War

At Sean’s apartment, we played cards. We played on the floor because the movers came and took the furniture that afternoon. He asked to stay at my place that night and naturally I said yes. Jen was staying with her parents and she preferred if she didn’t see him that night.

“I haven’t played war since I was a kid,” I said. I was winning after drawing a couple tens, queens and aces.

“It’s easy, gives me time to think,” he said.

“About what?” I asked.

“About anything, about what’s next.”

The next day Sean would be moving to the city. His cousin’s roommate just moved out and needed someone to help with rent. I knew Sean would’ve preferred to have his own place, like me, but money was tight.

Nevertheless he was, at that moment, on a lucky streak. His sevens beat my sixes; his Jokers beat my tens.

“Will Jen still help move tomorrow?” I asked.

“She said she would.”

About a year ago, Sean helped me move out of the apartment I shared with Gabby. Or rather, it was a refurnished garage. It was good for the two of us until we realized we weren’t good for each other. At that time Sean met Jen and he was happy. Together they helped me move.

“We should get back to my place,” I said. “It’s almost nine.” I was back in the lead after drawing a queen and king. I lucked out when Sean drew a two against my four.

“When we finish this game, we’ll go,” he said.

I wanted to let him win. He needed to catch a break, even if that break was winning a card game. I knew the game would go on – sometimes with me in the lead, sometimes with Sean. It was just something I couldn’t control, something out of my hands.

Basement Scene

I was in the hospital, the emergency room, waiting. Waiting for an update on the something that happened. I wasn’t alone – Justin was there too, just as he was when the something happened. We called a Lyft driver to follow the ambulance that came to take Toby away.

I really can’t explain, that something that happened. It’s easy to describe what happened before it – the party, the beer pong and band playing AC/DC covers in the basement. Toby played bass guitar for the band. He stepped out onto our porch during intermission. The clock struck midnight minutes before and the bitter cold air greeted us into the New Year.

“2013,” Toby said. He smoked just like the rest of us. Between breaths and the smoke it seemed as if we could see the time rise and disappear.

“Thanks again for playing tonight,” I said. Toby and his band had a chance to play New Year’s Eve at a bar downtown. He convinced the rest of his band to play in my basement. We charged five dollars a head and over fifty people came.

Justin was out on the porch too. He was the lead singer. He sang “Highway to Hell,” right before midnight. Out on the porch he took a quick drag from his girlfriend’s cigarette and told Toby to come back into the basement for a couple more songs.

“We could’ve made more,” he said to Toby. This was probably true. I stayed outside and finished my cigarette with some people I didn’t know. The lights flickered and screams came from inside.

I ran downstairs to the basement and saw Toby unconscious with his bass across his chest. Everyone had a different story. He blacked out. He shocked himself. He mixed the wrong substances.

And that’s why Justin and I were in the emergency room, waiting. We didn’t know what happened, and we wanted to know. I was very worried about Toby, I was. I also wanted to know if it, the something, was somehow my fault. If the wiring in the basement was faulty. If I pressured him into taking one shot too many. I really, really hoped it wasn’t my fault. I was worried for Toby, but I really hoped it wasn’t my fault.

Bandleader Bob

Earlier this month a drabble of mine was published on the blog The Drabble. I wanted to share this with my readers, and I encourage everyone to follow this blog. Flash fiction published almost every day!

man-playing-a-saxophone-pvBy Cole Thomas

We worked in an office — a “cool” office, no cubicles! — and our team leader was Robert. We called him Bandleader Bob.
“We still meeting Bandleader Bob?”
“Way to take that on Bandleader Bob!”
Then one day, Bandleader Bob quit.
None of us were sure why. We speculated he was bored, or depressed.
Month’s later, after teammate Tina and I started dating, we visited a new Jazz Club downtown.
The quartet walked on at ten, and playing the sax was Bandleader Bob. His notes soared and Tina’s face melted.
And all that time we joked.

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Hot Wheels

I went for a walk on a Saturday morning and found a yard sale. Working the yard sale was a woman. She had her hair in a ponytail and talked with her hands. I overheard her say how excited she was to be moving to Virginia.

“I’ll be closer to my sister and mother,” she said to another woman holding an infant in her arms. The other woman nodded and bounced in place.

There were two tables across the lawn. Everything spread on the first was junk, at least to me. Little porcelain figurines of pigs and cows and elephants. Plastic plates and glasses that shone in the sun. My eyes burned from the glares.

The second table was different. I looked at Pearl Jam cassettes and withered Hardy Boys books and Hot Wheels cars. Behind this table was the house’s porch and sitting on the steps was a man with a bottle of Coke in his hand. He watched the woman and the infant.

“How much are the Hot Wheels?” I asked.

He looked over to me and shrugged his shoulders. “I’ll give you the whole container for five dollars.”

I considered it. My nephew was turning six next month. I also thought about keeping them for myself. I liked Hot Wheels as a kid. I remembered how me and my neighbor would race them across the wooden boards in his basement. We both would cheat and then accuse the other of cheating. We would fight and I would storm off only to come back the next day.

“There’s some good stuff in here,” I said. I picked up one – a white ferrari with a red strip down the center. I had one just like it.

“That one’s my favorite,” he said. He stood up and walked over to the table. He shoved the books and cassettes to the side, picked up the Hot Wheels container and dumped them on the table.

“Honey, what are you doing?” the woman said. The other woman with the infant had left.

“I’m keeping these,” he said. He then looked to me, “Sorry, these aren’t for sale.”

I shrugged my shoulders.

“We agreed to leave all this behind,” the woman said.

“I changed my mind,” he said. He looked to me again. “You’ll back me up, right?”

“I really should be going,” I said.

He scoffed and shook his head. “You’re an asshole.”

“We’re not keeping these,” the woman said. He looked back to her and started ranting. I turned and left.

The man was mad at me, I knew that. I also didn’t know him, or her. I wasn’t going to take sides. I wasn’t about to pull myself into the argument that was about to happen, that was happening, as I walked down the street.

My One Contribution to a Writers’ Workshop

I’d only been to a writers’ workshop once. I contacted the instructor and he offered to have me sit on a class for free.

“You can’t submit anything though,” he said on the phone.

“Of course,” I said. I had nothing to show anyways. I hadn’t written anything since high school. And that stuff was shit. I was home for mom’s birthday the weekend before and I found an old notebook. Shit was an understatement.

The class already started when I arrived. Saturday morning at 9 AM. First I slept through my alarm and then missed the stop on the A Train.

The instructor introduced me to the others. “He’s thinking about joining us,” he said. There were three writers around the table in the instructor’s office. Rather than narrate the entire workshop I’ll give the highlights:

– Randy published a novel years ago, and was trying to get back on the “writing wagon,” as he called it. The chapter we discussed was deep, though I thought to myself why the three pages were only a description of the house the murderer lived in. I believe we were discussing chapter 3.

– Adam was an English teacher at a private school in Queens and decided, after years of teaching great authors and ending an unhappy marriage, it was time to write something of his own. He was writing a fantasy novel about a boy who had the power of invisibility.

– Liz was an older woman working on her memoir. She couldn’t make that session for undisclosed reasons.

– Stephanie studied history in college and realized a month after graduation she wanted to be a writer. We discussed the fourth chapter of her novel, which is about a girl who graduated college and decided to become a writer.

“Wait, ” I said. I interrupted Randy’s feedback, and everyone’s stares were on me.

“I take it you have something to say, ” the instructor said.

“Yes, just one thing. This chapter takes place at a writing workshop?”

“Yes that’s correct.”

Perhaps it was the hangover – yes, that’s why I slept through my alarm – but the setting of the chapter I couldn’t wrap my head around. Why would she want to write about something so true, so factual and of the moment? Literally, we were in the room just like in the chapter.

“It also sounds like this chapter features a new guy at the workshop.”

“Yes.”

“Is that guy supposed to be me?”

Nobody said anything. The instructor squinted his eyes and shook his head.

“How could it be you? I just met you today. I wrote this on Wednesday.”

“I think that’s enough for today,” The instructor said.

Despite my outburst, the instructor asked me to join. I said I’d think about it, though I knew I wouldn’t join. Saturdays at 9 AM were pretty harsh. I saved his email in case I changed my mind.

Outside I started walking to the coffee shop I knew was close when I saw Stephanie down the block. I ran and caught up to her outside of the subway station.

“Change the setting,” I said. “I don’t think people want to read about what goes on in a writers’ workshop.”

She nodded and I then asked for her number. We would go on to have a very awkward date.

Guys In Their Hoodies

I’m a man of the times. The most popular TV shows? I watch them. I watch them on Hulu and Netflix and HBO Go. I watch them on my own time because I’m a guy who bends his time for no one. Hozier and Kendrick Lamar are my go-to artists on Spotify. I created radio stations for both of them. I deleted my Green Day and Blink-182 playlists because they’re no longer part of the times.

I wear slim blue jeans and I cuff the legs. I typically go for v-neck t-shirts, though the patterned button-down shirts also catch my attention. They’re becoming part of the times and I need to keep up.

I also wear a slim, solid blue hoodie. I bought it when I decided to become a man of the times. The hoodie I own is the kind you see in ordinary photographs posted on Instagram and Facebook. The kind that in twenty years the kids – my kids, possibly – will look back and ask “that was the style then?” and I’d say “Yes, and I owned one just like it.”

I’d also say something like, “I wore that hoodie on the commute to work, because at my office we wore what we wanted. This was when companies grew more and more lax about their dress codes to make up for the expanding work days.” And I wouldn’t be exaggerating. I’d say “I worked with two other guys who wore slim solid-color hoodies just like me. Once I joked we were like Huey, Dewey and Louie.”

Shoot, that was dumb, I wouldn’t say that. I know that reference is no longer of the times.

Instead I’d say something like, “I wore that hoodie when I went with my friends to the bars. I always pushed for college bars since they had the best specials and I’d fit right in because I was a man of the times.” Again I wouldn’t be exaggerating. I’d say “All the guys in their hoodies would play pool and hit on the girls and buy them expensive beers. Myself included.”

I really hope those don’t go out of style. I enjoy wearing mine, I really do. But if the time comes where guys no longer wear slim, solid-blue hoodies I guess I’ll have to throw in the towel. Or should I say, throw in the hoodie. Get it?

Home is at the Coffee Shop

This morning at the coffee shop your upper back aches, along with your right shoulder. Your left thumb hurts too, but not so much. The chairs at this coffee shop don’t do much in the department of supporting backs. Then again, you suppose the owners never expected people to spend all their days at the coffee shop.

People like yourself. There are others like you – a few others. You often find yourself with these others at the table in the back of the coffee shop. You nod to each other and then go about your business. Programing or making calls or writing in WordPress.

You go to the coffee shop every day because you need to get out of your apartment. You live alone in a one bedroom that’s empty except for the television, to which is connected an original Nintendo. You haven’t played that Nintendo in years, but you brought it to college and then to Philadelphia and now to Denver.

“Live” is a peculiar word, at least for you, like the word “home.” The scale has tipped so that you now spend more time at the coffee shop than you do at your apartment. In a sense, you “live” at the coffee shop.

This almost changed once, when for three days in a row you sat across from this young woman with red hair and blue-framed glasses. You nodded to each other on the first day then got to work. The second day you talked with each other for two hours. The third day you fucked.

The morning after you joked about fucking at the coffee shop. She laughed then said she was glad you came over. She lived on the other side of town and she drove a beat up forerunner. It was a gift from her father, she said. Otherwise she wouldn’t have a car.

You said in that case, she was meant to find you. Without the car, she would have stayed closer to her studio and not have explored the rest of town.

She smiled and then told you she would no longer be visiting the coffee shop. She just moved from Seattle and had some time off before her job started. She took a software engineer position at a start-up and would be working long hours.

That was fine, you said, because you had a plan. You could see each other after work. You both could trade off making dinner, one night at her place and one night at yours. For that moment, the thought of being in your apartment didn’t seem so bad. And if you happened to spend the night at her place, you could take the bus back to the coffee shop. You knew it would work. She said it would work too.

Nevertheless, you haven’t seen her in months. You stopped texting her to make dinner plans or grab a drink at a happy hour because she stopped responding. Your body aches because you fell asleep yesterday at the coffee shop. It was only six – closing time – but you fell asleep anyways. You find it harder to sleep at your apartment and you’re afraid you’ll fall asleep at the coffee shop again. You assured the barista it wouldn’t happen again but you’re still unsure.

But that doesn’t matter at the moment – someone’s walking to the back table, and you’re ready to nod and treat them like a guest.