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 #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.

I’d Rather Stand

The brown, faded leather couch was soft and enveloping, absorbing Colleen with a distinct woosh of air when her weight hit it.  Her feet, formerly adorable in her new Mary Janes, now hung childlike in the air as she discovered the true depth of the enormous piece of furniture.  Did she look as ridiculous as she felt?  Who puts a couch like this in a waiting room?  All the chairs, the normal, waiting room kind, were occupied.  Even if someone got up, she probably wouldn’t be able to free herself in time to claim the vacant seat.

Looking out at the folks waiting for their own appointments, she noticed a middle-aged man in the front with a bandage bulging over his left eye.  His unencumbered right eye stared curiously at her.  Giving him a tight smile, the kind she reserved for strangers in passing, she tried to settle more comfortably.  The cushion beneath her rolled and billowed as if she were sitting on a giant, semi-inflated balloon.  Setting her purse on her thighs she braced herself with outstretched arms as she bobbed a bit.

Feeling hugely exposed by this awkwardness, she began inching forward.  If she could at least put her feet on the floor she would be able to stand up without too much of a struggle when her name was called.  The couch didn’t seem inclined to cooperate.  Each bit of forward movement made her abdominal muscles strain to bring her upper body over her knees while her backside sank deeper.  Halfway to her target position she paused, took a deep breath and fought the urge to just flop backwards and take a break.  Unable to stop herself, she looked out at the room.

The man with the eye patch was still watching her.  Frozen in partial movement, arms straining forward and her legs stretched in Barbie doll fashion, she found herself trapped in a one-eyed stare down.  For an absurd moment she weighed her odds of winning, her two eyes against his one.  She was nearly being eaten by the couch while he sat composed on a firm, stable chair with armrests.  Then her stomach gave in to the strain and she sank slowly backward, ending almost flat, but with her head coming to rest at just enough of an angle to let her see everyone else as they studied her.  Lying quite still, she closed her eyes and contemplated her next move.

From this position she would be forced to roll almost completely over in order to gain enough leverage to shove herself off the couch.  Obviously she would land on her knees and have to pick herself off the floor.  Of course there was always the question of the couch’s cooperation.  What if she managed to roll over but couldn’t find her leverage?  Based on the results of her previous attempt she didn’t think it a stretch to envision herself face down and suffocating.  

With a bracing gasp of air, she made her decision.  Clutching her purse safely against her stomach she opened her eyes and raised her free hand into the air, waving it slowly back and forth like a white flag.

“A little help?”