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.

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Homeless with a Hamster

High Priest Jonas, son of Azekial, of the long-standing Levi line, looked exactly like any other homeless man wandering about the streets of the capital city. Unlike them, however, he carried in his heart the knowledge of his noble lineage.

He walked through the alleyways of stone and dirt every day, and watched the washing hung out to dry between the windows of the buildings on either side of him. He counted socks, shirts and pants and tried to figure out how many people lived in each apartment. Sometimes he sat under a washing line and let the water from badly wrung clothing drip onto his dirty green coat and his matted and tangled brown hair. He liked that, because it meant he walked around for the rest of the day with the smell of laundry detergent mixed in with the alcohol, body odor and bad breath that surrounded him.

He couldn’t clearly remember where he’d been before the street. He thought that there was a home, maybe a job and a family as well. He distinctly remembered there being a lot of wine. Much more wine than he was able to put his hands on these days.

The problem with Jonas, the other homeless agreed, was that he thought himself superior. None of the others were strangers to madness – they’d all had brushes with the crazies or else had gone through insane phases themselves, but none of them tried to pretend that they were better than anyone else. But Jonas turned his nose up at them. He’d tried, at first, to teach them, to collect followers, but once they told him to go away, using nasty vocabulary, he decided that they weren’t worth his time.

Jonas didn’t see things this way. In his opinion, the ones who shared the city-streets with him had hurt his pride and mocked him, and for that he would never forgive them. Maybe one day, if they would deign to apologize, he would acknowledge them and help them to salvation.

Meanwhile, however, he’d found himself a different companion. Bobo, a hamster in a green cage, was beside him day and night. He was a stalwart friend – his nose quivered in anticipation whenever Jonas gave him food and he would emit high-pitched squeaks of satisfaction when the man tickled his stomach. Jonas was pleased with him.

One evening in October, the High Priest took Bobo to one of his favorite haunts. It was one of the coffee-shop chains that filled the city streets, but unlike many others, there weren’t waiters. Instead, people ordered their coffee inside and then took their mugs to the outdoor seating area when the weather was nice or if they were smokers. The staff rarely came outside to collect the dirty dishes, so Jonas could sit at a table all evening without being shooed off the premises.

“Look, Bobo,” he grinned, broken teeth bared. “This is a nice table, right? A nice table.” He put the cage down and sat on a red plastic chair. His coat was bulky and uncomfortable and the table rocked as he hit it with his knee. Instinctively, he shot out an arm to hold the cage steady. Bobo sniffed his thanks, directing his tiny nose at Jonas’ hand.

He scoped out the area around him. There was a bar behind him, small and tucked into a crevice of the little complex. In front of him were other tables and chairs like his, with people sitting at them. He saw that none of his enemies were there and breathed a sigh of relief. He could work in peace. He crooned once at Bobo before taking out paper and a stubby bit of pencil.

He leaned forward and began to write. The people who sat around him watched him warily, like they watched all homeless men and women who came too close to their comfy worlds. Jonas didn’t mind – he knew that they watched him merely because they were drawn to his nobility. Even if they didn’t know it, they were dimly aware of the majesty that was in his tall, wide frame. He pretended not to notice their staring and continued writing, working as always on his lists and his plans.

“Mommy, mommy, there’s a homeless man with a hamster!” a little boy’s voice rang out.

“Shh!” the boy’s father picked him up and carried him away, glancing back fearfully to make sure that the boy’s yell hadn’t angered the man.

Jonas frowned sadly, but the boy’s father couldn’t see the expression through his wild, tangled beard.

“Yes, I have a hamster,” Jonas said quietly, looking down at Bobo. “He is my friend.”

 

Whatever (Flash Fiction/Character study/something)

“Jessica!”

“What? I mean, sorry, yes, Mr. Jacobs?” I ask. I try to hide my phone underneath a mess of clothes on the counter. If he sees me texting again, I’m going to get fired, I just know it.

“There’s a woman right over there who’s looking at the very pricey dress-rack,” he says, smiling like he always does when he’s super-angry. He’s so creepy! “Don’t you think you should be over there? Helping her?

I sigh with relief. That’s all he wants. “I asked if she needed help, Mr. Jacobs!” I say earnestly, putting on what Jill, my co-worker, calls my suck-up face. “She told me she didn’t need any, thanks very much. Who am I to push her, right?” I think it’s an okay answer, but apparently Mr. Jacobs doesn’t.

“Well, if you haven’t noticed, young lady,” I hate this guy, I really do, “she also has a very big purse. Watch that she doesn’t steal anything!” He gives me that smile of his, with his eyebrows all sort of scrunched up and ugly – he plucks, you can so tell that he’s got a unibrow – and then he just stomps back to the back office where he spend most of his day arguing with his wife on the phone. Idiot.

I look over at the woman. She’s still looking at the dresses, putting her rich-lady hands all over them. I swore when I started working here that I’d never try on clothes again. I mean, have you seen how many people cough or rub their noses and then start feeling up the clothes? Gross!

Oh! Text. It’s Beverly again. We were texting before the idiot boss got on my case. She just sent a “?” because I haven’t answered yet. I text back: “Sry boss was here. So wut did u do last nite?”

She’s been trying to get me to ask that question all morning. She can be such a tease and a show-off. I don’t even know why I’m friends with her, but whatever, she works in the designer clothing store that’s also in the mall, on the floor above, and she’s bored too, so we text. I look over at the woman. She’s moved over the scarf section now. Wow, Mr. Jacobs was right, for a change! This one’s a stealer, I’d bet my nails on it.

I walk over and pretend to straighten the handbags that are near the scarves. The woman gives me this look – I hate rich people! She looks at me like I’m trash, just because I actually have to work, you know? Yuck. So what if my dad cut me off and my mom remarried to a loser who lost all his money gambling? That doesn’t make me any worse than this old biddy. Anyway, she’s rich but she’s going to steal something anyway. I know her type – they get a thrill out of it. I say she should just buy a baggie off my friend Tod and live it up at home with a bottle of mega-bucks wine and leave the stores alone.

I’m tailing her now, walking around and arranging everything she’s touched – I’ve got a bottle of hand-sanitizer behind the counter – and I think she’s getting annoyed, because she keeps sighing real deep and stuff. Ha- there! I just saw her let one of the weird necklaces we sell here fall into her bag!

“Mr. Jacobs!” I yell. “Come out here please!”

The woman’s really surprised by my yell, and she turns around to look at me, pretending to be calm. Mr. Jacobs runs out of his office, and asks me what’s up. “This lady,” I say. “She just put a necklace in her handbag. I saw her do it.”

“Alright, let me take it from here,” Mr. Jacobs says. He waves me away. What, now he’s not happy that I caught a thief in the act? Whatever, I’m quitting after my next paycheck anyway. I’m sick of working in this place.

Oh! Text. It’s Beverly. She says: “haha its a secret.” She’s such a – a – I don’t even know what to call her. I text back “whatever.” I don’t need her. I don’t need anyone. Everyone thinks I’m some kind of idiot, I swear.

Whatever. Seriously, to, like, everyone in the world – whatever.

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.

Two

“It’s  a long story,” he said, frowning slightly, before smiling again. His hair was brown, his face thin, and his expression let nothing away. His smile was utterly disarming, and he didn’t seem to be feeling a thing except the usual cheerfulness he displayed to the world. He had his work spread out in front of him, the usual scientific jargon he was so into, and he slid his eyes back to it easily and went right back to studying. His shirt, bearing the logo of his workplace, was tight, as all his clothes usually were. He was attractive, there was no doubt about it, and his cheerfulness was like a sun, drawing unsuspecting people to him and making them think, naively, that everything was alright with him. Everything was always alright with him.

The girl, clutching her book, wasn’t so naive. She had her guesses, and she voiced them in a cheerful tone to match his own. He laughed, brushing them away, and went back to studying. She took note, though, of the slight glint of panic in his eyes.

____

“It’s a long story,” he said. His hair was black, his face thin but muscular, and his expression was fraught with pain. His eyes glinted with unshed tears, but they never leaked out, not once. He laughed at himself, laughed at his emotions. “It’s a long story,” he repeated, but he went into detail. Not much detail, but enough for the girl, clutching her book again, to understand. Her heart beat within her breast, pounding with emotion for both of them. She could see his pain, and suspected the other’s pain even if he wouldn’t voice it. She hugged him, murmuring “Aw, honey,” and made sure to let him know that she felt for him. It wasn’t easy, she couldn’t imagine it would ever be easy for the two of them.

____

Alone in her room, with headphones in her ears, she thought about them. She wanted to help, somehow, for some reason. Maybe it was only that her own experience was so much happier than theirs. Maybe it was that she knew what it was to trust someone implicitly and she wanted them to feel it too. Maybe it was just the fact that she was so far away from her love that she needed to see others flourish as she couldn’t in her current situation. Maybe it was, quite simply, that she wanted to befriend them both. They were too pleasant to give up, and she wanted to find a place for herself. She had always done this – reached out instinctively to others, lent herself as a support to those who needed it. It was one of her joys.

With music throbbing in her ears, she noticed the lyrics suddenly. “This night has only just begun. If there’s discretion that you’ve not abandoned, now’s the time.” Fitting, she thought, and closed her eyes and listened hard until the next song came on.

Missing It

There’s a certain sound that keystrokes make. It’s a sound I hear a lot these days, but usually the sound’s only result is long papers about Antigone or Oedipus or Henry VIII. Not that those results are unsatisfactory – not in the least. In fact, my brain feels as if it’s expanding with every day, acquiring more material, whether useful or not, and using it to fill in the gray corners that have remained as empty and barren as understocked warehouses in thriving cities on the verge of poverty.

However, it’s been a great long while since I’ve associated the clack-clacking of fingers on keyboard with something creative. I feel like while one part of my brain is being used more and more and is stretching its limbs and crying out for joy, another part of it is slowly shrinking into the corner, scared, intimidated. The fear isn’t only from this new intellectual beast growing up near it – it’s also from the tremendous amount of talent that my eyes see every day, in the minds and eyes of other people. The school and environment I’m in is full of people who are writers at heart – many are genuine and love writing, although a fair few are also merely intellectual snobs who feel that knowledge is power that must be shown off, not just consumed. But those aren’t the intimidating ones – those are the ones I just choose not to associate with.

Still, the talent that is rampant on this campus is astounding and my creative brain seems to shrivel up with terror at the thought of being inadequate. But I miss it. I miss that part of me. I miss writing stories and poems that don’t rhyme. I miss writing character studies and wracking my imagination for new things to write about, new styles to try out, new places to describe.

I’m coming back. In a big way. I have to, if only to preserve my sanity and give myself something completely outside of my day-to-day struggle with books and papers and people to focus on. I hope I manage to stick by this promise – I’m coming back and I want to write something, even just a paragraph, each and every day. I know that I can’t expect anyone to read my words when I don’t have sufficient time to read theirs as well, but I’m going to strive to meet that goal too. When I was at home, I managed to read so many posts a day and I enjoyed it. I want to manage to read at least once or twice a week the full range of your – all my wonderfully supportive friends’ – blogs and catch up with you as well. I hope I can keep my promises this time. In the names of Dionysus, Henry VIII and Alan Turing I’ll try.

On Th’Eve of Classes

I went to college one rainy day,

And now it seems I’m here to stay,

Until a hopefully snowing December morn’,

When from my collegiate life I’ll be torn.

The days are moving slowly,

Orientation for us new and lowly,

Friends are hard to come by,

With head tucked under and shy.

My rhyme suffers with fear,

For tomorrow is a day I hold dear,

Classes begin and I’m ready,

The smell of knowledge is heady.

I cannot say I’m good enough,

And this makes it rough

To have confidence in success,

So instead I’m stressed.

Seeing the talent in this school,

Makes me feel like a right damn fool.

I hope I’m not the only one here

Who’s holding back her tears.

I’m scared.

I’m ready.

I’m excited.

I’m scared.

I’m not good enough.

I’m good enough.

I’m unsure.

I’m scared.