Possible Epitaphs for ‘The Essential Guide to Polyamory’

[Based on Chuck Wendig’s latest Flash Fiction Challenge prompt, Ten Little Chapters.]

1:
Liza leaned on the counter, sipping her cranberry daiquiri and staring. She was nervous. She had never been to this club before, and her friend Robert hadn’t been there six minutes since he left her to make out with an ex-boyfriend in the bathroom. She was wide-eyed and a little scared; eager to go home, hide under a warm blanket, and disappear into sleep.
She saw a young lady around her age turn to her from the other end of the bar and wave. She didn’t know the girl, but that didn’t stop the girl from walking up to Liza, grinning all the while. “Hey there,” she said. “I’m Alex.”

2:
Alex yawned, stretched her arms out to the sun, and smiled at the lady on the other side of her bed. “You’re damn lovely, you know that?” she whispered.
Liza smiled to herself as she turned to face the girl. “I didn’t know that before. Thanks for telling me.”
Alex kissed her on the forehead and poked her in the side, prodding her to get ready. Liza had class, Alex a day job as a barista only a walk away from Liza’s campus.
This relationship could work out perfectly for them both.

3:
Liza met Peter at a bookstore two months later. He gifted her with one of Mark Gatiss’ Lucifer Box novels, because she kept staring at it; “I’m the kind of boy,” he said, “that buys a book for someone I like instead of a drink.”
Liza noted her fortune - all the good ones seem to be coming up to her first.
He kissed the back of her hand, and slid a calling card between her fingers as he left. She blushed. It was a shame she couldn’t do anything about him.

4:
Spontaneously, as she sat having coffee at Alex’s shop, Liza decided to ask -
"Babe?"
"Hmm?" Alex herself was blowing on a cup of tea, looking over it at her.
"What do you think about… I dunno, sharing a partner?"
"You mean like a threesome?"
"… like polyamory." Liza blushed, looked away in embarrassment and fear.
"I didn’t know you were that kind of girl, too." Alex smiled. "Once we’re being open. If you’re seeing someone, just let me meet her."
"Him. And I’m not seeing him, I just…"
Alex put her hand on Liza’s shoulder. “I’m glad you told me, though. If you’re willing to put up with me… I want you to be you around me. Let me meet the guy.”

5:
They met Peter in the bar where they first kissed. They had too much to drink, talked about nothing in particular, and then came back to Liza’s place. Just like that last night, the move from drunken but careful asking for permission to the wild discarding of their clothes was almost immediate; Liza was hungry for them both, and they both wanted nothing more than all of her.
Peter broke their bed’s headboard. He apologized profusely the next morning, volunteering to replace the whole bed.
"I’m usually not fond of dudes," Alex told Liza that morning, "but this one… he’s quite a boy, indeed…”

6:
Peter was an online pop culture magazine journalist with a flexible office schedule, travelling for interviews notwithstanding; a good cook, a master of meals Liza couldn’t even pronounce the names of; a careful listener and wise counselor to both of the girls.
Alex was fierce, strong-willed, political; the more handy of the three, having learned how to make small repairs from her parents; and always knew how to cheer them up when they were down.
"All I know how to do," Liza said, "was paint, write, worry and fuck. And I’m probably only exceptional at worrying."
"Nah, you’re a damn fine fuck," the other two said in unison. They all laughed heartily afterward.

7:
Peter was busy for most of August, but made time for them when something popped up - when Liza’s brother died early in the month, and when Alex’s sister remarried later.
"So, what do we tell people?" Peter asked them, on the day of the latter, outside the double doors of the church.
"Because no one needs to know," Liza added. They both turned to Alex.
"Don’t worry," Alex said. "I don’t have time for anyone who can’t handle it, anyway."
Except for one aunt who didn’t approve of Alex being queer either, everyone was more than happy. Liza caught the bouquet; Alex’s grandmother asked Peter for his beef bourguignon recipe and shared baby pictures with him in the kitchen.

8:
There was a fight in December. Liza slapped Peter, he turned to Alex for comfort, Liza felt slighted and Alex felt trapped. They all slept at their own apartments that night, having left with barely a word again from anyone.

9:
The next morning, Liza woke up, sat at her dining table, and cried in pain. She screwed up, she thought - was given this brilliant gift by the gods and dashed it to pieces with insecurity. She sent her two loves a text that afternoon:
'I have no excuse for my behaviour last night, just the truth - there isn't a manual for us, and sometimes I get really frightened that I'll break what we have. I ended up doing so. Forgive me. I love and miss you both.'
They returned to her apartment, wary and doubtful. A bottle of wine and lots of emotions later, they were back at the beginning.

10:
Here, they don’t know what to write. It is May, and the chapter that would be here has yet to really start. Liza may be pregnant - Peter’s child - and they’re overjoyed, and she’s still afraid. This journal, Alex’s makeshift manual of their love, is trying to allay her fears. It’s not done yet, of course - still written by people who make this relationship badly, or break it even worse. But it’s working, for now. These can never be the chapters of their lives. Only their epitaphs.

The Unstoppable Woman

The Unstoppable Woman’s name was Marlene. She wrote it down for me once, when I was smaller; she looked the same as she did now, except for maybe a thin scar on her neck that is there now but I didn’t recall when I was smaller, and faint wrinkles around her eyes that made her look not so much old as seductively wise - the words I used now that I could even comprehend seductive wisdom. I pronounced it for her benefit then, out loud, as we stood in the post office as she opened letters with her name on them: “Maaaaar-leeeen”, with a childish grin.

"No, kid," she said as she looked down at me, her face between a disappointed scowl and an amused smirk. "Mar-lay-nuh. You know, like the actress.”

I never learned what she meant until Wikipedia was a thing. I just went flipping through it once, when I was older and Marlene was away, as she’d usually be. I found the name, and it sent me reeling, kind of missing her, all of my young man’s crushes on her bubbling to the surface and scalding my mind until I looked for more of it, of her, to soothe my curiosity. She was speaking of Dietrich. Marie Magdalene Dietrich - I noted those first names, that ‘Mary of Magdala’; that’s what Marlene meant, ‘of Magdala’. Marlene. Mar-lay-nuh.

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The Hideout on Easy Street

Pauline looked down at her right side. What was once powder blue cotton had now been stained with a blot of scarlet as big as a fist, trickling down to her jeans. She was lucky it was just a scratch.

It wasn’t just a scratch, really - she won’t realize she was badly hurt until far later, in the hot bright morning when she has barely enough blood in her head to count the fingers on her hands - but she was lucky she thought it was, or else she would have missed Edie.

She looked out at the avenue, the bright lights and the regular late night singalong of feet and cars and the voices of dozens of lotus-eater lost souls looking for their next fix of sex or booze or forgetfulness. The night zombies. Pauline scoffed. She could hear her conscience scolding her: You’re bleeding, lady - now ain’t the time to turn into Jack Kerouac.

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The Brigade of Lilies

There isn’t much to be said about Bellau Street in our little town called Dezar, on the floating isle of Syreinne: Della’s cute little coffeeshop, The Honeycomb, opens at six-hours and gives away free cups of warm tea to children on their way to school; The Wizard’s Bookshop is open at six-hours-and-a-half, and Reba, its cashier, sleeps for most of the morning, having gotten up at an ungodly three-hours to tend to her brothers and her grandmother only to come to work and see maybe three or four people in the morning before lulling into emptiness; and Rayirin Doune’s flower shop bustles with people all around, peeking through windows and smelling his produce, and buying little other trinkets from inside, like lockets or greeting cards, gifts for lovers or siblings or friends, or otherwise listening to him mutter sometimes about politics or religion.

Rayirin Doune often only spoke about one matter, one matter of his politics and his faith, the politics of eyes and the faith of hair, and it usually started in the same way: someone would buy a bouquet from him, orchids or lilies, and pay him his ten renn out of their coin-purse, and he would nod courteously, especially if people were already about, near to him and talking to him, but as soon as that person walked out of earshot, if that customer had brown eyes he would whisper to his friends, “those god-forsaken braun”, and he and all his friends would point and cackle heartily like demons.

I am a braun.

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Nothing Else, Just The Eyes (A Walk-Out Story)

"Okay, so let me know when you’re done," he said, his voice fighting through the crackling static of their phone connection.

Davis pursed his lips. He made sure every line was to his liking first, pen slowly dragging small rivers of ink across the page, before whispering into the receiver, “Yep, I think I’m finished.”

"Okay. Pens down, and don’t take your eye off the page," the man on the other end said.

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The Walk-Out

"I can’t believe you’ve never been to a comic book shop before, man."

I scratched my head. “I dunno. It’s… not been my thing? I mean, I have a few, but it’s not as fascinating to me, picking up a new comic every week… I’ve always been about games shops, playing trading card games and tabletop RPGs and stuff. I mean, I know all the important stuff, all the characters, like the one that’s made of spiders-“

"He’s not made of spiders!" Danny threw his hands up in the air. "How could you get that wrong?"

I grinned. “Just messin’ with ya.”

We got to the bright-orange-painted walls of the shop, and Danny skipped up to it, pushed the door open - it looked stiff and heavy to hold - and nodded at me. “You comin’ in, or not?”

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Nor Hell A Fury

"… nor hell a fury…" That’s the line. The line is "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned". It isn’t Shakespeare, and you’d know that because anyone who ever said it was Shakespeare can’t say what fucking play it’s from; it’s William Congreve, in The Mourning Bride. It is one of the greatest ‘play it again, Sam’ lines of all time - you know? ‘Play it again, Sam’ -in Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca, Ingrid Bergman’s character doesn’t tell Dooley Wilson “Play it again, Sam”, she says “Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By’.”

Anyway, I say all this because Congreve was right. Congreve was right and he didn’t even know some poor Old Island boy would know his name, would whisper it and ask for guidance one afternoon as he looked up and saw the hand of God’s judgment over his head, threatening coldly. Congreve was right, and if enough people knew who the hell Congreve was, we could give him credit where it is due for knowing first that love to hatred turned is a fucking bitch and you will always stay up late at night, thanking your lucky stars that it hadn’t destroyed you yet and still wishing you hadn’t rolled whatever die or flipped whatever coin whose wicked fate had alighted on you so poorly to be in its crosshairs in the first place.

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Backfire - Part 1

Aidan didn’t like staying inside Sunlight Town for long. It was not to say that she wasn’t eternally glad to be there, the only home she knew, home of the only family she had. She just couldn’t stand too much of the town-noise. One of the things that used to tick her off the most was the rusty motion-sensitive robot statue outside the town gates that would shout “Welcome to Sunlight Town! Home of the second largest gumball on planet Rebellion!”

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with toy knives - Part 5

It was still early in the evening when I got to the infirmary - minutes before eight, to be exact. It was really just a large white tent set up in the basketball court, touching every wall, with rusty cots with stained bedsheets lined up in rows, almost all of them occupied by students sleeping, sitting up and reading by lamplight, or lying down and just looking about. I was beginning to think the infirmary was a worse place to survive than outside; everyone here looked bored to death.

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with toy knives - Part 4

"So there," the boy said, pointing at the large red stain on his shirt. "Guess I can’t talk now. On my way out, kid. Catch you later."

I winced, putting my gun back in its holster as I watched him keep walking up the staircase, until he turned a corner on one of the higher floors and went out of my range of view, so I walked back to the food court.

The crowd watched me curiously as I went back, as if they were eager to hear or see some kind of story of an epic battle playing out or having been won. I just waded through them awkwardly, feeling all their eyes on me, as I went back to my bench.

When I got there, the girl was gone, but she left her oversized sunglasses on the floor where she fell; my food was right where she left it, so I just sat back down and finished eating.

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The Channeling of Erek Dith - Part 2

"Ma? Take care that those eggs burn…"

It would take a great deal of distraction, Tereza knew, for something to take her mother’s attention while she was in the kitchen. Mina Dorsey was a woman of complete focus when at the kitchen’s fireplace - suffice it to say that she knows that even the most premeditated of fires can still grow to an immeasurable fury, so she was wary to ever so much as strike a piece of flint without being in perfect control of it - but this morning, and honestly for the past few days, she could not maintain that focus. All of her thoughts were centered on her husband at the moment, but only Mina knew that, for the most part.

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with toy knives - Part 3

It was eight in the morning, and I was front and center peering over a line of caution tape at another body.

Nick messaged me at some ungodly hour, before the sun was up, and I came to check it out as soon as my eyes would give me the chance to. At a phone booth on campus - somewhere between the food court and the locker room - there was a boy lying in a puddle of his own blood, dripping from the head and more or less pouring from between his legs. The boy from yesterday morning, the nervous, shifty-eyed rugby boy, was our second castration victim. I’m guessing this was the kid who called, and this was where he made it. Sure enough, when I looked up at the booth itself, one ball of paint was splattered on the glass of the door; the other hit him squarely on the chest, where the sternum was.

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The Channeling of Erek Dith - Part 1

'Erek Dith was…'" Mina raised her eyebrow, placing her hands on her lap. "Za? Are you listening?"

The girl tried her hardest not to fidget, but her restlessness could not be contained. “Yes, Ma. I’m listening.”

"Alright, then - what did I just say, Tereza?"

"You said…" Tereza squinted at her mother, her brow wrinkled. "You said… ‘Erek Dith was…’ well, he was something, wasn’t he?"

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