Surnames Through the Ages [Repost]

Prompt: Telephone

hotel maid

The first Thursday of every month they meet at a hotel, a different hotel every time, according to the order they appear in the old 2014 telephone directory. They alternate procuring reservations and paying in cash for one night’s accommodation and register under names selected in alphabetical order from the book Surnames Through the Ages, in the chapter, ”Most Common”.

They don’t speak to one another, except in private sign language. When they arrive, they turn on the television, fairly loud, and then play a recording on a device that she brings in her bag. The recording is mostly silent, with the occasional cough, or snore, or flush of a toilet.

They make love soundlessly.

Until one Thursday when they check in under the name “Sullivan” at the Post and Pigeon Boutique Hotel near the farmers’ market.

So intense is their passion that they both cry out at once. In horror they dress quickly, and leave separately, never to meet again.


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Home Alone [Repost]

Prompt: Bedtime

laundry basket with hand

I was so terrified the first night I had to be alone in the apartment that I tried to keep busy, and even to tire myself out.

I took two loads of laundry back and forth from the communal laundry room, which was frightening in itself. A laundry room in the basement of a public building? Perfect bloody crime scene. It was a dim, colourless and chill room, despite the running of the dryers. There were no windows and one of the two lightbulbs was perpetually out, so I could barely see my shadow as I unloaded the last pile of clean clothes into a basket. I gagged at the combination of the First Day of Spring dryer sheet smell and the scent of damp dust that clogged the ventilation screen.

There was a thin film of grime on the concrete floor: Did no one ever clean this place? And for some reason there was a large once-clean plastic tarp stuffed in the corner of the room. I tried not to imagine what it was for, or consider that someone might have placed it there with deliberation, for a future purpose.

There was one entrance to the laundry room through a heavy door which was supposed to lock but didn’t. Once closed, no one in the building could hear a person scream.

Oh lord. I ran up the stairs with my basket of laundry, didn’t even take the elevator, and then slammed the door so hard once safely upstairs and in the apartment again, that the dishes in the kitchen cupboard rattled.

I vacuumed the apartment and cleaned out the inside of the dishwasher with a pitcher of water mixed with Alka-Seltzer, since I couldn’t remember what my sister told me about some naturally fizzy cleaning solution. I tried to phone her but there was no answer. I hoped she would call back, even if she thought I was asleep. As if I could sleep.

They say some serial killers operate over 10, 20, even 40 years, stalking their victims and getting to know them just enough to gain their confidence. Then boom! Look out. I didn’t care who came to the door, I would not open it. Not even if it was the kindly old woman who lived on the first floor, and whom I nodded to if I saw her in the hallway. I had never seen her face close up. She could have been anyone.

Sometime the serial killers took souvenirs of their victims. God, I didn’t want to think about it. They usually liked a type. Were there any murders over the past 40 years of young, freckly, red-headed women? I was almost sure there was. I was a type, a popular murder-victim type. Shit.

You couldn’t talk them out of it either. They were psychopaths, or something. They didn’t care. You couldn’t appeal to their conscience or sentimental side because they didn’t have either. I could say I had to live because my child was in the Intensive Care Unit weeping for her mother. A serial killer would laugh. You just had no chance. You had to hope your serial killer would at least be quick, not one that keep their prey locked up and…

The phone rang. Thank god, maybe it was my sister. Maybe she would come over. But when I got to the phone, there was no one there, just a dial tone. A dial tone!

It was after 10 pm, who would call and just hang up? No one I knew would do that. The security guy in the lobby at work, the older one with the comb-over and the big hands, would have access to my phone number, and he had been staring at me. Yesterday he had started to wave at me, but I was distracted and ignored him. Maybe that triggered something. It didn’t take much to trigger a psychopathic serial killer.

But maybe it wasn’t a serial killer. Who wanted me dead? My mind raced. Gregory at work didn’t like me. I got promoted before he did. I didn’t like him either; he wore too much cologne. Was lusting after a job enough motivation for a brutal murder? It was in films and TV. Some people were just very ambitious.

I took a hot shower to calm my nerves. That was a bad idea, for obvious reasons. I showered with the bathroom door open, and the shower curtain undrawn, so water got everywhere and if the killer was in the apartment he would have seen me naked. How was that supposed to help?

When I started to dial my sister’s number, I realized it was now close to 11 pm. She would be in bed, and start to worry about a call so late, and for what? Her younger sister, with a foolish, overactive imagination, panicking about nothing. Calm down, you silly bitch. Calm. Down.

So I watched a recording of Love, Actually before I went to bed, to get my mind off the dark and onto the frothy, but I discovered I hated that movie. What was I thinking? Hugh Grant was just a big pain in the ass. They all were.

It was too warm in the bedroom, but I dared not open a window.

A sleeping pill. No, better not. I was tired, my bones ached from weariness. It had been a long day. I was desperate for sleep. But who could sleep? I was a common serial killer victim type. They took souvenirs. I was completely alone. Someone was stalking me by phone.

Who had called? Did Gregory want me dead? Was the old lady really old, really a lady? Why hadn’t I been more friendly to the security guy at work? What was that noise? Why didn’t my sister call back? What was that big plastic tarp doing in the laundry room? Was I about to die?

…Finally, morning. Finally. Finally, daylight.

I put some coffee on, my hands trembling and weak, then went to get the newspaper. When I opened the apartment door, I noticed something. In my rush to get back into the apartment from the laundry room, I had left my key in the lock of the door. There was a pink feather dangling from it, and my key to the mailbox, and a mini-flashlight.

My key was in the lock of the outside of the door, and had been there all night.

I immediately called my sister, who, in her always empathetic way, shared my complete horror at my mistake, and didn’t laugh when I burst into tears.

Still, why had my serial killer spared me? I pondered this for the entire subway ride to work.

 


  • Original Prompt: Misstep, March 12, 2016

Westmalle [Repost]

Prompt: Love

blue-crayon

Leep blushed so hard that his ears burned. The lights had just been dimmed, and the servers were going around the restaurant lighting table candles. Amanda had disappeared to the Ladies’ Room shortly after they sat down, when the light was brighter. She would return to a romantic, candle-lit environment.

Why had she gone as soon as they sat down? Maybe she called a girlfriend, complaining that she had to spend time with someone like Leep. He wore a clean shirt, white with thin blue stripes, freshly ironed, but his pants were the dark ones, the ones he wore to Ham and Dolly’s wedding, and the night he shot Hootie in the ass. They hadn’t been to the dry cleaners since. Maybe they emitted horrible, bloody vibes, that every one in the room could feel. He blushed some more.

The restaurant was near full, no music or distraction except the mellow, muted buzz of conversation. A server came and stood in front of Leep. “May I bring you and the lady something to drink?” he asked.

“Water,” said Leep, and the server disappeared. Should he have ordered wine? The waiter was probably sneering at him behind his back. He didn’t know anything about wine, or anything about what Amanda liked to drink. Did they have to drink? This was a business meeting after all. But why here, in this place?

“I’ve always wanted to eat here,” said Amanda with a smile, as she sat down and pulled the chair closer. “Really nice, isn’t it?” They both looked around. It was modern, clean, with large shuttered windows and pools of lights in the corners, and sets of three candles on each table.

They both picked up the menu and began reading. Leep blushed at the silence. The food looked strange and expensive. He would stick to what he knew. Salad and a steak, if he could find them.

“Do you have Belgian beer?” he asked when the server came around a second time to enquire about alcohol. Amanda had ordered a glass of Pinot Noir. Leep knew a bit about beer now, and the server, startled, opened the wine list to the back page.

“I believe…” the server said uncertainly.

“Yes, here. I will have the Westmalle.” Leep pointed. He’d never tasted a Belgian Tripel.

“I’m flattered that you want me to be your editor,” Amanda said when the server backed away.

“I can pay you,” Leep said.

“Yes, but—“

“I have an investor,” said Leep. “I can afford to self-publish ‘The Blue Rabbit’. Did you get the manuscript with all the ideas?”

“But you see, I work for Panhandle Press, which does not do self-publishing.”

“I know,” said Leep. “This is separate.”

Leep ordered the house salad even though it had pecans in it, which Leep didn’t like, and which was the cheapest appetizer on the menu, and the Porterhouse steak, which was the most expensive entree on the menu. Amanda ordered eggplant gnocchi and the sea bass special.

“I love the idea of supplying a blue crayon with each book so the children can colour the blue rabbit themselves,” said Amanda.

“You do?” Leep blushed. His skin was tired of blushing, and the dressing on the salad was too sweet.

“Yes, perhaps we can do a board book, so the colour can be wiped off as many times as they want,” said Amanda.

“And the story?”

“Improved.”

Leep had to admit the steak was darn good. They were thinking about dessert, or another drink, or coffee, when someone screamed.

It was strange, Leep thought, how something as loud and shocking as a scream yields to a suspended silence, a void, a vacuum that sucks up breath and speech. There the silence hung, for long milliseconds, until the room came alive with movement and talk and shouting.

“Oh my god,” said Amanda.

People seemed to be rushing about, and a wall of staff hid the source of the scream, a table near the window. A few minutes later, an ambulance sounded.

“What happened?” Amanda asked the waiter when he returned to talk about cheesecake. He said someone was ill, nothing to do with the food. “Did you see anything, Leep?”

“No,” said Leep. Then to the server: “Bring the check.”

“Leep, it is my treat,” said Amanda. “You are my client now. It is tax-deductible.”

Through the window they could just see a gurney, plump with a strapped-in body, being loaded into the ambulance. It disappeared with lights flashing but no siren.

Leep had himself an editor, his own editor, who liked his ideas and, for the most part, his book. He tasted a Westmalle Tripel for the first time. Someone got sick or died and upset the universe of the restaurant and distracted attention away from Leep and his failings. His meal was tax-deductible. Amanda didn’t seem to hate him and probably did not complain about him to her girlfriend when she went to the Ladies’ Room.

This was the best date he had ever been on.


Swedish Rock and Roll [Repost]

Prompt: Health

headphones

Gordon Ping was angry.

He shaved with a hand razor, examining with disgust the crusty lines deepening around his mouth and eyes. He dressed carefully for work, re-ironing the pair of grey polyester trousers that he’d worn the day before. He wore a white polo shirt fresh out of the dryer, which smelled of lilacs. He disliked the smell of lilacs. His ex-wife left the box of dryer sheets and he was frugally using them up, and now the odor made him angry, too.

She said she didn’t like the way he looked anymore. She said his face and body told stories about his insides the way a house exterior says much about its occupants. Fuck her. He wasn’t a thatched cottage (far from it, as his hair was thinning too)— he was a man with man challenges and man problems. Maybe he didn’t spill his guts to this woman at every turn: that was down to her. She questioned his version of events, his opinions, his decisions to such an extent that it was no longer valuable to share with her. If he wanted nit-picking judgements he’d go talk to his boss.

Thomas Agent, rich asshole and micro-manager. All Gordon did was put on a cheap royal blue smock and push a cart of external mail and inter-office packages around the four floors of the company, but Agent personally conducted his three-month review and later, his annual review.

“Tell me, Gordon” — who said he could use his first name? Presumptuous asshole. “Tell me, what do you find the most challenging about your job?”

Nothing is fucking challenging about being a fucking mail boy at age 48 except the fucking people, like you. “I find many of the employees distracting. They start chatting and slow me down. It’s hard to complete my daily tasks.” Daily tasks. A helpful term he’d learned at his first review.

“And what do you see as a resolution to this problem?” Thomas Agent was a man who thought he was subtle but was as transparent as cling film. Still, he had no eyebrows, which threw Gordon off balance at times. They’d been permanently singed and traumatized into non-existence after his briefcase exploded. The authorities believed his tale of ignorance as to where the bomb came from, which seemed lazy and complacent. Anyway, he was actually lucky to be alive.

He was lucky, period. Gordon Ping had more education than this son of a bitch, but far less luck. Health problems: diabetes, lung cancer, and a host of allergies kept him off the upward ladder, and he found himself having to start over again and again. He was introverted and some mistook this for pride or disdain, which slowed his progress. Who wants to promote or work for an unlikeable man? Well, guess what? His introversion did develop into pride and disdain— why not? He was better, smarter than most of the delusional, self-serving morons he lived and worked among. He learned to hide his disdain until it was simply no longer possible. Thus his wife telling him that his face now betrayed him, and broadcast his bitter contempt instead of hiding it.

She was a hypocrite in her own right. Pretending to be feminist but refusing to help support him after the divorce. If he’d been the main breadwinner you can bet he would have had to pay alimony. But no, she could afford the lawyers and he was recovering from a collapsed lung— no contest.

So he found himself sitting faux-humbly before Thomas Agent as he sipped tea infused with ginseng, believing it to have life-enhancing properties, discussing the challenges of dropping packages clearly addressed with the recipient’s name and location to the correct cubicle.

“Well, Mr Agent,” said Gordon.

“Call me Tom, for heaven’s sake, Gordon.”

Gordon closed his eyes for two seconds. “What I see as a resolution to the challenges of my job, is: headphones.”

“Headphones?”

“Ms Cohen thinks I need to be alert and that headphones could cause mishap,” said Gordon. “I’ve asked several times.”

“Good,” said Thomas Agent. “I see where headphones could help you do your job more efficiently; thank you for the input. This could resolve the issue of complaints of slow mail delivery etc, that we’ve received about your work, Gordon.”

And so it was that Gordon Ping, 48, divorced, angry, disillusioned, got a pair of inexpensive Philips On-Ear Sound Isolating headphones, which while not high quality, did a superb job of allowing Gordon to ignore conversation, so he was able to push his little trolley among four identical floors and deliver his mail without having to communicate with humans, and instead listened to Swedish rock and roll.

It is hard to be angry when listening to Swedish rock and roll.


Agony Ant: Neanderthal Poetry [Repost]

Prompt: Save

moose

Dear Agony Ant,

My boyfriend is a Neanderthal.

He keeps himself relatively clean, but has the worst teeth, as in some are missing, some are loose, and some are sharp. This means that our love-making is perilous and often painful and bloody, though is quite spectacular in other regards.

Yes, he should see a dentist, but is deathly afraid of them. He is also afraid of small spaces, lightning, automobiles, cats, plastic, and electricity.

He is also not much of a conversationalist, choosing to “do” rather than “say”. I can’t claim he doesn’t communicate well, but I am a bit of romantic, and love poetry. I really wish he would one day say in words how he feels about me. He has never told me he loves me, but I suspect he does.

We are trying to decide whether to live together. I am a bit of a neat freak, and he is quite the opposite. He rabidly sticks to his paleo diet, while I am vegetarian.

I am no spring chicken, and he might be my one shot at true happiness, commitment, and baby Neanderthals.

How can I tell if we should move in together?

Yours truly,
Sentimental Lover


 

Dear Sentimental Lover,

That’s quite a catch you have there. I am kidding. The heart has reasons, and all that.

If you are willing to overlook the little quirks, like his lack of speech and fear of plastic, because you love each other, then all the power to you. I’m sure he overlooks your flaws, like your use of electric lights and toothpaste.

But, he owes you some proof of his true affection and romantic feelings. Demand that he write you a love poem. If he can overcome his shyness about communicating his feelings, then I believe you can be a brilliant match, despite your differences in diet.

Peace and love,
agony ant


 

Dear Agony Ant,

He did it! He wrote me a love poem. It made me cry. Do you think it proves his sincerity?

I am hunter
You are womb
You are beautiful like skinned moose
Pink
Juicy
Fill belly.

Yours truly,
Sentimental Lover


 

Dear Sentimental Lover,

It made me cry too. Anyway, the sincerity is definitely there.

Good luck as you start your romantic adventure cohabiting, and possibly, marriage, children, and growing old together.

May I suggest you relocate to a city with legalized marijuana?

Peace and love,
agony ant


  • Original Prompt: False, July 8, 2016

Bob’s Brain [Repost]

Prompt: Ready

burning_book-t2

“I know I could probably do better than you, physically speaking,” Bob said. “We all have  our levels of attractiveness, and it’s funny that we rarely stray, either up or down, from those levels.”

So, Envy thought, could this be why such a presentable, almost handsome young man was never in a lasting relationship? He was a tall man, strong, broad in the shoulders and wide in stance, like a football player, with a fair complexion and neatly trimmed chocolate brown hair. His manner was open and friendly— always smiling, as he was now, with wonderful, traditional manners. He liked to open doors, take the curb side when walking, pay the tabs, bring a rose or a bottle of rosé when he picked up a lady for a date.

But he seemed to have no filter. Was that a result of indulgent parenting? Cluelessness? A disinclination towards self-examination? Maybe no one had ever called him on his proclivity for unnecessary truth-telling.

“Excuse me?” said Envy. They had stopped at a neighbourhood pub, halfway between the stadium and the car, on their way home. It was extremely dark, not as crowded as it should be, and the bartender seemed to be hoarding ice. Envy’s gin and tonic was flat and warm.

“Oh, don’t take it the wrong way,” said Bob.

“How should I take it?”

Bob leaned over and kissed Envy on the cheek. She pulled away. He said, “It can’t be a huge surprise to you, Envy. I met your sister-in-law. She is a model. You are not a model. It’s not a big deal, why do you mind?”

“If you think you can do better than me, physically, I think you should,” said Envy. Of course it was no surprise to her. She was distinctly un-beautiful: her eyes and nose and mouth were placed as if God had randomly thrown these features from a distance onto her face. She tended to have very sensitive skin, so it was rarely smooth and without blemish. She would never be taller, and, she suspected, would never be thinner.

When he’d picked her up at her new condo that evening, she was ready, coat in hand. She took the bottle of rosé and set in on top of a large cardboard carton. The hallway and living room were still stacked with boxes waiting to be unpacked. Bob peered in. “Bit of a hoarder, are we?” he said. She took that remark, and so many others, as if it was a joke. But no, it was not a random joke, it was just Bob’s brain spewing out unfiltered comments like a leaky faucet.

Well, this time it hurt.

“That was a hurtful remark,” Envy said. Bob started to order her another gin and tonic but she put her hand over his and shook her head. “I’d like to go home.”

“You could tell me I have a big nose, I wouldn’t be hurt if it was true,” Bob said, and then, as if he realized the weakness of the analogy, he made the mistake of expanding. “I just believe in honesty. I don’t lie, Envy. It’s not my style. I wasn’t trying to hurt your feelings. I wouldn’t be hurt if you said something I thought was negative, because if I am honest I have to expect honesty in return.”

“I am telling you something negative. You say hurtful things and don’t care. You don’t have to share your every passing thought, especially when it is hurtful. Of course I know I’m not beautiful. We ugly ones are the smart ones, remember? Sometimes, crazy as it sounds, I don’t need to be reminded about the fact that I’m not pretty, like when I’m out on a date.”

Bob had the grace to look surprised. “But you are pretty.”

“But you could do so much better.” Envy stood up and put her coat on. Instinctively, Bob helped guide her arms into the sleeves.

“Not so much better,” said Bob, unadvisedly. “I mean—“

“Just take me home, Bob,” Envy said, sighing.

They walked the rest of the way to the car without speaking. This seemed to be the pattern for all her attempts at relationships, since Marcus. A conflict, then silence, then the last chapter finished and the book closed. And burned.

But as Bob started the car, he turned to her and said, “I’ve wanted to kiss you and touch you since I first laid eyes on you. I said the wrong thing. Here’s the right thing: you are not a model, but are the sexiest woman I have ever met. Will you come back to my house and allow me to make love to you?”

Envy stared back at him. She couldn’t help but wonder: Did he finally understand that the truth is not always expedient?

Was he telling the truth now?


  • Original Prompt: Lukewarm, February 12, 2017.

64 Thousand Dollar Question [Repost]

Prompt: React

orange is tnb

“Misandry isn’t a ‘thing’,” said August. “It’s a reaction to misogyny.”

Seven women sat in a circle on grey folding chairs for their weekly “Search Inside Myself” session with Dr Whitley, who named the program without much thought to the sense of humour of incarcerated women. Some were there solely because of the name of the group, and had no interest in exploring personal or sexuality issues. Their attendance was noted, and they looked upon Dr Whitley as naive, unintelligent, and laughable. These were incentive enough to encourage their weekly attendance.

“What do you mean, August?” asked Dr Whitley. She wore a cream coloured skirt and a black jacket. She always looked well-pressed. The rest of the women were clad in slightly rumpled charcoal grey two-piece uniforms, stamped with the institution’s initials on the back in sunny yellow, and with their names on badges stuck with velcro to the front of their uniforms.

“There aren’t women who hate men. Women hate what men do sometimes, but not the men.”

“Amen,” said Agnes. She was thinking of her husband, Armand, whom she didn’t realize was cheating on her at that very moment.

Miss Fisher spoke up. “There are women who hate men.” She had lost a few pounds in prison for the multiple murders, but still looked well for a woman of her age, and was far from frail. “For example,” she said, “I feel I am a misandrist. I am afraid, and regretful, that I truly do hate men. I honestly didn’t know there was a word for it until I attended this, um, group meeting.”

Search Inside Myself,” said Bonnie helpfully.

“How could you hate half the population?” August asked. She was approximately half Miss Fisher’s age. “You have reason to hate some men, but not all men.”

“I can because I do,” said Miss Fisher. “I didn’t always feel this way, but circumstances, life experiences, observations, and research have led me to conclude that the world would be a better place without men.”

“Amen,” said Bonnie, who was serving twelve years for poisoning her boyfriend.

“You hate little boys? Toddlers? Gandhi?”

“Of course I don’t hate little boys,” said Miss Fisher, smiling benignly. “But I do hate what they become. I never hated the young men in my classes, and it is tragic that they grew into men.”

“As opposed to what?” August asked.

“Decent people.”

“Many decent people are men.”

“I respectfully and regretfully disagree.”

“Do you,” said Dr Whitley, “regret the murders you committed? Are you sorry for the men you killed, and for their families?”

Miss Fisher paused. “That is the 64 thousand dollar question, isn’t it?” she said amiably. She would hardly confess to any deed or feeling to a prison doctor with both a smart phone and a ballpoint pen, without careful consideration.

“What’s that?” asked Bonnie. “The 64 thousand dollar question?”

“It means a question at the gist of a matter,” said Miss Fisher. “It refers to a game show popular in the 50s, called The 64 Thousand Dollar Question, in which the contestants had the chance to win prize money by answering a series of questions.”

“Before your time, Bonnie,” said Agnes. “It’s like Trivial Pursuit.”

“What’s that?” asked Bonnie.

“Can we please get back to the discussion at hand?” said Dr Whitley in what she perceived was an kindly yet authoritative tone of voice.

“Let’s continue Searching Inside Ourselves,” said a woman named Tricia. Dr Whitley looked at her sharply. She had never spoken in group before.

Miss Fisher smiled.


  • Original Prompt: Frail, July 18, 2016.
  • Image: Orange is the New Black, Netflix.