THE GRASS IS ALWAYS GOLDER ON THE DARK SIDE
J. J. W. Mezun ☆ Season 6 ☆ 2021 July 1
Autumn trudged half-exhausted but
half-battering in all her nerves:
tho her brain ahead-day slumbered,
ears perked up, nightwide awake,
wired with caffeine vigilance
from the black miasmas drunk —
help then traded for now’s bane,
dank casts lasting longer, which
Autumn’s mind didn’t mind, so long
as it shortened the blinding light,
breached as bad the thief she was
by drink o’ achromatic potions —
gusts all rushing,
automobiles murmuring words,
hushed li’l shibboleth breaths, too mute
to understand o’er tattered soles
scraping grates & concrete streets,
bleeding thru the lamps hung ’bove,
an all-encompassing but
hidden organism, like skin,
with phalanges languishing
in their jacket pocket sheath,
sisters free imprisoning
coddled bottle o’ vodka. After
all these decades in decay
in this hades hell she dwelled
she was wise how vital ’twas
make her facepaint dangerous
if risks snake this witching minute
in these vacant tunnelways
crossed thru every evening walk…
Glasses didn’t fit that mask,
now no mo’ than e’er; & her
shakiness & bloated bladder
wrought by all the alcohol had
only cursed it worse.
¿Was there any fear? The numb
from all the vodka weakened this,
no less the phrase, “¿what can you do?”.
Stuck in night shift, that true series
horror stories ne’er-ending;
stuck with buses that refused
to wake up 4 past midnight,
an anthology no less
adept @ leaving her sleepless.
But with trepedition always
twinned that tiny bit excitement —
thrill she seldom felt in such
a tedious world, especially now that she
was spending so much time she couldn’t afford
fixing together the same ol’ boxes, crates,
& bins, ’gain & ’gain. She itched as all
the lifeless grays & whites surrounding her,
the incessant stickiness she could still feel,
the dull throb o’ rubbing fingers & all else
with napkin after napkin, all because
some bougie drunken slob had spilled all o’er
their o’erpriced wine, the dim light, which still strained
aye, e’en after so many hours,
after so many days. How she preferred
midnight’s silence, dark as death —
solely broke by soothing whispers
thumping bass from passing vans —
cavern’s rusty metal flesh,
railing teeth & gums she voyaged
cluttered with emaciated
cracked-open empty liquor bottles,
laced with burntout cigarette butts
round ol’ periodicals
as if they were just as sick.
Yes, tired o’ so much ugly order
that infested this light world,
Autumn was eager to return
back to her relaxing black hole.
However, she was not there any longer;
instead she found herself back in the light world,
now shivering in suffocating heat.
& here she had but little time remaining.
& there was always little time remaining.
Yet, here it spilled, all wasted ’way to nothing.
She glanced up, red-eyed, from her monitor
& watched Dawn’s face, but simply saw thick darkness.
Finessely she unzipped her backpack pocket,
twitching @ its loud roar, its slithering,
& extricated her hid bottle o’ meds, —
her genuine medicine, not the placebo —
tweaking e’en mo’ @ such vociferous sloshing
o’ its septic-white contents. Then she rose,
biting her lip to distract her from the ache
residing rent-free in her knees — a pain
explained by need to walk an hour home nightly
thanks to Boskeopolis’s shitty busses,
a pain to which no doctor could repair —
fact, fed them further plump with trumped-up fees
rejected incelly by that insurance
the government pretends to offer —
tho she s’posed this better than their reason
behind denying Dawn a square o’ food stamps
for “lying” ’bout being in college, despite the fact that she very-much was, due to not predicting their unstated specific definition o’ being in “college”, which was, as it turned out, attending an unstated # o’ classes.
I must stop wasting time distracting
myself with this — ¡Augh!.
She opened the door & went out, not e’en bothering to see if Dawn heard or saw or anything.
Impulse propelled her thru, as impulse was
propelling her mo’ & mo’ as time was dying.
Her mind was weakening just as much
as her knees. All everything
weakening. But she had no choice —
the heat that boiled inside that room
made every string in her body scream.
So she sat in a pitch-black corner,
shaded from the moonlight beams,
burrowed in the weeds, & took
drink after drink o’ medicine,
the overheated static
constantly enclamping her
all o’er relieving as she felt
tangy poison hit the roof
o’ her tongue, everything
relaxing. O, how she yearned
to give up everything unto that bottle.
¿What else had she to want? ¿Why plan for heists
when that merely made her nerves
flare again, when it merely
recalled her lack o’ happiness
separated from her desperate
Work must be kept so that she could continue
affording all the medicine she so dearly needed.
but long as she remained a righteous prole
& didn’t get into any mo’ misbehavior
& did what she was told ’twas like as not
she’d keep her job & thus the money to fund
the upkeep o’ her bare necessities &
her medicine, & need o’ nothing else.
’Twas all she needed: work, then medicine…
All this simplicity, consistency,
& fitness filled her with a blanket’s warmth
after these years o’ chaos & confusion.
Once she’d drunk enough that she
felt her raw nerves sleeping under
cuddly tickles o’ her bubbling
lixir, — & mo’ importantly,
her knee pain enfizzle ’way —
she stowed her potion back away
like a rainy day to one
stranded on a desert, stood
crookedly with a 10-ton heart,
rough-rubbing the sides o’ her nose
under her eyes, already feeling
as if she could feel wrinkles.
Must have care… Can’t let myself
puke my essence up onto
the carpet, feed for buzzing wasps.
The urge to scratch the back o’ her neck
was hard to fight: she could feel
the needle beak o’ questions asked,
as if they were jabbing her
all o’er already.
Tiredly she trudged upstairs,
pausing ’fore the door to comb
back her composure like her ponytail,
& then she ope’d the door & peeked inside,
only to feel her nerves fringe to the edges
’pon seeing the neon o’ Dawn’s chemicals,
which Dawn was tapping for what must have been
the millionth time, the millionth vitamin
serum she sold for pennies to health hippies.
Dawn turned her head up toward Autumn &
raised her protective glasses.
¿Another patent’d Autumn midnight walk?.
Half hanging off the door with exhausted eyes,
Yeah. Just a little 1.
¿Catch any wicked heist ideas?.
That cute Autumn figment living
in your imagination’s dead.
I drowned her.
& yet, she couldn’t help notice the weakness in Dawn’s usual cheer — ¿or was this as recent as it seemed?
’Haps she already knows I’m lost….
No — like usual, Autumn said just before a yawn.
Well, I guess there’s always tomorrow, said Dawn.
“Tomorrow & tomorrow & tomorrow”.
Yes, I already know how this tired tale
sang ’tween us past that expiration date
For someone ’least, till climate change decides
to finally turn off the game for good.
Thru these cute palabras said,
Autumn’s eye bags sagged. For how
tomorrow hanging ’head o’ her
head, that noose around her neck
every night so weighed her down.
Her return to that Dark World
felt like Boskeopolis’s
o’ rose-scented photos, both
how she reminisced with wist
all these triste experiences —
clouded nights — just she & Edgar
in that dusty ’scuse for home
where, secluded, ne’ertheless
bloomed her true profession, theft.
She still recalled that twilight teenage she
& Edgar sprinted thru the moonlit streets,
disguised in prom dress & tuxedo suit,
holding their stolen useless plastic crown.
Her memory kept treasured, too, that evening
Edgar, Dawn, & she slept in that storm drain
with all that sconded art from Lance’s castle,
dining on jalapeño hot dogs
& spicy Pythagoreans chips.
But she could only see it now thru
fog-filled glass with its distorting
tint which blocked all touch & blocked
all sound like endless outer space —
that black hole o’ Autumn’s world,
sucking up all warmth & light.
’Sides, ’twas sure that she had lost
all recollection o’ those steps
that caretook survival &
her own putrefying corpse
was no doubt too weak to do
suchlike deft endeavors.
¿& where would she find the time?
She didn’t return to the Light World the next morn willingly — like almost every morn. She tightened her blanket’s grip on her, keeping herself in the cool shadows till her cellphone’s alarm rang for the last minute before when she’d calculated that she had just ’nough time to prepare before walking to the bus stop — walking so as to be easy on those dead weights she called knees now. Every morn she rose to her feet she felt a sharp pain in them that made her disbelieve her ability to keep walking on them.
Someday I’ll be unable to walk @ all, & thus unable to work, & then that’s it: off to the glue factory for Boxer.
There was no use telling the 2 wasps ’bout it. Dawn’s dumb idea was to go to the doctor, which helped her none & merely cost her money she needed to save; after that, her sole solution was “keep trying” or “find a job that doesn’t require so much physical activity; you’ll find something”; or other vague mystical phrases pulled out her ass.
But so long as she had her
medicine, she could bear it.
Long’s she had her Dark World.
But a voice crept thru the cracks:
¿Why withstand these weights thrown on
by this dry Light world, all for such
weaksauce medicine? There’s a way
to stay in this Dark World e’ermo’
Yes, she yet had other meds:
those sleeping pills, still unused,
opened with the ’scuse to solve
true inability to sleep.
Down a whole bottle & she would receive
the best & final sleep she’d ever need.
But Dr. Jekyll came & plugged that up:
propelled her up onto her burning feet
& into her stiff work suit, & then off
unstopping to the bus stop with the same
urgency requisite for heists, the same
exhaustion wearing as its tattered T-shirt.
She dared not yet leap straight into that lake
o’ Styx & stones — no, solely breaking bones.
It merely felt mo’ wasteful. Ne’ertheless,
the strange case was that ’twas the Light World which
begat no rational answer for itself —
which felt rote habit impossible to shrug
& felt so wrong when everyone said ’twas just right.
& yet, like in a trance, she went to work.
She carried out all responsibilities.
Entranced by those sharp eyes o’ all all round her —
eyes that could suck the marrow just by their
conduction mo’ than teeth e’er could. But this
exploit wasn’t 1-way. She had to eat
to keep herself from crumbling to pieces
past centuries o’ brutal history.
She had to hide ’way in the weaker days
to keep strong for the night, her element.
It’s too bad Autumn couldn’t come: she has o’ertime today — always busy, Dawn said. She was staring out @ the summer sunlight spreading in thru the window & o’er the rosy wallpaper that reminded her o’ her grandma’s home. Dawn moved her crossed legs, enjoying the breeze.
C’est vrai, said Violet.
Yes, it had arrived.
To my attention that the trinity
In your entirety entirely
Had come to occupy their hands to shoveling
Such sand to crack your hourglasses blind.
If you could but perceive yourself by mirror,
You’d witness harried dark-eyed Jekyll where
Mischievous Madame Hyde was wont to lie
O, I’m hardly busy. Quite bored, actually….
I had beheld the apprehension that.
You had returned to your collegiate studies
And to your independent chemist business
O… Yeah…. Dawn yawned.
Probably not a smart idea.
I must respectfully hold my dissent,.
For I am of the inclination that
It was, indeed, a deed in wisdom made
That made you propagate your education
Dawn raised a hand.
Yeah. But you know how my mind is… Once I do something for too long, it just gets boring. She sat up straighter.
It’s not that I want to stop or anything — a’least not my college work….
¿Goes not your chemist business thrivingly?.
I mean, it pays the bills… almost….
You, bien sûr, are of the understanding.
That I am always willing to offer what
Pecuniary assistance I am able,
No… It’s just… it’s nothing. Dawn yawned ’gain. She rubbed her eye.
I’m just being whiny is all. Forget what I’m saying. Let’s just talk ’bout something mo’ interesting. She laughed lightly.
I’m too ol’ for interesting things. Before Violet could rebuke her for rebuking herself, — ¡Now where have I seen this play out before! — she turned to Felix.
Tell me ’bout the thing you designed.
Autumn paced before an unsettled bench
in Peanut Park, despite the pain in her knees.
Her aching nerves were worse. E’er so oft
she’d stop to pop a chug from her booze bottle &
when her tongue felt too soaked she decided
to dry it out: she plucked out a septic-white
cigarette & lit it, triggering chemical
reactions in the thousands. She laid
it in her mouth & sucked in the insecticide,
gas chamber gas — the vinegar, the disinfectant.
Then she blew out a soft cloud o’ gray dirt
& felt her lungs hum with pleasant burns,
her saliva swim in sweet sourness. So she
kept pace in pacing, — her pacemaker
making peace with the falling leaves
o’ ’nother dying summer, which a’least
let her ’least breathe with breezes free from her
belligerent fevers — shifting from chugs & puffs,
her engine sounds, revving from the sun
as the Light World melted…
but she caught suspicious eyes eying her,
but she didn’t let them stone her still. She noticed
the fraying holes all o’er her ol’ brown jacket; —
including 1 sleeve tha’was snapping off like a branch
@ the halfway point, its end
hanging off her half-naked arm
limply — she noticed her habiliments:
these checkered sweats were sure to make them sweat
against such bloody royalty; she noticed
she was eying all the rest,
her loyal subjects, audience,
within suspicious eyes her own, & felt
She noticed fingers tapping on her bottle
o’ ethanol & cancer stick. But as
the hours fell dead like flies lying beside
the aforementioned leaves, so retreated
most o’ the other residents who made
o’ Peanut Park their temporary home.
She couldn’t be sure if they were so repelled
by such a stench o’ death, but this best slit
the wrist o’ reason with ol’ Occam’s razor.
E’en the sun was edging ’way; & Autumn
felt her chest expand: gone was all
the eye-irritating brightness, the itchy warmth,
the sickliness o’ greens on trees too high
on temporary leaves. But now they were
clean black, as if god’s vomit had been scrubbed
off checkered linoleum, as if the maggots
that made their bed opposing off-white checkers
were scrubbed ’way, too, leaving just smooth rich black.
But then she saw a new resident come forth,
a new encounter, an umbra. & before
she had much time to think on it, it was
in front o’ her, a gun aimed @ her head.
Give me everything on you, said the voice,
neither deep nor quiet nor loud nor shivering,
but striking ordinary, like a coworker,
like a costudent, like an anyone.
Autumn stood staring @ the man, now close
’nough to be seen in business suit o’ all
costumes, while smoke resumed escaping from
her cigarette, as if repaying back
the smoke the heat wouldn’t let escape her mouth.
Her eyes were twisted & ugly — ’least she
put all her mind to making them ugly.
¿Well? I’m waiting, said the shadow,
letting his voice dip a speck deeper.
By method o’ an elephant she sucked
in a deep breath like never breathed before
& then transformed it into smoke produced
into the unfamiliar figure’s face.
& he took a step back & turned the gun
to both his hands, shaking e’en mo’ than ’fore.
Autumn’s eyes twisted differing directions,
confusion growing to epiphany:
she grasped the man’s hands & dug her nails & squeezed
in 1 thick blast o’ packed pain. As the spectre
yelped out & weakened his hold, she twisted the gun
out o’ his hands & held the heavens @ gunpoint;
but God’s wry magic proved its potency
upon pulled trigger, triggering sniggering clicks.
Her mouth curled up into a flaccid grin,
but her eyes were still dark.
She whispered hoarsely,
What a lucky night for me.
The shadow spent another step & reached
into its pocket. She considered reaching
into her own so they could have
a righteous knife fight like pirates, but kept
her word to the weapons she already had.
She tensed her standing, deathly fearful
the man would flee.
The figure’s voice sunk deeper.
You’d be wise
to run. Autumn raised her bottle, cheers,
& then swing it @ the spectre’s head.
¡Ow! ¡You crazy bitch!.
Autumn kept up clubbing, clubbing,
Yes, @ last, Autumn found
a club for her to get her rocks off,
on the rocks, as hard as ought
be. Yes, club, club. Get that body
to the ground. How wet she was,
red with blood & sticky, too,
with sour scent o’ iron & vodka.
All perfumes o’ Holywood
ne’er dare wash it down, just like
swooning teenage girls’ 1st hickeys.
O, damned spot, don’t e’er out me out.
¿How’d the song sing?
♪ “Well, you tell me that your lover has a broken limb.
You say you’re kinda restless now & it’s on account o’ him”. ♫
Well, they be no diamonds 🔷 in the mine no mo’
— doubt there e’er were —
& she didn’t know how much Kool-Aid was in sugar
But she knew how much blood 🩸 was in a body ha ha ha 😂
But now the steps become stumbling much too long
Her wretched aim in the wrong place
Missing that succulent face, not rosy ’nough
For bloody mary lusty lizbeth standards
Just smacking grass stupidly which was funny for some reason
But not funny with reason. Plus her arm was tired.
¿How’d the song sing?
Now it’s was time
Toss at way the baton bot
Tle & scrape outta pocket the proper u
It’s time to shave dave
But, ¡hiiiic! ¿Yonder thru breaks window what lights?
This rave is slave to sleeplessness. It caws,
red & white like candy canes,
searing eyes back into brains.
Autumn still stood staring straight in wide-eyed shock as the white-uniformed officer marched toward them, followed by ’nother stranger in a brown sweater. She held herself golemned & mute, using all her mental processors in attempt to follow the follower as he ’splained to the officer how he saw someone try to rob her & called the cops, interspersed with the “robber” ranting ’bout how “that nutjob” tried to kill him.
¿You OK, Madame?.
Autumn started, feeling the blood vanish from her body. She turned her horn-owl gaze straight @ the officer — a young, thin man with no hair. She crackled into laughter, only to dam it with hand.
Y-yeah, she said slowly, hoping to hide her slur.
I’m — my apologies..
¿This man tried to rob you? Don’t be ’fraid now.
Autumn’s pause felt like but a moment, but, she fretted, maybe for minutes, so swiftly did the hours outpace her sludged-up brainsparks.
Yeah, but it’s OK… I don’t want to press charges.
The officer looked @ her with a mix o’ surprise & worry.
Yeah…. E’en Autumn’s nods felt clumsy.
He — I think he learned his lesson.
If you say so, Madame. I’d suggest you go somewhere safer, tho.
Autumn nodded ’gain.
Everyone dispersed, including Autumn, who stumbled in the opposite direction o’ the officer. As she went, she felt the nicotine taste in her mouth grow stale. She spit the cigarette on the ground & smooshed it with the ball o’ her foot, & then spit. ’Twas while doing this that she felt bile rise in her throat. She didn’t fight it, but made way as the vomit streamed out onto the grass. She bent down to keep from having to crane her head painfully, to get nearer to the dirt & weeds.
Something caught her shoulder.
¿You OK, Madame?.
She lifted herself off the ground & wiped her mouth.
Yeah… Ne’er felt better.
Then the man, the man in the brown sweater from before, said,
You showed that scumbag thief, ¿didn’t you?.
Autumn’s pupils thinned.
She rose to her feet & straightened her jacket. She could feel the mix o’ warm puke & cool grass dew that clung to its bottom edge brush gainst her sweats.
’Scuse me, she said in a hushed tone, & then walked onward.
O-OK, Madame. Keep safe. She didn’t answer him.
She caught up to the would-be thief stumbling toward the street. When she was half a meter ’way, she said,
He swung round in 1 wild motion & exclaimed, but in a hushed voice,
Jesus, psycho. ¿What do you want with me?
She held out 5,000₧-worth o’ bills.
Sorry ’bout that, Sir.
He eyed her suspiciously, his pupils flicking ’tween her face & the bills. He slowly reached out & put his hand round the other edge o’ the bills &, when she lifted her fingers, slowly craned it back toward himself & pocketed the bills.
1 mo’ thing. Just a li’l advice: She leaned closer to him, her voice becoming mo’ whispery.
Next time you try to stick someone up with a gun, make sure you load it with real bullets & be prepared to shoot them.
She turned & walked ’way, but then turned back to say,
O, & 1 last piece o’ advice. The stranger, who had turned to go in the opposite direction, swung all the way toward her, his expression mo’ annoyed than fearful now. She continued,
Don’t try robbing a master thief, & then swung ’way, tightening her jacket round her.
However, this time she was the 1 to stop when the stranger called out,
Hey, ¿what ’bout my gun?.
She peeked o’er her shoulder & said,
You’re not going to do anything useful with it.
She walked a few blocks & stopped under the shade o’ a neighborhood elm. She pulled the gun out o’ her pocket & shared eye-time ’tween staring down & it & glancing round herself. She exhaled & licked her lips.
Fuck it, she thought as she put the gun back into her pocket & continued down the block.
The noises still crackled
thru her head like
special static — the tearing
screams, the pounding footsteps,
the thud o’ people
bumping into one ’nother —
as she trudged down
the moonlit streets, the weight
o’ the sack on her arm
feeling like a long-
With neither delay nor hurry, she climbed the steps & opened their door. She wasn’t surprised that ’twasn’t locked.
Tho Dawn usually didn’t turn ’way from her work or games when Autumn entered, this time she was wise ’nough to do so. Edgar, too, took notice & walked into the living room from the kitchen.
¿Off early?, asked Dawn.
It’s the least they could do with all the o’ertime you get.
Autumn threw her sack on the floor, emitting a sound like static as all its contents knocked into each other. The bag’s lips fell open, drooling a few pieces o’ diamond necklaces, quartz bracelets, & leather wallets onto the carpet.
Dawn looked down @ it, & then up @ Autumn with a grin.
You big, fat liar. ¿Why didn’t you tell us — or a’least let Edgar help?. Edgar was still staring @ the bag.
Then Autumn pulled out o’ her pocket & tossed onto the floor a gun. Edgar looked up @ Autumn, shaking. The smile on Dawn’s face fell for a moment, but then rose back up a bit.
You’re just joking, ¿aren’t you? C’mon, e’en I know that’s a ridiculously risky way to get money.
Shoot it @ the wall — ’way from all o’ us, ’course.
Dawn laughed uneasily.
I don’t think so….
It’s blanks. It’s an ol’ trick that some other guys managed to pull off decades ago. I’m surprised it worked ’gain for me. She began aiming finger guns up.
I started shooting round outside a hotel, causing everyone inside to panic & flee. While they did so, I snuck in & grabbed what I could, disguised as yet ’nother blood-frightened tenant.
That’s wondersome…, said Dawn, tho Autumn noted Dawn’s mixed expression still aimed @ the gun.
I have nothing gainst the treasure you stole, ’course… but I have to put my foot down on the gun staying, blanks or not.
Got it. She picked it up & flung it out the door, into the yard down below.
However, after standing for a couple seconds in the middle o’ the room, she turned back to the door, mumbling,
Can ne’er be too careful….
As she was coming back in with the gun, she said,
Dawn, ¿you have any chemicals that can corrode metal?.
Yeah. You’re not going to melt the gun, ¿are you?
Can ne’er be too sure ’bout fingerprints. ¿Can’t they trace a gun thru its bullets — e’en blanks? ¿Why take the chance?.
I’m not gonna argue, Dawn said as she rose, only to pause with a blank gaze & curved brows — a look far mo’ worrying than worry or sadness: the look o’ a developing idea.
When 5 minutes had passed, Autumn went o’er to Dawn’s lab to see its door wide open. She went in & saw Dawn staring @ an open closet packed with shelves o’ potions, rubbing her chin.
¿Did you find it?, asked Autumn.
Dawn jerked back.
¿Huh? O yeah. Dawn grabbed a potion on the upper right & walked back o’er to Autumn. ’Long the way, Autumn stared Dawn in the eyes. Dawn, seeing this, grew a weak smile.
Autumn’s heart rate rose in fulfilled fear when she heard Dawn say,
You know, I have quite a few other potions you might be interested in looking @….
Autumn took the potion from Dawn without dropping her stony eyes from Dawn’s.
’Twas a 1-time thing. A foolish whim — 1 whose success was 1 in a billion. If I were caught, I’d get worse than I’d get for my usual heists o’ the past. As people get older, they should get mo’ careful.
Dawn frowned, but then began beating her outspread fingers on 1 hand gainst their mirrors on the other hand.
You would’ve been safer if you had some people helping you… & the right tools….
I understand you wanting to get me back into treasure hunting, despite that faucet rusting shut a long time ago… ¿but are you seriously urging me to start thieving ’gain? ’Cause it’s not as friendly as exploring some anthophilan rave in some hippie garden. Most use guns with true bullets.
But Dawn’s expression didn’t change. It seemed as if the phosphorous white light from ’bove, which accomplished nothing but looking out o’ place in this dim evening, flashed ’cross Dawn’s glasses.
But we don’t need such vulgar tools. You’re too clever for such vulgar methods….
Autumn shook her head.
That was 1 idea. Most o’ my past heists were much mo’ tedious — & much less rewarding. Considering the harm it’d do to my job, it simply wouldn’t be financially sane.
Dawn spread her arms.
¿How could it harm your job? We can pull heists on your days off — since we’ve already established that some o’ your o’ertime was moonlit. Dawn nudged Autumn with her elbow.
There’s too many ways & reasons & I’m too tired to talk ’bout it & don’t have to, Autumn said as she turned for the door.
I’m not doing it, period.
Part o’ Autumn expected Dawn to leave it @ that. ¿What else was there for her to say but ’nother, “Please…”. But just after Autumn opened the door, Dawn said,
If you want to exclude us both now for whate’er reason, you can a’least be honest ’bout it.
The classic 1-way trip to Guiltsville, I see.
But it didn’t fill Autumn with guilt. In fact, it filled her with bitterness: Dawn was the one who got to stay all day @ home working with Edgar. Granted, she had to admit she didn’t try hanging round these idiots on her days off — & this delightful conversation offered a great explanation.
Autumn turned back & said,
& if you’re going to call me a liar, you should a’least be direct & say outright, ‘You’re a fucking liar’. ¿Are you prepared to do that?.
To her surprise, Dawn raised her voice & said,
You did lie ’bout being @ work. ¿Why was that, ’less you planned this heist beforehand & didn’t want us to be involved?.
Autumn scowled. How she so wanted to tell Dawn the truth, — “¡’Cause I don’t want to be round you idiots!” — but like the solution to all her problems, she felt an invisible wire hold her back, always tying her back from what was best into her eternal mediocrity.
With a cool look in her eyes, Dawn said,
Look, if you’re self-conscious… — I mean, I hope that’s it, since the alternative doesn’t sound good — I don’t think you need to —.
¡Self-conscious! ¿Do you understand the words that come out o’ your mouth? I just shot blanks @ a fucking hotel & went right inside & took things under them & I sound self-conscious.
Dawn hastened to say,
I mean round us — & I don’t mean o’ physical danger, but the fear — the worry o’….
¿Fear o’ what?, Autumn said from the depths o’ her throat. She swung back toward Dawn & started walking toward her.
¿Fear o’ failure? ¿Is that it? No, I’m not ’fraid. Quite the opposite: I’m o’erly familiar with failure. I’m sick o’ failure.
Dawn put a hand on Autumn’s arm & said,
I won’t let you fail, which pissed Autumn off worse.
Her usual habit: insult me & then add salt to the insult by being nice.
Autumn shoved her hand off & turned ’way.
No. & I didn’t tell you guys ’cause it’s too dangerous for you. You’re too cuddly, too precious. You came from a middle-class light world full o’ angel food cake; & there’s no room for angel food cake in the dark world o’ crime.
Dawn neither backed off nor found humor in this, — either Autumn would’ve expected — but still frowning & with an odd acidity in her eyes, crossed her arms & said,
¿Is that what I was when I was locked in jail for a year, suspected o’ terrorism? ¿Angel cake?.
That was just a few months — that news article we read made a typo & put “2022” when it meant “2021”.
¿Does it make a difference?, asked Dawn.
If ’twere a year or 20 years, I wouldn’t have up & said, “All right, paisanos, it’s been gelid here, but I’m ready to splice out” & they wouldn’t have just let me go home.
Autumn started to notice a pall o’ heat smothering her like interrogation lights.
Yeah, you didn’t have a choice — that was just ’cause you got mixed up with me.
¿Got mixed up with you? ¿& how did that happen? ¿Can you brainwash people?.
¿What?. Autumn shook her head.
I think you ought to get some rest. You’re talking nonsense.
Autumn, ¿what’s stopping me from moving out & leaving your “vile influence” for’er?.
Autumn felt as if she’d been shoved. Her eyes drooped. She felt like she was ’bout to pass out from exhaustion right now.
Nothing, said Autumn.
Quite honestly, you’d be wise to do so.
& yet I haven’t & aren’t planning on doing so. ¿Why not?.
Autumn paused to think o’ how best to respond, but was too tired to mire too long, & decided to just stick with the truth:
Dawn laughed — but Autumn could see it wasn’t her usual cheerful giggle.
You don’t truly believe that. ¿Pity for the amazing thief & treasure hunter who toppled a mayor, defeated a witch who controlled the undead, saved Boskeopolis — & my own life, I might add — from that psycho controlling Lightning Tower? ¿& who am I to feel such pity? ¿Rich & famous seller o’ cosmetic potions to bored middle class people?.
You’re much happier.
Autumn was taken aback by how dark-rimmed & saggy Dawn’s eyes looked, ’specially under the spotlight o’ the lab lights.
But she replied,
If I’m such an amazing thief, ¿why do I spend a’least 8 hours a day filling fucking boxes full o’ useless shit?.
You tell me, since you’re the one pretending you can’t be an amazing thief anymo’, e’en tho you just pulled off a heist.
Autumn raised her voice in exasperation.
¿Why are you so interested in me being a thief ’gain? ¿What are you on?.
¿Why are you so interested in avoiding it? You can’t tell me it’s ’cause you love filling boxes all day.
¿What? ¿Would you prefer I be an unemployed sponge? ¿Do you e’en think before you speak? I work so I can have money — that was always the whole point o’ everything I’ve e’er done. Stealing was ne’er for funsies.
Dawn crossed her arms ’gain.
Bullshit. Thieving & treasure hunting is the only time I’ve e’er seen you happy.
Yeah, that was when I was younger & an e’en shittier person than I am now. You do know that thieving causes other people to suffer, ¿right? ¿Are you seriously trying to convince me you want me to make others suffer?.
¿Who? ¿Rich people with mo’ money than they know what to do with? Money that could go to all kinds o’ charities. You always told me you admired Robin Hood as a child. ¿Now you think he’s a shitty person?.
I acknowledge that he’s a fable & that the real world doesn’t work that way.
¿Why? ¿’Cause it’s good, & something good is unfathomable? ¿Why bother with filling boxes all day if that won’t come to any good, either? After all, I’m sure you’ve already thought o’ a million disasters that could come to that, too.
Autumn pointed @ her head & shouted,
Well, it’s not like you loved my plan B o’ blowing my brains out.
Dawn shrank back, hurt deep in her eyes as if Autumn had began shooting @ her. Autumn turned her wilting look ’way, her “gun” finger withering to her side.
Looking ’way now, Dawn said,
I’m sorry. What you do is your own business. I got mad ’cause o’ what you said earlier, but forget it. I just want you to know that I have full faith in your abilities... & just wished you had the same for me.
Dawn walked past Autumn. Autumn turned back, puzzled, & said,
¿In what abilities? ¿Being a thief?.
Without turning back to look @ Autumn, Dawn said, with a rare note o’ acridity in her voice,
In not being just a pampered “angel cake”.
That was a compliment. I was saying you were good. You don’t think I don’t think Edgar’s an “angel cake”, ¿do you?.
I remember you once told me that you thought Edgar might be mo’ bitter @ society than he let up….
Autumn scratched her head, becoming itchy under the heat o’ the night.
Well, I mean, he was an outcast skeleton & lived in a storm drain. He probably should be mo’ bitter than he is — certainly mo’ than I am, which shows what a better person he is.
¿’Twould be better if he were worse, mo’ like you?.
No, I was saying it’s good that he’s not like me — something I can’t believe I have to ’splain to you.
You just said he should be mo’ bitter.
No, I said ’twas good that he’s less —
Dawn turned to Autumn. Without anger, but mo’ a sad confusion, Dawn said,
You just said he should probably be mo’ bitter.
I meant that would be mo’ logical.
¿So logic is bad?.
Autumn paused, dumbfounded.
I’m sure you’d say I got “mixed up” with you ’cause o’ my friendship with Edgar. ¿But why do you think he got “mixed up” with you?.
Autumn harshly rubbed the side o’ her eye.
It’s a long story I’m sure we told you before. I was the only one who would associate with him.
¿& what does that say ’bout all those other good people?.
Autumn stared @ Dawn in silence, brows twisted.
¿Did it occur to you that maybe Edgar likes you ’cause you’re bad?.
Autumn shook her head.
I don’t know what happened to you today to make you 180 into a depressed nihilist, but I think you should get some rest so you can start thinking clearly, ’cause I’m too tired to think clearly & this conversation is accomplishing nothing but simulating a bad drug trip. ¿Can I please just get some rest so I can not get fired from my miserable & useless job?.
Dawn nodded in sadness.
I’m sorry. Yeah, I am feeling tired, too. You’re right: we should get some rest.
As Autumn lay down on her sleeping bag in that cloistered living room surrounded in junk & prepared her phone to wake her up tomorrow morn, she noticed Dawn prepare her couch bed & glanced o’er to her chemicals on the tea table, which Dawn ne’er bothered to put ’way. ¿& why should she? She was just going to get right back to working on them the next morn.
Dawn’s right: I haven’t become good; I’ve become boring & pathetic & useless.
So soon starting her work evening, already Autumn felt rusty. No matter how much she didn’t want to be, she was tired, & that slowed the conveyor belts & attracted the angry attention o’ her coworkers.
Damn it, ¡wake up! We’re on shallow water from all the other days you’ve fucked up. ¿Why can’t you do anything right?.
She remembered the words o’ her coworkers — to someone else, but just as applicable to her: “¿You’re sleepy? ¿Why are you here? ¿Why not go home?”.
She pinched her cheek — pain, that was the sole medicine she had with booze barred. But it wasn’t ’nough. Her body still drooped.
It’s the lack o’ sleep. Fuck… Thanks to my jackassery, & the later excitement it caused, I didn’t get to sleep till, ¿what? ¿5 AM @ the earliest?.
¡That’s a valid ’scuse for them, I’m sure!.
She began pressing down on her hand, which made things a li’l better. But the exhaustion still dragged her. She slammed her hand onto the table to the point o’ bashing & grit teeth.
She looked to her side with the kind o’ wide gaze you’d aim @ a lion. There stood the lead.
¿You all right?.
¿Why lie? I’ve already fucked up.
She shook her head.
OK, you can clock out. Next time you should tell me if you’re not feeling well.
She nodded & walked ’way from the mess o’ toppled boxes & loose-hanging papers & plastic bags, down the esophagus o’ the building.
After punching out, Autumn threw herself into the restroom doors & pulled off the latex gloves covered in the grayest o’ grime found in the deepest recesses o’ the most ancient o’ crates & let them fall onto the dusty checkered floor like leaves.
As she paused in front o’ the mirror — out o’ pure mental exhaustion — her ears began to pick up the content o’ voices:
¡…& then began beating the shit out o’ him!.
Yeah. A laugh.
Good for her.
Autumn’s eyes lit up.
As if addressing Autumn’s thoughts, 1 o’ the voices said as it drifted ’way,
& the best part is that the hypocrite complained to the police ’bout having an unloaded gun stolen from him, only to have the rest cut off by a closing door.
But Autumn didn’t need to hear any mo’. She was too busy staring @ herself in the mirror — the extra wrinkles under her eyes, the sunkenness o’ her cheeks, & the gray hairs that seemed to already grow on her head.
She silently mouthed the words:
Do something interesting already.
Look @ you: dying &
peeling off skin to ’scape explosion.
¿Why not just jump in? ¿What’s to lose?
¿Minimum wage? ¿& all for what?
¿Save it over decades spent
in untolerable tedium,
then retire with modest wealth,
worthless & bored?
You can’t ’scape reality:
you have but 1 role in life.
Rather than swim against the current
toward the waterfall, just jump
right the fuck right off.
Autumn felt a restlessness
all-too well-acquainted. She needed
fresh air. She hurried out
from the bathroom, from the whole building,
into the night, where the air was cool
as a fan’s spinning blades.
Autumn paused before the front door, rubbing her key round in her hand. Then she unlocked it & threw it open. As she expected, while Edgar had fallen asleep, Dawn was still sitting up in the yellow light, eyes staring @ some online video o’ some cutesy video game she watched after a long day o’ studying & her 1-woman potion assembly-line.
She remembered what she thought before, ’bout how if Dawn’s potions were a bit mo’ profitable Autumn could just become her assistant. Her pride had been destroyed ’nough to make it feasible.
Dawn looked up & began to say hi, but shrunk back ’pon seeing Autumn march up to her with such stark sternness.
¿How certain are you in doing this crazy business?, asked Autumn.
¿You mean the stealing? ¿Using my chemicals?.
Dawn blinked & then said,
¿What have we got to lose?.
¿You absolutely sure? There’s no backing out.
¿What do you mean?.
I can’t do this & my job @ the same time.
’Cause I said so. Autumn frowned.
’Cause I’m too ol’ & weak for both — don’t give me your bullshit assurances. I know mo’ ’bout the physical effects o’ both robbing & my job; it’s just not feasible.
I guess I wouldn’t have time to do both my job & my school work, either. 1’ll have to go.
Last time I’ll ask: ¿confirm? ¿Can I trust you to not whimper out?.
Yes. I’m sure we both need this.
Autumn nodded, too. Then she pulled out her cell & made a call. She took a deep breath as she waited for the dial.
Flan HQ Attendance. ¿Could you give us your employee #?.
Autumn gave her # & confirmed her name. Dawn watched with curiosity.
I’m calling to give my resignation, said Autumn. After a pause, she replied,
I have to use my time for other responsibilities. Sorry. ’Nother pause.
Yes. Thank you. You, too. Bye.
Autumn pocketed her phone & looked back @ Dawn.
It’s done. No going back now.
Dawn giggled, only to look guilty afterward.
I’m sure you could get ’nother job if this turned out to not go well.
Autumn shook her head.
Not with my shoddy record.
You’ve ne’er been late.
You don’t know that — & trust me, I sucked @ this job. No good recommendations from this boss.
Dawn didn’t press further. She watched Autumn stare @ the floor.
Well, don’t worry, ’cause with how amazing we’ll do, we won’t need any crummy factory wages or paltry chemical sales. With your brilliant plans & my crafty chemical devices, we’ll be like the Walter White & Jesse Pinkman o’ thieves — ’cept you’re mo’ like Walter White.
Dawn’s smile widened @ Autumn’s attempt to suppress a smile. Autumn shook her head.
No — but I’d rather die doing this than… the alternative.
¿You find out you have cancer? ¿@ the ripe ol’ age o’ — what, 30?.
31. Thank you for reminding me.
That’s better than my 34 — & look @ how young I still am.
Autumn glanced ’way.
Dawn crossed her arms.
All right, smart ass. If your ridiculously anal standards disagree, I guess….
You might want to get some sleep. We have a long day tomorrow, before lying down & closing her eyes to all light.
Tomorrow, morrow, morrow.
So they bang, those braining pots
till I’m down the well. Well,
if my stomach acid kills
my excuse for a spirit to
serve or be served in heaven, as
Huckleberry Finn did tell:
All right, then, I’ll go to hell.