Friday, March 31, 2017

2 Minutes. Go!

Hey, writer-type folks. AND PEOPLE WHO JUST WANT TO PLAY BUT DON'T IDENTIFY AS 'WRITERS' - all are welcome here! Every Friday, we do a fun free-write. For fun. And Freedom!

Write whatever you want in the 'comments' section on this blog post. Play as many times as you like. #breaktheblog! You have two minutes (give or take a few seconds ... no pressure!). Have fun. The more people who play, the more fun it is. So, tell a friend. Then send 'em here to read your 'two' and encourage them to play.

I wish the world had a big-ass volume knob, old school, like the one on your grandpa's belching radio. The kind you can use to silence everything with one sweep of the hand. I'm getting tired of turning the world down one click at a time. I'm sick of having injustice shoved into my brain - it's too damn loud.

If I see another phony smile filled with thousands of dollars worth of dental work, I might just have to send someone back to the dentist. I won't stoop to the level of the lying masses, though. 

Free passes or no. It's just not worth it. 

There are only so many hours you can spend, neck-cricked, staring at ceiling tiles and wondering. It makes you the wrong kind of angry. Not a productive angry. An angry that ricochets inside you, leaving vast areas of hurt and damage. You can't let the anger out, though. Got to keep it bottled up like fireflies that burn your retinas. Mutant fireflies. They burn like napalm.

Big suckers.

I'll stand and let the wind wash me, but that only works for the outside. How do I blow away the anger? How do I stop reading about terrified people living terrifying lives and then go about my business living mine? How can you do that? Doesn't it chafe at you? Aren't you rubbed raw yet?

I imagine myself at the top of a mountain, ready to fly. To stoop like a falcon and let the wind buffet me. Let it shake me so hard that I can't even hold onto a thought. 

I know I got on the ride, but now I want a refund for the ticket I bought. 

Snake oil, endless toil, polluted soil. Well, well. Haven't we learned a goddamn thing? My four year old knows more than most of the adults I know. Be kind. Clean up your things. Don't lie. Never, ever lie. 

That's the one I can't understand. The smallest transgressions leave me guilt-ridden for days. Hell, I beat the shit out of myself on a regular basis for things so inconsequential that even I know I'm being crazy, losing my grip. 

What can I say, I was born into the middle of a cross-country guilt trip. 

But the lying. Is it that some folks don't have that inner cricket? Or is it more than that - a sticky wicket? Are we even playing by the same rules? Are we even in the same game? Does it matter? 

I think it does.

It takes a little man to attack with petty grievances. To lash out at those who have the audacity to try to tell the truth. The truth makes you uncomfortable? The truth makes everyone uncomfortable. That's part of the reason it's so important. 


Seems to me like there are too many folks happy being comfortable. And you can argue and try to dissuade. Shuck and grin while you plan how to use your vacation days. You can hold on and tell yourself that you'll be safe as long as you keep your head down. It won't work. We're all fucked. And I'm not burying my head in the sand. 

If it's going to happen I want to see it coming. Maybe then I'll understand.

#2minutesgo Tweet it! Share it! Shout it from the top of the shack you live in! I will be out most of the day, but I'll be back...

51 comments:

  1. You speak for many in this one. Your words fit together beautifully, as always, but the images that call out to me in this one are the mutant fireflies and the cross country guilt trip... Well done, as always.

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    1. Oh, I love this and yes, you speak for many. Inner crickets.

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    2. Wielding the word magic and, even more importantly, the heart magic in this one.

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  2. Graduation night. 1976. I knew the word "fag" better than I knew the word "gay," but I hoped that would change when I went to college.

    We'd turned in our caps and robes, and we hung the tassels from our rear view mirrors, and we all headed to the backroad where we knew there'd be an unofficial party, with unofficial booze, and unofficial hangovers the next morning.

    It started off quiet. We knew that life had changed in ways we didn't know how to measure, but as the bottles emptied, we got more raucous. One last hurrah. Even the guys who gave me a hard time all the way through school punched me on the arm in congratulations. Yeah, the geek fag was the valedictorian.

    James was the last one to say anything to me. James. Of the blue eyes and aquiline nose, with the cleft chin. James who'd starred in more than a few fantasies of mine. James who I'd tutored through civics and trigonometry just so I could smell his cheap cologne and innocence.

    The bottles were mostly empty when he came up to me. Some folks had already left, their tail lights parading slowly in a drunken line back toward town. One of the cars had the radio on, and we heard Jim Croce belting out "Time in a Bottle."

    "Thanks," he said. "I wouldn't be graduating if you hadn't helped me out."

    I nodded and regulated my breathing, tried to focus on his words, keeping myself from saying anything stupid. I didn't say anything. I just nodded.

    "And I wanna say I'm sorry for calling you a fag. I mean, I don't know if you are or not, but either way, it was wrong, and I'm sorry."

    Drunk as I was, I knew I couldn't cry, so I looked away. He took my dry sob as a shiver.

    "You cold? Here..." and he took off his jacket, his letter jacket with the big J on it, and the pins that celebrated his being captain of the football team, and his prowess in wrestling. And he draped it over my shoulders.

    "Thanks." The only word I could say as the smell from his sweat made me drunker still.

    "You're gonna be someone, you know? Someone all the rest of us are gonna be jealous of, and some of us will be proud. I'll be proud, and I'll say, 'I knew him when...'"

    I punched him in the arm. 'Thanks,' I said again. "You are, too."

    "I need to get home. Thanks again."

    In another time, in a different decade, I might have had the courage to kiss him. But I didn't, and I started to take his jacket off.

    "Nah, keep it. It's getting chilly. See ya' around."

    And I watched him in the light of the moon and through the lens of unrealized hopes, and he got in his car and drove away, tail lights tracing a different path from mine. I closed my eyes and imagined his arms around me instead of his jacket.

    When I finally felt sober enough to drive back home, I heard a siren, and I didn't stop, because somehow I knew, and I cried myself to sleep wearing only his letter jacket, alone with memories of what might have been.

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    1. Oh, right in the heart. I really love this. Thank you. "...cheap cologne and innocence..."

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    2. Agreed, gentle and true right up to the end, which is also true, but brutal. Well played.

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  3. It was Mrs. Smith who taught me the power of silence. Fourth grade music teacher, small town America, and she was magic. The first time she made us listen to Sibelius on a scratchy LP, she watched us, and when Bobby fell asleep she stopped the music. She walked up to him and shook him awake. She didn't humiliate him, or lecture him. She knew, like we all knew, that Bobby helped his dad in the store at nights, and that didn't leave much time for sleeping.

    "Did you hear it?" She asked as she walked back to the front of the room. "What did you hear?"

    "Violins!" shouted Mary Lou, who was always the first to answer.

    "What else?"

    "Timpani!" whispered Martha, who whispered everything, but Mrs. Smith heard her.

    "Very good. Anyone else?"

    "A thunderstorm," Doug the jock offered.

    "Excellent! That's exactly what the composer intended! Henry?"

    I was always the last to answer her questions. "Nothing."

    Mrs. Smith came to stand in front of my desk, her head tilted to the side like my dog tilts her head when she's listening.

    "Nothing at all?"

    "Nothing."

    "Perfect. In twenty-seven years of teaching, no one has given me that answer."

    I turned red.

    "You see, all the notes a composer puts on the page, they are like a gorgeous, ornate frame. But he leaves the canvas in the middle of that frame blank, for you, the listener to paint. The quiet between the notes is yours."

    And all these years later, when I hear nothing, when I hear silence, I think of Mrs. Smith, and the gift she gave me, the gift she gave us all.

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    1. I love the silence. The spaces between the notes. The gift of memory.

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    2. Ditto. And this is a wonderful glimpse into that special silence.

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  4. “Oh, it’s’a Friday already? Come in, come in,” Mrs Dargenti would say most weeks. The old Italian lady would invite me across her threshold and fish a buck and a half out of a gold-clasped change purse each week for her daily newspaper.

    I can still smell the pungent bouquet of garlic, oregano, basil and olive oil, with a hint of what I’d someday learn was anise. From the living room walls, four generations of strangers, captured in First Communion piety or Wedding Day solemnity, intimately stared across the entry at me.

    The living room furniture glistened under plastic coverings, preserved like Wednesday's leftover lasagna, protected from time and tipped wine. I imagined everything inside was like it always had been, except now the sounds of Papa and the kids were replaced by the voices of Jerry Vale, Dominico Medugno and lonely sighs in italia.

    Across the street in the three-story walk-up, six families lived (twelve, if you wanted to be accurate as a census), the hallways cloaked me in darkness while the air choked me in its closeness, redolent of boiled cabbage, piss, weed and something more felt than seen or smelled.

    If anyone opened the doors to you, it'd usually be as far as the chain lock would allow. If that lock was off, you weren't invited past the threshold.

    "Whachoo want?" any resident younger than fifty would say if anyone even answered the door. I'd tell them I was collecting for the newspaper delivery. Inevitably, they'd say to come back later, tomorrow, next week, when no one would answer my knock.

    But if Mrs. Symonds, the matriarch of the family answered, sometimes she'd open the door enough for me to see inside, where a dingy sheet covered the sagging sofa. A pair of mismatched sheets hung from curtain rods on the two front windows, providing a modicum of privacy from without.
    Within, however, there was no such thing. Four rooms and a bathroom left little space to fit the grandmother, her son, her daughters and her daughters' children.

    If Mrs. Symonds paid, it would be apologetically for two of the four weeks she owed, and it would be with three crumpled singles she'd pull from her stained housecoat. I'd eat the balance of the other two weeks, cutting another three bucks into my earnings for the month.

    I really didn't want to go back into the building. The soundtrack from the other three flats, sometimes say James Brown and others maybe Marvin Gaye, never drowned out the backbeat of the looped percussive bang of my heart when I climbed to the second floor. Not after a guy I'd never seen before stepped out of the shadows by the stairs and cut a memory into my chest.

    Later, when my connection to newspapers was to fill them with words instead of delivering them, I drove along my old paper route. There, the home that once preserved its past still stood. It now sported an out of character, unpainted front step of cast concrete, it's aluminum railing canted to the left. Lengths of stained green vinyl siding sagged or flapped from its sides.

    Across the street, a vacant lot stretched like a glass-strewn grave where the other house stood. If it was a fire or some stillborn plan for a new building that brought it down, I'll never know.

    The truth is, despite an effort to preserve some hazy, idealized past or merely survive the present, the future can be as cold as that thin blade, as hot as the desperation and anger crouched behind locked doors and beneath staircases and as inevitable as the fact you may be able to go home again, but home may not be there to greet you. Especially not with a buck and a half. Forget any ten-cent tip.

    In retrospect, you can keep your change.

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    1. Joe, this feels so real and so true... so poignant... the sensory details are so rich... and so is the story. Thank you.

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    2. Oh, that last line. Your details are so crisp and vivid.

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    3. This might be my favourite Joe Hesch piece thus far. I love its authenticity and my Catholic roots are simpatico. For some reason, this one line of many great lines keeps clamouring for attention:

      "Later, when my connection to newspapers was to fill them with words instead of delivering them, I drove along my old paper route."

      It's like a writing prompt itself!

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    4. Love this. There is something about this that reminds me of Frank Conroy's 'Stop Time' - one of my favorites.

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  5. "Try again."

    "Que se muere pronto."

    I watched Mr. Samuel's face turn from its usual pale white to earthy red.

    He walked back to his desk. The classroom was silent. He picked up his textbook, turned to look at Kathy, and threw the book to the floor. "You FOOL! It's 'que se MEJORE pronto.' 'Muere' means die. You wouldn't tell someone who is ill to die soon, would you? Or perhaps you would, you pathetic creature.”

    The room was silent. We’d never seen Mr. Samuel lose his temper before. He turned his back to us, looked up to the ceiling, maybe in prayer, maybe in confession. And then he sat at his desk, and looked down at the papers.

    “Class dismissed,” he said calmly, and we all wandered into the hall, afraid to talk about what had just happened. Kathy kept giggling.

    The rest of the day, I couldn’t stop thinking about him, so after my last class, I went to his classroom, and knocked. When there was no answer, I tried the knob. It was unlocked.

    The bulletin board was naked, the pictures of things with their Spanish names were gone. His bookshelf was empty. All of the magic he’d brought had disappeared.
    Later, I found out he resigned. Kathy’s father was the mayor. I guess that made it okay to want someone to die soon, or at least be unemployed.

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  6. The wind gets up and sweeps our fires into streams of sparks, and we huddle closer inside our reams of rough sackcloth. Who knew the gales would blow so long? This is our place in the town square, our moment in the dreamscape, our truth within the chapel. Press those pedals, let the tiny organ wheeze its banal statute. Unfurl its rules. Open your warm thighs to me, force me to partake of your exotica. The blizzard is here already; no one will speak again.

    "Wait."

    No, I will not wait.

    "I am telling you to wait. I will not beg."

    Are you placed, poised to describe a million, maybe tens of millions, of black-and-yellow leaves opening and closing and flapping northward, tropical to temperate, fine panes of leaded glass, flakes of tiger, endless pages from a children's book made for countless children yet to be born?

    "No, you will not beg."

    Once, a woman walked among you. She was lovely in mind and body and heart. Did you administer kindness? Treat her with respect? Urge her to lie crosswise? Trace the carious ridge above her passage with your fingertips, searching for fragmented things? Shattered enamel, a busted pelvis, and a skewed, deteriorated jawline.

    "We don't need to beg."

    A whiteout. Shrieking phantoms skirling across empty highways. No lawmen. Not even sirens. Nothing. No one.

    "Just wait."

    "No. Fuck. I will not."

    "Spring is almost here."

    "No. It's not."

    "Weesht, child. Be still."

    She sat in a quiet centre and let the groan of a weighted mountain lurch and creak and begin to detonate. She was a superhero, but one who lived on earth and not in shaded panels or amid spilled ink. She accepted her millstone, scoped her foes, cradled her spigots, arraigned her adversary. Made with a vineyard near Summerland a faraway date. Woke to hope.

    "Not begging. Imploring."

    We're gathered on some secret meridian, far from the gridlock bedlam, quiet in a Costco parking lot where color has drained from a bright sky and sound from a late spring evening. Breathe. We remember our journeys here: passing through semicircular bridges—iron hemispheres of hemlock-green like half-buried parts of some giant machinery abandon by unknowns—jerking the wheel right and then left, skirting traffic circles, wrenching gears, racing some dumbfuck in his Dodge Ram with truck nuts and a Trump/Pence sticker, blurring cornfields and anti-choice billboards, RV parks and storage yards, Chevron pumps and John Deere outlets. Praying a state trooper won't be waiting round the next bend, flanks still, all of him ready to move like a rested fly on stricken carrion.

    "I am clean."

    Welcome, Pandora.

    "They don't care."

    Welcome, Jocasta.

    "They must."

    Welcome, Cassandra.

    "No. No."

    "Then we must—"

    "Don't speak it out loud."

    Welcome, Gaia.

    A soft-boiled sun drops into a blue Pacific to the west, and before the light drains from the world a billion wings ripple the quiet air, batlike against a lung-shadow sky, looming voluminous, a bounteous smog with which to paint the evening, had we the tools or the vision.

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    1. Wow. Reading this is like falling into a beauteous dream... images, sounds, light and color... wow, again.

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    2. I was gonna say reading it was like being on some kind of drug they haven't invented yet!

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    3. Oh. I love it. The word choices, the rhythm. The soft-boiled sun.

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    4. I was thinking exactly what Leland and Teresa said! This is almost like a baroque mantra. Super strong writing and, yeah, I feel like someone slipped something in my drink. ;)

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  7. Part 1:

    You sit in the waiting room, sweating in your best suit, your tiny espresso with a twist of orange growing cold. The receptionist’s long legs cross beneath the desk made of glass and wire. A soft ping sounds from her sleek phone. “He’ll speak with you now.” She unwinds herself from the chair and shows you to what you never thought was a door. When you first walked in, it merely looked like part of the expensive woodworking, but with a touch, it swings inward.

    The room is empty except for an impossible chair, like the one the receptionist had been sitting in, and another near-invisible table. Atop which is a tablet.

    You look at her, confused. Her smile is smooth, practiced. “Push the green button,” she says, and retreats.

    You push. The red camera light flashes on. A voice oozes from the tiny speaker: “Hi, Johnny.” It doesn’t sound fully human; perhaps it’s being filtered. You wonder if this is a joke. A reality TV stunt.

    “Uh…hello?” Your voice cracks and you clear your throat. You wish you had the miniscule cold espresso you’d left on the glass coffee table.

    Robo-pad speaks up. “Why do you want this job?”

    For a moment your brain locks. You were in a bar, wondering how many shots of tequila would kill a human about your size, when you saw the email on your phone. It intrigued you. No subject line. All the body contained was “You don’t even know how bad you want to work for me” and a time, date, and location. When you sobered up it was still there. You took it as a sign.

    “May I ask, what kind of job is this?”

    The voice laughs and abruptly stops. “You don’t get to ask the questions, Johnny. It’s not that kind of interview.”

    “Well, I”—you wipe your damp palms against your thighs, hopefully out of camera range—“It’s hard to tell you why I want this job when I don’t know what my responsibilities will be. I mean, I didn’t even apply.”

    “You were carefully picked from a pool of very, very qualified people. Majorly terrific people. I already knew you’d be perfect. But you gotta just tell me, why’d you show up?”

    Since this seems like such a laughably fake situation, you decide to tell the truth. “Because I was in a bar trying to commit suicide by Jose Cuervos? Because teaching history to seventh graders pays shit and my last girlfriend left me for a backup singer in a Justin Bieber cover act? Because it was Tuesday and I hate Tuesdays because it’s too far from the previous weekend and too long until Friday? Because I owned a suit and I hadn’t worn it in a while? Why does anybody do anything?”

    “Good point,” the voice says. “You’re hired.”

    You blink a couple times. “To do…”

    “Whatever I tell you.”

    “And why would I do that?”

    A dollar figure flashes onto the pad. You nearly fall off the nearly invisible chair. “Believe me, Johnny,” the voice says. “You won’t care what day of the week it is when you’re flashing that around.”

    “Okay.” You clear your throat, cross your arms over your chest. “Assuming I take this job, give me an example of one thing that you might tell me to do.”

    “It depends on the situation. If it’s one I don’t like, your job is to make it better. We can quibble over these tiny details all day long, Johnny, but I’m very selective, and if I chose you, you gotta know it’s for a very good reason.”

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  8. Part II:

    You start wondering what that reason might be. You thought you’d drowned all of them in tequila by now.

    “You’re thinking,” the voice says. “I don’t get why you’re thinking, because I tell ya, this is the best job you’re ever gonna have. But why don’t we do this? Try it for a day. Less than that. Say you’re on my staff for, oh, an hour. Two, tops. You don’t agree this is one terrific way to make a living, you’re free to go.”

    That sounds reasonable to you. “Okay. Where do I start?”

    “First thing I need you to do. There’s a situation happening right now, and I need it to go away.”

    A shiver snakes down your spine. Just what have you agreed to? “I don’t think—”

    “One hour, Johnny. That’s all I ask. That’s what you agreed to. You don’t want the world to know that you’re such a loser that you go back on your promises. You don’t want the stink of that following you to your next job, do you? Because I can make that happen. I can make anything happen.”

    “If you can make anything happen, then why don’t you take care of your own little situation.”

    “Hey. You decided to come here. Frankly, I got lots of better things I could be doing. And people I could be doing them with if you catch my drift.”

    “Just…fine. Whatever. Tell me about the situation. Please.”

    A document appears on the screen. You squint. It’s the US Constitution. “You want me to read the Constitution?” Okay. There are weirder things you could be doing for a hell of a lot less money.

    “No,” the voice says. “I need you to explain it to me.” The receptionist slithers in and presses a stack of hundreds on the table next to you. “And consider this my request not to tell one living soul what we’re doing here.”

    You clear your throat. “Okay, well, um… The Constitution, originally comprising seven articles, delineates the national frame of government—”

    “Johnny, stop. Pick smaller words.”

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    1. Ohmigod... this went to a totally different place than I would have guessed, and it's wonderful! Absolutely fantastic.... that build-up, slow and steady, and then POW right in the kisser... really, really good

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    2. I did know where this was going, and I loved the ride. And I super love this bit of dialogue:
      “Because I was in a bar trying to commit suicide by Jose Cuervos? Because teaching history to seventh graders pays shit and my last girlfriend left me for a backup singer in a Justin Bieber cover act? Because it was Tuesday and I hate Tuesdays because it’s too far from the previous weekend and too long until Friday? Because I owned a suit and I hadn’t worn it in a while? Why does anybody do anything?”

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  9. She closed the book, put it on the table and finally decided to walk through the door. Sophie didn't need her walker anymore.

    The sound a walker makes in the hall of a nursing home is different than in the home of a loved one. Sophie Messer hated the sound and decided not to use hers. But a short while before, her younger sister Judy hobbled on six legs into the nursing home.

    "Is this it?" Judy said to Sophie's granddaughter Jessica.

    "Yes, Aunt Judy, that's Gram by the window."

    "I don't like these places. They give me a headache and smell bad. I'll never come to one of these places. Barry would never allow it, rest his soul. He left me quite comfortable, you know, Jennifer."

    "Jessica, Aunt Judy."

    In her bed, Sophie heard the voices and her heart monitor skipped one beep and then moved from waltz time to tango.

    "Sophie and I haven't seen one another in many years," Judy said to no one in particular. "Where's a chair?"

    Lowering herself into the chair, Judy said, "I hope nobody peed in this seat, Jennifer."

    "Talk to Gram, Aunt Judy. Right after they rub lotion on her, she reminds me of a little porcelain doll. Her eyes almost look painted on."

    "That's what Sid would call her, you know. Doll. Called all his girlfriends Doll. He called me Doll, too."

    Sophie's monitor skipped and beep-beeped again.

    "No, Aunt Judy, I didn't know. Grandpa never mentioned that."

    "Hi, Sophie, it's me," she shouted. "It's freezing here. Not like West Palm."

    "I'm sure she hears you Aunt Judy."

    "I was just talking to Julia here about Sid. How on Fridays in high school he'd say to me, 'Doll, why don't you get your dancing shoes and we'll go downtown?' Papa would get so angry about him wanting to take me out on Shabbat."

    "Picked up your grandmother on the rebound, you know, Jennifer."

    Beep-beep, beep.....Beep-beep-beep-beep.

    "Mama and Papa were very happy when I found my Barry, a college man with a future."

    Sophie's eyelids throbbed shadows in the low winter sun from the window.

    "Remember when Barry stayed with us after he came back from Europe, before NYU? Mama treated him like a prince. Which he was," Judy sighed.

    "You became so jealous. Running away with Sid right after. He'd already returned from the Pacific, Jessica. Was that it, Sophie? Becoming a little housewife right away, have a honeymoon baby? You and Sid elope and boom, Betty's born barely nine months later."

    "My Mom used to laugh about that all the time," Jessica said.

    Judy said, "Your jealousy made Barry uncomfortable. He was so good to me. Always flowers or a bit of jewelry out of the blue, for no good reason."

    Judy yawned.

    "Well, I'd better get back to the hotel. I'd like to come back tomorrow and reminisce some more. Love you, Sophie."

    In her white waiting room, Sophie curled a tiny smile where before was a tight dash. She had barely listened to Judy, just another of these blinking sonorous machines.

    "It's only for a little while more," Sophie thought, sitting with the family photo album in her lap.

    "We're ready for you, Mrs. Messer," someone said.

    Closing the album, putting it on the table, Sophie rose and walked through the door into the brightly lit room next door.

    “Hi, Doll. Been waiting for you,” Sid said. "Can't believe she never knew."

    Smiling, Sophie said, "Oh, Sid, you're the kindest man whoever lived. But she knows, darling. She knows."

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    1. You know that opening line is one of my favorite lines ever, right? It inspired me in the 3MF contest, and what you've done with it is brilliant... well played!

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    2. Ditto. Really well constructed piece.

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  10. On the bank of the stream, there are cool, smooth rocks. They are coffee brown with streaks of cream and glitter. They look pretty. They feel good inside your mouth and keep you from getting thirsty.

    Above you, there is a forest canopy. Not as thick as it was hundreds of years ago, but it gets the job done. It fractures the light and lets you be warm when you want to be warm. Cool when you want to be cool.

    In the water, there is so much beauty, but much of it is hidden. Fish are hard to see in moving water. Crayfish are damn near impossible. You need to watch for movement. You need to look for the shape of things because Mother Nature knows a thing or two about camouflage, but camouflage only works if you don't move.

    You gotta be perceptive. The stream deserves that. I can sense an osprey without even looking up. I don't know why or how. But if I can do it, you can too.

    In the memory of the place there is beauty and horror. Strange things happen by small trout streams in distant woods. But there are also rapturous delights. They are there - you just have to pay attention.

    I've spent a lot of my life by streams like the one I'm showing you. If I could, I would spend every day there, listening to the trickle of water, the wind through the boughs, the birdsong and, sometimes, the staggering stillness and quiet. A quiet so dense it can clog you up inside. Embrace it. Don't hide.

    Man, if I could take you there, you'd know. You'd know that you are tiny and insignificant and that that is NOT a bad thing. I don't want to be bigger than the stream. I don't even know what that would mean. All I know, is I'm happy the stream lets me hang out. And I'm happy just being the audience.

    And it's really got very little to do with trout.

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    1. ah, so much beauty in this one... I know that feeling, and I have it whenever my little creek runs... "I don't want to be bigger than the stream" is one of the most profound things I've heard in a long time...

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  11. I must be feeling old today:

    She’s knitting another scarf, like all the previous ones.

    We would call it a day, and be done with it until tomorrow. But she’s so bound to the safe anchor of sameness, any deviation, like pouring cereal before her morning’s coffee, it becomes like she dropped a stitch somewhere, a purl before a knit stitch, and the scarf, her smoothly knitted day, would just flat out unravel.

    He nibbles at the same meal over two nights, but he will slowly consume the entire newspaper over the course of each day. As if his mind’s teeth were in a glass, he inexorably gums A-1 through the obits. Obits always first, though.

    That will never happen to me, you say.

    She sits all day and waits for a call, and when you call, she says you’re the only one who has. And then you listen to pretty much the same rap as yesterday’s and the days' before that. Meanwhile, the news channel’s booming in the background up to the Led Zep levels of your youth.

    You shake your head. But tonight you'll place your slippers (slippers!?) just-so next to your bed and set the alarm for that same time, for that same rush, to that same job you've said for ten years you can’t wait to retire from so you finally can do what you want, but likely will be the same thing day after day. You know, like will never happen to you.

    Says you.

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    1. The dreams of youth, the realities later... and yeah, it'll never happen that way... You nailed it, and then you did it justice with that last line.

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    2. I gotta ditto again. You're killing it, Joe.

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  12. She was always brand new nylons and too much make up; it didn't make up for much. But I had a taste for it. The nights get damp and the brain wanders and suddenly you're knocking on a cardboard door and just dying for the feel of nylons, the smell of them. Waiting to look into the clapboard Cleopatra eyes ... I don't judge anyone.

    This looked to be turning into one of those nights. Too much to do and no feel for it. Everybody owes somebody, and I get tired of being the one who has to collect. Because, let's look at this square, I don't want to kill some poor slob who has a gambling disease ... half of them have kids, too. You can't cut off the foot without losing the shoe.

    I stepped into a neon bath and shot myself in the face six times with cheap bourbon. It worked fine. Hell, I smiled when I lit the cigarette. My face in the mirror wasn't even hard to look at.

    So that's how the night was going down. I was on to beer now, which is never a good idea, but, really, fuck it. And then I feel a tap on my shoulder.

    Jimmy. Fucking Jimmy.

    "Dooley, I swear to God I'll have the money tomorrow. I swear to fucking Christ. I swear on my mother's grave. I will, Dooley. I know you don't believe me, but give me one more chance. Please."

    I spun the beer bottle in front of me and looked at both of us in the mirror.

    "I didn't ask you for shit, Jimmy."

    "I ... well, that's true. But it's Friday. I know the rules."

    "Goddamnit Jimmy. We all know the rules. I've known you since we were six. Ain't nothing changed except we use bats for different things now. You know me. Why wouldn't you skate? Say you never saw me? Hell, I'm trying to take one goddamn night off and you come bothering me which is basically saying, 'Hey, Dooley. Shoot my fool ass.' Cause I know and you know you ain't getting no money. Or if you do, you'll think your luck has changed and before you know it you'll be looking at a bum hand and wondering what the fuck happened."

    "Dooley..."

    "Don't. Stop talking. Turn around and walk out of here. Get the goddamn money and, please, just fucking put it in your shoe. Not one drink. Not one game. Not until you see me."

    "Dooley..."

    "Our moms played fucking canasta, Jimmy. I'll do my job if I have to, but I figure you like your kneecaps where they are. And we go back. OK? Please, Jimmy. Hear what I'm preaching."

    And the fool stood there staring at me like I was purple.

    "Dooley, I don't understand what game you're running ... please ... just tell me what's going on. Are they waiting outside?"

    The bartender had replaced my beer, so I took a sip, passed it to Jimmy. He could barely get it in his mouth his hands were shaking so bad.

    I took back my empty beer and one of his hands. Shook it.

    "There's nothing going on, Jimmy. Get the money. Just get it and give it to me. And don't let me see you before you have it. Now, I'm going to turn back around. You're gonna leave and get smart. Then, I'm going to Egypt."

    "Huh?"

    I thought about those nylons. Those eyes. I thought about what it would feel like to just relax a little. For one night.

    "Nothing, Jimmy. Cleopatra. You heard of her? Doesn't matter. That's where I'm headed and, when I see you again, you're going to smile and thank me and give me a roll of bills. Savvy?"

    The bartender was polishing glasses. I closed my eyes and counted to five. When I opened them, Jimmy was gone. I smiled. Waved the bartender over.

    "I want one more drink. Whatever they drink in Egypt."

    He looked nervous and poured me a shot of something green. It tasted alright. Not great. But alright.

    Good enough to start a mediocre night.

    I stepped out into the damp, sent some smoke towards a streetlamp, and walked, whistling, toward my Friday tramp.

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    1. So many things to love about this one. clapboard Cleopatra eyes? I couldd go on and on. Dang you're good!

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    2. Yeah, I'm in awe of this one... you turned everyone around and inside out, and I like it all... Teresa chose my favorite two words from the story, two... the sound and the feel of this is 1940s in the best possible way.

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  13. There were eight of them left now. This morning there'd been ten but two of those had already faced the short drop, the last one still spinning loose-necked on the end of his rope. The hangman was precise, he'd give him that, weighing each one of them in turn and noting their heights at the same time each day. It was a science, he'd said, on the day they'd first met, while he'd been measuring Naylor's height against the scale on the wall. You made the rope too long and the prisoner died slowly, his larynx crushed and his face darkening until he drew his last breath. But too short and it'd be an inconvenience for the hangman, the Government's Health and Safety directives forbidding him to use steps to reach up to cut the rope. On one occasion, he'd had to leave the corpse swinging for over an hour even though it had been his first noose of the day. His boss had been livid; he'd had to postpone three of the day's executions and rearrange the list giving the order of those taking the fall. There was reason behind every detail of their procedures; the psychological effect of being called and then forced to wait, not knowing if it’d be your turn next, was incalculable. You couldn’t just remove the last three to be hung from the list. The sequencing didn’t work that way. You had to prioritise the hangings, leaving the more serious offenders to stew while the others dropped through the trapdoor before them. Although, some days they were the first on the list - you couldn’t let them get complacent. The hanging was the final hurrah, the thing you did after you’d broken their resolve. There was little sense in keeping them long after that; it was both cruel and ineffective and there were always more waiting to be hung.

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    1. Dark and cruel... and truth often is. I always wonder what the executioners feel. Now I know.

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    2. Agreed. I also think this is one of those magic bits of flash that is awesome as is, but also has room to grow should you choose. Well in.

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  14. I’m like Anne Frank in the attic
    Writing in my diary
    Peering out the smallest window
    Penning my elegy to solitude
    We even share a birthday, did I tell you? Did you know?

    I am that girl in the attic, forced to be quiet
    Refusing to live in the fear
    Of being discovered, uncovered and taken
    Daring to dream and be clear
    I live on the things called hope and imagining
    Though my elders would call it fantasy.
    And though I’m a half century older, surviving only makes me bolder.
    I have this reckless optimism, reality be damned.
    Because I have a pen in my hand.
    With it, I have the strength of moonlight.
    I live on the hope of Truth. It’s not about innocence, confidence, those thing we call maturity or wisdom, or youth.
    It’s about faith, that scary unknown, the knowledge that makes you walk between darkness and light.

    They say I am too innocent, too ignorant of the world
    They tell me I don’t know my shadow
    Though we are well acquainted, she and I.
    They tell me I’m in denial, to believe in the power of love over fear
    Much less, the strength of the word.

    I tell them truly, I write my own fate; I tell my own truth
    I will not be diminished by accusations of youth or dementia.
    When fear makes them fight over a few poor potatoes and petty indiscretions
    A few unrecognized victories
    When hatred convinces them they are victims
    And martyrs to anxiety. Or someone elses’ casual lies.

    If I have just one life to live, I will live it, being me.
    Writing in my diary
    Until the footsteps mount the stairs I will believe I have company.

    Optimists, pessimists, nihilists and realists times three.
    They cannot dictate what I write, what I feel, the things I choose to believe
    I am just a girl in an attic
    Writing the dreams that set me free.

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    1. Beautiful... and a credo for a true writer!

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    2. Wow, I love this. The whole concept and the language. Especially this:
      "If I have just one life to live, I will live it, being me.
      Writing in my diary"

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  15. The Mountain waited for him. It was going nowhere. It had all the time in the world.

    Alex shrugged himself under his sheet again, shivering. The klaxon announcing the return of the last shift hadn't sounded yet. He had some time too.

    Outpost was blunt and elemental. There was little need for elaboration. The mountain he worked under was called The Mountain, the Township was where he lived. There was no time for exploration. These simple names would do.

    The food he ate was fundamental and basic too. Brown Paste was exactly what it said on the tube; brown and paste-like, its only alternative being the Red Paste they ate for dessert. There were rumours about the materials the Corporation used to create them both but Alex spent no time fussing about that. He barely had the time to undress before he fell asleep most nights. His bed was the place where he recovered. He had no energy for anything more.

    The Cell he lived in was spartan and undecorated, an exact match to both its neighbours. He had the same bed and the same cupboard and the same table as the men on either side, each of these moulded from the same neo-plastic that made up everything in Township. There was security in sameness, the Governor said. Individuality was Sin.

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    1. Stark, bleak, and well-told... dystopian and beautiful... and the only color you allowed in the story was red... (I don't count brown as a color)...

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    2. Again, I'm the dittohead. Leland took the words out of my mouth and made them sound better. ;) Great job, Mark.

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