06 Nov

Fiction: “Interview” by Jonathan Harper

Interview
by Jonathan Harper

 

Of course it’s him.

It takes only a second to cycle through the rolodex of my mind and match the name with the face. Stanley. Jones. Name as bland as the gray suit he wears. I stammer, I almost tangle my feet.

“Danny?” He says my name like it’s up for debate. In another life, I would have simply walked out of the room.

We stand in his fancy office, windows overlooking the bustle of K Street. He’s done well for himself: the executive desk, framed degrees, the plastic plants. All the signs point to the level of upper-management where you’ve been successful enough to just coast by the rest of your career. Stan’s got that pleasantly plump build, his face soft and his hair fully grey. He looks like somebody’s dad. On his desk sit a trio of picture frames featuring his wife and children. They arch out like a ward against evil.

“Jesus, Danny. It’s really you, isn’t it?” He thrusts his hand at me and I hesitate before shaking it. “I had no idea!”

Who’s he trying to fool? I’m here for a job interview and my resume is spread eagle on his desk. It clearly lists where and when our paths have crossed.

“You look great,” he gushes. “Haven’t changed a bit.”

Liar. I’m thicker in the gut with a receding hairline and crow’s feet. My blazer is borrowed. And ill fitting. I got a tattered JanSport backpack holding my portfolio: over a decade’s worth of web designs and marketing kits and anything else I could think to throw in. I don’t just want this job. I need this job and I’m trying not to show it.

We’re still shaking hands after several seconds, like a test of willpower to see who will let go first. Stan’s face is jubilant. “Do you still keep in touch with the others?” he asks. The corner of his mouth starts to twitch while I try to guess which names he wants to hear. “Didn’t think so,” he says. “That’s a shame. We’re lucky if we find a group like that once in our lives.” Then comes the silence. He let’s go of my hand. “So, what have you been up to all these years?”

I hand him my portfolio, take my seat, and watch him toss it aside. “Straight to business. I like that,” he says.

The way he acts would make you think this interview was just a formality. He starts with the most banal questions: Where do I see myself in five years? How do I overcome challenges in the workplace? He feeds me each answer. The design department, he assures me, is self-sufficient. It just needs a manager to ensure deadlines are met. My portfolio remains untouched.

The way Stan speaks is rehearsed and phony and full of generalizations. Soon, he quits asking questions altogether, talks about the company like it’s one of those ominous evil corporations straight from an 80’s sci-fi flick. And he’s just one of the henchmen. When it’s obvious he’s lost my attention, he knocks on his desk to bring me back in. His hands are large, well manicured nails with age spots around the knuckles.

To think, he used to make my cry with those fingers.

**

My last vivid memory of Stan, eighteen years ago: he was spit-roasting me with another one of his chums in the back of the Greenpeace outpost. I was sprawled over a table among random papers and Styrofoam cups, the three of us sweaty and stoned and out of our minds.

“I’m doing this for the planet!” I hollered and both of them laughed before they put me back to work.

This was back during my political days, when I was a twenty-four year-old professional intern, ready to get elbow deep in whatever cause would take me on. This was when Stan was a bushy-haired organizer, a guy who knew how to motivate. His friend – another one of the foot soldiers, the kind who rotated in and out whenever it was convenient.

Back then, every week was about signature collections and databases and long strings of credit card numbers. I never knew what became of all this data. I started in Stan’s office because I needed work experience and a reason to live in the city. I stayed because of the people and the drugs and because together, we were humanity’s last stand against environmental annihilation. How many nights did I spend in the break room, talking about carbon emissions and big business schemes, conspiring against the enemy and “motivating” the allies. I thought, as long as we didn’t save the world, this could go on forever.

**

The job interview doesn’t just end, it fades out slowly. Before I know it, Stan is talking about the good old days, lamenting the loss of lower rents and the late night parties. But what he really means is he misses his youth. I was once part of it. He wants to know when I became a graphic designer? Where am I living these days? Do I still go out to the bars on 17th Street?

“Tell me something,” he says. “Something dangerous and true.”

I say, “The oceans are rising at a current rate of 3.3 millimeters per year.”

He pauses and forces a chuckle. That’s no longer his department. “Oh we had fun back in those days. Now it’s just work, work, work.”

I look back at the family photos: the two little boys in matching bow ties and monstrous grins. The wife looks … sweet. I grimace. It’s involuntary.

“You know I can’t hire you,” Stan says. His voices dips back to that cold informality that years ago I grew to detest. He’s not supposed to say that. “I’m not supposed to say that,” he says. “But I don’t want to string you along. The thing is I see you as a doer, not a manager. You understand that, right?” He gives that tilted-head sorry look, because I should have understood the moment I walked through his door. “We do take on freelance work. I can send your portfolio to the marketing department.”

He wants me to stay seated, to barter for the job. Just like I did when the internship ended. That was a terrible day. He sent me home, back to Kansas City, without so much as a letter of recommendation. Now, I don’t take the bait.

All I can do is let it roll off me with a shrug and explain that I have enough freelance work. But what I want to tell him is that I need the health insurance, the 401K, all the stability I should have had while doing the odd jobs that people like him leave unfinished.

“There’s a happy hour next week. You should come with me. I’ll introduce you to a few people. Sometimes, it’s all about who you know.” Asshole. He knew what he just said. “Let’s talk about it over drinks. My treat.”

He extends his hand again. I do not take it, but then I do. He’s all transactional, ugly and charming.

“I could use a guy’s night out,” he says. “Just like the good old days.”

I’m sure we remember the good old days very differently. For me, they were full of men like Stan, who believed compromise equaled defeat, so they set the bar low enough so they wouldn’t have to do it. They were the ones who hired me, used me like a sponge and sieve for their momentary fascinations, each one ending up as a trophy line on my resume. When I shake Stan’s hand, I feel all of them there asking in unison, “Didn’t we use to play together?” As opposed to work.

They are like children to me now.

____________
Jonathan Harper
is the author of the short story collection Daydreamers (Lethe Press), which was a Kirkus Review’s Indie Book of the Year for 2015. His writing has been featured in such places as The Rumpus, The Rappahannock Review, Chelsea Station, and in numerous anthologies including The Best Gay Stories series. Visit him online at jonathanharper.com

13 Jul

Fiction: Fireflies by Nicole Sharp

Fireflies
by Nicole Sharp

Fireflies blink on and off in the overgrown Spanish moss trees outside my bedroom window. My brother used to tell me that if I ever got lost, all I had to do was find the fireflies that winked and blinked in the long green hair of my trees. He told me that the fireflies would be my own personal beacons of home.

When I was younger. When I sat on the front porch with my grandmother who told stories of her childhood. When my skin stayed sticky in the height of the summer months. When I had faith in my widowed father who liked to bring his dates home. When life was a perfect blend of all these things, I had faith in my fireflies.

Daddy’s found a wife since then, since I was younger. Actually, he found himself three wives since then. They were all the same. They loved him at first, smiled at him in the mornings over the kitchen table. With grandma sitting next to me, her head bowed in prayer, I watched the looks between my daddy and his new wives. They loved him at first. They would smile, unashamed about the night noises that banged and screamed from daddy’s room. Daddy used to stare at the red lipstick painted on his new wife and lick his lips like he could taste it.

“Amen,” Grandma would say. We’d all eat biscuits and gravy and grits with a lake of melted butter in the middle.

When grandma died we’d eat Captain Crunch or peanut butter toast or leftovers for breakfast. Grandma never taught me how to cook. I go to the grocery store and don’t know what to buy. The shiny wrappers look more appealing than the stacks of earth tones in the produce section. I buy the shiny packages. No one complains. But most of the time I miss steamy grits with a lake of butter and heavenly biscuits.

Doreen, who laughed like a frightened bird, was daddy’s first wife. After mama, so I guess Doreen was really daddy’s second wife. Carla, who chain smoked cigarettes in her bathrobe while sitting in the kitchen, was his third wife. Tammi, with an ‘i’, who rearranged the living room furniture every afternoon, was his fourth wife. I didn’t like any of them. What they thought of me I didn’t much care. We passed each other like strangers on a street.

Daddy spends most of his nights back at the bars now, looking for a fifth wife. I sometimes wish he’d bring home one that could cook grits the right way.

Somewhere in between the second wife and the third wife, grandma died. We put her in the back yard in a pine box daddy and my brother built. We could have buried her in the cemetery, but that wasn’t how my people did things. That’s what daddy said at least. We buried her next to my favorite dog that was killed when my brother was learning to drive the pick-up and my mama who died bringing me into the world.

A preacher came out and said a few prayers over grandma’s box. He held out his hand to daddy, to console him, to shake like a man, but daddy just grunted and walked away. I took the big hand instead. The preacher gave me a sad smile and I regretted putting my hand in his. I pulled my hand away and he asked me if I’d be okay, nodding toward our house. Nodding toward the screen door that was slamming with daddy’s anger. I didn’t answer, just turned and walked away. I wanted him to hear me slam the screen door closed too.

Soon after grandma the muggy swampy heat of the summer brought Tammi who rearranged the furniture. It also pushed at my brother who announced one night that he found Jesus and was going to become a preacher man.

Daddy just stared at him, the night he made the announcement. Daddy shook his head. I looked between them and didn’t know what to do, so I bit my lip and looked out the window at my fireflies. We stood in our silent triangle for years, weeks, moments. I looked out at my fireflies winking at me in secret codes I didn’t understand. My brother moved to leave and our triangle shattered.

Three days later, wife number four stood at the front door and looked at the furniture that had been rearranged so much I no longer knew where it had started. She sighed and told my father she was leaving. He muted the TV from the chair she was sitting on and nodded his head. I thought maybe he’d say something, but he just turned the volume back up then. She looked at me then, into my eyes and smiled. Then she asked daddy why he always forgot he had a daughter.

I didn’t feel forgotten. I had the house with the graves of the people I loved, I had my own room. I had quiet nights when daddy left to look for a new wife. I had my fireflies. I didn’t mind being invisible to him. I knew it was better than being as visible as Sally. Her daddy saw her all the time and reminded her of her existence every chance he got. Sally always talked about leaving while she hid the newest bruises on her face with her hair.

I’ll leave one day too, I suppose.

That’s what daddy said one morning when I stared at the back of the glossy Fruit Loops box. You’ll leave and go away and marry a man or get a job and move to a bigger city.
I thought about that for a long time.

Does it bother you? I asked.

He shook his head.

I didn’t think so. He had more important things to worry about, he needed a woman with red lips to sit across from him in the mornings.

But you can always come back here, this is your home. Not much of one, but it’s yours. You’ll want to come back and visit one day, he announced.

I thought then, I might leave. And if I got lost I could always look for my twinkling fireflies.

I was gone the day daddy brought home his fifth wife. I never knew what she did.

 

____________
Nicole Sharp
is a fiction writer.
nicolesharpwrites.com
She swigs coffee the way a dehydrated sailor with scurvy would whiskey. The writing of Arrested Development gave her faith in humanity once again. She is a purveyor of the perfect Italian Cappuccino and world travel. And after all these years of writing, she’s pretty sure she’s just trying to write one good sentence.

22 Jun

From Our Archive – Fiction: “Coconut Oil” by Ayobami Abedayo

Coconut Oil
by Ayobami Abedayo
(as printed in Volume I: Issue I – May 2014)

When you first said you were in love with me, I thought it was one of your many jokes. I thought you were trying to help me forget the boyfriend who had just ditched me because my scores beat his in class. So I laughed and thought that you were such a wonderful friend. You laughed too but when I turned to look at you, your eyes couldn’t meet mine.

They are not meeting mine again now, those brown eyes that have made me forget to breathe so many times. You face the door, running your hands over the tips of your dreadlocks. This short version sticks up on your head like you’ve just had an electric shock and I resent it. You cut the dreads low just before the first time we broke up. And as I ran after you that day, I longed for the tresses so I could pull you back to me with them.

You take a step towards the door and I am afraid you will walk right through it, creating a replica of the you shaped vacuum that is already in my heart. Then your shoulders heave and I realise you must be shedding silent tears that mirror the ones cascading down my cheeks. It soothes me that you are finally falling apart after months of telling me to get myself together and move on. I step closer and hug you from behind. I link my hands across your navel, thrilled that leaving me devastates you too, even if just a little.

‘We must do this for the future.’ You say, placing your hands on mine.

‘And what happens to our own bloody future?’ I scream so loudly that my words hurt my ears.

‘You know better.’ You reply moving your palm over the back of my hands in a slow caress that I want to feel every day of my life, a caress that I don’t want any other woman to experience.

‘We don’t need to have children.’ I say this to startle you. Though I have agonised over the thought for months, it’s the first time I am suggesting it.

You turn to face me. Your eyes are dry, calm. You have not been crying after all. I loathe you for this. This calm you have displayed since we both learnt that we share the AS genotype just weeks after our traditional engagement. This calm that you have the audacity to maintain even today, the day we had planned to get married, the day I should have become Mrs You. But then, do you even remember? I loathe myself even more for the tears that are welling up again in my eyes.

You wrap your hands around my waist, lean close and whisper into my ears, ‘Tell me you really mean that and I swear I’ll stay.’ I should lie to you, make you stay, but your breath is tickling the nape of my neck and my mouth forgets to mould the lies. I say nothing and just listen to the glorious sound of your breathing.

Good bye.’ You say and pull away, breaking my bliss.

We have acted out this scene so many times that I’ve lost count. It has always ended with me running after you, blubbering that I couldn’t let you go. You always came back in, and for a few weeks we would be together. Until one day you would say we couldn’t keep deceiving ourselves or that it was over and the drama would begin again. But not today, your dry eyes have drained me of the strength to chase you.

I wipe my cheeks with the back of my hands as I watch the door slam behind you. Then I go to my room and pick up the framed picture on my bedside table. My head is bent over yours in the picture, my hands are in your hair, your face is slightly upturned and your dreadlocks are going in every direction. Your roommate took this picture when we were in the university. You were about to graduate and I still had two years to go in medical school. It was the day you wrote your final paper and I had come to your room to congratulate you, to ask what you wanted as a graduation gift. You reached into your cupboard and handed me a bottle of coconut oil. ‘Rub this in my hair,’ you said.

Time slowed to a crawl while you sat on the floor with your head between my thighs. I rubbed the oil into the kinky roots of your hair, wondering why you were so quiet, wondering why my legs were shaky. Your roommate came in the moment you said you had something to tell me. He captured that moment for us with the canon camera he always wore around his neck. Later that night, you told me you had been in love with me since we were in secondary school.

I dismantle the picture frame allowing the glass pane to clatter to the floor and shatter. I rip the glossy photograph into tiny shreds. You are standing by the bed when I turn to throw the picture’s pieces in the dustbin. We stare at each other for a while.

‘Did you forget something?’ I ask, startled that you came back, stifling the urge to run into your arms.

You walk to the door briskly as though my words are propelling you away from me. You stop when your hand touches the doorknob and start wailing. You wail and curse. You hit the door with your fist and feet. And then suddenly you fall silent and come back to me with halting steps. You stop at the foot of the bed.

“Come. Please.” You croak holding out your arms.

I walk into your arms, hold your face against mine and your tears fall on my cheeks. I close my eyes and inhale the scent of coconut oil in your hair. In this moment, there are no genes, there is no future, no past, there’s only you, your tears on my cheeks, the scent of your hair intoxicating me and your arms holding me as though you would die if you ever let go.

 

____________
Ayobami Abedayo
@ayobamiabedayo
www.ayobamiadebayo.com
Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀’s stories have appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies, and one was highly commended in the 2009 Commonwealth short story competition. She holds BA and MA degrees in Literature in English from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife and has worked as an editor for Saraba magazine since 2009. She also has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia where she was awarded an international bursary for creative writing. Ayobami has received fellowships and residencies from Ledig House, Sinthian Cultural Centre, Hedgebrook, Ox-bow School of Arts, Ebedi Hills and Siena Art Institute. She was born in Lagos, Nigeria.
____________
**Feature image used at the top of this story was sourced from this website.
01 Jun

Fiction: Ida Untold by Trista Hurley-Waxali

Ida Untold
by Trista Hurley-Waxali

I stop before I reach our hotel to admire a window display. I remember running into this men’s boutique by my husband’s request, to find a tie for a new hire for a dinner meeting. I met them in the lobby with the dark brown silk tie and folded it for the new hire in front of a hallway mirror. My husband watched as I glowed with pride. The gesture was always something I envisioned doing with our son, if he never grew wings.

I blink away the memory and keep walking, here is not about the once past but rather the present meetings to future gains. That’s what we promised each other when we booked this trip. We made a promise to work on ways to communicate and to reconnect to what we had at one time. We want a new pair of us, a pair that we can both be proud of.

“Hey babe, I was just thinking of you.” I say into the phone as it vibrates in my jacket pocket, picking up on my headphones.

“Are you at the room?”

“No, just walking back now, have some goodies for tonight.”

“Yeah about tonight…”

“Are you going to be late? Because that’s fine, I really am behind.”

“No, I can’t make it for aperitifs, I have a call that I have to do with the guys here and then a dinner got scheduled.”

“Oh, of course a dinner.”

“Look, you know this was work for me.”

“I know. It’s fine.” As the words leave my mouth, I know it is, I really do think it’s okay, “I’ll just have the room service we ordered then.”

“Oh shit I completely forgot.” I listen to him put his face in his hands, pinching his forehead. He did forget, I know that sound.

“It’s fine, I’m probably going to send out a few emails and read the English-only paper I found at the newsstand. Not to mention finish the champagne for two.”

“Well, why don’t you save me a glass for when I get back? And maybe a couple strawberries too?”

“Sure, I can do that. I’m going up the elevator, so we’ll text soon?”

“Okay, love you.”

“I know, I love you too.” I hang up. I’m not at the hotel. I’m not at the boutique. I’m at the cemetery.

I walk past the marble monuments, lined so close that there remains no gaps for the cats to squeeze through. Some have candles that remain unlit and pooling dust after months. Some have dried flowers hanging from the locks and some appear freshly laid. The tombs with candles are designed with a sliver for people showing respect to stick a lit end to illuminate. It’s a bright afternoon where any candlelight gets dwarfed but the gesture speak volumes. Some family names repeat and others have lines of poetry. There is a strong sense of pride for family name, where these grandchildren children are either grown or have too past away. I look in my grocery bag and see the chocolate ice cream bars are starting to get squishy. At the exit I bow my head to show respect to all the souls, never the religious type but always respectful.

A few blocks away I am back in our penthouse suite. I have just enough time to put my items in the fridge before room service rings at our door. The waiter comes in and arranges the items we ordered on the table and leaves the bill next to the coffee maker to be signed. I walk upstairs to change out of my jeans and into a black maxi skirt. I drop my purse on the bed and take out my lipstick to apply another coat. I may have no one to wear it for but I feel more beautiful with the matte red hue.

“Can you open the champagne, I really don’t want to make a mess.” I ask as I’m walking down the stairs, he nods and takes the bottle from the chill bucket. We are both standing anticipating the pop. I smile, “thank you.” I over-tip for the service and he smiles back. The door shuts and I hear nothing for the next hour besides champagne filling up my flute.

After I pour my 3rd glass I open the fridge door to take out a box of rose petals I bought from the florist. A cheesy gesture I knew would get an easy laugh. I miss watching my husband’s mouth, opening and releasing the scent of sour breath from after too many flutes of champagne. I sigh and open the box. The petals smell of summer romance, wreaths high on the walls of new homes and like our wedding boquet.

The day of our wedding seemed to have snuck up on us, spending weeks in bed comparing, him about my hair and my hands and me about his chest and bony nose. He told me he’d spend his whole life spoiling me with love and tokens from new cities. We made promises to each other, knowing we’ll evolve with some promises kept and others went broken. I feel my phone vibrate in my cardigan pocket. An emoji of a sad cat followed with the line: stuck in this meeting, rather be with you. I drain the glass and look at the time. He’s not going to make it for the arrangement of sweets or the petals, he’s not going to be back here till late at night.

The 4th glass I pair with the pastry basket and fruit that was set to ruin dinner, the spread that now became my dinner. I specified for the yellow tart over the blueberries and flan, knowing he doesn’t like items too heavy. He never relished in the weight of a good pastry like how he never relished in my affection of longing. I sit on the couch to admire the bright autumn sun hovering over the cemetery. The rays of the sun look as if they are reaching down and touching the tops of the mausoleums. It looks so warm, so comforting, so welcoming for those lost and past souls. A clear and present path laid out, if only they were ready to look.

Now on the 5th glass with a steady buzz, I respond back to his text:

“Sad face, I’m going to have a hot shower.”
5:50 pm

But I’m not going to be the one who showers, no, these souls in the cemetery will be the ones who get showered. That’s what I should do, shower them with fresh rose petals. I will raise them from their sleepy states and feel their warmth go through my body. I open the balcony door and step out 12 floors up.

 

“I’m sorry, I want to make it up to you.”
6:00 pm
“Brunch tomorrow? Somewhere nice outside of the hotel.”
6:03 pm

 

“Sure.”
6: 05pm

“ok I’ll make reservations tonight.”
6:08pm

 

Translation: he’ll find a spot nearby that we can easily walk in. We always walk in and we always order a bottle of win. Those gestures I know will never change but those gestures are in place so we don’t have to talk about the elephant in the room. So we don’t have to talk about when I want another.
With an hour left till sunset, I lift the 6th flute to feel the bubbles on my nose, the smell of luxury. The balcony table is small but stable enough to not move in the breeze, not a harsh wind like you get from the tunnels between buildings on the street and nothing cold that forces me to run back inside. I have the box of rose petals in my hand and I open it up to take out petals between my fingers. Soft like youth and still damp from the fridge.

As I drop each petal-one at a time, I watch the red notes float down in different directions. Some towards the cemetery, some towards the building across the street and some just straight down. Each dependent on the moment the wind blows. When the wind doesn’t blow- there’s no direction, leaving the petal’s destiny to rest on the sidewalk for one of the many small dogs in this city center to poop on. He calls when I’m a third of the way through the box, the time I stop wanting to hear the excuses. The phone stops ringing, voicemail. Oh, looks like he no longer wants to leave a message, perfect. I step back inside our room and finish a raspberry tart and pour out the rest of the bottle. I come back out for the sunset with the lipstick stained flute, leaving behind my phone.

As I’m leaning on the frame of the balcony door, I look at my empty dark green bottle, my half eaten strawberries and my pastries. I see the plates on top of each other on the table and only my napkin sprinkled with pastry shell flakes. Where two napkins were ordered to be together but only one gets used. The 2nd third of the petals I drop from the railing and I each land on the ground. My chest gets smacked with the shock of the fall, the fall coursing up my spine and into my frontal lobe. Where all I see is the end, where all I can envision is the pavement. I look for some air and move towards the edge to hang over the balcony. Lying there between the floor and the bottom railing.

I’m holding the last third of the box taking deep breathes. For I’m going to try and maybe guide these petals. Maybe give some souls an alternate path. I drop each one when I feel the wind on my skirt, hoping some petals will fall on balconies like this one or in neighboring units. It’s late and I hear the street stir with couples heading out for dinner. I don’t get up or move away from the edge, away from wandering eyes but rather I extend my arm to dump out the rest of the petals. As each one glides with the wind, moving by found souls who can smell the bouquet. I lean over the edge to follow the red matte blanket and grow my wings with ease.

____________
Trista Hurley-Waxali
@tristaisshort
is an immigrant from Toronto, who finally listened to her parents advice and moved South. She has performed at Avenue 50, Stories Bookstore and internationally at O’bheal Poetry Series in Cork, Ireland and a TransLate Night show from Helsinki Poetry Connection. She writes weird short stories and is working on her novel, At This Juncture.