Sometimes you have to decide…do I want to join a sorority, or do I want to get in the drug game? Johnny makes the decision for Mimi. [Warning: Strong language]
My friends over at Horrified Press are accepting entries for a drink-themed anthology!
Been thinking of putting some of my short stories and flash fiction in publications, just to cast a net, hopefully attract an audience to my art. This is a piece I wrote last year. I’ll need to do some expansion if I’m going to apply for this particular anthology, but really, the first thing I’d like to know is, is it macabre enough?
If you could honor me with an opinion, via comment or direct email, I would absolutely appreciate you!
The bottom of the lipstick tube read “Tokyo Rose.” A supplication for successful sexual innuendo, in the form of flaming red. From right to left, Tokyo Rose smeared against full, pink lips. There. Done.
The mirror reflected something of an automoton, the way she stood. Shoulder blades wide, arms directed to each side, palms facing thighs. Legs splayed, feet directed outward to push the pelvic blades forward. A black minidress coated the areas between her arms. Skin, dewey and lush. Hair up, tucked neatly with a minimal amount of pins. Anything else? The onyx wings defining her eyes danced as she searched the vanity counter for the diamond encrusted wristwatch and matching earrings. There. Done.
Horns from impatient drivers carried into the night, the bustle of late night diners and evening outers flooding the sidewalks on a hot, August night. One heel before the other, in a sort of straight lined walk that determined the drunken from the sober, as she sauntered down two blocks to the martini bar.
The men’s magazine said for a woman to sit with her torso open towards the suitor as a sign of interest. Crossed legs with a high knee indicated seduction. She considered those notes as she slid her rump onto the well-oiled wooden stool at the corner, facing the door, at a precise 90 degree angle for optimal viewing of prospects. The bartender asked her drink. Her notes said to order something that requires sipping, denoting patience and, in a submissive sense, delicacy. A Negroni is her choice. The bartender asked what gin. She made it his choice, with a request for easy ice.
One by one, some by two if slim enough to master the small doorway, entering with alternating demeanor but similar objectives: go home with someone tonight. She hoped one of them would see past all that. She hoped one of them, maybe even more than one of them, would enter the bar, see her, observe her minimal, stellar appointments and easy expression and decide, yes, I would like to speak to her. Look at her and speak to her.
One by one, some by two if slim enough to master the ever growing crowd around the bar came to view her, acknowledge her. Smile back, the men’s magazine suggested. Always smile, even if his presentation is poor. It shows character. Some spoke in a hurried flirtatious manner, trying to seal a deal with two minutes of cordial exchange. But she’s not like that. She wants depth. Some spoke into a device in their hands, while simultaneously ekeing out subversive comments disguised as compliments. The conversation with the device apparently more engaging than her wide, brilliant eyes.
Evening turned to night turned to early morning. Her Negroni and spirits, half spent. Finally, an engaging character sidled to the bar. He smiles. She smiles back. He comments on the futility of socialization in an app driven world. She agrees. He sinks his elbow on the bar top and presents his torso towards her, which she replicates in kind. He asks how long she’s been sitting there. She smiles nervously, and responds, “All night.” He leans towards her face, an Eskimo kiss hung midair, and tells her, decisively, that she has nothing to offer any of the men in the room.
She controls the expression of despair and the want to slap him for accosting her with the insult. He knows it and smiles. As he straightens his spine and turns away from her, he offers an aphorism. A woman sitting still in a bar, dressed in black, drinking alone is an unworthy challenge. She pushes her stool aside and grips his arm in fury, demanding to know why. His eyes lower. His hand softly cups hers. “My dear. My lovely dear. This society assumes worth in the form of self-taken photographs, drab commentary on afternoon sandwiches, and constantly revolving relationship statuses expressed in the ether-Net. It has bred vapid nihilists parading as gentlemen. And you, my dear, my lovely dear, are a gentle lady. If you don’t conform for the masses, then you might as well die. Yours is a breed inhaling its last breath of existence.” He kisses her on the cheek, and dissipates into the crowd.
She turns to find her seat taken by a loud speaking, swearing man taking a photo of two young women kissing each other in mock desire.
One heel in front of another, sober save for the Negroni, two blocks back to her apartment.
She faces the vanity mirror and finds onyx wings distorted into a black mask dragging salted fringes across her cheeks.
She pulls open the drawer, removes a small revolver, pulls back the hammer, and feeds the barrel into her mouth. Her finger delivers a welcome release.
[Writing Prompt: Someone goes into a unique store and buys an odd item time = 15 minutes]
The door stuck at her efforts to pull it open. A foot against the wall finally helped pry it open, revealing the remnants of a long forgotten book store. She allowed the sunlight to fill the doorway.
The store, a victim of a block wide fire some 23 years ago now, once served as the only rare and occult bookstore on this side of the bay. The owners dissipated along with the inventory. Many accuse them of arson but with no one to ask, there was no way to prove it.
Abandoned then, she felt free to rummage through the scarred remains hoping she would find the missing top piece to the sacred pipe she found last week in a unique store off the California coast. It’s ancient owner swore the other half was sent east to this address. So if it was here, if it didn’t get consumed in the flames, snatched by looters, or exposed to the mold and mildew, there was a chance she could call the spirit brothers forward.
This is odd, she thought as she carefully peeled away burnt layers from covered piles. Why would the pipe pieces be in North America, when the gateway is in South America? And why separate? The old man in California didn’t offer much in words, but she remembered him directing a sigh of relief at her once the purchase was final. As if the carved bowl, festooned with glyphs and constellations, had been a life long burden in his possession, a grim and heavy weight that she alleviated, albeit naively, for him.
[Writing Prompt: Revisit a famous book title, time = 30 minutes]
NOTE: I actually got choked up writing this. Dayumn.
The tea shop seemed the ideal place to have Brian meet me. After all, it’s where he was Skyping me from all afternoon two weeks ago. I sat, legs pressed together tightly, with two chai teas, one for him, one for me.
And hark, along comes Brian.
This time around I’m going to approach the opportunity for a relationship thusly: don’t be too abrasive up front, let him drive the conversation, and, by all means, don’t roll out the ultimatums before the check is paid. He smiled his shy smile of relief, and I complimented him back with my appreciative, wide grin.
Brian proceeded to chastise me, accusing me of avoiding him these past few weeks. Although I tried to defend with thoughtful retaliations, his peaked eyebrow of disbelief suggested I give it up. He reached across the table, motioning for one of the teas, when he stopped and asked which one was his. I flirtatiously suggested he check for the lipstick smudge. Brian sneered at my sarcasm. I like that he likes that about me.
He knows what I do for a living, he’s read my blog. We haven’t talked much about him, other than where he lives and what his plans were for the holidays. So now, I ask him, what do you do? Surprisingly, he doesn’t give the straightjacket answer of his employment, but offers a sigh, then, “I like to drive the Carolina coasts, go camping, fishing. Sometimes, just hang out in the woods for hours on end. Oh wait, you asked me what I do? Like, for work? I’m a truck driver.”
The first part of the answer was the answer.
The next day, same tea shop, different Brian. Why I parsed out these dates like this, I don’t know. Zealot for ironic entertainment, I suppose. And entertainment for Christine, the tea shop owner. She’s happy to see me not only up and about, but courting the boys. Christine, no children of her own, dotes on me like a child. I love her for it.
This one walks in the place like he owns it. Brian’s tie has flitted over his left shoulder due to the gust he passed through. We met in an old school fashion; he saw me loading my car with groceries, stopped to compliment me, and in a classy, keeping-it-together fashion, handed me his business card, suggested I call whenever I can, shook my hand, and walked off. High school hunk cool.
I won’t get into comparing the two. Physically already, they differ greatly. I’m trying to stick to the ol’ Dr. King adage, judge a person not by the color of his skin, but the content of his character. Seated in the same corner, same table, I motion to leave my seat and meet him at the counter. Brian bellows across the small shop for me to keep my seat, and asks what I want to drink. Dealer’s choice is my response, and he offers a crooked smile as he retrieves a leather wallet from his suit jacket.
Same tea shop, same table, same question. Brian launches into his resume: undergraduate degree from THE Ohio State University, graduate degree from Stanford, been in banking since he graduated, member of such and such fraternity, such and such business society, and is considering running for local council. I attempt to be playful and ask, “But what do you do, Brian?”
He looks as if he saw a ghost. I’m forced to explain it was a joke. The laugh he offers in response is as stiff as his starched buttoned-down shirt. I sip my honeyed green tea to fill the awkward silence.
The first Brian noticed me across the room at our mutual friend Gary’s house party. He observed someone cool, collected, happy where they were in life, but also, lonely. That he saw my loneliness from across the room made me think twice about my own perception of comfort. When was the last time I engaged anyone for other than a feature or a human interest piece? I realized I was keeping the possibility of a relationship at a strong arm’s length.
The second Brian saw me in that parking lot, then again in the downtown Tampa commercial building pretending not to be looking for him. He’s very present, that Brian, very hard to avoid his energy. He smells of power and vigor. Brian is very much in control. Yet he sends me the wackiest, soft-hearted text messages throughout the day, sometimes just a, thinking of you. I imagine he’s sitting in a meeting somewhere on the upteenth floor texting me when he should be paying attention. This Brian brings out my insecurities. What does he want from little ol’ me?
Both tea dates were very successful, and so I call for a second round with each. This is no dating show, but this is the first time in years I’ve had more than one suitor, and, let’s face it, I’m no spring chicken. If there is such a thing as a possible commitment out of one of these Brians, we’re going to figure it out now.
Second Brian goes on about his recent weekend on South Beach, making sure to cut in a, so wish you could’ve came with us! every few sentences. My local coverage doesn’t allow much distance travel, but I enjoy listening to him talk with an air of relief. He’s got a high-stress job, it’s a rare moment when he gets to leave the building, let alone the county, for more than one day. Even with his effort to include me, I get the sense he’s trying too hard. As if, he’s only doing this for show, until he’s certain I’m willing to be his and his alone. The possessiveness sneaks out in just these tea shop interludes: the way he orders for me, the way he calls over the other patrons to have Christine service us, the way he frowns when I take a quick call from my editor. Makes me wonder; what’s it like with Brian when there’s no audience, behind closed doors?
First Brian meets me at the tea shop an hour before closing. I’m nervous because I want to decide between these two wonderful men today. I’ve already ordered our teas, but he motions towards the counter case and picks a coffee cake for us to split. Christine asks if he wants it warmed, and he charms her with his silky, Southern-drawled, yes ma’am. I shake my head as I watch the old bird gesture a 20s era swoon. First Brian is filthy, and he notices me noticing his appearance. He enters into a rapid apology, explaining he spent the day helping his landlord repair a step on her patio. I am endeared, but keep my frown.
Here goes nothing, I think as I kick out, pull up my jeans, and show Brian my prostetic legs and matter-of-factly explain how I lost both when our Humvee rolled over an IED in Iraq.
When I did the same move to Second Brian, he gasped and said, “I’m so sorry, Kenneth. I didn’t notice you were crippled.”
First Brian stared a bit, then asked, “That’s not gonna stop you from going hiking with me, ain’t it?”
Sometimes you have to decide…do I want to join a sorority, or do I want to get in the drug game? Johnny makes the decision for Mimi. [Warning: Strong language]
[Writing prompt courtesy of textsfromlastnight.com; time = 15 minutes]
The number of times I’ve puked in the Walgreens bathroom is becoming way too much for my pride. Whatever’s left of it anyways. That girl ripped my balls off with volition, sprinkled with determination. My fault, really. The drinking is, well, a problem. The intersection of bars, liqour stores, this Walgreen’s and her house is too convenient. But you know what? Fuck her. We met on a bar crawl for fuck’s sake. She thought it was cute when I slurred my gangta words at her. She was cute too. Ahh, Kendra. With her blonde hair all long and pretty to one side, matted and sweaty to the other. She had to lean against the wall just to maintain eye contact.
Fine. I’m the irresponsible one. Maybe I shouldn’t have lit that cat on fire. Maybe I shouldn’t have cussed out the bouncer as he was throwing me out of the bar. But she’s no angel! Oh no, what about that one time, she took her shoes off, ran across the street and hit that random girl in the head with the heel of her pump, just because she didn’t say ‘Excuse me’ when she passed her from the washroom? There was blood involved, Kendra! But oh no, I’m the asshole. Oh oh, another round into the Porcelain King.
28 days. We’ve known each other for 28 days. Wasn’t that a zombie apocalypse movie? Yeah, same shit. She ripped my heart out and made me watch her eat it. I need help, she says. I have a problem, she says. You know what? You didn’t have a problem with me buying you drinks, buying all your whore girlfriends drinks, buying all their fuck buddies’ drinks! I went the extra mile to fit in. What does she do? NOTHING. I have to hang out with her friends, go to the bar she likes. I bought two silk shirts for her. For. HER. I even know what she likes to drink and how she likes it made. I know her drink.
I know she’s just like me. She’s probably in the women’s room right now barfing up a lung. Lemme check. Whoa! Sorry Miss. Have you seen a tall, hot, blonde chick? No? Hey, YOU fuck off. Meanie.
You know what? I’m gonna tell her about herself, right now. Her apartment is right over there. Hold on, think we’ve got one more contribution coming up. Wait. Nope. Alright, all clear. No, YOU watch where you’re going, you cocksucker! Fuck your mother! Kiss MY ass! You know what, I don’t have time for this, I’ma go. No, YOU’RE the pussy.
“Do you know that guy?”
“No! He’s some drunk talking shit. Oh fuck, his head’s bleeding. Whoa! That dude just took off! Hey man, you alright? You alright?”
“Bro. He ain’t movin’. He’s dead.”
The screen flashes my age: 26. Then a figure in a triangle shape, signifying female. After that it displays my height, five feet eight inches. The screen clears to zero, which is the digital scale’s signal for me to place the pads of my feet on top of the sensors. The screen momentarily goes blank, then returns 126.6 pounds. I look up at the fitness calendar from two weeks ago. I weighed 128.8.
Yep. I have AIDS.
I pick the darkest colored scarf from my hair accessories bucket and drape it over my head, symbolically representing the end of my full head of black hair, tying it tightly, to experience the last full rush of blood to my brain. For not only do I have AIDS, but I am dying of it, today.
Somebody should know about this. In my pajama shirt, baggy blue sweatpants, and canvas slip-ons I exit my building and walk over to the local drunkateria, Suds N Buds. Allyson, my MFA cohort studying claymation, is starting a load on the far left row of washers, the good washers. I tell her first.
“I have AIDS.”
Allyson pushes her wide blue eyeglass frames up on her face using her middle finger.
“Did you hear me? I have AIDS.”
“You don’t have AIDS.” She looks into my reddened eyes, scrutinizes my sallow skin, and flicks a bit of dried scale from my chapped lips. “You don’t have AIDS.”
“Buy me a beer.”
“You can’t just have AIDS, dude. There’s particular symptoms. You have to see a doctor. You can’t just self-diagnose.” The lid to the washer slaps down. Allyson scoops the rest of her quarters off the machine and shoves them in her front pocket. I counted them. She has enough to buy me a beer and run one dryer cycle.
Sensing I may become too frail to be useful, I carry the empty basket for her one last time to the booth alongside the serving area. Allyson buys two beers and brings them over. I stare into my mug.
“I might need a straw to drink this.”
Allyson slams her head against the back of her seat, rattling the booth behind her. She’s a massive girl.
“Shut up. Did you finish the book yet?”
I rub my temples. I believe a headache is forming. Discomfort is going to be the norm from here on out.
“That’s why you have AIDS. You’re never gonna finish the story.”
“The story’s finished. Inside. I just need to,” I gesture as if typing, “but the disease is getting in the way.” I lift my beer and sip. “Oh, Rolling Rock. I’ll never know your sweetness after I lose my sense of taste.”
Allyson has a laugh that moves only her chin and her boobs, it truly is a unique experience. She moves her bright red hair to one shoulder.
“Why do you have AIDS?”
“I weighed myself this morning, I’ve lost two pounds in two weeks.”
“Have you been eating?”
“For the most part.”
“Not since that one guy, many moons ago.” I treasure every sip of beer, as I am certain the doctors will tell me no alcohol or weed once I spiral.
“So then how can you contract AIDS? You’re not doing heroin, are ya?” Allyson reaches over and lifts my red-and-blue striped pajama sleeves to check the indents of my arms. “You’re a mess. You’d rather die of AIDS than finish your book.”
“I can’t finish my book, because I have AIDS.”
“Well ain’t that fuckin’ convenient.”
“I have AIDS, Allyson.” Shaquanna and Lorelei happen to pass as I reiterate my announcement. I hear Shaq deliver a full-bodied gasp, then watch as she collapses into the booth beside me. Lorelei kisses Allyson on the lips and sits beside her.
“When did you find out? Just now? Oh look at you,” Shaq strokes my solemn face, “you’re a wreck. Oh, honey. Oh, I’m so sorry.” I’m now enveloped in Shaq’s jiggly arms, and we sway together as she comforts me.
Allyson scoffs. “Oh, honey, puhleese. Don’t indulge her.”
“She ain’t got AIDS?”
“She ain’t got AIDS.”
“I’ve got AIDS,” I assure Shaq. I look over at Lorelei. “I’ve got AIDS.”
Allyson stands, grabs her laundry basket, and motions to move her washed clothes to the dryer. “What you’ve got is writer’s block. Eric, stop announcing you have AIDS. Or at least, go to the free clinic. Otherwise, shut the fuck up, and get back to work.”