Saturday, March 10, 2012

Flash Fiction Friday: "Don't Stand So Close To Me"

Over in Flash Fiction Friday Land,this week's task is to write 1500 words or less about, or involving, St. Patrick's Day. My story is "Don't Stand So Close To Me".

She was late. I told her it looked bad. I told her we couldn't let anything seem amiss. But she was late anyway. She strolled in, ironic Lucky Charms T shirt worn tight, sweatpants that were somehow still form fitting, and her deep brown hair pulled back into a devil may care ponytail. She took the blue exam book from me without a sound, turned to sit near the front and began writing. I tried to shoot her a look as I gave her the book, but she only smiled. It made my blood boil, the way she didn't care. She lived that way, heedlessly, like Fitzgerald's Daisy, not caring who or what she broke.

She was beautiful. They are all beautiful at that age, of course. But she was special, like she wasn't even human, as if a UFO had left her as evidence of a different, more perfect race. She looked artistic, like blown glass or spun silk, every angle perfect, every part in proportion with every other, the Golden Mean made flesh. Air smelled better after she had moved through it. I watched her as she worked, hair shielding her pages from her neighbor, her hand moving in her distinctive little girl script. She had to appear like all the other students, but I knew she wasn't.

She was forbidden. Being with her broke my employment contract, the canons of professorial ethics, and my own moral code, which held that in matters of the heart between adults, all's fair, as long as the power balanced equally, as long as both parties can refuse. When we were apart, I told myself, lectured myself. "You're no Humbert," I'd hear in my own head. "When she calls, don't pick up." But I did, God help me. I did. I always did, and I always buzzed her in, and we always ended up in my bed.

She was addictive. Two times a week, sometimes more. I was enraptured, unable to refuse. On the floor, in the bed, one night even on the balcony. Whatever activity she wanted, we did, from nearly the full Kama Sutra all the way down to her sitting on my floor, painting her toenails while I graded papers and watched the Mavericks game. We seldom talked. We had so little in common, what would we talk about? But she came in, helped herself to my food, and showered, and then she called the tune. I knew it was wrong, but I couldn't stop.

She was dangerous. She would do things, foolish things, things that would set off alarm bells in my head. One morning I saw her in a student lounge with an Oregon State shirt that I knew came from my closet, but I never had the nerve to confront her about it. Another morning she shut my office door and insisted that I pleasure her, right there, with a colleague just on the other side of the wall. But of course, I complied. I always did.

She was magnetic. A hulking frat boy in the front row, wearing a Fighting Irish T shirt featuring the traditional leprechaun with the shillelagh, got up and handed in his test. I watched him look at her longingly as he straightened. It was something I was familiar with- hotel clerks, wait staffs, passersby. She turned heads, male and female. I couldn't help but feel a moment of male pride, looking up at his athletic physique. He didn't seem the real bright type. "The closest you'll get to Notre Dame, son, is the beer from Ireland you're going to drink tonight," I thought.

She was mysterious. I didn't know how her school was being paid for, what her other classes were, where she lived, anything about her family. She seemed to have no feelings at all, other than the ones our activities brought her. When I questioned her one night about the grumbling I heard when I scheduled the exam for St. Patrick's Day, she shrugged as she began dressing to leave. "I don't care," she said. "You're going to give me an A anyway." She was right, but it was more damning to hear it said aloud.

She was finished. She waited until the appropriate number of students were finished, and then she got up, busying herself with putting away her pen and pushing in her chair. She picked up her water bottle and her purse, walking to the front to hand in her test. I looked up at her, no makeup, unshowered, and I was helpless. I thought about the first time I allowed myself to consider an affair with her. I feared it would wind up disappointing me, like when my father took me to meet a Star Wars actor at the mall, and it turned out it was Warwick Davis, who played an Ewok in Return of the Jedi. Some things are better anticipated than experienced, but she was not one of them.

She was gone. She was out the door and down the hall, off to heaven knows where, away until my phone rang late at night or she rang my bell at 1am. Foolish and male, I would always, always answer. I didn't dare look at her test paper until the final student, a diligent Chinese girl who always spent the entire hour, handed hers in shyly and walked quietly away. I listened to the silence for a moment before finally opening her paper. "I don't know why you make me do this," she had written, over and over again, for the first three pages, then finally an elaborate scrawled signature and a P.S. "Give me an A minus this time," it said, "so no one gets suspicious."

Friday, March 09, 2012

100 Word Challenge: Positive

My brother in arms Lance, whose blog will earn two technical fouls and be ejected when it meets up with your blog, has renewed the 100 Word Song cache this week with John Hiatt's "Have A Little Faith In Me". This story is called "Positive".

Her head dropped and her shoulders slumped. I didn't have to ask what the test said. Her hair was hanging in front of her face. She didn't make a sound, then suddenly blurted out a single obscenity. It sounded ugly.

"We can't afford it."

"I know," I said.

"I can't do it."

"I think you can. We can. But I hear you."

"I can't not do it."

"I understand." I swallowed. "I'll support you, either way."

"Do you want to?"



"I have faith."

"In me? In us?"

"In you. And in us."

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Indie Ink Writing Challenge: "I Swear To Tell The Truth"

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Allyson challenged me with "I've got half a mind to destroy the world that destroyed me." and I challenged Tara Roberts with "'There's a phrase in Judaism, 'tikkun olam', which means 'repairing the world.' The concept is that people shouldn't do something simply because the religion requires it but rather because it makes things- something, anything- a little bit better.' -Mike Mayo"

As an adult, I realized my grandfather probably said it to all the grandkids, but as a child, having him swoop me up high in the air, and whisper right into my ear in his smoky voice, "Don't tell your brothers, but you're my favorite!," was an intoxicating thrill. Being the only girl in a passel of brothers, I was special, for sure, but when he said that, I believed it, and I will always think that, in his heart, he meant it. In my case, anyway.

I was sitting with my legs primly crossed, wearing my very best power suit, the one that said I meant business. Black jacket, knee length skirt, ivory blouse, big girl heels, pearls. No nonsense, no fear, no remorse, no regret. I tried not to let my hand tremble as I poured water from the pitcher into a glass. The company lawyers had gone over it and over it with us. "Only answer what they ask," they said, "if you don't know, say you don't know, and most of all, for God's sake, look confident. It's a dog and pony show. They are there to make points and get on the evening news. They can't do anything to you, so just stare back at them blankly."

As I sat stiffly, waiting for the affair to begin, I pointedly did not look at the raft of cameras, flashes going, motors winding, that were taking in the scene. I thought about my grandfather, his rock ribbed honesty, and what he said to me when he caught me in a lie as a 9 year old. Having broken one of his drafting tools, I allowed my younger brother to take the fall, and then tearfully confessed an hour later, unable to live with myself. "Ally," he told me, "I'm disappointed you didn't admit it up front. But I'm proud of you for stepping forward. It's hard to be honest, especially when you've already gotten away with it. You show your true colors by what you do when no one's looking." This was far from no one looking.

Charles, Marion and I, the three people nominally in charge, were sitting in front of a House committee, here to testify about the rise and fall of our company, Intersection Mortgage. I had forgotten exactly what committee it was, but it didn't matter. It was our day to answer for what we had done, inflating our tiny firm beyond all reason until somebody, somewhere, realized that trees don't grow to the sky, and suddenly the party was over and all the money was gone.

"Don't worry," Charles had assured us both the evening before. "It's all grandstanding. As long as nobody admits anything, we get a few days of bad press, and then I'll hire you both as lobbyists at my new firm for double your salary. Just follow my lead," he insisted.

"You mean lie," I said.

Charles, the smooth, tan, thrice married CEO, laughed once, hard. "I'll deny I ever said it," he explained, "but yeah, essentially."

The questioning was coming around to me, and after the first Congressman, a cornpone Southerner with an accent as thick as Robert E. Lee's boot leather, finally finished his peroration, I had forgotten what the question was. I took a sip of water, then cleared my throat in as genteel a manner as I could.

"Could you repeat the question?," I asked.

"In summary, Ms. Haverman, I am asking you whether or not Intersection Mortgage, in your opinion, as a company, cared whether or not the mortgages you wrote ever got paid back?"

Everyone was too clever to ever say it- no policy ever said, "take every mortgage, no matter how crappy, no matter how much lying you have to do." It was a gradual thing, like the ocean attacking a sand castle. First you take a little bit lower credit rating, then you take someone who is retired but somehow making enough to afford BMW sized monthly payments, then you take someone a little more desperate than that. They always couched it in positive language. "Be creative," the memos said, "be flexible, be open to new approaches!" The memos came in, exhorting you to do more, produce more, get more people into more houses, and when your pay went up, and then up again, and then up a little bit more, that made you work harder, too. When you knew, in your soul, what they meant, and never said- just feed the beast, at all costs, and when this thing goes belly up, it will be someone else's problem. And that, in the end, was all that mattered.

I said things that I knew weren't true, I lied and cheated. I kept filling the pipeline with new loans, stuffing them in, as many as I could, watching my bank account swell with every little percentage point chip off the massive block of money. Some part of me knew that each one of these sheets I signed was a person, a soul with hopes and dreams and desires, somebody who wouldn't be able to afford this house in 6 months. Or in 3 months. Or even a month. I told myself I would look for another job, an honest job that wouldn't leave me trembling at the end of the work day, but it was just so easy to put it off for another week, another month, just save up a little bit more. I kept approving them, so many that in the end, I wasn't even looking anymore. Whatever it said, I just stamped it, signed it, and sent it off.

I leaned forward, picturing my grandfather's weathered face before the stomach cancer hollowed him out to a skeleton. "The truth never hurt anyone, in the long run," he used to say.

"In my opinion, Congressman?," I said.

"That's what I said, ma'am. Your opinion."

I knew what they wanted me to say. "Of course Intersection cared," the lawyer suggested last night, knowing this very question was coming. "Intersection's sole mission was to get the right family into the right home with the right mortgage. Then something about the American dream, and homeownership helping society, and motherhood and apple pie. All that crap," he said with a sardonic chuckle. The answer was right on the tip of my tongue.

"No, sir, I do not think so," I said. "I got the very clear impression that Charles could not care less whether or not the loans went bad, as long as they were off of Intersection's books when they did so." My voice sounded smooth and even, much more polished than I felt. My stomach turned, and I could feel the eyes of the other two at the table staring at me.

Monday, March 05, 2012

100 Word Song- Homeless

My main man Lance, along with his metallic pal Leeroy, continue on the musical literary affair of the heart called the 100 Word Song Challenge, this week concerning Richard Thompson's "Dimming of the Day". Lance posted a link to Bonnie Raitt's version, but while I have nothing against the multihued songstress, I like the version from Pink Floyd's Roger Gilmour, which you can hear here.

"It's time to go, ma'am."

I looked up at him. He looked serious and hard in his police uniform. He clanked whenever he moved. There was a pile of mail on the dining room table. It had gotten so hopeless I stopped opening it, the red words saying "FINAL NOTICE" notwithstanding. Richard was already at his brother's place with the kids, but there just wasn't room for me there. I missed him terribly. It was always his department to handle financial stuff.

I stood up, picking up the trash bag with my earthly possessions.

"Fixed rate, my ass," I thought.