FICTION

I'm Jamie Sue Austin
I write short fiction and poems that don't rhyme.

Check out some of my work.

A Creation Story

"It's all love poems in here," she ripped another yellow sheet from the ledger, crinkling it up and tossing it away with the same disgust she showed the last. They scattered, pale blue striped yellow mice across the floor. Scuttling, barely alive. "You should try outside. There's a window over there."

I drew my finger through the dust to peer at the world. It was dark. Two children fought over bread-crusts. A dead solider slumped over a mailbox. A milky trickle of rain and soot. It was obvious that several people nearby were reading the History of the First Great Conflicting Reality. Again. The book had been a popular selection among the Escapists. Four reprints in the last two months. For weeks portions of the living text had made their way into the streets and people's homes. The trend would end soon enough and I would be able to open the cupboard again to crackers and can goods instead of live chickens pecking at the unpalatable pink paste of mechanically separated poultry. If it wasn't for my neighbor's interest in Award Winning Italian Restaurants, I would have starved. Luckily, chapter five had included appetizing descriptions of decor and dishes bright enough to evoke the existence of several small Italian bistros, if only temporarily.

"No thank you. I'll just sit here and wait."

   "The Creator is busy. You won't be seen today. But, feel free to pick up a love poem, if you want. We're overflowing with them."

I had love poems. They were a frail substitute for the real thing. I wanted something else. Something more real.

"No, I want... something different. Maybe a manifesto."

    "The Creator doesn't do manifestos any more; too controversial."

"A drama then?"

    "All out."

"A novel idea?"

    "None left."

"Well when will you have something real?"

    "When the Creator isn't busy anymore."

I sat by the window. I sat and waited.

A mortar shell exploded about five blocks south, trembling the desk, and causing the little yellow scribbles to whimper and quake. I kicked at a few. They scurried off into dusty webbed corners to hide. The apprentice looked up from her ledger, annoyed, eyed the clock and then me. "It's been six hours." She was curt. "They say you can tell the time by the blasts." My attempt at conversation was thwarted with a hard look. She bent down her head and began writing again. Another two hours ticked by.

A Creator's job is an unique combination of talent, imagination, science, technology, and magic. There were few such trained individuals left in the world. Training replacements was costly for company and community alike. A poorly written plot line could leave a reader (and unwitting bystanders) victim to a never ending and altogether confusing reality. Several London streets were entirely uninhabitable because of prowling lions and abstract critiques on London traffic as "reflections on life".

I heard pages rustle. I looked up from my lap. The apprentice held the ledger pages down with her elbows as she forced ink onto them. Her eyes glazed. Her breath became a shallow pant. She was pale and damp with sweat. The pages rattled, curled up, and tried to snatch themselves away. She kept forcing them back into place so she could write. She was creating something. It was being born. She was on the verge of evoking a second or perhaps even a third Conflicting Reality. Maybe even a fourth, depending on if the office was real or part of a science fiction novel. It didn't really matter on either occasion. That was a concern for Creators to ponder. I bit my thumb.

I always imagined that Creators were beautiful people, uncontaminated by the world outside, but I suppose, with enough practice, anyone could be eventually become one. Even the drab, awkward, and wholly unpleasant girl behind the desk might have the potential. Some spark not seen behind her glasses. Some brilliance belied by her sensible shoes.

With her last flourished marks the pages curled around her wrist. She jumped, startled, as they ripped themselves from the ledger.

"Is that what I think it is?"

Her eyes locked wide on me. She nodded cautiously.

"Well?!"

"I think it's a short story", she stammered. "But, there's no way to be sure."

"Could I?", I asked as I reached for the pages. They jumped from the desk, flitted across the room, and climbed a potted plant.

"Your funeral, if I'm wrong," she replied flatly. The weight in her words made me queasy. She sat back down at her desk, cupping her face in her hands. She sighed heavily.

I slid across the room. I reached out a  coaxing hand. The pages moved toward me with trepidation, like a dog to a stranger. They bent down to graze my fingers, drew back, then in a decisive move collapsed across my palm. I read.

I was in the mountains. There was the smell of pine and the sound of wild things. It was windy and nippy. I could see the smoke curling up from a distant fire. I walked towards it.

In the office the apprentice stared at the empty spot where I had just stood. She was a Creator now. She ran to tell her master.

My grandfather

several or so back,
lives eternally
on a cracked 
gelatin plate.

When I am dust,
will I live on
in the aether of
technology?

You

your name
trips my tongue,
like a tipsy chippy on
one broken heel,
it's a sweet name -
that tickles.

The Song of Singing River

They held hands

Wade in the water...
Wade in the water, children
Wade in the water...


and chanted


God's gonna trouble the water

gripped the sand that lapped their feet


Wade in the water...
Wade in the water, children
Wade in the water...


and let the water rush down their throats


God's gonna set you free

I am quiet now...

and properly sedated
for your comfort.

Am I more pleasing
in this, a simple,
deconstructed, form?

I wish you could 
see with the same 
brilliance I do

because the colors
and the sounds
are maddening and bright.

If we had the same
visions erupting
from our skin

you would know
the ever present need
to release them as doves.

So they could float,
and soar; mate 
and die as intended.

Most are Born... sedate,
quiet in the womb,
a soft, warm, lump of flesh.

I was forged.

What if I found my purpose

and it was too grand for me?
Or if it didn't suit my fancy,
being suited for a particular task
and having no interest in it.

What if my purpose commanded
humility to such a degree
I could not bend the reed
to yield to it.

No. I do not think
I'll let omnipresent powers
choose my purpose.

I have been built fine and 
flexible, vain, and brilliant,
I should choose
my own purpose.

Not to fill the universal wish list,
but to bring
the unexpected gift.

The Snake in the Possum's Pouch

Is a parable. It must be an unpopular one because I can't find it online, so I'm going to tell it to you.  Gather close. 


It was winter. The evergreens poked out from under snow coats. The oak branches drooped with swags of ice shards. The white on the ground was frozen on top, crunchy and bitter cold. It was much like winter now, but different, because this was long ago. Back then, before animals picked up peopleskins to wear instead of fur, things were different in a different way. The way that a new shirt never fits the same after it has gotten dirty and been through the wash.

On this day, a possum was walking home to join his family for supper. He still had his furskin, so he was toasty-warm and happy-go-lucky. His children would greet him with cheers because his pouch was full of hard, red winter berries and perfect tiny pine cones. His wife would kiss him at door and after dinner he'd sit by the fire with his pipe and think about the world.

From the road side the possum heard a tiny voice. "Help me. Help me. I'm going to die."

The possum saw a snake, half frozen in the snow. Snakes aren't much for snow. They don't build nice fires or wear furskins. They stay low to the ground, always looking up at folk, figuring-on and plott'n about. The possum stopped. "I'm too cold. I'll die. Please put me in your pouch so I can warm up. Please help me.", cried the snake.

"My pouch is full with gifts for my children. You won't fit", says possum.

"I'll curl up very small. You'll hardly know I'm there", begged the snake.

"If I put you in my pouch you'll bite me and I'll die", said the possum.

"I'd never bite you. I could never bite someone who was kind to me. You would save my life. I would owe you a great debt. I'll be no trouble", said the snake.

The possum was a kind thing. A softhearted creature. A gentle spirit. So it lifted the snake from the snow and it put it in its pouch. The snake nestled itself between the little red berries and the tiny perfect pine cones.

The pouch was warm and soft. The snake was content. It was safe. It grew warmer. It felt alive again. It started to wriggle and move. It was ready to leave and go about on its way, so it bit the possum.

"Why? Why?" cried the possum.

Said the snake, "You knew I was a snake. It's in my nature." 

I cannot sleep so full of you

I have wiped you form my eyes
a dozen times
and there
I brush away your lips
and still they rest on mine -
I cannot sleep so full of you -
with my body bursting  daybreak.

How many times

did we stand between the door
and midnight,
exhaling pale ringlets
into the street light -

Two summer mayflies
floated down from black -
we barely noticed.

Crush'n on a Little Finch Bird

     “Fae Ray was six. I might have been eight or nine. I’m only telling you this so that you’ll understand, you know? You have this idea about me that ain't quite right. You think I been turned or changed or warped by some external force, some kind of trauma or ridiculousness. It itn’t like that at all. It’s different. I was just built a certain way. Like a barn is built different from a house and a cellar different from a door. Cellar door… Selladore… I think that I read somewhere that it’s the prettiest word in the English language or something like that. It does sound pretty, doesn't it?
     
Anyways, Fae Ray rode my bus and she was pretty. I mean pretty. Like those little purple flowers snugged up close to the ground in the middle of the hay field… the ones so tiny that they look like little confetti stars sprinkled on the ground?
     
We lived on this farm; this slab of ground that had been broke off a plantation a long time ago. There was an old mud house left on the Williams’ property that you could poke your head in, but the roof was falling in and it was so dangerous that you couldn't go inside ‘cause even if it didn't fall in on you the Williams would tell and you’d get tanned. We had part of the cold storage near the creek— there was a stone wall all built in against the creek like a crooked cellar and it was colder down there then on all the rest of the places…
     
It was even colder than the creek on the other side of the farm next to Old Man Hill. I remember playing in the house on Old Man Hill’s land, which I was allowed to do till he had a stroke and came back all wrong. The last people to live there must have put their wall paper up around 1966 ‘cause when I peeled off the first layer of paper there was a newspaper underneath about the Beatles coming to Cincinnati, but there wasn't an indoor bathroom in it. Can you believe it? A newspaper about the Beatles coming to town under the wallpaper? Isn't that something?
     
Anyways, it was being used as a hay loft, which took all the special out of it. But, he had a granary and when he stroked-out dad made sure his cows got fed and one time when I was with him dad caught me a little finch-bird so small it fit in my hand. Which might have been the best day of my life, but I ain't thought on it yet.
   
The granary was better than the house for getting into, anyway. We always had to sneak and feed the cows ‘cause when Old Man Hill went wrong after the stroke he got all crazy, shoot’n at folks he knew and whatnot. But, it weren't like he could help it none. None of his people came to help him or nothin’ and someone had to feed his cows so we did it.
     
So I must have been at least eight. To hold a whole finch-bird in my hand and not press on it none. It flew up just fine, right up toward the sun, so I know I didn’t hurt it.
     
And Fae Ray, her mom didn't let her go nowhere much because she was from away and didn't have no people near where we lived, but everyone knowed us good enough that Fae Ray got to spend the weekend at my house one time. So, I took her down to the cold storage, and told her all about the plantation parts I had found. She was real interested ‘cause Fae Ray was smarter than most of the other kids on the bus, she was as smart as me— and I made real good grades.
   
 Anyways, we played in the creek a long while and I just looked on her and looked on her till I was dizzy. She was swinging on a wild grape vine and the sun was cutt’n up the creek straight west, up through her hair with it lifting up like she was about to fly away and all that sunshine just pour’n through her all down the creek like a river of gold. I couldn't stop looking because I hadn't never seen nothing like it… and I felt all light inside like I was going downhill and my stomach wasn't and my feet were numb or not touching the ground or something ‘cause when I looked at her I know I floated. She must a seen me float’n cause she looked at me funny like she was confused or something and then the next day she went home and didn't talk to me on the bus no more.
   
 See, I didn't know what all that float’n and buzz’n and sparklin’ was about, but I had seen something so pretty I couldn't even take a breath for a month straight without seeing Fae Ray behind my eyelids. I didn't understand any of that because I was little and folk don’t explain that kind of stuff to you when you’re little.
   
 But, I was in love with Fae Ray. I was in love with the whole damn world when I looked at her. It was different from anything else. So, I was that way from the start. There weren't no big event that made me that way. Though, people always think different.”

My mother said

she walked the floors at night with me. I don’t remember those nights because while she was pacing, pacing, pacing I was soft asleep. And now, I have worn the floor boards down...a rough ragged heel wearing through varnish... circling, circling, circling... Thinking of what is to finally know what it is to feel totally and utterly responsible. If only I had my mother’s feet to carry me.

Not many things in life are as simply and earnestly made as a good kitchen table.

How Carolina Killed the Blackbird

There had been blackbirds outside the window all morning. They cast shrewd eyes on me as I burned the eggs and dropped the toast.

It wasn’t just the blackbirds. A few days prior she had given me her best two dresses and a pair of expensive jeweled shoes two sizes too small. She hadn’t called since. There was a dread. A sick fear snaking up. A sorrow winding up through my stomach and out of my esophagus–thick clotting, wriggling,thick tendrils of sorrow. There was hidden knowledge about to be revealed and guilt for my non-disclosure.

I called him at work. “I think there’s something wrong with your mother. We should go check on her. I think she’s dead.” I could have been more tactful. I wasn’t. The snake had my throat. It cracked my voice. My heart beat staccato in my chest. I couldn’t find the soft words or the gentle speech. He responded with the courtesy anger expected in such situations. To my coldness and dry tone. To his own fears and his forced ignorance. We went to her house. The black birds followed, like dreadful spirit eaters flocking to a meal. The omen that he couldn’t see. The truth I knew and he was about to experience. I was already grieving for him as he clung to tenuous strands of hope.

I loved him, you see, more than the sun, the moon, the stars, and all the heavens. I loved him. I loved him more than myself.

The fire department broke down the door when she didn’t answer. They found her dead in her bed. They wouldn’t let us inside. They said we wouldn’t want to see. The morbid part of me, the black bird inside, wanted to see. To see the foam spattered blue lips, the needle jutting from the vein, the excrement on the sheets, the vomit on the floor. To see death’s fine and terrible work at play in the universe. I held my tongue. Locked the desire down deep inside and held the crying boy.

I didn’t have the same capacity for loss as him. It wasn’t in my nature to be less than accepting of fate’s grand plans. I had no answer for the whys and hows that inevitably followed. I didn’t have the faith to spew the obligatory speech about heaven and joyful afterlives. I couldn’t muster those standard, meaningless condolences. I said I was sorry and left him to his tears and rage.

I watched as brother and sister riffled through the echoes of her life. Smelled the perfumed clothes, cried over the pictures on the wall, blamed themselves for her illness. Divided the spoils of her memories. Gathered needles into sharps containers. Disposed of hidden heroine to preserve the decorum of the dead. Kept the cocaine as an escape plan. They said they should have known, they said they if they had just been less selfish they could have saved her. If they had been less involved in their own lives it would have been different. She would have lived. I felt guilty in a small way. I should have told them. I had known all along.

 It was painted on her face like makeup. It was in her vacant eyes. It was in the constant gifts and the advice she gave to care for each other deeply. It was in the martyred charity and the track marks. I thought they knew as well. They hadn’t seen it coming. I could have said something, but I was a stranger to their family and didn’t have the right. In the dark, under the flicker of memorial candles, pure and ghostly white, my boyfriend inhaled an eight ball of grief. “It’s ok”, he said. “It won’t hurt soon.” Having not the capacity to console him, I joined him. I breathed deep the mourning.

I fell in love again.

Carolina was beautiful.

Pale and sparkling like ground diamonds. Her radiance was undeniable. The soft powder so bitter and precious, numbing the painful parts of me. She was generous, giving me both day and night to experience the world. She was kind, forever sparing me of my agony. Bestowing upon me, like a great heathen Goddess, joy and beauty. Filling my body with tingling bits of glorious light. Through her I opened the door to the universe. Stood at her alter and sacrificed the best of me. I gave her all my wealth, my aching flesh, my weakened dignity, my childhood traumas, my exhaustion, and my soul.

She rewarded me with the height of mountains and epiphanies of starlit nights. She gave me brilliant dawns and the intoxicating scent of gasoline mixed with Armani. She rewarded me with rich scarlet streaming from my nose - a wondrous affirmation that I was still alive. She let me see what the firemen would not. I caressed the silken robe of death and felt the thrill of coming close to his power.
She gave me addiction and I accepted it gratefully with the whole of my damaged heart.

She spoke to me in pictures. Like a shoe box of photos, new and old, dumped into my head. Some black and white, some color, some sepia with elaborate handwritten paragraphs on the back. Each a piece of me I barely understood. She dropped them one by one, first the large ones, the glossy 8 by 10’s with names and dates, then quicker came the faded 5 by 7’s, then the cascade of blurry 3 by 5’s and passport photos. They rained down on me like quiet hell.

Jist git you a litt’l piece o’ vict’ry an y’ll understand, girl.” He had chaw tar dripping from the corner of his mouth, down the big wrinkled jowls that made him look like Methuselah’s bulldog. Pa finished the business about the hay and hustled me out of the shack. “Don’t listen to him”, he said, “He had a wife once that never owned a new dress and a boy that went barefoot all year long. More than enough money too, got it all squirreled away for the rapture. I reckon he’s gonna bribe Saint Peter.” Till a girl hits a certain age, the point when her arms get lean and long, her hips spread, her thighs get strong, and her feet plant firm enough to hold down during a knocking blow, she’s not worth much more than giving advice too. There’s plenty of it to give, apparently, and not much of it is worth the breath used to give it. But, that’s what little country girls are for, giving advice and sweet treats to, growing them up quick for working or breeding or both.

Click. Snap. Flip.

 A country road, a red Chevy pickup. Old Scratch and me whittling the day away with little pointed words. “Echo, I don’t want to tell you more than you need to know, but let me make something clear. I’ve dunna lot in life and I know more than a few things about the world. Let me tell you – Never drink too much whiskey, smoke too many cigarettes, or run around with too many women and you’ll be just fine.” Uncle Duck died that winter from cancer. I suppose Ma and I are the only two people in the world who could rightfully say that we had mourned the devil.

Whirrrrrrrrr. Flash. Photos faster. Faster and faster. First a scrapbook, then a flipbook, then a Kinetoscope complete with carnival music and swirling nausea.

The City. The lights. My body writhing under pulsing strobes. Grown men falling off their bar stools before I’d even gotten started. Chain smoking. A lady or two to wrap my corn-fed thighs around. Southern charm enough to get boys to pay the bills.

110mph down a winding country road with a frosted nose and suspended fear. A dead catfish nailed to a road sign. Cherry blossoms fluttering down like soft pink rain.

A black eye. A busted lip. A cracked rib. Switch marks and blood.

Snap. Flash. Whirrrr.

A neighborhood. A boy’s face, blurry, and unrecognizable. Carolina holding my hand. My car. Me. Where? Cold.
Click.

               Red light.

               White light.

               Red light.

               White light.

               Things that look like people.

               Noises like insects, buzzing.

               Chest pain.

               Heart ache.

               Face mask.

A blackbird. Dead in the snow.

This is

blowing out a candle
This is ending a sentence.
This is one sound following another

I see a ribbon -
a colorful wave spreading out
aurora borealis  in my bedroom
the little lilts of light

I have dreamed all night long.
Said my prayers
and waited.
I waited.

You spoke

in hushed, confessional tones
i could hear the cracking of my rib-cage
in the soft chatter of "never", "won't", and "can't"

why do we hope and dream
if not for better versions of ourselves?
all revolutions start from the breast plate.

In the Free World

 Sadie Sweethouse wanted a bath. A hot bath. More than anything in the free world she wanted to soak up to her neck in scalding hot water. It had been a long, sweaty, bus ride from New York to Jewel followed by a long two weeks of apartment hunting, job applications, and waiting around in bureaucratic offices for titles, tags, IDs and other bits of paper she needed to start a new life. A new life was definitely in order after the fiasco at the Sapphire. She had played only a minor part, but it was enough to take her from the lighted dance floors of New York City and send her half way across the country on her clear, glittery, heels. Now she was here, and here she would have to stay.

         She mocked herself in the mirror. A Hot Bath, a blow dryer, and a curling iron. That’s what she needed. She thought about her curling iron, still plugged in (but switched off) in the rented room she shared with a middle-aged, drunken, accountant from the Bronx. Two officers had escorted her from the court room into an unmarked vehicle and away she went, like a corpse carried off by the coroner’s wagon. She was dead. It was over. Whole new life, whole new place, whole new name. No curling iron.

          The sign at the leasing office had said “free heat” (in the summer), “free water” (just put a bucket in the left corner of the room and wait), and “free trash” (as much as you could carry). Sadie jiggled the bathtub tap some more. She should have read the lease better. Hot water, apparently, wasn’t included in the number of “free” amenities offered by her landlord. There were of course “free inspections” at random intervals that never resulted in repairs. The landlord didn’t answer calls on Sunday (or any other day of the week for that matter) so Sadie boiled water on the stove. After everything she’d been through she deserved a hot bath and she was going to get it, even if it took half the night to make it happen. She thought about her old roommate. He was a sleaze ball. She imagined him rummaging her panty drawer, fingering her lacy things the way he tried to finger her. But, at least he was practical. All of but her panties were already at the pawn shop by now, maybe even her curling iron.
         Sadie sunk into the cramped tub, stretched out her long fingers and tapped her thighs; the miniature splashes made the tapping noise of acrylic nails. That was gone too. No nail salons in Jewel. Not good ones anyway. The water wasn’t hot enough, but it would have to do. Like the cashier job that required her to wear a frumpy green smock. Like the beat up blue Ford Escort that replaced her hired car. Like the po-dunk town in Idaho that replaced her home. It would all have to do. Sadie dripped a tear or two. Her eyes had been leaky faucets for moths. She barely registered the two plump tear drops that plopped into the luke-warm water and spread into ripples. At least it was over. She was here now. There was no “free heat”, but here she would stay. For as long as it took to create a New Life. She wrapped her hair in a ratty towel and put on thin robe. She had a cup of coffee and watched some crap reality T.V. till someone  knocked on the door. Sadie peaked through the crack left by her two dollar “security chain”. Not as good as a peephole, but at least she could hide the falling hem on her robe.

         “Angie Mecklin?”

          “Sadie Sweethouse. You have the wrong apartment.”

           She tried to shut the door. He pushed. The chain broke.
  
          “No, I’m pretty sure you’re Angie. We have something to talk about.”

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