Salt

She had a shotgun way of eating saltines. Her whole hand dipped into the wrapper, and she drew out two crackers, one held between her index and middle fingers and the other pinched between her ring finger, pinky, and thumb. She’d pop one cracker into her mouth and let the other hang loosely from her lips. When she was done chewing the first, she’d pop the other in with a quick flick of her tongue and pick out two more crackers. It was frighteningly efficient.

Her work-issued nametag said Roxanne. It was an odd name for someone in this day and age, Colby thought. It sounded like velvet corsets and square necklines and ruby pendants.

He looked back up to her face to find her staring right at him. Blushing, he looked back down at his sandwich.

Then she threw a saltine at him. The was three full tables away and she bounced it right off his head. When he looked up in disbelief, there was a saltine hanging off her lip, and she waggled another between her index and middle like a ninja star.

Annoyed, Colby took an aggressive bite of his sandwich and made a big show of chewing it.

She counted by popping three saltines in her mouth at once and throwing up a metalhead evil eye. He unscrewed the cap on his mountain dew and chugged the whole thing at once. She stuck out her tongue, placed a saltine on it, and nearly swallowed it whole. He jammed half his sandwich in his mouth–

–and started choking.

The next thing he knew, a hand was pounding his back until he managed to send the sandwich down the right tube. He looked up.

“You okay there, champ?” Roxanne asked with a wry grin. Flushing an incandescent shade of red, he nodded.

Roxanne kissed him. Right in the middle of the break room, full on the mouth. Then she tossed the empty saltine wrapper in the garbage and strolled out.

He licked his lips. They tasted like salt.

Midnight Snack

He was stunning: sleek black hair that fell to his neck, eyes ringed in inky eyeliner, a red fishnet shirt under a black leather vest. His tight, dark jeans glittered in the light.

Rachel wondered with a sigh why she always fell for boys who were prettier than her.

Of course she’d decided to make her midnight CVS run in sweatpants and a chunky sweater. Of course she hadn’t bothered to wear cover-up or comb her lifeless brown hair.

She watched him stroll through the drink aisle from a safe distance, hiding behind a cheap Halloween skeleton in a cloak. There was no way she was going to let him see her, not with a liter of Pepsi, two bags of pretzels and three expensive chocolate bars in her basket. He was probably here to buy something sophisticated and vegan. Or beer. She couldn’t decide.

For a moment she considered sticking a box of granola bars in her basket, but decided it would still be blatantly obvious that she was going home to an empty apartment to eat her loneliness and watch four hours of “Glee.”

There was music in the way he moved. He carried his basket lightly, like he was too cool to even care about it’s presence. He pulled on of the glass freezer doors open, and Rachel waited for it: v8, Fuze, Naked Juice, maybe some canned cappuccino concoction.

He picked up a diet coke and dropped it in his basket.

Rachel frowned. He moved onto the snack aisle and she stalked him from behind the skeleton as he picked up two bags of Doritos and a whole bag of Reese’s. He paused for a moment, thinking, and then darted back to the drink aisle, swapping his diet coke for a regular one. Then he headed for the self checkout. As he started bagging his snacks, Rachel eased around the skeleton to hide herself again.

Mwahahaha! Happy Halloween!

Rachel froze as the skeleton cackled and jerkily waved its arms. The boy was staring right at her. She felt like all those dreams where she showed up at school naked.

Then her eyes fell on the coke in his hand.

She took a deep breath, stepped away from the howling skeleton, and took the self checkout next to the glittery guy. With purpose, she scanned each one of her comfort foods and plopped them into a plastic bag. As she swiped her debit card, she glanced sideways to see him failing to jam a crumpled ten into the cash slot.

She typed in her pin, faced him, and said, “I like your eyeliner.”

He looked at her and she nearly melted. “Thanks,” he said. “I like your sweatpants.”

Rachel wasn’t sure what to do, so she nodded curtly, took her receipt, and left the store.

As soon as she was outside, she allowed herself a Breakfast Club air punch. Then she realized the guy in the taco truck on the corner was staring at her. She ducked her head and scuttled away.

Zuzu the Cat

I miss my cat.

When you’re used to the occasional brush against your legs, the warm weight on your chest, you take it for granted. It’s not until you move hundreds of miles away from home that you realize how comforting those brief moments of contact were.

Zuzu has sleek black fur and buggy yellow eyes. He’s not bright enough to know that cats are superior to humans.

When he was a kitten, he had a habit of spooning with my face when he slept.

During the long hours of my initial post-graduation job search, he kept me company while the rest of my family was out of the house. I’d sit back, frustrated, and he’d do something dumb and fabulous like leaping from our kitchen counter to the top of the refrigerator in search of his catnip stash.

One day we came home and my brother’s plastic fishbowl was on the floor, blue pebbles everywhere. There was no sign of his bright blue betta fish. Zuzu tiptoed into the room as we assessed the damage, looking bashfully proud (or maybe proudly abashed).

And he lets you hold him. He might meow or squirm a little, but he allows it, and sometimes that’s all you need.

But if you set him down in one place, he’ll always move to another on principle.

Written on the train on the way to work.

Writer’s Block

Sometimes, Writer’s Block elicits a physical response.

The muscles in your throat tighten. The blank page is suddenly repulsive, and your eyes strain to look somewhere else. When you try to put your pencil to the page, it’s like two magnets are repelling each other. Your fingers tighten on the pencil until your knuckles turn white. There’s a tiny little piece of you that’s in complete and utter panic.

So you write about writer’s block, and you muscle through.

Written on the train home from work.

Dee and Umbrella

EXT: CITY STREET – EVENING

The sun is setting behind the clouds. DEE (20) a quiet hipster-type with chunky glasses and a scarf walks down a misty street in a bad neighborhood. A compact umbrella swings loosely from her wrist by a strap. In her other hand, she holds a cup of coffee.

Two thugs block the end of the street. Dee sees them and turns around, but there are two more approaching from behind. One is SNAKE, their leader.

SNAKE

You lost, sweetheart?

Dee considers them for a moment. Takes a long sip of her coffee. Then-

-BAM! She hurls the hot coffee in Snake’s face. He stumbles back, howling. TALL THUG roars and runs at Dee.

She lets the strap of the umbrella fall into her hand and whips it at him like a chain mace. It cracks into his neck and Dee is already whirling into the SHORT THUG. He goes to punch her but she cracks the umbrella down on his wrist.

HUGE THUG tries to sneak up on her as she umbrella-whips his friends, but she spins around and jabs the button on the umbrella handle. The umbrella doesn’t deploy fully–it’s still strapped shut. But it pops out like a rock-em sock-em robot fist and hits him wear it counts. He lets out a squeak and topples.

Dee jams her umbrella back into it’s compact position and tucks it under her arm like a nunchaku, waiting.

Snake and thugs circle Dee, wary now. She doesn’t move. In fact, she seems completely relaxed. She still holds her half-full coffee cup in her other hand.

Snake sneers.

SNAKE

Think you’re some kinda tough guy, huh? Think you’re freaking Lucy Liu?

Dee smiles.

Short Thug rushes her, and she flicks the umbrella out in a fierce uppercut to his jaw. He rocks back as Tall Thug grabs the trailing end of Dee’s scarf.

Dee chokes for a moment then spins free, grabs the other end and yanks, pulling Tall Thug forward into another umbrella uppercut. Huge Thug tries to surprise her again but she throws her scarf in his face to blind him and hits him hard enough to knock him out.

After a few moments, Snake is the only one standing. Dee tucks her umbrella under her arm again. What Snake doesn’t see is that she undid the velcro holding it shut.

Snake, furious, pulls out a knife. Lunges at Dee.

The umbrella whips out and pops open and the knife stabs uselessly through the colorful nylon. Dee spins the umbrella and the knife is flicked out of Snake’s hand.

Dee collapses the umbrella. While Snake is still stunned, she uses the half-opened umbrella to scoop up her scarf. With a grin, she snaps it like a whip.

Snake yelps.

SNAKE

Stop, okay? Stop!

DEE

Three dollars.

SNAKE

What?

DEE

Well, I poured half my coffee on your face. I figure you owe me.

Trembling, Snake pulls out three dollars.

DEE

Thanks, sweetheart.

Dee snaps the umbrella open just as it begins to rain and walks away, sipping what’s left of her coffee.

FADE OUT.

Written on a rainy day on the train to work.

Urban Mountains

I love to see skyscrapers misted by clouds.

Nature is suddenly present in the concrete jungle, and I look up and see rolling mountains capped with fog, blurred out by a giant eraser.

I don’t even like nature that much. But it’s nice to know it’s still there.

The platform is slicked with the rain-sodden tracks of hundreds of boots. As I get on the train, I bump into a woman lightly, apologize, and dart by her to a seat. As I write, I glance at her feet in the corner of my eyes. I wonder if she’s glaring at me. I don’t care too much. My feet hurt from hours of retail and I’m all out of cashier smiles.

A train passes ours, going in the same direction. We’ll pull ahead, then fall back, then pull ahead. I decide it’s a race. We win.

There are no windows near the register complex where I work, but I can always tell when it’s raining. All at once everyone decides to buy an umbrella. Whenever this happens, I get all smug. My umbrella is usually waiting for me in my locker.

It seems, though, that I usually miss the rain. I could go outside five times in the same rainy day and manage to dodge downpours each time.

Across the aisle from me, a woman ruffles her boyfriend’s hair. It seems like every attractive, vaguely ethnic woman in the city is paired with a less attractive, often beardy nerd. What’s up with that?

I transfer. As the N pulls up, I wish writers were able to get seating preference along with the handicapped and elderly. I can write while standing, but it’s hard to stand while writing, at least on a moving train.

A seat opens. I give it up to a girl in four inch heels. Then I stand by and watch the rain-spattered lights of Queens flow by.

Written on the train home from work.

Eyes Closed

Lily closed her eyes, and the world went away.

“Can you hear me?”

Doctor Franklin’s voice was muffled, far off. “Yes,” Lily replied.

“Good. Now, Lily, it’s normal to feel disoriented when you close your eyes. For a moment, you may feel like the only person in the world.”

“That’s not what it is.”

“Then describe it to me.”

Lily breathed out and felt the universe shift. “I’m outside earth. Far outside. I can see galaxies moving. Spinning. Sometimes…I’m the one moving them.” She cracked an eye open, and the world rushed back like a bucket of cold water. “I’m not on drugs.”

Doctor Franklin smiled. “I never said that.”

“Good. Don’t.” Lily closed her eyes again and the universe floated by her. “Do you remember,” she said, “Last year when we had all those solar flares?”

“Yes.”

“That was me,” she said. “I sort of…elbowed the sun.”

“Ah.”

“I’m not crazy.”

“Okay.”

Millions of light years away, a star exploded silently. Lily watched the light spill out onto the black, felt the warmth of the flames on her skin.

“A supernova,” Lily murmured. “It’s beautiful. I wish you could see it. I wish everyone could see it.” She felt a surge of delight. “Everyone can.”

When Doctor Franklin spoke, there was a note of concern in his voice. “Lily, I don’t think that most of us would survive a supernova.” He laughed uncomfortably. “I’d prefer if you kept those to outer space.”

“All space is outer space,” Lyly countered. “It’ll be fine. I can protect Earth. I’m strong enough. And when the sun is finished, I’ll create a new one.”

“Lily, that’s enough. I’ve gone along with your delusions until now but this isn’t a safe line of thought. You have to stop playing games.”

The room rocked. Lily heard Doctor Franklin land with a thump on the floor. She kept her eyes closed as he struggled to his feet. “I just altered the earth’s axis,” she said calmly. “That’s not a game, Doctor Franklin.”

“C-Coincidence…”

The room rocked again. The sound of Doctor Franklin’s desk crashing to the ground echoed through the universe. She heard the doctor scrambling though his things.

“We all feel so small, don’t we, Doctor?” Lily said, turning her gaze to the star at the heart of the galaxy. “But not me. Not anymore.”

“Lily, please stop.”

She reached for the sun.

“Lily, please, don’t make me do this!”

She smiled. “It’s going to be so beautiful, Doctor.”

For a moment, the whole universe stopped to listen to the sound of a single gunshot.

Written on the way to work.

Charlotte Doyle

EXT: DOCKS-DAY

Pan over a romantic dockside view. White seagulls glide on the wind and ships float into the harbor. Everything is touched with sunlight, glistening and beautiful.

Abrupt cut down to APRIL (20) glaring up at a crab boat Captain (ISAAC, 60). They’re surrounded by fly-covered boxes of dead crabs.

APRIL

I want a job.

Isaac sizes April up. She’s a stringy redhead who barely comes up to his chest. Her arms are crossed and her jaw juts in defiance.

ISAAC

Well, there might be an opening in the dock manager’s office.

APRIL

I want a job on a boat.

He watches her for a moment, wearily. He’s seen this before.

ISAAC

Lemme guess. Boyfriend dumped you and now you’re looking for some big dramatic life change.

APRIL

I don’t have a boyfriend.

ISAAC

You wouldn’t if he dumped you.

APRIL

There’s no boyfriend. Just a college degree that no one seems to give a crap about.

ISAAC

“A crap?” What, that’s the strongest language you could come up with? How do you expect to survive on a ship?

April sulks.

ISAAC (CONT’D)

You’re an English major too, I’ll bet.

April is silent. He’s right.

ISAAC (CONT’D)

Freaking Melville. Or was it Stevenson?

APRIL

Avi. Charlotte Doyle.

ISAAC

That’s a new one.

APRIL

“Freaking” is pretty tame too.

ISAAC

I’m being polite.

APRIL

(suddenly eager)

See? I could have a positive effect on you.

ISAAC

I don’t need anyone affecting me. I’m fine the way I am.

APRIL

And I respect that.

ISAAC

Good.

APRIL

So I’m hired?

ISAAC

Who said that? Look, sweetheart-

APRIL

My name is April. And don’t talk down to me.

ISAAC

Fine. April. Crabbing isn’t some character-building experience. It’s cold and wet and miserable. You’l spend the first week seasick and falling over all the time.

APRIL

I’ll get sea-legs.

ISAAC

See, that’s the problem with your generation. You think getting something’s as easy as buying it from the Apple store.

APRIL

And the problem with your generation is that you think you wouldn’t be exactly like us if the world kept screwing you over.

ISAAC

I lived through the Depression. Vietnam.

APRIL

Big whoop. I lived through the Recession, the War on Terror, mandatory pat-downs and the housing crisis. Oh, but right, I’m sorry. I’m just a spoiled little Millenial.

She pauses, in a huff.

APRIL (CONT’D)

Which is a stupid word, by the way.

ISAAC

Hey, I didn’t use it.

APRIL

Give me a job.

ISAAC

You’d blow away in a light breeze, kid.

APRIL

I’ll hold onto something.

ISAAC

You couldn’t pull in nets, carry crates.

APRIL

I’ll work up to it.

ISAAC

There’s no privacy.

APRIL

Three brothers at home.

ISAAC

You could die.

APRIL

I could get hit by a car crossing the street. Give me a job.

Isaac sighs. Runs a hand through his hair. Glances back at his ship. Members of his crew are leaning over the sides, watching the confrontation. He makes a cutting motion across his neck with his hand and they make a big show of returning to work.

ISAAC

Look, kid, I like you. But I can’t give you a job.

He returns to the ship, glancing back at April once. She stands alone in the shipyard, a lost child. When she senses his eyes on her, she pulls an iPod out of her pocket and waves it at him cheekily before jamming her earbuds in and stalking away.

Written on the train to the bank.

Passing Trains

As the other subway train sliced by in a blur of lights and snapshot images, she was sure he saw his face.

It had only been for a second. Then the 4 carried her uptown and the 5 carried him down. It had to be him. The flash of curly red hair. The pray of freckles. The shimmer of his electric blue eyes.

She hadn’t seen him since the fight two years ago, right before she moved to New York. She didn’t know he was here too. Had he followed her?

She told herself to go back to her book and her cheap smoothie. Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it.

Then she stepped off the train at the next station and transferred to the downtown 5.

She clung to the pole in the aisle, squinting out the window. After one stop, she got off. Crossed the platform.

“I saw you,” he said, staring out over the tracks.

“You were waiting?” she asked.

“I guess.”

“What were you going to do if I didn’t show up?”

“Get back on the train.”

“Oh.”

Another train pulled up and commuters poured out. They stood like two islands in a river until the crowd dispersed.

“Did you follow me to New York?” she blurted.

He scoffed. “Don’t flatter yourself.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No you’re not.”

“Yes, I am.”

“You moved somewhere knowing I couldn’t go with you.”

She chewed on the straw of her McDonald’s smoothie. “It was for my future. I had to go where the jobs were.”

“Yeah, I heard that’s going really well for you.”

She scowled and spit her straw out onto the tracks. “Why are you here.”

He shifted his weight, looked down at his feet. “I finally got in,” he breathed. “To NYU. I got in.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s…” she smiled. “That’s awesome. That’s really really great.”

“Thanks.”

They stood there until another train pulled up. He got on. She watched him ride away.

Written on the train home from work.

Singin’

She sang in the rain.

She didn’t sing well, but she sang loudly, a wide grin on her face, swaying as the raindrops hit her. It was some old jazz song, where expression was more important than being in tune, which was good, because she wasn’t.

Eli scowled at her from the bus shelter. Who the hell sang in the rain other than Gene Kelly? She looked absurd. He was about to tell her as much when she walked over and sat on the bench next to him.

“You’re glaring at me.” She informed him.

Eli crossed his arms over his chest. “It was more of a scowl.”

“Are you mad at me?”

He thought for a moment. “No.”

“Then what are you mad at?”

“I mean, not you specifically.

“Are you mad at people?”

“What?”

“People. Like,” she spread her arms out wide, “All people.”

“I’m not mad at ‘all people.’ Just…singing in the rain people.”

“I suppose we’re terribly offensive.” She smiled. “With all the singing and smiling.”

“Look, it’s not that. It’s…it wasn’t even rain, okay? It was milk. Just a ton of milk.”

She blinked at him. “I’m pretty sure it’s rain.”

“No. In Singing in the Rain.

“Singin’.”

“What?”

“I’m pretty sure it’s Singin’. With an N apostrophe.”

“Is it?”

“Isn’t it?”

“The point is,” Eli snapped, “That people have this romantic picture of singing in the rain because of that awful movie. But it’s not romantic. You just get wet.”

The girl looked positively beatific. “That’s what she said.”

“Very mature. But really. Can you imagine what all that milk must have done to his suit? And the set the next day must have smelled awful. And you know how hard they worked Carrie Fisher’s mom? Her feet bled all the time.

“That doesn’t sound very romantic.”

“No, it doesn’t.”

The rain pattered on the roof of the bus shelter.

“I wish you hadn’t told me that,” she said. “You’ve probably spoiled the movie for me. It was a bit rude of you.”

“You would have found out sooner or later.”

“No I wouldn’t. I’ve never even seen Singin’ in the Rain. I don’t even know if I would have liked it. I definitely didn’t care about it enough to look up milk trivia.” She swung her feet. “Did you like it, then?

“What, Singing in the Rain?

Singin’.

Eli pulled the hood of his jacket back. The rain was clearing. “I guess I did.”

“Well, then, it seems pretty silly to get hung up on milk and feet.”

“Not as silly as singing at a torrential downpour.”

“Sillier.”

“No, it’s not.”

The bus pulled up to the stop. Eli watched it. It drove away.

“You’re not going?” the girl asked.

“I’m fine here.”

Written on the train to work in the rain.