Showing posts with label flash fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label flash fiction. Show all posts

game

Three women in a trendy Los Angeles bar are playing a game. The point of the game is to make the other two women feel invisible. This can be achieved through any means necessary, and there is only one rule: never directly acknowledge the existence of the other women.

The players don't speak to one another. There is no explicit agreement to engage in the game, which begins spontaneously and will only be played in the company of men. Indeed, the secondary objective of the game is to gain the attention of those men. Scoring is subjective, but the women know when they've won points. They've been playing the game for years. They're very good at it.

Witness Round One:

Two of the women are seated with their dates across from one another at a U-shaped bar. The third has just walked in, and joins a small group that stands near the well.

Woman One sips her cocktail and, in between flirtatious exchanges with her date, surreptitiously assesses the other female patrons. She mentally dismisses nearly all of them as non-threatening. Two of the women, however, have registered on her radar, and she straightens in her bar stool. 

Woman Two is aware of Woman One and has been for several minutes. She's angled her body slightly sideways in her seat, forcing the man beside her to turn as well lest he appear uninterested. In doing so, Woman One slips completely from his view. Point, Woman Two. She dips her head, and her long, thick hair swings forward - a silky blond curtain to shut interlopers out. Point, Woman Two.

Woman One receives this message and accepts the challenge. Though the room is cold, she sheds her coat, slowly sliding out one bare shoulder at a time. Her provocative movements have caught the eye of the bartender and of her date, who feels a small surge of excitement laced with pride. Point, Woman One. Her coat hung, she casually reaches up to gather her hair, twisting it in her fingers before letting it fall. The action puts her beautifully toned arms on full display. Point, Woman One.

Woman Three is at a disadvantage. She's standing, not elevated in a bar seat like the others, so her body is mostly hidden from view. But she is exceedingly pretty and knows it. When one of her companions makes a joke, she laughs loudly enough to garner glances from several male strangers. Point, Woman Three. She leverages the attention, leaning unnecessarily low over the bar to order her martini. She giggles at something the bartender says before swinging upright again with calculated playfulness. Point, Woman Three.

ghost

His ambition was the first thing she told her parents about. Then it was just a nugget of a promise, a wink at some future time when their security would depend on hers. Fledgling though it was, oh was it precious to her. It was every disappointed sigh, shoved back down their throats. It was the exemplary report card she'd never brought home. It was her ticket away, and above - far, far above.

Satisfied with the achievement of it, she promptly retired her own.

She slipped it around her neck like an amulet, a charm against her own uselessness. When she had nothing to hold onto, when anger and envy had depleted her of everything else, she clutched it tight to her chest. It thickened and gnarled into a knot that hung heavily between them. It was everything they didn't know about one another. It was everything they didn't love about one another. But they would, right? Someday? When there was more time? 

His ambition was a placeholder.

Soon it outgrew her, and she grew scared. The knot fingered into claws, scrabbling and scratching towards someplace higher than she could ever, ever reach. She chained herself to it with prayer, then blood, then fear and guilt. It dissolved everything, like acid. She looked to him for help, for reassurance that it belonged to them - but he wasn't there.

His ambition was a ghost.

lost and found

for Kayla

She knew it was missing the moment she woke up. Goddamnit, she thought. Not again. Splashes of morning collected in the twisted sheets, spilling and pooling but refusing to disappear when she pulled all four hundred threads-per-inch over her head. It warmed her in patches, soaking through the cotton, waiting cheerfully for her reemergence. I'll be here when you're ready! I'm California sunshine, and I'm utterly fucking relentless!

As always, she started with the bathroom mirror, padding barefoot across a floor that felt especially cold and hard. But it wasn't there as she held herself briefly in a series of practiced poses, angles and arcs that flattered her body's better features. Not in her stomach, forgivingly flat before breakfast, and not in her biceps, pale sinew that betrayed or belied its age depending on the light.

She looked for it in the shower, turning over thoughts like foreign coins, the flip sides of which are interesting, but rarely surprising. Nope. Not there. Not today.

Drinking coffee a little while later, she gazed around a room at furnishings chosen at no small cost of consideration or price. At books and photo albums and nearly four decades of mementos - the things that would represented her sum and substance, when she ceased to present her corporeal substance to the world anymore. But it wasn't to be found in any of that, either. (And she'd known better than to look anyway.)

It wasn't in the faces that filled her day. Not the one that supervised her on how to spend it or in those of whom she supervised herself. Not in friendly smiles, not in nods of respect, not in the appraising, approaching eyes of men on the sidewalk - glances which seemed to grow shorter all the time. She rarely returned them at all these days, for fear of experiencing just how short.

It was hiding particularly well, she realized, when not even a bit of it was to be found in her lover's eyes at the end of the day. Always the last place you look, she thought wryly, noticing how late it had gotten. A few more hours and she'd have to call off the search until tomorrow.

Then the letter came. It rang itself into her inbox with an optimistic chime, and she reached for her phone. Launched her mail app. Recognized the name. Opened the email. Read the words. Understood the import. She felt the compliment bloom in her brain, then float down to her heart where it took root and bifurcated in a single, delicious burst. To the tips of her fingers it raced, this relief in remembering that Yes, okay, sometimes it's impossible to see myself, but it is there.

It is there.

She boxed it up in steel-reinforced gratitude and copy-pasted it to the clipboard of her mind, where it would be easily accessible for at least another twelve hours before slinking off in the dead of night, luring her into the next round of hide-and-go-seek.

show and tell

She wears his wealth the way a little girl wears a favorite dress. She twirls for her audience, twisting back and forth to show off all the details: the sash, the trim, the bright blue buttons. Clutch the hem. Pull it out, let it drop. Giggle. Do you see? Don't I look pretty in it? 

And we nod and smile and pat her on the head. Ooh, yes, isn't that lovely! we exclaim, because we are polite, and because sometimes show and tell is a child's strongest subject.

war cry

There is a space that exists between two people who have something to offer one another - something to demand of one another. In that space is an energy of their design, willed to life by the words they exchange, the glances and glancing touches they share. It is an electrified fence, the disarmament of which requires mutual consent. Intentions - good, better, or the best - have nothing to do with it. It will kill regardless. We've all died on it, at one time or another. We've all reached the first foolish hand out to test the voltage, hoping against hope that what we press our fingers against isn't fire, but another warm, open palm.

That space is infinite. That space is infinitesimal. It's the stretch of beach that one moment drowns in the depth of splashing foam, and the next yawns wide, sunning itself for the briefest second before disappearing once more. Empty, full. Full, empty. That space is more alive, more inviting, and more dangerous than anything else we can know in life. It compels us, commands us, and, as we tally heartbreak, threatens us. Seldom do we heed. More often, we choose to dash ourselves upon the rocks, the only evidence that remains of our courage the invisible, useless war cry of the unrequited lover: I'll go first. 

the ad

She was a woman pained by her own beauty, and mistrusting of it. Compliments would form haltingly on the lips of men wishing to flatter, but fearful of offending. She knew they meant well, but she'd rather they didn't try at all, so uncomfortable was it to hear the same carefully chosen phrases trotted out over and again. Their translations trailed in the air behind them, unspoken, but no less tangible. Amazonian. Freakishly tall. Lascivious smile. Toothy. The woman had never understood this need of theirs, to spin sugar from air. She hated to feel patronized. And once placed in her lap, the praise sat there unwelcome, like an infant she'd no interest in dandling.

But she was gracious, and she hid her impatience behind a smiling sip of her cocktail, or the slow crossing of her legs. Soon enough the facade would drop away, as it always did. And accumulated experience had emboldened her to cut to the chase quicker each time. 

"Let's talk about the ad," she'd say, leveling her gaze into one part challenge, one part invitation. "Why did you answer it?" 

impotence

She was shaking with anger by the time she got home. She'd already replayed the scene in her mind half a dozen times; it skewed slightly more to her favor with each revisitation. She stewed memories of his apathy and aloofness until they had dissolved, broken down to the basics in her black-and-white thought. Bad. He was a bad man. And now they'd given themselves over to the powers of her interpretation: apathy had become willful cruelty; aloofness, hatred. It was essential to load up her pen with as much venom as possible - it made composing the letter much easier, and much more satisfying.

She dropped her keys and bag in the cold, empty kitchen, and stalked to her writing desk in the office. She lowered herself onto the hard-backed chair, straightened her shoulders, and lifted her chin. Hers was important work. The most important, in fact.

Finally, she opened the single drawer. It slid forward on the grooves with a soothing, smooth hiss, a whispered promise of revenge. Together we will right this wrong, it said. She lifted a single page from the stack of clean white paper, and pulled her favorite pen from the cup on the desk. The pen spoke to her, too, as she made the first stroke. Its angled metal nib scratched pleasingly, reassuringly across the page. Yes. This. This is the only way. They don't know. But you do. You know.

It didn't take her long. It never did. It was formulaic, and familiar enough to her that she only paused to find words that would fully convey how badly she'd been wronged. She told herself she wasn't embellishing. She believed herself. She told herself she was helping him. She believed that, too. 

When she was done, she lifted the sheet to what was left of the late afternoon light cutting through the office window. She tried to ignore the dust twinkling in the sun, stifling thoughts of the hours of drudging housework that stretched out before her. She silently read what she'd written, her lips mouthing the words, and occasionally murmuring aloud a phrase here or there: Dear Santa...a bad man...unfair...so mean...you understand...forgive him...don't take him off your list...he knows not...

So absorbed was she in her efforts that she didn't hear her husband come in the front door, call her name so softly that it seemed unwilling, and finally appear behind her in the office doorway. He watched her without interruption, because there was no point. It was a conversation they'd had a hundred times. She wouldn't be dissuaded. And since it made her feel better, he figured there was no harm. He'd just sneak back in later, when she was busy with the baby, find it, and quietly dispose of it like all the others. 

He turned to leave just as she started folding. That was the part that made him saddest. That was the part that was hardest to watch. She took as much notice of his departure as she did of his arrival. She had to focus to get the lines right. Symmetry was everything.

---

He waited until he heard her bathing the baby. Sounds floated down the stairs to the family room, where he sat reading the newspaper, his shoulder muscles gnarled into manifestations of the day's myriad stresses. Splashing. Infant gurgles. His wife's voice, singing and cooing to their child. He set the paper on the sofa beside him, rose, and walked into the dark office. He didn't turn the light on; he didn't need to. He could see it sitting on the floor near the desk, a bright white feat of childish engineering - of fruitless, angry geometry - sitting in a pool of moonlight. It was a lonely coin in a dried up wishing well. It was a gavel banging in an empty courtroom. It was dead and useless where it had landed, after she'd walked to the farthest corner of the office, squinted and bit her lip in concentration, carefully lined up her arm, and sent it sailing across the room, where it had tapped impotently against the glass of the closed window before hitting the ground.

Physics had gotten the best of it.  

He bent down and picked it up, looking it over appreciatively. She'd gotten better. The folds were razor-straight, and the plane's construction was complex. It was unlike anything he'd been able to make as a child, that was for certain. His wife's words crept out onto the wings, branding the aircraft with her indignation and righteousness. ...such a hateful man... He didn't unfold it, though. He knew he'd hear the story later, and that he'd have to emphatically agree that she'd been right, no matter what he secretly believed. The man crumpled the paper into a ball and tossed it into the trash. 

Before he left the office, he stood for a moment in the light beside the window. He ran his hand over the smooth wooden patina of his mother's writing desk, clear and empty once again, patiently awaiting its next mission.

He sighed deeply, feeling sadness wrap itself around him like a straitjacket, and went to join his family upstairs.

soon

She never went to the parties, even before the baby came. Her husband occasionally did, but he was detached and aloof, floating the perimeter and socializing only with a few familiars. He was a massive man, with a florid face, pale eyes, and a carefully guarded smile. The way he held himself, the terse replies with which he responded to queries about his wife's whereabouts, gave one the impression his size was a deliberate, even aggressive proxy for the woman who stayed behind, waiting for him to finish his single whiskey and return with fresh gossip to unpack. I'm here for both of us, his huge body seemed to say. He was less a shield than a ballast for her to cling to, in the bewildering parade of beauty, frivolity, and ostentation that she'd deemed Los Angeles to be.

As to the woman herself, she moved through life as if hiding from it. Head down, avoiding the eye of even her next door neighbors: her comportment was a curious mixture of awkwardness and efficiency. Her torso was still thickened by pregnancy, but her arms and legs remained gangly, appearing always to be tangled up in the dog leash, or the baby's carrier. She looked painfully uncomfortable in her own skin.

Still, she carried herself with surprising speed down the city sidewalks, maintaining an expression of urgency that allowed her to recuse herself from conversations she didn't want to have, with people she didn't want to know. Thoughts of a quiet house in the suburbs consumed her, and she pressed her husband nightly with questions about when, where, and how soon. In the meantime, she busied herself with her child, an enormous infant with dark hair and suspicious eyes. She channeled her anxieties into him, only feeling their release when his laughter bubbled up, temporarily breaking the spell of loneliness in the otherwise unremitting quiet of their loft.

Soon, she cooed to herself, and to him. Soon.

#coachellie

He came to her in a dream. Actually, she couldn't say later whether or not she'd really been dreaming. All she knew was that one minute she was asleep, and the next, a pair of thickly padded headphones was being slipped over her ears. And as that didn't happen much in her waking hours, she had to conclude his was a nocturnal mission, and he, a nocturnal vision.

"Dillon," she grumbled, groggy and grumpy. "What the fuck." She lifted her head and squinted towards the kitchen, trying to make out the green-glowing numbers of the stove's digital clock. Three thirty-seven.

"Shhh," he said, wearing the same absurd grin he always did. It was the one that said he knew precisely how absurd it all was - the celebrity and the money and the idolatry - but also that he loved every last bit of it. He was kneeling next to her bed, his face inches from hers. He looked like he'd been awake for hours days his entire life. He looked like he never slept.

He looked like he never needed to.

"Listen," he said. And with the flick of a fingertip on his mp3 player, waves of sound ripped into her brain. 

But she was just too tired. And what made him think he could sneak into her head like this, anytime he wanted, anyway? She yanked the headphones down and glared at him. He was such a little monkey. That stupid hat, with the shock of unkempt blond peeking out from under the bill. And...was he wearing some kind of furry suit?? She shook her head, hoping to clear it. Half-hoping he'd disappear.

She knew though: once he was in, he tended to stay for a while.

"I already decided I'm not going. Bonnaroo is more than enough. I can't justify it. Fuck, I can't even justify Bonnaroo, but I've already got my ticket, so..."

"Shhhh!" he insisted, with mock anger. He reached forward and opened the headphones back up, raising his eyebrows questioningly. May I?

She sighed and collapsed back onto her pillow. There was no use fighting him. There never had been. She nodded, and he practically squealed with childish glee as he outfitted her head once again. Seconds later, music. 

She closed her eyes. She opened them. He was watching her face. She had to laugh. He knew. 

She let him play what he wanted her to hear, every beat familiar to them both. Every rise, every drop, every last surge and swell. Energy and promise and joy and irony and playfulness and movement and light. When it was over, she spoke.

"You know, my friends think you're ridiculous. Half the time, I think you're ridiculous. And I'm definitely more than a little bit ridiculous for loving you so much." She paused and cocked her head. "Do you even know how old I am?" 

"I don't give a fuck," he said. "Or, you know..." He trailed off and pointed impishly at his hat. His face grew as serious as she'd ever seen it, which wasn't very, at all. "I wrote it for you, you know."

She rolled her eyes. "Don't start that again."

"No, really," he said quietly, and, letting his hand hover above her outstretched body, gestured down the length of it. "For all of this. Your arms and legs and shoulders and muscles and blood and brain. You needed it, and I gave it to you. Come to me, come see me, and I'll give you more, too. You don't even know."

"You don't even know," he repeated.

She looked at him quizzically for several seconds, trying to determine whether he had a single drop of sincerity in his peroxide-bleached head. Then she realized she didn't give a fuck or shit, either. Because whether or not it was true was besides the point. His mind was an IV drip of pure ecstasy that he was inviting her to plug into, again. She could have said no, but she didn't want to. She just plain did not want to.

"Ok, ok," she said, happily defeated. "I'll get a ticket. Just don't say 'yolo'." 

He leapt to his feet in victory, and was at her door a split second later. As he cracked it open, light from the hallway poured in and she saw he really was wearing a furry suit. Some kind of cat. Of course. It dawned on her that his visit was probably one of several thousand he'd be making that night, seducing good little boys and girls everywhere with his promises, his talent.

He looked back at her and saluted. "See you in April." And before letting the door swing shut behind him he added, "Oh, and I will play it this time. You've been more than patient. Now go back to sleep."

As if.

As. If.

---