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An alarm clock is ringing. The child it belongs to reaches out to stop it, and yawns herself awake. With a stretch of her arms over her head, she leans over and cartwheels out of bed.

As she skips down the stairs, she nearly slips on various wrappers and old clothes, but catches herself with cushioned giggles. Bits of lumber have fallen out of the bannister. Pictures of family that once lined the walls now line the floor. She kicks and shatters one with her last descending step, and jumps over her parents on the way to the kitchen.

Standing on a chair, she takes the last bowl from the cupboard and slams it on the counter. She fills it with bits of various cereals — Fruit Squares and Chocolate Zeros and Marshmallow Bystanders and Tiny Fiber Governments — that touch each other lightly, tenderly, in a bounded pile. She leaves the collection where it sits, and reaches into the refrigerator for an ice cold can of Coca-Cola. As she pours, the stack dissolves and condenses into a mushier stack. She scoops some into her mouth and laughs at the flavor, which isn’t real. Nothing is real. The bowl goes to the sink with the other bowls, and the girl heads out for school.

“Marisa, you’ve been wearing the same clothes all week. Is everything all right at home?”

“Yes, Mrs. Korkberkley.”

She comes home to a dark house. The only light she needs is in the refrigerator, and she opens its door. She leaves it open and sits beside it on the floor. The light reaches as far as her father’s face, and she watches his shadow as she pops the top of another Coke. “Not before dinner,” he used to say.

COCA-COLA: YOUR ONLY RESPONSIBILITY

#advertisement, #cereal, #children, #coca-cola, #disarray, #mess, #naive

Koan

Having tackled the greater problems of asymmetric hands and lonely trees, Hiroshi was ready to advance to level ten, leaving behind the acolytes to join the full-fledged monks.

“This exam will test your resolve. You must not cease your meditation under any circumstance. Do you understand?”

Hiroshi nodded. “I understand,” he said, and felt the sting of the keisaku on his back.

“Let us start again. Do you understand?”

Though ignoring a master was flagrant disrespect, Hiroshi kept still. His back was perpendicular to the floor, his shoulders relaxed. In every breath, he felt the stillness of winter and the great purpose of fall. Other seasons would follow.

He heard movement around him. Footsteps of others. An audience.

“Yes, step right over there. Come forward. Now, you two are the most promising candidates for advancement, but we can only accept one right now.”

Hiroshi was almost startled by the clatter of the wooden sword in front of him, but made no reaction.

“Let the battle begin!”

He maintained his focus, even as he watched the bouncing martial footsteps come closer. His head was still, his eyes locked. As the distance between himself and his rival shortened, he did not adjust his focus. A pointed wind passed through him.

“Um, Master?” The voice belonged to Takashi, another acolyte, two years younger. “I can’t attack if he doesn’t defend himself.”

“If you do not attack, you cannot win.”

The boy moved in circles, asking questions, but Hiroshi could not negotiate. Takashi stopped in front of him, and with a bow, apologized.

Hiroshi did not react to the blow that followed, though the pain was great.

“Congratulations! You’ve won!”

As the audience cheered for Takashi, Hiroshi stayed still. The feast that followed smelled amazing.

He told himself he didn’t notice.

And the concussion felt like spring.

#cryptic, #games, #koan, #meditation, #monks, #no-right-answer, #passivity, #patience, #violence

Projectionist

From her vantage point, Rebecca can see everyone. The reflected light illuminates enough that she can see their shapes and gestures. The couple directly beneath her think they’re in complete privacy, but she knows where their hands are.

The girl hates her parents, and is consenting to this boy’s affections not because she likes him, but because being with him is an excuse to stay out of the house. The boy isn’t as aggressive as he’s pretending to be, but something in one of these movies told him he’s supposed to push boundaries whenever possible. Neither of them feel safe in the other’s presence, though they are momentarily comforted by the other’s embrace, smothering and protective.

A few patrons are actually watching the movie, some po-mo sci-fi rom-com about love and robots and narrative dissonance. An older couple is using the two hours of movie time to delay their inevitable divorce by two more hours. They don’t dislike each other yet, but they feel no affection anymore and they’ve already had every conversation they could possibly have.

Her phone rings.

“I told you not to call me when I’m at work.”

“I’m sorry, baby, I just wanted to make sure we were still on for tonight.”

“Just text me.”

A few scattered souls have come alone. They distribute themselves entropically, though they came to the theater to participate in film as an event, to feel a part of something larger. Every one of them wishes they had someone close to them, but they separate themselves into makeshift booths and silently judge the couples around them.

If they only knew how pathetic they looked from up here. Rebecca starts the second reel and reaches for another fistful of popcorn.

#dramatic-irony, #microfiction, #movies, #relationships, #smug, #superior, #voyeur

Director

As a great admirer of the female form, Paul felt he had a good idea what women were supposed to look like. The proportion of leg and butt to neck and breast was supposed to form a golden ratio, but the more subtle parts of the fractal were in the curves of the ankles and wrists and nose, brachistochrones all three.

“Next,” he called. The woman in front of him, though beautiful, even strikingly so by some social standard, did not pass mathematical rigor.

“I’m sorry? I haven’t even started yet.”

“I’ve seen enough.”

He’d been at this all morning, and had started to find a pleasure in deflating the egos of these models who thought they were special. After thousands of sketches of the ideal woman, anything less was a disappointment.

“Are you casting completely on physical appearance? Is that what you’re doing? Because I thought you were looking for dancers.”

“Listen. I’m sure you’re very talented, but we have a clear idea of what we have in mind.”

The woman kneeled down to her boombox and started her track, a tango. Paul sighed, but allowed her to continue. Her routine was more rooted in ballet, but it fit the music in its own way. She simulated a partner out of air and gesture, and the two of them functioned in a necessary symmetry.

When she finished, Paul clapped for her, and she smiled, coyly. He looked her over again. Her proportions weren’t exactly phi, but better than his own, he had to admit.

As they switched consciousnesses, he felt pleased with himself that he had taken initiative, whatever she chose to do. Whatever her standards were, his were higher for himself.

“Next,” he heard behind him.

#closeted, #dysphoria, #microfiction, #misogyny, #psychics

Credit

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. All rights reserved. Winner will receive an all-expense paid trip to Hollywood, California, where he or she will enjoy seven days of authentic movie magic. Working closely with a talented crew and award-winning director Carl Ingersdotter, the winner will learn exactly how a movie gets made, and even earn a spot in the credits!

“Can I yell ‘action?’”

“You can do whatever you want. You won the contest.”

No one had explained to Carl Ingersdotter exactly what the competition had been, but the powers that be had impressed upon him that an outsider on set would be great publicity. The man had probably opened the right bag of Cheetos, the right Dr. Pepper.

“This is a pretty good scene, but I feel like Georgio — big fan, by the way — needs to act a little bit more, you know what I mean?”

“A bit more what?”

“Just more.”

In the final cut, Georgio slaps his costar across her face, sending her flying. She looks to him with equal parts fear and contempt, and Georgio turns away, smoldering. He stares upward to the heavens, mournfully, and extends his palm upright, as though holding a skull.

“I did that,” A man tells his date over the frantic shushing behind them. “I made that happen.”

By the way she replies, “Mm-hmm,” he can tell she doesn’t believe him. As the credits roll and she stands up, he remains in place. “I’m going to show you my name.”

Carl Ingersdotter has his name all over everything: story, writing, design, directing, consulting. Surely someone else could get a measly Special Thanks.

“I must have missed it,” he says, as the woman, whoever she is, pulls him to his feet. He slaps her.

“Blame Ingersdotter,” he says. “It’s all his.”

#acting, #contempt, #creep, #deception, #discovery, #fear, #jealousy, #misogyny, #self-loathing, #show-business, #ugly

Thumb

While the rest of the class performs sun salutations in synchronized bows, Caleb stands breathless on his mat. Something in him has come loose. He looks ahead, to the sea of butts in sweatpants around him, and tries not to stare.

“Remember that you control your own comfort. Remember the sources of that comfort.”

Everyone is focused inward, on their respective inner children, who have been scolded since adolescence to stand rigid and tall. Like everyone else, Caleb is here to undo that damage, and as he turns his attention inward and touches his toes, he remembers his thumb.

Until he was thirteen, his left thumb lived in his mouth. Not when anyone else could see, of course — he had some survival instinct — but every moment alone, he had kept it there, until the pacification it provided was finally outdone by the shame. He tied his arm to the bedpost one desperate night, and from then on formed nuanced opinions on social issues.

He returns to a standing position. This is a judgement free zone. As he returns his prodigal digit to its rightful home, he feels the erasure of two decades. Perhaps this position completes a circuit within him, a mudra. He bows again with elbow tucked in, and he is stretchier, more fluid, more of a human being. Maturity is pretense, he realizes, something we have to prove to each other. We live between quotation marks.

The class has turned their attention to him, and they applaud his breakthrough. He continues to perform his asymmetric gestures to the heavens, up and down, long after the class has stopped. He is a fever. Even when he falls forward onto his jaw with the full force of his body, he swallows, satisfied. He will always be complete now.

#memory, #nostalgia, #pride, #shame, #society, #sucker, #yoga

March

Her wedding was in a month, though it still felt far away to Katie. Rupert’s family had taken over sending the invitations, booking the hotel and the church, catering, parking, various zoning laws, whatever needed to be done. All she had to do was buy a dress. Wedding dresses all seemed similar enough that she didn’t consider the details important, though she supposed she needed to be fitted. She really knew nothing about it, but she had friends who were excited. They wanted to take her shopping, and couldn’t believe she wasn’t more into it.

“Sometimes I wonder which one of us is getting married,” Sarah said through her crooked, pitying smile.

Katie waited patiently as her friends discussed with the tailor what she needed. They spoke of trains and trusses and she didn’t know what else. Words she’d heard in other contexts lost their meanings here. Now that she’d been measured so invasively, she didn’t know what else they needed from her. Tacit approval, no doubt, or just a body to hang things on. She felt like a doll at a sleepover, the only toy in an austere but affluent home.

“Is she going to wear her hair long, or short?”

“Crazy thought: what if she did pigtails?”

“She’s the bride, not the flower girl.”

They chose for her something modern, not at all innocent, a little bit punk. “Put your shoulders back. Try to look sexy.” As they goaded, she followed their instructions, doing whatever slight yoga they wanted. “Yes, you’re perfect, stay just like that.”

The mirror confirmed that she was beautiful, as did Rupert in his breathless, “I do.” She held her position, letting him kiss her.

“Now give up your career,” Sarah instructed, in their room in Cancun. “I can’t wait to have kids!”

#apathy, #docile, #marriage, #overwhelmed, #passivity, #wedding