Drop 147: Invitation

lovers‘Want to come up? No one’s home.’

‘You want me to?

‘I asked, didn’t I?’

I pause, tapping a sneaker against the curb. ‘Don’t think I will.’

Her disappointment is at once recognizable and foreign, like a childhood home revisited as an adult. She is wearing one of the many similar simple dresses that suit her so well, and those olive-green knee-highs that remind of all I must have missed in the sixties. She is playing, as she often does, with the tiny gold seahorse hanging from her neck, and she is beautiful–a little too alluring to have to deal with, really. Too much expression in her face, too much roundness in those cheeks. No one wears glasses better, and that practiced naïveté she flaunts only belies a sensual cleverness, a roguish greed.

‘So, that’s a hard no?’ she asks, sliding hand under cloth to gently scratch collarbone.

I look at her as a quiet man might watch the winter sea from a deserted beach. ‘I can’t,’ I say. ‘I won’t.’

We kissed earlier—kissed in a way that stole something back from time: some magic, some truth. We kissed for several minutes, naturally, comfortably, as if we had always been in love.

‘Really?’ She leans against the door frame and smiles, mocking my attempt to postpone the inevitable.

I have already, over the course of the afternoon, imagined her a hundred kinds of naked, met so much of that nakedness with fingers, mouth, and face, been shattered over and again by the thought of her tightly around me. How gorgeous it must be in there. How perfect.

‘Is it your wife?’ she asks, ‘or my husband?’

After three weeks of close, almost daily interaction, the project is finished; we won’t be working together any more. Nothing happened in all that time, until today, but it was instantly flirty and easy between us—and almost immediately I had also imagined this moment, this invitation. The possibility has lived with us since, like terrible, lovely, exciting disease that is never discussed, but will not just go away.

‘I guess,’ I say, watching her stare at me, unblinking, ‘but that’s not the whole of it.’

She looks down coyly, and I resent already missing her eyes. I know it spells madness, but it’s a deep relief when she looks back up.

‘I fear if I touch you again today, I won’t be able to let go.’

‘Hm. Fear.’

‘Look at us together. Look at what we already are. This could never be a passing thing. Of course I want to come up—the thought is beating me to a pulp, but I if did it would be too good, and prove what I already know: that I like you too much. We’d definitely do it again, start a proper affair and be really into each other. I might even leave Sarah for you, and you might leave Will. We’d move in together, and it would undoubtedly be wonderful, maybe even for years, but who’s to say it won’t lose that drive and wonder?–it would already have to carry the weight of all we have given up: everything we have hurt, and risked, and betrayed. We might fight, and get frustrated, and start new affairs and only end up back where we are now. Why set all that up when we could just absorb this perfect moment, this perfect day between two recent strangers and move off into the night?’

‘Wow. Someone’s a fucking downer.’

‘Sorry.’

She shrugs but I can tell she feels this same tectonic force, but for some reason is was willing to act, as I might be willing to do on another day, or maybe still am. I have always been careful, though: too careful to throw something great away for something else that is sure to be incredible.

‘No, that was a good speech. Articulate and charismatic.’

I know this sarcasm is used in defense, maybe as a stalling technique too. Even now the invitation remains draped on her face, and I still haven’t formally refused it. Minds are seldom made up with the words they sell to mouths. Half of mine has already climbed the stairs to her bedroom, or is it more than half, or less? Sex itself is not so dangerous but there’s no room here for love. Not today, in this falling dusk. Not for love the destroyer, love the callous cunt. Souls are impatient; we tend to appease the offhand passions they peddle, riding them on into the new and the immediate. But not every time, on every watch.

The hug goodbye is brutal, so heavy with the sadness of sense.

By EM Vireo

Drop #146.5 : Jumpsuit Revisited

A friend mentioned he thought my Drops were getting a bit predictable, so I figured I’d rewrite the last one and take it somewhere different. Click here for a comparison, and let me know what you think of this second version.

 

jumpsuit copy‘Where d’you want your drink?’

‘Oh, wherever, Don,’ she says, bouncing from bed back to dresser. ‘Jesus. Just put it down and help me choose. We’re running out of time!’

She’s a whirlwind of muscle and tanned, smooth skin in tiny pink underwear. She’s worn her heels for what seems like hours: indiscreet YSL numbers, all strap and suggestion.

The bed is flush with dresses, skirts and tops that haven’t made the grade; other castaways lay crumpled on the floor.

‘What about that blue one?” I ask.

‘Remember where we’re going, darling. I couldn’t show up in a drab old rag like that— Christ!’ She looks at her phone. ‘We have to leave. We’re late.’

‘We have a few minutes.’

‘I still have to do my make up, and hello! I’m still standing here in lingerie.’

‘What about that polka dot one?’

‘That’s a summer dress, sweetheart. Nothing season appropriate here. Half my wardrobe’s still in Geneva—and look at you, all dressed already, shiny shoes and all!’

‘Just had to shave and step into my suit.’

‘Dashing. You’ll kill tonight, I’m sure.’

‘As will you, no doubt.’

‘I should hope so, or we’ll have a problem.’

She looks great exactly like this, feverishly dancing all that skin around the room. I wish, as I’ve done often lately, we could take a break, stay in and just be alone together as a couple, without always having to go out and play these roles.

She slips into a gray skirt, then a maroon blouse, looking in the mirror, one foot forward, tilting her head. ‘God, why is everything so wrinkled? It’s unacceptable!’

She’s out of both in a second, now yanks an olive green dress off a hanger. She veers one lithe leg curtly into it, and then the other, like an aggressive gymnast.

‘That’s a winner,’ I say.

‘Seriously?’ She strips more pointedly still, kicking the dress away. ‘Come on, Don. Why are you settling? I need you to be on form tonight. To stand strong beside me. There’s plenty at stake.’

‘I’m fine.’

She stares at me for a silent second, then sits on the bed, palms in eye sockets, glaring blindly up at an invisible God.

‘This is ridiculous!’ she says, standing back up. ‘Nothing fits. Nothing works. I feel like an idiot.’

‘How about the jumpsuit?’ I say, scratching my old shoulder wound, which has started to itch.

‘The jumpsuit?’

‘The cream jumpsuit.’

‘The jumpsuit! Of course!’

She’s into the dresser headfirst, like a vulture into carcass, emerging triumphant and climbing right in.

‘No wrinkles,’ I say, smiling. ‘And it matches the fall foliage.’

‘I think you’re right,’ she says, passing a final test in the mirror.

She looks incredible: a woman that can do any man’s task. She’s too good to be my partner, really, but I am not allowed to think that way.

‘I did it, honey,’ she says sarcastically. ‘I found something to wear tonight! Let’s celebrate—oh, where’s that drink?’

I hand it to her. The three ice cubes have only shrunk six or seven percent.

‘Oh Campari soda, you ruby jewel, you bitter bitch, come to me.’ She grabs it greedily. ‘How I need you now!’

She takes a small sip, speaking again as she does: ‘thank god for this jumpsuit. Can’t believe it was the only thing that would get the job done! Literally the only thing I could possibly wear tonight.’

She smiles that preposterously alluring smile, her first in an hour, then takes a bigger gulp, not quite connecting with her mouth, but gaining back control with ease. ‘This is one well mixed drink, Don,’ she says, almost finishing it.

‘I try,’ I say. ‘Stirred; never shitty.’

‘Time check,’ she says, all business, and I tell her: ‘twelve of eight.’

‘Good. Alert The Fat Man that we’re a go.’ She yanks the weapons drawer open and grabs her customized pocket pistol with silencer, slipping it into her Hermes purse. ‘I’ll do my makeup in the chopper.’

I make the call, then pick up my trusty Glock.

‘I doubt we’ll need them,’ she says, admiring herself one last time in the mirror, adjusting her bangs. ‘If I do it right, it will seem like a heart attack, and we’ll be long gone already, but better to be prepared.’

‘Yes.’ We won’t need them, I’m sure. In the sixteen jobs we’ve done together, she’s never come close to making a mistake. ‘Better to be prepared.’

By E.M. Vireo

Drop #146: Jumpsuit

jumpsuit‘Where d’you want your drink?’

‘Wherever,’ she says, bouncing from bed back to dresser. ‘Just put it down and help me choose. We’re running out of time!’

She’s a whirlwind of skin (tanned and mesmerizing) and underwear (silk pink panties and bra), already in her heels (mouth watering YSL numbers that are barely more than four thin straps: ankle, toe, one joining these, and one linking ankle to heel along the Achilles, combining to draw a direct line, in leather, to fetish. Somehow the shoe makes the foot seem more naked than if it were bare.)

The bed is covered with clothes, mainly dresses; others have already been discarded to the floor.

‘What about that blue one?” I ask.

‘That old thing? It’s a smart event, dear. I can’t show up in a drab old rag like that—God,’ she looks at her phone, ‘we have to leave. We’re late already.’

‘We’re OK.’

‘I still have to do my make up, and hello! I have literally nothing to wear.’

‘What about that polka dot one?’

‘That’s a summer dress, sweetheart. Most of these are. Half my winter and fall clothes are still under the bed, messily folded and probably half molded. It was so God damn hot this summer. Really. Just ridiculous—and look at you. You’re dressed already, shiny shoes and all!’

‘Just had to shave and step into my good old suit.’

‘And you look great. So dashing. Man, that suit is so well tailored.’

‘Thanks.’

She looks beyond great, exactly like this, a little frazzled without a dress, dancing all that skin around the room. She could not look better.

She slips into a gray skirt, then an aubergine blouse, looking in the mirror with one foot forward, tilting her head. ‘God, why is everything so wrinkled?’

She’s out of both in ten seconds, now yanks an olive green dress off a hanger. She shoves one leg violently into it, and then the other.

‘That’s a winner,’ I say.

‘Seriously? You like me this dumpy?’ She strips more ferociously still. ‘Christ! Nothing fits anymore. Too much of your mother’s gnocchi.’ She sits on the bed, palms in eye-sockets, staring blindly up at an invisible God. ‘I’m gonna lose it. I swear, I’m gonna lose my shit.’

‘How about the jumpsuit?’ I say.

‘The jumpsuit?’

‘The cream jumpsuit.’

‘The jumpsuit! Of course!’ She’s into the dresser headfirst, like vulture into carcass. She emerges triumphant and climbs right in.

‘No wrinkles,’ I say, smiling. ‘No mold.’

‘You don’t think it’s too pale? Too light for the season?’

‘No. It’s perfect. Matches the fall foliage.’

‘I think you’re right,’ she says, passing a final test in the mirror.

She looks incredible, though I already miss her naked legs, her stomach and her thighs. But this outfit accentuates that charming neck, those smooth arms, her sleek, delicious length, and the cleavage, downplayed just enough to provoke.

‘I did it, honey,’ she says sarcastically. ‘I found something to wear tonight! Let’s celebrate—oh, where’s that drink?’

I hand it to her.

‘Oh Campari soda, red goddess, come to me.’ She grabs it greedily. ‘You bitter jewel, you ruby bitch. How I need you now!’ She takes a small sip, speaking again as she does: ‘thank God for this jumpsuit. Can’t believe it was the only thing that would get the job done! Literally the only thing I could possibly wear tonight.’

She smiles that preposterously enticing smile, her first in the last hour, then takes a bigger gulp, not quite connecting with her mouth. The drink spills down her chest.

Ugly ochre stains.

By E.M. Vireo

Drop 145: Have a Nice Day

wonton noodle soupSam called the Chinese take out place.

‘Yeah, two #7s, one #12, a 16, a 19 a 22, and a 24. Oh and two Cokes. How long? Cool. Extra chili sauce please. Thanks.’

He hung the menu back on the fridge and went to wake his roommate, Jack.

‘What did you order?’ Jack asked sleepily, as he plopped onto the couch in dirty sweats a few minutes later. ‘I’m friggin starved.’

‘Two scallion pancakes–’

‘Aw, yeah. Those are the truth.’

‘Hot and sour soup, barbecued pork, soy sauce noodles with duck, shrimp fried rice, and morning glory with salted fish.’

‘You know what you’re doing, son. All my favorites.’

‘Mine too. We’re about to feast. Should be here any minute.’

The guy arrived with a big paper-in-plastic bag. Sam tipped him well, then carefully unpacked each little container onto the table before starting to open them up.

‘What’s that one then?’ Jack asked squinting at the first.

‘What the hell?’ Sam said, when half of them were bared; then he opened the rest. ‘I can’t believe this.’

He called back: ‘Listen, our order is totally wrong. Not one item is correct. You gave us two orders of chicken feet, some kind of fish head curry full of bones, an intestine stew of some sort, a tofu dish that smells just awful, a cold purple pudding with weird floating beans, and I don’t even know what the last dish is. The gray wobbly thingy. What we ordered was scallion pancakes, hot and—’

‘You order number 7, 12, 16, 19, 22 and 24, right?’ the man said.

‘Yes, but–’

‘I give you 7, 12, 16, 19, 22 and 24.’

‘But we didn’t order any of these dishes.’

‘Yes, you order them. We change menu. New numbers. Different item.’

‘Yeah, but–’

‘You know next time. You try other dish. Stinky tofu. Very tasty. Jelly fish salad. Very fresh. Pig stomach in brown sauce. Good for blood. You enjoy.’

‘But.’

‘You enjoy. Thank you for business. Have a nice day.’

By EM Vireo

Drop #144: Boucherie

pig headI picked Frank up at the station early Sunday morning. I hadn’t seen him in years. He’d emailed Friday out of the blue saying he’d be in town for a day. First time in New Orleans.

As the local I’d immediately felt pressure to show him a good time, and arrange the type of stuff you can’t do anywhere else. He’d said not to put myself out planning anything and had suggested a couple of restaurants he’d read about but I’d never heard of. Said they were popular joints but that we might still get a table at if we booked that day. As if that was going to happen! What kind of host lets the guest pick the restaurant?

How you been? We shared an awkward hug. Two pats on the back. Good, and you? Then we drove off, heading for the highway.

‘Such a short visit!’ I said, stepping on the gas.

‘Yeah, just a layover. Leaving early tomorrow  – but we have the whole day.’

‘Just as well. There’s something special going down and I managed to get us invited. Only got confirmation last night. Had to pull a few strings and I owe Big Lou a favor but it’ll be well worth it.’

‘When, later today?’

‘Right now, buddy. We’re already on our way.’

‘OK.’

‘It’s a ways out of town, and starting soon, so no time to stop off to shower or change. Hope you don’t mind.’

‘Not at all. But now I’m curious. Where are we going?’

‘Ever heard of a boucherie?’

‘Can’t say I have.’

‘Oh boy, it’s something else! An iconic Cajun ritual, but really quite uncommon nowadays – usually only happens around Mardi Gras. Man, your timing really is immaculate!’

‘Cool. Tell me more.’

Well,’ I said excitedly, ‘it’s got everything to do with a pig.’

‘Hmm.’

‘It’s a community thing. So, what happens is: neighborhood families and friends get together on someone’s property, out in their back yard, and butcher a pig – I’m talking an entire hog – then cook the hell out every last bit of it.’

‘Hence the name boucherie, I guess,’ Frank said. ‘So, I guess the reservation at Bella’s didn’t pan out then.’

‘What? Oh, that restaurant you mentioned?’ I laughed. ‘Nah. Not with a boucherie down the road!’

The moment I received his email a dozen possibilities had popped into my head for lunch, dinner, drinks and snacks. I could have taken him to Dooky Chase or la Petite Grocery or gone casual at Katie’s. I could have hit any number of food trucks, or crawfish boils, or hit my go-to po’ boy destination. But come on! La boucherie trumps all.

‘Man, you’re gonna love it,’ I carried on, glancing at my wristwatch. ‘I’m so excited – I mean, I live here and I’ve only ever been to one, and they had the pig killed and cleaned already. Today’s is proper old school. They’re going to bring it in squealing and shoot it on site, immediately slit its throat and collect the blood for boudin, then butcher it right away! That never happens anymore; in fact, I’d given up on experiencing the event in such a pure, complete form. This is a damn rare thing, a real privilege! That’s why we have to hurry. Killing’s at 10 sharp.’

‘Hmm.’

‘Hmm? Hmm! Is that all you have to say?’

‘Well – ’

‘So, after they expertly singe, scrape, gut, and cut it up using hacksaw, knife, cleaver and even ax, everyone sits at long wooden tables and goes to work on their portion, preparing ponce, andouille, ham, organ soup, hogshead cheese, backbone stew, cracklins, boudin and lots more. Every scrap of the animal is used: brains, blood, ears, hocks, feet, marrow, skin, snout, heart, and tail. We cook all day, eat and drink and get loud all day, and we feast at night. We do it all together, and you and I are going to be a part of it! We’re going to be right in the bloody middle of it all!’

‘Fascinating,’ Frank said.

‘You betcha!’

‘There’s only one small problem.’

‘What’s that?’

‘I’m vegan. Have been for years. I won’t touch swine with a ten foot pole.’

By E.M. Vireo

Drop 143: Pressure

‘What’s it going to be?’ the man in white asked again.

‘Just a second,’ she said, postponing once more.

‘Please.’ He took a menacing half step forward, metal implement at the ready in his hand. ‘People are waiting.’

‘Just a second!’ she barked, shaking her head. ‘I can’t think.’

The room had grown more crowded and louder, and she felt flushed and dizzy. What if she chose wrong? What if she messed it up? She looked across at all the citizens waiting for her to act. The pressure was immense.

‘Seriously,’ the man implored, ‘you’re almost done. Just make your final choice.’

His voice was distant through the thickening claustrophobia. She could feel them all watching her, whispering, commenting. She felt she might be sick.

‘Jesus, lady. I haven’t got all day!’

‘OK, OK,’ she said, fighting off the panic. ‘Just give me beets.’

‘Beets. You got it.’ The deli man expertly plucked some from one of the many colorful metal trays in front of him with his tongs, and added them to the romaine leaves, sprouts, feta, broccoli and cherry tomatoes in the mixing bowl. ‘That’s your six choices for the salad lunch special.’

Phew. She felt the weight soar from her shoulders, even managing an odd smile. The long line she’d been holding up at the counter seemed to sigh in relief too.

‘Now you just need to choose a dressing. We got balsamic, honey-Dijon, soy-ginger, French, Italian and ranch. What’s it going to be?’

By EM Vireo

Drop #142: Long Hair

IMG_1183Tom and I were walking through Union Square when the thin, long-haired guy from Saturday night saw us and hurried over, all smiles. He looked like he wanted to give us hugs but checked himself and settled for two vigorous handshakes.

‘Wow, how are you guys?’ John asked. Or was it Jake? ‘I’m still recovering from the weekend. What a night!’

‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘It sure was a crazy one.’

It really had been. Tom and I had started drinking in the afternoon at a bar on Avenue A before heading over to some house party where we had champagne and wine and smoked a couple of blunts. That’s where we met the long-haired guy. The three of us left together, with three girls, and cabbed it to Jake’s apartment—or was it Jim?—where we drank insane amounts of whiskey while we finished a gram of blow one of the girls had produced. At around 1 a.m. we went to some club on the west side where one of the other girls knew the bartender. That was the girl I made out with. Fit brunette with a slight lisp. Tom hooked up with two or three ladies at the club, and Jim—or was it Jack?—almost went home with a very tall and beautiful black girl with a shaved head, but lost her trying to score more drugs from a dodgy looking dude in some weird private room in the back. 6 a.m. the three of us got burgers at a diner on 9th Ave before calling it a night.

‘You’re telling me!’ Jack said—or was it Jay? We should do it again some time.’

‘Sure.’ I said.

‘I got to run though. I’m late. Was great running into you two.’

‘Yeah.’

‘I’ll drop you line.’

‘Cool.’

He shook our hands vigorously again, smiled again, and walked off briskly.

As soon as we were out of earshot, Tom turned to me. ‘Who the fuck was that chick?’ he asked, squinting. ‘Not the most attractive specimen, is she?’

 by EM Vireo

Drop 141: Lost

lizard kingLate afternoon, 32 hours in, and John had begun to lose hope. He was hungry and thirsty and tired beyond words. He didn’t know if he could survive another night.

The dust storm had come out of nowhere dropping visibility to zero and sending the Cessna into a spiral. He tried to radio for help but that was down too. He barely had time to grab his chute and jump before the plane dove. Through sand and swirling wind, it was a miracle he made it to ground, landing rough in a patch of thorny shrubs. The storm had moved on and it was eerily still on terra firma, with good visibility. Beige sand, rock and cactus stretched as far as the eye could see. He was somewhere in the Mexico’s central Chihuahuan Desert. This land was vast and desolate.

He was scuffed up and he’d bruised a shoulder, but he was otherwise physically fine. There was real concern, however, about making it out alive with no phone or supplies, knowing no one would miss him for days. He’d need water and food and mainly he’d need luck. He was no Bear Grylls. He didn’t know the first thing about surviving in the wild, about getting moisture from cacti or eating wild berries. Odds were against him, which made slogging though the desert, with no known destination, that much harder.

He made a tactical decision to head west, based on a dubious mental picture gleaned from glances at flight maps, of an area he’d never been to. Seven hours later it hadn’t worked out and he was in real trouble. Maybe every plan would have produced the same result. It was that remote here, and not in any way pleasant. It was hot and dry with little shade and except for a few insects, lizards and that one hare, he hadn’t seen signs of any life, let alone humans. In all the time he’d been walking the landscape had barely changed, and soon night would fall.

The temperature dropped considerably after dark, and the wildlife came out. He tried to sleep on the sand, then on a flattish rock but was kept up by the cold, the scorpions and the clouds of biting gnats. Daybreak brought massive relief, but it was short lived. He hadn’t had water in almost a day, food in longer and the cloudless sky framed a cruel sun. Without hat or sleeves his skin grew red and blistered. Exhausted, he pushed on, striving towards a fictional target, towards an invented savior, hoping against hope to find a person, road or stream. But this was a far-off corner of hell few others would think to visit. He took breaks beside boulders, tried to dig for water in the dust, catch lizards to eat raw, but this only tired him further and made his fingers bleed. He struggled on.

32 hours in, and John had begun to lose hope. He was feeling dizzy and had started to shiver. His feet were cut up and every step sent searing pain up his leg and through his back. He could not swallow, could barely see, and night would soon be upon him again. He knew that it would take him this time. That if he lay down on its endless sandy bed, under its callous, cold and silent darkness, it would take him from this world. He was so tired, so very tired and sore, but he kept walking, staving off an inevitable night. Maybe exhaustion would ease his passing. Perhaps delirium would cushion his journey from this realm. Perhaps insanity would—

‘Oi, mate. What you doin here?’ A hoarse chuckle. ‘Figured I was the only bloke crazy enough to venture to these parts!’ More laughter.

When John looked up the man was right in front of him: a big man with a round belly and full red beard dressed in khaki shorts, a pink polo, and a felt bush hat. John thought he must already have slipped some way into madness as it looked like the man held a pair of tongs in one hand, a beer in the other. ‘You lost or something?’ the impossible vision asked, stepping closer, and then laughing again. As John also stepped forward he saw more that he struggled to make sense of: tables and chairs; pots, pans, and cooler boxes; a large fire with a barbecue grill set up over it; several other people carrying cameras and microphones; and further away, a helicopter.

‘Welcome to the set of Bazza Barnes: Remote Kitchen,’ the big man said. ‘A beauty, isn’t it? And that makes me Bazza,’ he added, having reached John and sticking out a hand. John took it. It was like a bear paw. ‘You can call me Bazz, Bazzmaster or Badman B if you want,’ Bazza said, still shaking, and following with his customary laugh, which sounded much louder and deeper up close.

‘Remote Kitchen?’ John managed through his desiccated throat.

‘Yeah, yeah. You got it. It’s a cooking show. They fly me to some of the remotest places on earth and I set up a kitchen and cook one hell of a bloody tasty feast, if i say so myself, right there and then. I’m quite famous in Australia, but I guess you’ve never seen the show or you’d be acting more impressed.’ More laughter. It had begun to be deeply soothing. ‘Isn’t this place is crackers though,’ he said, looking around. ‘Brutal spot. Just brutal—but I guess I don’t have to tell you that by the look of things.’ He contented himself with huge squint-eyed smile this time. ‘How’d you get heres anyways?’

‘Plane crash. Sorry, please, I need water.’

‘Of course, of course,’ with a great wallop on the back. ‘You want sparkling or still? Cold or room temperature? Probably hungry too, aren’t ya?’ Bazza put an arm around him. ‘Let’s walk you over to camp and get you fed. Got a whole menu on the go: mini lamb burgers with tzaziki and crispy onions, grilled chicken with Sriracha mayo and crunchy apple beet slaw, a beef bourguignon that’s been on the low coals for hours, and a huge chocolate marble sheet cake. Oh, and I’ve got ice cold beer on draught. A corker of an amber ale. Figure it’ll hit the spot in this climate and I reckon it’ll taste better than sex to someone in your position—but of course, we’ll get you a few sips of water first, get hydration goin. That’s only reasonable.’ There came the inevitable laughter. ‘Then we’ll sit you down, feed you for hours and keep the beers coming. Oh boy, I’m glad you dropped in! Tonight is going to be aces. And hell, mate, looks like you going to be on Aussie TV too!’

By E.M. Vireo

Drop 140: Cough

I’m sitting in a café, warm croissant in hand, when the woman at the table beside mine coughs. Two wet barks seem to get the job done but a few seconds later a wheezing buildup ushers in several more. She tries to gather her breath, hand on chest, but another coughing spell overwhelms her. This one is even more violent, lurching her torso back and forth as it delivers its blows. She fidgets with her handbag to pull out a tissue, to cover her nose and mouth with while she carries on sputtering. It puts up little resistance. Teary-eyed, she grabs another while she hacks up phlegm, then spits into it twice. A green strand arches from her face as she replaces it, suffering through another agonizing round of deep lung spasms. It’s one of the worst bouts I’ve ever witnessed. She looks like she’s dying as it just keeps coming.

Everyone in the place cringes through another long spurt, and is relieved when she finally stops, a full two minutes after she began. She blows her nose one final time, scrunching up the tissue and adding it to the pile that litters the table in front of her.

‘Wow,’ she says, looking at her friend and smiling. ‘My cough is so much better today.’

By EM Vireo

Drop #139: Paper

IMG_2026Barefoot in soft pajamas, she went to the front door to fetch the paper. This flawed old medium, with its wide ungainly pages that kinked at every turn and stained fingers a disturbing blue, still did it for her. In the twenty odd years she’d been addicted to coffee, she’d found no better companion for her morning cup.

She walked past the kitchen, ignoring the high-pitched squeals. A glue trap had finally worked. Opening the heavy gray door onto suburbia, the crisp air teased with the promise of a pleasant day.

The paper lay on the front porch, just two feet away. Some mornings, victim of a wayward arm, it barely cleared the fence. She stepped forward to pick it up, noticing the two boys as she bent down: maybe 8th or 9th graders, maybe on their way to school. They’d stopped beside the elm tree just outside the yard.

‘You little shit,’ the bigger one said loudly, as she straightened back up. ‘I’m gonna make you eat my fist.’

Curious now, she waited and watched. The bully was already well into his routine: ‘I’m gonna make you pay,’ delivered with a curt little shove.

‘Please,’ said the little one. ‘I didn’t do anything. I didn’t–’

‘Shut up, faggot.’ He put a hard palm to the other boy’s jaw and pushed it away. ‘Or I’ll hurt you worse.’

‘Please.’

‘I said shut up!’ He slapped the kid twice before grabbing him by the collar and shoving him against the tree. ‘You just don’t seem to get it.’ He flicked him on the forehead, smirking slightly. He was good at being mean. This was what he did. This was what he was. ‘And now I’m going to have to hurt you.’

She watched motionless in her pajamas, from her camouflaged spot on the porch, holding her rolled up paper. She watched the children with her adult eyes, with a responsibility, a duty to intervene. It was all so close, so clear: the hollow sobs, the growing wet patch.

‘Oh don’t cry, you pussy,’ the bully scoffed. ‘Take a beating like a man—oh Jesus, you went and pissed yourself too. That’s disgusting.’

Too clear: the humiliation, the sad reality. She’d watched it all with her terrible adult eyes; now she’d had enough. She’d seen enough.

She turned and went inside, closing the door softly behind her. She leaned against it, too taken by the scene she’d just witnessed to move another inch. Playing back the degradation, the closeness, the keenness of those slaps, she slid down the hard gray wood, banging her head twice against it and pursing her lips as she slipped four fingers under her pajamas bottoms and into her panties. In the past she would have fought back tears but it had long been all too clear: what one is, what one does. The mouse still squealed but faintly, slowly dying but not dead.

By EM Vireo

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