Watched Pot

It was four in the morning, still dark, and Laura leaned against the counter and sighed. The coffee-maker burbled behind her, trickling the dark liquid into the clear pot – taking what seemed like forever. A watched pot never boils? Well, even if you don’t watch, they take as long as they like. She was in a sour mood.

The night shift was fine, usually. She didn’t mind starting work at eleven at night – that was when she was most awake anyway. She also didn’t mind dealing with the characters that came in and out of the all-night diner. Some were shady, scary even, but Laura treated them just as if they were a couple of middle-aged lovebirds stopping in for afternoon tea. Some of the more aggressive guys would try to hit on her, or else make fun of her relentlessly so that she’d snap at them, but Laura never caved. She was calm to such a degree that it made the thugs get bored and back off.

There were the sad people who came in, too; the prostitutes, makeup smudged, counting their earnings in a corner booth and asking for take-away pie for the kids at home; the homeless men and women who collected enough change during the day to buy a cup of bad coffee and maybe a bowl of fries; one or two crazies who wandered in and yelled about the end of the world or Jesus living inside them. Laura knew most of them, since they were regulars. The diner was the only twenty-four hour one in about a mile around. Anyone who worked or lived on the streets around it would come there instead of trekking over to the all-night Starbuck’s that was ten blocks away.

So Laura normally liked the night shift. The denizens of the darkened city and small hours of the morning were familiar to her and she wasn’t scared or judgmental of them. They were just there, and like anyone else, they needed to eat and drink.

Sometimes, though, like tonight, the familiar tired, worn out, or constantly tough faces were supplemented by others. In the big booth right in the center of the diner sat six of the rowdies, most obnoxious teenagers Laura had ever seen in her life. It was people like them that made her irritable to the point of wishing dearly to serve up coffee with spit in it.

They were obviously drunk or high, and they were laughing uproariously as one of the guys did some imitation of a comedian. Laura was rather glad they’d moved on to laughing about stupid stuff like this, because what had come before had been much worse. She already knew everything about their evening – they’d gone to Big Tod’s penthouse, and they partied there, and then they went to Shazzam, the biggest and most dangerous club in the area, where they’d partied some more, and then Trudy-O met them at the liquor store where they knew her and sold her whatever she wanted and they partied some more right there on the street until some cops came by and told them to get home or else. Instead of doing that, they’d decided they were hungry and wanted to sober up a little, so they came to the diner, where they unknowingly became the stuff of Laura’s nightmares.

Gangsters, she could handle. But these rich kids slumming it for a night? She couldn’t stand them. She knew they were just kids – probably just a few years younger than her, maybe even as little as two – but she felt that their naiveté was like a bad joke. They honestly thought they were living dangerously, taking risks, being cool. Laura could almost hear the thoughts in the heads of the other customer – thoughts of how much they’d like to teach these kids just how dangerous danger could really be, but why bother when mommy and daddy the lawyers will be swooping down on them tomorrow? No reason to create more trouble with the law than there already was.

Laura didn’t approve of harming people just because they were annoying, but she couldn’t help fantasizing about it, especially since these idiots had been mean and abrasive towards her, and she knew that she was going to get next to no tip, despite the fact that they had a big order coming. Including, of course, six coffees, and right now, followed by an audible whisper and giggle concerning white-trash waitresses.

The coffee-maker clicked off, the pot full, and Laura turned back to it. She poured the coffees, put the mugs on a tray, and carried it over to the teenagers.

“Here you go,” she smiled brightly and put the coffees down in front of each of them. She caught the guys staring down her shirt and the girls turning away from her, continuing to talk over her, as if she were invisible. No thank-yous came, but Laura smiled and told them their food would be coming out any moment now. She smiled all the way back to the coffee machine, which she refilled and started up again.

This time, she faced it. Maybe this way she wouldn’t be able to go back to the table to bring refills. No coffee boiled and brewed, no refills, right? So she stared at the machine, willing it to adhere to adage and never boil.

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Flash Fiction Thursday: Beating Up Brad

I hate Brad. I’ve hated him ever since first grade when he grabbed me from behind and shoved my face into the sandbox. Let me tell you, that was not a fun experience. It was even worse when it became a daily thing, a sort of routine form of torture. It wasn’t until third grade that I hit him back. Boy, did I pay for that. Ever since then, Brad beat me up almost every day. Poor Mom, she kept thinking that Dad was doing something to me when I was at his house. But that’s Mom’s fault for only taking me one day a week. Dad knew what was going on, alright. He knew, and he tried to teach me how to fight back – he’s that kind of a guy – but it never really stuck. We used to have the biggest fights, since I never agreed to tell him who was beating me up. He called school to complain a few times, but they kept assuring him that “there’s no bullying problem at our school, sir” and “the nurses say that your son is simply very clumsy and that there’s no reason to assume he’s being hit. We have very good boys here, sir.”

See, that’s the other thing. I went to an all-boys school. Guess what? That wasn’t fun, either. I don’t think I spoke with a girl who wasn’t Mom or Auntie Rose until I was in high-school. That’s where the next fun part started. Brad went to the same high-school I did. Now, you may think that he’d grown up a little, and that if his parents were sending him to a co-ed school, that meant that he would be too busy hitting on girls and would stop picking on me. But, of course, as luck would have it, Brad found those girls who liked seeing that he was big and strong and could hit an obnoxious nerd with glasses like me.

I’m a senior now. We’re both seniors. I’ve still got the glasses, but I’ve got some muscle on me now. See, Dad finally had it with my split lips and black eyes. He started sending me to the gym twice a week when he saw that even in high-school I was coming home bruised a couple times a week – at least by then, Brad had less time for me. So even though nobody’s noticed, I’ve been building up muscle over the years, and my pimples have gone away, and you know what? Brad’s going to go bald early and I’m not. Still, that hasn’t stopped him from leering at me or threatening me or banging my locker as he passes by so that I squeak. I have this tendency to squeak. I know it’s not attractive, but what can you do?

Anyway, tonight’s Prom Night. I think it’s about time I proved to Brad, myself and everyone else that I’ve gotten stronger than him. I guess a decked out hotel lobby full of my fellow students and a bad hired band is a good place to do it. Plus, we’ll both be in suits, so my beating him to a pulp will at least look classy. You know, just in case someone films it and puts it online.

Flash Fiction Thursday: The House on the Hill

There was a house on the hill. It was a run-down old thing, with shingles fallen off the roof, and the door halfway off its hinges. The windows were all boarded up, except for one round window at the top of the house. In front, there was what used to be a lawn. Over the years it had turned into an almost-meadow, high weeds and the occasional wild flowers growing wildly. Then there was the fence. It was tall and made of iron, and not one bit of it was rusted. The strangest thing was, there was no gate. Nobody remembered that there’d ever been one. It was as if someone had left the house to rot and built a fence around it afterwards.

The Hensley brothers sat with their backs against one of the big oak trees that kept their own house separate from the hill behind it.

“You think anyone’s ever been in there?” asked Tommy. He was ten, and his pajamas featured a pattern of Pokemon creatures.

“What, you mean like mom or dad or the kids at school?” answered Jake. He was barely six, and his world view encompassed only those people he knew. He was unfortunate enough to have his mom still picking out his clothing, and his pajamas featured multicolored, grinning bunnies.

“No, stupid, I mean anybody. Anybody in town. One of the older kids or the cops or someone.”

“But how? There’s no way to get in!”

“Bet I can figure out a way.” He got up and yanked Jake up off the ground.

“Tommy? Tommy, we’re not going up there, are we?” Jake’s hand was held so tightly that he was stumbling after his brother trying to keep up and not fall and be dragged on the ground. Tommy marched resolutely upwards, and when Jake started getting breathless, he picked him up gingerly and brought him the rest of the way. He stopped at the tall fence and plopped Jake onto the ground.

“Stop sniveling, Jakey! Look, we could make this place into a club-house, right?”

Jake looked up hopefully, wiping his dribbling nose with the pack of one muddied hand. “Could we? Could we really? With secret meetings and stuff?”

“You bet. Now, all we have to do is this. Look, you see my hands? They’re like a step now, right? So step on, and I’ll lift you as high as I can so you catch onto the top.”

Jake scrambled onto his brother’s cupped hands and held onto the fence rails as he was raised slowly up to the top. He reached out an arm, and caught hold of the one of the raised spiky bits with one little hand. Tommy saw this, gave a whoop and let go of Jake’s feet.

A moment later, there was a crumpled Jake on the floor clutching his leg and a very white Tommy sitting next to him. His mind was very focused on two things at the same time. The first was that he had to get Jake back home quickly because that leg was definitely broken, and the second was how was he going to explain this to Mom??

It was years before either brother went up that hill again.

Boys Are Mean

Here are three things you need to know about me in order to understand why the following incident means something to me:

1. I have piercings. Eleven, to be exact. Five in my right ear, three in my left ear, one in my nose and two in my bottom lip. Why? Because it’s a personal fashion choice as far as I’m concerned. I used to be a sort of tomboy goth in high-school, wearing band t-shirts and black cargo pants all the time. Then I went a little emo in my fashion sense – tight sweatshirts with skulls on them and skinny jeans. Then I went indie, trying to find witty t-shits to go with my jeans and Vans sneakers. Now I’m sort of in between things, I guess. When I go out to a club, I try to look as goth as I can, because I go to music-clubs that have metal or dark electronic music. Day to day, though? I wear tank tops and regular jeans.

2. My weekly exercise is four extremely brisk walks a week. My speed is almost at five miles-per-hour. What do I wear when I exercise? Just a tank top and short-shorts, because it’s already very hot here. Also, and this is the weird part, I read while I walk. I physically take whatever novel I’m reading at the time, and bury my nose in it. I have good peripheral vision, and I’ve never walked into a tree or a person or a lamp-post or what-have-you. I DO know it’s weird, and even though I HATE the comments I get (“Woah, reading and walking, impressive!”  “What’s more attractive, your book or me?” “Hey, what chapter are you on?” “Look at her, she’ll kill someone like that!” – these are all quotes translated into English, and all are said with extremely mocking tones.) I’ve learned to live with them.

3. I’m seriously oversensitive.

I realize that I just wrote a lot more than three things about myself, but I’ll let them stand as it is. Three is a powerful number, after all. Now, to the matter of the title of this post.

Yesterday I took a walk in the afternoon. Towards the end of my regular route, I walk through this pathway that I love – it’s got houses tucked away behind walls on one side of it, and tall, thick trees in the other side. You can’t hear the traffic on that path, even though there’s a main road just over the wall of trees. It’s a place where lots of people run or walk, because it really is so pleasant, hearing the birds chirp away in the trees and seeing cats loll around in the sun. When I walked yesterday, though, I was alone. Or so I thought.

Towards the end of the path, three or four boys were sitting on a bench. They were probably eleven or twelve, but they all had that Israeli male attitude that lots of boys get here – it’s an attitude of over-confidence, of egos the size of the moon. It’s the sort of attitude that allows them to feel like kings of the world, and making fun of people doesn’t cause one twinge of guilt. But again, let me stress that these were kids.

As I walked by, huffing, puffing, sweating and reading, they started to laugh. As I got nearer one of them said “Yo, she’s a freak, be careful!” in a mocking, laughing tone [“freak” in Israel means anyone who has band t-shirts or piercings, basically]. I ignored them, although my face was burning with both anger and shame. When I’d walked past, one yelled that he could see my… erm, my behind. Maybe the shorts had ridden up a bit or maybe he was just making fun. Either way, I walked really quickly away from them. I read on, let the book and the motion soothe me, and got over it.

Today, I took another walk. Guess what? As I was walking up the last hilly part of my route, just five minutes from home, I saw a group of boys in the periphery of my vision. For a moment, I was thinking to myself “Oh no! Wait, it can’t be them again, these boys are quiet, they don’t sound raucous like that other group was.” Walking on blithely, I found out my mistake. As soon as I’d overtaken them, I heard “Yo! Look, she’s the same one from yesterday!” and “[Laughter] Reading again.” and “But she’s a freak, right?” and “But she doesn’t look like it!” and “Yeah, that’s what I said!” and finally, as I was ignoring them again and thinking that I must look like a right twerp, sweaty and red and reading, the last one said “[Laughter] She can’t here us again, see?”

I don’t know why this bothers me so much. For one, I feel hurt whenever anyone comments on my weird habits, but something about these boys’ pure malice as they talked about me loudly really got to me. Second, I guess I hate it that I never put any effort into what I wear anymore and prefer being comfortable to looking goth [which is still how I’d look if I had the money to go out and buy tons of new black items. But goth clothing is expensive, and wearing it every day takes effort]. Of course I know that it’s a silly thing to think and that if I’m comfortable, then I should stop looking for an “image”. Third – well, I guess I just am really oversensitive, and I let a few boys’ cruel remarks make me want to cry.

I do hope that I haven’t estranged anyone with this long, rambling post. You all know that I don’t tend to do this a lot and that I lean more towards trying to practice my creative writing here. But this incident was weighing me down, and now I feel all the lighter for having put it in words.

Mr. and Mrs. Adams [6]

While Mr. Adams was reacquainting himself with his old office, Mrs. Adams, who was the less nostalgic and whimsical of the pair, decided to skip going to her office and walk straight to Bloom Hall, the large auditorium where the first years would be gathering.

Mrs. Adams had long been a part of that faculty that spoke with the new students during orientation and made them feel welcome. Although she was sometimes gruff with her own students, believing usually that they could do better than they were, she firmly believed in keeping the kids’ confidences intact and making them feel as if they could do whatever they wanted if only they applied themselves. It was for this reason that she asked, year after year, to participate in many of the orientation seminars – the staff in the Office of Student Affairs agreed one and all that the students left Mrs. Adams talks with smiles on their faces and a sort of hope in their faces.

Mrs. Adams walked into Bloom Hall through the back entrance so she could walk onto the floor of the sunken stage when called. She greeted the other faculty who were going to speak at the event – entitled “What Valley U can do for U!” – and they all complained together about the involuntary cringe they experienced when they had read that title in the invitation to speak.

Soon enough, Mrs. Adams was sitting comfortably on a chair in the auditorium alongside her fellow professors, waiting for her turn to stand at the microphone. She let her mind wander as the Dean spoke of some of the boring technicalities that she knew backwards and forwards. Instead, she contemplated the students in front of her.

A good many of them seemed to still be half asleep – no doubt there had been numerous late night gatherings the night before, which had been the first night in the dorms. Mrs. Adams could tell that a good many of the new class wasn’t even present, and that those who were both present and alert were few. It was amazing to her just how young they looked each year. Four years changed people at that age, and she knew from experience that when she watched these kids at graduation in four years, they would look more like young men and women than like the kids barely out of puberty that they seemed today.

This made her think of what three years worth of growth had done to Claire. She hoped she hadn’t changed into too much of a woman just yet. She hoped that when she got to lunch and saw Mr. Adams, he’d be able to give her some good news – Marty having called or e-mailed, for instance.

“And now, Professor Adams of the psychology department will speak to you a bit about how you guys can avoid utter insanity during the coming months,” the Dean’s words, followed by tired titters from the students, broke into Mrs. Adams reveries and she got up with a smile and went up to the podium.

The Teacher

The Teacher heaved a deep sigh as she clasped her worn brown bag. Her hands, no longer slender and delicate, were riddled with swollen veins. Her wedding ring couldn’t come off her finger even if she’d wanted it to. Thankfully, she didn’t. Her marriage was the one thing that still made sense in her life.

The Teacher’s hair had been dyed red so many times that it had taken on a slightly metallic orange tint. She knew she looked like a joke, and she definitely knew the various nicknames she was known by throughout the student body, but white hair meant being a grandmother to her. That word hurt her too much. Grandmother. She had almost been one, and if the loss hurt her, she could only imagine how much it had hurt her daughter. Hurt enough that she had cut herself off from her parents because, in her words, it had been too difficult to see their eyes wander to her barren stomach and then fill with tears.

The Teacher picked up her case and walked slowly down through the empty halls, littered with crumpled paper and the occasional forgotten textbook. She sighed again as she walked. teaching didn’t make sense anymore, and for the last few years, this simple fact threw her whole life out of skew.

Her students weren’t different. Perhaps there were more cellphones in class, more kids copying essays off the internet, but all in all, high-school hadn’t changed all that much since she herself had been a twelfth-grader. No, it was some general something that irked her. Maybe it was the fact that so many parents didn’t seem to care what or how the teachers taught anymore. Maybe it was the fact that Bobby Jones and Nora Lessinger kept showing up to school with no text books because the funding for students like them who came from very low-income families had run dry. Maybe it was the fact that her daughter wasn’t speaking to her, and every teenager she looked at in her class seemed to somehow remind her of her personal life.

The Teacher exited the school building, and the sun flooded down from between a few grey clouds. In the parking lot, as always, was her husband in their old dark green Fiat. She could faintly hear the first Led Zeppelin album playing inside. She smiled at him, gave a little wave, and walked over. At least something still made sense in the world.

Once Again With the Kids’ Books…

I know I’ve written about this before, but I cannot help delving into the subject again. What is it about children’s books that holds such a spell over me? I know that my memories of my books when I was a pre-teen are fond ones, and I know that the books I read over and over again as a child probably are what made me become such an avid reader in later life.

The reason I’m marveling at this again is because I just finished reading a story, a pre-teen story – I’ve joined a writing workshop where you critique other writers’ stories and in turn you eventually get to send in your own work and have it critiqued as well. I’m not brave enough to send anything of my own in yet, but I’ve been reading other writers’ works and enjoying it. So, as I said, I just finished reading a chapter book for children, probably for the ages of 8-11 or so.

The short book had me completely spell-bound. I felt like a kid again, giggling at talking cats and adoring the adventure and fantasy aspects of it. I felt warm and safe in the hold of a story that I could imagine having pictures accompanying it.

Nostalgia is something that overcomes me WAY too often.