Short Story Of the Day, Fourth of July by William E Burleson

But now he plays. As always, he plays because that’s what he’s paid to do. But this time, he also plays for his co-workers. This time, he plays for honor. And he plays brilliantly.

—- William E Burleson, Fourth of July

The end of a game of giant Jenga – Community Beer Company, Dallas, Texas

I remember… let’s see… I was about ten – that would make it about 1967. Well over a half-century ago. The memory is from a small farming town (about 500 souls) in the middle of nowhere – so that would mean, if I was living there, probably it was when my father was in Vietnam. I remember discovering a well-worn building within walking distance of my house (everything was within walking distance) that had a couple of pinball games right inside the front door. I would walk down there and some old man would give me a quarter so I could play.

A quarter was a lot of money in those days.

If you were weaned on video games you don’t understand the thrill of a real, mechanical marvel. The sound, real sound, of the metal ball and the flippers and the bumpers, clanking and chunking – the bells chiming – the mechanical counters clicking around (and hopefully the wonderful CLUNK of a new free game). The slight smell of ozone in the air from the thousands of contacts making and breaking. The flashing lights and garish graphics – real wood, real glass, real paint. The feel of the spring loaded piston that sent the heavy ball – you could feel the weight in the handle – shooting up and around and the moment you felt your fingers move to the round buttons on the side with your palms against the wood to give careful, tiny shoves (don’t want to TILT – you learned the limits of your machine) to keep the ball moving and away from the gutter. You became one with the flippers – the game would last as long as your skill and luck held out.

Those days are gone.

Read it here:

Fourth of July by William E Burleson

William E Burleson homepage

Short Story (Flash Fiction) Of the Day, Memory by H.P. Lovecraft

In the valley of Nis the accursed waning moon shines thinly, tearing a path for its light with feeble horns through the lethal foliage of a great upas-tree. And within the depths of the valley, where the light reaches not, move forms not meant to be beheld.

—- H. P. Lovecraft, Memory

H.P. Lovecraft

If I was looking for something to read, and stumbled across the opening lines reprinted above… and didn’t know who wrote them – I would have skipped on. Life is too short. It has all the hallmarks of bad writing – present tense, overwritten, trite adjectives, silly names. But this is Lovecraft after all, and it is crackerjack.

When I first read Lovecraft, in college almost a half-century ago, I didn’t, at first, understand why he was so famous. The writing didn’t seem to have aged well. But then I tried to go to sleep and found my dreams haunted by the monsters from the page. Lovecraft understands what we are afraid of more than we do ourselves.

Iä! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn! Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah-nagl fhtagn—

Read it here:

Memory by H.P. Lovecraft

from Flash Fiction Online

H.P. Lovecraft

Short Story (Flash Fiction) Of the Day, Six Dreams About the Train by Maria Haskins

Then you wake up and look at me and you smile and I know who I am again, that I am real, that you are real, that this is the world as it is supposed to be.

—-Maria Haskins, Six Dreams About the Train

 

There is something primal about a train. I read the story and I think of six trains from my life: the DART commuter trains sliding between the crystal towers of the downtown skyscrapers wet with rain, a steam powered narrow gauge from the past chugging upwards from a hundred degree day to a lunch in the snow, a classic diesel-electric taking a small child alone across the Kansas Prairie, the burning of a derailed chemical train in the lowlands of rural Louisiana, a high school band crossing the forty five miles from Atlantic to Pacific (ironically going west to east) for a football game, a child’s ride around the periphery of a rundown theme park… the memories (even the recent ones) take on the misty confusion of a dream. Everything is starting to do that.

Read it here:

Short Story (Flash Fiction) Of the Day, Six Dreams About the Train by Maria Haskins

 

From Flash Fiction Online

Maria Haskins Twitter

Maria Haskins – Writer and Translator

Short Story Of the Day, Premium Harmony by Stephen King

They’re going to Wal-Mart for grass seed. They’ve decided to sell the house—they can’t afford to keep it—but Mary says they won’t get far until they do something about the plumbing and get the lawn fixed. She says those bald patches make it look shanty Irish. It’s because of the drought. It’s been a hot summer and there’s been no rain to speak of. Ray tells her grass seed won’t grow without rain no matter how good it is. He says they should wait.

—-Stephen King, Premium Harmony

 

Woodall Rogers Expressway, Dallas, Texas

Hey, it’s a Stephen King story – expect some horror – you are warned. The interesting thing is that you probably feel more shocked at what happens to Biz than to Mary. There are reasons for that, I guess.

Read it here:

Premium Harmony by Stephen King

from The New Yorker

Short Story Of the Day, Just After the Wave by Sandrine Collett

 

But now this is driving him crazy, this ocean creeping closer, especially at night when no one can see it, at dawn the sea surprises them with its silent waves, ever higher, and the hens squawk because there is hardly anything left to peck at on the last bit of land that is holding out—for a few days the children fed them potato peels, but now there’s nothing left.

—-Just After the Wave, An excerpt of the novel by Sandrine Collette, translated from the French by Alison Anderson

 

Trinity River
Dallas, Texas

Read it here:

Just After the Wave, An excerpt of the novel by Sandrine Collette, translated from the French by Alison Anderson

from Guernica

 

Short Story Of the Day, Pills by Donald Ray Pollock

While Frankie drove around the township in circles that night, I told him all the secrets in my house, every single rotten thing that my old man had ever done to us. And though, in a stupid way, I felt like a fucking rat the more I blabbed, by the time the sun came up the next morning, it seemed as if all the shame and fear I’d ever carried inside of me was burned away like a pile of dead leaves.

—-Donald Ray Pollock, Pills

 

Design District
Dallas, Texas

A long time ago, I came across a book of short stories called Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock and wrote a blog entry about it.  Not for the faint of heart – these technicolor portraits of misanthropy and hopelessness (a bad and volatile combination) – were quite the read. Now I discover he has, in the intervening decade, wrote two novels, The Heavenly Table and The Devil All the Time. Going to have to add these to my TO BE READ list which is growing ever so longer. So many books, so little time.

In the interim, to tide all of us over, here’s a bit of a disturbing tale available online, from Knockemstiff.

Read it here:

Pills by Donald Ray Pollock

from The Barcelona Review

Donald Ray Pollock website

Donald Ray Pollock’s pest control website (What the hell? I think this is actually put up by the author. Why? Or is there some pest control guy with the same name? I don’t think so) Fun fact from this site: Flies for one reason or another hate Vodka.

Short Story (Flash Fiction) Of the Day, Auntie Cheeks by Renée Jessica Tan

Back then, any woman with white hair was an auntie, but no one could tell me how we were related. My dad said she came from my mom’s side, and my mom said she came from my dad’s. My parents rarely agreed about anything.

—-Renée Jessica Tan, Auntie Cheeks

 

Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, Texas

Read it here:

Auntie Cheeks by Renée Jessica Tan

from Flash Fiction Online

Short Story (cure for the quarantine blues), Aunt Agatha Makes a Bloomer by P. G. Wodehouse

“I am so glad you were able to come, Bertie,” she said. “The air will do you so much good. Far better for you than spending your time in stuffy London night clubs.”

“Oh, ah!” I said.

“You will meet some pleasant people, too. I want to introduce you to a Miss Hemmingway and her brother, who have become great friends of mine. I am sure you will like Miss Hemmingway. A nice, quiet, girl, so different from so many of the bold girls one meets in London nowadays. Her brother is curate at Chipley-in-the-Glen in Dorsetshire. He tells me they are connected with the Kent Hemmingways. A very good family. She is a charming girl.”

I had a grim foreboding of an awful doom. All this boosting was so unlike Aunt Agatha, who normally is one of the most celebrated right and left hand knockers in London Society. I felt a clammy suspicion. And by Jove, I was right.

“Aline Hemmingway,” said Aunt Agatha, “is just the girl I should like to see you marry, Bertie. You ought to be thinking of getting married. Marriage might make something of you. And I could not wish you a better wife than dear Aline. She would be such a good influence in your life.”

“Here, I say!” I said, chilled to the marrow.

—-P. G. Wodehouse, Aunt Agatha Makes a Bloomer

Crystal Beach, Texas

These are tough times – in addition to the usual hell we all live in there is the lockdown (although I still get to [have to] go to work every day) and the political situation (no matter what side you are on there is the unavoidable feeling that everything is coming apart at the seams) to deal with. Yesterday, it was getting to be too much for me.

Then I stumbled across an article from the BBC about a writer that “wrote the most perfect sentences” and I could not help but take a look. It was referring to P. G. Wodehouse – a very famous author that I had stumbled across before. Decades and decades ago I had read how crackerjack Wodehouse was, specifically the stories around the butler, Jeeves. This was long enough ago that the internet existed but did not have the breadth of content that it does now. I took a look at a couple of Wodehouse tomes at the local library.

And was not impressed. I was very disappointed. It was so twee, so British, so dry… I read here and there and put it up. I never returned to the author (and the butler) – there are so many other books out there (and so little time).

Today, of course, the internet has vomited itself out across the vast virtual wasteland and everything you could imagine (and so so much that you could never have imagined, not in a million years) is out there in the ether. Specifically, there is Project Gutenberg.

And Project Gutenberg has a healthy selection of out-of-copyright Wodehouse – quite a bit of which contains the magic name “Jeeves.” I downloaded a promising-looking text file, manipulated it (removed line breaks, changed the font to Arial 12) to make it readable and saved it as a PDF. I started in, not expecting much.

What the hell was I thinking all that time ago? This shit is hilarious. A smile spread across my face as I read story after story. It erased my Covid-19 funk, chased the riot-stained clouds away, and I was happy again.  Now, I keep that PDF (or others) with me all the time and when I feel the “Mean Reds” coming on I pull it up and read a few pages. Then I smile.

I guess I was simply turned off by the British upper-crust veneer and setting. But there is so much more. The point-of-view character (I can’t call him the hero – maybe not even the protagonist) is young, rich, aristocratic, lazy, and a total idiot. The only bit of wisdom knocking around in his empty skull is that his butler Jeeves is the only thing that allows him to stumble through life halfway successfully. He knows it and so does Jeeves. And Jeeves is a genius. Jeeves knows everybody and everything and exactly what he is doing at every minute of every day.

The stories are all sort of the same: Bertie gets in some awful jam because of his stupidity, sloth, and cowardice until, when all hope is lost, Jeeves swoops in, sets things right, and then you realize the butler had it all under control all along.

Fun. But the best part is the language. Wodehouse is the master if the sardonic quip, the convoluted insult, the silly simile,  the dry observation and, especially the unexpected metaphor. It is comic poetry. It really is.

Wodehouse’s writing – and especially the Jeeves stories – are all over the web. The stories are gathered together in several collections available on Project Gutenberg. The first one I downloaded was called The Inimitable Jeeves.

One story I particularly enjoyed was a struggle Bertie had with his horrible Aunt Agatha on a trip to France. She is trying to get him married and he is trying to slither away. It was published in a couple of different versions in a couple of different magazines of the day.

Read my favorite version here:

Aunt Agatha Makes a Bloomer by P. G. Wodehouse

 

P.S. One thing about the story that I found odd was the moniker of the con man “Soapy Sid.” I was… not really watching… but I had something or another on the television and it spoke to me about a famous con man from the Old West named “Soapy Smith.” He was named that because he had a con game in Colorado involving money allegedly hidden in bars of soap.

He died a bit before the story and was very well known in his day – I imagine he is the inspiration for that strange name.

 

 

 

 

 

Short Story (Flash Fiction) Of the Day, Pumpkins by Francine Prose

Actually, she is beheaded, her body thrown from the car and decapitated with such force that the head sails through the air and lands in a pile of pumpkins spilled out onto the road.

—-Francine Prose, Pumpkins

Reflecting Pool, City Hall, Dallas, Texas

In surfing around the internet and trying to learn/get inspiration on some flash fiction – I keep reading about the story Pumpkins, by Francine Prose. No wonder. It is crackerjack.

Read it here (Googledocs PDF):

Pumpkins by Francine Prose

Short Story (Flash Fiction) Of the Day, The City of Things Finished by Jared Graham

The old man felt at home in the gloaming. He leaned close to the window, the fresh air teasing his nose and the whiskers of his long, white beard. All day he felt the oppression of his old body, a weathered hull tired of the ocean’s endless lapping.

—-Jared Graham, The City of Things Finished

Sailboats on White Rock Lake, Dallas, TX

Read it here:

The City of Things Finished by Jared Graham

from The Citron Review