Friday, February 21, 2014

End Lesstin Kering 5 2/21/14

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A tiny goose honk of a horn startled Lesstin out of his day dream. Not that he'd really been dreaming. He did put his car into first and accelerate through the light even as it was turning yellow. He swore under his breath. He had failed all the people behind him at the light.

Other cars ran their merry dance around him, passing, turning, and merging badly. They didn't matter; he didn't see them. He had no real place to be. It wasn't even 10 yet, and he only had a handful of things to do. But it was great to get out of the house and enjoy the warm spring day.

An old favorite came on the radio. He turned it up, opened the windows, and beat out the rhythm on the door panel. Maria had always loved this song. He swore again and checked the clock. Almost an hour had gone by without notice. He went through the list again, just to keep busy.

“Hunting license.” He wouldn't need it for a few weeks yet, but better to be prepared. “Make reservations.” Either a lodge or just a good parking spot. He had slept in the back of a truck many times. Not the most comfortable, but it served. “And get my guns back from Adrian's boyfriend. I don't think he even used them last year.” He never should have let Maria talk him into loaning the boy those guns.

He slammed his hands on the steering wheel. “No, no, no!” The list wasn't working. “Later,” he said. Maybe if he acknowledged what he didn't want to think about, it would leave him alone. For a while. Just enjoy the weather. Feel the sun, hear the birds chirping, see the trees budding. “It's a wonderful day.”

He drove past a small restaurant, where he and Maria had celebrated their last anniversary. Maria. Always Maria. The memory wouldn't leave so easily this time. He approached the closet. Just storage in the guest room. It was mostly filled with old clothes, books from college, and Christmas ornaments. In the back, tucked behind old coats and shirts, was a box. It might have been opened days before. Or years.

Work. Yes, work would keep him busy. He'd just stop in to check. Bryant wouldn't be glad to see him, not on Lesstin's day off. But he's risk it. They might even need him for something.

“In and out,” he told himself. He spent just under an hour at work, checking in the with phone bank, meeting briefly with Bryant and with Jessica. She had actually needed his permission for a few purchases, which he was glad to give. Bryant didn't want the owner peeking over his shoulder all the time, but didn't complain.

The entire business was Lesstin's baby, and he had trouble not at least stopping by every day. It would have been easier not to see his wife for a week. His wife. A sour barb jabbed him in the chest. Everything was Maria. How had he never noticed that before?

The office had taken time, but it wasn't something he could linger on. He needed someone to talk to. Not about Maria, just It was almost noon. He hadn't felt hungry all day, but he called Tony, arranged to meet him for a meal.

The small box flashed through his mind. Rose petals were painted on thick stock sides. It smelled of perfume, and was full of hand-written letters on lined yellow paper. Every one was addressed to Maria, in a careful elegant script.

He pushed the thought away again. Letters.

He snapped to attention, parked at the restaurant. How long had he been sitting there? He hurried inside. It hadn't been work, but people that kept him busy. This would work. It had to.

Tony talked about his newborn boy, and how proud they were. This was the first time he had been out in weeks. Lesstin made appropriate reactions, saying how wonderful life was, how interesting new children could be. He even smiled at the pictures. He hadn't smiled in days.

They may as well have gone to a park and just talked. Had he eaten? Had Tony?

Maria, it's only been three days, but it feels like three years. I miss your ebony lilac-scented hair.

Once in his car, he rolled the window down. The wind blew in, cool and calm. He smelled flowers on it. Maybe there were indeed lilacs. He screamed, angry. It was unfair! How stupid of him, of Maria. He just wanted some peace, for a day, for a few hours. Business and friends and success meant nothing. He slammed his hands against the drivers wheel until his palms hurt, then slumped against the air bag. He wasn't prone to crying, but didn't try to stop himself as tears flushed the sadness out of his eyes, if not his heart.

If time passed, Lesstin didn't notice it. He couldn't stop thinking of the letters. He didn't remember much from his time in Iraq. Probably best that he forgot what happened during the Gulf War. And maybe he could have sent the letters. They sounded like him, sometimes, if he were trying to be sappy or trying to flirt with his wife. But the handwriting. That was not his.

I don't know how to explain it. Every time I touch your hand, your shoulder, it's like someone is tickling me with happiness. I can barely stop myself from laughing with joy.

He hadn't needed to read more, but he skimmed onward, feeling more ill as he went. At first he had hoped these were the letters of some lost love, the “one that got away” from high school or college. He could accept that. But the man, who only signed his name as HP, oh, cruelest of cruelties, he dated the letters. The first few came in a month or two apart. But the last ones, these were mere weeks. Sometimes days. The most recent was from last week. And he answered questions, so there was no doubt that she answered back.

A metal-on-glass tapping turned his attention to the valet the passenger side window. “Are you alright sir?” he asked.

Quickly, Lesstin pretended to drop his keys, as if he were digging for them under the wheel.

The kid didn't know anything about loss, about pain. But it was time to go. “Just...couldn't get to these,” he said weakly, jiggling his keys as he easily picked them up. “Thanks.” He didn't want for the valet to answer, just turned the car on and backed out.

He hadn't drank in years. Not since just after college, when Maria told him to drop it or she'd drop him. Well. This seemed the moment to try it again. Three drinks in had him feeling it. This was his fault. He knew that. Sure, the business was successful, but even those short daily drop ins were taking time from the marriage.

He'd heard people say things like “Love is work.” For him, love was bliss, a thing that existed and could not be stopped anymore than a hundred car train without brakes. It turned out, love was not all Maria needed.

Another drink.

Marriage was a full time job. And he had botched it. Forget the work, friends, life at all. He hadn't done what he needed to.

Another drink.

He knew about those stages of grieving. Denial, anger, that stuff. Which one was “getting piss drunk” and would it get easier?

His fault or not, the part that really hurt, was that Maria hadn't bothered to come to Lesstin with her problems. Maybe this HP had started it all, but Maria, instead of dropping it, instead of talking to Lesstin about their relationship, had gone to another man. It wasn't just betrayal, it was lack of trust. And what had he done to deserve that?

Another drink.

Well. He wouldn't hide his discovery. The only option was to ask her. If he didn't, then he deserved not to be trusted. Perhaps they could work things out. The business basically ran itself. He could take her out, spend more time at home, or with her. Yes.

Like the entire day, the trip was a blur. He didn't remember getting into the car, or driving, or anything. Maria dominated his thoughts, until the headlights closed in, too close and too large. Had he missed a red light? Or just had one too many?

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Monday, February 17, 2014

End Lesstin Kering 4 2/17/14

(This is late from the week of 2/10/14)

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 Maria leaned in close to Lesstin, letting him hold some of her weight on his arm. “It's just not the best neighborhood, you know?” She kept her voice low, and aimed toward his ear, as if afraid that saying so would summon her fears.

A cool breeze whirled down the dark city streets, tugging at leaves edged in yellow and orange, pulling the tails of Lesstin's coat. Maria wrapped her arms around her body to hold in a shiver. Even in the dim glow spilling from the street corner lights, he could see the goose bumps on her arms.

“Here,” he said, wrapping his suit coat around her shoulders. “If I'd known it was going to be this chilly, I might have brought a coat.” He left it unsaid that he had brought a coat, but she had only worn a thin dress. It put her athletic body on good display, but she had been shivering even when they left the house.

“Or you could have parked closer,” Maria threw back. After fifteen years of marriage, she knew what he meant.

Down to three layers, if he counted the vest, now it was Lesstin's turn to feel the cold. Well. Better than hearing about it for the whole ride home.

“There's no point in paying for parking when there are open streets nearby.”

She made an annoyed sound from the back of her throat. “You consider this nearby? We're ten blocks off of First, and more than that from the restaurant.”

This wasn't a new argument. “I offered to come pick you up,” he said. “You didn't want to wait in the restaurant.”

“It's in the other direction,” she said. But the tone of her voice said she wasn't interested in the argument.
Lesstin changed the subject to their meal, which they both agreed was nice, but overpriced.

“I think someone is following us,” Maria threw into the conversation. It took Lesstin several seconds to piece together what she could have meant.

“No,” he said, patting her hand in a way he had seen actors do when calming a distressed damsel. “There is no sidewalk on the other side of the street. Where else do you want people to walk?” Lesstin refused to look over his shoulder to check. He didn't want to encourage her foolishness. It had nothing to do with not wanting to look bad to whomever was actually behind them. Nothing at all.

“Is there some other way we can go?” She asked. The nervous notes in her voice gave her a sharp rasp. Lesstin suspected the people behind them could her her quite easily, and wondered if they were whispering to themselves about the paranoid woman in the red shoes.

“To our car?” Lesstin asked, unsure of her intent. “Do you want a detour that adds ten minutes to our three minute walk?”

She didn't have a good answer to that, but Lesstin could tell she was nervous. A few months together and he could tell when she wanted to talk. A few years, and he could tell when she just wanted someone to lean on. After nearly three decades, he could probably have quoted what she was thinking just from the tremble in her shoulders, or the curl a the edge of her mouth.

“Here,” he said, carefully moving to drop his hat on the ground. “Oops.” He spoke louder than needed, and stopped, looking backward as he moved to recover the hat.

A quick glance, and a smile backwards spotted a pair of dark garbed men, who slowed awkwardly, seeming more startled than they should have been. The taller of the two frowned, and Lesstin would have sworn the man's lips formed a word he wouldn't have said where his wife could hear it.

As they rounded the corner, Lesstin affixed the hat to his head. “You might be right,” he admitted. “But nothing to worry about. Our car is just ahead. If we walk a little faster, I doubt they'll catch us.”

“What will,” Maria started, then lowered her voice, as if they hadn't already heard her. “What will you do if they...try something.”

He patted her hand again. Did that actually help? He certainly felt better, having something to do. Feeling a little manly, he affected a British accent. “Stiff upper lip, and all that.” But he wasn't entirely sure. He knew he wouldn't give them his wallet, or anything of the sort. “I've been in worse trouble. I'm sure I can brush off a couple of hooligans.”

Another two blocks and they turned onto a side road, where the bright lights of first street no longer reached their fingers of light and glamour. He wasn't sure which car was theirs. This time of night, the entire side street was filled. But they were most of the block up, under a large willow tree. He thought.

They hadn't passed more than two of the tall apartment buildings that lined both sides of the street, when a bundle of young men stepped out from a particularly dark alley. Maybe they were armed; Lesstin couldn't tell in the moonless dark.

“Wallets and phones,” one of them said, a rough demand. He waved his hand at them. He gestured to the clutch gripped in Maria's left hand. “And your purse.” In the alley, movement said these three weren't alone.
He heard the men behind him move up. They seemed to know these new bandits. Maybe the lot were working together.

“You'll get nothing from us,” Lesstin said, feeling brave and sure of himself.

For a moment, confusion flashed over the tallest stranger's face. As if that response had never occurred to him. Lesstin smiled, now quite sure of his victory. Oh yes, these men would buckle.

Even as he watched, the confusion vanished, and the man's eyes widened in rage. His lips twisted into an animal snarl. He reached into his pocket, digging for something that bulged oddly in the half light. But his feet never moved.

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Sunday, February 16, 2014

End Lesstin Kering X3 2/15/14

(note: see the Master Document for explanation of the End Lesstin Kering project.)
(This story was scrapped. As follows were my notes and writing at the point of being scrapped.)
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[Try to rephrase some of this. There's a bit of word-swampiness in the middle.]

The mild chatter of conversations flavored the air, isolating each table in its own pool of ignorance. No one was watching. And there was nothing to see. Like sheep, they were blissfully ignorant in their herd.
“Of course,” Lesstin Kering added, “bombs don't tick anymore.”
The man sitting across the table from Lesstin nodded sagely. He was old enough to have heard such things. “Wasn't that in a movie?” The man said. He sipped bland coffee from a waxed paper cup, both notable only for their ubiquity at these types of public support groups. “They said bombs vibrate now. The movie where they made soap, or something, wasn't it?”
“Why not?” Lesstin said. He didn't know what movie the man was talking about, and had never been close enough to a vibrating bomb to say much about it. “But it makes sense. Who would attach an explosive to a mechanical clock.”
“I”m not sure what to follow that with,” the man said. “My name is Howard Price, by the way.” He held a hand out to Lesstin.
Lesstin smiled, shook the man's hand. “Lesstin Kering.” Lesstin watched for recognition in the man's face, but saw nothing but polite amusement. Good. Because Lesstin recognized Howard Price. “Just go with the basics, if you can't think of anything. Where you're from, family, so on.”
“Of course.” Howard sounded happy to be relieved of responsibility or thought. Afterall, they were both new to the group, and had shared the same information a dozen times already, with different strangers. The real trick was working back to those topics, but Lesstin had simply handed it to him.
“I lived in Atlanta most of my life, other than in college.”
Lesstin noted the man's words, checking marks on a list in his mind. Howard Price. Check. Lived in Atlanta. Check. “What did you go to college for?”
The man smirked, “Because I had nothing else to do.” He laughed, short and awkward.
Lesstin smiled at the tired joke, but couldn't bring himself to laugh. Normally he might have for curtosey's sake, but not today.
“Actually,” Howard continued, “I wasted a lot of time at a few colleges in Minnesota, before finally managing a Communications degree.”
Went to college in Minnesota. Check. “Brrr!” Lesstin said. “Bit cold for an Atlanta man up there?”
“Indeed,” Howard's grin was as wide as he could manage. A happy man, enjoying the conversation. Meeting people, getting help. Lesstin had no idea what the group was supposed to help people with. He was only there to see one person, whom he was quickly coming to believe he had found.
“After I graduated,” Howard said, “some of my teachers had wanted me to stay, do graduate work, but I couldn't stand the cold, so I came back to Atlanta.”

[[[Bleh. Might reuse some parts later. I don't think he's quite crazy enough, here, to bomb an entire community support group. He's enraged, jealous, etc, but not a mad bomber.]]]

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Sunday, February 2, 2014

End Lesstin Kering List

Primary 52

One End Lesstin Kering story, every week of 2014, starting 1/17/2014

Abandoned X

Stories abandoned for one reason or another

End Lesstin Kering 3 2/2/14

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The lighter sparked behind Lesstin's cupped hand, once, twice, three times before a hesitant light flickered. The merciless wind blew it out before any warmth reached Lesstin's thumb. A gust of air blew up his coat, tugging at shirt tails and jean bottoms, but somehow the cold felt trivial when confronted with the unlit white stick dangling from Lesstin's mouth.

He tried the lighter again, then shook it by his ear to hear the unlit fluid inside it sloshing lazily. The crosswalk clicked to go, and he walked off the curb. He grunted and flicked the lighter once more, which conjured a flame that lit the paper, producing a pleasant shushing sound he had been waiting for.

By that same inevitable fate that rules all happy winter days, the moment it lit, Lesstin stepped off the curb and into a puddle of slush that soaked his ankle above the sock line. Cold water and crushed ice flowed into his left shoe. Cold weather veteran that he was, Lesstin soldiered through the rest of the intersection, shaking out as much winter as he could. He scraped the ice layer from the rim of his wool socks, which seemed to have repelled the worst of it. Good enough.

Puffing happily on his cigarette, only a block later the lighter had been forgotten. Five blocks after that, so was the puddle. But after the cigarette faded, the icy breeze curled around his chest, so he reached for the lighter and pack, the third time on a single march to the office. Layered inside a closets worth of cold-weather gear, he still felt the chill. But the ligher offered a different sort of solution.

After getting to work, it would be at least an hour before he could find a break to smoke. Best get it done now. These three had been free cigarettes anyway, leftovers in a pack he hadn't finished the night before. He had another eight blocks, and accompanying stop lights. Might be ten minutes before he marched into the lobby. Plenty of time.

Once in the office, the morning flowed onward. Emails were read, mostly things out of his hands, but a few he would have to deal with later in the day.

The clock was flirting with ten o’clock by the time Lesstin managed to escape the monotonous bog of email tag and touching base. His head wasn't quite pounding, thanks solely to abundant coffee. As he got out of his seat, he could already smell the cigarette, taste it in his mouth, even twenty floors up.

As usual, the elevator took forever to reach the ground floor. Three minutes had been wasted by the time Lesstin pushed out through the service door out onto the back dock. He recognized two people there who worked on his floor. A man he thought was named Nick, and a woman he had greeted at the coffee pot, but never been introduced to.

“I guess bothers me a little,” the man said. He had his lighter out and offered the service to Lesstin.

“Thanks,” Lesstin mumbled through pursed lips. “Nick?” He asked, carefully.

“Nate,” the man corrected.”

“It makes me feel ill sometimes,” the woman added.

“What's that?” Lesstin asked. He shivered in the cold and half wished he had brought a cup of hot coffee with him.

“Working on the anti-smoking campaign,” Nate said. “The stats aren't fun to read, every day.”

“No doubt.” Lesstin had heard it all before. “I guess, when you've been smoking as long as I have, it doesn't really phase you anymore.”

“Leetha's job might even get to you old hats,” Nate said. He gestured to the woman.

“I'm in the media production group,” she admitted. “The pictures that come through are pretty terrible. Worse than those abortion ads, and I'm not involved in those. But here I am, outside in the cold.” She raised her hands helplessly, then ashed carefully so the wind carried the coals away from them.

“Thinking about quitting then?” Lesstin asked. He'd tried that a long time ago, when he was younger and more energetic. Lesstin had long since accepted his smoking, understood that if he didn't quit, it would kill him. Maybe he would. Eventually.

“Isn't everyone?” Leetha asked, shivering as the wind whipped through the narrow delivery alley. Lesstin shrugged his uncertainty. “That wind is so cold,” she said through chattering teeth. She coughed, the short deep chested cough of annoyed lungs. “The dry air hates me. Staying out of the wind alone might be worth quitting.”

“Ah,” Nate added, smiling cleverly as young men do when they talk to a pretty woman. “But then you'd miss all this clever talk.”

“That would be terrible,” she said, a little playfully. Lesstin suspected these two weren't out here on break at the same time by mere chance.

“And then you'd spend all day watching the water cooler, waiting for me to get up, so we could happen to be there at the same time.” Nate smiled wider as he spoke. Leetha laughed encouragingly. “And I'd be eying the bathroom door, so we could bump into one another. We'd never get any work done, and we'd always manage to pass one another by, because of bad communication.”

“Ooh,” she said sadly, as if that were much of an answer. “Guess I'll keep at it then. Like you said, I'd hate to skip these thrilling conversations.”

They chatted a little more, mostly about the weather, and which coworkers they liked the least. Lesstin had experience in these situations, and after three or four minutes, the others were ready to go inside, but Lesstin's headache still raged, so he thought to have a second. He still had a small nub, and promised to finish it before heading right up.

The pair vanished into the building, leaving him alone on the dock, at least for a moment. He quickly drew off the last of his free cigarettes, and pulled another from a new pack. Before Lesstin lit his cigarette, the breeze plowed through the alley again. He hacked, a grating cough that caught in his chest like a burning fire. A cough that had nothing to do with the wind, and more to do with the lighter in his hand.

But as he thumbed the flint, a trio of men exited the building. One of them was a man named Calvin, who worked in printing, down one floor.

“Balls its cold out here,” Calvin said as a shiver shook his coat. The other two made similar comments, likely hoping to join into a conversation with Lesstin. But he barely heard them.

His cigarette lit and burned, he drew in, and exhaled. “I guess it doesn't bother me at all,” he said, not at all talking about the wind. All three men raised shocked eyebrows, at such a thing to say.

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