Welcome to Dysontopia, a novel project/serial I am developing. Every Monday I will make every effort release a new section of the work. Why? First, it holds me accountable – each week I must write and edit about a thousand words, minimizing writer’s block. Second, I get constant feedback from my amazing followers! Third, you get to read a compelling story in small portions so you don’t get burnt out. I welcome your feedback, positive, negative, or neutral.
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“Cold Outside, Cold Inside”
I’ve been looking forward to this party for months, I mention to my cat. She’s following me around while I’m getting ready, and I’m trying to recall the day I got my constant companion. I can’t remember, but it’s probably because Avocado, a beautiful black and white Tabby, has been my beloved pet since childhood. As far as I’m concerned, she’s the only cat I’ve ever had, and will be until she dies.
Come to think of it, I can’t recall what party I’m going to either. Looking around, I spot a fancy, pink, glitter-lined invitation on the table. Oh yeah, I remember now, it’s the Qualifier Party. That’s the annual event where we all get together and dance and get drunk and ask each other study questions at The Big Bean. Hmm, come to think of it that doesn’t sound right. And surely we could have come up with a better name.
I hear my cat meowing loudly in the other room. She probably wants me to feed her. I check her bowl to find it overflowing with food, so I reassure her she’s fine.
Taking a look in the mirror, damn I look like a stunner. I did this? There’s no way I did this. This bests even the fanciest sorority formals I attended during the later half of my undergrad. Like, I literally shocked myself. My rich auburn hair is long, and it’s just the right kind of wavy. Not too wavy to tread into “curly” territory, but not too straight to look stiff and unapproachable. Strange, it actually looks like it’s visibly waving right now. My blush-pink eyeshadow adds a little sparkle to my light blue eyes, and a cute cherry blossom-colored lipstick goes perfect with my pale skin.
And that dress though. When did I pick that up? It’s royal blue with silver, and has gaps up and down the sides in a way that my dad would say “looks like someone took a pair of scissors to it.” Then he’ll compliment me on how beautiful I look… or at least he would have before that happened.
I run my fingers through my hair one more time. Well, that was easy. I look amazing! Let me tell my cat bye, and then I’ll head over to The Big Bean where I’m sure all the boys will be swooning after me.
“Bye Avocado, I’ll see you in a little while,” I say.
She opens her mouth and says “Sydney.”
Taken aback, I’m trying to figure out if my beloved cat just spoke to me.
“Sydneyyyyyyy…” she says again.
It certainly sounds like –
“Sydney! Are you ever going to wake up? I swear, you’ve been out for days!”
I feel a crawling sensation on my right cheek.
“What the hell!” I scream while flailing my hands randomly around, a truly ineffective strategy for doing anything other than pissing off whatever arachnid, insect, or other fauna might be attempting to make a home of my face. I slowly open my eyelids and blink several times in succession, attempting in vain to clear the mist from my bleary pupils. Earbuds were still in my ears from the album I fell asleep listening to last night, sort of. True, the left one was half in, while the right one found its way onto my cheekbone near my nose and had a tiny dab of dried earwax adhered to it, all burnt orange and smelly.
“I cannot believe how awkward you are,” came the voice from the windowsill. It was obvious for a long time now that Millie was exhausted of being my roommate after two years, but she couldn’t help herself. She was a natural mother hen, a physiological need to take care of people running through her personality. Even me. I suppose that’s why she had spent four years in her undergrad program getting a nursing degree. But wait, she probably said on her graduation day, why stop there when it’s possible to become a certified nurse practitioner in another five. Now she’s stuck with me, also a grad student. Probably the worst one to ever live.
“Qualifiers. Now!” Millie orders while tossing my backpack on my waist, a sizable target as I was still sprawled out on the couch in the exact position I lost consciousness sometime in the A.M.
“Ooof,” I groan. Even so, I make eye-contact with my sunglasses folded into the side pocket, making sure they’re still in one piece. I’m not sure I could live without those.
“It’s not like you have any books in there!” Millie correctly observes. Pausing for a second to control herself, she lowers her voice. “You have exactly one test to take during your entire degree program. I have to take a new exam every other week. This is important, and you can do this.”
Millie knows for a fact that a Liberal Arts (whatever that even means) master’s degree was only designed to last two years, a fault of my own for not lying to her. I should have told her it was some kind of rigorous, four-year specialty program in English, Communications, and History. She was also aware that it was exactly 730 days since I moved into her third-floor apartment, and I was just now getting to the half-way point of my degree. Believe me, I’m keeping count too. Needless to say, she did not have much faith in my abilities, especially since my qualifying exams started at 10:00 and the clock mounted above the television reads 8:37, no make that 8:38. But I don’t really care, this whole program can just go die.
I stumble to the bathroom to try and cleanse myself of that dingy, boozy smell, but not before nearly tripping over the end table. Yeah, that’s fine, I’ll just have a big bruise on my leg too.
Catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I… oh shit!
It must be some kind of monster. Reddish-brown hair is everywhere, concentric dark circles under my eyes make me look like an alien, and my skin is so dry I swear I can literally hear it crackling. A mad dash of moisturizers, chemicals, hairsprays, and make-up products restore me to 15, maybe 20 percent of my former glory. I look like crap, in any measurable sense, but I suppose it’s appropriate given that I don’t feel much like lifeing today.
This was made even worse, however, by an obvious envelope on the bathroom counter I’ve been peeking at, adorned simply with my name. The sender was nice enough to draw a gaudy-looking heart after the “y” in Sydney, where a period might be, so there’s that. Whatever, I really had to go to the bathroom anyway, might as well read it on the toilet.
After tearing half the envelope, along with a corner of the page inside, I unfold a letter scrawled on notebook paper and start reading. First, never being one to avoid spoilers, I read the last line to see who this chicken scratch was from. It was from Millie, who I can confirm is already mostly at doctor levels judging by her handwriting. Great, a bathroom-facilitated exchange of letters is not standard procedure for our relationship.
I’m sorry for not having this conversation with you in person, I just think it’d be easier to write it out, the note – markedly absent of any greetings or salutations – begins. Yep, that’s Millie’s style, all right. She can manage to be way over-apologetic and far too businesslike at the same time. It’s that type of attitude that will get her promoted, sure, but it will also get her on the bad side of a lot of people with type B personalities. I’m about as far right on the “don’t care” personality scale as possible.
I know this is a big day for you, the letter continues. I really don’t want to pressure you (if that’s even possible), but I’ve decided that if you don’t pass qualifying exams, I’m going to have to find a new roommate, or maybe I’ll just go back to living on my own. To be honest, living with you these past two years has been challenging. Perhaps more challenging than I initially suspected when I posted that roommate wanted ad during my first year of post-grad work.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but I feel like you’re kind of holding me back from my full potential, and—
The letter said considerably more, but that’s about as much bullshit as I’m prepared to read today. I rip the letter up, ball it up, and then rip the ball up, which is not as easy as one might think. Then I flush it down the toilet for good measure.
To be continued next week! Again, I welcome your feedback in the comments. 🙂