Play: At the party

Written earlier this year for the 24 hour play festival during Shakespear In the Port. About a 20 minute run time.

AT THE PARTY
Daniel is an Actuary, a bit of an introvert and awkward with girls.

ABLE is his introverted legitimate self.
CAIN The extroverted persona he’s creating.
CLAIRE, who is somewhat uncomfortable at this party
Scene opens at a party in some kind of nightclub. CAIN and ABLE are on one side of the stage. Claire is at the opposite end. Cain and Able stand talking to one another, whilst surreptitiously watching Claire.
ABLE
Oh my god, it’s carry on my wayward son. I fucking love this song.

CAIN
No we don’t. We do not love this song. We cannot dance. Do not dance. We need to approach the target and ASK her to dance, we cannot dance on our own.

ABLE
But this is my JAM.

CAIN
Please don’t say that out loud to her. Able. Don’t do it. I can tell you’re thinking of it don’t bloody…

Cain and Able dance at the same time, very very badly. In sync, singing CARRY ON MY WAYWARD SOOOON, THEY’LL BE PEACE WHEN YOU ARE DONE. LAY YOUR WEARY HEAD TO REEEST DONT YOU CRY NO MOOORE BA BA BA BAAAAM BA BA BAAAM BOOOM (please youtube ‘carry on my wayward son’ for reference)

CAIN
JESUS CHRIST I THINK SHE’S LOOKING AT US.

They both stop abruptly. Able puts his head in his hands.

ABLE
Oh my god, why didn’t you stop us.

CAIN
It’s okay. Stay cool bromeo. I got this. Arms wide, like you own the space. Shows the HB that you’re comfortable and stuff
puts arms out wide
Back straight
caricature of a straight back.
Now smile!
Ridiculous smile.

Able hides behind him, peering out at CLAIRE.

CLAIRE looks bored.

CAIN
Oh man, she has such a great ass.

ABLE
I bet she can sing. She looks like she can sing.

CAIN
Can’t sing with something in her MOUTH. HEYO!

Able leaves him hanging.

CAIN
Come on man. Give me some confidence.

Able gives him a weak high five.

Claire mimes as if she is then approached by someone, who makes her laugh awkwardly. He briefly grabs her hand then leaves. When he does her mask of exhuberance collapses and she returns to looking bored and uncomfortable.

ABLE
Oh fuck, Lance just started talking to her. Oh em gee she just laughed. Fuck. FUCK! It’s over man. We never should have looked at her. I bet they are going to go have sex soon.

CAIN
Wait. Look, he’s leaving, he…oh shit.

ABLE
What happened?

CAIN
Nothing man.

ABLE
YOU CAN’T HIDE STUFF FROM ME MAN. SHIT. He just touched her hand. He fucking dragged his fingers across her FUCKING PALMS. Fuck.

CAIN
But he’s walking away, see? He’s walking away. Okay. It’s all good. Maybe they are just friends. Maybe she…FRIENDZONED HIM. Okay. Look, I got this. I’m going to go do it. I’M GOING TO GO DO IT.

ABLE
singing the lines of the Pokemon theme song
You sure? You got this? Just remember man. I wanna be…

CAIN
THE VERY BEST.

Both
THAT NO ONE EVER WASSSSS!

Cain approaches whilst continuing to sing

CAIN
To catch them is my real test…to train them is my…

ABLE
SHUT UP!!! Christ. Use the opener. Use the opener. Use the opener.

Cain approaches Claire.

CAIN
Hey. How you doin? (said like Joey from the classic sitcom Friends)

CLAIRE
SORRY WHAT?

CAIN
I SAID HI. DID YOU SEE THOSE TWO GIRLS FIGHTING OUTSIDE?

CLAIRE
No.

CAIN
It was CRAZY, they were like, FIGHTING. Really hard.

CLAIRE
(sarcastically)
Oh really? It’s funny how you saw that considering you never went outside. You were just over there, leering at me, and…dancing? Was that even dancing? You looked like you were having a seizure.

CAIN
But the girls, outside, they are fighting…were…fighting…uh…

CLAIRE
Oh I quite doubt that. You’ve read all of this in ‘The Game’ didn’t you? Some kind of sad little pick up artist attempt? It’s an ‘opener’ right? A way of getting a conversation going with a random girl? This whole thing you are doing is such a bad act, you and your creepy fedora. Now Lance, over there, he doesn’t need to pretend to be a man. Unlike you. I bet you have a tiny DICK. I bet you still like POKEMON!

They all rewind themselves back to their original positions, like rewinding a casette tape. Walking backwards etc.

ABLE
And that’s what will happen if you say that.

CAIN
Really? Jesus Christ that was truly awful. Okay, okay, but what if instead, you know, I just be all confident, and maybe I’m just gotta be more, hrmm, you know. If I roll up my sleeves and just…

Cain walks forward

CAIN
Hey there.

CLAIRE
Umm. Hello!
meekly lifts up hand and waves

CAIN
So I couldn’t help but notice you were here. At this party. It’s the 21st century. No need to mess around, because going down, is like taking a shower. You dee tee eff?

CLAIRE
Dee Tee Eff?

CAIN
You know what I mean. How about we skip all the bullshit and get out of here, you and me. And I know I’m kind of short and I got no abs, and I may have not had sex in like, well, years. But like…wanna fuck anyway?

Claire slaps him.

They rewind back again.

ABLE
Maybe I should just be myself. Be honest. Yeah.

(a beat)

If its meant to work out then, I mean if it’s going to be more than just sex, if we’re meant to be together, if we can be together then I should start by being honest. If I tell her the truth, then she likes me or she doesn’t, what’s the big deal? I don’t know her that well, we’ve only talked twice before, directly. Maybe she remembers.

Able approaches her. He stands there, and she pauses, then notices him.

ABLE:
Clearly nervous
Hi.

CLAIRE
Hey there. It’s crazy right?

CAIN
Runs over to Interjects
NO MY NAME IS DANIEL!

ABLE
SHUT THE FUCK UP!
Shoves Cain away, Claire is unfazed

ABLE
What, this? The party?

CLAIRE
Well, what else?

Able stops. He looks around, then up and out, then to the audience. He sighs, as if psyching himself up to confess something. Then he confesses:

ABLE
How about all of this.
He motions wildly to everything, including the audience
We are in a room, filled with people, I mean this place looks…well…crowded, and all these people are moving. Even when they sit perfectly still they…are…moving. We are literally spinning through space- right now, you and me, and everyone here. We’re spinning.

He says it and looks at her woefully, like he’s worried she will not understand.

CLAIRE
Pirouetting through space.

ABLE
Pirouetting!
He lights up
Yeah, I like that. We’re pirouetting through space…hurtling around at like a million kilometers per second. Around a star, that’s being pushed, pulled and shoved, all over the place, by all the other bodies, and in the end around something else, in the center of the galaxy: a black hole. A super massive black hole to be exact. A rip in time and space, like a cosmic sinkhole. We’re circling the drain I suppose.

CLAIRE
And yet here we are. You and me.

ABLE
Separated by time and space.

A beat, and another confession

ABLE
You know I was thinking of talking to you for ages, but I didn’t because I was scared.

CLAIRE
Half-joking
And are you so easily scared?

ABLE
Oh yeah, I’m scared of loads of things, things that don’t even make any goddamn sense.

CLAIRE
I’m scared of spiders. And snakes I suppose.

ABLE
See, now that’s a good fear, those fears makes sense. Spiders are fucking poisonous, black widows, man, a single bite from one of those bastards and you’re dead. For millions of years snakes and spiders have been killing us and the only ones that were left were the ones who ran like hell. Who became scared of them. Spiders and snakes makes sense. But me, I’m scared of people. Which is the opposite, because it’s people that well…I mean…people…mating…that’s kind of the whole of life right there and I’m scared of…no…I’m uh…scared of people’s thoughts, the ones I can’t even hear but sometimes I think I can.

CLAIRE
Wait…you think you can hear people’s thoughts?

CAIN
ABORT. ABORT. EJECT MAVERICK, FUCKING EJECT.

ABLE
Able yells over his shoulder at Cain
NO.

CLAIRE
Like you are afraid that people are judging you? Of course they are judging you though, aren’t they? You judged me the moment you saw me, without knowing a thing about me you judged me, took one look and formed a consensus. I could tell you people aren’t judging you, but that’s not really true. I could tell you it doesn’t effect how they treat you, but it does. But most of the time they are more obsessed with thinking about themselves, stuck inside their own heads, they haven’t got any space for you left in them. Most of the time. You shouldn’t be scared of me though.

Claire freezes. Cain steps in.

CAIN
You need to stop Able. This is going to be Martha all over again, okay? You didn’t establish rapport and escalate. There is no attraction, you’re coming across as sad and pathetic.

ABLE
You totally get me, this is great. We’re going to be great.

Cain and Claire freeze. Able approaches the stage and narrates, like he’s telling a story to the audience.

ABLE
Then she asks me what my favorite movie is. I ask her what her favorite childrens TV show is. I am awkward but that’s okay because she is bored, and I talk about what I’d normally do on a night like this, which is watch Cosmos, (the Carl Sagan one first), and I make a joke about watching porn afterwards!

(Laughs awkwardly to himself)

She asks me what I do and I tell her I’m an actuary, and she makes a bad joke about how that’s ‘actuary quite interesting’ and I tell her that was awful and we both laugh. We leave seperately but I get her number so she can come play board games with some friends of mine at a cafe next week. She comes and we all have a good time, and afterwards me and her go get frozen yoghurt. We stay up till 2 am chatting at the pier and when we say goodbye it takes ages. I look at her profile photo before I go to sleep. We talk on Facebook, whatsapp, SMS, even phone each other at first, then start to skype instead because its cheap- we meet often, she tells me who she really is. She unloads secrets she’s never told anyone else, afraid they make her ugly, but they’re are the best parts of her- she undresses her soul to me for months until I crack and tell her, awkwardly, that I like her, maybe even love her. She freezes and says.

CAIN AND ABLE
I only think of you as a friend.

They rewind back to before

CAIN
Dude, that was really fucking sad. You got to focus on the real. There is a chain of sentences, that said, will make her take off her clothes and let us touch her. Look, let’s try together, how about both of us?

ABLE
It’s too risky. You go again man, remembering Martha was awful.

CAIN
No worries man. Remember, we haven’t even been out in ages. At least we are trying. This is progress. I’m going to go up to her again. All I need is the perfect line. Like…OH yeah. Yeah. I got it.

ABLE
Wait, what are you going to say?

CAIN
I lost my teddy bear. Will you sleep with me?

ABLE
Jesus.

CAIN
OH OH. How about: Was your dad a terrorist? Cuz baby, you da bomb.

ABLE
Nope.

CAIN
HEY ARE YOU A PARKING TICKET, CUZ YOU GOT FINE WRITTEN ALL OVER YOU.

They are so engrossed with talking to one another that they don’t even notice when Claire walks nearer to them and sits down on a chair, her back facing them. She hangs around near the stage and pretends to be smiling gregariously at the audience- the other people at the party. Cain and Able continue with one another, miming or otherwise. Meanwhile Cain mimes telling able more shitty lines, and Able continues to be disgusted and rejects them.

CLAIRE
Claire is addressing the room, like other people are interacting with her.

Motioning with a drink in her hand:

No thanks, I’m good. Yeah I’m fine, no, go dance! Shooing motions. She slumps forward.

Cain and Able freeze. Claire gets up and flips the chair, then yells, addressing the audience.

CLAIRE
GODAMMIT! We couldn’t even stop, and stand, and say fucking HI? We had to go PAST him. I wanted to say Hi, how hard can it be? It’s one stupid syllable. Hi, hello, salut, yo ho, howdy, yo, sup, heya, hey there, fucking HOW YOU DOIN (said like Joey from the hit TV sitcom, Friends).
But of course, no, nothing. Well. At least we are closer now. Maybe he’ll talk to me. I’m definitely closer now.
She starts to look over her shoulder then freaks out and looks forward.
That wasn’t subtle AT ALL. Fuck. This place used to have mirrors. No wonder clubs have mirrors. I knew it wasn’t just good feng shui. (She gets up). These shoes hurt like hell. I hate heels, I freaking hate ’em. My feet hurt. My freakin’ purse is too small. Why am I even out here? What am I doing? This was such a bad idea. I can’t even afford to have another drink. Probably a good thing too. Can’t afford a drink, and no ones offering. Not that I’d take it, yeah, I’m not like that. I am totally not the sort of person that spent half the freaking evening putting on make up and the other half psyching myself up just to go outside. I should have stayed home and watched Doctor Who. Rewatched the Satan Pit, could have seen parts one and two. I could go now. And ignore all the texts from Emma about how ‘I don’t socialize enough’. But Daniel.
(She turns and looks at him)
Maybe he’d remember me from movie night. He said he likes board games. Maybe I could tell him…to add me on Words With Friends! Shit, If I play Words With Friends, right now, facing just the right way, maybe he’ll come over, and he’ll be like ‘hey words…and with friends!’ and I’ll be all ‘yeah, too bad i’m playing with myself.’

She realizes what she just said
Fuck my liiiife.
She buries her head in her hands.

CAIN
The problem is you are too needy man, girls can smell it on you.

CLAIRE
To the audience
People scare me. I don’t know what to do at these things.

ABLE
I’ve never actually been in a serious relationship and I’m freaking 24.

Cain and Able freeze

CLAIRE
Oh what the fuck, why not. She gets up and goes over to him I’ll go up and be like “Hey Mike, it’s me, Claire. Remember? Your Fedora is cool. Have you ever seen Doctor Who? Personally, I prefer David Tennant to Matt Smith. Do you hate parties? I hate parties, a little. Not because I hate people though. People are great. So uh, what do you do? Oh what do I do? I’m a film editor. Which is to say, I’ve worked on one film. Even though I have a film degree from NYU, yeah I came back to Hong Kong because America was too expensive and I couldn’t get a job so I live with my parents here. Yeah my uncle got me onto the set. It’s pretty much unpaid but it’s okay because it’s only for two months and I’ve already got a job lined up as a PHP programmer. Yeah so I’m not really a film editor. But I love films. Maybe one day I’ll get to edit one? Fuck. Fuck. Fuck Fuck Fuck. I should just go back and talk to Emma. I’ll give it a few more minutes. Maybe he’ll just turn up and be like HEY CLAIRE, I FUCKING LOVE DOCTOR WHO AND ALSO YOU ARE REALLY BEAUTIFUL! REALLY! I love movies too, fuck yeah you’re going for what you love, that’s great, hey, let’s dance, come over here, no really, wanna go outside instead? She hangs her head, whines. God I just want to touch his hair…
She reaches out to them. Stops.

CLAIRE
To the audience
Can we just skip to the part where I touch his hair?

She freezes. Then when the other’s start she walks back to her original position whilst they continue.

ABLE
Cain, lets go back and watch Doctor Who

CAIN
Ooooh Yeah I like me some Capaldi. WAIT. NO. We should go talk to her.

ABLE
Yeah, I’m going to go over there and tell her all about my TARDIS mug.

Cain and Able share a look with each other. They both jump and search their pockets and get out their phones having both received the same text.

CAIN
Reading off the phone
How is it going? Winky face. Is it wrong that his winky face annoys me? He’s patronising us.

ABLE
Tapping on phone as well.
I’m going to tell him we’re done. We gave it a shot, got dressed up, walked in. And look- you aren’t even slouching. At least we tried.
Cain straightens up

CAIN
Yeah but we didn’t did we. Oh now what, he sent a fucking picture. It’s some self help bullshit.

ABLE
It’s a poem I think:

She had blue skin,
And so did he.
He kept it hid
And so did she.
They searched for blue
Their whole life through,
Then passed right by-
And never knew.

CAIN
Christ thats depressing. Sean’s going. Says Sarah’s about to sleep. Must be nice.

ABLE
Wistfully
Maybe he gets to be the little spoon.

CAIN
Wistfully
Maybe she wakes him up with a blowjob.

They put away their phones.

ABLE
Let’s do it together.

CAIN
Saying Hi isn’t whats important.

ABLE
What’s important is what comes after.
They look at each other. Shake hands. Then they move towards Claire’s original spot. They search around for her but can’t seem to find her.

ABLE
Well that’s that then.
He goes and picks up the jacket he left on one chair. Claire picks up her stuff too.
They walk towards and just pass each other when they freeze.

CLAIRE
Claire turns around and says to them
My name’s Claire, you don’t even know me yet. You think you do, maybe, from across a room you see me and you think you have a clue. and after you first kiss me, you’ll think you’ll know me then. And after we wake up together I’ll think I know you.

ABLE
Turns to her and says: Ill learn to make breakfast for the first, time and you’ll pretend to like it.

CAIN
I won’t have to pretend to be funny, you’ll just think I am.
They then look at each other directly. For a moment, and walk away, towards edges of the stage on opposite sides.

CAIN
At least it’s quieter outside. My ears are ringing. We don’t have to talk so loudly out here.
Cain walks off stage

ABLE
I am so tired. Maybe we will just go sleep now. I know you can, at least.
Looks around for Cain. Can’t find him.
What a waste of time that was. Just another night, and it passed so slowly. Now it’s quiet outside, and we don’t have to worry. But we’re- I’m still cold. Fuck it’s cold. I should have gone to bed. Better to be alone where it’s warm then with company outside.

CLAIRE
Sarcastically
Maybe he was too quiet as well, and didn’t talk to me. Maybe he fell in love with me at first sight and was so intimidated by my mesmerizing beauty that he didn’t even bother. (Looks across at Able). Who’s that poor bastard? Well at least I’m not the only one going home alone tonight.

They walk off in opposite directions off stage.

Flash fiction: Anxiety’s a bitch

Anxiety’s a bitch

Tapping me on my brain, crying ‘wake up, wake up.’ She always visits me at night, right before the morning; when dawn is a time bomb. She has wide, furtive, eyes that dance, with madness. Big glass globes that can’t focus on anything, rolling between the door, the window, the shelves, the books, settling only on my own eyes, like an eight ball into a pool table hole, she sinks right into me, hooks onto the rail of my neck, accelerating us both.

“Wake up, wake up, we have to go. We have to go, we have to go. We have to go wake up.”

One of these night’s shes going to grab my arm. Throw aside my sheets. She’s going to take me by the shins and drag me till I concuss myself on the edge of my bed frame. I’ve stopped saying “Go away.” There is no point, she won’t. Sometimes she stops shaking me. Stops cawing for me to run (Where? She never says.) Sometimes she’ll just sit on my bed. She’ll say “Okay. It’s okay. Go to sleep then.” Her skin is so pale, slightly yellow. I used to believe her. My lids would drop, guillotine the protruding nubs of her bony elbows, till, like lightning, she’d grab hold of my ribs.

Her nails bursting right through the heavy duvet, finger tips cold against my shirt, her nails scraping them upwards. Just hard enough to leave red marks, never sharp enough to break the skin but I know, one day, she’ll flay me with those nails of hers, reach inside and grab my kidneys, unfurl my intestines, she’ll reach in to massage the acid she regurgitates into my mouth when she kisses me awake, when she takes my head in her palms and tells me stories like:

“Yesterday, when you were in the lift, there was a woman. Do you remember her? Of course you remember her. I want you to remember her right now. She had lip gloss on and contacts. She had those wide eyes you really like. You stuttered. Really you did. You said “Good evenin'” and dropped your ‘G’ because you thought it sounded cool- yes you did, and she knew you did, she knew you were trying so hard to impress her. When you held the lift door open she was not grateful, your stringy arm got in the way, she was annoyed. She was thankful for her investment hedge doctor barrister sex god hard body that makes her laugh, makes her squeal, that makes her realize you’re a pervert and a creep, do you remember her now? I followed her home that night.”

Her palms are ice compresses on my ears. The warm strand of some dream slides inside my chest, so I bite out the words: “And why, old friend, did you follow her home? Where were you?”

She says she was in the frayed threads of the taxi’s leather seats, scratching her aching legs. In the fading battery of her phone, the empty inbox, the flash light reflection of the rear view mirror that accused her makeup of being too thick. She places her knee into my belly, so tenderly, leans down just enough that I want to throw up and says: “Baby, I was inside her, I saw everything. She went home and she laughed at you. Good and hard. You give her nightmares my love. I saw. I watched it play in black and white on the inside of her skull.”

I tell her to “Fuck off.”

Her eyes are filled with concern.

“You tried to cheat on me with her. Didn’t you? First that uptight bitch on the subway, the one who pretended to be so cute and cuddly, she likes to take mommy’s scalpel, the one she stole from work, she likes to take it and make small x’s on the inside of her thigh, she dreams of someone running their finger along the scabs, she’s sick like that. You wanted to cheat on me with her? I know her. I know you. Baby, we’re together till the end.”

It’s true.

I try to cheat on her all the time.

I rarely flirt, except with my eyes. My standard approach is to fill my face with a strained smile, pour desperation out of my eyes, slump and glance at the wavy haired information desk attendant, the two inches away from my arm high heeled party girl, the sad student with knotted shoulders crossed legs one shoe falling off soul mate, the photograph perfect long gone old best friend that’s engaged, I try to cheat with all of them, have rock solid dreams of lying in their arms, crying. Of shoving my face into their ears. Of watching time drip by on a clear day.

Of making up jokes together and moving away from Her.

“It’s just a matter of time.” One of us says to the other.

Till someone as desperate as me cheats on Her. So we can wake up, one of us before the other, and find her sitting by our bedside, watching us with a smirk, her index finger ticking left and right as she whispers: “I’ll be waiting for you after it ends, baby.”

“Till death do we part.”

Short Story: The Wave

The problem with doing this 1k thing is it’s a real bitch to edit it. I really ought to though. Not editing something that is potentially good is akin to wasting most of the time spent writing it. Also it is good practice, improves the skill in editing. I want to write more from Children Of The Pantheon because I got a lot of likes, which makes me so happy. But today I was feeling something and that something might be in this story.
 
The Wave
 
Jon played the Louisiana blues and once and awhile the percussion of construction drills matched the rhythm rather than interrupt it. That black man somewhere else, somewhere far away in space and time, got drowned by Jon’s neighbor’s redecorating.
 
They’d saved up for it. Made sacrifices, like holidays, potential visitations to other countries where great memories could have been formed for them, and their kids, instead of this, this permanence; entire decades maybe with a minimalist kitchen, a partition that separates that made the living room and bar seem roomier, like in that movie Heat that Julie once saw. 
 
Kara knew, it was obvious, why mum and dad hadn’t let her buy those concert tickets. She didn’t believe Mom’s insinuations about drugs and booze and boys like Jules; they trusted her or they wouldn’t have let her stay a week in Nigeria, before the killings started. She didn’t cry because she couldn’t go, no, that would be petty. She didn’t cry when the trading of shouts, between mum and her, got so loud that Dad intervened, and swung like a pendulum between the two sides, settled on making it three. She didn’t cry when he told Mum not to treat her like their step son, who was gone. She cried because she’d realized, immediately, the way she understood with stark, sudden clarity a mathematical concept, an economic lesson in school, that she’d been a fool, that if Jules really cared he’d have never asked her if she could afford it, if he really cared he’d have said to do something else, if it was going to have been a date instead of some random, late, confluence of events then it wouldn’t have mattered whether or not she could go and that truth fell across her fifteen year old heart, the first of several blows, a chiseling that would sculpt a cold, statuesque reservation that kept her from something another woman might call true love, twice in a row.
 
Sol first saw Kara on the subway, towering over the locals in her commanding heels, a small blonde head above a sea of bobbing scalps. She was a whole carriage away but he stared anyway, thankful for the distance, confident that she could not tell he was looking at her. He waited for the crowd to dissipate, to uncloak her body so he could see her in full, for her to leave maybe, to abandon him and his lofty fantasy. He missed his stop and berated himself, and at the next, where the best cinemas were, the crowd on the train dispersed like a flock of pigeons, leaving the space between them mostly empty, and her revealed, resplendent in a summer dress, her face sad. More than what he had hoped for, enough it hurt because he knew he would never talk to her. She left, dressed rarely like that, for another of her best friend’s weddings. Kara collected best friends like her step brother had collected types of crisp packets, never opened, never enjoyed. The variety and promise printed upon them the sum of it. She had crushed them, cruelly, one after another, when she found them in a moving box after the first time she left Malcolm, She crushed them just to see if she would feel anything and she didn’t, not till later when the guilt finally arrived. A tear crept down one eye, she let it, thinking that no one will see and if they do see then maybe that was okay. Sol didn’t, he was too far away. When she left the carriage Sol subtly took his fist, and smacked it in slow, point blank movements against his head. He had missed his stop, he had missed her, and by imperceptible degrees he was getting more sick.
 
Marcie was the only one at the party who knew the extent of Sol’s illness. Being married she was only allowed to care a certain amount, that past some wavering line it was inappropriate, despite how desperately afraid he could get when they went to the park, how he let him put his head on her shoulder, held his hand, how that felt warmer than the mostly cold bed. She hadn’t seen him barrel towards her like that before, spilling wine with mad abandon. He arrived and asked her how it was going, his habit, to always start with pleasentries before he conspiratorially asked who She was, pointing towards a tall woman, blonde, who slumped in a chair, head forward, posture broken, a pint of beer clasped in both hands. Marcie knew someone that knew Kara, pointed Sol towards her and reveled at the smile on his face. He went and she watched, watched Kara laugh, then texted Mike, and left. Went home and refused to let Sam sleep, kept him up all night with a desperate passion that he hadn’t seen for two years, It brought them back together, and when she cried at the end it did not matter.
 
On a beach in Indonesia Sam stood, watching his wife from a distance, measuring her against the other tanned bodies and nodding in satisfaction. He struck up a conversation with a bartender, the shadow of a net falling over them both, draping their features in cross-hatches. Eventually he got to say- that’s her, over there, in the pink bikini, and they shared a moment as he whistled and nodded appreciatively. Sam’s phone vibrated and he cursed, went up towards their sea view room to call his brother when with head down he staggered into someone behind a trolley, knocked him over, realized how old the man was and apologized profusely. Sam helped him up, brought him inside his room then noticed the cut. He cleaned it up, added a band aid to the old man’s face. The old man, his face and hands gnarled, dark and lined as treebark danced over the chess set Sam and Marcie kept on their bed. They said nothing to one another and afterwards Sam stared at the chess set and almost asked the old man for a game. The moment passed and they parted.
 
Tirto always smoked during the sunset, from the vantage point of the hotel roof. He saw the orang putih, along with his wife, could trace their tiny movements across the sand. He liked to think they were happy, invented a story about how he was a doctor, and she a nurse, that they met in a hospital when an old man died. Someone kind perhaps. He told himself the story in his head whilst the cigarette burned down, then afterwards considered lighting another. He held the cigarette between two fingers, heard the siren and did not believe. His eyes drifted towards a horizon that seemed to be speeding towards the beach. The tourists did not know what the siren meant. Too few of the locals stayed to explain. When the tsunami came it swallowed most of them. Tirto watched the entirety of it, for hours he watched. He never did not find his doctor and nurse. Prayed for them at home. Wept for them alone. The only solace he could take from that wave was that he did not lament he would die anymore. It was a better death than those short-lived others. Months later in the hospital he realized that wave had begun far off the coast, during an earthquake but also, far before the earthquake, that wave began underneath the earth, had traveled for years across the ground, underneath, had begun a billion years ago just to obliterate all those lives. Tirto counted the waves that led them to that beach to die. The wave was a story no one could tell. There was no God in that wave. That wave itself was a spirit, one of the spirits of his grandfather that Tirto never understood till now. Tirto wondered at the waves that allowed him to arrive all the way here, on this bed, and how far back in time that wave had begun. He wanted to write this all down, wanted to tell someone the story, to make it whole and spread out, all it’s constituent parts like the sand on that beach he had spent so many hours writing on. But his throat betrayed him, his hands were weak. He died draped in the tears of those who would miss him, his last words a gurgle. 
 
The others, they carried on.

Flashfiction for Scifriday: Alone

What follows is a 100 word piece of flash/micro fiction for SCIFRIDAY! From the following blog:

http://chriswhitewrites.com/2014/03/21/scifriday-1/

I hope more people take a shot at this!

Picture below was inspiration, and then the story follows. I went over a little (112 words), alas. 

tracks_by_sandara-d6ko5hm

Alone

In ancient times it was called a railway, a sort of mass transit system. Now it was a strip of verdant beauty, a green path stretching forward. Luke took off his smart-boots, and for the first time, felt grass between his toes.

“Follow at 3 meters.”

“Okay Luke.” Came the voice, programmed to sound just like Julienne had.

It still caused Luke’s pulse to skip, her voice that followed him across such a gulf of space, and time.

Here, on Terra, alone on this graveyard of a world, Luke would spend the rest of his days. To dwell on loss, of his home in her, and all their homes that once were here.

 

Flash Fiction: After he yells HI!

After he yells HI!

Over the nightclub music He will yell “HI!”

She’ll laugh at his awkwardness and then they’ll talk, dance, exchange numbers. He’ll see her for dinner, where they’ll make in-jokes; finishing off each other off in his apartment. She’ll teach him how to cook and he’ll show her his sketches, and together they’ll rescue a kitten. Till sick of sharing it, all three move in together, watching cartoons till the mornings.

They’ll get married with sand between their bare toes, somewhere far away from this club.

As none of that happened except in his head, so he finished his drink and left.

Short Story: Dear Sam’s Diary

Dear Sam’s Diary
 
January 3rd, 2:15 pm
It was scary taking this from her bag, not even sure why I did it. Hope she misses it, at least a little. Writing in this feels weird, writing in you feels weird. Hi Sam. It’s like she can hear me, my words next to hers. Going to open her Christmas present now.
 
Yahoo answers was right, for once. Running it under cold water does stop the bleeding. Fuck, should have guessed she made me a CD. Why not a USB drive? Sam’s so old school. So retro. I thought it would be a video. A recording. Like of David Mr. Brightsiding her at his gym then blowing his load over the camera lens. Fuck, I’m disgusting. She always said so. I should have been cleaner. It’s okay though. No one is going to read this anyway. Why did she burn those songs? Was she trying to tell me something? She burned it before Christmas. Before they were, and not when we were still…must not think about it. Dear Sam’s diary, when it got to that track, a ‘kiss with a fist’ I broke the CD in two, cut hand but the breaking and the cut felt good. Maybe one day I’ll give this back to Sam. Maybe we’ll be back together again then. A kiss with a fist while she’s having sex with a boxer. Be right back Sam’s diary. Going to cry now.
 
January 5th 4:22 PM
Dear Sam’s Diary,
Sam wrote in you every day. I can’t even commit to that. I read your previous entries and realized your creator was fucking David on Christmas eve when she was ‘too sick’ to come over. Shouldn’t have bothered cleaning the apartment up. Shoulda kept the receipt for her headphones. Ripping out your creator’s earlier pages felt good. Then it felt guilty. Still, you’re my diary now. Nope, my JOURNAL, sounds more manly. Fuck I miss her so much. Won’t burn her previous pages out of respect. Bet it would feel great though. Maybe one day I’ll read this back and laugh and hopefully not think I am a fucking psychopath. LOL. Time for vodka.
 
January 9th 2:10 PM
Need to wake up and change. No more drinking. Today let’s try being sober.
 
January 12th 3 something PM
No more. Really got to stop. Headaches are hurting less even though drinking more. Bad sign I think.
 
January 12th 7:51 PM
Mom came over and threw away vodka. Should not have yelled at her.
 
I want to forget. I want to stop feeling like he’s more of a man than me. Want to stop wondering why and counting the ways I’m not good enough.
 
Had a dream where I get her back. I fought David and won. Maybe I can train, become stronger and she’ll love me again.
 
I didn’t last more than thirteen minutes. Running is hard. Every bit counts though, said the old lady as she pissed into the sea. I can be as fit as David. I am taller technically. He’s got muscle, but I can build cardio. Last longer. 
 
Dear Sam’s diary,
I miss her, specifically I miss listening to the same music on the couch together, and I miss watching her dance- if I danced with her more, she might have stayed longer, I should have danced with her more. She was so much fun. Fuck. I wish she’d written on scented paper at least. Raimi has a friend he wants to introduce me to. I bet she’s nothing like Sam. Bet she dances as badly as I do. Hope she’s hot. Feel so low. Should have something to drink but I promised myself. Bet I break it soon. What’s the point in a promise to me? Bet Sam would know what to say to make me go out. She’d tell me I was amazing and clever and would tease me about being a geek. Maybe I can pretend she’s here now. Telling me all these things. If I just lay down and close my eyes I could picture her. Why not?
 
Didn’t work. Date’s tomorrow. So scared. Maybe should follow Raimi’s advice and jerk off right before. And better memorize those jokes from Reddit.
 
Woke up next to her. Then woke up properly. Dreams are evil. Jennifer didn’t even laugh at my joke about the whales in the bar. Felt like an asshole. She’s nothing like Sam, she’s so quiet and after I ran out of memorized jokes I was so boring. Pretty hot though. Checked her facebook, found what kinda movies she likes. Maybe she’ll come over and watch something she likes with me. Probably not. She did talk about her gym. What is it with people and exercise? Pointless moving your body till it breaks. Wonder if its the same gym David learned to fight at. 
 
Can’t even commit to writing in you. Pathetic. At the arcade I lied to Jason about why I started using that boxing character. Feel bad about lying. Couldn’t tell Jason that I’m learning new combos because David is a boxer and Sam’s now with him and if I could fight like him maybe she’ll want me back and since I’m as fit as a weed playing with my joystick is the next best thing. I don’t know. Sam always said I should play less games, should be more constructive. Sam always told people how good yoga was. I’ll never be with someone that limber again. Fuck. I bet that’s how they met. I bet he hit on her whilst she was doing yoga. What if I was a real fighter, like David?
 
I don’t think it counts as drunk texting if I’ve only had three drinks. Dear Sam’s diary your creator does not give straight answers. I texted her what he has that I don’t and she said some cryptic bullshit about passion and character. If I learned to fight like him, if I beat him then she’ll see I’m better because I’ll be like him but also with all the stuff that she liked about me as well. I think it was really mean of Raimi to tell me my idea was ‘fucking retarded’ even though he apologized after. First step is just need to get up and run, and work out. I can do this. Just got to read some quotes online first.
 
Ran for eighteen whole minutes without stopping today. Okay more like jogging. Afterwards high on endorphins texted David ‘I’m coming for you asshole’. He texted back: ‘Sam has a beautiful back.’ I don’t get it.
 
I just got it. Feel really sick now. What am I doing?
 
All I have to do is join the gym but It’ll cost most of my going out fund. I’ll probably not even go. They have a boxing class. Maybe I should go, just to see what it’s like to be a David. All the David’s of the goddamn world. I’ll never be a David. I’ve been hating him but the truth is I just wish I was like that. I won’t be into geeky shit, I’ll just be some player dickhead, a PUA, just got to read more about it online. Excuses. That class in one week. Maybe I could do one class. 
 
Class hurt. The pain, the ache. But it was mine. Raimi laughed, said it would be hilarious if I began boxing. He said if I did it he’d bet on every fight. Made me mad. Maybe I could do it, one day. No way. Sam’s right, I’m going nowhere slowly.
 
Would have been our three year today. Sam’s apparently moved on from David to one of his friends. I can’t even be better than David anymore. No more reasons left to go to the gym, no one to do it for, except me. And what am I? Maybe David feels like shit too. Maybe I should send him Sam’s diary and he’ll get all of this and understand I’m not a loser.
 
I put down the diary, careful not to let the cover touch my perspiration soaked legs. Vision and sound returned then; of the dozens of people laughing, talking, some shouting; of the announcer doing another mic check; of the way the floor of the ring creaked underneath my aching body; and of my friend yelling something at me from beyond the ropes, his hand grabbing my right arm: “Yo, come on, hey- halftime is almost over. Come on man, don’t get down now- don’t get distracted, this guy’s Mike Lee, Mike Lee! He’ll be able to tell if you’re getting tired.”
 
“Doesn’t matter what his name is.”
 
“What was that man?”
 
I push one gloved hand through the ropes, use it for leverage and balance as I turn to face him.
 
“I’m not out yet, and I’m not feeling down. You though, seem just a little nervous.”
 
“No way man, I’m just pumped, I feel like you’re going to win this one. I just know it. You’re doing an Ali right? Tiring him out!”
 
“Ali. No. More like…what was that characters name, the one from the old game we used to play, the one from the arcade…” I reach for the journal, try to open it with the gloves on.
 
“Hey, hey! What are you doing? Stop reading man. Why do you always bring that thing? I swear it’s bad luck. Maybe if you ditched it Renee will call back and I might actually win one of these bets.”
 
“I’m not calling her again. We didn’t click.”
 
“Seriously? What happened? She was really hot!”
 
 “Not my type, she was pretty judgmental. Thinks video games are for loser. They’ll be others. I’ll meet someone else.”
 
“I guess. But how about you indulge my superstitious nature and let me take the book…” He reaches and I pull it away.
 
He says: “Come on man what is that thing?”
 
“It’s a training manual Raimi. A record of who I was, and how far I’ve come.” 
 
“Okay, okay. Look they are going to start soon. Get your ass up and kick his. Shit. I don’t know why I ever said I’d bet on you. You’ve lost the last five fights in a row.”
 
I roll onto my feet, raise myself up. In the other corner my opponent punches the air, aims a glare at me. He flexes. I don’t. This part, right here, right before we go at it, this is the best fear. I feel the electricity in my veins, the purity of the challenge- I can see my enemy clearly, 190 pounds and only human. 
 
Raimi shouts: “GO MAN GO, NO LOSS TODAY!”
 
“You don’t get it.” I say, over my shoulder, down at my waiting friend: “I’ve already won.”
 
And then I turn and fight.
 
 
 

Flash fiction: Two possibilities / One outcome

On Friday he woke early and prepared for, then went to, the job he had chosen at sixteen when he picked subjects in school before he had ever been in love.

Afterwords the friend he was sometimes envious of texted him again, asking him to go out, and he usually didn’t but tonight his internet was inexplicably down.

So he ate dinner and prepared for the night that pricked his stomach-lining with anxious barbs and wondered if he should even bother, wondered it all the way there in the taxi. He met his friend who always smiled and nodded at the names of the other noisy people, and all together they started to converse in bars. Moving on after drinking, and joking, and sometimes he laughed too.

Then they went to the club where the music hurt his ears and the lights confused him, and he stood at the bar between clustered shoulders, whilst his smiling friend and the rest danced, some with girls they had only just met. He had drunk more than usual and felt sincerely sorry that the internet was down, wondering if he had tried hard enough to make it work again.

He heard her first when she ordered a drink- a nonsense word to him, a magic word delivered in a pristine accent that made the back of his neck sweat. Her bare shoulder brushed his forearm and that made him look, dead at her, point-blank range and saw her elfin ears, the way her eyes glittered with a secret he wished he knew. He wanted something, wanted her he supposed, but more than that as well, except for the inevitable worry that clung to his stomach-lining and made him believe the truth:

That, he would say something stupid first, something boring like ‘Hello.’ or something creepy like ‘Wow, you’re beautiful.’ and she would laugh or frown, or ignore him completely. That he would try that one line his smiling friend kept telling him to use, just to begin with, and he would load his mouth with the words, yet stutter or gasp then die like a fish looking up at her beyond his reach. Instead he stared. Because what if she did in fact laugh, and listen to him as her magical drink was prepared, and then he had to think of other things to say, or to answer questions with banalities like ‘I work in I.T.’ or ask questions dull and predictable in the hopes that she will hear, in between the words, all the amazing things he actually thought. She would reject him brutally, within earshot of others, or sneer at even the fact that someone such as he could pretend not to be the sort of person that wishes dearly the internet wasn’t out, tonight. That even if it all went well, so well they went home to the same place, and later had pet names for each other and shared secret jokes, that she would betray him royally, with someone else’s smiling friend, or that she would tire of him quickly, once he stopped pretending to not be boring, and that would be far worse- letting her get so very close before she ripped away. What if she was not what he imagined right now, what if she was less than, and he was more, and not the other way around.

And yet even if everything did go wrong he knew his smiling friend would say it was well that he had at least tried, and learned or felt pain that was not as bad as he thought it would have been.

That instead it might be very different.

He was not like the others here after all, he was just a pretender and that made him special. So when he said to her “HI! Look I know you aren’t exactly pining after an I.T tech with thick black glasses and a fetish for strange online subcultures, but I was hoping you’d at least give me the chance to say something interesting, because like it or not you’re the most stunning person I’ve met tonight and I’d like to challenge you to prove me wrong.” Which was sort of the truth.

And she would say “WHAT?” Because it was way too noisy, though she would not brush him off as he looked so sheepish in an endearing way. Sort of grateful that she didn’t hear him actually, he took that opportunity to yell “IT’S REALLY NOISY AND I WANTED TO ASK YOU SOMETHING IMPORTANT WANT TO GO OVER THERE?” And she hesitated because he looked so incredibly docile and yet was so confident and thus she’ll shrug because she’s far more bored than he would believe, and they’d go to a corner, get a table together, and she asked him what the question was, and he said, “What exactly do they put in your drink? It had a really cool name.” And they somehow moved onto things he knew about, like old cartoon theme songs and math rock. They leaned in closer, allied against the dubstep, talked about how they never really do this at all- talk to strangers in clubs. There is a lull. They parted awkwardly when he made a joke that she doesn’t get and then he gets up saying: “Well, I guess, uh, good bye.” Turned and walks away, got his coat whilst his smiling friends continued to dance. Outside he looked at all the cigarette smokers and wondered if he was missing out and then he hears her voice, cracked from the strain of all the shouting inside and she’s got her number on a bent napkin. He called and she picked up and all his immediate evenings and weekends are filled with her. She introduces him to rock climbing and he inspires her to put her strange videos online. They find a stray kitten one day in an alley and shuttle it between them till a year later all three of them move in together. Spending a whole weekend either in bed or watching reruns of cartoons. Her parents die and he keeps her going. His stomach problem turns out to be cancer but they beat it anyway.

None of those things happened except in his head. He finished his drink in one stinging gulp and left without saying a word.

The weekend passed.

On Monday he woke early and prepared for, then went to, the job he had chosen at sixteen when he picked subjects in school before he had ever been in love.

The Date (Part 5 of 5)

The first part can be found here.

5

The rainy season had begun.  Rain drops whipped the class room windows. Lights on during the day, and I had to speak louder over the oppressive thunder. The class had changed. It would be unfair to give myself full credit, though at times I indulged in the fantasy. In reality it was probably due to the wild impetus of adolescence, changing bodies and minds faster than this staid adult was used to.


Or maybe I had just gotten to know them better. The annoying attention seeking ones had developed nuances and insecurities- I no longer reduced them unfairly, now I felt sympathy, and I suppose, I do care. The quiet ones opened up more, or at least I marked their occasional voices with regard- the rarity of their contributions to class lent them all the more value. And though I tried not to admit it, Jean had fast become my favorite. It seems she was well liked by her other teachers too, especially her English teacher, Ellen. Ellen, who was a member of the old guard, having taught here for the last decade or so, spoke enthusiastically about Jean’s creative writing. That gave me an idea- for the fall of the Soviet Union I had each student write as if they were somehow linked to the fall of the Berlin wall. Once I told them they could be old soldiers, veterans of World War Two, most of the guys went for that. Jean wrote a great piece, about a widow on the eastern side, who had not seen her sons in years.

Disturbing how convincingly she wrote as a widow. It was a great piece. Since then I’ve slowly egged her on in the direction of both history and fiction writing. I once entertained another fantasy- a dedication to me years from now in some bestselling historical fiction novel. I chuckled at that, tried to find absolution by confessing the thought to Steph. She confided in me her own stories, as a young teacher, latching onto students, desperate to live vicariously through their possible successes. She also warned me. “Don’t get too attached. They all leave eventually- and you would be failing the next batch if you cared less.” It was good advice. 

I should have followed it.

A typhoon one day, in the middle of school, a bad one, the worst in years apparently. We had students taping windows, us trying to make it all seem like fun. As if they were fooled. No one allowed in the corridors during one horrendous hour, the corridors being outdoors. We settled for watching a video in class- Dr. Strangelove. Even at max volume it was hard to make out the dialogue, a shame. 

The window vibrated like a snare drum. All at once, during the video, a tremendous bang.

A bird, maybe, had shot through the glass. Shattered shards everywhere. Rain pouring through like an invasion. “Everyone, out the door! Come on now!” I yell. The kids flood the doorway. I notice Jean not in the crowd. Right at the back, under the rain, Jean with her hat (she wore this silly hat!) off, red horror all over her arm and face. Blood. No please. I run over, and panic some. She is covered in glass, had been sitting next to the window. I fish for my mobile and hate how long it takes to switch on. Whilst it loads I say, “Hello Jean, can you hear me?” First aid classes from training in my head, something about stopping the bleeding. “JEAN?” Her eyes are closed, maybe she hit her head. There is so much blood. It makes no sense. Like a sniper took her out. What a sick thought- hate myself for such a thought. I finally got the ambulance to come. A voice on the phone says: “Remain clam. Find some towels and stop the bleeding.” Stop the bleeding. I call out to the kids, and one of them, a quiet one comes in, flanked by others. “I need towels, hurry, cloth towels, ask a teacher.” He ran for it. 

Jean’s eyes are open, blinking. I had not realised. I try to level my voice off, must sound calm for Jean. Memories scream inside my head, and tears start to leak down my cheek. I smooth back her hair, just like I did years ago. “Jean, the ambulance is coming. Can you hear me? Please nod or blink or say something if you can hear me.” She blinks, and blinks, and her voice- so child-like now, it says “Yes, i can hear you sir.” Good. Jan couldn’t hear me before. At some point the school nurse is in here, and she’s asking me to move, but I make sure to stand where Jean can still see me. So I smile, I smile my ass off like everything in the world is brilliant. The rain soaks the carpet all around, the noise like we’re at war. I keep saying stupid things like “It’s going to be ok Jean.” things I learnt in movies where people seem to know what to do. Her eyes flutter shut, right before the ambulance comes. I think my heart is going to burst.

When the professionals arrive they seem too calm. I start shouting, telling them to hurry, that Jean is just a child- as if that would somehow make them pull out all the stops. Steph was there, telling me it’s ok, that she’s just cut up a bit. I let her drag me away, just outside the room. Whole class is there, waiting, they can see me, covered in blood, I don’t care. I should be telling them to do things, but I don’t care. This is life- they should see this. It is a good lesson. Steph says many things, mostly questions “Can you hear me?” She says, and she looks so worried. I feel so cold.

“Steph.” 

“Yes? Look, let’s put you…”

“Steph I need to go with her.”

“Mr. Cobb I think you need to sit…”

“I NEED TO GO WITH HER.” I tear myself away from Steph, get up. Jean is coming out in a stretcher. I follow. I dare someone to stop me. Steph doesn’t. For one moment I wonder if I’m going to have a job tomorrow. I make secret pacts with Gods and devils inside my head- my job for her, anything just let her be ok. 

They let me ride in the ambulance. They have all the tubes, and a mask on Jean’s mouth, but her eyes are open. I sit and smile at her like everything is brilliant. As we meander through the roads, siren blaring, my mind snaps back into shape. I realise it’s not so bad. She’s going to be ok. Not like before- she isn’t a complete mess. I hope I didn’t scare anyone. Jean’s arm is cut up, and her brow too, but the paramedics say she’s going to be ok, not much blood loss. Still, I stay. I feel like I’m in a transport, an APC in ‘Nam or something. I tell Jean, and I think she smiles. When the doors finally open it’s as if we’ve teleported. I recognise the hospital. The same one as before, with Jan. I try not to want to throw up. I keep myself at a distance- last time I got in the way a bit. I make sure Jean see’s me. I tell her that her parents are on the way, don’t worry.

Inside they take her into a room, and I have to wait outside it. Fucking Hell. The worst part is the wait. I sit, bent forward, hands on knees. My world becomes the marble tiles of the hospital floor. I think I can see my reflection in it. A dull, shadowy thing, outline visible, details obscured. My mind wanders backwards, against my will. I look up, and there, a painting, of some ludicrous pastoral scene- a fishing boat next to a simple cottage. The amount of green and open space is alien, a thing preserved only in the city parks. I try to focus on the real three-dimensional people instead, the broken people and their families- as if that would help. I am adding to the scene, I suddenly realise. To someone else I am the perfect vision of the desperately concerned- another piece of evidence to prop up some cliched conversation about why they hate hospitals. An extra in someone elses movies, an anecdote. Jean wrote in the third-person, about the widow, whom she called Anna. Austrian, her sons both fought in the Wehrmacht. She talks about her mixture of pride for her boys, the Wehrmacht having a long history, mixed with her discomfort and shame at the nazi war machine. A remarkable thing for a 15-year-old to write. Was I that insightful back then? I do not remember. History blots away the noble traditions of the Wehrmacht, and my teenage years.

Last time they did not let me ride in the ambulance. That haunted me. I know I would not have been able to help, but I doubt I would have gotten in the way. I would not have just been some bystander- silently I harangue the paramedics: I would have helped! Whatever you wanted, I would not have been paralysed by shock, I would have been a man on a mission, I would have helped! Instead I followed, in a taxi, covered in blood. In hindsight the cab driver, it was good of him not to protest. I probably bloodied his passenger seat. Then again was it good of him? Or was it just plain decent- am I expecting people to be selfish by default. Another useless train of thought. My eyes find the clock on the hospital wall. I do not know when this will end. 

I followed in the cab, and at the hospital I took too long to pay the cabbie. So I did not get to see where they took Jan. I went inside, and stuttered to the people there, till someone directed me, to sit. I sat outside the surgery room, or whatever the hell room it is they fix people in and I waited. I remember the blood was so sticky, and thought if I cleaned up, maybe that would be better. That that would help Jan recover. Ah, that’s it then, I remember now. I gripped my hands together and I clenched my eyes shut, and I prayed. Blood stuck hands I whispered, barely letting the words escape into sounds- I know I don’t believe in God but when this is all over maybe he’ll let me come and visit you. I prayed to Jan. I felt such relief after that. Then I waited, so sure, everything would be ok. Till her father came in, a bull of a man shouting clear across the corridor at me. I did not do anything to your daughter sir, I said. It felt like a lie. A large doctor held him back. I don’t know what he would have done to me.

The relief was dispelled by his honest anger. I was afraid again- I was utterly terrified. Then the nurse came out. I don’t remember what she looked like, just her voice, and when she hugged me her cheek was wet. “I’m so sorry.” she said. “She’s gone.” She said. 

I’m out of the chair, and searching for a doctor. I find one. “I’m the girl’s teacher- Jean, that’s her name, what happened to her?” He asks me to wait here, says he will be right back. Wait with the parents he says. The parents. They are here. I’ve never met them before. 

Jean’s father looks so close to my age it’s frightening. Either he looks too young or I’m too old. Her mother has jean’s look, her face and eyes. They are both terrified- a mirror image of my marble reflection. I go up to them and try to explain. 

“I’m so sorry.” I say. 

“It’s not your fault.” Her father says.

The doctor comes back, introduces a nurse. She explains everything. Jean needs some stitches, on her arms, and on her forehead. The hair will cover it up apparently. Just stitches. It’s no big deal. Nothing broken. No permenant damage. I want to cry. The parents go inside. I want to, but it’s fine- I know I’ll see Jean again. So I sit back down, and I start to cry.

A voice, soft, with a French edge says “Hey, why are you crying? The little girl is going to be ok! Promise!” I feel a fool. I look up, it is the nurse. She clasps her hands to her mouth, says “Its…you. I remember you.” I look up at the nurse, the same one who hugged me two years ago, who apologized on behalf of all of reality for Jan. “You have some really bad luck.” She says. Then she starts to apologise, aghast at what she just said. 

I’m dumbstruck. Then I laugh. For some reason she laughs too. I feel like an idiot. I wipe my hand across my eyes, before I realise about the blood stains. “Oh shit…I mean uh…sorry. Oh god!” I try to cover up my blood streaked face.

She’s laughing so hard people are starting to stare. She keeps trying to tell me it’s fine “I’ve seen WAY worse. Here I’ll show you where the tap is.” And we leave the corridor, surrounded by indignant stares, our macabre sketch not quite appropriate. At the nurses station I start to wash my face, and she hangs around. 

The water- It feels baptismal. Between splashes we chat. She doesn’t mention Jan, or the past. I suppose for her, she’s seen more than enough death and pain. After I’m clean we shake hands. 

I stare at her name tag, emblazoned across a distracting chest. “Sorry to bother you like this…Meet.”

She laughs some more. “MIE-EHT. Not meet! Oh my god, first you get blood all over me, then you get my name wrong.” She folds her arms, shakes her head in mock disappointment. I start laughing, we both start laughing. It’s fucking ridiculous. I don’t even know why we’re laughing.

When we stop I look her in the eyes. They are bright blue, and way too optimistic. I hold her gaze for just enough time, and then the words float up inside me, and gush out of my mouth:

“How about I make it up to you. Maybe we can grab some Ice-cream sometime?”


The Date (Part 3 of 5)

3

Everything I’ve trained for has prepared me for this moment.

I do a quick mental check before pushing open the door. I’m sure I’ve forgotten to do something. What was it? Just nerves. I push the door open, emerge into the chattering class. I tell myself to breathe. All that training has led up to this. Which is precisely the right way to think if I want to feel an immense amount of pressure. I close the door behind me. The noise subsides a little. I can’t let them smell my fear. 

I turn and survey my charges. Twenty pairs of fifteen year old eyes gaze back at me. At least they aren’t looking away, distracted. At least no one is bored, yet. I suppose I should start with my name. Then inside my jacket, which is draped across my chair, my phone starts up- playing the guitar riff at the beginning of Fortunate Son. I knew I forgot something. A chorus of laughter assaults my ears. I maintain the blank expression, despite the warmth- I must not show weakness. I saunter over to my chair, face hot. Reaching inside my jacket I take out the phone. It’s Tom. I hang up.

A boy with terrible acne says “No phones allowed in school.” His clansmen laugh. Perhaps I should dicipline them or something. Or something indeed. With my phone in hand, I ask the class, “Can anyone tell me what song that was?” These kids were three when The Matrix came out. Might not even have seen a phone with a cord before. Right in the back, a girl wearing thick, black-rimmed spectacles puts up her hand. I say to her “Yes- and what’s your name?”

“Jean.”

“Yes Jean?”

“The song, it’s Fortunate Son, by Creedence Clearwater Revival.” This one, has excellent parents, or whoever it was that implanted a bit of good taste in her.

“Most people just call them Creedence, but yes. Do you know what the song is about?”

No response. 

On the whiteboard I write “The Gulf of Tonkin Incident.” “It’s about the Vietnam War.” I say to the class. Then I spend the next hour showing the kids youtube videos of Jefferson Airplane, Bob Dylan, and The Rolling Stones. I explain the lyrics of each song, somewhat aware of how reductive I’m being. I’m do it partly to teach them about Vietnam, mostly because they need to listen to some real music. I keep trying to find a way to say something about autotuned pop songs, but it never happens. Next class then. Halfway through my phone buzzes. Message from Tom: <My seniors secreatry is fuken HAWT. Drinks later?> I ignore it. After class I text <ok>.

I’m not of a going out sort of person so I follow Tom’s directions to the right bar. Inside I realise I still haven’t gotten used to Tom’s haircut. If I didn’t know him any better I might have assumed he was a real, honest to goodness contributing citizen. After his first three beers he starts to pepper his speech liberally. “Dude!” he says. “You look good, man.” I eyee him above the lip of the glass bottle. Tom says, “So uh, I wanted you to meet someone.”

“She’s your seniors secretary you lunatic- do you want to lose your job?”

He smiles, looks wistful for a moment, shakes his head. “No, no, this ones for you my friend. She works with me, her name is Rachel. She’s hot man.” Ambushed.

I hold up my hands. An old feeling surfaces in my stomach, starts climbing towards my head. “No thanks Tom. I appreciate it really. Very grateful. But no thanks.” 

“Alright dude. Your loss. But like, you sure? Is it because of uh…Jann…”

“No.” I say, immediately, without even wondering about it. Anger waits right around the corner. He drops it, and the rest of the evening is awakward, hovering in a shadow. 

Later, at home, I search for the old picture frame. Panic when I can’t find it. After half an hour I excavate the thing from the bottom of a pile of takeaway brochures. I run my finger around the edges of the back of the frame. Eventually I turn it over. Her white dress strikes me. I let myself mutter out loud- beautiful. I like the way she’s shorter than me. Inside the picture we look like a unit. The sky in the background aches a deep blue. The frisbee poes out of my hand, in the corner, revealing half a skull. I tchh out loud. I didn’t remember that being in the frame. I should have cropped that out. 

For one moment I consider defacing the picture with a scissor, to edit out the skull. Instead I close my eyes and try to remember what flavor ice cream she had. I had chocolate chip, she had, raspberry? Lemon sorbet. Relief. I remember the rest of the date, in bits and pieces. I remember it very well. That certainty haunts me all the way to bed. In the morning the picture is on the floor, a quick examination revealing the frame isn’t cracked. Carefully I deposit it in another drawer. Close it.

In school I quickly develop a reputation amongst the kids as the rock n’ roll teacher. It felt good. What felt better was overhearing their tastes slowly change. They seemed to listen, as a whole, to less pop. For a glorious few weeks the whole year worshipped Pink Floyd. Everyday I couldn’t help but think back to when I was a kid. That felt like a taboo thing to do, as if getting too much perspective destroyed my role as overseer. I used to hate teachers. Funny how I now realise they were just as clueless and petty as I can be.

One day I thought I was busted, that my unorthodox methods were coming to an end when the head of the history department called me in. I spent a good while in the staff room psyching myself up, going for a Dead Poet’s Society state of mind. Remember not go get angry though- I do like this job.

Turned out to be something else entirely. Our head of department was what Tom would call “Hawt”. Stunning legs, low-cut tops, and this domineering approach to things that I admit I found vaguely compelling. In her office she joked about my classes, and then out of nowhere, asked me out. I was prepared for something else, and the whole angle threw me. I said “No thanks.” like she was offering me a coffee. Her voice and face might have gone a bit a rigid, as if she seemed hurt. 

I left the office feeling strangely guilty. At home I thought about her, Stephanie. I had her number, and decided to give her a call. Explained that I wasn’t quite looking for anything at the moment. I realised what I was getting at and quickly blurted out I’d like to just have a friend at the school- didn’t know any of the teachers that well. She said “call me Steph.” and we tried to be friends for awhile. 

The Date (Part 2 of 5)

 
2.

The tutoring center took me in, and for awhile, I didn’t dwell on the past. The pay wasn’t stellar but I could at least make rent. Had to sell some of my old stuff to pay back all the people I’d borrowed from, which left my apartment looking emptier than it had eight months ago. Jann crossed my mind less, I think. Though the picture still remained face down. I’d brush the dust off it’s back once a week. Then one day it all broke down.

That day the boss’s daughter, adorable, had waddled in with her Dad. I overheard their conversation, her, lilting, high-pitched, him- condescending, as he was with us. He was supposed to play Frisbee with her. That word, Frisbee, sent me back. I resisted remembering right up until I noticed how the boss ignored his daughter, taking calls instead. I witnessed the moment when the little girl stopped asking her Dad; when he levelled some anger at her. I watched her silently wait, her face slowly crumple from afar. As the little girl leaked silent tears I realised how much I hated this fucking job. Rage mixed with the word Frisbee, and I felt this urge to run. 

Striding into the boss’s office I tugged my ID off my neck and hurled it down in rage. Palms on his desk, teeth in his face I said, “Take your daughter. To the fucking park.” and left. Cleared out my desk whilst the shit head peered at me from around the corner of his office like a frightened cat. I gathered up my things carelessly, my mind filled with old memories. As they played, relentlessly, another part of me kept telling myself this was all just the final push, the last straw, nothing more or less. I tried to summon up as many excuses as I could for my actions. Holding plastic bags filled with the leavings from my desk, I walked all the way back to that park. I hadn’t been there for eight months, since the day I walked the wrong way. 

At the park I found the wide lawn. Threw down my bags on that grassy field. I let the smell take me back to that date with Jann. 

I remember feeling way too terrified about the fact that the mini-golf center had closed down. It was next on the list after ice cream. Of course I’d memorised the list, I’m not that stupid. I unthreaded my hand from hers and blabbered incoherently about mini-golf being silly anyway. In hindsight I must have been deathly afraid she would want to leave. Instead she silenced my fear by taking my hand again. “Never mind the golf, I have an idea.” and she took me to some vendor, and bought a red Frisbee with a skull on it. “Skulls fly faster.” she said, straight-faced. In the present I cover my face as I remember snorting like a pig at that. Then she dashed onto the lawn, spry as anything. 

We threw the Frisbee around. It felt like being a kid again. Perhaps that’s when I realised I liked kids. Between throws I watched children playing. It’s not so much innocence, as their honesty that I liked. I remember, I was so certain of things whilst the Frisbee traversed the space in-between us. A perfect day. Focus on the Frisbee, burst towards it, catch. Then release. Then know, on some level, that this was the whole point of life. Moments like these, like those- the rest is drudgery. Focus, track the Frisbee, catch. Aim, release. Watch how she laughed. Together we are free. I open my eyes. In the foreground of the memories of Jann a line from a play surfaces: “We give birth astride a grave.” 

I edit the memory so the sports car is there, waiting in the background, with that douchebag- no, that’s not fair- with that man, in his fucking sunglasses, with his fucking phone. I consciously imbue my past with a narrative. Then I leave it be, try to focus on the present. My dress shirt wet with grass stains. My bags sprawled around me. A family sits under a sheltering tree, on top of a pastel-checked picnic mat. They eat and smile. Unable to make out their faces I indulge in feeling resentful- as if the picture in front of me was something I was robbed of, even though it had just been one date. No one understood, no one can witness how much it hurts. Why am I doing this? I’ve avoided these thoughts, like a dark door inside my head- always I turned away. There is nothing wrong, despite what they say, with caring too much. 

So i lay back in the grass, and let it soak through to my back. I fall back into that day. Didn’t Jann say it true? She said, between breaths, as we lay next to each other, “It’s the little things.” I had nodded. 

We give birth astride a grave, or as Jann might say, life’s just too short. In the present I open my eyes and turn to the left. I gaze at the plastic bag filled with crap, crinkling softly in the breeze. The little things eh? I push myself up from the ground. Tutoring is bullshit. In my head I ask so softly, afraid that anyone who looked me in the eye could see the sentimental words- Jann, do you think I should become a teacher? 

No response. She was the one who believed in prayer and God. All I have is chaos. So I make one up. I think Jann would say “No regrets. The rest is pointless.” 

So I go home and google: becoming a teacher.