Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction), Plastics by Bill Chance

Mr. Maguire: I want to say one word to you, Benjamin. Just one word.

Benjamin Braddock: Yes, sir.

Mr. Maguire: Are you listening?

Benjamin Braddock: Yes, I am.

Mr. Maguire: Plastics.

—-The Graduate

Grapevine, Texas

 

 

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#29). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

 


Plastics

 

Baker worked for Yoyodyne Injection Moulding (marketing insisted they always use the British spelling). One thing he had to do was to walk out every morning to the tank farm where the monomers were stored and inspect the containment around the tanks to make sure there were no leaks or spills – no foreign material inside the dikes.

It rained all the time, especially at night. There was usually water in the containment and the maintenance crew would come out  most afternoons to drain the accumulation. They were the only ones with keys to the valves.

He had a form on a clipboard that he had to fill out. Date the top, make checkmarks by each line that corresponded to a tank. At the bottom was a space for corrective actions in case of a leak. He had never written in that spot.

It was very tempting to pencil-whip the inspections – not do the walking around and looking – simply check the forms and file them away. He knew that’s what Duane did, the guy that used to do the job. He would sneak out for a smoke when he was said he was going for the inspections. But Duane was caught with a joint in his mouth while he was operating the big press and they fired him. The union was going to get him reinstated but the inspections looked like they were Baker’s for good.

The factory was located in a swamp in the south and it was always incredibly hot. Humid too. And giant mosquitoes. Baker would try and get out to do his inspection right as the sun came up but it was still so soggy and sweltering he felt he couldn’t even breathe properly – the air so full of hot water that it displaced the oxygen. The very air of the place could not support life.

At dawn, the sun would be peeking orange over the swampy jungle that surrounded the factory, the tanks looming huge – white cylinders shrouded in mist burning away by the growing daylight. All sorts of birds would be chattering, chirping, or singing – their sound competing with more guttural cries from swamp critters – Baker had no idea what was making those noises and didn’t want to learn. The smell of decomposing miasma wafted across the property and competed with whiffs of acrid stench of volatile monomers coming from the vents as the tanks were heated by the sunrise.

That day, however, it was not like that. It was February and a historic cold front had blown through the night before. These blue northers were not common, but they happened. There had been a good bit of cold rain and he knew there would be water in the containment. Baker dug an old musty coat out from his locker and had brought from home a knit cap and gloves that he had kept from when he had moved from that more northern, civilized place.

“Cold one out there today,” said Dale, the shift boss.

“Yup,” was all that Baker could think to reply as he pulled on his gloves.

“Better you than me,” said Dale.

Bundled up, he trudged out to do his inspections.

Right at the first containment he saw there was something wrong. The water that stood inside the dike was almost covered with solid plastic. Baker’s heart jumped as he looked at the contaminated containment. The material looked to be about at least a quarter inch thick on the side nearest him… maybe more in places. It tapered off across the water until it disappeared on the other side – he could see ripples there where there was still open water. The solid material was smooth and clear.

The material must have leaked out of the tank – bad valve, overfill, broken connection – floated on the water and then polymerized. He wasn’t sure what was in that tank – maybe styrene, maybe vinyl chloride. Any of them could do what he was looking at. He was surprised that it didn’t smell worse than it did, but the polymerization must have been complete and the cold would keep the vapors down.

He wasn’t sure what to do. There was a little guard shack and he grabbed an empty metal paint can and a pair of tongs. The technician that unloaded the tank cars used these to take samples. Carefully leaning over the concrete dike he grabbed the edge of the solid polymer with the tongs. A chunk broke off easily and he transferred it to the can.

Leaving his clipboard behind he hurried back into the factory. Nothing about this was his fault and it was a good thing that he had done his inspection and found the leak – but he was afraid he would be blamed anyway. He was always the fall guy – the outsider – who could be blamed for anything. That wasn’t altogether bad – Baker had learned in his short career that if you could take unlimited blame and abuse – well, there was surprisingly good money in that.

Inside the warm factory he found the nearest phone and spent a minute getting his gloves off so he could dial. He called the emergency number. A tired and bored voice answered.

“Hello,” the voice said.

“We have a spill,” Baker said.

“Where is it? What material?” the voice said. It still sounded bored and bothered, like this happened every day.

“The containment farm.”

Baker looked down at the paint can he was holding and was shocked to see it contained a clear liquid instead of the chunk of plastic he had put it in there. It was weird – he didn’t smell anything.

At that moment there was a click inside Baker’s head, a shift in understanding so sudden he almost could hear it.

The stuff in the can was water. The spill in the containment was ice.

It was usually so hot and tropical he never imagined that the water could freeze. It never entered his mind. The blue norther had dropped the temperature to freezing. Ice. Ice.

“Umm, never mind,” he said into the phone.

“What do you mean? Where is the spill?”

Baker hung up.

Later that day, he wrote a letter to his Uncle in Chicago. He never really liked that branch of the family tree, but he asked if knew of any job openings in the city. Baker was thinking he wanted to return to civilization. Even some place that had ice half of the year.

Short Story Of the Day, A Thousand Unnatural Shocks by Bill Chance

“You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from.”
Cormac McCarthy,
No Country for Old Men

Nasher Sculpture Center
Dallas, Texas

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#28). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

 


A Thousand Unnatural Shocks

Buford knew it was going to be a bad day but he didn’t think it would be this bad.

He woke up to the daylight streaming through his window. It was cloudy and he couldn’t tell what time it was. His wife was nowhere to be found and the alarm clock was flashing twelves. By the time he dressed, the thunderstorm that had cut the power while he slept kicked in again and he ran through the rain to find his front left tire flat. Buford had to stretch out in the dirty cold water in the gutter to slip the jack underneath and was soaked by the time he had the tire changed.

At work, his badge didn’t operate the rotary door and he had to stand in the cold drizzle while the security guard called human resources. He knew something especially awful was happening when the HR woman had the guard escort him to an obscure conference room after letting him in. On the table was a cardboard box with all the personal stuff from his cubicle.

Apparently, they had found the irregularities in his petty cash account.

On the way home, someone turned left in front of him and made him swerve. He hit a light pole with his right fender. Buford was able to back out and continue on, but a cop gave him a ticket a block farther for his broken headlight and expired inspection sticker.

Back home, he discovered that the dog had pulled over the trash can and spread garbage throughout the house. The dog also fished out and ate last night’s leftovers and vomited them up on the couch. After cleaning the mess as best he could he put his dirty, wet clothes into the washing machine. On the rinse cycle, the hot water hose burst, flooding the utility room and kitchen and scalding Buford as he had to use a wrench to shut off the balky valve.

Deciding he had better not try and do anything else for the rest of the day, Buford turned on the television and settled in his easy chair to watch. He was admiring the vase of fresh flowers his wife had placed above the set when the dog chased the cat into the living room. The cat leaped on top of the television, knocking the vase over. The water spilled and trickled into the circuitry of the television. With a sharp spark and a bang, it went dark. A column of rancid smoke rose from the back, a breaker tripped and the room went dark.

Buford did not dare budge; he sat there in the gloom, motionless, until Camille, his wife, came home.

————————————

He heard the keys jangling merrily in the lock.

“Why is it so dark in here?” Camille asked as she walked briskly through the room.

“Blown breaker.”

“Well, I’ll reset it then.” Buford cringed when he heard the click and the lights came on, expecting a fire or explosion. But it was his wife, after all, that threw the switch, so nothing bad happened.

“How was your day, dear?” she asked. “Not too horrible, I hope?”

“Worse than ever,” he replied. “For one thing, I lost my job.”

“No worries.” Camille answered. “I bought a lottery ticket on the way out this morning. Ten grand scratch-off winner.” She tossed a thick envelope on the coffee table.

“So your day was good?” asked Buford.

“Of course it was; you know the drill.”

Camille reached into her pocket and removed a small object. It was a crude statue, made from some mottled mudstone, of a small distorted human-like figure of extreme ugliness. The troll-like character was leering into space and holding a tiny, crimson, transparent jewel – clutching it in both arms. Camille carefully placed the sculpture onto a sturdy wooden stand on the mantelpiece. Though diminutive and unattractive, it had a quality about it that commanded attention. Both Buford and Camille, husband and wife, stood for a minute or two, as they did most days when the charm was put back in its place, and thought about the day they had acquired it.

————————————

They were on the Mayan Coast of Mexico, on a bargain package vacation Camille had won at a company bingo game. Their cut-rate guide had been drinking and became lost; then his rattle-trap jeep had broken down in an unknown village. Buford and Camille had been sniping and griping, each blaming the other for the disastrous vacation.

The village was strangely devoid of the beggars and con-men that had been haunting them all trip and the pair was walking the street in search of some establishment that looked like it had clean ice so they could get something cold to drink when a strange old man approached them and spoke in almost perfect English.

“Ah, we don’t get so many tourists in our little town.”

“Well, you’re a long way off the beaten track.”

“That’s true, not so many are as lucky as you.”

“I wouldn’t say we were lucky. Not at all.”

The old man stared at them for a minute, and then continued.

“Well, I have something here for you, and I guarantee you’re luck is going to change.”

Now that he thought about it, Buford realized that the old man didn’t say their luck would change for the better, only that it would change. And he had not been lying.

The old man offered up the little statue, the strange charm. Buford wanted to walk away, but Camille took the charm in her hand and stared into its jewel. From that point, they had no choice, she had to have it. The price was high, but not too high and Buford peeled a thick layer of bills off the roll he kept hidden in a pocket sewn into his waistband.

But the old man wasn’t finished. He talked about the charm and how it would bring good luck to whoever carried it.

“But, there’s a catch,” he said.

“Isn’t there always,” replied Buford. He was doubtful, but there was something about that ugly little statue that commanded interest. “This isn’t some sort of Monkey’s Paw, is it?”

“No not at all.” Buford was surprised the old man knew the reference. “It works, but you have to remember that the amount of luck in the world is finite. The charm gives out good luck, but it takes it from other places, usually nearby.”

And that is how it worked. It didn’t take long to figure out that whichever one of them would carry the charm would have fantastic things happen to them. But it would always be at the expense of the other. You could manipulate things a little, for example, by not taking any extra risks if you didn’t have the charm, but things still seemed to work out. The better that one did, the worse the other.

They tried switching every day, but that was too ragged… the bad luck would overtake the good. They had settled on three days. Camille would get it for three days, placing it in the stand on the mantle every night (they were afraid what the charm might do while they slept) and then Buford would get it for the same length of time.

It worked out for a while, but now everything seemed to be spinning out of control. The charm was working better and better, but the downsides were getting worse and worse.

————————————

“Why do you get the charm tomorrow?” asked Buford. “It isn’t fair. It was horrible today.”

“You need to do what I do, dear. When you have the charm, I stay in bed all day. Not too much bad can happen that way.”

“You know I can’t do that. I can’t stay still all day; I have to do something… anything. I’ll go crazy otherwise… and that’s when it gets so bad. I think I should have it…. I really need it tomorrow.”

“Now, you know that’s not what we agreed on.”

“But it’s not fair!”

“Come on dear, “ Camille said, ending the discussion, “It’s time for bed. Don’t be so upset, tomorrow’s another day.”

————————————

At three in the morning, after hours of tossing and turning and being awakened from a restless half-sleep by Camille’s incessant snoring, Buford gave up, climbed out of bed and walked into the living room. There he looked at the charm on the mantelpiece and how it seemed to glow with a faint green aura in the moonlight.

“There is no way I can get through another day like today,” Buford said to himself. And he decided to act.

He knew he needed all the advantages he could get so he took the charm down and slipped it into his pocket. Then he opened the small metal safe at the bottom of the hall closet and carefully loaded the handgun. Holding it out in front, he returned to the bedroom and the uneven drone of Camille’s snores.

“I’m sorry dear, but this is not going to be your lucky day,” he said to his wife’s sleeping form as he raised the weapon.

 

Short Story (Poem) Of the Day, Coffee by Bill Chance

“Even bad coffee is better than no coffee at all.”
David Lynch

Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#27). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

 


 

Coffee (from an old Turkish proverb)

Black as death

Hot as hell

Bitter as lost dreams

Thick as love

She liked her women like she liked her coffee

Dark, Bitter, and Colombian

 

 

Short Story Of the Day, No Keepsies by Bill Chance

“The tongue may hide the truth but the eyes—never!”
Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita

The Dallas Eye,
Dallas, Texas

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#26). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

Does everyone know what “keepsies” is?  When I was  a kid, (and I know my father did in the 1940’s) children played marbles. You had a circle, everyone’s marbles went in and you took turns with a “shooter” – a big marble you would flick in there. You won all the marbles you knocked out of the circle. Some kids only did it for fun… but if you kept the marbles you won…  you played keepsies. The school administration was always trying to get the kids to not play keepsies. This story assumes kids still play marbles.


No Keepsies

Evelyn Bronson breezily tore into the manila envelope from her son’s school. She unfolded the single sheet letter and pulled off the thick brochure paperclipped to it. She started to read.

“Donald!” Mrs. Bronson yelled. “Donald! Come down here right now!”

There was no answer. Mrs. Bronson clutched the letter and stormed up the stairs. She grabbed the knob and stepped in. Donald was stretched out on his bed, eyes closed, head bobbing back and forth, with a huge pair of headphones covering his ears. Even so, she could hear a pounding beat leaking out.

“Donald! Turn those down. That’s going to damage your hearing.”

Mrs. Bronson stepped forward and yanked the phones off her son’s head.

“Hey! What the hell! I’m listening here.”

Turning blue with apoplexy she thrust the letter from the school at him.

He read for a minute then started a low, guttural chuckle. This began to rise until he was laughing out loud when he reached the end. He crumpled the paper and threw it onto a pile of dirty clothes and empty fast-food containers against the foot of his bed.

“Oh, mom, give me a break, it’s just a form letter.”

“Donald, be serious,” she said as she dug around for the letter, uncrumpling it and trying to smooth it on her knee, “This is serious. Have you been playing marbles… playing keepsies?”

“Playing keepsies? Ha! Oh, God, mom, what planet are you from? Give me a break.”

Mrs. Bronson didn’t know what to do so she left the room and returned to the kitchen and sat down. She hoped this would be the end of it, but she was mistaken.

Two days later, while she was in the kitchen finishing up a tray of deviled eggs for her Bible Study group, she asked her son if he was still playing for “keepsies.”

“As a matter of fact mom, take a look at this.”

Mrs. Bronson looked across the kitchen table at her son. Slowly she saw him reach into his pocket and pluck something out. He set his knuckles next to his plate and used his thumb to flick it out onto the table.

“I won this playing marbles, mom. It’s the coolest thing ever.”

The object kept rolling, between a bowl of boiled eggs and a pile of peeled shells, until it came to a rest with a clink up against the tray of finished deviled eggs. With a swirling mix of trepidation and curiosity she reached out and picked the thing up.

It was a large, heavy marble, white in color. She began to move it in her fingers until the back side came around and she saw the black center circle and the brown and green striated ring around it. She jumped in her seat when she realized what it was.

“Mom, I won Johnny Truman’s glass eye. Playing keepsies. Isn’t it the coolest?”

A wave of horror washed over Mrs. Bronson. She looked at her hand and almost heaved the glass eye away in revulsion, but she was worried it might shatter. She quickly picked up a cloth napkin and wrapped the eye, protecting it from breakage and her from its blinkless stare.

“Donald! That’s the most terrible thing I… Ever!”

“Aww, it’s no big deal. He don’t need it, he has a patch. ‘Sides, it doesn’t work anyway. It’s only for looks.”

Mrs. Bronson was shaking, speechless with horror. Suddenly, she let out a little squeal as the doorbell rang – once, twice, insistent.

Like a robot, Mrs. Bronson went to the door. She opened it and there, standing on the stoop, was a young man wearing an eyepatch.

“Mrs. Bronson? I’m Johnny Truman. I’m here to see if I can get my glass eye back. May I come in?”

Johnny pushed past her into the living room.

“Please, ma’am, can I have my eye back?”

“No way,” Donald said, “I won it fair and square.”

“I have twenty dollars,” Johnny said calmly, “I’ll give him twenty dollars.”

“Twenty dollars, forget it! It’s worth way more than that. Have to do better than that. Mom, tell him he’ll have to do better.”

Evelyn Bronson began to sway as the world began to spin. She tried to think but had no idea what to say. She walked over to the table and picked up the napkin, holding it and the eye away from her body as she returned to the living room.

“Aww mom, don’t give that to him.”

She looked at Johnny Ransom. Something had changed, something small, while she had walked to the kitchen table for the eye.

“Johnny,” she said, “Wasn’t your patch on the left side when you were at the door?”

“Mrs. Bronson, have you been tested for dyslexia?” Johnny asked her.

At that point, Donald fell onto the floor laughing hysterically. He rolled towards Johnny who gave him a good kick and then started laughing himself. Donald grabbed Johnny’s leg and the two tumbled into a hysterical pile of teen aged legs and arms, punching and grabbing.

She jumped in horrific anticipation as Donald plucked Johnny’s patch off of his eye and hurled it at her. But there was no gaping hole, just another ordinary eye.

“Oh, Jeez mom, you really fell for it!” Donald said as the two of them kept wrestling across the floor. “That was the damn funniest thing I’ve ever seen.”

“You’ve been punked ma’am,” Johnny said.

“Where did you get this horrible thing from?,” Mrs. Bronson asked.

“Ebay!” both boys shouted in unison.

The two boys let out a long double peal of evil laughter and then, spent, stood up and shook themselves.

“We’ll be upstairs, Mom,” Donald said as if nothing had happened and the two boys ran up the stairs.

Mrs. Bronson still was clutching the napkin with the glass eye as she walked into the kitchen. On the counter was the tray of deviled eggs she had made for the Tuesday night Bible Study. The plastic tray had lines of little indentations to hold the eggs. They all were filled. She stared at the rows of white ovals each holding its little pool of yellow congealed yolk, spattering of paprika dust and crowned with large cocktail olives.

Absentmindedly, she reached out and plucked an olive off of a random deviled egg and popped it between her lips. She rolled the sour sphere around in her mouth, sucked the sweet pimento out and felt the gap it left with her tongue. Looking back at the plate, she realized that she had left a space where the olive had been. It made the whole presentation look uneven.

“That won’t do,” she said to herself, and unfolded the napkin in her hand. She plucked up the glass eye and carefully placed it into the concave depression where the olive had been. She had to rotate the glass sphere a bit until the brown and green flecked iris was pointing directly upwards. She then switched the glass eye egg with another in the exact center of the tray. She smiled at the symmetry this gave the whole presentation.

“That’ll give those Bible Study women something to scream about,“ she said out loud as she fitted the frosted plastic cover over the tray, hiding the glass eye among the rows of identical eggs. She pulled her keys out of her purse, hooked it around her shoulder, and carefully lifted the deviled egg tray with both hands. Walking out the door she yelled out, “Boys! I’m going to Bible Study. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

There was no response from upstairs but Evelyn didn’t care. She strode out to the car, kicking the front door shut behind her.

Short Story (Poem) Of the Day, Rich Women Shopping by Bill Chance

“Buy what you don’t have yet, or what you really want, which can be mixed with what you already own. Buy only because something excites you, not just for the simple act of shopping”
― Karl Lagerfeld

Main Street Park
Dallas, Texas

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#25). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

 


 

Rich Women Shopping

Their legs are so long

they reach all the way to the ground

their bags small

and shiny

sparkles and bright colors

logos

hunters

of wild and gorgeous efficiency

 

 

Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction), The Convenient Straw Hole by Bill Chance

It was one of those days when it’s a minute away from snowing. And there’s this electricity in the air, you can almost hear it, right? And this bag was just… dancing with me. Like a little kid begging me to play with it. For fifteen minutes. That’s the day I realized that there was this entire life behind things, and this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid ever. Video’s a poor excuse, I know. But it helps me remember…I need to remember. Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it…and my heart is going to cave in.

—- Alan Ball, from American Beauty

Campsite, Lake Ray Roberts, Texas

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#24). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


The Convenient Straw Hole

The dreams were just there a split second ago. But they fly away too fast to even get a glimpse, let alone remember. I wake slowly, painfully. Getting old is not for the weak of heart. For a minute I struggle to remember where I am. I open my eyes and look around.

The early morning sun wanders down through the pin oaks – still green but looking like they are thinking about turning. The canvas windows are unzipped and the cool breeze filters through – the children are making too much noise and it makes it hard for me to go back to sleep. “Let’s wake Frank up!” one calls out.

“No, let him sleep – he had a long day yesterday,” I say.

I hear a sound outside, gurgling and bubbling… what is it? It is water running? No, it’s too crispy sounding for that.

“Is that bacon frying?” I ask.

“Yes,” My wife says.

“Do we have any bread? Lettuce? Is that tomato still hanging around? Do you know what I’m thinking?”

“Yeah, it’s a big tomato. Do you want some orange juice?”

“That sounds good.”

She unzips the door and hands me a little cold waxed cardboard box of Tropicana Pure Premium, Made from Fresh Oranges – Not From Concentrate.

On the top it says “Convenient Straw Hole!” With an exclamation point. The straw is stuck to the side of the box and cunningly designed – it’s actually two-piece, with an inner, ordinary translucent plastic straw and an outer sheath that telescopes so you can reach the bottom of the box. You pull the two parts until they lock together full length. I imagine a gaggle of industrial packaging engineers sitting in a conference room projecting a PowerPoint of the straw configuration in front of some executive that has to approve the design.

The Convenient Straw Hole! is hard to find, it’s only a little curved dent in the cardboard, but the end of the two-piece straw is cut at a violent angle and cuts through the box with ease.

What will they think of next in this best of all possible worlds?

Short Story (Poem) Of the Day, My Pen by Bill Chance

“You want to be a writer, don’t know how or when? Find a quiet place, use a humble pen.”
― Paul Simon

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#23). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

 


 

My Pen

I hear

there are boutiques where

people buy pens

from expensive European designer’s

designs

exotic wood

and space-age metal

 

Mine is cheap bilious plastic

translucent tube generic refill

but it does say

“#1 DAD”

in bad printing

on the side

bought at a PTA sale

 

It’s a good pen

and expensive

I worked long and hard

for it

.

 

Short Story Of the Day, A Boom in the Morning by Bill Chance

Everybody had to get up early and was scurrying around the house making plans for the day – who would go where, what they would do, and what they could skip.

—-Bill Chance, A Boom in the Morning

NASA Photo

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#22). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


A Boom in the Morning

Space isn’t remote at all. It’s only an hour’s drive away if your car could go straight upwards.

—-Sir Fred Hoyle

Hank knew it was going to be a busy, crazy day, and very warm for the first of February. His son had three soccer games and two basketball games. His daughter had art lessons and a basketball game. His car was in the shop. A typical insane Saturday in 2003 in a suburb east of Dallas.

Everybody had to get up early and was scurrying around the house making plans – who would go where, what they would do, and what they could skip.

He was looking for his wife’s keys when the house shook – some sort of boom. Even though the ground seemed to shudder for a split second it wasn’t really that loud, not much louder than the usual background rumbling vibrations from the three big freeways that surrounded their neighborhood. He was so preoccupied that he put it immediately out of mind. “What was that?” his wife Sara asked, “Was that a sonic boom?” If she hadn’t said that, he wouldn’t have remembered anything about the sound.

Sara drove him to her mother’s apartment and he borrowed her car (they had tried to figure out a way to get through the day with only one vehicle but couldn’t quite work it out). He drove home, picked up Elizabeth, their daughter, stopped by the bank to get money, left her at her art lesson (she took two one-hour lessons each Saturday, from nine to eleven AM), and drove down to Starbucks for a couple rare hours of relaxation.

Hank hadn’t been sitting very long when his cell phone rang.

“Did you hear about the shuttle,” an unknown voice said on the other end.

“What?”

“Oh, I think I punched the wrong number,” the voice said, and hung up.

A minute later it rang again; it was Sara, calling from the soccer fields.

“Did you hear about the shuttle?” she asked. He hadn’t been near a TV or live radio all day (He and Elizabeth had been listening to her favorite electronic dance station in the car – it’s only a tape playing on the radio, no DJ or news) and had no idea.

“Hang up, I’ll use something new, the Internet news feed on my Nextel cell phone to figure out what was up and call you back,” Hank said.

He punched into CNN from his phone and read on the tiny screen about the explosion and about the debris falling to the east, on Nacogdoches. Then he read about the sound, the explosion that could be heard.

He felt a sudden, terrible shock as he remembered what his wife had said an hour earlier and was sickened when he realized what it meant.

That was the boom… it was the shuttle blowing up over their heads.

He thought about the rest of the day, how busy they were going to be. Should they cancel anything? Was this going to change things? It had happened only a few miles over their heads.

No, no, nothing. For them, nothing would change. Hank continued to sip his coffee. Soon, he was thinking about his daughter’s afternoon basketball game, and if they had a chance of winning… not that he really cared.

Short Story Of the Day, Heat Wave by Bill Chance

She stopped for gas. Shoved her card into the slot and clicked the automatic hook-deal on the handle so the gas would flow on its own. Susanna purposely stepped back, out from under the sheltering gas station roof onto the unprotected part of the apron and strolled to a lonely strip of turf that bordered the station.

—-Bill Chance, Heat Wave

Galatyn Fountain, Richardson, Texas

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#21). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

 

 


Heat Wave

 

Susanna drove home from work that afternoon, the tape of “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” speaking its pages from the cassette player in the dash. Now, to listen to a tape while driving takes a lot of concentration. Susanna could listen and drive, watch the road, but not anything else. It was plot, voice, character, and oncoming traffic. Some effort, skill maybe, was needed; she had been checking out tapes from the library long enough that she could do it.

With all her attention focused like that, Susanna did not even consciously notice some shapes smearing on the windshield. Instinctively, her hand twisted the knob on the steering column, setting the wipers in motion. Several minutes went by before she actually realized what was happening, what was smattering on the glass.

It was raining.

Ordinarily this would not be a big deal at all. But it had been so long, exactly a month, and the intervening oven days so broiling that Susanna had forgotten about rain. It was no more than a sprinkle, but ohh, it looked so good.

She stopped for gas. Shoved her card into the slot and clicked the automatic hook-deal on the handle so the gas would flow on its own. Susanna purposely stepped back, out from under the sheltering gas station roof onto the unprotected part of the apron and strolled to a lonely strip of turf that bordered the station. She wanted to feel the rain, get wet, and see the spots form on her white shirt. She felt like yelling, singing, dancing.

The smell was wonderful. Suzanna had forgotten the odor of fresh rain on dry grass.

It was not much of a shower, not enough to end the drought. The triple digit days would return by the weekend. But it was something… a respite. More than that, it was the return of hope. Someday, the killer heat will dissipate; the drought will drown. Until that day, those indisputable facts were impossible to imagine.

Hope- a reminder that things will get better, that we will all survive. That’s what we’ve been missing.

Short Story Of the Day, Whump Whump Whump by Bill Chance

The station was a squat peninsula in a vast sea of corn on the south side of the highway. The tall, green, thick stalks blocked any breeze that might have been able to stir.  Russ was bent over, trying to carefully meter out exactly five dollars’ worth of fuel, “click, whoosh, click, whoosh” but he still gazed across the highway where hay fields stretched to the horizon.

—-Bill Chance, Whump Whump Whump

Decatur, Texas

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#20). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

 

 


Whump Whump Whump

It was hot, even for July in the plains, and Russ Hathoway felt like he took a physical blow every time he left or entered the little cinder block building to tend to the pumps. It was as much of a shock to enter the cold of the inside, with the humming window units spaced around the back wall, as it was to battle with the searing sun. He was pumping gas all summer to make enough money to pay for his tuition. He was working toward a math degree at the state university. He didn’t know how he would ever make it – not only money-wise, but the other kids, mostly from countries he had never heard of, were so, so much smarter than he was.

And now he was stuck working at this gas station in the middle of nowhere. The customers liked him though, and the owner noticed the place made more money when Russ was manning the pumps. So the owner and his whole family piled in the station wagon and took off for the whole month, leaving the place for Russ alone. That was fine, more hours, more money. And in the slow times Russ could pull his textbook out and jot calculations on the chalkboard behind the counter – get a head start on the fall semester. In that summer of ’77 gas had jumped to sixty-two and nine/tenths cents per gallon and the customers always complained about it – like Russ had any influence on oil prices.

The station was a squat peninsula in a vast sea of corn on the south side of the highway. The tall, green, thick stalks blocked any breeze that might have been able to stir.  Russ was bent over, trying to carefully meter out exactly five dollars’ worth of fuel, “click, whoosh, click, whoosh” but he still gazed across the highway where hay fields stretched to the horizon. Today a “Green Monster” – a giant spindly machine armed with a crew of young men Russ’ age moved around the field scooping up rectangular bales with a probing conveyor belt until the crew grabbed and stacked the compressed fodder into a growing cube – like giant green fuzzy sugar cubes.

He knew some of the boys working on the Monster – they were bronzed and shirtless, which looked pretty fun to Russ, struggling in his oil-stained uniform and Standard Oil cap. His distraction caused him to give one click to many and the total jumped to $5.10.

“Shit,” Russ muttered. He didn’t mind giving the customer and extra dime of fuel, but he knew the station owner carefully checked the amounts stored inside the pumps against what the cash register said he sold and if there was a significant difference, he would chew Russ out and dock his salary.

One morning, business was slow – almost no cars disturbed the heat wave ripples rising from the asphalt highway. Russ was sitting on the little plastic chair with his textbook spread open. He would scratch his head, scribble in a spiral notebook, or squiggle on the chalkboard. To his left was the giant cash register with its brass keys, deep polished wood, and stark cash signs sticking up above. He remembered how difficult the register was to operate when he first started, pushing the keys and pulling the heavy lever to register the sale and open the cash box.

Now he could work the thing without even looking at it. He enjoyed the rhythm, effort, and most of all, the sound of the mechanism as it did its work. He would make up little poems to go along with the cadence of the operation, “Thank You HapPy People,” he would mutter to himself.

To his right was the calculator. It was used to add up charges and discounts to the gas station’s commercial accounts – diesel semis or fleets of delivery trucks. The owner had worked out special rates and prices with these companies and the calculator was needed to figure out the charges. The owner and his kids struggled with this, but for Russ it was second nature.

This big box of numbers fascinated him. It was an Olivetti Divisumma 24, made in Italy with exquisite craftsmanship. Every two months a technician stopped by and removed the case, exposing an impossibly complex three dimensional jungle of wheels, gears, and levers. He would adjust and lubricate the delicate mechanism while Russ stared over his shoulder.

Russ had a strong innate curiosity and he couldn’t help but try to figure out how it worked. It had an electric motor inside that set all the gears turning, but all the logic, all the intelligence of the thing was mechanical – set inside that metal brain of tiny interlocking parts.

It would add by moving gears and printing out the result on a little strip of paper (the technician always replaced the ribbon). Multiplication was simply addition done over and over. Russ would multiply two numbers and listen to the repeated whump whump whump of the mechanism as it moved around, adding over and over again. Subtraction, again, was simple. It was only addition in reverse.

What Russ found really fascinating was that the machine could divide. It took him a while to figure that one out. It divided by adding. The smaller number, the divisor, would simply be added up over and over until it was just less than the dividend, the large number. The calculator would then print this whole number out, along with a remainder.

Russ couldn’t help but try this out. He was amazed by this simple bit of arithmetic. He would try it with evenly divided numbers and then with operations that left a remainder. He guessed this crude arithmetic was fine for financial calculations – “how many gallons can someone buy?”, for example, and “how much change was left?”.

That morning, though, a question occurred to him. What would happen if he entered a formula where the machine had to divide by zero? It would try and add that zero over and over again, but it would never increase. Russ shook his head and casually reached over, entering 7 divided by zero, and pushed the equal sign.

Whump, Whump, Whump, Whump,” the machine started in. That made sense, it was trying to add that zero up. An hour later, though, it was still going “Whump, Whump, Whump,” and Russ was starting to get worried. He pulled on all the levers and pushed all the buttons but nothing changed. “Whump, Whump, Whump.”

After staring at it and thinking a bit, Russ unplugged the machine. The noise stopped. Relieved, he plugged it back in, but it started in, “Whump, Whump, Whump.” Russ let it run all day.

“Oh, Shit! man, I’m in big trouble now,” Russ said out loud.

The old man told him that it cost seven hundred and fifty dollars. And now he had broken it. The owner will be docking Russ’ pay ‘til the cows come home.

Seven hundred fifty. At three bucks and hour, less taxes…. That was almost two semesters of tuition.

Whump, Whump, Whump.”

It would be two weeks before the owner came back. Russ left a notebook by the machine and did all the calculations by hand, but that would only get him by until the owner saw what he had done. All day the sound haunted him. Sometimes he would unplug it for relief from the noise, but he always let it run all night.

He would come in the morning to open up, hoping it had stopped in the night, but was always greeted by that infernal sound.

Whump, Whump, Whump,” the calculator droned on in the background.

Days moved into weeks and Russ began to worry more and more. He had no idea what he would do when the owner returned.

He thought of lying to the owner, saying it, “Just started up by itself.” That didn’t sound like it would work.

Then, miracles of miracles. Two days before the owner’s return, Russ was sitting there listening to the sound. He was used to it, it was the background to his day. He was even used to the anxiety that it produced. That worry too had faded into the background, even though it was always there. Russ knew he would have to live with that too, which was worse.

Suddenly, a second of silence. That silence, the lack of “Whump, Whump, Whump,” was the loudest thing Russ had ever heard. It was followed by a strident clattering as the machine began to print out on its paper tape.

Russ stared as it printed. Line after line of numbers. They looked random, but there it was, a long number that stretched almost to ninety digits. Finally, it stopped and the machine sat there silent and still, waiting for its next task.

Russ pulled out the tape and looked at it. Thinking, he figured the gears must have slipped a little bit with each Whump – and finally, after weeks, they slipped enough to add up to seven.

To this day, forty-four years later, on the wall of his office in the bowels of the University Mathematics Department, next to his PhD diploma, hangs an oddly shaped frame containing a long strip of aged yellowing paper. On that paper is a single, long number.

When asked, Professor Hathoway, Chairman of the math department, likes to answer with a wry smile, “That number is the answer to seven divided by zero.”