tiny stories

lunch with Abe

2007, 732 words.

So every day, I'm sitting on the park bench, eating my sandwich, drinking my ChinĂ²--the sandwich changes with my mood, but is usually accompanied by a tiny bottle of chinotto soda. I used to pretend to live in England but right now I pretend to live in Italy. Both are blended into my heritage, though I don't claim to be anything other than wholly American. 
People don't know what that means. They think it means sitcoms, bad food, loud brash humor, inconsiderate politics. But of course, to be American is to be literally anything and everything, and that's why people have always come here. And here, I can be this, but pretend to be that, quite easily, if I want to. Mostly, I'd rather not bother. I am happily defined by a lack of definition. 
Today's sandwich was goat cheese, red peppers, and smashed olives. It reminded me, for some crazy reason, of when I was a kid, and I would eat plain tuna on bread with no accompaniment. I thought it was the perfect sandwich. What I didn't realize was that the oil the tuna was packed in is what made it perfect. Until one day--I was old enough to do some of the shopping by then--I noticed that all the tuna cans said they were now packed in soybean oil. I don't know what the other non-soybean oil was, but it tasted good on bread. Soybean oil does not. So ever after that, I had to buy tuna packed in spring water, instead, and that isn't any good on bread unless you mix other stuff into it. Which reduces the pleasure for me, considerably. I loved opening the can of tuna, spreading some on bread, and eating. That was simple heaven. 
Now I don't bother with tuna anymore unless it's served to me raw, on a plate at a restaurant. But my sandwiches are still simple. If I can just smash some between pieces of chewy, tasty bread, it's good for a sandwich. If it requires chopping and stirring and seasoning, forget it. That's not a sandwich, that's dinner. 
Anyway. This guy, one of the blue tooth ones, he walks through the park every afternoon just about the time I've finished the sandwich and am leaning back a bit, sipping on my soda, or blowing across the top of the bottle to make it whistle, and he talks, and gesticulates, and takes these sort of large stomping, pacing steps back and forth in front of the big Abraham Lincoln statue. I used to sit on the bench right underneath it, but now I sit on the other side of the walkway, for a better view. He's very enjoyable to watch, despite the crazy. 
This reminds me of 10th grade, when there was an exchange student from the Netherlands at my school, and I would follow him down the hall every day after chemistry, until he disappeared into his next classroom, and I had to continue on to mine. He was blond, which isn't really my thing, but had this perfect figure, the coolest European jeans, and, kind of remarkably, it seemed, clogs. I had never seen a guy wear clogs, but they looked so great with those jeans, and inspired the way he sassed his sexy foreign self along the corridor, just owning his space. I never once spoke with him, but remain a fan to this day. I'm a fan of clogs anyway. I'm confused when they go out of style now and then, because they just seem like a staple of life, as far as I'm concerned. Too bad more men can't pull off the look of them. Sadly, the ones who seem able to aren't generally interested in my admiration of them, since they tend to be looking for matching equipment, rather than the complementary variety. 
So okay, no, he's not wearing clogs with that suit, but oh, the suit. I want to kiss his tailor on both cheeks. The drape of the trousers, the way the cuff caresses the top of his shoes, the sharp shirt cuffs, the crisp shoulders and lapels, I mean, I don't know what he looks like underneath it all, but the illusion it creates is kinda magical; class and sensuality and confidence married together seamlessly. 
Except, man, the guy never shuts up. 

lunch with Craig

2006, 167 words.
He's tall, with a kindly sincere expression which belies his inability to take much of anything seriously. The kindness and sincerity are real. They just refuse to go in very deep. Fine by me.
I'm counting the freckles across his long, long nose as he talks. There are too many to actually enumerate; I'm just counting so I won't notice him noticing me staring at his face. He's talking, I'm listening, not really hearing, because it doesn't matter what he says as long as he keeps saying it in such a delectable way. It's not just the accent, because even if he were merely humming right now, it would burn straight through me. 
He stops suddenly; leaning forward and lifting his left eyebrow a fraction of an inch, looking at me a bit sideways, a bit amused, and then he chuckles slightly, mostly under his breath, before setting to work at the food on his plate. 
I rest my chin on my fist, and keep on staring. 

working through lunch

2006, 463 words. This one's awkward, maybe because it's actually part of a larger experimental piece. But I think it fits here otherwise.

It starts this way: You catch a glance from the other person, and then quickly look away, because you were immediately hit with an unexpected intensity. It might even have been unwelcome. You find yourself thinking about looking again, to see if it was just a one-time thing, or if there's something really there. It doesn't matter if you want it to be there or not. What matters is the physical sensation it caused. Naturally, you also wonder if the other person is thinking or feeling the same thing. When your eyes meet again, because of course they do, there's an inkling that the response is a targeted one, that the sensation is reciprocal. Meanwhile, he's thinking, "Dude, she's so into me." It's not that he necessarily believes that, it's just that the male is programmed that way for the initial reaction. The second time around, he's just as flustered as you are. 
No two people can keep looking into each other's eyes that way without making something happen; willing it into being.
It doesn't matter that you think going beyond the eye connection is a very, very bad idea. A part of you just wants the feeling to continue, and to grow. Basic human nature. If it feels good, we want to do it again. 
You're busy, he's busy, there are other people around, and everyone does their own jobs, same as usual. But accidental deliberation becomes a part of your day. Your fingers brush when he passes you a folder. Walking down the hall together, you move to the right in an effort to reduce the growing sense of intimacy, but the space feels thick and tangible, and not nearly as wide as it looks to anyone heading in the other direction. 
And then it starts to feel like he can see straight through to your insides. 
Let's face it; you're a bold girl. You couldn't have gotten where you are otherwise. If you want something, you ask for it. If you need something, you take it. If something isn't right, you demand for it to be fixed. This shouldn't be the least bit harder than anything else you've worked for. 
You don't know why you want it. Because it's there. That's not good enough. Because you know he wants it. He'll never admit it. 
Anyway, It's more basic than that. The truth is, you've walked into a restaurant without realizing you were hungry. And as soon as you smelled the food, you were hit with hunger pangs. To carry the metaphor forward, you've never even tasted this kind of food, never encountered it before, not sure you'll like it. You're simply compelled to try it out. Bad idea? How can you know if you don't have at least one bite?

meeting george

From 2005: 857 words.

"I'll have a gimlet. I want it up, with good gin, and I want it so cold that I have to keep my tongue away from the glass so it doesn't get stuck. I want the surface crystallized, and I want you to need to use tongs to serve it to me. Think you can handle that?"

The bartender stared for a moment, then burst out laughing. "I can handle it," he replied, with a giggle in his voice. 

"You have a flair for the dramatic, I'd say." Some guy, a couple of stools down, leaned toward me as he spoke. He was holding a glass of something brown, with no cubes in it. He wasn't tubby, shorter than me, or ugly, so I figured it wouldn't hurt to reply.

I leaned my head on my hand, elbow on the counter. "Would you? What else would you say, if given the opportunity?" 

The bartender brought me the drink. Using tongs. Smartass. It was really cold, though, with that slightly icy surface I like to see in my glass. I took a sip, and willed myself not to close my eyes. I hate that, when you see those women alcoholics in old movies. They hold the drink in both hands, and when they take a sip, their eyes flutter shut. Gag me. But the first sip of my lovely cold lime-sweetened gin does sometimes cause me to react by shutting my eyes for a second, and I am self-conscious about that. I am no alcoholic, and I have a long way to go before I'm ready to be compared to Madeline Kahn in a bad wig. 

The guy down the bar spoke again, "I would say that I am alarmed and tongue-tied by the question. How's that?"

I sighed. "I guess you get a point for not attempting to banter your way into my heart, TV dramedy-style."

So then the bartender said, "This is the point at which you pick up your drink and ease on over next to her, and then either she lets you buy her another drink, or she turns her head and feigns interest in the hockey game on the monitor up there." 

What was this place, the bar where everybody knows your name and your business? And so the guy, he actually picked up his drink, finished it off, and asked for another to be delivered "next door." Since the gimlet had me warmed up inside, I just said, "Come on over, we've been saving you a spot. Set 'em up, Joe."

I don't actually know what that means. But it got another laugh from the bartender, who said, "My name is actually Jack." It would be. 

And the guy, who really did have a nice curve to the outside of his mouth, spoke to me, "My name's George. That leaves you." He nodded his head, as if he'd drawn some fine conclusion, but mainly leading me to believe he'd been hanging around there for awhile. 

"It's a pleasure, maybe, to meet you both, Jack and George. You can call me Lily. And I will have another drink, but not another gimlet. I need one that will last a good while. I'll have whiskey and soda and rocks, with a slice of lime, and three cherries." 

George stared, kind of too long, really, and normally I'd be a little put off, but it was an interesting, quizzical and slightly drunk stare, rather than much of anything like a leer. And then he bent his head forward a little bit, and said, "You are a very decisive individual, Lily. At least when it comes to booze. But I don't know about putting cherries in whiskey. Why do you want to do that?"

"Because the cherries taste really good when they've been dipped in whiskey, pretty much. And they're fun. You can't eat a maraschino cherry without having at least a little fun. That's why people put them on ice cream sundaes."

"Let me try one."

"Get your own."

George rolled his eyes and said, "Jack. Bring me a cherry for my glass. I mean, a glass for a cherry. Or whatever."

Jack poured a glass of whiskey with two ice cubes and two cherries for George. George sneered at the ice, but Jack and I assured him it was an important part of the experience. He carefully pulled one of the cherries out by the stem, and dunked it a few times, like it was a donut in a cup of coffee. Then he very carefully bit down on half the cherry; he didn't even put the whole thing in his mouth and pull the stem out the way people usually do. He sat there, head cocked to one side, chewed for a few seconds, then put the rest of the cherry in his mouth and tossed back about half the iced whiskey. 

"Damn, that's good." 

I don't know why it struck us both so funny, but Jack and I both burst out laughing then, and I suppose that's what finally broke the ice for George and me. He had a good sense of humor. 

wesley and me

1542 words

fall, 2005
I'd taken the job on a temporary basis, but when the six months were up and it was time to head back east, I found myself reticent to leave California behind. 
He walked me to my car after the final meeting. I told him it wasn't necessary, I mean, I can handle myself against whatever might come crawling out of the big bad dark of night, but still he insisted. When we reached the parking lot, he hesitated, as though there was still something he needed to say. After a three hour meeting where he had the floor most of the time, I'd have thought he ran out of words. Then he cleared his throat. 
"I, eh, I thought perhaps we might find a place to talk, have a drink if you like, or coffee, something--?"
"Well gosh, Wesley, why don't we just go back to my apartment and I can fix you a drink there?" I knew what he wanted, I figured we could just cut to the chase. After all, the signs were there; I'd been planting them for weeks, right? And clearly, he was either finally reading them, or setting up a few of his own. 
At the apartment, I took his coat as I asked, "Irish or Scotch?"
He grinned in reply, "Irish, please, neat." 
"Of course. I know a purist when I see one. Here you go," I said, handing him a glass of Black Bush, making sure to brush his fingertips with my own as he took it from me. It was like static shock, if that could be deemed a pleasant sensation.
Tossing back half the glass; I had poured a double, Wesley leaned back, tilted his chin up, and with eyes half-closed, murmured, "Liquid silk. God bless the Irish."
I excused myself for a few minutes, so I could change out of my work clothes and check my voice mail. No calls from headhunters, no calls even from Mom, but there was one offering a fourth carpet cleaning if I paid for three. Whatever. Opting out of the classic but cliche negligee combination, I quickly replaced my jacket, blouse and skirt with a stretch tank top and running shorts. Like I ever run. I put my hair in a loose ponytail with a few tendrils left dangling past my ears. Men love that. They think they're being subtly playful as they lean in to twist a lock around their finger, then move in closer to whisper something clever in your ear. 
When I returned, I saw that he had removed his jacket and tie, and refilled his whiskey glass. Signs fully read and understood.
He looked up, clearly startled as I entered, and spoke, "I'm sorry, I didn't know I was interrupting a midnight run."
"Well, there's no reason I can't find some other way to work up a sweat." I walked over to the couch to join him, momentarily frozen in position with glass to his lips. 
He swiftly replied, "They say you reach your fitness goals much quicker with help from a personal trainer." Then he tossed back that whole drink like it was a glass of water. 
Taking the glass from his hand, I retorted, "Are you making me an offer, Wesley?" 
He turned, shifting his weight to face me, and pulled my arms up over my head, drawing his hands up the length of them in a trembling motion, then suddenly and swiftly brought my hands down tightly against my sides and answered, "If you're willing and able to endure what I can offer you, it's all yours."
Yesterday I was rummaging through my closet and I found the tank top on the floor, where I'd thrown it, thinking maybe some day I'll fix the straps and wear it again. Probably I won't. In any case, I'll know what sort of garment not to wear next time I see him. If I see him. He's been away for a couple of days; no one's heard a thing. Again. Last time he disappeared, we all just waited and wondered and then just about when we'd given up and expected to see his soul up for bid on eBay, he came striding through, full of information on the latest demon he'd uncovered, with a new magical bauble to dangle before our eyes. 
That night, I was only thinking of the moment in front of me, not any other to follow. If you'd asked me then what I expected or if I'd thought of any sort of future with him, in all honesty I'd have to say nada. 
We lit candles. People do, of course. We set them everywhere, and then we poured wine; well, I brought the bottle and glasses, but we didn't use the glasses. I remember he held the bottle up to the light and commented on how the color was refracted in the incandescent warmth. Or some such whiskey-induced nonsense. 
It stained my bed sheets, right through to the mattress. I thought later of calling the cleaning company that had left a message, but there seemed no real point. The rental company can keep my deposit if they like. Now my bedroom smells like a combination of Shiraz and the night-blooming jasmine on my windowsill. Hey, it's like a free trip to the south of France, right? Yeah. Anyway...
"Did you imagine," he asked at one point, "us in bed together while you were attending all those meetings? Did you picture me naked, in your rented boudoir, tearing up the sheets in heated lust over your delectable little body?"
I had to admit I'd never imagined it quite this way. "Actually, I assumed you were sort of a prude, you know, all getting down to business, then shutting off the light for sleep. Hey, watch it with that flame, mister! Anyway, I had the idea I could teach you things, me all full of wisdom, if somewhat lacking in experience. I've spent much more time flirting than following through, I'll admit. 
"It's the accent, I presume. You hear it and you imagine a man saying such phrases as, 'A spot of tea sounds lovely, what?' and not, for one example, 'Show me your filthy sweet-smelling quim.'"
At that point, with the web of skin between his thumb and forefinger in my mouth, which I'd been alternating sucking lightly and sort of musingly flicking the edge with my tongue, I just bit down hard. But instead of protesting, he merely whispered, in this sly, amused voice, "Not there, darling; if you really want to bring the pain, you have to sink your teeth in here." 
I'm so stiff, even after four days; no sweating in a 100 degree room doing impossible yoga positions class instructor ever taxed me the way Wesley did that night. 
There's salt all over the place. I vacuumed the floor of course, but I'm sure I'll still be finding the stuff a year from now, behind the curtains or under the bed or wherever you'd probably not think to look for it. That was a new one, for sure. But he insisted, before we'd even touched much, really, and somehow, probably due to our having been blinded by wine and whiskey, the circle ended up being apartment shaped and sized and in our clothes, the cushions, our hair: the salt, the wine, the wax, the blur of it all, well. This was not the naively planned fantasy with the dark and dashing foreigner I'd anticipated. This was, well, contraband erotic literature, the kind with the cover torn off, dog-eared pages with key passages marked to reread and fantasize over. 
I won't be going back east yet; extended the lease for another six months, signed a new contract with the firm. I have no idea where he is or when he'll return. 
We stumbled into the shower, sinking down into the tub with the hot water pouring over us, and all I remember seems like half-hazed visions now, or peering through a window with distorted glass; dizzy, swimming in the blur of his hands in my hair, my teeth pulling at that amazing lower lip, the bristle of his chin against my face and all over my body, colliding against each other with reckless appetite. The steam, the scents, the muted colors; I'm wearing them on the surface of my skin and it seems like I can just rub it all in, like if I rub hard enough, it will all come back; he'll be here against me, inside me, offering a magic that lasts without fading away. 
It's been raining and cold for 3 days. Here in L.A. that's not so rare as to call it a supernatural phenomenon, but it is a little unusual. My hair is a wreck, I wake up to darkness instead of bright California sun, and the days are starting to bleed together pretty much. Just now, the VCR clock tells me it's early evening, and I have a nearly irresistible urge to drown myself in cocoa. I don't mean drown, I mean drench. Hot, sticky, cloyingly sweet cocoa. Let it dry on my skin and just wait for him to show up. I think I know he will. 

alone with Greg

2006, 257 words.

When you're married, you don't put yourself in those moments because you know that everything else will fall away. There's no moral line in the sand, there's no anything, just impulse and this fierce, burning energy right beneath your skin. That binding contract becomes misty fog in a background that you simply close your eyes against.

And yes, he drives me crazy! He always did. I have long assumed that he always will, and that's why, putting myself there, inside that moment, was an awfully risky chance to take. Of course, I was halfway inside his coat before I had the slightest inkling of what I'd done, and where it was about to lead. And I found that I didn't care. My attraction to him is too strong, borne of too much history. Good history, most of it.

Sometimes he makes me feel ridiculous. The rest of the time he makes me angry. But in that hotel room, we really were outside of time, and right then, right then, he was wonderful again. He knew I was using him, and he was willing to love me for it.

And then, just like so many times before, reality yanked us both out of that moment just before the trap snapped shut. But oh, how I wanted to be caught. It seemed like such an easy choice to make. Now that the fog has cleared, everything is complicated again, and it's all down to me to figure it out. Only I'm afraid I don't have his gift for puzzles.