Quiet on the Bridge
He would read through yesterday’s newspaper and then fold the pages into little boats to drop into the water below, as if each one represented the world’s troubles sailing out of view, and then he would turn and walk slowly, the heels of his leather shoes striking the cobblestones in the silence of sleeplessness. It was the same each morning as the bells tolled four and the mist lay across the water. Now and then he would find another sleepless chum to spend his half hour with before walking back to the flat, but only now and then, and he never did see them again. He wouldn’t be surprised if they preferred the solitary stillness of the river to his stiff company. It was not the expected thing to find a well dressed young man with glassy eyes dropping paper boats in the water at four in the morning, but they supposed he had a broken heart; he was most likely one of those disconsolate boys whose worlds are crumbling but who will soon find the courage to build them up again, and are better left alone. You might think that, to see him there.
On Ms. B and Aching for Love
It snowed, heavy. The kind of snow that covers the earth and leaves roads slick and me wondering if summer has ever actually happened and if it will ever happen again. I am a summer person. I tell this to my friends and family; I live by the beach, I am a summer person. Cause and effect. I wasn’t born here but the water, it’s so encompassing. Despite my attempts to meander into fall or spring, this life, this town, that godforsaken warm weather season has seeped into my veins.
My beach is a dirty beach. Last summer the sand was covered in cicadas, littered like clothes on a bedroom floor. When they all washed away, it was still dirty. The scents of sex and day-old perfume linger in the air all seasons. The water is filled with sewage and assorted waste from the nuclear plant down the street. Warnings are posted on every tree to "swim at your own risk" and I always swear I’ll never go in but still somehow I find myself wading up to my shoulders on a rare July day when it’s too hot to do anything else. I like to go so far out that I’m only a little blip of light, that the water soaks through the cutoff patterns of my jean shorts, curling them up and tattooing them onto my skin. I always have a farmer's tan in summer, no matter how consciously I try not to. That water is frozen over now and the path is unshoveled. I feel oppressed. I feel safe. I want to go back and keep inching toward the sun.
I had a teacher once who said I burned like a Southern girl’s first winter North. I think about her constantly, about those words and how my state won’t get claimed by the North or the South, how nobody wants the middle. Because of this, I have spent the eighteen years of my life trying to sway to one side of things, trying to corral myself. I am a summer person. I walk towards the big star. I wonder if when my old teacher looks up, she remembers me. My family listens to my findings and they tell me to go outside, clear my head for a while. The snow is fun, they say. I remember I am three in a family of five. A perfect middle. Passion, my teacher told me, is a burning that takes the shape of ice.
So: it snowed, heavy, and will snow again in a day, but while the roofs on my street melt into the first drops of this season’s baywater, I will at least try. I go out, letting the shoveled piles swallow me up. Farther, farther into the distance and suddenly I am nothing but a tiny blip. The snow melts through my leggings, freezing them onto my legs, and I think about what it might take to crawl out of this perfect dragging rhythm I have. Would anyone really notice? Would anyone really care?
Deprived: Flight of the Reptile
Marie had always wanted to try it, but she was afraid of herself. It was the same reason she had never experimented with LSD.
She didn’t quite understand her own mind, but she was acutely aware of what it was capable. LSD, she feared, was a one-way door into her unbridled mind that could last up to a dozen hours. She didn’t want to do anything she couldn’t un-do if she were to change her mind—even one that was tripping. There were not enough controls in such an arrangement.
Her acquaintances had always praised her insights that came with her tangential thinking. She had no real friends because she was no one’s fool. Empathy and relating to others meant, with enough episodes, she would be made the fool; taken advantage of; tricked, ripped off, or hurt. She might as well stand naked and vulnerable to everything the world could throw at her.
Many men had tried to crack that force field, to no avail.
It was often said she was the type who could think “outside of the box.” This often meant writing scripts in her reasoning ahead of time that would end up the cautionary tales that warned and protected her. Her synapses didn’t follow the shortest distance between two points, but ran their journeys circuitously in a labyrinthine adventure, making use of superfluous neurotransmitters along the more scenic way. She always walked under dark probability clouds, and she would be damned if she were to get rained on!
Still, she had always wanted to try it.
She knew that the sensory deprivation experience was a personal journey of the mind, lacking the quotidian distractions of sight, sound, touch, smell, or even changes in temperature. Marie knew she would be on her own, into her own mind, and she was fearful of the unknown. What were her own dark clouds like? Could they rain upon her?
In a well-sensed world, distracted by worldly effects, she could approach her cognitive tangential asides just that way—tangentially, i.e., carefully; but all alone in a sensory deprivation tank she couldn’t just peak at her mind’s beauties and nightmares from the side, tiptoe toward them, and continue to have the option of fight or flight. She would walk into them head-on, be they beautiful or horrific.
And she would be on her own.
Marie, however, had an existential imperative: to know herself. That meant dealing with herself, all the way down through all of the layers, to the primitive reptile that was her brain’s limbic system. She knew humans had evolved convolutions around it to police it, because that is what resulted in civilization. She knew if she were to attempt countering her fears of herself, she would have to meet her reptile, negotiate a settlement with it, and then accept whatever new world order came from signing this pact with the devil.
On October 1, 2021, she entered the new-age boutique proprietorship that offered use of its sensory deprivation tanks on an hourly basis. The reception area had at least a dozen people waiting their turns, but the process was orderly, persons being called and then led away down a hall, separated from those waiting by the door which closed behind the intrepid sensory deserters.
Within a half-hour the young woman at the desk called her name. She felt the $60 an hour was reasonable and put up $120 for two hours.
“Would you like 2-way?” she asked Marie. “2-way is a little more.”
“What is 2-way? And how much more?” Marie asked.
“2-way—you can have a tank with a microphone and speakers—you know—just in case you’re claustrophobic or something and you get a panic attack and need someone to come get you out. It’s another ten dollars an hour, ’cause someone has to monitor it in real time.”
Marie weighed the option. No, she thought, I’m not the claustrophobic type and I want my privacy. And, as a bonus to her declining it, she could keep the extra ten bucks an hour, too.
“No thank you,” she said. “It’s crowded here today. Are you the owner?”
“Business must be good,” Marie told her.
“No,” the owner replied, “on the contrary, business is lousy. It’s only crowded for our going-out-of-business sale. Sixty an hour’s a bargain.”
“Oh. I’m sorry it didn’t work for you,” Marie said. She reconsidered the 2-way, but then decided this was the owner’s problem, not hers.
“Yea, I’m sorry, too” the woman replied. And that was that—an unpleasant sentiment for her send-off.
Marie was escorted down the long hallway and the woman stopped her at one of the doors, running a card through a card reader until a bolt disengaged. She opened the door. Marie inspected the room. There was a black tank with some tubes going in and out of it. The room itself was painted a dull gray, including the baseboard and trim. She stepped in. The owner stood in the door.
“Not exactly technicolor in here, is it?” she said.
“Well, yea, it’s one of the perks of the business,” the owner explained. “You don’t have to spend a lot on accoutrements when customers want to be deprived of their senses.”
“I suppose,” Marie agreed, feeling a little claustrophobic already. “What do I do?” she asked.
“Well, strip down all the way and climb in.” The owner stepped through the doorway into the room and closed the door behind her.
“All the way,” Marie repeated.
“Yep,” she said.
Well, Marie thought, at least it’s not a man. Here goes.
She undressed and lay her clothing on the floor in one corner. The owner was looking away, but Marie knew she was checking her out with her peripheral vision. Finally, the woman walked to the tank and opened the top lid to allow Marie to slip in; she held her hand as Marie settled into the tank. The water was already warm and felt good. She could smell a slightly salty atmosphere wafting up from the water’s surface. There was a hum of fluids forced in and out of the tubes she had seen. The woman handed her a pair of earbuds that dinged once they were secure in her ears, and all the hums and swishing she had heard evaporated into a cloak of noise-cancelling invisibility.
Sound now irrelevant, there was no more discussion or instruction. Marie had paid for two hours, so she assumed she would be reintroduced into the sensory world after that. Hopefully, it would be the woman again and not some male attendant, because Marie envisioned her climb out of the tank. She wrote the script so she could be ready for the worst: she wouldn’t be nude, because nude was lovely; she would be naked, and naked is vulnerable and helpless. Her exit, straddling the tank edge ungracefully, would be awkward and nakedly unlovely. No man could ever un-see that, not that he would ever see Marie again. Ungraceful, am I! she huffed mentally; he’d be lucky to see me naked. And he wouldn’t be so great himself. Her script of outrage was writing itself as the lid closed down over her.
Blacker than the pinpoint disk of an eclipse at totality; quieter than frozen oscillations that lay shattered and motionless on the floor; as numb as a phantom limb; even the salty smell had faded. Marie fell asleep.
She awoke after her two hours were up. Certainly, it must have been at least two hours. Hopefully not more, at sixty an hour. No one came. She fell asleep again. She awoke the second time very concerned that she had not been retrieved. Rescued would have been a better word, because this was getting to be too much.
Nothing had happened during her grand experiment. No epiphanies. No tangential journeys around her mindscape. No hallucinations. No insightful beach encounters with the cortical islands of her brain. No flashbacks, no spiritual awakenings, not even a dream or two. Just a great nap.
She had slept, dreamlessly, and she had wasted her $120. Perhaps LSD next time, she thought.
She had a full bladder, a sensation the tank couldn’t deny her, and she would have fallen asleep a third time except for that. She began knocking on the inside of the top lid, to no avail. She rapped politely at first, then more forcefully, but it was hard to judge without sound. Finally, she began pounding. She stopped and lay still. The pressure inside of her bladder rose above the pressure of the tank fluid and her sphincter opened. She couldn’t even feel the warmth of her urine, which shared the same temperature as her bespoke body of water in her bespoke tank.
After countering her shame with anger over being ignored, she began pounding again, cursing the extra ten dollars an hour she should have spent. She began screaming. She screamed until she couldn’t scream through the hoarseness. She retreated into her sensory deprivation, blind, deaf, and numb; her tears shared the same saltiness as the water, so became instantly miscible and forgotten. Something was wrong, she knew; something dangerously wrong. She fell asleep again, exhausted, only to be awakened by a blinding white light.
Am I dead? she wondered. Is this "the light?" Should I follow it?
A hand grasped her own and tugged gently. Her pupils constricted and the indistinct person helped her climb out. She was now standing on the floor, dripping.
“Who is it!” she shouted. “What happened! I could have died in there! What kind of a place is this! Two hours! That wasn’t just two hours!” She was crying in her anger, directing all the venom she could toward whomever had finally been responsible enough to get her the hell out of the damn tank. Her eyes began accommodating and her pupils and lenses racked back and forth until she saw that she was alone. Naked and alone. Unlovely. Her mind, injured, and quite unforgiving.
She felt the fool--betrayed and denigrated.
She plucked out her noise-cancelling earbuds, and they hit the floor with a tinkling sound, the first of which she had heard in hours.
She picked her clothes up from the corner and put them on; it seemed like a tight fit, but she was only pulling cloth over damp skin. She tried to open the door to the gray room, but it was locked.
“Well, that’s just great!” she said out loud. She banged on the door, but this time her banging was loud and a sonic insult, not silent like it was in the tank. Not only did she hear it, but apparently someone else did, too, because she heard the bolt slide. The door swung open.
The woman who was the owner stood there but didn’t look right. She was fuzzy. Marie tried to focus. She strained to make the woman out, but her face’s details and anatomy were melted into a smooth, unwrinkled, featureless blotch.
“I can’t see you,” Marie said.
“That’s good,” the woman replied. “I don’t want to be seen.”
“You heard me.”
“How long before I can see right?”
“Who says you're not seeing right?” With that, the woman walked away. Marie followed her through the door to the waiting area. There sat other featureless blobs, waiting their turns.
“No wonder you’re going out of business,” Marie said with a sneer. “I pounded on that lid for hours. I’m not paying extra for all that time you forgot me.”
“Shoulda paid the extra ten an hour,” the woman replied coldly.
“Go to hell,” Marie retorted, and she meant it.
Marie headed for the door, and as she exited, she could hear the others laughing at her. Their laughs were snidely and they echoed. They compounded upon each other like a repeating sound loop, recursively additive. They grew louder until Marie had to collapse just outside of the storefront in agony. Where was this coming from? They had laughed—that had happened—but Marie was convinced the incessant loop was an earworm of her own construction. It’ll go away just like my eyes will see better, she thought. Just have to wait this out.
She held her hands over her ears, and alternated placing them over her eyes to counter the day's unforgiving glare. And she was cold. So cold. Yet, she knew she had fever.
People passed by, many stepping over her. She sat collapsed in a crumpled heap. All sounds were summating, growing more intense, more voluminous, and more piercing, until the shrill feedback made slices through her brain like a microtome preparing slides of paraffined tissue. Her brain became a thinly sliced loaf of bread, the pieces only held together by the high-pitched feedback the world and its sounds were engendering, threading through her layers back-and-forth, tightening her stack of mental slivers. It hurt badly. She screamed, but her scream only added to the aural assault.
“You need help,” someone said to her. She looked up, and the speaker’s featureless face was now empty; anytime she tried to focus on it, it disappeared, like from a blind spot on the retina—blinking out.
Her eyes’ blind spots expanded until her whole world was gone. Not just hard to see or even invisible, but gone; non-existent; never been. The person’s (man? woman?) offer to help was accepted and she was picked up and led, stumbling, by the arm.
“Where are you taking me?” Marie asked.
“Nowhere,” the personless person replied. “Somewhere means you have taken in the data and processed it. But you aren’t exactly processing, now are you?” And the person laughed, and that laugh went around and around in circuitous cacophony before distorting into additional shrill feedback. She clamped her hands over her ears again.
“Nowhere?” she said back.
Her blind spots took away her sight; the shrill piercings took away her hearing; she was conflicted between the cold she felt and the fever she was experiencing; and she could barely speak due to her hoarseness. She had no perspective in which to relate to her world. Data was coming in, but it wasn’t being processed. She lived nanosecond-to-nanosecond in the time slices a reptile lives along, a linear number line whose values never ascend into anything positive. She was a limbic creature, deprived of everything that makes us human. She was no one. She was nowhere.
She could only fear. She could only fight...or fly. She was in between, and if she was no one, she was no one whose identification was the vacuum called terror.
And she was scared to death.
The news of her death made sensational headlines. Investigative journalists wrote stories about how she died, why she died, who was at fault, who should pay. News anchors led off with her tragic story. Marie was a sensation. She was a cause célèbre, selling magazines and tabloids.
Her acquaintances were the most helpful to the several investigations, even though they weren’t even there when it happened. They reported to those who asked--that she was a tangential thinker, her musing taking her along the roads less traveled—sometimes beautiful, sometimes not so. She was the type, they explained, who kept score, reciprocating no more and no less than what she received herself. She was a cold fish.
The storefront of the boutique sensory deprivation service had been cordoned off with wide yellow police tape. On the door of the establishment was a sign that once said, “GOING OUT OF BUSINESS,” but which was covered by another that read, “SPACE FOR LEASE.” Inside were forensic teams that looked for evidence that could explain why there was one forgotten room, housing one forgotten, fetid tank, trapping one forgotten, bloated corpse lying in state who continued to feel nothing.
Excerpt from working novel, “Radio”
I continued to remind myself of our unit’s motto, while I simultaneously prayed that Vapor wouldn’t embarrass me by telling them about the silent moment with the barista as we approached the van with six lattes split evenly between us in cup holders. The rest of the unit stood in the parking lot, Dialect clearly overjoyed with a huge smile spreading across her face by the maps in her hands, Vapor and I passed them their hot lattes, with the exception of Surge. Vapor had decided to hold his latte as hostage, claiming she had gotten an extra one for herself to help her deal with being in the van with him and his “non-stop” talking for the past five plus hours. That was a complete exaggeration of course and after some coaxing, Vapor finally handed the latte to him.
There was also something comforting about this area, regardless of my dream of one day living in a big city like Philadelphia and us being in the middle of a rest stop. I breathed in the air, slightly heavy and humid from the recent rain, as much as my lungs would allow me. And on either side of the rest stop, there were some trees whose leaves varied from yellow, red, and brown, while the other trees seemed to be desperately clinging to the green in their leaves. It was simply magical, but also a little saddening because it reminded me of the property where my childhood home stood. It almost knocked the wind out of me and brought me to tears, which I tried to wipe away without smudging my eye makeup.
However I was pleased to see, through my peripherals that Feather was standing next to me. His presence, as per usual, begun to wash away the darkness suffocating me, making it easier for me to breathe again. For he too seemed to be absorbing the nature alongside me as I looked in the direction of a patch of trees that barely had any leaves, unlike the ones I had seen moments before. Through the branches, the sky peeped between them and allowed a flock of Canadian geese in a v-shape formation to come into view. Feather and I could just hear them honking over the racing vehicles on the highway as they flew over us, heading south.
“Beautiful isn’t it?” Feather asked.
We watched the geese until they became so small as the distance between us and them grew.
“We should probably get in the van before the twins throw a hissy fit,” Feather said with a chuckle.
I smiled and nodded as I followed him into the van, still hoping Vapor wouldn’t say anything about the barista or hadn’t already, which I was now realizing I had failed to look at his name tag said his name was…. Oops! Not that it matter because like I had said many times before, I would never see him again.
Blank turned the key and with all of us now situated in our seats, he pulled the van out of the rest stop’s parking lot and back onto route 401. Unfortunately, he accidentally went past the street the house was on, which none of us would have known if he didn’t mutter a series of profanity. All of us in the back started to laugh so hard that we nearly toppled over each other, if it wasn’t for our securely fastened seatbelts. I, myself, nearly forgot to clamp both hands over my mouth, especially with the profanity continuing in Blank’s thoughts that followed what he had said aloud.
“Taking the scenic route, are we?” Surge asked breathlessly.
I thought you knew exactly where we were going or do you need one of Dialect’s maps to help you out, I couldn’t help chiming in.
“Quit it,” Vapor said sternly.
I imitated a police siren through everyone’s mind because when you only communicate through telepathy, it’s super easy to create dead-on imitations of sounds and people’s voices. Call me “Master Sound-machine,” if you will.
“I SAID QUIT IT!” Vapor yelled, which immediately stopped all of our laughter because none of us wanted her to come to the back of the van and use her ability by sliding her hands through our chests and tightly gripping all of our hearts, specifically Surge’s and mine.
When we finally turned onto the correct street where the house stood, I saw the street sign, reached back to get Dialect’s attention and pointed to it.
Harmonyville Road! Told you this place has a good vibe, I telepathically said, trying the lighten the mood killed by Vapor’s anger.
“Cause it’s full of peace and harmony, man,” Surge said in his best hippie voice.
Bite me! I thought rolling my eyes.
“Love to—“ Surge started to say with a sudden gasp.
We, apart from Blank, quickly turned our attention on Surge, curious as to why he hadn’t finished his sarcastic sentence and why he was now desperately trying not to scream in pure agony. It was then that we realized Vapor was not only materializing but was also leaning over him, the majority of her arm disappearing through Surge’s chest. How she had unfastened her seatbelt so quickly that we didn’t hear the click was beyond all four of us. It shouldn’t have with all the missions we had gone on for those bastards at Grey-M Industries and the ten years of us being together, but it did. If I hadn’t been distracted by Surge’s stupid hippie impression, unconsciously dismissed Vapor’s angered thoughts, perhaps I would have been able to stop her. Bewildered and frozen in shock, we watched him clamping his hands around Vapor’s arm. His face seemed to fold in on itself, the blood draining from his face as he continued to suppress his need to scream. Amidst his grunts and gasps, Vapor turned her head slowly around to all of us, her eyebrow crooked upward.
“Did I or did I not tell you all that if you decided to continue ‘Deadpool’-ing or whatever the freakin’ you guys call it that I would squeeze your hearts for the remainder of the trip?” She asked.
“We aren’t on a job, so enough with the banter.”
With bated breath in discomfort, we remained silent until Vapor finally pulled her arm out of Surge’s chest, way too worried about Surge’s well-being than answering Vapor’s question. We had seen her get this mad before, but we had never seen her follow through with her threats. I don’t want to give you the impression that Vapor was a bad person because she’s not. But if you pushed enough of her buttons or if she was in a bad mood, things similar to this would happen. One time she broke twenty plates in one of our previous houses in an effort not to release her temper on us.
“We get it Vape,” Blank said. “It has been a long trip for all of us and a tragedy-stricken move. They’re just laughing, like all of us would if one of us made a mistake. Now come back up front and let it go.”
After a few more seconds, Vapor did as her brother asked, Surge gasping in relief.
“Was that really necessary? I mean why didn’t you squeeze Radio’s heart too?” Surge strained to ask, his hands still holding firmly over his heart.
“No, it wasn’t. I would say I’m sorry, but you kinda deserved it,” Vapor answered in a tone that was the most apologetic I’ve ever heard from her.
“Deserved it? How?” Surge asked, like a child about to throw a tantrum.
“And the reason I didn’t do it to Radio,” Vapor continued, pretending to ignore what Surge had just asked before cheerfully continuing, “because she shared her first moment with—”
Please don’t finish that sentence, I pleaded defiantly.
“A moment with what? With who? A boy? This is huge! No boy has ever tickled your fancy—beyond the physical stuff, I mean,” Dialect said, almost as excited as she was with her new maps.
It’s nothing. No moment was shared with anyone, I thought to everyone and glared at Vapor, hoping for whatever reason that Feather’s feelings weren’t hurt in anyway by Dialect’s truthful guesses.
“But you totally—” Vapor said.
Drop it!! I telepathically yelled.
“Okay, okay. Geez— sorry,” Vapor replied.
The unit remained silent as Blank turned onto Northside road, as the noise of leaf blowers revving and lawnmowers putting could be heard in the near distance, we saw our new home. At first glance, the house looked like some boring cookie-cutter white suburbanite structure that had started out small and then had been added onto in a failed attempt to make it a grander home, more like a Californian contemporary. The tall trees cradled the back of the house and the neighbors across the street seemed luckily not to be at home or at least uninterested in us moving in.
Far off I heard voices in conversation. It seemed to be quite melodic, and I realized that it was no conversation at all, but a song. A very loud song with only one note. I rustled in my sheets and practically jumped as I saw my bedroom wall illuminated in a dance of blue and red, and realized that the one-noted song was the horns of a panicking car. Bleary eyed, I attempted to view the commotion, but another hand grabbed mine and the other settled over my mouth. The grip was cool and firm as I tried to resist, but I wasn't going down this easily. I thrashed, desperate to escape, my elbow colliding with the metal bed frame. Yelping in pain, I sat up with a start, met by only blackness. Gone were the sirens and strange hands. Something tickled my arm. The sensation was smooth and soft like a kiss or a stroke of affection, but it was too continuous and too...wet. Too late I realized that the nightmare was fake, but the gash on my elbow wasn't. The sheets were soaked with blood, and my senses were slapped by the rusty tang. Everything was blood, inky black in night's darkness, and I was drowning in it. I shrieked into my moonlit bedroom as I threw myself into consciousness at last. Confused and quite unsettled, I looked to my clock to see that midnight had long since passed. And then I got up and made some toast.
“To find the journey’s end in every step of the road...is wisdom.” - Emerson
I wrote my first historical fiction when I was eleven, about 15 handwritten pages that each contained a chapter with a different narrator. All lived around Johnstown, Pennsylvania in 1889, and each witnessed an event attached to the flood that destroyed the town. The sixth-grade teacher who oversaw the writing club was deeply impressed. That story, now lost, represents my first writing. I choose it for my origin because I had never before put so much effort into a piece of writing, or experimented with a narrative in any way, or put written anything I would later remember. Since my first novel (in-progress) is also historical fiction, recollecting my Johnstown flood story also feels like drawing a circle.
It is a circle with several missing pieces and drawn over many years, though. In high school I wrote some poetry and in early college some short stories (hopefully unremembered by anyone, as they were awful), and then I did not write anything for a long time. I never took a creative writing class. Five or six years after graduation I picked at an abortive attempt at a novel for a few months; a couple years after that I labored on an essay that I submitted to a few journals, but I understood too little about both writing and publication to succeed. In the years after that piece, I dabbled with ten-minute plays.
In all these phases, I hoped for an editor to accept my work for publication. I have never expected to make a living with writing – I am a teacher, and happily so – but I wanted validation and an audience. Those desires, in hindsight, missed the point of writing because I valued the goal above the process.
Writing has provided me with a place of escape and control. I resumed writing in October 2019, and when March and the pandemic struck, writing became vital in ways I had not expected. It provided me with an ongoing project when so many aspects of life had ceased, and with time eddying endlessly and case counts swallowing attention and energy, writing presented a solvable puzzle. A sentence must be rearranged, a paragraph shortened; a bit of description must slow the pacing of the dialogue, or a word switched to further shade the phrase’s meaning. A story is unlocked one absorbing step at a time, and entering into this work with all my mind brings a clarity and a freshness that I treasure.
My writing goals have changed. I received the publication I sought: I’ll confess that valuing the process over the prize became a great deal easier with that particular primate wrested from my back. I have stories and poems still looking for homes and currently under review by editors; I hope they find the light of day soon, but beyond my willingness to prep more submissions, that is out of my control. I have 68,000 words of a projected 90,000 words of that novel written, and I want to finish. I anticipate writing the final sentences of The Ghosts on the Glass early in the summer of 2022. I’ll spend the remainder of the summer editing and sending out my first queries to agents. I do not know what will happen, but I will take my shot. Perhaps stars will align and a press will publish my novel; perhaps my search will end a couple years and dozens of rejections later, and I will publish myself. Regardless, the experience has been a rewarding one, and I will have received no less pride and no fewer moments of calm and clearness from my writing.
Wrapped in sugarcoated sweetness;
savoring the warmth of your embrace,
snow gently blankets the world
in pure whiteness;
the smoke billows through the
cold crisp air and all I can hear
is your laughter;
this, here, is bliss.
A strong aversion to rejection is what drove me to write; a snarky comment or a sharp criticism was all it took to make me crumble, completely and utterly. It's exhausting, carrying and collecting slights as if it were some competition so at the height of the pandemic I decided to write to develop a thick enough skin to survive.
Writing started off as a survival mechanism, but it soon metamorphized into something life giving, a salve for a weary heart. It illuminated the broken and abandoned ruins inside of myself and gave a voice to the little girl who was always too afraid to speak up; to the heartbreak and the grief and the anger and the resentment and the hope and the idealism inside of me, it breathed life into all the aspects of myself I had neglected for so long. Writing has become a sort of pilgrimage, a holy ritual that heals and gives meaning; I hope to continue in this endeavor to discover and to heal and to grow and ultimately become a more resilient, happier, and loving person to myself and to others.
Say “I’m Sorry”, But Make It Naughty
*Warning graphic content
The ruckus in the reception room could compete with the sounds of the busy New York street underneath Sara’s window. Through her closed office door, she could clearly hear a man was gradually raising his voice at Vera. The poor receptionist was new but quite competent. Hardly any reason for anyone to bash her like this. Sara tore herself away from the supplies report needed for tonight’s Christmas party and came to see what it was all about.
A guy stood perched on the front desk, a little too close for Vera’s comfort, and pointed God knows what, with his manicured finger on the surface of the desk. His hair was freshly cut and ruffled. His beige Burberry coat had buckles on the sleeves and near its raised collar, a la Tom Cruise-Top Gun style. He looked young and entitled.
The heated discussion attracted the attention of the other employees on their floor who peeked their heads to see what was going on. The least they needed was a distraction ahead of the upcoming version release.
“Vera, what seems to be the problem here?” Sara asked.
The man raised his head and a smirk appeared on his lips as he righted himself. His daring hazel eyes lingered a little too long on the wrong areas of her body. Men usually smirked and checked her out for she did not look a day over 22 despite pushing 31.
“The gentlemen here – ”
“Mr Jung Jr.” he added, not tearing his gaze from Sara.
“Mr Jung Jr. says he is Mr Jung’s grandson and insists on waiting in his office.”
“I am sorry, Mr Jung Jr., but Mr Jung is out and he did not announce he was expecting anyone. Waiting in his office is out of the question. You are welcome to wait here in the reception,” and Sara pointed at a set of very comfortable armchairs. “We could bring you some coffee or tea.”
“My grandfather bought your company and you expect me to wait by the door? Like any loser?” He blurted with an incredulous expression.
He did say those words and they were not a joke, rubbing Sara in all the wrong ways, muscles tensing under her olive skin.
“What are you? His secretary?” he continued in the same uptight tone. “Go ahead and call him yourself. He will tell you who I am.”
“I am the Office Manager, Sir. And I can not call our CEO as he is meeting important clients. I highly doubt this requires us to disturb him. But I have the perfect place for someone of your status.” Sara came closer and took his arm. The man did not oppose as he seemed to enjoy her proximity.
Being close to him Sara was hit by his luxurious cologne mixed in with some alcohol. And it was not even noon. She wondered if he would be the type who blamed his drinking for his mistakes. That could explain his overbearing exuded self-importance.
All absorbed in her presence and in his entitlement, he did not notice he was being led to the exit door until it was too late. “What do you –” but could not formulate his question, because Sara closed the door in his face, wishing him a good day.
“And do not let him in again,” she said, turning to Vera. The doorbell buzzed without stop and the irked man banged and shouted threats from outside until Sara added loud enough for him to hear. “And if he continues like that, call security please, Vera.”
A troublemaker through and through, he had no problem shouting at her, through the door, something about a Bitch. Sara did not care. She had tough skin, forged in Queens, on the wrong side of the tracks. And she was a busy Queens bee who had a lot to do ahead of tonight’s Christmas party.
By night time, all of her colleagues were already headed to the reception at the hotel from across the street. Sara had to stay behind to draft the final bills before calling it a day.
When getting to a party, it’s better to be late than never.
She pulled out the little dark green dress with sequins from the dress cover and changed in her office, then pulled out a mirror to fix her makeup and hair. Her olive-green eyes stared back at her with some unwanted bags under them. Her eye and skin colour came as a package, courtesy of her Italian grandmother and might just be what saved her precious time getting ready. Good skin needed not much cover and a simple brown eyeliner would do wonders. When she checked herself again she thought she did not look 20. Perhaps a very exhausted 29 years old. She shrugged it off.
Her ex always complained about her looking like coming from a train wreck every time she got home. Perhaps that whore, who will not be named, that he cheated on her with would look better after working 10 hours a day with her eyes stuck in a laptop screen.
She did not miss him. Good riddance. But she did miss something.
Out, in the chilly air, she pulled her coat around her and checked for cars before crossing on the other side. Nighttime in the city around this neighbourhood was eerie quiet. Steam columns danced their way out of the manhole covers like ghosts on the wet pavement. Sirens, calling for each other in the distance, were replaced by music as soon as she passed through the revolving doors of the hotel.
The dance floor was overflowing with people, celebrating a successful release and a night out paid for by the company. Sara avoided dancing for now. Perhaps after a couple of drinks. She sat at the bar and ordered two Dry Martini. After drinking the first glass she felt a heated stare drilling in her back. She turned but found no one. Only people letting loose to the dance moves. She gulped down the second glass and hit the dance floor. A sure recipe to make herself invisible to anyone staring at her.
She let down her hair and swayed to the music put on by the DJ. A couple of the girls from the office recognised her and came to dance together. She felt liberated until another body slowly glued itself on her back, following the same rhythm as she was. Strangely, she was not creeped out. A lot of things are allowed on the dance floor. She pulled her hair to the side with intend to glance at who was behind when foreign hands came to grab her waist and helped her turn around, coming eye to eye with a somewhat handsome face.
The same face she threw out the door this morning.
He smirked at her, then leaned closer to her ear, taking advantage of her shock. “Not the so stuck up after a couple of drinks I take. Mind if I buy you some more?”
Sara pushed him away and shouted, hoping it would be loud enough to make herself heard over the music. “The drinks are already paid for.” She moved past him and headed in the direction of the bar because she had no other direction to head for. The man followed her and sat next to her on a stool.
“Cranberry vodka and whatever she had before. It did her good,” he said to the bartender, while Sara rolled her eyes and turned her attention to her colleagues, dancing.
He waited for the drinks to be ready before handing over the Dry Martini. “Since we are sharing drinks, we could share our names as well. I’m Lucas, Lucas Jung. And you are?”
Sara looked at him sideways. She did not want to take the drink. She’d better not take the drink. Why did she take the damned drink?
After a first sip, she replied in an ice-cold tone, “Sara Daniels,” and put aside the glass, no longer gulping it down in one shot. She better keep focused.
“Yes, yes, the Office Manager, right? Better call yourself Office Guardian.” He displayed an insatiable grin. “Hey, we started on the wrong foot. I am sorry if I was a bother earlier.”
Sara huffed at him then turned on her rotating chair to ignore him once more.
“You could say sorry too, you know,” Lucas continued. “I did ask my grandfather to give you a raise for defending that office of his like a lioness.”
She wanted to get up and leave, annoyed for becoming his joke target, but he gently grabbed her arm.
“Hey, I am sorry, I really am,” he said with enough sincerity to make something shift inside of her. She stared at his daring fingers wrapped around her arm, then into his eyes.
Before she remained a prisoner in that hazel abys, she leaned over, “You wanna dance?”
Lucas smiled and nodded. Sara headed back to the dance floor not checking to see if he was coming. She knew he was close behind. When he put his hands on her again she turned and came even closer, swaying her body, wrapping her arms around his neck and teasing him. He stared at her as a boy caught with his hand in the candy jar. Not knowing if he was about to be punished, but unwilling to let go of the candy.
“You – you wanna go upstairs? I’m staying in the penthouse.”
Sara grinned at him. “Of course you are,” and she continued to sway to the music.
After some time and some awkward glances at her, he asked again, looking out of place from having to repeat the question. “So? You want to go up?”
She liked to put him in difficulty and remained silent. In turn, she unwrapped her arm from around his neck and continued to dance by herself. Now that he was delving in uncertainty, she could tease him some more. But Lucas took her by the hand and led her out of the dance floor and the party room.
Sara stayed with him, as they passed the front desk and reached the elevator. He still kept her hand in his, barely grasping her fingers. It felt cold, moist and soothing. She could easily pull it out, yet she wanted to see where all this would lead. It did occur to her he might assault her, but she had a blue belt in karate, courtesy of her Chuck Norris obsessed father, and she would not feel sorry to inflict some pain if he deserved it.
During the elevator ride, she kept staring at him but he avoided returning the favour. Perhaps he was afraid to start a conversation that might lead to her leaving. Once inside the penthouse, he set aside his suit jacket on the couch.
“Some wine?” he inquired, sifting through a couple of bottles from a dedicated bar and picking one. He kept talking while opening the bottle, “I wish I could brag about my personal taste, but I am afraid this is the hotel’s selection. It looks promising.”
Sara remained under the archway connecting the small lobby with the main room. She looked around. It smelled of potpourri and bleach. The city was peeking in from the two stories high windows. To her right was the bathroom. The bed could be glimpsed on the mezzanine. She wondered if she should let herself in or turn around and leave with a lame excuse.
“This was a mistake,” she went for the truth and for the door.
Lucas dashed to stop her, “Hey, hey, wait!” he tried to grab her shoulder but his hand recoiled back with a screech. “Auch! What do you have there? Pins and needles? Jesus!”
Sara was surprised to see his finger bleeding and instinctively looked at her shoulder pad. It had big holographic sequins and they were sharp. “You cut yourself? What are you? 8?”
“I’m 23! Thanks for the compliment.” He still had a sense of humour despite winching in pain like a kid.
“Alright, let me see that,” she came closer to assess his wound and entered together in the bathroom. She put his finger under the faucet and looked around the hotel amenities but found no disinfectant, nor a bandaid. Five-star hotel rubbish. Luckily she was always prepared. She dug around her purse and took out the hand sanitiser and a bandage.
“Well, now I am impressed,” he joked while looking at her as she mended his finger. “I didn’t expect to get hurt before our first date ended.”
“Oh, is this a date?”
He did not reply right away. Instead, he stared into her eyes and came a little closer. “I want to kiss you,” he murmured.
Sara said nothing, nor did she move away. She stayed there holding his gaze until his lips smacked on hers. At least he was good with his tongue. The swirls he went for sent shivers all over her body.
She missed this, having a mouth search for hers, feeling so intimate with another. It tingled that special spot in between her legs. With shame, she admitted she was attracted to this 23-year-old, full of himself, guy. Or perhaps there was something else she had been missing. Her poor vibrator had been used until ruin.
She put her arms around him and instinctively pressed her body on his. This was all he had been waiting for. His eager hands went to search for absolutely nothing all over her back. She allowed him to lead her up the stairs, to the bed, and to unzip her dress. Then to push her on the mattress and settle himself over her, his very enlarged self pressing on her hip through his trousers.
In between kisses she had lost count of how long it had been or when she, or was it he who undressed her fully. She became aware of herself only when he took off his shorts. Him, tearing with his teeth the packaging and sliding the condom on his nakedness, brought her to the present.
“Wait, this is all sorts of wrong,” she said, keeping Lucas at an arm’s distance.
He sighed and sat next to her, clearly disappointed. His eyes still lingered over her naked form. Sara felt ashamed and covered herself with her hands. Noticing this, he brought her the sheet.
“If you want, I can call you an Uber or something,” Lucas said, running his hand through that perfectly ruffled hair, his thing still as stiff as a pole.
“Why did you bring me here?” Sara asked the obvious question. What she did not expect was the answer.
“It felt right. At that moment, something felt right.”
His answer seemed sincere and resonated with a hidden chord within her. She turned his face her way and brought it closer. For the first time tonight, she kissed his lips. Putting aside the sheet, she laid on her back, spread her legs and received him. With youthful eagerness, he began grinding himself against her body.
This... This was what she missed. To have her hunger quenched by another’s hunger for her. To have something fill her up to feel whole again. To have a man’s body weight pin her down and bring some rest to her restlessness. She needed this. She enjoyed it until exhaustion and she was vocal enough to let him know.
The sweet fatigue, settling in after she released her passion, together with the tender manner in which he was holding her, allowed Sara to close her eyes for a second. When she opened them again the city skyline was bathed in the morning light. Lucas was softly purring near her ear. She tried to slip out of bed unnoticed but found his arm still wrapped around her waist.
He stirred awake and pulled her closer, nuzzling and kissing her neck. That was her special spot. She had no objection when he took her again that morning.
“What do you want for breakfast,” Lucas asked while she was still in the shower.
“I don’t eat breakfast.”
“Then let me buy you some coffee at least. This hotel brew is rubbish,” he requested, leaning on the bathroom door.
Sara offered him a bright smile, barely visible through the steamed shower glass. “I know a great coffee shop a couple of blocks away.” She did not feel out of place like she thought she would. In fact, she felt strangely satisfied.
Saturday morning was a busy time to be out for coffee. Sara was sitting outside, at the table they spied and hunted together, and watched Lucas through the coffee shop window. He was waiting his turn in the queue, fretting with impatience and making funny faces at her. How he could be immature in a funny way and alluring at the same time was a puzzle to her.
“I had to fight tooth and nail for these,” he placed the two small cups of italianos on the table. While he sat in his chair, with his locks shining under the morning sun, in his Burberry coat with raised collar and buckles, sipping leisurely from his coffee, he was the image of a wild boy, ripped out from a magazine cover.
“So, when are you gonna give me your phone number, or your Twitter handle, or something?” Lucas asked, blowing to warm up his hands.
Sara searched for a pen in her purse and took a napkin.
“I see. No phone bump. You are an old fashion girl,” he half-smirked.
Putting down her empty cup, Sara lifted from her seat and handed him the note. “I am sure if you need my phone number, you have your ways to get it.” She smiled and left him there with a simple goodbye.
Next Monday, before the end of a new day’s work, Lucas was waiting for her, patiently sitting on the armchair in the office reception.
Well, I’d have to say the first time I started writing was when I picked up a pencil or crayon to start scribbling out letters and short words back in nursery school, age 4. After that, I have a clear memory of writing a short story for a second grade class, maybe third grade. The story was about me in a shopping cart that I could drive around wherever and whenever I wanted. At this age, I may have based this story on driving around because I had to walk to and from the elementary school that was about one mile each way every day. I walked to and from school up to the fifth grade. Anyway, I had enough time and plenty of footsteps to walk and imagine wonderful delights and freedoms in my young child brain.
I wrote essays throughout high school and sought extra English classes in my first and second year of college that contained writing. About eleven years later I took a trip to India and came home with the impulsivity to pound away at the keys on a laptop dated circa 1990s wherever I was, including a client’s reception area. I also have memories of stealing away to a vacant cubicle in one particular client’s office that had a bright red carpet and a shiny midnight blue almost black painted ceiling throughout the office. That writing connection lasted for about a year. Many years later I volunteered to begin a store newsletter full of fun and quips of merchandise for the employees to help rally the team concept. Fast forward to 2014, when I experienced a major loss after a several year period of undoings, lost dreams, profound changes and descending into a state of despair I was guided to an author and writing for healing. I began journaling everyday in the early morning hours. I’ve journaled every day for seven years.
Writing has given me back my life. I do not tell of this lightly. The habit of coming to the desk in the deep quiet of early morning hours took hold like a strongly connected line on a bow cleat holding me as I watched dreams wash away and losing any answers to my life. Anchoring into my morning writing practice became secured, stronger and stronger with the gift of willingness every day to show up at my desk no matter what. For this gift I am grateful. With each change I was encountering I thought it would be the last round of disruptions. Changes abound resulting in a stage of transformation. There is a significant difference between changes and transition vs. transformation. I was unaware of the value of the gift of willingness at the start of my practice which anchored me into an inner self groundedness as things around me and within me began to dismantle. The effects of such changes have left me only with my pen, paper and my thoughts. This is all that is left. Just like harm can be done to the physical body, but the spirit is never destroyed. The changes I have experienced have brought me to the viewing point of how I relate to the world, and again, I am left with my pen, paper and thoughts. This is where I find I am connected, just as is my connection to breathing. It has come to this simplicity, yet vital.
Do I dare say “dream”? Because I’ve witnessed so many dreams unwind and come undone right before my very eyes. So, if I answer to the “writing goal”, will the idea of a goal be held in some protected space never to be pierced, dismantled and shattered? I will risk to respond right here and now before the many unseen eyes that will peek at these words whether by choice or by accident. It is my goal to be a published writer earning a decent living in which I can easily and joyfully support myself, bringing me happiness and helping at least one person. This deep and very private reveal has only been shared with one person in my life. Until now.
Must be the full moon in Gemini.
Must be the full moon in Gemini.
Thank you @Finder