Chaos [Flash Fiction]

The store was frantic. There were three strollers filled with screaming babies, four toddlers running underfoot and knocking into peoples’ shins, and even a dog barking, although the store allowed no pets. Then there were the adults, all of whom were shouting to be heard, bickering over items, and breaking into loud arguments over prices with the cashiers. The noise level was incredible.

Hans and Lila sat on the broken ceiling fan and watched the unfolding scene with relish. They were each about a foot tall and chubby, with rosy cheeks and bright green eyes that winked maliciously out of their cherubic faces. They also happened to be chaos demons.

“I love Black Friday,” said Lila. She took out a toffee from her pocket and set about unfolding the wrapping. When a corner was revealed, she took a bite out of it and offered it to her companion.

“No. I hate that garbage.”

“How can you hate toffee?”

“How can you like it?”

“I can’t believe they partnered me with someone who doesn’t like toffee.”

“Well, darling, I can’t believe they partnered me with someone who dresses like a human.” Hans gave Lila a withering glare and let himself drop from the fan onto the head of a slim, perfectly coiffed woman who had managed, so far, to acquire about fifteen items. She shrieked and grabbed at her hair, trying to figure out what was on her head, but Hans was already moving too quickly for the human eye to see, jumping from shoulder to shopping cart and back to head, making people drop their things, yell out and begin accusing each other of assault.

Lila watched sullenly from her perch on the fan that she’d broken earlier that morning. She’d thought it was a clever idea, but Hans was much more dedicated than she was, not content unless he was actively sowing discord and confusion. Lila preferred to sit on the sidelines and watch, preferably with a piece of candy to enjoy the spectacle with. Her boss had been perfectly pleased with her work so far, and she resented the new regulations that paired them up. The pamphlet she’d received had said that it was for the demons’ own safety. Apparently there were some humans who were beginning to see them and who were content to smack down a stray demon whenever they saw one. As if they were flies. The indignity of it all still made her jaw clench.

Hans landed back on the fan blade, roaring with laughter. He’d caused two mothers to begin brawling while their babies cried bitterly, untended. Lila sulkily acknowledged that he had a knack for his work. She was about to apologize for her mood and ask him to teach her some of his tricks when-

“Uh oh,” said Hans.

“What?”

“Look. There. No- there. At the door. The kid with the hair over one eye and the tight jeans. He’s looking right at us.”

“He sees us?!” Lila had never encountered one of these and she stared at the boy in fascination. Hans took her hand roughly and began to tug her in the direction of the air duct through which they’d gotten in.

“Time to go,” he said. Lila wondered if she’d ever get another chance. She looked at Hans, his muscles tense with fear, and decided he wouldn’t come after her. Pulling her hand out of his she leaped down into the crowd and began to run towards the boy, the first human who’d ever seen her.

Liar, Liar, Pants on… Ooo, Shiny!

I’m working at the Hebrew Book Fair, as I told you guys a few days ago, but I’ve been tossed around a couple of times since then, from one sales area to another. I was moved from outside the mall to inside the store, and then from there I was stolen by a very nice woman with dark hair to work with her in the little area right outside the store that’s separate from it but still owned by the same company. Confused? Yeah, so was I. Anyway, none of this is really relevant.

I’m now acting as a boss/manager even though I’m still paid minimum wage. I get to be in charge of the register at the end of the day, as well as the two seventeen-year old high school kids who are working with me.

That’s not the point either. The point is that Book Week, as lovely a concept as it is, is about sales. Pure and simple. It’s about making money. Whenever a certain book isn’t selling, I need to start recommending it to customers after having just read the back cover or inside flap. I need, in short, to lie about having read and liked books. I’m not above an occasional white lie, but in this case… well, it bothers me. As a reader, I want sales-clerks’ honest opinions about books, and I don’t want to cause anyone to buy a book they might not enjoy.

But bookstores are businesses, and the cash register needs to show a certain amount of profit every day. Still, while I’ve recommended books that I haven’t read, I’ve only told people that I’d heard good things about the book. I also never tried to foist a book on someone who didn’t want it after I showed it to them. And, most importantly, I still recommend the books I know and love most of all.

How do you feel about lying, or at least bending the truth and exaggerating, in order to make sales? Have you done it before? Do you feel guilty or do you see it as all part of the job?

As If (More Jessica)

So Jill finally gets to the store – late again! I swear, she spends more time on her hair than I do, and that’s saying something, you know? I mean, fine, sure, she’s got curly hair so she needs to straighten it every day and that takes time and stuff, but still – it’s not like Mr. Jacobs remembers to pay me overtime. Anyway, she’s finally here and I’m pretty angry by now since it’s almost five-thirty and my shift was supposed to end at five.

“Um, double-you-tee-eff, Jill?” I ask as she comes in.

“Sorry, sorry babes! Oh my gosh, is it really that late? Oh, I’m so sorry,” she’s such a gusher, it’s so annoying! “But Jessi-babes,” and I hate that she calls me Jessi. “You’ve got to listen, the most amzinglicious thing happened. I was walking out of my car, right? And this guy was, like, leaning against this yummilicious Ferrari and he was texting on his phone or something, and he looked so bored and then I tripped, right? I mean, these heals are new, and it was so embarrassing.” Does she realize that I’m still here? I should be halfway home now! “But he was really sweet and helped me up and asked if I tore my jeans or anything, and I said no, but that it was so nice of him to ask and not laugh and we got to talking – and have I mentioned how hot he was? Anyway, so we talked and I gave him my number!” She looks so excited, it’s really so sad that I have to say what I have to say. But I do.

“Yeah, Jill?” I say, and I take my purse from under the counter. “That’s Robbie, he’s my roommate, he’s been waiting to pick me up from my shift.” I can’t help gritting my teeth a little, I mean, come on, she hit on my roommate and that’s a good excuse for making me stay an extra half hour? As if!

Jill giggles. I hate her giggle. I mean, I like her, don’t get my wrong, and when we have shifts together – only on weekends when there’s a rush of customers at the mall – then I kinda like hanging out with her. She can be funny and stuff, but I hate. Her. Giggle. “Oh-em-gee, Jessi-babes! You’ve got a hottie like that for a roommate? Jealous much. So can you make sure he calls me?”

As if. I am so not making Robbie call her. “Sweetie, he’s gay,” I tell her. Ha! I love seeing women’s faces doing that crumply thing they do when I tell them about Robbie. They get all disappointed and then, the inevitable comes along…

“But he doesn’t look gay!” she says. See, now I just kind of hate her a little bit. I mean, come on, not everyone fits a stereotype, you know? I mean, Robbie sure doesn’t. Anyway, I don’t know, my mom said the same thing when she met him when I told her we were moving in together after college. She totally didn’t believe me at first, she was so sure that we were going to get married and stuff. It wasn’t until I told her flat out that I could produce video proof that she backed down. I was bluffing, obviously – I mean, as if, Robbie hasn’t had a date in months! Sweet guy, but he only knows how to hit on girls. It’s kind of funny, really, he’s just this big flirt, but he clams up around guys he likes.

“Well, I’m getting out of here, okay? Mr. Jacobs is in a mucho bad mood so watch out. He caught this rich lady stealing and now she’s saying she’s going to sue and stuff. So, like, be careful.” I air-kiss Jill and I leave the store.

Oh! Text. Let’s see… Oh, it’s Robbie, of course: “Jess, Jess, Where art thou, my dove?” He’s so funny! He was an English major (duh) and he is so funny about his texts, he always writes really long ones and uses capital letters and stuff. I text back “c ya in a min” and I start to go down the escalator.

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.

4. Marty and Claire [2]

Claire dug out some clothing from the big suitcase that sat beside the mattress on her floor. She hurriedly threw on her usual baggy jeans, a big “I Love NY” t-shirt that used to belong to her mom, and shoved her feet into her tattered Converse high-tops. Back in the kitchen, Marty had found a paper and pen in his breifcase and handed her a list with some essential groceries before giving her a few twenty-dollar bills.

“If it’s too much or too heavy, call me and I’ll come help out with the carrying home, okay? Got your cell? Your new keys? Okay, Honey, see you soon.”

“Bye, Dad,” Claire skipped out the door and locked it behind her with a resounding ‘click’ as the bolts fell into place. Marty sighed just a little. This is why you moved, he reminded himself, to feel that she was safe.

Also, so she could be close to her grandparents. Marty hadn’t told Mr. and Mrs. Adams yet about the move. It had been rather hasty, and he wanted to surprise them. He wasn’t sure yet about how Claire felt about being reunited with them – after all, the last time she’d seen them, she was ten. Now she was just fourteen, which seemed to Marty to be miles away from the sweet and innocent little girl she’d been. As he began to dig in another box for cutlery to arrange in a drawer, Marty thought of the last couple years and the gaping hole that was Susan’s absence in their lives. Claire had gotten her period, had bought her first bra, had started eying boys – all without a mother to help her through it. Marty did the best he could, trying to be the hip dad, the cool dad that girls could talk to. He felt he’d succeeded, more or less, since Claire and he were on good terms and she wasn’t embarrassed around him about the changes her body was going through. But still, he always felt inadequate. Susan would have done things better, he felt.

As Marty indulged himself in nostalgia and meloncholy, Claire took in the bright and beautiful sunshine that made Victoria Road, their new street, seem to glimmer. The neighborhood sure was lovely, she couldn’t deny that. There were trees planted in the sidewalk every few yards and the apartment buildings all had expanses of lawn or flowerbeds in front of them. A warm breeze warmed her face, and she noticed the pleasant sound of the leaves rusteling.

It’s so quiet, she thought. Certainly different from Manhattan. As Claire walked down Victoria Road, only two cars drove by. It seemed unthinkable to have so little traffic after the constant rush-hour that permeated the streets of New York. She liked it very much, she decided. As she turned from Victoria Road to Brushfield Street, she saw her target, Bill’s, the little grocery store that she and her dad had marked last night while driving the U-Haul. She took the list out of her pocket and entered the store.

Security, and Lack Thereof

As some of you may know, I’m flying to the United States in a week. I’m extremely eager for this trip, which, of course, makes the time move all the slower. I’ve been obsessing, planning and re-planning, mentally packing and making lists for days now – and with all that came the comparisons between here and NOT here. In musing about the differences between a country fraught with chaos, namely Israel, and a country fraught with a different sort of chaos, namely the US, I stumbled upon a very small but fundamental difference between the places. It’s something I almost never remember until I’m actually in the US.

When most of you walk into a grocery store, a theater, a mall, a cafe or any other public place – you just walk in. You open the door, and walk in. Here, it is not so. Here, there will be a guard. There is always a guard. There will forever be a guard. No matter what public place you enter here, you will have to surrender your bag, purse or back-pack to a guard’s cursory glance, their hands feeling inside it or weighing it to see how heavy it is. In places like the Jerusalem Central Bus Station, you’ll have to go so far as to pass your things through a metal detector. At the entrance to most malls, you yourself have to go through a metal-detector.

After being used to handing over your belongings everywhere you go, I’m always struck by how odd it feels in the US, or anywhere else for that matter, where you don’t have to do that. You can just… walk in. Incredible.

My LA Haven

This is the way it’s always been:

Once I enter the large wood-framed glass doors, whether they’re in the mall or next to Ralph’s, my world shifts subtly, becoming a place of beauty and opportunity and most of all, calm. My cares drift away, and I let myself go, knowing I’m in a safe place. I wander the carpeted walkways, the halls, sometimes going up and down escalators. I gaze appreciatively at this corner or that, checking also if any of the chairs in the nooks are taken and if I might have a chance of collapsing into one later.

As a child, my steps, guided by a parent’s or relative’s hand, led me to the section with the big “JR.s” sign above it. All the shelves were at reachable child level, there were dolls and games in a corner and there was the same hand that had led me before, pointing out titles and pictures, helping me pick and choose.

Later, as I grew older, I would venture into that section alone, looking for the taller shelves. I would find my heart’s desires there – whether they were embodied by girls who rode horses and lived in the country or by boys and their dogs or detectives or super heroes. When my hands were too full to carry any more, I would plop myself down on the floor and lean against the shelves or recline in one of the comfy chairs by the windows and wait until my mother and brother were ready to go and pay.

Today, I feel the echoes of these times with me whenever I stride confidently through the vast halls and floors of Barnes&Noble. I focus my energies on the Fantasy-and-Sci-Fi section and the Young-Adult section – for it often holds fantasy novels as well and some adorable easy reading material besides. Whenever I am in the US, most specifically my beloved LA, I beg to be left alone in the shop for a couple hours so I can make my purchases and buy myself a strong coffee and read, cracking the spines of the new books with joy.