Trade In

When I walked into the bar with you, it was a normal night. We’d made ourselves pasta with peppers and onions and a brownish sauce that you invented and eaten it in front of the TV with the latest episode of that crime show you like so much. The funny one. We took showers, separately, and I cleaned your hair out of the drain and didn’t say anything to you about it. I wasn’t being passive aggressive, I was just loving you. It was one of the ways I loved you, without you knowing about it. When Nick called us and asked us to come to the bar he liked picking up women at, we looked at our watches and said sure, why not, it wasn’t even nine and we hadn’t gone out all week.
When we walked into the bar, Nick was already in full swing, a brunette with a great shirt – it was open in the back, and her spine was the kind that sinks in rather than puckers out, which I’ve always found attractive. I pulled on your arm, and asked if we should sit elsewhere. You looked down at me, and I loved you for being tall, and you laughed and said no, we can join.
Nick introduced us to the woman, Gen, with a G, like Gen-X or Y. She said this first thing, and you and I squeezed hands, each of us knowing that the other was thinking about the conversation we’d had sometime recently about how hilarious we thought it was when people insisted, upon first meeting anyone, on explaining how unique their name was because it was spelled differently.
Gen and Nick already seemed like old friends. For all I know they were. I haven’t seen either of them since that night, so I never got a chance to ask. She kept looking at you though, and then at Nick, and then at you. Whenever I tried to ask her anything, she gave me monosyllabic answers.
We drank a lot. Two beers each, and then we got to doing shots because Gen kept ordering them from the waitress. After three rounds, I noticed that only three shots were appearing. None for me, apparently. I didn’t say anything because I wanted to be sober enough to take you home.
The music got louder as the night approached eleven. I was bored. I could barely hear what anyone was saying, and the lights were getting dimmer. I was sleepy. I heard Nick yell, enunciating as if to someone who didn’t hear him the first time, that you and I were “cool.” I didn’t know what he meant, until I did. Gen started being nicer to me, touching my hand across the table and meeting my eyes and then flicking her own towards you. She started buying me shots again too.
Around midnight, I finally dragged you out, Nick and Gen trailing us, and we all got into the same cab. Nick gave the driver his address first, which pissed me off, but when you got off there too, and I sat in the cab, one foot out on the street, and one in, I began to know something was off. Your hand was on Gen’s hip. Had that been happening in the cab? I was in the back with you and her, Nick was in the front. You held your hand out to me and gave me that smile, the one you give me when I come out of the shower wrapped in a towel, and I shook my head.
You beckoned, with your head, with your whole body, and I said no. Gen put her hand in your pocket. I put my foot back in the cab. Nick was waiting by his front door, holding it open for you and her. He was smoking and spitting like he always does. I shut the door of the cab and asked the driver to take me home.
I didn’t have any money. He was angry and yelled at me. I gave him my number and full name and told him to call me tomorrow and I’d give him my credit card info.
When I got inside, nothing looked like you anymore. The hair in the wastebasket in the bathroom made me gag, or maybe it was the alcohol, and when I leaned over the toilet and threw up, again and again until there was nothing left in my stomach but acid and bile, I felt only a shadow of you behind me, an absence, where you should have been, waiting with a glass of water and a toothbrush, telling me sip, brush, come to bed.

It Was Warm and Cold and Round and Square

I found a mystery on the beach today, half-buried in the sand. There were plenty of people around. Sunbathing, building sand-castles, running in and out of the sea. When they ran in, they were usually dry. When they ran back out, they were always wet. The water was cold that day. No one stayed in for very long. I didn’t wear my bathing suit. I was just in shorts and a t-shirt with the name of the company I work for inscribed on it. They give me free things like that sometimes. Once I got a big duffle bag. I use it to carry my laundry down. Some people say that’s free advertising. I say it’s a free bag.

I stepped right on the mystery at first. I was barefoot. My shoes were with the blanket I’d spread out on the sand. I didn’t want to take my shoes off at first. But the blanket kept flapping up in the wind and I needed something to weight it down with. So I took my shoes off. They were the kind you can wear without socks. So I was both shoeless and sockless. Completely barefooted. Once, feet were considered erotic. I guess they still are for some people, if you can believe what you read in the tabloids.

My foot still has a mark on it. The mystery was sharp. I jumped away from it and yelled a little yell. It hurt. Nobody was watching, though. Everyone was too involved in what a nice day it was. That’s probably why no one found the mystery before I did. Even though my foot was stinging, I got down on my knees to look closer at the thing that hurt me.

It was round and square and triangular. I pulled it out of the sand. It was pretty small. It was heavy and light. It was clear and opaque. It sang a little tune when I shook it. It rattled. It was the most ordinary and mysterious thing I’d ever seen. I guess that’s why they call it a mystery.

I took it home. I wrapped it in the blanket first. My neighbors would never let it stay on this street if they saw it. We’re a no-pets zone. Nobody wants dog poop on their lawn. I don’t have a lawn. I have a rock garden. It’s very relaxing. I use a rake and make shapes in the sand. Then I walk on all the zigzags and see my shoe-prints. I wear different shoes every day so that I won’t get bored. I have almost thirty pairs. That’s just enough.

Orange February

A slice of orange floated in Kera’s beer. She had made the mistake of dunking it into the drink with a straw until it was shredded. Perhaps it is more correct to say, then, that a slice of orange peel was floating in Kera’s beer. The pits had sunk to the bottom and were turning a nauseating vomit color.
Kera wished she could vomit. But she had no gag reflex to speak of, and hadn’t thrown up since her twelfth birthday. Exactly six years.
Her birthdays were not lucky. Nor were they pleasurable. They were blank, days of off-white skies and damp chilly breezes. The curse of February in the air.
The bartender leaned over and patted a customer on the cheek while Kera stared. The interaction was more interesting to her than the continued bobbing of the orange peel in her drink. The straw she had used was in her mouth, chewed flat, folded, and chewed again in its reduced-in-size state. The customer whose cheek was patted jerked his head up and banged his fists on the bar. The bartender laughed.
They seemed to know one another. Everyone in the bar seemed to represent a cult of daytime drinking that Kera longed to be part of. It was her third month drinking while the sun was still up, and even if it was hidden by the clouds at this point in time, the more important fact to note was that it was also hidden by the walls of the bar. In other words, Kera felt she had made a big step by not drinking on her rooftop, alone.

Writing Prompt #3

Okay, the prompt was: You have two characters, A and B, who have never met before. They are in a crowded space (a bar, a bus, a subway, a concert – whatever you like!) and A has bumped into B by accident. What happens next?

“Excuse me, sorry.”

“Why are you apologizing? I bumped into you.”

“Uh-”

“Seriously, think about it. What’s wrong with your life that you feel the need to apologize to strangers who knock into you?”

“…”

“Like what, are you a terrible person or something? Do you just need to apologize for everything? Do you murder little kids? Do you torture adorable kittens? Do your parents wish they’d never had you? What?”

“I’m actually going somewhere, I gotta-”

“You gotta listen to me is what you gotta do. You handed me your will the second you thought it was your fault that I bumped into you. So now stand there and listen to me, fool. Just wait right where you are and get to wherever you’re going late, and hate me. Hate me a little more every second.”

“…”

“What are you gonna do, huh? Are you going to push me? Go ahead, push me. Get me out of your way. Achieve bullyhood. Just do it. Who knows what’ll happen. Maybe it’ll feel good, ever thought of that? Maybe it feels awesome to just get someone out of your way. Why do you think I do it? Why do you think I shove people away? Think I’m just rushing? What if I don’t have anywhere to go? What if it’s just the best way to get around?”

“It’s rude.”

“It speaks! The mouse opened its little mouth. Want to yell at me? Tell me off? Come on, let’s see if you can actually muster up the energy and the vocabulary to do it.”

“…”

“Blushing really isn’t as endearing as people make it out to be. You look stupid, red and flushed like a balloon. This has been fun, but I really should get going, but you know what? We should do this again sometime.”

Craving

Carter bangs the till shut. He taps an order into the touch screen. He takes money from a customer. He counts the dollars, the quarters, the dimes, the nickels, the stinking pennies. He presses the button that shoots the till open. He puts the money into the right slots. He bangs the till shut.

The clinging of coins and rattle of his monitor aren’t satisfying. He’s used to the sound. It rises around him from the other four till workers. It’s the movement of his arm, back and forth, the same feeling he gets when he vacuums his small apartment. It’s the powerful thrust forward that makes something happen. There’s an agency to it that has become better than violence.

He’s tried violence. He boxed at the gym after beating people up in bars didn’t work out well. He did three months in jail that one year, and he never wants to go back. It was a cheap jail, not federal, not one of the places where they invest money for long-term stays. It was a revolving door there, people in and out. There wasn’t any time to make connections, figure out who did favors for who, whether it worked like the movies. He tried to keep his head down, ended up getting the crap beaten out of him anyway. Bruise for bruise, he figured. He started wearing his mother’s old cross necklace when he got out, hoping it would remind him of something. Mostly, he just remembers to feel guilty when he wakes up late on Sunday and realizes that he’s late for work, never mind that he’s missed church too.

There’s a girl now. In front of him. She’s a sweet thing, younger than him, but he always feels like that about any pretty woman, even when she’s his age exactly. He smiles at her. He takes her money. He puts it in the till. He slams it shut. She doesn’t smile back at him. She looks away, swallows, keeps chewing her gum. Carter opens his mouth to ask her name, to tell her his, even though his is written on the name tag on his shirt, but she glances at his mouth, sees the hole where one of his teeth should be and isn’t, and her lips suck in and shuffle sideways on her face in muted disgust. She turns away and walks to the pick-up area to wait for her food. Carter keeps his eyes straight ahead, his lips shut tight.

He craves whiskey and his apartment. He craves a moment alone, without the jingle of commerce and the false music of the mall echoing from beyond the food court. He craves a tooth he lost in a fight that didn’t make him feel better for longer than half an hour. He craves a punching bag. He craves the girl.

Quickie #6 – Mostly Jill

Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. Jack was a figment of Jill’s imagination, you see, so when he broke his crown (while falling down) it was hard for Jill to stay up top with her heavy pail, alone and afraid with her mind shut down and quiet all of a sudden, a girl broken up. The snake in the garden was small comfort but he was someone to talk to at least and he promised to help her get home, so she let him bite her ankle and tumbled down the hill and straight down a rabbit hole where she got stuck, rather, and had to wait for some pounds to trickle their way off her body, drip drip dripping down into a pail (that the rabbit in the hole kept for just such purposes) until she could shimmy back out again.
When she attempted the hill again, it was much steeper than it had been before and she kept finding herself too tired to climb more.
I’m too old, Jill realized, to be climbing these hills anymore.

Quickie #5 – Stop

Think, for a minute, about the graduation ceremony you will never be a part of. And the seashell necklace strung together with seaweed crumbling dry on a neck fully formed and ready to be kissed across the Mason Dixon lines. Think about doors that won’t open and the secrets that aren’t behind them, that are actually right in front of you wearing Ronald McDonald red and yellow, jumping up and down to get noticed.
Think about the rest of it. The chairs you sit in and the people who think you’re worth telling stories to. And the Aw Shucks goodbyes of office doors and the hip caps on coal black heads.
Your life, yours, not mine, is made of stop and breathe moments and I am watching, and waiting, for you to come alive to them.