Sorry for not posting in so long. Here's a piece of short short fiction that I might submit soon. But first help me workshop it and tell me why you hate it:
by Darren Pardee
There was a schizophrenic lady on his train every evening who knew she was crazy, but only half the time. Her happy persona knew it. “Make room for the crazy lady!” she’d say with a deep-maroon grin drawn onto her pasty face with what looked like an oily crayon, as she shuffled against the tide of commuter egress. She spoke with a high-pitched warble, the same sort of voice one would use to tease a laugh out of an infant. When the train became elevated she would profess the beauty of the sunset as if it was the first time she had ever seen one. She was always concerned for her fellow passengers if the train car was particularly crowded, and gave her childlike encouragement to those attempting to disembark who were having a rough time of it.
But her angry persona didn’t seem to know she was crazy, or if it did, didn’t care. Her angry persona glowered at non-whites, mouthed voiceless fuck-yous to those she felt threatened by, complained to the conductor over the intercom that a good portion of the brown-skinned passengers on board were illegal immigrants. Her angry voice was not childlike and it never admitted to psychosis, whether it was self-aware or not.
On the day he was fired, he got the happy persona. She sat next to him and urged him to look out at the horizon but he quite reasonably did not feel like it. He wondered if putting on his headphones while she was babbling and cooing in his ear would bring out the angry one.
Due to budget concerns. Department is relocating East. You spend too much time on the internet. We have three people doing the same job. We’re shipping these jobs off to Singapore. Your last two performance evaluations have been subpar. They threw these at him, at least some of them, excuses he barely heard, as he sat there sweating and thinking about how to tell his wife. Before he could, he had to probe his memory for the reason. It was a confusing jangle of explanations that did nothing to explain. He was either fired, or laid off, he wasn’t sure which, and in fact, had the impression he was both.
“It looks like a Big Stick popsicle,” she said, and he found himself wanting to be reassured by the tone of her voice alone.
Another crazy street urchin, a girl of hopefully seventeen, followed him off the train and offered him a quickie behind the local seniors’ home as he was walking to his car. “I’m on the pill,” she said. He shook his head and she rolled her eyes in feigned exasperation. For a moment he considered it, just taking her around the corner and fucking her up against the wall. What stopped him was not her looks, which were homely, and not his marriage, which was amiable, even pleasant, but the image of his naked shanks pulsing and bucking against her behind the dumpsters of the Home which smelled like maple syrup in the morning and rancid milk by nightfall.
His wife was not home yet, wouldn’t be for another hour at least, and he paced back and forth in front of his computer for quite some time, staring at his four year-old resume and watching the cursor tap impatiently at the bottom of the white screen. He eventually drifted to the television, and when he heard the garage door grumble to life, he scrambled for the computer and closed the accusatory file.
“How was work?” she asked him as they ate dinner on the couch.
He said, “Fine,” and now, committed, went upstairs to change out of his work-clothes and into his pajamas.
He boarded the train again in the morning, neither early nor late for anything, on the lookout for private detectives, and he was surprised to see the schizophrenic lady on his train. Not because he rarely, if ever, saw her on the morning commute (although he presumed she must board at some point in the morning in order to be returned during his evening ride), but because she was not wide-eyed and grinning, nor was she scowling or mouthing obscenities. She was sitting complacently, her hands folded in her lap, looking unconcernedly out the window. He sat across the aisle from her and, after observing her for a few moments, asked if she had the time. She opened her pocketbook, looked at her phone and calmly told him eight-twenty-three. No happy or angry persona here, no oily-crayon lipstick, no remarks on the ice-cream-colors the sun was capable of producing. She was adrift, like he was, normal and aware but unwittingly playing a game, like he was, the game of obstinacy that would find its breaking point at some unknown hour midday, to be revisited upon his fellow commuters in a happy daze or dull rage, chosen arbitrarily, severed from the umbilical of her routine, pleading for return.