Tag Archives: flash fiction

Coffee Clutch

for David

Coffee. That’s how it starts. “Buy you a cup of coffee?” “Meet me for coffee?”

Plastic to-go cups of iced coffee on a hot summer evening, you wondering how it’s going to turn out. You know that if it goes badly, your second cup will be a decaf and you’ll go home. But, if it goes well, you’ll go home with him, so that second cup will be regular. Maybe espresso.

Coffee in steaming mugs, the two of you cocooned by shared blankets, watching the leaves fall and float from the trees in the cool autumn air.

Delicate cups of gourmet coffee in the bistro where you had your first real date; you gazing out the window as the snow piles up outside. He plunges the French press and pours. Taking a sip, he says, “I’m not feeling it.” You laugh. “Maxed out your caffeine tolerance?” you ask. “No, it’s not the coffee,” he says. “It’s you.” He pushes his chair back from the table and sets down his cup. “I thought I’d be feeling something by now, but I’m not. Sorry.” He leaves, and you stare at the widening stain on the tablecloth where his coffee sloshed out of the still-full cup.

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Hang Ups

It’s 1981, you’re 12 years old.

You wait for your parents to leave, you know they won’t approve of what you’re about to do. You watch until the taillights of the family Pinto disappear around the curve of your cul-de-sac, and then walk to the kitchen.

Leaning against the door of the pantry, you reach over and lift the receiver from the phone on the wall. You inhale deeply and exhale slowly as you dial his number, your index finger moving in seven separate, arduous arcs.

One ringy dingy. Two ringy dingy. Three. The butterflies in your stomach take flight and fill your throat with a sharp tickle of panicky giggles. Four rings. “Hello?” answers the voice of the cutest boy in school. You slam your hand on the hook, ending the call, and quickly hang up.

You can do this all night. He’ll never know it was you.

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arachnid facial infestation

A spider has laid eggs in the side of my face.
The turgid mass has grown so large that surely, at any moment, it will burst and spew forth dozens of arachnid progeny. I am certain of this.

The lump is definitely not a massive zit that I have manhandled to the point where the resultant purple and yellow bruise is scaring small children.

No. A spider has laid eggs in the side of my face. I am certain of this.

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Freeway Funk

Leslie had never wanted to drive on the freeway. She never wanted to go that fast. She didn’t ski, she didn’t bike, she didn’t rollerblade for the same reason. Going fast wasn’t desirable. Going fast risked being out of control, at the whim of gravity and unpredictable factors like angry drivers, roads in poor condition and stray animals. No, freeways were laden with dangers, rife with the chance of pain and death.

Not that death was that scary. There were plenty of days that death seemed appealing. A way to stop all the hopelessness and anxiety. What if I’m in this job forever?  How will I ever find another job if I lose this one?  How can I have a PhD and be so unqualified for anything?

So, most days she was open to death. It was the pain that worried her. Dismembered, brain damaged, these were the real dangers of going fast. A rock on a bike path could throw her off balance and crack her skull. A mogul, coming up too soon, could incite a swerve into a gully and break her legs. A bear, wandering onto the freeway… and so on. So many scenarios that could bring pain and a longer, more miserable life than the one she had now.

Fairytales would have her meet a man or take up a hobby that filled her soul and brought her joy. She wasn’t keen on either of those.

What brought her a reluctant sense of relief was to stop going on about how depressed she felt, get up from her desk and fucking do something like, for example, get dressed and go to work.

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TGIF, Really?

“TGIF!”
“What?”

Leah is in the breakroom, mournfully stirring Coffemate into her cup of decaf. Out the window she can see the rain falling on the morning mess of traffic on 23rd street.  Across the street there is sodden mess of a construction site, all lumber and blue tarps and puddles of mud.  As bright and perky Dan comes into the breakroom, Leah feels her grip tighten on the cup in her hand.  There are small scratch marks where her nails press into the styrofoam.

“What did you say to me?” she asks Dan.
“TGIF!” Dan sings. “Thank God It’s Friday!”
“Really?” Leah says. She takes a deep breath and sets her cup down on the counter.  She looks up at Dan and exhales, turning to face him head on.  “Really? Did you know my husband is out of town so it will be just me with our twin 5th graders all weekend? Did you know it’s mid-June and summer vacation is almost here?  My kids are crazy excited that they’re about to get out of school, they’re crazy angry that they still have a week left of school, they’re anxious and antsy, they’re belligerent and sullen, they’re hot and they’re cold and dammit Dan, did you know it’s going to rain all weekend? I’m stuck inside with them for the next two days! So no, Dan, TG I am Fucking not!

Dan takes a step away from Leah and fumbles in the pocket of his blazer. He extends his hand to her. “Here, you need this more than I do,” he says. “TGIC.”

Readers: What is the “C”?561

 

 

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Hosed.

Fade in.

I’m soaking wet, but I don’t mind. In fact, it feels good. I’m tired, my back aches, and I am utterly clueless as to where I am or what I’m doing. What day is it? I ask myself. That’s always a good place to start. Friday, okay. Friday. So what am I… oh. I close my eyes. It’s Friday morning. I’m in the shower. I open my eyes and look around. How long have I been here? Have I soaped yet? Shampooed? Is it time for the conditioner or should I reach for the face scrub? I have no idea. I have not a clue about what I’m doing, but it’s okay.

I’m barely conscious of what goes on after that. I find myself eating breakfast and drinking tea, so I presume I toasted Eggos and boiled water. The cat seems to be happy so I must have given her some kibble and cleaned out her litter box. My next awareness is that I’m at an office; I have to assume I dressed myself and drove the half hour it takes to get here. I cop a quick feel to make sure I’m wearing a bra. Yes. Good.

I’m sitting at a desk dominated by two monstrous monitors and covered with piles of papers. Budget projections, pricing proposals, requests for equitable adjustments. It washes over me that I work in accounting. For a government contractor. This is my job? Me, with a degree in ceramic arts? Me, an aspiring writer? I look at the papers and the jumble of Excel spreadsheets on the monitors. I don’t know what to do next, not even where to start. I have not a clue about what I’m doing, but it’s payday.

jenny rained for 40 days BIG

 

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Writing Group Angst

Let’s say you’re in a hotel conference room, attending your very first meeting of the Low Country Writers’ Group (Mount Pleasant Chapter). It’s a panel talk on “Getting Closer to Getting Published.” While you wait for the guest speakers to arrive, you look back through the notebook you’ve brought with you – the one you always bring to things like this – and, becoming aware of wetness under your arms and realizing how appallingly ineffective your new deodorant is, you see that the two-word notes you’ve been leaving for yourself, snippets of story ideas jotted down in your almost illegible shorthand, meant to inspire future writing, are utterly worthless. “Cherry Pie = Pizza Pie”, “Baby, not Piano”, “Aqua Velva and Farts.” Seriously? You can’t even be sure if those are references to personal experiences or things you saw on late night comedy shows. Who knows.

The moderator cheerfully kicks off the opening ice breaker: “Tell us your name and what you’re working on,” she says. You take a quick look around the room. In so doing, you identify a group of thirty-two people, of which you are in a minority, the minority comprised of three attendees under the age of 50. As the introductions go around the table you meet a woman with three books published, another woman who is trying to decide which agent she wants to go with, and a man – one of the men in your under-50 group – who has a PhD and teaches creative writing at the College of Charleston. You think of what you will tell these people when it is your turn to speak. You have about twenty-five short stories in various stages of completion. Your mother says they’re really good, always adding, “… and I’m not just saying that because you’re my daughter.” Head down, you smell a funk waft up from your armpits as evidence of your deodorant’s epic fail. You look up to tally the people who will talk before you have to, and this glance reveals you to be in another minority, a minority of one: those who are grossly overdressed. And, although your mother has always said that it is better to be overdressed than underdressed, you begin to formulate the rebuttal you will give to any of the shorts and flip-flop clad strangers when they ask why you are wearing a floral wrap dress and heels – you will tell them you are on your way to a baby shower, a wedding, a bris… something important, something adult, anything that might lend credibility to you – the most uncomfortable person in the room.

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It Ain’t Pretty, and It Certainly Ain’t Good

Pretty. Good.

Two perfectly fine words, yes? Sure they are, if they’re hanging out at the same party or stuck beside each other in traffic. But should those two words hook up, or say, carpool, then those two words ain’t fine at all, no sir. Put those two words together and you have a harbinger of doom. Let me explain.

The phrase ‘pretty good’ has two meanings. Adjectival. One indicates that the thing being described is acceptable, admirable, close to good. The other indicates that the thing being described is unacceptable, subpar, and no good.

“Pretty good.” The cavernous dichotomy of meaning tied to this two-word phrase is highly problematic. The meaning of the received message depends greatly on the body language and intonation of the communicator.

For example: you are out with a friend and you want to tell her that you think Pizza Hut’s new Stuffed Pretzel Crust is to your liking. You’d smile, turn your face a few degrees to one side and nod. “It’s pretty good.” However, if you think the pizza tastes like rusty nails covered in ketchup but observe that your friend is loving every bite, your response to the question “What do you think?” would be to cock your head slightly to the one side while shrugging your shoulders and offering a politically correct half smile. “It’s pretty good.” See the difference? Same words. The entire message depends on body language. This is why talking to people face to face is ideal.

Another tool in relaying the intended meaning of ‘pretty good’ is tone. Intonation. The way words are pronounced is a powerful indicator of their meaning. “Pretty good”, with a short ‘pretty’ and a drawn out, warm ‘good’, tells your listener that the thing at hand is satisfactory, pleasing. “Pretty good”, said with ‘pretty’ and ‘good’ being of the same length but with a drop in tone that ends in flat-lined silence means that the thing could be, in a pinch, somewhat satisfactory. Try it. Go ahead. Say “pretty good,” and then say “pretty good.” Hear the difference? And that’s just the tone of your voice. This is why talking to people on the phone is only quasi-ideal.

But what if there is no opportunity for body language nor tone? Let’s say your communication is limited to the written word. Now what? You can write paragraphs of exposition, you can state your case clearly and cite examples, but at some point, you’re doomed to use the words “pretty good.” And then, how the reader interprets your meaning is entirely out of your control. Two perfectly innocuous words, put together, could imply only one of two things. It could be “it’s not too shabby” or it could be “it sucks.” This isn’t a big deal if you’re telling a friend about pizza, but it is utterly disastrous if you’re reporting third quarter performance to the board of directors. This is why email totally blows.  jenny phone

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Crest Fallen

Okay, Proctor and Gamble, I’ve used your “Crest 3D White Luxe” toothpaste in Glamorous White (with Whitelock Technology) three times a day for the last five days and I don’t see any indication that it has “removed up to 90% of surface stains” as advertised.

I went on a couple of vacations last year, one to visit my friend Bridget in The ‘Lu (which, she tells me, is what everyone who is anyone is calling St Louis these days), and then one with my friend Susan to Princess Island (which is what we call anywhere we go on vacation together). These trips both produced copious photographs, all of which were posted to Facebook, Dropbox, Instagram, and Flikr. Many people saw these photos, as evidenced by the overwhelming number of ‘likes’ received (an 85/15 split between friends of theirs and friends of mine).

The photos are nice. They’re black and whites, which are always lovely. In every single shot the sun is bright, I’m having good hair days, and Bridget/Susan and I are smiling widely. However. Bridget/Susan’s face is aglow with the shimmer of their clean white teeth, but not mine. My face, sparing the part of my eyeball that isn’t iris or pupil, is all the same color – except for the darker gray slash between my lips. That’s my teeth. To their credit, my teeth are admirably straight. I wore braces and headgear for five years to earn that honor.

Curious, I waited until I was home alone one evening, looked in my bathroom mirror and grinned at myself. There they were, side by side like little soldiers, perfectly aligned and decidedly yellow teeth. More yellow on the sides than on the front. You know, yellow isn’t quite right. Staring at my teeth, the first thing that came to mind was the weathered, fading slats of plywood that Ben used to build the fence around my tomato garden last summer. Functional, yes. Appealing? No.

Hence, my need for the Crest. I read your label, I felt hope, I brushed three times a day for five days. Nothing. Of course I can go see my dentist for laser whitening, but that’s not the point. You let me down. In addition to being out $6.49, I’m really disappointed. I was counting on y’all.toothpaste

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good googily miss moogily

Just a quick “hi” to those of you who have been kind enough to pop over from that other blog I’ve been posting to when I meant to be posting here.  As mentioned, I thought I was clever having more than one blog but then I figured out I was spreading myself too thin, confusing myself, and possibly befuddling others.  Thank you for coming.

For those of you who have been here from the start, please ignore the preceding paragraph. Thank you for coming.

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