The Dozens

The man at the door was new, a beefier version of the last guy, and the guy before him, but in every essential way he was the same: same broad shoulders, same blank look on his face, same everything. Which was both comforting and unsettling at the same time. Claire could imagine him doing unspeakable things in the dark, when he wasn’t at the nightclub door.

“ID?” he asked.

She was wearing her short black skirt, with the wraparound waist that showed pretty much all of her legs, a new, thin red blouse, and matching lipstick. When she looked in the mirror, Claire often saw a mature woman looking back at her, even though she was only sixteen. It wasn’t her first time being asked for ID, but it was the first in a while, and she frowned before fishing in her purse.

“Here,” she said, slipping the man at the door her fake Delaware ID. That was the trick, of course, a close enough state but probably not one he’d seen often, if at all. She smiled up at him expectantly, like she had done this a dozen times before. She had done this a dozen times before.

“Go on through,” he told her, handing back her ID with a smirk on his face that said he knew more than he was letting on.

She didn’t care. She was in. Claire hitched up her skirt, as a sort of thank you, and eased inside like she’d done it a dozen times before. It was easier to blend in, to be one of the sweaty masses, than it was pretending day after day in school, and with her mom, and everywhere in between.

“Want to dance?” a guy asked her seconds after she entered. Continue reading “The Dozens”

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The Switch

“Who names their band Tool?” David asked from his perch on the back of the couch. I’d told him sixty-four times not to sit there.

“Apparently Maynard Keenan,” I said, smiling. I shooed him from the couch, which was really no worse for wear. David plopped down next to me instead. Apparently our conversation wasn’t over.

We did the dance often, the questions, the answers, and the switch. Sometimes he would ask, sometimes I would, but we would always end up where we started, at him rolling his eyes. Often the questions were easy ones, but every once in a while he threw me a curveball.

“Where do babies come from?” he asked last night. I pretended not to hear him. “Where do babies come from?” he repeated, louder. David’s ten, and can outlast a zombie in who can stare the longest without blinking.

“Well, they come from pockets in trees, like baby kangaroos in pouches,” I said. “When mommies and daddies go hiking in the forest, they can take them out and name them whatever they want. Once the babies have names, they belong to the mommies and daddies. Before they have names, they still belong to the trees.”

He pondered the idea of arboreal humanoids, but shook his head slowly after a minute.

“No. Way,” he said. “Trees are too rough. The bark would hurt the babies.”

“That’s what sap is for,” I told him. “It keeps them warm and protects them from the rough bark.” Continue reading “The Switch”

Sign Language

The sign by the pool says, “No diving under five feet,” and I always wonder if it shouldn’t be six. I always wonder if no one should dive at all. But I don’t say anything. I don’t want to disturb anyone, even from getting a cracked head.

I sit there on the edge, staring at the sign, feeling drowsy because chlorine always makes me drowsy. I will probably drown someday if I stay in the pool long enough. Maybe I should have my mom check the box so I don’t have to swim anymore, like she did with gym class.

The others splash about in the deep end. The sign over there says, “Only with a lifeguard present,” and I imagine the skinny high schooler standing up and saying, “I’m present,” when he sees the sign. Of course he’s reading a book, it’s Moby Dick, but I don’t think that’s allowed. There should be a sign to tell him that.

“It’s your turn to swim, Thom,” Miss Myrtle tells me. Her hand is on my shoulder. I don’t like it when people touch me without asking. I don’t like many things, but Miss Myrtle smells like the beach, and I forgive her for it. It’s not enough to make me swim, though.

“Thom, we go through this every Thursday,” she says, when I don’t speak up. Continue reading “Sign Language”

Not the Swearing Kind

He had Tourette’s, but not the swearing kind. In fact, if you didn’t know him very well you wouldn’t even suspect he had any issues. If you looked closely, however, you might notice the trembling in his right hand, the clicking of his tongue slamming repetitively against the back of his teeth, or even the twitching of his left eyebrow in time with some hidden drummer in his head. It was at once both familiar and reassuring, but also supremely frustrating to him. It had only caused him real trouble twice in his life: the one time when he accidentally voted for Jill Stein, and the other when he wet himself at the urinal at City Hall. Both times had been quite embarrassing. He had vowed not to let either one happen again.

He was a tour guide at the Museum of Modern Art, one of the fifty white-jacketed walking encyclopedias of the history of painting, with some sculptural knowledge on the side. When he was on his feet, using his hands to gesture at the works on the walls, he sometimes forgot the shaking that consumed him at all other times of the day. It was as if the motion lulled his brain into a sense of comfort that nothing else could. He wished he were able to bottle that feeling and keep it with him all day long, but he knew it was as impossible as Easter on the Fourth of July. Continue reading “Not the Swearing Kind”

No Silver Linings

“That cloud looks like Mike Tyson,” Sheena said, poking me in the ribs.

She was always poking me in the ribs, but I had nowhere to go. We had been shoved together in the backseat for five hours straight, and if I thought she was annoying in a room, Sheena in the car was worse.

“That cloud does not look like Mike Tyson,” I responded without looking.

“You didn’t look!” she squealed. “Joey didn’t look!” she told my mom, who also didn’t look.

Honestly, I don’t even think my mom wanted to go on the trip in the first place, but Barry insisted on it. He and my mom had been together for two years, and I felt like he was pushing it a little bit, with those stupid family trips. Sheena was his kid, a little brat who never stopped talking.

“You missed the cloud that looked like Mike Tyson,” she said, pouting. Continue reading “No Silver Linings”

In the Beginning…

“The farmer looks to his field for sustenance, even when it is a lean harvest. Because he is a farmer, and that is all he has.” ~Theodicus

I wrote my first short story when I was in sixth grade, well, the summer after sixth grade, while everybody else was at the YMCA learning how to swim. I spent that summer in my mom’s office, for the most part. These were the days when kids could do that without repercussions from employers. My sister and I would hang out in the back offices, where no one seemed to have worked for a decade, drawing, playing tag, and occasionally getting into other sorts of mischief.

We also took these classes through the university (where my mom worked). These were for kids who were in middle school, to keep up their skills. I absolutely loved most of them, one of which was a creative writing class. Sure, I had written flashes of fiction prior to that summer, but nothing cohesive, nothing that hung together nicely enough to call it a real story. So I was excited to put it all together. I had an inkling that writing would mean more to me and my future, even back then.

That’s when I found out how hard it was to write, to put words together that made some kind of sense in a complete story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. The first day of class our teacher came in and said, “Write a story.” He told us we had the whole 50 minutes to write on anything we wanted. I spent the first 20 coming up with something I thought might be good enough for him. Continue reading “In the Beginning…”

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