Short Story Of the Day, Technology by Bill Chance

“There are three intolerable things in life – cold coffee, lukewarm champagne, and overexcited women…” he said, trailing off.

—-Bill Chance, Technology

 

 

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

Thanks for reading.

 

Anna Karina

 


 

Technology

Wilfred had tested positive and was in strict quarantine. He wrote low-level code for a living and could easily work from home. His condominium was more than large enough for one person. There were grocery stores and number of restaurants in his area that offered delivery – he wasn’t going to starve.

But he hated eating alone.

His place had plenty of storage space and he was always fighting his hoarding tendencies. Every now and then, though, his habit of keeping stuff served him well. Not very often, but sometimes.

As he dreaded another sandwich alone (he had taken to eating over the counter where he made his food to minimize cleanup) he had a sudden idea. Digging around in a disused walk-in closet he found an ancient dot-matrix printer and a big box of blank continuous pin-feed paper. He even had some extra stashed ribbon cartridges, enough to do a lot of printing.

He dragged it out and set it up on a sturdy side table. He was disappointed when he realized his laptop didn’t have a parallel port – but Amazon had a surprising collection of USB to parallel adapters with prime overnight delivery. While he was on the site he ordered a pack of large foam core board, some rubber cement, and a nice cutter for curved mat boards. Tape and scissors, he already had.

One of his common tasks as a code jockey was to write printer drivers, and it didn’t take him long to cobble together something to output some surprisingly good graphics (black and white, of course) to the ancient dot matrix.

The next job was to pick five people and download some quality images. His dining room table would seat six and he had nice quality place settings for himself and five others. There were so many folks to choose from, but it was his party and he could invite whomever he wanted.

It took a while to get used to the noise of the dot matrix in his condo. He had forgotten how loud and slow the things were. But the image of the paper slowly unfolding from the box and running through the printer was comforting and the noise ultimately became almost soothing.

Then there was the gluing, the cutting and trimming, and putting it all together. The smell of the rubber cement was nasty in the closed in space, and Wilfred decided he should have used double sided tape. But it did work and the odor finally dissipated.

Finally, he was done. He had several days to decide on his first menu and have the food delivered. He decided that it didn’t have to be too fancy and he should make what he liked. Nobody was getting enough exercise so it better be healthy. He settled on baked chicken meatballs with garlic-dill yogurt sauce served over zucchini noodles with mixed vegetables and sweet potatoes on the side.

He filled the six plates and put one at each place. Then he filled glasses with water and a nice white that he had stashed away.

So there he was with five other people – the foam core cutouts firmly taped up on each chair, arranged man-woman, with him at one head.

To his right was the French actress Anna Karina – the photo he printed was of her at her prime as a star of the early sixties New Wave. Her stunning beauty translated well to the black and white dot matrix printing – so many of her movies weren’t in color – Wilfred thought of her that way.

“After all,” she said, “Things are what they are. A message is a message, plates are plates, men are men, and life is life.”

To his left as the author Patricia Highsmith. She was born in Texas but settled in Paris and had a very unconventional life. She was burdened with alcoholism and depression, but sometimes that made for lively dinner conversation. She was plainspoken, dryly funny, and fun at the table, in general.

“I know you have it in you, Wilfred,” Patricia said suddenly at the end of a silence, “the capacity to be terribly happy.”

Beyond her was Oscar Wilde. Wilfred always loved the way he wove witty aphorisms through his writing and imagined he was always good for a quip to keep the conversation going. He was not disappointed.

“I’m a man of simple tastes. I’m always satisfied with the best,” he said, and everyone raised their glasses.

On the other side, next to Anna Karina, was the massive presence of Orson Welles. Mr. Welles was on good behavior and really enjoyed the food. His tales of some of the famous people he had met kept everyone enraptured.

“There are three intolerable things in life – cold coffee, lukewarm champagne, and overexcited women…” he said, trailing off.

Finally, at the other end of the table, was Cleopatra. Her English was surprisingly good for an ancient Egyptian Queen. She looked at life and the world in general in a wildly different way that anybody else and had the others thinking deeply about their own perspectives.

“Marc Antony?” she said, “I never understood how such a big man had such a small brain.” And everybody chuckled.

The meal ended but Wilfred still sat there enjoying the company and the conversation. Finally he collected the plates and glasses and was momentarily bothered by the amount of food that was wasted.

“But that’s the price for good company,” Patricia Highsmith pointed out. And she was right.

Everyone had such a good time. So they made plans for another dinner in a few days.

“I’m sorry,” said Oscar Wilde, “I have to fly to Paris for a meeting with my agent. There’s a play coming out and he is desperate for me to make some changes.”

The others talked about it for a minute and the decision was made to invite Groucho Marx.

“Then Groucho it is,” said Wilfred. He had plenty of paper and foamcore left and had learned to sleep through the sound of printing.

 

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

She attracted attention in a way that didn’t belong in Nebraska. She wore a thin long-sleeved sweater and a pleated tartan skirt with a large safety-pin that, again, looked stylish and from another place.

—-Bill Chance, Band Apart

Bande à part

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

This is adapted from another bit of text I wrote for NanoWriMo a couple of years ago. It’s a sketch based on a very famous scene from a French film (moved to Nebraska).

Thanks for reading.


Band Apart

The first time I saw the three… I always want to refer to them as kids, though they were so much more… kids was in a horrible diner outside Madison, Nebraska.

I was working a job in that remote, tumbleweed choked shithole and hating every minute of it. There were only two places to eat – a greasy spoon hamburger joint on the town square or the diner out on the windswept plains along the highway. I would eat lunch at whichever turned my stomach the least and that day it was the diner.

I was sitting there, washing down a stale Reuben with a cold cup of bitter coffee and watching a young couple, a woman sitting with a man across the aisle. She was stunningly beautiful in a unique way. Tall and rail-thin, with long, black hair tied back behind her head with a green ribbon, large eyes and a tiny-turned up nose. She attracted attention in a way that didn’t belong in Nebraska. She wore a thin long-sleeved sweater and a pleated tartan skirt with a large safety-pin…  that, again, looked stylish and from another place.

The young man with her was more normal looking – a prematurely receding hairline on a round head and ears that stuck out a bit too much above a heavy sweater in diagonal checks. Sitting next to the woman, he looked like he was in black-and-white, washed out by her beauty. They were both chatting to each other and looking down at their hands which were gesticulating between their plates with their fingers hanging down like little legs barely touching the table.

The inane din of the place kept me from hearing what they were saying to each other, but they kept moving their hands and fingers in a certain way and I realized they were working out a movement… maybe a dance, on the table. They came to some sort of agreement, suddenly pushed the table away and stood up. They walked over to an open space on the diner floor next to the jukebox.

There was a slim man already standing at the jukebox picking out a song. He wore a stylish double breasted jacket, thin black tie, and a fedora. A large local, wearing tattered overalls and already a little drunk in the afternoon, stumbled by the three, clapping the first man and the girl on the shoulders, then mumbling something to the man in the Fedora as the first notes of the song began to fight their way out of the jukebox.

The three stared at the big man as he stumbled away and the song began to swell. The man at the jukebox turned and placed his hat on the woman’s head and they both adjusted it until it was just right. Somehow, it looked perfect on her.

And then, as the music caught up to them, they began to dance. It was an old instrumental jazz number, one I don’t think I had heard before, but that still seemed familiar somehow. The drums skittered over a thrumming base line with an organ trembling above. Finally, a horn section punctuated the melody into the sound. It was cyclical and rhythmic and the dancers like it.

They would turn, hop, and clap together in a choreographed line dance. It was obvious that the two were working out the details at the table and the man in the tie somehow already knew it all. As they moved, swayed, and thrust their arms forward, snapping their fingers, the crowded diner continued to move around them, ignoring them, but giving them the space they needed.

The three were serious, like they were thinking hard about how they were, and kept the synchronization up pretty well. They didn’t look like professional dancers, of course, but had their own style and grace and beauty about them.

An electric guitar joined the music from the jukebox and the three began to turn and face each other’s back, then wheel until they were side to side, swaying and clapping.

I was mesmerized. The music was complimented by the chatter of the other diners and the clinking of plates and silverware, but the three seemed to exist in a reality all of their own. They were dancing in the diner but also living outside of it, away from it, beyond it. They did not belong there. They were style, beauty, and grace, and a… cool was the only way to say it.

They were the epitome of cool in the least cool place in the world.

And the diner wasn’t able to understand… to appreciate the miracle that was inside it. Like aliens from a distant planet… no, they weren’t the aliens, they were the real people. The diner was the alien planet and they were the only authentic humans that had ever graced its grimy linoleum floor. And the diner with its oblivious patrons kept on slinging its grease completely oblivious to the miracle moving about the space in front of the jukebox.

Where had they come from? I couldn’t imagine. The music kept playing and they kept dancing. It didn’t look like this was the first time they had danced to this – it was too complex and tricky and they were too good at it. I noticed the way the woman would snap her head a little bit as she shuffled or snapped her fingers or tapped her foot. It was intoxicating.

As they danced they never spoke and rarely even looked at each other. Each was in their own world, but they were all on their own together. The two men began to look tired and a little bored, then stepped aside and walked back to the table. The woman continued the dance on her own.

Only then did she really break out in a smile. As she moved on alone, able to improvise a bit – break the strict choreography of the line dance, did she look like she was having fun. Without the two men, she was free.

My heart sank as the music ended. The few minutes that I sat there, watching the three dance, listening to that mysterious jazz, had been the only ray of light that had pierced the cold gray of my life for months. I felt that the sun had broken through an eternal bank of clouds and now that the music had ended the heavens had closed up again.