Projection

Boast and brag through
false modesty;
post and paste images on your profile
accompanied by hashing tags
in your attempt to influence.

Dragged down by my jealousy,
I am no better.
While I wish your life was as
fulfilling as you’d have us believe, it is
only through spite.

We project ourselves onto others;
the aspects we wish and want,
whether to hide or flaunt.

by Erik Shinker

Meet Cute

“We need to get you off those dating apps,” said Dave. He was sitting next to his best friend and old college roommate, Edgar. The two had met up after Edgar finished yet another unsuccessful date.

“I don’t know what to tell you, man,” said Edgar, “I just can’t find a real connection.”

The duo was sitting in their favorite after-work haunt, Shady Hal’s. True to its name, it was a hole-in-the-wall dive bar that lacked any redeeming qualities and courted the type of people who enjoyed grumbling their problems into a half-empty glass of liquor. Edgar was nursing his first gin and tonic while Dave finished up his third rum and Coke.

Rumor had it that the owner was a Jack Black fan, and that’s where “Hal” came into the picture; the owner’s name was Chet, which Edgar found to be appropriate. But, their happy hour specials were decent, and it was within walking distance to both of Dave and Edgar’s places, so Shady Hal’s became the place where they would routinely get smashed and complain about their white, middle-class problems in the company of men and women who had actual issues.

“You’re just trying too hard,” said Dave, “you overthink things. Just be in the moment and leave your comfort zone.”

“Nothing about dating is comfortable,” said Edgar, “The apps just help me go in with more information, like if she is even actually interested in me, but even that isn’t a guarantee.”

“Look,” said Dave, “let’s give the apps a rest. There’s a cute girl who started in my office a couple of weeks ago. What if I convince her to go on a date with you?”

“A blind date?” Edgar said, “It’s bad enough going on a date where I know what the girl looks like, let alone not.”

“Trust me, she’s cute,” Dave said, “Hell, I’ll make it a double-date so it isn’t as awkward for you.”

Edgar drained the last of his drink, relishing the taste of lime and gin, as memories of his last few dates floated back into his mind. Well, what did he have to lose?

***

After Edgar entered Shady Hal’s and brushed the snow from his hair, he saw Dave and two women reclining at their usual booth; it was guaranteed to be open for them since most people avoid booths upholstered with whatever leather evolved into after being soaked in vomit, spilled booze, and people’s sweaty butts.

Dave and his current girlfriend were sitting next to an incredibly beautiful woman who was taking in the little dive bar like a sommelier sniffing a newfound vintage. She wore a buttoned, red plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up and blue jeans with work boots that, judging by the amount of sheared and cracked leather, had seen some serious action.

Edgar later found out Dave and Lillian’s office had a “Lumberjack Day” to encourage employee engagement; she had led the initiative and wore a black construction paper beard at work all day. Dave wore plaid flannel shirts Monday through Sunday, so he became a supporter through no fault of his own.

Her hair was dyed a fashionable ombre that reminded him of the black and tan beer she was sipping. Edgar wanted to ask if she had ordered it to invite the comparison; he wanted to hold up her glass and compare the bubbling Guinness and pale ale beer to the delicate locks of hair that cascaded down just above her shoulders.

This would be a short date.

“…and he shall appear,” Dave said, “Lillian, this is Edgar.”

Lillian’s eyes beamed an intense stare that stripped him down to his Hanes boxer-briefs; Edgar wanted to ask her if she thought the mole on his chest looked cancerous. And yet, behind the stark intelligence in those hazel saucers, there was also a kindness; she was someone who had known pain and sought to keep others from going through it.

Edgar extended his hand and opened his mouth to speak before sneezing directly into her beer.

Some people have described silence as empty, something to be filled; the silence that followed Edgar’s sneeze splattered the room like the aftermath of fireworks going off inside a Jell-O mold. If this had been a romantic comedy, a record would have scratched as all of the extras looked up from their drinks and swung their heads around in unison to look at Edgar’s gross, dumb ass.

“I guess it’s a black and tan and green now, hehe,” Edgar said as he wiped his nose with the back of his hand.

Dave smacked his palm to his forehead with concussive force; his date raised an eyebrow above her grimace. The silence slipped through the back door of the room and the extras went back to their respective wallowing.

Edgar watched Lillian’s nose wrinkle and her lips peel back in an embarrassed smile before she covered her mouth to keep from spitting out her drink.

She snorted and Edgar smiled; she was human too.

***

Edgar ordered Lillian a clean beer and they chatted for a while, sharing the booth with Dave and his flavor of the week.

It probably should be noted that, between the two, Edgar was the romantic; at least, self-styled romantic.

Dave would date a woman for a week, make up some excuse about commitment issues, and then drop all contact her before moving on to his next “match” from whatever dating app he was using; the sad thing is, Dave didn’t realize that his excuse wasn’t as fabricated as he liked to pretend.

Edgar, on the other hand, wrote poetry for fun and pined after any beautiful woman who locked eyes with him for even a second, or spared a kind word. Okay, maybe not romantic, but Edgar knew well enough to keep his hands to himself; that may also be why the only hands he had felt in six months were none other than his own.

Edgar learned that he, Lillian, and Dave had all overlapped at MSU, Mankato, and that Dave and Lillian had met in an Intro to Anthropology class. She had a steady boyfriend at the time, so Dave didn’t think she was worth speaking to unless it was for notes from classes he was too hungover to attend.

Years passed, as people are often told they are wont to do, and the two ended up working at the same medical device company in the Twin Cities. Dave initially tried to pursue Lillian, but she deflected him into what he liked to call the friend zone; judging by the way his hand was cradling his current date’s waist and the fact he thought to set Edgar up with Lillian, he seemed to be handling the rejection pretty well.

Lillian was smart, armed with a quick wit and a way of lulling Edgar in when she spoke; he had no chance.

***

“So, do you have any nicknames like Viv, or do you usually go by Vivian?” Edgar said after swallowing the last sip of his second beer; he felt like he had finally hit his stride.

Lillian took a moment before answering, looked from Edgar’s drink to Dave, who was studying the ceiling with an intensity Edgar hadn’t seen since their days of playing in impromptu beer pong tournaments.

“Well, I don’t go by either,” she said through a Cheshire cat grin, “since my name is Lillian.”

Edgar felt the heat rise from the very base of his being and surge up to his cheeks; his stomach dropped and he was sobered up faster than if someone had forced an enema of black coffee in his rectum.

He snatched up his coat and tensed his legs to bolt while trying to count how many steps it would take him to get to the door; he wondered if lengthening his stride to get there faster was worth looking like a card-carrying member of the Ministry of Silly Walks.

“Well,” Edgar said, “this was a horrible idea. Dave, we’ll talk about this later. Lillian, I’m so sorry. I’m going to leave now and hopefully never see you again.”

Edgar started toward the end of the booth but, before he could get any traction, a soft, yet firm hand gripped his and pulled him back.

He wondered what kind of lotion she used; it smelled like lavender and warmth; if warmth had a smell, Edgar believed it would smell like Lillian.

Edgar sat back and saw that the booth was now empty except for him and Lillian; Dave and his main squeeze were nowhere to be seen.

“Lillian,” Edgar said as he again fell under the spell of her gaze, “I am so sorry about that, Lillian. I can’t believe I did that…Lillian.”

She tucked her chin down and giggled.

“It’s not a big deal, Edgar. At least you rhymed with it. You could have called me something totally different.”

Edgar liked the way her nose scrunched up when she smiled and looked away, as if she couldn’t believe the situation she was in; he knew he couldn’t.

“My face feels like it’s as red as your shirt.”

She lifted her arm, wrapped in that crimson flannel, and put it next to Edgar’s cheek.

“Not quite,” she said, “but you’re getting there.”

Now it was his turn to smile; her voice was so soft it could be used to swaddle babies.

“The worst part,” Edgar said, “is that I kept telling myself to say Lillian, not Vivian.”

“And you’ve only had a couple of beers,” she said, glancing at the pair of empty bottles in front of Edgar.

“I’m kind of a lightweight, Lillian.”

“Well now you’re overcompensating for getting my name wrong. I might just have to change my name to Vivian now.”

“I mean, that’s a big gesture since I barely know you. I must have made a good impression after all,” Edgar said, hoping to God that this would all work out.

She laughed at that; she laughed at a lot of the things Edgar said, but that was okay because she didn’t laugh when he asked for her number.

She gave it willingly after she took aim at his shoulder and sneezed.

***

Heartbeat

I am a cliché,
I have pined after
the loss I have heard
sung as a lover’s lament.

I once felt that pain’s sharpness,
but now it is gone from me;
dulled to a numbing ache, a
vibration through my being
barely registered amid my breathing.

All I can do is tilt my head to
tip out the tears, and
tap my toe to the
heartbeat pulse of another
sad love song.

by Erik Shinker

Data, Mine

A built-in search bar for manipulated memories;
interconnected social media
producing profiles easily uncovered
(with the right information).

Digging through the past, with
digital shovel at hand, seeking to
uncover through the upset pixels:
are the pictures current?
Do we have mutual “connections”?
What do they choose to show the world?

But that isn’t the whole truth.

Hoping to find
something
that reveals whether
this is worth going through with;
if this is time well spent.

But that isn’t the whole truth.

Looking for some reason to drop the conversation;
I cowardly cup the possibility of off-putting
or contradictory information to my chest.

Hoping to find
something
to make it easier when
I lose interest and
decide to disappear.

by Erik Shinker

What You Bring

Creation,
whether done for
oneself or another,
should be shared;
however,
what we make is part of a
conversation across
time and space.

The closest we may come to actual time travel;
I write this, on a gray, January morning, but
who knows when you are reading it? Or where?
I sit on a rusty folding chair that has been
on this earth
longer than me;
a blanket placed between it and myself to
provide some semblance of comfort.

The type of blanket will vary by reader;
does it have a pattern? Is it
geometric? Is the name of my alma mater sewn
into the corner?
Is it an afghan? A quilt?
Is it threadbare, fluffy, or or thin?
It all depends on how much I choose to tell, and
what is left for you to fill.

Once we hand it off, whether by
posting online, or
publishing on paper, or
speaking into the universe,
only one part of this
transcendental transaction between
creator and consumer is complete.

The creation itself exists between
our intention and
what you bring;
read into it what you will, but
know that the mirror of Art reflects
more than the artist.

by Erik Shinker