Tag Archives: microfiction

To Annabelle

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The thing I don’t think you realize is that I’m only your father when you’re around.

It was that way with your mother, too. I was her husband. Felt like her husband, believed in the fact of my husbandhood–but only when we were together.

When she’d bundle you up in those thick, puffy jackets and wrap your little face in scarves so she could drive you to her mother’s house for the day, and I was left alone in the house, left walking up and down the creaking stairs, left sitting on the sofa by myself, I’d sometimes look up at that photo from JC Penney of the three of us and kind of marvel at it, be stunned that, yes, that was me in a picture with a woman and her daughter.

It would take me a minute to remember.

You’ll understand someday. Someday when you’re all grown up and you have a marriage and a family and a life that technically you chose through the inertia of little things you did, but which, in a larger sense, you never really chose in that way that people hold other people responsible for their “choices,” you’ll sit down somewhere and just be shocked that the world thinks you’re who you are.

Because inside, you’re not that person. Or you are, but you’re other people, too. You’re all your younger selves, too, I guess. And those kids living inside you, they can’t freakin’ believe in this other you.

That’s how it is when you’re gone, when I’m alone in the house. I can’t believe you exist. Can’t believe in this father-person that you believe in.

You’ll see, you’ll understand. It’ll all make sense to you–eventually.

Estrangement

When he entered, crossing from the doorway toward the empty seat at the table just outside the open entryway to the kitchen, she could not be sure he was real.

She was confused for a moment by his clothing, which–besides looking nothing like what he had been wearing when he had disappeared three years earlier–seemed to be hewn entirely from rough, burlap-like cloth.

“Where have you been?” she asked in a gasp.

When he sat–like some creature from a Gabriel Garcia Marquez story–he sloughed off a drizzle of vermin to twitch and struggle in the fibers of the carpet.

His voice, when it emerged, was dry and course. “It’s a fair question.”

She stepped toward him, still holding the soapy skillet that she had been washing when he had come in.

“What should I call it?” he asked, not looking at her but at the diffuse glow of the remaining daylight behind the crinkled venetian blinds. “A quest?” He shook his head. “I was tested, though. Given an opportunity,” he said with a nod.

Shaking her own head, she came closer to him, mouth agape.

“I was put in one of those situations when I had the chance to prove myself. A moment when all my beliefs and principles were tested, when I could demonstrate I was able to put others before myself, to rise above selfish, petty desires and serve the greater good. A moment,” he repeated. “To be more, to be better. A chance to do the right thing.”

“But,” she stammered. “It’s been so long…what…what happened?”

He ran his hand through his matted, gunky hair.

“I failed,” he said.

 

Myopia

As he passed the tall windows that constituted the long wall spanning both the living room, the dining room and the kitchen of the apartment that clung to the outer edge of its building, he thought suddenly that it felt like weeks since she had gone out, leaving only a short note on one of the self-adhesive sheets they kept near the phone on the marble counter. The phone that they hardly used and which never, ever rang save for occasional telemarketers plumbing out-of-date registries bought on the cheap.

It had actually only been a few hours, he was sure, but it felt as though whole days had been passed in solitude there in the empty apartment, still and alien without the movement of her feet across the dark, dark wood of the floor or the bellowing of television voices or clattering of keys as she fiddled about on the Internet.

Then, pausing in the white glow of the diffuse afternoon light from without, he wondered if this might not be his best self. The him that existed when she was gone, but when he was still alive and in love with the idea of her, just as at that moment–with only the solid white wall of nothing visible from the windows and no sounds of the bustling streets below able to rise up like heat cushions to his ears–there was only an idea of the city outside.

Any other state would require him to engage his too-too sensitive gaze or attention on the reality of one or the other, such as the red blotches at the back of her heels where her overly tight shoes rubbed raw the underpink of her naked feet or the vague rotten meat flavor of the air on a summer day when the city’s thermostat had been rifled up too high. And then, in confronting those bits of reality, his temper might grow short, or he might make some offending remark that would reveal to her and to the city that he was just a cad at heart, that all sorts of pettiness stirred inside him, making him unworthy of either.

And there would be quarrels and bickering, and sheepish grins to try to ingratiate himself again.

But not now. With both remote and only remembered, he regarded them in perfect majesty, in the beauty of absence.

Murakami III

The new car has keyless entry.

The dealer gave us a doohickey (I know that the technical name is a “fob” for this small, semi-ovular, semi-rectangular device that uses microwaves or some other kind of science that pretty much is voodoo as far as I’m concerned to communicate with my car, a thing I still tend to feel, if not “think,” one should not communicate with in any sophisticated manner; meaning that one should only communicate with automobiles through gearshifts and steering wheels and pedals and receive communication in return with nothing but guttural engine noises) that allows us to simply walk up to the car, pull the handle and then climb inside.

But I am afraid of this thing, this fob-derived power to instantly open the doors.

Somehow the car knows that this fob (where did they come up with this word, “fob?” It sounds like it should be an acronym, but what for? “freely open…” What? It confounds me. Seriously, I often find myself lying awake, with the spectral shapes of all the acronyms in my life circling above me like spirits of the dead, and then there, among them, is “fob,” wickedly indeterminate in its origin and meaning.) is in my pocket. But how much can this car know about the whereabouts of this fob?

What if I should find myself in one of those situations–like always happens in the movies–in which there is a psychopath chasing after me and I need to lock myself into the car in order to protect myself and all my bodily organs from harm? Will the car know that I am inside and that it should no longer open just because the dookickey–er, fob–is proximal? Will it know when I am in desperate need of doors that simply lock?

And what if, on some occasion, I wanted to be locked out of my car, as sometimes people wish to be. After all, things cannot always go our way. Hardships are inevitable and it is far preferable to face the inconvenience of being locked out of a car than, say, come down with tuberculosis or be chased by a psychopath.

I really wonder if the engineers at Toyota have thoroughly considered all of these things.

Depression

Franklin set the onion ring down and looked out at the gray mist behind the buildings in the distance.

“Mark,” he said to his friend sitting across from him. “Do you ever feel like you might be done?” His friend chomped a bite of his half-pound burger with slow, grinding motions and looked at him, eyes set narrowly in an inquisitive gesture. “You know, like ever take a look at your life and say to yourself, ‘You know what, I’ve peaked. I’m never going to do anything better than what I’ve already done. My life is pretty much as complete as it’s ever going to be.’ And maybe, maybe when you answer that, you realize that you could’ve answered that way a long time ago. Maybe really, your whole contribution, whatever you’re going to add to the world was pretty much as good as it was ever going to get like, maybe five or six years ago. Like at work–all your best ideas were when you were young, climbing up. Now, you’re pretty much just a manager, sorting out other people’s ideas. So, really, anybody could do that. Had kids, and in the early years, maybe you didn’t inspire them to be Beethovens or whatever, but you kept them from turning into serial killers or anything like that. So now, if you were gone, then they might be sad for awhile, but things would pretty much turn out the same for them as if you were there. So, you know, that’s about it. You’ve done what it was for you to do. And really, you could drop dead or just sit on the couch munching every kind of Pringles you can get your hands on, and the march of time and the universe and all that would go on pretty much unchanged. Do you know what I mean? Feeling just kind of done? Over?” Franklin picked up the onion ring again. “Do you ever feel that way?”

Mark, still holding the burger, leaned to his left enough to reach the straw of his soda with his mouth and took a sip. With the chunk of meat, bun, lettuce, mushroom, bacon and everything else washed down, he opened his mouth again and said, “No.”

Due Deference

As the meaty, stubby fingers gripped the back of his skull and forced his head under the water and he gulped the stale-tasting chlorine-laced water, with that desperate realization that there was no oxygen left in his lungs and soon would come unconsciousness and death, he flashed back to a moment a few weeks before.

Someone had waded over to the edge of his lane at the pool, just as he was about to start his 100 meters.

“So,” the pudgy man, wearing as much thick black body hair as swimsuit, said. “You’ve been coming here quite a bit lately.”

“Huh?” he’d answered. “Oh yeah, just moved in down the street. No pool at the apartment, though.”

“I see, I see,” the man said, rubbing his tongue over his teeth. “Listen, we’ve got to talk.”

“Excuse me?”

“You see, I’m the king of this pool.”

“King?”

“So, what I need to know is–are you with me or against me?”

“Wait, king of the pool?”

“That’s right.”

“Listen, I just came to do my laps. I don’t want to get involved in…whatever you’ve got going on here.”

“Oh, yeah,” the man said with a chuckle. “Wouldn’t that be nice? If everybody could just do what they wanted? If there were no rules? Yeah, dream on, man. But that ain’t the world we live in. So in this world, you gotta pay attention to the rules and that means respecting those that make the rules,” he faced him seriously. “So are you with me or against me?”

“I’m just going to do my set now,” he said, shaking his head and plunging forward into the lane, swimming away from and also toward the other man.

No-brainer

He clicked the blinker to the right, swinging the car under the In-N-Out Burger sign.

Pavlovian drool puddled underneath his tongue as he took his place at the back of the drive thru line.

And he imagined for a moment, a tall, red-lined cup fizzing with Mr. Pibb.

But then her voice intruded on his daydream.

“No,” he said aloud to the empty car cabin. “You don’t need a soda. It’s better for the environment, better for your pocketbook, and better for your body.”

His mind respooled her words, “It’s a no-brainer.”

As he advanced, one car length closer to the squawking box asking for people’s orders, he repeated the words: “It’s a no-brainer… It’s a no-brainer… It’s a no-brainer.”

As he said it, he felt the warm calm satisfaction of compliance wash over him.

Engaged

“Victor, is that you?”

He shot around suddenly, startled-deer alert.

“Man, we haven’t seen you in forever. How’s it going?” His two friends–Josh and Alex–closed around him like sentries, hedging off any retreat.

“Um, fine…” he answered.

“How’s, eh, what’s her name?” Josh asked.

“Stephanie,” Alex added.

“Yeah, Stephanie. How’s she?”

“Fine…fine…” Victor answered.

“Yeah, you’re still seeing her?”

“Yes…actually…we’re engaged,” he said haltingly.

“What?”

“Engaged!”

“Why didn’t you tell us?”

“It, um, just sort of happened,” he told them.

“Just sort of happened?” Alex repeated in shock.

“Geez, when was this?”

“I guess about three weeks ago.”

“Three weeks? How long’s it been since we saw you?”

“Yeah, when did we see you last?”

“Was it at that girl’s party? What was her name?” Josh asked, turning to Alex.

“The one from the bar…yeah, what was her name…” Alex mumbled.

“I’m sorry, guys…I’ve got to go, okay.”

They protested, but he turned his back and hurried away.

 

 

When she opened the door to the apartment, he was scrunched against the wall–a small pile of hairs plucked individually from his scalp growing on the tile beside him.

She stooped beside him in a quick, jerking movement and clutched at his knee. Stuttering, she asked, “W-w-what’s wrong?”

“I have to tell you something,” he said to her.

“What? What is it?”

“I…I talked to someone else today.”

She exhaled heavily, sliding onto her knees before him. A lone tear slicked her cheek.

“It’s alright, Victor,” she said. “I did too.”

“Who?”

“My old friend Maddy from college. I saw her and…she wanted to talk. I didn’t know how to–” She began to tremble with grief.

“It’s alright,” he said, reaching for her. “It’s alright. We’re alright.”

They clasped at each other, and grim, permanent smiles crept across their faces.

Boundaries

Elizabeth cackled laughter out over the pink faux-marble of the mall food court.

“That was a good one,” she said, nodding to Vanessa.

Vanessa, smug satisfaction showing in the ruby creases of her mouth, took a little bow over the blue and white checkerboard of the table. “Now, your turn,” she said.

“Okay,” Elizabeth said, turning in her chair and scanning the people milling about, pushing strollers, and pecking at plates of noodles from the Teriyaki Palace. “Who should it be?”

“Her,” Vanessa said, bobbing her head at a woman with broad, bleach-blonde curls in her hair and a tight purple blouse arresting the swell of her breasts.

“Alright…let’s see.” Elizabeth pursed her lips for a moment. “Her story is…she’s a big Marilyn Monroe fan.”

“Too obvious!” Vanessa protested.

“Wait for it!” Elizabeth countered. “She’s actually having cosmetic surgery step by step to look more like her, which she knows is compulsive, but she can’t stop. It’s like an addiction. Her coworkers wonder what the heck is going on every time she disappears for a few days and comes back just a little different. She can’t bear to admit her obsession to any of them because…”

“Because?”

“Because she is actually a world renowned scientist. She’s the foremost expert on the epidemiology of the SARS virus.”

Vanessa laughed. “Nice twist!”

“Okay, back to you,” Elizabeth said. She looked around, spying an older man at the window of Helzberg. “Him,” she said, casting her eyes out like fishing line.

Vanessa turned to examine him–considering silently the navy trousers and the gray flannel jacket beneath the deep red complexion of his neck and scalp. As the women watched him, he slowly raised one finger and rested it gently on the glass. They could not quite see his facial expression as he did this, but there was a movement of his shoulders beneath the coat, as if he was sighing deeply.

“No,” Vanessa said.

“What?”

“His story is secret,” she answered.

Sic Transit Gloria

Through the oak door frame, he saw his son blur by.

“Wait, Phil!” he called out to him.

“Busy!”

“Phil, come back here!”

He heard the grunt of derision from half way up the stairs, followed by the plodding of feet making their way–a third as quickly as they had a moment before–back to the office door.

“Yeah?” Phil asked, leaning into the doorway.

“Come in, please,” he said, gesturing toward the seat across from his.

“Dad, I’ve got stuff to do.”

He extended his hand again. Phil rolled his eyes and complied.

“Like what?” he asked the boy–Phil really should have been called a “young man,” but even at twenty-two, he couldn’t imagine Phil as anything other than a boy. It wasn’t out of any paternal sentimentality, though, that he clung to the appellation. “What do you have to do?”

“Stuff,” the boy repeated.

“Listen, son. I don’t mean to be judgmental or too harsh or anything, but I seriously doubt that.”

“What? Are you just going to get on my case?”

“I just don’t know what you’re thinking here. I mean, you’ve dropped out of everything, you can’t keep even a part time job. Why’d you quit that last one?”

“I didn’t like it.”

“Well, if you don’t mind me saying so: who cares?”

“Huh?”

“Who cares if you liked it? It was the best you could get, so you take it.”

“That’s not how I look at things,” Phil answered.

“What does that mean, though? What do you think is going to happen here? With you? What’s going to happen?”

“Whatever happens, happens.”

“That’s a stupid way to dismiss a real question, Phil.”

“Now you’re calling me stupid!”

“No, I’m not…wait, yes, I think you’re stupid.”

“Holy shit, Dad!”

“What do you expect people to think of you when you live your life this way? All you do is go out and party with your friends. It’s like you think that’s all that there is in life.”

“Well, maybe I do!”

“See, that’s stupid,” he told him.

“I don’t have to listen to this,” Phil said, rising suddenly.

“That’s another example. You think you don’t have to do anything, don’t you? Well, guess what: sometimes, you have to do things. You have to sit there and listen to me because you’re completely dependent on me. Where do you think this all came from,” he said, waving his hand at the walls. “What would we have if I’d been like you at your age? Do you know that when I was twenty-two I was already married to your mother and we were saving for our first house. Only five years later, I’d have enough to start the business–the firm that’s supported you all your life.”

“Jesus, Dad, I’m not you, okay?” Phil answered from the doorway.

“That’s pretty obvious, I know. But are you anybody?”

“Fuck you, Dad.”

“Phil, I’m serious. Don’t you ever think?”

“I think about stuff.”

“Like what?”

“Stuff,” he repeated and then stormed out.