In A Perfect World

In a perfect world, she thought, she would be sitting in the passenger seat of her favorite car, with the top down. There would be loud music coming out of the sound system, and she would singing at the top of her lungs, one hand dangling over the door with a cigarette between her fingers. The person driving the car would be her long-term boyfriend of five years, although perhaps it would be her red-head girlfriend of six months; she couldn’t decide which it would be or which one was the correct choice for the perfect world that was being built in her mind’s eye.

There would, of course, be a destination for this car ride. It would probably be a sweet log cabin with electricity and wi-fi and reading lamps but also be near enough to a lake and a decently mysterious forest, just in case she felt particularly nature-loving. There would be a hammock outside, and a cat flicking its tail stretched out on the porch, meowing in welcome. Maybe, if things could be really crazy in this perfect world, the cat would be a tiger or a jaguar, something large and languorous that would make her feel exotic and dangerous.

In the perfect world, she would also be escaping something, because – she was aware of this, even in her bubble-bath dream – anything worth running to is only as good as it is better than the thing it is replacing. In this world, she thought, maybe she’d be escaping the paparazzi who wanted to interview her about her latest best-seller or her most recent and notorious Broadway performance. Very possibly both.

In the perfect world, her voice was perfect, and thought tears rolled down her face, the wind whipped them away as she sang and smoked simultaneously. Things could be beautiful and challenging in her perfect world, satisfying and ever-changing, shifting and interesting and – most of all – regretless.

In her bubble bath, smoothing one hand over her belly, she wished she could at least get the wind to blow away the tears. But the fan was broken, she couldn’t afford her air conditioning unit, and the heat was oppressive, even in the icy bath water. She cried and waited for the contractions to stop, wishing them away in her perfect world.

The Writer’s Typewriter

Forgotten bills lay scattered on the kitchen table, surrounded by banana and orange peels. The room stank of rotting fruit and the sickly sweet smell of plants that have been shut up inside for two long without any air-flow. Ants crawled along one wall, sniffing out the grains of sugar that were sprinkled all over the counter and carrying it back to their nests in orderly lines. The lamp, left on for so long, flickered feebly, not quite yet burned out, but definitely getting there.

Robert L. Cove sat at the table, unmindful of all this. He had a typewriter in front of him, and his fingers were hitting the keys madly. Every few hours, one of the keys seemed to break and he would growl in frustration and take out his specialist’s kit. He had to fix it right away, or the words, the people, the story in his mind – all of it would disappear. He couldn’t type on anything else. He couldn’t write with pen and paper. It had to be this particular typewriter, the one that his grandfather had given his mother who had given it to him. It was superstitious to think that it was the secret to the Coves’ success, but Robert L. Cove couldn’t help being superstitious in this instance, even though he openly laughed at anyone who fear black cats or walking under ladders.

It had started with a dream; all his books had started this way. He would wake up and remember the dream in its entirety, know that he would have to begin writing now, immediately, or else he would lose it forever. He had been writing for six days almost non-stop. When he got up to get food or go to the bathroom, he spoke aloud to himself the sentences that he was going to write the minute he sat down again. The naps he took were no longer than twenty minutes every few hours, because anything longer would erase his memory of what was coming next. He also didn’t want any other dreams intruding on the one that originated a story.

When he finally finished the draft, usually within some two weeks of the dream, it was as if he was waking from a trance. He would be disgusted with his own smell, with the way his apartment looked, with the invasion of bugs that seemed, inevitably, to follow each of these sessions. He would clean vigorously before falling into a deep, restorative sleep that usually lasted twenty-four hours or so. Then, collecting the manuscript, he would meticulously care for his typewriter, load a new ribbon into it, and store it away carefully for the next time he needed it.

Sundays on the Bus [Flash Fiction – maybe a beginning to a longer short story?]

Rupert took the bus to work on Sundays. He didn’t have to; the divorce had gone through pretty smoothly and he’d gotten to keep the car, which he drove the rest of the week. Monday through Friday, the bus was packed with loud teenagers going to school and busy businessmen and businesswomen who put him on edge. For a guy who worked six days a week, including Sundays, Rupert considered himself to be pretty relaxed, and the tense atmosphere on the bus every morning made him feel unnecessarily stressed.

But Sundays were special. On Sundays, nobody else in his line of work went to the office. He worked in Finance, at a Big Corporation where he made a Nice Living. He never explained to people anything beyond this, because he’d learned that his job-description made their eyes wander and their mouths open in embarrassing yawns. He didn’t begrudge them. He knew that not everyone found beauty in what appeared at first glance to be monotonous number-crunching.

Three years after the divorce, Rupert had to admit to himself that he also took the bus to work on Sundays because of the chance to see Her. She was taller than him, more giraffe than woman, with a wide mouth, high cheekbones and soft brown eyes. She had a small boy – Rupert saw him grow from a newborn baby to a large toddler of three – and She took him to the big park near Rupert’s office to watch other people flying kites. Rupert toyed with the idea of mysteriously gifting them both with a kite one day, but he never quite worked up the nerve to do it.

He wondered sometimes, especially during the dreary winters when She and her son rode the bus far less often, whether he was obsessed. He didn’t think he was creepy; he never stared at Her inappropriately and never offered Her son any candy. But he kept taking the bus every single Sunday, rain or shine, in the hopes of speaking to Her, even accidentally. He sometimes dreamed of criminals hijacking the vehicle or getting into a dramatic crash so that he’d have an excuse to perform a heroic act for which She’d be so grateful that She’d speak to him. Then he remember his puny arms and his ever-growing paunch and sadly realized that in the event of an emergency, it would probably be Her who would rescue him.

Weird

The past two-three weeks have been odd. I can’t put my finger on what it is, but things are being turned topsy-turvy in my mind, in my gut, in my heart. I don’t understand it, and although I’ve been trying to, I’ve also realized that I might not be able to really fathom what it is I’m going through.
Because of this, everything I’ve seen, done and experienced during the past couple of weeks has seemed dreamlike, as if it hasn’t been taking place in reality.
Have any of you experienced this? Do you have any tips on how to deal with it?

Full of It [Flash Fiction]

The world outside my window seems to be covered in mist but I don’t know whether my vision is screwed up, my medication is affecting my eyesight, or there is simply a haze due to pollution and humidity. I find myself doubting my own perception a lot lately. Ever since I had that dream the other night, my reality has been compromised.

My boyfriend tells me I’m full of crap, of course. He’s tall, six-foot-something, and he has to bend down quite far to kiss me. Not that he does that a lot anymore. Usually he expects me to climb up on my tip-toes or stand on some higher ground and reach up to him. He still leans down to whisper in my ear, though. I used to love it, but not anymore, not since the dream. I made the mistake of telling him, yesterday, that his whispers were giving me the creeps. Maybe I could have been more tactful about it, but I was telling the truth, asking him to stop sneaking up on me like that. He blew a gasket. I’m not actually sure what ‘gasket’ is (according to Google, it’s “A shaped piece or ring of rubber or other material sealing the junction between two surfaces in an engine or other device.”) but I think that’s what he blew. He told me that I was losing it, and that if I wasn’t careful, he would force me into the loony-bin.

I’m not scared of psychiatric hospitals, though. I sort of, kind of, accidentally-on-purpose forgot to tell him that I spent a lot of time in them when I was a kid. Although I’m kind of still a kid. But you know what I mean; when I was prepubescent and innocent, I spent a lot of time in hospitals. They were quite helpful, actually. I wish I hadn’t agreed to quit therapy for my boyfriend. But he told me that we needed the money for a bigger place, and I caved in without really thinking about it. But I wonder what Sonia, my most recent psychiatrist, would have said about the dream.

A scream echoes outside, and I can’t tell whether it’s a cat or a baby. Sometimes they sound the same. Maybe my neighborhood is actually full of shape-shifting babies, turning from human to kitten and back again? There are old people in the park, with Filipino caretakers swarming around them, chattering in their local dialects, socializing with others who know the village where they grew up. The old people drool and blink at each other, silent. Actually, they’re not there now; but I know that they’ll be there soon, gathered around the benches, so I’m already prepared for the way they’ll all look and the conflicting emotions I’ll have when I see them.

I can’t really remember the dream from the other night. I think it involved old people. And Filipino caretakers. Maybe even babies morphing into felines. And maybe none of these things. The dream has passed beyond the veil of my coherent memories now, and all I know is that I feel, for the first time in years, bereft of something. It’s as if, when I woke up from the dream, I woke up into this life that I wasn’t really aware I was living. The thought has even occurred to me that maybe I wasn’t living in this body before I woke up the other day. Maybe I was an old person in a wheelchair, or a lonely Filipino sending money to my wife back home, or a baby watching in wonder as its fingers grow claws and its thumbs retract back into its skin.

My boyfriend says I’m full of crap, though, so maybe I’m just imagining things and foaming at the mouth, desperate for something different to come along and save me from the monotony.

Night Lessons [Flash Fiction]

Stephanie got to know her sister at night. The two shared a bedroom, for the apartment was small and there was no chance of their mother and father ever earning enough to allow them to move. Cordelia complained to anyone who would listen, listing the ways a room of her own would benefit her, explaining how the pipsqueak of a sister who shared what used to be her sanctuary was disruptive to her everyday life.

Cordelia was twelve when Stephanie was born. She knew it was an accident; everyone knew it was. There was a lot of speculation among the neighbors as to whether or not the girls even shared the same father. Stephanie never heard those rumors herself, because Cordelia never told her anything. That was why she could only learn about her sister through her dreams.

Communication didn’t play an important role in their family. It wasn’t a silent house by any means; there was a television, a radio, a computer and a stereo, and they often made sounds all at once, causing a confusing sort of ruckus. Even at night, the urban streets outside streamed with traffic and sirens were heard at least once between dusk and dawn. Stephanie didn’t learn about silence until much later, and by then she wasn’t able to abide it.

The first time it happened, Stephanie was three. She awoke in the middle of the night, during a heavy rainstorm, and saw Cordelia sitting up in her bed across the room. “Coria?” she whispered into the dark room. She’d always had trouble with her sister’s name, and this butchering of it stuck with her for the rest of her life, although she never dared use it in public when she grew up. That night, her sister didn’t answer her; instead, Cordelia spoke to the wall in front of her: “No fair. Fancy dress with crocodiles. Nu-uh.” Then she lay back down, still fast asleep.

Stephanie was puzzled, and in the morning, she asked her sister what she’d been talking about. Cordelia pushed her over irritably and told her that she was making things up. “I don’t talk in my sleep, ugly-butt,” she said. But Stephanie knew that she did.

It didn’t happen every night, but once or twice a week Stephanie would wake up, quite by accident, and hear her sister mumble about tornadoes, boys, Mom and Daddy, motorcycles, and other obscurities. The nonsensical sentences began to take shape in Stephanie’s mind over time, and she watched her sister closely, yearning to understand her, thinking that if she knew things about her life, Cordelia might like her. When she had an abusive boyfriend, Stephanie was the first to know, because she heard “Bobby, don’t!” and “Makeup won’t cover the clover, it won’t work. Daddy, you try,” and other bizarre fragments that she pieced together.

Not that Stephanie did anything with the knowledge – she was too afraid of her sister’s temper to tell her parents anything, and more often than not she didn’t understand the reality of the situation in quite the way Cordelia was living it. But she felt like she got to know her sister, and that was what mattered.

When, many years later, Cordelia lay in a hospital bed, Stephanie told her about the things that her big sister had never told her and Cordelia raised her eyebrows in surprise. Her voice was almost nonexistent by this point, and it was hard for her to breathe, but she managed to utter “Smart ugly-butt. Who knew?” before a fit of coughing overcame her. Stephanie handed her a glass of water from the bedside table and helped her drink it, before laying her back down against the pillows.

Held Breath

“Breathe in, deeply, to a slow count of four. Hold your breath for another count of four. Let it out, slowly, gently, to a count of eight, so that every gasp of air in your lungs is let out. This way you’re cleansing yourself, letting out all the dirt and old air that’s been in your lungs for a while.” – Yoga teacher

“Breathe with both your mouth and your nose, and feel the air going into your stomach, your diaphragm and your chest. Good. Now hold it and feel the air inside you. All that air, and the power to keep it inside, that’s all the air you can sing with. You can hold a note for longer if you control your breathing this way.” – Vocal coach

“Oh, this came out blurry. Look, let’s try again, and try holding your breath when you click down.” – Friend, on photography

“Huh, yeah right. Don’t hold your breath, it’s never going to happen.” – Character in a nightmare

***

It feels like I’m always holding my breath, waiting for something or other. Soon, the waiting, the holding pattern, the in-between-time will be over. Soon I’ll be able to let the air out and take another breath.