Bodega

She knew him as one of the boys that liked to hang out outside of the bodega. He was always nice and she would always smile. But while she could recognize him, point him out from a crowd, she didn’t know his name.

One night she dropped her keys and it all changed. He held the door open for her when it happened, caught them in midair before she could react. They laughed. They talked, and it was as if they had known each other for years, so that hours later they were still sitting on her front stoop, dreading the moment they would have to say good bye.

They never did, instead making plans for the next night and the next, until they were spending every waking moment together.

He shared his favorite games with her, his favorite songs, his favorite restaurants. She shared with him her favorite movies, her favorite plays. Her favorite musicals.

They made big plans to go to the ballet. Christmas was two weeks away and they both wanted to see the Nutcracker live, classic that it was.

She wore a dress with a full tulle skirt, the kind that made her feel like a ballerina herself, and as she watched him arrive from the ballet hall steps, she saw that he wore slacks and a button down shirt.

It was the first time he had dressed formally in the time she had known him. It was the first time he had dressed formally in his life.

He’d gone to the city, shopped at one of those suit stores he’d seen on TV and even had the pants tailored. As he crossed the street, watching her smile widen on the other side, he thought about how she made him want to be a better man.

He didn’t hear his friends as they approached. He didn’t see them as he crossed the street, so that by the time they crossed his path and stopped him, they had witnessed the worst of his joy and clowned him for it.

They made fun of his new pants for the way they were belted at the waist, the way they snugly fit, the way he carried himself in them of all things. They clowned his corny smile, the fact that he was going to a ballet, and as his expression began to change, they reminded him that it was all in good fun and there was no point in being sensitive.

She watched it all from those steps, unsure of what it all meant from a distance, but aware that it was best that she stay put, that she would only make it worse, whatever it was. But when he finally came to her it didn’t matter, because she could sense that something inside of him had fundamentally changed.

They watched the performance in stiff silence. Any attempt to talk or incite a smile was met with one word answers and grunts. He held her just long enough until it was okay to let go, and even before the play was over he was all set to go.

He forgot to kiss her goodbye. He didn’t call. He didn’t reply. He didn’t even hang outside of the bodega anymore, and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t figure what she’d done wrong.

Time passed. Weeks bled into months and suddenly, miraculously, she saw him on the train. Their eyes met. He turned away. He was with his friends. Just like that, it was over before it began. And no, they never said goodbye.

Anastasiia: Marco’s Assignment

She had not been an easy assignment. A party girl in her own right, she was the reason for Marco’s sleepless nights.

For the first few weeks she’d barely noticed him at all, but one mistake and her attention honed into him like a torpedo. He thought about that night so many times after, over and over, trying to find a way he could have avoided falling in love with her, but there was nothing he could do to change it.

He wasn’t sure if he wanted to.

She was young but no stranger to drugs and alcohol, privileged but naive, the kind of girl that grew up in a gilded aged home and only drank designer water, and she hated it all. She was the daughter of an ex-diplomat, the kind of guy that was connected up the ass and had to be protected unless you wanted a war on your hands, so she became Marco’s assignment, and then she became his.

She’d been attending parties all week, not the kind she liked but the kind that required her to sit still and smile and wave, so she took something for the boredom and the pain, and she seemed okay. But then she didn’t, and he thought maybe she’d taken too much from the way she twitched on the way home. She had almost made it to her bed when she fainted.

He caught her. Of course he caught her. It was his job to protect her, but before he could call for help she came to.

“Sorry,” she whispered, staring up at him with big brown eyes that looked so sad.

“Don’t be,” he replied, and before he knew what was happening they were kissing.

He’d thought it, but even if you asked him under duress, he still wouldn’t have been able to day who made the first move. All he knew is that from one moment to the next her lips were on his and his hands were in her hair, and she pulled on his clothes until he was straddling her on the floor.

They never made it to the bed either.

He could remember every second from then on. How neither of them made a move to close the door, and even though there were people sleeping right down the hall it only fueled them more.

He had tried to pull away. It took all of the strength he had to stop and look at her, but she only whispered at him to go on, wrapping her legs around him and locking him inside her embrace.

If he had died in that moment he would have died happy. Instead it was as if something inside him had been dialed up to eleven, so that every thrust, every caress and every kiss felt better than any experience since and every experience before.

It wasn’t until morning that he realized that if he had died in that moment, he would have died a failure. That if anything would have happened during the time he had been with her, she would have been vulnerable and he would have been unable to protect her. And it was his job to protect her.

The thought haunted him for days after, but it was not enough to get him to say no when she invited him upstairs the next night and the next. Not enough to get him to want to wake up alone in his own bed.

Eventually he did. It took much longer than he liked to admit, but he came to his senses, and denying her was more painful than ripping out both arms from their sockets. Part of him would have preferred it, anything but the pain of being without her.

It was for her safety, he’d said, but his words were hollow to them both, and they didn’t matter in the end. Everything had changed.

He saw it in the way she moved, like she was contemplating every step. He saw it in the way she avoided his gaze. He saw it in the mirror, the eyes of a man who’d seen paradise and locked himself out staring back at him.

There was no denying it. He loved her and she loved him, and pretending otherwise was hurting them both. And he didn’t want to hurt her. He wanted to protect her. So he came to her one last time and asked her in earnest what she wanted.

“Are you sure?” He asked. After a few seconds she smiled and pulled him, closing the door. Behind him. 

Cherchez La Femme

I’ve been participating in some writer challenges lately. Last year I joined the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge and joined again this year. This is my first round submission. It’s highly competitive, but I have to say, I had a lot of fun writing it. 
The Prompt:
Genre: Suspense
Location: A plastic surgery center
Object: A tire iron
Synopsis:Kathleen wants to catch her husband red-handed, but has she thought about what he wants?


Kathleen walked down the halls of her husband’s practice, leaning slightly against the wall. She held a tire iron almost absentmindedly in her right hand, with her purse tucked in discreetly under her left armpit, almost invisible under the folds of her dress.
Her hands were appropriately soiled, and she wore an inquisitive look on her face, slightly humbled and annoyed, as if there was an answer she didn’t remember and the question was too important to let go. If anyone saw her, the reason was simple and true: she got a flat tire on her way to meet her husband and fixed it herself, so as not to interrupt him.
But no one crossed her path. In fact, the entire center seemed eerily deserted for a Thursday night. While there was no shortage in demand for plastic surgeons in Miami, no one wanted to wait until nearly dinnertime for a liposuction. No, after-hours were for paperwork. You didn’t need a full staff for that.
She walked slowly toward Richard’s suite, listening intently. Her feet were in heels, after all, and it had been a long day. No need to make unnecessary noise that could potentially interrupt her husband in the middle of whatever he was doing.
She was sure it was important.
Kathleen reached for the doorknob, but it slipped out of her grasp. The door opened to reveal her husband, standing on the other side.
“Hello, sweetheart,” Richard Goldblatt said to his wife, smiling from ear to ear. Kathleen, taken aback, could only stand there half-frozen as he stepped forward and engulfed her in a hug, obstructing her view. As he kissed her on the cheek, Kathleen struggled to keep her temper hidden.
He hadn’t called her sweetheart in decades, she thought, finding her voice again.
“I had a flat on my way here,” she said, answering the question that hadn’t been asked, angling her body in a way that made it clear she wanted to go inside. “You might want to be careful.”
“So I see,” he replied. “Why don’t you give me that?” He asked, propping himself up so that both his sides touched the doorway in some way, extending a hand. She shook her head.
“I wouldn’t want you to get your hands dirty,” she replied. They stood there for a few moments, him blocking the entrance and her leaning into him, pressing her free hand into his midsection so that the message was crystal clear in her body language, but it still needed to be said.
“Richard, let me in,” she said softly, holding her right hand up at eye level and extending two oil stained fingers. “I need to wash my hands of this.”
“Yes, of course,” Richard replied, angling to the side. “Take your time.”
Kathleen walked past her husband into his office. His arm dangled in her way just enough that it minimized the remaining space, but Kathleen was lithe and small – two of the reasons Richard had married her- and she was able to step around him smoothly.
Kathleen had to blink twice to adjust her eyes to the space once inside, and was momentarily disoriented. It was smaller than she remembered, much more cluttered and dark, and her path to the bathroom was obstructed by a couch she didn’t know was there.
She kicked herself for not visiting more since the build out, for not getting a much more current idea of what her husband’s office looked like. There was no one else in the office, but the air was heavy and moist, and Richard’s office felt more lived in than his bedroom at home. She could swear there were traces of something feminine in the air. Not perfume, but maybe lotion or hairspray, something she knew Richard wouldn’t wear. She began to take a deep breath but he interrupted her, and Kathleen could not help but turn to look at him, the anger barely concealed in her expression.
“Bathroom’s on the right,” Richard said from behind her, a tone of amusement creeping into his voice.
“I didn’t forget,” she shot back, taking two quick steps into the half-bathroom, and stopped. The bathroom, what was originally a small room with toilet and sink, was now a full bathroom with shower installed where a small closet used to be. There was even a door that led back to the hall. She heard a click and ran, dropping the tire iron behind her, but it was too late. The door only opened with a key, and whomever was on the other side locked it from their end.
She jiggled the knob but it was no use. The door was firmly locked. And then, something occurred to her: she never heard a clang.
She turned around, and there was Richard, standing inside the bathroom with her, tire iron in hand. He was obstructing her exit now, and she swallowed hard, trying to keep from feeling trapped.
“Wash your hands, sweetheart,” he told her, his voice monotone. “It’s time for us to go.”
Kathleen gave a slow nod, her movements slow and filled with understanding. As she went through the routine of getting her hands clean, she stared at her reflection. It was the face of a stranger. A beautiful one, but a stranger none the less. An exaggerated version of the girl she used to be.
“It’s time for us to go,” Richard repeated. Richard, on the other hand, had not changed a bit, had not aged a day. She turned the water off and dried her fingers, pressing her handbag closer to her side. It didn’t matter, she thought. There was always a Plan B.
“I’ve been looking forward to this all week,” she said to the Richard in her reflection, her voice as strong and resonant as steel.
“So have we, sweetheart,” said Richard from behind her, unmoved. “So have we.” 

A Wonderful Guy

I’ve been participating in some writer challenges lately. The latest one was with The Writer’s Arena against Joseph Devon. The prompt was Video Games, and I crushed it.

Fallout 4

Autosaving…

She’s shaking her head in awe, simultaneously clicking her tongue in disapproval and examining my leg for an entry point, and I can only let her, frozen in place as she inspects my broken bones.
I look around. Nick is out in the hall and around the corner, away from my line of sight. I’m afraid of losing him. We’re in the middle of another vault, one like the one I emerged out of, but oh so different. It’s maze-like and claustrophobic, and of course the dog is nowhere to be found.
“This seems like a good place to start,” she says, turning to grab a surgical knife. She cuts a deep seam down my leg from my knee to the base of my foot without an ounce of restraint, and I groan. It doesn’t hurt. It never does, but she’s still digging inside my body. I also know what a bloody mess is, even if my own blood is frozen solid in time.
I tell myself to look away but I can’t, mesmerized as I watch her pull the flesh open and dig her fingers inside.
“What did you find?” she asks as she’s searching for fragments of bone, the morbid curiosity palpable in her voice. I bite, both relieved and grateful that she wants to know, that I at least have someone to tell.
What did I find? I think. “Me,” I tell her, before I begin to explain.
I lost 200 years in the blink of an eye, and yet the past few weeks of my life feels life-times longer. My family – myself, my newborn son and my wife – were frozen in cryogenic sleep inside a vault deep underground, tricked as the bombs dropped and manipulated by a corporation that no longer exists. Two centuries gone like seconds sitting frozen in a metal tube.
Somehow, I woke just in time to witness my wife’s murder. I watched helplessly as my son was kidnapped, and just as the memory of his kidnapper’s face burned itself into my brain, I fell asleep again.
I don’t know how much time passed, but I woke up again in that metal tube, only this time I could move. I could walk again. And I discovered to my horror that I was the only one left alive.
I stepped out of that vault with only one objective: to find my son. I understood that the world would be a different place now, but I was not prepared for what I found. The world wasn’t just different, it was destroyed. What was left had mutated over time or changed completely for the worst. My entire reality was gone, now reduced to rubble. But I had no time to mourn what I’d lost.
The drive to find Shawn kept me moving. If this new world horrified me, I could only imagine what it seemed like to him.
Once I found what was left of my home, I stepped out of the neighborhood and found a stray dog. It was as if he’d been waiting for me all along, and even then it felt like he knew something I never will. It was, not exactly meant to be, but like it was written, and he’s been with me ever since.
I went into town to find supplies and instead found a group of people in need of help. I saved the day, found some power armor and fought a Deathclaw, making it back home in time for the armor to die down.
Everything seemed like it was falling into place. I started to rebuild, leading the Minutemen, exploring, but not for one second did I forget about my son. Finding him was becoming much harder than I could have imagined.
Someone gave me a tip to go to Diamond City, but every time I tried I was met with trouble. For a long time- no matter what I tried- I didn’t get very far and I’d have to turn around. And then something happened. Something that seemed so natural at the time, but when I stopped to think about it I realized that it didn’t make sense.
I realized that I was losing small chunks of time. Sometimes I’d come across trouble and a moment later I’d find myself yards away, with the clock turned back. Sometimes I’d find myself reliving a few moments earlier, like déjà vu. And then I started to pay attention.
I realized, to my amazement, that I’d died. But I didn’t just die, I re-spawned to a moment or minutes before my death as if it had never happened. I realized that, in a sense, I was immortal.
Time continued to pass. I got stronger. The more I fought, the more I helped others, the better I got, and with the snap of a finger came new abilities. They came at unpredictable times. My luck increased. I grew stronger. My aim was steadier. I realized that I was a better hunter at night, and irradiated food didn’t bother me as much.
I started to notice more. Rocks that floated a few feet off the ground. Brahmin and people stuck in walls, unaware of their predicament. Moments where everything else seemed to stop and only I could notice. Even the settlers were starting to act oddly, sometimes repeating themselves or ignoring me all together. Even when something happens they seem to be in a trance, following a script I’m starting to memorize.
It’s odd, but it’s also somewhat liberating. Like I’m seeing hints of a secret that no one else is aware of. Like there’s something there, between the lines; If I focus, if I pay attention, there’s an entire reality waiting to be discovered, and I’m the only one who can see it.
Or at least I was, until she came to me. She, the girl who won’t give me her name.
“There are times when everything just disappears,” I tell her. “Not like the times when you are here when everything stops, or even when I die. It can happen at any time. I’m there, I stop, and then everything goes to black and stops existing.”
I give her a moment to interject, but she doesn’t say anything. She’s closed my other leg and is moving up to my pelvis, replacing bone with nearly indestructible metal.
“I forced myself to stay alert the next time it happened. The lights disappeared, but not all at once. It was like everything went flat for a split second, and the lights floated away all in one direction. So I followed.”
She opens up my chest and I immediately feel cold. I breathe in. It’s harder, but not impossible. From the corner of my eye I see brown fur. It’s the dog, I’m sure, prancing around just out of reach, unfettered.
“I followed the light and somehow I turned into light too, and I was me, but I was more, like I’d shed my body and became a celestial being made up of dots of light and other things. And I understood that I wasn’t just me. I was aware, but there were others there. Some of them just like me. Exact replicas. Same voice, even the same scars, and I realized that I am not as unique as I think I am.”
“I warned you not to explore,” she says in a low voice. Her tone is half-scolding, half-amazed, and for a split-second I see introspection in her eyes. She’s working on my arms now, and even though we’re almost face to face, she won’t look at me. “You’re not supposed to see any of this, let alone remember,” she continues.
“But you wouldn’t tell me why,” I say, the sadness palpable in my voice. “How many others are there? Am I a clone?” I ask, but she ignores the questions, instead swiping a deep gash down my left arm in one swoop, never breaking eye contact. I grind my teeth but ignore the distraction.
“How did a young girl like you get so powerful?” I ask instead. She tilts her head and opens her eyes impossibly wide.
“What makes you think that I am any of those things?” she asks in a low voice, and I stop. Her eyes are unusually wide, and her expression is blank in an odd way, like she’s trying to get me to catch on to a clue that I’m missing. And just like that, the moment is gone.
“Yes, there are others, some with your face, some not,” she replies answering my previous question, snapping me out of a trance. “But you’ll be happy to know you all make unique decisions in your own unique ways.” I watch her face, but her expression is back to neutral again, betraying no emotion. And then she tries to change the subject.
“You’re developing quite the Jet addiction,” she says in a professional tone with a note of finality.
“Buffjet, actually,” I reply. “My own recipe. How many others?” I ask, not letting it go.
“I don’t know,” she replies, and I want to believe that’s she’s telling me the truth. She scoffs and pulls away, thinking. “I lost count. Some of them are men. Some of them are women. One is a sweet old lady and another dresses up like Grognak right down to the axe. I don’t ask. I just do my job. I enhance, patch you up, and I leave.”
“Has this happened before?” I ask. She shakes her head.
“No,” she says decisively, in a low voice again.
“Would you tell me if it had?” I ask.
“No,” she says again.
“Why?”
“You ask that a lot.”
“And you never answer.”
“Because you have no idea what you’re playing at. Now shut up.”
She cuts my face open, placing my eyes on the tray. I watch as she removes my jaw and brain, and then my skull. She replaces that, too, with metal, and puts the squishy parts back in place.
“The others… they’re stuck in the same place. Confused. Some of them are used to doing the same thing over and over, forgetting they’ve already done it.” I take a moment to voice the question that’s been keeping me awake. Then: “Will that happen to me?”
She takes a deep breath, trying to stay calm. “Why would you want to know that, if you can’t change it?”
“Maybe I can make it better.”
“Or maybe you’ll corrupt everything.”
“You don’t know that, and neither do I. But I can at least try.”
She closes me up for the last time and takes a step back. My bones are scattered on the floor, but I am whole, somehow, with a skeleton that isn’t mine.
She looks at me one last time and shakes her head. “You’re going rogue, soldier,” she says in a low voice again, then turns to the door.
“Gary,” she says in a sing-song voice, and we wait. Two identical men appear with obedient looks on their faces. “Would you kindly pick these up, Gary,” she says in the same voice, and a shiver goes up my new spine.
“I am aware that I have no idea what I’m doing,” I continue as the Garys pick up my discarded bones. “But that light… I have never felt so connected to anything in my life. I want to know where it leads. I need to know what it means.”
She doesn’t say anything. I watch her as she continues to clean, lips pressed tightly closed. The conversation is over, I realize, and there’s not much I can do to get her to talk to me.
She starts to walk away. I watch as she moves, and then she stops right at the doorway. For a second I can almost see her deciding, and then she turns, her profile clearly visible, and I instinctively focus on her lips.
It happens so fast I almost miss it. In a flash she says two words and is gone, carried away by light, and the world around me is back to normal again. But I saw. I saw the words as they left her lips:

“Autosave complete.”

Steel Graves

I’ve been participating in some writer challenges lately. Last year I joined the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge and plan to participate this year. This is the second and last story from 2015. 

The Prompt: 


Genre: Mystery 
Location: A junkyard 
Object: A coupon

Synopsis: A man is missing and Richard Moore knows more than he is telling the police. But will he solve the mystery before they do?

Richard Moore sat in his office, trying to notice anything out of the ordinary, searching for a sign. He was glad that his wife wasn’t there to scold him. She had always given him crap for the way he kept the place. It was a junkyard for Pete’s sake, not a bank, he told her. But it didn’t matter. No, his office was full of too many things, she saidToo cluttered to be taken seriously.  

He reminded her that he ran a junkyard, not a magazine. People didn’t come to him expecting his office to be neat. They just needed him to do his job. Now from what he knew about the night before, he was sure it was the mess that Billy had needed from him. He just knew it. Now, he just needed to figure out what to look for.  
The cops had been questioning everyone within a three mile radius all day. It was a big deal. The mayor’s son, John Miller, had gone missing. From what Richard had heard, the mayor was putting a lot of pressure on the police force to find John.  
Richard rubbed his jaw, trying to ease the tension. He had been questioned too, but not having much to go on, the cops moved on. They didn’t have much. They knew John was a mean drunk and liked beating on his girls. The man drove around town like he owned the place, enjoying the fruits of his daddy’s labor. He had already crashed his car twice but had never been arrested, instead spent his time in rehab or some sort of resort until the outrage died down.  
The cops knew John spent all of his time at the bars and had probably been in one the night before. They knew John had many enemies and not nearly as many friends, fancying himself a lone wolf, too complex to tame.  
What they didn’t know, Richard realized, was that John was beating on one particular girl over the last couple of weeks. The same girl Billy had been sweet on all of his life. Everyone knew John was no prize. Even the girl had tried her best to keep away from him. But rumor had it that when John wanted something, he got it, and that was that. Richard didn’t know what happened, but he had seen first-hand how crushed Billy had been…
Richard sighed. He needed a cigarette. 
The cops also didn’t seem to know that Billy had been in town the night before. They didn’t seem to know the connection between the two, in fact. If they did, Richard was sure they’d been crawling around this place in full force.  
It was why, if there was even the slimmest chance that Billy had come to this place, Richard hard to find whatever evidence the boy left behind and make sure it was destroyed. He had already noticed a few things that had been moved when he went into work that morning. 
He took the carton of cigarettes out of their hiding place and opened the lid. And then he stopped. Folded inside the carton was a piece of paper that had not been there before.  
He put the carton down and unfolded the piece of paper. It was a dealership coupon, one of the couple of dozen he had piled up on his desk, mixed with the mail. On it was a handwritten note. 
“I love her. 57RMC.” 
Richard ran outside. He recognized the shorthand. 57RMC was Billy’s code for ’57 Red Monte Carlo, the kind of car, Richard knew, Billy pictured himself someday driving. And Richard knew exactly where he had a forgotten shell of one. He ran through the junkyard like a man much younger than his age, trying to reach that car before anyone else figured out what it contained.
  
As he got closer, Richard could already tell something was wrong. The grass underneath was too dark, wet. The Monte Carlo looked like it had been moved, and all of the cars around it looked like they were ready to collapse. He had work to do.  

He looked up at the sky. It would be hours before dawn. He had work to do. As he looked closer at the trunk, sure that there were signs of blood and chipped nail polish, he only hopes that Billy was absolutely sure it was worth it.  

For Headache, Add Tequila

I’ve been participating in some writer challenges lately. Last year I joined the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge and plan to participate this year. This is the first story from 2015. 

The Prompt: 
Genre: Comedy
Location: Martial Arts Studio
Object: Paint Can

Synopsis: What happens when you mix a martial arts gym and an unlimited amount of alcohol in one night of celebration? For Carl, it’s a headache, that’s what.

Carl tried to smile through the thumping in his head. He was still sweating tequila and needed sleep, but his future depended on him keeping his composure for the next few minutes.

It was bad enough that he hadn’t thought to cut the guys off before he left the night before. It was even worse that he’d forgotten to tell Gabriella about the party. No, the crux of the matter was that, just a week before, he had announced his candidacy for mayor on a, “Clean Up Our City!” platform in front of the entire town, promising he’d clean up corruption and entitled behavior in the government.

If this got out he would look like a fool or worse, a complete hypocrite.

Carl looked at the detective. Things didn’t look good.

Somewhere to the side, Gabriella loudly shoved a few empty cans inside a trash can.

He squeezed the bridge of his nose. He had already taken four aspirin and a few antacids. He wanted more, but didn’t want to risk putting himself in the hospital. An option that, right now, didn’t feel like a bad idea.

Instead he groaned to himself and drank more water nervously, trying to keep his composure.

“Sir, are you hung over?” The detective asked.

No, Carl thought putting the cup down, I’m pretty sure I’m still drunk. But he didn’t say so out loud, and instead offered the detective a small nervous smile, eager to keep explaining that a crime had not happened the night before and it was simply a misunderstanding.

Behind him Gabriella shoved a stack of empty plastic cups into the trash can even louder than before.

“I’m sorry officer, I’m just a little tired,” he replied with a chuckle. It was the understatement of the century, but he hoped the detective would let it go.

The detective said nothing.

Carl shrugged. “We were just celebrating our dojo’s first big win at regionals,” he offered, trying to keep the mood light.

“What time did you go home?” The detective asked, not budging.

“2 AM. I took a cab.”

“And what time does Ms. Thompson usually arrive?”

“About 6:30 every morning.”

“So between the time you left and the time she arrived?”

“The rest of the management team were free to continue partying,” Carl added with a sigh.

And boy, did they. He didn’t know if it had been the high of winning or the implied freedom he had given them. Or maybe, Carl pondered, if it was just the alcohol, especially with a group of guys that admittedly didn’t drink much to begin with. But from the looks of the studio that morning, the team leaders went wild.

Someone “decorated” the place with toilet paper. Someone else, he had no idea who, found a can of spray paint and crudely wrote the words “Kung Fu is Lyfe!” in the middle of the mat.

But it wasn’t just the mess. The lead instructor, a man in his early thirties who was trying to calm his frantic fiancée on the phone, had fallen asleep on the floor holding onto one of the punching bags for dear life. He still had his dark red robes on, and Carl could see stains of alcohol and drool on it.

But the sensei- a man well into his 70’s who never ate anything wilder than unsalted hard boiled eggs for breakfast- had so much to drink the night before that he simply pulled off his pants and passed out on the middle of the mat.

And that’s how Gabriella found him in the morning, looking like he’d been mugged, stripped and left for dead with his pants around his ankles with both hands pointing up to the “Lyfe!” painted in silver. By the time they’d calmed her down she’d woken Carl, the lead instructor, half the neighbors, and almost the entire police department.

Carl looked at her. When she saw him staring at her, she narrowed her eyes and glared at him, dropping bottles inside the trash can one at a time, each with a loud thud. It occurred to him, for the first time, that maybe she was upset at not being invited, not at the mess they’d left for her to clean.

He owed her a long apology and a raise.

As the thought crossed his mind, she walked up in front of him and grabbed the empty can of spray paint from where it lied discarded. Staring at him, Gabriella held the empty can as high as she could for a second, then let it drop inside the trash can with a loud metallic clang.

Carl flinched but said nothing, still holding his smile. He looked over at the sensei, who was icing the top of his head and reassuring the uniformed officers that no, he didn’t need medical attention.

No, this didn’t look good at all.

“I’m sorry to waste your time detective,” Carl tried to say smoothly. “But as you can see, this was just a bunch of guys who partied a little too hard.”

Just as the words left his mouth, there was a knock on the door. Carl stopped, his headache getting worse instantly. His smile froze on his face and part of him cried internally, knowing nothing good would come from opening that door. But he was powerless to stop it. One of the uniformed police officers opened it. They all watched as he revealed a clown and a girl in a bikini, pulling a donkey along on the other side.

“I really hope you have a good explanation for that,” the detective commented dryly.

“Yes,” Carl replied through his smile, trying not to react as a flash of maroon scurried away quickly from the corner of his eye. “So do I.”

Untitled

What do you do when you’re happy? 
I write. 
What do you do when you’re sad? 
I write some more. 

In the end, it was I who broke things, I who walked away and refused to stay for the both of us, refused to play along hoping the other would break instead of, finally, for once, admitting it was over.

Until then we tried everything but telling each other the truth. You grew your hair long even though I hated it. Smoked tobacco behind my back only to turn around and kiss me with a mouthful of stale, slick saliva tainted with nicotine and shame.

And then denied it.

But I was worse. Oh, I was so much worse, spending entire nights out claiming to be at work, coming home reeking of another man’s cologne, lipstick smudged and a worn thong shoved in my purse that you’ve never even seen until then, and even as I stood in front of you, orgasm still pink on my face, all you could say was, “Welcome home.”

And that’s when I broke. That’s when I broke us, because I could no longer be what we had become: two strangers living under the same roof. Two strangers existing in different realities, joined by nothing but resentment, with nothing to look forward to but hate.

So I packed, and then I left. I paid the doorman and made sure the dog was fed. And on my way out I waited for you to say something, anything to make me want to stay.

I hoped that you remembered me. The girl who washed your clothes the first day we met. The girl who begged you to dance with her in the rain.

I hoped you remembered us. The team who once wanted to change the world together, who during lean times ate canned spaghetti in bed.

But you only looked at the ground. And I knew me staying would only mean more of the same.

So I walked out and tried to slam the door, a final dramatic gesture, a noise I could not form with my mouth. But it only caught on the carpet and slid into place.

Without a sound.