Excerpts from “The Years,” a collection of interrelated flash fictions
by Michael Prihoda
The Year of Problems
Our parents have problems.
The man bagging groceries at the local Meijer has problems.
Steven has problems.
Gary has problems.
I think one time you mentioned how the dental hygienist attending the initial cleaning of your front molars referenced her recent, razor-edged divorce, which, I have to say, makes me think she has a host of nearly illimitable problems.
Joanna has problems.
The last barista I ordered a drink from (please, not Starbucks; whatever I am I am not that) didn’t pull the ristretto correctly and I tasted the off-ness in every sip, probably would have enjoyed the drink otherwise, but just knowing the mess-up, the goof, was enough to put me off from the whole coffee drinking enterprise but then again I didn’t go up and complain, realizing somewhere subconsciously that I should have ordered a Gibraltar or even a café miel because at least the honey would take the edge from whatever mistake could have been made (excepting, of course, an over-eager dusting of cinnamon, which definitely happened once, though I let it slide because the barista that time was cute and yeah, standing, waiting for my drink, I thought about how exactly I might tip her head just so to meet my lips and how much tongue I would use and if she wore chapstick/lip gloss what kind it might be and if that would somehow be a turn-on or else perversely anti-arousing because it magically reverberated with the same natural flavors in my body wash, purchased from the health store down the road from the coffee bar where they faulted my ristretto). All of this meaning the barista who served me my ristretto has, at least, a singular problem.
Vincent has problems.
You have problems.
I have problems. Lots of them. Since the year of my birth.
The Year of Slides and Scraped Knees
I thought about it because you asked.
Mostly, I’ve blocked out the early years, the formative years, the years of crushes on locks of hair and the way Susan made a subtle curl at the end of her name, clunky letters to be sure, but still.
Have I ever told you about Susan? No? A story for another time.
The Year of Nothing Good that Somehow We Survived
You didn’t get angry that time, which made it seem so different from all those other times. Your name was _______ but it was not always that. I am only starting to realize who you were, who you are, and who I am supposed to be.
I got a speeding ticket in Daleville and told you three days later. I was coming off 67 toward the on-ramp for 69, going to visit a friend, distracted by you in ways I didn’t need or want at that moment.
The cop’s name was Gerald. I know because the ticket said so, not because I understood him when he motioned for me to roll down the window before beginning his quick monologue about my disobedience, my traffic violation, my speeding infraction.
Sometimes heartbeats get in the way. I think you understand this.
I poured some cereal. Ate it dry, looked out the window, a robin darting by. Will you exist for me today outside of a text message? Or is the failing memory rattling around my head the only taste of you I get right now?
Six hundred miles away. I go running sometimes. I am training for a 5k, considering a half. I think the local college is putting on an indoor triathlon and early registrations get a dri-fit, long-sleeve t-shirt. The design is pretty cool.
The Year of Hypothetical Indeterminacy
Gary is saying, “There’s a cat.”
“In a box.”
“And the cat doesn’t make any noise.”
“So you put the box with the cat inside it on the floor of one of the rooms in your house. Now, can you ever know the cat is still in the box?”
“Furthermore,” Gary continues, “what if you leave the room? Can you know with any sort of certainty if the cat is in the box or if the box is even still in the room, or even if the room has, through some flux of time/space, even itself ceased to exist?”
“Straight up bonkers,” I say.
“But,” Gary isn’t done. Gary is reaching for a beer. Gary is the kind of person I only think about when I think about ways to keep myself from overdosing on sleeping pills half-accidentally. He’s alive, I guess. “But, it doesn’t stop there. What if you leave the house? Has everything internal for the house suddenly vanished from the three-dimensional inhabitable plane we more or less take for granted? Then maybe you leave the city, leave the state, leave the country. It goes and it goes. The cat, the box, the room, the house, the city, the state, the country. What remains when we can’t see it?”
Gary is saying something else now and I am listening or half-listening or half-remembering the way I want to remember Gary the next time he randomly enters my consciousness somewhere between feeling the wallet in my back pocket and paying for the six pack of Oberon after the cashier asks for my ID and I pretend not to care, despite having a month-old beard and eye sockets like newly drilled wells.
Can’t he see, right now, I’m a drinker.
The Year of Sparkling Water
Your name was Lauren and I met you at that party where Dillon drank exclusively Appollinaris and did it like a badass. Straight from the bottle. The guy had it going on and Emily tried to get with him, so did Katrina, but Dillon was too consumed, a man with one project, one goal.
We went upstairs and found a bedroom and I got nervous, it’d been a while and your name was Lauren and I didn’t know how you might taste or how far you wanted to take things because I didn’t want them to go very far but I also liked you at least potentially and didn’t want to ruin things but was also buzzed and knew you probably held your liquor as well or better than me and I was starting to think it was a mistake to switch from only drinking PBR to that one thing with brandy in it that, go figure, Brandy had shoved into my hand because she was overseeing the drinks area.
Who else on this bed? When else? How else?
Your name was Lauren and I predicted you would forget my name the next time we met, somewhere across campus maybe, or in the library while I studied for that massive history of philosophy exam and when you run into me in the near-distant future I will act generous, not get angry that I need to remind you what my name is, bashfully explain what I am studying for, it’s only a minor, don’t worry, I’m not a complete asshole, I have relevant interests like normal people, but I won’t tell you what my major is, I don’t want you to know, I will keep it something vague and pretend interest when you talk about your marketing classes and how one of your professors is basically your all-time hero, even more so than Marilyn Monroe or that supermodel, I forget her name, but everybody’s seen her with less clothes than some poodles.
I felt the PBR mixing with the brandy and the orange juice they used to weaken/sweeten the brandy and I didn’t want to throw up while we made-out and so I told you I needed to go to the bathroom but didn’t come back and walked right by Dillon, still drinking Apollinaris like a badass, with some French foreign exchange girl hanging on his arm. I got happy knowing Dillon wouldn’t take her home.
I left and never called you Lauren again. We never met up at the library either.
The Year We Were Vegetarian
At Olive Garden you order the eggplant parmesan for an entire month.
“I could make that at home, you know,” I say.
You munch a breadstick and I think of the 11.99 every time we come, know that you think the dish is better because I/you/we paid for it and wonder what this means about prostitution, if you’d think the sex would be better if you paid for it or if somehow you are paying for it and if somehow that means I am paying for it.
Capitalism hurts everybody. Some people just starve.
The Year of Make-Believe
Let’s pretend we’ve never done anything to hurt the other person. Let’s pretend we are all love all the time, perfect in every way, astounding the universe along with ourselves.
Let it last an hour.
My god what a beautiful hour.
Michael Prihoda is a poet and artist, born and living in the Midwest. He is the founding editor of After the Pause
literary magazine. Find him on instagram @michaeldprihoda
and Twitter @michaelprihoda
. He loves animal crackers and when people say hello.