Oh my god.
My nightmare is almost over. A half hour, this place will be closed. Kids are bustling around ringing people up, putting books away. The first hour was happy puppy eagerness. The last four hours, a man in the stocks.
Get me out.
It’s a tricky act to pull off, trying pack up your shit without looking like you’re slinking away in shame. A delicate balancing act, like spinning plates on sticks, of dignity and retreat under fire. Books in the box they came in. Out on the horse you rode in on. Meditatively. Cheerfully. Now there's a good sport. What a jolly good fellow he is.
The poster I made up with the red book cover is nice. I’ll keep it for something, maybe hang it for a souvenir. Someday when I can stand to look at it again. The card table is cleared off. The Sharpie pen, never used, in my pocket. I figure a half hour left, I’ll go get a coffee for now, swipe a magazine off the rack and read for while until the manager Irene throws me out on my pretentious ass.
As I head towards the “Joe Muggs World Best Coffee!” I see kids looking at me, the man they just let out of the stocks. Its awful to have people my own age look at me this way, but kids, teenagers, its intolerable. Get me the hell out of here. Eyeless Gloucester on a blasted heath. Santiago, furling his patched sail with the bones of a gigantic marlin still lashed to his skiff.
Oh shut the fuck up will you?
Okay okay. Just saying.
Get your fucking coffee and just shut the fuck up.
Nobody’s here at the coffee bar. Rice Krispie bars. I remember those. Mom made those. Baby boomer comfort food. Living in the projects in Ames as a little kid and Mom making Rice Krispie bars. Can I write a story about a bored house wife who seduces the paper boy with rice krispie bars maybe? How would that work?
A girl comes out of the bathroom, sees me and hurrys over. “Take your order?”
“Out of decaf.”
Aw shucks. Is there no mercy left in the land?
“Aw. I don’t know. Tall something. Anything.”
“We got Pike’s Point.”
“Or Café Verona.”
“Room for cream?”
“Yeah. Jesus. Just coffee. Something.” Badgers are gnawing my ankles. An eagle is pecking out my liver.
She goes off and pops out a paper cup and slides a ring over it. She brings it over, steaming, fragrant and healing for the bleeding soul. I fish out my wallet and look for a couple bucks.
“Keep it.” She waves her hand.
“It’s closing. We’ll just throw it out.”
“Hey. Thanks.” Christ, I hope she doesn’t feel sorry for me. I couldn’t stand it. She’s a nice looking kid in her way. Tight beat up jeans, tight purple tank top with an iron cross stenciled on it. Weird fluorescent pink punk hair like a mop of boardwalk cotton candy, and metallic blue fingernails, maybe a sign of mental illness. A sweet little pot belly flowing along the top of her studded belt. I like her.
As I start to look around for the cream thermos she says “You’re the book guy.”
Not a question. I look back at her and she’s smiling at me, but it’s a nice smile with no meanness in it. “Yeah, that’s me.”
That’s it, I guess. Cool, little book dude. My little glimpse of fame. I dump some cream and a couple packs of raw sugar in the coffee and bring it back to the card table. I glance at my watch. They’re going to want me out of here pretty soon. Sitting, staring, chin in hand, trying to scry my future in the depths of my paper coffee cup; a muddy crystal ball with a sad bearded face rippling there looking back at me. The future looks dark. But sweet.
“So how was it?”
I look up from my day dream and the pink haired girl is sitting there across from me, in a chair she yanked over from the next table. “Not that great I guess.” It’s funny, I don’t want to lie to her, and I don’t want her to feel sorry for me either. I just want her to respect me, that’s all. I feel exposed. Sitting across from her, I feel old.
“I sold one. Some really old guy, I think he thought ‘Mortal Engines’ was about car repair. I didn’t talk him out of it. He’ll be back looking for his money.”
She busts out laughing. It is pretty funny, when you think about it. I crack up too. I feel better. Just a pair of old cons we are, her and me.
“What kind of story is it? I don’t want to buy it – “
“ – but what is it?” She points at the poster. “What’s with the sword?”
“That’s a katana. In the story it’s a wakizashi, which is the next size smaller. So its not quite right. I guess. I don’t know. It’s a ghost story.”
“You like ghost stories?”
“Sometimes. When I’m in the mood.”
“Its in Japan, about a thousand years ago, and it’s a sexy story. A love story.”
“Its got sex?”
“Yeah. A lot.”
“I like those stories. Maybe I’ll get it sometime.”
“What else you write?”
“Science fiction stuff. Love stories.”
“Cool.” She nods her head approvingly. Now there’s that silence like a first date. Is the soup good? Soon she’ll look over at the coffee stand and start making polite goodbye noises. But she sits. “I like to read.”
“What do you read?”
“Just any shit.”
“Sounds like what I write.”
“No, shut up. You know. Last night? I was staying at my boyfriends place?”
(Oh my god. This wench. This trollop. Miss Pussy Two Shoes. Staying at my boyfriends place. Goddamnit. I was born way too early. Oh, cruel fate! Where were these girls when I was a kid out on my own? Why weren’t they staying at my place? Goddamnit.)
“And he has these books under his bed – “
The lurid imagination boils. A nude girl fishing around for something to read while waiting for her guy to come back to bed.
“ – he had this book? Of stories?”
“There was this one. This old guy, his wife was like senile? And there was this thing, he was changing her diaper, I swear to God, and he gets all horny for her. But she’s senile, right? But she remembers this thing, this freak thing they did on a train on their honeymoon or some shit. And they do it again, like they’re on the train.”
I can’t believe this. Maybe this is proof God exists. “Is the guy named Ron?”
“Um. . . yeah!”
“And the wife is Aimee.”
“Yeah – Amy, but spelled funny.”
“I spelled it like that because I was listening to an Aimee Mann record.”
“You read that story?”
“Only about fifty or sixty times. Hell, I wrote it.”
“Oh fuck you!”
“I did. I really did.”
“Fuck you. You didn’t!”
“I wrote it on a weekend at my Dad’s fishing cabin.” I reach into my cardboard box and pull out one of my orphans. “Look ‘C. Sanchez-Garcia’. Next time you’re fucking your boyfriend, check it out. The story’s called ‘ An Early Winter Train.’ That's my story.“
“That’s it. Hey, I can’t believe you’re a real writer.”
“I know just what you mean.”
“That’s a great story. I love that story.”
“Really? You mean that?”
“That’s a fucking great story. You know what?” She leans in close and whispers “It kind of got me off.”
“Ooo. Mama. It did?”
“Well, fuck yeah. I mean, I mean I would really love it – “ (are there tears in her eyes?) “if somebody loved me like that guy loved his wife. You know? She was all fucked up in the head, but still, he thought she was really beautiful. He still loved her. I wish somebody would love me like that.”
I don’t know what to say. “Thanks. Really. Thanks for saying that. I’m really glad you liked it.”
She’s looking at me with admiration. I’m sitting across from a cute young thing with pink hair and blue fingernails – and she thinks I’m worth a damn. It ain’t the Nobel Prize, but suddenly I feel terrific. Hell, I’ll take what I can get.
They’re turning off the lights now.
(the above is fiction)
Fiction By C. Sanchez-Garcia