Short Fiction for Guests of the WordFeeder
Sunday, July 11, 2010
It was 5:22 AM Tuesday morning, according to the glowing numbers and letters when he pressed the button on his watch, 8 minutes later than the last time he’d checked.
“Enough already. I’m getting up,” Kenny advised himself out loud, even though he was the only resident of his studio apartment, the largest unit he could afford in the slightly better than crummy neighborhood he’d settled for when he moved to the big city. His first real job out of college, he wasn’t about to put in the hours, the “sweat equity” his father called it, only to max out his potential in a small town company. “Maybe I’ll have time to catch a nap before I leave.” He had the one air conditioner in the window, but it was too noisy to run when he was sleeping, and then there was the fan on a stick he kept in the corner moving slowly left to right, right to left. Kenny got up, turned on the air conditioner, opened the blinds a bit, and waited a couple of seconds for the compressor to come up to speed. “Com’on, baby. One more day.”
The meeting at which he would present the idea no one but he believed in, not yet anyway, was at 9 AM sharp. He’d stopped riding his bike to work a few weeks ago, in the spring. Too hot, and he’d started wearing a jacket and a tie. Throwing on the light switch next to the refrigerator, his eyes went right to the Vespa brochure he’d been meaning to file somewhere for two weeks now. “Very cool. But parking? I need to solve the parking problem.”
There was the subway, of course. Much better than the bus. Even so, it was a few blocks away, and then a several more blocks to the building where he worked.
“Hm. Breakfast?” he thought to himself. He needed to eat early to make sure he had plenty of time to go to the bathroom. “I eat too much, I’ll feel slow. Too little, and I could be lightheaded. It’s happened before. ..Split the difference, and I’ll eat now so I have time to go to the bathroom, as much time as I need. Couple of eggs,” he thought, reaching for his small frying pan, and some wheat toast. Very healthy. ..Oh, and some cran-grape juice.” Opening one of the cabinets above the sink, he took out a Balance bar and set it on the counter, just in case he needed something extra after he got to the office.
Turn on MSNBC. Get the paper that was curled up against his front door and read it while he eat. It was important that he be well informed, ready to participate in any conversation at the office. Marjorie, the girl that lived with her boyfriend across the hall, worked the night shift at a bakery. She’d pick up his paper from where they were stacked by the mail boxes and leave it for him so he didn’t have to go down there in his shorts, or put on pants. Today, there were two French rolls, still warm, in a clear plastic bag. “What a doll,” Kenney smiled, reminding himself to thank her. “Screw the wheat toast.”
Clean up the kitchen. 30 minutes on his Bowflex. It was a studio, but as big as a one bedroom, which he took because the open floor plan gave him more flexibility, more usable space. “Nap. I need a 20 minute nap, and before I take a shower. ..On the couch.” It wasn’t as comfortable, but that was the point. Tired or not, he couldn’t afford to oversleep, which is why he set his cell phone alarm and his watch, five minutes apart, just in case.
Shave first, then shower. No cologne. Deodorant with antiperspirant, enough, but not too much so his undershirt didn’t stick to his pits. This was business.
“What to wear? What to wear? …Khaki dress pants. ..Ooo. I need to buff up my shoes. ..And a white shirt, in case I’m perspiring. No. Too plain. The white one with the blue pin stripes. Much better. And, uh.. this tie. Assertive, without being overbearing. Expensive, but not too pricy.”
Lifting the lid of his laptop, he rubbed the pad to bring it back to life. “..Crap.” No personal email, except two from his parents. He went out of his way to stay in touch with some of the girls he’d met in college, and the more or less friends he’d met over the past year since he moved. “Maybe if I didn’t work such stupid hours, I’d have time to meet someone. ..Maybe if I met someone, I wouldn’t want to work such stupid hours.”
Shutting it down, he waited for the screen to go dark before closing it up. Rolling up the power cords, he dumped them and everything he’d be taking with onto his breakfast/dinner/work table. Today he’d use the rolling briefcase his parents had bought him. A backpack, however functional, didn’t send the right message. Besides, he had way too much to carry. The backpack would be too heavy, pulling on his shirt and jacket, and it was hot out. (As you’ve probably noticed, Kenny had a real fear of perspiring, but then, who doesn’t?)
Half an hour later, give or take, he was ready to leave, standing just inside his apartment door. “No, wait. I need to try to go to the bathroom again.” He tried, but no luck. It was all in his head. One last look around, for the third time, to see if he’d forgotten anything, Kenny took a breath, opened the door, and closed and locked it behind him.
He was leaving early to get there early, time to relax, cool down and go to the bathroom if he had to. Time to set up the conference room so everything would be perfect. I was important they understood how much time he’d put into this idea, and give it and him the respect they deserved.
Outside, in the subway and now on the last leg of his trip, it was hot, humid and crowded. On the subway, he’d taken off his jacket and folded it neatly over his arm. At the top of the stairs from the subway, 10 blocks from his office, he set his briefcase down and pulled up its handle. Pulling it would be easier. The sidewalks were wide, but still swarming with people who didn’t understand the tradition of staying to the right. As long as he kept his briefcase behind him, so it didn’t clip anyone, it’d be okay.
Three blocks later, Kenny waited to cross the street, to the other side where the buildings would provide some shade for the next several blocks.
“Hey!” Kenny turned to see some jerk trying to zip open his briefcase, only to scare the kid away to steal something from someone else. Turning back when he thought it was safe, he looked across the street, ..and there she was. His age, give or take. Short, almost, but not quite shoulder length brown hair, neither wavy nor straight. From across the street, she stood out against a background of ordinary people. He could see her as if they were closer. Dark blue business suit. Heels, but not that high. Her arms wrapped precariously around some books and file folders, one hand holding a portfolio by its handles. Waiting there, the pressure of everyone behind her against her back, Kenny saw her exhale and felt her determination. And then the light changed.
Seeing her step off the curb and coming in his direction, it was a no brainer. “What the hell?” He’d wait for her to cross for a closer look – but then she broke out of the pack and angled herself to his right, saving a few must-have-been-precious seconds on her way down the same street where Kenny was heading.
“A little creepy maybe, but I’m going that way anyway,” Kenny said to himself, and he followed her, sort of. Catching up, he stayed about even with her, two or three people between them. He was even in front of her once or twice, but to the side, a technique he’d seen on some detective show. He watched her walk, impressed with how deftly she varied her pace and direction to weave in and out of ongoing and slow moving traffic. It was all he could do, dragging his briefcase behind him, to keep up with her. And then there was that one time, at a corner, rushing to beat the seconds counter. He’d switched hands to make sure his briefcase would roll on handicap break instead of bumping off the curb and killing his laptop, when she moved to her right and they jostled each other.
“Whoa, sorry,” He apologized.
“It’s okay,” she said, working quickly to adjust her armful for fear she drop something. Planning only to look up for a moment, she looked away and then back up again. “Really,” there was something about his eyes, “I’m fine.” By that time they were halfway across the street.
“Careful.” Switching his briefcase to his right, his left hand took the back of her arm, moving her out of the way of an especially aggressive taxi turning the corner.
“Thanks,” she said smiling, but without stopping, in fact hustling to pick up her pace. “The last thing I need this morning is to be phoning in my presentation from the emergency room at some hospital.”
She looked at him as they rushed down the long block to the next corner.
“I mean, I’ve got the presentation of my life this morning. …How do I look?” And that made her laugh.
“Great,” she said. “You look great. ..And?”
“Uh, and what, you look great, too?”
“It’s just that looking great doesn’t seem like something you have to work at.”
“I’m at my best when I’m coming from behind.”
Four blocks later, they knew what they did for a living, where they were from, where they worked and lived, had shared their anxiety about the morning’s meetings, and had laughed and smiled about this and that.
“So exactly how long have you been following me?”
“Since you crossed the street, although, technically, I was going this way ..anyway. It’s how I go to work.”
“Is this how you meet women?” She was playing with him.
“No, although it beats barhopping. ..Besides, I didn’t plan on meeting you. I was just..”
“I don’t know, just letting the fact that you exist get me psyched for my meeting.” And then she stopped and looked at him, people, all sorts of people streaming past them and then closing ranks on the other side.
She looked up at him, although Kenny wasn’t that much taller. “That was a heck of a thing to say.”
“I can’t help it if I’m naturally glib,” he smiled back at her.
For a moment, they were both quiet, not really understanding what was happening.
“Have dinner with me,” Kenny blurted out, sensing he was running out of time.
“No. ..I’ve got to go.”
“Wait. It can’t be something I’ve said,” he shouted after her – even though she was only a few steps away. “I haven’t said that much. That would be a new record, even for me.”
And the she stopped and turned. “I’ve got to this way.”
Kenny walked over to her, almost jogging. “What’s your downside?”
“You could be creep.”
“I’d be taking the same chance. It’s just dinner.”
“…No,” and she turned to talk down the side street from the corner where they’d been talking.
“Oh, com’on!” he shouted. And she slowed down, but then started walking, but then stopped and turned.
“That’s your line?!” she shouted back. “That’s your line?”
This time they moved toward each other. “My name’s Kenny Holden.” Reaching into his shirt pocket where he put his business cards, he pulled one out and gave it to her. “…and this is when you tell me your name.”
“’Marilyn,’ and here’s my card,” she said, pulling one, carefully so as not to drop anything, from the side pocket of her jacket.
“It’s bent,” Kenny noticed, but then added, “but I’ll get over it.”
“Pick a restaurant, well lit with lots of people…” she started to say, when someone bumped into her, pushing them together.
“Would a police bar be okay?” Kenny said in a normal voice.
“Precisely what I was thinking.”
(What happened next, if it happens to you, was the kind of thing you tell your children and grandchildren about.)
“What?” she asked him, wondering about the look of confusion on Kenny’s face.
“I.. I’m not sure,” he said, unable to stop his eyes from flashing between her golden brown eyes and red-lipsticked mouth that seemed incapable of being still. He didn’t know what to say, but she did.
There was that breath and the forced exhaling he’d seen before. Her jaw tightening with determination, a hint of vulnerability in her eyes that she would never acknowledge. “What the hell,” and, at that moment, her voice was the only sound he heard. “Go for it.”
Reaching around to the small of her back, he pulled her the last few inches toward him, her high heels rising off the pavement.
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