The Shakes (Excerpt 3)

blue and red freight truck on road
Photo by Markus Spiske on

From Chapter Two

My name is Magnolia Shakes, and I was born on July 28, 1970. Exactly eight years later my daddy died in an act of self-killing out on the interstate near where we lived. I don’t know why he picked my birthday to do what he did. People tried to tell me he wasn’t feeling right and didn’t pick that day on purpose. I knew better because he left me a present that I found after. It was a doll inside a box that you could see through. She had blonde hair and wore a pink dress with yellow dots on it. I never did open it and just sat her on a shelf in my room and I would look at her once in a while. I wanted to play with her, but I just couldn’t. He had a little note with it too that just said: Happy Birthday always, my Magnolia. Love, Daddy. On all my birthdays after that, I made myself believe he picked it so I would never forget and always remember him, but not in a bad way. Thinking otherwise would have crushed me to dust.

The accident was awful, and they had to shut down the highway and reroute people through town. There was a story about it in the newspaper the next day, but momma wouldn’t let me look at it. She folded it up and hid it away somewhere. I found it later and my brother clipped it to keep. They had to take the driver of the truck to the hospital and sedate him because he was so traumatized. There were about half a dozen cars that wrecked, too. No one else was killed but I think some people had some bad gashes and broken bones. The highway patrolmen that came to the house warned us not to go down there. Later, if we had to go on the highway, I would close my eyes at that particular stretch and try not to think about it, to push it away. It wore me out, in almost anything I did, having to do all that pushing of bad memories away. They just kept coming back, like I was constantly building a dam and it just kept breaking.

My mother’s name was Helen Shakes and I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world. She had long, bouncy blonde hair that she loved tossing around with her hands. Her eyes were a smooth green with a dot of sparkle that looked like the Emerald City from that Wizard of Oz movie. I thought she looked like a real-life princess, but other people said she was a little rough around the edges in both looks and actions. I don’t think she was, not until what happened to daddy. She kind of just let herself go after that. She started to drink more than usual, too. She was never mean to me, just a bit neglectful at times, especially when that Eddie Dallas started coming around more and more. My older brother Dylan and I didn’t like him at all. I thought he was arrogant and rude and disrespectful to our mother. I don’t know what she saw in him. He was a small, red-headed man with a smooth and youthful face dotted with freckles. If you didn’t know the real Eddie Dallas you would have thought he was a sweet, nice guy just by looking at him. But he wasn’t. He had a mean streak running through him all the way. I don’t know how my momma could feel any comfort looking into those demon eyes or being held in those scrawny arms. She acted like she did. But I knew better. It was sort of like I could see her insides, past her skin and into her soul, and what was on the inside was different than what was on the outside. I’ve always been able to do that, with most anybody. The only one I really couldn’t do it with was Dylan, and I think that was because he could do it too.

Refrigerated Dreams (Act 1)

He opened a door and went into a room that looked like an old, empty kitchen. The floor was a dirty white and blue tile. The walls were once virgin cream but now a nicotine-smeared yellow. There was a goldenrod-colored refrigerator from the antique days against one wall and it hummed like an old man sleeping in a comfortable chair after a few too many Rob Roys. He went and pulled on the handle of faux wood and hardened aluminum. There was no food inside but instead a hot gray sky with spotlights of white gently boiled there like mystical magic dreams. The bare branches of trees reached toward the stars in the upper corners like crooked black fingers. Rows upon rows of Wizard of Oz green corn below stretched toward some infinite horizon he puzzled over.

He stepped inside and closed the door behind him. It was suddenly dark and smelled a bit musty. He wanted to get back out and so he pushed on the door, but it would not open. He started pounding on it, but it was useless. There was no one out in that old vacant kitchen that would help him. He was alone. His breathing sped up. His heart began to race. He was scared. But they said it would be fun. They said it would be a great exercise in imaginative play. Now he was trapped, and somewhere in the distance, on the crest of the junk heap, they were pointing down and laughing at him. They shook their heads and climbed onto their bikes and rode home with an odd sense of war-time victory.

Someone had left out a plate of cookies for the leader of the young gang of present-day bullies, future politicians and obnoxious assholes. He was big for 13 and he had a round head and orange curly hair and freckles on his ever-angry face. He scooped up the plate and took it into the room where the video game console was set up. He plopped down into the worn couch with crumbs scattered about, turned on his game and started killing bad people with medieval weapons. He laughed and felt superior when the blood splashed, and the bodies fell.

The leader’s cell phone lit up. It was his mother sending a text, and she was going to be late coming home from work — again. He shook his head and tossed the phone aside without replying. “Bitch,” he mumbled, and he went back to slaying the innocents that wandered the cobbled streets of some historical playground.

The kid’s name was Rude Rudy, and his gang was known as the Black Disciples — a crew of white suburban middle school latchkey bullies who thought they were invincible kings in their sheltered kingdom of neon convenience stores, strip malls and fast-food hangouts rung by littered forests and low hills perfect for hideouts and fooling around with chicks. Rude Rudy’s “queen” was a neighborhood girl by the name of Veronica Genesis — a rich kid intellectual with shiny chestnut-colored hair who wanted to be a psychiatrist when she grew up so that she could “Mess around with people’s brains,” as she liked to say.

Now she came calling.

“Come in!” Rude Rudy yelled out, for he could not be troubled with getting up and opening the door, not when he was in the midst of a deadly multi-combo barrage of melee attacks.

A moment later, she stepped into the room.

“Hi,” she said, and she went to sit down uncomfortably close to him.

He bucked his shoulders to get her off of him. “Not when I’m playing. Never when I’m playing,” he reminded her.

“You’d rather play your stupid game than kiss me?” she asked him.

He turned his head but kept his eyes on the game. “Do it quick,” he told her.

She gave him a short peck on the corner of his mouth. She suddenly pulled away and made a face. “Have you been drinking?”

He laughed. “Yeah. It’s so cool.”

“Where did you get alcohol?”

“Our high school friend, Steve. He works at the grocery store and sneaks it out, duh. I thought I told you that we can party whenever. When I talk, people listen. They react. They do things for me.”

Veronica Genesis sighed aloud. “I don’t know why I waste my time on you,” she complained.

Rude Rudy laughed again through a sneer. “Because I’m the best you’re going to get, little lady. I’m a powerful figure in the underworld of Grainer Falls.”

She shook her head in befuddlement. “Are we going to go do something or not? I don’t want to sit around here watching you play video games for the rest of the day. Can’t we go to the mall or something?”

He suddenly hit the pause button on his controller and turned to look at her. She was wearing makeup and her face looked like a glossy picture in a teen magazine. “Do you want to see a dead body,” he asked with all seriousness.

She stared at him, stunned, and then she laughed. “What are you talking about? What dead body?”

“You know that kid, Adam Longo?”

“The new boy you’re always picking on?”

“Yeah. What a loser dweeb.”

 “Did you do something to him?”

“Me and the fellas dragged him down to the dump and shut him in an old refrigerator,” Rude Rudy bragged. “He might be dead by now… Come with me and we’ll go check.”

Veronica Genesis put a finger to her lips and thought about it for a moment. “If he’s still alive, I would like to document the state of his mind… For scientific purposes. The research could help me get into a good university.” He looked at her and shook his head and then he leaned in and awkwardly kissed her. “Let’s just go take a look.”


Radio-free Lamp Ray

This frustration of motion
this inept spinning of my tangled web
all the deceptions we weave
all the arrows we sling
at ourselves
when there is no reason
and I am empty without her
as lovers fill the home
and I still spark the sunset
bewildered and alone

I come from a place not known
a high hill tucked far away
behind the sugar plants
and the factories
belching out babies
in bleached Red Radio Flyers
bleached by the sun
bleached by the burn of innocence aged
and I am an astronaut floating untethered
a radio-free lamp ray
looking for a light bulb to suck and swirl

I came upon a disillusion
a fair lady needing to escape
and I have the power at my foot
but I am empty and frayed
for love is a magic trick
something splayed secretly in the shadows
and I have knife points in my heart
slowly choking on the trickle
a scissor slice
an orange wave
salting the wound
and when I am brought down by Paris
will I ever be enough?

Where has my patience gone
where has the image in the mirror dissolved to
and the bottle keeps me warm
as I pace restlessly in a chill
and maybe when I meet God
I’ll just come out and ask her
when is love ever real?

So nothing ever works out as planned you see
winds up being just Gallo and me
my empty need
raining through the moon
sparks dripping off the razor’s edge
and me bleeding helplessly
until she comes to me
but my fate is drowning
so stop being so pained and jealous
but I can’t help the shiver inside
that nervous twitch of wonder
left adopted by the night sweats
so why don’t I just give in
and count all my blessings in disguise?

I am not an iron cross
I am not a thermostat
so what am I?
the unexplainable
the paintable tab in a ghost story
the sexed up frolic
on a smooth hardwood floor
come on
give me a moment
to explain my reckless stance
and I know I feel too much baby
broken clouds weep my name

I don’t understand
maybe I don’t need to understand
this ritual of disturbances
I just want to care

I could tell when I walked in the door
that I was motionless moving
some parade of wrecked divinity
caught off guard
by the sizzle frying my heart
an empty line
an empty space
a tent stake
forced through my handicapped resistance
I don’t want to feel the shock again
of another love left abandoned
just whisper to yourself
it’s all right
it’s just life
it will all end someday soon

So fuck this feeling game
it will never be the same
I’ll always be capsized
my soul is a hurricane
aimed directly at myself
and I am not some Wizard of Oz
with a magic touch and spit
my road isn’t yellow brick
I’m getting sick
in a Denver trash can
you can see how my madness wanes
then comes back again in waves
I’m just crazy about her
sticky needles in the haze
I’m just a camel with no Baghdad
a radio-free lamp ray
electrifying the endless sea.

The Rorschach Puppets Come to Dinner

Sometimes life is like a Rorschach test and a bomb
all mixed together
and whatever shape one sees
suddenly changes motion
fluidly escaping the grasp of the eye
What may seem set in stone,
is suddenly morphed by disaster or love…

And on this night tonight, how I wish for a winter scene; a frozen sky, the iced over trunks of trees solidly resting in a bitter chill, a still lake covered in the powdery skin of snow… But then again, this place is a hot plate, a coil wrapped tight and injected with the fury of the sun, the fury of me, the calm of me, the widespread panic of me.

Lying on a wet couch in a goldfish bowl. The world is breathing outside the glass. A lamp with a red shade speaks softly in the language of light as I tell my darkest secrets to a tube and a box. Dear Wishes, you had a penchant for family and happiness, existence pounded oblivious — how I miss the sweaty mistakes of the rocky lair, out there on the cusp of the mountain air. But I am in another world called future tense dive board, encased in this jar with nothing but a pen and a bow and arrow. My blue bruised heart dropped onto the wooden floor, the sun of dusk shaking the leaves on the tree — I’d go hunting, but there is nothing left to kill. Flip on the radio, the BBC flickers through a darkened hall, orange chrysanthemums float down from the attic — a wedding jaunt Halloween, to the bedroom and the screams… For now, I fear the ache of the end of days.

Splash some blood on the screen for me
and I will tell you what it means to me
a wreck or a wedding
a chalice or a paper cup
a diaper or a doggy bag
both filled with the leftovers of life
and the indecisions left stagnant
and the decisions leaving me wondering
wondering why
split-second mishaps
leave me empty and dry.

I feel trapped on a fine line that runs from north to south, a scissor slit ripping east to west, a collection of yellow lines and yellow lights that at the end of the night leave me in a place not unlike La Brea. A million, billion voices and I can’t seem to tap into one, always stumbling to play the trumpet when I have merely a stick; a stick to beat on a wall or beat on a stone or beat on the boiling sky spilling over me, soundless silence and perilous moans in the night brought forth by yet another puzzling dream. Down in Jungleland? Top drawer of the nightstand. Sweet wish upon a lover’s lips spread wide with a smile in sleep. And who and where am I? The bubbling neon strip of gold-flake Oz, or blackout city of the underworld? This desert den of constriction, can never find any conviction, can never find proper diction, only friction beneath the blurting of a red glass DINER sign.

Will we ever sip rum and coffee from chipped Swiss cups?
Will we ever be able to shout out “Magnificent!”?
Will the sirens rip through the sky once more???

There’s a madman in Missouri
with a doll head and a gun
driving toward the razor’s edge
licking the blade clean with wide eyes
There’s a rock star dangling from a ceiling
spinning like a paper pinata on pot
a Rorschach test for the OMI
There’s a girl sweating in a Texas garden
wiping away the sweat with a small hand,
nursing her wounds with 100% cotton
stamping out the blood of rejection.

And there’s a manic man behind a typewriter
his heart in his hands
sweating away in this disillusioned reality fantasy
dreaming of hijacks on islands
and saying “bless you” when they let him go
a green Irish doll tapping out code
with a toe tip and a lover’s bone
so one begins to realize
that all of this life, his and hers,
is nothing but one giant, spinning Rorschach test
and we all see, just what we want to see.