Short Story Of the Day – Cleveland Arcade by Bill Chance

“There is only one place to write and that is alone at a typewriter. The writer who has to go into the streets is a writer who does not know the streets. . . when you leave your typewriter you leave your machine gun and the rats come pouring through.”
Charles Bukowski, Notes of a Dirty Old Man
 

Cleveland Arcade


 

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 (#74) More than two thirds 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.


Cleveland Arcade

In Cleveland there is The Arcade… not an arcade, The Arcade. It is a downtown passage between two nine-story buildings – a five story Victorian wonder of steel and glass. It has four levels of balconies opening up into the surprising interstitial space. Built in 1890, it was a breathtaking wonder of its day. I looked it up – the skylight is three hundred feet long and arches one hundred feet up and has one thousand eight hundred panes of glass.

It has since been restored and cut up into hotel and retail space but I like to think of The Arcade as it was when we first saw it, forty years ago. At that time it was getting a little ragged and not all the storefronts were occupied. That only increased the feeling of age, history, and romanticism.

The Arcade was a space out of time. We never tired of turning from the bitter cold Cleveland sidewalk into this overheated ancient world. There were a few shops selling cheap food or caffeine, but we never otherwise found anything to buy… which was a good thing. We didn’t want to shop, we only wanted to be.

At lunch time the place was packed. We didn’t know where all those people came from or where they were going but they poured through The Arcade like water from a summer thunderstorm. In from the streets at both ends, up the stairs, across the floor, down the stairs, along the balconies… the crowd flowed. It was not a collection of individuals, it was a crowd in every sense, a sentient being of its own where all individual joys, worries, desires, fears, fashion, opinion, ideas, and prejudices melded together into a huge communal amoeba coursing through the space.

Except for the couple.

The two of them stood on the Euclid Avenue end on the platform that was at the same level as the street right at the top of the central stairs running down to the bottom floor. They were young, both impossibly handsome, and dressed in perfect fashion – he in a light gray Italian Business Suit and her in a trim jacket and plaid skirt. The both carried their warm coats perfectly folded across their arms.

They were the perfect couple. They were what everyone wants to be – what everyone dreams of becoming. They were so perfect that to see them was to ache with the disappointment that you will never walk in those expensive, perfectly fitting shoes. You will never be that beautiful, that fit, or that well-groomed. Next to these two you are a troll scraping in the mud beneath a crumbling stone bridge.

Their world is open and unlimited. Yours is a long, too long, dreary trudge upslope and into the wind to merciful death. Their world is colorful – shades of fashionable tan accented with that green-blue teal or turquoise color of a shallow tropical sea. All you have to look forward to is grimy gray and shit brown.

Their clothes fit, their feet don’t hurt, their mouths don’t have canker sores, their cuticles don’t bleed, their breath doesn’t smell bad, their joints don’t pop when they move.

They saw all the best movies and read all the best books and never watched television at all.

The perfect couple.

But they were having a tremendous fight. He was not holding his own – he was standing still and quiet with his head bent down and looking at his shoes. And she was really giving him hell. She had a real set of lungs on her and she was using all that breath and projection to pour her anger out and over him. She was yelling so loud that her voice could be heard roaring over the cacophony of the thousands of people at lunch time.

The crowd didn’t look at them but it parted as it approached and joined back together an appropriate distance beyond. The sound of her berating echoed through the overall din though nobody really could hear exactly what she was so angry about.

That was forty years ago and things have changed. If life is a parabola that was the moment at the peak where the trajectory began to curve inexorably down. I am no longer fit and no longer fashionable. I live in a dirty drafty old studio apartment carefully calculating to see if my meager savings will be enough to survive.

I stand in the mirror amazed at the ugliness in the world.

I live on black coffee and insulin.

And what about her? A series of wrong decisions, bad marriages and worse divorces. The decades of struggle took their toll. We haven’t spoken to each other in decades – though people still talk about us as if we were together, reveling in the reflections of the past.

I marvel that we were that couple… once, long ago, for a brief, shining moment. Maybe we flew too close to the sun and the wax melted. Maybe, for all we had, it wasn’t enough. Maybe we simply weren’t all that – even though we thought we were.

The arc… the rise is never as exhilarating as the descent is heartbreaking.

And there it is, you have everything in the palm of your hand… it slips away. You argue. You give in and don’t stand up. You make a mistake. Destiny and despair.

And here you are.

Short Story Of the Day – Punch Card by Bill Chance

“It’s been a prevalent notion. Fallen sparks. Fragments of vessels broken at the Creation. And someday, somehow, before the end, a gathering back to home. A messenger from the Kingdom, arriving at the last moment. But I tell you there is no such message, no such home — only the millions of last moments . . . nothing more. Our history is an aggregate of last moments.”
― Thomas Pynchon,
Gravity’s Rainbow

Galatyn Station, DART, 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 (#69) More than two thirds 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.


I try and keep most of what I write here to around a thousand words. This one is about three times as long – sorry, I know time is short, but I really didn’t feel up to cutting it down too much.

I had a little trouble with technology. This is from an outline I wrote several years ago – when Angry Birds was a thing. Now, it’s already too late.


Punch Card

“Grampa Ron! Grampa Ron! Lookit what I got for my birthday!”

Sammy Meeks shouted as he tore through down the hall and into his beloved grandfather’s study, waving a new digital tablet.

“Well well, let’s take a look at that,” Ron said as he adjusted the glasses on his head. Sammy turned the tablet so his grandfather could see the screen and with a flick of the finger set a flock of birds flying into a stone castle occupied by evil pigs.

“Angry Birds, Grampa, Angry Birds!”

“Well whataya know. What will they come up with next?”

“I’m sixteen today and this is my present.”

“You know, Sammy, when I was sixteen they didn’t have things like that.”

“I know Grampa Ron, even I remember when they didn’t have these. You must have used a laptop.”

“No, Sammy, we didn’t have laptops. I had never even seen a computer until I was in college, and they didn’t look like they do now.”

“What did they look like, Grampa?”

“Well, believe it or not, the first computer I used filled up half of one floor of a whole office building.”

“It must have been powerful.”

“Nope, I’ll bet that little tablet is ten times more powerful that this thing was. It wasn’t as powerful as my phone.”

“Half as big as a building? How did you use it.”

“Oh, Sammy, now that’s a story. Got a minute?”

“Sure Grampa, always for you.”

“It didn’t have a keyboard or a screen. It printed out reports… that’s all it did. And to put stuff in, you used these.”

Ron pointed to a frame, mounted on his wall. Sammy walked over to look at it. Mounted, matted, and professionally framed, was a rectangular piece of beige card, with one corner cut off. It had a series of square holes cut into it and a dot-matrix sentence printed across the top. Sammy moved closer, and squinted a bit, so he could read the legend.

I know, but I can see you. I think you’re cute – Christine,” Sammy read. “Grandpa Ron, What does that mean?”

“Well, Sammy, like I said, that’s a long story. It’s the story of how I met your Grandmother. Do you have a while?”

“I got all day, Grampa.”

So Grampa Ron Meeks settled down in his desk chair, half-closed his eyes, and started to tell the story.


I hated the punch card machine more than anything I had ever hated before. I was a junior, majoring in comparative literature and since I wasn’t in the computer science department I could only use the computer lab after ten in the evening. The giant computer itself took up half of the bottom floor of the building – but nobody went there. The other half was filled with a filthy snack bar, lined with rusty automats that spat out moldy candy bars and bags of stale off-brand potato chips – and a series of dingy rooms filled with hundreds of punch card machines.

I had taken an elective class in Fortran programming because I thought that computers were the future and I was worried about paying rent after graduation. Writing the assigned programs was easy – find the sides and angles of a right triangle, the day of a date, or draw a series of boxes. I could write the code, but I couldn’t punch the cards.

My homework problems had to be punched onto cards. I had to buy a case of the damn things at the beginning of the semester. I couldn’t imagine using all those cards. I didn’t know. Three months later, I had to buy another half-box from some kid in my dorm.

This was worse than a typewriter. You would load a stack of cards into the machine and then it would warm up and start to hum. The heat would rise and the ozone would burn your nose. The keys were big and yellow and had to be shoved hard before the machine would roar and then… “Blam!” it would whack a little tiny rectangle out of the card. A paper flake would fly through the air to join the thick layer of cardstock confetti coating the floor and a corresponding hole would appear in the card itself.

With the punch card machine a mistake was a disaster. Sure, the code printed out along the top of the card but they never put new ribbons in the machines and it was always too faint for me to read. When I had my stack of cards all finished I’d take them into the computer room, wrap them with a rubber band, and shove them through this little wooden door in the wall where they would fall down a chute.

Then it was time to wait. Wait for hours. I’d spend all night there, waiting for my program to run. Then, my output would drop down another, bigger, chute into a pile. Every time an output would drop, all the kids waiting would run to see if it was theirs. It was horrible.

You see, if your program ran correctly you’d get a few sheets of paper with the code and the answer printed on it but I never did, at least not the first three or four times. I’d find my cards still rubberbanded together and clipped to a huge stack of pinfeed folded green and white striped paper. On the top would be a handwritten note that would say something like, “Core Dump, you loser!”

Whenever you made a mistake, even a tiny one, the core would dump and the computer would print out hundreds of pages of gibberish. You were supposed to carefully peruse the printouts and find your error in there somewhere but nobody had time for that. You’d throw the printout in this huge wooden bin, scratch your head, and start looking for your mistake. I have no idea why they wasted all that paper.

Sometimes it would be a mistake in my work, but usually it was a typo in my card punching. The little holes corresponded to letters, numbers, or symbols and I punched out a card with everything on it, in order, and I would slide the thing slowly over every card I had punched to find the mistake.

It was horrible. I would be so tired, my eyes swimming, sitting at that huge punch machine, trying to type. Even when I made it through a card, I’d be terrified I had made an unknown error and would generate another core dump. It was killing me… but I had nowhere else to go.

Our instructor was always harping on us to put in comment cards. These were punch cards marked in a certain way so that they didn’t make the computer do anything, but simply left comments. You were supposed to leave comments about what your code was supposed to be doing or what your variable represented or why you decided to do something the way you did. It was a pain in the ass and I never did it until the teacher started marking my grade down because I had insufficient comments in my code.

So I started putting the comments in, though I never commented on the code. I figured he didn’t really look through everybody’s work for these things and only took the computer’s count of how many comments were in here. Sometimes I’d just gripe… like, “Fortran really sucks,” or “This is too hard,” or “It’s way too late at night to be doing this.

This got to be pretty boring pretty fast so I switched to some of my favorite Shakespeare Quotes, “As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport” or “There’s not a note of mine that’s worth the noting,” or “I am not bound to please thee with my answer.” I might make some mistakes punching the comments… but who cared? They would still go through as comments and you could still read them.

I remember the day when I picked up my output and, sure enough, there was the big thick stack of folded paper, another core dump, but instead of a handwritten note, there was a punched card on top of my stack. It was different in that it had been done on a machine that had a fresh ribbon in it and across the top, in crisp, clear, printing, it said, “Funny Comments Ronald. You’re getting close. Ck crd 7 error in do loop – Christine.

And sure enough, in my seventh card I had hit a capital letter “Z” instead of a number “2.” I never would have seen that.

So I redoubled my efforts at witty, humorous, and obscure quotations for my comment cards. I was reading this huge crazy new book called Gravity’s Rainbow and one day I quoted from it. Stuff like, “You may never get to touch the Master, but you can tickle his creatures.” or “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers,” or “Danger’s over, Banana Breakfast is saved.”

My program ran that time and the card on top said, “A screaming comes across the sky – Christine,” which made me so happy I didn’t stop smiling for a day.

The next program, I added a comment card that said, “Christine, I can’t see you – Ronald.

And it came back with, “I know, but I can see you. I think you’re cute – Christine.

So I thought about it and worked up my courage. At the end of a program that I larded with my best quotes from the composition book I carried with me and scribbled in all the time… my commonplace book, I finished with a card that said “Christine, I want to meet you – Ronald.”

All that night I was the first to fight their way in to grab any program that slid down the chute, only to be disappointed again and again as other student’s projects ran before mine. Finally, as the sky was beginning to turn a light pink in the west, my program dropped. On top was a card. I ran back to my dorm room to read it, not daring to look at it anywhere in public.

It said, “Love to Ronald. Snarky’s at six, on Thursday. Don’t be late – Christine.”

Snarky’s was a little chain restaurant off campus not far from the computer building. My heart almost beat out of my chest. Thursday was going to take a long time to get there.


I didn’t want to be late, so I showed up outside Snarky’s a half hour early and paced back and front in front of the place for fifteen minutes.

I was so nervous and excited. I had barely been on a date since I arrived at school and had never had a girlfriend. This was so weird, meeting somebody I had never even seen… but it was my best chance and I was going crazy.

So I went inside a good fifteen minutes early, sat down, and asked for water. Twenty minutes later, nobody had shown up.

“Well, sport, you ready to order yet?” asked my waitress. She was skinny and wearing this awful uniform covered with little badges that had smiley faces or stupid phrases like, “Have a nice day!” or “Today is the first day in the rest of your life.” She stood there tapping her pen on her little black order book.

“I’m sorry, I already told you; I’m waiting for someone. I’m waiting for my date.”

“She better get here soon, this is our busy time and I need the tips off of this table.”

“She was supposed to be here by now. I’m sorry. It’ll be any minute now, I’m sure.”

“OK Romeo, what does she look like? Maybe she’s already sitting somewhere else.”

I looked up at the waitress. Her name tag said, “Mabel.”

“I’m sorry, Mabel, I have no idea what she looks like.”

“Give me a break… you don’t think my name really is Mabel, do you. Not that I care but I’m Audrey. I hate these name tags and write something different every day. Oh, and what the hell do you mean you don’t know what she looks like?”

So I explained it. Everything. I even had the punch card, the one that’s in the frame, tucked into my jacket pocket. I showed it to her.

“Oh Shit!” she said, “Those bastards!”

I was confused. All I could do is stammer out some garbled noise.

“It’s those computer lab guys. They are in here all the time. A bunch of them. The worst dirty hairy stupid idiots you ever saw. And they are lousy tippers too.”

I still didn’t get it. “What are you talking about?”

“Wake up and smell the coffee, sport. They set you up. They sent you those cards so you couldn’t tell from the handwriting. There isn’t any Christine. They’re probably in the back room checking on you, laughing their idiot asses off. I’ll go check.”

So she spun and left. I sat there shaking, doing everything I could do to keep from bursting into tears. I cradled my water and gripped it hard, to stop my hands from shaking. After about ten minutes, Audrey the waitress came back.

“Sure enough, sport. They are in the back room having a good old time at your expense. Don’t look, they’re peeking over the salad bar at you. I’m sorry, that sucks, those guys are real assholes. And bad tippers, which kinda goes together.”

I could feel my ears burning. I was terribly dizzy and sick. It felt like everybody in the place knew my humiliation and was staring at me. The normal buzz of conversation rose around me and I knew everyone was talking about me. I couldn’t even raise my eyes, my sight up above my empty water glass.

“Nothing I can do,” I mumbled.

“Do? Do?” Audrey the waitress said, “Oh, don’t worry about that, sport. Their order was up when I was back in the kitchen. I had the dishwashers all spit in their sandwiches.”

When she said that, everything suddenly broke and the room seemed silent and clear and bright as noon. I looked up into the face of Audrey the waitress and knew then that I was suddenly hopelessly and helplessly in love.

And that was how I met your grandmother.


“I’ve heard you say so much about Grandma Audrey,” Sammy said. “I wish I could’a met her.”

“Me too. We married a year after graduation and your father was born a year after that. He didn’t even know her, really, he was only three when they found the cancer in her pancreas. She went downhill very fast. Back then, we didn’t even take very many pictures, except of your father.”

“So you don’t have much of hers,” Sammy said. “That’s why you keep that card in the frame. That way you have something to remember her by.”

“Not much of hers? Oh no, you’re wrong about that. The only reason I keep that card is…. well, to make little boys like you ask questions. I remember her by your father. For all these years she’s been gone… every day… no… every second of every minute of every hour I remember her by your father, and your big sister, and you… and maybe even your kids someday.”

Sammy didn’t know what to say. He brought his new tablet up and snapped a picture of his Grandpa Ron sitting in his desk chair and then set it as the background on the screen.

“Enough of this,” Grandpa Ron said, “Let’s go outside and throw the football around before it gets too dark. Or is that too old fashioned for you?”

“Nope, that sounds cool.”

“Well, you find the ball and I’ll be out in a minute once I turn the lights out in here.”

Sammy spun and ran off to look for the football. Ron stood, and stretched the creakiness out of his bones. He reached over and turned off the lamp. Before he left the room he leaned over and placed a quick kiss on the glass that covered the framed punch card.

 

Short Story Of the Day – Slow Advance by Bill Chance

“No sensible man ever engages, unprepared, in a fencing match of words with a woman.”
― Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White

Apartment Building, The Cedars, Dallas, 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 (#68) More than two thirds 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.


 

Slow Advance

I finally kicked down the neighbors’ door to find they had moved out. All that was left was a recording of them arguing. At full volume. I saw the eight track player. My father showed me one of those once and explained the tape inside was a loop. It would never stop. I stood there, gobsmacked.

The sound system was sitting on the threadbare shag carpet. There was absolutely nothing else in the apartment.  I turned the volume knob down and hit the blue led-lit power switch. It turned to red. I spun around and headed home. I had splintered the door jamb, so the door wouldn’t latch. In the hallway I paused, returned, and pulled the eight track cartridge.

“That was quick,” Jane said as I walked back in, “what the hell is that in your hand.” I set the tape down on the coffee table and she handed me my beer. It was still cold. Jane picked the eight track up and started to stare at it.

“They weren’t home,” I said.

“No, that’s impossible. We’ve been listening to them both scream at each other all day.”

“It wasn’t them, It was that,” I gestured at the tape.

“Well, at least it’s quiet now,” Jane said. “Hand me the remote, I want to watch Glee.”

I had to go into work early the next day and open up. Mr. Billet, the owner, called me and asked how business was.

“Slow as ever, boss.”

He sounded depressed. Nobody rents movies anymore, I don’t know how long he will stay in business. I don’t know how he’s stayed open this long – he must have money from his parents, I know he lives with his mom. She’s really old. I called Jane in the afternoon at work. She runs the counter from noon to six at Simon’s Pawn down on Forester street.

“Hey, Jane, do you have any eight track players in the pawn shop?”

“Hell no. Nobody’s seen one of those this century. Why?”

“I want to listen to the tape. I want to hear what they are arguing about.”

“Well, good luck with that.” Jane said this in that tone of voice that I hate so much, that “Why do I bother with this loser” tone. It made me mad enough to slam the phone down.

That little bit of mad stayed in my head all day. It stayed enough that I couldn’t sleep. Well after midnight I laid there, staring at the ceiling, thinking about everything that had happened, that I was afraid was going to happen, when , in between Jane’s sawing snores, I heard it.

Crying, mostly. A long, slow, quiet weeping that would build over a few minutes then build quickly into a few seconds of loud wailing, then it would die down to silence. If I listened carefully, I could hear a few minutes of quiet mumbling, barely audible, and an evil muttering laugh. Then the crying would start again.

“Jane, wake up,” I shook her shoulder.

“God no! Not now.”

“No, not that, listen.”

“Shit, I was asleep. You take care of it.”

The super had nailed a strip of wood over the broken jamb and locked the door. A shoulder and the thing sprung open. There it was again – the big blue light, and another tape stuck in the player. I hit the button, pulled the tape and went home.

I put the tape cassette on the coffee table next the the first one. I turned on the lamp by the couch and looked them both over. They were different colors, the arguing tape was red and the crying one a faded blue. They looked crude, homemade, with no labels. The only markings were handwritten numbers – 4 on the first, 7 on the second.

When I came in to work the next day, Mr. Billet was leaned over a big book he carried, full of lines and tables of numbers. He looked really depressed.

“Mr. Billet,” I said, “Do you have an eight track player I could borrow? Maybe a portable one?” I knew he and his mom had all sorts of old crap around their place, he had been asking me about eBay the last week, wondering if he could sell some stuff to help make ends meet.”

“Sure, what do you need it for?”

“Oh, I found these old tapes and I wanted to listen to them… By the way, could you record on the things?”

“Oh, most people only played them. Mostly in their cars. But I remember a few units, some of the very first ones, had recording capability. Not very popular… but it was there.”

He brought in this huge, nasty-looking boombox thing after lunch and I lugged it out to my car. At home I set it up on the coffee table and when she saw it, Jane didn’t like it. Not at all.

“Get that ugly-ass damn thing out of here!” she yelled. “Right now!”

“But I want to listen to the tapes.”

“What the hell for? Our crazy neighbors tape themselves arguing and play it all night long to drive us crazy and what the hell do I care! Don’t encourage them!”

She was furious. I was too. I started to scream back.

“All I want to do is to listen to something and you won’t even give me that much satisfaction! I am sick of this crap!…..”

On and on it went. Man, that woman had some lungs. And one hell of a memory. Things I had done years ago, when we had first met… she threw it out at me like it had happened yesterday. We built higher and higher until we weren’t even sure what we were screaming about any more, we just screamed.

She grabbed the tapes and hurled them at the wall, I stuck a paw out and deflected one onto the couch, where it bounced harmlessly. The other smashed and and splinters of blue plastic flew out in an explosion of fragments. I looked and saw a tangled mass of brown tape sliding down the wall.

Jane reached for the giant boom box but before she could smash it I gave her a push. She stumbled back and went down over the corner of the coffee table. I was scared she was hurt, but she popped right back up and stormed out without saying a word.

So that was that. I felt like my guts had been pulled out through my mouth. I sat for a long time, staring at the open front door, watching the hall as the light faded. Finally, I stood, closed the door, and turned to the one good tape and the boom box.

I had heard it before, of course, but muffled by the thin apartment walls. When it was played next door I could hear arguing, but not the individual words – not even the individual voices.

At first, the arguing couple on the tape wasn’t speaking English. It was some guttural language, maybe Eastern European. Of course, I had no idea what they were talking about, but they were sure going at it. After about five minutes of this, of escalating anger, there was a slamming door, and then the tape went silent for a few seconds. I thought I could hear some humming, but that was about it.

Then another argument started. This one was in English, but it wasn’t from around here. It was English English, or maybe Australian, I don’t know. It was another couple and they were arguing about money. He didn’t make enough, she spent too much, it was tearing them apart. They had the most foul speech I had ever heard. It was so weird to hear such awful language coming out in that delicate British accent, it made me chuckle a bit. Then, he accused her of seeing somebody else, she didn’t exactly deny it, there was another door slam, and that was that.

The next argument was in Japanese. Or maybe Chinese, or Korean, I don’t know. This was getting boring. Instead of getting louder like the other two, this couple mostly just kept yelling faster and faster. I was caught off guard when the door slammed and the tape went silent.

“Well, this is a bunch of shit,” I said to myself as I reached out to turn the tape off. Right when my finger touched the button. A voice came screaming out. It was the next argument. This voice I recognized.

“Get that ugly-ass damn thing out of here!” she yelled. “Right now!”

It was Jane. It was the argument we had just had two hours before. Then out came a voice saying the same words I had spouted.

I fell back stunned while Jane and I hammered at each other on the tape. It sounded revolting, both of us, recorded there for everyone to hear.

Then, the door slam. The hum. I couldn’t move. A couple started fighting in Spanish.

What the helll! This was impossible. How could the tape possibly have a fight on it that hadn’t happened yet?

I pulled the tape out but forgot to turn the player off first. The tape caught and the box suddenly started spitting out a big tangled mess. I couldn’t stop it. I dropped the whole thing on the floor and stared at the useless box of plastic and the mound of snarled tape.

What had I just heard? I must have imagined it. It must be my upset state.

Shaken to the core, I stumbled into bed. I fell asleep but woke up from a horrible nightmare. I couldn’t remember what it was but I was drenched in sweat. I lay there tossing until I caught myself moaning and then I started to cry. As I tasted the salt of my tears I suddenly started awake. I sat up and thought of the blue tape, the one Jane had thrown against the wall. It was a tape of someone upset – moaning and crying. Who was it? Was it me? Who was laughing on the tape?

Short Story Of the Day Time Slips Away (flash fiction) by Bill Chance

“Every guy can basically be boiled down to what he wants and what he’s afraid of.”
― Christopher Moore, Noir

A cute couple.

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

Thanks for reading.


 

Time Slips Away

Matthew and Becca met up at a restaurant a few blocks from his condominium. He had arrived twenty minutes early. His heart leapt when she showed up at the hostess’ podium a half hour late. He was worried she wouldn’t recognize him after all these decades but she rushed to the table and kissed him on the mouth before she said hello.  Matthew had worked through three single malt scotches while he waited and he teetered a bit as he stood and held her chair.

The scotch and flattering light let Matthew think the years had never slipped by. Becca filled him in about the missing time while he listened and smiled. He already knew everything. He was a lawyer, after all, and had the resources. He had never forgotten her. Not a single day had gone by for three decades that he hadn’t thought about Becca. He kept smiling and nodding silently through the recitation, even though he knew and recognized the gaps, the exaggerations, and the little white lies woven through her tale.

“And then there was my third husband. Well, he sure turned out to be a real piece of work. I’ll tell you, three weeks just isn’t long enough to get to know a person. At least I kept my marriage vows with him.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, death did us part. He had debts he couldn’t pay. Caught a shiv in the big house. That means….”

“I know what it means. I’m a lawyer.”

“Oh, I guess you are. I guess you do.”

 

Time’s Relentless Melt

All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.”
Susan Sontag

I’ve stolen something. There is a bar that I visited last year, one that had an old fashioned photo booth back in the back, next to the filthy bathrooms. On the wall by the booth was a torn up cork board. A lot of people thumbtacked their strips of four photos into the cork, leaving them for posterity. I picked up a handful that looked interesting and stole them.

I’ve scanned the strips and I think I’ll take them, one at time, four photos at a time, and write a few words about the people in the photographs. Or, more accurately, what I imagine about the two people.

Previous:

Two Women

A Guy, His Girlfriend, and His Uncle

Meet in Air

Red Molly in a Leather Jacket

Black and White love

They were in Love. Mad and passionate, unbelievable love – like being lost in a world unimaginable, but with someone else there. There had been a lot of madness and passion and even a little bit of love in that French Quarter bar, but they felt like they were the first and last. Everybody does.

They were both afraid to take the photos. Maybe photographs can’t steal your soul, but maybe they can steal your love. Especially black and white photos, especially machine-made photos. This is dangerous ground.

So they abandoned the little strip after it fell out, threw it on the dirty floor right outside the bathroom. Someone found it and thumbtacked it to the wall. If you could find the person that tacked it up (and you can’t) they wouldn’t be able to tell you why they bent over and picked it up, or why they pushed the rusty old pin through the paper. It fell five more times, the cork was old and brittle, as if it was trying to escape, but someone always put it back.

They shouldn’t have worried. Photographs, especially black and white ones, do steal your soul and do steal your passion. But there is plenty more left – an unending fountain, really, if that is what you want. The photos are only gifts, bits thrown out into the cold night, given away, but never really lost. Never lost.

Time is the real villain – the relentless thief. Time will steal your soul and your passion and your love. Though defeat is inevitable, a photo or two cast out into the pond of the world is one weapon against that inevitable doom of chaos. A small and fleeting victory – but maybe the best you can do. The best they could do.

Meet In Air

“We should meet in another life, we should meet in air, me and you.”
Sylvia Plath

Found by a photobooth,
Molly’s At the Market, French Quarter, New Orleans

After they had communicated with each other, after having found each other, only over the waves of the internet – the two of them finally flew from each coast, West and East, to meet in New Orleans. It was like finding a long-lost sister… or an unimagined lover, or both. They spent the evening in a French Quarter bar drinking frozen Irish Coffees and gushing at each other. After texting and Skyping so much, years worth – they worried that there wouldn’t be anything left to say to each other… but the opposite was true. So many truths, so many secrets… even a few sweet, sweet, lies.

When they finally kissed in the photo booth behind the bar it was like a jolt of static electricity.

But what did they really know about each other? What do any of us.

 

Their Mission In This World

“The Man has a branch office in each of our brains, his corporate emblem is a white albatross, each local rep has a cover known as the Ego, and their mission in this world is Bad Shit.”
― Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

New Orleans, Louisiana

They Are In Love. Fuck the War

“The nights are filled with explosion and motor transport, and wind that brings them up over the downs a last smack of the sea. Day begins with a hot cup and a cigarette over a little table with a weak leg that Roger has repaired, provisionally, with brown twine. There’s never much talk but touches and looks, smiles together, curses for parting. It is marginal, hungry, chilly – most times they’re too paranoid to risk a fire – but it’s something they want to keep, so much that to keep it they will take on more than propaganda has ever asked them for. They are in love. Fuck the war.”

― Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

Arts District, Dallas, Texas

 

Right Round Like a Record, Baby

All I know is that to me
You look like you’re having fun
Open up your lovin’ arms
Watch out here I come
You spin me right round, baby
Right round like a record, baby
Right round round round
—-Dead or Alive, You Spin Me Round

Carnival, Tulane Campus, New Orleans

Oblique Strategy: What wouldn’t you do?

I remember getting sick at a carnival. The rides can’t be designed to do anything but make you sick, really. The fear doesn’t come, like it does in a huge roller coaster at a big theme park, from the stretching of the bounds of physics. The fear comes from the rickety old equipment, dripping grease, and the dirty meth addict running the ride. You assume he put the thing together, did the safety checks.

The smell of a small carnival – popcorn, rancid grease, and ozone. The sound of the rides, the screaming of kids, the pops of the rifles shooting at paper targets.

It is all a relic of a bygone age. A carnival – I think it’s a predecessor to the video game, without the score. The lights, the sounds, the movement… everything just slightly surreal. I’m surprised that there are any left.

I think I need to try and track one down.