Stories

    by Linda Boroff

    The Maid

    Mamie the maid drove around the block four times before she found a parking space for her old Nash Rambler.  Her heart gave a tipping little beat–how Barb was going to laugh when she saw Mamie still driving that heap today, in 1966.

    White Cat

    Like many wars, this one began with a simple miscalculation.

    “Here, kitty kitty.” Evvie stepped outside onto the bristly brown welcome mat that said “Rental Sweet Rental.” In her right hand was a plate of fragrant Ocean Festival with Mackerel.

    Jack’s Head 

    Bonnie Chadwick was the type of girl about whom other girls said, “I don’t know what they see in her.” This meant simply that Bonnie was a mantrap—envied, admired, and hated like poison. Specifically, the girls hated her navel, always sliding out above her waistband, drawing the eyes of boys with a merciless traction.

     

    Let That Be a Lesson

    A couple of scenic, twisting mountain roads link Santa Cruz with Silicon Valley, one maddeningly slow; the other lethally fast. People believe that this difficult commute is all that stands between us and the Valley’s ravening technology guargantuae, straining to spread south and plant their sarmak-campuses amid our beaches and redwoods.

    The Annual Death of Frosty the Snowman

    Watching Frosty, that merry soul, waste away under the sun’s relentless onslaught was one of winter’s most dreaded ordeals. Grief-stricken and impotent as the temperature inexorably crept toward death-spring, we always hoped just this once that Frosty could dodge the solar bullet. Or we could at least make his shrinking life meaningful.

    Rabid Redemption

    Sometime during Charlene’s thirteenth summer, she became convinced that she had contracted rabies and had only two weeks to live. Thirteen is an addled age anyway, a sort of staging ground for adult neuroses; Charlene had read that her brain was sprouting synapses at a blazing rate, and all this additional circuitry not only spawned weird anxieties…

    Mighty

    Despite their chronic financial turmoil, my parents always scraped together the money to send me to summer camp, innocently assuming that I looked forward to this two-week ordeal of rejection, bullying, and failure. Setting them straight loomed as a humiliating exposure that might earn me a shrinking, and so I played along every year, smiling through my dread.

    Everything I Have Is Yours

    “You´ll never guess who called me this afternoon,” I can recall my mother saying. It was dinnertime, and she was at the stove spooning something lumpy from a frying pan into Tupperware. We–my father, my brother Lester, Bradley Willis, and I–were at the opposite end of the kitchen, sitting around a pink and gray formica dinette.

    Angie Gets a Job

    Angie was not qualifying; she was crying. With one hand across her eyes, she groped for the tissue box that her interviewer extended without looking up as he checked her typing test. From between her fingers, Angie watched him circle errors; the sharp red pencil reminder her of a bird’s beak: peck, stab, scratch.

    September 1967. Cassie’s aunt from Grand Forks has arrived in San Francisco to claim her. Neck creped with trauma assessed and assimilated, she consults in murmurs with the probation officer, the psychologist and the caseworker before moving in on Cassie herself.

    The tall, redheaded girl, impenitent and swollen-faced, waits in the hallway on a wooden bench, huddled against a slender boy of about sixteen dressed in torn blue jeans and a faded black T-shirt.

    Roller Palace

    “The number’s thirty,” says the man. “They’re brown wing tips like I already told you. And what are yours again, Donna?”

    “White sandals, with a daisy on the strap.” Donna is a typical Roller Palace patron: greasy graying ponytail, harlequin eyeglasses and a magenta felt skating skirt that says DONNA in black sequins around the hem.”

    Learning to Sew

    Of all Deirdre’s classes, sewing is far and away the worst. Here, she and Karen the Freak share a table — easy targets for the teacher. Mrs. Grady, a living needle of a woman, has shrunk and sharpened with age, unlike Mrs. Maxwell the cooking teacher, who is plump, creamy and pleasant, like one of her own white sauces.

    Pink Slip Pilgrimage: A Broke Writer Needs a Loan

    There are as many roads to penury as there are paupers to follow them. As a writer, I always tried to see my own journey as material for nostalgic anecdotes to be delivered during acceptance speeches at some national awards galas. I like to imagine my struggles as leisurely, rather loopy jaunts.

    The Discarded

    The empty cubicles of the Discarded remain untouched, their gray, padded walls still displaying the cartoons, awards, and post-it notes of their late occupants. Computers stand inert beside telephones patiently blinking undelivered messages. Ads announcing revolutionary product launches droop from their push pins.

    Breakup

    To minimize the awkwardness, he’ll make her excuses to his parents on Christmas Day.

    There isn’t much to divide: she keeps the futon, he the food dehydrator and dry fryer.

    They laugh about his weakness for TV pitches.

    A Season of Turbulence

    I. Precession and Trepidation

    The night flight from LA to Anchorage had a two-hour layover in Seattle, giving the gang of thunderheads lurking on the horizon plenty of time to move in and start wreaking havoc.

    Pummeled by savage airpackets, our plane rhumbas into a midnight sky the color of a deep bruise. Lightning reveals monstrous cumulonimbus towering away on all sides, and electrons seethe across our fragile outer membrane…

    Going Broke

    It wasn’t the sort of thing that happened all at once, the downward slide; Beverly’s father had been a good contractor but overextended, the victim of unprincipled competition and merciless pilferage. As early as age eight, Beverly had printed a letter to Santa beseeching “a lot of money to pay Mr. Collins.” And soon after that, the annual Buick was replaced by a Ford, “the smartest thing we ever did.”

    Suitable Poison

    It wasn’t her I noticed, that first time: it was the car.  Shockingly red, it flashed in the corner of my eye like a spurt of blood as it pulled into the parking lot outside my office. A Porsche.

    Almost before it had spun to a stop, the driver’s side door flew open and legs emerged: long, slender, tanned.  Naked.

    Twisted Fate

    Like compliant worker bees, Brian and I reported for our blood tests even before they became mandatory. His employer had sent out a message offering two-for-one discounts at local restaurants for showing a test receipt. The message reminded us that getting tested was our patriotic duty and a big step toward bringing the epidemic to an end—the standard drivel.

    Dinner at the Bigelows’

    At age sixteen, Tessa Markey learned once and for all that fate would not be thwarted. No matter how elaborate your avoidance strategy or cautious your moves, fate simply bided its time, and then it came for you.

    Tessa’s father, a bankrupt contractor with a drinking problem, had separated from Tessa and her mother earlier that year.

    Light Fingers

    Like gymnastics, shoplifting is a discipline of youth. Now I am not referring to kleptomania, that naughtiness of dithering grannies. I mean true boosting, as a serious vocation. As an art.

    Current criminological theory views shoplifting either as a sexual aberration or—among youth especially—as an early indication of sociopathy, a prelude to riskier, more remunerative crime.

    The Hundred Thousand Dollar Suit

    “I wish the Asteroid would just put us out of our misery already,” David said, raising his arms to beckon the night sky outside my door. “Come, come.” Because he had failed chemistry again, David was willing to curse into smithereens our entire collective four point five billion years of arduous evolution.

     

    A Journey From Which Many Do Not Return

    At some point, April began to hang out with Pam, and they soon attracted the nosy interest that surged and crackled around the Club like atmospheric electricity before a storm.  “Bad company, she is,” intoned old Ken B, referring to Pam, of course. 

    Cataclysm

    It was time. Obediently, Marketing assembled in front of Human Resources and counted noses, then filed out through the vast, slick-floored maroon-and-silver lobby. Job-seekers, huddled like troglodytes in cavernous velour armchairs, glanced up from incomprehensible computer journals as the troupe passed.

    “Hasta la Vista!” called out blonde Annabelle Hopf from the reception desk, waving gaily.

    What’s So Funny? A Love Story

    My mother stands in my bedroom, a can of canary yellow paint overturned atop her head, its bright, creamy contents cascading down her face and red bouffant hairdo.

    Home Like a Shadow

    “I was born there,” Robert answers. “Nobody ever moves there.” We are racing through the Kettleman Hills, late for his mother’s birthday dinner, heading for trouble at eighty miles per hour.

    Found a Peanut:
    Deconstructing a Universal American Tragedy

    Who hasn’t gone off to camp singing this simple children’s song to while away the hours spent in car or bus?

    Doctors

    I think Dr. Ritter hates Berkeley,” I said at last, to fill a silence.

    “Then what is he even doing here?” Brigit twitched back her long brown hair with a little shrug of annoyance.

    “I don’t know,” I said.

    “Maybe he needs a change. Like I did.” Brigit glanced sidelong at her boyfriend Tony, who winked. They had just moved into the flat across the hall in our gray Victorian, a block from campus.

    And All Her Bridges Burn’d

    It was to have been a day of celebration, but something was terribly wrong. As Marcy tugged open the heavy double doors of the ad agency, a warm gust of stale garlic and bacon struck her in the face. Confetti lay in the entryway. Beside the deserted reception desk, empty champagne bottles protruded from the wastebasket, their rumps insolently turned toward her.

    The conference room—”Glass House” they called it—was a shocking mess. Marcy glanced in from the corner of her eye, then stopped short to stare.

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    “Can I talk frankly to you?” Without waiting for an answer, Warren extended his body across the seat and took Tessa by the shoulders.