This is the Life of a Redhead

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Austin, Again

I can't believe I wrote a sequel. But I did.
Sequel to Austin

Austin, Again (working title)

My arms start to ache. The horde of fiction weighs me down, and I’m eying the cash register with my bottom lip turning white, my large teeth biting with anticipation. I am rocking back and forth from my heels to the balls of my feet, anxious to unload these books, when I feel a hand brush lightly on the back of my shoulder.

I jump with surprise. The books tumble to the floor. My arms practically sigh in relief as I feel my cheeks burn and I angle my head towards the floor.

“Hey. I know you. From our business class?”

Austin stands in front of me. His skin is pale. His cheeks are hallow, gaunt. He wears a navy polo that hangs loosely around his body, searching for his once prefect abs to pull and stretch the cotton. A nametag reflects the florescent lights. Austin. His name flickers. Austin.

We begin to pick up the books together. Austin cracks a smile and I see that he still has perfectly aligned white teeth. There is a cut below his lip, small and subtle. He’s clean shaved except for near the cut; I see there is a trace of stubble he left behind for fear of irritating his skin further.

“How have you been? How is that guy? Uhm. You know. That one. Patrick?”

The book in his hand looses its firm rectangular shape. It’s turned into an arc as Austin’s hands run along the cover, squeeze the binding, fold the pages inward. His ring fingers are stark naked. There’s dirt under his nails.

“I don’t know. He’s managing, I think.” I shrug and flash a small smile. I never spoke to Austin. How does he remember me? I think about Patrick waiting near the doorjamb of our business class. Austin and his friend with the curly blond hair would leave with their skateboards already grazing the ground. I would trudge behind, tired and weary, until I saw Patrick waiting for me. Both of us were stuck in the mechanics of our habits. He waited for me passively. I went to him passively.

Something triggers the aching in my arms. I see Austin setting the pile of books back in my grasp. For a moment, his hand lingers on the paperback he places on top. He pretends to scan the cover before his eyes drift upwards to meet my gaze. I say nothing, and move my bottom jaw rigidly as I think of the right words to fill the silence. Instead, I clear my throat and grin. I mumble thank you and run towards the checkout.

The register beeps with every book sliding through the machine. On a frail receipt my purchases will be documented. After closing, Austin will slip in and pull up my information, despite not knowing or caring much about me. He is excited that I am here and exposed, that I’m so easily accessible, that he will never have to read me because he knows that in mere moments he will know more better than any past or future Patrick ever will.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Three-Minute Fiction

Entered into NPR's three-minute fiction contest (round 5.) It is not really the style that wins, but I am proud of myself for entering. Some problems with the story, still. Oh well.


Some people swore that the house was haunted, but Pauline could not help but to be entertained by the pigeons that had made the roof their home. She purchased the house with the intent of waking up to the hungry cooing of the baby birds, of sweeping feathers off the front porch, and scrubbing the mess that the pigeons left behind. She wouldn’t mind the smell. She would revel in the smell. Pauline needed to be cleaning all time. She needed something to do.
            The rumor was that the pigeons were left behind by the woman who had previously owned the house. She fed birds in the park, talked to herself, flung breadcrumbs and glared at passersby who got too close. One day she won the lottery. She took the money and the birds home with her. When she passed, she could not part with the pigeons. Pauline listened for her ghost, analyzing every creek and moan of the house, but when she heard those pigeons coo she forgot all about the haunting and instead focused on cleaning.
            One afternoon Pauline found herself sitting still in the kitchen. She had woken up early that day and had already run out of things to clean. The house was immaculate, and she felt her hands tremble on the glossy table. She would press one hand to the surface, hold it down until her fingers turned white, and then scrub the prints off with her free hand, which was ready and armed with a rag reeking of turpentine. She did this for hours.
The pigeons were quiet that day. Pauline feared that they had flown off. Her hands were growing tired and the stench was making her dizzy. She had forgotten to open any windows. Pauline, in a daze, stumbled to her refrigerator. She looked inside and stared at a loaf of bread. Quickly, she ripped a chunk off the bread. Some crumbs tumbled onto the shelf. Pauline stared at them for a while, and then slowly closed the refrigerator. She took the bread and walked out to the front porch, leaving a trail of crumbs behind.
Absentmindedly, Pauline tore the bread into smaller pieces and scattered them on the porch. They started to accumulate at her feet, falling on top of one another, a small pile of breadcrumbs rising to meet the tips of her heels. Pauline waited for the pigeons. She held her breath and strained to hear the cooing. She squinted her eyes and looked for fresh feathers. There was nothing.
There was no more bread in her hands. The crumbs lay at her feet. Some had even fallen into the folds of her skirt. Pauline did not bother to brush them away. Instead, she collapsed onto the ground. Her body shook and she raised her hands to cover her eyes, pressing her palms hard into her cheeks as if it would stop her tears from coming. She waited for the birds, but they did not come.
An old Ford came from down the road. It’s engine sputtered and it kicked up dust on its way around the bend. Pauline raised her head and saw the car slow down as it reached her house. She called out to the driver, “John?”
But the car sped up and roared away. Pauline sat with the crumbs caught in her skirt, mashed against the souls of her shoes, some buried under her nails. The dust had settled and still the pigeons were absent. Pauline was alone in the house for the very first time. Nothing was ever the same again after that.