Fountain [Flash Fiction]

The fountain had been dry and empty for years, just like the house that closed in on it on all four sides. The courtyard was entirely isolated; there was no way to reach it, unless maybe you helicoptered in.

“How do you get in there?” Amy asked the real-estate agent who was showing the place. The man looked like a wax figurine, smile hitched almost permanently in place and his hair combed and parted perfectly, looking as if it was simply sculpted that way.

“We-ell. You don’t. Actually.”

Amy waited to see if this ‘actually’ meant that there actually was a way in, but finally understood that there was no further explanation coming. “They built the house around the fountain?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I could climb out the window and into the courtyard, couldn’t I?” she mused aloud. “I guess that’s what the pool guy will have to do, huh? Don’t pool guys take care of fountains and stuff, too?”

“We-ell. Well well. See, actually. Actually if you look you’ll see that there aren’t first floor windows leading into the courtyard. As such. And the drop from here is very very high. You see?” The waxen smile was becoming strained, as if a candle flame was being held under it and it was going to melt grotesquely at any moment. Amy drew away from it, and from the man, in slight disgust.

“But then what’s the point of having a fountain? And what if I want to get it running again? I love the watery sounds that fountains make.”

“We-ell, the previous tenants just ignored it, you see. That’s really the best option. Now, if you’ll come through here I think you’ll appreciate the east-facing balcony which is lovely and warm during the afternoons but comfortably cool in the evenings…” he rattled on, and Amy took one last regretful glance out the window at the fountain before following him.

A bird that had only recently settled in the neighborhood chirped merrily from the eaves of the house and then, thinking it saw something, dove down into the courtyard. The fountain twinkled as the clouds parted and a ray of sunlight hit its marble surface. The bird’s mate waited anxiously for it to return, but nightfall came and she waited in her nest in vain.

Step Out [Flash Fiction]

Jimmy was a bellboy. He wore a dark red uniform with shiny brass buttons, polished black shoes, and a cap with a hard top. Sometimes, when there was no one in the elevator, he took the cap off and ran his fingers through his blond hair. More rarely, and only if he was having a bad day, he would take his shoes off and stretch his toes inside their gray silk socks.

Mr. and Mrs. Hall came into the elevator. “Where to?” Jimmy asked with a polite smile. “Lobby,” Mr. Hall grunted without looking at him. Jimmy stepped forward and pressed the big yellow button with the letter “L” stamped in it. As the elevator descended, he kept his eyes fixed forward and pretended not to hear Mrs. Hall’s hissed accusations and Mr. Halls impatient sighs and indignant tut-tuts. “Good day,” Jimmy said, stepping forward to hold the elevator door open. Mr. and Mrs. Hall didn’t answer.

Jimmy stepped back into the elevator and waited for the door to close. It was the off-season now, so there weren’t as many guests, which meant Jimmy didn’t have as much work. It upset him to stand in the elevator and wait, but he was a bellboy and that was his job. The automatic light-switch was on a timer, as was the fan, and pretty soon both went off, leaving Jimmy planted firmly in the back, left hand corner of the elevator in the increasingly stifling dark.

He couldn’t remember how it happened exactly. In fact, there were many things that he couldn’t remember. He knew, vaguely, that there had been things to remember – maybe a father’s proud glance and a mother’s hug, maybe even (and he wasn’t at all sure about this) a scent of wet dog – but those things were gone now. Sometimes, when a little girl came into the elevator and smiled at him, he felt something around his rib-cage, a sense of loss or maybe grief, but he was sure that there hadn’t ever been a girl to remember; during long stretches of time in the dark, he thought that maybe there could have been a girl in some future, though.

Jimmy was a bellboy. His name tag, a vital part of his uniform, proved it. The men and women who came into the elevator and then stepped out of it all knew he was a bellboy and, usually, treated him accordingly, as part of the furniture. That was alright. Jimmy was very skillful at what he did and he was aware that his servile attitude was excellent and appropriate. He just wondered, once in a very long while, if there would come a day when he would step out of the elevator after the likes of Mr. and Mrs. Hall.

Socio [Short Piece]

You know that it’s wrong.

Trouble is, you don’t understand why this is the case. It’s not that you don’t know right from wrong. You do. They taught you all that, and you parroted it back to them like the obedient child you were. Are. You’re not so far from being a child, really, when you think about it. The thrill is still there, and you feel the same now as you did when you did it for the first time, when you were only five years old.

They said you were cured when they let you out. As far as you’re concerned, there was nothing to cure, but you played along. You’re still playing along now. But you give yourself moments, moments of delicious abandon, of freedom, of allowing yourself to be who you were meant to be. It’s the only way you can act like all the others. If you didn’t give yourself the respite from the constant hustle and bustle of normality, you don’t think you’d be alive right now.

So it’s wrong to do as you do. So what? People do “wrong” every day, don’t they? Even the most stand-up citizens sometimes fudge their tax-returns or ignore the phone when their old mother calls. The world is full of hypocrites, and you’re just one more.

The only thing that sometimes worries you is what will happen if you’re caught. You’re careful, of course. You’re probably the best. Usually, they look like suicides or accidents. And you don’t have a pattern, a ritual. At least, not one that they can discern. You never leave traces of your private ceremonies, and none of the ones you leave to be found seem to have anything in common, on the surface. You’re safe, so far. But what if they catch you one day?

Will you be able to fake remorse? Insanity? Will you be able to be free again? You don’t know, and that is the only fear this great wide world holds for you.

Prisonville

Whoosh

A car drives by, so close to me that I feel the wind it makes buffet me as it blows past. I pull my jacket tighter around me and keep walking. The road’s deserted now that the headlights of the car are gone and its noise is fading away. I miss it a little. I’d tracked that solitary car’s progress from three streets away when it started up in its driveway. There isn’t a whole lot of town here, and you learn pretty quickly to tell where the cars are coming from. I don’t know why, but sound has always traveled particularly far in this place; maybe it’s all the clean mountain air.

Nobody moves here for any reason except the stupid air. I can’t tell you how many times I heard my parents, or my friends’ parents, gush about how clean the dratted air up here is. I’ve heard my husband’s family go on about it, and my friends and my coworkers as well. Everyone loves the air, the air, the air. The clean, mountain air.

Me? I hate this air. I find it oppressive. I feel like it’s closing in on me. Once every couple of months I get a panic attack, and Dr. Greene has to come and inject something in my arm until I calm down. My husband doesn’t get it, but maybe that’s because I’ve never explained it to him. Why should I? He’d laugh, tell me I’m crazy, ruffle my hair in that way I hate and then forget all about me again.

I pass my house again. I’ve been around the block five times already and I don’t feel any warmer than I did when I started. It’s past midnight, and I can’t sleep. As usual. My husband’s still out at the bowling alley with his buddies – well, that’s what he tells me, anyway. I think he’s elsewhere, but I haven’t ever bothered to check. I honestly don’t care about him enough. It’s not like I’ve ever had a relationship with him. We were married two years ago. I’ve known him all my life, of course, just like I know everyone else in this town. If you think your town is small, try to go house by house throughout all of it and see if you know everyone’s names. Can you do that? I can.

I read a book once – or maybe it was a movie, I’m not sure – whatever it was, I remember this place called Stepford, where all the women were exactly the same, programmed to be perfect. That’s what my town is like – everyone’s exactly the same: perfectly nice, perfectly decent, perfectly fair, perfectly dull. Both the women and the men. The only ones who are different are the kids, and they all grow out of it. I don’t know why I’m different, but I just know that I am.

I think I’m the only one in living memory who ever tried to leave this place. But I couldn’t.

Horror

Horror doesn’t only happen at night, you know. It happens on the streets of London and in the slums of New York. It happens in the homes of the rich and the poor alike. It happens in your back garden when you’re not looking, or right in front of you when you’re trying not to see. Horror is everywhere.

Believe me, I know. Why? I’m not sure you’d understand. I’m not sure you really want to know. See, there’s a problem with you people – you always say you want to know, but then you cringe and cry, snivel and beg, and I need to deal with it. It all gets very tiresome. So if you want me to tell you why I know about horror, you need to promise me that you can deal with what I’m going to tell you. Well?

Ah, there, I knew it. Once you’re confronted with what happened to everyone else who asked the same question, you back off. That’s smart of you. Sometimes you people actually do learn something. I like that. There’s nothing fun about playing with your food if it doesn’t know what the outcome is. The mouse, for instance, instinctively knows that the cat wants to eat it, so when a cat’s paw descends on its tail, it’ll bit that bit off in order to get away. Of course, once it does that, the cat will catch it by its body and eat it anyway. But the point is, the only reason it’s fun for the cat to play with the mouse is because the mouse knows what’s coming. And now, you do too.

Now, now, don’t give me that look, please. You knew from the moment you called for me what was going to happen. Yes, remember? You’re the one who called me here. You called horror upon you, and horror comes in the guise you gave it. It’s time for you to live with it simply being your own fault. You think you’re dreaming, I know, and maybe you are! But tell me… Right now, does it matter whether or not you’re dreaming? I’m pretty horrible either way.

 

His and Hers

She knew everything there was to know about him. She knew every scrap of information he’d ever posted on the Web, she knew every secret he’d ever written in one of his various anonymous blogs that she’d tracked down, and she knew every one of his many pastimes because he was so good as to post them incessantly on his Twitter account.

She knew that he’d spent a month in Japan eating nothing but rice because he was allergic to all types of fish. She knew that he was going to apply to Harvard Law School only because his father wanted him to, and that he ended up going because he wanted to as well. She knew that on his twenty-fourth birthday he ran out of clean underwear and had decided, to celebrate his nuptials, to walk around nude beneath his Dockers.

She knew when he started going out with the blonde, when he dumped her for the brunette and when he decided he needed time off from any hair-colors at all. She knew when he fell in love, when he proposed and when he was turned down. She knew when he was depressed and went to seek medical and professional help. She knew when he graduated with distinction and decided to get a teaching certificate instead of become a lawyer like he’d planned at first.

She knew him better than she knew herself. She became joyful when he was happy and blue when he was sad and excited when he was planning his next move in life. She celebrated his birthdays and the holidays he observed. She shared New Year’s Eve with him in Times Square where she knew he went every single year without fail.

She lived her life through him, through his experiences, through his loves and disappointments, his successes and his defeats, his whims and his dedications.

His life was hers, and he didn’t know it.

 

Di’s Date

“Amazing.”

“Do I detect a hint of sarcasm there, Mister?”

“No, no, not at all… Me? Sarcastic?”

“If I had a dollar for every time I saw that angel face, I’d be very rich by now.”

He snorts his laughter and goes back to digging into his apple pie. This is a normal Tuesday afternoon for us. We sit in the corner booth, I have a banana-blueberry milkshake, and he has a slice of apple pie with a big dollop of vanilla ice-cream. I tell him things about my life, and he doesn’t take them seriously. Next up, he’ll tell me things about his life, and I’ll be sympathetic, interested, emphatic. At the very least, I’ll pretend to care.

“So listen, Di,” he talks with his mouth full, and I cringe a little. “I hear you’ve got senior-prom coming up, yeah?”

Uh-oh.

“Yeah… Why?” I know what’s coming. I just know it.

“Only I’ve got this friend, he’s my age, and he never went to his prom, and I was thinking that, you know, you could go together.”

See? I knew it.

“I’ve got a date already, thanks.” I take a huge slurp of my milkshake, hoping that my full mouth will stop me from wringing his thick neck. Stupid Brian. He always thinks that I just have to meet his friends. He just knows that they’re all perfect for me. Truth is, I think that’s the main reason we have these little Tuesday meetings. He’s had a girlfriend for years – not that I know how she can stand him – and his friends make him exploit the fact that he’s got a step-sister, a fresh-faced high-school girl, to try to get set up. I don’t know about you, but I find that mighty sad.

“Oh, yeah? Who? Only, you know, that guy in your chemistry class works for your dad, remember? So my mom started talking to him the other day, and she asked about you, and he said that no one knows why you haven’t got a date since you’re so pretty and all.”

I swear, he almost leers at me. Almost, but never quite really. Thank goodness he seems to actually be devoted to that Anna he’s been with since they were both twelve or something. Thank goodness she’s got the diamond on her finger and the caterers booked for July. Thing is, I know who it is who blabbed to Brian’s mom about me. It’s Rob, and he’s my best friend, and he thinks that my quote relationship unquote with my step-brother is hilarious. He thinks that I’m a complete nincompoop for having agreed three – yes, three – times to go on blind dates with Brian’s friends. I mean, come on! Statistically, one of them had to have been nice, right? Well, apparently not. I swear, if Brian’s going to talk me into just giving one more of his bad-mannered, greasy-haired, wandering-hands friends a chance, well, I don’t know if I’ll be responsible for what I might do to him on prom-night.

“No, Brian. NO. I’m not going out with another of your little friends. I can’t even believe that I agreed to those three idiots you tried to foist on me.” I’ve finished my milkshake, and Brian’s busy scraping his plate with his fork. It’s almost over, and I can’t wait to get out of here. If my dad hadn’t insisted that me and his new step-son try to get along… I mean, I love my dad, and I guess Mary’s okay and she makes him happy so whatever, but why on earth did they both think that this would be a good idea? Sure, he makes me laugh, and sure, we’ve been doing these meals for a year, but still, he’s such an ass.

“Well,” he sighs, leans back, and pats his stomach a bit. I can just see him in twenty years, turning forty, leaning back exactly the same. I can’t really see Anna in the picture then, but hey, I don’t know her that well so who am I to judge, right? “Well,” he repeats. “I guess that’s your choice.” He throws some money on the table – Dad always pays for these meals – and we head outside. He gets into his car, this banged up old thing that he’s got, and rolls down the window.

“Hey, Di!” I’ve been looking the other way, since my mom’s supposed to come pick me up. I turn my head to look at him. “Just don’t come crying to me when you realize that this friend of mine is that guy you were couldn’t stop talking to Rob about – the smart, motivated, classy guy who came to speak at your class about how good it is to go to college!”

Wait. No, seriously, wait. Matt, the adorable junior at the U who came to class last week is Brian’s friend? Holy cow!

“Brian, wait!” I shout, but he’s already rolled up the window and he’s pulling out into traffic.

Damn.