Matthew Hoch is an East Coast transplant currently living Los Angeles, CA.He’s written two feature-length screenplays, one that was produced and then distributed by Gravitas Ventures, and one that is currently in development. He’s also received a Telly Award for best writing in a web-series. Matthew received his BFA degree from Syracuse University.
A Short Story
By Matthew Hoch
The dishes in my kitchen sink had been piling up for almost two weeks. I had resorted to stealing plastic cutlery from Pace University where I had recently taken a job as an adjunct professor. That morning, I was blindly searching inside my wood-colored kitchen cabinets for an unused coffee mug for my morning tea. I was pretty sure they had all been used, but if I didn’t look, I wouldn’t get to experience the wonderful feeling that comes with defeat. My hand fumbled over the plastic Tupperware containers I never used. It flipped and flopped until I heard a clank. I guess I would bypass failure that morning.
In my hand, I held a long-forgotten coffee mug. Under a thin coating of dust was a collage of photographs of Mary and me arm-in-arm and happy. Wrapping around the pictures of yesterdays was: Happy 2nd Anniversary, my love and my future xo.
Tears filled my eyes with a guttural ambush I didn’t have time to prepare for. She was brought back to life instantaneously as a pleasantly painful memory. She looked at me with hopeful eyes, a gaze now reserved for the new fortunate fool who shared her bed. I filled the mug with green tea and stood stoically over the counter as I drank. When I was done, I opened the kitchen window over my sink and said, “Look out down below!” With a languid toss, the mug fell from my window and shattered three floors below me on the sidewalks of the West Village.
I stared at myself in the mirror under the harsh fluorescent lighting of my bathroom. My reflection stared back at me—messy blond hair, a thin frame which was covered by a dirty white t-shirt, red boxer shorts, and a green bathrobe. I had an okay jaw line and decent eyes. People told me that at least. I was considered by many I’d met to be attractive, but I didn’t like what I saw. At least, I retained a youthful appearance as I approached my late thirties. I brushed my teeth and turned to my four mouthwashes sitting on the small white sink. One was for whitening, one for plaque, one for tartar, and one was a fluoride rinse. I could never make up my mind, so I would alternate them each time. When I traveled for my blog and brought along only one mouthwash, I felt like Indiana Jones.
The blog, which was my greatest writing achievement despite its puerile nature, was a satirical travel blog poking fun at small-town-America’s tourist attractions. It became popular enough to afford me some notoriety amongst the sardonic internet nerds, and have Pace University reach out to me to teach students how to find their voice in today’s modern age of writing. Despite the fact I hated blogs, twitter, and social media, this was my voice. My real voice rested deep within my computer in the form of two unfinished manuscripts. Like most of my colleagues of today, I was a fraud. Unlike most of them, I knew it.
I decided to go with whitening mouthwash to enhance my already white teeth. As I rinsed my mouth for the recommended sixty seconds, I stared at the tartar control mouthwash with a look of remorse.
It was a brisk fall morning, so I had adorned myself in a corduroy blazer and scarf atop of my button-down shirt tucked into jeans. I looked very professorial. I stared at the colorful leaves, now falling one-by-one, as I walked up Chambers Street. The beautiful colors of death painted on the leaves always mesmerized me. Soon they would be gone, exposing the naked branches of the tree. Their end was here. I stopped and took an Instagram photo, which caused me to instantly hate myself. After a few more steps, I stopped to check if it had gotten any likes. Sure enough, it had a bunch. Since I added my Instagram name to my blog, I started to see an influx of new followers. What a world.
Jessica’s name appeared on my phone as it buzzed with her text notification: Hey stranger;) How’s your humpday? Where’ve you been? Wanna watch a movie later and put the hump in humpday? Haha. Too corny?
I ignored her text as I had been doing for the last week or so. She was a fine girl, and each time we met I had fun attempting to outdo the sordid nature of our most recent carnal rendezvous. I could tell after a year of this, she was hoping for more. And how could anyone blame her? I certainly couldn’t. She was just a warm body to help ease the undying loneliness of a modern-day life, but to her, I was the future. At thirty-two, she was looking to settle down.
“Goodbye, Jessica,” I said, putting my phone in my pocket. I was slipping away without so much as a word, as I had learned to do from Mary. She made friends with my past without telling me.
As I walked into the stale white classroom and looked at the awaiting young eyes, I shuddered to think a college-level course on blogging was now being offered; I perpetuated the problem by starting the class. I droned on and on about voice, but what I was really talking about was pandering. The tan hand of a nineteen-year-old kid shot up. He had black hair that was parted in the middle and stopped at his ears, hipster glasses, and an ironic t-shirt of a couple seeking shelter from rain on their wedding day. It was clearly inspired from the nineties hit. I had only been at this teaching thing for about a month, but I already hated kids like Reed. He always had a smart-ass remark or question aimed to assail. He prided himself in pointing out real literature whenever we talked about blogs. I hated him because he’s how I would’ve acted in this class. “What is it, Reed?” I said, with my contempt thinly veiled.
“Mr. Nole, I don’t mean to be rude with this question, but when you were searching for your voice, did rubber-band museums, tar pits, and giant mud piles really resonate with you? Is that what your voice just had to get out?” He smirked like a petulant child and looked around for approval. I saw the two brunette girls who always sat in the front row and made eyes at me look in any direction but mine. I immediately missed their watchful glare.
With an inhale, I shrugged my shoulders. “You know, Reed…” I looked back at my dry-erase board where the word voice sat circled with arrows breaking off it like a choose-your-own-adventure story and added, “Yes. It resonated with me. It was exactly what my voice wanted to say. We’re not all going to write The Alchemist.”
I ended class early and went to my office to wade the slow office hours that awaited me. My office consisted of my desk, two chairs across from it, and white walls. I still hadn’t gotten around to decorating. While sitting in my empty office, my phone buzzed again. I sighed and picked it up. It wasn’t Jessica. Jack, my best friend from high school, texted me: Mirage is announcing a reunion concert! I don’t care how much tickets are. If they come to Madison Square Garden, we’re going. You in?
I texted back: A Mirage concert? You know I love them! Of course I’m in!
The classic blues-rock band, Mirage, started in the seventies and held strong over the decades, but broke up about ten years ago. Word on the street was they were about to reunite. Mirage was my favorite band of all time. I owned every single album they’d ever released, including their B-sides. They were the songs of my youth; they took me to a better time. I listened to their songs as a crutch when I was sad, and as an anthem when I was happy. And soon, I’d get to re-live it all again live in concert. To say I was exceedingly excited would be an understatement. People loved nostalgia nowadays, so why not make a buck? I was glad they were getting on that bandwagon. It made me feel oddly hopeful.
I put my phone down, legs up on my cardboard-colored desk, and with my head slung back, tried to slip out of consciousness. As I dozed off a bit, I kept thinking about Reed. I fantasized about grabbing his notebook and reading his secret words aloud. His writing, which he considered profound, was exposed for the execrable drivel it really was. After his humiliation, I read a passage from one of my unfinished novels. It was so well-written that the two brunette girls in the front row got so sexually charged they could barely contain themselves. I dismissed the rest of the class and had a threesome with them on my desk that would have made a porn director blush. In between screams of intense pleasure, they would scream, “I just love your words. Please publish them!”
There was a loud knock on my door, and I was startled back to reality. I had a thunderous erection that was uncomfortably trying to break free of its denim prison. “One minute,” I said. I twisted to adjust myself into a comfortable position before saying, “Come in,” with a cracked voice like a kid going through puberty. In walked Samantha, one of the two brunettes. She had on a beige oversized sweater that fell loosely over her blue jeggings. Her brown eyes looked at the floor as she stayed by the half opened door to my office. I gestured to the two upholstered chairs across from my desk and said, “It’s okay to come in. Office hours and what not.” She shuffled in and sat on the edge of the chair as if it was made of lava.
“I wanted to tell you, cause, I, uh,” she fiddled nervously with her hair, “thought it would be kind of a childish move not to,” she was able to get out. She was still not looking me.
“Safe space, Samantha. What is it? Pray tell, lady.”
“I’m dropping your class,” she said, after a moment. I pursed my lips and then relaxed them a few times in the silence that followed. “It’s not because I don’t like it. I learned a lot about finding my voice and everything, but I think I’m going to transfer into a more creative writing class. I hope that’s okay?” I wondered what she would’ve said if I had said it was not okay.
As the cold fall air stung my face on my walk home, I decided I needed a drink. It was what my voice wanted. I remembered a new bar had opened up on West Third Street, right next to The Fat Black Pussycat, where the city turned from West to East. Off I went to the new Isabel’s Taphouse. I heard it was all the rage from someone. I think. I don’t remember.
Fake palm trees elegantly draped with white Christmas lights, a marble counter top bar with bright spirits behind it, and circular black tables with three candles on each for diners transported me out of the city and into whatever land this represented. I noticed only women seemed to be on the wait-staff. Each one donned a white pocketbook. The inhabitants were the usual decadent douches that would fill a place like this hoping to be seen. I took a seat on the black leather bar stool and grabbed the whiskey menu. The bartender, dressed all in black, whirled over in such a way I could tell he wanted to be on Broadway and said, “Looking at whiskey’s tonight?”
“You know what? It’s a Wednesday; let’s be crazy. Could I get a mezcal margarita with salt?” I asked.
He did a mock double-take. “You are crazy!” He smiled at our joke. “Wanna start a tab?”
“Sure, could be a long night. They always are.” He didn’t laugh at that. I handed him my credit card.
As I waited for my drink, I scouted the bar. I watched the waitresses go from table to table like cars on a freeway. And then it happened. I learned what it meant to have a girl take your breath away. My mind became so preoccupied with the tan skin, green eyes, perfectly textured dirty-blonde hair, slender frame, neck that craved attention, and smile that reassured of Kelly that I forgot to breathe. When I remembered, I breathed in with such a ferociousness it caught the attention of everyone in the bar, including Kelly.
“I hope you also ordered water,” she said as she reassured me with her smile. Her hands gripped the strap of her white pocketbook. She was wearing heels, a tan skirt, and a black low-cut top that revealed her shoulders. All at once, I wanted to be saved by her. From what, I wasn’t exactly clear.
“That I did. I’m Connor,” I said, extending my hand. My blue eyes were fixed on her green ones. She timidly reciprocated my handshake.
“I’m Kelly. Nice to meet you, Connor,” she said. Her gaze lingered a little longer than it should. I took this as a sign to continue the conversation.
“What’s with the white pocketbooks?” My drink arrived, and I licked the salt off a portion of the rim.
She rolled her eyes and laughed. “It’s a thing here. I don’t know. Let’s you know who to ask for and who not to. What are you drinking?”
“Ooo, Mezcal? Don’t tell anyone,” she said, grabbing a small black straw from the bar, plunging it in my drink, capturing a tiny amount of liquid in the straw with her finger, and dropping it on her tongue. “That’s good!”
“I hope you’re not sick,” I told her.
“I’m not!” she told me, and gave me a light slap on my shoulder.
“Where are you from? I detect a slight accent.”
She blushed. Her tan cheeks turned a rose color and her mouth fell open with mild embarrassment. “Nooo! I don’t have an accent. Do I?” she said as she playfully hit my arm.
I smiled because she was smiling. “That you do, Kelly. A slight one. It’s delightful.”
“I’m from Texas.”
“You’re a long way from home,” I said, slowly and without blinking.
“I went to school in Connecticut and then moved here to follow the acting dream. So cliché.” She pretended to flip her hair over her shoulder.
“Where in Connecticut?”
What a world. Patrons who probably couldn’t tell you the difference between further and farther were being served by a Yale graduate.
“So rare to meet an actor in this city,” I said with a smirk. “Must be cool to be out here following a dream. Not everyone can do that. Most are lucky if they can find a variation on it.”
“Oh, it’s a double-sided sword,” she said. I smiled. She smiled back and hit me on the arm again. “Why are you smiling, Connor?”
“I believe you mean double-edged sword.” I looked at her quizzically. “I’m going to have to verify your degree.”
“Oh, shut up. Idioms are my weakness. Luckily they’re not on the SAT’s or I never would’ve gotten into Yale. And if that didn’t happen, I may not have gotten to live the glamorous life of a waitress.” She looked toward the floor, feeling the effects of her self-deprecation.
I placed my hand on her shoulder and smiled. “Only a few get to experience that glamorous a lifestyle.”
Her eyes met mine. I opened my mouth to say something. My anxiety built up a wall that blocked my thoughts from surfacing. The birth of my words was stopped by a table in need of assistance. Kelly acknowledged them with a nod. She looked back at me and said, “I’ll be back with my diploma.” She strutted away as if she was on a runway.
I was had. If I could find a way to come out of myself and give myself to her, I could justify my thirty-six-years of existence. It made me want to wrap her in my arms.
The bartender’s laugh broke my less than tactful gaze. “Join the club, buddy. Every guy in here wants her,” he told me.
“I’d hate to be original,” I told him.
After my second drink, I decided to leave Kelly as a hope. I would not be saved. There was always next week or the week after. I was about to close out when I felt a soft poke at my back. “You know it’s a double-sided sword to play the misanthrope at the bar,” Kelly whispered so close to my ear I could feel her breath. I turned around with an ease that impressed me, and looked at her.
“You’ll have to periodically check on me then. I’d hate to become a stereotype.” I noticed her hands were lightly playing with the white strap of her mandated pocketbook. She squinted at me as her lips, despite resistance, smirked.
And check on me she did. Through the food I ordered, which was overpriced, and the two other margaritas I nursed. Each time her hand landed on me with her gentle touch, I felt lighting strike through my veins. I told her of my writing hopes, of my settling with my blog, and of my new teaching gig. Every word I said to her felt comfortable. Each inviting look her eyes gave me calmed my doubts about myself.
She reciprocated with her own exposition. Despite her parents’ disapproval, she was out in New York City. It was a sometimes overwhelming and lonely feeling, but she was pushing through. At twenty-nine-years old, she just started to amass the acting credits she so coveted. Thoughts of giving up had been increasing their frequency of late, but when she booked a role in a new play that was going up at The Cherry Lane Theatre, they took a backseat again. She was fighting her doubts; I couldn’t help but admire her for that.
As the time approached midnight, and I order my fifth drink, she saddled up next to me. Her hair was falling in her face, effortlessly, after a night of running around. She looked at me and asked, “If you’re teaching, should you be out drinking this late?”
“I give some of my best lectures hungover.”
“I feel for our youth.” That consoling smile she had mastered made another appearance. “I just wanted to say it was great meeting you tonight. If you live nearby, you should come in again.”
It was in that moment where all I wanted could’ve escaped me. Although the bar was still full, the kitchen had closed relieving her of her duties, and allowed her to walk out of my world forever. Under normal circumstances, I would’ve watched her go; I wanted her too much to let her stay. But I was seduced by the pernicious temptress known as optimism and asked, “Want to continue the conversation? The night is young. It’s still teething. What do you say to a drink?”
Her eyes squinted and her face scrunched as she thought. Her feet played with an imaginary ball. She stopped fidgeting and stood perfectly still as her eyes penetrated me. The other patrons and staff moved busily behind her. Her bottom lip moved under her top teeth as her tongue pressed against the inside of her mouth. All her calculating led to, “I could do one drink. Blind Tiger?”
I moved towards her ever so slightly and said in a hushed voice, “Blind Tiger would be perfect.” We locked eyes and held each other’s gaze for a moment before a smile curled on her lips. It’s crazy how one singular event can completely change one’s outlook of the future. She made my entire world new. Anything seemed possible.
We had our one drink at Blind Tiger, which led to a nightcap in her apartment. Her roommate was spending the night at her boyfriend’s, so we had the place to ourselves. We sat on her cream colored sofa under a framed reproduction of The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali. By this point, the hands not holding our wine glasses were entangled with each other. “It’s getting late,” she said, her eyes tracing my face.
I looked at the clock she had hanging over her dining table. It was almost two-thirty in the morning. “That it is. That it is,” I said. I put my drink down on the black coffee table across from the couch, and with my free hand stroked my fingers through her hair. I placed my palm on the back of her head and gently moved her towards me as I slid forward. Our lips met with ease, as if they had been separated many years ago and finally re-connected.
Her skirt, low-cut top, heels, and black underwear decorated the white carpet that covered the floor of her bedroom. The room was dark, the only source of light coming from her computer. Her hands gripped the purple sheets on her bed as I explored her body. They gripped and released alongside short breaths as my lips grazed her ribs, moved down her stomach, over her waist, landing on her pelvic bone. Kelly’s back arched as she pressed herself into me. Her left hand stopped strangling her bed-sheet and gripped the back of my head.
Her hands splashed around my head before guiding me up to her face. “Connor,” she said in-between breaths. I looked at her; she was illuminated by the glow from her computer. Her hands stayed on my head. “I don’t usually do this. And this isn’t just me expressing the usual platitudes. I have, I don’t know, this feeling. I kind of want to make sure you’re gonna stick around,” she said as she looked away and blushed before wryly adding, “against all my better judgment, of course.”
“I have this feeling, too. The kind where it seems I’m not going to want to sleep with you just the once,” I told her honestly.
Her hands fell to my shoulders and her famous smile came out again. I slid between her legs as our bodies came together like waves crashing on the shore. I held her close to me; she pressed her hands into my back.
The remaining minutes of the night were calm, peaceful. We were intertwined with post-coital sweat resting on our foreheads. “We just transcended sex. That was performance art; we should do a limited run in Williamsburg,” I said. Her head looked up from my shoulder as she smiled. I would do anything for that smile. We stayed up talking, even as the computer grew tired and went to sleep, leaving us in darkness.
She fell asleep next to me, with her left arm resting on my chest. As I was dozing off, my phone kept lighting up. I quietly grabbed it to see what was going on. There were over twelve texts from Jack. Tyler Stevens, the lead singer of Mirage, had died that evening. I stared at his texts. My hand tightened around the phone, and I couldn’t move.
I went to twitter, to CNN.com, to any news outlet I could find to see if this was a hoax. My incredulity was swallowed by the simple fact I couldn’t escape. I looked to the comfort of the fall leaves I had noticed outside her window earlier, but darkness was all I saw.
Mirage would never get back together. I would never get a chance to see them in concert again. A sense of impermanence started to infiltrate the early morning. It dislocated me from the security of the evening I had just been a part of. With a yawn, Kelly elegantly turned to the other side of the bed. I longingly stared at the outline of her spine covered by the unbroken skin of her back. The inexorable hand of time had found me again.
Although Kelly was asleep next to me, I knew she would be gone. I looked at the red numbers on her digital clock next to the bed. They stared back at me; they reminded me that time moved forward with an unforgiving, steadfast pace, and it was already running out on her. I didn’t know where my blog would take me. She didn’t know where her acting would take her. The future only saw us fading day-to-day until we were gone. I texted Jack back: I can’t believe it. I don’t know what to say.
I lay in bed unable to sleep. The images of all the people I knew, the ones no longer around, played in my head like a slideshow. I looked at Kelly, who was peacefully in another world with her dirty-blonde hair placed flat against the purple pillow. It was then I broke my promise to her. The memory of that evening would remain untainted, our future forever hopeful.
I slid out of bed and got dressed.
In my clothes, I sat at the edge of her bed, with my elbows on my knees and my head in my hands. “Goodbye, Kelly,” I whispered. Slowly, I rose and walked towards her door. It made no sound when I closed it. As I placed my hand on the metal knob of her apartment door, I heard sheets rustling.
“Connor?” asked Kelly, confused. I stood and thought for a moment. I knew if I could give myself to her, it would somehow be all right, but I no longer felt I would materialize. With a swift turn of the knob, I opened the door and left.
The morning had arrived by the time I got out of a cab in front of my apartment. I looked up at the tree across from my kitchen window, the branches now completely bare. Fall was taking its final bow. My foot scraped against something that made a scratching sound on the concrete. When I looked down, I saw a broken piece of the mug I had tossed almost twenty-four hours ago. It was a small piece with only Mary on it. Her arm was outstretched, but it ended with a jagged crack where I would’ve been. I stared down at it as Mary stared back at me with an empty smile.
I grabbed my phone and texted Jessica: Sorry I’ve been missing in action. Would love to grab drinks this week to catch up x.
I looked at the time. I had to get ready to go teach the art of blogging.