Authors: Claude Lalumiere
Tags: #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Short Stories
“A Place Where Nothing Ever Happens” © 2012 by Claude Lalumière
All rights reserved.
Published by ChiZine Publications
This short story was originally published in
Objects of Worship
by Claude Lalumière, first published in print form in 2009, and in an ePub edition in 2009, by ChiZine Publications.
Original ePub edition (in
Objects of Worship
) October 2011 ISBN: 9781926851785.
This ePub edition November 2012 ISBN: 978-1-77148-039-0.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
The first time Kyle received one of those phone calls, he was getting ready for a date.
Kyle had been attracted to Lauren since the first time he'd seen her, when she walked into Pen & Paper and asked to see the manager. She was there for a job interview. He remembered struggling not to let his mouth gape open. He remembered actually being able to direct her to Mr. Howard without sounding like a monosyllabic moron.
And he'd made her giggle. He didn't know how he'd done it. But he could tell by the glint in her eyes that it was a good giggle.
He'd always sneered at people â women, mostly â who went on and on about eyes and eye colour. Blue-eyed, brown-eyed, fucking fuchsia-eyed. What did he care? He never believed that it made one iota of difference to how attractive someone was. Besides, he could never remember anyone's eye colour. Once, a girl he'd been seeing for almost two years â Jessica â dumped him because he couldn't remember what colour her eyes were. What kind of stupid reason was that for breaking up with someone? He still had no idea what colour her eyes were.
But Lauren's eyes were a bright brown that verged on orange. At work, he was almost afraid of catching a glimpse of them. Often, when he did, he lost track of what he was doing and where he was. Her eyes made him dream of a peaceful nowhere, suffused with a bright warm glow. More than once, he'd had to be shaken out of it by Cass, the assistant manager, who, thankfully, was more amused than annoyed. You should just ask her out, Kyle. Get it over with already!, she'd tell him.
It had taken him a few months to get up the nerve to even contemplate asking her out. First, she was just too gorgeous not to have some type of boyfriend or something in her life. Second, she was a co-worker; if she turned him down, it would make things awkward.
He'd had to take a few days off work to attend his uncle's funeral. His mom's brother Flip â his real name was Philip, but everyone called him Flip â had been the coolest guy in the family, next to Kyle's long-dead dad. Before Kyle's dad died, the three of them â Dad, Kyle, and Flip â hung out together all the time: went to movies together, shot some basketball, walked around the city. After, Flip was always there for Kyle, reminding him that life continued. That you had to keep having fun. So they still did all the stuff they had loved to do with Kyle's dad. But eventually Uncle Flip had to move out of the country because of his work, and it was just Kyle and his mom after that. Kyle hadn't seen Uncle Flip for almost three years when he died.
When Kyle came back to the shop, he learned that he'd pulled inventory duty. Together with Lauren. Alone with Lauren. That Sunday, the shop was closed, and they had the place to themselves. No customers, no bosses, no co-workers. If Kyle were ever going to ask Lauren out, this would be the time. Besides, in the three months Lauren had been working at Pen & Paper, Kyle had never heard her mention the dreaded boyfriend word. There might be some hope after all. And as Uncle Flip would have said: life goes on. You have to keep doing the fun things in life, no matter what.
They were taking a break â they'd just finished doing all the behind-the-counter stock and were next going to attack the showcase islands in the middle of the retail floor â and Kyle decided that he was going to pop the question there and then. Somehow the words just wouldn't come out, though.
They were talking about what they really wanted to do instead of working in a stationery shop. At least, Lauren was. She spent every evening writing, either film criticism or film scripts. She told him about the screenplay she was working on, a period piece set in the States during the Second World War, a hardboiled crime story starring a female private eye, while so many men were away fighting. She told Kyle how she always emailed everything she wrote to her brother Jordan, who never let her give up on her writing. She made some money placing a few articles in magazines, in journals, and on websites, but it wasn't enough. She still hadn't sold any of her screenplays. She'd taken this job to help pay the rent until her career picked up. Plus, it was too easy to spend her whole life in front of the computer writing. She liked interacting with people every day. Faced with Lauren's determination and ideas, Kyle felt increasingly inadequate.
Eventually Lauren rescued the moment and said, “Hey, they're showing the first cut of
The Big Sleep
at the rep on Wednesday. The one that was never released at the time. Wanna go? I love Bacall so much. And this is one of my favourite movies. I've seen it, like, twenty times or something. But I've never seen this version.” She explained that studio executives had been unhappy with the first version of the film. It had sat unreleased for a year, until new footage was shot to emphasize the Bogart/Bacall chemistry, but, according to what she'd read, at the expense of the plot.
“So?” Lauren asked.
Kyle realized that he still hadn't answered. “Yeah,” he said. “I'd love to go.” Lauren's almost-orange eyes lit up, and Kyle felt his insides melt into hot marshmallow goo.
It was that Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., while Kyle was shaving, that the phone rang. There was a horrible feeling in the pit of his stomach that it was Lauren calling. Cancelling.
He picked up the phone, half his face covered with shaving cream and, miraculously, not a cut on him yet. Trying not to sound dejected, he said, “Hello?”
“Hi, son,” answered the impossible voice. “I know this must come as a shock, but I need to talk to you.”
Kyle's mind raced through a whole spectrum of emotions and reactions. There was a long silence. Tentatively, the voice on the phone said, “Kyle?”
And then Kyle simply got furious, mad as all hell. “You sick asshole! I don't who the fuck you are, but if you ever try this stunt again, I'll find you and wring your putrid neck.” Kyle slammed the phone down.
Why the hell would someone call him impersonating his dead dad? How twisted was that?
Then his rage turned into tears, and the doorbell rang. He stomped to the door.
He opened the door to his apartment, an angry scowl on his face, tears still wet around his eyes, globs of shaving cream dripping from his cheeks onto his naked chest, onto his black cotton pants, onto the floor. “What do you want!”
And there stood Lauren, holding out a bouquet of flowers for him.
And she was gorgeous. Just gorgeous. She was wearing a blue jean jacket over a one-piece pastel-coloured flowery dress that stopped mid-thigh. A simple black hoop hung on her left ankle, and her toenails â peeking out of her sandals â were painted a dark orange. The dress was low-cut, revealing the curve of her breasts, and Kyle had a vision of his face pressed close to them. He breathed deeply and imagined savouring their aroma. No makeup to mar her delicate lips, bright eyes, and freckled cheeks. Her neck-length strawberry-blond hair tucked behind her right ear with a purple and orange flower, which emphasized her entrancing eyes.
The next thing Kyle knew, he was sitting on the couch. He felt something wet sliming on his chest, and he realized that most of the shaving cream had slid off his face. His deep embarrassment and conviction that he'd forever screwed up his chances to ever, ever hook up with Lauren prevented him from appreciating the touch of Lauren's hands, which were gently cupping his left hand.
Before either of them had time to say anything, the phone rang again. When, after a few rings, Kyle didn't move, Lauren let go of his hand and answered it. “Hold on a minute,” she said. “I'll see if he's available.” She held her palm tightly over the receiver and pointed the phone toward Kyle. “It's for you. Should I just take a message?”
Automatically, Kyle grabbed the phone and said, “Hello?”
It was that voice again. “Is that your girlfriend? She sounds nice. What's her name?”
Kyle dropped the phone on the floor, let out a long, loud, angry howl, and started crying again. This should have been a perfect evening, and it had turned into hell.
Lauren picked up the phone. Kyle was too wrapped up in his own misery to hear what she said.
Later â a few minutes? an hour? Kyle had lost track of time as well as hope â his face and chest were being softly wiped clean by a warm, moist towel. Kyle refocused, brought his senses to bear on his immediate surroundings.
He was still sitting on the couch. From the light coming through the window, he estimated that it was still early evening. Not much time had elapsed, then. Lauren had taken off her jacket. Her shoulders looked so soft. She was washing him. Could he feel more pathetic?
She looked up at him â she must have sensed a shift in his posture â and it took all of his will power not to segue into the never-never land her eyes usually sent him off to.
“Look, Lauren, I â I, huh, I'm sorry about all this. My Uncle Flip died last week, and then the phone â I mean, this isn't â I'm not â Fuck. I â ”
She said, “Shh,” tracing his lips with her finger. Facing him, she sat on his thighs. She slipped the straps off her shoulders and pulled down her dress. She put his hand on her breast and kissed him, tentatively.
Feeling stupid as the words left his mouth, Kyle said, “But what about the movie? It's only playing tonight.”
She kissed him again, shutting him up.
Kyle didn't believe it. “You're telling me that everyone knows this? How come I don't? It doesn't make any sense.” Kyle and Lauren sat in a booth at The Small Easy, an all-night cafÃ© that, it turned out, they both knew and really liked. The lighting was intimate, but not too dark. There was a candle burning at their table. A big cactus-like plant further enhanced the feeling of privacy by isolating the booth from the rest of the cramped cafÃ©. Not that it really mattered then, anyway. At 4 a.m., there were only two other customers, neither of whom paid them any attention: an immobile grey-haired man staring out the window, his phone lying on the table and his hand resting on a full cup of tea that looked like it had been cold for a long time, and a teenage Asian girl, with more rings on her face than Kyle could count, scribbling furiously in a notebook between gulps of steaming coffee from a jumbo mug.
“But it's true. I've been talking to both my grannies almost every day since it started last week.” Lauren took a bite out of her tomato sandwich.
“Okay, so how come this stuff isn't on all the talk shows? Why aren't there TV specials about it? If what you're saying is true it would be on the news, in the papers, and all that. There's no way I wouldn't know. People would be talking about it. All the time.” Kyle dipped a thick French fry into The Small Easy's extra-spicy mustard-and-mayo sauce and waved it at Lauren to emphasize his point.
They'd had sex for nearly seven hours. At first, slowly, tentatively, shyly. Then faster, almost violently, flipping impatiently between every position and permutation, trying to experience every sensation the union of their bodies could produce. Then almost in slow motion, taking the time to appreciate the lingering sensations of every touch, kiss, bite, friction. All this without a single word spoken, until, reacting to a loud stomach rumbling, Lauren said, “I'm so hungry!” Another stomach rumbled â perhaps the same one? Kyle wasn't sure whose stomach had made the noise either time. “Yeah, me, too,” he said. They looked at each other and laughed.
They'd ordered together, sharing a giant bowl of fries, three sandwiches, a salad, and The Small Easy pickle platter â an ever-changing selection of marinated vegetables prepared by the chef.
“It was on Oprah a couple of days ago,” Lauren said, crunching on a carrot stick from the salad.
“Holy shit. Am I ever out of it.”
“Actually, I just made that up.”
“I mean, it could've been on Oprah. I wouldn't know. I never watch those shows.”
Kyle was getting annoyed. “Don't lie to me! None of this shit is true! You're making all of this up!” In fact, he was getting angry, his voice getting louder.
“No, no. I was making a point. You don't watch those shows either, right? So how would you know? I mean, I think it's one of those things everyone knows, but nobody talks about.”
“What do you mean! What things? What do you have to do with this shit? Are you in on it with the guy who called me? Is this a big joke for you? Making fun of me like this?” Kyle was shouting now. The grey-haired man was still looking out the window, ignoring them, but the Asian girl, the waiter, and the cook all stared at them.
Kyle looked at Lauren, looked directly into her eyes. They still had a powerful effect on him, as if his insides were being realigned or something. “Why are you lying to me? I thought â ”
“That really was your dad, Kyle. He's dead, and he misses you.”
“I have to get out of here.” He got up and took some money out of his pocket. “Here, this should cover my half.”