Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Job Offers Little

Everyday is a war of attrition. Everyday a small part of you dies.

You spend little enough time reflecting on your thorny memories, deep inside there are beautiful blooms of rose red and yellow, pink and night. Instead you force yourself to live in the present, where you can still feel the pain, but it is at least shorter, and has an end.

Bubbles and songs are your weapons. The kids tend to like the bubbles; their tear filled eyes often lock on in wonder as they float to the floor and burst in a translucent spray. Sometimes they will laugh at your songs, their minds taken away from their predicament as a nurse scans an ultrasound wand over their chest.

Most times, it's good news. The kids cry, they hem and haw in discomfort. Their parents would rather be anywhere else, someplace where nothing can hurt their children. But in the end, the news is good, their hearts are normal, everything is in its proper place, working as it should.

These patients are the easier ones.

The harder ones are not okay. As the doctor delivers the verdict you play with the children. You fold balloon animals over the sobs of their mothers, or perform a magic trick as their father asks pointed questions in a low, desperate, needful voice. It's your job to entertain, to help the kids relax as they are plugged into monitors, drilled through tests.

The job offers little reward, because in the end, you can't heal them.

The job offers little.

The job offers.

The job.


The only thing left.

Is a forced smile.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Little Buddy

"Hey! Hey! Order me a pizza!" A disembodied voice subtly whispered in my office. It was late: the clock in the corner of Windows read 5:36 PM. The rest of the floor was empty, all my colleagues were gone for the evening.

"Who said that?" I asked, "Who's there?" My fingers hovered over the keyboard, arched and tense.

I sensed someone was playing a trick on me. All too often I was the butt of office pranks, like the time Simmons in finance taped a "Dirty Dancing" poster to my ceiling, or the day Kanchelskis hung paisley drapes on my wide office window.

"Yeah, with pepperoni and mushroom," The voice replied.

I couldn't place where it was coming from. I got up from my seat, and walked the hall outside of my office. It and the adjacent offices were all empty. I returned, still tense. If it wasn't a joke, what could it be? A ghost?

"Yeah…get me a soda too," The voice mocked. It wasn't so much a whisper, I realized. The voice was full bodied, but muffled, as if it were yelling through a heavy cloth.

Confused, I looked down at my stomach, taking a moment to take in its curves, its girth. The buttons of my dress shirt were stretched by my belly, standing tall like little soldiers.

"Is that you, little buddy?" I wondered aloud. I had to admit, I was hungry. Maybe my empty stomach was trying to tell me something.

"You got it!" The voice answered.

"You want a pizza? Pepperoni and mushroom?" That seemed odd to me. I hate mushrooms.

"Do you mind? Can I pay you back later? Friday?"

I furrowed my heavy brows. Why would my stomach pay me back? How would it?

I giggled at the thought. Maybe it would finally crap out those two quarters Billy Meyer dared me to swallow back in the fifth grade. And then another laugh: I could buy myself two sodas with that half dollar.

I picked up the phone to order, my hand stretching across my desk to call the number of a local delivery place. Just as I began to dial, something powerful struck my office window, shaking the blinds and sending a reverberating rattle round the entire room.

I screamed, lurched, and came crashing down, my legs tangling heavy in my chair. In a panic, I kicked the chair away and pushed myself up to my hands and knees.

It is a ghost! My mind screamed.

Prepared to run, I looked back over my shoulder. Just outside my window, drawn up by long ropes, was a man with a bright yellow hard hat, a wet squeegee in one hand, a bucket in the other. Dark grime covered his hands and face, but his teeth were a brilliant white against the half set sun.

"Sorry…!" He waved, spotting me on the floor, the glass muffling his voice.

Disturbed, embarrassed, I didn't wave back. In seconds he was gone, onto the next window.

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Kid and the Mark

They called him, The Kid. He was young, Vietnamese, with spiky black hair and a clear complexion. He smelled of trendy body-cologne, a heady mix of overpowering spices and a High Karate sensibility.

"Isn't she beautiful?" He ran a well-manicured hand over the ass of a cherry red car. He left it there, lingering, absorbing its crisp morning chill. "We just got it in yesterday; you're the first to see it."

The Mark nodded his head, and ran a hand through his thick, dark beard. His opposite hand fingered his keys, deep inside the pocket of his chinos. "Very nice," he said, in an even, noncommittal monotone.

The Kid walked to the driver side door and held it open for the Mark. The car dinged in warning. The clean, pure, new car smell wafted the air seconds later. "Would you like to take it for a spin, stretch your legs a little?"

"Sure." The Mark slid into the seat. It matched his bottom like a well-tailored pair of slacks, the leg, head and shoulder room fit like a coffin cut to his size. He turned on the radio, running the receiver through blasts of static and blips of music and jockey talk, until he reached his favorite station, 94.1, smooth jazz. The music added a soothing affect to the car.

"It's got 12 speakers, the premium sound package." The Kid leaned through the door, "Only the best right?"

The Mark rested his hands on the steering wheel, and spotted his old car, parked distant, alone. It was faded white, rusted around the edges, with natty threadbare tires and a bent antenna. Sad in its solitude, the nearest car was a hundred feet away, its glossy black finish a mocking joke compared to his old car's dilapidated state.

Listening to the soothing tones of smooth jazz, the Mark watched his car with tense, sad eyes. The old car was full of memories, good and bad. He had driven it for ten years, since college.
"Want to take it out," the Kid asked, interrupting his reverie. He had a lot riding on this sale. He was the lowest guy on the totem poll, suffering the ignominy of the dealership giving him the email address of

They stuck him with the used cars and internet leads, were he shuffled through loser after loser. The people he dealt with had little money and often bought the cheapest car they could get their hands on. If he sold this deal, he would earn some respect. It would be his first new car sale, and it would bring in a decent chunk of change, enough to go to the strip club across the street one night with the other sales guys, instead of hanging out in his crummy apartment, eating tuna again. He hated the smell of tuna; that smell of fish and oil. He hated the way it stuck to the roof of his mouth. No, he wanted the strip club, he wanted a steak, and he was going to close this deal.

"What do you say…?" The Kid leaned further into the driver's compartment, a menacing tension in his shoulder. "Let's take it out."

The Mark shook his head, his eyes still distant, the new car forgotten. "I can't," he said. "I need to go." He jumped out of the car, nearly knocking the Kid over. "I'm sorry."

He walked away, fast, purpose in each step. When he reached his old car he flung the door open, and sat in the driver seat. The morning sun had given the car a smothering warmth and it smelled of spilled soda and old French fries. He turned the key once, twice, three times before the engine engaged. The smooth jazz of 94.1 came back on. His shoulders relaxed.

The Kid stood by the new car and watched the Mark drive off, his daydreams broken, from strip clubs to tuna.

First Review

On Michele Lee's The Fix: Short Fiction Review. "This one is worth a tenacious read."

I like that.