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.

Flies and Cubicles

Shane wondered how many words it would take to make his mother understand him. Each sentence he went through in his head became messier, each consecutive invention becoming more muted than the one before. It was as if they had no way to communicate anymore.
He fiddled with his pen, twisting it around and through his fingers in the old drummer’s trick that he’d taught himself in high school. They’d managed to talk then, ironically enough. True, much of the time they shouted each other down, but they’d gotten their meanings through. She’d let him get the big drum kit and had even helped him to make the garage sound-proof-ish. She’d come to the two years he’d been in his neighborhood’s Battle of the Bands and had bought him and his friends a big pizza when they lost.
“Has Roberta sent you the figures yet?”
“No – I don’t think so, let me check. Oh, yes, she just sent them!” Shane smiled at his boss and began to reel off the numbers she wanted from him. Roberta – one of the blank slates that Shane knew only through their interoffice email correspondence – had, in fact, sent in the figures two hours ago, but Shane had been catching up on some National Geographic articles that he’d missed and hadn’t been doing his work. It was a good thing that all the cubicles in the office had screens that faced into them rather than out into the walkways between the booths. Shane sometimes wondered whether whoever designed them was aware that no one was going to work this way and had designed them like this on purpose, so as to give the working drones like him a bit of a break.
A fly buzzed near his ear and he swatted it away with a spastic jerk of the hand, making his boss smile and then pretend that she hadn’t. She walked away, having jotted down the obscure figures onto her ever-present clipboard and Shane breathed a sigh of relief and allowed his eyes to drift down to the sway of her lower half as she walked away from him. He felt mildly guilty about his fantasies about his boss. One thing that he believed in just as strongly as his mother did was the equality between men and women. He’d stopped telling women on the online dating websites that he frequented that he was a feminist because he realized that it worked much too well as a line and he felt that wasn’t fair, since he actually was one. But being a feminist didn’t stop him from noticing his boss’s curvy figure and though he knew she was also intelligent and competent – he actually didn’t know these things about her, but felt obligated to think them because she was his boss – he couldn’t help staring at her ass whenever she walked away from him.
The fly was back. Shane swatted it again, this time actually hitting it with his hand. He winced. There was something disgusting about feeling the fly hit his hand – flies were supposed to be vainly swatted away, never actually touched with bare skin. He got up and went to the bathroom to wash his hands. He knew it was silly, but he felt dirty now, almost contaminated. While he was soaping up he began to think about his mother again. Why couldn’t they talk anymore? It truly didn’t seem to make a bit of sense. He was older now, a real adult with a job and rent and utilities and a bit of health insurance. Shouldn’t they be able to actually talk now, like equals?
But she was still unreachable to him. He knew that she still had friends – they went “lunching” together three times a week; he still cringed whenever his mother used the noun as a verb. He knew that she spoke to his sister because she often dropped heavy and obvious hints whenever he talked to her about how much “Mom’s going through right now,” but she always refused to explain what, exactly, it was that their shared mother, flesh of their flesh, was going through. His sister always said the same thing whenever he asked for details. She told him to call her and “ask her yourself! You’re her son, aren’t you?” The question unsettled Shane, and he occasionally wondered whether his sister was actually trying to tell him, in a strange and roundabout way, that he was adopted.

Golden Morning

Glen unfolded the morning newspaper carefully, making sure not to rip any part of it. He was one of the only people in his building who still got a paper newspaper delivered. He knew this because he was always awake early enough to receive the paper straight from the deliveryman’s hands, and he became friendly with him over time and asked him whether there were many deliveries to be made in that neighborhood. The deliveryman just shook his head and smiled sadly. It was too early for him to engage in conversation and he answered Glen’s questions in monosyllables, releasing the words from his mouth as if they were precious bits of energy that he had to conserve.
Although Glen wasn’t personally invested in any business that had to do with the news – he wasn’t a reporter, nor did he own a publication of any sort – he still felt a deep and abiding kinship that dated back to the days of his early childhood, when he would watch his father iron the newspaper with gloved hands before unfolding it carefully and reading it in its entirety over his long breakfast. The ritual fascinated him as a child, and he saw something sacred in it. His mother had always told him not to disturb his father while he was reading the newspaper, and Glen, always an obedient child, still remembered the hushed mornings when he would play with his heavy metal train set, moving the cars quietly over the little rails and mouthing the “woo-woo!” that, at other times of day, he would shout out exuberantly every time the train ran under the little bridge he’d constructed over it with three hardcover books.
Although Glen didn’t iron the newspaper – he didn’t mind getting his hands a little dirty from the smudgy ink – he read the paper front to back every morning before heading out to work. It took him three cups of milky coffee, drunk slowly as it cooled to room temperature and below, to finish the pages, which, these days, seemed to be filled with more advertisements than articles.
When he finished the paper, he would fold it up just as carefully, and then would go downstairs and put it in the mailbox of apartment 14, where old Mr. Spiegal lived. Old Mr. Spiegal had stopped getting a pension when the company he’d worked for had gone bankrupt and had had to cancel his newspaper subscription in order to cut down on costs. He had been gruffly thankful when Glen offered to give him the newspaper every morning.
Glen’s ritualized morning ended with the action of popping the neatly folded newspaper into Mr. Spiegal’s mailbox. After he did that, he was never quite sure what to do next, and had to improvise every morning anew. He still hadn’t found a new job after the factory had laid him off, and although he continued applying for new positions, there were many days during which his only obligation was to avoid spending more money than he needed to. He had a nest-egg from his parents that he’d never touched until three months ago when he found himself, for the first time since high school, out of work.
This morning, he decided to go for a walk. He had a phone interview scheduled for the afternoon, and nothing else to do until then. The sun had come out from behind the fog that had shrouded it in the early hours and the day was beginning to look like the first real spring day of the year.
Walking down the pathway from the dilapidated apartment building, Glen stretched his arms above his head and tugged each hand with the other, the better to stretch his shoulders. As he turned right onto the sidewalks, he let his arms fall down to his sides, shook his head, took a deep breath, and began to walk.
There was nowhere in town that was unfamiliar to him anymore. He’d walked every inch of it, even ducking into a few private yards, just to see if there was a magic garden concealed by the stocky buildings that his them.
This morning, he decided to take the path that led up to the only hill in town, where the wealthy people lived. He found himself turning to this familiar walk more and more often lately, and he had a suspicion that there lurked in his breast some illogical hope that being around moneyed people would give him luck of some sort.

Wrackspurts

“A Wrackspurt… They’re invisible. They float in through your ears and make your brain go fuzzy…” – Luna Lovegood, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

I’ve had a Wrackspurt in my head all day. I didn’t have any classes and an interview I was supposed to have about my school’s Oxford program was canceled: I had a whole free day to do lots and lots and lots of work in. Total amount of time actually working? Probably about two-and-a-half hours. That’s all. I napped for too long, I messed around on the Internet for too long, and now I’m writing in my blog instead of working on the story I need to send to my writing teacher or continuing to make some headway with the notes I’m trying to organize on Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Ugh.

I hate when this happens. I begin to feel guilty about not having done enough and it takes the pleasure out of the things that I do for fun. Even when I try to tell myself that I actually do have enough time, that things are going okay and that I’m mostly on top of my work, actually, I still somehow end up feeling guilty. And then I get stuck in obsessive thoughts; for example, I woke up from my nap at 4:50PM and then lay in bed feeling back about having taken a nap until 5:20PM, wasting another half hour that way and not managing to release myself from those obsessive, judgmental thoughts.

If anybody knows of a potion to get rid of wrackspurts and unfuzz the brain, let me know. Also, any un-guilt potions would be helpful.