ewhightower

Rejected Writing

Within these pages you will find stories rejected by potential publishers. Here is the first sample. Enjoy:

MASTOID

It’s right here,” he said. “Feel this ridge, behind my ear? And …”
“Oh my God,” she said, pulling her fingers away. “Your glasses did that to you? How?”

They were just too tight,” he said.
Wow, did they ever loosen?”
Well, yeah, of course, but, y’know, it took a little time,” he said, and she reached up to touch the ridge behind his right ear again.

They were sitting amid a vast sea of what appeared to be Japanese tourists, on a picnic blanket he’d been gifted years before after subscribing to KCSM, The Bay Area’s Jazz Station. That had been when he’d earned enough money to support KCSM. Now he worked in Theatre full-time, which until recently had meant that he directed plays and taught acting at the college over in Trevarno, but they’d hired a new Full-Time Faculty Member to replace the renowned Gregory, and unemployment had been the name of the game ever since. He wasn’t really sure he should even be here, today. When she’d sent him a Facebook message asking if he wanted to go to a company picnic, he had almost deleted the message and climbed back into bed.

He was surprised that he liked the way she touched the little indentation in the ridge behind his ear. He was surprised that he liked seeing her with a little more meat on her bones than she’d had in 1992, and not just because he was forty pounds overweight. She’d struggled with body-image issues back then, and he’d had some residual guilt that he might have contributed to her issues when he’d laughed at her bikini on a Choir Tour to Santa Cruz. He’d been meaning to write to her for a long time to apologize, but how to begin that communication?

It was late October, still a warm afternoon in Tilden Park. They had both brought coats, hats and scarves, he noted, remembering how she had always refused to bring a scarf in college but had always been cold and borrowed his. Looking more closely, he realized that the scarf sticking out of her purse was, in fact, his.

That’s my scarf,” he said.
That was your scarf. Now it’s mine,” and she wrapped it once around her neck. “It’s the price you have to pay for laughing at my bikini,” she said.

He felt alarm spike in his chest; he stared at the grass.

Hey,” she said.
“I’m really, really sorry about that.”
It’s okay. It was twenty years ago. And it was a pretty crappy bikini,” she was smiling.
I’ve needed to tell you this for a long time,” he began, but his voice caught and he had to stop and breathe. “I should never have laughed at you,” he continued. “I know you thought I was laughing at your body, but I was laughing at the bikini itself.” He was talking quickly so he could get it out. Things like this fucked with him these days. “Because when it got wet, there were two pink polka-dots over your nipples, and they were slightly off-center and they made your boobs look cross-eyed,” she started to laugh and he found himself laughing, too, a little bit, but then he was sobbing and he couldn’t talk for a while.

She had two bags packed with celery. He carried both from her car into the Petting Farm. She let him do it; she knew he liked being “Chivalrous.” She remembered how often he had gotten out of bed to fart in the bathroom after they’d gone to the Bean Festival, a couple of months before he went away to school in Arkham. She had farted all night long, secretly hoping he would be shocked awake by the smell and then re-the-fuck-lax about farts. He never did.

Now they were standing with the bags at their feet, each holding a bundle of celery as they fed a giant, beautiful cow that looked exactly like the cow every kid thinks would jump over the moon. He was reaching to feed it another piece when she smacked his wrist with her own celery, distracting him long enough to get her piece into the cow’s mouth. He scowled at her.

Do you usually abuse your ex-boyfriends with fibrous vegetables?”
Only when they’re hogging the cow. Besides, ‘ex boyfriend’ … ? Is that really what this is?”

She saw him freeze, saw his eyes widen. He wasn’t even breathing.

Christ! Relax, moron, I mean we’re friends, not exes. You’d think my failed marriage and your complete inability to make anyone tolerate you would count for something,” she said.

He snorted, sending a giant gob of snot from his left nostril onto the forehead of the cow.

A little girl with bright blue eyes and curly red hair pointed from where her mother carried her, saying, “Eeeew, Momma, that man just boogered the cow’s face.”
Some people say hi to cows in different ways, honey,” the girl’s mother said, smiling an apology. The smile froze on her lips when he didn’t wipe the snot away. She left quickly with her child.

Do you happen to have a kleenex?” he asked, watching them go.
Are you talking to me, or do you think that lady has a kleenex for the creepy cow snotter?”
I’m talking to you. If I turn my head, it may snap and get on my tie.”

She handed him a kleenex from her purse and watched as he wiped upward from under his left nostril while he also took one step back, effectively breaking the snot rope.

It hit the wooden fence with an audible ‘plap.’ She started laughing. He joined her. For a long time, they were the grown-ups laughing at the snot on the cow as they fed it celery. People left them alone. It was nice.

None of the apparently Japanese tourists came anywhere near them.

So how is this a company picnic?” he asked her as they headed back toward their cars, the late afternoon light angling through the trees to their right.
It’s a picnic … in very good company,” she said. She kept her eyes straight ahead. She didn’t want him to know what she was thinking. Not that he had ever been usefully intuitive, in a lottery winning kind of way. But he had always been able to puzzle out, in a sudden and offhand manner, the precise motivation behind much of what she did. He had destroyed a surprise birthday party she’d planned for him with the phrase, “If that Mexican didn’t look so much like your Dad, I would never have guessed this was a surprise party.” She had been angry with him, and that anger had stewed in her heart so long, that when he went away to Massachusetts for college, she had let him go with a sense of relief. It had taken her years to realize that the relief had been rooted in her anger at herself for the misunderstanding. All of this was buzzing in her head when he looked at her and said, not breaking stride,
I agree.”

They reached their cars as what appeared to be the same group of Japanese tourists walked slowly past to their right.

So, you started telling me a story about your glasses when we were sitting –”
Right, but I got sidetracked in the story about the indentation on my absquatulatus ridge,” he was smiling.
That’s not really what it’s called,” she said, squinting.
No,” he said. “Not really.”
And this whole time, you’ve hardly worn them.”
I’m not in love with my prescription. Great for distance, but up close things are clearer with them off.”
So, do you remember that time I got so mad at you when you guessed it was a surprise party?”
You know, I really didn’t figure it out. I was trying to make you laugh.”
I know that now.”
You should also know you’re the only one who’s ever actually succeeded in giving me a surprise party.”
You totally were not surprised.”
Oh yes I was; think about it: I make a joke about a Mexican dude who looks like your Dad. Surprise Number One: you get mad at me. I’m thinking, ‘Oh, shit, I shouldn’t make jokes about Mexicans,’ which is Surprise Number Two, because you’re Mexican and you make more Mexican jokes than Carlos Mencia –”
Back then it would have then Paul Rodriguez.”
Excellent point. So: I’m two surprises deep in that moment and — well, now that I think about it, three surprises, because Surprise Number One was really that you didn’t laugh at my first joke, which was hilarious.”
Because my Dad is Mexican. You explained many times.”
I remember. And I realize now, two decades later, that repeating the joke didn’t make it any funnier. Well, okay, so I’m three surprises deep and then you turn to everyone and start yelling at them and that’s Surprise Number Four, because: You. Hate. Public. Speaking. To be honest with you, I had begun to suspect you were some kind of android interloper.”
Bullshit,” she smiled, believing him this time.
Truly. Because none of this, absolutely none of it, fit with the quiet young woman with whom I was so … hopelessly in love,” he stopped a moment, then continued, not seeing her eyes. “So: that’s four surprises. In very rapid succession. You remember how I reacted at the time?”
You were silent.”
Yes, I was.”
As the grave.”
Silenter, even. Any idea why? … Hint hint?”
Tell me.”
I was shocked. That was a first. And then you, they all ignored you and just yelled, ‘Surprise!’ at me, and I was — it was — I mean, I was so distracted by everything else and then all of a sudden these strangers are all yelling at me and I realize — WHAM! — wake me up before you go, go — this astounding Latina goddess has actually surprised … me. Me! Surprised! And – I’m just going to say this because it’s true and it will always be true and I can’t deny it, so why pretend otherwise?
That moment, when I knew you surprised me, was also the moment when I knew that I truly, madly and deeply … loved you. No woman, anywhere, has ever compared. I thought I loved you before that. Meh, puppy love.”
The music box at Christmas? The flowers in my room? The poetry was all ‘puppy love’?” Temper flaring, she fought to keep her tone civil.
Compared to what I felt at that party … and what I’ve felt ever since … yes.”
After a little silence, she said, “But it was really good poetry.”

Somewhere in Arkham there’s a mens’ room in a bar that encourages graffiti. I surpassed myself there, in the Autumn of 1995. I assure you. Would that camera phones had existed,” he shook his head.
Wait, are you saying you surpassed yourself with poetry, or –”
Massive. This turd. You should have seen it. Peanuts like swarming Argonauts in the wine dark toilet of the sea –”

When she slapped him, his glasses flew from his face and landed under her car. It was unexpected.

SURPRISE!”

They were surrounded by one hundred fifty “Japanese tourists” who, misreading her signal (when I give him a smack — meaning smooch — on the cheek) had rushed forward with exploding confetti poppers. The slap, noise and movement induced a massive coronary and he had to be rushed to the hospital.

© 2013 Edward Hightower All Rights Reserved

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