Saturday, April 21, 2007

Flickr Fiction: Changeling

I don't know why I was in that part of town. I mean, I know how I got there, but why I was wandering around...I could have called a taxi, should have. But it's too late now.

The snow keeps falling on my bare arms, speckling them with tiny melted water droplets; little freezing spots that chill me to the bone. I keep walking, even though it was walking that got me into this...mess. This—I don't want to think about it.

Jeff asked me to go to the party, and like a stupid jilted girlfriend who hadn't quite made it out of denial yet, I said I'd go, even though I'd never heard of these friends of his before, or their club, the Sliver. All I could think about was seeing him again, making him realize that he missed me and had made a mistake.

But I was the one who made a mistake. And I'm paying for it now. The snow changed to rain, surprisingly warm but falling thickly now, in sheets. My thin sleeveless shirt is soaked in moments. I can't see in front of me, so I reach out, even though I'm afraid of what I might touch.

When I got to the club, I waited in the line of giggling, shrieking, tarted-up underage college girls and scornfully silent, black-lipsticked androgynous goths for forty-five minutes, adjusting my silver-beaded spaghetti straps so they were artfully haphazard, touching up my makeup in a tiny hand mirror. I finally made it to the door, flashed my ID at the bouncer, and slipped into the dark interior, thronged with sweaty, shouting bodies. I looked around. There was a painfully loud industrial band at the opposite end of the warehouse-like space, with the requisite mosh pit swirling at the base of the stage.

Spotting Jeff at the bar--of course--I picked my way through the crowd, trying to touch people as little as possible, recoiling when I felt someone's sweat land on me from the nearby dance floor. I brushed it off my forearm and wiped my hand on my ripped jeans.

Of course, now I wish I hadn't worn those jeans, holes torn in deliberate patterns, held together with a web of safety pins. The wind, cold again, cuts right through every hole, and the swirling brown leaves stick to my still-wet skin and start to disintegrate into crumbly pieces. I can see skeletal trees around me, and find myself imagining how nice it would be to see, for instance, the warm glow of that Narnia lamppost, or even the guttering streetlight of the dank neighborhood I somehow left behind.

When I got to Jeff, I'm sure you can guess what I saw. I should have known, too, but I'd fooled myself into thinking otherwise. He and his new flavor of the month didn't even see me, they were so busy sticking their tongues down each other's throats. I turned and fled. I'm not even sure how I got outside, how I made it through the crowd that had gotten thicker even than before, dancing elbows narrowly missing my rib cage and booted or spike-heeled feet stomping dangerously near my thin canvas Chuck Taylors.

But somehow I made it out. I walked faster, and then I was trotting, past humped mounds of blankets where derelicts slept. Tears streamed down my face. I had no idea where I was going, just as long as it was far away from him. I passed a shadowed doorway, and was almost past when I felt my wrist grabbed in an iron grip, yanking me to a stop. The hand was almost painfully slender, the forearms moon-pale and crisscrossed with faint blue traceries of veins. I felt bile in the back of my throat. I didn't want to look too closely, didn't want to encourage this drug-addicted nut job or desperate prostitute or whatever she was to hurt me.

"You can have my money," I said. "I don't care." At that moment, I didn't. The tears were still drying on my stinging cheeks. "I just want to be…God. Anywhere but here," I finished, pathetically. I made a halfhearted attempt to free my arm, but it was like pulling against a manacle.

"Then I'll give you what you want," the figure said, in a hoarse, dry voice. And suddenly she, or it, had released me, and I stumbled forward, and here I was. Instead of looming brick and concrete walls, vague dark tree-shapes. Instead of an unusually balmy spring night, by turns wind, snow, rain, leaves, choking humidity. I keep moving, hoping I'll stumble back into reality, out of this—whatever this is. Whoever the figure was, I don't know what they did to me. They did manage to steal my bracelet, the cheesy ID bracelet I've had ever since I can remember, the kind that's supposed to be impossible to remove. I feel strangely bare without it, even though it's worthless.

I keep moving, half-walking, half-running. I don't know what else to do.

***

This week's piece was inspired by the Blue Nile by Flickr user hanna.bi. I'm interested in exploring this one further and seeing where it goes...though I really have no idea what comes next, as usual. Check the usual suspects for more Flickr Fiction: The Gurrier, Isobel, Elimare, Chris, TadMack, Neil, Valsha, and Mari.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Cause for Celebration

I'm sorry, no Flickr Fiction yet this week. Possibly tomorrow. In the meantime, click the picture for my latest desktop publishing endeavor. I've spent much of today working on the program for the play, which opens this coming Friday--plugging in cast bios, ads, and the like, and messing with the fonts. I feel like that's what takes up a lot of the time for me...that and figuring out how to do really easy things that, for some reason, I don't know how to do. On the other hand, in working on this poster I learned something very useful--how to apply a spot color and then merge it into the existing RGB color channels. (The background image on the poster came from a fairly small black-and-white image of an antique postcard. I colorized it, which was somewhat time-consuming, but the results are pretty cool.)

Besides sitting at the computer, today was a pretty relaxing day. I actually had a strong Bay Area Moment in the middle of the day. This was because 1) it was cold and rainy, and 2) we tried a relatively new Chinese restaurant in Modesto which actually serves dim sum. The dim sum was awesome, too. At least, it was Bay Area quality, which is amazing for this area. When we walked in at about 12:30 the place was full of Asian customers; always a good sign.

Rob and I agreed it was probably the most Asian people we'd seen in any given place in Modesto at the same time. The reason for this is probably that the rest of the Chinese restaurants here are pretty inauthentic, serving Americanized Chinese food. That's not to say the food isn't tasty, but it sure isn't authentic. (Although I have to say, China Gate does a killer General's Chicken.)

So, Monday night I'm going to a reading at Barnes & Noble in Oakland. I discovered, purely by accident, that someone I was friends with at Cal as an undergrad is currently on a book tour. I was reading my Cody's Books e-mail newsletter a few weeks ago, looking at the upcoming readings, and I saw a name I recognized and thought, geez, I used to know an Annie Choi. So I did some Googling and sure enough, it was the same person. Annie was a friend from Stebbins Hall, but I only lived there a semester before I got burned out on the whole roommate thing (I'd been in the dorms for two years before that) and got my own apartment. We lost touch after graduation, but she was a good friend during a particularly tough time, and is just a really cool person in general, so I was excited to get back in touch with her. Very serendipitous!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Par-tay Time.

our fat cat

I've spent so much time out of the house over the past couple days that I'm hiding inside today, lurking in front of the computer and taking occasional breaks to do chores. In the past two days I've been to a Passover Seder dinner party, a baby shower, and a Pig Roast Planning Party. Seriously.

Friday Rob and I went to the City to bring back Fumi's cat Clio, who we've been cat-sitting for the past four months or so while Fumi was out of the country. I believe we fattened her (the cat) up by at least two pounds, but she's still no match for our big burly cat (above). While in SF with Fumi, we had sushi and ramen for lunch at Hotei, then went to the DeYoung Museum for a while before heading to Fumi's boyfriend Rohan's house in Berkeley for the Passover Seder dinner party. His housemates hold twice-monthly potlucks and other random events celebrating all manner of holidays and what-not. There were about 25 or 30 people there, and the organizers had made photocopied packets of information about various Passover traditions, foods, songs, prayers, etc. and were reading it aloud as a group when we arrived.

Needless to say, it was very educational for us, as non-Jewish persons (though I should add the probably most of the group was not Jewish). I wasn't entirely comfortable because I knew a total of about two people there, besides Rob. But most people were pretty friendly, and the wine was freely flowing.

Saturday I went to a baby shower for my sister-in-law, who's expecting her second boy-child toward the end of next month. I really hate baby showers, or any showers, really. Girly parties are not my thing. I was also dreading it because at her last baby shower I got asked obnoxious questions about when I was going to have children. However, this was a much smaller affair and lacking in the nosy relatives department, which was fine with me. Nobody asked me the question, which was a little disappointing as my planned answer was to say "before I'm 67."

Then, in the evening, we went to a Pig Roast Planning Party. Last summer, a co-worker of Rob's who teaches computer graphics hosted a pig roast at his house, which is on the outskirts of town surrounded by orchards and stuff. It was pretty awesome. They roasted a very large pig on a spit, had other food and drink, and 50-plus people came and partied on into the evening. The logo on the invitations was a graphic of a pig nose engulfed in flames.

So Rob, who is a friend of the host, Brian, got in on the planning process this year. Apparently this involves one or more "planning parties" that include large amounts of booze, some barbecue, and maybe 20 minutes of deciding who's going to be responsible for what (e.g., who's going to obtain the pig, when the roast will be held, who's going to help set up the roasting apparatus, etc.). This year there may also be a roasted goat, as well as toasted marshmallow peeps-on-a-stick, though everyone had had at least a few drinks when that last idea was floated. Ah, good times...

Friday, April 06, 2007

Flickr Fiction: Far From Home

I was sure that nobody could see him but me.

The first time was in the square at lunch, Russell Square. I was still trying to find work then, waiting for the temp agency to call me with some kind of office job, anything. I was not going back to California, not for all the money in the world. I'd already told the Registrar's office that I wasn't signing up for classes in the fall.

Anyway, I'd been to the little market across the street from the Tube station and bought a cheese salad sandwich, a Cadbury's Dairy Milk chocolate bar, and a bottled water. As I sat there, wishing I had a cell phone so that I didn't have to rely on the front desk of the dormitory to take my messages, I saw a flash of movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned.

There was a man standing there, sort of indeterminate older middle age, hair both balding and graying, wearing a tan raincoat and Converse high-tops. He was looking right at me. But the people walking around him didn't seem to notice him. It wasn't like he was somehow not there; it was just that they walked around him without even noticing they were taking a one-foot detour to the left or right. The slight breeze that provided some relief from the hot June day, ruffling my hair around, did nothing to budge his coat. It was like the wind, too, was compelled to go around him.

But I thought about all that later. At the time, all I could do was sit there, my sandwich halfway to my mouth. I couldn't break his stare for a long moment. I didn't know what he was staring at me for. It creeped me out, and after a while I looked around, hoping there was a policeman or somebody authoritative, though I wasn't sure what I'd tell them. All I saw were people having lunch on the benches and under the trees, or hurrying back to work along the paths that criss-crossed the square.

When I looked back at where he'd been standing, over by one of the flower beds, he was gone.

After that day, I started to see him everywhere. On Baker Street the following Monday, when I went for an interview at yet another temp agency. In the British Museum a few days later, standing next to one of the donation boxes in the rotunda, and then, when I was looking at the Rosetta Stone, next to one of the obelisks on the other side of the gallery. Always looking at me. Never coming nearer.

Then, after a few weeks of fruitless daily phone calls to three different temp agencies, I got a job, in the front office of an elementary school a few blocks from Westminster Abbey. That was when everything changed.

***

This week's piece was inspired by o by Flickr user eyeblink. I'll admit it; I don't know what happens next. This is sort of an alternate-history version of the summer when I was 19 and working in London. (Obviously I did go back to school in the fall...and there was no strange man in a raincoat lurking about. Not that I noticed, anyway.) Check the usual suspects for more Flickr Fiction: The Gurrier, Isobel, Elimare, Chris, TadMack, Neil, Valsha, and Mari.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Flickr Fiction: Close Calls

"I'll do it, I swear!" She shook the bottle of pills at him, a strange gleam in her eyes reflecting from the sun weakly filtering in through the kitchen window. Her voice was so raw and rough it made his own throat constrict.

Anyway, he didn't know what to say. It wasn't like she hadn't done this before.

Yelling back was what she wanted, some twisted confirmation of her own low self-image that, perversely, made her feel calmer, vindicated. Soothing, placating tones only provoked rage, only increased the likelihood of the cap coming off the little plastic safety canister.

He didn't want to go through it all again—the ambulance with sirens screaming, the emergency room with its odor of fear and blood, her sleeping face the color of ashes on the white pillow. He hated hospitals. They were full of serious bad vibes.

But he'd never tried silence. In their two years together, it had somehow not occurred to him. It was so easy to talk; not as easy to stop talking and hear.

The silence was involuntary this time. His throat simply would not function. Usually, his first instinct was to turn to those meaningless platitudes that rolled so easily off the tongue. He clung to them himself like a daily regimen: It's just a bad mood. Sleep on it; you'll both feel better in the morning. She doesn't really mean it. It's a cry for help.

But the quiet was like a fog that rolled over both of them, muffling the screaming, the rattling pills, the shuffling of his feet.

"Say something," he barely heard her whisper, and then she put the pill bottle down and bent forward, arms hugging her stomach, resting her forehead on the cool tile counter.

***

This week's piece was inspired by Day 53 - Soma by Flickr user Miss Emily goes bananas. I seem to only write angst-ridden pieces these days; sorry. I'll try to be more amusing next time. Check the usual suspects for more Flickr Fiction: The Gurrier, Isobel, Elimare, Chris, TadMack, Neil, Valsha, and Mari.