by E Bradley
His car was nice. Tight. Got a shine on it from going to the car wash every week. Little air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror, everything. He knew girls liked nice cars. Made them throw themselves at you.
Every time he got in and closed the door behind him he felt good. Like he was being held. He wouldn’t have told anyone that. The other guys would rip it out of him if he did. They were safe guys though. Always had each others’ back. Would have sounded gay to say it though.
Every morning he would get up when it was still dark and get ready for work. He’d gel his hair and shave nicely, never miss a patch. Girls liked it when you made an effort. Couldn’t afford to skip anything or they’d notice. Girls were like that – there were things they liked, things that turned them on, and things they hated. You just had to get it right and they wouldn’t be able to resist. He knew he was doing everything right. Though Jenny at work didn’t seem to have noticed yet. She was a bit up herself though. Maybe a lesbian. They were different. Mysterious. He couldn’t work out how that whole thing worked. But two girls together was hot. He’d seen a lot of that on Pornhub.
He would leave the house, get into his tidy car and crank up Despacito as loud as it would go. It always made him feel on top of the world. Proper sexy and Latino, although he was from Braintree.
He imagined getting close to some girl in a club. A total babe. The song would come on and she’d notice his dance moves. She’d slink towards him across the dance floor on her sexy stilettos. Wouldn’t be able to take her eyes off him. Big brown eyes. Rest of her face was blurry. He didn’t know why your brain did that, went and blurred out the best bits.
Work was selling white goods in a strip-lit warehouse. He was a pretty tight salesman. Impressive, like. Got the customers where he wanted them and went in for the hard sell. He’d read a book about it. Took months. Books were so boring. Move Fast and Break Things, that was the book. He knew all about thinking outside the box now. Blue-sky thinking. Spitballing. Even small things mattered in sales. Just like with girls. The customer sometimes didn’t know best. Didn’t know what he wanted. Had to get a bit of guidance. And that was where he came in. Knew everything. Kept his cool. Analysed the situation. Business. He was all about business. Girls liked that too. Though they were hopeless at business.
Jenny was such a female when it came to sales. Let the customer walk all over her. Got pushed around, didn’t she? Typical. Wasn’t her fault though. Girls were like that.
He liked his uniform. Used to think it was lame but now he could see it took all the hassle out of getting dressed. Like those Silicon Valley bros who wore the same thing every day. He was like them. Totally. Sometimes he looked at himself in the shiny surface of a fridge and thought, fit. Looking good. Maybe he could lose a couple of pounds. No biggie.
Girls liked fit guys. Maybe that was Jenny’s problem. He was nice to her. Always said “How’s it going, Jen?” when she came past. She’d talk about all sorts. Complain. Tell him about her weekend. Some bridesmaid thing she was doing. It was boring to listen to but you had to do it. Girls liked that. It was how they worked. You put in the effort, eventually they would throw themselves at you.
Maybe it had been a long time, but that’s because the girls he’d met had been total cows. Wouldn’t let him get near. Even after all the effort he’d made – all the listening and nodding, and the grooming and the work on his car – they were just like “Oh, let’s be friends”. He deserved something. He deserved something for being such a nice guy. Some girls just didn’t appreciate him, even though he’d done everything right.
He always had a BLT for lunch. Best thing at Gregg’s. Jenny was a vegetarian but at least she wasn’t preachy. He couldn’t be doing with someone telling him what to eat. It was a free country after all.
There was always a dip in the afternoon when the customers just wouldn’t bite. He’d go with Jenny to the rec room. Make a cup of tea. She had a nice face, not too many spots. Kept herself in good shape too. You knew she was up for it just by looking at her. But she always brushed past at the end and went back to work.
Evenings were great. Driving home, then sitting down with something tasty – pizza, takeaway, something good – and he’d watch a horror film. Loved them all. Saw, Se7en, the classics. Proper genius. Even after a few viewings he’d still jump when the girl came out of the mirror or whatever. He liked a good war movie too. Men being real men. Girls hated those kind of films, he couldn’t work out why. They weren’t even real. Just films. Girls were so irrational sometimes.
He’d turn it off, go to bed. Go to bed alone. Sometimes he wondered why. But he wouldn’t be alone forever. I mean, he did everything right.
Broken Tribe Valley
by Connie Phlipot
The sign post was twisted at the base, pointing somewhere between the well-trodden hiking trail and the social path leading to the village. Apparently it was a popular hiking route. The boot tread marks looked fresh, there were even a few bicycle tire tracks, which wasn’t a good sign of course. That meant mountain bikers screeching around bends, hell bent on smashing themselves and anyone in their path as they raced down boulder strewn hills.
Alice sought out this hiking place for some quiet, peace, solitude. Weeks of minor calamities — none great, barely significant even, on their own, but piling up like a basket of dirty rags until they tumbled over onto her carefully polished floor of a life. Before she could sweep them up, re-order her life, she needed a long, hard-but-not-too-strenuous walk. In the woods. Alone.
She had hiked everywhere on every path in the outskirts of this town. She spread her maps across the kitchen table to find some new destination. All were well-know, well-traveled. She picked up one very special and old map — she must have bought it in a used book store. Romantic hikes of the X region. Romantic she didn’t need, but she was intrigued by the names. Missing Run, Steps to Heaven, World’s End. Then she saw Broken Tribe Valley. That called to her present circumstances. Valley signifying a low point in her life, tribe of her closest friends and family, now scattered — Broken.
Alice googled the name Broken Tribe Valley. There were various explanations for the name — all contradictory. The tribe was an old Slavic tribe that had split or a reference to the Jewish community in the 1800s. Broken was actually a poor translation of Brook. All nonsense she was sure.
Three buses and an uber ride the next morning got her to this off-kilter sign. It had to be pointing to the well-worn path. She started on it. After 100 meters she saw a heart-shaped blaze — not only the right path but connected to her maps sentimental trail structure.
Confident that she was on the right path, Alice let her mind wander over the last few weeks. Taking each event apart, one-by-one, it all did seem manageable. Her friend had left town, but she wasn’t really far away. She didn’t get the job she wanted, but there were other possibilities…Her mental tidying almost taken care of, she turned back to the name of the trail. Usually she didn’t care that much about name origins, but the fact that she had never head of this one after years of stomping around the area aroused her curiosity.
Despite the signs of foot and bike traffic, the path was sufficiently desolate for Alice In an hour of hiking she saw only one hiker— a through hiker by his looks — dirty, unshaven, burdened with cooking supplies and extra clothing. She surmised that this path connected to the main trail than ran along the spine of the ridge and through the whole country. He acknowledged her presence with a slight, silent nod — saving his energy for the massive walk.
Alice pulled out a bag of student food — trail mix — and leaned against a tree trunk for a rest. She bent to pick up a peanut that spilled from her palm.
“You can leave it,” the stringy, tight voice of an elderly person. Alice look up to see a woman dressed from the turn of the 20th century. Big scarf, thick boots, long, full woolen skirt. She walked slowly, but strongly, her hands clasped behind her back, her head slightly bent forward.
“Excuse me? Alice said.
“I said you can leave the peanut on the ground.”
“It’s a long story. I mean, the short version is that an animal can eat it. But you strike me as the kind of person who would want to hear the whole damn thing.”
“Well, yes. I guess, I would, especially if it has to do with the Valley’s name.”
“I knew you would say that. Well, yes it does. Where do you want to start? I mean at the beginning or in the middle?”
“The beginning, of course.”
“I’m not sure we have time, but I’ll try. Maybe I’ll simplify it. Starting with the usual question. Who is the tribe?”
“No one knows. About 100 years ago, just before I was born, the villagers started talking about the tribe. A fierce tribe, dacoits mays. Now in my old-age wisdom, I realize that there wasn’t any such tribe. It was just a device to get villagers to stay away from this area.”
“Why? Was it dangerous?”
“Maybe, but most likely, they had some special interests here — rare plants, great mushroom patch, maybe even gold. But in those days, people didn’t question it. The rumors spread and grew and parents wouldn’t let their children anywhere near the valley.
“But the village elders started to notice that commerce was flagging because people were afraid to cross the valley to sell their wares in the next town. Now, they could say the story was all hog wash, but the villagers would think they were twisting the truth for their own sake.”
“Is that how the broken part came about?”
“Ah, perceptive aren’t you?”
Alice smiled to herself.
“Yes, they began to plant signs of the tribe’s demise. Broken tools strewn about, abandoned furniture, dolls’ heads, dog bones — they became quite creative.
“Little by little, villagers began to trickle into the valley. The elders held a town hall meeting and proclaimed the tribe had been broken. All was well.”
“And the name?”
“Some smart aleck guy from the city did some research for a book he was writing on clever place names. When there wasn’t a clever name, he invented one.” Alice pulled her map from her backpack and showed it to the woman.
“Yeah, that’s from his book.”
“But what does it have to do with my peanut?”
“Nothing. I just wanted to tell the story.”
About Connie Phlipot
Connie is a retired U.S. diplomat, who has recently completed a novel based on her grandparents emigration from what is now Belarus. She is now working on a novel or linked short stories focused on her fascination with Central and Eastern Europe.