Category Archives: fictionish

coming to

The birds outside woke him up before he was ready. Annoyed, he came into consciousness, opening his eyes to the bright light in his room and a splitting headache. Oh drunk —-, what did you do last night? The sepia playback from the night before was interrupted sporadically by blanks in the story line and finally the story cut short right before the end. The film must’ve fallen off the reel. Or something like that.
He parted his sticky lips for the first time and licked them, checking the clock by his bed. 12:30 pm. He could have gone for another hour or two for sure if it weren’t for those stupid birds. He didn’t brush last night and his breath was rank from the nighttime. He could also taste remnants of the night’s drinks and cigarettes. Stretching out across the slightly yellowed sheets, he made a mental note to do laundry in the next week. His shirt from the night before was damp from sweat and the sheets could stand a wash.
Not wanting to move but too thirsty now that he was awake, —- swung his feet onto the cold floor. The cold November air managed to spread past the thin walls of his house and settle itself everywhere in his room but the small pocket of warmth in his bed. The floor was the most hostile of them all. Head still throbbing, he winced at the cold but grabbed a gray cotton sweatshirt from his dresser and pulled it over his head as he walked into the kitchen.
The lukewarm water ran straight from the leaky tap to his plastic cup – and also all over his hands. His roommate had tried to fix the leak in the faucet by tying a washcloth around it, but the cloth had since soaked and the water shot through again.
The cup filled and he drank it all in a few gulps, imagining each swallow could somehow undo the things he didn’t remember doing from the night before.
He dropped the empty cup in the sink. His heart was beating, and his lips were cold and moist.

She brushed her long, dark hair and dressed for the cold, putting her book in her bag and double-checking her reflection in the mirror on the way out the door. Jaw set and mind cool, she had made up her mind to get to the bottom of this, one way or another. She waited until she was certain he would be awake to call him. She figured 12:45 should be fine, even though she had been awake since 9:00 that morning. She dialed his number as she stepped into the cold, holding her breath from her nerves and from the temperature outside.
The shower was warming up and he was pulling off his shirt when he heard his phone faintly buzzing from his bed.
“Meet me in an hour,” her voice said nervously over the phone. She sounded so much younger than she was.
Curious, and now committed, he hung up the phone and stepped into the hot water. —- stared up at the steam curling toward the ceiling and the ruined paper on the walls while the water soothed his headache. He wanted to know why she called. Those few nights in the summer had been all right but he had never been particularly invested in the relationship.
He brushed his teeth hoping to freshen his breath as best as he could, but knowing that there wasn’t really much he could do.
Pants, shirt, sweater, socks, shoes. Wallet in pocket and keys in hand, he stepped out into the cold. The digital clock on his car’s dashboard said he had fifteen minutes to spare.

She sat there in the coffee shop hidden under a scarf and cradling her book like it would offer some kind of advice for what was to come. There was a couple at the table next to her having coffee and reading magazines. She had dark hair and thick bangs; he wore round glasses that reflected the light. There was an older woman poring over a thick textbook and taking notes in big, slanted cursive. There was a table of three teenage girls who hadn’t quite grown into their looks but who did their best to impersonate the models in Seventeen Magazine. One girl’s hair was haphazardly straightened and her split ends stuck out, making her hair look more like a straw broom from afar.
There was a low chatter in the room. The girls laughed at jokes amongst themselves and one in the couple would occasionally point an article or an advertisement out to the other.
She heard his footsteps before she saw him walking toward her. He looked the same, though his hair might have grown a little and he may have gained some weight. His blue eyes were as bright as ever, even inside the shop. He settled across from her and she sat in silence for a moment.
“Well, the ball’s in your court,” —- said.
The room went quiet. She could smell the alcohol on his skin.

blindness.

The eggs are dry in the frying pan that was used the night before to fry rice that turned out equally dry. A sizzle and a hiss for each moment that the eggs came closer to being finished. The harsh sun streams through windows unforgiving. She sits on an un-matching chair at the kitchen table with the gessoed wooden board in front of her, the pleading eyes of the lonely woman looking up at her. She wanted to tell the woman to stop looking at her, to put some clothes on. No one can help you when you’re naked. No one wants to help you with such helpless looking features. He places the eggs in front of her on a flowered plastic plate. She sips her cranberry juice cocktail and picks up the fork. He marvels at her willingness to trust him with her safety. She thinks to herself that she trusts him more than anyone. But scrambled egg forces the words from her lips back down her throat.

Sounds from the night before flash through her head in snippets so quick and fleeting that she is surprised that this room was ever filled to begin with. But last night, the walls seemed to be breathing. There was a pulse and a constant movement through arteries and veins. She could actually see them last night. How old they all felt, sipping their grown-up drinks and cooking real grown-up foods together. But in the light of midmorning responsibility and rationality, they all looked more like children playing dress up in their parents clothes.

He picks up his pencils and starts back on the woman. He pays particular attention to the folds of the cloth that covers her body. She herself is complete; her eyes speak this sadness that no human hand can cure. Like Water for Chocolate. She is surrounded by candles but she cannot keep the fire going within her. He works with what is not there, blending smudges from his finger and drawing with his eraser. She wonders how someone can create from nothing. It seems magical. But then, here they were.

Her eyes were smothered with glitter, paint, and tangled Christmas lights from nights that could have been. She couldn’t see, even in the daytime. Nobody understood what clouded her vision, but it stayed like that for a very long time.

character sketch of a girl who might be real.

She lives an enviable lifestyle, to say the least. Her bedroom has a sense of classic beauty and order; it’s the place she goes to take off the clothes that make her the people person. It’s where she goes when the curls come out and her perfect order becomes chaos. She often takes a cup of coffee into her room with her, a big, wide mug that she fills nearly to the brim. Black. She seems wise beyond her years; one is surprised to learn that she is only fifteen because of the precocious things that come out of her mouth. She appreciates her school’s textbooks and she spends her Saturday mornings lazily thumbing through the old pages.

She is polished; that is the only word to describe her. Her words come out articulately and deliberately and every move she makes in the presence of others is calculated. There’s a secretly scared side of her, though. An anonymous side that is afraid of irrelevance, like we all are. At night, when the lights are out and the wild comes alive, she stares around her tidy room and wonders if the bears are coming for her. She fears that it’s only a matter of time before they figure her out. She is a small little girl here, skinny and weak with tiny hands that can’t hold anything.

a Christmas-themed story.

It was Christmas Eve and Gladys stood outside of her Omaha, Nebraska home. The sun had gone down long ago and the temperature would drop to ten degrees in the next few hours. She couldn’t bear to hold on to her shopping bags’ paper rope handles while her fingers quickly froze: she set the bags down on the sidewalk next to her when she stopped to marvel at her house. Her hands thawed in the pockets of her puffy blue polyester-blend winter coat. Her cell phone, which was at first cold and hostile to her touch, quickly warmed and expedited her fingers’ defrosting.

Gladys’s mom had called earlier when she was on her way home from the store to tell her what a good time the family was having in Boca Raton (“Oh it’s beautiful, Gladys dear. Golf every day for your father and I shop at the outlets and it’s just wonderful! We just have to make sure to look out for the locals, you know.”).

Gladys was annoyed that her mother had felt the need to rub it in even more that she wasn’t with the family — and by family, she meant her mother, her father, and her autistic younger brother Elliot — but it wasn’t Gladys’s fault that Phil’s salary had just been cut in half. The day that Phil came home with the news that he had been laid off from his corporate accounting job, Gladys was cooking a Quiche for dinner with strawberry shortcake for dessert. Phil had barged into the back door with a triumphant smile on his face. Gladys was soon to be let down by this misleading front of her husbands, as she had been expecting good news of a promotion or a raise. The Quiche burned that night, and the shortcake went uneaten, doomed to become a melted cream-soaked mass with a violent garbage disposal fate.

The day Phil was laid off from his “mainstream” job was the beginning of his soul-searching journey, otherwise known as SpeakUSurve, his internet startup that involved being paid to encode programs on clients’ computers so they could speak their messages into type on their computer. Phil was convinced that it was the next big technological hit. Gladys faithfully took her SpeakUSurve t-shirt and folded it neatly on the shelve at the end of their bed. This shelf, bought from their neighbors at a garage sale nine years ago, housed other relics to Phil’s manic phases: his yoga dvd, poetry books, and his Nikon D3000. She quietly made the switch from steaks to meatloaves over the next eight months.

Their clothes, food, and electronics became more modest as the year progressed. Phil didn’t notice of course; he was preoccupied developing “apps” for his programs; “You just don’t understand, Gladys, this is the age of the tablet computer!” He increasingly spent more and more time locked away in their study and Gladys, though frugal on every other front, scoured the town’s home decor stores year-round in search of discounted holiday decorations.

In February, when Christmas lights are marked down to nearly nothing, they are usually doomed to never light the homes of happy suburban families or the eyes of hopeful children on Christmas night. But Gladys was there this time to scoop the lights up and give them a welcoming home. She did not discriminate when she went on her lighting hunts: she got icicles, blinking lights, white lights, round lights, and multicolored lights. And she didn’t stop there. She bought an inflatable Frosty the Snowman figure to stick on the lawn and a projector to shine a nativity scene on the side of their house. She bought some foam Santa legs to stick on the side of her chimney to make it look like the old man was stuck on his way down, and she got red, green, and silver tinsel to string around her bushes. She must have spent a hundred dollars or more on the decorations, but each time she went to the store she would only spend about five dollars. She was a woman on the hunt. Something about the lights brought out her primal instinct and she wouldn’t stop until she had her taste of the perfect kill.

Gladys stood now, on Christmas Eve, staring at her prize kill. The lights could be seen seven blocks down the street; they were brighter than any other house in the neighborhood. They blinked and they ran and the Santa on the roof even waved at passing cars at all hours of the night. If she stood close to her home, she could even feel a little dome of heat surrounding the cave of lights she had created for herself. Good thing for the lights on a night like this, Gladys thought as she walked past the wall of heat and light, slipping a little on the ice on the sidewalk in front of her door.

Phil was inside, and he would be expecting a meatloaf.

based on someone true.

She exuded innocence and purity; her name even implied it. It was the name of a storybook character; it conjured the image of a hoop-skirted shepherd girl in pastel. The name was fitting for a pastor because it planted the image of the pure Christ child into parishioners’ minds. But she was the pastor’s daughter, and on her, the name decorated her existence with a subtle charm and irony that many did not grasp. Her blue eyes were big and inviting and her blonde hair was nearly the same color as her fair skin. She was tall. She was thin.

She spent her evenings in her room reading her Bible and imagining the adventures she would have that one day when her father would finally let her out, when he would have no choice but to let her out because she would be old enough. In that fateful summer, on her magical eighteenth birthday, the tarnished wooden floor of her parents’ house would disappear beneath her and her toes would take root in nothing but the ever shifting topsoils of the world. She would sigh. It was still a long year before the time on her captivity ran out, and so she had to bide her time until then.

Things began to change though, when she met the group. They were in church. They appeared harmless. They arrived to service dressed respectfully and with their families. They had gone to Sunday school in the years that they had grown up in that southern town. They sat together in church though; they sat in the back pew.

No one noticed that when the service started, the group would wander out of the church and idle outside in a cluster of trees, hidden from the view of church-goers and passersby. She was sick that day, so she couldn’t go to church. She sat in her pale blue bedroom reading Gulliver’s Travels and occasionally looking up and out her bedroom window at the back of the church that her family was in. The radio in her room was playing Chopin. When she turned a page, she heard the chapel door close. Four of them were sneaking out toward the trees. She closed her book and she watched each of them sprint catlike across the gravel parking lot and into the grass, then disappear instantly.

Something made her stand. The floor was chilly beneath her bedwarm toes, but she just slid them into tennis shoes. Her nightgown was, in retrospect, a bit matronly, so thank God they found charm in it as retro and not otherwise. Still a little dizzy, she opened the front door of her old house and stepped out. The earth gave a little bit under her worn tennis shoe. She felt slightly heavier than usual.

The group looked up from their cigarettes when they heard a twig break outside of their fortress, then she was there, her long blonde hair loose around her shoulders and catching the Sunday morning sun in it. Not many words were exchanged between them; they had an understanding.

She couldn’t make it to the hideout every Sunday, but she did what she could.

She began to realize that she would be considered clever if she could say unexpected things and fashion herself to look edgy. She learned that she could work with her parents’ strictly conservative clothing guidelines to ironically make herself cool. She began shopping in thrift stores downtown. She began drinking coffee.

When her older sister announced her engagement, she realized that it was only a matter of time before the same was expected of her. College wasn’t an expectation of her family’s for her, even though this was 2008 and American society seemed well past that. So she stopped going to school. Instead, she would smoke and drink with the group during the day. They would stay downtown, near the college where they could blend in. She would sober up just enough before it was time to go home, back to the fantasy world that used to be her reality. It was her senior year of high school and she would never graduate.

She kept a journal. She had always kept a journal. It was where she wrote down her plans for after she left home, when she was free to do what she wanted. On the inside cover of her journal, she kept a tally list of how many times she had been drunk in her life and how many times she had been high. She made a promise to herself that she would never lose count.

She stopped sleeping at night. When the sun went down, she would climb out her window and run down the long path to the road where a truck waited to take her away.

The group was comprised of people who spent their time searching for a new, exotic state of mind. In pursuit of individualism, each of them altered their own names in some way, or they traded their birthdays for new ones; they fashioned new identities for themselves. She thought that she had kept a hold on who she was, she thought that she had stored that hoop-skirted girl in pastel in her back pocket. She thought that girl would stay waiting for her forever.

She turned eighteen and she left home immediately to move in with her twenty-two year old boyfriend. They’re married now and so she took his name. She has a common name now like Smith or Johnson. She cleans her house to Chopin while he’s out working but she hardly ever sees the group anymore. Sometimes she’ll make a drink for herself in the middle of the day. She still writes in her journal every once in a while, but there is no list on the front cover. Her hair has darkened with age and she has gained weight.

She feels a certain satisfaction for having spited and tricked her parents. She doesn’t realize that she has landed herself with the exact same fate each of her older sisters had as well, which is exactly what her parents expected of her.

The shepherd girl in pastel is gone.

3MF: hide-and-seeking.

I’m not entirely sure how much I like it. Oh well :/ It was just for fun anyway.
Btw word limits kill me.

The sweater felt hostile against my skin. I hadn’t wanted to wear it. Mom forced me to, but I could feel beads of sweat forming at the base of my back. I pushed up my sleeves for momentary relief and sat cross-legged in the grass of my backyard. I yanked several weeds from the grass and tied them clumsily, trying to fashion a wreath. But it fell apart in my hands.
Frustrated, I tossed it aside and stood. My jeans had become a little tight. Brushing plant bits off my backside, I looked around. The backyard was empty save for myself, but I could hear the shouts that carried over the splintered fence. It was my neighbor, Samantha, and her sisters. Samantha was nine, a year younger than me.
They were playing house in the maze of vegetation in her backyard. She stopped long enough to invite me over. As I was crossing between our front yards, I saw Jordan, an older girl who lived across the street. She was talking on the phone on her porch. Her aura of self-assured maturity was something that I could never fake in spite of hours spent reading magazines, absorbing beauty and boy advice until I thought my head would burst. We didn’t acknowledge each other; I turned back toward Sam and her sisters, who were now turning cartwheels in the grass.
I’d never been much of a cartwheeler, so I suggested that we play hide-and-seek. I’d spent countless summer evenings lying in contorted positions to fit my surroundings. I would do anything to squeeze into a perfect hiding place. Oftentimes my friends would give up and move on to a new game without finding me.
Sam covered her eyes as she began to count:
“ONE one-thousand, TWO one-thousand, THREE one-thousand…”
My heartbeat accelerated with adrenaline as the four of us scattered screaming across the lawn. I knew my destination already but I had to run a decoy pattern to trick Sam’s ears. Then I sprinted for the potted shrubs in front of Sam’s house. I rearranged the plants so that their pots and leaves shielded a tiny space, then climbed in gingerly.
I could hear a faint buzzing noise growing louder until it was in my ear, unavoidably invasive. I couldn’t escape it in my confined space but I couldn’t ignore it. I tried to discreetly swat at the unseen flying predator but it persisted. It was going to fly into my ear to lay its eggs in my brain.
“…FIFTY-FOUR thousand, FIFTY-FIVE thousand…”
The air was growing stale. I was definitely sweating now, and the fly would not leave. I tried to convince myself that I had only to stay hidden for a little longer.
“…NINETY-NINE one-thousand, ONE HUNDRED! READY OR NOT, HERE I COME!”
My skin was damp and itchy and my breath heaved in and out of my chest, threatening to betray my location. I followed the patter of her feet blindly with my ears. It was dangerously close.
“Alex, is that you? What are you doing down there?”
It was Jordan. Oh, God. Think of something, quick.
“Hey,” I sputter.  “I’m just…hiding. ”
She nods.
“My mom was just making lemonade, if you want some.”
I considered. The buzzing faded quickly. I looked down at the sweater and decided that I had no need for it at all. I unbuttoned and discarded it before climbing out of my alcove.
The sweater stayed beneath the plants in the heat of that August day.

NPR’s Three Minute Fiction

So NPR has this contest that they’re doing called Three Minute Fiction. I only heard about it today, but I guess they’re on round four of it already. Basically you have to follow whatever their guidelines are and write a 600 word short story to be submitted. This round’s challenge is that you have to write a story using the words plant, button, trick, and fly. You can use any tense of the word, and in any form. So I’ve decided that I’m going to try. I have until 11:59 on April 11th, 2010 to submit my story. About three thousand stories were submitted to the last round, so I seriously doubt that there’s any chance I could win. But it just sounds like a fun challenge. Soooo I’ll work on it a little bit and I’ll post my final product on here when I have it done. Wish me luck!

Chagall Part Two

I posted a picture of “The Birthday” by Chagall a few days ago but I didn’t really talk about it the way I wanted to because I was so hasty. Buttt I really really like this painting:

Mostly the reason that I love this painting so much is the sense of afterthought in it. It’s hard to explain, I guess. But okay. Here’s the story I decided is behind the painting. I told it to one of my friends in art class the other day when he asked why I was so obsessed with it.

The painting is called “The Birthday.” It might be the guy’s, or maybe someone off the canvas. But I have decided that for my story, it is the girl’s birthday. We’ll call her Alice. This man (let’s call him Jack), who is bending over backwards to kiss her is actually sitting across the room at a table, maybe at the kitchen table and they’re talking. He is probably a very good friend of hers. He comes over early in the afternoon, maybe at ten or eleven o’clock, ready to wish Alice a happy birthday and to finally tell her how much he loves her.

Jack stands outside the door to her apartment and knocks; his heart is pounding in his ears because he ran up the stairs in haste. Her shoes make a tapping noise on the wooden floor on the other side of the door and he can see the shadow of her feet beneath it. Then she’s there in front of him and she’s glowing with palpable happiness. To see him? He hopes so. She gives him a hug and he wishes her a happy birthday. He offers a little strawberry bundt cake and some jelly that they can share for lunch, or for a snack later. She takes the packaged food with a smile and invites him into her apartment, placing them aside. He notices some flowers sitting on an end table. He notes that they’re pretty nice; he might have picked out some like that if he had thought earlier to get flowers for her. They were probably from her brother or her father. He comments that they complement the color scheme of the room nicely.

“Oh, Edmund sent them over this morning, aren’t they lovely?”

Edmund? Who the hell is Edmund? Apparently some guy she met down at the farmer’s market when she was buying fresh blackberries to make jelly and pie with. And she really likes him. She gushes about him: about the art that he does and about the way his words and observations breathe vivacity into tiny mundane details of everyday life. Not to mention, he has gorgeous hair and a perfect body. To Jack, he sounds like a pretentious, contrived little prick. Clearly he was fooling her. And the flowers were way too over thought to be genuine tokens of affection. Now food, that was a real gift. It could nourish you from the inside out. Flowers just sit on a table and rot.

Jack sits at the wooden table and stares down at the grains, swiveling continuously across the plane before disappearing over the edge. He doesn’t know what to say, really. But that’s okay because Alice fills the silence with her ramblings about the time that she and Edmund met for lunch last week and walked around the park together, tossing bread to ducks in the pond. Alice’s shoes tap away from him to the kitchenette and she places the flowers in a glass vase that had been set out to dry in the window after being cleaned earlier that morning. It is all Jack can do not to throw a childish tantrum right there, to pound his fists and wail and cry because he can’t get what he wants. He sits there instead, watching her contently fill the vase with water and arrange the flowers. She hums a little to herself. She’s so completely happy.

It’s only recently that he’s begun to have feelings like this about Alice, which he had doubted at first and passed off as mere inevitable side effects of a close friendship with a member of the opposite sex; easily overridden with logic and reasoning. But she had worked her way into everything in his world: into the sun shining through the trees onto the sidewalk, into the words in the books he read, and into the deep taste of his coffee. No, he loved her. A lot. And now, apparently, this Edmund character has taken his place– a place that he hadn’t even had the chance to occupy first. He imagines himself now, the willful side of himself, leaving his body right there and telling her everything and sweeping her off her feet and taking her wherever she wants to go because he can. Because he loves her that much.

But she is turned away from him. The sun streams through the window and her face is lit up and her thoughts are elsewhere completely. They are with Edmund now. And Jack sits there alone and imagines how it could have been.

So I might be overreaching a teensy bit. But that’s what I see. Really. And that’s why I love this painting. I feel for Jack so much. The unnatural curvature of his body suggests the impossibility of the feelings that he has for her; how he can never act on them. And she’s just going. Her eyes are wide and not focused on him because, clearly, this isn’t really happening. Her thoughts are somewhere else entirely. And his eyes are closed in the fantasy of what is happening but not happening. Sooo there. I don’t know how to end this blog.

The end.