I’m not dead.
I’ve spent the last week away from the computer and out in the sun because here in Minnesnowta we get a grand total of 12 (sometimes 13) really good days a year.
This week for Short Fiction Mondays I’m dumping on you an excerpt from my latest WIP, THE BOOKSELLER. It’s an urban fantasy that mashes the naughty bits of several mythologies in ways you can’t imagine (or maybe you can, because you’re sick like me).
I AM STILL TAKING SUBMISSIONS FOR THIS WEEKLY CRAP, so if you have something you’d like to throw out into the world, I’d be happy to post it here. Any genre, I just ask that in keeping with the “short fiction” theme, it be less than 2k words with 1k being the sweet spot.
Without further adieu —
From “The Bookseller”
In the bathroom, Erin ran her hands under intermittent cold water. Plumbing issues had been her father’s “area” so the bathroom water flow was still touch and go. In the mirror, she noticed bags under her eyes, made worse by the paleness of her skin. So pale she was almost ghostlike, Erin always wore her dark hair up to lessen the contrast. Like Snow White, but less beautiful. And Erin would probably try to kill any woodland creature that crawled into her lap.
A knock on the door.
“All right in there?”
“Fine, Mom. I’ll be out in a sec.”
She was getting better. Usually, Erin’s mother walked in unannounced. Erin splashed some water over her face then realized there were no towels on the rack. She lifted her shirt and pressed it against her face, and when she pulled it away, if she squinted, the water mark looked a bit like the Virgin Mary. Maybe she could sell the shirt on Ebay. Make some rent money.
Erin diced tomatoes, cucumber, and onion while her mother set the table. They couldn’t just have Chinese takeout on the porch, no, not with Erin’s mother. There was a right way to do things, and wrong way. Allowing others to cook for you when you had perfectly good food in the pantry and expensive copper pans to prepare it in was the wrong way. Erin tasted her first delivered pizza at a friend’s slumber party in middle school. It was the best thing she’d ever put in her mouth. Later, when Erin was older and her mother became less neurotic (and slightly more lazy), she would allow them to go out to dinner on Friday nights. Now that Erin’s father was gone and her mother’s hypochondria was at an all-time high, the woman barely left the house.
Erin drizzled balsamic vinegar over the salad.
“Not too much.” Her mother said as though Erin were adding gun powder to a bomb, rather than dressing a salad. “The salt will bloat you to explosion.”
“It won’t kill you.” Erin said.
“Not right away, no, but in the long run.”
They sat, Erin at one end of the table, her mother at the other, like opposing Generals. The eggplant slices flopped like purple tongues as Erin dished them onto her plate. She smashed them with her fork and mixed the pile with a bit of tomato sauce to create something slightly more palatable.
“Don’t play with your food, Erin.”
“Give it a rest, Mom.” It was out of her mouth before she realized she’d said it. She shoveled a mound of eggplant into her mouth to keep it at bay.
“Give what a rest?”
Erin shook her head.
“I’m only looking out for you.”
“You’re treating me like a child.” Dammit.
“Maybe,” her mother sat her fork delicately next to her plate, food untouched, “It’s because you insist on acting like one.”
Insist. Like Erin chose her actions specifically to annoy her mother. Ten years ago, she would’ve been right.
“Eggplant’s good.” Erin said. The afternoon’s buzz had worn off and she wasn’t prepared to come up with new responses to the same argument.
Her mother looked at Erin for a long minute before turning her gaze back to her plate. “New recipe. No salt. It’s organic.”
No argument today. Erin’s stomach unclenched slightly.
Spoke too soon.
“It’s fine.” Erin said and stuffed her mouth with vegetables. If she was chewing she couldn’t lie, and if she couldn’t lie then her mother wouldn’t know she was lying and then probe her Mom Stick where it didn’t belong.
The Mom Stick was brandished and waved about threateningly with those two words.
Erin nodded. She was treading on thin ice with her silence.
“Because I got a call today from a young man today asking where he ought to mail your last check since he didn’t have an updated address from you.”
“Or he’s just a bastard who wanted the last laugh.” Stupid coupons.
Erin sighed and pushed her plate away. The clock next to the china cabinet read 7:30. Thirty minutes. That had to be a record.
“I can give you a little to tide you over, but you’re going to have to find another job. Between your father’s pension and social security I can barely afford to keep this house afloat.”
“I don’t want your guilt money.”
“And what is that supposed to mean?”
It meant that Erin would rather beg on the street holding a tin can, surrounded by cat companions made from newspaper, than accept one cent because that would come along with an obligation to forgive – and that was something Erin wasn’t prepared to do.
“Nothing.” Erin said. “I have to go.”
“But you just got here.”
Erin stood from her chair with such force it wobbled. She knocked the table with her hip. It hurt. Erin picked up her shoes from beneath the table next to the door and, without bothering to put them on, she left her mother’s house, slamming the door behind her. The house was no longer in her rearview mirror before Erin stopped to finally slip her shoes on. She gripped the steering wheel with both hands and willed herself not to cry. It’d been two years. Normal people would be over it by now, or at least doing something productive about it. Erin wasn’t normal people.
After her father’s funeral, the hundred plus mourners had piled into her parents’ house to eat deli sandwiches and macaroni salad until the bottomless pit left by his death was filled. There was no room to sit and little room to stand, so Erin had sequestered herself in a corner between the refrigerator and cabinets with a glass of whiskey and diet coke. People came and went to retrieve food and utensils, but mostly left her be. Erin had taken her father’s death better than expected. It wasn’t like it had been entirely a surprise. Though no one could predict the heart attack, with his steadily growing girth and lack of attention to his health, it was bound to happen sooner or later.
When her mother found her, she took Erin by the hand without saying a word and escorted her through the crowd and upstairs to Erin’s old bedroom. It was the same as she’d left it when she went to college – all pinned-up articles and books. A poster of an underground band she bought at the only concert she’d ever been to.
“Sit,” her mother said and patted the bed. She wore a simple black suit. Not a dress-type woman, Erin’s mother.
Erin sat, cradling the glass in her hands. Her mother was probably going to attempt to pry some tortured emotion from her. She was always doing that, assuming that Erin was more fragile than she really was. Like she was an infant in a grown woman’s body. Erin sat up straight with dry eyes.
“Won’t people notice you’re missing?” Erin said.
Her mother shook her head, wearing a sad smile. “Doubt it.”
Erin waited for her mother to say what she’d brought her in here to say, but all she could do was stare at Erin’s face. It was disconcerting.
“Did you need to talk to me about something?”
She’d placed a delicate hand on Erin’s knee. “Your father and I disagreed about how to go about this. You know how he was; out of sight, out of mind. He saw no reason to burden you with something like this.”
“With what?” Erin concentrated on her breathing. An old trick Bean taught her to control her anxiety. It’d been terrible during her first year of college.
“But I always said that you would figure it out one way or another. You’re a smart girl. You notice things other people don’t.”
“And I’d rather you heard it from me before you found out on your own.”
Erin filled her mouth with whiskey and swallowed it. She knew what was coming. She’d known it was coming since high school biology when they’d done a section on genetics.
“You were adopted.”
She knew, and yet those three words dropped like concrete blocks in her stomach. Hearing them out loud was different than speculating on her own. Adopted.
Found, actually. Her parents had been on vacation in Ireland, a belated honeymoon, when they found her squirming infant body partially hidden just inside the mouth of a cave. They’d looked for Erin’s real family, but no one stepped up. So, they brought her home to the states. Christened her “Erin” for her Irish roots. The Poons were Scandinavian.
At the moment her mother confirmed the suspicions she had held inside for so long, Erin hated her father for taking the secret to his grave. Hated her mother even more for using his death as a reason to relieve herself of her burden and instead place it on Erin’s head.
She spent the following year looking for some lead into her parentage, a summer of which was in Ireland, but each search yielded a dead end.
Back at her apartment, her sanctum santorum, Erin impaled a styrafoam box of leftovers with the only kitchen knife she owned, and then poured the last of the cheap white wine into a coffee mug. After tossing her mismatched couch pillows across the room, she sat in front of her computer. Erin opened an internet window and typed: BABY GIRL FOUND IN IRISH CAVE in the search field. No new items. She deleted the phrase and typed: BOX WITH BIRD CLASP.
No relevant results.