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Back You are here: Home Stories Words for the People Short Stories Egress
Sunday, 23 September 2012 19:36

Egress

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She sits across from me, chewing chicken taquitos, shucking edamame beans from their pods and making gnarled seafood, see-food faces at me. My coffee sits stagnant and has the consistency of giblet gravy; it tastes like a dry Salisbury steak. I sip flat tap water, cradle my cheeks in my palms and rub my aching temples, pulling the skin taught. She giggles and bounces in her chair.

“Chinese!” She shouts, pointing at my face, nearly choking on an edamame bean.

Dehydration and fatigue has slowed my wits down a bit but amidst her cackles I arrive at the party fashionably late, getting it.

I plant my pinkies in the corners of my eyes and pull harder. My vision is blurry and not really vision at all, just a blur of colors. It reminds me of last night. A dim, stank bar and bad luck. The odor of stale, stepped-on beer. Men who were no friends of mine and decided in an instant they never ever would be. Smarmy little faggot with a bitch too white-hot for himThat’s ok; I have a history of not playing well with others. Valerie kicked and punched and did more damage than I ever could. Me on the floor, pawing at my seething head, wanting to get off this ride. At least they had the manners not to fight a girl. She hustled me out into the cold night air, cursing under her breath, maybe at them, maybe at me, maybe at everyone in the whole world. A shot glass winged me in the skull as I crossed the threshold. Right in the medulla oblongata; ouch. A symphony of raucous laughter erupted. Why couldn’t we do some sharp wordplay, tough talk and petty name-calling and then call it a night, fellas?

She laughs even harder, slapping the faux-marble table, almost spilling her little pink princess cup of lemonade. “How do they see?” She howls.

“They’re used to it sweetie. And this is just an exaggeration,” I explain, letting my eyelids relax and return to their natural form.

She comes around the table and hangs her arms around my neck. “Can I have a brownie?” She asks, extra-pouty puppy face on.

“No baby, no brownies. Not for breakfast.” “This is not breakfast, this is lunch!” She corrects me. “Okay. No brownies for lunch.” “Awwww. But I want one,” She pleads. “We all want things in life, baby. Can’t have ‘em all.”

The bathroom door cracks open. Valerie walks out, wrapped in a towel, short dark hair drenched a shade darker, beads of water sliding down her shoulders. She goes straight to the bedroom and shuts the door. Only looks at me with the back of her head, damningly.

“Let’s clean up now,” I say, but I’m really just talking to myself. I take her oil-specked heart shape plate and the bowl of empty edamame husks to the kitchen. I bang the husks and a few crumbs into the trash and fit the plate and bowl into the mangled Jenga of other plates and bowls and cups and silverware that rises up out of the steel basin like a bizarre nightmare city high-rise.

“Sean, can I call some of the kids in my class?” She asks, a tender palm pressing on my hip.

“Now?”

“Yes. It’s not too early anymore and I want to tell all my friends about my big new room and my new class.”

“Okay.”

“And later can we paint my bedroom door?”

“You still want to do that?”

“Yes, I want to.”

“Alright. What color do you want to get?”

She presses a solemn finger to her lip for a moment, deep in thought. “Yellow!” She declares, lighting up. “Like the sun.”

“Really? That’s what you want?”

“Yeah. Why not?”

I scratched the tender spot on the back of my head and motioned to the kitchen, the living room, the dining room around us, acting as if all the unpacked boxes were a choir agreeing with me. “Look around. Our place is gray and blue and white. All the doors are white. It’s going to look weird, a big bright yellow door.”

“I like it weird. Don’t you want a crazy yellow different door in your life?” She elbows me and arches her eyebrows suggestively, Groucho Marx-style, implying a dirty little truth she knows to reside in me, bespeaking a joke she is too young to really get.

“Not particularly…” “But I want to and you said I could…” Further assault with the puppy-dog eyes ensues.

“I said that?” I ask dubiously. “Yes,” she answers firmly, as if reading back from a court report.

“Alright then.” She elbow-jams in victory.

I set her up at the table with my cell phone and the class directory Mrs. Krause – her pleasantly middle-aged former teacher – provided on her last day. I pass my bedroom on the way to the bathroom and briefly entertain the fantasy of rapping lightly on the door and testing fate before closing the bathroom door and turning the water on.

I still have her fluids on my gut, my thighs and my dick from a particularly aggressive fuck session before our ill-fated dinner and drinks and whatever with friends that began with me peeling her jeans down like saran wrap and slamming into her from behind and culminated with Valerie wrangling me down onto the hard wood of our bedroom floor and riding like there was no tomorrow, like she was neck-and-neck in a race she had lost before and had decided never again, never again will I lose. If she never spoke to me again I suppose I still had that part of her with me.

I brush my teeth carefully but a little blood still bleeds out of my gums, coloring the swirling toothpaste pink when I spit into the sink.

I can hear her in the dining room, reciting numbers as she dials carefully. She leaves messages on most phones after requisite silences, occasionally gets a parent and asks to talk to a child. She says things like “Did you take the fossils out yet?” and “Are you going to take them out Tuesday?” and “Monday we don’t have school. Duh!” and she ends almost every conversation by trailing off and asking “Sooooo… Can I hang up on you now?”

The mirror has blotches of soap on it from a careless flick of the brush during last night’s shave. I wet a hand towel and try to rub them away but they just smudge and work back into a soapy lather, like they were waiting there to be re-activated for however long it would take.

Patience, young one.

A knock at the door. I yank it open hopefully but alas, it’s just the kid. She’s holding the phone out from her head and I can see that it’s still on a call. “Josephine’s mom wants to talk to you.”

I shake my head and wave my hands like an umpire calling “Safe!” and mouth the word “No.” 

She presses the phone back to her ear. “He’s ummmm… on the toilet.” I roll my eyes and she grins widely. “Sooo… can we say bye now?”

“Very nice,” I say sarcastically.

“Can I call one more person, please?”

“Who?”

“Brendan. He’s a good friend but not a boyfriend,” She clarifies definitively. “So don’t worry.”

I feign sternness. “He better not be,” I say, through tight teeth, wagging a finger in her face. She swats at me, then trots merrily back to the dining room table and her list.

Boyfriends. What the hell am I supposed to do when this girl has boyfriends?

My clothes are stale and wrinkly and I’m all stiff from crashing in a weird position. My neck feels like someone is pressing firmly against my skull just behind the ear and holding my head at a goofy angle. My shoulder blade feels like it has a softball lodged in it. A hot shower and clean clothes would be divine, but my clean clothes are all in the bedroom and no way am I attempting to venture in there just yet. A boulder or a grand piano is likely to crash down on my brains or a jury-rigged arrow could shoot across the room and pierce my chest if

I twist that knob. It’s not in the cards yet.

“Let’s go out,” I say when I walk back into the dining room and pull my coat on. “Do you want to ride your bike?”

“You said before it was too cold out.”

“It is,” I say, agreeing with myself. “But that’s okay. Just for a little while.”

“Yay!” She shouts, running to the couch to pull her sneakers on.

Once her scarf is cinched tight, her gloves are on and her furry hat with the cute earflaps is pulled down tight, I zip up her coat and say “Alrighty.”

Remembering my promise, she asks “Can we get the paint for my door while we’re out?”

“Sure can,” I answer. “A nice fresh coat of the brightest yellow they got.” She hops with delight. I’d say yes to almost anything right about now. This little girl may not be mine but she is mine in every way that counts. She melts my heart. She’s adorable and lovely enough to play me like a harp for whatever she wants for the rest of her life. She knows this. I love her for it.

She wheels her bike to the front hallway and turns to look back toward the bedroom that isn’t hers. “Should we say bye to Momma?” She asks.

“No, Momma’s sleeping… let’s not bother her.”

“She is?” She asks, not believing me.

I think for a long moment and stare at the door. “She is?”

The kid repeats, and I’m still thinking and staring at the door. “Will she be awake when we get home?”

“Most likely,” I say, assuring her and also myself. I wheel the kid’s bike out the front door and lean it against the elevator door and I’m careful to make sure I lock both locks before we go. 




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Last modified on Saturday, 03 November 2012 05:42
Brian Harrison

Brian Harrison was born and raised in Queens, NY. He studied photography and filmmaking at Ithaca College and has worked on film and television productions in and around New York City for the past 4 years. He currently resides in Westchester County.

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