Go Away

A chalky man walks around Dora’s brain. He’s hard to pin down, never stops long enough for her to get a good look. She knows he is a man, vaguely, or believes he is, because of the effect he has on her. He makes her squirm, not with pleasure, but with discomfort, as so many others have done before.

But the chalk man, unlike the others, doesn’t berate her. He doesn’t mutilate her. He doesn’t corrode her veins and swatches of her skin with verbal acid. His silence is far more terrifying. It is a waiting silence, a tense and pent-up silence, the kind of silence that you can pull like a piece of chewed up gum, pull and pull and pull until it snaps back and sticks to both fingers and is impossible to get off.

Dora walks through her life with this chalk man threatening her. His blurry outline haunts her when she works at the wood shop, overseeing the new people’s handling of saw and sander. He doesn’t distract her – Dora is not to be distracted – but she is as aware of him as of the cyst on her thigh that scrapes every time she walks. He is a physicality that she can put aside, that she can work with, but that she cannot erase with a hot compress.

One day, the chalk man walks through the doors of her workshop and looks around. Looks for her. Frozen, she stands next to a cabinet she has been decorating with delicate carvings, and sees him see her. She feels him come closer. She hears his voice inside her mind and ears both.

“Hi,” he says. “Long time no see.”

She wants to say I love you. She wants to say come back. She wants to say take me. She wants to say you hurt me. She wants to say, and touch, and forgive, and relive; she wants to drink beer in Munich and wine in Madrid; she wants to buy a house and decorate it with her furniture, and she wants him to carry her heavy things inside, to carry her inside too; she wants to erase his erasure of her.

“Go away,” she says. The live chalk man turns, a look of true disappointment blooming around his mouth and crow’s-feet eyes, but the chalk man in her head solidifies and keeps walking in circles.

It will take another year for the chalk man to blur again, to become unknown again, to restore Dora’s ability to keep her hands steady enough to work again. When the chalk man is blurry, he is safer. Not safe, never safe, but safer.

Not Dying

Miranda wasn’t dying. She was standing in the grocery store, in a long line filled with other people who were being multilingual and filling her head with confusion. But she was most certainly not dying.

She often reminded herself of this fact. It was a necessary day-to-day assertion. “I’m not dying, I’m not dying,” she would tell herself when she rolled over in the morning to turn off the Mickey Mouse alarm clock on her bedside table, stolen from her son’s room when he went off to college because it was so annoying that it actually got her up. “I’m not dying,” she would recite over the coffee maker, dancing from one foot to another on cold toes.

“Put slippers on!” Miranda’s mother used to yell – really yell, with spittle flying out of her mouth and veins coming to the fore of her face.

“I’m not dying,” Miranda reminded herself on the way to work and in the morning meeting and the noon meeting and the late lunch meeting and the dinner meeting. “I’m not dying.”

“You’ll catch cold and then where will you be?” her mother would ask. Miranda yearned to ask where indeed that would be, but it was many years before she worked up the courage. By then, her mother wasn’t a force to be reckoned with anymore, and it felt like a cheap, below the belt blow. There were better ways to get to her mother than this, she knew, but it made her mother smile to hear her daughter ask the question. “Dead,” she’d said in the nursing home. “That’s what I meant when you were a kid. You’d be dead. Kids die of colds all the time.”

Miranda stood in the grocery store line and listened to the Spanish and Greek and Russian streaming around her and knew she would never learn another language. One was hard enough for her to contend with. It wouldn’t help her to understand the chatter around her. The mothers were all probably telling their kids the same thing every mother tells her daughter. The men in big jerseys were probably talking about some game involving a ball.

“I’m not dying,” Miranda told herself every night before she went to sleep. She walked barefoot to her bed and tucked her feet into the coldest part of the mysterious temperatures found in crisp sheets and made beds. “I’m not.”

5 Years of This

This may be a bit of a sentimental post. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
It’s been five years. Five years since I opened this blog. In the past five years I’ve been diagnosed, medicated, enrolled, hired, accepted to, rejected, published – I’ve taken leave, applied, worked, written, studied, shared, departed, arrived at, met, said goodbye, recovered, relapsed, rerecovered, stuck to, made decisions, danced, drank, experimented, read, played, traveled, become. The actives outweigh the passives, all in all.

I don’t regret. It’s not easy, and it takes an active decision not to, but I don’t regret.

In the next week or two, I will be published in my first ever book – e-book first, then physical book. I will be linking here, of course. I will also continue posting fiction as often as I can. I won’t promise to be less sporadic than I’ve been recently, because, well, I know it’s pointless to make a promise I can’t keep. I can promise to try to post more – but I have also just received an acceptance to an internship position, and that and three intense courses at school may keep me pretty busy. Still, I’ve got some posts from this month of writing challenges that I will continue letting out slowly, and hopefully you will enjoy the mediocrity that comes of play as well as the more shining moments that come of experimenting with bizarre prompts.

Five years. Hard to believe.

Wendy’s Call [Flash Fiction]

Another call, another disappointment. Wendy put down the portable phone with the numbers that were all rubbed off from the rubber buttons and sighed. She was sixty-seven, almost, and it was time for a kitten. It wasn’t proving easy to find. A young voice had just informed her that the two males she’d been interested in had already been snatched up by someone else, someone with two daughters who wanted them to each have her own cat. They don’t work that way, cats, Wendy knew, but she didn’t try to explain this to the girl on the phone. She tried to hide her disappointment. She tried to tell herself it was going to be alright.

Doctor Kendall was a nice man. He’d been looking. He would keep looking. He knows I’ll take good care of a kitten, Wendy thought.

She got up from the kitchen table, where she’d been drinking a cup of tea. Her dressing gown was tied tightly around her waist, broader now than her hips. Her whole family was like that, holding weight around their middles, like barrels of rainwater. Her feet were bare on the brown carpeting, and she wriggled her toes in it for a moment. The cleaning gentleman had been over that morning, and the carpet was fluffed from the vacuuming, and it felt soft and wooly. The way she always imagined it would feel to stand in a cloud, even though she knew, of course, that standing in a cloud would mean falling right through it and getting soaked to boot. It was moments like these that made Wendy feel silly about being sixty-seven, almost.

Her eyes, handsome gray and the only vanity she still had, would have to be made up. It was time to go out. She did the dishes first, only the tea-cup and saucer and a small plate where she’d been nibbling some melon rinds, and thought about the rest of her day. She worried about not being home. What if she got another call about the kittens? She needed to give Doctor Kendall her cellphone number. She had one, though she rarely used it, but this was important.

The too-wide bed was where she spread out her clothes. A pair of sensible black pants. A bra, which was important, because she sometimes left the house without one and got stared at. She wanted to tell people that she’d been a flower-child and that bras were for conformists, but she really wasn’t up to long arguments, so she just wore bras when she went outside of her neighborhood. Around where she lived, people knew her. They knew she wasn’t as old as life had made her look.

Over her aching back and shoulders she pulled a light sweater, a big one, that had belonged to a long-ago man who had been bigger than her. A lot bigger, back then, but now the sleeves were long and the middle fit just right, hugging her tummy like maternity clothes.

She brushed her hair with her fingers. She didn’t look in the mirror. Why look, Wendy reasoned, when she was always surprised? Always disappointed? So she’d stopped.

Lifting the portable phone up she replaced it in its cradle, so it could charge. She checked her handbag for her keys, her wallet, her tissues, her Tums, her Advil, her lipstick – not that she often used it, but just in case – and her cellphone, which she had remembered, for once, to charge the night before. It was all there.

Wendy locked the door behind her and took the elevator down. She resisted the urge to go back up when she heard a ringing from one of the apartments. It wouldn’t be hers, she knew. She couldn’t hear her phone from outside anymore.

Joss Whedon – the man, the legend, the awesome

A couple weeks ago – actually, a week and a half ago, to be precise – I went to a screening of Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing at the Oxford Union. I was privileged and lucky enough to get to interview Mr. Whedon himself, along with his stars, Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker, for almost half an hour. I then attended the general Q&A session at the Union, along with a whole lot of other fans who’d waited in anticipation for the event.

You can find the interview here and the article summarizing the amazing Q&A session here.

 

Two of my favorite people, talked to and interviewed in one year, in the span of not even three months. Not bad, for a loopy writer going into her senior year, if I do say so myself (but seriously, if you’d asked sixteen-year-old me if almost-23-year-old-me could do something like this, she’d laugh in your face and tell you to go pick on someone else and not make fun of her, please).

 

Untitled – A Vignette

The sparse hairs on Mr Fairchilde’s chin did nothing to promote the air of confidence he wore like a bespoke suit. He beckoned Eleni into his office with a small head dip, an echo of past centuries’ courtly bows, a concession to politeness he only expressed in physical gestures. In conversation, Mr Fairchilde was short, although in stature he was rather tall.

Eleni glided in, her feet obscured by her perpetual hippie-skirt. She jingled as she moved, obscuring any sound her feet might have made, giving her the illusion of true weightlessness. The cheap metal bracelets on her arms, peeling fake silver revealing coppery rust flakes, chimed as she swung them to and fro with far more vigour than seemed necessary for such a small person.

She looked around, surveying the tinseled, red and green bannered, generally over-the-top ornamented walls. They reminded her of the gaudy décor that hung at the corner bar, dug out of lumpy, leaking, boxes every holiday season and packed away with sweaty, alcohol soaked hands a week later. Mr Fairchilde’s reputation was sinking in her eyes minute by minute, and though she had no one to blame but her sister for recommending him so highly, she eyed him with the kind of distaste she usually reserved for small critters, hamsters and guinea pigs, which she especially hated.

“Anything to drink, Ms Cooper?”

“No. You get paid by the hour, don’t you?”

“I do. Business it is.”

They sat down, Mr Fairchilde taking his huge brown leather chair – brown, not black, he was sure, made him seem a little warmer than the usual solicitor – and Eleni in the right-hand plastic on plastic affair reserved for clients. She thought it would make more sense the other way around, with the client feeling more comfortable, more apt to waste time and money. It didn’t seem the thing, to consider the client’s need to be reminded that time was short and that any minute over the first hour would be charged as an entire second one. Like parking lots, the whole bunch of them, she thought.

“Why don’t you tell me what it’s about.”

“I told you over the phone.”

“Refresh my memory, please.”

Eleni spoke, telling him the things he wanted to know and watching him make notes on a legal pad which he held up on his knee, so she couldn’t see it. She imagined, as she often did, a film camera coming around her, circling, until it panned onto the lined yellow paper to reveal the punch line – that Mr Fairchilde wasn’t taking notes at all, but was doodling pictures of naked women or genitalia.

Mr Fairchilde, for his part, took notes carefully, meticulously, and more importantly, accurately, just in case Eleni were to claim to have said something she didn’t later down the line. Clients could be fickle, he’d found. His brain was consumed entirely by the task, and he didn’t even notice, not even with a tiny corner of his brain, how much Eleni resembled his ex-wife, nor how the pitch of her voice was similar to the babysitter he’d had when he was nine years old. These things flew by his consciousness as he focused on the chore in front of him, and the only nagging thought in his brain was a sneaking suspicion that, if this was all that therapists needed to do – listen and take notes – he could be making even more money than he was already.

A Bridge of Hope and Spit

“I like to be in the dark sometimes.”

“Me too.”

We lay together, side by side, barely touching. Or is it lie? Do we lie together? Which is the correct conjugation of the verb? We care about language, this is a crucial issue. If we lie together, does the insinuation extend beyond the simple act of bodies naked limbs stretched side by side on a too narrow bed minds on different planes of consciousness which we have already agreed are impossible to bring together in any substantial way? If we lie together are we lying to ourselves and each to the other as well? There’s no need to raise this question aloud, of course, it will only spoil the thoughts racing in our minds which may be exactly the same and may on the other hand be entirely different, but are equally valid. The gap is unbridgeable or is it that the bridge is ungappable? We can’t remember, that conversation was too many pleasures ago.

“Is this okay?”

“Yes. Is this okay?”

“Yes.”

We talk about books and music and likes and dislikes and our heads are filled with mush and gray matter and our lips move around words which mean things or don’t and the hour grows later and light grows brighter and the birds chirp and our voices grow softer. Soft like what, is this important? Are they soft to the touch like a piece of felt that is smooth when you run your fingers along it both ways, or soft like velvet which is so smooth it may induce tears when touched one way and suddenly course and upsetting when touched against the grain, like a cat being pet to make its fur stand up? And on the subject of furs are the tree version used for Christmas celebrations absent from both our locales as they seem to be at first glance or is Christmas celebrated in a half of this darkness that is still unexplored?

“Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”

Pass [Flash Fiction]

Colored blue and gold, Graham sat on the throne. He held a scepter. His forehead itched, a couple stray thorns drooping off his curling black hair. His boxer shorts were bunched uncomfortably beneath the full regalia.
He wasn’t positive what was happening. His mother, his principal, his grandfather and his trumpet teacher were walking slowly around him. Assessing. Murmuring wind-chime syllables. Graham wasn’t afraid of them. He straightened his back, the heavy cloth and body paint shushing one another as they rubbed. He didn’t dare look down to see if he’d smudged the paint that someone, no doubt a servant – he couldn’t quite remember – had worked so hard over.
“Well?”
“Is he fit?”
“He is fit enough. But he is still a boy.”
“He could lose control.”
Graham fell. His tunic ruffled up with the wind and he could finally fix his boxer shorts. The waterfall behind him spattered him clean and washed off the paint. He felt at his hair but the thorns had become disentangled. He had dropped his scepter. A smug voice called from within the waterfall. “See? No control.”
Graham lifted his hand up. Where a tattoo of a fox had always been on his wrist, a buffalo head rested, dull eyes staring at him, reluctantly giving up their secret. Graham felt the gurgle of hysteria rising up in him. Before his body decided whether it was going to cry or laugh, still freefalling beside the neverending Niagara, he spread his arms wide and spun himself round. It wasn’t a graceful pirouette, but it did the job.
Graham stood in front of the panel. Four people, faces obscured and blurry, not replaced by familiar ones this time. He stood in the clothes he’d put on that morning. Jeans, a long-sleeved t-shirt, boots. His version of a uniform, easy to remember and get back into. He looked down at his tattoo. The fox was back. It winked at him.
“That was a very close shave, young man.”
“I know,” Graham dared to speak.
“Were you even lucid in the first stage?”
“Of course,” he lied.
“You must admit, some part of his subconscious kept that waterfall going and going. He could have hit bottom at any point.”
“That’s true.”
“I think we should give him a probation period.”
“Agreed. Are we agreed on this? Acceptance with probation period?”
“Agreed.”
“Agreed.”
“Agreed.”
“Wake up.”
Graham opened his eyes onto reality. He stood in the same room, but this time the panel’s faces were clear. He didn’t let them see his reaction. He bowed his head in thanks, acknowledgement, respect, whatever, and left the room. Probation or not, he was certified Lucid. Now the party could really start.

Prompted: Explain Christmas to a young pine tree

I only know what they showed me on television. But you don’t know what that is either. It’s sort of like how you, one day, might want to feel what it’s like to fly. When you grow up, you’ll have bird families nesting on you. They’ll build their homes in your branches, and they’ll use the worms and caterpillars climbing down your spine to feed their young. And they’ll fly. They’ll fly around your topmost branches and even though you’ll be intimate with the wind, you won’t know what it will feel like to touch a cloud. But you’ll think about it sometimes. And maybe even wish for it. When you see the birds flying – that’s sort of how I think Christmas is. It’s a joyous thing that I’ve seen from far away. I’ve seen others stretch into it like it’s a habit, like it’s as easy as plunging off a branch and rising high into the blue. It’s not something they need to think about. But you and me, we have our roots in different places and no matter how hard we try to picture what it’s like up there in that space, we won’t be able to.

Someday, maybe you’ll learn the language of the birds. Maybe you’ll manage to talk to them. And you’ll ask them what it’s like to fly. That’s what I did. I asked what Christmas was really like. Not the pretend kind I saw from far away. But I don’t know if I ever asked the right question, not exactly. Because even if you’re speaking the same language as someone else, when your roots are in different places, can you be sure you mean the same thing when you say “always” and “regular” and “just”? Could you explain to the birds what it’s like to draw water from the earth?

The Nonbeliever

The nonbeliever stared out at the broken bodies, dressed in running shorts and t-shirts. He sighed. He shut his window, but the sirens kept wailing and he couldn’t keep their sound out. He had seen events unfold through the thick, double-glazing, and he wondered why he wasn’t more moved. He was left cold. He felt like he was watching a movie. Just another movie.

He turned to his computer and opened up his social media websites. There were many of them. It was where his life took place, his real life, the one divorced from the lumbering, uncomfortable, needy flesh that was his body. He didn’t like physical necessities. He found them embarrassing and ungainly. Words were what moved him.

Online, he found that he was already late to the party. Everyone knew about what was happening right outside his window. He realized he could be a valuable asset and positioned himself again so he could see out while typing. He began feeding live reports and found himself with a dozen new followers, almost immediately.

When he uploaded a picture, he was shocked to find even more hanging onto his words. He described what he was seeing and hearing and even opened the window again, just for a moment, to try to get a whiff of the smoke. It smelled like smoke.

There were others like him, sending out messages of hope and love. He stuck to the facts. He was a nonbeliever, after all. He knew communication was essential, but didn’t believe in the power of prayers. He knew that help was possible, but didn’t believe in the fluffy notion of good thoughts. He was seen as a good source of information and valued for these qualities.

Over time, however, the news he could glean from his window grew scarce and the online world turned to grieving. It nursed its wounds and condoled the bereft. He recoiled. He was a nonbeliever. It wasn’t possible to believe in the goodness of people after he’d witnessed himself standing and staring motionless, emotionless, at the carnage unfolding itself below in the tortuously slow way of nightmares.