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Friendship Romance Happy







“Everything was ready for the ritual… everything was… ready… for the ritual… for the ritual everything was ready for… the ritual, the titual, the snitchual, the ritualeablez… the rit… u… al… for the….”

Alex signed and pinched the bridge of his nose, unconscious of the slight hum resonating from the corner of the room as the airfryer whispered itself up to 350 degrees. Sliding his hands down till they reached his mouth he compressed his lips, pushing in till the pain ceased to feel good. The daily curse of men rasped against his fingers.  

 Above him on the yellowing wall the clock sounded its premonitory half clank, alerting all and sundry that in one minute, and one minute exactly, it would begin tolling the hour in earnest. And sure enough, fifty-six seconds later exactly, the springs whirred into life. They made a very small sound, remarkably like a little inhalation, and then the aging clock began; ‘clang, clang… clanging,’ out the time.  

It didn’t sound quite right anymore. Something had gone askew within its infinitely complex workings, but given the occasional winding it still told the time, and almost accurately at that. At least the chimes still lined up with the numbers.

Alex grimaced. That minute, between the clank and the clang, was the longest of any hour and for a long while he stared up at the ancient timepiece as if trying to work out a mystery, the question of which he could not even properly articulate. When he turned his eyes back down, Ginger was standing in the doorway. Her nightgown fluttered about her calves, dismally alive in the omnipresent breeze from the central air intake.

“You’ll catch cold standing there,” he said brusquely, half closing his computer and pushing back from the kitchen table.

“Well, snarkidy- snark, Mr. Snarkman,” said Ginger, affecting an aristocratic hauteur along the length of her nose.

Ignoring her, Alex stumped to the freezer and, opening it, took out a package of croissants. He unwound the rubber band which held closed the slit in the plastic. The first pastry broke off easily, the remainder along the chiseling edge of a butterknife. Ice crystals danced like sparks on his hand as he flung them into the air fryer.

Turning away from the sight of him Ginger's eyes darted quickly heavenward before, scissors in hand, she swung open the front door and stepped out. Free of the space, she instantly became like a seasoned poultry woman in a henhouse; deliberating minutely over each blossom which rose on its spindly neck from the buckets in her stoop garden.

“Reedsy gettin’ to you again?” she said.

“You know I can’t hear you, darling,” snapped Alex, his flattened voice echoing in two dimensions. The third seemed lost.

Tutting inaudibly to herself, Ginger finished what she was doing before twisting around, nosegay in hand, to reenter the little room.

“What’s the prompt this week?” she sighed.

Alex frowned, then, “It’s halloweenie,” he allowed, begrudgingly. “About a ritual.”

“Well, and what is it?”

Alex pushed the button on the cappuccino machine so that the loud whir of the grinder would prevent him from having to answer.

“Alright, Mr. Grumpy-pants,” sighed Ginger, coming up silently from behind and sabotaging him with both arms around his middle.

Alex felt his jaw loosening and fought against it. He allowed himself to slump resentfully in her direction, but still tamped the fresh coffee and ground another layer into the portafilter.

“Start your story with, “Everything was ready for the ritual,” he blurted suddenly, taking even himself by surprise. “That’s it, that’s the prompt, and you know, I really hate it when they do stuff like that. No one reads those stories. As soon as people see that line they skip right on to the next.”

“You do that?”

“Of course… well, not really… but I bet they all do.”

Dashing the midnight black espresso into a tall glass Alex set about preparing another double shot. On the stove's back burner a dented red kettle began to shimmy, the gas flame licking sizzles of trapped water up the hot metal.

“God, that thing sounds possessed,” giggled Ginger. “Maybe you could write about that; ‘The Ritual of the Haunted Kettle,’ or something. Sounds like an Encyclopedia Brown story.”

“Sure it's a cute title,” said Alex seriously. “But what would the ritual be?”

“Oh, I don’t know; you’d think of somethin’. Besides, it doesn't have to have a ritual, does it? Just start with the line, right?”

“Well, yes, technically,” said Alex, sliding the chairs, inexplicably gone astray once again, back across the living room to their places in front of the window. He stopped as if he were a clairvoyant as the feet found the pressed spots in the rug, the exact spot where the morning sun would light their bottoms but not the backs.   

“But it’s going to read pretty damn hollow,” he continued, “if you, I don’t know, have someone just read that line off the front of a book, or, or... something, then throw it down on a couch and spend the next 3000 words living their best life.”

“Like a cheat, huh?”

“Yeah it's a cheat. It’s got to tie in somehow.”

“I suppose,” murmured Ginger.  

Her chin was pressed down into her chest as she arranged the flowers in a stubby little Steuben vase, already in place on the deep windowsill. It’s once splendid body was so thick with calcification that it might have been frosted.

“There,” she said, minutely feng shui-ing a last single leaf onto place before stepping back to survey the results.

“Yeah, that’ll do…. So, what is your ritual going to be?”

“I don’t know,” said Alex, his mouth twisting up in a wry grimace. “That’s the problem; they all feel so hackneyed, you know; voodoo rites and outdated seances. There’s no fresh meat in the genre, and-”

He was interrupted as the air fryer dinged it's imperative note and, scurrying over to it, Alex spent the next minute burning himself, first on one hot piece of twisted bread, then the other… and then the tray.

“I always forget this damn thing’ll be hot,” he swore, ooching and owing it back into place.

“I use the rotisserie rod as a poker,” said Ginger from across the room, next to the stereo. “Motown or acoustic jazz?”

“I said, ‘I forget,’ not, I can’t figure out,” said Alex. “And motown- or they’ve probably got a Halloween station on there....”

“Too early. I can only listen to, Crypt Picker 5, just so many damn times; they’re not Christmas carols, no matter what people want to make them into.”

“Tru dat,” agreed Alex, bumping the refrigerator door shut with his bottom and picking up the small red tray by the handles. He gave Ginger the eye and she wove her way across the seven steps it took to join him at the sill. Dust sparkled in the sunlight as the room was suddenly filled by Otis Redding, warming to his tender admonition.

“Sooo,” said Ginger, scooching down into her seat and drawing the curtain back two inches so that the spoons shone. She placed out square napkins with great deliberation and Alex, a half moment behind her, arranged small blue plates atop, the croissants steaming. The napkins kept the plates from clattering on the marble.

“Cream today?” said Ginger.

Alex sat next to her, whipping himself crisply into the seat… and melting in the sunlight.

“Yes, please,” he said automatically, tilting his head just so.

“What is a ritual, though, really? I mean, do you have to raise the dead, or something?” said Ginger, turning his cup so that its handle was facing in the right direction.

“No,” smiled Alex. He took a sip of the coffee before reciting, in an unnaturally fast voice, 

‘A religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order,’

 “At least, according to Google that’s what it is. I don’t think you necessarily need necromancy, per se, though this close to the holidays I imagine people are going to expect something of the sort....”

“Weeeell,” said Ginger slowly, measuring out her own heavy whipping cream with a surgeon's hand. Replacing it on the tray she dolloped a teaspoon of marmalade onto the corner of her saucer and raised an eyebrow at Alex, who crumbled, sliding his saucer a millimeter nearer.

“Vampires?” she suggested.

“I would class that sort of stuff more as tradition,” said Alex, waving his sanguine croissant in the air.  

Opening a little drawer he brought out a veined marble bowl and ticked an eye at Ginger, who wiggled her nose. There was a sound as if of a glass windchime as Alex rustled through the hodgepodge of vials. Finding just the right one he held it up to the sun and peered through its dark purple body, shaking it slightly. Finally, he unscrewed the cap, liberating a few precious drops with a tiny eye dropper and placing them in a series of deliberate mini-dollops around the dry rim of the bowl. Lifting the bowl free of the base, Ginger cocked an eye at the half used up tea lamp beneath, before allowing it with a conditional nod. Alex whirred a match to sudden life.

“So... we need to make up a ritual then,” said Ginger.  

She sucked clean the little silver spoon she had used to portion out the bitter orange jelly and placed it on a miniature rest.

“Okay,” said Alex, easing his cup back down with a tiny click and turning it until the handle looked like an ear.

“First step then, what’s the, ‘end all and be all’; what’s the point?”

“You think, end first?”

“Oh, definitely; a ritual is just the same as a rite, it’s basically a series of steps designed to achieve a specific result. Like a recipe.”

“I think I’ve got’cha. So, death, reanimation, creepy stuff; all pretty well covered?”

“Exactly. Croissant?”

“Well, maybe just one more. Love potion? Not actually potion, of course, but like... voodoo?”

“It's still voodoo; overdone. Have I told you how pretty you are today?”

“I don’t believe so. Hmmm… something druidical?”

“Too old, too archaic.”

“What you want; a ritual to fix your cell phone?”

“That might be... ironic?”

“You know, maybe that’s the real problem. Maybe people just don’t need rituals anymore, ‘ceptin’ Catholics, of course. They don’t fit in anymore.” 

Alex smiled and touched her hand.

“I suppose rituals died with magic,” he said. “All that are left are just dead crusts, remnants that refuse to die-”

“Like vampires!” cried Ginger ghoulishly, stabbing a tickling finger into his unsuspecting short ribs.

Alex squirmed away.

“You’re probably right, they don't belong anymore,” he gasped. “But where does that leave us humble, aspiring short story writers?”

“Nowhere, I guess. I don’t know why you bother anyway; you never even make the shortlist, and it’s not like anybody reads those stories.”

“Wow, thanks sweetie,” said Alex, dissolving into a sighing laugh.

“Oh, I didn’t mean that hun, not really, I meant that nobody reads anything anymore.”

“Yeah, I know, but it’s just… what I do.”

Ginger took the final bite of breakfast and patted her lips deliberately with the second napkin. The scent of hot vanilla oil finally filled the air.

“And I love you for it,” she said breezily.

“Yeah, yeah….”

Deliberately turning the tray, Alex began to repack, first the plates and napkins, then cups and saucers and the little cream pitcher that looked like a fish and the sugar that they didn’t either of them use and the little silver spoons and the marmalade. When he was done he gently dusted the sill with his hand, brushing them free again over the soiled dishes, and blew out the candle. A thin trail of black smoke escaped to twist heavenward.  

Rising, Alex and Ginger pushed in the chairs, first one then the other, and marched to the off kilter sink. She put her arms around him again and he sighed, leaning into her without artifice as they stared out together through the little window.

“Maybe, I’ll skip this week,” he said.

“Good idea,” said Ginger, nuzzling into his neck


October 29, 2021 08:47

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4 comments

Peggy Rounds
23:48 Oct 31, 2021

hilarious; writing about a "ritual" of peope acting out a ritual and not knowing it ... so ironic; so sardonic... loved it maybe comedy is your true metier!

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Ben Rounds
22:00 Nov 01, 2021

I enjoyed it. I was actually trying to do a tiny bit more. The forth- forth?- paragraph is a metaphor about their marriage, with which something small has gone wrong so that it does not work correctly. But, with the occasional winding it works well enough, hence the title. The way they wind their marriage is with their little ritual which reminds them that they love each other and resets them. It also helps them deal with the fact that they live in a run down walk-up. I tried to gradually- you can only be so subtle in 3000 words- alte...

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