A Guy, His Girlfriend, and His Uncle

I’ve stolen something. There is a bar that I visited this 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.

I wrote a story about the first strip here – now I’m fiddling with the second.

 

A Guy, His Girlfriend, and His Uncle

Kipling Butter was in town to meet his long-lost uncle, Sandhurst Myers, and wanted to bring his girlfriend, Sealey Wood for support..
His parents had never even mentioned his uncle. Sandhurst had left The Church at the same time Kipling was born.

Kipling was brought up in The Church and had never doubted its tenets… until he met Sealey.

They met when Kipling’s van broke down in an unfamiliar part of town and Sealey gave him a ride. The Church didn’t approve of cellphones – at least not carried by their members out of control of The Church elders and without Sealey’s help, Kipling was in a jam. He had never met any women socially from outside of The Church and was smitten immediately. He even tried to convince Sealey to join The Church, but she recognized it as the crazy cult that it was and refused. She was a woman of many resources, however, and did her research.

Sealey found Kipling’s uncle Sandhurst, who in the decades since leaving the church had established an organization to help members of The Church to escape the cult’s clutches. He was elated to be able to contact his nephew outside of the control of Kipling’s parents and The Church.

The meeting was in a bar in the heart of the city. Kipling was nervous, he had never been in a bar in his life. Since The Church strictly forbade alcohol or contact with anyone associated with alcohol, Sealey and Sandhurst knew it would be a safe meeting place.

All the stress involved melted away when the three finally sat down and talked. Kipling realized his uncle was a kindred spirit and wondered why he had not done this before. Plans were made to utilize Sandhurst’s organization to spirit Kipling out of The Church‘s clutches and help his set up a new life in another city with Sealey.

The three were happy and giddy and celebrated with four sessions inside the bar’s photo booth. They each took one as a remembrance and left one tacked to the wall as a way to mark the place where all three lives changed forever.

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Two Women

I was talking to someone at work about the viral video that is going around, the one about the NASA scientist that made the elaborate, over-engineered, hilarious booby trap to revenge upon thieves that steal Amazon packages. My point is that he made the package look too tempting – he was creating thieves. The other guy disagreed – he felt that people either were thieves or not. I think that it is more a matter of degree, and everyone, sometimes, steals something.

I’ve stolen something. There is a bar that I visited this 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 thousand or so words about the people in the photographs. Or, more accurately, what I imagine about the two people.

 

Two Women

 

One day, due to a mix-up at a department store wedding registry two weeks before the scheduled weddings, Moss Williams and Isabel Green discovered they were both engaged to the same man, Augustus Piper.

Moss William’s condominium was on the twenty third floor and she had always been disappointed that the windows didn’t open. She lifted up an expensive, exquisite abstract marble sculpture that Augustus Piper had bought her on one of his business trips to Venice and fixed the window. The marble made an appropriate expensive explosive boom when it hit the concrete over two hundred feet below – followed by an exquisite tinkle as the shards of broken glass caught up. Augustus had bought her the condo and had planned on moving in too after the wedding.

She enjoyed the sting of the cold wind whipping through the open wound in the glass wall of the building as she collected everything that either belonged to Augustus or had been bought by him and would fit through the hole in the window left by the marble. This was everything in the place other than the furniture. With amazing energy and rapidity she threw it all out.

The only thing she saved was the cocaine. Moss lined it all up in a group that looked like a tiny neatly plowed field of snowy ground on the glass coffee table – then hurled the expensive sterling necklace with its hidden compartment out too. He had bought her the jewelry in San Francisco. He had bought the cocaine too, but it was too good to waste… even in fury. She visited the little field on the coffee table whenever her energy began to fade.

“Here, dear,” Isabel’s mother called, “I’m back from the store with the ice cream.” She began unloading the pints from the shrink-wrapped cardboard flat and loaded them into her daughter’s freezer. “It’s a little soft from the trip back from the store, but I think it’s still edible… do you want a pint now?”

The loud sobbing from the bedroom paused for a few seconds. “Yes,” Isabel said, “Bring me a pint and a spoon.”

“What flavor? They sold these variety flats and that’s what I bought.”

“Who cares mother? Just bring me something.”

“Chunky Monkey OK?” asked Isabel’s mother.  The sobbing didn’t stop this time, so she assumed that Chunkey Monkey wasn’t good, so she exchanged it with a pint of chocolate mint. The spoon she chose from her daughter’s drawer didn’t look quite right, so she bent over the sink and gave it a quick scrubbing before heading back to the bedroom.

It took two hours and three pints of ice cream to get Isabel to quit crying enough for her mother to feel like she could leave and head home. Alone, Isabel felt that one more pint might hit the spot.  After all, she had been starving herself for almost a year in order to fit into the wedding dress that Augustus had picked out.

Before all this her mother had been wondering how she was going to spend the insurance settlement from her third husband’s death and when, at last, her only daughter was engaged she had her outlet. She paid for the elaborate and expensive wedding dress without hesitation. She bought that hideous marble sculpture at the gallery and insisted Isabel give it to Augustus for his birthday. Her mother gave Isabel the money for the little silver cocaine vault that Augustus had his eye on. Augustus always liked his coke and Isabel always was willing beg cash from her mom and  to drive down to the South Side of town to pick some up for him – though, of course, she always lied to her mother about what the money was for.

Now all that was over. Isabel sat up on the edge of the bed and forced herself to try and imagine what life was going to be like now… how it was going to go on without Augustus. She picked up the little drop knife she kept on her bed stand. Even that reminded her of Augustus. One evening she was standing in a dingy alley in the South Side of town waiting for her connection to show up. She was kicking at the dirt and felt something with the toe of her show. It was the knife, buried in the oily dust of the alley. She fished it out, took it home, and cleaned it up. She liked to think of what horrors that little lifeless piece of stainless steel had seen.

Isabel flicked the knife open and closed a couple of times, thinking about one more horror.

 

———————————————————————————————————————————–

 

Moss looked at the piece of paper for the thousandth time. There was the name of the store, and Augustus’ name and then, under that, instead of, “Moss Williams” it said, “Isabel Green.” She stared at it and wondered what kind of evil worthless harpy that name represented, a name that stole her fiancé. Then she stared at the next line, a phone number. She had seen that number on Augustus’ cell… seen it many times. She had assumed it was his work.

She dialed.

“Why are you mad at me?’ Isabel cried, “I didn’t do anything!”

“Yes you did, you stole my fiancé,” Moss said.

“No I didn’t! I didn’t know anything about you. You stole my fiancé too.  He’s the bastard that screwed both of us. Literally.”

Moss hadn’t thought of that.

A long silence on the line. “What?” asked Isabel, “Are you still there?”

“Yes… I’m here. Give me a minute. I hadn’t thought of that.”

Finally Moss decided.

“Isabel?” she said, “I think we need to meet. We need to hash this out.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

“No, not at all. But I don’t see any choice.”

“Ok, Where?”

“You know the pub down on Carol Street, the Golden Horse?”

“Yeah I know the place.”

“Eight tonight.”

 

———————————————————————————————————————————

 

The two sat at a dark table in the back corner. At first they did more staring than talking. But after a few rounds – Moss drank Jameson, Isabel light beer – they began to open up. Each was surprised at how easy it was to get along with the other. They did, after all, have a lot in common.

“I have a confession to make,” said Isabel.

“What?” asked Moss.

“I didn’t know how this was going to go, so I brought this.” She reached in her purse and brought out the drop knife. “I hope you’re not pissed.”

“Oh,” replied Moss, “That’s nothing.”

“Really?’

“Really, look at this.” She reached into her purse for something also. “You know I’m a seamstress? Have been since I was a little girl.”

“No idea, really.”

“So, like you brought your knife, I brought this.” She brandished a heavy, wicked looking pair of pinking shears. She moved it so the light sparked across the wavy saw teeth.

“Wow.”

“Yeah wow.”

“Yeah, I know there’s only one thing we’d both like to use these on now,” said Isabel with an evil chuckle. “I’d love to see what those shears would do to it.”

“Ughh, as much fun as that would be… that’s one thing I don’t ever want to see ever again.”

The two women started laughing and seeing each other laugh, couldn’t stop until the both doubled over with pain in their diaphragms.”

“You know?” said Moss, “I’ve had another idea, one a lot less violent. Something simple. Something to do first, put the fear of God into the rat bastard.”

“What?”

“Back there, by the bathroom, there’s a photo booth. One of those old fashioned ones. The ones that take a strip of four pictures.”

“Yeah?”

“Let’s take some shots. Together. And send them to that son of a bitch. That will scare the shit out of him – the thought that we are together, plotting”

“Yeah lets. Let’s flip him off.”

 

 

 

 

 

King Rat

The Window at Molly’s, the street (Decatur) unusually quiet, with notebook, vintage Esterbrook fountain pen, and Molly’s frozen Irish Coffee

“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

This summer, at the New Orleans Writing Marathon I found myself at the window at Molly’s at the Market trying to think of something to write about. I decided to put down on paper the struggle I had against a rat infestation and the King Rat behind it all. It didn’t seem very interesting (and a little embarrassing) to me, but when we read everyone seemed to like it.

So, I’ve typed it up from my notebook. Without further ado……

Molly’s At the Market
July 10

I live in Texas so every now and then there is a rat in the house. The most common are the tree rats – smaller grey slick-looking – they resemble large mice with longer tails. They are arboreal and often enter a house by dropping onto the roof from an overhanging tree. Like all rats and mice they can squeeze through any tiny, impossible space. Less often seen are the big ugly sewer rats, black and spiky. I’ve never seen one of those at home – but I live alongside a wooded creek – with my garage facing the trees so I’ve always had tree rat invaders.

Usually one or two – and handled with a trap or a bit of poison – which would leave a dead critter putrefying in the wall – stinking things up until the really warm weather arrived.

One summer, however, I had an infestation. I don’t really know how it happened – maybe I ignored the early warning signs – maybe I was lazy – but eventually I realized that there were rats everywhere.

I was feeling emotional so I read up on the most humane way to exterminate rats – even looking on Buddhist websites for ways to deal with vermin without destroying your Karma. Poison was out – too cruel. Some people like live traps but if you don’t release the trapped rat more than a mile away – they will come back. Rats are very territorial – if you take them beyond their territory they won’t last a day.

So the Internet recommended the old-fashioned snap trap – it kills, but it kills quickly. The big problem is that we have two dogs and any traps had to be kept away from them. Our dogs were old, blind, and lethargic – useless as ratters, but we didn’t want them to get hurt by a trap.

I bought a big jar of peanut butter and a collection of snap traps – a few old school wooden ones – though I had better luck with the modern plastic traps that have a platform for the rat to step on. I arranged these throughout the garage and in some spots (behind the refrigerator, inside drawers, and in the hot water heater cabinet) where the dogs couldn’t set them off.

And the slaughter began. My morning routine would be to carry traps with rats across the alley and let the limp body drop into the thick weeds under the trees. One morning there were two rats in the same trap. The bodies were always gone the next day – I guess the coyotes were coming up at night for a quick snack – a rat buffet.

I killed… maybe thirty rats. Over this time, they were getting smaller and smaller – until they looked more like mice to me.

We have hired a frighteningly effective exterminator at my work. He rid our million-square foot building of rats in a couple months. We call him, “The Rat Whisperer.” I asked him the difference between tree rats and mice.

“How long are their tails? Are they longer than the rest of their body?”

“Yes.”

“They are rats.”

I explained how the rats were getting smaller and smaller – and how I thought that soon they would all be gone.

“What you don’t understand,” the rat whisperer said, “Is that there is one big smart King Rat. He is sending those other rats out to bring food back to him. You will kill all the others until he is the only one left. He will be almost impossible to kill because he is so cautious and smart. That is how he became the King.”

The Rat Whisperer was exactly right. The traps were empty every morning but there was still an aggressive rat in the house. I would put, say, a strawberry down with four snap traps surrounding it and in the morning the fruit would be chewed or gone and the traps un-fired.

I decided that I had no choice but to bring out the big guns.

I spread talcum powder on the kitchen floor and looked for tiny footprints in the morning. There was a tiny gap in the molding by the dishwasher and the prints always lead to or from there. I put up baby gates to keep the dogs out of the kitchen and a big sheet of a sticky trap in front of the tiny hole. I woke up in the middle of the night to a tremendous racket. It took me a minute to get the nerve to go look – and that was too long. The sticky trap was in the living room, beyond the barrier of the baby gate, and covered in rat hair.

No King Rat.

And for weeks there was no sign. I figured he had been injured or frightened enough to go elsewhere. I was wrong… he was waiting me out.

So after a long time, he was back. Again, no food was safe – he nibbled everything that was not sealed up tight. So, again with the baby gates… again with the sticky trap – I went out and bought an ultra-strong professional premium version this time. Again, three in the morning, a huge racket from the kitchen. I ran to the sound, snapped on the light, and there was the biggest rat I had ever seen with the sticky trap on his back, trying to get back into his little hole.

And I realized I had not thought about this enough beforehand. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to touch the rat – he was way too big and mad and scared and would surely bite me if I got too close. If I did nothing he would soon yank himself off the sticky trap (like he must have before) and escape… and I didn’t want to go through this any more.

My mother in law had this grabber thing she used to pick stuff up without bending over – I fetched it from the closet and used it to grab the rat. Of course the sticky trap stuck to the grabber. I threw the trap, the grabber, and the giant rat into a bucket we keep to mop the floors. The sticky trap now, in addition to the rat and the grabber, stuck to the inside of the bucket. The whole mess shook with the struggle of the rat… every now and then a rat head would stick out the top and snap its rat teeth.

I gingerly hauled the whole mess out to the creek and threw it into the water and watched it move downstream and slowly sink in the moonlight.

It’s been a year and a half now and I haven’t seen sign of a single rat. We have new dogs now, they are more aggressive and larger and probably scare any new vermin off.

I am still haunted by nightmares of a giant skeletal ghost rat, the specter of the King, with a rusty bucket and a broken grabber stuck to his bones, shambling up from the creek, returning for his revenge.

Daily Writing Tip 69 of 100, Things That Get Stuck In Our Heads

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – Things That Get Stuck In Our Heads

Source – The Mind of Your Story, Discover What Drives Your Fiction By Lisa Lenard-Cook

I use the word “stuck” intentionally because when I visualize what happens when I obsess, I not only see a needle stuck in a groove on a 33 1/3 record, I hear the repetitive oddity such a scratch creates….For those of us who grew up listening to records, carefully picking up the needle and setting it down just past the offending scratch was something we did so often it never occurred to us that it took some skill and finesse

That repetition, that over-and-over with no way out unless someone physically lifts the needle from the groove, is how it is when something gets stuck in a writers head. She’ll start thinking about something she said (or wishes she said), or did, or saw, like that woman with the suitcase in the rain. She starts spinning the thing out, imagining what comes next. But then she gets to a certain point – and it’s always the same point – and she skips right back to the beginning.

These ruts can be maddening, and in fact, if we weren’t writers they likely would drive us insane. But when we write, there are things we can do with them.

I have spent a lot of time writing stuff that I knew wasn’t going to be good – stuff I didn’t really even want to write. But there was something stuck in my head and I knew the only way to get rid of it was to write it out.

That is how it is.

Daily Writing Tip 23 of 100, What’s A Story?

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – What’s A Story?

Source – How To Write A Damn Good Novel by James N Frey

An expanded definition of story now would be: “A story is a narrative of events involving worthy human characters and consequential events.” This definition is good but still not complete. What is missing is that the characters must change as a result of conflict. If a character waltzes through a story unaffected by the events and sufferings he sees and endures, then the narrative of events is not a story at all, but merely an adventure.

A complete definition, then, is: A story is a narrative of consequential events involving worthy human characters who change as a result of those events.

In a writing class I took once we spent a lot of effort debating the question, “Is that a story or not?” At the time I wished that someone would define exactly what a story was. The class consensus seemed to be, “I don’t know what a story is, but I know one when I see it.”

That isn’t good enough. In the years since them I have been searching for a definition. Today’s tip is as good as I have found.

So far.

A Month of Short Stories 2015, Day Seven – Forty-Four Goats

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 xx – Forty-Four Goats, by Simon Harris

Read it online here:

Forty-Four Goats (page 2 of the PDF)

Flash Fiction. Longer than 140 characters – more than a tweet, but something that only takes about two minutes or so to read. Something impossibly short that still tells a story.

The only way to tell a complete story, with a beginning, middle, and end in that short of a time – in those few words – is to tell a story with mystery. The author has to use what’s not there as a storytelling tool, because when there isn’t much – there is a lot that isn’t there.

Today’s little snippet, Forty-Four Goats tells a story, complete with several unsolved mysteries at the end. It’s a good use of a precious two minutes.

Dangers of Schadenfreude

Friday, I was driving home from work along the same route I drive twice every day. A quick calculation – I’ve driven past that point in the neighborhood over six thousand times. This is a little stretch of road through what used to be the independent town of Buckingham. When I first moved to Dallas, Buckingham was a rectangle of small farms hanging on in the northern reaches of the giant exploding Metroplex. A developer bought the entire city, making all the property owners rich, with the single requirement that all the residents hold a vote before they left – and that vote would make the town “wet.” All the suburbs in the area were “dry” at that time – which meant that there was no sales of alcoholic beverages. His idea was to create an island of legal booze and open up an upscale entertainment, lodging, and destination district… thereby raking in the cash.

It might have worked, but there was one of the too-periodic economic collapses in the late 80’s – and his plans fell to dust. Some of the former landowners bought back their properties for pennies on the dollar at the bankruptcy sale. In the decades since the liquor laws in North Texas have become much less draconian and the City of Buckingham faded away – eventually adsorbed into the larger suburb of Richardson. It has since been mostly developed into zero-lot homes and large apartment complexes – along with a couple of liquor stores to keep the traditions of the area alive.

This stretch of road wound between complexes and is the sort of place where people drive faster than they should. There is often a police cruiser lurking in a hidden speed trap by a tiny city pocket park. I would guess on a typical day every car (except me) is going faster than the speed limit. Yet, because of the traffic leaving the complexes, the subtle blind curve in the road, and the iffy intersections at each end – it’s pretty dangerous and I wish folks would slow down.

So, on Friday, I felt a twinge of Schadenfreude as saw the red and blue flashing LEDs of a Police SUV angled into the parking lot at a complex. “They’ve caught somebody, good. At least it’s not me,” was the thought that involuntarily flashed through my mind. I’m not proud of that, but it is what it is. I couldn’t help but steal a quick glance sideways as I drove by.

I didn’t see what I expected. I only saw the little tableau for two seconds, at most, but I’ll always think about it. The police SUV had a dark sedan trapped in the corner of the little lot. The uniformed officer had a beautiful young Asian woman over the hood, one hand on her back, and the other reaching around his back to pull his cuffs off his belt. She was dressed in a short blue and white striped cocktail dress – obviously on her way out on a Friday evening. She was looking back over her shoulder at the officer and I had a good quick look at her face.

I’ve seen plenty of people get arrested. I think most people that are taken into custody have been hauled in before and know what is going on – what to expect. Some are angry, some are indignant, but most are resigned. This woman wasn’t like any of these. She was scared to death. She did not look like a criminal.

I’m not being anti-cop here. I don’t know the full story – I don’t know any story at all, really. The officer, as far as I could see, was by himself and if he ran her license and it came back with warrants – he didn’t have much choice but to cuff her. That’s what I assume happened – she was caught in the speed trap, pulled over, and something was wrong. Either her license came back or there was a problem with the car.

The young woman had made a mistake. She might have ignored a ticket until an arrest warrant was issued or maybe she was driving a friend’s iffy car.

But I’ll never forget the look on her face. I can see her driving along, music booming, in a great mood, looking forward to a Friday evening on the town and then, within seconds, it all went south. Her fear, shock, maybe layered with some embarrassment. Across the street is a big field that is owned by a girl’s elite soccer club – there were maybe two hundred girls from eight to eighteen out practicing – though I didn’t have time to swivel my head that way, I’m sure a lot of them were looking up from their drills to see the woman hauled away.

I feel so sorry for the woman. I’m sure, no matter how it all turned out, she will remember this day with shame and dread the rest of her life.

I feel helpless – though I don’t know her and only saw her for two seconds – I wished there was something I could have done. I didn’t even want to turn around and see what happened. I could only make things worse.

Most of all I feel guilty for the moment of Schadenfreude I felt when I first saw the red and blue lights.