Snippet #21

The glass door was propped open with one of those hard, plastic wedges jammed beneath it. Nervously I peered inside, wondering if I was really going to go through with it?  I’d never done anything like this before.  It was so out of character for me that I could hardly believe I had thought of it all by myself.  The boy behind the counter looked too young to have a job.  His hair was flopping over the brim of his visor, and that vest!  Oh god, to even think about buying something from a boy wearing a vest like that and wasn’t working in a hardware store was almost too much.

Just as I was ready to discard the idea entirely, the kid looked up and spotted me.  I guess I’d blocked the light a little too long.

“Hi!  Welcome to Literation Services!”  His face radiated happiness as he looked at me like I was his favorite uncle.  “My name is Kevin.  How may I help you today?”

I felt my eyes get bigger as I contemplated just running away.  How would that look though?  The other people on the sidewalk might think I was a shoplifter trying to get away with something.  They might try to stop me!

“Come on in!”

In spite of myself I responded to his energetic wave and stepped across the threshold.  The change was like night and day.  The feel of the store from the sidewalk had been pretty normal, like it was any other store on the street.  From the inside it was like holding your breath in a submarine, completely unnecessary but oddly compulsory.  The walls were covered from floor to ceiling with shelves packed so tightly with words it was almost impossible to see exactly where one stopped and another began.  My hard won high school diploma seemed an unlikely aide among all these choices.

Walking around the counter Kevin stood in front of me and held out his hand.  His eyes were shaped like almonds with a perfect duct in each corner, just big enough to hold a single, pristine tear.

“What can I help you with?”

“Um… I’m… uh…”  How did people do this?  Did they just come right out and ask?  Or did they play twenty questions?  I shook his hand, so young and lacking lines.

Turning to stand beside me Kevin looked up at one of the shelves and gestured with his open palm.

‘We have anything you could possibly want, it doesn’t even matter what language you need.”  His face glowed with pride as he openly preened over the inventory.  He looked back at me.  “So tell me, what are you looking for today?”

Okay, so I was just going to say it.  No games or charades, just straight out ask for it.

“I need a word that starts with L.”  My voice sounded clipped and hard, like I might chip it if I tightened it any further.

Kevin’s face grew thoughtful.

“How many letters?”

“Seven.”  Yes, seven letters.  I felt like a huge schmuck.

“Okay.  Are you looking for a noun?  Adjective?”

“Adjective.”  What man can’t come up with his own adjective?  I wanted to cover my face.

Moving away like a hound on the hunt, Kevin raised his hands in the air and let them flow across the shelves like he could feel the words better with his hands than he could see them with his eyes.

“Can you give me an idea of what you want to use the word for?”  His voice floated back, very professional and businesslike.  I could not accuse him of being judgmental.

“Um…”  Crap.

Stopping, hands still raised, Kevin looked back at me.

“Don’t worry, I’ll never tell.  All your business with Literation Services is private now and forever.  We don’t even keep a database.”

Snippet #20

Fading sunlight lit the windows with a soft, reddish glow, the edges fading first to orange, then to gold.  All along the street people lowered their heads, tugged the brims of their hats farther down or shielded their eyes with hand despite the sunglasses guarding their delicate peepers.  The brightness, magnified times six, tall, sky scraping buildings clothed in sheets of perfect glass, created a world bathed in its own fashion dilemma; a look to rival Godiva’s famous ride where only a fool could see the truth.  For sixteen minutes, there was no fool, only the dimming of the lights.

Snippet #19

One hundred and twenty seconds on the timer.  It would be fast.

    Outside my window I could see the neighbor’s kids drawing pictures on the sidewalk with pink and yellow chalk.  The pictures were always the same, ugly flowers with awkward centers.  A concrete garden that only got better when you watered it and washed it away.

    Starting the timer, I stood there and watched the numbers roll down.  Two, short, quick minutes.

The Hot Pocket was wonderful. 

Snippet #18

The sun was already reaching its zenith for the day.  In a couple more hours, dusk would creep in, spreading a soft, Autumn glow over the canal.  Sunset was always his favorite time of day down here.  

Sitting on the pale, recycled, resin bench, legs spread wide and arms thrown open across the back rest to discourage people from trying to sit with him, Carl watched the fat boy with his too long, red hair struggle with his catch.  He had managed to land fourteen fish in a little over an hour.  That had to be some sort of record.  As many times as he and JC had fished this area when they were boys, neither of them could boast of having caught fourteen in such a short time.  It looked like catching them was only half the battle though.  This kid was really working to get those fish home without losing anything.

Half-filled with water and bullheads, the blue bucket was too heavy.  Alternating between dragging it a few inches, then trying to lift it while not losing the fishing pole clenched under his arm or the small gray tackle box balanced on the lid just under the handle, he battled his way along the path toward home.

Spotting the uniformed officer walking leisurely toward the him from the opposite direction, he thought this might be a battle the kid was going to lose.  Shifting slightly to ease the growing numbness in his butt, he crossed one leg over a knee and waited.  From his vantage point on the other side of the canal, he would have a clear view.

Snippet #17

The instructions read: Push in on perforated area and pull up.  

Cassie stared at the perforated area, a small, triangle of space surrounded by tiny cuts in the cardboard.  Placing her finger over the spot she pushed lightly, testing the strength of the cuts.  In theory it should just break inward with a satisfying popping sound.  In theory…

Pressing harder, she noted the bowing of the top corner as the cardboard ignored the perforations, and its own printed instructions, and simply bent inward under the pressure.  Her lips compressed into an irritated line.  Why did she bother?  The instructions never worked yet she always gave it the old college try.

She hadn’t even gone to college.

Was that why she couldn’t open the box?  Was the trick to getting the perforations to work really just a matter of having a degree in something?

The entire, narrow side of the box collapsed under her finger as she pressed hard enough to explode a peach pit.  Still nothing.

Huffing angrily, she stopped pushing and grabbed the lid, forcing her finger under the glued edge and shredding the box top.  Dumping the contents into the pan of boiling water she grabbed a wooden spoon and maliciously churned the silver cheese package around with the macaroni.

Snippet #16

Laying flat on her stomach with her arms tucked mantis style beneath her, and her thick, dark, ponytail draped back over one shoulder, Haley hovered her face above the surface of the pond, her breath making the barest of ripples on the water.  Her time inside it had ended long ago, but to be able to watch, and breathe, and see the effect her very existence had upon those that came after; that was the true blessing of having lived at all.  The ripples she caused were small and avoidable, barely noticeable to those inside.  It was just enough to keep them trying.  Enough to keep things from being easy.

Every now and then, she would roll onto her back and stare into the sky above that was always black and shimmering with stars, and wonder who was breathing ripples down onto her?

Snippet #15

Time slowed to a crawl as the bus dug into the deep snow on the curb.  Unconsciously, Shelly placed a hand over her heart and held her breath, feeling the back wheels of the great machine slide sideways and grind against the raised edge of the sidewalk.  After a few seconds, the tires caught.  Ignoring the smaller vehicles, the city bus clawed its way into the street.

Pressing her hand tighter to her chest, trying to calm her rapid heartbeat through her gray, winter coat, Shelly glanced nervously around her, trying to see if she was the only worried passenger.  Across the aisle, sitting stiffly in her seat and gripping tightly to her shopping bag, sat a small elderly lady with an old, green knit hat and wide eyes.  As if feeling Shelly’s eyes on her, the woman turned her head and met her inquiring stare.  Nervous smiles tightened their mouths for just a moment.