Recently, the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Massachusetts, announced an open submission of short short fiction (500 words of less) to be published in a collection that would be printed on demand within the store. Writers were allowed to send up to three submissions. I sent the full allotment and from hundreds of submissions received from around the world, only 36 authors were selected to be represented. Unfortunately, I was not one of them. Fortunately, no one I know was.
Had I been selected, you would have had to drag yourself down to the book store and buy a copy just to satisfy your insatiable curiosity about what I wrote. As it is, I offer you these rejected works free of charge. Enjoy.
In the Nickel of Time
By Jason M. Rubin
Nickels. Can you imagine that? A handful of shiny silver nickels. That’s all it took. Not that I have anything against nickels, because I don’t. What’s not to like? Jefferson’s proud profile. That nice smooth edge. Far weightier than the meek dime though only half its value. Yeah, nickels. Nothing wrong with them.
Except that I’d never been handed an entire roll of them before.
I was behind the counter at the local Quickie Mart, where I’d been working three nights and one Saturday each week to make a little extra money. I’d been there almost three weeks now and was making literally that: a little extra money. But I supplemented my meager income by surreptitiously taking a few small items every now and then. Not enough to arouse suspicion, just a few household staples: a quart of milk, a can of corned beef hash, a pack of rubbers. Whatever we needed that night.
It was Thursday at about 10:30pm, a half hour to closing time. It took me 20 minutes to close out the register, straighten out the store, and lock up, then another five minutes to drive home. An older guy came in, kind of disheveled, his white hair all askew on his age-spotted head, wearing a dirty jacket too light for a damp spring night. He asked for two scratch tickets. Two dollars, I said. He handed me a roll of nickels. Forty nickels. Two dollars.
“You don’t have a couple of bills?” I asked.
“Nah,” he replied.
I bobbed my hand up and down a few times, as if assessing the weight of the roll to ensure that it felt like a full 40 nickels. As if I could tell. But I liked the feel of the roll in my hand. I didn’t want to break it open and have to count out each individual coin to confirm that he’d paid me the full amount, so I accepted it, knowing he had scant chance of even earning back his investment.
As he walked out of the store, I put the roll down on the counter, took out my wallet, pulled a pair of ones from within, and put them in the register. I kept the roll in my hand the rest of the night and was still holding it as I left the store and started to lock the door behind me. Just then I felt a hand push me against the door. A voice, soft yet sinister, ordered, “Open up and give me what’s in the register.”
Purely out of instinct, I turned and slugged the guy. Wasn’t even thinking. Didn’t know if he was armed, didn’t even know if he was big and strong or just a punk on an oxy high needing money to make another score. But I was so surprised that I just let loose with my fist. Which was holding a roll of nickels.
And that’s how I knocked the fucker out and earned a $100 bonus from my boss.
– end –
By Jason M. Rubin
We called him Kegger. There were two reasons why we called him Kegger. The first was that we didn’t know his real name. The second was because he had some kind of physical disability that made him walk in a jerky fashion so that he looked like someone leaving a “kegger” (that is, a keg party). In other words, he walked like he was drunk, even though he wasn’t. We used to joke that when he was shitfaced, he probably walked perfectly.
He was a classmate of ours in college. That was almost 20 years ago. We didn’t know what his ailment was. It could have been something like muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy, but to tell you the truth, I don’t really know what those diseases are all about. He could have sustained a brain injury in an accident. It would have been so easy to get the answer…no, strike that. Even had I introduced myself to him and learned his name, I don’t think I would’ve had the nerve to ask him the nature of his disability. “So what’s with the funny walk: brain damage or incurable disease?” I don’t think so.
The strange thing is, ever since we graduated, I see him around the city every so often. Maybe once every three to five years. I went to a large state university and for all I know I’m constantly coming into contact with people from my class – but I wouldn’t know them from Adam, because there’s nothing about them that distinguishes them in my mind. Not like Kegger. I’d know Kegger anywhere. It’s true, because I’ve seen him with and without a beard, and there’s no question it’s Kegger.
Once we saw him at a Grateful Dead concert. For that night only, his name was changed from Kegger to Acid Casualty. There was no end to our empathy.
Here’s why I’m telling you this. I saw him again. Just yesterday. Only this time, I talked to him. Turns out he works at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, and I was in to get a new license because my wallet had been stolen.
I didn’t recognize him at first, as he was sitting down. But then he had to go over to the printer and there it was. The walk. It was Kegger. I smiled. Nothing to lose, I thought. So when he came back to me, I introduced myself and said that we went to college together.
“I know,” he said. “I see you around town every so often.”
“You do?” I replied. (What the hell was so distinguishing about me?)
“Yeah,” he said. But he didn’t say anything else. Then he handed me my license and called the next number.
I walked out of the building and began to notice the way I walk. It’s funny, when you think about how you walk, you can’t walk right. Old Kegger (I forgot to ask his name!), he doesn’t even have to think about it. He just walks.
– end –
By Jason M. Rubin
They never even made it.
And poor Tim, he still waited with breath that was bated. Alas, he was fated, it seemed, to ever be devastated – and never be elated. He hated this feeling, sought to evade it, and made it his mission to take his position and elevate it.
And yet, again, he was deflated. Tim knew it was a problem he himself created by refusing to be sated with anyone he dated. No one rated high enough, no one fellated well enough, no one could get themselves extricated from him fast enough. They felt intimidated, exasperated, and he only exacerbated the issue through the cruel tricks he perpetrated on them.
Frustrated, he took to drink, thinking that if sedated he would be less hated. But he played it wrong, stayed drunk too long, and demonstrated that he was not syncopated within love’s sweet song that serenaded others so well. If ever he’d come close to tying the knot, surely he would have frayed it. His heart, it seemed, was too well barricaded.
Within his mind he debated the proper course to take; but jaded, he could not commit. How he would have traded his conundrum for any other, waded into any other of life’s streams, aided only by his wits and compassion. Yet passion itself paraded by him, time after time, paying him no mind, until he laid it down to rest.
Only then it came to him, belated, and elucidated in his thoughts, the right response: online dating. And so a profile he created, though a computer crash delayed it. But then it went live and soon he was inundated with romantic offers (the truth, after all, was not often stated and so his appeal was upwardly graded).
Ever a devil, Tim on a whim replied to two at once and both were slated to show, and so he sat in a booth in a café where tables were waited and food was plated and cheese was grated and the knives were serrated. And there his hopes were raided, his light was shaded, and his pride was berated. His place in the booth, well, he refused to vacate it.
Even though they never even made it.
– end –