Have you ever found a photo or note in a used book? Did you return it?
I have bits and pieces of stories sitting around, and I come back to them every once in a while to add a line or just read them through. It's like visiting a friend you haven't seen in a while—you may not have spoken in years, but you meet again, and you just pick up where you left off. Margaret is a good character, and I think I need to visit her more often. Give her a chance to finish her story.
Margaret waited at the corner to cross. She was always patient, as this was a busy time of day and none of the drivers who regularly took this route had any inclination to stop for a pedestrian. She was surprised then when a man, driving a fairly new Mercedes, slowed to a stop, with half a dozen cars behind him, to allow her to cross. All she could think, as she gave the man a quick wave without looking directly at him, was that he had calculated the damage to his car had she chosen to step out in front of him and he was unable to stop before impact. Undoubtedly, he understood the physics of a moving car hitting such a large, immovable object—something about kinetic energy and inertia—whatever it is, the damage would probably be substantial.
The car waited until she had stepped to the other sidewalk before moving slowly forward. She thought she heard someone say, ‘Have a nice day,’ but she couldn’t imagine it being directed at her. She kept moving, looking up now and then, but mainly scanning the familiar cracks and dips of the concrete at her feet. As her path rose, her breath became labored and she forced herself to walk slower and concentrate on breathing in and out through her nose so she didn't appear as a fish out of water gasping for oxygen. Margaret crested the hill and let out an enormous sigh as she started her descent. She looked up now, worried if she didn’t lean her head and shoulders back a bit her body would force its way closer to the ground and she wouldn’t be able to stop the fall.
She arrived at the restaurant as the lunch crowd was dispersing. This was her favorite time of day. The sun was high enough in the sky its rays didn't interfere with the room’s dim elegance. Her normal booth was occupied and she reluctantly sat on the other side of the restaurant, but still facing west. The seat, though just as cushioned and beautiful as the others, did not look the same to Margaret. She pushed her hands down, testing the spring and rubbing the fabric. Satisfied, she removed her sweater and the bag around her neck and placed them next to her. She didn’t need a menu, it hadn’t changed in the two years she had been dining there, but it gave her something to do while she waited.
“Nothing but water, thank you,” she said when asked. She didn’t like to have anything interfere with the flavors of the plated food.
She ordered the sixth item from the top of the entree menu, and asked for a basket of bread. She ate something different every day, but in the order it appeared on the menu, so she didn’t eat the same thing more than once in a two-week period. She liked everything, some more than others, and was excited for today’s meal—roast rosemary pork tenderloin with smashed red potatoes and gravy, and green beans with shallots. She asked for a salad instead of soup, opting for the balsamic house dressing. The croutons were made in house and Margaret sometimes wished there was no lettuce or vegetables at all, but just a bowl full of the garlicky, crisp, melt-in-your-mouth cubes of sourdough. She left the slice of beet on the corner of her plate like she always did. She could have asked for her salad without the offending vegetable, but it wouldn’t have the same aesthetic quality if the crimson round was absent.
Margaret ate slowly, taking time to feel the textures and let the flavors move across all her tastebuds. The pork was fork tender and the meat seemed to melt away in her mouth. The skin of the potatoes was salty and the gravy had a slight tang of garlic. The green beans, probably one of Margaret’s all-time favorites, gave a slight snap between her teeth before releasing juices and a lovely, almost nutty, flavor. She was unaware of being watched until the waitress, a young thing with a long blonde ponytail and too-plucked eyebrows, came and bent near her.
The girl’s eyes were wide and she furrowed what was left of her brows when she spoke.
“I’m sorry ma’am, but we’ve had a complaint.”
“A complaint? I don’t understand.”
“Well, it seems some of the other diners feel their meal is being disrupted.”
Margaret looked around, noticing only two other diners —those in her regular booth. “I’m still not sure what you mean.”
“They... well, they said they can hear you moaning.”
“Oh god, you can’t be serious, can you?”
“Actually, you kind of make sounds while you eat. Like some ‘mmm’s and big sighs. Do you know what I mean?”
Margaret put her napkin to her mouth, talking from behind the royal blue fabric.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize...I’m so embarrassed.” Margaret could feel the couple’s eyes on them, leaning a bit in her direction.
The waitress, her nametag said Emily, turned her back to the couple and faced Margaret directly.
“The rest of us,” she nodded toward the kitchen where a few wait staff stood in the doorway, “we're actually happy to see you enjoying your meal so much.”
She winked at Margaret, or at least that’s what Margaret thought she was doing. Both of Emily’s eyes closed in a squint that might have read as an expression of pain.
“If it makes you feel any better, they're finished with their lunch and didn’t order dessert, so they'll probably be gone soon.”
Margaret, still with the napkin to her lips, nodded and looked down at her near-empty plate. She pushed it aside as Emily had walked away.
What do your memories look like from moment-to-moment?
Harold lives in an ordinary house on an ordinary street. He works an ordinary job and each night he walks his ordinary dog in his ordinary neighborhood. Harold has an ordinary life, that’s why it came as no surprise when Harry married an ordinary wife. Well, at least that is what he was lead to believe. Mae was born in a midwestern town with a name like all the others. She never made a show of herself and was quiet and good. Nothing about her brought any undue attention—or any attention at all. Mae was a solitary child. She had no friends, her parents might as well have had only two children, her brothers, because they barely knew she existed. Mae had been left behind at the fair, the grocery store, a rest area, and finally in Canbin where she met Harold.
Harold parked in front of his favorite pub one evening intending to have a pint and his fill of lamb stew when out of the corner of his eye he spied a figure on a park bench accross the avenue. He almost missed seeing the person at all, they were so still as to almost have made themselves a part of the grey landscape. This was further helped by the dull gray overcoat pulled up over their head to protect them from the rain.
Harold had never been in the park. It was less a recreational area than a business center. Many a drug deal had been had on that very bench. Harold had a suspicion this person was not waiting to buy heroin. In fact, it didn’t look like they were waiting for anything, more as if they were just there—no purpose, no need to stay or leave. Harold filed away this peculiarity and made his way inside. He drank down half his pint straight away and was waiting for his stew when he glanced out the window past his own reflection. The person was still sitting on the bench, not having moved one millimeter in any direction. His stew came and the glass was soon fogged over with the aromatic steam of lamb and root vegetables. Harold ate slowly, chewing each bite completely before lifting his spoon for another. He was enjoying his meal so thorougly, he didn’t give another thought to the figure outside.
“How was the stew tonight Harry?” the pub owner, Tom Winston, asked Harold this every Wednesday, and every Wednesday Harold said,
“Just as I expected, Tom.” Harold was not inclined to call him Tommy like everyone else or any other name that was not his own, like the pub owner did to him. It was not Harold’s way.
“‘Spect I’ll see you on Friday.” Tom said to Harold, like he did every Wednesday.
“I expect you will. Good evening, Tom.”
And with that Harold put his money on the table, returned his hat to his head and headed back outside for his mid-week walk around the square before heading home.
He had almost completed his full turn in the misty rain when he found himself in front of the park ready to cross over to his car. Just as he started to step into the street he heard something. A whisper maybe, or a rustling in the wind. He paused, his right foot hovering slightly in front of the left. As he started on his way for a second time, he heard it again. This time he turned around, only to find himself face-to-face with the figure in grey.
Frank saw a straw, most definitely from a 7-11 Slurpee, standing straight up in the newly poured cement. On closer inspection, he saw it was exhausting steam into the cool night air.
I often wonder if I remember any part of my childhood correctly. I see scenes in my head sometimes, usually triggered by a place or a smell—small scenes, like the leftovers on the cutting room floor at the end of a day of editing. They’re so insignificant I can’t be sure they’re real. Are they just old photographs moving in my memory like an old flipbook? In the scene I recall most often I am three or four years old, and I’m lying in a tent. The tent is orange and the heat of the sun is oozing in through the shiny fabric and warming my skin. I’m sticky with sweat, but not uncomfortably so. I have an arm across my eyes and my legs are splayed in different directions- one crooked over the leg of my sister. The hair that has escaped her tight ponytails is plastered to the back of her neck. I wake slowly. I yawn and gulp in the warm, thick air—half awake, half asleep—that happy in between. In the memory I am sure we are at the park across the street from my grandmother’s house. I can smell the magnolia trees and hear the laughter and conversation of my parents, aunts and uncles. It’s one of the happiest memories I have and I can’t tell for sure if it’s even mine.
Shirley watched the trains go by wondering if the people knew how fast they were going or if they were going fast enough they felt stationary like when you close your eyes on an escalator, or avoid the window while flying on a plane, or even when everything around you is moving forward and your friends are falling in love, having families, finding good jobs and making something of themselves and you are just standing still, even though the hands on the clock have moved in rhythmic rotation day after day after day until you are dizzy from watching, and instead of feeling stationary you are falling — falling down a rabbit hole just like Alice did — tumbling head over heels into darkness and uncertainty, not sure when it will stop and you can stand still again, take a deep breath again, be happy again; all of these thoughts rushed through Shirley’s mind as she sat on her padded, rotating chair, taking the tokens that came through the small slot in her window, making her fingers smell like old coins or dirty keys, each one a one-way ticket to another place, somewhere filled with offices and paper filing, hot dogs and greasy hamburgers, wool scarves and perfume counters — somewhere that wasn’t here in her five foot by five foot cell with reinforced bullet-proof glass and broken fan, a free Audubon society calendar on the wall and red phone for emergencies only — real emergencies, like a person getting mugged or someone having a seizure — not Shirley’s kind, because who would believe her anyway, that her heart was broken and soul misplaced in the city of dreams and opportunities, where you can be anything you want to be and the whole world is open to you, even if that world is only five-by-five.
Waiting at the stoplight Henry tries to time his blinker with the car ahead of him, but it seems slightly off, like a badly dubbed Chinese film. The only way to make it work is to manually turn the blinkers on and off at correctly spaced intervals. He is so focused on this task he doesn’t see the man at his window. He looks up only after he hears the clicking of metal on glass, and turning his head, sees the red of the stoplight reflecting off the barrel of a gun.
Henry feels the cool night air even before he rolls his window down.
“What can I do for you Officer?”
The buttons on the man’s shirt strain against his overflowing gut. There are dark stains at his armpits and his mustache curls in uneven strands around his mouth, hiding his lips.
“You’re trespassing on private property buddy, you need to leave now. I have a gun and I have used it before.”
“Officer, the light is still red. If I go through now, there is no telling what kind of accident I could get into.”
Henry is a careful driver, especially when he has his two daughters in the car with him. He just picked them up from dance class and is only a few blocks from home. He can almost smell the pot roast his wife is preparing, his mouth filling with the flavors of onions and beef. The girls begin to squabble with each other and Henry tries to tune them out so he can deal with the policeman. The officer is shifting his weight from side to side, his gun gripped loosely in his hand, bouncing against his thigh.
“I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing, but I am losing my patience with you.”
“Officer, I promise to move on as soon as the light changes. There seems to be something wrong with the light, maybe you should focus your efforts on finding out what the hold up is.”
The muscles in the man’s neck twitch and his color deepens. The gun, which till now has hung placidly at his side, is now gripped with white knuckles.
“What is wrong with you? Are you crazy? There is no stoplight, there is no road and I am not a cop.”
Henry is hit again with the cold breeze, causing his skin to rise in bumps across his neck. He looks through the windshield ahead of him, noticing the spider web pattern of cracks. Dust cakes the wipers and his view is tilted, not quite parallel with the ground. A macaroni necklace, cracked and moldy, is wound around the rearview mirror, where he sees his own reflection, haggard and worn. His right foot is pushed down on the brake pedal, but where the gas pedal should be there is only a rusted and jagged hole.
Henry looks up at the man standing beside his car. He notices he wears no badge and his shirt is not the crisp blue cotton of a uniform, but a thin flannel in an unforgiving plaid.
Henry closes his eyes and hears his daughter’s voices fighting over whose pirouettes were better during dance class. He can smell their skin, the sweet smell of children’s sweat and powder. He can even feel the slight pressure of a leather wrapped toe pushing into the back of his seat. He begins to smile, but the breeze sweeps over him again and thoughts come unwanted to his mind.
The pavement was shimmering with rain and oil and he was impatient sitting at the unusually long light with the incessant bickering in the back seat. He watched the light for the cross traffic, waiting for it to turn yellow so he would know when it was his turn. As soon as it turned red he drove into the intersection, not even waiting for a green light. He was eager to get home after his long day of work. Then the high-pitched sound of car horns and screeching tires, fighting for grip on the wet surface filled his ears.
Screams, not of anger or happiness, but terror, reverberated through the car as the metal folded in on itself behind him. Glass sprayed his face and arms.
Then there was a cold breeze.
Henry looks at the man standing beside his car. He can feel the tears pooling beside his nose and his chin is quivering.
“Man is there anyone you want me to call?” The man in the flannel shirt tucks the gun into his pants and leans forward, resting his forearms on the door of the car.
Henry shakes his head and slowly turns in his seat, his heart pounding so fiercely it might push its way out of his chest.
Behind him there are no little girls in pink leotards with ribbons in their hair.
All that fills the car now is empty space. Looking around Henry can see cars stacked one on top of another, some suffering the same fate as his, others outlived by their drivers. A chain link fence simply marked with ‘no trespassing’ is all that holds them in. All around him, pieces of other people’s lives, forgotten and broken.
Henry is sitting in the pieces of his.
Afrophobia, Amerophobia, Androphobia, Anglophobia, Anthrophobia, Apotemnophobia, Australophobia.
Cacophobia, Cacomorphibia, Caligynephobia, Celtophobia, Chinophobia, Christophobia.
Dentophobia, Dutchphobia, Dysmorphophobia.
Ecclesiophobia, Ephebiphobia, Europhobia.
Germanophobia, Gerontophobia, Gynephobia.
Heterophobia, Hierophobia, Homophobia.
Iatrophobia, Ideophobia, Islamophobia, Islandophobia.
Maserphobia., Melophobia, Metathesiophobia, Mikatickoindicaphobia.
Obesophobia, Odontophobia, Optophobia.
Panophobia, Pediphobia, Peladophobia, Peniaphobia, Polonophobia, Potiticophbia.
Sedatephobia, Sociophobia, Sophophobia.
Technophobia, Teratophobia, Theologicaophobia, Theophobia.
Brian has never thought of himself as obese, in fact, Brian never really thinks of himself at all—at least not in a think deep, get down to the nitty-gritty kind of way. Brian believes his life is better spent thinking of others. This way he can avoid thinking about how he hasn’t seen his ankles in more than a decade, how spreading his fingers no longer lets any light stream through and the only furniture in his house that ever gets any use is his recliner and an old metal TV dinner stand from the ‘70s.
No, Brian is not obese; he is just more worried about helping others than himself. Brian is a psychotherapist—well, almost. He received his degree in psychology from an online university. When he was told he had to do a practicum and internship at a licensed therapy office, Brian decided he didn’t need the hands-on experience before breaking out on his own. He decided to forgo the masters and doctoral degrees and get right to the heart of it—his own practice.
Brian’s private “therapy” practice is non-traditional—not Mexican food for Thanksgiving dinner non-traditional, but non-traditional in that Brian’s clients don’t ever see him, they just hear his voice while paying $1.99 a minute. 1-900-I-Do-Care is an ideal business for Brian. He gets to sit in his favorite chair with a headset, to keep his hands free for eating, and do what he loves—solve people’s problems. He gets a variety of different calls, and not all of them are calling for therapy. Some of this is due to the fact he does not spend the money on advertisement. Most of his business is word-of-mouth or accidental, although how someone can mistake the word “Care” for “Cock” as they dial is beyond him.
Doing therapy from your own home has many advantages. Brian’s favorite perk is the ability to get something to eat whenever you want it, and Brian seems to want it a lot.
Brian’s stomach rumbles, and he struggles to move his bulk from his chair. There is an art to it, and he has learned over the years how his body responds to different movements—most of them negative. With his left hand planted firmly on the worn upholstery of the arm, he uses his right hand as a wedge—shoving it under his right thigh. As with anything that has rooted itself in place with heat and moisture, Brian has to essentially “break the seal” before his body can move upward. He wiggles his hips from side to side until his butt is touching the edge of the chair.
With both hands on the arms of the chair, Brian leans as far forward as his layers of flesh will allow and takes a deep breath. This is always the hardest part. He must gain momentum without pulling back. Against all laws of physics and nature, Brian lunges forward violently. His whole body rockets from the chair where it teeters precariously close to falling forward before righting itself, as in slow motion, to a standing position. Brian is so out of breath and exhausted from this exercise of freedom he is tempted to just set his bulk back in the chair, but the growl from his stomach reminds him of his mission and he slowly shuffles toward his kitchen.
Brian has to turn sideways to get through the doorway, which only improves his movement slightly, as he is almost as thick front to back as he is wide. He imagines a great popping noise, like that of a cork pulled from a wine bottle, as he moves through the wooden frame into the open space of the kitchen.
Brian loves his kitchen. If his chair would fit through the door, and he had room for the rest of his home’s furnishings, he would live there. The walls are painted a creamy yellow, the color of a good Hollandaise sauce, and the cabinets have glass fronts so all their contents are available to Brian’s eyes at all times. This serves a dual purpose—it allows Brian to make food choices without the effort of opening and closing cupboards, and it also reminds him when he is low on any particular item. If only he had a glass-front refrigerator, his life would be even simpler.
Brian doesn't shop. Not for clothes, and definitely not for food. Some people think grocery delivery is a new concept, another online convenience like dating, but people have had food delivered from their favorite grocers for decades. As far as Brian is concerned, it’s retro. Brian makes a list and forwards it by email to Safeway, and food is delivered to his door an hour or two later by a uniformed teenager with bad acne. He endures the incredulous, and sometimes disgusted, looks his weight elicits and waves them into the house from his chair. For a generous tip, he can convince the majority of delivery people to put his groceries away, thus saving him the up and down ritual that saps so much of his stored energy.
Brian makes a mental inventory as he scans the cupboards and refrigerator shelves. He pulls out a can of soda and sees a six-pack of yogurt. He wrinkles his nose, looks at the date and throws it in the direction of the trashcan. The plastic pack bounces off the rim and pink and white goo sprays across the floor and up the back door, leaving a translucent pattern on the window that Brian thinks resembles South America.
Brian had never actually ordered the yogurt. Brian never ate anything that advertised the fact it had live anything in it. Live cultures may be beneficial to digestive health, but they were still alive. One whole bag of his grocery order that particular week didn't look like his. Brian knew the neighbor lady down the street got delivery too, and wondered if it was one of hers. He assumed the fruit snacks were for her kids and the vodka was for her, but everyone knows what happens when you assume. Brian ate the fruit snacks, put the vodka in the freezer and promptly pushed the yogurt to the back of the fridge and forgot about it. That was three months ago.
Brian surveyed the mess, took in the smell and turned his back. It would take more effort than he was willing to expend to clean it up. Better to just let it sit until the proteins broke down into a milky liquid, began to mold and finally congealed and dried. Then it wouldn’t be a problem at all, just another bit of “wall decoration”. Brian’s phone rang and he pressed the side of his headset to answer.
"Dr. Beamen on the line, and I Do Care."
"Dr. Beamen? It's Ralph. The cravings have started again."
"Ralph, take a deep breath and let's try to examine your triggers."
Brian turned around to make his way to his computer where he had several bookmarks for psychology sites equivalent to WebMD. Just as his stomach caught up with this motion, Brian’s right foot came in contact with some of his food art and he began to fall. He aimed his right hand in what he assumed was the direction of the counter, trying to catch himself. All it did was break his arm as the weight of him crushed his wrist and then the ulna and radius. The sound, like crushing walnuts, reached his ears just before his head caught the corner of the tiled countertop. Brian’s vision faded as the warm blood mixed with yogurt and seeped into the grout in the tile floor.
Ralph did not hear the commotion on the other end of the line. The crunch and grind of pottery against his teeth masked the suffering.