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Mona Leigh Rose

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Leftover Mud Pie

by Mona Leigh Rose

 

 

I’ve roomed with the Black Widow for four semesters.  Two college years.  That’s like ten in dog years.  She’s a love addict.  Meets a new guy in study group or at a bar, lets him sweep her off her size six pumps, charms his family, makes fevered plans for the future.   A few months in, she loses interest, takes up with a new guy.  Problem is, the wuss can’t bring herself to break-up with an old “the one,” tell him he’s been replaced by a new “the one.”  That’s my job.

“It isn’t you, it’s her,” I coo into the phone.

“Only saying that to make me feel better.”

“No, really.  You’re a great guy, [insert name here].  Any girl would be lucky to date you.”  Twist the phone cord around my finger, wonder whether tonight’s Seinfeld is new or a rerun.

“But she said she loved me, said,” sniff, “I was the one.”

“That’s the problem.  She loves you too much, got scared.  She’s not ready for–” pause for effect “–true love.”

Lost count how many times I’ve delivered those lines.  My Nana told me a man in love is dumber than a post.  Roomie’s castoffs taught me a new lesson:  A man with a broken heart will believe lies so brash even a post would thumb its nose.

Not that Roomie ever asked me to be her muscle.  I can’t stand loose ends, unfinished business, even someone else’s business.  Not much of a social life of my own, unless you count days spent in the library shooing undergrads who use the deserted stacks as a hook-up spot.  So I helped her out of a tight spot or two, and soon enough, her chore became my calling.

The overture goes something like this:

Her:  “Can you get the phone?”

Me:  “You know it’s him.  He’s called, like, ten times today.”

Her:  “Can’t he take a hint?”  Exaggerates eye roll.  “Besides, [insert new guy’s name here] is waiting for me downstairs.  Taking me to Monty’s for dinner.  He might be the one.”  Rubs lipstick off teeth, smiles at reflection.

Me:  “Fine.”  Mimic exaggerated eye roll.  “I’ll take care of it.”

Her:  “You’re the best.  I’ll bring you my leftover mud pie in a doggy bag.”  Blows kiss, bounces out door.

I’m a darn good breaker-upper.  Sometimes we even become buddies, bond over his heartache.  That’s how I got to see Glenn Close play Norma Desmond on opening night, learned to roller skate on the Venice boardwalk, hiked to the Hollywood sign for the first time.

Everyone was happy until Mr. Boomerang came along.  Roomie put Boomie through two spin cycles.  For their first break-up, I used all the usual comfort words, told him he was a catch, he’d meet the right girl, yada, blah, et cetera.  He moseyed into the sunset, bent but, thanks to my soothing tones, not busted.  Fall semester he showed up again, first on the answering machine, a week later at the door.

Seems they ran into each other at Three of Hearts, shared a pitcher of Amstel Light.  Another round of sunset hikes in Runyon Canyon, weekend trips to Ojai, long walks on the beach.  He was “the one” for the second time.  I like Mr. Boomerang, nice guy, smart, psych major.  Had high hopes for him.  But when Roomie casually dropped a new man’s name in conversation over Cheerios, when she stretched the phone cord around the corner and behind her bedroom door, when Boomie’s voice on the answering machine veered from cheerful to concerned to suicidal, I knew my big solo wasn’t far off.

Pick up the ringing phone one rainy Friday night in January and prepare to cut him loose.

“It isn’t you, it’s her.”

“Bullshit.”

“No really, I’m not trying to make you feel better.  You’re a great guy, any girl–”

“I brought you chicken soup from Langer’s when you had a cold.”

“Um, right, thanks.  Anyway, any girl would be lucky–”

“I told you which box had the See’s Candy at the white elephant gift exchange.”

“Wait, what?”

“Don’t bullshit me.”

“I’m not bullshiting.  She loves you too much–”

“Cut the crap.  She met someone else, didn’t she?”

“She’s scared–”

“Are you reading from a script?”

“Of– of course not.”

“So spit it out.  Why is she ducking my calls?”

An ant crawls out of a crack in the plaster wall, then another.  Smash them with a paper towel.  “She’s not ready for–” one Mississippi, two Mississippi “—true love.”

“What do you know about love?”

My stomach lurches.  “I know enough . . .”

“When was the last time your heart shot fireworks when you held someone’s hand?”

“I have connections with people, feel sparks.”

“To hell with sparks.  I’m talking about a raging fire, an inferno of feeling that incinerates all reason.  Do you even date?”

“What’s this got to do–”

“And don’t count meeting a study buddy for coffee.”

Close my eyes, need to focus.  “This isn’t about me.  You’re hurt now, but you’ll meet someone–”

“Of course it’s about you.”

“I’m trying to help, let you down easy.”

“Exactly my point.  If you had the first idea about real love, you’d never think having your heart stomped on by a self-absorbed bitch could ever be easy.”

“Don’t call her a bitch.”

“Why do you protect her?”

“I don’t protect her.  I help the men– I mean, I’m helping you.”

“You enable her vile narcissism–”

“Vile?”

“–and how does she repay you?”

The light from the microwave shines on my finger, bloodless in the tightly wound phone cord.  “I– um, I like mud pie?”

“Jesus.  She breaks your heart every fucking day and you don’t even see it.”

“I’m not gay.”

“Didn’t say anything about gay.  I see the way you look at her, same way I do.”

“She’s my friend.”

“She’s not your friend.  She’s your idol, your goddess on high.  And you’re her pet, her toady, her maid and her minion.”

“No, she . . .”

“She uses you like she used me, and is probably using some other poor fool right this minute.  Do yourself a favor.  Don’t break up with me, break up with her.”

The dial tone bounces against the kitchen wall, echoes in my head, even after I hang the receiver back in its cradle.  My legs feel heavy, my head light.  Can’t muster up the energy to move.  A line of ants marches across the counter now, dozens stagger single file under the weight of crumbs and cereal bits twice their size.  One collapses, struggles to right himself.  The others make a tight detour around him, continue on with their loads.

I flinch when Roomie bounces through the apartment door, flips the light switch.  “Why’s it so dark in here?”  She tosses a gold foil swan on the counter, narrowly misses the ants.  “Tonight was a-mazing.  Bradley brought me a dozen white roses, hired a violinist to serenade me while we sipped champagne.”  She twirls, skips down the hall.  “He’s taking me to Big Sur tonight, need to pack a bag.”

The foil swan stares at me, my face reflected in its creased wings.  Look like a little girl in a broken funhouse mirror.

“I really think Bradley could be the one,” Roomie shouts over the slamming drawers and clanking hangers.

Unwrap the foil, smooth the edges flat.  The sliver of coffee ice cream half melted, the fudge congealed in clumps.  Slide it next to the line of ants.  One changes course and the others follow.  The whole army converges, crumbs still balanced on their heads.  They swarm over the gooey mess.  Soon a wriggling mound covers the foil from crust to whipped cream.

Roomie sashays past the kitchen, an overnight bag slung over the shoulder of my new raincoat.   “We’ll do your birthday dinner another time.  You’re cool with that, right?”

The foil shudders, then slides slowly toward the crack in the plaster.

 

 

BIO

Mona Leigh Rose is infatuated with short stories, the shorter the better.  Her work appears or is forthcoming in The Writing Disorder, Avalon Literary Review, and Jewish Fiction.net, among others.  She is honored that one of her stories has been selected for the flash fiction anthology The Best Small Fictions 2017.  She lives and writes in Santa Barbara, California. http://monaleighrose.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Crossing

by Mona Leigh Rose

 

 

Ricardo says you cannot hear them. They slink like cats, he says. Ricardo says you cannot see them, not like you’d see your sister waiting on the curb for the school bus. They’re in the shadows, he says. That flick in the corner of your eye? That’s them, he says. When you see that flick, if you turn fast enough you might see the tip of a shoe or a wisp of hair. When you see that flick, you must move closer, you must look behind the utility box, around the block wall, deep into the shadows. If you ignore that flick, she will wait, not moving, not breathing. She will wait for the train and then, when it’s too late, you’ll see her. You’ll see her slide her body onto the tracks, under the crushing wheels, silently, skillfully, as if she’s been practicing all of her life for this act.   She will reveal herself at the last possible moment, right as the train is passing, right as her life is ending, right as your life is beginning. And then you’ll be fired.

That’s how it happened for Ricardo. He worked security at this crossing for seven months. Seven months of watching and waiting, seven months of double-time pay, seven months of being a man. Then the teenage girl crept out of the shadows and ended it all. Now he works at fast food for minimum wage. No other boss will hire him. He is dirty, tainted with her blood. Now he wakes up in the middle of the night, soaked in sweat, replaying that day, wondering if there was a flick, wondering if he could have stopped her, wondering if he will ever be a man again.

I took over Ricardo’s shift after the accident. Now I watch for girls who don’t want to be seen, listen for boys who don’t want to be heard. Teenagers who want to end their lives before they begin.

Every time it happens, the people and the newspapers tell us who, they tell us why: Parents who sacrifice everything so their children can have better lives. Parents who expect the impossible. Parents who are themselves geniuses, overachievers, the smartest in the world, who expect their children to do better. Children who grow up on the edge of the University, surrounded by the children of the smartest people in the world, who are told that if they don’t do better, they’re nothing. Children who sit in classrooms and libraries and tutoring centers under florescent lights for ten hours a day since they were three. Teenagers who go to the funerals of other teenagers who slid under the train. Young men and women who can think of no other option than to lie down under steel wheels to end the humiliation, the shame, of not getting into Harvard, of not scoring a perfect 2400 on their SATs, of not doing better than the smartest people in the world.

I know the older brothers of these kids. I played against them on the soccer pitch, rich against poor. I saw them around the edges of their town, when they crossed into my town. They wouldn’t talk to me, wouldn’t see me, wouldn’t hear me. Now their younger brothers and sisters dive below the trains. They still don’t talk to me or see me, but I’m the one who will save their families.

Mr. Johanson says the worst is around finals, and the worst of the worst is when college admissions go out in the Spring. That’s when they come to the tracks, he says. That’s when you must be extra alert, he says. That’s also when the loud ones, the strange ones, come down to the crossing, sit on the block wall and watch. They think it’s sport, or a movie, or something to tweet about. They think it’s funny to place bets with their allowance money. Those ones are easy to see, easy to hear. I chase them away. They laugh at me. They don’t understand.

The commuter trains, they slow at the crossing. I see the faces of the conductors as they pass. Their mouths tighten, their eyes dart, the creases on their foreheads deepen with each pass. The freight trains, they don’t slow. Their cars and TVs and cattle are too important, must reach the markets. I don’t see the faces of those conductors. Do they see me? Do they understand?

My grandfather, he doesn’t understand. “Los trenes trajo vida a mi pueblo,” he says. “Los trenes eran nuestra esperanza, nuestra manera de entrar a América,” he says. He and his friends also waited in the shadows beside the tracks. They also crept silently toward the fast-moving trains. But they jumped onto the trains, they prayed to escape the crush of the steel wheels, they pulled each other onto the train cars and hid from the conductors. They rode the trains to freedom, to jobs, to a better life.

My brothers, they don’t understand. “You’re a crossing guard for spoiled rich kids,” they say. “Yes,” I say, “A crossing guard for spoiled rich kids who makes twice what you make.” That quiets them down.

My mother, she understands. “You are doing good, Joselito,” she says. “You are helping the sad niños, you are becoming un buen hombre. You are doing good.” “Yes,” I say to my mother. “I am doing good, and I will become a man.”

Mr. Johanson also says that I’m doing good. He says that I’ll be promoted, will be a supervisor, will stop watching for children who don’t want to be seen and will be the boss of other men. But first, I must see the flick. I must look deep into the shadows. I must be a man.

 

 

 

BIO

mona leigh roseMona Leigh Rose lives and writes in Santa Barbara, California. Her stories “You Be Frodo” and “Peace” have appeared in Luna Review. She is infatuated with short fiction, the shorter the better.

 

 

 

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