Monday, March 1, 2010

Chris Conroy: Possible Side Effects

Josh Marino bitch-slapped his boss. He didn't win the lottery or have another job in waiting and it wasn't when Gary Ponderson, Josh's boss, told him he wasn't on the level, that he needed to produce the Franell Reports quicker and with more attention to detail, that Josh slapped him open-handed across the face.

No, here’s how it went down:

"How're the Franell Reports coming?" Mr. Gary Ponderson asked standing over Josh, clicking a pen-point in and out, click, click, click.

"Oh, slowly but surely," Josh said looking up from his desk.

"Looks like”—click, click, click—“you're out of practice.”

"It's been awhile."

"We'll need you to pick up the pace. We're on deadline you know. And details, you must pay attention to the details."

"I can do that," Josh said, turning his head, realizing Gary had already walked off. Josh stood up, stretched and went to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee. He bumped into Gary in the doorway.

"By the way, Josh, we're out of half-n-half...pick some up on your lunch break, okay?" Josh just stood staring up at Gary for a few seconds. Gary pointed his pen at him and click, click, clicked it—“Oaky?”

And then wham, the bitch-slap to the boss's face. It was a simple order disguised as a request—pick some up on your lunch break, okay?—that set Marino over the edge. Or maybe it was that fucking pen, the incessant clicking, like a tiny drill-bit piercing the proverbial ‘thin ice’ of patience and common respect that set him off.

Josh called his girlfriend Cindy on the way home and told her what happened. He forgot his head-piece on his desk and was driving with his phone to his ear.

“Shit,” she said. “Guess you’re fired?”

Josh said he didn’t know for sure but expected he was and that he wanted to see her later tonight.

“Why don’t you come now?”

“They’re waiting for me.”

“Jesus, Josh.”

Red lights flashed in his rearview. He hung up on her and stashed the phone under his seat, working a scenario in his head while trying to properly conceal it, forgetting to set it to ‘ALL SOUNDS OFF’ mode.

His brother Mark bailed him out of jail.

“Dude,” Mark said on the way back from the station. “You turned what would’ve been a silly ticket into a possible criminal record. Resisting arrest—what the fuck?”

“How’s Mom?”

“She’s a wreck. She thinks they’re putting you away.” Mark slammed the brakes and pulled into a 7-11.

“That reminds me, she needs cigarettes.”

Josh waited in the car biting his fingernails and squinting out the car window. There were black cats, hundreds of them, slinking around the parking lot, huddled on the hoods and rooftops of the other parked cars. Then on top of Mark’s car, clawing and scratching at the paint, their sharp tiny teeth exposed in quick hisses, bloody tendrils of prey hanging from their mouths.

Mark got back in and slammed the door. He looked over at Josh. “You okay?”

“Do you see them?”

“See what?” Mark brought his window down and stuck his head out. “The skateboarders? What?”

Cindy was looking through the blinds when Josh pulled up in his 87’ Pontiac. He flashed his lights at her a few times and she waved him in. Everything 80’s Radio was playing Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone, and he wasn’t about to turn off his favorite song—‘Out along the edges…Always where I burn to be…The further on the edge…The hotter the intensity. He turned it up louder and started singing, “Highway to the Danger Zone…Gonna take you Right into the Danger Zone.”

There was a tapping at his window. It was Cindy. She lipped ‘what the hell’ with her hands in the air. He turned off the car and grabbed his 12-pack of Bud-Light Golden Wheat from the passenger seat and got out. He kissed her. The moon was full above them.

“It’s been a rough day,” he told her inside, sitting on her couch, cracking a beer. She was in the kitchen pulling cold mugs from the freezer. “What’d you say?” She said walking back to him and setting the mugs down in front of him on the coffee table.

“It was a rough day,” he repeated and filled the mugs with measured pours—a little in this one, a little in that one, back and forth—until the foam rose to the top and puffed over the frosted rims. She held up her glass.

“To tomorrow,” she said. He held his up and clinked it to hers. “Tomorrow.” They chugged their beers, she finishing and wiping her mouth before he.

A half-hour into Weekend at Bernie’s and eight beers later, they were all over each other. They only had sex a few times and things were still new and exciting; the unfamiliarity of bodies its own aphrodisiac. But something was wrong. Josh wanted sex, wanted to release the stresses from the day, to satisfy Cindy, to bring them closer in mind and body, to make love or to simply get laid, it didn’t matter, Josh wanted it and so did Cindy, but it was not to be, it was mush, Josh’s dick was mush and neither one was making love or getting laid. Not tonight anyway.

Josh Marino called his doctor the next morning. They put him on hold. He used an anti-bacterial wash on his hands while he waited. His cell phone was being kept as evidence and he was using the house phone with the long black coiled cord. God only knew what type of germs and filth grazed upon this ancient unit.

“Hello Josh,” Dr. Zubowski’s voice sounded on the other end. “How’s the new medication working?”

“Well, the attacks aren’t as bad, but I think I’m experiencing side effects.”

“What are they?”

“They vary.”

“Well, let’s make an appointment. We’ll have to adjust the dosage or get you on something new.”

Conroy's fiction has been published in several online and print publications, including Whetstone, Word Riot, Ward6 Review, Zingmagazine and The Hell Gate Review. Check out an excerpt from a fiction in progress--Quercus Alba--in the inaugural print issue of The Wanderlust Review, Feb 2010. Or drop him a line at

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