Glutton for Punishment

“Man, that’s annoying.”
“What?”
“Don’t you hear that noise? That eee-hee-eee-heee?”
“Uh- oh, yeah, I guess. Is it driving you nuts? Want to go in?”
“Nah, it’s fine. Sorry. Go on.”
“Okay. So yeah, so I was telling her about how it was, you know, meeting the other girl- woman, sorry, sorry, woman- and she was fine with it. What?”
“Huh? No, sorry, I mean, yeah, I’m listening, it’s just that noise. I’m trying to figure out what it is.”
“I think it’s like a rusty metal gate or something. You know. The wind moving it or something.”
“Oh yeah. Yeah, you’re totally right. Anyway, do you really think she was alright with it?”
“I don’t know, see that’s what I’m saying. I think so. Besides, she can’t keep her mouth shut when she’s not, right? Like, we know that by now.”
“Do we?”
“I mean, I didn’t mean it like that, you know what I mean. It’s just that she’s honest with me. You know? Like to a fault.”
“Yeah, I guess, but I – what? Mom, I can’t hear you! No, I’m outside! I’ll do it later! Sorry.”
“It’s fine, no worries. Do you want to go talk to her?”
“No, no, no, she can wait, she’s just annoyed about the laundry but I told her earlier that I’d do it after you left. So it’s like totally fine. Don’t even.”
“Kay. So…”
“So yeah, anyway, what I’m saying is, I don’t know that she’s honest with you. Always. I mean, are you sure?”
“Totally sure. I mean, trust me on this. I know it.”
“Okay. But so how is that a bad thing? I mean, if she’s honest with you, and she seemed fine with it, then it’s fine. Right?”
“Right. I mean, yeah. It is.”
“It is?”
“Yeah. I think. I mean. Yeah.”
“But…?”
“Nothing, no, nothing, it’s just that she always seems so tense, like she does want to say something but she can’t say it and it’s kind of annoying, you know?”
“So you mean she’s not fine with it.”
“She says she is, though! And even if not, it’s not like I can do anything, right? Right.”
“Right. Except like talk to her some more.”
“Yeah, I guess. But we talk so much. I mean, like, I like talking to her, I love talking to her, obviously, but I’m just sick of it being like, you know- listen, you look like you totally can’t stand that noise anymore. Sure you don’t want to go inside?”
“Yeah, I’m sure, I’m sure.”
“So-”
“Actually no, it’s totally making me go crazy, let’s go in. It’s like once you realize it’s there you can’t stop listening to it, right?”
“Yeah, totally. But it doesn’t bother me as much I guess.”
“How? It’s like the most annoying noise on the planet. Eee-uh-ee-hee-uh.”
“You’re bringing it inside now too?”
“It’s stuck in my head, man, like actually, it’s awful. Anyway, coffee? Tea?”
“Sure.”

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Can and Cannot

“I can’t.”
“But why? This doesn’t make any sense!”
“I guess not. But I just can’t do this anymore. That sounds so fluffy and cliche and… well, not me. I know. But it’s also true.”
“But what’s changed?”
“Nothing. With me, anyway, nothing has changed. That’s the whole point. With you, though? I don’t know. It seems like nothing, at times. But at others… everything’s changed.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“I know. I guess I’m sentimental. I also just obsess about things, so I assume everyone else does too.”
“I really don’t know what else I’m supposed to say.”
“Me neither.”
“So what now?
“I guess we don’t see each other for a few years. Or ever. You know. Whichever happens to happen.”
“…”
“So you’re not going to say anything? You’re not even going to make me feel like this is hard for you?”
“It IS hard for me.”
“Right.”
“It is! If you don’t want to believe me-”
“No, fine, I do, I do believe you. I just think you’ve never really appreciated how hard it is for me.”
“I do-”
“No, no, you don’t. Because you’ve forced me to make this step myself. True, in a way it’s been me hurting myself through you but you know how hard it is for me to stop hurting myself and if you really cared in any way close to what you claim, you would have made this step before me. But you didn’t. And now I have to. And you’ll hate me.”
“But I still don’t get it. I thought everything was fine.”
“It’s not.”
“You can’t?”
“You can?”
“Yes.”
“Well, I can’t.”

BFFs

“I do mean it!”
“No, you don’t, you’re just saying it to be nice.”
“Would I do that?”
“Yes. You would.”
“Okay, yes, I would. But that doesn’t mean I don’t mean it now.”
Jane and Erin argued all the time. They had known each other since they were both in preschool and knew each other better than they knew anyone else. They knew their friendship was rare, and they appreciated it, but they couldn’t help bickering. It was precisely because they knew each other so well that they couldn’t help this. Jane knew that Erin always tried to soften her criticisms of any artwork that Jane showed her, just as Erin knew that Jane could never be unbiased when it came to her relationship issues, since she always thought that Erin must be right. It meant that, although they could discuss anything and everything, and although they did, there were some subjects that would always be problematic.
They walked down 42nd street toward Grand Central Terminal and continued to disagree, voices getting shriller until a man painting a cartoon portrait of a little girl in pigtails stared at them with such astonishment that they both burst out laughing and changed the subject.
“So did you and Mark go to that thing?”
“Oh, yeah, we did. It was so boring, you have no idea.”
“But then why do you always go to this stuff?”
“I don’t know, cause he wants to, and I’m like whatever.”
“But you don’t enjoy it so what’s the point?”
“I don’t know.”
Grand Central Terminal was teeming with people going home. It was peak time and Jane and Erin complained about the increased price of the train fare as they bought their tickets from the only two machines on the bottom concourse. They saw a pair of twins walking together and talking urgently to each other with violent hand gestures.
“The one on the right is cute.”
“What? They look exactly the same. They’re both cute.”
“No, the one on the right is better dressed.”
“You’re so full of it. That’s blatantly ridiculous.”
“That’s not how you use the word ‘blatantly.'”
“Oh, fine, English major, educate me, why don’t you.”
And they were off, unknowingly mimicking the twins as they talked with their hands on their way to track 106 to the train. They threw themselves down onto empty seats and continued to talk in loud voices as the train filled up with people in suits, leaving their fancy city jobs and going into the small towns on the Harlem line.
“Excuse me, could you be a little quieter?”
“Excuse me?”
“Excuse you, rather. This is a public place-”
“We’ll speak however we want.”
“Yeesh. Can you believe the nerve?”
“I know! I mean, dude, seriously, how can anyone ask anything like that? It’s a loud freaking train, you know?”
“What if one of us had ear problems?”
“Yeah, like, what if we were half deaf or something?”
“Yeah.”
But they both lowered their voices without meaning to, embarrassed that they’d been talking loudly enough to make anyone ask them to be quieter. They often felt like they were too rambunctious when they were together. They knew that their other friends couldn’t stand being around both of them at the same time, because they would end up talking only to each other, or, if they talked to the others, they would still have inside jokes and references that nobody else could understand and that they refused to explain even when asked about them.
The train began to move and they recited the stops with the electronic voice that came on over the PA system. They took the train into the city every weekend, religiously, and they always left and came back at exactly the same times, so they always knew what stops they were going to pass by and in what order.
“I’m concerned about you.”
“Oh, brother.”
“Who says that anymore?”
“What?”
“Oh, brother. No one says that. Have you been watching old movies again?”
“So what if I have?”
“Oh my god, never mind, that’s like so beside the point. How do you always manage to do this? I was saying that I’m worried about you.”
“And then you went on a rant about how no one says ‘oh, brother’ anymore.”
“It wasn’t a rant. It was an observation. Anyway. You need to go out on another date.”
“Ugh, but boys are icky and stupid.”
“If you like girls, just say so now so I can start finding those for you instead.”
“No! No, I don’t like anyone right now.”
“That’s exactly why I’m worried. You need to get out there again! One bad boyfriend doesn’t mean they’re all like that.”
Jane and Erin continued fighting until they got off the train at White Plains and walked home together, still disagreeing on the subject of dating.

Haunt [Flash Fiction]

The three ghosts glided out of the movie theater, grumbling. It had been a slow night, and they’d finally decided to pass the time by watching a film. They’d been disappointed. It had been a horror movie about ghosts, ghouls, goblins and girls, and none of them – not even the girls – had been represented accurately.

“There are two common mistakes,” the oldest-looking ghost said. “Either ghosts are made to look opaque, or else they retain the wounds and symptoms that they possessed when alive.”

“Don’t start lecturing,” warned the ghost-woman, raising a finger threateningly.

“Yeah, please don’t, dude,” the third ghost said. He picked his nose with his pinkie, digging vigorously in the cavity with his mouth slightly open and a vague expression on his face.

“Gross!” the ghost-woman said, turning away and rolling her eyes.

“You, my young friend,” the first ghost said evenly, “are truly a shameful specimen of the afterlife. We have higher standards than humans, you know.”

“But what’s the point of being invisible if you can’t do the stuff you’re not supposed to do when you’re alive?” the young ghost whined.

The woman and the older man exchanged glances and mouthed a word that looked suspiciously like “newbie.”

“Come,” the elder-ghost beckoned to the two others after glancing at a digital clock displayed over the door of a store selling watches. “It’s late enough to get to work now.”

“I’m so not in the mood,” complained the woman-ghost. “But you gotta do what you gotta do. Or whatever.”

“Indeed.”

And so, with well-practiced moves, the three ghosts ducked into the supermarket and began to haunt it.

Blackout

“Ouch!”

“Oh!”

“Who’s that?”

“Taylor? It’s me, it’s Petunia!”

“Pet – d’you know what’s going on?”

“No, listen, I think there’s been a power-outage.”

“…Duh.”

“I mean – I think it’s not just the building! I looked outside and everything’s black, it’s creepy.”

“Well, want to come back to my place? I can find some candles or something.”

“Taylor, come on, is now really the time to hit on me?”

“What better time? It’s dark, there’s a sense of danger in the air, you’re all helpless…”

“Shut up!”

“It’s too easy to get you mad. And that hurt, by the way. How did you even manage to find my shins?”

“I’m gifted.”

“Okay, I can hear you rolling your eyes. Geez. Anyway, seriously, come to my place – I won’t hit on you! – and we’ll try to figure out what’s going on.”

“Fine, fine.”

“Alrighty, here we go. Just try to sit there – yeah, that’s the couch, right there – and I’ll be back in a second.”

“Don’t you have a flashlight?”

“Huh? I can’t hear you, just a second, I’m in the closet!”

“I said, don’t you have a flashlight?”

“Yeah, but no batteries, ’cause I’m an idiot. Here we go. Good thing I smoke, right? I’ve got about a thousand lighters floating around here.”

“You should tell your doctor that next time he tries to give you another nicotine patch: ‘No, no, it’s good I smoke, really, because if I didn’t, I’d never have lighters around!'”

“Seriously, you’re the most sarcastic woman I’ve ever met.”

“Thank you – I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“So why were you in the hall without a flashlight yourself? Or a phone, for that matter. I just went out to the fusebox – I thought it was just my place that lost power.”

“Oh, um… well, to tell the truth, I kind of locked myself out of my place.”

“You what?

“Yeah, yeah, you can stop laughing now, it’s not that funny! You know how I got that new door-handle last week that makes it so you can’t open it from the outside without a key? Kind of worked against me tonight. I thought it was just my place that was out of power, too, and I went outside and I forgot to take my keys with me… Oh, shut up, will you?”

“Sorry, sorry, it’s just- that’s hilarious. Miss Excuse-Me-But-I-Think-A-Hundred-Bucks-Are-Worth-Extra-Safety uses her new safety against herself.”

“Shut up, Taylor. Geez. Seriously, can you just try to figure out what’s going on?”

“Sure, sure, I’ll see if my phone is still online…”

“Good, you do that. Okay, I’ve seen your apartment before, so I know that that’s new.”

“Um, Pet?”

“I mean, what deranged girlfriend gave you that thing? It’s hideous! I mean, come on, a fake antelope head? How tacky can you get, boy?”

“Petunia?”

“Huh? What? What’s wrong?”

“I’m not… quite sure. The network on my phone’s working, but the news is saying some really strange things…”

“Okay, now you’re freaking me out.”

“Um – there’s some sort of death-threat on Google News. It says ‘The Magliorandi are a peaceful race, but have expressed in no uncertain terms that they will destroy our planet if the human race will put up a fight.'”

What?! Let me see that!”

“…”

You idiot!!!!

“I can’t believe I had you going again! You’re just so easy, I can’t believe it! Ow! Ow, okay, no need to punch me so hard! I was just kidding!”

“You had me trying to decide between chocolate and pasta for my last meal, you jerk!”

“Pasta? I mean, seriously, pasta? That’s a lame last meal.”

“You know who’s lame? You are.”

“Nice, nice, I see you turn into a six-year old when you’re scared.”

“As opposed to you, who’s a six-year old all the time. Jerk.”

“Fine, but you’ve got to admit that aliens landing on earth is way more interesting than ‘Power should be restored in several hours, and all residents are asked to stay inside while work-crews will be on the streets, rectifying the mass power-line failure.'”

“You’re still a jerk.”

“Fine, fine, fine. But seriously, pasta? As a last meal? Pasta?!”

“Why, what would you have then? Jerk?”

“I don’t know – maybe a really expensive steak with fancy sauce stuff. Or some tiny gourmet French dish or something like that.”

“See, I would totally want to go with someone I just know I love. Like chocolate. Or pasta.”

“Yeah, but if it’s your last meal, shouldn’t you milk it for all it’s worth?”

“You’re such a- a- I don’t even know what. If it was my last meal on earth I wouldn’t care about trying to use anybody, I’d just want to eat something I like.”

“Oh, well, okay then, Miss Holier-Than-Thou.”

“Geez, Taylor, seriously, will you shut up?”

“I’m offering you hospitality and all you’re doing is abusing me! Is that any way to treat a man?”

“Yes.”

“Fair enough. Want a game of Scrabble?”

“Sure, might as well do something useful while I wait – like kicking your butt.”

“Uh-huh. We’ll see about that.”

“Fifty bucks say I beat you?”

“You’re on.”

A Relationship

“I can’t take it anymore!” Nell screamed. “I just can’t! I don’t know what I can do anymore, I really don’t!” She was at her wit’s end. It had gone on for far too long, and she had no idea how she’d let things get to this point. “What more do you want me to do for you, huh? What more can I do to please you? I can never win with you, you know that? It’s a lose-lose situation, no matter what I do!”

She huffed, and paced, walking from one side of the carpeted living room to the other. Her hands clasped behind her back, she tried to calm down a little. “Is there something I can be doing that I’m not? Tell me – is there? I’ll honestly do whatever it takes. I’ve been with you too long to give you up, even though I’m this close,” she held up her hand, forefinger and thumb almost touching, she was holding them so near. “But I’m not going to run from this – relationships are something you need to work on, everyone says so.”

Continuing to pace, Nell waited. And waited. The silence lingered. She burst out again, unable to restrain herself. “But how can I make you happy if you don’t tell me how?! I feed you, I clothe you, I bathe you – I take care of you, damn it! But you keep saying it’s not enough! I try to do things for you, I really do, I swear I do!”

Tears now stained her face. Her voice broke and she sat down heavily on the couch, pulled her legs up and hugged them tightly to her chest. “Tell me, please, I beg you, tell me what I can do,” she was rocking back and forth, sobbing, her anger evaporated. Only a deep, heavy sadness remained. “Please… please tell me… Tell me how I can make you happy – I’ll do anything, I swear, I promise, I really will,” she looked up imploringly, her eyes two pools of salt-water, pleading, waiting for an answer.

There was no one else there.

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.