“Beneath an Atargatis Moon”

For context, look more into the Mars One mission. I wrote this story in a beautiful marbled notecard I found in New York’s West Village. Find more designs like it here at Katie Leamon Designs.

When I look up to the skies, I think about how I lost you to the planets. Across the stars that sprinkle down onto Manhattan there is not a moment when I’m not searching for your smile. Yes! It’s finally happened madam, I’ve made it to here. New York’s worked out for me, and it’s still a dream spiraling out before my eyes– and no one’s stopping to contain it. This is all I wanted, but no matter how grand this city grows it will never get me to you.

To think that in those years you were already an unreachable girl. Admitting to it now, no one back home thought you would make the cut. There was only one certainty and that was in your heart, armed with a fairy tale. The myth of Atargatis was your favorite because she founded mermaids. Your reason for going was to find out where else in this universe might be a chance to start anew. We both were aware that what we were seeing from our hills in Oakland, beyond downtown’s skyline, was also fixed in the minds of the 78,000 others across Earth– like you, all discarding this world as a wasteland.

MarbledNotecard

Every few months they narrowed their lists until those beautiful words for ROSE JANE M. arrived in the mail, gilded gold letters. Of course they would love you. Anyone would kill to carry your innocence across moons. In that moment you were called away to begin anew on the Red Planet our nights changed. Stars shone brighter for you– I saw blackness.

78,000– then out of the blackness– 100. You were number 9 of the remaining 10. They cut people every day and each time that blackness descended onto the wasteland that kept us together because you stopped coming to the hills with me.

Your family hosted your farewell party to time it with the CBS special where they interviewed you with the other 4 Americans who got selected. A bio-medic researcher from Milwaukee, and a geologist from Orlando were among your elite. Though none of those things, it was clear that watching you on TV you belonged there.

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I apologize to you now rose for my lingering bitterness. None of it will ever truly go away since we lost you here on Earth. I’m sorry too that it got the better of me, fighting with you on that long drive through Coachella desert when we went to see your brother out in Blythe. I wasn’t thinking about how those last hours in the dark, after midnight, would be your last time to really feel the Earth beneath us, beneath the stars that would steal you away to a Heaven no one here can understand. You don’t deserve my anger. My burdens. Tethered to my own fears and I try and still wish sometimes that I can still pull you down into my silent drowning.

Those are my best moments here in the city with ever-flickering lights, trying to shine new paths in this dog-gone place crumbling on its own fresh paved roads over the old. It’s that sea we swim in farther and farther thinking something strange and beautiful is out there when it’s been us the strange ones all along.

It isn’t really a loss now that I search fr you up there. All still black, but a faint starburst now that only you and I can see.

Fictionery: “Happily Ever After” card from Rifle Paper Co. $5.50

Happily Ever After 1

But here was the thing.

They would not accept their story to end here and now. Seventeen was too young for closing the book, no matter on what note it ended. And how were they to really know if all went happily?

They were the last ones left at the wedding reception, sitting at a table with knocked over chairs and scattered gold confetti and gardenia petals while eating the rest of their wedding cake. They made a list. Where to live, how many children, cat or dog, whom of all they knew would stay in their lives. Having gotten lost and overwhelmed by this list, the Bride stood up and turned the table over, sending the strong gardenia scent up into the air and chunky specks of gold to the night.

Now they were away from this place, taking a cab away to calm her down. Where were they going? Wherever it was, she wanted to make sure it was well worth the torn dress suffered rushing into the cab, the lost long string of pearls from her mother-in-law as it caught in the door and dissolved by beads in the cool wind of June. Holding her hand, the caring Groom leaned over and kissed her brown eyes, closing them shut.  As she stayed this way in a silly, dream-like state, he told her they weren’t that far from where they were heading.

She would soon see that where they were going wasn’t the case. They would stop at where this tale had once began, an intersection off the Market Street by the water and where the pavement from crushed glass twinkled under the bridge light.

In the breeze and amongst night pigeons, and as her flowing tears mixed with the salt of the spraying air, all he could console her with was that despite not knowing where would be next, they always had the happy beginning to come back to.

Happily Ever After 2

“Burns”

Kelly liked to burn her arms with the butts of the cigarettes.

It wasn’t much of a thrill to Cal, but his knowing was a sort of initiation into the act. It usually happened on Thursdays, sometimes Sundays, always her calling first. She liked Cal’s place because there was a balcony, with rotting wood and wilting plants in teal clay pots that belonged to Cal’s girl, but mostly that the balcony was on the top floor away from the views of any of the other apartments.

Daylight savings had just happened—that night she called there was light still in the sky. Stepping through the threshold onto the cramped little balcony she nodded approvingly to the pink sky and said to Cal, “It’s a good time, tonight.”
“Guess so,” Cal replied, closing the door softly behind him. “Liz sleeps like a rock. Work’s getting to the both of us, I tell you. Good thing about her coming home early is rest. Not me.”

“No kidding.” She grabbed the carton of Camels from under one of Liz’s pots.

“Uh huh. I gotta let some old college bud of mine come around the place to sit and talk good shit about life and how unemployment’s being a bitch.”
Kelly’s laugher was rough and slightly shook the shot glasses in Cal’s hand. It didn’t match her posh cleaned-up Amy Winehouse appearance in that polka-dot dress she was wearing. “It’s not being a bitch anymore!” she started. “I got a contact from a temp lady this week, honest. Something over in San Mateo at a packing place. Assistant, receptionist, or slut one of those.”
“You reply?” Cal poured Jaeger into the glasses and handed one glass—and with a lighter—to Kelly.

“Fuck no. I’d have missed today.” She pulled her bracelets off and over the scars that were well concealed beneath the beads and bangles. She lit up, and after a few calming smokes she stuck the stick directly onto the last infliction that was barely scabbing. She gave the same cigarette to Cal, who snatched it and lightly tapped the lit end onto his upper arm.

“It calms your nerves, makes you want to eat less,” Kelly was saying after a drink of the Jaeger, “but we take it to a whole new level. Of all the things people say about smoking, they don’t beat this.”
Maybe it was the nicotine. Or the ash. The fire was small, and perhaps that was really why the pain wasn’t so harsh upon the skin. After a second tap on his shoulder, Cal looked to Kelly, who was stroking her left arm anticipating her turn. It was charred, it seemed, pocked with raw and rough lesions. Cal’s looked natural, like moles. As Kelly went on cursing the temp woman, Cal wondered about the extent to which his arms would start showing.

Liz started to see the changes. “Holy shit,” she exclaimed one breakfast, pulling his arm back from the espresso machine. The scab was rising through the sleeve of his white v-neck. “I know that’s never been there before, babe.”
He pulled away, rushing to put the ground beans in and over-filled the filter. “I swear that too. Saw it this morning, maybe a bug bite.”

“Hope to God it is so,” Liz said stroking the arm softly.

He made sure Kelly came after dinner that week, as Liz would be out for the night babysitting her sister’s boys. It was a better night; Kelly was more focused, rather enthusiastic. He did the usual two, she maxed at seven. But on his last one she leaned over and kept his hand in place, making sure the butt got deeper and pressed longer against his arm. “It’s a tension release,” she said rather excitedly.

Two weeks passed, and Liz saw that the bump wasn’t gone. Coming home from work, Cal was checked a voicemail from his doctor. “You called Dr. Martin?” he asked to Liz, coming out from the bedroom.

“I don’t know what to do,” she said, sitting down at the kitchen table and burying her face in her smooth, porcelain arms. “Hasn’t it been any concern for you?”
“Bites take time to heal—”

“Bullshit, just bullshit. It’s scaring the shit out of me how it’s gotten worse, and you still think it’s gonna go down.”

There was a long pause. “I’m not going to see Dr. Martin,” he firmly said.

“You could die from this,” Liz spoke softly. “You uncle didn’t he find something like—”

“Don’t be fucking dramatic.” He couldn’t be at the place anymore. He grabbed the keys and walked out.

Kelly was sure surprised, but not in any distress over her lack of accommodating a guest. The room she rented was pretty minimal, white lumpy beddings and a black wooden bed against gray walls where she’d hung some magazine clippings and photos. The only real colors to the room were her red pillows and yellow ashtray—flowing with burnt out butts.

Cal said nothing, only sitting at the edge of the bed and rolling back a sleeve. Kelly had been doing it already herself before his arrival. “Just one more,” she said.

“I can wait.”
He’d forgotten in a matter of minutes, listening to Kelly go on and on about the sensations she was just getting, sipping coke from the can and amusing at the legends before her. Film stars, mafia crooks, Victorian London gentlemen in their humble clubs out playing pool and sitting by fires—they all shared the joys in the cigarette. It got Cal thinking, and he never really thought during these sessions.
“And what joy do you share with them?” he finally asked her.

She flung her head back and smiled. “See those guys, they had to take it in. With us, pal we take it on the outside. I’m not getting killed, I’m not.” She paused on her own words, continuing, “There is joy in smoking, as there is pain. There’s the pain in the burn, the sharp pinch of it and the fire searing into the flesh.”
“Uh huh.”

“I’m amazed Cal. You never once asked why I’m into this shit. You’ve always been a pal, and you’re still one. I’m sure as fuck going downhill, and you, you’re going down with me.”
“I’m not going down, Kelly.” He started thinking—missing—Liz at the apartment, alone and worried endlessly about Cal. She didn’t even know Kelly existed.

“Yes you are. You never questioned me once, but you took interest to the butt. We do it ‘cause we know there’s better out there. The pain of something so small and scarring as the cigarette doesn’t compare to what good awaits us. This is rock bottom, and the burns say so.”

Cal didn’t stir. His hand moved to his shoulder, pressing onto the raw flesh that was charred. He stood up, about to leave—his arm sleeve was still rolled up.

“So soon?” Kelly asked, looking surprised.

“I uh,” he began to answer, “I need to make an appointment with my doctor.”

“You’re not staying for one?”

He stopped, turning around to say, “I guess just one.”
He flipped the cigarette around and took a drag before stepping out.

 

This was always a story that even now I find difficult to come to terms with. Its shortness, the darkness and play on the concept of smoking– as troubled as I get over this story I am equally proud of it, proud for stepping outside of that comfort zone you seek as a writer, making it all the more difficult to cope with, I guess.

Fictionery, a New Writing Sentiment

The world is obsessed with collecting images now. Thanks to social media sites as Tumblr and Pinterest, pretty and aesthetically-provocative-turned stock photos of subjects from sunsets to sparkler spelling and (of course) your best looking food have gone viral, and now it’s become one of the most basic ways to getting to know someone via their favorite trends and reblogs of such things. Especially for writing, I love using images to inspire me; it’s not just a concept born from the web, but it’s grown alongside it. The first time I ever really started writing was through exercises in my high school English class, sophomore year. It was a daily exercise of renowned paintings that started basic Q and A of what the various subjects were doing, then why. And then why again, and so forth. Not only did I enjoy this critical thinking exercise, but it definitely helped me realize that taking the English Degree path was more than obvious for me.

Fictionery1

So now I’ll begin this whole fixation again with passing little images, soft-toned ephemera or brilliantly bright celebratory cards to announce a graduation or your pride in the card recipient being your Mom or looking good for turning 30. Greeting cards are a strange phenomenon, disposable yet so meaningful and heartfelt in those few seconds they’re being read. For the majority of people I can only guess these cards get recycled, and to some whatever you’ve written, or perhaps the card’s image, was so moving or beautiful that it remains tacked to your wall or kept in a drawer for feeling bad about thinking of throwing it away in the first place. Then there’s me, who just likes collecting these items for a whole new potential.

Each card I now collect is a whole opportunity to keep the writing flow active. With each image I let it motivate me to write a brief story or work or prose that relates to that card, message or picture. I highly recommend such an activity because 1. You surround yourself with lovely images that keep you feeling wonderful, 2. The only two constraints, the image itself AND the amount of space allotted inside the card or postcard, really give a challenge, and 3. You’ll be surprised, and satisfied, with what you end up with giving the constraints. It can be any card that moves you, everyone is different. You can practically guess what sort of pictures I am drawn to by the photo above!

And here is my first “fictionery” I’ll start with this series:

“Two Angels” by Giovanni Battista Cipriani postcard. It was found for 75 cents at Bibliohead Bookstore in Hayes Valley, San Francisco.

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Their friendship had sparked from the First Day wonder and created for the infinite.

These two loving protectors protect in each other, shared admiration of the sky’s light and the silk palor of their youthful faces. Together they blush at the sublime creations of their Father, scathing mountains and treading across emerald waters as they use “Hide and Seek”  to familiarize with the New World. In a tired few hours he s exalted, cheeks like peaches as their redness follow his panting. She’s won this round, but here! At the foot of the glowing garden she bends over and watches something past the palms and ivory roses.

“Something new!” She exclaims. He flies to her feet and hovers low to witness for himself.

“What creatures!”

Excitedly they gaze into the grey lakes of their soft eyes and laugh a little. The curious couple linger, look, and muse at the prospects of these wingless, lanky playmates they had never seen before.

“What a thoughtful Father,” She whispers.

By Your Side: FINALE

Here are the final words to my short story, By Your Side. Brief, short, and even Noah wishes that there will hopefully be more in this tale for him. Find the full story here.

 

HE’S ALONE, squatting on the rustic fire escape three stories above the snow.

            Between puffs of his Marlboro he’s thinking of everything they had. What he should have now and where he ought to be.
            Fingers are cold and stiff, without the touch of tanning oil that smells like coconuts.
            Noah flicks the cigarette down to the street in hopes that the snow and everything with it melts. He wishes somehow for this puddle to be wide and shallow enough to run across back to her on the poolside.
            He hates it here now. Someday, Noah sighs, after one last hit, someday will turn out to be the end of the day, when I can drive from work on that hog to that pool and just be by your side.

 

 

By Your Side Part 8: “5:59 AM”

Every week I’ll install parts of this California short story I wrote three years ago for a fiction class. It’s since been rediscovered and reread and revised and unrevised for what I ultimately wanted to accomplish in this small story of a summer in between college and the growth of a youth in love. Here is part 8 for this story, and I hope you enjoy!

*If you would like to read the next part of the short story, stay tuned, or simply click above the BY YOUR SIDE page for the full story. P.K.

5:59 AM
            It was as if twilight by the Pacific had never left in that moment. The sky was dull but growing lighter, and the clouds were clearing out, the waves shaking the land to slowly wake up. Endless sand mixed with the salt and paved around the world of the Starlight Palms, this world being in that movement a dimming neon sign with the blue and orange flickering, between shaggy palms—and a boy and girl close together in a waterbed. June’s waterbed.
            She hadn’t slept that entire night. It wasn’t like the Mission District. They were facing now the imminent truth they were well aware of, but hadn’t seemed to notice those nights by the ocean. June said nothing. They were quiet for most of the time enfolded in the soft coral sheets. They seemed to never be in a place of their own, detached from anything holding them back. Everything was ready to tear them at the seams. Any new sort of intimacy would have to pass out of thoughts for them—the future took hold of everything now.
            She rose out of their embrace; her bare back was turning to look at the clock. Her hair was down, draped over the shoulder closer to where he lay, gently running his fingers through the thick tresses. She looked sweet, beautifully naked and pure, even as she was still hung on those words he’d said just a moment before six. “Before noon?” she asked softly, in a whisper.
            He nodded. “Have to make check out, don’t I,” Noah replied rather light-heartedly but uneasily. Her face made no change.
            She got up to the record player she had near her window. Pulling the curtains back a little with her small skinny hand, she reached for a record that was piled on others by the window sill. She put it on, a scratchy single of Santo and Johnny’s “Sleepwalk” playing softly as she lowered the volume. She looked back to him, returning to the sheets and smiling a little.
            “Better?” he asked her, smiling back.
            “Yeah.”
            The mood was simple and slow as she looked away, swaying to the low music. Simple. Life wasn’t simple. He couldn’t have it all just like June knew she could—her world was already made for her, in that little room of that oceanfront rusting motel that desired people only like June to keep them alive. Noah wanted to stay alive, not keep another thing going.
            “It’s one of the most beautiful sounds in this world,” she thought out loud. She wasn’t talking about the world. She somehow excluded Noah in those words. Her world was the Starlight, the place he would be leaving shortly. The process had begun.
            “You’ll always be beautiful,” he said to her, sitting up and taking her in his arms. She moved a little to loosen the grip. “I’ll grow old,” she simply replied.
            “No. I don’t think you will. As long as you have the Starlight you won’t. Has the Starlight gotten any older?”
            She shook her head. “But it’s sure stayed behind. Maybe I’ll go out with you.”
            “I wouldn’t dream of that. You love it too much out here.”
            She was silent for a moment. “At that you’re right.” She laughed a little. Face to face now, they both stared down. “Denver’s awfully cold.”
            “I don’t look forward to it.”
            “You’re going to miss the sun, the coast. Can’t deny it.”
            She was right. There wasn’t one soul who didn’t miss those precious things about the West Coast. She was still looking down, but as he pulled her again back into his arms he could see through her disheveled hair that the corners of her mouth started turning upward, returning to that smile he’d miss more than ever now that the sun was rising, illuminating the distant waters just visible in the window with the dusty blinds half-drawn.
            There was everywhere to be in this world, but only one that wanted you. California, she sure liked to flirt, but this golden girl stayed true to your heart—
            He’d heard those words somewhere, remembering them now as the spinning record came to a halt. Only Noah forgot who had said them.

By Your Side Part 7: “Jay”

Every week I’ll install parts of this California short story I wrote three years ago for a fiction class. It’s since been rediscovered and reread and revised and unrevised for what I ultimately wanted to accomplish in this small story of a summer in between college and the growth of a youth in love. Here is part 7 for this story, and I hope you enjoy!

*If you would like to read the next part of the short story, stay tuned, or simply click above the BY YOUR SIDE page for the full story. P.K.

JAY
            It was hot and the air began to stiffen. Jay was just about ready for the road, home.
            With that attitude Noah stiffened himself and brushed off his brother for the gas. Jay took up his brother’s challenge to go out and get situated for the long-awaited drive home. Pearl Gas-for-Less took the longest to get to. It was also the cheapest. Jay smiled at the irony.
            A pretty Latina pulled up in an ancient BMW convertible and got out. She had cut off white shorts and a weird orange and purple tribal-print top. It was lace-backed as she turned around to grab her purse in the passenger seat. Jay was intrigued, having not even grabbed the nozzle to his own spot. He didn’t say anything, just stared. And she drove off in a matter of minutes without giving him a thought. It was enough for him to rethink his rush.
            After Pearl Gas he decided instead of going back to drive out towards the pier. He parked the car along Cypress Street in front of a big concrete lot cheaply fenced off. He didn’t know what he wanted to do, but he was there. He walked quickly across the street to some brickwork that gated around a spot of really green grass. He sat on a bench that was barely in the shade. Some sort of Spanish style brick layering—he was drawn to it.
            The sky was bright, and it seemed whiter than blue, and if it was blue it surely was pale. The buildings were low, spread out and worn out. It made Jay think of those framed postcards in Grandma’s kitchen of old surfing towns along the coast, except those had been taken in Huntington, Oceanside, all much further down the highway towards SoCal. Pismo Beach was strange, awkward in its location. You never really talked about the Central Coast, even in California.
            He did want to surf. It was why he came down with Noah in the first place, but he should have known when he didn’t see any boards or suits packed in with the luggage. There were palm trees oddly spaced out on the sidewalk, close to the long black streetlamps. One of the tallest buildings he saw in the town was right behind him, a white windowless block with BILLIARDS printed near the roof over a strip of red paint.
            He had a few dollars in his wallet. He went through the fence and cut across the cool grass towards the billiards. The grass led to a vacant back parking lot, vacant except for an old BMW convertible off to the side.
            He thought of her. He crossed the lot, but doing so he sat on the hot ground and waited, whistling. He didn’t know what he was singing, just that it came from June’s stumpy short brother who was sure piss-poor entertainment except for his whistling. Jay didn’t whistle until he met Alexander.
            Someone walked towards the car. Someone he’d never seen before, where the white cut-offs and lace back shirt should have been. Just a false alarm he laughed at, and the old man in the white wife-beater and green swim trunks stared suspiciously at the nineteen-year-old as he drove his car out of the lot. After his laugh Jay sighed, ardently missing the dark Latina he’d seen for just that moment in the gas station. He’d never see her again.
            Still it made him want to stick around, just a bit longer. He couldn’t help but hope something.

By Your Side Part 6: “Happy Birthday, Alexander”

Every week I’ll install parts of this California short story I wrote three years ago for a fiction class. It’s since been rediscovered and reread and revised and unrevised for what I ultimately wanted to accomplish in this small story of a summer in between college and the growth of a youth in love. Here is part 6 for this story, and I hope you enjoy!

*If you would like to read the next part of the short story, stay tuned, or simply click above the BY YOUR SIDE page for the full story. P.K.

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ALEXANDER
            The way that he looked on the date—Alexander seemed tired. Noah mused that a man’s 26 birthdays in a row in the same place trying to excite he who found little excitement in his small life was getting redundant to him. June and her parents never thought so.
            The window-walled narrow dining hall reflected the teal paper lanterns dangling from the low popcorn ceiling, keeping the brightness to the room as the sun was going down. The long ply-wood table and chairs were dressed and wrapped in long white and yellow crepe paper, and only in the last minutes before the cake was set on the table did June, and with Jay, start tossing about beautiful glitter everywhere, at everyone. The guests seemed to be outshining the birthday candles.
            Alexander looked nice, neatly combed chestnut hair and an ash gray Abercrombie polo with the collar popped. The cake, chocolate, was brought forward, and his expression changed to more pleased. The song sung, the candles blown, the cake sliced—everything was as if it should have been, except it wasn’t. The Wyaths made the moments more memorable and remarkable by the over-the-top execution. With the Starlight Palms, it was so small a space for the effect to really shine.
            “Get the player out!” June pushed Jay’s iPhone back into his hand, favoring the record player being rolled in by Mr. Wyath and her Uncle Loc. From the cabinet underneath it she pulled some records out and the ones she didn’t feel for she flung freely to Noah for catching. He looked through the rejected vinyl, down at Smoky Robinson and The Byrds. June paused on Dusty Springfield but she too was tossed to Noah. The records probably weren’t hers, only delectable relics just as old as the Starlight Palms where they’d been abandoned.
            The party was now livened up by a surprising tune from Echo and the Bunnymen. Now that had been June’s. It wasn’t long after they’d been close together dancing with interlaced fingers that she dragged Noah to the side of the building. It was cold out, as the spray of the ocean brushed past them, and the twilight lingered only enough for her to look up to his shadowed face.
            She came close to his face to kiss it, but pulled away a few inches just before their lips touched to playfully hum to the song that was quite special to him, “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want.” The Smiths. He couldn’t stand it, older stuff. But that’s the song she played on his speakers that gorgeous day in April when the weather finally turned to blue skies over Berkeley. Warm winds gently blew while the two of them had sat lazily across the lawn right below the tall Campanile Tower, listening closely to the tune.
            The sound of gravel crackling startled them—Alexander turned the corner and jumped back, dropping the pork bun he’d been munching down. “Fucking Christ!” he shouted, flicking sauce from the spilled bun off of his stubby legs. “May I remind you Mom and Dad rent out twenty perfectly good private rooms—”
            “Don’t get dramatic there, birthday boy,” June piped, more excited than embarrassed. “I’d hope to get you out here anyways.”
            “Alone?” He was doubtful.
            “Mmmhm.” She let go of Noah’s hand and knelt down to her brother. From behind her she pulled from out of her blue sash two unlit, long sparklers.
            “Oh,” her brother said.
            “For you and me!” June explained, “Or both, if you really want them. Noah’s gonna take a picture for me.”
            Jay found them. He ran out and handing Noah’s phone to him, said, “Someone from Sawyer Builds or whatever wanting you.”
            Sawyer! Noah got away and went back inside to where family members of the Wyaths had snuck the old records into play and moved obscurely about with each other. In a dim corner where a red lantern had blown out, he finally took the call.
            “Mr. Baker?”
            “Yes! Hello there.”
            “Oh, good. This is Stan Farley calling back about your application from April.”
            “Yes, of course.”
            “Well, we’ve just reviewed your portfolio and application only this morning, and it looks like we have open an amazing opportunity here for you at Sawyer Builds and Graphics. We called earlier, and since the office is just about closing I’d thought about taking the liberty to try you once more.”
            “Oh yes! No one likes to wait on good news.”
            “No indeed! I am glad to have reached you now, even if so late. Will you be able to be in Denver for a proper orientation with my colleagues next week?”
            Noah became stiff. “I applied for a position at the San Jose branch.”
            “Unfortunately our San Jose locations are well off and overloaded, in fact. Denver’s fresh and new, not even settled five years here. I’m calling from Denver, and Denver’s in need of young blood fresh from college, fresh from California with all those bright sunshine ideas of yours you surely must have.”
            “I actually do.”
            “Then would next week be any problem?”
            He said it wouldn’t. Next week, next week on his mind even as he snapped the red button on June’s Instamatic and when Jay stuck his bony fingers too close to the sparks of Alexander’s sparkler. It was still on his mind when June suggested they all go sit on the hoods of their cars—on top of her orange old Beetle the glass was creaking and she was nestled in his arms. “Sure hope he’s satisfied with this year,” she was telling him, looking out to the ocean in the distance.
            “I think so,” Noah replied mindlessly.
            “We threw glitter. We never did that before,” she went on, releasing one arm from his embrace to start playing with her long hair, “and we made the cake chocolate. He likes cheesecake.”
            “Thought chocolate was his thing.”
            “Nuh uh, I only suggested chocolate last minute to Mom right before she was buying the cake in town. So we baked chocolate, just to make this year stand out for him.”
            He looked over to Alexander, leaning his full little body against the top of Jay’s windshield. Jay had brought out some of his weed and the both of them were taking a hit on a single joint. Even stoned, Alexander could not loosen up in the face. “Don’t think he’d like that.”
            “Of course not. He makes it known that he doesn’t like much.”
            “Can’t blame him.”
            “It’s not his dwarfism, if that’s what you’re goin’ at. It’s cause he’s here—we’re always arguing about it. You know how well I like it here, but with Alex there’s just something about the Starlight that really gets on his nerves.”
            “What?”
            “Just that it’s grounding him, or something. Didn’t mean that as a joke, either!”
            All of a sudden Alexander let out a short laugh, low-pitched but full of heart. 26 birthdays in a row in the same place and trying to excite one’s self when there really was nothing there. There was bitterness in Alexander, Noah could see why.
            Denver. Next week. Next week was still on his mind as he gathered a shivering June back into his arms, atop a windshield and looking out to the dark waters dimly-lit by stars just coming out.

By Your Side Part 5: “The Mission District”

Every week I’ll install parts of this California short story I wrote three years ago for a fiction class. It’s since been rediscovered and reread and revised and unrevised for what I ultimately wanted to accomplish in this small story of a summer in between college and the growth of a youth in love. Here is part 5  for this story, and I hope you enjoy!

*If you would like to read the next part of the short story, stay tuned, or simply click above the BY YOUR SIDE page for the full story. P.K.

THE MISSION DISTRICT
            It was old, it was life. The Mission was where hard dreams refused to die, when they had gone only so far, and just out of reach.
            He could see this in the taquerias with their dark windows and dented pick-ups parked along the sidewalks of smutty Victorian houses. Noah lost a silver button out there. He heard the clatter of the round piece as it hit the pavement, still strolling through his endless thoughts as he too strolled along. At the moment he’d been thinking of what would happen to her and him.
            She’d taken immediately to the stuffy studio after they both had first rammed through the jammed front door. The sounds they made, stomping through! They were loud, quick, from two youngsters whose high laughter reeked of scotch and marshmallow vodka. It was cold and foggy outside, and they’d just been walking around the streets all the way from the bar on Valencia up to the apartment. Before reaching the place he and June had been huddled together against the fog walking, June having no clue about where they would end up next. Had he known that it would all lead up to the small talk in the blue sheets, Noah would never had second guessed from the start the question he asked Anthony when he agreed to house-sitting his place that weekend. That afternoon he’d met up with his roommate from freshman year, to get the keys and ask if it was alright to have a girl over in the evening.
            “It’s not much for a girl to hang in,” Anthony warned, but he was smiling. “She’ll be fine if you’re there. Assures me you won’t be leaving the place unguarded in the nights.”
            Noah sighed, jingling the apartment keys in his hand as he walked to the BART station a block down. It was a relieving answer that he’d honestly not been expecting, when he had to ask Anthony about letting a girl he’d only met two months ago into his place.
            He’d left June back at the bed, enfolded and limp in the sky blue bed sheets. Moments before they’d been holding each other close, making a home out of a strange place and entangled in a stranger’s soft cotton things. They had the radio from a 90’s Bose system set to a whisper, audible for them to pick up the tune but nothing harsh to yell over. Most of the talk was yogurt, parties, holes in socks, the softness of each other’s lips. Most importantly to them was discussing two weeks from now, as it was in this time that they would be graduates of UC Berkeley, and off to a new life with uncertain promises to good or bad.
            “It’s like this,” she was saying, touching his cheek and sliding it down to his stubbled jaw line, “What’s there for me back at home besides the hotel? I’m studying marketing just for the sake of helping out with the place. Get it back on the map and a part of Pismo Beach again. Hell, just get back Pismo Beach we all once knew.”
            “What would you say Pismo Beach is, essentially?” He sincerely wanted to know.
            “Unnoticed, adrift from most stops along Highway 1, from the rest of this sunny fast-lane idea of California. I guess I’ll just be going back to that. But I sure want to change things when I’m back, if that makes sense.”
            He kissed her. “I’d like to come back with you,” he said in nearly one breath, truth in every word.
            “There’s nothing for graphics out there.”
            “San Luis Obispo’s just up the road. There’s bound to be work.” She groaned and turned over, a blast of cool air rushing in as the blue sheets folded over and off their shirtless bodies. “Find work, make a living—make life work. Who wants to make it work, when we don’t have anything to really work for except passing time comfortably? Make it count, make everything count, and that’s all I want.” She sat up, and looked down at Noah on his back, with his hands grabbing her waist. “Like this,” she continued, stroking his extended arm, “I want this to count.”
            “You know I do too,” Noah replied. “Every minute. Precious.”
            “You’re precious,” she mocked.
            “It makes a perfect fit then, precious and frugality. You’re nothing to be wasted, even time. I’ll sure make it count then when I say that I’m in love.” Noah felt her palm press into his wrist, hinting at how startled she’d just been. “I wouldn’t have asked you out here with me,” he went on.
            “There wasn’t a better night to tell me,” she finally replied. Smiling, she looked around and continued, “I gotta say, really am impressed with this place.”
            The place was 214 off of 24th and Mission, on the third floor, number 5. It wasn’t home to June or Noah. But they were there and here he was, just leaving now, only wishing he didn’t have to get going, sent out by her to find themselves some decent cheap coffee at two in the morning—slowly getting out from underneath the covers where she lay beautifully bare and relaxed—but she was watching him.
            “Ooh, sexy,” she said playfully as he pulled his jeans up over his moss briefs. He looked back at her, saying nothing. The Mission was flooded with possibilities, twenty-four seven.