I am so happy that my short story, “Taking Big Tom Home” appears in Gravel: A Literary Journal this month. You can read it here.
I am so happy that my short story, “Taking Big Tom Home” appears in Gravel: A Literary Journal this month. You can read it here.
I remember my grandparents’ garden from my childhood. I remember following along behind my grandfather, sent out for tomatoes, while I “helped” by pulling fresh cucumbers off the prickly, hairy vines. Wiping the vegetable off on my tee shirt, I chomped into it right there where I stood.
My grandfather was a staid mountain of a man. He didn’t talk much to his family; he frequently responded to my grandmother in grunts or one-syllable sounds. When he sat down to eat, he really tucked into it: seconds were certain, thirds were not out of the question. I never knew him not to eat what my grandmother set on the table, but he drew the line at cucumbers.
When my brother, my cousins and I discovered this, we were giddy with unexpected knowledge. We were between six and seven years old and our shrill little giggles must have sounded like the munchkins in Oz. Our secret-telling was, no doubt, conducted in theatrical stage whispers. We couldn’t believe it. Grampie didn’t eat cucumbers! We had to clean our plates, but now here was this revelation.
And so at every meal shortly thereafter, we took turns offering our grandfather helpings of the cool disks marinating lightly in vinegar with a hint of sugar and generous salt and pepper.
“Would you like some cucumbers, Grampie,” we asked choking on our hysteria. In the spirit of humor moderated by solidarity, Grammie hid her smile until it wore off and even she spoke sharply, telling us to leave our grandfather alone. But it was irresistible to tease the unteaseable, to ruffle the unruffleable.
“How about a cuke, Grampie,” we asked, until finally he pounded the table with one open hand.
“I don’t want any goddamn cukes,” he thundered before slamming downstairs to his woodworking shop where a half-gallon of vodka was kept cool under the stairs.
What he didn’t know, sadly I think now, is how nicely good vodka goes down with a bit of gently muddled cucumber, fresh from the garden.
“What are you sitting there for?” Lyle asked from the doorway.
“I’m thinking,” Vern said without looking up.
“Thinking. About what?”
“You’re thinking about writing.” Lyle said walking into the room and peering at the computer screen.
“There aren’t any words on there.”
“Are they going to write themselves?”
“I hope so.”
“They’re off to a slow start.”
“Listen, how about you go pour me a whiskey. I think that’d help the little bastards start flowing from my fingertips like they oughta be doing.”
“Seems to me that could get in the way.”
“Well, you let me worry about that. I think a little whiskey would be like putting some WD-40 on a hinge right about now.”
Lyle lumbered off muttering about ice and the cost of a proper bottle. Vern continued to stare at his hands, willing the words to spring forth, like a snake getting charmed out of its basket, words rising out of the dark to electrify the page.
The clock ticked and the cat began chewing on something in the corner of the room.
“Cut that out, Buster! Ssssssss!”
It was always the hissing sound that got the cat to pay attention.
Lyle stood in the doorway. “What was all that?”
“Cat’s into something.”
“That little bastard knocked my pill jar off the counter today. He better not be getting into that bottle.”
“What was in it?”
“My blood pressure medicine.”
“Christ! If he gets into that, we’ve got a dead cat on our hands!”
“If we don’t find that bottle, we’ll have a dead Lyle on our hands. I can’t be running around without my medicine.”
“For crying out loud. Don’t you think we should be looking for the damn pill jar?”
“I was going to talk to you about it, but then you were sitting there staring off with that look on your face, like you were in mourning or something.”
“Would you please shut up and look for the damn pills? Vern said, setting the laptop on his side table and lowering himself to look under the chair.
The Limburger sandwich rested on the bar. Stink waves rose from it like heat off a barbecue. The bartender had served many of the sandwiches to weak-kneed gastro tourists, the modern term, or simply Not Locals at Baumgartner’s Tavern. He didn’t need to watch the color leave their excited faces or listen to them gasp and gag. He trusted they’d do what they had to, with most of ‘em asking to have the better part of the sandwich taken away. The decent ones left a good tip out of respect for the cheese that undid them.
The two women sat at the bar with their sandwiches on folded butcher paper in front of them.
“Oh my god. My eyes are watering.”
“It smells like ass. It’s an ass sandwich.”
“Did you mean “a nice” sandwich?”
“Did you see the bartender’s shirt?”
“No and now I can’t see anything through my tears.”
“It says, “Pull my Finger.”
“And here we are with an ass sandwich staring us in the face.”
“Is that? No.”
“Is that guy behind me smoking?”
“I’ll be damned! He is. There’s a fucking ashtray on the bar!”
“Lean back in your chair. I’ll get a picture of this—the last bar in civilization to allow smoking AND serving ass sandwiches.”
“Hurry up. I need to get the bartender to take this nasty ass sandwich away.”
Vern nodded to the bartender and took the cigarettes out of his breast pocket. A clean ashtray and matches instantly appeared. Damn good bartender.
The smell of the Limburger sandwiches on the bar wafted over to him with every pass of the oscillating fan. The sweat trickled down his chest and over his flat white stomach. He’d been teaching his grandson how to make Limburger all morning. Hardly any competition in that market, he was proud to say. Shipped it all over the world. It made a real nice sandwich, but Christ, don’t forget a thick slice of onion.
My brain is a gritty bike chain grinding in circles,
friction where there should be smooth pedaling,
My face pinches into a squint,
jaws ache from clenching, keeping the words in.
My words would slap a person silly,
bloody his lips,
leaving them fat and lisping into next week.
My Pandora’s box is full of words,
none of them worth a damn, not a dime for all of them.
Fireworks have rendered us small.
We are a quivering creature hiding under a bush,
with one eye open
while every other part presses to the ground,
We are the bruised puff of kitten left outside
with the sky raining fire and breaking apart in thunder,
We are picked up and put into a silk-lined pocket,
a well-heeled ticket out, but to where, we wonder.
Our mother used to complain that whenever we got our dirty mitts on a nickel, we ran to the corner store to buy penny candy. She often withheld the coinage in her determination to curtail our sugar consumption.
As luck would have it, the penny candy store was next to a used car lot. They must have also had a towing operation for cars that were totaled. The mangled cars were moved to a lot behind both businesses until they were transported to a permanent junkyard.
This was back before seatbelts were required and, in fact, seemed like an unnecessary appendage to the seats. It was also before the push for compact cars had gotten traction. These junkyard cars were heavy metal beasts with speedometers that went up to 150 or 175 mph. On those late summer Saturday nights after the bars closed, groups of people hit the long, dark country roads, some determined to bury the gauge on the far right end of the speedometer.
We were intrigued by the cars, which were frequently mashed like accordions. Sometimes the door would have bent open in the accident. It was likely one of these times that our curiosity beckoned us into the wreckage, where we found loose change on the floor of the car. Afterwards, of course, we knew to try the door or crawl through the holes where windows had been.
Greedily, we collected the coins. Sometimes they were as crumpled as the car was, defying our ability to imagine how it could have happened in the crash. Sometimes the coins had blood on them. At first the blood induced eye-widening amazement, but shortly thereafter it just meant “spit and rub.”
We divided the spoils between us and hurried back to the corner store, slapping our loot on the counter and ordering ourselves another round of Swedish fish, hot balls, and Mary Jane chews.
Early January, balloons slowly deflating, the tree
still up, random red and green items scattered around.
A parched feeling, a lack of juice
in the leathery remains of last year.
Days are dark and like a miner, I cast
my flashlight beam into the depths,
there are only echoes.
People more clever, more juicy than me,
I raise my face to the sky, praising the cold blue patch
sprawled between rain layers.
I puzzle at the sprinkles on my face
and realize the wind is blowing rainwater
off the live oak tree next door.
A micro-climate for me and my delicate dog,
who dislikes damp feet.
Today is the second day between rivers of rain.
The sun rose between buildings
and shone onto the bush at driveway’s edge.
Mist rose up like a spirit leaving the body,
a pure thing going home.
The dog stood rooted in the doorway, in the middle of the hall. Her lower teeth jutted out of her mouth and her ears were back. She was wearing a red and white sweater with the words “Ho Ho Ho” down the back. She wouldn’t walk in it.
The party guests were dribbling in and floating past her, laughing and complimenting her. Her stubby tail wagged now and again, but nothing like it usually did, when there was no sweater.
During a lull between guests, the dog turned and walked stiffly to the front room where she had a bed. She stretched carefully onto it, not quite able to relax with the foreign apparatus pulling at her shoulders. Adding indignity to indecency, the polyester sweater was too small for a dog of her well-fed stature.
Sweater aside, her owner was generally one of the better humans. She fed, opened the door with little prompting, gave treats, and cleaned the toys when they’d gotten stiff from chewing. But today, she’d put the sweater on the dog. Today, she kept saying “Ho Ho Ho” while she made food without sharing it. Today, she sang like a howling beagle to music with bells. The dog sighed.
Eventually the dog drifted into a light-snoring sort of nap, interrupted when her owner came into the room. The woman teetered a bit, leaning to pet the dog. She’d brought a few bits of cheese, which she shared without requiring any action on the dog’s part.
The dog looked up at her person and put her ears back. The woman set her glass down on the mantle and lowered herself to the floor, sitting near the dog’s head. She looked into the dog’s brown eyes and cooed, “What a pretty girl.” The dog gazed back at her and burped. The woman laughed and pulled the sweater over the dog’s head, petting her, and planting a wet kiss on top of her furry head before returning to the party.
The dog stood and stretched her hind legs forward and backward, putting her butt in the air and her elbows down on the rug where the sweater had fallen. She picked it up by its fur-lined hood and shook it, breaking its neck. The dog pawed and gnawed at the sweater until only the mangled Ho Ho Ho remained.
I’m happy to say that my flash piece, “The Light” was recently published in Dual Coast Magazine. The piece is posted below as it was revised for publication. Below that is the link to my reading of it at the Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition, where it won an Honorable Mention.
The November moon was high overhead, making the treetops and field look silver. I went out to see the moon glow on my skin and found a moth struggling to build a fire at the edge of the forest.
“I could light that for you,” I said. “I’m good at it.”
The moth paused for a moment, contemplating. Her antennae quivered, as if there were a breeze.
“Yes, that would be fine,” she said. “Actually, it would be quite good of you.”
“So, where are you off to,” I asked.
“I’m searching. I’m called to search for the thing I am missing. There is a shadow inside of me, a cool empty place.” She paused and looked over my head.
“I see,” I said, picking up the smooth, dry twigs. Rubbing them together, I felt warmth radiating from the friction.
“Why do you ask?” said Moth.
“I wondered how we both happened to be in this place, as if we were here to meet.”
“That could be. Perhaps,” Moth said. “And you? You are here for a purpose?”
“I’m consumed with too much heat,” I said. “I came to cool my face under the moon. It was here a moment ago, but I don’t see it now.”
“Nor I,” she said, rubbing her spindly legs together, “Nor I.”
I slid the twigs back and forth. Sparks glinted off, cascading onto the mound of straw on the ground.
“Oh my,” Moth said.
Soon the straw was ablaze and I tossed the twigs onto the top, watching the bark glow and curl back, exposing the tender innards to the fire. I turned away to gather more twigs. When I turned back, Moth was gone and the fire was larger, like a passion recently kindled.
Last night I walked toward my place behind a tall lurching sidewalk dweller, who turned the corner before me instead of going straight at the light (please god please god please god make him go the other way. Nope.) When I got to my door he was peeing in the plants near the stair exit of my place. Note to self: take the elevator. Always.
I understand the locals call it the Psycho Safeway. During the 10 minutes I was inside, a homeless woman accosted a manager, who was closing and locking one door for the night. She did the Linda Blair Exorcist barking voice on her way out the other door.
I walk under the tree-lined streets and all I know is I love you, Portland. You are the city of dreamy dreams, despite the people poop on the sidewalk. Although these lefties would make me feel like a right winger because they’re so far gone, they’re still happy to see me. Random smiling people greet me as if we’d recently met through mutual friends at some enjoyable event. It’s like I’ve been invisible, but it’s wearing off and Ta Da! I’m here and so welcome.
It reminds me of going from dreary uptight don’t-look-at-me London to Ah love ya, lass Edinburgh. I’ve found another tribe of my people.
And tonight it feels like rain and it’s green with trees and gray with clouds and life is coursing through everything and I need to go get some more Portland on me.