Sushi April 26, 2015

April 26, 2015

Imagined conversations, daily. Stories on Sunday.

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They were sitting cross-legged at the low table waiting for the waiter to take the man’s credit card. They had been waiting for a long time and no waiter had appeared and now the man’s legs had fallen asleep.

* * *
Sushi originally appeared in Gargoyle Magazine


Confidential April 11, 2015

April 20, 2015

Imagined conversations, daily. Stories on Sunday.

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Bridalplasty April 19, 2015

April 19, 2015

Imagined conversations, daily. Stories on Sunday

Bridalplasty originally appeared in the Gold Man Review

In my first book, Nine Digits, I created a hopelessly rigged reality TV contest and used it to torture my characters.  But after the book was published,  I was humbled to stumble upon a reality television program far more outrageous than mine. In this program, young women competed to win a “celebrity-style, dream wedding”.  I would not have paid the show any attention but for the show’s name: Bridalplasty. What kind of a name is that? Bridal, fine, but plasty? What the hell is that? Were they going to sculpt their wedding cakes?
I decided to do a little research.  Turned out that Bridalplasty was an actual thing, a real reality TV contest that enjoyed a real life two-month run on E! Entertainment at the end of 2010. Twelve young women – all engaged or already married – competed, not just for a celebrity-style, dream wedding, but also to obtain her personal wishlist of surgical procedures. The winner would be entitled to all those cosmetic surgeries that make the difference between an ordinary life and, well, a celebrity-style, dream life.
Along the way to the dream wedding, there were 10 contests among the brides-to-be. To create additional tension each week, the winner of each stage was entitled to pick a surgical selection from their wishlist and have it performed by the show’s resident doctor, a plastic surgeon who was, in real life, a plastic surgeon to celebrities! Thus in the second week of the contest, Cheyenne received a rhinoplasty. The following week saw the Top Bride, Kristen, experience the full joy of breast implants. The surgical largess obtained by successful contestants en route to the finale included liposuction, tooth veneers, and a procedure to remove that flabby dangling fat that takes residence on the underside of the upper arm.  In fact, at the conclusion of one particularly joyous episode, all the brides who completed that day’s challenge received coveted Botox injections.
The weekly chance to win surgical procedures did not provide the only drama. Each week a bride – the Bottom Bride, as it were – was eliminated from the show amidst much weeping and remonstration. Thus as the field shrank and the surgeries multiplied – I swear to God,  brides competed with their noses criss-crossed by surgical tape – the stage was set for the final episode.
That episode pitted Allyson, a heavy set 32-year old blonde from Crestwood, Illinois, against Jenessa, a skinny, sharp-elbowed, hustler from Wayne, New Jersey who had earned a reputation for her feral scheming and maneuvering. (Jenessa might have been devious but she won my heart when she pointed out that Allyson might play the victim, but “after she got the lipo she went back in the kitchen and ate hot pockets every night.” That was a good line.)
Jenessa received a disappointing surprise when the judging panel for the final contest was revealed: it was the very brides who had been eliminated!! With those judges, Jenessa didn’t have a chance. They didn’t even finish polling the judges before it was clear that Jenessa was going home without all the surgical procedures that separated her from a celebrity-style life.  But if the drama of a close vote was denied to us, we were treated to one splendid moment when Alexandra White of Atlanta Georgia rendered the vote that put Allyson over the top. Alexandra had been given a chance to address the finalists – the Final Brides! – and personally deliver her RSVP. Alexandra used her time in the spotlight to give Jenessa this nugget of ancient wisdom:
                                Karma is a bitch and so are you!! 
I could not resist doing a little research on Alexandra.  I was quickly rewarded to learn that Alexandra had previously been a contestant on the Biggest Loser reality television program. She had not won Biggest Loser – and indeed her girth during Bridalplasty suggested that she liked a good hot pocket too – but she had scored a bigger prize: it had been on that program that she had met and become engaged to her fiancé. And so in that perfect karmic confluence that favors television shows devoted to the pursuit of deep meaning, Alexandra was competing on Bridalplasty to become the Perfect Bride for the very hubs with whom she shared the limelight on Biggest Loser. How big was that! What a moment! Made in heaven!
The dramatic piece de resistance of Bridalplasty sprang from a brilliant and carefully wrought plot device: once the contest began, the fiancé did not actually see the winning bride until after her surgical wishlist had been completely fulfilled.  This paved the way for one of those magic television moments – a moment so profound that the full possibilities of the medium will never again be doubted – the moment when Allyson was revealed to her fiancé in her new and improved format. Allyson 2.0.
The big reveal, the magic moment, occurred during – yes, you guessed it – their very own celebrity style, dream wedding! At the alter! Picture this scene: Allyson in front of the preacher, her soon-to-be husband facing her. She was swaddled in veils and lace, utterly hidden from the eyes of her wedding party and the dozens of guests in attendance. No one could tell who she had become until the final instant before the vows, when the veil was lifted and Allyson, radiant goddess, was revealed to the oohs and ohmygods and yougottabekiddings from the wedding crowd – a crowd that included the very brides who she had bested along the way. Allyson! With the glam complexion and the golden hair, with a smile as white as the ceramic of a new toilet. Allyson with the cute nose and so many improvements that I cannot even list them here, all revealed to her lucky fiancé in that one unforgettable instant. Boom!
One might be sad that Bridalplasty lasted only that one incredible season, but fortunately for all of us who write, that magic final episode will live on forever on YouTube, an enduring reminder that no matter how cheesy and outrageous a situation a writer may create in a novel, real life will go one step lower…


Bankrupture April 17, 2015

April 17, 2015

Imagined conversations, daily. Stories on Sunday.

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Match April 16, 2015
April 16, 2015

Imagined conversations, daily. Stories on Sunday.

See the entire collection here.


Portents April 12, 2015

April 12, 2015

Imagined conversations, daily. Stories on Sunday

The young woman was seated on a ragged couch holding a sheaf of papers. “The afternoon was portentous,” she read aloud.
“Huh?” he said, “Let’s stop right there. Portentous? How can an afternoon be portentous? Is that what you really want to say?” The man was in an armchair catty corner to the couch. End tables on either side were piled high with books and magazines and stapled manuscripts. The man had a wide face and gray beard that gave him a vague resemblance to Ernest Hemingway in his later life.
“Yes. The afternoon felt portentous.”
“An afternoon can’t feel portentous. Do you know what portentous means?”
“Don’t be supercilious; I wouldn’t have said it if I didn’t know what it meant. It was portentous out there that afternoon.”
“Sorry. How can it be portentous out there? It isn’t like weather. We don’t hear the weatherman say ‘there is a 50% chance of portentousness…’”
“Weather people aren’t in tune with important things. Some days are full of portents; they are bursting with portents. And when that happens the day is portentous and, if you are even halfway attuned, you will realize that the day is portentous.”
“And I take it you are attuned.”
“Yep.” The woman was in her late twenties. Her black hair had been cut very short and what was left was spiky and uneven.
“Okay. I hadn’t realized I was talking to an expert on portents.” The man paused and settled back into the back of his armchair. “Tell me what makes a day feel portentous?”
“I am not sure why it feels that way, it just does.”
“Fine. Just describe how portentousness feels. Can you do that? That’s what writers do.”
The woman squinted and gave the man a long look. After she finished the long look, she slightly shook her head, but went on. “When it’s portentous the hair on the back of my arms stands up.”
“Lyles,” he said, “I don’t know how to break this to you, but you don’t have any hair on the back of your arms.”
“I do.” Lyles unbuttoned the sleeve of the flannel shirt she was wearing and pulled it up above her elbow. Awkwardly she lifted her elbow to show off the pale skin. “See?”
The man reached out to touch the patch of skin just above her elbow, but she moved her arm away.
He said, “as I was saying. It’s as bare a baby’s butt. And just as smooth.”
“They are there. And when they stand up I get a little tickle that runs right up from there, up my back, into my neck…”
“Sounds like sciatica.”
“Ha ha. You are the one who asked how it feels. I am just telling you. Do you want me to stop?”
“No No. Don’t stop. I am enthralled.”
“I doubt it. Anyway, when it’s portentous there is a weird sound thing that goes on. You are going to think it’s all mystical and that it’s bullshit but I am going to say it anyway.”
“Yes do.”
“So you know when there is a big thunderstorm and there is a huge crack of thunder.”
“So it’s like what it sounds like just after the thunder finishes.”
“There is no sound when it is finished.”
Exactly! There is no sound…
“That’s how come we know it has finished.”
“…but the absence of sound has its own presence.”
“Okay?” He drew out the “kay” in “Okay” as if it was a separate word and such a questionable one that he wanted to make sure that the listener knew that he knew it was questionable.
“I knew you’d be that way. But trust me. When the thunder is over, there is a space that follows which is a sounding kind of space but all the sound has been scooped out of it. There is just the vibration and the crackling of the energy left in the space after the boom. That’s how portentous sounds, but it isn’t just for an instant, it goes on and on and it gets louder and louder even though you can’t hear it.”
“You’re becoming a hippie, Lyles, you know you don’t have to be a hippie to be a writer.”
She ignored him. “And its not only the sound, there is something physical in the air…”
“Let me guess, its physical but you can’t feel it.”
“Oh no, you can definitely feel it. There is weight to it. Not a lot but the air definitely gets heavier and you can feel it press down on your eyes.”
“How does it do that?”
“I don’t know. The whole thing is mysterious.”
“I’ll say.”
“Don’t condescend on me. You asked.”
“I did. And I am glad I did. I am learning something new. I can see the picture: We have got the no hairs standing up, the sound that doesn’t make any sound, and the weight that pushes down on your eyes. Anything else?”
She didn’t say anything. She gave him a level look, evaluating, judging. “You done with the mockery?”
“Mockery? You wound me, damsel. Mockery this is not.”
“Oh its mockery, all right. And I ‘m done. You may be a writer but you are also a dick.”
“No no. Carry on. I won’t say a word. I won’t move a muscle. I am dying to hear the end of this. I want to know – I need to know – how a portent feels.”
“Forget it.”
The man made a show of drawing his pinched thumb and forefinger across his lips, as if he were zippering his mouth. Then he used his right hand to mime handcuffing his left arm to the chair.
“And I am supposed to believe you’ll sit there and shut up and let me finish?”
He pointed at his lips with his forefinger and made the zipper gesture again. Then he bounced his left arm as if it were shackled to the chair.
She did not look convinced but she started back up. “The other thing that always happens – and maybe this is the biggest thing – is I get a little catch in my thinking. Kind of a stumble in the middle of whatever thought I am working on. Not enough to make me go really off track but definitely enough to notice.”
She paused to see if he was following along. He was attentive though he didn’t say anything.
“Wow. I like this.” She said. “I am amazed. I never thought you could keep your mouth shut so long. Maybe you could learn something. ”
The man smiled and shook his arm again: a captive audience.
She looked at the man for a minute, “yes, maybe you can.” Then she said, slowly, seductively. “And sometimes when it is really strong I get a sexual thing.”
The man startled. His mouth opened and it seemed for an instant as if he was going to say something, but then he did the zipper gesture again.
‘It can be really powerful. The more portentous it is, the more powerful the feeling. Sometimes its so strong that I start to squirm.” She squirmed for a minute on the couch where she was sitting and then she ran her hands up and down her arms. She didn’t look directly at him while she was squirming but when she stopped she gave him a long direct look and then she began slowly to unbutton the buttons on her flannel shirt. She took her time, one button at a time, and she let the shirt gap open more and more as the buttons were unbuttoned.
The man did not move but his eyes widened and he had shed his look of casual interest to bore in on what was happening on the couch.
“Yeah, sometimes, when it is feeling really portentous, I start to feel like I can’t do anything about it. Like I am in the will of something bigger, something so powerful that all I can do is relax and go with it, there is no way to resist.” She finished unbuttoning the shirt. She wasn’t wearing anything underneath and there was a long straight patch of skin visible from her neck to her waist between the two halves of the unbuttoned shirt.
The man was following every move. His mouth, though still zippered, had fallen slightly open. She unbuttoned the top of her jeans. She rose up slightly on the couch and in one move pulled them far enough down so that when she sat back they weren’t caught beneath her.  Then she raised one leg and then the other and pushed the fabric of her jeans down all the way down her ankles. She was wearing a striped pair of red and white socks that came nearly to her knees.
For a long moment she sat there. Not moving. Not saying a word. Looking straight into the man’s face.
His mouth opened wider and he stirred forward in his chair. But as he did she held up her hand. Palm forward. Stop. “No moving. I am not done.”
She stood up from the couch and as she did she kicked the jeans across the room. She arched up on her toes and spun a pirouette for him. Then she walked across the room and through the door to the bedroom. His eyes followed her every step of the way but he remained in the chair.
“So,” she called from the other room, “can you feel it?”
He said, “Am I allowed to talk?”
“Yes. But don’t move. Can you feel it?”
“Feel what?”
“The portents”
“Yes. Yes I can.”
“You are thinking to yourself that it’s a portentous afternoon, aren’t you?”
“Yes I am.”
“You are thinking that the portents are good, aren’t you?”
“These are my kind of portents,” he said. He half rose from the chair.  “Can I come in?”
“Hold your horses. There are good portents and bad portents.” There was a rustling of clothing from behind the door.
“You are getting good portents?”
“The best.”
“But you could be mistaken?”
“Oh I sure hope not.”
The man stood up and made a step toward the bedroom. But as he did, she emerged. She was wearing a tailored suit and a silk blouse. She had a long coat and a purple scarf around her neck.
“Got to run,” she said, heading for the front door of the apartment. “I will give you a ring later.”
“Damn. Are you kidding?”
“Nope. Time to get to work.”
“You’re kidding. What a waste.”
“Its not a waste,” she said.
“It’s a total waste.”
“It is not; now you know how a portent feels.” She closed the door behind her with a click.
Jay Duret