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.”

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Well Endowed King by Bill Chance

“Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these?”

—-William Shakespeare, King Lear

Kids Splashing in front of the Wyly Theater. An HDR image I took on the opening day of the theater.

Well Endowed King

Mark Campbell stepped off the train, alone, into the cold Autumn drizzle and walked the two long blocks through the crystal grid of skyscrapers to the theater. It looked like a gigantic metal cube – like a Borg spaceship that touched down into a wide depression along the busy street. When the city built the new hall Mark read all the articles about it and its innovative architecture. He always sat on the left side of the train so he could watch the construction when he rode by on his commute. He thought that it was so, so cool – but that he would never be able to afford tickets. But he discovered that with every new play that was produced the first night would be a “pay what you can” performance.

At 9 AM on a certain date tickets would be available online for the newest show and the buyer would decide what he would pay. Mark had a quick finger on the internet link and right on time would log on and buy a ticket. He would usually pay five bucks. It was essentially a dress rehearsal but Mark enjoyed the shows, although he didn’t have any luck getting anyone to go along with him.

The theater was like a normal performance hall turned on its side. The lobby was at the bottom of the descending slope, with the performance space above. The top floors were used for offices and rehearsal space. Mark waited in line at the bar to spend ten dollars on a tiny plastic cup of cheap white wine -mostly to have something in his hand as he milled around in the crowd waiting for the show.

The rest of the crowd was divided into couples or small groups, chatting away. Mark was used to being single at these events – but was still more than a little self-conscious.

Tonight, the show was Shakespeare’s King Lear. Mark had seen the play once before – twenty years earlier. He had taken his son to an outdoor summer performance. Mark’s son was only ten and he worried the play would be too complex and dense for the child. But his son loved it – there was enough sword fighting and action that he was enthralled, even if he didn’t really understand what was going on. In the infamous eye-gouging scene, an actor actually threw two grapes on the stage and then stomped on them. His son perked up.

“Hey, what just happened?” he asked.

“Oh, nothing, Nothing.” A father has to lie a little now and then.

The child especially liked the army scenes where they had a large crowd (probably every stagehand and a lot of local volunteers) moving through the trees around the outdoor venue with lamps and rattling swords. It was pretty impressive – he was a tiny bit afraid… just the right amount. He used to really love going to the Shakespeare plays and Mark wished they could have done more. They were so busy.

And now his son had his own life and better things to do than hang out with his old father.

While he milled around hiding at the edge of the crowd, pretending to look at the posters, artwork, and announcements attached to the walls, he noticed something odd. Near the entrance to the stairway to the seating above there was a large, bold card on an easel:

WARNING!
PLEASE BE AWARE THAT THIS PERFORMANCE CONTAINS NUDITY

Nudity? In King Lear? What was that about? Mark didn’t give a damn about that, and the minute the bell dinged and everyone began moving toward their seats forgot the “warning” completely.

One cool thing about the venue is that the stage and the seating was suspended from the top of the building on cables and could be raised and lowered easily to convert the space into any conformation that the producers liked. He had seen quite a few – some were arranged like a standard theater with the seats in rows facing the stage, some were “in the round,” and some had a jumbled mixture of stage and seats with the play happening right among the audience.

Tonight that was the case. There was a single large stage, but the seats crowded in on three sides so that the action would be close to every observer. Mark couldn’t help but be excited at this innovative an intimate arrangement.

As the audience settled in around him two young women, probably college age, took the seats immediately to the left of Mark. They were very attractive and dressed to the nines. Mark couldn’t help but feel a bit of excitement to have such gorgeous people sitting right next to him – although he knew he was invisible to them… at best. These premiere performances often had large groups of attractive young people attend – theater students from local schools and colleges. Watching them left Mark with a bittersweet nostalgia for days gone long, long past.

The two chatted with the ironic, bitter, and sardonic tone that women like that use at times like that. Mark wondered what those two thought of Shakespeare. He had no idea. Even though they were sitting right next to him they lived in a world completely alien to his. Soon enough, the lights darkened and the play began.

It started out with a very spare stage – a wooden wall, a door, a heavy chair, and a candelabra. Mark noticed before the performance a couple of stagehands on hands and knees, carefully wiping the stage down, as if they were worried about bits of slippery water.

The play started very formal and stiff. The actors stood arranged around the seated king in symmetric positions and delivered their lines. It was all very good, but not very exciting. Mark thought this wouldn’t last – King Lear is an avalanche of a play; it delivers its punches full-bore – heavy and hard. It doesn’t fuck around. He worried that they had decided to go all old-school, plain, simple, and it was starting to get a little boring. It might be a long night of interesting but not very passionate storytelling.

Then, suddenly, about a quarter way through, the formal stylized play ended. As Lear was thrown into the storm of madness the wooden walls that formed the back of the stage fell forward into a tumbledown confusion, huge doors swung down from above and a gigantic torrent of water waterfalled down (sort of Flashdance style – on steroids) onto the King.

And all Hell broke loose.

Giant strobes went off above in bolts of terrible lighting, electricity crackled, while deafening peals of thunder roared from unseen speakers. The King was now mad, insane, completely unhinged. He ran around the stage and under the falling deluge until he was drenched to the bone.

And then with a bizarre deranged scream he stood at the front of the stage, soaking wet, and stripped of his clothes. All of them.

Mark suddenly remembered. “Ah, that was why they had the nudity warning,” he thought to himself.

The other actors began chasing the howling naked Lear around the stage and then they left it to begin running up and down the aisles and then even between the rows of seats – the audience would have to sort of stand to give them room to move by.

Mark had to smile. The actor playing Lear was no young man – his hair was snow-white and his face wrinkled from many, many decades. But he was slim, muscular, and still very toned for his age. He was athletic and quick, moving through the audience with a grace and speed that made it believable that the other actors could not catch him and run him to ground.

The naked actor was impressive in one other way. The King was very well endowed. Mark thought, “If I looked like that at his age, I’d be running around naked all I could get away with too.” The King moved down the very row where Mark was sitting, tumbling through, followed by his pursuers.

Then Mark noticed the two women sitting next to him. They were horrified. Stiff as boards, speechless, both of their mouths frozen in an identical rictus of terror. They were completely offended by this naked old man speeding around in front of them. Swallowed by a toxic mixture of anger and fear – this was not what they thought that they were going to have to deal with.

Eventually the others captured Lear, throwing a heavy cloak over him and pulling him offstage. The intermission came right after (stagehands rushed out with mops to dry the stage).

The two women stood and yelled out indignant protests to nobody and everybody. They were so apoplectic, “I can’t believe,” “I’ve never,” and “This is terrible,” were the only snippets that Mark could make out even though he was right there. In an enraged huff they stormed out of the building.

Mark wondered if they had seen the warning card in the lobby. He was amazed that anyone that on the outside posed as being so worldly and sophisticated could be so upset at the sight of a bare old man. Maybe that was it, they weren’t used, weren’t prepared for geriatric nudity. Maybe it was the mature equipment. Maybe their boyfriends will be viewed with less enthusiasm going forward. Mark really wished he could see the two women’s text messages – packets of outrage – they would send to all their friends.

The rest was crackerjack. The formality gone, torn to the four winds, the play was a tsunami of powerful madness, a foil for the King’s insanity and despair. The fourth wall was broken, with actors fighting in the aisles and lightning screaming through the theater. Mark noticed that even the sound effects added to the disconcerting craziness – every time the King’s mind took a turn for the worst, a crackling buzz came from hidden speakers above the seats – a subtle effect that enforced the impression of insanity and doom.

And then, the tragedy. As the inevitable doom unfolds, the tragic events set in motion by Lear’s egocentric arrogance in the first scene come to their conclusion, the horror sets in.

Afterward, spent, Mark trudged back to the station to catch the next-to-last train back home. He had enjoyed the play immensely. But the most memorable roles were played by the two young women next to him, offended and horrified by the well-endowed King.

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Collision by Bill Chance

“After being bombarded endlessly by road-safety propaganda it was almost a relief to find myself in an actual accident.”
― J.G. Ballard, Crash

Wrecked Car waiting for the decision – scrap or repair – like there is a question

Collision

He had a nice townhouse in the city, but Brian Newman spent every weekend at his girlfriend’s apartment, driving a hundred miles after work on Friday and back Monday morning before work. He would leave at five to be sure and beat the traffic. Brian was never a morning person and the Monday drive was difficult, but he had done it so many times over the last couple of years it became a familiar blur.

He was waiting at an ordinary red light with his left blinker on and his mind somewhere far away, but an oncoming truck still caught his eye. It was the middle of the summer and the sun was above the horizon. The truck was a big dump truck, red, faded, peeling, patched with rust. The massive front bumper, painted black, was an angry scowl. It was coming fast. Too fast. Much too fast.

It shot through the red light as if it wasn’t there. Brian felt his heart jump and wondered if the truck would swerve and hit him. He knew that there wasn’t anything he could do if it did.

Right then, a small white car moved in from the left, with its green light, and was hit broadside by the onrushing dump truck. The truck came on as if nothing was in its way. With a horrific sound of tinkling safety glass and rending sheet metal the car was pushed along until it was smashed between the heavy dump truck bumper and the stout light pole in the center median.

The pole snapped off and fell over but not before it brought the massive truck to a final halt. All that kinetic energy reduced the car into a wad of compressed metal like the foil left after a wrapped sandwich, ready to toss in the bin. Brian was in the left hand lane and as he looked out his side window the driver was only a few feet away across the hood and in clear view through the windshield as the light pole came through the side tearing him apart. Brian had a clear view of the man’s panicked face right before the collision crushed his skull, sending bone, blood, and brains in all directions.

The police interviewed Brian at the crash site and at the local office. Over the next week a parade of lawyers asked him the same questions over and over… “Did you hear brakes?” “Did the truck swerve at all?” “How long had the light been red?” “Did the truck sound its horn.”

It seems the driver claimed his brakes had failed. The suspicion was that the driver was on his phone and hadn’t seen the red light. It would be the difference in damages and possible murder charges.

“It happened so fast,” Brian said. “I don’t really know, I don’t know what happened.” He didn’t understand how nobody cared about what had happened to him. Just because he hadn’t been hit didn’t mean he wasn’t affected. The look on the driver’s face in that split second before he died haunted Brian. He thought they made eye contact. Brian was the last person he had seen, a complete stranger, before he died. There was not a scratch on Brian’s car but he had to go to the car wash and scrub off some of what looked like blood and a bit of what might have been skull bone.

Brian called his girlfriend and told her that he had to take some time off and stay at his place for work. She said she understood. He called his work and said he had to take some time off and was going to stay at his girlfriend’s. They said they understood and would sign him up for a workplace disability program.

The lawyers paid for a hotel in the town where the accident happened. Brian figured it was so that he would be available if the case, civil or criminal, ever went to trial. He wasn’t sure which lawyers paid for the room; the defense, or the truck driver, or the dead man’s estate, or the truck manufacturer, or the company that owned the dump truck. They all called him all the time, asking him the same questions over and over. They would always end with saying how lucky Brian was, to have so much violence and horror so close to him and yet to be unaffected. The truck did miss him completely, of course – even if only by inches.

He spent the time binge watching old crime shows in his hotel room or taking long walks around the perfectly ordinary town he was now living in.

As the weeks went by his girlfriend decided to make the man she had been seeing, cheating on him, for a year during the week while Brian was in the city at work her full-time partner. The man proposed and Brian’s old girlfriend accepted. She sent Brian a thoughtful and carefully-worded letter to say goodbye but Brian never opened the envelope. Though he didn’t know exactly what had happened he guessed the main thrust of things and didn’t care much about it.

His work eventually promoted the temporary replacement to take over Brian’s full-time job. Then, as the various cases were settled the lawyers told Brian that he would have to move out of the hotel. They were glad, however, to help him sell his city townhouse and buy a place in the town. Property values were less and he was able to get a small bungalow with a big yard and still have some money left over.

He didn’t need much and was able to find a simple, thoughtless position near his house with the town government and that was enough. Ironically, the job was vacant because it had been held by the man killed in the accident. Brian’s years passed in quiet, lonely peace. He never married, never left the town.

And never drove or rode in a car for the rest of his life.

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Porn and Cat Food by Bill Chance

“The Road goes ever on and on

Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,

And I must follow, if I can,

Pursuing it with eager feet,

Until it joins some larger way

Where many paths and errands meet.

And whither then? I cannot say”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

(click to enlarge)

Porn and Cat Food

Cecil Thompson had some meetings with vendors scheduled all over town so he spent most of the day driving around. There wasn’t anything to see except the other drivers stuck in traffic all around him, moving slowly in lockstep to… somewhere.

Right after dawn he was creeping along in six lanes of rush hour traffic with some guy stuck next to him in an old clunker Chevy. The passenger window was open and no more than three feet from Cecil’s face. The guy was reading a magazine. The morning sun cut in at an angle so Cecil could clearly see his chubby face, his ponytail, and the the magazine. He tore off a plain protective cover and the title was BOOB-A-RAMA.

Traffic was really slow so Cecil was stuck beside him. Ponytail dude looked at that magazine for a while, holding it this way and that, then set it down and picked up another one. Tore its cover off too. And then another and another.

Cecil thought, “How pitiful can you get?” This is at seven in the morning. Ponytail dude must have stopped off at some slimy convenience store for coffee, donuts, and a big pile of porn. Now he’s cruising around, reading (well, not really reading) while he drives. Cecil felt filthy just sharing the same tarmac with him.

And who actually buys porn magazines anymore? Shouldn’t he have at least a tablet? Nothing worse than an old-school pervert.

Cecil guessed he was just getting ready to face his day.

Later, Cecil pulled up behind a fire engine. Red truck, silver ladders, yellow brown hoses. No lights, no siren, stuck in traffic, going nowhere very, very, slowly. Cecil felt a little sadness, assuming the truck was returning back from some fire, some emergency; he hoped everyone was alright.

Then he noticed the back of the truck. The little running board back there that extra firemen can ride on was piled high with bags. At least twenty bags of kitty litter and maybe five jumbo bags of cat food. The truck was returning from a visit to the pet store.

The firemen can’t leave their truck, in case of a call, so they have to take it out to the store with them. On a mission of mercy for the firehouse cat.

Cecil don’t know why, but he found that even more comforting than he found the ponytail guy with the porn magazines disturbing.

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Box of Spiders by Bill Chance

“Naturally, the system would have to be rigidly closed, recycling all food, air, and other expendables. But, of course, that’s just how the Earth operates—on a slightly larger scale.”

― Arthur C. Clarke, Rendezvous with Rama

Louise Bourgeois, Spider, New Orleans

Box of Spiders

Orion was late and he was keeping Jemma waiting. Orion was never late. Jemma was thirteen and Orion was her best friend and she was sure that he would be her best friend for her entire life and she was upset that he was making her wait. She was also upset at the odd conversation they had by text that morning.

“Will you be at the park today,” said Orion.

“Same as ever Saturday,” was her reply.

“Good, I have a surprise,” said Orion.

“Really? What is it?”

“Wouldn’t be a surprise.”

“Oh. Can’t wait.”

“One more thing.”

“What?”

“Are you afraid of spiders?” asked Orion.

“Very.”

“Shame, we’ll see.”

And Jemma was very afraid of spiders, even though she had never actually seen one. Probably, she thought, she was especially afraid of them because she had never seen one. There is that human natural fear, of spiders and snakes and things like that, with nothing to ameliorate it – no exposure. That’s what she had been taught in school, how different things were now and how careful they all had to be. How there was so little room for error.

And now Orion was there, coming up the slight rise in the park where Jemma was sitting, cross-legged, on the lush lawn. He was lugging a large box.

“You’re late,” said Jemma.

“Sorry, couldn’t be helped.”

“Is that my surprise?”

“It sure is!”

“Are there spiders in that box?”

“Yes, there are. Now, Jemma, don’t be afraid. They are very carefully bred and trained and aren’t dangerous. They are wonderful and I can’t wait for you to meet them,” said Orion.

Orion set the box down on the grass and carefully lifted the lid. Jemma felt her heart leap and her face became hot as she peeked over the edge.

The box was full of spiders, each one carefully folded and packed in tightly. The ones on the top began to unfold, stand, and walk smoothly out of the box. They began to congregate on the ground all around the box, moving and continuing to unfold.

“They have wings!” Jemma said. “Spiders don’t have wings!”

“They don’t… but these do,” said Orion. “We bred them from spider DNA and then combined them with genes from giant butterflies that we developed. It was a delicate and extensive project. Once we built them we bred them and then trained them. Watch what they can do!”

The spiders spread their huge brightly colored wings. Some were a deep cerulean blue, shot-through with some kind of gold sparkles, others were blood-red and still others were a buttery yellow. Most were single colors but others were mottled with black veins.

They began to flap their wings with preternatural speed and then, one by one, they lifted into the sky over the park. When there was a dense cloud they moved over until they were clustered directly over Jeamma.

“Orion! I’m afraid! What are they doing?”

“Now Jemma, it’s important that you relax. Lie down and stretch out. This will be wonderful. You trust me, don’t you?”

“Yes,” answered Jemma.

“Then take it easy. Watch this.”

Silver threads started dropping from the flying spiders directly toward Jemma.

“Orion! They are making webs. I’ve read about this. What will happen?”

“Watch, Jemma, you’ll like it. Don’t be afraid.”

The webs reached Jemma and stuck to her. Hundreds descended and began attaching themselves all over her body. Arms, legs, and torso were covered with strands extending upward. They were careful about where they attached – avoiding her face but reaching around and cradling her head in a mass of threads.

“The webs are stronger than steel, Jemma. Don’t thrash around, stay as still as you can.”

Jemma felt the fear subsiding. There was something comforting about the mass of webs and how they seemed to know where to attach, where to stick. She could feel them tugging against her here and there. She began to feel strangely relaxed.

“Ok, Jemma,” said Orion, “here we go!”

The hum of wings overhead became louder and louder until it was a roar of hundreds of wings furiously flapping. The tugging of the threads became stronger and stronger until Jemma felt herself being lifted off of the ground. It was oddly relaxing and comfortable, a gentle tugging spread out evenly over her entire body. She spread her arms and legs to be as stable as she could.

“That’s it Jemma, let them take you.” Orion said from below.

Jemma was able to turn her head and watch the park fall away. As she gained altitude she could see the ground, which felt flat when you were on it, curve up and away on either side. As she, and the spider/butterflies, moved away from the edge of the vast cylinder the gravity, produced by centripetal acceleration was less and the roar of the wings became quieter as their weight faded. Jemma looked up at the sun-tube that ran down the center of the axis. It was closer than she had ever seen it.

“They are trained to stay away from that,” Orion said, “One of the first testers flew too close to the sun-tube and the webs melted. He fell.”

Orion had flown up on the jets attached to his carapace and was hovering right next to Jemma. His circuits were humming, a laser probe flashed out onto her, and Jemma knew he was scanning, checking on her reactions and emotions. Orion was always paying attention and doing what he could to make sure she was safe and happy. Jemma knew she loved him.

“Orion, I’ve always wanted to fly like you,” said Jemma. “Now I can.”

“Well, not like me, exactly. But I knew you’d enjoy the ride.”

“But why did you build these? Just for me?”

“Not exactly. We’re always working on the genetics and learning what we can do. It will be hundreds of generations for you and your people before we reach Tau Ceti and we have to make sure we are able to insure survival. We’re not even completely sure about what we’ll find when we get there. There is no room for error.”

Jemma didn’t answer. She was leaning back and looking past the sun-tube at the other side of the cylinder. There were green splotches of trees, winding blue streams, and gray paths. It was all so beautiful, so planned, so perfect. So little room for error.

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Into the Wind by Bill Chance

“Canoes, too, are unobtrusive; they don’t storm the natural world or ride over it, but drift in upon it as a part of its own silence. As you either care about what the land is or not, so do you like or dislike quiet things–sailboats, or rainy green mornings in foreign places, or a grazing herd, or the ruins of old monasteries in the mountains. . . . Chances for being quiet nowadays are limited.”

― John Graves, Goodbye to a River

Into the Wind

There’s this thing about a canoe on a lake in the wind. When you are going into the wind you’re going very slowly and working very hard to push against the resistance. But since the waves are going the other way, opposite you, it seems like you’re flying, rushing along. It’s only when you look over to the shore that you see the glacial progress you’re making.

On the other hand, when you turn around, and go with the wind at your back you will move right along with the waves and appear, when you look at the water, to almost be standing still. It takes some proper point of reference, some object on the shore, to gauge your true rapid speed.

Sam and his two sons rented a canoe. He intended to paddle from one end of Cedar Lake to the other.

They walked to the little park store, which has rentals. They had to wait because the operator who lived by himself in a recreational vehicle beside the store had closed up for an hour and gone into town. He had left a note on the door to the store. When he came back he rented them the boat. He made Sam fill out several pages of paperwork, apologizing, “Please fill this out in case the State audits me.”

Samy asked, “Well, have they ever audited you?”

He said, “Yes, once. They came out a couple years ago but I told them that my wife had passed away that week and I couldn’t deal with it so they went away and haven’t come back.”

They rented the little aluminum canoe for an hour, six dollars an hour. The rental place was in a cove down at one end of the lake and due to the drought the lake levels were way down. It was difficult to get out of the cove because the water was so shallow. The boys peered over the gunwale at the thick water plants rubbing against the canoe while their father used the paddle to pole their way along

Sam wanted to go the length of the lake, all the way to the dam but as they moved out into the center he wasn’t sure they would make it. The stout wind would catch the front of the canoe, where Frank, the older son, sat ineffectually flailing at the water with one paddle, and spin it around so Sam would have to paddle hard and carefully to keep it pointed at the dam. Two other families had rented canoes right after them and they were unable to get out of the cove due to the wind.

After being spun twice Sam decided to move over to the west coastline, as close as possible, and pay close attention to steering the canoe – they were able to make progress that way. It was hard work, pushing against the wind, taking all the strength Sam had in his shoulders.

For Sam it felt good to be paddling a canoe again. He was good at it. When he was a child in Florida he had a canoe of his own. He would haul it down to the canal next to their house and paddle around after school.

Frank and Sam’s youngest son, Luke had never been in a canoe before. Luke was surprised to find out it was made of metal, he thought they were all made of wood. They both said the canoe was more stable than they thought it would be, they thought it would be harder to keep it from tipping over. Sam told them a lot of that was because he was working pretty hard at keeping it straight while they flailed around. Especially Frank at the front trying to paddle.

They made it all the way to the dam. No huge feat, but the kids enjoyed it. It felt like a great victory. They circled the concrete drainage structure, a tall cylinder sticking out of the water with a wrought iron valve wheel on top. The kids asked questions about it, which Sam couldn’t answer. Then they turned and headed back.

Sam was worried they would be late, he had only paid for an hour. He wished that he had shelled out another six bucks so they could relax. But the wind and waves bore them along at a rapid speed on the return. It took them forty minutes to reach the dam and only ten to get back. Poor Luke knelt on his knees in the center of the canoe during the whole trip and could barely stand when they pushed up onto shore. His young legs regained their flexibility quickly enough.

Sam’s shoulders didn’t recover quite so fast. For a week the soreness reminded him of the struggle across the lake in the canoe with his two sons. He would shrug his shoulders against the pain and smile.

Sunday Snippets – Fun With Writing Prompts

Writing in my Moleskine Journal outside the Mojo Lounge, Decatur Street, French Quarter, New Orleans

A writing group I used to attend in the pre-sickness and Pre-Covid days is now meeting on ZOOM. I re-joined this week and I’m glad I did. This meeting was “Fun With Writing Prompts” and here’s a couple silly little things I wrote.

The first prompt was three things:

  • Taxidermist
  • a person who doesn’t get the hint
  • One half of a ripped love letter.

We wrote for a half hour. This is what I came up with:


The sign on the door said “Wilbur’s Taxidermy” and the man walked up clutching a ragged piece of paper.

He entered the shop and rang a bell on the counter. A rear door opened to a wave of foul, chemical soiled air. A man wearing a thick plastic apron, long rubber gloves and heavy protective goggles emerged and took up a spot behind the counter.

“Well,” he said.

“You must be Wilbur,” the customer said.

“Nope, Wilbur was the moron that I bought the shop from. Total failure. I never felt like changing the sign, though. Name’s Sam.” He thrust out a rubber-gloved hand.

“Uhh,” the customer said, “I’m not sure if I should…”

“Of course,” Sam replied, “Sorry, I forget sometimes,” and removed the glove.

The customer still didn’t shake his hand. “My name’s Glover, Richmond Glover, but everyone calls me Glover. I was wondering if you can stuff something for me.”

“We prefer to call it ‘preserving’ if you don’t mind. And yes, I can preserve something for you, Mr. Glover.”

Glover didn’t reply right away. He looked increasingly nervous, fidgeting and shifting his weight from one foot to the other. He took the scrap of paper and smoothed it out on the counter and looked at it. Sam the taxidermist could see that it was a hand-written note, torn in half.

“Well, Mr. Glover, I’m afraid I’m going to need some more information.”

“Ahh, yes, you see… this isn’t the usual job that you see every day.”

“I think you would be surprised at how… unusual… some of the jobs that I have done.”

“Not like this. I would like to preserve… I like that word… something that is very near and dear to me.”

“Yes.”

“Very. Very. Very near and dear.” Glover looked again at the paper held against the counter.”

“Excuse me Mr. Glover. What is that paper? Why is it torn?”

“Oh this… it’s a lover letter. One I received a year ago. From someone… very near and dear to me.”

“Again, Why is it torn like that”

“They tore it trying to snatch it from my hand.”

“So this person had a change of heart regarding your affections?”

“That would be an understatement. But back to business.. how large of a specimen are you able to preserve?”

“Oh, I’ve done moose heads.. a bison head or two. How large are you needing.”

“About ten stone… that’s one hundred forty pounds.”

“That’s big, but doable. About how long?”

Glover moved his hand down from his forehead to just above his chin. “This long. What, about five foot three inches.”

“Is that length or height?”

“Both, really, I suppose. You haven’t asked what species it is.”

“Doesn’t matter, really. As long as it’s a mammal. Reptile skin, or fish, that’s another thing altogether.”

“Oh good.”

“And what condition is this thing that is very near and dear to you? Is it frozen? Fresh?

“Oh,” said Glover, “It’s fresh, very fresh. As a matter of fact, right now it’s still alive. And I might be able to use some help with that aspect of the job, too.”

“Mr. Glover… I think you are outlining a very, very expensive preservation job.”

“I promise, money is no object. No object at all.”


This woman, a bartender at the NYLO Southside, asked Candy, “Is your husband a professional photographer?” Candy answered, “He thinks he is.”

That’s as far as I got.

The second exercise was to write a hundred words. It had to start with the phrase, “There I was, just standing there, when what I wanted to do was forbidden.” It also had to contain the phrase, “A dark and stormy night.”

When I stopped writing I had about a hundred and thirteen words. Some quick editing and it was exactly one hundred.


There I was, just standing there, when what I wanted to do was forbidden. The bar was stretched out before me and I had a new drink I wanted to mix. Curacao and rum and other good stuff. It had a name. A Dark and Stormy. Night had fallen and the bar was crowded. When the barkeep was busy at the other end, I reached across, grabbed the bottles and started to mix.

“Hey! The bartender yelled, “You again!”

“This time it’ll be good, I promise!”

I stirred and shook like crazy while the bartender reached for her baseball bat.

Sunday Snippet, Archipelago by Bill Chance

They liked to ski in that area because of the hundreds of small islands that cut the wind and waves and made for the smooth glass-like surface that was so fun to ski on. But the area was like a maze, as much land as water, and a confusing labyrinth of passages, gaps, and islets. It was tough to know exactly where your were at any time.

—-Bill Chance, Archipelago

 

Trees reflected in a pond, inverted, with Chihuly, Red Reeds

Archipelago

Sam leaned back and pulled on the rope while cutting his ski into the water. He shot sideways, outward, and felt the wave of the wake as it shoved him into midair. Bracing, he cut back as he landed on the smooth, green surface outside the wake and turned to grin at Jim on the other side. Sam relaxed and enjoyed the smooth skimming across the mirror smooth water.

He realized that in the year since his family moved to Central America his skiing had improved so much. The fact he could ski every day, all year round, made such a difference. There was never that long layoff of the winter months where he would get soft and uncoordinated – have to relearn everything in the spring.

He glanced up at the boat where Jim’s father and little brother were driving them around the water in the vast archipelago of little jungle-covered islands. Something was wrong and he could see Arnold’s red hair disappearing below the rear gunwale as he looked for something in the bowels of the boat. Jim’s father was turned around too, looking, pointing and barking orders, although Sam couldn’t understand what he was saying.

“What’s up?” Sam shouted across at Jim, “Something wrong in the boat.”

“Hell if I know,” Jim shouted back.

“Make that jump, Jim. See if you can get as high as I did.”

Jim nodded, pulled and made a sharp turn outward like Sam had a few seconds before. He did fly high as he hit the wake wave, maybe a little higher than Sam had. But he over rotated and waved his hands desperately as the nose of the long slalom ski caught the water first and at a bad angle. Jim cartwheeled over twice bouncing off the water and then sinking in.

Sam laughed as he let go of his rope, slowly coasted to a stop, and sank down to his life jacket. The two good friends had been working hard on their skiing and fell hundred of times. He knew Jim was fine and saw him smile as his face poked back up above the water.

They both turned to the boat expecting to watch it circle around so the both of them could grab their tow handles and keep skiing. It was a routine they had done many, many times before – three times that very day.

But Arnold was still rooting around and his father was still looking at him. Before either of the two boys could yell from the water the boat had moved around the nearest island and disappeared.

“Shit!” Sam said. “They didn’t see us fall.”

“Don’t worry, they’ll notice soon enough and come back to find us.”

They liked to ski in that area because of the hundreds of small islands that cut the wind and waves and made for the smooth glass-like surface that was so fun to ski on. But the area was like a maze, as much land as water, and a confusing labyrinth of passages, gaps, and islets. It was tough to know exactly where your were at any time.

As the two boys bobbed in the water, floating on their foam jackets, and holding on to their skis, they could hear the whine of the outboard motor moving around between the islands, going back and forth, but couldn’t see anything. This went on for a long time.

“They can’t find us,” said Sam.

“Don’t worry, eventually they will, the water’s warm, we can wait.”

But then the sound of the motor died away.

“Now what?” asked Sam.

“They probably are low on gas and went back to fill up.”

By that time it was getting to be late afternoon and it was the rainy season. Inevitably, the small clouds overhead began to quickly coalesce into large angry-looking black overcast blankets. And then the rain began to fall. It was warm rain, almost like a hot shower. But it was think and heavy – coming down in a deluge of giant globs of water. The boys were used to that, but they were very exposed.

“What do we do know,” Sam yelled over the din of splashing water.

“Let’s swim to the nearest island and wait it out there.”

They weren’t very far from the dark green hillock and were strong swimmers. It was an easy task, especially with their life jackets, to paddle and cover the space between them and the nearest land, even pulling their skis along.

The problem was the jungle grew in a thick, inhospitable blanket right down into the water. They had to swim along the shore until they came to a spot where a tree had died and fallen into the lake, leaving a gap in the jungle foliage. They were able to swim among the dead branches and find a little bit of spongy ground to sit on.

As they moved up they were startled by a gigantic toad, camouflaged invisible into the thick layer of forest detritus along the shore. The toad, bigger than either of the boys had ever seen, grunted and leaped past them into the water with a gigantic splash. Both boys cried out in a moment of fear and then laughed together when they realized the gigantic monster was merely a harmless toad.

There wasn’t much open space left in the spot the amphibian and abandoned and the two boys had to crowd together sitting on the wet ground, still holding their skis. The thick vegetation overhead provided only a little shelter from the rain – the drops of water falling on their heads came a little less often, but were much larger after they tumbled through the leaves.

“They will never be able to see us here,” said Sam.

“In this rain they couldn’t see us or hear us anywhere anyway. It’ll have to stop sometime. They’ll come looking then.”

And the rain did stop. But by then the sun was falling behind the tall trees of the next island to the west.

The suns sets quickly in the tropics – its path is straight down and there aren’t very many minutes of twilight. As it disappeared in the post-rain humidity it became surprisingly cold and the boys shivered in the misty miasma of decomposing life that flowed out from the darkness behind them into the lake.

The two boys sat silent, their thoughts to themselves, as the dark night descended and devoured the whole world. The loud sounds of the nocturnal jungle dwellers began to rise in a wild cacophony of shrieks, cries, and growls.

The boys could only listen and wonder where the whine of an outboard was.

Sunday Snippet (short story) Intersection, by Bill Chance

The workman turned to face him. Marcellus saw he had a patch on his vest that said, “Strongman.” The workman didn’t say anything.

—-Bill Chance, Intersection

(click to enlarge)

 

Intersection

Marcellus Rodgers wondered what was up when he had to wait to get through the intersection at the end of his block. After a short delay, it was his turn and he had to hold onto the paper cup of coffee when he made his right turn, so he almost didn’t bother to glance over his left shoulder to see what was holding everyone up – but he did – and there was Margie lying lifeless and still on the asphalt in the middle of the intersection.

Margie was fourteen, which was old for a sheepdog. She had been stone deaf for five years. In the last few months her eyes had clouded and Marcellus was sure she had gone practically blind.

Until today, Margie was still able to get around. Marcellus figured it was on her sense of smell and fourteen years of pure dog memory. She slept almost all the time but somehow was able to shake herself awake and go exploring a little bit every day.

Marcellus and his family, when his wife and kids still lived with him, had never been able to keep Margie from escaping. No matter how carefully he had the workmen patch the fence, no matter how vigilant he was with the doors, somehow Margie would get out and go wandering around the neighborhood. Marcellus could not understand what the attraction was for Margie, especially now, blind and deaf, out slowly sniffing, stumbling after squirrels, barking at cats, angering the neighbors, digging in the trash… and now, wandering blind into the street to be hit by a car.

He pulled over and wedged the steaming coffee onto the dash. Holding his hand out to stop the oncoming rush of cars he walked out and poked at Margie with the toe of his tennis shoe. He bent over and gave a little tug on one fore paw. Marcellus realized that Margie was too big for him to lift right there in the middle of the intersection, especially with cars coming. Even if he could get Margie to the car, there was no place to put her in the little two seat sports car. Alive, she loved to sit up in the passenger bucket with her head out the window, hair and ears flopping in the breeze, but dead…. He would have to go home and get a box or something to slide her into – something he could drag the short distance to his porch. The sun was starting to rise over the neighborhood pines, but it was still cold enough that his breath was steaming. He turned from Margie, climbed into his car, and drove home.

He left his coffee sitting on the workbench in the garage and started digging around, looking for a big enough box. In the back corner he found the brand new silver-foil Christmas tree he had bought two years back, just before his family had moved out, and never opened. It was a huge tree, he had picked it out intending it for the high entryway, with the grand staircase spiraling around it, but once it was clear he’d be the only one in the house for Christmas, it didn’t seem worth unpacking and setting up. But, now, even folded up, it had a good-sized box. Marcellus tore one end off and slid the silvery tree sections out onto the oil-stained garage floor. He pulled the box apart along the sides until he had a nice long section of brown corrugated cardboard. He figured he could get Margie on this, then pull her home, sliding – like on a sled. He didn’t know what he’d do after that.

Marcellus walked out of the garage, dragging the cardboard behind him, and turned to walk the short half-block back to the intersection. Right away, he noticed the traffic jam caused by his dead dog, Margie, had grown and that there was an orange truck with a city logo stenciled on the side parked, still belching brown diesel smoke, at an angle in the middle of it all. The truck had a yellow flashing light and Marcellus could see a few neighbors out on their front porches standing with coffee and dishes of breakfast pastries watching the building drama. The sidewalk was too narrow so Marcellus trooped right down the middle of the road, dragging his hunk of cardboard, listening to the bits of gravel stuck underneath squealing against the asphalt. As he arrived he saw a city workman wearing blue coveralls and an orange traffic vest and yellow hard had standing next to Margie, tapping her with a worn leather workboot. The workman was holding what looked like an oversize snow shovel.

“Umm, sir?” Marcellus said, “That’s all right, that’s my dog. I’ll take care of it.”

The workman turned to face him. Marcellus saw he had a patch on his vest that said, “Strongman.” The workman didn’t say anything.

“Umm, Mr. Strongman. I’ll take my dog home. You don’t need to trouble your…”.

“Strongman is the company that makes the vest,” the city worker said and Marcellus didn’t think he sounded like this was the first time someone had made that mistake. “I am an Officer from City Carcass Control and I have received a complaint call about a canine carcass impeding traffic at this location and I have responded to that call. City ordinance requires that I retrieve the carcass.”

“But… that’s my dog. I want to take him home.”

“Sir, I am sure you realize there is a city ordinance that forbids interning a deceased animal on private property.” After a short pause, he said, “You can’t bury the dog in your yard.”

“Oh, I know that. My wife has some property in the country, outside of city limits, and we’d like to take her there.” This was, of course, a complete lie. Harriet and the kids were in California, on the other side of the continent, living in Sam’s condominium. There was plenty of landscaped room behind that place but Marcellus didn’t think the Country Club would be happy about someone digging a hole for a dead sheepdog in the fourteenth fairway. The kids had wanted to take Margie out to California when they had moved but Harriet said Sam’s condominium complex had a limit of fifty seven pounds on dogs.

 

For a second, Marcellus thought about letting the workman take the dog. Margie was gone, after all, and this was, as the workman said, a “Carcass” and nothing more. But he couldn’t do it. It felt like a place he needed to take a stand, and he was going to do it.

“No, no you’re not going to take my dog. Margie goes home with me. I don’t care what the ordinance says. And I’m telling you now, I’m going to dig a hole under the oak tree in back of that house, there. Come arrest me.”

“Sir, If necessary, I assure you I will call the police.”

“And by the time they get here, dammit, I’ll be in my house with my dog. Then they can go to the judge and get a search warrant for me and my dead dog.” Macellus shook his cardboard in what he hoped was a vaguely threatening manner. A couple of silver colored plastic fake foil pine needles floated out and blew away in the breeze. “And you know, Mr. Orange Traffic Vest, there’s not a damn thing you or your book of city ordinance can do about it.”

A horn blared from one of the cars at the front of the line and he suddenly realized that he was standing right up against the workman, and that he was starting to shake a little. The horn on another car, this one across the intersection, went off, impossibly loud, and the workman jumped.

“Sir,” he said.

“Don’t ‘Sir” me. I told you, I”m taking my…”

“But Sir, the carcass seems to be gone.”

Marcellus looked down and, sure enough, Margie wasn’t there any more. He looked up and around and there was Margie, with a little limp and a good overall dog-shake, walking down the sidewalk, oblivious to everything, on her way home.

It had been a cold pre-dawn morning and Margie must have gone for a stroll around the neighborhood and decided to take a nap. The pavement was probably the warmest spot around and – blind, deaf, and oblivious – she had picked the middle of the intersection as the best place for a quick little rest.

Marcellus dropped his cardboard, thinking that at least the Carcass Control Officer could haul that back and walked behind Margie as she strolled home and scratched at the front door.

Marcellus let her in and led her to the kitchen. He thought about his coffee in the garage, but decided to brew his own fresh pot. Margie started nosing her dish and Marcellus went to fetch the special aged dog formula that Margie ate, but decided not to pour any out. Instead he fetched a dozen eggs from the refrigerator and broke four into a mixing bowl.

“You want to share an omelet with me, huh Margie?” She couldn’t hear him but he reached down and scratched her under the ear and Margie decided to take another quick little nap, right on the kitchen floor, waiting for their omelet to cook.

Sunday Snippet, Tubers by Bill Chance

Alvin York was a man that knew what he liked and what he liked was roasted potatoes.

—-Bill Chance, Tubers

No Fried Egg Today

 

Tubers

by Bill Chance

 

Alvin York was a man that knew what he liked and what he liked was roasted potatoes. He had meticulously arranged his schedule so that he had a half-hour between the time the bus arrived at the station and the time the train left for his office in the city. He would buy a cardboard container of tiny round roasted taters from a squat man in a beret that had a cart next to the newsstand. He would also pick up that day’s newspaper from the stand and then read the editorial and sports pages while he ate his potatoes.

They were small and immature, the kind his mother had always referred to as new. Each one was bite-sized, tender, and sweet – a perfect morning snack. They were warm, but not so hot that you couldn’t pick them up with your fingers and eat them with ease.

The container was a sort of flat-bottomed cone, an ingenious folded design that the man in the beret would slide from a stack on top of his cart, open the lid, and then silently scoop out a serving of steaming spuds. Alvin even had a favorite table and chair, near the newsstand and facing the train platform, with the big art Deco clock in view also, so he could relax without fear of missing his ride. Some mornings, somebody else would be sitting at his table and that would put a frown on Alvin’s face, a frown slightly deeper than usual, as he was forced to search around for a different, inferior, perch.

Today, the station was very busy and crowded. Alvin worried about finding a proper spot. But as he stood outside the newsstand, next to the cart and the man with a beret, with his briefcase in one hand, his brand new newspaper under his arm, and his container of potatoes in the other, he saw a stranger rise from his favorite table and stride toward the platform.

“My lucky day,” Alvin said to himself as he moved in quickly, before anyone else could snag his seat.

The table was already covered in newspapers; obviously the previous sitter was an irresponsible litterer. Alvin sighed as he placed his food container on the table and arranged the bulky folded pages of newsprint in some sort of order, extracting his favorite sections in the battle.

When he finally brought the sports section below his eye level, Alvin jumped a bit when he saw that another man was occupying the chair opposite him… at his own table. He was bothered by the nerve of this person, obviously no more than another working commuter like himself, in his damp trench coat and briefcase, and his audacity at taking the chair without asking. There was no understanding the coarse effrontery of the population in these new days. Taking a seat without asking permission was a coarse and crude action of great brass, no matter how crowded the station or how occupied Alvin was arranging his paper.

Looking at the man, Alvin saw his container of roasted potatoes in the center of the table and that helped him feel a little better. He eagerly reached out and snatched a savory sphere off the top of the pile and popped it into his mouth.

He was surprised to see the man opposite not ignoring him as he ate and read, but staring at him with narrowed eyes – it was as if he took the potato eating as a personal affront. The man seemed suddenly silently angry. The man continued to stare at Alvin as he slowly reached out himself and ate one of the potatoes.

Alvin felt a strong sudden wave of heat course across his face. He was shocked, what kind of man steals another’s food? Alvin was not a greedy man, he considered himself benevolent and unselfish – but this was beyond the pale. Someone’s property is sacred, especially his food, especially his food during his morning commute. He did not know what to do. Looking at the other man’s eyes, he saw raw emotion but couldn’t really understand… was the man angry? But why should he be angry at Alvin? It was he who was the thief.

Should he say something? But what? His mind a buzzing hive Alvin decided against speaking up, he didn’t want to start a scene and had no idea how the stranger would react to such a provocation. There was really only one possible course of action.

Alvin ate another potato.

He stared at the man, wondering what he would do next. His eyes narrowed even further, his mouth set in a tense rictus, the skin on his face tight. Alvin gasped as the man reached out again for a potato and then seemed to have to use a great deal of willpower to relax his set jaw enough to get the food in past his teeth.

This continued, each man staring at the other, silent anger increasing, as they worked their way back and forth through the entire order of potatoes.

Finally, the man snatched the last one out, and with a wordless but audible irate grunt yanked the empty cardboard up and crumpled it in his fist. He stood quickly, spun on his heels, and marched stiffly to the nearest exit, disappearing into the street. He threw the crumpled container in a trash can as he left.

“Well I never!” Alvin finally shouted the moment he was sure the man was out of earshot. “The nerve! What is this world coming to?”

Looking up at the clock he saw it was only a few minutes until his train left. Still upset, he stood on shaking legs as he gathered the pile of newspapers together off the top of the table, arranging them so he could dump them in the recycle bin on the way to the train.

“Never was able to read my paper,” he whined out loud to nobody in particular, “My morning break ruined!”

Then, as he picked up the last section of newspaper, he looked down at the now bare table to see his container of potatoes, still resting where he had left it before sifting through the double set of newspapers. He had lost track. He must have covered them with the unused pile of newspaper. The container of potatoes that he had been eating had belonged to the other man.


Later that afternoon, as he was preparing for the trip home, he called his wife.

“I was going to heat up some chicken,” she said.

“Dear, I was thinking, why don’t we go out to that new Italian place down the block? I know you’ve wanted to try it out.”

“On a Wednesday?” his wife asked. She sounded incredulous.

“What the hell,” he said. “Let’s live a little.”

His wife was even more surprised when Alvin ordered a bottle of wine to go with the meal. They each had a glass and, over their salads Alvin spoke.

“I have a story to tell you, dear. It’s a good one.”

And he told her about the stranger and the potatoes. He had been thinking about it all day and looking forward to getting it off of his chest. He laughed at the end, and his wife let out a little chuckle, but then she suddenly looked thoughtful.

“What’s the matter?” Alvin asked.

“Well, I was thinking?”

“About what?”

“Right now, in another part of town somewhere, I’ll bet that man is telling the same story to his wife -the story about a stranger eating his potatoes.”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“But it will be a different… he doesn’t know. He thinks you were stealing his potatoes. His story isn’t funny; I imagine he was terrified.”

“Yes, I guess he was.”