My uncle is dead. We do not know why. We know not who to ask. We tap our shadows and close our homes.

My grandfather is inside the grandfather clock where my uncle once lived. The grandfather clock my grandfather is in is a grandfather clock that does not work. My grandfather can’t fix the grandfather clock so he nails together his fingers. To shake his hand is to pinch the grip. The blood becomes oil. The dark becomes dry.

When my uncle died, all of his guns were split between his brothers. They keep them in safes, away from birds.

My mother and father are in the living room. My mother is watching a show about knees. She needs another kneecap. Just last week they completed her eyes. She keeps her knee caps by her side. In jars. On ice. My father is holding a bowl of discarded toes. My father inspects each toe and writes the findings in a diary. Shingles, he writes. Frostbite. Each knee is like a closet, my mother says. Gangrene, my father writers. Lawnmower. He yawns. If the closet’s infected, my mother says, they have to fill it with gel.

My sister swims laps in our glass pool. I’m in my bed with my first seizure. I’m shaking down the stairs. I’m pushed onto a white sheet and told to keep quiet. I’m pushed through a tunnel and told to not talk. What if I shake? I ask. This is not the time to shake, they say, but I shake some more. They hook my brain to discarded tools. My sister lends me her blankets and her bags. I gather them like dolls.

My cousin is a chef, discarding every attempt. They’re not good enough, he says, never good enough, not even close. His apron is faded. Instead of KISS THE COOK, it reads _IS_  _HE _ _OK. Not good enough, he says, not good enough. Not like dad’s. The moon does not reply. We deny our doing the same.

In the evening, we speak of rosebuds, ones that grow from worms. My uncle is dead and we are sprinklers. We cry a nightly routine. To despair the slope is hopeful. Everyone tries to touch the chandelier. We watch the clocks that do not work. The sky above but a note on the page.

9 Comments

  1. Saxon Baird

    What a wild family! 😉 Love the imagery here, sure it’s surreal but it’s also absurd and funny and I like what it’s doing with bodies …reorienting and appropriating and putting them in out of place and grotesque places. The last few graphs move away from bodies and while also full of great images, I wonder what the piece would look like keeping the theme of body parts throughout and where focusing on the body could take it.

  2. Jack O'Connell

    I really liked it. It felt really driven by the sound of the words leading into other words, like your writing is really close to syllables and letters.

    Some things felt like action, like they were happening now, e.g. “my uncle is dead” “I’m in bed with my first seizure.” Some things felt like they were routines that the family members always did, e.g. “discarding every attempt” “she keeps her knee cap by her side” “cry a nightly routine”. I wonder if it would be profitable to contrast the action vs. the routines more, or less, or just think about what’s happening now vs. what do they always do.

  3. Bud Smith

    “Instead of KISS THE COOK, it reads _IS_ _HE _ _OK.”

    Haha, this is really something else. A surreal night, a surreal life, a surreal family. There is something really interesting happening with the body parts and how we keep stock of who we are and what has ruined us. In this story, people die and wind up in clocks and wind the clocks and their blood is the oil and knee caps are in jars and severed toes are inventoried. I don’t know what to say other than when someone has an imagination this vivid, you better not try to slow them down. I think all the gruesome details are really working but as an experiment I think you could think of the piece as operating in two shades, a gruesome crimson, offset by a peacock blue. The crimson is all the wrong, all the malfunction of this family, but if they are a true family which I get the sense that they are, then they have support for each other and their dead house must also be a house of light and life so how does beauty get a chance to creep into this piece, kindness and selflessness and heart. How can we balance the gore and the swirling off-kilter nature of the storytelling with a few well-placed darts of deep human emotion and sentiments rooted in clear-eyed, clarity: oaths, declarations, sincerity? What happens when these characters speak. I bet they surprise us.

    • Bud Smith

      also, I thought this part was just incredible:

      My sister swims laps in our glass pool. I’m in my bed with my first seizure. I’m shaking down the stairs. I’m pushed onto a white sheet and told to keep quiet. I’m pushed through a tunnel and told to not talk. What if I shake? I ask. This is not the time to shake, they say, but I shake some more. They hook my brain to discarded tools.

      The idea of someone being healed by being connected to tools that are no longer in use, or perhaps they aren’t healed at all, the healers aren’t even trying. Discarded tools for the brain of a discarded boy. <3

  4. Kara Vernor

    I really dig the language play in this and the way one concept/image follows intuitively to the next. It’s dream logic to me and therefore I hesitate to make suggestions that would shift it toward conscious logic. This type of writing needs to feel its way along rather than think its way along. That being said, I do wonder if it would follow a little easier if time marker aligned, and actually, the only spot I feel thrown is with the shift in tense with “When my uncle died, all of his guns were split between his brothers.” The story jumps back to present after that. With surreal writing, I find I engage better when at least one element (time, setting, etc.) is consistent and serves as the frame of what is otherwise a funhouse. But again, lots of room to experiment and the language like “To shake his hand is to pinch the grip. The blood becomes oil. The dark becomes dry.” is singing.

  5. Teresa Plana

    What a killer opening lines too. I agree with other comments that this “sounds” great, it’s almost musical: “The blood becomes oil. The dark becomes dry.” The rhythm is fantastic throughout!

  6. Rachel Pollon Williams

    I love this. It’s so beautiful. And sad. And interesting. So many great lines. It feels like a poem almost. I feel like I’m watching a family just after a funeral. (I have a story set in that situation specifically and it’s so interesting to think about all the ways to get across our stories and emotion involved in someone’s passing.) You have captured grief in such a compelling way. I want to hug all the characters. Looking forward to reading further.

  7. Greg Oldfield

    Benjamin, this is so bizarre, and I love it. The complex images create wonderful oddities, especially in the scenes with the grandfather in the clock, the mother with her knees by the table, the father counting toes. They’re all representations of the characters through their bodies with minimal words and impactful, lasting memories. The sister’s images may not have been as clear, the cousin’s a little more so, but not as powerful as the mc and his parents. This story also feels as if it triggers from the uncle’s death, which draws pain, and I’d like to feel more of that pain, perhaps through the uncle’s body or his untimely death, and how that death impacts the dynamics between the members as some have mentioned. But cool stuff, a story that lingers long after the reading is finished.

  8. Bill Merklee

    I love all the imagery; this feels like a meditation on the ravages of time, how things fall apart and we try to repair/revive them, how even clocks die and we’re foolish to think measuring time is the same as having control over it. The apron is gold. Of course they speak of rosebuds in the evening — “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.”

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