Monthly Archives: August 2009

Unfinished vignettes

I’m exhausted after a beautiful and fun-packed weekend in NYC. Right now (@12:23AM), I’m riding the MegaBus back to Boston. Thank you Jerry and Esther for the hospitality, food, and company, and contratulations Sadi on your book release! 🙂

That’s all the intro I can come up with before I pass out. Seeking guest authors. Remember Theme Thursday.

**

You get up from the pew in church. For a moment, the briefest moment, you wonder whether all of the people around you have a better grasp on what worship is, on what love is, on what God is. You tell yourself that you’ll get to it later, and without realizing it, without saying the truth to yourself out in your mind, you know that you’ll never get around to it, that the question is one that you’ll never try to find an answer to, much less succeed at answering. But you know that without me telling you, and you think that I hate you because of your seeming apathy. But I know that despair hibernates in the darkness of your heart, stays in the bowels of your soul, coaxing you with lies that he is your best friend, that he is you, that he has been with you since the beginning. Why bother him in his slumber? He’s so peaceful there, like he has been all of your conscious life. And you think that I hate you for hiding your despair, in that one flash where you wonder whether people have a better grip on religion, on truth, on the light in their souls and you realize truly, loudly, that you are protecting your despair, that the darkness inside you is your despair, not your self. But I’ll tell you: No one has it better than you do in that one moment of questioning, that one moment of self-doubt. And then you put it away, like the other times in your life, so few, where despair had to be recognized as despair and could not be disguised as the self. You hide it, and your life goes on as if nothing ever happened. And you think these moments are unique, and that they’re yours alone, and that if you forget them then they have no significance. I’ll tell you: that’s our special struggle; that’s what it means to be a human in despair.

You feel yourself impelled towards crisis. You are a creature of habit: you prefer your side of the bed; you prefer a select group of restaurants; you think within the boundaries of a specific paradigm and refuse to consider others. You know this about yourself, and yet you feel impelled towards crisis. But that’s what your college years were for, those times dripping with the epiphanic. You’ve defined yourself. You have a self. Why, then, the impellation? You grab a beer, but you’ve been here before, drinking away the dull ache of recognized meaninglessness. Still, you grab a beer, and another. You want to fuck, but only to fuck. You want to engage in the animalistic. You masturbate, but it’s not enough. Still, you’re a creature of habit.

Frustration slides into your mind. Repetition loses its significance, becomes insignificant; the constant degradation of existing things from near-perfection to gross imperfection grates on your mind. You sweep the floors, you wash your dishes, you iron your shirts, and still they become filthy, dirty, wrinkled. For the briefest moment, you wonder whether your cathartic journaling practice is enough to keep your soul clean. You do it as cyclically as you clean your house, and yet your home always seems in at least mild disrepair tending towards its own undoing. Is there a parallel between the way your house and your soul tend towards realized imperfection? Is it inescapably natural, an irresistible and universal pull, like falling into your natural place in the world? Keep sweeping; that conviction will fade soon.

You find again, though you’d forgotten, that you’re unaware how much you’re worth in material value. You’ve received a job offer, and they want to know how much you think you’re worth so that they can gauge a reasonable offer that’s hopefully less than the maximum they’ve already agreed upon. You know that they’re out to screw you without letting you see how hard they’ve done it, and you’ve done your research for the median price of a person with your skill set and experience, and now it’s down to the moment. You have to give a number that’s high enough to be negotiated down to the price you want but low enough that they’ll take your offer seriously. You wonder why companies don’t just offer a salary anymore. HR departments do the research on how much a person in your position should be paid; why do you have to haggle with them based on research you’ve gathered from bureaus who research statistics generated by HR departments? You ask yourself why they have to ask you what you think you’re worth. But you know the answer to that question; you’re frustrated that you have to equate your worth in material value. Just utter a number; it’s not that big of a deal. Whatever they offer you in return, you can survive on. You need the job—you wouldn’t have gone through all of the hooplah to get it if you didn’t—and the salary will tell you your worth without you having to know. It will at least compare with your old paycheck. Tell yourself that it’s just money; it’s only indirectly a reflection of you. HR departments are much more objective about this decision anyway.

You lost your job. Don’t cry. You’re ashamed, and you know it. You’ve lost a key affirmation for your character. Don’t cry. Wonder how you lost it. Should you have seen it coming? Were you really the worst employee around, the least significant, the most unworthy of your paycheck? Was it a matter of expediency? Does your work ethic reflect your inefficiency, and is that a lack of manliness? Don’t cry. Put that idealistic bullshit away. Find another job. You’ve got money saved up, at least three months. You haven’t asked your parents for anything in years. Your friends will understand; they’ll pity you, which will make it worse, but they’ll understand. Don’t cry. You’ve been independent for years. You haven’t required another person’s help for years. Charity comes in small doses through life, and you haven’t used your reserve. You’ve let it accumulate, and now you can call upon it, draw the account if need be. Find another job. Everything will be alright.

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A Relationship in Presents, Part Six: The debt

No format yet because my ‘net connection is really crappy. I still wanted to get the post up, though.

Mixed reviews about the megabus. Cheap tickets, leg room are good. Crappy customer service, poor website design, and nonfunctioning internet connection are bad. More to come.

Email me if you’re in NYC and want to meet up for coffee/drinks this weekend or if you want to attend Sadi’s book launch! 🙂

**

We enter the restaurant. A hostess grabs our attention, leads us to a nearby booth. Dark wood surrounds us. Small chandeliers light the open rooms well enough.

She tries to look into my eyes as I slide into the same bench as her, but she can’t look deeply enough. I rest my feet on the empty bench across the table. My head rolls towards her, and she looks away. The fingers of both her hands click idly against the table.

I’ve looked forward to my birthday dinner for a few weeks. Charley’s is one of my favorite haunts. Their coke tastes so good that mixing in rum almost damages it, so I don’t. After an awkward moment, the waitress brings by a full uncut dome of bread. My left lip lifts in a smile as she sets the basket on the table.

I had brought Sarah here for the first time years ago. She had noticed confusion coloring my face and asked me what was wrong. “How are we supposed to eat it?” I had asked. She picked up the whole dome and wrenched off a bite with her teeth in answer.

Now I pick it up and tear it into quarters, careful not to smoosh it. I set a piece on her plate and one on mine. Sarah picks at the insides, leaving behind hollow crusts. I butter and eat it all.

I pinch her thigh through her sweatpants, and we laugh. She says, “You owe me over seven hundred dollars.” My hand drops to my side and my smile fades. I wonder if the amount will be more after tonight since I’m supposed to be the one who pays when we go out. I mutter an affirmation and wonder how I’m going to manage paying her back.

The waitress comes by, and I order our usual meals, mine a au poivre hamburger and her the angel hair primavera.  I had ordered the au poivre so long ago just to find out what twenty-five cents worth of browned onions tasted like, and I haven’t faltered since.

I say, “I’ll get a job soon, after school settles down. Just give me a few months.” But I haven’t worked, or even looked for work, since February. I put myself back past broke, back into maxed-out credit card debt, to participate in this relationship, but I can only handle so many Boston nights, so many trips to Seattle and Vegas and now, apparently, to Texas and DC soon, soon.

She sighs. Her hand falls on mine, resting on the bench between us. She says that’s fine. The money she wants me to pay back isn’t even hers, is her father’s, who has two planes and nine cars and bought a new house so that he could rip down and rebuild his old one. It’s hard for me to imagine that he wants those few hundred dollars back, but maybe he does. Maybe it’s Sarah’s way of coaxing me off of the computer and back into the real world. Maybe she just doesn’t like the idea of me living off of her father like she does.

“I didn’t get you a present this year,” she says. Her tone is flat, perhaps unconcerned with my reaction, perhaps hyperconcerned. Even after four years of dating, seven years of friendship, it’s hard for me to tell.

I reply that it’s fine. There’s the vacations we’re taking together, Steve’s upcoming wedding, and so on. Something fundamental has changed, but I don’t think about it. Even while we’re sitting here eating, my mind is on things other than Sarah; what job I’m going to try and find, my new responsibilities as a guild officer in my video game, whether or not I’ll sleep on the couch tonight. I haven’t slept in Sarah’s bed in months.

I try Charley’s apple pie with cheese because I saw it in Thank You for Smoking and have wondered how it tasted ever since. Sarah and I walk home hand in hand. When we get there, she turns on the TV and grumbles about her how laptop’s power cord is broken. I settle under my laptop for the night and don my headset.

Around two in the morning, she asks me whether I’m going to come down tonight. I take off my headset and ask her to repeat herself. Then I say soon, which we both know means no. She goes downstairs to sleep. Around two in the afternoon, when she usually wakes up on her off days, my eyes close. I just manage to put my laptop on the ground before I’m asleep, swallowed up in couch cushions.

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Theme Thursday: A seasonal affair

In some ways, projects mirror conversation. In particular, if you put your hands on either in an attempt to force it to go your way, you will most certainly fail. Words may be said, items may get checked, but in the end either your partner or your underling will resent you, breaking the human connection of conversation and productivity, respectively.

The temptation the first week was to beg people I know to contribute, which I largely avoided. (Should the admission that I didn’t wholly avoid it embarrass me, here? Probably not.) The temptation the second week was to fear that I had made the game too hard by raising the bar a notch.

I want to promote this project. I don’t want to constrain friends and fans. I want people to contribute, but I don’t want them to feel compelled to do so. These Theme Thursdays should be games, should be fun! And we’re (here in the north hemisphere) wrapping up our summer, which means it’s prime time for fun!

Therefore, a broad and unrestrained topic, rich in both memory and metaphor:

This week’s theme: Summer

Have fun. 🙂 Remember, all forms of narrative are fair game: fiction, non-, and poetry, along with photos.

Guidelines

The only right I assume from you posting a comment is that I am able to host your work on this blog for non-commercial purposes with attribution. You keep all other rights.

I do have plans to attempt to monetize this site once the boulder rolls a little further down hill, but at this point there are NO ASSUMPTIONS OF COMMERCIAL RIGHTS. I will contact authors on an individual basis for any and all commercial purposes.

Make the entries as short or as long as you want, and any genre is fair game: fiction, non-, and poetry. Publish in comments stories, no matter how polished or raw, according to the game of the week. If I like your story, I’ll contact you and ask for permission to remix your work, which I’ll post with the next week’s contest.

You have one week to submit your story, and please, please do. I don’t want this site to be my literary masturbation. Join me, and perhaps get some free editing and mentoring along the way!

**

Now for the first remixing of my chosen story from the game two weeks ago (one week for them to write the comment, one week for me to write the remix). The new piece is entirely fiction and not fed by the author except by the original post. Here goes!

The original (authored by Claire):

My mother is the kitchen, her smooth edges and pillowy white skin, soft and yielding and warm. The kitchen is sensuality in form of mother-love, my youth and my upbringing, my salty tears boiling over, my dishpan hands longing to be held.

When I miss my mother, I go to my kitchen. I make tea, the whistling kettle becoming her voice, the steam her fingers on my own. I fix it the way she likes it, orange pekoe, condensed milk, only I slip in two teaspoons of white sugar, the colour of her inner arms. She’d cringe at the sacrilege, but I need the sweetness of her words to cut the harshness of her reality when she impresses upon me to sit up, to buck up, to not feel so sorry for myself, to not sit alone and cry, to be proctive! to smile! to make friends!

But I feel sorry for myself in the kitchen. I cower with mug in hand and stare into the murky liquid that is only the colour of tea and let it wash over me, warmth, comfort, soft, yielding. My mother. My kitchen. me.

The remix:

“Smile,” she says to me. “You wouldn’t have it so bad if you made some friends.” Her voice is harsh but falsely polished, like the linoleum floor. It reflects light sure enough, but it makes the incandescent bulb look cooly flourescent. “Smile, God damnit!” I close my eyes and lick my lips. My toes curl as my head sinks, chin falling to my breasts. “God damnit,” she sighs, turning back to her cutting board.

Her knife moves fluidly like quicksilver. You wouldn’t know it was steel if you hadn’t felt its cut. I can feel her eyes flicking between what she’s doing and her peripheral so she might see if I’ve regained my composure. I think she takes pleasure in breaking me down; she doesn’t bother insulting me if I’m visibly subdued.

Her teeth grind. “Smile.” The word hurtles her mouth quietly, like a sand storm. It corrodes my skin, could cut to the bone. Her voice recognizes no armor. I am nude in front of it and damaged in its wake.

Said. “Smile,” she said. My head shakes of its own accord, my hair shaking loosely like horsemane, and my eyes open to a different kitchen. My kitchen, suburban, with the bright windows and the pink marble countertops. Light in my mother’s house always seemed filtered; here it feels so clean. There it seemed dirty; here, sterile.

I can’t tell if this is helping, this psychological experiment of mine. I escaped my mother so long ago, but I want to remember her without the childhood fear. I make the tea, orange pekoe with condensed milk, just like she has it in my nightmares. The smell doesn’t bring back anything definite, but my muscles tense, making my head fall to my chest and my eyes close. I bear all the same reactions from my childhood. A friend called it emotional regression, but I like to think I’m moving forward.

She is my mother. I want to remember her without fear. I want to connect the encouragement I see now that she was giving me with those words from my memories. Make friends had sounded so cruel, nearly impossible, nearly a curse. What if I had made friends? Would I have heard her the same way?

No, that’s not where I want to go. I relax my muscles and let my head fall back so that I’m looking at the ceiling. I breathe, deeply. As I exhale, my chin falls to my chest again, and the tea kettle whistles in earnest.

She grabs the handle violently as I’ve felt her grab my write. That tight grip would’ve left bruises on me, still might. Hot water falls freely from the spout, filling her cup, which already contains the milk and the leaves. I look away, try not to imagine the difference in threshold between her sulfuric grip and the burns of hot water.

“Sit up,” she hisses, her voice only softly carried by the breath. “Your cringing makes me sick.” My eyes close again and my head jitters, a small flinch as I picture her dousing me in that steaming-hot tea, hitting me right in the vulnerable spot of neck exposed to her. The burn would turn my neck red, making my soft, untanned skin different from her ivory near-white. How I yearn to be different from her; give me the burns! I could scream it!

When I feel myself near tears with begging, I open my eyes, and her nose is mere inches from my cheek, cup poised to spill. “Sit up, stop cringing, and smile. You’re not making any friends over how cruel mommy abuses you at home.”

I hear the garage door open, and I’m back in suburbia. Shivers crawl down my body, and I touch the spot on my neck that mere moments before I had silently begged my long-dead mother to purge from my fair flesh. I feel the muscles loosen under my practiced fingers, grateful for their salvation. My husband, when he comes in, will ask me why I made the tea again. He’ll be angry, but I’ll tell him the memories are getting better. I can do this; I can overcome.

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Author: Greg Freed

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A freelancer’s beginning

On August 24, 2006, Emerson College sent me a letter asking me to take part in their Graduate Certificate in Book Publishing. They had denied my application to their Masters of Arts in Book Publishing but judged that I would fit in with their certificate program. I saw the program as a distinct end to my post-college unemployment, my living off near-to-minimum wage in combination with parents’ gratuity while I tried to find my place in the world. Hell, the program could define my place.

Also, I had wanted to leave Texas since I was a child and had made many frustrated attempts throughout my life. I was determined that my exodus to graduate school would not be denied, however.

When I received the news, I shouted, actually screamed for the joy of it. I called my mother and father, who had not been home when I opened the letter. I called Justin and Steve, two of my high school friends I still kept in touch with. I called Sarah and told her all about it, told her about how this meant no more jobs at coffee shops and no more crying about the worthlessness of Texas. I told her that this meant everything would be all right.

It wasn’t until later, when she had asked me if I would come to Waco for her birthday or if I wanted her to come to Dallas, that I realized this meant leaving her. In hindsight, it’s strange to think that neither of us recognized that immediately. But Emerson started on September 12 that year. I had to get up to Boston somehow with at least my clothes and Kallion, my dog.

How does one completely disassemble their life and relocate to Boston within two weeks of receiving the news that he could go if he wanted? I mean, I didn’t have to accept Emerson’s invitation. I could’ve stayed in Dallas, living in Steve’s parents’ house and working at Starbucks while I scrounged for gainful employment unsuccessfully, resisting Sarah’s insincere invitations to move in with her back at Baylor instead.

My parents had kicked me out after six months because my dog sheds a ridiculous amount. Part Husky and part German Shepherd, she sheds year round, her short coat when it’s hot and her long coat when it’s cold (Texas only has two seasons, hot and cold.). They asked me to keep her outside all of the time, even when I was home and when I was asleep. But I sleep with Kalli in my bed. She lies on the couch next to me when I write. She loves me and trusts me, and all in all I’m more of a parent than an owner to her. I would no sooner leave my four-year-old child outside all day, and I flatly refused. So away I went, and I took my dog with me.

My parents had hoped that kicking me out would give me the spark I needed to find a job, as if my unemployment had come by choice rather than circumstance. My Bachelor of Arts in Great Texts of the Western Tradition, while being a great conversation starter (General response to hearing it is, “What?” Never “Huh?” always “What?”), looks worthless on a resume. I also listed the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core, which–despite how it’s sold to freshman–no one actually cares about outside of a collegiate environment. I had zero office skills, zero contacts worth pursuing, and zero prospects. Hence, I put my college degree to work at Starbucks.

Dallas is a tech city, and I am not a techie. While I’m fascinated with computers and video games to a point where I know computer languages simply to make me a better player, I couldn’t finish a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science at Baylor. Dallas has almost no art scene and actually no writing scene, and I stood out like a sore thumb among the resumes of my more technically proficient colleagues.

The one job interview I received was for a proofreading and copywriting position at a young health insurance company, and I misspelled guarantee in a sample they had me write on the spot. They caught it; they questioned my proofreading skills over it (fairly), and that was the end of the interview.

I went to Barnes and Noble and picked up a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style, The Associated Press Stylebook, and Concise Rules of APA Style. I was determined to find freelance work by cold contacting companies and just asking. They can’t reject you until you ask, after all.

I found two freelancing gigs through Gmail, Google.com’s email service. As one by one my cover letters to Dallas companies found their way back as rejections, the language used in the conversations prompted Google’s adbot to list a series of self-publication and editorial companies for amateur authors. A light went on in my head.

ProofreadNOW.com had taken me on staff because the owner, Phil, had a daughter attending Baylor when I contacted him. I told him that I had no proofreading experience and that I was still browsing the style guides I had bought with minimal understanding. He took me on anyway. After two months he fired me, saying that my proofreading skills weren’t par with their expectations.

A-1 Editing responded to my query with an editorial test. I completed the reading section with some light proofreading and editorial queries, and apparently my effort pleased the owner, Nicole. She sent the first manuscript about a month afterwards. I worked on it slowly and carefully, attempting to maintain my good first impression. I returned the manuscript to her on deadline and promptly received another.

Nicole wrote one of my letters of recommendation to Emerson, one of the few tokens of proof that I had some experience in publishing. My acceptance into the certificate program probably rested largely on her merit alone. She lifted me out of unemployment and creative stagnation, a shift in my life for which I’ll never quite be able to repay her.

All I had to show for one year out of college in Texas was Starbucks and two freelancing gigs, one a failure and the other a success. My parents had kicked me out of their house. I couldn’t afford to move out of Steve’s parents’ house because my Starbucks wages only covered my credit card minimums, car payments, and student loans, not all of which had come out of their grace period yet. Unemployed, broke, and homeless with my dog in tow, I could’ve stayed.

I still can’t explain how I fit all of my most important possessions in my little two-door 2000 Honda Accord. I knew how to break the computer chair down with hex keys, but even in its component parts the base of the chair, a five-point plastic star with a wheel on each leg, never quite fit anywhere. I ended up shoving it into the floorboard in front of the passenger seat. Kalli took the passenger seat herself, eyeing the base distrustfully. Three heavy, book-filled boxes took the back seat and rested on a comforter and a few bedspreads to protect the leather. In the trunk, my computer (but not a monitor) sat next to the space heater and my one bag of clothes.

The whole time I packed, alone over the boxes and still more alone carting the heavy items to the car, I kept asking myself how it was going to work. How could I, broke and alone and afraid, make it to Boston? I had $700 to my name, which included my last check from Starbucks (Stephanie had gotten corporate to print it early so that I wouldn’t have to have them send it to me later on.). How could the next few days of my life play out successfully? How would fate find yet one more way to bring me back to Plano, dejected and frustrated?

I determined that while I wasn’t sure about a single moment in the rest of my life, I was sure as hell gonna head to Boston and find out.

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Author: Greg Freed

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A Relationship in Presents, Part Five: The red dog

There’s an interesting discussion of how readers approach posts in this blog in the last post, if you’d like to participate. I also wonder how readers are seeing the posts in this series as style pieces; how do these pieces read differently to you, and what do you think the artistic point is?

Remember to leave stories for this week’s Theme Thursday! We had seven posts for the very first game last week, and I’d like to see that number beat! I’ve also finished the remix of the piece I selected from last week’s games, and I’m really looking forward to showing it to you! 🙂

**

Behind the black bars of the waist-high fence, it pouted at me as if a real dog, kenneled. The red fur looked to me like passion in faux crushed velvet. The synthetic material crowded around the plastic eyes like desire would do to me if it could, if I weren’t buried so deeply down in depression to render it helpless, a child in a well slipping against a wall he thought he could scale.

Its face asked me about abandonment, whys and what could it dos and reallys. He wanted to come along, but I wouldn’t have it. I didn’t even wait to see the arguments played out in the stuffed, unreal face.

“Why do you stay with her?” Renisha had asked me. We worked across Summer Street from each other, me at a financial corporation doing client communications and she social networking, and we met in a Starbucks caddycorner to our separate offices. “Why do you stay with her?” she asked. “You don’t have to.”

The answer was true and horrible and romantic. Like a trumpet call to start a military dirge, it bounded forth, monosyllabic and haunting. I couldn’t maintain eye contact while it hung in the air, but I saw her face drop to the table in my peripheral, expressing a mixture of pity and disgust spiced with a moment of wonder about whether love really boils down to my response. The table had no answer for her, and neither did I. As the relationship with Sarah wore on, my friendship with Renisha waned, forever stealing her chance to solve my riddle.

My love for Sarah held within it a paradox, that I wanted to spend as much time with her as possible and yet every moment I spent with her was spent not-quite-with her. And yet her very real absence from our time together made me want to spend even more time with her, up to the point where I cut out all other engagements. The downward spiral had started in the summer we first moved in together, months before that February meeting with Renisha, when Sarah and I ran out of Grey’s Anatomy episode to watch and so she moved into Solitaire.

Her laptop. My laptop. A 64” HDTV. Free Cell. Nintendo emulations. Family Fued.

“You don’t have to stay with her, you know,” Justin had said. He had come up for New Years to see us and gone home. The Thanksgiving after, when I told him that I was breaking down under he relationship, my very real dog resting on the purple microfiber chair to my right behind which the red dog had been stuffed, he told me, “You don’t have to stay with her.” I told him that I loved her, and when he asked if I was sure, I said yes. But I also told him I was breaking down.

You spin the wheel in the teacup ride at Disneyworld, and the cup spins round and round. The tangent force pulls you towards the chair, and you grab harder, pulling yourself forward and spinning, spinning. Eventually your arms fail, and the custodians tell you to stop, and the cup breaks off the ride and takes you for a horrible, unrestrained trip across the theme park, trampling families and employees and cute little crafted bushes, eventually tossing you into the castle’s pond where you drown, destitute and broken. No, nothing breaks; that’s your short little dream before the ride stops and you get ushered out of the cup, at which point you can rejoin the line if you choose or perhaps get a bite to eat.

Sarah said, “You didn’t have to do that,” when I held out her Valentine’s Day present, Lindt chocolate truffles from the store in the hotel two blocks away and a bottle of vodka with a penguin on it. She collected penguins like an obsession. I once, as a child, told friends and families that I was collecting piggy banks, an admission I always regretted, especially after I stopped my collection. Sarah had no regrets.

“It’s Valentine’s Day, and I love you,” I answered, slightly confused. The presents remained in my hand, unwrapped except for an unmarked brown bag and a Lindt plastic bag with a drawstring.

“You just didn’t have to do it is all.” She took the presents, put the vodka on her Crate and Barrel foldable bar. She kept the chocolates in her right hand but picked up a brown box with her left. “This is from my mother.”

A dog toy, a little squeezable thing. Kallion doesn’t play with toys.

“Excellent,” I said before grinding my teeth. Yes, I had bought my presents late, the night of, but it began to dawn on me that she hadn’t bought a present at all.

“I’m stuck,” I told Renisha over a sip of cinnamon cappuccino.

“You’re not,” she answered. “Why don’t you go stay with Shoshanna? You know she’d let you.”

“No dogs allowed,” I said. We paused, thinking. “Is it pathetic that I’m staying with Sarah because of my dog, like parents who won’t divorce because of the children?”

“Yes,” she answered. “It is. Your dog is not your child.”

I put the empty box by the trashcan behind the bar and tried to coax Kalli into playing with the new toy, which she ignored. Sarah watched for a moment and then went downstairs. When she came back up, I had already put myself under my computer and logged into World of Warcraft. She put on her coat from the cheap Target coat stand by the door and left without a word.

Sarah walked down Exeter to Newbury without pausing at Commonwealth—she had already taken pictures of them covered in snow—and then she walked to Fairfield. Inside, she picked up some candy from the seasonal aisle before spotting a red stuffed dog hiding on the banister above the turn in the stairwell to the basement. Retrieving it, she concluded her purchase and returned home, dropping the white plastic bag marked CVS and a large stuffed dog on the couch beside me.

Internally, I scoffed. Externally, I thanked her, petting the cheap, dusty material. I wiped my hand on my pants. She sat down in her chair and refreshed Facebook, and I continued playing World of Warcraft. Ten minutes later, I started to raid, and when I started talking on the microphone with the other players, Sarah rolled her eyes, unplugged her laptop, and went downstairs into her bedroom. As with most nights for the past few months and most to follow, I would sleep on the couch.

When I moved out, I left that red dog behind the fence under the construction docks of the building on the far side of Exeter and Commonwealth, under renovation. I mused whether a construction worker might take it, might give it to a child who could take some joy in the thing. Sarah had set aside effects in a box, items that I had given her that she didn’t want to keep and held no meaning to me: a coffee cup that read Bean, some dog toys, the red dog.

I remembered Justin’s words as I looked at that stuffed animal behind the fence. You don’t have to stay with her, he had said. I mean, I wouldn’t leave her—she’s rich and pretty and funny—but you don’t have to stay. All the pitiful and pathetic moments infected by thoughts like that, a relational virus. Just so, the dog pleaded with me to stay. But I walked away. I wouldn’t engage; I would only remember.

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Author: Greg Freed

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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Presents, Writing

A Relationship in Presents, Part Four: The waffle press redux

No apologies for the late post. Muaha.

**

Near hysteria, I plod through my parents’ attic. I can tell I’m losing it, that I’m on the verge of tears. My mother calls up the stairs wanting to know what the hell is going on. My father doesn’t know what to say.

“I’m looking for the waffle iron,” I say. I choke up. I’ve thrown boxes helter-skelter across the attic. I’ve taken out the box with all my college kitchen stuff out of the attic and emptied it of its contents all the way down to the newspaper coating the bottom in the TV room. It was the dishes clanking together as I unconcernedly scattered them across the floor that really set my mom off; Dad had watched silently, confused and almost afraid.

“Where is it?” I yell, hurting my throat. The closer I get to tears, the more obviously I glottal.

“We don’t know,” my father answers. They haven’t taken it out of my boxes, they say. They’ve been on a no-carb diet for months, maybe years, and even if they were going to eat something like that, my father would make pancakes; they haven’t had waffles in years.

I can’t have left it behind, I say to myself and aloud accusatorially, but the finger is pointing at me despite my parents’ premonitions. I can’t have left it behind! I remember taking it out of the kitchen and putting it in the fucking box, don’t I? Of course I remember doing it! It’s fucking ridiculous to think I’d’ve left it behind.

Gabe wouldn’t have taken it, would he? I remember that day he cooked with my garlic clove and wouldn’t fess up to it. When he…. Oh, this line of thought isn’t going anywhere; Gabe didn’t take it. Justin wouldn’t’ve taken it. I either brought it home or I left it at Baylor. And I didn’t leave it behind, so it’s here, somewhere.

I rip through the boxes again, even when my mother’s anger becomes tinted with fear. “It’s just a waffle iron,” she says. “You can buy another one and she’ll never know.” But it’s not Sarah’s opinion of me I’m worried about, though I certainly wouldn’t want to confess to her that I’d lost it; No, I want it for myself. I want the waffle maker, that one fucking thing, and I fucking lost it!

I tear down the stairs like a shot, leaving my parents to stare over the mess. I hear my mother say in a very loud note of command, “Oh no!” once she hears her pots and pans clanging out onto the floor. She moves into the living room and calls me in there as if I were her dog, and I obey.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she asks incredulously.

“I’m looking for the god damned waffle maker!” I shout. A tear falls down my left cheek, and she sees it.

“Why does it matter so much?” she asks.

“’Cuz she….” My voice trails off, dead. My brain stops for a moment, and more tears fall. “’Cuz she gave it to me,” I finally answer, turning to go back into the kitchen.

“Well we don’t have it!” she calls after me even though there’s not even a wall separating us. “It’s not in our kitchen! And you’ll have to clean up whatever you take out!”

I’m not worried about threats of cleanliness, though. All that matters is recovering the waffle press. She gave it to me so long ago, before we were even dating, and it’s all falling apart, falling away. I have to find it. If I can find it, everything will be alright, will be okay again.

I pull out all the pots and pans in the cabinets under the silverware, set them out on the tile. I look under the stove on the island, but there’s nothing except grilling equipment. I look under coffee maker, under the sink, in all the miscellaneous drawers and cabinets. Nothing, nothing, nothing! Where the fuck is it? my voice screams inside my head, echoing through my brain as if it were a stone valley, causing an avalanche of sanity, a loss of control.

My tears fall in earnest, now. I can barely see the objects my hands put aside, only dimly aware that each one isn’t what I’m looking for. I start to move towards the oven, to the drawer underneath it. My parents keep ovenware in there, stones and oven proof pots and my father’s electric… electric skillet.

I slow down in my stride. My eyes flicker in and out of squinting as the pieces move into place, the memory resurfaces of making my parents waffles while waiting to leave for Europe, my mother asking me how I clean the surface since we can’t put it in the dishwasher, her balking expression when I tell her that I don’t, that I don’t clean it.

The drawer glides along the wheels that hold it up as I pull it open. I see it immediately, behind a stone basin made to cook a turkey and on top of my father’s electric skillet. They haven’t had waffles in years, he said; it’s been years since I made them wafflecakes, panwaffles, panfles. The press isn’t Belgian, no, it only makes small dimples in the pancakes. The last time my parents had waffles was when I made them some on Sarah’s press after I came home from college.

Don’t call it my press, Sarah always said to me when I referred to her presents as hers. I told her that I called them her presents because they were so obviously from her, so perfect and timeless. Sarah’s press. I found it under the oven.

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Author: Greg Freed

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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Presents, Writing