Mermaid

Last time she came to the surface, Meryl found what seemed like a man, but his fins were all divided and strange. For some reason, he’d resisted as she pulled him down beneath the waves, as though his gills worked in reverse, like a dolphin’s.

This time seemed less eventful. Though the sun was drying and oppressive, she was the only creature in its path. The way it dissolved her skin should have compelled her back home, but it felt right today, like atonement. She stuck her face out of the water, where she couldn’t breathe. The quiet desperation of it gave her a strange kind of pleasure. The sweet ennui soon turned to fascinating terror, and when it turned entirely dire, she turned her face down and swam in circles, slowly regaining herself.

Voices from the beach called out to her. They were standing, looking in her direction. They were yelling, pointing, beckoning. She swam closer to them, though she couldn’t understand them or their language or their physical form. She imagined they were looking for the man she’d found. He’d died in her arms as she tried to help him. At his last breath, he had clung to her like a lover or a remora. She had been there for him.

She let them watch the empty surface. She left them. The pressure of fathoms separated her from them, and she slipped into her cave. Water flowed through her, and with water air, and with air life. She breathed it into him. Someday he would accept.

#asphyxiation, #denial, #invasive-thoughts, #loneliness, #murder, #mythical-creatures, #obsession, #water

Speaker

He had given enough speeches to know when he was losing the crowd. Now, for instance. While he spoke of dreams and realities, students were flirting with each other, as they do. Some teacher shushed, though hers was the voice that carried.

“Now I hear you. I know what you’re thinking. Who are you, up there, telling me how I’m supposed to live? What makes you such an expert on life?” As Roger voiced their doubts, he felt their attention return. Against some murmuring, he saw more eyes in his direction. He saw nodding.

“Why should I listen to someone, you’re saying, who makes a living spouting platitudes at bored children? Why, I hear you think, should I listen to the only bozo this miserable institution could afford? What possibly could he have to tell me that I don’t already know that I would bother to accept? I’m going to college! I’m smart. Well, you’re not as smart as me.” Real talk always won them back.

“Without any other qualifications, I have managed to maintain a career as an inspirational speaker for nearly ten years now. And if that’s not an inspiration, I don’t know what is.”

#blowhard, #bluster, #children, #depression, #jaded, #lonely, #pretention, #self-fulfilling-prophecy

Psychic

A friend she hadn’t seen in years sat down on the bus, across the aisle. Claire knew that if they made eye contact, they would speak to each other, and she knew exactly how the conversation would go.

“Claire, is that you?”

“Mary Ann? I can’t believe it! How’ve you been?”

And so on. Just as they started to reveal anything real about where their lives had gone, one of them would arrive at whatever destination, and they would mean and fail to call each other for the next few years once again.

She stood up and sat beside her friend.

“Are you okay?” she asked, grabbing onto Mary Ann’s shoulder. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

Mary Ann said nothing at first. The sudden invasion had shocked her and made her forget where she was. Claire could tell. When she spoke, she said simply, “I’m fine.”

Claire knew she was lying, but as she considered the possibilities of their next three minutes together, she saw that she would never be able to coax her friend into dropping her guard.

“I can see that you’re troubled. I found out that I have heightened perception, and I can tell that you’re unhappy, deep inside. You don’t have to tell me what’s wrong, but I’m going to balance your chakras.”

Mary Ann squinted and took a sweeping look around her. In a deep breath, she asked, “I’m sorry, but do I know you?”

Claire waved her hands. “Not yet,” she said, staring through her friend. “Not yet, but you will.”

#friends, #powers, #pretense, #pretention, #psychic, #self-awareness, #self-fulfilling-prophecy

Compliment (The Fetishists – BBW)

Shortly after Valerie hit thirty, some of her friends started making playful jokes about her body. “Who’s the father?” was a favorite, and the least subtle. Her friends were terrible and she hated them, but she could not deny the motivational merit of their abuse. She started going to the gym, and even after the comments stopped, she maintained her routine every morning.

“Excuse me,” someone said, poking her in the shoulder. His finger was now covered in her sweat, but he didn’t seem to mind. Valerie almost apologized, and she hated that that was her instinct.

“What is it?” she said. “People don’t usually talk to each other in here. There are rules.”

The man looked nervous. He was young and a little chubby, though not in the way men usually are. All his weight went straight to his chest, and he tried to hide his figure by slumping his shoulders.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I just wanted to let you know that I think you’re beautiful. Don’t think I’m hitting on you or harassing you. I’m not. I just like seeing a confident woman. You have a good day.”

Valerie resumed her workout. Her earbuds blared Ride of the Valkyries as she climbed the final mountain of the elliptical’s Himalayan Trek. What the hell did he mean by confident? She wiped down the machine and changed in the locker room. The flaps of skin that poured over her waistline could suspend her in water like a jellyfish.

“You’re beautiful just the way you are,” a towel-clad stranger said, noting her distress. It was just the sort of thing they tell fat people.

#abuse, #aging, #awkward, #body-issues, #haters-gonna-hate, #misogyny, #negging

Advantage

In her recent interview with Success magazine, Ruth-Allen Kapoor related the advice her father gave her time and time again throughout her childhood. “If you give anyone a chance, they’ll take advantage of you.”

Following this adage, Kapoor founded her first company, a local bakery, at age nineteen. In but a few years, her cutthroat business instincts had made her cupcakes a household name, and following that empire, she expanded into tech. Whatever else might be next for Kapoor, we know she’ll come out on top.

As the news blathered on, she set her cat on the floor again. “When will you learn? You’re not allowed up here.” The cat looked up at her, and in a minute had forgotten the upheaval, back on her lap. Ruth-Allen stood up.

Her husband would be home soon. If he wasn’t, he was sleeping with his boss. According to their email correspondence, they met once or twice a week, usually during business hours, but sometimes they liked to do something nice to pretend they were a couple. Confronting them seemed pointless for now, but someday, the knowledge would come in handy. Ruth-Allen had the emails archived.

The cat mewed at her. “No. You don’t get anything unless you’re quiet.” The cat mewed again.

Her father was dying. He wanted help with medical bills, but then who knew what else he’d want?

As the cat mounted its designated sitting spot, Ruth-Allen rubbed its fur in even strokes. “Don’t think I’m going easy on you,” she said, feeding it. “Don’t think I’m not in charge.”

#authority, #business, #cat, #cupcakes, #cutthroat, #cynicism, #microfiction

Original

“Thank you all so much, thank you. Thank you. That was I’m Looking Through You, by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The Beatles.” Neely wasn’t sure what else to say. Someone gave another whoop when he said that band’s name, the most famous band that had ever been.

Epochcalypso was less well-known. Nevertheless, they had managed to fill this venue. Whatever role the half-price drinks might have had, a crowd of this size felt like a mandate.

“Thank you. You’re a beautiful audience. Does anyone have any requests?”

No one shouted anything, but most audiences are shy. If they weren’t, they’d have their own acts on their own stages. Signaling to Rugal, the drummer, Neely started Take It Easy, always a favorite. A few people sang along with the chorus, which was always encouraging.

“Thank you, that was Take It Easy, by The Eagles. Good song. Good advice, too. You guys like taking it easy?”

Waiting for a reply, Neely scratched the microphone against his chin. The feedback turned a few heads in his direction.

“Excuse me. So we’re going to switch things up a little bit now. We’re going to play you one of our originals—“

“Do Take It Easy! came a shout, and Neely chuckled a fake chuckle. The applause that followed prompted Rugal to start drumming. Donalds and Merchant followed the cue, and Neely had to join in too. They played the song to its completion, and the crowd applauded more vigorously than they had a moment ago. Maybe they’d played it better.

The next time they played Take It Easy, they got a standing ovation. The fourteenth time, a record contract. Once they’d played it enough, it had become their song.

They played it again.

#annoying, #cover-band, #mediocre, #revisionist-history

Trophy

For the past several years, Nicole had won the club’s annual tournament, though the competition hadn’t been exactly fierce. Most of the other girls at the club snubbed their noses at athletics. “Oh, I hear you’re playing the games again. Do you actually enjoy it?”

Golf and tennis were the reasons Nicole had consented to join the club in the first place. Greg didn’t care what she did, as long as she made appearances from time to time, so she took long walks on the golf course, and practiced her forehand and backhand against various walls. She wasn’t sure what the other wives did, but they spent all their time at the club at the clubhouse. Playing bridge? Sipping margaritas? They probably sat around talking about what a disgrace she was, to the club, to the aristocracy and womanhood. She hoped that’s what they talked about.

“Hey,” came a voice behind her at the tennis court. “You want to go a round?” Nicole turned. Her first thought was, “I didn’t think they’d let a black girl in here,” but that was an acknowledgement of their racism, not her own. She said, “Sure!” and introduced herself.

Bethany had an amazing serve. Once they got a rally going, they seemed evenly matched, but Nicole could barely get to the ball from a standstill. “Where’d you learn to hit like that?”

“Oh, I sleep with the tennis instructor,” the woman said, but she was joking. She was tall and beautiful and quick-witted. Nicole smiled.

“Looks like I’m going to have some competition this year.”

“Wish I could say the same.”

She was only joking, Nicole told herself. She was only joking, she told the other wives, her cards face-up on the table, her cocktail salty.

#athletics, #big-fish, #classism, #jealousy, #leisure, #microfiction, #racism, #sexism, #small-pond, #sports, #the-best