Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Pretty - A Short Story

By Kristen Berry

Clare gasped, the intake of breath so sharp, it sounded painful.

“Look at you,” she exhaled. Josephine gave a little spin; she knew her cues. The tiny, black, pearl-like beads scattered over the short skirt of the dress glittered in the bar light. “When did you get this?”

“Yesterday. It arrived by messenger.”


“Jacques. Something to remind me of him while he’s vacationing in France with the wife and kids.”

“It’s Chanel, isn’t it?”

Josephine nodded, flashing the sheepish grin she knew everyone found charming. She’s so modest, so down-to-earth to be so beautiful, they said.

“God Josie,” Clare said. “I’d kill for your closet.” Clare was wearing head-to-toe Lanvin, from that season. Josephine knew Clare made this statement for the same reason she flashed her smile. It’s what privileged people did to appear humble.

Josephine’s phone sounded from inside her clutch. She plucked it from inside, glanced at the screen, and made an apologetic face.

“Give me one second sweetie, I have to take this, but I’ll only be a minute. Ricardo, darling, how are you? Slow down, what’s happening? Ah, that again. Don’t worry, I’ll be right there.”

“Another of your boyfriends?” Clare asked.

“No, a friend. His boyfriend just broke up with him – again. I’d better run.” Josephine brushed Clare’s immaculately maquillaged cheek with her lips, exited the bar and entered a cab the valet attendant hailed for her.

The car stopped in front of a run-down walk-up beside a Korean market. Josephine handed the driver a handful of bills, climbed the stairs to building, slipped her key in the lock and went inside.

When she climbed to the fourth floor, she ran into Ricardo, standing in the hallway with two large men in dark gray jumpsuits.

“There she is!” Ricardo cried, his face twisted in anger. “I told you, last time was the last time I’d let you have these men banging on the doors looking for you. This is a family building, I can’t have all this noise! I told you, one more time and you’re out!”

“I’m sorry, Ricardo. It won’t happen again. See? I’m here now. Come on,” she said, motioning to the two men, “come get what you came for.”

Josephine unlocked the door, opening it to a room the size of one of Clare’s guest closets, a tiny kitchenette, bathroom, bed, dresser and television barely visible among the racks of clothing and boxes of shoes, jewelry and gifts that filled the space.

The two men glanced at each other, and then at Josephine.

“Go on,” Josephine said, waving them in, “go get them. Just please, be careful of the clothes. The racks are on wheels, we can move them.”

Josephine opened a bottle of Perrier-Jouet and drained a glass as the men removed the television, bed and dresser from the room.

“I need you to sign this,” one of the men said, walking back into the room with a clipboard.
“Would you like a glass?” Josephine asked, holding up the bottle.

“Um, no. That’s okay. I just need you to sign this.”

“Come on,” Josephine said, pouring a glass without waiting for an answer. “Just one.” He accepted it hesitantly.

“I don’t get it,” he said, sipping the champagne. “Why didn’t you just sell some of this stuff? You could have kept your furniture.”

“I don’t need furniture.”

“But you need this? All of this?”

“Did you ever dress up as a kid? Halloween or anything? As long as you were in that costume, you were what you wore.”

“It never mattered what I wore. I was always the fat son of a Brooklyn mechanic.”

“Not me,” Josephine said, refilling her glass and motioning around the room with it. “When I put on these clothes, I become the person I want to be. People talk to me differently, they look at me differently, they treat me differently. They want to be around me. They give me more things, for free, because of the things I already have. They want to surround themselves with people that mirror the image of what they want to be. These things are my key to that. They’re my ticket. It doesn’t matter if you’re the fat son of a Brooklyn mechanic or the skinny daughter of a Queens garbage collector.”

“But no bed?” he said. “All these things and no bed?”

“Isn’t a bed just a thing?”

He looked into his empty glass. Josephine picked up the clipboard, signed the form and handed it to him with a smile.

“Thanks for the drink,” he said, smiling and walking out of the apartment.

Josephine looked around the room. She took her phone from her purse, dialed a number and held it to her ear.

“Donovan,” she purred. “Free for a late dinner? Fantastic. Dessert is on me.”

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Perfect Woman - A Short Story

My, it's been a long time. Here's a short, under-500-word piece about a character I'm thinking about. Feel free to leave your comments below!

A Perfect Woman
By Kristen Berry

“You’re beautiful,” Mark said, “and smart, and funny, and wonderful. You’re perfect, really. The best girlfriend I ever had. I’m just . . . I’m not ready. I thought I was ready, but I guess I’m not. I’m not sure when I will be. And it wouldn’t be fair to make you wait – I couldn’t ask you to do that. Seriously Jane, you deserve someone better than me. Someone who can love you the way you deserve to be loved . . .”

Jane stopped paying attention. She could recite the speech by heart. The semantics varied, but the sentiment remained the same: It’s not you, it’s me . . .

She performed the next several acts on auto-pilot: she collected the few things she’d left around Mark’s condo (a nightgown, her pricey face cream, the novel on the nightstand), kissed Mark on the cheek and walked out the door with her head held high.

In the safety of her Mercedes, she allowed herself to weep. After five minutes, she pulled a tissue from her purse, blotted and buffed the tear streaks from her face, reapplied her lipstick and pulled away from the curb.

Jane drove to the nearest bookstore. After a moment’s pause in Periodicals she selected a copy of Italian Vogue, then located the travel section and selected a book at random: Philadelphia.
She walked into the salon around the corner.

“Jane,” called the receptionist. “I’m sorry, did you have an appointment today? We’re booked solid.”

“Please?” Jane asked, her smile charming. “It’s an emergency.”

The receptionist winked. “I’ll find a way to get you in.”

In the lobby Jane flipped through the magazine she’d purchased and ripped out a page.

“The usual blowout today?” the hairdresser asked once she was in the chair.

“No,” she said, placing the magazine page on the immaculate counter, “I want this.”

She spent the next two hours having her honey-colored hair died chocolate brown, several inches chopped off so the ends hovered precisely just over her shoulders, with bangs that just concealed her green eyes.

Then she drove home to her undecorated, pre-furnished one-bedroom apartment. She taped the magazine page to the bathroom mirror, and regarded her reflection. She wiped off her pink lipstick, replacing it with a nude shade, and traced her once naked lash line with black liquid, coating the lashes with more. She took a Polaroid camera from a shelf in her bedroom and turned it backwards, the flash illuminating her face. She tossed the photo into a shoebox filled with others just like it.

It took less than the time to transform her hair than to pack her things. Once on the other side of the door, she removed the key from her chain, placed it in an envelope with a note and a few hundred dollars, and pushed it through the mail slot.

And like a hundred times before, Jane was gone.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Everything - A Short Story

I know, it's been a looong time since my last post. Better late than never, right? :-p Here goes, my first 500-word story of the year. Enjoy!

By Kristen Berry

I should have seen it coming. But when I saw him on the other side of the restaurant with her, my insides did that awful thing when half your parts hit the floor and the other lodge in your throat. I suppose he felt the same way, as I sat there with Jack. I saw it, too; the muscles under the skin of his face went to stone.

He didn’t come back into my life overnight. For a while, I would just see him from afar in public places, though I was never sure he saw me. Not until he appeared behind me one day at Borders and asked, “Are you haunting me?”

Never one for small talk, he immediately asked me to coffee. A person could have coffee with an inconsequential ex, someone with which you had only shared a few memories and too much time. But Kevin . . . It had been seven years, and still he inspired the novels that paid my bills. No, there could be no coffee between us.

After several weeks of ignoring his emails, I finally gave into an e-conversation with him. We compromised on the terms: seeing each other would be too dangerous; calls too personal; letters too romantic. We would communicate through email alone, deleting each other’s messages as soon as they were read.

It filled a void. When we forced ourselves to stay focused on what we had and not wish for more, we actually made up for all the little things we’d settled for in our partners.

For a moment, we had everything. But then I saw him at the restaurant, sitting with his wife, and all the things I couldn’t have were the only things I wanted.

I needed to leave. But we were only halfway through our appetizers and I didn’t want to arouse Jack's suspicions. Not that he would ever suspect anything anyway. Good, sweet Jack. He deserved so much better than me.

I excused myself with a smile and walked toward the ladies’ room. It was locked. I rested my hands on the table in the hall and hung my head.

I hated myself. Our affair might not have been physical, but I was still just like the shoes that tracked the dirt onto the rug I stood on, dragging grim bits of the outside onto something bright and beautiful, ruining the thing over time.

I mean, weren’t Jack and I happy? Even if he didn’t fulfill my every need, even if he never understood me the way Kevin did, even if he couldn’t sum up the world with all the eloquence and wisdom of an epic poet, weren’t we still happy?

Then I felt his hand on my back. I was a column of Jenga blocks just after the last piece was pulled, swaying fruitlessly, trying to right myself though in a matter of seconds I would be dashed to the floor in a million broken pieces.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

I've Been a Bad Blogger . . .

Actually, I've been a good blogger . . . it's just been for another blog (http://www.newsforpeoplewhoreadgood.com).

Don't worry, I haven't forgotten about "A Literary Girl." Now that "News for People Who Read Good" is up and running, I'm definitely returning my attention to fiction.

Stay tuned! My goal is to get another piece of super-short (500 words) fiction up by next week.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

New Year, New Blog

I apologize for the lack of posts lately. As I'm sure you could tell from my last several posts, I've been thinking a lot about the disconnect between traditional publishing and the Internet age. Instead of continuing to simply comment on it, I decided I should try and do something about it, even if only in my own, small way.

I've decided to launch a new blog (it won't replace "A Literary Girl") to provide readers and writers with a single source for literary news, presented in a fresh, irreverent voice. Check it out at www.newsforpeoplewhoreadgood.com/. Save it to your bookmarks, and subscribe to the feed!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"Move Over Kindle; E-Books Hit Cell Phones"

The other day my boyfriend and I were talking about the popularity of Amazon's Kindle. "Wouldn't it be cool if you could skip buying the $400 gadget and just get the books straight to your smartphone?" I asked.

Turns out, people already do. And, according to BusinessWeek, people are downloading books to their smartphones at a lower price than those using Kindles. Not to mention at a lower price than those buying the books the old fashioned way, at actual bookstores.
Interesting . . .

"Move Over Kindle; E-Books Hit Cell Phones," BusinessWeek, Dec. 30, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

NYTimes: More Readers Picking Up Electronic Books

Continuing the ongoing conversation about the future of the publishing industry, the New York Times published a story about the rise in electronic book sales: