A Certain Understated Tension

This is a story about a girl and a boy. She’s about 24. A recent graduate of a local university with a degree in communications, she likes pop punk and indie comedies. She runs a lifestyle blog which shows some promise, but that is still gaining traction on the web. Her favorite food is chicken Tikka Masala. She has hazel eyes and cascading blonde hair, which falls in loose curls about her heart shaped face. She likes the boy, but she isn’t sure how he feels about her.
The boy is barely 20, muddling his way through his sophomore year at the same university towards a philosophy degree, which he has no ultimate plan for. He plays guitar and sings for a local hardcore band and fancies himself a poet. He has brown eyes and the beginnings of a receding hairline, which causes him great embarrassment. He likes the girl, but he isn’t sure how she feels about him.
Both boy and girl are spending the evening at a little spot off of some placid country lane. It’s edged by thick clumps of deciduous trees and overlooks a medium sized man-made lake, which serves as the focus of a state park. Locals consider it a necking spot. It’s a cool night in early October. There’s a full moon out, which casts its radiant gaze through the hazy azure of the sky. They’re leaning against the hood of his ’96 Pontiac, sharing a six pack of National Bohemian, both idly casting their own gazes at the body of water which rests below. Neither of them are saying anything.
He awkwardly inches closer to her, but not too close. He doesn’t want to give himself away. After all, he isn’t sure how she feels about him. He’s an insecure boy, and doesn’t want to cause any unnecessary awkwardness for her. Meanwhile, she’s ever so subtly moving her hand towards his where it lay on the hood of his car. She’s careful not to actually touch him, however. After all, she isn’t sure how he feels about her, and she doesn’t want to risk rejection.
He sips his beer. She sips hers. He slides a Pall Mall from its beaten pack, and, trying to conceal his slightly trembling hand, puts it between his lips and lights it. She pulls her jacket tighter around her to guard against the deepening chill in the air.
“Nice night,” he mumbles, afraid the silence is making her feel weird.
“Yeah,” she responds. She wonders if she should add anything, but isn’t quite sure what. She then asks if she can bum a cigarette.
“Sure thing,” he replies, offering her one of his Pall Malls. She places it between her lips. He lights it.
“A lady never lights her own cigarette,” he says, trying to sound suave. He realized that in fact he doesn’t sound suave, but rather corny and foolish. His gut clenches at the prospect of her seeing through his ruse. He clams up.
“Thanks,” she half-smiles. She wants to move closer to him.
“No problem,” He holds back a half-smile. He wants to move closer to her.
Suddenly, both boy and girl behold a blazing sickle of light slice across the night sky. A shooting star. She hasn’t seen one in fifteen years, she reckons. This is the first one he’s ever seen.
“Shit!” he exclaims, nearly spilling a mouthful of beer, “Make a wish!”
“Alright,” she laughs. They both shut their eyes tightly, focusing on the thing they want most at this particular moment.
I want him to kiss me, she thinks.
I want her to kiss me, he thinks. Both of them open their eyes and turn to face the other.
“So what did you wish for?” He asks, half-smiling.
“If I tell you, then it won’t come true.”
“Fair enough.”
He inches closer. She inches closer. They’re almost touching. They both feel a certain understated tension between them. He looks away. She looks away. He downs what remains of his beer. She takes a drag of her cigarette.
“Well…” he pauses, “It’s getting kinda late. I have class in the morning.”
“Yeah,” she sighs, “I have work. Should we get going then?”
“I suppose so.” Boy and girl climb into the ’96 Pontiac, him in the driver’s seat, her in the passenger’s. He turns the key in the ignition and flips through a book of CDs while she peers through the partially opened car door window. He puts Alkaline Trio in his CD player because he knows they’re her favorite band. She half smiles. He half smiles. He throws his car in reverse and backs up into the road.

-r. miller

The Fire Ritual

He found himself suddenly
prostrated before the Sun’s
singular authority.
Voices echoed.
It was Summer.
And strange music… Lips tingling.
He watered his head.
He achieved an ache
few are capable of.
And then dropped his organ in the gorge.
The young man
with the gum in his mouth
forges ahead into the fire
his hands have shaped.
Pale Earth drapes the pallor.
He came from squalor
and lives as a rag
amid fog and disgust.
So much disdain painted over sky.
The question bursting from his rancid eye.
Who folds what face into a square?
His face he flecked
with bruises, boredom.
He burned up good.

-r. miller

The Birth of Tragedy

From the new dialogue
arose a tenderness
like a wicked funnel of smoke.
We broke apart
our open-ended questions
to fit inside the scenery
that blossomed around us,
confounding our a priori faculties
and looming like a gallows.
We weren’t exactly sober witnesses.
A strange whiteness
crowned the staggering
distance before us.
The chorus chattered
amongst themselves
in graceless tones,
droning on into the late hours.
What few spectators there were
dropped flowers at the fringe.
Our mutual solitude
singed us in the strangest way,
and nobody could really say
what everyone was thinking.
All anyone knew for sure
was that the shrinking  sense of belonging
could no longer bear our weight.
A fate worth being resigned to,
we decided.

-r. miller

I Want to Kiss You

Bethany and I sat smoking in her parents’ backyard beneath a wet July half-moon. Aside from the occasional cloud passing languidly overhead, it was a clear night. Humid, though, if I remember right. Anyway, neither of us were saying much, just passing a joint back and forth, listening to the cicadas hum like engines in the trees. The weed tasted like orange peel. I was nursing a lukewarm beer and trying to think of something to say, because I felt like I had to say something. All that came to mind was “I want to kiss you.”

I couldn’t say that, though. If I did, she’d know that for the past several months, I’d been developing feelings for her. I’d ignored them at first. She’d had a boyfriend, Drew, up until two weeks ago, and to nurture any romantic attraction would have been in poor taste. I did an alright job of keeping them buried, though whenever we talked, I’d sense them stirring, like roots struggling to break through a seed.

I loved our talks. No bullshit, like with everyone else we knew. No idle gossip, no chatting about the weather or who’s been sleeping with whom, no rehashing old stories in some narcissistic effort to mythologize our lives. I remember we’d stay up all night at parties, long after everyone had left or passed out, feverishly discussing whether or not existence has any objective value in a godless universe, which Fugazi songs we thought were the best, and why John Ashbery is the greatest living American poet. She truly came alive then, during our talks. Her fierce intellect sparked behind her luscious blue eyes, cutting through me like a diamond cuts glass. And how musical her speech was, her words carried by the fluid rhythm of her thoughts. It was like a dance, both of us leading and following in our turn. I think that’s partly why she and Drew broke up, but I can’t confirm it.

Ironic that now I couldn’t think of one single thing to say to her other than “I want to kiss you.” As if someone had branded this phrase upon my mind with a hot iron. I wondered if she could tell, as if my present manner somehow betrayed this desire I was trying my damndest to conceal. Of course she couldn’t. I’m practically a virtuoso at keeping my feelings hidden from view. We were friends, after all. It would be imprudent to risk our friendship for romance.

“I should probably get to bed,” Bethany sighed, pressing the joint into the damp grass, “It’s like, 2 o’clock in the morning.”
“Yeah,” I muttered, “I have to work in six hours.”
We both rose, and I walked with her to the back door of her parents’ house, t he words “I want to kiss you” still smoldering.
“Text me tomorrow,” She said, “We can go get a drink or something.”
“Yeah… I will.” A meek smile passed over my face.
“Well…” She paused, anticipating something maybe, but unsure of what that something was, “Goodnight.” We hugged hastily. She went inside and I trudged out to the street, to my car. I opened the door and slumped into the driver’s seat.
“I want to kiss you,” I whispered to the empty space beside me, before turning the key in the ignition and driving away.

-r. miller

Bellyful of Bellyaches

These are our bloodied blossoms.
Bruised temperaments
urge the tempest onward,
onward toward the clarity
hiding in the eye of solitude.
And us with our antennae twisted up…
Despite my clenched fists,
I come in peace, and I bring
mad tidings of oversexed impulsivity.
This pulsing, sweaty mess of flesh
before you was once a man, that is,
until I got through with him.
Your beacons don’t stand a chance
in this darkness. This soupy swamp
we nurture will be the mouth
that devours you.

-r. miller

Lovers’ Quarrel

Consider this a momentary
lapse in lavishness.
I came once and ravished
the surrounding hillside
in a comely disaster.
Life moves away faster
after you pinch its digits in your teeth.
I laid a wreath of hair and vitamins
upon the ground.
The sky came once and showered me
with the banality of its vices.
Six weeks on ice, and I haven’t
got a dime to show for it.
Just pour me over the sofa,
why don’t you, as you would a libation.
And I’ll be a libation, if you want me to be,
to the angry deity we service
and his spirit rending project.

-r. miller