After taking a long hiatus…

After taking a brief (LOL five-year) break from blogging my written work, I’ve decided to take a crack at it again. An online presence has been the most difficult thing for me to cultivate as I continue to write and grow, and get ever closer to publishing my first collection of short stories.  Anyway, I’m back to build and grow within a supportive online community. If you like my posts, be sure to follow me so I can follow you, too and I can read all the interesting things you’re sharing! Feedback is always welcome on posts! Cheers!

 

Photo Credit: Christian Harris

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storm at a funeral – a poem

Just before this there are the dark clouds
At the window sill, my tea steeps
Cold steps out from behind steam
I think of lace on gram’aw’s table
Then
Sheets of rain
Gray damask and linen curtains
a cough clearing the air in an empty parlor
blue skies outside, cruel joke
Still cold, though.

 

2012

From younger days…

 

***************

  Standing on the porch and there is smoke and it swirling around my fingers from the tip of the cigarette filling me up and there is a train passing by the big four. I am the woman Helen who started out as a line I drew on a piece of paper that became an eye and then a nose and then a face and then the neckline, the shoulders braced the clavicle the breasts the navel the shirt covering milky white skin always soft always smelling like bread pudding and cinnamon. I am Helen who makes coffee in the morning with her soft hands measuring pouring passing over the counter tearing the pink packet of sugar substitute and pouring the precious powder like cocaine into the coffee mug. I am her as she does those things while I stand on the front porch smoking and the train passes by the big four.

Mannequin – Erotica

The more he looked, the more he liked her. The mannequin was imperfect, one eye slightly lower than the other, and brown while the other was blue. She could have been a person once, he thought. She was always in the front window display at the lingerie store.

He had no wife or girlfriend, and the types of lingerie the store specialized in was a little too intimate to give to his mother or any of the other women in his life, so he had no reason to visit the store. He was only a custodial worker at the mall, and he had always lingered a little too long at the display. Looked a little too longingly at the mannequin with the imperfect eyes.

She could have been a person. A real person. He imagined her taking him, cold hard, plastic hands and leading him to the fitting room where she’d undress. Under her bra, two pink hard nipples, the perfect line of her belly leading down to her intimate plastic places. Did she have to be plastic, then? Undressing? Or could she be a real woman? She certainly looked like she could have been real. He always thought about this. It never left his mind.

Her hair was a blonde bob, but sometimes it was brunette curls that ran all the way down the S-curve of her spine. Her hair was as changeable as her arms, her hands, he legs. He wondered how she’d been pieced together in such a perfect and intimate form. Did the other men and women see her this way? A vision in hard, cold plastic, waiting to be turned into flesh and blood in the blink of his fantasies?

It was easy for him to think of her this way, he was always alone in this section of the mall at night. It had always been his dream to undress her, to feel her come to life and caress his skin. It had come time when he could no longer stand it. Tonight, he thought, if he lost his job, it’d be worth it to worship her molded frame, her sleek trim belly, her long shiny legs.

It would be a dream, he thought, if she came to life. But of course, she couldn’t, because she was only a doll. But that didn’t change his imaginings. Her name was Josephine, he decided. And she was just another med student modeling her body for a few quick bucks to pay her way through. He admired her through the glass display window.

The gate had been pulled down over the entrance to the store, but he had the keys. He unlocked it, removed Josephine from the display window and brought her around to the fitting room, with a bench and a floor length mirror inside. He locked the door behind them, and slowly undressed her. First her teal colored tier bra. Her nipples were not there. A shame, he thought. But he could imagine them just the same as he caressed her left side, that lump of hard molded plastic in the shape of a breast. He unsnapped the garters that held her stockings. All of these were the same teal. It wasn’t her best color, but she did look beautiful underneath.

“What are you doing?” A voice faint as a whisper said.

“Why are you undressing me?”

He looked up to see his beautiful molded woman come to life. Or he thought he saw her. Her blonde bob was instead the brunette curls that ran down her back. The teal of her bra, garters, stockings, panties, were a deep crimson.

“Is this what you wanted, Andy?”

The woman asked him.

“I… I. I don’t know.”

She slapped him hard across the face. Her plastic hand was instead firm, muscled flesh, but her palm was soft and plump.

“I asked if this is what you wanted? Because I’ve wanted you, too, Andy. I’ve seen you watching me. I’ve seen you during those long nights, when you’re emptying the bins and mopping the floors and wiping the benches. I’ve noticed you, too. And if you do not want this, then leave me now.”

Her bra, the deep crimson instead of the teal he had slid off of her shoulders was a bundle on the floor. Her nipples were an earthy brown, erect and pointing at him. She drew his head up from where he sat on the bench in the fitting room and used her hand to open his mouth, directing her nipple inside of those waiting lips and moaned when he flicked his tongue over her.

She was warm. A warm, flesh and blood woman. Real. One brown eye, one blue eye. Her makeup perfect, her skin flawless. He pulled down her panties with one hand while the other massaged her breast from underneath. He slipped his hand up to her cunt, and it dripped down onto his forearm. He couldn’t contain himself. He ripped down his pants, and threw her against the wall of the fitting room, forcing himself inside of her.

She moaned and groaned and grunted, pulling his hair, devouring his face. As he pumped he smelled her perfume, sweet spice, like clove and cinnamon and sweat. He lapped at her neck and twisted his fingers in her hair, thrusting until he was spent, her legs wrapped around him, letting out a final moan of satisfaction.

“Now,” she said, “Well, now you’re like me.” Much to his horror, Andy stood in front of the mirror next to the mannequin with the blonde bob, he himself now becoming the same molded plastic, though his body had become more perfect in this form. His penis was now only a suggestion. As his muscles became stiff, transforming into something trans-human, he pulled up his gray boxer briefs and admired himself in the mirror.

The next morning, when the shop opened, a new window display was set, a man and a woman, locked together in a lustful, though tasteful embrace.

 

“Try our new crimson line. He’s dying for it.” The sign read.

Marigold Pts 1 & 2 of (?)

This is a work of short fiction in the Thriller genre. Please comment!

1

Ten bony fingers, knuckles and nails, divided between two fleshy palms. Kyle Kavendar, 28 years old, sat contemplating his hands. The sound of forks and knives, scraping silver across porcelain dining service, the chatter of early evening diners—just-a-salad-thank-you types—swept up into his ears.

He was startled by an average waitress of an average age standing next to him. The lines in her face were plump with makeup. Even as he looked at her, he had a hard time trying to recall her hair color (brown) or the shape of her nose (Grecian). Her overall demeanor hinted at sympathy. As if to declare “Hello, I’m Julie or Andi or Stormy or who the fuck cares what my name is. I’ll be your server this evening. Don’t worry, I forgive you for making everyone uncomfortable with your loneliness.” She had already refilled his drink twice.

Would you like me to take this extra place setting?”

…Self-righteous cunt…

“I’m waiting” Kyle spat, almost a whisper.

“I’m sorry, sir?” Leaning her head to one side, not quite hearing.

“I’m waiting for someone.”

“I’ll leave these, then. And an extra menu.”

The waitress smiled again and placed a menu on the table. Kyle

…Your hands are shaking, Kathy…

saw a glint of white gold and diamond and he heard the clink of a salad fork against glass before it fell to the floor. She knelt to pick up the fork, and he watched as her average hands with her average fingers snaked around and gripped the silver.

His own hands had been called to his attention as a child. Mom had liked them. Artist’s hands, she had called them. They weren’t special, he didn’t think. But his nails were always clean and trim; a compulsion he would carry his entire life.

He took a certain degree of pleasure in the roundness of his nails and in squeezing them against his palms until his knuckles went white. And when he released: eight half-moon indentations, purple and blue (and again—)

White just at the edges, as if to dance with the knuckles while the circulation recovered.

Tonight, these ten bony fingers had the distinction of nine perfect nails— the tenth broken and bloody, wrapped in thick gauze. His breath caught as he recalled black and red; the feeling of the nail being torn almost in half. He would sort it out later.

“I’m sorry, sir. I’ll get another. Can I refresh your drink while I’m gone?”
The waitress indicated the contents of his glass, small fragments of melting ice diluting whiskey until it was only an afterthought.

“Yeah, please.” Kyle smiled and exhaled deeply.

He watched the waitress leave and then forgot the incident entirely.

Mackenzie was running late. She had hired a sitter, given her a phone number for the restaurant. She wouldn’t go home with her date; she wasn’t that kind of girl. Right? Right? Her boy, Bill, now just four-years-old, would be asleep.
She knew his name was Kyle, and that he owned horses in his childhood but not to speak to him about it, because it made him very sad. That’s all that Jodie had told her. Jodie always knew single men. Time to get back on the horse, as it were.

As she approached the restaurant she thought the place looked nice enough. It wasn’t a chain, so, she couldn’t possibly know the menu or the type of cuisine it offered. It wasn’t in the best neighborhood. Neither was it uptown or downtown of one. Despite this, it had once graced the list of top ten restaurants in the country, and taste could say a lot about a man. Points, she thought, were to be earned here.

Her heels clicked up the two small stairs leading to the entrance. She’d worn the black heels tonight, just to hint at long legs, the arch of her foot, the arc of her back. But she wasn’t that kind of girl. Just to hint.

She’d opted for a navy gingham dress. It was just cool enough outside so of course, she’d cap her shoulders with something in lace, to show the naked skin of shoulder shrouded in fog.

Fog is worth nothing to salt and spit, though. This hit the back of her mind, invading her coolly kept space. Fog is nothing to the fluids in my mouth.

She sat down to dinner after having been led haphazardly there by the average waitress Kyle could not recall. His demeanor shifted, drumming out patterns on the table when Mackenzie sat down.

“I’m sorry I’m so late. Thank you for waiting.” She blurted out, a trickle and then a spray of words.

“It’s alright,” he stared at her blankly. “Jodie told me that you don’t keep a cell phone. I find that strange, but, you know, intriguing.”
Mackenzie wasn’t sure if she should take this as a compliment, so she smiled and nodded.

“Strange, sure. I’ve never heard intriguing.”
“I only just wonder why you don’t keep one. Jodie also said you have children.”
“Is that a problem?”
“Having a child?”

“Yes. I mean, is it like a deal breaker or something for you?”
“Not really. It only adds to the intrigue. I guess, with a child at home, you know, you’d think you would want a cell phone, right?”

“They make me uncomfortable. I don’t know. I always make sure to leave a number when I leave. I only go to work, and then back home. And my son is with me when I go grocery shopping. This is the first time I’ve been out in ages, just ages.” Her words continued in a frenzy, finally congealing into a globular mass of excuses. Times were tough, she finally confessed, and the cell phone was simply the first bill to be cut.

Kyle nodded while Mackenzie fretted. He folded his fingers together.

“Is that all?” He smiled.

She bit her lip.

“Whatever all might mean. Is it all to you?” She spoke softly nervously hesitantly.

She was searching now. Searching for his approval and validation like a bear sniffing out a mussel. Kyle didn’t like this, but he knew how it worked. He’d seen it in the way the other women had looked at him, had spoken to him. He knew what to say. The right words. The right questions to ask. Just a game, he thought.

“Is it alright if I call you ‘Mac’?” He asked her in a sweet, flattering tone.

She nodded, something kicked in her throat.

He would prove more dexterous at this game than she.


Another waitress had appeared in place of the waitress he couldn’t remember. He had seen this one arrive an hour before shift change, and she sat in a booth, jotting down notes in a small notepad and drinking hot water with lemon. She was sick. Probably the flu, he thought.

…your hands are shaking Kathy…

He smiled up at her. She had a scar above her eyebrow. The sight of it made him cringe. He thought of the blood and the way it must have dripped. The whole of this small terror had healed up into a neat little scar, and it stared down at him. It was a matter of fact little thing, preposterous for the setting, so fine and white against the skin of a tanning bed regular. He ran his fingernails over the table linen as he watched Mackenzie order.
The waitress turned to him now.

“Water. What’s the special?” He answered the questions she hadn’t asked.

Now he watched the waitress talking. Her lips formed round, seductive o’s and long cool e’s. He imagined them parting wider and

…stop fucking crying or I’ll give you a reason…
then he said “That’s fine,” not caring what he had ordered.

Mackenzie mistook his lack of interest in his food to be an interest in the waitress and not Mackenzie herself. This flustered her and sweat beaded over her forehead.

“You alright, Mac?” Kyle asked her.

“Sure. Yeah.” She answered.

Kyle reached across the table, his hand touching hers.

“Tell me what’s wrong, darlin’.” He said this with a kind of comforting familiarity which flustered her further.

“Ah. I don’t know.” She felt her throat tightening. “Well, Yeah. I guess. I don’t know. That waitress is really pretty, huh?” She smiled and lowered her eyes.

“She has a scar.”

“Oh.” Mackenzie perked up at this. Not so perfect, she thought.

“Don’t worry, Mac. I think you’re interesting, probably more so than all of the people in this place. Besides, you’re beautiful, too. I do wish you’d keep your hair out of your eyes, though. You’re positively lovely.” Kyle spoke in a slow steady rhythm. He felt his muscles tense as he felt her fingers lace with his.
Mackenzie blushed.

“I’m sorry,” Kyle said. “I don’t mean to be so forward.” He pulled his hand away.

Her color deepened.

…your hands are shaking, Kathy…

Kyle was tired of this part of the game. He wanted to be further forward than this. He wanted to be cleaning up. That waitress was pretty. After this one, he thought, after this one he might even come back for that one. But probably not. All of the women he had were of a certain sort.

2

So, they had finally pulled up, right up to the spot at her curb. Street parking in front of a row of painted stucco townhouses, reflecting blue. Click click click heels, clac-clac on slick pavement resounding into the air.

Kyle took her hand as he led her to the door, smiling.
“You’re very beautiful, Mac.”
Mackenzie smiled back at him. Was she beautiful?
Kyle reached to run his hand along the roundness of her cheek and then, almost a schoolboy stutter—

“Can I…. can I ..kiss you, Mac?”
Mackenzie smiled again, a hint of surprise in her tone when she squeaked the word “Yes” and found her own hands pulling his face down to meet hers.

When she pulled her face from his, she turned the door handle and then released it, the door swinging wide behind her—welcoming, expectantly. She turned her face upwards to his a second time as if to lure him in with fluttering lashes and a toothy smile.

Kyle reached under her chin, pulling her face close to his own and placed his mouth next to her ear. He began to whisper, Mackenzie’s knees weakened, expecting sweet nothings to caress the secret folds of her ears, just enough to stir her sex.

Kyle grabbed her wrist with more force than she had expected and so she gasped. And when she had gasped, Kyle pressed something cold, hard, menacing steel against her belly and he told her not to make one sound or he’d kill her.

“The sitter is still here.” She managed.

“Dismiss her. We have a very interesting night ahead of us.

Mackenzie was terrified. There was no other way of describing that kind of metallic taste slipping between her teeth—no mistaking a precursor to blood and fire. His eyes were like hard black stone, pressed-in-the-past coal, obsidian sheen blank, receding further in the sockets and the glare the harder she looked.

“Aren’t you going to invite me in?” he said this with a hiss, mocking her as he nudged her forward over the precipice.

“Jackie?” Mackenzie called out gently as Kyle moved the steel from her belly to just under her shoulder blade. They took a seat on Mackenzie’s couch in the darkened room, side by side, waiting for the sitter.

“Jackie, sweetie, I’m home now.”

Kyle rasped violent intent. “If you say one word about me or about this, I will skin your child alive while you watch.”
Mackenzie’s voice caught in her throat.

“Was Bill alright for you tonight?”
“An angel, obviously. Asleep now.”
“Oh, you’ll be wanting your check, I imagine.”
Jackie walked through the dimly lit apartment, picking her way over toys and the play table with its plate of leftover ketchup and mashed fries.

“It can wait, Ms. Kimper. It looks like you have company anyway.” Jackie winked at the pair, gave Mackenzie a thumbs up and let herself out the front door.

Kyle peaked through the curtains to watch as Jackie drove away, and when she was gone, he stood and smashed the butt of his pistol into the back of Mackenzie’s head.

As It Happened

Transactions

Television bubbles pop and crack against the screen, records skip, cars pass.

December 21, 2012

The world quiet, its inhalation held—just in case—as it waits for the river rush to climb and rise over humanity. The question in every mind passes at the same time for each person: “What if this is it?” When the cosmic river doesn’t rise, the people exhale together and resume their lives.
For those few seconds when the world waits, Jonah—the prophet who gave his own unfulfilled prophecy and from then on was a man of God—drops an empty liquor bottle on the front step.
Jonah watches as the liquor bottle rolls down the stairs and comes to a stop, teetering on the edge of the final step. It spins slightly as if to look at him and say it never really ends, and then throws itself from the last, smashing into bits. He stands, shaky, still angry with the job a thousand years old, still God’s hesitant fool, but smiling. The broom picks up the glass, pushes it from one cold place to another cold place, blessed as broken glass might be.

As it happened, two pieces of glass were left behind, only three inches apart on the sidewalk.

 

As it happened, one piece of glass was named Gretchen. Her story begins at her end. She is now an old woman. She recalls memories, scribbles them in a journal, These memories begin roughly in 1989, her birth documented five years prior. The least important of these memories, the ones she chooses to document, begin in 2010.

My earliest memory is of oranges and seeing my mother’s legs from under the table. I do not know if it was January or if it was June. I cannot recall if I’d had my birthday yet, or if I had started kindergarten. I remember my bedroom and the curtain catching on fire because the light bulb was a little too close, but if that happened before or after the oranges, I am at a loss.
I was under the kitchen table and my mother was passing slices of orange to me as I sat on the floor, and she sat on the seat of the chair that was guarded from my sight by a red table cloth. I could see the long phone cord as it dangled next to her leg, and I could hear her voice. The cord swayed and bounced as she twisted it around her fingers, and she tapped her foot, and I could smell the smoke from her cigarette.
If I had been a more imaginative child, I might have thought, as a four year old would, that the phone was mysterious and magical. That the cord held voices captive and the numbers on the keypad were something like a lockbox. If you pressed the correct digits, the tunnel would open and the voices would tell you everything you were meant to hear. You would end the conversation the same way, each time—“I love you, mommy” or “I love you, daddy.” Or “I love you, I love you.” And then you hung up the phone, and trapped the voices and the people inside of it until you wanted to talk to them again.
Unfortunately, I was not an imaginative child, and instead amused myself by rolling a bean that I had found across the floor, from one of my feet to the other, and I did this several times. My mother sat at the table, still prattling away to whomever, something about selling our house on Starfire drive. I still remember the name of the street, but very little about the house, excluding the small space under the kitchen table, my bedroom and being absolutely terrified of the way the toilet sounded when it flushed.
As my mother discussed something about foreclosure, I realized all at once that I had two holes in the side of my head—one on either side, in fact.  And these holes, I realized, were the perfect size for the legume I had found. The whereabouts of that bean are still unknown, though I think that it might be in my head somewhere still, growing in the place between memories where dark and light exist together, alongside the entire unknowable spectrum of color.
My most quantifiable and vivid memories took shape long after eating oranges under a kitchen table on Starfire drive. Long after daddy left me and mommy and sissy. Long after macaroni pictures at school, and finger paints. Long after my first cigarette, my first orgasm and the first time I contemplated my own mortality.  The sharpest memories are of my 24 year old self. They began with a woman named Matilda and the bookstore where she worked.
Matilda, after working for several years as a cashier at this bookstore, realized suddenly that she had no interest whatsoever in the written word. Just like everything else, she saw books as an opportunity and the bookstore as something of a watering hole. She liked the way the men looked at her when she was pouring over some volume of some obscure writer, but had no real interest in anything the volumes held.
The catalog of titles the store carried, locked away in an ancient computer, was a means to an end. Anything your heart desired alongside a couple of choice words typed “thoughtfully” into the system, and Matilda would flit away only to return moments later, your object of desire in her desirable hand. She had mastered the ability to appear as if she knew you. As if she knew what you wanted and was more than willing to deliver it and then some.
The final thought of each man leaving the store was “What a gem. A priceless, worthwhile gem. Someone to while away the hours, sitting up in the evening citing passages of love and tumultuous lust from Neruda, getting drunk on kisses and the best wine. My darling, my love, my Matilda.”
After days, weeks, months of carrying on in this way, in the used bookstore—having read no books since her freshman year of high school (a cool eight years prior)—she disappeared abruptly one summer morning, much to the chagrin of her regular customers. She was found sometime later off the coast of Spain with a man of immense popularity and influence. She was completely, mind-bogglingly drunk off her ass, laughing at jokes she didn’t understand and being felt up by intelligentsia.
To my own delight, I was hired mere days after Matilda’s disappearance, the owner, Paul, muttering something about being understaffed. He did seem truly heartbroken that Matilda had gone. I would catch him muttering to himself, and practically hear him thinking “How could she? I had given her so much. My love, my darling Matilda.” Devastated, clearly, that she had not hopped on board his own weak mustachioed, balding ginger-headed train to love and excitement and become the Lady Chatterley to his self-abhorring lover.
I held no great affection for Paul at first, though I saw him every day. A man in his mid-forties with a receding, thinning hairline and a paunchy little gut that tugged his shirt. His eyes were the only part of him that held appeal. Sad and captivating, set far back in his skull and only slightly off in their width. He was of standard height, standard weight despite the paunch of fat hanging at his gut, and of standard, subtle attractiveness that comes from failing at something for long enough to decide to settle for a career selling words that other people wrote instead of writing your own.
You could usually smell the cheap whiskey he sucked down any time after 3PM if you went into his office for a roll of receipt paper. In fact, you could usually smell it wherever he was, wherever he’d been and on whatever he had touched.
The scent wafted, floated and spread out in front of him. It followed him, hovered above him and invaded the personal odor of everything he touched, leaving an identifiable, though unremarkable trail from this shelf to that display, over the counter, the cash drawer, and the mason jar of pencils precariously close to teetering off the register. The scent was in his genetic code, permeating each cell and each piece of dander that would fall from his head as he raked his freckled hands over and over and over it.
He kept to himself, and that was fine. It was just fine. He kept a stack of half-finished manuscripts in his second desk drawer that he would pull out every Tuesday, mark-up and threaten to throw away. He kept a picture of Matilda in the third drawer next to a bottle of Beam’s Eight Star that he replaced every day. He left the store in the care of his nephew sometime in January the year after Matilda left, citing his heart. At his age and with his diet of partially frozen steak fries and a half a bottle of the Kentucky bourbon blend before bed each night, his extended leave of absence surprised no one.
I was the only one who knew why he had gone. It was in fact his heart, but not his health. A hairline fracture ran through him, all the way around, after she left. He was the one who so unfortunately discovered Matilda’s whereabouts a short year after she had gone. When he had found her, he shot her dead in what he thought was the middle of the North Atlantic, but was instead the Mediterranean, and only a few miles off shore. The devil is in the smallest details, in the smallest oceans—if an ocean could ever be called small—and I like to think that Paul got better, albeit briefly, out there in the ocean before he turned the gun on himself.

If my name weren’t Gretchen

Matilda Macsworth, after working for several years as a cashier at the local used bookstore, realized suddenly, that she had no interest whatsoever in the written word. Just like everything else, she saw books as an opportunity and the bookstore as something of a watering hole. She liked the way the men looked at her when she was pouring over some volume of some obscure writer (made less obscure by the frantic online searchers of her would be suitors), but had no real interest in anything the volumes held.
Matilda was of the sort who could, all at once, appear to be agile of thought, startlingly innocent but hyper sexualized with her tight cardigans and subtle use of red lipstick and black eye liner. It was no accident. She intended it. Yet, she had not read the masters. She had not read anything, and simply used a catalog to find whatever a customer fancied. Anything your heart desired, a couple of choice key words typed solemnly, “thoughtfully”, into the system, and Matilda would flit away with the appearance of determination. She could not comment on this author’s style, that illustrator’s mood swings, or that playwright’s affection for liquor, but she could bite her lip and nod knowingly in an idiosyncratic way that made the heart melt and made the male member swell with thoughtless, ignoble passion. The final thought of each man leaving the store was “What a gem. A priceless, worthwhile gem. Someone to while away the hours, sitting up in the evening citing passages of love and tumultuous lust from Neruda, getting drunk on kisses and the best wine. My darling, my love, my Matilda.”

After days, weeks, months of carrying on in this way, in the used bookstore—having read no books since her freshman year of high school (a cool eight years prior)—she disappeared abruptly one fall morning, much to the chagrin of her coworkers and regular customers. She was found, sometime later, off the coast of Spain, with a man of immense popularity, affluence and influence, married and happy and completely, mind-bogglingly drunk off her ass, laughing at jokes she didn’t understand and being felt up by intelligentsia.
And so ended Matilda’s reign as the girl who worked at the bookstore. The end of her reign marked the beginning of another, as each dynasty that falls is oftentimes replaced by something new. This new dynastic leader was me—fatally less glamorous, far more bookish and something of a homely, boorish sort. But, my passion for stories bordered on obsession, and I had enough friends to go mostly unnoticed by outside influences. I kept to my friends, and they kept to me and that was a good world for a 24 year old. A great world. The best world.
To my own delight, I was hired mere days after Matilda’s disappearance, the owner muttering something about being understaffed. He did seem truly heartbroken that Matilda had gone. I would catch him muttering to himself, and practically hear him thinking “How could she? I had given her so much. My love, my darling Matilda.” Devastated, clearly, that she had not, somehow, hopped on board his own weak mustachioed, balding ginger-headed train to love and excitement and become the Lady Chatterley to his self-abhorring lover.
It seemed odd to me that it was so easy, being hired, but then, I’d never applied before Matilda left. I’d hung around often enough, tracing the smooth spines of the books and trailing my fingers along the shelves. I was a regular fixture before they paid me to be there. Twice a week, I would plop down between the role playing game section and the cooking section, the small nook that seemed reserved for my own small frame. I would fold myself into something like a packet—a packet of a girl named Gretchen—and sit and read the books I could not quite seem to afford; even at their reasonable, gently used price. A library would have been better, truth be told, but I didn’t bother anyone, and they did not bother me, and on cold days, I would bring coffee to share with Karl, who had been a former friend or begrudged lover or something from a high school incident where there was an accident or a bond or something that I can’t seem to remember.
It happens often enough, that I forget the most important bits.  How I meet people most of all. I remember the vague things. The way a smile curls, or the fingers tap, or the ash collects too long on the end of the cigarette then slides off to tickle the carpet with gray and black and white and orange.
And, being folded up that way, my knees up to my almost non-existent breasts, my hair, (always stringy, as it were) falling in greasy, sloppy spirals and bunches from my haphazard ponytail. Nothing in the right place, but I fit there, between the gaming books that no one touched because they were outdated and replaced by more streamlined versions with better math, and the low carb cookbooks that one might look at momentarily, consider buying and then realize that cutting out carbs means not eating bread.
Folded like a packet. Over, over, over, under, over, under, this side, that side. And I remember that. The hair out of the corner of my eye, and Karl at the counter with a smile and a wave, his blonde curls falling like some dread baby cherubim that would catch me in my throat. Had I kissed him? I couldn’t remember.

Probably.

Maybe.

Yes.

I can recall, vaguely, my lip being bitten, and the smell of blistex. But, which night? And it must have been him, because I recall his eyes closed and then open, and his lips, dry and cracked and peeling  (even with the smothering, waxy medicated lip balm) against mine. And then the smell of whiskey, and my hair pulled back from my face, and the taste of sick and the smell of toilet and cleaning products wafting into my nostrils as I wretched (however violently) into the toilet. And that bitch, Nancy, laughing—and she left with Karl that night—and I suddenly recall why I hate remembering.
And Karl looks up and I’ve been staring for way too long, and I blush and return to whatever book I’m reading, inhale the words, and try not to think about being seventeen with horrible acne and kissing an angel.
It was around this time that I moved into an apartment with Ada and Adrian; two people who on the outside seemed like perfect matches, but upon moving into the apartment simply plagued me. It wasn’t that they were bad, but they were blunt. And it wasn’t that they were cruel, they were rude. And, it wasn’t that they were dirty—they were out and out filthy. This supplied a daily amount of anxiety, only cured by Ativan, Maalox, and a fresh string of complaints each morning for Karl as we opened the store.
“Why does she even have a cat?” He asked me.
“I don’t know. I’m cleaning up after it. I’m feeding it. I’m holding it. It just sort of hisses and spits at her. I don’t even want a cat.”
“Hmm.”
“You have to understand. No, listen. The litter box was fucking filthy. There was no littler left. Just shit and piss and I gagged dragging it down the stairs. I couldn’t even use the scoop. I had to dump the whole thing in the dumpster out back.”
“Gross.”