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

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

—-Maria Haskins, Six Dreams About the Train

 

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

Read it here:

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

 

From Flash Fiction Online

Maria Haskins Twitter

Maria Haskins – Writer and Translator

Short Story Of the Day, Premium Harmony by Stephen King

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

—-Stephen King, Premium Harmony

 

Woodall Rogers Expressway, Dallas, Texas

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

Read it here:

Premium Harmony by Stephen King

from The New Yorker

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

 

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

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

 

Trinity River
Dallas, Texas

Read it here:

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

from Guernica

 

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.

The Beginning is the End and the End is the Beginning

Sic Mundus Creatus Est

—-Dark

Dark

So, I wrote a blog entry the other day about my introduction to the Netflix series Dark. If you want to get a weird piece of television wedged in your noggin so deep it will never slip out – watch it while you are sick and right out of the hospital.

Last night I woke up at three in the morning – not sure why. But stretched out there in the Dark, I realized that it was early Saturday, June 27, 2020… the day the world ended.

The Date of the Dark Apocalypse

A few days earlier I had wondered how Netflix dropped their series and had done a web search and discovered that they usually go live at midnight eastern… which was one AM here. That meant….

So I stumbled out into the living room and fired up the big TV and, sure enough, there it was… the whole eight episode third and final season. I dialed up episode one of the new shows.

There are folks sleeping at that hour, but luckily with Dark and its German dialog and English subtitles I didn’t have to turn the sound up very much. The on-screen descriptions of the soundtrack were handy, but distracting (“Ominous Music” “Two Metallic Clicks” “Heavy Breathing” “Slurred Female Voice) – have to see if I can turn those off.

No spoilers here… there is an alternate universe (you already know that) and more crazy time travel (and you already know that) – so more places, more times, and some new, mysterious characters – and that’s all I’ll say. There are plenty of recaps and reviews and speculation and such out there – that isn’t my thing (either to read or to write).

So, I’m not as big of a series addict… and don’t know what to do. What’s the best way to watch these things? I talked to some people and they are all about binging – watching the whole thing as quickly as possible. One big advantage of that with Dark is that it is so complex it would be good to minimize the time to forget between episodes.

But I also want to stretch it out some. I really enjoy this thing – I’d like to get at least a few days of mysterious glee out of it. I watched one episode, went back to bed, and have watched another today. That will probably be what I’ll do – one episode a day for eight days.

Is that cool? How do y’all watch these series? Binged or spread out?

 

Short Story Of the Day, Pills by Donald Ray Pollock

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

—-Donald Ray Pollock, Pills

 

Design District
Dallas, Texas

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

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

Read it here:

Pills by Donald Ray Pollock

from The Barcelona Review

Donald Ray Pollock website

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

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

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

—-Renée Jessica Tan, Auntie Cheeks

 

Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, Texas

Read it here:

Auntie Cheeks by Renée Jessica Tan

from Flash Fiction Online

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

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

“Oh, ah!” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

Crystal Beach, Texas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read my favorite version here:

Aunt Agatha Makes a Bloomer by P. G. Wodehouse

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

—-Francine Prose, Pumpkins

Reflecting Pool, City Hall, Dallas, Texas

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

Read it here (Googledocs PDF):

Pumpkins by Francine Prose

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.”