When I met Jenny, she worked as a waitress at the diner where I often ate after my shift.
The day I fell in love with her, she gave me the middle finger—the whole middle finger, with the telltale writer’s callus and both knuckles. It floated alongside chunks of chicken in the creamy soup that she served me.
I was more curious than appalled. “How does one get the whole middle finger chopped off?”
“By flipping off a ninja,” said Jenny, deadpan. At that moment, I knew she was the one.
Nina was terrified by the force with which the thoughts of this man pushed everything else out of her mind. She had just met Max at a friend’s friend’s party, and did not understand why she wanted to pounce and fuck him on the spot. Max was not really her type. He was far too thin for her taste, with jet black hair that Nina usually found off-putting against a complexion as pale as his. But he was tall, with long legs and beautiful long fingers, and he had warm, intelligent eyes.
Max barely remembered meeting Nina. She had left no impression on him whatsoever.
Nina and Max had been running into each other with some regularity through common friends. Nina hated herself for following Max around like a lovestruck puppy whenever they met. As if in a trance, she would find herself inside his orbit and just stand there, giddy. Max was the life of every party, his jokes scintillating. As much as she wanted to fuck Max, Nina wanted to become Max—he was so much of what she was not, but had always wanted to be.
It did not take Max long to pick up on Nina’s admiration. He did not find her attractive; with her large breasts, thick thighs, and an aura of trepidation, Nina was too fat and too insecure for his taste. Yet, Max was amused by how he could make her whole body glow with excitement when he dispensed clichéd innuendos. Toying with her was easy, like pulling wings off a fly.
Nina and Max found themselves spending more and more time together, alone and with friends. They had a lot in common—the same sense of humor, similar professional backgrounds and favorite pastimes. As the two relaxed around each other, Max found Nina to be bright and hilarious. He came to feel connected with her, like she had gotten under his skin, but if you had asked him about it, he would have denied it.
Max would also not admit that he spent a lot of time staring at Nina’s décolletage, or that he liked how her hair sparkled in the sun as she walked toward her car. Max would also deny that he brushed against her arm or placed his hands on her shoulders whenever he was around her. The changes in Max’s behavior left Nina confused and perpetually aroused. Their friends rolled their eyes and were placing bets on whether or not the two were already fucking.
Soon enough, brushing against the arm and placing hands on shoulders became kissing slowly, then more urgently… And their friends stopped placing bets.
Nina and Max became inseparable. They fucked around the clock and showed up everywhere together. Yet, Max insisted they were not a couple. Their friends rolled their eyes and assumed the two were just being ridiculous.
Max would tell you that she was just not hot enough to be his girlfriend. What he really wanted was to remain out of her reach, keep the upper hand.
So, every couple of months, Max would bring another girl as his official girlfriend to parade in front of his friends. Each girl was around for a week or two, and he did not even fuck most of them.
After all the time Nina had spent salivating over Max, fucking him was cathartic. She woke up from the sex haze after several months and was able to think straight again. She was still deeply infatuated, but would catch herself feeling irritated by Max’s ostentation or bored with hearing the same jokes over and over again.
One day, Max hinted—as he had done many times before and Nina had always believed him—that she should be grateful for the gift of his affection, of which she was apparently unworthy. “Fuck you, asshole,” Nina muttered. For the first time, she was furious.
After that day, whenever Max brought another girl to show off, Nina felt humiliated and angry. Another tiny piece of her heart broke off.
Nina and Max had officially become a couple and appeared very happy. Max had seemingly gotten over his ego and allowed himself to behave as a man in love. Their friends had finally stopped rolling their eyes. Everyone thought they were perfect together, destined for forever.
Nina loved the kind and affectionate Max who had finally broken free, but she had grown to detest the arrogant blowhard who had been taking her for granted for so long.
As Max’s love for Nina grew, Nina’s love died little by little under the weight of Max’s past crimes against it, until it vanished.
Nina received a job offer in a city far away. She took it and did not tell Max about it until she was ready to leave. She hugged him goodbye, wished him good luck, and drove off.
Max was left standing, his mouth agape. He thought they were happy. He could not fathom that she would ever want to leave him. In his gut, he felt he was missing something, something important, and he was terrified by the force with which the thoughts of this woman pushed everything else out of his mind.
Curriculum Cupidinis (‘the course of desire’) was originally published by The Fiction Pool. Jo Simmonds (editor of The Fiction Pool) did a great job with the layout and the choice of image to accompany the story. Thanks, Jo!
I really like the feel of The Fiction Pool — Jo comes with experience as a reader at PANK Magazine, and The Fiction Pool definitely reflects it. The stories feel modern, edgy: interesting, flawed characters; realistic dialogue; raw, unfiltered emotion. It’s an honor to be published there!
Willy the Washer and Dick the Dryer, front-loading judgmental assholes, came with the apartment. For appliances that are supposed to save energy, they sure waste a lot of mine.
The two Cyclopes, each with its own gigantic eye made from sturdy clear plastic, stand side by side in the bathroom and face the toilet. They’ve really been on my case lately.
“Why the hell do I have to wash load after load again today? You’re a single guy, how much fuckin’ laundry do you have?” Willy whined as he rolled his eye, its color a mix of whites and pastels. “And on the sanitary cycle? Since when do you even know how to use the sanitary cycle?”
“Since that skank fucked his brains out a couple of weeks ago,” Dick deadpanned.
“Don’t talk about her like that. She’s not a skank,” I protested.
“Sure she is,” Dick stared at me, blacks and grays in his eye. “Look at you, sitting on the toilet naked, your pubes and armpits soaked in that lotion.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Willy swayed side to side, waddling a whole foot toward me to get a better look at my crotch.
“Willy, my dear friend,” said Dick, “you’re running on sanitary because not-a-skank gave our boy here crabs.”
“Crabs?! Are you fuckin’ serious?! I’m full of dead parasites right now?!” Willy rolled his eye with such dramatic flair that I thought it would get stuck up there. “Oh, I can’t even… You’ve really outdone yourself this time.”
I looked down and could see the bluish spots where the lice had fed, still itchy. I squeezed out some lotion between my fingers and rubbed it on my pubes.
This story originally appeared in Storyland, November 10, 2017.
Derek loosened his lucky tie with black and purple stripes, leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes, and exhaled. The soft orange rays of the setting sun grazed the city rooftops and illuminated Derek’s face.
“Congratulations on your big win in court today, Mr. Banning!” Derek’s assistant peered into his office.
“Thank you, Emma,” Derek turned away from the window and smiled. “We’ve all had a hellish few months. Enjoy the rest of the week off.”
“Thanks, Mr. Banning!” Emma looked forward to some quality time with her girlfriend in a hotel upstate. “You should celebrate, too. No one deserves time off more than you!”
Derek glanced at the photograph on his desk. His twins, captured by the camera at that sweet age when baby and adult teeth coexist in a mouth perpetually wide with joy, were embraced by their mom, to whom Derek had not been married for over a decade, but who at that foregone moment still looked at him with love and admiration.
“You know I don’t do vacations. And we can’t have our young law associates imagining they can have a life!”
“They are all terrified of you. They think you’re superhuman.”
Derek smiled and opened his laptop. “Good night, Emma. I’ll see you on Monday.”
Early next morning, Emma stopped by the office on her way upstate and found Derek lying on the floor. His lucky tie with black and purple stripes was wrapped tightly around his upper arm, his sleeve rolled up, a needle sticking out of his elbow pit. The bottom desk drawer, usually locked, revealed pills, needles, and syringes.
The bright golden rays of the rising sun grazed the city rooftops and illuminated Derek’s face, covered in dry vomit.
Originally appeared in Storyland, November 10, 2017.
This story was written based on the prompt “concealment,” which made me think of this article I had read in the New York Times, about a brilliant lawyer who used drugs to keep up with the demands of his job. The drugs eventually killed him. “Illuminated” is a ~300-word fictionalized homage to him and those like him, who, according to the article, are more numerous than we realize.
I am that woman behind whom you hate being stuck in the checkout line at the grocery store. My cart overflows, filled with produce and meat, bread and milk, snacks and drinks. You ask if we’re having a party. I smile. No, there is no party, but three boys will eat all this in a week.
You ask, and I feel joy. I am so lucky to have someone to feed, to love.
You ask, and I feel sadness. Soon—far too soon—they’ll all be off, and you’ll no longer hate being stuck behind me in the checkout line.
Originally appeared in The Drabble on Monday, November 6, 2017.
Narcissa sat on the grass by the river, propped up on her arms, her legs outstretched. She closed her eyes and enjoyed the warm sunset.
Daffodils grew all along the riverbank. Most were white or yellow, but there were patches where all the flowers were colored like chestnut or wheat, which Narcissa had never seen before. She sat in one of the few green spots close to the water that hadn’t been covered by daffodils, and waited for Toby.
Narcissa inched toward the river and leaned over the edge. She saw her reflection in the fluid mirror, with freckled cheeks and wavy auburn hair.
The reflection grinned.
She leaned over the edge again, her heart racing. The reflection now looked like an older Narcissa, with deep wrinkles and streaks of silver hair.
Narcissa touched her own face. She moved her fingertips across her forehead, then traced the line around her mouth, nose to chin. The skin was smooth and tight.
The reflection slowly rose from the river, lifted by the water, immersed from the waist down. The top half now resembled an elderly, frail Narcissa, with deflated ashen cheeks sagging below the jawline. The wavy auburn mane gave way to a limp gray wisp.
Tall, the reflection arched toward the petrified girl.
A hand reached out to touch the side of Narcissa’s head…only to tear viciously into it, pulling out hair and ripping off flesh with its nails.
Leaving behind drops of fresh blood on the grass alongside bits of skin and hair, the reflection retracted back into the river, dragging the mauled girl along.
Toby arrived late. He waited for Narcissa until nightfall. As he was leaving, he noticed a patch of auburn daffodils by the river, and was overcome by sadness he could not place.
I wanted to try my hand at writing something scary and the Zeroflash October Competition inspired me. The theme was Halloween, but with a strong connection to nature, and they posted a video of a river as a prompt. I immediately thought of the myth of Narcissus (sans Echo) and the tale you have before you is a 300-word twist on that myth.