In my fiction, the characters deal with issues and conflicts common to all—although their methods of coping can be unusual and, at times, detrimental to their well-being.
Acceptances for 2018 Publication:
“12 Days Before Christmas” by Bethlehem Writers Roundtable
“Lost and Found” by Ariel Chart
My short stories have appeared or are scheduled to appear in the following:
Ariel Chart | One Person’s Trash | Two Cities Review | Edify Fiction | Page & Spine | Toasted Cheese Literary Journal | StreetlightMagazine | Talking River | Bethlehem Writers Roundtable | Down in the Dirt | St. Anthony Messenger | Wild Violet | EWR: Short Stories | Alfie Dog | Hypertext | Full of Crow | Fiction365 | Red Fez | The Chaffin Journal | Xtreme | Wanderings | Office Number One
The following are some excerpts from some of my published stories.
Visit my Story Bites page for an excerpt from one of my works-in-progress.
Image from Pablo
“Can you tell me please which way to Union Station?”
No one answered her, no one stopped to point out the streets to take, the buses to board. They looked right through her — she didn’t exist, not for them.
Sara should have been used to it. Two years on the streets of LA had provided her with an education she had not expected, and the first lesson was: you are invisible. So unlike when she had lived at home under the watchful, critical eyes of her mother. Sara was never invisible to her mother. She could see everything that Sara did, or thought she had done, wrong.
Except she had never seen Sara leaving, although the signs were there, like itineraries scattered around the room. The drinking, the drugs — what else were they but a form of escape?
One Person’s Trash
“Listen to Me”
Image from Pablo
“Listen to me. I want to tell you what happened today. On the bus. On the way to the doctor’s. There was this girl, well, maybe not a girl, she was maybe about twenty-two or twenty-three, it’s hard to tell these days, and she was wearing one of those things in her ears and she wasn’t even watching the baby…”
His mother’s voice followed Roger as he went into her kitchen. Hanging his jacket on the back of the kitchen chair, he turned his attention to the cabinets. The last time he was there, he noticed one of the doors hanging slightly askew. A loose screw—and he had made a mental note to bring his hand tools with him when he returned. Now, focused on fixing the problematic hinge, he heard her words in the background, the way you would hear someone talking when you’re underwater. Muffled sounds, the consonants and vowels vaguely familiar but not quite the same as when your ears were above the surface. Something about a girl and a baby and a bus…
“There are years that ask questions and years that answer”—Zora Neale Hurston
This is the year that asks questions. It must be, because I have no answers, no answers at all.
I have spent the better part of the past month packing boxes—writing directions with a fat black marker on rectangular white labels: “Put in storage room,” “Put in bedroom,” “Leave in garage.”
I keep thinking that, if I write out enough labels and put them on enough boxes, all the scattered bits of my life will come together like giant jigsaw puzzle pieces to form a new picture. One that is better, happier, safer than the old. One that holds the promise of tomorrow without any overshadowing threats from yesterday.
Two Cities Review
As Margaret leaned forward to light the tall white candles, she wondered, not for the first time, what it would be like to die. It wasn’t that she wanted to commit suicide—at least, not exactly. But she had given death a great deal of thought in the past few weeks.
Her long blonde hair swung forward and, for a brief second or two, Margaret let the carefully-cut ends hover dangerously close to the flame.
Suppose, just suppose, she stayed that way—her hair close to the lit candles. Soon there would be that peculiar odor so typical of burning hair, growing stronger and sharper as the moments slipped by.
Then the golden strands, fed by the heat, would twist and turn with a life of their own. Fire would race along the shaft, hungrily seeking a pathway to her body until she herself became a flame-tipped candle, burning in death with a fire she had never know when alive.
Toasted Cheese Literary Journal
“Come on! You’ll like it! It’s fun!”
In the five years we had been together, I had heard those words from Tally’s mouth more times than I cared to count. Each time, I had learned the hard way that her version of fun wasn’t at all mine.
Like when she convinced me that bungee-jumping would be fun and so I agreed—only to find out that vomiting while hanging upside down is not on my top ten list of activities I want to repeat.
Then there was the couples cooking classes—“Learn how to make famous Italian specialties”—that she promised would be an unforgettable experience. She was right. It is hard to forget the result of an incredibly sharp de-boning knife coming in contact with the tender skin of your palm that, according to the ER doctor as he merrily stitched away “just missed taking off your pinkie! You’ll have a cool scar though!”
The last one—an eight-hour bike ride followed by a relaxing night in a Victorian inn—should have been as romantic as the brochure had promised. But what Tally hadn’t taken into account (and how could she, given the difference in our physiology?) was the consequence of having a majority of my weight divvied up between my shoulders and my butt for that length of time.
By the time we reached our room, I could barely move my head, thanks to a pinched nerve in my neck, while my “manhood” was feeling the effects of reduced blood flow and refused to rise to the occasion, so to speak.
Page & Spine
“Accidents Will Happen”
Catherine carefully dumped the coffee grounds onto the center of the front page and then folded over the four corners, making a neat bundle. Robert didn’t like to read the news and she was always careful to remove the paper before he came down. The headline would have really set him off: CYANIDE KILLER CLAIMS ANOTHER VICTIM!STOMACH REMEDY DEFINITE LINK!
She carried the bundle of paper to the trash bin, wincing a bit when she raised the lid. Her shoulder was still sore, although the bruise had nearly faded. At least it wasn’t her face this time.
Catherine herself didn’t like the stories about violence. She didn’t approve of violence, especially when it led to someone’s death. Except maybe during a war, although it had been a war that had given Robert those “violent tendencies,” as the psychiatrist’s report had called his rages. But when she read the report, Catherine noticed the typist had left the “n” out of “violent.” From that time on, she always pictured an angry Robert surrounded by purple clouds, as he himself turned a darker violet.
“Memories of a Sunday Afternoon”
“I brought this knife with me, hidden among the small bundle of clothes they let me take.” Her grandmother had told this story many times, but Elizabeth was still entranced, listening as though for the first time.
“I thought that, if he was waiting for me, I would need a knife for our kitchen. A good, sharp knife, to cut what meat I could find, or slice the bread I would make, or chop the vegetables for soup. If there was food…” and her voice trailed off, as her stomach ached in memory of the deprivations that had preceded her arrival.
Starved to gauntness before she left her homeland, too sick to eat in steerage, there was little left of the round, red-cheeked farm girl he had married. She knew that, and knew as well that, if he refused to take her as his wife, she would use the knife one last time.
Down in the Dirt
“Memories of Music”
It did not seem possible, on sunny days like this, that his wife would not be waiting at home for him…. He did not know, until she was gone, how much of his strength came from her presence, how much grace and music she had brought to his life.
But at the end, the music played for her alone. He had brushed her white hair back from her face and held her closely. She smiled at him then, the ghost of a young girl still in her eyes, but the music was stronger and little by little, she had danced away.
St. Anthony Messenger
“To Whom It May Concern”
“To whom it may concern…”
What should she write next? Maybe a brief summary—just hit the main points and don’t be long-winded. George always complained that she went into too much detail, that by the time she stopped talking, no one remembered what her point was. She didn’t agree with him—sometimes you needed all those details to make your point—but in this case, he might be right. Besides, she didn’t have a paper and pen handy so she had to remember all the sentences until she could get somewhere to put it all down.
Bethlehem Writers Roundtable
Slipping her fingers through the fine white strands, Maggie gazed with love and pity at her mother’s face. With her eyes closed, her mother could be like any other old woman, just growing a bit more forgetful as years passed. Sometimes, Maggie could almost convince herself that this particular fantasy was real.
But then her mother would open her eyes to gaze blankly at her surroundings. The confusion that had been hidden behind those paper-thin lids would be painful to see, as Maggie watched her mother struggle to recall some recognizable pattern from the fading fabric of memory…. It was almost as though her mother was gradually releasing her hold on reality, allowing her mind to drift farther away while Maggie watched helplessly from the shore, unable to bring her back.
“When Ann Calls”
Ever since Ann had called with the news… she had been unable to think of anything else. Baby names, baby clothes, the smell of baby powder and the feel of baby skin—Sarah delved deep into her own past and brought back those magical moments, from the time she knew she was expecting to the time when Ann was brought to her, “wrapped in swaddling clothes” like the Biblical story of Jesus’ birth.
She had hoped to see more of Ann, had longed to watch her daughter grow heavy with child, but instead, months passed since the call and all she could do was imagine the fullness of her daughter’s belly, the swelling of her breasts. Sometimes, she would place her hand on her own soft, flabby abdomen and try to recall the flutter of a baby’s movement, how it seemed her insides were turning upside down as the baby kicked and turned and rolled.
When the telephone rang for the fourth time in a row, Margaret frowned in impatience. She had so looked forward to an afternoon of quiet while Megan played at Billy’s house, but the interruptions usually caused by one small five-year-old had been replaced by those of the telephone….
The voice on the other end spoke briefly, but it was enough to still her busy hands. She answered, “Yes, right away,” and carefully replaced the receiver on the hook. It wasn’t until the smell of burning chocolate invaded the kitchen that Margaret began again to move—slowly, stiffly, as though a painful eternity had passed since the telephone call.
Alfie Dog Fiction—nominated for 2014 Write Well Award
Each spring, the urge to plant something—a flower or vegetable or anything that would blossom and produce—pulled at her. It must have been a legacy from her grandmother who had, long ago, kept a garden of small and neat proportions…. There had been space and light for things to grow at her grandmother’s house—unlike here in the city where even weeds had a difficult time breaking through the ever-present asphalt.
EWR: Short Stories
“The Answering Machine”
“Davis, Bill in Contracts tells me you still haven’t finalized that Anderson deal.” Even on the cheap answering machine Bob had bought after leaving his wife six months earlier, the threat in his boss’s voice came through loud and clear.
“We can’t wait any longer. It’s been hanging fire for too long. You need to get him to sign this contract right now. When I hired you last year, despite your lack of recommendations, I made it clear that you had to perform—not spend company money taking multiple trips when one should do it! Your flight leaves at 7 AM. Get that contract signed this time,” the words “or else” not heard but implied….
Knocking back another scotch—the third that night—he contemplated how he would get even with all of them: his unreasonable boss, his stupid bitch of a wife, the damned super who still hadn’t fixed the air conditioner even though it was sweltering hot, thanks to the July heat wave. He hated them all, even the damned answering machine that never gave him good news, only bad.
I live on a street called Tall Oaks Drive, but the nearest trees are a half-mile away in the city park. And they aren’t even oaks, but birches—fine in their own right but not at all equal to the stately, majestic oak.
My apartment is on the third floor of an old brick building, behind an outer steel door and three inner security doors with narrow, mesh-lined windows set high. It’s like living in a prison, except it is one of my own choosing.
I like hiding behind doors and locks. I like knowing the world is outside. As my mother would say, “You can’t be too careful these days. You never know who is out to get you.”
“Ice Cream Sunday”
“You see, Eddie, she likes the music. Could she be as backward as they say if she likes the music?” His wife’s anxious words echoed in his mind. Millie never let go of the hope that the doctors were wrong in their diagnosis—that somewhere, underneath all those layers of unresponsive brain cells, lurked a child ready to learn, able to love.
Eddie knew better. He knew there was nothing there, that her brain was as vacant as the look in her eyes. Their daughter—the one he and Millie longed for—was somewhere else, with some other family. And in her place was this heavy body and empty mind.
“Annabelle, you look beautiful tonight.”
The words drifted into her mind, like leaves on an autumn breeze, settling softly in the forefront of her consciousness. She awoke to find the phone cradled between her cheek and the pillow, the insistent buzzing the only sound from the black receiver. Had there been a voice on the line? Or had she only dreamed it?
Full of Crow
“Aunt Aggie and the Makeup Lady”
When Billy said he repaired the gutters, I should never have believed him. That was my first mistake.
If I had checked them myself, I would have realized the job had to be done all over again—but the right way this time. Then, the three-day rain wouldn’t have loosened them from the roof. And I would have been inside the house instead of dangling from an aluminum piece ten feet off the ground, and Aunt Aggie and the make-up lady would never have had their fateful meeting.
The Chaffin Journal
I have never had much luck understanding the hidden message behind my nocturnal imaginings. Sometimes, I can brush them off in the light of day like so many cobwebs—vague, insubstantial.
Sometimes, though, the dreams are not so easy to dismiss. They linger, like a damp fog chilling my bones. Some, like the dreams of phone calls from some unnamed person, return again and again to haunt me.
I can remember one of the dreams: “What now, Anna?” the voice reaching to my ears through the wires. As I held the receiver, a hand snaked out of the mouthpiece to fasten around my wrist. The fingers were cold and unyielding.
This is how it should be—
In the morning, I would go into my kitchen, with its golden oak cabinets and white tile counter tops and grind some fine brown coffee beans—a special blend, grown high in the Andes where the air is so sharp it can slice your lungs. When the coffee has brewed, I pour it into a delicate eggshell demitasse with a gold rim, and the steam rises, rich and fragrant, almost as satisfying as that very first taste.
I would take my cup and one freshly-baked, flaky croissant, and walk out onto the deck. From here, I can see the sun as it fights its way through the pine trees, struggling to reach the sky. The first rays color the darkness orange and red, purple and gold, and as the night is conquered, the sun emerges victorious….
I have ten minutes to drink my coffee, another ten minutes allotted for the stairs, and yet ten more for the walk to the corner bus stop. There I wait, amid blaring horns and choking exhaust fumes, early-morning drunks and street people curled like rags on the steam grate.
This is how it is.
Office Number One
They say if you wanted a thing bad enough, it could be yours. All you had to do was try with all your might, despite the limitations imposed by life, despite what others said, what others wanted.
“I must fly,” but when they heard him say that, the medicine was increased, the therapy time lengthened, the consultations with his family (but he never thought of them as family—they were just “those people”) became more frequent.
“I have to fly,” but they, rooted to the earth, couldn’t understand. He was drowning here on the ground. The earth was sucking him in, inch by painful, inescapable inch. Sometimes, it took all his energy just to move a single step—like trying to walk through lava or quicksand.
But up in the sky—no grasping pull there, no fingers clinging to him, dragging him back, dragging him down. The wind meant freedom—freedom from the clutching hold of the world and those within it.
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