One Way Trip

Correct me if I’m wrong, though I’m not wrong, but I believe you are having a psychotic break, my friend. Yes, you, that’s right, don’t look at me like that, all doe-eyed and infantile. Your nose is big enough to tell you something is rotten in the state of Denmark but you can’t tell when your own blood and guts are rebelling against you? Well, my dear, it might be time for you to end it, then, to end it all, to surrender to the great extinction that is, after all, the obvious end to our species. Don’t cry, weeping is only another way of avoiding the situation.
Looking at the moon, are you? It’ll do you no good, you know, to keep on howling at it, you only have two legs and your fur is hypoallergenic. Nobody needs to take Benedryl around you, they only take handfuls of Advil and hope their heads stop hammering. Yes, she’s as crazy as a bedbug, that’s what they say, you got it just right there, darling. It’s not a reflection on you, you know, it’s only what they all see in the mirror and scratch at their skin when they’re in bed.
Get off of there, don’t even try going overboard, it won’t work. Nobody believes you, that’s the problem. You need a break? I should say so. Let’s check you in, come on, I’ll hold your hand the whole way there and I’ll visit you every Sunday until I forget about you. By then you won’t like me anyway, so it’s fine. You don’t like me already? That’s wonderful news, it’ll make the whole thing easier, now tie your shoes and let’s get going.
It’s only a one way trip, nothing to be scared of. Think of it as your own personal visit to Mars, doesn’t that make it more colorful?

It wasn’t about us, really

The swirling of all our stomachs at the same time was only the effect of the roller coaster. It wasn’t about our feelings, it really wasn’t. We just needed to get away from the ground, so we took a trip to the nearest Six Flags, screaming the lyrics to songs we barely knew all the way there, and paid the entry fee and found the roller coaster with the shortest line and hopped on.
The separation of our bodies from the earth was what made us queasy. Really. It wasn’t the divorce papers we’d signed that morning. It wasn’t our parents dying. It wasn’t the loss of faith in a childish heaven with pearly golden gates. That never made sense to us, anyway. How could anything be both pearly and gold? White gold wasn’t something we’d heard of yet back then, we were too young and poor. The realization that heaven could still exist for us only came later, dropped like a bomb in our backyards, tearing everything to shreds while we were scrambling to get out of the bathtubs we tried to drown ourselves in day after day.
There is turmoil and there is peace, and sometimes they coexist. At the top of the roller coaster that day we could feel both forces pulling and pushing at us, creating the perfect equilibrium. We knew in that moment that everything that had been holding us down would dissipate in smoky clouds and that we would never need to breathe lungfuls of rotten eggs again.

Balm

On the deck of a ship made of stars and woven by the magic of dreams, you and I stood together. It was a cruise ship, and we were surrounded by other people. I always start conversations about important things when there are other people around. I wondered whether he actually listened anymore. Whether it mattered at all, that there were others there to hear. Maybe I created them as witnesses to my downfall, to my humiliation.

“It’s his birthday,” I told you. You nodded, and you smiled.
“He would have been sixty-six,” I told you. You bowed your head, and frowned.
“Yeah,” I said. You rubbed my arm a bit, a cursory gesture, a symbolic one with nothing behind it except the weight of a history that I remembered and you didn’t.

There was a cord tied around my chest, making it hard to breathe. It was tied to your wrist. I remembered how, when I was little, my parents would tie balloon strings to my wrist so that I wouldn’t let go and lose them and cry. But they’d tie them tightly, making a red stripe in my flesh. The cord on your wrist was so loose that it was almost falling off. Had it ever been tied tightly? I couldn’t remember anymore.

A wave rocked the ship, making me jump. You stayed calm, collected, cool, even though there were tears in your eyes. You said there weren’t. But there were. I wished they were there because of me, but I knew they weren’t. They never had been, even though once, a long time ago, I had convinced myself that they were.

When I woke up from the dream, I found that I had wet the bed. There were still strangers all around me. They were asleep, thankfully. I was on the bottom bunk, and I got up and stripped the sheet as quietly as I could. I hadn’t done anything like that since I was five or six years old. The smell of urine was as familiar as your scent but far less pleasant. I tip-toed out of the twelve-bed room, into the hallway, down to the back and out the hostel door to the courtyard. I threw the sheet in the industrial-sized garbage cans there. I was too embarrassed to leave it on the bed to be stripped and washed. I decided I’d rather be charged an extra four euros for stealing it.

The night was balmier in this foreign country full of guttural voices. Barefoot, I stretched out my arms and felt the wind cool the sweat on my body. It was the nicest thing I had felt on my skin ever since your fingertips had traveled the same soothing route when I used to have bad dreams.

Confessional [Flash Fiction]

When I married my first fiancee, she and I were only nineteen. We were engaged for the twelve hours it took us to hitchhike from our town all the way to Vegas, where we got married in one of those cheesy wedding chapels. I don’t remember its name, but I’m sure it had the word “Love” in the title, which was apt. We were in love, all right. We were passionately, tremendously, glowingly in love, positive that everybody could see it on our faces. We knew we were going to be together for the rest of our life.

She was also pregnant.

When she first told me, I didn’t even have to think about it. I just asked her to marry me, right there, on the spot, with no ring, no nothing. We were in bed together, and it was dark because we’d shut the heavy curtains in her room so we could sleep late, and because my legs were entangled with hers and her back was to me, I couldn’t even kneel when I proposed. Not my finest moment. But she said “Yes,” anyway, very quietly, and I could hear her smiling.

It was only then, after she’d agreed, that I realized what it actually meant. I’ve heard other people talk about how having babies young means you can’t go to college, but neither of us were heading there, anyway, so I wasn’t worried about that. I actually heard from an old mutual friend a while back that she got a Masters degree in something or other a couple years ago, so maybe she did want to go to school and just never told me about it. When I think about it, there’s a lot I didn’t really know about her. We were nineteen. We didn’t really know how to talk to each other about the big things yet, I guess.

But I knew exactly where I was headed, and that was nowhere. I’d always worked at my parents’ diner, busing tables when I was kid, taking orders when I was in high school, learning how to do the cooking on the longer weekends when the staff had time to teach me. Now that high school was finished, I was working there full time, doing whatever needed doing. My mom was showing me how to do some of the bookkeeping, but I didn’t have the head for the math – “Just like your father,” she’d say, huffing and pushing me half-off my chair with her too-strong arms – so I learned from my father what it meant to be a manager. He taught me how to hire and fire people, how to order the supply we needed, and how to try not to get too cocky, because some days were so busy that he needed to be in the kitchen, peeling potatoes, or out there on he floor, taking orders, and he didn’t get paid any overtime for any of it. “Heck,” he used to say, “I don’t even get a salary, technically. My salary is the profits, and the profits come from good workers, and good workers like working for humble bosses.”

So what was I so afraid of, lying in bed, making plans with my girlfriend-turned-fiancee about how to lie to her folks into giving us the pickup truck for the day so we could go to Vegas and get married? I was afraid of missing out. I couldn’t tell you what I meant, exactly. I just knew, somewhere deep in my bones, that I shouldn’t be getting married when I was still getting pimples on my back that I couldn’t figure out how to get rid of. The thought of holding a baby in a few months threw me into a kind of panic, too. The future stopped for me there. Suddenly, I had no future seven months from that day when I married her. There was white, blank space after that day, space that I couldn’t even imagine.

Later, my second fiancee told me that maybe it was a sign. That maybe I knew what was going to happen, exactly seven months from that day, right on the nose. Then she laughed at herself and said she didn’t believe in things like that. I told her that I did, because I do, but that it wasn’t a sign. If it had been, I would have listened to it. I don’t ignore signs. This was no sign – it was just the terror of a teenager who barely knows what a baby looks like, let alone is ready to hold one and call it his own.

I’ve heard of plenty of people being happy when their baby was born. I’ve never heard anyone admit to feeling what I felt the day my baby was born dead.

Photo Oomph [Flash Fiction]

“Your voice makes me think of sex,” I told him right after he introduced himself as Thomas, the guy I was supposed to be meeting. It was the year that I’d decided being honest was the best thing to be under all circumstances.
“Oh no, I’m going to kill Vic’… I hate to break it to you, love, but I’m gay.”
“I know, don’t kill Vicky, she’s a sweetheart.”
“But you just-”
“I wasn’t coming onto you. You just have a good voice.”
That was how Thomas and I met. He still says that he’s never been so turned on by another woman as he was by me telling him that his voice made me think of sex. But it did, and it still does. It makes it difficult when he brings guys home and I’m in my room with the lights off and nothing but his dirty talk and my insomnia keeping me company. The walls are too thin in our apartment.
It’s a good thing that Vicky warned me before I met him to watch out for my heart. I would have fallen for him for sure. As it is, I’ve fallen for my boss round the pub, which isn’t a much better choice since he’s married and twenty years older than me. But he’s a flirt, and he’s told me more than once, when he’s had one too many with the lads – “It’s good for business, drinkin’ with the customers, but don’t you ever dare do it,” he always tells me – he’s told me that he’d fancy me in a second if he wasn’t wrapped around his wife’s little finger.
Just look at me. I sound like one of those sad cases on the telly, those girls who are all moaning about the men who don’t fancy them anymore. That’s not what I’m about. My life isn’t about the lads I fancy, nor about the ones I bring round from the pub when I’m feeling lonely and need someone to distract me from Thomas’s voice.
What’s my life about, then? I take pictures. That’s what I do when I’m not working or out having fun with Thomas and the rest of the gang. I photograph people around the city. Just people. Anyone, really. My mum thinks I’m crazy, and dad thinks that I’m wasting everything I learned in art school.
I used to paint, see. I still can do, I suppose, but it doesn’t give me that feeling, you know the one, that oomph down in the pit of your stomach where everything goes when you’re terrified or extra happy. Remember when you first went really high on the swings as a little kid? Your mum or dad or big brother were pushing you and you wanted them to stop, and maybe you even told them so, but they ignored you and kept pushing you higher and higher and your little hands were holding on so tight that later they stank of metal for hours. And then, when you were so high that you were getting dizzy just thinking about it, you came back down and your belly came right up into your heart. Even though you didn’t know anything about biology, you knew that shouldn’t be happening, your stomach shouldn’t be moving up to where it did, and it felt like it was being tugged with a bit of string, yanked really, and it was so weird but also felt good. That’s what I’m talking about. That’s what taking pictures feels like.
Not always, obviously. But when I get one right, it feels just like that.
This morning I got one right, for instance. It was the best thing I photographed all month. It’s a woman feeding a bunch of squirrels in the park. She’s sitting there, not on a bench or anything, just on some of the grass that isn’t wet anymore now that the sun is finally making an appearance, and she’s got this vat of popcorn in her lap. There are squirrels all around her. It’s strange. I still don’t know if she was bonkers or homeless or both or neither because I stayed far away so that I wouldn’t scare the squirrels. They were around her in a circle and they kept running forward, right onto her lap sometimes, to take some popcorn. Then they’d run away and eat it with their back to her.
In the picture I took, though, she’s eating some of it herself. All these squirrels, some stealing the stuff right from that cardboard bucket she was holding, and she takes this fistful of white popcorn and stuffs it into her own mouth. Like she was starving or something. It made my stomach go oomph, all right.

Hugs

It was the day that he hugged her that he realized that she was in love with him. He’d just finished a gig, and he was sweating, still in the suit he always wore on stage. She ran up to him, smiling, her shoulders hunched forward and inward a little bit because of her lifetime of insecurity and the several years of painful shyness that she’d recently gotten over. She was nice, and he was glad that he’d met her. But when she hugged him, he felt her body melt into his and the embrace was perfect, comfortable, warming. There wasn’t anything suggestive in it, nothing sexual. But it was sensual, and that was worse. It was the sheer warmth and feeling in the embrace that made him realize that things had taken a turn down an alleyway that he wasn’t sure he was ready to enter into.
He wasn’t scared of love, nor was he scared of relationships. He did relationships well, and he’d always been thankful of that, especially when he saw his band members fall prey to their own effed up desires and needs that ended up only hurting them and everyone around them. He’d never been in the same band for more than two years, and every time the bands broke up, or fell apart as was usually the case, it was almost always triggered by one of the members having relationship issues. Of course, the underlying causes were deeper – drinking problems, drug addictions, depressions, inability to deal with the stress of constant touring and little or no money. But the immediate cause had always been a bad girlfriend or boyfriend, a lover posing an ultimatum, or a blowout fight that invited the neighbors to call the police.
He didn’t know why he hugged her the second time. They stood outside, smoking together, and he was glad that she’d come to see the show, like she said she would, even though she’d known that it would be the same set as the show they played two weeks ago, when she’d first seen him. They talked about innocuous things, like movies made by his favorite playwright and the place she’d grown up in. He told her about how he’d heard once that Disney had planned to build a theme park on the moon and call it LunarDisney. She’d told him about the way she knew her parents had done drugs in the 70s. There was nothing too personal in the conversation, nothing telling. She didn’t laugh at the things he said and he didn’t lean forward and tough her all the time. But at some point, almost out of the blue, he leaned forward and hugged her a second time, and the words “I’m glad I met you” seemed to hover between them, almost-but-not-quite-spoken by either or both of them.
He didn’t mean to lead her on and he was determined not to do so. After all, he was leaving soon, moving to another city, and she wasn’t even finished with college yet and wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while. They were going to be leading different lives and they both knew it. But she was in love with him, even though she hardly knew him, and while he wasn’t in love with her, he did feel a closeness that he didn’t know the origins of.
He worried that he would hurt her, especially after that second hug. They finished their cigarettes and discussed what each of them would be doing that night. Neither one suggested that they spend the night together, but he felt a vivid image tugging at his mind in which they woke up together and he smiled at her, knowing that she didn’t mind that his teeth were crooked and that she thought his smile was nice despite them.
She didn’t have any such visions. She didn’t even think he remembered her outside of their brief meetings. That was alright, because love, for her, wasn’t what it was for him. She loved many people, all at once, and felt deeply towards them all. She believed that people were good, and that there was something beautiful in everyone. She was naive in some ways, even though she’d been hurt enough in her life to know better. But she wasn’t expecting anything of him, not of him, and although she sometimes succumbed to wish fulfillment and painted an abstract in which the swirls of color represented her and another whom she loved, she still never verbally expressed that love to anyone.
They didn’t hug when they parted. They bade each other good night, and went their separate ways.

Soundtrack

The day was brisk and revenge was in the air. Trevor was looking forward to the end of it all. He wanted to reach the point at which he would feel vindicated and satisfied. But he didn’t know when that would be, and even though the wind blowing the strands of damp hair away from his face was cool, he still felt too warm and continued sweating profusely. He contemplated taking off his coat, but that wouldn’t be quite right. Revenge required a certain style, there were standards to be met, and those included the long, black leather overcoat he was wearing.
He knew he looked the part, but he wasn’t feeling it anymore. When he’d woken up in the morning, everything had felt right – the stars were aligned in his favor and his muscles were loose and pliant as he conducted his daily exercises. Everything matched his expectations, right up to the fine spread of grayness that filled the sky in a perfectly foreboding way.
The clothes were already prepared from the night before and they lay draped over the chair beside his bed, inviting him to put them on. He put music on first so that he could pretend he was in a movie. When he dressed, he made sure to pull his sleeves taut in time with the bass line and to knot the tie when the drums started up again after the bridge.
Trevor lived with a soundtrack. Although he worked in a job that he enjoyed – he was a studio musician – he wanted to work at something different. He wanted to be the person who chooses the music to go with each bit of a movie. When his friends described their lives to him, he constantly thought of which song should go with each instance. In his own life he kept meticulous playlists on his iPod and was ready for any situation he might fall into.
Today he was listening to his revenge playlist, but he only kept one earphone in because he also needed to hear the door opening. When it opened, he would be ready for her.
He tried to make his hand stop shaking. It looked distinctly unprofessional. The only thing he could hope for was that when she came in everything would suddenly work on instinct, just like in the movies. That’s what should happen.
But the door slammed open and she rushed out, clearly in a hurry. She was putting her earrings on as she jogged to her car. His hand kept shaking, and the metal didn’t glint, and it was all wrong now. Somehow she was already in the car, and the car was starting and then she was gone, and Trevor was left there, hunched behind the rose bush, the sweat finally growing cold on his face and his hand finally beginning to steady.
Too late. He was too late. He wanted to scream. His music stopped and he looked at his iPod and saw that it had died. He must not have charged it for long enough. This was awful.
“This is awful,” he said aloud. “This isn’t how it should go.” He wanted to ask someone what his next line was, or maybe ask to do the whole scene from the beginning, but life didn’t work like that and there was no director waiting to say “cut!”
It started raining as Trevor walked home and he wondered whether this was a turning point. Was this when the hero of the story was supposed to learn something? Was he supposed to take this as a sign or should he just try again tomorrow? Maybe he needed a sunny day, something less obvious than a gloomy day. Or perhaps he needed to just break into her house at night and do it then.
When he got home he put another playlist on. This one was called “Disappointment.” After a moment he changed it to the one he’d named “Failure.” It sat better with him. Stretched out on the bed, on his back, he struggled out of his clothing, trying not to lift his body very much because he was suddenly exhausted. He wondered whether he was coming down with something. He was drenched from the rain, after all.
The phone rang. He didn’t pick it up for a while, but finally, when it didn’t stop ringing, he decided to answer. It was her. She was asking him if he was ready to be friends yet. He said “Yeah, okay,” and made plans to meet her for dinner that evening.
Maybe there had been a reason for his failure after all.