**The following post is fiction and written from a StoryMatic prompt card (a box of cards that prompts writers to write, basically). The card I pulled today read, “person born in the wrong time period.” Here goes:
I often feel like I don’t belong. An anomaly of sorts. A fish out of water. A cliché that makes little sense but yet is still living, breathing, convincing. A wrong in the middle of rights.
There’s a book on my bookshelf. One I got for free at a music festival. A woman stood at the entrance—or perhaps the exit depending on your place in time—handing them out. Shiny, black, hardcover books. For free. I watched as people passed by, not understanding. It’s free, people. A free book. And you’re not going to accept it? I accepted it. Which is to say I grabbed it from her hands, took it home, opened it once to find a writing style so far from that which I enjoy that I slammed the cover closed with the verve of a five-year-old. Post-naptime. Yet there it sits. On my shelf. As it must. Simply because it’s a book. And my shelf is, after all, for books. It is wrong in so many ways among the read and the re-read and the analyzed and the margin-noted. The Mary Karr and the Joan Didion and the David Sedaris and the John Muir and the John McPhee and the Bill Bryson and the Henry David Thoreau and the Karl Marx and the others. Many others. It, other than during its initial opening, has not been read. Nor re-read, nor analyzed, nor margin noted. No neon Post-Its pop from its edges, sun-faded and moisture-sucked from the hot desert air, their revealed edges curling, as if gasping for air. No words inside are underlined in ball-point pen (nor in pencil as my mother would prefer). Nor looked up and jotted down on my never-ending list of words to learn. I guess this is all to say it doesn’t belong. Yet, for some reason, it must live amongst the others. Unloved and untouched and uncared for. Like a manikin unclothed, standing amongst others draped in silk and paisley prints and velour. Yes, that’s it, a naked manikin. In some ways, I suppose that’s one of the saddest sights there is to see in this world.
I want substance more than I’ve ever wanted anything. Even context. In today’s world, I thirst for it like water in a drought, knowing, all the while—as my pallet becomes thick and sticky with my own spit—that there is none. At least none of the nature for which I’m looking. I suppose "like water in a drought" is one of the worst analogies I've ever written. I had a professor once who compared cliches to Twinkies. He said they were fine, for the everyday eater, the everyday reader. But, he said, if you were a chef--someone who got paid to cook for others--serving Twinkies on a silver platter was unacceptable. So, as a writer (despite my lack of pay), I suppose "water in a drought" is my version of a chef serving twinkies. I apologize for that.
Sometimes I watch the news. Or what they call the news. The other day an anchor was discussing her porn name. You know, where you take the name of your first pet and the name of the street you grew up on and there you have it. On the news. An anchor. Discussing her porn name.
Did I mention I want substance?
Perhaps my grandma wanted the same. Substance, that is. Perhaps, in the ‘40s, she longed for the 20s. Perhaps those in the ‘20’s long for the previous century’s ‘80s. I do not know. All I know is that I long for the ‘40s, the ‘20s, the previous century’s ‘80s. Anything but the here and now.
I visit her, my grandma. Every afternoon. She lives down the street from us in Las Vegas. On Ringe Lane. I listen to her stories. The stories about the ‘40s. We look at catalogues together. I love her if for no other reason than the fact she uses the word “catalogue.” There is a difference, you know, between a magazine and a catalogue. But no one seems to care about that anymore. Just as women don’t wear silk slips so sheer their whole body pierces through the fabric, round thighs and bony hips and perky nipples. No, slips are out. Catalogues are out. In the here and now, that is.
She likes what you and I would call the “vintage-looking” dresses. Ones with big fabric buttons and bright white polka-dots and skirts that shoot out so far from one’s silhouette, the wearer of such an item would be a fool not to dance with a handsome man in it, if for no other reason than to spin that skirt for all its worth.
I like her best when she sees what you and I would call the “skank” dresses. Visceral and embarrassed at once, her reactions are. Curious yet offended. She asks me, You wouldn’t wear something like that, would you, bean? No, I tell her, Never. And I mean it, too. Most girls my age would wear those dresses, but I would never.
And, speaking of my age, my friends often tell me I’m much older than the years I've actually acquired. They joke that my strawberry-blonde hair looks dull-grey inside, when it doesn’t have the sunlight to flatter it. I wouldn’t mind—though I never tell them this—having grey hair. For grey hair would mean I was born to an earlier time. A better time. Grey hair would mean my wide-eyed face first saw this world when it had not yet been drained of that substance I so long for. But close only counts in horseshoes, my grandma always says.
My boyfriend doesn’t quite understand that saying. Though, to be fair, no one my age does. Rolls his eyes when I say it. Asks why I can’t just be happy. He’s sleeping, after all, with many a happy girl. Girls who don’t say things like “close only counts in horseshoes.” Though, I’d never let on that I know this. He thinks I think I’m his only. I don’t even wish it to be true. Perhaps that says something about us. About him and me. My friends ask why I’m with him and I have no answer other than to say I suppose when you feel like this much of an outcast, who you date and if you date doesn’t matter. Not that I date him to feel less like an outcast. No, that’s not it. It’s just that when you know—I mean really, really know—that no man nor boy in this particular place at this particular time is ever going to come even close to being right for you, you take the first one that comes along without putting up much of a fight. Why take him at all, you may wonder. And that, I’m still trying to figure out myself.
Or perhaps that is a lie. The “trying to figure out” part. I don’t much try to figure out anything. My discomfort with this time period, oddly enough, has made me quite complacent with many things. Like who I choose to be friends with. Or who I choose to date. Or what clothes I choose to wear. When you don’t like any of your available options, you’ll take anything, for Choice A is just as miserable and unfulfilling as Choice Z. So why waste time sorting through semantics?
My phone rang today while I was with him. I left while he was in the restroom—the sound of his strong stream of piss breaking through the calm water was more than I could take in that moment. It was my grandma. The phone call, that is. Wanting me to come over. Wanting me to hear her stories, I assume. Her stories are my key to turn back time. My get-out-of-jail-free-card (jail being the present) that, when cashed in, takes me to a place that looks and smells and feels like the place I wish I was born into. It’s not an all-out time machine—my time with her—but I’ve found it’s as close as I can come for now.
I leave his house and drive. Drive through the ratty neighborhood he lives in and past the Buck’s Tavern and Big O’ Tires on Nellis Avenue. And I arrive at her house on Ringe, failing to even glimpse at my own home as I, too, pass it.
I open the screen door and shudder at the high-pitched creak it makes as I do. And my shuddering makes me laugh—a reminder that I’ll never get used to anything, not even the sound I’ve heard every single afternoon since I was old enough to open the old thing on my own. Audrey Hepburn said that in Breakfast at Tiffany’s: “I’ll never get used to anything. Anyone that does might as well be dead.” At least that’s how I remember it. What she said. I let the screen door with its broken spring slam behind me and brace myself as to avoid shuddering again. I’m successful this time.
My grandma sits on her sofa. It’s light blue fabric, lighter even in parts where asses have planted themselves over the years. Amongst the blue is a white toile print. One of men in straw hats and women in long dresses, ribs and bellies shrunk and stretched length-wise via corsets. Every time I look at that print I wonder what it would take to become part of it. I used to imagine, as a kid, that one lucky day I would sit on that couch and it would take me in, suck me up and re-fashion my being as part of its pattern. A two-dimensional, single-hued, toile woman, I long to be.
I notice my grandma’s holding something new. A Kindle to be exact. It was a gift, she says, from my Aunt Joann. Her daughter, my aunt. From either perspective, a moron, I think. Why would my grandma want a Kindle? Only then I realize she does indeed want a Kindle. What I at first thought was merely the white, white reflection of the thing’s screen in her eyes, I notice now is a an unfortunate glow. A child-like light beaming from inside. She’s excited. No, no. She’s thrilled.
Do you like it, I ask her. I love it, she replies. That’s why I had you come over, she tells me, I need help with it. She knows not how to download books nor how to read them once she does. Why she picks me of all the 13 grandchildren to help her—the one grandchild who doesn’t have a Facebook account who actually wears the things she buys me for my birthday to places other than ironic Christmas sweater parties—is beyond me. And I tell her this. But never mind that, she says. I should just help her, she says. See if I like it myself. If I do, she says, she’ll buy me one. I ask her to stick with the sweaters instead. She mumbles something I can’t make out, perhaps because I don’t want to.
We spend the next two hours buying books online. Online on her fancy new Kindle. I cringe less and less with each “purchase” click. In fact, not only do I cringe less and less, but I perk up more and more. No matter how hard I resist the digital domain—especially one that houses what once were books, actual, physical, crisp-as-an-apple books—I find myself giving in. Relaxing on the toile couch with my grey grandmother and her black Kindle. A recommendation comes up in Amazon. Lo and Behold, it’s “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Oh, I’ve heard of that one, she says. How Amazon got “Fifty Shades of Grey” from her previous purchases of mystery novels and Harper Lee and John Steinbeck is beyond me. That’s enough for now, I tell her.
And just then, as I worry my grandmother may be turning both her and me into digital-romance-novel-reading zombies along with the rest of the world, she says, Fine. Fine, she says. She’s tired, she says, because of the screen. It has hurt her eyes. Let’s relax, she says, Put on a movie. And with that I get up, head to her VHS collection, pull one from among the many, and force it into her VCR--the inevitable click-clack as the machine accepts the device like music to my ears. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Ah, she says, Just what I was hoping you’d pick. And for the next near two hours, we lose ourselves in the delicious past.