Ashes and Rita (Part 1)

A short story I wrote. I’m posting it in chunks because I think that chunks work better in a blog format.

Ralph sat at the bar alternating between reading his latest rejection letter and Dr. Yang’s self-help book Take Control of Your Life and Do The Things You Always Wanted to Do. The rejection letter was for a poem he’d sent off to some office where he figured young people with tattoos fucked around with margins and kerning all day while they drank expensive coffee and complained about how high rent was in whatever trendy city they lived in. The rejection letter held no surprises, he knew what it would say the second he opened it. He’d been getting them for 12 years, and the only surprising thing about this one was that it had been sent to him at all. Who still sent out letters? Wasn’t that what email was for?

Ralph ordered a gin and tonic and sat there feeling like the filter of a cigarette that somebody had smashed into the sidewalk. As he waited for his drink he turned his attention back to Dr. Yang’s book. He was on the third chapter: Taking Initiative. The last chapter had been about building optimism, and at that moment he needed all of the optimism possible, because he currently felt zero. Zero optimism for the short story he’d sent out to Prism last week, zero optimism for the flash fiction he’d written for a local publication, and zero optimism for any of the bad poetry he’d written and sent out. Hell, if you really grilled him on it, Ralph would have admitted to a lack of optimism about his entire life; his job at the DMV, his home life, and how he filled his hours.

These were always the tough times. When he sat bathed in the fallout glow of a rejection slip, those two or three days when every word he’d ever written seemed drenched with the stink of failure, and the future of his writing career looked like cataracts in the eyes of an old dog.

I’ll feel better after a few drinks and another chapter of Dr. Yang’s book. That’s what he had told himself after he’d open the letter, and now he was down at the bar going through with it. His gin and tonic arrived and he brought it to his lips like it would stave off early cancer. Yes, he felt shitty now, but the gin was cold and delicious, and this new chapter he was reading looked promising.

He started to read:

Sometimes, the problems we experience with trying to take control of our lives so that we can do the things we want stem from not knowing what the problem actually is. If you will indulge me for a moment, please close your eyes and think of the problem you are having.

Ralph took another sip of his drink, closed his eyes, and pictured his problem. In the depths of his psyche, it appeared to be written in house pain onto a large, imposing brick wall.

“Why can’t I get anything published?”

That had always been the question. 12 years of that exact same question every single day. He kept his eyes shut tight and swirled the ice cubes of his drink with his index finger. He kept thinking about his question, the only time when his thoughts drifted were when a gigantic desire for a cigarette muscled it’s way into his mental process. Ralph had quit years ago and told himself that he’d start back up again when he’d gotten something published. 12 years of rejection letters. It was easy to get lost in thinking about the whole thing. Ralph knew deep down that he had some kind of talent, and that his writing shouldn’t sit dead on the page like a gunned down revolutionary; twisted and stiff with rigor.

He just needed something.

Ralph opened his eyes and took another sip of gin. He wished for a second that drinking worded for him like it did for Hemingway or Bukowski, but all booze did was make his writing smear across the page like a child’s finger paintings. Something else would have to do it, because none of it worked. He sighed heavily and looked up at the ceiling of the bar, a spider web of cracked tiling that was yellowed heavily from back when you could smoke in bars.

Then he looked down the bar and caught his first glimpse of her.

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