Friday, November 16, 2007

Photo prompt fiction

Joe’s girlfriend Dina took a picture of Joe in her father’s library one day. He wasn’t sure why she wanted him to stand with his arms crossed in front of her father’s library. There were lots of Greek and Roman books. Joe had read excerpts from ‘The Odyssey’ in high school. He liked Orwell, Burroughs, Ballard, people like that. Dina insisted he not smile in the photograph. She wanted him to look serious. A literary sort of guy. She stuck her fingers through the lacing on the front of his shirt and also through his hair. Dina really liked his hair. She told him about Samson and Delilah. Joe already knew about Samson and Delilah because his mother had been a devout Christian woman who had read the Bible to her older son until her husband left her. Everything changed afterwards. Dina’s mother thought Joe was ‘sweet’. Dina’s mother was much more beautiful and well-dressed than Joe’s mother, and she had a flatter accent.

Dina stepped away from him and took his picture. Later he found the picture distressing. He looked like an American Idol reject in his stupid shirt with his stupid hair. The books rose behind and above him like a vaguely potent symbol of… something.

The last time he saw Dina was the day before she left for a trip to Florence with her parents. She met someone literary, foreign and less boring there. There were two brief and straightforward phone calls, and that was it.

Three weeks later Joe was in a different city. There he met a girl. She worked in the Starbucks opposite the record store he worked in. He knew this because she was wearing a Starbucks work uniform, not because he had coffee there. Coffee gave him indigestion, plus he was new in the neighbourhood. Green was a perfect colour on her, and she had a few violet streaks in her shoulder-length hair. Taylor, who owned the record store, looked up at her with pure hatred in his eyes. It was the Starbucks uniform that had set him off. Joe had tried to explain to him before that being rude to prospective customers would do nothing to keep his flagging business in competition. The Starbucks girl shoved her very tiny hands into her pockets and peered at the vinyl on display. A boy no older than fifteen was browsing them, muttering and shaking his head. The boy was a friend of Joe’s younger brother from school. ‘Hey, Bren,’ said the Starbucks girl, in an unexpectedly raspy voice. The boy almost dropped the LP he was holding. ‘Uh,’ he said. ‘Uh.’ The Starbucks girl smiled, her hands still in her pockets. ‘Well, nice to see you.’

A few days later Joe and the Starbucks girl went on a date.

They saw a Wes Anderson movie and ate ice cream by the river. Joe was feeling peaceful. He was well and truly over Dina by now. It turned out that the Starbucks girl’s name was Mina. Joe was troubled by this fact, but chose not to let it show. Mina was a classic rock fan. He watched her pout prettily while she went on an extended rant about how much modern rock bands fucking sucked. Joe found it appropriate to mention that he thought Led Zeppelin was the best classic rock band. He did not add that he was no longer a fan of Led Zeppelin and had already given his entire collection, poster and t-shirt included, to his brother on his thirteenth birthday, who had actually jumped on to the bed and held him close in his chicken arms. Mina stared at Joe for a few seconds. She had a smear of ice cream on the corner of her mouth that Joe considered licking off but decided not to because that would be kind of corny. ‘Oh my God,’ she said. ‘Oh my God, I knew it, I knew it from your hair. Robert Plant has amazing hair.’ Joe blinked and tried to decide if this was an insult or a compliment or both.

They had sex and it wasn’t very good. Mina messed his hair up so that it covered his eyes and shut her own eyes tight. Then she sat up and smoked five cigarettes, craning her neck to look out the window of his apartment. ‘So,’ she said, finally looking at Joe. Joe wrapped one of the sheets around his waist and padded to the bathroom, where he found a porcelain soap dish. Silently he presented this to Mina. She looked at him through her hair. The violet streaks could not be seen in this light.

The next week he was in the record store arranging CDs in chronological order like Taylor wanted. Mina walked in again, but this time she was accompanied by another man. The man had long blond hair with corkscrew curls. His face was very unpleasant and he had enormous bags under his eyes. Mina talked to him and ignored Joe.

Joe went home after work and tried to read random issues of Wired before going into the tiny kitchen. He retrieved a jar of peanut butter and a spoon. He dug the spoon into the jar with a satisfying splotch. Then he started eating.

There was a small radio next to the kitchen window. He turned it on and rummaged in the drawers for a big pair of scissors. He wondered if he should finish eating the peanut butter first or cut all his hair off first. Joe walked into the bathroom with his scissors. He looked in the bathroom mirror. His hair looked limp and stupid. He could not remember why he had ever kept it that long. He wasn’t even a hippie.

He walked back to the kitchen. The radio was playing Led Zeppelin. It was the sort of thing that happened in movies and novels, but really it was just that the first station that always came up when he turned the radio was the classic rock station. Suddenly Joe was fourteen and chubby, watching TV in his bedroom, safe from the world. Robert Plant walked on the stage, wrists languid and chest glistening with sweat. He flipped his hair. He was bathed in golden light, most of it emanating from his body rather than from above. He was a god! And he knew it.

Equally suddenly Joe was adult again, and Robert Plant was wailing, don’t you hear, don’t you hear them falling, and Joe felt them, right on cue. He thought of Dina and he thought of Mina.

Then he sat down on the nearest chair and ate the rest of the peanut butter.


(better v v late than never, i daresay. i will try to upload the prompt photo sometime.)

Isheeta Basu Mallik


Sam said...

nice story!!!

Monidipa said...

read this just now and i <3 it!