By Yash Seyedbagheri
Nick keeps grudges, just as his father did against faculty colleagues and just as his mother still does when call center representatives speak Mexican or Indian-accented English, or when he doesn’t text her daily to say he loves her.
Nick stores grudges against the relatives who failed to send presents when he got into grad school, grudges against people who brush past without an excuse me, or even a good morning, neither muttered or enthusiastic.
He totes grudges against scholarships that demand perfection and 4.0s and quantifiable proof of intellectual development, while eschewing creativity. Grudges against classmates who call his writing too cynical, too suburban, not experimental enough.
And there’s grudges he wields against baristas who play Taylor Swift instead of Tchaikovsky when he’s trying to write or fill out another application. And of course, Nick carts grudges against people who wear sweatpants instead of Khakis and who read commercial fiction where people get blown up instead of Richard Yates or Richard Ford. He feels a kind of darkness, a power, reaching in for a grudge, deciding whether to pull it out or keep it for another day. Some people take the world as it is and apologize with meek yes sirs and yes ma’ams, their voices deflated like cheap balloons. His mother says storing grudges saves you from being hurt.
“You don’t want them to walk over you like a damn Persian rug, darling,” she says. “Your father was a mere professor, but he made the most of it.”
His father also held grudges against Nick. Nick wasn’t polite enough, never asked him about his research or commiserated after bad teaching evaluations. Selfish, selfish, his father proclaimed.
Nick misses out on sunsets, the steady laughter at bar nights with friends. He notices a lone charcoal-colored cloud, a cigarette on a table, a Camel or a Marlboro, a blemish on some oak booth, a ripped patch in a seat. Some nights, he tries to look harder between blemishes, but to no avail. There’s still too much gray between the purple and pink and the wind feels too cold. People laugh too loudly in the bar and sound too much like Adam Sandler, although Nick concedes Adam Sandler is funny. Especially in Billy Madison. Yet, something about the laughter still digs in, some sharp edge.
Nick always wears a scowl, a sensation he can feel, stretched muscles. A shadow darting about. Of course, he almost never looks in the mirror. Some friends ask what the problem is, others joke that he looks like a dictator in waiting.
On his mother’s birthday, he buys her a bottle of good Merlot. She assesses the gift with an arched eyebrow, lips pursed.
“Where’s the card?” she says.
“I guess I forgot,” he confesses. “But it’s the gift that counts, right?”
She smiles, a smile like steel.
“Come on, Mom.”
“A card’s very important,” she says. “It shows you care. Shows that you took the time to think, to consider someone.”
“It’s a fucking card,” he says, the words cracking. “I love you, Mom, but it’s just a fucking card.”
“What did I say about that sort of language?”
“It’s a fucking card,” he repeats.
With those words, an image rises: he sees grudges, a history stored. One grudge after another, something monstrous, something that’s grown. A grudge passed from father to mother, parents to son. His mother has lived a life with them and now he feels the weight of his own. He just nods while his mother keeps lecturing. You should have gotten a nice card. Something fancy. Presentation matters, son. The words sink into him and with each missive, he clenches his fists. Tries not to think. Tries to push the grudges out of his mouth, but only feels something rotten like bad meat.
In the stillness of his room later, he dons cologne. Tries to smile. He even brushes his teeth, hopes the mint flavoring can bring some shine, something bright to the surface. But some scents just can’t be brushed away.
Yash Seyedbagheri is a graduate of Colorado State University’s MFA program in fiction. His stories, “Soon,” “How To Be A Good Episcopalian,” and “Tales From A Communion Line,” were nominated for Pushcarts. Yash’s work has been published or is forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and Ariel Chart, among others.