Tag Archives: short fiction

People watching – short fiction

 

A tall man in a blue work shirt yanked open the door to the bank. He pulled off his yellow, Caterpillar baseball cap and whacked it against his thigh. He ran his hand through his hair and looked around before making his way to the coffee bar near the front window. After contemplating the setup for a moment, he picked up one of the disposable coffee pods and brought it close to his face, squinting as if he couldn’t read the label. He returned it to the counter, not bothering to put it back in the bin it had come from, and chose another one. Satisfied, he put it into the machine and pushed a button. With no haste, he put a plastic-coated cup in place just in time to catch the hot stream.

When the cup was full, he took a sip. No sugar, no cream, no need to stir. He didn’t remove the spent pod, either.

On his way back to the door he paused. “You’re outta Southern Pecan,” he said.

“I’ll make a note of that, Sir,” said one of the tellers.

He flipped his cap back on and left.caterpillar hat

Mia must have been staring, because the teller who was helping her said, “It happens all the time. We’re like Starbucks, only free. Did you want a cup?”

“No, thank you. Why don’t you tell them it’s for customers?”

“Because,” she replied as she fit a stack of bills into the automatic counting machine, “that guy could be worth millions to the bank one day.”

That guy?”

“You never know,” she said.

The other teller, a young Indian woman wearing a blue blazer, came hurrying out from behind the counter. She held open the door for a man in an electric wheelchair. He had no legs, not even stumps. He was a torso with arms. There was a tray across the front of his wheelchair, the kind you’d find in the seatback in front of you on a plane.

The young woman followed him to the counter, but didn’t go behind it. Instead she stopped with him and asked, “The usual?”

Mia couldn’t hear his response, but he reached into a black leather bag hanging off the side of his wheelchair and pulled out a ten-dollar bill. The teller took it, went behind the counter, and returned with a roll of quarters.

“There you go, Mr. Price. All set?”

He must have said yes, because she said, “Right then. Let me get the door for you.”

Mia watched as he rolled to the sidewalk and waited at a cross walk. When the traffic stopped, he propelled himself across the street onto the opposite sidewalk. She watched until he was out of sight.

“Miss?”

She turned back to the teller, who handed her her cash with a small envelope.

“Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“No, thank you,” she replied.

“Sure you don’t want a cup of coffee?”

Mia smiled. “Maybe next time.”

Short fiction – Burying the past

The sun was hot and I was sweating. The velvet chair cover against my bare thighs felt strange, like wet dog. The Rabbi finished herding the guests into a semi-circle behind the chairs, which were reserved for family, and began to speak. The gist of it was that we were all invited to help bury the deceased. I’d been to Jewish funerals before so I knew the drill; we’d file by and toss some dirt onto the coffin. According to this Rabbi, though, it was “…customary to put in three shovelfuls and to turn the shovel upside down for the first one.”

How did you shovel upside down? Did you hold the shovel end and balance a bit of dirt on the handle? I tried to picture that and instead flashed on the first and only time I’d seen Deborah doing drugs. She’d forgotten to lock her bedroom door and I opened it just as she used her very long pinkie nail to scoop up some powder, bring it to her nose, and inhale. I was too young at the time to fully understand what I was seeing, but there was no mistaking what she did next. She put her index finger up to her lips to indicate that I wasn’t to say anything. Then she narrowed her eyes, pointed at me, and slowly drew that same finger across her throat. That I understood. I was only six, but I knew what she was capable of.

That was a lifetime ago. I’m forty now. Deborah had just turned fifty. My parents were quite young when they had her; it was a shot-gun wedding. You would think, with a ten year separation between us, that I had been a mistake, and you would be right. That was never one of the family’s secrets, nor was the fact that Deborah was their favorite. I glanced to my right. My mother had her head on my father’s shoulder; his arm wrapped around her. I couldn’t hear her crying, but I could see my father’s arm moving up and down as her shoulders shook. He sat stoically, staring at the Rabbi, with tears streaming down his face. I flicked a fly off my skirt, unmoved.

Deborah’s drug problems consumed the family. They chipped away at us until there was no family left. Even after she moved out, ostensibly to go to college, she absorbed everyone’s attention. Her absence was as large as her physical presence. In and out of rehab she bounced, ruining lives along the way. During one rehab intermission she lived with my grandmother in Rockaway. When she left, all of Grandma’s jewelry went with her. She stole from everyone and sometimes when she wasn’t in rehab she was in jail.

The Rabbi touched my father on the shoulder and gestured toward the grave. My father stood up and pulled my mother with him, propping her up as they walked the few feet to the mound of dirt next to the hole in the ground. My father let go of my mother long enough to take the shovel, turn the rounded side up, and stick it into the pile of dirt. Now that I saw how it was done I felt foolish. I may even have blushed a bit in my secret shame. My father handed the shovel to my mother and she flinched as if she’d been burned.

“I can’t,” she moaned. “I can’t.” And then, just loud enough for the family in front to hear, she whispered, “I can’t bury my favorite child.”

My throat tightened, as if there were an obstruction that made it impossible for me to take a breath. I stood up, peeled my skirt from my legs, and did what I should have done many years earlier. I walked away.

Good old George

George was a happy guy; some thought unnaturally so. Life had not been kind to him and yet he had a smile for everyone, friend and stranger alike. If you were a friend, he would stop and ask how you were and share a story or a joke. If the situation presented itself, in line at the bank or filling his tank at the gas station, he might do the same with a stranger. People who knew George always walked away remarking how wonderful it was that he was such a happy man, “In spite of it all.”

Ginny was the opposite of George. She led a comfortable life, born into a family that had more money than it knew what to do with. Good fortune notwithstanding, she went through life with a sour expression on her face. She never had a kind word for a cashier or a waitress, nor did she acknowledge anyone on the street, and woe to the person who knocked on her door to ask if she was familiar with their candidate for school committee. It was not unusual for people to mutter, after encountering Ginny, “Bitch.”

Barleyville wasn’t a big town; most folks knew each other, at least in passing. And if they didn’t, they certainly knew the stories. George’s wife had passed away suddenly when they’d been married for less than a year. Everyone agreed that it was a horrible accident. And it had happened so soon after he lost his parents. If the dog hadn’t alerted George he might have succumbed to smoke inhalation, too.

Ginny and George had gone through school together, all the way from first grade to high school graduation. Ginny always said there was something suspicious about George’s wife’s passing. Most everyone thought she was jealous because she’d had a crush on George in high school. Ginny was the only person in town that George didn’t smile or nod at when they passed each other on the street.

There was a pond in Barleyville that froze over in the winter. Saturday mornings the peewee hockey players would be out there as soon as the sun came up. They had to get an early start because the men’s team took the ice at eleven sharp. They had to get their game in before the afternoon shift at the factory. When they left, the figure skaters came out, mostly women practicing figure eights and such, but there were lots of young people, too.

One Saturday in February, when the peewees got there, the police turned them back. It was the damnedest thing. Ginny had fallen into the pond at the one spot where it wasn’t frozen over. Everyone knew to avoid that spot. It was there every year. People were so used to it, the town didn’t even bother to put a sawhorse in front of it anymore. George was the one who found her. He’d tried to pull her out, but was afraid of going in himself, so he’d called 911 from his cellphone. The rescue squad was too late.

No one was particularly sorry to hear what had happened to Ginny. They did, however, feel bad for George, “After all he’d been through.”

One peewee player, Timmy, had been early the morning of Ginny’s accident. He told his dad later that he saw George with his hands in the water.  He wasn’t supposed to use bad words so he didn’t tell his dad that then he heard George say, “Bitch.”

And they danced

This week, more short fiction

***************

Sheila hadn’t known anyone at the wedding. She wasn’t even sure why she’d been invited. The mother of the bride was a distant relative of her father’s. She’d met her once; the bride, never. She nervously smoothed her gray, wrinkle-free skirt over her knees, plucking at the hem so it would reach further down. The knee-hi stockings were a mistake, but pantyhose made her sweat. You couldn’t see her knees when she was standing up, but when she sat down and crossed her legs the elasticized tops of the fake nylons were visible. She crossed her ankles instead. She felt like a child in a painting, posed and uncomfortable.

The wine glass she was holding was empty except for a thin, round slice of lemon. She’d asked for water at the bar and that’s what she’d been served. Why did they put lemon in it? If they thought people wanted flavor, why not serve lemonade? Maybe she should have had a glass of wine instead. She still could, she supposed; perhaps with the meal. It wouldn’t do to get light-headed though. She didn’t often come to town and she was nervous about finding her way home again.

She was sitting at table eleven, the furthest one from the head table, closest to the door to the kitchen. She didn’t mind that; it was also the furthest from the band. There were eight chairs and the two across from her had been claimed, tilted forward to rest on the edge of the table. Sheila assumed that their occupants were dancing or mingling. She hadn’t recognized any of the names on the other cards for table eleven, but she hadn’t expected to.

She was staring at the kitchen door, willing it to open so they could start the meal, which would give her something to do, when a voice to her right said, “Is this seat taken?”

Startled, she looked toward the floor, shaking her head in little movements from side to side, like a horse trying to twitch off a fly. The voice pulled the chair back from the table and sat down. She looked as far right as she could without moving a muscle. She could see most of the body, which appeared to be clad in a navy blue suit, and the black shoes, which needed polishing.

“Are you a friend of the bride’s or the groom’s?” the voice asked.

“Bride,” she mumbled without turning her head.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t understand that.”

“Bride,” she said again, as her cheeks exploded into color.

“Groom, here,” he said. “Actually, distant relative of groom. Never even met him.”

Surprised, she allowed her head to turn toward the voice. “Me, neither.”

“You’ve never met the groom either?”

“The bride. Never met the bride.”

“So why are we here?” he asked with a little laugh. It was a nice laugh, friendly.

Sheila shrugged and shifted in her seat, being careful not to uncross her ankles. She tried desperately to appear casual as she studied his face. It was a pleasant face with round cheeks and a high forehead. He wore rectangular black glasses with thick lenses. She assumed they were stylish; she knew nothing about fashion.

“What say we dance?” he asked, pushing back his chair.

“Oh, no, thank you. I don’t dance.”

“That’s okay, neither do I. We’ll pretend we do. Come on.” He held out his hand, inviting her to stand up and join him.

Sheila uncrossed her ankles and pushed back her own chair. She took his hand and as they walked to the dance floor, the elastic on her left leg gave up and her knee-hi stocking sagged to her ankle. And then they danced.

Short fiction

This week, short fiction for a change of pace.

*******

I was on the phone with my husband, Stanley, idly looking out the window while he debated with himself whether or not to buy a new video camera for our trip to Paris, when a banana peel came flying out of the green Jeep Cherokee parked across the street.

“Hey!” I interrupted him. “A woman in a car across the street just threw a banana peel out the window.”

“Go pick it up,” he said.

“While she’s sitting there? What if she has a gun?”

“Don’t be silly. Besides, why would she shoot you for picking up her garbage? Go get it and put it in the compost bin.”

“I’ll be totally exposed. What if she takes offense, or is annoyed, or just embarrassed? It could get ugly.”

“Take me with you. It’ll look like you’re absorbed in our conversation. When you get to the peel, you say, ‘Hang on,’ to me, pick it up and say, ‘I’ll throw this out for you,’ to her. It’ll seem totally casual.”

“Alright, I’m going downstairs. I’m on the porch, pretending to check the mailbox; nothing there. Now I’m on the front lawn. I’m walking across the lawn. This is so stupid; I can’t believe I’m doing it. I’m crossing the street.” The woman looked up as I neared the car. I reached down and straightened up with the banana peel held between the tips of my fingers. I said, with an edge, “I’ll throw this out.”

“Whatever,” she said, barely glancing at me. She was younger than I thought she would be, probably in her early twenties, and hard looking; too much makeup and a string of studs outlining her ear.

I couldn’t marshal anything appropriate to say, so I harrumphed without content and walked away. “I’m heading to the backyard,” I said to Stanley. “And I don’t have a bullet in my back so I guess this worked out okay.”

“Glad to hear it. So, like I was saying, this camera would be easy for you to use. It’s pretty much one-button operation so I think I’ll go ahead and get it.”

It was all the same to me. We both knew who was going to be using the camera. I dropped the peel in the compost bin. “Mission accomplished.”

“Look, I’ve got to get back to work.”

“You called me, remember?”

“Whatever.” That was what the woman in the Jeep had said. He hung up.

I walked back to the front of the house, holding the phone to my ear so it would look like we were still talking. Inside, I curled up on the sofa in the living room where I could keep an eye on the Jeep. I was still there when Stanley got home from work, and so was the girl in the Jeep.

Stanley parked his black Rav4 in front of the house, put his keys in his pocket, and crossed to the Jeep. I wondered what he could possibly have to say to her. A moment later, there was a loud noise and Stanley slumped to the ground. She had brought a gun after all. What a relief.

I waited for the Jeep to drive off and took some time to arrange my face. Then I picked up the phone and called the police.

Short fiction; untitled

I wrote this in 2002, as an assignment for a writing class for a scene in which setting was of primary importance. I’ve always loved it, so I thought I’d share it with you here.

***

The sound of a neighbor’s lawn mower and the slight breeze from the open windows made it difficult to concentrate at the computer. Abandoning further attempts at productivity, Amelia rolled her chair away from the desk and went downstairs. She picked up her book and a rag to wipe the pollen off the rocking chair and went out the door. As she ran the rag lightly over the seat of the chair she grimaced, noting that the green paint was already starting to fade from the arms. She draped the rag over the rail of the porch and dragged the rocker to the far corner so she could be closer to the wisteria. Scott had planted the vine three years ago as little more than a shoot, and although it had already grown up the side and across the top of the farmer’s porch, the cascading blooms were concentrated near the few feet closest to the roots.

It was still early in May but the clematis vine, which Scott faithfully trimmed back every fall, had already woven itself thoroughly through the balustrade, providing the illusion of privacy.

Amelia opened her book and started to read. The sun made her eyes water and shading them with her hand didn’t help. Her attention wandered. She was distracted by several large bumblebees who were working in the wisteria. It wasn’t so much the noise they made, which was considerable, but a childlike anxiety that they would turn on her. She couldn’t remember whether or not bumblebees actually did sting people, but she was prepared to err on the side of caution. She glanced up at the ceiling. Scott had said there was a hole in the soffit that he’d seen hornets going in and out of, or maybe wasps, she hadn’t been paying attention. Whichever it was, she knew for sure that they were dangerous. Scott was going to spray something in the hole to kill them, but she didn’t know if he’d ever done that.

She contemplated moving her chair closer to the door, away from the bees and hornets, but a glance in that direction reminded her that she’d never watered the plant with the little purple flowers that was hanging from a hook in the ceiling near the stairs. She pushed herself angrily up from the chair, setting it rocking, and walked the length of the porch to the watering can that Scott insisted on keeping handy so he could minister to the garden whenever the spirit moved him. As Amelia reached down for the handle she saw her face reflected in the water. She watched as a tear made its way down the side of her nose and fell in, causing small ripples where previously all had been still. She watered the plant, despairing of ever learning what it was called now that Scott was gone.

The chair continued to rock after she’d gone in the door and back up to her computer.