Robustness (part 11)

The echoes of their footsteps built up a rhythm that colored the moment. The techno soundtrack implied a chase scene, police officers behind them, pistols drawn. Neither he nor Leslie was athletic enough to vault over obstacles or slide under railings, and in fact their running would have more realistically been called jogging if not power walking. If power. Nonetheless, they made the sounds of running. If he remembered the moment later, it would be dynamically framed, with wipes and swipes and filters.

Once they hit the pavement, their movements lost resonance, and they shuffled forward with characteristic asthma. She stayed a few steps ahead, which was fine, given that she knew where she was going. The way she walked was lopsided, but had a grace of its own, as if compensating.

He caught up to her for the sake of conversation. “Thanks for letting me stay with you.”

When she didn’t reply, he continued talking, like he was supposed to. “It’s good to be back. You have no idea what I’ve been through in the past few years. Don’t you miss when things were simple?”

Before he was socialized, Leslie had tried to instruct him in the art of conversation. “It’s rude not to answer when someone speaks to you,” she had said. He couldn’t remember the exact context, only the maternal tone of her scolding. She’d always seen him as a child, and somehow that had seemed flirtatious to him at the time. Before he was socialized.

“Did I tell you you could stay with me?” she asked, but Ezekiel wasn’t entirely sure the question was directed at him. The artificial lighting of the streets at night had taken his attention. Shadows cascaded in all directions from almost everything.

#awkward, #city, #fiction-in-parts, #idiot, #memory, #oblivious, #reunions, #unreality

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

Funny

Other kids on the bus sat next to each other, but Marcus always managed to have his own seat. Most days, he wore headphones, but someone had taken them from his cubby today. He had cried, but it hadn’t mattered. His friend Kira called him boring and a crybaby, and now he had nothing to do but stare out the window.

“Some people need to get killed, other people need to get raped, you know what I’m saying?” someone said in the seat behind him. Marcus didn’t know what it meant to be raped, but he had heard the word before. “You wish someone would rape you,” said another voice, and the two of them laughed. “Go rape yourself.”

They kept saying it, but Marcus was having trouble figuring out what it could possibly mean. He didn’t often start conversations with strangers, especially older kids, but he was curious enough that he turned around and asked, “What is rape?”

The two laughed. One pointed to his friend. “He’ll show you.”

“Shut up!”

“You’ll find out soon enough, kid.” They seemed to find this hysterical, and high-fived each other vigorously. Their laughter scared Marcus, and he turned away.

They seemed such close friends, perhaps because they joked around with each other. Marcus never told jokes. That’s why he was so boring.

Kira apologized to him the next day, though it seemed someone was making her do it. She didn’t want to talk to him. Marcus shrugged. “Maybe I’d be less boring if I raped you.”

She looked thoughtful as he said this. She walked away and he watched her whisper to a nearby teacher, who panicked.

When the police came to question him, he cried. “I was only joking,” he said. He plead Joking at the trial, on his epitaph.

#awkward, #children, #fitting-in, #joke, #misogyny, #sad, #upsetting

Racist

Because she’d heard a lot about the outskirts of town and its low low prices, Rebecca found herself in unfamiliar territory. Compared to her home suburbs, traffic was irredeemably congested, and entirely because pedestrians crossed the street whenever and wherever they wanted.

“Use a crosswalk!” she shouted at a mother and three children, though she hadn’t meant to yell. Her window was closed and no one heard her, but she was still embarrassed. Someone behind her honked, and she instinctively lurched forward, almost colliding with a jaywalking athlete who waved as he dodged and flew away.

As her pulse quickened, she began to mutter to herself. “It’s alright. Just get what you need and go.”

The thrift store was just as chaotic, but she kept her head down and concentrated. Her cart couldn’t kill anyone, and that alone made her more comfortable. In just a few minutes, she’d found a beautiful blue silk dress in exactly her size for four dollars, and a five dollar lamp with a full light spectrum.

Those two items alone justified the trip, but as she kept looking, she found a whole new wardrobe, all nicer than her current clothes, and a suit for her husband, too. She even found a ten dollar banjo, which seemed an absurd deal, and she’d always been meaning to learn.

“Did you find everything you were looking for today?” The woman at the cash register, elderly and Indian, seemed to genuinely want to know.

“Yes, and more,” Rebecca replied, “but is it always this crowded in here?”

The woman said nothing, mechanically scanning and folding Rebecca’s new possessions.

“I really like the selection and the prices, but there’s just so many people. It’s like we’re in Calcutta.”

The woman stopped. “No, these are Mexicans,” she said.

Rebecca nodded.

#awkward, #chaos, #classism, #crosswalks, #culture, #microfiction, #racism, #shopping, #white-people

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

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

Robustness (part 5)

Leslie was not attractive. He didn’t want to objectify her in any specific way, but she was ugly, no question. Whatever part of him made inventory of physical characteristics and analyzed the data worked automatically. The conclusion was in his favor. The great worry he’d had was that she would trigger the hormonal crazy part of him that had been his personality at twenty, and because she wasn’t attractive, she was safe.

He had not yet started a conversation, or alerted her to his presence. The sculpture in the center of the square was a good enough hiding place for him to catch his breath. It was cube-shaped, on its corner. It represented modernism. His own place in the metaphor seemed less clear, though he supposed if he was hiding behind modernism, it would be some statement on self-awareness in media, or perhaps how modern art obfuscates more than it elucidates.

Leslie hadn’t seen him yet. She was smoking a cigarette, as was her custom, and he watched her take deep tar-filled breaths through her drooping beak. Though she wasn’t wearing a watch, she looked at her wrist several times while he watched. The twilight suited her, especially with the cigarette. She was like a Hopper, or a Norman Rockwell on an off-day.

She was waiting for him. He couldn’t believe she wanted to see him.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’m not attracted to you anymore.”

She put out her cigarette. “Hi. I was never attracted to you in the first place.”

She hugged him like a belt. He didn’t know what to say. He never knew what to say. He was glad to see her.

#awkward, #fiction-in-parts, #idiot, #male-gaze, #misogyny, #reunion, #self-awareness, #self-deception, #self-loathing, #selfishness, #stalker

Robustness (part 3)

Ezekiel resented privacy, the entire idea of it. He thought about this in public restrooms, how social convention dictates that some behaviors be done in secret. At ten years old he’d had the thought: what if no one else takes off their clothes in the shower? What if that’s just my crazy family? People might think we’re crazy. How would I even know?

A man nodded at him at the sink, and he realized that he had made eye contact while his mind was on other things. While he wasn’t paying attention, he’d studied the man’s face and taken in his wardrobe, down to the hole in the elbow and the open fly. With an empty face, he flicked the water off his hands and tried not to look around. The man was watching him with some curiosity. Ezekiel cleared his throat, expecting him to turn away.

“Well?” the man said.

Ezekiel coughed again. “Excuse me.”

He was done washing his hands, but he didn’t feel he could leave without seeming like he was trying to get away. He put on his headphones, though he didn’t have any music, and moved his body to the music he didn’t have.

“Well, take care,” he said as he left. The man didn’t bother replying.

Ezekiel resented privacy, how it was wasted on the wrong bodily functions. He only wanted it for thought.

#awkward, #bathrooms, #privacy, #social-anxiety

Tiny Dragons

His phone was ringing. Gerry didn’t mind calls, especially on a Friday night at home, but Fjorik’s nostrils flared, and it was best not to challenge Fjorik. Bjornhard and Thuumbrig were more agreeable, but Gerry doubted he would challenge them either.

The phone rang again. Somehow it sounded more urgent this time. Gerry picked it up and looked at the display. Holding his breath, he accepted the call. Fjorik rolled over onto his knee.

“Hey, Nancy. What’s going on?” She had nothing prepared. She had called just to talk. He had nothing prepared either, but now they were talking.

“How’s your mother? Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. Lots of people go through worse though, so I wouldn’t worry too much.” Bjornhard lifted an eyebrow. Thuumbrig turned his head. “Yeah, I’m great. I couldn’t complain if I tried, not that I’m going to try.”

Fjorik was squinting. Every word Gerry said irritated him more.

Gerry wanted to end the conversation, but it hadn’t really begun. He couldn’t well hang up until the call had been justified.

“So do you have any plans tonight?” he heard himself say. He couldn’t believe he said it. The three ancient beasts lifted their eyes and stared Gerry straight in the throat. Thuumbrig sharpened his claws against the scales on his opposite forearms. Fjorik spit a tiny flame that Gerry swatted out with his free hand. He swallowed. “That sounds nice. I’d love to come, I really would. But I’m afraid I have other plans tonight.”

Some other time.

Together, the wyrms closed their eyes, and curled their necks downward, at peace. Gerry reached out to pet them, but they didn’t like to be touched.

He crossed his arms and held himself close.

#absurd, #agoraphobia, #awkward, #dragons, #microfiction, #mythical-creatures, #social-anxiety, #social-phobia