Julia Gerhardt is a writer living in Chicago. She was nominated for the Best Microfiction Anthology 2020 and Best Small Fictions Anthology 2020. She has previously been published in Queen Mob’s Teahouse, Rogue Agent, and others. Her work is forthcoming in the Comstock Review and Cacti Fur. Visit her at https://juliagerhardtwriter.wordpress.com/
Everything Must Go by Julia Gerhardt
John has never liked Santa Monica much, but he needs to retrace his steps. If not for Corina, then at least to understand why he lost her.
He pulls into the alley lot behind Swingers and walks around to the front of the diner where people are eating. He gazes in and looks at the scarce crowd of two o’clock customers.
He looks to their booth that sits empty.
“I hope this doesn’t weird you out or anything, but I’m bi-polar,” Corina said, with a dab of guacamole on her cheek.
“That’s okay, I love polar bears,” John said to keep things light.
Corina smirked at the table. “Well, I’m glad. But just so you know, I’m on meds for it, and have lived with it my whole life, so, yeah—”
“There’s nothing wrong with you,” John said, freeing her from the struggle of finding the words, a strife he knew all too well. “Well, except this,” John added, brushing the guacamole off her face with his thumb.
Corina smiled again, holding her hand to her cheek the duration of their meal.
John stays standing in front of the diner, remembering, for what feels and is too long, to the point where a young woman is frightened, and a man she does not know feels an urge to protect her.
“Dude, you can’t just stand here and look at people, you have to leave,” says a handsome waiter. John knows that this man is getting laid regularly. It’s the slicked back hair. Everyone in Santa Monica is slicked, their hair, their manners, their personalities, and they pray to God it all stays in place.
“Sure,” John says, taking a condom out of his wallet and handing it to the waiter. The woman watching cringes, the man she does not know puts his hand on her shoulder.
John wishes he had said something cooler like, take this condom for when I tell you to fuck off, but John has never been cool, so he walks on. He can tell he’s hit the promenade as he begins darting around the hoards of teenagers walking around unsupervised for the first time in their lives.
He walks into Barnes and Noble and the smell of coffee mingling with the faint chemical sweetness of new books fills his lungs in a deep breath. “Don’t you just love the smell of Barnes and Noble in the afternoon?” he queries under his breath.
Corina loved this about him, this silly, idiosyncratic question he asks in every bookstore he’s walked into since he was a kid.
John will never know this, but every time Corina walks by a bookstore, she is tempted to call him. This will end when she one day walks by a Barnes and Noble and her baby will start to cry, and she will pick up her child instead of her phone.
John takes the escalator up to third floor which is a small delight for him. He has a hunch that heaven may just be escalator after escalator taking him up, up, up.
He walks to the mystery section which, by fitting coincidence, is the darkest part of the bookstore. He finds the Agatha Christie novel with a deep, bold crease on the title page. Corina had started reading it when they were last here together. He runs his thumb through the pages until he spots a doggy ear on page 132.
“You can’t tell anyone,” she said, “But I like to come here and read a book in small sittings in that little corner over there. I’m on page 12. Shh,” she said, placing her finger to her lips.
“How do you know someone won’t just buy the book you’re reading, and you’ll lose your place?”
“No one ever buys the messed-up books. They want the normal looking ones with the neat covers,” she said, open to being proven wrong.
“It’s silly though, isn’t it? I mean, it all leads to the same story.”
“I guess,” he said.
Corina waited, hopeful for more.
John felt a wave of tugs in his gut, like a bell pull with no reward of clang or sound. He said nothing.
“We can come back another time,” she said.
John peers over the shelf now to the corner where she would read. Two little girls are huddled, giggling.
“Don’t spill the beans, Eleanor,” the older girl whispers to the littler one.
John takes the book and buys it.
He exits onto the street and heads toward the Bluffs. The walk is filled with crumbs of sound: bikes whizzing by, girls laughing, boomboxes blaring, all distant from him.
He can’t stare directly out at the water without the sun hurting his eyes, so he leans on the cement railing and looks down at the littered cliff and cars zooming by below.
“It’s ridiculous, I’ve lived here for a year and I haven’t seen a Santa Monica sunset yet. I really want to,” Corina said, having just missed another one. Everything in front of their gaze was blue, painted lighter or darker by shades of the same color. Corina’s face was only visible from the soft glow of a white lamp. John watched the waves, thinking they were selfish, always taking back what they pretended to offer.
“Trust me, it gets old,” he said.
She laughed. “You really can’t take a hint, can you?”
John looks to his watch now and sees it’s only 3 o’clock. He exhales. He does not want to watch the sun set, not without her. He turns around and spots a black trash bag lain out on the grass displaying a half-empty pack of cigarettes, a book with the title page ripped off, and a pair of stained socks. John looks over to see a homeless man a few feet away, sitting under a palm tree, holding a sign on his lap: EVERYTHING MUST GO.
From the Editor:
We hope that readers receive In Parentheses as a medium through which the evolution of human thought can be appreciated, nurtured and precipitated. It will present a dynamo of artistic expression, journalism, informal analysis of our daily world, entertainment of ideas considered lofty and criticism of today’s popular culture. The featured content does not follow any specific ideology except for that of intellectual expansion of the masses.
Founded in late 2011, In Parentheses prides itself upon analysis of the current condition of intelligence in the minds of these young people, and building a hypothesis for one looming question: what comes after Post-Modernism?
The idea for this magazine stems from a simple conversation regarding the aforementioned question, which drew out the need to identify our generation’s place in literary history.
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