The metro station was pulsing with light, flickering from the dying bulbs overhead, emanating from open cell phones and getting caught in glasses frames and the reflective coverings on posters for upcoming movies and political campaigns. Voices bounced off of surfaces and whirled willy-nilly in the void of the open station where the trains rushed to and fro, many languages mixing in the open spaces and nooks and crannies to froth against the waves of people who moved against each other every ten minutes like clockwork, mingling together like milk and coffee in a travel mug.
In the hallways street musicians played franglish music on poorly tuned guitars, bilingual cardboard sign propped up against the portable xylophone played by a girl with dreadlocks and a rainbow colored skirt. The toonie thrown into the case by the boy walking with the dark haired girl bounced against the sides and settled into the small pile of gold and silver change. The singer nodded his head as they passed, and the dark haired girl squeezed the boy’s hand.
In the corner, an old woman rests her head against the cool porcelain tiles of the wall, long corduroy skirt trailing on the floor as she waits for the train to come. Her gnarled hands skitter on the handles of her bag and the vibrations tremble up her arm and through the tattered windbreaker. The soft rustling of the fabric announces her presence in the station and heads turn to find the source of the noise. She meets the eyes of a girl with long dark hair who is walking hand and hand with a boy in a baseball cap. The girl nods her head slightly in her direction. The train comes.
Two hours to Montreal. Take 89 straight shot though the border, pass countryside and farm town until you get on the QEW right after the Arrête Papa! ice cream shop with the badly rendered sign outside, two young children with their mouths open in a cry for the cones just out of their reach. Enter bigger towns, ones with prominent churches next to movie theaters next to barns. Drive straight through them. Weave through the steadily increasing traffic with ease. Merge dangerously close to other cars.
Sing oldies music at the top of your lungs with the other people in your car. Open the windows, then shut them. Turn on the air conditioning. Hand your passports to the border guard. Declare nothing. Talk about tonight. Talk about your excitement. Talk about Montreal. Talk about how hungry you are. Don’t talk about the things that have been unsaid for weeks. Let Jake pick the music. Pretend not to notice the lyrics of the songs that he picks.
Jake’s been your best friend for three long years. You’ve dated his good friends. You’ve cried on his shoulder. You’ve gone with him to see bad movies, watched hockey on his couch, drawn him for art class. He’s called you up in the middle of the day just to hang out. You went shopping with him for a new belt and tie, you helped him navigate a rocky relationship with your close friend. You can tell the relationship dynamics have been changing and it makes you nervous. You no longer tell him you love him, because now you’re afraid of what he might think that means.
You sit across from your boyfriend. Tell him Jake asked you to go to the formal in Montreal. Ask him if he cares if you go. He does not. Realize that he really could care less. Think that maybe you wish he did. Change topics. Talk about the game. Talk about how you probably failed the pop quiz this morning. Talk about his upcoming visitors from home. Talk about the weather, the snow-storms. Tell him you sharpened your skis for this weekend. He will tell you he can drive to the mountain. He will ask you if you would like a beer. You would. You will sit drinking it despite the fact that you don’t like beer and you have told him this a million times. He might turn on the TV so you guys can watch something stupid, or you might continue talking about nothing in particular, it doesn’t really matter.
Later, his friends will stop by. You will order a pizza. You will pick off all the mushrooms. Jake will stop in. You will leap up to give him a hug. He will ask you how your day was. You will say fine. You will tell him you can go to the formal. He will say that’s great. Your boyfriend will watch you.
Later, everyone will have gone. You will probably have sex. It will probably be mediocre.
It’s 6 on a Thursday night. You’re over in your neighbour’s apartment wearing the dress you bought this afternoon, a simple black piece that works well on your body, flows nicely, hugs all the right curves. You, your roommate and your neighbours are surrounded by pairs of shoes. You sit on the floor, defeated by the task at hand. They tell you this would have been much easier if the dress you picked didn’t match everything. You laugh. Your roommate groans. You’ve gone through every pair you own and some that belong to other people. It seems like this weekend’s outfit is becoming a team effort.
They all know Jake. They speculate about how well they evening will go. They asks you if you will kiss him. You vehemently declare that you could never ever kiss Jake. You’ve been friends for way too long. Your friends share knowing glances.
Deep down, you wonder about whether you ever could. Maybe if you hadn’t dated his fraternity brothers. Maybe if he hadn’t dated your friend. Maybe if he wasn’t graduating in two weeks. Maybe if he wasn’t your best friend. Maybe if you weren’t so desperately afraid.
Your boyfriend hugs you goodbye as you are getting ready to go to Montreal. Jake watches from the car. Kiss your boyfriend. Pretend like it matters. Pretend like you care. Pretend like going to Montreal doesn’t mean anything at all. Get in the car. Watch your boyfriend watch you leave. Pretend like he cares. Pretend like you don’t care. Look at Jake at that moment and right then and there, chicken out. Suddenly, desperately, wish you weren’t going at all.
You are back from Montreal. The roommate asks first, then the calls roll in. You did not kiss Jake. You wonder why everyone sounds so disappointed. You wonder if maybe you sound disappointed. You wonder if maybe you are. You think about Jake’s dark brown eyes, his hands on your hips. You think about dancing with Jake. You think about Jake’s hands on your breasts. You even think about maybe sleeping with Jake, but you don’t let yourself go there. You think about that brief second when you turned your face away from his. You think about the confession you swallowed. You think about the moment when his face turned from yours. You think that probably this is for the better.
Call your boyfriend.
Tell him you love him.
Pretend that you do.
I leaned back into the plush sofa and let my compatriots listen to the timorous sounds of their own egos, swirling my glass and watch dozens of tiny bubbles fly up to suicide themselves against the border of liquid gold. It made me feel slightly better.
Around me, ugly people in pretty clothes were eating tiny bites of food saturated in truffle oil. The women were leaving territorial marks of lipstick on everything they came into contact with – their glasses, their ornamental toothpicks, their husbands, other people’s husbands – all smeared in variations of Revlon red.
The men were standing around in clusters with their hands deep in their pockets. They were pretending not to watch the wait staff who flitted in and out, agile on impossibly precarious heels, skinny girls in short white dresses, obviously meant to blend in with the all white decor. How they could manage to keep the outside furniture sure a pristine shade, I couldn’t fathom. I imagine they must have to constantly retouch every surface, dry-clean the out fabrics on a regular basis, and tirelessly scrub the sand off the marble floor. All this so rich men with trophy wives could sip exotic drinks and feel like they have experienced the island.
Drumming my fingers on the armrest of the couch, I watched the wait-staff’s best efforts to discourage a growing army of pigeons from besieging the cocktail party. A small flock of birds had descended earlier, summoned by a single misplaced finger-sandwich. They wove skillfully in and out of the parade of leather driving moccasins and designer heels, pecking at cubes of tuna speckled with caviar, chunks of lobster, and the occasional proscuitto-wrapped melon ball. They seemed dressed for the party, with their feathers freshly preened and the iridescent purple-green shimmer of their plumage.
When the squabbling over a duck confit empanada had more or less ended, a large grey male meandering in my direction fixed me with a beady eye. His bobbing head moving in rhythm with his pink-legged strut forcibly reminded me of the self-important, sauntering gait of my fiancé, who often walked in the wrong direction while looking as if he had somewhere to be. The pigeon, with his neck feathers plumped and his wings neatly arranged, clearly had plans for my untouched plate. Chuckling to myself, I dropped him an expensive sounding canapé. He scrambled over, his head bobbing frantically, wings askew. I pictured Laurent running after his latest celebrity client and burst out laughing as the whole flock came running over, cooing in alarm, feathers plump, jostling over the morsel. I left my feathery fiancé lookalike to fend for himself as the horde hopped up onto the seat I had vacated and pecked my whole selection of snacks to shreds.
Continued from here.
The cut was long and jagged and ran from the bottom of my ribcage to the top of my snow pants. It was already starting to bruise around the edges. I refused to go the ski patrol so Mark bought a tee shirt from the gift shop, stuffed it with clean snow, and handed it to me. Annoyed, I sat down on an outside bench with a huff and pressed it to my side. Mark sat next to me and tried to lift my shirt up a little so he could see the wound better, but I smacked his hand away.
“Stop poking at me,” I said, and it must have came out a little harsher then I meant it because Mark made a face like I’d spit at him and turned away. I bit my lip. We sat there for a few minutes in silence. The day had turned out to be unusually warm for March and some of the other skiers were walking past us in t-shirts. I was overdressed, having gotten ready in the still frigid morning, and the snowpack felt good against my skin until it started to melt into icy little rivulets that ran down into my base layers and held on. Despite the melt, I held it to my side until the snow inside was all gone, then shook it out and laid it over my knees.
“Ready to go?” I finally asked.
“Why won’t you ever let me help you, Susan?” Mark asked me quietly.
“What?” I blurted out, surprised.
He looked at me for a long moment, and I waited a while before realizing that his patience with my stubbornness was finally wearing out, and that this wasn’t one of those conversations where he was going to let me wiggle my way out. I looked out at the mountains, at the long jagged crest line of the horizon, and thought maybe one of the reasons I loved those peaks so much is that there were plenty of valleys to hide in.
“I know you were heading for the cliff,” Mark said.
I said nothing because it was true and because I didn’t want to make him madder.
“I thought you were going to give it up,” he continued.
“Is this conversation really necessary?” I asked. He stared at me for a long moment.
“Susan, I’m not going to watch you go on a suicide mission so you can prove something to a man who doesn’t even call you on your birthday.”
“But is it untrue?” Mark asked. I recoiled from him and he shut his eyes tightly for a moment.
“I’m sorry,” he said in a gentler voice.
“Let’s go get in the line,” I said softly, putting my hand on his shoulder. He didn’t look up.
“Susan, I can’t let you do this. You need to stop pushing yourself so hard.”
“Since when do you make decisions for me?” I spat.
“You can take another run, but it won’t be with me,” Mark said, standing.
“What?” I blurted out, “Just like that?”
“Just like that. You’re being too reckless over something that doesn’t even matter.”
I looked down at my side, at my soaked through shirt, and back up at the mountain. She was glorious today, the sun soaking right into the cracks in the trees and letting little shivers of light track down through the unmarked trails. Far above us now hung the cliff face, the long headwall shimmering white, almost blue. I thought about my father standing on the edge of that cliff as I’d pleaded with him not to drop off it. That day had ended at the hospital with his leg in a cast and his arm in a sling. They said he’d been lucky, and stupid, and dangerously reckless.
“Winners never back down,” he’d said, swallowing the painkillers they’d given him.
The clouds shifted slightly and the cliff was cast in shadow and just like that my bravado faded away. I looked at Mark.
“Let’s go home,” I said softly, and he nodded and stood and swung both pairs of our skis onto his shoulder. For a moment I almost protested, but I let him carry them just this once.
That night we lay on the floor next to the space heater using Elvis as a pillow, a task he submitted to only after a long, hard day of chasing his own tail when he was too tired to complain.
* * *
The last few weeks of the season after that passed without incident. We only got in two more days in the backcountry until the cover was too thin to risk it. On those days, we ranged out far from the cliff and explored the deep gully that ran between the two peaks. Little by little, the snow receded from the bare earth until the final day came.
On the last day of the season we rode the ski lift in t-shirts and our thinnest pairs of snow pants, goggles down to block the brilliant reflection of the sun on the remaining snow. To our right on the other peak, the cliff face seemed like a gaping maw, a dark patch surrounded by budding trees. I watched the cliff until the trees obscured it from view.
“I can’t believe this is it,” Mark said, putting his arm around me. I snuggled towards him.
“It’s not it it, it’s just the end of another season,” I replied.
“Even still. That means summer jobs, which means travelling.”
I was silent, watching the water drip off the shiny metallic edges of my skis down into the trail below us. Mark pulled me in tighter.
“Hey,” he said quietly, “if you asked me to stay, I would stay for you.”
I looked up at him. He pulled his goggles up and smiled.
“I couldn’t ask you to do that for me,” I replied.
“Maybe you should,” he said.
I pulled off my goggles.
“Would you stay?” I asked softly, biting my lip. He nodded yes and leant down to kiss me, his lips soft and slightly cold, and he pulled me in tighter then anyone ever had before.
So here’s what happened, internet. Varenka’s boyfriend Rory is in town for the 4th and I was working yesterday eve, so tonight we made burgers and pineapple and drank MANY BEERS.
Rory challenged me to write a story about the 4th of July in under 500 words, and I started it… 4 beers ago.
Here’s that bit:
Henry took another long sip of his mango margarita and shifted in his cheap Walmart lawn chair as his friends came around the corner of the house.
“What’s up fuckers?” He yelled, waving his arms and accidentally spilling burrito grease down his Bald Eagle™ shirt.
“Why the fuck are you eating Mexican food on the 4th of July?” Barnabus asked, throwing Henry a lukewarm Sam Adams. Henry reached for it, but the throw went wild and bounced off the lonely inflatable pool that was sitting half-full on the dead lawn.
“Because being American means I can eat Mexican food whenever I want!” Henry replied jubilantly, taking a huge bite of the soggy, leaking carcass of his chicken Supreme Supreme.
“It’s written in the constitution,” their other friend Freddie said, plopping heavily down onto the dead grass. Barnabus remained standing with two freshly opened beers in his hands.
AND THEN I DRANK MANY BEERS.
AND SO HERE WE ARE.
AND I’M GOING TO WRITE THE REST NOW.
Some time later, Henry set down his 15th beer.
“Fuck!” he said. Freddie groaned, throwing her flimsy plastic shotglass across the yard.
“The fuck are we doing?” she groaned.
“Fucking, drinking, and shit” Barnabus chimed in. He was lying on the ground with his legs on a chair.
AND THEN A METEOR CAME AND THEY ALL DIED THE END.
If you haven’t been following along, ten days ago I decided that I was going to write a short story from scratch and submit it to a national contest.
I didn’t make it, folks.
However, there’s a lot to be said for what I have accomplished over the past ten days.
Firstly, although I haven’t fully completed my short story to satisfaction, I did write a 6000 word piece in ten days, which frankly, I think is decently impressive. The point of the challenge was to get me writing, and though I didn’t finish on time, I certainly achieved that goal.
Secondly, the past ten days of creative writing has given me a much needed break from my usual daily slog. I have a ton of new ideas for things to write about, and I’m actually really excited to go back to my personal sloppy brand of satire. I’m seriously considering doing a week long short story break once every other month or so as a reset button.
Thirdly, I’m amazed and humbled at the show of support and love I’ve gotten from the WordPress community during this little project. I averaged 4-5 likes a day during it, which is pretty insane for me, and although the view count was fairly low, I really felt that the people reading my posts were actually reading and enjoying the material.
I’m going to step away from the story for a little while to get some fresh eyes on it, but I promise I’ll post the shiny, edited, in order version by the end of July.
Meanwhile, get ready for some awesome new material in yo faces.
I love you guys.
August turned into September, which turned into a dreary October. Connor and I made his small one-person apartment on the bay into a home. We set a wedding date for early June and planned a romantic honeymoon, sailing from Boston to the Bahamas and back. Alissa was still missing in action.
The day of the wedding dawned with rain, but by mid-afternoon the sun was high in the sky. Connor’s sister, Laura, was my only bridesmaid, a pretty young thing with coppery brown hair and a large smile. My dress was a simple cotton one, off white and loosely gathered. I said my vows on the pier where he had proposed, barefoot as Alissa had predicted, and after the reception, Connor carried me up the gangway onto our new sailboat, the Kraken, for it’s maiden voyage.
“How are we today, wife?” Connor asked me in a low murmur as we pulled away from the dock, the small party of well-wishers cheering and waving us on.
“We are well, husband,” I replied, searching for Alissa’s face among the throng and finding it absent. Connor took his right hand off the wheel and reached for mine.
“Look, he’s right in the back of the photo in the blue shirt,” I said my finger hovering over the glass. Alissa peered over my shoulder.
“Huh,” she mused, “it totally is him. He’s probably been stalking you since graduation.”
“Lis!” I laughed, “That’s so creepy!”
“Hey, he’s your boyfriend, not mine,” she shrugged.
“Connor is not my boyfriend. We’re just dating.”
I shrugged and looked at the photo again, the one of me and Alissa at our college graduation. I’d invited Connor, the boat captain I’d had my eye on, over for dinner the previous night, and he’d pulled the picture down and recognized himself in the background.
“Why was he there, anyways?” Alissa asked, moving back over to the stove to stir her marinara sauce.
“His sister was graduating. He’s two years older then us.”
I rolled my eyes and put the picture back down, joining her in our microscopic kitchen.
We’d been living together in a ramshackle apartment exactly 57 steps away from the canal for 3 years now. The apartment was tucked away on a badly paved road facing the inlet, a street officially named Canal road, but popularly called Bird Shit Alley because of the poor level of maintenance and the flocks of geese and seagulls who liked to gather on the short strip of grass separating the street from the water.
The apartment itself was barely holding it together. The blue paint was peeling off of the splintering wood porch and the floor creaked and shuddered at the tiniest vibration, but it was home.
Right now, home smelled like spices and tomatoes and charred meat. Alissa looked over at my pan of meatballs and wordlessly handed me the tongs. I nodded and stirred.
“Wanna spoon me?” Alissa asked absentmindedly.
“I think that’s your girlfriend’s job,” I quipped, pulling out the silverware drawer and handing her a long handled spoon. She laughed and dipped the spoon into the simmering marinara, tasting it gingerly.
“Hmm,” she mused, re-dipping the spoon and holding out for me to try. I licked the tip and smacked my lips together.
“Hmm,” I said. I grabbed the salt shaker and flicked it liberally over the pot. Alissa stirred and tasted it again, giving me the thumbs up.
“Mangiamo!” she yelled.
Hey y’all! I’m really pushing to finish this story by Sunday. It’s gonna be tight.
Meanwhile, I really want to thank y’all for the MASSIVE outpouring of support I been getting during this little project of mine. I’ve gotten so many likes and views and whatnot – yesterday’s post had 90 viewers! and it’s been so excellent to feel the love!
I LOVE YOU GUYS.
I couldn’t find my damn cap among the massive sea of them littering the emptying rows of seats.
“Shit,” I said, clutching the blue and white tassle in my right hand while restricting the motion of the throng of medals and cords and paraphenalia around my neck with my left.
“Looking for this?” Alissa called, holding up my painstaking decorated PARCELL WUZ HERE cap. I smiled and snatched it from her, putting it back on at a jaunty angle.
“Thanks Barton,” I said, pulling her in for a hug.
“Anything for my roomie,” she replied, giving me an extra squeeze.
“Goodness gracious, four years already,” Penelope interrupted, pulling Alissa away from me. Penelope was Alissa’s latest conquest, a curvy thing with gauged ears and choppy pink hair.
“Would you look at that,” I replied flatly. I looked around for my parents and spotted them talking to Alissa’s mom, a perpetually cheerful woman with graying black hair and a penchant for cooking Italian food.
“Let’s get a roomie picture!” I cried, waving my parents over and throwing my arm around Alissa. Penelope scowled and backed away.
Alissa and I curled like cats on the top deck of Connor’s well kept boat, The Lochness, each clutching a travel mug full of cheap sangria. The sunshine was devastating, and I could already feel the hair on the back of my neck start to prickle with sweat. Before us, looking out off the stern, the wide mouth of the bay yawned open, a few candy colored houses dotted amid the vibrant greenery. A large fish arched suddenly out of the deep blue waves and flashed in the light, but besides that, the world was still save the ever present churning of the ocean, and the calm thrumming motor chugging patiently along, pulling us farther out to sea.
Alissa turned towards me, her dark hair spilling out onto the scrubbed white veneer of the deck. She held out her plastic mug and I tapped mine against hers. We sipped in unison.
“God, this is worse then I remember it being,” Alissa remarked, looking down at her mug. “When did we come up with this recipe?”
“Sophomore year, I think?”
“College,” she grumbled, and I smiled, taking another swig.
“I think we have enough money at this point to afford something better than Franzia,” she added.
“It’s more nostalgic with Franzia,” I replied, “Now shut up and drink.”
She took another swig.
“It’s better with a second pass,” Alissa admitted. I nodded, watching the shores recede into the background.
We lay silently for a few long minutes, drinking our lukewarm sangria. Alissa stretched her long bare legs out on the deck and took off her floral beach cover up to reveal her well-worn striped bikini, bought three years ago for a girly vacation to Cancun.
“I’m getting married,” I remarked idly, just to see if I liked the taste of the words. I could feel Connor ever present in the back of my head, just a few steps away in the pilothouse of his beloved cruiser. Alissa rolled onto her stomach and elbowed me in the arm.
“If you go Bridezilla, I will tell Connor explicit details about every relationship you’ve ever had,” Alissa replied.
“And when you get married, I’ll tell your wife about our weekend in Jersey Shore.”
“Touché, Parcell,” Alissa pouted.
“I won’t be Parcell much longer,” I smiled.
“You’ll always be Parcell to me,” she replied.
“Have you started working on your maid-of-honor speech yet?” I asked. She grimaced.
“Jesus, Sarah, you’ve been engaged for a week and a half,” Alissa said grumpily. She pressed her arm against mine. “I get to keep you for a little bit longer.”
“Lis, you’ll always have me,” I said, brushing a lock of her hair off of her back.
She took a swig of her drink, but didn’t reply.