“Like Unlike” by Kristen Valentine
Thursdaze (because the weekend won’t come fast enough) features original flash fiction modeled after our Drug Chronicles Series. Each story is an original one, and each encapsulates the author’s fictional experience with drugs. Our print series has anthologized authors writing about marijuana, cocaine, speed, and heroin, but contributors to the web series can focus on any drug, real or imagined, controlled or prescribed, illegal or soon-to-be legalized. Submissions to Thursdaze will be judged on an author’s ability to stylistically emulate his or her substance of choice. Submissions are also limited to 750 words, so try to focus. (They have a pill for that.)
by Kristen Valentine
You haven’t seen her in over a year, not since that Labor Day weekend you took her up to your family’s lake house and she got so pissed at you for shooting up right away. “Danny, I was serious,” she said, like you were supposed to know that. But how the hell could you tell she was serious this time when she’d never been serious before? She started pulling her boots back on and part of you wanted to stop her, but the rest of you was hip-deep in that safe house high: warm, self-contained, like nothing bad could ever touch you there. So you said nothing, just watched her leave, her shoulders shaking through her thin leather jacket as she climbed the gravel driveway and disappeared.
You still thought she might come back, at least show up later at your apartment, but she stayed gone. You heard she went into a program in California, or maybe it was Kentucky, but nobody really heard from her until six months later when she changed her current city on Facebook: Ann Arbor, Michigan. Your friend Vince showed you her profile page, and it wasn’t till then that you realized she’d deleted you. “Ann Arbor, Michigan,” you said, staring at her photo. She was smiling like it cost her everything in the world. “What, like they don’t have dope there?”
You thought you didn’t miss her, but you kept coming up with reasons to use Vince’s computer so you could read her updates. 90 days. 120 days. 6 months clean and sober, thank you all for your support. One Day At A Time. “So proud of you, hon, keep it up,” a comment from your own mother. You reached out and clicked the like button and you didn’t even know why. Unlike. Like. Unlike. You clicked back and forth, imagined her at her own computer, watching the little red notification symbol tapping out a rhythm on her screen. Like. Unlike. Two days after that, Vince told you that she’d deleted him too.
And that was the end of it till today, December 27th, and you’re standing in line at Macy’s with a bullshit argyle sweater your mother gave you for Christmas. The tag says sixty-nine bucks, and even though she probably didn’t pay half that, you can get a store credit for it and flip that into cash somehow. You’re hurting right now—there are no safe house highs anymore, just points on a grayish spectrum between okay and desperate—and this Macy’s is one of the circles of hell, teeming with breathless bargain hunters and the sick-sweet smell of clearance holiday candles. You feel like your skin is working itself inside out. But then the woman in line in front of you turns her head to the side and you see it’s her, right there for the last ten minutes and you didn’t even notice. Her hair is different, black, short around her face, but it’s her.
“Hi,” she says, with a fake-surprise smile that tells you she saw you before you saw her. “Wow, hi.” She’s holding one of those candles, a waxy red pillar wrapped in sparkly cellophane. “Good deals here today.”
You hold up your sweater in its paper box. “Just returning this,” you say, self-conscious in a way you forgot existed. “My mom,” you add. “Famous bad taste.”
“I don’t know,” she says, “it’s your color.”
You just look at each other, like there’s nothing else to say. Maybe there isn’t. She looks healthy and hopeless, like she’ll live forever and never be surprised by anything again. That’s sobriety right there: declaring you no longer believe in magic. A hard lump burns in your throat as it hits you, honest to God for the first time: when was the last time you really believed?
It’s her turn in line now, and she turns to the counter to pay for her candle. You look down at the soft fuzz of the sweater, wondering how much you’d get for it. Twenty? You press your face into it, breathing in its chemical nothing smell, a silent howl ripping you in half. She’s right. It’s your color. She walks away without looking back, and this time you’re glad.
KRISTEN VALENTINE is the author of the crime novel Gone Cold and a reviews editor for Black Heart Magazine. She likes bourbon, vintage cameras, and Oxford commas. She lives in Columbus, Ohio. www.kristenvalentine.net
Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Thursdaze flash fiction series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines:
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your submission should never have been published elsewhere.
—Your story should feature a drug, any drug, and your character’s experience with it. We’ll consider everything from caffeine to opium, and look forward to stories ranging from casual use to addiction to recovery. Stylistically, we’ll respond most favorable to stories that capture the mood and rhythm of your drug of choice.
—Include your drug of choice next to your byline.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission [email protected], and include THURSDAZE in the subject line. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
About the Drug Chronicles Series: Inspired by the ongoing international success of the city-based Akashic Noir Series,Akashic created the Drug Chronicles Series. The anthologies in the series feature original short stories from acclaimed authors, each of whom focuses on their fictional experience with the title drug. Current releases in the series include The Speed Chronicles (Sherman Alexie, William T. Vollmann, Megan Abbott, James Franco, Beth Lisick, Tao Lin, etc.), The Cocaine Chronicles (Lee Child, Laura Lippman, etc.), The Heroin Chronicles (Eric Bogosian, Jerry Stahl, Lydia Lunch, etc.), and The Marijuana Chronicles (Joyce Carol Oates, Lee Child, Linda Yablonsky, etc.).
Posted: Oct 31, 2013
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