"What's the point? I've been to a ton of these types of seminars and they're always the same. There's not much more I can learn for this kind of work."

"The point, Joyce, is it looks good in your file which in turn reflects well on our department. Besides, Baltimore's a nice town. You may enjoy some time away. Maybe meet a handsome traveler?"

Joyce looked back at her coworker, Carmen, and smiled politely. Carmen's hair hung loosely around her shoulders today and the odd strand waved about as the breeze from the window blew into the break room. "Like ships in the night, huh." said Joyce, "The problem is I have to come back here."

Carmen chuckled and stood up from her seat on the windowsill. Joyce stretched her neck as she bobbed her head back to finish the cup of coffee in her hand.

"Relax, sweetie. You should lighten up. You're too young to worry all the time."

Joyce smiled again and returned her gaze to the glass of the window.

"Why don't you come out with me tonight?" said Carmen. "Just us and  maybe Laurie. We'll have a girls' night out before you leave tomorrow. It'll be fun."

Joyce's eyes slowly roamed back to Carmen, half-closed and distant. "Thanks Carmen, really, but I can't. I already have plans."

"Oh? You don't seem very excited about these plans."

"It's nothing big. Just meeting a friend."


“So when are you leaving?" Ben asked.

Joyce turned her head as it rested on the pillow, away from the slow hum of the spinning fan above. She moved and her hair got in her face, forcing her to gently nudge aside the short dark strands away so she could see Ben. Her eyes came to rest upon his cheek. The slight ravine along his jaw faded in and out as he clenched his teeth and pondered the ceiling.

"What makes you say that?" she asked.

"You know I can't stand you."

"That's funny," said Joyce. "I was just thinking the same thing. Do you suppose we had a moment of simultaneous thought?"

"No, not us. That's for people who care to acknowledge each other's worth. Really, if it wasn't for fucking I'd have no use for you."

Joyce sighed and sat up, facing the door of his studio apartment where the blank expression of a woodcut child prompted a tear to emerge from her eye. She wiped it away and stood, still looking into the eyes of the plump child whose expression became more devastating with each passing moment. "You're a melodramatic prick, you know that?"

"And you're a misandric cunt, but here we are."

"Fuck you."

Ben groaned as he stretched his right arm. "I'll call you."

She mumbled something as she entered the bathroom and Ben yelled "what?" before Joyce repeated, louder than before, "you can kiss my ass and next time you can suck your own cock."

Ben silently rolled onto his side and watched a sparrow flutter and hop across a tree branch. It paused midway along the branch and looked past the wall of Ben's studio apartment and into the hallway where Mr. Jameson was sweeping the hardwood floors to preserve the quality sheen. He was asleep before Joyce was in her car and on her way back to her South End apartment. The light of the Saturday morning revelers blinded her, as she was not in the mood to shine. She would need to get home and shower again before packing her things and calling her dad to take her to the airport.

Ben met his friend Michael for lunch later that day while he was in town. They discussed matters of the utmost importance.

"I don't see the point of black."

"What point?" said Michael. "It's tea. People drink it."

"Well, it's essentially coffee. You drink it for the caffeine."

"Not necessarily. Some people might just prefer tea."

"Over coffee?  Have you tried black tea? The stuff is rancid."

"Some might argue that coffee is just as acrid."

Ben shook his head and lifted his cup so that it rested in the air between them. He sniffed, as if it were right under his nose. "The simple man may believe so. I defy anyone decent to choose black tea over a cup of dry roasted from Charlie's with cream and sugar."

"Simple man?"

"Yes. A fool. Someone who doesn't know good coffee because he's caught up in the machinations of a counter-culture where running against the grain surmounts to being cool in the eyes of his peers."

"Ah. Thanks for the clarity." Michael tipped his mug and smiled as Ben stared on.

"Simple fuckers," he said. "All of you."

"Maybe," said Michael, "but this simple fucker knows what he likes. Simple as that."

"You can go to hell."

"Only if they serve black tea."

Ben scowled and stood up to leave.

"Oh, come on now," said Michael. "Where are you going?"

"Somewhere else."

Michael shook his head and smiled as he looked up at Ben. The Swedish flag waving from the window of the building across the street momentarily grabbed his attention, and as his eyes wandered Ben began to reach into his pocket for money.

"You know, you're just like a child," Michael finally said. "Throwing tantrums doesn't become you."

"What becomes me is company that doesn't bore me with ridiculous conversation about inferior drinks. Fun as always, Mike." Ben dropped a five dollar bill on the metal grating that was the table top and walked away. Michael was left alone to finish his tea.

When he was around the corner Michael smiled again and said, "simple fuckers."


Ben called Joyce while she was at a conference. A bottle of 151 lay empty on the floor beside him.

"Hey... fuck, where are you? I mean, you know... call me back. I'm leaving Friday."

She called back on a Thursday, a few days after her return from Baltimore. The rain had ceased that day and she was in a mood to check her machine.

01... Irma calling to ask if she could come to visit. It's been a long time and Joyce really should come by for a girls' weekend. And Irma supposed she would like someone to keep her company. Joyce isn't too busy, is she? Call Irma back!

02... Joyce Freeman, this is just a reminder that her dentist appointment has been cancelled on the twenty seventh due to an unfortunate accident in Dr. Bose's family. If Joyce could please call back the following week they will be glad to reschedule her appointment.

03... Ben asking where the fuck she was and telling her to call him back.

She muttered the word "asshole" loud enough to believe it, then picked up the wireless phone and stepped out onto the balcony overlooking the same dull street scene she had beared witness to for the past two years. She remembered the first day she entered her apartment on the fifth floor. The grove of trees across the street and a cute little bakery on the corner gave her hope that this was a wonderful place, and she would be happy here as she worked on her career and her new life.

Joyce dialed the phone and leaned against the railing, staring down into the masses on their way home from work.


"What kind of message is that to leave on my machine?"

Ben laughed. "Well it got your attention."

"Hardly. I can assume you only called so that I could come over and fuck you?"

"You know me too well."

"Sadly, I do."

"Is that a yes or a no?"

Joyce smacked her lips and allowed her hair to gather around her face as she leaned further out over the edge of the railing. She wondered if it was this easy.

"I'll come by, but only if you apologize for being a dick to me."

"I'm sorry," he said.

"Will you ever mean it?"

"Maybe. Just don't hold me to it."

She remained silent as the noise from the traffic below rose up around her. Her bare toes jutted out from beneath the railing, and she wiggled them.


"Yea Ben. I'll be there in a bit."

"Great. Pick up some beer on your way over."

"I'm not picking up shit," she said.

"You're a real peach, you know that?"


Joyce was in Rockport visiting her friend Irma that following Saturday. Irma was in the middle of a divorce and needed a friend, which Joyce still considered herself to be, so she decided to take a few days to be with Irma. The city was oppressive that time of year anyway. The Sox fans were out in full force.

Irma, wearing an atypically unattractive red frumpy t-shirt and jeans combo, answered the door and began to cry immediately. Joyce held Irma's shoulders and allowed her to cry into the newly purchased Burberry jacket. Irma's tears were going to be costly, but Joyce was fine with that. Her mother used to tell her, "money's money, honey, but it's the friends in life that keep things sunny."  When Irma was finished crying for the time being she brought Joyce to the dining room and explained again that he had been cheating on her with a bitch from the secretary pool at one of his offices.

“A secretary pool? Really?” Joyce asked.

Irma told her yes, a secretary pool.

“Well isn’t that kind of antiquated? I mean, I hadn’t heard of such a thing these days. Is he working in 1962?”

Irma wanted to know why that mattered? Her husband cheated on her with another fucking woman! This fucking bitch seduced him and was now taking him for a ride! Well, Irma wasn’t going to stand by and let him be a fucking idiot and then come crawling back.

Joyce told her, “Sorry, it doesn’t matter. You shouldn’t take him back. Do you want some more tea?”

Irma told her yes, chamomile, and then apologized for being so ridiculous when Joyce came all the way down there to visit. She just couldn’t believe it.

I hate him,” is what she said.

Joyce nodded as she looked down at the mug and the teabag within, slowly floating down to the bottom. The swirls of green and yellow emerged and flourished.

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