The Flowering Man

Original costume design by artist Maria Bjornson

(Inspired by events written in Susan Kay’s novel Phantom)

The blossoms, so tenderly cared for,

lay in strangers’ hands.

The most handsome were taken away

by scavenging neighbors.

The others were left to wilt and perish.

How the buds flourished

under the care of a somber man,

a man simply trying to forget a boy-

a boy who’d blossomed under another man-

an uncompromising man.

A rigid man with little conception

of how to raise a boy to know a father,

but a man with many sectarian convictions.

And with much knowledge of

torturing a flowering man-

A sorrowful man who’d spent his days

tending the garden.

How he cherished the blooms.

And though their radiance was grand,

they were hardly enough to replace a son.

On The Farm

Angola

Louisiana State Penitentiary

 17  June, 2005

Two lumbering spindly men in black suits sit on one side of a table in a frigid interrogation room. Both wear black Trilby hats. They have the whitest skin Vincent has ever seen. Dark blue veins are visible at their temples, on their hands, and around their eyes. The corrections officers are told to beat it. Vincent guesses they’re FBI or CIA, or that they came from Area-51. Maybe they just came from the Stennis Space Center. Vincent had told no one the actual story of how his wife and her lover died. He’s curious how these men know that anything out of the ordinary happened. 

“Mr. LaRoche, you need to explain your story to us. We don’t care how bizarre it is. Just tell us.”

“Can I get a cigarette?” Vincent asks.

“We’ll get whatever you want as long as you talk to us.”

“Alright then,” says Vincent. “I’ll tell you what happened. But you won’t believe me.”

“We’ll believe you.” The man doing all the talking waves his hand toward the second man, and the second man leaves the room. “Mr. Brown is going to get your cigarettes. Please, while we wait, start your story.”

“I’ll tell you. I been waiting on my appeal for eight years. Eight years of cold steel toilets, lumpy thin mattresses, and eating slop from metal trays probably made from recycled toilets. We’re, all of us, in solitary confinement on death row at The Farm. We ain’t even got air condition. I been sweating in a cell the size of a tiny bathroom with no window for eight years, waiting to know when I’m going to die. It’ll probably happen before they ever give me the chair- me dying, I mean. They don’t really give you the chair no more. Gruesome Gertie was retired in the Seventies. The death’s supposed to be more humane now, but they can hang me for all I care. I’m dying either way, so who gives a shit?

“They got a guy just came in last week, Clyde Burser. He’s probably twenty-five, about five-eight, curly blonde hair and bright green eyes. He cries so much, his eyes remind me of when Mallory got the conjunctivitis once. Her eyes were green like Clyde’s.

“Clyde’s cell is next to mine. He prays real loud all night asking God for forgiveness. It makes me laugh. ‘God’s forgiveness ain’t going to help you,’ I holler to him. Because God don’t forgive you ‘til you die anyway, right? He better pray his appeal goes in front a sympathetic jury, I tell him. One that believes he killed his own momma in self-defense. His own momma. 

“The guy on the other side of me is Frank Aucoin. He’s been waiting on his appeal for twenty years. He’s sixty-two, got prostate cancer. One night he woke us all up hollering and screaming his spooge was bloody. Doctors gave him six months. That was two years ago. He’s six-two, weighs about a buck ten, can’t barely hold himself up, and he shits himself on the regular. He’s got a sister who comes once a week after Sunday services. She says it’s a miracle he’s still alive. I say it’s karma.

“I was twenty-one when I came to The Farm. Since then I only known one man been sent to the Chamber, and that was Howard Saucier, The Crescent City Cutter. Murdered twenty-two male sex workers by slicing them down the middle. 

“Howard wasn’t scared to die, or he pretended not to be. But he sure never let on if he was scared because he was one jovial motherfucker; that’s the truth. I used to think if Howard wasn’t deranged, he’d be a cool guy to hang with. He was lofty as a loon, and that’s the truth, too. He had clear blue eyes, the kind you think belong to Lucifer. There wasn’t no repentance in them eyes. 

“Howard wasn’t no dumb ass, either. When he got his book allowance he always picked the real big ones. I used to think of Mallory telling me I should read more. ‘If you read more you’d broaden your vocabulary,’ she said. I didn’t need to broaden my vocabulary. I did just fine with the one I got, I said. Mallory was always making like I was a dipshit. Well, maybe I am a dipshit. But it didn’t do nothing to save her in the end, so fuck her and her vocabulary.

“Howard’s people had money, and they sent him to some rich kid private boys’ school until he was sixteen, he said, and then he was kicked out for assaulting the school nurse. ‘I just wanted a taste,’ Howard said.

“He went to juvenile, but they had to let him go when he turned twenty-one. While he was locked up in juvenile detention, he got his G.E.D., and he went to college when he got out. Then he went to medical school, because he liked to dissect things, he said. He told me a story once about the first time his class cut open a cadaver. ‘I came in my pants,’ he said.

“I’m not too sure about Howard’s religion, but he read the Bible a lot. He always liked the stories where God smote mankind because He got pissed off for one reason or another. Some of the stories I remembered from Bible study, sitting in the rectory with twelve other kids and my thighs sticking to the plastic chairs in the summer. It was hot as hell because they only had one of them window air condition units. Still not as hot as it gets in here during the summer, though.  Howard told me one time, ‘I can get behind a God who persecutes His own creations. Divine retribution.’ Howard was real big on making people pay for what they done.

“He liked to fuck with the guards, too. They ignored him most of the time. Sometimes he went too far, and they had to handle-up on him. It riled everybody up when that happened. Like this once when he was let out for gate time, Howard attacked the guard and bit him on the neck- just like Dracula. Five guards jumped him and they threw him back in his cell after roughing him up pretty good. I overheard them saying they didn’t want to have to send him to medical. We was all on lock-down after that.

“Howard was little calmer when he was let out of his cell again. That wasn’t too long before he moved down the line. We didn’t know because they don’t tell us when an inmate is moved for execution. Only the warden knows, but one day Howard was taken out for his shower time, and he never came back. They could’ve plugged him and threw him out in the cotton field for the crows and turkey vultures, for all I know. I figured he went to the Chamber. We all got a little quieter after that. I guess it sounds weird to say somebody would miss a guy like Howard, but I did, a little. He never done me nothing.”

“Mr. LaRoche, could you please just get to the details about what happened the day you killed your wife and her lover?”

“I’m getting to it!” Vincent snaps. “I need a minute to remember. And I AIN’T murdered nobody. Get that right. Now what was I saying? Oh yeah. . . “ Vincent lights his third cigarette.

“Every Sunday the chaplain comes to give Communion and for confession.  I don’t trust him. Looks like he’s probably a pedo. I don’t got nothing to confess, anyway. I already gave my confession to the cops. And when the judge asked me how I plead, I said guilty because I knew I was going down either way. I don’t got nothing to say to no stupid chaplain. I tell him to go see Clyde.

“After the chaplain leaves we’re let out in the yard for an hour. I don’t keep a calendar, but sometimes I can tell what time of year it is by the weather. Sometimes. But down here it can be eighty degrees in the winter, so I don’t never know. I don’t want to know. I just know three times a week I get to go outside, and sometimes it’s hot and sometimes it ain’t. If it’s raining we got to wait for the next day. And if the sky is clear and the sun is beating us down, we sit there holding our hands over our eyes until the guards say it’s time to go back in. Some guys exercise or jog around the yard, but I rather just sit by Frank and breathe the fresh air. What I got to be in shape for?

“My lawyer, Art, usually comes once every couple weeks. It depends on how much he’s got court. He said he can’t get me off but he can get me out of the death penalty. He thinks he can, anyway. . . But I been here eight years, and I don’t want to go to general population. I don’t want to work in the fields. Besides, I don’t share my cell with nobody. I get to shower by myself, except for the guards watching me.

“I ain’t going to lie. I was real scared at first when I got here. Especially because they was giving me death, and I didn’t want to die. But now I figure ain’t nothing to live for anyway. What I got to look forward to? Prostate cancer and bloody spooge, like Frank? I might as well die here. Got to die someplace.

“‘Vince, I’m working hard on your appeal,’ Art always says. ‘I’m not giving up on you. I think I can get your charges reduced to manslaughter. With time served you might only be looking at ten or twelve more years. Louisiana has the highest rate of commuting death sentences.’

“Ten or twelve more years, like it’s a consolation. Not that I wouldn’t want to be free to walk right out of here and go home. If I had a home. But I ain’t. And I don’t think Art’s going to get me out, but my momma keeps paying him with my daddy’s social security, and he keeps taking her money. I don’t have the heart to tell my momma I’m going to die here. So, I don’t say nothing.

“I went to court about six months ago. It was summer. The needle on the outdoor thermometer was wobbling between one-ten and one-twenty. My balls was wet and hot,” Vincent laughs. “And, they was sticking to my thighs.” 

“My momma bought me a new suit because my old one didn’t fit no more, seeing as all the weight I lost. It was a tan color, and the tag said it was seersucker. It probably cost more than my momma could afford. I got cleaned up and dressed and brushed my hair and shaved and waited for Art.

“The courtroom was real cold compared to outside. My fingers felt like frozen fish sticks. Art was talking to the jury, and my momma was sitting behind me. I could hear her sniffling the whole time. I wanted to turn around, but I wasn’t supposed to. Art gave me a yellow legal pad and a rubbery, bendy pen. They make them like that for safety reasons, to make sure you ain’t going to jab it in somebody’s neck or nothing. I ain’t had nothing to write, so I scribbled some drawings like you do when you’re bored in school and the teacher won’t shut up. Plus I wanted to look busy and not like I was just sitting there doing nothing like a psychopath. Because I AIN’T one!

“I thought of Mallory. I drew her face, the way it was when we met. I colored in her dark hair. She kept it long back when we started dating. I bet that asshole Nate was the one told her to cut it. ‘He stimulates my mind,’ she said one time. It wasn’t the only thing he was stimulating, I thought. 

‘Your honor, members of the jury,’ Art said, ‘I think we can all agree that what my client Mr. Vincent LeRoche-a man with no prior criminal record-experienced on the date of June seventeenth nineteen-ninety-seven was an unconscious rage, a type of temporary insanity if you will, brought on by blind fury and the heat of passion.’

“I scratched out Mallory’s face. I didn’t want to see it no more. That wasn’t her real face. Nobody would believe it. But I wasn’t crazy, and I wasn’t lying. I can’t really say what I walked in on the day I supposedly became a murderer.”

“Yes, finally! Tell us what occurred just that day, Mr. LaRoche,” says one of the men in dark suits, peevish and exacerbated.

“I had left work early because I was feeling bad. I was feeling bad for a while, and Mallory was giving me some weird ass medicine every night. It made me real dizzy, and then I fell asleep fast. The liquid was thick and red, and sometimes it looked like it had bugs wiggling in it. Mallory told me not to be stupid. There wasn’t no bugs in it. It was just pieces of herbs. I don’t know nothing about herbs or none of that shit. She gave me the medicine. She was my wife, so I took the damn medicine. Even though it didn’t do nothing to stop my stomach from hurting and bubbling all the time.

“Like I said, I went home early that day. There was a second car in the driveway when I pulled up. I figured it was Nate’s car. I got pissed off, more mad than I ever been in my life. I took my .9mm Beretta out of the glovebox in my pickup. 

“When I walked in the house, I heard nauseating sounds coming from mine and Mallory’s bedroom. Banging sounds, squashy sounds, and growling. It sounded like two komodo dragons fighting to the death in a tub of Jell-O. I got my pistol ready and kicked in the door. 

“Two giant reptile-looking alien creatures was in my bed. They was huge. Their skin was a shiny, pitch-black color. They was covered in slime, too. I don’t know if these alien things were fucking or what. 

“I screamed ‘What the fuck!’ at the top of my lungs. I should have kept my stupid mouth shut and ran out the room. 

“The two creatures turned around on me, and I ain’t going to lie, I pissed my pants. They were snarling. They had colossal sharp fangs and teeth. Their mouths looked like panthers’ mouths except with more teeth, and loads of thick, syrupy saliva dripping out all over. It was a dark, dark red color. I noticed one of them had a gold necklace stuck to its scaly skin. It was the gold necklace I bought Mallory on our honeymoon in Panama Beach. Mallory always loved seahorses, and I found this gold necklace with a seahorse on it in a tourist shop. One that sold real jewelry. It wasn’t no kind of gold-plated fake crap. 

‘Mallory?’ I choked. The thing flung its massive long tail at me. It barely missed me. I fell back onto the wet carpet. It was sticky with whatever alien reptile slime was coming from monster Mallory and monster Nate. I was afraid it was going to eat through my skin or something. The monster Nate creature leapt toward me. I rolled out of its way just enough where it couldn’t grab me with its great big, clawed. . . I guess. . . fingers? It stood up on two legs and hissed at me so loud it sounded like a pit full of pissed off anacondas. Funky slobber landed all over my face, and my arms, which I was using to shield my face. After a second of being scared shitless, I remembered I had the .9mm. I raised the gun, shaking, and pulled the trigger. I hit the Nate thing right in its chest. It shrieked and started to bleed, and then I knew no matter what them things were, bullets hurt them. I held my shooting position and let go more shots into the Nate reptile creature. I hit it in the face with a couple of shots, and that did the most damage. The monster toppled backwards and cracked its skull open against the wall. Blood and bright yellow mucus, or whatever that shit was, poured out of the holes in its face, head, and chest. The thing’s whole body turned fuzzy, static-like. I watched it begin to disintegrate. It looked like it was turning into a trillion gnats- or black sperms swirling in the air. Then the black, swirling sperms disappeared. Like something off one of them stupid late night horror movies that you just turn on to laugh at. Then human Nate’s body was on the floor, full of bullet holes.

“The Mallory creature caught me with its long tongue. Sticky maroon slime soaked my shirt where its tongue was holding me. The stuff looked like blood but real thick. My shooting arm was still free, and my Beretta was still in my hand. Good thing I grew up shooting. The Mallory thing’s tongue was squeezing the hell out of me, crushing my lungs and making it hard to breathe. I raised my pistol, somehow my hand was steady the second time, and I emptied my clip into the monster’s head. The thick, red, syrupy liquid with tiny things wiggling in it- and some kind of  brain matter that looked like bright yellow oatmeal- splattered against the wall. Crimson and yellow streaks ran down the wall and puddled on the carpet. I thought of how Mallory always complained that she hated them white walls. ‘These walls are so bland. You need to paint them,’ she always said.  The same thing that happened with monster Nate’s body happened to monster Mallory. After a few minutes, I was looking down at my own wife’s dead body full of my bullets.

“I heard sirens and guessed the neighbors called the cops. I sat on the porch, shaking. I lit a Camel, and I waited. I already knew what it would look like. I knew I didn’t have no defense. Who was going to believe my story?

“The cops had their guns on me while I finished my cigarette and threw it over the porch railing into the grass. Two of them snuck me, and tackled me out my chair. One of them crushed my face into the wood porch with his boot while another one cuffed me. Cops were crawling all over the house. There was about twenty cop cars in the street. I just sat there until they put me in the car. I didn’t say nothing. Wasn’t nothing to say.

“Mallory and Nate’s family members got to talk to the jury after Art was finished his talking. Nate’s momma showed them pictures from when he was a baby and pictures of him when he was in school. I thought about how much she loved him, and I thought of my momma sitting behind me in the courtroom crying, and of Clyde killing his own momma. But, whatever the fuck I killed in my bedroom that day, it wasn’t Nate. 

“Nate’s sister wrote a poem she read to the jury. His dad stood up and told me I deserved to be murdered, and he wished he could be the one to do it. My momma started crying real hard then, and Art went to calm her down.

“Mallory’s parents stood up together and asked me why I did it. I didn’t say nothing. I wasn’t going to say their daughter turned into some slimy alien monster lizard beast. Mallory’s best friend, who I always hated, told the jury I condemned Mallory and Nate to death for their adulterous misdeeds. She asked them if they didn’t feel I deserved to be condemned to death, too. She had pictures and articles with headlines from the papers blown up to poster-size. She showed them to the jury. ‘Vidalia Love Triangle Ends in Murder,’ read one of them. It had a picture of Mallory and me on our wedding day with a separate picture of Nate. ‘Concordia Sheriff Describes Scene as the Most Disturbing He’s Seen in Years,’ read another one. That one had a picture of our house taped off by the cops. ‘Small Town La. Man Charged with Murder,’ read the last one, and it had my mug shot under it. Art objected, but it was too late because they already seen it. Maybe if I had told anybody what I saw, I could have got an insanity plea.

“The jury came back after about an hour. Art kept handing Kleenex to my momma while the judge read the verdict. I was afraid Momma was going to choke to death because she wasn’t breathing right. Mallory’s and Nate’s families was clapping and hugging each other.

“I stood up and turned around and said sorry to my momma. She grabbed me by my suit jacket and pressed her face into my chest. A dark, imperfect circle expanded outward from where her tears wet my shirt. ‘I’m real sorry, Momma,’ I whispered.

“‘We’ll get you another appeal, Vince. They can’t do anything as long as we keep appealing,’ said Art.

“My momma looked up at me. Makeup ran down her cheeks. I placed a hand on either side of her face. I used my thumbs to wipe away the black streaks under her eyes. Art can appeal all he wants, but I know it won’t matter. Not just because there ain’t no way any jury will decide in my favor. Because I been feeling sick again, real bad. When I go to the toilet, there’s a whole lot of thick, sticky red liquid with some kind of herbs that look like bugs wriggling in it left behind.”

A Righteous Man Out of a Murderer

I killed Frankie Costello. My friends accepted the lie when I told them I couldn’t find him the night of the murder. My account was further validated when no one found him after that night. No one found him because I tossed his body from the Intracoastal Waterway Bridge in Eastern New Orleans. The Green Bridge, as locals know it, was perhaps once a jade color but had faded to a dull gray. 

Disposing of Frankie was easy. He was hardly five feet five inches tall, and he weighed a mere one hundred and fifty pounds. It was part of the reason he victimized women, women like Giselle, which got him into the ugly predicament with me. 

Frankie was well respected in the criminal community. He had a lot of money and dangerous associates. Associates like myself. The old adage of keeping one’s friends close and enemies closer was wise advice, and it was the reason I associated with Frankie. He owned the club where Giselle danced, and he pimped his girls for extra money.

Giselle stopped working for him once I’d arrived on scene. I’d put her in my show, as a dancer and back up singer.  She was very talented but not formally trained. In her late teens, she became involved with an older man who promised to put her on stage. He’d failed to mention that the stage had a pole. He was also an associate of Frankie Costello’s, and he sold his products out of the club. He and Giselle were married for a short time before he suffered a fatal overdose. Frankie took over his business.  

Giselle’s late husband had introduced her to the finest heroin imported by the Persian market, and she was responsible for getting me hooked on the stuff. It’s why Giselle was at the club with Frankie that night, the night Oscar and Felicia found her hunched and sobbing on my porch swing with the dark purple blemish they’d originally attributed to my own unruly and violent temper. 

I didn’t like dealing with Frankie because he was a weasel, and he had more than one cop in his pocket. Giselle and I were desperate on the aforementioned evening because the DEA made a major bust at the port earlier in the month. Frankie was the only person in the city with anything.

Giselle went to the club alone. There was an altercation between her and Frankie over money he believed she owed him. Giselle, being the outspoken Creole woman she was, responded to Frankie’s accusation with outrage. Their shouting match quickly became physical.

She arrived back at my house in tears with a rosy and swollen cheek and a bruised eye. Felicia and Oscar came upon her crying on my front porch and then presented her to me. My reaction eliminated any thought they had of my being responsible. It did, however, raise fears that I would overreact.  

After I saw what he’d done, I went to the club and interrupted Frankie’s card game. I pulled him into the alley and beat him into unconsciousness. I hog-tied him before dropping his body into the trunk of my car. I drove from his French Quarter club to New Orleans East, and dumped him from the bridge. Maybe I overreacted.

I drove the interstate for hours. Partly because I’d already formulated my lie, that I’d searched all night but hadn’t found Frankie. I was so shaken, though,  I was afraid my guilt would betray me. I hadn’t taken a life in eons. Those years felt like part of a past life, intangible and surreal as a fuzzy nightmare. I’d brought the nightmare back to the forefront of my consciousness in vivid color and 3-D. 

My cell phone rang nonstop for the first hour, and after I failed to answer, it stopped. When the darkness began to fade and the sky became light again, I decided to turn around and make my way home. On the way I stopped for coffee and to stretch my legs. 

My hands shook as I poured sugar into my cup.  No one but me was sitting at the counter.. The bored, tired waitress paid me little attention. It was twelve hours since I’d shot up, and my brain and body were suffering.

My phone rang again. Felicia’s number. I contemplated answering, but I was distracted by a voice. I turned on my stool, and there stood a young woman beside me. She was wearing my band’s last tour t-shirt. I thought she wanted an autograph or something, but I was dizzy and my brain wasn’t absorbing everything she was saying. I scribbled my name on a napkin and pushed it toward her as I stood from the stool. The young lady remarked on my sallow and ashen appearance, and I mumbled something about lack of sleep and malnutrition – common maladies of life on the road. My phone rang again as I was walking out of the diner, the young lady trailing behind me. 

“Someone’s really trying to find you,” she remarked. “Your phone’s been ringing for like ten minutes.”

“Yes, finding someone. Right,” I said. She’d given me an idea.

She looked at me with a confused expression. 

“Thank you,” I said to her as I got into my car.

Again my phone rang. Giselle calling. 

“Yes?” I answered.

“Victor!” Giselle exclaimed. “Where have you been? Please come home.” She sobbed into the phone.

“I’ll be home soon.” Hearing her cry hurt me. 

“Did you do it? Did you kill Frankie?” she asked.

I remained silent.

“Victor!” she shouted.

“No,” I said. “I haven’t found him.”

“Tell me the truth,” she sobbed.

“I’m going to look in one last place then I am coming home,” I said. 

“Just come home,” she pleaded.

“Soon,” I replied.

We all knew a guy called Romeo who lived downtown. When I say we all knew him, I am referring to Giselle, Frankie’s crew, the police, and myself. I don’t know why they called him Romeo, but his real name was Antoine. His cousin knew people who knew people, and although he wasn’t always guaranteed to have the brown stuff, he was always guaranteed to have an ample supply of fine white stuff. Anything was better than anguish. Since Romeo was an associate of Frankie’s, I was able to further develop my lie. I arrived at Romeo’s apartment about an hour and a half after leaving the diner. I knocked on the door and prepared for my performance.

“Victor? I didn’t expect to see you. I was expecting Frankie,” Romeo said, opening the door.

“When did you speak to Frankie?” I asked, concerned that it was after I’d last spoken to him.

“Last night. He was supposed to be coming for a pick up but he didn’t show,” Romeo replied as we walked into the apartment.

“I’ve been looking for him all night, too. I was hoping you knew where to find him,” I said.

“Fernando heard some guy went and pulled him out of his card game, then he didn’t come back,” Romeo stated.

“Oh,” I replied, trying to sound nonchalant.

“Somebody said it was you,” Romeo added.

“Ha!” I exclaimed. “I fucking wish!”

“Why what happened?” asked Romeo.

“This!” I thrust my cell phone toward Romeo to show him a photo of Giselle’s battered face. I’d taken the photo earlier so that I could show it to Frankie before I killed him. I wanted it to be the last thing he saw.

“Oh wow,” said Romeo, taking the phone from me to get a better look. “Frankie did that?”

“Yes,” I answered while taking my phone back from him. “And if I find him, I am going to return the favor.”

“Frankie has a lot of enemies,” Romeo said. “Seems someone beat you to him.”

“Yes,” I said absent-mindedly as I was still looking at the photo of Giselle. “Seems so.”

“Hey man, you okay?” Romeo disturbed my concentration.

“Actually, I was hoping you could help me out,” I answered.

“Sorry, brother, I don’t have anything,” he replied. 

“What about the white stuff?” I asked.

“I’d love to help but I don’t have enough supply right now to…” his voice trailed off when I produced a fistfull of cash. “In that case, how much you need?”

“However much I can get with this,” I said and placed the cash on his coffee table.


Oscar confronted me as soon as I arrived home. I’d pulled into the driveway, through the gate, and around to the back of the house. He was sitting at one of the round, metal tables under the patio beside the pool. I could tell he’d been up all night. 

I walked to the table and pulled out a chair to sit beside him. Then I removed a pack of cigarettes from my pocket, took one out, and lit it. Oscar was seething.

“What did you do with him,” he said.

“What are you talking about?” I asked as I dipped the ashes off of my cigarette into a wide, round ashtray fabricated from green agate.

“Don’t play stupid with me, Victor,” Oscar replied.

“Firstly, if you are referring to Frankie Costello, I did nothing with him,” I said.

 “Oh no?” 

“No,” I answered. “I searched all night for Frankie, but I didn’t find him.”  I was nervous because Oscar could detect deceit. He always knew when I was dishonest. 

“You didn’t murder Frankie Costello?” he asked.

“I certainly wanted to! But no, I couldn’t find him.”

Oscar seemed to relax. We sat in silence for several minutes. I finished my cigarette and stood to leave.

“Victor, wait,” said Oscar as I turned to walk away.

“What is it now?” I asked.

“You really were doing so well for a while, and I really hoped that . . .” he trailed off.

“Hoped that what? I was a reformed man?” I scoffed.

“I guess you’re right,” he said. “I was a fool to think I could make a righteous man out of a murderer.” 

Oscar looked to me for a response, but I gave none. 

“I always thought I was gaining your respect and by having your respect you would be honest with me and at least afford me that courtesy,” he said. 

It was hard to look at him. I owed him so much; I owed him my life.  I knew I was wrong to deceive him. 

“You can go now if you’ve nothing more to say,” said Oscar with disappointment, as if he’d been expecting deeper conversation.. He stood and replaced his chair.

My brain was consumed by images from the night he’d put my life before his own, my rival’s blade to my throat. Oscar’s own weapon reflecting shards of moonlight. I knew I was wrong to deceive him. I owed him so much. 

“Wait,” I said. 

Oscar turned back around.

“I’ve more to say,” I said, as I sat down and lit another cigarette.

Personal Revelations

I think reading the Good Omens script book is helping me realize things about my own writing and how I’ve been sabotaging myself.

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Yes, it’s already taped in places. I really have no explanation for myself as to why that is.

Of course, I understand, reading any and all books are helpful for writers in their own writing. But honestly, I recently realized that I’ve been taking myself too seriously. Not that I shouldn’t work hard. I need to buckle down and work more, write more, read more. What I mean is until about the last year or so, I’ve been imprisoning myself in a cage where my fiction has had to be one way because that’s the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

For a long time, I’ve considered trying to publish humorous essays in the style of David Sedaris. His writing taught me that embarrassing personal experiences can make for hilariously good writing. My life is steeped in embarrassing personal experiences.

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The first David Sedaris book I ever read. I bought it on a whim because of the title, telling my husband this book was for me because I was actually engulfed in flames once. (More like struck with a flying ball of flame, but still burned nonetheless.)

In the sort of “personal essays” I  write for my blog, I use humor freely. My obstacle in my fiction writing is that I have been stuck in a mindset that I can’t be too silly. And to those who know me best, Donnell being not silly, is like “What the fuck?” Because the Donnell everyone knows is silly as fuck. There have been two things I’ve been told for a long time: That I’m funny and that I am good at story telling/manipulating language in a way that makes people want to read/hear my stories. It’s just that I’ve been too stuck the last several years on different editors’ submission requirements, and trying to shape my writing to fit particular magazines’/journals’ expected styles. However, reading Neil Gaiman using a phrase like “glares glarefully” and reading in his intro where he explains he added jokes into the scene descriptions that didn’t exactly amuse the TV production folks, made me realize I’ve been going about this all wrong for too long. I have been thinking this about my writing method for months, but reading the Good Omens script book has really opened my eyes about it. Of course, as always, there’s a Queen song that goes along with my story. (Because, in case I forgot to mention it a million times, I’ve been obsessed with Queen since I was a kid.)

“Oh, don’t try so hard. Oh, don’t take it all to heart.
It’s only fools. They make these rules. Don’t try so hard.”

On the album Innuendo, recorded from March 1989 to November 1990 and released in February 1991, there is a song titled Don’t Try So Hard. Written by Freddie Mercury, when he knew he was at the end of his life. It’s an amazing song. For years I’ve listened to it and related to it in different ways depending on my current life situations. It’s been stuck in my head a lot lately. It’s been in my head on and off over the last 7 years during AJ’s illnesses and disabilities, thinking it was maybe telling me that I’m overworking myself in that arena- the role of primary caretaker. So many people tell me all the time how well AJ is doing and has done, and that it’s because of me. But, they also make sure to tell me to take care of myself, too.

In the last month or so, though, I’ve really finally opened my eyes to the idea that I’m hurting my writing by trying too hard. Don’t Try So Hard is a song written by a man who knew his life was ending, and who had one of the most prolific careers in entertainment ever. So what is the song telling me? Or more accurately, what is my unconscious telling me via Freddie’s voice right now at this point in my life? I really believe it’s that I have to relieve myself of the chains in which I’ve bound myself regarding my writing. I have to let my mind do its thing- be silly and tell stories. Not that I can’t or won’t write serious material anymore. It’s just that I’m not a dramatist. That’s not me. Comedy gets little recognition in entertainment, except from the audiences. I’m not writing for editors who want “literally fiction”, “speculative fiction”, and whichever of the other hundreds of preferred types containing some kind of deep meaningful societal dialogue; I’m writing for the audience. For you, the readers.

Monty Python has taught me that comedy can still make people think about deep shit.


You can laugh and contemplate the universe at the same time. Douglas Adams taught me that, too. And most recently, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens (because somehow I hadn’t learned of it until 2019, which I’m frankly embarrassed to admit).

Still there are times you just have to go in for the laugh, and that’s great, too. Laughing is fun. I love making people laugh. It’s probably my favorite thing to do while interacting with others.

I’ve realized I’ve been trying too hard, holding my own head under water trying to fit a model that I’m not. It’s time to remedy that.

A Cat Named Stew

stewie
Stewie The Cat


Cat
Hair everywhere
Ran away
But it’s still there
Fat cat crying
Hurricane Katrina survivor
Feline PTSD sufferer
Thirty days gone
We thought the dog ate yer
Ran out the door
Always scared of your own shadow
Never been outside before
You were courageous that day though