Saturday, July 28, 2012

Flash Fiction Friday: Pathetic

The Flash Fiction Friday Fandango rolls onward this week, with Grant Miller's challenge to begin a 1000 word tale with the sentence "Call Me Maybe", which I'm told is a popular song. This story is called "Pathetic".

"Call me. Maybe? What do you mean 'maybe'? Oh, you'll call me. I know you will. Bye," she said, chuckling and shaking her head softly as she disconnected from the call. Marie had gone into the cabin to prepare for bed, and I walked over to the girl. She was sitting on the top of the picnic table, her long legs folded under her. She looked like an athlete, strong and graceful, with a hooded sweatshirt that had a soccer ball on it above tiny shorts.

"Mr. Laughlin?," she said, when I was far enough into the moonlight to be visible. It was a heartbreakingly clear night, still warm, but with the taste of fall around the edges. The moon was out, and the stars beyond it were sharp and defined.

"It is I," I said. That sounded stupid, I thought. She unfolded herself and stepped down onto the ground. Her legs were remarkable, long, straight, smooth, muscled and flawless. She had impossibly tiny feet in tiny athletic shoes with a sliver of sock visible. Her calves bulged, but just enough. She looked like she was turned out of marble instead of flesh. She probably wouldn't admit it, but she looked like she knew they were her best feature.  

"You're the last ones," she said cheerfully. "That means I'm out of here." We were at a family conference sponsored by a number of churches, and the teens were shanghaied into serving as impromptu babysitters so adults could attend programs at night. They sat and gossiped at the communal picnic area as the children, hopefully, slept. Marie and I had attended a somewhat somnolent program about "Making God Real". I had enough trouble just making breakfast for two kids. God would have to make himself real.   

"Any problems?," I asked, while I fished in my pocket for a bill. They were supposed to be volunteering, but I felt like the kid deserved something for her trouble. She could have done anything, but she was here. That was worth something.

"Evie had a little issue. She came to the door and said something about a bad dream. I went in and sat with her for a minute, and she went right back down. Not a peep out of the baby, though." I tried to imagine this girl, her shadow enormous in the tiny cabin, holding my daughter's tiny hand, comforting her fears. I felt a tiny stab of guilt, as I always did when anyone other than me had to provide her succor.

Typical, I thought. Evie had taken the new sibling hard, and was becoming increasingly emotional. "Thank you," I said. This girl was so tall, it was impossible to imagine her tiny and helpless like Evie.

"Oh, it's no problem at all. Evie's a sweetie pie. I did crafts with her this morning. I like her."

I got out the bill and tried to hand it to her. I saw a bird dash across the moon, like it was ashamed of something.

"Oh no," she said, taking a half step away from me. "I couldn't."

"Please," I said, "I insist. You're so good with her. I appreciate it." I watched her face, her eyes searching for a reason to take it.

She took the bill. "Well thank you, Mr. Laughlin. That's so nice. But I'm happy to do it. I love kids."

"Well, we appreciate it. You could have spent the time with your friends." You and your beautiful friends, I thought, laughing away your youth like you think you'll never turn into one of us, beset with spouses and kids and mortgages and work you hate.

"Most of my friends are doing this. But thank you," she said again. A brief breeze ruffled the edge of her shorts and she shivered.

"What are you going to do now?, " I said. She tucked a stray hair behind a tiny, perfectly formed ear.

"I don't know," she said, brightening. "A bunch of kids are going down to the beach and hang out. I think I'll go see if anybody I know is there." There was a stretch of beach sand along the shore of the lake. I tried to imagine it, all the young bodies, some pairing off, others engaging in ragged singalongs, their voices fading over the still water. Would there be alcohol? Pot? I didn't have anything against either, but I also knew how muddy decisions could be when you used them.

"Well, enjoy yourself," I said. What is it like to be young, I wanted to say. What does it feel like to look like you and have everyone turn their head when you walk over? What is it like to be the center of the world? Tell me, because I don't remember. If I ever knew.

"I will, Mr. Laughlin. Thanks again, and I look forward to seeing Evie again tomorrow morning."
She pulled her sweatshirt down, making her small breasts jut out. She turned and started to walk away. Don't waste these years, I wanted to say to her. Treasure this time, because you won't look like this forever.

"Thanks. G'night, now," I said. I watched her walk, the careful symmetry of her bobbing hips fading into the darkness.

"You're pathetic," Marie said from the screen door behind me. "Come to bed."

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Brief Promotional Announcement That Is Not, Sadly, About Briefs

The inestimably talented Cameron, of whom I did not know until recently, but who is a fellow Bostonian (while I do not reside there, of course, my heart always will) and thus stout of heart and willing to believe that Evacuation Day is an actual holiday, has a little game she plays called the "Story Circle", wherein a story is begun, and passed around blogger to blogger through the month, concluding in this last week of the month. This month's story is called "Stiletto", one of my favorite Billy Joel songs, and to my everlasting shock and surprise Carrie, whom I did know and who is indisputably dope on the floor and magic on the mic, selected none other than yours truly to write the final piece of the story. Please look aqui to begin the tale, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Scriptic Prompt Exchange: "She Said She Said"

[For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, FlamingNyx gave me this prompt: "Why are you having trouble sleeping?" I gave kgwaite this prompt: " 'Words add up, too, but not meaningfully unless you think they should. They won't line up like bricks do, creating a strength of wall due to their essential shape and integrity. Words each have a hundred shapes and natures, and you have to see, almost like God, what's going to come of it before you even begin.' -Michael Atkinson "]

"Why are you having trouble sleeping?," she said.

"Who said I'm having trouble sleeping?"

"I did. I'm the one who wakes up every time you toss and turn," she said.

"Oh. Sorry."

"You don't have to be sorry. I know you can't help it. But I know why I'm not sleeping. Why aren't you?," she said.

"I am sleeping."

"Not very well, you're not," she said.


"So.....why?," she said.

"I don't know."

"Come on. You can do better than that. I have 8 pounds of baby pressing against my organs. That's why I can't sleep. What's your excuse?," she said.

"I don't have one as good as that."

"I know you don't. So give me the one you have," she said.

"I'm worried."

"I know you are, babe. I'm worried too. But you've been worried since about 14 seconds after I told you. So that can't be it. I'm not discounting how you feel. I'm just saying, that's nothing new," she said.


"What are you worried about? Specifically? I mean, we're both heading into unknown territory here, I get that," she said.

"You more than me."

"In a manner of speaking, sure. But seriously. You've been worried for 8 months and 3 weeks. What is it? Specifically," she said.

"It's us."

"Us? What about us?," she said.

"I'm afraid we're going to change."

"Of course we're going to change, hun. Remember what my mother said, that you're ready to have kids when you're tired of sleeping and having sex? All kinds of things are going to change. We're different people than when we met, right?," she said.


"So change with me. We will change together. We will make it work. It will be OK," she said.

"But what if I can't change? What if I'm not enough? What if I can't do this?"

"Listen," she said. "I trust you. I trust us. I picked you. Out of all the men I've ever known, every idiot I ever dated, I selected you. I found you. I fell in love with you. You haven't believed it for a minute, but I have never doubted you. I have never doubted that you're the only one for me. I believe in you. I believe enough for both of us. OK? Now would you please try to relax? Is there anything else I can do to help you calm down?"

"There is one thing," he said.

"Shut up," she said.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Flash Fiction Friday: "Running To Stand Still"

[This week, the lightfingered Larrys and Lavernes at Flash Fiction Friday present us with the following prompt: take the first sentence from a book you DO NOT own on page 84, and begin a story about a robbery with that sentence. I am currently reading a library book about Deepwater Horizon called "Run To Failure," and the SECOND sentence on page 84 is too good to ignore. This story is called "Running To Stand Still"]

It was an oversized challenge. Erin sat back, crossed her legs and stared at the file cabinets. There were five of them, sitting there in institutional tan repose, mocking her. When she stood, they came up to her waist. They were deep, deep enough that you could imagine taking a nap on top of one. She was sitting now, having pushed a simple rolling chair into the file room. "Why stand when you can sit," her mother always advised, and when she started wearing heels to work every day, she suddenly saw the wisdom in that.

They had gathered everyone they could spare in a large conference room that morning. Everyone knew that the company had been all over the news, allegations being hurled, and opinion makers talking about jail terms and bankruptcy. What they needed, the regional director told them, was a memo written at some point in the last decade. They knew who wrote it, but the company had been bought and spun off and bought again so many times, the files were a mess. One regime filed by author, then the next would file by topic, then one would file by date, and nobody ever bothered to go back and refile the old papers according to the new scheme.

The home office wanted to find that memo, the boss told them, his Boston accent creeping out at the edges. They needed us to find it. It would prove their innocence, and refute the claims of the author's son, who was all over the news shows describing how his father had told him about the memo, saying he knew it was going to fail well before it did, and those idiots wouldn't listen. The boss assured them it wasn't so, that if they had known, they would have followed the experts' advice, but they had to find the proof that the memo didn't advise that.

Erin sighed. She could hear the shuffling of papers and the banging of drawers elsewhere in the room. When she looked around, she saw heads of colleagues popping up now and then, like a Whack A Mole game. Everyone else was working, so she may as well start. She started on the left, on the top drawer. When she sat in front of the cabinet, she could open the drawer and shuffle through the papers, easily scanning enough of the pages to read them.

She felt the first little wave of hunger as she worked her way through the top drawer. The company generated an astounding amount of paper- reports, memos, invoices, summaries of projects, proposals, bills of sale, letters, all manner of business done and undone, records of employees long dead explaining work that no one could remember. Her thoughts skipped idly as her eyes wandered, checking each page. Her stomach growled insistently.

She thought about a donut, picturing the open box that she saw in the break room that morning. She knew better than to touch them- she made herself picture an hour on the treadmill every time she saw one. As good as they tasted, she reminded herself, and she could imagine the soft, melting sugar on her lips, dissolving instantly in her mouth, as sinful and lovely as they were, they didn't taste so good that they were worth the effort to remove the fat from her thighs. She wasn't even 30, and she already felt herself sliding. All her workouts, all her running, and the scale never budged. She was running to stand still, no longer trying to lose, just trying not to gain.

If I write a memoir, Erin decided, that's what I'll call it. "Running To Stand Still". Not progressing, not growing, just fighting to stay where you are. Professionally, personally, with her family, in her life, just stuck in concrete. Her boyfriend Gregory was fine, her still single friends were OK, her apartment was nice, but she knew in her heart that her life was a series of compromises and deals, solidly middle of the pack. She flipped through a dozen similar sounding purchase orders, her mind flipping idly.

She nearly missed it. There was a company logo in the top left, the boss had said, and the memo was going to be called Forward Assessment of Risks and Benefits. She was trying to think of where she wanted to have lunch when part of her brain flashed that maybe she had actually seen it as she avidly flipped. She stopped, looked back through the last several sheets she had checked, and there it was. She looked around, and no one was looking her way, so she quickly devoured the text.

The key was right there, as plain as day. Under a stamp that read "Reviewed and Acknowledged," there were two paragraphs of boilerplate, then the truth of the matter. "I strongly recommend we reconsider," the author had noted in June 1999. "this course will not prove fruitful, and will indeed expose the company to liability and our clients to real danger." Erin read the words again, to make sure she hadn't misunderstood. She hadn't. They knew. And they lied about it.

Erin felt her heart pounding inside her chest. She sat up for a moment, the paper resting on top of the file. There still wasn't anyone looking. She could destroy it, and the company would go on. Could she live like that? But did she trust them to reveal it, either? Or would she hand it in only to have some vice president run it through the shredder, followed by a sudden layoff that for some reason only affected her?

She felt sweaty, although the file room was cool. "Just because you're paranoid," her mother once advised, "that doesn't mean they're not out to get you." Erin saw her hands folding the memo, quickly pressing it into a tiny square that she slid subtly into the heel of one shoe. She looked around the room again, but no one was paying her any mind. She didn't know what she was going to do with the paper, either mail it to the New York Times or tear it into tiny pieces and throw it into the river. She wasn't sure how to proceed, Erin thought as she bent to her task again, pretending to continue the search. But she wasn't standing still any more.