This story is brought to you by my hilarious and delightful friend Liz. I burst-fractured my L1 vertebrae in September, so for Christmas Liz made me a pair of feather earrings with blue stones and snake vertebrae.
“A couple extras for you,” she said.
She told me this epic tale of misery and mayhem and it was so hilarious I had to write it down. It has been fictionalized and names have been changed because, well, I wanted to change them.
Then I Stuck My Tongue Out at the Universe
A Short Story
“Devon.” I tilted my shoulder to bring the phone mic closer to my lips. “Do you want to come, or not?”
He hemmed and hawed and finally said, “Yeah, yeah, I do. But can we leave at 2:30?”
I glanced at my watch. It was already 1 o’clock. I’d agreed to meet Lindsey at 1:30 at the festival.
“Devon…” I sighed. “Okay, 2:30. I’ll meet you downstairs.”
“Sounds good, cupcake.”
The shit I do for Devon.
I texted Lindsey. “Waiting for a friend. Can I meet you at 3 o’clock instead?”
There was no reply. I fed the cats and popped a couple dishes in the washer. No reply.
At 1:30 I got a text message: “Crap!” It was from Lindsey. “Sorry, I didn’t see this. I’m already here.”
I glared at the phone, then at the floor, where Devon lived—in the apartment right below mine. But there was no helping it now. Lindsey said she’d grab a seat and try to meet other festival-goers. Thank god she’s a people person.
By mistake, I fed the cat again, and finished up knitting a Christmas gift for Max. Then the phone rang.
I narrowed my eyes.
“What is it, Devon?”
“Can’t make it after all. Chuck came over and we decided to get some Chinese instead. Sorry.”
I folded my curses about his mother into a pocket for later and took a deep breath.
“Great. Thanks.” And I hung up the phone.
I had my shoes, jacket, and purse on in roughly point-five seconds, and leapt out the door like a detective-cop in a movie.
Luckily the bus stop was only three blocks away. I wound my way up the alley to 33rd Street, and took a sharp left. I glanced up the hill.
“Perfect!” The bus was just cresting 39th Street. I had plenty of time. But the holidays were close, and it was a weekend; the two lanes of traffic each direction were non-stop.
I watched as the bus hiked itself back up from a kneel and chugged to the next stop. Then the next. I searched the cars roaring past in both directions for a break, just a brief lull in the flow where I could bound across all four lanes and make it to the stop.
The bus inched closer. I began waving my arms, signaling to the driver that I was planning to get on her bus, if she could just wait five seconds longer for me to cut across traffic.
She shook her head and mouthed, “Sorry.” The bus kneeled at the stop across the street, picking up two passengers. Then it continued on and disappeared down the hill.
Smartphones. This is the reason I bought one. I pulled my phone from my pocket and checked for another bus, one that would take me downtown from here or another nearby street.
There was a line 15 approaching 39th Street in just a matter of minutes. I pivoted and sprinted up the hill. Puffing and sweaty and red, I barely made the bus and threw a handful of change into the machine. I almost forgot to take my transfer and collapsed into a seat.
“I’m on the bus,” I texted Lindsey. “Be there soon.”
This bus took an odd direction, down the waterfront before heading to the city center. It added at least ten or fifteen minutes to the trip and by the time I reached the white tented roofs of the holiday ale festival, I had bitten my cuticles down to the nail beds.
ID in one hand and fifteen dollars in the other, I waited in line with the other cold schmucks for a cashier to stamp my wrist and dazzle me with eight overpriced drink tokens.
I approached the cashier and flashed my ID and my cash.
“You only have fifteen dollars here,” he said, raising an eyebrow.
“It’s not fifteen?”
He shook his head. “Twenty-five.”
I stood and gaped, and soon he ushered me away to make room for the next person in line. Normally I didn’t curse, but a thin “goddammit” escaped my lips and I pocketed my worthless cash.
I texted Lindsey again. “Can’t get in,” I said. “Not enough money.” I had to find an ATM for that last ten dollars. At this point, I had to. Just to defy the universe.
There was an ATM a block down, so I tried that first. It rejected my card immediately, for no apparent reason. The other two ATMs in the carousel had the same response, as if my debit card was cursed.
So I pulled out the smartphone again and searched for banks nearby. The next closest ATM was seven blocks north. I already had a blister forming on my heel from chasing down the bus twice, but I inhaled, hiked up my purse and headed north.
It was past 3 o’clock now—almost 3:30. Lindsey kept replying, “Ok” to my messages, which soon became “Ok…”, which then tapered off to nothing.
Lungs burning from the frigid December air, I made it to the bank. I stepped inside the little plexiglass ATM booth and folded the door closed behind me. It was like my own personal bubble.
“Insert your card.”
I fished out my wallet and fed my debit card into the machine. With a slurp, the card disappeared.
“Please withdraw your card quickly.”
I tugged my card. It stuck. I tugged again, gritting my teeth, and ripped it free of the ATM’s tiny, toothed mouth. I examined the back of the card and the magnetic strip had been sliced right through.
The ATM screen blinked. A dialog box prompted: “$4.50 service fee for withdrawing funds. Accept?”
“Four fifty?” I glared at all six accepted bank logos. Every single major bank except mine.
I had to. This was the only ATM within a ten block radius. I punched ENTER and waited. Seconds ticked by, then the cash dispenser began to hum.
Suddenly, the ATM went silent. A little grey box appeared on the screen.
“Temporarily out of service.” Below flashed a message in red text: “We apologize for the inconvenience.”
I stared. I looked at the plexiglass surrounding me on every side, looked at the street outside where cars drove by silently. Then I screamed.
I pounded the ATM with my fists. I kicked the brick wall of the bank. I cursed as loud as my poor freezing vocal chords would allow.
“Gya-a-a-a-agh!” I pumped my fists in the air and screamed and screamed. And then I took a deep breath, filling my lungs, tears sticking my eyelashes together, and screamed until I felt my blood pressure drop.
When I was finished, I wiped my eyes with my sleeve and turned back to the street. Taking long, deep breaths, I left the plexiglass ATM booth and stuffed my wallet back into my purse.
I called Lindsey.
“I just can’t do it,” I said, my voice shaking. “I just can’t.”
“You can’t do what?”
“There is not a single ATM around that will give me money.”
“How much do you need?”
“Idiot.” Lindsey sighed. “I’ll meet you at the front. I’ve had ten bucks all along I could have lent to you.”
I hiccuped, and thanked her, and hung up. I walked the rest of the way back to the city of white tents and met Lindsey at the cashier. My hands trembled and she studied me.
“You’re pale as a sheet,” she said, shaking her head at me. “Let’s go inside. I met a pretty smokin’ guy on the balcony and he’s totally your type.”
She took my arm and led me inside. Sure enough, he was smokin’, and he offered me a sip of his hot cocoa to help me warm up.
I took a long sip, and stuck my tongue out at the universe.