Short Fiction

Her Old Tee Shirt

Old ShirtHe toppled them out of the closet, a heap of old tee shirts from 5K races, college events and concerts from their collective past.  This one had caused an argument because she used it for work.  She argued that Bruce sang about working men and women.  She wore it to paint the family room, a bathroom or two and some old deck furniture.  He thought concert tee shirts should be kept pristine, folded and preserved.  Some day they might be worth something.  It was a fond memory of a good night from their past and now it was decorated with parts of her real life, too.  Colors from the spaces and things she made new with just her imagination and a coat of paint.

He stuffed all the other shirts into a black garbage bag like old rags, but he kept this one. Despite the paint splatters it was soft and smelled a little metallic ~  just as she did.

 

Short Fiction

At Loose Ends

CHOMP

She felt raggedy, unraveled.   She looked it, too.  But once she started working she couldn’t stop; wouldn’t stop.  Didn’t matter if she couldn’t finish in just one sitting she wanted to get as far as she could.  Maybe it was her obsessive, excessively competitive nature that made her count the rows of stitches?  Or perhaps she just liked to see the thing materialize, soft between her fingers.

Too much coffee and a restless leg made her stop around three thirty.  She rubbed her neck and then her eyes as she looked at the pieces.  Knitting is creation — there’s a reason it’s used to describe healing for broken bones —  making something new exist in an open, fractured place.

So she knits all night to fill up the broken, empty place. Thinking about the sweater, socks, blanket, hat takes up the loose yarn and energy she would spend on thinking and crying. Mourning is for the daytime and knitting is for the night.

 

Short Fiction

Squirrel In The Grill

The baby was up all night, poor thing.  Poor new mother, her night clothes covered in snot and sour milk, standing over the sink.   Too tired even to decide if she wanted a shower or a cup of coffee.  And nobody around to care.

They were new settlers in a new suburb.  Great big house with no furniture in it yet, only one baby (so far), now standing on a patch of cold brown sod.  It was so nice when they moved in last August.  A ticklish breeze and the smell of fresh grass made them feel like adults — or maybe it was the mortgage and the big-ticket lawn mower?  They closed the season with a Labor Day barbecue for their friends.    It was right before her last trimester and she felt so happy, ready for their life to really begin.

Now the winter was ragged and rough.  He forgot to cover the grill the last time they made steaks back in November.  Then snows covered the yard and grill covering wasn’t as much of a priority as being a new father and revving up his new snow blower. She sighed and chewed at her chapped lips. The baby’s crackling snores came out of the nursery monitor and she stiffened just a bit.

She wasn’t sure what she saw.  It was just a sensation of movement outside, maybe a bird?  She watched.  It was a fat squirrel squeezing out of the side vent of the grill.  Its bushy tail made a flourish as it hopped on the rounded stainless steel top.  Its eyes were bright and it moved with the agility of a creature used to the luxury of deep and uninterrupted sleep.

She looked down at her mismatched, dirty pajamas and noticed her clinging, greasy hair. She wondered if that squirrel was a mother, leaving her babies to get a breath of fresh air and something to eat.  Or maybe to just be a squirrel again for a little while.  A warm tear rolled down her cheek.  This wasn’t how she thought it was going to be.  No, not at all.

 

 

 

 

Short Fiction, Uncategorized

I Knead Words

The dough is still tough, cold but in a little while it will be elastic, warm.   My hands will pull, throw, twist and fold until it glistens and obeys my commands.  I’ll make sure it will look forward to its rest in the warm buttered bowl.

But now I focus on the work and anticipate the earthy smell of the yeast, the chewy crust and the warm crumb.  A story turns itself over in my mind as I knead. Words are like bread.  They rise and sometimes they turn out tasty.  Sometimes they don’t, but like my less-than-perfect loaves, I’ll enjoy them anyway.

 

Short Fiction

Ruby Caught Red-Handed

The stacks feel so close. They stretch so high that they appear to meet.  It feels more like a cathedral than a library.  The colors of the books are so bright, and the sunlight pours down on Ruby though there are no windows in the stacks.

Ruby is looking for a book to hide the money and she feels irritated, rushed to complete this task though she doesn’t know why.  She pulls a blue book off the shelf, is it Moby Dick?  Even in her dream she thinks this is a poor choice.  The book is old and some of the pages have been mended with yellowing tape that’s making them stick together.  It smells funny, too.  Not musty like old paper, but antiseptic, like a hospital.  There are pictures in the book, drawings, really.  An old, tired classic long forgotten on the shelf.

She presses the bill into the center of a page, closing it with finality and pushing it back onto the shelf — squeezing it a bit because the shelf is so crowded and the books are so tight together.

A warm breeze brings a sweet, yeasty  smell, like bread rising and Ruby turns to see Artie, her late husband standing next to her.  He’s twenty-five years old, his face sunburned like the first time they met.  He’s holding his old, sun-bleached Red Sox cap in his hand.  Ruby’s frozen to the spot, hand to her throat, afraid that her slightest movement will make him shimmer away.

“Ruby, my jewel.”  He slides the cap through his fingers.  A small motion, unguarded and odd for a ghost.  “Always with your head in a book.  Too smart to end up with the likes of me, and yet….”

Ruby knows she’s dreaming.  Artie died five years ago and despite all her lonely nights of wishing this is his first appearance in her dreams.

“Artie, why now?”

“Just wanted to keep you on your toes, but you don’t need me anymore, Ruby.”  He smiles.  Light pulsates around him.  Ruby struggles to keep from squinting.

“Have you been playing ball, Artie?”  This is all she could think to ask.  She’s so much older, does he see?

“No ball playing, but we watch.  We watch over, and I watch over you, too.  You’ve always been good, Ruby.  They’ll never see, and they’ll never know, but that’s the point, isn’t it?  Life can be hard sometimes — even in the little ways”

Ruby wakes to the grey pre-dawn, hears the sound of rain against the window, feels Pinsky’s light cat-weight warming the bed’s edge.  She pulls the covers close around her and says quietly, “Artie, love of my life, you have no idea.”

Looking to catch up with Ruby, Viv and their friends of Benjamin?  Links below. 

Chapter 1 Introducing Ruby, Viv and St. Benjamin

Chapter 2 Boychik Luis and Bubbe Bev

Chapter 3 Bright Lights and Big Bev City

Chapter 4 Ruby and Viv Find Their Big Girl Panties

Chapter 5 Mother’s Little Helper — Part 1

Chapter 6 Mother’s Little Helper — Part 2

Chapter 7 Rich or Poor, It’s Nice To Have Money

Short Fiction

Rich Or Poor, It’s Nice To Have Money

Tina sat in the dark at the sticky little kitchen table.  Again she couldn’t sleep and needed some air.  The rain had stopped so she had cracked open the window over the sink.   She could hear and smell the lazy night wind mixing the leaves.   Luke left at ten after a nap — said he’d grab something at the hospital.  He didn’t think of food as something more than fuel these days.  She missed how they used to linger over dinner, but smiled at the thought of him falling asleep as Henry “read” his new books to him tonight.

She didn’t tell Luke about the money.  The bill was still folded in the greasy back pocket of her jeans because she’d be pulling them again tomorrow.  She thought Henry might have blurted out his discovery, but it turned out that he wasn’t all that impressed by the “green paper.”

Maybe she would keep it to herself for a little while longer. It wasn’t really keeping a secret so much as just not disclosing a finding.  If Luke found out she wouldn’t lie.  Maybe what she wanted most of all was a little break; a way to feel a bit more like her old self, the woman she recognized as competent, funny, joyful, sexy…. okay, maybe not sexy yet, but powerful, in a small way.

Tina walked through the house to check on Henry.  He was sprawled out on his bed, books and little X-men scattered on the floor, in that deep sleep of growing children.  She swore she could hear cells multiplying, piling up boy blood, bone and brain so in the morning he’d be a new boy to her again.  She moved into their room to peek at his little brother in the bassinet.  Tucker slept like a little old man, one arm flung imperiously overhead, belly rising and falling like a tiny bellows.  The air around him surprisingly warm.  “Like a small tyrant,” she thought.

Tina rubbed her eyes.  Like an over-tired baby, she was fighting the tug of sleep.  The rumpled bedding and familiar indents in their mattress were cool again and she relaxed with a exhalation as she sat back down on the bed.  She recognized the feeling now.  It was the luxury of falling into sleep.  A small reclaiming of herself.  Yes, she would keep that money stashed away.  A small reclaiming for herself for the future.  For now, a few  hours of sleep would be redemption enough.  Her last coherent thought was …”don’t forget to take the money out of your pocket before washing those jeans.” 

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Need a refresher?  See the links below to get back into the groove:

Chapter 1 Introducing Ruby, Viv and St. Benjamin

Chapter 2 Boychik Luis and Bubbe Bev

Chapter 3 Bright Lights and Big Bev City

Chapter 4 Ruby and Viv Find Their Big Girl Panties

Chapter 5 Mother’s Little Helper — Part 1

Chapter 6 Mother’s Little Helper — Part 2

Short Fiction

Mother’s Little Helper — Part 2

“Mama! You got a book today, too,” Henry exclaimed in that high-minded way toddlers have of announcing news. Tina made Henry carry his own books. She wanted to foster his independence and she was carrying her own book, plus a small backpack and twelve pounds of squirmy infant strapped to her chest, gearing up to demand his own lunch.

They lived a short walk from the library. One of the best things about the little house they rented was its location in an established neighborhood with a mix of trees and residents.   There were retirees and families, working people who spent their weekends working in their yards.  The little yards held evidence of family activity:  trampled grass with play sets, bikes and picnic tables.   A couple of the middle-school aged girls liked to coo over Henry and Tucker – if Luke ever got a night off maybe one would want to baby sit?

They tumbled into the kitchen. Henry was already pulling at his pants to get to the bathroom and Tina was extracting Tucker from the Baby Bjorn. He was red and sweaty like an overripe tomato, his small fists churning. Tina knew it was now a matter of minutes until let-down — she could feel that tingle. Now her dilemma was either to help Henry complete his foray to the bathroom or to settle herself to nurse Tucker and let Henry splash around in the sink creating puddles and extra laundry.

A hungry baby and the relief of sitting down won. Tina felt herself relax as Tucker latched on, his greedy snuffling making her smile as a bovine sense calm settled over her. Nursing the baby seemed to make time, and her brain, slow down. She could hear Henry talking to himself in the bathroom, the sound of water – as long as there wasn’t silence she could enjoy putting up her feet for ten minutes.   She took another deep breath and felt her neck and shoulders relax.

“Mama, you have paper in your book,” Henry stated matter-of-factly as he waved what looked like a dollar bill from where as he sat on the living room floor.

Tina moved Tucker off her breast. She was always amazed at how enraptured he looked, sated by her milk, a sleepy smile on his wizened face. She glanced up at Henry as she hoisted Tucker up to her shoulder.

“Hold it still, Henry, let me see,” she said rubbing Tucker’s back with alternating pats and circles.

Henry came close to his mother and she put the “burping” arm around him. She wanted him to still feel close to her, too. It wasn’t that long ago he was her only baby. How did he get so big? She felt as though she was coming back from sleep, a light moving through her brain, waking her with a spark.

Henry was holding the paper in front of him and Tina saw that it was currency. Somebody used a dollar as a bookmark in a pinch, but then she saw that there wasn’t a picture of George Washington on it. It had to be a joke.  There was no way somebody used a one hundred-dollar bill as a bookmark. Gently she said, “Henry, can I see that a minute?”

Her son handed it to her gravely. His own little fingers rubbing over the unfamiliar feel of the paper one last time. Tina held the note up in front of her face, mystified as to how it got into her home.

“Henry, where did you find this?” she asked lightly.

“In your book! I was putting all the books on the table and yours fell down. It fell out and I picked it up. What is it, Mama?”

Tina felt a little stunned. Maybe she had twenty bucks in her purse right now – a hundred-dollar bill seemed unreal. “It’s money, Henry, and thank you for finding it. I’ll put it somewhere safe and take care of it.” She folded the bill with one hand, leaned over onto one cheek and slipped it into the other back pocket of her worn and saggy jeans. With shaking hands she moved Tucker to her other breast as Henry resumed playing on the floor. Was she imagining it or was the baby studying her face? She cooed to Tucker and brushed his cheek with her nipple but he turned away.

Chapter 1 Introducing Ruby, Viv and St. Benjamin

Chapter 2 Boychik Luis and Bubbe Bev

Chapter 3 Bright Lights and Big Bev City

Chapter 4 Ruby and Viv Find Their Big Girl Panties

Chapter 5 Mother’s Little Helper — Part 1