Tag Archives: creative writing

Mr. Bob Dobalina (flash fiction)

I was listening to the excellent podcast “The History of Rock Music in 500 Songs” by Andrew Hickey when the idea to write something based on “Zilch” by The Monkees came to me. Before hearing the particular episode on The Monkees, I’d never heard “Zilch.” If you haven’t heard it either, it was meant to be a throw-away filler track, though it seems to have enjoyed more of a life than what was expected. You can see the lyrics, such as they are, here.

I downloaded the album Headquarters on which “Zilch” can be found, and then listened to the track a few times before sitting down and writing this odd this bit of flash fiction. It’s quite rough, so forgive any typos I may have missed.

He sat in the waiting room, his left leg bouncing up and down in place, a nervous habit he’d had since childhood. He remembered his mother placing her hand gently on his knee to stop the movement, which she claimed shook the whole dinner table. What would she say to him? Something about—

“Mr. Dobalina? Mr. Bob Dobalina?”

His leg kept its pace as he continued looking at the magazine without really seeing it. It was a magazine about sailing and ships, about which he knew nothing. Except…that wasn’t true, was it? His brother worked on a ship, didn’t he? The China Clipper. Where was it docked? Some place in California?

The intercom in the small waiting room crackled to life: “China Clipper calling Alemeda.”

That was it. Alemeda. But why would someone say that over the intercom in a doctor’s office?

“Mr. Dobalina? Mr. Bob Dobalina?”

He looked up and saw that the nurse at the reception desk was looking directly at him, as if he was Bob Dobalina. But that was ridiculous, not only because it wasn’t his name but because it was the beginning of a song by The Monkees called “Zilch.” A silly, throw-away track on their excellent album Headquarters that would get in his head and roll around.

The intercom repeated: ““China Clipper calling Alemeda.”

This time, he felt a chill overtake his body. What if something had happened to his brother? What if he was hurt or lost at sea? He jumped up and went to the desk, determined to ask the nurse if he could borrow the phone to make a long-distance call. He’d pay for it, of course. He had money. He was a lawyer, after all.

The nurse regarded him with a blank look and said again, “Mr. Dobalina? Mr. Bob Dobalina?”

He shook his head furiously. “Listen to me, I need your phone, it’s an emergency.” He reached over the desk and grabbed the phone. The nurse didn’t react. He brought the receiver to his ear and heard someone say, ““Mr. Dobalina? Mr. Bob Dobalina?”

“What the hell is going on?” he asked as he slammed the phone down. He didn’t have time for this. In fact, he had an upcoming case he should be working on. Why was he at the doctor’s office again?

“Never mind the furthermore, the plea is self defense.” Those words resonated with him.

As a lawyer, he knew all too well the importance of self-defense in a case. But he also knew how difficult it could be to prove. The line played over and over in his head, as he thought about his upcoming trial.

“It is of my opinion that the people are intending,” he muttered to himself, finally realizing what it meant. He had to win this case, not just for his client, but for the people. He had to show that justice would prevail, and that the innocent would be protected.

But what about his brother? What about his own health? The phone at the nurse’s station suddenly rang, but the nurse kept her blank stare and didn’t move. Cursing, he jerked the phone off its cradle and shouted. “Who is this?”

The voice on the other end said quietly, “Mr. Dobalina? Mr. Bob Dobalina?”

“Who are you?” he screamed.

The intercom crackled again, and he sank to his knees, sobbing, as the voice uttered the same report about the China Clipper. The phone line went dead as the nurse said once more, “Mr. Dobalina? Mr. Bob Dobalina?”

He stood, regained his composure, and nodded. The nurse’s face lit with a beatific smile, and she said, “The doctor will see you now.”

Bob Dobalina walked through the center door, not noticing how the door seemed to be disappearing as he passed through. He was walking forward. That was what he knew. “Never mind the furthermore, the plea is self defense. It is of my opinion that the people are intending,” he told himself, treating the words like a mantra instead of the nonsense he knew them to be.

The Only Beach Boy Who Could Surf (fiction)

Apparently, I posted this story in 2015 but made it private. I’m not sure why I did that. I just gave it a once-over and made a few changes. The story’s better than I remembered.

I found him at the bottom of the pool, dead. I sat in a chair and smoked a cigarette, thinking about all the years I wasted with his sorry ass. 24 years. We were only a few months away from our 25th anniversary…he couldn’t have waited a little longer before he died? 25 is a nicer number, and it says more about my long-suffering. Yep, 25 years I spent with Walter, I could say. 25 years of his drinking, womanizing, lying, stealing, and all the other shit he got up to. It just sounds better than 24 years of his drinking, womanizing, and so on.

Marjorie wandered out from the house, sleep still in her eyes, wearing one of my extra bathrobes. I had four or five, all gifts from Walter. He thought I liked them when the truth is, I couldnt give a rat’s hairy ballsack about bathrobes. I’m always hot after a shower or bath and I liked to parade around naked. Walter used to like that, way back at the start of everything. 

Marjorie bummed a smoke from me and stared in the pool. “That Walter?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Huh. He’s not floating.”

“Bodies don’t float for long.”

“And how do you know that, Miss Priss?”

“Saw it on a Law & Order or something. Or maybe I read it sometime. Does it matter?”

“No, I reckon not.” Marjorie plopped her fat self in the chair beside me. She still had her rollers in but she’d put on lipstick. The filter of her cigarette looked bloody. “Well, now what?”

I flicked my cigarette in the pool. It hissed when it hit the water. God knows the last time we’d had the thing cleaned. Walter had died in some nasty water, that’s for sure. “I guess we could call the police,” I said. 

“You kill him?”

“No. I came out here and found him at the bottom of the pool. My guess is that he got drunk and tumbled in.”

“Like that Beach Boy.”

Lord, what was Marjorie yapping about? I knew better than to ignore her. Just like my youngest son, Nate, when he was four and he asked one of his endless questions. After what felt like the hundredth question, I’d ignore him, and he’d hitch his voice up a couple of octaves and say “Mama!” until I thought my damn head would burst. 

I lit another cigarette. “What Beach Boy would that be?”

“The only good-looking one, Dennis. Remember, the drummer? He got drunk and fell off a boat and drowned. Did you know he was the only one who surfed?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“That always rubbed me the wrong way. I mean, how can you call yourselves The Beach Boys when only one of you guys can even surf? That song ‘Surfin’ Safari’ is nothing but a pack of lies.”

I’d often imagined finding Walter dead–dead in his chair, dead in the driveway from a heart attack, and even dead where he slept all those years right beside me. But I didn’t ever imagine sitting here with my best friend talking about how The Beach Boys betrayed the public’s trust while Walter’s body lay at the bottom of the pool.

“Well, I guess I’ll make a little breakfast and put the rest of my face on,” Marjorie said, groaning as she lifted herself out of the chair. “Let me know what you decide to do.”

“Okay,” I said. “You’ll put on a pot of coffee?”

“You know it.”

“Sounds good.”

I sat by the pool for a little longer before going back in to get a cup of coffee. Marjorie made it extra-strong, which I liked. She’d been staying with us for about a week by that point. I remember Walter pulling me aside after two days and hissing, “Now just when is she gonna be on her merry little way?”

“Whenever the mood strikes her, I guess,” I said. “You know Marjorie. Free like the wind.”

“She’s not living here.”

“Who said anything about her living here? She’s got a nice place of her own in Waycross, you know that.”

“Well, I know women like Marjorie and you don’t,” Walter said, ignoring the obvious problem with his statement. Walter fancied himself knowledgeable about many things when in fact what he knew was limited to HVAC repair, cheap beer, and chasing ass. . So-called “women like Marjorie” scared the pants off him because they didn’t rely on a man and they mostly did what they damn well pleased. Like taking off on a whim and coming to visit me without a specific end date in mind.

Marjorie was thumbing through the newspaper when I sat down at the kitchen table with my coffee. She hadn’t put the rest of her face on; she was still just wearing lipstick, her curlers, and a bathrobe. Well, what was the hurry? It’s not like we had a dead body in the pool or anything. Ha ha.

“You gonna call Nate and tell him his daddy died?” she asked.

“That can wait. Nate and Walter haven’t talked in nearly five years. No reason to dump this on him so early in the morning. Maybe after lunch.”

Marjorie shook her head and her curlers did a little dance. I was always envious of her hair. I could do something with mine, but I never saw the point. I sure as hell wouldn’t put rollers in at night. I caught my reflection in the mirror the other day and thought I look like someone children would be frightened of.

“Well, this is your show,” Marjory said, “I’m just an audience member.” She put her plate and coffee mug in the sink and went back to the guest room.

I stayed at the table, thinking. Our 24 years together hadn’t been all bad. We’d been in love once. I remember how handsome Walter looked when he got out of basic training. I thought I was the luckiest girl on Earth as we walked through town, my arm in his. I lost my virginity to him before he shipped out and I promised to wait for him. And that’s what I did. We got married, and before long, Nate was born. I had a hysterectomy in 1976, so no more kids for us. That was fine with Walter, who never wanted kids anyway.

I could almost forgive Walter for losing interest in me, for letting himself go and drinking so much, but I had a harder time forgiving what he did to Nate. He didn’t rough him up or anything like that. He just never showed any interest in him. Nate was a weird kid, I’ll admit it, but every boy needs his father to support him. Hell, to at least take him fishing or show him how to shoot a gun or work on a car. Nate hung around Walter like a lost puppy, and Walter never paid him any mind. When I confronted him about it, Walter would just shake his head and say, “Everything’s fine between us. Leave it alone.”

Well, if everything had been fine, they wouldn’t have gone five years without talking. I looked over at the phone. I knew I should call Nate and the police. I glanced at the clock and noticed it wasn’t even nine o’clock yet. For all the police knew, I slept every day until eleven. Nate knew better, though. He knew I still got up around six, after so many years of doing so and making Walter’s breakfast.

I walked back out to the pool and looked in the water, suddenly convinced that Walter would no longer be there. But there he was in the same position: face down, arms spread out. He was wearing his work jeans and a flannel shirt, tucked in as always, his graying hair spread out like a halo.

“Oh, no you don’t,” I told myself when I felt tears prick my eyes. But I couldn’t help it. My husband was dead.

Before I knew it, I was in the water. It was warm. I waded over toward the middle of the pool where Walter was and peered down. The image of him swirled and for a moment, I could pretend that he’d just dived down to the bottom for fun. Not that he was down there because he was a drunk and he’d drowned, just like that Beach Boy Marjorie talked about.

What was that Beach Boys song I always liked? Lord, I couldn’t remember anything anymore.

“Walter,” I said, and my voice scared me. It didn’t sound like me at all. I tried to say his name again, but nothing came out. I dipped my head under water. Walter looked peaceful, his body not completely touching the bottom of the pool.

“God Only Knows.” That was the name of the song. I took my head out of the water and tried to sing it: I may not always love you, but long as there are stars above you…

That’s as far as I could get.

Merry Christmas, Or Something (micro fiction)

I vaguely remember writing this short piece. I was looking through old work when I stumbled upon it and decided to make a few changes her and there. I may have posted it here before, but I’m too lazy to look.

There’s nothing left for me here, but that doesn’t mean I’m leaving.

I’ve grown accustomed to the ache, the longing to be elsewhere, which is what I feel most days. Some days, it’s all I can think about. Me grabbing what I can cram in Mama’s pink and brown suitcase and shoving his old car in gear,  willing it to work at least across the state line. I don’t felt that way when he starts playing that old guitar, the one his father stole for him the Christmas he turned thirteen, that he doesn’t touch unless he’s been drinking. He coaxes such beautiful music from the instrument, it nearly makes up for his wreck of a voice, his hesitant delivery, the way he stumbles over words he should know.

“You don’t understand music,” he always tells me, but what he means is, “You know more that I do,” so I keep my mouth shut and listen to him. The music is like a lover, a more patient one than him, this would-be musician playing in our tiny, cramped living room 

The winter night lurks outside the windows, waiting to creep in when the lights are off and we’re in bed, clothes scattered through the place, his hands wandering across my body, re-staking his claim to make sure my dreams of leaving don’t come true for a little while longer.

Mary, Queen of Eyeballs

Mary, Queen of Eyeballs

Her reign had its ups and downs,
like the time Sir Bevel went blind and
begged for an audience, to which the
queen grudgingly agreed, sitting on
her throne—idly toying with two slick
eyeballs, fresh from the skull of Lady
Jordanson, late of the world as of ten
minutes ago—and waiting for Sir Bevel.

“Mine eyes failed me!” cried Sir Bevel
upon his arrival, and the queen sighed.
“You failed yourself,” she said and clapped
her hands once, prompting the guards to
seize Sir Bevel, who shrieked and carried on
until the queen held his sightless orbs and
decided they would adorn her crown, their
cloudy pupils close to her favorite shade of blue.

Regrets

You buried your
regrets in the backyard
and they took root,
blooming every spring.
Rather than fight it,
you water them with
your tears and cut their
blossoms to adorn
your hair and spread
in your bathwater.

I visit you one still,
gray afternoon and find
you standing amidst
the overgrowth, the yard
practically taken over with
blood-dark petals, and you
say, “I’ll never sell this
damn house now, will I?”

Mental Health, Writing, and the Slippery Nature of Time

If you were to ask me, “How long has it been since you’ve written anything?” my response would be as overly dramatic as it would be incorrect. I’m not great with time in general, and things that happened in the ’90s might as well have been a few months ago. My wife and children know better than to rely on me for accuracy in recalling when most things happened aside from birthdays and momentous events. Even with things like that, it’s better not to bring me into the conversation.

I just looked at my last post, which was in April, but it feels closer to a year ago. Whenever I take extended breaks from writing, two things happen. First, I’m utterly convinced that I’ll never write again, and second, the break will feel exponentially longer than the actual time period. This has been the case since early high school, when I set myself on the path to be a Writer, the capital W carrying the distinction of being a published writer one day, as if that magically changes anything about the nature of writing itself. Of course it doesn’t; I’ve been a writer since I was nine years old and wrote a strange free-verse poem about the nature of God that freaked my conversative grandmother out.

In any case, the pandemic and lockdowns took my already depleted passion for writing (depletion set in motion by a house fire we endured in 2019) and pretty much killed it. I suppose I shouldn’t say killed it…let’s say choked it to a point that all vital signs dropped so low as to be practically undetectable. During that time and into the current world situation of another American mass shooting, the odd specter of monkeypox (it really needs a better name), and the increasing dumbassery of folks like Marjorie Taylor Greene in my adopted home of Georgia, I’ve stayed med-compliant but also away from the keyboard and journal. This weekend, for some reason, the fog lifted somewhat. Perhaps it’s because I went to my church to rehearse for our upcoming VBS (vacation Bible school, for those not familiar with the term) during which I’ll don the felt after a two-year hiatus and perform the puppet. When I was there–interacting with people in earnest for the first time in over two years–I felt a twinge of my former self emerge. I’m still an introvert and prefer being alone to doing anything social, but it felt almost good to be around people. I say “almost” because I’ll never be completely shed of social anxiety and the grab-bag of other neuroses that have permanent residency my brain. I’ve come to accept that about myself, and I’m proud that none of my issues prevented me from saying yes to performing during this year’s VBS.

What does that mean for me creatively? Will I start writing music again (a rather recent casualty after an impressive pandemic run of writing two or three songs a day)? Will I start writing in the morning again as I drink coffee, like I used to?

I’m not sure. I’m rather surprised to find myself writing this, which is easily the longest, blog-like thing I’ve written in years… no exaggeration. I’ll continue trying to take it easy on myself and not give too much credence to my inner-critic voice that can come up with some truly hateful things to say. Maybe I’ll see if I can still tune into the Cosmic Signal and shake loose a poem tomorrow. I hope so. Until then, vacuuming and cleaning the kitchen beckons me, and I should answer. Be well.

P.S. There are mostly likely several typos in this post, and they’ll just have to stay there.