Blue carpet: Short Fic Friday

Mary Ann was a mother of her own now, and liked to lay her baby on the floor in the living room. She’d lay beside him on her stomach and press her face into the dusty blue carpet. She’d listen to her son wriggle, kick, and coo, his saliva-covered fists shoved between his gums.

And Mary Ann? Mary Ann would let the rough carpet become a gentle waterfall that she would part with her nose. She’d fall through the blue darkness, dark blueness, and land in a bikini in a cool jungle tide pool, her hair held back with flowers. People would be dancing in the water, dressed all in red and laughing. Fruit trees shade the sun.

She would be welcomed with open arms, her crying son eons away. And yes, her son would be crying now. And yes, she would have to leave soon.

The only blue in her house was the carpet and all the baby boy clothes. She wanted more blue, blue curtains along the windows and shower, blue dishes, blue walls. Blue could be so expensive, nowadays.

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Belie: Short Fic Friday

The bells are shining, round and bubble-shaped. The bells are huge, they hurt my head. The tower is tall, we walk right underneath. The aisle is…

My dress is white, my dad is shaking, my shoes hurt my feet but they look so nice. My flowers are wrong. I wanted lilies. Lilies mean death, apparently. Inappropriate for a wedding. I beg to differ.

I’ve always liked lilies.

My shoes still hurt. The bridesmaids float like angels. Their dresses are blue, with pink sashes. My husband, no, my fiance stands like a statue. The grotesque crucifix hangs on the wall behind him. So graphic. The nails.

The priest. I wanted an old one, he’s so young. The people line up. The little girl, with the flowers. The boy, with the rings. What’s his name? Who knows.

My dad’s still shaking. Maybe now crying. I want to smile. I don’t feel a thing.

He says, “let’s go.”

We take a step, and the aisle falls in steps like an opening handheld fan and it’s a staircase,  covered in red. My dress is long, we fall. We float, like angels, downward. We float in time to the music. I hear a string quartet, I hear a beehive. I hear the bells, ringing ominous and dark. Lilies mean death, do the bells they ring at funerals? Are there special wedding bells, did I miss them?

The aisle is so long. Fiance waiting, sweating. The flowers are wrong.

My father says, “don’t worry, I’ll stop this aisle from being stairs.”

People stare.

 

I blink. My reflection blinks, too. What a pretty mirror, such a nice frame. I suppose the hotel could afford it.

“Well,” I tell myself, returning to my makeup. “No matter what happens, at least it won’t be that.”

I paint my cheeks, my eyes. I’m in sweatpants, my dress hanging in the closet. I’d kicked my fiance out. How soon is “before the wedding?” How long were we supposed to spend apart?

Of course it was a dream. Can you dream while awake? Daydream, I guess. I was young, then. I pull my skin back at the temples. What kind of person gets married for the first time at 50, anyhow? I sigh, drop my blush brush to rest on the vanity tabletop.

Big wedding. Had to have a big wedding. Couldn’t have lilies. Headache.

Bells? Out the window, bells? Morning mass.

I raise the brush to my cheek again. Well, here we go.

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Heart of Steel: Short Fic Friday

John slammed the door to his car, sucked in all the air his lungs could hold, and let out a loud, violent cough. Sweet, sweet relief. He could breathe, the tickle in his throat that he had been fighting all night was finally clear.

“Hello,” he said to himself, his voice markedly softer than his hacking. Yes, his voice was back to normal. It sounded less sexy unclouded by phlegm. She probably didn’t notice, either way.

“Hi.”

John jumped, whipped his head to the right. Shit. There she was, just outside his passenger door. He thought she had gotten in her own car already. Did she hear that terrible cough? She was just as beautiful as her picture on the site, just like the rest.

“Sorry,” he said, mind racing, neck sweating. “I didn’t see you. I…sorry. I’m just…” She stared politely, letting him finish. “Nervous. I’m not good at this.”

“No worries. Mind if I join you? We still have some time.”

John unlocked the door. She slid in, her perfect body sinking into the black leather. John wrapped his fingers around the wheel. He couldn’t bear to look at her.

“Did you enjoy tonight?”

She was looking right at him. Her eyes glowed synthetic white light. She sat so straight.

“Yes. I’m sorry. I don’t know why I can’t…I don’t know how to do this.”

“Let’s just drive, and talk. No big deal.”

He pulled out of the parking garage. He felt his sickness welling in his throat again. Just another thing to worry about on such a strange date. He would drive until she was satiated, delete her number, delete his profile from the site. His fault for trying something new, he supposed. No, Walt’s fault for telling him it was normal. He and Ronnie had never been normal.

Well. The night was pretty. There weren’t many cars, and certainly not many with people inside of them. John loved driving around all the autocars. They were so slow and even that he could weave between them like a stitching needle.

Her metallic skin reflected the brake lights and seemed striped with red, white, yellow. She was twiddling her thumbs in her lap. He wondered if she, too, had anxiety. He wished she would slouch a little.

“What are you thinking?” He asked her. What a strange question. He could remember asking Ronnie if she could think, at all. Walt had nearly thrown him out of the house.

“I like your suit,” she said. “I like how it fits you.”

“I like your dress,” he replied, and it was true. The rich red looked lovely in the restaurant, and in the dark night it was dulled to a mahogany and complemented her silver skin and rope-like brown hair. He wanted to ask what made her have preferences, if they were programmed into her. He wondered if she knew. He wondered if she’d lie about it. He wondered if it mattered…of course it mattered.

The music was low, pulsing. She tapped the toe of a high heel to the beat.

“Did you want to go anywhere?”

“No,” she said, leaning her head back against the seat. “I just love to drive with humans. It’s quite a lot of fun. And, I like spending time with you. I know you’re nervous. And I know you probably miss her…”

John stared straight ahead. The red and white city lights swam in his vision, formed a young Lisa’s dying face. Younger, her wedding veil, her mother, his mother, the vomit, the blood, their daughter, all dying.

Then this thing. The Replacement, sipping a drink one part vodka three parts Ecofuel. The way she tried to move like a woman. The way they all did, how they almost got it. The way they wore vintage dresses because no one bothered designing new ones. The way they now seemed so short and skinny and pretty after years without the flesh and blood equivalent. How to talk to a shell of something that no longer exists? How to talk to a replication? How to talk to a made-to-order immortal?

How to touch one? How to love one?

“I just want you to know that I get it,” she said. “I might not feel it as intensely, but I understand. And…I’m here for you.”

John nodded. “Thank you…I have to think. Perhaps it’s still too early for me.”

She nodded too. He didn’t turn the car around yet, though. Still thinking. If he dropped her off back at the restaurant, she would be gone until he called again. For now, she was here. It had been so long since he’d been alone in a car with a woman, and though it was awkward he had to admit it was nice. She was unsettlingly pretty. He wished she was plumper, or had asymmetrical breasts or a strange birthmark, or short eyelashes or limp hair.

He was driving over the bridge now, and the water shone below like a rippling mirror. He wanted uncertainty nearly as much as he wanted to kiss her. He wanted her to short circuit all her programming, especially the programming telling her not to mind that she’s programmed. He knew that despite her silver color she was warm, soft, fleshy, with a working womb that he was being told left and right to utilize. He didn’t want a baby. He didn’t want a sure thing. He half wanted her to reject him.

She placed two nimble fingers on the radio and turned it two notches.

“Do you mind?” she asked. “I hate this song.”

He shook his head. “Me too.”

The song changed twice, and she let it rest.

“Mm,” she said, stretching her arms and closing her eyes. She sang along, softly, a bit off tune. John sped up, cut off another autocar. Maybe, he mused, he’d keep driving through the night. What was the use in turning around, anyhow?

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Cough: Short Fic Friday

She wouldn’t cough. How bad could it be?

She began a deep breath, but it hitched in her throat so she let it out softly. A curling cloud shot out from between her teeth. Floating, suddenly, her neck was heavy but her head was light. In water, warm water, rippling around her outline. The moon was dim, easy to look at. The night was velvet.

She could sense life humming inside of her. She could feel the give and flexibility of her skin. Her eyes were dense marbles; she could feel them moving as she searched the sky. She couldn’t move, or she would sink.

Her friends were saying things, but she didn’t want to hear them. It was peaceful. She wanted to be alone.

Grass, now, she was on a field. It made her bum cold, wet, but it felt nice. It felt like biting into an apple, except all over her skin. She stretched out her legs. It reminded her of delving her hand into a barrel of dried beans at the supermarket. The grass tickled. It was so much sensation she had to slow down or risk getting dizzy.

She ran. She ran, and her lungs kept up with her. She could breathe so easily. Her knees didn’t crack or ache. The wind whistled in her ears. She felt so free, within her own body.

She woke up. A dream, of course a dream. Back, aching. Arms, weak. Bed, lights, too bright to look at. Trapped. She wanted freedom. She got oatmeal, instead. Water. Three more weeks, then freedom again. Maybe more than before.

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The Artist and the Understudy: Short Fic Friday

The table was splotched with eye shadow and cracked cakes of blush, used q-tips and dashes of glitter. From the speaker rang out the yeasty bellow of Amir Kalali, tangling with the high soprano of his leading lady. She was the understudy, her voice icy and crackling.

Her voice stopped with a smacking sound effect and a yelp, and suddenly said understudy appeared in the makeup room and leapt into one of the chairs. She locked eyes with the makeup artist, who was re-curling the hair of a wig and mouthing the resentful words Kalali was singing. The artist pulled the iron out of the wig and blinked his black-lined eyes. Ah, her skin was such a different shade.

“You have quite some time,” the artist told the understudy, nonetheless collecting his brushes and filling a tin the size of a Petri dish with warm sink water.

The understudy fumbled with a wrinkle in her tights, then scratched her back. “I just wanted to be sure to get it done.” Her spoken voice had a taste of Western Europe to it, a hint that disappeared when she sang. The artist approached her; he was dressed in shining black, she in an ill-fitting gown of glittering pink, the contrast making the beige walls surrounding them seem even dimmer.

The table was scattered with different shades of tan and brown, but none of them seemed to match the understudy’s olive tones. He held tube after compact after glass jar to the understudy’s chin as her knee bounced under the table. Her petite, shining shoe creaked with the movement.

Finally he decided on a color and swirled a brush, skimming off the excess against the lip of the vial. He began reaching for her right eye.

“Oh, right,” the understudy said, holding up a gloved hand. Her hair, curled and shiny as plastic, swung to drape over her shoulder. For the first time the artist looked in her eyes. “He swung twice for some reason tonight. I know it was only supposed to be one, but it was two. And I fell on the second one.”

“He hit you twice?” The artist repeated, vaguely aware of how troubling their conversation would sound to a passer-by. “That’s weird…Kalali doesn’t like to improvise much. During a song, too?”

The understudy shrugged, shook her head. Her leg paused for just a moment. “Maybe me being there threw him off. But he hit me once in the eye, like normal, then again in the chin.”

The artist brought the back end of his brush to his lips. “What, did they play the sound effect twice too?” He paused, lowered an open palm. “Whatever. Two hits, no problem. Good thing you came early.”

The artist painted two bruises on the understudy’s face, a light one on her brow, purple and brown, and a much larger one on her chin to show the one that sent the character to the ground. It was harder to paint the bruise at such an angle—the artist had drawn the eyebrow bruise every night for weeks—but it did look rather good by the end. It was a masterpiece of pain, an afterimage of abuse. Purple, yellow, brown, red, green, white, black, blue. He etched an enlarged vein into her cheek, he contoured her chin to appear swollen on one side.

As with the normal lead, he eased off the fake eyelash where the first punch hit and then, after a little consideration, redid her lipstick to make it seem faded on one end. She looked terrible, a woman trying to cover her pain and ask for help all at once.

“You look beat up,” the artist said, smiling. “And that’s a compliment.”

The understudy glanced in the mirror, giggled, twisted side to side in her squeaking shoes. “Amazing, thank you so much.”

“Sure. Knock ‘em dead.”

The artist went back to fooling with the wig. He had another few songs before end of show, but he had to stick around in case of emergency.

The final number wrapped up, and the bows began. The artist began packing up his things, washing skin tones out of his brushes.

Someone burst in the door. Who on Earth…all the actors are onstage! The artist whirled around to catch the gleaming glasses of the director. Her hair was up, for once, in an elaborated braided bun but across her shoulders was the same green shawl as she normally wore during rehearsals.

“I got to admit,” she said, her face firm and impossible to read. “I was worried at first. Pretty mad. But I really like what you did with the bruises tonight.”

The artist reached behind him to turn off the sink. “Oh. Thank you. I just did it because he hit her twice so…”

“What?”

“Continuity,” the artist finished.

“Kalali?”

“Yes, the understudy—”

“Well, that’s what’s brilliant about it,” the director said, and the artist held his tongue. “What’s brilliant about you. He didn’t hit her twice, and you made it clear—subtle, but clear—that he hit her again offstage. At home. Again. It’s brilliant, it’s subtle, I want it every night, from now on, you hear me?”

The artist scratched behind his ear with the end of his brush. “Uh. Okay.”

She snapped and pointed at him as she slipped out the door. “I love it. Keep up the good work. You should have told me that idea earlier.”

The artist cleaned his space quickly, shoving half-cleaned brushes into their places and pulling on his jacket as he left. He had to catch the understudy before she disappeared.

He caught her as she headed to the costume area, her face still covered in his masterful bruises.

“Hey,” the artist called to her, still unsure as to how he felt. “Kalali only hit you once.”

The understudy smiled. She was in her street clothes now, an oversized sweatshirt and jeans paired poorly with an overly-made up face and perfect hair.

“No one ever hits you once,” she said, and left the artist struggling for words in her wake.

Popping-zits

Makeup: Short Fic Friday

Shane glared at his mirror, his shoulder blades pinching together, his hands gripping the rim of the sink. His eyes darted from his forehead creases to the zit on his chin to his appearing crows feet to the zit on his chin to his graying temples to the zit on his chin.

“Pick one!” he shouted at himself. His cat yowled from his bedroom at the sudden noise. Shane sighed and rested his head in the crux of his elbow. Now? It had to be now?

“It’s ‘cause you’re stressed,” he whispered and splashed water on his face. He ran his finger over the bump. It’s pretty deep in there. It wouldn’t be one he could pinch and have it disappear. No. This one was a fighter.

Marzia’s drawers in the bathroom they once shared were all but empty. A hair scrunchie, an old disposable razor. No tweezers, no zit cream, no makeup!

“I could run to CVS. No, I wouldn’t know what to get. The colors all look wrong.” He dried his face on the bottom of his shirt and left the bathroom. Maybe it only seemed big since he was staring at it.

The house was so empty, so big. His feet were so quiet on the carpet that he hadn’t vacuumed in months. The cat needed feeding, so he fed her. He would need to get more cat food soon. He fought tooth and nail for that money-sucker.

Shane paused outside the bathroom door, bouncing on his toes, then leapt in, as if he could scare the zit off his face. Nope, still there, and even bigger and redder than he thought it was.

“Okay, dammit,” Shane said. He checked his phone. One hour. Only one hour? He needed to fix this. It was so easy when Marzia was here. He would always use her concealer—they had the same skin tone. Meetings, holidays, regular Tuesdays. Since she’d left, though…

The cat yowled, there was a big clatter. Shane set his bepimpled jaw. That damn cat.

He caught his own eye in the mirror. Yes, perfect.

Not twenty minutes later and he was at Marzia’s door, cat carrier under one arm. He rang the bell, then knocked directly after.

Marzia opened the door, all six feet and three inches of her. He used to like her supermodel height, her lanky limbs that moved awkwardly like cheap animation. Now she just felt intimidating. Shane held the cat out to her.

“Please,” Shane said. “I need a favor.”

It took a little convincing, but soon he was in Marzia’s new bathroom, slathering his chin in concealer. It made him a new man. He rubbed it until it was unnoticeable.

He popped out of the bathroom. Marzia was stroking the cat on her bed.

“Thank you h…” He caught the  “honey” before it escaped his lips.

“Is it for a date?”

Shane didn’t answer quickly. Marzia nodded.

“A man, then? I presume, considering….” She sighed. “Unless you lied about that just to…well.”

Shane looked down to the carpet. Freshly vacuumed. “Yes…a man. I wouldn’t have lied about that, Marzia.”

“And this is what…you want, to make you happy?”

“Yes.” Yes, for the thousandth time, yes.

“Well, okay then. It’s what you have to do, then, okay. Okay.”

The cat leapt off the bed and stalked out of the room. They were alone.

“I don’t know what to say that we haven’t already.”

Marzia’s shoulders lifted once with a silent laugh. “Me either. Me either.” She gave him the once-over. “You look good…I hope it goes well. And thanks for the cat.”

“Thanks for the makeup.”

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An eventful morning: Short Fic Friday

As Marley walked through the parking garage someone locked their car with a beep that made her jump and pin her purse tighter against her ribs. She bounced in her step to hide her nerves. There were footsteps behind her, brisker and longer than hers so she sped up. She could see a man’s reflection in the glass door. He was handsome and searching his suit pockets with fervor.

Marley held the first door open for him. It was the polite thing to do.

“Thank you,” the man said, smiling directly at her.

“Yeah,” Marley replied under her breath. And then the second door, God. She quickened her step, swung it open.

“Thanks.”

Marley didn’t say anything this time, just shrugged under her purse strap. Now the stairs. She hustled up one flight and turned left, thankfully he turned right. She sighed and slowed her pace, let her shoulders down.

Coffee, light roast. Perfect. A bagel, no, someone’s waiting at the toaster…a corn muffin is fine. She paid for her handfuls of Styrofoam and headed down the hallway to the right, to the office.

The man appeared from the office. He smiled, but they were too far away from each other to say hello, so Marley looked under her arm and into her purse. Her hands were shackled by her breakfast and shook the restraints. Closer, closer.

“Good morning,” he said as he passed her, but a moment too late. Marley turned her head and muttered a syllable in reply, quiet enough that he likely didn’t even hear her. She glanced in a reflective window as she passed it. Her shirt, flowing and far too bright. Her shoes, too cute for her big feet. Her hair was messed and there was a zit on her cheek that wasn’t visible in the dark glass but was red and unsightly in a mirror. Marley could hear her heart beat in her forehead and tinnitus singing in her sinuses.

Ah, her desk, her little cubicle. She thanked the powers that be that her cubicle walls were the tall kind. No one could see her unless they happened to walk behind her. A secret square in the middle of the office. She sipped her coffee. What an eventful morning. Hopefully the rest of the day wouldn’t be so—

The phone rang. Marley flinched, spilling her coffee. It’s one of those days, then.