Friday, December 29, 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.

Don’t tell me to shut up. First things first. I’ve got so many soapboxes, you could build a skyscraper. Granted, it would be a shitty soapbox skyscraper, but you gotta suspend some disbelief here. Or don’t. I don’t care. I’m not the boss of you. But you’re not the boss of me, either.

Erase your brain. We need to do a complete wipe and re-install. I don’t want you coming into this with preconceived notions. If I tell you there’s an old man smoking a cheroot, you need to look that shit up so you know what I’m talking about. Personally? I have no fucking clue what a cheroot is. I always figured it was some kind of nasty cigar. You gotta make your own assumptions, though.

But you can use your gut. It won’t work as well as your brain. But really, that’s not as much my fault as it is our fault. This is a team effort. And there’s no eyes in team. Don’t go trying to be cute.

I’m just waiting to put one over on you.

So, let’s be clear. You don’t like to read. Not really. And I don’t care. Not really. I’ve decided to stop pushing the boulder up the hill. Fuck plot. Fuck coherency. I’m going to tell you right now that I have a top-hat and a mind filled with holes. Just like a country stop sign. But I put those holes there with chemicals. Not a shotgun. Cause I’m a Commie liberal.

Suck it.

I’m tired of lazy readers. Go for a fucking jog or something. Take this with you. Make sure you don’t run straight into a sign-post though. That girl in the red coat? The one with the eyes made of magic? She’ll laugh at you. Worse, she’ll do that thing where she covers her mouth and shakes a little and you can tell she’s trying not to laugh. It will be fucking brutal.

Keep your wits about you.


We need to establish some kind of trust here. So, here’s the deal. I’m going to tell you some things that very few people know… 

#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...

53 comments:

  1. Huddling in a tattered blanket,
    battered sign held in limp hands.
    Existing on a shabby street corner
    that nobody else values.
    Except as a reason
    to move him along.

    When there is nowhere to go,
    nothing to do,
    nobody to see,
    time stretches to implausible lengths.
    Like a flavorless wad of discarded gum
    stuck to your shoe.


    I walk past him.
    Most days, I nod to show
    that I see him.
    But I do not speak,
    or offer to help,
    or give what he asks for.

    Sometimes I wonder
    if he is a veteran.
    A lost brother of mine,
    patrolling the alleys of despair.
    Do I fail my oath each day,
    as I leave him behind?

    The small voice in my head
    listens to me wondering,
    and calls me heartless
    for thinking that matters.
    Because,
    they should all matter.

    #2minutesgo #amwriting

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    1. ah... a well-written reminder that we are, in fact, our brother's keeper.

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    2. Oh wow. This is so heartbreakingly apt. Well done.

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    3. Yep. Leland is in my brain again. An internal struggle we all know.

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  2. (and, love the adrenaline in the the OP. Wow! Get the blood pumping one way or another!)

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    1. Yes! Love it. It's exhausting, pushing that rock up the hill.

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  3. JD Mader, for the win! This is just absolutely brilliant.

    "That girl in the red coat? The one with the eyes made of magic?" - that's one clear portrait there, G. Love it.

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    1. Thanks, G. This may or may not turn into a much, much longer piece. My brain's been percolating lately.

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  4. Awesome opening piece! I wanna know the secrets, I don't wanna be laughed at. Just keep the words small while I smoke my cheroot...

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    1. ;) I think this one will keep going. Some secrets may be revealed. Thanks brother.

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  5. If there’s anything sadder than a drag queen whose hand is too shaky to apply her eyeliner straight, I don’t know it what it is.

    Rose sat in front of the mirror and took an unflinching look at herself. Too many cigarettes made her wrinkle prematurely. If sixty is premature. Too much scotch made her eyes red enough that Visine wasn’t going to clear them up.

    She gasped when she saw a gray hair emerging from her left ear. It took three tries with a tweezer to pull it out.

    But it was her hands that made her cry. Her once lovely long fingers had arthritic knots for knuckles. The extravagant rings had to be resized so she could wear them, and the rings themselves drew attention to the ugliness. The quivering was new, a fresh reminder of how her prime was only to be seen in the rearview mirror now. The lines below her eyes were no longer an accentuation of their perfection. They were wavy, like a child had drawn them. Maybe she’d have them tattooed on, like Miss Simone had had done. She wondered if the little bit of work she’d had done on her eyes last year would make the tattoos look funny. Or god forbid, if she had more work done, what would happen. At least she could remove the flawed lines she drew herself.

    The knock on the door told her it was five minutes to showtime. She poured herself into the sequined creation she’d sewn for herself just last year, knowing she’d never sew another.

    If there’d been another five minutes, her eyes would have lingered on the scars on her wrists from years ago.

    I’m wrong. There is something sadder. It’s a drag queen who tried to kill herself and succeeded. Thank God for small failures.

    Rose freshened her lip gloss with sparkles and put on her smile. Showtime!

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    Replies
    1. The beauty in those last few lines, Leland! Hooked with the first line, slayed with the last six.

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    2. Damn. My answer stolen again. The bookends! Damn. But I straight up love this piece all the way through.

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  6. He sat beside a creek that he knew and loved, that he’d watched ebb and flow for years. The words came to him without thought.

    The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

    The dog curled up next to him.

    He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

    These were not still waters. There were ripples, there were chunks of ice flowing downstream.

    He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

    More than half a century after he first said the words, he still stumbled over “righteousness.” He knew he wasn’t always right, and he knew others were more pure than he. But he had been led down many paths, that much was true. He stroked the dog’s ears.

    Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

    There were no sheep for him, but he knew that any shepherd would prefer a well-trained dog over a rod or staff, and the dog had walked with him through many valleys and through many dangers.

    Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

    His backpack held a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter. That would do.

    Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

    He arose from his place by the creek. The dog rose with him. Together, they walked into the red skies of a Colorado morning, with the creek’s laughter trailing behind.

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    1. great rhythm. The alternating cadence is soothing but still creates a tension

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    2. <3 I agree with the rhythm and cadence. I love the heart in this one.

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    3. Agreed. And I've always wondered, as an agnostic, why I find my peace by streams with rod in hand (no staff) - fishermen - this bears some considering.

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    4. Thanks so much... of the four ancient elements, I think fire and water give us peace, no matter what gods we do or do not believe in. Both fluid, both moving, almost living.

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  7. Kali rampaged through the house like a mini-Godzilla hopped up on cocaine and milk bones. Fifteen pounds of furball surrounding a fifty-pound heart, she chased her latest target of love in circles, around the kitchen, through the living room, up on the couch before leaping fearlessly into the air and back towards the kitchen again.

    The cat was more agile, and cornered better. Kali had better top-end speed. A too-long straightaway proved to be Sirius’ undoing, and Kali tackled him to the ground. Straddling her tiger-striped friend, she administered a vigorous ear cleaning to show her devotion. Unwilling to swipe a set of claws at the smaller dog, Sirius waited for the bathing to stop,

    After all, his ears were a bit dirty.

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    1. Ha! I like this piece. That opening line is perfect.

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    2. A delightful romp into the canine mind!

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  8. They huddle on the cold, damp stones, too many women and children in too small a space. The world smells of mildew and gunpowder and fear. The room is dark, but all too often, light floods the small, high windows, bright as daylight. The children are too frightened to cry, the women too tired to sleep. They wait, tense as an overwound clock, counting the hours until daylight.

    Another boom. Another flash of light. The stone walls rattle. Dust peppers down on the frightened mass. But the wall holds. How many more violent bursts can it take? How many more can their frayed nerves take?

    One more. Just one more. And one after that, and then another.

    The bursts fade at daylight nears. The fighting would continue, but the relentless bombing would cease until twilight, as it had every day for the past few days.

    Around her, female voices rose and fell in quiet prayers of thankfulness, but Magdalena did not join the others in prayer. She did not feel thankful.

    She did not feel thankful to whatever gods might be listening. If the gods did not care to deliver them from the evil beasts battering their defenses, then they had truly been abandoned, for no greater affront to humanity had ever been seen.

    She did not feel thankful, either, to the men, the generals and the strategists who keep trying the same poor tactics over and again. The men who cut the women back to the barest of rations and refused to let them take up arms, insisting they were more useful as nursemaids to the children.

    Magdalena did not feel thankful. She felt furious. Furious and determined. If the gods would not deliver them and the men could not save them, then it was up to her—her and her sisters-in-arms.

    She rose, and forty faces lifted toward hers, watching her with tired, wary eyes.

    “It’s our time,” she said. “Who is with me?”

    One by one, like petals dropping from a withered flower, the frightened, wary expressions fell from her sisters’ faces, and hope began to bloom.






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    1. "The children are too frightened to cry, the women too tired to sleep" - such imagery!

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    2. Yep. That got me, too. And, this is going to sound weird, but my thought throughout this whole thing was "Louis L'Amour could have written this if he'd had any clue how women think." I digs it.

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    3. Filled with despair and inevitability, and then you turn it around and give hope... Well done!

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    4. <3 Thank you all. Dan, that is seriously high praise.

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  9. THE FRIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS
    By Gary Val Tenuta

    'Twas the night before Christmas
    And stormy as hell
    When suddenly I heard
    The front door bell.

    I went to the door
    And peeped through the hole.
    And what I saw there
    Sent chills through my soul.

    Did my eyes deceive me?
    It was jolly Saint Nick!
    But he wasn't so jolly.
    He was looking quite sick.

    He was huffing and puffing,
    I saw the fog of his breath.
    He looked like a man who'd been
    Scared half to death.

    It was something to see,
    The way he was breathing,
    I watched his big chest
    So rapidly heaving.

    "Santa!" I cried,
    "What ever's the matter?"
    Then before he could answer
    I heard a great clatter.

    It seemed to be coming
    From the roof top above.
    He said, "Let me in!"
    And he gave me a shove.

    Backward I fell
    And I took quite a tumble
    As he entered the house
    With a limp and a stumble.

    "My reindeer have turned
    Into zombies!" he said.
    "They seem to be living
    Even though they're all dead!”

    “I’m afraid," he said sadly,
    "In a minute or two,
    They'll be coming to eat me
    And then they'll eat you!"

    "Oh no!" I exclaimed.
    "Quick! We must hide!"
    He said, "It's no use,
    I've already tried!"

    I could see in his eyes
    He was filled full of dread.
    Then he pulled out a gun
    And shot himself dead.

    The reindeer came crashing
    Down through the ceiling.
    I was frozen with fear.
    My poor head was reeling.

    They looked at Saint Nick
    Lying dead on the floor
    And I had no idea
    What next was in store.

    They ripped his white beard
    Clean off of his face
    And devoured his flesh
    And left nothing to waste.

    They then turned to me,
    And I wanted to run,
    But then I remembered
    Saint Nick had a gun!

    I dove to the floor
    Grabbed it up in a hurry.
    Soon bullets were flying
    In a furious flurry!

    Still they came at me!
    They just wouldn't die!
    I was plumb out of bullets
    And I wanted to cry!

    Then suddenly the morning
    Sunlight came streaming
    In through the window
    Brightly and gleaming!

    The reindeer all skittered
    Away from the light!
    And I thought to myself
    As they ran out of sight,

    "Merry Christmas, my ass!
    What a hell of a night!"

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    1. deftly done. It is astonishing how many different ways that song can be rendered!

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  11. A lone man wearing sunglasses watched the street. He had his arms draped over the low wall on the opposite side of the road, his attention focused on us. He disturbed me.

    “What’s his trick? What’s he up to?”

    Clary shrugged. “He’s just some guy. He’s always there. He wears those dark glasses, but he can’t see a thing. I suppose it stops him creeping people out. I don’t know what his eyes look like beneath them.”

    “Have you ever spoken to him?”

    “No. Why would I? He’s probably gross. He is very old.”

    “I think you ought to. He looks like he’s watching us.”

    “But he’s blind…and what if he isn’t? We’re doing nothing.”

    “But we could be. I gotta go speak with him.”

    The street was busy, and I had to wait to cross, the controlled crossing point fifty yards or more down the road slow to run through its cycle. It must have taken a couple of minutes for the lights to turn red, the traffic beginning to build up immediately after the first car stopped. I crossed quickly, Clary following me.

    “He’s still there. I thought he might go when he saw us crossing.”

    “He’s blind, remember? No seeing?” Clary took my hand, slowing my pace. The man continued to stare across the road, his eyes fixed on her house. He had to be doing something more than just gazing that way, I was certain of that.

    “We’ll see. We’ll know more when we’ve talked to him.”

    The man turned to face us as we approached, his eyes hidden behind the lenses. His mouth moved but made no sound.

    “Hello, Boss. How’s it going?”

    “Hello.” His voice was unsteady, seeming like it was coming from miles away. He looked toward me and then away again, looking back to the street and then returning his attention to me.

    “What’re you doing? You looking out for anything in particular?”

    “No. I…I.” He lifted his hand, shading his eye; the one toward his house. He seemed to shrink a little, his voice even smaller than before.

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  12. “You’re blind, right?” Clary interrupted. “I’m sorry. Barry’s a new friend. He’s not seen you before.” She seemed apologetic, for some reason. I was annoyed, of course. He might have been more forthcoming if she’d not prompted him first.

    “Yes.” The man looked back toward me, having turned his head toward Clary when she spoke. “Blind. Twenty years now.”

    I nodded and then felt foolish; if he was blind he’d not have seen it.

    “You were in the war, then.”

    “Yes. But this was later.” His head turned away again, his attention focussed somewhere between the two of us. Although he could have watching the street; his glasses had wrap-around lenses, he could have been looking anywhere. He seemed impatient now; wanting us to leave. He was going nowhere, of course.

    “Thank you, Sir.” Clary had decided she’d had enough. He’d confirmed what she’d thought and now she was done. She wanted to get back across the street and put this behind her. She seemed embarrassed, for some reason. Although, he did seem odd. I’d not have spoken to him if he’d not seemed such a creep. I still didn’t feel easy about him, with him living across the road like that. He unsettled me, for some reason.

    “Yes. Yes. We’re done, I guess.”

    I stepped back into the street and then stopped short, my progress arrested by the hand that had appeared from under the man’s coat, his fingers little more than bones but still strong. He hauled me back onto the path with a smile, his face creased and dry beneath the lenses.

    “You’ll be careful now,” he said, his voice barely more than a hiss beneath the roaring of the truck that flew past us, its horn bellowing out a warning. “That sucker almost had you. It’s a good job I heard it coming, right?” He released me and then ruffled my hair, his eyeless face still unreadable and remote. He turned toward Clary, his cheeks developing dimples among their ruins.

    “And you too, Miss. “You keep your eyes about you too. You never know when you might need a friend to look out for you.”

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    1. ohhhh... intriguing, and just a little creepy. I'd read more!

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  13. In Praise of HVAC Technicians

    The weather forecasters got a sort of sad look on their face when forced to talk about the frigid forecast. They’d long ago worn out “frigid,” “lake effect snow,” and “sub-zero.” But they kept on talking anyway.

    The furnace took no note of the forecasters. It was tired. That was all. Tired. Tired of working hard, tired of being taken for granted. So it decided a strike was in order. Let them know by absence its importance.

    It was not immediately noticeable. The occupants of the house, of the frugal sort, kept the thermostat turned low anyway. When the woman of the house looked up at the man of the house at breakfast, she noticed he looked… bulkier. Further analysis revealed he was wearing not two, but three, layers of clothing.

    “Does it seem chilly in here?” she asked.

    “Mmmhmmmccc.ccc.old.”

    She got up from the table, examined the antique thermostat, with Roman numerals, no less, as if it might reveal its arcane secrets. She held her ear close to it, and heard nothing.

    “Tttt-ttt-ap it.”

    She recoiled at the thought. What if she caused it distress or it broke? Still… she tapped with a finger nail. Nothing. She listened for the blower to come on. Silence.

    “C-c-call repairman.”

    And she did.

    “What seems to be the problem,” asked the deep gravelly voice on the phone.

    “The f-f-urnace seems to be on the fritz.”

    “Mmm hmmm. Any strange sounds? funny smells?”

    “N-n-nooo.” She realized her teeth were chattering.

    “I’ll be right over.”

    Not ten minutes later, a big red van pulled into their icy driveway, and a man of a certain age got out. A little chubby, but handsome in a jovial way. His beard was luxurious.

    “Ah, a Flipperhoover. Don’t see many of those left in service. Very reliable. People always want the newfangled stuff. Strange that it’s having problems,” he said upon scrutiny of the multi-armed furnace in the basement. He put a hand on the old machinery.

    “Can you fix it?”

    “Absolutely. We’ll do right by the old gal. She’s a special rarity.”

    “Do you mind if I stay and watch? I’m a writer, and I love learning new things. I promise to stay out of the way.”

    “Of course, of course.” The technician was touching the various pieces of apparatus gently, more like a lover than a mechanic. And was he… whispering to it?

    She watched, and would have sworn that the dull chrome began shining more brightly, that the dust was disappearing from the cast iron parts.

    “There, I believe that will do it.”

    It was then that she realized he didn’t bring a toolbox in from the van. “You’re sure?”

    A gentle hum filled the basement. “There’s your answer! She’ll be good for another decade. A word of advice, though.”

    Here it comes, the upsell to a service contract. “Yes?”

    “Tell her ‘Thank you’ once in a while. She needs to feel appreciated, maybe even loved.”

    “Yes, yes of course. Thank you.”

    “Now, I’ll be on my way. Here’s my card if you need further help or advice.”

    As he walked out the door, she saw the name. Jolly Nick’s Heating and Plumbing. Apparently even Santa was subject to the economic crunch, and needed a second job.


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    1. Lol. The furnace whisperer. :)

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    2. Love it. I will aspire to be the furnace whisperer.

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  14. He was fire; she was water. He was music; she was science. He read The Great Gatsby; she read The Stranger.

    They ought never to have met, never would have, if not for a black cat. The day was unseasonably warm, and she had all the windows open. She had forgotten during the long winter about the bedroom window screen being loose.

    He was walking down the street, dancing if you looked closely, with his eyes on the blue sky, always looking for new things in life.

    And the cat saw its role in fate and fortune, and leapt from her bedroom into his arms below.

    Right proud of himself, the cat didn’t even extend its claws. It liked the smell of this man, the way he moved. And it was tired of her seriousness, her forgetting to play.
    He rang the doorbell. She answered.

    "Bad kitty" was followed shortly by "Thank you."

    He said he was glad he was there to catch such a magnificent animal.

    There was awkward silence.

    "What’s the cat's name?"

    "Nietzsche."

    And he laughed. First miffed, then she laughed too.

    "I could get you a cup of coffee, if you don’t mind drinking it here, on the step. I’m afraid my roommate is still sleeping."

    "That would be fine," he said. "I’d like that."

    "I’ll be right back." She closed the door, the cat still in her arms.

    He wondered why he didn’t mind being late to work today, or the cat hair on his suit, or standing like a fool outside the door of one so lovely.

    His muse whispered to his heart, "Because she’s the one, you fool."

    And he grinned. Of course.

    Thirty years later, Nietzsche was gone, but he had spent his nine lives well, and left a son for them, and a grandson, both with the same black fur, and both with a propensity to jump into the man’s arms when he left for work each morning.

    The muse was right. She was the one. The cat was right. He was the one.

    And you thought black cats were bad luck.

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  15. “Sunglasses indoors? And a headscarf? You are prepared for everything?”

    The woman with the book looked up from her reading, her face unreadable. She gave an indiscriminate shrug and then lowered her eyes again.

    I’d been curious before but now I needed more. I refused to be dismissed so easily.

    “Your book? It’s not one I know.”

    The woman sighed and then lowered her book, marking the page with a red ribbon. She looked up again, her lenses so dark she could have been eyeless. I wondered then if she might be blind; the slim volume an affectation or a decoy she used to hide her disability.

    I was wrong.

    She scanned the coffee-shop, her face pale and unlined. There were no other tables free – in fact, the place opposite her had been the only one free. I would normally have left her alone, bought a coffee to take out and then sat outside in the street, watching people go by, but it was raining, and I preferred to sit while I drank.

    “You should leave me alone.”

    The woman spoke with an accent, but not one that I recognised.

    “I’m sorry. I was just making conversation.” I gave her my winning smile, the one that I thought made me look raffish and charming. I was dressed for the office, so I was in a suit, the peak lapels and the cut making it look as though it was Italian, so I knew I looked good. A woman would usually be happy to spend time to chat with me, especially if she thought it might lead to something more.

    “It’s okay. I will read now.”

    She reopened her book, drawing the ribbon out and then laying it beside her plate. She’d been eating a Danish pastry, or so I thought, the uneaten end of it still there, richly dark and sticky with syrup. It was not at all what I thought a woman like her would eat. I’d have thought her to be a salad-nudger; the higher calorie elements barely touched and only the less-flavoursome items gone, but she’d certainly eaten the greater part of this one. I wondered what else she might like – she had that look about – although it may just have been the style of her clothes. They were foreign and of a very high quality, not at all like the ersatz knock-off items I was wearing. She looked very much out of place in this shop on the high street, looking as though she’d be more at home in Milan or Paris instead of here.

    I had to know more.

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    1. Interesting...so far, my sympathies are all with the sunglass-wearing lady...

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    2. Yep, I agree. And I think the dialogue is working in this one really well. Spare.

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    3. I'm with the lady, too... although I suspect there is something nefarious about her....

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  16. I can't write short to save my life today, but here's the start:

    Most anything sounds like a good idea when you’re starched up with five or six shots and a couple beers and your buddies are clapping you on the shoulder and shouting your name. Hell, yeah, it had been a good idea then. Go get her, they said. You can do it, they said. She’d be a fool not to take you back, they said.

    But at half past the rooster’s crack with a backpack over my shoulder and a bus ticket in my hand, I felt kind of stupid. That was a lot of money. I was thinking about cashing it in, and all the things I could have bought instead, when I turned toward the counter and wham! my arm bumped into this little old lady.

    She was all blue eyes and white hair and smoothing out invisible wrinkles in my shirt even though I should have been the one apologizing, because she was such a tiny thing. I hoped I didn’t hurt her. My gran got laid up with a broken hip for just stepping off the sidewalk wrong, and here I was, this big lummox not watching where I was going. Story of my life.

    “Ma’am, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean—”

    “Oh, there’s no need for that, or that ma’am business, but thank you.” Her little blue eyes twinkled. “You going to Albany?”

    “Yes, I’m—”

    “Good, then you can carry this for me. I’d put it in the baggage compartment but I’m so afraid of what might happen down there.”

    I followed her pointer finger to a blue giftwrapped box big enough to hold a punch bowl. But before I could say no—as if I would—I was carrying it in one arm while she held on to the other and I was seeing her up the stairs and into an empty seat. The only two empty were together. I didn’t mind. I’d sat next to much worse—smokers, blowhards, guys who need to prove they still matter, trying to pick a fight with me because I’m big and got this birthmark on my face that kind of looks like a nasty scar you might have gotten from fighting.

    I put my pack on the overhead shelf and started to put the box up there, too, but she stopped me. That was how I ended up with a punch bowl sized box on my lap as we pulled out of the station and started for the highway. I couldn’t look away from that box and the ribbon around it and couldn’t stop thinking of what might have been. Wasn’t heavy enough for a punch bowl. I kept seeing Diane’s face. Kind of angry and disappointed at the same time. Like “who is this bull in a china shop and why am I marrying him?”

    “It’s not gonna bite you, you know.”

    “I’m sorry, what?”

    She waved a hand toward the box.

    “Would you feel better holding on to it yourself?” She would, and I let her. I knew this routine. Diane knew all the steps. Asking me everything without actually asking. Like it was some kind of game to get it out of me without using the words. Only I didn’t figure it out until she’d already won. Or I’d lost. Didn’t matter. Maybe getting on this bus was a stupid idea. There were other people I could visit in Albany. Diane knew all of them, of course, and word would get back to her, and then—

    The old lady rested a withered hand atop the blue striped wrapping paper, realigned the ribbon. “So who’s in Albany?” she said. “You’re going to visit your girlfriend?”

    How the heck—? “Kinda. She’s my fiancée. But she’s not anymore. I mean, not officially. I mean, I don’t think so. I mean, we were, but...now I don’t know.”

    She laughed. Blood rushed to my face so fast I swore it might burst out the tips of my ears, and that only made me madder. “It’s not that funny,” I said.

    “Oh. I’m sorry. I’m not laughing at you. Not really. You remind me of my grandson. All tied up in knots wondering whether a girl likes him without actually asking her.”

    That shut me up. Mainly because she was right. I’d just walked away. And I really didn’t want to have this conversation with a stranger. I didn’t want to have it with anyone. “So what’s in the box?”

    That shut her up. Then I felt good and guilty. I could hear my gran scolding me in my head. “Sorry. None of my business.”

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  17. A little more...

    She sucked in a long breath and let it out just as slowly. “If you must know, it’s my husband.” A sharp look followed. “Oh, put your eyes back in your head. The way you’re staring it’s like I’ve murdered him and chopped him up into little pieces.”

    Had she? Maybe I should have turned in my ticket when I had the chance. “You mean, like, his ashes.” I’d never seen what a human being amounted to. Gran wanted to be buried in the old cemetery next to Pop, and my folks obliged. I’d helped carry Gran, and that casket was heavy. This box couldn’t have weighed more than four, five pounds.

    “Not so loud,” she said. “Or they’ll make me buy an extra ticket.”

    For a second I almost believed her, and she met my sly smile with one of her own. I tapped a finger against the box. “Not a bad way to travel,” I said. Nobody would ever suspect. And I could see why she didn’t want him in the baggage compartment, or in the overhead rack.

    “He always liked buses,” she said. Then her smile fell as she turned toward me. “What’s her name?”

    “What?”

    “Your fiancée. Or the girl you’re not sure is whatever you think she is.”

    I slunk down a couple inches. “Diane.”

    “Well, when we get to Albany, you tell that Diane—” Then a phone started ringing. I wasn’t mine, ’cause I didn’t have one. Not since one of my drinking buddies swiped it from me when I was trying to call her and threw it in the lake. Turned out three or four shots and a couple of beers weren’t such a good idea in a number of ways.

    “Is that yours?” It sounded like it was coming from her purse, and she frowned into it. Then I noticed the ribbon on the top of the box was vibrating.

    She giggled and gave the box a playful tap. “Now, Bertie, you stop that. You know how expensive those roaming charges are.”

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    1. lol, that's adorable! Please say there will be more!

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