A Smile for Greg

Greg once did an extraordinary thing. Just as he was leaving one of his classes one of the girls smiled at him in the hallway. She was a pretty girl, not the hottest he had ever seen, but she was certainly good-looking. But instead of smiling back, Greg walked right past her and pushed down the hallway. As he was walking he anticipated the girl’s reaction, her confident face deforming into something of utter confusion and dejection. This image, without his noticing, allowed a grin to emerge on Greg’s own face. A girl as pretty as she had never been so promptly rejected, Greg thought as he exited the building, walking into the clear, spring day. He felt as if he had unearthed a certain power that had been resting within him. He started walking toward the dorm building, a grin still plastered to his acne-scarred face.

In his room, his fingers busied themselves on the keyboard, conjuring monsters on the computer screen to raid an enemy’s fortress. He pressed a couple of buttons and the minions overtook the walls. Fireballs ruptured through the sky and pummeled the top of the fortress, inching its life-bar closer to the red. Eventually, the lair became gutted and black with its once lofty towers disappearing into nice plumes of smoke. Greg’s hand slammed a couple of cheese-coated crackers into his mouth as he watched his minions gather the innards of the fortress for his virtual kingdom.

Greg sunk a couple of more hours into the game. There was satisfaction here, until Greg started thinking about the girl again. Greg’s fingers stopped moving and his eyes turned away from the computer screen. The girl had no interest in him. No, of course not, at least not as a potential boyfriend, but rather as some sort of lowly freak to toy with. He looked back at his computer and started playing his game again. He tried to erase the girl’s smile from the pockets of his memory, but its meaning lingered.

He soon recalled how, a couple of days before, she had complimented his hat, incorrectly referring to it as a fedora. He told her that it was actually a porkpie and then she smiled. But it was the sardonic tone that he had found within her voice that now held him. Of course, he thought, no girls are interested in him—they’re all just phonies who like to smile for the sake of smiling or to practice their certain power over others. His mind then turned toward himself. He thought about how stupid it was to even consider that someone as good-looking as she would be interested in a pale, noodle-armed loser like him. His face started turning warm and red. He tried getting back into his game; it was the only thing that he could do.

During the weekend he tried ignoring that face in the hallway, but his mind would drift back towards it. Sometimes, he would be eating something and the smile would appear to him in a flash. It was especially rough on Saturday when Greg was sitting innocently in his dorm room, gazing at the back of an empty bag of chips. He saw that one of the ingredients was aged-cheese powder and, for whatever reason, this triggered the smile’s return. He tried pulling his mind back by focusing on the different varieties of potato chips, but the attempt was futile. That wretched, toothy grin glowed before him, enveloping everything. Soon, his mind floated past that image and into darker things. He started thinking about how, at nineteen, he was still a virgin and how he’s never even had at and that the only smiles he has ever received were from girls that had no intention of sleeping with him, and fatties.

Greg wasn’t a jerk like most guys were, he thought to himself. Yet, when he was in high school, all the girls were averse to him and favored the boring rich guy with the haircut that looked nice regardless of the weather. Greg was the outsider, but he considered himself “above” most, including the more popular and likeable students. He was, after all, a genius. But people were more interested in how far you can throw a football, not in how well you can maintain your resources in an online game. People favored superficial things, rather than intelligence, and Greg always thought that this was the reason why he was labelled a “loser” in high school and why he was never laid.

But now, certainty slipped from him. Greg rose from his chair, letting the empty bag escape his hand and onto the floor. He looked out the window—it was getting dark. Greg, without thinking, left his room and went outside. He wandered around the campus and felt silly doing so, but he continued anyway, circling around the campus and eventually coming back to the front of the dorm building. Instead of going back in, however, he turned and sat at a bench. From there he looked up at the building. It was three stories high. The lights were coming on and soon every other window turned to a yellow. He started feeling silly again, silly for being outside in the cold and not back in his own room playing his game. Why did he let that girl get to him? Why did she matter at all? He stared at the windows of the dorms and imagined what each student was doing and how most of them had average hopes and average ambitions. They, like that girl, were held by society’s game, Greg thought, and insecure and hopeless, destined to live barely-human and mediocre lives. Greg got up and headed back to the door. As he turned the handle he thought about how he was above all that.

Grabbing the Hawks

Bernard was eighty and lived in a small room. He was given food and played cards, but he wasn’t content like the others who smiled when somebody they knew came by and acknowledged them. Every day, Bernard overheard their chatterings; they talked about the weather and what was on TV. They were content; death didn’t linger there.

He knew that the others did not give-up, but were mostly satisfied. They all probably thought that they lived a “good” life and, as a result, were unburdened by death’s nearing. But Bernard felt pathetic, embittered with himself that he too cannot succumb to relaxing, allowing his skin to warm underneath the sun.

And this was all because Bernard was an artist. He was never financially successful, but well-respected. He knew well of other people’s admiration, but wasn’t able to turn to his own works and see what they saw. No matter how much he was praised he felt the truth, that he was merely a mediocrity. Bernard, throughout his life, felt that he was on the cusp of greatness. On the cusp. But then Bernard became tired and old and unmotivated. He was placed in a retirement facility; they gave him food and he played cards.

But on one warm Saturday morning, Bernard left his room and went outside to sit on the grass and watch the gathering of ducks. There was nothing special about these birds except, by circumstance, they gave Bernard comfort. When he was a kid he was fascinated by the hawks that would fly above the buildings and trees. The ducks didn’t share the same essence as the hawks that hovered within his memory, but they allowed him to feel like a child, when he was allowed to marvel at the hawks that were beyond him and everything. Bernard sat there and closed his eyes, and somehow, felt that the hawks were now closer to him.

Day in the City – Fiction

Late afternoon once again and the man moves across the empty street toward the park. Right away he sees a fat squirrel standing on the grass, its cheeks moving. He shoots it with his BB rifle and drops the body in his sack, looks around for a moment, then starts to head back home.

The man goes along his way, passing by abandoned cars. He peeks inside one. A while back, in one of the cars, he found an album with some lovely photos. Another time he saw a raccoon curled underneath a dashboard. He used to think about the people trying to evacuate, and him waiting for the imminent. But something in his genes disallowed his dying like the others. Now he peeks inside dead cars and buildings.

Later, as he walks through the basketball courts it catches him, a red soccer ball laying partially deflated in the middle of the empty court. He’s passed by it countless times, but now he’s struck. The half-of-something sitting there, touched only by the stolid air. The man goes over to it, squeezes and listens to its long wheeze. Then he drops it in the trash, even though it won’t go anywhere.

Sunday Photo Fiction
Sunday Photo Fiction

Written for Sunday Photo Fiction.

A Great Writer Speaks – Fiction

“Writers write,” Herman Reisz informed the students, “in order to become a better writer, a writer must write—every day.” Reisz was one of America’s most renowned authors; his novel, No More Light for Scott, published in 1992, was an instant classic and read by every undergraduate studying English. Noted critics like Thomas Stulls praised the writer: “Reisz is perhaps the most significant writer of the last few decades. Not only do his words bludgeon the reader with their profundity, they are also of great import. Reisz is a tremendous literary gift; the same cannot be said of many.” Herman Reisz also lectured frequently at all the top state and private universities where he bequeathed young wannabees his ultimate wisdom.

“Writers MUST live life. Observe people. And, of course, write from the thumping in your chest.” As Reisz was proffering his knowledge he scanned the numerous faces, hungry and hoping to absorb some form of greatness from an aging man with spectacles. He knew that most of them were talentless. Most, he figured, probably wouldn’t be able to construct a memorable line or image, at least, not on purpose. And even the ones with talent, he knew, would most likely be swept-up by the trap that is academia. He was thinking all of this as he was lecturing. He was able to do the two things at once for he had given the same advice, in the same way, over and over. He likened it to the involuntary ease of blinking or eating with your mouth closed. Reisz didn’t hate what he had become—it was reality.

“The best writers bare their skin,” he heard himself say. Now he was watching one of the girls in the third row: Long, brown hair, head rested in her hands, green eyes gazing at him. “…they open themselves up. They have to. That is the obligation of those who wield the pen…” Reisz started wondering about how much that girl’s parents must of forked-over so she can have middling discussions about Blake or David Foster Wallace. And all to what end? So that hack writers can get paid to lecture for only the very few bother to even purchase their buy their pulp? We may never know…

“In addition to being ever-present with reality, the best writers also offer messages of grave significance…” Reisz didn’t know what that meant, and was certain that no one else did either, but they were lapping it up, he could tell. Maybe that girl really is interested in literature and advancing the art-form, he wondered. Perhaps, she is less interested in fame or becoming a “name writer,” like Toni Morrison, Dave Eggers, or Herman Reisz. But so what of it? Most people will most likely never read her work, either because there are too many other writers flooding the market, or because most readers don’t care about originality, but would much rather read something that agrees with their views or utter schlock.

This was when Reisz stepped away from the lectern and turned to the whiteboard. He picked-up one of the pens and scribbled something big enough so that everyone can see (and he underlined it, twice): It was the answer to everything, so if anyone couldn’t see (or read,) Reisz read aloud, “Cut the crap!” He ended every lecture the same way, and knew it was all nonsense. He also knew that, years from now, the books that he published that were so highly-regarded would never be read again for he knew that he wasn’t a very good writer. He had no talent, but he never did feel an ounce of guilt for pushing mediocrity. Reisz coasted through life, writing a few more nondescript books, eventually retiring somewhere within the mountains, waiting for his pleasant life to take its leave.

Gerald Contemplates God – Fiction

(c) Jen from Blog it or Lose it!
(c) Jen from Blog it or Lose it!

“I ain’t the most religious guy, but you’ve got to admit, those Bible-thumpers know a thing or two about art and architecture,” Gerald said to me as he gazed at the constellation of gold tiles that defined the chapel’s ceiling. “Maybe that’s why people turn to religion if they weren’t brought-up on it–they’re too attracted to beauty.”

Gerald rubbed his chin, “Then again, it seems a bit too tacky, like they’re trying too hard.”

“Yeah,” I said. “You would think they would do better if they’re trying to make a tribute to God.”

“Nah, they’re not doing this for God. Besides, do you really think God gives a crap about some shiny shit in a building? Haven’t you ever thought it weird that God would care if we worshiped him or not? Does God have an ego, like us?”

“Let’s hope not, for this artist’s sake.”

A non-story inspired by Bastet’s Friday Flash Fiction Challenge from We Drink. Check out the other entries!

Aunt Jeanne – Short Fiction

Emil, young people today look up at heaven and see
nothing. And the earth below their sparkling sneakers
is just service to a feeling. You’re the exception, Emil.
You will know how to treat a woman, you will know
God and be an extension of his Hand. You’re better
than them–your loneliness is the marker of great
difference. They can’t look at you Emil, the way
you really are, cause they look up at heaven and see
nothing.

Emil Bennett was driving around at midnight, thinking about his Aunt Jeanne, who raised him and told him all sorts of useful things–about how there is actually good and evil in the world and how, if Emil was decent, good things will come forth to him.

But her words now seemed false, or at the very least, simplistic in thought. Maybe there was actually something wrong with him and the way he remembered what his Aunt Jeanne told him. She had been dead for nearly a decade and what remained of her was a construction that glowed in Emil’s mind when he needed her, or thought he did. She was the only person that made him understand that there was nothing wrong with him, but with everyone else who were selfish and lacked the ability to see beyond themselves.

However, as Emil was driving down streets, stopping and going at intersections with no real plan or direction, he thought about the Aunt Jeanne that he had made, rather than allowing it to comfort him.

Suddenly, Emil was in the house he had grown up in, the place where his aunt and uncle raised him. He was walking down the hallway leading to the bedrooms. But he couldn’t look at the portraits hanging from the walls. They were all nebulous blurs floating in the sides of his vision. The walls, he noticed, as he was walking seemed to lack color even though they looked the same as they did back then.

Soon, he reached the end of the hall and opened the door leading to one of the back rooms where dust gathered on old books and heirlooms. Aunt Jeanne was sitting by the window. The window glowed a whiteness that shaped her face. But Emil couldn’t comprehend the face. Like the pictures in the hallway, it was vague, and like the walls she resembled everything that was once, but not in essence. Emil knew there was a smile there, but only because he had put it there in his mind, but yet could not see it. He turned and looked at the rest of the room. He used to read the old books and look at artifacts representing his family’s past and wipe the dust away. But all he saw were things filling a room. It all seemed like junk from a distance, but if he were just able to approach and start pulling individual items, meaning would be found and understood. But he couldn’t move closer into the room. His mind only allowed a distant glance.

Emil’s hands squeezed the wheel. He was at another intersection, the light red. In a moment he had forgotten the places his mind wandered to and how it got there. And the once-certain sadness that fueled his aimless driving had faded into a slight emptiness. The light turned green. He pushed forward, down the street, and minutes later went home, disappearing into his room.