Stifled

(An original short story)

The overwhelming ring of my alarm kicked off at 5am and was met with a muttering sound of “Jesus Christ Mari, turn that off” as I pushed my way out of bed and grabbed the closest clean shirt I could find. My day started at 5am sharp, 7 days a week. I pulled on a pair of jeans I had worn last 3 past days and snapped my sneakers on as I grabbed my jacket and bag and headed out the door quickly and silently to avoid an argument that was building.

As I stepped outside onto the busy streets of the city, I was surrounded by sounds of screeching taxis and the train rumbling overhead so loud it shook the earth. I lit a death stick as the smoke surrounded and engulfed me as my only freedom from the constant pains, I felt in my chest radiating out from my insides. I hastily made my way a few blocks down a corner or two, over to the first stop of the day. “Best Coffee In Town” the neon lights lit the window shone as I pushed the door open, escaping the cold at my back.

“Morning Mari” Marcus, the owner of the small coffee joint exclaimed with an enthusiasm I hadn’t felt in years. “Morning Marcus” I replied as I grabbed an apron and threw my jacket and bag into the back room of the small, dimly lit coffee shop. The old bell chucked at me as a man dressed in a suit waltzed in, “two large black coffees and one with light cream.” He was probably an intern at a local big business they started putting in around the block, doing the dirty work for men who were overappreciated for the little work they put in but got paid the big bucks because a piece of paper signed by a famous college gave them the right to their entitlement.

I handed him the stack of steaming hot coffees and continued to follow the motions until the clock hit 9am. I ripped off the apron. I grabbed by bag from the back, “see you tomorrow Marcus” he waved with a smile as I rushed my way out the door. The clouds covered the sun today, making the world look like an overedited black and white filter online. I made my way down another 15 blocks, the wind whipping my short brow hair in circles until I entered a 4-story brick building with a fading sign. My parents always pushed an education onto me, and it wasn’t until I found myself working dead end job after dead end job that I took the advice seriously. I enrolled in a few classes which grew into what they classify as a ‘full time student’ status. Much like my jobs, my life is a dead end, so I started taking random classes until I landed upon a major in architecture.

The hours were long, and the work was hard, sketch, papers, sketch, papers. “How would you remodel the Empire State Building” or “What landmarks would you change in central park? How would you do it?” were questions I was bombarded with day after day from my professors as my brain spun like a broken carousel off the tracks. Sometimes between classes I stopped in the bathroom just to see if the dark circles under my eyes had grown, or if I even recognized the person in the mirror anymore. I didn’t. The clock hit 5pm and off I went from the tall brick building to a small bar.

“Evening Mari” the manager Tracey said as I hustled through the door, dragging my backpack behind me, “You okay girl? Looks like you’re having a long day.” I could see my pale complexion and dark eyes in the reflection of her sunglasses, “everyday is a long day Tracey” I said and forced my face into a smile for the first time in days. I never asked, nor cared why she wore sunglasses inside a dark bar at night, but without fail, she had a different stylish pair on every time.

I was still in my white shirt and worn jeans as I slug a waist apron on with the letter printed, “Hot Spot Highlight” in bright, pink letters and started preparing ice, lemons, and restocking the bottles of whisky and gin as the after-work crowd started to pour into the bar. An empty shell of a building turned into a bustling spot for alcoholics, casual drinkers, and bachelorette parties. Drink after drink I slung down the bar as I stuffed tips into the front of my apron. The business was a distraction from the looming cloud of anxiety and stress I had following above me.

The clock hit 12am and Tracey handed me my jacket after I had miscalculated and spiled a few drinks, “I think it’s time for you to get some rest doll” she said with a wink. I gently took the jacket and headed outside into the freezing night breeze. Another death stick, more smoke. The city wasn’t a safe place at night, so I always had my guard up on the short walk back to the apartment, pepper spray in hand.

I was one of the lucky ones to get back safe and I never took that for granted. I jimmied my key into the lock and heard the loud clicks of the bolts opening. I was met with the bright light of the TV streaming some sitcom I never found funny. “Mari, it’s about time. Jesus you were out all day, I’m starving what’s for dinner,” Jack spat the words at me like venom slowly sinking into my worn-down skin. This was a regular occurrence; Jack goes through jobs like a spoiled child goes through toys. His parents cut him off from their fund’s months ago, so I picked up a second job to meet the bills and scrape by on my school payments. I felt the weight slowly crushing down on me as I threw some left-over pad Thai in the microwave and laid it on the table in front of him. No words were exchanged, I silently made my way into the bedroom and curled up under the covers as the TV boomed in the distance. I could hear Jack laughing loudly and imagined the pad Thai spewing out of his mouth with every laugh.

5am brought on another alarm with Jack following up with his usual “Mari, turn that thing off, Jesus Christ its 5am.” I got out of bed, not addressing the alarm. “Mari, I said turn that off” Jack spat at me as I put on a sweatshirt and now my 4-day unwashed jeans. The carousel spun faster and faster until I felt like I couldn’t breathe anymore. Jack continued yelling about the alarm and I couldn’t help but laugh. I couldn’t stop, I was gasping for air and toppled over from an explosion of emotion like a child getting to ride their first big roller coaster.

I staggered my way into the kitchen and grabbed the dirty plate of pad Thai that Jack hadn’t washed, because god forbid he do anything other than watch reality TV and push his problems and woes onto anyone else. My hands moved so quick my body couldn’t react to the motions that my heads lead me to. Dish after dish I drilled in Jack’s direction, “Oh, I’m sorry. Is my alarm too loud for you? My jobs to scrape by not enough for you? Is this elegant life of living in a shoebox apartment not your dream situation?” I found myself screaming as I pummeled plate after plate in his direction. The shattering of dishes drowned out his screaming and words of hate he was throwing back at me. I grabbed my backpack and took one last look at this sad excuse of a man, so red in the face I thought it might pop off at the neck and explode into a million pieces, staining the walls and spreading the last six years of my life all over the universe. Covered in broke plates and dirty days of old food he stumbled out of bed and lunged towards me. I shut the door behind me so quick the slam rattled the building, leaving my only house key behind.

Today I didn’t head to the coffee shop or the old brick building. I didn’t head to the bar or the alleys in between as I rushed from one job to another. I headed straight to the train station, running with a freedom I had never felt. Upon entering, out of breath and wheezing, I made my way to the counter. “I would like a ticket please” I managed to get the words out through my heavy breaths. The attendant looked at me with such shock on her face and gently replied “where would you like to go?” I didn’t have a plan, I couldn’t think. It could have been the sleep deprivation or adrenaline, but I responded, “the next train out, anywhere.” She printed me a ticket and I gave her what little money I had left, stuffing the ticket in my pocket.

I made my way to station 3, not looking or caring about the destination. I planted myself in a worn-down seat, closed my eyes, and I could still picture Jack; covered in dirty food and broken dishes. The train started to chug along as I slowly slipped into sleep, not caring where I landed or what was ahead of me. The carousel stopped spinning as I drifted along with the slow lull of the train into a new world.


Janna Dimopoulos 3/7/2021

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The Diner

(An original Short Story)

The smell of French toast and coffee ricocheted off the aluminum signed walls as Betty Hutton’s voice escalated from the jukebox, “He says, murder, he says. Every time we kiss. He says, murder, he says, at a time like this.” I wipe the crust from my eyes as the sun shines through the window spanning the front of the Diner. “Windham Diner” was already lit up in bright neon blue letters, projecting to the world that it was time for a hot meal.

“C’mon sweetie, sit down and have some breakfast” my Grandfather who I called Pappoús’ voice boomed over the counter in his thick, native Greek accent as he placed an oversized plate of French toast sticks and a gallon of orange juice in front of me on the breakfast bar. In classic Greek fashion, he expected me to finish the plate, full enough for 3 people to devour.

“Let me do a morning check Pappoús, make sure everything is ready before our first table shows up,” I swiftly moved away from the food while I heard his bickering get silent every step farther away I got.

Growing up in a Greek family is living through every joke you can imagine, but the jokes are real. Vegetarians? What are those? Oh- and don’t get me started on how every word created comes from the Greek language. As stereotypical as it is in the movies however, it does have its benefits like getting to celebrate a special Greek Easter, the food always comes in troves, and we get to smash plates on the floor while yelling “OPPA!”

The diner wasn’t much, the seats were covered in old red vinyl and the tables had cracks and carves from decades of young teenage love being stabbed into them. I cleaned the floor every night, but the white and black checkered tile had become worn, yellowed, and disappointing. I made my way to the back of the diner and through the two classic red swinging doors.

My Grandmother who I called Yia-yia, was elbow deep in the stainless-steel sink, splashing away in the soap and suds. She glanced back at me with a warm smile before turning back to the sink and continued her scrubbing. I glanced down and noticed my apron had become stained and sticky with syrup while filling jars, so I took it off and tossed it into the office where we kept extra supplies.

“Sweetie, grab the ketchup from the cooler on your way out here” Pappoús yelled as I heard the front bell chime. I opened the cooler and was met with more than just the sudden shock of cool air rushing towards me. I stood frozen, not from the chill, but from the body that was curled in the back corner of the freezer. What passed through my head, whatwhatwhatwhat? I slammed the door behind me, a gust of frozen air followed from the push of the door and I was chilled to the bone.

I don’t remember ever grabbing the ketchup or serving table upon table of regulars. I don’t remember washing the dishes or dropping a stack of glasses that shattered all over the floor. I don’t remember slicing my hand on glass as I frantically tried to pick up the broken pieces or the 45-minute ride in an ambulance to the closest hospital to be stitched back up. Everything was a haze, a glazed over mask surrounding and suffocating me from the world that kept spinning and turning at a speed so fast I couldn’t catch my breath.

I found myself laying on my old, lumpy sofa, hands covered in bandages and a fog that illuminated over my eyes. Yia-yia was towering over me, her small stature reflecting a shadow across my body. She ruffled her pixie cut hair to one side as she saw me start to slowly push myself up from the sofa.

“Be careful, move slowly. You had quite the day today. Here- let me help…” she gently grabbed my shoulders and helped me sit up. In front of me on the stained coffee table was a plate of her home-made specialty; toasted bread covered with tomatoes and extra sharp cheddar cheese. The steam rose from the plate and filled my nostrils as I lunged for the food, devouring every bite. The sun had set- how long had it been?

“Yia-yia, there was…” I frantically tried to get the words out, there was a someone in the freezer, but my mind froze as I shivered from a draft that was not there. She gently laid a blanket over me as I stuttered and struggled to get out any words as my mind circled around the day’s events. “It’s okay, we know, everybody makes mistakes,” she whispered and winked, “you broke a few glasses, no harm done! Now you rest up, if you need anything I will be at the diner. Okay sweetie? I love you.” The strings controlling my head motioned it up and down as I watched her quietly leave the room.

I stared down at my blood soaked, bandaged hands, and stumbled up from the couch towards the door. The body, the body, the body. There was a body. I grabbed at the walls and the doorframe as I exited my apartment and made my way back to the diner. The ground was moving under my feet, but I couldn’t feel my legs moving. Lights passed by my eyes like firefly flashes on a warm summer night. I turned the corner to face Windham Diner but there were no lights on. There was no welcoming neon sign, and the windows were smashed in, bricks overgrown with moss from the passing of time. I stood there, in the cold night breeze staring at the empty soul of a once bustling business.

It was just this morning, I was just here, this must be a bad dream my mind wandered as my body followed, through the rubble and the rust until I found myself standing in the epicenter of the brick and mortar. The freezer was still here, the back office, the breakfast bar, they were all still here, but overgrown with dust and dirt. The only sound that echoed and bounced around was my bare feet cracking against the yellow stained flooring. Yia-yia said she would be at the diner, she said she would be here, but there’s no diner here, there’s nothing here.

I could feel water streaming down my face and my mind couldn’t distinguish if it was raining or I was crying. My hand reached for my phone and I called the one person I thought could answer my questions, but the line continued ringing and ringing before it disconnected. I tried the next number, Pappoús, but again the line was met with a disconnect. I went down my list of numbers, one after another were all met with a disconnect.

I worked my way back, over fallen and cracked tables and chairs to the freezer, the last memory I had. The broken glass was still sprawled out on the floor where I had dropped the glasses. I didn’t feel the piercing pain as I walked over my last memories. I got to the freezer and pried the rusted door open. I was met with the wretched smell of rotten food that was long expired. I remembered Yia-yia’s smiling face as she scrubbed her hands, and I made my way into the freezer. I sat down in the farthest back corner I could find, closing the door behind me. I couldn’t tell if my eyes were closed or it was just the pitch black of the frozen walls that blacked out my senses.

In a faint and distant hum, I could hear laughter, clinking of dishes and plates being rattled around. It started low, almost a whisper and every second that passed I could make out more sounds. A child laughing, Betty Hutton playing on the jukebox, and the booming voice of my Pappoús, “Order Up!” The longer I stayed in that desolated space, the more the sounds filled it with joy and hectic happiness.

I heard a slight creak and was met with a sharp light, burning my eyes. Someone had pried open the freezer door then shut it so fast I couldn’t get a breath in. I sat there, in the dark listening to those happy sounds and being filled with the warmth of my Yia-yia smile.

Works Cited

Betty Hutton. Lyrics to “Murder, He Says.” Genius, 2017, https://genius.com/Betty-hutton-murder-he-says-lyrics.


Written by Janna Dimopoulos 2/10/2020

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Updated: Mar 6

Here is a simple template I made to download and use to make your own Harley mask!

You may have to re-size the template- I based this one of my personal mask size.

mask
.pdf
Download PDF • 297KB




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