Grief

by

After the funeral, I made arrangements for the bills to come to my office.

Every month, I paid her rent, her electric, even her phone.

At least once a day I would call her number and pretend she might answer it, hear her voice on the answering machine.

At first I left messages, but then I couldn’t.

I’d turned her apartment into a time capsule.

A shrine.

In September I got a letter that her lease was up.

Time to face it.

I needed to move on.

I stood at her door a long time, key poised in my hand.

 

Friday Fictioneers

El Advino Viejo

by

Ramón walked across the plaza. The birds no longer sang of hope. Now their noise mocked him, told him what he was. What he would always be.

Up ahead the old man was still sitting at his little table in the shade, the same old man who’d offered to tell Ramón his fortune earlier, when Ramón’s future seemed so bright.

He had told the old man that there was no time, but really he was early for the interview. There was plenty of time.

Ramón wondered now if telling the old man this lie had somehow cursed him. He wondered if knowing one’s fortune could alter it. He wondered if it was not too late.

The old man sat at his table, the greasy deck of cards before him. He looked up at Ramón with ancient black eyes, beckoned for him to sit.

Ramón felt in his pocket for the coins.

 

What Pegman Saw

Mid November

by

It’s November again and all over the USA, writers are midway through the marathon of National Novel Writing Month, known cordially as NaNoWriMo. We call it Nano, but some people call it  goddamn it’s four in the morning on a weekday and why did I agree to do this? 

The goal of Nano is to write 50,000 words in thirty days. When I first heard of it, I thought it was insane. I’d never written more than ten pages of anything in my life. Even my poems were short. The idea of producing an entire novel seemed as feasible as eating an entire ham. Raw.

But I had started a novel when my father died that July. It seemed a fitting tribute, even though I knew he’d never read it.  He and I both had a fanatical interest in World War 2 aircraft and never passed an air museum we didn’t visit. I wanted the book to be a story about a bombardier who gets shot down after a harrowing series of missions over Germany. Beyond that, I really had no idea what would happen.

Nano sounded like a dare. I had  written about 20,000 words written by the end of October, so I figured what the hell. I had recently lost my job and my kids had moved away to love with their mom in New Jersey, so it was literally swim or sink into the self-pitying morass that has dogged me my whole life. I got to it.

I soon found the rhythm and  blasted out two, three and even four thousand words a day. The benefits of unemployment are sparse, but ample writing time is among them. I wrote and wrote, amazing myself. I was on a roll. The story was coming together. There was a love interest and a villain, plus a whole new section of material that was never part of the original idea and yet seemed to move the novel forward.

Sure, I got stuck a bit here and there, but I plowed on. Stephen King likens it to driving in the night fog with your headlights illuminating the fifty feet of pavement in front of you. King says that when you feel this way, there’s only one thing to do: step on the gas, with both feet of necessary.

I finished my 50,000 before Thanksgiving but kept right on going. Around mid January I wrapped the book up. 135,000 words. A masterpiece, I thought.

Then I read what I had written.

Oh boy.

The word disappointment  has its roots in the French, desappointer  originally meaning “to be ill-equipped for a task,” and thus un-appointed to complete it. These days it is our go-to way to express expectations unmet. Nebulous expectations are to resentment what cookie dough is to cookies.

I had these ideas of how good my book was. Pretty much done, I thought to myself. Of course, I edited it right away and made only glancing revisions.

I was wrong. It wasn’t done. Three more huge revisions lay ahead, months and months of work and restructuring. I wrote a sequel, and then sequel to that.  I pulled the book from self-publication and hired an editor, then did more revision. I changed the title. I changed the ending. I started querying it. It’s frustrating, but I have come to see it in a new way. I appreciate this book more than I did when I had just finished it. It’s not a masterpiece, but for a first novel, it’s not bad.

None of it would have happened had I not cranked out that anchor 50,000 words in November 2013. I have taken part in every NaNoWriMo ever since. It’s not so much for the sense of community as to give some shape to a nebulous, never-ending process.

I am on novel five this month. So far, so good. It’s another sequel. I hear series characters have some legs.

 

 

Whitey’s Ford

by

Whitey give the pieces of the Ford wrong names
but he knew them by sight

by feel, hefting every damned one
in a greasy hand

folks said he was crazy
when he’d slither under her

amongst the dirt and spiders
spending hours

and didn’t say much
mostly just whistled

through his teeth.
It took forever

that hot day where
we were all so sweaty

the sweat tracked the grime
on our faces, all the way down

to our waistbands.
We looked like we’d pissed our pants.

The time his hand slipped off
the wrench, hit the fan blade

blood spattering across the motor
into  the oily muck. He jumped back

yelling Jesus Fuck
grinning up at us,

the curse we shared
a dirty secret

The Daily Post: Experimental

Consequence

by

“Hello?”

“Sorry to wake you.”

“Joey?”

“Listen. I need you to get over here. It’s Pop.”

I sat up. “I had a dream about him!”

“Yeah, well. This ain’t a dream. I need you to come to the house right away.”

“What happened? Is he okay?”

“I––I can’t tell. He’s sitting in the kitchen. He’s crying, Tony. Like a little kid.”

“Jesus. Why?”

“He won’t tell me. Came home from the restaurant at midnight and had a glass of wine like usual. Then he started sobbing.”

“Did something happen?”

“Maybe. Listen, my other line is ringing.”

“I’ll be right over.”

 

Friday Fictioneers

Cheers

by

She looks so pretty, but the martinis are a bad idea. She hasn’t eaten all day and is already halfway through the second one before the waiter comes by for our order.

She’s in her ebullient stage, laughing out a story I’ve heard before. I laugh along, watching for the change. I know it’s coming.

I know that later all the forgiven arguments will come roaring back as though we’d never stopped fighting, all the healed wounds reopened and fresh.

The waiter opens a bottle of wine. She tells him to let it breathe, to bring two more martinis in the meantime. I smile, my palms damp on the tablecloth.

How will it end this time? On the drive home,  her snatching at the wheel and screeching at me to pull over?  Will she fling her rings into the gutter as before, stomp into traffic on unsteady heels, clutching her coat and yelling obscenities?

Or maybe she’ll she wait until we are back in our living room, the sitter gone home and the kids sleeping upstairs while she paces with balled fists, her face mottled with bottomless rage?

She lifts her glass. “Cheers,” she says, eyes glittering.

 

Sunday Photo Fiction

Dulce et Decorum Est

by

Queen’s Hospital, Sidcup, Kent
November, 11 1918

The war has accustomed us to the sight of maimed young men in the streets and at cafés, to empty sleeves and missing legs and eyes like the windows of abandoned houses. It has taught us a certain politeness. We have learned to ignore an injury when conversing, to avert our gaze from the hook-hand or peg-leg.

We know to concentrate on the young man’s face, smile into it as though teaching a song to a child. The faces of our young men look as they did before the war.

The citizens of our town never do this. The citizens of our town know to avert their eyes altogether. Our town is home to Queen’s Hospital,  a special facility dealing exclusively in the facial injuries this Great War has produced in abundance. A rifle blindly fired across the trenches may travel a mile before reaching its target, but it can retain sufficient force to tear a man’s face off, rip away his jaw or shatter his cheekbones, all while leaving him very much alive. Such men are brought to Queen’s Hospital swaddled in bandages that hide horrors beyond imagination.

There are benches in our Royal Park painted a bright yellow. Queen’s Hospital patients are ordered to sit upon these benches and no others. The yellow benches can be seen from a great distance. They serve as a warning to the  neophyte:  avert your eyes from these wounded.

This is not for the neophytes’ protection, though the  first sight of these ruined faces will usually make them recoil in shock and horror.

No, we wish to protect the patients themselves, for what man wants to realize he is  a monster whose face is the giver of nightmares?

Our surgical techniques are improving, but they are still crude. The procedures are excruciatingly painful, the many operations performed over several years’ time.

I often advise a man so wounded to forego the surgery and instead allow us to fit him with a sculpted copper mask attached to spectacles and painted to exactly match his skin tone. Wearing this disguise he can begin to find his way in civilian life, sparing himself years of agony.

Sometimes the man will be determined to have the surgery despite the uncertain results because he does not wish to spend his life masked. Often he imagines that surgery can restore him to his prewar appearance, a delusion that weakens over time.

At a certain point it is not unusual for the man to ask me to kill him.

 

In honor of Armistice Day, 11/11/1918, when all war was supposed to end forever.

Dulce et Decorum Est

by Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

 

Historical note:

A century ago, all of Europe was feeding its young men into a meat grinder. The battle of the Somme, which lasted from July to November 1916, killed 750,000 British and French soldiers as well as 537,000 German and Austrian troops. Neither side gained any advantage from all this carnage, and the war continued for another two years. It was so horrible that many thought we would fight no more wars, but here we are a hundred years later and still selling the idea that this is a noble undertaking. Facial injuries in particular were especially awful, since the loss of face equated to the loss of humanity. If you’re interested in the research that went into this short piece, you may click here.

 

the daily post: neophyte

Breach of Etiquette

by

The wife of Ambassador Kubisch led her guests into the foyer while the maid retrieved their coats.

“I’m so glad you and the children could come tonight,” she told Mrs. Welch. “It doesn’t quite seem like Christmas without children.”

Mrs. Welch gave an uneasy smile, pulled her daughter closer to her side. “Thanks for having us.”

Ambassador Kubisch and Dick Welch stood apart, speaking in low tones. Lately, Dick had been a frequent dinner guest at the official residence, though this was the first time he’d brought his family.

Her husband never told her who did what at the embassy. Last week, Dick’s identity as CIA Station Chief had been revealed in the Eleftheros Typos and other Greek papers. She thought it was irresponsible of them to finger him like that.

Dick looked at her and winked. She smiled.

The men finished their conversation and shook hands. “Merry Christmas, Dick,” said the ambassador. “If I don’t see you.”

What Pegman Saw: Athens

Historical note to this story:

While serving in Latin America, CIA Station Chief Dick Welch, a fanatic about personal security, was always careful to hide his identity. Once he arrived in Athens he was confident that he was at last in a politically stable country and could relax a bit despite the fact that his name and Agency connection had been reported in the Greek newspapers.

On the night of December 23, 1975, he and his family attended a Christmas party at the American Ambassador’s residence. Upon returning home, Dick exited the car to open the main gate. A man appeared amid the darkness and called to him. As he turned, the man blew Dick’s head off with a pistol.

Five days after the attack, a terrorist group called “Revolutionary Organization 17 November” claimed responsibility for Dick’s death. It wasn’t until 2003—almost 28 years later—that the people responsible for the murder of Dick Welch and several other foreign diplomats were caught. They were sentenced for the murders of the diplomats, but escaped conviction for Dick’s death because of a 20-year statute of limitations.

Frank Lloyd Wrong

by

“We hired you because of your vision, James,” said the senior partner.  “We gave you an opportunity here. You knew the importance of this project to the firm.”

“And this is what you bring us,” said the junior partner. “This…I don’t know what to call it.”

The drawing lay unrolled on the conference table between them. James could see the angry red pencil marks, circles and x’s.

James wanted to tell them about Frank Lloyd Wright’s cherished vision, the mile-high Chicago tower.

He wanted to tell them about the dream he’d had. But he said nothing.

They wouldn’t understand.

 

Friday Fictioneers

More about 900 Michigan Avenue here

More about Frank Lloyd Wright’s unbuilt mile-high skyscraper here