My Fiction- “The Other Mrs. Pfeiffer”

“The Other Mrs. Pfeiffer.” Lost in Thought Magazine 1 (2011): 8-11. Print. Canada.

After spending ten hours in a cubicle, Tammy Pfeiffer changed out of her work clothes to get their stink off her. She slipped the blouse over her head and unfastened her bra. Peeling off the Spanx and pantyhose, Tammy let the rolls around her midsection expand and looked at them bounce in the mirror. At 238 pounds, hate was hardly a word strong enough to convey her derision.

Pulling on a pair of sweats, Tammy wobbled to the kitchen. So far today she only had a shake for breakfast, a fruit parfait and a tuna salad with no mayo for lunch. That totaled to 930 calories and left her with exactly 370 for dinner, just enough for a slice of rye bread, three slices of turkey, and a bowl of greens. Healthy but tasteless, dinner took less than five minutes to make and less than two to eat.

This nightmare began on Christmas, when Tammy had promised her children that she’d lose weight. She hadn’t been below 200 pounds in fifteen years and the odds of losing 80 seemed about as good as winning the Powerball. But she wanted to get down to a healthier weight and tried faithfully every Monday.  Eleven Mondays later, she was four pounds heavier than she was on Christmas.

Perhaps this week would be different, it was only Tuesday.

Tammy plopped on the couch and logged into Facebook. She scrolled through mundane status updates, from people she vaguely remembered and rarely spoke to, pausing on the one person whose profile she always looked at whenever she wanted a reason to wallow.  

Lisa Marie in a size 2 Vera Wang wedding gown, Lisa Marie on her honeymoon cruise to Greece, Lisa Marie in her 5,000 square foot house with an indoor swimming pool. Lisa Marie at a congressman’s fundraiser, with her tanned arms around Tammy’s husband and children. Lisa Marie Thatcher, now known as Mrs. Richard Pfeiffer, MD, was 22 years younger and 100 pounds thinner than the first Mrs. Richard Pfeiffer, MD.

Lisa Marie was Rick’s do-over. She was Tammy version 2.0.

Consumed with an urge to eat a carbohydrate, Tammy vowed not to look at that woman’s page for the rest of the evening. She needed to take control of her cyber stalking but an alert that Lisa changed her profile picture was too hard to resist. Leaning in for a closer look, Tammy gasped when she saw that it was a sonogram.

No, it couldn’t be true. Rick didn’t want any more kids.

Tammy slammed the laptop shut and dashed to the pantry. Sparser than the refrigerator, the cupboards contained items that were much more suited for soothing a broken heart. She grabbed a bag of potato chips and devoured them. A two-year affair, a divorce after 23 years of marriage, and a hot young wife were one thing. But a new child, after he had insisted that two were plenty (she had wanted four)., that was too much.

Tammy licked the inside of the bag and moved on to a box of pretzels. They were supposed to last for the next five days but were gone in fifteen minutes. The wedding was six months ago and Lisa Marie was due in four.  In less than three years, she had managed to turn a stubborn overweight workaholic with one foot in the grave into a slim cycling fanatic who retired early and started a family. It wasn’t a scam but Tammy felt like she had been scammed. Lisa Marie had bought Tammy’s damaged Picasso for $10 by letting her think that it was a fake. 

Tammy used a foot stool to reach above the refrigerator. There she found a can of condensed milk that she had kept for this kind of emergency. The label said, 210 calories, 55 grams of carbohydrates per serving, 10 servings per can, but the numbers hardly registered. Tammy grabbed a spoon and tried to fill the void of being the other Mrs. Pfeiffer.

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My Fiction- “Craving”

“Craving.” Kerouac’s Dog Magazine 3 (2011). Print. UK.

Watching Meryl toss her hair in the rearview mirror, Clive held his breath.  Her burgundy bra strap peaked out and sparkled in the sunlight. Mesmerized, Clive imagined the sound it would make snapping against her skin, like the pop of a champagne bottle. His son Derek was caught in the middle of a texting war, barely noticing the goddess sitting next to him. After the car came to a full stop, Meryl gathered her things and waved goodbye. Watching her walk away, Clive wondered how much longer he could take keeping his lust to himself.

Neither hero or villain, Clive McCandless was a regular middle aged man with a work a day life, an ex-wife, and a child support order. It took him a long time to come to terms with the idea that he had nothing particularly special to offer to the world and that in itself was okay. But that was all before he met Meryl. Meryl Jenkins, his son’s stepsister and his ex-wife’s lover’s daughter, was Meryl Streep circa Kramer vs. Kramer.  She was kind and audacious and shy and sensual. She was everything that Clive has been looking for in a woman for forty nine years, the only problem was that she had only been alive during the last sixteen.

On the drive to work, Clive tried to remember if he had ever felt this overwhelming need for a woman before.  It has been a full six months since Meryl came to live with her father and Clive’s ex-wife and that was the first time he had seen her since she was fourteen. She lost twenty pounds, gained four inches and two cup sizes. Her hair was no longer jet black and her attitude was too much for her mother to handle.

Work was uneventful as usual. Dan Landers, Clive’s toupee-wearing cubicle neighbor, circulated rumors about possible cutbacks and Doreen McKenna, the woman who sued the company for sexual harassment, retreated to the ladies room every two hours with her breast pump. After hating himself for eating three muffins during the morning meeting, Clive spent much of the afternoon cyber stalking Meryl on Facebook and Twitter. He examined and reexamined her pictures, read her postings, and debated whether or not to write her a casual hello. Was there even such a thing as a casual hello from pot bellied father of her stepbrother?

 

After work, Clive parked the car in the garage and got out. Out of habit, he straightened out his suit and pressed the button to close the door. He looked forward to an evening alone in front of the television, with Chinese takeout and a glass of wine. Sonya was away at college and Derek was supposed to be at his mother’s. Clive opened the door and flipped on the lights. A pair of epic breasts stared straight at him. Perky and round, they peaked out of the familiar burgundy bra and vibrated softly up and down. Meryl let out a yelp, jumped up, and grabbed the blanket away from Derek. Frozen in place, Clive watched her dress haphazardly and run up the stairs.

After that, everything was a blur. Clive somehow managed to get back to the car and out of the garage, driving like hell trying to forget that he just walked in on his son having sex with the love of his life. But it was no use.  The hatred he felt for Derek was only surpassed by the hatred he felt for himself. Lost in a tundra, Clive knew no way out.

My Fiction- “The Silence of a Death”

“The Silence of a Death.” The Nevada Review 3.1 (2011): 55-58. Print.

He reclined the leather chair and examined his fingertips. The nails were short and uneven and the skin around the cuticles was rugged and bloody. He hated to pick at them but it was too early in the day for either a shot of whiskey or a joint. Ben Dale tugged on a loose piece of skin on his left index finger to calm his nerves.  Nauseated almost daily, he still refused to see it for what it was. His conscience was making an announcement, he was a fraud. 

Drinking the last of his coffee, Ben wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. His lips cracked and formed a blister. His face felt like he spent two days in the desert in the middle of July. His eyes burned but rubbing one was like slicing the cornea with a razorblade. When he smelled smoke, Ben stood up. The odor was faint at first. He turned on the ceiling fan, opened the window and waited for the air to clear. The curtains swayed in a gentle breeze but the fumes grew worse. Ben loosened his tie and took off his jacket. He was sweating profusely and portions of his dress shirt adhered to his skin. Strangely, the sleeves were inflated a bit. He unbuttoned the left cuff and smoke poured out. Smoke then fire.

Engulfed in flames, Ben ran into the hallway.  The secretary yelled for him to drop and roll but he heard only the sound of his own howls. One of the partners forced him down to the ground and covered him with a trench coat. The secretary sprayed him with a fire extinguisher. When the fire died down, Ben remained still and tried to make sense of what happened.  It was Wednesday, a day of no particular importance. He ate breakfast and got into his Mercedes at the usual time, when much of Henderson, Nevada was still asleep. Undisturbed sprinkler dew glistened of the manicured lawns. It was a normal morning, during a normal week.  He and Emma didn’t speak but nothing was unusual about that either. They were only cordial to one another at the marriage counselor’s office. The ambulance finally arrived.  Paramedics wiped off the foam but didn’t find a single burn, on either his skin or his clothes. Some fire damage was found on the back of his office chair. Confused and despondent, Ben swallowed an antidepressant and returned to work.

 Emma Dale waited for the garage door to close prior to turning on the television. It eased her loneliness but the programming was predicable: flash floods in the Midwest, rising unemployment, senate confirmation hearings.  Her husband didn’t disappoint in forgetting their baby’s seven month birthday but she saved this ammunition for a later time. Needing him home for at least one full day to bear the brunt of that mistake, Emma had to wait until Saturday.  She put the infant back in the crib and sat down on the couch.

Once upon a time, they were in love even if only with the illusion of the other.  They met in law school and married for money and status. Their families approved and perpetuated the façade.  But three years later, the illusion was gone. All that was left was a projection of happiness, a real estate advertisement with an emphasis on the positive. But an image is not a reality and the reality was that Ben resented her. Emma knew it and resented back. They got engaged when she got pregnant. She had an abortion because a proper wedding was expected. And a proper wedding of no fewer than 250 guests couldn’t be organized before she started to show. The decision was mutual and the false front was up. But that mattered little since the foundation was rotting from the inside out.

Emma was haunted by these thoughts. Alcohol numbed their effect a little but nothing made them go away completely. She imagined the smoothness of the glass in her hand and the sweetness of the wine on her lips but wanted to wait until at least noon. Staring into space, something unusual caught the corner of her eye. The far wall was moving. Emma turned off the television and waited for a few seconds. When she looked up, the wall was closer. The desk, near the left wall, was right next to the coffee table. Thinking back to last year’s remodeling project, she remembered that the room was precisely 17’x18’. It now measured at a little less than 15’x16’. Emma cautiously walked up to the wall and positioned her hands at right angles to her shoulders. For extra support, she placed one foot behind the other and pushed with all her might. The wall didn’t budge. Admitting defeat, Emma collapsed on the couch. A few hours later, the walls were back to normal and she moved the furniture to its proper place. Ben came home and they ate dinner in silence. Ignorant of the fact that willful blindness always has a price, neither revealed their secret.

The next morning, the walls started to close in early. Emma drank a beer to stave off some of the claustrophobia. Ben buried his head in a deposition and worked straight through his lunch break.  Yet fears were masked only temporarily. By early afternoon, Ben again saw smoke and smelled the undeniable scent of burning flesh. He dropped to the floor and rolled from one side of his office to the other. Black clouds quickly morphed into slivers of flame. The fire was finally put out when the secretary burst in with a fire extinguisher. Ben had no visible burns and the paramedics were not called. Later that afternoon, the law partners organized an emergency meeting. Spontaneous combustion was a liability and Ben was encouraged to seek other employment.

He drove home in a state of dread. Given that he grew up in a family where a sense of purpose was associated with upward mobility, unemployment was even more devastating than spontaneous combustion. Ben’s father was a retired insurance executive who considered principles the same thing as obligation and greed. He spent most of his adult life drowning in pride and antidepressants and Ben knew no other way. He admired his father’s commitment and waited for the opportunity to sacrifice for his own family, like his father did for his. Sometimes he almost wished that Emma was already like her mother, an alcoholic with three DUI’s and two failed stints in court ordered rehab. That way she could fulfill his last desire, to be needed forever.

Lacking a feasible explanation for what happened, Ben dragged his feet over the doorstep and dropped his briefcase on the floor. It was only six but Emma already drank her eighth beer and rearranged the furniture for the fifth time. The room was at least three feet smaller in perimeter and the far wall was now only a few feet away from the couch. Paying no attention to his incessant blinking, Emma waited for Ben to notice. 

He didn’t.

Ben’s face turned pale and his lips cracked. Faint smell of burning flesh filled the room. He unbuttoned the right shirt sleeve and let some of the smoke billow out.  It was starting again and he waited for Emma to notice.

She didn’t.

Neither recalled who uttered the first insult but it didn’t really matter. They screamed at each other on top of their lungs and each putdown relieved a part of the affliction.  The walls regressed a few inches and the smoke dissipated a little. The fight continued until a quiet wave of relief swept over them. Everything went back to normal. At least it appeared so.

The Dale house burned down a few days later and few people heard anything from them since. Both were at home when the fire started yet oblivious to the fact that the entire second floor was an inferno. While no formal charges were ever filed, suspicions circled like bees around a honeycomb. Co-workers and neighbors whispered about Ben’s history of setting fires and Emma’s propensity to drink but the scene offered little in the way of incriminating forensic evidence. It was determined that the infant died from smoke inhalation. She was found in a room whose walls were recently altered and moved closer. She had no visible burns but the residue on her skin indicated that she was a likely source of the fire. Many questions remained unanswered. The death was ruled an accident.