fiction

Plastic

In a sinking submarine, sinking, sinking, sinking to the void like das boot, slow and indefinite, with quiet desperate visions of surface trying to push their way in front of day-plain fateful circumstance so we held our breath in a shared act of instinct of the sort that only later gets inflated to solidarity if you make it through.

The reef up there, we thought, sweating, panting, wishing, a consentient mass of unseen presence known, a freedom firm and clear and out of sight, but clenched in mind. And down where we were? Only some deep underwater landside, the underneath and below into which the world couldn’t peer, rocky and oblique in the sloshing, living murk, only that and the hull’s creak for survival, so we closed our eyes wide and held on.

Late had turned to early and I couldn’t find my car. I’d just peeled myself off of the sinking situation with a girl in it, but I knew back home she’d know, knew everyone did, and knew I’d run out of stories, looking for clues for where I’d go in the secrets of how I’d gotten myself there in the first place.

In truth, the submarine had been a room of a rectangle apartment on the fourth floor of a brickstone, up by branches and leaves sprouting from the grand old dark trunks lining the quiet street below and she’d been taken by my self-conscious pedantry and moody banter. Oh, the feeling type, the wayward soul, the unseen seer with his eyes aflame, troubled and boyish.

Morning drew in around us without a sound and steadily turned up the dimmer, up and up and up, slow and even, and when those branches and leaves began to take on their day-color I felt the adrenaline shining bright on what we’d done, on who we were, on the nature to which I’d submitted, etcetera, etcetera, and so on, so gone and afraid of what that made me and sensing what she’d been all along—just a person, like me, fighting and fleeing.

I’d dawdled there against my better judgment, though, sinking, pretending the darkness would only get deeper and soon nothing would show, not a trace of us, not even a bubble to rise and break, looking at that moon-faced clock on her sad wall and thinking of Vonnegut’s Russian POWs instead of what the continued, unaddressed passage of time meant in the simple scheme of the moment, forming inarticulable excuses in a stupor of lazy mental mumbles as the hull’s creaks turned to groans under beautiful, terrible inevitability and the last shards of daydreams of glorious-meadowed authenticity, as if those daydreams had never been daydreamed before, only by we.

I could still feel her eyes on me in the preceding hours’ dimness as I footed it down the sidewalk heading what felt like west, could still see my Gerda Taro, angel of the small death, sitting there in that bed at one end of the rectangle in the deep dark night depths with white sheets pulled up to her chin and only hints of shoulders exposed, eyes like two eels peering out and a mouth aching to speak comforts in which she could not bring herself to believe. And so down and down, deeper and deeper, darker and darker we’d gone, merging two into a secret oneness with a warm blanket pseudonym of a mystifying ideal in which to wrap ourselves till I finally blew the hatch and lurched back out into the open with a remarkable lack of ceremony.

My feet were heavy on the implacable concrete, eyes scanning and glancing, head on a swivel spinning with the waking day and still-fresh scenes of night, not a soul for miles, it seemed, and a solid line of cars down my side of the street, a street that ran perpendicular to hers with the brickstone forming an upside down T on any map I might’ve had and I knew that wasn’t the proper word for it—brickstone—and lingered some more, slowing, overlooking the blatancy, losing track, stalling for answers I could only taste as questions, anything to distract, anything abstract.

What if I were less gentle? Do you want me to be gentle, less? Tell me to be less gentle. Tell me to be anything, more or less, anything you desire. Tell me to be

and I will.

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fiction

Evidently

The waitress from Santa Cruz served me seafood on the boardwalk, in a restaurant so situated, and I sat by the window and looked down into the tides. She seemed to like me and I spotted a sea lion or two and that seemed like a big deal. The sea was more blue than green that day and the sun was sinking and I wondered why I didn’t live there, scratching idly at a small indentation in the edge of the little green table with pine-colored trim and hoping she didn’t notice my fidgets.

The floor was tiled white and I had fish and chips because that’s what I always get under such circumstances, always have. I ate and looked and watched and imagined and wondered and the waitress from Santa Cruz came by and checked on me like the guest I was, warm and hospitable and easy. We chatted passingly of life things, small things, each of us asking small safe easy questions, and I listened to her replies and responded with my own and noticed her shoes.

Somehow we got onto philosophy on one of her passes—not into it, only onto it—and she did not write her number on the bill but after I paid I walked away into the late afternoon silently wishing she had, walking out the door and onto the boardwalk and out over the more blue than green water with the sea lions in it, feeling like a tetherball on a string connected to she the pole with those shoes gliding over that white tile through the rows of small green tables with pine-colored trim and into the kitchen full of cooks and bussers who I was sure must like her and weren’t afraid to tell her so.

I walked, thinking, not thinking, out and back inland again, back past the restaurant, and when I looked in through the windows and the open kitchen door where all the cooks and bussers who surely liked her were, I did not catch that last glimpse. I remembered her name, though, and was glad it wasn’t Cinnamon or Candy or something sugary and absurd like that, and I also remembered where she said she went to school because the mother of the other university-aged boy at the table next had asked while I tried to sit in my seat and eat my food like a normal solitary person and emit the allowable amount of self as if I might be fined by the EPA if too much of the noxious stuff got through my filters, nodding and smiling in acknowledgement of good service when it was my turn to receive and also at the smoothness of our exchanges, wishing the scene would continue but also hoping for a curtain call before someone was put on the spot and the smoothness shriveled and lost its lustre like the skin of a rotting orange, a moment expired, drawn out and moldy.

She did not write her number on the bill but she did write, in the space beneath the restaurant’s name and address, the only immediacy is the moment of creation, with quotes and a double underline for “only” penned lightly in a fast and practiced hand like it just came to her and those were the kinds of things she didn’t bother to stop—that’s what gusts through my mind right now and for a moment catches me like a filthy seabird suspended mid-flight and propped up in place by springly rumbustious breezes while the world turns with its customary imperceptibility so I put down the quill and look at what I’ve scrawled in my defense.

A letter, not to her, likely to no one. It lacks both feeling and idea, you’d say, has a bland aftertaste and smells like wet cardboard, if words can be said to aromate. Words, that’s all they are, and perhaps that’s why. There are hundreds of them, it seems, swirling in no apparent order, looking shriveled and wrinkly in the light of recollection, and beside me on the desk are stacks of papers with thousands more, thousands and thousands more, a lifetime timeline string of words strung together by virtue of nothing more than placement and position and passage, nothing more.

I’m an old man now, I think, and nothing more, looking at the papers, the unsent letters, the words on the page before me, the string tethering me from then that time all those many years ago with the waitress from Santa Cruz to now, alone and scrawling in my quiet room, and no matter how many words I use I can never get back to that moment of creation when she wasn’t real and neither was I.

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