Better Than Starbucks Fiction
With tentative eyes, the children in the square searched the newly renovated shopping strip for places to congregate and mingle their hormones. The bakeries, ice cream parlors, clothing stores, workout centers, and video parlors positioned themselves ready to serve the latest generation.
Staring at the gleeful expression of each girl and boy the old man chided to himself an almost resentful comment, “I remember when this used to be just a train yard, and field. Now look at what it has become. A den of hyenas pouncing around. Useless pups.”
Near him a group of girls chattered; their bodies huddling together liked sheep preparing for an afternoon feeding. Lingering females joined them, swelling the group till they pressed up touching the old man’s bench; their bodies pleading for more space, the girls’ bodies nearly touching his. Then one of them did touch him; her bare leg nudged him. It was innocent really, the touch, still the old man pulled his body away from hers. “Oih, you good for nothings, don’t you have anywhere else you could possibly stand?” the old man called out.
The girls, complying, moved away. Some of them looked at him, squinting their eyes while pinching their lips. The others diverted their eyes from him. Only one girl looked him square in the eye. It was the girl who had touched him. Her fingers reaching down to feel where her leg and his had met. She smiled at him; the gesture lingering long enough for his mind to wonder, to search for a face he had once known. Yet, the kindness of her lips dissipated too quickly taking with them the memory he was trying to find. Lowering his eyes to follow the girl’s steps as she followed her friends, he noticed another type of sweetness collecting near the arch of her partially covered foot, a delicacy he had seen only once before, yet like her smile, the origin of the memory faded before he could pull his mind to hold it.
“If Rosie were here I don’t think she would want to come here any longer,” the old man said, his mind forgetting the failing memory.
Turning his attention to a corner shop decorated with a display of vegetables, umbrellas, and pink flamingos, the old man saw a boy emerge from the shop. In his hand he carried a flower. With too much gusto he approached a girl who had broken away from the bank of her friends. The girl, carrying a small pink purse that dangled near her bare knees, waited for the boy to reach her. The boy’s fingers fidgeted at his collar as he stood before the girl. Each faced the other with enough distance between them that it was clear that they were not friends.
“How did you do on the test, today?” asked the boy as he moved his fingers from his collar to the bottom edge of his shirt.
“Stupid boy. Leave the shirt alone and talk to the girl. Isn’t that what you came for?” whispered the old man, his voice too quiet to be overheard.
“I did fine.” The girl said, glancing away to her friends who had moved to a nearby hotdog stand.
“Some of those equations were hard, I thought,” said the boy; his eyes following the straying eyes of the girl.
“Not really. It was a lot easier after you explained it to me,” she said.
“What are you looking at?” The old man said. “Can’t you see someone is talking to you?”
“Yeah, I was glad to help,” the boy continued.
“Yep,” said the girl.
“Do you like ice cream?” The boy asked, letting go of his shirt to shift his hands through the pockets of his pants.
“Yes, I suppose. Who doesn’t?” she said, the whole of her head turning away.
“Well that was a little rude,” said the old man.
“Do you like playing Nintendo?” the boy continued.
“It’s all right, but hey I need to go. Bye.” she replied. Without hesitation she walked off. Her friends absorbed her, hiding her from any onlooker’s stare.
Looking to the old man the young boy’s expression fell. His lips trembled. His jaw pinched, holding shut. The old man turned from him giving the boy a chance to suffer in his own silence, but before the boy fully left his view the old man noticed the child’s hand that had been kept patiently to his side. Clutched in his fingers was a paper folded into an even square with one edge the frayed scores of a notebook.
“Love is a cancer my boy, there are other ways to die, better than the alternative I would say,” the old man whispered.
The note dropped from the boy’s hand, twisting in the air before it reached the ground. Like a silent raindrop tapping its bent wings upon the concrete, it fluttered in the wind till it rested against the old man’s shoe. “You may not think so now,” said the old man as he watched the boy step away into a distant stairwell. “When you’re my age, you’ll be glad.”
“And you,” said the old man diverting his attention to the girl who was now watching the boy’s shadow linger against a wall, his body unseen. “I wonder if you even care. Tisk, tisk, tisk.”
Finding himself alone again, the old man reached down to where the boy’s note waited against the sole of his shoe. With one hand he grabbed the note, and with his other hand he flicked the spiral of a lighter, igniting a pointed flame. Lifting the paper as it succumbed to the fire the old man let the burning paper fall so that it could be carried away in the departing breeze. “Better off, isn’t he Rosie? Yes, better off indeed.”
Elegance in the Country Villa
by Sarah Lewis
Outside, the sun was high in its afternoon drift across the sky. Inside, the light was dark; shadows held to walls; darkness mixing with the decorative images of grape vines. On one wall words read, “luxury and elegance in the Country Villa.” Against the window a sheet of cardboard held in place by a yellow stream of tape defended the room against the approaching sun. In the air, clouds of sweat and urine mixed together, hovering to overtake the outside scents of the spring season. Through the isolated door humming motors pierced the silence while the faint sound of a heater churned, rattling itself back to life.
In a corner adjacent to the window, an older man braced a hand against the frayed arm of a couch cushion, lowering himself until he was able to relax his muscles into the exhausted springs. Rubbing the palms of his hands, gently touching his fingers to his aged skin, he pushed heat to where the flesh had gone cold. He closes his eyes, letting his ears feel through the darkness, touching the muffled sounds of life that lived not far from where he sat. Scratching his head against the back of the couch, he whispered to himself, “hello my old friend.” Tilting his head to the ceiling, he groaned.
“I’ve come to talk to you again,” the old man’s lips whispered, while his mind fumbled trying to remember the lyrics before the song took him away, reviving a memory of his wife. The spring before last had been enough to finish her fragile life. She had been a strong woman, one who had built a career in a garden, manicuring the weeds till they had resembled roses. But then the roses stopped growing and her body became frail, leaving her immune system to wither until she passed away. “Her skin never lost its softness,” said the old man. “Always smooth. Always soft, even as she lay dying.” Tracing a finger across the back of his left hand made tiny hairs twinge under the gentle pressure, sending a shiver up his arm. “It has been quite some time since I heard that song.” he said, wheezing the intoxicating air into his nostrils. “How Rosie loved it. If only I could remember.” His eyes moving to a crack that had begun to slither across the plastered ceiling.
“Feeling myself slipping,
I reach to touch your cold dark hand,
But in the presence of the night,
Your whiteness takes my sight,
And I am left with all of you
To whisper to till the night is through.”
He knew the words were wrong. He didn’t care. Instead he searched the end table for the portrait of a girl in her mid-twenties. In the process the old man caught a glimpse of the digital clock sitting, waiting, hoping for time to forever move forward. “Oih, three hours aren’t what they used to be my love.”
Picking up a half-eaten carrot, his elbow knocked the picture of the girl to the floor. Sifting his hand back and forth across the material of his jacket, he forgot about the picture, rehearsing to himself a sales line he used in his youth when nylon was an exciting fabric. “It’s simple, and nice, and the truly only invented word in the English language. A splendid material for a jacket.”
Biting his carrot, his square jaw crushed the vegetable into moist chunks until his aged memory recalled the picture that had just landed on the floor. “Oih, oih, oih.” he said as he bent over to pick up the picture. “Rosie, you better get of that floor before them ants get you.” Setting the portrait on the cushion of the couch, he rested the girl’s head against his thigh, dropping his carrot.
Closing his eyes again, he became lost in a dream. Then, like an infant reaching for the familiarity of a blanket, the old man’s fingers felt for the dark, nylon suit wrapped around his shoulders; the coolness of its blue denim lining jolting his mind back to another fragmented sales pitch he had once used. “Denim. Now that is a word that doesn’t belong to the English language. French maybe but not English” he said softly. “None of that matters now though. It’s the feel and its touch that concerns me,” he continued to say as his dream took him farther away, the years running, his twenties fleeing, the teenager vanishing as his awareness focused on a lone mattress lying flat upon the floor; a flowered bed spread holding tight to its three corners while a green blanket lay carelessly upon a single side.
“I’ve always liked it that way” he thought to himself as he moved his mind further into a forgotten room, as he imagined the sound of his childhood Keds scraping against the wilting flowers stitched into the carpeted floor.
“You flowers never seemed to be having a good time laying down there,” he spoke to himself. “I wonder if there was ever a time when you were fully ripe.”
Filling his lungs with the familiar aroma of his room, he thought of his Rosie, her feminine features held stagnant in the beauty of her twenties. “Yes, my first injustice; a friend though with such a pretty face.” he said, lifting his aged body from the couch. With careful steps he coursed a path to the door. Twisting the door knob, forcing the metal to groan under the pressure, he opened his door to the world. Covering his eyes against the glare of the sun, he declared, “Oi, spare my eyes your flash.”
Making his way past trees braced with poles, propped to stand against the dust, he moved with lethargic limps down the sidewalk until he found the bench he had become accustomed to. “The home.” he said as he sat.
Just to the left of where he sat a bus lugged itself to the curb, the brakes grinding until a puff of smoke relieved the tension that had been building within its bowels. Opening its doors, the bus released its occupants. The first to emerge was a short heavy-set woman with braided, blond hair. At her waist strayed a young child who was only allowed a handful of steps before he was pulled back to the mother’s side by a thin, rubbery cord. Biting on the heels of the mother and her dangling child, groups of adolescents braced the handrails, standing at the doorway of a world they had spent their lives dreaming to enter, yet as they stood at the entrance they each paused for a moment unsure if they wanted to sever their own cords. One by one they each jumped from the last step landing to the curbside; their carelessness filling the air. Once free, some fell in a single formation, ducks following their leader; others dropped in twos and threes; but none looked back to the world that now slumbered behind.
Sarah Lewis is college educated, and has chosen to stay home for a few years so that she can enjoy time with her children.
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