Short Stories & Essays

An Encounter with Sherlock Holmes

silvae: Es kann nur einen geben

It was a crisp October day and the wind kicked the leaves up to the second-floor window of 221B Baker Street. My companion Sherlock Holmes rose from his chair and gazed down at the entryway to spy a woman pacing back and forth. Within a few minutes, she was inside, and up the stairs. Sherlock looked unamused, almost annoyed, but, taking a glance at the woman’s somber visage, his own face softened ever so slightly, his tight jaw relaxed,  and he beckoned her in.

“Madame, kindly take a seat. I won’t have you here long, I can already see that yours is a problem you won’t solve here.”

“But… how?” She asked

“Allow me to explain. It’s simple enough-, there are innumerous details about you that even my soft-minded companion, dear  Watson, could see. You’re left-handed, of course, as shown by the watch on your right wrist and the ink stain on the side of your left palm”

I chipped in, “Indeed Holmes, I caught on to that detail about our guest, but if I know you, you have quite a deal more to say.”

“Well, Madame, the details of your situation is perspicuous in innumerable fashions visible from here, I required but a few of them to determine that I am unable to offer you my services. You are anxious about your impending divorce, and you have taken a young lover in the meantime. The anxiety is evidenced threefold- the raw cuticles on your right thumb, the blemish on your chin, and of course the status of your shoes.

The marriage ended sometime well before summer. There’s no ring tan on your hand, yet there is a visible tan line from your fitness watch- its face is new and unscratched, but you recently exchanged the original band for a  thinner, more elegant gold band. Your skin is of a tone that is reticent to tan easily, so it seems you spent a good deal of the summer outdoors, wearing your new fitness watch all the while.”

“But what does my watch tell you about my marriage?”

My dear, you have a rather obvious giveaway- you keep pawing at your ring finger, feeling for a phantom band.

You aren’t divorced yet, but you have a court date set sometime soon. The anxiety is eating at you, as manifest it your battered cuticles. As I mentioned before, there’s the blemish on your chin. No need to cover it, my dear,  your make-up has done a suitable job for the average eye, correct, Watson?”

“Yes, Madame, I would never have noticed.” I assured her, and she dropped her demure hand from her face back into her lap, gathering her finger together.

Holmes was already inhaling to continue his monologue when she tried to pipe in-

“But what does my blemish mean-“

“You are seeing someone new. He’s younger. He works in a job without much customer interaction, something low profile. Perhaps an office job. He’s taller than you. You’ve been seeing him for a few weeks now.”

“How could you know that?”

“Again, Madame- the blemish on your chin. The young man has a job of a nature that requires him to shave, yet he need not be too diligent about the matter. The stubble from his beard irritated your skin when you were kissing him, rather passionately it seems. You’ve picked at the blemish: again, a sign of your anxiety. The blemish itself is a few weeks old now, there is evidence of it healing and being picked at again.”

“But how can you know he is tall?”

“I have already told you all I required: it’s the status of your shoes. The shoes are new, with a modest heel. You are, as you know, of a diminutive nature, but you still haven’t gotten the hang of walking in the heels, and your left ankle is a bit swollen. The man in question is much taller than you, there is a crease in the toe of the leather, where you have extended yourself onto your toes past the height provided by the heels.”

“It’s true. I am much shorter than him- but how did you know his age?”

“Madame, forgive my impropriety, but there is a hickey on your neck. A marking most definitely the work of a younger man, somewhere in his twenties? Again, as I said at the beginning of our meeting- you won’t find your answers here. It seems that the divorce was a good decision, your jacket hangs loose, and your watch shows your commitment to your health, and despite the small scratch below your lip, your skin is radiant. More so than that, the new shoes are meant for dancing, and it seems from their scuffs that you have indeed taken them dancing. These are all signs of a woman restored to happiness, or perhaps on her way there.”

“How do you know why I came here?”

“I know that you don’t know why you came here. If it was looking for a good man, you’ve certainly come to the wrong address. If you wanted answers as to why your anxiety has surged suddenly- it’s likely the dread of the paperwork and legal troubles you expect to encounter soon. You are not as lost as you may feel, Madame. I cannot provide you answers to matters of the heart, but we can provide you with three small favors which will get you back in form.  Watson can surely provide you a salve for the blemish, and a bandage for the ankle. If I am not mistaken, Miss Hudson has some of her famous scones ready, and she is bringing them up the stairs now. Combined, they ought to do the trick,”

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Short Stories & Essays

I am the 2 Tram, and I am here to ruin your evening.

I am the 2 tram. Excuse me, Bim zwei, but I prefer you call me the 2 tram. I know what you’re thinking, you’d be surprised to know, English is actually my native language! No German (or Austrian) efficiency here!

My mother was American, an oil painter, she loved watching paint dry. My father was an Italian post office worker. Union man, spent his weeks behind the counter, lording quietly over absolute chaos. In his spare time he tended to his lawn. He liked to watch the grass grow. It’s actually how they met! One summer in the 60’s she painted a picture of it, his lawn, growing in real time: a canvas slowly overcome by green. They spent their first date watching a pot of water boil. Long story short, now you have me. Come aboard, girl.

I am the 2 tram, and I’m always a bit discombobulated. I don’t get the rush all the other trams are in. I prefer to take my time, really consider my options. Especially when I am one stop away from your destination. That’s the best time to take a good long rest, and ponder, where am I really going?
Where are you really going, girl?

If the guy you are off to see is so mediocre in bed, is it worth the tooth-grinding crawl of a trip with me? I see you, texting your friends about him, yawning. Do you really want to see him again? Has he ever made you come? Just saying, you can get off here, or not get off at his place. Either way, you’re going to end the evening frustrated. 

I am the 2 tram and I know you still miss him. Not the mediocre guy you’re off to see, the one before. I see you staring at his picture. Girl, I know you. I know you hate subway poems, but you still love train metaphors. Actually, you love subway poems, even though they’re so tired. You’re so tired, girl. Stay a while. It will be a while. 

But as for trains, and subways,  and metaphors, I am somewhere in between. I am lacking in both romance and speed. I am a literal slow train to nowhere. I am a metaphor for settling.  I am preposterously packed with baby carriages and…Tibetan monks? There’s a lot happening here girl, and you’re missing all of it!

There, you did it again, you dazed off, looked out the window, and started thinking about him again. The guy in the picture, who lives off the U-Bahn, a cozy 15 minutes from your door to his. I can’t offer you that, but I can offer you a stunning view of all the cars speeding by, and a permeating sense of existential dread. 

Hey, girl, pay attention to me, or I will stop suddenly and slide you off your seat! You know what, I am going to do it anyway. 

I am the 2 tram and I am taking you home. It’s almost midnight. I’m empty, save for a smattering of ombré blondes. I am a staccato song. My mind wanders. Oh right- I was supposed to stop there. Oops.

I am the 2 tram and I want you more than any man ever will. Stay with me, girl. Let’s linger here a while. Let me hold you. When was the last time you were held? When was the last time you slowed down?

I am the 2 tram and I am arriving in 47 seconds, and then not again for 15 years. 

Girl, You better run.

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I Speak Not of Shepherds, Father.

“Bless me father, for I have sinned. It has been innumerable years since my last confession. “

“May the lord help you to confess your sins, my child”

“Father, I have lied, but I have done so oft in the name of love, or companionship, but these lies have begun to weigh on me, and I feel I must speak my truth.”

“Yes, my child, tell me how you have lied.”

“I can no longer pretend to like Davids, father. I have lied about my favor for so many Davids.”

“Davids? Do you speak of Shepherds?”

“No father, I speak of artists. David…ack, I can barely say it aloud father.

“Tell me my child, who is this David?”

“Lynch, father, I can not longer pretend to enjoy and care for the work of filmmaker and personality David Lynch. I fear that by speaking this truth I will be ostracized by my friends and loved ones, but it has to stop.”

“Ahh, my child, of course there’s some disagreement about season two of Twin Peaks, and where his real vision came in to play, but season one seems in like with your interests, no?”

“Indeed father, whimsy, and murder mysteries, and Kyle Machlachlan are things I adore. But, I just don’t care for it.”

“Even Blue Velvet?”

“Even Blue Velvet, father.”

“That is indeed a burden to bear. I will keep you in my prayers in this trying time.”

“And Father, there’s more…”

“My child, do not tell me you speak of the other, the most sacred of Davids…”

“Bowie?! Absolutely not, father! I would never dare besmirch his honor. But, in truth, there is another David who I can no longer suffer to feign enthusiasm for. It’s David Byrne, father.”

“A yes, and you may find yourself, in a catholic confessional booth, and you may ask yourself, how did I get here?”

“Good one. A real dad-joke, or a real father-joke. Indeed, I enjoy that song when it comes on the radio. I nod my head when acquaintances, cousins, young teacher’s assistants, and even lovers espouse the “genius” of David Byrne. But I do not feel the same admiration in my heart, and it fills me with shame.”

“My child, these are grave deviances from what we have declared good. For your penance, you must learn the lyrics of an obscure talking heads song, and practice your poker face in the mirror 50 times. And 50 Hail Marys.”

“Yes father”

“Tell me child, are there more?”

“Not quite. I mean I always preferred the intro to A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, but that’s allowed, yes?”

“Ah yes, brother Eggers, indeed, we make room for those who love the intro as well as the memoir itself. Our flock is open to all.”

“Thank you, father.”

“Yes my child, I leave you with your penance to make at home, but before we leave let us say the lord’s prayer together. And may God give you strength to find your way back to the flock.”

“I am ready, father”

“You remind me of the babe…”

“What babe?”

“The babe with the power?”

“What power?”

“The power of voodoo..”

“Who do?”

“You do!”

“Do what?”

“Remind me of the babe!”

“Amen.”

“Amen.”

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The kinds of thing I text fuckboys. God save me.

There is, quite honestly, no where I’d rather be than on a train. Waiting in the car, at the station, early enough to have found a good seat, by the window, and next to a person whose arm I can gather affectionately across my lap, my fingers tracing lazy spirals on their forearm, their thumb tracing purposeful, flirtatious arches across my knee. And perhaps a kiss on the shoulder, it wouldn’t be so greedy or untoward to wish for one, in this, a description of a perfect moment.

There is nowhere I would rather be than situated in the blissful beginning of a good time: past the anxiety, the which platform and where to sit, the where is your ticket and it said I had to print it but I am sure they will accept it from the phone. And where to let go of the baggage, emotional or otherwise? And should we pack a lunch?

The bit after that:

In that blissful moment, the quiet, when I (when we) can exhale amidst the shuffling of footsteps, and look out a window toward something. When I know I am going somewhere.

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Biblioquiescent Panic: A Case Study

I decided to escape the confines of my apartment’s white walls for the confines of the Austrian National Library’s white walls. I tried to visit years ago as a tourist, and left embarrassed, having never really seen the inside. Which I was told is gorgeous.

Today, I decided to be brave. I bought an annual pass, and went in ready to be dazzled by some gorgeous Austrian architecture. There isn’t really a good map of the reading rooms, at least not one I could find. It just looks like…a library? Not sure what all the hubbub was about. From what I understand there is a fancy reading room somewhere, but it doesn’t seem to be available for actual reading. Just for instagramming and private events.

Anyways, libraries, I forgot, are an absolute ADHD nightmare. It’s so…silent. I know, genius that I am, I forgot. But, this is excessive, more than library quiet. There’s nary the shuffle of a page turning, nor the occasional cough. There are dozens of people here and I’d venture to guess not a single one is breathing. My shoes were painfully loud while I walked in. I took a sip of water and the sound echoed violently.

I somehow picked the squeakiest chair not only in this room, nor in this library, but in the entire world. Honestly, scientists should be studying this chair to learn its secrets. After cacophonously scraping it in place to get myself seated, I am now stuck here, a bit too far from the desk, until the end of my days, for fear of ever making that noise again.
It was nice knowing you all.
“She died doing what she hated, being quiet.”

Since arriving, I have gone through the formality of opening my copy of Gray’s Anatomy for Students to the first page of the chapter on the lower limb. Chapter is a polite way of putting it, it’s more of a formidable, insurmountable heft of paper with a vendetta against my attention span. Honestly, I can’t bring myself to start, knowing I won’t finish. Thus, I have spent my time looking at what everyone else is studying. I took a seat at the furthest table back, lest anyone else give me the same treatment,
“Hmm, what’s she up to? Not studying, by the looks of it. She should really get started reading that section, it looks awfully long and she has to finish this class before September, tsk tsk
Honestly, it’s astonishing how many details this imaginary stranger knows about my procrastination.

Oh god, oh dear God. My stomach is going to grumble. I should have eaten something. And I have to cough. I have never had such a strong desire to cough in my life. I guarantee you, there is a German word for “the sudden desire to cough knowing that one is in a quiet room”.

I should look it up. Better yet, I should make one up. Biblioquiescent Tussis.

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And were it so, that I could do it all again, I would.

Ours was the greatest love story ever told. It was never going to end well, it would have been too much. The universe needs some sort of balance, and two little people can’t going on sapping all the joy from it.

But here I am, in the falling action of the fairy tale.  He returned his apartment keys, and the wedding ring. The gold came from my mother’s favorite bracelet. When she died, we made 6 rings from it: one pair for each sibling. My father made me get mine engraved, with our names and wedding date. I was the first sibling to use them, and I will be the first to remelt the gold, and erase this chapter of the story. I don’t know, I don’t know if the rings could ever be worn again. I don’t know what feels right, or what is final. I know this is a story not worth erasing. I would do it all again, I would.

I mean, to be fair, the gold came from bracelets bought for my mother by her first husband. So, maybe they can stay, dates engraved and all. The story of the rings was always intertwined with the fact that great loves still end.

And the heartbreaks which came before this one, they all added up to this. My last relationship before K, was with A. It was bad, toxic, I was young and naïve. It ended on a gray day in January, and my life went up in flames. I left in a hurry, so suddenly that I forgot to bring my jewelry box, with my grandmother’s jewels inside of it. A friend from the town brought them to New York for me, after we had both moved there. And she invited me to a play, Sleep no More. That was where I met K.

So maybe this is just another one of those moments. Another perfect heartbreak, maybe this is building up to something. But, even if it isn’t, even if this was the last great love of my life, and even though it ended, it was worth it.

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…And, what do you do for work?

Telling someone I am a pastry chef can be pretty fun. Generally speaking, people like sugar. So generally speaking, when I tell people I deal in sugar, they are more prone to like me. Their face lights up and they say
“Oh, how wonderful!”,
and for a moment, I feel a bit magical. As if I am capable of wonder, and mystery, and making their nephew’s 3rd birthday cake.
I wanted to become a pastry because pastry is art which makes people happy. Of course, there are occasions when I feel it’s a thankless task, a job for someone over-indulged and undereducated. Moments when I worry I am not worthy of respect. It’s a learned reflex, after enough conversations with doctors, or lawyers, or those in tech. So, I soften the blow of their disregard for me, the peasant, by saying,
“Would you like to see some photos of my cakes?”

And no one ever says no, because it’s cake.

Then, after viewing an album of selected creative showstoppers they say,
 “Oh, so you’re really serious!”
“So you’re actually talented!”
The implication always being that, without photographic proof-of-pudding, I was some sort of housewife-hack with a dream and a hand mixer.

If you follow up in the conversation, it often goes in very predictable, almost formulaic directions:

  • The “Have you seen The Great British Bake Off? You should compete on television!” conversation
    • “I don’t know anything about baking, or television, or competitions. But you, stranger, should sign up for this competition show I like. I’m not just trying to find common ground by referencing popular media which I enjoy, I am genuinely commanding you to stop everything and become a reality tv star.”
    • I’ve seen a few episodes. I was taught to pronounce genoise in a different way. I have no idea what a Victoria sponge is. Victorian sponge? Thank you, but it’s not a competition even meant for professional pastry chefs. Because, I am a professional. I need you to hear that. I am a professional. Yes, they are nice to each other and I love that: It’s a fairy tale, and not how the real world works. No, I don’t want to be on a competition show. No, really, I don’t want to be in a competition. No, I get it,  thank you, but it’s just not for me. I am not interested in being on television! I would end up crying in about five minutes! No seriously, not interested, but thank you. Why? Because I…have a medical reason that I cannot withstand stage lighting? I am in witness protection and cannot risk being seen? Jesus Christ how do I make you stop?!
  • The “I always dreamed of being a pastry chef” conversation
    • “I always wanted to do that! Which I feel I am absolutely qualified to do, because I once baked muffins and it was fun, and thus baking muffins for ten straight hours in a hot kitchen while your boss yells at you must also be fun. Your job is easy, and something I, a person with no experience in a real kitchen, could do just as well as you, if only I decided to do it.”
    • This is a person who has only ever seen pastry chefs in movies. Most likely Hallmark Christmas movies, where the small town candy-cane-cake shoppe is on the verge of demise, and the evil, vague corporate-y company wants to buy it on December 23rd. Before the logical, black tie, small town candy cane ball. You know, movies where pretty Canadian girls bake inexplicably small portions of the small town’s signature candy-cane-cake, all the while violating innumerable health codes: their hair hanging down, not a hair net in sight. Licking their fingers. Inviting the visiting evil corporate real estate guy to enjoy an evening of massive potential liability if he gets burned. (Is it real estate he works in? All we know is there is a deadline of December 23rd, and an impending E. coli outbreak). Then some bizarre entrepreneurship 101 project saves the day: we just sell candy-cane-cakes on Easter!
    • They have also seen The Great British Bake Off.
    • They also think I should become a contestant on The Great British Bake Off.
  • The “You Should Be My Grandmother” conversation
    • “Have you heard of this obscure pastry from my culture? This pastry that you would be culturally appropriating if you actually made it? This is a thing my grandmother made, and you should open a business selling only that thing. It has a shelf life of 12 minutes, and one of the ingredients is an obscure flour that is cheap in my hometown but unfathomably expensive here. You should open this bakery below my apartment building, in Manhattan, where the rent is so cheap. Because there is a massive market, in my mind, for this pastry that I want to eat each morning. Plus, opening a business is so easy. Everything you have ever done, any art you ever made from sugar, is irrelevant. They are nice, but they are not this one specific ugly lump of wheat and obscure flour that I love. You should make this one obscure thing, so that I have a place to buy it. “
    • “Also, have you seen The Great British Bake Off?
  • The “Have you seen that video of that cake that looks like a….” conversation
    • Yes, I have seen the fucking video, 18 people posted it on my Facebook when it went viral six weeks ago.
    • Yes I have also heard of The Great British Bake Off
  • The “My penis makes me an expert in high risk business ideas!” conversation
    • Yes, because the only thing standing between me and running my own business, at a massive financial, emotional, and physical cost, is you, some dude, telling me to do it. Some guy I just met at a dinner party, or was on a first date with. I just needed you to give me the bright idea that I could sell cakes. Sure, I studied food service management for 4 years and got a degree in it. Sure, I know the profit margins and the risks involved. Sure, I’ve worked at Michelin-starred restaurants, and bakeries around the world, but it’s you, someone blessed with a big old man brain, who has enlightened me to the fact that…bakeries exist?
    • It is likely, but not confirmed, that these men are the same men who write the business plans which save the small-town-candy-cane-cake-bakery in the aforementioned Hallmark movies.
    • They have never heard of The Great British Bake Off.

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The Tale of Skinny Boyfriend

Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 7.26.59 PMnce upon a time there was a noblewoman named Rachel.

She ruled over a powerful Co-Op Board in a rapidly up-and coming neighborhood. The real-estate lords had recently renamed it SOKIPA (South of King’s Palace). Rachel loved many of the joyous excesses of her kingdom: locally grown flowers, designer blue jeans, and home design catalogs. But she loved two things most of all:

The first thing was Sir Gregory, her boyfriend of 4 years. Gregory had light brown hair that turned red in the summer. He was exactly five inches taller than Rachel, which made him ideal for kissing. He wielded his smile with skill; he had, as they say, looks that could kill. He also had a trust fund that could make any man seem immortal.

Sir Gregory was in a band. He played guitar and wrote great love ballads for lady Rachel. He praised her eyes, and her mouth, her laugh and all her other features that were like totally specific, girl. Gregory had been courting fair Rachel, who wasn’t going to be 29 forever, through many summers and winters, so he better step on it.

The second thing that Rachel loved was food, in particular the variety known in her kingdom as dessertDessert was revered for its magic ability to bestow upon those who consumed it great joy and energy, followed by great guilt and sadness, followed by great hips and buttocks. Dessert was reserved for special occasions, only afforded by the fat-wallets of Christmas bonuses, or the lean thighs of the athletic. Rachel had no need of a Christmas bonus, she had no lean muscular extremities upon which to seductively lay her layers of lipids. She had only a persistent craving for sugar. It appeared the moment she awoke, followed her until she slept, and often into her dreams.

The inherent problem in the situation was one that many hetero-normative once-uponers suffer from, and that was that Gregory, boyfriend of four years who better step on it, was too skinny. Skinnier than Lady Rachel, which just would not do.

                  At first, fair Rachel was able to pretend. Through the early months of their courtship Gregory brought her to many feasts, at which lady Rachel consumed only the greenest of salads. Lettuce hung from her lips, painting her like the most noble of bunny rabbits. Rachel suffered through each meal, even the obnoxious bits of lettuce that remain at the end, stuck to the plate and impossible to pick up with a fork without creating a squeaking noise that distracts the entire court from their feast.

                  Try as she might, lady Rachel could only hold out for so long. In time, as her strength waned, her weight gained, and her resentment of Gregory grew with it. So strong was her jealousy that it began to consume her, and she to consume every morsel of sugar in sight. Gregory dismissed her worries with casual laughter, often biting into a slice of pizza as he did so. One night, Rachel snuck down to the kitchen for a midnight snack. As she sat crying over a tray of brownies, she concocted a plan.

The next day she sent out a decree, over email and twitter, calling all of the doctors and dieticians of the kingdom to come forth. He who could make Gregory larger would be rewarded with an insurance payout fit for a king. They ran blood tests and measured his body mass index. But it was to no avail, for Sir Gregory remained as lean as ever. So, the doctors were banished, with only their malpractice rates increased.

So Rachel summoned forth all the great chefs of the kingdom, who for three weeks held great feasts, the tables overloaded with dishes dripping in fat and sticky with sugar. The entire realm filled with the perfume of fresh baked cookies. For weeks Gregory ate, and smiled, but he did not gain an ounce. Rachel watched angrily from outside the feast, chewing on celery.

So, in a last attempt, Rachel summoned forth the great un-credentialed masses. The food bloggers arrived first, and mostly photographed the food. An army of body builders lumbered in, hoisting barrels of whey protein and vials of injectable potions. The hairdressers who swore tah Gawd they gots a cousin who ate only almonds and bananas for two friggin months and he gained like 25 lbs.  Yet Rachel did not have two months, her patience had run out.

Rachel raised her cellphone angrily into the air, threatening to banish all of the crackpots from the twittersphere. A hush fell over the crackpot convention as they all looked up in fear. Just then, a small voice called out from the crowd,

   “Follow These 3 Easy Tricks to Gain 15 lbs. in 2 Days!” it cried.

             The crowd opened around the place the voice had come from, and as they parted out stepped a tiny, adorable, dimple-cheeked dumpling of a girl.

  “Who might you be?” asked Rachel.

   “It is I, KaleAndOreos13! I have a blog and a pretty popular instagram, it’s for binge-eaters who also dabble in the dark arts. Send these people away safely, and I will help you”

Rachel invited KaleAndOreos13 into her bedchamber, where she instructed Rachel to disrobe, and drew upon her body in great circles of black marker, outlining all of Rachel’s flaws. KaleAndOreos13 spoke in hushed tones and explained to Rachel what must be done,
 “Tonight is the full moon. First, you must give Gregory a draught of this potion with his dinner, so he will sleep like the dead.”

She reached into her bag, and handed Rachel a blue bottle, marked with a skull, and labeled Nyquil. Then she gave Rachel an elegantly decorated dagger, a spool of red thread, and a long golden sewing needle.

“At midnight exactly, gaze into your mirror, take the dagger and cut the unwanted pieces of flesh from your body. Sew them into place onto Gregory, then speak the following incantation three times:”

Othingnay Astestay As Oodgay As Inthay Eelsfay

Midnight arrived, and Rachel stood in front of her mirror, dagger gripped in one hand, a wobble of thigh fat pinched in the other. In the reflection, she could see the great stripes of black marker on her frame, and behind it, Sir Gregory sleeping soundly.  She could not proceed. At dawn, KaleAndOreos13 saw that Rachel had failed. So, she pulled Rachel aside and said, 
  “Well, there is one more thing we could try. “

And that is how sir Gregory was made to join Weight Watchers, along with Lady Rachel. After two weeks of being forced to count up food points all day, Rachel found him secretly eating the last of her stash of brownies. Soon, he had to loosen his belt two notches, and she had to tighten hers. The kingdom rejoiced with song and dance and 3 point Giant Chocolate Fudge Ice Cream Bars for all.  

 

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[ˈæləsən]

      They’re always bitching at me not to leave my till. Todd, Margaret, all of them. Always bitching. Though, they never explain just how it is that I’m supposed to know what the lady standing in front of me means when she says,
“A grande-caramel-latte, and one of those on the end”
and starts pointing her accusing finger toward the end of the pastry case.

      I mean, that latte bit I‘ve got down. I could take that order in my sleep. Hell, I could take that order and ask if you’d “like to try it with our new coconut milk” without turning my head to the cool side of the pillow.

      But I have no idea what she is pointing at. Not a clue, this being the second day of October and a whole new rotation of specials we’ve got on offer. It’s probably a pumpkin-something, a cinnamon-whatever, some damn spiced crumble etc. The lady, she is wedged into place by the crowd behind her that is raging for a cinnamon fix. I am standing, chained behind my register like a good boy, just like I promised last night, when they made me sign that employee responsibility paper. I was all, “It won’t happen again, sir” and so on.

So I stall, and ask the lady for a name to scrawl on the grande-caramel-latte. She says,
“Huh? My name? It’s A—–.“
Well, actually, what she says is,
“Huh? My name? It’s Al-uh-suhn.”
But if we’re going to get all technical, which people like to do with their names, what she says is,
“Huh? My name? It’s [ˈæləsən].”

      I mean, give me a break. Do you know how many damn ways there are to spell [ˈæləsən]? There are at least 7 if you only count the common versions. You’ve got the old stand-by, Allison but heaven forbid you use it if she spells it Alyson, or Alison, or god knows what else. I knew a girl in 4th grade who spelled it Alysen, like her parents had something to prove. So [ˈæləsən] is standing there, pointing and pointing, while I consider writing “Ellison” on her cup just to mess with her. Or, really, just to make use of my degree for the first time since I graduated. But I doubt Todd, who is working the espresso machine, would even get the joke. He doesn’t seem to have read much of anything outside of the employee handbook. 

      So, I hedge my bets and write out “Allison” but I kind of squish the two L’s together, like, maybe there is only one. I squiggle the “o” indecisively. Like, maybe it’s an “e” or maybe my pen is running out of ink. Like, maybe I’ve been using it to write the next great American novel on recycled napkins. Like, maybe I am the guy who gets her, who knows exactly who she is. Like, maybe I could tell she had a relatively normal upbringing but that her parents just wanted her to be a little bit unique. Like, maybe she knows that I am clearly overqualified for this position. Like, maybe she could tell I’ve got a master’s degree and a lifetime-membership card to the ivory tower. Like, maybe we should get coffee sometime, somewhere else. Like, maybe she will love all my jokes about Derrida. Like, maybe she’ll forgive me for messing up the rest of her order and I won’t get written up for it. Like, maybe this [ˈæləsən] is the Allison or the Alison that changes everything.

      All the while, [ˈæləsən] is holding up her resilient elbow, pointing toward whatever it is that I am about to get wrong. The moment is more or less a metaphor for my entire romantic history.

 And of course, where is Margaret now? Margaret, our fearless shift supervisor, who is supposed to be working the pastry case. Margaret who wore out her lungs from bitching at me about leaving my till. Margaret who is evidently taking a ten minute break, now of all times. While [ˈæləsən] is waving her finger toward some mystery cake. [ˈæləsən], who left her glasses at home and can’t read the damn sign. [ˈæləsən] who looks like every other damn [ˈæləsən] I’ve ever come across, like she doesn’t have the time to look at me. 

      The line of customers is stretching out past the door, all of them frowning, all of them decaffeinated-cranky. Here I am, alone, strapped to the register. To my left, Todd has barricaded himself behind a wall of paper cups and syrups. I can hear the espresso machine hissing and spitting, then suddenly it stops. Todd has run out of steam, I‘ve thrown a wrench into the machine. Ominous, that silence.

So I look up at [ˈæləsən], who is dangling my future off her left index finger, and ask,
I’m sorry, could you at least describe it for me?”

 

 

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