Friday, June 23, 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.



The Barlow knife was stuck about shoulder high in the hot bark of the old tree. Shoulder high to a nine year old isn’t that high, I guess. But there it was. I was half delirious from fishing and Florida sun – the kind that sticks to your skin. Of course, knife-loving boy that I was, my first thought was to pocket the thing. Then, knife-loving boy that I was, I thought, “dang, someone might be coming back lookin’ for that.” 

I had, myself, left a knife in a tree by a stream a year before. Even though I knew it was dumb while I was doing it. Even though my Grandpa had told me - always in the hand or the pocket. And someone took my knife. I know, ‘cause I went back the next day at first light. It was gone. 

And it had hurt me.

Then, I looked at it closer. Saw the muck where the steel met the wood. That knife had been there a while. I shook the sticky drops of sun off my face, put my rod down. This? This was a conundrum. Wasn’t nobody coming back for that old Barlow knife. But. 

But, hell, how long had it been there? There was something almost sacred about it. I knew it was filled with the memory of fishing trips and campfires and that it still held the memory of the hand that had held it. Who was I to take the Barlow from the Pine? No Arthur, I. Just a knife-loving boy who loved stories and saw a bunch of them in the patina of that old steel. The way the scales were rubbed smooth in parts. The scratch marks on the blade that told me someone had sharpened it on a wheel. 

Just like my Grandpa did with his work knives. 

I don’t remember how long I stared at that knife. And I’ll allow that time has probably prettied up the patina on the memory, but I do know that it was enough to stop a fish-loving boy from fishing. At least for a day.

Straight flummoxed. Ethics and all. I was a morally precocious boy, born feeling guilty.

I went home and sharpened my knives. The right way. Not out of any disrespect. Just because it gave me more time to think. And I had a whetstone the size of a pink eraser. 

I didn’t have a grinding wheel. 

#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...

61 comments:

  1. This is such a lovely piece. Reminds me a little of Steinbeck and a little of the best of Twain. I would LOVE to read a whole book written in this voice.

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    1. Yes. Yes, yes. It's lovely and I want more.

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    2. ahhh... moral conundrums indeed... what a heart that nine-year-old had! I really like this.

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  2. I'm there. I can smell the sap leaking from the tree's wound, hear the breeze rustle the leaves as I stare in wonder. Amazing.

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  3. Riding a motorcycle has always been a crap shoot and rolling snake eyes will kill you. They don't call riders organ donors for nothing.

    Picture a sunny Kansas day in early Spring. Bikes are being dewinterized and made street ready. Everyone on two wheels is looking forward to riding weather.

    A young college student, whose only previous experience is dirt bikes and ATVs, has just purchased his first Rice Burner aka Crotch Rocket. This is no touring bike. It's a machine designed for speed. One to be enjoyed on the Interstate praying no State Troopers are around. He hasn't even taken a street bike safety class but he's passed the DMV test.

    In shorts and a t-shirt---no helmet, none required in Kansas---he takes his new toy out for a spin on the streets around the campus of his small college town. Streets where the speed limit is 30, maybe 35 mph.

    The fireman at the station he passes shortly before the collision claim the engine whine indicated excessive speed. So do the students on the adjacent ball field. Police measurements of his skid marks say his speed was in the 75 mph range on a 35 mph street when he broadsided an SUV turning left in front of him from a campus building driveway.

    The bike, and the boy, are toast. The boy's head comes to rest under the left front wheel of the SUV. Students from the ball field run to keep the driver of the vehicle from exiting and witnessing the horror. The driver is in shock. All she can see from the driver's seat is a tennis shoe lying in the street. She thinks that one of the ball field students has thrown it at her car. She has no idea of what has really happened. Like most car vs motorcycle collisions she never saw him, never heard him.

    I'm sure you can well imagine how the young man's family reacted to the loss of their son and brother. How his friends felt.

    But what about the driver of the SUV? That driver was my wife. A woman who will never, ever be the same again, even if the investigation finds her to not be at fault. There's a dead boy under her car. How can you not feel fault?

    I'm the one who calls the insurance company to report an accident with a fatality. I'm the one who's responsible for getting her medical care. She's not physically injured, but there are counselling therapists and cognitive behavioral therapists and psychiatrists and trauma therapists. She's in a fugue state and getting her moving where she needs to be is exhausting. Handling the details is exhausting. I lost a younger brother when I was 22 to an off road vehicle accident so I know exactly how the dead boy's family feels. They have no clue of the anguish at my house.

    At least I don't think they do. The boy's aunt is an ER nurse at the local hospital. She was the dead boy's first contact there. I can't imagine how her heart broke when she realized who the patient was.

    But two days later she managed to find out the name and address of the SUV driver and she and her son, the dead boy's cousin, came to our home to comfort my wife. To say that they knew the boy was reckless and they didn't blame her.

    Not that this made any difference in the final determination of the insurance companies. The "unsafe left turn" in front of the "speeding motorcycle" left my wife 51% responsible and the dead boy 49% responsible.

    100s of people were affected by this tradgedy. Many lessons here. Learn them.

    #2minutesgo #flashfictionfriday #write #read. #amwriting #flashfiction

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    1. This is well written. It also breaks my heart. I've lost friends on bikes. Sometimes their fault. Sometimes not. I've been lucky never to see it happen. But I can say this. One of the members of my club was killed in a head on collision. I think of him calling 911 with shattered hands, wrists, elbows - shattered everything. But I also think about that poor man driving the car. My guess is it was a little bit of both their faults. Blind, tight turn.

      You shine an important light here. Everyone loses when these tragedies happen. Thank you for sharing a painful story.

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    2. Thank you for your praise JD. The story literally flowed from my mind to the keypad. I think I maybe edited two or three sentences from the first draft. Writing this all out was very freeing. I'm totally believing in "write what you know".

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    3. This also breaks my heart, having lost several friends to motorcycle accidents. It's also one of my greatest fears, as a driver. Thank you for writing and posting this.

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    4. Thanks for a well-written story that also manages to be a visceral reminder.

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  4. “Noise hurts,” Rima said. But the doctor who came to the camp didn’t believe her. His eyebrows went up and his mouth curled down. He shook his head then glanced at her mother as if to say, “Kids. What imaginations they have!” But she knew it to be true. When the soldiers shot their guns, when the planes dropped their bombs too close, her whole body hurt, and she wanted to curl up into a ball and weep. The doctor asked again, “You mean that the noise was so loud it hurt your ears, or it gave you a headache?” Rima shook her head. Her head hurt, that was true, but it often hurt. A pounding at the base of her skull, a tightness in the tiny muscles connecting her collarbones to her shoulders, and then the pain would shoot up the muscles of her throat into her jaw, all the way up the left side of her face into her temple. It was the only reason she could come up with to explain the toothaches, because her mother also took her to the dentist who visited the camp, and he said her teeth looked fine to him.

    From the dentist’s eyes, soft and pathetic, Rima knew that he believed it was all in her mind. That she’d made up this fantasy like she would have pleaded a stomach ache to get out of a test at school.

    She missed school.

    She and what was left of her family had been in the camp since her last birthday, and whenever she asked if there would be school again someday, her mother said they were lucky to just have food and water and a place to sleep and to stop talking about foolish things. They were lucky to be alive.

    Nobody believed her about the pain so eventually she stopped talking about it, but she still hurt. Her mother thought she was lazy for not getting out of bed faster to help her with the breakfast. Rima remembers her angry face glaring down at her cot, her scolding finger. That she was ungrateful and reflected badly on her family and her village. And even though it hurt and getting up too fast made her dizzy for a while, even though her feet shuffled through the dirt floor, not falling right as she put one in front of the other, even though she often dropped pans and glasses and sometimes even food—that earned a very harsh scolding—she got up and she helped.

    Now the doctor doesn’t even ask her those questions anymore. When he visits, and the mothers line their children up for inspection, he takes her temperature and measures her height and shines a light in her eyes and makes her stick her tongue out, but he doesn’t ask about the pain.

    More than having to leave her home, more than not being able to go to school, more than even the pain sometimes, Rima hated not being believed the most. She didn’t have a name for the tightening noose in her stomach, the frozen tears stinging the backs of her eyes, the way her hands often balled into fists, so hard sometimes her fingernails cut her palms. Maybe it was anger. Maybe worse.

    “Mama says get up, lazy bones,” her brother Armin said.

    “Go away.” She turned toward the wall.

    “She said now. She said ‘go get your crazy sister out of bed.’”
    He grabbed her shoulder, but the knot of the noose slammed home. “I’m not crazy!”

    “Crazy bones, lazy bones, crazy bones, lazy bones…”

    “I’m not crazy! Shut up. Shut up!” She turned so fast, pushed him so hard he stumbled backward and fell against the table with such a loud screech and clatter that Rima clutched her head and howled.

    When the sharp pain grew quiet, and no longer hurt, she opened her eyes, and saw the pool of blood soaking into the dirt. “I’m not crazy,” she told his still, silent body. “Shut up.”

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    1. Wow. I don't have the right words to tell you how powerful this is. The detail in the beginning. This is wonderful writing. And my heart is broken.

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    2. I ditto "wow"... and I swear my head was pounding by the last paragraph. So descriptive, so real. So heartbreaking.

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    3. Wonderful piece. Love how the incapacitating nature of war and violence escalates in this girl til she becomes what hurts her. Nicely done.

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  5. The sunlight refracts as it goes into the water. Or something. I don’t know that much about science. It does cool things, I know that. I see it through my goggles.

    I also see bees, stranded, floating and scrambling. I let them crawl onto my hand until they are ready to fly away. My daughter helps. We are the protectors of the bees.

    The sounds at a pool are like nowhere else. Delighted shouts and laughter punctuated occasionally by a lifeguard whistle. And the sun and the water lull you into a state of disconnect. It’s a different world. One that is touched by the smell of barbecues from the apartments down the block. A world where people can escape the heat of the day and float their troubles away.

    For just a few bucks a day, you can take a small vacation. It makes you smell like chlorine, but the smell is worth it.

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    1. "We are the protectors of the bees." Nice.

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    2. Ah, what a beautiful moment in time... and Laurie tagged my favorite line, too.

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  6. The back of the truck is hot. I don’t tell folks that. What am I supposed to say? Sorry your designer candles melted, but it’s 170 degrees in the back of that beast. Yeah, those cookies your grandma sent? They’re not gonna be looking so good either.

    Every once in a while, I get the question. Usually when I hand someone a box that’s almost too hot to hold. And I say, hey, I’m sorry, but I just drive the truck and deliver the packages. I’ve got no problem with you or with your package. It’s not sabotage. It’s a job.

    They don’t seem to worry as much in winter. When I’m freezing, out in the rain delivering packages. I guess as long as the cardboard is comfortable everybody’s happy.

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    1. I really like the last sentence.

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    2. Delivery drivers are the unsung heroes of the 21st century... and this piece is an acknowledgement of that... well done and well written.

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    3. I really liked this. Found myself smiling throughout.

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  7. The rain was gently tapping the roof. The dog next door was gently barking his woof. It was a good combination of sounds. Might not sound like it. I know. But it was nice. It was good to lie on the couch and think about nothing except the sound of the rain and the neighbor’s poodle.

    The envelope lay on the table where I’d left it. I could see the letter spilling out, but I didn’t need to read it. I’d read it so many times already that I knew what it said. I thought about it and smiled. Turned over. Wondered if the rain would stop.

    Wondered if the letter was real. It sure seemed real.

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    1. I want to know the rest of the story!

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    2. Yep, you left us with a cliffhanger... i believe it's good news... and I love how you gave us the sound of rain on a hot day... Thank you. PS: Angelo approves of the roof and woof rhyme.

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    3. You got me. I want some more please.

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  8. You can’t lock it down and it will never turn out the way you think it’s going to. That makes some folks scared. And I get it. It’s unsettling, but it also keeps things from getting too boring. Me? I like surprises. Who knows what the future holds?

    Them that are scared of the future? Son, they can’t take the what ifs. The what ifs get caught inside their chests and make them worry. What if I get sick? What if things don’t turn out the way I want them to? They don’t trip about the good what ifs though, and those are the ones that get me through the day.

    What if I catch the biggest fish in the world? What if my daughter becomes President? What if I keep waking up every day with a fresh new mystery in front of me?

    Yeah, the future is what it is. I’ll take it as it comes.

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    1. A brilliant philosophy, and well-explained... I like "The what ifs get caught inside their chests and make them worry." It explains a lot about folks that I don't understand...

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  9. You stare into the mirror and you’re looking at your eyes and wondering why they look so angry. You don’t want angry eyes, but you can’t seem to make them look less pissed off. So, you look away. No one wants to look at themselves angry.

    You wonder where the anger is coming from. You can’t think of any good reason to be angry. But there it is. Simmering just under the surface. You can feel it twisting you up inside. And you know, if you look at the mirror, you’ll still see red.

    You take a deep breath and look into the mirror again anyway, but this time it just makes you laugh.

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  10. Tiny white flowers, in an alpine valley; a valley filled with wildflowers in extravagant reds, exuberant yellows, and electric blues. Every year, at the end of June, he came to this valley for those simple white flowers.

    Achillea, named for the great warrior Achilles. Folklore said that this plant was used as a poultice for his heel, pierced by the arrow of Paris, in a vain effort to save his life.
    Achilles and Patroclus. Warriors. Loyal. Fierce. He and Jake knew something about that. They'd met in desert sands, wearing the uniforms of modern day warriors.

    Something about the stars brought them both out one night, and they recited the names of constellations together, like incantations to the ancient gods. Venus heard them, and by dawn, kisses, and hearts had been exchanged.

    Mars heard them, too, for the next morning, they were engaged in battle with hidden enemies in that land not so very far from Troy. Both wounded, they were evacked to a hospital, where they spent a week laughing and telling stories, and sneaking into places they ought not to be, but where they could be together.

    The next six months were bearable only because they had each other, and for a minute, or ten, or an hour, they could forget the blood, the bodies, the thrill of killing, and the guilt that followed.

    He remembered it all as he lay in the grass in this valley, a valley they once visited together.

    He leaned down, to pick one stem of the tiny white flowers.

    Jake died in battle, but the enemy was a demon he carried inside, and the wound was not in his heel, but in his heart.

    A man wept at the side of a creek, amidst the wildflowers in an alpine valley, for what was, for what might have been, and Patroclus and Achilles watched over him.

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    1. Yeah, I love this, too. Archetypal, but not cliched. And the beautiful first paragraph sets everything up perfectly.

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    2. Tears. You often bring me to tears with the exposing if the broken parts of broken hearts.

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  11. Oh, it was ardent, urgent, sure, but lacked the passion of those before. Like a period instead of an exclamation mark.

    It lasted long, but it was the firmness, the desperate I'm-not-letting-go of its embrace that he remembered most. It wasn't the deep dive into that warm pool of inviting flesh felt in their other kisses, but it'd have to do because this was their last kiss before not seeing one another for a long time.

    It felt as if she was kissing him on his deathbed.

    And on the other side, a boy kissed his love that one last time, as well, and surprised himself with the stiffness of their lips against each other, pressed hard together, like one would in glue two things one to the other.

    Warmer, more expressive, were the tears trickling down and mingling on all their cheeks. Lips can lie. Lips can speak in languages unknown or misunderstood. "Auf wiedersehen, meine Liebe" would be lost on the girl who heard "Goodbye, my love."

    But tears speak the same language.

    They speak of love, loss, warm hope, even bitter finality on the lips that could never profess that in words alone.

    Even a last kiss.

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    1. My favorite line: "But tears speak the same language." Beautifully done, sir.

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    2. And I loved the counterpoint: Lips can lie. This is a really well constructed piece, Joe.

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  12. Most of the guests had arrived and were getting into the buzzy beat of Jen and Phil’s Valentine’s Day Eve party when the dull pounding started.

    “What the hell's that?” Jen’s friend Laurie said, raising her eyes to the ceiling.

    Jen said, “Oh, that’s old Manny Blue, the guy upstairs. Whenever we have some get together, or put on some music to ‘Get busy,” Phil said, jumping into the conversation, laughing.

    “Phil!

    “You know what I mean Laurie. Whenever we’re what Manny thinks is loud, he bangs on his floor and we turn our music lower. Sometimes actually hear him saying ‘Turn it down.’ But not tonight. Tonight, we’re here to celebrate Valentine’s Day with our friends and if Manny has a problem, he can damn well come down to the party and tell us. Maybe loosen up the old crank.”

    Nevertheless, Phil turned the stereo down just a notch, which none of their friends seemed to notice, and the pounding slowed and then stopped. After that, the party continued until past midnight.

    In the morning, as Jen and Phil picked their way through orange juice, leftover pizza and aspirin for breakfast, they heard it. Above their living room they heard a dull thump…thump…thump.

    “What the fuh..?” Phil said.

    “We’re not playing the stereo and the TV’s off, God knows,” Jen said and rubbed her temples. “What’s his problem?”

    “I don’t know, but I’m going to go up and settle this with the old bastard once and for all. Shoulda talked about this long ago, if he’d ever come out of his damn apartment.”

    Phil climbed the stairs two at a time to the floor above, with Jen slowly following behind him.

    When they reached Old Man Blue’s apartment door, they heard the sound of music coming from inside. An electric guitar picked single notes and a quavering voice sang, “Without your love, I'm nothing at all. Like an empty hall, it's a lonely fall.”

    And then they heard thump…thump…thump and a low moaning and plaintive, “Turn it down, make it stop.”

    Phil knocked on the door and said, “Manny? Mr. Blue? It’s Phil Hoover from down in 2B. We gotta talk.”

    From inside came the sound of a chorus singing, “And the sun don't shine anymore. And the rains fall down on my door. Then, thump…thump, and “Please turn it down. Please go away.”

    “Phil, something’s wrong in there,” Jen said. “Try the door. Try the door.”

    Phil turned the knob and found it unlocked. When he opened the door, he saw the back of a sofa, an old stereo like his dad’s beside it, a disc of black vinyl spinning away on its turntable. As they moved into the room, they saw a hand with bloody fingers lift the arm and place it back down onto the record with a scratchy buzz and *thup*.

    Hurrying toward the sofa, they looked over its back and saw the cardboard sleeve that read Northern Lights - Southern Cross, a circle of letters, cards and old photos on the hardwood floor and, in the middle of it all, Manny Blue, kneeling, his forehead bleeding.

    For the sixth time since the preceding night, a man named Rick Danko began to sing: “It makes no difference where I turn. I can't get over you and the flame still burns. It makes no difference, night or day. The shadow never seems to fade away." 

    Manny Blue, a lonely man who once knew love, lowered his head to the floor one, two, three times. Then he whispered, “Please make it go away.”

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    1. OMG... so disturbing... and so possible... you told the story well, and with just the right amount of heart.

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    2. LOVE this. So vivid and yes, disturbing too but so intriguing.

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    3. Not where I thought this was going at all. Agreed, disturbing, but really unique and interesting.

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  13. There is a mesa in Colorado. The Anglos call it Rattlesnake Mesa, and the locals call it Chate Mesa. Whatever it's called, it is a seven-hundred-foot high mass of rock and sand. In winter, there is a crevice between two boulders that holds hundreds, maybe thousands, of rattlesnakes, waiting for spring. On warm days, usually in March, if you peer between those rocks, you see them writhe in orgiastic unions.

    The man who pitched his tent at the base of that Mesa knew none of these things. He knew the mesa would break the ferocious wind coming from the west, and he knew he was tired of hiking. The sun was not yet set, but he was in the shadow cast by the formation, and the shade felt good. He considered building a fire, but decided on a sandwich instead, the last of three that he'd packed for the hike. The last can of beer, too. He'd earned it, he figured.

    Halfway through his weeklong vacation, he was far enough away from anything, from everything, that he allowed himself to think, to ponder the news he'd gotten last week. He was used to life or death situations. He'd hiked and even climbed mountains since he was a boy.

    He knew there were things that looked impossible, but could be done if you persisted. He also knew there were points in a hike where you could decide to go forward, or to turn around and go back. Beyond those points, you were committed to going forward or dying.

    Dying. In all his years outdoors, he'd never let himself say that word out loud. Superstitious, but he thought saying it out loud was an invitation to whatever might make him die.

    The rock around him held heat from the now unseen sun. He could feel it radiate, felt its rays warm his skin, even as the breeze flowed through the hair on his legs. The fallen tree he'd been sitting on was uncomfortable, but he'd dealt with worse. Still, it'd be good to let the blood circulate in his legs. He stood, and the combination of that action and the high altitude made him feel dizzy for a moment. He thought he was imagining things when he saw a downed tree limb move, not six feet away from him. And then the tree limb curled into a spiral, and made a buzzing different than the buzzing in his head.

    A rattlesnake, as big around as his thigh. He did not move, and did not breathe for a very long time. He remembered warnings, what to do if bitten. Get into a car and drive to a hospital. Time is of the essence. Do not try to cut the wound, or to suck the venom out. Do not tighten a tourniquet too much. None of that mattered now. The car was a good fifteen miles away, and there was no ice to be had. A rattler can generally strike one and a half times the length of its body. Back away slowly. And he would, as soon as his legs stopped being numb.

    The snake’s head rose hypnotically, swaying just a little to the left, and then a little to the right. He tried to look away, but couldn't.

    The serpent’s eyes had vertical slits, like his cat at home. Its forked tongue sampled the air every few seconds. And then the rattle stopped, and the snake looked him in the eye.

    “My venom, or cancer’s poison. How would you prefer to die?”

    And he did not know the answer.

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  14. What was it the New York Times Book Review had called him? A builder of worlds? A master storyteller? He didn't remember, but he knew it was good.

    The past few years had been hard, but some of his best work came when he was experiencing adversity. He knew this becaus his agent told him this. Speaking of agents why didn't that bastard call? How long had it been? He wasn't sure, but it had been a while.

    The sound quality of radios has certainly improved, but the same cannot be said of the music played on it. Had the Andrews Sisters done something wrong? Did they get caught up in that bastard McCarthy’s committee? Never trust a Senator who is a ventriloquist.

    Where was Jane? She was supposed to pick him up an hour ago. Nobody had any respect for his time. No wonder it was so hard to write these days. And someone had stolen his typewriter. Thieves and liars, they were everywhere. Hell in a hand basket.
    His nose itched. He tried to raise his hand to scratch it. But couldn't. Was he paralyzed? He'd tell Jane to make an appointment with the doctor when she picked him up.

    The door opened.

    “How are you feeling today, Mr. Vonnegut? If you can behave for one more day, we'll see what we can do about getting rid of those restraints.”

    And he laughed and he laughed. Kilgore Trout had been the lucky one after all.

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  15. Part One:

    I approach every party I go to now like it’s a frenemy. Not the people who invite me or the people who attend—no, the party its self. Like somehow the act of meeting new people or catching up with old acquaintances while imbibing good food and a cocktail is a plot to disarm me however much I might have a good time.

    I was having a good time though. The hosts are lovely people, thoroughly engaged in the world and what it offers. Not saints. Not lucky. Just real and good, like most people.

    I, on the other hand, feel unusually disconnected. Yes, I’m an introvert. However, I’m not an experienced nor an avid wallflower. So, when the inevitable happens and someone prompts me into a conversation, I do what I always do, I gamely attempt to participate.

    Who knew that one word would out me? And such an innocuous word too: “was”. You see I was speaking about our children. The two women I’d just met were discussing their children as most huddled women at a party do at some point, if they have them. For many of us it can’t be helped. It’s as if the idea of something we created -- an actual part of ourselves walking around doing things we would or wouldn’t do -- is an endlessly fascinating reel of film that we must talk about for pointers and analyze. I was discussing our children’s names and when I spoke about the surname you shared with us I said what I usually do to explain its singular pronunciation and rarity, “He was Irish”.

    After we finished our discussion, the women and I disengaged from each other to get another drink or something to eat but really just to connect with someone else at the party that we know or might be more interesting. Later, one of the women comes back to me.

    “You said your husband “was” Irish. Why did you say was?” She glances at my ring finger and seeing it bare she goes on, “Are you not together anymore… divorce?”

    For the record, I still wear the first wedding ring you gave me. It’s old and lost all the demarcations it had when we purchased it. On my finger, it looks like a thoroughly beaten piece of silver that I’ve loved into this shape. I still remember where and how we got it. A magical story for another time. Sometimes I switch the finger I wear it on as I had that night, hidden it really, under another larger ring.

    “He died.”

    Her eyes are instantly sympathetic.

    “Mine too.” She says.

    “Oh.” I nod but the words “I’m sorry” catch in my throat. It’s not that I’m not sorry for her or myself; it’s just that I’m surprised. I’m always surprised when people are smarter than they seem. Also, now I feel like I can actually be seen at this party. I tend to feel invisible not because I am but because people don’t always like to look at me for too long or speak to me directly. You used to say it was because I intimidate them. But this savvy woman was not at all intimidated. She was interested in me and I wasn’t prepared for that. Or maybe that’s exactly why I sometimes don’t do parties well in the first place.

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  16. Part Two:

    “Can I ask what did he die of?”

    When she asks that I’ve taken a bite of something and I’m chewing. I didn’t eat much today and I’ve been drinking a rum cocktail one of my hosts had concocted then cajole me into having. I barely manage to get out a word but of course, one word is enough.

    “C…cancer.”

    “Oh, I’m so sorry.”

    She says it easily and sincerely. I envy her that ability. I’m still too vexed to be sympathetic I think. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Certainly, not so soon. I nod my thanks for her inherent tenderness.

    “I had a feeling you might be. Something about the way you talked about him.”

    “Oh…” I say dragging the word out. It is the affirmation of someone who suddenly deeply understands everything. It’s like being a new member of a club you see. I remember feeling the same way when I became a wife and then again as a parent. It’s as if you’ve become part of a whole new tribe and the rules of behavior shift under your feet to something a little more nuanced. But the important thing is – you connect. You belong.

    Then I ask the question. Not because I’m at all curious but because I can tell she wants me too. If there is one thing I know about the death of a loved one, especially a spouse, most of the time I don’t mind talking about you at all. Bringing you up in conversations, telling stories about you, it’s well… it’s strangely comforting. Not as good as talking with you directly or seeing you in person; or feeling your hands against my skin but it is pleasant like coming home after a long exhausting day at work.

    “How did your husband pass?” I ask.

    Her eyes are a lovely shade of blue but I swear they seem to darken and go gray for a second before she answers me.

    “He shook someone’s hand.”

    “Excuse me?”

    I think I’ve haven’t heard her correctly because what she’s saying doesn’t make sense unless it’s a novel by Stephen King or John Le Carre.

    “Yes, the man he shook hands with had some kind of a contagion. The man survived but my London, he died. It was insanely quick.” She’s talking quickly now too, no longer even looking at me but thoroughly entrenched in sketching out the horror of her past to me. “Lon, was a consultant and a bear of a man -- six five and a trim 250. He was doing some efficiency tests at this company for his client. Lon hated the usual results of his job but always tried to make the best of it. He shook a lot of hands that day but this man, he’d looked like he had the flu. He’d sought Lon out. Wanted his story told. That night Lon got a migraine first then he could barely move. He was dead within thirty hours. One of our sons was three thousand miles away at school by the time I got him to the ER. He couldn’t even get back fast enough to tell his father goodbye.”

    We’re both silent for a beat. The noise of the other partygoers chatting it up are barely discernable. Then it comes and easily too, because of course, in that moment it feels like the worse story I’ve ever heard.

    “I’m sorry.”

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    1. You did something beautiful with this story... you had her address her comments and observations to her departed husband... that completely opened the possibility of sharing everything you did in first person... that's really perfect for this story. It gave it an intimacy it would have lacked otherwise. The story itself is heartbreaking, but bravo for telling it so well.

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    2. I concur. I love this piece. The first sentence is so good. And it sets the rest of the piece up so well. As we discover this isn't pure introversion. Really love this.

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  17. Marvin called me a femme fatale and I asked him how I could remind him of a dairy product. He murmured something about film noir, but I knew I was in the ascendancy, so I didn't let go.

    "So a creme fraise?"

    "No, that's not it."

    "Frappuccino?"

    "Na-ah…" He drew it out, but his voice quavered.

    "You fuck. You think you can draw an edge around me, put me in a box?"

    "No, forget it. You didn't hear me right."

    "I hear you right. I'll fucking hear you right."

    "Calm down. It doesn't even make sense. You're a bottle blonde, after all."

    "Wait a goddamned jailhouse minute. So you're saying my hair colour is a key factor here?"

    "Well, sorta. I mean, you don't get evil perky blondes, right?"

    "Until me? Right?"

    Up until the moment I got bored, toying with Marvin was fun. But yeah, that moment. Amazing how fast the color sometimes drains from everything. Leaves you sitting immobile, gaping, like the power got compromised or something, like the sun snapped out a plasma lariat and browned out the world.

    That proved to be the last time I saw Marvin and the last time Marvin saw anyone at all. Not gonna give you too long to think about that.

    Until recently I still bleached my hair, but I'm thinking of going back to black, so my roots aren't just showing, they're exposing themselves shamelessly. Thinking maybe I can grow into my stereotype. I'll have to be on my guard; I hear they treat brunettes different. Poor Marvin was probably on to something, Lana Turner notwithstanding. And Stanwyck.

    But here's another thing: they think they got me. The law, I mean. Got me to flip on a couple higher-ups when all the time I'm the higher-up. Look. As our president so amply demonstrates, bragging is for the childishly insecure, so trust me when I tell you this ain't no brag: I am smart as they come. Sharp as a shinken katana forged in Kyoto. A straight razor pushed against your trembling taint. At such moments of my choosing, you will not not notice me. Completely self-educated, a thirsty daughter of Phoenicia and the Amazon, I'm prouder of my smarts than the accident of birth that produced my looks. The latter tends to obscure the former, though, so I'm able to hide in plain sight—around men, especially. Playing the dumb broad or the ingenue is fun as hell. Ha, maybe I should use the handle Columba.

    The wheel. Invented in 3500 BCE, early Bronze Age. To my right is a Chinese bowl, porcelain, fish motifs, inky blue on bluish white. It's late in June, and the heat is a hot rag squeezing my skin. I am a wet sponge trying to become a dry sponge. A ceiling fan is reflected in the bowl, and its glazed surface holds the ghost of a tiny spoked wheel, turning fast. Aghast at its own heat. The circle of life is also a wheel. The wheel was a diabolical instrument of medieval agony. And my current troubles turned on a roulette wheel.

    I happen to be the kind of woman who uses a phrase like "Wait a jailhouse minute." Paints stellar imagery with words. Allusive. Elusive. A virtuoso amoroso, I control the lexicon. How can you not admire me, love me? I am delightful. Confronted with your bewildered mien, I will reflect you. Disguised as Echo, I am yet Narcissus. Both reflections, it has to be said. (See what I did there?)

    But yeah. The casino added two to two and came up with something other than four. They were right I was cheating them, but for all the wrong reasons. Their heavies left no impact, so they turned to the weightier, blunter instruments of the state. I was so far ahead of them they thought they were lapping me. No doubt some of them would like that image, of them lapping me, I mean. Fantasists. Utter fucksticks. They have no idea the depth of my antipathy.

    Strange. All these thoughts, these deadly playful words, and you don't yet know my name, and I'm so okay with that.

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    1. Sorry I'm late to the party. Blame the Chicken. This character sketch feels like it might have legs.

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    2. This is a treat! Such a different voice, such a different motivation... Yeah, I think this one SHOULD have legs... you've got a great character here! So many layers to her... and she thinks she knows herself, but I bet there are some surprises she's not prepared for. Thanks for sharing!

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    3. Wonderful! I love this character.

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    4. Awesome character. Even more awesome writing. "A straight razor pushed against your trembling taint." Indeed.

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    5. I agree with the above sentiments. And I think this has legs, too. I love this: Amazing how fast the color sometimes drains from everything. Leaves you sitting immobile, gaping, like the power got compromised or something, like the sun snapped out a plasma lariat and browned out the world.

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    6. Shades of Letty Dobesh in Blake Crouch's Good Behavior.

      https://www.blakecrouch.com/letty-dobesh.php

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