The Young Cannibals

It was a half-moon, so half the light, but enough to see the crazy outline of your friends’ faces laugh, pull drags off of their cigarettes, and bemoan the wild actions of their other classmates. It was Friday, a late spring night, graduation was near and there was an air of fervor amongst the class of 2000. The students were partying where they shouldn’t be, at a park called the Black Hole, deep in the Hill Country. Ivory bands of limestone tape the edges of the valley they’re in. Prickly Pear cactus were built with their paws up ready to slap any drunk high school student not paying attention. The juniper is there, just below the mesquite and oak. In the car park there’s a long line of trucks and for every truck at least three pairs of boots. And for every pair of boots, a belt buckle, and for every one of these boys a case of beer and a tin of dip. Kickers. There was everyone else too, the jocks, cheer, the rockers, the skaters, theater, yearbook, etc. everyone was in good spirits at first; everyone felt a connection to each other because high school was nearly over, but the beer began to kick in.

“Okay, here’s the scenario,” Travis Herder stated to his friends, “You’re plane crashes and you’re stranded in the woods. Months go by and no one has come to rescue you. Winter is coming and you’re starving. Your best friend goes off into the woods one day and he dies. What do you do with the body?”

“Well, bury it, stupid,” Courtney Lopez said.

“Wait though,” Travis interjected. “You’re starving, winter’s coming, there’s no rescue insight. God knows how you’re going to survive. Still, do you bury it, or something else?”

“Oh, you’re fucking sick man!” Andreas Bernal laughed.

“Sick as it may be this is survival, man.” Travis takes a big swig from his keg cup and pulls a drag from his cigarette. “Look, we know what the civilized answer is, but when you’re no longer in civilization and you become an animal in the woods, the game changes.”

A girl’s voice from outside their circle said, “Pray for the soul of your friend, wear his neckless as a keepsake, and cut him up for the fire.”

Everyone turned around and there stood Amelia Guzman. One star converse, Ripped jeans, a black slip underneath a Rage Against the Machine t-shirt and a doubled-up nose ring.

Travis loathed her because she was smarter than him and always reminded him of it. However, she seemed to be extending a cannibalistic olive branch, one he gladly took.

            “Exactly, exactly. Now, the question must be asked,” Travis smiled, “what part do you eat first?”

            “His dick!” Courtney blurted out, already laughing.

            “You would,” said Andreas.

            The group went into babbling disarray before Amelia chimed back in.

            “His heart,” she said.

            The group began to laugh again, but when they saw that Amelia was dead serious they unwound like a top losing momentum.

            “It’s ceremony. You give thanks by taking his heart, eat it raw, and then move on to the hindquarters to butcher and cook.”

            “Holy shit,” Andreas said with a rubber band between his lips, pulling back his hair to tie into a ponytail.

            Travis looked at Amelia with different eyes. She was always such a bitch to him; so self-serious and stand-offish, but tonight her curtness rearranged his feelings, and beyond his understanding, he felt some brand of kinship with her. Perhaps it was her unveiled honesty, maybe her Rage t-shirt, or even the fact that under all the layers of angst and eyeshadow he thought she was pretty. 

            “I agree with Amelia,” he said. “You’ve got to eat to survive, and if ritualizing the act by honoring his soul by eating his heart does the trick, then so be it…”

            Kim Stevens stumbled by with a few girls from the cheer squad. They were all wearing Daisy Dukes and formed a perfect palate of pastel halter-tops. “Fucking freaks!” Kim said. She let off a drunken cackle that ricocheted off the limestone crags around the perimeter.

            The group of would-be cannibals was silent, all but Amelia who wedged her way into the group. “Kim, you’re just jealous because nobody would eat your anorexic ass.”

            “Shut up, you ugly bitch, Cody eats me every night,” Kim said.

            “I’m sorry, half of the kickers are named Cody, which one are you going to fuck in the woods tonight?” Amelia responded.

            Kim turned around to confront Amelia, but Travis blocked her advance.

            “Forget it, Kim,” he said. “You do your thing, and we’ll do ours.”

            Travis looked into Kim’s eyes, he’d known her since they were in 1st grade. Her eyes always looked like two beach balls floating in a sea of milk, but the milk had been bloodied.

            “You want to fuck her, don’t you?” Kim said to Travis. She began to laugh and lightly slapped Travis on the cheek twice. “Good luck with that one, Trav, she’s clearly a dyke.”

            Amelia looked at Travis, but he couldn’t decipher if the look was a look of disdain or a silent call for help.

            “There’s just no need for drama,” he said.

            “Just go, Kim,” Courtney said.

            “We’ll see you later,” Kim said menacingly, her friend pulling her arm to disengage.

            “Byeee,” said Amelia.

            “Bitch!” Kim yelled with her back turned, already walking away.

            The group was silent for a second until Courtney began to laugh. “You straight-up called out Kim for being anorexic, that’s bold girl!” She said to Amelia.

            “Fuck that skinny bitch,” Amelia said.

            The car park began to empty as more students took the cat tracks down to the river to party amongst the scrub and soapy rocks. Only the moon provided light, a spectrum of subdued blue light that made their eyes turn black and their cigarette cherries glow like lava balls. The group of cannibals stuck together. At Sampson Valley High they were the weird ones. They were the ones that dressed differently, found unheard-of music on Napster and Limewire. They read the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and the Yaki Way of Knowledge instead of their assigned reading. They idolized Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley, Jim Morrison, and Lou Reed. Got high to Pink Floyd and Radiohead, and thought about life outside of Texas. Life after Texas. But, here they were, at a Keg, “fitting in,” drinking with the rest tonight to forget about the cliques their class has been cultivating and refining since 6th grade.

            “Boo!” Two shadows popped up from the brush. “Ouch, fuck!” One of them said.

            “Jesus Christ!” Travis belted.

            “Shit, I got bit by a cactus,” Pearl said.

            Pearl and Rico attached themselves to the group smelling like weed, cig, and cheap beer.

            “Where have you two burnouts been?” Courtney asked, the moon causing her long black hair to look like an oil slick.

            “Hiding from kickers and getting high.”

            “So, the same as at school?” Amelia said.

            “Oh shit, it’s Amelia Guzman!” Pearl said. He pulled something out of his cigarette pack. “Here, I want you to have my roach. It’s a gift of goodwill.”

            To their surprise, she didn’t insult Pearl—which was the usual—and instead took it and put it in her own pack of Dave’s lights.

            “Damn, son, the girl is cool, right?” Rico said, pulling his bandana headband up so he could see.

            “I’ll always take free weed,” she said.

            The group descended down, passing random groups of students until they reached the river. It glowed electric and Pearl and Rico stopped talking to trip on it for a second.

            “What would you do, Andreas?” Travis asked.

            “About what?”

            “Would you eat your friend if you were lost in the woods?”

            Pearl began to laugh. “Shit, guy, Travis is always on some weird shit.”

            “No, I wouldn’t,” Andreas said. “I’d die with dignity.”

            “Is there dignity dying from hunger?” Travis said.

            “It happened with the IRA,” Amelia said. “My dad told me Irish fighters against England would get caught and hunger strike in prison. A few of them died.”

            “That’s fucking madness,” Pearl said.

            “I heard there’s a point you can’t come back from, where your body starts to eat itself, you’re not hungry anymore, you’re just a shell of a human waiting for the light to go out, but like in a Zen way, so maybe there’s dignity in that?” Travis said.

            They were quiet until a loud yip startled them.

            “The kickers are drunk,” Courtney said.

            The yips continued as did the refracted chatter of laughter and screams.

            “They must be jumping into the Black Hole,” Travis said.

            “Man, that place gives me the creeps at night,” Andreas said.

            “It’s just a pool of water,” Amelia said. “I’m more pissed about how they’re going to trash the place.”

            “I talked to a ranger here once, and he said they come out an hour before opening to clean up all the beer cans and scrub the puke off the rocks.”

            “Gross,” said Courtney.

            “Fuck the Codys,” both Travis and Amelia said at the same time. She smiled at him and he could have sworn he’d never seen her smile before.

            “Love is in the air,” Pearl began to sing while walking away to the river’s bank.

            “Shut up!” Amelia said.

            Travis turned away to spare her any embarrassment.

            They all laid down on the rocks and looked up to the sky. In the distance, their classmates played. But, they were still, contemplative, perhaps all thinking the same thing, “I wish the kickers were gone so we could go to the Black Hole.”

            “You know,” Travis said after a moment, “they don’t quite know how deep the Black Hole is.”

            “It’s 114 feet,” Andreas said.

            There was a moment of silence before the group began to laugh.

            “OK, OK, what I meant is that they don’t know where all the tunnels at the bottom of the hole go to.”

            “There are tunnels? That’s crazy, man,” Pearl said.

            “Yeah, man, divers have died down there,” Travis responded. “Ever heard of Orel Meyer?”

            “He the popcorn guy?” Rico said, letting off his high-pitched giggle.

            “Naw, naw,” Travis said, fighting off the group laughter. “Naw, he was this diver in the late 70s that went down and was never seen again.”

            “Wait, I heard about that shit,” Andreas said. “Wasn’t that the case where they said he must have unhooked himself from his line?”

            “Yes, but my dad said that the weird thing was that he was hooked up to a carabiner that had a screw lock, and when they pulled up the line it was screwed closed.”

            “What does that mean?” Pearl said.

            “It means, stupid, that he unlatched himself and screwed the lock back on the carabiner.”

            “That’s weird,” Courtney said. “Why would he do that?”

            “Maybe that’s the protocol?” Pearl said.

            “Protocol?” Amelia said, “Where did you learn that word?”

            “I think on Law and Order,” Pearl said. “My mom and I bond through that show.”

            “Cute,” Amelia said.

            “It doesn’t make sense,” Travis continued. “That’s the whole thing…”

            “HOLE thing, good one, man!” Rico said.

            “Shut up, Rico!” Everyone exclaimed.

            “There are two possibilities,” Travis said. “One: he unhooked himself knowing he wouldn’t be reattaching himself, or two, he was ripped free from his line. Now, based on how he was hooked up, that would take 400 pounds of pressure.”

            They were all quiet until Andreas spoke up. “You’re so full of shit, Travis.”

            “No, I’m being serious. Look it up. And, he’s just one of ten divers that have gone missing in the Black Hole.”

            “Hey, freaks!” They heard in the distance.

            Spooked, Travis stood up and heard a rush of air come at his face and then an explosion detonated. The butt end of a beer bottle hit him square in the forehead. He staggered and fell onto the rocks.

            Four kickers, Cody Lawson, Cody Cole, Cody Judge, and Ken Berg ran to Travis hoop’in and holler’in.

            “Shit boy, you nailed him right in the forehead,” Cody said.

            They circled around Travis and looked at him squirm on the ground like a dying fish out of water.

            “You hurt, Trav?” Cody said. “Trav, you hurt?”

            “Of course, he’s fucking hurt, Dickhead!” Amelia said, running over to Travis to check him out.

            “What the fuck guys,” Andreas said. “Why did you do that?”

            “Keep your pants on Maricòn,” Cody said.

            “Fuck you, Cody,” Courtney said.

            Another one of the Cody’s slapped her and Andreas made an attempt to leap at Cody, but stumbled under the rocks and fell short. He felt three pops land on the side of his head and he tucked into a ball to protect himself.

            Pearls and Rico ran into the water waist deep and contemplated swimming to the other side. Amelia picked up a rock, ran over to Ken Berg standing over Andreas, and smashed him upside the head. Just then, her lights went dark, and she fell on her back.

            While Ken stubbled about regaining his footing Cody Lawson, the leader sat on top of her, grabbed a hold of one of her nose rings, and ripped it out. Amelia screamed in pain. Courtney began to hit him in the back but was subdued by the other two Codys.

            “Come on guys, leave us alone,” Pearl said.

            “We just meant to startle you freaks, but Travis stood up into that bottle. Wasn’t our fault, y’all overreacted.”

            The codys forced Courtney onto the rocks. She was crying. Lawson, with Amelia’s nose ring still in his hand, straddled Travis to check on him.

            “He’s going to have a headache, but he’ll be fine,” he said.

            He stood up, walked by Amelia, and threw her nose ring at her.

            “Can’t fix this mess though,” he said.

            Andreas laid still with his arms wrapped around his head.

            “You fucking losers made this way worse than it had to be,” Lawson said, walking away backward.

            Amelia picked up her head, a river of blood coming down her face, and screamed, “Get the fuck away from us!”

            The Codys and Ken began to laugh and disappeared into the Juniper.

            No one said anything. Courtney came over to Amelia’s aid.

            “Got out of the water you fucking cowards,” she said to Pearl and Rico.

            They complied with their heads down in shame.

            “Give Amelia one of your t-shirts,” Courtney said.

            “But,” Pearl said.

            “Shirt, now!”

            Pearl grudgingly pulled off his shirt and gave it to Courtney.

            Andreas stood up and began to stagger towards the river not saying a word.

            Travis began to laugh. Everyone stopped what they were doing and looked at him, all realizing that they’d nearly forgotten he was hurt.

            Travis lay on the rocks, kicking his legs about to control the pain, but his arms spread and still, each hand grasping a rock.

            “So much for class comradery,” he said. “I fucking hate this place.”

            “Me too,” Courtney said, wiping the blood from Amelia’s face and neck.

            “I hate this place!” Andreas screamed at the river.

            Pearl and Rico just stood there, bewildered, unsure what they thought, and unsure how to be useful.

            We should all move to New York when we graduate,” Amelia said. “Let’s just fucking do it.” She spit blood onto the rocks like she was made a blood pact.

            They sat there in silence for some time. Their thoughts stretched between their hatred for home and their fear of leaving. They were in pain, all of them, both physical and otherwise. The night began so well, but it had turned dark. They knew there was always a chance that it would, but they’d suspended their apprehension to come, to have fun for once and be a part of something. But, the fact was they didn’t belong.

            Travis slowly stood up and wobbled. He felt the knot developing on his forehead.

            “No… no…” he moaned, “I can’t go to school like this.

            “At least you didn’t get your nose ripped off,” Amelia said, still with Pearl’s t-shirt pressed against her nostril to control the bleeding.

            “At least you’re not a fag,” Andreas said, crouched at the foot of the river.

            Courtney walked over to him and gave him a hug.

            Travis had an idea to lighten the mood.

            “Would you rather eat your friends or your enemies?” he said.

            “God damn it,” Andreas said.

            Amelia started laughing and sat back on the ground.

            Courtney began to laugh too, Travis was such an idiot.

            “What the hell are you guys laughing about?” Rico said.

            “Oh, you didn’t know?” Travis said. “We’re cannibals now.”

            Two hours passed. It was late. One after the other they heard the kickers’ trucks fire up and peel out of the car park. They were waiting for everyone to leave. A couple classmates came down to the river and asked if they were okay. They didn’t look okay but said they were. Soon it sounded like everyone was gone. It was finally safe to go to the Black Hole.

            “I don’t want to go,” The shirtless Pearl said. “My pant are wet, I’m hungry.”

            “Then walk home,” Courtney said.

            “I’ll come,” he said.

Courtney steadied Travis and lead him to the trail. Behind, Pearl and Rico followed. Behind them, Amelia stumbled with a shirt still pressed to her nose.

            “I think this shirt is stuck to my nose,” she said. “Thank god I’m drunk.”

            No one responded.

            Andreas took anchor, he hadn’t spoken since the fight.

            Deeper they went into the oaks. The cicadas hissed frequencies beyond their comprehension. The trail leveled out and then rose gradually over a bank. When they cleared the embankment they saw the moonlight sprayed across the Black Hole. Two naked white bodies lay at the side of the pool.

            “Fuck, it’s Lawson and Kim,” Courtney said.

            “I’m seeing four of them, must be an orgy,” Travis said.

            “Shhh…” Amelia said.

            “Are they boning?” Pearl asked.

            “Shut up, Pearl,” They said in unison.

            “Follow me,” Amelia said, ripping the t-shirt from her nose.

            Before they could discuss, she was gone. They looked at each other, silently negotiating who was going to respond first.

            “Let’s go,” Travis said.

            They quietly made their way down to the brush beside the dark swimming hole.

            Kim and Cody stood up and began to make out. Their slender frames intermixing in the blue night. Their white skin reflected the moon and Amelia watched them in disgust. The rest of the gang arrived, each looking at each other and then at the prom king and queen to be, necking each other, ready for another go.

            “Fucking gross,” Courtney whispered.

            Kim stopped and looked around.

            “Did you hear that?” she asked Cody. “Hello?” she said, covering her breasts.

            “Get a good look!” Cody said and grabbed Kim to resume what they were doing.

            Travis looked at Amelia biting her bottom lip and he realized what was about to happen. Amelia left and made her way forward under the protection of the brush. She finally stopped ten feet from the unknowing pair. Then, like a silent assassin, she made her move and rushed them. They were so startled they didn’t know how to react and with all her might Amelia crashed into their naked bodies and sent them into the hole. She sent them so far across the pool that she heard to dull knock of one of their heads, or both, hit against a rock on the far side of the pool. She picked up a rock and waited for them to surface, but they didn’t…

            Kim and Cody both hit their heads against something as they made their way to the surface. It was made of wood planks and covered the opening to the pool. It was pitch black, the water was intolerably cold, they struggled to keep their faces above the water.

            “Cody, Cody,” Kim pleaded. “Cody, what the fuck is going on?”

            They began to bang on the wooded slats. Kim was tearing at them with her nails until they began to break and bleed. Cody used his shoulder to rupture the wooden lid, but it was solid like concrete. Kim continued to scratch the wooden lid and began to tire.

            “We’re going to fucking die,” She screamed.

            “We ain’t going to die,” Cody said.

            Several minutes had passed and the two were exhausted. Kim’s head was barely above the waterline and Cody felt his cowboy strength wane.

            “Where the fuck are they?” Andreas said.

            “I think they hit their heads,” Amelia said.

            “They wouldn’t sink though,” Travis said.

            “Oh my god, I fucking killed them,” Amelia said.

            “How long has it been?”

            “Over five minutes.”

            Holy shit, what’s going on?” Travis said.

            In the distance, they heard voices and the diffused glow of flashlights were arriving from the other side of the embankment.

            “We have to go,” Courtney said.

            “No, we have to help,” Amelia said.

            Travis grabbed Amelia’s hand and she shook it off, but Travis didn’t back down.

            “We need to hide and see what happens.”

            He pulled her away and they fled.

            “Cody, I can’t stay up anymore,” Kim said. “Cody… oh my God,” she gasped and slipped into the blackness.

            “Kim!” Cody shouted, “Kim!”

            He dove down for her, but her body was gone. He labored back to the surface and hit his head on the wood planks. He began to cry and expend what little energy he had left on breaking the wood planks overhead. Soon after he tired. He was scared, not wanting to die, still baffled by what had happened. How did they end up somewhere else? Now, only his lips were above water, as his arms and legs began to go numb. He labored, pushed for more strength, channeled the will to live into his movements. Finally, he succumbed to the water and he sank below the line of survival.

            The other Codys and Ken came back with more beer and investigated the scene. They saw Cody and Kim’s clothes, but no Cody and Kim. 

            “They must be at it in the woods,” Cody said.

            “Freaks,” Cody said.

            They laughed and cracked their beers.

            The young cannibals watched from afar with the horror of knowing that something bad was happening, something they couldn’t take back. Then, Amelia saw it first, she saw Kim’s body subtly bubble up to the surface. The kickers hadn’t noticed yet; they were too busy and drunk. But then Cody Lawson’s body sprung from the water like a jumping fish and landed face down in the water with a crash. Ken spit out his beer and looked at the bodies of his two friends floating face down in the Black Hole.

            “Cody, Kim!” The gang heard them yell, but no movement.

            The Cody’s jumped in to retrieve the bodies and Ken dragged them to the rim of the hole.

            They slapped Cody, tried CPR, and frantically paced around the king and queen.

            “We’ve got to get the police,” Ken said.

            The three boys took off through the twisted oaks and disappeared, leaving the dead where they lay.

            “We’ve got to get out of here,” Travis said.

            “Yeah, we need to go,” said Andreas.

            Amelia stood up and began to walk to the pool like she was in a daze.

            “I’m going with her,” Courtney said.

            She took off too and after a moment of the boys looking stupidly at each other, they followed.

            Amelia stood over Kim’s body. She looked into those lifeless blue beach balls and felt deep remorse.

            “I didn’t mean to kill them,” she said. She began to shake all over.

            Courtney grabbed her as Travis knelt down beside Kim’s body.

            “Look at her hands,” he said.

            They saw her nails nearly ripped off and blood puddled below them. Travis went to Cody and noticed his hands were swollen and that his shoulder looked like it was out of its socket. Cody’s eyes were open and his face looked like he died in terror.

            “We’ve got to go before the cops get here,” Rico said.

            “Yeah, not trying to be gay Mexican in this mug right now,” Andreas said.

            Courtney tore Amelia away and Andreas did the same to Travis.

            “What’s going on here?” Travis said. “This doesn’t make sense.”

            They first checked that the car park was empty and then piled into Andreas’s parent’s Buick. The band, Hole was blaring from the speakers.

            “Turn that shit off,” Travis said.

            Andreas ignored him, peeled out, and floored it through the country roads towards the highway. As they neared HW561 they could see a line of colored lights flicker in the distance.

            “Hurry, hurry, let’s fucking go!” Pearl said.

            They turned away from the lights and they watched behind them to see if they were going to be followed. As the lights neared they collectively held their breath. The lead car turned right and the rest followed. It was just the Buick on an empty road.

            Amelia was weeping in the back seat with Courtney’s arm around her. Rico was sitting on Pearl’s lap and whispered if they should ask Amelia for the roach back.

            “No,” Travis said from the front seat, ending that idea before it got too far.

            Andreas was keeping the ship steady but rocking back and forth. No one was talking, they were all stuck in a nightmare, caught in some loop of choice and consequence. Finally, Travis said something.

            “We need to make a plan.”

            “How about a fucking time machine,” Andreas said.

            “I’ve got to turn myself in,” Amelia said. No one responded. “I got us into this, I’ll face the consequence.”

            “Wait a minute,” Travis said. “Did you see their bodies? Did you see Kim’s hands and Cody’s shoulder?”

            “Not closely,” Courtney said.

            “Her hands looked like they were shredded on a cheese grater and Cody’s shoulder was out of its socket.”


            “I don’t think you killed them, Amelia. I don’t know what but something else happened.”

            “Now’s not the time Travis,” Andreas said.

            “They looked like they were beating on something, that’s all I’m saying,” Travis said.

            “He right,” Amelia said. “They were all fucked up when I looked at them.”

            “They hit their heads and drowned,” Rico said. “Enough said.”

            “I looked at their heads,” Travis said. “I saw a bump on Cody’s, but nothing bad.”

            Andreas turned onto FM1086 and drove down the center of the road.

            “Well, what happened then, Travis?” he asked, appearing to lose his cool.

            Travis hesitated. “I don’t know, but what I do know is that we have to know for sure what happened before any of us turn ourselves in.”

            Andreas pulled the car over got out and sat on the hood.

            Everyone else waited for the other to make a move and Rico was first because he was sick of sitting on his friend’s lap. The rest followed. Travis passed out cigarettes and they sat in silence for some time.

            “How long did it take for the bodies to surface?” Andreas said, looking up at the stars.

            “More than ten minutes,” Travis said.

            “Could have they gotten those injuries falling in?”

            “I doubt it, her fucking nails were ripped off and filled with a bunch of black pulp.”

            “And, you’re sure Cody’s arm was out of its socket?”

            “I’m sure,” Travis said.

            “Okay,” Andreas said. “I believe you, but what are we supposed to do about it?”

            “We keep a secret and go to school on Monday,” Amelia said.

            They turned to look at her. She appeared hardened. Sure of the plan.

            “We tell the whole truth until the moment we went to the Black Hole. We say we just stayed by the river. People will know we got jumped by the Codys and we don’t deny it. We’ll say that we hiked all the way to Murchinson’s Turn and looked at the stars until the beer wore off.


            “Because the last cars in the parking lot were ours, Lawson’s and the Codys.”

            “We have a motive,” Travis said, but we’ll have to stick to our stories; maybe the Cody’s didn’t even notice the Buick was yours, Andreas. But, to be safe, you can’t drive it to school or to parties anymore. I’ll drive.” Travis said.

            A coyote howled in the distance.

            Courtney began to laugh, “If I had to choose who to eat, I’d choose my friends,” she said.

            They all looked at her and knew exactly what she meant.

            Andreas began to cry on the hood of his parent’s car because his feelings of guilt had transferred to a bigger mystery. Adulthood.


Myth or man: A conversation with Akira — Excerpt from The Green Turkey


I’m still in Arashiyama, near the bamboo forest, at a small sushi restaurant. It’s a square shop barricaded with gridded paper screens. I’m sitting at a bar and next to me is a Japanese man wearing traditional Japanese clothing, which I assume means he works in the tourist industry. He’s pushing fifty. Freckles are chained underneath his eyes. His hair is greying. He’s lean and fit, and also oddly content to not have his food yet. He’s not reading on his phone, nor checking on a social media update. He’s simply staring forward, lost in his thoughts. Then, without turning to me he says, “Ahi tuna sushi is very popular in the States, but have you tried Yellow Tail? Now that’s a treat.”

“I have once,” I say. “But I’d had too much sake beforehand to properly taste it.

“And today, too many cigarettes and Oi Ocha,” he says.

“He turns to face me and I see that he’s blind.”

“You’re right, can you smell it on me?” I say.

“As soon as the door opened and you entered. American. Smoker. Iced tea.”

“I hope it’ll not spoil your taste,” I say.

“No, but thank you.”

He remains turned towards me and seemingly hyperaware of my movements. As though, he can hear my eyes move and my facial expressions crane. He chuckles and turns back. He says something to the sushi chef in front of us and the chef looks at me briefly before continuing his work.

“I told him to not service you with the best fish because you’ve spoiled your tongue today,” he says, chuckling again.

I’m a little confused about how to receive this news, but I remain a keen participant.

“Maybe, that’s a good idea, I wouldn’t want him to waste his best product.”

Now, the blind man laughs.

“You’re not your average American,” he says. “Somewhere close to Canada, but with a Westcoast accent. Seattle, it must be. Yes, your restraint matches there as well.”

“Good guess,” I say.

His smile snaps shut and he says gruffly, “It is no guess.”

“My apologies.”

He loosens up again and smiles.

“Would you share a tokkuri of sake with me?”

“Yeah, sure.”

The tokkuri soon arrives and we clink plates.

There’s an awareness to this man that defies explanation. He’s the one who grasped the tokkuri, he’s the one who pours the sake, he’s the one who clinked his sake plate onto mine. If it wasn’t for the fact that I can see his eyes rolled back inside his head, I’d have said he was a liar. Both of our meals come at the same time and we eat.

I mash a mound of wasabi into a pool of soy sauce and separate the leaves of pickled ginger from one another.

“That’s a lot of wasabi,” he says. “You like intense tasting things.”

“I suppose so,” I say.

“People who like intense tasting things are intense thinkers.”

“My thoughts are usually quite loud, can you hear them?”

“Yes,” he says, but then looks away and continues to eat.

“I hope I didn’t offend you?” I say.

“I was sure I had offended you.”

“No, I’m just unsure of your intensions, that’s all.”

He laughs and says, “My name is Akira.”

I introduce myself and we shake hands.

“Tell me, what tragedy brings you to Japan,” he says.

“How do you know that?”

“Because your demeanor is heavy and I’ve been around it enough to know when I sense it.”

“I wouldn’t want to bother you with it,” I say.

“You’re right, I’ve been rude,” he says, “it’s just that I don’t speak to many people, especially Americans from Seattle.”

I hesitate, something’s strange about this man, but to his defense, something has been strange with me since I arrived to Japan. Perhaps it’s not a bad idea to humor him—what’s the worst that could come of it?

“My brother is dying in Nagoya,” I say. “And, my mother is dying in Seattle.”

“I’m very sorry,” he says. “Is there anything I can do?”

“If you can ease their suffering and make it quick, I’d be much obliged,” I say.

“Of course,” he says and lifts his plate to toast.

“Well, that was easy,” I joke.

“You never know who you’ll run into at a sushi bar in Kyoto,” he says, chuckling.

The sushi chef looks up at me, then to the strange blind man, and then back to his fillet of tuna.

“Do you believe if two family members are dying at the same time they can bind to each other, and one feel the pain of the other?” I ask.

“It would take strong feelings to make something like that happen, but people don’t think like that anymore,” he says. “In old times if one person was showing the symptoms of another patient and visa versa, that’s what they’d think. Why do you ask?”

“It’s nothing,” I say.

“You find yourself thinking things you’ve never thought of before,” he says.

“Perhaps,” I say.

The man brushes his hand across the thick black cane resting beside him on the bar and  smiles.

“We seek answers when there are none.”

“I’m just confused about what’s happening to me,” I say.

“Intense thinking leads to intense emotions,” he says, with his mouth full.

“Are both your mother and brother intense thinkers?”

“I’d say so.”

“Then the idea of their connection will be intensified by their legacy.”

I don’t follow?” I say.

“When you ponder one, it will match their intensity, but if you ponder both the intensity is quadrupled. It sounds like they might be working out their past with each other. You must figure this is more important than their deaths.”

“So you do believe they might be bonded?”

“They are mother and son, of course they are, this isn’t magic.”

“I know, I—”

“You must sleep more,” he says. “Things won’t be as confusing if you sleep.”

I nod feeling as though this man is reading my thoughts.

We eat some more in silence, joke around a bit, and Akira tells me of some of his favorite shrines in the city. “From the train station you must walk to Fushimi Inari-Taisha,” he says. “When you arrive you must then walk through every gate.”

“I will,” I say.

He comes in close to my face.

“I mean it,” he says. “Inari is fickle and quick to anger.”

“I understand.”

“You seem like a good person, let the shrines cleanse you.” He turns his head around as if he’s hearing something far off and trying to identify where it’s coming from. “The rest of this sake is for you,” he says. He stands up, slips on a red yukata and grabs his cane, which looks more like a katana sword’s saya, and says, “I have a tour group to lead, I need to be sharp.”

“Of course you do,” I say, “Arrigato. Thank you for the advice.”

He bows and says, “It was a blessed chance encounter.”

He leaves. When I’m finished I ask for the bill. Akira’s meal is on the ticket. The extra sake softens the blow.

The House of Uncommons

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Margaret Thatcher is tall, lean, and trendy; she could be an art museum curator if it wasn’t for her need to understand her own mental illness through others. Though, if she’s fucked up in her life, it wasn’t too catastrophic—she doesn’t put on airs during our sessions and appears to care for my wellbeing. Her office is shared and typical for a publically funded community psychiatric clinic; a khaki box otherwise empty besides a framed print of Picasso’s Guernica hanging on the wall. I feel agitated. Ms. Thatcher’s subdued presence triggers a smudgy emotion inside of me, one which has lingered far from the emotion that bore it, the feeling’s a cross between being nude in public and dropping food on the ground in front of strangers. There are no windows.

“How’s the writing?” She begins.

“Shannon left.”

Margaret Thatcher sits back in her chair and exhales the “Oh shit” she formed inside her mouth.

“Wow, okay. I’m sorry, Josef. You must feel very upset.”

“I know that I am, I know that I should be, but I feel unable to processes it—I suppose I feel guilty. I thought I was doing my best to make her feel better after the assault, but I didn’t help her recover at all.”

“Helping others through a traumatic experience is a tough business. Maybe you did better than you thought?”

I take a second to think.

“I concocted ideas of what she needed and tried to force them onto her without considering I was wrong.”


“I let her alone when she needed someone close. I was too close when she needed space. I was thoughtful and patient—I was forceful and impatient to motivate her, but always on my terms. I did everything right and saw nothing get better, so I did everything wrong in hopes to inspire the opposite effect. I could have just asked her what she needed.”

“The former sounds like the flawed logic of desperation.”

“I was anxious and unable to wait. The weight was bearing down on me. Things had to get better when I needed them to.”

“So, since things weren’t improving quickly enough you took control of the situation by blowing it up?”

“It felt like things were going too slowly and I was close to a breakdown. If she were to see me lose my shit, like I’ve done in the past, she wouldn’t want to be with me anymore. Self-destruction wasn’t a conscious choice, but looking back, the only choice to reduce my anxiety.”

“Self-destruction is a common option we choose when we’re overwhelmed and cannot acknowledge and communicate our feelings properly. What’s troubling about patterns of self-destructive behavior is outsiders can clearly see the individual in question’s ill-conceived plans, but the individual is too wrapped up in self-denial to calculate that their trajectory is on a collision course with reality.”

“I remember thinking things were coming to a head and I should prevent that from happening. But, a second after the thought I reckoned a collision was the natural progression of the situation.”

“I hear that a lot,” Margaret Thatcher says. “We also know your family history and how much self-destructive behavior, perpetual conflict and overly simplified resolutions are the norm. It’s easier to stick with what you know.”

“When emotional responses are sought after like drugs to the addict,” I say. “How the hell did we become this way?”

“It was something your mother learned, something she and your uncles were raised with and used to survive in their broken home. You hold onto the ideas surrounding how positive relationships should be and begin a complex process of mimicking several archetypes of normalcy in the hopes you can fake it until you make it, but it’s still acting. It takes self-discipline, counseling, and time to rewire your brain from that kind of behavior.”

“We’re all high strung, anxious, co-dependent, and insecure— I wish I could control how rushed I always feel, how unsteady and ashamed. I wish I didn’t have this maniacal inclination to always be in good standing with everyone. To always quash conflict.”

“Conflict in the world or conflict you perceive is directed against you?”

“I suppose both.”

“I don’t see you trying to change the world?”

I smile and lean forward in my chair.

“Well, I’m apprehensive to change the world after what you did to it, Margaret Thatcher.”

She rolls her eyes.

“You have two more Margaret Thatcher jokes left this session,” She says, dryly.

“I spend a lot of time thinking about people not liking me.”

“I know, I’m your psychiatrist.”

“I look back on my life and think about all the wrong moves I made. How much I went out of the way to seek validation from those I thought were cool, while ignoring the extended hands from friends I took for granted. For someone who cares so much what people think about him, it’s bizarre who often I put myself in embarrassing positions.”

“What do you believe are your thoughts and feelings that keep you from having peace of mind? In other words, what is inhibiting you from being a consistent and dependable human being?”

“My thoughts are always agitated; I’m always anxious. Often Angry.”

“Why do you think you’re always anxious?”

“Because I can’t help but see everything in a state of decay.”

“What do you mean by that? Decay?”

“Entropy. I had to go to the hospital last night to see my mother in the ER and when I got there she was laying on the bed asleep looking like a dying child.”

“Is your mother’s mortality perhaps changing your thinking to see everything through this lens of entropy?”

“No, I’ve thought this way for a long time—I can’t stop thinking in the past. Often good times that are gone, or times I embarrassed myself. When something good happens I remind myself it will soon pass.”

Margaret Thatcher creases the right side of her tan bob behind her ear leaving a single tendril hanging in the gap between the arm of her glasses and her cheekbone.

“Why are these memories milestones of decay?”

“Because they ended poorly.”

“Or, is it that they just ended?”

God damn Margaret Thatcher going after my negative thoughts again.

“I don’t know, perhaps. But, when I think about the embarrassing moments, I cringe and think how can I have such a lack of self-control to indulge such poor behavior?”

“The process of nostalgia is often evoked to stir in us a sense of serenity and closure. However, if that picture is then compared to our image of the present, the here and now looks less than desirable. Perhaps you already know your nostalgic memories are as false as your embarrassing ones. In my opinion, nostalgic memories are more dangerous than self-loathing thoughts.

“I thought you were into nostalgia?”

“Is that another Margaret Thatcher joke?”


“Okay, that was number 2, now say something smart.”

“I’ve never wanted a relationship of any kind to cease to be; I’ve wanted the connection to always remain even if our roles change.”

“Is this strictly romantically?”

“No, I mean all relationships. Friendships are the easiest to maintain, but somehow I’ve exhausted those connections too often as well.”

“I highly doubt that.”

“I lost many friends after my divorce. I lost more in New Zealand.”

“You’re not alone and friendships forged abroad will always be loose and eventually fade.”

“But, I want a perfect record.”

Margaret Thatcher stares at me as if she sees something inside me that I cannot and begins to smile.

“Your hopes are valid but unattainable. You will lose relationships, you will watch friendships come and go, you will be faced with the inevitable consequences of living in the world, where both good and bad things happen.”

“I wish I had a better grip on my emotions.”

“But to GRIP them, as you say, means you must be outside of them in order to secure them.”

“Okay,” I say, “To control them.”

“What is control?”

“To not give in to temptation.”

“Very Catholic.”

“I forgot, Margaret Thatcher, has a thing against Catholics.”

“Margaret Thatcher joke number 3 for the win,” she says, invoking a weak fist pump with her eyes scanning the chart balanced on her lap.

“How could I not?” I say.

“Control.” She says to keep us on topic.

“It’s to always respond in the right way. To instantaneously weight a situation and perform appropriately based on its demands,” I say.

“So, it’s some Victorian idea of behavior and restraint developed through good breeding and a high moral and ethical compass?”

“Uh, is that what my answer sounded like?”

“To me, it sounded like a bunch of, excuse the expression, poppycock.”

“Is that a Margaret Thatcher joke?” I say.

“No, it’s a you joke.”

“Ouch, nice one,” I say. “Look, I go up and down, left and right. I’ll have a good couple of days and then the anxiety comes back. I’d like to write more, but I can’t draft anything with a semblance of consistency. I’m unstable. I can’t work more than twenty-five hours a week without exhausting myself and getting worse. I’ve never held a real job because I can’t concentrate or be stable enough to do my tasks at a consistent level over time. I run my own contracting business because I can’t have a boss. I can barely work with others anymore because before, I’d get such profound performance anxiety I’d lash out. I’m something to laugh at. I have no control.”

“No, you suffer from rapid cycling bipolar disorder,” she says.

A pause. A dog barks, but from Where? Margaret Thatcher’s lips are pursed with the pride inherent in a well-executed bombing pattern. I riposte.

“No, I think it’s just a learned behavior from my mother; I’m not like her, I don’t eat my fucking meals over the sink.”


Margarette Thatcher’s green eyes glint just below her bangs and then pop with emerald smoke curling up towards the ceiling.

“So, I’ve been nuts this entire time,” I say, “and people have been placating me?”

“That’s a meaningless sentence. Tear it apart and ask yourself if it holds water.”

“It’s a reactionary thought which bears little on reality and more so upon my insecurities,” I parrot back to her like I’ve heard it a thousand times.


“But, are you sure? Bi-polar? I’m actually fucking crazy?”

“Josef, you’re not crazy. I’ve been observing your behavior for a couple months now and have been almost certain for a few weeks. However, I wanted to wait and be sure, and to also notify you when you were ready.”

“How the hell is now the time when I’m ready?”

“Because your family needs you to fight for yourself to help them, and Shannon needs you to accept yourself so you can begin loving her.”

I resonate with what Margaret Thatcher is saying, but afraid of what it means. I feel emotional.

“Have you heard of lithium before?”

“Yes,” I say, less than excitedly.

“And?” She asks.

“I’m afraid it will turn me into an uncreative zombie.”

“Well, you’ve been complaining about being an uncreative spas the past two months, what do you have to lose?”

“Good point.”

“Look, it’s all about the blood work. We’ll get you on the right dose, which will stabilize your mood without making you feel like a manikin.”

“I suppose I’ll have to trust you,” I sigh.

I look again from Margaret Thatcher to the Guernica print and realize that I’ve been screaming in the inside like the cow in the painting for years.

“You put that print there on purpose, don’t you?” I say.

“No, but someone did,” she says.

I look away and my eyes begin to swell.

“This isn’t a loss, Josef. This is a chance to gain control back.”

“What if I’m scared to have control? I’d rather keep wanting it than to actually have it.”

Sunsets Over Troubles Immemorable


My dad’s a vet. Vietnam. He graduated high school, took off to Iowa for the corn harvest, and ran with the carnivals selling postcards and knickknacks until one day outside of Baton Rouge he got a phone call from grandma telling her only son his draft notice came in the mail. His boss, Pennant Red, said to him, “Son, get your ass back to Seattle and sign up for the Army so you can go through Basic and pick what you want to do. Otherwise, you’re good as dead.” Lucky for dad, between Pennant Red, Little Joe, and Big Cowboy and Little Cowboy, there were enough war veterans working the carnival circuit to give my father the best advice to save his neck.


For him, not going wasn’t an option. Not because he agreed with the war, but because it didn’t seem like the right thing to do. So he went to Vietnam and felt wrong about it the whole time— and when he got back was told he was wrong for being a soldier and for going. He told me he was convinced his plane home was going to crash and sweated the whole ride home. He got off the plane at Sea-Tac Airport and went to the bathroom to take a leak. The bathroom was strewn with abandoned army suits. Dad refused to take his off, not because he agreed with the war, or even because he respected the army, but because he couldn’t disrespect those other soldiers who didn’t make it home.


He waited all night for a cab, but no one would pick him up in his green suit; so he called his dad, and Grandpa picked him up.


Settling back into American life was difficult. He told me he was really interested in a girl, but she told him one evening over a beer, “I just wouldn’t have gone.” That’s what she said, “I just wouldn’t have gone.” He disappeared for a few years after that but came out the other end. We are all thankful that he did. Some in our family didn’t.


Grandma told me, my Great Uncle, Ken died during WWII in Alaska. Ken was her favorite brother. I asked my dad, when I got old enough, how Ken died. Dad said, “He was stationed on a tiny island in the Aleutian Island chain and thought the war had ended and was forgotten. He ended his life with his service weapon and was found days later.” With Grandma, painful things were always masked in understatements.


She said her younger brother was a very sensitive boy, but brave. He began to leave the farm at six-years-old to work the railroads and would come back with money for the family. I think Dad reminded her of Ken. When I asked her what she thought of dad going to war, she said, “We took a road trip back to Iowa one summer when the kids were young and your dad insisted that he always got to a campsite before sunset so that he could lay on top of the car and watch the sunset slip behind a mountain, cast its rays over a cliff, or set a cornfield on fire.” She paused and stared into her past and then qualified her story, “A boy like that isn’t meant for war,” she said. “And, that’s the thing.”


Fighting hurts us all.

The Green Turkey —Preface


I like this courtroom. It’s not modern—one enclosed in glass, secured with metal fittings and detailed with sculpted plastic moldings that make impossible shapes look natural. No, it’s an old oak-clad room with a high ceiling, a square space wrapped in over-waxed wainscoting and decorated with heavy art deco furniture. The floor is granite, the aggregate of which, the size of Perry mason’s eyeballs. There are tall windows to my left letting through the sun. The light leaks through the shades and I can see dust particles dance in it and settle on the empty seats of the jury box. The atmosphere’s pleasant, tranquil if it wasn’t for the feeling of impending doom inside my stomach. The jury is in chambers deciding if I killed my mother for the right reasons—that same question still burns inside of me, but I’ve lost track where it is; it feels like it will never be resolved, lost in my veins.

It’s complicated. I’m a murderer, but my conscious is often clear. I see things simpler now since I took a look inside my mother’s denture-less mouth and saw the image of the woman she used to be crawling up from the darkness of her throat. I see strands of DNA in place of skin and bright colored steam emanate off the bodies of strangers. Goodness makes me cry. All is passing, all thoughts are fleeting, every moment for me feels like this is the end of my life. I could be calm while drowning and smile while choking. I could be found guilty and bow to the jury. I’ve accepted all the possible outcomes.


My lawyer, on the other hand, has not, and she tells me I’m emotionally compensating due to my current levels of stress and anxiety. She calls my enlightened state of being, monking, i.e. pretending to be all-knowing and unaffected by a reality I have no control over. She’s right, but for now, must be wrong; going Buddhist monk is working, at least I’ve convinced myself so. Regardless, it beats the hell out of trying to go Albert Camus/existentialist with it, my first phase of denial. In the end, becoming L’Étranger made me feel like an aging hipster bursting out of his leather pants while trying to shine his beetle boots in front of an impatient firing squad of twelve jurors.

Speaking of annoying, my lawyer has a nervous habit of giving me pep talks when she’s feeling pessimistic, like right now. Ironically, She’s also trying to convince herself that she’s in control of a situation beyond her grasp. She’s not monking, per se, but it’s still a form of compensation. She’s lecturing me about what’s REALLY going on, and how our case has a fair chance of success. I stopped listening to her ideas a couple minutes ago, instead, counting what words she repeats the most. Strong—as in a “strong indication,” “strong chance,” and a “strong possibility”—twelve times. Perhaps, eight times. Regardless, five times. And, Not the end of the road, four. I don’t mean to be rude, and it’s not her inability to realize her veiled doubt is subconsciously leaking into her language which bothers me (I mean, I’m pretty much fucked), it’s the fact she thinks she can convince me otherwise. I know she’s coming from a good place, that she’s trying to deal with her own stress and anxiety, but it’s not like there’s anything we can do now, and convincing ourselves we did enough, isn’t enough. It’s better to monk the situation than to over-analyze it or turn beatnik.

Tamar Chansis-Corbin is such a good name for a defense attorney—a speed reading, top-5 Harvard Law graduate, type-A attorney. She’s taller than me and rail-thin. Her hands are long, slick and purposeful like shellacked shoehorns. She has a dense afro parted down the middle, which she lets eclipse on the weekends. Come Saturday, Her glasses likely come off too. On weekdays, in court, she rocks a pantsuit or a pencil skirt and blazer. Pearls every other day. Small earrings, irregularly. Eye mascara like Nefertiti, calligraphy on deep golden skin.

Tamar wasn’t the first attorney to visit me, but she was the first visiting creature who exhibited human traits. She walked into my cell confidently, but vulnerable, which matched the state I was in after being grilled by two Seattle homicide detectives for 17 hours, and 48 hours deep into a beltless suicide watch and three ham sandwiches. I won’t lie, I was attracted to her, but that attraction let me trust her at a time and within a system where I trusted no one. Plus, we are from the same neighborhood in South Seattle, pre-gentrification days, so there’s a bond that comes with that. She was new—backed by her father, partner to a firm, a successful defense attorney letting out the line on his protégé—and I was new to this too. It might sound counterintuitive to want a young and inexperienced lawyer, but she had the resources, and she was working the case pro-bono. I don’t know what else to say besides it just felt right.

“You listening to me, idiot?” she says.

“Just the words.”

She looks away, up to the bench, and sighs before looking back.

“I don’t need this monk shit right now; I need you to listen to me.”

“Yeah, okay, but don’t you want to know what words I was listening to?”

“No?… NO.”

“Fair,” I say.

“In the event you’re found guilty we can appeal.”

“I know.”

“I know you know, but I need to tell it to you again, so you don’t begin chanting Om instead of fighting your conviction because you’re one with the universe.”

“I can be one with the universe and also refuse to take it up the ass,” I say.

“How inspiring,” she says with zero affect.

“The title to my memoir.”

She disengages in refusal to admit she thinks I’m funny. She hates smiling more than Anthony Scalia’s ghost. I’ve tried really hard to crack her shell, but she’s tough and also smarter than me.

“You know what I should be found guilty for?” I say.


“This outfit. It’s fucking hideous.”

Like my high-school picture days, I’m wearing my older brother, Eligh’s clothes. A dated black blazer over a massive jade green silk shirt stuffed into a pair of pleated khakis, all resting on top a pair of black and white oxford saddle shoes. It’s honestly the weirdest outfit imaginable, but my suit went missing this morning and Eligh raced home in rush hour traffic to throw something together. He’s in the middle of moving and found them in a trash bag of old clothes that hadn’t been moved yet, or opened since 1998.

“Guilty of smelling like Value Village,” she says.

“Or, teen spirit.”

“That a Grunge joke?”

“Don’t be so Kurt.”

“Oh, god, please stop,” she sighs. “Like I said, the jury can come in at any moment. This is day three of deliberations, so time is on our side. —If they’d took only a couple hours, we’d be screwed.”

I continue to nod to Tamar, but I slightly turn my head to face Eligh. I mouth, “What the fuck?” to him while pointing to my outfit. He smiles and mouths back, “Sorry.” Tamar looks at him and smiles; I can’t fathom this.

Eligh’s nearly twelve years older than me, the last of mom’s first marriage. We look like brothers, but there are distinct differences. He has more hair, I have more common sense. He loves money, I love books. He can’t hold a relationship, I can’t be alone. Though only the difference in hair volume is likely genetic, I’d like to think they all are. I suppose that’s what we have in common though, the ability to believe whatever we want to for the sake of convincing others of whatever we need them to believe. I suppose that’s another form of control, a way of monking with the masses, a way to temporarily put insecurity aside and be the one that is in the know.

“You’re going home,” he mouths to me, after giving Tamar too long a look.

“Where is home?” I say.

He rolled his eyes.

“Not here, idiot,” he says.

“Seriously,” Tamar interjects, having read my lips. “You’re a published author and yet your proclivity to descend into cliché and melodrama makes me want to puke.”

“I blame my mother; that’s why I killed her,” I say.

“That’s not cool.”

“Mom would have said that was my Irish sense of humor talking. Although, I could never understand what that really meant.”

“Um hmm,”

“You just um hmm’ed me; take it back,”

“Um hmm,” she repeats.

“Psst,” Eligh hisses. The press and other randos in the seats behind look over to us.

Tamar smiles, again.

Eligh points at his watch.

“What’s taking so long? I’ve got a WhatsApp date with Aja in an hour.”

Aja is our older sister. She lives in England and is married to a Morris dancer. They love Doctor Who and take travel pictures with a stuffed skunk. They’re dorks, but good people.

“My fate takes time,” I say.

“So does the freeway,” Eligh says.

“Don’t you dare smile at him again, Tamar.”

“Your brother’s cute,” she turns and whispers.

“He’s fifty.”

“But he looks forty.”

“If I lose this case I’m reporting you to the bar.”

“Um hmm.”

I turn around and look at the empty bench in front of me. I imagine The Honorable Judge Maddox is in her chambers eating a salad, drinking a blood orange San Pellegrino, and already knowing the answer to my guilt or innocence. This whole fucking show is so Kafkaesque because the law has so many doors with so many ignorant guards; because it mirrors our broken society, but still operates with such a resolute and cold logic; because my name is Josef and I’m on trial.


Another hour goes by and Eligh is gone. I again look behind me and the diehards are still here. Pete Sorenson, the jack ass from the Seattle Times who wrote that I’m “the epitome of white privilege,” when ironically, he is. Tabatha O’Riordan, who wrote, “What if he’s a saint and not a villain?” which is in the running for the most painful cliché title of the year. My favorite diehard though is Omeed Faraz, a second-year Seattle University law student who asked my permission to sit in on the trail as part of his fieldwork for a class called: Ethics, Morality and the Law. I’ve let him interview me a couple times to hear my side of things. I can never tell if he’s shy or afraid of me. This gives me no sense of power, but of loss. To be branded guilty is one thing, but feared by good people, something else. Still, the most objectively I’ve been able to consider my situation is with him. He’s a good listener, and like Tamar, a lot smarter than me.

The last diehard is my father. He sits in the back seats either playing Sudoku, solving chess problems or reading George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series. The two former are staving off the aging process, while the latter negates his hard work. However, I’ve never read them, only watched the first two seasons of the series, so I should shut my mouth.

He looks up from his work and stares at me, but only when he thinks I’m not aware of it. I think he’s trying to understand why I did what I did to my mother. How he should care about her death after being divorced for so long. Perhaps, he’s trying to figure out if he still loves me, or if he can love me? I suppose, if I’m convicted he’s all alone; in a way, surviving the figurative death of his only son. He’s meditating on the prospect of mourning. Lately, eye contact between us is rare because I think he wants to spare me the embarrassment. He sees that I’m distressed and so wants to let me be, like an injured animal in the woods. He can’t do anything to help me, so perhaps keeping a distance is the safest way to manage? I get that being the defendant in a high profile legal case is way too much attention for Leonard, what I don’t get is Game of Thrones.


“You didn’t like Game of Thrones?” Tamar asks, rhetorically. “You’re such a hipster.”

“Why does that make me a hipster?”

“You don’t like anything that’s popular in the mainstream unless if it’s enjoyed ironically.”

“That’s not true.”

It’s totally true.

She grabs her purse and pulls out a stick of lipstick and applies the crimson fudge to her lips in front of an open compact.

“That’s a nice color.”

“Shut up,” She says but flashes a coy smile.

Finally! But, my triumph makes me weepy, and I look away to regain my composure.

“What’s up?” she says.

“I’m going to live out my days surrounded by dangerous men.”

“Welcome to my world.”




I lay awake in my cell staring at the bright red exit lights above the door where the guards come and leave. I can smell pizza, hear the excitement attached to men speaking about football, and the listless turning of my neighboring inmates. I’ve been called a momma killer by a guy who killed his girlfriend. I’ve been high-fived by a janitor named Karl, who only listens to John Lee Hooker on his classic yellow Discman. I’ve had a guard named Obi say he thinks I’m a good man. Another guard named Tommy, who hopes I get the chair. I’ve lost weight, but sit-ups still kill my back. I can’t read because I stare at the page and ruminate about all the things I cannot control. Trivial things like what will I be fed tomorrow, or which guard stole my suit?

Eventually, the overwhelming things flood my thoughts. I think about my girlfriend, Shannon who might be my ex-girlfriend now—After all, she did say I was fucked up, said it was over and hasn’t been in to visit me in over two weeks. I think about my brother, Fran and imagine what he used to look like before being eaten alive. He has long hair, wears a Hawaiian shirt and is leaning on a golf club winking at me. I think about mom and the times we recited the rosary after passing a car wreck on the road.

Even though I don’t believe in it, I think about what hell might actually be like, and then I imagine being strapped naked to a wet couch watching Game of Thrones with Martha Stewart. She whispers the directions to every recipe she’s ever published in my ear and begins to scream at me for making her life miserable. Another sex scene to obfuscate the banality of exposition erupts on the screen and my cock gets hard. Ms. Stewart gets a great idea and pulls a razor-sharp carving knife from her purse.

“I have an idea,” she whispers into my ear while stroking my penis, “It’s a take on zucchini pasta (zoodles)—dick ribbons.”

I begin to scream but bubbles come out of my mouth and children come into the cold room to play. They scream at the sight before them and their parents rush into the room. They initially turn away in horror, but then usher their kids out and blame me for it all.

“You started this. You, started this mess,” A distressed mother screams, coving her eyes. Blood spills over my lap and runs down my legs.

“I build my recipes for the common housewife,” Martha says.

Luckily, I have other nights where I’m fine and think of movies I like and try to re-watch them in my head. I can replay Wayne’s World, Clue, and The Usual Suspects in their entirety. On these nights I know my love for my mother is true and that I did the right thing. Fran enters my cell wearing his long hair and a Hawaiian shirt, swings his gold club and winks.

“It’s going to be alright, otouto,” he says.

My father appears sitting on the edge of my bed, how I remember him when I still played Little League and asks if I’d like to do a chess problem together. The other inmates in my block yell good luck tomorrow from their bunks and promise me small gifts upon my release, like a taped mirror to look down the hall with, and a quality shank with fresh tape.

Most nights I’m an empty vessel, like that dancing bag in American Beauty, or Ryan Gossling. I can read for hours but remember nothing the next morning. I write, I think some of the best prose I’ve ever written with a crayon (suicide watch), but when I reread it, the paper looks something akin to what a parent of a toddler would put up on the fridge and say “That’s great!” about. On these nights, I believe I’m being inhabited by my former selves. It’s not a reasonable explanation, but one that mystifies the world and makes life less predictable; Scientific query and western demystification are not allies in here. I feel depressed when I use logic to address my actions because perfection is implicit in logic. Linear modes of inquiry are so lame. My ghosts try and communicate with me, but there is static between us and that is why I can hear them, but when I write down their wisdom it comes out looking like toddler drivel.

So, yeah, long story short, I’m monking it and Tamar is right, I’m an idiot. I’ll admit it, but it’s a form of manageable insanity that’s keeping me from becoming too co-dependent, obsessive, and dark. That’s what happened to me when I got divorced. That’s what happened when I was homesick and moved back to the US. Those were the ghosts of me who visited and are trying to save my life. They know I will lose my case and are preparing me for the worst. I have agency when I get to decide what affects me or not; it’s my last ring of defense, my safe room.

However, tomorrow is the day the jury will make a decision and that decision will be my biggest test, one I will likely fail, it holds too much weight. It’s funny that this whole thing started because of writer’s block.



A Letter to Enoch Campbell 27 years after the Great Seattle Fire of 1889 (first draft)

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March 23rd, 1916

Dear Enoch,

It’s been 27 years since you threw me out the window of the burning cabinet shop on Madison and Front Streets. It’s still a mystery to me if you did it to save me, or kill me. Perhaps, it was a bit of both. In 1889, Seattle was a troubled city and we were troubled young men. You were still reeling from the death of your wife, and I was destroying the faces of Seattleites under the naive assumption that I could halt a thing as salient yet wraithlike as historical progress, through murder. I suppose, young men have a tendency to think they are mining the center of things when they’re still only scratching the surface. Ego, a basic understand of things, and tenacity get you far in politics, but no more than an inch into the stony skin of life. Sacrifice is a pure enterprise, but fails to mix well with modern intellectualism. You should know that I plan to kill again.

You and I are different in many ways—I’m sure you have spent more time considering and convincing yourself of that than I. However, what we have in common is a hatred for authority and a healthy loathing for fraternal orders. The schoolyard, the sporting team, the university, the office, government—fraternity infests them all. I saw how much you hated the law firm where you worked in Seattle, but how at home you were in Madame Lou’s “hotel.” Anywhere is better than in the midst of a group of apes beating their chests and strategizing their moves within a game no one else wishes to play. Here’s a word for you to ponder: patricide.

I cannot tell you everything about my motivations without telling you everything. You need to know how I was ruined. I want you to know how the events of my life affected me and sent me down a path of masculine uniformity. I once was a man who was willing to strip others of their dignity to maintain a world in which I was king. Now I’m a killer of fathers resolute in the fact that my own ending will be misunderstood and gruesome. So be it—the world is currently at war by such notions of domination.

Before you is a manuscript which tells the story of my life before our paths crossed in Seattle, and what followed after the burning of the city. Before and especially after, I met many people who for better or worse changed my life. It’s important for you to know because I want us to be clear before I end our lives.

Like I said, sacrifice is a pure enterprise, especially when our motivation is to appease a theme that is prehistoric, pre-conscience, and a central building block to our species: To consume and be nourished. To eat them. Eat them all up.



Snippets—On Character

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There’s this recurring character who appears in my stories. He’s not of one fixed identity; she can be another. Together, they build and destroy, damage and revive memories under a chain-linked arbor of narrative. I’ve called him Simon, her name has been Mary. They’ve both meant the same to me: an undisturbed arc of life after death.

Snippets: The Water Park


She said that there is nothing funny about tragedy, and I said, “You forget about irony; if I were to read the paper one morning and see that a water park caught fire and burned to the ground, I would take my next sip of coffee with a smirk and nod to our indifferent universe. From there I would flatten my lips and ask my personal god for a reason. My personal god wouldn’t answer me. This is the causal loop where tragedy and comedy become one. Where the silence is deafening and the water park is no more.”

“So it’s funny because it’s a water park?”

“Basically, yes,” I said to her, “on fire.”