Ji-Ji.Guerrera

Archive for the ‘Short Stories’ Category

Monika stared at me with a taut grin stretched from ear to ear, her lips looking as if they were carved into her face. She was sprawled on a queen size bed, her body curled snake-like around the silky blood-colored sheets. She had on short jeans and a tube top, but they were hidden beneath the exorbitant cover. So she looked naked, practically, with only her pale skin revealed, her bare legs peaking out the side of the bed, the silk tucked underneath her white arms. White on red. Like a painting of a Grecian tragedy. Aphrodite on a bed of roses. The queen of thorns, the thorned queen.

“Come lay beside me,” she beamed.

I could hear the ripples gently tap the base of the yacht, the cool breeze and the silence that often accompanied dusk coming through. No one was manning the thing, it stood dead on the water, undulating with the current.

“Shouldn’t we get back now?” I queried.

I didn’t like that we were so far from shore. What if we got attacked by sharks or worse, a storm hit and we drowned. That was the thing I hated most about water. No matter how powerful of a swimmer you were, there was always a threat of drowning. I swallowed. My throat felt parched and leathery.

“Sit and relax,” she ordered. “Have a drink. Talk to me. You saw Mari at the harbor?”

I laughed and scooted onto the bed beside her, instantly forgetting my fears.

“She kept talking. I didn’t know how to shut her up.”

“What theorist was she on about—wait wait, let me guess—Bahktin.”

Monika said Bahktin with an exaggerated accent—emphasizing the “h” in this really guttural way, as if she were hoarking out the sound—all the while flipping her long red hair behind her shoulders with her chest perked out.

Maybe it was her accurate imitation of the pretentious arts student or that she seemed so comfortable and confident at that moment, all traces of any worry in her life eliminated from her features, her grin so effortless and smooth. Whatever it was, her blasé attitude, her calm, collected milieu made me feel at ease, careless, relaxed. I forgot my name then, forgot my shame at what I looked like and who I was. That was her effect: she made you feel important, singled out from the hoards of Torontonians. When she looked at me, I felt normal, human, de-shelled, unravelled, understood. I bent to her side and took her glass, downing her fruity wine, feeling a warmth spread through my nerves.

“Actually, uh, ‘The—Angel of—Progress’?”

She snapped her fingers. “Walter Benjamin. I should have known, she’s obsessed with that guy.”

“She wouldn’t stop talking ‘bout it.”

“Probably cause she had nothing to say really. Oh, she thinks she’s so smart, always going on about this theory that theory. Joke’s on her though, everyone thinks she’s hiding behind big words and textbook men. Dead white men. She knows nothing.”

“It’s her thing,” I said, feeling as if I had to defend Mari. “Can’t fault her for it. She’s worked hard on that scholar identity. And anyway, everyone’s got their niche. Their trademark of some sort. The thing they’d like people to see them as. Their very own identity”

“Everyone needs something, eh.”

She placed her empty glass on the table beside her and sunk further into the plush mattress. At that moment, something about her changed. Or maybe, that something was revealed to me. It felt as if the room got larger and she shrunk. How little she appeared, how much she change from just moments ago. Her head impressed itself onto the pillow. She bit her lower lip, her forehead wrinkling. She seemed forlorn, withdrawn into herself, her eyes deep in thought, gazing into the ether.

I wanted to hold her, searching her for any indication of what was wrong.

“What?” I finally demanded. “Talk to me.”

She looked at me, folded her arms across her chest and grinned a derisive grin. “I’m just thinking how nice it’d be to not feel so used for once. Wouldn’t it be nice? To be able to carve your own future. To say I wanna be a scholar and do just that.”

It took me a while to figure out that she was talking about herself.

“I don’t know. No one ever has that control though, to choose what they want in life. I think—well, I feel like for a lot of people it’s about convenience.”

“Mari isn’t a puppet,” she snapped, her brows scrunching to the center of her forehead,  her lips pouting. “She doesn’t have her brother controlling her. Sometimes I wish he died with, with my parents. He’s not my real brother y’know. I overheard my parents talking this one time. Mom cheated on dad with this Jewish guy. That’s why Miles has that Jew fro. He’s part Jew.”

She looked around the room, first at the flat sixty inch screen mounted on the wall before us, then at the gold lined picture frame above the glass window, perpendicular to where we sat, a translucent veil from the cool evening scenery. Once again, I was reminded of how far from shore and security we were, planted on pure water, rooted into Danger’s mouth.

“What really bugs me though is how fake I am. About everything. How stupid and fake I am. Why don’t I just—leave?” she spat, speaking more to herself.

“Aren’t you running now?”

“Yes. And look how far I’ve gone—in my brother’s yacht.”

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When the general first met the lady, he thought nothing of getting to know who she truly was. Everything about the way that she looked, the way that she presented herself, defined her to him. She wore a tight red dress with a low neckline that left little to people’s imaginations, had rouge on her cheeks, blood coloured lips, bedroom eyes, and breasts that begged to be noticed. The point where her collarbones met was deep, as if it were an imprint left on her during infancy. There was something definitive about her walk–how her right leg shifted too far out and her left leg dug into the ground making rustic syncopation. She marked her entrance with a nod, all eyes in the room turning to take her in. The general was no exception, of course. He followed her movements like a ravaged beast on its weakened prey.

It didn’t take long for the lady to feel his stare crawling into her.

***

He held the bottle of champagne; she held the glass.

“Let me ask, is fighting the only way to resolve conflict?” She brought the glass to her lips and took a long sip. They were so close now, her eyes crawling into him like his were into her.

“Well I could ask you a similar question…is a tight dress the only way to resolve conflict,” he said, breathing inside her right ear, their skin only separated by decorum and decency.

“Wars kill people–”

“People kill people. What will you do to contain that basest of all human instinct?” He was sizing her curves as he spoke, his eyes resting on her sternum.

Pulling apart from each other, the lady reached into her purse and produced a thin cigarette immediately as the general flicked open a stainless steel lighter. She sucked on the stick, her throat expanding  to let in the smoke.

“And when the world dies, General,” she exhaled, “who will wage your war…when there’s no one left to fight it?”

Maybe it was the way he stood straighter upon hearing the question, the way he perched his brows as if to indicate that such an alternative grieved him, that caused the lady to shift into him. He smelt of sweat and smoke, standing beneath the dim lighting in the room. Unconsciously, he brushed his fingers through his tight curls and smiled. She couldn’t help but wonder what confounding thoughts rested beneath his façade of confidence and nonchalance.

“Well then,” he finally said, “there’ll just be the two of us left with this bottle of champagne.”

For the lady resting on the hammock, the sun was just as she liked it. The golden glow from the slightly receding star illuminated the warm autumn colours all around her. Soft leaves hung low from crooked branches, grazing the top of her head ever so slowly. It was all a little too perfect to bask in; yet, she took in every second of it longingly, the fear of its desertion looming at the forefront of her thoughts.

This lady was all too acquainted with loneliness, with happiness fleeting away as if it never were, with the budding desire to be loved pressing against her heart every second of her life.

On this day, however, the lady found what she was looking for in the park. As her heartbeat declined rapidly and her chest rose and fell like the sound of music, she rested her head in the hallow of her neck. She struggled against unconsciousness as froth formed across her lips. Even though she knew that this was the end, she still preferred this day over every other day. There was all the things that she loved: the luminous sun, the soft leaves grazing her skin, the silence of the world that was waiting for her to die.

The girl crosses the yard’s line to amalgamate herself with the rest of society. The blacks and the whites and the Indians and the Hispanics engaging in practical tasks–pushing carts, feeding babies, ringing their buys through personalized cash-registers on their individual cellphones with their crispy, shiny, new credit cards. It is a regular day in the city; it is a regular day for her.

A black man, sitting with his chin resting between his thumb and index finger, raises an empty cup that says “end hobophobia” to the sky, as if raising a toast to his predicament. For the girl, this is a vain attempt at getting her attention. Unconcerned for his well-being, she sashays by in her new plastic-diamond studded stilettos. Having noticed the sign, however, it is now at the forefront of her thoughts. Hobophobia. She wonders if that’s the new homophobia and snuffs. Soon it will be ethnophobia, or rather negrophobia, or maybe that’s already a thing.

The sonorous sound of metal clanging through plastic alerts her attention. She turns to the homeless man, having guessed where the noise is coming from, and notices a diminutive white woman generously dropping change into the inanely labelled cup.

Seeing this reminds her of Christmas: when the good people of the world share their blessings through charitable acts and good Christians let the world know that they still exist. Missing from this picture are lights, snow, and Christmas, and Christmas carols, of course. She releases a deep sigh, ameliorated by this random act of kindness, and unconsciously fingers the yellow cross resting between her breasts.

-Here sir, some money for your work.
The girl drops a few quarters into the cup as she knocks the pavement with her two inch heels.

While the man nods his gratitude, he does not look at her; instead he fixes his eyes to his cup, enamoured by the slight glint on the silver and gold coins, his amassing wealth reflecting in his large round eyes.

This response is fine with the girl. She pats herself because she has done a good deed. A darn good deed.

Love making for the couple is a night on a crinkled rug, legs straddled about each other, desire on their sharpened nails digging into soft skin. The sliver of light coming through the curtain and a burning candle makes their silhouettes visible on the wall.

The boy is all emotions as he licks the curve of his partner’s neck.

– Would they let us be together, I would give you the world on my back.

Fourteen and spewing promises; his words ring against his partner’s ears like an unchecked alarm clock.But the older man reciprocates only with an elated moan, an immediate response to the palm on his groin. What is he to say: that he loves the boy? That their relationship is more than physical? That they should be together fearless of repercussions from the frenzied town’s people, who’ve worked ages to keep him behind bars?

– It’s better for us to stay here, the man says as he runs his fingers through the boy’s soft hair.

– I just wanted you to know that I’d give you the world.
The boy’s voice cracks a little.

– Yes, I know.

The girl inside the bar spreads herself over a desk, her arm resting seductively on a ledge. She wants more than anything to kiss the boy. He vomits words in a rush, never pausing for breath, heaves his heart into his mouth—a restless genius by right. Once he begins his speech on feminism or classism, any ism searchable in the English dictionary, she sighs, moans, hums in consent. Her intelligence can match his—she will be his equal, no questions asked.

“It isn’t Elizabeth’s sex I’m interested in. Her gender means little in the grandiose scheme of things. It’s really her imperial power.” The boy says this with the assurance of a scholar well suited his rank. Such intelligence, poise, and grace—the student enthusiast’s one and only aphrodisiac. But the girl is uncertain his intelligence is not all an illusion born from her declining confidence in herself.

“Elizabeth,” she starts, “was quite the Queen.” And this is all she can force out of her mouth: words constantly evade her when she pleads for their assistance.

“It had nothing to do with her sex though,” he says, his eyes searching hers for an answer worth responding to.

“I guess you’re right.” There is no need to prolong the conversation. She has nothing of interest to contribute. He turns away.

Still, the girl observes him with the intensity of a surgeon, dissecting his thoughts in her mind. She wants to know if he likes her, if he wants to kiss her. The words are on the tip of her tongue: I want to kiss you. But he continues on Elizabeth, well aware, the girl guesses, that she would like to make love to his brain.

So The Girl watches him swallow his beer in one gulp, and decides to keep silent. Her arms rest seductively on the ledge. Her head is bent as she hides her figure in a demure pose. Soon he will take her home, and this is good enough for her.

The love she bore her people was so strong that, upon hearing of the murdered boys, she decided to flail herself, to scrape the black skin off her arms slowly, pluck the stripes of thin hairs off her thighs in order to divert from her pain. What happened to those boys was nothing short of an atrocity: the burnt, charred, innocent, naked, brutalized bodies reminding her of her innocence years ago–burnt, brutalized, naked sex–a toy to be tossed foolishly about by hands that were not hers. Would they ever be her’s, those hands? The hands that dragged those boys down a street and clubbed them to pieces, piercing their livelihoods, stabbing their humanity, failing them, failing them, flailing their beings.

There was smoke between her legs, inside her sex–the strong smell and sensation forcing her to think of the boys’ sufferings, to welcome their pain with open arms. How it got there, she does not know. A world of black fog, chaos; black soot rising from ashes of misery; such hideous smoke trapped inside her sex, seeping out black tendrils. She squirmed on her chair, partly from the minus five degree temperature of the room, and partly from a strong inclination to run and hide from herself. It didn’t help that the smoke reminded her of the boys who were burnt to scales, their smell emanating from down there, down between the opening and closing of her thighs, as if she was giving birth to their charred corpses.

Try as she might, she couldn’t escape this destiny. It was her skin, she assumed, and brought the blade to it. But it couldn’t be fixed, altered, changed, regardless of how many times she sliced through it. Layers upon layers of black skin. The color was meant for her.

Between her thighs, the stream of grey smoke rose to her nostrils. She pressed her legs together and shut her eyes in a measly attempt to brush away the images of those burnt corpses.

When she opened her eyes again, they inadvertently focused on the sole light-bulb glowing menacing orange in the darkness. To this she immediately wondered–if beneath the sun’s ever watchful gaze justice could easily evade those in need, what would happen in the dark, when the world turned blind eyes to suffering in favor of momentary peace and solitude.


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