Vonna

It was opening night, and Vonna sat in the back room with the gallery owner and breathed into a paper bag.

“It’s going to be alright, honey, just breathe for me,” the kindly old man tried to soothe her.

“But-what-if-they-hate-everything-?” Vonna gasped through breaths. Her voice came out slightly muffled by the bag, but the panic in it was still clear.

“Darling, they’ll love you,” William, the gallery owner, said. His gray hair was still thick and shiny, despite his advancing age. He was past eighty, but Vonna would never have guessed it. He had the dulcet tones of a gentleman, having shed his New York accent over the years since he’d left the Big Apple.

Vonna finally put the paper bag down and looked into his eyes. He looked right back, faith shining there. “What was it you said to me the day I brought you my paintings?” she asked.

“I told you the truth. I would never let any artist show and sell their art in this gallery if I didn’t think I’d make a profit out of it. I know art and I know people. They will love you, my dear, and they’ll buy up every piece you’ve got. Maybe not tonight, maybe not tomorrow, but within a month, your pieces will be hanging on strangers’ walls. Do you remember what you said to me then?” he chuckled.

Vonna offered an embarrassed smile. “I said that I wasn’t sure if I wanted my pieces hanging on strangers’ walls. And then you said that if I didn’t, well, I’d be just like all those singers who get their mom and friends to buy up all their CDs, and that I’d be pathetic. I didn’t like you much that day.”

William began to laugh. “Dear, dear, I can’t imagine that you would have! But you know better now. You know that I simply want the best for you, and that I believe in your work, otherwise I wouldn’t let you sell it.”

“True. You’re a greedy old goat, just like Sanjay told me you’d be.”

“You’d better tell the same thing to anyone you refer me to – I have a reputation to hold up, darling. Now let me go check that everything is ready. You sit here – sit!” he pushed Vonna back into the chair she was about to rise up from. “I’ll call you a few minutes after we open the doors and then you’ll circulate like the social-butterfly that you can be.” He left the room, winking before he shut the door.

Vonna got up the moment he was gone. She began pacing up and down the little office, three steps in each direction before turning and going the other way. Within moments she was dizzy and sat down again. She had forty-two paintings hanging on the walls out in the beautiful space of Marigold Gallery, one of the better known small galleries that seemed to be the life and soul of the art scene in the city. Gallery openings, she knew, were social events for anyone who wanted to scope out competition, invest wisely, or else mingle with the artisy and the rich. She’d been to enough openings as a guest to know the drill. The doors would open, the crowd would come in looking disdainful, excited or haughtily curious. Half would rush to the table where the champagne glasses were set, and the other half would begin to walk around lazily.

She pictured herself at the last gallery opening she’d been to. It had been at Wings of Freedom Gallery, a bigger place that had openings for multiple artists at a time. She’d walked in at the tail end of the crowd and had begun to walk around, feeling that curious leap in her stomach when she saw something she loved, and that strange plummet that made her look away from something that bothered her, revolted her or bored her.

But tonight it was her turn and – heaven forbid! – people would be looking at her own pieces like that! Forty-two paintings she’d done in four years. Soon, all would be gone. Except for those three that weren’t for sale (“It makes people more interested to see that the artist is keeping his or her own personal masterpieces for themselves,” William had patiently explained.)

Vonna felt like hyperventilating again. Maybe if she fainted, she needn’t go out there at all. But no, there was William, coming back in.

“They’re all in there, dear. Are you ready to mingle? A couple people have already asked where you are. They already have things to say to you, you see? Nothing to worry about. Come,” he held out his hand, wrinkled and soft. Vonna took a deep breath, took his hand, tossed her own graying red hair back, put on her social-smile, and stepped into the gallery.

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.

An Excerpt

I have a few different stories that I’m working on. I always seem to have a few stories that I’m working on, and I never seem to continue writing enough of them. This, however, is part of a story I began thinking of a few months ago. I have a general plot laid out and a beginning scene. This, though, is a scene that I thought of in the middle of the night a few weeks ago. It came vividly into my mind and I fell asleep thinking about it. When I woke up in the morning, I wrote it down.

____________________________________________

The first time my mother lied to me, I was sitting at the window-seat in our large sitting room. My governess had caught a bad cold, and she was confined to bed. I didn’t know this at the time, but her confinement was probably more to do with the risk of her infecting me than with any goodwill towards her. Nevertheless, I’m sure she was grateful for the rest, for I was quite a difficult child at the age of five.
I was sitting in the window seat that day while my mother sat by the fireside. She was doing some fine needlework, embroidering a kerchief of my father’s with her own special design; a rose, its petals not yet fully open. She’d given me a cotton kerchief of my own, and a needle and thread as well, and bade me sit by the window quietly and try to embroider something. I had stuck the needle in the cloth a few times, but seeing that I didn’t get any pretty designs, I had given up and started watching the dismal outdoors. It was raining heavily, and every few moments lightning would flash. I would count, then, along with my heartbeats, and see how long it took the thunder to clap loudly after the lightning. My count grew shorter and shorter as I stared, transfixed, at the raging torrent outside.
I knew I was safe on this side of the glass window. I wondered if anyone could be outside in a downpour like that and live.
“Mama,” I said once the count between the lightning and the thunder was only one heartbeat. “Is anyone outside now?”
“No, Miyara, no one is outside,” she said serenely.
“But Mama, what if Pirima wasn’t sick? We would’ve gone out to play in the garden. It was sunny this morning. We would’ve. We would’ve been out there now.”
“No, darling, I’m sure Pirima would have seen the clouds and wouldn’t have taken you outdoors. No one is out there in the rain. Who would be silly enough to wander outside in weather like this?” She didn’t even look up from her sewing as she spoke. Anger flared in my five-year old self. She didn’t understand! I could easily have been out there with my governess in that frightful rain! It would have hurt us!
“But what if I was outside?” I demanded fiercely. I stood up, letting the cloth, needle and thread fall off me and roll to the ground. My hands were balled up in fists, and I could feel my lip beginning to pout in that way that signaled I was going to start crying. My mother gave me a stern look and finally rose. She placed her sewing things on the dainty table beside her chair, and came to me.
“Firstly, Miyara, get off that window-seat this instant. You are a lady, not some bar-maid to go standing on chairs and making a fuss,” her voice was mild, but then, my mother was always at her most mild when she was angry with me. Later in life, I understood it like this – it was as if I were a simpleton and she thought that if she only spoke clearly enough and rationally enough, I would go along with what she said and stop angering her. Mostly it worked. “Second,” she continued once she’d sat me down and settled herself beside me. “You will never need to be outside in a time like this. You are, as I said, a lady. You will always be able to be safe inside, by the fireplace, as is proper. If you’re on a journey, you will be settled comfortably in an inn. I promise you, you will never need to find yourself out in the rain. There,” she patted my hand with satisfaction. “Does that make you feel better?”
It did. It did, then. But that was the first lie my mother told me, for ten years after or so, I found myself outside. In the rain. All alone.

Molly, Gas-Station Attendant

Molly blinked, sleepy eyes feeling slow and sticky, and tried to stifle a yawn. Failing utterly, she tried to hide the yawn behind her hand. It had been a long night, and Molly’s shift wasn’t quite over yet.

She silently cursed Thom, her boss, with the most colorful language she knew. He had convinced her to work the night shift a month back or so, promising that she would find the slight pay-raise well worth it. Oh, what a gullible fool I am, she thought.

A car pulled up to the self service lane. Molly sighed. Almost no one used the full service gas lane anymore. It made the night shift even worse – it was bad enough to be bored during the day with only a few cars to deal with every hour. During the day, at least, there were other workers around. The night shift was manned by one worker only.

Molly looked at her watch. 4AM. Two more hours to go. She cast a shift look around, and seeing that no one was there – the car had driven away from the other lane already – she plopped herself down on the curb and produced a book from her uniform’s back pocket. It was a cheap paperback romance novel, the kind that cost $4 if you bought it new.

Molly had been purchasing another of these books every day for the past month for 99 cents at the used book stall near her dad’s apartment. These books were what saved her from falling asleep on her feet, much like a horse, during the long, boring night shifts.

She opened the book at the page she’d folded down earlier and scowled. She’d finished about three-quarters of the book already. Damn, she though, I’ll finish it in less than an hour and then what will I do for the rest of my shift? Well, she resigned herself, I’ll figure that out in an hour, I guess.

An hour later, after quite a few jumps to her feet so she could look busy to the drivers pulling up, Molly closed the book with a guilty, girlie sigh. Rudolph had won Cathy over and Cathy understood just how wrong Patrick had been for her. All was right with the mushy, romantic world of Cathy Learns to Love.

Molly loved these novels. She loved the simplicity of the stories and the good feeling they left her with when she finished reading them. As a literature major at her local community college, she also felt a bit ashamed for loving the cheap romances, but not enough to give up her nightly saviors.

Molly still had fifty-eight minutes before she could walk the mile to her father’s apartment and sleep for a few hours before running to her classes. She sat with arms propped on her knees and chin leaning on her hands and let her thoughts wander.

Hopefully she’d be able to convince her boss to give her at least a couple day shifts a week. He was nice, in a gruff sort of way, and would probably agree if she begged him or pestered him enough.

Classes were still as interesting as they’d been in her first year – Molly was happy about that. She only had this ear and a summer term left and then she would officially complete her BA and then, hopefully, she’d get into publishing and do something with it.

Simon, her dad’s dog, was sick. The poor old mutt was 13 years old, and Molly knew he wouldn’t last much longer. It broke her heart to think that when she moved away after finishing her degree her dad wouldn’t een have Simon to keep him company.

Maybe I’ll get Dad a puppy as a gift before I move away, she mused. I think that’s a good idea.

Molly looked at her watch again. 5:04AM. Damn, she cursed, in the books people always get lost in thoughts for hours. With me? Two minutes.

She got up, stretched, and stuck her book back in her back pocket. The pocket was a perfect size for a small paperback book, and it made the whole uniform worth its baggy ugliness.

Looking around, Molly decided that she could risk going over to the Quick-Stop across the street for a couple minutes – there hadn’t been a car in the station for ten minutes straight.

Molly looked up and down the empty road and seeing no cars, crossed it rather slower than necessary. She laughed at herself inwardly. Crossing the street slowly wouldn’t really pass the time.

She pushed the door of the Quick-Stop open, and was greeted by a warm gust of air. It’s not fair that they have heating here, she fumed silently. Still, the warm air was soothing to her chilled face and hands. She was tempted to stay there until her shift ended, but knew it was no good. A car would probably come just when she wasn’t looking, and then she ran the risk of getting in trouble with Thom if he found out she hadn’t been there when needed.

Molly looked at the rows of snacks and chocolate bars on her right. She selected a box of cookies to take home to her father, who had a sweet tooth, and a small bag of potato-chips she could munch on back at the gas station.

She took her snacks to the cashier that sat at the back of the store. As she put the things down on the counter, the cashier looked up, and Molly couldn’t help but blink. My, my, she thought, here’s a real sweet!

The cashier was in his mid-twenties, with a shock of black curls that managed to fall to his shoulders without looking messy. His eyes, a deep chocolate brown, reminded her of a cat’s for some reason. He was clean-shaven, with slightly rounded cheeks and lips that were just a bit on the full side.

Molly had one wild moment in which she envisioned herself the heroine of one of her romance novels. The scene was set: her working at the gas station every night and stopping in at the Quick-Stop every hour to flirt with this young man who would, of course, ardently return her passions and pine for her until one night he’d reveal that he was actually an heir to a fortune and would whisk her away to Paris on a private jet, where they’d spend the rest of their days living in modesty and donation their fortune to the poor.

“That’ll be six bucks,” a nasal voice, slightly too high to be appealing, emerged from the man’s lips. Molly’s dream burst as she handed over the cash and headed out the door of the Quick-Stop.

She smiled with amusement as she crossed the road back to the station. A car was just pulling up to the full-service lane when she got there. As she filled the tank, she couldn’t help but giggle a little, earning an odd stare from the driver. Molly, Gas-Station Attendant, Learns to Love indeed, she thought to herself. As if.