We're having high high hopes this month.
What's Camp NaNoWriMo? You might be asking. Educate yourself.
This month I've given myself the goal of ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND WORDS.
It's probably not going to happen, but I'm shooting high with the knowledge that if I fall hard, I will at the very least have some decent fodder for Camp in July, or full on NaNoWriMo next November.
Because I'm taking on twice the load of last November, my excerpts are gonna be EXTRA UNEDITED and EXTRA WILD. I am really truly just pumping out as much as I can and not thinking a lot.
For example: I couldn't think of a Main Character name, and now he is Alfred. Is Alfred a good name? No. Is it the name that's there now? Yes. Can I change it whenever? Probably. Will I? Not right now because I'm still indecisive.
Have fun kids.
Alfred coughed and immediately smacked his head against the metal underside of his bed. He had been searching desperately for his phone which slipped off his bed in the middle of the night and presumably down the wall to the heaping mess that lay beneath the bed. The carpet felt as though there was a layer of crumbs coating its surface, which was true; there were crumbs coating it, but it was also that kind of stiff scratchy kind of carpeting that you only find in cheap apartments that felt crumbly even if you didn’t have a tendency to eat toasted bagels on your bed, wrapped in a blanket. Alfred also wasn’t one to move his furniture when vacuuming, so the space beneath his bed had collected a significant amount of dust. It also didn’t help that Alfred didn’t own a vacuum cleaner.
He rubbed his head to the best of his abilities – a difficult task in the cramped space – and continued his search, shifting through the clutter as if swimming through the Great Pacific Trash heap. Discarded papers, filthy articles of clothing, and the electronic NUMBER key keyboard that he never really played met his hands as he slid across two flattened Home Depot boxes that he refused to get rid of; they would be helpful later. The crumbs were very apparent on the cardboard.
Alfred stretched out his left arm and incidentally punched the long panel of metal that lined the “heater,” heater here in quotes as it rarely served its purpose. The metal felt cold to the touch. Right beneath the heater he felt another piece of metal, his phone.
Remaining under his bed, Alfred wiped some dust and crumbs from the screen of the phone that it had attracted. Thank goodness. No cracks. He clicked it on and began scrolling through the usual notifications, generally at peace with his position, dusty air excluded. After a few minutes, Alfred decided that a functioning adult should probably not spend extended periods of time on the floor under a bedframe, so he began his journey back out.
Phone in hand he turned on the flashlight to take a closer look at what he had been swimming through. The stack of papers were some old stuff from college except for what looked like a W-2 in the mix. That wasn’t even his W-2, that was Ellen’s. How did that get there? He found the blue sweater he had been searching for and, underneath that sweater, a pair of light purple boxer shorts.
Are these mine?, Alfred thought. He pulled his body out from underneath the bed entirely. I don’t think these are mine?
Alfred stood up and his vision blurred with head rush. He staggered over to his bed. Water, I should definitely be drinking more water, he thought. The boxers didn’t look foreign, but at the same time they didn’t look like something he had purchased, and even after removing the dust bunny clinging to button on the fly, he couldn’t identify them. Maybe Ellen’s…
Alfred threw on a shirt and stepped out of his room. Down the too-tight hallway in the kitchen Alfred’s roommate, Ellen, sat in one of the three bar chairs lining their kitchen counter, forking scrambled eggs into her mouth, and scrolling through her phone. The eggs were over-peppered by traditional culinary standards – Ellen had opened the wrong side of the pepper shaker – but she ate them happily nonetheless. Alfred stopped by the counterside.
“Are these yours?” he asked, pulling out the boxer shorts. “I don’t think they’re mine.”
Ellen looked up from her phone. It wasn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility that they might be hers. Most of her wardrobe was loose fitting, and, not unlike Alfred, most of her belongings had a tendency to walk away without her permission or knowing; however, the underwear at hand, or rather, the underwear in Alfred’s hand, didn’t happen to be hers. They were purple, and she didn’t like purple. They were also several sizes too big.
“No,” Ellen said, coughing.
She let a bit of scrambled egg fall out of her mouth. Two pieces of shell had gotten into the eggs, one that fell out and one that now stuck to the back of her throat.
“But… But aren’t those Alan’s?” Ellen continued between hacking coughs.
Alfred dropped the boxers at the sound of Alan’s name, completely disregarding Ellen’s chokes that were becoming more and more violent. The boxers fell to the ground. He picked them up quickly and tossed them into the kitchen garbage bin.
“Excuse me,” Ellen said, setting down her fork.
She took a drink of water to cease the coughing and reached into the garbage. She retrieved the garment clean. The bin was empty otherwise; Ellen had recently taken out the trash; Ellen was a good roommate.
“This is useable fabric,” she said. “And it’s got some elastic I can harvest.”
Ellen tugged on the waistband to feel the springback. An overworn waistband could easily lose it’s stretch over time, but the spring in this one suggested that it’s owner took good care of it, or purchased loose clothes.
“You can get cotton like that literally anywhere, Ellen,” Alfred said, reaching across the counter to return the boxers to their rightful place in the trashcan.
Ellen pulled back from Alfred’s reach. She took off her glasses and placed them absentmindedly on her empty plate of used-to-be-scrambled-eggs, squinting at the tag. Her vision was crap and her glasses an inch thick, but she could still see better close up with them off.
“Eat shit, 34 percent rayon,” she said.
Alfred leaned in to look at the tag. The text was too small and the tag too far away, but he didn’t have the energy to fight with her. Ellen had once harvested the upholstery from a couch on the side of the road, so Alfred doubted there was much he could do to keep the purple 66 percent cotton 34 percent rayon fabric away from her.
“One run through the wash and the essence of Alan should be washed away,” Ellen said.
She got up to place her plate in the sink, but stopped short, placing a hand on Alfred’s shoulder. She held up the boxers again.
“We never did burn a proper effigy of the shit he left here,” Ellen said. “I am willing to let you keep these if you need it for closure.”
Alfred laughed. He was touched by Ellen’s offer, but she was also wrong on two fronts. He was over Alan, and he had already burned all of his things a month prior by himself. Properly on the apartment balcony, not in the kitchen sink like the effigy for Connor. That was a mistake; though, it did help to know that their fire alarms weren’t functional…
“Keep them. Just wash them really well,” Alfred said. “That boy sweat more in his sleep than anyone I’ve ever met.”
Ellen chuckled politely and scuttled off to her room, muttering plans about using the fabric as lining for a necktie. Alfred remained in the kitchen.
The coffee pot was empty – Ellen had no doubt drank the entire pot by now – so Alfred took it upon himself to make some more. After pressing the ‘brew’ button, he pulled out his phone again to check the battery. 17 percent. This is what happens when you don’t get you phone to the charger before you fall asleep, Alfred though. Hubris at its finest.
“Is Facebook down for you?” Ellen’s voice called out from down the hall, “It’s not loading.”
“Have you tried resetting the router?” Alfred called back.
Ellen shuffled back out of her room, holding her laptop, phone, and Kindle.
“I’ve already tried that,” she said.
Ellen pushed past Alfred to the living room where she deposited her technology on the coffee table. She took to the floor where the router was set up and unplugged the ethernet cable.
“It’s not working on anything,” Ellen said. “Like, even when I’m just using data. How am I supposed to flex my breakfast to my followers if I can’t refresh the damn page.”
Alfred looked at his own phone. No service. He wasn’t entirely surprised – his service was usually terrible – but that was usually restricted to elevators and marble buildings and the cornfields he would drive through whenever he went to visit his parents.
“Wait why do you have your kindle? Isn’t that just a kindle-kindle, not one of the fancy ones?” Alfred asked.
Ellen turned to look at Alfred. Squatting on the floor, knees bent, she looked like a cross between a distressed flamingo and cryptid.
“Yeah, it’s just a kindle-kindle, and it may take two minutes to load each page, but this sucker has Facebook. Or at least should have Facebook. Literally nothing is working right now.”
With an exasperated click, Ellen shoved the ethernet cable back into the router and gave up. She stood up, knees aching – not from hard work or anything, she just had bad knees at 23 and who actually has good knees anyway; squatters don’t @ me – and grabbed Alfred.
“We’re going to Starbucks,” she said.
“You just had coffee, and I just made a pot.”
“We’re going for the wifi, not the coffee,” Ellen said. “Alexa, what’s the temperature outside?”
“WHATEVER AN ALEXA SAYS WHEN THERE’S NO WIFI”
“Christ, you are so useless.”
Ellen strode past Alfred and poured the contents of the coffee pot into two travel mugs. She handed one to Alfred, and dipped into her room.
“Can’t we just call the internet people?” Alfred asked.
Ellen returned with two sweaters, one black, the other black with tan elbow PROTECTOR THINGS IDK WHAT THEY’RE CALLED.
“That could take an hour, Starbucks is two blocks away,” she said. “Plus, you haven’t left the apartment all weekend. Let’s go on an adventure. Which sweater should I wear?”
Alfred pointed to the sweater without the ELBOW PADS?. Ellen tossed the opposite to Alfred and put on her own.
Physically dragged by Ellen, Alfred managed to slip his bare feet into a pair of sneakers before they exited the apartment. Ellen’s too-many-keys-for-one-keychain jingled as she locked the door. Alfred patted down his pockets. Phone, wallet, no keys. Alfred sighed. With no keys, he really was at the mercy of Ellen now.
The two walked a few steps to the elevator. Ellen pressed the down button, and after a few minutes in which Ellen tried to absentmindedly scroll through Facebook before being disappointed yet again by her inability to access it, the lift arrived. They stepped in.
“I mean there’s still a chance that Facebook is just down,” Alfred said, pressing the button for the first floor.
Ellen laughed. And coughed. The remaining piece of eggshell finally freed itself from her throat.
“And Twitter and Instagram and Snapchat at the same time? There would be rioting in the streets,” Ellen said.
“Can’t you just read a book or something?” Alfred asked.
“When was the last time you honestly read a book,” Ellen snapped.
Her point was made; Alfred didn’t answer.
The elevator door opened on the third floor and another person entered the elevator, which was really only large enough to comfortably fit two, but could realistically fit six to eight if you really shoved yourselves in there.
“Excuse me sir,” Ellen started, looking to the tenant who did not want to be bothered. “Is Facebook down for you too?”
The man looked at Ellen and back at the elevator door without responding. Ellen huffed to herself.
“I just want to a picture of my eggs,” she said. “Is that too much to ask?”
“They’re just eggs,” Alfred said. “How important can they be.”
Ellen whipped out her phone and pulled up the picture. Alfred looked.
“Isn’t that an objectively good picture of scrambled eggs?” she asked.
“Damn,” Alfred said, understandingly.
It was an objectively good picture of scrambled eggs. Advertisement-level good. She was a true food photographer in the making.
The doors to the elevator opened, and the elevator’s third occupant scrambled out of the elevator, scrambled here meaning ‘hurriedly and in a non-linear manner’ rather than ‘pulled, lifted, and folded over medium heat until thickened’.
Alfred and Ellen exited the elevator next, pushing through the door to the entryway and the door to the outdoors. A cool wind rushed by. Alfred and Ellen both shivered. This was not sweater weather. This was ‘late May, early April in the Midwest where you’re hoping that it’s warm so you dress for your dreams, but then it’s actually a bit colder than you would have hoped’ weather, a temperature of which Ellen might have noticed had her phone’s weather app functioned or someone thought to open a window, but neither Alfred nor Ellen were about that archaic kind of research. Also, the windows were really hard to open in their apartment.
The two looked at one another and wordlessly agreed to sprint the two blocks to the Starbucks. The running made the air cold against their faces, but at the same time, it meant that they would have to be in the cold for a shorter amount of time. Alfred held his hands tightly against the travel mug of coffee, siphoning away its warmth.
They arrived, and Ellen opened the door. It was like any Starbucks, crowded, full of college students and one clique of inexplicably unattended middle-schoolers with backpacks even though it was the weekend, and above all else, warm. Alfred made a bee-line (IS THAT HOW YOU WRITE THAT) for an unoccupied table next to a wall outlet. It looked as though they had come at a good time, a wave of people were exiting the store, freeing up spots to sit. Alfred sat down. Now too warm, he shimmied off the sweater and looked around. Ellen had disappeared in the crowd of people.
Alfred pulled out his phone to find it still without service. He flicked his eyes back and forth between his phone and the room, mindlessly scrolling through his photo album and surveying the room for where Ellen might have gone. He eventually navigated to his solitaire app, and before he had even found all the aces, Ellen sat down, handing him a coffee as she did. She tossed a receipt and a handful of change on the table.
“What the hell?” Alfred said, taking the coffee regardless. “We already have coffee.”
“I’m sorry, do you just walk into a Starbucks and use their wifi without paying?” Ellen jabbed. “like some animal?”
“What is it?” Alfred asked, taking a sip.
“Grande iced caramel late,” Ellen. “I’ve never seen you order anything else.”
Ellen sipped her own iced coffee and pulled out her phone, searching for wifi.
“Since when do you carry cash?” Alfred asked, picking up a quarter from the pile and spinning it on its edge.
The quarter spun for a moment before hitting a stationary penny and falling over.
“My sister pays me in cash when I get her booze,” Ellen said, squinting at her phone angrily. “Which, turns out, was super helpful. Their card reader isn’t working or something.”
Alfred looked over to watch a distressed looking barista trying her hardest to reason with a tired and angry looking man.
“Literally where is the wifi,” Ellen shouted, not loud enough for the whole store to hear or anything, but loud enough that Alfred jumped. “There’s supposed to be that stupid Google wifi or whatever.”
Alfred took a long draw of coffee – an unpleasant clump of caramel syrup squirming its way up through the straw – and continued to watch the barista. She had begun reluctantly taking down the man’s card information by hand onto a piece of receipt paper while another barista watched.
“Like, it’s a give and take relationship. I let you have all my personal information and accept you as my corporate overlord, you give me free wifi sometimes,” Ellen continued. “Seriously, what the hell.”
A blue light flickered on on the card reader, and the barista’s face lit up. It appeared that the card reader was up and running again.
“There we go,” Ellen said joyfully, “connected.”
Ellen began scrolling gleefully. Alfred kept his eyes focused on the counter, well, ‘focused’ meaning ‘directed at’. Alfred’s eyes were far from focused in the sense of image clarity. He had let his eyes glaze over and was zoning out in the direction.
“Like my photo,” Ellen commanded.
Alfred kept staring before stirring awake. He looked to Ellen.
“Insta, Twitter, and Snapchat.”
“You can’t like a photo on Shapchat.”
“Well at least look at my story. I added a fun filter.”
Alfred reluctantly opened Instagram to find Ellen’s photo first in his feed, captioned “I can cook really complicated recipes, but it takes a real talent to do the perfect egg. -Chrissy Teigen.”
“Isn’t that a little much for a single scrambled egg?” Alfred asked.
Ellen shot Alfred a death glare, and he quickly double tapped the image. The hear icon appeared and disappeared just as quickly.
Having finished liking Ellen’s photo on all forms of social media, Alfred looked up to find Ellen pouring her mug coffee into the Starbucks cup, shifting her eyes from side to side.
“I don’t think anyone’s going to call you out for refilling a cup with your own coffee,” Alfred said.
“It’s happened before,” Ellen said, continuing her survey of the room. “I’ve been banned from two Starbucks already.”
Alfred cocked his head to the side. Ellen went on, leaning hard into a bad southern accent.”
“But they don’t know what I’ve seen,” she said, fully into the bit. “And I’ve seen a lot out there.”
“Everything you do and say is awful, and I hate it,” Alfred said, smiling and laughing.
Ellen smiled back and tossed her straw wrapper at Alfred’s head.
“Venmo me (HOWEVER MUCH THAT COFFEE IS. I SHOULD KNOW THIS BUT I DON’T).”
The two remained in the Starbucks for a short time longer, long enough that Alfred had finished his coffee, (initial and refill), but short enough that Ellen had not yet finished her carefully paced cup, paced in part to keep their presence in the shop appropriate and in part because Ellen’s body was reaching the point of ‘shouldn’t have done that’ coffee consumption.
“I’mma go destroy that bathroom,” Ellen said with a cadence not unlike Nicholas Cage’s “I’m gonna steal the Declaration of Independence” from National Treasure.
She shuffled away, leaving Alfred alone to his own devices in the mildly busy Starbucks. For the second time Alfred tried to make some progress in his game of solitaire, and for the second time he was interrupted by an individual approaching the table.
“Can I get that for you?” said the voice.
A previously unseen barista stood before him. He was replacing the trash bag and had a strong arm outstretched, offering to take Alfred’s cup, which now contained a murky mixture of about 34 percent coffee and 66. Alfred wasn’t actually sure if the arm was strong – his view was foreshortened as the barista’s hand was pointed directly at him – but given the rest of his build, it probably was.
Alfred flushed. He flushed first because the barista was similar to him in age, and it always felt awkward accepting customer service from someone his age; second because this barista was the most attractive Starbucks barista he had ever seen; and third, because there was something dissonant about being slightly turned on by the sight of a man who had a trash bag in one hand.
“Oh, sure!” Alfred said, a bit too enthusiastically.
He thrust the cup into the barista’s hand so forcefully that the top popped off and fell onto the table. He picked up it and handed that over too and eyed the barista’s nametag: “Alex.” Alex laughed, smiled a bright smile, and walked away with the trash as Ellen walked out of the bathroom wiping her hands on her pants.
“Who are you eye-fucking?” Ellen said, looking over at the barista. “Oh my god, he looks exactly like Alan.”
“He does not,” Alfred shot back.