by Daniel Gonzalez
I used direct pressure to stop the bleeding.
“You see, it’s just a little blood, Jeff. Some puncture wounds. I have other pants. Don’t worry about it. You didn’t know that clapping me on the back like that would cause me to feel like I’d been stabbed in the thighs with a porcupine”
“Cool,” Jeff responded, leaning back into the plush sofa. “What time’s the game on?” He sunk his beer into a built in cup holder on the arm, then tripped a lever and a footrest placed him into zero gravity position. “Dip?”
“No thanks. I’m fine.” And I was. I was fine. And I think I had begun to win him over “So Jeff, are you coming around to our way of thinking? Are you seeing the value of sitting daily on a bed of nails?”
“Aha! I knew you would see the light.”
“This nine layer bean dip is friggin’ stellar. I mean, I knew seven layer bean dip was good, but nine, wow. I mean, wow.”
“Jeff, I was asking you about the philosophical values of our family. Now that’ you’re marrying my sister, I mean, I need to know that you’ve considered our lifestyle. That you’ve understood the deep sense of personal empowerment that comes from the stoic belief system… that you’re willing to recline on a bed of nails and consider how embracing pain can be a route to happiness.”
“Hey, if a wuss like you can do it, I can do it… Cheese dip is still fine, though right? You’ve got nothing against cheese dip, do ya?”
I reclined with caution, as one does on a bed of nails. I used a dull spike to scratch my shoulder. It bled, but only slightly. It was more like body art. With some carefully shoulder movements I turned the scratch into drawing of a person in lotus position bleeding from his eyes and skull.
“Cheese dip itself is fine. Being a stoic is not about cheese dip, Jeff. It’s a spiritual -”
“Fucking sweet, you know, because cheese dip is like…well…er… You got any?”
“In the fridge next to the bean curd.”
I watched as Jeff attempted to get up without lowering the foot rest from zero gravity position. His lack of flexibility was stunning. He contemplated his toes as though they were a distant galaxy. His whole body quivered as he fought himself a few inches forward, then lay back befuddled before rolling out sideways like a log. I found it unfortunately erotic, which, if you’ve ever reclined on a bed of nails, you understand how unfortunate that is. Only my stoic center kept me whole and at peace, and the heavy compress bandage that kept me from bleeding out.
Jeff returned with the cheese dip, took a long pull off his beer. I replaced a bandage or two, then tried a peaceful and loving smile before starting in again on Jeff.
“You see, Jeff. When you try to stay on the surface of the water, you sink, but when you try to sink, you float. Do you understand?”
Penetrating enlightening silence?
No, just silence.
Wait, was that something?
“Dude, are you saying this thing converts into a water bed. Fuck yeah!” He slammed his beer into my cup of Lapsang Souchong tea, spilling most of it. I remained in a perfect calm. Not so much because of my deep stoic center as due to the taste of the tea. My first sip earlier had led immediately to the thought, “No. No. A thousand times, no.” I flashed Jeff an “inner contentment” smile, then did some quick microsurgery on my left ass cheek.
“No, Jeff. It’s not a waterbed. I believe you and I are having a bit of trouble communicating. Why don’t I try a different analogy, one that you might find easier to accept?”
He chose to assent by bodily function.
“Dude, that’s a gnarly one. You might want to open a window,” he said, fanning the air.
“Mahalo, my friend,” I replied.
“Does that mean window?”
“No, look, Jeff, it’s a Hawaiian phrase of gratitude, admiration, esteem-” Then his flatulence hit me. My nose shat itself, filled with something I can only describe as “ass juice.” I gagged.
“I warned you, dude.”
I used my radial, ulnar and brachial pressure points to handle the bleeding caused by my sudden movements, then repeated the phrase.
“Mahalo, my friend.”
“Er, uh Moo hay-lo to you, too.” Jeff replied. He was sort of vaguely searching the couch for a button that converted it to a water bed.
“As I was saying, Jeff. I believe I have an analogy that you might find more palatable. You’ve had Taco Bell, yes?”
I nodded. Opened my mouth to speak.
“And lunch,” Jeff added.
I nodded again.
“And kind of an early dinner,” Jeff threw in.
“That’s fine, Jeff. I get it. Look let’s say you’re having a Taco Bell burrito.”
“Can I have a steak burrito?”
“Yes, good. A steak burrito. Let’s say you’re having that and it’s delicious. You’re really enjoying the burrito.”
“I’d enjoy it more with some fire sauce.”
“That’s fine. You’ve got fire sauce. As much as you need. You are experiencing what you would call happiness. Are you with me?”
Jeff dove a chip into the cheese dip.
“Good. Then let’s just say that after you finish a bite of the delicious burrito, something you had been wanting all morning, you experience this odd pain.”
“Yes, so there’s this pain and it spreads down your arm and squats on your chest like an elephant.”
“There’s an elephant on my chest?” Jeff asked, confused.
“Yes, let’s say that it feels that way. An elephant on your chest. And you are fighting for air and feel dizzy and feel as if your chest is being crushed. Could you say then that this was a good burrito, Jeff? At this point can you say that burritos bring you happiness?
“What I’m saying, Jeff is not that I want you to feel your chest being crushed, to feel you are suffocating, to make desperate eye contact with others in the room as you slip under a veil of darkness. No, what I’m saying is that you are marrying my sister, Jeff, and you must understand that happiness has paradoxes, you see? It has paradoxes. You may look at me and see a man bleeding from a dozen puncture wounds, from a nail embedded perilously close to his testicles. You may see that, Jeff. But what I am saying is that you can choose to feel indifferent to these happenings, to cultivate indifference in your life as an alternate route to happiness. Jeff, are you okay? You’re kind of sweating a lot and clawing at your chest. You’re turning blue, Jeff. Jeff? Can you hear me, Jeff? Did you actually try to drink from that bucket of cheese dip? Why don’t I help you onto the spike chair. Mahalo, my friend. Mahalo.”
by Matthew Reed
On the Saturday night before Easter, Charlotte laid on our living room couch, giving me hand signals. This was the only way we could talk after 8:00 p.m., because Kylie, five years old, was a human satellite dish. I was in the kitchen, slightly inebriated, wearing a pair of furry pink rabbit ears. Charlotte balled one hand into a fist and made peeling motions across it with the other, then gave me a look that said it couldn’t be simpler. Orange, I mouthed. She nodded. But we had no oranges, only apples and a bundle of splotchy bananas. She frowned and pointed at the apple. I grabbed it, then she pinched her hand so that it looked like she was writing. I mouthed the word, pen, and we were set.
The living room was tangled in a web of pastel colored yarns, crisscrossing the room, wrapping around furniture, light fixtures, and things the kids had left lying around. This was our family’s version of the Easter egg hunt. At the end of the hallway were four signs with the names of each kid, and taped to each of those signs was a string. In the morning, each of them would wind the yarn back up, following it under and around, until each found their Easter Baskets, attached to the other end.
The yellow one was for Eric. His basket was hidden behind the firewood, away from anything breakable. It contained, along with candy, a pack of baseball cards to be opened now, and a pair of bleacher seat tickets for a spring season Red’s game. The pink one was for Kylie. Her basket was hidden underneath the rocking chair, and was filled with a chocolate bunny, jelly beans, more chocolate, and a doll with a very large head wearing a sequined jean jacket and riding a scooter. The lime green one was for Heather. Her basket was hidden in the bottom of the grandfather clock and was filled with jelly beans and a stack of Daredevil and X-Men comic books. The sky blue string was for Shelby and her basket was hidden behind a row of oversized books at the top of the bookshelf. In her basket were a pacifier and a plastic tiara because she thought she was too old for these kinds of games. What we lacked in ability as parents, we made up for in pyrotechnics.
It was my mission now to navigate myself to the couch through the web without waking up our human motion detector. As far as athletic prowess goes, I’ve always been junior varsity. Somewhat willing, but really not able. A Dungeons and Dragons phase late in high school didn’t help matters, either. With one foot up, I began to windmill one arm, then two. Charlotte, five feet away, tried to steady me by tilting her head. She motioned for me to save the apple and pen. I shook my head. She was going to get the whole package or nothing.
I jumped for the couch prematurely and landed on her sideways. We kissed and she pulled out a small plastic baggy of pot and a book of matches that she had found in Shelby’s jewelry box earlier that week. I handed her the pen and the apple–which she looked at doubtfully–and watched her go to work. Charlotte could make a pipe out of anything. She had funded her junior year abroad in college by selling pot all during her sophomore year. She was so good, I had once suggested that she make up business cards. She drilled one hole into the top of the apple with the pen and then a second hole into the side. After sucking out the debris, she put her lips over the hole on the side and blew. The top of the apple whistled.
Shelby was not in trouble yet. Our excuse was we hadn’t thought of a good enough opening line, but it was mostly because we didn’t have the energy to fight her. I thought Sunday night would be good because she could go to school the next day and blow off some steam—instead of pulling out old photo albums of us wearing black leather and spandex and asking how could we not have been stoned. The problem was it didn’t seem like the best way to end Easter Sunday. Grounding and sobbing weren’t exactly in the spirit of the holiday. Then we both agreed it’s what Jesus would’ve done.
Of course, this meant that we could smoke only so much of the evidence. Charlotte shimmied a third of the bag into the top hole, packed it down, then stuck a lit match down in after it. After taking a hit, she coughed into her armpit and nodded. It worked. But on my turn, all I got was a big lungful of sulfur from the match. The problem was that she couldn’t pack it in there tight enough for it to last more than a single hit. After fidgeting with the apple for a while, Charlotte finally held up the baggy. What she meant by this was that there was a design flaw in the apple and that she was going to have to use up all of the pot to pack it in properly.
Both of us considered the ramifications for a while–silently–but I could tell we were both thinking the same thing. We didn’t turn out so bad, did we? Shelby was a good kid, too. She was going to turn out well regardless of a little pot. And she was a teenager and was going to do what she wanted, when she wanted and we couldn’t change that. Besides, we would catch her next time.
Pot was stronger than we had remembered. We took several hits apiece and instead of making out some more, we put our feet up on the coffee table and slid down. I watched Charlotte sink into the cushions and her chest slowly swallow up her chin. We were on the verge of being disappointed with ourselves.
Then out of the haze appeared Kylie, sleepy, in a pink and white pajama suit sprinkled with half- dollar sized princesses. I watched her weave in and out of the strings with a doll trapped under her arm, bending here, hopping there. She was a good kid–a little materialistic for a five-year-old—but she was also earnest and sweet and liked to give back rubs at the dinner table. She was our last—she had to be. We couldn’t afford any more kids. But she was still so new that it was hard not to think that she was the kid who we would raise right–that she was going to grow up well adjusted and happy because of all of the things that we had learned not to do with the others. She had become, whether she knew it or not, our little beacon of hope for ourselves as parents. She also had a lisp.
I can’t wait for the Ether bunny,” she said.
“Don’t you mean the Easter Bunny?” I said.
She was not happy—she was already an early to bed, early to rise kid. Being up at this hour meant business and she had little time to wait for us. “That’s what I said.” She stamped her foot. “The Ether bunny.” Charlotte laughed silently with her mouth open, forgetting that we were no longer in any danger of waking her up.