Prisonville

Whoosh

A car drives by, so close to me that I feel the wind it makes buffet me as it blows past. I pull my jacket tighter around me and keep walking. The road’s deserted now that the headlights of the car are gone and its noise is fading away. I miss it a little. I’d tracked that solitary car’s progress from three streets away when it started up in its driveway. There isn’t a whole lot of town here, and you learn pretty quickly to tell where the cars are coming from. I don’t know why, but sound has always traveled particularly far in this place; maybe it’s all the clean mountain air.

Nobody moves here for any reason except the stupid air. I can’t tell you how many times I heard my parents, or my friends’ parents, gush about how clean the dratted air up here is. I’ve heard my husband’s family go on about it, and my friends and my coworkers as well. Everyone loves the air, the air, the air. The clean, mountain air.

Me? I hate this air. I find it oppressive. I feel like it’s closing in on me. Once every couple of months I get a panic attack, and Dr. Greene has to come and inject something in my arm until I calm down. My husband doesn’t get it, but maybe that’s because I’ve never explained it to him. Why should I? He’d laugh, tell me I’m crazy, ruffle my hair in that way I hate and then forget all about me again.

I pass my house again. I’ve been around the block five times already and I don’t feel any warmer than I did when I started. It’s past midnight, and I can’t sleep. As usual. My husband’s still out at the bowling alley with his buddies – well, that’s what he tells me, anyway. I think he’s elsewhere, but I haven’t ever bothered to check. I honestly don’t care about him enough. It’s not like I’ve ever had a relationship with him. We were married two years ago. I’ve known him all my life, of course, just like I know everyone else in this town. If you think your town is small, try to go house by house throughout all of it and see if you know everyone’s names. Can you do that? I can.

I read a book once – or maybe it was a movie, I’m not sure – whatever it was, I remember this place called Stepford, where all the women were exactly the same, programmed to be perfect. That’s what my town is like – everyone’s exactly the same: perfectly nice, perfectly decent, perfectly fair, perfectly dull. Both the women and the men. The only ones who are different are the kids, and they all grow out of it. I don’t know why I’m different, but I just know that I am.

I think I’m the only one in living memory who ever tried to leave this place. But I couldn’t.

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.

Leaving

Exactly a week from now, I’ll be on an airplane somewhere over the ocean, just a couple hours away from the shores of New York, my new home-state. My orientation week will begin on August 29th, move-in day, and my classes begin on September 7th. The new experiences that are looming in front of me are overwhelming but exciting and enticing nonetheless. I’ll be able to study again – bury my nose in books, strain my brain and hopefully become passionate about the new things I’ll be learning.

But as the time to go draws nearer and the free moments I have grow few and far between, I realize just how much I’m going to miss about living here. First, of course, is the simple physical aspect of my home – the apartment my mother and I live in and have lived in for thirteen years; the bookcases lining our walls and the messy lived-in atmosphere that permeates each and every room; the cats perching on the counters or sprawling on the beds, tummies up to catch the nonexistent breezes of late August.

Next, the people – my mother, my boyfriend and my friends. These are people who I care about and who care about me, people for whom I have great respect and with whom I enjoy spending my time. I know, of course, that I’ll be meeting new people and forming new friendships, but they won’t be able to replace my friends here, most of whom I’ve known for at least three years, and the rest of whom I’ve known since I was a tiny tot.

Finally, and this is the thing that shocks me most, I’m going to miss Israel. Yes, this place I bitch and complain about constantly – the rude people, the bad drivers, the unbearable heat and humidity of Tel Aviv, the pathetic winters – all this, I’m going to miss. Most of all, I’m going to miss the Hebrew language. Last night, when I couldn’t sleep and my mind was racing with the thoughts and worries that are forever nagging at me at this stressful time, I began reading a book that I’d bought at the Israeli book fair last year. It’s wonderful, absolutely amazing, and I realized that the roots of my love of writing come from writing in Hebrew. The first creative writing piece I did was in a seventh grade literature class – I wrote, basically on my own, a thirty page story for a big end of year assignment. A few years after that, I began writing poetry in Hebrew. I still have a page on a well known Israeli creative writing site with my poetry and a few short stories on it – all in Hebrew. My father, who wrote a book in Hebrew and was a gifted writer both in Hebrew and in English and who, incidentally, was very Israeli in so many little ways, was the first who told me that I had a gift for writing.

So yes. Despite everything I can say about this place, this country full of drama and upheaval and stupid religious wars, I will miss it. I’m glad that I’ll be able to come back here for my vacations.

___ Drive: An Essay

This was the essay I submitted to the University of Chicago. It’s more of a creative writing piece than an essay, though, which is why I decided to share it here.

Nestled in the gorgeous hills of the city called Los Angeles, there is a street. It is a pretty street, suburban and colorful. It is called ____ Drive.
Many of the houses on ____ Drive are rather old, though you wouldn’t guess it by looking at them. In the fifties, all the houses were new and pristine, perfect little packages of suburbia. Young couples or families just beginning their lives moved onto the street, and made it what it really became – a homey, beautiful, precious place to live.
The street starts out with a wide bend, curving off the main street that leads up the hill. There is a store there, right near the corner, ridiculously overpriced and adorable, all brown wood on the outside and the good smell of bread and snacks on the inside. For me, that’s where the street really starts, at that store.
Right on the bend into the actual street, there is a single, solitary apartment building. It’s been renovated so many times over the years that it never seems to actually house anyone at any given time. After the building, the street starts proper, with a dip down straight off, houses looking crooked on both sides. There aren’t any sidewalks on the street – for why would there be? This is LA, the city of cars – and so you always need to be careful to walk against traffic, along the side of the road.
Every house on the street is different than its neighbor. There are no two alike, not even a little – each has its own unique brick patterns on the outside, its own colorful or bare garden, its tree or its bushes or its roses, the swing next to this house and the bench in front of that one. This one has a porch, the next might have a wildflower garden, and the next might have a collection of stones in front of it. Some of the houses are memorable, and some aren’t.
Although time has been kind to most of the houses on the street and they still look classic and well-tended, some newer families have moved onto the street and they decided that the houses they bought were too small. So what did they do? Why, what any upper-class family trying to live the American dream would do. They tore down the old, endearing, family-sized house, and built large concrete monstrosities with four garages and five stories, and park their Hummers on the street, because apparently the kids need the garages.
Still, if one can ignore those places, which stick out like sore thumbs, the street is one of beauty and tranquility. On Sunday mornings the grandkids come visit and ride their little tricycles in the driveways. Their parents sit back indulgently, speaking of times when they were that little with their own parents, the inhabitants of the street. On most other mornings, you will see sixty- and seventy-year olds walking briskly up and down the street with their usually-outdated portable music players, or maybe you’ll see them driving to work in suits and ties, with hair and mustaches sleeked.  You’ll see the younger families carpooling to work with their children bouncing in the back seat, watching Spongebob Squarepants on their portable DVD players.
The afternoons on ____ Drive will be quiet, people napping, resting, doing homework, relaxing and giving themselves alone time, swimming in their pools by the light of the setting sun and its reflection on the water. Occasionally the sound of a helicopter will break the peace of the quiet afternoon, but more often than not the street will be serene, almost eerily so.

So, the days. The nights are different. The nights might be noisier, as one house or another is bound to be having a dinner-party, a birthday, a casual get-together, a wild night of drinking in the house where the parents have gone on vacation. Even when it’s quiet, the patches of yellow glow from the windows cast a pretty light up and down the street. Everyone remembers dutifully to turn on the garden lamps as well, so as to help drivers coming down the road to see well.
There are walkers at night too, of course – the people with their music players, all bundled up now because of the cool, crisp mountain air. It is always cool at night up there, even during the height of summer. Some nights it’s foggy, making the air smell deliciously damp, like being in a real cloud.
If you walk down the street very late at night, it will be quite dark. Although many people leave their garden lamps on, their light is dim, especially at that hour of the night. Coyotes and raccoons often roam the street, the raccoons even opening garbage cans to rummage inside, and deer creep into the backyards to eat the flowers or drink from the pools. The man with the hybrid wolves will be walking down the road, taking them for their walk when the fewest people are around. The wolves are part dog apparently, but they look fearsome, even though they’re muzzled, and their size, their ice-blue eyes, and the ample amount of spiky grey fur on them isn’t very reassuring, though beautiful to look at.

There are two things that make ____ Drive the most wonderful, beautiful, splendid street in the world for me. The first is what you will see if you walk down to the very end, at night. Once upon a time, when I was very small, there was no gate there. There was just a long, long driveway, leading down to the biggest, ugliest house of all that sat alone on a huge plot of land, surrounded by out of place palm-trees and odd gazebos. Now, the house is the same, but there is also a gate before the driveway, a big black gate.
Still, nothing, not even the gate, can ruin that spot. You can stand there and see the whole of Los Angeles spread out before you, all twinkling lights. The lights are arranged in grids, little squares of suburbia similar to the one you’re standing in. It’s an astounding sight, awe-inspiring, especially when the air is clear and you can truly see so far. It is just a blanket of endless fairy lights, all seeming so happy.
The second reason for this street’s splendor is the fact that it was the center of my visits to the US all through my childhood; it was where my beloved maternal grandparents’ home was. The memories of it are now bittersweet. I will probably never venture up there again, as my grandparents have both passed away and we’ve sold their gorgeous, comfy house. Still, I will always and forever remember every detail of the street and its atmosphere, both with the sweetness and innocence of my childhood days there and with the cynicism of my older state today.

Victoria’s Secret [Part II]

Victoria stood stock still in the dark of the elevator. She felt one of the people with her fumble towards the door, brushing her sleeve as he or she went. The unmistakable sound of buttons being frantically pushed followed, until the man [for, apparently, it had been the man] swore loudly again.

“What do we do?” asked the woman.

“Call someone – do either of you have your cellphone with you?” the man sounded hopeful.

“No,” said the woman, just as Victoria said “Yes,” and whipped her cellphone out of the pocket of her coat. She flipped it open, and the screen lit up, suddenly illuminated the scene. The woman was leaning against the wall opposite Victoria and looked, for all the world, bored. The man was still standing by the door and trying to press the elevator buttons. He finally found the alarm button and rang it – a tinny bell sounded, but not very loudly.

“Damn cheap alarms,” he grumbled angrily. He pressed the button a few more times, and then gave up. “If anyone heard that, I’ll eat your cellphone,” he muttered at Victoria. She saw that beads of sweat were standing out on the man’s forehead. She looked back at the screen of her cellphone and her heart sank.

“No reception here – look,” and she showed the man the little symbol on the screen showing that they were in a zero reception area.

“Damn it!” the man barked. “What the hell are we supposed to do?”

“Wait, I guess,” said the woman. Then, surprisingly, she burst into tears. Victoria shuffled over to her and awkwardly patted her arm.

“Don’t worry,” she said in what she hoped was a reassuring voice. “They’ll figure out the elevator’s stuck even if they didn’t hear the alarm and someone will get us out of here.” She continued to pat the woman’s arm in a there-there gesture and then realized she didn’t know the woman’s name, although she recognized her as someone who worked on the floor above her in a different department. “What’s your name?” she asked, in an effort to distract the woman from her distress.

“Debbie,” she sniffled. “And I’m not scared or anything, I mean I’ve been stuck in elevators before and someone always comes eventually. It’s just that it always takes so long! My son is waiting for me downstairs and we were supposed to have lunch together. And now he’ll think I’ve forgotten about him, and he’ll get mad and go back home and I won’t manage to see him a-a-again!” Debbie broke into a fresh wave of sobs.

“But you’ll explain you were stuck in an elevator and he’ll understand, won’t he?” Victoria said kindly.

“No!” Debbie wailed. “He thinks that every time I’ve had to cancel with him I’ve just been making excuses not to see him! He’s an artist, my sweet talented boy, and he doesn’t understand the pressures and last minute things in a job like mine.” Debbie leaned against the wall and let her body sink down until she was sitting awkwardly on the floor, her knees bent strangely because of the tight suit-skirt she was wearing.

Victoria closed her cell and opened it again to light the screen up once more. She sat down on the floor beside Debbie, silently blessing her fashion sense that made her wear pant-suits with wide and airy pants that were comfortable to sit in, and put the cellphone in the center of the elevator so it softly illuminated the whole space.

“Well,” she said. “It seems we’re going to be here a while. Why don’t you tell me a bit about your son, Debbie?”

Spam [Part II]

Part I

Ladonna had walked down several blocks at a very brisk pace before she stopped, shook herself both mentally and physically, and tried to pull herself together. It was weird, true. It was even extremely strange and unlikely. However, there was no reason to panic. In fact, quite the opposite: perhaps her lottery ticket would really be worth something.

Still, she was spooked. As she slowly made her way home, she shook another cigarette out of her pack and lit it. The smell and taste of smoke calmed her nerves, but only out of habit. She considered smoking as a sort of meditation. That argument had never worked on her friends who told her to quit smoking, but it sounded good anyway.

It was still early in the day, and Ladonna had the day off for her birthday. In the evening, she’d have a few friends over. They were all taking the train down to throw her a little bash. She was appreciative – she knew train tickets weren’t all that cheap and that the two hour train ride was a hassle for them. She comforted herself with the knowledge that she’d be taking the train over to them soon enough as well, and so she shouldn’t feel guilty. It was her birthday, after all. She was allowed to be indulged, at least a little.

Thinking of the evening, Ladonna’s mood improved as she walked along the streets back towards her apartment. She meant to cook up a good meal for her friends, and even bake a cake, and she wanted to get an early start on things. There would be alcohol, of course, and plenty of it. Her friends were planning on staying the whole night and get raucously drunk (though not really, because there were neighbors who wouldn’t appreciate that). Ladonna smiled to herself rather grimly as she envisioned the hangover that would follow and the too-familiar feeling of that odd and illogical peace that would settle in the house as she and her friends would drink cup after cup of coffee at her table and try to sober up. They had spent many nights and mornings together in this fashion.

Well, they’d all be nursing headaches and queasy stomachs together, at least. Oh, oops, Ladonna realized. All of us but one. Kate was pregnant, and wouldn’t be drinking. Damn, Ladonna thought, that means none of us will get as much drinking as we’d like done either because we’ll all feel she shouldn’t have to suffer us extremely drunk. She felt guilty immediately afterwards, and slammed the heel of her shoe down on her dwindling cigarette. She had reached her apartment.

As she was climbing the stairs, a man exited a door on the next landing. He had a dog with him, an obedient golden Labrador who sat quietly as he fumbled with his keys one handed. He seemed to be having difficulty getting the key into the lock. Ladonna then realized the type of leash he was holding – not a leash at all, but a harness. The dog was a seeing-eye dog, and the man must be blind. She stepped sideways on the staircase to allow him and the golden Lab to pass her, but the stairway was just too narrow and the man bumped into her just as his Lab sensed the danger of it and sat down to warn him to stop.

“Sorry, sorry!” the man hurriedly apologized. “My mind was elsewhere, didn’t hear there was anyone else here, I’m so sorry.” He gazed at her unseeing and smiled slightly, trying, she felt, to gauge her mood somehow.

“No, it’s no problem at all!” she mumbled shyly back, trying to edge around him. She hadn’t meant to distress him, and he seemed so worried.

“Say,” he began again. “Your voice is a new one. Are you new here or something?” Ladonna felt ashamed of herself again. Here was a new neighbor, a person that would be tromping up and down the stairs here just like her, and she was acting like a complete ninny, just trying to get away from him because she was nervous!

“Yeah, I am, actually.” She decided to do the thing properly, put a smile in her voice and kept on bravely. “My name’s Ladonna Trent, I just moved into the apartment right above you, sir, and I’m glad to make the acquaintance of a neighbor.” She then took his hand and firmly shook it.

He smiled widely. Ladonna noticed how sweet, open and friendly that smile was. This big man, wearing a white t-shirt, blue jeans, and black tennis shoes looked simply boyish, despite being very much over fifty years of age.

“Well then! Welcome to the building, Ladonna! My name’s Steve, Steve Solomon. This good girl here,” he gestured to the Lab, who was sitting quietly beside her master with her tongue hanging out, “she’s Anibal. Anibal Solomon, really, since you could say she’s like a daughter, helping her dad around and all.” He grinned widely again. “We’re going out to the corner store. Need any milk or anything?”

“N-no, thank you, sir.”

“Steve’s fine, Steve’s fine – we’re neighbors, after all! If you ever need a cup of sugar or something, just knock on my door. Anibal here will get me if I’ve got my headphones on. She’s good about noticing the door. Come on, girl!” With his command, the Lab started to walk slowly and carefully, her harness gripped firmly by Steve, and led him down the stairs and out into the street.

Ladonna stared after them until they had left the dimly lit interior of the building. When they were out of sight, she ran the rest of the way up until she reached her apartment. It took her three tries to get the key in the lock, and she felt a pang of sympathy for Steve, needing to fumble like this all the time. Finally she managed it, and wrenched the door open. Without bothering to take the keys out of the lock or close the door, she rushed to her computer.

The screen was writhing with strange snake-like pipes that were moving and growing and then collapsing on themselves. Impatiently, Ladonna jerked the mouse aside, stopping the screensaver from it’s endless patterns of pointless animation. She stared at the spam folder in her email. There were still five emails there, from five different supposed senders.

Ladonna Trent was her name, of course.

Ronda B. Clements had been her waitress.

Ricky Charles had been the sole survivor of a freak tractor accident that she had happened to catch in a convenience store on the shortest, silliest news report of the day.

And now, Anibal Solomon had just happened to be her downstairs neighbor’s seeing-eye golden Labrador.

This was turning out to be the strangest birthday Ladonna Trent had ever had, and that included the one where her older brothers had tried, and succeeded for a few hours, to convince her that aliens were attacking the earth because she had turned eight.

Spam [Part I]

Ladonna Trent sat staring at her computer screen, which was displaying the spam folder of her email account. There were five emails there. Four were advertising something called Rx Meds [At Your Fingertips Today!] and the other one was advertising fake watches. The emails were from a variety of names: Anibal Solomon, Rubin J. Keith, Ronda B. Clements and Ricky Charles.

The rather odd thing was that the last sender of one of the emails advertising Rx Meds seemed to be from herself. The name Ladonna Trent was neatly listed next to the subject of the email. Ladonna stared at the email a while longer, wondering what the odds of THAT happening were. She decided the odds were some big number to one. How odd that it should also happen today, of all days, her birthday.

Ladonna abruptly abandoned her computer, grabbed her coat, keys and cigarettes and dashed out the door, only remembering when she got to the end of the hallway that she should probably lock the door, especially as she actually remembered her keys this time. The door made a satisfying click when she locked it and Ladonna wondered how just a small, round, metal bar could lock a door so thoroughly. As she walked down the stairs of the building, for the elevator was broken yet again, she continued to marvel at the incident of the spam email. Why would a woman with her exact name be sending out advertisements? Actually, the advertisements probably weren’t sent by actual people, but just by some company’s computer, and the names were probably just generated randomly. Still, it was strange to see your own name advertising something like illegal medications.

As she stepped into the late morning sunlight outside her building, Ladonna wondered what she should do now that she was out. It was her birthday, after all, and she wanted to have a nice day in this city of strangers. She had just moved to the city a week before. She worked for a large company who did big and important things, though Ladonna didn’t quite care what those things were. She only cared about what she was supposed to care about – whatever her boss needed. She was one of the CEO’s secretary, which meant that she made him coffee, took his phone calls and made appointments. She never really cared what those phone calls or appointments were about. The Boss had moved here to run one of the local offices, and as she had nothing much tying her down in her old city, she came along.

The Boss had met his mistress at a café near her house, Ladonna knew, for she had made the appointment with the mistress herself, so she decided to head there for a cup of coffee and a smoke. The café was a pleasant place with little white tables out on the sidewalk for those lowlifes of the American society who still needed to puff smoke into their lungs. Ladonna didn’t really mind being one of them. She sat down at one of the tables and waited to be noticed by one of the laughing waitresses inside. Eventually one of those fresh faced young women came out, still smiling from whatever joke had been shared by her and her friends.

“Hi, would you like a menu or do you just want coffee?” She asked, her smile changing to a long practiced polite little uplifting of the corners of her lips.

“Just a coffee, thanks. And an ashtray, if you could be so kind,” replied Ladonna, imitating without realizing it the empty little smile. The waitress came back within minutes with the frothy cappuccino and a small ashtray. Ladonna thanked her with the fake smile again, and sighed with delight as she took a sip of the coffee. It was good, better than the ones she made herself at home. She took her cigarettes out of her coat pocket, shook one out of the soft pack, and lit it with the lighter that inhabited her jeans pocket perpetually. She took drags in between sips of coffee and enjoyed a moment of quiet in a public place, something she had not enjoyed for a long time. It was nice to go to a café on your own – she had always thought this, but she hadn’t gotten around to doing it in a long time. She watched the traffic flow by lazily, with the occasional halfhearted honk, for who could be rushing on a lovely sunlit morning like this? A homeless man across the street pushed his cart in a seemingly chipper way, though he was probably just rushing to the nearest soup kitchen before it closed. A woman with three blubbering children walked by, trying to wipe the nose of one, pull the other from the curb and stop the third from spitting out his food at the same time. Ladonna smiled indulgently on it all, knowing that it looked lovely to her only because she was in a good mood and thinking how nice it would be if good moods really affected the world in some way.

Her coffee and cigarette finished, she waved the waitress over, and asked for the bill. As the waitress was bringing over the bill, Ladonna noticed her name tag. It said RONDA on it. The name tickled her memory so much that when the waitress came back to take the money and her tip, Ladonna decided to ask her what her name was.

“Ronda,” She smiled and pointed at the name-tag.

“Yes, yes, but I meant what’s your full name?” Ladonna caught the look of confusion on Ronda’s face and added quickly “It’s just that you seem familiar and I was wondering if you were related to someone I know.”

“Oh, then my full name is Ronda Bantam-Clements. I got both my mom’s and my dad’s last name. Could you be related to one of them? I know my mom’s got a bunch of family she doesn’t speak to.” Ronda nattered on about her family history for a while before Ladonna cut her off, saying that she must have been mistaken and she didn’t know her after all.

Ronda Bantam Clements. Ronda B. Clements. How odd. Another of the spam emails that morning had that name listed as the sender. What a strange day this is, Ladonna thought to herself.

The discovery of Ronda B. Clements made up Ladonna’s mind. She would go and buy a lottery ticket. Who knows, she thought to herself, perhaps a coincidental day is all that’s needed to get lucky. Ladonna found a convenience store, and asked the large man behind the counter for a lottery ticket for tonight’s drawing. He looked at her strangely, as if it was a very odd request, before tearing off a ticket with numbers to be filled in and handed her a pen.

“Here, love.” The man said, revealing his strong English accent and his penchant for calling total strangers by pet names. Ladonna filled out the lottery ticket, thanked the man and was about to leave when she heard the tune of the beginning of the noon newscast come on the television across the counter. She hadn’t even opened her newspaper that morning, so she paused and looked at the off-color screen to listen to the five minute news edition.

“It’s twelve o’clock, and I’m John Irving with the news. Three people died and a fourth was severely injured last night in an accident involving a tractor. The details of the incident haven’t yet been released, but Ricky Charles, the sole survivor, exclusively told our reporters that the incident revolved around a drug induced cult act. More details will be released later.

In other news, ‘Cereals are in danger’ says specialist…”

Ladonna didn’t want to hear any more. She walked briskly away from the shop, shaking her head and trying to understand what was happening to make today so strange. Ricky Charles, the sole survivor of whatever freak accident happened with that tractor, was another of the names on Ladonna’s spam emails that morning, and Ladonna was getting uncomfortably aware that something strange was going on today. Something she could not explain, something she did not even know how to describe. After all, it might just be a very odd coincidence. But what are the odds of finding your own name on a spam email, finding another spam-sender serving you coffee and discovering a third as a name on the news? Something about today is definitely off, Ladonna decided.