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Kaz and Zoë (abridged version)

  • Kazimieras and Zoë met at a party.
  • They got a little drunk and spent the night together, sort of.
  • You know what sort of means, or you should guess.
  • Kaz fell in love.
  • Zoë did not.
  • Some time passed and they were kind of a thing.
  • Zoë died.  Of bone cancer, I think.
  • This, of course, only made Kaz love her more.
  • Kaz met Zoë’s father at the funeral.  Her father was drunk and open-mouth sobbing.  Also kind of an asshole since he hadn’t wanted much to do with her when she was alive.
  • But hey.  He was making an effort.
  • Kaz was not impressed.
  • Since dying cemented Zoë as perfect, Kaz has made not getting over her a bit of a project.  He even almost remembers her.
  • Zoë’s asshole father calls Kaz from time to time.  Just to catch up.
  • How are you, anyway?
  • Fine.
  • Good.
  • Good.
  • Kaz works inside the cloud now. In that cubicle over there.  No, one over.  Next to Nate. Yeah, no. That one. Right.
  • Zoë remains dead.

Sarah (spite & malice version)

Sarah wakes and rolls out from under her desk. Pads around the office in pyjamas and bunny slippers as sunlight begins to pierce the roil.  Well, not bunnies maybe, they look kind of like badgers but that can’t possibly be right.  Sarah orders a lot of weird things off the internet, though.  So who knows.  Sarah arches her back and still feigning sleep from the dark hollow of his cubicle, Kaz tries not to notice.  Sometimes in the morning Sarah looks so much like a dead girl named Zoë that Kazimieras wants to put a gun in his mouth.  Just like her. Except Zoe had blue eyes and Sarah’s are.  Something else.  Green but.  More than green.  Sea and sky.  Which.  Wait had Zoe’s actually been green?  Something about that sea and sky horseshit seems familiar.  No.  They had definitely been blue.  He thinks.  It’s been a while.  Memories begin to surface but remain always just out of Kaz’s reach.  He thinks briefly of the word ethereal as the memories refuse to take shape.  Slip away.  No one should think of the word ethereal.  Kaz closes his eyes.   Sarah considers the elevator.  Breakfast in the canteen?  No.  Fuck that.  Badger slaps her way towards the breakroom on this floor.

Ni’s coffee mug is pink and says “happiness” on it.  Big round letters bubbling straight from a Disney Princess My First Diary.  Sarah imagines a pink cover with pink clasp.  Coral lines on Salmon paper.  Rose detailing trimming the page.  “Happiness” in Carmine, Cerise, and Carnation. Sarah opens the fridge.  The milk smells mostly fine and she shuffles towards Ni and the coffee machine.  Ni and her smile a challenge at this hour of the morning.

Okay.  Sarah had had a Disney diary, too. A Little Mermaid diary.  True.  But it was blue.  Like water. And she had abandoned it rather quickly.  The tiny lock securing the secrets of her undying love for Robert Morton, the boy who sat next to her in Miss Iverson’s first period class had yielded itself easily to her brother’s interest.   And to the claw hammer he borrowed from their father’s toolbox.  Or. Wait.

Sarah can’t remember outside the death cloud.  Or before the cloud.  Whichever is the more appropriate marker of time, she is never sure.  Jagadeep would occasionally mumble vagaries about India, but Sarah suspects Jaggy doesn’t remember anything before the cloud, either, and that his bursts of memory are performative.  Something he has seen on Youtube or  link trails he has followed through Wikipedia.  The brown fish-owl is native to both continental India and some of the smaller offshore islands.  It displays dimorphism, but the sexes do not differ in appearance otherwise.

Weird.  She hadn’t thought of her brother in years.  He was before the cloud.  He was tall, she thinks.  Is tall, maybe.  Also…had a face?

No, now he was gone again.  She would email him if she knew what his email was.  Maybe just try his name dot last name at gmail.   Who knows. Need coffee.

Happiness.  Bubble letters.  Ni is cute and harmless, floating around and gushing down at everyone.  But sometimes she is hard to deal with.  First thing in the morning she is hard to deal with.  Still, Sarah would make an effort.  A small one.  Squinting up at Ni lazily helium bumping the breakroom fluorescents, Sarah makes the largest effort she can manage.

Sarah: “Morning, Ni.  Cute mug.”

Ni: “Thanks!  Good morning!  Your slippers are insane are those badgers?”

“No.  Excuse me,” Ni has drifted in front of the counter and Sarah reaches past her for a Styrofoam cup.  Partial deflation.

“Oh, Sarah.  You should use a mug.  Like reusable.”

“Yeah, probably.”  Sarah does not want to have this discussion.  If Ni says the words sustainable or environment to Sarah this early in the morning it is not impossible that a stabbing will occur.  Sarah redirects.  “Where’d you get yours?  Happiness.  That’s cute.”

Ni bounces.

“Oh I ordered it online.  Isn’t it great?  It’s really changed my life.”

“A mug has changed your life.”

Ni nods many times and quickly.

“I’ve been reading a lot about positive thinking and ways to like, physically take positive energy into your body.  Like physically,” Ni says and grabs the edge of the counter to pull herself back down a little.

“Physically,” Sarah slurps her coffee from her Styrofoam cup.  Loudly and more or less right at Ni.

“Well, the idea is, if you drink from a cup that says ‘happiness’ on it you increase the amount of happiness in your body, right?”

“What.”

“Yeah so every day I drink from this mug and I can’t help but have more happiness inside of me.  Words have a lot of power, Sarah.”

Sarah stands on tiptoe and picks a sharpie out of a pen cup on the fridge.  She writes a smudgy “spite” onto the Styrofoam cup.  Tomorrow she will write “malice” just for good measure, but Ni doesn’t know this.  She drinks from the cup and shows it to Ni.  Ni laughs, but weakly.

Ni: “Why?”

Sarah: “I will take it into my body and make it my own.  Words have power,” Sarah says.  She might also say “Asshole,” under her breath but Ni doesn’t hear her as she pours another mugful of happiness and Sarah turns to pad out of the break room on badger feet.   Notices the time on the microwave display as she passes.  So late?  No.  No one has adjusted it for daylight savings.  Or the other one.  The opposite of daylight savings.  Whatever that one is called.  The timers would not begin to switch the main lights on throughout the work area for another forty-five minutes or so.  Time enough to shower in the health club that rents the third floor of the building and read by the light of her computer monitor before the commuters arrive.  Before Matt arrives.  Less malice.

Sarah slurps at her spite and badgers on towards the elevators.  From beneath his desk, Kaz watches the doors for three minutes after they close behind her and shudders to a finish in the company newsletter.  Hopes he doesn’t have vaguely awful dreams about Zoë again tonight.  Gets up and checks his email but has only the electronic version of the company newsletter in his inbox.   Considers shredding the paper version just to see how badly it would gum up the shredder but decides against it.  Wads and throws.

Nate (the ghost version)

Nate the ghost is the ghost in the cubicle next to Kaz.  Before he died he had been afraid of bees.  He had dreams of dying where great swarms would descend upon him.  He dreamed from under the weight of a stinging, moving skin.  He would scream and scream but screaming only gave the bees an open wet redness to pump their venom into.  Nate was not, of course, stung to death by a great cloud of bees.  Very few people are.

He was savaged by wolves.

After being dead for some time and coming to terms with being a ghost (which is to say, realizing that even death didn’t change anything and becoming kind of bitter about that fact) Nate came to work inside the office inside the death cloud.  He doesn’t remember much of life, certainly he does not remember much of the wolves.  He does not really blame them.  One cannot blame a wolf for wolfishness.  Or one can, but perhaps should find better uses for one’s energies.  Still he does not like bees. He is always aware of the heat and buzz of wing.  His dreams now are of being alive again, of sun and water and that one time in his life he had tried to pay for sex.  Otherwise he thinks he had lead a decent life but really only remembers the bad parts.  He thinks he was a nice man at one point but now?  Not a man at all.  It doesn’t really matter.  He hears Kaz two-finger clacking at his computer.  He hears Ni giggle in the breakroom.  These things mean that the lights will come up soon and people will be able to see him again.  He hates that.

Ni is in the breakroom and that’s annoying, but then, coffee is also is in the breakroom.  Nate the ghost likes coffee.  After sitting and doing his best to hate her out of the breakroom, Nate sees the top of Ni’s head bob by over his cubicle wall.  Nate gets up.

At this time of the morning Nate always wonders if he could float or pass through the cubicle walls if he wanted to, and just glide right over to the coffee maker.  He might try it some morning, but really, fuck it.  The afterlife being more of the same has made Nate spectacularly uninterested in trying anything new.  Also lazy.  He walks to the breakroom.

Nate pours the rest of the coffee pot out into a Styrofoam cup.  In the sink there is a stupid looking pink mug.  Nate briefly considers smashing it, but really, fuck that too.  Ni walks into the breakroom behind him.  Shit.  It was a trap.

“Oh, hi, Nate.  I thought I heard someone up.”

“Ni.”

“Were you making more coffee?”

“No.”  And he walks past her.  Some of the lights have begun to hum now.  Between the rays of sun able to penetrate the cloud and cylinders of mercury vapour gradually exiting, the office begins to brighten.  Kaz pokes his head up over his cubicle wall and nods to Nate.  Looks like he is going to speak and then notices Ni following Nate back to his desk.  Kaz’s head disappears down behind the partition.  Nate follows his gaze and notices Ni.  Oh good.  Oh good morning to me.

Ni: “Hey again Nate.  Hey can I talk to you for a minute?”

Nate the ghost: “It would be better if you didn’t.  Better for me, specifically.”

“You’re funny,” Ni laughs and drifts into Nate’s cubicle before he can enter it.  Moves his framed zebra picture to the back of the desk.  Sits on the desk and clutches its edge to keep herself anchored.  Crosses her legs and the one crossed over top bounces bounces bounces.  Nate sips his coffee and considers throwing it in Ni’s face just to see what would happen.  Predictably, he does not.  Nate sits down in front of his computer and does his best to ignore Ni.  She makes this difficult by saying something ridiculous.

“We should hang out sometime, Nate.  Get coffee.”

“I don’t drink coffee,” Nate says, studying his blank computer monitor and sipping his coffee.

“Ha.  Well, I mean, or eat in the canteen or I don’t know, go to the gym together if you wanted.”

“I don’t really worry much about keeping fit these days.”

“Okay.  Well just, I feel like we don’t talk enough and we see each other every day.  I feel like we should make an effort to—”

“That’s kind of dumb,” he says without looking at her.

“It.  It’s dumb?”  Ni’s Princess smile fades.  Nate jokes around, pretends not to like her.  But this is just.  Sarah was cranky this morning but Sarah hates anything Ni says about positivity, which is half the reason Ni talks about it to her.  But Nate has no reason to

“Yes.  It’s dumb.  I’m a ghost.”

“Well, okay, sure, but that doesn’t matter to me.  I mean, do you care that I’m half Vietna”

“No.  Like.  There’s not much endgame to going on a date with a ghost, you get me?”

“No, I didn’t mean, I just—”

Nate passes his finger through his desktop.  “I mean.  Poke.  Poke poke poke.  Poke poke.  The desk is your vagina.  I mean, I’m not being ambiguous about this, right?  Poke poke.”  He keeps doing it.  Ni watches his finger phase through the furniture.  In and out.  Poke poke.

“I.  I’m sorry I didn’t,” and this is too much for Ni.  She thinks Oh my god, in his mind it’s like I asked a handicapped guy to go dancing he thinks I’m a monster wait is that ableist? Maybe I am a monster, and he thinks Holy shit I can totally pass through things after all I’m pretty excited this worked.  Ni tries to explain but she has deflated too much.  She mumbles an apology.  Bumps and bounces out of Nate’s cubicle to the ladies’ room.  Nate curses himself for having been so lazy and puts his whole arm through his desk.  This is rad!

Kaz appears over the wall.

“Hey, man.”

“Kaz.”  Nate doesn’t look up, instead he puts his face through the desk.  I wonder what it looks like in. Oh.  It doesn’t look like anything because there’s no light inside a desk.  Well.

“I couldn’t help but overhear that,” Kaz says, watching Nate do a strange bobbing for apples through his furniture.  Nate does not answer.  “Just uh.  I can’t help but wonder.  Like you make yourself solid all the time.  You hold a pen and answer your phone and stuff.”

Nate pulls his head up out of his desk, reflexively takes a deep breath like he is emerging from water.  Why do I still do that?    

“I mean, couldn’t you make your.  You know.  If you wanted to couldn’t you be solid uh.  Down there?”

“What?  Oh.  Yeah.  No, I completely could.  I just didn’t want to talk to her,” Nate says and looks around to see if there is anything interesting he can phase through.  Unfortunately, nothing is ever interesting.

“Wow.  Dick move, man,” Kaz says.

“Well you’re not wrong, but.”  And Nate trails off, looks around.  Nothing.

“But what?”

“Oh.  Nothing I guess.  You’re just not wrong.  Anyway.   Ni has a tattoo on her ankle of a heart.”

“So what?”

“So it’s in a glass.  Like, the glass is half full.  Of a heart.  And not an anatomical heart, like a Carebear heart.  I kind of want to scream in her face just for existing.”

“So, then, optimism and love?  I guess?  That’s doesn’t seem like a scream-worthy offence, she’s just not like you,” Kaz sees Sarah emerge from the elevators.  Head towards the ladies’ room but change course when she hears Ni sniffing through the door.  “Topic change.  What do you think of Sarah?”

“She’s a bit young for you, Kaz,” Nate says and actually looks into Kaz’s face for the first time this morning.  Kaz is a very sad man, and so he amuses Nate more than the other mouth-breathers.  Kaz blushes.

“No, no.  Not like.  Just you know.  What do you think of her?  Is she…cool?  Or nice or whatever?”  He sputters.

Nate very nearly smiles but doesn’t want to encourage Kaz too much.  Thinks Fuck you, Kaz, I’m gonna go walk through shit.  Says,

“Fuck you, Kaz, I’m gonna go walk through shit.”

Kazimieras thinks that Nate the ghost is probably his best friend and thinks again of putting a gun in his mouth.

Kaz and Zoë (open-mouthed sobbing extended Nate the ghost version)

  • It doesn’t matter.
  • No, it really doesn’t.
  • Get away from my desk, Kaz.  I have to put my head down and think about how different types of birds die. Because it’s better than talking to you.  I don’t know.  For a while.  A while is long go away.
  • Don’t tell the story again.  No.  I don’t know if I can talk to other dead people.  I don’t fucking know if she’s happy.  There’s not like a number I can call.  That’s a stupid word.  Don’t say that word.  No.  What the fuck is a séance?  No.  Because no. I’m not doing that.
  • No no no.  No no no no no no no.


Jon R. Flieger’s work has appeared in numerous journals including Canadian Literature, Descant, The Malahat Review, filling Station, The Windsor Review, Rampike, The Capilano Review, Contemporary Verse 2, and Matrix. He lives in Windsor. He is afraid of bees.

10 comments

  1. Christina Brown ( Likes: 1159 ) says:

    This is so cool! And the pacing is so interesting, you start with a ‘love’ story faster than the beginning of up and then you evolve to a blow-by-blow office scene, and somehow I still feel like we’re speeding up? Brilliant. So many great lines in here – “She would email him if she knew what his email was. Maybe just try his name dot last name at gmail. Who knows. Need coffee.” If this isn’t 2018 then I don’t know what is.

  2. SimonP ( Likes: 19 ) says:

    Office Space meets The Sixth Sense! Nate was a funny character (and if it’s a wink to Six Feet Under then I appreciate the reference) and the writing style was intriguing. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t get it, though. Such a hodgepodge of styles: bullet points; a forgetful, fourth-wall breaking narrator vs. straight narration; inconsistent means to indicate dialogue; multiple “episodes(?)”. I can only assume these have deeper meanings, but I don’t get it! Or maybe they don’t! I can appreciate eclecticism for it’s own sake. Content-wise, I think you did a great job. The characters are fun and I liked the button on Nate (I was wondering what his character was doing and then was very satisfied).

  3. R. Daniel Lester ( Likes: 1001 ) says:

    That’s nice work, Jon. I enjoyed that.

    But that bio, what, you couldn’t get accepted by any more super-highbrow, established/legendary Canadian literary journals? C’mon. Write better, man.

    Oh and if I make it out of the next round and our stories happen to face off in the one-on-one round, that mid-week delivery of bees? Yeah, not from me, nope.

  4. Sean Wheaton ( Likes: 1184 ) says:

    I was trying to find something to dislike about this story, it being a Deathmatch and all and me, another contestant, but I’m having trouble, especially because a funny ghost story is almost impossible to pull off. “Ghost Town,” maybe. “Ghost Dad,” not so much.
    If I worked there, I imagine I’d probably be much more tolerant of Ni.
    Maybe.

    1. Jon Flieger ( Likes: 37 ) says:

      Thank you, Mike!

      Um, well it’s difficult because the camera really changes things – it adds ten pounds, it can make blues kind of greenish, some people escape into the lens and are trapped there forever, etc.

      To get Nate right I think you’d have to get a bunch of raccoons together and throw a sheet over them? We can do some shooting tests.

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