Monday, January 9, 2017

Grief

Slightly used tombstone. Near mint condition. Perfect for someone named Robert Fuller. $1000 dollars or best offer.

Everyone makes mistakes. Fuller or Fulton, what’s the difference? One slip-up and I’m out a thousand bucks. Thank God, I own the company because I can only imagine how angry my boss would be over such a costly mistake. I can only imagine my wife’s anger when she learns we’re out a $1000. I’m not telling her either. My company is close bankrupt. There’s not many people who still hand carve their own tombstones any more. I’m a craftsman who can’t afford mistakes like this
I have an idea. Phonebook: Fuller, Chris…Fuller, Paul…Fuller R (possibly)… Fuller, Robert (more exact)… another Fuller, Robert (better). I know where second Robert Fuller’s address is. Better yet. I’m unsure where the first address is. It’s that Robert Fuller’s lucky day. The second one isn’t so lucky. I’ll plan to leave my business card where his wife can find it. Maybe she’ll look at it as an omen or maybe as a happy coincidence for everyone but her husband.
I chuckle, imagining Wile E. Coyote unwrapping a package from the ACME Company. It’s an anvil and the directions inside read: be careful when dropping from high places. Mr. Coyote’s plans rarely work as planned so I go to plan B. A high powered rifle, a scope, and something to muffle the sound. With my ingenuity, that’ll be all folks.
I scope out the first Mr. Fuller’s neighborhood. It’s lovely: big houses, large yards, and tree line drives. Perfectly laid out for a man to leave his vehicle, slip into a wooded glen, shoot someone, and casually return home for dinner. There is no time delay. Mr. Fulton’s rush order is overdue. I try to be conscientious but the thousand dollar mistake has killed my savings.

Tuesday: I assemble my rifle while perspiring. I calmly track the man who walks between the Fuller residence and a car, several times. He looks to be in his fifties which is what I expect from the information I found on the internet. I’ve spent the last week practicing on Call of Duty. I worry I’ll miss and that screw up will cost me hours of planning.  I don’t want to start over. I’m leave the car and I hide in a patch of trees. A car drives slowly around the bend. I stay still waiting for it to pass. I hope he didn’t notice my brother-in-law’s truck parked along the road. If he did it would be bad luck for my wife’s brother.
The moment passes. Nothing but birds and rustling leaves. The man is outside again. I raise my rifle and squeeze my trigger. I hear a distinct pop and the man buckles in the driveway, just like the Germans do in Call of Duty. I don’t even get to enjoy my kill as I believe the place will soon be crawling with police. I quietly walk back to the truck.

I wait all day by my phone… and then another… and soon another. Nobody calls. Two weeks pass. After a lot commotion things die down. The television crews, yellow tape, and the police pack up and leave. My long suffering bank account still hasn’t recovered from the incident.
I’m back on the street mindful that the police are still probably following leads. I ask a boy on a bicycle, where the Fullers live. He says they moved six months ago. I pretend this doesn’t shock me. I wonder if I could even find the second Robert Fuller’s new address or is it still too new or maybe he moved out of the area. I think how I’ll have to look up first Robert Fuller’s address on Mapquest. I maintain my composure, swallowing deeply while subtly asking, “Any idea where the Fullers moved to?”
He shakes his head no and moves on like I’m some kind of weirdo or something. I put my brother in law’s truck in drive and slowly troll the neighborhood.

Later that night, I’ll return to the neighborhood. Park somewhere and return on foot. When there’s no one in the driveway I’ll slip a business card into the mailbox of the grieving family’s porch. I’ve always had a work ethic and it’s never too late to drum up business. Originally published Diverse Voices Quarterly http://www.diversevoicesquarterly.com/Vol8Issue30.pdf

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Emigre




Every day he takes a rolled newspaper to the pool. He wears a long Hawaiian swimsuit: overweight, slightly paunchy, shuffling along in slippers. His wife, Conchita, watches their child Lupe alongside the pool. She talks to ladies about their trips to the market for supplies. After reading the paper, he leaves it on the pool’s lip and steps into the pool. He’ll wade into neck deep water careful not to take one step too far. He watches a lady, preoccupied with leisure, sip on a frozen drink as she floats on a raft. Another man, in a white cotton suit, studies his racing form before noticing the recently arrived couple. He mops his brow as his scalp glistens and his skin continues to turn brown from the sun.

Everyone wonders what the man does for work. When asked, he vaguely answers, “I’m in business.”

No further explanation. The man is focused on nothing but the political situation back home. The fat cats suckle off of the overtaxed peasantry using the government’s coffers as their personal piggy bank. Some days, the man sends political screeds to the papers back home or to government officials. He hopes the right words will awaken their missing conscience; on other days, he feels hopeless. At first, he politely asked the local officials to actually enforce the laws. His requests were initially met with silence, and then their actions got worse. He found that the newspapers were nothing more than conduits of the generalissimo’s lies.

The man occasionally sends letters to political allies, in the south. Many have disappeared. Others are in hiding. A tragic ending always appears possible. The man remembers a BBC reporter coming to his pensione. The reporter asks, “How have you survived, when so many of your comrades haven’t.”
The man considers the question before answering, “I go forward.”

The statement is vague but both understand its meaning. The man attacks as a means of protection. No one is certain if the man has special powers or if he’s just crazy. Losing heart and trying to escape has often proved fatal. Both, he and the reporter, have heard stories of captives being shot while trying to surrender. Perfectly healthy men have heart attacks while detained. The man believes he’s a soldier so, if captured, he expects no better treatment.

A month earlier a confidante, Marcos, warned him of trouble brewing. He had asked too many questions about how certain important individuals made their money. A week later, a bomb under his car detonated. The concussion rocked the neighborhood, flattening Conchita and Lupe as they walked toward the car. The man’s allies smuggled his family out of the country. They were given new identities. He became an independent businessman still unsure of what exactly he sold. His family was set up in a modest, comfortable cottage.

The racing enthusiast, sitting alongside the pool, asks the man why he’s constantly reading foreign newspapers. He asks, “Are you an √©migr√© to our country?”

“Yes,” the man says. “My wife and I came to enjoy your fine climate. We are emigreing.”
The racing fan looks confused. He wipes his brow again. The man chuckles. He and Conchita have invented this word. It means: conducting armed insurrection across international borders.

Conchita looks tired. Lupe is cranky. She cries as her teeth break through her gums. Everybody is weary of the constant movement. No place is safe. Conchita sometimes rubs his brow to alleviate his headaches. It helps when he’s under stress. The man is in awe of his government’s reach. The totality of the struggle is overwhelming. He merely concentrates on taking a few steps forward at a time.
The man longs for a simpler life. In this pool, in this complex, he feels like he’s on the verge of achieving such a life.

The genteel lady slips off her float. She leaves the pool as the float bobs freely on the water. Conchita follows her out of the pool area trying to quiet crying Lupe. The women, who Conchita spoke to, have left for the market and the bartender is busy out the back. The only people at the pool is the man and the racing enthusiast.

The man decides to take a turn on the float. He slides onto it. He reaches over to the side to grab the news from back home and places it on his stomach. He’s tired, just so bloody tired. He’d like to float away. Allow his troubles to float away with him. The people he fights have so many weapons and he can only rely on his own stubbornness. The man closes his eyes and allows the pool’s current to carry him along. He can’t let go of the struggle. He and the struggle have become one.

He doesn’t notice the guy, in the white cotton suit, putting his racing form down and moving to the edge of the pool. He doesn’t notice or sense the racing fanatic hovering above, or making contact with his shoulders like a participant of a bizarre baptismal ritual.

The man goes into a life or death spasm. He never actually sees who or what is dragging him under, for the second time, but he eventually surrenders to the inevitable. The paper, no longer on his chest, floats to the surface. It’s wet, its ink bleeds, and as it texture dissolves inside the pool. The racing enthusiast doesn’t let go until the man goes limp. It’s only then that the man in the white suit rises, smooths his wrinkled suit, folds his racing form, and walks away before someone realizes that there’s a corpse in the pool. Somewhere in the distance a baby cries. It could even be Lupe.

Monday, October 3, 2016

One Lone Sock



Laundry, isolated and cut off, tumbles inside an industrial-sized washing machine

Soapy clothes - socks, shirts, bras, and underwear – are pressed up against the glass before they slide deeper into the wash drum.

What did you say before you took your clothes and books out of our apartment?

A misplaced sock, probably yours, passes by; pressed up against the glass before it slides down into the machine again

The soap scrubs it clean – taking a little of your essence from me - even as it bleeds onto the rest of my clothes.


I feel a little melancholy doing laundry alone.

Friday, September 2, 2016

A New Start




I’m an exhausted, middle aged, red headed woman who is being squished between two people. One guy thumbs through a stack of text books; the other – roughly thirty, tall, with glasses and a pronounced swallow – appears to be part of a religious order.

The subway lurches. It descends into a black tunnel, under the city, garishly loud. Its brakes squeak and squeal. Paint jumps off the subway car’s walls as if defacing the graffiti. A community college promises a new career. Unprotected sex kills. My husband thinks I’m at work. He doesn’t know I’ve lost my job and I don’t want him to find out. I clutch my oversized gold bag. It contains all my money and credit cards, some which are in my name and some which aren’t.

The train is impregnated like a sausage casing, as it rattles into a station. Someone long ago gave up on cleaning the station’s stained yellowing tiles. Doors open. Some exit. Most don’t. More squeeze in. Lights flicker. Someone breaks wind. Everyone avoids eye contact. The sleek silver tube leaves the station. The passing stations take on a strobe light effect …

I live north of the city. I’m sick of the commute, which I continue to do longer than is necessary. I’m sick of keeping up with my underwater mortgage. I’m sick of disrespectful kids, particularly my own. I won’t tell you which suburb I live in because I’m probably not going back.

We remain underground for a few more stops, until we eventually burst into the blinding sunlight, south of the city. I reach my final destination. My research is thorough. I walk a few blocks to Enterprise and I rent a car. I head for the turnpike, traveling west toward the empty part of the state before eventually crossing into the even emptier part of New York. The sun is shining and everything is new. I know no one. I pull over and throw my Iphone - contacts and all - from a bridge high over the Hudson River. I’ll later buy a replacement, probably an android, at a nondescript mall. Pretty soon, I’ll begin collecting new contacts. I’ll abandon my car near Alamo before renting another car under another name.

Don’t think poorly of me for abandoning my family. It beats the alternative. I haven’t killed anyone… yet.

I continue southwest until I get lost in the empty spaces of a third faraway state. Something doesn’t feel right and I wonder if I’ve finally lost it. I should be home for dinner, sometime, tomorrow. I’ll walk in the front door and say, “Honey I’m home.”

My new husband will ask, “How was your day?”

I’ll answer, “Better than some. Not as good as others. You wouldn’t believe what happened.”

My new husband doesn’t answer: I’m snapped out of it by the subway lurching into a complete stop. The doors slide open. Leaving five seconds for me to decide whether to stay or go. I lean forward: but I have nowhere to go.

The subway is back in motion. Its movement – the fact its stops are predictable - gives my life structure. It slows down again as it approaches the final stop. It’s the third time I’ve been here today. The workers walk out onto the platform, and go from front to back. Occasionally, someone will glance at me like they know everything about me they need to. I wait. They probably assume I’m homeless. I’m not. The doors close back up and I’m trapped inside again, re-experiencing the binging and purging of another subway ride.

After a few more subway rides, I’ll get off and wander the city again aimlessly. I’ll pick up a little something to add to the dinner, while I’m out. I’ll be home by five, pretend the day has been productive, as I’ll make a special dinner for my husband and kids. I’ll watch intently as my family enjoys my cooking. They’ll soon be in a dead sleep and tomorrow the world will wake up to anew, and I’ll once more use the subway to escape.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Three short stories I wish I wrote. I’d recommend to anyone who writes or who loves literature.



The Snows of Kilimanjaro Ernest Hemingway: A couple on safari wait for a plane to rescue the male lead character whose leg has developed gangrene. It appears the plane will not arrive on time as the guy reevaluates his life. He drinks and berates his girlfriend. The story unfolds through their dialogue. The male has flashbacks of his life and they largely run parallel to Hemingway’s own travels. The flashbacks are interspersed with the main story. Throughout the story, vultures wait for him to give up.

The flashbacks are very Hemingway-like. He talks about Paris, Greece and Turkey. Through these glimpses you get a sense of a wider world exists in this fiction. He talks about skiing with former enemies. His observations combine to show his great eye for detail and his talent for understatement. One of my favorite observations is: “But he had never written a line of that, nor of that cold, bright Christmas day with the mountains showing across the plain that Barker had flown across the lines to bomb the Austrian officers' leave train, machine-gunning them as they scattered and ran. He remembered Barker afterwards coming into the mess and starting to tell about it. And how quiet it got and then somebody saying, ''You bloody murderous bastard.''

Those were the same Austrians they killed then that he skied with later. No not the same…”


Ice Palace F. Scott Fitzgerald: Ice Palace published in 1920 is an early story in which Fitzgerald first makes his Zelda-like character into his muse. It's obvious that the genesis of this story came from his days when he was stationed in the south and first courted her. Zelda is on the verge of hooking up with him and coming north. There is a heartbreaking scene when her old local boyfriends realize that they are no longer good enough for her.

Clark stared straight in front of him at a bolt on the clattering windowshield.
“Sally Carrol,” he said with a curious intensity, “don’t you like us?”
“What?”
“Us down here?”
“Why, Clark, you know I do. I adore all you boys.”
“Then why you gettin’ engaged to a Yankee?”
“Clark, I don’t know. I’m not sure what I’ll do, but—well, I want to go places and see people. I want my mind to grow. I want to live where things happen on a big scale.”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, Clark, I love you, and I love Joe here, and Ben Arrot, and you-all, but you’ll—you’ll—
“We’ll be failures?”
“Yes. I don’t mean only money failures, but just sort of—of ineffectual and sad, and—oh, how can I tell you?”
“You mean because we stay here in Tarleton?”
“Yes, Clark; and because you like it and never want to change things or think or go ahead.”

The Zelda-like character then moves to Minnesota. You really get a clash of civilizations from the juxtaposition of the slow languid pace of the south to the north where she needs warm beverages and blankets while travelling on the train. Up north, they have this big winter festival. In the town they build a giant ice palace. The female lead goes into the palace, somehow gets separated from the others and gets lost in a labyrinth of ice.

“Harry!”
Still no answer. The sound she made bounced mockingly down to the end of the passage.
Then on an instant the lights went out, and she was in complete darkness. She gave a small, frightened cry, and sank down into a cold little heap on the ice.

She gets lost inside and can’t find her way out. She is eventually rescued by friends of her boyfriend who say,

“Child, child! We’ve been looking for you for two hours! Harry’s half-crazy!”

Great use of elements as a way of showing the lifestyles that is really separating these two cultures and also as a way of showing what is separating the two protagonists. Fitzgerald also shows a fantastic ability to see things from someone else’s perspective, in this case Zelda’s.

Gigolo and Gigalette Somerset Maugham: This is a fantastic story of a depression era couple who are living at their wits end as to how they will survive tough economic times. The woman has always been the bread winner and she makes her living by jumping from height into a small tub of water. He wrote:

"How's Stella?" asked Sandy.
"Oh, she's all right. Likes to have a lay-down before the show, you know. Steadies the old nerves, she says."
"I wouldn't do that stunt of hers for a thousand pounds."
"I don't suppose you would. No one can do it but her, not from that height, I mean, and only five foot of water."
"It's the most sick-making thing I've ever seen."
Cotman gave a little laugh. He took this as a compliment. Stella was his wife. Of course she did the trick and took the risk, but it was he who had thought of the flames, and it was the flames that had taken the public fancy and made the turn the huge success it was. Stella dived into a tank from the top of a ladder sixty feet high, and as he said, there were only five feet of water in the tank. Just before she dived they poured enough petrol on to cover the surface and he set it alight; the flames soared up and she dived straight into them.

The female lead is very good at the acrobatic trick they are using to make a living but she is beginning to lose her nerve. The crowds continue to gather at each swanky hotel and you sense that what they are really coming for is that one time that the female lead doesn't make it. It's a little like people going to a NASCAR race for the accidents.

"What's the matter, darling?"
"Syd, I can't do it again tonight," she sobbed.
"Why on earth not?"
"I'm afraid."
He took her hand.
"I know you better than that," he said. "You're the bravest little woman in the world. Have a brandy, that'll pull you together."
"No, that'd only make it worse."
"You can't disappoint your public like that."
"That filthy public. Swine who eat too much and drink too much. A pack of chattering fools with more money than they know what to do with. I can't stick them. What do they care if I risk my life?"
"Of course, it's the thrill they come for, there's no denying that," he replied uneasily. "But you know and I know, there's no risk, not if you keep your nerve."
"But I've lost my nerve, Syd. I shall kill myself."

The couple is trapped in their own con as they really have no other means of surviving tough economic times. It is either go through with it or back to the scrap pile that they came from.

"Tonight, and every night till I kill myself. What else is there? I know you're right, Syd. I can't go back to all that other, stinking rooms in fifth-rate hotels and not enough to eat. Oh, that Marathon. Why did you bring that up? Being tired and dirty for days at a time and then having to give up because flesh and blood just couldn't stand it. Perhaps I can go on another month and then there'll be enough to give you a chance of looking round."
"No, darling. I can't stand for that. Chuck it. We'll manage somehow. We starved before; we can starve again."
She slipped out of her clothes, and for a moment stood naked but for her stockings, looking at herself in the glass. She gave her reflection a hard smile.
"I mustn't disappoint my public," she sniggered.

Any of these three I would take, and it makes my world feel a little more rounded to know that someone experienced these experiences and had the good senses to write it down.