Plastic Cups & Burnt Snow

[fiction]

Plastic Cups

One night I dreamt about eating raspberry pie—a moist, succulent slice with flaky crust and way more butter than my cholesterol level demanded. I awoke to find a pebble-sized object in my mouth. Turning it over with my tongue, I tasted a burst of raspberry and butter. I stuck out my tongue and pinched the object stuck to its tip. I held the little pebbly thing between my fingers and rolled it around, dispersing the saliva pool so I could examine the object. Upon this inspection, I saw it was a full piece of pie—shrunken to miniscule proportions of course—but its shape was that of a carefully cut slice fit for a rodent. I probably should’ve saved that piece of tiny pie in some Tupperware, but instead I popped it back into my mouth and let it dissolve with one delicious rush of flavor.

I tried to call my wife—she’d probably be the only person who would believe the story—but her cell phone went straight to voicemail. I’d have to wait until her excavation was over to tell her about the strange little piece of pie. She always got terrible reception when she was on a dig.

After breakfast, I tried to tell my neighbor about the pie only to get called a liar while the neighbor’s interminable pit bull barked. People always say that pit bulls get a bad rap—and maybe some of them are cute and friendly—but this one deserved any ire it received. It was a piece of shit dog that laid piece of shit shits all over my yard, and last week it bit the mailman, who was in turn suing my piece of shit neighbor. I don’t know why I bothered to share the pie story with him in the first place—maybe I just missed my wife or needed somebody to talk to or something. Piece of shit.

That night, I dreamt about the pit bull. I awoke to pounding on my front door. My neighbor was there, blubbering about his pit bull, crying so much that his whole face was sticky with a viscous mixture of tears and snot. He asked if I’d seen the dog. I said no. After I deadbolted the door and shut the curtains, I spat the infinitesimal dog into a plastic cup. It wasn’t breathing—it probably drowned in my saliva.

I checked out some books at the library on dreams. I tried lucid dreaming for a couple nights, but I couldn’t figure out how to actually do it. I spent hours immersed in those books, but my mind was so preoccupied with research that I just dreamt about reading. After each failed dream, I woke up with another shrunken lucid dream book in my mouth. I saved the books in a second plastic cup as proof that I hadn’t lost the books, but the librarian wasn’t buying it. She thought the little books were cute, even going so far as to ask about buying some—apparently she wanted to glue magnets to the back of them and put them on her refrigerator. But despite her interest and my insistence, she fell short of believing that these miniature replicas were the books I had checked out. The replacement fees were starting to add up.

Later that week, I read a book that talked about the recency effect and dreams. When I thought about the previous week’s dreams, it made sense. Apparently, some people dream about whatever is on their minds at the end of the day. Those last thoughts are the ones that ooze into unconscious slumber—be it pies or dogs or books.

So that night, I took a sleeping pill, shut my eyes, and concentrated really hard on gold bars. I imagined a whole stack of them. And it worked. I awoke with miniature gold bars in my mouth. I wasn’t sure how much each pebble-sized bar of gold was worth, but I was sure that over time I could amass enough pebbles to make a sizable dent in the mortgage. So I kept this up night after night, stockpiling little gold bars in another plastic cup. Soon, my wife and I would be set for life. I couldn’t wait to tell her.

She arrived home at the end of the month. I was going to show her the gold later that evening, after a romantic roast duck dinner, a bottle of wine, and the whole rose petal trail to the bedroom thing. But as soon as she crossed our threshold, she dropped her bags and pounced. Not even bothering to close the front door, we fell onto the sofa and unleashed a month of pent-up urges. A soft breeze pushed through the door, cooling our sweaty bodies and blowing the fresh scent of sex through the house, mingling with the duck and the roses. We fell asleep in each other’s arms, and I had a terrible dream where we made beautiful love.

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Burnt Snow

She came from the south. Her footsteps burned the snow. Not melted. Burned. The white crystalline flecks went up like pine needles. Whoosh! Flame. Smoke. Cinder.

“Aren’t you cold?” I asked her. “It’s below zero out here.”

“No,” she said, motioning to the flames. I offered a blanket anyway.

She sipped hot chocolate and dried her charred, sopping wet flip-flops by the hearth.

“Where are you headed?”

“North,” she gulped from her mug and blew smoke rings.

“What’s your name?”

“I’d rather not say.”

“I’m Alan.”

“I’d rather not know your name.”

I cooked some pheasant, rice, and potatoes while she knitted. The yarn was luminous, and it reminded me of sun reflected on snow. The strands glowed brighter with each pluck of her knitting needle until they lit up the entire room. “What’s that yarn? Why is it glowing?” I asked.

“I’d rather not say,” she said.

We ate in silence.

“Why do you live out in the middle of nowhere?” she asked while I soaped up the dishes.

“I’d rather not say,” I said with a chuckle. She didn’t look amused. “It’s a joke. Lighten up.”

She did not lighten up, so I composed myself and answered her question. “I used to do the rat race thing. But I couldn’t stand it. And when my parents passed away, I suppose I didn’t have any reason to stay in the city. I prefer it out here. I like simple living.”

“It doesn’t seem so simple,” she said. “In fact, it seems rather complicated. It’s freezing outside, and you huddle for warmth around a centuries-old hearth. And what about food? Do you hunt? Is there a town nearby? And what could you possibly do for entertainment around here?”

I was surprised that this mysterious woman cared about frivolous things like entertainment. “I gas up the generator and play some video games.”

“You have Internet out here?” she asked. “I haven’t checked my e-mail in days.”

“No, I don’t,” I said. Since when do women with burning footsteps and glowing yarn check e-mail?

“So you play offline?”

“I prefer to keep to myself.”

She laughed and shook her head. I didn’t see what was so funny. I finished up the dishes while she knotted the ends of her luminous yarn. She slid the finished product off her needles. It looked like a scarf made of pure light.

“Do you play video games?” I asked, hoping to restart the conversation.

“No. They’re childish.”

I’ll admit, that hurt my ego a bit, but I tried not to let it show. I smiled and asked, “Well, what do you do for fun?”

“I’d rather not say,” she said.

Are you kidding me? What’s her deal?

She rubbed charcoal on her skin and wrapped the luminous scarf around her head like a turban. “You’d better close your eyes for this,” she said.

“Why?” I asked.

“I’d rather not say. Just do it unless you want to damage your retinas. It’ll be like looking into the sun.”

I did as commanded. After all, who was I to argue with some supernatural wanderer? I kept my eyes closed for what seemed like forever. Nothing happened. Not a sound. No heat. No nothing. “Hello,” I asked. She didn’t respond. “Hello?” I opened my eyes, and she was gone. I ran outside to look for her. A trail of charred earth extended away from my cabin. A few smoldering clumps of snow glowed into the evening, dotting her path like those little pellets that Pac-Man eats. I followed these pellets until the charred earth was reclaimed by snowdrifts.

I spent months searching for her in the north. I searched villages, igloos, and even caves. I had to find her. I knew that when I found her, she’d remember me, and she’d thank me for the hospitality, and she’d explain her quest, and then we’d make love, and the universe would brim with luminous threads, and she’d knit, and knit, and knit. In time, maybe I’d knit too.

But when I finally found her, she was dead, naked, and buried in snow. Bits of charcoal surrounded her corpse. Her turban sat in a nearby snowbank, drained off its luster. I pocketed the unassuming rag. I interrogated people in the nearby village. They all said she was crazy. “You didn’t see what she could do. She was magic!” I said. In time, they declared me crazy too, and they forced me back onto the tundra.

With nowhere else to go, I journeyed home and looked at the rag under a magnifying glass. I found nothing of interest in its fibers, but I knew I had to take it south. On my southward quest, I told everybody who would listen about the enigmatic woman with the mysterious cloth, but nobody believed me. In time, I learned to keep to myself. I began echoing the woman’s distant words: “I’d rather not say.”

I pushed onward. I was certain that someday I’d find a place where fire and lava could create snow, and birds crawled and mammals flew, and everybody knew how to knit clothes made of light. I’d meet other women and men who could finally teach me to knit. They’d tell me all about their legends and gods. They’d explain why the woman was on her northward pilgrimage, and I’d tell them about her fate, and they’d thank me for my candor, and we’d mourn her together. And in this place, the dirty rag would glow once more.

James R. Gapinski_headshot_(2)flash fictions_Plastic Cups_Burnt SnowJames R. Gapinski holds an MFA in creative writing from Goddard College, and he’s managing editor of The Conium Review. His fiction has recently appeared in Juked, NANO Fiction, Word Riot, and elsewhere. He teaches writing at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston.