EM Kaplan chats with Josie Tucker and learns a few things
Imagine the scene: A train station in the afternoon in some forgotten town in the USA. The café is quiet, the only sounds are a gentle muttering from an elderly couple and a chink-clink as an aproned waiter polishes the ancient, stained tea cups. A woman, displaying a qualified level nervousness, stands in the doorway and bites her lip. It doesn't actually get her any further into the café so she considers moving her feet instead. Taking a breath, she adjusts her glasses, pushes a self conscious strand of hair from her brow and walks up to the table where a second woman waits, staring into an empty coffee cup. EM Kaplan, author, pulls out the chair which scrapes and screeches across the floor. Both women wince and Kaplan sits down.
Josie Tucker: Who are you?
EM Kaplan: Let’s just say I’m a big fan. And not in a creepy way. Not conventionally creepy, anyway. Never mind—let’s just get right to the first question. A lot of people ask if I’m you, and vice versa, if you’re me. Does that seem strange to you?
Josie: That’s ridiculous. Obviously. [Gestures at the space between us.]
EM: Right. Because I’m me, and you’re you. We’re sitting across from each other in different chairs. But you have to admit, we have a lot of things in common—why are you giving me that look? That’s a very peculiar expression. I’d call that ‘doubtful with a liberal dash of you’re out of your darned mind.’
Josie: While you’re kind of bizarre, the way you talk reminds me of someone I know. I can’t put my finger on it…maybe…
EM: Maybe you?
Josie: No. I was thinking more like my mom when she was coherent. She’s in a nursing home for dementia.
EM: I know. I’m really sorry about that. My mom is still sharp as a tack in her 80s. But, come on, I’m not old enough to be your mom. I’m in my 40s and you’re, what, 29ish?
Josie: I’m turning 30 in May. I would rate my ability to act like an adult at a beginner’s level. Honestly, I’m stressed out that I’m turning into an official grown up. I mean, you can fake being a kid as long as you’re in your 20s, but 30 is really a cut-off point for those shenanigans, am I right? So you’re not old enough to be my mother, but maybe my aunt. Or my more responsible older sister.
EM: Uh…okay. I can live with that.
Josie: And what is it that you do?
EM: I’m a writer…of fantasy novels and humorous murder mysteries.
Josie: Humorous murder mysteries? Don’t you kind of have to be sick in the head to enjoy a murder? I’ve been closer to a few murders than most people want to be and I get a stomach ache just thinking about it.
EM: Really?…Like actual stomach aches? I mean, I knew you had them, but do you mean to tell me you feel real physical pain. You feel things? Every time?
Josie: You’re so weird. Of course I do. Crippling stomach aches. The kind of discomfort that has you calling for your mommy in the middle of the night. The kind of night that has you sleeping on the bathroom floor. It’s why I can’t keep weight on.
EM: Stress sucks. Milk sucks.
Josie: Yeah, they’re telling me that milk is—heeeey, how did you know that?
EM: It’s because we’re Asian. Something like 90% of East Asians have trouble digesting milk.
Josie: Seriously? You, too? This is a bonafide disorder and not some thing my boyfriend, Drew, made up to torture me?
EM: Yeah. Although, you pretty much knew the truth already, don’t you? You’re just in denial. I mean, how many times do you have to feel like you’re going to die after eating ice cream before you simply stop eating it?
Josie: [incoherent cursing]
EM: That about sums it up. Sorry about that.
Josie: You keep apologizing for everything. You should cut that out.
EM: I feel extremely responsible for everything. It’s part of who I am.
Josie: You’re totally a mom.
EM: I totally am.
Josie: Well good. Because if we’re going to be hanging out together, one of us has to be the responsible one.
EM: Are we going to be hanging out more? I’m flattered.
Josie: You should be. I don’t like very many people, but I like you for some unknown reason. I should be creeped out that you know so much about me, but nothing is registering on my creep factor alarm. I feel like I’ve known you for years and we’ll be hanging out for even more. Like we really are relatives. Like deja vu. Only for people.
EM: We probably are related. Descendants of Genghis Khan or something.
Josie: I’m pretty sure 75% of the world are his descendants. That dude got around, from what I’ve heard.
EM: Speaking of getting around—well, not like that. But tell me about your recent trip. Did you like San Francisco? I always think that if dim sum was an animal, it would be my spirit animal.
Josie: You’re right. The food was fan-freaking-tastic. The dead body, I could have done without.
Josie: Really what?
EM: I was under the impression that you kind of…enjoyed your crazy adventures.
Josie: Enjoyed meeting murderers and getting stabbed, beaten up, and left for dead? I don’t know where you got that idea. But well, the truth is…I hate what’s happened to the victims, but if there’s a way that I’m uniquely qualified to help them, even after they’re gone and buried, then I feel maybe…that’s why I was created. That’s why I was put here in this particular world. Do you know what I’m saying? You’re nodding. That’s good. You bought my goofy, overly philosophical
So, here’s a question for you. With my 30th birthday coming up, do you have some tips for helping me keep my sanity? Do you remember what were you doing on your 30th?
EM: As a matter of fact, yes I do. I was about to have my first kid and 9/11 had just happened.
Josie: Good lord, you’re old—I’m teasing. But I don’t think I’m going to get knocked up just to celebrate my alleged adulthood. That would be the worst reason ever to procreate.
EM: I’m sure there have been far worse reasons, actually. But I wouldn’t suggest you have a kid just for your birthday, especially because there’s not enough time to gestate one that quickly. You should probably just go out, eat some BBQ. Get a half-slab of baby backs and call it a day.
Josie: Sounds good to me. Do want to grab a beer after this?
EM: I don’t drink. My face turns beet red. I’m a total lightweight.
Josie: So you’re saying we’re going to have a lot of fun.
EM: You’re totally going to get me into trouble.
Josie: I totally am.
© EM Kaplan 2016
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Dead Man on Campus - Coming 2016
At stupid o’clock in the morning, Josie found herself sliding a plastic tray down the metal ledge at the breakfast buffet in the cafeteria. Clean clothes, damp hair, and a freshly scrubbed face had not changed her low opinion of cafeteria cuisine. Ahead of her, the breakfast hot dishes stretched out like a carb wasteland. What they lacked in quality, they made up in quantity. With a spatula, she poked at limp triangles of French Toast and then grimaced at the vat of steaming, gray oatmeal. After the gauntlet of gruel and despair, came pale, watery melon wedges of indeterminate types, chopped in haphazard polygons, stacked and teetering like an icy glacier due for a collapse.
“Screw the stalker,” she said. “This is killing me. One chafing dish at a time.”
Stripped Bare is an occasional column where authors and other creatives are given the chance to expose themselves to the world in unusual and creative ways. It is by invitation early.