Purple

Melissa could hardly pick a detail to focus on. Dark purple polish, chipped and sparkling, the tattooed rings stacked on her upper arm, the delicate way she tucked her hair behind her ear, the pale green eyes darting back and forth, or the way a slow smile spread across Alina’s face as she read the back of the DVD case. Then suddenly the eyes turned to her, alight and vibrant.

“Have you heard of this one?” Alina asked, stepping closer. The fragrance of vanilla bean and cloves filled Melissa’s senses. Alina’s body was right next to hers. She couldn’t focus on any details of the movie, just the soft cool touch of Alina’s arm brushing against hers.

“I think you should get it,” Melissa said.

“Yeah?”

“We could,” she swallowed the lump in her throat, “watch it tonight. At my place?”

For a moment, Alina’s face was perfectly still. Melissa couldn’t feel her heart beating, and she wondered whether time had stopped or whether she had simply died right in that moment. A slow smile. “Sure,” Alina replied casually.

“And maybe we…” Melissa couldn’t find any words to encompass her hope.

Then fingers with chipped polish folded between hers. “Yes.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Retired

Martin drank his morning coffee staring at the calendar where “Last day” was circled in red ink. His watch chimed for 8:00. He rose, rinsed his mug, and went to work.

On the day Martin’s dad retired, the entire office stood to see him off. He handed his boss the office key, exchanging it for a firm handshake and a gold wristwatch. Martin was working there too and felt a swell of pride when the man that the whole office respected looked over his shoulder to give his son a smile and a nod. Ever since, he’d aspired to be the same, earning the respect of both supervisors and peers through the simple act of doing a job well.

“Farewell Martin” was the subject line of the email. There were just five replies, brief messages of congratulations from colleagues he hadn’t even seen in person for over a year. His memory of them had grown as fuzzy and grainy as their webcam footage.

The buzz of an error message. “Your access has been removed.” He read the message over and over until it became a blur of meaningless pixels. Finally, with a sigh, he powered off his computer and retired.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox
Photo by Maurício Mascaro from Pexels

Compliance

First Tony heard the bushes rustling. Then he heard breathing. “Is someone there?” he asked, beginning to turn around.

“Be cool, man,” came the reply.

“What?” Tony turned around completely to see who was standing in the bushes behind him.
The rebuke came immediately. “Are you kidding me with this? Don’t look at me.”

“Huh? Oh…”

“That’s right, turn around.” And as Tony complied, the stranger added, “Thanks, now just be cool. Thought I’d never get away from the old lady.”

Tony scanned the other park-goers. “Is that her? Tall woman, pink skirt?”

“You know it. And what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her. I tell ya, man. You think you have a handle on things. You think the world makes sense. Then all of the sudden all the rules change. You gotta figure out your own way.” Tony heard disconcerting noises behind him, along with a heavy sigh. “Been holding this one in all day.”

“Are you…” Confusion, disgust, shock, Tony felt it all. “You’re hiding behind me so you can pee? I’m your pee shield?”

“Potty training,” the toddler said with an embittered laugh. “They may have taken my diapers, but they’ll never make me use the potty.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox
Photo by m on Unsplash

Vision

He had never understood why people cried at weddings, not until he saw her.

All his life he would remember that moment when his vision blurred. He would try to understand what pieces of himself fell into or out of alignment allowing the emotion to come forth so freely. He would wonder what he really saw in that moment when he suddenly had to blink away tears.

Did he see years of tender smiles and loving glances? Did he see angry comments, painful silences, apologies, reconciliations. Did he see crying babies and sleepless nights, hugs from children, children grown and leaving. Did he see hands interlocked, heads on shoulders, the endless kisses, tears wiped away, a lifetime of companionship.

Could he have seen? Could he have known?

It lasted just an instant, a hazy, warm, love-lit vision.

He knew.

He saw her, dressed in white, walking toward him while the melody of La Vie en Rose surged around them. Then she was there with him at the altar. He knew exactly why he was there, and exactly what he was promising. Their hands met, gripped each other tightly. Her eyes shone, wet with tears as well.

“I do.”

“I do.”

Story by Gregory M. Fox
Photo by Mandy Whitaker

Better

“What are you doing here, Paul?”

From within the glare of the headlights, a thick voice answered, “I’m gonna kick Matt’s ass.”

Stacy stood in the doorway of the bar, arms crossed. “And you really think that’ll make Annie want you back?”

Seated on the hood of his car, Paul answered, “No, I think it’ll make Matt regret being such a piece of shit.”

“Well you’re wasting your time. He’s not even here.”

Before Paul could retort, another voice said, “It’s fine.” Matt stepped outside into the headlights. “I’ll fight my own battles.”

Paul leapt from the hood and charged. “Damn right you will.” His punch knocked Matt flat on his ass. “Get up,” Paul growled, and Matt obliged. Another furious swing Stacy screamed, others poured out of the bar. Paul kept swinging, meeting no resistance from his opponent. “Come on, fight me,” he roared as Matt once more hauled himself to his feet. “What’s the matter with you, asshole?”

Matt’s lip was already swollen and split. He answered, “Annie.”

“Don’t talk about her,” Paul raged, once more knocking Matt to the ground.

“She would want me to be better,” Matt coughed. “She would want us both to be better.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox
Photo by Eugene Triguba on Unsplash

Steps

The AC in the building was out again, so I fled to the fire escape for some relief. That’s how I saw him.

Across the street, a knife of yellow light cut through the evening’s darkness, and he appeared at its edge. He looked left, then right. He looked uncertainly over his shoulder into the light. Then the door closed. The kid was alone in the sweltering darkness.

I don’t know why I thought of him as a kid. I couldn’t see his features. Perhaps it was his shuffling steps as he descended the stoop or the way he paused to stare up at the one lit window on the third floor of the building he had just left. He never once looked in my direction, just hung his head and walked away.

I descended the fire escape all the way to the street, and crossed to the stoop where I had first seen him appear. There was a panel of buzzers, handwritten names of strangers next to little silver buttons. I pushed one at random and to my surprise, I heard the door buzz and unlock. Not knowing why, I pulled open the door.

That’s how I found her.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Leaving

I watched him prepare to leave, feeling a strange emptiness a foreboding. Then my dad happened to stride past. “Dom, you’re not staying for dinner?” he boomed.

Dominic shook his head. “The number 23 stops running after seven.”

“The bus?”

“Yes, dad,” I said, unable to stifle my own attitude.

“Nah, come on,” he insisted, clapping Dominic on the back. “Stay for dinner, then I’ll give you a lift.”

Dominic’s face was still, as impossible to read as ever. All he said was, “My mother might worry, sir.”

Dad gave a sharp, approving nod. “Fair enough. We’ll take you back now.” Then he turned to me. “Whaddya say, Harry?”

“Dad, just be cool.”

But he wasn’t even listening for my answer. “Dom, where do you live?”

A quick glance in my direction. “Corner of Fifth and Washington.”

A pause.

“That’s . . . that’s on the East Side, right?”

Dominic’s jaw tightened. “That’s right sir.”

The jovial tone returned. “Oh, would ya stop calling me sir. Call me Bob.” Then he grabbed the keys and flung open the door. “Come on boys, the Cadillac’s out front.”

We rode all the way to Dominic’s house in silence. Somehow, I knew that everything had changed.

* * *

A story by Gregory M. Fox

Thanks

They closed the papers in the folder, smiling broadly. “This is great,” the husband said to me. “Thank you so much for all you’re doing.”

“You’re welcome,” I replied, scooping up the next folder.

“We just really appreciate it,” the wife added. “Thanks again.”

I looked back and forth between the smiling faces and nodded. “Well it’s all part of the job.” Holding out the next folder I said, “Now this is the other site we discussed.”

“Oh my goodness, thank you,” the husband said, taking it.

“Er, right,” I answered.

“You’ve done so much for us,” the wife added.

“Well let me actually tell you about this one,” I said, trying to open up the folder for them.

“All the time and effort you’ve gone to…” the husband began, and his wife continued, “…When we’re trying to make this important decision, it’s just…” she paused emphatically, and they said together, “Thank you.”

“What is this?” I asked. “What’s happening?”

“We’re just so appreciative–”

“What the hell is happening?”

The couple’s eyes flicked to each other. “Abort!” The pair crumpled to the floor in a heap, and a swarm of squirrels emerged, scampering around my heels and out the door.

Shadows

The shadows shifted in the corner of Cal’s eye. It was back.

It never left.

“Leave me alone,” Cal barked.

“You’re always alone,” a grating voice replied. Darkness emerged from the shadows, a hulking form, long twisted limbs, a featureless head. “Worthless,” it croaked.

“No.”

“Pathetic.”

“No more.”

“Unlovable.”

“Enough! I’m done letting you control my life.” The thing cocked its head, curious. But Cal was already moving, knife in his hand. “Now die!”

A half stifled moan of surprise. The blade sank deep into the being’s chest and it crumbled to the floor. Cal was shaking, panting, giddy and terrified and sick. He watched the thing’s skin turn grey and brittle as cracks spread from the knife wound.

“I did it,” he whispered. “I’m finally free.”

“You’re a fool,” the thing announced. It’s skin had gone grey and dry. The cracks spread to its mouth as it spoke, then the skin began to crumble. “You can’t kill me.” The figure began to rise, large chunks of it’s flesh flaking away. “You don’t even know what I am.”

Cal staggered back, his features twisted into an expression of horror as he saw those same features emerge from the crumbling shadows.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Appointment

“I’m leaving for my appointment now” Marta said, setting a disorderly stack of files on her boss’s desk. “Here are the files.

“You see my email?” he asked.

But Marta was already out the door. She made it all the way to the car before realizing her keys were missing. Not in her purse, not in her pocket;

Marta dashed into the office, heart racing. She grabbed her coat from the back of her chair, relieved to hear keys jingling in the pocket.

“Back already?” the boss called as she passed his office.

She didn’t stop.

Outside, across the parking lot, into her car. The engine roared to life.

Something was beeping.

Not now, Marta thought, scanning the dashboard. No alerts illuminated. Then the beeping stopped. Good enough. Marta sped out of the parking lot.

It wasn’t till she arrived at the clinic that she saw the missed call and voicemail.

<Hi, this is Julia calling from Dr. Mossadegh’s office. I know it’s last minute, but the doctor is going to have to cancel your appointment. He’s very sorry, but of course we’ll reschedule as soon as we can.>

She stared blankly at her reflection in the phone and sighed.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox