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.”

Melancholic Magician (prose poem)

There once was a man with melancholy. A magician, in fact. A failed magician, in many respects, but a magician, nonetheless.

This sad magician sat, every day, with quill in hand at a writing desk, every day convinced that if he were to write down the perfect words, set in the exact order, it’d create a sort of magic rune which could cure him of the chronic anhedonia which plagued him.

At times, he got close. The incantation he set to paper was maybe a word off, when he read it aloud. So he’d tinker with the syntax and diction for a couple weeks, swapping the order of a couple words here; substituting a synonym there.

And those near misses sustained him, staving away his melancholy for a little while.

But because the respite was short-lived, he threw out the would-be healing spells and started fresh, hoping to one day cure his ailment.

On certain days, he’d leave his writing desk, exploring the world outside the four-walls of his study. 

For what if the incantation involved words I haven’t yet learned? he wondered. Signifiers for objects I may not yet know exist?

And the magician aged and his hidebound journals piled up, in the pursuit of the perfect words, set in perfect order.

And you’ve probably guessed, Dear Reader, that this magician is most every poet; that the magician is the writer scrawling on the other end of the page you’re now reading.

This poem, or whatever you call it, is, itself, an attempt at that magic rune.

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?”

Ol’ Boy (Prose Poem)

(by Daniel R. Jones)

Ol’ boy came by here not but a month ago and I poked my head out just to ask how he’s doing and he says, “I’m doin’, but I dunno how.”

Before you know it, he’s carrying on about how he got his newest scar: laid down his ‘cycle, maybe, or a southpaw caught him across the eye with a mean left hook outside the dive bar off Post and 23rd.

Ask him if he’s got a Kaw or a Yamaha and he’ll get offended, like. Says he spent his younger years under the hoods of Camaros and his daddy would rise out the grave and whip him good if he heard he wasn’t supporting American-made.

He’s got cheeks that look like sandpaper stretched tight and staked down like a tent. He has Ol’ Glory on one arm and the Stars and Bars on the other. If you’re a woman more’n likely he’ll put a rebel streak in you or at least make you feel a little more patriotic, provided you’re on all the right teams: GM and Coca-Cola and Bud Light and Copenhagen. If you aim to go along with him, remember trucks are meant to be lifted and not dropped, pledge allegiance to Ol’ Dixie and shoot Jack if you can’t stomach a shot of straight Diesel. Even if you don’t go along with him, you’ll get on fine, ’cause not a person alive doesn’t like ol’ boy.

Well anyway, he always did say he’d rather be the devil himself than one of his minions; but I’m thinking the jury must not have known him, must not have really known him, else they wouldn’t have convicted him, ’cause murderer or not, ol’ boy never did mean no harm.