Flash fiction inspired by its readers
The Sidewalk Ends
The boredom is as stifling as the heat. The AC’s broken in the new place. The toilets are on the same line, keep getting clogged. Infested with ants to the point that any tickle becomes a massive body flailing attempt to get the critter off. She rubber tramped through the strip malls looking for work. Soaked with sweat after just one minute outside. Asking children for jobs. As if it weren’t wretched, humiliating enough, you gotta apply online these days. Can’t even bring your resume and a cover letter to the manager. If the corporate office doesn’t vet you, you don’t get a call back. Not even if you live down the street. And don’t have a car, so you need to be able to walk to work.
She gets no callbacks. Because she has no retail experience.
And who the hell needs experience to work retail, anyway? How fucking hard is it to stand, smile, take people’s money. You don’t even swipe credit cards anymore, the customer does it. Put their shit in a bag and off they go. Pick up your paycheque.
But no. It’s America. Jobs aren’t just outsourced, they’re techsourced. A machine reads your application and decides if a human should see it next. You call the cable company because Piranha 3DD is skipping and a stilted voice tells you all the things you can do to fix their problem. You call Ikea to see if the last few things for the apartment are in stock and waste twenty minutes waiting for a person who has no intention of answering the phone.
The nights are the worst. He doesn’t come home until early morning. She can’t sleep in the house yet. Every noise she’s sure is an intruder. Someone with a gun. They love guns down here, taking lives every day. She’s convinced people can see through the blinds, but she’s too scared to peer out and see if this is paranoia or if monsters are really out there.
Today she’s walking around the neighborhood. She didn’t realize they live a block from the water. All the canals that run inland from the ocean just a mile away. All the fancy houses on the water, double the price of those that aren’t. The water is still. More like a river than the sea. It would remind her of Venice if you could walk along the canals. But you can’t.
She misses street names. Everything is numbered. It’s disorienting. Nothing to associate with these large digits. Except maybe 33rd Street, and that’s only because it’s her age. Too quiet. Nobody walks, even though at dusk it’s cooler and the salty breeze picks up, finally refreshing. She walks. She’s got nothing else to do. It’s this or sit in the sweltering apartment, thinking about the life she left behind, the one she lost. Another dead dream swimming with the fishes.
Sweat trickles down her neck as her feet chafing in walking sandals grind against the rubber, a new blister on the bottom of her foot. She’s got to look into that Gold Bond powder, the ad said it helps. Her thighs are on fire. Don’t want a rash in this heat. She wipes her hand across her forehead just before the droplets fall on her glasses. She looks around. Home? Or keep walking. Her muscles crave movement.
Across the street the sign says To Deerfield Beach. She follows. The blister under her big toe bursts in a sharp spasm of pain. Her lower back aches, period’s coming. I don’t want to go home, she thinks. Anywhere but there. It’s not even home. It’s where I am.
Her frustration breaks when she realizes that something is off walking down this street. A bad feeling. The worst. Like visiting the old slave market in Seville, she was laid out vomiting for a day after. Or the square in Prague where they burned the witches. Nightmares, hives, allergic to horror.
She looks behind her, scans the tree-lined horizon. There’s nobody, nothing. The road before her, doesn’t look right. She’s dizzy. She forgot water. Or she’s hungover. What is it? She does a muscle test. No, it’s not the shrine after shrine to the American flag. It’s not the lizards scurrying underfoot. A siren in the distance. It’s not me, my headache, my trauma, my sorrow.
There are no sidewalks on the opposite side of the street. She stops in her tracks, staring. Dumbfounded. Never in her life has she seen a street without a sidewalk. It’s wrong. It does not compute. It’s something out of a Neil Gaiman novel. It’s like Shel Silverstein said. It’s Stephen King land. She stands there for a long time, she doesn’t bother to wipe the sweat that falls into her eyes, stinging. She welcomes the clarity of pain. She stares at the nothing. How can a road exist without a sidewalk? Her heart pounds in a fierce tattoo, soon a syncopated rhythm. Her brain bends trying to comprehend. With all that she’s seen, how can this be the strangest thing? How has she ended up here, in the province where the sidewalks end?
She’s convinced she’ll disappear if she crosses into the absence. Poof. Vanished. She knows it will happen but she does it anyway. Now that she’s at the end of the world, she needs to see what the other side looks like.
All the people in their houses, shuttered up against the light, nobody sees or hears when her screams cut through the muggy air, lingering, piercing, a bolt of bloody murder thunder and then silence.
And nobody ever finds her.
Sezin Koehler, author of American Monsters, is a woman either on the verge of a breakdown or breakthrough writing from Lighthouse Point, Florida after spending the last 10 years in Europe. Culture shock aside, she’s working on four follow-up novels to her first, progress of which you can follow on her Pinterest boards. Her other online haunts are Zuzu’s Petals, Twitter, and Facebook, which feature eclectic bon mots, rants and raves.
A Very Particular View
We thought they’d never get this far; that they’d self-destruct or get bored. Or just take long weekends to go shopping in Wal-Mart or Ikea and leave the ‘where do we come from’ pile of shit alone. I mean, we gave them enough scripts, and plays, and performances, and fables to keep them occupied. Or so we thought. The heretics, smug bastards, have been banging on forever about how, all the time we were busy putting together some flat-out awesome scene, like the aurora borealis for instance, they were niggling away at the cosmic onion and peeling bits of it back to get to the core. Sooner or later, they said, with serious eyebrows and wagging fingers, we’d be rumbled. But the rest of us just said ho hum yawn and got on with decorating the next set.
Of course there were awkward moments, usually down to a couple of individuals spending too much time in their heads and not enough in grovelling ignorance. We like ignorance because it keeps everything tidy and ticking over nicely. But now they’re loose and meddling with everything, pulling up the floorboards, unraveling the fabric of it all, and shifting the furniture to hoover up dust and stuff for their experiments. So we’ve had to start hoovering up first, and putting our own stuff away before they get their hands on, well, anomalies and things that would set them off ripping something else apart. They’ve even started inventing new scenarios to poke about in, and we’ve had to build the damn things to stop them wrecking the ones they’ve got. All that picking and spinning and throwing bits of stuff at other bits of stuff at ridiculous speeds.
The trouble is, the more we build, the more they come up with, and the more we have to go back and dismantle old sets for props and the like. Some parts of this place are almost gone now; lights switched off, contents redeployed and scattered over new builds. I liked Cassiopeia A best, before it was Cassiopeia A, of course. It’s a shame we had to nova that, but once they got off planet and parked Hubble, it was like someone pulling open your shower curtain while you were still in there. Very exposing. These images – and I can’t tell you the trouble we had with those because of all that spectral wavelength radiation and gravity distortion nonsense they’ve invented – well they’re all over their internet so every Tom, Dick, and Harry feels able to contribute a theory, and they’re hell-bent on digging up evidence for all of them.
Fortunately, their theories don’t include us. Unless you count the Tooth Fairy Agnostics who believe everything and nothing all at the same time and how ironically quantum is that? Even the ones who would like to think science is bullshit and there’s a Greater Purpose don’t exactly have us in mind. They’re thinking esoteric, grandiose and triumphal, which is a tad archetypal, if you ask me. They’d be mortified to find we’re just stagehands. The other lot; the skeptical, atheist, don’t-take-no-for-an-answer-muckers-about-with-matter, (and now dark matter for goodness sakes, and god knows we’ll have to find a way to make that soon), if they go shining their light into the right corner – you know, the one your eye doesn’t quite focus on till something moves and then when you look it’s gone – they’ll stop. But only for one blissful moment, then they’ll be after us with their gadgets and devices and things that steam and hiss and click and bellow and echo. Then we’ll all be in the shit.
So we have to keep feeding them bits more of our stuff to keep them going and today it’s a thing that has them salivating even though they know it barely exists. Which it didn’t, exist that is, until just now when we cobbled it together from some bits of the old Big Bang set and lobbed it into their fearsome engine. The God particle; dearie me, if only they knew.
July 23, 2012
by Rob Brunet
One last ride.
That had been the rule for as long as Dirk could remember. It was unwritten, like most things important, but everyone knew it. The motorcycle club was like that. Lots of rules, nothing written down. Everything understood.
Like no one ever worked the other side of the lake. Territory that belonged to the gang out of Oshawa. Made no sense to Dirk. Hell, you could see the western shore from the clubhouse dock, practically smell the barbeques. You could definitely hear the parties. Parties packed with city kids tweaking their summers away, hammering to deep house, howling at the midnight moon. Money to be made. But it was against the rules.
The deal was simple. This side of the lake belonged to the Kawartha crew, that side to the city. Thing is, Dirk needed a little extra. Buy something special for his kid, turning twelve. Didn’t seem to matter how hard he earned, how carefully he saved; he was always behind on support. His wife and her lawyer made sure he knew it.
His boy seemed happy enough the weekends he had him. But twelve years old without a real bike? Riding a hand-me-down with his knees smacking the handlebars?
Rules were made to be broken.
The night he crossed the lake in the fourteen-foot tin boat, the water was like glass. He skimmed the surface flat out and if it wasn’t for the wind shear in his face, he wouldn’t have known he was moving.
He nosed the boat into a cove a quarter mile from the biggest bonfire and found his way through the bush to the road, then walked north to the party.
Fitting in was out of the question. Everyone was decked out in the kind of clothes Dirk only ever saw on television, or in those annoying inserts crammed into the local paper, stuff he could never afford. With their straight teeth and forty-dollar haircuts, they spotted him right away. Dirty jeans and hoody, knapsack slung over his shoulder. And just like at any party anywhere, it only took about two minutes before three guys walked over and asked what he was selling.
He dealt quickly, keeping one eye on the driveway in case some of the Oshawa boys rolled in. This was their turf, no question. Half an hour after arriving, he was cleaned out, walking back to his boat, over a grand in his pocket. Enough to buy his boy the best bike ever.
The rain started as he shoved the boat offshore. A drop or two followed by a sprinkle, it built to a steady downpour, cooling things off nicely. Dirk pulled his hood up, not minding the wet, slowed down just a bit so the raindrops felt less like pellets bouncing off his cheeks.
Somewhere around the middle of the lake, the storm shifted. Warm air blew in from the south, creating a cross-wind that whipped white caps across the bow. The rain got heavy then, falling in sheets, soaking Dirk to the bone. He leaned forward and cranked the motor full on, face down most of the time, not like he could see anything anyway. Thunder boomed but it was distant. For now.
It took longer than he expected to cross the lake and the shore was unfamiliar in the driving rain. Didn’t matter. This mess would pass soon enough. He’d find his way home then. He pulled the boat far enough out of the water that the waves couldn’t take it and lay down alongside, protecting himself from the worst of the wind. The lightning rolled in then and he watched it tear open the sky over and over again, thunder cracking in time, the earth trembling so he felt it in his ribs.
As the storm rolled away, the stars popped back out between the straggling clouds like nothing had happened. Dirk lay there a bit, admiring nature’s force, thinking maybe he’d take his son camping next weekend, give him the bike just before dropping him back to his mom. They could stargaze together. Create a moment.
His clothes plastered to his skin, heavy with leaves and muck, he wrestled to tip the boat onto its side, the weight of the motor making that hard as hell. With a grunt, he got it on edge and watched the water slosh out. He wouldn’t have much to bale.
He had started pushing the boat back into the water before headlights lit up the shore from behind. First one, then two cars pulled up, brights on, blinding him as he turned.
The way they laughed made it worse, getting out of their cars, telling him he looked like a drowned rat, and how appropriate that was. It took a minute for him to realize he’d gotten turned around in the storm, that the shore he’d landed on was not his own. Less than a minute more for him to learn that they knew he’d broken the rules.
Sure, they said, they’d take care of buying a good bike. Even deliver it for him. What were friends for?
They shot holes up and down the boat’s hull while he watched, tied the motor straight on with a couple bungie cords and wrapped him wrist and ankle with duct tape.
by Pam Parker
We were doing fine. Climbing Rainier those two days had been like walking on a living postcard, know what I mean? Blue sky, fewer climbers than the last time we’d done it – every step up meant another step away from the bullshit I lived with every day. I was third man on the rope and happy to be batting clean up behind Michael and Dave. Experienced climbers, every fricking one of us.
But, I had a secret. I know, I know. Yes, you’re right. My mother always said not to have secrets. Don’t all mothers say that? Still, I had one. Besides, at thirty-seven, who cares what your mother said about secrets? Anyway, maybe I just thought I had a secret. Maybe mom was right – they always get found out. Maybe mine had already and I didn’t know it.
So, now you want to know my secret. Dave’s wife, Marie, and I… well, you get the picture. Bad form, I know, banging your friend’s wife, but what can I say? It happened. Those two were always fighting and separating and then getting back together, and in one of those separations, Marie came crying to me. And, then, well, next thing I knew, she was lying beside me. And hey, enough said about that. It only happened once.
Anyway, we were heading toward the summit and a storm blew in. We should have known better, but we missed it. That happens too. Even to experienced climbers. A storm we hadn’t known about. By then, we were up high enough that none of us wanted to turn back, so we kept going, one crunching, cold foot in front of the other. Climbing onward in a fucking whiteout and who needed to take a crap? Yup. Yours truly.
I hollered up to Dave, but he couldn’t hear me in the wind. I could barely see the rope two feet in front of me, never mind him. I stopped so eventually he’d feel the rope pull taut and he’d stop. He did.
“Gotta unclip for a minute. Hold up,” I screamed.
Then, through the snow clouds I heard, clearly, no doubts, Dave’s voice, “Okay man.”
I unclipped, froze my ass off. Got everything zipped, tucked and covered, reached to pick up the rope, and …it was gone. I couldn’t find the fucking rope. I tried not to panic and yelled for Dave to walk back toward me… nothing. No, “Okay man,” came back through the wind that time.
Then I made my second mistake. My first was climbing in with Marie, but my second was worse. I headed off, thinking I was following the guys. Should have stayed where I was. But I trudged up, Joe Mountain Climber, unhitched on fricking Rainier… what an idiot. The trail was full of snow since it was blowing like a motherfucker. Must have gotten off course pretty damn fast. After bellowing some more, and muttering about Dave being an asshole, I knew it was time to hole up if I didn’t want to end up on CNN as a dead climber in a couple days. Built a snow cave like they teach you and I would have been fine, really, we were well-equipped for emergencies, but that mother of a storm lasted for three days and nights.
My “team” went down without me. Couldn’t figure out why I unclipped, they said. Couldn’t find me. After the rescuers found me, I was laying in the hospital bed, minus my fingers, watching Dave smiling on the television. “Yeah, real happy they found him.” Yeah, right.
Michael came to see me. Dave never did.
Sometimes I look at these stubby hands and wish I had fingers to wrap dental floss around. Or to grab a robe.
Pam Parker is a native New Englander who now lives in Wisconsin, where mountains are scarce. Her short stories have appeared in The Potomac Review, The MacGuffin, Grey Sparrow Journal and other venues. Links to some of her work can be found at pamwrites.net.
You are an alien when you sleep.
Some nights I half expect to peel back your eyelids and find the soulless depths of some close encounter. Not of the third kind, not exactly, because that reminds me a little of relations thrice removed and we’re married, so it’s not like that unless you’re one of those biology types that goes in for the idea that we’re all fifth cousins.
We also don’t keep any instant mashed potatoes in the house.
When you snore and snort and go unexpectedly quiet, I imagine that you’ve stopped breathing because you haven’t got human lungs. Some other-world organic approximation of the human cardiovascular system is stirring the coarse hairs on your chest, the goose flesh that pimples your ribs. Inside your blood is as dark as your eyes, as dark as the motor oil beneath your nails or the blackberry jam you spread liberally on your morning toast. Your coffee, too, you take black, maybe like the night where you come from. In this city we don’t see many stars, either.
You are unknowable when you sleep, the planes of your face still as water waiting to boil. If I dipped my hand in you, would I scald? You burn me up sometimes; in bed, in the minutes before we’re expecting company when I say we haven’t got enough time but I never say no, in the front seat of your foreign car whose manufacturer’s name I can’t pronounce. I’m not your mother or your mother ship but you call me out, desperately, you cling like the baby I’m sure you never were. What would I find inside if we were on one of those alien autopsy shows, if we pulled back the plastic hazardous materials screen and the layers of skin that separate me from you? I want to know if the muscles that make you smile are the same as mine, if the strings you swear I’m pulling when I walk into a room are connected all from head and heart and dick and feet.
I’m not afraid of aliens. Maybe that’s why you married me.
by Jane Hammons
Where she came from people displayed kachinas, baskets, pottery, and totem poles.
There they told her she needed change. She’d cut her hair. Gotten facials. Been massaged. Manicured. Weight lost and gained. It was that finally, the weight, the gain and loss of it, that sent her to the bus station where she’d bought a ticket to here where she knew nothing of anyone, no one anything of her.
She’d filled the empty stroller from Goodwill with things it might have held: blankets, animals, things babies suck and chew on.
Here when she pushed it down the street they did not know what might have been when they peeked in then looked away. The emptiness signified nothing. Maybe something.
When she stopped here to fuss, adjust the blankets, rattle the keys, tuck the bunny dog and bear tighter together, the woman inside came out and made her offering. A paper bird. A feather with eyes. A Buddha candle fabric blue and white incense burner tea cup tea.
When she was ready she returned, lit the lanterns strung on string, bowed before the gods unknown, opened up the little drawer and crawled inside.
Jane Hammons teaches writing at UC Berkeley. She has a story in Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer (W. W. Norton 2010) and an essay in The Maternal is Political: Women Writers at the Intersection of Motherhood and Social Change (Seal Press 2008). She is the recipient of a Derringer Award from the Short Mystery Story Society. Her writing has recently appeared in Corium, Crimespree Magazine, kill author and Verbicide Magazine.
March 26, 2012
Gary set the rocker square in the middle of the railroad track and counted birds. The robin started at 5:58 a.m. Fourteen minutes and fifty-three seconds later, a cardinal trilled. The robin broke from its dawn encasement and followed up, waking the sparrows in their highwire nest. From behind, a crow shrieked and shook the air free of its wings; Gary’s ear twitched, turning a half-millimeter to the sound.
“Fifty-three hours, forty-six minutes and twenty-two seconds,” he said, scratching the numbers in a narrow-lined legal pad with a yellow number two pencil. TRUDY, he wrote, large and precise, at the top.
The stock quotes came in. He’d earned another bundle selling at the peak just before a heavy drop. Gary had a knack for this. “A third brain,” his partner joked, alluding to clairvoyance and hunger. Since he’d stopped checking in at the office, Gary endured less esoteric humor in deference to the count of birdsong and an unrelenting mantra, “Trudy. Trudy. Trudy.”
Gary had tried to leave the town exactly three times, each resulting in a burning fever, uncontrollable shaking, and an inability to open his mouth. Although his small town doctor could offer little to no help, Trudy located a psychiatrist specializing in agoraphobia and atypical anxiety disorders out on the west coast. Boarding the train, she counted down the last song of a red-breasted nuthatch and called back, “Vivi vivi vivi.”
March 23, 2012
by Christi Craig
Jenny opened the glass door of the diner and stepped into an alternate reality, a quiet nostalgia. The original horseshoe counter bore a tinge of antique color. Near the griddle hung a rotary phone. And, a sign on the wall above the register said, “Take a seat, grab a coffee, but hands off the waitresses!” She saw only one waitress, a tall woman with a bleach-blond up do and a badge on her baby-blue shirt that said “Mona,” and none of the customers seemed like the frisky kind.
The phone rang, so genuine that it caused Jenny to freeze mid-step. The waitress took the call. Then, she stuck the phone under her arm and gestured toward Jenny with her pen. “Anywhere you like, hon.” Jenny sat down on a metal-rimmed stool covered with cracked blue vinyl. When she surrendered her weight to it, the edges of the broken vinyl fell together and pinched her in that tender place on her thigh. She jumped up and cried out. The waitress glanced her way.
“The seat,” Jenny said.
Putting her hand on her hip, the waitress turned and hollered behind her. “Jimmy, I told you to tape up that vinyl!” A young boy popped out from behind a door and shrugged. “Owner’s nephew,” said the waitress. “Knows how to break a dish but can’t figure out the roll of duct tape.” She finished the phone call and then walked to the counter. “Call me Mona. Now, what can I get for you?
A flat tire on Kramer Street during the early hours of a balmy, summer morning forced Jenny to walk the four blocks to The Continental Diner. She’d driven by the place a thousand times on her way to work but never once thought to stop in. It didn’t look like much from her passing view at thirty-five miles per hour. But when Triple A said Roadside Assistance might take up to forty-five minutes, Jenny figured she’d wait in the air-conditioned diner. “Coffee,” Jenny said. “In a to-go cup, please.”
“To go?” Mona asked.
“I’ve got a flat tire. I’m just waiting for a tow-truck,” Jenny said. “I probably won’t be long.”
Mona pulled out a white, ceramic cup. “Tastes better in the porcelain. And, I know that tow truck. He takes twice as long as he says. Besides,” she nodded towards a bald man with a goatee wearing coveralls sitting at the opposite end of the counter, “he just ordered. Might as well enjoy your coffee while he enjoys his eggs.”
“Clark’s Towing?” Jenny asked. “That’s him?”
“Yep,” Mona said. “Hey, Donny! Meet your ‘flat tire.’” She pointed with her thumb in Jenny’s direction. Donny saluted, then leaned past his neighbor to grab the newspaper. Mona filled Jenny’s cup and walked away.
No one in the diner seemed in a hurry to order, to eat, or to leave. Next to Jenny, an old woman rummaged through her purse and stirred up a scent of Doublemint gum and lotion, an aroma reminiscent of Jenny’s grandmother. At the end of the counter, Donny studied the paper, while he lifted the coffee pot off the burner and refilled his own cup. He dribbled coffee over the saucer before he hit his target. He looked up. “What it doesn’t hurt to do,” he said to his neighbor, who had even less hair than Donny and wore a pair of eye-glasses fogged up momentarily by his own steaming plate of eggs. “Fourteen down. Three letters,” Donny said. “Should be easy, right?” The two stared at each other for a minute.
“Ask,” said the woman with the purse. “A-S-K.” She turned to Jenny. “Men.” Then, she went back to rummaging, until, finally, she poured a handful of change onto the counter and smiled. “Alright, Mona, I’ll have that coffee now.” Mona reminded the woman that she never had to pay, but the woman waved off Mona’s words.
“Rumor is,” Donny butt in, “she’s the richest woman around but keeps all her money in a mattress.” He went back to the crossword puzzle.
“Stop by my place sometime, Mr. Clark. Find out for yourself.” The woman winked at Jenny. Donny shook his head and laughed.
Jenny relaxed, settled in. She sipped her coffee, added some cream, sent a text message into work saying she would be late. Then, she took a pen from next to the register and jotted words onto a napkin.
In my periphery,
The beginnings of a poem.
“Just in time,” Donny said, as Mona delivered his breakfast. He folded his paper and popped his pencil against it.
Just in time, Jenny thought, as she took another sip of coffee.
January 23, 2012
Christi Craig is a native Texan living in Wisconsin, working by day as a sign language interpreter and moonlighting as a writer. Her stories and essays have appeared online and in print, and she was a Finalist in Glimmer Train’s Family Matters Competition.
You Are The One That I Want
She’s been in love with him since she was four. That’s when she knew he played guitar. His hair was long, and brown, but curly and only to the ends of his ears. And he had droop-down eyes like her dad. Like that Army picture of her dad, his face so serious.
“I’m going to marry him, Mama,” she said week by week behind plate glass windows that steamed up so bad in winter she had to scrape the frost away to catch him.
“I know, baby,” Mama said, sometimes hearing.
In summer times the girl sat on the front porch playing Barbie and Ken. When she saw his truck she’d make the dolls kiss. Or she’d borrow Mama’s black dress with the pin prick flower print and hike the waist up so she wouldn’t trip. She wore big, floppy hats with yellow bows.
When she was ten she listened to her sister’s records, cut up old shirts into dresses and matched bobby socks with pumps. She still waited on the porch, but he never came by on weekends when nobody else was home, so she paired off with stuffed animals dressed in her dad’s left over slacks and button-down shirts, and danced like Olivia Newton-John.
She caught his eye at fifteen as his hair was turning gray.
Butternut squash soup and corn bread, six kegs of beer, and a German chocolate cake down by the lake. Her dog Peanut for a flower girl, his three kids in Sunday dress. His old band got back together for the night, and she danced like Olivia Newton-John.
Mama couldn’t wrap her mind around it, how her little girl grew up and married the garbage man.
Due to some transcontinental headbanging, Lynne Collins and I came to terms with, “The men who take our rubbish each week.” We don’t know enough about these men, but my daughters watch them from the window every Thursday morning. So far, they’re content to marry eachother.
(You Are The One That I Want was originally published July 15, 2011 on Penny Jar)
In an Irish pub with a lot of oiled wood
“Man, don’t let Naomi hear you say that shit. She’s always pissed at me.”
“You and Naomi, your good shit. What you got is deep–you hook up, you fight, you have kids, they fight. Then you get old, and you’re still together. That’s what it’s about.”
Rick noticed the waitress behind him. “I’ll have another Jameson,” he said.
Max leaned in. “You got to meet this chick I’ve been seeing. She’s a trip, man. She’s like, I don’t know, really weird, but I like it. She’s got this thing about eating in front of people. I mean, she wouldn’t do it. I’d call her up and we’d go downtown and check out a band and she’d be really into it, you know? Then I’d want to take her out and get some bar food and she wouldn’t go.”
“Maybe she’s anorexic.”
“No, no, that ain’t it. One day I figured I was going to find out what her deal was so I took her out on my bike and we rode out to Devil’s Lake. We hiked around and made fun of people’s kids. You wouldn’t believe this chick, she’s more crass then me. I don’t even think she likes kids. Anyway, I made a whole day of it. Then I took her out for ice cream. I was starving, she had to be hungry.
At first she was like, ‘I don’t like ice cream.’ But you could tell she was lying. She just kept looking at it. So I told her if she didn’t order any I’d do it for her.”
“You forced her to eat.”
“Nah, man, she had to do it sometime. So she gets some ice cream and we go outside and she wants to go be alone. That’s cool, I did too. We go down by the river and there’s ducks and stuff and we sit down. Then she starts to eat. Oh, man! She starts grabbing the ice cream with her hands and, like, smashing it around on her face. It’s so weird. It was like at Nicky’s birthday party, remember that, when you stripped the kid down and gave her a piece of cake? Damn.”
“Man, that’s messed up.”
“I know, but it was kind of hot too.”
“You’re still seeing this chick?”
“Hell yeah. Tonight I’m making dinner.”
(“In an Irish pub with a lot of oiled wood” was previously published August 19, 2011 on Penny Jar)
Get Your Kicks
Me and Mathias moved out here near ten years ago and bought this old filling station. Nothing but a falling down old piece of rot back then, but Mathias, he has a vision, if you know what I mean. He says to me, “Honey, there’s things only God knows and things we ain’t meant to understand, but I got this feeling God’s been telling me all along the right path to take and I reckon we ought to take it.” So we closed up our little pink house out there near Rolla and bought this here.
Right away Mathias sets to tearing off the roof and scraping down the pumps. Next thing you know, we’re getting all these boxes come in saying Route 66. He’s got t-shirts and bobbly head Elvises and James Deans. There’s a whole museum of stuff he’s been collecting like a shrine. He’s even found some old work boots with steel toes he swears belonged to one of the men first built the highway, though I don’t know if they even had steel toe boots back then.
I tell ya, Mathias is happier than I ever seen him. Just so happy he sets to whistling all day while he shines the pumps up with an old oil cloth just like he says they used to do. And you should just see him; some days he can’t contain himself and he starts up the jukebox with Chuck Berry and gets all the bobble heads going at once. Then he starts all the little cars going on their track and the airplanes zipping about on their strings. It gets to where a person can’t even stand to be inside, they just can’t. It’ll make you crazy if you let it.
So I guess that’s just what happened, I went a little crazy. I didn’t mean nothing by it, but there he was all dancing around the place singing to Chuck Berry and whizzing those little cars and airplanes. I said, “By God, there is a plan, Mathias,” and I swung those work boots around on their laces so fast you wouldn’t even know it was me could do such a thing, then Wham! I hit him right there in the temple. Poor thing. I guess he’ll never leave Route 66 now.
I nearly forgot myself along Route 66… Thanks, Andy Grenia for your steel toed shoes!
(“Get Your Kicks” was previously published September 9, 2011 on Penny Jar)
Before I was here I worked in a Greek diner where the best thing on the menu was rice pudding. They put it on the menu for the old people, but I scooped it up in banana boats and ate it at the counter with the regulars. The old men always sat at one end telling Navy stories and leaving food marks on their cups. I have a thing about people’s mouth food so I tried not to look, but you know, you can’t help it when the something you don’t like works like a magnet to your eyes, it just keeps pulling you back.
There was one girl waiting tables who had a kid and smoked pot after work and dated some jerk ballet dancer that liked to push her against the wall. She was tougher than he was so she pushed back and he almost broke his leg for loosing his balance near the stairs. Served him right.
The old men at the end of the counter smoked Pal Mals and liked to act real with it. “Hey, Lilly,” Hagerty called to me one day. “Come over here. I want to ask you something.” His bald brother was hunched up coughing out a laugh. That’s when I spilled the orange juice on the annoying little boy who liked to pester me when I was busy, which was all the time.
“What’s that?” I asked. They never got excited about nothing.
“Do you see a bush trimmer, you know, for in the summer when you wear a swimming suit?” Hagerty’s bald brother was still coughing and laughing. Laughing and coughing.
I sized them up real good and poured another cup of decaf trying not to notice the food marks. “Who says I wear a swimming suit?” I said. “Seems to me it’s pretty stupid to get all dressed up just to get wet.”
Well, old Hagerty didn’t know what to say to that and his brother looked about ready to keel over so I left them to it. Wasn’t much after that they found the two of them belly up and buck naked down by the river. Must have been quite an undertow.
Sometimes one thing doesn’t connect up quite right with the other, or if you follow where your writing hand is going it might lead you off the deep end. Thank you to Karen Monroy (Sustainable Prosperity) for suggesting, “Drops of Jupiter in my hair.” The images led me along a cascade of story lines that ended way over there…in the deep end.
(The Regulars was previously published July 22, 2011 on Penny Jar)