I Blame The Parents

Two noble houses alike in dignity, which is to say: none.

Look at these dumbasses, pulling knives on each other in the street in front of a cop, and then insulting each other’s virginity when el swine give them the stinkeye. Is this wise? Is it smart? Forget an honest man, Diogenes would starve to death looking for a single Veronese brat with the sense to pour piss out of a boot.

Horny idiots, the lot of them, which would be just about endurable except for the fact that they’ve got more money than god and mostly spend it on booze, caffeine, and an endless supply on knives, daggers, dirks, stilettos, short swords, rapiers, foils, sabres, and epees. One utter maniac has a fucking claymore as tall as he is, it’s a wonder he hasn’t decapitated himself or someone else hauling it around to every pubescent rager in the city.

History Will Judge Them

Consider: William Howard Taft, colonizer, President, Supreme Court Justice, diplomat, reformer, war criminal, and yet most popularly famous for getting stuck in a bathtub, a story neither true nor kind. His political mentor most famous for being a face on a desecrated mountain and a handful of inscrutable references in cartoons now four generations out of date.

Or: Jean-Paul Marat, revolutionary, philosopher, writer, journalist, war criminal, remembered most clearly for his assassination by Charlotte Corday in a bathtub. One of the leading figures of one of the most famous almost-revolutions in the last several centuries, just a dead body slumped over, naked, undignified, moist.

The villains of our parents generations fade into nothing; the villains of their parents are already dust. Professional students of history carry their sins and their virtues in their hearts, or trip into a cross-century romance pursuing them through letters, reports, archival papers, but for most? For us? For the people who live in the long shadow of their legacy? Soap film drifting across the surface of a bath continually draining.

Valhalla of the Word

Utter chaos.

They’ve been locked in the meeting room for an eternity, and tempers have frayed as the humidity has risen. There’s a miasma there, a visible stench, the thick choking smell of leadership. It creeps up nostrils and down throats as they breathe, invades stomachs and mouths when they swallow. The water is long stale, the trash overflows.

Something breaks; a fork flashes in the diffuse light and a scream, raw and vibrant, strums the air like a plucked guitar string. Blood flashes, bright as a new penny, red as a maple leaf, and they shudder in release and turn on each other.

They have no weapons, but they have teeth and nails and thumbs, and those will do in a pinch. Eyes pop, ears are bitten off, throats are torn out, skulls are stomped beneath scuffed leather dress shoes, bones ground beneath sensible kitten heels; they stab and slash with keys and hat pins and emery boards, plastic ballpoints and shattered dinner plates, anything that will serve. They die in glory, merely glad to be delivered at last from the impossible work of quiet talk.

An illusion, alas; there is evening and there is morning, and when the sun rises they are seated again around the long table, a glass of water warm as blood by their elbow, the hum of speech somehow uninterrupted.

Debate resumes.

Along the Six

The longest night of the year. The heat cranked as high as it can go, but there’s only so much the pitiful baseboard heaters can do against the killing wind clawing at the single pane windows. Three feet out from the wall and it’s still there, the cold, sinking its teeth into your aching bones. The swarms of Japanese beetles have died at last, their brittle, hollow bodies a crackling carpet in the corners and an inch deep in the dish of the floor lamp. Wrap yourself in every blanket you own, drag the mattress to the center of the room, pray you make it through till dawn.

Wind cold enough to freeze the breath in your nostrils. Wait, steaming, just inside the doors, for your glasses to defrost, the icicles crowding your nose, your mouth to melt. Bodies left in the snow will stay fresh for spring; the grass, brown and bitter, waits for the first rains. Once they burned these plains in summer to keep them fertile, to keep them growing, but those centuries of human care and cultivation have been swallowed by time and cold and genocide, paved over and mucked under with hog farms, corn fields, nazis.

In the town they spit at you; it rattles against the thick padding of your coat, just one more piece of windblown ice.


Four days out of Seattle and she’s tired of rest stops, mountains, hostile gas station attendants in Montana. Her back and hips are in agony from sleeping doubled in the car but she can’t afford anything else and it’s too cold to sleep outside. Gut burns with road food, the passenger seat well is choked with snack wrappers and empty pop cans; she’d happily stab a man for so much as a glimpse at a fresh tomato or an avocado.

Every dime goes to gas and by the evening of the fourth day she’s praying she has enough to get her to Chicago at least. Amanda’ll put her up for a few days, long enough to shower at least, and maybe let her have a couple of bucks in exchange for a hobo tattoo; she did Amanda’s last tattoo, an only slightly wobbly map of the L, but that was a while ago and they’ve added a couple of stations since then. Maybe a hundred bucks to update it? She should be so lucky.

The last day she skips eating, drives empty and hollow, lets the highway hypnosis take her through Minnesota and Wisconsin. What she’ll do when she hits the ocean or the gas runs out she leaves to the gods of the road; there’s nothing behind her but a decade of bad decisions.