Berber and butts up against the fireplace. My wife and children left a few days ago due to these types of attacks and, more importantly, for my involvement in the events leading up. Mostly they‘ve been juvenile. Broken windows, slashed tires, the replacement of the overhead spotlight above the garage with a pulsing red dildo. But lately they seem to be increasing in frequency and it has become more and more evident that those involved (most likely past students, and less likely, but still possible, their parents) are hell-bent on the subtle destruction of our homeland.

Between the stitches of the baseball someone has inscribed the word "FUCKWAD" in permanent marker.

In the initial days I'd pry back the blinds and have a look. Try to make out shadows, distinguish voices. But presently, I hardly budge. A bowling ball's been sitting for nearly two weeks on the dashboard of my Jetta, made a near perfect hole in the windshield when it made its way through. And the welcome mat on the front stoop now lies in ash and holds no salutation. It makes no matter. Caroline is gone. My children, ages fourteen and ten, now understand all too well the harsh lucidity of the world. How shortcomings can sometimes be thrust upon you.

I keep the shades drawn. I've grown accustomed to a low light environment, learned to live like some sort of cave dwelling fish, relying upon superficial neuromasts to navigate me through. Travel paths have been cleared, furniture rearranged. The coffee table and this really fantastic rollaway cutting board we received for our anniversary were reallocated to the garage. Rugs—gone, folded neatly and stowed in the linen closet. In an attempt to blend with my surroundings, I've taken to wearing mostly blues and grays, camouflaged to make such cephalopods as octopus or cuttlefish eat their hearts out.

At some point, cabin fever was suffered. I became obsessed with local news. In particular a story involving the destruction of a number of jukeboxes at bars Caroline and I used to frequent. Secretly I revered the movement. Purchasing road maps at exceptionally clean rest stops and documenting the attacks in cutesy little crescendos and musical notes. Pinpointing locations, studying trends, anticipating the need in much the same manner investigators sought out The Green River Killer. Both stabled and nullified each time they placed a thumbtack.

Upon the retrieval of a press-on nail collected as evidence following the Brady Pub Massacre, I began to fashion the assailant's identity. Gender not a consideration. Neither age, nor cup size. She was given a name which, when pronounced properly, fluttered from the mouth like sleep—L-o-u-i-s-e-t-t-e. From an old girlfriend I borrowed these fabulous brown eyes—big as fishbowls. With hesitation and, to be honest, a bit of shame, I sequestered the lower torso of my childhood friend Rami's wife, Janine. She'd be a college student, early twenties, who'd look good in a tee shirt and panties and only wear glasses while reading in bed (not on the john). Body mass, not mag-rack thin, but girthy, how do they say, healthy the type of girl who kills a burger unapologetically and drinks full-flavored beer. She'd take prisoners of conscious (Katie Perry, Bruno Mars, Clay Aiken) and file them away in a basement bunker. Each night before dinner and girl-on-girl, she'd sneak away and slap the Madonna envy outta Katie, straight razor Bruno's mop and remind Clay that, were it not for America's infatuation with karaoke, he'd still be standing before his mother's full length acting out scenes from Silence of the Lambs. I'd declare her day of capture a momentous occasion and say things such as, "I'll never forget where I was and what I was doing." I'd swear to be a letter a week pen pal, raise the flag on Saturday to ensure the letter would be received on Monday to start her week on a good note. All of this I'd do in the name of love and music and the old rule.

But eventually she was detained and had a penis and I got depressed and started missing Caroline and the girls. I relived conversations and acted them out accordingly, even pausing in the middle of one to relocate to the room where it had originally taken place. It was as though my life were available on some sort of new-age cable, to start and stop at my choosing.

What was most bothersome though, was that Caroline was not so much angry about the act itself, but instead something that occurred thereafter. An assertion, on her part, that subtle action, at a given place, during specific circumstances, could in fact divulge a person's overall nature. I tried to explain that things happen, people yawn at unexpected times, but she'd have none of it. Instead she got all blotchy about the neck and did that thing where she sort of walks in place because she doesn't know where to take her energy. Apparently this is what I was doing as the officer ducked my head and loaded me into the back of the police cruiser.

All the while Abby and Helena stood watching from the front lawn.

The following morning Abby asked, "What's with the plastic interior?"

"Drunks have a certain proclivity to piss their pants," was my response, which I'm certain was the wrong thing to say.

"Mom was crying again last night."

"I know. I was there next to her."

"Well, did you maybe try and comfort her?"

"Not much, sweetheart. There was this dream I was trying to get back to."

Outside someone has gotten hold of a bullhorn and begun sounding off in expletives and actively engaging my sexual orientation. I heft the baseball up into the air and let it smack down in the palm of my hand, surprised at the eyes' ability to adjust. With only the light coming off the television in the next room and the tiny red beckon on the answering machine, I am still able to make out the individual stitches, read the word "Rawlings." I recognize the voice as none other than Acosta High's own Drew Campbell. Senior Offensive Tackle and responsible party in a rash of genital warts and other venereal outbreaks that left at least three J.V. cheerleaders with puss-filled underwear and our former librarian waiting at the local unemployment office dragging ass along the seat in the manner of a canine.

On the answering machine an automated banker breaks bad news in regards to overdraft fees and pending transactions. A neighbor reports that the potheads have taken over my Southside lawn, sending out smoke signals of coexistence while secretly enjoying the show. Then there are three messages from Caroline, back-to-back-to-back, each bearing its own mood. The final portraying that of simple indifference. The type of message that insists you be well on your way to hanging up as you make your parting words, "I've yet to have an affair. You should know that. More a self-respect type deal than any sort of underlying loyalty. But I am looking into one."

The final message is blank, at least initially, as though the participant on the other end has failed to hang up. Then come the words, cautious and soft, altogether unsure they should even be spoken, "Mr. K?"

I had Vera Munchen in A.P. Biology. Her freshman year. The spring before she fully blossomed. She wore beauty like a gift bestowed. Had a head for science and supple brown hair that dangled and sprung in the way a ribbon does when scrapped by scissors. When she brought up a hand to answer questions I noted a litany of moles along her forearm that I'm quite certain the Lord would never raise.

"Look, I'm sorry about everything that happened," she begins. "Wish I'd never gotten into the car with those halfwits, never did things so out of character, but these are those days, right? Sorry your family left you." Caroline has taken the girls to her mom's in Michigan. I was never given a time table for their return. "On a side note, thank you. Doctor says I'll be out of cheerleading senior year, maybe indefinitely and that's no loss, trust me. Never really had a stomach for it. Anyway, I'm sorry you lost your job. You were a good teacher. A little boring and unoriginal in the realm of comedy, but I actually learned something from you, for what it's worth. Oh, and be careful tonight. Heard a couple people talking at Warpedtour, said shit could go down."

That explains the bullhorn.

The dirigibles begin flying shortly thereafter, popping off windows like moths wanting light. Every so often I hike a window and crush one with a fist, breaking through its twiggy paper body and sending it down. The dirigible is basically the prehistoric ancestor of the zeppelin (or blimp if you will) and subsequently, the fucking mascot of Acosta High, where I taught Biology for over fourteen years. We were among the most progressive schools in the nation. Partially due to our being named after the first female of flight, and mostly due to her being of Spanish decent. CNN allotted us a five minute blurb for which Spanish speaking students were carted in from urban community centers to present a more commercially viable ratio. The grounds crew from Legendary Run were contracted to do hedge work, shaping the front bushes into sombreros and maracas that overlapped like pirate swords. Teachers who fit the descriptive "white male" or "white female" were made to post flyers in the tiny window columns of their classroom doors in an attempt to make them less visibly accessible. And morning announcements were made in Spanish first and then sometimes made in English, depending on time.

On the day I was to be fired, I decided to go casual. Superintendent David Avant awaited me in my classroom and pointed out this apparent lapse in judgment. Wielding a pair of decade old penny loafers and khakis, cutoff and frayed, I told him, "You have to consider the circumstances." The night before I'd watched our youngest, Helena, kneel at the foot of her bed, tiny silhouette cast in radiant night light while asking God to expel any and all Kreke blood from her body.

Kreke would have been my maiden name, had I been a woman.

"Look Owen," he began, "you've put me in a real shit position here, a real shit position."

"How so David?"

"You broke Vera Munchen's arm for Christ's sakes!"

"It was simple, truly..." I'd hatched the plan a few years prior while watching my neighbor Joseph Lyle stand at the curb examining his mailbox. The tiny door hung broke-jawed, devastated by an onslaught of attacks following the last day of school. He brought it up but it would not latch. My own caved at the center, so as to have the front and ass of the aluminum bin nearly touching. "...basically just duct taped a couple of bricks together, dropped ‘em in the mailbox and..." I snapped to portray the breaking of Dear Vera's bone when the baseball bat connected.

"This isn't Deborah Snell or Phillip Schrubeck we're talking about here. We're talking the captain of the cheer team."

"That's not a team."

"Yes, it is" he said, bringing up a pointer and going all serious browed, "...it is." Then a softer side swooped in. He took a seat atop what would soon be my former desk and nonchalantly spun my personal globe that I figured I'd likely leave behind. "Look, what's done is done," he sighed, bringing a contemplative palm up over his mouth. "What I wanna know is, why?" I wanted to tell him that this was the natural order of things. My plight. That what was promised never fully came to fruition. That my wife left her love on the altar and our children never had a use for me. Sure, I'd tried to engage them. Even arranged screenings of JAWS and Rear Window in the hopes that they'd never again watch those movies without being reminded of me. That they'd realize only after I'm gone that they'd somehow misjudged me. But nothing ever took.

"Truth be told," I said, "I've never really had a hobby."

I get a whiff of smoke while preparing for bed. My teeth are sensitive, gums puffy, unreceptive to nightly care. I lay out PJs on the bathroom sink and stare down at my genitals, unable to identify them as mine. The shower runs, but I don't get in. Steam fills my lungs. Cancerous patches of mold collect along the ceiling. I apply powder to relevant areas and roll Low-T in the nooks of my armpits. Some of them have entered the house. There's that low rumble of movement below, rapture. What part have I played in their creation? Is such an ending unavoidable? In my bedroom the covers welcome my weight, folded in the fashion of a bandana. The foundation begins to creak. There's nothing noble about any of this. I invite them to come along and pray for the death of extracurricular activities. Oh! And there's laughter! Glorious laughter! And soft fluttering sounds against the window followed by the venomous roar of Heaven. Peace falls all around me. I close my eyes. There'll be nothing left of me. Not here. Not in Michigan.



LANCASTER COONEY graduated from Northern Kentucky University with a B.F.A. in Playwriting. His work can be found or is forthcoming at Everyday Genius, Matchbook Lit Mag and A Clean, Well-Lighted Place among others.

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