eclipse photo
Photo by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

The surf swept the shore in a boring, sluggish rhythm, rewinding itself in an endless loop until the coming of the tide. The wind was completely still. The bathers were out of the water, as if a shark alarm had gone off. The lumpy curves of the woman on the right of Vinnie Kjellstrom wiggled in the heat to the exclamations of her phone conversation, with injections and implants of Botox and silicone seemingly swelling with each increment of mercury in the thermometer. His friend, a grilled walrus, snored on the ground with a mouth on the receiving end of sand. He reluctantly returned a couple’s inflated beach ball that had bounced off his head for the second time. For a faint fraction of a second, he thought there was a real trapdoor to his left that opened up to a steep staircase, spiraling downward into a cold abyss, offering a fast exit from the blistering bed of sand.

But there was no trapdoor, only the lid of the cooler that contained canned peaches and leftover warm beer. He had hoped to sweat the beer out of his system and not have to go into the water to pee, but the walk-in was becoming inevitable. Despite the reassuring updates posted on the local website, the ocean was swarming with jellyfish and two of them had left blotched burns on his body. The wound on his belly resembled the contours of a tilting Eiffel tower. Grains of sand lay scattered across the screen of his iPad, which he found almost impossible to remove with the sticky sunblock on his fingers. They made the swipes on the screen difficult and left scratch marks. He was terribly irritated by sticky things and irreparable damage. The newly posted images of Pluto upset Vinnie even more as he browsed the gallery containing the first photos of the planet. It had the color of dirty old sand and a large, irregular stain that looked like hardened flour on a pastry board or a bungled patch of plaster on a wall. It was an ordinary, ugly ball, a cheap bowling ball, which had been degraded into a dwarf planet. It was not what he had imagined it to be: a mystical, dark sphere with whirling masses of matter in its atmosphere and beyond, in the shades of comet gray, supernova amber and ghost white. His oil painting of Pluto – a Christmas present given to his ex-wife – hung in his bedroom, above the stationary bike. Vinnie had taken an Internet course in painting. A dwarf! Only people in high places, with big academic titles would call something smaller than Earth a dwarf. The Concorde could cross the Atlantic in three hours. Before Concordes were taken down. Before he could afford a flight on one, with some back-up from his retirement plan. And birds, ordinary birds, just like those gliding above the surf, weightless bundles of brittle bone and feathers, would fly halfway across the world in a matter of days.

Vinnie made a tepid attempt to move, to ask the couple if he could join their beach ball game, but his limbs felt like molten lead. He lamented his incapacity with a whining groan aimed at the ocean. With the horizon leveled above the deep water and the immensity of everything behind it, this little planet expanded into something unfathomable and intimidating.

Tongue Fuzz

lipstick     photo
Photo by twoblueday

I passed a newsstand the other day, on a Monday, next to a train station that was under renovation. I stopped to look around, under the scaffolding, hoping that a cover or a title would inspire a new story from me. My train was late because of track maintenance, again. Headlines were abundant: “MAN SHOOTS HOT DOG VENDOR IN FOOT OVER RELISH ARGUMENT,” “STOCKS PLUNGE AFTER SALMON TYCOON’S BUNGLED RHINOPLASTY,” “BIG BROTHER CONTESTANT,  BOBO, FARTS INTO HIDDEN MIC,” and so on. There were so many images attached to the text, one showing a passenger jet making a landing with only one wing, that I was overwhelmed with information and couldn’t decide which news bit or cover story to develop into an interesting narrative. I did not hesitate too long, however, because my attention was drawn to a couple, talking. I remained at a discreet distance from them.

A woman and a man, who seemed to have run into each other at the station, started up a vigorous conversation about the people they knew. They were about the same age, wore similar clothes and both of them wore a small mole on the forehead. One mole pulled toward the left temple, the other to the right. They were probably in a hurry, or hadn’t seen each other for a long time, or wouldn’t see each other ever again, because they seized the occasion to sputter at each other without a pause. The names they mentioned were many. It was difficult to follow them, because they passed on the baton of character assassination at a wicked pace. Their former classmate or roommate had a hideous habit of wearing tweed and rolling her eyes the wrong way. Her husband wore white socks with dress pants and smiled so much that it was rude. Their mom, it wasn’t clear to me whose, still couldn’t bake home-made bread without it being soggy or brittle, and she made embarrassing passes at men half her age, who felt confused and uncomfortable. The man’s co-worker, Jerry, at some consulting firm, under his supervision, was bothering everybody, day in, day out, with his outspoken honesty, getting on everybody’s nerves. His boss, an impotent wimp, with sympathy for other impotent wimps, wouldn’t fire anybody and kept people on payroll who should’ve been cutting out food stamps. His recent project for wealthy clients had been sabotaged by these people, disqualifying him for a bonus. The woman, probably cheated on by someone and visibly still angered, even outraged by it, had drawn up a “cheat sheet” that she posted on a site, with people she and her friends suspected of cheating. It would soon get a million hits. She also said that people over the age of seventy, who couldn’t take care of themselves, should be institutionalized in places they could afford and their real estate offered to young people with at least one degree from a Top 50 college, because life has definitely gotten harder. He nodded to much of what she had to say, not always in a friendly way, and added that his brother should also be locked up because he always threatens to beat him up, and sends text messages about wanting to kill him, and he probably beats up his girlfriend because she doesn’t earn enough money. His own girlfriend, Laura or Moira, doesn’t block her former husband’s calls on her phone, so she shouldn’t be surprised if he would one day cheat on her, too. She assured him that it would probably be the right thing to do and gave him a bear hug. He politely returned the hug, then his hands wandered down to cup her butt in a loose, casual hold. They whispered something to each I couldn’t make out and hurried away in opposite directions.

These are just fragments of the things they said, but some of them might be worth weaving into a story. I haven’t decided yet.