Two out of Three

He has a big important job in a big important world. Up and coming. His bald spot is minimal. He lets his pants droop to show he is hip, he is with it, but wears button down shirts to show that he is serious. And he is. He is serious.

Sam lets the glass door swing behind him and walks through the darkening evening. The afternoons are ending earlier. It’s getting colder. He shouldn’t forget his jacket again tomorrow. His phone is buzzing in his pocket.

He doesn’t like the new girl. He liked her, before, when she wasn’t the new girl yet. Now she makes demands on his time. She should be silent as a sheep. Sheep baaa though. Bad metaphor. He’ll think of another.

Sam lights his cigarette and lets the call go to voicemail. He’ll listen to his wife later, in the privacy of home, and then he’ll call her back. A small, lonely bed waits for him in that privacy, in that home, no home at all without her. She is so far away, and he let her go away. He got a ring on both their fingers first. But now she’s gone.

There are moments when he realizes he is being too harsh. He doesn’t apologize. If he apologizes, the new girl will question his authority. She embarrassed him, on her first day, too, talking in front of the Big Dog boss, humiliating him with obvious opinions. He knows she herself is aware of it. It doesn’t change his impatience.

Sam stops at a dive bar he never goes into for a beer. He doesn’t feel like seeing anyone he knows. There’s a football game playing on the television. He doesn’t know whether it’s live or a rerun or replay or whatever they call it when they screen a game again. Rerun probably. Like old reruns of FRIENDS. What an awful show.

He comes to work early and leaves late. He is dedicated. He doesn’t see why the new girl isn’t. He doesn’t want her to be involved, to give him ideas, but he needs her there as a sounding board. He needs to talk to someone while he works. He needs to see her giving him results, otherwise why the hell is she in the budget.

Sam calls his wife back late, after he’s showered and shaved again (it’s twice a day now that he has to shave. He doesn’t want to be like all the bearded men in his office. It prickles and it makes him look vaguely religious, he thinks). Her voice is distracted. It’s a bad time for her, he can tell. He says sorry for not picking up. He was out, there was wind, he was smoking, etcetera. She tells him she thought he was going to quit smoking. She laughs. He laughs too, relieved. She’s not really rebuking him.

He has a whole weekend ahead of him but his thoughts are consumed with his project. The first one he’s heading. So much rests on this success. He has to make it work. He needs her, the new girl, he doesn’t have the time to do it all alone, but he also doesn’t have time for her, to tell her what she needs to do or if any of it is good. He figures if something is wrong, he’ll tell her. Otherwise, it’s quicker for them both to get on with what they’re doing. More efficient.

Sam thinks he’s a good boss. A good husband. A good man. Two out of three ain’t bad either, though, he thinks.

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.

Squirt

The worst fantasy usually came around four o’clock, with an hour to go before the end of his shift. Kneeling on the carpet, gut hanging like a bowling ball bag over the belt holding his uniform from falling off his skinny haunches, Bob squirted cleaning solution onto the coffee-colored stain. Hours ago, it smelled like coffee, too, but so many people had walked on it by now that it smelled of lint and shoes. Someone walked on a dog’s little surprise too, Bob was pretty sure. His nostrils were sensitive, kept clear by the burning mist that rose from the red-bodied, purple-nozzled bottle in his hand.

The fantasy, the worst one, was intimately concerned with this nozzle. It was plum-purple, with a white twisting square on the end that shifted from OPEN to CLOSED position. Bob pictured himself turning the nozzle towards him and sticking it into his mouth, potent as a pistol. He saw himself squirting over and over, could almost taste what he usually only smelled, the sickly sweet chemicals landing in great white droplets on his tongue and sudsing-up as he’d begin to cough, the mist crawling into his lungs and bubbling there lethally. It would be a slow, painful death, if it even killed him. If he lived, he’d get fired, for sure, and he’d get sent to the hospital where Medicaid would need to cover him because his bank account wouldn’t be able to cover an ambulance fee, let alone a hospital stay.

His knees ached and his elbows felt like rusty hinges as he rubbed his white rag over the coffee-stain, pointlessly. It would take baking-soda to draw out the stain, but they wouldn’t give him any. They insisted on him using the same liquid cleaner for everything, from wood to glass to plastic. He leaned back and pulled mucus back into his throat, feeling the wetness curl down his throat. It was five after four. He had another fifty-five minutes. He had a coffee stain to get out. His large, pregnant-seeming stomach rumbled.

He leaned forward, and squirted some more onto the brain stain.

Satin

You don’t know what satin feels like. You never have. It’s a word you’ve always loved, since you were too young to know what it was, whether it was a Disney princess or a kind of washing-up liquid. It could have been either. You heard your babysitter talking about it, when she was using your grandmother’s phone to call her friends. It was long before cellphones.
When you were old enough to babysit the little boys down the block, you learned why your own babysitter had spent her time on the phone. Watching little kids was a pain. You didn’t like it. But you needed the money, your grandmother’s purse strings being as tight as her small mouth. When she went out to her fancy meetings, dressed to the nines, strung up with pearls and too much lipstick, you thought she was a rich lady. You learned when you got older that she was a penny-pincher, stingy with every coin, and that all those fancy meetings she went to were for your own sake. So she could keep you. Not for herself, but from others.
Your babysitter talked about satin. You weren’t listening very hard, so you only caught the word because of the way she said it, and you didn’t get any of the context around it. She was a fast talker usually, but she snaked the word “satin” through her tongue like it was three times that length. You try to replicate it with your own mouth but you catch the person next to you in your cubicle looking at you and you put your head down and get back to work.
It’s dull work. You’re dialling numbers and waiting for people to pick up the phone. You’re not selling them things. You’re trying to get them to answer questions. It’s two pm and no one is picking up. Everyone is at work, just like you, or out doing errands. Or napping. You wish you could put your head right down and nap. You don’t know why your babysitter’s face is so strong in your head until you realize that her name is the last one on the page you’ve been crossing names and numbers off from. You must have seen it right at the beginning, but your brain didn’t take it in. You read an article about that once. How people think something is a coincidence when it actually isn’t.
You skip down and call her number first, before the rest of the list. You wait. No one picks up. No answering machine. You don’t cross her off. You’ll try again later.

PHOTO / jovike

Thoughts on Closure

I am contemplating closing down this blog. I love it, and it will always be the place where I gathered my courage for the years to come and whatever they might bring, but the truth is – well, there are several truths. First, I don’t have the readership that I used to have, because many of the bloggers I used to be in contact with here have abandoned their blogs months or years ago. Second, I don’t actually get very much feedback on what I write anymore, and stats don’t give me any idea on the quality of what I’m posting. Third, I feel a pull towards working on things that I feel are too long to put here.

Fourth, and perhaps this is really the most pressing concern, I’m going to begin sending out some of my work to both print and online magazines and try to get it published. I’m trying to edit my stories and get them ready for this move and work on more stories that could be publishable.

Then again, it’s always nice to have a place to continue practicing in, which is always what I’ve used this blog for, so maybe I should keep it. Or I could just make it private. I’m not sure. Just wanted to let my few regulars – for whom I am eternally grateful and with whom I’d love to stay in touch – know that I’m thinking these things.

Dish & Tin [Flash Fiction]

I woke up in the evening, oversleeping my alarm clock by two hours, as usual, and stumbled out of bed to look something to put in my mouth. My stomach was like a gaping black hole that was consuming all my other organs into it, excruciatingly slowly. I wasn’t sure when I had eaten last, but it had probably been sometime during that day, although the light outside made me think it was dawn rather than dusk. I always feel effed up like that after a nap, but hey, what else am I supposed to do when I work nights and still have to get up in the morning for classes? Naps are the only way I can keep my eyes open and my wits about me. Last week someone on the same block I work on got some serious booze stolen from her because she wasn’t paying attention to the monitors. Working at a convenience store during the night shift is no joke. If anything is missing from the register it comes right out of my paycheck.

My disgusting roommates left the sink full of dishes, like they always do. I hate them. I really do. I sometimes have violent dreams about what I do to them – I think I’ve killed them in several different ways, all painful and quite bloody. I’ve been watching too many gory tv shows lately, I guess. Or maybe I’ve always had a sick imagination. It’s kind of hard to know, because when I was a kid, sandwiched right between three older and three younger siblings, I kind of lost track of whose ideas were whose. When you share a room all your life, even in college, you sometimes end up losing track of when you come up with things and when other people give you ideas. I know from psych classes that everyone influences everyone, whether we want to or not. That’s just how it is, I guess. Makes sense. I don’t think I’ve really influenced anyone, though. I’m pretty boring.

Here’s an example. I always eat the same thing after I nap. Like now. I scraped out one of the pots that one of the bitch roommates left in the sink – I don’t even know what was in there, it smelled so foul, I think she might have marinated something in Bud Light – and then I washed it a few more times and then I made myself spaghetti with tomato sauce. Best dinner in the world. When everything sucks, you end up kind of taking pleasure in the little things, like how pasta always tastes the same, reliable like the old rag doll I brought from home and keep hidden under my pillow so no one will see it and laugh at me.

After I ate, I threw my plate into the sink. It broke. I think I threw it a bit too hard. I stood there for a while, with my hands on the counter, and tried to convince myself not to pick up the pieces of the plate. To just leave them there and let the others deal with it. But I ended up picking them up. And, like I always do, I also ended up doing all the dishes in the sink. I don’t know why I do it. It’s not like they ever say thank you, or even acknowledge that the dishes have been magically washed while they’ve been away, doing whatever it is that they do. For all I know they actually think that we have a magical house-elf that cleans everything for us. But I just can’t leave dishes in the sink before going to work. It’s too depressing to know that when I come back home I’ll have all those dishes sitting there, just looking at me, the stains on them like growths from a bad skin condition. That happens sometimes anyway, even after I wash them, because the roommates sometimes have parties when I’m not there to make a noise complaint to the security company on campus. And then I end up doing those dishes at five in the morning, before I take a shower.

I pick up my coat and my book-bag, and my tin with the weed in it and I leave the room. So okay, so I smoke weed. I promised Mom that I’d quit, but I deserve one luxury, don’t I? It’s all my money, after all. And I need something to take the edge off. Something to keep me going.

A Short Update

A. I suck for not updating more often.
B. I’m working at the Hebrew Book Fair and writing for Camp NaNoWriMo. Other than that, I only have time to eat and sleep. I’m serious. It sucks.
C. Starting Sunday, June 17th, I’ll be back to updating a lot more regularly. Because I miss writing flash fiction, I miss interacting with the Internet. I miss writing things that pop into my head. And I miss y’all.