Tag Archives: Chicago

Chicago Filmmakers Choose Substance Over Stereotypes

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When it comes to documenting the lives and stories of people of color, Hollywood is notorious for being more interested in the perpetuation of stereotypes than meaningful portrayals of marginalized communities with value and humanity. And often when those films are made and manage to find a spot in the mainstream, there exists another problem, this time on the audience’s end: studies show that Caucasians have what is called a racial empathy gap—they struggle to relate to the experiences (specifically pain) of people of color—and that extends into the way they respond to films featuring people of color. One example is last year’s Best Man Holiday, a film featuring an almost entirely black cast and exploring topics such as friendship, cancer, love, and faith. Despite the fact that its plot was based upon these universal themes, the film was referred to as “race-themed” by major media outlets such as USA Today, causing moviegoers of all colors to question whether mainstream media can only view non-white experiences as defined by their race, rather than by their humanity and the universal experiences that make us human.

Filmmakers who choose to focus on the stories of marginalized communities face unique challenges in finding funding and mainstream attention for their projects. Chicago filmmakers Cy Weisman and Josh MacNeal have certainly faced their share of those challenges. While discussing mainstream audiences’ reluctance to connect with plotlines that deviate from white, hetero-male perspectives, the brother and sister duo agree that the problem has multiple layers, including 1) mainstream audiences are unfamiliar with stories about black, brown or gay characters because they feel those narratives are specific to those communities; the only real exceptions are stories that have a white, male, or heterosexual character present in the lead i.e. The Kids Are Alright and Freedom Writers. And 2) films featuring black, brown, or gay characters that get mainstream attention pigeonhole those lives and experiences in a way that makes black, brown, and LGBT experience “niche,” as opposed to one part of a broad spectrum of humanity.

“Living in the inner city is only one aspect of the black experience,” says MacNeal. “And unfortunately audiences, especially youth, have become conditioned to the idea that these experiences shown on BET, for example, define black lives. The experiences being shown, however, are limited.”

MacNeal, who grew up in a suburb outside of Chicago, didn’t become conscious of racism and the way he was perceived as a black man until he was older, he says, and as a filmmaker has focused heavily on illustrating other aspects of black experience and identity than just the narrow version mainstream media chooses to portray. “It’s troubling,” says MacNeal, “that films that happen to feature black characters are automatically described as ‘black movies,’” rather than universal tales of friendship, adversity, love, etc.

“Movies about white people are never called ‘white stories,’” he says, and laments the fact that when “black stories” are told, they focus on drugs, violence, or thug life, usually without exploring the systems behind those realities.

On his part, his goal is to create work that reaches beyond the pigeonholed perspective and digs into the experiences that are universal, experienced by a variety of characters: black and white, straight and gay.

Weisman, on the other hand, who does the writing for the duo’s films, grew up on the South Side of Chicago and says her consciousness of racism—and also sexism—emerged at an early age, and recalls music as being one of the first mediums in which she really noticed negative messages by and about black and brown communities being perpetuated—usually by black and brown artists.

“White kids bought into ‘ratchet’ culture before it was ever called ratchet culture,” she says, “and the business of art and film has been built on those tropes ever since.” Interesting, she notes, that trends within black music have largely been dictated by the appropriative tastes of white suburban youth, and expresses disappointment in rap artists who no longer rap about lived experiences and life narratives, instead choosing to create music about wealth, possessions, and name brands—experiences that not even white suburban youth can relate to. “Most people aren’t rich,” she adds.

“It’s so rarely about art anymore,” she continues, “or being an artist. So many songs these rappers and singers perform are written by somebody else, and many movies being produced are remakes or drawn out sequels. The process of creating has been watered down.”

Not so with Weisman and MacNeal, who write and direct all of their films, and are currently seeking funding for their next major project, Urbs in Horto, a crime thriller set in Chicago. Urbs in Horto is focused around exactly the sort of exploration of identity that MacNeal and Weisman agree need fixing in filmmaking: three different stories about diverse characters of different backgrounds, and juxtaposing those characters’ lives—moving beyond the drug violence and white collar crime—in order to reveal the universal experiences.

Weisman criticizes the superficiality she sees in music and film today, which she insists are inextricably connected. That is why she uses them almost interchangeably in her critique of both mediums, and which is why their plans for Urbs in Horto involve working extensively with indie musicians and artists to create the soundtrack that they imagine for the film.

“Music is an integral part of any movie,” Weisman says, and expresses her excitement about the prospect of working with indie artists.

“That’s the great thing about film,” MacNeal says, echoing his sister’s excitement. “We’re tapping into Chicago’s creative community for actors and artists, but we’re also creating jobs in the city we grew up in for legal, real estate, food services, etc.”

“Anything we can do for Chicago is awesome,” Weisman adds.

And Chicago needs this discourse, they both agree: segregation, violence, and poverty are just a few of the challenges faced by Chicagoans, and that’s why the brother and sister team declare that audiences need stories that speak deeply to the community now more than ever.

The purpose of Urbs in Horto, MacNeal says, is to spark that conversation while still offering the action and exhilaration that comes from crime thrillers.

“Film is an art form, but primarily a form of entertainment,” says Weisman. “We need to encourage people to seek and expect more substance in what they consume.”

She insists that a film can be a thriller with action and excitement—and even violence—while still offering a depth of human experience. The task is changing audience’s standards for the films (and music) they consume. But how?

“Give other options,” MacNeal says simply.

He believes that audiences’ preference for stereotyped narratives is really just a case of consuming what’s available: eating junk food because it’s what’s in the fridge. His sister agrees, adding:

“If you give audiences other options—show them more multi-layered stories that feature marginalized peoples—then they will respond.” She describes what she perceived as a shift from positive to negative representations of minorities in the media—The Cosbys and The Martin Lawrence Show transitioned into countless scripted reality TV shows & uninspired sitcoms. She says emphatically,

“If we transitioned into this cultural low, then we can transition out of it.”

Her brother agrees. The key, he notes, is for directors and producers with a foot in the game already to support the next generation and have a dialogue about the importance of these depth-driven stories.

“That’s why I applaud the fashion industry, especially the CFDA, for how they mentor and propel their young designers. In film, Spike Lee is a great example of someone who’s doing it right,” MacNeal says. “He focuses on the issues and helps out who he can. He does a good job uplifting younger filmmakers.”

And the pair of them are young indeed. Weisman is 26 and MacNeal is a mere 20, one of the youngest filmmakers in the industry and already earning attention for his latest film, The 4th Meeting. The way they see it, making a difference is a matter of making the right film and making it reach a broad audience. And they might be right.

“There are people that need to hear these stories,” Weisman says, “and people who want better content. We’re not the only ones who feel this way.”

No, Ms. Weisman, you are not.

To contact or see their work, visit here: http://www.joshmacneal.com/urbsinhorto

Image credit: Rudy Lorejo Photography

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5 Ways Chicago Transit Authority Shows It Hates Chicagoans

If you live here, you have felt it. Perhaps you’ve thought, “I have been standing on this platform/bus stop for half of my life. Why? Someone must hate me.” The answer is…someone does hate you. It’s Chicago Transit Authority. If you live in Chicago and have felt the keen sting of CTA’s loathing, then read on and perhaps find some small comfort in the fact that you are not alone.

1. Ventra

Any true Chicagoan knows that this must be the first item on this list. If you need to see proof that CTA hates us, you need look no further than Ventra. CTA inflicting Ventra on us was, for all intents and purposes, an unprovoked attack. No one hated the old system: no one was tweeting @cta railing against the Chicago Card. No one was creating parody accounts mocking the absolutely absurd functionality of the Chicago Card. The old system worked…and then along came Ventra. From bank cards being charged in addition to the Ventra card, to inexplicably nonfunctional cards, to a completely and utterly mystifying account interface online, to fundamentally clueless Customer Care employees, to hour-long hotline waits, and oh, let’s not forget the fact that you are instructed to pay cash when your already-paid-for Ventra card doesn’t work on their worthless scanner…Ventra has been (and continues to be) a nightmare. Every single day the line to board the bus is at a standstill while each person must tap their card 3-4 times before it’s actually read. Meanwhile:

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Oh, of course. We’re being double-charged when we’re forced to double-tap. Of course.

Even worse: Ventra and CTA continue to pretend we’re all crazy for not liking the new system. See this lovely exchange on Twitter:

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“which is pretty rare?” <cue uproarious laughter>

Yeah. Right. You’re not fooling anyone.

2. Bus Bunching

Bus bunching is, to the CTA, like the common cold. It seems like such a simple thing, but the CTA cannot—I repeat, cannot—find a cure. Like most Chicagoans, I waste precious time every day of my mortal life waiting. Just waiting. Staring at potholes that will never be fixed, and waiting. I live on the near South Side and catch the 29 every day, a bus which is always full of people trying to get to work and kids trying to get to school. But at any given time while trying to catch the 29, there is a 20-30 minute wait. But it’s more than just a long, empty window. It’s the fact that at the end of that long, empty window…two or three buses come all at once.

I have many questions for CTA, but here’s one: what good does 3 buses all at once do anyone? Great, the thirty people now crowded on the bus stop can now get on multiple buses. But now there are three buses all in a row at every bus stop until Congress: traffic is congested, streets are blocked, people are pissed. Why not just have the buses come every 8 minutes? Like they’re supposed to? What is happening at your depots where every…single…day this occurs? It happened when I lived on the North Side too: the 147, the 151. North Siders, you hear me. Bus bunching is a blight. But CTA doesn’t care. Which leads me to my next point.

3. Abysmal Customer Service

I’m not even talking about Ventra, because everyone knows that the dunces they have working at Ventra are a bunch of salespeople trying to convince you to use your Ventra card as a credit card too—yay corporations interfering with civil life!—and maybe attempt (attempt) to troubleshoot your nonfunctional, worthless plastic Ventra card. I’m talking about CTA. Never have I encountered more apathetic, defensive, blame-shifting grunts in my entire life. Here’s the conversation I had this morning after calling to complain about bus bunching:

Me: “Is there a manager I can speak to?”

CTA: “No.”

Me: “Okay…well can I tell you my complaint?”

CTA: <silence>

Me: “Hello?”

CTA: “Go ahead.”

Me: “Well, the 29 has been really bad lately. There are old ladies waiting on a stop with no benches waiting for 30 minutes, and then a bus comes and they can’t even get on it because it’s so packed and—”

CTA: “Give me your phone number. I’ll have a manager call you back.”

Me: “Um…okay. Here’s my number.”

CTA: “I see in the system that you already complained about this.”

Me: “Yes, last week.”

CTA: “Oh, a manager called and left you a voicemail.”

Here’s a screenshot of my phone:

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Guess what, CTA? No, a manager never called me back. No, they didn’t leave a voicemail. See? My voicemail box is empty. So what are we supposed to do when we have a complaint or a grievance against CTA? Well, some people might take to social media, but CTA’s Twitter often seems to be run by what appears to be a petulant teenager. See, the Twitter account runs fine when they’re just reporting outages, service disruption, etc. But when they actually have to interact with customers who are complaining? They take the apathy you experience when you call them on the phone and add a pinch of defensiveness and a sprinkle of subtle sarcasm. Tweet at them. You’ll see. If you like being treated with contempt and thinly-veiled indifference, tweeting at @cta is the hobby for you.

4. Cattle Cars

I have been told a story by different people a few times in my lifetime: a story about public transportation in Japan and how there are guys that stand on the platforms with sticks to shove people into the subways to fit more people into the crowded cars. People always tell this story with a kind of amused awe: “can you believe they do that over there?” and no one ever really knows if that little tidbit is true or not. But this story always annoys me, for two reasons. 1) It’s racist. “Oooh look how weird and intense Japanese people are!” and 2) Do you really think that is not your life here? Okay, there are no people with sticks shoving people into train cars, but every day riding a bus or a train in Chicago during rush hour (and often outside of rush hour) is like transforming into a heifer for thirty minutes of my life. It might as well be a mosh pit. A combination of delayed trains/buses, route cuts, and not enough actual vehicles in the city creates the cattle car effect: people are smashed against one another. So forget riding CTA if you’re claustrophobic in any way, but cattle cars lead to other problems too.

Sexual harassment. Violence. Theft. I can’t tell you how many men I’ve witnessed/experienced taking advantage of the tight train situation in order to cop a feel. Same with people taking stuff from people’s purses, pockets, backpacks. And as for violence: well, people get pretty testy when they’re forced to be pressed against a stranger’s usually-odorous body for long periods of time. “Waiting for signal clearance”—those dreaded words— means you’re not even making any progress in your trip: you’re just cuddled (standing) with a stranger for no reason. Tempers flare. Fights erupt. It happens all the time.

But does CTA care? Who do you call when you’ve just been crammed into a train car for 45 minutes, had your ass groped, and your wallet stolen? CTA? Ha. You must have already forgotten #3 on this list. Go back and reread that. Short answer: They…don’t…care.

5. No Change

No, I don’t mean that they won’t make change if you’re paying cash. (Which, speaking of cash: you’re out of luck. Ventra wants to be credit card dependent. And your fare increases if you don’t use Ventra and continue to pay cash.) What I mean is that nothing has changed. Unlike anything else, where there are complaints, outcry, protests against a company and apologies are made, processes are tweaked, Ventra and CTA just dig in. One of the complaints about Ventra (mentioned above) is that, unlike the old system, you can’t tap your wallet in order to scan your Ventra card without your bank cards also being charged. This complaint has been made since the initial roll out, with Ventra reps promising to look into the problem. But now, this is what you get as response when you ask Ventra about it:

They have no intention of making a change: not about Ventra and not about anything else. The onus is on Chicagoans, like it is for everything else, and the ripples of CTA’s ineptitude extend beyond delays. The fact of the matter is, that CTA’s refusal to find solutions for the problems they are charged with creating every single day in Chicago leads to things more problematic than delays. Kids can’t get to school on time. Adults can’t get to work on time. The elderly and disabled are forced to wait (often at stops without benches, and often in bad weather) for up to 40 minutes in some parts of the city. Groping and sexual harassment increase. Theft increases. Anger increases.

You see, what CTA doesn’t realize is that their behavior doesn’t just mean a bad train ride. It means a bad start to the day. Take one look at the Twitter account @ctafails and you can see the negativity that begins from the moment Chicagoans step onto the bus stop in the morning, which is then reanimated when they’re trying to return home at night. The CTA website reports that on an average weekday, 1.6 million rides are taken on Chicago public transportation. When you fail even a fraction of those customers, interrupting their days, ruining their commute, making them late to work, what does it mean for the morale of a city? This makes me think of an article I read recently on Salon, “The Troubling Reasons Americans Are So Depressed.” In it, the author discusses “learned helplessness” and how Americans, due to corporations and call center hold times (among other things) are becoming depressed and angry because of the amount of our lives we spend waiting on hold, waiting in line, and (I add)…waiting for buses. The helplessness, the author says, is the helplessness of those who are resigned to the indifference of the institutions we depend on.

What else can we do? I’m not sure. Rant in blogs like this? Perhaps. I see the helplessness that the Salon author examines in his article. I feel it. What do you do when the buses won’t come and you’re late to work and you can’t afford a cab and you call customer service and if someone answers (if they answer) they don’t care and no one ever calls you back and nothing ever changes?

It’s funny…the CTA Twitter account recently tweeted this article: Public Transportation Shapes Where Millennials Decide to Live, where I found this stat: “54 percent of the participants said they would consider moving to another city if it had more and better options for getting around.”

Careful, Chicago. You might just be the city we’re moving from, not the one we’re moving to.

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These are the words of Jessica Estelle Huggins, independent filmmaker in Chicago:

“Ultimately, my intention is to provide a platform for youth to creatively express themselves in regards to the youth violence in Chicago. If I was ever to have a child(ren), I would want them to look like me: brown skin, kinky hair. And to constantly watch images of brown and black skin youth in stories of violence in the news has always been heartbreaking for me. For almost a year, I have been able to build a very strong team that believes in similar ideas of progression in the African-American community as I do. Personally, I believe that everything starts with the children. We need to go back to the basics: Love, support and patience. Change starts within ourselves. As a filmmaker, my way of expression is through visuals. I want Chi~Voices to serve not only as art therapy for those affected by violence, but to also serve at an action component, a way for people to want to actively become involved in changing our communities for the better.”

Some of you may remember last summer, when Huggins gathered a couple of Chicago’s incredibly talented spoken word artists and created Chi~Voices: A Poetic Film Series. The film series is focused on spoken word artists creatively exploring youth violence occurring in Chicago. Since then, Chi~Voices sponsor, The BRIJ Fund, L3C created the collaboration of Chi~Voices with the Institute For Positive Living (IPL) in Bronzeville to host a six-week comprehensive workshop for the youth at IPL. During these workshops, a few of the Chi~Voices poets came in and helped increase the literacy skill sets of these youth. You can check out their beautiful work here: http://chivoices.wordpress.com/2014/01/12/chivoices-workshop-5-1102014/

Currently, the team is weaving the youth at IPL’s pieces into the current story with the original poets. Now, Chi~Voices is launching their Kickstarter campaign to raise the last $2,000 for production costs. Once the team raises the funds, they will begin to prep to begin production in April. The film premiere is slated to happen during Fall 2014.

The purpose of this blog has always been to talk about issues I feel strongly about. This is one of those issues. It’s only February, and already there have been 31 murders in Chicago in 2014. If we want to change the lives of youth in this city, then we have to start with initiatives like this. Share this campaign. Donate if you can.

Chi-Voices Seeks to End Chicago Youth Violence

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How Not to Be Rapey on the City Bus

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Let me tell you about something that just happened.

On an overcrowded 62 southbound bus in Chicago, I was standing to the side of a seated woman in her 30’s who had her purse on her lap. I noticed her when I got on because she was very pretty and dressed well. Standing next to me (and in front of the woman) was a white man in his 40’s: 5’5” or so, very slim, large glasses, wearing a polo shirt. He raises his voice a little to be heard and says to the seated woman, “That’s a beautiful purse.”

Her: Thank you. [small, polite smile.]

A few minutes pass in silence. Then,

Him: It goes very nicely with your shirt. [His voice is a little different now. It has taken on a wheedling tone. He’s making it clear he’s hitting on her.]

Her: Thank you. [only a glimmer of a smile. She averts her eyes.]

A few minutes pass in silence.

Him: So. Are you coming from work? [now he’s in full on creep mode. It is important to note that the way they are positioned places his crotch almost fully in her face.]

Her: [silence. Averted eyes.]

A minute later:

Him: Did you not hear me? Are you coming from work?

[enter Olivia]

Me: Excuse me, has she given you any indication that she is in the least bit interested in you?

Him: No. [stutters] Don’t worry about it.

Me: Well, I’m going to worry about it if you’re making her uncomfortable. And you’re making her uncomfortable. Leave her alone.

Him: Shut up. If she was uncomfortable, she would have said so.

Her: [looks up at me, refusing to look at him]

Me: Dude, are you blind? She’s uncomfortable. Leave her alone.

Him: [muttering insults]

Me: Did you say something?

Him: Yes.

Me: Oh I didn’t hear you. Because you were mumbling

Him: [silence]

The rest of the bus ride passed without incident. The woman got off five stops later and I got off seven stops after that (two after my actual stop: I didn’t want him to know my real stop in case he was a psycho). He stared at me for much of the ride but said nothing.

So why am I writing this blog? For a number of reasons.

Even if someone is not saying the words “You’re making me uncomfortable” they might still be telling you they’re uncomfortable. The woman’s clasped hands, the aversion of her eyes, the shifting in her seat, the refusal to answer his questions? This is discomfort. Part of living in a civilized society is taking social cues from one another. If you can’t restrain yourself enough to not hit on a woman in public—and I urge you to do exactly that: restrain yourself—at least have the humanity, respect, and presence of mind to take note of the behavior of the subject of your attention. Often, men who engage in street harassment rely on the societally taught politeness that is ingrained in most women in order to subjugate their target. They interpret this politeness as either interest or “playing hard to get.”   Hint: “Playing hard to get” doesn’t really exist in these kinds of scenarios. She’s not “playing hard to get.” She wants you to leave her the fuck alone.

Additionally, take stock of your privilege. Not just your male privilege—hopefully you’re already taking stock of that daily—but your physical privilege. Standing in front of a woman on the bus with your crotch in her face is not the time and place to compliment her on her shirt. Trust me. You are in a position of physical dominance. Allowing this posture to inflate your sense of control in the situation is not “being confident.” It’s being rapey. Don’t be rapey.

We need to teach men. Men need to be taught about boundaries, dominance, privilege, intimidation, street harassment, and a multitude of other microaggressions that they employ—sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously—when they interact with women.

Men, the first step is paying attention. Please, please pay attention. Sometimes you can’t see because you’re standing in your own way. Advice? Move.

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Short Story 1: Matthew

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I have a limit of 300 words on all my blog posts, but will make exceptions as I begin to post pieces of short fiction. Here is the first of many to come. Enjoy.

 

He boards the Red Line at Thorndale, carrying a plastic bag. It’s his second bag: the first had a hole he hadn’t noticed when he filled it, and blood had escaped onto the floor before he’d even gotten it out of the bathroom. The second bag wasn’t quite as big as the first, and the tips of her fingers peeped out as he tied it. He’d pushed them gently back inside as he tightened the yellow strings.

“No, no,” he’d murmured, “not yet. Stay in there where it’s safe.”

He’d left her head in the sink. She’d be waiting for him when he got home, and the idea fills him with a happiness that spreads through his chest and his cheeks like a blush.

On the train, a pretty girl sits next to him, texting on her cell phone. He makes sure his thigh doesn’t brush hers. It’s a nice thigh, he sees, tapering down into a slim ankle, but he doesn’t want to be rude.

“Excuse me,” he says when the train reaches his stop and he hefts the bag. She smiles and stands to let him pass, not minding when the bag brushes against her knees. “So sorry,” he says, lying.

“It’s okay!” Her smile is warm and unforced. “Oh,” she says, “don’t forget your gloves!”

They’re sitting on the seat he vacated, and she grabs them, putting them right into his hand.

“Oh, thank you so much,” he says, remembering to open his eyes wide to show he’s grateful; to show that forgetting the gloves would have been the worst possible event. This is actually true; it would have been. He smiles politely at the pretty girl once more before leaving the train. She is back to texting again before the door closes, at which he feels a little prick of anger in his belly. But he doesn’t have time, he thinks, he has things to do.

Outside, it’s spring and he smiles to feel the new air snaking up his shirtsleeves. It’s chilly still but this is good. No one will look twice at his gloves, although they might wonder briefly at their thickness. He breathes in deeply. He’s strong—for his size, he’s strong: something he likes to tell himself—but the bag is heavy.

“Might have considered a diet, Martha,” he whispers, smiling a little.

She is not the first Martha, Martha 3 in fact, but he knows she wouldn’t mind, not now. She might have minded before, before he’d shown her. But not now. He wonders if she’ll remember, at home in the sink. She will. He thinks of his favorite movie, Wild Wild West. He could have done without Will Smith, but Salma Hayek was so lovely. A woman in a corset earned a special place in his heart—earned it.

His favorite part of the movie was when the scientist—he doesn’t remember the character having a name—took the disembodied head and hooked it to the contraption that showed, like an old movie reel flickering on a screen, the last few moments of the head’s life, before a spinning metal blade had separated head from body.

He relishes this. Sometimes he’ll watch just this scene, not bothering with the preface. Sometimes he masturbates to it. Not to it, exactly, but about it. He puts Martha 1 and 2 in the place of the head on the screen. He closes his eyes, straightening his legs in the blue tweed armchair—a chair he replaces every six months—and thinks of the tape the heads of the Marthas would play. What movies would those be? What glimmering images would he see there, dancing on the wall like shadows in a cave? He knows what he would see. He would see himself. Him, leaning down over them, unmasked and unafraid. He would be the spinning steel blade, the perfect circle. The thought leaves him writhing in the rough blue chair, his eyes open and taking in the vast whiteness of the ceiling.

Now he puts on the gloves. He wishes these could also be white—like him, like his ceiling, like the Marthas—but they must be black. He hasn’t been able to find a red pair that would mask the blood perfectly in shade. It always shows. The black hides all.

He checks the outside of the bag for any of that red before hoisting it over his shoulder; Fulton Market is long and carrying the bag by his side will tax him too quickly. Carrying it over his shoulder lets him feel strong. He had done the same thing with a bag of toys when he was eight and had resolved to run away. His mother had punished him for some childish crime and his father had refused to reverse her decision, so Matthew had packed his favorite things and set off. That had been when they lived in the suburbs, in the house with the yellow door. He’d loved that house and had returned by dark, hungry and lonely, like generations of runaways before him. He’ll return to his own home tonight, but glows again with the knowledge that, for him, it will not be lonely. Martha 3 will be waiting for him, eyes open. Even her mouth is open. He can imagine in it a smile.

He arrives and must put the bag down to pat out his keys. The street is dark. The factory is dark. Chicago is dark. But he is not. He is full of light.

Inside, he doesn’t need a flashlight. He knows the way, he knows the combinations and the mazes and the levers. He knows where she’ll go, where he’ll put her. He puts her there, a safe place with other pieces, other divided forms, other reds and bones. He eases her in gently, gentler than he’d been before. When he returns to her in the sink, he’ll tell her how gentle he’d been. She’ll be grateful.

When he’s through, he stands there in the dark, his back against her place. He wants his blue chair. He wants his white ceiling. But he’ll wait. For now, he clutches the crinkling bag in his black-cotton hands, gripping it hard. He could leave it here for the first shift to discover. They’d throw it away without looking: probably Mark or Javier, people who cared nothing for order. They wouldn’t notice—everything is bloody here. This would be just one more bloody thing. But he’s gripping it tightly, thinking of his white ceiling, and so he carries it out with him when he leaves, folding it gently into a square like a shroud.

Outside, the sky is black and thick like the bag in his pocket, stars plucking out holes in the darkness, some bright thing seeping through. Walking, he passes no one, but he doesn’t need to remind himself to smile in case he happens upon someone, anyone. He’s already smiling. He will be for weeks; at least until Martha 3 begins withering, until her eyes are no longer eyes. He’ll need company after that. But tonight his loneliness is a book on a shelf, its spine uncracked, its pages crisp and unworn. His feet take him back toward the train, his soles solid against concrete the same color as stars.

He removes the gloves. He wants to see his hands, white and blue, in the streetlights. Later, when he imagines Martha 3’s final tape, her flickering thirty seconds, these hands will be in the frame. He looks at them, loving each finger.

He boards the train again, pushing the bag deeper into his pocket with the gloves. A woman with distracted eyes brushes past him for a seat.

“Excuse me,” he says lightly, reminding his mouth to smile in a way that covers his teeth. “Excuse me, so sorry,” he says. She ignores him and he’s hating her, already naming her.

“Excuse me,” he says quietly, and at home Martha 3 waits like a queen, and he owns her eyes; he’ll show her where to look. If she’s a lady he’ll save her skull, keep it like an urn containing all the precious thing she hadn’t been; the things he’d made her.

The train rocks north and he watches the city smear alongside him. He holds the headrest of the seat in front of him, his hands whiter and whiter the more tightly he grips.

Home. Home. Home. He is the perfect circle, made of steel.

“Excuse me,” he says, holding the train’s door open for a woman with headphones, unseeing. His stomach growls with rage. “So sorry.”

All original content copyright Olivia Cole, 2012-2013

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