Flash Fiction: Reunion

December 2, 2021


Weddings and funerals. Weddings and funerals were all that kept the family together these days. And here they all were again, gathered around another hole in the ground. All except Cousin Billy, of course, who was with them in body but no longer in spirit.

Chalmers, Mac’s oldest boy — must be forty-odd now — stood next to the vicar as the clergyman droned his way through the committal. Beside him, dressed in a little black dress that was, perhaps, a shade too short for a funeral in Arkansas, was Minnie, his wife. Or what passed for a wife in these sinful days.

Along the edge of the grave stand Cousin Billy’s people, the West Virginia connection; half-a-dozen similarly featured men and women from that place where the shape of a family tree is often a straight line. Odd bunch, sang a lot in church, but seemed kind of awkward in the presence of those with the correct number of chromosomes.

And then there’s Mary, in her Versace frock and Italian shoes. Big-shot city lawyer up in DC. Haven’t seen her since Frank’s wedding. Read about her though. Laughed about her. She look’s like she’s calculating just how much money she’s losing each minute she spends with us here.

Finally, between Mary and me is Mac. An old man now, slowly watching his family disintegrate. As Chalmers throws a handful of dirt on the coffin, Mac leans into my shoulder and whispers: “I ain’t coming to the next one. Not even if it’s mine.”

Flash Fiction: Damn Stupid Idea

November 25, 2021


“Damn stupid idea, if you ask me, naming a basketball team after the damn grizzly bear! Jesus!”

He pushed the empty bottle of Glacier beer across the bar and wiped the back of his hand across his moustaches.

“It’s no surprise the kids are going crazy and shooting up schools like Columbine. They see themselves surrounded by adults making stupid decisions – Give me another beer, eh – and they’re not dumb these kids; they know we’re setting them up, most of them anyways, setting them up to be the packhorses of modern industry. Drudges. Laborers and data entry clerks and burger flippers and retail sales associates. Jesus, I don’t envy them. Thanks.”

He paused just long enough to lift up the bottle by the neck and carefully pour almost half the contents through practiced lips. “Ahh, that settles the dust, sure it does.”

Thin strands of late summer sunlight cut like razor blades through the bar’s perpetual gloom. Cigarette smoke from an ashtray at the far end of the bar curled serpentine trails towards an invisible ceiling. The barman, a drudge himself, lazily wiped down the bar with a wet rag. He wished he were anywhere else.

“I came in on the float plane from up the coast. Good connection that. Should have had that years ago, I’d have been here more often. Damn! We saw a great storm just after we took off. Flying up there, we could see the lightning in the sky and its reflection in the sea at the same time. Damn that was neat!”

He chuckled with the memory, chugged the rest of the beer, returned the bottle to the bar. To his right stood a massive fireplace and he walked over to it, to examine the huge basalt slabs that formed it, smooth and cold to his touch. And in his memory he heard the owls rustling in the trees and the dry wood crackling and hissing and the shadows playing in the firelight on the cabin floor the last time they had shared a full moon weekend. She had wanted to stay an extra night and he had told her it was a damned stupid idea.

And here he was now, drinking alone.

Flash Fiction: Who Done It?

November 18, 2021


“But it won’t be me,” said the middle manager. “They don’t pay me enough to pass on that sort of bad news!” He looked around the crowded office, frowning, until his gaze alighted on Alice. “You do it,” he said, pointing his skinny finger with the dirty fingernail at her. “You’re new, you’re expendable. You don’t have a pension to protect. You do it.”

“You must be bloody barmy if you think I’m goin’ to tell ‘im,” she rasped. “I don’t even know ‘is first name, for gawd’sakes.” Pointedly, and with a modicum of grace, she picked up her handbag. “I’m leavin’. You’re all bloody mad.”

“You can’t go ’til the police gets ‘ere.” It was a little man in the corner, a little man with a weak voice whom the others seemed to shun.

“I can do what I bloody well please,” said Alice. But she didn’t move and, after a few seconds, resumed her seat behind the reception desk.

“I’ll tell ‘im meself, then” said the little man, now pushing his way to the centre of the office where he could face — looking up at least — the middle manager. “What’s ‘e goin’ to do? Bite me ‘ead off?” He swung on his heel and the others seemed to move away from him like a wave retreating from the shore.

After a moment’s hesitation, he straightened his already perfect tie and began to walk slowly towards the panelled door marked “PRIVATE. MANAGER”. Another hesitation, a second only, and he knocked. Once.

“Come!” boomed a voice from within. With a less-than-confident look around to the eager anticipatory crowd of colleagues, the little man opened the door and disappeared within. The crowd was hushed, for a moment at least, and then let forth with a hissing of gossipy whispers.

Suddenly, silence once again. A blue-uniformned policeman had entered the bank. The middle manager greeted him.

“What seems to be the trouble, sir?” asked the constable.

“There’s been a robbery, I’m afraid. A hold up. With a gun.”

“Much taken?”

“Thousands and thousands.”

“Did you see the robber, sir?”

“O yes, sir. It was the manager’s wife!”

Flash Fiction: One of Those Miserable Nights

November 4, 2021


It is one of those goddam miserable nights when you drop your pants and moon at the windows of the fanciest restaurant in town and there’s no one there to be offended. And you’re playing this stupid water-sodden game to the honky-tonk sound track of rain pounding relentlessly against parked cars and the empty sidewalk. And in that desolate downpoured landscape, as you stand bare-assed and bow-legged, the deepening puddles become mirrors of liquid reality. Looking down by chance, you catch an imaged glimpse of your two pink cheeks, porcine in their spattered exaggeration, and you grab your pants, pulling them roughly over your dripping thighs, and walk away quickly, glancing forever backwards into the storm.

Zoned out, soft drugs and hard liquor fighting like gangsters for the prime real estate of your brain, you wander haphazardly across town, past neon-besmirched video arcades where the dregs coagulate, along silent retail streets where the huge plate glass windows reflect the singing puddles, and the puddles reflect the windows, through mud-coated park gates to find yourself before the stone-dead statute of Victory. Carved as the archetypal goddess of Samothrace, this graven image dedicated to the long dead of yesterday’s wars, seems to weep in the tempest as you pray screaming into the wind.

But she weeps not for you. She bears no halo and will grant you no epiphany, nor offer you release from the madness of your heartache; no resolution, not even a towel. And you stand in your hysteria, in your sodden pants and sweater and boots, and the best you can do is watch the white residue of pigeons wash across the statute’s shoulders and wish the ground would swallow you whole.

Flash Fiction: It’s Monday Already

October 28, 2021

It’s Monday already, and as soon as it’s Tuesday I’ll be dead.

As soon as it’s Tuesday they’ll strap me to a gurney and inject me with death while a dozen good folks who have done nothing worse in their lives than drown kittens or abuse their workers or cheat on their wives look on. A bunch of them will watch with vengeance in their hearts and with grim grins of satisfaction. A few might be sad. Most — the officers and journalists and the warden — will treat my death with as much indifference as they can manage.

These same people have kept me locked and chained for eight years. They’ve allowed inmates to abuse me, guards to kick me, lawyers to buy boats from the proceeds of unwanted appeals. This afternoon they will feed me a steak, rare, with Caesar salad and french fries on a paper plate with a plastic knife and fork.

They tell me that because I never did drugs it’ll be a cinch to find a vein. I won’t even feel the needle they tell me. Not like those poor bastards who get their heads blown apart with 12000 volts of Old Sparky’s best. I’ll be asleep before death comes, they say, as if that makes it OK. I’m lucky, they say.

Well, I am lucky. As soon as Tuesday comes I’ll know the truth, while they’ll still spend sleepless nights wondering what death is like.

Oh God almighty, it’s Monday already.

Flash Fiction: Adobe Window

October 21, 2021

Quietly intimate now, after, still linked by a fast-fading bridge, the lovers lie languorous in each other’s arms. No breeze disturbs their passion-spent rest, no gusts sway the torn cotton covering of the small window set high in the adobe wall. Slashes of sunlight cut across their tanned and sweated bodies like rivers of gold, like segments of ripe orange.

Outside, the bleaching sun blazes down against the white wall made nearly invisible by the glare, while the black square of the window stares unblinking, like an eye refusing to surrender to the torturer’s gaze. For the desperate starling, parched and exhausted from its fruitless search, the dark-stained block appears a refuge from the sun’s incessant heat, and it alights on the sill, moving swiftly into the recessed shadow.

Cooler now and rested, the young starling, ever inquisitive, explores beyond the shadow, pushing its head through a gap in the thin drapes. Beneath him lies a world of welcome gloom, a map of shadows, an atlas of unfamiliar forms. With barely a glance behind him into the suffocating heat of day, the bird leaps through the curtain into the mote-speckled room that beckons with the image of a forest clearing.

Gliding silently through the heavy air, the young explorer slowly circles the room, unsure now of his direction but certain of his desires. Seeking water, he sees it in the golden sparkling streams that gently rise and fall with slow and certain regularity. He swoops and, landing on what he has no vocabulary to call a thigh, he quickly pecks at the glistening skin.


Flash Fiction: 23rd Floor Parking

October 15, 2021

They lived on the 23rd floor, the old man and her. The pair of them had been there for years and now couldn’t afford to move, even though they both hated it so much. It had been fine when they were in their forties, fifties even. But now she was past seventy, and he was coming up to his seventy-fourth birthday. And so poor he still had to work each day.

The building was as good as it ever was, the Hong Kong owners saw to that. The paint was always new, the carpets were replaced, the appliances worked. Even the elevator never broke down. But now the building was full of young people; young people with cars who always took the parking spaces down below and left no space for him.

Every night at six she stood on her balcony and watched him come home from work in their ancient brown Ford. Every night he would slowly cruise the parking lot, and every night the parking lot would be full, and every night he would drive out of the lot and seek a space further down the hill towards the river. Every night, as she watched him puff and wheeze his way back up the slope, she could feel his frustration, his anger, and the pain in his chest.

She looked at the clock on the kitchen wall. Five fifty-eight. Drying her hands on the worn dish towel, she walked out onto the balcony. It was a warm evening, and she could feel the first stirrings of spring, and see the nascent blossoms on the trees below. Her eyes moved from tree to tree to … a space! She could see an empty parking space right in front of the building immediately below her. Her heart skipped a beat. She looked up at the entrance to the lot, and there was the brown Ford just pulling in. She couldn’t believe it. At last! At last!

A honking horn made her look down to her right. There, at the other entrance to the lot was a brand new car, shimmering silver, tooting its horn to get a child to move across the path quicker. Scared, the child hurried on and the silver car moved forward. Moved forward toward the empty space. George’s space.

No, this wasn’t right. That was George’s parking spot. She had seen it first. It was hers by right. She stood on tiptoes. The silver car kept moving, ever closer. She shouted. “Get away! Get away!” Hoarse now: “Get away!!” But still the silver car crept on toward that empty spot of asphalt, that parking space that was hers, her gift for George. She would not let that youngster take it from her. She would not

Climbing on the small easy chair that George has put out on the balcony for her to knit in during summer evenings, she could see the dark oblong patch right below her. It seemed so small and then so large. “Get away!” she screamed over and over and over again, but the silver car seemed not to hear her. It was just lengths away now, its orange signal light flashing.

“I’ll get it for you, George! I’ll get it for you, George!” she cried as she leapt.