Posts tagged ‘Short Stories’

April 20, 2011

Sticky in August

sticky-in-august-adrian-brijbassi-short-storyThe time for the affair was now. Carol reaffirmed the fact in her mind as she drove to New York on an August weekend so hot and sticky that to breathe or concentrate became a chore. She wanted it before she turned forty and before she and Greg had kids, which, given that she was thirty-seven, would be soon. The affair, Carol hoped as she sat in midtown traffic congested by steam and bodies drizzled in sweat, would be like the ones she read about in books, with the women perching themselves in place to be approached. The seductions in paperback were quick, the affairs torrid and brief, the men discarded like old dolls, grins intact. Having gotten away with it — or not — the women returned to their sedate lives thrilled with the act. The rare regret had an existence as deep and long as a hangover.

Carol’s affair, were it to happen, would have to be fit in around the convention schedule, a busy one packed with seminars and lectures, beginning with the opening reception and four-course dinner. Twenty tables filled an ornate ballroom occupied by librarians, who, like the books and periodicals they file, were organized by commonality and last name. Carol was seated with seven others from the state’s capital region and, as she expected, the women outnumbered the men. The two males at the table, like most of the others in the room, looked plain and bookish, clearly embedded in mid-career goals for money and respect. Their lack of attractiveness, though disappointing in a basic aesthetic sense, didn’t bother Carol; she was almost certain the affair wouldn’t be with another librarian.

For one thing, she might see him again, at one of these conventions, or worse, one of her colleagues might run across him. He, this would-be lover, would say, “Oh, do you know Carol? Second to the chief librarian in Albany?” and they would make chit-chat and discuss how he knew her and if he were a gentleman he would lie. Librarians were good at spotting lies, though; novels are filled with them.

October 1, 2009

Masquerade

She tied her hair into a ponytail, buttoned her leather coat, and thought of a polite way to put it. The issue was his friend’s Halloween party, an annual tradition, with a barbecue, joke prizes, and a midnight showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”. He called it campy and she nodded, without adding the adjectives that came to her mind.

In past years he’d gone as athletes, either famous ones, like Babe Ruth, for which he strapped a pillow around his torso and carried a bat in one hand and a liquor bottle in the other, or generic models, such as the toothless hockey player last year. “I said ‘eh’ a lot.” He grinned and looked for a response. “Like, ‘You havin’ a good time, eh? Get you some dessert, eh?'”

With a polite smile, she said no thanks and they continued by the window of the pastry shop that was two doors from the restaurant they had just left. The night was cool and the wind blustered, stinging skin, and rustling up leaves and cloaks.

“So, will you come? It really is a lot of fun.” His grin remained, his voice was joyful.

She locked her arm around his elbow, forming a link that felt secure and necessary. A strong gust whistled and smacked the side of her face. The cold burned and caused her to sniffle. To shield herself, she ducked into his wall of a shoulder and waited for the warmth to return to her cheeks. They headed for the subway, passing familiar bars noisy with activity and full of women desperate to look sexy. His mouth scraped against the side of her head as he pressed himself against her earlobe.

“Did you hear me?” he whispered. The sharpness of his chin felt like a nudge.

“Yes, I did.” With a fluid motion, she unlooped her arm from his and placed her hands in her coat pockets.

She bunched her shoulders and turned away, thinking she was better off with the cold. This relationship of theirs teetered between commitment and division, a tenuous state that could tilt on one true act of love or the slightest betrayal.

Rock music played in a bar and she peered into the window as if the notes would sound clearer or more resonant if she could identify the musicians from whom they came. The bar was dark and any figures she could see were faceless, shapeless blobs. The starkest image, in fact, was a reflection of them. She frowned and the old, unfortunate trinity of wrinkles formed on her forehead above the bridge of her nose. His face was stern, his eyes hard and focused on her.

He spoke again, this time with a hint of disappointment, a childish whine. “I’d really like you to come and I thought we could dress up together.”

A laugh spurted from her throat and in the window she watched her mouth spread into a wide smile. “I’m sorry.” She put a hand over her lips to stifle the laughter.

He frowned and his jaw bones jutted out as the skin around them went taut. Even as she apologized again, snickers continued to escape from the sides of her mouth. Rejection — even the perception of it — will cause anger and fear to swell, and at that moment his urge was to shake her and command her not to laugh like that again. Instead, he turned his eyes to the headlights of oncoming cars. He aimed to name the makes and models of each when it drove by. The mind game was a distraction meant to invoke patience, but after only a few cars, almost all Japenese coupes, the exercise grew tedious and the expungent glare of a set of lights and another ripple of wind caused him to droop his head.

Although she had apologized twice, he could tell there was only a touch of remorse in her words, so he decided to test her sincerity. Speaking into the wind and staring at the gray sidewalk, he reiterated his hope for the party. “I thought we could go as like a team. I’d be a quarterback and you could be a cheerleader. A lot of my friends’ girlfriends go along with that kind of thing. Last year, someone went as a hot dog and his fiancee went as a bun.”

Her eyebrows raised and her head shook the way heads shake when people can’t believe someone is being serious.

“No, really, it was a good costume. You know, the innuendo.”

September 13, 2009

A Scene from September 11

The Gazette’s main office was located on West Street, in a twenty-four-story building that had the Hudson to the west and the Twin Towers to the east. When the possibility of the towers collapsing entered the minds of the editors, support staff, and firefighters, it became clear evacuation was necessary, and publication of a September 12th edition was in serious jeopardy, along with mere existence. As my superiors scurried to find a way to get a paper out, and eventually succeeding, we reporters and photographers took to the streets on what, chillingly, was a perfect summer day, with the sky pristinely, ubiquitously blue except for where it was interrupted by the searing sun and the conflagration of man’s wrath.

November 19, 2008

The Prince

[Published in the East Hampton Star, May, 2002]

Even through tears and the deliriums of half-consciousness, Larry saw the smoke from the gun, heard the deafening sound from it, and the mad screams that rose upon each shot. The shooter continued to walk up the aisle and Larry watched the man’s wide back while sinking to the floor of the subway car. This lowering of self was not done out of will. Larry’s legs had gone numb and when he slid down, his pants rolled up, exposing shins and the gray hairs on his bony legs. He slumped against a pole and remembered he was an old man. His hand stuck to one palm-sized portion of his chest as blood gushed through fingers in thick waves, rolling over knuckles and falling onto his sweater, a cable-knit recently bought by his wife. He perspired and wanted badly to reach into his breast pocket for his handkerchief, but he wouldn’t dare take his hand away. Besides, sitting in place seemed to ease the hurt. The pain was either dissipating or he was getting accustomed to it like the fit of new clothes.

east_hampton_star2He closed his eyes and took several long breaths and exhaled each slowly. Words came to his mind, despite the cacophony of his surroundings. Panicking passengers shouted and slapped at the subway doors and windows, trying to force them open. Several ran over him without consideration. They were the most bothersome to Larry, because he was ruminating while some of these people kicked his feet as they leapt, costing him his train of thought.

The gun fell with a loud thud and Larry turned toward the sound. He winced when he shifted his head and shoulders, and also when he saw the gunman being smothered by a group of purposeful men, who battered him with blows that looked painful to the extreme. Despite this man’s capture, people still screamed and scurried about. A large woman heading to the far end of the car stumbled after she nearly tripped over Larry’s size 10 Clark’s. His toes pointed right back up, like pieces of hard rubber, and he found it curious, not feeling pain when kicked. The woman was the last to pass him and the voices quelled in a matter of seconds, a change of volume Larry was grateful for.

With one wet hand still on his chest, he raised himself up a little, making it easier to breathe and concentrate. He coughed and began.

“Death,” he said. It was a murmur and wouldn’t do. He propped himself up some more, pressing his loose hand to the coarse floor and pushing his spine against the metal pole. He winced, coughed, and did his best to clear his throat.

“Death -.” The weary drone in his voice stunned him. It was a typical, sick, old man sound, but it would have to do. “Death,” he said again, “the undiscovered country, from whose bourn” -he paused to cough – “No traveller returns, puzzles the will, And makes us rather . . . rather . . .” -he coughed, without needing to this time, raising a clenched fist a few inches from his mouth – “rather bear those ills we have, Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all.”