Category Archives: Michael Webb

What It Takes by Michael Webb

I had searched the whole evening for the code word- the secret joke or quick innuendo that would break through the crust of her fury. I had said something, or done something, early in the evening- that much was clear. All night at the beach and later, at the highway rest stop Burger King with the bored looking staff and broken ice maker, she had been crisp and matter of fact- one word answers, grimaces or silence after my puns and clever allusions. She was boiling, certainly, but still too conscious of her standing among her friends to dress me down in front of them.

I never found it, and watching her walk away, I noticed the way the skin behind her knees made an “H” when she bent her leg. I had studied every inch of her body, I thought, but I had never seen that before. Another fact about her that had passed by me unnoticed- ours was the sort of relationship where a lot went unsaid, unstated and unremarked. She walked firmly, like she was trying to put as much space between my car and her body as she possibly could. I watched her hips move as she crossed the courtyard area and went into her front door.

“What It Takes” was playing on the radio. I wondered if I was going to need to figure out how to let her go. She certainly seemed gone, I mused, as her door slammed shut.

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Lunchtime by Michael Webb

I looked at her, sipping her water with tiny, delicate sips. She was sitting across from me, but her gaze wouldn’t rest on me. Her eyes were constantly dancing, looking around the room, taking in the soda machines, the bulletin board, the passersby, the people sitting at other tables, the garish painted tiger on the wall. She would stop, look at me briefly, and then look around again, trying to see someone better looking or more popular or more important than me.

I was her first friend here – when her family moved into town, I shared some potato chips with her at lunch and we quickly became fast friends. I introduced her to everybody, made sure she was invited to the parties, wouldn’t let anyone poke fun at her. We brushed each other’s hair, told secrets, laughed, cried – we were inseparable, and had been since we met. Until now.

It wasn’t the boys that came between us. Well, it wasn’t entirely the boys. There was this distance between us now – I was no longer the first person to learn of her news, while I always told her mine before anyone. I was the same person, but she wasn’t – she had aims I didn’t share, wanted things I didn’t understand. She was seated so close – the tip of her shoe was right in front of my shin – but she may as well have been a million miles away.

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Close To The Borderline by Michael Webb

She always knew where to sit- the rules were just there, hanging in the middle of nowhere like the law of gravity, ready to remorselessly pull you down. Her place was down at the end of the table. She took a seat across from a girl she knew faintly. Stephanie? Sarah? Something with an S. She had her face buried in a Harry Potter book, so she wasn’t going to have to remember.

At the head of the table, closest to the center of the cafeteria, were the alpha girls- perfect hair, designer clothes. In the middle was the border zone, the outpost of girls who want to be at the head of the table, but weren’t popular enough to be a queen bee. Then, down at the end are the girls who could only wish they had enough of that magical something to be worthy of even the middle. No one talked about the system, but everyone knew what it was.

She wondered sometimes what she had done to merit this. She knew she wasn’t as pretty as the goddesses. But had she done something, or said something, that made her unworthy of a seat in Middleville? She knew her place, but she thought she deserved a seat in the DMZ between life at one end and nonexistence at the other. She stared at the cover of the other girl’s book, suddenly not feeling like eating at all.

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Meeting Time by Michael Webb

I saw her as I walked up. Her back was to me, but I could identify her hair, the curve of her hip, her blouse, her shoes. The line of her skirt was just slightly off- it was higher on one side than it was on the other, and it bothered me- I wanted her to resettle it so the line of dark skirt below creamy white blouse was straight like the equator.

I knew her name- Janelle- and I knew she did something important. I never worked with her directly, but our company was so small I would run into her constantly- coming in or leaving, at the candy machine or heading out to lunch, or around a conference table when some large meeting was called.

I studied her like an animal would- trying to notice patterns. Did she always wear that suit on Fridays? Hair up today to show off those earrings? I intended nothing untoward, but I wondered about her constantly- did she go home to white wine, a microwaved meal, and reality TV? Or did she have a husband, a rugged guy who looked like he belonged in a watch ad? I was a tiny bit in love with her, the way you are with the star of your favorite TV drama.

She gave a tiny, discreet pull, and her skirt was even again. I stood behind her, waiting to go into the meeting, pleased that she had returned order to my world.

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Playground Mom by Michael Webb

She was a playground mom. I didn’t know her name, in fact, I didn’t know her at all- it was one of those connections you make in life that is one spot above stranger, but several notches below anything you could call “friend”. We never spoke- she was always talking on her phone, whispered, urgent words. We would interact when I saw that her daughter left something somewhere- I would walk over and hand her the lost object, she would mouth, “thank you”, and then return to her phone call. She was someone I saw, and recognized, but didn’t know anything about. She was pretty, with curly red ringlets and porcelain white skin.

I heard his car door slam that day, jumping slightly at the sound. He marched across the grass, making a beeline for her. He was shorter than her, darker skinned, but he looked strong, like he had spent his life lifting things. He walked right up to her, standing very close, exchanging angry phrases, his face contorted, his finger pointing. She recoiled before him, not speaking. I was stunned when he suddenly fired a punch, hitting her nose, knocking her onto her back, blood spurting onto her designer sweatshirt. I got up to help her, do something, but he was already stalking his way back to his car, and she quickly gathered her charge up, blotting her nose with a tissue, and left.

I never saw either of them again.

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Somebody Should Try To Reach Everybody by Michael Webb

She could always tell the new ones – their jackets hadn’t been thrown up on. They were too ready to believe that they would be the ones to get her to stop, they would be the ones to fix her. She was disdainful of them – others had tried and failed – but she felt a tiny spot of regret, too. They were trying. Somebody should try to reach everybody.

This one, a freshly minted graduate, was feeding the baby while she asked her questions. She had been through this before, but she didn’t let on, wanting the girl to feel useful. She was giving the answers they expected, wanting her gone. He said he was going to be here this afternoon, and she had given him money. She wanted her to leave.

She shut her binder, fixing her with a fresh, clean gaze. “What does it feel like?” she asked.

“What?” she asked her. This was off script, she thought.

“To use. What’s it like?”

“It’s hard to explain,” she said. It wasn’t like you saw things that weren’t there- you didn’t float away into the clouds. Everything was the same- the baby still had to be changed, the carpet was still filthy, there were still stains on her sweatpants. Cruel men still came around, demanding that she pay them with money, or with something else. But after you got some, and you used, and it hit, for a minute, you just didn’t care.

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To Be Fair by Michael Webb



“Come on,” I said to no one in particular. “They didn’t just DISAPPEAR.”
 
“What didn’t dis-pear, Momma?,” Conor said. He was three, with hair still a rat’s nest and pajama bottoms under his dinosaur shirt.
 
“My shoes, honey. Go get your sister and put your pants on.”
 
“Momma, shoes are over ‘dere!,” Conor insisted.
 
“No, honey. Not those. Go find your sister. KAITLYN!, ” I called.
 
“Yes, Mom,” she said, coming around the corner. She was less and less girl every minute, it seemed.
 
“Help your brother with his pants. I need to find my black pumps.”
 
“I didn’t take them,” she added swiftly.
 
“I didn’t say you did, honey. Go help your brother.”
 
“OK,” she said warily.
 
I could wear other shoes, I thought. But those were the perfect ones for this suit. I walked back into my bedroom in stockinged feet. I had gone through them all, even the ones in the back I wore to parties and formal occasions, and they weren’t there.
 
Conor wandered back in, now in jeans and sneakers and his dinosaur shirt, hair wet and no longer sticking out. “Good work, Kaitlyn,” I thought.
 
“Momma’s shoes ‘peared again?”, he asked.
 
“No, honey,” I said sadly.
 
“They gone? Denny Dragon burn them up?”
 
“No, honey. Dragons aren’t real.”
 
In his world, evil cartoon dragons burned things to cinders. To be fair, it worked as well as any explanation I had.

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