Déjà Vu

Notes:

For your consideration, this re-write of a story I did last year. It’s about the idea that two people are always meant to find each other.

Broderick Ziegfield and Adam Necessary are the protagonists of my WIP novel, Chasing Time. The world of Chasing Time is a multiverse where several iterations of a person exist simultaneously in alternate timelines. The book focuses on the “first” version of Adam, who discovers accidentally that he can time travel, but I’m loving the idea of writing short stories about alternate “normie” versions of him (and Broderick).

The Adam and Broderick in “Déjà Vu” are two of many versions of themselves to discover that there’s something more to their first meeting.

 

Broderick Ziegfield is already having an off morning. He finds himself standing in Pot Kettle Black, his usual morning coffee shop hideout, with a splitting migraine caused by a number of factors. The chief complaint is that he can’t afford his Adderall script, among other things, and his brain is reeling from the lack of intense focus. Also out of focus is the prescription for his glasses, nearly a decade overdue for adjustment, blurring the lines of the room. The frame has been dropped so many times, it’s crooked and pinching the bridge of his nose, multiplying the pain behind his eyes.

For all those reasons and more, Broderick needs caffeine to replace his need for amphetamine and a functioning bank account stat. He’s grateful to find only one person, a male college student, his age, standing between him and the counter. But it looks like this guy’s determined to take as long possible surveying the menu, in a meandering, high-pitched southern drawl, with the resident morning barista Santana.

“Well, it is Tuesday,” he muses, “so I’m not sure if I should go with the melange, the con panna, or the house flat white. What do you think?”

“Well, the melange and con panna are brewed from the Seattle-based Sperl beans that we roast in the back ourselves.” Santana loves a tourist. “I just got done with this batch at 5 a.m., so those are gonna be your best tasting, hands down. And right now our house white’s brewed with the Julianna.”

“You know, I know it’ll probably get me lynched for saying it here, but I don’t jack shit about beans and they all taste the same to me. Granted, back home I mostly drank Folgers, so.”

“Hey, man, Folgers gets the job done, kind of. Where’s back home?”

“Opelousas, Louisiana.”

“Where?”

“Exactly.”

Their seemingly innocent chatter continues on, with Santana more than willing to initiate a virgin into the fold; Broderick always knows she’s going in when she starts describing blends as “ambrosial” and breaks out the mason jar samples of beans to smell. His patience thinning, Broderick edges up in line so Mr. Opelousas will feel the gravity of someone behind him. What Broderick gets instead of acknowledgment, however, is a whiff of the man’s cologne, probably mixed with his natural scent, and something happens.

He can’t place where, when, or who he’s known that’s smelled like this, but he knows for a fact that he’s been surrounded by it before, pressed up against skin. He backs up again, trying to look unfazed by the strange déjà vu, but something happens again. Since the dawn of realizing he was gay, Broderick has always had thing for the backs of men’s necks – is that weird? fuck it, he’s an artist, they’re all weird – and there’s something about this man’s hairline. The tightness of the ringlet curls, and a mole just below the fade, make him feel, again, like he’s been up close with them before. Clearly his headache-inducing empty stomach is causing inappropriate cravings for the backs of annoying, lost strangers.

Finally, the man in front of him has made something of a decision, turning to dig around in the satchel over his shoulder. But Broderick can’t stop looking at the man’s profile, half in irritation and half in awe. The person before him is all razor sharp cheekbones, angles and jaw – the face of a model in high fashion, though Broderick doubts Opelousas has anything resembling a scene for working models. Regardless, Broderick feels his artist’s gears whirring at the sight: when that kind of proportion occurs in nature, it scratches that itch every artist has to memorize it.

But he swears, if it takes this gorgeous swamp dweller one more minute to pick a drink—

“You know?” The man continues his satchel dive. “After all that, I think I’m just gonna go with the house white. Safe not sorry or whatever they say, right?”

Broderick sends an eyeroll skyward.

“Basic ass might as well have gone to Starbucks.”

He planned on the little release of steam being inaudible to the stranger, but the man’s quick turn, and dirty look, lets him know his slip of the tongue was heard. Doesn’t help getting a clearer view of that face – the man’s brown skin practically glows, his black eyes are covered in lashes, his lips are full and flushed – the kind of face God uses as the prototype for people who make you wish you were never born. The view is over far too soon.

“Actually, could I smell those last four again? And I think I’ll try the first two. We’ve got plenty of time here, right?”

“Oh my God.”

“Sure.” Santana smirks, catching on. She’s known Broderick too long to not take advantage of a chance to press him. “Take your time, babe.”

While she scoops her samples into their jars, Broderick tries and fails to get his way with God.

“Could you at least let me get in line in front of you?” he says to the man’s back. “Not all of us are wide-eyed southern bumpkin prairie dogs with no idea how coffee works.”

“Okay,” the man spits, not turning around, “I’m already having an off morning so I don’t have time for self-important hipster ass black James Franco wannabes who probably think that ‘crawled outta bed five minutes ago’ is fashion.”

Broderick’s guts twist, because he did crawl out of bed five minutes ago – before he walked downstairs from his loft and had to deal with this shit – and he’s been called all of those things multiple times – except James Franco – but because it’s coming from someone so hot? He doesn’t know whether or not to thank the guy.

“Thanks.”

Broderick watches as Santana returns to the counter with the jars, including small brewed samples of the con panna and white. With a flick of his eyes to profile, that says he knows that Broderick’s watching, the man sniffs and sips as slow as possible, closing his eyes to savor each sense. The way his Adam’s apple bobs with each swallow is obscene, and he’s mirroring the words Santana used to describe aromas that aren’t even in the coffee in front of him, Broderick knows, because he’s had every drink on the menu.

“Oh, yeah, the white is my winner,” the man decides. He digs around in his bag again, but then:

“I’m so sorry. My wallet’s in my car.”

“For fuck’s sake.”

The man disappears through the shop’s glass doors.

“Can you ring me up before that dunce gets back?” Broderick says to Santana. “I’ll have the usual but hold the—”

“I would,” Santana says, “but it hurts my excellence points if I cancel a check without a closing it, and I had to ring in every one of his samples, and it’s hilarious how much this is getting to you.”

“Shut up.”

But the man returns momentarily, wallet in hand, orders with a smile and no more fuss. Takes his order to-go, leaves a thirty dollar tip. Broderick’s bleary gaze follows him all the way out, wondering how someone who looks like that, from somewhere that seems like nowhere, ended up here, in the eternally rainy city.

 

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Kurt and Sebastian Play SBURB: A Short Story

WORK:

 

[S]: BE THE BIRTHDAY GUY

A young man stands in his bedroom. It just so happens that today, the 13th of April, is his birthday. Sebastian would like more for his birthday than what he’s gotten so far: a couple sweaters from his dad, an exploding cake that his brother left for him this morning, and a hypothetical check that’s supposedly coming in the mail from his grandmother.

Turning twenty two has felt boring and adult, unlike his twenty first birthday, on which he was plastered in a gay bar for the first time, legally anyway. As far as Sebastian’s concerned, after 21, every birthday you have is just you rolling that much closer to 30, and then 40, and then senility, and then death.

Sebastian doesn’t have school or work today, so he’s planning on sitting at home, maybe getting a little wine drunk, and doing exactly jack shit. He’s never really been a social person, on account of his patience for most people is nonexistent. His dad and his brother, when they’re not playing pranks on him, tend to leave him alone to his own devices. Today, he decides he’ll stay in his room and waste his glorious free time on gaming. Maybe online. He can probably bother Kurt to get in on one with him.

Sebastian looks out his bedroom window for the little red flag on the mailbox, which should’ve been erected hours ago. Finally, the postman seems to have come, so Sebastian goes downstairs and heads outside to his front yard. The check from his grandmother is there, along with a slick, grey envelope with four green boxes printed on it, addressed to his brother. He takes the mail inside to the kitchen, not above opening his sibling’s packages, as the same is often done to him. Most of the time, his brother gets sent advance copies of PC games which Sebastian can steal. It appears that this is another one.

He has no idea what the hell SBURB is though. Inside the envelope are two discs – labeled “SBURB: server” and “SBURB: client” – wrapped in thin white sleeves. There’s nothing else in the envelope.

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Child Of Light: A Short Story

The winter of 2001, a category one hurricane swells the San Francisco bay area. There has never been a hurricane off the California coast, but for the last few years, strange things have been happening. Broderick Ziegfield huddles with his partner on their couch under his electric blanket, tracing patterns on the base of Adam’s hairline. They’re watching television for as long as the power remains. They should be tracking the storm’s path on the nightly news, but they’d rather watch the feature stories, documentaries about the past, instead of worry about the present things they cannot change.

“There has been a steep decline in adoption for foster children older than six in the East Bay,” the social worker being interviewed on TV is saying. The video shows a group of young black girls dancing in a circle, in a park near their foster home. “Last year, almost eighty percent of adopting couples wanted a child under the age of three. These older kids feel the sting of abandonment. Many are left in care their whole lives.”

“That’s awful,” Adam notes. “If we had a big enough house and the state didn’t think cohabiting gays don’t make good parents, I’d adopt every one. It makes you wonder how they got there, you know? I know not everyone abandons their kid out right, I know circumstances are varied. Still. I just wish I could change it.”

Broderick kisses Adam’s temple. “You’d take in every stray in the world if you could.” He means it as the highest compliment he can give.

Broderick closes his eyes, then, holding his lover close and listening to the rain beat against the roof. Broderick is calmed by storm noise, the wind howl, the trembling walls, the rush of streets turned rivers. He grew up in Louisiana where much stronger music than this was orchestrated. In 1992, a category five swept his childhood home off the ground and destroyed it; just another day. In the weeks of the aftermath, he rowed a rickety boat down the thick brown streams of his neighborhood, drenched and not giving a damn, rescuing people, delivering food to shelters, and picking up his latest boyfriend for a joyride.

He looks to his husband now, this man who grew up in Riverside, Los Angeles, nearly a desert, who’s probably never seen a storm like this. Still, he’s calm as the weathered.

At that moment, Broderick hears the crash of a cracking tree outside. In the following noise, he swears he hears something further, something that shouldn’t be a part of the storm.

He nudges Adam off his lap and moves to the front door. Presses the shell of his ear against it. He thinks he hears a child’s voice screaming.

“What is it?” Adam says, still watching TV.

Broderick can feel the cold through the wood of the door. He also knows, for sure, that there’s a kid out there screaming.

“Adam,” Broderick says.

Broderick’s pulse jumps as he unlocks the door, finds the little black girl standing there. Her purple dress is soaked, her hair a tangle of dreads and loose ribbons around her face.

“Adam.”

The electric blanket is draped around Adam as he approaches, but when he sees the kid, he drops it.

“Oh, God,” Adam says.

The girl stops crying, backing away from the doorstep.

“No, please, you can’t stay out there,” Adam tells her. “It’s okay.”

Broderick watches as Adam slips outside and picks the girl up, bringing her and a draft of cold wind inside. Broderick locks the door back, watching Adam sit the girl on the couch, kneel in front of her, and check for injuries.

“How do you do this?” Broderick says.

On TV behind them, the video of black girls dancing plays again. The narrating reporter says the foster home profiled for the film, on West Market street in Oakland, was burned down in a gas fire by its mother in 1996.

“How do you do this?” Broderick says again. This is not the first time Adam has caused strange, unimaginable things to pass through their door.

Adam picks the girl up and hoists her over his shoulder, his eyes wet.

“I’m sorry.”

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Immunity

Notes:

In 2015, I entered my short story “Immunity” into Legendary Women Inc.’s Fiction Contest  and won second place, earning publication in their online magazine. The contest asked of us to keep in mind The Bechdel Test, in which a work features at least two named women having a conversation about something other than a man. Simple test, right? I’m surprised to this day at how often media fails it.

“Immunity” tells the story of uprooted Latina tomboy Alejandra,  who’s been in love with her headstrong best friend Lenore her entire life, and who must come to terms with the fact that, sometimes, love isn’t enough.

Read the story on Legendary Women Inc. here.

I Would Tell You What She Looks Like

Notes:

Lesbians Over Everything is a platform for women who love women to share their stories, heartbreaks and triumphs. A few months ago, I contributed to the segment “Every Woman I’ve Ever Loved,” a space for accounts of women who’ve moved us. The following is a concept I’d had in mind since 2015.

 

I would tell you what she looks like, but I can’t. She asked me not to. As a writer, it’s frustrating to be told that I can’t describe a subject, but I suppose I can tell you where we were the last time I saw her, when, and why:

The Firestone train station on the Los Angeles Blue Line, dim stone, chipped archways, and lingering smell of urine. Ten a.m. on a rainy February. She was returning some of my things. Our relationship was over.

I arrived at the platform long before she did, knowing that she was showing up late and making me wait for her on purpose. Sitting on the hard concrete slab that served as a bench, bored, I watched the rain fall on the empty tracks. This could be a scene from a romance novel, I said to myself, the trains are a symbol here, of her leaving my life, of my having to move on, or of the rapid, slapdash pace at which we modern humans live. And the rainfall, maybe, a symbol of my misery.

I thought this even though I wasn’t at all miserable. In fact, when she arrived and sat beside me, giving no hello or warning and wearing sunglasses in the rain, the moment was void of romance or sentiment.

Awkward and terse, making a strained effort to not make eye contact, she held out a plastic Target shopping bag at me. Is she seriously wearing sunglasses? I thought, taking the bag and almost laughing, though there was absolutely nothing funny about this moment.

Once the transaction was finished, she stood up, cleared her throat.

“Can you do me a favor?” She pitched her voice down to its deepest register, the way she often did when we fought. “Don’t make me a character in one of your little stories.”

She walked away, that line serving as her goodbye, and I realized that if there was a way to make me feel miserable over a break up, well. That was it.

She read all of my stories. She knew that writing about the women who have moved me, hurt me, or shamed me in the past is how I process things, how I really move on. If I can turn a random, painful situation into a meaningful narrative, write about our ending in another time and place, whatever pain I feel is worth it in the end. Was she taking my process on purpose?

The train arrived just moments later. I got on and tried to keep my mind from plotting points, coming up with idealistic character arcs for she and I. Though it went against my self imposed nature, I saw everything around me just for what it is, and not what it represents:

It was blindingly white inside the train. The light bulbs above me buzzed dull and monotone. The teal linoleum floors were sticky, and sweat and body odor permeated the steel seats. Rainwater slivered down the grey sides of the windows, whizzing and flowing in time with the moving industrial scenery. Immortal by Marina and the Diamonds played in my earbuds, the singer’s deep voice echoed and ethereal. She crooned of love lasting forever, earth’s end in fire, and seas frozen in time.

The song reminded me of her, of nights we spent in the dark, feeling like I’d finally found a love that was eternal. This was the part she didn’t want. Me romanticizing what was really a relationship wrought with fighting. Memorializing the details of her person would give it proof. Does she not want to be remembered for her wrongs? I assume she will always remember me for mine.

I looked down at the Target bag tied tightly shut in my lap, the logos redrawing images of drops of blood on white cotton pads. I opened the bag, curious as to why she tied it shut, and was overwhelmed by a sudden remorse. Everything inside of it smelled like her now, her skin, her house, her warmth and those nights. Will any of the following identify her? Aveeno lotion, men’s pine deodorant, faint hints of dust and cigarettes, burnt cinnamon incense. My t-shirts, lingerie, even the books were imbued with her scent. They weren’t just my things anymore.

Soon as the scent tinged my nostrils, my eyes watered instantly, stinging, without my permission. Tears fell, out of place and too late. I was out of the moment constantly when we were together. Always plotting the next thing, focusing on what I would write down about our hypothetical future on some date. If we got there. Fixating on both of our pasts, blaming our disharmony on our families, childhoods, society, anything.

Her scent brought her within my grasp, but not close enough, and all I wanted was not my obsession with future or the past, but a present moment:

It’s November. I’m lying on her bed alone in her room, naked, waiting for her to come home after work. I am blissful and content. I press my cheek to her still wet pillow, inhaling her sweet conditioner, that way her skin smells. Stare at the cracks in her window blinds, the chipping ceiling, the piles of her clothes, the various trinkets on her desk that haven’t been so much as nudged out of their “place” in over a year. I have existed in this room, I have loved in this room. It’s broken, and she often leaves me here alone in it. But it’s home.

I traveled further and further away from that home, as the train passed through Compton and Watts in the rain. The more miles I put between us, the more I knew and understood her intention: from now on, I can see the room in my mind’s eye, but she does not want me to have the privilege of imagining her there.

The temporary time travel, her scent on my things, overwhelmed me the point that something like miserable was going to be the next stop on the train. By that time, though, I had exited it. Moved through the Willow street station at the end of the Blue Line, walking the path back to my own space. In my solitary bedroom, I sprayed everything in the bag she gave me with my own perfume – heavy, syrupy, saccharine – suffocating the portal that pulled me back into her.

Ruminations On The Nature Of Lying

 

1.

You were the flower girl at your aunt’s wedding. After your procession, you stood next to the women in your family, tall and stark in green, velvet dresses, in a line on the stage.

As the pastor spoke, you played with your now-empty basket. It’d felt like hours since you’d been in the spotlight, since your debut. You were hungry, and you had to pee. But soon, you noticed that the women were crying; you wondered why you weren’t crying too, wanting to be more like them. You started to lick your fingers and streak them down your face, trying to look more like them.

Once your face was covered in spit, you tugged on your mother’s hand, made her look down at you. “Oh, honey, don’t cry,” she’d said. It was the first time you felt like a woman, like them.

2.

You sat on the treadmill in your parents’ bedroom, hiccupping as your Grammy fed you sugar from a spoon.

“Sugar will help stop the crying,” she said, in that all-knowing voice. You couldn’t remember how long you’d been crying, but a while ago, you’d been standing barefoot in the kitchen. Your mother, grandmother and a cop had talked over harsh walkie-talkie feedback. Your mother was holding a towel with ice to her forehead, and a head of lettuce sat in the middle of the floor. The condensation from it was dripping onto the tile.

The cop said your father threw the lettuce at your mom. He said your dad was handcuffed somewhere outside. The cop kept writing things down as your mother spoke, listening intently, nodding, sighing. You didn’t understand much of what they were saying, but at the end of it all, he knelt down to your level, took off his sunglasses, said,

“I’m sorry all this happened, little lady. Your daddy didn’t mean it.” You would go on to learn he did mean it.

That was when you’d started crying. Your Grammy took you upstairs for you privacy, and you stared at her as she rubbed the bridge of her nose, prepped more sugar for the spoon.

You didn’t think the sugar was working. You were crying too hard to say so, but even if you weren’t, you wouldn’t have stopped her. It tasted good.

3.

That year on Christmas Eve, you set a trap for Santa in your living room: ropes tied to chairs made a maze from chimney to tree, and you even placed Jacks on the floor at every turn. An Indiana Jones path to the milk and cookies.

You were hoping he would fall, maybe twist his ankles. The sound of him plummeting to the floor would reach only you, wake only you up, and then you would finally find him, the enigmatic glutton. That plate of sugar cookies that you and your sister baked? They would be yours, and so would all the presents.

Your mother and father watched you set up your trap, every step of the way. Your father said that you were much smarter than Santa, your mother said he would be no match for your prowess. Once it was done, all night long you fought sleep; drifting off, waking up the sounds of your parents’ fighting. Didn’t they know he doesn’t come if you don’t sleep?

The next morning, you went downstairs to find your trap expertly disassembled: the floor was clean, the ropes and jacks gone, the chairs moved back to the dining room table. All six of the cookies were bitten into, and the empty glass of milk held down a handwritten letter.

“Better luck next time! – S.” You’d soon learn he wasn’t real just a couple months later.

4.

You’d soon learn the purpose and the nature of lying: it’s okay as long as it protects people. At school, your little sister got her teeth knocked out. Too much horseplay at recess caused a boy to kick her in the jaw.

Your mother was on her way to pick her up from school, and you waited with her in the nurse’s office. She held her small, bloody hands over her mouth as the nurse prepared the mouthwash, put the tooth in a plastic bag. Secretly, you wished that you were hurt so you could go home too. At least you got to skip a class.

“Does it hurt?” you asked her.

“Kind of,” she mumbled, her hands over her mouth. “It does, but the tooth fairy will fix it. You know what they say, money makes the world ‘go round.”

That night, you realized that your parents forgot to be the tooth fairy. She was fast asleep, it was one A.M., and you were quietly sifting through the contents of her room. Trying to find pennies, quarters, anything, stuffed between cushions and stashed in the toy chests.

You found nothing a tooth fairy would leave. Instead, you listened to your parents scream down the hall, wishing you could open up their doors, see them like that. Somehow, your sister was always a heavy sleeper.

The next morning, your mom dropped the two of you off in front of your K-8 school. Your sister was upset all morning, quiet and cross-armed. She sat down on the front steps when your mother pulled away, refusing to go in. Crying.

“What’s wrong with you?” you said.

“The tooth fairy didn’t come,” she lamented. “I’m broke.”

When you got to homeroom, you asked your teacher for a dollar in quarters. You slipped into her classroom next break, told her teacher what you were doing. You left them for her under the lid of her desk.

The next time you saw her, she was gap-toothed-smiling, clutching the change against her chest and spinning ‘round.

“I knew it, I knew it!” she told everyone who’d listen. “I’m gonna be rich!”

At the end of the day, you sat together on the steps again. She was no longer happy like before, dropping the coins one by one onto the concrete.

“What’s wrong with you?” you said.

“I know what you did,” she said. “Someone in my class just told me about the tooth fairy. It’s not good to lie, you know.”

 

State Quarters

Originally posted on 101words.org

State Quarters

When I was ten, my parents divorced. I coped with repetition. I collect­ed state quarters.

Why state quarters? I loved the consistency. Name at the top, year at the bottom, and the pictures in the center I’d memorized: California, Delaware, Maine, engraved silver trees and patriotic birds and olive branches.

I dug through couches and coats, feeling their ridges on my fingers, always trying to recreate a full set of fifty. I always could.

No matter his or her house, no matter the struggle, I found each one and I kept them together, starting over the next day.

Why couldn’t they?