Summer Reunion

The Garden Hall Room at the Radish Hotel is brimming with activity. Laughter and excited conversations rise above the music. A classic color-changing jukebox is playing a 1960s song by The Platters, Under the Boardwalk. Atop a long banquet table is a generous spread of various foodstuff. A variety of fruits are gathered together, focused on their own animated chatter among themselves, as the following snippets are overheard:

Bananas: We about peeled when we learned we won for doing the best split.

Grapes: You know some people think we’re just a bunch of winos.

Pineapple: I hope you know that you’re always welcome to visit.

Watermelon: My doctor planted a seed in my mind to make me think it’s all water weight.

 Cherry: So one night my young lover and I agreed to go for it . . . for the very first time.

Peaches: We swear by the brand of that blade, which will cut through any fuzz.

 Oranges: Everyone thinks we’re so irresistible they can’t help but squeeze us.

 Kiwifruit: We prefer not to be called Chinese gooseberry anymore.

Pear: Okay, so I’m not from a shapely lot. So eat me.

Strawberries: We were left out in the fields . . . seems like forever.

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Ballsy

Image: Pixabay

Image: Pixabay

“I’m not here to bust your balls. I’m here so we don’t get our balls busted,” the new CEO assured his employees.

Six months later, he saved the shareholders $6 million by letting go 3,000 workers.

Outside the building, sitting on a park bench were two former employees, Sam and Hank. Sam snorted, “Our CEO sure had us by the balls.”

Hank responded, “Yep, he had the balls to make us believe that if we juggled our schedule to fit his deadlines, we’d be having a ball in no time.”

“Turns out he thinks we dropped the ball.” Sam rubbed his eyes so his friend wouldn’t see them misting.

“Got that right. It’s one new ball game these days.”

Sighing, they both stood up and left, scratching their balls.

The Ugly Sweater Chronicles: Ripped Off

[A trilogy of “seamy” stories about the lure of ugly sweaters; 1 of 3]

Image: Pixabay

Image: Pixabay

The air is full of excitement. Tomorrow is Ugly Sweater Day and everyone is looking forward to it. People are staying longer in the water dispenser talking about their sweaters.

“My sweater has one big boob on one side, covered with a green pom-pom. Beat that!”

“Yah, that’s ugly. But mine has the body of a penguin on the front, right under the neckline.”

Snatches of conversation followed by guffaws can be heard in every corner. Darren sits at his desk, working, but obsessing on how he still doesn’t have an ugly sweater to wear for the big day. He went to Target over the weekend but the prices for ugly sweaters had been hiked. He’s not about to spend $35 for a sweater he wouldn’t wear more than once a year. Then, he remembers the discount department store at an outdoor shopping mall, which is a 15-minute walk from his office park.

When lunchtime approaches, Darren hurriedly heads over to the mall. He is forced to walk because his car is at the garage and not available until tomorrow. As much as he dislikes treading over roads with no sidewalks, he hates it even more if he doesn’t have an ugly sweater to wear the next day.

Having successfully reached the store, Darren goes to the clearance rack. He pumps his fist up in the air when he finds what he considers the ideal. After paying for it, he practically runs outside to get moving. The walk feels long because he has to retrace the terrible route that got him here. He clutches his bag as he tries to avoid being run down.

Suddenly, he’s knocked off his feet and lands on the small strip of dirt, off by the roadside. Did he get hit by a car? He feels as if he’s been punched in the back. What was it? As he raises his head, he sees two feet running off. He realizes that he’s been pushed. He feels around for his bag and sees it’s been stolen. Close to tears, he gets up, dusts himself off, and heads back to the mall. Tomorrow he will wear an ugly sweater, come hell or high water.

[See story 2]

Insomniac

Image: Pixabay

Image: Pixabay

Rich’s eyes water from fatigue, the bags under his eyes are dark from weeks of not being able to sleep through the night. The sleep specialist he had finally gone to see gave him specific instructions to reset his circadian clock. He cannot take naps and he has to stay up until 12:30 A.M. for the first week, and then get up at exactly 6:30 the next day. The amount of sleep he can expect will incrementally increase an hour each week until he can hold a six- to eight-hour straight sleeping pattern. Such a possibility inspires Rich to do all he can not to succumb to a quick nap on his recliner chair, where he has dozed off so many times. Before he gets too comfortable, he decides to go outside and take a walk. At 11:30 at night he can be assured of getting that extra hour of jolt.

Zing. Dodging a bullet from a drive-by shooting, he drops down to the sidewalk. Hurriedly, he gets up to cross the street before he runs into a group of drunken young punks who sound like they’re looking for a fight. He walks to the little patch of green they call a park in the area, breathing in deeply only to inhale smoke from a bum savoring the last tip of his cigarette. Quickening his pace, he goes further down a street he doesn’t think he’s ever been through. Always learning something new, he thinks, as a howl pierces through his thoughts. Sounds too close. He looks around. A few feet down he sees two glittering red eyes sitting atop a hairy animal face. Without further curiosity, he turns and tracks back to his home like he’s never done before.

Upon reaching his place, he opens the door and immediately shuts it. As he finishes locking the last of the three deadbolts, he hears someone clearing their throat. Slowly, he turns around. A very pale man with arched eyebrows smiles, revealing two particularly sharp teeth gleaming on either side of his mouth.

“How’d you get in here?” As soon as Rich asks, he simultaneously recalls going outside and not locking up because of the screech of tires and the shooting that followed.

“When the door is unlocked, it implies an invitation,” the man replies, walking toward Rich with arms extended, as if drawing him in. “As your guest, I thought I’d give you a gift.” He gets closer to Rich, who is paralyzed and mesmerized at the same time.  Then, all becomes dark.

When Rich comes to, he finds himself sprawled on his La-Z-y Boy recliner. “Oh no, I took another nap,” he says, getting up from his chair and heading to the bathroom. He washes his face and looks at the mirror. He notices two puncture holes on the side of his neck. He shivers. Behind him is a pale man whose grin is not reflected in the mirror.

Tuesday Ten

the number 10

Ten is a bad omen today–the 10th Tuesday of May, when Talia took $10,000 from Ten-Cent Bank at exactly 10:00 AM, so she could throw a 10-year anniversary bash for herself. Instead, Talia got caught and spent 10 hours being detained at the local authorities’ HQ. Her fate is sealed. She is committed to doing 10 months of community service and paying a $10,000 fine plus 10% penalty fees, which she needs to pay within the next 10 months. She has to borrow money to pay for her fine, so she asks her brother, who then goes to Ten-Cent Bank to take out a $10,000 loan. Now he is charging Talia 10% interest. Talia decides to go to the local liquor store to get all the booze she can get—likely not much—for her last $10.

Crushin’ Roulette

Image: Pixabay

Image: Pixabay

Pete has mixed feelings as he listens to Joe about Rose. At one time, Pete thought she was the one who would end his self-imposed celibacy. It was a close call, but now he’s glad he waited. Ironically, it was the waiting that ruined their relationship, but in many ways saved him after he found out more about her.
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A Grand Good-bye

Image by Anna

Image by Anna

Kelsey cuts herself but no one really pays attention to her. She doesn’t mind because she’s lost her ability to care about what others think of her or her situation. Her parents are too preoccupied vying for other people’s attention. Her siblings seem a generation older than she. What friends? The last Facebook message she received read, “Kelsey flings her boogers around. Beware of UFOs.” Old junior high school crap. Forever memorialized because she doesn’t know how to delete the account.

She’s in her first year of college now. Why did she even bother going? She chose psychology as her major even though she doesn’t want to hear other people’s problems. She took it on only because she didn’t know what else to do. Pressure everywhere. Finally, spring break is here. A break-out from all her problems, her haters, herself. She’s going to go big. Going to the Grand Canyon, where there’s just her and nature. No more people, no more boring lectures.

Now Kelsey’s at the airport, thankful for her little friend, Visa, as supplied by her parents. At least she didn’t have to worry about where to get her next meal. Now she wonders. Am I just another spoiled brat with nothing else better to do? No, she tells herself. I’ve done my share of community service and charity events. I just can’t get in step with others. She boards the plane, finds her seat, and reclines, closing her eyes.

“Kelsey, is that you?”

Kelsey blinks and sees a pair of smiling hazel eyes. Her mind rifles through memories, trying to place the face. Bingo!

“Jess?”

“Hell yeah! Amazing how you haven’t changed much. The same cute freckles and that shade of red hair I can’t forget.”

“Oh my God! I can’t believe this. What are you doing here?”

“Going to hike the Grand Canyon. You? Going to Vegas to roll some dice?”

“I’m still stunned to see you. Never in a thousand years did I think I’d see you after what . . . fifth grade?”

“Yeah, right. From kindergarten through fifth, we were quite the pair together, huh? Tell me what you’ve been up to since you moved away.”

Kelsey grew quiet. How much should she tell this boy, who was her first and only best friend? Well, former; they never kept in touch, so would that make it former then, right? They were only kids.

“You tell me first, Jess. ‘Cuz my mind’s still scrambled from surprise to see you.”

“I’m actually traveling by myself, Kels . . . Hey, remember that? How we’d be called Jess and Kels? We were like twins, but no one ever really understood us, did they?”

“Yeah?”

Jess’ eyes darkened, “I’ll confess, Kels, nothing right’s going on with me. People talk behind my back and say there goes Jess the mess. I can’t believe I’m telling you this, but I’ve always had a connection with you. Like, I don’t even feel like we’ve been separated for years.”

“Hey, let’s hike the Canyon together.”

They reminisce over the mischief they caused and recall their childhood jokes. They put off talking about the underlying grimness they really feel. Enough time for that when they hike.

The next day, Jess and Kelsey drive out to the Grand Canyon together, simply enjoying each other’s presence, allowing the iPhone tunes playing through the car speaker to blast away the silence and unsavory thoughts. Upon reaching the Grand Canyon and beginning their hike, their conversation drifts again into the dim realm of their present reality.

They find a spot where they stand alone; Kelsey starts to cry.

“My life is a mess too, Jess. It’s a joke. But, as I’m looking out here right now, I see why we’re here. It’s to appreciate the beauty of this world.”

“I get it now too, Kels.”

They hold hands and look quietly out into the deepness of the canyon. They stare at each other, both deciding in their private thoughts to say good-bye to their original plans to jump. They feel a glimmer of hope as their curiosity awakens to what the next day will bring.