Tooth

When asked how he was doing, Noel took the risk and gave an honest answer. “My tooth is killing me.” His friend looked bored, so he added the reciprocal, “but how are you?”

Stephanie was a mess. Her father was in town and every time she saw him it raised issues that she wasn’t prepared to deal with. Not to mention the eternal job hunt and her passive-abusive boyfriend, but Noel was sure her teeth were fine. “I’m very sorry to hear that,” he said, his jaw throbbing.

They hugged goodbye, but he couldn’t feel anything. All he knew was the sustained searing nerve in his lower right mouth. He walked, but he wasn’t sure where he was going. He kept turning right at intersections, and by muscle memory stumbled into work and started filling out reports.

“Are you all right?” a coworker asked, and he told her, “My tooth hurts.”

“Existence is suffering,” she said, leaving.

His report was mostly expletives. With concentration, he went through the document and deleted them, but there was nothing left.

“Hey Noel, my son is in the scouts and we’re trying to raise money for a camping trip. Even just a couple of dollars would be helpful.”

Noel looked up at the man who’d come into his cubicle, and without turning away, pulled out his wallet and emptied its contents onto his desk, credit cards and all.

“Hey thanks,” the man said, and Noel grunted affirmatively as he stood up and walked away, anywhere.

“What’s wrong with Noel?” he heard someone whisper behind him.

“He’s a psychopath.”

“I know, but what else?”

Noel didn’t care. Noel didn’t notice. He had a dentist appointment next week. He could hide in the bathroom forever.

#microfiction, #pain, #personal, #selfish-world, #tooth

Robustness (part 6)

A woman passing by looked their way and sneered cheerfully. He couldn’t move his arms to shrug or otherwise gesture, as he was pinned in place, but he wanted to respond somehow. He turned his face slightly red. Their asymmetric hug was not of lovers or of relatives, nor was it the reunion of old friends. The way she had him smothered was an imitation of affection. It was the hug of a case worker, rooted as firmly in fear as it was in forced positivity.

When she let him go, he felt like something had been taken from him. He checked his pockets.

“Are you all right?” she asked, but she didn’t care. She hoped he was sick and dying. She wanted him to tell her he had cancer and wasn’t long, or that he was on the run from police or bandits or both. Something like a story, and assurance she wouldn’t have to deal with him very long.

“I’m good,” he said, and watched the muscles in her face atrophy with disappointment. Later he would tell her he was dying, and that he was on the run from police and bandits and working with both. He might discuss the mayoral coup with her if she seemed amenable to it, but she was always bored by politics. To him it made no difference what was happening in his life. He would leave it up to her.

They went back down to the underground. The escalators were narrow, and she led the way, slower than he would like. He felt like she was walking him.

They just missed their train, and had to wait for the next. Aquarium air suspended them, and they shared a silence. He thought it was a comfortable silence, but he waited.

#awkward, #expectation, #expressions, #fiction-in-parts, #other-people, #robustness, #self-awareness, #silence, #subway, #underground, #urban

Fan

He had his computer at the coffeeshop not because he worked better in public. Later, he would have to erase everything and start again, all these stray thoughts infecting his own, but he couldn’t be at home anymore today. Those walls felt like obscurity. These were mediocre walls, covered in quirky animals and newspaper clippings, but they were public. He could learn from these walls.

A young man did a double-take as he passed by. Trojan looked up a few times and saw him looking over, checking his phone, and looking over again. The attention was unsettling, and he had to ignore it. He wrote a line of poetry.

bent over ocean wave held at ten thirty

Lately, he was always putting numbers in things. Most of his documents started with “ten thousand” before he figured out what he was saying. Seemingly, he wanted to say something important.

“It is you,” he heard. The young man was next to him, and was looking down closely. “You’re Armando Truck. I saw you at a reading in college.”

Trojan was not Armando, and rather disliked his work, all washed out with mothers and sex, but he saw no need to contradict. He shook the young man’s hand, and spoke with an ordinary amount of friendliness.

The young man sat down. He began talking about his girlfriend, how she didn’t seem to pay attention to him anymore, how he was just going through the motions in life, that he’d never really believed in anything. Trojan wasn’t sure if he should comment, if he was listening, if he was meant to be there.

“I’m not who you think I am,” Trojan said, and the man stood up and hugged him.

“That’s so true.”

#agorophoba, #artist, #fandom, #microfiction, #public, #validation, #writer

Comfort

Greta didn’t have a key anymore to the old house, and though her parents lived far away from civilization and had nothing worth stealing, they kept their estate secure. She’d grown up in this unfamiliar place. As she waited for her mother to walk herself to the door, she looked across the wasted farmland to the nearest semblance of a landmark, the tombstones of her grandparents.

The door opened. “Oh it’s you,” her mother said, neither joyful or dismissive. Greta followed the pace of the walker to the back of the house and her father’s bed. His deathbed, soon enough. Her mother collapsed in her favorite chair, and though she didn’t sleep and hardly ever did, Greta felt like she was alone in the room with her dad. He wasn’t awake, but he was breathing. His breathing was loud and augmented by machines.

“You’ve never felt pain,” her mother said behind her, “so you don’t understand.”

Her dad had always snored, and it was strange to see him sleep without snarling. Now that he was quiet, she wanted to talk to him.

“We kept you comfortable all your life,” her mother said. “You never so much as scraped your knee. All you know about suffering is we made you brush your teeth, we made you eat broccoli. You were spoiled, child, spoiled rotten, and you never recovered.”

Greta grabbed her father’s hand, though she couldn’t remember touching him before. He had a warmth to him she didn’t expect, because he wasn’t yet dead. Machines were keeping him alive in a way he’d never been able to do himself.

“We never beat you like we should have. We loved you too much.”

Greta never beat her parents either. And soon it would be too late.

#death, #memory, #microfiction, #parents, #sickness, #weird

Judge

The office was somewhat colder than the air outside, and he kept his jacket on even though he had been told he could take it off. Mr. Jennings would be just a minute, the receptionist had told him. He shivered. The room must have been less than fifty degrees, and he didn’t have anything to do but shiver.

The man came in like he’d been skiing, in full parka and followed by a St. Bernard. Terrence felt out of place in his business suit, especially as the dog came over and rubbed itself all over him.

“Down, Bully! Down!” shouted Randall Jennings, CEO of FullStop Software. “I’m very sorry, but you’ll be happy to know she’s an excellent judge of character.”

Terrence gathered enough composure to nod. The dog’s prolific slobber had made him wet, and he felt colder. “It’s quite all right,” he said. He cleared his throat. “As I’m sure you’re aware, I represent an up and coming team of developers who, though they may not command the resources you—“

As the dog started barking, Terrence forgot how he’d phrased his proposal. He’d spent all morning rehearsing it.

“Bully! Don’t mind her, Mr.… what did you say your name was again?”

Terrence was about to answer the question when the dog revealed her fangs. The sight was startling, as a St. Bernard’s jowls rarely recede. Her bark was deafening, and her growl shook the room.

“Do you mind if we lose the dog?” he yelled.

“I never do any business without her,” Mr. Jennings yelled back. “She’s an excellent judge of character.”

She lunged forward and tore into Terrence, who had no time to react. The medics came quickly. Jennings did all the talking.

“Bully wouldn’t hurt anyone,” he said. “Get him out of here.”

#animals, #business, #character, #inner-demons, #microfiction

Best Friends

The concert was sold out, but Charlie got the last two tickets. The box office shut down right behind him.

“Great,” Steve said when Charlie told him the news. He hated country music, and he hated Charlie, but he knew where he was spending Friday night.

“I know a little place where we can get good, cheap lap dances, if you’re interested,” Charlie mentioned on the drive over. Steve found the prospect disgusting and sad. “I don’t think we have the time for it,” he said.

When Charlie pulled into the parking lot to The Bube Toob, Steve considered not being polite, but Charlie was so sensitive. “Maybe I’ll just wait in the car,” he said.

The frustrated anxiety on Charlie’s face made him reconsider. Steve followed behind, making sure to look reluctant. He wasn’t sure whom he was impressing. They sat in a booth, and were quickly approached by a pair of dancers.

Charlie slipped the taller, darker one a five dollar bill and whispered something to her, gesturing toward Steve. Steve shuddered as the woman moved on top of him, moving her body without moving her face.

She was working hard. Her eyes were closed in focus, and her mouth drooped as much as the rest of her. That wasn’t fair. Steve regretted the thought. “I’m sorry, I’m going to need to be a lot drunker for this,” he said, pulling himself out from under her.

Charlie had to assure the staff that everything was cool. On the way to the concert, he lectured Steve, saying, “You really embarrassed me back there. You’re lucky I was around to bail you out.”

Steve apologized, and was forgiven. He felt wrong.

The concert was loud and twangy, but at least they didn’t have to talk.

#awkward, #friends, #man-on-man-action, #microfiction, #politeness, #strippers, #what-people-do