Forget the sleazy storefront agency. I am here. Next to you. Dressed in a fraying trench coat with sunglasses made from an owl. I am living in celluloid. In a piece of black-and-white 16-millimeter film, cut hard and pasted fast on a sticky floor of a once movie-plex.
This is where everything happens.
Awareness is just a game of chance. An elevator to Louis Malle’s gallows—void of the pleasure of Miles Davis this time, the sad commuter brass train in his trumpet.
The discovery of the first inciting evidence is always by accident:
‑A shrunken wine receipt found at the Phoenix All-Night Desert Museum
‑A charge on a credit card for The Happiness I Deserve
‑Type XoX Blood that doesn’t match mine
‑A phone bill with multiple calls to a woman with wings
‑A voice so tinny and small
‑A hatchet with a surprisingly sharp edge
I will place these items in an Evidence bag. The kind used for severed fingers and straying hairs stuck on shagging carpets with thick and torrid bodily fluids. I will hold each up as proof that I am faltering. Falling. Failing. You win!
And, of course. The closing argument. Deftly done in his prussic acid voice:
You’re writing fiction again.
That one gets me to the bare side of burning insecticides left as coffee.
I do write fiction.
I have lost my confidence to brush my teeth any way other than sideways hail and make whispered, cotton-mouthed calls to no one from the laundry rooms piled with tax files and photographs that need to be scrubbed of their dizzying thumbprints. Keep going!
There was once another famous man who came into my life. Early on. When I dressed in coils. Gold lame. Hair up. Who could blame him?
The famous man received postcards and tiny chairs and ostrich feathers as fan mail.
Or were they?
And then he left me to eat lemon drops with Angelica Houston. Or at least that’s who I thought it was. The sun was too bright to look. And I was scared I would burn my eyeballs again.
So here we are now. My lover hides his phone that has grown so big—it’s so full of sweet nothings—it lies, puffy and swollen like an infected meringue. What fun for him!
-He smells different, of course. Like someone else’s almost-turning zest piled on a scorched cake
I’m going out to get a tire fixed and it can only be done in a hot air balloon that takes off at 11pm
‑He brings home presents. I feel like a prized pony brushing myself like a horse!
I’m getting my hair cut at the only all-night barber three states away
-He looks different. Did he always have three ears?
I need to capture some stars for work tomorrow and it must be done in the dead of night
So I give you that. The backstory as quenching as a blossomy gin + tonic at midnight. A flashback. A clue to how I got here again so we can all do the math together. Correctly this time:
I can only afford to work part-time, which is 168 hours a week x 62 + sleepless nights eight days a week in morning overdrive.
An overdrive I do. With a satchel packed to states I don’t recognize. With foreign language requirements I master on the way as night continues to fall down. Around me. To hide what I’ve brought to throw out into the dark.
Anna Mantzaris is a San Francisco-based writer. Her work has appeared in Ambit, The Cortland Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Necessary Fiction, New World Writing Quarterly, Sonora Review, and elsewhere. She is currently a fiction chapbook fellow with Galileo Press. This flash fiction is from her upcoming chapbook Occupations.