Saturday, February 28, 2009

Scenes 9

We just kept laughing, do you remember that? We laughed for about three minutes straight, first it was about the noise that woman made as she fell off the grape stomping platform, but it dissolved into nothing, I was laughing because you were laughing and you were laughing because I was laughing and your face looked so red and tears were rolling down our cheeks and we struggled to breathe. That was my favorite, laughing like that.

There is this moment during her song when he plays bass drum and you play wood blocks and I play xylophone and I know we've had our differences but in this really weird way I just feel very connected at that moment, like it's easy, like this is how it should be.

I marked the stairs and then you marked the stairs.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Dream

In her dream, she's handing in a math quiz.

She looks out the window as she settles back in her seat. Outside, it's storming. Lightning strikes the oak in the courtyard, fusing together a squirrel and a bird. They tumble to the ground and struggle to get separated. The bird twitches its feet.

The teacher calls her to the front of the room with a frown on his face and her paper in his hand - her quiz, marred with red pen. Didn't you read the directions? he asks her, they explicitly say to perform the integration at standard temperature and pressure.

She wakes up drenched in sweat.

School the next day is shaky. She pours over the math quiz instructions and finds not a single hint of chemistry. She laughs it off. Finishing with her quiz just a few moments to spare, she looks over her work. Something is wrong. Instead of positives and negatives, she wrote sharps and flats.

Things get worse from there.

She's learning about Ksp values in third period. She can't stop thinking about sulfuric acid on the staff paper - a diminished chord, she decides. She tries to find the volume of Brahm's Quartet No. 5 if it's rotated about the y-axis. Instead of taking notes on Dos Palabras she finds herself analyzing the syntax of her Spanish-to-English Dictionary. She writes a DBQ on the French Revolution as it relates to Heron's Law. Lines start blurring everywhere. She accidentally makes out with her brother and calls her boyfriend "mom". She slurps her soup with a fork. She sharpens a pen.

That night, lying under her bed, she knows it can't go on. She sneaks downstairs and writes out a suicide note in Spanish with an eraser, and then, sitting at the kitchen table, her hair pulled back into a ponytail, her eyes squeezed tightly shut, she presses the gun to her forehead and pulls the trigger, gently drenching herself with a water pistol.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

N's Last - Part Three

"You need to read this."


"You need to read this."

Bill blinked. He moved his hand from the receiver. "Hello? Hey, yeah. I'm going to have to call you back."

He hung up and took the manuscript from Theo, who began pacing the room, finally settling at the window. Arms crossed, legs shoulder-width, he stared out at the street and chewed on his lip.

"I don't see what the problem is. It's definitely genuine," Bill said.

"Did you actually read it?" Theo moved across the room, grabbing the story. "Look: ‘the bunny hopped as if in slow motion, his owner did not chase him, for there was no need in this land; things moved differently here, and-'"

Bill interrupted. "I read it."

"We can't publish this."

"It's by N."

"It's terrible."

Bill was angry now. "Are you kidding me? The man wrote the best fiction in the world. He sold millions of copies of every single book. Critics raved. The man is the best."

"He was the best," Theo corrected him. "Not anymore. Look at this – it's awful. If we print this we ruin the quarterly. We ruin N. No one's heard from him in thirty years. The guy went crazy."

Bill stood up, his voice measured, his fists clenched, his face inches from his fellow editor's. "If we publish this, we make a million bucks on one issue."

"Is money all you ever think about, you conniving bastard?"

"You don't have a family," Bill said between gritted teeth, "your paycheck doesn't matter. Mine does."

Theo yelled. "I don't care about your goddamn paycheck, Bill, we can't publish this."

Bill's punch was quick. It hit Theo in the nose. Something cracked. Theo fell.

There was a beat. Bill steadied his breathing.

"We have to publish it."

He grabbed the phone and left, slamming the door behind him. Theo could hear him dialing in the next room. Grabbing N's story, he picked himself up and walked over to the door.

Bill heard the click, and his heart sunk. He dropped the phone. "Theo," he yelled, yanking the locked handle furiously, "open the door."

Theo took out his lighter.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


On Friday nights, he drives.

He drives starting twenty minutes before rush hour in suburbia - four-thirty, most nights - but on Friday he leaves a little early because rush hour comes a little sooner. He leaves twenty minutes before rush hour because the intersection is twenty minutes from his house.

It's a little before four-thirty, right now, and he's there, doing his first round. He's sitting pushed back from the steering wheel, right arm straight out, shades on. He comes from their right, from Mill Plain Street, signaling left onto Sturges. Across is a regular with a red volvo, and she knows the deal with this intersection even if she doesn't know the twenty-year-old waving her on has waved her on thirteen times before. With a curt nod in his direction she makes her her turn. He cuts left right on her tail, slowing up bumper-even to the car behind her. The guy coming the other way on Mill Plain slides through after him.

He makes two more lefts and then starts over - Mill Plain to Sturges, letting someone go, taking his turn, and then slowing up so the car coming the other way can move. He does this every day at rush hour because there should really be a light at this intersection. He gets annoyed about little stuff like that. His high school girlfriend said it was cute.

His sister calls him and asks for a ride to her friend's house. He says no and feels bad, but he's busy and they need him here. If there's anyone who could make him leave his post it would probably be his sister, but even then it isn't likely to happen. On Fridays the intersection is a little more jammed than usual, and he knows it better than anyone. He herds his flock carefully.

His sister is a freshman at the same high school he went to. She's the kind of girl that seems to have it all: good friends, a junior boyfriend, a spot on the varsity field hockey team, fantastic grades. She's smart - that's for damn sure - and she's really the only one he trusts. She understands him.

He slots up in the queue for a third time, glancing around, eyes sharp, ending up helping a nervous looking teenager get past the intersection. As he pulls around a fourth time, he thinks about his old high school friends and wonders when they'll get a break from college. Probably in April.

By the seventeenth turn around, the intersection has thinned out. He makes one more left, letting a middle-aged man in a Chevy go in front of him. No one is coming the other way, so he decides to call it a night. The intersection will be okay without him.

He stops at the Burger King down the street and gets the number three with no fries - he's trying to shape up a little bit. He eats his dinner in the dark parking lot, contemplating what he'll do for the rest of the evening. Ultimately, he decides on a movie.

He tries to throw his garbage into the can from the curb, but he misses. With a resigned sigh, he picks up the trash and drops it in the can. On the way back to the car, he absent-mindedly wonders what his ex-girlfriend is doing right now. Maybe playing the clarinet. That had been an old inside joke between them.

He drives away.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sunday, February 08, 2009

N's Last - Part Two

He began leafing through the manuscript wildly. "Bill, this is from N."

Bill gave a fake laugh.

"No, I'm not-," Theo insisted, "this is an honest-to-god manuscript written by N."

Without looking up, Bill said, "Oh, yeah, 'cause it's not good enough that the best writer of our generation who went recluse and hasn't been seen for twenty years sends us a submissions. He has to actually write it out by hand and send us the original."

Theo grinned and held up the stack of paper, N's distinct autograph dominating the bottom half of the front page. "Also, he signed it."

Bill was halfway across the room in the blink of an eye. "That's genuine, isn't it?" he demanded, ripping the story from Theo's hands and tearing through it. "This is his handwriting, too."

"This could be big," Theo said, leaning forward in his chair, his forehead on his palm.

Bill laughed in disbelief. "Are you joking? This is huge. This is what Fiction has been waiting for. We publish this story and we make a million dollars in one issue, easy. Not to mention the ten thousand extra subscriptions." - he was getting giddy - "I'm calling our publisher."

Dropping the package, Bill practically skipped to the next room.

Theo picked it up and began reading. He heard Bill's voice from the other room. "Pam? Yeah, hey. Listen, how much would it cost to print a few extra copies of the magazine this month?"

"Bill," Theo called out, still reading the story. He was picking at his lip.

Bill said, "yeah?"

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Scenes 8

You tell me that it will be only you and me presenting the details of the Teller Amendment, and then you suggest maybe we use a sledgehammer.

I think it's pretty funny that you printed off a picture of that hedgehog.

El gato es el nuestro.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Laugh

It was her laugh that made him nervous, at first.

She thought he was funny, and when he said something really amusing and she was standing next to him she would press her nose against his shoulder and grab the underside of his arm and squeeze her eyes shut and laugh. He liked that about her – that little extra bit of contact – but it made him a little nervous.

He fell in love with her because of that laugh, and it was pouring on the day he asked her out in front of the library downtown. They walked outside and she was just about to leave to get on the bus when, suddenly, he called out to her:

Hey, wait.


Do you want to hang out some time?

Like a date?

Yes. I mean- yes.

With you?

Yeah, with me.

She paused for a second, and then she walked back, kissed him on the cheek, whispered in his ear, and flounced away, impervious to the rain. Momentarily, he froze, petrified by his own bravery, his own success, and yet even as the biggest smile he had ever smiled stretched across his mouth he felt something else, something wrong, something nervous. He knew something was incorrect about this. In the movies, no one had doubts. No one felt scared.

He felt scared.

Time passed, and his fear focused. He knew how it would end. It would be a note left somewhere he would find. It would be written out in her curvy feminine cursive. It would say: “It’s been fun.”

As their lives changed, so too did the location of the dreaded note in his imagination. During high school it was pinned to his locker door with the magnet his little sister made for him. When they went to the same college, it was in his mailbox along with an advertisement for bad pizza and beer. Even when they got married the note persisted – left on the kitchen table, next to the fruit basket. Thinking consciously, he tried to convince himself of the reason for his nightmare. She was extraordinary. He was not. He wondered why she stayed with him. For the most part, this kept him content. When she laughed, though, something different boiled to the surface. When she pressed her nose against his shoulder, he knew there was something else.

The note came one wintry evening in January – a Monday – and she had a doctor’s appointment in the morning. He came home from work and called out her name as he stomped the snow off his shoes. It was on the kitchen table, as he feared, and he spotted it while he was taking off his jacket and read it by the light from above the stove.

It said, simply:

The doctor says I’m dying.

As he sank to the floor, the note he never saw coming clutched in his palm, he realized there never had been anything dishonest in her laugh.