Bad publicity

752 words

Once again, never got to the prompt. But if I continue, it’ll get there, I promise. I enjoyed writing this one. Don’t know where it came from, but I have a tip for you: if you want to build suspense, make sure you have absolutely NO IDEA where your story is going. (I have no clue what’s on that drone or what, specifically, The Coil or the Middle are, in case you’re wondering.)

 

She dispatched the drone. It lifted off, whirring like an insect into the sun, joining the murmuration on their way to deliver their cargo.

“It’s called a ‘fervor,’” she said, shielding her eyes from the light. She’d already lost track of which drone was hers.

“What is?” he asked. He didn’t bother to look up from his glass.

She pointed upward. “A collection of drones. You know. Like how a group of geese is called a ‘gaggle’ or crows a ‘murder.’”

“A murder, huh?” He squinted at the sky. The drones danced in choreographed dips and curves, morphing into continuous, fluid shapes like a kaleidoscope. “That’s some Poe-level shit right there.” He shoved his glass into his back pocket. “I hope you know what you’re doing, Daisy.”

She stared at the horizon. “I don’t,” she said, “not at all. But it was the best thing I could think of to do with what I had. The Coil will take it from there.”

“And what if you’re wrong?” he said, sticking his hand in his pocket to join the glass. He didn’t remove it, but just feeling its smooth surface calmed him. Sending a drone was not a small thing.

She shrugged. He could tell she was trying to make the gesture look casual, but he knew she was scared. “Well, Yavin, I guess if I’m wrong, then you’ll be taking care of Panto.”

Yavin winced. He hated cats. And though he supposed Panto wasn’t quite as bad as others he’d met, that was like saying a black widow spider wasn’t quite as venomous as others. “Then I guess you’d better be right.”

Daisy shrugged again. The cloud of drones had moved on. She noticed they seemed to gather in waves like that. Of course, you’d see one or two at a time, that wasn’t unusual. But it was as if, at certain times of the day, citizens would suddenly and collectively decide it was time to send a drone. She couldn’t specifically remember what made her launch her drone at that exact time, but judging by the size of the fervor, it wasn’t an original thought. She pulled out her own glass and checked her drone’s progress. It has already landed, though its contents hadn’t yet been unloaded.

Yavin looked over her shoulder. “How long until you know?”

“At least a day or two. It hasn’t even been queued yet.” She frowned. “I wish I’d sent it earlier,” she said, tucking her glass into her shoulder bag.

“And I wish you’d sent it later. Or not at all.” Yavin stared at the darkening sky, but the drones were long gone. “I need to go. Can we start walking?”

“Sure,” Daisy said. She looped her arm in Yavin’s and bumped him playfully with her hip. “Look. I know this is a serious thing. But all of the evidence is in order. You saw it. You agreed.”

“I know I did,” Yavin said. “But that doesn’t make it something you need to go to The Coil about. This could have been handled at a lower level.”

“Oh yeah?” Daisy stopped short, her entwined arm preventing Yavin from going any further. “Okay, then. What would have made it ‘Coil-worthy’? Should I have let this get progressively worse?” Daisy unlocked her arm from Yavin’s, and stood in front of him. “Should I have let them take more from me? Like maybe my artifacts?”

“No, of course—“

“Like maybe my parents?”

Yavin’s face paled. “They can’t do that.”

“They can,” she said. “I’ve seen it happen.”

“To who?”

Daisy turned her back to him and started walking. Yavin caught up and took her gently by the elbow. “To who, Daisy?”

She sighed. “You remember Farren? She used to live down the street from me?”

“Sure. She moved away.”

Daisy shook her head. “No. That’s what they told everyone. Farren was able to get a message to me. One of the backchannels. Kite? You heard of it?”

He grimaced. “Yeah, I know some people who use that.” He eyed Daisy. “That’s dangerous stuff, Daisy. You could get caught and—“

“Using Kite isn’t the point, Yavin,” she waved her hand impatiently. “The point is they came and took her parents. They just… took them.”

Yavin looked at his feet. “I had no idea,” he said. “Poor Farren. Do you know what happened to her?”

“Yeah,” Daisy said, kicking a stone out of her path. “They placed her in the Middle. As far as I know, she’s still there. Her Kite account was deactivated. And you know that’s not good.”

 

It doesn’t fit anymore

805 words

This is a lot of “blah blah blah.” I honestly don’t know where it would go if someone were to force me to continue writing this. I’d probably have someone bust through the diner’s doors, Pulp Fiction-style, just to save me and everyone reading from terminal boredom. 

Chloe pushed her tea away, only to pull it back and cup it with both hands. It was cold and overly sweet. She’d dumped too much sugar because of nervousness, and it collected in the bottom like silt. But if she were anxious, it didn’t show. She sat in the diner booth calmly, the only sign of anything amiss was the expression on her face: her lips were pursed and taut. She looked as if she were trying to keep her body perfectly still, keeping the mug in front of her as a shield.

“I don’t get it,” he said, leaving his own tea untouched. “You said you were fine. You said we were fine. You sat there in front of the counselor and said the words, ‘I think we’re going to be okay.’ Was that a lie, Chloe? Because what you’re saying now, this is not okay. Not by a long shot.”

“I didn’t lie, Ethan,” Chloe said. “It wasn’t a lie.”

“Well, it wasn’t the truth. You don’t go from ‘everything is fine’ to ‘it’s over’ in a week. That’s not possible. Even for you.” Ethan sat back on the vinyl cushion. His fingers found a split in the seat, and he played with it until it widened enough to put his hand inside. He pulled bits of spidery stuffing from the tear, and let it float the floor beneath the table. He had no idea he was doing it.

“Ethan,” Chloe said. “I did say we were going to be okay. I just didn’t mean… together.” She looked up at Ethan, then back down at her tea.

Ethan nodded rhythmically as if he were listening to a slow song, preferably one about a relationship ending. “That’s some impressive semantic bullshitting, Chloe, I have to say. Pretty slick.” Under the table, cotton was collecting around Ethan’s feet in drifts.

“Why?” Ethan said. It was clear he was struggling to keep his emotions under control but tears were squeezing out of the corners of his eyes, more with frustration and rage than sorrow.

Chloe sighed and slowly spun her mug in a circle. “We don’t fit anymore. It doesn’t work. We’ve tried, and this thing we had? It doesn’t fit anymore.”

“Oh, all of a sudden, it doesn’t, like, fit?” he mimicked her mannerisms. Chloe ignored his mocking.

“Not ‘all of a sudden.’ You know that. You’ve felt that. If you can’t be honest with me, fine. Doesn’t change anything. But be honest with yourself for once. This hasn’t been good for a long time.”

“It has,” Ethan said, choking on his words. “We were good.”

Chloe shrugged. “Maybe. And maybe we’re fine now. But is that all you want? Fine? I don’t want that. And I know this may seem patronizing, but I don’t want that for you either.”

“Right,” he said, “you’re just that magnanimous.” He looked around at the other diners. He wondered if others were breaking up too, or were they the only ones? What were they all talking about, all of these nameless couples? Telling each other about their days? Discussing their kids? What did couples talk about in diners if they weren’t breaking up? For the life of him, he couldn’t remember. As far as he was concerned, they’d always been in this diner having this conversation about ending their relationship.

“How long have you known?” he asked her.

Chloe looked puzzled. “Known… what?”

“Known you were going to do… this.” He waved a hand quickly between them.

“Oh,” she said. “About a month, I guess.”

Ethan pushed the air out of his lungs quickly, making a “huh” sound. “A month,” he said. “You strung me along for a month. We went to counseling and dinner parties and your parents’ and you knew.” His voice lowered to nearly a growl. “You. Knew.”

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I really am.”

“Yeah, sure, sorry.” He said. “I give you six years of my life and I get a ‘sorry.’” He made his voice into a falsetto. “Sorry, Ethan. I just didn’t want to do this anymore. Sorry we built a life together and bought a house and got a dog. Sorry, Ethan.” He voice began to echo in the restaurant. “I’m just. So. SORRY.”

The other customers began to turn their heads to look at the couple. Chloe placed a hand on Ethan’s arm. “Ethan,” she said.He winced, and she removed it.

“Oh, don’t worry. I won’t make a scene. None of your lawyer colleagues will see you having a torrid argument with your boyfriend and embarrass you,” he said, grinning without humor. “Not that any of them would be seen in a dump like this anyway. That’s why you chose here, isn’t it?” he said, looking around. “So I wouldn’t make a big, dramatic scene and if I did, it wouldn’t matter.”

 

A hard stare

777 words

Another, “I don’t wanna” night. I’ve been busy all weekend, just had a three-hour drive home followed by several hours of food prep, just so you know where this all came from. A really rough start, but toward the end, I was finding a bit of a groove, in case you were looking for proof that sitting down and doing the work is important. Or something. I don’t know. I’m going to have some tea now.

Tamara was pretty sure Pinterest was trying to kill her. Or at least, make her doubt her own self-worth to the point she wished she were dead. It could have been the Mason jars that put her over the edge. Or it maybe it was the “pins” (that’s what Pinterest calls them) of chocolate bourbon salted caramel cupcakes nestled right against “flat tummy in 5 days” pins that clued her in. Before Pinterest, she hadn’t realized she was doing everything wrong, from how she boiled eggs to the way she stored bananas.

But when her coworkers began bringing in matching containers of prepped-in-advance paleo-grain-free-no-sugar-food, she followed suit. And she diligently developed capsule wardrobes and invested in packing cubes and thanked items for their service before depositing them into black garbage bags.

And she was tired. She wanted to go back to grabbing a sugar-laden breakfast bar from the Starbucks on her way to work and inhaling a street taco at the food trucks at lunch. She pined for her Sundays filled with bad TV and cake made from a mix and—OH MY GOD—frosting from a can. But she didn’t choose the Pinterest life. The Pinterest life chose her.

She was thinking of all of this as she stood at her kitchen island, pouring oil ever-so-slowly into a food processor. This glop was supposed to become mayonnaise, but it wasn’t cooperating. The goal was to gently drizzle the oil into the egg yolk and lemon while mixing it, giving it a chance to emulsify. But it kept breaking; the oil stubbornly refused to get together with the egg. Pinterest had informed her if she’d had one of those stick blenders, making mayo would be a snap. But she didn’t, so instead, she stood over her Cuisinart giving her failed condiment a hard stare.

Did her mom have to deal with this? Her grandmother? Her great-grandmother? She knew her mom did, to an extent. Her mother had gone back to work after Tamara was eight, so she’d done the mom-and-career thing. But Tamara seemed to recall that meals were assembled rather than created, and tended to rely heavily on those famous culinary geniuses Chef Boyardee and Mrs. Paul. And now, everything had to be made from scratch. Anything manufactured or processed is given severe side-eye. And at all costs, one must avoid the side-eye.

Tamara leaned her elbows on the island, scrunching her face with her fists and turning her mouth into an obscene grin. She examined the bowl of the food processor. The substance inside was settling after its mastication, crawling down the sides in bile-like trails. She watched, fascinated, as it made its journey. Was she the only person left in America who actually liked Miracle Whip, she wondered?

She pulled the bowl off its motor and brought it to the sink, dousing it with a healthy stream of Dawn and flooding it with scorching water. The mixture floated up in greasy islands, and she poured it down the garbage disposal knowing that was probably not a good idea. Tamara squirted more dish soap down the disposal and flipped it on, creating an eruption of lavender-scented foam. Satisfied, she reached into the bowl to remove the blade. That’s when she cut herself.

She felt the sting across the pad of her middle finger. She held it up to her face. There was a thin white line, and she pulled it apart to see how deep it went. It separated, and blood mixed with soap to make a pink froth. It wasn’t serious; a Band-Aid would do the trick.

In the bathroom, she carefully washed the cut, dried it, and wrapped it in a beige-colored adhesive. Returning to the kitchen, she plucked the food processor bowl from the sink, walked to the side door, opened it, and hurled the bowl onto the driveway. That finished, she gathered all of her Mason jars and, one by one, flung them after the bowl. They crashed like little hipster bombs on the pavement, forever ending the myriad possibilities of overnight oats and jar salad.

Her neighbor, Joe, came outside to see what the noise was, thinking a car was being broken into. When he saw Tamara, he said nothing, and watched as jar after jar were pulverized. When she ran out of Mason jars, she followed with full jars of almond butter, tahini, and coconut oil. Neither of them said a word.

When Tamara had exhausted herself and her jars, she looked at Joe.

“Better?” he said.

“Yeah,” she said. “Much.” She paused. “Fucking Pinterest.”

A little respect would be nice

801 words

Hi. I’m tired and this was difficult and I’m tired. Enjoy.

He’d ended up there again. It was as if his fingers were tapping out a predetermined pattern; an obedient player piano. This tended to happen on Friday nights, though one night was pretty much the same as any other. It wasn’t as if Friday night held any sort of magic. There was no regular job to go to, no morning obligation to wrench him from his stale sheets.

If he’d stopped to think about it, Robert would have deduced why it was that Friday night was a trigger. But he’d never taken a moment to explore the ramifications, introspection not being high on his abbreviated list of admirable qualities. Instead, his fingers clumsily drummed a familiar sequence and he was again treated to a vision of himself 30 years earlier.

He took a long, shuddering swallow of his vodka and pressed play. His young—oh God, so young—face grinned smugly from the screen. His snub features exuded the precociousness and confidence that only someone who had been offered no criticism during his formative years could produce. The expression inspired equal parts infuriation and envy.

The younger Robert—Bobby—was currently explaining to his on-screen mother (Barbara, he remembered; she was a bitch) that of course, he would take care of the classroom tarantula, Harry. That, of course, the terrarium was safe and escape-proof. And of course Pickles the cat would not be allowed near it. Spoiler alert: later in the episode, the tarantula escapes and evidence emerges that leads the family to believe Pickles had itself a spidery meal. He hadn’t seen this one on YouTube yet. It looked like it was just posted the week before.

“A New Day for Don” lasted three seasons, from 1979-1982 every Friday night. Little Bobby Bailey starred as mischievous Donald “Don” Dabner, a cherubic troublemaker who always seemed to land on his feet, much to the chagrin of all of the adult characters around him. As far as sitcoms went it was no better or worse than any other, but it was his “woah-ohhhhhh-MAMA!” catchphrase that made him a cultural icon.

He scrolled past the sequences in which he was absent, and stopped right before Harry’s disappearance was discovered. He delivered his signature line out loud along with the video and basked in the explosion from the studio audience. He remembered hearing it in person, all those years ago. Although at the time he had known the audience had been prompted—all of those tourists from Kansas or Missouri, sunburned from the beaches and sporting Mickey Mouse t-shirts—he knew the applause was for him and him alone. There was nobody who could deliver that line as well as he did, with the dimple punctuating his left cheek and his nose scrunching skyward. And that’s why his parents had demanded more money.

He tipped the bottle into his sweaty glass and clicked the comment box.

“That little dude was a fuckin genious,” he typed and hit “enter.” He scrolled down to see the other comments.

“OMG i had such a crush on Bobby,” said Tasey1969.

“I loved this show,” said GrammCrakkah.

“the DIMPLE omg 2 cute!!!!” said TakeMeHome2Nightxxx

“cats dont even eat tarantulas this show wasn’t very rilastic,” said SuperDuperChrist35811.

Robert frowned at the screen. “Well, they do if they can catch them,” he said out loud. He knew should stop scrolling. He knew he shouldn’t read any more.

He scrolled.

“Whatever happened to that little boy? Did he die?” said ChipNorris.

“Nah, just his career,” said BenJovvi.

He scrolled faster.

“Drug addict.”
“Arrested.”
“Loser.”
“Bad movies.”
“Drugs.”
“Broke.”
“Alcoholic.”
“Probably at home in a bottle of whiskey.”

“Vodka,” he said. “Get it right.”

“Fat.”
“Ugly.”
“Washeduphasbeenformerchildstarwhereishenow.”

He snuffed out the rest of his vodka in a single gulp and dropped the glass to the floor. The bottle was empty anyway.

“But what have you done, BenJovvi?” he said, pointing a stubby finger at the screen. “Have you been on a TV show? Have supermodels hit on you in bars at age 12? Gone to parties with Jack Nicholson and Angelica Houston? No. No, you haven’t. But I have,” he thumped his palm on his chest. “I. Have.”

His words became thick and lazy as the deluge of alcohol he’d poured down this throat began to take effect in earnest.

“And I bet you’ve seen all of the episodes and had a ‘woah mama’ t-shirt or a lunchbox or something. Because I was funny. I made you laugh. I did,” he said, double-checking the bottle. “I did I did I did. And for that, I think a little respect would be nice.”

He maneuvered away from YouTube and over to PornHub.

He clicked, stuffed his hand down his sweatpants, and sighed.

A weak password

782 words

Today’s entry is extremely silly and not very well-written. However, it was fun, and it does have the distinction of including an actual ending. So it has that going for it.

Jason was smashing the ESC key with the pad of his right index finger. His tablet skipped with the ferocity of his insistence.

ESC ESC ESC ESC ESC ESC

“You’re going to break it!” Amanda said, grabbing his arm right above the wrist. She could feel the fibrous tendons contract against her palm. She didn’t slow his assault.

“Does it matter?” Jason said, holding down various keys simultaneously as he molested ESC. “I mean, at this point, does it matter? This is completely fucked.” To punctuate his sentiment, he pounded his entire fist in the center of the keyboard. Amanda’s breath caught as the projection scrambled and disappeared for a moment, but then righted itself and came into focus. She let her breath out slowly.

“Jason,” she said, “please tell me the wedding memories weren’t in there.”

“Jesus, Amanda. You’re not getting this. Everything is in there.” He made a gesture with his hands that looked as if he was stretching a piece of gum between them. “EH-VER-EE-THING.” He looked at the projection helplessly. Collections of memories were winking out like one of those old tube-based TV sets. “There goes 2019,” Jason said.

It had started as soon as he waved the tablet to life an hour earlier. There was a message asking if he’d like to continue. Jason had never seen that before, but hey, what does he know? Sure, continue. What the hell. He waved toward “Yes”.

There was a shudder and the image dissolved. It was soon replaced by another message:

CLOUD DELETION VERIFIED. PLEASE STAND BY.

Jason watched, uncomprehending, as items he had meticulously catalogued and filed in his approved cloud allotment appeared, only to neatly evaporate a moment later. By the time he’d figured out what was going on, 2012-2014 were no longer a part of his past. Well, part of any past that could be observed, and that was pretty much the same thing.

He shut down the system and restarted—usually the remedy for such things—but if anything, the process sped up. 2016 was being consumed into nothingness when Amanda walked in. She’d understood what was happening almost immediately, and had connected with tech support just to be put on hold. She was told by a soothing manufactured voice that the wait time would be “only 95 magical minutes.”

Jason was watching memories of a terrier materialize, produce a wet, pink tongue, then fade away.

“Oh no, oh God, oh no,” Amanda said, pressing the buttons with renewed desperation. “Not Toby. No, please, no, not Toby.”

Toby playing tug-of-war with a dirty sock. Gone.

Toby sleeping with a paw over his scruffy snout. Gone.

Toby begging for a bit of cheese, bouncing a stuffed toy on his nose like a seal, curling up against Jason for a belly rub. All gone.

Amanda was wiping her face with an increasingly soggy sleeve. “How did this happen? I mean, what did you do? You just changed the password last week.”

Jason glanced quickly at Amanda, then back at the projection. His brother was disappearing, but he didn’t care that much.

“You did change the password, right?”

He didn’t look at Amanda. “I, um. I meant to. But—”

“Oh for fuck’s sake! You were still using your iris?” Amanda jabbed an index finger toward her eye incredulously. “Jesus fucking Christ! How many times have I told you how weak that password is? You might as well use your fucking fingerprint!”

Jason covered his head with his arms as if he were expecting a blow. “I know, I’m an idiot. I’m really sorry, Amanda. I’ll fix this. I’ll—”

“Jason?” Amanda said, looking behind him toward the living room. You didn’t… you didn’t store any furniture in the cloud, did you?”

Jason sighed. “I told you,” he said, showing her his palms. “Everything went in there.”

“The couch is gone,” she said.

Jason spun around. Sure enough, there was an empty space where the couch had once been. The coffee table soon followed, as did the armchair. The rug shimmered and dissolved. The books flickered out, one by one, until the bookcase was left empty. And then it, of course, was no longer there.

Amanda gasped when Casper, the goldfish, blubbed his last. “You put Casper in the cloud?!”

Jason shrugged. “Yeah, I mean, why not? It was supposedly safe.” Jason surveyed the room, watching as their home became more cavernous. “Amanda,” he said. “I’m really sorry. But I promise you, we can fix this. We can’t be the first people this has happened to. I’m sure there’s a procedure, a back-up somewhere. We can fix this.”

There was silence. Jason turned around.

He was alone.

Under the mattress

860 words

Once again, I spent so much time with character development I didn’t even get to the “under the mattress” part. (If you’re familiar with urban legends, you can probably guess where this is going.) Tabby freaking rules, and I’m betting she and Heather will get into lots of trouble in a few years.

Tabitha poked at the fire with an decommissioned wire coat hanger. A chunk of smoldering wood tumbled from the pile, shooting stars of embers into the violet sky. She thought it looked like a volcano, the kind she’d seen on that TV show. She’d been sitting right in front of the screen, entranced, while ribbons of incandescent lava unfurled down mountains, melting everything in its path. Tabby imagined her town—her school—engulfed in lava. It wasn’t an unpleasant thought. She was so hypnotized by her own thoughts she didn’t hear the end of Martin’s story, but she didn’t have to.

There was a gasp and a giggle from the younger children bundled around the fire in their too-large sweatshirts borrowed from older siblings. Martin looked pleased, but his smile faded when he saw Tabby wasn’t listening.

“There was an iron hook, Tab,” he said. “Stuck in the car door!” He clawed his fingers into a hook and brandished it in Tabby’s face.

“Yeah, I heard,” she said, backing away from Martin’s flailing hand and poking at the fire. She was trying to make a bigger cloud than last time, but the flames were dying.

Martin frowned. He was a year younger than Tabby and, even though she was a girl, still craved her older-kid approval. “Don’t you think that’s creepy? I mean, the guy was right there! He could have killed them!”

“I get it,” Tabby said, giving up on the fire for the moment. “But it’s only scary the first time you hear that story. I’ve heard it about a million zillion times.” She felt around for her Coke can and took a swig. When she glanced up, she saw her cousin’s disappointment in the firelight. He was a sensitive kid, her parents often said, and Tabby felt kind of bad.

“But hey,” she said, taking another drink of her warm soda, “you told it pretty well.”

Martin’s face cleared. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Tabby said. “but don’t, you know, get all cocky.”

Martin beamed, then contained his pleasure. He shivered a little; he was wearing a brand-new Darth Vader t-shirt and couldn’t bear to cover it with a sweater. Tabby knew that tomorrow his arms and neck would be dotted with sickly pink peppermint lotion that would do very little to quell the violent itch perpetrated by the evening’s mosquitoes.

There was a whoop from the other campfire, the one inhabited by the parents. It was like the camping version of Thanksgiving, Tabby thought, and she was stuck at the kids’ table. She was the oldest of the cousins, but not quite old enough to join the adults and hear their raunchy jokes and stories about the stupid things they did in their youth. Tabby had heard a lot of these things when they thought she was asleep; many times during holiday gatherings she’d snuck downstairs and sat on the landing to catch snippets. Of course, she didn’t understand a lot of what was said, but she giggled when they had a good laugh. It made her feel a part of it.

She gazed at the adults. Phrases floated to her ears, things like, “so drunk” and “Pamela’s wedding” and “shotgun.” She heard the pop-fizz of Coors being opened, and she knew that tomorrow, while they were packing up the camp, the younger kids would be delighted to paw through ashes and dirt to retrieve the pull tabs. Tabby’s mom would give them a penny for each tab they found, and they were too young to know that even if they collected a hundred of them, it still wasn’t that much money.

“You got a story, Tabby?” Tabby looked up. It came from Heather, her nine-year-old cousin. She liked Heather. At three years younger than herself she was still kind of a baby, but didn’t really act like one. She was always the one who would go first on a dare and not be afraid of touching frogs or things like that. And here she was now, dark eyes reflecting what was left of the fire, asking for a scary story.

“Yeah, I got a story,” Tabby said. “But I think it’s way too scary for some of you.” She scanned the faces around the fire, enjoying the sight of all of their eyes getting bigger and darting at one another. “So. If any of you are going to be too scared, you should leave now.”

“I’m not scared,” Heather said.

“Me either,” said Marty.

The other kids professed their bravery, though some of them did so with shaky voices. “Okay then,” Tabby said. “But if you get all freaked out after I tell the story and it keeps you up for weeks or gives you nightmares, you have to solemnly promise not to tell on me. If you do, you’ll be banned from campfire stories. Got it?”

All of the heads around the fire nodded vigorously. Tabby jabbed the fire one last time, and, as if she was an ancient shaman creating a magical spell, there was a loud crack followed by an eruption of embers. She looked deliberately around at her tribe.

“Okay,” she said. “Let’s begin.”

After the accident

875 words

Oh hi, I’m at the airport. I got this out in a little over an hour. It wasn’t too bad today. And I really like what’s developing with William and Abe. They should hang out.

It seemed to William things were getting way out of hand. It seemed to him that it was an accident—just that, an accident—but the whole neighborhood was determined to Do Something About It. Now, what they could possibly do, William didn’t know. But instead of saying so, he took an Oreo from the selection of cookies laid out on the coffee table along with Chips Ahoy and some other no-name selection. He was required to attend these meetings, some sort of HOA thing, and he’d already missed two. Another one and he’d get a letter, or—God help him—an actual visit from Moira, the HOA president.

“Those sidewalks are way overdue to be serviced,” she was saying at the moment William was twisting open his Oreo and scraping off the sugary cream with his teeth. “They were put in at the same time as our homes were, and that was in 1972,” she said. William noticed that their condos were never “units” or even “condos”; they were always “homes” to Moira.

“Surely they’ve been repaired since then,” Abe said. “I’m positive I’ve seen work crews working on the sidewalks and streets.” Abe was a widower who lived in one of the older sections of the complex. His hands shook a bit as he raised a self-supplied Corona beer to his lips. William got the impression Abe didn’t want to be there any more than he did.

“Of course they’ve been repaired,” Moira said barely disguising her reaction to what she thought was a stupid comment. “Here and there. Patch jobs or holes filled. But what needs to happen is a full replacement of the sidewalks in the common areas.” Moira neatly folded her hands in front of her matching jacket-and-skirt ensemble. It was the color of yellow that flatters no one.

There was murmuring in the room, and William and Abe exchanged glances. When it was clear Abe wasn’t going to ask the obvious question, William leaned forward in his chair.

“And our HOA dues will cover this, correct?” William said. “This is exactly why we pay such high fees, so that the excess is set aside for things like this? I mean,” he said, gesturing to the other people in the room, “if we agree this is the best thing to do.”

Moira took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Well, William, I wouldn’t say our fees are higher than any other community,” she said.

“I would,” Abe muttered through swigs.

Moira ignored him. “And I have to say, it’s really difficult for me to hear you say you might not think this is necessary. After the accident, I would think you and everybody here would be on board with this plan,” she looked around the room. There were uncomfortable shiftings and throat clearings.

“And I have to say,” William said, “I noticed you didn’t answer my question. So I’m going to assume that—no—our dues will not cover this. So I’m going talk about a couple of things before we get to the distasteful subject of money. First, I’m really sorry about what happened to Vanessa. Truly sorry.” William was sincere. Vanessa lived two units over and was a bright, friendly woman. That is, before her head made a violent acquaintance with the landscaping brickwork. Her family said she’d been almost completely unresponsive since.

“But,” he continued, “I’m not sure redoing all of the sidewalks is going to prevent something like this happening again. Her heel caught in a crack. She happened to land in a bad place. What are you going to do, put baby bumpers on all of the bricks?”

“Of course not William,” Moira said. “But I think if we—“

“Make sure you and the board’s collective ass is covered?” There was a gasp from Moira and subdued snickers from the room. Abe lowered his head, but his shoulders were shaking.

“That,” Moira said, “is very unfair. I’m only thinking about the safety of this community.” She reached into a large handbag. Its handles were made from fashionable gold-tone chains, and they chimed as she pulled out a collection of papers bound in the corner by a black spring clip. “Take a look at this,” she said, wagging the papers over the cookie tray toward William. “It’ll show you nationwide statistics of injuries and fatalities—yes, fatalities!—that occur from deteriorating walkways.”

William looked at Moira, then down at the collection of papers. He reached, and Moira leaned forward. William ducked his hand under the papers and took a Chips Ahoy from the plate.

“You know, Abe,” he said, turning the cookie over, “you can’t take a bite without hitting a chip.”

“I’ve heard that,” Abe said, nodding gravely.

“Are you going to look at these?” Moira said, flapping the papers.

William took a bite and turned to Abe. “Yep, chip,” he said. He looked at Moira. “You know what? I’m not going to look at those papers. I’m sure people trip and hit their heads a lot, all over the world. I’m not sure why you’re so gung-ho about getting these sidewalks replaced, but I don’t think it has to do with us, or Vanessa, or ‘the safety of our community.’”

Moira’s mouth popped open. “William, I cannot believe you could be so heartless, so unfeeling as to—“

“How much, Moira?”