Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Hooves and Horns

Ryan M. Burk

I’m boarding and I notice that the train is already near-full. I lean against the wall next to the door and find an open patch of handrail. The conductor comes on over the speakers and tells us through a static-laced mumble that the next stop is Delancey and to stand clear of the closing doors. The train embarks and we, the passengers, collectively sway back and forth. I stare at the sign posted above the door. “Do not lean against the door,” it reads.

I’m thinking about how much I dislike the uptown “F” at rush hour and about how lucky I am to have gotten on at East Broadway. I’m thinking about being sucked out to sea. I’m thinking about laying lazily in the undertow.

The doors open again at Delancey and more bodies shove their way in. I can feel them pressing against me as they pass. The doors shut and I’m thinking about fish in tiny tin casings when a woman gets groped. She twists her neck to catch a glimpse, but is confined to a barely-over-the-shoulder glance. I see the hand return to its pocket and I stare back out of the window. I’m staring straight ahead at bricks caked with mud and white tiles and streaks of red and blue lights.

My hip digs into the person next to me as the next tide rolls in. It’s 2nd Avenue and it’s busy as hell. The platform is crowded enough to fill the train by itself. Most of them will have to wait for the next one. The doors open and ten or fifteen people get off. The crowd waiting to board jostles its way forward. They’re lying on each other with wide-eyed leering faces. They’re desperate to get on and they’ve got someplace to be. A few manage to pile in while most stand listlessly on the grime-coated concrete. I stare back out at them, now pressed against the wall.

The conductor reminds us to stand clear of the closing doors. I’m waiting to hear the doors shut. I’m waiting and listening, but the sound never comes. I look over and a man is caught in the entrance. He’s struggling to get in, but the train is full. The train is painfully full and this man is still trying to wedge himself in.

The conductor comes on over the loudspeaker again: “Stand clear of the closing doors.” All throughout the train people are scoffing and shaking their heads. They’re stretching their necks to catch a glimpse of what’s causing the interruption. The man still hasn’t managed to climb onboard and we still aren’t moving.

“Get the fuck out of the door.”

I turn around and see an agitated man in an expensive suit. His face is twisted in disgust. He has somewhere to be and he doesn’t have time for this shit. I don’t have time for this shit. Nobody else has time for this shit and neither does the conductor.


He makes no secret of his frustration.

“This is bullshit,” says the man in the suit. He’s wringing his hands.

The man in the door grabs my shoulder in desperation. “Help me out,” he says.

I want this to be over. Everyone’s attention turns to me and now I am responsible for delay. He’s pulling me harder now, like a drowning man. I want him to be on the train and for this ordeal to end. I want to skulk back into the crowd and go unnoticed. I want to go unseen.

“Just fucking push him out!” I hear the vehement inflection.

There isn’t room for anybody else.

His face sinks, ashen. I grab the handrail with both hands and shake myself from his grasp. He slides out slightly, but still has firm footing, just enough to keep himself entrenched in the entrance. I want the stalemate to end. I pull myself from the ground and kick him in the chest. He gasps and falls back onto the platform.

The doors shut and we move again. I watch him as we pass, doubled over and wiping the filth from his clothes. I look down at the ground and my feet are covered in filth.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Grave Pact

Ryan M. Burk

The dry pangs of their shovels against the grit and dirt rang in and out of sync in irregular loops, each fading into the other and then slowly drifting back out. This continued on, together and at opposite ends until Laurel, who had been thinking deeply for some time now, interrupted the pattern to answer.

“You can tell right away when it’s bad.”

Adam did not break his cycle, instead grunting out a short response.

“How’s that?”

She stood still, thoughtfully answering.

“You know as soon as it hits your tongue. There’s an intensely bitter taste, sour and metallic.”

Adam stopped to consider the description.

“Like a mouthful of pennies?”

“Yes,” she said, “like sucking on a mouthful of rancid pennies.”

She picked her shovel back up and turned it to the soil.

“It isn’t even LSD. It’s either 2c-i, 2c-b, or DOI. Synthetic. It’s shit.”

“Does it feel different?” asked Adam.

Laurel answered: “The comeup is much harsher. Your joints and muscles normally stiffen when you take it, but the synthetic kinds drastically increase the effects, to the point of feeling robotic.”

“My joints feel stiff right now,” said Adam. “Let’s take a break.”

They lazily dropped their shovels and sat next to the mound of dirt they had built. Laurel surveyed the surrounding woods; dark, silent, unseasonably warm. No cicadas sang. They had not made it through the first cold front that had passed. She would have welcomed their droning sex-song, anything to occupy her thoughts while she and Adam worked. The cold snap had not lasted an entire week, but was more than enough to cull the swarm. Had it never came, they would still flourish. Some years it never really did come at all, and they buzzed incessantly throughout the unending humid months. A subdued smile crossed Laurel’s lips. She spoke again:

“You nearly scared me to death the first time we took it.”

“How so?”

She jolted. “You put on that Tom Waits record and started doing this insane arm-swinging dance right in my face!”

Adam finally smiled. “Which song was it? You always loved “Little Drop of Poison.” Was that the one?”

“No. It was the first song off of “Mule Variations.””‘Big in Japan.” It has that abrasively loud screaming part as soon as it starts. We listened to that entire record and ran all over the house that night. Do you remember?”

He nodded. They sat for a little while longer before deciding to finish up what they had started.

“How many times have you taken it?” he asked.

“Thirty-five times.”

“How many times did you get the bad kind?”

Her face curled back into a sneering frown. “More time that I care to remember. I always hated it. It was like knowing you had just been poisoned. You just had to deal with it. It felt so unnatural, so forced. Granted, it wasn’t intolerable, but it certainly wasn’t the same. Not to mention that it has traces of arsenic and rat poison in it.”

“A little drop of poison.”

“Yes, literally. I would wake up the next morning feeling so stiff and sore.”

“Kind of like digging all night?” said Adam, dryly.

“That’s funny and it’s not funny,” replied Laurel, pitching another scoop of dirt onto the pile.

“We’re both a little funny, what with our little agreement we’ve got here.”

She contemplated the situation for a moment but then reassured herself.

“I suppose we could have agreed to marry each other just like everyone else does.”

Adam Cringed. So did she.

“I’m just too used to telling people that we’re just friends.”

“Just friends till the end.”

“Till we die.”

They stopped digging.

“This should be fine,” said Adam. They tossed the shovels far out sight and sat down in the dirt. There they sat, the two of them. They dug a hole in the woods behind the neighborhood where they grew up. They split a bottle of benzodiazepines and then they split a bottle of whiskey. They lay face down in the dirt.

© Ryan M. Burk 2011