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“Malibu” … a short story by SPB

I saw the coyotes again, right before Vivian arrived, feral as their own appetites, crawling through the bush beneath the worn mahogany slats of Sharon and Patrick’s deck. At least I think they were coyotes, mangy-looking and mean as they seemed. They might have been just some ravaged lost dogs for all I knew; but I fantasized them as coyotes, as long-toothed sentinels, guarding all the ghosts who refused to leave the house, and that fantasy kept me going for the early days of my visit. Whatever they were, coyotes or mere dogs, they seemed to have purpose and they didn’t seem half as lost as I’d been feeling, stuck out here, mourning Melanie, strengthening my bones, waiting for Vivian to arrive. Not that I needed Viv as much as I once thought I did. I’d been off my crutches for two weeks by then, and my hobble had somehow mutated back into a stilted stride. But I was still stuck; even though I was somewhat better, I still couldn’t drive, and wasn’t sure I wanted to. And walking along the Pacific Coast Highway, even for exercise, seemed as ridiculous as speeding drunkenly, depressively, down it, which is what put me in my recuperative state in the first place.

Seems like that’s all I did that year, wait. Wait for food to get delivered from the health food spot down near Malibu Canyon. Wait for Patrick to bring me shampoo and soap on his rare trips into the city. Wait for the mail guy to deliver the books I never read and the flat red Netflix envelopes of DVDs I never watched. Waiting for weight, too, it seemed, because I shed many pounds, waiting to get better, waiting to stop missing Melanie, waiting for the seasons to change when of course they weren’t going to change all that much, not here in California. That year in Los Angeles was like one long never-ending almost-summer day, poked through with some rain and some wind, but always, inevitably, summertime. So I made the seasons change with the music I played. I let Joni be the fall and Miles be the winter and Sarah Vaughn’s Gershwin concerts comprised my spring. And I prayed. Thanking God for giving Sharon and Patrick the good taste and foresight to have the sleek stereo system that they kept on some complicated altar-like shelves in the den.

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A short story by SPB

{The following is a short story I wrote a few years ago, which I dug out to read at an AKA-sponsored reading at Brown University last year, mainly because the story took place in Providence, Rhode Island, and because the audience, like some of the main characters, were soon to be college graduates. After reading the story I realized that I liked it more than I thought, so before I started grad school last year, I did a revision of it, and now I like it more. The best critique I got of it? A woman at the reading told me that she really believed the female narrator’s voice. That was nice to hear. Hope you do, too. Leave a comment if you like…}

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“Something About the Warmth”

My boyfriend Eric believes women are smarter than men. Or so he tells me as we stand on the screened-in porch watching his parents drive away through the deep dirty puddles along my dead-end street. My t-shirt is damp from the raindrops whisking through the screen; I look like a candy bar waiting to be unwrapped. Eric is completely dry; he was standing back from the door as we waved goodbye. So much for my innate female intelligence. But before I can say this to him, he’s back inside the house, sprawled across my little couch, his head thrown back on a pillow with his eyes closed, nodding rhythmically, his eardrums — and mine — assaulted by the rap music beats thrusting from the speakers hanging over the stereo. Rather than shout at him to turn it down before the man downstairs begins to complain again, I get the prints I was working on before his parents’ surprise visit and go back out to the porch. The window screens vibrate with the beat of the music, like they want to jump out of their settings and dance away into the rain. I wouldn’t mind doing the same, but I have work to do, which Eric doesn’t seem to understand. But, recent college grad that he is, with his “dream job” awaiting him in New York, work isn’t something he takes too seriously right now.

I wonder, sometimes, dream job or not, if he’ll ever take it seriously. But I try not to wonder that at this moment. I push that thought aside.

Instead I push the prints around on the old carpenters table, rearranging the order, trying to tell a new story.  The familiar faces of my friends stare out at me from the photographs, staring at me from the past, young, and promising, and promised to. They’re looking up at me from their locked, photographed impressions like I can give them answers.  I know that I can’t though and something in me regrets that. But I don’t let that bother me either. Instead I tell myself that it only means I did my work correctly.  Besides, who needs the answers when you really can’t even remember what the questions were?

“Tell me that story again.” It’s Eric, standing right behind me. The music is lower, not as mean and propulsive, and his hand on my arm is soft and easy. “Tell me about your friends again. Tell me about the black cat.”

I have to smile at that last request. I almost always forget about the cat. I almost always inwardly kick myself for not taking a picture of the cat, to have it here to move around the carpenters table with the other photographs from that day.

“What happens when a black person crosses a cat’s path?” That was Sean talking that day, raising a match to an unfiltered Camel and leaning his head to the side to shield the breeze rushing through the van windows.

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