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Magen Toole is an arts student and odd-jobber from Fort Worth, Texas, writing short queer and speculative fiction in her spare time.
She lives with a cat named Ginger and a turtle named Filbert, both of whom have more say in her life than she does.
These Creatures of Habit


Everything in Noam Patel's life has a time and a place.

He wears high-water trousers and is never late for an appointment.  The small closets in his apartment are organized by
trees made for ties and shoes, and other things.  They are full of pale checkered pattern shirts, long-sleeve, button-down,
and brown suits borrowed from a scene in a Doris Day movie.

In the morning before work and on his lunch hour from it he drinks coffee that tastes like nutmeg and pumpkin pie, and
reads Kafka on the subway or on the city bus.  The way one should read Kafka, of that he is sure, although the method
differs whenever he is asked.

If anything, Noam Patel is a creature of habit.

                                                                        ***

Whenever he is out, Noam makes careful notes.  He keeps a black ball-point pen and small square notepad in his front
shirt pocket, to write down the words that he sees on billboards in Times Square, or the sentences that he overhears in
coffee shops or subway stations.  Like snippets of time commemorated in sharp-sounding verbs or dull-witted nouns, and
spelled out in ordinary moments of cups of coffee and black-and-white posters.

They are the bright predicates and the obtuse adjectives; all written down in careful documentation and strung together
like unwashed pearls, for an essay thesis or fodder for a classroom lecture.  He folds the notes, twice-over like tiny parcels,
and slips them in his coat pocket to be sorted through later.  Waste not, want not.

His father taught him that, years before Kafka and the notebooks.  With small and chubby fingers Noam flipped through
the journal sitting on his father's desk, and the miles of numbers contained inside.  Because you never know where you'll
be when something brilliant comes along, his father had explained.  Something proud and warm made home in the line of
his mouth as he retrieved the book from the child's curious hands, and Noam could never forget that.

There was a notable idealism in his father's thinking.  It was a quaint naiveté about the inherent beauty of things,
expressed in mathematical proofs, or lines of equations written in white chalk on blackboard.  His numbers had always
spoken in a different tongue than Noam's adjectives and predicates, but they, like everything else, have an order about
them.  A way to be categorized, compartmentalized; sorted through and filed away.

It is one of the few things he and his father could still agree on these days.

                                                                        ***

Two floors above Noam, in an apartment that is identical to his own, lives a younger man with sleepy eyes.  His hair is dark,
cut in sharp angles with a heavy fringe.  He looks like a pop-art poster come to life, in matte primary colors, old hooded
jackets with stitches missing in the pockets and a smile that is both wide and warmly kind.  Not even his father's
mathematics could aspire to describe it, but Noam thinks nothing of that.

They speak only at random times, in the hallway after work or on the subway going to it, when, squinting his light-colored
eyes, the other man notices Noam from a distance.  It is with the kind of warm familiarity or fond recollection that Noam
cannot account for, with a minute degree of difficulty before the other man smiles, pulling out the ear-buds of the blue iPod
hooked in his back pocket.  His name is Elliot.

Noam never forgets a name, but that is another matter entirely.

"Hey."  Elliot's voice is a breathy monotone, the dreamy kind of sound of someone waking from sleep.  It is only in these
moments that Noam notices the slenderness of the man's fingers and the arc of his top lip.  "You live in 302, right?  By the
elevator?"

A polite nod.  "Yes."  Noam is suddenly aware of the thickness of his glasses, the wrinkles in his shirt.  "I believe you were
the one who ran into me in the hallway when I first moved in.  Nearly lost my briefcase in the skirmish."

The smile widens by degrees.  "Yeah, sorry about that," the other man answers, making an archaic gesture towards the
crown of his head, "I was kind of in my own little world that day, y'know?"

Noam smiles back and looks away.  Back to Kafka or his notebook, and his observations and old suits and neat
apartment.  Elliot just shrugs a small squared shoulder and looks a little let down.  Noam just tries not to think of the way
his collar bone must look beneath his shirt.

There is no compartment for that, no category to be filed under.  So Noam says nothing more of it.
Magen Toole
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