Nanotechnology [Flash Fiction[

“Everything is nanotechnology,” Rae says, trundling down the stairs ahead of me. She is tall, a blond goddess of monumental proportions, fit to be swept into a sculptor’s studio and placed on a pedestal, dressed in a robe, and dunked into a pot of wet, white plaster. She’d emerge pure white and statuesque. Literally.

Of course, that would be an incredible waste of her brains and a shame for humanity and the future of science, probably, but sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly spiteful, I don’t care much about that. It seems unfair that someone as smart as she is gets to be gorgeous as well. Shouldn’t she be small, overweight, horrendously disfigured? At the very least, she should have a big nose.

These are the things I think about while she goes on about how the term “nano” is simply one of the hipper terms used in pop-science, a word that the masses can understand and revere because it evokes in them the idea of iPod Nanos and minuscule robots flying in the air like swarms of bees.

“It’s just pop culture, like everything,” Rae says, jumping down the last three stairs effortlessly.

She takes the stairs with me, because unlike her, my mind isn’t made up of purely logical parts and elevators make me claustrophobic.

“Mhm.” This is my most common form of participation in conversations with people. Rae is better than most, because I’ve known her since she was five and I was six, but when she starts talking to me as if I’m one of her college friends, I revert to my humming agreement.

We both blink in the sunlight outside, wishing we’d taken sunglasses. Upstairs, before we’d decided to leave, it looked overcast. The sun came out somewhere between Rae’s fifth floor apartment and where we stand now, on the squeaky clean street she lives on. I think the only reason this apartment complex exists, here behind the heavy gates that guard this pretty housing community, is so that people as rich as Rae’s parents can buy the penthouse floors and create their modernist fantasies in real wood and genuine chrome and titanium. I wonder why anybody would settle on living in apartments here otherwise, unless they’re relatively cheap for the postcode and the status people get from living behind bars of their own choosing.

Rae is oblivious to my derision, as far as I know, but I suppose this is because she’s in a world of particles and dark matter, stardust and what it can tell the world about the origins of the universe. She probably wouldn’t notice the difference in lifestyle if her parents suddenly lost everything and had to move down to the real city slums with me. The only time I visited her at her university, her dorm room was disgusting, full of takeout and pizza boxes and laundry beginning to mold in corners. She forgets to eat half the time anyway. If she ever got poor, she’d manage just fine.

“So what’s up with you?” Rae asks, jogging me with her elbow. It’s pointy, which she never realizes, and it hurts, because I’m a wimp with weak arms.

“I don’t know,” I say. This is always what I do. I need Rae to go farther, to bug me, to ask again, to prove that she really wants to know what’s up with me.

“No, come on, tell me things. The last email you sent me was before my exams and that was three weeks ago. I’m starved for some you-info. How’s work?”

She knows me well. She knows I answer specific questions much better than big, general ones. “Work is okay. This Friday we get to see our Christmas bonuses.”

“Ooh, exciting.”

“Yeah. I guess.”

“No, it is! You’ve been working your ass off, you deserve a fat bonus!”

We walk in silence for a while. I don’t know where we’re heading, and I’m not sure that Rae does either, but we’ve had a long-standing habit of wandering. We’ll find a spot that we like and sit there, eventually. Or we’ll wander far enough to be lost and we’ll laugh at ourselves and figure out how to get home.

“How’s she doing?” Rae asks, stopping underneath a tree. I think she wants to be able to see my face when I answer. There’s only one “she” that is ever asked about in the tone she uses.

I try to smile, and I’m scared when I succeed. I guess I’m a heartless bitch, just like my mom told me I was the other day. It was after we’d gotten home from the hospital and I’d whined about how much I wished I could go to college already. I whined about how I was falling behind everyone else, getting older. When the slap came, I can’t say I was surprised. I was kind of hoping for it, I guess. My father, who’d been taking care of my little brother at home and hadn’t come with my mom and me to the hospital that day, heard the slap and came into the living room.

“She’s almost gone,” I say to Rae now. “It’ll be soon, the doctors say.”

Venison

Three winters ago, Mick and I went hunting. I didn’t know what I was in for. For one thing, the gun was so much heavier than I thought it would be. For another, I hadn’t realized how much waiting around happens.
Mick was so excited about my finally agreeing to go with him. He promised me that he would show me how to cook whatever we killed. When we first started going out, I couldn’t believe that he was the kind of person who went hunting. When I found out that he did, I was horrified. For a while there, I was going to break the whole thing off because it bothered me so much. But Mick was… well, Mick, and I guess I just sort of decided to see where things would go. I think I also didn’t quite believe him, because he has such delicate hands and he plays the piano. I couldn’t reconcile those long, large-knuckled fingers and his mild tenor with what I imagined hunters to be – rugged, rough, hairy manly men.
Eventually, though, I had to accept him in all his various incongruities, because there just isn’t a way to ignore a rabbit carcass roasting over a bonfire in someone’s backyard.
When he took me hunting, Mick told me that it would be a real adventure. I guess it was. We tramped all around through a forest with brightly colored vest things over our jackets so that no one would accidentally shoot us. We crouched down and waited, and breathed, and I felt the mist turning to a drizzle on the back of my neck.
I could hardly hold the gun up, let alone shoot, but watching Mick was fascinating enough to make the ache in my muscles worth it. There was something in his face that seemed akin to his concentration when he plays – but there was something else there, something almost feral. I didn’t, and still don’t, get it. There wasn’t anything exciting happening, but at every breath of wind and rustle of the leaves, his pale skin would flush and a small smile appeared on his mouth, but otherwise he’d stay absolutely still.
He killed a deer that day. That’s something else I didn’t realize – that we would have to carry something huge like that back to the car. Deer are much bigger than you think they are from far away. It was heavy, and Mick almost didn’t want to take it home, but I couldn’t stand the thought of him having killed it for nothing. If we brought the poor thing home, at least we’d be making use of it.
I couldn’t watch him turn the deer from animal into meat. I went to the bathroom and threw up after I saw him slit its stomach open, but I didn’t tell him. I pretended to be hungry, and, to be honest, the smell of the meat roasting actually made me hungry. It was easy to separate the venison from the deer I’d seen lying dead on the forest floor with its thick tongue hanging out and its eyes glazed and empty. I’m glad I never told Mick that I threw up, though.
We didn’t last for very long after that, but it wasn’t because of the hunting. It was because of his other passion – the piano. He got picked up by a touring orchestra and went to Europe. He cried a little when he said goodbye to me, and he apologized. He told me he would always remember me. I know I’ll always remember him too, especially when I see a deer or smell the telltale scent of venison.

Illusion

I always hated carnivals, ever since I was a little kid. My dad used to work at this one circus, this traveling company, I don’t remember the name, and he would be gone for months with them. Every time he came back, my mom would get all cheerful and she’d put on his old dress she had with stupid flowers all over it and a big ribbon tied around the back, and she’d take me to the circus where my dad worked and we’d watch the clowns and the elephants and the poor old tiger without any teeth. That tiger was the only thing I liked, but he died when I was about six so after that I had no fun at all.

See, other kids loved all that stuff. They ate it up like candy, like ice-cream, like I don’t know what. They thought that it was all hilarious. But the thing is, they didn’t see how all the clowns yelled at each other inside their RVs, and they didn’t see the weird bearded lady kissing one of the skinny acrobat guys, and they didn’t see the way the elephants were prodded with these big pointed sticks, like devil’s pitchforks. They didn’t smell all the booze and the smoke and that weird rubber smell that I finally figured out was condoms but only when I was way older.

But I never told the other kids about all that stuff. Why ruin the magic for them, you know? I mean, when I saw this magician perform these coin tricks on the street once, with his hat on the ground for money, there were all these people around him wanting him to show them how the trick was done and I wanted to scream at them not to ask for that because that would ruin the magic.

I guess that’s why I never really believed in magic, though, you know, the real kind with wands and spells and stuff. I knew that everything was an illusion – even parents were illusions, really, because they weren’t always there when you needed them and they would pretend to listen to you even when they were really thinking about something else. But then one summer my dad made me come with him on the circus’s tour even though I didn’t want to, and I found out that there was stuff in the world that hardly anyone knows about, stuff that I know no one will believe me if I tell it.

But hey, I’m in prison now, with thirty other guys in my cell-block, and maybe my story will at least give them something to talk about when they work at the wood shop or the kitchens. It’s worth them all thinking I’m crazy if it’ll give me a chance to get this all off my chest.

Burden

When the ambulance sirens sounded, I turned over and put the pillow over my head. Normally I wouldn’t pay much attention, but I was scared I knew where they were coming from and the guilt was eating me up.

He said he would kill her. But he said it every day. Still, I probably should have told someone about how his eyes seemed to have fire in them when he said it this time. But who’d believe me, huh? Everyone here is threatening to murder someone. We’re all angry, all the time, and can you blame us? Living on less than minimum wage salaries, half of us not even knowing English real well, needing to raise our children in a place where they can see people shooting up on ever corner – wouldn’t you be angry?

I paid attention in school, though. I knew that talking a bit nicer would get me places. And that makes me angry also, because we all understand each other here, so why can’t the world try to understand us too? Why can’t they start talking like us, huh? Anyway, that doesn’t matter right not. That’s not the story I’m telling.

The story I’m trying to tell is about how those sirens woke me up and how I thought I knew that what he kept threatening had finally happened. But I didn’t know what to do about it. Someone had already called 911, right? So the cops would show up in a bit, and I wasn’t going to go talk to them and squeal right there in the open where everyone could see. Nah, people who do that end up dead all too quick. But I did need to know if what I thought was happening was actually happening.

I pulled on my sweats and a sweatshirt and checked to see that TJ was still sleeping on the couch. He’s my brother. The kids were asleep, too, and I knew that if one of them started crying, TJ would get up and go take care of them. He was good about that sort of thing. He liked being a good uncle to them when he remembered that there were things to life other than booze. Poor guy.

My face looked nasty without the makeup that I use to keep it fresh, but it was night and no one would see me. So I went downstairs, and walked to where I heard the sirens coming from. Just as I started though, they must have gotten to where they were going because they shut up. My heart was beating so quick that I can’t describe it. I knew where to walk even without the sound.

There were plenty of people outside of the apartment building. This area’s never empty, even at night. Some people live only after the sun goes to nap. Sure enough, I saw the medics sitting around and smoking, and I knew what that meant. That meant that they were waiting on the cops now, that there was someone dead in there and not dead cause of nice old age. Nah, there’d been a murder here.

I didn’t go too close. I didn’t want anybody to remember me. I wanted to wait for the cops in the shadows and tell them that I knew who did it. But I sure wasn’t going to tell them that I could have stopped it. That was my own burden to bear.

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.

Beauty Queen [Flash Fiction]

My name is Gwen. It’s a good, strong name. That’s what my pop always said. He said: Gwen, with a gee and a double-you, you’ve got nothing to be scared of in this world because the hardest thing for you will be learning how to spell your name with those big letters in it. I don’t know what my mama said because she skipped out on me and my pop when I was still real small. My pop always said she was the second prettiest gal in the world, after me. Then he would laugh and say: you had the best looking parents I’ve ever seen.

I guess he was right. I won all the beauty pageants when I was a kid, except for that one year when I was eight when I had to be in the hospital because I tripped and broke my head open. I don’t really remember it but my pop told me that I near broke it in two pieces just like an egg. Like the egg with kings and the horses, only my pop said that because I was the prettiest gal in the world we had the money to fix me up good. I still got a scar under my hair that I can feel. It’s all bumpy, and I kinda like it. I like having this one ugly thing on my head where no one, not even the meanest judges, can see it.

Henry used to tell me that I should be happy that I’m pretty. That was before he and Mick drove into a tree and got their drunk asses killed. I’m still mad at Henry for that, even though it was Mick who drove. I would have told Henry: don’t you get in the car with him, he’s drunk as a skunk. And maybe if it was me then Henry would have listened. But maybe not. My pop told me that there’s nothing I can do now except pray for their souls. But I don’t know if they need me to pray for them because if they died drunk then they must have stayed drunk in the next life too and those two pals had the best time when they were good and sloppy together. They could laugh at anything, even me when I let them and they were the only people who dared do that to my face so I liked it and I let them.

One thing that Henry never told me was that he thought I was pretty. He just said it as if I knew it, like it was the same thing as saying: the sky is blue like the ocean. All the others always kept telling me: do you know how pretty you are? But Henry didn’t because he knew that it didn’t matter to me one way or another if he thought I was pretty, just so the judges kept thinking so. Henry told me sometimes that I was smart, and I liked that best of all.

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.