The Misguided Energy of Feng Shui

Submitted for Contest #42 in response to: Write a story that ends by circling back to the beginning.... view prompt


May 23, 2020


My favorite part of any trip was putting everything away. I knew that that wasn’t the best answer, not even a good answer, so that’s why I never told anyone that it was my favorite part, the unpacking. And, after I thought about it, I thought that that’s basically what interior designers do—put things away but beautifully—so I became an interior designer.

Paisley Rebecca Jones was to have her own name tag.

This, of course, was after my singing/songwriting career didn’t take off. On the stoops of houses, I taught men songs when I was a young girl, songs to win back wives. Sometimes they worked. But it didn’t work for Nashville so I packed up, came home, and unpacked.

This could be the end of the story. Sad girl sings sad songs to sad men, follows a dream she didn’t know she even had, and walks back home with her tail between her legs. But perhaps she finds something better, a job she wears a pencil skirt to and puts her hair in a bun. Maybe has kids with a man that doesn’t hate her and then designs her own funeral. That could be the end but only if you read it last.

I became more of a cliche than I already was. By day, I designed beautiful houses for beautiful people but, by night, I came home to my parent’s house straight out of the eighties. When they downsized, they gave me the house, hoping I’d fill it with love and children. They didn’t know that I wouldn’t change a thing and that I couldn’t have children. My childhood home. Where I now lived in the master suite where my parents conceived me. It still looks like I remembered it looking. All of the cabinets and doors and tabletops were a dark wood contrasting ridiculously with every chintz couch we owned. The bathrooms were tiled in pastel pink with huge grout lines I would run my fingers between as I brushed my teeth. Tiffany lamps with busted bulbs or busted glass from when my brother and I played ball in the house. Drapes so thick and bunched that they looked like they belonged in an over-the-top hotel and not in a good way. And the lava rock fireplace that hadn’t seen a flame in years. 

My younger brother lived there with me too, Owen. He was a whiner so my parents also let him move in, in the same room he grew up in. That is until he heard that I moved into the big bedroom to which he promptly moved next door into my old bedroom touting something about wanting change too. We all felt bad for him. He was the baby of the family and never quite grew up. Our parents were too nice, letting him live off their dollar so he lazed around the house all day without any thought of getting a job. I made all of our meals because I was the one that did all the shopping. I wiped his mouth at the dinner table. 

Even though I hated it, I didn’t do anything about it. So I couldn’t complain so I didn’t. I just lived there and brushed my teeth while fingering the grout. 

I met him on a trip, in the hotel lobby, and we didn’t stop talking for three days. He followed me to my hotel room but I let him. We stayed on the two beds I asked for, laying on our stomachs, resting our chins in our hands as we faced each other. I threw my clothes around the room and he kept his in his suitcase.

Denver was a cold city. He was here getting a divorce from his wife and I was here simply because I’d never been before. I thought about teaching him a song, like in the old days, but decided against it. We barely left the room. We left the television on the whole time, sometimes watching it and sometimes not, but just to see what other people were doing. The news and looking out the window was our only confirmation that indeed there were other people inhabiting the Earth. 

From our opposite beds, he asked me about my job and I answered and I asked about his job and he answered. Our deep-seated dreams we would never accomplish; mine singing and writing, his getting into heaven. He told me his mom molested him as a child, that’s why women were so terrifying but exciting to him. I told him that my uncle slapped me once, not that it was a contest on childhood trauma because he would win. At first, we just masturbated together. I watched him stroke his slightly smaller than average penis and he watched me. After, he told me that he was really good at bowling and I told him I was really good at repairing things. He lifted his shirt and pointed to his chest, asking if I could repair his heart. More like wobbly chair legs and holes in socks, I told him, but I could give it a shot. 

I painted my fingernails and then painted his toenails a deep red color. U.S. Flag Red, I read from the bottom of the bottle to which he saluted me like I was the Pledge of Allegiance. That night, I invited him into my bed. He felt like the middle school boy I lost my virginity to. I didn’t know then that we would do it again but I wondered regardless if it would always feel like the first time with him. When he leaned down into the crook of my neck, he whispered things I’d like to think were cute or sexy in a foreign language I couldn’t pin down. Afterward, he told me that he could smell the wetness of my nail polish on my fingers as I begged him to touch me but not to smudge them. 

When he was taking a shower, I feng shuied the room. I decluttered and cleaned up the mouth of qi, moved one of the lamps by the door so it was well-lit. The beds, which were very difficult to move on my own, I had face the door to be in a commanding position. The only plants in the room already were fake and fake plants would only bring fake life energy so I reached out the window and snipped some leaves and twigs and put them in the glasses with the paper coasters underneath. I made a moving mobile from pieces of the hotel paper to increase the flow of positive chi. We slept the best night of our lives. I could only imagine that the hotel didn’t call to complain when we checked out because the maids or the next residents slept so well too.

The divorce papers were signed. He was free from the woman he said held the best years of his life in her palm. Oh I’m sure they’re too heavy for one hand, I told him, so she probably put them in her purse and they fell to the bottom. Next to her tampons and old coins. 

He proposed marriage to me on that Sunday and then he proposed Vegas. It was our last day and we stood in the middle of my mess like we were in a rainstorm. Because I was a sucker for love and grappling with a gambling addiction, I said yes. It was only 750 miles away. Only an hour time difference; Vegas-me is already married, I thought, if we left right now. Denver-me jumped in his arms and wouldn’t let him go.

We ended up falling asleep, taking a nap before our flight later that night. My fiancé disentangled his limbs from mine, I could feel him separate, and got on the phone to change our flights. Our itineraries still said we were going back home on our opposite coasts but, instead, we were flying to the desert of love. No one calls it that but I think they should. 

I didn’t wake up with an about-to-be-married-runaway kiss, however, but hit in the face with a feng shui pillow. What’s the deal, I said with my face turning to bury itself into said feng shui pillow. Running around trying to find the remote, he flipped the TV off for the first time that weekend. 

You know, you’re little white lies were cute in the beginning but now they’re just getting big…and black, he yelled with his hands on his hips. I loved his hips. They were bigger than other men’s, almost womanly, almost made for birthing. 

Honey, I told him, can we just talk about this on the flight when we have complimentary booze and pretzels? Maybe with a fat man who hogs my armrest? I was at the part of waking up from sleep where I noticed how warm my whole body was underneath the thin sheet. But, like a magician with his tabletop, he swiped it away so smoothly that the bottles didn’t move. 

No, we actually can’t, Paisley, because there is no flight because there is no Vegas, do you understand? I didn’t, clearly.

Okay, lovey, what’s upset you, I asked him in a soft voice and adjusting my body to sit on the soft bed. But, right now, he had so many edges; he looked hard as rock.

You, you have upset me! He was yelling. I was just on the phone with the PI I had follow my wife, ex-wife I should say, to investigate you because I am a romantic proposing after three days but a romantic with access to a private investigator and…wow. You are such a liar! You, you’re not even an interior designer! You work for a furniture store. You were never a singer or a songwriter and I doubt you’ve ever written anything in your life except the stories you tell yourself! And you never went to Nashville; you’ve never even left Pennsylvania until this frickin’ trip! He was never much for swearing.

And I’m not ready to be a father again and to your little Owen you can’t even take full responsibility for, especially when the boy’s biological father is in prison for robbery! He was still yelling but his hands were off his hips, waving around the air. See, while I like to put things away, my three-night stand, third time’s the charm, liked to take things away. 

I mean, Pais, I thought I was crazy but you…His sentence trailed off as his feet seemed to trail off around the room. I didn’t like the way he said crazy or what he was implying. 

He dropped himself on the other bed, belly-flopped like he had dived from off the high board. I left him to stew like I was going to eat him for dinner and did what I did best. I put things away. My clothes strewn about the floor, the desk, the chairs, the beds. My toiletries all over the bathroom. I even threw the leaves and twigs back to the earth. All while he was on the bed probably pretty happy with himself that he hadn’t bought me a ring or loved me too hard.

This was my favorite part of any trip was putting everything away. I knew that that wasn’t the best answer, not even a good answer, so that’s why I never told anyone that it was my favorite part, the packing. So I didn’t tell my ex-fiancee laying on the bed that I was enjoying this. That I would enjoy it when I got home, putting away my clothes in their drawers and my toothbrush in its cup. After some thought, I decided that that’s basically what janitors do—put things away but spotlessly—so I became a janitor and cleaned up my mess.

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Michael Loss
02:52 May 23, 2020

I found this very avant-garde, and that's a good thing! I enjoyed the lengthy imagery and spluttered thoughts, it made it a very enjoyable read! Well done!


Emily Sperber
21:21 May 25, 2020

Thank you so much! I'm glad it was still enjoyable while still being a little out there!


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Maggie Deese
18:26 May 26, 2020

I really enjoyed this, Emily! You're writing style is very unique. I loved your descriptions and flowy imagery. Great job! Would you mind reading my latest story? Thank you!! :)


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