Evan Quinlan

Archive for July, 2014|Monthly archive page

The Missing Email

In Fiction, Short Stories on July 29, 2014 at 1:43 am

The Queen returned from supper to find that her bed had been removed from her chamber. The job had been quick; a thin line of dust on the floor still traced the perimeter of the missing item. The first thing she did was to shut her door. This caused one of her handmaidens to become stranded in the hall, but no worry, that one would become useful later. She walked briskly to the spot where the bed had been, turned, and faced the door. Her handmaidens, well trained, stood still, favoring inaction over incorrect action.

The Queen’s reasoning went thus: No one could have removed my bed without permission. Thus, somebody gave them permission. However, this person did not send for my permission or consent, so they wanted me to discover the missing bed myself. Surely this person expects me, then, to seek them out and inquire about the missing item.

She clapped her hands. “Dress me for sleep,” she said, and her commands were realized. While hands worked at her garments, she ruminated upon her resolution.

Do not do as expected because someone else expects it.

The Queen lived by that rule; she would die by that rule. Debt, her father had told her, is an expectation of payment by another. It follows logically, then, that to gain wealth one must propagate the reverse, which is to cause all others beside yourself an unexpected loss. The Queen had become Queen in this way. She had risen above her father’s station in this way, even caused his death in this way. Never did she do what others expected because they expected it; no one would cash in on bets placed at her expense.

This person will come to me. And with that conviction, the debt had been reversed. Another would pay, but not her.

And so it came to pass that at around midnight a handmaiden opened the Queen’s chamber door and admitted the King, alone. He observed his wife through cautious lids, tipping his brow carefully to catch her expression. The Queen wore a mask of stone, she knew; the King would not break it. He did not have to: he had already come to her, which meant he knew he had already lost value. That he came so quickly spoke volumes. What could he want so badly?

“I had your bed removed,” he said.

“Is that so?” the Queen replied. “I was sure something had gone missing. And here I’ve been, getting ready to sleep and having no bed in which to do it!”

“I have come with no advisers, no councilors, no wise women, no friends long unseen. I come only as a man, this time, you see?”

The Queen squinted.

“I have come as a man comes to his wife.”

“And how is that?”

“Humbly.”

“Humbly! By that you mean humble thievery? Or humble sabotage?”

“You know well I cannot steal nor sabotage, for everything is mine to do with as I please.”

“You are like the visage of Humility herself.”

The King gestured to the handmaidens, not a sweeping gesture but a series of personal allowances. “May we have privacy?”

“No need to ask the property to leave,” said the Queen. “Why not call back the men who removed my bed?”

The King said nothing more until the rustles of soft shoes had disappeared down the corridor outside, then he spoke.

“I have truly come here in humble form,” he said, “though you don’t yet know it.”

“Prove it.”

The King nodded. “Very well.” He moved to sit on a short chest of drawers, found it an awkward height, and stood again. He cleared his throat. “I had hoped… you might share my bed tonight.”

The Queen met his gaze, which soon fell to the flagstones. He told the truth; winning her to his bed was the only thing she could think of that would cause him to act so rashly. She let down her guard, easing her posture. The King caught this slight motion in his periphery and looked up. She allowed a trickle of softness to bleed through the wall between them, which had been erected by months of prideful bickering and unintended harms. For all that the Queen lived by her father’s rule, she did not want to include the King among the party labeled “all others”. However, circumstance, as of late, had necessitated as much.

“You don’t understand,” she said. “I can’t come to your bed. You haven’t figured out how to call me there.”

“I’ve sent you flowers.”

“Many.”

“I’ve written you poems.”

“Lovely as butterflies.”

“I’ve gotten down on my knees and pleaded.”

“Hyperbole, but accurate enough.”

“So I thought I would try this one last, desperate attempt.”

The Queen shook her head sadly. “At least you know it’s desperate. There must be a hundred other beds in the castle I could requisition at a moment’s notice. What makes you think that without my bed I’d choose yours?”

The King waved his hand. “Oh, the bed has little to do with it.”

“Then, pray tell, to which desperate attempt do you refer?”

“It’s something new I’ve decided to try. A habit that could use forming, especially in this time of war. I don’t mean between us, you understand, but out there.” He gestured toward the window.

The Queen shook her head expectantly.

“It’s listening,” the King said. “And I know I haven’t done it before.”

The Queen shuffled, waiting for more words, but none came. Of course, she thought, he’s ‘listening’ now.

“Darling,” she said, “I do appreciate this gesture. But listening is a process, not something that can happen in the span of an evening.”

“But what if,” the King replied, “I could prove to you that I’ve been listening for longer than you think?”

“I did already make known my predilection for proof,” she said.

“Alright, then. If all my machinations tonight had nothing to do with your bed, but I still surreptitiously removed it from your chamber—why would I do such a thing?”

The Queen shrugged.

“Might it be,” the King continued, “because in order to gain something you want, you must cause all other parties involved to lose something unexpectedly?” He smiled, then, a last, desperate smile.

And the Queen smiled back.

“Now that,” she said, “is a start.”

“A start is better than nothing.” The King shrugged, a gesture she’d not seen since the early days of their courtship.

The Queen crossed the room and kissed her husband. “If my father were here, he’d point out that, if a start is better than nothing, it follows logically that nothing is worse than a start. So be careful what you ask for.”

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An Infancy

In Non-Fiction, Short Stories on July 21, 2014 at 11:35 pm

She saw me before I saw her, at a party of actors. When she reminds me now, I can remember commenting on her ringtone (think Darth Vader surveying his domain), but the recollections swirl in the same fog as childhood memories, when the brain had not yet learned the difference between what it could safely forget and what must be kept forever.

The first in-focus image I have, she’s strutting down the aisle of a decrepit theater, the remains of a factory dead and bequeathed to the arts. She has her hands in a long jacket. Her eyes are much deeper than her hair is long, and equally as bright. Nothing obstructs her face; she bears it to the world. I think, she’s out of my league.

At this point I’ve spent many evenings wandering Boston by myself, restless and unsure of what I want. Even after I’ve noticed this pretty, vivacious girl for the first time, I still don’t know. I’m here because I’m an actor. She’s here because she’s written music for our intermission. I have a love-hate relationship with my job; she’s good at hers. She intimidates me; she reminds me by contrast that I have no idea what I’m supposed to do with my time. I don’t know how to speak to her, so I don’t. Better that way. But when she asks one evening on her way out the door if anyone’s interested in writing a sketch comedy show with her, I raise my hand, because that’s a habit I’ve formed: I do things that scare me, to find out who I am. This girl scares me. Comedy scares me. I’ll find something out.

I will.

I don’t need to tell you that this is the story of how I met the woman I’d marry; that probably already occurred to you. You may have also noticed it’s incredibly me-centric for a story about love; it doesn’t even mention her name. But meeting another person isn’t a two-way interaction, is it? Sure, you both shake hands, you see each other’s faces at the same time; that’s how it goes down in the textbooks. The real universe, though, discovers itself little bits at a time, without the mutual consent of its parts. By the time we’ve seen a star, it might already have blown itself out of existence. By the time we meet our parents, we’re already grown up. And sometimes, by the time we meet the most important person of our lives, they’ve already met us, and tried to get our attention by casually inviting us to co-write a sketch comedy show.

I’ve matured since then, fostered by circumstance, luck, and blind trust. In this way, the world raises us from infancies we don’t yet recognize, only to look back for a glimpse when it’s almost too late; the station from which we departed slips out of view as the engine bears us on a journey begun without our knowledge or consent.

Cling, if you can, to those moments that coalesce into something relivable. Nourish them; cherish them; pass them on for progeny to hear so that they might learn to plant the seeds of memory while the soil is still freshly turned. Vintage wine, Frank Sinatra called them, in fine old kegs.

She had short, blonde hair.

She could write music.

She wore a long coat.

Behind the curtains, she walks… up the spiral stairs, to the control booth.

She’s confident, radiant.

This is me, noticing her.

I’m just an actor who doesn’t know what he wants.

She’s out of my league, I think.

A Swift Lesson

In Fiction on July 19, 2014 at 1:03 am

There’s not a cloud in the sky. It’s a bit windy.

A bird flutters by, looking lost.

“What’s wrong, little bird?” I cry, but it doesn’t hear me; within moments it’s out of earshot.

They say swifts never land; they eat, mate, and do everything else in the air. Could I learn to live like that? I wonder what it’s like to look at that plain of Earth stretching beneath you for your whole life and not want to land on it. Humans want to fly; why don’t swifts want to walk? Perhaps it’s the unyielding nature of stone compared with the nearly incorporeal touch of air. Solid ground is a law; thermals are gentle suggestions. By that rule of thumb, the world has gone full anarchic.

Good luck little bird, I think. If you’d ever wanted to land, it’s too late now.

I look again at the sky, though I have little choice. It’s above me, beneath me, beside me, everywhere. I wonder where the Earth went. I wonder why there’s still a sky. But mostly, I wonder where, oh where, I’m falling toward.

I’ve seen others, falling like me, but I don’t know how to reach them in this ocean of air. I suppose that, like the swift, I’ll have to learn.