Wear Me Like a Winter Jacket

“How’s work?”

“Great, mom.”

“And Will, how is he?”

“Doing just fine, mom.”

“A proposal in the works? A grandchild, maybe?”

“Not anytime soon, mom.”

“And what abo-”

“Hey, mom, I’ve got work to do, sorry to cut it short,” you bite your thumb, tearing a strip of salted skin down its length.

“Oh, of course sweetheart! I love you!”

“You too, mom. Bye,” you end the call before her inevitable One more thing!

You sigh, shift the pillows under your back and reach for the pack of Marlboros on your table. You light one with a match, pulling deep and watching the blue smoke curl out of your lungs into the air, slowly filling your room.

What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her. You don’t necessarily enjoy lying to your mother, and you keep saying you’ll tell her the truth, but the reality is it’s just easier not to. Besides, the cigarette clicks as it exits your mouth, Baltimore is far from Salt Lake. She hasn’t visited since freshman year, when you were still in school and still living in a clean little dorm room just off campus. Five years was more than enough time for all your good habits to be replaced by chain smoking and cheap wine every night.

You’d picked Salt Lake City because it’s what a good Mormon should’ve done, and you realized you were stuck somewhere you detested for the foreseeable future only after breaking up with Will. You still miss him, sometimes, but then you remember that he cried after every orgasm and hated most of your friends. Nothing else should’ve been expected from a BYU boy. You still see him occasionally, on the TV, second row in the Tabernacle Choir.

You couldn’t imaging what your mother would say if she ever set foot in your shitty apartment, cluttered with its candles and incense, rocks, crystals and books filled with artistic portraits of naked women.

Being able to hold down a steady job is still a relief, and it pays well, a perfectly boring position that is suitable for saving money. Saving money, specifically, to buy a car and drive yourself out of this Mormon hellhole. That’s your daydream when you sit at a desk sending emails for someone else; racing across icy tundras or through the Amazonian rainforest. Maybe you have enough for a car, but you keep saving because your mind shouts coward! on repeat.

You’re lighting a second cigarette when there’s a quiet knock on your door. “You know you don’t have to knock,” you laugh a little. Emily pushes the door open, drowning in an XL BYU Class of 2015 sweatshirt and baggy cut-offs.  She pads the short distance from the entrance to your mattress and plucks the cigarette from your fingers. You grab her free hand and pull her to you, her soft body folding easily into your lap. Her long chestnut hair settles wildly on her shoulders.

You pass the cigarette back and forth and watch the world slowing down outside your window. Emily takes the last pull and drops the butt into a half empty glass of water on the floor. The sunset spews gold light onto the accidentally off-white walls.

You brush her curls back and kiss her neck, thinking maybe this is why you’re still here. Not for money or cowardice, but because of her. Because this is the best part of every day, when she crawls into your bed in varying stages of undress and asks what you want for dinner. She’s wonderful. She stays wonderful. She stays.

 

P.S. None of my “you” characters are the same person, or even related. I’m just enjoying writing in the third person.

Inky Vixen

A night owl, a lone wolf, a minx. Light shines from the yellow-tinted street lamps through your lashes, catching on the glitter stuck to the tips and refracting itself in your eyes. Creating rainbows, just for you to see. Maybe a girl like you shouldn’t be out this late at night, but even that thought doesn’t deter you from taking the long way home. You revel in your solitude, rejoice in your loneliness. Less than an hour has gone by since you waved goodbye to the drunken whores you call your friends and began your pilgrimage of 1.7 miles back to your flat.

You wrap your leather jacket around you and your black dress melts into the surroundings. You sink into the night, almost invisible but for your pale-moon face. It shines with leftover makeup and leftover sweat. Maybe you’re a bit drunk, you realize, as you struggle to fit your key into the lock.

Silence engulfs you as you step into your home and you throw your bag down and kick off your shoes. And your foot is bleeding. You stare at it for a moment, decidedly drunk, before padding down the hallway, uninterested or unconcerned about the dots of crimson leaving a bloody bread crumb trail in your wake. You open your freezer, elated by the half-empty pint of ice cream sitting alone on its shelf, giving in fully to a stereotype as you pick up a spoon and eat straight from the container. Suddenly you’re annoyed by your squeaky leather and form fitting dress, almost dropping your dessert in the haste to shed your exoskeleton.

You move, indecent, to the couch. You predict, correctly, that you will end your night here, half naked and horny, with Friends on the big screen and a melting pint of ice cream in your hand.

An Anxious Excerpt

This is an excerpt from a short story collection I produced through my school. Two of my peers and myself wrote short stories involving a kind of mental illness (Anxiety, Depression and Grief), all set in one school in one day. My peers wrote about two students at the school, whereas I chose to write from the perspective of a teacher. This is the end of my story, taking place after a long and stressful day.

Anxiety 

Gail shuts the door behind her as she steps into the warmth of her home. It’s dark outside, she’s late again, grading papers and writing lesson plans long past seven o’clock. Her shoulders fall, no longer needing to set a good example for anyone with proper posture. She rolls her neck, shakes her shoulders, trying to shake off her anxiety brought on by the difficult day dissipating behind her. She sets her bag down, slips off her shoes and places her keys in the shell-shaped bowl by the door.

Her husband is singing along to Frank Sinatra in the kitchen, the sounds and smells of dinner sizzling melodiously. This makes her smile slightly, his off-key voice too loud and uninhibited for him to have realized he’s no longer alone in the house.

Gail pads softly down the entryway, passing the living room in her socks and stopping in the doorway of the kitchen. “Hi Robert,” she calls, her voice straining to be heard over the music.

He turns, startled for a moment, but then he’s grabbing her hands and leading her into the kitchen, trying to get her to dance along to That’s Life. She laughs harder now, no plastered smile necessary. They waltz over to the stereo and he drops her hands to turn down the music.

“Hi honey,” he kisses her forehead.

“How was your day?” she asks, plucking a carrot from the cutting board as he flips over the chicken.

“Oh, the usual,” he launches into a mundane story about another day at the office. She’s calmed by his voice, not quite monotonous, deep and lulling. He plates salad, rice and chicken, telling her a mildly funny story about his lunchtime meeting.

He pulls the chair out for her, setting both plates on their small, two-person table. The kitchen is warm and garlic-scented. Robert sets a glass of chilled white wine to the left of each plate before sitting down across from Gail.

“Isaac called today.”

“How’s the baby?”

“Sounds like she’s doing really well. Getting bigger everyday. She can almost walk now,” he cuts his chicken into even strips.

“And Meghan?”

“Healthy as ever. They both sound tired, but they’re getting used to dealing with having a baby. Preparing for the terrible twos though.”

“I wish Isaac could remember how terrible he was. He had a habit of biting.”

“How could I forget that?” Robert holds up the index finger on his left hand, which still has three tiny tooth marks in a shiny scar.

“We really should have them over soon. For brunch or something.”

Robert nods, pushing a forkful of chicken and rice into his mouth, adding nonchalantly, “Maybe give Cordelia a call too?”

Gail nods, but her neck tenses again, tired of having this conversation. “We can’t keep paying her rent Robert. She graduated a year-and-a-half ago. She needs to get a job, but instead she’s relying on you always giving in to her demands.”

“She’s our youngest daughter, Gail. We can’t just cut her off.”

“That’s not what I’m suggesting, Rob. But maybe only paying half the rent.” They eat in silence for a few minutes, her chest flaring under her green sweater, the only sounds being forks and knives and the dishwasher humming behind them.

“The chicken is delicious,” she reaches for his hand, rubbing her thumb over his briefly. Apologies were always emphasized to their children, but seemed to have missed the adults. Both are too stubborn to say I’m sorry.

“And happy anniversary, by the way.”

“What?” Gail scrapes her fork through the rice.

“Twenty-two years of teaching, sweetheart. Congratulations!” He’s smiling kindly at her, his hand still in hers. He reaches his other hand out for his glass, and when she does the same they clink, the sound reverberating around the quiet kitchen.

“Thank you,” she’d almost forgotten, the beginning of the day and her excitement over a cupcake almost inconceivable.

By eleven, Gail has removed her violently green sweater, swapping the day’s constricting khakis for pilling grey sweatpants and a loose cotton top. She sits in her closet office, which is cluttered with cards and drawings from students. Art from her children is framed and lining the walls, soon to be taken down and replaced with art from her grandchildren. Family photos crowd her desk, some in the form of magnets stuck to her computer. They’re years old now, from when her children still lived at home and they could take vacations in the summer. She always liked that, a perk of being a teacher. She had whole summers off, for road trips and sunburned faces pressed cheek to cheek.

One of her favorites sits precariously on top of her PC. It’s a photo she took of her whole family on Hoover Dam. Robert stands behind the two boys, holding bunny ears behind Dylan’s head. He’s scowling slightly, thirteen-years-old, misplaced angst making it impossible for him to pose or smile. Isaac is twelve and ecstatic, an engineer at heart, so much difference in that year between him and his brother, smiling widely. Gail remembers his fascination with the inner workings of the dam, the rushing water loud and exciting to his ears. Cordelia is balancing on one foot, like she was trying to take up as much of the frame as possible, in a floral dress and clashing floral tights, her curly blonde hair wild in the wind, her tongue sticking out from between the wide gap in her front teeth.

She was so sweet back them, when she was still eight and still a mama’s girl. That lasted for fourteen years, until both her brothers were gone, and the house started ringing with silence, punctuated by doors slamming and shouting competitions. Gail thought having dealt with two teenagers would have made her a pro by the time it was Cordelia’s turn, but she wasn’t prepared for the hatred she felt emanating from her daughter. Gail feels her heart beating faster in her chest. She takes a few breaths, then punches a number into her landline.

It’s almost one by the time Gail slips into bed. It’s only Tuesday. Wednesday now, technically. She’d had a surprisingly pleasant conversation with her daughter. Cordelia had agreed that half the rent was more than reasonable. She said that she already had a few interviews lined up. That had made Gail happy, finally seeing her youngest take some initiative. Cordelia even told Gail a little about the new guy she was seeing.

“Girl talk” wasn’t something they ever really shared. Cordelia had been a secretive teenager, and Gail had never been sure who out of the gaggle of teenagers that traipsed in and out of her house for five years was “just a friend.” But this time, they had talked for almost an hour. Two adults, easily mother and daughter again.

Gail is happy with this thought. She settles into her plush mattress, matching her breath to synchronize with her husband’s. But another thought is creeping up on her. She tries to simultaneously push it away and remember why she doesn’t want to think about it with each weighted blink of her eyelids.

She didn’t help anyone today. Chaos rushes back to her. She remembers, suddenly, with almost violent clarity, that look on Alex’s face. Anger and fear and desperation. Anxiety starts flowing through her again, prickling her skin, her eyes no longer heavy but stinging wide open.

That poor girl, Emily, who didn’t come back to class. She’d left discreetly, Gail hated to admit. By the time class was over, though worried sick, the school knew there couldn’t be a man hunt. They’d have to wait those forty-eight hours, making everything seem just a little more like a crime show. Her mind whirrs. Her chest is clogged with that desperate feeling. A useless feeling. She quietly pushes the duvet off her. She pads down the hallway, past their large bathroom, past the washer and dryer. She falters in front of Dylan and Isaac’s room. Alex reminds her vaguely of her eldest son when he first started high school. Quiet and brooding. Dylan even went to counseling for a few months after he started skipping class and chain smoking. Gail reaches her hand out in order to peel off a leftover piece of tape from the signs that had once plastered their door. She continues down the hall, passing Cordelia’s old room, eight letters still spelling out her name on its surface.

Gail creaks down the staircase, her footsteps muffled by the four-year-old carpet. She makes her way through the entryway, passing the den and their neglected dining room. In the kitchen, she makes herself some tea, switching on the light above the sink after scalding her hand on the steam from the kettle. She sits with her mug of mint and honey at the little round table. Her head is spinning emptily. She rests there, alone in the half-darkness, waiting for her tea to cool. The clock ticks closer to morning.

She wants a solution. But for now, she finds solace in the fact that at least fatigue puts her in a good mood.

 

(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?

(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?

Mornings are glorious. Mornings are romantic. The sun is just waking up, too. You yawn together, stretch together. You blink together, you through tired eyes and the sun through your curtains. You push those curtains aside, but the sun no longer blinks with you, instead staring at you like a wide eye. Your limbs crack and you shuffle-walk to brush the night out of your mouth. You’re groggy, maybe grumpy. But you open the window and it’s dumb how beautiful it is. There’s a breeze carrying the beach towards you, thick and full of salt and coconut sunscreen. Birds are chirping and flying close to your apartment window. You go to the kitchen, careless in your half-nakedness (it’s too hot now to wear pants to bed). You pour that fast black liquid and drink it straight, no sugar coating. You go to your balcony, the sun no longer a twinned friend but a torrid fiend. You take a seat, scratching a fingernail through the soft, weather worn table and think, I’m lucky to live in California, as you squint helplessly at the horizon, which shimmers in a mirage of morning heat and asphalt. The city that always sleeps. The streets are quiet and you like that. Because this serenity is worth an early rise.

You sit back and bask. Morning glory, morning glow.

Springtime Superlatives

She props herself up on the blue and green plaid picnic blanket, lolling her head lazily so she can feel her wispy curls graze her shoulders. She reaches her left hand out to pick a leaf from her dress. Nearby, a little boy is playing with bubbles, blowing too fast and only creating piles of froth that collect in the grass five feet away. He giggles anyway, so she does too, but has to stop after a moment, because his parents are eyeing her warily. A young woman in pale pink, laughing alone. The park is crowded, because the temperature has topped seventy, and it seems as though the entire city has decided to venture outdoors, clad only in shorts and tank tops. Sun glints off the grass, falling lovingly through the kaleidoscope of leaves above her head, speckling her back with light, now, and freckles, later.

She moves to lie on her stomach, shading her eyes with her hand to watch a man walk by on the sidewalk in front of her. He’s smoking a long cigarette, but just before he reaches the space near her blanket, he stops suddenly. He takes the thing out of his mouth, looks at it for a second, and drops it on the ground. The heat has disgusted him with himself. She watches the cigarette smoke on its own, and an odd thought occurs to her. She wants that cigarette to burn to the butt, its fumes curling through the air up into the trees, and get a squirrel high. That sets her off again: A young woman in pale pink, laughing alone.