Not to Be Reproduced

“Sarah?”

“Jesus, what?”

“What the hell’s your problem? I’m just calling to—”

“I don’t have time for any of this shit today, Rich.  I’m already late for work.”

“Well, you don’t need to be a jackass.”

“Yes, I do.  What the hell do you want?”

“Can I stop over later?”

“No.”

“No, it’s not that…I’m not going to try anything.”

“Still no.”

“I don’t even…want to see you, alright?”

“What? Then why come over?”

“I need to get some stuff I left at your place.”

“There’s nothing left of yours here, okay?”

“No, there is.  A few things, anyway.”

“Like what?”

“Like…some movies.”

“Movies?”

“Yeah, some DVDs and stuff.”

“Jesus Christ, are you serious?”

“Yes, I’m serious.”

“Why do you need them now, Rich? Why…now?”

“I dunno, just hadn’t given it much thought until recently.  Now I want em.”

“Well, that’s retarded.”

“Goddamn it, can I just have em back?”

“What movies?”

“Well, Ghost World, for one.”

“Ha.”

“Ha, what?”

“Ha, it’s not yours.”

Ghost World?”

“Yes, Ghost World.”

“No…listen. I bought it at that movie fair thing in October, that guy was selling them on the street in those flimsy plastic cases.  Remember, he was like Polish or something?”

“You bought it for me.”

“I bought it for you, but you didn’t like it.”

“So?”

“So, have you watched it since then?”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“Look, you don’t want to watch it, I love it, I want it back.”

“Well, I don’t know where it is.  Go buy a new one.”

“Why should I have to?”

“Rich, you’re seriously being a retard. You know how many pairs of earrings and shit I left at your place?”

“None.”

“No, a lot.  Some were even my favorites.”

“You could’ve come to get em.”

“I didn’t want to see you, though.”

“But it’s not like youd’ve been coming for a social visit.  I coulda hidden or something.”

“Yeah, hidden.  Great goddamn idea.”

“Just throwing it out.”

“Why did you really call me?  It’s been…forever.”

“I told you why.”

Just the movies?”

“Yeah, just the movies.”

“Fine, then I want my shit back too.”

“What shit?”

“The earrings and bracelets and things, dick.”

“Oh, uh, not sure.”

“Not sure about what?”

“I don’t have em, I don’t think.  I threw out a lot of stuff in February.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, sorry.  Wasn’t on purpose, you know?”

“Well, shit.”

“Wasn’t on purpose.  Like you said, been forever.”

“Yeah.”

“How’s the boy?”

“He’s fine.”

“Good.”

“And the girl?”

“Splendid.”

“Splendid? Really?”

“Yes, really.  Why’s that surprising?”

“No, nothing.  That’s, uh…real good.”

“We never were good at this.”

“Being civil?”

“Yeah.”

“Doesn’t suit us, I guess.”

“No, guess not.  We were always…you know, a couple of jackasses.”

“Yeah.”

“What other movies did you want?”

Cutting Edge.”

“That hockey movie?”

“With D.B. Sweeney, yeah.”

“Jesus, what else?”

Labyrinth.”

“Christ.  The one with Bowie?”

“Yes, the one with Bowie.”

“You know, you coulda gone out and bought these used somewhere with far less hassle.”

“I can’t, in good conscience, buy movies that I’ve bought previously.  Just can’t.”

“Do you want the ten bucks it’d cost? Is that it?”

“Shut up, no.”

“Just checking.”

“What are you doing after work?”

“After work? I have dinner plans.”

“Before those.”

“I dunno, getting ready…I guess.”

“Ah, I see.”

“Are you trying to invite yourself over, Richard?”

“How long has it been?”

“Since?”

“Since we’ve seen each other.”

“A while.  A semester, at least.”

“Exactly.  I’m not trying to get back together with you.  I’m not trying to fuck you over in your endeavors. I’m just trying to get back a few things that mean a lot to me.”

“I know, but this is what people do, they break up and move on.  You never get all your shit back, movies and all.”

“Well, that’s dumb.”

“It is a bit, isn’t it?”

“Can I just come over for five?”

“Jesus, fine.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, for five minutes.  And then you have to leave, he’s picking me up for dinner.”

“Fine, yeah.  Whatever.”

“I’m serious, Richard.  We’re done.”

“I know we are, Sarah.”

“I just want you to know that, that this isn’t an invite to fuck me or something.  You don’t get to try your massage shit on me, you know how that stuff works.   You hurt me bad, I ended it, no more chances.  Okay?”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Good, and don’t wear the blue shirt.”

“Fine, no massages, no blue shirt.”

“See you at four-thirty.”

“Perfect.”

Richard hung up the ancient receiver and sat on the flank of his twin bed in his rather inelegant dorm room. The walls were plastered with eggshell paint beyond recognition while posters of obscure nineteenth century thinkers and surrealist painters lined the walls as if his undergraduate ambitions had come alive in the form of glossy eleven-by-seventeens.  He reached out to his worn-pine nightstand and grabbed a metal tin with the Union Jack emblazed on the cover and he clicked it open, finding only three cigarettes left.  He took one from the latch that kept them in place and put it to his lips and returned the tin.  He pinched the cigarette with his thumb and forefinger and brought it eye level and thought about it for a few moments.  It smelled like raisins to him.  They always had.

Then he pulled a soft pack of matches from his Levi’s that read REGGIANO’S in felted red ink and he struck it and the match head took to flame rather violently.  He inhaled and sucked and then waved the match out and sat there on the bed with his right leg draped melodramatically over his left at the knee, his hands folded matter-of-factly about his waist as if he was some opulent duke revisiting an opulent hunting story.

Richard exhaled a large whorl of grayblack smoke and waved it from his face.  He sighed with great bravado and smiled a bit then walked to the window that sat edged back into the wall some, creating a bit of a ledge where a large purple plastic ashtray sat cluttered with stumps.  He cranked the two narrow windows open some and exhaled through the crack and repeated the exercise in absolute silence for another two to three minutes before finally snubbing the cigarette out.  He ran a hand through his brown hair and felt remnants of the wax that he had put in yesterday to hold it in place and casually gazed out on Reed’s Field that his room overlooked.   He studied his favorite chestnut tree then his eyes drifted to the warped and barren nineteen fifties architecture that made up most of the campus’ northern quad surrounding this small sublet of grass, and he sneered but wasn’t sure why.  He then instinctively felt the back pocket of his jeans with a quick palm-slap and panicked a bit, saying, “Shit.”

Richard turned and examined the room from his spot, carefully replaying the events of the day before he’d allow himself to give in to a full-blown panic attack, pretending as if he had clairvoyance enough to remember where he might have left his notebook, but not nearly enough to avoid the present situation.  He circled in place for a bit and gestured and mumbled.  Then he walked to his yellowed pillow and overturned it and found the black leather book resting neatly.  He scooped the small thing up and placed it back in his rear pocket and then sat down at nearly the same place on his bed he had gotten up from minutes prior.  He picked up the clunky receiver again and squinted his eyes as he dialed a long stretch of numbers, finally cradling the phone on his shoulder as he picked at the nails of his middle and forefinger.

“Hello?”

“Katie?”

“Hey, Pretty.  I thought you’d have left already.”

“Oh, yeah, not yet.”

Rich scratched his head and the air between them was thick with whitenoise.  Katie was breathing hard and it never ceased to not be adorable when she did.

“Can you hear me, Rich? You goddamn phone is the worst.”

“I know it is.’

“Get a goddamn new one, or maybe actually buy a new cell.”

“With what money?”

“You have money.”

“Naw, I’ll be fine.  Kinda like not having one.”

“But it’s irritating.”

“Anyway, listen.  I don’t think I’m going to be able to come over.”

“What? Why?” she said, her voice sagging immediately as Richard crumpled his shoulders then pinched his leg and bounced back with the pain, ready.

“Yeah, sorry.”

“Well…what the hell?  Why not?”

“Some stuff came up.”

“Like?”

“Jesus, why do you have to be like that?”

“Rich, I haven’t seen you this week.  I was looking forward to spending some time with you tonight.”

“I know, I know.  It’s just…I have some last minute shit I have to photocopy at Victor’s office.  He ordered some books and, uh, he’s gonna be gone starting tomorrow, up north,” he said, pausing, then, “Gotta get those copies.”

“Are you serious? Go pick em up in the morning, something.”
“I can’t.”

“Well, fuck it.  Wail til he gets back

“Katie, I’m only two weeks away from when it’s due.  You know that.  I still have mondo research and whatnot to do.”

“Well, you can take a goddamn night off, I think.”

“I could come by after?”

“After? No, you’re not coming by after.  I’m not a goddamned afterthought.”

“I wasn’t saying you were an afterthought, but like he’s put so much time into me and my work, and I’m pretty sure they woulda kicked me out last semester if it wasn’t for him, you know?”

“Ugh.”

“Don’t ugh me.”

“This is so annoying.”

“What is?’

“This…our relationship.  I’m gesturing with my hands in regards to our fucking relationship.  And I’m wearing that goddamn skirt you love so much too.”

“Where your ass hangs out a bit?”

“Yeah.”

“Goddamn.”

“Are you seriously going to leave me hanging like this?”

“Look, let’s just push it back then, alright?  Just a few hours.”

“Ugh!”

“What do you want me to do here?”

“I want you to cut the shit, Richie.”

“What shit?”

“Caroline saw you yesterday talking to that freshman slut, the blonde skinny one.  You were supposed to be at the library.”

“I was at the goddamn library, and I ran into her and we started talking as I left.  What’s the big deal?”

“Where did you go after?”

“I came home and called you? What the hell do you mean where did I go after.”

“You didn’t stop anywhere with her? Bring her over, maybe?”

“Jesus, no.  Look, she’s moot.  She’s nothing.  We were talking about class.”

“You aren’t her goddamn TA anymore…what is there to talk about!”

“She has Victor this semester again and wanted some advice, alright?”

“Really?”

“Yeah, really.  What do you goddamn take me for?”

“It’s just…I know you’ve cheated before.”

“Not on you, I haven’t.”

“I know, but I…I get worried. Like, I freak myself out.”

“This is nutso.”

“I’m sorry.”

Richard stood up and felt his lower back crack and he twisted his neck in such a way that it cracked too.  He looked back toward the window then to his closet and he stepped over to it and pulled back the hung bed sheet that acted as the door.

Richie?”

“Yeah?”

“Promise me you aren’t cheating?”

“Promise.”

“I’m serious.”

“So am I.”

Richard took to rummaging quickly, pulling and pushing hangers back and forth until he found a simple and faded blue teeshirt with almost illegible graffitistyle writing on it.  He smiled and held it up to himself.

“What are you doing?”

“Changing, sorry.”

“Why are you changing?”

“Aren’t I coming over after?”

“Goddamn it, Rich.  I told you not to go over to Victor’s tonight.”

“Are you serious right now?  Didn’t we just talk about this?”

“You’re pissing me off!”

“No, you’re pissing me off.  I’m going to Victor’s and I’ll call you when I’m done.”

“Fine.”

“Don’t be so pissy.”

“I’m not pissy.”

“Sure you are.”

“I just miss you.  I want to see you.”

“Well, you will.  Just later.”

“It’s not fair.  Are you going to leave me?”

Richard wiped a hand across his face then took his plain white tee and wrenched it off his body rather awkwardly, nearly dropping the phone.  He then quickly dressed in the blue shirt and put the phone back to his ear, finding Katie blabbering incoherently and on the verge of tears.  He ran his hand through his hair again then noticed the phone cord stretched to its very limit and he walked back to the bed and sat in again the very same spot.

“Please don’t do this.  You’re so sensitive.”

“Me?”

“Yes, the one who’s crying.”

“Ha, you’re the sensitive one.”

“Yeah, but I told you that straight up.  And besides, when’s the last time you saw me cry?”

“That’s not fair.  You upset me far more than I upset you and you know it.  You never bring me flowers any more.”

“Where did that come from?”

“Well, you don’t.”

“You’re right, I cook you dinner instead.”

“Sometimes.  We mostly just order out.”

“And I do the ordering.”

“Oh, give me a break.”

“I’m just saying, if you think I treat you so bad, then who’s stopping you?”

“Stopping me?”

“From leaving.”

“But…but I don’t wanna leave!”

Richard could hear her lips begin to quiver and he smiled a bit at the corners of his mouth, genuinely amused by her trans-emotional abilities.  He took a cigarette from his case and counted only two remaining.  He lit it and inhaled greedily then rose and walked back to the window and the ashtray.  He inhaled again and flicked ash from the end.

“Just stop, alright?”

“Why should I.  It’s so obvious you hate me.”

“Is it that obvious? I’ve been doing my best to hide it for the past eight months.”

“Very funny.  Ha.  Goddamn hilarious.”

“I’m just messing with you.  You take everything so personally.”

“I do not.  You do.”

“Even so, you’re the one crying right now because I was polite enough to call you and tell you some things came up.  I could’ve just not showed up.”

“That woulda been so mean.  You’d never do that.”

“Exactly.  And you think I’d extend that courtesy to some girl I was impartial about?”

“I guess not.”

“I’m not cheating on you.  My paper’s a big deal.  It’s going to make or break the last three and a half years.”

“You’re a goddamn piece of work, Richard.  You know that?”

“I try.”

“Yeah, can’t resist that charm of yours, can I?”

“It’s futile to resist.”

Richard took another long drag from his cigarette and disposed of nearly half of it in the ashtray.  He looked outside and saw two old men crossing the field wearing high-lapelled brown suit coats and mismatched variants of the same corduroy pant.  He smiled then sighed loudly.

“What’s wrong, you okay?”
“Yeah, fine.  Just watching these two guys cross the field.”

“Richard, you hear me?”

“Katie, you there?”

“Richie, can you hear me?”

“Yeah, I can hear you.”

“Goddamn your phone.  Quit stretching the cord.”

“That’s not the goddamn problem.”

“It couldn’t help.”

“Probably not, no.”

“So you’re coming over after?”

“Yeah, not sure when.  I’ll call you.”

“Fine.  Wait, what did you change into?”

“Oh, uh…my blue shirt.”
“Ugh, I hate the blue shirt.  You know I do.  Change for me?”
“Yeah, alright.”
“Good boy.”
“See ya later, then.”
“Bye.”

Richard shuffled over and cradled the phone again.  He picked up the cigarette case and pocketed it and took stock of himself in the full-length mirror wedged in the corner.  He smiled at his reflection, at the brownblonde stubble that had grown in three day’s time.  He saw his favorite red shirt near him in a ball on the floor and thought about what Katie had said, but then thought about what Sarah had said and wiped his hands clean on his jeans in a satisfied manner.

He hummed to himself as he extended through the room and back to the closet and he reached up to the highest shelf and pulled out a medium-sized cigar box.  He touched the lid gingerly then opened it.  The inside was worn and was only partially covered in black felt.  There were random tokens and toys and casino chips and buffalo nickels and then a small satin bag with drawstrings.  He plucked the bag and closed the cigar box and tucked it back up on the shelf.  He traipsed back to his bed and sat in his usual perch and undid the drawstring.  He reached in with two fingers and pulled out a pewter earring in the shape of a cassette tape and he smiled.  He reached in again and pulled out a silver ring that was twisted as if it were made of roped knots and then the matching tape earring came after.  He took out a cross necklace and a silver bracelet with the inscription TO S.L.C. WITH GREAT LOVE and then a sample vial of perfume.  He dabbed it on his wrist and it smelled of lilac and vanilla and sandalwood.

Richard looked at the collection in his palm and felt that the weight of the bag and he smiled.  He took the tokens and pocketed them and placed the satin bag on his night stand next to a tiny stuffed koala wearing a top hat and cane.  He looked fleetingly at a print of Magritte’s “La Reproduction Interdit” tacked on the far wall that had begun to curl around the edges then to a cache of used encyclopedias and manuscripts dating from the early twentieth century heaped on an old hand-me-down bookshelf.  He felt the objects in his pocket and the earring-backs pricked his leg hard but he didn’t mind.

It was all moot anyway.

~ by yearzerowriters on August 5, 2010.

12 Responses to “Not to Be Reproduced”

  1. At first I thought this would be a good play.

    But I learned I’m not a good playwrite, so I couldn’t really adapt it well in my head after I read the narrative descriptions which — if well acted — could be pulled off quite well in a play. There is a lot to convey without visuals and without dialogue, but then I realized that it’s just guys being dicks. Ok sorry I guess that had to come out.

    So you did an excellent job of conveying that dick-ness, and that female stupidness.

    Bleh, I’ve been married a loonnnnnggggggg time.

  2. I like this — it has that very real sense of dialogue that gives it great credibility. But I think it could use some dialogue tags, especially in the first exchange. I know they can weigh down and halt the rhythm, but it would be a small sacrifice to make sure your readers know just who’s saying what. I did okay following it, but it gets confusing when the dialogue isn’t character specific anymore; when they’re things that either person could be saying.

    The narrative paragraphs are a little too long for me and seem to work in oppossition of the brevity of the rest of it. But you may have reasons for this, so I won’t say it’s wrong or anything like that. You know what you’re doing.

  3. When I wrote this, my intention was not putting many dialog tags in place in order to purposely confuse – I love engaging the reader like that, making them question who really is saying it, making it a bit more ambiguous if they could see either character saying those things. But…I get what you mean. It is something I’ve thought about and something I wanted to get input on.

    And the narrative…I could see how it would stand in contradiction to the rest of the piece, but my reasoning for it was to give the reader a break. I personally think it’s more to process in the dialog, the exchanges between the two, so I like that we get a sec to really see this character interact with the environment/himself.

    Anyway, not being defensive, you make good points. Both of you. Glad you liked.🙂

    • I see narrative as work and dialogue as the break.
      And see, I knew you were up to something with the no dialgoue tags. But I like seeing characters interact with the environment and themselves, like you said. I just think there could be less of it. But that’s just me! It’s your story!

  4. I enjoyed this – I think the most effectve part is the last paragraph. It also reminded me why I refuse to have a telephone.

  5. Oh god, you did such a good job with the details. The cigarette case, the posters, the collection of earings. These are just the trappings of undergrad Dickdom. It couldn’t be better unless he was smoking cloves.

  6. Nice details, my points mainly concur with Sarah’s, found the paragraphs overheavy against the dialogue although well written and worthy in themselves. Found the feisty vs weedy/pathetic contrast of the female characters too unsubtle. Real life isn’t that cut and dried. In other words would have liked it more if it was a real dilemma.

  7. Man, I thought it was impossible, but this story is longer than any of mine…

    I read up to the Ghostworld reference and will read the rest of it over the weekend then come back and write something.

    One thing though, and maybe this goes for everyone, we should try to make the text bigger in the stories. My eyes are starting to feel the pain…

    Oli

  8. Damn, I should’ve put cloves in there. Heh.

    I’m going to take Sarah and Allison’s points and look back over the story to see what I could change (paragraph-wise). I do love the little details there, but by no means do I want to take away from the dialog (which is my fave part).

    And noted on real dilemma. Thanks for the input.

    I hear you about the text being small, Oli. Strains thee eyes!

  9. […] A new short story of mine titled “Not to Be Reproduced” is up over at Year Zero. Check it out right here. […]

  10. Okay, long weekend, man. Sorry.

    Yeah, the narrative descriptions slowed it down a bit. The dialogue was decent, though i thought there could have been a few more pauses in each section?

    The female characters were quite good, i thought. One of them had almost no time for him, and the other was trapped with him in a relationship. I liked the way the conversation kinda built up to her whining, and the way he got annoyed at that, as though she can’t just let him cheat in peace. And even the way he turns it on her, saying she’s sensitive. That’s his biggest asshole moment.

    Oli

  11. Thanks, Oli. That’s what I was going for, regarding the two woman. And yes, he is an asshole. Ha. I’ve already begun reworking this. Thanks to everyone for the words.

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