Fictional Humans of New York – Hungry Jack

I don’t like this new hunger. Not that the old ones were great, but better the devil you know, you know? I prefer it when my body hungers for those things that are necessary for its survival rather than feeding appetites that are, lets face it, better left unfed. You know what happens to hungers left unfed? They grow. They grow until their dissatisfaction eclipses even the finest of life’s satisfactions.

It’s not a completely new hunger; this isn’t the first time I’ve felt it. But the last time I felt it was a long time ago, back when the future had far fewer limits to it, when thoughts became manifest almost as soon as they were imagined. It was all the way back when such desires were conceivably achievable, when the fear of the unknown was so much greater because there was so much more of it.
Hunger, now as then, feeds on that fear.

Hunger does terrible things to people. It turns us into beasts. We become simple brutes, demanding satisfaction at any cost. Satisfaction that is now out of the question, on grounds both moral and practical. Still, the emptiness screams out to be filled. It cries like a baby with an empty belly and an empty heart, each hunger warring for supremacy in the hierarchy of need.

As in all wars, there are no winners, just scarred survivors.

Fictional Humans of New York – Alice

Alice was terrified when Joey told her he was going to Iraq. He might just as well have told her he was going to try jumping off the Empire State Building to see if he could fly. When he was a little boy he was always saying things like that to her, trying to scare her. “I’m going to go play in traffic now, Mommy,” he’d say. Or, “I’m going to ride my bike on the subway tracks.”

Jeff, Alice’s asshole of an ex, was thrilled to hear Joey had signed up, and if he had any misgivings about their son sticking his head into the mouth of a lion he never let on. The prick was so obsessed with himself that he probably thought it reflected well on him to have a son with such courage. The sick thing to Alice was that he was right; it did reflect well on him.

September 5, 2013 – a date which will live in infamy. That was the day that the two young men in their dress greens performed ‘the notification.’ It was all by-the-book. They even said, “we regret to inform you that your son was killed in action.” Just like in the movies. They said other things too but she couldn’t hear them over the ringing in her ears. They told her later that one of them had caught her just before her head hit the floor.

Alice thought of a line from a Bob Dylan song: “Some things are too terrible to be true.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean they’re not true. Some things cannot be comprehended. Some things cannot be integrated. Some things cannot be overcome. The call her a Gold Star Parent now, like she aced some kind of test. Maybe she did.

Fictional Humans of New York – Frank

I want to kiss the back of your leg. Just that. Just there.
Soon enough the cooler weather’s going to come – you can see the sun is setting earlier now – and your legs will be covered up again until the warm days come back in the Spring. Who knows if I’ll still be around when that happens?

I know you don’t want me kissing the back of your leg. It would be embarrassing for you – a grown man leaning or crouching or kneeling down to get his lips at a good angle for that soft flesh between the back of your knee and your ankle. Why are you shivering? It must be that the cold, dark days are coming fast.
We could hold each other in those colder days. We could share whatever warmth either of us could afford. We could pool our resources. It might not be long until the only resources I’ll have left to pool are some heat and whatever sweetness exists in the bottom of the barrel.

I’m dizzy with it: the heat and the cold and the scraping of the barrel. I smell the smoky spot where each stave was cleaved from their mother tree. I see the things time and death has done to each of them. Every creak and crack and ring in the wood has its own story to tell.

And I’m overcome by the soft spot where the elasticity of youth is surrendering to the ease of age. I want to kiss the back of your leg.

Fictional Humans of New York (FHONY) – Me and Claire

I have incredible taste in women. It’s a rigid taste though, restricted and discriminating. So much so that I’ve hardly ever felt Cupid’s arrow. That’s a good thing, too since I’m particularly susceptible to pleasurable sensations, no matter how bad they sting.
I spent so many years hiding from myself that it’s quite a shock to turn the corner and come face-to-face with the man in the mirror. I experienced a guilty recognition, like: What are you doing here? I thought I’d shaken you loose years ago. I barely recognize you, old man. Do you have a few minutes to catch up? Let me buy you a beer. Ah, I knew that would get you. Some things never change.
Hey, could we get a couple of cold ones down here?
So, tell me about the old crowd. You keep in touch with any of them? I lost track a long time ago. Wait – don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. I’m sure I’d only be disappointed. Don’t tell them about me either, speaking of disappointments. But what about you? Last time I saw you, you were still with what’s-her-name – the pretty blond with the chip on her shoulder. Yeah, that’s the one. Married? To a doctor? Good for her. She seemed like a woman it would cost a lot to keep happy.
You heard about me and Claire? Yeah, we split up a while ago. She’s got this new guy – accountant or some shit. He’s a stiff but he treats her better than I did, and she seems happy. You know how women are. They land on their feet. They’re smarter than us.
Shit, I gotta take this. Stay. Finish your beer. I’ll be right back.

Three Bags Full – Fictional Humans of New York (FHONY)

Three plastic bags. It’s all he’s got; it’s all he needs. He has a system to avoid the worst of the winter on his skin. He’s got a sweater in one of the bags.
The little guy, in severe need of a shave, glides across the floor in his green uniform, determined to be the center of attention. A red-faced lady, not used to being drunk, crosses paths with a tangly-grey-haired woman who is as starved for affection as a person can possibly be. The man at the bottom of the stairs watches them both without sacrificing his consciousness of the three plastic bags for a fraction of a section.
The contents of the bags know no discrimination. They are not segregated by weight or size, by function or fancy. There is no discernible reason why the contents of any of the bags have joined forces. They are, to all outward appearances, three completely random collections of junk. But to their owner they are a menagerie whose position in the universe cannot be compromised without disturbing the cosmic equilibrium in ways he’s afraid to contemplate.
The first bag – the left bag – is starting to rip at the handle. It’s really not so much a handle as a pre-cut hole in the plastic through which his fingers slide. It will break, soon, and he’ll have to find a new bag. He’s already on the lookout, with James Brown uppermost in his mind. Poppa’s got a brand new bag.
The second bag – the middle bag – is cool. Always cool. No hassling there. It’s soft. The only hard shit in there is soft to him. Childhood soft. The one remaining piece of his boyhood – the bottlecap his Dad tossed to him that day on the beach – that’s in the middle bag. If he ever has to run and take just one bag with him, that’s the one.
The third bag will give him cover if he has some time before he has to run. It’s an incredibly diverse collection of items capable of distracting the most discriminating eye with such subtlety that it doesn’t even know it’s being manipulated. He thinks of it as his female bag. Dishonest yet believable. Flowery, perfumy, inescapable and irresistible, completely compelling and aloof as a cat. Disturbing, destructive, debilitating and divine. When he’s fortunate enough to stumble upon something intoxicating it will make its way into the third bag. Sometimes he wishes he’d look down at his bags and find that there’s only two.

The boys (what else could you call them?) took the floor and promptly made the space their own. They were in college and felt they’d earned the right to speak loudly in public without humility. There existed no doubt in their minds as to the validity of their opinions. No passers-by could avoid being enlightened by their views, whether they related to the current conditions of the US economy or some bitch with a green shirt – Latin bitch – that they’d hit on earlier in the evening. One of them had her picture on his phone but neither could find her number.

There had been numbers; not a lot, but there had been numbers in one of the bags before he’d sunk, back when the contents of the bags were in drawers. The drawers slid comfortably in the gliders of a dresser. There had once been two dressers: his and hers. Hers were emptied first. Hers didn’t fit in a bag. Hers went into a black polyester suitcase that she purchased at Walgreen’s for nineteen dollars and ninety-nine cents. At the time he thought it was a bargain but now, from his unique perspective at the bottom of the barrel, it seemed exorbitant.
There was chatter. That’s what they called it now: Chatter. It was rumored that some sick fuck wanted to blow up some random people and the man with three bags knew that he was as random as people got, and therefore as suspicious. The things an imagination can conjure up to stuff into a bag are sick and shameful. A man with three bags is just asking for trouble these days.
The guys coming down the escalator weren’t out for blood. They wouldn’t know what to do with his blood if they had it. But they were coming straight for his bags and he knew there were only three things he could do. He could stuff his bags under a bench and curl up on top of it the way they used to back in the sevent
ies. He was just sober enough to remember that such things didn’t work anymore. They’d take his bags, even though there was nothing illegal about them, and dump them in the garbage. One less piece of shit for them to worry about. He could open his bags. Invite their inspection. Abrogate his rights as a U.S. citizen. But they’d wind up in the garbage just the same. One less pile of shit to worry about. Or he could do what he usually did: distract their attention by staring curiously at the guy staggering toward the bathroom, as if he were the problem, and slip away when the moment presented itself.
A common mistake in life is the belief that you’ve reached the bottom rung. In fact, you have not. The man with three bags descended one rung further than he believed existed. Only the middle bag went with him.

2 O’clock on a Thursday Afternoon – Fictional Humans of New York (FHONY)

It’s 2 o’clock on a Thursday afternoon and I just opened my first beer. I don’t have a job. A lesser man might feel like a failure. A better man, too. Fortunately for me, I’m neither one so I’m going to enjoy the beer. I’m going to enjoy listening to Elton John. I’m going to enjoy looking out the window, watching the geese flying over the Harlem River and the dead trees swaying in the cold wind, knowing I don’t have to go out there.
I’ve lost a lot of people this year and, obviously, the job. That’s a lot of space to fill up. A blank page can be the most intimidating sight in the world but it’s also one of the most encouraging. It’s an invitation to fulfill limitless potential. If nothing else, I can make a paper airplane.
Some people look at a sunset and see a universe of stars and planets revolving around each other in space. Some people see orange and red and yellow and blue light all melting together and forming new shades and tints every minute. Some people see the dawn of evening and the excitement of nightlife. My cat sees a clock: the sun is down, time to put food in the bowl.

It’s nice to have cats around on a cold, cloudy Thursday afternoon. Winter hasn’t even started yet. Those geese aren’t coming back for a long time. Is it already time for another beer? Time flies when you’re having fun.

Josh and Emily and Derek and Sophia – Flash Fiction Friday

Josh was ready to throw in his lot with Emily. He didn’t know her very well but lack of knowledge had never been a serious impediment to the pursuit of his desires. He’d kissed her, twice, and seen her in a bathing suit that hadn’t offered many places for her to hide. He’d absorbed her views on men and God and movies and social justice, and they were all within spitting distance of his minimum requirements for companionship. She also had an unerring eye for fashion and a killer smile. The only fly in Josh’s ointment was the fact that Emily had absolutely no use for him

Emily worked hard and wanted to be with a man who was at least as ambitious as she was. Josh was allergic to work, a congenital condition that had been handed down from his father and his father’s father before him. Emily liked Derek who was driven, like her. Unlike her, Derek was married.

Derek didn’t like Emily. He didn’t like Sophia either, not after six years of marriage, or (truth be told) even before those six years. Derek never found anybody more worthy of his love than himself.

Sophia, daughter of a man who had worked himself to death just like his father and his father’s father before him, dreamed of the day when she could run away from Derek with all of his plans and goals and obsession with status and settle down, once for all, in the arms of that lazy sack of shit Josh.

They did not live happily ever after. Or before. Or during.