Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Half Empty

     I left the memorial service early to go on a date. The memorial was for a man I knew from high school, a Taylor Williams. He killed himself. The date was with a man I met at a party, a Jared Taylor. He worked for a bank. You might say I had Taylors on the brain.
     Jared Taylor ordered us a bottle of champagne. I am no aficionado of champagne but I am pretty sure it was an expensive bottle as the waiter raised his eyebrows and quickly looked at me. Then he nodded. We weren’t allowed to fill our own glasses, the waiter did that for us. It made me uncomfortable.
     I stared at my date from my side of the red leather booth and thought about high school Taylor. Taylor Williams had pointed at my legs one day in homeroom—usually covered by a long, flowing velvet skirt my mother had repeatedly begged me to throw out—and commented, “You have really white legs.” It was one of the first things he had ever said to me. I made sure from that point on to wear stockings under the skirt so my paleness could not be identified.
     “Have you ever thought about suicide?” I asked my date.
     He frowned and signaled the waiter to pour me more champagne, though my glass was still half full. I took that as a yes and was thankful I wasn’t the only one who lacked follow-through.
     Taylor Williams and I had ninth grade history together. He sat behind me and always smelled like the Big Red gum he chewed. Sometimes during a test I could hear him smacking behind me. It got to be so annoying I would make sure to switch seats during an exam day.
     Once, when we were both early to history, I asked him why he chewed gum. He said it was to stop him from smoking.
     “You smoke?” I asked, horrified that a fourteen-year-old boy had picked up the habit my parents informed me would kill me before I was thirty.
     “No. But it’s to stop me from starting. It’s something to do with my mouth.” And he offered me a piece. I accepted, though I preferred spearmint.
     Taylor still died before he hit thirty. At the service, his parents cried and I offered them a tissue that they accepted without remembering my name.
     My date asked me if I liked my job. I had forgotten that I had lied to him and told him I was employed as a receptionist at a Cosmetic Clinic specializing in face-lifts and liposuction. Reality—temping while I wrote the archetypal Angeleno screenplay—was just too typical and uninteresting to tell.
     “I love it,” I said as I took another sip of my bubbly. “Sometimes I save a little bit of the fat we slice off and use it in my cooking.”
     My date gagged a bit and excused himself to the restroom. I knew he was actually going to call some buddy of his and tell him what I just said. I would have done the same thing.
     I should have tried to make it work with the guy, my friend Susan said we’d make a really cute couple. But after the memorial service it seemed like an awful lot of effort to go to when, in the end, we’d both be dead. Perhaps via self-inflicted measures.
     I took a piece of fancy sourdough bread from the breadbasket and started to rip it into tiny little pieces.
     “Why are you doing that?” I imagined Taylor Williams asking from across the table.
     “It’s something to do with my hands,” I would reply.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


     She knows he can’t imagine her eating all that.
     Blind Date #23 sips a dignified spoonful of butternut squash soup. A freckle of creamed orange remains on his thin lips but she makes no attempt to alert him. Instead, she slices into her filet mignon. Blood leaks out like old nail polish.
     Blind Date #23 tries not to stare as she quickly and methodically bisects her meat. She cuts the flesh into perfectly square, bite-sized pieces and one by one pops them into her mouth like a snack enjoyed during a movie. Every now and then she breaks for a sip of red wine (his choice) or a bite of her side dish (pommes aligot). By the time she has finished her meal, he’s only consumed half of his soup and a few bites of his Lobster Cobb Salad (the dinner special).
     She smiles sheepishly at him and bats her eyes twice like her neighbor Christine taught her. “I guess I was hungry?” She raises her voice at the end, making the statement a question that requires his assurance.
     He laughs and informs her he likes a woman with an appetite. They both know this is not true, and she traces hearts onto the white tablecloth with her finger while he finishes his meal. Programmed muzak falls softly from the speakers above them.
     When the waiter offers them dessert, they ask for the check.

     Blind Date #23 wants to come up for a drink. He doesn’t say so outright, but when his glossy car purrs up outside her apartment he looks at her expectantly and says, “Well, here we are.” This is the point in the play where the comedic relief runs on stage and declares a joke. This is the point where the audience laughs and everything is okay. She should take the cue, no doubt her fancy fifty-plus meal earns the man at least one kiss and one good laugh, but she doesn’t have the energy. She’d rather stay backstage. If his conversation weren’t so monotonous she’d remain curled up in the passenger seat with the seat warmer on, listening to Miles Davis and enjoying the new car smell. Opening the door takes so much effort.
     She forces a smile. Her chapped lips crack. It’s easier to fake an orgasm. “I had a lovely time,” she says. “Goodnight.” And with all her might, she opens the car door.

     She takes care not to alert Christine of her presence when entering her apartment. She’s in no mood for Christine’s false chipperness—Mr. Right is out there somewhere! The question is, what if she doesn’t want to find Mr. Right?

     The cat is waiting for her, his long, back tail gliding back and forth on the wood floor like a snake. She doesn’t bother to take off her heels as she walks into the kitchen to crack open a tin of cat food. She dumps the wet chunks into the cat’s bowl and throws out the can. She doesn’t recycle. She doesn’t see the point, the homeless man by the dumpster will do it for her.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


     I want to put a cigarette out on your back.
     Okay. I continue to dig through my purse.
     Still not looking at him, I wait for the cigarette sting. In my low-cut dress my bent back is bare and naked, exposed to both the elements and the small circular nub of fire he holds between his smooth fingers. I wait, but the pain never comes.

     I turn to look up at him and arch an eyebrow. I thought you were going to put a cigarette out on my back.
     I’m afraid.
     You’re afraid? I’m the one who is going to be scarred.
     That’s why I’m afraid.

     I watch him finish off his cigarette. He flicks it haphazardly onto the ground, and I try not to be annoyed by his defacement of my apartment building.
     Now you’re done with your cigarette.
     I could light another one.
     I stand to walk back in to my apartment; a wave of vertigo passes through me. I would eat something but he likes me thin.

     Smoking gives you cancer, I offer as we sit in silence on the couch.
     Surprise surprise.
     I shrug. I’m disappointed he didn’t hurt me, and I’m worried about my disappointment. I thought I was just an emotional masochist.
     I want a cigarette.
     You don’t smoke.
     What, are you afraid I’ll put a cigarette out on you?
     I doubt I would feel it.
     I know you wouldn’t.

     We smoke in the courtyard in silence. I cough with my first drag and curse my lack of poise. My neighbors’ two kids play cards on their stoop. The older one wins a game and laughs in victory.
     I notice his cigarette is almost out.
     Okay, I say. I’m going to turn around and watch those kids. You put your cigarette out on my back, right under my left shoulder to the right of the mole.
     Are you sure?
     I turn away. I hear him take his last drag. I wait for the burn.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Racist

The following story is inspired by "The Dinner Party" written by Joshua Ferris. The prompt was write a page or two about race.

     “All I want,” I argue as I stir the scalloped potatoes in with the rest of the soup, “is for you to admit that you are a racist.” A bit of the mixture splashes back up out of the pot and onto my forehead. I wipe it off with a finger and taste. It needs more onions.
     He’s dicing said onions and not meeting my gaze.
     Tonight we are arguing about race. Yesterday it was abortion. We had both thought race would be a slightly lighter topic for pre-dinner discussion. We had both been wrong.
     “I’m not a racist!” Brian shoves a small white ceramic bowl filled with the chopped onions in my face. I consider voicing the biting comment that of course he wouldn’t cry cutting onions, he’s heartless, but I refrain. The fact that he didn’t just storm out of the kitchen the second I pulled the racism card out of my recipe rolodex proved I had hit a nerve.
     “You certainly hate Mexican food,” I tease as I dump the onions into the stew. “I had wanted to make fajitas but nooo we had to serve a white-bread American dish.”
     He groans over by the sink where, bless his heart, he’s doing the dishes. “You are making a French dish, my sweet. My dislike of Mexican food does not mean I hold a dislike for Mexicans. Mexican food gives me gas. Mexicans do not.”
     “There!” I wave my ladle in his face; red splotches fly haphazardly all about the kitchen. I will have to Windex-Wipe them into oblivion before the guests arrive. “It’s the tone you used. You’re a racist. Just admit it. I won’t judge.”
     “You are stereotypically categorizing me as racist because I am a white, fairly successful, male. Frankly, I think you are classist.” He pulls the Windex-Wipes out from under the sink and begins to clean.
     I gently serve the soup into china bowls. As always, I am amazed as to how these dishes, cheaply procured in China Town, could appear both so beautifully sterile and yet, with a single ornate design—the flash of a golden rose and her thorn, add an oriental, mysterious quality to kitchenware. The Asians sure know how to decorate.
     “Classist?!” I yelp. “What does that even mean?” I pile the soups onto a tray and carry them into the dining room. There, I shift the linen tale napkins a bit to their left. “Brian,” I continue once the bowls have been rightly placed, “I just like giving my friends a nice, dignified dinner party.”
     “Right,” he snickers from the kitchen. I hear him make himself a scotch on the rocks. “And you and all your friends can feel so high and mighty judging the world up here in this Manhattan loft while the rest of us plebeians are mocked, thrown out with the trash, and yet we are the ones labeled as racist?”
     I ignore him and start to tidy up the living room.
     “Darling?” I call as I fluff some pillows and make sure the wicks in all the candles are fire-friendly, “Can you start uncorking the wine?”
     “Already on it, Love.” He enters carrying three bottles—a red, a white, and a rosé. I nod at one of the bartenders I’ve hired for the night. “Give the wine to him.”
     “Who is that kid?” Brian asks. “Shouldn’t he be out at the Cape pushing lawnmowers?”
     We both stand still and watch the boy awkwardly cut lemons. “So he’s young. He mows the Richadsons' Hampton home and comes highly recommended. This way, if someone throws up we have someone on standby to clean up the mess.”
     “I’ll take being a racist over whatever you are.” Brian hands over the liquor and helps me pull a tablecloth across the coffee table. “Nobody cares about this crap, you know.”
     “I do. I care.”
     “Would you mind if I invite some friends to this?” He waves his hands over all my handiwork. There’s a glint in his eye, and for the first time all evening he seems happy. I’m thrilled by his offer.
     “Certainly! It’d be lovely if we could get your friends to meet my friends so, one day, when we announce the engagement…” He lays a finger on my lips and kisses my forehead.
     I sigh and vent my frustration into another throw pillow.
     Brian is too amused by some personal joke to recognize that I am upset. He leaves the room to make some phone calls. Ten minutes later he returns, all smiles.
     “I invited friends!” he says.
     “Who?” The daisy planter belongs on the counter, the lavender on the coffee table. I walk towards the kitchen to fill the vases. Brian follows me.
     “Jose and Bill.”
     I stop in the middle of the living room, a vase of flowers in each of my hands.
     “You invited…” my voice is steal. My arms have started to shake. The flowers are unnaturally heavy.
     “Jose. You know, he does some handiwork for us. He’s a gardener, capitol fellow. And Bill.”
     In a small, tentative voice, I look up at Brian’s smirking expression to ask the one question I do not want to know the answer to: “Who is Bill?”
     “Why, Bill’s our neighbor! You always talk about him? His manners are impeccable.” Brian is mocking me now.
     I refuse to play this game. “Oh, Bill! Our neighbor with the motorcycle. Our neighbor--“
     “The Negro!” Brian bellows. He slaps himself on the knee. “This cocktail party just got entertaining.” He watches me as I, in total silence, fill the vases in the kitchen and place them on their respective living room tables.
     I do not look up from the place settings. We need more paper napkins. I need to go check on the soup bowls, perhaps I served them too soon.
     “You have to uninvite them, honey,” I calmly demand as I hand him a wad of napkins without meeting his eye. “Put these out and then make the calls.”
     Like a petulant child, he shakes his head. “No.”
     “Why not?” I stop and glare.
     “I’m going to hang out with my friends from a different race. How many of your friends are anything but white?”
     I ignore him. This is no longer funny. “I asked you to invite your friends, not people to prove a point.” Together we walk back into the den. He holds the napkins while I re-arrange the flowers.
     “They are my friends! Jose and I have a lot in common, we both like the sun, and hot sauce…”
     “There!” I shout. The bartenders glance over at us and quickly look away. “You’re trying to be funny, but you’re just sounding like a goddamn racist.”
     “I was being funny.” He throws the napkins on the floor. “Fuck this, if you’re going to be such an anal retentive bitch I’m going out for a beer.”
     “You call them and uninvite them first!” I shout as he slams the front door. I smile at the bartenders. He’s forgotten his coat and will likely be back for it so as to not freeze to death.
     But he doesn’t come home. So later, when in the midst of my party one awkward Mexican man shows up with jeans and an accent that clash against our fancy cocktail dresses and expensive upbringing, and when a tall, well-spoken black man arrives and is immediately hit upon by three married women and despised by two of their husbands, I alone am left to clean up the mess.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Suicide Smut

     She awoke to his hand between her legs.
     “What the fuck are you doing?” she mumbled, slapping his slender digits made sweaty by the heat between her thighs. “I’m trying to sleep.” She turned over on her side, away from him.
     His voice was hoarse and hot in her ear. “I’m horny,” he replied. He slipped his hand under her nightshirt to fondle her breast. Almost casually, he pinched her nipple.
     She hated how her body so naturally reacted to his. Like a reflex, she turned over on to her back. “If you must,” she half groaned, half sighed. Anything to make him happy.
     But as she squinted her eyes open against the morning light beaming through her shades, she saw that he was not happy. Even as he positioned himself above her, his dick ready in his hand, the grimace on his face was not of the expected pain-pleasure, but just of pain.
     “Hey,” she said softly, reaching up with one hand to place one stray Superman curl behind his ear, “are you okay?”
     “Fine,” he grumbled as he slid into her.
     She gasped; the lack of foreplay was evident. But, as always, her body quickly responded. Soon, she was moaning, raising her hips in a rhythmic reaction to meet his own.
     As they fucked, she drifted above their gyrating bodies to look down at her bed. They were not a pretty sight. The noises she made shamed her. She could be their own morning rooster wake up call. Her teenage neighbor must be having a field day.
      She was close, she noticed from her hazy perch over them. Her body’s closed eyes and reddened face proved that. But she couldn’t see his face. She frowned, suddenly desperate with the need to see his eyes, his dimples, him.
     If she could have, she would have seen his big, shit-eating grin. She would have seen him wince just once, and then give a quick nod.      Instead, all she saw was his pelvis continue to thrust into her prone body as he balanced himself with one hand and, with the other, reach under his pillow. She saw him pull out a gun, small and sleek and black, and hold it in stark contrast against his temple pale and white. She saw him thrust, she saw her climax, and she saw him pull the trigger.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Prone To Breakage

The following story is inspired by the following writing exercise found on Aimee Bender's website:
For a group; 3 or more is best.
On a scrap of paper, write down an occupation. On a second scrap of paper, write down a kind of store. Pass the occupation to the person at your left; pass the store type to the person at your right. You will end up with two scraps, by two different people.
Then, in a couple of pages, explain why this person is at this store, and describe the small event that happens while the person is there. Use the store.

In my writers' group, I was given the profession "philosopher" and the setting "antique hardware store." What follows is my attempt to do this prompt while remaining true to the theme of this blog.

     “So now you’re a philosopher,” I snap as I finger a tiny brass hammer the size of my palm. “Good for you.”
     He sighs and takes the hammer from me. He squints against the dim light and reads the tiny ticket attached to the hammer. The tag flutters against the wind emitted by a small albeit well-placed fan hidden in the corner of the store, and it takes him longer than normal to decipher its inscription. “This is from 1927,” he scolds, “treat it with delicacy.” He nods towards a sign posted high to our right as he gently returns the hammer back to its home.
     I look up at the aforementioned warning framed in what is likely an antique frame above what is likely an antique cash register. Please be delicate, objects are prone to breakage, it cautions, the fancier version of “you break you buy.” The words themselves are printed in a jarringly modern font, and I feel that the sign would be much more appropriate had someone written that warning by hand, or even better, with carefully elegant calligraphy. Below the admonition and behind the register stands an elderly woman with curly blue hair and frosted white tips. She’s likely older than half the antiques in this dump.
     This thought causes me to laugh; I accidentally snort a whiff of dust and sneeze three short expulsions in a row.
     “I hate this stupid store,” I complain as I wipe my nose with the back of my hand. “It only has antique hardware, nothing interesting. And it’s dusty.” I glare at the elderly woman, she is too busy polishing a nail longer than my middle finger to pay me any heed.
     He, too, isn’t listening to me. Instead, he runs his hand through a dark wooden box of screws, smiling absently as if he’s massaging a bag of smooth pebbles and not sharp metal points.
     Frustrated, I look out the store’s finger-print laden windows and watch as two of our fellow tourists walk hand in hand towards the beautiful beach that makes this patch of coast such a desirable vacation destination. We had taken this three-day holiday to work out our relationship kinks, not shop for unusable and therefore useless paraphernalia. The fact that there is even a market for tools that are “prone to breakage” depresses me. I again curse the hotel staff for recommending antique shopping as a suitable weekend excursion.
     “I’m just saying,” he continues as I follow him over to a table covered with old measuring tapes. These twines are not made out of plastic like the measurements of today, but soft materials like felt; one particular piece feels like velvet. I wind the faux-velvet rope between my fingers like a boxer getting ready for a match. “I think some people aren’t meant for long-term monogamy.”
     “And you got this from reading some Kafka and one book on basic philosophy?” I mime a jab and imagine the crowd roaring in approval.
     He rolls his eyes and takes my hand. Gently, he unwinds the tape and places it back on the table.
     “I was just thinking out loud,” he says with a shrug of his shoulders. “I didn’t mean anything by it.”
     “I hate this place, it’s gross, let’s leave,” I reply. This time, the blue-haired woman does hear me. Off his embarrassed glare, I, too, shrug. “I’m just thinking out loud.”
     Quickly, we exit the antique hardware store. When we are outside, he turns left and I go right. It takes longer than I’d like for me to realize we aren’t walking together.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Sweet Dreams III

     Last night I had another dream about your sister.
     The dream is always the same. I meet her for coffee. I order a Chai Latte and offer to buy her anything she wants. Hot chocolate? Pumpkin muffin? She glares at me and stiffly takes a seat at a round table by a square window. She orders nothing. The barista looks sympathetic as she hands me my drink. In the dream, the drink is so hot I nearly burn my hand.
     As I pull out my chair, I make sure my silver cross and chain is easily noticeable. Mom bought me the necklace in one of her many attempts to force spirituality upon me. (God is the ultimate boyfriend, after all. He never disappoints.) Your sister is deeply religious and would probably get along better with my mother than with me; yet if acting like I’m a Believer will help her to like me, then fine. At this point in the dream—and in true life—I am willing to try anything for her acceptance.
     This is the time in the dream where your sister makes it known she dislikes me. No surprise there. Under her breath she informs me that I will never earn her approval. Thus, you will never be free to love me, much less move us on to the next level in our overly dramatic relationship. Your sister smiles a smug smile as she says this; she is so proud of her hold over you. Sometimes, she even helps herself to a sip of my latte.
     But this is my fantasy, not hers. Soon it is my turn to yell. This is my favorite moment, this is the reason I dream, and I know my real self is smiling, grinning a wide, Cheshire Cat grin into my pillow. It is so freeing, this yelling, this screaming at your sister. My soul soars as high as my voice—louder even. The sympathetic barista gives me a thumbs up and the few patrons scattered about eating scones hear my side of the story and agree with me: your sister is a bitch.
     Here, in the comfortable security of my dream, I can say and do what I never say and never do. In the waking world I nod sympathetically when you tell me I can’t come in when I drop you off at your apartment—Sister would freak out. I claim I understand when on a Saturday date night you can’t stay out late because you are going to Church with Sister the next morning and you worry what she’ll think if you sleep over. I have known you for three years and you have flaked on me a total of seven times on her account, once for each of the major sins.
     Family first, you always say. I am starting to see you will never let me join this family.
     After I expel a good amount of empowering and invigorating shrieking, your sister holds up one well-manicured hand and speaks. Calmly, she informs me that you certainly do not have to listen to her. You could tell her to buzz off. You could live your life, without her.
     We both know you won’t. As I stare down at my drink I wonder who I hate more— her, or you.
     Your sister speaks the truth. She speaks the truth and then she sighs. She stands up and walks out of the coffee shop. When I look up from my latte, neither the barista nor the single remaining patron will meet my eyes.
     This is about the time I wake up.