excerpts

the quaking aspen

He didn’t know how to go about saying it. So he cut straight to the point.

“I found this,” he said, voice chock full of gravel, sand, and dust, “in your room.”

Mitch pushed the miniature Ziploc across the table. The table was not short enough to place it within Lavender’s reach, but then again, he didn’t want her to touch it. Wanted her orange, gel-manicured nails and hands nowhere near its corrupting influence. He hated the way the smooth plastic felt against his own fingertips. Couldn’t stand to imagine his daughter’s on it, though she must’ve opened and closed the thing countless times before. Her prints must’ve been all over it. All over the shit inside.

He pushed the baggie to the center of the table so she might see what he’d exhumed from its poorly planned hiding place. Her expression did not change, because she’d already known—had known since she saw the grave sullenness dragging down his facial features as soon as she’d come through the door. The reaction was more subtle.

Her shoulders sank lower.

Her spine curled further.

Her eyes cast down. Away from the bag. Away from Mitch’s stare, his grim gaze matte with accusatory malcontent so intense it was practically tangible. His heart split farther and deeper than it initially had upon its discovery.

“Care to explain?” Lavender’s rouge-smothered lips—sloppily smudged and faded at the edges by means Mitch couldn’t bear to even consider—parted slightly. He cut her off before she could utter a single word, for he couldn’t tolerate the lies and excuses that surely gathered on her tongue. “No.” His laugh was boisterous and aggressively mirthless, a sardonic sound that forced itself from his lungs in disbelief of the situation he found himself in. “Don’t bother.” He put out his cigarette. He’d lost count of how many he’d had. “You want to be rebellious, huh?” He lit another. Grabbed the pack, which had maybe three more inside, and threw it at his daughter. “Take these.” She barely had the reflexive capacity to flinch when the featherlight packet struck her in the chest, bouncing off the breasts spilling from a plunging neckline. “Take this!” He shoved the quarter-empty bottle of Lagavulin across the table so harshly it almost fell into her lap, but wobbled and caught its own balance just in front of her. “Take anything! For fuck’s sake, take the scotch in the cabinet, the pot in my grinder, the cigarettes taped to the back of the toilet tank.” One drag. Two. Three, in quick succession, filling the room with the pungent odor of nicotine, fire, and tar. “But this?” Mitch’s hand shook uncontrollably as he raised the baggie up to put its powdered, off-white contents on show. Tiny chunks of salt-like crystal shone amid the dust in the kitchen light’s meager glow. “Cocaine?”

two tastes

There’s a bar in New York City called the Moth and Flame, where tired and strange souls go to die. They come to see Miss Maddening, the woman who will rip the sick and twisted lives from their bodies in a variety of sick and twisted ways.

She lets them call her Suzie.

You’ve never seen the Moth and Flame, because it’s never in the same place, and if you have, it’s gone one double take later. In that way the establishment is not unlike the human spirit, flitting from vice to vice, virtue to virtue, habit to habit; stowing those that suit it beneath its metaphysical belt and doing away with those for which it has no use. Its favorite traits are haste, clandestinity, and caprice in both appearance and location.

Last Wednesday it was a dive spot flush with grime and sticky beer stains. It sat tucked in the meandering shadow of the High Line, the old elevated rail-turned-park, until a thirsty, fanny-packed tourist from Beijing looked its way, and then he blinked, and so it donned two pool tables and a dart board and fled to the South Bronx, close to the Throggs Neck Bridge but not close enough to corner itself. The following evening it was a red door carved in the damp tunnel wall of the Battery Park Underpass, and the evening after that it shed its secretive skin in favor of the whites and blues and bright, inviting lights of a chic wintertime pop-up, glittering smack dab in the middle of Madison Square Park.

Tonight, the Moth and Flame—weary of the spotlight and the curious, scarf-wearing, tender-touching, hot-chocolate-toting couples that clogged the streets this time of year—lurks on the corner of West 61st and Riverside. The squat stone-and-cedarwood façade hunches between towering construction sites, bay windows overlooking the West Side Highway and the black water beyond. The warm orange glow of lamplight burns somewhere inside, but that’s all that is visible from the outside without stepping in—a privilege offered only to the invited.

To the tired and strange souls, come to die.