Archive for the ‘short stories’ Category

Shooting Stars

It was a particularly clear night, and the skies were filled with stars, like millions of flashlights in a dark cave.

He pulled at a blade of grass next to the blanket, tearing it out of the ground. Then he let it go, and the wind caught it.
It flew away like a green little bird.

The wind was picking up. It was a rather chilly night. Summer was coming to an end. He looked to his left, where she lay, her face upturned, bathed by the moonlight.
“A penny for your thoughts,” he said.
“I’m not thinking. I’m just lookin’.”
He smiled. “Beautiful, isn’t it?”
She nodded. “Yeah, it’s amazing.”
He propped himself up, his left elbow sinking into the blanket.
“Looking at all this magnificence, I feel insignificant and significant at the same time,” she added.
Then she took a deep breath and let it out slowly, closing her eyes, relishing the breath.
“Are you cold?” he asked.
“Just a little bit.”
“I’ll get the sweater from the car.”
“No. It’s okay.” she touched his arm. “Stay.”
“Alright.”
He sat cross-legged on the blanket.
“Hey!” he said in a tone to suggest he just discovered the wheel.
“What?”
“I have a question for you.”
She looked at him.
“What is it?”
“Well… do you love me?”
“What kind of a question is that?”
“Well, do you?”
“Of course I do”.
“Then why are you leaving?”
Now she sat up too.
“Didn’t we have that conversation already?”
“I don’t want you to leave.”
“It’s not my call.”
“You can stay at my place. I’m sure my parents won’t mind.”
“Tim…” She touched his thigh with manicured fingers. “Tim, I can’t. I have to be with my family.”
“Then you don’t love me.”
“Tim…”
“How can you say you love me and then leave? If you have no problem leaving, then you don’t really love me. If you loved me, you would’ve stayed.”
“Tim, it’s not forever. I’m not leaving you. I’m leaving this town.”
“Same thing. And don’t tell me you won’t meet another guy in the big city… come on, they’ll be all over you like flies. They don’t take no for an answer over there.”
She turned her face towards the stars again, saying:
“You don’t need to worry about it.”
“Oh, really?”
“Really. And you’re ruining this beautiful night for me. For us.”
“Well, you’re leaving in the morning.”
“Exactly, So I want this night to be special.”
He dropped on his back again, pouting. She shook her head.
Suddenly, her eyes caught something.
“Look!” she said, pointing up.
“What?”
“Up there! A shooting star!”
He followed her finger and saw it. Saw them, A group of shooting stars flying across the night sky from east to west, like streams of confetti.
“Oh, they’re beautiful! Go on, Tim, make a wish! I’ll make one too! Quickly, before they disappear!”
He looked up.
She looked up.
And then the shooting stars were gone, vanishing behind the horizon.

After a while it started getting cold, so they went back to the car.
Tim turned on the heating, but it didn’t seem to work.
He punched the dashboard with frustration, shouting: “What a goddamn jalopy!”
“Relax,” she said.
He grabbed the wheel, pushed the gas pedal, and turned the car around, ready to leave the hill and descend down the path.
But before hitting the marked dirt road, he stopped the car, and turned his face to look at her, grabbing the steering wheel so hard his knuckles turned red.
She put her hand on his shoulder, and smiled a smile as soft as sunrise. The car was cramped and small, but he managed to put his arms around her, and hugged her fiercely. She, in turn, put her arms over his back, sliding up and down, up and down, comforting him.

When he let go of her, he felt that his cheeks were wet. There was also this buzzing anger inside of him when he saw that her cheeks were quite dry, but he decided to let it go.
“I’ll write to you every day,” he said, “or at least every two days.”
She laughed.
“I’ll come visit. I promise” she said. And after a pause, added: “I wish things were different, but that’s how it is.”
“It’s okay, I understand.”
“I’m sorry if you’re hurting.”
“I’m okay.”
She studied him.
“Okay,” she said finally.
They sat in silence for a few seconds.
“I don’t wanna drive back to town,” he said. “I just wanna stay here with you.”
“We can stay for a little while longer. Mom’s doing most of the packing anyway.”
He smiled and leaned back, opening the window, saying,
“I’m suddenly hot. Go figure.”
He looked out. The moon was hidden behind a cloud.
“Can I ask you what you wished for?” He said.
“You’re not supposed to tell.”
“I know. But you won’t even tell me?”
“Okay, I wished the heating in your car will work.”
“You’re lying.”
“You got me.” she laughed.
“Come on!”
“Nope.”
“Alright, then. I don’t mind telling you what I wished for.”
“You wished that I won’t leave.”
“Am I that obvious?”
“You are.”
“Hmm… And you?”
She took a deep breath.
“Well, it already came true,” she said.
He seemed confused. “What do you mean?”
She shrugged.
“I wished to stay up here with you for just a little while longer.”

And a tear rolled down her cheek, just like a shooting star.

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The Watermills

Sometimes things in life converge in a peculiar way. For the past few weeks I’ve been practicing, or attempting to practice, some  forms of meditation to help alleviate stress and anxiety.  Stress and Anxiety which stem from personal difficulties, but also, I’m quite sure, from the nature of the actual world we live in. A world that puts first and foremost the constant striving for success and achievement, both personal and professional. The constant comparing with people around you, are they happier than you, do they have more money than you, are they in better shape than you. You find it almost impossible to just exist in your own skin without going all over the place and compare, judge and critique. The mind, the modern western mind, is in constant chatter. It always has something to say, and at least for me, most of the things it has to say aren’t really positive or nice. It reminds me of what I can’t do and what Iwas never able to do, no matter how much I tried. It lives almost exclusively in the past or the future, and almost never in the present.

So it was interesting to me, specifically in a time like this when i’m trying to subdue the mind-chatter by meditation (and mostly not succeeding for now, but at least I think I understand the concept), that I happened to watch Akira Kurosawas’s Dreams. Now, I hope I don’t need to mention that, but Kurosawa is one of the greatest filmmakers that ever lived and Dreams is one beautiful, mesmerizing film. It is made up of eight stories that represent, well, dreams. But those are not the dreams of The Sopranos for example (which if you ask me are more “realistic” portrayal of how actual dreams unfold) but a more subdued version, more like surreal short stories. The main theme of the film, as I see it, is of celebrating life and nature and it has a major criticism against science and technology as harbingers of pollution and misery. Of course, it is not technology itself but what Man does with it, which means this is ultimately a film about the spirit of man and its capability to create and destroy at the same time.

But the film is so visually breathtaking, and so slow and deliberate in its presentation (this is most certainly NOT a Hollywood action film), that,  if you’re in the right mindset for it- and after three weeks of partial-meditation I sure was – you may be rewarded by something which is akin to a meditative state. This film is magical.

It was exactly what I needed to see right now since it complemented perfectly my state of mind or rather the state of mind I was trying to achieve. There is something at the same time soothing and frightening in it. For some of the segments are truly beautiful and serene (Crows, The Peach Orchard) but some are grim and scary (The Blizzard, Mt. Fuji  in Red). In the end, I was especially struck by the final segment, titled Village Of The Watermills. It takes place in one of the most beautiful locales I have ever seen. I find it hard to believe a place like this can actually exist. It looks like paradise and not in the commercial, cliched way –  an island with white sands and palm trees – but actual paradise, the real one, up in heaven. It consists of a conversation with an old man followed by a rather joyous funeral procession filled with song and dance and I almost cried with the beauty of it all, and wished I could visit it.

The Village of the Watermills seems like a manifestation of what your own self should ideally feel like when you’re in a meditative state: Serene, peaceful, with nothing of the outside world barging in on you. A place which exists only for itself and which represents your inner being, after all the clutter and noise and bullshit of the modern world is swept aside.

At the end it’s just us and nature, from which we came and to which we return, and if we try and remember that, remember what the important things are, we may be in peace.

I think most of us deserve it.

Perfect Day

This was it. It was now or never (well, probably not, but he always had a flair for the dramatic).

She was sitting at her desk, her eyes glued to the computer, her hand moving the mouse left and right, up and down.
She paid no attention to him.
Her hair was dark and long and curly, strands of it falling and covering her left eye.
She twisted her lip and puffed some air up and the renegade curl flew away.
His heart skipped a bit.
He said:
“Hey”.
She tilted her head and saw him. Her eyes were brown and large. How he loved those eyes of hers.
“Hey!” She replied, leaning back and stretching her fingers. “God, this report is a pain in the ass”.
“So take a break”.
“Yeah, I guess I should. What’re you up to? Still with the fall paperwork?”
“Yeah”. He said.
“Poor guy”.
“Oh, that’s alright”.
Ok, enough with the damn small talk.
“Listen, there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you”.
“Hmm..?
“Would you like to… you know… go out and do something togeter? Maybe this Saturday?”
She looked at him with her big eyes. His heart sank for a minute.
This can’t be a surprise to her, he thought. The way he’s been talking to her, the way he’s been trying to be close to her, she must know that he likes her more than just a friend. She must.
“Sure” she said.
He felt a smile appear on his face, widening and widening. He felt himself turn into the Cheshire Cat.
“Great!” He said.
“What did you have in mind?” She asked.
“Mini Golf? At The Grover Grounds? On Saturday”
“Yeah, sure”.
“Then we can go to Kiki’s”.
She smiled again.
“Listen” she said, “Lets talk later. I have to get back to this damn report”.
“Yes” he said, “Yes. Okay, so… thanks. I mean, good.”
She laughed.
“You’re funny”.
He went back to his cubicle, but there was no chance he could focus on his work today.
No chance in hell.

Saturday morning was beautiful and sunny. They met at the entrance to the Grounds and played till 11:30. He won, but it wasn’t really important. He helped her choose her clubs and aim. She let him hold her arms and guide her. It was wonderful to touch her, to smell her. His whole body and mind were on a natural high.
Then they went into town and he bought her ice cream. She laughed at his jokes. At some point she held his hand.
They talked about all kinds of stuff, sitting in the park eating their ice cream. They talked about what movies they last saw, about the wonderful weather in this April day – as if god arranged it just for them after a week of rains. They talked about his family and her family, about life in a small town and their dreams of getting out. They talked about books and music and cats. They both loved cats.

They didn’t talk about work at all. Not even one bit.

After the ice cream they didn’t feel like lunch so they went to the Gladstone Theater instead to catch the 4:30 show.
He couldn’t beleive his luck. They showed Casablanca.
When they went back out into the street (part of them still in the black and white wonder), they needed a few seconds to adjust. He felt like he’s hovering a few feet above the ground.
But it was getting dark.
And they were tired.

Her place was just a few blocks away and he walked her there.
When they got to the walkway in front of her house, she turned to him and kissed him lightly on the cheek.
“Thank you” she said. “I had  a wonderful, wonderful time”.
“It’s me who should thank you” he said. “thank you for a perfect day”.
“It was great, wasn’t it?” She said.
The sun was setting, making their shadows growing longer and thinner on the pavement.
Then he leaned and kissed her. She let him.
He held her tight.
“Yes, it was wonderful” he said. “Let’s do it again soon”.
“No” she said.
He let her go and looked at her, befuddled.

“I’d have to say no” she said from behind her desk. She wasn’t really smiling anymore. And she did act surprised, for some reason.
“Ah, okay”. He blurted.
She went back to her computer.
“I just thought I’d try, you know. You only live once”.
“Yeah, I know” she said. This time she smiled, but it wasn’t the smile he was looking for. “But it’s still no, okay?”
“Okay” he said. He kept standing there for a few seconds as if someone poured concrete on his shoes, but she didn’t look at him.

It was as if he wasn’t there.

He turned and slowly went back to his cubicle.
It was longest walk of his life.
He felt eyes looking at him. But they couldn’t have heard the conversation, could they? Could they?
He sat back on his chair ans stared at his computer.
He would keep staring at it until it was time to go home.

Home.

The weatherman on TV said that the rains will be over by the weekend.

He said Saturday will be sunny and warm.

He said it’s going to be a perfect day.

JUMP

The wind struck his face. Hard.

He pulled the chord. Nothing happened.

He pulled again.

Nothing.

Oh my god, He thought. Oh, Jesus Christ oh my dear god.

He opened his eyes. Nothing but blue skies all around him. A perfect friggin’ day.

He couldn’t see the ground. Then he realized he has turned upside down, and was grateful for it in a kind of a foolish way, considering he’s about to hit the ground at about 300 Kilometers per hour.

He pulled the chord again.

Nothing.

He wondered how the others were doing. He wondered if they could see him hurtling towards the earth like a shot pigeon. He wondered if he’ll make a huge dent in the ground like in those WB cartoons he liked so much. T-T-THAT’S ALL FOLKS!

He wondered why he took that stupid sky-diving course in the first place.

Oh yeah, he wanted to spice up his life. Well, it sure is spiced now.

Sitting in that windowless office, day in day out, entering the invoices in the excel sheet, making the phone calls, going to meetings, drinking coffee at 8 AM, at 10 AM, at 12 PM. Wanting to call Lizzy and ask how she’s doing, and never doing so because it’ll hurt like hell just hearing her voice.

Only three months ago he sat at the edge of his bed with its rumpled sheets, and looked at the tiny box he was holding in his hand. Looked at it as if it was a live grenade. 20 of these little pills, and he’ll be out like a kite. (He invented that expression and was very pleased with himself for about half an hour).
He wasn’t brave. He wasn’t brave at all. He didn’t want to blow his brains out and he didn’t want to jump off the roof. He didn’t want to leave a stain. He wanted to go nice and clean. Yeah, nice and clean. And pain-free.

What a coward.

He put the pills in his mouth and spat them right out again.

Time seemed to freeze. He didn’t know how many minutes he was hurtling like that. Could be 20 seconds for all he knew.

He panicked and started to flail his arms. He knew it was stupid, but he did it anyway. For some reason, the image of Foghorn Longhorn came to his mind and he stifled an almost insane laughter.
And then, suddenly, he saw it. Coming towards him, green and brown. The Man Who Came To Earth, he thought. That’s me, that’s me.

He pulled the chord again, knowing it was useless, but not able to think about anything else he can do. The wind blew so hard at his face he could hardly breathe. He thought it would be hilarious if he suffocated before he hit the ground. His hair blew around him and he was sorry he didn’t and up getting that haircut he planned to get.

Why the hell was he thinking about about such mundane things when he was about to SPLAT?

He was at his therapist’s office. They were talking about his depression. The therapist said that his depression was mild.
He told her about his lack of love life, about his loneliness, about the job he hated and about his stupid boss.
He didn’t tell her he took the pills, though. To be honest, he wasn’t sure he really wanted to kill himself. He thought he was just joking around.

Maybe he was fooling himself. He thought, what’s the use of going to a therapist if you don’t tell her the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you god?

He didn’t really feel the therapy was making him feel better. On the contrary. He often felt quite miserable when he emerged out of her office, after spewing all this self hatred of his.

And It stayed like a bile in his throat.

One day, when he was sitting in the waiting room, looking at magazines (whenever he sat there he envisioned himself as Tony Soprano, who made going to the shrink cool again. Too bad he wasn’t half the man Tony was, he thought helplessly), he came across a large ad which read:

SKY DIVING – THE ULTIMATE THRILL

FEEL THE ULTIMATE FREEDOM

LEARN TO SKY-DIVE AT THE FREEMAN SKYDIVING SCHOOL

NOW WITH A SPECIAL INTRODUCTORY  PRICE!

IT’S AN ADVENTURE OF A LIFETIME!

It caught his imagination.

Inside the office, he discussed with her the idea of going for it. She was very encouraging and enthusiastic. She said it will do him good.

Yeah, real good, he thought now.

Stay calm! He thought helplessly. Remember what they told you to do in case of an emergency! There’s a… There’s a…

That’s right! There was a second, back-up chute. He fumbled, trying to find the chord. He couldn’t find it and panicked again. He tried to concentrate.

There it is!

He pulled at it. Hard. A sudden jerking force blew him upward. He felt the chute open above him and cried tears of joy.

But still, he was flying too fast, too goddamn–

The impact blew what little air he had left out of his lungs. He felt a crushing pain all over his body and lost consciousness.

When he came to, he found himself hanging in midair. He had a weird sensation in his belly. He gazed down and saw a large, thick branch poking out of the right side of his abdomen. He studied it, strangely unaffected, like it was some third limb that has always been a part of his body.

Blood was trickling down into his eyes, and his back felt like it was chewed up and spat out by a combine.

But he was alive.

Someone shouted something. He couldn’t understand what. The world has been reduced to the branch in his belly and a ringing, peculiar silence, like what you hear, or don’t hear, if you’re at a shooting range without wearing your ear mufflers.

He tried to move his head, but the pain was excruciating. Then he saw that some of them were running towards him, pointing. Someone shouted, someone else answered.

Then there was a snap and he fell down. Again.

In those brief few seconds, he tried to imagine he’s Duffy Duck so it wouldn’t feel that bad.

He lay on the ground, and suddenly felt an urge to laugh, although trying to do so only meant more pain.

He fell from height of 3,000 meters and survived.

He, who thought about killing himself only three months ago. Wasn’t it fucking ironic?

He heard a siren. People were standing around him, talking in what sounded like gibberish.

Before he closed his eyes and went into a blissful sleep, he thought:

Man, what a story to tell the grandkids.