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Funny Fiction Contemporary

Sally Baxter stood outside the bookstore in the rain, hood up on her drab gray sweatshirt, her sneakers wet and her soul bleak. She was tired; tired of working so hard and having nothing, of going it alone all the time. There, inside, signing her latest best-seller, was her mortal enemy, Cassandra Lilly. 

Oh, that wasn’t her real name, and the woman in question used to be her best fiend. At one point, when she went by her real moniker, Debbie Patowski, she’d been quiet, and plain, and supportive of Sally in all she did. But that changed one day when Debbie bought a Hoosier Huckster lotto ticket, and won a million bucks. 

Debbie then got LASIK surgery, and veneers on her teeth, her hair bleached and her boobs lifted. She came around to Sally’s place and actually complained, after being incommunicado for three months, “Now what do I do with myself?”

“Charity work?” Sally suggested. 

“You’re cute,” Debbie sighed. “No way.”

“How about giving me the Harper Lee treatment?”

“What’s that?”

“Harper Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird.” Debbie stared back blankly. “While she wrote, her friends paid her way for a year.”

“I don’t think I could do that,” Debbie said, easing down on Sally’s beat up sofa, careful not to wrinkle her new dress. “It wouldn’t be like you earned it.”

“Neither did you. You bought a lotto ticket along with your discount cigs.”

“Jealous cat,” Debbie laughed. “What are you working on, anyway?”

“Same thing, exposé of the white supremacist groups in America.”

“That sounds boring, and dangerous.”

“Can something really be both?” Sally wondered. 

“You should work on something fun. Like that idea you had in school. What was that again?”

Sally rummaged around in her desk drawer for a new flash drive, or at least one with some spare storage. “Oh, yeah. Modern versions of fairy tales.”

“See, people would enjoy that, wouldn’t they? Throw in some laughs, some sex, you’ll be richer than me.”

“I don’t write to get rich.” Debbie said nothing, so Sally glanced up to see her looking shocked. “What?”

“Then why on earth do you do it?”

“It’s what I like, and it’s all I know.”

Debbie left that day, after drilling Sally for even more ideas and draining a bottle of wine, and was again gone for three months. Sally was on the phone with a prospective publisher when her doorbell rang. The delivery man was gunning it away from the curb by the time she got the door unlocked and opened. A padded envelope lay discarded on her worn welcome mat. 

“I didn’t order anything,” she said, holding the phone away from her face. “Can’t afford it.”

She picked it up and took it inside, and struggled to open it as she told the hemming and hawing publisher goodbye, probably for good. He wanted too much changed, he wanted less than she was. 

A book fell out onto the couch, and the sight of it made Sally wince. The cover read “Shagarella by Cassandra Lilly.” What on earth?

She found a note tucked in the middle:

Sally,

Thanks for the inspo! How do you like my pen name?

Debbie

Sally plopped down on the sofa, and it was true, there was Debbie, all tits and teeth, on the back cover. She opened the book and started reading the sordid retelling of Cinderella, this time with blackjack and hookers. 

It didn’t take long to complete; it was short, and it was juvenile. That meant it’d be an enormous hit. 

More volumes followed; Blow White and the Seven Capos, Dead Riding Hood, The Frog Gimp, which delved into S&M, and made Debbie, now Cassandra, an international sensation. She was on morning shows, late night shows, she even guest hosted a movie marathon on the CPower Channel, which aimed at empowering women by of course showing them a never-ending stream of vapid filth. 

Sally struggled on the other hand, and grew more and more bitter about how Debbie had stolen a sweet idea and dragged it through the sewer. And now, here she was slouched outside in a downpour, watching her nemesis sign one book after another at $20 a pop. 

“Hey,” someone behind her said, “why not go in?”

Sally turned and saw a guy dressed in a sharp, dark blue suit. He had a kind face, floppy blond hair, and thankfully, an umbrella. He stepped close enough to share it with her. “Thanks,” she said, then promptly sneezed. “Sorry, I’m not contagious or anything.”

“No worries. So, why not go in?”

“Not while she’s in there,” Sally sneered. 

“You know her?” he asked, surprised. 

“Debbie? I sure do. Why don’t you go in?”

“I’m waiting until she’s done,” he said. “She’s pretty awful, isn’t she?”

“You have no idea.”

“There’s a coffee shop around the corner. Care to join me?”

“I’m broke. I should really just go home.”

“Come on, it’s cold and you could warm up, and tell me all about Debbie. That’s her real name, huh?”

“It is, the realest thing about her.”

Switching the umbrella from his right hand to his left, he said, “I’m Todd.”

She shook his hand, embarrassed by how cold hers was, and returned, “Sally.”

PerkYaLater was a dark, messy little place with saggy furniture, dusty secondhand books, strong coffee and cheap baked goods. Todd had Sally take a seat at a wobbly table in the corner while he got two coffees and two massive chocolate chip cookies. 

She thanked him, and proceeded to eat like a starved cat. “You’re not homeless, are you?” he wondered. 

Sally laughed a little. “No, I’m just a bad dresser. Plus I was up writing and forgot to eat. For two days.” She put her hood down and ran a hand through her damp, brown hair. “Better?”

“Much,” Todd said, smiling. “You’re a writer? What do you write?”

“Stuff no one reads.”

“Come on, for real.”

Sally made a face, then struck a bargain. “Buy me another cookie and I’ll let you read something.”

He went back and this time got peanut butter cookies. “Okay, email me something you’ve done.”

He wrote down his email on a napkin and handed it to her. “Bonkersdad?” she asked, giggling. 

“That’s my dog, and that’s my private email. I don’t give that out to just anyone.”

Sally sent him an excerpt from her book, and watched traffic while he opened it and read it. He was a stranger, and she never let anyone read her work, but this time she felt, why not? She’d exhausted every possibility except self publishing, and even that seemed like a chore at this point. She even wondered if PerkYaLater needed a barista? She’d ask on her way out. 

“You interviewed these people?” he finally asked. 

“Oh, yeah, sure,” she responded, like it was no big deal. 

He paused a minute, then asked, “Weren’t you frightened?”

“No, not really. Guys like that enjoy bragging themselves up. You just listen, don’t act like you’re judging them even though you are, and keep your distance.”

“Amazing,” he said. “So, you’re going to get this published?”

“Unlikely. I’ve already tried everywhere.”

“What about Harrison House?”

“Those snobs? Tried them first. Never heard a word.”

He drummed his fingers, seemed frustrated, then asked, “How do you know Debbie?”

“We grew up together.”

“And she always wanted to be a writer, too?”

Sally shook her head and laughed ruefully. “No, she wanted to be a mob wife.”

“Excuse me?” he asked, taken aback. 

“Her favorite show was the Sopranos and she wanted to marry a mobster. I told her that was highly unlikely here in Indiana. So she moved to Chicago for a while.”

“You’re kidding?”

“No, then she came back here, totally destitute, and won the lotto-“

“So, why did she write the books?”

“She was bored. Stole the idea from me.”

“You? How?”

“My idea was a much more innocent, modern re-tellings of classic fairy tales. But she took them in the wrong direction. This last one is the worst. Phrases like, ‘ride the hole off me?’ Sweet Lord.”

“It’s an Irish colloquialism for a good, solid-“

“I know what it means,” Sally said, rolling her eyes. “And I know Debbie spent the summer in Ireland. I’ve always wanted to go there.”

“Well, maybe you will someday.”

“Those are my two least favorite words when put together, you know that? Maybe someday. Like someone saying how about never.”

“I think you will, I’m sure of it.”

Sally looked at him and wondered if he was some kind of weirdo. He must be; he seemed to like her. That’s how it always went. 

The door to the coffee house slammed open, but Sally didn’t bother to turn and see who it was. She only turned around when she heard someone screech, “TODD!”

It was Debbie, and she was stomping their way, madder than a wet hen. 

“You’ve been lollygagging over here...with her?!”

“Nice to see you too, Debbie,” Sally said, smirking.

“Meanwhile, I had to walk, in the rain, and ruin my boots! They cost $4500!”

They both just stared at her. 

“Do I need to remind you, Todd, that you work for me?!” Debbie railed. 

“Wrong, Ms. Lilly,” Todd said, standing up. “You work for my father, as do I.”

“What exactly is going on?” Sally asked. 

“This is Todd Harrison, stupe, as if you didn’t know! You’ve been over here telling him all sorts of lies about me!”

“Harrison?” Sally could barely squeak. 

“Harrison House snob,” Todd laughed. “And she didn’t know, Debbie.”

“It’s Cassandra now. Don’t think I won’t tell your dad how you’ve treated his biggest money maker!” She stormed out, leaving Sally and Todd behind, speechless. 

“Cash cow, more like it,” he finally said. 

“Will you be in trouble?” Sally asked. 

“Not once I show him your work, the entire book, in fact. It is done, isn’t it?”

She nodded, and then felt a surge of panic, and the words just sort of spilled out. “Don’t jerk me around, and don’t get my hopes up. Because guys do that all the time, except it’s usually about something inconsequential, like a date. But this...this is my whole life.”

“Sally, I’m not going to run and catch up with Debbie, or promise to text or call you. I’m taking you to meet my dad, and then shame him for publishing Debbie’s dreck in the first place.”

“But I look terrible.”

“You look like a real writer, that’s all. Like someone from one of your updated fairy tales, right before everything works out just as it should. I do want to ask you one thing, though.”

“What’s that?”

“Did you come down here just to gawk at Debbie? What was your plan?”

“I was going to punch her in the nose. Make a scene,” she said, suddenly very ashamed.

“I’m glad you didn’t.”

“I still might,” she shrugged. “Can’t make any promises.”

“I promise you, this isn’t maybe someday. This is definitely now. You ready?”

She grabbed onto the sleeve of his coat, like a kid, and simply said, “Let’s go.”

April 07, 2021 09:53

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2 comments

Melanie Emm.
15:20 Apr 23, 2021

Best fiend? Amusing Freudian slip or simple typo? I’m usually so careful, but this one was rushed!

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Janey Gale
02:50 Apr 08, 2021

Love this.

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