Rachel Kann is an LA WEEKLY award winning poet, dancer, DJ and workshop leader who spreads love from Ted X to the Disney Concert Hall to the Nuyorican Poets’ Cafe and beyond. She’s the author of “10 For Ten” and wanted to share this story with us. It’s the story of Nita falling in love with Frank when his “Sad Eyes” neck tattoo and sangria prove irresistible. And then he starts disappearing…literally.
*James Kirkwood Award for Fiction Recepient *Previously published in Kotori Magazine by Rachel Kann
You need some old-school juju. Some Houdini shit. Pre-Houdini shit. Hell, premagick- with-a-k type shit. Some shit in Aramaic. You need to poof…disappear. And tonight, as you lose your shit in Frank’s bathroom, you may not be Catholic, but your god sure as hell is. You are bent over the dirtyish porcelain, puking your guts out. Except that you aren’t really, you’re just pretending to. You are a master of illusion. More often than not, you find yourself mid-hoax before you’ve even consciously decided to go through with it. So you’re retching and whimpering, pouring a glass of water in the toilet for that extra splash of truth. You are pray-conjuring for a knock on the door, which finally comes. “Nita, Nita, seriously, you’re freaking me out. Are you ok?” “I’m fucking aces”, you warble, trying to sound as martyrish as humanly possible. You want him to see how much this is tearing you apart.
Two nights earlier, it’s whiskey night at Lily’s house, and she’s just picked up this tripped-out book at Goodwill. It’s called, like, Crazy Fucking Facts That Will Make You Super Nauseous or something like that. You read this shit about Freud. You learn something foul: He had cancer in his mouth-face-cheek area toward the end of his life. Here’s what’s gnarly: his shit was like, rotting off. So his private practice dwindled away. Because the stench was so unbearable. People, specifically patients, could not bear to be in the same room. With him. That’s brutal. Poor Freud. Poor Freud with his vagina dentata and hysterical blindness and Electra complex. All the girls pinching their collective nose as they backed out of his office for the very last time. 2 of 5 You go back to your place and fall asleep fast. This is what you instantly dream: You are back home. Home home. Not that you belong anywhere. But you are hometown-home. Going around like everything is fine, and then you start to have this pain in your gums. It is a really bad, black pain. You are with your mom. She is sorrowful but calm and she says, “Nita, honey, this is hard to say. Terribly hard.” “What, momma?” “Oh, honey, you’re dead. You’ve been dead for a while now. You’re starting to decompose.” And she guides your shoulders to the mirror and shows you how your skull, a lot of it, is showing through the side of your face. “When you get to the next place, you will be whole again. It’s time to go. It’s time to go.” So you step outside, and suddenly you are in the middle of the meadow in Central Park, and it is that perfect kind of day where the breeze barely feels like anything, that’s how right the temperature is. And mom is long gone. You are surrounded by beautiful men in pastels, sweaters tied jauntily over their shoulders. You find your circle of gay-postles. Each of them already has a dead person to carry to heaven. Only this Saint Petery-Jesusy guy is left. He seems like the leader, obviously. Too busy-important to be of assistance. You flood with the familiar poison of feeling awkward and out of place. Like, fuck, even in the afterlife you are the fifth wheel. But then, Saint Peter dude calls you over. “Nita, what are you looking for? I am right here, waiting for you.” And with that, you curl yourself into his sixty-five-year-old-man-in-Banana Republicpants lap, stare up at his Lacoste shirt the color and texture of peach fuzz. And he says, “Now you are here. With us. We were waiting. For you. Now we can go.” And you all float up to the sky, like a supernatural pride march, Bronski Beat softly lilting all around. When you wake, you run to the mirror to see if there is skull showing. But you are intact, you are alive, you are whole. Which is good. For now. You guess. It must have been the Freud racket, combined with some second-rate Sixth Sense symbolism for cheap measure. Plus you ate left over Pad Woon Sen just before you went to bed. So you chalk it up to all that. That afternoon, your blood turns to tar when you talk to Frank. You call him from the celly, on speakerphone, sitting in traffic moving like taffy. He answers, finally, for the first time in a few days. “Nita, hey. Hey Neaty, listen.” “Hi Frank.” Breath. Breathing. “Nita, I, something’s happened. Something bad. Really bad. I need to be by myself.”
“Wait, what? Why, what?” “Something’s happened. To me. I’ve changed. I have a problem. Nita, I can’t do this anymore.” “Whatever’s happened, we can work through it. Let me love you through it.” “No, Nita. I have something very wrong with me. I have a hole in me. It’s bad. A hole. Right in my cheek.” 3 of 5 Your legs go numb, like when you drive by a cop and the adrenaline floods. You grip the steering wheel ’til your knuckles crack. You know you haven’t told him about the dream. Or the Freud thing. The world wavers sideways through the windshield. You are silent. What would Frank make of your mouth opening and closing like a fish death in slow motion? “Nita, this isn’t easy. It’s bigger than a quarter, and it’s getting bigger every day, and I hate myself, I loathe myself, I feel like a monster. And I can’t put off dealing with this. I have to fix this.” “But, but, I love you. I don’t care.”
“Yeah see, that’s exactly it. You. Don’t. Care.” “Frank! That’s not fair! You know what I mean. I mean that I accept your flaws. I embrace your flaws. I want to help you. I don’t care if you have flaws. I can help you. I will help you. Let me help you. We can fix this together. Please don’t fucking shut me out” “Nita. It’s over. This is something I have to do on my own. This hole in me is what’s standing between us.” You know this is a lie. You can predict all of this. You know right then that you should hang up. There are sleights of hand all around. “Frank. Please don’t say that. Please don’t say that if it’s not true.” “This IS the truth.”
“So then, when you are all better, that means we are all better too?” A pause. A toolong pause. A long-enough-for-your-heart-to-crumple-like-a-beer can-against-a-frat boy’shead pause. Fuck. FUCK.
“Nita. What do you want from me? I’m falling apart. Quite literally. I can’t promise you that. I can’t promise you anything. I don’t know anything. I don’t know who I am anymore. And I don’t know who I will be when I am a whole again. I respect you too much to make empty promises.” “Respect? Respect? But you don’t respect me enough to give me the truth.” The truth is that you don’t matter to him. He doesn’t love you. You know if he did, it wouldn’t matter if half his head fell off. It wouldn’t make him push you away. He would want to be near you. The truth is that even whole, you are inadequate. You are never enough. Not skinny enough, not pretty enough, not smart enough, not good enough. Everyone you know goes away in the end. There’s something wrong with you. What comes out is, “I am flawed. I am evil. I am cursed. I’m the monster. Not you. They always walk away. You are fucking walking away. You’re leaving me alone when you promised you wouldn’t.” “I’m gonna go now, Nita.” “I love you, please, you made me believe. Frank. You gave me hope. You made me think I might not die alone in a pool of my own piss and despair, a bitch without the balls for suicide, dying sixty years too late. I want to thank you for that.” “NITA.” Frank is really yelling now. Really mad. “I’m hanging UP. I have to deal with this on my own terms. This is my hole to fix.” “Ok. Hang up then. Hang up.” And Frank does, and you are really choking. Super sobbing. Crying in a crazy psycho Greek Tragedy way. And, thank god, the traffic has picked up to the texture of Cool Whip, at least. Because it’s all coming out. You are screaming and moaning and even forming words, mostly “I can’t…I can’t…oh god oh god, I can’t. I can’t.” You are having one of those this is for it all, since the beginning, from the bottom of your feet weep sessions. It’s good to be in the car. You couldn’t go off like this at your shitty apartment. The whole building, and probably block, would hear you. You suspect that even in the middle of some naturey setting, you couldn’t really cut loose like this. You’d still fear somebody catching wind. No, in motion, propelling forward, in the bubble of your shitty Honda, this is the only way to do it.
Here’s the thing. Here’s where you were at before Frank. He saw you in the library, while you were waiting for a computer to get on the internet. You were desperate to check your email, just in case David Blaine had emailed you back. You had offered to be his lovely assistant. You had a friend in the business who stole his email address for you. You really felt like this might be the thing that broke through, put you in direct contact.
You smelled Frank before you saw him. Cool Water cologne. It was your tacky high school throwback Achilles heel. It was chemical, you couldn’t help it. He sat down right next to you, and you were stiff as morning wood through the neck. You turned to look, and he was all kinds of cholo. Like, straight gangster. Wifebeater. Khakis. Shaved head. Moustache. A neck tattoo that read “Sad Eyes”. He was terrifying, and beautiful, and smelled faintly of b.o. under the Cool Water smell. He looked right at you, eyes pure as Buddha. “Let me take you out.” He said it without a hint of agenda. You were stymied. “Like take me out? Like on a date?” “U huh.” “No. No no no.”"Can I just ask why?” “Because. Because I’m like this. Because…I’m all wacked out. I’m all fucked up. I’m here to see if fucking David Blaine has emailed me. Shit is incredibly fucking really real. Do you need this mess?” Frank just blinked his beautiful frog-like and guileless eyes, and said, “I don’t even know who David Blaines is. So… Friday night? Saturday?” And then the weird guy with one giant dreadlock that hung all the way down his back finally finished on station number fourteen. He got up, and so that basically meant your internet time was ticking away. You stood up and walked over to your computer. You sat down and did not turn around, just logged into your Yahoo account. Two minutes later, you smelled his approach like an amen. He didn’t say a word, just slipped his caramel hand sidelong of your keyboard. When you looked, he was gone. But he left a Halls cough drop wrapper there, with his phone number scrawled across it. That Saturday night, he gave you sangria. With bits of apple and orange that you fingered right out of the glass and into your mouth. He had a Volkswagen the exact offwhite color of chewed-up Doublemint gum. He knew some magic. Real stuff, not some David Blaine shit. Santeria, like, spells and stuff. He told you about how his grandmother had seen things, things other people couldn’t see, and how she’d died from falling off a really high roof, and nobody knew if she had killed herself or been pushed. Either way, she died from knowing too much. And he also told you about his lezzie sister, which you loved. And his passionate mother who cried all the time, and his father the painter. And he took you in his room and showed you some pictures on his laptop, of graf art he had done. And they were really good, and you could feel the inside of you unzipping. And then you went outside with him and the sangria and sat on the dirty stairs and looked at the slutty wonderful moon. It was like when you think someone is super hot and they do something really assholey and you watch their hotness slide off like a silk robe. Watch them instantly uglify. Just like that, but in reverse. People had definitely grown on you before. Slowly though. Super slow. Slowly rearranged in your head and become attractive in their worth-it-ness. 5 of 5 Like a Seurat painting that you had to back away from to see the big picture. But this was quick. This was over. You were sprung. You just turned and kissed him. It felt like all the nonsense turning into psalms. All the sandpaper loneliness melting to velvet redemption. You were gone. You went right in his bedroom without batting an eyelash. You knew you were gonna. Fuck your dignity, fuck propriety, fuck him. Fuck the shit out of him. And you fell with him, to the futon that was on the floor. And he smelled like home, wherever that was. And the kisses and the hands and the legs pressed into you like paradise.
But he couldn’t get it up. “Nita, I, I’m sorry. I’m embarrassed. This never happens.” His words echoed like every cliché ever. Bounced off the particleboard walls. And so you said all the cliché stuff back. “It’s ok, seriously, you make me feel so good. Don’t worry about it, the more you worry about it, the bigger deal it becomes, and then…” “I know, Nita, it’s cool. Thanks” You slept naked in his arms all night. It was like returning, except when you were fitful, panicked, wondering what was so unappealing about you that Frank couldn’t pop a chub. You remembered how you were an outcaste, a monster, destined to die alone, and figured that you had tricked the system somehow. In the back of your skull, a faint filmstrip clicked to life and started up again. It shows all the times you give your power away. It was adding the footage of Frank to the master. You woke up and you’d started your period in his bed. It could’ve been worse, it wasn’t like “Carrie”, could’ve been way worse, but still. Crazy. Raw earth.
And you’d fallen into each other like that as days smeared into weeks and then months. Until this. After the phone call, after you cry your country song eyes out in the car, after the wave rolls through, after you non-hysterically and methodically and really quite calmly – if you do say so yourself, which you do – remove his number from your cell phone, he calls you back. “Hey.” Frank is hoarse. “Hey, I just wanted you to know that I’m sorry if I yelled at you, I didn’t mean to, and I appreciate you too, and you are incredible and beautiful and I am so grateful, and I just, yeah, I just wanted you to know that. Ok?” You are already a million miles away.
“Kay. Thanks. Cool.” Your heart is frostbitten. Fuck him for making you let your walls down for no reason. Fuck that. “Nita. Can you just come over? Can we just talk about it?” And then it flips, because that’s exactly what you want to do. So you do. And then you get there, and it flops, everything’s happening too fast, and he clearly doesn’t love you anymore, if he ever did. He’s turned away, hunched in the dark, won’t let you near the hole, the disappearing part. Won’t even let you near any part of him. And you are silently dreaming of the magic that you bet Saint Jude could do for you. And you lock yourself in the bathroom. Frank has the opposite idea of what terrifies you.
Want to read more? So do we. Order this womans book stat.
“Rachel Kann has crafted an addictive parallel universe, where funky little worlds shift and shudder, and characters are deftly etched and blessed with her gleefully skewed perspective. The sharp lyricism of these stories, which practically beg to be read aloud, unmask Ms. Kann for the poet she is, and that unpredictability of language is nothing less than a revelation.”
Patricia Smith, Teahouse of the Almighty (National Poetry Series Winner,) Four Time National Poetry Slam Champion
“10 For Everything,” Rachel Kann’s collection of award-winning poetry and fiction will be reissued – IF she can meet her deadline before Saturday June 15th at noon, when the IndieGogo Campaign ends – $500.00 to go – please order a copy today for only $20, which includes domestic shipping and handling.
Some verbal beauty extras from Rachel;