Why I left the mixer with tyson the mailroom clerk [flash-fiction]

(by Daniel R. Jones)

[Note: this piece was first published in issue no. 3 of the print journal “Black Rabbit.”]

…because I’d already unpaired from Jayce as soon as we were through the double-doors. 

Jayce knew I don’t like swanky cocktail parties, but he made me come under the guise of networking read: self-aggrandizement and he was soon in semi-circle with his associates, wagging that silver tongue I fell for two or so years back.

And there was Jayce, neck deep in an anecdote about a sales-call down south, lurching forward in his easy chair like a hunter waiting to pounce. He tells it like he’s letting them in on a secret, and the half-dozen or so are just eating it up, just waiting for him to be out with it. 

But this is the eighth iteration I’ve heard of this story, and sure, it gets more polished every time, his gestures wider, his modulation punchier, but there I was, white-knuckled during the pregnant pause, holding my breath, just gritting my teeth as he lets out the punchline: Make your mind up and mind your make up! 

And the circle is erupting in guffaws and women from each of the circles on the room’s periphery are turning to see what the commotion is about and men out of earshot are smirking like they were in on the joke, but they’re really just embarrassed they’d chosen the wrong company to keep and they wish they’d heard the line-heard-round-the-mixer for themselves.

But because I’m a lady, I closed my eyes before I rolled them. 

So, here comes Tyson, who I found out later was the mailroom clerk. Turns out, he wasn’t on “the list,” but he managed to slip in unannounced by wearing the same garb as the caterers: black slacks paired with a white button down, a black bow-tie, and shiny black oxford shoes. This actually makes me like him more, but anyhow he must’ve somehow seen the eye roll. 

He asks why I don’t find Jayce funny and I say, “He’s my boyfriend, and I’ve heard that one before.” 

And he wonders aloud “How can Adam be at ease with his rib wandering ‘round the room without him?” 

“You’re clever, but I’m just playing from the script,” I say. “At a cocktail party, a man’s worth is judged by the number of people he can greet when he walks in. A woman’s is — by the number of people she can ignore.”

Tyson had a laugh at that, and it felt good to know I’d made an impression. 

“But really, why aren’t you with him?” Tyson asked.

And I guess it was the whiskey sours, but soon I was railing on about how Jayce put on such a good act, and I fell for the character he plays, but a time comes when a woman wants to meet the man behind the mask, and come to find out there’s a mask behind the mask and he’s masks all the way down.

“He sounds like a headache I had last year,” Tyson said, with the perfect balance of empathy and apathy. 

I wondered, for a minute, if Jayce would question me for talking to Tyson. But even if he did manage to find the time to cast a glance my way, he’d figure I was just chatting with “the help. Then as if he read my mind-

“I like your dress.”

This surprised me, because it was just a mustard-colored off the shoulder maxi dress I picked up off the rack at Macy’s. But I was feeling flirty so I decided to test him.

“It’s not too suggestive?” I asked.

“It is.”

And just when I was ready to write him off, he said:

“It has to be suggestive. If it’s art then it has to be suggestive.

“Please,” I said. “Elaborate.”

I think everything in the physical world has to have an artistic analogue. There is no preference or taste or desire that isn’t a metaphor. So, all fashion is suggestive—whether of sensuality or a particular aesthetic. And I’d venture to guess nothing is so repulsive as a man whose idea of ‘fashion’ is a navy-blue button down and pleated khakis.” 

He nodded toward Jayce.

“I guess Jayce prefers function over fashion,” I shrugged.

“No, it’s worse than that. Loving a pair of carpenter jeans is functional. Utilitarianism, at least, is an ideal. Some people believe in that ideal. But having no connotation—believing in nothing—that’s unforgivable.”

“How does a guy as smart as you not get invited to this party?” I asked.

“I may be smart, but we can’t all be hotshot salesmen. Some of us just have to be regular Joes.”

Tyson stops to think before saying, “Sprezzatura.”

Which of course, I’m unfamiliar with, so he explains:

“Sprezzatura is an old Italian word that means ‘a practiced, rehearsed nonchalance.’”

And that’s the moment I realized that’s Jayce to the “t,” and with Tyson having cut so clearly to the heart of the matter, he was in my good graces, which is why, when he suggested we leave the party, I wasn’t indisposed. But I wanted to be sure, so I asked what he meant. I was trying not to hear more than I heard. I’m a kept woman, after all.

And he said, “Self-imposed naivete is a poor stand in for innocence.”

And it just sounded so clever; he seemed like the kind of guy that Jayce should’ve been; and speaking of Jayce, I don’t even think he noticed when I left, but Tyson was so kind and his hair was so dark and his eyes were so light and I know it’s not the first time it’s happened and I should be sorry but there comes a time when it just no longer makes sense to say “This isn’t me.”

Shakespeare Came to me in a Dream (short story)

(by Daniel R. Jones)

“I’ve heard thine concerns about English,” he said. “I’m here to show thee the extent of English-speakers’ depravity.”

Level 1- Limbo

He led me to the first layer of perdition. There, I saw the grammar-purists.

“These people aren’t so bad,” I said. “They actually care for the language. What are they here for?”

“Don’t end a sentence with a preposition!” one of the poor souls sneered.

“I see,” I said, as Shakespeare lowered his head solemnly.

Level 2- Heresy

On the second level of the Inferno, I encountered the inverse of Level 1: those with atrocious grammar.

“Well, well, well,” a lost-soul sneered. “I seen you brung us another soul, William.”

I shuddered in horror, and we excused ourselves to Level 3.

Level 3: Greed

In the third circle stood business professionals, spouting off corporate jargon.

“Just so we’re on the same page,” one entrepreneur told another, “this paradigm-shift gives us a win-win, moving forward. That way, we aren’t reinventing the wheel.”

Level 4: Fraud

“The souls in Level 4 use real words, but never correctly,” Shakespeare explained.

“I literally could care less that I’m in hell,” a man exclaimed.

Level 5: Treachery

“What’s so bad about the people in Level 5?” I asked. “They’re happy, at least.”

“They’re smiling because ignorance is bliss,” Shakespeare said. “They use words like ‘awesome sauce’ and pronunciations like ‘skissors.’

“Squeeze me,” a man said as he passed, the listless bovine-look of self-satisfaction in his eyes.

At this point, my ears began to bleed.

Level 6: Gluttony

They say “expresso.”

Enough said.

Level 7- Lust

At this level of hell, we found fad-talkers.

“I’m riding the struggle-bus,” a soul remarked.

“I know, right?” said another. “This level of hell is a hot-mess.”

“THIS,” a third soul said. “Hell used to be lit. Now it’s an epic-fail.”

“This layer is insidious.” the playwright said, turning toward me. “People start saying ‘totes’ and ‘whatevs’ to be funny, but after using these terms so long, they become a part of their lexicon. Before you know it, they’re using ‘cray-cray’ without irony.”

Level 8 -Wrath

Level 8 was filled with souls suffering from the Dunning-Kruger Effect. They have access to a thesaurus, but don’t know how to use it.

They’re also members of the Flat-Earth Society.

Level 9- Violence

“What could be worse than what we’ve seen?” I asked Shakespeare.

Just then, a lost-soul stumbled toward us.

“Supposably, we’re the worst souls in hell, for all intensive purposes,” he said. “But I want to know pacifically what we’ve done wrong. I always went to the libarry when I was alive. I never took books for granite.”

I dropped to my knees and wept. I could smell sulfur in the air as I ground my teeth in indignation.

“It isn’t fair!” I shouted. “Take me from this repulsive place. I swear that I’ll make it my life’s goal to eradicate such senselessness!”

I woke in a cold sweat, reborn in purpose; destined to be an English teacher.

To Thine Own Self Be True (Flash Fiction)

That’s the advice the Bard bequeathed to us some 400 years ago, but then, he didn’t have $50K in school debts and nothing but a Theater Arts diploma to draw on.

After graduation, I lived on a shoestring, getting money from community-theater gigs and a part-time job subbing for a middle-school theater arts teacher. If I wanted more of the “root of all evil,” I’d need to find people even more desperate than myself.

I placed an ad on Craigslist: “Professional ‘yes-man.’ Seasoned actor will act as your double-date to the bar, vouch for your far-fetched excuses to your boss, etc.”

Jobs poured in. I was a wing-man, school principal, doctor; you name it. I side-stepped jobs that could cause bodily harm or willful destruction of property. I tried, for the most part, to steer clear of unethical gigs, but let’s face it— I was paid to be a liar.

One night, I sat opposite to Cheryl and Wade Bledsoe at their dining-room table. A routine gig. Cheryl had backed a company vehicle into a parked car while inebriated. She needed a cover story.

“Pretty easy,” I told Cheryl. “I’ll swing by your office and talk to your boss. I’ll say I watched a guy rear-end you, then take off. You were so nervous, you forgot to file a police report. Thankfully, I gave you my number, in case you needed a witness. Got it?”

“Perfect.” Cheryl breathed a sigh of relief. “How much do we owe you?”

There was something peculiar about the way Wade had been eyeing me. He had that faint look of recognition for the last half-hour.

Just as Cheryl was finishing her question, I placed him. He was a previous client of mine, looking to hook-up with a barkeep on the South side. I played his wing-man, and he got the date.

My eyes shot to Wade’s in recognition. The look of trepidation on his face confirmed he remembered who I was, as well.

I decided to capitalize on the opportunity. Chancing it, I charged him double:

“For a job of this magnitude, the going-rate is $1000. Certain factors bring that number down…if you’ve been referred by a client or you’re a recurring customer. But those wouldn’t apply to you guys, would they, Wade?”

“No,” His voice cracked. “They wouldn’t. Who should I make the check out to?”

Learning Not to Dance

Stepping from the dance floor, she asked me, who taught you to dance?

Who taught me to dance? No one, per se. No formal lessons, no wealth of experience to draw on. Truth is, you have to start dancing before you know how. You do know how, really.

What makes you sway when your song comes on, completely involuntarily, like it’s some function of your autonomic nervous systems, as innate as a pulse? You’d sync your heartbeat itself with the snare and hi-hats if it didn’t mean cardiac arrest for you.

Where’d you learn to syncopate your steps with your earbuds in—your left foot hitting the ground each time the bass drum strikes; your right foot when the tom is hit? No one taught you that. It’s intrinsic.

When it’s 72 and June and you’re cruising in your aught-two Malibu, why is it you roll the windows down, even though your A.C. works just fine? When you go to the grocery store, what makes you roll through the aisles using your shopping-cart like a scooter, despite being in your mid-twenties, relegating your day off to crossing out errands and picking up paper-towels?

Why is it that your affinity for sidewalk-chalk and swing sets never goes away, fully? Why, on cross-country drives, do you look at the tree line with a strange sense of yearning- to get off the grid and become drastically human?

How do you justify giving the guy by the side of the road fifty-cents bus fare? You know he’s scrounging just enough to buy a Forty.

Who, what, where, when, why, how did you learn to dance?

Though it’s a truth we so often forget, we, as Anglos, the chief offenders—you don’t learn to dance, sister.

You learn not to.