A Minor Setback

by Tara Laskowski Read author interview June 25, 2009

He found the Ramen noodles his sister had hid in the back of the pantry so no one would see, piles of them huddled against one another behind the Japanese breadcrumbs, one-a-day vitamins, and that dried tofu blend. He stacked them on the kitchen floor to make a fort as they did when kids. The snow used to come rarely, but when it had, it had been plentiful, enough white to feed them for weeks. For days he sat there, nibbling like a rat on the crunchy, brain-like noodles, while his sister made steak tartar and lamb chops with raspberry sauce and served them to guests with delicate fingernails and eyes that lit up like candle flames.

When they came over, she spoke with a slight French accent. He was the one whod studied at MIT, but she, the one with the class—at least among company. After they left, she danced barefoot and giggled over the laugh tracks of sitcoms, snorting slightly. If she caught herself, she always dabbed her nose with a linen handkerchief.

Several days later she slipped on an empty bag of pork rinds and crashed into the North entrance of his fort. Their noses touched and she could see him. He knew what he must’ve looked like, loose limp silk tie, stubble about to achieve outright beard, clutching an empty desk calendar, but she looked into his eyes and it was like jumping off the deck into their above-ground pool with mom yelling in the background about how they’d be paralyzed from diving into shallow water. Eating the green beetles found under the rocks behind the shed. Picking roses from the neighbor’s yard while the pit bull watched. Running barefoot through the Toyota car dealership at night, even after their classmate Louie Tarnton told stories of his tetanus shots.

He handed her a sack of teriyaki supreme and opened some YooHoo. They built the fort higher, until it nearly blocked out the penthouse window view. They set up the GI Joe guys and had them die in miserable ways, threw Barbie to the wolverines. She showed him how to play jacks the right way. He felt like he belonged again, instead of the guy who showed up on her doorstep jobless, the small, bothersome brother-mole that the doctors could remove with outpatient laser surgery if she’d wanted to waste her lunch hour that way.

The phone rang, and it sounded like box-shaped offices, the hum of a computer, the hiss of a florescent bulb burning out for good. He told her not to answer. She crushed the Ramen fort in her hurry. A draft came in through the hole and he was cold. He listened to her conversation, her voice softening, changing, and he knew it was all over again.

“I have to go. Theres a meeting,” she said.

He tried to rebuild. The noodles kept slipping through his hands. “But I was a manager!” he said. “I was in charge of things!”

She patted him on the head, pressed fingers into his scalp and gave a ting of a laugh. Her heel pressed into his shin. “You have to think outside the box!” she said, her red nail tracing a square in the sky.

“Will you be back?” he asked. He could smell perfume intermingling with the powdered chicken broth, staining the inside of his nose. It was only Tuesday.

“Oui,” she said, and then was gone.

About the Author:

Tara Laskowski has been editor at SmokeLong Quarterly since 2010. Her short story collection Bystanders was hailed by Jennifer Egan as "a bold, riveting mash-up of Hitchcockian suspense and campfire-tale chills." She is also the author of Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons, tales of dark etiquette. Her fiction has been published in the Norton anthology Flash Fiction International, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Mid-American Review, and numerous other journals, magazines, and anthologies. Tara lives and works in a suburb of Washington, D.C.

About the Artist:

Robinson Accola creates artwork for SmokeLong Quarterly as needed.