Tag Archives: short fiction

A Room

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A room. A window. Outside the window, an entire world that I have not moved through for so many years. Some of the world comes to me, it is true, and I am not so reclusive that I do not let it in. Marietta brought her newest baby just yesterday, and I held it as though I have held a baby every day of my life in spite of the fact that I have not held a baby since that first baby slipped away from me, into the arms of another woman I have never known the name of. That baby was ripped more violently from my arms than it was from my body hours before. I was not given a choice. No one knew. The baby vanished and then I vanished, off to another country. Off. . . .a cough. I spin around and look behind me. It is a new intruder. After so many years alone, two people entering my world. Perhaps if I’d kept the door unlocked all these years, more people would have come other than the boy who brings my groceries and the other woman with the many layers of skirts who brings me new medicine when I have need of it.

I do not know this new person. It is a young man who carries a machete in his hand. He is very tall. Very very tall for a Mexican, so perhaps he is a Bedouin or some other Arab from a tall tribe, plopped down in America in the way many of us have been positioned here by fate, by circumstance or by force. His skin is that beautiful golden coffee color of someone naturally dark who has also been in the sun for long periods of time or for a long lifetime.

“Disculpe, senora,” he says, as he moves into the room. When I speak to him in English, he switches to English. He has seen my tall palm with the fruit and the seeding husks hanging dangerously loose. He can scale this tree and cut them for me. It needs to be done, senora, and if I have no money to pay, he will do it for no more fee than my friendship. And if I have no friendship to offer, then he will do it for the good grace it will bring him in the universe and perhaps an easier ingress into heaven.

It is an omen, I think, and I surprise myself when I give him permission to trim the tree. He cannot know how much he looks like a young man in my past and he cannot know how uncharacteristic it is for me to allow anyone at all into my life, my room, my trust. Now I have an obligation to this man I know nothing about. He may be dangerous. Certainly, he carries a weapon. The branch of the pomegranate tree taps taps on my window, as though a strong breeze has come up in this still day. It is the fingers of the afternoon reminding me. Warning me. But then I see that it is the movement of the young man as he brushes past the tree that has set it in motion.

A large turquoise dragonfly rests on the branch that has stopped moving and that now sits isolated. Another dragonfly approaches it and seems to attach itself in an arch and they go flying away together in this impossible configuration—a broken circle. How two creatures can move as one is not something I have ever learned, not since the one person who was a part of me for so many months was pulled from my arms still weak from childbirth. If they’d waited, I would have been strong enough, I tell myself. I have been telling myself for most of my life.

After they took from me what was mine, we took a drive to a large place with many chairs. Many chairs and many people, then a corridor. Then I was on an airline and in spite of my terror, I fell asleep. I was a thirteen year old girl, accustomed to doing what I was told to do. I woke up in America, where I was driven to the beautiful house of my aunt. It was here I lived for ten more years. Here that they expected to give me a new life to encourage me to forget my old life, but as I sit for all these years in my isolation, it is the old life that I remember and remember and remember.

 

 

 

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

Locked Secrets

Version 6

Locked Secrets

I’d just received my school’s math prize and my Uncle Jimmy, after handing me a twenty dollar bill, had, in his usual self-effacing manner, proclaimed that I must have gotten my smarts from him.  “How is it that you are both the pretty one and the smart one in your family?”  He teased.  My sister Eleanor was out of the room at the time.  If she’d been there and I hadn’t, he would have been proclaiming her the prettiest.  We all knew this about our uncle.  He adored us, and was not above flattery in revealing the fact.

This time, however, he had overlooked  both the precociousness and competitiveness of my two-and-a-half-year-old youngest sister, Stephanie.

“Elebben, eight, twenny, fiteen,” she recited proudly!

“Well, forgive me, Missy. Aren’t you a smart young lady, knowing how to count?” He reached into his lumpy pocket and tossed her a nickel.  Amazingly, she caught it.  Perhaps she was going to be the first athletic one in the family.

“Fohty-two!” she exclaimed proudly. “free, sebben-elebben, one, one, one.” This time he extracted his wallet, took out a one-dollar bill and handed it to her.  Putting his wallet back in his back pocket, he turned one side pocket inside out. “But that’s it, Teffie.  No more money. If you want to go on counting, it will have to be for free.”

His other pocket still bulged with its contents: coins, a rubber ball to throw for our dog Pudge, oatmeal cookie bits in a small plastic bag–also for Pudge.  My Uncle Jimmy always proclaimed that doggie treats were a real gyp and that no self-respecting dog would perform for such a dry, tasteless mouthful.  So, he preferred to bake his own dog treats.

My sisters and I agreed, and sometimes we would perform, hoping to be rewarded with one of Pudge’s treats.  We were all constantly performing for our uncle, whom we adored. He was the one person who paid more attention to us than to our parents when he visited.  He was our favorite babysitter, and our parents’ favorite as well, as he always waved away payment.

He would take us to Fern’s Cafe for strawberry malts, greasy hamburgers and mashed potatoes and gravy, since Fern didn’t have a French fryer. He took us for wild rides over cow pastures in his beat up old red Ford pickup.  Once he took us to a matinee cartoon show in Pierre, sixty miles away, and got us home and in bed again before my folks got home.  We were sworn to secrecy and so far as I know, none of us ever told.  I know for sure I didn’t.  My Uncle Jimmy had my undying loyalty.  I would have borne torture before giving away any of his secrets.

Sadly, Uncle Jimmy died during one of those wild rides across the South Dakota prairie.  This time he was flying solo over a dam grade and veered too far to the right, rolling the pickup.  He drowned trying to get out of the passenger door, the pickup mired driver-side down in the mud at the bottom of the dam.  We had always felt like such ladies as Uncle Jimmy graciously got out of his pickup to personally open the door from the outside for us.  We didn’t know then, as we know now, that it was a peculiarity of that door that it would only open from the outside.

“Thank God the girls weren’t with him,” my mother sobbed to my father, as they sat side-by-side at the kitchen table, my dad’s arms around her.  It was past midnight, and they were sitting in that room furthest away from our bedrooms, thinking we wouldn’t hear her sobs.  But, unable to sleep, we had stolen out to the living room to listen––all consumed by that missing of Uncle Jimmy that would last our whole lives.

“Oh, he never would have driven that wildly if the girls were with him,” my dad said.  But Eleanor and I and even Steffie just exchanged that look that we were to exchange so many times in our future lives together––that look that children exchange that would tell their parents that they know something their parents don’t know––if only their parents took the time to notice. Even Steffie understood.  And Uncle Jimmy was right when he proclaimed her wise beyond her years.  Even Steffie never told.

(This is a work of fiction.)

 

The prompt today was recite. (A repost of a story from a few years ago.)

Locked Secrets

                                                                      Locked Secrets

daily life color093
I’d just received my school’s math prize and my Uncle Jimmy, after handing me a twenty dollar bill, had, in his usual self-effacing manner, proclaimed that I must have gotten my smarts from him.  “How is it that you are both the pretty one and the smart one in your family?”  He teased.  My sister Eleanor was out of the room at the time.  If she’d been there and I hadn’t, he would have been proclaiming her the prettiest.  We all knew this about our uncle.  He adored us, and was not above flattery in revealing the fact.

This time, however, he had overlooked  both the precociousness and competitiveness of my two-and-a-half-year-old youngest sister, Stephanie.

“Elebben, eight, twenny, fiteen,” she recited proudly!

“Well, forgive me, Missy. Aren’t you a smart young lady, knowing how to count?” He reached into his lumpy pocket and tossed her a nickel.  Amazingly, she caught it.  Perhaps she was going to be the first athletic one in the family.

“Fohty-two!” she exclaimed proudly. “free, sebben-elebben, one, one, one.” This time he extracted his wallet, took out a one-dollar bill and handed it to her.  Putting his wallet back in his back pocket, he turned one side pocket inside out. “But that’s it, Teffie.  No more money. If you want to go on counting, it will have to be for free.”

His other pocket still bulged with its contents: coins, a rubber ball to throw for our dog Pudge, oatmeal cookie bits in a small plastic bag–also for Pudge.  My Uncle Jimmy always proclaimed that doggie treats were a real gyp and that no self-respecting dog would perform for such a dry, tasteless mouthful.  So, he preferred to bake his own dog treats.

My sisters and I agreed, and sometimes we would perform, hoping to be rewarded with one of Pudge’s treats.  We were all constantly performing for our uncle, whom we adored. He was the one person who paid more attention to us than to our parents when he visited.  He was our favorite babysitter, and our parents’ favorite as well, as he always waved away payment.

He would take us to Fern’s Cafe for strawberry malts, greasy hamburgers and mashed potatoes and gravy, since Fern didn’t have a French fryer. He took us for wild rides over cow pastures in his beat up old red Ford pickup.  Once he took us to a matinee cartoon show in Pierre, sixty miles away, and got us home and in bed again before my folks got home.  We were sworn to secrecy and so far as I know, none of us ever told.  I know for sure I didn’t.  My Uncle Jimmy had my undying loyalty.  I would have borne torture before giving away any of his secrets.

Sadly, Uncle Jimmy died during one of those wild rides across the South Dakota prairie.  This time he was flying solo over a dam grade and veered too far to the right, rolling the pickup.  He drowned trying to get out of the passenger door, the pickup mired driver-side down in the mud at the bottom of the dam.  We had always felt like such ladies as Uncle Jimmy graciously got out of his pickup to personally open the door from the outside for us.  We didn’t know then, as we know now, that it was a peculiarity of that door that it would only open from the outside.

“Thank God the girls weren’t with him,” my mother sobbed to my father, as they sat side-by-side at the kitchen table, my dad’s arms around her.  It was past midnight, and they were sitting in that room furthest away from our bedrooms, thinking we wouldn’t hear her sobs.  But, unable to sleep, we had stolen out to the living room to listen––all consumed by that missing of Uncle Jimmy that would last our whole lives.

“Oh, he never would have driven that wildly if the girls were with him,” my dad said.  But Eleanor and I and even Steffie just exchanged that look that we were to exchange so many times in our future lives together––that look that children exchange that would tell their parents that they know something their parents don’t know––if only their parents took the time to notice. Even Steffie understood.  And Uncle Jimmy was right when he proclaimed her wise beyond her years.  Even Steffie never told.

(This is a work of fiction.)

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Your Days are Numbered.” What’s the date today? Write it down, remove all dashes and slashes, and write a post that mentions that number.