I’ve called in sick again. My boss didn’t bother reply to my text message this time. Not even with a K.

I’ve spent the morning hours on the couch in my apartment, drinking the last of the red wine left behind after my sister’s baby shower. I sit with my computer on my lap. I check my email and then my Facebook account and then my email.  Again and again, in a loop. The warm wine and the vertigo of opening and closing browsers and windows nauseate me. I don’t know what I’m looking for, really: I told Sam never to email me again and I unfriended him right after his status changed to “married”. I’m tempted to find his wife’s profile, but I summon the discipline to close my laptop before I type “Megan Alexis” into the search bar and subject myself to photos of her organic living Christmas tree or her solo vacation to Marrakech.

I take a shower, thinking it will clear my head, reset my day. But it just makes me feel heavy and sluggish. I lie down on my bed to take a nap, but the birds outside of the window are suddenly so loud, it’s like they’re in the fucking room with me.  And the sun is too bright, even with my head under the pillow.

My next best move, I decide, is to go somewhere darker, less oppressively natural. I look in the hallway mirror before I put my shoes on: my lips are a morbid crimson and there’s toothpaste on the thigh of my black sweatpants. I lick my finger and try to lift the white streak from the fabric, but it only spreads the toothpaste further down my leg.

There’s a bar on the corner called Maloney’s that has no inside lighting aside from some Christmas lights set up around the cigarette machine. They play Leafs games on one old TV above the bar and to cater to middle-aged guys who work in construction supply named Brian and Doug. And one specific woman named Susan, who sits in front of one specific VLT with her purse on her lap. She has long white braids and doesn’t talk to anyone. Not even the bartender, who brings her a bottle of Kokanee once an hour when she turns around on her stool and gives him the special signal: a silent nod.

By the time I take a seat at the bar, I don’t feel drunk anymore, just thirsty and I’m starting to resent Sam for getting me into this state again: thirsty, guilty, photophobic. The bartender must remember me because he winks and tells me he’s just opened a new bottle of Beefeater.

Gin? Why not? I answer, even though there never was any question.

After four gin and tonics, I suddenly give a shit about the Leafs and have strong new opinions about Austin Matthews’ contract and whether or not it’s fair he’s getting $11.6 million per year when Connor McDavid is taking home $12.5 million and obviously, I yell, kneeling on the barstool, and slam my palms on the bar obviously this is not fucking fair and Doug and Brian give me high fives and tell me I’m pretty alright for a chick who wears sweatpants. 

I lose track of the gins and inevitably the barstool starts to move and I end up on the floor. But I must’ve hit my face somewhere on the way down because Brian or maybe Doug pick me up under my armpits and say something like Oh shit, your nose. The bartender says something too and hands me a white bar towel. I can taste salt in my mouth but I can’t tell whether I’m crying or if there’s blood on my cheeks. Down my jaw. I must say something that the bartender doesn’t like because he tells me It’s time to go home. I tell him it’s not his fault. It’s Sam’s fault, to be honest, and probably my sister’s too, for making me host that bullshit baby shower even though she knows that I have social anxiety and I hate entertaining.

I walk slowly past the VLTs on the way to the door. I come to Susan’s chair and steady myself against a Sex and The City slot machine. My eyes keep crossing but if I focus hard I can see her white hair glowing under the twinkling lights of the cigarette machine.

Susan turns to me, annoyed, and sighs. Go home and drink some water, for fuck’s sake.

I laugh and accidentally drop the bloody towel on the floor. I try to touch her hair but lose my balance.

Susan, I whisper, like I’m telling a secret. I close one eye and point at her. I think you are beautiful.

16 Comments

  1. Lisa Moore

    I don’t know if we can edit or delete the stories once they’re posted but I put the wrong version up.

    I can’t tell whether I’m crying or if there’s blood on my cheeks. Down my jaw.

    should read

    “There’s something running down my jaw onto my neck and I can’t tell whether I’m crying or if my nose is just broken.”

  2. Neil Clark

    I related to this big time, from the apathy of the boss, to the constant checking of emails/ devices that we know is bad and want to stop but can’t. So endemic of the times.

    You build the scene at the bar so well, too. The gin conversation is such a great way to show us rather than tell us that this is a common thing.

    The only minor critique I have is with the line “It’s Sam’s fault, to be honest, and probably my sister’s too, for making me host that bullshit baby shower even though she knows that I have social anxiety and I hate entertaining.” I don’t think you need to tell us about the social anxiety, as you’ve done such a great job showing it to us in the paragraphs that preceded it.

    Really felt this one, Lisa. Great work.

  3. Cheryl Pappas

    Oof, Lisa, I was in that bar reading this. The atmosphere you’ve created is pitch perfect. I love the twinkling lights (lonely), Susan alone doing her thing, the bartender offering the new Beefeater (realistic), the excited shouting about the games after drinking more, and the sense of unreality that comes with being drunk. The showing through other people’s reactions about her nose bleeding is fantastically done. It’s like we’re viewing the scene through those pieces of fake snow on Christmas displays. It’s in soft focus.

    I think the only part I’d recommend working on a bit more is the ending. I don’t see anything yet about Susan that really sets her apart for this to happen (other than she keeps to herself). You might explore that connection more. It’s hard for a drunk person to have an epiphany that shines through. It’s got to go deep underneath the effects of the alcohol. Right now she’s the unreliable narrator.

    Also, I sense there might be more going on with her sister’s baby shower. Being so mad to get drunk about social anxiety doesn’t seem quite right. She does go to a bar and hang out with people. What if she were mad instead about something else? Maybe she’s jealous of her sister and thinks her sister took something from her apartment (which she didn’t).

    These two things are connected. That moment of epiphany could be her going home and finding the thing she accused her sister of taking. And then, giving us more!, she does something with that.

    I hope this helps. It’s a terrific story.

  4. David O'Connor

    “and steady myself against a Sex and The City slot machine”—the best moment… so many great things here, really feel the bowels of Ontario, the job, the Leafs, the bar-stoolies… Did I mention Lucia Berlin? My only suggestion would be to think about pacing. My first thought was to put the first line after the first paragraph–drinking the dregs of the baby shower wine says so much, and a great beginning, the sick call to work could work as a refrain or chorus, my point–take a pass-through for pace, Maybe much of the backstory/reasoning can be told from Moloney’s between drinks. Regardless, love the bar-towel and so many of the details made me smile and almost weep, it’s all here! Well done!

  5. Bud Smith

    This is so great, I can really feel this narrator’s pain, truly. I understand what’s like just feel ‘here’ and barely ‘here’ at that. The line you had about taking a nap and waking up with the birds so loud they sounded like they were in the room, that part absolutely killed me. I did think once we got to the sentence “There’s a bar on the corner called Maloney’s that has no inside lighting aside from some Christmas lights” things amped up and became much more alive in that paragraph and I think it was just because of the hyper-specific details that only you would write down, I wondered if we could get more hyper specific details earlier in the story too.

    Here’s a few nips on the story at a sentence level:

    Sick Day
    by Lisa Moore

    I’ve called in sick again. My boss didn’t bother reply to my text message this time. Not even with a K.
    I’ve spent the morning hours on the couch, drinking the last of the red wine left behind after my sister’s baby shower. I slouch with laptop and check my email and then my Facebook and then my email and then Facebook (showing the loop in the sentence). The warm (type of wine specifically) and the vertigo of opening and closing browsers and windows nauseate me. I don’t know what I’m looking for, really: I told Sam never to email me again and I unfriended him right after his status changed to “married”. But I type “Megan Alexis” into the search bar and subject myself to photos of her organic living Christmas tree or her solo vacation to Marrakech.
    I take a shower, thinking it will clear my head, reset my day. But it just makes me feel heavy and sluggish (you should amp up this shower sentence, what kinds of products are there, does she use wash cloth, hot shower, cold shower, what does she think about in there). I lie down on my bed to take a nap, but the birds (what types of birds — she could really lay into the species) outside of the window are suddenly so loud, it’s like they’re in the fucking room with me. And the sun is too bright, even with my head under the pillow.
    I decide to go somewhere darker, less oppressive. My lips are a morbid crimson in the hallway mirror and there’s toothpaste on the thigh of my black sweatpants. I lick my finger and try to lift the white streak from the fabric, but it only spreads the toothpaste (replace the word toothpaste here with the brand) further down my leg.
    There’s a bar on the corner called Maloney’s that has no inside lighting aside from some Christmas lights set up around the cigarette machine. They play Leafs games on one old TV above the bar and to cater to middle-aged guys who work in construction supply named Brian and Doug. And one specific woman named Susan, who sits in front of one specific VLT with her purse on her lap. She has long white braids and doesn’t talk to anyone. Not even the bartender, who brings her a bottle of Kokanee once an hour when she turns around on her stool and gives him the special signal: a silent nod.
    I take a seat at the bar and don’t feel drunk anymore, just resentful of Sam for getting me into this state again: thirsty, guilty, photophobic. The bartender winks and tells me he’s just opened a new bottle of Beefeater.
    Why not? I answer, even though there never was any question.
    After four gin and tonics, I suddenly give a shit about the Leafs and have strong new opinions about Austin Matthews’ contract and whether or not it’s fair he’s getting $11.6 million per year when Connor McDavid is taking home $12.5 million and obviously, I yell, kneeling on the barstool, and slam my palms on the bar obviously this is not fucking fair and Doug and Brian give me high fives and tell me I’m pretty all right for a chick who wears sweatpants.
    I lose track of the gins and inevitably the barstool starts to move and I end up on the floor. But I must’ve hit my face somewhere on the way down because Brian or maybe Doug pick me up under my armpits and say something like Oh shit, your nose. The bartender says something too and hands me a white bar towel. I can taste salt in my mouth but I can’t tell whether I’m crying or if there’s blood on my cheeks. Down my jaw. I must say something that the bartender doesn’t like because he tells me It’s time to go home. I tell him it’s not his fault. It’s Sam’s fault, to be honest, and probably my sister’s too, for making me host that bullshit baby shower even though she knows that I have social anxiety and I hate entertaining.
    I walk slowly past the VLTs on the way to the door. I come to Susan’s chair and steady myself against a Sex and The City slot machine. My eyes keep crossing but if I focus hard I can see her white hair glowing under the twinkling lights of the cigarette machine.
    Susan turns to me, annoyed. Go home and drink some water, for fuck’s sake.
    I laugh and accidentally drop the bloody towel on the floor. I try to touch her hair but lose my balance.
    Susan, I whisper, like I’m telling a secret. I close one eye and point at her. I think you are beautiful.

    This story is great though, you’ve got me here, you’ve got me all the way. I think if you add some of those telling details in the beginning of the story and then I really do think there’s a third act here with Susan at the Sex and The City slot machine … I want these women to keep talking to each other and to confide in each other. I think there is room for both of them to tell an anecdote that doesn’t seem related to the narrator’s plight but really actually does sum up the narrator’s plight. I have some ideas about what that could be. But I think it would be worth a lot more if you put some stories in here that you have heard from real life, but mutated them into the world of this fictional story.

    Excellent work, Lisa!

  6. Janelle Greco

    Really loving the character development here. I loved this detail: “my lips are a morbid crimson and there’s toothpaste on the thigh of my black sweatpants. I lick my finger and try to lift the white streak from the fabric, but it only spreads the toothpaste further down my leg.” I loved it because 1) I could see myself doing this and 2) it shows me so much about the narrator and their life in just these little details. This line killed me: “I lie down on my bed to take a nap, but the birds outside of the window are suddenly so loud, it’s like they’re in the fucking room with me.” I agree with Neil that you can probably get rid of this line: “It’s Sam’s fault, to be honest, and probably my sister’s too, for making me host that bullshit baby shower even though she knows that I have social anxiety and I hate entertaining.” We already know the narrator has social anxiety and we can surmise that this incident has to do more with Sam than with the bartender. I really enjoyed the ending of this too–the way that the narrator needs to hear the sentiment about being beautiful more than Susan does. I feel immersed in the bar scene and this story stayed with me after I read it. Really great work!

  7. Taylor Grieshober

    Hi lisa!
    Oh brother, the details! They cut me. Like “I type “Megan Alexis” into the search bar and subject myself to photos of her organic living Christmas tree or her solo vacation to Marrakech.” and “I lie down on my bed to take a nap, but the birds outside of the window are suddenly so loud, it’s like they’re in the fucking room with me.” The “fucking” is so key here–it communicates the hangover SO well. And Brian and Doug! So perfectly observed and FUNNY.
    I really just loved watching this narrator be a total mess. I understood why she was a mess perfectly and I loved how she just leaned into it. The bar was expertly portrayed and it was fun for me to google terms I didn’t know like the Kokanee and the Leafs (sidenote: do you live in Canada? If you do, I am so JEALOUS.)
    Overall, such a hilarious and endearing snapshot of a woman having a tough time. I think this puppy is pretty much perfect. The only suggestion I have is to maybe make Susan even more present in the story. I think if we see the narrator focusing on her a bit more, and even some interiority about what she thinks Susan’s life might be like (how different is it, really, than her own?) the ending will land better. Is Susan, perhaps, a glimpse into the narrator’s future?
    So happy to have read this, thanks for sharing!

    • Taylor Grieshober

      Oh, and one more thing, the title is *chef’s kiss*. Sets us up for the snapshot perfectly and it’s super sharp on the tongue.

  8. Amy Barnes

    My kids get mad at me when I use “K” in texts even just informally with them. By referencing that in your opening lines, you immediately immerse and set the stage that the narrator is feeling isolated and dismissed. It’s just one sentence but becomes a careful, defining detail that leads the story. You then go on to do a great job at laying out what has lead up to these three sentences.

    “I’ve called in sick again. My boss didn’t bother replying to my text message this time. Not even with a K.”

    You do a great job at continuing to open the window to this narrator’s life and emotions: the leavings of a baby shower, social media browsing, indecision, searching, showering, trying to sleep — all coping mechanisms. The toothpaste on the sweatpants just feels so “now.” The interactions in the bar further the story and futility.

    The leaning against the Sex and the City slot machine feels like a quiet, yet pivotal moment. It almost feels like that could be the starting point — opening with the character leaning against the slot machine in the tooth-pasted-sweatpants. The at-home sick day moments stand out because they are unique to the character but that moment just seems like a summation, vivid in a different way. Identifiable but so very specific to this character.

  9. Kevin Sterne

    This piece feels so alive. Every detail works in concert, this is really stunning stuff here. The tooth paste on the sweatpants, the loop of internetting, the energy of the bar—it all creates the character’s mental state for the reader.

    Some passages I particularly loved (somehow more than others):

    “They play Leafs games on one old TV above the bar and to cater to middle-aged guys who work in construction supply named Brian and Doug. And one specific woman named Susan, who sits in front of one specific VLT with her purse on her lap. She has long white braids and doesn’t talk to anyone. Not even the bartender, who brings her a bottle of Kokanee once an hour when she turns around on her stool and gives him the special signal: a silent nod.”

    “After four gin and tonics, I suddenly give a shit about the Leafs and have strong new opinions about Austin Matthews’ contract and whether or not it’s fair he’s getting $11.6 million per year when Connor McDavid is taking home $12.5 million and obviously, I yell, kneeling on the barstool, and slam my palms on the bar obviously this is not fucking fair and Doug and Brian give me high fives and tell me I’m pretty alright for a chick who wears sweatpants.”

    I don’t have much to offer in terms of critique. The ending hits. I do wonder if the character, just before the end, could get it in her head to go and confront Sam at his house or work. Those bad ideas people get when they are nice a liquored up. Maybe leave the reader to guess what will happen. I don’t know, just a wild suggestion.

  10. Samantha Mitchell

    Hi Lisa,
    You paint such a great scene, both on a literal level and an emotional one. Right away, I’m pulled into the narrator’s depression as something she probably wouldn’t name as such, even if on a deep-down level she does recognize it for what it is. I think this is masterful characterization, and you achieve this by lots of subtle details that build into a very clear whole. It starts with the narrator calling in sick again. Then, the boss not even texting back when he(or she) usually texts at least a “K.” Then, the Facebook loop, the introduction of Sam and his new wife. The toothpaste on the sweatpants! Then, of course, we get to the bar where the narrator immediately starts getting shit-faced. I laughed out loud at the hockey moments, though these moments also made me want to give the narrator a big hug.

    I’m really compelled by the character of Susan and how she kind of works as a foil to the narrator. If there’s anything you can dig into here, it might be with this character. I love Susan’s introduction, and I love how the story ends with this shallow/intimate moment of the narrator telling Susan she looks beautiful. That’s all working really well. But I wonder if Susan’s one line of dialogue could pack a bigger punch, or surprise the reader in some way? I’m not suggesting that she be kind to the narrator… merely that if she’s only going to speak once, there’s an opportunity there for her to say something surprising or unexpected. Just a thought, though. I love this piece!

  11. K Chiucarello

    Woof — this experience (I think?) is so so universal. Thank you thank you for putting words to it.

    Two passages I *extra loved: “Not even with a K. I’ve spent the morning hours on the couch in my apartment, drinking the last of the red wine left behind after my sister’s baby shower. I sit with my computer on my lap. I check my email and then my Facebook account and then my email. Again and again, in a loop. ” “After four gin and tonics, I suddenly give a shit about the Leafs and have strong new opinions about Austin Matthews’ contract and whether or not it’s fair he’s getting $11.6 million per year when Connor McDavid is taking home $12.5 million and obviously, I yell, kneeling on the barstool, and slam my palms on the bar obviously this is not fucking fair and Doug and Brian give me high fives and tell me I’m pretty alright for a chick who wears sweatpants. ”

    I really love how this piece is split in two as well. It absolutely doesn’t feel like two separate pieces yet it moves between a simple two scenes so naturally. Not to say I didn’t love the first portion of this, but I was *totally in the bar space. I felt myself in the specifics even though they were the narrator’s specifics and not mine. I feel everyone has a Maloney’s and a Susan’s. I truly have no feedback for this guy and I think it’s perfect as is. I hope to see it circulating around very soon!

  12. Martha Jackson Kaplan

    Lisa, A well-told tale that became for me increasingly captivating as it progressed. I liked, but wasn’t so hooked, by the first paragraph. I noted Bud’s reconfiguring that paragraph and think that works, as well as David’s comments on pacing. I actually love the ending with Susan’s hair, though would the protagonist be able to whisper so effectively in her condition– perhaps the verb “slurred?” Otherwise, the narrative is great, loved the entire bar scene, needed no more details. Congrats.

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