The Prostitute

by Angela Kempe

Jillian tugged at the large case, leaning her full body weight into the direction of the door, cheap high heals scraping against the asphalt. The heavy case became dislodged, rolling clumsily over the parking lot curb. She tugged at her black crop top with her free hand quickly, making sure the top had not unwittingly exposed her small breasts while she was getting the cumbersome bag out of her 1988 Ford. Taking a deep breath, she fixed her hair and pulled the door open, long black tassels dancing passed her belly button as she stuck one heal in the door jam and hefted the large case behind her.

The bartender was standing in the center of the room. A fair number of casual drinkers were sitting at the square bar around him. Jillian thought this was a good sign. A sign that maybe someone would finally discover her there. But the place was musty and dirty, defying her Hollywood fantasies. She approached the bar anyway, propping her keyboard up against her black slacks. The bartender looked her up and down, licking his lips as he handed someone their beer.

“May I get you anything?”

“Um, no. I’m performing tonight?”

“What time?”

“9:30.”

She looked around for the stage. Although she heard music, it was faint, like some radio playing in the background.

“Uh, where’s the stage?”

“Over there.”

The bartender pointed callously to an old wooden doorway. She rolled her keyboard over to the door and stood in the door frame, peering into the small brick room. A young guy was finishing his set. He had brought a few friends with him, who were sitting in the dim light watching him. They were clapping and laughing, but compared to the main part of the bar, it looked like they were holding a small private party.

When he was done, his friends cleared away, leaving a mostly empty space. Jillian set up her keyboard and mic stand. She could hear people shouting and drinking in the main bar and decided to sing loud. Maybe she’d draw them in with her good looks. Maybe they’d hear her songs and come in, she thought.

She flaunted herself a little. She was always uncomfortable using her body to attract a crowd, but she was playing to the dirty brick walls, so she had nothing left to lose. Still, she imagined someone important might come in at any moment. Even though she had invited no one. It was after all her dream to be discovered. And everyone had to come from somewhere.

But, halfway through her set a strange blonde entered in an beige overcoat. She didn’t say a word and she didn’t move from the wall. She only stared at Jillian, listening attentively. Jillian thought her to be at least ten-years older. But her look was less organic than Jillian’s. Her blonde hair thickened by extensions. Her lips, blood red and glossy, like the waxiness of a store shined apple.

As she played, she wondered who this woman was. Was she a fan looming over her every move so that she could buy a signed CD after the set? Was she an A&R rep? Because they come when you don’t think so, or so she heard. But it did seem strange, Jillian pondered between long silky vocal lines. Shaky hands tickling the plastic keys of that cold familiar keyboard.

Jillian’s set ended, and before she could search for the woman in the beige overcoat, she was told to hurry off the stage for the next act. Jillian zipped her keyboard back into its case disappointedly and folded up her metal stand. But before she left, the next act had started and it wasn’t all that bad. She turned back to listen to the stranger.

The mysterious woman had popped a CD into a CD player and taken off her long overcoat. She was wearing nothing but a men’s button up shirt and some high heals underneath. She looked at me, but overlooked me at the same time. The mark of a polished performer playing her empty room. Still holding onto dreams. Still hoping that an A&R rep would come through the doors of that empty bar room and realize that she was different.

Jillian turned away from the woman. A sick knot settled in the pit of her stomach. She had been looking at her own reflection.

Prostitute, she thought, and left her in the dark.

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When I Think of Mom

By Angela Kempe

We were both going through a hard time that winter. So, we decided to give up our issues for just one night and hang out. We were trying to rekindle that strong bond that had been so lovingly there before the teenage years. Before addictions. Before life hit us smack in the face and left us both flailing on our backs like fish flopping around on an old dock.

I remembered when it was okay to sneak into bed and cuddle. I remembered when you were still trying to make me proud by being a den mother. We both felt like something important had been stolen from us and we both desperately needed it back. But it was a time when there hadn’t been any resolution yet. Not then. We were still searching for a way to be together now that neither of us were so innocent.

You probably carried your one month sobriety chip in your wallet that night. And I carried a lot of memories that I wanted to bury. So, we did what any family would try and do to make things right again. We went out to dinner in San Francisco and walked around Little Italy together. All was going pretty well. There were those awkward moments of course. Moments when we both stuttered over saying something that may have offended the other over the warm smell of garlicky pasta. There were those moments when we came to that awkward break in conversation that asked, “Should we talk about this now? Naw, let’s have a good night,” and continued walking, paying no mind to the strip clubs that lined the busy streets. And so we made our way through our little mom and daughter date, and were making our way home, when you suddenly pulled over the car.

“Want to go to the Golden Gate Bridge?”

It was right there in front of us, standing tall and purposefully not golden. For a moment, I wondered why on earth someone would give the Golden Gate Bridge a name like that and then paint it bright red? But whatever my problem with the Golden Gate Bridge naming committee was, or what my problems were with you at the time, I was always up for a spontaneous adventure. So, you parked the car and we both got out, zipping our jackets up to our throats.

I looked around.

“Maybe it’s closed,” I concluded from the vacant parking lot.

The lamplight cast a warm yellow light over the hazy lot, and the Golden Gate Bridge looked gentle and quiet in the fog.

“When will you ever get to walk on the bridge? Let’s go for a walk!”

Well, I knew I couldn’t be misled by my own mother. So, we meandered over to the entrance. The gate was ironically still open. Now that I look back at it, I often wonder what time it was when we wandered onto the bridge. Was it left open due to a mechanical error? Did someone forget to do their job that night? Whatever the reason, it allowed us to pass freely onto the long suspension bridge that was San Francisco’s most prized symbol of the city.

We started walking along sightseeing on the bridge. Laughing, and talking, and pointing as we sauntered up the sidewalk.

I noticed the giant chainlink fence that guarded the red railing.

“Why is there a fence here, Mom?”

“So people don’t try and jump in. Some people would try and kill themselves.”

I looked down at the icy water below. It seemed like a scary way to go. There was no turning back once you jumped. I shivered a little at the thought as I untangled my fingers from the wire.

I gazed up at the huge red towers which stood over us like a strong red ladder ascending into a magical world built by giants. I imagined them slumbering in castles above the fog. And the cables which flowed gracefully from the tops of the towers were in fact rather large themselves and once painted, appeared to be like steel pipes streaming down with strong steel ropes, twisted and braided, hanging down from even that.

Suddenly, a voice rang out from the loud speakers.

“Return to your car at once. The Golden Gate Bridge is closed!”

We both flinched and looked around for the voice.

“I repeat. Return to your car at once!”

We stared at each other with that same look. It was the “oh no” look. It was the, “we better get off this bridge or they’re going to put us in jail for the night,” look. So, we scrambled back down the path where we came to the closed gate.

“We’re trapped!”

You tried shaking the locked gate.

“Hey! We can’t leave!”

I waved my hand in the air to get the guard’s attention. Then, the gate unlocked automatically and we ran off to our car, stumbling into your cold Ford. As soon as we got inside the dark car, laughter spilled from our mouths like a fresh batch of fish falling out of a fisherman’s net. I think I laughed so hard, tears started beading up. You turned the engine on and started the heater and our breath fogged up the windshield as the defroster warmed up and the heater vents sighed.

After that, we may have had our moments. Life has a way of catching you on a good barbed hook only to cast you back out into the water. But as the years go by, I always have that memory and know our bond is strong, like the cables of that great Golden Gate. I smile a little because I know life can get crazy, but that Golden Gate is always standing, like an old friend letting the cold Bay waters rise and fall against its strong towers. And I think of that night, when life was brought into perspective by the shear absurdity of the Golden Gate’s presence. I think of all those things, whenever I think of Mom.

The Little Cylinder

by Angela Kempe

At once I was born out of the light. But in my brightness I could not see my own self. So, I wandered. When finally I came upon a beautiful river. And as it rushed and rolled through the green valley, a group of spheres were playing.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“We are digging a tunnel into the dirt to try and get passed this river.”

“May I help?”

The largest sphere pushed himself through the opening of the tunnel and then hollered back to me.

“Come join us. I believe we have already found the other side.”

So, I sank my feet into the deep hole, but my body would not fit.

Another sphere pulled my skinny limbs up and unstuck me.

“You might try playing with the pyramids then.”

So, I followed the river as it dipped and bent. And after many long hours, I came upon a group of pyramids fluttering near a tree.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“We are preparing to fly over this river. I see that you are all alone. Would you like to come with us?”

I smiled widely and my bright spirit glowed brightly. And soon the pyramids began to lift up into the sky and flutter high over the river. I reached out my arms, swinging them up and down as quickly as I could, but my feet did not lift off the ground. Not once. And soon, I ached from swinging so violently and the little pyramids were far, far away.

So, I sat by the tree and cried for a long time, when I saw in the great distance a group of cubes and shot up, running hard towards them.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“We’re building this bridge to cross the river. Would you like to cross with us?”

At that, I lit up again.

“That’s a wonderful idea!” I exclaimed.

We worked hard on the bridge together and when we were finished building, we all lined up to pass over the wooden bridge we had made.

But when I tried to walk across, I could not fit.

“What are you waiting for?” asked the cube from the other side.

“My body does not fit, and I am afraid I will tumble into the river if I go farther.”

“I’m sorry,” said the cube and they continued on.

Now, all alone I was sure that there were no other friends to play with. And since everyone was crossing the river, I was also positive that there was something quite wrong with me because I couldn’t.

As my tears flowed down my cheeks, I stared somberly into the river which bubbled  and shushed in front of me. Was there something there? I couldn’t make out the shape in the muddied water. I focused my eyes down into the murky muck with no luck. Then, suddenly my brightness shined my reflection back up at me. I was a cylinder and this I was sure: It was not my path to travel across the river. So, I dove in and in that moment, my arms became fins and my path became clear. And now when the sun shines down into the river, my scales shine and glisten so that you will always remember the true path is your own.

The Drug

by Angela Kempe

I should have known better than to trust a Neurologist. Especially a Neurologist who was an hour late. But the transaction had been made like a bad Mexican drug deal and so I sat there contemplating my options in the midst of the sea of strangers. Headache so bad I could potentially pass out if I were to try to take the yoga class as I was. Or reach into my purse and pull out yet another drug. An untested drug, when this one had already put me into such a wonderfully mixed state of side effects.

The teacher entered the room. My hands rushed for my purse and pulled out a blue plastic case. Already, it didn’t look quite right. People might wonder. My fingers dug into the thin crease and pressed it open. Pain shot up my neck. I closed my eyes, taking in a deep yogic breath so I wouldn’t pass out before I’d get the package open.

The plastic case revealed three thin paper wrappers holding one dissolvable tablet each. I glanced around the room. Pooey to doctors and their weird medications! But if it helped me not faint then I’d take something that looked like acid. I tore open the package and popped out the pill, placing the white round thing on my tongue.

As the pill melted in my mouth, the lights dimmed and the music turned on.

“This is not a Yoga class. This is an experience.”

This is an experience alright.”

My face became numb from cheek to cheek, and I couldn’t feel any of my body. Realizing that I was doing downward dog effortlessly, I became almost afraid of myself in the dark. My body bounded, flopped, and contorted.

I was tripping…

The music pounded in my ears. The two medications the Neurologist had given me had mingled into a cocktail of yoga madness. I was dancing in the back of a Volkswagen van during a long rendition of a Jim Morrison jam session.

Stretching. Breathing. Flowing. Knowing. Only one thing for sure. I still had my headache and I would be sore tomorrow.

The Decay of Friendship

(normally I don’t cuss- but it’s a fair word in art)

I could have gone on-

But I didn’t.

I decided to hang on –

Because I like this.

But flowers don’t bloom forever,

Balloons can’t hold their air.

Every game has an ending,

Not everything in life is fair.

Leaves lose their vivid green,

Then crumble off the branch.

I thought that you’d be there with me,

Tumbling through life’s avalanche.

I tried to hold onto our friendship,

Bring you along for my ride.

Buckle you to my safety belt,

So you’d always be by my side.

But life’s an asshole,

And I’m an idiot,

And already we have lost.

You are like my vegetable garden,

Ruined by the frost.

-Angela Kempe

Mosaic Heart

(I know that tomorrow will be better. But today is not.)

They told me to keep walking

so I go right, left, right

Finding the pieces as they’re falling

Holding a lighter to the night

I’m used to this heart breaking

as sure as a clock would chime

Tears on my cheeks are flaking

Pain in rhythm with the time

Someone could offer shelter

But I’ve been so torn apart

Only death or sleep could barter

For me and my mosaic heart

-Angela Kempe