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Reed & Roy – February 2020

Lorraine Roy and Timmy Reed traded art and words. Lorraine shared this image, titled “Burning 2,” with Timmy (click image to enlarge):

In response, Timmy wrote this short story:

Feel The Heat

Maurice knew the earth wasn’t flat. He wasn’t some kind of crazy-person or idiot, he said. He knew the shape of things. The earth was a dish ringed by vegetation, flame and ice, with a burning bush in the center, deep roots that reached down into the curve of the dish. The roots were gnarled and twisting. That much was obvious, he told me.

We were standing outside the barbecue, smoking. My drink was waiting for me inside. Maurice was someone I knew from the neighborhood. He didn’t hang out at the barbecue but sometimes manage to collect enough change to get a drink from the store or carry-out from the dive bar down the street. It was the kind of place where you could go to buy heroin, get in a fistfight, or play pool. I hadn’t taken my student there yet, but I meant to. I wanted to see if he liked playing pool. I used to but was rusty. There were a lot of things I liked but didn’t do anymore.

Maurice wasn’t homeless most of the time. He lived in the neighborhood in his mother’s basement. She had cerebral palsy. Other times he slept underneath the highway over the Jones Falls. I liked to talk to him. He liked to talk to anybody that would listen. He also liked to talk to people that didn’t.

“It’s a bowl, man,” he told me. “A dish.”

“Where is the burning bush?”

“I told you, at the center. But it is a big bush. Like a tree, man.”

“Where is the center though?” I asked. “Like, where is that located? In what country?”

“I don’t know, man. Africa maybe? I don’t ever get out of town. Shit, I never leave the neighborhood except to booking or the hospital with mom.”

“We should visit it someday,” I told him.

“Man, you buy the ticket and I’m with you. I’d go anywhere with you, brother.”

We bumped fists.

“What are we going to do when we get there? Roast marshmallows?”

“Marshmallows, yeah. Warm our asses. Feel the heat!”

“‘Feel the heat’. I like that.”

“Feel the heat!”

“Feel the heat,” I said.

“Feel that shit!”

We imagined feeling the warmth of the burning foliage at the center of the earth. I imagined being held, cupped in the center of a warm bowl. Being on the outside of a spinning ball felt precarious, unsafe. I didn’t trust gravity.

I asked Maurice about gravity.

“The tree, man. The fire pulls things toward it. I don’t, man. I don’t have all the answers about gravity. Shit just always falls, right?”

“It does,” I nodded. “It always falls.”

“What goes up,” he said and then pointed at the ground and said, “Splat!”

I nodded some more.

“People too,” he said. “We are always rising and falling. Shit.”

“Shit is right.”

We stood in silence for awhile. I lit another cigarette. He asked me for one and I gave it to him.

“Merry Christmas,” he said.

It was springtime.

“So how do the seasons work? Why do they change?”

“I think it is the bush, man. Sometimes it gets hot, sometimes it cools down.”

“Why though?”

“People fucking with it probably.” He shrugged.

“But what about the sun? I don’t get that.”

“The sun is up there. I see it.” He pointed. “It’s far away though. It doesn’t have the heat close to us like the bush. Probably a planet like ours. Caught fire. Shit got too hot at the center.”

“A dish planet?”

“Yeah but the bowl just turned into a ball of fire and kept burning. People just feeding that shit. Demons.”

“You think there are demons on the sun?”

“I don’t know. I never been there. I never leave Baltimore. Shit is hot enough right here with all these crazy motherfuckers about.”

I nodded.

“Fuck the sun,” I said. I wasn’t sure what I meant.

“Burn your dick off, man. Whooohee!”

“What about the moon?”

“What about it? You want to fuck the moon, too?”

“Well, um. Where does it go?”

“You got me there. Behind the sun? Yeah. It goes behind the sun or just on the other side of the bowl. Just hiding behind the lip, cooling off.”

I looked at my phone, which was powered by satellites the circled the bowl presumably. Social media made me sad but I looked at it anyway.

“The moon likes the cold,” I said.

“Most definitely. Moon loves the cold.”

I thought about all the people I had loved. I thought about how things always got too hot or cooled off too much. I thought about being too close to the tree and burning up or getting too far away and missing its heat until your heart was frozen inside you.

* * * * *

Timmy shared this series of short fictions with Lorraine:

Ghost Baby, Summer ‘97

Snapshot of Sand Castles

Flying insects lived in the trees and bushes and shadows all around us. We heard them hissing as we walked. Everyday it rained and the sun baked tears off the windshield of my family’s Volvo. I sank my teeth into things you told me were fruit, things that bled or burst in my mouth. I took your word for it. I took your word for everything because it felt good to try something new, and you were it. I wanted to hold your waist but with a phantom limb, one that had never tingled before. My intentions were obvious. You were harder to read, I think. Your hair behaved differently in different weathers and I could not keep track.  Looking into your eyes was like learning a foreign language. The first day we met, I buried my headphones in the sand in case you might talk, but you never did. You wrote down your phone number for me, but it was symbols and little lines. Later that night you would collapse and I would be there to catch you. At least that is how I like to remember it. That is how I like to remember whatever it was we briefly brought to life and let slip away with bits of trash in the tide. 

Target Practice

The boardwalk rotted more heavily that year than others. Everyone was talking about it. Everyone was wearing hyper-color and knock-off tee-shirts for coed naked sports. The Ferris wheel was my favorite ride, but you took me in the mirror maze over and over again. You insisted we have our first kiss in the haunted house, when the man with the skeleton make-up pops out to say, “Die, Die, Die.” It was the first summer I ever held a gun. You showed me how to work the trigger and pop pellets through the little red star. I gave you my target when it came to us, punctured and torn around the corners, star mostly intact. You smiled, or showed me your teeth. I watched the paper drift from your hand as you led me away.

Crabs

I told you I would take you to my family’s dock on the bayside to pull fresh blue crabs from the traps we cast in the water. You held your finger to your lips and whispered, “Shh.” I followed you out onto the beach at night, neon and blinking lights behind us, small clumps of other teens smoking on either side in the distance. The tide was low. We approached it and you knelt in the sand. The ocean made the black dress you wore even blacker. Tar dripped off your bones. You touched my sandal and I knelt beside you to dig for small white, almost translucent, sand crabs that wriggled away from us, deeper into the wet earth.  They looked like balls of cartilage, like knuckles. “The sand is made of skeletons,” you told me. “Fish, mostly.”

I nodded and watched the bits of bone pour through your fingers like oatmeal. 

Spells

You were always singing to yourself, just under your breath. I asked you what you were singing. “Whatever everybody else is singing,” you said because it seemed as if the radio had only been playing five songs all summer. I listened more closely. It didn’t sound like what the others sang.

The Pay Toilet

Burger King on the boardwalk put a coin-operator outside their bathrooms. You talked about this constantly the week we were together. You were very upset. It was as if you lived there. I began to think you might.

The Ghost Baby

You told me you wanted me to impregnate you and I was scared until you told me the baby would be a ghost. Then I was afraid I might not get laid.

Purity

I was still a virgin. It was all I had to offer, but I was too shy to make the offering.

Séance

The séance was scheduled for midnight of course, the night before my family packed up and drove back to the city. I had fallen in love with something that week and it might have been you. If I had had a religion to forsake, I would have done it. I consider bringing a shovel to meet you. I thought we were going to dig through the earth together. You said we would talk to the night. All we did was hold hands and scream at the waves, but it was enough. Something had been born between us. We cast it into the sea.

Boardwalk in Morning

I had not been to the boardwalk in the morning since I was a kid. Everybody was on bicycles or eating hot donuts. I looked for you, but you were not there. I imagined the things you might turn into during the day: a puddle of oil, a black spot of gum on the wall. I wanted to be a peanut shell, then come alive with you at night. In my mind it could always summer if magic was real but it wasn’t and I was late to join my family, which was where I knew I belonged.

Bridges

On the ride home we crossed several bridges. One of them was very large.  You told me you were afraid of bridges. You told me they were not meant to be crossed.   

In response, Lorraine made this image, titled “Dreaming of Dark”:

 

 

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