Magic Realism Romance
The Nirvana Threads is a love story, a spiritual adventure, a nostalgic time-travel to the 90’s punk rock era, and a playful exploration of the magical.
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Set in the 90’s when people didn’t have cell phones, smoked in bars, and punk rock was thriving. Carlie, a wild, twenty-five year old drifter moves back to her parents’ after surviving a traumatic accident. Back home, she starts seeing things she doesn’t understand, and the feelings that come with them are overwhelmingly blissful. When chasing the source of her new joy starts to pull her closer to death, she must find a way to harness this power that makes her feel so alive.
Includes the short graphic novel “Octob*tch and the WrenchKing”
Playlist inspired by the novel with songs from around 1994 or a few years later, or songs that are mentioned in the story, and a few that fit the theme but not the era. Feel free to suggest some tunes in the “write to me” section once you’ve read the book! ❤
Excerpts of TNT:
The space between them was narrow. The smile that lived beside her just moments before had faded. His curled fingers gouged into his thighs, crumpling the fabric of his jeans. She would have reached for them. She should have. It would have been easy to hold his hand one last time. But her body was stiff, paralysed, her eyes transfixed. The moonlit trees on the horizon, the tall grasses and sign posts beyond the window behind him, all slowed to a near stop, as did her breath and the beating of her heart. Its thudding, held in time like a dripping faucet, echoed loudly in her head. She drove her chin through the mud-thick air to face the front—ahead, where there was now nothing but light.
“This is it,” she thought. The boys in the front sat still, their howling quieted, their bodies no longer bouncing up and down, no longer flailing with excitement. They sat still, the chorus to Minor Threat’s “Steppin’ Stone” blasting from the radio, filling the car with its distortion, until it too was silenced by the screeching of metal and the shattering of glass as they collided with the oncoming semi.
“I told you this was a great spot!” Carlie flung her backpack over her shoulder and skipped towards the stopped car. Picking up hitch-hikers under a sign prohibiting hitch-hiking was ironically tempting to potential rides. Johnny was almost convinced. His back had been bent under the weight of his grumpiness since they left late that morning. But he grunted and caught up, dragging his feet because he always did. Sliding in beside her he cracked a forgiving smile.
Carlie woke up expecting that smile beside her. Instead, a dull beige flickered like an old film on reel, on and off, through the gaps of her fluttering eyelids. The room was unrecognisable. She found herself in an elevated, twin-sized bed, lying comfortably with her arms by her side. Her strange whereabouts should have bothered her, should have stopped the overpowering sense of peace from rising to the surface, but it didn’t. Everything was in perfect order. She knew that, somehow, she had cheated death. She should have been thankful. Yet if she were to have died at that very moment, in the strange beige room lying in the comfortable bed, it would have been fine by her. It didn’t matter. Everything was good. Life made sense. Existence, and herself in it; all of it made sense. She belonged exactly where she was.
An out-of-focus, dark-haired woman dressed in white appeared beside her; a doctor. She fiddled with Carlie’s body. Muffled, incomprehensible sounds came from her mouth. Leaning in closer, she stroked Carlie’s hair. The brown of her eyes was the only clearly defined feature on her blurry face. It might have passed unnoticed, but how could it, when the doctor cracked Johnny’s smile, just before fading into the murkiness like a ghost.
Carlie had received a heart transplant, they told her. She had practically died on the way to the hospital. She was in horrible shape, they said. Hers was the success story they all talked about since the accident. A donor’s heart had arrived too late, its intended recipient dying before he could receive it. Carlie was in such a critical state they would have never wasted a heart on her. But she was a match and the heart needed a home, quickly. Her lucky stars were aligned that day. But not Johnny’s. He had died, and the other two flailing monkeys too.
The news crushed her. If there was a god, Carlie imagined him at once to be very nasty as she buckled under his punch. Unanswerable questions exploded, and from heart-wrenching incomprehension came uncontrollable screams, hurled and propelled throughout the ward and beyond. Already swamped by call-button beeps and headaches, the nurses would eventually shuffle over with drugs; sedatives that weren’t meant to numb, just hush. Carlie was then free to agonise for hours on end, without sound, tears, a twitch or even a frown.
Each time she woke from under the wool sleep had pulled over her, she relived the same pain, the same screams, and the same deceptive, doped-up calm. Until at an indiscernible time, confused and tired, she came to and didn’t fight. Exhaustion won. She sat back and let it come—let the heavy blow plough into her. There was a slow, underwater quality to the beating. Its momentum unstoppable, the truth finally forced its way in, sank, and settled with a deep thud.
The following days were long and morose. Carlie did her utmost to return to the harmonious state in which she had woken after the accident, remembering how strangely perfect she had felt despite her physical pain. The memory sat still in her mind, somewhat apart from the rest of the noise. Though she approached it with care, she couldn’t reach it.
However, Carlie found that when she closed her eyes, colourful patterns appeared. The dark screen of her eyelids became a kaleidoscope of swirls and squares and triangles, dots and stripes. Mesmerized, she kept busy by reproducing them with the crayons and sticky pads left on her bedside table, carpeting the floor with drawings and beeping for more paper every second day. When the visuals ended, there was nothing left but to focus on rehab.
Rehab sucked. Physiotherapy was scheduled daily now that Carlie could stand, and that was at least a good way to keep her occupied. The rest of her waking hours were bumpy and dizzying, badly cushioned with the lowest quality distractions. A raggedy Danielle Steele a nurse had given her held up her head no better than an old flat pillow, and the sitcom reruns on the two available TV channels were as supportive as deteriorating couch stuffing. Carlie’s friends, mostly from work, visited a few times, but quickly disclosed how little affection there was between them by not coming at all: the empty shell of a teddy bear. And her parents, a questionable bed comforter. When they heard the dreadful news, they flew two thousand miles, clear across the country from the east coast to the west, to see her perhaps for the last time. Alas, she didn’t die, and they left as soon as the danger was over. Having paid the rent for her apartment while she couldn’t work, her food and private room in the hospital, they assumed she had everything she needed. Their absence was nothing she wasn’t used to, and although she thought she should have been saddened by it, that they weren’t all of a sudden staying by her side left her indifferent. So, no comforter after all.
Hearing her brother’s voice was the only buffer she had against sadness and boredom. Every day, that beige rotary phone became a dear friend, its hard, cold plastic warming her existence. It was a short moment of rest for her soul. A small, warm corner of a feather mattress.
Carlie smiled politely to her physical therapist as he rolled her off to the “get-well” gym. He helped her up.
“You know I can walk now,” she said with a faint trace of humour as she reached for the parallel bars. She trudged through the motions. The pain did a good job of keeping her in the present moment, but images of the crash would creep into her head as soon as she found the slightest relief. Johnny’s grasping fingers. The still, awe-struck silhouette of the bodies against the blinding headlights. And before that, Johnny’s indulgent smile as he crawled into the car. His tantrum earlier that morning when he found someone had smoked the last of his weed. He just couldn’t remember it was him.
Johnny. He was a kind person who saw the good in everyone, though he was the first to put himself down. A college drop-out, he hopped around from job to job, unstimulated but content. There were plenty of means to success other than through school, he would say. One had to be passionate about what one did, that was all, and sitting in a classroom had failed to evoke that magic feeling in him. So he bartended, promoted concerts, mowed lawns, cut hair. He did anything he felt like, and usually with enough nonchalance to show his lack of interest in all of that, too. The exception was Carlie. She held his interest from the first moment. From everyone else he stayed aloof, free from ties and high expectations.
As with many wounded creatures, it was just a front. He harboured profound musings, he just shared none of them. He kept them even from Carlie, though she sensed them steadily bustling behind the brown of his irises. His history was always near, a sensitive nerve just below the surface. He would often sit for hours, thinking, frowning. But he wouldn’t share, and Carlie didn’t push.
She knew he had been a difficult child. A trickster, an agitator, an arsonist, a thief. All before the age of twelve. Still, she had no doubt that deep down he had been a good kid, just as he had become, to Carlie, a good man. Her parents had never understood why she married him. She loved him, that was why. She loved the fiery spark in his eyes, his sense of humour, and their common love for music. And his smile. His smile that showed his good heart. That was reason enough for her.
Standing alone in the middle of the rehab gym, lost in thought, Carlie touched her lips. She remembered kissing Johnny. Her fingers trailed down her chin and flopped onto her chest. Her hand moved back and forth in a caress over her new scar, still sore, and its small, protruding staples. This heart, under her sternum, this entity that pumped her blood, she wasn’t supposed to feel it, ever, they had told her. Even if she were to have a heart attack, she shouldn’t feel it, because the pain was travelling someone else’s nerves. It was supposed to be a numb heart. But the first few days after she woke up, when she was quiet and relaxed, she could feel its every beat. And every emanating pulse, she felt all the way to her lips that remembered kissing Johnny. But now there was only the painful squeeze of longing and regret. This heart that was not hers, how could it already be broken? How could it understand the burning grief that grew inside it? What did this heart know of love?
“Excuse me,” she asked an aid walking by. He smiled as he stopped. “Whose heart do I have?”
“I can’t help you with that, sweetie. Our donors are kept anonymous. But if you want to write the family an anonymous thank-you letter, we can pass it along. Just let us know.” He gave her bicep a sympathetic squeeze and walked away. She watched him leave, weaving through the equipment, out into the open reception area, and out of sight around the corner. Anonymous, she repeated to herself.
There were strangers, out there in the world, that had lost a family member. Someone they loved. And now, instead, there was Carlie, and she could write meaningless words on a piece of paper for them. Who was it supposed to soothe? No thanks in the world could change what had happened, and somehow Carlie felt it would only make their grieving worse, rubbing salt into the wound. That’s what it would have felt like for her, she thought, if some random person wrote to tell her that they had Johnny’s heart. No one deserved Johnny’s heart. And besides, what could she tell them? That the person who was meant to have the heart died, and so this young punk got it instead? Who was it originally meant for? A child? Someone who would eventually grow up to find the cure for cancer? Or a surgeon, perhaps, who would save countless lives; or a philanthropist who would dedicate his life to the service of others? Carlie was none of those things. What she was to do with such a gift, she didn’t know. It was April 1994, and she couldn’t think further than the next gym day. She couldn’t think past Johnny’s kiss.
By June, after one bedridden month, three months of rehab, weekly biopsies and all kinds of tests every few days, Carlie was given the okay to go. They stocked her with medication—pills she would have to take for the rest of her life—and an appointment with the doctor that would follow her progress in her new town. Or, more precisely, her old town. Carlie had decided to move back home to Mootpoint, somewhat reluctantly, leaving the shores of the west she had grown to love. It would be good to be close to family, and away from a life that only reminded her of him.
Her suitcases in the trunk, the taxi driver kept the motor running, as per Carlie’s request, after pulling up to the cemetery gates.
“It’s not open yet, miss,” the driver said.
“That’s okay. I won’t be long.” She got out, stringing her backpack over her shoulder. He watched her push herself up over the iron-wrought fence and shook his head.
It was an obligatory visit, and certainly the respectful and respectable thing to do, but she hated it. The eeriness of a plot of land populated with standing pieces of rock representing dead people, like pawns on a board game, except with bones and decaying flesh of varying degrees below the table; she hated it. Tombstones didn’t represent people at all. Cold slabs of rock, with gushy words carved into them. Perhaps Johnny’s deceased body was cold, but his living soul, if it was out there somewhere, had to be warm as blood. The stone, the flowers, his tiny lot, they were only mementos, and were in no way a means to be with him. Still, fresh blooms were placed, tears were shed, and she did exactly what she was supposed to do. Feel horrible.
A few hours later, she climbed aboard the spaceship, as she kept calling it, and flew high above and away from Johnny’s game-board piece, wondering if his warm soul was enjoying a similar view.
Octob*tch and the WrenchKing
This graphic novel is “written” by our protagonist Carlie Jones, and I drew it out as a wink to the story. I uploaded it here especially for the e-readers since the graphic novel is not included in the e-book version of the novel, only in the physical book. Please, if you can, save it for when you’re done reading the story! It just makes more sense. If you can’t help it, I love you anyway. : )