0

So She Made Planets

She can create planets on a whim.

She’s had this ability for as long as she can remember. She can recall the first time she made a star, while playing outside one soft summer afternoon, at her daycare, waiting for her mother to come and pick her up. Everyone acts like it’s something special, but it isn’t, not once you’ve done a hundred thousand times, it becomes just as mundane as any other talent or skill. She can remember sitting with some other kids during lunchtime in elementary school, wowing them with her abilities to be able to create meteors from thin air. She became a magic trick; something kids asked for at their birthday parties, something adults used when out of town family members dropped in and wanted an experience. But she didn’t mind, she liked the attention, and she liked showing off her abilities.

There’s no life on her planets. They’re barren and cold, desolate, uninhabitable. All of these things are small, no bigger than a softball, but still, they’re hers, and she loves them. She spent a lot of her teenage girls in her bedroom, record player on repeat, laying on her back on the floor, just reaching up into the air above her face and creating entire galaxies. A black hole here, a milky way there, a star system, an asteroid field, you name it and she’d make it. She could entertain herself for hours with this. As with all novelties though, it faded with time. Life overtakes hobbies. The things that make you happiest fall by the wayside, even if they’re magical and not mundane in the slightest. She had to study. She had to date. She had to graduate, get into college and get a job. Not because she wanted any of this, but because everyone told her to.

“Making stars isn’t going to guarantee you a future,” they’d tell her, “People want real work skills.”

Resume after resume, essay after essay, lecture after lecture…spending countless, sleepless nights in the school library, trying to finish that paper due the following morning and instead finding herself blipping whole new worlds into creation in the palm of her hand, with the flip of her wrist. It got to the point where it didn’t bring her happiness, because it wasn’t what was “supposed” to bring her happiness. Marriage. A family. A career. Those were what happiness was to be reserved for. Not making stars. Not making planets. After a while, she’d spend all day long at work, come home and go to sleep. Go out with friends. Go out on dates. Soon she never made stars at all.

And then one day, she found she just didn’t want to, and this upset her even more. How could something so special, something so many people had, at one point in time, fawned over her for and told her was unique, was a gift, become so…so boring and unwanted? Even to the person who controlled said gift? Nothing lasted. People came and went. Jobs began and ended. Now she just sits on her bedside, in the dark, in her pajamas, repeatedly making planets and stars and meteors for the sake of doing something, anything at all, and not feeling totally and completely useless.

And then one night, she made a planet, and it was inhabited. This had never happened before. The people on it, they appreciated their existence, they thanked her graciously, they’d needed her to be. She was useful. Important. They enjoyed what she’d given them. They enjoyed her. She was loved. She created another and another and another, filling her bedroom over the following weeks with tiny, inhabited planets, and finally accepting this was who she was. She wasn’t like all the other people. She could do things they couldn’t do. She could make planets.

So she made planets.

And she was fine with that.

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0

Let Myself Be Eaten By Coyotes

Maybe if I just lay here long enough, stay quiet enough, I could just let myself be eaten by coyotes,” Nina thought, laying on the dirt in the middle of the field. She’d driven out here with no real reason in mind, and now didn’t know if she wanted to even go back. She wasn’t even sure she could find her way back in this darkness, given the lack of signage way out here. Nina dug her fingers deep into the dirt, feeling the cool night breeze wafting over her, gently blowing her bangs across her eyes.

Maybe they’ll eat me, and they’ll be starving, and the meal they get from me could save them, finally rendering me useful in some grand fashion,” she thought, “And then some day someone will come out here and find my bones, or I’ll just be buried under the dirt forever and nobody will ever know what happened to me.

Nina felt a bug crawling on her unsleeved arm, and looked over to see a large beetle stopped on her arm, looking around. She sat up and held her arm in front of her, staring at this beetle intensely. After a few minutes, she picked it up with her other hand and put him back down on the dirt and watched him quickly scurry off into the darkness. She felt herself shiver and she grabbed her jacket off the hood of her car, pulling it over her tanktop. She stood up and walked to her car door, pulling it open and getting inside, searching for a radio station but getting nothing; just static. She exhaled loudly and brushed her bangs out of the way, then reached into her backpack and pulled out a tape recorder. She got back out of the car, sighed, cleared her throat and clicked ‘record’, pacing back and forth.

“My name is Nina Turan,” she said clearly, “I’m 35, and I’m a Pisces. I’m recording this on the unlikelihood that someone finds it and cares enough, or knows how, to press ‘play’ on something this fucking antiquated. I’m…going out of my mind with frustration, of every kind. General frustration, employment frustration, physical frustration, sexual frustration. You name it, and I’m frustrated by it. But that’s not why I’m doing this. Frustration can easily be overcome with the right mixture of techniques. I’m going to blow myself up in my car, and not because of frustration but because of sheer boredom.”

She pressed ‘stop’ and took a long, deep breath, wiped her forehead on her jacket sleeve and then resumed recording.

“Not boredom like ‘I just have nothing to do tonight’ sort of boredom but more like…I’ve experienced everything I’d care to at this point in life and now it’s like 50 years of this same shit day in and day out and that’s just not for me. And I’m not gonna become a cliche, like some YA novel, and just take off on a road trip, as if a few thousand miles in a jacked up Volvo with an 80s mixtape could easily solve all of my angst. See, up to a point in life, everything is a brand new experience, everything is exciting and a first. Your first car, first kiss, first sexual experience, first apartment, first job, all of that shit. Then, you hit this peak where it’s nothing but repeats. It’s like your life was canceled and sent into late night syndication on a channel that barely comes in anyway.”

She pressed ‘stop’ again and sat on the hood of her car, surveying the empty field before continuing on.

“Then there’s everyone around you who acts like they want what’s best for you, but only because they want it for themselves. Parents are a great example, saying things like ‘you don’t want to die, what about have children? a family?’ but not because they think you’ll actually enjoy it, but more because they want grandchildren. They want to be a part of society, the grandparent portion of life, and they couldn’t give less than two shits how having children affected your life. I can’t take care of children. I can barely take care of myself. Sorry mom, too bad. Life, society, has far more expectations for me than I have ever had for myself. That’s fucked up.”

She pressed ‘stop’ again and looked around, running her hands through her dark curly brown hair, unsure of how to finish this note to…no one in particular, really. She had also just seen a flaw in her plan, which was where the fuck was she going to leave this? Just in the dirt, next to a burning pile of metal and human remains? Jesus. She could never do anything right it seemed, not even kill herself. There was always something to fuck up. She pressed ‘record’ once more.

“Anyway, I guess that about sums it up. If anyone actually ever finds and listens to this, let it be known that once again my name is, was, Nina Turan. I was 35, with brown curly hair, I liked alternative music and I fucking hated Russel Crowe with a burning passion that could only be likened to that which Americans hate religious tolerance of any religion that isn’t their own. Thanks for listening. Goodbye.”

She pressed ‘stop’ once again and slid off the hood of her car. She took her jacket off, wrapped the tape record in it and put it on the dirt, gently patting it before getting back up and walking to the tailpipe of her car. She pulled out a bottle of alcohol, a rag and a lighter, lit the rag and stuffed it into the bottle of alcohol a certain length so it’d eventually explode when the two finally touched. Nina then shoved the bottle into her tailpipe, then got into her car and put her forehead on the steering wheel. She knew it’d only take a few minutes, and she raced through everything in her life that had ever happened. Every memory she had, good or bad, and knew she was making the right choice.

She heard a howl and looked up, seeing a coyote standing outside in front of the car. Their eyes appeared to lock with hers, and she slowly got out of the car and waved her arms at it, trying to shoo it away, but it wasn’t moving. She finally picked up a rock and tossed it at it.

“Get out of here you stupid fucking mutant dog!” she shouted, and after a moment the coyote finally turned tail and ran. She sighed, rubbed her forehead and then heard the explosion of the car behind her. She turned to see the car engulfed in flames, and completely destroyed.

“God dammit,” she mumbled, before picking up her jacket and the tape recorder and starting to walk down the road, “Now I’m gonna be late for work tomorrow.”

0

Now Is Not The Best Time

Sandy Price was laying in the bed, hands folded on her chest, breathing slowly, eyes glued to the stucco ceiling overhead. She could remember it clearly. She could remember everything clearly. She rolled over and looked at Derek, asleep, and grimaced. She got out of bed and walked softly to the kitchen, where she took a glass out from the cupboard, walked to the sink, looked at it for a moment and then instead reached under the sink for the gin. She poured herself a glass and walked to the large window at the end of the living room of their studio apartment, glancing out at the city. Sandy had always liked the city at night. She’d always liked night, in general, but especially the city. How it lit up, looked so vibrant and welcoming and warm. She now knew it wasn’t, but as a little girl, it comforted her to think that there was this place that was so safe and cozy.

She sipped her gin and heard a groan behind her. She turned to see Derek standing in the door frame between the living room and the bedroom. She sighed as he rubbed his eyes and approached her.

“Are you ok? Why’re you up?” he asked, and she shrugged.

“Why not,” she replied, “What’s the point of sleeping. Doesn’t make me feel any better. All my dreams are terrible. Might as well be awake at a time when I actually enjoy looking at the shithole we live in,” she said, motioning her hand with the drink in it towards the cityscape.

“Is this about Rufus?” Derek asked, hushed, like he was afraid of what would come next. As if saying this name would spawn forth from the depths of hell a million demons hellbent on the destruction of the earth, and often when regarding Sandy’s anger, that wasn’t a far off analogy. Sandy slowly turned back to the window and swirled the gin in her glass.

“Rufus has nothing to do with any of this,” she said coldly, “Besides, how could he be involved in anything when he’s a thousand miles away…when did I get so cold? When did we get so cold, and not just you and but the proverbial ‘we’. Nobody asks how another persons day was anymore, and nobody seems to provide simple acts of human kindness like holding doors open for old people. This isn’t a rant about the death of humanity, god knows that’s been overdone to death by bleeding heart liberals writing for websites with cutesy names like ‘Boodles’ or something. I’m a liberal too, but I’m not the kind who thinks simple technological advances like smart phones are going to cause the death of conversation.”

Derek sat down on the arm of a chair and rubbed his shoulder, sighing.

“What is this about then? Just how distant you feel about everything?” he asked, and she rolled her eyes and snorted.

“Yeah, distant, let’s go with that. Everyone wants personal space in a city that thrives on community. There’s nothing wrong with privacy, everyone is entitled to it, it’s their right to want to have their own time and their own space, but engagement, even on a level as simple as saying ‘nice day, isn’t it?’ is so crucial to simply keeping the lines of communication between our own fucking species going. We cannot allow ourselves to become this cut off from another. Those girls I teach…”

Sandy sat down on the window sill and looked at her nails, exhaling loudly.

“…they don’t judge one another,” she continued, “They help one another figure out their moves if they’re having trouble, and they rally around one another as a team to support eachother and the team as a whole. People say evil is taught. That’s debatable. But what I can tell you is actually taught is cynicism. Bitterness. Coldness. It happens when you’ve been hurt one too many times, when you want to withdraw because you feel you can no longer trust anyone; including yourself, because you keep making the poor decision to open up to just one more person, always knowing the end result is the same.”

“Sandy,” Derek said, “…did I hurt you? I know we’ve had our problems, but we’ve always worked it out one way or another. I know Rufus hurt you. I’m sorry. But how can you stand there and honestly claim that the end result is the same when you live with someone who cares about you tremendously and only has your best interests at heart?”

“…you’ll leave too,” Sandy said softly, letting her hair cover her face so she could hide, “You will. Someone can only put up with negativity for so long before ‘love’ turns to ‘tolerate’. I try so hard to be who you think I am, who you would love for me to be, but it’s not me. I’m an angry, upset young lady. Is that really who you love? Or do you just love the idea you have of me?”

Derek stood up and walked over to the window sill, sitting in it with her, looking out the window at the city lights.

“Remember a few years ago when we went with my folks to that ski resort? We spent a lot of the time inside, just sitting by that giant fire pit, sipping cocoa and reading and just…enjoying something for once without worrying about the financial ramifications? You looked really pretty with that fire light flickering on your eyes, curled up in that chair, just sucked into your literature.”

“What’s with the nostalgia kick?” Sandy asked, swirling her index fingertip inside her empty glass, “You think this is how we fix our problems?”

“I’m just trying to get you to remember something nice, that’s all. If we could go on vacations like that as often as our parents could at our age, I would love it. You want to dance, you want to teach girls to dance, but then you go to work and you seem so miserable and you only seem happy when you’re alone. When you have no responsibilities.”

“So you’re saying my argument is hypocritical?” Sandy asked, sniffling.

“Well, who isn’t hypocritical?” Derek asked, grinning, “But no, what I’m saying is that a lot of people can’t do both. You can. You do. A lot of people are so…dead inside or something that they just shut off their humanity and do what they must to survive, even if it means only caring about themselves or their family and nobody else. But you can do both, and, hell that’s admirable. You’re mad because you don’t know why everyone else can’t do what you do. That’s what I’m saying. You want to grab them and shake them and scream ‘Why is this so goddamn difficult for you?!’ but that’s the thing, it just is goddamn difficult for them. I agree with you, it’s sad, but…it’s for them to deal with. You keep doing the good that you’re doing, and you’ll feel better I think.”

Sandy pushed her hair out of her face and smiled slightly at Derek, her eyes remarkably pale blue, her skin so pale in the moonlight. She looked out the window again and shook her head.

“Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and I want to just climb out this window and throw myself to the sidewalk. Just let it all end,” Sandy said, “But then I realize that suicide, at least for me, only seems like a viable option because I am surviving. The others who generally seem to kill themselves really do feel like it’s their only option, or it is their only option, as they’re perpetually unemployed or sick or homeless or something. But I have a place, here, and I have you and I have a job and I…I’m surviving. That’s why it’s an option, and not a necessity.”

“I’m glad you see it that way, because-“

“I miss my mom,” Sandy said, choking up, tears starting to roll down her cheeks, “I called her to talk about my first recital with the girls you saw and…and she wasn’t even in the least bit interested. She called it a ‘hobby’ the entire time. I want to please her so bad and yet I hate her so much. You have your family. Do you know what it’s like to not have family? To be that alone? I have your parents, and you, and the girls at the dance hall but…to not have family. A place you came from, a home…it’s exhausting trying to figure out where you’re supposed to be or even if you’re supposed to be. To not have a place of origin, a backstory, a prologue…is your story even worth reading?”

“You’re worth reading,” Derek said, “You’re the one who pays the majority of the rent on this place, that car is yours, you’re the one with meaningful employment. You’re worth reading. Each chapter it gets better and better, and we can make sure there’s a happy ending.”

“I don’t want to be distant.”

“I don’t want you to be.”

Some dogs barked in the distance, and a few cars drove by underneath them.

“Hey,” Sandy said.

“Yeah?” Derek replied.

“Promise me that if I do ever kill myself, you’ll write my sequel.”

0

We Were Supposed To Be Happy

Derek Fisher and Sandy Price were sitting in the car in the parking lot of a superstore, watching people come and go from the store to their car, carrying enormous bags of groceries and other purchases. They had a huge bag of chips in between them, shoveling them into their mouths as they people watched, and Sandy stopped eating to light a cigarette. She took a few puffs and left it between her lips as she motioned with her hand towards the windshield, at all the people outside.

“I’m not against consumerism or capitalism in any way,” Sandy said, “But think about it this way…this is the highlight of these peoples lives. This is what they do for fun. They spend money on something they’re guaranteed to hate and be disappointed by in under an hour.”

“Shit, if I had money I’d do the same thing,” Derek said, and Sandy exhaled some smoke.

“Yeah, me too, it’s true.”

“I’d complain about it, go buy stuff and then complain about it afterwards too,” Derek said, “That’s the American way.”

“…I got a job,” Sandy finally said and Derek looked at her, his eyes wide with shock.

“Really?”

“Yeah, I mean, sort of. It’s a temporary situation. I’m going to be a pseudo ballet instructor for the girls downtown,” Sandy said, “I’m pretty happy about it, actually.”

“Well, good for you, I’m proud of you,” Derek said and Sandy blushed, looking out her window.

“I guess if I can’t dance myself, I may as well help kids learn to,” she said, then after a pause added, “I don’t know why but I can’t shake this feeling that we were supposed to have more than this. I don’t mean like a 401k or anything, but…something…bigger. A better reason for being here. Not like, fate or destiny or anything like that written in the stars bullshit, but just something better in general, for existing.”

“I don’t know where you ever got the idea that life was supposed to mean something from,” Derek said, and she chuckled.

“We’re told since childhood that we’ll be loved by someone, that we can be anything, that we will be happy…but what happens if none of that comes true? There’s some people out there who can’t find love no matter how hard they try or how badly they want it. There’s others who can’t succeed, no matter what their level of schooling was. Some have degrees upon degrees and still can’t get a decent job now. A lot just aren’t happy. Not for selfish reasons either, like the media would like you to believe, but for legitimate reasons. For believing the things our parents told us. The things I just listed.”

Derek didn’t respond. He just ate some more chips and looked at the people.

“Look at this woman,” he said, “She’s got three kids and she’s wheeling out a large wide screen TV. She’s in yoga pants and I guarantee you she doesn’t do real exercise. She probably jogs and drinks expensive coffee and listens to self important talk radio and recycles and is a vegan. She probably puts so much effort into that appearance, that she’s better than everyone else, and then she goes and buys a huge TV for her three kids. She is everyone else.”

“I don’t want to judge people anymore,” Sandy mumbled.

“What?”

“I don’t want to be that kind of person. I’ve lived off hatred and snark my entire life. I want to try and be more positive. I want to be uplifting and…and just…nicer. I’m so tired of being so angry and mean all the time. It takes too much energy.”

“…well, I mean, nobody’s stopping you really,” Derek said, taking the cigarette from her and taking a long drag.

“I need to quit smoking at some point too, but god knows when that’ll happen. One lifestyle change at a time.”

Another pause, as Sandy watched that woman Derek had ripped apart open her van and get the TV in the trunk, and then get the kids into their seats.

“I’d be her,” Sandy said, “I really would. She looks happy. She looks like her life is great.”

“American life is engineered to look great and ideal. That’s how they lure people into the trap of student debt and housing payments they can’t afford,” Derek said, and Sandy glared at him. He thought for a second, and then said, “I mean, I guess she could be happy, sure. But it’s not ideal for everyone.”

“Happiness?”

“Her lifestyle.”

“It’s ideal for those who don’t have it.”

“Not really. There’s lots of women your age who wouldn’t want that.”

“…I guess that’s true,” Sandy said, “To each their own though. Still…bet she’s happier than me.”

“When I was in elementary school, this woman, Miss Klinger, came to the classroom and asked everyone what we were proud of the most about ourselves. Guess she was some feel good child psychologist or some shit. Anyway, she took answers from everyone, and we had to write it down on a piece of paper and hand it to her, and then she’d meet with us about our answers. I just wrote ‘I don’t know’ because I was in elementary school…I didn’t know what the fuck pride was. How could I know? I was like, 7. I’d barely been alive long enough to even accumulate anything to be proud of.”

“What did she say to that?” Sandy asked as he passed her cigarette back to her.

“She took me aside, like she did with all the others and she told me ‘there has to be something that you’re proud of’ and I always assumed grownups were right about everything so I believed her and just made something up to be proud of so she’d be happy and let me go. I don’t even remember what I told her. I just know it got her off my back, and so for the rest of my childhood, I just told adults exactly what they wanted to hear because I didn’t know what really to feel or say.”

Sandy looked at Derek, who was looking at his fingernails.

“I guess,” he continued, “if I died tomorrow, I wouldn’t know what to be proud of. Knowing you, I guess. That’s been something I’m happy about.”

Sandy smiled and leaned her head on his shoulder. Derek reached his hand up and stroked her hair.

“When do you start your new job?” he asked.

“This Monday,” she replied.

“…have you told your mother?” Derek asked, and Sandy tensed up.

“No,” she said flatly, “Why would I. She’d only be annoyed that I didn’t have a real job.”

“Are you proud of what you’re going to do though?”

“Absolutely.”

“Well, then that’s all that matters.”

Sandy put her arm through Derek’s, smiling. He may be negative a bit, and he might be a bit lost, but he grounded her, and she lifted him up, and watching this woman and her children, Sandy realized what she had was better than what this woman could ever have, and yeah, she was proud as hell of that.