Short Story – As Sad as Rhonda

Malik watched the woman today, as he watched her almost every day.

She moved about the diner, coffee pot in hand, stopping to laugh with just about everyone in the place. Not him, but everyone else. He supposed he was still a newcomer. She swept away from what Malik assumed were a group of farmers and headed toward him with the pot. Five months of breakfast here five times a week, and she knew he would drink at least four cups of coffee before he headed out on the interminable job search.

“Hi, kid,” she said, pouring his coffee and dropping another handful of creamers on his table. She pursed her lips and threw a few extra napkins down as well.

Malik looked down. He had spilled egg yolk on his white shirt. “Guess I’m not job-hunting until I change.”

“You’re having a hard time finding a job,” she said. “There’ll be work once school lets out, but you got time before that happens.”

Malik shrugged. “It’s not urgent. It’s just that I hate looking for work. I feel like I’m going on endless first dates and I’m always coming up short.”

She smiled for the first time. It changed her face. Malik noticed the fine lines around her eyes. He couldn’t guess her age.

“If I had my way, you could have this job.” She walked away to serve another customer.

Malik finished his coffee and left his money on the table.

He went home, stripped off his clothes, and turned on the computer. He’d put in a few more online applications and start fresh tomorrow. He was sick of going door to door.

Later, when dinner was simmering on the stove, Malik was on hangouts, chatting with Johnna and Anthony. He leaned into the screen, wanting to jump through and touch their faces. “I miss you so much,” Johnna said. “It isn’t the same without you.”

Edward came through the front door and put his hands on Malik’s shoulders. He leaned toward the screen. “We’ll try to come for a visit when classes let out this summer.”

They disconnected, and Malik stood, turning to hold Edward. Edward’s hair brushed Malik’s nose for a moment, but he didn’t turn his face to kiss Malik’s mouth.

“How was the job hunt?”

“We’re not going for a visit when classes let out,” Malik said. “Not when you’re teaching summer classes.”

Edward was carefully taking off his suit jacket, and hanging it up on the garment rack in the corner. Malik watched him hang up his button-front shirt, his tie. He carefully aligned the seams of his pants, brushing out the wrinkles before draping it over the hanger. Edward thought he had to look pristine when he taught. Malik had tried to tell him the students would relate to him if he acted a little more natural. He hated that Edward looked so dapper. He wanted him to try to be more rugged, to fit in. He knew it was hard to be a first-year professor, fresh out of grad school. And Malik didn’t want Edward to stand out in this farming community.

He couldn’t fault his husband, though. Edward had tried so hard to get a job at a school in California, leaning on Malik’s salary at the insurance company as the months passed with no calls.

Now Malik was the one without a job. He got up to take dinner off the stove. He had promised to follow Edward anywhere.

In the morning, Malik watched Edward getting dressed. It was the same process as the night before, in reverse. It was Tuesday. Edward would be wearing his gray slacks and the light blue sweater vest. Malik saw the way the other professors dressed on campus, especially now, when it was cold and wet, and everyone was prepping for a long, ugly winter. Malik stared out the window at the gray sky. “I can’t remember what the California sky looks like,” he said.

 

(To be continued on Patreon)

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Excerpt from The Love Sucks Club

 

A car pulls up next to me and I look in the window. Esmé. Nodding to her, I keep walking. She pulls abreast of me again and sticks her head out the window.

“Where are you going?”

“Not far enough to need a ride.”

“Come on.” She laughs. “Don’t be scared. I don’t bite.”

“I’m not scared,” I mutter. Coming around to the passenger side, I let myself in and slide down in the seat. It’s a decent enough car, but small. What is it with these women driving these tiny cars? “You’re going to have to be careful on these roads,” I say. “The potholes have been known to swallow buffalo whole.”

“I didn’t realize there were buffalo on the island,” she grins.

“There aren’t. They were eaten by the potholes.”

I direct her to The Sands and fall silent, staring out the window. I can feel her glancing at me from time to time, but I pretend not to notice. Finally, she breaks the silence.

“So, do you want to talk about your dreams?”

“Nope.”

“About Fran?”

“Not a chance.”

“The price of tea in China?”

“I know nothing of economics.”

“What made you become a novelist?”

“I sat down and wrote.”

“Wow, you would make a fascinating subject for a talk show.”

“I’m a fascinating woman,” I say, dryly.

She chuckles a bit and stares out the windshield for a couple of minutes. “You know, I loved Fran, too.”

“I don’t know you.” This woman is presuming a lot. “I don’t know anything about you. How do I know you even know Fran?”

“I know she used to laugh in her sleep. I know she had a tattoo of a butterfly on her left breast. I know that she thought orange cats were the best animal in the world.”

“You could have gotten that from my book,” I grumble.

“I know she used to stare at the stars and talk about whether or not her family was ever going to come back for her.”

Pausing, I stare out the window. That part wasn’t in the book, and as far as I know, no one except me knew that Fran thought she was from another planet. I can feel my ears start to buzz and I’m sure an attack is imminent. Blinking hard, I try to talk myself out of it.

“So, Esmé,” I say loudly to combat the buzz. “What made you move to the Caribbean from Chicago?”

“There wasn’t anything left for me there. My lover left me for another woman. We’d been together for seven years. I think she was my rebound from Fran.”

“How long were you and Fran together?” I ask, though I’m not sure I want the answer.

“Ten years.”

I look at her, not sure I can believe that she’s old enough to have had at least seventeen years worth of relationships. “How old are you?”

“Thirty-eight.”

“So you and Fran were pretty young.”

“We were pretty young.”

She pulls up in front of The Sands and stops the car. “Are you going in for lunch?”

“No, I’m just going to get a ride home from Sam.”

“I can take you home.”

“Not in this car, you can’t.”

Standing outside of the front door of the hotel, I watch her drive away. She glances back once and I slowly raise my hand. My ears are still buzzing, so I sit down in the lobby and ask the front desk clerk to page Sam. The tunnel comes down over my sight and I can see Esmé and Fran, young and troubled, clinging to each other, both of them with tears in their eyes. I don’t know whether it’s a vision or my imagination, but I’m drawn to Fran’s young face, her light brown eyes and her pale skin. The shock of red hair, curly and full, was just as beautiful in this vision as it was years later when she came into my life. The vision darkens and for a second, all I can see is Esmé. I’m standing on the edge of a cliff, looking back at her. Her face is deathly white and there is a trickle of blood coming out of her mouth. As I slowly become aware that Sam is holding my shoulders and shaking me gently, the tunnel lifts from my sight. Sam’s face, full of love and concern is inches from mine.

 

 

 

My Personal Year in Review

I’ve been seeing a lot of posts lately on Facebook that offer to show me my “2012 year in review.” Well, I have to admit that I tend to keep the Facebook world pretty well-informed as to what is going on in my life, so there’s probably a pretty thorough accounting there of my 2012. Yet, I have hesitated to click on the link.

The question is whether or not I really want to go back over everything that has happened this year. My grandmother died. My long-term relationship ended. I finished writing my novel. I found deep wells of strength and love within myself. I worked on throwing all of the truly negative people out of my world and embracing the positive and loving ones. I made the Dean’s list in school every semester. I self-published my book as a ebook. I got a job, then quit it a few months later when my novel’s royalties started coming in. I got a publisher and now, a printed book.

I went to an amazing womyn’s music festival. (There is another blog about that on this page.) After many years with a partner who didn’t like people, I was pretty used to being solitary. I was definitely anxious about spending a week in the woods with thousands of womyn. But it was one of the best things I have ever done in my life. The consequences of that festival are still guiding me every day. I went deeper into my own spiritual quest. I met several womyn who helped me to solidify what I was really searching for in my life. I started questioning God and managed to reconcile my own beliefs about spirituality with my own previous misconceptions about the term. I went to church. I wrote a blog about Christianity and Homosexuality that went viral and was actually read aloud in at least two different churches.

I absolutely embraced being single. I made a loud and very public announcement to all of my friends and family that I was not even going to consider dating until I had at least finished my degree. (Another couple of years.) Two months later, I realized that I had fallen in love. That figures. My love is a woman whose spiritual journey is a lot like mine in a lot of ways and very different in many ways. But we converge in several key areas and we are able to respectfully and lovingly disagree in others.

I drove with my friend Kim to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. I drove by myself to visit a friend in Michigan. I drove by myself to visit (visit? It was a six week stay) my love in Iowa. I drove back to Ohio in the snow. Oh, and snow! After ten years in Phoenix and seven in the Virgin Islands, I got to relearn about snow. Driving back to Ohio from Iowa in a small snow storm, I called my sister and said, “I just slid when I was changing lanes.” She said, “The rule of lane changing in the snow is to take your foot off of the gas and casually drift over. And at no time should you put your foot on the brake during the maneuver.” It’s important to note here that before this, I had always had driving anxiety. Or at least, I think I have had driving anxiety for the past several years. But I haven’t had a moment of anxiety behind the wheel this year, not even during that snow storm.

Is there more? There is so much more. I lost 45 pounds between May 29th and the present. I found several pairs of jeans in a drawer at my mom’s house that had been shoved away because I couldn’t fit into them. They now all fit and some of them are too big. I became a vegetarian, then started eating meat again and now I am going back to the veggie lifestyle again.

I started taking yoga while living in/visiting Iowa. I found the library. I quickly discovered which stores I preferred. I made some friends. I learned that six weeks is either way too long or way too short of a visit. I started building a life there and I miss it. Now I have been home for three weeks and I am rebuilding my life here again. In a few days, I am going back to Iowa. And I will miss Ohio again when I leave. I’m learning that it is okay to miss people and that I still carry their love when we are far away.

I learned that everything is within me. Everything. Success, failure, fear, love, sadness, happiness, disappointment. Everything that I feel is my choice. Everything that I do is my choice. I knew this, but I think I had suppressed it. I relearned that I can only do something because it is what I must do, not because other people expect it of me. I’ve embraced my own power. I’ve moved more into myself. Self-knowing. Not that I am perfect at it… at any of it. I just know its importance and I am mindful of it almost all of the time.

Is there more? Yes. I reveled in the joy of being around some of my biological family again. It was extremely expensive and very difficult to get back to Ohio from St. Croix, so I didn’t get to see them very often. I expressed my joy and gratitude for their presence often and unreservedly. I thanked the universe for the chance to live with my mother again as a grown up and realize how very much I love her. (And how much alike we are.)

What else? I entered a couple of short story contests and lost. (But at least I entered, which I had never done before.) I won a big LGBT literary award for my novel. Actually, I won two… and got an honorable mention in another. I went through the whole editing process.I made it to number 8 on the Amazon list of bestsellers in lesbian fiction. I went to speak to a transgendered support group about my book and they loved me!  I made the terrible realization *after* the novel had gone to print that the “about the author” was completely wrong. At the time that we were gathering the information, I was on my way to California… my epic road trip. So, the about the author has me living in California. However, stopping in Iowa became more than a stopover and other things converged that suddenly made the California trip seem better postponed. Of course, I didn’t think to change the “about the author page.” But that’s all right. I figure it will make an interesting topic of conversation when I go on Ellen.

Is there more? Yes.

But I’m done now. It was an amazing year of joy, love, self-discovery, and peace. There was some turmoil, but I found I recovered quickly. I do believe that we choose our own attitudes and I choose to be happy as often as possible.

And what’s next? I don’t really want to make New Year’s resolutions. I believe I should be striving for betterment throughout the year. But here is what is on my plate for 2013.

I want to learn to meditate. Confession: It makes me nervous when my heart rate starts changing while meditating. I want to learn to stop worrying about that and find a way into my own soul. I want to continue my yoga classes. I want to branch out into other yoga classes. I love the gentle yoga that I take, but I am ready to take a class that challenges me. My yoga teacher teaches other, more difficult classes, so I am going to check out one of those. I want to finish my second novel so I can move onto the third one that is consuming my brain. I want to collaborate with my friend Jenny on our idea of a book that reconciles and merges her God and my Creator. (We aren’t as far apart as you would think.) I want to continue with my weight loss journey. I want to complete P90X again. I want to take a zumba class. I want to get back to being fully vegetarian. I want to be a kind and mindful person as often as possible. I want to be a friend my friends can count on. I want to be a loving and respectful partner to my girlfriend. I want to continue to be the world’s most awesome dog mom.

I want to work at, or continue to work at, being healthy in my body, my mind, and my soul. I want to fuel my body with vitamin rich, natural foods. I want to fuel my mind with learning new things. I want to fuel my soul with love and empowerment and gratitude.

I want to learn sign language. I would like to learn to speak Italian. I want to become better at playing my banjo and when I have gotten more proficient at that, I want to learn to play the guitar.

I want to (and I will) go back to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. In my heart, I believe that it is one of the best ways in the world to reaffirm my desire to keep moving toward who I want to be. It is possible to find like minded womyn there, no matter which aspect of myself I am hoping to share. Banjo players, sure. Spiritual questers? Absolutely. Writers…. you know it. Fest is what you make of it, and what I made of it last year was a desire to meet soul sisters. I did. Next year, I want to do more workshops, meet more incredible womyn. I’ll do it.

I want to go to Arizona. I want to go to California. I want to go to Asheville, NC. I want to tour bookstores and sign books. I want to sign your book.

Is there more? Yes. But that’s enough for now. It seems ambitious. But it all boils down to one resolution after all. I want to live my life truly alive.

Or as Mr. Thoreau once said:   I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.

This year, I want to suck out all of the marrow of life.

Heartbreak – Short Story

Heartbreak Beat

“I’m a heartbreak beat, yeah, all night long. And nobody don’t dance on the edge of the dark, we got the radio on. And it feels like love, but it don’t mean a lot.” -Psychedelic Furs

I threw up again today. I have to admit, in a weird way, I’m a little relieved. See, I’m a bit overweight. Oh, not hugely overweight, but enough. I always figured if I suffered a terrible heartbreak, I would be the one sitting on the couch in my pajamas, eating ice cream right out of the container in front of old Laverne & Shirley reruns. Why Laverne and Shirley, I have no idea, but somehow it always seemed to fit.

Instead, it turns out that at the end of my ten year relationship, which was gone in the blink of an eye, I can’t actually eat anything at all. Trust me, I’ve tried. I ate a muffin one morning and threw that up. Tried to eat a salad later, that was soon coming up, too. Sandwich, ice cream, some chicken noodle soup. It doesn’t seem to matter what I eat, I just keep throwing it up. For the record, coffee is the worst thing to puke. It burns as it comes back. But this could turn out to be one of those hidden bonuses. You know, on the one hand, my heart has been torn out of my chest and ripped into shreds, but on the plus side, I’ve already lost seven pounds. Hey, look at the silver lining, right?

I don’t know if it has to do with this terrible headache I seem to have developed the day after she left. I can barely move for the pain. It has taken over my entire life. When I wake up in the morning, it’s there to greet me. When I go to sleep in the middle of the afternoon, it lies down with me. It grows in response to the sun. It doesn’t like music. It really hates when I spend several hours at the computer. It seems to pulse. It ebbs and flows like the tide. It has become an entity in it’s own right, it has shifted and taken form. It pounds when I take a step, it moves back and rests when I close my eyes. Sometimes, I can feel it moving into my heart and the headache pounds in the same rhythm as my heartbeats. It’s alive, it has started to question it’s own existence. I’ve named it the Heartbreak Beat after that old Psychedelic Furs song. “I’m a heartbreak beat, yeah, all night long.” It seems appropriate since that song keeps playing in my head over and over. Maybe because that was the song I listened to over and over back in high school when I had my only other real heartbreak. See, I kind of went through life dating people, but not really being into them. I mean, not that I was a jerk or anything. I felt. I know I felt. It’s just I never seemed to feel as much as anyone else. Until T. Somehow she kind of just came into my life and stayed. Our relationship didn’t really start with a sonic boom the way my first, high school love did, but with an Anne Tyler novel kind of comfortableness; we just sort of met and fell in love without a lot of fanfare. Not that there wasn’t some drama, there always is when someone who is single for so long finally finds love. Friends reacted strongly, old alliances broke, new ones were formed. Things just kind of fell into place, though.

I really can’t think through this headache. This heartbreak beat. It’s throbbing in my temples right now, I don’t think it wants me to tell this story. It goes away when I stop thinking about all of this. Well, not exactly, no. It never really goes away. It gets less…. angry, I guess when I block the memories from my mind, when I stop thinking about the time that T watched me put a life jacket on our dog, and when he looked up at her, pleading silently for its removal, she laughingly told him, “Hey Buddy. I choose my battles. I’m sorry to say that this isn’t one of them.” It doesn’t like me to talk about these things. It doesn’t want me to think about them or write about them. It likes it better when I think about the bad times, when I think about the times she would drink until she started shaking, or when she would have road rage, or when she would be so drunk I was afraid she was going to kill us on the way home. It’s perfectly fine with me talking about that. It doesn’t seem to mind when I talk about this last trip to Ohio, how she was so angry, so bitter, how she blamed me for us being here.

It was my fault, though. See, my family kind of needed me in Ohio. And I kind of needed my family. I thought I could live without them, but I really couldn’t. And there we were on a beautiful tropical island, thousands of miles, and an extremely expensive and uncomfortable plane ride away from them. So, I started petitioning to move. I wanted to leave paradise and come back here. I… this hurts so much. The heartbreak beat sometimes moves into my ears. There’s this part of me that knows it isn’t real, that it is just a headache, but it is so persistent. I can hear it in my ears, like a drum, or maybe the pounding of the waves. Maybe the way the waves pounded that night that T took me to the Sunset Grill for my birthday and secretly asked the singer to do a Frank Sinatra song. The way they pounded when she took me out onto the beach and slow danced with me to The Way You Look Tonight. The way they pounded when I was trying to learn how to kayak and I kept flipping over and she kept reaching down and pulling me up before I could breathe in the salt water and start choking. I can’t hear over the pounding. I can see my fingers moving on the keyboard, but I can’t hear the clicking. All I can hear is now is that incessant pounding.

I just threw up again. I threw up in the garbage can under my desk because I didn’t think I would make it to the bathroom. I felt my stomach churning, but I thought I could hold it down. I haven’t eaten anything for several hours, but I took an aspirin a while ago and I’m pretty sure the heartbreak beat doesn’t want me to take any medicine. I think it’s trying to protect itself. Aspirin probably couldn’t hurt it anyway, but it’s not taking any chances. It has to stay alive until it realizes its purpose, whatever that is.

So I moved to Ohio. We were set to come together in March. Maybe if we had done that, everything would have been fine. Or maybe it wouldn’t. Anyway, I came home early, a whole month early. On a side note, did you catch what I said there? I came home. I came home, T left home. There’s a big difference. But anyway, see, my grandmother had died and my mom needed me. My family needed me. And I needed them. I needed to grieve with them. I needed to go to my grandmother’s funeral. I went a month early. And I spent a month without her. I spent a month relearning my old hometown. I spent a month connecting with my family, going out with my mother, looking for work. I was able to truly quit drinking. Oh, the heartbreak beat will let me talk about this. See, T drinks. A lot. And it has been a problem between us for a while. It wasn’t a problem when we got together, which is why this is kind of my fault, too. See, I liked to drink, too. I liked to go out on weekends and get trashed with my friends. But you reach a point when you have gotten too old to party like a college kid and your friends are growing up and having kids and you start to wonder if this is really all there is to life and you start trying to cut back on your drinking, but every time you do, your alcoholic partner gets irritated that you aren’t drinking with her. After a couple of weeks, you give in and have a few weeks and she yells, “Yes! She’s back!” which pisses you off to no end. Then, you quit for a while, and every time she goes to the freezer and takes a shot of vodka, by herself, you get mad, and then she starts calling the neighbor and asking the neighbor to come down and have a shot with her because of course, even the raging alcoholic knows that it isn’t right to drink alone, and then she’s going out several times a week with her friends because you’re no fun anymore since you don’t drink and you no longer enjoy spending your time sitting in a bar for several hours at a time.

The heartbreak beat doesn’t like when I get upset. It’s moving down my throat now. I think it’s trying to wrap around my lungs. I can feel it throbbing in a vein in the side of my neck, pulse, pulse, pulse, and when I put my fingers on it, I can feel it moving around under them, alive, warm, changing. It’s alive and it’s eating me and the best I can do is keep it happy so it doesn’t destroy me completely.

If I could just keep my eyesight for a while longer, I could talk about the rest of it. How she finally got to Ohio and hated everything. How she complained about the kind of food my mother kept in the house, or the people we hung out with, or how I didn’t spend any time with her because I was doing my school work and obsessively applying for jobs. How the one evening I spent working on my novel pissed her off, so I just didn’t write again while she was here. How she was mad at the weather, mad that Ohio is not an island paradise. I could turn it around, though. I could talk about how I didn’t try to ease her into it. I could mention that I was so bothered by her not loving my home that I pulled myself away from her and left her to herself. I ignored her. I turned away from her in bed, I didn’t look at her in the mornings. I didn’t speak to her, or hug her, or kiss her, or tell her that I had missed her. I didn’t touch her. I glared and I nagged and I accused her of being negative. I countered her negativity by being so negative that she broke down in tears, twice, and all I ever said was, “You complain about everything.” And I could say that at the last minute, when she was getting ready to leave, there was a part of me screaming, absolutely screaming that you can’t let a ten year relationship go after one week of not talking to each other. Part of me wanted to reach out and grab her before she left and ask her what the hell she thought she was doing by walking out. Part of me wanted to slap both of us and rail about the idiocy of letting this all go to shit without even giving it a chance to work. Instead, when she looked at me and asked me if this was really the end, I said, “Yes.” I said yes. I still don’t know if it was the right thing to do. In between the beats of the headache, I have moments of clarity and I wonder why I didn’t try to make things easier for her. I wonder if we could have made it if we moved somewhere other than Ohio. I wonder if she would quit drinking if I offered to move somewhere warmer. I argue with myself about calling her or writing a letter. I send resumes to companies in Southern states, in some odd attempt to work things out without any idea of what I’m really doing.

I’m a heartbreak beat. Yeah, all night long. I don’t think I really ever understood that song before now. Despite my obsession with it back in 1989, during the winter of my teenage discontent. I might have listened to it a million times without really understanding the song. I get it now. Yeah, I have become the heartbreak beat. It’s pounding in my ears, it’s making my vision blurry. It’s squeezing my heart and my lungs. It’s getting hard to breathe, to think, to talk. I’m a heartbreak beat… and it feels like love. I guess I should just sleep. Somehow, it always lets me sleep.