REPORT A PROBLEM
Darrin sleepwalked into the pale glow of the department store. He didn't bother tiptoeing across the blue carpet squares because nobody would question his intentions. The cashier would most likely wear the same expression as the Asian pharmacist on the walls: jubilance with nothing behind the eyes. Some 90's love song was playing as he slowed by the display of caramel apple candles. Too expensive, got to keep going. When he reached the coolers, he grabbed any 40 and returned hastily to the front. There was the heavy clunk of glass on the counter, but the cashier wasn't smiling anymore.
Ken pulled the plug on the string of lights outside and closed shop. He examined the print-out from his register. Twelve humdred in sales wasn't bad for a Friday, but it wasn't great either. Factoring in the monthly cost of his goods, which included pasta, tomato sauce, coffee and chocolate, he would barely break even above the $2000 mark. He pictured Elena at home with Rusty. How would he feed them if he didn't find some way to increase the profitably of his restaurant? He heard someone stirring back home. Honey you home? Elena called. We need a babysitter.
Vlad looked pensively at the horizon as he eased himself off the boat. He treaded slowly, seeing nothing but an endless expanse of ocean all around him.
Wasn't there once a shore over there?
He looked up inquisitively, but the boat was gone--replaced by a series of images from someone else's life, separate from his own. Still, Vlad managed to glance his reflection in the windshield and saw himself locked in a yellow room. He began swimming frantically away from the images, cursing them. The wind blew but he ignored its coaxing, seeing another ship approaching fast.
After practicing how to a sketch a bay window for the past few days, I felt secure enough to go ahead and do so in my official drawing pad. I drew the window in my current room, using one of the stray crossbeams from my chair as a ruler. I wondered when my perfectionism would lose some of its appetite. Perhaps it will happen one day when I'm crouched over my desk, giving myself hell for not being able to draw a perfect line or write the perfect story. My chair will collapse, and I'll just start laughing at everything.
Andy was just about to checkout when he walked into a cart full of daffodils. The flower's delicate yellow petals, so transient in their beauty, reminded him of Ryan's mom, who regularly baked chocolate drop cookies and drove Andy and her son to high school in the morning. Ryan's mom spoke in a bustling, jovial pitch; Ryan squinted under the sun's glare. His need to get noticed got him killed when he jumped out of a car just outside his subdivision. Each spring, the daffodils, on what was once their front lawn, bloom--the only indication they ever lived there.
He climbed slowly toward the eve of the bulding where his paint cans and brushes waited for him. His friend mouthed vulgarities over the damsel-in-distress they helped on their way home. They recalled the woman's voluptuous legs, and could almost feel the silky strands of her auburn hair again--until the southwest corner of their ladder gave way, arcing white paint all over them. That night, there was the whir of a garbage disposal, draining orange peels, carrots and telephone numbers. She didn't think of them at all as she dipped her brush into an austere, acrylic hue.
Rusty drove down a bumpy dirt road, thinking of ways he could have better handled his break up.
I don't recall anything wrong with you,
his partner said, troubled. Rusty wished he just replied with, "I appreciate the opportunity I spent getting to know you. I'm here if you ever need to talk. Have a great day." Instead, Rusty made his partner tell him what he didn't like:
Well, I didn't like...
he started. That's when Rusty broke loose before he could finish: "I didn't like your attitude, I didn't like you--" The door slammed, permanently.
Tough times call for drastic measures,
Timmy said. The elders stroked their white beards as different hues of light played across the temple's high ceiling. There was no need for a reply because they considered Timmy a peer among them--even though he was a great deal younger. Outside, Estella was crying. Her sparking teardrops trickled onto the surface of the babbling brook below as pieces of her silk dress blew around her as gently as sea grass in some lazy underwater current.
"Oh, you wouldn't understand--you don't even know who you are."
The room looked like a borg ship. A chipped end table sat in the center littered with broken glass. A cable descended from where a ceiling tile had been removed, attached to a modem on the floor. The green light at the top flashed, so Corey picked up a miniature piece of wire and pressed the reset button on the device, thoughtfully waiting for it to reboot. He looked around at old computer games and CDs in the closet, wondering why he never hung out down here more often. This was his brother's passion--Corey's was always reading and writing.
Within Tony's smile, Tobey saw a way to stretch the seems of his own melancholy open just a little wider. He could see himself hanging out with him again regularly--if not for the comraderie, than for protection against the things that have happened to him over the last few years. Yes, Tony hurt him too, but he was nothing compared to James. James had exhausted all of the moisture away from the soil around Tobey's heart, leaving nothing but a slow growing organ. He needed fertilizer from Tony's 14 year old watering can...but would he bloom or fall?
Tori climbed endless flights of stairs, ready to leave the security of the underground research station. Long ago, she remembered following Dr. McKinney and his assistants into the hatch for the purposes of testing an airborne substance capable of neutralizing the effects of nuclear fallout. Now she wanted out of the experiment. Using the piece of paper she scribbled McKinney's lock combination onto, Tori entered the numbers into the hatch above her head, brushing sweaty locks of her curly red hair away from her eyes. The hatch opened with a whish; early or not, she would have to make due.
I received a call from an office in Plymouth, informing me I was selected for the job and will start at the end of the month. Initially I was estatic--thanking the recruiter and assuring him I would fill out the required documents immediately. Then my mind began to race. I stared at a painting of an ancient greek metropolis on the walls, trying to identify what I was feeling. My two-year search for a decent full-time position, caught in the balance between Michigan and Florida, might be over--if only I can ride the wave of change.
I arrived at checkout simultaneously with an older man. We just stood there. Finally, I told him to go ahead. He laughed and said thank you multiple times, directing me toward a space next to him on the counter where I could set my groceries--as if they were even remotely heavy. Later he was driving very slowly ahead. I didn't tail him. He eventually stopped until I had to go around him, but then proceeded to follow me. I sped up around a curve, parked and quickly got out of my car, dropping the Chips Ahoy on the driveway.
Rudy watched as a backhoe extracted a large chunk of dirt from the intersection. He couldn't see Chris in his peripheral vision anymore so he looked back to see him walking a few steps behind. To Rudy, meeting someone new was like manually landing an airplane. Logistically, it seemed overwhelming. With the assistance of computers, all Rudy has to do is run diagnostics, sit back and watch the earth fall away, rising into the cloud-filled sky of idealism. A giant compass was later installed on the ground at that same intersection. It serves to ground him with each flyby.
Medusa walked into the woman's restroom to wash her hands. It didn't matter whether she turned the dial to HOT or COLD--the water was still scaulding hot. The steam which arose seemed to give purchase to the faint smell of chlorine that lingered among the white porcelin and flourescent lighting, reminding her of beachfront hotels and dark, humid nights. Then the cleaning chemicals seemed to materialize and neatly swirl about her like the steam from a coffee cup. They condensed to form the likelihood of a woman who opened her eyes--two spotlights amidst the fine granules. She ran.
But where once there was a door had become tile. Medusa fell to the ground, staring up at who she assumed to be Athena, the goddess of wisdom. The granules of cleaning agent that formed her body appeared to change shape into snow and dangling icicles. Medusa began shaking uncontrollably, not so much from the sudden cold but from a certain guilt associated with having previously lost too much control. As the light from Athena's eyes grew in intensity, Medusa's expensive work slacks began to change into ratty jeans. Her hair became flat and oily. Her memory of success, gone.
Where are you going? The Dave Matthews Band asks. Tonight, I made up my room in red. Turned on the red lava lamp, lit the three-wick apple cinnamon crisp candle and turned on the lamp with the red compact flourescent. It reminded me of how important I once considered my environment. About ten years ago, I remembered playing a frog chorus CD and and cranking up the humidifier. Maybe next month I can host a blue night for myself--I'd leave off the lava lamp and instead plug in a fountain, buy a blue candle, a blue compact flourescent.
Frederick snapped a photo of himself in the car, liked the result, so started taking more photos.
Maybe I can get Diane to take a photo of me standing outside the store, and perhaps I can even talk a few co-workers into the shot,
he fantasized. It occurred to Frederick how much time goes by without a photo. These days, within these months, within these years, only come once in a lifetime. Frederick decided that he doesn't want to be that person with nothing to show for himself anymore, but he just doesn't know how to change.
Thinking is a lot like fishing. Sometimes I get a bite, pull up on the line and reel in a thought that I can identify. Some thoughts have purple scales. Other thoughts seem to disperse into a visible spectrum of light on scales made of tiny, wet prisms. I feel more comfortable when I am left to choose: Will I brood over the thought in some candlelit room later or will I relish in the slimy release...the gentle kerplunk as it hits the water? Lately I've been releasing more of the uglier fish, preferring my own hollow self-affirmations.
Ted examined his Burrows Tail. The bulbous new growths on the stems were developing much more quickly than before, when it occupied a space on top of his dresser throughout the winter months. As Spring approached, Ted fertilized the cactus and transplanted it into a larger pot. He never forgot what happened to it last autumn when he left the Burrows Tail outside, forgotten. Most of the plant had turned a translucent yellow color--forcing him to carefully remove the frostbitten sections with a pair of scissors. Now that it was perfectly content in the afternoon sunlight, Ted watched; pleased.
Shayne played pool with Roxanna, his newfound friend with benefits. A man with a dark complexion approached him. "Hey, you're cute." Normally, Shayne would have had no problem smiling and uttering a simple thank you. But the man was invading his space. Shayne chose another position to shoot. "Nice shot!" The man exclaimed, inching closer, grabbing Shayne's inner thigh. The next day, Shayne told his co-worker, Brent, how much it bothered him and also about his suspicions that he was once molested. Brent didn't have to move--for once, he was thankful to wear the mask of customer service.
Stu was angry and I was bored. I texted him and suggested we take a walk through downtown. We met at his apartment so he could change out of his work clothes. I felt slightly childish as I swayed toward the entrance to his building, balancing on parking blocks. A man and a woman my age were getting into their own respective cars ahead of me. "Yeah, we'll definitely have to get together soon," I heard the woman say. "Send me a message on Facebook."
"Better yet, I'll just CALL you," the man said. Inside, the buiding smelled dusty.
Farrah drove down that stretch of Canton Center, lined with white cherry blossoms. Some of the branches were turning green around the edges. The Daffodil blooms were crinkling, falling between their thick green sprouts like dust in the wind. She was excited to return home and plant her Peruvian Daffodil bulbs and yellow flower seeds, but she hoped the pot she had in mind wasn't overflowing with squiggly rollie pollies. They'd get all over the sleeves of her pink fleece, and her sleeves never held. She saw Andrew next door as she dug, looking up longingly after he went inside.
Five hours after busting out of the underground research station, Tori came to a fork in the road. The trail on her right was pretty straightforward. The path simply continued on without much interruption, its zenith nestled between the trees on the far horizon. It seemed like an impossibly long road. The trail on her left was riddled with numerous half-dug excavations, fallen limbs and potential pitfalls. But she could glimpse the trail again, winding onward across impossible heights. Tori sat down, thinking carefully. She lacked her usual insight, so she thought about the trails similarities: they both end.
Vlad stood in front of a door, seeing nothing but its endless expanse of thick mahogany. The proportions were so off that he felt like he was in a skit from the movie Alice in Wonderland--after having consumed too much of the potion that shrinks an unsuspecting Alice. But he was actually just trying to make his way out of church, figuring the giant door would provide an alternative exit. The front door was blocked with throngs of important looking men, chatty cathys and children splashing holy water. All he wanted was a peaceful route to his getaway vehicle.
Maxine's unexpected guest caused her to trail her lipstick. "Detective Clark, goddamnit," she bellowed. "How are you dear?" Clark asked, taking a seat. "Don't placate me," Maxine said. "I still haven't seen Chocolatte." The detective crossed and uncrossed his legs uncomfortably. "This isn't about Chocolatte. Where were you the night of the murder?" Maxine adjusted her wig. "Why, where did you want me to be?" she asked. "I..." Maxine turned, placed a curled red fingernail to the detective's lips. "Don't worry, your secrets safe with me, DEAR," she said seductively. "So long as you get the fuck off this case!"
Pru opened the window from outside. It lead to a blue room. She hauled herself inside, rolled when she hit the linoleum, and proceeded to a desk in the empty classroom. She sank into its recess and unabashedly put her head down, breathing in and breathing out, slowly. When she composed herself, she reached into her pocket for that piece of chalk that she kept there all day--waiting for this moment. Pru stood, flipped a lock of hair back and walked to the front. "This is what's going on," she said calmly, scraping liberal, loopy letters across the chalkboard.
I received a text from a phone number I didn't recognize a few months ago. Basically it was invitation to a party. We joked about it some-- she even suggested I make an appearance anyway. Tonight I received another text from a phone number I didn't recognize. Something about the date and time of Josh's sports fundraiser. The anonymous sender apologized again, describing how someone she used to know had my phone number. She promised to delete my number. How less complicated life would be if it's not working out with someone you could just tell them you're deleting them.
The teacher was standing by the projector, lit up in red typeface. Her mischievous expressions reminded me of my friend Rachel, who has worked in a Farmington Hills bankruptcy call center for the last five years. Where was I? Traveling. Switching jobs. Falling in and out of love. The moment I found myself succumbing to stability, I'd disappear like water flowing down that creek from my childhood, lined with weeds and the sweet scent of mint and algae. Seems I'm in a quiet pond now, just skipping rocks across the surface, seeing how every experience can potentially foreshadow the next.
I don't know if I could live in the same apartment complex my mom moved to when she left the house back in 1997. The apartments were lain in dark, cherry red brick, topped with an old english style of woodwork. Large maple trees lined the main road throughout. Some of the images I derived from circling the apartments were of popcorn infused AMC uniforms, our cockatiel, BJ, flying off my mom's head on the balcony and listening to Tori Amos in the guest room. Even though I was only 16, I felt mature as any 29 year old there.
The Tip Jar