Short Story of the Day, Stone Animals by Kelly Link

“This is the list you carry in your pocket, of the things you plan to say to Kay, when you find him, if you find him:

  1. I’m sorry that I forgot to water your ferns while you were away that time.
  2. When you said that I reminded you of your mother, was that a good thing?
  3. I never really liked your friends all that much.
  4. None of my friends ever really liked you.
  5. Do you remember when the cat ran away, and I cried and cried and made you put up posters, and she never came back? I wasn’t crying because she didn’t come back. I was crying because I’d taken her to the woods, and I was scared she’d come back and tell you what I’d done, but I guess a wolf got her, or something. She never liked me anyway.
  6. I never liked your mother.
  7. After you left, I didn’t water your plants on purpose. They’re all dead.
  8. Goodbye.
  9. Were you ever really in love with me?
  10. Was I good in bed, or just average?
  11. What exactly did you mean, when you said that it was fine that I had put on a little weight, that you thought I was even more beautiful, that I should go ahead and eat as much as I wanted, but when I weighed myself on the bathroom scale, I was exactly the same weight as before, I hadn’t gained a single pound?
  12. So all those times, I’m being honest here, every single time, and anyway I don’t care if you don’t believe me, I faked every orgasm you ever thought I had. Women can do that, you know. You never made me come, not even once.
  13. So maybe I’m an idiot, but I used to be in love with you.
  14. I slept with some guy, I didn’t mean to, it just kind of happened. Is that how it was with you? Not that I’m making any apologies, or that I’d accept yours, I just want to know.
  15. My feet hurt, and it’s all your fault.
  16. I mean it this time, goodbye.”
    ― Kelly Link, Stranger Things Happen

Design District Dallas, Texas

From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Friday, October 09, 1998

The best food ends in “O”

At lunch today I was off to buy groceries at the Hyperbolic Market (Shopping From Hell!!) before it became overcrowded. As I pulled out of the parking lot my pager went off, belt bee notifying me of incoming voicemail. I was pretty sure it was not business and considered going back to get the call, but I decided that I’d better get my errand run, I’d call back a little later.

We’re having guests this weekend. I bought tomatillos, cilantro, jalepenos (the recipe calls for habaneros, but they were three dollars for a few orange lumps in a little plastic tray and covered with red warning labels saying stuff like “Danger, these are the hottest things in the universe, do NOT EAT, wear thick rubber gloves when handling, wash hands thoroughly before taking a leak, For God’s Sake!”, so I chickened out and bought jalepenos instead) and mangos.

Fresh food, tropical food, food ending in “O.”

I’ve been trying to spend some time in the middle of the day, every work day, with my office door closed. I’ll sit there and daydream, listen to a little Mozart, maybe talk on the phone, anything to take my mind away for awhile.

The Others are starting to put this down. One guy knocked, asking me paperwork questions when I opened my door. Immediately others lined up behind him, needing favors or answers or only to unload. It was actually kind of funny, my thoughts were elsewhere and I was no good at all to anybody.

And now, a piece of flash fiction for today:

I have been a fan of Kelly Link for years – ever since her amazing and very odd book of stories – modern day adult fairy tales – Stranger Things Happen was listed as a Times magazine best book of the year. I was happy to find this story from her follow-up collection Magic for Beginners.

Stone Animals by Kelly Link

from Electric Lit

Kelly Link Homepage

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, She Titles the Email “Things are Moving Along” by Caitlin Scarano

“i made myself a snowball

As perfect as can be.

I thought I’d keep it as a pet,

And let it sleep with me.

I made it some pajamas

And a pillow for it’s head.

Then last night it ran away,

But first – It wet the bed.”

― Shel Silverstein

Cedars Open Studios 1805 Clarence Street Dallas, Texas

From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Sunday, August 23, 1998

hold the chicken

I had big plans for today. I wanted to get up extra early and go bike riding downtown. I wanted to spend several hours writing. I wanted to start on the garage enclosure project. I didn’t do any of that.

It was tough pulling myself out of bed. Tired and sore, I flopped around the house, getting nothing done. I couldn’t even get up enough energy to scrub out K’nex and Mortimer’s (pronounced More-Timer) aquarium, and I feel bad about that. They do seem to perk up when I clean their little world.

Before I even knew what hit me, it was early afternoon and the kids had a birthday party to go to. Our Sunday volleyball games were scheduled for today too, so the plan was for me to make a token appearance at the birthday party (held at KidsQuest, a local park) and then head out to our friend’s house with some food.

When I showed up, though, the kids had other plans. There is a little triangle of dense woods and it was insisted by the under-ten set that I take them all on a hike through the trees. So I did. Rambling down the rough trails with a dozen little ones. The copse is usually thick and green, cool and humid, but the summer drought has taken its toll. The trees have lost most of their leaves and what is left is droopy and thin, the trails are wide and dry-packed.

We looped around through the faux wilderness for awhile and then I returned them all to the party and slipped off during the Opening of the Gifts.

It was fun to play volleyball again, we haven’t been able to get it in for several weeks. It was too hot, of course, and there was no breeze, and with the school year here, we all had to go home early, so we didn’t play as many games as usual. That’s fine, maybe I’ll be able to type this week, the last time I hurt my hands and arms enough to pain me for ten days.

Now it’s late, the TV’s on. I was going to write an entry about how I didn’t get anything done today, but I guess, looking back, I actually did something. Still, I sit here, the specter of the upcoming work week bearing down, I wish I had more time.

…. Right there, I took a pause, Five Easy Pieces is on the tube, Jack Nicholson is badgering the waitress, trying to get toast with his omelet. I love that scene. For all his rebellion, though, he never did get his toast.

It comes to that, doesn’t it. Do you want to rebel, or do you just want to eat some breakfast.

And now, a piece of flash fiction for today:

She Titles the Email “Things are Moving Along” by Caitlin Scarano

from Brevity

Caitlin Scarano Homepage

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, Letting Go of the Dream by Pam Walters

“The toaster (lacking real bread) would pretend to make two crispy slices of toast. Or, if the day seemed special in some way, it would toast an imaginary English muffin.”
― Thomas M. Disch, The Brave Little Toaster

Cook throwing dough at Serious Pizza, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Monday November 06, 2000


I woke up and lay there in bed, in the darkness. Thinking it was time to go to work I craned to look at the clock, but it was only three AM. While I restlessly padded around the dark and quiet house the dog looked at me through half-lidded eyes before he sighed and went back to sleep, convinced I wasn’t up to anything interesting. I tried the TV – they were selling kitchen appliances, loading whole chickens into rotisserie grills. The audience ooohed and aaahed. They couldn’t believe the price.

This wasn’t working so I gulped down a glass of milk and went back to bed. I curled up with stress, worrying about the upcoming workday – things I needed to do and don’t know how I’ll get done. My stomach churned, my palms burned, I tossed and turned.

One stress relieving technique is to have a place in your mind, a place to go, a safe harbor, an imaginary retreat. I have one, modeled on a real place from far away and now long gone.

It’s a simple boat dock, a swimming dock mostly, remembered from my youth on Lake Gatun, in Panama. In my mind I imagine the steep walk down the rough trail through the jungle to the lake. In real life it was rare to walk this without getting bit by a tropical ant or stung by some jungle bee – but in my mind they don’t attack.

The dock is crude, made of pallets and other thrown-away wood, attached to old metal drums. No boat is tied up today – a couple of handmade wooden canoes are upside down, pulled into some thick greenery at the water’s edge. Everything is green; the jungle is alive. There’s a big tree leaning way out with a rope swing. Giant lizards sit in the tree. I pull the rope back and climb with it a little way up the muddy slope – then swing out and drop into the lake.

The water is warm, tropical green, fragrant. I swim on my back out toward the center of the inlet then dive down, holding my breath frog-kicking down until my ears pop. Rising, breaking the surface, I turn and in a few strokes I’m back to the dock, climbing up, and stretching out, resting there for a few minutes.

Of course, this place didn’t really exist exactly like that – my memory has molded it. What did exist is long gone, even the base I lived on has disappeared along with the entire Canal Zone.

In my mind, though, I’m there for a few minutes at least. I smile a little smile.

The alarm clock went off.

And now, a piece of flash fiction for today:

Letting Go of the Dream by Pam Walters

from Flash Fiction Magazine

Short Story of the Day, Autobiography, Leaving School by Ann Quin

“The leaves were sun-baked lizards, stirring towards the sea that churned its chain of silver snakes, which would, if given half the chance, coil round, pull him out of this urban setting, vomit him on dry land.”
― Ann Quin, Berg

Renner School House desks.

From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Saturday, June 8, 2002


It was getting hot, really sticky and humid, as I walked around the point and stumbled into the mother lode. Working my way south along the shore I hadn’t found much; but here there was a north-facing shore and with the summertime hot southerly Texas wind all these cans and bottles were massed up – blown across Sunset Bay from the popular family picnic spots on the other side. Everything was mixed up in the big round clumps of grass that protect the shore or hidden in the gobs of bright green seaweed – mostly aluminum beer cans plus plastic soda bottles, thin Red Bull cans, and a plastic quart of oil.

I fell into a routine as I worked along the shore. I’d use the grabber-a wooden pole with a little swivel handle that pulled on a thin rod that worked the flimsy pair of plastic-coated jaws on the far end-to grab the cans and bottles and lift them out of the vegetation. I’d line them up on the steep bank, upside down – so the lake liquid inside, brown and green, would drain out. After a few minutes I’d return, pick up the aluminum cans for the blue bag, everything else in the black.

Across the cove I could see a group doing the same thing. They had a long aluminum pole with what looked like a net on the end and a whole swarm of kids running around with trash bags. Two guys in kayaks slid by moving into the thick vegetation of the inner cove itself, looking for floating tires and other crap, I suppose.

The ducks and geese that live there were getting pissed off at all this commotion, after convincing themselves that I didn’t have any stale bread to throw out. The circled and clucked and clacked and gave me the Evil Eye. A mother and five ducklings arced out of a hiding place behind a clump and swam off into a more protected part of the cove. Off to my left was a more open field lined with trees. A photographer was wandering around gazing up into the trees, looking for an artistic shot of the limbs, and eyeing me every now and then. I could tell he had no idea what I was up to. Past him, a couple had set up easels along the treeline of the thick bottomwoods, protected by a stretch of swampy ground. They were painting away, sometimes walking back and forth to see each other’s work. I wanted to work my way over to them and see what they were doing; but the wet ground kept me away. There was plenty of trash where I was anyway.

On past the painters was a colorful clot of balloons arcing over the road at a finish line. Lanes were set up, tables of water bottles, a big yellow elapsed time indicator, and an ambulance – set up and open with oxygen bottles, gurney, and a couple of bored-looking paramedics in blue uniforms. When I first arrived a flashing police car had escorted the winning runner through and now the rest of the race was streaming by.

I’ve always been jealous of runners. Not of how they look, but of the fitness needed to do these races. Even when I was in good shape and riding my bike a lot I couldn’t run. I was a strong swimmer and thought about triathlons (God, that feels like so long ago) but my ankles and feet couldn’t hold up to the running. The constant pain of shinsplints was more than I could take.

An older woman runner went by, her safety-pinned race number flapping in the warm breeze. She was hoofing it as fast as she could with the finish line finally in sight, making a loud guttural huf huf huf as she ran. I turned back to the water and poked at another clump of lake grass that was making a tinkling, metallic sound as the waves washed over it and pulled a goodly mass of cans out from under the blades.

The cleanup was supposed to last until eleven, but it didn’t take me long until both my bags were bulging full. I was getting really overheated – most everybody had worn shorts and T-shirts but I wanted some protection from the nasty trash juices and fetid lake water so I had worn jeans and a long-sleeve shirt. I was spattered with brown mud thrown off when I pulled cans out of the lake – so I guess I had made the right decision. After putting my bulging trash bags (black for trash, blue for recyclables) in the proper spot I walked back north to the Bathhouse Cultural Center where I had parked my car.

A younger guy and his cute girlfriend were walking the other way, carrying trash grabbers like me. Their bags were still stuck in their pockets.
“Having any luck?” I asked.
“Nothing,” the guy said.
“Well, I’ve already been by here,” I said.
“You must have done a good job, there’s no trash left,” his girl said.
“Usually there’s stuff along here in the clumps of grass,” he said,” most people don’t want to get that close to the lake.”
“Keep going,” I said, “Around the point there should be plenty to pick up.”
I felt for the guy; I could tell he felt diminished by the fact that somebody had beat him to his favorite trash spot and cleaned it out before he could get to it.

The second Saturday of each month an organization called For The Love of the Lake sponsors a trash pickup of the lake. I’m going to make that a regular thing for me – I’ve spent so much time at White Rock over the years it’s not too much to give a little back.

I’ll spend my Saturday morning picking up trash. Once you go to school and get a real job – knock yourself out to be successful – whatever the hell that means – you end up doing the stuff that you dedicate your life to avoiding, for fun. You buy a car and spend your leisure time walking, running, or riding a bike. You buy a big house and spend your free time doing yard work, carpentry, or plumbing. I always worried that if I didn’t work hard I’d end up as a janitor – picking up trash.

And now, a short piece of autobiography for today:

Leaving School by Ann Quinn

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, Pier by Fernando Sdrigotti

“In every outthrust headland, in every curving beach, in every grain of sand there is the story of the earth.”

― Rachel Carson

Lee walking in the surf at Crystal Beach. I checked my old blog entries – this was December 29, 2002.

From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Saturday, April 22, 2000

Out of Shape

Daingerfield State Park has a beautiful little lake at its center. The deep forest comes right down to the shore making the water look like a little cup of crystal in the greenery. It is lined with little coves covered in the green disks of lily pads. These were blooming with giant white explosions of water flowers. There is a swimming area marked off with a couple of foam buoys and a wooden platform floating out in the middle of the lake.

It was barely warm enough to swim and we spent a good part of the days sitting on the shore or throwing tennis balls for the Giant Killer Dog, while Nick swam. He would paddle out to the platform and climb up, pace back and forth, shivering in the cool breeze, until he was rested enough to swim back. He is so skinny it hurts sometimes to look at him.

The concession was open for the weekend and they had paddle boats for rent. Somewhere I have a photo album with a picture of a paddle boat I rented as a child. It was an elaborate all-steel affair, two torpedo shaped pontoons, a high bench seat, bicycle style pedals and a chain transmission to a real, visible paddle and a steering wheel. Today, paddle boats aren’t as well made. They are plastic and foam, bright molded-in colors, low-slung, a bent pipe with wooden pedals directly driving a completely enclosed paddle assembly. They are steered with a little pipe sticking up behind the seats.

Still, Nick wanted to rent one, so we paid our seven dollars and put on the ubiquitous red life vests, tattered and moldy-smelling, marked S, M, or L with fading Magic Marker. The boat was a bit too big for him and too small for me, making for inefficient propulsion. I am in such bad shape, my legs burned terribly as soon as we moved away from the dock. I could only paddle for a few minutes before I’d have to give up and take a rest. It took us what seemed like a long time to move across the lake (although we never completely used up our rented hour).

The breeze was light and the lake was even more beautiful from the center. Nicholas said, “Everything is blue or green, the only colors.” He pointed out how tall the forest was, it undulated into the distance, up from the water, and you couldn’t tell where the real hills were or where the trees were simply tending to be taller or shorter. Ducks and geese floated around looking for handouts. Black turtles sunned themselves on logs in the center of the lily pad seas, plopping into the water to swim away, sticking their heads out to peer out at us if we paddled too close.

When we looked down into the calm water with the sun at our backs we could see shafts of yellow and green extending downward, pulsing with the gentle waves. The trick of perspective made the water look miles deep, cold and clean.

Even with my legs burning, the sun heating up the uncomfortable clumsy life jacket, it was a pretty nice way to spend an hour and seven dollars.

When we reached shore, the kids shot some baskets at a hoop above the parking lot and hooted around in the playground for awhile. I examined some immature bald cypress trees growing in the shallow water and decided, for sure, that I was given an incorrect tree for my front yard. It is definitely a pine and not a cypress.

Nick, Candy, and The Giant Killer Dog drove back to the campsite while Lee wanted to walk back with me along the trail – a bit of a shortcut as opposed to the park road.

“Let’s race them!” Lee shouted, and took off along the trail.

It’s true, that in your mind’s eye, you see yourself as you were when you were… maybe sixteen years old. I could see myself running down that trail with Lee. I couldn’t do it. A few hundred yards and I was out of breath, side splitting, slowing to a walk. The MiniVan made it back to the campsite before Lee and I did.

But not by much.

And now, a piece of flash fiction for today:

Pier by Fernando Sdrigotti

from The London Magazine

Fernando Sdrigotti Twitter

Fernando Sdrigotti Instagram

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, Relax Said the Nightman by Melissa Llanes Brownlee

“A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.”

― Coco Chanel

“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”

― Frederick Douglass

Fountain at Galatyn Park, Richardson, Texas

From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Tuesday, December 01, 1998

Illustrated Woman

After work, Candy took the kids down to the school for some function, I drove off to the club to work out.

Now, don’t think I’m exercising as an excuse to watch other people. I’m serious about this, I’m working hard; but the first part of my program is to do a half hour on the stepper. There isn’t much to do for thirty minutes except look around at the other folks working out.

I try to do the stepper right. I stand as upright as possible, keeping my weight on my feet, using my hands only for balance. A couple machines down some guy was flopped over forwards, resting his chest on the control panel, his arms on the handles. His entire weight was supported there, his blue spandex-covered butt stuck up in the back. I don’t think he’s gets any exercise that way and it must be killing his back.

In front of the steppers, past the always-busy treadmills is a warm-up area, where people do their stretching. This club is a pretty serious place, not a lot of socializing, and although there is a wide variety of customers, a lot of serious bodybuilders hang out there.

I couldn’t help but notice one woman on the mat bending herself around, stretching. Tall and thin, almost gaunt, wearing wire-rim glasses and medium length blonde hair pulled into a ponytail. She wore white shorts, a gray athletic bra-top, black workout shoes and weightlifting gloves. She must have had some Yoga training, those were serious stretches. She stood, feet far apart, and keeping her torso and legs straight and locked bent over and touched her cheek to the inside of each calf. Then she rolled around and tapped the back of her head on the padded floor between her feet.

What caught my eye wasn’t her extraordinary flexibility, it was her tattoo. Not a small, ordinary tattoo, but a big design. She was illustrated. The illustration was a vine, I guess a climbing wild rose. I thought I could make out red blossoms and maybe even thorns among the thick green leaves. It started as a spiral tendril between her breasts and grew into an arc over her left shoulder. It continued down her back in undulating curves and finally ended… well, I couldn’t really tell exactly where it ended.

I’m not ordinarily a big fan of tattoos, but I liked this one. It looked like a real part of her, not some odd design picked out in a drunken haze and buzzed in on an ankle in a whim. Jeez, though, that must have hurt. A good two or three square feet of skin under that electric needle.

I finished my stepper and walked some laps to cool down before I started working on the weight machines. Down on one end of the club is the free weight area where the serious bodybuilders work. One woman was sitting, doing concentration curls with a dumbbell. The biceps on her arm literally popped out like a hank of thick cords, you could almost see every muscle strand. She was like a sculptor in flesh. The sculptor and the sculpture too. Slow carving with sweat and plates of steel.

For the most part, the men down there had unmarked skin. I had never noticed before, though, that over half of the women had large complex tattoos. Abstract patterns across their bellies. One had a tiger looking out of its lair drawn across her shoulder blades.

I thought back to something I heard on TV as a child, during the Olympics, I suppose it was the 1968 games in Mexico City. The announcer was talking about the East German women’s swimming team. She said something like, “The Communist Bloc girls have a big advantage over the American women because they have a weight lifting program. American women won’t lift weights because they are afraid they will look too manly .”

Thirty years ago. It’s odd that I remember that from so long ago; I have no idea why it made such an impression. Things have changed a bit since then, though, haven’t they.

And now, a piece of flash fiction for today:

Relax Said the Nightman by Melissa Llanes Brownlee

from Newfound

Melissa Llanes Brownlee Webpage

Melissa Llanes Brownlee Twitter

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, What I Owned by Michelle Ross

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

― Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House

The Headlines Screamed, Baithouse Disappears

From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Wednesday, January 16, 2002

Spreading north

I’m continuously amazed at how the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex is vomiting itself northward, spreading across the cotton fields and mesquite scrublands like a virulent plywood fungus.

The houses are enormous, stuck right up next to each other, and virtually identical. Cheap brick veneer, wooden shake shingles, monstrously large bathrooms, two-story entryways, full of odd corners of wasted space.

The streets are full of smells of cut pinewood, wet concrete, and hot asphalt. Even in the winter, the Texas sun beats down unhindered by any trees to bake the brick and kill the fresh-laid sod. You never see any residents out on the streets or sidewalks – I have to imagine there are sometimes children behind the eight foot wooden privacy fences enclosing a tiny polygon of ex-prairie – sometimes I can see a piece of custom-made play equipment sticking up over the fence. The only humans ever visible in the new suburbs are crews of Mexican workers cutting grass or building walls. Sometimes they have leaf blowers – though I have no idea where any leaves would come from.

The eternal question is, of course, who lives in these things. Did a crack dealer and his stripper girlfriend save their money, get married, clean up and move to the suburbs? Did some guy invent the battery-powered inside-the-egg egg-scrambler and spend his millions gleaned from late night television advertisements on that brand spankin’ new house and shiny black SUV?

And now, a piece of flash fiction for today:

What I Owned by Michelle Ross

from Monkeybicycle

Michelle Ross Webpage

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, Baby Dolls by Becky Robison

“We are all alone, born alone, die alone, and—in spite of True Romance magazines—we shall all someday look back on our lives and see that, in spite of our company, we were alone the whole way. I do not say lonely—at least, not all the time—but essentially, and finally, alone. This is what makes your self-respect so important, and I don’t see how you can respect yourself if you must look in the hearts and minds of others for your happiness.”

― Hunter S. Thompson, The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967

C-47 Nose Art, Commemorative Air Force, Wings over Dallas

From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Wednesday, March 26, 1997. I used to look at posts from my old blog that were twenty years old. Now… I’m looking at posts I wrote a quarter-century ago.

May I check your oil, ma’am?

I’ve been issued a new lab coat at work. We have to wear flame resistant clothing in the plant, the chemists wear these blue coats instead of uniforms. When mine came it had my name on it. White stitching on a little blue label, “Bill.” The guy who brought it told me that I could cut the label off, but I thought I’d let it be. It’ll help keep the darn thing from getting “borrowed” during the night shift.

I went out to buy lunch, I’m too busy, so I was going to bring it back to eat at my desk. I went out to the little sandwich shop for a “Californian” – avocado, lettuce, cheese, in a pita. It was a nice day, but cool, so I kept my lab coat on. The girl took my order and then said, “The name, it’s Bill isn’t it?” I had a moment of confusion over how she knew my name, suddenly I realized that she read it off my coat. I was yanked back twenty three years, I was a teenager again, working at a gas station, with my first name on my uniform. I looked at the girl behind the counter, she was looking at me with that look, the look you give someone that’s making minimum wage, and will always be making minimum wage.

People used to look at me like that all the time when I was pumping gas. I was in college at the time, only working over the summer or on holidays, but they didn’t know that. I’d usually have school books with me, I’d study between cars, trying to get a jump on the next year. There was a blackboard inside the station, It was usually covered with equations, formulae, but nobody noticed that (or recognized what it was). Occasionally a customer would give me a little lecture, “Son, you need to be thinkin’ about what you’re going to do with your life.” I’d nod my head, ring up their gas (I could gas six cars, remember all six amounts- dollars and gallons, their license tag numbers, and what person went with what car, I’d worked out a mnemonic system, I could gas and charge everyone without asking any questions, only a few people noticed that). Of course I had plans, I was getting an education, this gas station job and its three bucks an hour was a part of it, but only a part.

Of course, after all these efforts, after all my sound and fury, here I am, middle aged, still wearing my name over my breast.

I think I’ll cut that label off.

And now, a piece of flash fiction for today:

Baby Dolls by Becky Robison

from PANK

Becky Robison Twitter

Becky Robison Webpage

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, The Last Man on Earth Looks for a Friend—A Mini-Novel by John Guzlowski

“What is there in our nature that is for ever urging us on towards pain and misery?”
― Mary Shelley, The Last Man

Untitled (Sprawling Octopus Man), by Thomas Houseago Nasher Sculpture Center Dallas, Texas

From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Tuesday, May 20, 1997

Morning from hell

Last night, driving home, I needed to stop for gas. As I was pulling up to the Texaco a good song (Nightswimming) came on the radio, so I kept driving. I knew I had enough fuel (barely) to get home, I’d buy a tank before work the next day. This was an omen of am impending morning from hell.

Candy and I left for work at the same time; she had the kids to take to school. I walked out to the piece of crap Mazda and turned the key. Nothing. Now this weekend the battery in the van had gone out (as my faithful readers know) and I had left my jumper cables in the van in case the problem was more than the battery. So out of my car I dashed, across the two inches of leftover stormwater covering my yard, around the house in time to see the van’s taillights make the curve from the alley into the street.

No problem, I have a battery charger in the garage; I’ll hook it up to the Mazda, charge the battery, get on my way, worry about what’s wrong later. But the extension cord was too short, it wouldn’t reach halfway across the front yard. My neighbor was leaving for work, she asked if she could help, but she had no jumper cables either. I thought for a minute and realized I have a longer cord up in the attic. I had left it there from the last time I was working on the cable TV. The end of the cord was hanging down in the attic access panel in the garage, I climbed up, grabbed it, and pulled. About two feet of cord came down along with a big wad of fiberglass insulation, but no more.

So I pulled out the aluminum ladder and leaned it up to the hatch. Our house is of the more or less modern construction using roof trusses. Instead of grand beams supporting the roof, leaving plenty of headroom; a truss of 2×4’s fastened by metal plates in fractal triangles fill the attic. Cheap, light, strong, and almost impossible to move through. I’m way too old and fat for the climbing, kneeling, crawling needed to get through the maze of beams. But I had no choice.

I tied a snakelight to a beam and fought my way through; realizing too late that I needed to turn a corner and the flashlight wouldn’t reach. So back I crawled to get the light, twisting it around my neck. I clambered through the dirty labyrinth around the corner clear back to the end of the house where I’d tied the cord to an old lamp I once used to work on the coax; it was caught on some wires. I untied it and began to work my way back to the garage.

I had to stop for a minute to get a grip. I was so frustrated – late for work, a dead car – claustrophobic, stuck in the dirty, hot, cramped attic trying to get a stupid extension cord that may or may not help me get my car started and get to work. I shook for a minute with emotion and paranoia. I felt completely alone; there was no one to help me. It was still only seven thirty in the morning and I had had all the crap I could stand.

But as always, I realized I had no other choice, and continued crawling through the beams back to the garage hatchway, flashlight around my neck, pulling the extension cord with me.

I set up the charger on the long cord and attached it to the terminals. The ammeter showed the battery was low, it quickly went to fully charged; and the car still wouldn’t start. Something wasn’t right. I removed the terminal clamps from the battery and noticed that the posts were black and corroded. Back to the garage for some sandpaper which I tore in little strips. I used these to clean the terminals and the clamps. Presto, the car starts right up. I called in to say I’d be twenty minutes late and drove to the gas station and on in to work.

All day I couldn’t shake that moment of fear and panic in the attic:

Car problems again, I had already lost half a day on Candy’s van, now another battery, those zinc plates soaking in sulfuric acid, the same thing again.

The terrible time pressures, I have to be in to work. I want to sit down, take some time off, I don’t want to go. I’m behind, the clock’s ticking, I can’t be late – primal, childhood images, late late late, sent to the office, walking through the quiet, empty hall, feeling – no being – out of place, looking in through that little window at the kids seated the teacher talking – the dreaded walk from the door to my seat.

Discomfort. Cramped, fighting back the welling claustrophobia, dark, dirty, hot, I have to balance on the edges of the ceiling beams or I’ll crash through the sheetrock, itchy – a world of fiberglass insulation. How did I get here? What the hell am I doing? What sort of terrible mistake is this?

Alone, lonely. Nobody to call. Candy has patients, she can’t leave work, isn’t even there yet. I have to figure this out myself. Once, I want somebody else to handle something. Take care of it. Fix it for me.

And the screwup guilt. Why did I oversleep? Why didn’t I get gas last night? Why didn’t I get jumper cables for the van and Mazda? Why did I leave this extension cord up here in the attic? Why haven’t I cleaned those terminals on a periodic basis?

So I’m a screwup; that’s why I’m being punished . But this is only a random bad day isn’t it? The fates or whatever; are they , out to punish me? To extract payment for every transgression? Or is this paranoia? That’s not important, nobody cares if you’re paranoid. What really matters is if they really are out for you or not, paranoid or no.

Another day.

So lets belly up to the bar, mates. Get that cute barmaid to pour us up some mugs of icy foam. We’ll put our arms on each other’s shoulders and Maria’ll play a tune on the Farfisa while we stamp out the rhythm with our feet on the peanutshells and sing:

We losers, we happy losers – hear us saying;
time is passing us by,
there’s a party ’round here somewhere,
we can hear the band playing

but we’ve lost our invitations.
The stuck in the muds,
the if only ifs,
the full ‘o lamentations.

Don’t laugh now, ’cause I’ll wager
you are one too.
Don’t ya worry, there’s plenty of room,
Plenty of floor, plenty of lager

now everybody….

And now, a piece of flash fiction for today:

The Last Man on Earth Looks for a Friend—A Mini-Novel by John Guzlowski

from Flash Fiction Online

John Guzlowski Wikipedia

John Guzlowski Twitter

Guzlowski’s personal blog – about his parents and their experiences

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, The Appliance Crisis by Beth Goder

Such is life. It is no cleaner than a kitchen; it reeks of a kitchen; and if you mean to cook your dinner, you must expect to soil your hands; the real art is in getting them clean again, and therein lies the whole morality of our epoch.

—-Honore de Balzac

Plastic Food, Car Show, Denton, Texas

From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Saturday, February 16, 2002

Cooking on my Birthday

I guess most people want somebody to cook some special meal for their birthday. What I wanted, though, was to cook my own.

Some close friends of ours have started their own catering business. They have leased a storefront and outfitted it with commercial cooking equipment – big ovens and a huge gas stove, giant refrigerator and freezers, and massive stainless steel tables for food organization and preparation. They gave me a key and I went down there the other week to set up their computer and I fell in love with the place. I guess my favorite thing is the commercial gas range – it looks like what the chefs on all the cooking shows use – an acre of massive black iron pan supports with tiny blue pilot lights sprinkling the area. Turn a heavy steel knob and a get-engine rush of gas throws out some serious heat. It’s something you can actually cook on – not like the wimpy weak glowing electric coils in my home kitchen.

When they called and asked what I wanted for my birthday dinner I replied that I wanted to cook in their commercial kitchen. They said sure so I prepared a menu and went down to the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market to buy my supplies (I won’t shop at Albertson’s any more, even though it’s closer to my house, in protest of their new 1984 Big Brother Card).

I drove down to the place a couple hours early, put a CD in the boom box and started cooking. I made onions cut in half and hollowed out, wrapped with a strip of bacon and stuffed with wilted spinach and a dollop of feta cheese on top. I marinated some sliced fresh mozzarella in sour cream and spices, then melted this over some crusty bread with a slice of tomato and an orange sprinkle of some powdered chile de arbol. For my main course I put chicken breasts, mushrooms, potatoes, white wine, and a fistful of chopped fresh herbs into bags made of carefully folded heavy foil (the basic recipe came from TV, from the Naked Chef) and baked the mess. Candy made a chocolate cake and I added a baby spinach salad.

We had six folks for diner and a sitter for everybody’s kids (we knew there wouldn’t be anything to keep the little ones occupied at the catering place). There weren’t any good places to sit, but there was plenty of wine, so that didn’t matter.

I think the food came out fine (the one thing I didn’t have was a good toaster or a salamander so the bread turned out a soggy – the stuffed onions were too tough, though the stuffing was good), especially the chicken. The foil bag is a great technique to learn. I can imagine baking stuff at home and taking it to a picnic. The foil puffs up like a Jiffy Pop and it’s great when you pierce the package and all that fragrant steam puffs out. Easy clean-up, too.

And now, a piece of flash fiction for today:

The Appliance Crisis by Beth Goder

from Flash Fiction Online

Beth Goder Webpage

Beth Goder Twitter