I've sort of abandoned this project because I'm way more excited about the dystopian fiction I'm working on now. But I thought I'd share it here because I'm not sure if it'll ever make it any farther than this, and I just love this segment. Jack's voice has a special place in my heart.
Apparently there is a species of snake which, when under extreme duress, will literally eat itself. It takes its own tail into its mouth and slowly consumes itself until it is dead and can consume no more. I saw this on I Fucking Love Science or one of those pages when I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed instead of working or doing something productive. I haven’t fact checked it yet, so don’t sue me if I’m wrong, but every time I look at my ragged fingernails and bloodied cuticles I think of that snake.
I’m looking at them now, sitting useless on my keyboard. Any second now my boss will call my extension—or worse, burst into my office—and flay me with her scathing comments and contemptuous stares. I haven’t completed a project in weeks. I can’t. I don’t know why I can’t, but I can’t. I open them on the screen and stare at them, and sometimes manipulate a couple of pictures or change a font type, but no real work is getting done. Last week I sent one to a friend who owed me a favor and he finished it up for me. But everyone can tell I’m not with it anymore. I see it in their faces and hear it hidden in their jovial lunchtime conversation.
My cell vibrates and I glance at it. It’s Marie. Every time she lights up my screen I feel an odd mixture of annoyance and guilt. Then I feel more guilty for the annoyance. None of this is her fault. I don’t bother reading the text; I know what it will say. There’s a knock on my door and I cringe, bracing myself for Sarah, my boss, to begin the daily demeaning. But instead it’s Rebecca. “Jack? Can I come in?”
My pulse quickens. “Sure,” I say, trying to sound casual. Rebecca slips in gracefully. Everything she does is graceful. The way she moves, like a willow tree. Her voice, smooth and sweet. Her smile. I spend far more time trying to not think about Rebecca than I do working. She comes and sits down in the chair next to my desk. A stand of hair slips over her face and I resist the urge to push it away. “Why are you here this late?”
She shrugs. Her face doesn’t show sadness but I see it in her movement, in her shoulders. Or maybe I’m imagining it, wanting a reason to provide her with comfort. “Why not? No point in leaving, really.”
“Still having problems with Ron?”
“He left. I came home yesterday and he was gone. He texted and said he’d get his things
“Oh man. Becca. I’m sorry.”
Another shrug. “It was a long time coming. I think it’s for the best.” I’m not sure how to respond to this. I think it’s for the best as well, even though it terrifies me that one of the obstacles between us is gone. “How late are you staying tonight?”
I sigh, shake my head. “I don’t know. I’m not getting shit done anyway. Been waiting for Sarah to come in and rip me a new one.”
“She’s gone. She had a meeting.”
I feel instantly lighter. “That’s good to know! I guess I’ll get out of here then.” Now I can leave, since I won’t have to walk past Sarah and face her scathing stare.
“Do you want to grab a drink with me before you go home? Would your wife mind?”
The answer to both of those questions is yes. “Sure, I guess so. As long as I’m not out too late. She’s used to my late nights.” I smile but it feels forced.
Her smile, however, lights up the whole room. The whole world. “Let me just run to the bathroom while you’re packing it up.” She walks out, leaving an almost palatable presence behind. I unlock my cell and open Marie’s text. “Will u be late again?’ I type in ‘just an hour or two. Love you’ and hit send. I put my files in a pile to worry about tomorrow and shut down the computer. As I reach for my jacket I see the cuticle on my index finger is bleeding. I don’t even remember having it in my mouth.
For as long as she can remember, Lisa Litberg has loved to write. Over the years she has amassed quite a collection of short stories and poetry. Free is her first novel. Ms. Litberg has been a high school teacher for nearly twenty years and helps empower her urban students with the power of the written word. Currently she is working on a short story compilation geared toward urban youth, as well as her second novel, which will answer her readers' questions about what happened to Free.