Flash Fiction: Window of Opportunity

December 30, 2021


Standing on the steps of the ancient Town Hall, she faced the battery of microphones that reared up at her like a porcupine’s back. “We have a window of opportunity now,” she said, turning first left and then right to ensure that as many cameras as possible caught her face as she spoke the historic words. “We have a chance to bring peace to this benighted region of earth, a chance we must grasp or lose it for another generation.”

Click. Flash. Whirrr. Click. Whirr. Flash.

A sudden breeze caught a lock of her hair and, as she tried to compose her thoughts to bring forth more statesman-like sentences, she found herself in the future, watching herself as she would appear on the six o’clock news that evening, as her hair was mussed by the wind. Her right hand moved swiftly to her forehead and dealt firmly with the straying strand.

Click. Flash. Whirrr. Click. Whirr. Flash.

“Rarely have we witnessed such cooperation from so many disparate groups. Rarely have we been privileged to see such hard won handshakes across a table.” She paused, the slightest of smiles on her face, her eyes widening as she sought out and found a favoured photographer.

Click. Flash. Whirrr. Click. Whirr. Flash.

Now, moulding her face into that stern and steely gaze that scared the most experienced diplomats, she spoke again. “But there is much serious work still be done, much more to accomplished before we can rest on our laurels. But we can be proud today.”

Click. Flash. Whirrr. Click. Whirr. Flash.

She paused, pleased with her speech so far; and even more pleased with the agreement she had forged in those ancient halls. It was an agreement she would sure would win her the nomination.

Click. Flash. Whirrr. Click. Whirr. Flash.

As she raised her arms in a triumphant wave, she caught a glimpse of an upstairs window across the square, a shadow, the slightest movement.

Click. Flash. Whirrr. Click. Whirr. Flash.

The crack of the rifle was buried beneath the sounds of the press.

Click. Flash. Whirrr. Click. Whirr. Flash.

Click. Flash. Whirrr. Click. Whirr. Flash.

Flash Fiction: The Wind Came In From Africa

December 23, 2021


I was lying aboard the hammock on the verandah of the Colonial Hotel just up the beach from the old town of Puerto Duquesa. I’d had a whiskey or two. OK, OK — goddam you truth-mongers! — I’d had a damn near bucketful of the stuff, and I was just resting it off as I liked to do in the late afternoons, listening to the “Blue” tape while the sun melted slowly into the sea.

There was a light breeze and then there was a bigger breeze and then there was damn near a hurricane or a typhoon or a whirlwind or something. And I sat up in the hammock to see what was going on and that wind was pushing me from side to side and turning me around and I felt sick to my stomach. And that’s when I saw them, coming out of the dust of the beach and the spray of the ocean. A dozen of them, maybe. Or eight or some. Who the hell could count straight with all that damn wind?

They were like Arabs or Saracens or those guys that Richard the Lion -Heart used to fight in those movies with Douglas Fairbanks or whoever. And they had a huge cart or stage coach or some such that was filled all up with jewel boxes and bows and arrows and swords and shields and cartons overflowing with clothes and sandals. Two or three huge Arabs were hauling this heavy-laden carriage out of the water.

There was a silence about them; a stillness within this storm. But the smells of the East washed over me like bathing in perfume: soft incenses and aromatic barks and sandalwoods and something like patchouli.

I lay there swinging in the hammock, smelling their smells, and watching them pull their cart silently across the beach until they disappeared in the swirling mist about a hundred yards away. And as they disappeared, the mist seemed to clear behind them and they were gone.

I don’t know how long I laid there watching where they had vanished, but it was dark when I wandered back to the Marina Bar in the old town and ordered a whiskey straight up. I didn’t tell the barman. I didn’t tell Pepe when he came in later. Don’t know why, just didn’t.

Flash Fiction: Map of the Day

December 16, 2021


Frank and Claudia had reached the seaside around noon, carrying a basket of goodies: sandwiches made early that morning in her mother’s kitchen, papayas and oranges from Martha’s stall in Hambleford, sodas and beers from that grocery in St. James that never checked IDs, and a nickel bag of fine green bud.

When they arrived at the beach, they dashed into the sea still wearing their shorts and tops, splashing and diving and relishing the cool water after the long bicycle ride. It was Claudia who had first taken off her teeshirt, throwing it onto the strand where it washed in and out with the waves. Frank frankly stared for a while, stared at her breasts, her nipples, couldn’t take his eyes off them even when he tried to look elsewhere. She laughed, posed, twirling like a model on a runway and then dived away.

They swam for a long time, Frank staying as close to her as possible, she staying just slightly out of his reach. After a while they were both quite comfortable with her naked breasts (even though Frank just had to keep looking) and they swam out to Robert’s Rock like all kids had for generations. They climbed onto the rock and Frank noticed how the beads of water ran across her chest, changing course as they hit her nipples which were hard and pronounced. But the sun was too hot to sit for any length of time and they swam back to the beach where they lay for a while, exhausted by their play.

Later, in need of fruit and sandwiches, they had stood up and each noticed the sand encrusted on the other’s shorts. With a single thought, and in silence and almost in slow motion, they each undid the buttons and zips and let their shorts drop. For a long while they stood looking at each other nakedness.

By four o’clock, when the harshness of the sun had mitigated to a sullen stillness, they had moved off the sand and into the grass. With sticks and tee-shirts Frank rigged up a small tent cover under which a black square of coolness lay inviting. They sat in the shadow, naked, looking across the sand, staring intently at the waves as if they were oceanographers, sharing sips from a bottle of beer, his arm around her shoulder, sweat streaming from their every pore.

She turned her face to his, he turned his to hers and, with a pull of courage as strong as that needed to escape gravity’s pull, he leaned toward her and placed his lips on hers. Her arms moved slowly around his neck and they lay back on the grass, their tongues whiplashing between cheeks and teeth. His hand, cupped as if to accept a donation, moved toward her right breast and covered it, motionless. His palm felt her nipple harden, and his penis became hardened in response. It prodded her thigh and she instinctively moved a hand down to feel what it was. She explored it with interest with her fingers for a few seconds and then, quite suddenly, he was shaking and an excruciating sob erupted from deep within him and she noticed that her hand and thigh were unpleasantly sticky.

“I’m sorry,” he said and rolled away from her, lying on his back, his teeth gritted. She stood up, definitely confused, and then ran down to the surf where she washed her hands and leg. When she returned he was lying on his side, his knees drawn up, his head clasped in his hands, his arms like a boxer’s guard over his chest. “Hello,” she tried, but he seemed imprisoned in his own thoughts. He knew that to be eaten slowly by an alligator would be less painful than this. “Next time will be better,” she whispered, almost to herself.

Frank didn’t seem to be inclined to move, so she fished around in the basket until she found the cool greenness of the strawberry papaya. She used Frank’s Swiss Army penknife to halve the fruit and to brush the black seeds into the grass. Her strong white teeth bit deep into the fruit and her gums accepted the fresh taste like candy. A stream of juice coursed down her chin and splashed on her breast. Brushing aside an inquisitive wasp, she looked at Frank and then looked out over the beach to Robert’s Rock and hoped that for both of them today would be just a single map in the atlas of their lives.

In the swamps behind the beach, the curlews drank and fished and called their odd call, the huge turtles splashed slowly from pool to pool, and swarms of midges circled within nets of pheromones.

Flash Fiction: May 1968

December 9, 2021


“If those damned students — you know, those pot-smoking USA-hating Viet Cong-loving long-haired hippy-drippy seniors from Lincoln Hall, those damned students; if those damned students drag the damned flag across the dirt again while they gather for their… their…” (his eyes widened, his voice went up half an octave, and he drew quotation marks in the air) “their Be-In and wander stoned-eyed and aimless across the campus meandering from one quad to another chanting that bloody guru goo-goo and trampling the flowers, I’ll need a tranquilizer, I tell ya, I’ll need a goddamned tranquilizer. It’d be the last straw!”

He paused in his pacing rant just long enough to pull an old Kleenex tissue from the depths of his gown, and to wipe his nose, and then he was off again, striding and shouting.

“You know their posters?” He glared at me accusingly, unblinking. “Those obscene posters they stick up everywhere, all over the damn place, full of colour and hair and radical shouting?” His arm swung indecisively toward some faculty buildings in the east, and then at a group of trees to the south. It didn’t seem to matter, everywhere was infected it seemed. “They ran them off on the Dean’s own roneo printer when they invaded his office last month! Can you believe that? The Dean’s own printer! And what they did to the Founder’s photograph! My God, you remember that?” He didn’t need an answer and raced on. “No, no, no! This Be-In is just too much after all that!”

He stopped suddenly and turned to face me, an earnest look on his face. I thought he was actually going to grasp me by the shoulders like some angst-ridden character in a James Dean movie.

“In all these years, you know, this is the first time I’ve ever found myself staring at the calendar, praying for the term to end.” He shook his head sadly, and then out of the corner of his eye he saw a group of students, apparently ‘stoned-eyed and aimless’, turn the corner and enter the quad. He shook his head again with weary despair.

“I used to see Curiosity and Wonder. Now, for the most part, it is just Self-Absorption and Cynicism.” He sighed with the depths of the Pacific trenches. “I know some of them will pull through. It’s like my old Dad used to say about his nasturtium seeds year after year: Somes’ll come up, and somes’ll not. But I’m worried, Dick. Worried damned sick about what the nineteen-seventies are going to bring us.”

He shook his head and we wandered off again, a little more slowly this time, making a wide detour to avoid the students who, it seemed, hadn’t even noticed we were there.

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.