HUMAN NATURE

(stories)

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1. STEEPLECHASE
Upon hearing the news of the Mailman's Death, Theresa felt out-of-place in the moment, as if the present were both déjà vu and premonition. She had offered the Mailman a 10-dollar-bill in an envelope each Christmas. And six years of small talk just beyond the threshold. She took a moment to recall his name (Steve) and that he had an 11-year-old Daughter who wanted to ride Horses. It was only at that moment, upon hearing the news of Steve's Death, that she realized: he would never have afforded to pay for horse riding lessons on a Mailman's salary. She decided: to find The Girl and pay for the lessons herself. Just over a year later, The Girl's Horse got startled and bucked her twenty feet into a century-old stone wall, killing her almost instantly. The Receptionist at the equestrian yard's offices, despite just over a year of weekly small talk with her, could only remember The Girl's first name: Samantha.

2. CARRYING APPLES
I'm no good at carrying apples. I try to get a grip on one and another falls. I try the under-chin method and it looks like junior high. When girls were concepts like beer and bills. When I was younger, I had a recurring nightmare where I was so big I could roll a house between two fingers like it were a pebble. My sleep is dreamless now, I've tempered my drinking, and nearly have my head above water financially. My wife is reaching toward a branch in the orchard, where she has persuasively lured me.

3. THE RISE
At first. The act was an act of relief. A week of it passed. Now it's been a month of it. He stands there. And looks down past his hands. He realizes. It's become something more. Something worse. In two days, you will slide the key into the lock of your front door, more slowly than usual, and in the moment before turning it, you will see him.

4. CANCER
Before entering the restaurant, the couple took the last drags off their cigarettes, like a last breath before diving. At the table, she asked him when they would finally quit. He answered without looking up from his menu: "I don't see what that has to do with anything." He was visibly angry, still waiting for an answer to the question he had asked her the night before.

5. HUMAN NATURE
form objects

6. PERFECT UNISON
Drawing upon influences handed-down by scholars, they recite facts like prayers. They fancy themselves artists. “There’s a difference between being right and not being wrong,” I say to them. “We are the purveyors of a new truth,” they reply in perfect unison.

7. THE FACT OF THE MATTER
He carried himself with misguided confidence, as if he believed a crosswalk might actually shield him from a car. Although it was his first time in the city, he gave the bus driver a familiar wave before climbing on. He moved slowly towards the back of the bus as it moved slowly forward, so for those few moments it was as if he wasn't really going anywhere at all. He sat down, expressionless, and wondered how he would find her, and what her reaction would be.

8. MINIMUM WAGE
It was the most open-minded he had been since graduating college thirteen years earlier.

9. THE PRIUS WAS YOUR IDEA
Leslie filed through her purse for a piece of gum, her hand finding nothing but empty wrappers. She decided she'd have more luck if she stopped walking, so she stopped walking and glared down into the mess where, somewhere, she heard her phone vibrating, still muted from the meeting, now stuttering out from under her wallet, the screen announcing that Isabella was calling. She always called in the afternoon; somehow Isabella never got it though her head that some people actually have to work for a living. Leslie pressed ignore, snatched her keys up from the purse, and surveyed the lot for the car. Meanwhile, in the busier part of the city, her husband, Brian, was sitting in his office, at his desk, the phone wedged between his ear and his shoulder. If he didn't get off this call he was going to be late for lunch, which he hated because the office cafeteria (which actually was quite good and had a decent selection) would have been picked over thoroughly. He didn't understand why this guy on the phone wouldn't stop insisting that the recession somehow merited a break on their standard rates. The recession wasn't even affecting this part of the business. In fact, they had seen higher revenues for three straight quarters. Who did this guy think he was? On his way home, he called Leslie to ask what was for dinner. She asked him to pick something up from Whole Foods. That night as they ate, they exchanged stories. Leslie told Brian about Isabella, let me guess - calling all day? Brian told Leslie about the guy who ruined his lunch break, but Leslie thought the guy had a point. Brian explained how that was ridiculous. The recession wasn't even affecting this part of the business. In fact, they had seen higher revenues for three straight quarters.

10. WHERE I LIVE
When I live, the refrigerator is filled with spoiled groceries. Purchased with the best intentions. Festering in their own sickening glory.

11. THE BURDEN OF YOUTH
It was Christmas Eve and the child lay motionless in his bed, content in the anticipation of what the morning would bring. Other nights found him startled by creeks in the floor, and he would reposition himself in bed for hours, weak with anxiety about what might happen in the cafeteria or at recess. If only there were some way to maintain the feeling he had at this particular moment, to make this comfort last, he would have sacrificed anything to achieve it. Inside his body, unbeknownst to him, his heart continued pumping blood from his right atrium into his tricuspid valve, through his right ventricle and out his pulmonary semilunar valve to his lungs. If God exists, He exists first in the hearts of children.

12. A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A SUICIDAL BOY
He steadied himself and tried again, but was unable to step off the edge.

13. THE GHOST OF AMBITION
She walked down the street as if it were raining. She dressed as if were 30 degrees cooler. She held her coffee as if it were keeping her warm.

14. WHAT SEPARATES MAN FROM THE REST OF THE CREATURES?
She passed the Burger King bag on to him. "Check it out. Make sure we got everything." "MOM. God." There were a few french fries at the bottom that would miraculously remain there after the bag was crumpled and tossed into the back seat. As they drove home he stared at the window, as if watching a re-run, praying for something to change. Their Dog scampered down to the front of the lawn, tail wagging, from the moment it saw their car approaching.

15. THE FISH
Submerged cross-legged at the bottom of the pool, she carefully opened a black umbrella and held her breath. Her reclining mother peered down over her sunglasses, limply cradling a martini glass. Her daughter appeared as a blue-glinted shimmer with darting strokes of red. The dark splotch resembled a trash bag…or a malevolent fish, coming to feed on the daughter and consume the mother’s dreams.

16. LOVESICK
She reaches for my hand and it’s like the first movement from a comatose patient. The cigarette in the ashtray has burnt itself out. The fan blows the heat around in a constant, sickening lull. We are breathing it. There is nothing left to say.

17. THE TRUTH, THE WHOLE TRUTH, AND NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH
He returned his toothbrush to its place, where it stood solemnly, like a brideless groom atop a wedding cake. He acknowledged it a moment and proceeded to his bedroom. A clown suit was folded neatly on his chair. “There’s no mirror in here,” he thought to himself, and swore underneath his breath.

18. HELL
With a single glance, you could tell something was off. Usually the kids at the ice cream truck were shuffling with excitement, offering money up to the window. But here they were frozen, as if the ice cream truck were a silent monster hovering over a fresh kill with a newfound guilt. There was only a light red stain on the front bumper. The boy’s body lay in a small clump, like a pile of dirty laundry. One child was gripping his mother’s dress, his face buried in her hips. He would eventually forget about the incident - years later, he would attend a perfectly good college, have a series of perfectly good jobs, and settle down with a perfectly good family. At the end of his life he looked back with no regrets.