“You’re always gonna be lonely, you know that, right?”
That was the voice inside of her head. That was how it spoke to her – as if another version of herself was sitting in a chair, a few feet away from her, addressing her as “you” from a supposed outside, objective perspective.
She thought of the voice as a separate person. She thought that person was pretty much a snarky little bitch a great deal of the time. Although, to be fair, she also duly noted when the voice took on the role of a vigilant cheerleader. She would leap onto the chair she normally sat on, throw her arms in the air, and fervently exclaim “Good job!”
She didn’t know if all of this was exceptionally odd, or if every single other person who had ever lived had experienced the exact same thing. It was not the kind of thing people usually spoke of. “Hey, does the voice inside of your head speak to you in the first person or the second, or perhaps even the third? Is the voice kind, critical, or frighteningly neutral?” She could not remember a single social gathering in which this topic had come up.
“So, as I was saying: you are always going to be lonely. It is your legacy.”
Sometimes, it was not entirely clear if the voice was being a snarky little bitch, or a compassionate companion.
I was pretty sure my parents were tricksters. From an early age, I was watching them out of the corners of my eyes.
Like when we took a road trip all the way across the country when I was four years old, driving west across old Route 66 from Pennsylvania to California, where my aunt and uncle lived. Days and days of endless barren landscapes, our brand new station wagon throwing up a dust storm that followed in our wake. No air conditioning. The windows were wide open, making any kind of talking sort of impossible. It was dry, and dusty, with a hot wind blowing in your face all day long. My brother and I bounced and blew around in the back seat in a woozy stupor. Every so often, one of us would come out of our haze long enough to let out a plaintive whine of “How much longer?” or, even more important, “Are you sure there’s a POOL?”
I got to eat pancakes every morning.
At one of the pancake places, I got a little stuffed burro with a bell in his ear for my souvenir of the trip. Except I wasn’t allowed to make the bell ring because it drove everyone nuts, so mostly I just held him in my lap and stared at him.
My aunt and uncle had a new baby. I’d pretty much never seen a baby before, and I wasn’t at all sure she was real. She just sat there doing absolutely nothing most of the time. Every so often I would pinch her, to see if she was real after all. She would scream or cry or something, but somehow I still wasn’t entirely convinced.
I was pretty sure the people next store were really, really bad and would snatch me up or hurt me if I got too close to them. They were always trying to get me to come over to their gate to talk to them, or to show me something. They didn’t speak English, and they wore clothes that covered them all up from head to toe, and they were older than even my grandparents. I made sure never to get too close to that gate, even if I didn’t see them in their yard. But that meant that I had to stay in my aunt and uncle’s garage, and that was terrifying, too, as my aunt had shown me a bottle that she swore had a genie inside. It was hard to find a place that was far enough from the gate and from the bottle, both. But at least I could stand there and shake my burro’s bell.
My parents seemed to think that everything was funny. They laughed all the time in California, and I was pretty sure they were laughing at me. But I was watching them. They just seemed like people with a lot of secrets. Mean people. With secrets.
*The blog has been silent for a spell, while I have labored over the re-re-re-writes of my upcoming novel Pushing the River. In the interim, I have become fascinated with the concept of the unreliable narrator. And I continue to be taken with the idea of flash fiction. Hence, a little piece that utilizes both.
It was the way she held her cigarette that I would remember. Her hands were always so small, the fingers so thin. You could not see from one end of the kitchen to the other , the density of smoke from cigarette after cigarette had nowhere to go. It choked the room. It obscured the cabinets, the floor of the room she had waited so long to redo.
It was very nearly the hand of a child.
I don’t want you to come anymore, she said. I want this to be the last time.
Was there gray in her hair when we first met? I was trying to recall. But always the pale, slender hands , the plain gold wedding band, the narrow silver watch whose face she could no longer read without her glasses, which she detested and never wore.
But I want to come, I said.
She could no longer see the cabinets, nor even the beloved built-in breakfast nook where the two of us sat. It was not the smoke. She had not seen much of anything around her for a number of years. Not since Jeff jumped.
I mean it, she said. Please don’t.
As I work on the final draft of my novel, I have been playing with several new ideas, and it’s possible that one has taken hold! I have long been intrigued by writing a full-length work that takes place within a time frame that is less than 24 hours (think Mrs. Dalloway, Ulysses, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, etc.). I have recently become intrigued by the possibility of telling the entire story in separate pieces of flash fiction — each of which would be entirely free standing, but all of which together would tell the tale. The piece above is the latest flash.
Yesterday’s twinkling lights quit working and now fill garbage cans. The festive flourishes that merry-makers painstakingly hung in windows and yards and around doors have been ravaged by time and weather. My Christmas tree has become so dry that every time my dog brushes it with her wagging tail, needles rain forth in a downpour of fire hazard.
The season of cheer, of good will, of hopefulness, is past. Not even the brain-scrambling, body-slamming, wretched but familiar hangover of the New Year remains to keep us company.
January 2nd. Nothing ahead but bleak, relentless winter, as far as the soul can see. A landscape of emotional white out.
I have wandered around this landscape for too many years – this relentless tundra of January 2nd status. But it is a New Year. And with whatever mixture of revelry and reflection we rang in 2018, here we stand. We renew our vow to begin again.