His voice drifted and settled more thickly than dust collecting between the keys of my keyboard.
What happens, he asked sincerely, to the air in outer space if your spaceship leaks? Where does all that air go?
We did not work for NASA. We did not solve so many complex, theoretical problems. Rather, we filed paperwork and collected and organized the data of a company.
On my side of the cubicle wall I had a scanner, a two-hole punch, an electric stapler, a badge that communicated with sensors installed on the left hand side of otherwise locked doors.
The air spreads out thin, stretches across the universe, I told him.
I heard his scanner beep, but I knew he heard me.
My Lonely-Heart Manifesto
I never wanted to be pretty so I read books and drew pictures. My mother told me girls should want to exercise to look good, to be attractive, to find a mate. She used that word: mate.
I knew what it was to want, but I had been too late on learning how to make myself wanted.
Two weeks after the holidays, he told me he asked his girlfriend to marry him. As he spoke his ears turned red.
He had asked her the day before. Monday? I thought. Really?
But out loud I said, “That’s sweet,” and examined my paper-cut hands.
Bridget, a woman at work, told me about the time she took her daughter to Walgreen’s and saw the scratches her daughter had made on her own forearms. Bridget told me this in the office where we made copies, date stamped, and hole punched the documents we later filed together over the course of several weeks. Bridget had the longest real nails ever and a great mass of long black hair which she rearranged as she said so much about a feeling I hated that I understood.
The Island Vacation
Even though he had announced that he was now engaged, he already behaved like a married man. He lived with his fiancé and often shared anecdotes like: “Last night she and I looked at island vacations.” I never asked: “For your honeymoon?” because obviously they would take a honeymoon and obviously they would travel as far away as humanly possible. Or anyway I classified island vacations in two categories. One: only people on a honeymoon travel to an island. Or two: only people who use reasons such as “getaway,” “change of view,” or, “I’ve always wanted to go to Hawaii” escape to an island. Plus, he was in love or else why was he so unashamed to tell me about his hypothetical vacation plans? I opened my mouth thinking I would say… something to stop his happiness, but then felt guilty for trampling on his world, one I only caught in glimpses. Then I thought: won’t I forget you?
I Am Fat
Sometime ago, the word “fat” was placed within the larger word “infatuation,” as though whoever first suffered from infatuation suffered from an overweight emotional impulse. In all these months, my heart fattened from too much of him.
He slapped me in the face with a file today. Not on purpose. He put his hand on my shoulder and I took a deep breath as he moved closer, his pale hair aglow like a whorl of the sun--too bright for me to watch. Wishing, I traced the shape of his body in my mind.
The Green Monster
I had green scales then and a mean, unpleasant tongue. I would have taken him apart with my eyeballs if we ever stood close enough. Little words tickled and make me sweat green stinky droplets I could have burst by being stupid, or if I had said something like, “I love you,” when I really meant, “When is it my turn?”
I should have bought him that gluten free lemon poppyseed bread he liked. On Thursday, we bought sandwiches at Mr. Lucky’s on 6th and the guy behind the counter asked me why I hadn’t made him buy mine too. I wanted to tell a lie but he didn’t say anything to explain so neither did I. We waited for our food by bottles of condiments and rows of plastic lids for fountain drinks. We returned to the office to eat in separate cubicles.
The Ferry to Vancouver
He came from Seattle. He told me about his parents’ home, how the city lingered between Puget Sound and Lake Washington, that atop the bluff which edged one side of the city he wanted to buy a brick house if he had the money. I want to go there, I said. (Later, when I was home by myself, I admitted I only wanted to go if he promised to meet me there.)
Take the ferry to Vancouver, he said. I thought, Never.
Later, I spat in Bridget’s face on accident, but, in between apologies, I wondered if all that had happened really was an accident. Maybe my mouth saw the opportunity and took its chance when I was weak and taking too large a sip from my water bottle.
Star Wars in a Nutshell
What do you think? he said, speaking again beyond the cubicle wall. Are the Sith more powerful?
Idea one: When unveiled, I shined bright like his very own moon.
Idea two: Lying in sheets so white, he languished, too sleepy to untangle from the cocoon they made around us.
Last one: His lips.
His Favorite Word
His favorite word was “committee.” It has three sets of double letters, he told me over IM, like I’d never noticed before.
The word was symmetrical, I supposed. Was this, perhaps, what made it so appealing? Balance? Organization? Methodic arrangement?
He told me that every Friday, after work, he cleaned his kitchen top to bottom. He used bleach. He spent hours. Every Friday? I asked.
Committee, noun: A group of people who come together to complete a specific task, or make a decision or plan. Words were, are, and always will be arbitrary things. Sounds associated with symbols.
Today, I taught him a new word: “apropos.” He happily told me its etymology.
From the French, he said, “à propos.” Literally: “to (this) purpose.”
I wished to be more to the purpose when we spoke like this. I wished the sounds I made were not quite so arbitrary. I wished these words meant exactly what I most meant to say.
Jacqueline Kharouf earned an MFA in creative writing, fiction, from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her work has appeared in Matchbook Literary Magazine, Gingerbread House, The Examined Life Journal, Shout Out UK, South Dakota Review, Fiction Vortex, Otis Nebula, NANO Fiction, and Numéro Cinq Magazine. In 2011, she won third place in H.O.W. Journal’s Fiction contest (judged by Mary Gaitskill) and in 2009 and 2010, she earned honorable mention and third place (respectively) in the Denver Woman’s Press Club Unknown Writer’s Contest. Jacqueline lives and works in Denver, CO.