Friday, July 10, 2020

2 Minutes. Go!

At the end of the street, under the hedges, the kitten sits and tracks the ankles passing by. It is near noon, and the street is bustling with black socks on their way to work, strappy high heels on their way to adventure, work boots plodding mud clods through the streets on their way to job sites. The kitten is not hungry because people are kind to kittens. There is a touch of fear, but it is healthy; a genetic gift.

About to leave school, we have Andrew. Andrew is nine years old and he's flat terrified. It is this way every day when school ends; at school there are friends and games and things to focus his mind on. There are even a few teachers who care. Or seem to. At home there is 1) a father who lost his job 5 months ago and started drinking hard pretty soon thereafter 2) a mother who is never home because she works two jobs now 3) an older brother that everyone thinks is "a little rough" because they don't want to think about the realities.

Andrew's brother is ... troubled. That's what the folks at school say. He's got anger problems. He is too focused on drawing dicks on everything with a Sharpie. He is mean to animals, but he's just rough around the edges. He touches other kids in ways we don't like, but he has impulse control issues. He's a good boy at heart. He comes from a good family. They have their issues. But. Good folks.

The job that Andrew's Dad lost was an insult. He traded 20 years of his life in a factory for existence, back problems, and at-will termination. The Corporation that owns that factory has given it's executive board bonuses every year since Andrew's Dad graduated high school.

Mom does hair. Only now she does hair and she also works at Target in the evenings. She hates everyone except her family and doesn't consider that a problem. She doesn't consider it racism that she hates the fucking Mexicans she works with. She doesn't see misogyny in her disdain for bitches. She hates black people for being loud; she'll tell you in a voice so loud the heavens will crack.

When Andrew walks by the kitten, he hears a sound. The first sound the kitten has made all morning. Down on hands and knees, and clicking sounds with the tongue, and the kitten is in his arms and he is giggling and smiling. The whole street disappears. And Andrew tucks the cat under his shirt. His parents don't care enough to make him give it up. They eat dinner and Andrew goes to bed with that kitten, and his brother is allergic to cats!

In the living room, Fox News is on and Daddy is on his second six pack. He was only going to drink one. He can ring Mom up and ask her to get another. But Andrew's got an ally now. Y'all don't have to worry about Andrew. The kitten will foster the tenderness in that boy. Cats live just long enough to get him out of his parent's house for good. Maybe even get him settled somewhere.

Don't worry, y'all. He named the kitten. Billy.

He's black and beautiful.


  1. Gorgeously written... beautiful and hopeful, and exactly what I needed today. Thank you.

    1. Agreed. Cats are magical. I love the kitten perspective, the ankles going by.

    2. Yes, it's anti despair. I like how it turns something we've all lamented—the pitiful lifespan of our furry companions—into something almost wondrous: a larger design to save a little boy from the worst.

      In the current climate especially, although always, of course, the last four words are perfect.

    3. Lovely. Like an anti-fairy tale pulling off a fairy tale ending. Full of hope. I'm just hoping the kitten is safe from the brother. Nice descriptions of character. And the view from the cat's eyes.

    4. I love the way Dan's shone his narrative torch from one character to another here. It's so incredibly effective and such a heartwarming piece, filled with contrasts to offset each little vignette in turn.

  2. The Last Howling

    He was a fool, and he knew it. He was not the only one to think so. But he knew he was a happy fool.

    He went a little crazy when his old dog died. Maybe more than a little. Neighbors saw his shadow in the moonlight when they drove by.

    No one stopped. In the country, you see a lot of crazy folks. Generally if you let them be, they’ll do you no harm.

    When the coyotes showed up, he watched them nearly as intently as they watched him. From a safe distance, of course. Their yellow eyes intrigued him. Intelligent. Hungry. Not only for food. They had curiosity.

    He started feeding them. There were undoubtedly regulations he was breaking, but they looked so thin.

    A mated pair. She showed signs of nursing in the spring, but he never saw the pup or pups. Somewhere he read that only about a quarter of the pups made it to adulthood, and this filled him with emptiness.

    He left food out in the morning and the evening, and then retreated to hidden places, and watched their wariness. Did they see it as some sort of miracle? Food that didn’t have to be hunted? Or did they see it as their just reward for surviving in this place?

    Spring turned to summer, and summer to fall. They stopped by less frequently now. He knew the hunters were out and left carcasses of elk and deer, so wild food was plentiful. He missed their visits.

    When hunting season was past, he saw one, the male and he put food out again. The coyote was hungry. When he ate his fill, he looked for the man in the shadows. He no longer cowered before the man.

    Walking away on lean tall legs, the coyote turned and stared at the man. He walked again, looked back again. The man realized the coyote was inviting him to follow.

    Toward the road, into the field. The light was fading, and the cold air of November made him wish he’d worn a coat instead of his light jacket. The coyote stopped beneath the lone tree in the field, looked down, then back at the man.

    There, on the sand, lay the body of another coyote. His pup? Or his mate?

    The howl, the plaintive howl that rose from his canid throat answered the question. The man knew this sound; had made this sound, too, and for the same reason. The moon rose in the east, and the two howled together for an hour.

    Sometimes, mourning songs need two voices.

    Two fools, two fools for love. It always ended in tragedy.

    The coyote did not return in the morning, nor the next evening. The man buried the body beneath that tree and marked it with a rounded stone.

    Some fools are smart enough to move on, and some stay behind to tend the graves.

    1. Oh. This is so poignant. I loved this line, among others: "Sometimes, mourning songs need two voices."

    2. Had me from the simple hook of the first line to the poignant last line. Bookends for an absorbing true fable.

    3. Sad and poignant, but hopeful. I like the connection between man and nature, man and coyote, and the mirroring. And the end line: stark and true.

    4. I love the way Leland paints his storylines. He's got such an acute eye and a deft but gentle way with the words he brushes across the page. It's such a sad tale though, but so well told.

  3. An excerpt from a book I'm working on.

    The woman smelled of money when she sat down at my table. Her white dress fit her perfectly, and was not off the rack. A dress? Who wears a dress in Key West? She crossed her legs and put her perfectly manicured hands on my table. She had the air of one accustomed to being served.



    “If you’re a fortune teller, I expect you know I’m here for a reading.”

    “Ma’am, yes, ma’am. Is there any particular question on your mind?”

    Her eyes, somewhere between violet and blue, flashed and she remained quiet.

    “Yes, yes of course.”

    My sidekick, a black Labrador named Maggie, whispered in my mind. Her husband..

    “I expect you’re thinking of your husband.”

    The corners of her lips turned up ever so slightly in a smile. “And?”

    He’s missing, Maggie spoke in my head.

    “And you’re wondering what’s become of him.”

    “Not bad. Yes, yes I am. But I’d rather not speak of it here.” She fished a card from her purse. “Meet me at this address tomorrow at ten o’clock sharp. You’re going to help me find him.”

    She slipped me her card, with a crisp hundred dollar bill, as she rose with grace from my rickety chair and table.

    My first client. Not bad for a beginning fortune teller in the open air of Mallory Square.

    Our first client, Maggie corrected me. The name on the card was Loretta French. Not bad at all.

    1. I like the concept. This is gonna be good.

    2. yeah, I like the idea. Full of potential. I like the description of her hands and that she had the air of one accustomed to be served!

    3. I love this. There's so much potential here and I know Leland's going to ace this.

  4. I got thirty-five stories; I forgot at least twenty.

    “Her name is Audrey, but everyone calls her Drey, pronounced like the good doctor.”

    “Sounds old school, like a movie star.”

    “Well, yeah.”

    He wears a blue suit worn shiny at the shoulders and the hip bones, he stalks the common margins, and he might well not be human.

    Don’t ask me to elaborate.

    “Love tangles thickly the world. Green limbs
    Hold our throats like snakes. Love
    Is the dripping forearm encircling

    Here come the dominoes, toppling like we once imagined buildings would topple in a city besieged. Infernos. Towering. But a bright fall day in the early months of a long century taught us that metaphors are cartoons, and these dominoes aren’t bricks with numbers; they’re the salmon run upriver thwarted by a dam, they’re the monarchs starved of milkweed, the bees assailed on every side, orca pods bereft of chinook. And if the salmon can’t spawn, the bears will starve, and the forest won’t be fertilized by carcasses of fish, and the trees will pale. The little coastal wolves will turn on each other. The shiver of disquiet whispered by the conifers will crescendo. The raven’s madcap gulp will go unheard.

    In a world of malfunction, everything’s a canary.

    Who brought the voices to drown us out? How did we end up here in the harbour wondering where all the boats went? Which lovers were allowed to consummate, and who was condemned? Spurned is maybe the worst word ever coined. A greasy-haired girl with encompassing hips tiring at the mic. A dancer alone under unflattering glare, the spit and piss of her efforts like COVID, droplets coughed like headspun sweat, the spun lucid dirt of our humanity, the unearned wages of our fluids and spleen. Her goose bumps each an impediment. Her reluctance a blastocyst, each tumour filled with spumes of wrong, each infected globe shimmering on the edge of… what? A song by Nina Simone. A beseechment. Deflated hubris. A worn-out demon coming for us all.

    “Drey, tell me another story.”

    But she has turned inward like a dying sun. Will there be a supernova?

    “Then dance for me. I deserve spectacular.”

    But she is still.

    What is this world, with its swirls and pirouettes of light? Why are silhouettes of branches like sludge-clogged waterways or the blighted decaying capillaries of terminal patients? Were we wrong? Is everything illusion? Merely local and terribly strange?

    Are we seeing the death of hope? Or its birth?

    Is sundown the furnace in which the twinkling gems of night are forged?

    1. The deep texture of this is captivating. "In a world of malfunction, everything’s a canary." is a haunting line, and true. And the death/birth of hope... perhaps they are one and the same, and we are witnessing the reincarnation of hope. This piece somehow reminds me of van Gogh's "Starry Night," but with deeper blues, and some red.

    2. Captivating, indeed. This piece made my brain sit up and pay attention. I especially loved this line: "In a world of malfunction, everything's a canary." I love how it landed so softly yet so profoundly.

    3. Thank you, both. I'm commenting here to say I added Van Gogh as a tag after seeing Leland's comment. In a perfect example of subconscious suggestion, I hadn't realized how much the Starry Night must have influenced at least one part of this story. Amazing.

    4. Lots of layers of images, people and voices. I was going to pick out the same line as Laurie. But there's lots of others that I really like:
      - he stalks the common margins
      - the unearned wages of our fluids and spleen
      - What is this world, with its swirls and pirouettes of light?

    5. Leland's already mentioned the depth here, but that's something I always look for whenever I read David's writing. He's got such a command of imagery, simile and metaphor that it can sometimes be dizzying on the first read. There's always more to read on the second or third time through and it must be especially rewarding to be able to write like this. Even the subtlety of a line like 'He wears a blue suit worn shiny at the shoulders and the hip bones, he stalks the common margins, and he might well not be human,' implies such depths and paints such a vivid image. Fabulous.

  5. He was older than he’d been but that was a given. He had lines on his face which hadn’t been there before. He still dressed the same way though, with serviceable, clean clothes which had never been in fashion all the time that he’d worn them, and he considered that his mind was still sharp, sharp enough to wound anyone if he chose to misuse it.

    But mostly he didn’t. Using it at all seemed less important these days.

    Ruth had been a surprise to him. She was younger and well-figured in a way that made most people look at her more than once. He’d looked at many more times than that, finding new depths in her every time he saw her, his eyes lingering on her curves in a way which surprised him, the young man in him waking up for a while. He hoped that she saw the same in him too, and that he’d continue to be enough for her.

    The wheelchair was first thing most people saw when they saw him. They’d then see him, its occupant, as though he was a remnant of a life that had been productive, not thinking that he’d been a man before then, an able-bodied person with needs and passions equal to their own. He’d had generally grown used to it, dulling his responses so he didn’t sound too bitter when they spoke directly to the woman who usually attended to him, instead of to him first; realising that his reduced height made them think he was diminished in other ways too, more like a child in an adult’s body, broken by time and by other fateful circumstances. Even the act of them crouching down so they could be on a level with his eyes pained him each time they did it. He didn’t need any special treatment from them, only their attention.

    The carers he’d had had been a mixed bunch. There were always a few who’d treat him like a job they were paid to do, rarely engaging him in conversation and never stopping to share something from their lives. He loved to live vicariously, if he could, and the sheer thrill of being with someone who was reliving memories he could never have had gave him a buzz of his own, regardless of how impossible it would have been for him to have had them himself. A life lived second-hand could still taste nearly as sweet if it was all you could have, and as a supplement to the lessened one he did have it made up for a lot, bringing fresh new dimensions into his world. Ruth had been one of those for him, at least at first, their relationship continuing beyond his stay at the Hawthorns’ respite home. He liked to consider that there was something more to them than them just being friends. It was a question he was ill-equipped to ask now, but one day he just might, if the circumstances were ever right.

    1. Bittersweet... being able to remember, first accepting the end of a life, then the hunger to continue living. Beautifully expressed.

    2. I love the portrait painted here. My favorite line: "A life lived second-hand could still taste nearly as sweet if it was all you could have..."

    3. Has almost a nineteenth-century novel feel, which of course I mean entirely as a compliment.

    4. Lovely story. Slow-burner and well drawn. It made me think of something, so I'll put that in the group. I liked the same line as Laurie. And also how he hopes he will continue to be enough.

    5. I try to inhabit my characters and I think I began to capture some of the feelings and hopes of this man. That was what I was trying to do, at least. Thank you all for your kind words.

  6. A start to something...

    As far as I knew, stealing a monkey from the university’s research lab wasn’t part of the plan.

    But I wondered, at this point in the evening, if all three of us hadn’t forgotten what the plan originally entailed. Milton had his hands full keeping the old Chrysler on the road in a snowstorm. Eddie kept yelling shit about making history. I was just trying not to cry. The monkey, in a wire cage in the back seat beside me, had the biggest eyes I’d ever seen. And he kept staring at me, as if asking who we were and why we were doing this to him and when the guy in the front seat would stop screaming.

    I also think he’d been drugged. The monkey, not Eddie. Eddie was definitely high on something. But monkeys didn’t really act like this in real life, did they? If I were a monkey and a trio of idiot kids broke into my lab and swiped me, I’d be chattering my head off. Probably monkey-language for “Hey, who the hell are you and you damn better have at least a banana for me if you’re gonna take me away from my friends.”

    On we drove.

    “You guys,” I managed, my voice cracking from the effort to hold back the sobs. “We should take him back. We’re gonna get in trouble. And I think there’s something wrong with him.”

    “What, you’re a vet now?” Eddie sneered.

    “No, it’s just that it’s not normal—”

    “Will you guys shut up! I gotta concentrate here.” It was Dad’s car and we didn’t exactly have permission to be driving it.

    Then again, Dad didn’t exactly ask us about going away for some conference for the weekend with his girlfriend and leaving us alone with a babysitter, of all things. We took that as the greatest of affronts. Milton was sixteen, Eddie fourteen, and I was the baby at twelve.

    Fortunately, Mrs. DiCippio was a very sound sleeper.

    “Where are we taking him, anyway?” All I was told was that we were taking the car and going out to pick up Eddie’s friend, who was in trouble, and that maybe we’d go to the diner or something.

    “That’s on a need to know basis,” Eddie said.

    “Well, I need to know.” I thought a moment. Remembered a weird phone call Dad snuck into a closet to take the other night, after telling the person never to call him at home. He said something about Stella. Check with Stella. Stella will have the message.”

    I didn’t know anyone in my dad’s lab named Stella. And his girlfriend was named Nancy.

    On a whim, and because the monkey kept looking at me as if I knew all the answers, I said quietly, “Stella?”

    She hooted, clapped her hands, and reached for the bars as if to hug me.

    “Keep that thing quiet!” Milton snapped. “I’m driving here!”

    I ignored him. I put a finger through the bars and she wrapped hers around mine. She was really very sweet. When she rubbed her head against the wire, I noticed something around her neck. They were all tagged with collars, but there was a shiny object hanging from hers. It looked like a locket. The old-fashioned kind that kept secrets.

    Did that contain the message? I snaked my small hand through the bars, reaching for it, just touching—

    “Shit!” Milton yelled. I yanked my hand back

    “Cops?” Eddie swiveled to look out the rear window. So did I. It was just a normal pair of headlights.

    “Not cops.” Eddie fell back against the seat. “Keep going.”

    But those headlights seemed way too close to be normal.

    1. OMG... what a setup! I am loving Stella, and the tenacity of the three humans! This is a cool piece, and yes, it needs to grow!

    2. Yes, instantly hooked. I instantly thought of Koontz, although this is far better written. He's no prose stylist, but the inventive, intriguing premise made me think of him.

    3. There's a big mystery setup here. My brain is going in various directions. And it's her dad's lab. The illegal driving. The mate in trouble. The message. The identity of Stella. It's gotta run... I like the little girl. She's cool.

    4. This is so incredibly vivid and inventive. I love the detail Laurie's brought into this, as well as the switches between the thoughts of the narrator and the others' dialogue. It's amazing how real this seems and it's another piece of writing that begs to be reread several times, since you'll probably miss something spectacular the first time through.

  7. Andrew held her hand out in front of his face, turning it at the wrist. It moved exactly as though it belonged to him, the articulation of its fingers perfect, precisely as they should have been.

    “It’s freaky, isn’t it? But strangely compelling.” Dianne had taken his hand and was using it in place of her own. She was crushing the spent beer cans they’d drained, one by one, using his fist to hammer them flat into disks. It looked odd for him to see it there, recognising the scars he’d grown accustomed to, knowing she had full control of it and realising she could do anything she wanted, either to or with it.

    “It’s going to be a game-changer for law enforcement,” he said. “Just think; you could kidnap someone, take their hands, and commit a crime, knowing it would be their fingerprints that would be there. You could reattach them afterwards and then let them loose, confident that any forensics would point to them. And it’d be hard for them to prove that they weren’t responsible if you’d drugged them, so they were unconscious at the time.”

    “So, you’d better behave; imagine the mischief I could do with this. Although, I’d take better care of it – I wouldn’t chew my nails, for a start. You should be ashamed.”

    Andrew studied his new hand, exploring the different textures of the skin, the manicure he had, the slimness of its fingers. It seemed unreal that it was his, that he could close his eyes and not know it was Dianne’s hand stroking his chin, at least not until he paid closer attention.

    “And this is Alien-tech?” he asked, already knowing the answer. “It’s been thoroughly tested and there’ve been no side-effects? No permanent damage? No problems with reattachment? No inconvenient loss of a limb while a subject’s out, having a run? It’s enough that we’re trying it here, but…”

    Dianne placed his hand across his mouth, silencing him. It seemed to be slimmer where it melded into her arm, his wrist tapering in a way it had never done before. He hoped it would readjust itself when she gave it back to him. He had only her word that it would, but she was rarely wrong when it came to science matters.

    1. Fascinating and creepy premise, well told... now I'm wondering if someone else's hands would write better fiction than I do....

    2. Leland, you're a better man than me; my mind went instantly to sex and the implications there, lol.

    3. hahaha, guys! It's defo creepy. And defo alien! It seems to change shape according to who it's attached to. The convo opens up a total can of worms. Interesting idea.

    4. I was trying for creepy and alien and was definitely having fun here. And yes, sex is certainly one of the ways this could go. Crime and vice in general are two stand-out applications for such technology, and I'd admit that I was sorely tempted to try either, but I was intrigued to try a quieter, more preliminary exploration of the potentials here. I was trying not to be too predictable...

  8. Feeling fine?

    For redemption day
    We wait and smile and hum,
    Pretending not to care
    About a legality or a whim,
    A fig or a politician laughing.

    For the right to speak
    And be listened to fairly,
    Waiting for it to be right.
    To be able to act freely
    Anywhere under the sun.

    For the right to be
    Anyone we want to be.
    To be able to walk at night,
    Be who we are as women
    And never be judged.

  9. Alice and the White Rabbit

    These dark corners we reside in.
    I watch a man drinking solitary,
    Waiting for his life to roll in.

    He dreams of a different time,
    Passing pages into a cage of fire.

    His past steps in sometimes
    And he piles up the evidence.
    It’s a spiral to an underworld,
    A bear trap underground.

    He follows the path of Alice
    To dance with the Rabbit sometimes.
    It’s a dressing up of the age,
    One he succumbs to in stages.

    This wooden board he taps upon,
    Seeking to shine in his wishes.
    But he knows his dream was stolen
    By the one who wants him to fail.

    In the shadows he is always there,
    Tripping him up, abusing him
    For not knowing, not seeing.
    He ridicules his “paranoid” ways,
    Intruding on his piece of life.

    Alice peeks out sometimes,
    Inviting him to take the leap
    Of disbelief and burrow down
    Where the White Rabbit holds on
    To the drip-drop of time.

    1. I have always loved Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and this brought back some wonderful images. My favorite line is "He follows the path of Alice
      To dance with the Rabbit sometimes."

    2. Again, you begin strongly (that entire first stanza) and end equally powerfully: "...the drip-drop of time."

    3. Thanks, guys. I had a busy weekend, so need to comment today :) I haven't read Alice in such a long time. It needs a revisit.

    4. I love the surreal atmosphere of this and this is another fabulous, layered poem with a definite Carroll vibe. It's playful but dark and the last stanza is incredibly powerful, re-framing the whole of the the poem before it. It's quite breathtaking, really.


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