Sunday, July 23, 2017

Short story in-the-works

Threading together some of the things I've written for the creative writing class I'm in. Behold something unfinished - still gotta write a couple of pages more, but I **think** this will keep its form (more or less).


It was a hot evening. The smell of chlorine from a pool somewhere drifted enticingly on the almost-still breeze. Her phone, thrown with abandon onto the bed, buzzed and hummed in its soft nest. Erica ignored it and walked to the window - watching the sunset reflected in the glass panes of a window with a view, turning on no lights, hearing the sounds of the world revolve around her. The father of the family next door was teaching his son how to play basketball in the dwindling light, giving muted pep-talks. Somewhere, a ukulele was being gently strummed. All around, the world brimmed with lazy contentment. She resolved to go to Mass the next morning. Mass might shake this feeling. She turned on a tv episode to watch marionette figures create whimsical dishes as she opened a can of sardines, squeezed lemon over it, and ate straight from the can.

The next morning, she watched the priest with the too-plump mottled face as he gave a homily. The pulpit stood directly beneath a scowling statue of Jesus that seemed incensed at every word the priest uttered, every prayer of the faithful, every living thing within its line of vision. The priest's voice belied his appearance - it was like a lilting bird that lifted and dipped, sweet and clear. But his words were out of focus.

He was saying something about God being love.

She prayed: "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed."

"Say the word," she begged the implacable plaster face.

"Please, say it."

After Mass, she genuflected and walked away.

She strode along, a silent fury of frustration amid the street lights and stop signs. Passing a playground full of laughing children, she saw a nondescript tan car parked, its butt bestrewed with bumper stickers. "Practice random acts of kindness" one advised her, smugly, she thought. She drew her keys from her purse and glared at the vehicle before crouching down and methodically scoring the sticker several times with her jagged metal extensions.

Pedestrians looked at her one lone time. Only the owner of the car could practice such precision obliteration, they assumed: perhaps she’d found the universe cruel and the words empty and void. The more attuned felt the billowy emanations of wrath, wondering uneasily for a slo-mo blink what her deal was, allowing a wide berth on the sidewalk, and then disappearing into their lives.

Erica wouldn't have minded if people were honest but conveyed with cliché. The inverse was odious. These mealy-mouthed moieties resonated with people who had no dirt about them. Pristine and secure, platitudes fell from their mouths like vomit from a third-story apartment. They didn't have to deal with the stench or the clean-up, and were left with the purgative feeling of a tum tum emptied of alcoholic turbulence. 

Standing up, she noticed with irritation that crossing the strip of vegetation from the sidewalk to the car had left verdant plant vegetation clinging to her trousers. Seed faces looked up in hope. Destiny held for them a watery death followed by hot blasts of dryer air. They would never touch soil.

Erica continued walking, her destination a few blocks ahead. Abruptly tripping on the lip of a sidewalk that was edged up by the ambitious roots of a nearby redwood, she fell onto her knees, stiffening her wrists against all reason, and felt the shock of compression run up her arms, the grit of ground stinging into her palms. Gingerly getting up and shaking her arms loose of the trauma, she figured it must be karmic retribution for what she’d just done, and mentally apologized to the owner of the car for destroying their property though she retained the right to judge based off a single declaratory sticker. How dare they?

A homeless man with grey matted hair and a ripe scent, sitting cross-legged by a boutique store-front, asked with aloof concern:
"You ok, miss?"
"I will be, thanks."

She could feel him sizing her up, using the estimative powers shared by higher-animals, gauging whether to ask and, if so, with what words and pathos. He settled simply with: 

"Spare some change?" 
His voice lacked conviction and she felt stung by his doubt. Reaching into her purse, she yanked her wallet from its dusky interior and pulled out a $20 bill. Suddenly embarrassed, she dropped it into the makeshift-bucket he was holding out, limping briskly past so as not to seem to want or care for his thanks. Indeed, she didn't want or care for them as charity for her was not a performance art and she felt uncomfortable receiving thanks. Who was she to be thanked? It was a drop in the bucket, a temporary stay against the pressing indignities of life, a shifting bit of nothing.
"THANKS, LADY!" she heard from behind.

She didn’t respond.

Stopping in front of a cheerful looking café with potted plants and a small outdoor patio, she double-checked the name in the text message: Baladin’s Café. Yes, this was it. Pushing open the door, her eyes traveled around the bustling yellow room, decorated with nondescript paintings, until they rested on a group of friends in moods of full weekend gaiety. Sara’s deeply brown eyes met hers; she grinned and waved Erica over, indicating a seat that had been saved for her. Of course, it had to be the seat abutting the busy narrow aisle.  Of course.

A chorus of good mornings exchanged, Erica settled in and edged gingerly into the flow of the conversations around her. Jennifer, who’d organized the ladies bruncheon, was telling others about her next trip to Italy: how she’d rented a little villa in Santa Marinella, a beach-town a short train ride away from Rome. She was passing around her phone to show pictures of the villa and Erica looked at it ravenously. The exterior was  orange. Not the bright neon American orange so intense that it hurts the eyes, but muted, almost anemic, with white trim. It bordered a piazza dotted with fan palms and had a view of the azure ocean. It held the promise of idyllic afternoons spent on beaches or eating  frutti di mare.“Very pretty,” she commented and passed the phone to Sara before picking up a menu and scanning it to find something that her stomach could keep down.

“We’ll be spending about one week there before heading north. We always make a point to stop in Verona for a couple weeks. Pietro has family there - so many cousins! I’m just worried that one day we might have to return the favor...”

Imagine, thought Erica to herself, Jennifer a host to a horde of her husband’s Italian cousins seeping through their sterile apartment doors with loud effusive due baci greetings, Moka pots, and motorino mentalities. She’d met some Italians once. They were almost too large for life and held court in the small bar they’d happened to find themselves in because they’d misjudged the distance from LA to San Francisco and had to stop overnight in this town. One had kissed her in the stairwell as she was leaving, holding her close in the dim light and letting her go breathless.   

“Are you ladies ready to order?” an officious waiter interjected, scattering her thoughts. The café was a hot-spot and these ladies took up a four-top.  

“Yes, I’ll have the biscuits and gravy.” “The french toast.” “Biscuits and gravy for me, too.”

The waiter was now staring at Erica. “I’ll have the oatmeal with the fruit bowl, please.” She hoped it wouldn’t cause her to run to the toilet with bowels spasming in angry protest as Satan’s tic tacs danced around her innards.

“Thank you, ladies.” He snapped closed his little pad and industriously moved to put their order in.

“Oooh, you’re so good, Erica,” said Jennifer, covertly glancing to see if her manicure had chipped.

“You don’t exercise but you never seem put on even a bit of weight. How do you do it?” asked Sara, enviously.

Erica felt a wave of bile whelming up her throat, but laughed deprecatingly instead. “Some people just win the genetic lottery.”

Later the next day, Erica was on a plasticy chair. “Do you want a blanket? Or some juice?”

“No thanks, I’m fine.”

She pressed the button on her chair, reclining to look up at the drab ceiling. Her temporary roommate, a large defeated-looking woman, was having her IV line set. The nurse had to plunge into the veins several times before striking gold and threading the plastic tubing into the ruby blood. The woman did not even protest or make a sign that the needle digging around in her flesh was somehow an uncouth violation.  

The nurse pushed a few buttons on the machine and saline began to drip from the bag and into the body. “They’re mixing up the meds now. We’ll bring it out when it’s ready. Let me know if you need anything.” She drew off the plastic gloves and tossed them casually into a biohazard bin before pushing the stool away and standing up to enter a few more details into the computer.

Erica’s eyes followed the nurse as her capable body tended to others: stolid, secure, healthy.

When her sister had given birth, Erica had gone to visit in the hospital. Her nephew, hopelessly ugly and squished, had been passed into her arms. She’d looked down into his sleeping face and found her arms trembling under the load of 8lb 5oz. Possible worlds, but not hers.

Some people in the clinic were cheery and outgoing. They told you all about their disease, what they were on, and how it affected them. Others preferred silence as they suffered. One wry old man had looked up as she entered the room and said: “Welcome to purgatory. May your stay be short.” 

She didn't know how to take that.

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