“THE DRUNKS” by ALICE FLORIDA XU

____We were nine and ten when Billy Jacobs told us about the man behind his house.
____He has red hair and wears a baggy shirt that says Nautica, our friend said. Then Billy, always the best artist in the group, drew the man with fine-tipped markers from the perspective of his bedroom window: a skinny grinning creep, lava-headed and standing at the edge of the forest, the word NAUTICA exceeding the square of his chest. The man would stare for a while, then cross back into the green like Bigfoot. He came lots of times and he lives in the woods. Oh and sometimes he waved to me, Billy said, raising his hand to show us.
____Two of us betting Billy was lying, a small group organized on a Saturday to find this red-haired man. It was early autumn and the green of summer (a wonderful summer) had angered to a red that snowed all around us: living leaves, still fleshy, mute beneath our Chuck Taylors. I brought along my kid brother Jared, in those days, a weak and anxious child preoccupied with eyebally anime. My father worried, seeing the sulky teen in embryo, a loser man to be. Challenge him, my dad said, standing darkly in my bedroom doorway. He’ll thank you one day.
____We walked past the stream and down the enormous hill (I see some of us chucking rocks hail Mary at a family of deer) and emerged in the light of a big shaggy field. A man lay there with frizzy red hair, parted in the center, trash and bottles in a circle around him like witchcraft. His face was scorched and lumpy with plump whiteheads that resembled useless, half-formed eyes. Nautica Competition, his shirt said. He grinned like in the picture. Continue reading

“HORROR HOTEL” by ALICE FLORIDA XU

ONE/FOUR

On a Tuesday, Alice decides she will be unfaithful to Peter, her boyfriend of three and a half years. It is 10:43 in the morning and rain is drumming the roof of the building where Alice works. Alice chews on a pen and wonders when she will do it, when she will fuck someone else. Alice looks at the computer. Soon, Alice decides. Alice looks at a window and her gray chair squeaks. She chews on a pen and thinks, I am going to cheat on him soon. I have to do it soon. I have to cheat on him and I have to take control of my life.

 

Alice loves Peter. Or Alice used to love Peter. Or Alice never loved Peter. At one point Alice loved Peter, probably. A year ago, or maybe two years ago, Alice loved Peter. I love Peter, Alice used to think. Then something changed. Or nothing changed and Alice never really loved Peter. Maybe loving Peter was what Alice wanted, so Alice pretended it was happening. When Alice was twelve she believed she would be a veterinarian. Alice was very sure of it because she wanted it to happen. Every day she would think, I will be a veterinarian. Maybe loving Peter was something like that. Or maybe it wasn’t. Or maybe loving Peter and not loving Peter are the same thing, or so similar as to almost be the same thing, and there is no sense in thinking about it, especially not now, especially after Alice has decided that she will be unfaithful to Peter, an idea that feels very clear, and very large, and very unlike the question of loving Peter, which is very vague, and very small, and very confusing. Someone yells something outside Alice’s cubicle. Alice stares at her computer screen. Alice stares at a graph it is her job to make. Alice thinks, I need to finish this. I need to focus on my job. I need to be a good employee so I can keep my job. I need to be a good employee so I can buy a house. I need to be a good employee. My life is not in control. My life is out of control. I need to take control of my life. Continue reading

“LANDFILL” by ALICE FLORIDA XU

The unnamed village lay in a wide shining circle of sheet metal shacks and engineless trucks all blackened by fingertips prodding for balance and coppery blistered with rust bark-like and eating. Beneath floor and feet is spread a bleached desert of gritty pallor and collapsed white stone and concrete; all is colorless save for the glass and mirror shards that hold gilded day-shimmer and the pollen-colored dust laying as a veil on all unmoving things and the flaking sheets of blood that cut their color into dry wind like would sere crumbled roses. White-dusted faces peer from smeared windows. Packs of feral adolescents throw sediment at unflinching gulls. Skeletons with faces of black gorges glare. The dead lay as bones picked smooth as river stones and crushed under child feet. All other movement is windblown.

In the scant distance, the eleven loose-packed mounds tower over all things. They are built up daily by the stout planes that fly low; planes that, with a cacophonous hydraulic release like some great mechanical sucking, unlock their bellies and rain down great wet shining clumps of trash collected from that somber hungry city to the west. The planes go small then gone, doors dangling, salting spare salt-hued land in sparsest color.

The low sun turns the mounds to blushing copper and flushed out by cooling dimness the people emerge from bare shelter. In the soundless slow-motion of hungry aching strain, the gaunt and bearded fling together little mountains of tires and bags and soft paper in the image of the great giving larger ones and they are all set aflame. Then when the fire is high and eating and its mephitic black haze clouds the deep blue dusky sky and befogs the moon and the day’s last planes drop their final tumbling loads the men start their climb. Continue reading

“PURPLE HEART, 1990” by ALICE FLORIDA XU

The motel room window––thick reptile house glass––shows green and dark, a highway paved over flat land. A crash-gouged wall pokes up between lanes. Shot full of white in headlights, streaks of automobile paint go seeable for parts of seconds, so brief really only seen in after-image. A rhythm of dying flashbulb memory. Then, endless pine trees, true black against the night sky of pale dark. Continue reading