(A new short story. Here’s other stuff.)
“Whatcha reading?” he ventures.
“Nothing,” I reply, too quickly. I don’t look up.
I feel the conspicuous glare tighten. Just sockets. And teeth. And silence. I concentrate on the story before me, but his glare is heavy. I can feel his skull boring into mine.
“Is it good?” he continues, carefully and slowly, intoning the question deliberately, painfully. I take another deep breath and exhale forcefully, turning it into an audibly frustrated sigh. It whistles out my nostrils like a pinched plastic bag at first, and ends with a little jiggle, betraying my subtle anxiety. He’s still there. My brow dampens and tightens. Death grins on for another small eternity.
“Who’s it by?” he almost chuckles.
“Nobody.” I turn my chair away from the table, merely shifting the angle of his mirthful stare by 45 degrees. Somehow it feels less like I’ve moved my chair and more like my whole world has rotated around the persistent mystery across the table.
Now I feel the next question building. The pause becomes infinite. The page before me blurs and my knuckles whiten around the corner of the hard cover.
“Can I see…?”
A loud squawk erupts as I launch out of the chair, interrupting the question. I spin and turn my back on him in one motion, facing the wall. My lower eyelids glisten and drops form on my temples. I stand, frozen, facing the wall, preparing myself for the next onslaught. Rage builds inside me. He’s teasing me. Holding my hands back, pinning me down, pretending to dribble spit on my face. Why won’t he stop? Why won’t he go away?
Confused and angry, I glance up at the wall momentarily and look in the mirror. I’m there, but the reflection is clear behind me. Two hardback chairs stand empty. I gasp. He’s gone! I spin around, slack-jawed and eyes wide to see if it’s really true.
He is calmly sitting in the same chair and this time, our eyes meet. He grins.
I exhale deeply, this time in resignation, ending with the quietest of whimpers.
“OK,” I confess, looking directly into his sockets. I pull up my chair and sit down sadly. “It’s a love story set in the 50s…”