31 Days Of Halloween Day 11 – Come In, Distraction By J.R. Hamantaschen
What lengths do people go to distract themselves from history? How mundane would it become if you had to distract yourself every day? Find out in today’s story Come In, Distraction by J.R. Hamantaschen after the jump. And if you’re enjoying these stories by Mr. Hamantaschen be sure to pick up a copy of his story collection over on Amazon. And if you haven’t yet be sure to head on over to Talk Without Rhythm and check out El Goro’s review of House Of Long Shadows.
Come in, Distraction
“Do I detect a British accent?” one of the three girls finally asked.
“Nope. Sorry to disappoint. No hablo ingles. Me so sorry.”
The taller blonde laughed.
“But seriously: is it?”
“Why, yes, yes it is. Guilty as charged. Because I’m British, I should say ‘guilty as adjudged’ to make myself sound smarter. Guilty as adjudicated. Ad-jood-eh-cated.”
Josh swirled around his hardly-touched drink, not even pretending to be interested in consuming it. The drink served as his membership card to the “stand around in a bar and flirt” club, nothing more. He took tiny little bird sips to keep up appearances. Aside from being able to keep his senses, it was pretty cost-effective, too. The three girls he was chatting up, in contrast, were running up quite the bar tab.
“Well, Mr. Bond,” began the squat brunette, the jetsam begging to be thrown overboard, “that’s a Jack and Coke. That’s a very un-British drink you’re drinking there. You should be ashamed. Ashamed!” she embellished with faux accusatory gesticulations, which would have been excused as cute if she were a cuter girl.
The tall blonde and the short blonde tried to brush off a laugh, but even these drunken Americans knew to be embarrassed on behalf of their friend. The two blondes played with their hair and scratched the back of their hands, all the while sending dagger flicks of the eye to the sloppy brunette.
“Well, what drink do you suggest.” Josh didn’t frame it as a question.
“Yeah, I don’t know, I didn’t mean it like — ” the brunette trailed off, slinking away, sensing her chances were shot. The two bold blondes leaned in, crowding out the retreating brunette, whose broken gaze now surveyed the rest of the bar: the purgatorial ritual of the recently rejected.
Now only the two blondes remained, smiling and talking, communicating fully with their hands, each softly touching Josh’s shoulder or even his stomach whenever he said something “funny.”
He tensed up a bit and wished for the brunette to come back. There had been nothing wrong with allocating his appeal among as many admirers as possible.
“So, where in the States are you two from?”
“We’re both from L.A., originally.”
“Oh wow. Hollywood. We knew about Hollywood in England. New York, D.C., L.A., San Francisco, New Orleans. The only places we knew. And Texas, of course, but only in infamy.”
He wondered how many conversation threads he needed to weave before they’d truly begin to appreciate his company, maybe as more than just a trinket to make bystanders jealous. He couldn’t gauge what they were interested in. He knew the dance well. Back and forth, the old ersatz ritual, spitting back superficial bullshit to pretend that he shared some kind of connection with them, as if he was unaware that girls like them sought out guys like him for status.
But these were Americans, after all, and he knew American girls needed to avoid looking like sluts. So here they were, going through the motions, the extended public feting process, so these girls could signal to polite society that they took their time and assessed their options and didn’t run home willy-nilly with just any guy, even though everybody and their mother knew that the deal had been sealed the moment they had first heard his accent.
“I bet you girls were bloody well-connected back in L.A. I bet you girls knew all the hot trendy bars and parties an’ all, lookin’ the way you do. Must be, ah, culture shock for you. It really is like Fargo up here.” He couldn’t believe that he actually resorted to using “bloody” as a modifying adjective. The infrastructure of his smile was showing signs of collapse.
The two blondes spoke into each other:
“Well, we go to a great school out here —” began the petite one.
“Must be a shock for you, too, with all these Scandinavians here in Minnesota —” interrupted the taller, bustier one.
The girls stopped, met with their eyes, realized talking into each other was making a slurry of their speech, laughed, hesitated . . . .
Josh preferred the taller, bustier one, so he decided to explore whatever avenues her question (or statement or whatever) had prompted.
“Well, yeah, I never knew too many Scandinavians. But it’s nice to at least be around Europeans, I guess, like ethnic, ethnic native Europeans, or I mean, people with a strong connection to Europe. Missed that chance, you know?”
They nodded deeply. “Well,” began the taller blonde, jockeying for position and patting her hair, “we certainly have the Scandinavian look.” She faux bowed in her skirt like a Swiss Miss.
“I’ll call you Swiss Miss.”
Swiss Miss laughed. The petite blonde’s hands touched her own chest, just for a second. Josh appreciated this attempt at one-upmanship, but resolved to stick with his first choice.
“So, meet any other Britishers before me?” He stared at Swiss Miss’s skirt, but no forthcoming bubbly blonde voice forced his eyes up in the usual pantomime of interest.
He should have thought that question through; he had phrased the question solely to pique their interest with “Britisher,” a word exotic enough to impress these Minnesota-by-way-of-Los Angeles girlies.
He shuffled, smiled, sought to maneuver his way out of this. Bloody. Britisher. This was too much. Status wasn’t worth this bullshit. To compound his discomfort, he spotted the Romanian girl he had spoken to earlier in the night, before the bar girl trio had made their presence known. She saw him and the blondes, and gave him the meek smile of mild pity Europeans now always gave to the few remaining British. Correction: she gave him the look of mild pity Europeans now give British lads talking up American girls in American bars.
He rubbed his neck. There was sweat back there.
“Well,” Swiss Miss started, “you are the first Britisher I’ve met. Although, I’ve heard, there is a fair amount —“
“Relatively,” interjected the forgotten other blonde, vying to reclaim lost ground.
“Yes, a relatively fair amount of British people who’ve made it out to L.A.”
He looked for the Romanian, but she had already floated out of vision.
He looked up briefly at Swiss Miss’s encouraging face, the type of fresh, young face that would have found itself spread, wrapped and fitted around some Englishman’s pillow.
“You’re so beautiful,” he said, only to Swiss Miss. He already had her attention and affection, so that gratuity was unnecessary. But this was the closest he could get to love. If he stopped talking — no British inflections to rely upon — he could even sometimes fool himself into thinking that girls like her wanted him for something other than the novelty of his accent.
“Awww, you’re so sweet.” She must have given off some kind of signal, because the other blonde retreated, already in the process of reattaching herself to the blob of comely young bargoers, who reintegrated her back into their fold like an ameba absorbing a pellet.
“Do you want to get a drink, somewhere a little more private. Maybe some coffee to keep the night young?” she offered.
“I’d love that.”
They made their way out. He didn’t turn around, but saw in his mind’s eye little Swiss Miss looking back at whatever friends she came with, her lips pursed, eyes wide in excitement about the prospect of going home with a Britisher, a real-live Britisher. She’d adopt the term Britisher for future use, he knew: She’d use the term often — even if she would have mocked the term, had it come from one of her friends — and she’d cherish the opportunity to recount her tryst with a real life Britisher, if ever someone was foolish enough to question her use of the term. All her close friends would keep their mouths shut and retain their plastic smiles, ruing quietly in their jealousy. And he’d be okay with that, because he’d be appreciated and fawned over enough to provoke envy, even if it was remote, superficial, or fleeting. But that was good enough for him. Being able to imagine that was good enough for him.
The café was just down the street. She held his arm to insulate herself from the cold. He put his arm around her. She smelled like effervescent oranges, like the super-sweet spectral essence of citrus. Concentrated citrus. He liked it.
That was an American smell.
They made their way to the café door. Three overweight females were leaving. They weren’t terribly overweight; rather, they were just a little too plump, the type where God got the ingredients right, but just screwed up the recipe and added a little too much of this, little too much of that. Josh was always really nice to girls like that. He could afford to be nice to anyone. It only made him seem stranger and more endearing to Americans, appearing to them like a whimsical, jolly commodity in this land of competition and constant caustic put-downs.
He had been in America for as long as he could remember, but the presence of fat girls always made him feel safe.
Why was that, he’d often mock-ask himself, prompting himself for the answer.
Because back in England the overweight women were granted neither the courtesy of a quick execution nor the affection inhering in an intimate death. The pretty girls always had it better, even then, even in death. Their faces were always cherished and lovingly preserved, as if killing them to obtain such a lovely memento was just simple, accepted utilitarian logic.
Not so with the overweight girls. There was no love lost there.
They always attracted a crowd.
A crowd who attacked first with scorn, then sheer weight, then hands and fists and talons and spit. A crowd that made those fat girls thin alright, thin with their claws, until there was nothing left to wade through, except maybe a stump. Or a head.
A head which would be paraded above the crowd, rested in the hands of the tallest attacker, held up by arms extending thirty-feet or so in the air, surrounded by claws that framed it like a crown.
What those fat girls would have thought if they saw such a crowd, a crowd made up of men with arms long and wide like fire hoses, a crowd made up of men whose hands curved and hooked sharp like hungry, squirming rakes.
Would they know their time had come?
Would they feel ashamed?
Swiss Miss was in the doorway, keeping the door ajar for him.
They ordered coffee in a little nook. Josh was close enough to see delicious red flush butterflying across her cheeks; a gift from the cold, another way the beautiful could turn anything to their advantage. A pretty blonde with straight teeth, a clean face, and a full fulgent body: popular culture’s sinecure. Even the British — his family, his friends, the people who could have been his neighbors — they had all made sure to preserve a beautiful face: an unstudied but significant phenomenon that, to Josh, spoke volumes about humankind’s values, even after whatever imbues humanity with its humaneness disappears.
Josh’s mocha filled him with vigor. His blood flowed nicely.
“Josh, can I ask you something?”
“Sure,” he responded.
“Were you in London, when it happened?”
“No, I was here, in the States, studying.”
“My family, however, I’m, not sure what happened to them. After the bombing it doesn’t make a difference.”
“Oh, oh my god. I’m . . . I’m so sorry.”
Josh often forced himself to replay a certain mental image. A mental image of something he never witnessed. As if that mattered.
Now, out of some oft-forgotten British pride, that image recrudesced in his mind like blossoming fungus.
No, not the image of his sister’s vagina carved out like a Halloween pumpkin. That likely never happened, no matter how many times he punished himself with the thought. She likely died in the blasting, in the flames that had swept the country from above when the rest of the western world graciously issued its merciful ukase. When everyone finally understood that no one in England would get out uninfected and made sure no one would ever spread it, billowing over buildings and crisping the mobs on the street, igniting the discarded skins of the dead, erasing them, the flashing lights from the blasting failing to reflect off the skin-coated apartment mirrors yet capturing the outlines of the diseased men swinging across their apartments like monkeys with vines for arms . . . .
Her touch on his hand popped the bubble of his imagination and brought him back to her.
“Josh, I’m so sorry.”
This was too much. He was already upset over her conflation of London with England, as if anybody from Bristol or Liverpool had made it out alive. Stupid, he thought, upset at himself for not recognizing and treating her question for what it was: the typical denouement, the culmination of her deluded attempt for a “deep” connection to rationalize her casual hook-up. He resolved to avoid eye contact but gave in, likely making his eyes even icier and more mournful, no doubt complementing the British-shoe-gaze image fetishized by people like her so as to give her the Ian Curtis of her dreams.
He lay next to her in her bed, in the dark, being a gentleman and laying on the wet spot, after he cashed in on the dying screams of his heritage for the self-satisfied moans of another American blonde.
“Can I ask you something, Josh? I know, officially, like, they don’t know what caused all the men to go . . . change. I mean, I’ve read about it in this class I’m taking. But, do you think, in your opinion, do you think it was terrorism, a terrorist attack that made all those people go crazy? I mean, it was so sudden, like all within two weeks, right?”
“I don’t know. Everything was destroyed, so it’s hard to test the bodies or even the water or anything to know for sure. Maybe some virus, I don’t know.”
“But . . . what, what made their arms like that? So . . . long? I’ve seen pictures. It’s like, like . . . horrible.”
“I don’t know. I’m sorry, but I don’t want to talk about it, really.”
He got up. She lay still, probably thinking he was looking for the bathroom. He searched the ground with his foot, felt the denim mound and the cool, cold metal button of his jeans. Josh looked back at her while tacitly putting his jeans back on.
In the dark, he could admit to himself that he was too weak and skinny for a girl like her, to be anything other than a once-in-a-lifetime novelty item. A story.
But he was one of the last of his kind, so isn’t this how he deserved to be treated?
Still, sometimes he fantasized about becoming a “true” Britisher, as if the effects that befell his countryman could travel across the Atlantic and claim him, perhaps as some punishment for the all of the anguish back home he had innocently avoided. That’d give her something to tell her friends, alright.
She was about five feet away from him, an elegant girl under her elegant sheets.
He extended his arm, wondered what it would be like if it extended another thirty-feet, coiled up and folding upon itself like fancy drapes, claws dancing over her face.
But, no, fortunately nothing like that ran in the blood and he was safe, safe to leave little Swiss Miss and let her turn back into just another American girl, safe for him to go back to his apartment and get some studying done, and safe to wait for next weekend to sell his Britishness to a demanding public.