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Bubbles and Me

Posted in The Word: Stories with tags , , , , , , on 10/06/2015 by Janet Fitch

The Word: GLOVE

Anna sat at the bar of the Hyatt Atlanta, the site this year of AWP, with Scott Fender and Aly Cole. Talking about Old Times, when the three of them shared a house in Iowa—that dump–writing, critiquing each other’s work, partying it up. Her old pals joked and laughed, but she could see,behind their eyes, they were searching her for the old Anna, the fat girl, life of the party. The last one off the dance floor, the one who brought the pot, the Jack Daniels. They’d been hand in glove in those days, Anna’s door always open, her big bed always ready for a sprawl and a pow-wow, a double feature on her old TV. That was who they missed. The fat funny self-deprecating Anna, who was fun for everyone but herself.

All the fallen faces, they were trying so hard to look happy for her.  Here came one more, Laurel Chapman, standing in the entryway, squinting–she had always been slightly nearsighted–not sure if it was Anna at all. Anna turned on her barstool, all legs in her wrap dress, and caught Laurel’s eye. Yes, it’s me, her nod said. “Hello, Gorgeous!” Laurel said, rushing over.

Anna stiffened as Laurel hugged her, and she could see Laurel’s confusion. She wasn’t that big soft girl anymore, the big breasts, the big stomach, the big arms. Her arms had grown strong and lean now, her stomach non-existent. She taught at Boulder, where she had begun to climb, and mountain bike. She had gone from 185 to 124 and she could see Laurel’s disappointment, that her hug was no longer like a golden retriever slobbering all over you. She was not ‘doing’ that Anna anymore and they were all disoriented. What happened to the sidekick, the best friend, the life of the party?

Anna got the bartender’s attention right away– the boy disregarded the sea of writing profs and authors and came right to her. “My friend will have a margarita–salt, rocks. Right?”

Laurel grinned, appreciating that at least Anna remembered that much. Then her old roommate noticed that Anna herself was drinking a martini up with a twist. All that cold snowy clearness.

“So what have you been up to?” Laurel asked. But Anna knew what she was asking–What happened to you?

“She moved to Boulder,” Aly said.

“Climbing, kayaking,” sighed Scott.

“Holy shit,” Laurel said. “You look like that actress, do people ever tell you that, the one that married to Warren Beatty—“

“Anita Benning,” Aly said.

“Annette,” said Scott.

“Have you always been like, this closet athlete?” Laurel asked.

“The Anna I knew would have shit bricks if she’d had to carry a box upstairs,” Scott said.

All of them drinking margaritas, the drink Anna had introduced them to in grad school, because she was from California. Margaritas and guacamole. They were disappointed that she hadn’t stayed there with them.

“Do you still have that bong? That looked like Bubbles in 1000 Clowns?” Laurel asked, really asking Are you still smoking pot? Do you still party? Do you still get drunk and lurch around with your blouse undone? Are you still the laughing stock of Ames Iowa? Oh, we had such good times when you were such a mess. Aly loved her then, because she’d looked so good by comparison. Laurel too. So great to have someone who was never going to get picked, except sloppy seconds, or thirds.

Now she didn’t care if people liked her. She didn’t have to work at being this loveable fun gal anymore.

“I heard you have Dorna Palermo at Boulder this semester,” Scott said.

“Did you read her last book?” Anna said, squeezing the lemon peel of her martini around the rim of the glass. “What a piece of sentimental crap,”

He looked crushed, his stubbly beard, his watery blue-green eyes. “You always liked Dorna Palermo.”

“A burned out piece of shit with a bad perm,” she said.

The way they looked at her. Hadn’t she always said what she thought of people?

“They’re paying sixty grand for the residency. Hey, pay me sixty for a term of doing nothing, I’d at least sleep with the students.”

Scott laughed but the two other women didn’t. They just stared at her—what were they objecting to, her mentioning money? God forbid! Or offering to sleep with the students. Who were way cuter than they had been at Iowa.

“She won a National Book Award,” Aly argued.

“All that aged goldbricker does is drink, and she doesn’t even shtup the students. They’re very disappointed.”

But it was her friends who were disappointed. They missed parking her at the bar and going off with some adjunct faculty from Bennington. She had dropped sixty pounds, stopped performing. The Anna who wanted you to like her had died. And this was the one who was left. The one who didn’t have to sing for her supper.

And this was who she’d been all the while.

The bartender was flirting with her.

“Are you liking Colorado?” Laurel asked.

“Saved my life,” Anna said. She noticed that Laurel was putting on a few pounds. Maybe she would send her Bubble.   Like passing on the torch.

Part of a semi-weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word. “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”


Next week’s word is: TORCH



A Pain In the Neck

Posted in The Word: Stories with tags , , , , , , on 06/08/2014 by Janet Fitch

The Word: THROAT

Deborah’s sore throat starts after work. She’s gone to dinner with her boss, Avery, and four other lawyers, to a fusion sushi place near SciArc downtown. She can feel the tickle beginning, on the left side, and drinks a good measure of sake to try to sterilize it. She hates eating out with the Lapels, as she calls them privately. All of them in their jackets, the Kevlar of the business world. By the time she gets home, she can feel it coming on, a bad one, she heads for the bathroom and stares down her throat with a flashlight, examining it as she’d once examined her own intimate zones, Our Bodies Ourselves. This looks much the same.

Hammy lounges in the doorway, still in his pajama bottoms. At 10 p.m. on a Tuesday night. “So how’d it go with Aviary and the gang?”

“My throat hurts.” She takes a swig of Listerine and gargles vigorously, watching the clock. A full minute, and spit, eyeing the green globs in the sink. Hoping she’s got it all out.

“Of course it hurts. From the effort of not telling them to go piss up a rope,” he says. “Disease as metaphor.”

He hasn’t shaven. His shaggy blonde curls woolly and unwashed. His t-shirt has stains on the front. He smells of cigarettes. She knows it’s a good sign, he’s been writing all day. If he’d smelled of pot, that’s the bad sign. Whiskey, even worse—that he hadn’t been writing and he felt bad about it.

She doesn’t state the obvious—if she’d told them to piss up a rope, she would be fired, and then neither one of them would have a source of income. But of course, doesn’t say that. It would hurt his feelings, and it’s hard enough to be a writer without one’s girlfriend pointing out that one is being supported by her unpleasant but lucrative job as a corporate attorney.

“You get these sore throats because you don’t say what’s on your mind.” Rubbing her neck, looking in the mirror over her shoulder. His unshaven cheeks. Little specks of gray were starting to appear.  Their lives aren’t as fluid as they’d once been. They’ve chosen their paths, and now they have to put up with their choices, she as a corporate shitshoveler, he as a brilliant but unappreciated writer of quirky literary fiction.

She feels her nodes with her fingertips, swollen.

What if she did tell Avery she hates him? Hates everything about him, from his big gold Rolex to his blue shirts, his blue eyes, his tan, his handball, his alma mater. What if she tells Robert and Yvonne they don’t have a chance at making partner? Takes Geoff by his Lapels and shouts  stop being so mean. Just because you can’t face being gay is no reason to take it out on the rest of the world. What if she tells her client the Upland Group their exurban gated communities are a crime against humanity.

Why stop there? She could tell her mother to stop shopping and find something she could do that would be of some use to another human being. And tell her father to look up the definition of codependent. The things she would say if she started speaking her mind. Then what would happen, Hammy my love?

She watches her boyfriend in the mirror, Birmingham Walker III, about whom many things are true, and not all of them lovely. The truth is everybody always wants you to speak up, to speak your truth–about other people. But never about them.

She cannot, will not say, what would you do if I told them all off, Hammy? How far would you go for me? Would you get dressed and go out tomorrow looking for work, would you take whatever you found? Would you wait tables for me, wipe up people’s hamburger slop? Would you be a crew member at Trader Joe’s?

She already knows he would not. He would become paralyzed by self-loathing, fall into a depression, drink excessively and move back in with his mother.

 She gargles again, spits out another wad of emerald green Listerine-stained mucous into the sink. She will have this throat kicked by morning, she can already feel herself besting it.

The truth is, if it’s left up to her, she could always wipe up hamburger slop. The difference between them–she could work at a Trader Joe’s without even blinking. Does that make her codependent,  like her father with her mother? That she lets everybody else follow their horrible hearts, while she only allows herself to do the sensible thing? Does that make her strong or weak? Is there an AlAnon for people like her, with the will to go on, who take it and  go to work with their sore throats and Lapels?

She imagines it, their basement meeting rooms–All the reliable people in their workclothes, sitting on folding chairs drinking burned coffee, practicing telling people off, practicing quitting.

“What’s so funny?” Hammy asks, wrapping his arms around her, resting his chin on her shoulder in the mirror, his dark eyes next to hers, his ..vulnerable unshaven face.

“Never mind,” she says. “Come, read me something.” She begins to undress for bed, hanging her jacket neatly on a hanger, to air out for the night, till tomorrow.

Part  of a semi-weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word.  “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”

Next week’s word is: GROUND