I’ve started a new venture, made up stories less than 1k words. The published ones will only include a tantalizing first paragraph or two with credit given to the publisher. I’ll give the full version of unpublished stories and invite visitors to comment.
Brownwood Texas, 1927
It was warm inside Ira’s automobile, hot for this time of night, but Ira didn’t notice the heat. He was enjoying himself watching the ladies inside Sadie’s Soda Shop. Through brightly lit windows, women in fancy dresses were laughing and sipping cold drinks. Music rolled out the open doorway; some tunes he recognized, It Had To Be You, Bye Bye Blackbird, but most of the melodies were foreign to him. He looked for Brownie’s familiar profile, but he didn’t see her.
Ira had always enjoyed watching people from unseen, private places. He would spend hours looking in certain windows that he knew, guessing what the people he saw were thinking, watching what they were doing, dreaming up stories about their intentions. Since he married Brownie, he didn’t watch anymore, but he remembered the thrill.
A young lady stepped outside, under the awning lights and lit a cigarette. She reminded him of Brownie when she was in high school and when he would watch her smoking behind her uncle Stan’s barn, coughing and inhaling. He’d hold his breath, in the shadows, quiet as a church mouse. He could smell her perfume under the tobacco smoke. He’d watched her pick her nose, scratch her butt, fiddle with her breasts. He knew all her secret habits and she never knew he watched her. She never saw him clutch his groin and convulse without a sound.
Datura Literary Journal, Issue 1, November 2018
Sue claimed she was 20 years old. She looked younger, but whatever her age, she was most certainly blonde, a total knockout in her spandex bikini and she was Dave Hartman’s last accomplishment.
She came from San Jose, she said, on a Greyhound bus. Running away from oppressive influences, she said. A sleepy little seaside town just south of Santa Barbara, Carpinteria, was as far as her money would take her. Dave befriended the poor lost puppy after she dragged her tattered duffel bag into the Carpinteria Cafe, Dave’s place of refuge. She had a fresh cut above her left eye. Her chapped, puffy lips looked like they would erupt any second. It was summertime, anything could happen.
It didn’t take Dave long to learn about Sue’s insatiable appetite for pizza, sex and parties. She had other desires, but nothing interfered with the top three. Her duffel bag was filled with books, thick, heavy things with ponderous titles and very few pictures. Dave thought he fell in love one sunny afternoon when he found Sue sleeping in his hammock with a book over her face.
He plucked the book off her perfect, perky nose. “What are you reading?” he asked. The title was in French.
Sue woke with a start, crinkling her blue eyes against the sunlight. “Arthur Rimbaud,” she replied, saying the name as if everybody knew who Mister Rimbaud was.
“Someone from around here?”
“Not even close.” Sue got out of the hammock and flashed Dave a condescending smile. “He died in Marseille a long time before Carpinteria was invented.”
“Was I supposed to know that?” Dave’s defensive side bubbled up.
“Of course not, dearie. Dead French poets are a funny hobby of mine. Kinda strange, huh?” Sue sidled up to Dave and put her arms around his neck. “Simmer down, lover boy. Kiss me and vanquish Arthur’s ghost. He can be a nuisance sometimes.”
Sue’s strange, mysterious ways set the pace for the rest of Dave’s summer. His relationship with Sue careened from ecstasy to acrimony and back again. At age 60, he rediscovered lost reservoirs of passion and rage and Sue reciprocated by throwing things, books mostly, when she ran out of sarcasm. His rustic beach cottage took a beating.
It was no secret she fooled around with other, younger guys, but he ignored that. She teased him about his ‘one dimensional’ surfing lifestyle and his funny little house, but it was all in fun. She claimed to have an ex-boyfriend in San Francisco who was a Hell’s Angel and when she was drunk and unhappy she would threaten to have the guy rescue her on the back of his Harley Hog.
It was the end of the season. Dave was nursing a hangover with a morning cup of joe at the Carpinteria Cafe when a scrum of black helmeted toughs in leather jackets passed on the street. A pink helmet adorned with pussycat ears bounced among them.
“Sue, wait! Don’t leave me!” Dave cried out when he recognized his true love’s headpiece, but his voice sunk under a wave of loud pops and backfiring.
Later that day, while looking for answers to explain her departure, Dave saw something in his post box window. He didn’t have his key, but his buddy, Angel, worked the Post Office on weekdays. “Hey, Angel,” Dave whispered over the counter, “can you do me a solid?”
Angel slipped Dave a folded sheet of paper inside a USPS ‘Change of Address’ brochure. “Keep it down, man. My supervisor’s in the back. Your crazy chick Susie asked me to put this in your slot. Didn’t have money for a freekin’ stamp. Can you believe that? Before I took it, she sealed it with a kiss, dude. It was a wet, sloppy one.” Angel didn’t try to hide the shit-eating grin on his face.
Not finding any answers in Angel’s grin, Dave just smiled. “It’s cool, man. Thanks. Catch ya later,” he said to absolve his friend’s indiscretion. He went into the open area and flattened the paper on a counter. Sue’s handwriting was carefully done in blue ink; looked like she had used a fountain pen. The page was bordered with hand-drawn garlands, blossoms and butterflies:
Meeting you seemed to solve an ache,
to ditch the old, do something my way,
as easily as turning off the highway.
Your world was unthinkable, a bland seaside town
with no lectures, no demands.
I began to wonder if this could be for me,
your life with no limits.
I cannot explain when I knew
that I had lost myself,
when I got misplaced in space and time.
But now I need to turn again,
back to that aching highway.
Dave stared out the Post Office window feeling like one of those little white dogs that bark and scratch on living room windows, but never get through the glass.
He checked text messages, email, Facebook, nothing.
“I thought we were in love,” Dave groaned the next morning while he mended his aching heart with caffeine and a slice of banana nut bread. Outside, the first signs of winter, a cold fog covered the empty town.
Doris, Carpinteria Cafe’s morning waitress, refilled Dave’s mug. “Look at the bright side, Dave,” she winked. “You’re lucky you got out alive.”
Freighter, an ekphrastic, 99-word flash fiction
Lind Marine by Sharon Hind-Smith,
An imposing fellow stood outside the wheelhouse of the Shelley Lind, watching me as I approached the gangway, ditty bag in hand. It was my first assignment fresh out of the merchant marine academy.
“You there!” the fellow spoke with a deep gravely voice. Blue eyes flashed in the sunlight reflected off the water.
I stopped at the foot of the gangway. “Yes sir?”
“New hand or just nosy?”
“New hand, sir.” A rush of pride washed over me as I grabbed the handrail. “Sharon Kelly, able seaman reporting.”
“Come on, then.” Blue eyes twinkled. “Name’s Freighter, welcome aboard.”
©2019 by James W. White