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.

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

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

—-Jared Graham, The City of Things Finished

Sailboats on White Rock Lake, Dallas, TX

Read it here:

The City of Things Finished by Jared Graham

from The Citron Review

Short Story (Flash Fiction) Of the Day, Against the Dying of the Light by Stewart C Baker

Alyssa reaches down and squeezes her mother’s hand, so frail and thin compared to the one she remembers from her childhood decades before. “We’ll get through this, okay? You and me. Like always.”

—-Stewart C Baker, Against the Dying of the Light

Mural outside of Sandwich Hag, The Cedars, Dallas, Texas

There is heartbreak and slim hope… and then there is writing about heartbreak and slim hope – which is something altogether different.

Read it here:

Against the Dying of the Light by Stewart C Baker

from Flash Fiction Online

Stewart C Baker Home Page

Short Story (flash fiction) Of the Day, The Repurposing of Harold Foster by Debbi Voisey

‘Photons are bouncing around all the time,’ he’d said. ‘They’re landing on you. They’re disturbed by your smile and they gather in your eyes.’

—-Debbi Voisey, The Repurposing of Harold Foster 

George Herold, Dallas Contemporary

There is physics and there is life and death. They must be related in ways too subtle and complex for us to comprehend – but they must be the same. Even though your soul must be in there somewhere – your consciousness strung out along fields of electrical energy – every atom in your body obeys the same rules as the atoms in a high school demonstration laboratory experiment. The little spring cannon shoots a steel sphere across a big sheet of paper – you measure the distance, write it down in a spiral notebook… your thoughts flutter between writing up the assignment and the girl in the next group (why couldn’t she be in yours… she never is). But I digress.

I have been thinking a lot about the brain of a dilapidated decrepit old man and how it compares to the brain of a vibrant vigorous young one. There is no difference.

A nice, wistful little piece of short fiction today. Read it here:

The Repurposing of Harold Foster by Debbi Voisey

From Reflex Fiction

Debbi Voisey

Debbi Voisey Twitter

 

Time Gains Momentum

“I am now 33 years old, and it feels like much time has passed and is passing faster and faster every day. Day to day I have to make all sorts of choices about what is good and important and fun, and then I have to live with the forfeiture of all the other options those choices foreclose. And I’m starting to see how as time gains momentum my choices will narrow and their foreclosures multiply exponentially until I arrive at some point on some branch of all life’s sumptuous branching complexity at which I am finally locked in and stuck on one path and time speeds me through stages of stasis and atrophy and decay until I go down for the third time, all struggle for naught, drowned by time. It is dreadful. But since it’s my own choices that’ll lock me in, it seems unavoidable–if I want to be any kind of grownup, I have to make choices and regret foreclosures and try to live with them.”
David Foster Wallace, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments

Bicycle Drag Race, Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, Dallas, Texas

 

David Foster Wallace wrote the quote above thirteen years before he hung himself. He will never be as old as me. I am closing in on being twice as old as he was when he wrote that quote.

It’s a shame he wasn’t able to stick it out – as time grinds on things get increasingly weird… especially in the sense of “weird” as in different than you expect and stranger than you imagined.

Their Prowess is Potent

Reluctantly crouched at the starting line,
Engines pumping and thumping in time.
The green light flashes, the flags go up.
Churning and burning, they yearn for the cup.
They deftly maneuver and muscle for rank,
Fuel burning fast on an empty tank.
Reckless and wild, they pour through the turns.
Their prowess is potent and secretly stern.
As they speed through the finish, the flags go down.
The fans get up and they get out of town.
The arena is empty except for one man,
Still driving and striving as fast as he can.
The sun has gone down and the moon has come up,
And long ago somebody left with the cup.
But he’s driving and striving and hugging the turns.
And thinking of someone for whom he still burns.
—-Cake, The Distance

Bicycle Drag Race, Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge (Large Marge), Dallas, Texas

Oblique Strategy: It is quite possible (after all)

I was sitting at a bar, I had a few minutes to kill before my meeting, drinking a cup of coffee. This was in the cold, dark, heart of urban hipsterdom. There were two millennial women sitting near me, talking with the bartender/barista loud enough and close enough I could hear clearly.

They were discussing “old people.” I could have interrupted and said something, but I did not – they were enjoying themselves too much.

What I could have said was, “You know that old man you see every day shuffling down the sidewalk, using a cane to keep from falling into the street, head bowed, moving with incredible difficulty as if he was walking through a sea of invisible molasses. You see him and wonder where he is going, why he is using such energy for so little purpose; you wonder why he even bothers to get out of bed – that is if you think of him at all.

Now you see that sixteen year old boy shooting hoops, jumping high, not a care in the world.

Remember, they are the same people. Those are simply two points on one line. In his head, the old man is still the sixteen year old boy. It’s hard to understand, hard to believe, impossible for you to comprehend, but undoubtedly true.”

Cause he’s going the distance.
He’s going for speed.
She’s all alone
In her time of need.
—-Cake, The Distance

A Month of Short Stories 2015, Day Twelve – Town of Cats

The last two years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month… you can see the list for 2014 and 2015 in the comments for this page. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day twelve – Town of Cats, by Haruki Murakami

Read it online here:

Town of Cats

As I go through the stories this year I notice that almost all of them are by some of my favorite writers – people that I have read before. Today is no exception – I’ve been a fan of Haruki Murakami for years. Well, I guess there’s nothing wrong with revisiting what I know is genius – and I have a few more – but I need to work harder to find some new stuff.

Murakami is known for his surreal style and very odd plots. This story is an exception – it’s a prosaic tale of a son visiting his elderly father in a care home. The surreal aspect is supplied by a story within a story – about a mysterious city occupied only by nocturnal cats.

This tale is interwoven into the story of the man and his son. Their relationship has been strained… well, forever. The son is on a quest to find a solution to the mystery of his past, what has happened to him, and where he is really from.

He finds less than he expected and more than he hoped.

Tengo folded his hands in his lap and looked straight into his father’s face. This man is no empty shell, he thought. He is a flesh-and-blood human being with a narrow, stubborn soul, surviving in fits and starts on this patch of land by the sea. He has no choice but to coexist with the vacuum that is slowly spreading inside him. Eventually, that vacuum will swallow up whatever memories are left. It is only a matter of time.

I Never Feared the Dew

“But I pushed and pulled in vain, the wheels would not turn. It was as though the brakes were jammed, and heaven knows they were not, for my bicycle had no brakes. And suddenly overcome by a great weariness, in spite of the dying day when I always felt most alive, I threw the bicycle back in the bush and lay down on the ground, on the grass, careless of the dew, I never feared the dew.”
― Samuel Beckett, Molloy

Frisco Heritage Village Frisco, Texas

Frisco Heritage Village
Frisco, Texas

A Month of Short Stories 2014, Day 6 – A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

A year ago, for the month of June, I wrote about an online short story each day for the month. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day Six – A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, by Ernest Hemingway.

Read it online here:

A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

Like yesterday, we have a story about the desperate perspective of age.

Unlike yesterday the point of view isn’t the person themselves, but a pair of waiters, one young and one old, one impatient and one unhurried, as they observe their last customer of the night, an elderly drunk stacking up saucers, one for each brandy.

I am so much in awe of Hemingway – for the pure efficiency of his prose. The story is very short, told almost entirely in tiny snippets of dialog – yet it is so full of complex subtlety and power. Where a lesser writer might describe in careful detail and attempted elegant metaphor the sound of metal on wood echoing across the darkness, Hemingway simply says, “They were putting up the shutters.”

He cuts out everything that isn’t absolutely necessary and in that gains an unparalleled dynamic efficacy.

A Clean, Well-Lighted Place is a masterful collection of mostly unattributed dialog. So skillfully constructed with subtle inconsistencies that long-standing literary controversies have arisen over who actually said what.

A work of fiction should not spell everything out. The reader has to work for his entertainment, for his wisdom.

And then, like a clever piece of music, the text explodes into one final big paragraph which throws the lonely sad desperation of the older waiter onto the page with devastating effect. Finally, the reader understands what the waiter, and the author, and humanity itself shares with the poor old man that only wants to sit there and quietly drink his brandy in a clean, will-lighted place.

He only wants to put the darkness off for a few more minutes.

“Good night,” the other said. Turning off the electric light he continued the conversation with himself, It was the light of course but it is necessary that the place be clean and pleasant. You do not want music. Certainly you do not want music. Nor can you stand before a bar with dignity although that is all that is provided for these hours. What did he fear? It was not a fear or dread, It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was a nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order. Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada. Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee. He smiled and stood before a bar with a shining steam pressure coffee machine.

Faded Sign

I an old man,
A dull head among windy spaces.

Signs are taken for wonders. “We would see a sign”:
The word within a word, unable to speak a word,
Swaddled with darkness.

—-from Gerontion, by T.S. Eliot

Design District, Dallas, Texas (click to enlarge)

Design District,
Dallas, Texas
(click to enlarge)

There was a sign here once, on this very wall. I’m sure I must have seen it long ago when I passed this way before, when it was here, when it was whole, when it was relevant… to something. But what was it? What did it mean? Why is it gone now?

What terrible disaster befell the owners of the sign? It might have been a sudden death, an unexpected and unprepared tragedy. Most likely though, it was a slow dissolution over time, a deliberate failing covering decades, sluggish yet inexorable. Like the frog in cool water I imagine the involved never really felt the change, the lazily rising boil, an unseen poach of doom. Or maybe they felt a shadow of cataclysm, a hidden fear, dismissed as paranoia or lack of confidence, or deliberately ignored out of a fearful inability to face the inevitable.

Was it a proud name? A bit of art? Bright colors? A splash of neon phosphorescence? Clever typography?

It doesn’t matter, really. What is gone is gone. Dust is dust.

What you see now is all there is: cracked plaster, empty mounting holes circled with spall, streaks of rust stain on dusty stucco. The cold wind howls by.

Some might look at the bright side – maybe the missing sign is simply an indication that success was so sudden and bountiful the denizens were able to depart for greener shores.

I doubt it, though. This looks like a place that you visit on the way down, not heavenward.

The remains hint at letters, but are indecipherable. The past does not fit well with literacy. Entropy is not lucid.

Then I am on my way again. Maybe some day another sign will grace the wall.

Or at least a fresh coat of paint.