Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Cake Walk by Bill Chance

“Look, there’s no metaphysics on earth like chocolates.”

― Fernando Pessoa, The Collected Poems Of Alvaro De Campos: 1928 1935: V. 2

Kids love the reflecting pool. The water is less than a quarter inch deep.

Cake Walk

The ladies of the town were holding their cake walk. A rough circular path of squares and numbers had been put down onto the concrete in yellow masking tape. A motley group of old women and small children slowly walked this course while a record player pumped out a thin buzzing stream of polka music. After an appropriate delay a hand lifted the tone arm and the cake walkers settled onto their squares with an obvious air of excitement and anticipation.

After a short dramatic pause, Mrs. Slaughter, the oldest and biggest battle-ax in the women’s veteran auxiliary, reached into a metal can and drew out a slip of paper. There was a microphone hooked to the record player and after blowing on the microphone screen, causing the record player to pop and squeal, Mrs. Slaughter called out “Number Sixteen, the winner is number Sixteen.”

A huge gray-haired woman in a shapeless, colorless print dress shook with excitement and shouted, “I win! I win!” She was escorted by the other walkers over to a long table covered with various cakes of all shapes, colors, and sizes. Her eyes gleamed as she looked up and down, finally making her choice, and everyone clapped as she hoisted her choice high. The look on her face… this might well be the highlight of her life.

“All right everyone, get on your squares,” Mrs. Slaughter’s voice crawled from the speaker, “Get on your squares, find a good one, only a dollar.”

Sam palmed the single bill in his pocket. He had found a dollar forgotten in his sock drawer that morning. He was filled with a strange excitement and smiled as he dropped his money into the box and took his place in the masking-tape squares. The music started and Sam started to walk, following a scrawny little kid around and around. Sam looked around and grinned as he walked until, suddenly the music stopped. The kid in front of him halted on the seven square, which was Sam’s lucky number. Without really thinking about it he took an extra step and forced the kid to hop one more, ending up on Eight.

Everyone turned to watch Mrs. Slaughter pull out a slip of paper.

“Seven,” she said, “The winner is Seven.”

The kid glared at Sam and started to choke out, “But that was my….,” but it was too late, Sam was already starting over to the table to make his choice. Before he made two steps, his mother appeared from nowhere and put her hand on his shoulder.

“I can’t believe you actually won something,” his mother said. “Now, let’s make sure you pick a good cake.”

Sam shrugged until his mother’s hand fell away – and then they were at the table, surrounded by the other cake walkers, waiting for Sam to make his choice.

The cakes on the table had been baked and donated by all the better ladies of Putterburg. Baking was a prized skill and this was the opportunity to show off. The cakes were elaborate constructions of flour and sugar, colored, piped, and sculpted into scallops and swirls of Angel Food and German Chocolate. Sam’s mother licked her lips as the two of them scanned the rows and debated the beauty of this one or that.

Sam, however, found himself irresistibly drawn to one particular cake that had been shunted off to the far left-hand side. This one wasn’t fancy at all. It was a simple dark cylinder of chocolate icing, with no additions or decoration… not even a sprinkle. It wasn’t large and wasn’t even particularly even or symmetrical. It had a definite oblong lean to one side. The other cakes were on elaborate decorated slabs, color-coordinated with the icing. The chocolate one was on a simple piece of corrugated cardboard with a layer of aluminum foil.

Sam stared at the cake and imagined some poverty stricken woman, eking out a tough living in a rough shack on the bad side of town. Despite her perilous condition she had her pride and wanted to make a donation to the cause. All she had were basic tools, an old, unreliable oven, and the cheapest, basic ingredients. Sam could hear the clucks of the better ladies as this poor patriot brought her humble contribution, watched in his mind their disparaging sneers as the simple chocolate cake was slid to the side, forgotten, until Sam came along.

Sam had no way of knowing if his little cake fantasy was true, but once it lodged in his mind it stuck. Beside, he liked chocolate.

“I choose this one,” Sam said, pointing to the plain chocolate cake.

“Oh, no, Sam,” said his mother, “You don’t want that one. It’s… It’s probably a mix.” She said the word “mix” under her breath like it was the worst obscenity in the world. “Here,” she said and grabbed for an elaborate pink and blue design, let’s take this one.”

“No, I want the chocolate cake. I like chocolate. I like this one the best. I won and I get to chose.” Sam was stubborn and held onto the foil covered cardboard. His mother looked like she was going to die. Sam could hear the clucks from the ladies auxiliary as he set his jaw and walked away. He took his cake and went straight home. He walked the whole way, leaving his bicycle leaning against a tree.

At home Sam grabbed a plate, knife, and fork, then pulled a half-empty bottle of milk from the fridge and retreated to his room. His parents didn’t like it when he locked the door, but he did anyway. He sliced a generous hunk of chocolate cake and ate it in his bed, alternating bites with swigs from the milk bottle. He took joy in the dark crumbs that fell and disappeared into the bedspread and sheets.

The cake was good, but not as good as he had imagined when he first saw the stark cylinder of pure dark chocolate.

Sam pitched the empty milk bottle into his trash, arranged the cutlery around the cake, and slid the foil-covered cardboard under his bed. Sam heard the commotion when his parents and little brother came home, but simply turned on his bedside radio and cranked the dial to drown out the thumps, squeaks, and shouts of the three of them garumphing around. He was pretty sure nobody would bother him and nobody did.

In the morning Sam woke and heard his family clanking around the kitchen, getting their breakfast ready. He was hungry but didn’t feel ready to face all of them yet. He remembered the cake under his bed – there was still at least three-quarters left – and dropped down to pull it out. Overnight the cake had been discovered by ants and the tiny black red bodies swarmed and choked the cake, a line stretched across the floor, each soldier holding aloft a single black crumb.

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Blonde in a Black Corvette by Bill Chance

“The ambiguous role of the car crash needs no elaboration—apart from our own deaths, the car crash is probably the most dramatic event in our lives, and in many cases the two will coincide. Aside from the fact that we generally own or are at the controls of the crashing vehicle, the car crash differs from other disasters in that it involves the most powerfully advertised commercial product of this century, an iconic entity that combines the elements of speed, power, dream and freedom within a highly stylized format that defuses any fears we may have of the inherent dangers of these violent and unstable machines.”
― J.G. Ballard, The Atrocity Exhibition

(click to enlarge)

Blonde in a Black Corvette

The traffic was the worst Earl had ever seen… and he had seen a lot of really bad traffic. He made the decision to bail off the freeway but he was sleepy and distracted by a stalled bus, made a mistake and found himself forced back on; merging back into the wide endless molasses-slow river of brakelights.

He spent a long, long time behind a blonde driving a black Corvette convertible. Her hair was long and she brushed it for what seemed like twenty minutes. She took some phone calls and worked on her makeup – it looked like she put new blush on and redid her mascara. Her car had giant rectangular exhausts – dual. They belched blue exhaust smoke. The license plates were temporary – dealer’s plates. It was cold and drizzly outside – her fabric top was up. Finally, Earl reached the next exit down and was able to bail. She pulled out before him, turned right and sped away. Earl drove a lot slower than she did, especially in the morning – going to work.

In less than a minute she was gone, moving past a curve through a fog of exhaust smoke.

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Sam I Am by Bill Chance

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”

― Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Sam I Am

It was only this morning when I first saw her. It seems like a hundred years ago. The worst thing is that I don’t even know her name. I haven’t forgotten, she never told me what it was – never mentioned it.

Everything started when I came out of Todd’s Comic Book Store walking with a spring in my step. I had just bought a new Jedi Bounty Hunter action figure, on the day it was released. It cost a good hunk of my paycheck, but I had been drooling over the advance ads for this excellent hunk of plastic for months.

“Hey, Sam!” she shouted. She was gorgeous, drop dead perfect, a God’s Vision chiseled in female flesh. I couldn’t stop staring at her and it took me a long minute to realize she was talking to me. Of course my name is Andrew, not Sam, but I was not going to disagree with someone that good looking. So Sam I am.

“Hey you!” was all I could muster. Who was this woman? I’m not the best with faces and names but I would remember her. If she thinks she knows me, even if she has my name wrong, maybe I’ll play along until I can figure out what’s up. “It’s been… a bit of water under the bridge, hasn’t it?” That was the most noncommittal thing I could come up with.

The woman looked a little confused but still, she replied, “Yup… I suppose it has.”

She saw the bag in my hand with its logo – Todd’s Comics. “What do you have there?”

“Oh, that’s the new Jedi Bounty Hunter action figure. It was released today.”

She looked at me as if I was a toad, a smashed flat one at that. “Why do you have that? Are you into…?”

“Oh no,” I lied, thinking fast. “This is a present for… my nephew. Yeah my nephew Brad. He’s really into this stuff and when I saw this was a new release I knew I had to get it for him. Cost… ridiculous, but I’ll do anything for my favorite nephew.” I hoped my tone of voice wouldn’t convey that my favorite nephew Brad did not exist.

Suddenly I thought of an opening. “How’s the family?”

Her eyes flared. “Jesus! I can’t believe you brought that up. When you made that pass at my sister… She was so drunk… I’m not sure if I will ever forgive you for that.”

I glanced around. There was a bar right there, The Anchor. “Well, I’m sorry, you know that. Why don’t we go into The Anchor and I’ll buy you a drink. We can talk about it… maybe I’ll be able to make it up to you.”

“Sam, dammit! You know I can’t drink.”

“Well, I hear The Anchor has the best Diet Coke in town. Let’s go for that.”

And now, here I am, walking around her thirtieth story apartment stark naked at four in the morning trying to be quiet. It’s a really nice, expensive place. I’m looking for something, anything, that will tell me who she is and what she is up to. The only clues so far is a satchel stuffed with about sixty thousand in hundred dollar bills stashed behind her couch and a pair of loaded handguns in her top dresser drawer. What I really need to know is who am I – or who does she think I am – and what does she want from me…. I probably should get dressed and sneak home. Pretty soon she’s going to wake up and figure out I’m not Sam… I can’t believe she hasn’t already. And… well, she’s going to be super pissed off.

I need to find my clothes and get the hell out of Dodge but I can’t. First, she is so goddamn beautiful. Plus, I can’t find my clothes. I had them on when I came here. But where are they now? I was sleeping pretty hard, maybe she woke up and folded them somewhere. But where?

Now I know this is not going to end well, not for me, probably not for anybody.

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, A Gentle Touch by Bill Chance

He remembers those vanished years. As though looking through a dusty window pane, the past is something he could see, but not touch. And everything he sees is blurred and indistinct.

― Wong kar-wei, In the Mood for Love

Mojo Coffee, Magazine Street, New Orleans, Louisiana (click to enlarge)

A Gentle Touch

The drugs didn’t work. The stents failed to keep the flow going. Time had wracked its fatal damage in its efficient and inexorable way.

Nobody really told him what was happening but he knew. Especially the way they were gathering around him, a circle of faces either somber and quiet or swallowed in a false cheer. When they told him his sister was flying in from Seattle he knew the end was very close. She had not been on a plane in fifty years.

He had so many tubes stuck in him that when he would move the slightest bit one or another would be jostled and he would be hit by a horrific beeping from the machine attached to that conduit. If he was alone, he would suffer, palming the call button again and again for what seemed like an eternity until a nurse would finally come and turn off the infernal sound. It was worse if others were in the room – they would cluck and scatter like chickens until the nurse came – their protestations bothered him more than the beeping.

The balance of his life between future and past, between memory and hope, had now shifted completely to memory and the past. There was no future left and no hope.

And finally his memory was beginning to collapse and implode, fewer and fewer recollections were left. The past would slowly go to black and white, like an old television, then begin to fade until only a handful of echoes were left.

His life had been full. His marriage had lasted over half a century. He had been blessed with children, grand children, great grandchildren. He had a few victories and many, many defeats.

He was shocked, however, at what remained after all these accomplishments and catastrophes had faded.

Many decades ago his company sent him to a multi-evening seminar to learn a new accounting software program. He had met a woman there. She was sitting in the back near where he was and he noticed her walking to the front table to get supplies.

After the classes some of the employees would grab a coffee and talk about the software and how much they didn’t want to use it. Each time the woman seemed to end up sitting next to him at the large round table.

The two of them enjoyed talking to each other and he felt strangely excited on the drive home. After the last day of the class a handful of folks decided to keep meeting in the evenings – both he and the woman were in that group.

It was the start of a decade long friendship. The meeting became the high point of his week. The two of them would almost always sit next to each other. He remembered that sometimes she would laugh at something or make a point and reach out and gently touch him – on the shoulder or leg.

Nothing more ever came of the two of them. They had never even met outside of that group. He decided that they simply enjoyed each other’s company. He couldn’t say why.

The friendship eventually faded and finally dissolved completely. He hadn’t spoken to her in twenty years. Now, in his weakened state, he could barely remember her name and wasn’t sure the hazy memory was right.

But as the last few days fell away, the times he spent with her loomed larger and larger in his mind. His family wondered about the otherworldly expression on his face and the fact he paid less and less attention to them.

“He’s losing his mind,” they all said. And shook their heads sadly.

They weren’t wrong. But he was aware enough to wonder why it was this particular set of memories that were filling his last few miserable, precious days. Pleasant, bittersweet memories. Something that, at the time, meant little in the flow of days.

As his heart struggled, weakened, and finally gave out his final thoughts were of a quiet laugh and the innocent gentle touch of a friend’s hand along his leg.

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, VHS by Bill Chance

“More pathetic than the digital age is the people who love it. They buy right into the “newer is always better” ideology and they can’t seem to grasp that the fun of VHS tapes, super 8 film, darkroom photography and vinyl records is far more worthwhile and human than the cold, high-tech atmosphere of everything being digitized. As the 21st century progresses, yeah, we’ll have our Netflix and our cellular phones and our artificial intelligence and our implanted microchips – and future generations will have lost something valuable. Sadly, they won’t even know what they’ve lost because we’re taking it all away from them.”

― Rebecca McNutt

Recycled Books, Denton, Texas

VHS

Gerard was not a neat person. Far from it. He sort of wanted to be but couldn’t get his head around how to pull it off. His apartment was always a terrible mess – clothes thrown in the corner, sink full of dirty dishes, and he could never remember which was trash day.

He did have a decent TV – a 19 inch Zenith. He had a VCR. A coworker had tried to talk him into buying a Betamax but he had settled, for no real reason, on VHS. The thing had cost him a week’s salary – but it gave him his money’s worth.

Gerard loved movies. He watched one at home almost every night. He worked in a downtown skyscraper and every day, at lunch, he would take the elevator down to the street, cross at a pedestrian light in the middle of the block, and enter the lobby of an ancient limestone building. It had an old-fashioned hallway going front to back lined with little stores – a newsstand, a candy store, a high-end luggage store, a coffee shop – the sort of things that catered to downtown office workers. It also had one of the early video rental places – a small private shop – common until Blockbuster came along and drove them all out of business. It had a meager selection, the boxes displayed on shelves behind the glass counter. To get an actual movie, you had to ask and the clerk would rummage around in drawers, click the cassette into its holder, and then deliver your plastic box by hand.

Purchasing tapes was expensive and they could only afford one copy of any title – so they were usually out of the movies Gerard wanted to rent. Looking through the loose-leaf notebook on the counter, he would have to ask over and over until he stumbled on a title that they had in stock. It was a bit of a pain, but he didn’t mind. He didn’t mind at all.

The clerk was beautiful. To Gerard, she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. Pale, quiet, with a thick mane of fire-red hair – Gerard would stare as she rummaged around looking for a tape. This was the high point of his day. He was actually disappointed when she had one for him on the first try.

He was a very busy man and sometimes he had to take work home. On those days he knew he would be too busy to watch a movie but he’d rent one anyway – simply to spend a few minutes with the clerk. He also had to travel, often on short notice.

There were two women living in the apartment across the hall from him. He had helped the two out when they were in trouble with a couple of angry, violent boyfriends and they owed him a huge pile of favors. They were attracted to that kind of men and weren’t interested, romantically, in Gerard, but would help him out when they could. One, a beautiful, tall brunette, also worked downtown, only two buildings away from him. When he had to leave town, he would give her his videotape to return for him.

He wondered what the beautiful clerk in the video rental store thought of this woman coming by every now and then and returning his videos. She told him she never said anything to the clerk – just left the tape on the counter and walked out.

Gerard wanted to talk to the redhead so bad but he could not think of any way to do it without looking like an idiot. He was only a customer, one of hundreds. He was sure a lot of them hit on her. He didn’t want to be that guy. He thought, and thought, and thought, then had an idea. He pulled out a piece of paper and scribbled away for a while. Then he grabbed a pen, an envelope, a spare key, and another piece of paper. He went next door to see the girl that sometimes returned his tapes.

“Hey,” he said, “I need you to do me a favor, no big deal.”

“Sure, you have a tape.”

“Yes, I do, but I need another favor and I want you to drop something else off there for me too. First, I want you to copy this – in your own handwriting.”

He handed her the pen and two pieces of paper. She read the note.

“This note says I’m breaking up with you. And returning your key.”

“Yup.”

“It says I’m leaving and you are not to look for me.”

“Of course.”

“It is vicious, it makes me look awful.”

“Sorry.”

“Why the hell?”

“Don’t worry, I have my reasons.”

The woman thought for a minute, then broke out in a smile. She had noticed the clerk, of course.

“OK, sure, I’ll do it.”

She copied the note and Gerard sealed the envelope up with the key.

“Ok, tomorrow take this by the video rental shop and give it to the clerk. Be sure and tell her it’s for me. Oh, and here’s a tape, too.”

“Sure. But only one thing.”

“What?”

“I guess you’ll have to find someone else to take your tapes back when you’re out of town.”

“A price I’ll gladly pay.”

Gerard waited two days before he went down to rent another tape. He was so excited, he could barely breathe on the walk over. He planned to open the envelope, read the note right there, and maybe even cry a little bit. No way the clerk wouldn’t be moved by this. He could talk to her as a person, not a clerk and customer. He would ask her to go for coffee or a drink after work, to “help take his mind off his troubles.” No way could she refuse.

But nothing happened, she rented him the tape, same as always. He wanted so say something, “What about my note?” but realized that he couldn’t.

The days went by and he kept renting and returning and she never said anything. It was getting to be humiliating. He began to think he would have to find another video rental shop. He was even worried about the key. Why did he use a real spare key? The store had his address from the extensive form he had to fill out as a member and customer of the shop. Did somebody else have the note? Would they rob him? He wasn’t really worried though – other than his TV and VCR he didn’t own anything worth stealing and was thinking about new models of each anyway.

Gerard was relieved when a job came up that would take him out of state for a whole week. He dropped his last tape off.

“I won’t be renting for a week, I’m going out of town on business,” he said to the clerk. He hoped she might have some reaction, but only nodded. He decided that when he came back he’d move to another video shop a couple blocks over.

The week out of town was exhausting drudgery. His failure with the video store clerk weighed on him more than it should have. If she would have turned him down, that he could have dealt with, but this, her completely ignoring him, was so much worse. He imagined her throwing his letter in the trash with a sneer.

Gerard returned on a late flight and took a cab home. He was so tired and glad to be home, but he almost dreaded opening his front door. He pulled his suitcase through and turned on the light.

It was a shock. Everything was clean and neat as a pin. His dishes were washed and put up, his garbage was gone, and his dirty clothes had been done and neatly folded. His ratty old shower curtain had even been replaced with a new, fashionable one.

Once the shock had begun to fade, he saw that there was a note taped to the front of his TV. It said:

“If you want me to come over here and watch a movie with you, I will, but I wanted it to be a bit cleaner first.”

At the bottom of the note was stapled a “Free Movie Rental” coupon from the place downtown.

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Charity Auction by Bill Chance

sound of a cicada
Shape of the Spitfire’s wings
yellow firefly light
taste of daycare peanut butter
industrial grape jelly
sanding dust from balsa wood
beige and fine
light as air
pins in cardboard
white glue
a path through the nettled woods
ending at a rope swing
over a dry creek bed

—-Armando Vitalis, From Hell’s Heart I Stab At TheeShape of the Spitfire’s Wings

I donated five dollars to the North Texas Food Bank. You swipe your credit card, push the button. There’s an artificial splash and the cash projected on the fountain swirls around in a virtual splash

Charity Auction

The two kids, Sandy and Simon had a charity auction for the new Quest program at their school.

“We’re supposed to bring stuff from home in to auction off,” said Sandy.

“It’ll be really cool,” said Simon.

A week before the auction, their mother helped them pick out possessions they didn’t play with anymore, digging around in their closets for old toys. There were plenty to choose from. They each filled a small cardboard box and off to school they went, proud and excited.

The day of the auction their mother gave each one a ten-dollar bill to spend at the auction. Sandy immediately lost hers (it turned up a few days later in a never-used pocket in her backpack) so Simon gave five to his sister. He was not happy.

They were able to buy some stuff and were anxious to show off their purchases to their parents.

“I bought this Darkwing Duck movie!” said Sandy, “I remember seeing it years ago and liking it!”


“Sandy, that’s your movie, you donated it last week,” her mother said.


“I bought all these Batman Action figures!” boasted Simon.


“Simon, those are all yours, you donated those too!”


“I know, but I remembered how much I liked them and figured they were in there by mistake.”

The two kids had bought the same stuff they had donated to the auction.

Their parents explained they didn’t really understand how a charity auction worked. They suspected that a lot of the kids had bought their own donations.

But later, thinking about it, they decided that the kids understood more than it appeared, maybe they understood more than their parents or their teachers.

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Omar’s Food Mart by Bill Chance





“Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.”

― Orson Welles

Decatur, Texas

Omar’s Food Mart

After a long morning of soul-sucking meetings and conference calls where he felt this IQ dropped ten points after each one, Craig decided to go out for lunch. He needed something non-corporate so he decided to go to Omar’s Food Mart.

OMAR’S FOOD MART was a little place at the end of a strip of auto repair shops on a corner of bad asphalt not far from where Craig worked. It was a monument to capitalism. Operated by five brothers from Syria, it crammed an impressive array of services into what looked from the outside to be a tiny gas station.

There was no place that served bigger, nastier, or greasier hamburgers than Omar’s.

Craig hadn’t been in there for a couple years but it hadn’t changed. They had a bewildering array of exotic food (Craig used to buy Semolina flour there when he still had time to make his own pasta). Crammed into the tiny space were aisles of gewgaws, a display of Hookahs, chewing gum and motor oil. Plenty of merchandise looked pathetic: obsolete cleaning supplies, faded greeting cards, suspect canned goods, and a single tiny green cardboard cylinder of Parmesan cheese with a thick coating of greasy dust.

The only active merchandise was an entire glass wall of cold drinks, a couple rotating racks selling candy, Slim Jims and beef jerky (Slim Jims are NOT beef jerky), and a wooden stand holding a generous selection of pornographic magazines.

A full array of financial services was offered: a Pick-Six machine and several Plexiglas Scratch-N-Win lottery ticket dispensers, a private ATM with astronomical service fees, money orders, and two slot machines. They were video multi-line bandits, Cherry Master and Fruit Bonus. The slots had stools in front of them so the customers could sit in comfort as they stuffed the dollar bill slot.

Even though it looked like a gas station or convenience store Omar’s biggest business was food. The narrow space behind the front counter was crammed with grills and fryers. There was an extensive menu on the overhead plastic lighted sign: eight different kinds of hamburgers, including the Texas Jumbo Cheeseburger (Craig ate one of those once, he felt like he’d swallowed a football) BBQ, BLT, Chicken Breast, Grilled Chicken, Chicken Fried Steak, Fish, Extra Bacon $1.00.

There was a long list of “Specials” which come with a drink and fries, and “Baskets” which include a salad: Chicken Strip, Catfish, Hot Wings, Shrimp, Gyros, Grilled Cheese, Ham and Cheese, Tuna Salad, Chicken Salad, Corn Dogs, Burritos, and Hot Dogs (small and jumbo). Side orders of: Fries, Onion Rings, Tater Tots, Hot Wings, Chili, Jalapenos, Stuffed Jalapenos, Toast. A breakfast menu of sausages, eggs, bacon, cheese, and ham in all sorts of combinations.

Craig had no idea how they could cook all that stuff in such a tiny space; but he’d never seen anyone order anything other than Hamburgers or Gyros. Three or four guys worked back there, one taking orders and the others scurrying around gesticulating and shouting in some unknown language. The only word Craig could understand was “Cheeseburger! Cheeseburger!” It sounded exactly like the old skit on Saturday Night Live. The meat and cheese sizzle on the griddle; clouds of blue smoke were sucked out overhead. One guy stands in front of a sizzling, dripping brown vertical rotating cylinder of some mysterious meat, constantly slicing off strips for Gyros. These were served in fat pitas with onions so strong you can smell them a block away.

At lunchtime there was always a line at the register. The customer in front of Craig had a graduated plastic bag Velcroed to his ankle and a tube running up his leg. Dingy yellow urine was filling the bag, it had a little valve on the bottom. It wasn’t that hot and Craig wished that guy wouldn’t wear shorts.

A guy was sitting next to the line playing the slots. An older man, thin, short, unsteady and using a cane, came in; they knew each other. They exchanged loud pleasantries, then the man with the cane leaned over and showed the slot machine guy the top of his head.
“Look,” he said, “I’ve got a couple new plates, here and here.”
“Jeez! Did you get your license back?”
“Nope, after a head trauma, they send you to a New-Rologist for an E-Val-U-Ation,” he replied slowly. “Then you have to take the tests.”

It was Craig’s turn to order. They gave him a numbered slip and he stood off to the side while the grease flew. After awhile they called his number out but handed an order to someone else.
“I though I was 256?” Craig asked.
“Oh, we had two orders with the same number, what did you have? Cheeseburger basket?”
He immediately reached down and stuffed a burger and fries into a brown paper bag and handed them to Craig. Craig noticed that practically nobody ever received exactly what they ordered the first time.

The baskets come with large drinks, which you fill yourself from a fountain in the back. There was a big sign that says, “Pay for your Refills!” Craig decided to eat in, he was in no hurry to return to the corporate rat-race. That he considered this to be a tiny vacation depressed him even more. They had some wood-grained plastic booths scattered around a back corner, a place to sit down. Craig still had his lab coat on, somehow it seemed appropriate there; almost every customer had some sort of uniform, many had metal chains between their wallets and belts.

It seemed like everyone there knew each other. The seating was close, which made conversations between patrons inevitable. A lot of asking for directions, “How do you get to Arapaho from here?” At the next booth some guy was smoking and ranting about fast food.
“I dunno why anyone ever goes to McDonalds! They can come here and get better food cheaper. That Damned McDonalds! The only thing that puts them over is advertising. I dunno why anyone ever goes to McDonalds! Costs more – Get less. People don’t think about stuff! You can’t tell them anything! The only thing I ever buy is senior coffee and maybe an egg McMuffin.”

The general conversation then turned to the extensive menu.
“They have Catfish?”
“Yeah, but it’s no good.”
The McDonalds hater added his two cents, “How can it be no good? Either it’s Catfish or it isn’t!”
“I don’t know,” another guy piped up, ” but it’s no good.”
“How about the shrimp?”
“I don’t know, I can’t eat shrimp. I’m allergic.”

The other diners then began talking about folks they had known that were allergic to shrimp and had eaten some by mistake. Tales of swelling necks, choking, hives, and respiratory distress.

Craig finished his cheeseburger and noticed there wasn’t anyone at the front. On his way out he ordered a bag of gyro sandwiches to take home for dinner. Back at the office, he stashed them into his desk drawer.

All afternoon folks walked through Craig’s wing of the building and complained about the smell. It was those powerful Omar’s onions hidden away in Craig’s desk. He never said anything.

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Falling Stars by Bill Chance





When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

—-William Blake, The Tyger

The Dallas Star

Falling Stars

The houses in tiny Plainview were all made of wood and the walls didn’t even slow the sound down. Mike could hear Aunt Alma and cousin Duane Clankman talking, even out on the front porch, reaching out to knock on the the door. Mike paused and listened to them talking… talking about him.

“Now Duane,” Alma said, “You need to be nice to him. It’s been difficult, you know that.”

“But why is he here?” Duane asked.

“After his father was killed in Da Nang this summer, his Mom, my sister, has been falling apart. She is having a lot of trouble dealing with everything. So we offered to take Mike in for a while, until she gets…”

“Gets her shit together?”

“Dammit Duane! You know I don’t like that language. Gets her life together. She’s gone off to a… hospital. For help. Until she gets better.”

“And when will that be?”

“I don’t know. All I’m asking is that you try to be nice to him. Try to make him feel at home. It’s tough on him too.”

“But he’s so weird!”

“He’s from the city. Plainview must be weird to him too…. Wait, is that him on the porch?”

Mike knocked.

“Come in,” came the voices of both Duane and Alma at the same time.

The door was unlocked. Mike pushed it open and noticed it didn’t even have a lock on it. No lock on the door! Whoever heard of anything like that! It was 1966 after all.

Duane’s father was out in the fields, drilling wheat. Duane, Alma, and Mike sat down to dinner: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans. It was very good. Amazingly good.

“Aunt Alma,” Duane said, “This chicken is the best. What’s your secret recipe?”

“Well, thank you dear. There’s no secret, it’s just that this morning that chicken was running around in the back yard, eatin’ bugs. Picked the beans ‘n taters fresh too.”

Mike felt his eyes get big. He always thought chicken came in plastic wrap from the store and green beans in cans.

Aunt Alma began wrapping the leftover chicken in paper, and spooning vegetables into a Pyrex bowl.

“Now boys, I’m taking this out to Joe in the field, he’ll be getting hungry. It doesn’t look like it’s going to be too cold tonight, I thought you boys would like to take the cots here and go camping.”

She gestured at two folded metal and webbing cots in the hallway off the kitchen. Pillows and sleeping bags stuffed into sacks were right next to the cots.

“Camping?” asked Mike.

“In the front yard,” replied Duane. “It isn’t really camping, but it’s kinda fun anyway. If the weather gets bad we can come right back in.”

That sounded crazy to Mike.

“Back home we couldn’t sleep in the front yard, it wouldn’t be safe… or even quiet enough.”

“Safe enough here. Nobody ever comes around after dark. Quiet too, unless the sheep are on this side of the pasture bleating,” Mike said.

The two boys dragged the cots out into the front yard and unfolded them, each pinching their fingers once on the scissoring steel tubes, onto the grass. They unpacked the sleeping bags and spread them out on the cots.

“Here, scoot yours around along the sidewalk like this,” Duane said, handing Mike a piece of white chalk.

“Why? And what’s the chalk for?”

“For counting shooting stars. We lie there in the dark and every one we see we make a mark on the sidewalk. Then, in the morning, we count the marks, see who wins. ”

“I’ve never seen a shooting star,” said Mike.

“You’re kidding me. How is that possible?”

“In the city, the sky is brown. The moon peeks through, but you can’t see the stars. Too much light and air pollution.”

“Well, we’ll see some tonight. In school today, the teacher talked about the Leonid meteor shower. Tonight’s ‘sposed to be the peak. She said we might see ten or so an hour.”

The boys straightened their cots and bags, stuck a feather pillow at the head, and set their chalk down in arm’s reach. Then they went inside to watch TV. As the show ended, a truck drove up and Alma and Joe came in from the field. Mike’s uncle looked exhausted, but was polite and friendly.

“I saw the cots outside, you two going camping?”

“Sure are.”

“Well, I wish I could join you, but I got another hard day tomorrow, need to get all the sleepeye I can.”

Joe shook Mike’s hand with a firm grip, like Mike was an adult.

“You two better get out and get some sleep now… no horsing around!” Aunt Alma said with a smile.

The two boys walked out into the dark and Mike instinctively looked up. He had never seen anything like that. The sky was a dark, inky, perfect black and thrown across the pitch were more stars that he thought could possibly exist. It looked impossible. It looked like more of the sky was star that not.

“Jesus!” Mike said.

“What?”

“The sky.”

“What? It always looks like that. Unless it’s cloudy.”

“Maybe here it does. It doesn’t look like that everywhere.”

They slid into their sleeping bags and arranged their pillows until they were as comfortable as possible on the sagging cots.

“Grab your chalk and look up,” said Duane.

It didn’t take long. There was something, something fast, a quick streak of light. It seemed to live more in Mike’s memory than in real time.

“I think I saw one!”

“So did I. Make a mark!”

Now that he knew what to look for, he saw the next one better. Then another, and another. Four chalk marks on the sidewalk.

“Duane, they are coming fast. Do they always do that?”

“No way, I’ve never seen anything like this. It must be the Leonid shower that my teacher was talking about.”

And then, the sky opened up. It was like a fireworks show. It was like alien showers of fire. The boys had to stop marking because they were seeing hundreds of shooting stars. They just stared at the sky, mouths open, transfixed.

Mike was astounded. It was like every star was falling from the sky. He thought of the city, where nobody would even see this sight, going on but obscured over their very heads. He thought of his father, and the exploding shells and arcing rockets that must have looked like this on the last night of his life. He thought of himself, there on that creaky cot in the middle of nowhere with the streaks and bursts of celestial incandescence exploding overhead.

He felt so small against such a display. But he also felt huge, expanding up through the air, up into space, enjoying this show that seemed to be created just for him.

The boys stared as the display continued hour after hour. Maybe they fell asleep, maybe they didn’t, but eventually the east began to glow and the stars, both stationary and falling, began to fade.

At breakfast the phone rang and folks came by. It seems like the whole town had wandered out into the night and seen the fireworks. To Mike the world seemed different somehow. The little town felt a little less dingy and plain, the air a little brighter and pure. The two boys ate their fresh eggs and homemade hash browns and then took a nap to catch up on sleep, secure in knowing that this night was etched into their memories, clear until the day they died.

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Outta Wood by Bill Chance

What we obtain too cheap we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value.

—-Thomas Paine

The Fabrication Yard, Dallas, Texas

Outta Wood

In this modern world we seldom talk to strangers. Think about how rarely you have any meaningful random interactions outside of work.

Sam had plans to convert his garage into a big room for his kids to play in. His youngest was making giant constructions out of these odd plastic connecting pieces. He had a half-finished monstrous roller coaster – the tracks were flexible plastic tubes. It was too large to fit in his own bedroom… or even in a corner of the living room. The kid was upset that he couldn’t finish his contraption because he had run out of space.

Sam didn’t want to admit or even think about the fact that he was changing his house – removing his garage and building out a new, larger room simply to make space for his kid’s toys. He didn’t think about it, but it was true.

He needed somewhere to put all the crap that was in the garage. There was a spot in the corner of the yard up against the fence that he could spare. Down to the Home Depot to look at outbuildings. For years, every time he went to the store (which was at least twice a week) he would walk through the extensive display of demo garden sheds, of many different sizes, prices, and materials, all arranged in the parking lot. It was a small thrill to look through them one more time – but this time with a purpose, and intention to actually purchase one. He chose an overpriced plastic thick walled shed.

Wanting to figure out the best way to do the foundation – Sam went to the library and looked at a book: “A Complete Idiot’s Guide to Building Garden Sheds.” He didn’t check it out – simply sat there taking notes. On the way home he stopped at Home Depot again and bought a new shovel, some concrete pillars and a bunch of treated wood – tying the lumber to the roof rack of his car. This stuff was mixed with sweat, a level, galvanized nails, and some string to make up the foundation and floor.

The prefabricated plastic walls and roof were ingeniously designed to slip together and, shockingly, the instructions were clear, accurate, and helpful. It took no time to get it assembled.

He painted the floor of his new tool shed and then needed to install locking door knobs. The kit that he bought was well-made and complete, but didn’t include door hardware. Sam went back down to Home Depot and was outside looking at the demo model at how they did the doors. He silently congratulated himself when he discovered that the “pros” had done exactly what he was planning on doing.

While he was standing there staring at the demonstration shed an old man walked up and shouted at him.

“You can make one CHEAPAH dan dat! From scratch! Outta WOOD!”

Then the old man turned and waddled off and was swallowed by the gaping maw of the giant store.

He didn’t introduce himself. He didn’t ask any questions. He didn’t speak in intelligent, helpful tones. It was spat out like an insult.

Sam kept shaking his head thinking about that guy. If you don’t have something pleasant to say, shut up. If you’re lonely, or want to be helpful, want to talk to strangers, have some respect.

On the drive home, Sam passed by the Lexus Dealership and the highway exit. He had a fantasy that he would stop, get out, walk around, and yell at prospective customers.

“Y’all can buy cars CHEAPAH than that! Cross da street! From FORD!”

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Glonoushistory by Bill Chance

The minute you land in New Orleans, something wet and dark leaps on you and starts humping you like a swamp dog in heat, and the only way to get that aspect of New Orleans off you is to eat it off. That means beignets and crayfish bisque and jambalaya, it means shrimp remoulade, pecan pie, and red beans with rice, it means elegant pompano au papillote, funky file z’herbes, and raw oysters by the dozen, it means grillades for breakfast, a po’ boy with chowchow at bedtime, and tubs of gumbo in between. It is not unusual for a visitor to the city to gain fifteen pounds in a week

yet the alternative is a whole lot worse. If you don’t eat day and night, if you don’t constantly funnel the indigenous flavors into your bloodstream, then the mystery beast will go right on humping you, and you will feel its sordid presence rubbing against you long after you have left town. In fact, like any sex offender, it can leave permanent psychological scars.

— Tom Robbins

This woman was waving a turkey leg out of her food trailer. When someone came up to buy one, she said, “Let me get you a fresh one hon, this is my demo model, I’ve been waving it out this window for hours.”

Glonoushistory

Sam drove two friends from work, Duane and Cheryl, out for Asian food at lunch. They argued on the way – about if the restaurant was primarily Vietnamese or Chinese. It had a wide variety of food on the menu, primarily Chinese, but the neighborhood was mostly Vietnamese. They decided on a way to settle the argument. After they parked they walked around the back, huddled next to the overflowing recycled grease container and pushed the kitchen door open. They stuck their heads in a little, keeping hidden but enough to hear the conversation between the cooks. All three were pretty sure they could tell the difference between Chinese and Vietnamese, even if they didn’t speak the languages.

What they heard was Spanish.

“What the hell,” Duane said, “they have Mexicans cooking.”

“I’ve heard that,” Cheryl said. “Most of the Asian places hire Mexican workers in their kitchens. I never believed it until now.”

They decided it didn’t really matter at all so they walked around to the front and were shown to a table.

They had fun looking through the higher numbered items, such as No. 134- Fish Ball with Sea Slug, but decided top pass on anything unusual. They waved the woman away with the Dim Sum cart. It was lunch specials today, No. 6 for Sam and Cheryl, No. 10 for Duane.

They enjoyed the wrapper on their chopsticks. On one side were actual instructions on holding and using and on the other side a great little piece of literature:

Welcome to Chinese Restaurant.
Please try your Nice Chinese Food With Chopsticks
The traditional and typical of Chinese glonoushistory.
And cultual.

They liked the way that Nice Chinese Food With Chopsticks was capitalized. They liked the little misspelled sentence fragment at the end. They especially loved learning the new word, glonoushistory.

What did it mean? It is in no dictionary they had access to. Cheryl pulled out her phone and all the hits it returned were in regard to the chopsticks.

“So it must be a new word,” Cheryl said. “From the context it is obviously intended to mean the food, cooking, serving and eating habits of a culture. A word made by combining history with nourishment, with a glo thrown in the front for good measure. I can’t think of any other word that quite means the same thing.”

Duane said, “I can think of examples of use: ‘Jeez, I can’t believe you’re eating that greasy hamburger!’ ‘Get off my case, burgers are essential to my sense of glonoushistory.’”

“’Twirl your spaghetti on a fork! Don’t suck it up like a straw.’ ‘Are you criticizing my glonoushistory?’” added Sam.

Cheryl said, “I imagine small eastern liberal-arts colleges establishing departments of Glonoushistory. Professors of Glonoushistory, getting research grants and traveling to Central Asia to catalog the preparation of boiled Yak and fermented Camel Milk beverages. The chorus of complaining when the first graduating class majoring in Glonoushistory realizes they have completed a course of study actually targeting them straight to the fast-food industry.”

The three had a good laugh and then their food came. They broke off the chopsticks and dug in. Sam smoothed the cover out, folded it, and placed it in his pocket. He wanted to tape it into his journal that evening so he could remember the fun lunch with his two friends. He forgot to do that, of course. A month later, after several washings, he’d find the little wadded up remains in his pants pocket and not be able to figure out what it was.

Stuffed and worried about getting sleepy in the afternoon – there was a lot of work to be done – they piled into Sam’s car for the short drive back to the office. Cheryl sat up front, Duane in the back. There were some grocery bags bag there and Duane absentmindedly poked around in them. They were full of canned food, there was even a grocery receipt, but the cans were all silver steel – no labels.

“What the hell, Sam,” said Duane.

“Oh, I buy canned food, mostly vegetables. It’s cheap. And then I peel the labels off and leave the cans in the car for a couple days – to make sure I forget what’s in them, before I put ‘em in the cupboard.”

“Why?” asked Cheryl.

“Life is too predictable.”