Tag: flash fiction

Mr. Loper Refuses to Sell Hysterectomy Sandwiches (flash fiction?)

I guess this is flash fiction. It’s really just stream-of-consciousness prose, but that’s an awkward phrase. Whatever, it’s not poetry, but it has the earmarks of one of my poems. That is, it’s weird.

“I’ll have the hysterectomy sandwich, please,” Donald said and passed his gloves to the matronly woman to his left who was busily and nastily gnawing on an old chicken bone. Dog-like she was in her ways, but not dog-like enough to catch anyone’s attention for more than a second or two.

The deli manager, Mr. Loper, forced his way through the kitchen’s double doors and barked, “Sonny, we don’t serve hysterectomy sandwiches. This ain’t 1958!”

“I beg to differ,” Donald replied smoothly. “It may not be 1958, but your menu clearly states that you sell hysterectomy sandwiches, and your Facebook page proclaims it, as well. Therefore, you are—dare I say?—honor bound to accommodate my request.”

“Pea squash!” Mr. Loper shrieked at an incredibly high volume and intensity, enough to make the doggish woman howl in response and the other patrons (a salt shaker, two wizened biscuits, and a pony from Teddy Roosevelt’s time) shudder.

“You’re telling me you won’t make my hysterectomy sandwich?” demanded Donald. He was in quite a tizzy, red-faced and red-assed, ready to make war with Mr. Loper. He had brass knuckles. He could handle himself, by God.

“That’s what I’m telling you!” Mr. Loper answered and shot his fist into the sky. “Vive la difference!”

“I’ll never dine here again,” Donald said, kicking a chair out of his way as he strode toward the mammoth door.

“Hallelieghluuah,” said the Dog Lady. She never learned to spell the word, but it was close enough.

Ms. Volta and Mr. Charlie Pincushion (Surreal Flash Fiction #2)

“Well, fuck me on a Tuesday,” said Ms. Volta, inspiring others around her to remove their clothes and curse. The others were blank slates, genderless, and were fond of violin solos that made them cry.

“It’s not Tuesday, Ms. Volta,” Mr. Charlie Pincushion said delicately. His veins, blue and beautiful, trembled in anticipation. His heart thundered like a little horse tramping in the grass.

“No, it isn’t,” Ms. Volta sighed. She dismissed the others, who left their clothes behind. Ms. Volta burned them. She and Mr. Charlie Pincushion roasted frogs over the flames.

“I found a new job,” Mr. Charlie Pincushion announced. Frog juice dribbled down his bearded chin.

Ms. Volta was not turned on, but she wasn’t hungry any more, either, so that was okay. “What was wrong with your old one?” she asked.

“Benefits were bad. Didn’t include enough…you know.”

“No, I don’t.”

Mr. Charlie Pincushion blushed a royal shade. “It didn’t include coverage for murder,” he whispered.

“Ah, yes. Good murder coverage is hard to come by these days.”

Mr. Charlie Pincushion ate the last of his frog. “This new job has great murder coverage, though. It’ll kick in after thirty days. After that, I’ll get back to it.”

“Any prospective targets?” Ms. Volta cleaned her nails with a French knife.

Mr. Charlie Pincushion smiled. “A few.”

“Anyone I know?”

“Steve Handler, the Microscopic Twit.”

“Interesting. I don’t have anyone in mind. I’m sure that’ll change, though.”

“If you ever need some ideas, Ms. Volta—”

Ms. Volta raised a thin hand. It flickered in and out of existence. “No, no. I can find my own people to kill.”

The two sat in front of the burning clothes until night fell. As the moon climbing into the purple sky, Mr. Charlie Pincushion fell asleep. Ms. Volta stabbed him in the heart at 2:34 AM. Mr. Charlie Pincushion’s eyes flew open and stayed that way.

“If it had been a Tuesday, I would have fucked you instead,” Ms. Volta said softly.

Surreal Flash Fiction #1

Traditional fiction and the story I was working on stalled (as did poetry) and this is what’s been coming out instead.

Henry Needed Something Stronger, And It Was His Undoing

The coffee wasn’t going to cut it. Henry needed something stronger. Blood, maybe. Yes.

He dragged himself into the bedroom where the girl slept. He grabbed his tiny pocket knife—still sharp, twenty years after his father gave it to him—and carved a little flesh from the girl. She moaned and stirred in bed but didn’t wake up. Henry thought he deserved points for that.

He collected blood in a small paper cup. It struck him how many wee things he used. Tiny knife, small cup. Perhaps the solution to his problem lay in his size.

Henry drank the blood, which shrank him down considerably. He was perhaps two inches tall now. Beside him, the knife and cup was huge.

The girl woke and felt her wounded leg. “Henry,” she sighed, “have you been cutting me again?”

“Yes,” Henry said. “Also, I’m very small now.”

The girl looked over the edge of the bed at tiny Henry. “So you are. Did you make coffee?”

“Yes. I needed something stronger, so…you know.”

The girl nodded. “I know.”

She swung out of bed and stepped on Henry. She savored the crunch of his small bones. She trailed a bloody footprint as she walked into the kitchen. As it turned out, the coffee was just fine.

Gabrielle (flash fiction)

Earlier this morning, I read an excellent article about flash fiction and then wrote the following. Flash fiction isn’t one of my strengths, but I work on the craft from time to time.

“Are you a serious poet or not?” Gabrielle asked, leaning against me, having drank too much, having breathed in the dust of bad memories, hazy and crazy as her hair.

“No, I just fuck around on the page,” I said, half meaning it, half wanting to smack Gabrielle across the room. Of course I was serious, serious as the blood in my veins, coursing like a loping dog…that is, slower than I’d like for it to, because I’m getting older, as Gabrielle pointed out yesterday as we lay in bed after a mid-afternoon tryst. It was brief and brilliant, the memory of it still hanging in my chest and clear in my mind, not muddled a bit by her drinking, which you’d think I’d be used to by this point. Jesus.

“I’m a serious poet,” Gabrielle said and swayed over to sit on the piano bench. Don’t play, please, I said to her with my mind because sometimes she hears me. Not that time. She opened the keyboard cover and trailed her fingers down the keys. The sound set my teeth on edge and I nearly dashed over and grabbed her off the bench. Instead, I forced my muscles into stillness and listened to her horrible plunking of the keys and drunken nonsense.

“I’m going to publish a chapbook and you’re not,” Gabrielle said, the fingers of her right hand curling to strike a chord—F major, so it should have been her thumb, middle finger, and pinkie, but she fucked it all up and used her thumb, index, and finger finger, the latter of which slipped and so butchered the chord.

“Are you now?” I said.

“And it’s going to win some major fucking award and I’ll get an agent.”

“Poets like us don’t get agents, Gabrielle.”

She—my girlfriend of two years, my lover, my Lost Girl, my Burning Angel, the source of my hatred and long—smiled at me, her teeth stained with coffee, wine, cigarettes. “There’s no us when it comes to writing, you presumptive bastard,” she said. “It’s just me while you trail somewhere behind.”

Gabrielle wasn’t like this sober, which was less and less these days. I moved out of the room as she continued trying to play chords and mostly failing.

I poured the last of the wine down the sink and tried not to listen, which is kind of like trying to not breathe. The massacred notes bombarded the kitchen for a few minutes and then suddenly stopped. When I came back into the living room, I found Gabrielle curled up and sobbing on the sofa.

“Do you hate me?” she cried out as she slammed her hands against her head.

I wanted to…but I didn’t. I sat beside her and gathered her heaving form, cradled her like a child, whispered soothing things into her hair.

When she finally fell asleep later, I undressed her calmly, put her on pajamas, and tucked her into bed. Then I sat at the piano, playing songs from memory, knowing the sound wouldn’t come close to waking her.

A Couple of Swells (short story)

I suppose one day I could submit stories for publication, but I know nothing about the market…and I have enough to do with submitting poetry. In the meantime, I’m happy to post fiction here.

Since my time to writing is limited (usually forty-five minutes a day), I’m trying to write a complete draft rather than writing for a bit and leaving characters in permanent limbo. This one came rather easily after the first line.

A Couple of Swells

“What the fuck was that?” Judy Garland’s ghost asked, looking up at the ceiling. “What do you have up there, a team of wild horses?”

That time, she appeared as young Judy Garland, right at the start of her career. Sometimes, when she was feeling cranky, she showed up as she was in the 1960s. Still larger than life, still able to command an audience like none other…but tired. Wearing thin at the edges.

I sighed. It was just more ghosts, but I didn’t want to get into with Judy. She was something of a drama queen, which probably doesn’t surprise you. I was just glad that Mickey Rooney’s shade hadn’t shown up because God knows it would have been a bitch-fest broken up by sporadic dance numbers. The whole thing was just plain uncomfortable.

“I asked you a question, Darren,” Judy said in her most imperious tone. She stamped her foot on the ground, which didn’t make a sound. Unlike my guests upstairs, the only noise Judy made was from her voice. The woman could still belt it out, but it was clear to me that night she had no interest in singing. At least, not at that moment.

I could have lied, which I did sometimes, but she often found out the truth, and then she was pissed.”It’s a dinner party.”

“Oh, delightful,” Judy purred. “Shall I go up and entertain?”

“No, I don’t think that’s wise. Just stay down here with me.”

Judy pouted, and it was hard to take her seriously. “And why must you be the only one to enjoy my presence tonight?” she asked.

“Because I know those ghosts up there, and they probably don’t want anything to do with you. They’re more into punk.”

“Oh, they’re ghosts,” she said, drawing out the word as she lowered her head as if ready to weep. “And here I thought you’d actually gotten some friends.”

Judy didn’t like competition, but at least the ghosts stayed upstairs that night. She’d gotten into terrible fights with other ghosts who’d showed up on what she referred to as “her nights.” When that happened, she demanded everyone pay attention to her or get the hell out. She’d look at me, demanding my help, as if I could disperse the other ghosts. I could not more do that than I could summon them. They came and went as they wished.

Judy, on the other hand, could clear a room. There were notable exceptions, of course, including those she didn’t want to leave. Frank Sinatra was always welcome to stay, as was Sammy Davis, Jr. Of Dean Martin, she said, “That man is deplorable, and I’d rather drink a gallon of kerosene and swallow a match than spend a mere moment of my afterlife with him.”

Judy perched herself on my sofa, crossed her legs, and scrutinized me. “Darren, you look horrible,” she pronounced. “Are you getting enough sleep? Eating well?”

“I’m fine, just a little worn-out from the day,” I said, keeping the real reasons to myself. So far, and to my great surprise, I’d been able to keep from Judy the girlfriend I’d had for the last few months, but that secrect wouldn’t be a problem anymore.

“No, there’s more to it than that,” she said. “But if you’re not going to be honest, what can I do?” She snapped her fingers. “I’ll sing to you! That’ll at least make you feel better!”

“Oh, no, Miss Garland,” I tried protesting, “that’s not really necessary to–”

It was too late, as always. Judy blasted into “Zing! Went the Strings of my Heart,” and zing, came the headache. I don’t mean to sound cruel; she still has an incredible voice, but you haven’t been two feet away from her when she’s singing. Her voice is like a physical object in the room, forcing itself on it whether or not you want it. I pulled a happy-ish face. When she finished the song, she slugged me on the shoulder and said, “Still glum, chum?”

“No, I feel better,” I said, convincingly, I hoped. “I always do after you sing.”

We heard another crash upstairs, followed by raucous, drunken laughter. Judy scowled at the ceiling, saying, “Listen, if you want me to man-handle those bastards up there, just give me the word.”

“It’s okay, really. They’ll settle down and be out of here before you know it. How about another song?”

Judy’s face lit up. “Now we’re talking, buster. Which one? I got a million and two, you know.”

See, that’s my real job. I’m here to make sure they’re okay, and even though I had a splitting headache that night and bummed out about Tiffany, I knew Judy showed up because she needed an audience, just as the ghosts upstairs needed to have a crazy dinner party. I offered sanctuary of a sort, and I took my role seriously. Too seriously, probably, because I’m sure that’s why Tiffany ditched me. I never let her come over to my place, and I cancel dates left and right when ghosts showed up, needing something.

“You certainly do, Miss Garland,” I said. “How about ‘By Myself’?”

Judy wrinkled up her nose. “That’s a little blue, don’t you think?”

“Well, maybe, but you sing it so well.”

That was all it took. “Anything for you, darling,” she cooed and began singing softly.

I closed my eyes and leaned back, reminding myself that no one else on Earth was as lucky as me at that moment, having a personal concert given by Miss Judy Garland herself, dead nearly 50 years…but with me at that moment. A little transparent, a little monochrome, but beautiful as could be.

Experimental Writer?

The writer Lydia Davis, with whom I’ve just become acquainted, said in a 2007 interview with the Boston Globe,

“I haven’t met a so-called experimental writer who likes the term. It must be people who aren’t experimental writers who call people experimental. It’s just the wrong word. ‘Experiment’ carries the suggestion that it may not work. I prefer the idea of being adventurous, exploring forms.”

Davis’ quote keeps ringing in my head and makes me wonder about the fiction I write. Is it experimental? Maybe. Most of my pieces aren’t “finished” in the traditional sense, and most of them flow from brain to fingers to keyboard. I write and then usually I have to go teach, or change the laundry, or make supper, or tend to one of my children. I rarely have hours stretched before me in which I can write. I would love to believe I’d fill that time with writing (now that I’m sober, I have a better shot at that), but I’m not sure if I would. 

I suppose Davis is right when she says that experiment may carry the idea that the piece may not work. Another way of looking at that “not work” is failure, and that’s not something I apply to my writing anymore. I like some pieces better than others, but none of them are failures. The only failure is when I don’t write. 

Shifting gears slightly, a colleague of mine asked recently what I wanted to be when I grow up. My truest answer is a full-time writer. Since I’m only 42, it’s an achievable goal. In the meantime, I’ll continue to teach, write poems…

and “experiment” with pieces like the following.

Dr. Bee and the Nurse

He couldn’t tell if there was going to be an end to the meal this time, but he knew if there wasn’t, his daughter would have something distracting to say about it. He supposed he was programmed for that, so he shouldn’t complain? Right? Like he was a yes-man to everything else in this god-forsaken world, so why not that? Why not when it came to his little deaths, his children? King Lear never had it so bad.

Now, why did he go and say something like that? For one thing, he had sons, not daughters so there was one huge difference between himself and King fucking Lear. There were others, he knew, but he couldn’t remember more than the gist of the play right now. That was happening more and more lately, his inability to recall poems, plot lines, entire plays he used to teach, year after year, to classes of mouth-breathing Philistines who wouldn’t know good literature if it reared up and took a money shot to their balls or wee little pussies, so pristine and good, pure stock from the Puritan passed down and watered through baptisms and Baptist fellowship chicken bakes, where fat fathers stuffed their sweating bodies into ill-made suits and Mamas bathed in cheap perfume because you never knew who was looking or smelling. One couldn’t be too careful, even the Holy Spirit picked up on whiffs of sin, and what better way to mask that than with oie de toilette and bacon fat?

Oh, to be forty again, he thought, moaning a little. Was he asleep or just comfortably reclined? Who the fuck knew? “Comfortably Numb,” his oldest son, Falcon, would say, trying his damnedest to sing. The old man didn’t care for the original, let alone his idiot son’s butchering of the song. Jesus Christ, he was thirsty! And not for water, which is all the headstrong and head-banded nurses, seriously suffering in the art of beside manner and tender ministrations, seemed to bring. What about some whiskey, for God’s sake?! Something with some fucking kick to it, not just water, and for the food! Jello which shook like some red lady’s pock-marked ass, and some kind of torture-gruel that looked unfit for prisoners-of-war.

What was that dream, where I was the hero? What fucking war was that? Korea? Vietnam? The Big One that left Owen in a wheelchair, covered in his own shit half the time until his cross-eyed whore of a wife thought to change him? Jesus, so much suffering, so much pain on this blasted rock, and most of it never documented in pages, just left to rot in the minds of rotting bodies in the rotting ground. None of it matters.

He was sure he was awake now. The lights were brighter, poppier, and noises had the acute taste of metal. A fine meal to satisfy this craving, he told himself, and then he said it aloud, his voice a rusty pipe banged on by a screwdriver.

“Say what, Dr. Bee?” asked the nurse absent-mindedly, hovering somewhere near him, her giant, pillow-like arms able to suffocate him in a snake’s split-second. Oh, he knew! He knew! How could he not know?

“Say what, Dr. Bee?” the nurse asked again, taking a moment to cough up something extreme and hideous, her chest vibrating and nearly exploding with juice, the kind that made the Good Doctor wonder what the hell was next. Some drugs, he dared hope. Anything to take the sting of this pitiful existence away.

Did he have daughters? He did not. “I do not,” he said.

The nurse craned her head, big as a child’s balloon about to pop, toward him. “I gotta change you now,” she said. “Time to get and see if them britches is clean or soiled.”

“If you come near me,” said The Teacher, clear as a newly forged, bronze bell–the kind that’s inscribed with philosophy, its tongue made of some kind of amazing metal that never fades nor loses its ability to coax dulcet tones from its outer shell–the lip, shall we call it?–and therefore, the peals would go on and vibrate into eternity–“I will cut your jugular and watch you bleed like a stuck hog.”

Well…that took care of absolutely nothing. The nurse changed him and out the door she went, muttering curses.

Merry Christmas, or Something (flash fiction re-post)

I originally posted this in November 2012, and something reminded me about this piece of flash fiction. Heavens, it’s dark. For the record, I feel pretty good this morning. The speaker’s tone doesn’t reflect my current state…though I imagine I was pretty down when I first wrote this.

Merry Christmas, Or Something

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, and that’s usually enough most days. The nights are what worry me, when he starts playing that old guitar, the one his father stole for him a thousand Christmases ago, that he doesn’t touch unless he’s been drinking, transforming it from a piece of junk into a troubadour’s dream.

He coaxes such painfully beautiful music from the instrument, it nearly makes up for his caterwaul of a voice, his hesitant delivery, the way he stumbles over words he should know
because I know them and just about everyone who isn’t deaf knows them, too.

“You don’t understand music,” he always tells me, but what he means is, “You know a shitload more about it than I do,” so I keep my mouth shut and listen to him, settling against my longing to leave like it’s another lover, a more patient one than him, this would-be musician singing in a destroyed living room.

The winter night looms 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 dream to get the fuck out of this town doesn’t come true, the dream where I grab what I can, cram it in Mama’s pink and brown suitcase and shove his old car in gear, willing it to work at least across the state line.

Cutter (flash fiction)

“I need to feel something,” Lauren said. She wanted me he to cut her. I didn’t want to, but the pain in her eyes convinced me. I knew the relief would be more powerful if I did it. I sighed and reached for the knife I’d sterilized earlier.

“Where?” I asked quietly. We were naked in bed. The outline of her breasts showed through the thin sheets, but I didn’t get hard. There was nothing sexual about this, for either of us.

“On my upper arm,” Lauren said, turning her head away from me. She didn’t like watching me cut; she liked the surprise of the pain, the sting that opened the floodgate. Carefully, I pulled back the sheet. I kissed a spot right above her left bicep before I pressed the knife into her flesh.

I heard her draw a sharp breath, followed by a moan of pleasure. The blood, bright red, trickled down her arm. I grabbed a tissue and blotted it away and asked, “More?”

“One. Right below.”

I made another precise cut . Again, Lauren drew a breath and moaned. She began crying. “Thank you,” she said, turning over after I cleaned off her arm, rubbing it first with alcohol, two dabs of Neosporin and finally applying two small Band-Aids. This was the way things had been since I took over most of the cutting. If she insisted on continuing it, she would do it safely. I tried not to be angry with her when I discovered untreated, uncovered cuts. She liked to cut her the back of her neck, and the wounds would turn angry if I didn’t catch them.

The sun had fallen by the time she curled into me. Her eyes, clear from pain, looked sleepy. “Thank you,” she said again.

“You’re welcome,” I told her and kissed her. She leaned into the kiss, but I knew sex was out of the question. That was OK. I’d already caused enough destruction.