4 comments

American Contemporary Fiction

The room was dark and the whir of the fan and the air purifier blocked out any other noises. A thin bar of light slipped past the shade and onto the adjacent wall. My back and chest were wet along with the hairs on my legs and arms. I sat up in bed and took my t-shirt off, wiping my skin dry. After throwing the white t-shirt in the hamper, I reached down to the carpet and double-tapped the screen of my smartphone: 9:21. 

Laying back down on my side, I shoved the comforter and a blanket between my legs and smooshed my head into the pillow. On the nightstand was a plush dolphin I had won from a barroom claw machine a couple nights before. It was my second time at this bar and my second attempt at winning the girl I was with a stuffed animal. It took me seven tries to win the dolphin. I remember she was looking in a different direction when I took it out of the machine and gave it to her. I could tell by the look in her eyes she was genuinely surprised and happy I had won her something. She carried around the dolphin for the rest of the night and then left it in my car (hopefully accidentally) when I dropped her off at her apartment.

Tossing and turning as I tried to find the cool spot in the sheets, I thought for a while about girls and what to do with my future. Coming to the conclusion my body was not going to let me fall back asleep, I picked up my smartphone and looked around on it. The news was nothing different: wars (forever), elections (years away but still get coverage), corrupt politicians (never go to jail), murdered white college girl (boost ratings), celebrity gossip (who cares?). The small amount of stocks I had were down in the pre-open-market. Social media was full of young white girls traveling the world and being beautiful together. My YouTube feed (which most accurately represents me) was full of videos like “The 2,000,000 Scoville Chicken Tender”, “Cheese Crust Sandwich with traditional chimichurri”, “How to NEVER Be Boring In Conversation”, “F1 Drivers Race TINY Jet Boats!”, “Elon Musk on AI, China, Tesla, and Succession Planning.”

After watching YouTube for a bit and then listening to a couple songs by Avicii and Coldplay, I looked at the clock on my smartphone: 11:03. I pushed up the shade and the sunlight poured in. I grabbed two contact packets out of the box and went to the bathroom. I looked in the mirror, pulled my eyelids apart, and then slid the contact lens over my eye. I closed my eye and gently pushed my finger against my eyelid. I repeated the process with my other eye and then peed. When I came back into my room, I looked out the window. The day was sunny and clear and people walked the streets in t-shirts and shorts. I was craving an egg sandwich and chocolate milk.

Putting on some athletic shorts, a Blackhawks t-shirt, and some sandals, I slipped my wallet and smartphone into separate pockets and opened the door to the hall. I walked down the long, quiet hallway, opened the door to the stairwell (elevators give me anxiety), walked down the stairs, out through the vestibule, and into the world. 

It was hot and humid. Waves of heat rose off the street. Construction and traffic filled my ears. Plastic cups and fast food spilled out of garbage cans. As I walked down the street, a breeze rolled by and I took in the fresh smell of the lake. Walking further, I turned the corner and the smell of sewage forced me to plug my nose. Then, a little further, the smell of burgers cooking on the grill.

Entering the Dunkin’ Donuts, the store was for the most part empty. One woman sat in the corner, focused on whatever was on her laptop. A man dressed in white business casual was ordering in front of me. He had his AirPods in and I couldn’t stop looking at how shiny his bald head was. It made me wonder what products he uses on his head to get that shiny skin. Or maybe the skin on the top of his head is naturally just that shiny. After a minute, the bald man paid and the worker behind the counter asked him to step to the side while his order was made. The worker then looked over at me with a smile. I ordered an egg and cheese and a chocolate milk. She clicked the computer screen a couple times and then asked me if it was “for here or to go.” I told her “to go” and then I inserted my card into the payment terminal. She asked if I wanted a receipt and then asked me to step to the side as well.

I went and sat down at a nearby table and casually looked at memes and more news on my smartphone for a couple minutes. The girl called my name. She handed me the bag and told me to have a nice day, which I then told her to have one as well.

As I walked back into the heat and the loudness, I stopped by a garbage can and gently placed the bag and the wrapper on the top of the overflowing trash. I opened the bottle of chocolate milk and then proceeded to casually walk down the street; milk in one hand, egg and cheese in the other.

When my t-shirt touched my back, I could feel the sweat dripping from me. Every person I walked past was shiny and wet. Traffic was at a standstill and so I was not getting the small artificial breeze from the passing cars. In one of the cars was a bulldog with its head out the back window, panting. I stared at it for a second, thinking of the evolutionary reasons for how the bulldog survived to the present day.

Turning away from the street, I caught the eye of a woman walking towards me. She was staring at me, refusing to break eye contact. She looked angry and so I looked away as I passed her. When she passed me I turned around to look at her. She had her back to me, and was standing still. As she motioned to turn around, I quickly looked back ahead of me and proceeded to walk, hoping she would just move on. But soon after I turned around, I felt a tapping on my shoulder. I looked back and she was looking me straight in the eyes. The next thing I know, my egg and cheese was on the sidewalk and I was holding the side of my cheek with my jaw dropped. People continued to walk by like nothing happened.

May 26, 2023 07:51

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4 comments

J. D. Lair
22:56 May 31, 2023

The story was well written and details were good. It felt as if I was living the day through the MC. I received your story in the critique circle email, so a couple things I will mention. Hope you don’t mind! It felt as if it dragged a bit with minor details being given whole paragraphs, like the story was stretched to make the word count. The interaction between strangers put at the end of the story made it feel like there should be more story after it. Like, why did this lady interact with the MC this way? Ex, scorned lover happening ...

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Alexander Hanna
19:54 Jun 02, 2023

Thanks for the constructive comment. I like to keep my stories around 1,000 words just so the editing doesn't take so long since we only have a week. That's probably why the ending feels so abrupt. And also yes. I like the randomness at the end and the lack of an answer as to why the mc was hit. I feel like this is kind of reflective of life. Sometimes we don't get to find out why.

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Joe Smallwood
15:47 May 28, 2023

What a surprise at the end. The only meaningful interaction of the day and its something completely unexpected. Makes me think of how marginal people can be like a canary in the coal mine. Life can be so meaningless and then pow! Someone with nothing left to lose has a thing to say about it. Thanks. I really enjoyed this.

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Alexander Hanna
19:22 May 28, 2023

Thank you for the comment. I just like how life can be so random. Random people and places are everywhere and this is one of the many things that I think makes life interesting.

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