SPOTLIGHT: Indigestion- Short Stories by Jessica Harman


                Outside of the ginormous brick building with poured concrete looking like townhouses of housing developments cut in half and integrated into the American façade, she stood in her work uniform, a getup that made her look like an assistant chef.

                She was waiting for her lift.

                The sidewalk was curvaceous for aesthetic purposes.

                In the cracks of the sidewalk there grew no moss or grass.

                It was all so hypoallergenic.

                The sky was a blissful periwinkle.

                An owl hooted nearby.

                There were trees and tall black lamps that made it look like Paris for a moment until you realized you were in Maryland.

                Her friend in Boston was concerned about the dating scene where she now resided, where she moved to take care of her aging parents.

                She talked to her friend in Boston about once every two weeks. They always covered the same topics — global warming, alien abduction, new trends in vegetarian cooking, how his hernia was healing, how her meds were working — they talked of all these things, then they said goodbye, until they talked in a couple of weeks, again.

                She hadn’t had a date in years, but tomorrow, all that was changing. Someone — a customer — had asked her out. She replied, a friendly coffee, okay.

                She was cool with friendship, but it seemed this gent wanted more. For example, he said, “Yes, coffee, and then we can fool around. I’m here if you want to fool around. What else do you want me to tell you?”

                So, there it was.

                There it was, like a crumpled paper bag being tossed here and there by the wind on this cool periwinkle evening, when she was beginning to wonder why she hadn’t brought any mittens.

                Love was a mystery to her.

                She was pretty sure this new guy might not love her for who she was. See, thing is, she had this booty, I mean, she really had this booty.

                Life, they say, or so said her therapist, is easier if you are beautiful. She used to be beautiful, and she had to admit guys flocked to her back then. Hordes of them. She had to run from them, screaming.

                She looked at the lamps in the evening. They suddenly all went on at the same time, in the lavender air.

                She remembered a scene described in her favorite book, “Nausea,” by Jean-Paul Sartre, where he described streetlamps and cobblestone streets. It really felt like you were there. That was the passage that made her want to be a writer.

                As she stood outside of her place of work, in the purple evening, near lamps that hinted at Paris in times of yore, she got a little nauseated thinking of how beautiful it all was, and whether or not she’d be able to capture it in writing, because it mattered. It mattered that she was here, waiting for her mom to pick her up in her new vehicle — a sort of minivan with attitude. The sky mattered. The clean façade of the building mattered.

                It was amazing, how things mattered.

                She wanted to help other people with their writing, like Dave in the meat department. She once had a raging crush on Dave, but she since learned that was a bad idea. Dave was Dave. He didn’t want to be bothered by her. Especially if she was trying to be helpful with his writing.

                She walked a little ways down the indigo-lit path that had no weeds in it.

                People were carrying groceries through the parking lot, or pushing carts full of groceries to their vehicles.

                Funny to say “vehicle” instead of “car” or “truck,” but that’s what people were doing, these days.

                She told Dave that her favorite book was “Nausea,” and she suggested he read it, but he laughed and said, “What kind of book is that? Might as well just call a book, ‘indigestion.’”

                She saw his point, but hoped that one day he would see hers.

                He wore the uniform of the store, which was not what she wore because she was the food lady who handed out free samples of food, like cake and crackers and almond whipped cream on hot chocolate in little paper cups.

                Dave had the kind of bone structure that made it seem like he would still be hot at sixty. He seemed unaware of this as he spread cream cheese on a piece of bread in the break room with its stupid decorations that were kind of fun, which the corporation tried to humor us with.

                On the wall of the break room were various signs and acronyms trying to make us feel better about giving our lives to the company. They are devastating and unrepeatable. I didn’t believe them. But in the case of Dave, I think he believed them as he sat at the plastic table on a cold metal chair, wasting his life in such a place, one sandwich at a time. How he stayed nice and skinny, I will never know.

                Outside, after work, I sometimes saw Dave going to his car — his vehicle — if we finished at the same time.

                I was usually waiting for the bus. I hated waiting for the bus. I was always afraid it would never come.

                The lamplight made everything seem extra-peaceful. It was as if life were worth living. It was wonderful just to breathe the air.

                Breath. The corporation has not totally squelched me. I am still here and open to possibility. I love everything, even if everything does not love me. While this leaves me with a slight feeling of indigestion, I think it’s all going to be okay.


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