for Richard Brautigan
By Justin Taylor
trial version of a story I'm working on for a contest for stories 500 words or less.
© 2004 Word count: 500
Me and Jess and Andy were eating at the cafeteria buffet at the big University because we had been born at the Center of the Universe and were therefore Entitled. Sometimes we stopped to question Entitlement, but those kinds of questions always sounded small and tactless, like the wet shuck it makes when you spit. It felt like we were actually spitting on the shoes of our parents.
Jess took a yellow dish and filled it with the center of a cherry pie that was so red it was nearly purple. There was no crust, only gooey center, and she took it back to our table and sat down and stirred it and it reflected the lights hanging from the high ceilings and the exposed air conditioner ducts that had been painted purple. Andy watched Jess stir the jellyish mass. He remarked that it looked like she was eating an abortion.
“You know what that looks like?” She said. “You sat through one? Maybe had one done to you? Maybe recently? You do seem thinner lately. Must’ve been a second trimester abortion you had.”
“I don’t know anything,” Andy said, which was more or less true. He certainly didn’t know about that. Jess didn’t look at him. She focused her eyes on the cherry pie center and wouldn’t look anywhere else while she ate.
Her eyes, even as she glared down and away from Andy, were colored like a washed-out photograph taken inside a cave full of ice and crystals and blue precious stones. They reflected light the way that lakes do on windy days: sunbeams captured and bounced back off a hundred or more choppy little wave-crests.
When there was nothing but purple runoff left, Jess mixed in the oily orange juice from a dish of cooked beans. The result, when stirred, resembled a Rorshach blot—the sort of deal you’d use to determine if a person was insane or prone toward untoward passions or perhaps in need of a hug. Or maybe it was abstract art. I pretended to be an art critic.
“The artist’s choice of cherry pie-center and bean juice,” I said, “reflects a willingness to adapt to whatsoever circumstances she may find herself in. The orange reflects the artist’s anguish, perhaps a traumatic memory raised at an unexpected time. Orange is a symbolic death color. The swirls of purple, however, show a resilience and willingness to push forward, a determination to live life to the fullest. Each swirl may represent a particular adventure or event in the artist’s life.”
“It also looks like one of those Horshack cards,” Andy said. “I bet what you just said about it says a lot about you.”
“God willing,” I said to him, and hugged Jess. We left him then, but he sat there a while longer, I’d bet; probably prodding the gastronomic miscarriage with a salad fork. The haphazard Rorshach was still a mystery to him; he was busy making not getting the picture into a full-time job.
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