Saturday, December 01, 2007

Novella #2, complete

I'm pretending I posted this right when I finished.

Monday, October 01, 2007

part deux

Dear Dan,

It’s Nathalie again. I know it’s poor form to write another time without hearing back from you, but I simply couldn’t resist. I heard you’d been in town, and in fact, I’m rather pleased that you didn’t come to see me. Not that I don’t want to hang out with you, of course, in a friendly, tea-having sort of way (as mentioned in my previous letter), but I would really rather not have to worry about your returning the invitation. I mean, I wouldn’t want to put you out of your way, of course, and while you’re welcome to have as much of my tea as you’d like, I’m thinking that if we kept our relationship to correspondence only, it might be better for everyone.

I’m still thinking about that novel. It’s only in the planning stages right now, unfortunately, so I haven’t even started with the writing yet. I’ve got some really good ideas, which I’d love to share with you, but they are top secret. I’m sure you talk to a lot of people in your line of work, and I know you wouldn’t do anything on purpose, but I’d hate to have one of my crucial plot points slip out during one of your warning calls, you know? There’d be plenty of time for the ideas to make the rounds before I even managed to finish writing the thing, and that won’t do at all. I’m sure you understand, seeing as how I’ve asked you to postpone your visit until I’m finished with this thing, and if my letters convey even a small percentage of my personality, I’m sure you want to meet me as soon as possible. I flatter myself, of course, but one is allowed a few indulgences in letters, isn’t one? Anyway, I’m not usually all that interesting.

I also haven’t been to Africa yet. I don’t think I mentioned this last time, but I’ve always wanted to go to Africa and go on safari and help people (I’m not exactly sure how, but there are ways of helping people that don’t totally intrude on their lives, and I want to do that). This trip to Africa, which is potentially on the docket for three years from now, would be really amazing, and I’d be helping people! Less work for you, right? But anyway, there’s further proof that I’m not that interesting. I haven’t even been to Africa!

Anyway, I am hoping for a continued, friendly d├ętente between us, Dan. It’s pleasant, and gives me a bit of time to wrap things up before I go traveling with you.

Thanks again,

Nathalie, age 26.

epistolary, with misunderstood recipient

Dear Dan,

I am writing to you today about the Great American Novel. You know the one: it resonates with everybody because the characters are simultaneously perfectly real and perfectly imaginary and the situations are just weird enough and just quotidian enough to make people really understand them. There’s a story arc, but the plot doesn’t bash anyone over the head, and there are puzzles, but none of that faddish cipher-and-codex crap you keep seeing everywhere after that novel-that-shall-not-be-named. It even talks about you a little bit (or maybe a lot), because you are, if nothing else, reliable and feared, and mixing trust with fear is always so titillating. Not to say that you are “titillating” per se, though I suppose there are a few people who feel that way about you. But you know what I mean, surely. You must see it all the time.

So, anyway, this Great American Novel hasn’t been written yet, but more specifically, as of today, I personally have not yet written it. Therein lies my dilemma.

Especially because I am asking you such a great favor, you may be wondering why I would address you so informally, and in fact, as “Dan.” It may interest you to know that there was this goth kid in my high school French class who always wore this hideous pale cake makeup and asked everyone to forget that his name was “Dan” in favor of your name. I thought it might be useful for me to be able to put a name to you while I was writing this, seeing as how you’re mostly conceptual and all. And for me, when I am writing a letter, it is so important to feel as though I am just chatting with the recipient, as though I were having a nice cup of tea with a friend over an extended distance. So, rather than use your regular name (which, I fear, is just loaded with portent), I thought I’d give Dan a try. I hope you don’t mind.

This bit of familiarity is not meant to suggest that we are friends right now, but certainly, that development in our relationship is always a possibility. I’d love to chat with you more (over an extended distance, like so) to learn more about you, as my future readers would almost certainly snap up a novel about you, with a catchy title of course, like, “Dan, The Man,” or “Dan, Revealed,” or “Dan of the Underworld,” though I suppose that last one is just speculation on my part. I also suppose that I’d like it to remain that way, at least for another couple of years or so.

In conclusion, I am not ready right now, and I implore you to leave me behind when you make your next trip to my little corner of the world.

Yours truly,

Nathalie, age 26.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

matcha in the office

Matcha worked in a high-tech financial services firm where the majority of the young female employees (and some of the male ones, if you really get down to brass tacks) had slept with the boss at one time or another. She could understand why he would want to sleep with them: These were hard-bodied, statuesque ideals of men and women who had only recently defined themselves with the Greek letters of their sororities and fraternities. Many of them still did, despite having graduated from college upwards of three years ago. Matcha had not slept with anyone in a long time.

Monday mornings were Matcha's least favorite time to be at work. The statues would stand by the coffee pot, sucking on styrofoam cups of the stuff while they compared hangovers. "I totally did a keg stand last night!" one would say between gulps of hot coffee. "Oh yeah? We played effing Robopound---" ("effing," she would say in order to be office-appropriate) "---and I effing won!" Matcha had to walk up to them to get water for her tea. She did, after all, drink her namesake, the powdered tea that became a smooth, green froth when she whipped it into hot water. Coffee was too bitter for her, and she needed something hot to start the day.

She knew that they called her "The Machine" when she was supposedly out of earshot. Just because she wasn't a partier, and didn't care to be chummy with her age-regressed coworkers, they thought she was a work-machine, built to do her work and nothing else. She was diligent, for sure, but it wasn't out of any particular devotion to work. Matcha hated the work, actually, and only worked hard at it so that she could leave on time every day and go home to her plants and her puppy. They don't know what it's like, she thought, to have to care for another creature. They would be too busy drinking and dancing and having wild, casual sex with all the other little Aphrodites and Adonises---well, maybe that part wouldn't be so bad---to take responsibility for feeding, walking, and loving a dog. And that, according to Matcha, was their great loss.

This Monday morning was much like all the others. Though Matcha was not looking forward to her unpleasant eavesdropping around the hot water dispenser, the dread was no more palpable or unpredictable than it had been on every other Monday. But today, there was a new person in the perfectly-pressed hangover crew. A new tailored black dress stood among the other tailored black dresses and suits, but there was something about this one that stood out. Her shock of naturally brassy blonde hair fell in waves down her back (a contrast to the messy chignons and sleek ponytails of the other girls), and her perfectly-formed little legs stood like stalks in a pair of high-heeled ankle boots (a look that the peeptoes-or-pumps crowd would not have dared to attempt).

The other thing about her that set her apart from the rest of them was the fact that she was standing there, hunched over the hot-water dispenser, clearly eschewing the coffee pot to fill a mug for tea. Matcha quietly waited behind her until she finished, and then reached for the water.

"Oh, hello," said the new girl. Matcha took no notice of this and continued filling her mug. "Oooh, what's that you're drinking, there?" Matcha looked up at her, then. Her face was kind of like a Barbie doll's face, but with better makeup, and with some fleeting imperfection that Matcha couldn't place, but instantly adored. "I'm sorry, I didn't introduce myself," the new girl went on. "I'm Lucy."

"I'm...well...umm..." Matcha could hear someone snickering over by the coffee pot. "I'm Matcha. And I'm drinking this powdered green tea, here..."

"Ooh, wow," Lucy said. "I love tea. This is a Jasmine white tea blend." She inhaled the steam that was pouring from her mug. "Could you show me back to my desk please, Matcha?" Matcha was surprised, but she was not one to be discourteous. Lucy led and Matcha followed. As soon as they were away from the breakroom, Lucy leaned to Matcha and said quietly, "Is it just me, or is everyone in the breakroom completely vapid and deathly boring?"

"Oh!" Matcha said, a bit louder than she was expecting. She grinned. "You said it."

"So you're named after the tea?" Lucy asked. The look of surprise did not have time to melt away from Matcha's brow. "Turn this way. My desk is over here."

"Yes," Matcha said.

"I know perfectly well what matcha looks like," Lucy said. "Just like how I know perfectly well where my desk is. I just wanted an excuse to get away from those ghastly people. How do you stand them?"

"I don't," Matcha said.

"It seemed like a couple of those very good-looking cretins wanted to take me out to lunch today, but if you go with me, I can tell them I've already got plans," Lucy said. "11:45 in the lobby?"

"Sure," Matcha said. And just like that, Matcha was going to leave her lunch in the work refrigerator and venture out into the concrete wilds of city dining. She had a companion for lunch for the first time in three long years. It's a wonder she got any work done at all that morning.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


There are only a few victories in the abode quite as satisfying as seeing the bottom of a laundry basket. I hadn't seen the bottom of my own for five weeks, maybe six. And yet, when I finally reached the shiny blue plastic of triumph over task, I could not celebrate. There, in the bottom of the basket, lay two thin plastic collar stays. His.

All I had to do was reach in, grab them, and throw them away, and they would be gone, forever. The finality of that action was more than I could bear, so I plucked them up and brought them to the kitchen table instead. There I sat, contemplating them.

I turned the stays over in my hands, studying them intently. My eyes wandered to my fingers, which looked as though there were some sort of ban on hand cream. The small hands that held those collar stays had somehow become worn and creased through a process that I could not consciously remember. Then I noticed the softer, pale mark that three years of wearing wedding jewelry had left around my ring finger. Three years of dishes and laundry and cooking, three years of pulling the stays out before the wash cycle and pushing them back in after the hot tumble dry. Three years of respectable marriage, and then, a note in a solitary winter coat hung in the hall closet: "I love someone else now." And nothing else. The shirts were all gone, and the ties and suits. No time for arguing. No time for the little legalities. The car was gone too.

I drew the plastic stays closer to my eyes, examining them in the light for something, for any kind of answers. Then I got a whiff of them: even after all this time, they smelled like what it smelled like to press my face into his neck when we made love. But there were other odors, too. Perfume, mine. Perfume, not mine. Toxic, all.

I hurled the collar stays at the table, where they clattered like slides of old vacation photos. I pushed my chair away from the table and got up to fold the clothes.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

the pocketknife

Theresa turned it over in her fingertips as she ambled back into the forest, pressing the small piece of pockmarked plastic and rusted metal against her own clammy palm. The rust grated against the soft flesh at the heel of her hand and prompted a flow of questions that she could not staunch, even with her most educated guesses. What had happened in the clearing, the night before? Had she passed out? And when she awoke, why did she have his pocketknife?

It was his pocketknife--she was sure of it. His initials were the first thing she'd noticed about the knife, professionally engraved in the red plastic casing. It looked as though it had a number of useful tools inside, big knife, little knife, scissors, tweezers, corkscrew, screwdriver, nail file, bottle opener, maybe even a toothpick, and a few more that she couldn't identify from the outside. But she didn't dare open it. It looked like it might give her tetanus whether she opened it or not, and she didn't want to fiddle with it any more than she had to until she was somewhere safer, somewhere with tools, somewhere where she wasn't wandering through a forest at dawn, still wondering what had happened the night before.

The trees suddenly began to look familiar again, but Theresa's hopes were dashed as she emerged into the full dawn rays, growing across the open space. It wasn't the road home. It was the clearing. Again. She whirled around on her heel and scrambled through the forest, back the way she came, flying over piles of crushed brown leaves and tripping on tree roots as she ran. Two minutes later, she burst into the sunlight.

"Aaaaaaaaaa!" Theresa shouted up into the sky at everything, at nobody, at herself for letting this happen, for going to the forest with a strange man and dancing around the fire and taking off her clothes and singing, singing, singing until the wine was all gone and then there was blackness. The memories of their midnight bacchanal came flooding back to her in bright, chaotic flashes.

"Are you quite finished with your most excellent show of running and screaming?" A voice seemed to filter in on the early morning sunbeams, through the trees.

"Who said that?" Theresa shouted, her voice tinged with fear and her recently-remembered shame.

"Perhaps you ought to try the knife," said the voice, ringing with authority.

"What? Who said that?"

"Just do it," the voice came again. It was like his, she thought, but deeper and more powerful.

"Look, Mister," Theresa shouted up into the trees. "I realize that I'm not in the best of situations right now, but I really don't think that killing myself is the way out that I'm looking for." She cocked her head, waiting for a response. When it didn't come, she realized that she had probably imagined the entire thing. But then she heard a low rumble, like the voice was conferring with other people that Theresa couldn't see.

"Open the knife," said the voice. The sky became dark, the sun suddenly obscured by heavy stormclouds that had appeared out of nowhere. The wind picked up. "Open the knife or I'll make it rain, and then you'll be stuck AND soaked." The wind blew some leaves away from the center of the clearing. A lightning bolt licked the sky, and Theresa saw the cold glint of metal on the ground as it reflected the light. She kicked the leaves away to reveal a grate. The grate was secured to the ground by means of a hinge and a small metal lock.

"What is this, Return to Zork?" she muttered as she pried at the rusty knife with her fingernails. There was something in here that would work just fine to pick the lock, wasn't there? The first blade she managed to extract from the knife was a tiny metal key.

"I told you so," said the voice. Theresa opened the lock, cast it away, and pulled up the grate. Even after staring down into the dark hole for a solid minute, she was unable to determine its depth.

"If you think I'm going down there," she said to the voice, "You're on some pretty good drugs." Theresa thought she heard a sigh, but it might have been the wind whistling in the trees.

"They told me this wasn't going to be easy," the voice said, as a gust of wind came up behind Theresa and knocked her into the hole. She was too surprised to scream. The grate seemed to snap shut of its own accord, and the pocketknife started to emit a golden glow that was bright enough to let Theresa see her surroundings.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

in tea and cigarettes

I'm not as glamourous as all of those photographers seem to think I am. Sure, someone bought me this fancy monogrammed tote bag for my birthday, but these shoes are on loan from my stylist. Yes, of course, it's glamourous to have a stylist. But recently, all she's been doing is glaring resentfully at me over our cups of hideous Chinese weight-loss miracle tea, which really resembles water from the salt marsh more than any tea I've ever had. I almost expect some minnows or guppies to be floating around in there, dead from the flavour of the stuff.

I'm not even sure how I got here. One night a couple of weeks ago, a friend who was returning a favour got me into one of those A-list only clubs. I borrowed some designer denim from my roommate, squeezed my ample thighs into it, and sausage-waddled my way out to the club. I breezed by a long queue of mannequins on my way in, and I must have impressed some of them, somehow. An hour later, when they finally managed to get in, a group of these plastic-looking boys and girls (surely no older than my youngest sister!) found me at the bar, where I had wheedled the bartender into passing me extra champagne cocktails in a furtive buy-one-get-one kind of affair.

"You," said one of the boys. He looked like he could have been an Abercrombie model. I'd seen an Abercrombie and Fitch shoot once before, in London. It was like someone had plopped the entirety of a self-contained alternate universe directly into the middle of Trafalgar Square.

"Thanks?" I didn't intend for it to come out as a question, but it did. I downed the last of my most recent cocktails. The bubbly tickled my throat as the bartender pushed a fresh one my way.

"Want to come to the VIP room with us?" he asked.

"Sure," I smiled. "Can I take my drink?"

"Take whatever you want," he said, also smiling, as though he wanted to light the entire room with the glow of his teeth. "It's the VIP room. Enjoy yourself." I picked up the champagne flute and winked at the bartender. Over my shoulder, I could see the small crowd of Barbies and Kens following us.

I partied hard. There were photographs taken. And now I'm an It Girl, I think.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


Sometimes when I squint real hard into the sunlight, I can see him again. I don't know what he looks like, these days, but I can see that he's there. It had been years since I'd talked to Gary Indiana on a regular basis. That was his name, you know, "Gary Indiana," and he liked to eat cooked peas.

Gary helped me out of a lot of tight spots that way, eating all the mushy green stuff on my plate so that I could get dessert, and claiming that he would watch the dog out in the backyard and make sure he pooped so I could play on the swingset while it was just getting dark. I say "claiming" 'cause sometimes he did, and sometimes he didn't. But sometimes he just sat there quietly when I thought something bad was going to come out from under my bed.

Gary Indiana was the best imaginary friend a kid could have.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Dictionary Words keeps an alphabetized list of the words that I looked up last. Mainly, my primary interest in looking up words is to make sure that they mean exactly what I think they mean (or for spellings, pronunciations, etc.). For me, precision and nuance are the most important aspects of written diction.

Do they tell a story? Or are they simply a catalogue of the everyday bizarre?