fresh, free short story!
June 18th, 2010
So, I blogged about the difficulty of writing a short story a few months back. And then I just wrote one. Now it’s being published in two separate Dutch magazines. So I thought, hey, why not post it here:
This is what I look like, unedited—except by me. With no further ado, here’s some early summer weekend reading. Enjoy!
I’m so tired of obsessing about Grant Scott. I’m sick of this game we’ve been playing all year now—of getting his wacked-out, dystopic folded-up poems in my locker. Of all the irregular late-night phone calls, when he tells me that one day, he and I will break out of this suburb, and laugh at all the little jocks and cheerleaders and A-listers. I’m so over what seems to me, anyhow, like something sparking between us, only to have Grant Scott run off and hook up with another cheerleading A-lister.
“It’s part of my self-destructiveness,” he tells me by way of explanation, after he sheepishly announces that he’s now going out with another Tammi or Cindi or Debbi or some other lower-case-i girl, who probably gets off on slumming it with what she thinks is a bad boy like Grant. He of the tattoos, of the crappy jeep rebuilt from scrap, of the single mom who may or may not be a stripper. The flings never last for long. Grant Scott doesn’t do relationships, and the girls never get to see his poetry. I do. After a breakup, there’s usually a lot of it. Along with proclamations that he and I, we’re different. “You’re the only one who understands me, Mags.”
So, why don’t you leave off with the bimbo parade and give me a try? I think, but never say.
This is why I’ve decided to give myself a deadline. After frittering away most of my 16th year obsessing about Grant Scott, a few weeks ago I decided that, if nothing happens by a certain date, I will quit him.
And that deadline, it’s midnight tonight.
But the day isn’t looking hopeful. Usually, I see Grant all over the place—he’s at the drinking fountain, in the parking lot, in the quad, in the library; it’s like everywhere I am, he is. Either that, or he has clones. But today, I don’t see him at all. Twelve hours till deadline and not a single Grant-sighting. At lunch, I spot his friends, Jim and Robin, sitting on the steps to the library and ask them if Grant is sick or something. If he’s sick, maybe I should extend the deadline.
“No more than usual,”Robin says with a goofy smile and waves to me in a way that I’m not sure is meant to beckon me over or send me off. Grant’s a year ahead of me at school, and so are his friends who form an intimidating clique of alterative hipness in contrast to my alternative squareness. So I don’t know them very well. Besides, Grant’s and my relationship, or whatever you call it, he’s always said we should keep it on the downlow.
By the time I hit honors English at two o’clock, I’m feeling pretty low. No Grant. There hasn’t even been a poem in my locker today or a text on my phone.
“Hey, Mags, what are you up to tonight?” asks Erica, a sortafriend who’ve I hung with on a couple of occasions.
Waiting for my phone to ring. “I don’t know. My plans haven’t solidified yet.”
“There’s supposed to be a big party thrown by some kids at Taft. I’ve got the car and I’m going with Jess and Andy. You wanna come?”
Not like I had anything better to do. And a Taft party would mean different faces, new distractions. After all, come midnight, time to turn over a new leaf.
It appears that half the Valley knows about the Taft party because by the time we get there at 9:15, it’s being shut down by the cops.
“Now what?” Erica asks. “Wanna go to my house and play Beatles RockBand?”
Jess groans. “No, not again.”
“We could go to the movies,” Andy suggests.
Jess shakes her head. “That’s all we ever do.” She turns to me. “Mags, you’re the wildcard in the evening. What do you want?”
Sometimes you hear about people who live in really old houses and discover secret doors to rooms they never knew existed. That’s what I want. I want to discover secret facets in my town, whole new levels that would open up and make my life feel less small. “I don’t know. Let’s just drive a bit and see what happens.”
We head back toward our school, past the identical housing subdivisions and stripmalls toward the very edge of town where the building construction starts to give way. We are stopped at a traffic light when a horn starts honking. “Why are they beeping?” Erica asks. “The light’s red.”
And I just know. Before I even look out the window and see that crappy beat-up jeep, I know. It’s him.
“I think that’s Grant Scott,” Andy says, a little awe in his voice. Andy and Jessica are honors-class types, not the sort to hang with Grant.
I roll down the window as fast as I can. “Hey,” I say breathlessly.
“Hey, back,” Grant says, those eyes of his almost turquoise, blaze through the night. “What are you doing?”
“Oh, you know, we just listened to The Avett Brothers play at this great club and now we’re going to this new Indonesian restaurant. Oh, wait. That would be if we lived somewhere else. We’re just driving in circles.”
Grant laughs; even his white teeth are inviting. “We’re heading up to that deserted construction site subdivision. We’ve got a couple of six-packs, you should come with us.”
Now, I’m not one who believes in fate, but it’s 10:30, an hour and a half before my deadline, not to my mention, my curfew, and I’ve run into Grant Scott randomly on the street, something that’s never happened before. Every nerve ending in my body is on high alert and my heart just starts pounding. Because this is it. This is what all these months of waiting has brought me to.
We follow Grant’s jeep up to the top of the hills. He’s with Jim and Robin.
“Hey, Mags,” Robin says, bounding out of the car like a hyper puppy dog, his dirty-blonde hair flopping into his eyes. “You know, I saw The Avett Brothers play a few months ago. I had to take two busses and hitchhike to get to the show but where there’s a will there’s a way. I had Chinese food, though.”
“Were they amazing?”
“No, they tanked.”
“No, but doesn’t that make you feel better?”
I laugh, punch him lightly on the arm.
“Do you want a beer?” he asks.
I hate beer but everyone is having one so I say yes and figure I’ll fake it. Once I get my can, I look around for Grant, prepare to let the evening’s fate take over. But he’s nowhere to be seen. Neither is Erica. “Where’d Erica and Grant go?” I ask.
“He’s probably walking her through the abandoned houses, giving her his lecture on the emptiness of the suburbs and the emptiness of the modern soul,” Jim says, munching on corn nuts. “It’s his standard pickup line and damn if it doesn’t work every time. Corn nut?”
Beer comes spraying out of my nose. The house/soul motif is one that shows up regularly in his poems. Has he been testing out his pickup lines with the poetry that he asks me to critique?
“Erica?” I cry. “But she doesn’t have an i at the end of her name!” I don’t mean to be a bitch, but I can’t help it. And even as I’m saying it, a little voice reminds me that Margaret, my real name, doesn’t have an i at the end either.
“Huh?” Jim says.
But Robin laughs. “I get it. You know our predictable friend too well.” He leans in so his breath is warm on my neck. “I’ll tell you a secret: It’s not always the i girls, but it’s never the smart girls. Pretty, yes. Smart, no.”
I feel the pit in my stomach balloon. So I’m not pretty, is that it? “Erica’s in honors classes,” I say defensively, looking down and blinking back the unwelcome tears.
“That doesn’t make her smart.” And then I think about the few times I’ve gone out with her, and how boring she is, how she has nothing original to say. “And you can be smart and dumb at the same time,” Robin says mysteriously as Grant and Erica reappear.
And just like that, they’re together. Grant has scored another i-girl. I sit there and nurse my beer and listen to him expound, to offer these grand opinions on everything from the state of the modern soul to the war in Afghanistan to why football players have lower IQs and I realize it’s the first time I’ve ever heard him in public like this. And he’s talking out of his ass. And maybe I’m just feeling pissed about Erica—who’s hanging on his every word—but it’s like the Grant I created in my head was so much interesting than the guy sitting opposite me blathering on about how Obama’s presidency is actually bad for black people.
“You’re not really drinking that, are you?” Robin asks, pointing to my now-warm beer.
I fess up. “I hate beer.”
He reaches into his backpack for a bottle of Gatorade. “From my secret stash. Just for you.”
“Why do you have a secret stash of Gatorade?”
“I run track. You never know when you’ll need electrolyte replenishment.”
“A hipster jock.”
“The world is full of contradictions,” Robin replies. “Beautiful brainiacs. Rebel A-listers,” he says, pointing to Grant. He shakes his head. “He’s a lot better one-on-one.”
“So am I, actually. You wanna get out of here? There’s a lovely four bedroom, two bath I could show you. The light’s great.”
I follow Robin along the dirt roads to where the hulking skeletons of half-constructed houses that were begun during the boom and abandoned during the bust sit. A full moon illuminates our way.
“Aren’t you going to tell me about the soul-less state of the human condition?” I ask.
Robin spins around and for the first time tonight, his eyes—which in the moonlight I can see are hazel and warm—have no joke in them. “I don’t think you’d fall for that.”
I don’t know why, but the hair on the back of my neck stands up. “No, I don’t think I’d fall for that, either,” I say. And I know it’s true. If Grant had tried to romance me with the dystopic crap in his poetry, I’d have laughed.
“I have to confess something,” he says. “I keep giving myself these deadlines. About you. If Grant hasn’t made a move on Mags, by this day, I’m going to do something. Or if Mags talks to me on this day, I’m going to ask her out. But my deadlines keep passing and I keep giving myself new ones.”
It is astonishing to me how sometimes things can be right in front of you, and you can totally miss them. But then I think of those people and their houses and those rooms that they find that they didn’t know existed, so maybe it’s not so astonishing after all.
Robin tentatively takes two of his fingers and places then in the little indentation at the base of my throat and it’s like his fingers are a ray gun because this delicious, melty warmth spreads throughout my entire body.
I can barely speak. “Maybe this is the end of the line for deadlines,” I say.
Then I cover his hand with mine and Robin smiles at me and it’s like I can feel the whole world begin to open up.