one page stories

Oranges
by Sarah Beck

If our parents had allowed it, we would've walked through the field. But the field - that dusty, hilly terrain of tumbleweed and trash, which bridged our backyards to school - was full of rattlesnakes, Jenny's mom said. My mother didn't care about the snakes. It was the people who slept in the field, who made a home there as much as was possible, and what they might do to us, that barred me from entering it without an adult.

So by third grade the three of us rode our bikes the long way to school. My bike - an old hand-me-down from my sister - was dark purple with serpent-like curves. Jenny's was blue, and Yvonne's was pink.

All three of us lived at the top of a hill, a cul-de-sac on Sunderland St., and coasting downhill, the blast of chilly air, which would evolve to a burning heat by afternoon, would hit our faces and wake us up. Then, after two blocks of effortless gliding, we'd be forced to peddle and the neighborhood changed.

To look at the town as a whole, our corner of Poway, California measured last economically. But even within that corner, there was a hierarchy. The houses we passed in the middle of our bike ride grew smaller, shorter, with more cars on the street. One house had blown up when the methamphetamine lab in the garage caught fire. The ashes were smeared into the driveway.

Then we'd reach the main road, Garden Road, a shadier, wider street with orange and avocado trees. We'd pass a field on the right, and then lock our bikes at school, Jenny and I always vying to park our bikes closest to Yvonne's.

We were always competing for proximity to Yvonne, to place our lunch bags nearest hers - back when she still carried a lunch to school - which was curious because Yvonne had the least among us. Divorced parents, welfare cheese, and unfortunate ethnic origins for the time: Russian. Yet she had learned to be strong before we did; she was quiet, but she knew how to say no. Jenny and I had the luxury to be silly.

During one ride home from school, while passing the shabbier homes, I made up a game to talk on the phone with our shoes. Not just talk, but sing.

"Heyyyyy Eric," I sang into my Keds sneaker. I knew Jenny had a crush on Eric Spencer. Our bikes slowed down. As was often the case, we put our feet up on the handle bars.

"Heyyyy Andy," Yvonne chimed in. I had a soft spot for Andy Wahlsten.

Our bikes wove to the center of the street and we continued our shoe chorus. Then, as we turned onto the next side street, an orange hit Yvonne's back wheel.

"Hey Russian!"

We glanced behind us and saw Zeke, a tall, skinny, Mexican kid a few grades ahead of us, and Mark Serrano, his chubby sidekick, who was in our grade.

"Go back to Russia!" Zeke yelled and Mark snickered. They started running toward us.

None of us knew what to do. We weren't used to aggressive play and even less used to attention from boys. Since kindergarten, back when Mark chased us mercilessly around the playground, interaction with the opposite sex had almost stopped completely.

"Just ignore them," Yvonne said.

Another orange pelted her back wheel

"The Russians are coming!" Mark said this time, his voice quivering with feigned worry. They were running along side us now. No, I wanted to say, you're the ones coming. Mark's chubby cheeks glistened with sweat. Zeke threw an orange at Jenny's bike, making her teeter, but she didn't fall. It bounced and rolled into the gutter.

Why weren't they giving me attention? I flashed Zeke a disgusted look.

"Go back to Russia," he said.

"Mexico's even closer," Yvonne said softly. "Let's go."

We peddled faster and lost them turning onto the next street.

"Hey," we heard them calling after us. "Hey! We were just playin' with you Yvonne."

When we reached Sunderland St., swerving side to side on our bikes up the steep hill until we gave up and walked, Jenny stated the obvious:

"Zeke has crush on you, Yvonne."

"Mark probably does too," I added.

"You guys..." Yvonne said with her deep voice and blushed.

At the top of the street, each of us walking toward our separate homes, we made plans to play softball after dinner.

Whistler
by Lynn Dion

It was one of those endless New York City heat waves that could make you believe in such a thing as July 47th. The temperature had climbed into the mid-eighties by 8:30 AM for the tenth day in a row I stepped from the air conditioning of a Brooklyn F train onto the platform at 53rd and 3rd, gagged, and nearly keeled over. I could see with my naked eye a sulphurous haze rising and hanging in the tunnel arches. The long escalator from the E and F-train tracks up to the Citicorp Complex was packed three across with half-perished office workers, eyes glazed in the primitive resignation often seen on the faces of animals dying around a dried-up watering hole. I chose my stair-step, gathered myself to endure the five-story mechanized crawl to the street level and drifted upward with the rest.

When I was more than halfway up - thankfully, or I would not be alive to be telling the tale -- the escalator bucked a few times and then groaned to a stop under hundreds and hundreds of riders. Both flights were locked in the "up" position for the morning lemming-run, and both were jammed so tight with bodies there was no chance of turning back down, standing aside, or hopping across to the other stair. One roar of profanity in an amazing selection of languages, and we started the forced march, nose to tail, up the steps.

I wasn't far from the top when I heard the whistling. I thought for a second the fumes and the cocoon of body heat had done me in and I was hallucinating - then I saw others with the same confused, incredulous look turning their heads all around me. The whistling seemed to emanate from the very bottom of the escalator. Probably the whistler wasn't on the death march with us at all, but was lurking down at the base between the two staircases where the Salvation Army Santa Claus stands, in the cold of Christmas that none of us imagined we'd ever feel again. It was the sort of piercing-sweet, Bing Crosby warbling that only one in a thousand can pull off, and the cheery-assed son of a bitch was whistling "Winter Wonderland."

People stopped short from one end of the dead escalator to the other, some groaning, some laughing in disbelief, others craning their necks around in a fury to see where the hell it was coming from. One heavy chalk-stripe suit about ten feet above me, nearly at the end of the flight, turned full around, spread his arms out with his briefcase swinging from one beet-red hand, and ascended backwards like a televangelist bellowing: "Ya sick FUCK!!!!"

I was gasping, soaking wet and giggling like the lobotomized when I finally staggered out onto Citicorp Plaza and dove into the frigid lobby of the south building. I could not get the wretched tune out of my head all day.

Adventures in Internet Dating: Rolf
by Kate Gendreau

I may have contacted him - I can't remember. I was attracted to the fact that he was German, and the good looks didn't hurt. His hair was short, dark and softly spiked. He had posted four photos, all of them black and white, all of them well done. They were slick, like magazine advertisements, and he looked fashionably understated and a little edgy. He wore a wide silver ring on the little finger of his left hand. He was looking for a partner in roaming, first New York, and then the world. Strength and happiness would come not from how we traveled, but from how we traveled together. He said he enjoyed having good laugh.

We must have exchanged emails, but by this time I had learned to talk on the phone sooner rather than later. He called me on my cell while I was at work. Fortunately, my boss was not in her office and I was able to scoot in there for some privacy. I told him right off that I couldn't talk for long, but he didn't seem to understand. He went on and on, and on, which was strangely contrary to his claim that he was shy and quiet until he got to know someone. We agreed to meet, and he suggested where.

Meeting in a bar or restaurant was risky, he said, because you were stuck there even if you really loathed your date. A school in Queens called P.S.1 is converted into an exhibit space with a concert venue outside in the summer. The upcoming weekend was to be their last event of the season, and he suggested that we go there. I wasn't sure how the school would provide an escape route that a bar or restaurant wouldn't; after all, leaving abruptly would be rude in either case. However, as I was neither too concerned about the need to escape, nor able to get a word in edgewise, it was decided.

We met on a corner near my apartment and walked to the subway. Since I had no idea where I was going, I let him take the lead. I didn't pay attention to what train we took. It was a long ride, about an hour, and he didn't stop talking for a nanosecond; well, maybe one or two nanoseconds - I asked him a few questions - but I am not exaggerating. This guy did not shut up. As I recall, he was telling me the long and incredibly convoluted story of his childhood. He was adopted, or perhaps his father or mother disappeared shortly after his birth. When he grew up he went in search of the missing birth parent. I believe he found him or her. I can't remember exactly what happened, but it was traumatic in some way. It wasn't the sort of story one could interrupt to change the subject. Anyway, I didn't mind listening. I figured it was only a matter of time before he showed some interest in finding out about me. We had the whole afternoon in front of us.

The spacious school courtyard was surrounded by a tall wall and divided into two sections. There were food stands in the section in front of the building, and a band was playing in the side section. There were people everywhere, hundreds, perhaps thousands of people. As I stood there taking it all in, Rolf said, "Why don't you go into the school and check out the exhibits? I've already seen them." "Uh, well, I'm not all that interested in exhibits, you know," I said. "You shouldn't miss them, really," he said, "this is the last weekend. You won't get another chance." "Well, if you say so, but how will I find you afterward?" "Oh, I'll be around, probably over there in the sunlight," he said, gesturing toward a rapidly disappearing patch of sunlight crammed with people.

I was not convinced, but he was insistent. Was he trying to get rid of me? I walked away, slightly bewildered and wandered into the school hallways. I didn't see much beyond the crowds, until I glanced into a classroom that had a swing suspended from the ceiling. I love to swing! However, this swing's raison d'etre was to propel hipsters with bare, paint-dipped feet toward a wall where they left their marks - feet painting. So, as a lifelong hater of finger painting, I just watched. And as my mind wandered over the terrain of events that had brought me to PS1, I realized how this provided a better escape route than any bar or restaurant.

But how on earth could he have decided he needed to escape from me already? Our interaction had been exclusively about him. I called my mother from my cell. "I think I'm being ditched in Queens, an hour away from home. I don't even know how we got here," I said. She was gratifyingly indignant. "You're not going to try and find him, are you? Don't you dare try to find him! You can get home on your own." I agreed. I decided that I would look for him as I walked from the school to the exit, on the off chance that I was wrong about the whole thing, but if he wasn't there keeping an eye out for me, I was out of there.

I didn't see him.

Getting home was a blur. I stopped several times to get directions to the subway, which was out of service, leaving me no choice but to take a shuttle bus, where a high-pitched squeaking emanated from the only other passenger - it was the sound of him grinding his teeth. I put my hands over my ears and moved as far away as possible. I did make it home, finally.

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