[As the loyal reader is aware, I occasionally write short fiction. Here is a piece – still in draft form – started last summer. ]
The Nicest Show on Earth
copyright Robert Bettmann, 2009
Maureen crossed the street in the rain, carrying a small aloe plant. Her shoes cast brilliant little sprays as they lifted off the pavement, but even she did not notice. Finally almost 40, finally almost happy, Maureen crossed P street in the rain. Her mind wandered back to her friend’s apartment as she hit the sidewalk on the far side of 15th street.
The aloe plant’s owner – Leslie – was going to New Mexico for the summer, to participate in a workshop/fellowship/institute/internship/academy/festival for artists. Maureen reminded herself that she was not an artist. Leslie and Maureen were unlikely friends. Leslie was a performance artist whose most recent autobiographical production (“Go Fuck Yourself: the nicest show on earth”) had received positive notices. Maureen noticed that Leslie’s jaw had gotten more angular with the success. When Maureen picked up the plant Leslie had thanked her for helping out at the show, and apologized for ignoring her at the after-party.
As Maureen passed the Carnegie Center and stopped for the traffic on 16th street, her mind wandered home in front of her. She thought about whether or not there was enough light in her home to keep the plant alive, and about her new manager at the bank. She considered the inconsequential little plant getting heavy in her hand, and thought about what she had eaten that evening.
Maureen thought about Leslie’s right breast – that it was ever so slightly larger than the left. Maureen remembered the feel of her new friend’s thigh, and compared the feel of the small ceramic pot to the feel of thigh. The ceramic pot was moist, and radiated warmth from Maureen’s hand. The pot was two and half inches wide at its base, rising six inches to a lip one and a half inches in diameter. It had been made in factory in Taiwan, and bore a small stamp on the bottom. The man whose job it was to stamp the drying clay was named Monty, after his father’s favorite uncle, who had emigrated to Miami. Of course Maureen was completely unaware of Monty, and his uncle, as she crossed 17th street in the rain, carrying Leslie’s small aloe plant. She was also unaware of the height of the curb, and the tip of her shoe caught on the sidewalk on the far side of 16th street, sending her sprawling to the wet ground.
Back in her apartment, after she had dried off, and her elbow had stopped bleeding, Maureen managed to refocus her eyes on the small potted plant now sitting on her windowsill. Even in the following days, when her body was stiff, Maureen was never conscious of protecting the plant as she fell. But the following September, walking back across 17th street to return the plant to Leslie, she experienced a sense of dread. This she chalked up to simply too much time away from her friend.