Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween -- Flash Fiction

image from

Why couldn’t Elizabeth buy the candy? He’d gone into the office early and met with vender reps all morning. He missed those long leisurely, pre-recession luncheons paid for by the reps. All afternoon he’d dealt with a ridiculous personnel problem. How could full-grown people act like hormone-driven teens at work? And now he had to stop and get candy. She’d left a voice mail that he should be home before five with candy.
He didn’t mind that she didn’t work. He made enough money for them to live comfortably now. And he appreciated that she had worked the whole time the children were growing up.
Thank goodness they were all grown up and had been very little trouble in doing it. There’d been no going down to the local police station to retrieve them. Not even meetings with various and sundry school officials about major infractions. What problems there had been Elizabeth had handled.
Shopping for candy should have been a quick in and out deal. He never imagined how many women waited until the last minute to buy Halloween treats. Why did they bring their over-tired kids? Probably fresh from daycare. Shopping in that crowd would probably be the biggest nightmare of the night. Those were, no doubt, the little darlings who would be ringing his bell from five until nine.
Oh, yes, the doorbell and strangers coming to the door after dark. With his dog, that should make for a quiet, peaceful evening. Mungo would be hoarse by morning.
And, no, he would not dress up in some ridiculous costume to hand out candy.
Elizabeth wasn’t there when he got home. She complained about never going out. He didn’t like going out. He was “out” all day. He liked to come home, have a quiet dinner, watch a little TV, and go to bed. He took her out. To eat. Sometimes to a movie. She said they hadn’t been to a movie since the last Star Trek movie. That didn’t sound right, but he didn’t keep track of things like that. Besides, she could go out whenever she wanted. He wasn’t one of those overbearing, macho men who had to have their thumb on “the little woman” every minute.
Had she said where she was going? Probably. Maybe she said something about Christmas and going downtown. That didn’t sound like Elizabeth. He wished he hadn’t deleted the voice mail.
She’d left him stew in the fridge.
Four-forty-five p.m. He considered himself a competent adult. He turned on the news and put a bowl of stew into the microwave. Mungo bounced around his feet. She apparently had not fed the dog. The microwave dinged as he set Mungo’s dinner on the floor. Before he could get to the microwave, the doorbell sounded. Mungo barked like mad and raced to the door.
He hadn’t put the candy in the jack-o-lantern bucket yet. Kids didn’t care about that stuff. He tore the candy bag open and dropped hands-full into a skull bucket, a sparkly princessy bucket, and a grocery bag.
He turned on the porch light and returned to the dinging microwave. Mungo returned to his food. Damn. The stew had splattered all over the microwave. Elizabeth hated it when he forgot to use the cover.
The doorbell again. And he still hadn’t put the candy in the pumpkin bucket. Mungo was off like a rocket – a loud rocket.
By eight o’clock he’d run out of candy. He scrounged through his sock drawer and found two rolls of quarters. But the trick-or-treaters were getting bigger. How many quarters should he give a kid bigger than him, who wasn’t wearing a costume as far as he could tell, and was carrying a king-size pillow case half full of loot? Even Mungo was intimidated.
Nine o’clock and his stew was still in the microwave. Where was Elizabeth?
He turned off the porch light, cleaned up the microwave, and made himself a cheese sandwich. He opened a beer and dumped half a bag of chili cheese corn chips on his plate. He found a movie on the TV. A war movie. He liked Tom Hanks. After this evening, explosions and machine gun fire would be calming.
One-thirty a.m. The doorbell and Mungo woke him. He didn’t understand where he was. There was no more candy and no more quarters. The time glowed red on the cable box. Some kind of zombie thing stumbled across the TV screen. The doorbell rang again. Mungo was going crazy. He shut the dog in Elizabeth’s sewing room. Where was that woman?
He switched the porch light on and looked through the peep hole in the front door – the 180-degree jumbo bronze security viewer he’d spent less than $20 on and more than two hours installing.

And there, on the brightly lit front porch stood two of the biggest cops he’d ever seen, one on either side of Elizabeth in a Santa suit.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Imagination -- short essay

earth-mind from

The mind is a wonderful thing. It invents everything – even things that can’t be. Or, at least things that the very same mind can’t make be.
I had a dream, a very strange dream.
Something happened to the earth. A cataclysm that shook and frightened my sleeping self. And my first clue that something big had happened was in the sky. The clouds swirled oddly. Into a sort of disc, white clouds with blue sky all around.
And a man rode a horse off the edge of the earth. And lived to tell the tale. (This was a dream, after all.) Then somehow I could see the earth from a distance and it was a series of discs with space between, stacked several high. Maybe five or six. I don’t know. I didn’t count them. I was asleep.
None of the discs was the interior of the earth, just the mantel. Quite pretty, actually – all shades of blue and brown and green.
Dreams are fine, sufficient within themselves. But this dream stayed with me as I was waking. And my waking mind immediately set out to discover how this dream could be real.
How could this possibly work? Gravity? How thick would each disc have to be to have enough gravity to stay that close together? To hold the atmosphere? Then there are questions about rotation, atmospheric circulation, distribution of solar heat to generate weather and those clouds that so conveniently formed a disc, too. Not to mention having enough soil to grow grass and trees and horses for men to ride off the edge.
Where are the physicists and cosmologists when you need them?

There’s the rub. Scientists use their imaginations to figure out how the universe works, not ways to make it work the way we imagine.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Dammit Jason -- flash fiction

image from

“Dammit Jason.”
“Honest Mom. I didn’t mean to kill her. She’d a killed me if I hadn’t done it.”
“Eighteen years old and you can’t handle your granny’s pig?”
“But she was gonna bite me. More’n bite me. She’d a killed me.”
“Dammit Jason. She’s a pig. Granny’s the one you’re gonna have to run from when she finds out you killed her pig.”
“That’s why I called you. I knew you’d know what to do.”
“You just be sure that blanket’s coverin’ up the floorboard. I swear the only danger my car’s ever been in has been you. You and your friends. Just two beers, my sweet Aunt Sassy. Smelled to high heaven for three weeks and now there’ll be blood all over.”
“But she ain’t bleedin’.”
“She ‘isn’t’ bleedin’.”
“I know, Mom. That’s what I just said.”
“Dammit, Jason. You said ‘ain’t.’”
“Yes, ma’am. Sorry.”
“You pick up her front part. I’ll get her back legs.”
“She’s still warm.”
“And why wouldn’t she be? I came right over didn’t I?”
“Mom! I think she moved.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake. Pick her up. She can’t bite you now. You just wait ‘til your father hears what you’ve done.”
“Do we have to tell him?”
“No, Jason. We don’t have to tell him anything. You have to tell him. Now get in the car.”
“Can I turn on the radio?”
“No, Jason. You can just sit there in the quiet and think about what you’ve done until we get out past the Simpson place.”
“We gonna dump her in the river?”
“No. We are not going to dump her in the river. I’d have nightmares for weeks thinking of that poor, dead, bloated pig driftin’ on down to the Gulf. Your Granny loved that pig.”
“Did you hear something?”
“No, Jason. I didn’t hear anything except your snufflin’.”
“I ain’t snufflin’. Isn’t. I’m not snufflin’.”
“We’ll dump her in that old irrigation ditch just this side of the levee.”
Mom, she’s movin’.”
“Jason, wishing and imagining isn’t going to make her alive again.”
Stop, Mom! We gotta get out. She’ll kill us both.”

“Dammit, Jason.”

Monday, October 20, 2014

Writing Emotion

Comedy/Tragedy from

The question is how best to represent emotion in literature. I have been charged with insufficiently communicating my characters’ emotions. My writing teacher and, even more so, my fellow writing students read bits and pieces of my work and invariably ask “but how does he feel?”

Here is a bit from Murder on Ceres. Rafe and Joe have just returned from witnessing a crash that killed all on board.

Joe stopped pacing. “Man, you lose power and you got nothin’. No floating, no sailing, no gliding. Without atmosphere, there’s no nothin’.”
Rafe closed his eyes, but that was no good. He could still see those flashes of light. He stood and went to the door. “We couldn’t see anything. But they’re gone. I have no doubt. They’re all gone.”

At the end of the scene each reacts to the horrifying incident in his own way. 

Joe calls his ex-wife.
“Brenda? Hi, baby. You sleepin’? Yeah, yeah I know it’s late. I just thought, you know, maybe I could come by…” He bowed his head. “Yeah, of course. You’re right. No. No. I understand. Is Joey okay?” He stood and stretched, arching his back. “That’s good. Yeah, that’s good. No. I haven’t forgotten. I’ll pick him up Wednesday morning.” Joe let his hands drop to his sides.
A quick ten-count later, Joe keyed his mobile again. “Hi, Linnie. Yeah, I’m good. How are you?” Joe leaned back in his chair. “So, you free after work? Yeah. I’d like that. Meet you at your place in about an hour.”

Rafe deals with it differently.
“There is always light in the darkness. Manny Turrentine.” Rafe quoted to no one in particular A little longer and he’d be finished here. He’d go home and the whole place would be lit up like full sun, canaries singing, and his wife pregnant. He would wrap himself in her and this day would be far away.
Minutes passed as Rafe made his account of what he’d witnessed. More minutes than words should take. More minutes than the crash took that killed all on board.

To me, both men are displaying emotion. Not by ranting and raving and chewing the scenery, but by rigid self-control. They distance themselves from the death, each seeking reassurance by reconnecting with their own real, familiar lives. 

            I would like to write emotion. My characters are not shallow people, at least not in my head. They do have emotions. I admire what I consider 'restrained emotion.' That's what I want to write.  Perhaps not quite so restrained as Cormack McCarthy. 
My daughter, who knows me and my work, says I should take care not to be too subtle. She says I should read Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants." That I'm more like him than I care to admit. And maybe that's not such a bad thing.