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Contemporary Drama Sad

And after Jane was done making breakfast, she walked into the yard to take the clothes down from the line. She was angry. She'd forgotten to take the clothes down yesterday afternoon, and it had rained, so now she had a mess of wet clothes to figure out how to dry. We didn't have a clothes dryer. She threw the clothes in the sink and sat beside me at the kitchen table, but she didn't say anything for a time. Then Jane said: "I'm moving out." I explained to her that she couldn't move out because we were engaged and splitting the rent on the house, but Jane was adamant that she had to leave. She was moving in with Pamela, but not because she liked girls. "It's too depressing out here," she said. She told me she'd be out by noon. When I told Jane it was childish to up and leave like that, she told me she was concerned about all the deer in the neighborhood. She didn't want to get Lyme disease.

On the way to the post office, a deer sallied out into the road in front of my car. It did that musical chairs that deer do where they stop dead in the middle of the road. It was a whitetail doe, and the spots on its back were fawn-like and inexperienced. The doe was fortunate because there weren't any other cars behind me, and I wasn't in a hurry. I was thinking about Jane. I'd watched a YouTube self-help video once where a Dutch psychoanalyst urged his viewers not to respond to other people's anger with their own, but it felt like I'd left the house as angry as Jane had been that morning. But I wasn't angry about the wet laundry as she had been. I was angry that she was leaving and that I'd have to figure out what to do about her half of the rent. When I reached the post office, the postal worker pretended he didn't see me even though I was the only customer there. After he finally acknowledged me, I gave him $400 for a money order since the woman we rented our house from only took rent in the form of a money order. That was my half of the rent. When I left the post office, I passed a woman who was standing out front smoking a Virginia Slims. You don't see many people smoking Virginia Slims cigarettes anymore.

Then I called the woman who'd slid her phone number in the back pocket of my jeans that one time at a bar. Her number was on a business card, but she told me not to call the business number but the private number on the back. After she said that, I turned the card over to read her drunken scrawl. It looked like directions to where a body was buried rather than a phone number. The woman, Mrs. Lynch, answered the phone right away. The timbre in her voice was famished and eager. She said not to come to the house just then, but to stop by at around 9PM. Then she explained how to reach her house by car in a deliberate and dilatory way. She told me how to dress: in black trousers and a shirt that could be removed swiftly. Just as she said that, I heard my shirt buttons popping off as if she ripped my shirt open with her hand. I felt her claws on my chest. Since there were several hours to go until the scheduled time, I decided to drive to a diner out in the sticks. I shouldn't have spent the money, but I was upset about Jane abandoning me in the manner she did. On the way to the diner, there was an accident on the road. I drove up to a scene where it appeared a man had been struck by a vehicle as he was crossing the road. This was way out in the woods, and he really shouldn't have been crossing the road out here. It was dangerous. The road snaked between forest-tipped hills, and drivers couldn't see if someone was in the road. I checked the man's wrist for a pulse, but I couldn’t feel one. I called the police straight off, and when they came with an ambulance, they took a statement from me. They asked if I'd seen the car that had struck the man. I told them that I’d seen a red sports car with an out-of-state license plate ahead of me on the road. But I hadn't witnessed the accident, only the aftermath. The man died before the ambulance left the scene.

When I reached Mrs. Lynch's house, she opened the door after the first knock. I heard the laughter of all the women inside and the sloshing of their drinks in their glasses. Mrs. Lynch said that I was late, which wasn't true. She hadn't given me a specific time. She'd only told me to be there after 9PM, which I took to mean sometime between 9 and 9:30. Glancing inside of the house, I saw shirtless young men cavorting with mature women brandishing video cameras. I heard one of the men groan painfully and I got scared. I told Mrs. Lynch I wasn't into making torture films. I’d heard about these women that make reverse harem home movies where there’s one woman and several men, but the men are being abused. Mrs. Lynch said they weren't making any films, but if I wanted to be tortured, all I had to do was ask. I told Mrs. Lynch that she'd misunderstood. In fact, I didn't want to be tortured at all. That was the whole reason why I'd brought it up. Mrs. Lynch shrugged and I walked into her rambling, Georgian-style house. She slapped me on the ass as I walked in, which didn't bother me as much as it should as I had been anticipating it.

She told me to go into the kitchen and get changed. I trotted past all the shirtless male waiters. They were laughable with their black bowties and black dress pants, but no shirts, like Chippendales dancers. Behind their smiles, the young men were sullen and defeated, entirely unlike Chippendales dancers. Male exotic dancers typically exude an air of masculine playfulness and pizazz. I got changed, which necessitated me taking off my blue jeans, putting on the dress pants, and taking off my shirt. I’d also found a bowtie which snaps in the back rather than having to be tied properly at the Goodwill and thank God for that. One of the other boys was changing too and he handed me this pricey cologne called Debaser to spray on myself. He complimented me on my tan. He had a great tan too, but his face was downcast like the others. But we were smiling and lightly gyrating to the music as we left the kitchen.

"I've seen you before, right?" the boy asked me as we entered the open arms of the living room. "You've done these gigs?"

"No, this is my first one," I told him.

"Oh, you just look like another guy then," he said.

I hadn't been given a tray to serve anything on so I stood in a corner. I was trying to be inconspicuous, but we always look the most conspicuous when we're try to be inconspicuous. Like a deer that's sallied out into the road and doesn't know what's what. That's when one of the female guests approached me. She was about the same age as the other women, 45-60, but she was over six feet tall, and there was a quality she had that was officiating and formidable. She was like a general in the army. Not the kind that rallies the troops, but the disciplinarian. I knew she'd suggest something denigrating that I wouldn’t like. She just had that look to her. She said: "Let's play a game. I'll lock you in a closet. Not a closet, a bedroom. And then you have to struggle to get out. Just rattle the doorknob frantically like they do in the movies. I want to imagine you in just your boxer briefs really stressed and trying to get out of the room. And when I decide to let you out, I want to see you in just your boxer briefs just looking super defeated." She found an empty bedroom upstairs where we could play her game. After we were done playing that demeaning game, we came back downstairs where several of the other guests turned to glance at us as we rejoined them. They laughed, including the shirtless men, and they made remarks to one another about the lewd things we’d probably done upstairs.

Sometime later, Mrs. Lynch pulled me aside. She handed me $300 in an envelope. "That's pretty good for a night's work. And your rosebud's still intact." I didn't think it was a funny joke. And $300 wasn't that much since it wouldn't be sufficient to cover Jane's half of the rent.

"Mrs. Imperiali loved you. She said the two of you didn't do anything, but that's okay. She thought you were cute. And she really likes the loose kind of boxer briefs that you wear. I'd like you to come back next week. Same time, same channel. It'll be just like tonight. Just more of the same."

I remained at the party even though I'd already been paid. I sat on the couch with the other superfluous, supernumerary boys who were at a loss what to do with themselves. Our tanned, muscular shoulders periodically collided as we were all crammed and squirming on that couch together. I think we all patronized the same tanning salon. I changed back into my blue jeans and shirt when it was close to midnight. I tried to find the boy who’d given me that Debaser to spray on myself, but he was gone. I just wanted to say thanks. I left Mrs. Lynch's house, but I didn't immediately go back to my car. There was a shuttered church I’d noticed on the drive up to her house. It was maybe two blocks away. I made my way through the rain-soaked ground to the church and was surprised to find the front door unlocked. The rain had long since stopped, but there was no sidewalk and the soil was dense with moisture.

I entered the church and discovered it still had its original organ from Europe. I knew it was from Europe because there was gold lettering on the wood that read Nardi and Panzardi, Correggio, which is not a place in the United States. I imagined the organist playing the de Profundis and the various clergymen hanging their vestments in a room behind the altar when mass was done. A man led his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day, and he allowed his sharp-set eyes to fall on the groom's prideful face. Nuns had come from afar and they chattered with one another about how they'd never wanted to become nuns in the first place. Their talk was melancholic and oppressive rather than humorous. I remained in the church for an hour, turning around now and then when I thought a person had come in and sat behind me in the pews, but there never was anyone. When I left the church, I realized that I'd left my car keys at Mrs. Lynch's house. I retraced my steps through the rain-saturated ground to her house, and she wasn't as prompt to answer the door this time. She came after the fourth knock. When she answered the door, I was crying.

"What's the matter, sweetie?" she asked, noticing my tears. "Did you forget your car keys?"

"I was in a car accident today," I told her. "I lied to the police. I said I found a man lying in the road and I'd seen a red sports car, but there wasn't any red car. It was me. I hit the man. I didn't see him."

"Houston, we have a problem," Mrs. Lynch said.

"No, it's not funny."

"Oh, sweetie," said Mrs. Lynch, and she pulled me in for a hug.

I knew she'd try to squeeze my ass with her hand and that's exactly what she did. Her friends were mostly gone, but there were still a couple hanging about. Mrs. Lynch whispered that she'd give me another $300 if I stayed the night. I had to say yes since that'd give me enough to cover Jane's half of the rent. When I woke up the next morning, I saw that it had rained again in the night, as it had the previous night. There seemed to be no end to this reaving. It was a desolation that was at once private and terrestrial. That's what it was. Desolation. I knew from the wet, wearied, downturned leaves in the trees that it had rained again.

Mrs. Lynch wasn't in the bedroom. I heard the toilet flush in the bathroom, and then she returned to the bedroom. The master bathroom communicated directly with the master bedroom. Mrs. Lynch dodged meeting eyes with me. She muttered something about getting dressed and vacating the premises, so that's what I did. I took the money she'd left on the dresser just as if I'd been a common whore. I drove straight home. When I got there, Jane had returned. At first, she wouldn't look at me, but then our eyes met. She was holding back tears. "I'm sorry, Paul," she said. She walked over to me and rubbed my shoulders. She told me I didn't have to worry about covering her half of the rent because she had already gone to the post office and gotten her money order made. She said the postal worker had this way of pretending he didn't see you when you were the only one there.

February 09, 2023 02:33

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10 comments

Wendy Kaminski
03:27 Feb 10, 2023

Oh no! I see your profile pic is a deer, too, hah. =/ This was a desperate-feeling piece, in that I could sense the main character felt anchorless and adrift for the duration of the story - very well-conveyed. There were a couple of funny parts that added some light-hearted (though dark) humor; I particularly enjoyed "It looked like directions to where a body was buried rather than a phone number." and "pricey cologne called Debaser" lol. This was a mind-bending story, and a clever way to work in the prompt. Hopefully your main character's ...

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Alexey Williams
04:36 Feb 10, 2023

Okay. Thanks.

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Martin Ross
19:38 Feb 26, 2023

Brilliant! That was an astonishing piece of noir, all the more so for the gender “reversal” of Paul and his fellow hired men and Mrs. Lynch. It would be an instructive story for men who objectify and dehumanize women. The revelation of Paul’s true culpability and Jane’s encounter with the postal worker punched home the degradation, anger, self-recrimination, and bone-deep anquish of “not being seen.” On a purely literary level, there is not one thing off here — this is mastery of human tragedy and melancholy, theme and tone, and naturalisti...

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Alexey Williams
01:40 Feb 27, 2023

Thank you, Martin. For me, Paul's story is very real and perhaps the symbolic elements are minimal. Reading your comment, I'm reminded of the short stories of Kate Chopin, writ long ago perhaps, but stories in which the men and women serve as representatives of their peculiar places and times.

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Martin Ross
02:35 Feb 27, 2023

Thanks! I’ll check out Chopin!

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Alexey Williams
22:40 Mar 05, 2023

Yep, highly recommended.

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Chad Eastwood
19:07 Feb 12, 2023

Brilliant. This is how I want to write. Your sentences are simple and easy, but you throw in the odd flash just to show that you can do it. It is great storytelling. It reads like a Hemmingway novel and the main character is like a character from a Carson McCullers novel. You don't explain him, you just show him. I hope I am not being too presumptuous; maybe you have different ideas about what you were trying to do, but I really liked the style is what I am trying to say. I would read more, and more again.

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Alexey Williams
13:09 Feb 13, 2023

Thank you, Chad. You're not being presumptuous. I think a risk of this type of first-person narrative is that you end up with a less flashy story, but its just so much fun to write that you kind of have to shrug and hope the characters manage to breathe life into themselves. And in so doing they sort of deceive the reader into believing they're real.

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Mike Panasitti
00:15 Feb 12, 2023

I sense a similarity to Holden Caulfield in Paul's "desolation." If this is part of a novel, you've left me hungry to read more. Nice work.

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Alexey Williams
13:12 Feb 13, 2023

Thank you, Mike. I think Paul might want me to tell more of his story. At this point, he feels like a real person.

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