Category Archives: fiction

Lunchtime

The mid-March weather was crisp and cool, but the sun was shining strong enough that you could get away with a light jacket, so I put on my favorite armor, a grey Dickies Eisenhower that I got back in my punk rock days, before I sold out and became a poorly paid private investigator. I had dressed it up with patches of all the founding fathers — Black Flag, Minor Threat, Op Ivy, Aus-Rotten though I never even listened to that shit, DK, and of course the presidential crest of Johnny, Joey, DeeDee, and Tommy. It was a nice reminder of where I’d come from — maybe how far I’d come since then — and also made me look tough when I was working a case.

The changing seasons also did a number on my bad knee, so I grabbed the shillelagh that I used for a walking stick. It was my da’s from his time with the Irish Guard. He’d tried to train me in bataireacht when I was younger, but when you’re twelve years old there are few things sound as lame as ancient Irish stick fighting. I realized that he would’ve retired this year if he were still alive. I wondered how that worked for the Good People on account of they didn’t really age.

The air outside smelled like shit and sodium and made me strangely nostalgic for The Short Bus, the old tour van that we had when I was playing in The Invisibles. It was actually a converted Type A school bus, so the name was still accurate, if terribly offensive. That old clunker ran on diesel, but for just a few hundred bucks, we made it work with old recycled cooking oil that we got from Chinese restaurants. That’s how I knew Yan, the guy who owned the building where my office and ran the restaurant downstairs. Apparently waste disposal costs a lot of money when you’re frying up that much pickled dog meat or whatever, so we did him a favor and took it off his hands for free. We were kind of a Lifetime-esque hardcore time, and of course we were all vegans at the time. We thought we were stickin’ it to the man and fighting back against oil corporations. Of course, none of us seemed to mind that we were using animal fat to run our van. Or that we were making fun of kids with special needs.

Looking back, that was a very dark time in my life.

I headed east up Essex Street towards the Common, past the cracking roads and crumbling buildings that stood adjacent to the luxury condos that had spread like a virus through the heart of downtown Boston. Gentrification was a weird and wicked beast. I saw Eunice at the intersection of Chauncy and Harrison and waved. She responded with a tiny nod. “Eunice” was just the name I’d given to the little Korean lady with the shopping cart full of empties that she pushed around the city. Her and I had established a kind of repartee over the years, so I felt like she deserved a name. After all, I was one of her biggest donors, and she seemed to recognize me every time I found her scrounging through the recycling bin outside my apartment at four in the fucking morning. Our friendship never developed any further than these subtle acknowledgements, but I was okay with that.

John Kelley’s Wake

Back in the main room of the pub they were playing “Auld Triangle” on the speakers — The Pogues version, as if there were any other. It was sundown, and in the distance you could just make out a halo around the crown of the Prudential Center. Spires of frosted orange sunlight shone through the bay windows at the far end of the bar, the silhouettes of panes framing all the faces that turned out to say farewell. I wasn’t in much of a mood for talking — Irish funerals also make for massive social events — but looking out at the crowd that had gathered at the bar, it was nice to see the diversity of lives that John had touched over his however-many years.

Before the sun had set, it had been one of those beautifully grey New England days that bugged my knee, so I’d been using my da’s old shillelagh as a crutch to help me walk. A few folks tried to offer me their stools to get me off my feet but I ignored them, not wanting to deal with all the small-talk conversation that would surely come along with it. The more funerals you find yourself at, the less inclined you are to go through that same dance every time:

“What’s good, brotha?”

“Ah, ya know, hangin’ in there. How ya been?”

“Good, good, yeah. Besides, you know.”

“Yeah.”

“Fuckin’ shame, y’know?”

“Yeah, I know.”

“I think he woulda liked this though. It’s a nice way to honor him.”

And so on ’til you puke. “No, he wouldn’t fuckin’ like it,” I always wanted to say, “‘Cause he’d still be fuckin’ dead, and having the corpse of the recently deceased prance around the funeral would really do a number on his loved ones, don’t you think?”

But instead the conversation shifts to some nostalgia, as if you and who you’re talking to have any kind of bond worth catching up on, besides being spat out on the Earth by your mams in or around the same zip code. Of course, it’d be rude to say, “I don’t care where you’re living now, I haven’t seen old-so-and-so, and I don’t care that she’s fat but since you asked I think it’s pretty fuckin’ rude of you to say so won’t you kindly piss off so I can grab another drink and drown the pain.”

It would take me at least another dozen pints until I got that honest.

Unhappy Old Years

12:00am, 1 January 2014

“Well…bye guys,” said 2013 as she waved her nonliteral appendage weakly. “It was fun while it lasted.” But she knew that no one was listening. They were all too busy cheering and kissing and clinking their glasses and singing some vague semblance of “Auld Lange Syne.” 2013 thought about the way they used to sing that song for her. Or at least, that one time they sang it for her, anyway. But now she was that old acquaintance, forgotten just as swiftly as she came.

The party would roar on into the wee hours of the morning, but 2013 skipped out early without so much as saying her goodbyes. Everyone looked like they were having so much fun, and 2013 didn’t want to disturb them. Everyone was happy with 2014, this cool new year that had replaced her in their lives, just like she had done with 2012. As she walked down the street towards the Island of Old Years Past, she wondered if all the years went through this same feeling of dejection, or replacement, of ennui and emptiness. Even though she knew that it was nothing personal, she still wondered if 2012 had held his grunge, if he would scorn her when she arrived.

2013 stopped and looked back at the triple decker home where the party raged on. “I thought the ending would be bigger,” she said with a whimper. “That I’d go out with a bang, some explosive last hurrah, just like how it started. You were all making Top 10 lists and looking back with such fond memories and recounting all our times together, I guess I thought…I really thought it meant something.” She picked up a metaphorical stone from the sidewalk and threw it at the window of the house, sending it shattering into allegorical shards. “I hope that you look back fondly on our time together. And if you ever need me again, you know where to find me,” she said. And with that, she kept on walking forward out of time to her own entropic heatdeath.

Then she heard a familiar voice say, “Well see? It’s not so bad, huh?” She looked up and saw 2012 standing before her, holding two glasses of champagne. He extended one towards her and said, “No hard feelings, kid. C’mon. Everybody’s waiting. And when you’re here out of time, the party never stops.” She would have smiled, if years could do such a thing. So instead she took a sip and joined the rest of the past forever.

The Flight

“Again, this is sweet, but insane,” Ian says as he rubs his eyes and shifts in the passenger seat. “My company pays for every cab ride I even think about taking, let alone take.”

“This is different,” I say. “Seeing you off out of New York is different.”

“You’re going to see me in eight days.”

“Please just let it be sweet, okay?”

He nods.

I start thinking about what I will miss most about Connecticut, and New York, and living here, and I wonder if what Ian will miss most are the same things. I wonder, as I drive down 95, a particularly ugly stretch of 95 where everything is very gray, where the palette is unwelcoming and dark even in July and the bark on the trees is a harsh brown, what I will fall in love with in London, and if I will even fall in love. I wonder if Ian thinks about these things, and I realize I don’t know.

“What’re you going to do with the house all to yourself for a week?”

“Dance on the tabletop. Invite the high school football team to party. Masturbate.”

“That’s my girl,” he says.

We don’t talk for a long while. Finally, he reaches in to the radio dial and turns up NPR to stave off the silence.

“Shit. This skyline,” he says as soon as we hit the Triboro Bridge. I don’t say anything back. “We’re going to have a real life over there, Rachel. Everything is going to be how it’s supposed to be.”

“This wasn’t real life?” I say, keeping my hands fixed on the wheel, not looking at him. I know he’s turned towards me.

“You and I both know this was no way to live. Any of it,” he says. “Me not being the best husband. And you…”

“And me what, Ian?”

“We’ve just been happier, is all,” he says. “We’ve both been happier without external forces chipping away at us, and we need to move on with our lives. This is us moving on with our lives. We’re doing the right thing.”

I start seeing signs for JFK as we cruise along the Van Wyck, not a speck of traffic in our way today.

“Virgin Atlantic,” he says calmly, pointing towards one of the big sign boards for the terminals. “If you didn’t agree with me in some capacity, you wouldn’t be doing this. But you are.”

Ian reaches down into his lap to adjust the buckle on his belt, even though he doesn’t really do anything with it, just sort of plays with it.

“You tossed and turned a lot last night in your sleep,” I say.

“This is all a big fucking deal, Rachel.”

I stare down into my lap for a second longer than I should.

Self-Checkout

It feels like forever while I wait for the guy buying three different kinds of organic peppers and one vine tomato to figure out how to punch in the produce code into the keypad and realize that he’s not supposed to weigh all four fucking fruits together at the same time and then I still have to watch him struggle with swiping his god damn credit card and screwing up the system that I start to consider running for office entirely on a political platform that pledges to require  all potential Self-Checkout users at the grocery store to be licensed before they can be let loose in the lines.

When he’s finally finished fucking up my evening, I step up to the machine and swipe my savings card on the score. “He-lloThome.Well-comeback.,” intones a clunky mechanical voice that vaguely resembles some concept of femininity. “How-was-the__Elli-osPiz-za__that.You.pur-chasedAt__two. Twenty-Seven. Aye-Em___To-Day?”

“Uh, fine. Thanks. Yeah.” I say. I glance around quickly to make sure no one in the line is listening to this dumb machine reminding me of last night’s regrettable drunken purchase. Although perhaps it’s not fair to say that it’s “regrettable” being that, well, I don’t actually have much recollection of it.

I scan my carton of coconut milk across the machine and wait while the dumb thing prompts me to, “Please.place-your__Coconut. Milk.___on-the-belt.” like it does every time, as if I hadn’t figured it out myself by now.

But this time, it keeps talking. “I-see.That.You.have-purchased__Coconut. Milk.__My_records.show.that-you-like.to-buy____Garelick-Farms_Whole.Milk.__Is-this.cor-rect? Please-press__*Yes*-or__*No*.” I press the little green button on the touchscreen and I can hear the people in line behind me shift their weight and sigh.

“Are-you.Di-e-ting_Thome?” the machine asks.

“No!” I say, perhaps a bit louder and more emphatic than I should have when speaking to a machine in public. I laugh nervously then turn to the little old woman behind me and say, “I’m actually just, I’m making sorbet at home tonight, for my girlfriend, so, ya know, the, um, the coconut milk is — ”

“¿Que?” she says, which is how I know she hates me.

The machine interrupts again. “Please-press__*Enter*__if.You-would.like-this.Ma-chine-to.keep-track-of-your.di-et-and-off-er-sug.Ges-tions. Press__*Exit*__if-this-is-a.one-time-pur.chase.” I poke my finger at the red button on the touch screen, then keep stabbing with my finger in angry little bursts like a drunken wasp.

“Thank-you.For.cancel-ing-your.Or-der.Please-have.A-good-day.Thome.” the machine says. I can feel the angry eyes behind me burning holes into my neck. I glance around to see if any of the staff is nearby. It turns out the coast is clear, and my coconut milk is already sitting at the other end of the conveyor belt. I smile at the little old Hispanic lady behind me, then dart down the aisle, grab my milk and make a run for it.

Vows

We lie next to each other in bed and both stare up at the ceiling. My thumb keeps running over my naked ring finger. I am counting each of my breaths. I start counting each of Ian’s.

This is how we spend Friday night. Counting cracks on the ceiling. There is conversation, words with little meaning dribbling out in short bursts, but no movement. I finally turn towards him, and he mirrors me, our foreheads touching. We both close our eyes, and stay like that for a moment.

 “Let’s sleep,” he says, turning over towards the nightstand and flicking off the only remaining light in the room. I flip over so violently that I cause vibrations in the springs of the mattress. I don’t expect Ian to touch me, but he pulls me into him. And he holds me like the world is going to end.

***

I wake up early. The clock says eight, and Ian is still clutching me tight. I can’t remember the last time we stayed wrapped  into each other like this. I’m not tired, but the thought of leaving his arms is more terrible than anything, so I stay. He is asleep, but not fully, so I flip back towards him, willing, once again, for him. But he just rests his forehead onto mine, and inhales for more sleep.

I can’t be only one thing to him, whatever he wants me to be in this moment, so I sit up in bed and lean forward. He puts his hand on my back as he lays there, running his fingers over each notch of my spine, and as I shift to get up, he reaches out, and pulls me back into him with all of his might. And he will not let me go. We sleep another hour.

When I wake, I lie flat on my back, my ear near Ian’s lips. I get up to leave again, but I’m pulled back into bed with the same rubber band reflex against his chest.

At noon, when I wake back up for the final time, his forehead is tucked in against my shoulder, his breath spreading across my back. I reach my hand behind and find his hair, run my fingers through a thick patch on the back of his head, and he readjusts so his chin is resting in my neck.

 “I’m getting up,” I say, and lift myself off the sheets, starting to slide my legs down the side of the bed.

Ian has to catch my body on the way down, but he scoops me up, and doesn’t let me leave. And that’s when I start crying.

 “You won’t even kiss me,” I say, facing out, not looking at him.

 “It’s not you,” he says. “I just need to take this slow again.”

“I’m your wife, Ian,” I hiss. I’m trying to hard to stop the tears, pushing away any sign that they were ever there with the heel of my hand. “This is Kindergarten.”

I turn back so I’m staring back up at the ceiling, but he takes my hands and pulls me on top of him so I’m straddling him. I put my palms flat on his chest.

“What?” I say.

He puts his hands on my hips and, without a word, starts rocking me back and forth on him.

“What are you doing?” I say. “Ian.”

“Just stop talking,” he says, pulling my chemise up over my head.

Manic Pixie Dreamgirl; or, the Post-Postmodern Prometheus

She came to life on a cold, flat slab, a thin slice of pulped plant flesh cut down to 8.5×11 inches and college-ruled with blue lines and pink borders on the edge. Her master made her through an ungodly alchemy of other fictional females, the edges of their words stitched together like skin. Her fingers came from Garden State; her left leg from Elizabethtown, while her right came from The Perks of Being A Wallflower; her luscious lips were culled from High Fidelity‘s Charlie; her fashion sense was stolen from one Holly Golightly; and her voice was ripped straight from the throat of Zoe Deschanel herself.

In short, she was perfect. So he flipped the switch and brought the page to life — his beautiful, monstrous bride, unnaturally thrust into reality and forced  to do his bidding. He cackled wildly as the little black inkjets spit her out upon the page in all her bubbling two-dimensional glory. “Arise!” he screamed, “Arise!” as the thunder clapped behind him, its cavernous boom breathing life into his creation.

When her eyes sprung open, he saw that she had a heterochromia — one green eye, one brown, a subtle quirk that brought her unrealisticness to life. She looked at him with those sparkling, mismatched eyes and said, “Where am I?”

“New Jersey,” he replied. “Or, maybe LA, I don’t know, I haven’t really decided yet. Williamsburg? That’s kind of in the middle, right?”

“Williamsburg, wow! I’ve never been to New York City,” she said as she sat up on the table and peered around his office laboratory. She saw posters of indie rock bands tacked up to the walls, and fraying composition notebooks building wood piles in the corners by the sagging full-size mattress that he pretended was a bed. “Do you have any tea? I could really use some organic honey chamomile with ginger, one Stevia and maybe just a splash of almond milk. Have you heard the new Arcade Fire record? I haven’t, I don’t listen to music released after 1973. Oh! Let’s go dancing! I’ve never danced before. Is there weather outside? It should definitely be raining, unless it’s sunny, which is also good, too. Do you have some kind of whimsical pet name I should call you?”

“Jesus Christ, shut up already,” he said.

“But…I don’t know your name,” she said with a sparkle in her smile.

“You can call me ‘Master’,” he said. “But just don’t talk right now. That’s not what I made you for.”

“What do you mean? A free spirit can’t be made like this. I’m independent, a free woman. Isn’t that what you wanted?”

“Well, yes, but you’re not supposed to…I don’t know, want things. You shouldn’t have like, opinions or whatever. Jesus Christ!” He crumpled up the paper, crushed it smaller, smaller still, until it turned into a little ball that fit inside his fist, then he threw it at the trash can and stomped out of his bedroom, slamming the door behind him for dramatic effect.

But what he didn’t realize was that it was already too late. He had already let his creation out into the world. In all her quirky wonder, in all her hypomanic majesty. And it was a world that she could never understand, a system of rules that she could never truly fit inside. So she grabbed the nearest hoodie, crawled out his bedroom window, leaving the curtains flapping behind her in the evening breeze, and she escaped, setting out to find a place where she could spread her manic pixie madness and be free.