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.”

Worrier

The trembling in the barman’s fingers was noticeable when he brought the next round of drinks to their table. Tabby, the tall brunette who had been eyeing him up all night, spoke up.

“Hey man, you okay?”

“What?” He set down her drink, sloshing some of the brightly colored liquid out onto the table, distracted by the question more than by his hands.

“Your hands. They’re shaking. Everything alright?”

“Of course,” he said, fixing a grin on his face. “Sorry about that,” he pointed to the spilled drink, “I’ll get a rag. Just a sec.” He hurried back to the bar, and Tabby turned to her girlfriends.

“Something’s not right with that guy.”

“Shut up, Tabby, you’re drunk. Also, you’re a fixer.” Joanna was big-boned but lanky, and she was the drunkest of them all at that particular moment. She didn’t notice the way her words were slurring together or how her eyelids were already drooping a little.

Tabby rolled her eyes at Kate and Gina. “If I’m drunk, then you’re a lobster,” she muttered under her breath. Joanna didn’t hear her. She was digging in her wallet for a couple quarters for the old-fashioned jukebox in the corner. “No, but seriously,” Tabby continued. “He’s shaking.”

“I didn’t notice,” Gina said. She shrugged, a dramatic feat that caused her to immediately hitch up her shirt so that nothing would spill out. Kate wasn’t listening to any of them; she had her face buried in her phone and was alternately typing and staring intensely at the screen as if it would grant all her wishes. Tabby raised her eyebrows at Gina and gave Kate a pointed look. Gina rolled her eyes and mouthed “They’re fighting again.”

Some girls’ night out this turned out to be, Tabby thought. Joanna’s drunk already and is going to fall asleep in five minutes, Kate’s having the same old relationship issues as always, Gina is in one of her quiet moods and I’m still stone-cold sober. And worrying about a barman who I’ve never met before.

The barman came back with a rag and wiped the spill. His hands were still shaking. Tabby stared after him. She hoped he was okay.

Twins

Once upon a time,

there was a girl

who lived in a town

all by herself

and she was fine.

She went to work

every day

and did what she

was told

and went to bed every night

at a reasonable hour.

She was a good girl

this girl.

Once upon a time

there was a girl

who lived in a town

all by herself

and she was fine too.

She stayed in bed

every day

and read a book every night

and she stayed up late

talking to people in her head.

She was a bad girl

this girl.

Once upon a time

there were twins

who lived in a town

together

and they worked some

and they played some

and they read some

and they slept some

and they talked some

and they danced some

and they were happy

and they were sad.

These were just girls,

these girls.

The Jazz Bar

The jazz bar is situated off of the main pavilion where the common pubs are located. The pubs on the main drag are all basically the same – crowded, smoky, electronic music blasting too loudly from the speakers. The jazz bar, however, is different. It’s roomier, more spread out, with tables both inside and out. They’re all simple affairs, black plastic tops on stainless steel legs, the chairs matching them. The main difference, of course, is the music: live jazz. The musicians change, sometimes during the course of one evening, but they make up the same basic grouping: a drummer, a bassist, a pianist, sometimes a guitarist or a trumpeter, occasionally the odd harmonica-player. The atmosphere at the jazz bar is relaxed. Although the live music is loud, louder than you would expect, conversation is still an option.

Saturday night found the jazz bar full to bursting – yet still, the space outside didn’t feel cramped. Four young men and a young woman, none of them long out of adolescence, shared a table. Four of them sat and sipped their beers while the fifth slurped his strawberry-melon-smoothie moodily, wishing he hadn’t made himself the stupid promise of zero-alcohol-for-a-month. They sat and listened to the music, one of the youths, who was on his break from drumming, occasionally made snide comments about the trumpet player who was blasting his sounds into the air. The conversation went back and forth, encompassing everything from the latest party to the correct technique of asking a girl out to dietary tips to tattoos.

The group was clearly comfortable together. The solitary girl, who wasn’t a regular addition to the group as she was the girlfriend of the curly, black-haired young man, was welcomed among them and felt surprisingly at home with them. She talked easily and laughed readily, not fearing being ridiculed and not taking to heart the light teasing that is often a single girl’s lot among boys. It dawned on her that this, too, she would leave soon. Oh, she would be back, of course she would, but the experience was all the more precious because she knew it might not be repeated for a good long while.

Three Dreams

One

I am at a wedding. I’m positive that it’s some sort of traditional Scottish wedding. I dance in circles, kicking my legs in and out in a pattern which seems correct, but as I’m doing this I’m sure that I really don’t have any clue what I’m doing and I hope that no one will notice the fact that I’m completely faking whatever the dance is supposed to be. Two people are doing the same thing beside me, but they seem to really know the dance. I end my circle by slowing down, almost to slow motion, and then with the thought of making a dramatic exit, I leap into the sky. I’m shooting up, when suddenly some thing, some sort of beast, whizzes past me, almost biting my head off. I wake up in terror.

Two

I am in the lobby of a restaurant. Leonardo DeCaprio is there, as is Angelina Jolie. They are lying back in beach chairs and are completely still, like wax statues. I go up to the restaurant, and the waiters are all standing around, leaning against the walls. I talk to them, and I come to understand that there’s a problem with the boss – that he’s stopping business or some such. I get a mental image, like a vision, of a dark room with something prowling around it, commanding the restaurant’s boss. A sense of dread pours over me, and I feel that the boss isn’t the ultimate boss in this place – that he’s being manipulated by this beast, this evil thing. I want to get out. I go back down to the lobby, where two girls are now chattering about the famous actors there. They’re speaking in Hebrew, so I can understand them, but Leo and Angelina can’t. The girls try to tell me how they met – something to do with their eighteenth birthdays. I smile, I nod, I wonder why they’re telling me this when I have no clue who they are, and I quickly exit the restaurant.

I am now out on the street and it’s dark, dusk. I turn right, and walk down the street. The sidewalk and street are separated by fences enclosing dirt, as if the gardens are blocked off for planting. I walk down further, and at the end of this semi-enclosed walkway, I see a mattress. A man is lying on it, upper half naked, asleep. Next to his bare back – for he is lying on his stomach with his face averted to me – I see what appears to be a hole in the mattress. In the hole, I see a woman’s face. I get an overpowering feeling that she is dead. I walk past quickly, but just as I turn the corner, I feel a tug at my unbound hair – the man is hauling me back, and I know in my bones that he will butcher me and stuff me inside that mattress along with the others. I wake up in terror.

Three

I am out camping with my friends. There is a bonfire going, and one of my girlfriends tries to heat water over it in a Styrofoam cup. I want to yell out at her that it will burn, but I don’t, as I’m distracted by a bread basket that is being passed around by my friends. I take a piece of bread and eat it, suddenly realizing that I’d eaten a McDonald’s dinner earlier and thinking that I’ve eaten too much and that I don’t want two dinners. I wake up in terror, and then smile at the silliness of this last dream.

Three Ladies at Peet’s

Three ladies sat outside Peet’s Coffee in Santa Monica. There were many little tables outside the coffee-shop: one was inhabited by a trendy man in his early twenties, wearing a brown hat and reading a design book; one other table was occupied by a balding man with glasses perched precariously on his nose who was proofreading a paper as he sipped his coffee and occasionally looked up at the people going by; the third table was surrounded by three ladies.

The three ladies were of varying ages. Two were in their early fifties and looked like sisters – both had similar features and they had that sort of friendly and easy manner with each other that comes from a good sisterly relationship. The third was obviously a family member as well – the daughter of the one and the niece of the other. These ladies were surrounded by lots of baggage – a purse, a backpack, four pounds of Peet’s coffee blends, another shoulder bag, and, of course, three large cups of coffee, a cinnamon roll and a small box of chocolates.

The conversation between the ladies was fast and carefree: gossip about family members and family events, chit-chat about the merits of good coffee, small talk about travel plans. Somehow, in all the chatter, the subject of ostrich meat, an option that had been on a menu of a restaurant where the ladies had been the night before, came up. There was some discussion over the general aversion to the very idea of ostrich meat, and then with a casual remark from one of the ladies about how it tasted like roast beef, the table exploded. The ladies all burst out laughing as one of them spit out her coffee, overcome with laughter, and the other two followed suit while trying to control themselves and the flow of coffee spilling over their baggage.

Eventually, the three got themselves under control, though still giggling, and got up to leave. As they were walking down the sidewalk, the young hip man called out with a smile that he enjoyed their laughter and liked to see that they were having fun. He wasn’t mocking – he was sincere. He had enjoyed the sight of three ladies laughing at a table in the Los Angeles sunlight. Only the young lady had noticed that the other man, the quiet one with the glasses, had smiled to himself as well as the three had been laughing hysterically.

The youngest lady walked away from the whole encounter feeling that the world was a good place if people could enjoy the enjoyment of others.