Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Short fiction: "Got It All Wrong"
(A short story of mine)
The Amtrak terminal at Penn Station is no place to be. That’s what Frank Morgan was thinking as he waited for his girlfriend to arrive from Boston. Not really his girlfriend, but they saw each other often enough to use the word. Seated against a billboard advertising something or another, he tried to make himself as invisible as possible while he watched the hordes of humans dashing about.
“This is no way to do anything,” he mumbled, and the woman next to him jumped ever-so-slightly…startled by the sound of his voice.
She was about 36, overweight in her New York Liberty t-shirt, squatting against the billboard with her nine-year-old daughter. The little girl was covered head-to-toe in Liberty gear. Neither of them looked very happy.
Frank turned to the woman.
“Look at all this,” he said. “Makes you realize that somewhere, someone got it all wrong.”
The woman was in no mood to talk with a stranger, so Frank decided to try another tack.
“Did the Liberty win?”
“No,” the little girl moaned, “they lost by 14 points.”
“Too bad. Are they still going to make the playoffs?”
Frank knew enough about practically any sport to fake a conversation. The little girl seemed pleasantly surprised that she had encountered a fellow WNBA fan. She was pretty in a suburban kind of way. Her mother just stared straight ahead, only occasionally letting her eyes move to her right to make sure Frank wasn’t getting any closer.
“Yeah, they’re in the playoffs,” the little girl explained, “but they may not get home-court advantage.”
Frank let the little girl talk and talk about her beloved Liberty, tossing in just enough comments to keep the conversation from turning into a monologue. He focused most of his attention on her mother. He didn’t place it right away but then it hit him. This woman was the spitting image of someone from his past. Charlene Sapia was a neighbor and Frank was best friends with her son, Nicky. The Sapia apartment always smelled like garlic. Charlene couldn’t cook worth a damn so she used garlic to hide the taste.
When they were about twelve, Charlene got divorced and began to date an endless parade of losers. Nicky told Frank about these boyfriends and what he heard from the other side of his mother’s bedroom door.
Dreams of Charlene Sapia fueled Frank’s adolescent imagination right up to the day he saw her emerge from the shower, drying herself off. Frank stared at Nicky’s Mom until she barked at him.
“Whaddya looking at?”
Frank watched Charlene turn and disappear into her bedroom, making no effort to cover herself. Two weeks later, Charlene and Nicky moved away without an explanation. The garlic smell lingered in the hallway for about a month.
“Whaddya looking at?”
Frank snapped out of his daydream when the woman next to him spoke up. The little girl was still talking about the Liberty but her mother was scowling at Frank for staring at her.
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled, “you remind me of someone.”
“You wouldn’t be related to Charlene Sapia, would you?”
The woman scratched her right breast, looked at her watch, and sighed. The little girl had finally stopped talking and was transfixed by the image of a gay male couple, holding hands.
“I’ve got a headache.”
Frank watched the woman’s lips move as she scolded her daughter. The memories came flooding back. How often he watched Charlene Sapia’s mouth when she talked. And then there was the night he saw her kissing one of her boyfriends, her mouth opening so wide as she did.
“You remind me of Charlene Sapia.”
“You don’t say.”
Frank was lost now. What if this woman invited him to her home in New Jersey? His girlfriend wasn’t expecting him anyway. He was surprising her in the hope he could use the good will this appearance would create to borrow some money. Instead, he could give the little girl the few bucks he had left and send her to the café car to get snacks. Frank would be alone with Charlene’s clone. He’d put his arm around her as they shared a few whispered jokes, and by the time they got to her place, she’d really want to be with him. Little Miss Liberty would be off in her room playing video games. Isn’t that what all the kids wanted to do anyway? Frank and her mother would have some time alone. They’d order in some Italian food with a big loaf of garlic bread.
“Now boarding New Jersey Transit train…” The announcer’s voice droned on as the woman struggled to her feet and yanked on her daughter’s arm.
“That’s us, let’s go.”
Panicked, Frank grabbed her arm. The woman was not pleased.
“Let go of me, we have a train to catch.”
“Do you smell garlic?”
“Fuck off, loser,” she sneered before walking away.
The little girl turned around to wave and Frank waved back.
“Who are you waving to?”
It was Frank’s girlfriend. She didn’t appear surprised to see him.
“Oh,” Frank mumbled, “someone I knew from when I was a kid.”
“So what are you doing here? Out of money already?”
“Save it, Frank, and take this bag, will ya?”
Frank’s girlfriend handed him a heavy duffel bag and walked towards the subway.
“I didn’t come here for money,” Frank whined as he followed her. “You got it all wrong.”
Another of my recent photos:
Drawing a crowd