D.T. Robbins

D.T. Robbins has work in HobartMaudlin HouseX-R-A-YBending Genres, and others. He’s founding editor of Rejection Letters. Find out more at dtrobbins.com.


My girlfriend tells me something’s off in our relationship. Says we’re missing a spark or magic or whatever she calls it. 

I go, Oh, you wanna see magic?

She goes, Yeah, idiot, I just said that. 

So, I wrap an old t-shirt around her eyes and lead her out into the field behind our apartment. It’s all a big surprise. The ice chest is full of beers and pastrami sandwiches and the chocolate cookies she baked last month. I put a slice of bread in a Ziplock bag with the cookies to keep them fresh. The cookies stay moist and soft, and the bread gets dry and ugly. Success!  

We’re walking for a while when she says her feet hurt. There’s always something to complain about, isn’t there? A little foot pain never killed anyone. Sometimes you’ve gotta pay the price. Magic ain’t free, you know. The hum of electricity gets louder, ricocheting off the clouds the closer we get. 

I tell her we’re here and take the shirt off her eyes. See? There they are, I say, pointing. Just look at those things—all perched up on the powerlines without a goddamn care in the world. Dozens of them in rows, twisting their necks and heads, fluttering their wings, cooing, cooing and cawing, cawing. 

She goes, The fuck is this? 

I go, It’s magic!

Those are just birds. 

I drop the ice chest, hear one of the cans spray open inside. Just birds? There’s no way you’re serious. If you’re being serious, you’re out of your mind. 

She stares at me, then the birds, then me. 

I put my hands on her shoulders, look at her real seriously, and drop the motherfucking truth bomb: Birds aren’t real. 

A hawk circles above us. It swoops down, grabs a rat or snake or something, flies off with it into the blue picture screen above us. 

Wait, she says. You mean, like, we’re living in a simulation—the Matrix or something?

I shake my head no, gulping one of the beers that busted open in the ice chest. Not at all, I tell her. People who think shit like that are just weird. I mean the birds aren’t real. 

She reaches in the ice chest, grabs the Ziplock bag of cookies, and walks back toward our apartment. So much for magic, I yell. 

I’m six or seven beers deep, watching the birds chill on the powerlines, watching the clouds pass, listening to the wind and the electricity intertwine and envelop me in my own little cocoon. 

One of the birds asks, What’s your problem, dude?

I sit up, swig my beer. I don’t have a problem, I say. 

Thirty or so of them all turn their heads to me like the ticking of the long hand on a clock.

The powerlines stop humming. 

They go, Oh yeah? Then why’d you tell her we’re not real? All their beaks move, one voice, stereo, super cool. What’s your angle, friend? We’re as real as you. 

Horse shit! I’m flesh and blood. My heart beats like a steady drum. There’s poison in my veins. When I sleep, I dream, I nightmare. You, you’re a fraud. And you know it. You’re an illusion of the mind. And you can’t convince me otherwise. 

The birds levitate from the wires, fly in a furious circle. Their feathers fling from their bodies, become liquid, like hot magma, forming an ooey-gooey black blanket, snuffing out the sun. They cover me, a big bubble of darkness and energy. It sort of reminds me of that Pauly Shore movie, Bio-Dome, but better. A hologram of my girlfriend rises beneath me. She looks super pissed. Very realistic. Her hips start shaking and her eyes roll into the back of her head, shine bright neon pink. I’m into it. 

Dance with me, she says. 

I throw my hands in the air, I don’t even care. My legs move this way and that, shaking my shit like I know what to do with it. 

She smiles wide, wide, wider. Birds with wings of fire fly out from behind her teeth, straight at me like bullets. I duck and cover. The echo of their screeching—radio static. I look up at my hologram girlfriend. She flaps her arms, flies away. 

I stand there, not knowing who I like better: my hologram girlfriend or my real girlfriend. My feet are warm. I look down, I’m standing on a powerline. It sizzles like a plate of fajitas. My tennis shoes are melting. The skin around my toes goes drip, drip, drip. I watch it fall into the abyss below. A tornado of birds surrounds me, screaming: It’s not real. You’re not real. They’re not real. It’s so not, not! We’re not real. What is real? Are you really surely real? Who, then? For reals? 

One of the birds comes and sits on my shoulder. It’s heavy. Like, weighs-as-much-as-I-weigh kind of heavy. I can’t hold my balance, slip, and fall into the abyss. I land on a giant slice of white bread, sink inside. A giant hand reaches for me, grabs a giant cookie, retracts. I’m in the Ziplock bag. Light expands and I see my real girlfriend sitting at our white IKEA kitchen table, crying, with chocolate smeared at the corners of her mouth. I never noticed how messy of an eater she is. I shout her name. She doesn’t hear me. My insides shrivel, dry out. My tongue turns to crust. I am dry, dead bread. Her hand reaches in, grabs me. Our kitchen walls scroll by like a movie in fast-forward, then I’m falling down, down, down. I reach the bottom of the trashcan. The lid closes and it’s back to black. 

I can’t open my eyes because one of the birds crapped on my face. It smells like a nursing home or a bar right after closing. I wipe it away with the shirt my girlfriend left before she went back to the apartment. The ice chest is upside down, ice spilled over and melted. Empty beer cans everywhere, suds on the lips. Sandwiches gone. The powerlines hum quietly. Stars shine down on the wet grass. And those fucking birds? They’re still there. I pick up my things, head home. 

There’s a note on the counter. It says, I can’t do this anymore. I’m sorry. There’s leftovers in the fridge. Take care of yourself. 

I crumple the note, throw it in the trash, next to the rotten piece of bread. And there I am.

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I had a dream about you. I sat in a pew that only had enough room for two people. Its red velvet had faded, its wooden frame splintered. 

Someone played piano, sang a song for you, about you. The congregation sent up a crescendo of angel voices, enveloping the atmosphere, like a child wrapped around her father’s leg. 

And me? I lost it. I bawled, wailed. 

I’d saved that seat next to me for you, but you never came. 


The dream-song, a melody I’d never heard before, stayed in my ears after I woke. I considered whether or not to remove the guitar from my wall, excavating the song’s chord structure from my sleep. The tears I wept, hollow-chested and heavy-limbed, cascaded into reality, like watching the ripped remains of matter spewing from the other side of a black hole. Because the truth is, I fucking miss you. 

You were the whole of my youth, my adolescence. I would pray like you said to, you would stir my soul with mystery and revelation, wisdom and understanding. The elders prayed over me at 13. Never look to man, they said, because man would always disappoint me. Keep my eyes on you and you alone. They said the devil would shoot fiery arrows at me my whole life, but you’d protect me. 

And the devil did speak. From pulpits he decried the extent of your grace and compassion. And I, if I truly believed, was to revile and denounce so-called abominations that the world fell victim to. Despite your freedom, I put on chains. He criticized the expectation of your power and presence. Miracles became blasphemous. Mystery was ignorance. You were the light, but I only saw darkness.

He spoke from behind the desks of those who said they knew you better, were closer to you. As if my relationship with you was a thing to be measured and scrutinized like the subject of a clinical trial. Charisma was favored over personal experience. Could I preach a three-point sermon? Was the inflection in my voice enough to evoke an emotional response? How many bodies could I bring into the room? When was the last time I jerked off? Who was I fantasizing about? Did I touch her before she wore a ring? Was I drinking in public or at home? Did I cause someone to stumble with my secret sins? 

My questioning and challenging their teaching, the methodology, blacklisted me. It seems as though you’re a flash in the pan, they told me. This isn’t working out, they said. You’re not a strong enough spiritual leader, she said. Whatever the hell that even meant.

The devil’s voice grew louder, silencing yours. I quit listening to you both. I chose my own voice. Of my anger, my disappointment and disillusionment. You became a distant memory, a nightmare, a gravesite. 

I watched as those who believed they knew you better ended up knowing nothing of you and even less of themselves. Their egos crucified their missions. They vacated their callings, falling from their pedestals. Some by choice, others by force. I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t find some restitution in it. One friend, who stood witness to my eventual dismissal of faith, said to me, You were the one they said would go nowhere and do nothing, look where you’re at now, how well you’re doing! And where the fuck are they? Their names are forgotten, reputations buried. Maybe I’m wrong for that. Maybe you reap what you sow. Maybe it doesn’t matter.


But now I can’t shake that song, that dream. I keep seeing that seat I saved for you. I keep wondering if you’ll show. If you’ll remember me like I remember you from the days of my innocence. If you’ll remember my innocence at all. If you’ll remember my voice the way I remember yours. Or if it’s too late. If I’ve become like that pew, faded and splintered. 

The seat belongs to you and, whether I like it or not, no one else is capable of occupying that space. 

I’ve been sitting here for so long. 

I hate sitting alone.

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WHEELS by D. T. Robbins

Fat-boy Brad, the same Brad who went, Hey, Cheese Factory!, to me on the bus because my teeth are a little yellow, stood in the middle of the street with Chris, the same Chris who almost drowned me in his pool last summer showing me what a washing machine was (you flip someone over and over and over and over until they can’t catch their breath and they start to cry and someone’s mom comes out and yells, What the hell are you doing to that boy?), looking at my bike, telling me how fucking gay it is because it’s white and only queers have white bikes, and am I a queer? I tell them my dad says I’m getting a new bike soon, maybe for my tenth birthday coming up,  a Mongoose BMX bike with pegs, so Parker can ride on the back and we can jump the ramps we made in the woods behind his house. I look at Parker, he looks away. Brad and Chris go, if you’re getting a new bike you should just fuck this one up. I ask what they mean and they say they’ll show me. Chris stands on the back wheel while fat-boy Brad stands on the other. They start jumping and the wheels start bending and Parker starts laughing so I laugh too because Parker and I are fourth graders and Brad and Chris are seventh graders and that’s just how it works. Like that, they say. I get to walking my bike back to my house on the other side of the neighborhood but then I think dad’s going to be pissed so I start crying as I’m walking. Sure enough, dad sees the bike and flips out and starts asking what happened and I say it wasn’t me but I don’t want to say who did it because Chris already almost killed me once and who knows if he’ll try again? But I end up telling dad and we get in the car and dad’s driving around the neighborhood looking for fat-boy Brad and Chris and when we find them dad hops out the car and gets in their faces and asks what the hell is their problem doing that to a boy’s bike? They say I told them they could and dad says he doesn’t care if I said they could or not, it doesn’t give them the right to destroy someone else’s property. Dad tells them if they ever come near me or my bike again he’ll…and I don’t really hear or understand that part very well. Dad drives us back home but the whole time he’s hollering at me and telling me I shouldn’t let boys like that pick on me and I need to stand up for myself and act like a man. We get in the house and mom asks what happened but dad ignores her and gets his belt instead. I don’t get the Mongoose BMX bike for my birthday. 


I know dad only bought me this Jeep—an ’89 Suzuki Samurai—to keep me from starting any more shit. Guess he got tired of me calling the cops every time he shoved me down the hallway after I told him my little brother and I want to leave shithole Mississippi and go back to California to live with mom, that I called him a deadbeat dad since he didn’t pay child support (because fuck your kids, right?) and that’s the only reason mom couldn’t afford to fly down to Louisiana for the court hearing and that’s the only reason he got custody of us instead of her. He thinks buying me this Jeep is going to keep me happy and quiet because that’s what keeps every sixteen-year-old happy and quiet. Except he’s wrong. All it’ll do is keep me away from him and the stepmother. Well, seeing as how it’s the first day of spring break, I decide to get the hell out of the house and go somewhere, anywhere. The Jeep is parked in the garage because dad wanted it out of the driveway this morning when he was washing and waxing that turd green Camry he’s trying to sell. He and the stepmother left for work so I’m alone and there’s only so many times I can jerk off and, besides, there’s a girl who’ll let me touch her tits so I think I’m going to see her. I grab my keys and throw the Jeep in reverse and haul ass. At first, the crunch of metal on metal is muffled by the Jeep’s exhaust but when I back out further I see the whole side of the Camry torn to shit—dents six inches deep, black lines and scratches like the striking surface of a matchbox, the side mirror dangling by a single wire. I start screaming, oh fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck, and jump out the Jeep to see the damage. I’m dead and I know it. I call the girl who lets me touch her tits and she doesn’t know what to do so I call the stepmother. I tell her dad is going to kill me and I’m really sorry, I should’ve looked behind me when I went in reverse, can she please talk to dad because I’m afraid of what he’ll do to me. 

Dad and the stepmother pull up in her truck and dad steps out and starts inspecting the Camry. I look at the stepmother and she raises her hand like, calm down it’s okay. Dad looks at her, then me. You’re grounded for a month, he says and walks into the house. 


The judge says I’m old enough to choose who I want to live with. 

Dad sits up in his bed. The stepmother pulls the blanket over her face. It’s cold. It’s always fucking cold in this house. He asks, what’re you going to do? I’m going back to California, I say. He tells me I’m making a mistake, says the Jeep stays with him.


The car mom’s been letting me use to get to my job at the movie theater just got repossessed and she says if I want a new one then I can call dad and ask him for the money because she doesn’t have it. I don’t want to fucking call him. It’s not that it’s been three years since I’ve been back in California or that he never came to my high school graduation or that he’s still trying to get custody of my little brother. What I don’t want to tell him is that we’d just been homeless for the past six months or so because mom got us evicted from our house in Ontario. Mom says she couldn’t pay the rent because dad wasn’t paying child support but somehow she could afford to pay for the new furniture, somehow she could afford to take that trip up north to see that guy she’s been talking to. I don’t want to call dad because I want to talk to someone about all of this but I sure as shit don’t want that someone to be him. Fuck. I still need a car and I still have no one else to ask for help. The movie theater pays shit and most of my money goes to helping with groceries or the cell phone bill we’re behind on. When he answers, he sounds tired. His voice is softer. Not a whisper, but close. I ask what he’s doing, he says he’s feeding a bottle to my new baby sister, Grace. We talk about that, how she’s doing. He says everything’s great, they’re all great. I say, good. He says, I’m sorry, son. If I had the money, I’d give it to you, I really would. He says he wants to help me. I say I know he does, and I mean it. After we hang up, I get in bed and cry into my pillow for a really long time. 


I just wired you five thousand dollars your grandma wanted you to have when she passed, dad says. I ask how things have been since she died. Someone finally ended up buying her house, so that’s a weight off his shoulders. We talk about my brother and sister, Grace and Graham—how smart Grace is, how she’s kicking ass in all these speech debates at her high school. Graham is Graham, loves his video games. He asks how my kids are. He wants to see them one day, says maybe the kids and I and my fiancé should visit Mississippi next Thanksgiving or something. He asks if things have gotten easier with my ex-wife, if we’re getting along. I tell him that things are better, getting better, there’s good days and bad days. It’ll all work out, he says. He thinks I should put the five grand toward a new car. 

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