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What follows is a selection from The Sacred Lost Tomes of The Ryan, the brief and terrible history of which is glossed over here and here. “Porcelain Strawberry” is the second piece of short fiction I can recall having ever written, not including whatever crap I may or may not have been churning out in my adolescence, and will be presented here in several parts over the next few days. It was initially written for an assignment in a creative writing class at the University of New Mexico, and was influenced and informed by Nicholson Baker’s novella The Mezzanine. But I won’t tell you HOW…that’s for you to discover, intrepid reader! Behold, Part I:
Despite its glorious capacity for mindless consumerism, the mall for me holds next to no value save for one redeeming quality – it is an ideal place to watch people. For the most part I have no use for the human virus plaguing this otherwise richly beautiful planet, but I enjoy watching them now and again, to remind myself of my superiority. The pleasure I receive from witnessing them ignorantly going about their meaningless lives exceeds most any other joy in my life.
I’m sitting in the bustling food court, during the late lunchtime rush, eating the grilled chicken and avocado sandwich I brought from home, and am delighted to find that the chaos at this hour is, as always, magnificent. This place is a churning pit composed of various antagonistic compounds that have no business existing within the same sphere. They assemble here at or around the sociologically predetermined time, bouncing and weaving feverishly amongst one another, to stuff themselves stupid with globs of congealed grease disguised as chicken and pork, bleeding slabs of meat purported to be 100% beef accompanied by sides of fried dripping wet with vegetable oil, and an endless array of processed cheese products.
The doomed offspring of this middle-class ocean of dead dreams and extinguished possibilities gather salivating at the technicolored candy shop near Pacific Sunwear, their noses pressed to the glass, their grubby little hands smearing it with greasy fingerprints that the pocked-faced teenager behind the counter comes to wipe off every hour or so. On the other side of the court, hear Burger King, a table-full of guffawing frat boys have gathered for a break on their weekly scout-out for vulnerable and impressionable high school girls. In the corner across from me sit a couple with matching lip piercings deep in conversation, the face of the guy reading a mixture of frustration and concern while the expression of his partner is showing of distance and irritability. Next to me I notice three elderly women sporting puffy crowns of bluish-white hair gossiping about someone named Lois, who is apparently not present to defend herself. I scratch the back of my head, smooth down my shaggy, dirt-blonde hair, and roll my eyes at this sea of meaningless drivel.
All of this bustling action and delightfully absurd entertainment, and yet the only thing I can really focus my full attention on is the girl casually walking the edge of the mess, her long, chalky fingers trailing along the wall near to where my table sits. She is a dark angel, a succubus, a materialization of all my longing. Her jet-black hair falls lightly around her face, the tips of her long bangs curving ever so slightly under her delicate chin. Her aqua-blue eyes shine brilliantly in contrast to the soft, porcelain skin that surrounds them, her slender neck leading down to smooth, milky-white shoulders that barely peek out from under a wooly black sweater. Every so often her eyes shift around the court uncomfortably, but for the most part she gazes at nothing, her thoughts lost in some other world far away from this one. I look at her and my stomach tightens at the thought that she’s in the same space with me. She is the only individual, the only thing real in this faceless crowd of forgotten identity, and I curse them for overlooking her. I watch her tracing lines in between the tiles of the wall as she walks, back and forth, back and forth, and my heart aches with longing to hold her, to touch my lips softly to her temple, to let her make me feel at home.
After a moment I work up the courage to approach her, running my hand across the stubble beginning to sprout up on my chin as I slowly, deliberately make my way towards where she dances absently with the wall. The noise and bustle of the food court has all but disappeared. I feel the eyes of everyone in the room following me, half-chewed strands of Cajun noodles dangling from their mouths as they pause to obsess over my every move. I take deep breaths, trying to calm my nerves, going over and over again in my mind what I’m going to say when I reach her. Hey there, pretty lady … Hello beautiful, how’s about I buy you a … Hi, my name’s Corey, what’s yours … So, I couldn’t help but notice you were … Um, nice shoes, wanna fuck?
“Um…hey. How’s it going? Are you…waiting for someone?” I curse myself for the tremor in my voice, the obvious hesitation, the pauses in between words. You’re going to fuck this up, my mind yells at itself. You’re going to lose her before you even have her! Fortunately, she doesn’t seem to notice. Time has grinded to all but a halt, and I see her hair flip in slow motion, like a wave, as she turns to face me. My stomach jumps into my throat, my heart nearing explosion, when her eyes look up to meet mine. I feel as though she is gazing into my soul, and I shift uncomfortably, averting my eyes, afraid of what she might see down in there.
“No one in particular,” she says to me, her voice bright, sweet, and delightfully feminine. I notice the neon lights flooding the food court glistening off her lips as she speaks, and I wonder if they’re naturally moist or if she’s wearing lip gloss, and if so, what flavor. I realized the moment that has passed in silence, and frantically search for something to say.
“So, do you…come here often?” This escapes my lips before I have a chance to realize how terribly cliché and predictable it is. Idiot! Loser! Is this how people start a conversation?! Her eyes widen amusedly as she notices my exasperation seeping through the look on my face, which I try hard to control, and she giggles, her lashes fluttering…is it seductively?
“I used to,” she replies. “I usually wouldn’t be caught dead in a mall…they’re so, I dunno, typical…but they have got the best baked ziti at that pizza stand over there! I can’t help it, I’m addicted.” I open my mouth and take a breath, preparing to tell her about the article I read in Mother Jones, a study of the conditions of fast food restaurants, but hesitate. My stomach curls at the thought of what goes into the food here, but I don’t want to gross her out, and so I keep it to myself. If things go well, I’ll have to remember to ask her to brush her teeth before I can kiss her.
“Anyways, I’ve been stuck in my tiny apartment painting for days,” she continues, “and I needed a break, so here I am!”
“Wow, so you’re an artist! That’s really cool. I’ve always wished I could draw, but I’ve never been any good at it.” I’m surprised at the ease I’m starting to feel in her presence, and when I notice how comfortable she’s making me, I find myself drawn ever more strongly to her. I reach out to stroke the sleeve of her sweater, and am glad when she doesn’t pull away.
“Listen, what d’you say we get out of here,” I say, smiling to mask my fear at asking her out. “I know a great coffee shop.” This is a lie, and I search my mind, trying to think of the nearest non-corporate café around.
“Well, that sounds nice, but I sort of have to be somewhere. Maybe I can take a rain check?” I make no attempt to mask the disappointment I feel at this, but give her my phone number, glad that I might still have a chance.
Image by Flammietta
To be continued!
© Ryan Scott Sanders and Dharma and Belligerence: Mad Rants from a Free-Range Buddhist Hooligan, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ryan Scott Sanders and Dharma and Belligerence: Mad Rants from a Free-Range Buddhist Hooligan with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.