Dear Agony Ant: A Decent Guy

Prompt: Refresh

origami-style-swan

Dear Agony Ant,

How do I stay fresh for a date after a long day at work, welding, eating waffle burgers at lunch, starting smoking again despite the nicotine patch, and getting into a fight with a co-worker, who called my mother a profane name? Please hurry; I’m meeting her (my date, not my mother. Don’t tell my mother about this) at 6:30.

A Decent Guy


Dear Decent Guy,

Let’s say you get off work at 5 pm. That gives you a full hour and a half to completely change your lifestyle. First, begin a healthy vegan diet, quit smoking cold turkey without the aid of a nicotine patch, keep a vow to turn yourself into the police tomorrow morning because of your assault on your co-worker, and use the funds saved from the high-paying career in welding to hire a good lawyer (alternatively, open a savings account and stop frittering away your income), and move out of your mother’s basement into a small one bedroom apartment with a laundry room. Join a lacrosse league.

Call your date and tell her you will be late. Then have a haircut, a manicure, and a long shower. Purchase a new casual outfit: a polo shirt and a pair of natural fiber slacks will be fine. Paint, or take an artful photograph of, an eye-pleasing arrangement of figs, a porcelain vase, and a pair of handcuffs on a white linen table cloth.

Sell your car and take an Uber to the restaurant where you are meeting your date. Read To The Lighthouse in the cab on the journey.

Present your guest with an origami swan that you made yourself, by way of amends for being late.

Eat a delicious vegan meal, and offer to pick up the tab, but let your date pay half if she insists.

Peace and love,
agony ant

 


Dear Agony Ant,

Really? A manicure? That seems kind of unmanly to me.

A Decent Guy


Dear Decent Guy,

Yes, a manicure. A lot of well-groomed men get professional manicures. Just forgo the nail polish. A 20% tip is standard.

Peace and love,
agony ant

 

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Marcus is Overdue

Prompt: Voice

lime and bug

I didn’t recognize the voice, and I recognized a lot of the voices.

“Marcus isn’t here, he doesn’t live here, and I don’t know where he is,” I said into the phone. I had said those exact words many times before.

His voice was deep, rather soft, and hesitant. A few seconds passed and then he said, “Are you his wife? His sister?” Another pause. “His mother?”

That was not an unreasonable question. Marcus was just irresponsible enough, immature enough that it was not unlikely he lived with his mother.

“It doesn’t matter,” I said, trying to sound bored. “He hasn’t lived here for quite some time.”

“Where is he?”

“I don’t know, but thanks for calling,” I said, and began to hang up, but I heard the voice say:

“Tell Marcus he’s overdue.”

I went into the bedroom. Marcus was wrapped in sheets and blankets, spun round and round him as if he’d had a restless night. He’d had a late night, anyway.

A naked leg dangled from the side of the bed. I tickled the toes, and Marcus stirred. He opened his eyes, saw me, and smiled. He reached up and pulled me to him. He felt very warm and slightly sticky. He smelled like fresh limes. He kissed my neck and whispered in my ear, “You are so beautiful.”

I kissed his ear, and nibbled it, and whispered, “You are overdue.”

Thumbs Up

Prompt: Conceal

baby-bird-feathers-little-nest-birds

She was summoned to UNASA and so she dressed well, in case Christopher could see her. Sometimes they could, but other times, they told her, she was just a fuzzy blur. Well, she wore a red cardigan sweater over her dress, so that she would at least stand out: a bright red blur.

Katherine, her liason officer, picked her up at 9 pm for the 9:55 meeting. She was a lovely young woman; a scientist, like Christopher, like she, Angela, would have died to become, had she the opportunity.

A young woman in her day had a clear duty, which was to marry and bear a boatload of kids, which she did. She had loved her husband, and loved most of her six children, but their lives had become her life. There was little time for reading, or watching nature documentaries (Tim, Nicholas, and Helen loved the animal programs, but Angela felt there was too much mating and killing for the little ones), or thinking anything at all. It was all about making the budget work until the next paycheque, keeping the house clean and not smelling of dirty diapers, feeding and clothing the children, keeping them from setting themselves on fire, preparing enough food to keep her family healthy and alert, mediating the endless arguments and feuds, and pretending that she found sex with Joe as wonderful as she had when they were twenty-two.

Then suddenly she was a grandmother, and her brain as fuzzy as her image on the monitor would be for Christopher. She told no one, but once the kids were grown she did consider enrolling in college, maybe even work towards a degree. But who was she kidding? She could barely remember the day of the week, except that she watched two of the grandchildren on Tuesdays and the two others on Saturday. Her life revolved about Tuesdays and Saturdays, and in between she tended to her garden, baked bread and cupcakes for church, tried very hard to fend off the pain in her legs, and watched The National Geographic channel. She was hardly ready for college.

And now she would be, if all had gone well, a great-grandmother. To her dear Christopher’s child.

There would be no privacy when she saw Christopher, not like earlier in the mission. They were so distant that the broadcasts were short and out of sync; and the nature of the mission so significant that she and Christopher had no illusions of a cosy chat, ever again. She missed him more than she had ever revealed, even to him. He was the one who understood her, who talked to her like she had a brain, who asked her for advice and guidance, respected who she was and even what she had become. She didn’t begrudge his decision to leave her. She had the other grandchildren, and, to be honest, she might have left them all for an adventure like the one Christopher had embarked upon.

She settled into the sofa, which was still too soft, in a room with the other crew members’ families. They were a varied bunch, as one could expect, sharing nothing but having had a spouse, parent, or child flung into space. There was a large flat screen monitor on the wall. It crackled to life.

There they were. It had been almost a year since their last communication. The images were quite clear. Christopher looked well-fed, which was a relief, though extremely pale, as they all did. They rushed through their hellos, and updates about their lives and health, so they could present the baby.

Christopher held it. He was the first father of the first child ever born on Buck Owens, as the folks at UNASA jokingly called it. The mother stood beside them. Christopher held the child up to the camera, and it waved its arms and made spit bubbles.

Even in this isolated room, the family members could hear the roar that came out of the main communications pod. A cheer, a roar of joy and amazement, that a baby had been born so very far away, the beginning of a new colony, a new civilization. A fresh start, a miracle, a first citizen of a new world.

The mother said a few words, which were a little indistinct, and then Christopher announced the baby’s name.

Angela.

Katherine, who had been leaning against the wall, came over to the sofa and put her hand on Nona’s shoulder.

Christopher smiled into the camera lens. That goofy smile that had so disarmed her when he was a child himself. He said something, but there was suddenly no sound. Angela knew there was nothing wrong with the monitor, or the broadcast. He was mouthing his childhood phrase, the one he said to her when he burst into the house after exploring the riverbed, or overturned rocks in the tall grass.

“Look what I got for you, Nona!”

She held out two red arms in a gesture of thumbs-up, and hoped Christopher could see her.

The Quiet Room

Prompt: Frivolous

daisy-736549_960_720

Oh! She was special. Every day on the way home from school I would pick a flower: a stem of lilac, a pansy, a white daisy, a spike of sage, from the doctor’s garden and put it on a fence post at her house, so she would find it when she opened the gate.

She wore shorts under her dress so she could play on the monkey bars and hang upside down. She skipped as much as she walked. Her hair was in long braids and they were like ninja weapons when she shook her head. When she was in the quiet room, I simply couldn’t rest, because she illuminated the place like a bonfire.

I told Mrs Henderson I couldn’t sleep. I was too old for naps, I said, and nothing about the way Virginia lit up the room. Mrs Henderson said I need not sleep, but I could “meditate”.

When I got home that day I asked my father what “meditate” meant. He said, “Ask Janice.” It wasn’t that he didn’t know what it meant, he was just too busy to explain it. He was a busy and important man, my mother told me.

Janice didn’t know either so we looked it up in the dictionary, which said “to think deeply or focus one’s mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation.”

So the next time I was in the quiet room with all the others, I lay on my mat and recited this, in my head, over and over:

Virginia loves me, this I know
For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to her belong
They are weak but she is strong.

Yes, Virginia loves me.

I ran into Virginia at a fashion show, years later. She was a stunner. When I managed to get close to her and introduce myself, she said, “Jamie! Of course I remember you. You used to leave dead flowers at my gate every day.” She laughed, and I blushed like I was Jamie instead of James, and she kissed me on the cheek. She still lit up the room.

Neutron Bomb

Prompt: Edge

red paper cup

The alarm clock blew up like a neutron bomb. He felt his head to make sure it hadn’t exploded. So far, so good. One of his “brothers” must have set the alarm as a joke. Some of his “brothers” had questionable senses of humour, and questionable everything, really.

Cash wasn’t sure if he wished to remember more of what went on last night, or less. His t-shirt stank of beer. He was wearing nothing from the waist down, not even undies.

He remembered that after the girls left, they initiated a new member. What had they done? Something with ping pong balls, flashlights, and a pogo stick. He didn’t remember an ambulance, so probably no alcohol poisoning this time.

The fallout from the bomb in his head started to spread down his neck and into his shoulders. Cash kept a bottle of aspirin and a pint of water beside his bed. There was the aspirin, but no water. Standing upright was an impossibility. So he swallowed three aspirin, dry.

This was his life now. Constantly living on the edge. No one but his “brothers” to impress or listen to. No curfews. No restraints. No inhibitions. This was his education, on which they had spent so very much money. The best school. The best brothers. The best parties.

The aspirin made his stomach spasm, and he crawled to the bathroom, just in time.

Footprints

Prompt: Footsteps

stock-photo-footprints-in-deep-snow-and-a-tree-on-horizon-winter-landscape-45808432

I opened the curtains of the window that overlooked the small city park. It was covered in the dense snow that had fallen overnight. Once-tall grasses bent low with the weight. It was early, barely light, and I thought I might crawl back into bed, when I saw a lone woman approach the park.

For some reason I felt compelled to watch her. Maybe it was the way she looked around before she entered the park. Maybe it was her coat, so obviously oversized, or her old-fashioned rubber boots.

She walked carefully in the snow, leaving clear, deep footprints, and made a slow half-circle which took her to the center of the park, where there was a very small, now dry, fountain. Once there, she stood very still for a moment, then began to walk backwards in the precise same footsteps that had taken her there. She held her arms out straight beside her as she carefully backtracked into the footsteps. Slowly, almost losing her balance but righting herself just in time, she reached the footprints at the entrance to the park. She eased backwards into the steps just before they veered off the sidewalk.

She looked at her handiwork. As the sun rose, shadows were cast inside the footprints and they were distinct, tracing a curved path to the fountain where they… disappeared.

Pedestrians might pass and think someone had walked into the park and been taken up into the sky.

She pulled up her collar against the cold, and continued walking down the street. I watched her until she turned a corner, out of sight.

Honesty

Prompt: Fearless

johnpence

The police came to the factory, to interview everyone about the death by murder of Vincent Demarco. It was lunchtime, and almost everyone was in the social club, some playing pool, some talking on the phone, some sitting alone nursing egg sandwiches. Beer wasn’t served at lunch. But you could buy a Coke or a Snapple, or bring your own beverage and store it in the fridge, if you trusted people.

Leep usually brought a carton of chocolate milk. Sometimes it was still in the fridge at lunch, sometimes it wasn’t. People were dishonest, he felt. They proved it all the time, lying to you, stealing milk, and sometimes making fun of you for no reason, while pretending to be your friend. He’d learned that on his own, through experience. He believed you should learn things every day, just by living.

They were interviewing every single person, alone. They would be questioning Leep about Vince, and the night he was shot. In the face. Was that fact reported on the news? Leep thought it was, but wasn’t sure. He wouldn’t mention it unless they did. He would just lay low and try not to be nervous. Try not to show how nervous he was. What if they gave him a lie detector test? Were the results admissible in court? He was pretty sure they were.

Billy was the first to follow them into the manager’s office, vacated so the police could have some privacy. Billy had griped about them cutting into the lunch hour, instead of work time. When he came back from the manager’s office, he was all cocky and smug, because it was over and he knew what they would say, and no one else did.

The wait to be summoned was agonizing. Leep’s stomach was doing flip flops. Finally Brendan returned and said “Your turn, Leep,” rolling a fist into Leep’s upper arm. He pulled away. He wondered how they decided who they would see, in what order. The most suspicious first, or last, or random, to keep everyone off balance?

Mr Duggin’s office was stuffy. There were no windows, and nothing to circulate the air. There were two officers, a heavy-set man and a woman with red hair, neither in uniform. The room smelled of sawdust and fried food. They had Leep sit in a hard-backed chair, while the woman sat in Mr Duggin’s swivel chair and the man sat on the corner of the oak desk.

“Leep, is it?” asked the woman. Her hair was shiny. She hadn’t taken off her overcoat, which was still damp with rain.

He nodded. He decided he wouldn’t volunteer any information. Unless it would make him seem defensive. He would have to be careful about that.

“I’m Inspector Spencer, and this is Inspector Levinson,” she said, nodding to her partner. “How well did you know Vincent?”

“Well we work together,” said Leep.

“Yes, but were you friends, did you see him outside of work?” asked Levinson. He looked like he made a mess of his morning shave. His cheeks and chin looked a bit raw, but a bit stubbly too.

“We went to a hockey game once,” said Leep.

“Did you? When was that?”

“Most of the guys went,” said Leep. “It was the Monday of the long weekend.”

“The guys from the factory,” said Inspector Spencer.

Leep nodded. He felt his palms grow warm, and probably sweaty. He hoped the fact that his heart was pounding didn’t show on his face.

“Where were you on the night of the twenty-second, between eleven pm and midnight?” asked the man.

“Um,” said Leep. He didn’t want it to seem like he had an alibi all worked out ahead of time. “I was at home, I didn’t go out.”

“Home alone?” he asked.

Leep nodded again.

“Did you call anyone, did anyone come to the door, can anyone verify that you were at your home at…” The Inspector checked his notepad. “…411 Lord McAllister?”

“Um,” said Leep. “No, I was just watching TV and that.”

“Do you own a gun, Leep?”

“No, sir.”

“Did you get along with Vincent?”

“Sure.”

“Do you know his wife, Deborah Demarco?”

“I met her a couple of times,” said Leep.

“A very attractive woman,” said the Inspector.

Leep said nothing. Debbie was really pretty, even though she sometimes dressed a bit too sexy, he thought. Sometimes she picked Vince up at the club in just shorts and a cropped top. She had long legs; slim thighs. Leep wondered if Vince really had met her at the adventure camp. She was cheerful, and smiled a lot. Leep guessed she was not cheerful at the moment. He felt sorry about that. At least they didn’t have any children.

“Tell us what happened that night at Toby’s, about a year and a half ago,” said Inspector Spencer.

Leep flushed. It was a while ago, before he started saving up for the vacation. He’d got up the nerve to talk to a girl sitting at the bar. He didn’t know the girl was there with anyone. When he tried to talk to her, the words tumbled out of his mouth and made no sense, and she started to laugh. Then her boyfriend came over, and he laughed too. He was not threatened by Leep. As if Leep would be of interest to his girlfriend. Ha, it was a ridiculous thought. So they laughed, and Leep punched him in the face.

The police were called, and he got a warning, and had to leave. But they didn’t arrest him or anything, and so he wondered how these two knew about it. Someone must have said something.

So Leep told them a version of the story; that he had too much to drink and approached a girl, and a fight broke out with her boyfriend. That was normal enough, right?

“Do you often lose your temper?” asked Levinson.

Leep felt a bit sick. He wished they would at least open the door, let in some air.

“No I just had a few beers,” he said.

“Are you sure you didn’t leave the house that night?” asked the woman.

Leep hesitated. What if someone had seen him walking around? He felt like he might choke if he said something. He took a deep breath, though, and said he didn’t think so.

“You’re not sure?” she asked.

“Pretty sure,” said Leep.

Inspector Levinson stood up and extended his hand. “That’s all for now, Leep,” he said.

Leep stood up too and instinctively took the Inspector’s hand to shake it. Then he pulled his hand back.

Leep’s palm was ice cold, but wet with sweat. Levinson stared at him.

“Could you ask Wayne to come in?” said Levinson. His face betrayed nothing, not that he thought Leep was lying or telling the truth, or if his hand was unusually sweaty and that was a sign, or if he thought Leep was a violent type because of that boyfriend at Toby’s. Did he know that some people called him Leep the Creep? Would any of the guys tell him that? Would they search his house for a gun? Would he ask Debbie if Leep ever stared at her? He didn’t, he really didn’t. Vince liked to think that he envied him, but he really didn’t stare at her. She was not  his type.

Leep went back to the lunch area. There was no one there; lunch was over. So he found Wayne on the floor and passed along the message. Then he went to the men’s room, and vomited into the toilet.

__

Image: johnpence.com