Tag Archives: fiction

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.

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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.

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.