1. GingerCoffee
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    Past Contest Submissions CLOSED for contest #157: "The Bechdel Test"

    Discussion in 'Bi-Weekly Short Story Contest Archives' started by GingerCoffee, Jun 10, 2014.

    Short Story Contest 157
    Submissions & Details Thread
    Theme: "The Bechdel Test" courtesy of @LordKyleOfEarth
    The current contest winner has not gotten back to me with a theme so I chose a recent one from the the suggestions thread.


    Submissions will be open for 2 weeks.

    IMPORTANT: PLEASE READ!

    If you wish to enter the contest please send your story via 'A Conversation' (aka a PM) to me to enter the story via this thread. Don't post the story here directly or it will not be counted as entered into the contest. This is to ensure anonymity, and to make this contest fairer for all - having each story judged based on their merits.

    This contest is open to all writingforums.org members, newbies and the established alike. At the deadline I will collate all entries and put them forward for voting in a separate thread. The winning entry will be stickied until the next competition winner. As always, the winner may also PM me to request the theme of the subsequent contest if he/she wishes.

    Entries do not have to follow the themes explicitly, but off-topic entries may not be entered into the voting.

    Word limit: 500-3000 words
    Deadline for entries: Sunday the 22nd of June, 2014 1600 (4:00 pm) US Pacific time

    There is a 10% word-limit leniency at both ends of the scale. Please try to stick within the limit. Any piece outside of the suggested limit may not be entered into the voting.

    If we reach 20 entries, the maximum number of stories for any one contest, I will consider splitting the contest into two. Only one entry per contest per contestant is permitted.

    Try to make all your entries complete and have an ending rather than be an extract from a larger one and please try to stick to the topic. Any piece seemingly outside of the topic will be dealt with in a piece by piece basis to decide its legitimacy for the contest.

    A story entered into the contest may not be one that has been posted anywhere on the internet, not just anywhere on this site. A story may not be posted for review until the contest ends, but authors may seek critiques after voting closes for the contest. Members may also not repost a story anywhere, or bring attention to the contest in any way, until the voting has closed.

    I believe with the new board software, italics and bolding are preserved when I copy/paste, but justification is not. If I have to do too much by hand to restore the entry to its entered formatting, I reserve the right to ask the author to adjust the formatting.

    Please remember to give your piece a title and give its word count in brackets [ ] at the top of your story.

    If there are any questions, please send me a PM (Conversation). After the entries close, posting in the thread is open for comments.

    ***And thanks to even more long hours put in by our very special mod/member@@Wreybies, winners are now awarded with olympic style medals displayed under their avatars.

    Thanks, and good luck!

    **New information in red: If you wish to edit your story after you've submitted it, send the newer version to me in your 'conversation'. I will replace it one time with the edited version if submitted before voting has begun.**
    ** Notice!! Re corrections: arguments with the contest admin are not OK. I will replace the whole piece, or a single block of text. I will not make additional line by line corrections, even if it's just one.
    Give me something I can cut and paste one time! It's not too much to ask, especially when I ask politely and the author posts more text arguing than it would have taken to just make the one clean correction. Thank you. :) **
    **Note: corrections of copy/paste errors do not count toward your one time edit allowance. Be sure to check your entry after I post it and let me know if there were errors when pasted. Usually such errors involve extra line spaces or italics or bold errors.
     
  2. GingerCoffee
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    Friends? [750 words]

    The sun sat high on the clear blue sky and its early summer rays warmed her skin. She saw her reflection in the murky brown water of the pond. She was wearing a white dress with light blue stripes going vertically and a pair of shiny red shoes. Squatting, her dress had pulled up and bared her scraped knees, they were red and dirty from the fall. She brushed some strands of her dark hair away from her face, as they were irritating more scrapes found on her chin. A green leaf floated in over her reflection, she tapped it lightly with her finger and it slowly sailed away.

    Two feet made a stop in the tall grass behind her. The presence behind her loomed over her, casting a heavy shadow. She tensed up and pulled herself closer to her knees, wishing the tall, but not quite that tall, grass to hide her.

    "Is everything alright?" an old woman's voice asked.

    It wasn't the voice she feared, the heavy presence disappeared.

    "Y... yes." she said and rubbed her watery eyes dry.

    The girl turned around and faced the source of the voice. A small, old woman stood there. She was leaning over a wooden cane that shook back and forth under the pressure. The girl's eyes grew wide as they captured the old woman's wrinkly face, large nose, warts and freckles, and the long gray hair that hang down like spider's silk framing it all.

    "Ha ha. Dear child, does my appearance frighten you that much?" the old woman said and chuckled.

    "I'm not!" she protested. She bit her lower lip. "I... I just thought you were someone else."

    "Oh? That someone sounds like a frightning person."

    The young girl looked back into the murky water of the pond. Her reflection was looking back at her with sad eyes.

    Bonk!

    "Ouch!" The young girl grabbed the top of her head and looked angrily back at the old woman, who had just hit her with the handle of the cane.

    "Ho ho ho. Look at those frightening eyes, so you do have some spirit," the old woman chuckled.

    "Why did you do that? Are you going to be mean to me too?"

    "Well I couldn't stand watching that sad face, it depresses me immensely. I like to be happy and smile, see." The old woman made a wide grin that showed a single tooth that hung below her upper lip like ripe fruit ready to fall at any moment. "So, now tell me who's bothering you."

    "Why do you care and why should I tell you?"

    "Because I want to be your friend. And when your friends are hurt you want to help them if possible. No?"

    The young girl turned her head back towards the pond. "I wouldn't know..." she said and burrowed her face between her knees. "I don't have any friends."

    Bonk!

    "Ouch!" The young girl rubbed the top of her head. The pain was even more intense this time.

    "Do you want to be my friend?" the old woman asked.

    "I don't know. Maybe, if you stop hitting me with that cane," the girl said, still rubbing the top of her head.

    "I will only do that if you remove that sad look from your face."

    "So you're going to hit me every time I become sad? What kind of friend does that?"

    "A better friend than those who hit you to make you sad, I guess?"

    "I don't want any friends that hit me."

    "Then what kind of friend do you want?"

    "I don't know..." the girl said, diverting her eyes to the ground.

    "What if I promise not to hit you any more, will you be my friend then?"

    "Hmm... I guess."

    "Good, then let's introduce ourselves. My name is Agda and I'm 96 years old. And you are?"

    "Emma... I'm eight."

    "Nice to meet you Emma." the old woman said and reached out her hand.

    Emma hesitated, she couldn't help thinking that the veins of the old woman's hand looked like worms crawling beneath its skin, but after a moment she shook it. The old woman's grip was suprisingly warm and firm.

    "So now won't you tell what's bothering you?"

    Emma's smile disappeared and she looked down on the ground with a sad face again.

    Bonk!

    "Ouch! What are you doing, you said you'd promise not to hit me any more if we became friends."

    "Well, I lied." the old woman said and chuckled.
     
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2014
  3. GingerCoffee
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    Luggage [586 words]

    It was a late night, either the street lamp lights were flickering or not on at all. She opened the door of the car and checked her lipstick in the side mirror. Not soon after, the passenger's door opened and her best friend walked in as well.

    “This tuck is chaffing,” was the first thing she said to her.

    “Like I need to know that Annabelle,” she replied.

    “What has you on edge?” Annabelle asked taking out a smoke, rolling down the window before closing the door with another slam.

    “I don't know, how about the fact that you're taking this all in pretty well?” she said.

    “People only think your suspicious if you act suspicious, we had no choice,” Ann said inhaling and then exhaling smoke billowing softly up to the sky to form midnight clouds, maybe.

    “Had no choice?” she asked.

    “Look V, you're behaving really paranoid, we're never going to get anywhere if you don't start driving.”

    “What happens when people start asking questions, Ann?”

    “They won't as long as we're calm about this.”

    Veronica put her lips together and smacked them.

    “Just drive,” Ann said.

    “Okay,” Veronica said.

    She turned on the ignition of her car, she drove out of the dark alleyway and unto the open streets of Seattle.

    “You sure about this?” Veronica asked.

    “I'm pretty sure,” Ann said taking in another inhale of her fag.

    “Pretty sure?”

    “I cannot guarantee anything Veronica. It isn't like buying something off of an infomercial.”

    “So there is a likelihood.”

    “We won't.”

    “How do you know?”

    “We just won't, you'll see.”

    “I feel like you have done this before.”

    “I have.”

    “You won't, you know, to me.”

    “As long as you don't bail out on me, then I won't V.”

    “This feels wrong.”

    “Soon it will feel right, just as easy as breathing and dreaming.”

    “Are you sure?”

    “Oh absolutely.”

    “When does it start to feel right?”

    “The moment you relax, take in the sites of Seattle, and dream big.”

    Veronica took in a deep breath, just to relax. Ease her mind. The darkness of the city seemed like a representation of the shadows of doubt enveloping around her heart. Ann threw out her cigarette onto the street.

    Luckily she kept getting green lights, but for how long. When would the cops show up? She was paranoid, looking down every corner of the street.

    “They won't show,” Ann said.

    “How do you know?”

    “Remember, I have done this before.”

    “What does this mean for me?”

    “Nothing, once we're done, we're done. We never need to mention it again.”

    “I get to go on with my life? Just like that? No punishment?”

    “No punishment.”

    “Isn't that wrong?”

    “We did what we had to. Think about it in a different perspective, two transgenders found with something big like this. They put us on the news to sway the world, that being transgender is wrong. Even if it was in self defense no one would believe us.”

    “But you said you do this all the time.”

    “I do.”

    “Then, does that mean I will too?”

    “Just shut up and continue driving.”

    They rode off into the outskirts, without another word. To open the trunk of the car, to get rid of some extra luggage.
     
  4. GingerCoffee
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    Whitney [2051 words]

    The musty, stale air filled Maxine's lungs as she clawed aimlessly above her head, searching for the string. Finally she gripped the thin thread and a dim yellow light filled in the dark corners around her. The boards beneath her feet creaked as she looked up, surveying the slanted ceiling. No beams. At it's peak, the attic was high enough, but it lacked anything to loop a rope around. The basement had been full of beams and pipes. It was an orgy of opportunities, but unfortunately, she couldn't even stand up down there without bumping her head. Her stomach sank as she realized hanging herself inside could no longer be her fantasy.

    With neighbors on both sides of the house, an outside hanging was also out of the question. She would have to think of a whole new form of suicide. She sat down next to a dusty, wooden box and racked her brain for a new fantasy. Suicidal thoughts were the only soothing thoughts she had anymore, but they couldn't soothe her unless they were realistic. Plus, she had rules. Her death had to be quick, painless, and guaranteed. The last one was the most important one. She didn't want to wake up the next morning still alive only paralyzed or brain damaged. Hanging didn't exactly fit all her rules, but nothing she thought of ever did.

    Absentmindedly, she opened the box by her elbow. Inside was a plethora of naked Barbies. She began taking them out one by one, not remembering any of them until she pulled out the long-haired blonde with the pink earrings. That was Rachel's Barbie, which Rachel had appropriately named “Barbie.” It still looked perfect, like it had just came out of it's packaging, that is if Barbies were packaged naked. It's hair was silky, smooth and tangle-free. Rachel had always meticulously brushed it.

    Maxine carefully laid Barbie on the floor next to her leg and then began furiously digging into the box looking for her own childhood doll. She finally found it at the very bottom. Whitney. The doll was missing a leg, and it's other leg was melted up to the knee. It's right arm had been gnawed by a dog so that it was just a lumpy plastic mess without any distinct fingers. Whitney didn't have a neck. Her plastic head had been squashed down to her chest, and her brown hair was matted up like a giant hairball. Her bangs had been cut so that they looked like little spikes coming out of the holes above her forehead.

    Maxine laughed and mumbled, “What was wrong with me?”

    “Max, where are you?” called a voice downstairs.

    “I'm in the attic!” A moment later Rachel's shiny black head of hair popped up from the hole in the floor.

    “Ew, what are you doing up here. This place is gross.”

    “I was looking at old toys.” Maxine held up Whitney for Rachel to see.

    “Oh my god! Whitney!” squealed Rachel, crossing over the squeaky attic floor boards to sit near her sister. “That is hilarious. I remember Whitney. I think about her all the time. I can't believe mom kept this stuff. Look at her leg! You used Mom's lighter to set it on fire, remember?”

    “Yeah, I tortured that poor thing.” Maxine pushed Barbie toward Rachel. “Remember her?”

    “Mmm, no. Geez, Whitney is such a fantastic mess! What happened to all their clothes? Mom kept the Barbies without their clothes? Weird.”

    “You don't remember Barbie? This was your favorite doll! Barbie. Remember, she could fly! She saved all the other Barbies all the time.”

    “Oh, right. Yeah, she used to fly around and talk to the fairies in the clouds. And she had X-ray vision, and she could freeze people with her voice. And a million other things. She was so ridiculous.” Rachel gingerly held onto Barbie's hips, and moved her around with her thumb and forefinger. It looked almost like Barbie was walking around on her own. Maxine's own childhood attempts at walking her dolls had involved holding onto their heads and bopping them up and down. They always looked like frogs hopping from one spot to the next because she could never emulate her older sister's graceful puppetry.

    “They sure do bring back memories, don't they?” said Maxine, pulling Whitney's head off and squashing it back down onto her shoulders again.

    “Yeah, but it's dusty up here. Come downstairs and spend time with me, Max. I barely ever have a day off, and you're up here moping in the attic.”

    “I'm not moping.”

    “You are moping. You seem so depressed lately. What is going on with you?” said Rachel, with her focus still on walking Barbie. Maxine suddenly turned her face away. She could feel the tears coming. She tried to hold them back, but trying to stop just made it worse. They came out with a vengeance along with a violent sobbing sound and her whole back bucked forward as she buried her eyes in her hands.

    “Oh Maxy! What's wrong?” said Rachel, abandoning Barbie, and tenderly touching her sister's head.

    “Everything! Everything's wrong. I'm useless. I'm worthless and useless.” She swiped at her face between sobs. “I had to move back in here with Mom because I can't pay my bills. I'll never be able to pay my bills. I work forty hours a week at a fast food restaurant. Fast food, Rachel! I think you can pretty much consider yourself a bona fide loser when you're 29 and you're scooping fries for a living. Yesterday, I made a cheeseburger for my high school chemistry teacher. I could see the pity in her eyes.”

    “Stop! You are not a loser. You have a degree.”

    “Don't you see? That makes me more of a loser! I have a four year degree, that I owe hundreds of thousands of dollars on, and I don't even want to use it. I wasted time and money to study something that I want nothing to do with. I'm more than a loser. I'm pathetic. I'm hopeless. I don't see a light at the end of this tunnel, Rachel. There's nothing for me. This job is soul crushing. I go to work. I come home. Eat. Sleep. Go to work. Come home. Eat. Sleep. This is my life now. All I think about is death.”

    “Well change your life. So you picked the wrong career. Find something you love and do it.”

    “I can't! You think it's that easy? I don't love anything. And when I do think of something new to do that would be tolerable, it almost always involves going back to school. I can't afford it, Rachel! Mom's already paying some of my bills on her fixed income. She paid my car insurance just last week! She can't afford to support me like this, and I'm such a disappointment to her.”

    “Well, don't go back to school then. There's no point in wasting time and money on something that's only 'tolerable' anyway. Find something you love!”

    “No offense, Rachel, but I'm not going to take career advice from someone who works the night shift at a Super 8 hotel.”

    “Ha! I know. I know. But I'm not depressed. I'm not hopeless. I'm writing, Max! Every day. I have dreams, and I'm slowly going to make those happen. There's always hope. You have to go with what feels good, and things will fall into place. Look at Whitney! You remember that one game we played where Whitney was locked away in the evil Witch Rapacious's castle?”

    “No.”

    “Well, try to remember. It was a black castle on top of Mount Wicked, the darkest area in all of Couch Kingdom, and Whitney was captured and stuck in the dungeon. Do you remember how she got out?”

    “How do you remember this stuff? Okay, I sort of recall Mount Wicked being the arm of the living room couch. It's coming back. The castle had a mot around it full of rabid alligators.”

    “Right! And Whitney was kidnapped. How did she get out of the dungeon?”

    “I don't know. Barbie flew in and saved her?”

    “Nooo! Barbie couldn't fly to the castle because there was a magnetic field encircling Mount Wicked, and if she went through it all her powers would disappear. She wouldn't be able to fly or anything. Remember?”

    “Just tell me. I don't remember. How did Whitney get out of the dungeon?”

    “No, you have to remember. I can't help you. That would defeat the whole point. Remember Witch Rapacious used to go down to the dungeon and give her bread and water once a day, and that's all she could ever eat. And there weren't any light in the dungeon, and the dungeon was so small she couldn't even move. Remember? You're the one who made all this up.”

    “God, I was sadistic. Look at this girl?” Maxine held up Whitney by her matted hair. “The things I did to her. There was something wrong with me.”

    “No, there wasn't. You were a good story teller. All good stories involve strife. You always knew that. I'm just now trying to become half as good a story teller as you already were when we were kids.”

    “I'm not a story teller. I don't want to write, Rachel, if that's what you're getting at. That's your passion. Not mine.”

    “No, that's not what I'm getting at. Just try to remember how Whitney got out.”

    “I don't know! Barbie saved her somehow.”

    “No, Barbie never saved her. Ever. Don't you remember?”

    “I don't know, and I don't care!”

    “Okay, fine, I'm going back downstairs. If you want to talk some more about it, you can bring down the Barbies. It's nasty up here.” Rachel made her way to the square hole in the floor.

    “I – I remember now, sort of. She befriended the witch. That's how she got out. Her and the witch became friends and she was allowed to walk out. So what?”

    “I knew you'd remember! She saved herself! Whitney always saved herself! She was never a victim. No matter what you did to her, no matter how much the odds were stacked against her, she always found a way out.”

    “Geez, Rachel, you're corny.”

    “No, seriously, look at that doll. You were always handicapping her. In one game she couldn't walk. In another she was blind. You once played a game where she was a deaf mute with cerebral palsy and alzheimer's disease and you put her on top of a ceiling fan and pretended she was falling out of a plane.”

    “I repeat, I was a sadist.”

    “But instead of falling to her death, she landed safely because she aimed herself at the Ocean of Melancholy. Remember? She was okay. She was always okay. And look at my stupid Barbie. She never had any hardship. She could fly and had every type of magic power possible. She was boring. She lived on easy street, and nothing about her was realistic. Just compare the two. Which one is more interesting? Which one has more character? Which one speaks more to you? Even now, all these years later, I think about Whitney almost every day. I honestly forgot about my boring Barbie, but I remember your Whitney. I especially think about her when my day is going bad. Customers yell at me. My cash register doesn't add up at the end of the night. When I want to cry and feel sorry for myself. I think about Whitney and all that crud you put her through and how she didn't ever complain or feel sorry for herself. She accepted her many, many problems and kept going. She always had hope, and things always turned out okay for her. She befriended the witch. She landed in the ocean. She made it work. You can't lose hope, little sister. Things get bad sometimes, really bad, and no one saves you, and every possible solution turns into a dead end, but you can't lose hope. Look! Whitney's still around even today.” Rachel grabbed the doll's head and bounced her up and down the way Maxine used to.

    “Yeah,” said Maxine, smiling, with a tear falling to her lips, “Whitney always pulled through.”
     
  5. GingerCoffee
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    Too School for Cool [1646 Words]

    “So is it like ‘the game’ that when you refer to ‘the game’ you lose?” Ellen asked as she sipped foam from a coffee cup, ruining a beautiful latte art of flowers and hearts made by a young, love-struck barista who watched her from behind his coffee bar, behind a spotted apron, and behind a sweat drenched bowtie. Ellen was with her friend Leslie at the Cordless Coffeehouse, small and quaint with local art hung on purposefully distressed walls, lounge chairs and couches made to look from the 1930 and like no one had dusted them since then, no wifi, a small book case which was just five planks of wood stapled together filled with obscure manuscripts and classic novels.

    They preferred this pseudo-disheveled, pseudo-intellectual coffeehouse over Starbucks, which although Starbucks had cheaper coffee, the type of crowd which used it as a constant watering hole was to their disliking: girls of “tween age” (a phrase they hated) ordering bright, decadent coffees made of mostly milk, cream and sugar, watching twerking videos on their newest Iphones that there step dads had bought for them after tantrums; girls who would come with their frou-frou boyfriends who were man-orexicly skinny, wearing long mop top hair, skinny skater jeans when they didn’t skate, wearing bracelets that did not really support breast cancer, just boobs; girls whose parents think they are innocent young babies, but are truly nymphets who brag about doing the entire football team in one night, brag about stealing away a friends new boy toy in the bathroom at a concert, brag about practicing fellatio on popsicles and post them as Facebook profile pictures.

    Ellen and Leslie were far too mature for that; of course, maybe not when they were in high school, but of course now, now that they were college women, English literature majors, minoring in creative writing, attending poetry readings and watching foreign films. They were better of course than those girls; they knew what coffee beans they were drinking, what country it was from, how the dark roast on it would help maintain a bolder body, making the labor of the poor abused Ecuadorian workers far worth this ten dollar a cup beverage. And they drank it black, to really get at the notes and hints and body and darkness or lightness of each sip and they did it while talking of art and history and literature and films and plays and authors of note and classical geniuses and contemporary prodigies and how one day their own work, abstract and nonsensical, will be published and touch the hearts of millions, expanding the minds of the masses.

    “Uh, what are you talking about?” Leslie asked while gingerly chewing on a free biscotti given to her by their waiter who had told her it was on the house from an admirer as he winked. All she saw was that it had chocolate chips which she despised because she was trying to watch her weight, not wanting to pass her 110 pounds.

    “The Bechdel Test you were talking about; if we were in a media form right now, let’s say some sort of short story, would we be breaking it?” Ellen said. Her coffee was magically refilled from the swift barista who had already disappeared again to behind the counter. “So the rules were first, it has to have at least two women in it.”

    “Check,” Leslie said, surfing the internet on her android phone for hemp seeds, as she considered going vegan and heard it is good for nutrition. Also to support hemp.

    “Two is we talk to eachother. Hi.”

    “Hi. Check.”

    “Three, we can’t be talking about a man.”

    “Check.”

    “Is it really checked?”

    “I’m not following.” Leslie put her phone down, realizing her newest blog post on her opinion of the recent Sundance Film Festival results had no views.

    “I mean,” said Ellen, waving off the barista trying to fill her cup with more coffee, “We are talking aboutthe Bechdel test which is about men, so technically we are still talking about man.”

    “Bechdel test-ception,” Leslie said.

    “Exactly.”

    “But that’s kind of far-fetched,” Leslie said, reaching over to take Ellen’s cup, noticing her own was empty, “I mean everything we talk about has something to do with a guy, or men in general if we think like that.”

    “Exactly, so we fail the Bechdel test when we talk about anything that could be even remotely linked to a man: sports, books, movies-“

    “Well I think you’re misinterpreting it. We have to talk about a single male person, probably in a romantic way or something.”

    “Which means we can never talk about love unless were lesbians?”

    “I’m flattered, but I think we should just stay friends,” Leslie said, the waiter behind her leaning toward their conversation. “I mean, why are we talking about this again?”

    “I don’t know. I just want to know what this all is about. I mean, are we anti-feminist if we don’t follow the test? Are we just posers then?” The coffeehouse fumed with silence, the type that stifled voices so one could hear traffic outside, bugs hidden in walls and corners of the room, silent enough to hear conversations in other building and thoughts inside one’s own head that never spoke unless given the chance.

    “I don’t know,” said Leslie, staring once again at her view-less blog. She shook her head like the end of a rattlesnake. “No. We are independent women burgeoning on the realm of maturity and the Bechdel Test is the measure of that. We don’t need to talk about dudes or anything, cause what we have to say is meaningful and deep and… other stuff.” Her voice deflated with an unsure whisper, eyes lingering down into her empty stained coffee cup.

    “Let’s get to class,” said Ellen.

    “Fuck I forgot. Which class is it again?”

    “Men and Masculinities with Prof. Bukowski.”

    “Damn it.”

    * * *

    The barista who liked Ellen and the waiter who liked Leslie stacked burlap sacks of Ecuadorian coffee beans in the storage closet which also housed the mop bucket, still grimy and wet from morning and night mopping.

    “Dude, she’s perfect. Those big brown eyes, the cool way she dresses, the way she talks: I’m in love,” said the Barista.

    “Yeah. Her friend has some nice legs too,” said the waiter grabbing the mop bucket for another ride around the shop. He rolled up the sleeves to his white striped button down shirt, letting his arms firmly grip at the naked wood of the mop handle as he steered his way to the front room, the Barista following behind him. “They are some feminists though, bro. Seriously, they were talking about this test thing that I looked up. Crazy shit.”

    “What do you mean?” the Barista said as he poured the last of the latte out, practicing writing Ellen’s name in the foam.

    “I mean it’s about how chicks shouldn’t read or watch things that don’t past this feminist test, that if it has chicks talking about dudes and nothing else it’s not feminist.”

    “What kind of flowers do you think Ellen likes? I might get some for her table.”

    “Dude, are you even listening? If there was a test like that for dudes, you’d be failing.”

    “So what?” the Barista said, looking up from his work, Ellen’s name written in perfect cursive within the white foam of the latte. His bowtie hung lose down under his unbuttoned collar button, his vest open as he stared at the Waiter, leaning on the mop.

    “She’ll question your self-respect if you act like that. I mean, if she is so for the Bechdel test,” the Waiter said, avoiding the Barista’s gaze, mopping at invisible spots in the fake wooden floors. “I mean, if she’s the kind of chick that won’t even watch a movie about a girl who talks about a guy, then what will she think of a guy who is that kind of person for a girl?” The coffeehouse was empty, the windows outside were simply black with the interior lighting casting everything not in it into an oblivion.

    “Like I said, so what?” the Barista said. “So I think about her a lot. So I talk about her a lot. So it’s wrong for me to care about her? I don’t care if I’m known as just, ‘that dude who likes Ellen.’ I’m fine with that, because, duh, she’s amazing.” He stood up now, explaining his thoughts to more than just the waiter, but as if he was addressing a crowd. “Love, attraction, affection: that shit’s important. Some could say it’s probably the most important thing. So what if people in movies and books talk about nothing but the person they love? Is that less important, are we just gender stereotypes if that’s what we do? This is real life, not a story, and I’m fine saying that sometimes, yeah, I care about a girl more than addressing other shit because that’s what matters to me. If that makes me less of man, fine. And if girls can’t address that love matters more to them just because it makes them look weak or stereotyped, then what’s really weak: blindly following ‘revolutionary’ society, or just expressing how you really feel?”

    The Waiter raised a questioning eyebrow at his friend before a smile pulled at his lips into dimpled cheeks. “Dude, when you run for mayor or senator or some shit, legalize weed for me will ya?” The Barista smiled back.

    “Let’s get this shit cleaned up so we can go home.”

    “By the way, I think I heard Ellen say her favorite flowers were lilies or something.”

    “Lilies are nice. I think I might get some for the shop.” The Barista who liked Ellen grabbed another mop and began to swirl at the ground thinking of tomorrow and Ellen.
     
  6. GingerCoffee
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    The Reunion [1088 words]

    Grass makes me itch. Not just a little twinge here and there, satiated by a light scratch of the nails. No, I’m talking red welts and hives. The kind of itch that makes you wish you could just remove your skin. But I’m sitting here anyway, in the bright green, hive-inducing grass, wishing I had worn jeans, because I needed to see you. The afternoon sun is high above us, not a cloud in the sky, radiating such heat that I can barely breathe. The sweet smell of roses tickles my nose and I rest my finger under a nostril, holding back a sneeze. It almost hurts -- holding back a sneeze -- but there are more important things to discuss.

    “I’ve missed you, you know,” I say, needing to get the words out. “I know that sounds strange. I’m the one that stopped calling.”

    Of course you don’t answer. I didn’t expect you to, but I had to say it. A bird cries out in the distance, a crow I think, with its caw caw. Maybe it’s sympathizing with me. Can it feel my regret? Does it know how much it burns inside me? Or maybe it’s just angry, screaming at me. Go ahead bird I deserve it.

    I can see you shaking your head at me, the short bob of your hair shifting with the movement and brushing your rosy cheeks. Rolling your eyes like I’m an idiot. Any other day and you would tell me I was being silly.

    It can’t yell at you Anna, it’s a bird, you would say, but today you are silent.

    “I have a daughter now. Can you believe that? Would you have ever pictured me with a kid? She’s playing with mom right now. My mom, a grandmother. That’s almost as strange as me being a mother, don’t you think?” I’m rambling now, trying to fill the silence. “You would like her. She’s so silly, just like you, she makes me laugh every day. She sings to no one in particular and dances with invisible dragons that live in the trees. Isn’t that funny?”

    Why won’t you laugh? It’s not fair that you won’t laugh. I miss that laughter, the way it bubbled out like a uncorked bottle of champagne, pouring over everyone around you.

    Plucking a straw of grass and rolling it between my fingers, I start to remember the good times. Singing in the gym during PE when all the other kids were playing basketball. Screeching sneakers and the echoes of bouncing balls hitting the floor, drowning out your soprano tones and my lower alto ones. But we weren’t singing for an audience. We were singing for us. I need to remember the better times. I need you to remember the better times.

    "Do you remember what it was like when we were kids? We used to sing together all the time.”

    I sigh and wonder if you still care about things like that. Tears sting my eyes and I fight them back. You remember how crying makes my face look? All red and blotchy, like my skin is attacking itself. Of course, it would fit right along with the hives spreading on my legs. Why did I wear a dress? I never wear dresses. Then I remember that you always did.

    “What was that song, the one we liked best? It was a gospel song. I wasn’t very religious, but we could sing the heck out of that song, couldn’t we?”

    You’re not answering and I’m wracking my brain trying to remember the song. Why can’t I remember it? It’s important. So important, but I can’t. It’s gone. Just like you are.

    "I’m sorry I can’t remember it. I brought you flowers, yellow roses, but I don’t know if you will like them. I can’t even remember your favorite flower.”

    The tears are coming now, I can’t stop them. I brush my hand over your name,Emily Grace Bennett, perfectly etched in granite, then over the dates below it.

    “Has it really been five years since you left? How many since we last spoke? Ten?” Closing my eyes, I start wishing, maybe even praying, to hear your voice once more. Had I known you were going to leave this world so soon, I would have made more of an effort to stay in touch. “Would that have made a difference?” I ask out loud, not just to you, but to anyone or anything that might hear. “Would you still be here?”

    I know it’s not you speaking but I can hear your voice in my mind, as clear as if you were sitting right in front of me. I can imagine you barefoot, with toes in the grass. Unlike me, you always liked the feel of nature on your skin.

    How would that have made a difference? My soul was ready to go and my heart just stopped beating.

    It sounds like something you would say, and I’m sure you would be pointing towards the heavens as you said it. “You had an infection, it didn’t just stop beating.” Then I laugh. I’m arguing with you, even now, and you're not even here.

    A gentle breeze is starting to blow, whipping the hair off my shoulders. It’s strangely cool in this baking summer heat and, somehow, I think it’s you, using the wind to try and comfort me the only way you can.

    “Thank you,” I say, drying my tears. “Thank you for being my friend, and I’m sorry I wasn’t always there for you.” As if on cue, another breeze blows by, this one harder, and almost knocks me over. “Okay, okay, I get it.” I smile and it feels foreign, but right at the same time.

    Standing up, I see my daughter playing in front of the old church by the cemetery. Its paint is peeling and the weeds are growing faster than the grass. Emily would have said that the weeds were prettier anyway and, for once, we would have agreed. My mother, looking younger than her years, is running after the giggling two-year-old through the white and yellow wildflowers. It takes me a moment to realize my sweet baby is chasing dandelion seeds, set afloat by the sudden gust, laughing as she reaches out to grab them with her tiny hands. Her laughter reminds me of bubbles and times long past. Smiling, I turn back to the headstone and run my fingers along its smooth, grey edge.

    “Thank you for the wind.”
     
  7. GingerCoffee
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    The Morning After [2958 words - Language]

    Maria stared solemnly into the dark liquid of her coffee mug. Too many mornings were begun just this way; a cold cup of coffee partnered with a dark gratitude that the sun had come up and things weren’t worse.

    It was a twisted beginning to any day. But what was more twisted was that it wasn’t out of the ordinary. Several mornings a week started just like this. Except for the throbbing in her hand. That was new.

    This wasn’t really the start of a new day, though. It was a continuation of the last one. Maria hadn’t gone to sleep yet. Her hand, the good one, trembled as she brought the mug to her lips. Her throat was tight, and in her chest was a pressure the weight of a full grown cat.

    She kept her eyes on her mug to keep from looking anywhere else. It was better that way. She could go and find the thing that was missing, but the idea of seeing it, picking it up, holding it in her hand was simply beyond her.

    Maybe she should have though, right after it had happened. Perhaps it could have been saved. Maybe it still could be. She just couldn’t bring herself to go and look. For some reason it seemed better, necessary even, to leave it be. She kept her eyes on her coffee mug instead.

    Maria had made a decision in the hours before dawn. Follow-through depended on her firm resolve; something in short supply until now. She couldn’t allow herself that luxury anymore. Two words had come to her as she fumbled with bloodied bandages in the bathroom sink at one in the morning – I’m done.

    Yes, she was done... she had to be. Her body, her mind, her heart and sanity couldn’t handle any more nights like the last one. Every ounce of reserves was used up, kaput.

    It was half past eight on a Saturday morning and Lisa, the love of Maria’s life for the last eight years was still in bed. She would probably sleep until early afternoon; especially after a night like last night. That’s how it usually went – “the drill”, her M.O., their dysfunctional pattern.

    So Maria was surprised when she heard their bedroom door open. Footsteps padded across the carpet to the breakfast bar. Lisa quietly pulled herself onto a stool. They stayed silent a long time.

    “Hey…” Lisa finally said.

    Maria stayed focused on her coffee. After a moment she glanced over. Lisa had her head in her hands, her fingers pressed flat over her eyes. There was evidence of last night on her upper arms. A gash ran the length of her earlobe, and the beginnings of a nasty bruise was blooming along her jaw.

    How Lisa became injured replayed itself in Maria’s mind like a home-movie. And on its heels, the traditional surge of guilt. But she mentally shoved that aside. What happened to Lisa wasn’t her fault; it never was. She had to remember that.

    Seeing Lisa’s tangle of hair poking out of her pony tail and the defeated slump in her shoulders, though… for just a second, she nearly caved. Typical, Maria thought, disgusted with herself. Just another part of their dysfunctional pattern.

    “Are you okay?” She asked, knowing full well that no matter how angry she was, she would ask it. And she was angry. But she was sad, too - and already mourning the loss that was coming.

    “Yeah, I’m okay.” Lisa’s voice was strained. She sounded different, her usual defiance and defensive posturing missing. But instead of relief, it set Maria on edge.

    Lisa pulled her hands away from her face and slowly spun the stool around, taking care not to look at Maria. Instead, she looked to the other side of the room; to the rocking chair on its side, the sofa shoved against the fireplace and the dirt and broken pottery on the tile from where the potted orchids had been smashed against the wall. Shards from a glass vase and the mirror that used to hang above the fireplace were in a zillion pieces all over the floor.

    Then there was the awful thing, the terrifying thing; the thing that had stopped everything else. It glimmered in the morning light.

    There, wedged into the wood of the mantel - like an ax left in a chopping block - was an eight inch meat-cleaver. A smear of dark red coated the ivory paint near the base of its handle.

    Lisa’s shoulders began to shake, and then she was sobbing. “I’m sorry – Oh God, I’m so sorry, Maria… I love you! I would never hurt you on purpose… never, never! You know that – don’t you?” she pleaded. “Please tell me you know that!”

    Maria was silent. She may have known that before, but she didn’t know it now. Last night had taken a turn. There was fear in her heart now; a fear she’d never felt before with Lisa, no matter how bad things got. She didn’t trust her anymore - and for Maria, when the fundamental trust, the kind that lives in the basement of her being – when that’s gone, there’s no getting it back.

    “I’ll get better, I promise…” Lisa continued, “I’ll get clean and do what my doctor says. I won’t go off my meds again. Ever! I swear to God – this is it. I know I can’t be without them. I know that now, I promise!” She spoke in a rush between sobs, fully facing Maria now, her chest hitching every few seconds. “I promise this will never happen again. I would never hurt you on purpose…please believe me,” she begged.

    But the emotions inside Maria that were used to responding to Lisa’s pleas (because she’d heard them often; too often) were dead, suddenly underground and hibernating. The part that loved Lisa, the part that has taken up the majority of her heart all these years was no longer listening to her agonized voice or the regret she believed Lisa felt.

    And Maria did believe her apology. She believed Lisa was truly sorry; believed she was mortified at what she had done. She even believed Lisa might finally kick the amphetamines that magnify her illness and get serious about treatment; makes real changes, long-term changes…changes for good. But for Maria - it was too late. Too much has happened.

    “I believe you,” she said simply, softly. There was an undercurrent of something in her tone. The quiet finality of her voice spoke volumes.

    Lisa stood, looking quizzical at first. Then she turned to look behind her, toward the entryway. Her gaze settled on three pieces of luggage in front of the door. “You’re leaving?” she asked, incredulous. “After all this time, everything we’ve had, what we’ve meant to each other – you’re just… you’re just going to leave?”

    “Yes.”

    “But…but, how can you do that? I need you! You’re the one that… you’re the one…” she faltered, weeping. “Maria… I promise; this will never happen again. I’m begging you; please tell me how can I make this right?”

    “Gee, I don’t know, Lisa. Can you give me this back?” Maria said, holding up her left hand, suddenly furious. Even wrapped in bandages, there was no mistaking the missing half of her fifth digit. “Can you find a way to rewind the craziness of last night, the crazy YOU that did this to me?” Lisa flinched at the last part.

    Maria was yelling, being cruel, even - all the years of pent up frustration and bitterness spilling out of her. “Can you? CAN YOU FIX THIS? How long have I begged and pleaded with you, Lisa? How long? STOP with those fucking drugs, TAKE your meds! Get serious about getting well! I said it every Goddamn day! None of it made any difference. No, you had to butcher me for it to finally matter!” Maria didn’t mean to scream, but she couldn’t stop. Something internal wouldn’t allow it.

    “I – I’m sorry…” Lisa said meekly, crouching under the weight of Maria’s words. Her face was wet with tears. The muscle in her chin quivered. “I’m so, so sorry…”

    Suddenly spent, Maria shook her head. “You’re sorry...” she sighed. “Of course you are… you always are.” She took a deep breath. “Look,” she spoke more calmly, “I believe you, I do. But it happened and it can’t be undone. And I’ll have a lifetime reminder of last night every time I see this.” She held up her hand again. Her red painted fingernails – four of them – shined brightly in the light from the window. Lisa cast her eyes down, as if looking might set them on fire.

    Then she glanced up tentatively, speaking in a loud, desperate whisper. “But wait…wait – do you have to leave? I don’t know how to do this without you.” And then more strongly, urgently; “Maria… I love you. You know I do. I’m begging you; if you go, what will happen to me?” She was crying again.

    All of the sudden Maria felt as if she were watching from a great distance. She knew she should be feeling something; compassion, empathy, even pity. After all, Lisa was sick, diagnosed with bipolar disorder almost a year ago. She couldn’t help that her brain was diseased. No one chooses this. It wasn’t her fault… not really.

    Ugh, Maria groaned inside. It was scary how easily, how automatically that broken record of excuses played through her mind. But Lisa’s morning-after pleas always got the same response from her; sympathy… codependent sympathy. They were both guilty of blaming the illness - not the person - for her bad behavior.

    But Lisa’s words just now – they spoke the truth. They showed the person beyond her disorder. They revealed the woman beneath the disease… the soul that lived inside – the real Lisa. What will happen to me? she had asked. TO ME… that’s all she cared about. Maria’s gaze fell on her disfigured hand. She will be marked for life, and all Lisa - this woman that supposedly loved her - could think about was what would happen to her.

    It occurred to Maria that selfishness isn’t reserved for the whole-minded. Narcissism exists even in the mentally ill, perhaps even thriving there; deep inside a mind so burdened, it allows them to marinate in their own id.

    And when it comes to priorities of the mentally ill; the people caring for and doing the most for them… well, those people’s needs don’t even make the list. It seems in these kinds of relationships nobody is spared.

    True to Maria’s earlier feelings, all she felt now was a big, black void. She watched Lisa drop her head back into her hands, bawling, desperate, dramatic, and a single thought kept repeating itself; She’s telling me who she is. Believe her!

    Yes. She was done.

    Maria leaned over and kissed the top of Lisa’s head for the last time. Surprised by the gesture, Lisa looked up, her face tear streaked and blotchy. “Maria…?” she breathed, puzzled panic on her face.

    “I’m going now,” Maria said, standing. “I love you, you know. For more than eight years you’ve been the most important person in my life. I’ll never forget you.” She smiled sadly at Lisa then, her eyes softening. Just yesterday this relationship meant the entire world to her. That was over. “Be well, Lisa. Take care of yourself.”

    Maria got up and walked to her bags. Lisa stared after her in disbelief. With her uninjured hand, Maria removed a single house key from her pocket and laid it on the coffee table. Without looking back, she picked up her belongings and went out the door, closing it behind her.

    “BUT WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO MEEEE?!” Lisa screamed after her. “What will happen to me… what will happen to me?” she wailed, crumbling into a heap on the floor.

    Maria kept walking.

    ~~~

    Lisa cried for a long time, for what seemed like hours, until her skin was cold and her shoulder numb from lying on the hard, tile floor. Finally she rose and walked to the bathroom. In the mirror she saw the bruise on her jaw was angry and bright. The gash on her ear stung and the finger shaped bruises on her arms ached.

    Then, from out of nowhere, she remembered it all – everything from the night before. Big chunks had been missing until that moment. And this time, unlike other mornings-after, there was no running from it.

    ~~~

    Eight and a half hours earlier…

    Lisa returned home close to midnight after being away a full twenty four hours. Her disappearance was the tail end of a three day speed bender. It made her feel alive, the drugs did - invincible, unshakable, but more than that – certain.

    She walked through the door and right away Maria started in; where had she been, what had she been doing? To Lisa it felt all wrong, an invasion of privacy. Like spying.

    Why did she want to know these things? Lisa was aware that oftentimes the people we’re closest to are the ones that can’t be trusted. Maybe Maria was one of those – someone that had wormed her way into her life just to learn her secrets. What would she do with those secrets? Who would she tell? Oh, God – who would she tell?

    Maria walked toward her, arms opened and outstretched. All Lisa saw was the enemy. She pushed her backward, hard, onto the rocking chair, knocking it over. Maria struggled to get up, talking calmly, soothingly the whole time. But Lisa wasn’t listening to her. She was telling lies… she knew it - all lies!

    Maria stepped toward her again, saying something like, “this is the drug talking, Lisa. This isn’t you…”

    But what was she talking about? What wasn’t who? Panicked, she shoved at Maria’s chest. The back of her legs hit the sofa, scraping it along the floor, finally coming to a stop against the fireplace. The sudden jolt knocked Maria forward, her arms pin-wheeling madly. She would have face planted onto the coffee table had she not caught herself by grabbing Lisa’s arms. Her fingers dug in, cutting off Lisa’s circulation.

    Lisa tried to free herself, thrashing wildly, knocking things off the mantle, pushing the mirror off the wall, landing both women on the floor. Her head fell onto a piece of broken vase. It cut into her ear.

    Both clamored to their feet. Lisa reached for something, anything at arm’s length. Her fingers found the potted plants. Without thinking, she launched them at her soul-mate, her lover, her enemy. One hit its mark – right in her chest, knocking Maria’s wind out of her. The other two hit the wall and shattered.

    Then Lisa was off and running into the kitchen. She grabbed the first thing from the knife block her hand landed on; the meat cleaver. She sprinted with cleaver in hand, right at Maria, who stumbled backward. Fighting to stay on her feet, Maria steadied herself with a hand behind her, clutched onto the mantle.

    Suddenly the meat cleaver was in the air, raised over Lisa’s head. Maria’s eyes grew as big as dinner plates. She darted to the side, but not fast enough.

    Lisa brought down the cleaver with a loud THUNK, the blade wedging itself into the wood, missing most of Maria’s hand… most of it. A small, fleshy piece of finger – the top half of it, anyway – separated from the rest of Maria’s hand and flew into the air. Neither saw where it landed.

    The scream that came out of Maria was unlike anything Lisa had ever heard. The shrillness of it rattled her all the more. She wrapped her hands around the cleaver’s handle, pulling and yanking to get it free.

    Then all of the sudden she was punched - right in the face. Maria struck with her fist, clocking Lisa square in the jaw. And then Lisa was falling, and everything went black.

    ~~~

    The next thing Lisa knew, it was morning and she was peeling her eyes open in their bed. She knew it was Maria that had put her there. That thought, on top of everything else, made her feel like a bucket of deep-fried shit. The simple gesture of putting her to bed meant love to Lisa… real love. Maria loved her. Or at least she did.

    I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry, Lisa said in anguish and grief. She spoke aloud, but no one was there to listen or care. Self loathing overwhelmed her as fresh tears stung the backs of her eyes.

    Desperate for something to do, she walked into the living room and began the task of putting things right. First she stood the rocking chair up. Then she pushed the sofa back into place and got out the broom and dust pan to sweep up dirt and broken glass.

    She began sweeping from the far corner of the room, working her way to the middle. Then she came upon something that stole her breath and stopped her cold. There on the floor, like a movie prop or a plastic toy was a tiny, flesh colored piece of human finger – nearly half of Maria’s pinky, a shiny red nail at the tip.

    Lisa couldn’t move… she simply stood there, trembling, gaping at it.

    She dropped the broom, raced to the bathroom, and flung open the medicine cabinet. There, on the bottom shelf was the full bottle, just where she had left it ten months ago. Untouched, unused… ignored.

    She twisted the cap open, pulled a single pill from the container, placed it on her tongue and swallowed.
     
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2014
  8. GingerCoffee
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    Missed the Briefing [800 Words]

    “Professor West?”

    The professor looked up from her desk. “Jane! Good morning. How is your boyfriend?”

    Jane blinked. “Um. I’m not actually in a relationship right now.”

    “Oh, dear. Your father, then?”

    Another blink. “He's...fine. I didn't realize that you and he had met?"

    "We haven't."

    A cautious nod, and then Jane asked, "Do you think we could talk about what you explained in class about friction and chatter? I’ve been reading about phonon modes and…well, I’m lost.”

    “Ah. I spoke to James about that just last week—James Simpson, he’s in the other lab section. Perhaps you could ask him."

    Jane said, “Well, but you're the professor--I mean, if you’re too busy, I could talk to one of the TAs.”

    Professor West shook her head. “I’m afraid that Henry is out of town this week--a death in the family."

    “Right, but I just saw Mary down the hall--I can ask her.”

    “Jane.” The syllable was firm, flat, and disapproving.

    Jane waited. Then waited some more. Finally, "Yes?"

    "You know the rules."

    Jane shook her head, "What rules? Why would--"

    "That's quite enough." The stern tone gave way to a bright chirp as she continued, "By the way, did you see my husband's new car?"

    Blink. Blink. And yet another blink. Jane moved toward the door. "Excuse me. Nice to talk to you."

    "Do remember me to your father."

    ---

    "So I was just trying to ask Professor West about friction and chatter, and she was...I guess really busy, but she didn't seem to think I should talk to you. Are you really busy?"

    Mary shook her head. "No, it's fine. She just has a little trouble working around the rules--the older generation, you know. I was just telling my boyfriend that. Keith, I mean."

    Jane frowned. "Yeah, she was--what rules?"

    "He got home really late last night, and had the worst hangover this morning. Keith, I mean. So what were you trying to ask her about?"

    "The whole controversy about phonon modes and...well, I can't even remember the other theory. Chatter, slip-stick, coefficient of friction. I understand how to use the formulas, but the actual mechanism--"

    Mary interrupted. "Yes, it's messy. I'll email you some articles, and a picture of Keith."

    Jane blinked some more, and nodded. Slowly. "Thank you. Um. I mean, for the articles. But why the picture?"

    Mary took a breath. Voice lowered, "Jane. Look. If you won't follow the spirit, at least follow the letter. You may not care about being written out, but I do." Louder, "Oh, and he just got a haircut. Keith, I mean. My boyfriend."

    "Written...what?"

    Mary turned back to her computer and brought a browser window forward. In louder, cheerful tones, "So what did you think of Obama's speech?"

    "Um...I didn't see it. There was a thing about Michelle--"

    "Jane, I think that it's best if you speak to Henry next time."

    "What the--"

    "Goodbye."

    ---

    Jane pointed to a plastic-wrapped hunk of banana bread. Loudly, over the cafeteria din, "Is it gluten free?"

    The cashier picked up the package and peered at the label over her glasses, "It's my husband's favorite thing, banana bread."

    "Um. That's nice, but is it gluten free?"

    "My son always likes it, too."

    Jane nodded. "Good. I'm glad. And your daughter?"

    The cashier dropped the banana bread. "Excuse me. This register is closed. David will check you out."

    ---

    "Oh, that's great--you got the spot out. You really are the best cleaners. What's your secret?"

    The clerk pushed her glasses up. "I bet your boyfriend likes you in this shirt."

    Jane extended a twenty, then slowly pulled the hand back. A pause. Then, "Did you launder it or dry clean it?"

    The clerk asked, "Are you going out with him tonight?"

    Jane folded her arms, money still clutched in one hand. "Do you have different techniques for different kinds of spots?"

    The clerk smiled. Stiffly. "What does he do for a living?"

    Jane smiled back, even less convincingly. "What would you do for a grease spot?"

    And still more smiling from the clerk. "You go to the university, huh? How does your father feel about that?"

    Again, "What would you do for a grease spot?"

    "Do you take after him? Your father, I mean?"

    "What would you do for a grease spot?"

    The clerk extended the shirt toward Jane. "On the house. I hope your boyfriend likes you in it."

    "What. Would. You. Do. For a grease spot?"

    "Please go."

    Jane stared, brows furrowed, and finally put the bill down on the counter. She shouldered her purse, took the shirt, and muttered, "Keep the change," as she headed for the door.

    The clerk's smile remained ever so bright. Loudly, "That's very generous of you. Your husband must make a good living!"

    Jane looked back, nodding vaguely, and shook her head as she started to cross the street. She never even saw the car.

    ---

    The cop tucked her notebook away, shaking her head as she studied Jane's body. "Hit and run. Her poor father."

    The medical examiner nodded as she packed away her instruments. "So what are you and Joe doing this weekend?"
     
  9. GingerCoffee
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    Booze Lizard [830 Words - Language]

    His dark and dirty strap-on latex lizard tail hung off the stool as he sipped his beer and hungered after the girls behind the bar. They spoke of God.

    “So why a world at all?”

    “For me.”

    Me me me.” She took a shot. The blonde girl did too.

    “I still haven’t finished.”

    “What?”

    “This shift.” The tall girl poured out two more shot glasses. Half with vodka, a quarter lime-juice, and a quarter grenadine.

    “Yeah. I’ve got to start mine in ten minutes. Stop pouring drinks then.”

    “To work!” The tall brunette lifted her glass and the blonde followed.

    “To work,” she repeated. They drank.

    The brunette started to pour out another.

    “That’s too much.”

    “One more.”

    “I’ll be drunk.”

    “Do you remember Anna at your twentieth?”

    “Oh God yes. The salted snail she called it?”

    “The salted snail,” the tall girl agreed. “Here’s to Anna and her burning nethers.”

    They drank. This time the blonde poured the next shots.

    “I thought it was too much?”

    “Fuck it. Now I’m getting drunk. What happened to Anna?”

    “I think she’s serving in Korea.”

    “Korea?”

    “To Korea!”

    “I’m not drinking to Korea.”

    “Come up with something better.”

    The blonde chewed her hair.

    ‘To Buddha,” she shouted.

    “Fuck it. To Buddha!”

    They drank.

    The man with the lizard tail finished his drink and they spotted him approaching the bar.

    “Your shift,” the blonde said. She made off to rinse out pitchers.

    “What can I get you?’ the tall girl asked. The man put his elbows on the bottle top studded bar.

    “Pour me three drinks. Two whiskeys with Guinness and one uncomfortably fruity well drink.

    “What fruit flavor?”

    “Do you have them all?”

    “We’ve got the regular,” she said.

    “Blueberry.”

    “We haven’t got that.”

    The man put his head down and breathed onto the bar.

    “Grapefruit.”

    “Two whiskies and Guinness and a grapefruit well. Can I see your I.D.?”

    “Don’t I look old enough?”

    “It’s policy.”

    “Have you ever been to Pleasure Island?”

    “Is that a place?”

    He raised his eyebrows. “It’s an island. Do you know what they do to girls like you on Pleasure Island?”

    “No. Do you have an I.D.?”

    “They paint you in walrus fat. Have you ever smelt hot walrus fat?”

    “Um. If you don’t have an I.D. I can’t serve you and you’ll have to leave.”

    “I licked up so much walrus fat on Pleasure Island that I can taste nothing else. This is my beer glass. I’ve already had a drink, so it’s no responsibility of yours.”

    “Um. Well alright.” The tall girl took his glass and set up two shot glasses and a half pint.

    While her back was to the customer, the blonde came up alongside her and whispered, “Did he say walrus fat?”

    “Pour me a grapefruit and vodka.” She handed the blonde a glass. With a look back, the blonde poured the drink.

    When everything was together, the tall girl said, “Is that it?”

    “I can’t pay,” the man said.

    “Do you have a card?”

    “I’ve got thirty-eight cents.”

    The tall girl rubbed her eyes. “Well you’ll have to go then, sir.”

    “What if you bought me the drinks?”

    “I really can’t, sir. I’m sorry.”

    The man licked his lips.

    “What about your friend?”

    “She can’t either.”

    “Ask her.”

    “It’s against our policy to buy drinks for friends.”

    “Mhm.” The man pulled something from his breast pocket and powdered it with his fingers into the well drink.

    “Listen,” he said, “I’m going to drink these.”

    He took a hardcover menu and placed the well drink onto it. She grabbed one shot and he the other.

    “To the generosity of strangers,” he said, and downed the shot.

    “You have to leave.”

    “You didn’t drink yours,” he accused.

    “You have to leave.”

    “Drink.”

    She drank. “Now get out.”

    The man smirked behind his sunglasses. He picked up the well drink and swirled it before her.

    “You have to leave.”

    He looked down the bar where the blonde was watching the exchange.

    “What do you think, friend?”

    The girl looked at the brunette and then back at the man. She licked her lips.

    “Drink it,” she said.

    The man smiled and drank. With a sigh he put the glass down.

    “Well,” he said. “Another time.”

    The tall girl eyed him with incredulity.

    “Just salt,” he said, rubbing his fingers. “Don’t frown. Now if you’ll excuse me.”

    With a nod of his head, he slithered out the back door, tail and all.


    Behind the bar, in an alleyway with a dumpster, the lizard-tailed man met his friend, a tattooed and well-muscled man dressed entirely in mismatched pinstripes. They greeted with a kiss on the cheek.

    “My friend. How’d it go?” said the pinstriped man.

    “I think I’ve caught some blonde.”

    “Ah. I told you the tail would work.”

    The lizard-tailed man rummaged through his wallet and handed over a wad of bills. Pinstripes smiled briefly, pursed his lips, and put the money in his pocket.
     
  10. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Color of Envy [2790 words]

    Mrs. Nayaki was a petite woman, with fair complexion and sharp nose. She spoke less and only whena absolutely necessary to her fellow teachers and always in a soft tone which served as a perfect camouflage of her haughty personality. She can easily go unnoticed in a crowd but in her class of 40 girls, she made sure her presence weighed heavily on each one of them.

    In the remote village it’s not uncommon for the girls to get married in their teens. BRG is the only school in the area [All Girls] so it hardly had the need to set standards. Only handful of girls considered the education seriously, among them rarely was a smart girl with talents. Their talents disappear slowly for the lack of encouragement plus Mrs. Nayaki disliked girls especially the smart ones.

    During her lectures she spoke as if she was forced to speak to a mortal enemy, her lips moved without making so much as a wrinkle around her mouth, eyes staring and scanning the classroom, voice always grim – whether it’s for scolding, or passing snide or sarcastic remark. She deliberately spoke faintly and enjoyed seeing the girls straining hard to hear her. Besides she taught English – a foreign language – which the girls showed no interest to learn. Mrs. Nayaki was very comfortable in teaching a subject for years about which nobody cared and it meant very less burden on her.

    In the year 1995 she had to face a challenge – a new student Mina. Mina had previously studied English as first language in one of the popular schools in different town, but had to switch to this village school because of her dad’s transfer at office. She disliked the school environment which was inferior in so many ways when compared to the renowned Matriculation school she was in. When the fellow students had to struggle hard to come up with a sentence in English, Mina can fluently talk as if English was her mother-tongue, which wasn’t. Soon she was recognised and became popular in the school, much to the dismay of Mrs. Nayaki.

    ‘I think it was day, Mam’ said Mina in a bold and confident voice which heard as a shrill cry to the students for whom it was the first time somebody spoke out of turn in Mrs. Nayaki’s class. The girls head turned towards her in unison and it quite surprised Mina as she was sitting in the last row and could see the whole class.

    Mrs. Nayaki stared at Mina neither acknowledging her, nor rejecting her. She became diligently aware of Mina since she knew that Mina was from an English school, so she was careful in her lectures. Daffodils poem by William Wordsmith was not a new topic to her, she has recited it the past 8 years and that day was no different.

    The girls sitting close to Mina whispered in a terrified voice ‘Get up Mina’.

    Mina who was not used to stand up for discussions in the classroom, reluctantly stood up. Only then Mrs. Nayaki asked, ‘You were saying?’

    If bemused she was by what just happened, she shook it when it came to her favourite part of discussing a literary work.

    ‘I meant the poem Mam. By “Continuous as the stars that shine and twinkle on the Milky Way” I don’t think the author meant it was night. I believe he draws the comparison, ’ Mina stopped suddenly when she heard the ‘sshhh’ and ‘oohh’ from the students, but seeing Mrs. Nayaki’s resolute face she decided to finish what she was saying, ‘between the host of daffodils to the vast multitude of the stars in the night sky’.

    For 8 years Mrs. Nayaki didn’t bother to look deep into the poem more than a careless shallow reading and took whatever she understood from the words here and there, and she repeated the same year after year not willing to dwell into what the author had said. It was just a part of syllabus to her, and she had to talk about it in the class once a year and she did just that. With her apparent dislike towards the students, and her hostile actions she was successful in keeping the students from asking questions from her lecture. She would ask ‘Any doubts?’ at the end but that was more of a rhetorical and the students knew that that was not an open invite to ask their doubts. But that day Mina has changed everything, she hadn’t asked a question, but she darted Mrs. Nayaki’s most secret part which the latter was stealthily hiding from the most part of the school – Mrs. Nayaki was not good in English!

    ‘What does your father do?’ asked Mrs. Nayaki shifting in her chair and leaned comfortably on the back. She always talked in native language when she was not talking subject.

    ‘Who?’ asked Mina incredulously trying to connect the relation between William Wordsworth and her dad.

    Mrs. Nayaki clearly annoyed by her casual query, directed her gaze at Alina who sat at the far end from Mina ‘You, with yellow flower’. Mrs. Nayaki never called a student with her name, she thought it was too much a respect for a village girl. Alina jerked her head up and with sudden thunder of her knee hitting the bench, she stood up. Her eyes wide with fear.

    ‘Yes mam,’ said Alina.

    ‘Did you hear what I just asked her?’ asked Mrs. Nayaki nodding her head towards Mina.

    ‘Yes mam’

    ‘What did I ask?’

    ‘You asked what Mina’s father does’

    ‘So you heard me right? That proves you,’ she turned to Mina ‘must have heard me too.’

    Now Mina spoke, ‘Yes mam I heard you’ .

    ‘So what more does your Highness need to answer a question?’

    ‘I heard you mam, I just didn’t see…-‘

    Mrs. Nayaki cut her short, ‘Are you still arguing?’

    ‘My father works for Government as an Audit Inspector’

    ‘Your mom?’

    ‘She doesn’t work’

    ‘I think your parents were too busy in pampering and spoiling you that they didn’t get time to teach you manners’ said the teacher with only her lips moving and rest of the features intact.

    Mina remained silent as she felt the heat.

    ‘You don’t stand up when you talk to a teacher, and you think you can talk whenever you want – even if it’s the middle of a lecture’

    ‘I … - ‘

    She was cut off again.

    ‘Will I not give chance to you girls to ask your doubts – at the end of the lecture?’ Mrs. Nayaki looked around and each student nodded their head hastily as the teacher’s eyes met theirs. ‘So you thought with being popular in the school, and your Dad’s Officer status you gained the automatic rights interrupt anytime? Well, not in my class. ’

    Mina stood there too shocked to even think. Her body seemed to grow heavy on her legs. The chillness of June weather had started to fade as the time neared 11am, and Mina felt a drop of her sweat running down her neck.

    ‘Let’s get back to the poem,’ said the teacher without dismissing Mina to sit. Alina, the girl who was called to vouch for Mrs. Nayaki was standing too. Mrs. Nayaki rubbed the page of the book as if to start the lecture fresh. Line by line she read the poem, her grim voice pronouncing the words fell dingy as a bad news to Mina. There was a long pause between every two lines, which the teacher used to read the students’ faces. They all studiously moved their fingers across the lines as she read them. When she reached the line ‘Continuous as the stars that shine and twinkle on the Milky Way’,for thefirst time she understood the real meaning of the poem. Only Mina had the courage to look at the teacher’s face to see if she was going to acknowledge her at all, for she foolishly thought that if Mrs. Nayaki understood that Mina was right, she would waive the accusation. But Mrs. Nayaki was so matured to reveal her thoughts plain on her face. She read past the line as if that was not a big deal, and only that remained was Mina’s disobedience and not the error she was holding on for 8 years.

    ‘Have you seen Daffodils? Anybody?’ asked Mrs. Nayaki to nobody in particular.

    ‘What are daffodils? You herd of sheep! What are daffodils?’ she raised her voice

    There was absolute silence as nobody ever heard of the word to know what they are.

    ‘Daffodils are flowers. What color is the flower? The author gave a hint in one of the lines in the poem,’ said Mrs. Nayaki pushing her tongue from inside her mouth and moved proudly as if she had cracked the hidden meaning of the song. She fixed her gaze to the first bench students challenging them to answer. Then with a sudden jerk she jolted her attention back to Mina. ‘Did I ask you?’ her voice raised to indicate her shot temper.

    Mina who had her head bowed down and her back bent slightly to alleviate discomfort from standing long, was startled when Joyce, nudged her. Mina looked up and realised that the teacher was talking to her.

    ‘Mam?’

    ‘Do you have to be a show-off all the time? We know you came from a better school, can’t you give a chance for others to learn. What an arrogant little creature you are!’

    ‘Mam?,’ Mina helplessly repeated.

    ‘I wanted them,’ she pointed the girls in the first row, ‘to answer, to see if they have listened to my lecture’. By ‘lecture’ she referred to the line-by-line monotonous reading of the poem. ‘But you know-it-all, shouted “Yellow” from there’.

    ‘Mam, I didn’t,’ said Mina and at once realising that Mrs. Nayaki won’t leave the matter without analysing to the last nut and bolt hurriedly added, ‘I promise, God Promise, I didn’t say anything’. She wanted to add, ‘I didn’t even realise you were asking a question’ but immediately decided against it.

    For the very first time in their course in the school the students saw Mrs. Nayaki’s lips curving and in a slow motion turning into a smile. Every student, even Mina, watched the transition incredulously, and without their knowledge the scene made an impression in their mind. Later in the students’ life, even 3 or 4 decades after, they could recall this smile vividly in utterly unexpected situations.

    Mrs. Nayaki repeated what Mina just said, ‘You didn’t say.’

    Mina nodded and repeated, ‘yes mam, I didn’t say.’ She looked around the class as if she’s allied with Mrs. Nayaki in finding who the culprit was though she haven’t heard anything, she was too afraid to say that aloud.

    ‘Then there must be something wrong with my hearing,’ said Mrs. Nayaki. Mina exhaled hopelessly and her breathing was audible to the girls. Joyce, who sat next to her, held her hand surreptitiously under the bench to calm her down. She looked at the big oval-shaped clock behind the teacher’s chair. It showed 11.15, which exuded immense relief to think the English period has come to an end. But seeing Mrs. Nayaki not moving from her chair – she usually gathered her things 5 minutes before – crushed her spirits, for she remembered now that Mr. Vj went away for a week holiday leaving Mrs. Nayaki to take over his classes.

    ‘You in red ribbon, yes YOU, stop nodding, Get up’ said Mrs. Nayaki looking at the girl –Sam- sitting in the front row. Sam immediately stood up shooting a terrified look at Alina who was standing as long as Mina.

    Mrs. Nayaki cleared her throat and asked authoritatively ‘You tell me, did you or did you not hear that girl speaking?’

    In the desire to be out of the mess as quickly as possible, Sam replied without waiting a wink, ‘Yes Mam, I heard Mina’

    ‘What did she say?’

    ‘She said “Yellow”,’ said Sam obediently, she had a face of a dutiful student deserving all the praise.

    ‘Ok, ‘ said Mrs. Nayaki moving to the next person, ‘the next girl’ which Sam took as a prompt to sit. A sudden glare from Mrs. Nayaki jerked her back up.

    The next girl, Rose, who had no different plan from Sam, repeated the same, as did the tens of other girls from the class. Mina stood watching the girls, one after another, affirming the false accusation against her, not before throwing a sympathy look at her. Mrs. Nayaki enjoying the little play she has invented noticed the sympathy look from the girls and decided to tread some more.

    ‘You,’ she said looking at Mina, ‘I thought you were just a show-off until today. But then you proved you are a liar. Your crimes didn’t stop there; you are also Rowdy threatening girls against speaking the truth. Look how scared the girls are’ she said with a fake affection.’

    ‘Mam, I am telling you, I am not a liar. I swear, I didn’t open my mouth,’ said Mina the surety in her voice had faded then as if she herself doubted whether she did say “Yellow”.

    ‘Look around yourself,’ she made a half curve with her head pointing the girls standing,’ you mean to say everyone are lying, including me? I have no doubt in my mind that you said the word.’

    The hands of the clock seemed immobile for past hour, and her heart grew heavy in her bosom.

    ‘Now girls, until she accepts that she did say the word I will never teach in this class,’ said Mrs. Nayaki resolutely and as if half of the class is not standing now waiting for her to dismiss them, she opened her book, rested her left elbow on the chair handle, and her cheek on the fist and started reading as if she would read a novel leisurely on a holiday.

    The girls were left to fight the teacher’s battle now. One after another turned to look at Mina, and shot a pity look to accuse her for their punishment. The class was in absolute silence except for the sudden sigh uttered by a bored girl followed by the brushing sound of her skirt against the bench when she shifted her legs beneath the bench. Moving her weight on her hands Mina rested them on the desk, her back bent like a curve. As her legs ache grew wilder she realised that she didn’t care what happened anymore and her resolute against accepting the false accusation was fading gradually.

    Whole 10 minutes went by and the girls relinquished from their lazy posture and stood erect as they saw Mrs. Nayaki’s head had lifted from the book.

    ‘So…?’ she looked Mina. It took her a long moment to come back to her senses from her bored lingering thoughts and realise what Mrs. Nayaki was referring to.

    ‘Were you asleep?’

    ‘No mam’

    ‘So tell me, you class Rowdy, did you say “Yellow”’?

    The teacher’s casual use of the word ‘Rowdy’ on her flushed her anger through her face, and without much thought Mina said - to the utter shock and great relief of the whole class - ‘I did Mam’

    Before Mrs. Nayaki could speak, Mina continued, ‘but I didn’t just say “Yellow”’.

    ‘So you are going to repeat that you didn’t say now--,’ asked Mrs. Nayaki

    ‘No Mam, you didn’t get me, ‘said mina and continued slowly so as to make herself clear, ‘ I didn’t say “ I didn’t say Yellow”, but I said , “I didn’t justsay Yellow”. Meaning, I did say Yellow, along with many other words. If you must know what I said, for I know you will waste another hour questioning me, I said you made so many mistakes in the lecture of the poem that I lost count. By the word ‘waves’ you readily assumed the author was speaking about the Sea; In the last para from the word ‘couch’ you connected the dots so poorly that the author was lying on the couch and imagining the daffodils from a picture in his living room; Then I lost interest in your lecture which was when my thoughts wandered and I asked myself what’s the color that’s associated with Gold, wealth and happiness like those beautiful bright daffodils, and also with that of envy and jealousy, for that’s the picture you paint of yourself to your students, and the answer came out aloud “It’s Yellow“’ and then dramatically she repeated, ‘Yellow!’.

    The shrill noise of the bell ringing outside announcing lunch time came as a relief to the entire class, including Mrs. Nayaki.
     

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