Flash Fiction Thursday: Just a Box

There’s a cardboard box lying on the floor. That’s all, just a box, taped together at the bottom and top, no bigger than a six-pack. Why am I thinking of beer? Oh, yeah, it’s because I’m holding one. Fancy that. I look at the bottle, then look through it to the box on the floor. The empty room takes on a tinge of green. I stop looking and take a long, fulfilling gulp. Oh, dear. Now the bottle’s empty. Might as well smash it as hard as I can against the wall.

It doesn’t shatter or anything. Damn. Even the damn bottle doesn’t do what I want it to do. I want it to smash, to crash, to splinter. I want it to make a noise in this too-quiet room. It’s much to quiet in here. It’s creepy, like she left a damn ghost here or something. I look hopefully around again, almost wishing I’d see her body swinging. But no, the room’s just as empty as it was when I got back from the train-station earlier today. That damn box is still on the floor.

I try to recall the past months, but I’m finding it kind of hard to concentrate. Guess the barman was right for telling me to quit it and go home. It’s not even nine, and the idiot told me he wasn’t going to serve me anymore. I told him where to put his head and went and bought a beer and started walking home. When I ran out of one, I bought another. That one, the one I threw, is the fourth. What? It was a damn long walk home. I needed the fluids, or the sustenance, or something.

Truth is, I just needed something to fill up the ache. I thought that maybe, just maybe, when I got home I’d find all her stuff back here. I’m home now, or what I used to call home, and she’s still gone. So’s her sofa, and TV, and her clothes and her dishes and everything else. I can still smell her here, though, even through the stink of beer coming from my own mouth.

And that damn box is still there on the floor. Is that all that was mine in here? Or did she leave me some stupid long letter about meeting the stud-muffin of her life and leaving with him? I don’t know. I collapse on the floor, the room suddenly spinning worse. I decide that whatever’s in there, it can’t hurt more than what I’m feeling right now. So I let myself drift away, knowing that the box and a headache will be waiting for me tomorrow.

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Sorry-Sorry-Service

The waitress was pretty, in a conventional way. Her hair was that sort of natural bright yellow that all those who dye their hair want to have. Her figure was trim but womanly, short without being stocky. Her eyes were big, brown and innocent looking. Her school-girl looks were probably the only reason people were being semi-patient with her.

She’d been running around tables all day. She had no idea why she was lucky enough to get this job at Patisserie Valerie, one of the most popular hangouts in Soho. She had no idea how she was there with her English being so imperfect. She also, unfortunately, had no idea whether or not she would be allowed to stay; so far, she was a disaster.

A group of three came into the cafe: a red haired woman, a girl in her late teens who looked like her daughter and a young man with dark, curly hair. They sat down at a table, and the waitress was shooed over to them by the woman who’d been helping her on and off all day. She bobbed over to the table and asked in her broken English what they wanted to drink. They answered, and the flurry of words was almost too much for her. She went to the kitchens to relay the order. Once she brought it, she realized that she’d forgotten two items. She hadn’t understood what they wanted, she supposed.

Asking about the food was worse. The young man, bless him, merely wanted the sandwich as it was written in the menu, but the woman and her daughter asked for all sorts of changes. Simple enough, if she could only understand what it was they wanted. She felt like her brain had turned to mush, and she only understood every third word, though she dutifully scribbled in her notepad obligingly the keywords that she could understand.

It took her three runs to the kitchens and back to make sure she had everything right. Then the kitchen botched one of the orders. She lost her head completely, and took the order out anyway, saying as she did so that she told the man what to do and he hadn’t done it right. She was about to set down the plate anyway, but the three stared at her uncomprehendingly and then asked her to please get them the order they’d asked for. They didn’t mind waiting, but they wanted to eat the food they’d ordered – not whatever the kitchen’s whims were.

The waitress felt the tears well up, but they didn’t break out. She quickly brought the things back to the kitchen. When she came back, finally with the correct order, she bobbed a sort of half curtsy and explained that “It’s my first day, so sorry, so sorry.”

***

The really strange thing was that when I returned the next day for another meal at the same place, I got the same waitress. It was, again, her first day – sorry-sorry – and again the orders weren’t done right. I don’t blame her. I’ve waitressed. It’s hard, it’s pressuring, and it requires some knowledge of the language. I do, however, blame the restaurant for not even pairing her with a more experienced waitress for a couple days. My mother tells me, however, that Patisserie Valerie has been known since she lived in London more than twenty years ago as a place with good food but notoriously bad service.

The food, at least, was indeed delicious.

The Servant

The Servant walked through the halls and knew himself to be invisible. Every effort he made to please went unnoticed and unremarked upon. Every action he took was taken for granted, never acknowledged. Every breath that he took seemed to be silent and he so rarely used his voice that he almost forgot what it sounded like. He must be invisible then, perhaps not even substantial enough to be considered a living human being.

And yet his hands felt substantial enough when he lifted the dinner things off the table. The muscles in his arms hurt when he took the heavy coal box from one room to the next in the winter. His legs ached and his feet blistered as he trudged through the snow to get the carriage or the horses or the ponies for the girls in the winter. In every physical aspect he felt real and alive – so he cherished his work and bore it, day after day, because he felt through it what it was like to be a person.

On the other hand, he very much doubted that the Master or the Mistress or the little girls often felt such aches and pains as him and they considered themselves to be extremely alive – more alive than him for certain. Perhaps, if so, the pain he bore wasn’t a sign of being a person? Perhaps it meant something else – that he was like an animal, bred only to do the work for others. Of course, unlike animals, he received a sum of money for his constant drudgery.

Every time he remember the fact that he earned wages, The Servant felt slightly better. It was then that he would think of his free day once every two weeks; it was then that he would remember what it was like to whirl a pretty girl around the dance floor at the best tavern in town; it was then that he would remember that he knew how to laugh and that he could make others laugh too. So long as he was stuck in the house with Master and Mistress and the little girls, though, he felt he was invisible, a ghost that came to life only once in two weeks but was dead as can be the rest of his days.

Monica Loved Max

Many stories begin with the words “it all began when…” Many stories are unrealistic by their nature, but that line is one of the worst ones to begin a story with. Nothing begins at a certain moment. Very rarely can we see the point in time when a transition begins, when a story starts in our lives. Looking back, we can never pinpoint the moment the tides changed in our favor or the exact time we fell in love or the precise instant when we changed.

No, most often, we realize as we look back that something has been changing or happening for quite  a while.

So it is for me. I don’t know when I realized I was in love with Max, nor do I remember when exactly I fell in love with him in the first place. I remember when we met, I remember how we got to know each other and I remember being more and more drawn to him. Then, somehow, sometime, I realized I was in love with him.

“Mon’,” he’d say. “Why are you looking at me like that?” He was so clueless. He never understood the looks I gave him, the looks with which I was trying to fathom if in his gaze was an emotion anything like mine.

It was never a subject between us – the emotions we felt for each other. right from the beginning of our friendship we acted as if nothing could or would ever happen between us. We confided all and beyond in each other, told each other the absolute raw truths about our opinions and feelings for others and we quickly knew each other better than anyone else knew us.

But I loved him. Somehow, hearing about his liaisons with other women, about his love and respect for his father and his opinions on how children should be raised – it all made me love him. He, the person he was, made me love him.

He never got to know it, though. I never worked up the nerve to break that unspoken rule of pure friendship between us, and then he decided one day to explore more of the world. The last time I heard from him he was going to take vows of silence and join a monastery so he could understand the practice of religion in such places and write an essay about it.

So while I can’t say when it all began with Max, I can definitely say that it all ended when he hugged me goodbye, kissed my forehead and smiled at me at the airport. It’s sad, though, how easy it is to pack years of equal friendship and one sided love into a few short and simple sentences. You’d think it wouldn’t be possible to fit a world of emotion into the short statement: I loved Max, and he was my best friend until one day he left. But you can.

Just A Bench

Think of a bench you know. Just a bench, a regular bench – just made of some planks of wood and a few rusty nails. Picture this bench that you see every day, on your way to work or the supermarket, and never think about twice. And now, indulge me for a moment, and really think about it. There is life in that bench.

A thousand people have sat on that bench. Hundreds have put their arms around the back of it, or perched on the edge of it, or lay down upon it. So many have stopped to tie their shoes there, or put down their grocery bags on it for a moment, or even walked along on top it for fun.

This bench, this commonplace, every day object has witnessed so much: Old men sitting on it and schmoozing for hours, watching the world go by; Old women putting down their purses on it and waiting there for the bus into town; Children have walked on it, holding their parents’ hands and squealing, feeling so high up; Those same children, years later, sitting on it and fervently passing a cigarette around late at night, feeling naughty; The homeless have made homes of it; The drunkards have made beds of it; The mad have had conversations with it; The weather has, of course, never shown it one bit of mercy.

This bench has probably encountered more people than we will speak to in a lifetime. This bench, in a way, has held more life than we will ever know upon its rickety wooden planks, carved and scratched and scarred as they are, holding the memories of hundreds upon hundreds. This bench is more alive and full of memory and experience than we will ever be able to comprehend.