Short Story (flash fiction) of the day, Where Are You? by Joyce Carol Oates

“You people who have survived childhood don’t remember any longer what it was like. You think children are whole, uncomplicated creatures, and if you split them in two with a handy axe there would be all one substance inside, hard candy. But it isn’t hard candy so much as a hopeless seething lava of all kinds of things, a turmoil, a mess. And once the child starts thinking about this mess he begins to disintegrate as a child and turns into something else–an adult, an animal.”
― Joyce Carol Oates

Downtown Waxahatchie, Texas

Joyce Carol Oates is one of my favorite authors. I’ve read a lot of what she’s written and understand most of it.

Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?

Life After High School

Heat

What I like the best about her is that she is not afraid to go for the jugular. I have a need to explore the thin membrane – the border –  between what we all consider our day-to-day lives and the world of evil chaos that is right there on the other side. She understands that and will cross that membrane and will bring you along with her.

In today’s bit if flash fiction she does that, in only 500 words.

Where Are You?, by Joyce Carol Oates

 

Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction) – Forgot by Bill Chance

“Our memory is a more perfect world than the universe: it gives back life to those who no longer exist.”
― Guy de Maupassant

Old Man River, Robert Shoen, New Orleans

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 (#96) Almost There! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


Forgot

Harold Sammons died at work, suddenly. His heart stopped beating. He was coming out of the break room with a cup of coffee on his way to the morning meeting. The last one out of the break room, there was nobody to see him go down or smell the hot coffee splashed across the floor. They did hear the cup shatter.

Since nobody saw him, nobody really knows how long Harold was dead. Since they heard the cup and came, curious, and the paramedics were there almost immediately (the fire station was right next door) they revived him and he came back to life.

There was brain damage. It was to be expected.

His short-term memory was gone. He would talk to someone and forget who he or she was. It was embarrassing, but people understood. He would forget where he was or where he lived or the PIN code on his phone (or even what that glass rectangle was useful for).

For the eighteen months he survived after he died and came back, it made life difficult, but not unbearable. While he couldn’t remember five minutes ago, fifty years in the past was as clear as crystal. There were so many things he forgot that came back to him now.

He forgot his first rock concert. He forgot how excited he was when the band did an encore. Now he remembered, “Everyone cheered so loud they came back out and played another song!” That naïve happiness came flooding back.

He forgot how many fireflies there used to be. Clouds of cold sparks. Now he could see them, even though they are now rare.

He forgot how everyone, young and old, used to watch the same shows on television together and could talk about them the next day. Nobody had more than one set so watching television was a social act.

He forgot how going out for a hamburger and maybe some ice cream was a big deal and a real treat.

He forgot that every house only had one phone and it was attached to the wall. The phone knew its place and its purpose.

He forgot swimming in a lake. The water had a green cast and a slight smell. The bottom was soft mud.

He forgot about front porches with rockers and gliders and the neighbors walking by.

He forgot about Zippo lighters that had liquid fuel and little yellow cards of replacement flints.

He forgot the taste of cold milk from a glass bottle.

He forgot the woman he loved first and loved most. He married someone else and never knew where she went. And now she was back and not a day older. Her smile as magnificent as ever.

These weren’t like old dusty memories that suddenly get stirred up. These weren’t like an unexpected odd odor that you know you have smelled before. The unfathomable labyrinth within his brain had been broken open and the distant past was as fresh and new as the sun is in the sky.

For those last eighteen months people would see the confused emaciated old man in his wrinkled ancient suit shuffling along or sitting motionless on a bench – they would feel pity and dread the day when they would end up in the same sorry state.

But for Harold Sammons the time after he came back from the dead was the best of his life. He no longer forgot.

Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction) – Senior Smackdown by Bill Chance

“The older I grow, the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.”
― H.L. Mencken

B-17 Nose Art, Commemorative Air Force

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 (#91) Almost There! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


Senior Smackdown

It was so hot that the air conditioning in the clunky old radio station van couldn’t keep up and Emily had to keep daubing the sweat off her face. Bernard, the assistant sound engineer kept giving her a hard time.

“Man, you’re sweating like a stuck pig… good thing this is radio,” Bernard said.

“Shut up Bernard.”

She was getting sick of doing all the crap assignments, and today was the worst of all. It was Tuesday afternoon and it was time for a new bit, something called “Senior Smackdown.” It was one of the bits that came down from corporate – they said they had focus-grouped the whole thing and it was super-fun and popular for their target demographic – the urban teen and tween girls that spent the most money at their sponsor’s stores. To Emily, it was just another humiliation she had to endure.

“OK, Bernard, enough of this crap. Remind me again, what are we supposed to be doing? What is this ‘Senior Smackdown’?”

“Simple enough Emily,” said the assistant sound engineer, “We drive out to this old folks home, we’ve got their permission, and they set us up with some old geezer. We’re supposed to get somebody really old and kinda crazy, someone that doesn’t really know what’s going on. You ask them some questions – the station will send suggestions in on your device, keep an eye on it – and we broadcast the hilarity.”

They pulled off onto a loop driveway and parked in front of a long, low, dingy gray building. A sign said, “Lazy Acres,” in peeling paint. Bernard unloaded his remote broadcast gear and checked it out.

They walked in past a clump of old people sitting around staring into space. Emily didn’t like how they looked at her or how the inside of the Lazy Acres smelt.

“This place smells like pee,” she said as they walked up to the head nurse’s station at the intersection of two long halls.

“Get used to it,” said the nurse, glaring at Emily.

“Oh, Hi,” said Emily, pulling up her best fake smile and a little giggle, “We’re from KKDA and we’re here to…”

“I know why you’re here,” said the nurse. Her voice dripped poison. You’re late, Helena is waiting for you.

“Helena?”

“Yea, Helena. I chose her for you myself. She’s ninety five years old. No family, never been married. She really looks forward to any visitor she can get, not that she gets any.” The nurse paused and looked Emily up and down. “I think she is just what you need.”

“Well, good,” said Emily while she did a little eye-flutter that she knew would aggravate the nurse. “Let’s get this over with.”

They walked down the hallway and the nurse opened a door without knocking. “Helena, the radio people are here.”

There was an ancient old woman sitting in a simple desk chair. There was a comfortable padded lounger facing her for Emily to sit in. She smiled eagerly as Emily and Bernard entered and the engineer began to set his equipment up.

“Can she hear me?” Emily asked the nurse.

“I can hear fine,” the old woman answered. “My name’s Helena,” she said in a clear and strong voice. It’s so nice to have someone young and pretty like you come to see me. I’m so sick of the old people in this place.”

“Helena, this is Emily,” the nurse said. “I’ll leave you to it now.”

Bernard managed to get the remote humming and started his sound checks while Emily and Helena sat quiet, staring at each other. Emily felt the sweat running down the side of her face.

“Here, honey,” Helena said, “have my handkerchief. They do keep it warm in here.”

Emily felt like screaming. Finally Bernard tapped her on her shoulder and gave her the two minute sign. In her ear she could hear the intro bump music for Senior Smackdown and the guffaws of the two disc jockeys back at the station.

“Ok, now Jane, it’s time for a new segment, Senior Smackdown!” said Bruce.

“That sounds like fun Bruce!” Jane shouted back at the station. Jane then launched into one of her famous laughing fits, her voice booming out in rough guffaws while Bruce tittered in the background. This was the signature of the two afternoon jockeys – this constant laughing. They could vary it from simple giggles to obscene snorts and sniggles all the way to booming shrieks of hilarity. The focus groups indicated that their listeners loved this.

“And on the scene is our very own roving reporter, Emily Lighthouse, to talk to one of the city’s oldest senior citizens, Helena. Emily, ask Helena if she has ever been married.”

And that was her cue.

“Helena, have you ever been married?”

“No Emily, I’ve been single all my life.” Helena suddenly became silent. Her face became calm, reflective. It looked for a moment like she had forgotten about Emily sitting there.

Emily felt a moment of panic and glanced down at the handheld device. It flashed a lurid single word, “LEZBO!” in bright flashing letters. She was relieved when Helena spoke first.

“Well, Emily, I haven’t been single by choice. I was engaged once. It was back in nineteen forty one. I was engaged to a boy named Ralph and was so much, so deeply in love. We were so young. After that, I couldn’t find it again. I remember when he joined the Navy. We were to be married at his station on Hawaii. I was going to fly out on the Clipper for New Year’s. I went to San Diego to watch him set sail on the Arizona. They were, all the boys, a thousand of them, all lined up on the rail in their dress whites. It was such a sight to see. I remember it like it was yesterday.”

“Well, what happened?”

“I said, he sailed to Hawaii on the Arizona. Nineteen forty one.”

“And?” Emily asked. Helena suddenly stared at Emily with eyes as clear as spring water, her face as sad as a dream denied. Emily felt that she had disappointed Helena somehow.

“He died at Pearl Harbor.”

“Oh… and you never married?”

“No, I’ve already told you that. Well, I did have some chances, I was asked. But I always thought of Ralph, and those other boys. It just didn’t seem right.”

“Well, then, how did you get by, back then, by yourself.”

“Oh, I know you probably find this hard to believe, but I was a professional tennis player. I was pretty darn good too. I toured the world. I was a real up-and-comer. It was all there, all in front of me.”

“So you played tennis? What tournaments…”

Helena kept on, ignoring Emily. “I had it all. Well, that is, until I go the Polio.”

“Polio?”

“Yes, honey. You don’t know anything about that, I’m sure. Thank God. You’ve probably never seen an iron lung. Probably never had any of your pretty friends going to a dance with braces on her legs.”

Emily glanced down at her device. It was flashing, “THIS ISN’T FUNNY” Emily didn’t know what to do. This isn’t what it was supposed to be like. That nurse had set her up. She was supposed to be interviewing some doddering old fool, someone she could make fun of, someone the radio audience could laugh at.

Helena was no doddering old fool. She was still talking, about polio, about some guy named Salk. She was talking about how hard it was to get by as a single crippled woman and about how it felt to have your dreams taken away from you. She then talked about how she had found strength and how, now, looking back, she could not imagine wishing it to be any different.

“Umm… what did you do?”

“I was a school teacher, a teacher for fifty years, eighth grade English. I taught Kindergarten for one year – kind of tapering off when my mother got sick.”

“You said earlier that you are sick of old people.”

“I look around at these women here and think about whether I would want to be married to any of them, if I was a man, and I think, no. They line up like a bunch of old crows at the front windows waiting to see who comes to visit, I’m not like that, I like to talk to folks, but if nobody comes I’m happy to get back to my room.”

“Ummm, uhhh, like, what else do you want to say?”

“There’s been a few highlights in my life – I saw the president, Kennedy, in his car ’bout twenty minutes before they blew his head off – that was a highlight… if you can call it that.”

“You were there?”

“Lived in Dallas all my life. I guess I’ve had a pretty ordinary life – never did anything much – I probably would have if I hadn’t got the polio.”

Emily glanced at her device, it said, “CUT IT OFF NOW!”

And that was the end of this week’s Senior Smackdown. Emily couldn’t even make eye contact with Helena while Bernard packed up his equipment. She heard Bernard thanking Helena and asking her if she needed anything while she fled the room looking for the head nurse. She wanted to give that bitch a piece of her mind, but she was nowhere to be found.

All the way back to the station Bernard couldn’t stop talking about Helena.

“Wasn’t that the most amazing shit you’ve ever heard? Think of it. Pearl Harbor. Polio. Can you imagine what it was like to be a professional female athlete, a tennis player, in the nineteen forties? ”

“Oh, shut up, Bernard.”

“I mean it. I’m going to go back there and tape her some more for myself. Can you imagine the stories she can tell? What an amazing life. Jeez, she was there when Kennedy was shot.”

But Emily wasn’t listening. She felt another rivulet of sweat course down her temple and mopped at it. She realized that she still had Helena’s handkerchief. She took one last swipe at the sweat, rolled the widow down and threw it out into the breeze.

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.