The Writing Disorder


New Fiction


by Jim Meirose

      You squint through transparent non-safety glass, that is cracked and gets icy and is on a slant. Windchill is colder than regular cold, coat and gloves are needed, you're chilled to the bones feeling bitter, and you begin to freeze, even though you're sitting in this chinese restaurant, having just had a good meal.
      There's a pile of fortune cookies before you, between you and your chainsmoking companion.
      You break one open what does it say.
      It says Pig ass is pink with a little tail.
      —shanghai spring roll—
      I need a little tail, you joke to yourself for an instant—then you enter the holy church of confusion.
      What kind of fortune cookie message is this?
      Pig ass is pink with a little—
      What does it say, she asks from across the table, from within her wreath of smoke.
      Here, you look, you say, tossing it across.
      She reads it.
      That's weird, she says, tossing it onto the table. Isn't that language a little strong?
      You raise a hand.
      Maybe it talks about pig ass because we're in a restaurant that serves pork.
      —egg drop soup—
      Her eyebrows rise.
      Yeah—but ass? The word ass? We should be offended. And why did they give us so many fortune cookies anyway? There's a whole pile of them.
      She takes a long deep drag.
      Here, you say, picking up another cookie. Open this one let's see what it says.
      Why should I open it? she says, smoke pouring from her mouth and nostrils.
      Because it's your turn.
      Cigarette planted in her mouth, she waves his cookie aside and picks up another.
      I should really pick up my own, she says, puffing.
      She pulls the butt out of her mouth and puts it in the ashtray. Red lipstick smears the filter.
      Because that's the way it works. Here.
      —white meat chicken fried rice—
      She breaks it apart and recites what it says, holding the slip of paper high.
      Ok, here—it says Teeth bite, flowers bloom, ropes bind, but love will get you over the wall.
      What? you say.
      She plants the cigarette back in her mouth.
      Love will get you over the wall, she says. I think I understand what that means.
      She takes the cigarette between her fingers.
      —white meat chicken lo mein—
      It's a metaphor, she says, waving it. Over the wall means you will get past whatever obstacle is in your way, she says.
      But what was the first part again?
      She holds the slip of paper in the same hand as the cigarette.
      Teeth bite, flowers bloom. and ropes bind, she says.
      Are those metaphors?
      Probably. But they beat me.
      That's the answer! you say, as she takes a drag.
      She blows out a great blue cloud.
      What you said. The word but.
      I said that?
      Yes, you say.
      How is that the answer? she says through bloodshot eyes.
      —roast pork chow fun—
      It says But love will get you over the wall. That's a good thing. The word but implies what came before are bad things.
      She takes a drag, looks down, then looks back up at you and speaks with smoke pouring from her mouth.
      Flowers blooming are bad things?
      They won't get you over the wall, you answer.
      Only what gets you over the wall is good?
      Seems so.
      She stubs out the butt and takes out another.
      —white meat chicken chow mein—
      That means beauty for its own sake is bad? she says.
      She thrusts the new cigarette into her mouth, listening.
      It's not that it's bad—it's just that it's—meaningless.
      That's absurd, she snaps, after lighting up.
      You lean forward and reach for another fortune cookie.
      Well—it's my turn.
      She bites a piece off her cookie and begins to chew, holding her cigarette in her other hand, as you unwrap. You pull out the slip of paper. You read.
      Fangs are planted in nylon, on Linda, while she's on the phone petting the cat.
      Huh? she says. She takes a drag.
      Oh that's an easy one, you say.
      Okay. What does it mean?
      She blows out smoke as you lean back with both hands on the edge of the table, and speak.
      Beware of wild things.
      —roast pork chop suey—
      The cat? she says.
      Yes. She was petting the cat and it bit her. And she wasn't paying attention—she was on the phone.
      So the moral is what? she says, flicking an ash.
      Always pay attention when you're around wild things.
      She once more thrusts the cigarette into her mouth.
      What's that bit about nylon? she asks, butt bobbing in her mouth.
      Simple. The cat was in her lap and it bit her in the leg.
      —moo shu vegetables—
      And she was wearing nylons, she says. She takes the cigarette from her mouth and puts it in the tray.
      There has to be some meaning in that, she adds, as the smoke curls upward from the tray.
      There is. The nylons got bit through. Probably got ruined. Torn.
      So the whole moral is?
      Things can get ruined if you're not paying attention to wild things, you say.
      And what does wild things signify? she asks.
      Unexpected things. Unpredictable things.
      It could be simplified, she says, picking up the cigarette and waving it in the air, trailing smoke.
      To what?
      Things can get ruined if you're not paying attention.
      The cigarette goes between her lips.
      —vegetable egg foo young—
      And don't forget the suffering too. She got bit you know. It hurts to get bit, you say.
      Beware of the unpredictable, she says.
      You pound the table.
      Right! you snap. That sums it up nicely!
      We're a good team, she says, leaning back.
      We are.
      Leaning back further, she takes a long drag. My turn, she says, suddenly sitting forward and grabbing up another fortune cookie. Quickly she unwraps it, cracks it open, pulls out the fortune, and reads, smoke pouring from her mouth.
      —beef with broccoli—
      Pain comes around you in rows of yellow screaming, Laura uses cord to tie off the bleeding member—eyeww.
      What's the matter.
      That's awful, she says. She waves the butt.
      What? The bleeding member part?
      Yes. What kind of goddamned fortune cookies are these?
      The cigarette hangs from her lips. Smoke snakes from the tip. Her great eyes look up.
      Well wait, you say. Just calm down. Let's figure out what it means.
      Yuchh. Just the thought of it—
      Oh, come on. It's just a fortune cookie. Plus it should bother me a whole lot more than it bothers you.
      —roast pork with chinese vegetables—
      Because you don't have one.
      One what?
      A member.
      She shifts in her chair.
      Anyway—Tell me what kind of fortune this could be, she says.
      Give it to me, you say.
      She hands it to you with the hand holding the cigarette and lets it go like a dirty thing. You hold it in your hands and read the first part.
      Pain comes around you in rows of yellow screaming. Hmmm.
      —chef special chicken—
      You hold it before your eyes. The words come at you again and again. Her smoke hangs between you.
      Pain, you say. It's some horrible pain. Some terrible thing has happened.
      What terrible thing—oh, oh. The member—
      Not necessarily—it could be another metaphor.
      You and your metaphors, she says.
      You snort the air toward her. The smoke snakes from her butt.
      Pain is always circling around waiting for someone to land on, you say.
      Land on?
      She takes a drag.
      Right. And it's full of yellow screaming.
      —shrimp with chili sauce—
      She blows it out.
      What about the member?
      Pain comes in many ways. In this case, something happened to his member.
      She taps the cigarette on the table.
      You mean his penis, she says.
      Yes I suppose that's what it means.
      She flicks an ash.
      Pig ass? Member? Penis? What kind of damned fortune cookies are these. Like I said before, she says.
      I don't know. Maybe somebody someplace where they get written decided to have some fun. Its got to be boring writing all these little sayings.
      —sweet and sour pork—
      Do you think there's people who sit and write them? Or do they just use the same ones over and over? she says.
      She takes a drag as you answer.
      I can't imagine that these get used over and over.
      No, she says, blowing smoke. Me either. And who is Laura?
      Oh—the generic nurse, you say.
      Or doctor, she says.
      Sure. Laura could be a doctor. I guess maybe the whole thing just means that doctors fight pain.
      It could mean that, she says.
      She stabs out the butt.
      Oh well. Let's have another.
      —roast pork egg roll—
      You lean forward and grab another, unwrap it and pull the fortune loose without breaking the cookie.
      She pulls out her next cigarette.
      Oh—see that, you say.
      The cookies not broke. You watch. This will be a special one.
      You read aloud as she lights up with a small black Bic.
      Punctures pierce the tires of the tractors that tilled the field, you read—great knots of dirt lie across the furrows, and Donna is the mouthpiece of the farmer.
      —chicken rice soup—
      You look up smiling.
      Well—there's one for you.
      Ohh—that's too obvious, she says, pointing with the cigarette.
      Obviously, it's about punishment.
      She takes a long drag and sighs loudly letting out the smoke, as if bored. You rustle the tiny slip of paper in your fingers.
      I can see that, maybe, you say, in the part about the tractor tires but what about the other parts?
      What? The dirt? she asks.
      —roast pork fried rice—
      Yes. And the mouthpiece of the farmer.
      Farmers and dirt go together, she says.
      That's true.
      You sigh deeply.
      Her smoke envelopes you both.
      Who is Donna? she asks.
      Easy. The farmer's wife.
      The farmer and his wife get punished for digging in the dirt?
      That could be it, you say.
      She takes a puff and moves the cigarette from one hand to the other.
      —roast pork lo mein—
      But what's wrong with digging in the dirt.
      Oh who the hell knows, you say. I don't like this one. Let's read another one.
      My turn, she says, grabbing up another one. It rustles unwrapping. The cigarette bounces in her fingers and the cookie breaks into three pieces with many crumbs. She unfolds the fortune, and reads with the butt in her mouth.
      Blood is in the fertilizer tied onto Eddie by his earpiece.
      Well—I don't have the slightest.
      Blood is in the fertilizer, she says, bringing down the cigarette. Makes sense.
      And the fertilizer is tied onto Eddie.
      By his earpiece.
      Smoke blows between you.
      —chicken chow fun—
      You and she look at one another.
      Whoever wrote these is a nut, she said. It makes absolutely no sense.
      We should take these up to the counter and complain.
      Why complain? The meal was good. So what about the fortune cookies? If they didn't give them to you, you wouldn't even miss them, she says.
      I would miss them, you reply.
      It seemed like they used to say better things though.
      She takes a drag.
      I know. Like, Hard work will make you prosperous.
      —roast pork chow mein—
      That's a good one, she says, smiling.
      An idle mind is the devil's workshop.
      She blows smoke above you.
      I don't know about that one—doesn't seem chinese.
      I know. But the blood is in the fertilizer tied to Eddie's ear isn't very chinese either, you say.
      She takes a drag.
      Maybe Eddie's a farmer.
      She blows the smoke from her nose.
      What? you say.
      Maybe Eddie's a farmer with fertilizer tied to his ear.
      Why would he tie fertilizer to his ear.
      Maybe its some kind of voodoo thing—take a little bag of fertilizer and put some blood in with it and tie it to your ear. And if you do this, you will be prosperous.
      She takes a drag.
      Right, you say, pounding the table and sitting up straight—and that's all hard work.
      —white meat chicken chop suey—
      She blows it out.
      So hard work will make you prosperous, she said calmly, waving the hand holding the cigarette, waving smoke.
      There you go, you say, sitting back with hands folded. We're a good team.
      She picks a bit of cigarette paper from her lip and flicks it to the floor
      But voodoo?
      —vegetable delight—
      Sure, she says. That's something they would do in voodoo—like go around with dead chickens tied around their necks.
      They do that?
      I don't know, she says, giggling. The cigarette bounces.
      I don't think so.
      So that one's about voodoo—what's the next one say?
      Well—let's see.
      You grab it up. Its wrapper is greasy somehow, hard to grab, hard to tear. She blows smoke between you. Finally, you use your teeth. It comes into your hand. The wrapper falls to the floor. You read into the cloud before her.
      Saliva spits out when she stammers amen at the end of the prayer, you read. Freshly lashed men do the pouring. Freshly screwed men do the drinking.
      No, she says--it can't say that—give it here!
      —chicken egg foo young—
      You hand it over. She takes it with the hand holding the cigarette. Her eyes pop reading it.
      Freshly lashed men, she says.
      The smoke's layered about you.
      Yep. They do the pouring. And those—those other men, they do the drinking.
      The freshly screwed men.
      Right, you say.
      And she spits at the end of the prayer.
      You look at each other.
      I don't have a clue, she says.
      —pepper steak with onion—
      She takes a deep drag and quickly blows it out.
      It's not like you to say that, you say. You always have a clue.
      She shrugs.
      Well. Not this time.
      Come on. Think harder. You made sense of all the other ones.
      Okay—first pray for, then spit on, the S&M men.
      S&M men? you say, grinning with your arms folded.
      She smokes harder.
      Right—lashing, screwing, drinking. Pray for them and spit on them. There. There's a meaning for you.
      You should see the look on your face right now.
      What kind of look.
      I would call it—bemused.
      Smoke rises from her nostrils.
      —roast pork with broccoli in garlic sauce—
      What's the next one? Come on, we've got to get out of this restaurant some year.
      All right.
      You grab up the next one, it unwraps effortlessly, the wrapper slides across the table, and you read.
      Swelling of the boil is painful. The doctor lances it with gusto, regardless of the pain, if he's swift enough, the air will not be broken by screams.
      That's another easy one, she says.
      —chicken with broccoli—
      She blows smoke before answering.
      The doctor knows what's best. Now THAT sounds like a fortune cookie saying.
      The doctor knows. There. That's even better.
      Swelling of the boil is painful though.
      It would be.
      What's a boil anyway? she asks.
      What do you mean?
      Do people even get boils anymore. I mean, they're in the bible.
      I don't know. You don't hear of people getting boils anymore.
      I bet they get them in underdeveloped countries.
      Its a shame what goes on over there, you say.
      —shrimp with broccoli in garlic sauce—
      Oh—parts of Africa. Places like that.
      Well—the doctor knows what to do, she says.
      That's right. Lance that damned boil.
      She winces.
      God, that must hurt.
      I bet.
      Okay what's next. Two more left.
      She pushes the cigarette into her mouth and sweeps one toward her and unwraps it and reads.
      Infection grows after the brick is smashed onto the finger, by his stripes we are healed, and fast, damn!
      —sweet and sour shrimp—
      Doctors must of written these things, you say.
      Right, she says, taking the butt from her mouth. Doctors, or sick people.
      By his stripes we are healed.
      That's a reference to Jesus, she says.
      She blows smoke.
      Did Jesus get a brick smashed onto his finger? you ask.
      I wouldn't doubt it. But never mind all that. Infection grows, the infection of sin, but is healed by Jesus.
      The infection of sin is healed by Jesus? That might be a fortune cookie saying—
      No, she says, waving the cigarette.
      Why not.
      They wouldn't mention Jesus. You know that.
      —shrimp roll—
      Yes. I guess I do, you say.
      That's a shame.
      He was a good man.
      If you believe in him, you say.
      Oh I believe there was a Jesus.
      There might have been a Jesus but I doubt he was God.
      He could still have been a good man though.
      Right. A nice guy, you ooze.
      A square fellow, she snaps.
      Square fellow?
      —chicken noodle soup—
      Right. That's a saying from where I come from.
      Oh, you say.
      She leans forward. She blows smoke.
      There, she says. You take the last one.
      You pick it up. It unwraps.
      You read.
      Blow the long horn each time a soul is saved.
      Well, she says—there's a good one.
      She stubs out her smoke.
      What if you don't have a long horn—and how would you know each time a soul is saved?
      She lights a new one.
      —vegetable fried rice—
      I think that's a fortune cookie saying for an angel.
      Angel? you say.
      She takes one puff.
      Right. Don't you believe in angels?
      Then I feel sorry for you, she blurts, hard-eyed.
      You freeze—somehow, she has just cut you to the bone.
      Time to go now, you say coldly, shaking off the unpleasant feeling, rising from the table littered with fortunes wrappers and cookies.
      Okay, she says. She stubs out her freshly lit cigarette, and you notice this, and it surprises you. Not like her to waste one; not like her at all.
      —vegetable lo mein—
      She leaves with both hands pushed deep in her pockets and no cigarette in her mouth. You squint through transparent non-safety glass, that is cracked and gets icy and is on a slant. Windchill is colder than regular cold, coat and gloves are needed, you're chilled to the bones feeling bitter, and you begin to freeze, now that you're leaving this chinese restaurant, having just had a good meal.

      Jim Meirose's short work has appeared in many literary magazines and journals, including Alaska Quarterly Review, New Orleans Review, South Carolina Review, and Witness. A chapbook of his short stories will be released in October 2010 by Burning River. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and the Shirley Jackson Award. One of his stories was cited in the O. Henry awards anthology.

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