Category Archives: Story

Snowball in Hell


I just got home from a luncheon where I was surprised to discover I’d received the 2017 Ojo del Lago Award for outstanding literary achievement in the category of best fiction for a short story, “Snowball in Hell.”  I don’t believe I’ve ever published it on my blog as it was done as a timed writing for my writing group in La Manzanilla. Since it loosely follows the prompt for today, which is “tentative,” I’ll stretch things a bit and publish it today:

Snowball in Hell

“There’s not a snowball’s chance in Hell,” she snarled at him as he beat a hasty retreat out the door. Everyone knew she was a feisty old dame, but she still felt compelled to prove the fact often enough to remind herself of the truth of it. Lately, she’d been feeling herself mellow. Growing teary-eyed at the sight of kittens on YouTube videos—having little heart-flutters when she glimpsed other women’s grandchildren in photos on cell phones.

When she stood back to consider this strange new course of events, she could only view it as she might view a mysterious disease—look at the symptoms, try to figure out a cure. Surely, being around children or kittens might help. Nothing like reality to pop the bubble of a fancy. Kibbles underfoot and gumdrops in the sheets could surely cancel out cute. Although she had no experience with such cures, since they’d never been necessary before.

Jake had wanted kids long ago. Actually, he’d gone on wanting them for a good twenty years—as long as she might have provided them—but her refusal had been as determined as her response today, when he had asked if she perhaps would be interested in a Caribbean cruise. Her on a cruise ship with old men in madras shorts and women in beauty-parlor hairdos? She tried to think of what she would do on a boat. She had taken a mental oath years before to never play shuffleboard and bridge made her dyspeptic. She’d discovered this in college, waiting for Karen Schuller to play her hand, drumming her long perfectly polished fingernails on the bridge table, screwing her little red cupid box mouth into a perplexed knot.

“Play the damn card!!!” she’d screamed internally, afraid that if the bitch ran one more finger tattoo on the table that she’d slam her fist down on that perfect hand. It seemed easier to give up bridge than to give up the aggression she felt every time she heard the sharp drumming and viewed that pensive mouth.

Cruise ships, she was sure, were full of Karen Schullers, all grown up, with fingernails an inch longer, lips forty years more wrinkled. And they made you eat things like lobster and crabs—giant underwater bugs that no one would ever convince her were meant for consumption. But the truth of it was, that aside from these irritations, being cooped up in a cabin with Jake for a week or more must didn’t carry any attraction for her any more. The old coot got stranger by the day. Just last night, on the couch, watching Ray Donovan, he had tried to hold her hand. Forty years married and like a teenager, furtively reaching over. They’d been done with all that syrup years ago, but now, why was he thinking hand holds and Caribbean cruises?

What month was it? She tried to sort out a reason. Valentine’s Day, birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas––not that they ever observed any of them. Finally, she gave up. There was no accounting for old men in their first states of senility. She would just have to put up with it, but she didn’t have to go along. She settled herself more solidly into her chair and grabbed the remote, switching on the TV connected to her computer. Millie Perkins had Facebooked her another puppy/bunny video. She tried to resist, but found herself moving the mouse over to the arrow. The bunny had loppy ears and the puppy had very long hair and a little vest. She clicked off the TV quickly when Jake came into the room, but didn’t greet him.

“Clara?” he asked tentatively. She pretended not to hear. “Honey?” In his hand was an envelope that looked sort of crumpled and a bit dusty, like he’d been hanging onto it for awhile. “Remember your last checkup? The results came a few days ago.” She looked up at him, and his face looked soft––like the face of the bunny. Something was written on it––a different sadness that she hadn’t seen before. He sat down beside her on the couch and risked once more taking her hand. And this time she let him.

http://chapala.com/elojo/index.php/218-articles-2017/september-2017/3872-snowball-in-hell

The prompt today was tentative

Eavesdropping

Here is a Skype conversation that transpired last night between okcforgottenman and me. Wanna eavesdrop?

[2017-09-05 23:40:26] Judy: Okay. You are not going to believe what just happened!!!!
[2017-09-05 23:40:44] okcforgottenman: I don’t believe what just happened!!!!
[2017-09-05 23:40:50] Judy: I heard a crash in bedroom and what sounded like breaking glass.
[2017-09-05 23:41:12] okcforgottenman: gulp
[2017-09-05 23:41:34] Judy: I went in and there was a cloth doll on the floor..Kittens were charging around. I picked up a different cat toy and when I did, something flew up out of it. It was a bat that must have flown in through the gap I left in the sliding glass door for the kittens to go in and out through!
[2017-09-05 23:41:50] okcforgottenman: HAHAHA
[2017-09-05 23:42:18] Judy: The kittens pounced on it, it got away, flew up, I grabbed a pillow and threw it on top of it and it started to wiggle out from under it.
[2017-09-05 23:42:30] Judy: This was a rather large bat.. and they have rabies here!
[2017-09-05 23:42:46] okcforgottenman: Yes, scary. But hilarious.
[2017-09-05 23:42:54] Judy: I pushed the pillow over it and stood on the pillow and looked around for something else to throw over it.
[2017-09-05 23:43:03] okcforgottenman: (I had a bat experience in St Louis.)
[2017-09-05 23:43:05] Judy: But I couldn’t move or the bat could wiggle out.
[2017-09-05 23:43:29] Judy: I jumped up and down on the pillow, stomped on it, but it was a thick feather pillow and I had on Crocs.
[2017-09-05 23:46:09] Judy: The only think I could reach was their stainless steel food dishes, so I edged the pillow up and stuck the dish over it, then got another dish to weight it and got two books to put on top. I went into kitchen and got a plastic flat thin cutting board, slid it under the dish, put a book under and over it and unlocked sliders, then took it outside and dumped it. I actually think it was dead by then. Ugh!!! It is on front steps now. Doors and screens shut. Never thought of bats coming inside. Thought they didn’t like the light.
[2017-09-05 23:46:16] Judy: God. What next?
[2017-09-05 23:47:09] Judy: Its wingspread was probably six inches.
[2017-09-05 23:47:16] Judy: Tough little bugger.
[2017-09-05 23:47:23] okcforgottenman: Check on it later, maybe. Don’t want a crippled bat in Yolanda’s path tomorrow.
[2017-09-05 23:47:55] okcforgottenman: How you suffer for blog stories!
[2017-09-05 23:47:59] Judy: It will be in Pasiano’s path first.
[2017-09-05 23:48:01] Judy: Ha.
[2017-09-05 23:48:03] Judy: yes..
[2017-09-05 23:48:09] Judy: no. no photos.
[2017-09-05 23:48:19] okcforgottenman: I wasn’t gonna ask.
[2017-09-05 23:48:37] Judy: and there was another little stand for a doll I made but must be under the bed. I had two little handmade dolls up there that are gone.
[2017-09-05 23:48:39] okcforgottenman: What made the sound of breaking glass?
[2017-09-05 23:48:45] Judy: probably destroyed.
[2017-09-05 23:48:55] Judy: I don’t know.. perhaps the metal stand for the doll.
[2017-09-05 23:49:20] okcforgottenman: How did the kitties react while you were battling?
[2017-09-05 23:50:02] Judy: Without knowing it, I was kicking the stand around when i chased the bat and kept thinking I heard breaking glass. For awhile I thought the bat was making the noise..but then once it was under the pillow, and I still heard the noise, I realized it was coming from behind me and was me kicking the little metal stand.
[2017-09-05 23:50:32] Judy: I opened the door and they ran down the hall to terrorize Annie in my bathroom. I could hear her hissing. Never a dull moment, Dux.
[2017-09-05 23:50:44] Judy: better go see if she ran into my closet.
[2017-09-05 23:51:09] okcforgottenman: Doggies none the wiser?
[2017-09-05 23:51:24] Judy: Annie is asleep in her bed in the tub in my room.
[2017-09-05 23:51:51] Judy: No noise from dogs that I remember. If they’d been in the house the whole room would’ve been wrecked.
[2017-09-05 23:52:00] Judy: gonna go give kitties more food and water. They can’t eat past 1 AM because they are being spayed or neutered tomorrow.  Poor tykes.
[2017-09-05 23:52:38] okcforgottenman: Shame you couldn’t adopt the bat, teach him to play fetch with Morrie.
[2017-09-06 00:01:53] Judy: Oh god, Dux. What a life. Do you think I have more odd things happen than most people or do I just make more of a fuss over them?

(Published before Dux (aka okcforgottenman) responded further.)

R.I.P. little interloper.  Wish I hadn’t overreacted and you’d been able to fly away. I admit that I panicked. I had my film group over to watch “Love at First Bite” on Sunday night.

In Cold Blood

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                                                        In Cold Blood

I’m sure that the horrible, violent and senseless murders described in Truman Capote’s book In Cold Blood captured the imaginations of most of us in the U.S. Unaccustomed to such vivid descriptions of such violent acts, what small town family did not start locking their doors at night?

The slaughter of the rural farm family occurred on Saturday night, November 14, 1959; and although Capote’s book was not published until 1966, the press made much of it at the time it happened and I was well aware of most of the details of the murder of the father, wife and teen-aged children—a boy and a girl––as well as the capture of the two men who had murdered them. I was especially affected by the sad detail of the discovery of the girl’s Sunday School money tucked into her shoe in the closet. Whether she heard the men breaking in and hid the money so it would not be found or whether she placed it there so she wouldn’t forget, the detail has the same poignancy

After the murder, as I lay in bed at night––especially on summer nights when I found it even harder to surrender to sleep than during blustery cold nights in the winter––I often thought to get up and check the doors again: the front door, the door to the garage, the door from the garage to the mud room, the door to the basement and the back door off the pantry that led to the back porch. All had push-locks accessed by a key from the other side.
On one night in particular, that summer that I turned 13, I lay awake listening to the night sounds that streamed in through my screened window. My window adjoined the front door stoop and it suddenly occurred to me that anyone could slice the screen and easily enter. I got up from bed to close the window and open the air conditioning vent in the floor under it. While I was up, I decided to check all the doors again. All were securely locked except for the lock to the back “porch” which was really just a platform four or five feet wide with a hand railing that ran the entire length of the house from the back garage entry to the pantry/kitchen area.

The pantry held a sink for my dad to wash up in when he came in from the ranch, and since we rarely locked our house, many times he would just walk along this platform/porch and enter the house from the back where he pulled off his boots and emptied his cuffs off the back porch so he wouldn’t track wheat chaff or mud or other souvenirs of his day’s work through the house. Then he’d wash his hands and neck and face in “his” special sink and make his way to his rocking chair in the living room, where he’d spend the rest of the day resting until supper and reading before bed.

This platform/porch was actually quite a distance above the ground because our lot was on a small hill that sloped from front to back and right to left. This enabled the windows in the basement to be above ground level, whereas there were no windows at all in the front of the basement. On this particular night, I stepped out onto this roofless sideless porch platform. I could see the big dipper and part of the little dipper and the thousands of other stars in the summer sky, but I didn’t know the names of any of the other constellations.

I could smell the newly cut grass that my mother had mowed in the early evening of that day, after the sun had gone low in the sky. I remembered when I was little how my dad was less tired by the time he got home and so he’d mow the huge lawn around the old house. My mom would come after him with the lawn sweeper that collected the grass cuttings in a huge canvas cube open at the top to dump the grass into a huge pile by the gravel road where we kids would build nests and play bird. I was the baby bird fed imaginary worms or, if we’d had the right dinner, sauceless spaghetti, by my older sister.

By my teen years, however, my dad would be too tired when he got home from a day that started at 5 or 6 in the morning and often didn’t end until 8 or 9 at night if they were cutting wheat. His life was a hard one and I often wondered if he resented coming home to daughters reading on their beds or talking on the phone to friends.

Did it seem unfair to him that he worked so hard to support daughters and a wife who had such a life of ease? Although I had not yet started to really write, except for a diary I once kept for a few months or assignments for school, I did have an active imagination; and from a very early age, I had concocted elaborate stories all involving imaginary selves of the future.

Now on this night, I wondered why that door that I had checked before coming to bed to read was now open! Who and why would anyone open a locked door? As I lay thinking, I heard the door to my parents’ bedroom farther down the hall open. I could hear my father’s heavy barefoot tread turning not to his right—to the bathroom between their room and my sister’s––but instead to the left. Down the long hall to my room, the entrance hall, the kitchen, the mudroom and the back porch. I could hear the door opening and a few minutes’ delay before he padded down the hall again and closed his door.

Chill. I felt it zoom down my spine, hit my tailbone and ricochet back up to my brain where it froze the back of my head. I waited. For five minutes, and ten. Barely breathing. I cracked my door and when I could again hear my father’s loud snores, I sneaked back out to the door to the back porch, which was once again unlocked. As quietly as possible, I pushed the button lock in, then returned to bed where I remained vigilantly awake for the rest of the night. Twice more, my father got up to unlock the door. Twice more, I got up to relock it.

During all those long hours before dawn, I imagined the scenario. My father, formerly my protector, allowance provider and generous benefactor to the pleasures of my life—turned in my mind into plotter. He, too, had read all of the coverage of the Kansas murders, and it had given him ideas.  He had hired a man to sneak in, to bind him up and leave him helpless and then to kill us all. He wanted to be free. He was tired of his idle daughters, tired of his wife.

My father had, previous to this, gone through one of his week long silent periods where we knew he was upset about something—cattle prices, the threat of hail before harvest, my mother or us. We never knew what caused these silent periods where he would speak to none of us and sometimes even move to the basement to sleep. They never lasted over a week and afterwards he would be our same joking, generous, hard-working dad. But during those times, we tiptoed. We tried to cajole and charm, but it didn’t work. If we asked if he wanted his head rubbed, we were met with a curt sideways bob of the head or a “Not tonight!”

This was unheard of at other times, when we’d ask for money for a new dress or the show and he’d answer with, “Ya. Rub Pa’s head!” We’d do so, and then the wallet would come out. Not that we didn’t rub his head gratis as well. It just got to be a joke—this returning of favor for favor. Then he’d hand us his wallet and put his hand over his eyes, like he didn’t want to see what we’d take. We’d always show him, though. Was this okay? It always was.

At times other than his silent periods, he was our loving dad. Proud of us. Funny around guests, and talkative, but when home alone with us, usually tired––sleeping or reading one of the piles of magazines and books that lay on the long coffee table beside his chair. I mention the silent periods as an explanation of why I might even in my most fertile imagination conceive of an idea that my dad would be capable of planning to “off” his entire family.

But, imagine it I did. I became the protector of our family that summer, lying awake for as long as I could to listen for my father’s footsteps down the hall. And this was not the only night that he got up once or twice to unlock that back door. I never said a word to my mother or sister. I perhaps told my best friend, thinking if my protective efforts failed, at least one person could point the way to insuring the perpetrator of my demise came to justice.

In later years, I forgot about that terrifying summer and went back to loving and admiring my dad almost as much as before, but by then there was a difference. Whether it was caused by radical ideas picked up in my sixties college life and my need to define myself as more modern than my parents—who were themselves quite liberal––or a vestige of that summer of distrust, I’ll never know.

By the time my dad died eleven years later, they’d sold the house in town and moved to a smaller house they built a mile out of town. It was to escape town taxes, my dad always said, but I’ve always thought that for him it was a return to his early homestead days in another house with nothing in view but prairie grasses and a big weathered barn. This new “country” house built by my parents after I left high school was closer to town than the homestead of my grandparents, but was within sight of the big red barn of a farm he’d bought years ago for a hired man and his family to live in and afterwards rented out. The barn sat squarely between my parents’ new modern modular and the old farmhouse. There was a small lake nearby with otters and where the wild geese landed overnight in their migrations.

It was one summer night when I was home from college for vacation that my dad got up from where he’d been sleeping in his chair and walked through the hall and kitchen and out the back door of the house.

“Where do you think he’s going?” I asked my mother.

“Oh, he likes to go out to sniff the night air and have a pee in the dark,” she said with a chuckle. “He loved to pee off the back porch of the house in town at night, even though it was so much farther away than the bathroom. I never could convince him not to do it. I worried that the neighbors would see him. But I think he thought it saved water, or perhaps it just reminded him of his youth—peeing out the back door of the house into the night air.”

This post was written in response to Elyse’s scary babysitting piece which you can read here:  http://fiftyfourandahalf.com/2012/08/01/all-the-cool-kids-are-doing-it/

 

 

Vocabulary Lesson: The 7 Word Challenge

https://7words2inspire.wordpress.com/2015/09/26/word-list-week-4/ Write a story or poem making use of as many of these words as you wish: (oneiric cigar shenanigans cold-cocked finish sun-dried knickers) To save you the bother of checking them off, I’ll tell you I used them all—in order. The unbelievers can check them off anyway if they wish.

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                                              Vocabulary Lesson

She was more than irritated. Pissed, really, as she thumbed through the dictionary in search of the word “oneiric.” Any word that needed to be looked up didn’t belong in a “Dear Jane” letter anyway–as though to the very end he was trying to demonstrate his superiority—her inferiority.

Fuck! She slammed the dictionary to the floor, picked up the half-smoked cigar he’d left in the ashtray last night, relit it and surveyed the new paper cut on her index finger. Just one more of his shenanigans, she thought. Right after he’d cold-cocked her with the news that he and she were finished—that he was leaving her FOR HER MOTHER!!!!!!, he’d lit up his Cubano for one more puff before grinding it out and handing her this letter, telling her not to open it until he’d gone.

His finish had been pretty much like their beginning—with him ending up on the floor. But this time she was standing over him rather than lying on top of him. Idly, she flicked an ash into his open mouth, hitting him squarely on his tongue. The sun-dried blood on his lip looked like the smudge of a lover’s lipstick. Around his head were the remains of the crystal candlestick her mother had given them for their wedding.  She sucked at the paper cut, then at the gash across her palm that she had gotten from a shard of the candlestick that had taken a far smaller part out of her than it had out of him.

Far away in the kitchen, the phone rang and rang. Probably her mother. Well, let her get her knickers in a bunch waiting for him. Let her think (for as long as she could put off coming to investigate) that her daughter had reclaimed her property. She was in possession for now and everyone knew possession was 9/10ths of the law. She took another long draw before examining her wounds again.

Then, her curiosity getting the better of her, she moved back to the dictionary to thumb through the o’s. When she’d found the word, she chuckled and looked back at her lost love. Gone from this world, but no one would ever know it if she just shut his jaw and wiped off the bloodstain. As a matter of fact, he’d look downright oneiric!


I
f you want to join in the fun, post your story or poem HERE.

https://eternityinabox.wordpress.com/2015/09/26/word-list-for-week-4-submit-your-creativity-to-7-words/