But the truth is this is the last place I want to be. I do not want to be parked outside my parents house in the dark thinking about how my brother had his face caved in with a cinder block. How his nose crushed and flattened against his face and his teeth splintered and broke and got caught up in all the blood and ended up in his stomach and caught in his throat. How one of his eye sockets crumbled and the eyeball was forced out onto his cheek, where it hung until another blow crushed it there.
Parked outside the house where we grew up. Where we ate breakfast and watched cartoons before school. Where we kicked the football back and forth across the green grass we took turns mowing on the weekends. Where we argued and fought and threw punches and then forgave each other.
This is not the place for these images to fill my head. But there is no losing them.
I will have them forever. They are just things that belong to me now.
And in this way the place that was your home becomes something else entirely. It’s no longer the place where you grew up with your older brother. It’s the place where your brother was murdered. His blood is mixed with the earth here.
He’s part of this place.
His body sunk in the water for days before it broke free of the rug and floated up towards the sky and broke the surface. Fish and bugs ate holes in his skin. Maybe when you’re watering the lawn or drinking water from the tap, maybe there’s a bit of him in there.
I don’t know. It’s something to think about.
He can’t leave. Not ever. This is the one place he will always be bound to. A spirit trapped for eternity in a place it never left.
Inside my parents house there are lights glowing from behind drawn curtains. Inside my mother and father are standing at the kitchen bench, facing one another, and they are smoking cigarettes and drinking wine from a cardboard box. Soon, they will be drunk and my mother will be crying, if she isn’t already.
My father will stand there and watch her cry. Maybe he will tell her that Dan is in a better place now, one without worries or fears or pain. Or maybe he will tell her that Dan, being the kind of person he was, is in hell now and forever. It all depends on how drunk he is.
And the thing is, I’m here. I’m sitting outside the home I haven’t seen in ten years. I haven’t spoken to my parents in that long either. Not a word.
I know the right thing would be to go inside and heal old wounds. Restore something long broken. But I don’t know that I’m ready for it or if now is the time.
As I ease the car into drive and begin my slow escape I think I see something from the corner of my eye. For a second there I’m sure one of the curtains was a pulled aside and the small face of my mother appeared behind the glass, her features concealed by shadow. But I do not turn to look, to make sure she is really there. I press my foot harder on the accelerator and everything simply disappears. Gone in an instant.
That night I get drunk in a hotel room with a view of the ocean and I think about my past in a way I haven’t in long time.
That’s one of the things death does to you, I guess. When someone close to you dies it’s almost like an audit on your life. An accounting of where you are going wrong. Adjustments that need to be made.
When I was twenty I joined the army and never looked back. I was fleeing in the most drastic way possible.
And it was easy. If you are young and physically fit and willing to sign your life away for a number of years you can become something else. You can become something you weren’t before. Something better, stronger. A living tool.
Before long you find yourself in place you never imagined being. Bullets flying through the air towards you. Your ears ringing with explosions. The blood of someone you love like a brother covering you from head toe. And you have to wonder if you were ever really escaping anything, if you were running towards something worse. A nightmare of the worst kind.
I’d been trying to prove something. To my parents. To anyone who’d called me faggot in high school. Maybe to myself.
In the end I didn’t prove anything to anyone, I don’t think. Eight years in the military and I came out the other end carrying the kind of shit I should have been smart enough to avoid in the first place. Stuff I’d seen in a bunch of fucking movies as a kid.
You end up vomiting your guts up behind a bar somewhere where you’re thinking about stuff you’d rather forget and there’s this voice screaming in your head. You should have known better, is what it says.
It’s the stuff you’ve heard a million times before. Nightmares. Guilt. Paranoia. Anxiety.Night sweats. Binging on drugs and booze. Suicidal thoughts. You’ve read about it in the paper. You’ve seen it on TV.
There’s no point in rehashing it here.
There is a cold wind blowing in off the ocean and up here on the tenth floor and in the morning I will wake up hungover and drive to my brothers funeral. I will look into the eyes of my brother’s friends and maybe I will find what I’m looking for there.
When my phone rings and I see that is my boyfriend, Peter, I don’t answer. I know what he will say. I know that he will want to talk about why I insisted on coming down here alone and maybe about why he discovered my gun missing from the top of the closest where it usually rests. He will want to know what I am doing, what is going on in my head, why I would take a gun to a funeral.
And the truth is there are no answers to these things. There are only the words I might use to appease him, to take his fear away. But there are no answers to any of the things he will ask. There are only the lies I will tell him and the pain he will feel after.
There are some things you do without knowing why or with the pretense of not knowing. Maybe you feel compelled to take three works off work and hide a handgun under your spare tire when you hear you brother was murdered. Maybe you feel driven towards something as yet unseen. A conclusion of sorts.
After beating him they took turns dropping a cinder block on his head. This was meant to finish him off, I suppose, but when they rolled him up in someones old rug and pushed his body into the dam he was still alive.
Death by drowning. Though the the brain injuries would have killed him anyway.
Probably, he didn’t even know what was happening in the end.
This last part was told to me by a police officer as though it was meant to mean something. As though maybe my brother being oblivious to his drowning was something I should be grateful for. But, in the end, all of this it just adds up to the same thing.
Some men took my brother, older than me by four years, to a quiet place by a dam and murdered him amongst the pine needles there. No matter which way you look at it, the result is the same.
There is nothing to be grateful for there. No relief to be found in the facts.
The facts are plain and merciless and they leave no room for doubt. There was fear and pain and blood. There was one man in the midst of a few. Only one possible outcome.
It’s a hard thing to think about. Difficult to wrap your head around. But you can’t hide from it or dress it up as anything else. It just keeps on coming. Just keeps on rising to the surface of your brain and even though you weren’t there you can see it all.
An observer to something you never wanted to see. But that’s how it works. Acts like that, they reach out to you and grip you in a way you never knew was possible. Locked in there now forever. A unending snuff film looping in your skull.
His eyes looking up past their faces, up towards the pines and the scraps of sky visible through the branches. And then the inevitable cement block, the one they brought with them, hovering over everything. Blocking out the last beautiful thing.
Low Down Death Right Easy
Brothers. Younger brothers. Older ones. If you’ve got one then this novel is going leave you with a few gaping wounds you’re going to be carrying around for a while. They’re not going to heal quickly.
Or at least that’s how I felt when I closed this one.
What we’ve got here is the story of two sets of brothers in West Texas. Their lives are going to become tangled up in a net of drugs and murder and the question you’re left with is - what can you do to protect someone who can’t be protected from themselves?
You know that things aren’t going to end well. You can feel it. It’s in the writing. In the the pared to the bone prose that swallows you up and sets you down somewhere dark. Kind of like the lives these characters inhabit.
You know things aren’t going to end well, but you want them to. You want good things to happen to them. For their futures to be different futures. For their decisions to be different decisions.
But for the people in this book there’s no escaping those dark clouds that have been lurking on the horizon since the day they were born. It’s like they’ve been waiting for it their whole lives. And now it’s here and they’re not surprised.
It was always going to happen.
That’s how some lives are. A lot of lives. They don’t end well and they were never going to end well. And sometimes you can try to make it different, you can do your best to change the course of someone you love, but people aren’t boats. And even if they were the sea sure as shit ain’t calm.
This is what it’s like to watch someone you love fuck up. This is what it’s like to not be able to do anything about it. You’re just there in the aftermath, wondering if you did enough. But it’s never really enough, is it?
This is a book I’ll be reading again. One of those books like Dennis Johnson’s Angels I’ll return to every couple of years just so I can reopen the wounds it gave me the first time. Some wounds are essential.
This Road Leads Nowhere
This road has nothing but death at the end of it.
He must have known. Gravel crunching beneath tires. Dust in the air. Windows down, blowing grit in his eyes. He must have felt it. Death at the end of the line. A simple fact. No denying it.
It would have weighed on him, that truth. Maybe. Or maybe he felt weightless, knowing what was coming, a peculiar kind of relief. Everything coming to an end. No more waiting.
No more searching it out in bottles of booze and pills. No more that bewildered anger he carried with him everywhere. That rage that boiled up in bars and fizzled out in the back of a paddy waggon with the other busted up drunks on their way to no place.
Maybe he he rested his head back and looked out the rear window up at the stars through the tall pines and he tried not to think about what was coming. Tried to think good thoughts. The good clean thoughts of his youth.
Maybe he thought of him and I. Us playing Conan with plastic swords. Playing Rambo with plastic combat knives. That little shiver of excitement when the blade ran across your throat and for a second you felt you knew what it was like to die.
Good thoughts. Things that came before this. Before the madness swallowed everything.
His first time with a girl. The first time his heart swelled up with love. Some moment of dangerous abandon when he forgot everything, the whole world disappearing, and it was just that moment. Nothing else.
Those quiet moments on the balcony, two brothers drunk on beer, all talked out.
Maybe those were the thoughts that found him in the backseat of that car, wedged between two men silent with thoughts of their own.
Moments like that have to have a feeling all of their own. An electricity that can only exist right there and then. Nowhere else.
The smell of something burning. Windows down to let the air out. Release the pressure. But nothing works. It doesn’t go anywhere, that feeling, it just hangs there close to the flesh.
They don’t know it yet, but it will take years to get that feeling off their skin.
Lots of people dream of never coming home. Of escaping whatever it is they want to escape. Never looking back. Just winding up someplace else, anywhere, and just letting everything go. The past. An entire history.
You don’t want it to fade, you want it to wink out in an instant.
Close your eyes in a new place and wake up someone else. A person you never were before. Everyone must dream that once or twice in their lives. And even if they don’t take it seriously they must, for a moment at least, experience that rush of comfort such thoughts bring.
To wake up a blank slate must be the most beautiful feelingin the world.
Or at least that’s how it seemed to me when I left home ten years ago with the truest intentions of never returning. I was twenty years old and that ten hour drive was probably one of the highlights of my life. It was almost as though I could feel the past pulling away from me in great chunks.
It was the most joyous pain in the world.
You can’t relive an experience like that. Once it’s gone, there’s no going back and finding it again. It’s just one of those one time things that you can waste a lifetime trying to find again.
But it doesn’t exist anymore. That was it.
Coming back to that place you swore you’d never set foot in again is a different sort of feeling altogether. Driving the streets of your youth you realize that you were always headed back here, that no matter how much you believed otherwise, you were on a long, winding road that led right here. To this spot.
Something was always going to pull you back. And even if you didn’t see it coming it was always there, waiting for you. No matter how hard you try you can’t stop a place from existing. It goes on without you.
And when you are pulled up outside the house where you grew up and you are bent over in the front of your car sobbing, you will feel that this place, your hometown is alive, the night a rush with its breathing.
Back then there was an ease to it. There was just the simple, clean pleasure of it. It flowed from some natural place. Maybe I could never pinpoint it, but it was there and it made me happy.
It’s a nice feeling when you have something, that one thing that makes you feel whole, an entire person. When you’re young, especially then, it gives you a strength you wouldn’t have otherwise. A sense that maybe you can get through what might have otherwise defeated you.
As a teenager this is helpful. In those hopeless moments there is always something to turn to. A release valve. A place to retreat, take cover, find answers.
Because the answers were always there if you looked for them.
Sometimes it comes back to me, that lost feeling, it comes floating back at unexpected times. A memory or something more than that. The memory of something gone forever. A place you can never return to or a feeling you can never recapture.
It’s just gone. But you remember it sometimes and its memory fills you with this great expanse of sorrow. Because, if you could, you’d go back there and you’d stay forever. You would never leave because it was the one time you felt safe.
You knew you belonged there.
It does not disappear suddenly. It does not happen overnight. You do no wake up one morning and find that it has gone.
It happens without your knowledge. A slow drip. You don’t even feel it happen.
But there will come a moment when you are sitting there and you will realize that it’s gone. That some fundamental part of you has dried up. There is nothing left. The place it used to be is an empty room. That thing you considered the most important part of who you are has withered and you didn’t defend it or fight for it or anything.
You weren’t even there to watch it die. News of its death came so late it’s hard to even mourn its passing.
All that matters, really, is that it’s gone. You don’t have it anymore. What you do have is a new perspective on things. A fresh understanding that this thing you call a life is never going to change. Those dreams you used to have, they’re ashes now. They’re shreds of paper at the bottom of a trashcan somewhere.
All this, it’s nothing. It’s a ghost, man.
It’s someone tired and worn to a nub reaching for shadows and coming up with empty hands. It’s the shell of something ancient, long gone from the world, dead for centuries.
He was just a low down nothing wasted piece of meat. Meant nothing to nobody. His dreams were up and swallowed whole by the day to day movements of the world.
There were entire weeks and months when it felt like the world and everything in it were pushing down on him. He felt like his body was going to give way at any moment and he would be crushed down to pulp and bone dust.
During those times there was a sense that gripped him. It was a feeling that he had to do something. There was this feeling that he if he could just reach out and grab hold of something and make it his own, then things would be alright.
But no matter where he looked there was nothing to grab onto. Nobody. Nothing. There was just nothing anywhere.
If everything were black, it’d make sense. But the world was made of colours. There were bright things everywhere. There were living things all around him. Moving and breathing things. Things that meant something to someone.
Just not to him.
Though he wanted it more than anything.
It’d always been that way. He would see something good and he’d reach out to take it, finally have something good that was his alone, and his hand would be slapped away before he was even close to reaching it.
Sooner or later you’ll realize that there’s no point in wanting for things you can’t have, his Mama used to tell him.
No point wanting what you can’t have, things that can never be yours, will never be yours. Just ain’t no point to it. You had what you had and that was it. And if you had nothing, well that was just the bad luck of life. You couldn’t change it.
Life wasn’t something you could manipulate and mould into whatever you wanted it to be. Life wasn’t clay. No, what you had was what you were given and nothing else.
Ain’t nothing more out there, she said.
This right here, this is it, she said.
No point fiending after more, she said, because there ain’t no more.
Growing up, he hadn’t wanted to believe her. He’d wanted to believe in more. He’d felt it all around him, something in the ether, he just never knew how to take hold of it.
Days spent dreaming. Months spent wishing. Head down on the school desk picturing it. It being the future. What lied ahead. More than this. More than any of them could even imagine. Face up in bed with a pillow over his face he saw the future down to the smallest detail.
The life that would belong to him. Places to go. The woman who loved him. The son he taught. It felt so real his entire body would tingle with the feel of it, like if he thought about it long enough, hard enough, he would flick over into that place, be there.
And it was warm there and there were things there that meant something and he meant something to someone else.
After a while it just felt like that future was his and there were no other options. That was his life. It was written in blood in a great book someplace, all written out in a fine script, all the details, all the ups and downs of his life.
But then years pass and you begin to get a sense that maybe all the dreams you had were just dreams. They had nothing contained within them. No substance. They were built on steam. Clouds smearing across the sky.
You reached out, but there was nothing there.
There was no mystery to it. It just was.
The book he’d imagined, the one with his name on the front, his story between the pages, was nothing more than a charred thing with all the words smeared and unreadable. Whatever the story had been about, long forgotten, faded now. Nothing more than a nagging ache somewhere close to where his heart was.
As he drives to work the voices of the dead boys come to him through the air conditioning vents. They filter out softly at first. Whispers. Barely there.
The dead boys whisper in whiny, cracked voices. He leans forward, trying to catch what they are saying, shaking his head. The dead boys are quiet but insistent. They have things to tell him. Secrets. Unimaginable things.
Their voices rise from within the heart of the car. They filter in like little bursts of steam. He can almost see them. Almost feel their sad little spirits brushing against his skin.
It’s almost calming, the noise they make. A low, heartbreaking song made only for him. The dead boys, a choir for his ears alone. A chorus of tears and pleading. A song made up of broken dreams.
Shh, he says, shh.
Sometimes he hums along with them. A barely perceptible tune. He wants them to know that it’s okay, that he hears them, that their wailing is not wasted on him. Their spirits rise up out of the vents and he inhales them like puffs of smoke.
The calm him. They give him the necessary strength to face the day.
It’s okay, he says, Daddy is here.
Daddy is here, he says.
They murmur and weep and the warmth of their souls cuddle around him, a comforting presence. A blanket of dead boys. Boys whose last words are prayers he recites before sleep.
In his dreams their blood wells up hot and steaming. The last look on their face, wide eyed, death coming like the sound of a balloon popping just over their shoulder. Death, always a surprise. They never expect it, even when it is right there in the room with them.
Even at their last second they don’t believe it.
Sometimes he feels their confusion hovering in the air in the moments after. They are already gone and his excitement is beginning to fade, but something remains in the atmosphere and it is his alone to collect.
But they always find him here, alone in the car, they always come to him. The dead boys. Countless. His flock, every growing, their names long forgotten, some not ever even known to him. Just boys. Nameless and lost and floating close to him forever.
What we have here, quite simply, is the best 80’s action/exploitation/junk cinema experience that never was. You know how you watch a trailer from those days and it makes you think that this movie is going to be the best thing ever and then you find out that you’ve already seen all the good stuff and the rest is just boring fluff? Well The Mondo Vixen Massacre is like one of those trailers – it has everything you want in one tight little package.
From page one we’re dropped into a madhouse and it never lets up from there.
The story begins with Tom Clay, teacher, having his life literally ripped apart. The Mondo Vixens have turned up and they’ve brought every kind of pain imaginable with them. They have Tom on his back and they are doing things to him that are so horrible you will find yourself laughing.
With each bout of laughter you will feel ashamed for laughing. But that’s okay.
Tom’s family are tortured and the Vixen’s take his wife and leave him in the ruins of his once happy home. But that’s okay too. Tom is going to pull himself up off the ground and, like any hero worth his salt, he’s going to get some revenge.
Grefe’s prose comes in quick flurries. It is tight and flows naturally and it’s a joy to read. There were a few times there when I had a smile on my face because the writing is so energetic. It kind of just made me feel happy reading it.
The things that happen to Tom and his family and the things that Tom does in return are some of the worst things imaginable, but they are described with such glee that you can’t help but enjoy what you see in your head. And you will see it. Grefe’s prose is visual. He has a knack for describing things in a way that brings it to life.
In fact, when I look back on it, it is the only book that I remember seeing in colour. Everything is bright. There are reds and greens and blues. I don’t know that this has happened to me before. Maybe that’s why it reminded me of those 80’s movie trailers I mentioned earlier. It’s big and loud and absurd a whole lot of obscene fun.
I say check it out.
The Obese by Nick Antosca
Nina Gilton spends her days photoshopping the already beautiful into flawless versions of themselves so they can appear in advertisements for fashion mags. No protruding bones. No blemishes. Her boyfriend has left her and is moving on with his life. She comes home from work to her small apartment and drinks warm water for dinner and daydreams about a handsome stranger she bumped into recently.
When Nina is forced to let an old high school ‘friend’ spend the night on the couch things start to go wrong. Firstly, her old friend is overweight and Nina finds it a little difficult to be around those who are carrying a little extra around the waist. Fat people make her uncomfortable. Secondly, her obese friend happens to read an online chat Nina has left open on her laptop where she said some nasty things about fat people.
Nina’s ‘friend’ is upset and takes revenge by putting together an email that gets Nina fired from her job. Her life ruined, Nina plots revenge with the help of the handsome stranger.
That’s before fat people start going crazy in New York, before they start feeding on the flesh of the rest of us poor skinny bastards.
What we have here is Zombies replaced with fat people. We have The Obese tearing skinny bodies apart in the street. They are eating guts and smearing blood everywhere. They are charging around the place like a herd of enraged buffaloes with a hunger for blood and gore. The earth thunders as they charge.
You can almost feel it. The earth thundering.
Or maybe that’s just you laughing.
Because this book is funny. Sure, it’s a satire about body image, the fashion industry, the way images are presented to us and an idea of perfection is created, but it’s also a ripsnorting horror/comedy that tears along at the speed of light. If you’re like me, you won’t really worry about all the intellectual mumbo jumbo unless you’re trying to look smart when you’re discussing the book with others. What you really care about is that The Obese are running rampant and that they are eating people for lunch.
That’s why you recommended it to your friends in the first place, right? Because you wanted to see their faces when they saw the cover and read the blurb.
This book is a lot of fun and the comments on society aren’t shoved down your throat. It’s entertaining and gross and when you’re finished you’ll be hoping they turn it into a movie so you can see The Obese charging towards you. In 3D.
She remembers loving him and little else.
She remembers the good times.
The good times are easy. There are photos, videos, to implant in the memory.
The bad times are another matter altogether. There is rarely evidence. And if there were evidence, would he have put it in, would he have been able to place those things in her mind?
The first thing she said to him was, I love you.
He wept for at least an hour.
She held him and told him everything was going to be okay. Everything is going to be okay, she said.
He had wanted to hear her say this for a long time. These were the words he craved.
And now they were here.
It was important that he give her the right words, the correct phrases. That he put combinations of words together to give her things to say.
Eventually she would learn on her own but, at first, she said only the things he had programmed her to say. Soon though, she would make her own combinations. The words he had given her would become her own.
She would become something more than he had created.
God, I’ve missed you, he said.
I’m not going anywhere, she told him, I will never leave you again.
He built her as she had been at seventeen or eighteen. But that was all. He didn’t play around with her too much.
Other men would have done more with her. They would have given her larger breasts and longer legs. They would have made her lips full and sensual and deep red. They would have given her a vocabulary made up of sexual propositions. An extensive knowledge of the karma sutra.
But no, he wanted her as she was then.
It was the happiest time of their lives. Just after high school. The whole world was opening up for them. There were big things on the horizon, he just had to know how to grip it with both hands and pull it in close.
He’d believed in things then. But even if he didn’t see it there was a darkness on the edges, encroaching slowly and by the time he recognized it, it was everywhere and he could not fight it.
That first night he slept close beside her and when he woke in the middle of the night her eyes were open, staring at the ceiling.
Do you need something, she said.
I’m fine, he told her.
He had forgotten to give her the ability to sleep. There was still work to be done, there was more to do to make her real. She was a work in progress.
Sometimes she almost forgot that he had made her in the basement out of scraps. There were periods when she almost felt that it was a dream, her creation. That these visions of him leaning over her, sweating, oil smeared on his face, some tool in his hand, were just a fantasy.
But in the place where her heart was meant to be she knew otherwise.
In his grief the knowledge came to him. It came unbidden. Something holy in its delivery.
He had to do something with his hands, so he built her. He went downstairs and built her out of things that had no use anymore. Things that should have been rubbish became new again, became a part of her.
After hours of working on her he would snap out of it and feel unsure if he was losing his mind. If losing her had driven him over the edge into madness.
But each day she became more than the day before. Each day she became more like the girl he’d loved all those years ago. Her skin had that same glow.
And then the day she stood before him and said the words that made his legs weak and he almost fell into her arms. When she held him he could feel the strength beneath her skin and when he rested his head on her breast he imagined he could hear her heart beating.
She is always happy to see him. When he opens his eyes she is always there, waiting, ready to smile for him. When his eyes open she is always the first thing he sees.
Hi, she says.
Good morning, he will say.
She will have hot tea and breakfast waiting.
Is this okay, she will ask him.
This is great, he will tell her, you didn’t have to.
I wanted to.
She always wants to. She always wants to please him. To make sure he is satisfied, that he never wants. She is always there for him, his every need. He could not ask for more.