Fiction: Selections from C.F. Roberts

Memo From Turner

It's maybe 9 pm----that lustrous bleed-away from dusk in Summer where you can still see the memories of sunset in the clouds, and I'm waiting on my Jenny.
     She’ll come rolling around the corner any second, now, in that big, black sports car. You’ve seen it; it’s everywhere, it’s all over town, just like Jenny. And no matter where you stand on her list, she always comes at you the same, behind the wheel of that glorious machine, she knows you when she sees you, and she hits you with that big, warm, welcoming smile. I’m on the low-paying tier of her clientele, and even I get that.
    I’ve got a spring in my step because I’m going to propose to her tonight. I feel this incredible sense of joy and peace in my heart, because even if she tells me no, everything will be good, my way will still be paved, my course will be clear, and alla those other cliches. The sun will rise regardless and all will still be well with the universe—-even if the answer is not the one I prefer, it’s still an answer, it still settles the issue and I can proceed from there.
     Parents are rushing their children home and young adults, with seamier things in mind, are wandering onto the scene. My meeting place with Jenny is the same one as always; that modern mecca that is the shopping center, where all god’s chillun congregate in search of satisfaction, utilities, toiletries and other sundries—-families scamper by me, they know with the onset of night the hyenas move in—-and I can’t for the life of me count myself out from the hyenas…..I might have less malice in my heart than some of the younger dregs, but I know I’m a dreg just the same, and I’m in the need of some flesh….
     …At the same time I’m coming into a different phase of being, not as ravenous as some of these young dire wolves. What’s different? What am I looking for? A place to stop? Less a port in the storm, more a place to rest? Refuge? Stability? Okay, yes, maybe stability—-a kind of “stop the world, I want to get off” impulse that could be associated with the wear and tear of being out here too long….maybe a bad sign to show in this predatory world, but as is part of the popular lazy vernacular, it is what it is.
    The herds come and go and I won’t lie, as the time wears on I grow slightly anxious. It’s not a lack of faith in Jenny. She always shows up when she says she’s going to show up. Maybe it’s a lack of faith in myself, a realization that I’m slipping. Maybe it’s a realization that I’m slowing down, that maybe I really am nothing now but that ripped, torn gazelle bleeding out on the sabana, meat on the table for carrion vultures, or hell, maybe it’s just that I haven’t gotten off in a month.
    Yeah. Seems like a fine rationale to me.
    Except that my mission tonight is not one of orgasm—-although she doesn’t know that. Orgasm is her stock in trade, a Florence Nightingale of the libido, a healer in the most prurient sense of the word.
    True to form, anyway, she arrives, emerging from the crowd in a slow cruise in that beautiful black car, like always. I see her behind the wheel as she comes close, a fiery smile behind a shocking slash of red. Jenny is a redhead today, which paints my life in red.
     When we first connected, same exact ritual, if you can believe it, five years ago, she was a brunette. I mean, you’d almost swear she was a real brunette, if there were ever such a thing. Still, yes, like “a real brunette”---eh. Did you ever hear that corny old song, “I dream of Jeanny with the light brown hair”? Like that. Swear to god.
    She’s changed hair color half a dozen times since then…..blonde. Pink. Blue. Green. Moss green. Purple.
    Never before red.
    As the car draws closer I get to see just how red it is….jarring red. You couldn’t call it a natural red, whatever the hell that means. Garish. Brash. Iridescent. Finally she pulls to the curb, parks and gets out of the car.
    That big smile greeting me under that insane blast of red, “hey, man…where ya goin’?”
    It’s the line she first threw at me, all the way back then. I respond the way I always do, “I dunno! Whaddya got?”
    It’s an open question to end all questions and open all possibilities.
      If it’s not gut-wrenchingly obvious at this point, I love the girl to pieces.
     Her smile is more familiar and obliging than anything else. “Whatever you want, I got, baby!”
    At this stage I’m aware of everyone around me rubbernecking, becoming unwitting participants in our conversation. “I’m all for that,” I tell her.
     They can’t fathom that I’m with her—but they don’t know her. If they did, they’d probably be
appalled with the both of us. I personally could care less for these pleebs or what they think.
    In their minds, of course, they all “know” Jenny, or they THINK they know Jenny. What they know comes off billboards, magazine ads, questionable websites, even more questionable internet memes. Their “knowledge”, unlike mine, is purely parasocial.
    I slip into the passenger side of the car and I realize for the first time ever that the interior is also red. Deep, lush red.
    “Damn, Jenny,” I remark as she throws it into gear and pulls out of that dismal spot, “new car, or what?”
     “No,” she laughs. “Got some new upholstery. Time for a change, doll, just time for a change!”
      “And change is a constant, why not embrace it?” I add.
      “Change is the one constant,” she smiles. She pulls out a vaping pen. “You don’t mind, do you?”
        “Since when have I?”
      “Well, I guess my policy is that it’s always good to ask.” Good business sense, I guess. She was on cigarettes when we first hooked up—of course, I never minded those, either. There are those who might say that anyone engaging in such dirty habits simply isn’t their type. The joke’s on them. She plays video games, practices Yoga, is good with firearms, is bisexual, has big boobs, a big ass, thick thighs….the simple fact is, she’s everyone’s type.
      Mine, for sure.
     The truth is that the smoking, like anything else, is a sales pitch, and more often than not, it works—it all plays into the oral fixation. Do you have an oral fixation? I know I do….
    We pull out of that place and Jenny drives around the older suburban areas for a while. Many of these houses date back to the 1950s. They’re a Leave it to Beaver growing old and childrearing daydream. I don’t doubt she knows that, and I don’t doubt she knows what I’m thinking. Laugh all you want—-somehow she always does.
      We amble around these ancient burbs as the night closes around us and we keep the conversation light. It’s in her nature to create small talk—-for myself, I’m just trying to drag my heels, perhaps holding off on the conversation I intend until it’s time. I can feel it, right now, just not being right, yet.
    She finally pulls over on the Apple Creek Bridge, which is a fairly well-known bridge in this area for a number of reasons—-first and foremost, it’s a wide bridge and has plenty of room to pull over and as such it’s a notorious make-out spot…the other thing it’s famous for, if you’re willing to buy into the fantasy, is supernatural occurrences.
    No shit. Many people I know have told me that, if you drive a certain speed along the Apple Creek Bridge, or even park on it, it will elongate. It’ll take much longer to get across—-it will literally stretch as you’re going across it.
      Which is palpable hooey, of course. Like a stationary object grows. Don’t ever listen to anybody who spouts such gibberish at you. Just nonsensical urban legends that kids like to relate to you as they smoke their pot. Only the worst kind of romantic rube would ever buy into such silliness….you could pick them out of a line-up and so could I.
     Jenny being Jenny, of course, is enough of a sentimentalist to go along with bits of lore like this and exploit them—-again, I can’t fault her for this—--it’s just some tight business acumen, and who can’t accept that?
    Speaking of business acumen, we’re parked, now, and Jenny cuts right to the chase. “So, what’s it gonna be, babe?”
     I don’t want to be too impulsive and jump right into the proposal. To quote the Wicked Witch, these things must be done delicately. I start babbling inanely about my day, my morning routine, my dull job, the annoying uniform I have to wear….after a while, she’s rolling her eyes.
    “Babe,” she cuts in, “time is money and I know your middle name ain’t exactly Chase Manhattan. This is a nice place, but the Po-Pos are frequent fliers in this neighborhood. What’s it gonna be tonight? 69? Doggy? Reverse cowgirl? Whips and chains? Missionary for a change? I got you covered, babe, you know I do….”
    I know she does. We’ve done all of the above and more. And she’s right—-time’s a wasting.
    I dig in my breast pocket and finally pull out the ring. I don’t say anything, because words are just empty husks of thought. I just show her the gold band and the big rock I’d saved up for.
      “Oh, man.” Jenny stares at the big rock and her eyes become huge. “Jeez, babe,” she stammers.
“You got it bad…..I guess I never really took that into account.”
     “I couldn’t think of a better way to tell you, “ I confess. “Whaddya say? Yea or may?”
    She stays silent for a long enough time to where it makes me uncomfortable. Finally she answers in measured tones. “Baby, you’re very dear to me, but I need you to understand almost no one gets that far into my life. I don’t feel that way about you, baby—we can swap bodily fluids ‘til Hell freezes, but….I need you to understand…’re just a client.”
      Just like that. It ends just like that.
     “Listen,” she continues. “As a client, you get certain benefits. You don’t have to deal with what a crazy, fucked up person I am in real life. You know I’m in therapy, right?”
    I smile gently at her. “It’s alright.”
    “No. It’s not. I can see in your eyes it’s not.”
     “No,” I insist. “It’s alright.”
     “I’m on a lot of meds, you know,” she says, almost pleading. “Anti-Psychotics. You don’t want to have to deal with that, babe.”
     “Listen, it’s fine,” I insist again.
      “No,” she says. “No. I know people—people are my business. I can see….”
     There’s no point in arguing. The truth is, I’m happy. The situation is resolved. I have an answer. It wasn’t the answer I wanted, but I come away with clarity on my position in the universe.
     I make one deft move toward the glove compartment. I told you about the glove compartment, right?
    She keeps a pistol in the glove compartment. She told me that five years ago, when I became one of her clients. She tells all her new clients that, in case any of them get out of hand, get unruly or begin demanding things she’s not willing to give.
    Anyway, I seize the gun, it’s in my hands, and she starts getting all panicky.
    “Babe,” she says again. “Babe, babe, babe….”
      “It’s okay,” I tell her. I try to convey that in the kindest way possible. I put the gun to my temple.
      “No, you can’t,” she stammers, “the safety, it’s—-”
       “No, it’s not,” I tell her, trying to keep that calm, reassuring voice. “I love you.”
     And the last words I hear her say are, “no, you can’t mean—-”and that’s the exact moment I pull the trigger.
      The explosion starts in my temple and then blasts out the other side of my head….it feels powerful and cathartic, as I envisioned it feeling. All the riddles are answered, all the quarrels settled. The completed work, the deed is done.
     Nothing’s left. I pitch forward, face down into her lap, which, by my reckoning, is the most beautiful place in the world to die.
     She screams for what feels like forever. Eventually, the paramedics answer the call. They pull Jenny out of the car and lead her away to be cared for. I imagine, in what’s left of my gooey, sentimental brain, that she looks a bit like me, now, especially around the eyes and mouth. I know that a part of me will be with her like that, for the rest of her life.
     In that sense, I guess, she and I are now married.
     Everything is quiet, now, and I’m still here. So I guess I’ll just lie here, face down in the driver’s seat forever. Feels like a plan, I guess.

Turner’s Gone Mad

Cool rain graces the steaming vistas and I’m thinking, Jenny. No big reveal, there….I’m always thinking Jenny. Ponies run wild over the grass, trampling hapless children. Giant lollipop signposts jut from the ground….okay, no, I’m lying about the big lollipops….I don’t guess that would make much sense. It’d be fun if that were the case, though, wouldn’t it?
     Fuck it, this is my pastoral armageddon, and if I’m calling for giant lollipops, let it be so. We’ll start there and just keep building. The oceans are raging, just off that way—-it gets difficult to tell whether the explosive atmosphere is from rain or steam or ocean spray, but it’s everywhere, and the whole sky seems to be erupting in fire—-A steam train is approaching across the ridge and even that seems to be enveloped in fire and hissing, exploding moisture…..
     Does it seem far fetched? Am I an unreliable narrator? I’ll take your brickbats and raise you….after all, I am still technically lying face down in a sports car with a bullet in my head somewhere….judge all you want. My vantage point is not to be trusted.
    My vantage point, however, is the only thing I’ve got left at this moment, so it’s all I can give you, and I’m giving it to you with love, all the love and sentimentality left in my dying cells, so drink it in while it’s still here, my personal Apocalypse. It’s not the Apocalypse, you insist (at least I imagine you’re insisting), you’re overreacting—and I’ll concede that I may be. But in my dead-or-dying mind it’s all coming down in a hail of roaring sunlight, rain and raging earth—my own little Cascadia Subduction Zone at work.
The rain, such as it is, though, is at least partially being replaced by Jenny. That’s right, kiddies, sing along….”it’s raining Jen! Halleluja!”
    I know I probably ought not sound any more deranged than I already do….then again, because it is the end and it is all over I suspect it doesn’t matter and I can just be loose and say what I need to say.
    As the entire world is eclipsed in a haze much of the precip seems to evolve into tiny little Jennys that just keep fluttering to the ground and overtake the whole of existence. Such as it is, anyway, under the circumstances.
    The poles are collapsing and everything out here spins out of control. Ground and ocean become vapor. The sun goes ever brighter…it used to be a sphere, now it’s just this huge, blinding, nebulous blob filling the sky….meanwhile here on Earth, Jenny is running rampant in all directions, her voice fills the mouths of hapless bystanders and gradually everyone takes on her facial features. She is the Mother of everyone, the alpha, the omega, the plague, the flood, all things to all people. She instantaneously seduces everyone and everything—even the rocks, trees, houses and whatever thing you feel like naming, get laid. Pick an object, she’s on it, she’s fucking it. The approaching steam train? Check. Your brother? Check. That thing out on the ocean that looks like a boat but is probably just paint? Check. Yeah, that too.
     As it all comes down there’s nothing left for me to do but embrace the chaos and let the end come.
    Come on, baby—kiss me before the earthquakes, before the floods come, kiss me before all of our meager constructs crash and burn. Kiss me before the wars; Kiss me before the caldera blows sky high, obliterates many square miles of our lives, before the ash clouds envelope everything and everyone…bring down the curtain as only you can—millions of Jennys raining down in torrents, replacing all and sundry…
Let’s welcome the Void, friends, naked and unafraid.

C.F. Roberts is a former editor/publisher at SHOCKBOX: The Literary/Art Magazine with Teeth ('91-'96), and is the author of THE MEAT FACTORY AND OTHER STORIES and BURNT SUNFLOWER: Selected Poems 1990-2021 (Both Alien Buddha Press). He is also a writer, visual artist, videographer, cultural troublemaker. Mr. Roberts resides in Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA with his wife, culture writer Heather Drain, and some nice animals.