Two roommates

Two roommates were avoiding each other. One would come, the other would leave. It was month four in a six month lease. One night noise outside brought them both to a window.

They watched, straining their eyes. The noise ceased. One turned the corner to get a glass of water. The sink was full.

Can’t you wash your dishes?

You told me not to run the dishwasher until there was enough for a load.

I can’t even live here anymore. This is rotting, not living.

They couldn’t talk without an intermediary. The involuntary: the coughs, the shuffling, clearing the throat, slouching; became intolerable.

Once he came home late, stomping. He beat his head against the wall. He screamed Stupid, blind. He pounded the washer, he spun in place and struck himself on the chest and head. He shouted: Virgin forever.

Glass was smashed and other damage done in the basement hallway that night. Next morning, the debris was neatly piled up in the shower. They hadn’t talked since.

Coming out from the kitchen, he saw the other in a bathrobe. It hung open, and his gaze wandered down; he scowled in disgust and they turned away from each other.

Then they met in his office. No bathrobe, no slouching. We should get together sometime. Yes, definitely. You’re looking well. No, I’ve been gaining weight.

I have to get back to work. I have to go.

He spun his chair back to the window, he turned the corner to the stairwell.


The new temp didn’t seem very bright. Just something about him. He’d taught English in Korea and now he was home: he would always talk about that, or anime. The two ran together in the minds of the permanent staff.

He said the culture was different, it wasn’t easy to live that way. He would just get tired. At the first he loved being strange. He could say what he wanted. But now he would rather be home where things made sense, and relax.

It was suspicious, somehow. Did he have to talk so much? He was answering what nobody asked him. Was he stupid? You look up, and he was standing with his mouth open.

He didn’t seem to catch on to the work. What he could manage, he did slowly, and he filed the papers out of order and mis-stamped things, no matter what you did. And there was something superior in his attitude.

He was standing behind the older temp one day. He’d had to vacate his cubicle temporarily for repair work. He was standing there, staring at her back, whenever she looked, for half an hour. The work director passed by.

Were you needing some work, she said. He mumbled something. They went into another room. Later in the day the older temp asked where he had gone. He won’t be coming back. A frightened look across her face. We had to let him go, said the manager. She made a defensive gesture near her chest.

Let that be a lesson

Two children, one of them in a brown cap, it might have been a girl, were kicking a beach ball up in the air, back and forth. It would go up quickly, weaving side to side like an inflatable buoy against the mottled blue backdrop of the sky. It would complete the curve, drifting down slowly.

They ran up and down on either side of a green asphalt tennis court with a saggy, torn net. For all the attention they paid one another, they might have been side by side or miles apart – they were watching the ball. The surface showed a map of the world in bright, unhealthy color. The surface was divided into twelve longitudinally, like long cantaloupe slices. The sea was pointillist blue.

The nearer child, probably a boy, kicked at it too hard and lost his balance. He fell on his back, the ball bouncing behind him. The large-eyed, bearded man with that had been observing them trotted quickly after it. He bent and picked it up in one hand.

Eight countries in a row across sub-Saharan Africa had been colored the same pinky orange, and the borders of a small middle eastern country did not appear, its name showing in a non-specific location. The child that fell had rolled over and both were watching him. He made sure. He unplugged the north pole and squeezed from east and west until the ball was a limp pankcake between his large palms and his long, thin fingers.

Transition dialogue

A: You’re on your way now. It’s finally begun! That process that you have been waiting on for so long is finally gearing up. You must be in a strange state. How does it feel?

B: It’s strange to be in between. I’m not here any longer, I’m not there yet. I can’t really relax. It is a strange state, it’s like not being any state at all. It is exactly like not being in any state at all.

A: Don’t you feel a little bit here, and a little bit there, both at the same time? That is what change is all about, after all. Isn’t it being in two different states at once, so you have aspects of both and aspects of neither; isn’t it a new and exciting mixture?

B: Right, like when I ride the bus in the morning, I am at one and the same time already at work and still at home. Or actually, not at all. A transition is another kind of beast entirely from its start and its end. It has nothing to do with either stationary state, exactly because it’s not what they are, stationary. Like being on a bus, the process of transition is bumpy and irregular, and requires a heightened degree of attention and awareness. Now imagine it is a new bus route, and you only have a few loosely-described landmarks to watch for. Does that sound comfortable?

A: Huh. Because the impression I had from you before was more like this: you are loosening your grip on your present life, in order to shift and reach out for someting new. You talked about living in a tunnel, a cold, dark, wet tunnel, for so long, crawling and crawling and never seeming to get anywhere, and then you get a whiff of fresh air, warm, dry air. It sounded like a pleasant prospect. I could see you becoming expansive as you talked. Now you don’t seem pleasant, or I mean pleased.

B: Fear and restlessness look like energy, because they are energy. Regardless, they aren’t pleasant.

C (to A): Do you think he has really changed at all or is in any process of change? It looks to me as though he is where he was, just as before, only he is unsure about his prospects, which is why he talks about change so much, and dresses it up in such varied costumes, to frighten himself or flatter himself and see which one he thinks it looks best in, or he looks best in.

An early fall afternoon

From an elevation in the sandpit you commanded the playground. There was a train of boys running after a train of girls. It was shapes and activity. One girl seemed to stand still in the center of it. She held her eyes tight closed. He raised a sliver of bark above his head. It was his sword of justice.

He fell upon the group shouting, holding his weapon, he flew down from the hill with air rushing past his scalp. He felt glee and power as he chased. Older boys shouted after him, he felt the sun. He was a good runner. With a sudden burst of speed he caught up with and tackled a boy. He heard cheers. The wind was rushing past and he was strong.

He pinned his shoulders to the ground. Underneath him, he rolled like a snake. He couldn’t keep hold, and lost control of the wriggling, struggling thing. He reached out and bit the neck, hard. The boy grabbed at his head and yanked, and slid out and escaped in disarray. He stood and walked proud.

He passed the older boys again, on the rise before the school. You fight dirty. Didn’t you see him bite? And here came the monitor. His smirking grimace looked severe. Who is your teacher. He was delivered to his classroom. He saw fear cross the face of the stiff girl, who kept her eyes turned away. His hands were dirty and left marks on his workbook and forehead.

The lodger’s money

Trying something a little different here: write a story keep it at exactly 250 words. We’ll see how it goes. Just trying to keep things simple for now.

The mother and her daughter were sitting at the small table by the window in the otherwise empty kitchen. The lodger came in and sat down. The mother yanked closed the curtain on the window that looked on the road. She turned to her daughter: did she have anything to say for herself? The daughter continued to stare at the lodger. She sat curving her spine, contrary to her recent, conscious habit. Her mother repeated the question. She bent further forward, her head tilted back and her broad chin elevated. She kept her small teeth tight together. The silence acted as a goad on him, and he jerked forward in his chair.

So it is nothing to you? Is it nothing that you have ruined our relationship? You have made everything rotten. Do you have nothing to say to me? The mother looked at him out of the side of her eye. She sat for a moment, then sent the daughter out of the room.

She said, I ask myself, what have I done wrong? Does she fear me so much, she couldn’t come to me? The lodger interrupted her. But she isn’t afraid of me, I would have given it to her if she had asked. She knew that.

The mother accepted and dismissed it with a gesture: her hand, curled slightly, came in to her body, palm up; then it rotated and, flat, palm down, and went out straight to her side. She knew it, she knew it.