Sunday, August 17, 2014

NYC Flash Fiction Challenge #1: "The Special Ones"

“He said ‘special,’ right?”  Jeremiah was pacing around, chin-to-chest so his head wouldn’t hit the metal ceiling.  He and his bandmates called it their “tour bus,” but really it was just a rusted and hollowed out van they had paid $600 for three years back.  Lily was trying to care, but all she wanted to do was leave and pick up her packages. 

“And then he said ‘talented.’ They want talent.  Well, I’m pretty damn special and I think we all can agree I’m talented.”  He wasn’t really even talking to her. 

“Oh ya, sure.”  He seemed so small-minded, so arrogant.  He had no idea just how un-special he was.  He played in a garage band and he was no closer to leaving his job at Starbucks than when he had started.   Before, Lily had believed he was special.  She had been there at every show, watching and supporting his Midwestern dream of “making it big.”  And the glow of being the lead man’s girlfriend had been enough for a while.  Before, she had felt lucky as she looked out at his small but dedicated fan base made up of screaming tween girls.  Before, she had looked at him like he was the only thing in the universe.  She could have stared 
at him forever.  But not now.  Not anymore. Not after they had arrived.

As Jeremiah rambled on, she thought about them, the Jewels, those who had come down and introduced themselves a few weeks back.  Their representative gave a speech to the nation from the White House.  Lily thought about the look on the President’s face as he stood behind him.  It was a mixture of joy and fear, elation and terror.

Good evening.  It is a pleasure to be here tonight.

She thought about how normal it seemed, like they had just moved into the neighborhood from another city. 

We appreciate your hospitality.  We have traveled a very long way to see how your spectacular race lives and works and participates in its community.  We are impressed. 

He looked human, mostly.  His eyes were larger, and more oval.  He wore a dark blue suit and a red tie.  He stood tall and straight at the podium, looking directly into the camera.  His hands rested gently on the edges, his fingers were thin, longer than human fingers but still human in shape and color and form.  His voice was soft but clear.  He didn’t need the microphone. It was as if he didn’t need to use words.  He was able to be understood without speaking at all. 

We will not be imposing upon you long.

He never looked away from the camera.  Lily got the feeling that he could see her, looking right at her, but after the speech, that’s what everyone said.

We will be seeing some of you soon.

“Lily, hello?” She snapped back to the “tour bus.”  “I mean, come on.  Let’s listen to the last song one more time and tell me what you think.”  Jeremiah crawled in the front seat and restarted the CD.  He looked smaller than she remembered, hunched over the steering wheel, staring at the radio, looking young and hopeful and scared.

She suddenly didn’t feel like wasting any more time with him.  She knew he wouldn’t get picked.  He wasn’t what they were looking for, not that she knew.  She opened the side door to leave, already late for her rounds. 

“I’ve gotta go.  I’ll see you later.”  She stepped out and shut the van door. 

“K.”  He said distractedly. 

And just like that, he was no longer her entire universe.

She circled around the back of restaurants, knocked on the locked doors of closed bakeries, waiting for the managers, chefs, and bakers to hand over the dried up and picked over pastries their customers hadn’t chosen from the day before.  They were just going to throw them away; they might as well let Lily take them off their hands for a neat $20. 

Once back in the kitchen, away from Jeremiah, Lily set to work.  The serrated knife cut the pastries easily, the blade connecting to the wooden prep table with a hollow thunk after making its way through an old cinnamon roll.  The recently purchased pile of rejected rolls and croissants lay waiting to be sliced and repurposed into pudding.  She tried to keep her mind focused on what was in front of her, having cut herself more times than she could remember at that old and beaten prep table.  Her boss walked by, stood across from her, and smiled.

“Your bread pudding does to celiac sufferers what Dr. Atkins’ death-by-heart attack did to his bacon-munching followers.  I swear girl, no one can resist this stuff.”  He walked towards the front, too hot to stay long in the kitchen but happy to see she was getting her job done.

Because the pudding was the only thing he let her cook, Lily had begun to resent his praise.  She wanted to try something else, anything else, and the heat just made her angrier.  The air conditioning was broken again and the fan wasn’t doing much more than blowing around the humidity from the ovens and the boiling stock pots.  The icing from the cinnamon rolls was starting to melt and stick to the knife’s blade and handle.  The sugar and warm dough gummed between her fingers, gluing them together. 

Then surprisingly, she felt a cool breeze.  She thought maybe one of the chefs must have come up behind her and opened the freezer door.  But she didn’t hear the door open or the approach of squeaking shoes.  She turned around to look and in shock dropped the knife.  A Jewel was standing behind her.  He was tall and lean and smiling.

Are you ready to go, Lily?

The knife stood balanced on the blade where it had dropped, the sticky handle unwilling to fall.  And then it did, slowly, but Lily was not there to see it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Don't Forget to Remember

We are not enough.  We cannot hold everything that we do and see and touch and experience and hear and feel.

We are not enough.

These bodies of ours - they are too frail.  They are too small.  They are not enough.

I stare at my face every night before bed, before washing off the day and my makeup and my sweat and my worry.  Before the washing I look at my nose and my chin and my cheeks but never at my eyes because I don't want to see the wrinkles that might someday be there soon because I age everyday we age we get older.  I don't want to see them.  But I don't want to miss them creeping on.  I am between wanting to be warned and the dread of being surprised at their sudden arrival.  The creases between my brows, the feet of crows crackling out of the corners, the etched in parentheses quoting all those things that I said and I laughed and I screamed and I whispered.  All those things leaving their mark on my face.  I don't want to remember that way.

I forgot about a mole on my neck.  Had it always been there?  I don't remember it being there, in that spot.  I remember having it, sharing it and its place on our necks, the Vanderbosch women, moley necks and wrinkled chins and large front teeth.  But it wasn't there, was it?  I have stared at my face for years every night and I forgot it was there.

And then just like that, for no reason at all, I am shot back, back to that night those nights weeks months when he and I were together.  A remembering that I might have forgotten.  A part of us.  A part of my story.  A chapter whose pages had been stuck together and mashed up in between remembering to pay the utility bill and my sister's birthday and the time that I hit my first ball that muggy afternoon at softball practice the clink and connection and joy of metal hitting leather.

I was a baby when I was with him, so young and so naive and so innocent and so sweet. And we didn't want to say goodnight.  We said everything but goodnight because then it would be the end and it couldn't be the end.  And I remember wanting to be as close to his body as I could, that if we separated if we disconnected if we came apart then the whole wide world would fall apart and I would crumble right there in the alley in front of the bar where he lived and slept above it where he was without me and would go up and be alone and I would have to make my way back to my own room and I didn't want that to happen.  I wanted to melt into him. Through our winter coats and past the small melting flakes of snow that he said he hadn't seen in ten years because it didn't really snow there but I brought it with me, all the way from the States and I brought them for him.

And I don't want to forget those things.

Then I remember the cab ride.  That horrible, disastrous, achingly depressing cab ride when you were sitting next to me a thousand feet away.  It was our last trip.  The last time we were going to go somewhere and be something and see something and feel something together.  Our togetherness was ending.  That trip, that moment in the cab, as I stared out at the void of night falling over Lake Michigan with the life and the lights and the noises and the hope for a bright tomorrow of the city on the other side of the cab, the side of you, the side with you, that I could not look at.  I could only look at the dark.  I could only look at the night married to the depths of the lake.  I could only see the sky and water melting together as if they were always meant to be the same and together and joined.  I could not breath in that back seat.  I could not move.  I felt you over there but you were so far.  We had separated.  We had been broken.  The cord between us had been cut and there was nothing that either of us could do to repair it.  We could only sit there.  In that cab.  Alone together.

And I don't want to forget that either.

Because forgetting that thing, forgetting that hurt and that pain and that ache and that void would mean that I forgot how deeply I could feel.  It would mean that we hadn't meant anything at all.  It would mean that I wasn't capable of feeling or caring or wanting to join my life with someone in a way that truly meant something, in a way that was preferable to spending my time with any number of somebodies or alone because you were someONE.

So I remember.