Hi, everyone! I’m starting a new short story collection documenting the romantic & erotic (including some very subtle shades of the fantastic) adventures that occur in a fictional small town named Snarewood. This was inspired by a blogger (thanks theherdlesswitch!)that suggested I expand on the characters found in The Eye & The Pompadour. This first entry continues Darin’s story from that particular piece, but I intend to expand the cast of characters and have all their narratives interweave into a greater arc. I hope you enjoy!
Galina squeals as if her lungs are two over-inflated birthday balloons, yanking me brutally out of the most peaceful dream.
In the dream I was riding Amtrak as it rolled through a softly waving meadowland. Seated next to me was a young woman dressed like Doris Day. She had one of those Raytheon transistor radios that came out in the 50s, but hers looked brand new. As she dialed through various stations, I could hear familiar voices coming through the speakers, including my own. Eventually, I heard the voice of my first, and best, babysitter reading me The Shy Chameleon, my favorite book when I was about four years old. I just sat in the train car feeling profoundly at ease, watching the meadowland repeat itself while the shy chameleon learned how to not be so shy.
Now I’m painfully awake as the beautiful meadowland dissolves into the BlitzMart, where I’m supposed to be manning the late shift, and two very excited customers are beating my eardrums like twin John Bonhams.
“Look, Kate, just fucking look!” Galina drags her pixieish partner-in-misdemeanor, Kate, by the wrist to the candy aisle. “The new shipment of Fruity WHOMPS is here! And it’s all ours!” She does a mock Dracula-type laugh that I admit is kinda cute, but I’m still groggy and annoyed.
“Jesus, keep it down you two,” I try to sound authoritative, but my throat’s still clogged with sleep. “It’s not that exciting. That stuff is just artificial, factory-made bullshit.”
Galina hugs about a dozen bags of Fruity WHOMPS to her chest. “Mmmmm, artificial, factory-made bullshit. My favorite.”
Kate, the quieter but smarter and more deadly of the two, giggles. “Poor Darin. He’s becoming way too old to enjoy the small pleasures of life anymore. It’s tragic really.” She wants to sting me, but her glowing, angelic face nullifies any slight I feel.
Galina drops all the bags messily onto my checkout station. “Ring up the ones on the floor too. I’m cleaning you out, friend.”
“Careful, big-spender. You’re gonna burn through all that lemonade stand money.” I start scanning the bags. For some reason, the beep of the scanner seems weirdly embarrassing. It reminds me of the beep heart monitors make on doctor shows, and then I realize how much like a hospital this place is; the harsh florescent lights, the glum customers shambling in like escaped rehab patients looking for a legal drug to medicate themselves with. I can’t help but feel judged that I work in a place like this. Dreading a descent into self-pity, I snap out of the trance I’m putting myself in. “Seriously, why do you guys buy so much of this garbage?”
“Cause, Darin,” says Kate, locking eyes with me in a seductive and startling way, “if I eat enough, my pussy tastes like maraschino cherries.” Galina’s mouth goes wide open. Clearly, this isn’t normal conversation for her meeker friend.
I don’t let it phase me. “Is that what Galina tells you when she comes up for air?” I smile to myself, overly proud of my comeback.
Galina and Kate look at each other wide-eyed in shock. Then burst out laughing.
“Good one, D. I think our filth is rubbing off on you,” says Galina as she shoves the WHOMPS into her backpack. “Actually, Kate’s turning nineteen tomorrow, and word on the street is you can make the best cocktail ever by steeping WHOMPS in vodka overnight. You should drop by! We’re gonna get scorched-liver drunk.”
“Can’t, doing a double-shift tomorrow.” Part of me is relieved. I’m only twenty-four, but I’ll be a total geezer in that crowd. But a more hidden part wishes I could go and spend time with Kate outside of BlitzMart.
“Lame,” huffs Galina as she bolts for the door. “Alright, you be a soulless junk food merchant while K and me live life to its drunkest. Later, dude.”
Kate starts to follow, but her pace suggests reluctance, so I blurt out, “Happy early birthday, Kate. Try not to drink too much. I don’t want your big night to end on a stretcher.”
She turns and a gentle smile spreads across her face–a face even lovelier than I realized, open and sweet. “Thanks,” she says, and it sounds genuine, without a trace of irony. “By the way, you still dating Maxie Pad?”
I try my damnedest not to crack up, but I can’t help it. Maxie absolutely hated that nickname. “Nah, we broke up two months ago. She moved to Toronto. Goes by Cameron now.”
Kate rolls her eyes like it’s a form of jujitsu. “Well, between you and me, I always thought she was kind of a pretentious bitch.”
“Yeah, but she was my pretentious bitch.”
Kate laughs and it seems awful that it’ll probably be weeks before I hear that laugh again.
“Hey, Darin.” She’s giving me that same seductive look she gave before, only this time it has a touch of vulnerable bashfulness which makes me momentarily fall in love.
“Remember what I said. Like maraschino cherries.”
She leaves, but like the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland, her seductive smile seems to linger in the air like perfume.
For the first time since breaking up with Maxie and taking this shit job, I feel optimistic. Like I’m able to sense the rough magic in things again.
Realizing it’s almost midnight, I turn on the radio system to drown out the lonely buzz of florescents as I balance the till for the graveyard shift, but all I can find is static. I just keep turning the dial for a couple minutes when finally I hear a faint but familiar voice. Now, I realize it’s super late and I’m bone tired at this point, so I’m probably just imagining it, but I swear it’s my babysitter’s voice again. She’s finishing that part I didn’t get to hear cause Galina woke me up:
…and the shy chameleon turned bright red, but he wasn’t embarrassed this time because the chameleon in front of him was turning bright red too.