Dear Mr. Pridgen,
Thank you for you submission to XXXX.
We are a literary journal and encourage original submissions from writers of all backgrounds. Works we publish are part inquisition, part impulse.
We do not publish essays on current sporting events. There are other outlets with a more receptive audience to that kind of experience. More importantly, our writers should not be self-conscious or lazy in their prose.
Though your submission may have been written either in a style to lampoon serious work, or to imitate it, we do not consider the attempt at either flattery.
Thank you for your consideration, and good luck on your future endeavors. We hope you find an audience who embraces mimicry.
By Andrew Pridgen
As I poked through the last of the calamari, the thought of it lie still along with the remains in the plastic basket. Moments ago, the dry and worn taste did foment investigation. The innards of a frozen bag dumped to empty. The legs of a baby squid, fried in the same frier as fries. Potato from the Earth. Onion from the Earth. Wings from the Earth. Squid from the sea. Animal or vegetable it all came to a close with the same paucity. Different items for those with similar tastes, or no taste at all.
I wanted a sip of wine instead.
The man next to me stifled belches between his wild musings about the fitting climate indoors. “It’s not cold in here like some airport bars.” His parallax sat across from him in the form of a bored-looking woman who was visibly, if not audibly, so very unthere.
She batted at her phone’s surface like a kitten. I glanced over her shoulder hoping to see whether it was some other man she was subscribing to. But she pushed the center button on the bottom and the screen went dark. She cleared her throat and took a threatening sip of her lager. Took it in a way a dog takes food. Without merit or real desire for taste. She wiped nothing from her upper lip and stirred to leave.
He grabbed her hand to make her stay. I watched as he said, “Watch this.”
I anticipated a crisp magic trick, something from up his tattooed sleeve. But instead, he motioned to the screen just behind him. “There, you see. They’re adding seconds to the clock.”
“The refs are.”
“Do they have permission?”
“To add time.”
She reached over and drank down his lager now.
“That’s my beer,” he said in loud protest as if his mother would walk from behind the bar and simply place another in front of him. He fiddled his keys in a sad happy way and glanced to the ceiling to look for a kite drowning in the sky.
Instead of recognizing a flash of color blowing in careful circles above, he showed the face of a man avoiding the empty.
Empty, maybe because he thought of work tomorrow. Empty, maybe because there was no work. And where will she be? Where does she go with that phone and that opportunity only women have during the daytime? Or maybe he knows she’s captive. That if she escapes it is certain she won’t return. Instead, she’ll find the snow in the pines and the hillsides that squirm together over time and the creeks of promise of arms and legs and tongues. Because she can do that now. She’s trained herself to now. If she only did get up now.
I looked at my device for a sign of bad weather, an excuse to leave. The server girl came by. I’d forgotten I’d told her I’d be joined. She took the extra flatware wrapped in a black cloth napkin without asking. I was three drinks past the window of company. She left my calamari basket.
These girls have to come to work in this bar in spite of the evenings they had the night before. Hair tied back and up. Stains on the front of her shirt scrubbed out in the kitchen. Someday, on the subway, I’ll see her on a spring morning, dressed in vacation clothes and looking replete from the hotel shower and 4 a.m. breakfast.
And I’ll settle for her smile, less interaction than now. Perhaps less distance too. A gaze meaningful enough to think on it again during lunch.
“I would like a glass of wine,” I said as she turned to leave. I said it with barely enough intensity for my napkin holder to hear. She turned toward me anyway and stepped into the spotlight of my gaze.
I handed her my beer, still full, and gestured to the basket.
“Wonderful. I think that’s wonderful,” she said. Her upturned mouth made her face more angular. More attractive. “Now?”
“Those guys over there, if I have to hear them call invisible fouls or decide someone, someone who’s 19 needs to ‘take it to the hole’ one more time, and then nod to me,” she lit up the way someone does when your eyes tell them you’re listening. “I’m glad you’re ordering a wine.”
“We don’t have very good wine.”