Fiction by Jacob Grana
Gian sat across from Annette at his kitchen table and was 100% not in love. Ma had said, “You asked her to come here? You must be in love.” Yes, for forty-something Annette was 100% attractive, and yes, he couldn’t believe she was ringless. “Alright, Weirdo,” Ma had said. “You’re no spring chicken either. What else do you want?” But all those things didn’t add up to 100% love. There was nothing between them.
Annette was only here because she was the Computer Tutor for Seniors. She’d explained to Gian that she went over laptop hinges, pressed “Power,” touched touchpads, double-clicked, opened Internets, etc. She supposedly had a special patience with the easily annoyed and confused seniors. Like Ma.
Ma came over and plopped her new laptop down in front of them. She stuck her fingernails in its side and tried to open it. Annette said, “Here’s the hinge.” She poked at the front and it clicked open. Ma looked at it.
“What now?” Ma said, and Annette pressed “Power.” Peeking out of Annette’s blouse was a cream-colored bra strap. Gian imagined plucking it and her whole outfit unraveling like a cartoon sweater.
Pay Attention, Ma’s arched eyes said to him. He nodded back, I’m Just Taking Mental Notes. He knew zilch about computers.
He knew other things. He knew how many quarters were in his pocket at any one time. He knew, no matter how dark his sunglasses were, when Rocky the Tech was off the wagon. He knew if lying were in the Olympics, American high school-kids would sweep the podium. He knew Julie loved Heath Bar Crunch ice cream. Or she had until the Kicking To The Curb, when she threw all the Heath Bar Crunch ice cream he bought her into the trash. He knew minds change. He used to love asparagus. But the other day he put one of Ma’s asparagus spears in his mouth and had to spit it back onto the plate. Ma had given him a look, What Did I Do, and he ended up telling her, “It’s not you, it’s me.”
He knew Annette had green eyes, and they were so much softer than Julie’s.
Yes, he knew jack squat about computers. His five-time, Big Smile Arcade Employee of the Month, Ben, whom Gian had confided in about his Good Old Days (the garment district success; banging out workouts the Navy Seals couldn’t hack; the Cocaine Without Consequences phase, etc.), only showed him the other week how to check Mets scores and read the New York Post (for free!) on the computer in the office.
With the laptop Ma had said, “Don’t worry, it’ll teach me,” because she was under the impression that today’s computers could speak (she referenced Stephen Hawking’s interpretive wheelchair, and Hal in 2001.) That’s why he’d gone down to the Mill Basin Community Center right after he brought it home and put in a request for the 100% attractive Annette CTFS. Please show his Ma how to use this thing.
Annette said, “This is the Start Menu.”
“I don’t know what I’d do without you. We should celebrate,” Ma said. “Gian, could you pour us some wine?” Gian grabbed one of the screw-top Zins and poured each of them a glass.
Annette smiled and said, “Thank you.” They sipped. No one said anything. Gian could hear the laptop whirring. His skin prickled and not in a good way.
“Excuse me,” he said and then casually walked out of the room, up the stairs and into his bedroom.
He shut the bedroom door and lay down on his bed. Out of his jean pocket he pulled the remaining half of his joint.
He was like one of those pros at the arcade, with the Whac-a-Mole game and whacking the plastic moles popping up all over the place. Except, this was no game. His Moles were real-life embarrassments. Ma guessing Annette’s age (“You don’t look it though.”) And Ma wondering out loud about Annette’s diet (“You’re probably a skinless chicken kind of girl. I can tell.”) And Annette getting an eyeful of their chintzy furniture, and the rabbit ears on top of the TV, etc. He had looked at Annette after each of those Moles, smiled knowingly, and shrugged, What Can You Do? And Annette had smiled back, Don’t Worry, I’ve Seen Worse.
So, Moles: whacked.
Back when he was dating Julie, it was a ritual. She’d scream at him about Being All Over Her and he’d lock the door to their bedroom and puff alone.
Not that he was planning on fighting with anyone tonight.
Not that anyone would be screaming at anyone about Being All Over Them.
He was planning on a good goodbye with a non-Ma woman. A good goodbye with The Computer Tutor For Seniors. Because since Julie, all his non-Ma woman encounters had with ended Thank God This Is Over eyes.
Even Moms at the arcade said goodbye like that. Their squirming children in tow, Thank God This Is Over. Gian waving and wishing he could join them.