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.

 

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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

Mom’s Coming In Hot!

“Mom’s coming in hot,” Josh called out from his perch at the front window.  Our siblings threw open their notebooks to simulate their passion for homework.  I turned back to the boiling water and took the tube of dry spaghetti in my hand like Thor.  BAM!  I threw it into the pot.

Our mom always worked and it made us self-reliant ~ free-range children before that was a radical idea.  It didn’t mean that we didn’t screw up or fight, but it did mean we had each others’ back.  Mom was the Alpha of our pack — an unperturbed general manager of the household.  “Lean in,” “Just do it” — our Mom didn’t need a catch phrase to motivate her to “have it all.”  She just lived and loved enough to have five kids, and she considered them indentured help, humorous distractions and objects of wonder.

But when she came home in that Piranha Hour before dinner we each knew our pivotal role in getting dinner on the table — FAST!  Because,  well, she who must be obeyed first must be fed.  Then we could talk, share, tease and cry with the shrill abandon of five kids fed, loved and unbound.

 

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Short Fiction

Garbage Man

I stiffed the waitress at the IHOP.  It’s not as hard as you might think.  I’m walking to my car at the edge of the parking lot, and I smell it even before I see him; the bus boy wheeling a red garbage can full of wet and lumpy black bags out to the dumpster.  The more aggressive crows are waiting on the dumpster’s fence; they don’t even “caw.”

He parks the garbage can right behind my car to off-load the trash bags. Sticky clumps of pancake, lemon wedges, empty creamers and eggshells slip out, fall on the blacktop.  I get in my car and turn up the A/C so it’s even louder than the radio.

I wait for the guy to finish his trash business when a shadow on the window frightens me.  It’s my waitress and the manager – their faces pale but their eyes steely.  They’re bent a bit to look into the window so I feel like an animal in a cage.  I roll down the window, leave the A/C blasting and the manager says into the wind, “Did you forget something?”   They’re not even nervous, like this happens all the time.

I can’t leave.  I can’t back out, but I can smell garbage and grease now, and I feel hot and red even with the A/C blasting.

The check was $10 and change, but I only have a ten and a single in my wallet.  I give her both bills.  The manager exhales away the stink of garbage. “Really, please don’t come back.”

Short Fiction

The A-to-Z Challenge — Pie At The Zeitgeist Diner

“Pour you another cup?,” the zaftig waitress inquired.  The coffee made a circular slosh in the round belly of the service pot as she waited for his reply.

He just wanted to slow down.  Why did everything have to be done with such immediacy. And right on cue his phone buzzed again and he took it up off the counter.

“Hey, doll. Let me warm it up for you.” The waitress poured and sauntered off in her own sloshy way down the counter.  Mario was beginning to think that his Dad was right about this job.  That whole “work from anywhere” schtick meant he should also “work at any time.”  Mario thought the old man was out of touch for pitching an office job in a cubicle farm, but maybe there was some benefit to it. It was another text from his boss out on the road. And not even an important text — just a random thought he had over beers with a prospect. Like Mario was just some sort of human note pad.

Mario put the phone in his pocket and looked down the counter. Sitting at the curve about six stools away was the most gorgeous girl he had ever seen. She had a cup of coffee and a huge slice of lemon meringue pie in front of her — untouched — as she wrote with intent in a black, old-school composition notebook. She used a yellow Ticonderoga no.2 pencil and Mario thought he had gone back in time.

The girl had no interest in anything around her as she wrote — she was lost in her own world. A world she was in the midst of creating. Mario was both jealous and curious. He had been to this diner many times but this was the first time he had ever seen her. And then he noticed: she didn’t seem to have a phone, at least not in front of her.

Now he was even more intrigued and used the action of stirring his coffee to make some distracting noise, but she didn’t even look up. He checked to make sure she wasn’t wearing any ear buds and noticed she had tucked her long honey hair behind a perfect pearly ear.

She stopped writing and looked upon her pie with wonder — as if it she had magically willed it there, and Mario saw his chance to make contact. “The pie’s really excellent here,” he said nodding.

She held up her fork, gave him a big smile and said, “You only live once.”

Short Fiction

The A-to-Z Challenge — Suburban Meandering Youth

In this middle class town there are still kids who walk to and from school.  Yeah, some have cars, and some still get rides from parents, but when you live near schools there are always kids, or “youths,” meandering around.  Even the local high school gym class takes kids through the neighborhood working on their fitness.

But it was a bit of a surprise to Wendy as walked her dog early one hot, sunny September morning.  The school year had just started, but it took her aback to see a kid coast past her on his bike and run it up to side of a suburban home.  He grabbed a ladder out of the bushes and with a practiced air leaned it up against the house, climbed up and slithered through a half-opened window.

As Wendy circled the sidewalk to the front of the house she saw a man walking out the front door dressed for work.  She smiled slightly and raised her hand in greeting but the man was too preoccupied with his Blackberry to see her. Wendy’s son was grown and on his own now, and she debated telling this man that a boy (presumably his son, but maybe not?) had just climbed though a second story window into his house, but something stopped her.

Maybe she remembered that sense of freedom from being a kid,  and knowing that school meant schedule and routine.  Clearly this kid knew he had to be home and clearly he’d come home like this before.  She thought about her own son and all the things he had shared with her as he was growing up.  Was he so open about sharing some things in an effort to keep some things from her as well?  This wasn’t her child, and maybe there was a tattling sibling or mother waiting on the other side of the window — she would never know.

But maybe tomorrow morning she and Pogo would walk the same route again and watch for the boy on the bike.

Short Fiction

The A-to-Z Challenge — What eXit Did’Ya Take?

Setting: Summer suburban backyard Bar-B-Que when the men and women have self-segregated. The men are over by the grill holding their beers while the women are inside the air-conditioned house drinking wine coolers. The dudes are talking.

Vinny: “Good to see you, my man. (Pulls Gil in by the hand for a shoulder bump) “So, how’d you come here, man?”

Gil: “I took the Parkway to 1 & 9 and just came straight down.

Rob: (Swallows a big swig of beer, wipes his mouth on the the back of his hand) “Nah. You don’t go that way. Too many lights. I take the Turnpike to exit 9 and then get on 18 South. It’s much faster.

Vinny: “Oh man, you both need to learn the back ways. Saturday traffic to the Shore is a bitch. I cut across 18 to 9 South at the split and that takes off a good 7 minutes.”

The wives are looking out the window at their menfolk waving their beers around as the flames leap up from the charcoal in belly of the grill. They know it’s a ritual of their coming together to discuss their directional prowess. It’s a badge of honor in this Garden State to find the fastest — not necessarily the most direct — route from point A to point B. There are bonus points for speedy rides to and from sports and concert venues.

The wives nod knowingly. Sitting next to their driving men they secretly cheer the womanly GPS voice that declares, “Re-calulating,” whenever their mates think they know a better way. The fight for directional supremacy evens extends to trips they’ve made for years.

Gina opens the ‘fridge and takes out a platter of cold shrimp. Placing it in front of her guests she says, “Let’s see how long it takes them to find their way to the shrimp, ladies.”