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

“Nothing burns like the cold. But only for a while. Then it gets inside you and starts to fill you up, and after a while you don’t have the strength to fight it.”
― George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

Spring Snow,
Richardson, Texas

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

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

Here’s another one for today (#35). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


Brain Teaser

 

John Berryman realized that his two seater MGB wasn’t a very practical car, but he didn’t give a damn. It was old and it was sharp and it was cool. But the convertible roof leaked and the heater didn’t work very well. The windshield was constantly fogged in the cold wet spitting rain.

The nighttime city was shattered into iridescent jewels of waterdrops around his view, red brakes, yellow beams and the multicolored neon advertisements like harbingers of an unknown outer world. The cramped car gave off the smell of old canvas and rust, released by the moist stream seeping through from outside. John’s teeth chattered against the cold – though he knew how much better off he was in the car, no matter how freezing, than the poor souls stuck out in the elements.

He thought of Chuck and how miserable he sounded on the phone. John squinted through the fog and rain, looking for the bus stop.

A decade ago Chuck had been there when John needed him. John was broke, homeless and without hope. Chuck took him in, cleaned him up and introduced him around. That was the start of the long climb to where he was now – where he could buy impractical old sports cars when he wanted to.

Chuck hadn’t been so lucky. Now John was ready to return the favor. He had been calling Chuck and offering help. Chuck had been too proud to accept, until now.

He had answered John’s call sounding near death. Chuck was taking public transit, waiting for the bus, when this awful wet windy blue norther cold front invaded. The transit system had collapsed with the weather, and Chuck had no idea when a bus would get to his stop and take him home.

So John gladly jumped in the car ready to speed to the rescue, but Chuck’s phone battery had died before the directions were clear. Now John was looking, for his friend freezing on a bus stop bench. He was stuck in a terrible part of town, miles from anyplace worth being.

And there, suddenly, he was. In the middle of a block, lit by a nearby streetlight, John spotted the familiar form of his friend, recognizable even under the hood of a shabby and very wet jacket. He drove by slowly, smiling at his buddy. There were two other people sitting on the bench beside Chuck, which was sheltered beneath a slanted corrugated roof. It wasn’t doing any good, though, the rain screaming in the wind – hitting them almost horizontally. He parked and headed into the storm.

“John, you found it,” said Chuck “I didn’t give you very good directions.”

“No problem dude, clear as crystal, drove right here,” John lied.

Chuck stood and grabbed his old friend, turning him slightly.

“Oh, let me introduce my fellow bus waiters,” he said. “First, this is Mabel.”

An emaciated, ancient hand emerged from what looked like a pile of rags on the bench next to where Chuck had been sitting. It was shaking and John felt a weak grip as he took it. Looking closely at the rags he saw a thin lined face. She said something so weak that John couldn’t make it out. Chuck turned John with a subtle but strong gesture so that they were away from the bench.

“Hey John,” Chuck said, “I know you drove a long way to get me and I appreciate it, but I’ll tell you, I think we need to give Mabel a ride. She’s freezing in this weather and I’m not sure she can survive if it takes the bus more than an hour to get here… and it probably will.”

“Forget it,” said John, “You are my oldest and best friend and I am going to take you out of here.”

“Well, then, take us both.”

“I can’t, you know the MGB only holds two.”

“Jeez, that’s right,” Chuck looked at the tiny car across the street. It looked like a toy. “No way can we squeeze three into that thing.”

“It’s all right, dear,” a strong voice piped up behind them. “I’ll stay with you until the bus comes. I’ll make sure you get home all right.”

It was a woman’s voice. To John it was a sudden shock to hear something so melodious in the middle of the rainstorm. The two men turned around.

“Oh, hey John, I forgot to introduce the third member of our miserable company. This is Nancy.”

John felt his stomach jump and his pulse race as he looked down at Nancy. She turned from Mabel and a shower of watery gems fell from her hair. Her hand was warm and strong as she shook his and stabbed him with her eyes.

All he could do was mumble a greeting. Caught completely off guard, John hadn’t felt like this since he was a teenager.

“So you’re going to drive Chuck?” Nancy asked. “Good, at least someone can have a warm evening.”

Chuck turned to John, “Now listen….” But John cut him off. He had made a quick decision.

John said, “Walk with me to my car,” and shook off Chuck’s objection.

The MGB had a tiny boot in the back. John unlocked it and opened the cargo door. Then he handed his keys to Chuck.

“Here, you take my keys,” he said. “Take my car.”

“What? Why?”

“I want you to drive Mabel home, make sure she’s all right and warmed up, get her something to eat, then you go home with my car. We’ll sort it out later.”

“But… what about…”

“I’ll wait here for the bus. In your place. The route goes by my condo…. Eventually…. I think.”

“I can’t…”

John cut him off again. “Of course you can. This is what I want. Trust me.”

He looked down into the boot of the car. He kept a warm wool stadium blanket down there, for emergencies. He pulled it out and nodded to Chuck, who seemed to suddenly understand. The two walked back across the road.

“Mabel, John’s giving me his car, I can take you home,” Chuck said.

The old woman could barely reply as the two men helped her up and across the street. She felt like she was made of paper as they folded her in the passenger seat. John felt suddenly warmer as he watched the tiny car move away.

He walked back to the bench with his stadium blanket and was very happy to see Nancy smiling at him as he approached.

“Well, it looks like it’s the two of us waiting now. Do you want to share my blanket? It’s warm and dry,” he said.

Public Transportation

“The measure of a country’s prosperity should not be how many poor people drive cars, but how many affluent people use public transportation.”
Michael Hogan

A long time ago – five years or so, I rode my bicycle to the train station and the train to Fort Worth. I made that trip in order to buy some waffles.  There were repairs being made to the tracks for a few miles and everyone had to get off the train and ride a bus over the closed section. I had to attach my bike to the front of the bus and I wasn’t sure if I did it right. The ride was fast and rough and sitting in the bus I had a frightening image of my folding bike falling off the rack and crushed beneath the speeding wheels of the bus.

It didn’t happen – but I haven’t had the nerve to put my bike on a bike since. Shame, because the DART buses are actually nice and go a lot of interesting places. On item on my extensive list of things to do is to make better use of the bus aspect of local public transportation.

I was very happy at the public opening of the Greenville Avenue Improvements that the City of Richardson has been working on they had a DART bus on display so you could practice putting your bike on the front rack.

My bike on the front of a Dallas DART bus.

The rack on the front of the bus holds two bikes.

It was really easy. And quick – which is important, because I never want to hold up the bus and all the other riders while I fumble with my stupid bicycle. Most important, once you swing the little arm over the front wheel – it seems really secure. I can relax and not freak out every time the bus hits a bump.

So now I have no excuse.

 

 

Short Story of the Day, The 37, by Mary Miller

I was living in a city now, a city with many buses that could take you many places you might want to go and many places you would not want to go and I had to figure them out because I was afraid to drive for the same reasons and some additional ones: I didn’t know how to get to where I was going or where to park once I got there or if I’d have the right parking pass, if one was required, or whether the meters were active, if there were meters, and whether they took coins only.

—–Mary Miller, The 37

Downtown Dallas at Night, (Click to Enlarge)

Another Short Story available online:

The 37, by Mary Miller

From Joyland Magazine

The Author:

Mary Miller grew up in Jackson, Mississippi. She is the author of two collections of short stories, Big World (Short Flight/Long Drive Books, 2009), and Always Happy Hour (Liveright/Norton, 2017), as well as a novel, The Last Days of California (Liveright/Norton, 2014).

Her stories have appeared in the Oxford American, New Stories from the South, McSweeney’s Quarterly, American Short Fiction, Mississippi Review, and many others. She is a former James A. Michener Fellow in Fiction at the University of Texas and John and Renée Grisham Writer-in-Residence at Ole Miss. She currently lives on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and is on faculty at the low-residency MFA program at Mississippi University for Women.

The Story:

A woman from Mississippi quits her PhD program and starts anew, alone, in Austin. A common story. It isn’t easy for her – transportation seems to be a particular monster.

I remember when I first moved to Dallas. I was about the same age, I suppose, as the narrator in the story… I never went to graduate school and had been working at a salt mine in Kansas for three years. This was 1981 – the economy was in the dumpster and the only place in the country where you could get a job was Texas.

I stayed with friends until I had enough money for an apartment. I moved into a cool, but extremely dated small apartment complex off of Lower Greenville (The Turtle Dove – it’s still there today). When I wasn’t on the road (Superfund toxic waste sites, chemical spills) I worked downtown. I rode the bus to work.

It was the Belmont #1 bus. Very easy to recognize. I could go to happy hour downtown (this was before the happy hour laws and they could offer three for one) and all I had to do was recognize the #1 bus and I was home. One evening I looked up as saw the Belmont #1 bus on its way. I looked down, fished my pass out of my wallet and made sure I had some punches left. When I looked up, the open door of the bus was right in front of me. I boarded and slumped into the seat.

Unfortunately, it was the wrong bus. Some other mystery bus had passed mine and stopped, with the number out of view overhead. By the time I realized it, I was somewhere in far East Dallas and I didn’t recognize anything. I waited for a while to see if it entered a familiar neighborhood but things kept getting sketchier and sketchier. I had no choice but to get off and wait at the stop across the street, going back the other way. This was decades before the internet and smart phones and definitely before Uber, and there wasn’t a pay phone in sight and it didn’t look like the kind of place I wanted to go exploring especially now that the sun was setting.

It took about an hour (which, of course, seemed like days) for a bus to come and take me back downtown. By then all the buses had stopped running and I had to find a pay phone and order a cab. Luckily, I had the cash on me.

From then on, I learned to be careful about the bus that I jumped on. You learn something every day.

The Wheels On the Bus Go Round And Round

I think whenever we think of our hometowns, we tend to think of very specific people: with whom you rode on the school bus, who was your next door neighbor you were playing with, who your girlfriend was. It’s always something very specific.
—-Joyce Carol Oates

Beltline and Plano, Richardson, Texas

I find myself using my phone for photographs more and more, displacing my DSLR.

It was too cold and too late to ride my bike to work today, so I drove. Stopped, waiting for the light, at Plano and Beltline in the gritty cold and cloudy morning, I saw this scene right outside my driver’s window – the bus was making a left onto Plano. I fumbled in my pocket for my phone, got the password in on the second try, clicked the “I’m Not Driving” button (safety first) and snapped this out my window right as the light changed.

The Bus

I sat around in the bus station for a while but the people depressed me so I took my suitcase and went out in the rain and began walking.
—-Charles Bukowski, Factotum

Downtown Dallas at Night, (Click to Enlarge)

Downtown Dallas at Night, (Click to Enlarge)

Ride a city bus at night. Late at night. Look around. Really look around. Don’t read your book, don’t check your phone, don’t turn away.

Look at the people. Open your pores and let the pure atmosphere of despair and regret inside where it will knead your soul. Feel the exhaustion of going home from the night shift. Touch the grease spot on the window where people that can’t even find the energy to keep their heads upright fall. Breath in the ghosts of ancient alcohol and unwashed perspiration. Listen to the giggling and proud talk of the night denizens on their blowzy way home from a night of exhausted carousing. Feel their desperate intoxicated love.

Let yourself enter the mysterious world.

Later, maybe a week later, or a month, or years later, late at night – when you are at home on your prescription mattress and breathing that conditioned – carefully purified and modified – air wafting from ductwork overhead. When you have set your book down on the nightstand after a particularly satisfying chapter. When the glowing red digits indicate you have a good, restful, eight hours before you start mashing the snooze button. When the large, high definition, flat-screen television that you carefully positioned so that you can see it from your bed is showing the double-plays, strikeouts, and home runs from all over the country. When you begin to nod off and feel the dreams welling up….

the people on the late night buses are still there. You are home and so are they. They are still there. They are always there.