Sunrise at midnight

Hey. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Years, I reckon. Years which have only stoked the brushfire that is your absence. That might be too literary a way of putting it, but you know me. That’s how my brain works. I only really know what to say when there’s a pen in my hand and a fresh sheet of paper in front of me. My conversational ineptitude should come as no surprise.

Anyway, do you remember the last time we saw each other? It was a cold December night, like I said, years ago. You were home, visiting your parents for the holidays. I remember you texted me, asked if we could catch up. I didn’t tell you this at the time, but I was… To put it frankly, elated. I was elated because then, much like now, it had been years since I had seen you.

So all of those old feelings began welling up. Feelings that I’d developed for you, and that I then actively tried to suppress because I wasn’t quite ready for them. And of course, I told you “Sure, let’s meet somewhere,” and you suggested the old diner that we used to go to, way back when. I drove the forty minutes. You met me in the parking lot.

I remember thinking how stunning you looked… You were wearing a charcoal pencil skirt and a scarlet blouse, with a matching shade of lipstick. Your chocolate hair fell in airy waves about your shoulders… God, you looked so beautiful… And then I remember thinking that you were very likely always this beautiful, and I was simply too miserable to appreciate it. Those old feelings welled up even stronger now, but I tried to play disinterested. First mistake. When you saw me, you rushed up and threw your arms around my neck. I politely reciprocated your embrace, only for a brief moment before shyly pulling away. Second mistake.

We got a booth, the one you always liked, by the window that looks out over the main drag. You always loved watching the road, especially late at night, when there were only a handful of motorists out at any given time, and the entire scene became an incandescent panorama of streetlamps and big box store signs. You said it relaxed you. Given what a shit I was back then, I’d say you needed it.

We talked about what was going on in our lives. You, about your recent broken engagement and how hard it was finding an affordable apartment in the city; me about my new job and the poems which had recently been accepted for publication. We talked about the old days, too, before my stupid, juvenile hang-ups made a mess of everything. And as we were talking, I couldn’t help but marvel at the changes in you that had taken place since we broke it off. You seemed much freer, much more at ease with yourself. No longer the insecure girl you’d been before.

And then I thought about how little I’d changed. Because I was falling in love with you all over again, and I was just as frightened of it now as I was so many years ago. Surely you’d noticed. It was so obvious. The fact that I stammered ever so slightly at the start of each sentence, that I fidgeted with every container of half-and-half I’d dump into my coffee, and the lovelorn looks that would manifest on my face whenever our gazes met.

Why was I so afraid? It would have been so easy to just confess right there how I felt about you. The most natural thing in the world, and yet… I resisted. I grabbed that impulse by the neck, lopped off its plump head, watched the blood drain from the stump and soak the carpet of my imagination. Third mistake.

You walked in front of me to the counter when it came time to pay for our food. There was something sensual in the way you moved. Instantly, a myriad lascivious ideas swept over me: I wanted you more than I’d ever wanted anyone. Still, I kept quiet, though now it was because I was utterly ashamed to be thinking those kinds of thoughts about you, the poised and confident woman you’d become. I offered to pay for the both of us, in recompense for my transgression. “Such a gentleman,” you said. Not really.

I walked you to your car. A light snow was beginning to fall, the first of the season in all its underwhelming glory. We hugged once more, and this time, I held on just a little longer, allowing the feeling of you in my arms to penetrate every inch of my body. And as I reluctantly pulled away, our gazes met yet again. I could live forever in your gaze, you know. But… There was definitely a magnetism between us that night, because you thrust your lips against mine. I shut my eyes, felt the two of us dissolving into that kiss, and for a full minute, that kiss is all that existed.

I had to catch my breath after you pulled away. There was such an intense glow and warmth about you. It felt like a sunrise at midnight. All I wanted then was to let all of those feelings out, to run away with you to New York, Paris, Tokyo, anywhere that we’d dreamed of. But I didn’t. And all that remained for us was silence. You finally said goodbye, got into your car, and drove off. I lit up a smoke and drove my own way, forty minutes back, listening to “Sky High” by Ben Folds Five.

-r. miller

The View

“So are we really doing this?”

A savage gust of November wind claws through the fibers of my wool peacoat, and I brace reflexively against it. I turn toward Rodney, whose resolute gaze is trained on the dilapidated plantation-style house looming like a vampire waiting to feed. He exudes a peculiar calmness as he puffs at his cigarette. Meanwhile, I can barely keep myself from doubling over with anxiety. How is he so calm right now?

“Of course we are,” he responds, finally. Not even a modicum of nervousness in his voice.

“Okay, but can I ask why?”

“We’ve already been over this. Because it’s necessary.”

“Yeah, you mentioned, but… I’m not sure I understand your grounds for making that assertion. ‘Because it’s necessary’ is hardly what I’d consider a self-evident truth. Not in this instance.”

Rodney takes a slow and gradual breath, as if intending to draw the cold into his body. I tremblingly fish around my pockets for a cigarette.

“Donny, you’re welcome to wait in the car. Relax in warmth and security, listen to music. Hell, smoke another joint for all I care. But this is inevitable. With or without you, this is ending the same way.”
A shiver storms my bones. I take another look at the house. To a certain extent, I can see his point. As I’ve said, it’s a rotten, crumbling place. The house sits in an isolated acre of dry meadow, if it’s still even a meadow at this point, surrounded by dense hemlock forest, and vastly removed from the rest of civilization, or even any main roads. I don’t know the exact history of the structure, but I think it was built sometime a little over a century ago, and has only ever had one family call it home. I forget what happened. I can surmise that it must have been bad, because its original occupants left or disappeared, and it hasn’t had any new ones since. It’s just been sitting here, leisurely degrading.

“No, I said I would help, and I stand by that. Just… I can’t help but feel slightly apprehensive, man. This is serious shit we’re about to get into, you understand that. Right?”

Rodney nods and continues puffing his cigarette. “I wouldn’t be so committed if it weren’t ‘serious shit.”

“God damn it, Rod…” By this point, I’ve managed to light my cigarette, taking drag after fretful drag. Come to think of it, Rodney always has been the more decisive of the two of us. Ever since we were kids. He was never one to back down from anything, no matter how utterly nerve-wracking. It was him, after all, who’d convinced me to cross the rickety wooden bridge that spanned the Big Creek to the lookout point with a breathtaking view of the entire valley in which our hometown is nestled.

“You won’t regret this, dude,” he’d kept telling me, while I stood transfixed on that dubious length of planks. I thought surely it couldn’t support the force of two nine-year-old boys as they traipsed across. Despite my best efforts, I was assailed by visions of myself breaking through the wood and plunging twenty feet onto the rough, dark rocks protruding to the surface of the water. But Rodney kept goading, and eventually, I yielded. He was right, it turns out. To this day, I have not had a single regret about crossing that bridge, nor our harrowing trek up steep inclines, through brambles and thorns.

But he’d been wild and enthusiastic in that moment. Now, he’s grave, determined. I honestly intimidated. But, fuck it , I’d made a promise to my friend that we would see this through together, and I was going to keep it. Sensitive nerves be damned.

“Okay,” I pant, “Let’s just do this.” I glimpse a satisfied smile flash across Rodney’s face. He picks up the aluminum canister which had been resting near his feet, and together, we march to our destiny.


Twenty minutes later, and the sun is just beginning its ascent over the shadowy hemlocks. Rodney and I are leaning against the hood of his 2008 Ford, admiring our handiwork over a celebratory joint. It’s breathtaking, really. The exuberant flames feasting upon the old wood, the billows of lush smoke steadily smothering the dawn sky. I’d like to put it all on a postcard.

“And this was absolutely necessary?” I ask, passing the roach over to Rodney. He accepts it, brings it to his lips, and inhales deeply.

“Of course it was. But… Does it really matter?” Something like pride courses through his voice, “Just look at that view.”

“Fair enough,” I nod. He’s right. The view was worth it.

-r. miller

The imperceptible music of snow slowly accumulating

Something in the night air stinks like sawdust. Translucent snowflakes lilt about before my wrinkling eyes. I imagine they’re tiny ballerinas, then chastise myself for indulging in such clichés. I raise a cigarette to my lips, wondering what I’m doing here.

It isn’t long before I see her, a silhouette etched into the shallow glow of the streetlights. Moving closer to the empty fountain where I sit. New details emerging with each step: the gray, woolen coat which clings tight to her curves, the glossy cascade of auburn hair partially concealed beneath a slouch beanie, lips a brazen shade of red, and the sunglasses six shades darker than the night sky. It occurs to me that I’ve never met this femme fatale.

“Got a smoke?” she asks. Her voice is like fine bourbon on ice. Reaching into my coat pocket, I find the half-empty package of Camels that has until now been my sole companion.

“How is it that the two of us should end up here on a night like this?” she asks as I extend a cigarette to her. I’m not sure how to answer. She lazily clasps the cigarette between her index and middle fingers. “Light?”

“Of course.” I don’t apologize for not immediately offering. I produce a beat Zippo from the same pocket as my smokes, give it a flick, and bring the flame close to the end of the cigarette. She breathes. Deep.

“Such a gentleman.” She observes, coyly.

“My mother raised me right.”

“A rarity these days…” Her voice dissolves in the air and she takes another drag. No sound now. No sound but the imperceptible music of snow slowly accumulating.

“You never answered my question,” my mysterious companion finally interrupts. She’s right. I’d nearly forgotten about it.

“Some questions don’t have answers,” I reply.

“This one does,” she comes back without pause, “I’m here. You’re here. So how did this come to be?”

“Well,” I begin, exhaling a thick cone of smoke, “I was polishing off a few rounds at the McAllister when I caught myself a notion…”

“A notion?”

“Yeah… A notion. Something about this empty fountain on a winter’s night… Seemed like a moment that I needed to be a part of.” The words ooze like hot syrup. Oh well. She already knows I’ve been drinking.

“That answer your question?”

“I guess technically it does,” she smirks.

“So what about you?” I ask. Partly out of courtesy, partly out of a genuine interest.

“Maybe… Maybe I’m the woman of your dreams. A figment of your drunken, lovelorn imagination to satisfy your heart’s insatiable craving.”

“Shit, I thought this was a serious question,” I cut her off. She looks slightly offended. Only slightly.

“I am being serious,” she retorts, “Now will you let me finish?”

“Sure. Sorry. Go on.”

“Anyway,” she clears her throat and takes a final drag of her cigarette before flicking the still smoldering butt into the wistful piling of snow upon the sidewalk. “For all you know, I had no existence before this moment when I approached you and asked you for a smoke. So yeah, I very well could be a hallucination born from your deepest loneliness. What if that were the case?”

I roll the question around in my brain, watching my cigarette languidly unspool in a single continuous thread.

“If that were the case,” I breathe, “I’d ask if you’d want to go for a late stroll. Anywhere, doesn’t matter. You pick.”

“You’re definitely holding back,” she scoffs, “A stroll? It’s 2017.”

“Well, just what were you expecting me to say?”

“You’re no fun…” Her gaze drifts toward the vacant street. The snow continues its noiseless symphony.

“How about we reverse roles here,” I say after a minute or several, “Pretend that I’m the figment of your drunken imagination. L’homme de vos rêves.

“No need to be so formal now,” she smirks again, “But if that were the case… I’d… I’d bury myself deep in your chest as you wrap your arms around me, like… The walls of a crystal castle, shielding me from all the wickedness and evil of the world… And there’s an awful lot of wickedness around. I’ve seen it. I’ve felt it, been broken by it. It’s burrowed deep into my veins and poisoned my blood. Yeah, I know all about how cruel life is. God, how nice it would be not to feel the sting of that poison, you know? If only for a moment or two… To feel warmth for once. To feel safe, and maybe even loved, above all. And then…” She stopped to catch her breath, “And then I’d look deeply into your eyes, deeper than I’ve ever looked at or into anything before, and I’d whisper the most sincere words that I’d ever say to anyone.”

I don’t know how to respond. Other than by offering her another cigarette, which she accepts. I light it before doing the same to one of my own. I’m still unsure of what to say.

“Don’t worry, no need to say anything,” she laughs, though half-heartedly, “Thanks, though. For the smokes and the chat.”

Before I can speak, she rises, throwing a final glance at me and disappearing into the dumb drear of winter. I’m alone now, like before, only… More so. No sound now. No sound but the imperceptible music of the snow slowly accumulating.

-r. miller

A Certain Understated Tension

This is a story about a girl and a boy. She’s about 24. A recent graduate of a local university with a degree in communications, she likes pop punk and indie comedies. She runs a lifestyle blog which shows some promise, but that is still gaining traction on the web. Her favorite food is chicken Tikka Masala. She has hazel eyes and cascading blonde hair, which falls in loose curls about her heart shaped face. She likes the boy, but she isn’t sure how he feels about her.
The boy is barely 20, muddling his way through his sophomore year at the same university towards a philosophy degree, which he has no ultimate plan for. He plays guitar and sings for a local hardcore band and fancies himself a poet. He has brown eyes and the beginnings of a receding hairline, which causes him great embarrassment. He likes the girl, but he isn’t sure how she feels about him.
Both boy and girl are spending the evening at a little spot off of some placid country lane. It’s edged by thick clumps of deciduous trees and overlooks a medium sized man-made lake, which serves as the focus of a state park. Locals consider it a necking spot. It’s a cool night in early October. There’s a full moon out, which casts its radiant gaze through the hazy azure of the sky. They’re leaning against the hood of his ’96 Pontiac, sharing a six pack of National Bohemian, both idly casting their own gazes at the body of water which rests below. Neither of them are saying anything.
He awkwardly inches closer to her, but not too close. He doesn’t want to give himself away. After all, he isn’t sure how she feels about him. He’s an insecure boy, and doesn’t want to cause any unnecessary awkwardness for her. Meanwhile, she’s ever so subtly moving her hand towards his where it lay on the hood of his car. She’s careful not to actually touch him, however. After all, she isn’t sure how he feels about her, and she doesn’t want to risk rejection.
He sips his beer. She sips hers. He slides a Pall Mall from its beaten pack, and, trying to conceal his slightly trembling hand, puts it between his lips and lights it. She pulls her jacket tighter around her to guard against the deepening chill in the air.
“Nice night,” he mumbles, afraid the silence is making her feel weird.
“Yeah,” she responds. She wonders if she should add anything, but isn’t quite sure what. She then asks if she can bum a cigarette.
“Sure thing,” he replies, offering her one of his Pall Malls. She places it between her lips. He lights it.
“A lady never lights her own cigarette,” he says, trying to sound suave. He realized that in fact he doesn’t sound suave, but rather corny and foolish. His gut clenches at the prospect of her seeing through his ruse. He clams up.
“Thanks,” she half-smiles. She wants to move closer to him.
“No problem,” He holds back a half-smile. He wants to move closer to her.
Suddenly, both boy and girl behold a blazing sickle of light slice across the night sky. A shooting star. She hasn’t seen one in fifteen years, she reckons. This is the first one he’s ever seen.
“Shit!” he exclaims, nearly spilling a mouthful of beer, “Make a wish!”
“Alright,” she laughs. They both shut their eyes tightly, focusing on the thing they want most at this particular moment.
I want him to kiss me, she thinks.
I want her to kiss me, he thinks. Both of them open their eyes and turn to face the other.
“So what did you wish for?” He asks, half-smiling.
“If I tell you, then it won’t come true.”
“Fair enough.”
He inches closer. She inches closer. They’re almost touching. They both feel a certain understated tension between them. He looks away. She looks away. He downs what remains of his beer. She takes a drag of her cigarette.
“Well…” he pauses, “It’s getting kinda late. I have class in the morning.”
“Yeah,” she sighs, “I have work. Should we get going then?”
“I suppose so.” Boy and girl climb into the ’96 Pontiac, him in the driver’s seat, her in the passenger’s. He turns the key in the ignition and flips through a book of CDs while she peers through the partially opened car door window. He puts Alkaline Trio in his CD player because he knows they’re her favorite band. She half smiles. He half smiles. He throws his car in reverse and backs up into the road.

-r. miller

I Want to Kiss You

Bethany and I sat smoking in her parents’ backyard beneath a wet July half-moon. Aside from the occasional cloud passing languidly overhead, it was a clear night. Humid, though, if I remember right. Anyway, neither of us were saying much, just passing a joint back and forth, listening to the cicadas hum like engines in the trees. The weed tasted like orange peel. I was nursing a lukewarm beer and trying to think of something to say, because I felt like I had to say something. All that came to mind was “I want to kiss you.”

I couldn’t say that, though. If I did, she’d know that for the past several months, I’d been developing feelings for her. I’d ignored them at first. She’d had a boyfriend, Drew, up until two weeks ago, and to nurture any romantic attraction would have been in poor taste. I did an alright job of keeping them buried, though whenever we talked, I’d sense them stirring, like roots struggling to break through a seed.

I loved our talks. No bullshit, like with everyone else we knew. No idle gossip, no chatting about the weather or who’s been sleeping with whom, no rehashing old stories in some narcissistic effort to mythologize our lives. I remember we’d stay up all night at parties, long after everyone had left or passed out, feverishly discussing whether or not existence has any objective value in a godless universe, which Fugazi songs we thought were the best, and why John Ashbery is the greatest living American poet. She truly came alive then, during our talks. Her fierce intellect sparked behind her luscious blue eyes, cutting through me like a diamond cuts glass. And how musical her speech was, her words carried by the fluid rhythm of her thoughts. It was like a dance, both of us leading and following in our turn. I think that’s partly why she and Drew broke up, but I can’t confirm it.

Ironic that now I couldn’t think of one single thing to say to her other than “I want to kiss you.” As if someone had branded this phrase upon my mind with a hot iron. I wondered if she could tell, as if my present manner somehow betrayed this desire I was trying my damndest to conceal. Of course she couldn’t. I’m practically a virtuoso at keeping my feelings hidden from view. We were friends, after all. It would be imprudent to risk our friendship for romance.

“I should probably get to bed,” Bethany sighed, pressing the joint into the damp grass, “It’s like, 2 o’clock in the morning.”
“Yeah,” I muttered, “I have to work in six hours.”
We both rose, and I walked with her to the back door of her parents’ house, t he words “I want to kiss you” still smoldering.
“Text me tomorrow,” She said, “We can go get a drink or something.”
“Yeah… I will.” A meek smile passed over my face.
“Well…” She paused, anticipating something maybe, but unsure of what that something was, “Goodnight.” We hugged hastily. She went inside and I trudged out to the street, to my car. I opened the door and slumped into the driver’s seat.
“I want to kiss you,” I whispered to the empty space beside me, before turning the key in the ignition and driving away.

-r. miller

A Body In Motion

On the morning of October 12th, Jeffrey Riggle stepped out into the clear day which smelled like mulled cider and dying foliage. He sucked the inviting air deeply into his nostrils and contentedly breathed it back out.

He felt alive today, though he wasn’t certain what this peculiar vim hinged on. It was simply there, and he wasn’t going to complain. The neighborhood was strangely deserted, and on a normal day, this would have saturated Jeffrey’s mind with dread and seeting paranoia, but, as he rightly observed, today was not a normal day. A tender breeze swept up fallen leaves and carried them down the empty street in gentle arabesques. Jeffrey smiled, feeling at ease with such a motherly presence.

He wasn’t quite sure where he was going. He had left his apartment guided only by his desire to be in motion, however leisurely. It was when he was in motion that he felt most at home. Motion meant that he didn’t have to focus on the drearier aspects of his life, and surely, if he were at rest, these are what would dominate his attention.

Were he to stop at this moment, stop walking and sit down on one of the benches gregariously placed along the sidewalk, he would immediately, without hesitation, begin thinking of his lousy job at the accounting firm, and how greatly it sapped his energy to perform such tedious, mind dulling drudgery.

He would begin thinking of his mounting debts and how profoundly these debts kept him from leading a fulfilling life. If he didn’t have to pay back his student loans, his car loans, his credit cards, he wouldn’t have to put such long hours in at the firm, and he’d have a little money to spend on himself and by God, some time to spend it.

He would begin thinking of his lackluster love life, how he had no one in whom to confide his deepest fears and longings, no one with whom to share this peculiar experience called life, and no one to hold close every night and be held by, thus affirming his existence as a human being.

Yes, Jeffrey did not want to be bothered by such things. Above all, at this moment, he wanted inner peace and freedom. Doesn’t everyone? So Jeffrey Riggle kept moving his feet along the deserted sidewalk, heedless of a destination. He quickened his pace and kept moving.

-r. miller


I awoke to the sound of screaming, coming, it seemed, from just beyond my window. I wasn’t afraid necessarily, but I was concerned that there would be somebody screaming so loudly at such an hour. Not knowing what to think, I groggily shuffled to the window. I saw nothing unusual, merely the darkness of night faintly illumined by the row of streetlights lined on the sidewalk. Nothing unusual whatsoever.

Still, I gazed out of that window for a full five minutes, contemplating the night, the mysteries of that grizzly black. I marveled at the very concept of darkness. Amazing how it transforms something like a quaint main street in a small town like mine into something sinister, how it thrusts open the castle gates of the imagination, allowing all manner of phantasms and specters and devils to storm the Keep, eager to feast on the sanity within. What a tremendous thing, darkness…

My reverie was broken by the sound of screaming. Startled, I realized that it wasn’t, in fact, coming from just beyond the window, but from within my own goddamned house. My heart surged. I crept to my nightstand, where in a locked drawer, I had stashed a 9mm handgun. A homeowner has the right to defend himself after all.

After loading the pistol and switching off the safety, I tiptoed into the hall. The screams had come from the crawlspace, I was sure of it. I slinked like a shadow down the stairs, and approached the entrance to the tiny room. I placed a damp hand on the knob, and slowly, ever so slowly, pulled the door open. The creak it made resonated through the entire house. My heart picked up speed as I flipped the light switch. What I saw shocked me.

There, amidst the dismembered corpses of my previous victims, was my latest prey, chained to the wall. She had somehow managed to loosen the gag I had so carefully (though not carefully enough, evidently) tied around her mouth.  It was apparent that her frantic wailing was an attempt to garner some attention to her plight. I shook my head, and promptly delivered a significant kick to her exposed stomach. She hollered at the impact. I retied the gag.

“Some of us are trying to get some fucking rest,” I growled as I kicked her again to drive the point home.

-r. miller

Rude Awakening

When Trent awoke sometime after midnight and saw the jar which contained a human head, he stifled a scream and his eyes practically leaped from their sockets. Trent was certain that the jar had not been there when he had gone to bed, but then again, he had never placed much faith in his sense of certainty. The important thing now was to take this grisly trophy to the proper authorities. Or was it? Trent wrestled with his options for a solid ten minutes, and eventually concluded that it was not in his best interests to go to the police. He would inevitably have to answer questions for which he had no answers. He wasn’t prepared for that kind of hassle. With a sigh, Trent lay back down in his bed and shut his eyes, allowing the tender arms of sleep to enfold him once again.

-r. miller

Ted Campbell vs. Oblivion

Ted Campbell steps out into a night of unprecedented cold. With shivering hands, he pulls a single Marlboro Red from a battered pack, drowsily slides it into his mouth, and lights it. There’s an understated breeze, which nevertheless makes it difficult for Ted to get a proper flame from his Zippo lighter. Without fully understanding why, Ted is seized by the feeling that this will be his final cigarette. He sighs. He wasn’t expecting such cold, so he’s without a coat, and he regrets his complete lack of foresight. The night is dark – darker than anything he’s ever seen or experienced. It’s as if some massive cosmic hand had wrapped around the world and was squeezing and squeezing and squeezing. Ted isn’t exactly sure why he left the warmth and light of his home for this, this ego rending darkness, and yet here he is, compelled by instinct or duty or some other vague idea he no longer fully comprehends. These things are just words after all, and what is a word divorced from its meaning? Ted Campbell takes one more drag of his cigarette, his last cigarette, and flicks it into the void. He glimpses the red glow of the ember swirl round for but a second before it’s dissolved in the immeasurable, unfathomable black. Taking a deep, meaningful breath, Ted steps forward –

-r. miller

The Absolute Perfect Word

It was a Friday evening when it happened. I was waiting in the checkout line at Aldi, having spent the previous 45 minutes listlessly deciding what I was going to eat for the next week, when a certain feeling overcame me. That doesn’t really sound like much, except that a) I had never ever in my life had this particular experience before and b) having never experienced it, I had no proper term to describe it. No, really. From the time the cashier began scanning my items to the time I bagged up my groceries and walked out of the store to my shitty Toyota in the parking lot, I struggled – STRUGGLED – to come up with any sort of way to properly verbalize this strange sensation!

Obviously, a singular term was out of the question since, like I said, I had never experienced this before. Sadness, anxiety, confusion, pensiveness, alienation… None of these were apt. I could only describe the physical sensation itself – a sort of tension in the gut, you know, like when you have to go to the bathroom, only I can safely say I did not have to go to the bathroom, contributing to my further puzzlement, along with the pins and needles feeling you get when you lay on your arm or hand or some other extremity the wrong way. It was that, only more subtle and instead of being concentrated to one appendage, it was radiating across my entire body. No particular thought went along with any of this, nothing like “Fuck, I wish this old lady ahead of me wouldn’t have paid in a check,” or “I wonder if I should have bought the gallon sized milk,” or “I really wish I wasn’t here right now.” The only thing I could think of was “The feeling you get while standing in Aldi checkout line at 6:45 on a Friday evening.”

I thought about this some more as I made myself a simple meal of shrimp and spinach alfredo. What a peculiar set of circumstances to give rise to such a feeling! I wondered if to have it again, I’d have to spend 45 minutes shopping for a week’s worth of groceries, and then stand in line for another 10 minutes. Outside stimuli trigger feelings, right? I pondered this hypothesis for a bit longer, until I felt it again – the intestinal stress, the light pinpricks. I felt it while I was waiting for my pasta to cook.

I woke up the next day feeling how I normally do after I wake up: groggy, moody, a bit confused. I had a cup of coffee and a bowl of plain Greek yogurt topped with kiwi, blueberries, and just a bit of honey. I felt the way I normally do after I have coffee and Greek yogurt: slightly more aware, less confused, content. I decided I’d grab a shower, so I shuffled to the bathroom and turned the water on. The length of time it takes for the water to achieve proper temperature is infuriating. While I waited, I stripped and took a solid look at myself in the mirror, and I felt how I normally do when I take a solid look at myself in the mirror: I need to hit the gym soon. I checked the water again, still too cold for my taste, and sat down on the toilet. And I felt it.

Later that afternoon, I met my friend Elise at a local coffee shop. She had recently broken up with her boyfriend, who was a jealous alpha-male type of guy and wouldn’t let her spend time alone with her other guy friends, so now she was trying to make up for lost time. I told her about this weird feeling as we sipped lattes and munched on scones.

“Wait, so let me get this straight. You were in line at Aldi, and suddenly you feel this feeling that you have never ever felt before in your entire life?”

“And while cooking pasta, and while waiting for my water to heat up for my shower.”

“Could you have been impatient maybe? All three of these things involve some degree of waiting.”

“I thought about that, but I mean, I’m not really an impatient person. I can handle waiting, I’ve accepted it as a part of life by now.”

“What about boredom? Were you bored?”

“Not any more than I usually am. All I know for sure is the physical sensations that accompanied it. My stomach sort of tensed up, like when you have to go to the bathroom, and a pins and needles feeling all over.” Elise’s eyes widened ever so slightly.

“This is going to sound weird, but I think I know exactly what you’re talking about.”

“What? … For real?” I said, bemused.

“Yeah!” She excitedly took a sip of her drink and just as excitedly brought the cup back to the table, “As I was getting my oil changed yesterday, maybe like five minutes before they finished. I had been flipping through a fitness magazine, not really reading it, you know? And suddenly, I felt exactly what you just described, honest-to-fucking-God.”

“Have you felt it since?”

“Twice. Again last night while brushing my teeth, and this morning while choosing an outfit to wear.”

“How strange…” I pondered her words as I downed the rest of my latte. “Maybe it’s not strictly limited to waiting. Maybe it could happen during any mundane activity.”

“Could be. But we don’t have a word for it, do we? We don’t even have any specific thoughts that correlate to it, you know? I mean, obviously we never really stop thinking, but when it happens, it’s only these fleeting little thoughts that aren’t really worth remembering.”

“Right, right…” I pondered some more, and when I ran into a dead end, I told Elise that I was going to get another latte. As I handed my money to the clerk, the feeling struck me again.

I remember in my high school German class, our teacher had explained how different languages have words which have no direct English translation. Words like schadenfreude, which is impish delight in the sufferings of others, and waldeinsamkeit, which is the feeling of being alone in the woods. There are plenty of examples in other languages. Yoko meshi is a Japanese phrase used to describe the peculiar stress experienced when speaking in a foreign language. Forelsket is a Norwegian word that describes the process of falling in love, as distinguished from actually being in love. At that time, I wondered why no one ever saw fit to come up with an English equivalent to describe these inner states. I’ve certainly experienced an impish delight in the misfortune of others, the feeling of being alone in the woods, the stress of speaking a language you don’t normally speak, and damn it, everybody knows the feeling of falling in love, so why has no English speaker throughout the history of the language felt the need to fix a term on these sensations? It seems rather absurd that we haven’t, but what do I know? Anyhow, now I had this brand new feeling that needed a label, and I realized then that this was a task easier said than done.

I experienced this feeling more and more as the days went on, and as I had suspected, it was generally brought about while engaged in some mundane, non-too-thrilling activity which is always just a little bit tedious, but also just a little bit necessary. It’s always accompanied by that tension in the gut and the pinpricks on the skin. At this point, a lot of you reading this will probably dismiss it all and chalk it up to a combination of impatience and boredom, like Elise first suggested, and I have certainly felt this before during these trite little tasks, and for this reason, I can say for certain that this feeling is neither of these things. If it were simply boredom or impatience or both, I could describe it in the those ways, but it isn’t wholly these feelings. Seeing as how a lot of us in contemporary society have to engage in these menial chores that go along with our way of life, but if we had the choice, we would be doing a million other things, I’m hoping enough people will read this and say “Well shit, I know exactly what this guy is talking about!” so that we can all come together and agree on the absolute perfect word for it.

-r. miller