Sunday: Deborah

Her black miniskirt was too tight, her blond hair too big. Her hips spread wide, her breasts hung low. She had thin lips smeared with red lipstick; her nose was narrow and pinched. Where some women had smile lines around their mouth and eyes, she had frown lines – or at least she would have had them had she not indulged in copious amounts of Botox. But even the injections couldn’t erase the bitterness stamped on her features.

What stood out on Deborah, however, were her eyes: dark brown and soulless. For some, eyes are mirrors, windows, reflections of the soul; on her, they were dead. If they were to show any emotion, it would be malice, pleasure taken out of someone else’s pain.

Once upon a time, she might have been a beautiful woman. Growing up with two sisters and a verbally abusive mother, Deborah’s life was certain to be one filled with competition. She was a woman who hated other women. Although she wouldn’t deign to acknowledge these feelings, she felt threatened by the young, the beautiful, the talented. She was, in her opinion, the best, the brightest, the smartest. Perhaps if she had looked in the mirror as a struggling 21-year-old, she could have recognized her faults and become self-aware enough to adjust her attitude. But fate being what it is, she was destined for an unhappiness that was cleverly masked by an inflated ego.

Being petty and small, Deborah took out her unhappiness on those around her – particularly her colleagues. And unfortunately for Esther, a new, somewhat naïve agent at Deborah’s real estate company, she was the epitome of all that Deborah hated.

Esther was a timid, shy but highly competent worker, and she tried to stay in the background, to avoid negative attention. She came to work, quietly did her job, and went home. She was too shy to make friends easily, so she kept to herself, dreaming of a life more colorful than the one she was living. And unintentionally became the red flag that enticed Deborah to charge.

“Excuse me, Mrs. Ansel? I have the customer reviews ready for you to see.”

“Just put them on the desk, Raoul. And give me my messages.”

“Yes, ma’am. By the way, you know Esther? Small, quiet? She got the most positive reviews.” Raoul, Deborah’s assistant who lived for gossip, leaned against the door jamb and crossed his arms.

“Word around the office is that she’s thinking of going out on her own – and taking her clients with her.”

Deborah slowly put down her pen.

“Excuse me? Are you kidding me? You better be serious. I do not put with this kind of bullshit, Raoul. Now get the hell out of my office.”

Deborah rubbed her hands over her face and looked around the room. It was always the quiet ones, wasn’t it? You just couldn’t trust anyone. Well. That bitch wasn’t going to get away with this.

She slipped her feet into her spiked heels – and truth be told, she really didn’t have the coordination to pull them off – and clomped her way to Esther’s desk.

“Hello, Miss Thing. Don’t you think you’re special. Let me tell you something, you will not take my clients, my business away from me. I gave up everything for this company – my husband, my kids, my life. So you better get your tiny head screwed on straight, because if you even think of leaving, I’m going to chase you down. I will ruin you, you little bitch. What, are you going to cry? Of course you are. God, what a baby. Why don’t you just pack up your diaper bag, crawl to your stroller, and go away.”

Esther sat in her chair, paralyzed with fear. She couldn’t take her eyes off Deborah’s, drowning in the depths of black.

“And before you go, you should know one thing: You’ll never sell real estate. You just don’t have the ‘it’ factor. The customers don’t like you, your colleagues don’t like you, I don’t like you. Now get out of here.”

Deborah stomped away, yearning for a cigarette. Those little girls never learn.

And Esther gathered her belongings with shaking hands and melted away. Deborah wouldn’t hear from her until 10 years later – when Esther took over her real estate company.


Saturday: Ruth

*I’m not quite as pleased with this one; it seems the learning lesson for me here is that I shouldn’t leave a story in the middle and try to come back to it later. I don’t know about anyone else, but I think I probably write best when I sit down and do it all at once. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this one – and think it’s better than I do!

“You are a good person.”

That’s what Ruth heard constantly. Every day. And she thought that about herself, every minute of every hour. She was a wonderful person. She had a beautiful heart. Her inner beauty made her outer beauty shine. She radiated goodness.

Maybe because she heard it so often, she felt compelled to be so courteous, so perfect. She regularly gave money to panhandlers; she was a firm believer in the adage that if you couldn’t say anything nice, you shouldn’t say anything at all; and she always tried to do the right thing.

And until one day, she felt secure in her virtuousness. She was, to her mind, an angel. Those lucky enough to cross her path were sure to leave her feeling healthier – spiritually and emotionally. But then she met Miriam.

With luscious brown hair and guileless blue eyes, Miriam was stunning. And as naïve as she was beautiful. She took Ruth’s kindness to another level; where Ruth was fully aware that her behavior resulted from pride, Miriam’s was innate. She was, to be frank, a naturally good person; Ruth was not.

“What a lovely girl. Isn’t she just marvelous?”

Ruth heard the whispers, the comparisons. And it wasn’t just that Miriam was so much better, it was that she didn’t take any satisfaction, any pleasure from feeling like she was superior in such a way to make others marvel at her decency. It was just freaking unbelievable.

What was the point of putting such effort into making people like you if you couldn’t indulge in self-congratulatory behavior? Who could possibly benefit more from benevolence than yourself?

Ruth was baffled.

Friday: Rachel

He wore a thin gold wedding band. She glanced surreptitiously from behind the newspaper, watching his ring glint in the sun streaming through the coffee house windows. He lifted his mug, bringing it to a set of full lips surrounded by a neatly-trimmed goatee. He wore a gray suit, accentuated by a silvery blue tie, one that had her speculating. Had he picked out today’s professional ensemble? Or had his wife, dutiful, but probably plain, laid it out for him this morning? Maybe he had an important meeting today, and his wife wanted him to look sharp. To bring home the big bucks. To pay for the 2.5 screaming children and the old, smelly family dog.

She took a sip of her cooling latte. With one hand holding the paper, she reached into her snakeskin purse and pulled out her favorite lipstick, “Luscious Apple.” With the skill that comes from being a woman, she smoothed on the red color, having long ago memorized the shape of her collagen-filled lips. She placed the lipstick back in her purse, then casually ran a hand over her blond hair. She’d had extensions put in the other day, and her hair, once stringy and brown, now swung down her back when she walked. She felt like a supermodel.

The man had rolled his magazine – Time, it looked like – and picked up his briefcase. As he prepared to stand, the woman stood up, straightened her pencil skirt, and clicked her way over to his table.

“Excuse me, I don’t mean to bother you, but could you point me towards the Chrysler building? I’m from out of town and a little turned around. Chicago is such a big city.”

“Of course. Just take a right out of here and go about five blocks.”

“Thank you so much. I’m Rachel, by the way.”

“Hi, Rachel. Nice to meet you.”

She reached out to stroke a finger down his sleeve.

“This is a beautiful blazer, Mr… I’m sorry, what did you say your name was?”

“I didn’t. Jacob.”

“Jacob,” she purred. “That is one of my favorite names. May I sit down?”

Jacob looked around the shop. There was only one other couple occupying a table, and although he felt uncomfortable, he really didn’t have an excuse to say no to this woman. Rachel.

“Please,” he said, gesturing toward the chair.

Rachel sat down and slowly crossed her legs, her skirt riding up her thigh. She leaned forward on the table, a move calculated to show ample cleavage.

“So, Jacob, tell me about yourself. A handsome man like you must be successful.”

Jacob cleared his throat, adjusted his tie.

“Well, uh, I’m a real estate developer. I’ve got a meeting in an hour with some investors for a project.”

“My, that’s fascinating. You must be wonderful at your job.”

Rachel traced her top lip with the tip of a pink tongue.

“Tell me, what else do you do? Do you like to have fun?”

She ran her fingertip over the top of his hand.

“Yes, yes, I like to have fun.”

“What kind of fun?”

“All kinds of fun. Why do you ask?”

“I think we could have some fun. Together.”

She leaned across the table to run her fingers through his silky hair.

“Well, you let me know.”

Rachel stood up, walked around the table, and kissed Jacob’s cheek. As she did, she dropped a folded piece of paper onto his lap.

“See you soon, Jacob.”

He turned around to watch her shimmy through the door. Unfolding the paper, he felt his throat constrict, felt a bead of sweat trickle down his temple.

Jacob pushed his chair back from the table and picked up his briefcase. With the note clenched in his clammy hand, he walked out of the coffee shop. And turned left.

Thursday: Abigail

She had made a list of things to do. And God knew she needed to take care of everything on that list: grocery shopping, bill paying, apartment cleaning. Sniffly’s litter box needed to be changed (the apartment had taken on the classic “eau de poop” lately), and the trash needed to be taken out. She was all out of fresh clothes, and dirty ones littered her bedroom floor so that she could no longer see her stained gray carpet.

Flies circled her living room, and every time she glanced up, they seemed to multiply. First four, then five, then what looked like nine and ten. The bowl of rotting fruit centered on her coffee table was crowded with little insects, no doubt enticed by the scent of molding bananas.

She hadn’t yet ventured into the kitchen, but she knew the damage in there would take hours to clean. Globs of tomato sauce pocking the stovetop, a sink full of dishes crusty with leftover bits of chicken and French fries. Countertops covered in bread crumbs and scattered kernels of uncooked rice.

The bathroom didn’t even merit thinking about; in her opinion, it was beyond repair.

She lay prostrate on the couch, her head cushioned by a pile of months-old magazines. One leg hung off the fraying cushion, swinging back and forth. She should really get up to work, but…God, it was just so nice to be able to relax.

She knew she was lazy. But sometimes – more like all the time these days – it was just easier to remain in denial. She was unemployed and should be sending out resumes, but it took so much effort. Forms to fill out, cover letters to write, references to call. She would find something anyway. Eventually. Maybe tomorrow.

She reached for the remote control, fingers just touching its edge. With a sigh, she grabbed the coffee table and pulled it towards her. She grasped the remote and flipped through the channels, finally resting on a marathon of a reality television show. Better than nothing.

As the show went to commercial, she heard a knock at the door.

“Hello! Abigail, are you home?”

Hannah wandered into the filthy apartment, appalled at its state.

“Sweet Jesus, Abigail, what’s wrong with you? This place is a mess. You’re a mess. Have you even taken a shower recently? You’re wearing the same clothes from Saturday night, and now it’s Tuesday.”

Abigail merely looked up from the sofa and shrugged.

“Seriously, is something wrong? Are you depressed? This looks like depression to me. Is this about your breakup with Brad?”

“Oh, please, Hannah, come on. I’m going to clean. I’m just taking a break right now.”

“A break? From what? Wallowing? Laziness? What are you, some kind of sloth?”

And, in fact, that’s exactly what Abigail was: an apathetic, lethargic twenty-something who could never muster up the energy to do the necessary. Life was just easier from the couch.

Wednesday: Mary

She was 14 and immature with it. Her thoughts were only about herself, what she wanted, what she needed. Oh, on some level she knew that her parents were struggling. Her father, a software engineer, had recently been laid off, but he still got up every morning, put on his uniform of a white short-sleeved button-up, a skinny patterned tie and khaki pants to head to job interviews. And every night he returned home, disappointed and discouraged. That he got up and repeated the same routine took a kind of courage – the kind of which his daughter was ignorant.

Her mother worked two part-time jobs: mornings as a receptionist at a law firm, afternoons as a cashier at a department store. For her mother, the jobs were just that – jobs. She didn’t feel a passion for either, though she appreciated the discount at the store. When it came down to it, money was money. And they didn’t have any, only bills. So she worked, kept a pleasant attitude, and sacrificed for her family. She was a mother.

Unfortunately for her parents, Mary didn’t share their values of determination, perseverance, hard work. No, she lived for one thing: popularity. And for Mary, popularity could be found in things. Materialistic to the core, she wanted anything that would gain her access to the inner circle of the cool kids. So she did what any selfish, self-absorbed teenager would do: she stole her parents’ credit cards.

It was such a rush, sneaking downstairs to ease her mother’s wallet out of her purse, click it open, slide out the shiny plastic card. Once upstairs in the safety of her room, back to the door, heart beating at her deception, she would boot up her computer. Pink, stickered and with a desktop of the latest teen heartthrob, Mary’s computer was her portal to popularity. She spent lavishly at online sites: designer purses, expensive clothing, make-up, jewelry. It was all hers. She only needed to click the mouse.

She hadn’t yet graduated to shoplifting, but it was the next step. Her desire for stuff and the rush of sneaking around couldn’t be beat – at least until she could sit at the popular table at lunch time. And when her parents opened their monthly Visa and Mastercard statements, she felt no guilt, no remorse. It was just money, after all. It didn’t mean anything. Her parents could go make more. What was the problem?

And her parents sat in their bedroom, shaking their heads, betrayed by their daughter’s greed. This was not their little girl, not Mary. No, this teenager, she was someone else. Soon, her recklessness would force her parents to file for bankruptcy. They would lose their house; their cars would be repossessed. But Mary, she would only be furious that her parents had lost the trappings of financial success. What losers.

Tuesday: Leah

Leah crumpled up the piece of paper, digging her fingers into it again and again until it was soft and thin, a wisp of what it had been. She thought about throwing it towards the trash bin, hurling it with a fury that made her arm ache. But no, she would reign in her anger, her wrath. To lose control would be to give in.

She straightened her shoulders and tucked her unruly hair behind her ears. With a grace that belied the crimson fury boiling inside her chest, Leah stood up and walked out of the building. She strode purposefully across campus, ignoring hellos, brushing past acquaintances, classmates. Idiots, they were, all of them. She was smarter, better, faster. Too bad she was the only one who knew.

As she pushed through the glass doors of her dorm, she slammed into Tabitha, a slight, shy girl who lived across the hall.

“Sorry,” came the terse reply.

“That’s all right. Is everything ok?”

“It’s fine. I just need to get to my room.”

“Ok. Let me know if I can do anything. You know where I live. Oh, by the way, did you hear? My story was accepted; I’m so happy.”

In Leah’s mind at that moment, Tabitha, unsuspecting and naive, was the perfect target. She – this small, irritating mouse who couldn’t possibly understand poetry or art or literature, or really anything that required a minimum of intellect – was going to be published. And Leah herself had been rejected.

Bitch was the only thought Leah could grasp, as her vision tilted, as her arms and legs tingled with a sudden rush of adrenaline. With a surge of power, of hatefulness that she should, but probably wouldn’t regret later, Leah curled her fingers into a tight fist, then punched Tabitha’s sweet, innocent face.

Tabitha’s glasses fell to the floor, her lenses cracked, the frames bent. And the crumpled letter of rejection, now spotted with blood, floated to the floor to rest next to the ruined spectacles.

Monday: Rebecca

*Apologies for the long break between posts! It’s been a hectic month. This is the first sketch of a story in a series – six more stories to follow in the coming days. Please tell me what you think (I have some doubts about the quality of the writing), and thank you for reading!

She reclined in the worn chair; it groaned with pain when she shifted. The nubby seat cushion was almost worn through; she didn’t care. Her hips hung off the sides, draping the wooden frame. Loose sails, she supposed they could be called. When she got the energy  to stand up, there would be harsh red lines dug into her skin. But it was her favorite chair, and she had long since stopped caring about such agony.

Her folds of skin stretched before her, one after another. Sometimes she liked to massage her stomach between flaps of skin, just as a reminder that she could reach her belly. She was no longer able to see her toes. Not that it mattered, but she used to paint them, every week. Dreamy pink, burnt orange, bright yellow. Names like “Sunshine” and “First Kiss.”

But she had made her choice.

The remains of greasy fried chicken littered the card table in front of her. With one careless kick, the wobbly table would collapse, sending bones rolling into corners, small treats for the mice that lived within her walls. Her mashed potatoes had been licked from their Styrofoam packaging; the gravy cup had grooves from her plastic spoon, so desperate was she to consume her meal. She wasn’t aware, but biscuit crumbs had made a home at the corners of her mouth. If she had thought to have a mirror, she could have brushed them off, sent the crumbs tumbling. But she didn’t. That was another kind of pain, an ache that couldn’t be filled with Black Forest cake, tubs of vanilla ice cream, countless bags of crispy Fritos.

She had been skinny, fit, once upon a time. But with the death of her parents, the break-up of her marriage, her job loss, she had turned to food for comfort. And, oh, how she loved food. It filled her, emotionally and physically. She no longer left her cramped apartment for she had only to pick up the phone to dial her favorite restaurants. Delivery was, in her mind, man’s greatest idea. She even kept menus in a newspaper holder next to her chair; there was no need to move. Some nights, she even slept in that old chair. She was a hermit, a loner, a woman devoted to food. It was her comfort, her partner, her desire. She turned to bagels and pizza in the night, not a man.

She knew that she would someday die from her eating. But for her, food was the only thing to live for. Loneliness was a bitter companion – a bitch. And when that day came that she surrendered her life to gluttony, she would welcome the painlessness, the promise of death. For only then would she be free.