Linda Ferguson 

After Hours

Over drinks, the kid from customer service says he once went to a party where the guests all came dressed as flowers. The human resources guy says he stopped pretending to be a peppermint after a woman licked his nose in the elevator. Our receptionist adds that she is, at heart, a glass of ginger ale.

The boss tonight is cloaked in thin-lipped impatience (a.k.a. his everyday clothes).‘How can you stand this drivel?’ he snarls at no one in particular. ‘Grrrrr’ I say, my eyes narrowing on his Adam’s apple, which protrudes like tender walnut meat above his striped tie. His face is flushed.

He looks mad. I like that. ‘For Christ’s sake.’ The boss tightens his grip around his glass. His fingers are thin, like pretzel sticks. I fix my golden eyes on them.

He’s the kind of boss whose vernacular includes ‘Get one of my girls to do it’ and ‘ASAP.’ If I squint now, I can pretend his watery gray eyes are green, like fat, juicy olives. (Typing pulseless words all day long—merger scorecard credit asset cash consumer contract account—makes a girl want to sink her teeth into something.) ‘Who invited him?’ one of the other word processors whispers.

‘The customer service kid,’ I would say, only I have traveled beyond sentences and syllables. Beyond the cold breath of fluorescent light where ‘morality’ means payment is overdue. Now, in the whiskey-scented darkness, I prowl lush, green steam. I have come out tonight as my true self. Beneath this skin of silk and gabardine, my bones are sleek and unaccommodating.

 

Lucky Me

I rarely remember my dreams, but every now and then one comes back to me. Like today. As William (my prince!) slipped the wedding ring on my finger, I looked into his pale blues and remembered a sun-scorched field and a hag flying overhead and cackling as I pried stones from the baked earth and dropped them in a pail. Every time my pail was full, she swooped down and kicked it over, and I ground my teeth until I felt powder on my tongue and thought, If William loves me so much, where is he now?

In the dream, the hag dipped again, and her ginger-root fingers yanked my hair as her mirth took on the metallic tones of dental instruments. A walking stick with a pointed brass end lay beside me. Without thinking, I grabbed it and thrust it up into her heart. She was bleeding. Then it was William who was falling with a red stain blossoming over his shirt, and I thought I should do something – cradle his head, smooth his brow. But his eyes were as distant as a judge who’s seen his share of hangings, and I stood, mesmerized by his face as it became a frozen lake.

That’s the last dream I remember having. Unless you count our wedding, which was just as strange. It began as I was getting dressed this morning and found my bridal gown was too tight. Just last night I’d tried it on, and my mother had sighed, “It fits you like a dream,” but now the satin nearly ripped as she strained to button me.

By the time we got to the church, it felt like I was wearing an iron corset. I was sure I’d pass out, and I wondered what would happen if I crumpled right there in the middle of the aisle. Would blonde William revive me with a kiss while my parents sat in their pew and beamed? Then the buzzing started.

The sound was coming from an open window and was faint at first, like bees under a heavy wool blanket, but it gradually became so vivid I licked my lips, expecting to find honey there. For a second I could even see myself poised on the sill, ready to leap into the bushes with my white skirts billowing around my knees. I think I would have laughed out loud, only I blinked just then, and the buzzing stopped.

There were no bees. My dreams aren’t real. (Are anybody’s?) Silence fell like orange blossoms in a sudden snow. I heard no rustle of fabric, no quiet step on the stone floor as my feet moved toward the altar where William waited with his glacial patience. I passed rows of guests who were as still as statues in a graveyard.

 

 

 

Linda Ferguson is a Pushcart nominee for fiction, and has won awards for her poetry and lyric nonfiction. Her poetry chapbook, Baila Conmigo, was published by Dancing Girl Press. As a creative writing teacher for over 20 years, Linda has a passion for helping new writers find their voice and for inspiring experienced authors to explore new territory.