novel excerpt:
Things We Lost in the Fire

by Kristina Marie Darling
forum: Things We Lost in the Fire
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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Things We Lost in the Fire
an excerpt from the in-progress novel
The Great Destroyer


      Chelsea hated Sundays like a Baptist preacher hates Catholics. She hated David Ambrose, her father, who drove to church that morning with the entire family kicking and screaming in the backseat of the S.U.V. She hated how David turned on the preacher’s frequency on the radio, nodding his head. He was so sure the time of reckoning would come, that he knew it in the cold joints of his clavicles, and in every bone. Chelsea wasn’t so convinced of the impending judgment. She leaned up to the leather driver’s seat, her lips pursed tight and her brows arched upward like the arcades of a cathedral.

      “Dad, what are we being judged for? What did we do?” Chelsea wanted to know.

      “Our sins, Chelsea. That Snickers bar you ate for breakfast this morning. The Nirvana album under your bed. Your blue hair. Only you know what you’re being judged for. And believe me, you are. Even as we speak, God keeps a tally. And you’re losing, Chelsea.” David continued nodding his head as the preacher on the radio evoked flames and little fork-tailed devils in the charcoal underfoot.

      “Whatever. When I’m a doctor, you’ll be saying something else.” Chelsea was Pre-Med at U. Chicago, dreaming of the day she’d don a stethoscope.

      “Tell him what kinda doctor, Chelsea.” Lannagan, her little brother, grinned his loose-toothed grin. He loved seeing Chelsea squirm.

      “Abortion doctor.” Aurelie, her mother, finished before Chelsea had bent her tongue to begin forming the words. “Chelsea’s going to help women have their freedom.” Aurelie was vocal about wishing she’d never begotten kids – childlessness meant more time and more money to buy shoes and red sweaters.

      “What’s that supposed to mean? We’re like slavery?” Lannagan asked. “We kinda are, aren’t we Chelsea?” Lannagan smiled.

      David had stopped listening as they pulled up to the million-dollar church complex, their S.U.V. clanking as they hit the speed bumps. He turned off the radio, straightening the part in his hair with the little mirror on the visor of his car.

      Walking in, David shook hands with everyone, telling them how he’d gotten his soul saved by one of Pastor Raymond’s television commercials in the middle of “Tool Shop T.V.” Chelsea rolled her eyes, Aurelie checked out the other men. Seven-year-old Lannagan grinned and tried to wiggle some teeth loose. All was as it should be in the Ambrose family.

      As the service started, Chelsea winced. Her head felt heavy. She sensed the migraine coming, and dreamed soft pillowy dreams of Tylenol and Excedrin.

      The pastor mounted the huge black stage, lit with leftover Christmas lights, lasers, and the huge cardboard Jesus, glowing in the background. Chelsea rolled her sore eyes. She knew that churches shouldn’t have a light and sound system, or a laser show. She thought about how her God was quiet, that God exists quietly, unlike the choirgirls jumping like Mexican beans in neat little rows on the platform.

      Chelsea started shouting, “Saved from what? Saved from what? Money hogs! Jesus pigs!” She started to stagger. This was what always happened when she had a bad headache. A white light struck her down, as David always said God would someday smite the sinners. She crumpled like a napkin, a small blue-haired pile on the floor of the church.

      When Chelsea was dragged up by her father, she had chipped a fake silver fingernail on a red velvet chair and her hair looked tangled like a bird’s nest.

      “May I be excused from the worshipping crap?” she asked, her crown of tangles bobbing as she walked to the restroom.

      Chelsea slammed the big wooden door behind her, the “LADIES” sign falling and cracking like an egg. She passed the mirror, stopping for a moment to observe just how sick she looked. Chelsea shut the stall door behind her. She thought of her father, how he would say that God had struck her down like a lightening bolt. She almost smiled.

      She threw a stall door open and leaned over the toilet. Chelsea opened her mouth wide. She knew what was coming. As all the chocolate spilled from her insides, she thought: God is not here, in this place. She wiped her mouth with a coarse paper towel, and walked back as the service ended. The new converts wept in their overalls and flannel shirts, taking in the smoke and spotlights as one would drink in television. She walked through the aisles, scanning the blank faces for her family. After a few minutes, she went back to the S.U.V and waited. She opened the door, which David left unlocked to show his trust in The Lord, and sat in the back. She leaned her head against the cold window, and slept.

      The sound of doors opening shook her from dreams of fetuses, zygotes, cadavers, and battered women. She breathed in deeply and closed her eyes. Her head still felt like she’d let the devil inside – it was swollen like stubbed toe. Chelsea stared out the window the whole way home, and no one spoke except for David, who let out an occasional “Amen” and “That’s the shit!” as the preacher expounded upon Bible verses. And when cars butted in front of him, an occasional “Damn you to hell” and “Fuck” slipped between his holy words, sandwiched between bible verses and the hot breath of a man who Chelsea thought was tired of this world, alive only in the quiet, clean place between his oversize ears.

      Chelsea rolled her eyes. She thought of her white lab-coat, and the bruised women to whom she’d give temporary relief.

* * *

      A few days after the church visit, the toads were back. They’d taken over the back yard, nesting in the hollows of the fence and in abandoned dovecotes. Chelsea kind of liked them. They’d come last summer, their chirping like grass or new foliage, like a hymn bent low to the ground. The weather was wet like it was last summer, the ground smushy and swamp-like. She said it reminded her of something from the poetry she read, something ungoverned by exterminators or big sticks. But if David could have invoked a giant megaphone at any time and amplified his threats of the Judgment, it would have sure as hell been right now. The toads had cuddled up to his pipe, left on the patio by a careless wife, and one frog had threaded its tongue though the smoke-hole. Chelsea walked outside to get her textbook, left out on the patio by her kid brother, and saw her dad trying to step on the toads.

      “Dad, what are you doing? They come with the wet weather, in a few days they’ll be gone.” Chelsea tried to stop him from smashing their tiny wart-covered bodies.

      “We can’t have toads running our backyard. It’s in the scriptures. They’re a bad sign, Chelsea. Something’s gonna happen.” He started reciting Psalms, squishing toads as though they were sticky bugs.

      Chelsea thought: He’s crazy. She got in the car and drove off to her favorite monthly poetry reading downtown, thinking the whole time about what the white flash meant. She knew what it meant – She was going to die. Chelsea had come across more serious things than migraines in her studies and was surprised at how often her symptoms matched up with the part of the textbook corresponding to “Brain Tumor – Malignant.” After a few days of thinking and fact-checking, she knew it like her father knew there was a god. She couldn’t quite prove it, but she felt it in the marrow of her bones.

      Driving slowly, she listened to an Anne Sexton cassette tape. Chelsea, as a pre-med student, hid her Lord Byron books from the Chemistry majors. Rhyming wasn’t exactly hard science, they said. In the tape’s story, it was raining dolls. Anne was throwing her lipstick at the church on Mercy Street. Chelsea smiled.

      Chelsea became convinced that she was going to die about once every three weeks. First it was the sore on her leg, which was actually an infected razor cut. It showed through her fishnets, and she knew it meant death. Then it was the hacking cough that comes with four packs a day during finals. Everyone else chalked Chelsea’s death-complex up to the girl’s non-believing existential philosophy of life. She took her own pulse constantly, and tried to speed the process.

      That night, Chelsea picked up a guy at the poetry reading and wondered if Yeats was right, that sex and death were inextricably linked for her that evening. She wanted someone safe, who wouldn’t ditch her for some blonde who did nothing to prevent the bombings of Planned Parenthood clinics across the nation. She found him by the punch bowl. The flirting stage was short and sweet: Chelsea liked his sweater-vest, and he was taking her home.

      It wasn’t until she had gotten inside his studio apartment that she began to wonder about him. There were Metallica posters everywhere, bongs, hard rock C.D.s, and concert memorabilia, in addition to the pill bottles.

      “WHAT?!” resounded from Chelsea’s lips as she opened the door.

      “You’re supposed to like poetry! What about the thrift store khakis you’re wearing, goddamn it!” She almost cried. Chelsea couldn’t handle one more surprise this week.

      Chelsea picked up a bong, and proceeded to stuff it full of pot and light it. She liked the feeling of death’s jagged fingernails tickling her back. She knew that if she was going down, she might as well go down in flames.

* * *

      Chelsea’s cell phone rang when she was sleeping off the marijuana and alcohol the next morning. She pushed sweater-vest boy out of the way, climbed over sheets and blankets and answered it. It was her mother.

      “Chelsea, come home. You need to come home right now. You’re dad’s gone crazy.” Aurelie Ambrose sounded frantic, and Chelsea thought about the other ten times she’d received a phone call just like this one.

      “Okay, Mom, I’m coming.” She didn’t want to go home, but knew her mother would probably end up on the funny farm with David if left alone. Chelsea gathered her belongings and some of the nerd boy’s pot in a big shopping bag and shut the door as he slept soundly, looking as drug-free as a high school D.A.R.E. counselor.

      When Chelsea got home, David Ambrose opened the door. It was the first time Chelsea had seen him cry outside of the million dollar white brick church, and she knew Aurelie had left him by her phone call and the look on his face.

      Chelsea didn’t know what to say. She felt paralyzed from the neck down, her brain racing with quick, useless thoughts.

      Chelsea thought about Aurelie. Her mother was beautiful like the heroin-addicted women she’d seen in clothing ads. She wondered if it was another man, one who could buy her red high heels and slim, silver bracelets.

      Her father said, “It’s the toads.”

      Chelsea smiled. “What do you mean, the toads? Where is Mom?” “They’re a bad sign, Chelsea. Plagues, you know, once they come, they never let up. It’s one thing and then another, and another. Before you know it there’ll be locusts and crabs and flies. It’s never just one thing, Chelsea.” David was shaking his head.

      “Did Mom leave? Why do you think Mom left?” Chelsea knew he’d done something.

      David smiled. “I really don’t know. I didn’t do anything to make her, Chelsea. Just doin’ the Lord’s work.”

      “What’s that supposed to mean?” She furrowed her brow.

      “I gave away our money to the poor homeless folks. I had to do something, what with the frogs taking over our backyard. The Lord’s angry, Chelsea. I know, and you do too. Went to an A.T.M. and took it all out of our bank account. There’s homeless people who’ve got food now, honey. We’re gonna have a better place in heaven.” He patted Chelsea on the shoulder.

      “Chelsea,” he said with a big Cheshire-cat grin on his face, “I’m not going to pay money for you to kill babies.”

      Today marked the fifth time this same thing had happened. Chelsea knew Aurelie always came back, their credit cards full of marks from the constant swiping. It was usually like this – her dad managing the money that was there, Aurelie spending dollars yet to come.

      “WHAT?! My tuition money?! I’ll never get in Columbia!” She slapped her father in the face and walked toward the door.

      David look like he’d been stun gunned. Then he smiled again and said, “I’m not letting you near a family planning clinic. You’re going to spend every Wednesday night in youth group.”

      Chelsea hadn’t felt this scared since the Halloween when she was eight, and David dressed up as Freddy Krueger – it was a surprise until Chelsea opened her closet. She missed the black sheep her father used to be. At least he was sincere. Chelsea closed the door quietly behind her. She knew not to make crazy people angry. And Chelsea didn’t really know where she was going. She got in her tiny Honda Civic, dented and beaten with use, and drove to the grocery store. She walked around the aisles with her hands in her pockets. The lights bore down on her like a heavy rain, and her head began to feel large and swollen. The pamphlets in the doctor’s offices had always said: LIGHT IS HARMFUL TO MIGRAINE-TROUBLED PEOPLE. Maybe she wasn’t going to die after all. As the migraine closed in on her, she thought she might as well have some fun before crumpling down to the floor. She picked up a little red basket, and weeded out all the foods David would designate as bedeviled. There was a little money on her debit card, so she bought them.

      Chelsea thought: The weather is abnormally sunny. The curb was littered with ladybugs and ants, little bottle-caps and Diet Pepsi cans, but she sat down there and ate a truffle. Her head felt like she was lugging an anvil on her tiny shoulders, and the sun became larger and larger. Before Chelsea knew it, the whole sky was one bright light. Light is harmful to migraine-troubled people, Chelsea whispered as though it were a spell to keep the boogey men away, light is harmful to migraine-troubled people, light is harmful to migraine troubled people, light is harmful to migraine-troubled people, light is harmful to migraine troubled people, light is harmful to migraine-troubled people, light is harmful to migraine troubled people. She folded herself neatly like clean laundry on the curbside, her hair spilling onto the pavement like a flood of blue chlorinated water. Someone tried to wake her up, or at least she thought that’s what was poking her. Then more poking from several well meaning soccer-moms. And the sirens sounded, a song rising up from the street.

* * *

      Chelsea woke up in a hospital bed. The sheets like were like tinfoil, and the little steel bedposts were cold when accidentally touched.

      The doctor closed the door behind her and started flipping though Chelsea’s chart.

      Chelsea hadn’t even noticed the door opening. “Seizures,” The mussed little blonde woman said. Chelsea thought: She looks like a female Albert Einstein. The little woman continued, “Mild seizures are causing the white lights, collapsing and such. I’ll be right back with some pamphlets.”

      The first thing she noticed that really scared her, though, was her father sitting in the visitor’s chair. The second thing that frightened her was Aurelie Ambrose, walking into the room with a shopping bag full of fancy bibles.

      “Mom, I… I thought you left us. What happened to ‘Forty Ounces to Freedom’ and ‘Seventeen Chardonnays after Shopping?’ You know, all the stuff you used to say about how unhappy you were.” Chelsea half-wished Aurelie had just gone, but didn’t want to be left alone with David for more than a minute.

      “Do you want to tell Chelsea or should I?” David asked, his wife slouched and chic in the chair behind him.

      “Chelsea, I saw the Devil and what David’s been telling you is very real.” Aurelie leaned closer to Chelsea, her hot breath rank in the cool hospital air.

      “The what-what?” Chelsea always stuttered when crazy people talked about the devil.

      “He’s blonde, Irish, went to Harvard… I thought I loved him, Chelsea. Until I knew.” She now had a lovely platinum cross dangling from her neck, the little flecks of light shooting from the metal into her hair.

      “Where did you meet the fucking devil? A singles bar? Mom, this isn’t like you.” Chelsea was now raised up in her bed, her shoulders straight and her hands slightly cold without blankets.

      “At your father’s church, honey. The devil always goes where you don’t expect him.” Aurelie took Chelsea’s hand.

      “What are you trying to tell me, other than you need to get committed?” Chelsea was convinced her mother had had some of the stash she brought with her from the poetry geek’s apartment.

      “Sweetie, he told me I could have everything I wanted: a loving husband, money for your medical school, shopping, if I just got in the car. I did. But I’m back. Because that’s not important. I just have to trust that the Lord provides for everything.” An unearthly calm emanated from Aurelie’s starved body.

      “Mom… You didn’t… Uh… You know… Dip into my stash, did you?” Chelsea knew that someday her mother would resort to drugs, but she didn’t think it was going to be so soon.

      “No, Honey. I’m high on Jesus.” She smiled.

      Chelsea gave up, her heart pounding with the injustice of her diminished pot stash.

* * *

      The day Chelsea came home, Aurelie cooked brownies, donning a little apron. Her hair was twisted like a big cinnamon roll on the back of her head. She looked like a heroin-addicted Stepford wife, her pink suede pumps clicking on their hardwood floors. And Chelsea felt out of place in her bedroom, even with the pot stash and her Death Cab for Cutie posters. She felt as though she’d intruded on her parents, happy in their bubble of “Saved From All Evil Ever in the History of Everything.” Chelsea didn’t understand it. She missed the years when her father was the black sheep of the family, drinking too much whiskey and putting rental BMWs on credit cards. The day she’d come home, she thought: I’ve crossed the border into The Absent God Knows What.

      Her mother knocked at the door. “Chelsea, do you want some cookies? I have walnut, peanut butter, and chocolate chip. You can pick. You are Pro-Choice, aren’t you?” Aurelie laughed her dry, cough-like laugh.

      “No. I’m pro-abortion. The med school has no affiliation with Toll House, Mom.” Chelsea was bouncing a rubber zygote that she’d lifted from the anatomy lab against the smudged wall. She was frightened at what a good mother Aurelie had suddenly become. Chelsea noticed herself becoming meaner and more vicious. She was even working on the ratio between her mother’s baked goods and her own ruthlessness.

      And Chelsea wasn’t dense – she knew that her mother was determined to maintain her perch in heaven, come Harvard graduates or high water. She continued bouncing her zygote. Chelsea closed her eyes, caught it, threw it again. It didn’t come back. She cracked her left lid open. There was a blonde man, in a sweater with a giant “H” on the pocket. He had a pipe, and was smoking fine tobacco in her room.

      He released a puff of smoke from between his lips. “You’re Chelsea Ambrose,” he said as the last of the smoke drifted off. “Do you know what you’re name means? I mean, the Ambrose part?” He lifted an eyebrow upward.

      “Yeah. I think so. It means I’m a crazy guy’s daughter.” Chelsea furrowed her brow. She really didn’t know.

      “Food for the gods. Ambrosia’s what the gods ate on Mount Olympus.” His voice rang out in a deep-throated U.K. accent. The Harvard man took another puff.

      “Hey… I know you’re the Devil, but… Did you used to teach at U. Chicago?” Chelsea asked.

      “Why? Not that I don’t already know what you’re going to say, Chelsea Elizabeth Ambrose.” He smiled.

      “You just remind me of someone. Hey, how did you know my middle name?” Chelsea straightened herself up in her chair.

      “I know it all Chelsea. And I know what you want more than anything.”

      “What do I want?” Chelsea mussed her blue hair on purpose and tried to look imposing.

      “An apartment.” The devil grinned again.

      “Damn straight.” Chelsea ran her fingers through her indigo locks. “You wanna make a deal or something?” The moon shone into the window, its blank stare asking nothing in return.

      “You’re a smart girl, Chelsea. What do you think the deal is going to be?” He twisted his almost-invisible mustache.

      “I give you my parents, you give me a nice place. Work for you?” She looked hopeful.

      “I’m thinking more along the lines of… Saving your soul. You know it would make David happy. I want you to tell everyone that you’ve had an epiphany. A religious one. I want you to really believe it. Within one week you’ll have an apartment and no seizures.”

      Chelsea was stunned. A fierce believer in free will and rational choice, she knew no one could make her do anything if she changed her mind. “Sure.” She continued bouncing her zygote.

      “Shall we have a handshake? Then it’s a gentlemen’s agreement, as you’d loath the title of ‘lady.’” He continued grinning, his white teeth glowing in the dim light.

      As he climbed out her second-story window without so much as a thunk, Chelsea wondered if this was what happened to Aurelie the night she’d left. She let the thought bounce back to where it came from. There wasn’t much she could do. She just hoped she didn’t have to wear an apron. She hated the white frilly kinds, their lace brown with spots and neglect.

* * *

      Chelsea sat on the red beanbag chair in her room. Everything in that small haven looked like it had been lifted from the anatomy lab: the womb-shaped squishy chair, a grow-your-own-cerebellum kit in her window, the rubber zygotes that she used as bouncing-balls, and the neuron-shaped lamp on her pink desk. Most of her friends just called her “devoted to women’s rights” or “very high when she went shopping.”

      And the devil had just left. Chelsea thought: Was he real? It’s the next apocalypse movement waiting to happen, or worse: Pro-Lifers, she thought to herself. But she knew that if her mother, father, and her own self had seen the same thing, it couldn’t be the pot stash.

      There was one thing to do: Chelsea had to leave, and she had to do it fast. She had to get out of here before she did something she’d regret. She’d promised her self a long time back that she wouldn’t be anyone’s evangelist guinea pig. And there was no reason to stay if she’d never be back in college, anyway. She’d leave before anyone made her save her soul from some red fiery unknown. The girl was already itching with scriptures to recite for her Dad, but she told herself: Intern’s disease. Get packing. She threw rolling papers, dime bags, clothes, and Hershey bars into her duffel bag. This was her master-plan at the time:

1. Shimmy down the rain gutter.
2. Walk for awhile.
3. Hook up with a band and make a living as a roadie.

      She already missed her biology classes, but the textbooks were too heavy for her to carry. As she wiggled her foot back and forth, looking for the hollow piece of metal, she noticed something flat under the window. Chelsea poked her head out. “Goddamn it, someone’s always leaving stuff in the wrong places. I could have tripped on that…” She didn’t say ladder. She wasn’t that stupid.

      Chelsea climbed down and, once she was out of her parents’ earshot, called her roommate from U. Chicago on her cell-phone. “Hey, Kegan? It’s me, Chelsea. I think there’s something messed up going on with my dad and these evangelists. I think he hired this guy to come to my bedroom and say he was Satan and---.” Chelsea ran her fingers through her ocean-colored locks before Kegan cut her off.

      “Chelsea, you’re breaking up. Call tomorrow, okay? I got smashed with that guy from my internship and I’m really out of it. Later!”

      The stars had leaked through night’s cheap motel curtain. There was nothing she could do but run.

* * *

      The first night after she bolted from the Ambrose house, with its Biblical wallpaper, Chelsea slept on a park bench. As she stared up at the clear, moonless sky she thought: I know it’s Dad. He’s behind all of this. He sent the goddamn devil to my room. He stole my “Please Stop Breeding” t-shirt. Just prove me wrong, goddamn it…

      Chelsea lit a cigarette, since she was saving the good stuff for the road. As the Camel Light grew shorter, Chelsea noticed that the grass looked grey in the dim light. Rods and cones, Chelsea thought. One kind of cell picks up color, the other kind skims out dark or light. Once you take bio notes, you never forget…

      Useless logical thoughts bounced between the walls of her head as she fell asleep. The stars began to melt like icicles after New Year’s. Chelsea still slept, a “Gender Bombs” tank top stretched across her skinny stomach.

* * *

      “What-the-fuck-Holy-shit-Who-the-hell-are-you?” Chelsea stammered as she pushed either an ugly woman or a long-haired man off her park bench. She narrowed her eyes and said, “Get your own park bench. Jesus.” Shivering, she unzipped her bag and pulled out a hoodie and some cigarettes.

      The man just sat there on the ground, startled that she had woken up. Chelsea stared at him, noticing that he wasn’t too bad looking, and judging from his t-shirt, he might be able to help her out with a roadie job. In fact, he kind of looked like the lead singer of Cinema Strange, eyeliner and all. Chelsea felt herself softening up and asked, “Dude, there are other park benches. Why are you here?” She squeezed the rain from her frizzy hair and sat up straight, her fingers clinging to the edge of the bench with cold. Chelsea lit a cigarette to keep warm. She looked at him again out of the corner of her right eye. She thought: He looks like that A.V. nerd from my middle school, except his hair is dyed and he’s not wheeling a crappy stereo around on a cart. She thought: Maybe I’m not taking this road trip alone after all…

      “Chill. I’m not homeless. My parents kicked me out. You just looked nice sleeping there. I was just going to leave, seriously.” He ran his fingers through his black, bright-red-streaked hair and started picking up his backpack.

      “It’s cool,” Chelsea said. “Do you smoke?” She unzipped her bag again and looked for some Camel Lights.

      “I guess I do now.” He took the cigarette, inhaled, and started hacking.

      Chelsea laughed and said, “I’ll bet you’ve never been really smashed either. Why did you get kicked out?” She stared at him, trying to figure out what he’d done. If it wasn’t drugs or beer, it had to be interesting.

      He just stared off into the clean, fog-laced air and said, “I’m gay.” He started looking up at the stars, smiling. He coughed again.

      Chelsea looked at the wet sparkling grass. She couldn’t believe she’d gotten her hopes up – he didn’t want to go on a road trip and eventually hook up with her. He was just sensitive. Damn it, Damn it, Damn it, Chelsea thought.

      “Gotcha.” He grinned and stopped hacking. He really is a smoker, Chelsea thought.

      “That was cold. I’m Chelsea, by the way.”

      “I’m Gavin.” He French-inhaled his cigarette smoke, the white strands floating from his nose and mouth.

      “Hey, where did you go to middle school?” Did you go to Parkview South? Or am I just weird?”

      He looked at her like she was crazy. “Yeah. How did you… Wait, were you that fat girl?” Gavin covered his mouth after the words slipped out. He looked at her again. “No way.”

      “Damn straight. The fat Mensa girl with a bunch of Star Trek books.” Chelsea flipped her hair back, filled with pride for her flat stomach and skinny arms.

      “Hey, do you have any cash?” He lifted one eyebrow.

      “Yeah… And a debit card. Why?” She hoped he wasn’t a mooch.

      “I robbed my parents blind before I left. You have no idea.” He continued to smirk.

      Chelsea didn’t see why he was remarkable for taking someone’s money. She’d done it dozens of times. “What makes you so special?” she asked.

      “Have you been around druggies? When they’re really high they start talking about stuff that doesn’t exist. Like the Abominable Snowman. Or Elvis coming back from the dead. Black American Express cards. Well, I have one of them. It totally exists. You can put a fucking condo on that card. Those things don’t have a limit. You have to be invited by the company to apply for one. It’s this big secret, and I think Madonna’s got the only other one. Look.” He reached into his backpack.

      “Wouldn’t your parents just report it as lost? Or stolen?” Chelsea was beginning to think he was just another one of those crazies in the park.

      “No. They cosigned when I went into rehab. Stupid bastards. It’s mine.” He pulled a leather wallet out of his backpack. The leather was soft and shiny, and a Saks Fifth Avenue tag hung from the front flap. He pulled a little plastic rectangle from the top pocket.

      “Look.” He handed it to Chelsea.

      She looked down and squinted. The card looked like her normal green one, but it was black with little grey sparkles. On the front was a picture of a soldier, and the words: Centurion Bank’s Most Preferred Customers Have Access to a World of Fine Services and Spending Power. Certifiably Limit-Free. She turned it over and skimmed the fine print. She found the line that said: This card is hereby non-cancelable, non-transferable. Use of card represents agreement to these terms. In cases of co-signature: if the primary party fails to pay, the card will remain active and co-signer will be billed for all charges.

      “Holy shit,” Chelsea said. And the world began to heave and spin around her.





copyright 2006 Kristina Marie Darling.

Kristina Marie Darling:
My name is Kristina Marie Darling and I'm a student at Washington University in St. Louis.

My poetry has appeared in or is forthcoming in Offerings, Freefall, The Mid-America Poetry Review, The Neovictorian/Cochlea, Poetry Motel, 3 cup morning, Telicom, Wicked Alice, Baby Clam Press, Chantarelle's Notebook, Kritya, Parting Gifts, Dream Fantasy International, Toes, The Other Voices International Project, The Mad Hatter's Review, and Poetry Superhighway.

My personal essays have appeared in or are forthcoming in Her Circle Ezine, SubteTea, Prose Toad, Zygote in My Coffee, and Quiet Mountain: New Feminist Essays.

A book of my poems, The Traffic in Women, is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press. Another book of my prose poems, Fevers and Clocks, is forthcoming from March Street Press.

I also attended the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop in 2004 and the Washington University Summer Writers Institute on a scholarship in 2005.