Warning Signs 2

“Coach?” Dan and Jimmy turned in the direction of Annie’s questioning voice. “You can do point in line with sabre, right?” She was standing in the makeshift strip at the center of the cafeteria floor, her mask lifted up and turtling her head; several feet to her right, Double-J also lifted his mask, revealing a bearded face streaked with perspiration and exasperation.

Dan nodded to Jimmy, the only person in the room who had at one time held a fencing referee’s certification. “Same rules as in foil.”

“You gave up the line.” Double-J waved at Annie dismissively.

The athletic teen frowned, her eyes returning their focus on the two older men off to their side. “He didn’t take my blade, and I did a cut,” Annie flicking her right wrist for emphasis.

Jimmy shook his head. “Soon as you break the line, it’s a new attack.” He pointed at Double-J. “You attack into her line?”

“Yeah.” Double-J made no attempt to hide his annoyance.

Jimmy’s right index finger pointed in a line towards Annie’s chest. “And you drew back your blade to make the head cut?”

“Yeah, but — ”

Jimmy raised his left hand, the one closest to Double-J, as he pointed with his right hand, palm down, twoards Annie. “Touch left.”

But —

Double-J’s loud snort cut off Annie’s protest. The burly teen then pulled his mask down over his face. “You wanna argue about rules, save it for after we finish this bout.” 

Warning Signs 1

Returning to my novel for a few days to explore a distinction between two emotions which are often considered synonymous.

“From one of my guests, at the Marks party this weekend.” Jimmy released his hold on the white envelope, let it fall into Dan’s curious hands. “Tall fella, can’t remember his name. Asked if’n were true I was helpig you with the fencing team, told him yeah. Excuses himself, comes back a little later with this, asked me to give it to you.”

Dan held the envelope high above his head, light from the high ceiling in the cafeteria filtering through the stiff, crumpled container, exposing the outline of a paper folded at uneven angles. “Any idea what it’s about?”

Jimmy drew his lips back, exposing his teeth. “Well — he did say it was about our sabrist.”

Dan’s eyes darted down, found Double-J, sparring with Annie at the center of the cafeteria floor, the grunts that came from behind his gray metal mask sounding like the exhaust of a car freshly tuned for optimum performance. He nodded, held the envelope up to Jimmy. “And you didn’t open it yourself?”

“Got your name on it.”

“But you’re not curious?”

“Didn’t say that.” Jimmy snorted. “But considering how the guy delivered it, figure it can’t be no good news. And if that’s the case, figure it’s best you read about it first.”

Real

Damyanti is putting her blog on hiatus for a few weeks as she finishes drafting her novel for a competition. The anxiety she’s feeling reminds me of an interesting conversation I had during a job interview, which serves as the inspiration for the following.

“No. Doesn’t bother me at all.” Herb Jovich punctuated the sentiment by locking hands behind his head and leaning back in his chair, which squeaked under his considerable weight.

“But how?” Fen’s tone was exasperated, disbelieving. “Getting calls in the middle of the day, telling you to drop everything and deal with the latest crisis? Cleaning up after other people’s messes, working to impossible deadlines?”

The back of Herb’s head sank into the pillow of his hands. “That’s what they say. But their words, those aren’t what they really mean.” He sniffed, took his right hand from behind his head and waved it in the direction of his desk phone, his body still reclined. “A little after two today, Mesnick’s gonna call about his monthly report. He’ll be screaming about something, some new field he requested that’s not there, a graph with outdated data. Something, I don’t know. And he’ll need it done by end of day, which means the CR will need to be submitted by three, giving me about oh, thirty minutes to push through a process that’s designed to take two days. But it will have to get done, just like it does every other month.”

Herb’s computer screen chimed with a new message notification; he glanced at the screen, smirked, then stared back at Fen. “And you know what Mesnick will really be saying to me, with every curse and threat?”

Fen shook her head, not so much to acknowledge her ignorance as to indicate she wasn’t sure she was even supposed to know the answer.

Herb’s right arm swiveled forward, pointed at Fen. “I need you. That’s what Mesnick’s saying. And it’ll be one of the few times today that he, or anyone else here will mean it. Seventy, eighty percent of the time we’re here, we’re just talking, about what needs to be done and when we’ll do it, or what we did and why it didn’t work out like we’d talked about. We really don’t do that much, and most of that is pure bullshit — change requests, approvals, creating documents nobody’s ever going to read. And when we’re doing all that, everyone’s nice and polite. No need to rattle anyone’s cage.”

The large man with the receding hairline shifted his weight forward, forearms landing on the beige desktop. “But when you get that call, hear that anger coming from the other end of the line — that’s when you know you’re dealing with something important, that what you need to do really matters. And you know they wouldn’t be dumping this all in your lap, if they didn’t trust you to do what’s necessary. Annoying? Sure. But I’d rather be annoyed and considered important, than be comfortably ignored.”

Fen left Herb’s cubicle a few minutes later, wondering if she had just had an epiphany or needed a shower.

DNS

She couldn’t remember names, a problem she experienced neurologically, a synapse defiantly refusing to perform its assigned duty.

Use a mnemonic device, her father had recommended after she confessed her problem in her early twenties, when her inability to remember her coworker’s names threatened, she feared, to reveal her contempt for her job. When you’re introduced to someone, think of a famous person who has the same name. And she had employed the strategy with success at work, associating Bill from HR with POTUS 42, Jennifer from IT with “If You Had My Love,” Sal from Accounting with melting clocks. The flaw in the strategy didn’t reveal itself until she began working with the project manager for the SAS integration.

“Hello Leia,” her voice confident at the start of the second status meeting.

“Carrie,” the responding face souring like curdled milk.  The actress’s name had come to her immediately at their first meeting, and for the duration of the six-month project, her struggling synapse continually linked the PM’s name with the character.

The experience put an end to that mnemonic device, but it wasn’t long before she happened on another. A Saturday evening party, Walt and Jamie’s apartment, a large man with long curtains of brown hair cascading down to his elbows. He extended his hand toward her — “Hey. I’m Brady.”

Twelve. The number came to her instantly, years of football games playing in the background of her parents’ home racing to her mind. And every time she saw him that evening,she thought of 12, his name then coming instantly to her mind again.

When she realized that she still remembered his name the next day, she felt inspired to explore this technique further. Clara, her friend from yoga — last name Lewis (she had to check her contacts for that). Five letters in both first and last names. Fifty-five, that Tuesday before class the number came to her and she called Clara’s name with an excitement that surprised her friend.

Further exploration provided equally positive results, pleasing her greatly. It’s like being a DNS server, she mused. But it worked for her.

Sighting

Today’s inspiration is a brief but important scene of anonymous observation in a recent story from Not Quite A Cougar.

The third afternoon, that was when I knew for sure. Across the tracks, she on the outbound train as I sat on the inbound. That first time hers was a face in a crowd — a distinctive one for sure, a rose bush in a field of dandelions, but I’ve seen plenty of roses in my day. Perhaps my eyes were inspired the next day, hoping to find that bush again, and when they found her face again I’d instictively looked away, embarassed for no particular reason; yet I caught a smile blooming on her countenance, both trains shuffling in opposite directions before  I could confirm.

Yesterday, the third day. Tell my boss I can’t stay late today, would coming in early tomorrow to finish that report by OK? Sure. Middle car of seven, one of three vacant window seats on the interior side. Train pulls into the station at the usual time, the outbound stationary across the oily brown tracks. Doors open,  passengers shuffle out, others come in. Potential weakness to my strategy, can’t see all the way to the front, but the train’s packed, have to make do, start scanning halfway up the front car. No, no, no — second car, no no no no no no — third of four cars directly across from mine — no no —

And then she’s looking right at me. Smiling. And then she, just as the other train begins to move and I hear the doors in my car close, in a move that cannot be mistaken for anything else, waves. At me, who remains motionless as our trains continue their journeys in opposite directions.   

Ancestry

Corngoblin just posted an elegy to his laptop, and has invoked the ghost of a story idea from many years ago.

Knew going in that the few hundred in obsolete computer parts and hours of online research, could have easily proved fruitless. Zeroes and ones, stored on thin magnetic circles enclosed in flimsy plastic sleeves, ancestors of today’s USB drives like a horse-drawn carriage is to a Ferrari. How long can this technology store data reliably — a year? Two? Five?

Twenty-nine seemed a stretch, I knew that going in. But the moment I found that box of floppies — instinct had compelled me to sort through the carton I had lugged around unopened through I can’t recall how many moves, their data created on a computer with a proprietary OS, both long abandoned — there was no choice for me but to explore whether their data could be restored on a modern system (Yes!) and if my PC maintenance skills were still sharp (Of course!). A journey that’s lead to this moment, reclining back into my home office chair as the first floppy (labeled 1987) spun noisily in its drive, the sound like a small animal squeaking with exertion, followed by the names of forgotten files dancing on the flat screen:

BUDGET.87

CHRCTRS (my abbreviation for Characters, working within the 8.3 naming restriction)

CHRCTRS2

CHRCTRS.OLD

DARNOLD (Darn Old? D Arnold?)

Thirty-four files on this floppy, the first of seventeen. Digital artifacts from a younger version of myself, a me I can barely remember. Someone less secure, yet more confident than the person I imagine myself to be now. Less afraid to take chances, make mistakes, of which he made many. Less inhibited, especially when writing.

Am I ready to confront that person who used to be me?

A rhetorical question at this point, for sure. But one worth asking, as I right-click my budget file for 1987 and select Open.

A Clock, Broken

Mark Aldrich just posted a wonderful piece about . . .  well you’ll just have to click the link and find out, because I suddenly can’t remember anything other than enjoying it . . . 

“Always?” Kei lifted the mahogony clock from the shelf, held it close to her face, like an archeologist examining a surprising find.

“Yes, always.” Her mother’s paper-thin fingers brushed the top of its surface, leaving a track in the dust. “The woman who we brought the house from, she gave it to us. A gift.”

“Why?” Still clutching the clock with her left hand, Kei pulled the sweater tight against her body with her right. One of the concessions she had to make whenever she visited her parents (and this visit, coming so soon after the conclusion of her divorce, was more than a formality) was accepting, without complaint, how they kept their thermostat down to a level that comforted their frugality.

Her mother shrugged. “She didn’t say why, and it didn’t seem polite to ask. We just — accepted.” Her right hand reached up, patted the empty space on the shelf above the basement television. “And put it there.”

Kei sensed the clock, with its intricate woodwork and brass fittings, was too expensive for her to be handling, yet she couldn’t let it go. “I don’t ever remember seeing it here. Did you, maybe, have it somewhere else before? And moved it here?”

“No, it’s always been here.” Her mother took the clock from Kei, put it back on the shelf. “I remember it like yesterday. Your father installed these shelves the weekend after we moved in, and this clock was one of the first things we put there. Been right there, ever since.”

“Huh.” Kei stepped back, the back of her left foot nudging the large bean bag chair; instinctively she sat down, nestling into the position where she had spent a childhood’s lifetime of hours, watching and playing as the screen grew bigger with each of her father’s promotions. She pointed up at the clock. “I can see it from here, no problem. If it really was there all that time, I would have noticed it.”

Her mother sniffed. “Children have priorities that distract them, prevent them from noticing the world around them. Especially an item as mundane, as a broken clock.”

“Why don’t you get it fixed?” Kei was suddenly inspired by the thought of actually being able to do something useful for her parents. An inspiration quickly dashed by her mother’s response.

“Because it doesn’t belong to this era, as a functional device. If we want to know the time, we can find that information in so many, more reliable ways. This clock, that it doesn’t work, just makes it seem more like it belongs in the past. Which it does — “she smiled down at Kei — “along with our faulty memories.” 

The Offer

A short work of flash fiction for KittyKat, and the promise of victory

“A deal?” He uses that mocking tone every time he reminds me I’m wrong. “May I remind you that we’re not married — there is no room for negotation in our relationship.”

Fine, I reply with silent words that echo loudly in our conscious vacuum. Call it a change in our terms, then, my voice steady with the certainty of justice. You have an energy, a drive that has been the source for so much of our success.

“A most convenient shift to the plural.” If he had a cigarette, he’d draw on it now with a empty smile.

We (catching myself at the last second) need you to keep driving, keep pushing. Foward, towards the goal.

“All right.” He’s smart, can tell I’m making no attempt to hide anything from him. “And what’s in it for me?”

Freedom. It’s the only thing I can provide which is of value to him. No restraints, no forced shutdowns. None of the barriers we’ve had to impose on you. You take us where we need to go, I won’t hold you back.

“I see.” And I know better than to ask for anything more from him. He’ll either accept or decline — his actions will be the answer he provides. I feel naive, having made this devil’s bargain, but for once my naivety seems more blessing than curse.

Too Much 15

Coach Dan, his face squeezed tight, took a step forward, laid hands on Rune’s outstretched arms, and with gentle yet assertive pressure, forced them down to the teen’s sides. Behind them, a scoring machine buzzed, followed by a referee’s command to Halt.

“I’m not asking you to do anything, my friend.” The older man’s commanding voice a contrast to his calm face. “If anything, I’m asking you to stop trying so hard.”

“To do what?” It was a sincere question, Rune realizing he really didn’t have any idea what he should have been looking for this day, even before the incident with Annie and JanHar.

Coach Dan jabbed an index finger into Rune’s chest, softly. “Searching for answers. They’re funny things, I’ve found, it’s like they know when they’re being hunted and do their best to hide. If you just relax, not worry too much about finding those answers, sometimes — ” now it was time for the older man to spread his arms, inviting the world around him into his embrace — “they just, come to you. See what I mean?”

“OK.” Rune nodded, both his words and body language a lie. Coach Dan then excused himself, leaving Rune alone at the center of the large field house, surrounded by the sights and sounds of the energetic combat around him.

End of “Too Much”