Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Collision by Bill Chance

“After being bombarded endlessly by road-safety propaganda it was almost a relief to find myself in an actual accident.”
― J.G. Ballard, Crash

Wrecked Car waiting for the decision – scrap or repair – like there is a question

Collision

He had a nice townhouse in the city, but Brian Newman spent every weekend at his girlfriend’s apartment, driving a hundred miles after work on Friday and back Monday morning before work. He would leave at five to be sure and beat the traffic. Brian was never a morning person and the Monday drive was difficult, but he had done it so many times over the last couple of years it became a familiar blur.

He was waiting at an ordinary red light with his left blinker on and his mind somewhere far away, but an oncoming truck still caught his eye. It was the middle of the summer and the sun was above the horizon. The truck was a big dump truck, red, faded, peeling, patched with rust. The massive front bumper, painted black, was an angry scowl. It was coming fast. Too fast. Much too fast.

It shot through the red light as if it wasn’t there. Brian felt his heart jump and wondered if the truck would swerve and hit him. He knew that there wasn’t anything he could do if it did.

Right then, a small white car moved in from the left, with its green light, and was hit broadside by the onrushing dump truck. The truck came on as if nothing was in its way. With a horrific sound of tinkling safety glass and rending sheet metal the car was pushed along until it was smashed between the heavy dump truck bumper and the stout light pole in the center median.

The pole snapped off and fell over but not before it brought the massive truck to a final halt. All that kinetic energy reduced the car into a wad of compressed metal like the foil left after a wrapped sandwich, ready to toss in the bin. Brian was in the left hand lane and as he looked out his side window the driver was only a few feet away across the hood and in clear view through the windshield as the light pole came through the side tearing him apart. Brian had a clear view of the man’s panicked face right before the collision crushed his skull, sending bone, blood, and brains in all directions.

The police interviewed Brian at the crash site and at the local office. Over the next week a parade of lawyers asked him the same questions over and over… “Did you hear brakes?” “Did the truck swerve at all?” “How long had the light been red?” “Did the truck sound its horn.”

It seems the driver claimed his brakes had failed. The suspicion was that the driver was on his phone and hadn’t seen the red light. It would be the difference in damages and possible murder charges.

“It happened so fast,” Brian said. “I don’t really know, I don’t know what happened.” He didn’t understand how nobody cared about what had happened to him. Just because he hadn’t been hit didn’t mean he wasn’t affected. The look on the driver’s face in that split second before he died haunted Brian. He thought they made eye contact. Brian was the last person he had seen, a complete stranger, before he died. There was not a scratch on Brian’s car but he had to go to the car wash and scrub off some of what looked like blood and a bit of what might have been skull bone.

Brian called his girlfriend and told her that he had to take some time off and stay at his place for work. She said she understood. He called his work and said he had to take some time off and was going to stay at his girlfriend’s. They said they understood and would sign him up for a workplace disability program.

The lawyers paid for a hotel in the town where the accident happened. Brian figured it was so that he would be available if the case, civil or criminal, ever went to trial. He wasn’t sure which lawyers paid for the room; the defense, or the truck driver, or the dead man’s estate, or the truck manufacturer, or the company that owned the dump truck. They all called him all the time, asking him the same questions over and over. They would always end with saying how lucky Brian was, to have so much violence and horror so close to him and yet to be unaffected. The truck did miss him completely, of course – even if only by inches.

He spent the time binge watching old crime shows in his hotel room or taking long walks around the perfectly ordinary town he was now living in.

As the weeks went by his girlfriend decided to make the man she had been seeing, cheating on him, for a year during the week while Brian was in the city at work her full-time partner. The man proposed and Brian’s old girlfriend accepted. She sent Brian a thoughtful and carefully-worded letter to say goodbye but Brian never opened the envelope. Though he didn’t know exactly what had happened he guessed the main thrust of things and didn’t care much about it.

His work eventually promoted the temporary replacement to take over Brian’s full-time job. Then, as the various cases were settled the lawyers told Brian that he would have to move out of the hotel. They were glad, however, to help him sell his city townhouse and buy a place in the town. Property values were less and he was able to get a small bungalow with a big yard and still have some money left over.

He didn’t need much and was able to find a simple, thoughtless position near his house with the town government and that was enough. Ironically, the job was vacant because it had been held by the man killed in the accident. Brian’s years passed in quiet, lonely peace. He never married, never left the town.

And never drove or rode in a car for the rest of his life.

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Porn and Cat Food by Bill Chance

“The Road goes ever on and on

Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,

And I must follow, if I can,

Pursuing it with eager feet,

Until it joins some larger way

Where many paths and errands meet.

And whither then? I cannot say”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

(click to enlarge)

Porn and Cat Food

Cecil Thompson had some meetings with vendors scheduled all over town so he spent most of the day driving around. There wasn’t anything to see except the other drivers stuck in traffic all around him, moving slowly in lockstep to… somewhere.

Right after dawn he was creeping along in six lanes of rush hour traffic with some guy stuck next to him in an old clunker Chevy. The passenger window was open and no more than three feet from Cecil’s face. The guy was reading a magazine. The morning sun cut in at an angle so Cecil could clearly see his chubby face, his ponytail, and the the magazine. He tore off a plain protective cover and the title was BOOB-A-RAMA.

Traffic was really slow so Cecil was stuck beside him. Ponytail dude looked at that magazine for a while, holding it this way and that, then set it down and picked up another one. Tore its cover off too. And then another and another.

Cecil thought, “How pitiful can you get?” This is at seven in the morning. Ponytail dude must have stopped off at some slimy convenience store for coffee, donuts, and a big pile of porn. Now he’s cruising around, reading (well, not really reading) while he drives. Cecil felt filthy just sharing the same tarmac with him.

And who actually buys porn magazines anymore? Shouldn’t he have at least a tablet? Nothing worse than an old-school pervert.

Cecil guessed he was just getting ready to face his day.

Later, Cecil pulled up behind a fire engine. Red truck, silver ladders, yellow brown hoses. No lights, no siren, stuck in traffic, going nowhere very, very, slowly. Cecil felt a little sadness, assuming the truck was returning back from some fire, some emergency; he hoped everyone was alright.

Then he noticed the back of the truck. The little running board back there that extra firemen can ride on was piled high with bags. At least twenty bags of kitty litter and maybe five jumbo bags of cat food. The truck was returning from a visit to the pet store.

The firemen can’t leave their truck, in case of a call, so they have to take it out to the store with them. On a mission of mercy for the firehouse cat.

Cecil don’t know why, but he found that even more comforting than he found the ponytail guy with the porn magazines disturbing.

In Praise of Spotify

“What you got back home, little sister, to play your fuzzy warbles on? I bet you got little save pitiful, portable picnic players. Come with uncle and hear all proper! Hear angel trumpets and devil trombones. You are invited..”
Alex, A Clockwork Orange

There was live music at the start.

There was an apocalyptic time, long long ago, when I lived for a while in a tent with a couple of other guys. All we had for music was a little plastic battery-powered record player and two albums – Santana Abraxas and Traffic Low Spark of High Heeled Boys. We would listen to them over and over – and buy a lot of batteries.

When I was in college I didn’t have a stereo. I was jealous of friends that did and would spend as much time as I could wrangle at their places listening to music. I was a pest. Listening to good quality music was an expensive luxury.

On my own, as a working stiff – there was a long series of music related technological advances that came and went (and some times came and went again) – 8-Track, Cassettes, LP Vinyl, Reel-to-Reel, Dolby, subwoofers, CD, 5 – channel… on and on. The Walkman was particularly amazing to me – personal, portable, decent quality affordable music – a revelation. This was truly the best of all possible worlds.

And now, in the midst of my old geezerhood, I have finally caught up and have a paid membership to Spotify. And it is amazing. Desktop, laptop, phone, tablet – the entire history of music spread out before me like a groaning buffet table of sound.

Sure, it’s more than a little unnerving to have a giant computer somewhere checking on what I’m listening to and devising playlists that it thinks I might like… unnerving but also useful.

And now I have hooked my Spotify account up with a bluetooth soundbar and a couple of Amazon Echo Dots…. I can lie in my bed and call out, “Alexa, please play album Santana Abraxas,” or “Alexa, please play album Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.” I don’t know why I always say “please.”


I stumbled across this odd song and now it’s stuck in my head.

It’s called Prisencolinensinainciusol.

A big hit in Italy – the lyrics are gibberish, but designed to sound like English to non-English speaking listeners. It’s strange, but weirdly addictive. Believe it or not but Alexa will find it on Spotify.

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

“After being bombarded endlessly by road-safety propaganda it was almost a relief to find myself in an actual accident.”
― J.G. Ballard, Crash

Car fire just north of downtown, Dallas.


 

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 (#66) Two Thirds of the way! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

 


 

Tailgate

 

Charlotte DeWhiskey moved to her left carefully using he turn signal and checking all the mirrors, twisting her neck and looking back.

“You never know who might be driving along in your blind spot,” she said calmly – to nobody in particular.

It was Friday afternoon, not quite Rush Hour yet, but the loop interstate’s six lanes going her way were full – but still moving fast. She glanced across the median and saw traffic was stopped going the other way.

“Whew! I feel sorry for those folks,” she said to herself while she adjusted her radio – pushing to the second button to call up the classical station, dialing the volume until César Franck’s First Piano Trio in F Sharp Minor filled the passenger cabin without quite drowning the sounds of the traffic outside.

“That’s nice,” she said and smiled a little at the familiar tune.

Charlotte waited patiently for one more gap to open to her left, applied her signals, and slid into the inside lane, right against the segmented moveable concrete barrier of he High Occupancy Vehicle Lane. She had seven miles to go on the Interstate Loop before she would have to exit on Walnut to get to the “Friends of the Symphony” offices. She was going to meet with Frieda and work on the upcoming fundraiser gala. Frieda meant well, but she was pretty useless for getting things done. With Frieda it was all, “This would be cool!” or “That will be fun!” – but ideas are cheap and Charlotte knew that if she didn’t take care of the actual work, the gala would be a disaster.

She felt a little butterfly of nerves – the gala was so important for so many people – and she wished it didn’t all fall completely on her shoulders – like it always seemed to do – but she had done it before and she could do it again.

Now that she was in the far left lane, Charlotte settled in and set her cruise control on sixty – the legal speed limit along that part of the highway. She kept her foot on the brake and her eyes alert.

“You never know when the traffic is going to come to a stop. If you hit someone from behind it will always be your fault,” she said clearly to herself. It never hurt to remind oneself of the rules of civilized living, especially in these troubled and confusing times.

There didn’t seem to be much danger of Charlotte having to slow down. As a matter of fact, cars were piling up behind her – moving to the right when they could, and merging back once they passed, speeding off into the space her relatively slow (but legal) progress created in the lane going forward. Charlotte noticed this, but it didn’t concern her in the least; she was used to it.

“Just because everybody else is speeding, doesn’t mean you have to,” she said, though there was nobody to hear.

One car, now, had pulled up, but it wasn’t passing. Charlotte could only see the front of the vehicle and she knew little about cars – didn’t recognize the make – but noticed the low-slung, streamlined, custom grill and the polished Navy blue metallic paint. The windows in the car behind her were tinted, but the sun was slanting directly through his windshield so she could make out the driver bobbing and gesturing behind his wheel. He flashed his lights quickly and moved forward until he was following only a few feet behind her rear bumper.

“Just because you want to speed doesn’t mean I should break the law,” Charlotte repeated out loud, directly at the image of the tailgater in the mirror – as if he could hear her. “You should have at least one car length between you and the car in front of you for each ten miles per hour you are traveling,” she added for increased effect.

The tailgater couldn’t hear her, of course, and had no intention of slowing down or going around. The left lane, the fast lane, was his. As a precaution, Charlotte pushed the little arrow button for a split second, shaving about two miles per hour off her speed, carefully and precisely regulated by the digital cruise control. The tailgater moved even closer and Charlotte could hear his horn blaring over the sounds of traffic – and “Finlandia” – one of her favorite pieces – which had only just started playing on the radio. She put on a little frown at this interruption and stared carefully into the mirror. She couldn’t make out the tailgater’s face due to the tinting but she could clearly see his arm come up in silhouette, waving his middle finger extended.

Charlotte picked up her cell phone, next to her purse in the passenger seat connected to a charger stuck in the cigarette lighter outlet. She didn’t like to use her cell phone when she was driving, it wasn’t safe.

“Sometimes,” she said out loud, “Things simply can’t be helped!”

Charlotte punched through the “F”s in her contact list and rang Frieda’s number. Frieda picked up almost immediately.

“Frieda, dear, how are you? Well, I’m doing great too! Well, Frieda, I am afraid, though, that I have one little problem. I’m not going to be able to make our meeting this afternoon, sorry. Oh, good, we’ll reschedule in a day or so. Why? Oh, no big deal, really, but I’m about to be involved in an automobile accident…. Toodles!”

Before Frieda could reply, Charlotte snapped her phone closed, disconnected it from the charger, and dropped it into her purse.

She checked her mirror again. The tailgater was still there – he had inched even closer. He was honking his horn constantly – he must have been palming it with his left hand, while he steered with it, Charlotte thought, because she could see his right hand violently waving his middle finger… only lowering for a second or two so he could use it to flash his lights before bringing it up again.

“Not a very alert or safe way to drive in traffic,” Charlotte said to the mirror as she raised her right foot off of the brake. She bent her knee as far as she could; the cruise control would keep her speed constant. Once her leg touched the back of the steering wheel she braced her back against the seat and shoved down as hard as she could, slamming her brake pedal to the floor.

As her tires locked and screeched, tearing hunks of rubber off onto the tarmac Charlotte smiled at the thought that she had carefully followed the manufacturer’s recommendations and had the brake system serviced – the best quality pads installed – disks carefully turned and balanced.


Melvin Turnbuckle was so angry at the crazy woman snoozing along in the fast lane and was so close to her bumper he never even noticed her brake lights come on – not that it would have made any difference at that space and speed. It seemed that the woman’s sedan had been shot backwards out of a cannon, slamming into the front of his car without warning.

The two vehicles locked together in a maelstrom of rending metal. They drifted to the left – momentum still hurling the hulks forward – until the rough concrete barrier wall tore chunks of screaming steel away from the driver’s side of each car. Power and impulse spent, they separated and stopped ten feet apart, steaming, smoking, spewing fluids black, brown, and bright green, creaking, popping, – the dire smell of fuel and burnt rubber blowing across the highway.

Behind them, thousands of brakes squealed and tires skidded as the entire six lanes ground to a halt for miles.

It all happened so fast Melvin never had the chance to quell his fury, no time to even feel the fear. He stepped from the wreckage and strode forward, seeing a slight woman pull herself from the pile of twisted sheet metal in front of him. She stood upright, weaving a tiny bit, a small trickle of blood running down past one eye.

“Lady! What the hell!”

“Oh,” Charlotte noticed him and replied. “God, what a sound! I’m always amazed at the music of these things, the sound it all makes from inside, from when you’re sitting in there. The screech at the start, the tires squealing… and at the end, the explosion of the airbags. in between the cries of the bending metal – it makes that astonishing noise, almost like a human voice in pain.”

“What are you talking about? Oh my God! You did that on purpose! You’re crazy.”

Charlotte’s eyes rolled. “I always follow the letter of the law. I can’t help it if you are following too close. If you hit someone from behind, it’s always your fault.”

The anger and the jolts of adrenaline felt like high voltage coursing through Melvin’s body. He could feel his eyes popping and his mouth going so dry he could barely speak. He doubled his fists in a primitive lizard-brain reflex and started to stumble toward Charlotte – not knowing exactly what would happen when he reached her.

Suddenly, blue and red flashing lights interrupted the scene and a patrol cruiser screamed past in the High Occupancy Vehicle Lane. He exited a quarter mile past and uturned into the vacant lane protected by their wreckage and sped back, parking at an angle to deflect the oncoming snail-like parade of commuters.


Officer Franklin Tenpenny was tired. He sighed when the call came in, another rear-ender along the Loop Interstate, his third one that day. Dispatch radioed that they were sending a couple wreckers so Tenpenny hit his lights and headed over that way.

When he walked up he found a man out of control, glaring, fists clenched, at a slight old woman – both standing between two steaming lumps of ex-automobiles.

“Sir, Sir! I need you to calm down. Calm down right now.”

“Officer, I am glad you are here. This bi… woman… she caused this accident. On purpose!”

“Sir, I was driving at the speed limit when I… I thought I saw a kitten in the highway.”

“A kitten! You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“Officer, he must have been following too close – he smashed into me from behind – he must have been going too fast.”

Officer Tenpenny noticed the trickle of blood running down Charlotte’s cheek. He moved to wipe it with a clean handkerchief he always carried. “Ma’am, are you all right?”

“Yes, officer, it’s only a tiny cut. I’ll be fine.”

“Is She all right?” said Melvin Turnbuckle. “What about me? She caused this. On purpose!”

Tenpenny knew road rage when he saw it. Turnbuckle was getting more and more worked up and Tenpenny didn’t think he would calm down anytime soon. “Excuse me, Ma’am” he said to Charlotte as he moved away from her and palmed his radio. “Dispatch? I have an out of control driver here; better send a couple more cruisers.” He walked briskly toward Melvin, pulling his cuffs out of their case on his belt.

Charlotte watched Officer Tenpenny fold Melvin into the police cruiser. She flinched as Turnbuckle’s head bounced off the door frame. “You would think the police would have done this enough times to get him in there without banging his head,” she said out loud, but quietly, to nobody in particular. She was standing next to what was left of her car and she noticed the radio was still operating – the classical music still playing.

The disk jockey said, “That was the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Franz Liszt, one of my favorites. Now we bring you traffic on half-hour – If you are going home on the North Loop Interstate, dinner might be cold before you get there. An accident has snarled traffic in both directions, backup to the McDuffle Expressway Bridge.”

Sunday Snippet (short story) Intersection, by Bill Chance

The workman turned to face him. Marcellus saw he had a patch on his vest that said, “Strongman.” The workman didn’t say anything.

—-Bill Chance, Intersection

(click to enlarge)

 

Intersection

Marcellus Rodgers wondered what was up when he had to wait to get through the intersection at the end of his block. After a short delay, it was his turn and he had to hold onto the paper cup of coffee when he made his right turn, so he almost didn’t bother to glance over his left shoulder to see what was holding everyone up – but he did – and there was Margie lying lifeless and still on the asphalt in the middle of the intersection.

Margie was fourteen, which was old for a sheepdog. She had been stone deaf for five years. In the last few months her eyes had clouded and Marcellus was sure she had gone practically blind.

Until today, Margie was still able to get around. Marcellus figured it was on her sense of smell and fourteen years of pure dog memory. She slept almost all the time but somehow was able to shake herself awake and go exploring a little bit every day.

Marcellus and his family, when his wife and kids still lived with him, had never been able to keep Margie from escaping. No matter how carefully he had the workmen patch the fence, no matter how vigilant he was with the doors, somehow Margie would get out and go wandering around the neighborhood. Marcellus could not understand what the attraction was for Margie, especially now, blind and deaf, out slowly sniffing, stumbling after squirrels, barking at cats, angering the neighbors, digging in the trash… and now, wandering blind into the street to be hit by a car.

He pulled over and wedged the steaming coffee onto the dash. Holding his hand out to stop the oncoming rush of cars he walked out and poked at Margie with the toe of his tennis shoe. He bent over and gave a little tug on one fore paw. Marcellus realized that Margie was too big for him to lift right there in the middle of the intersection, especially with cars coming. Even if he could get Margie to the car, there was no place to put her in the little two seat sports car. Alive, she loved to sit up in the passenger bucket with her head out the window, hair and ears flopping in the breeze, but dead…. He would have to go home and get a box or something to slide her into – something he could drag the short distance to his porch. The sun was starting to rise over the neighborhood pines, but it was still cold enough that his breath was steaming. He turned from Margie, climbed into his car, and drove home.

He left his coffee sitting on the workbench in the garage and started digging around, looking for a big enough box. In the back corner he found the brand new silver-foil Christmas tree he had bought two years back, just before his family had moved out, and never opened. It was a huge tree, he had picked it out intending it for the high entryway, with the grand staircase spiraling around it, but once it was clear he’d be the only one in the house for Christmas, it didn’t seem worth unpacking and setting up. But, now, even folded up, it had a good-sized box. Marcellus tore one end off and slid the silvery tree sections out onto the oil-stained garage floor. He pulled the box apart along the sides until he had a nice long section of brown corrugated cardboard. He figured he could get Margie on this, then pull her home, sliding – like on a sled. He didn’t know what he’d do after that.

Marcellus walked out of the garage, dragging the cardboard behind him, and turned to walk the short half-block back to the intersection. Right away, he noticed the traffic jam caused by his dead dog, Margie, had grown and that there was an orange truck with a city logo stenciled on the side parked, still belching brown diesel smoke, at an angle in the middle of it all. The truck had a yellow flashing light and Marcellus could see a few neighbors out on their front porches standing with coffee and dishes of breakfast pastries watching the building drama. The sidewalk was too narrow so Marcellus trooped right down the middle of the road, dragging his hunk of cardboard, listening to the bits of gravel stuck underneath squealing against the asphalt. As he arrived he saw a city workman wearing blue coveralls and an orange traffic vest and yellow hard had standing next to Margie, tapping her with a worn leather workboot. The workman was holding what looked like an oversize snow shovel.

“Umm, sir?” Marcellus said, “That’s all right, that’s my dog. I’ll take care of it.”

The workman turned to face him. Marcellus saw he had a patch on his vest that said, “Strongman.” The workman didn’t say anything.

“Umm, Mr. Strongman. I’ll take my dog home. You don’t need to trouble your…”.

“Strongman is the company that makes the vest,” the city worker said and Marcellus didn’t think he sounded like this was the first time someone had made that mistake. “I am an Officer from City Carcass Control and I have received a complaint call about a canine carcass impeding traffic at this location and I have responded to that call. City ordinance requires that I retrieve the carcass.”

“But… that’s my dog. I want to take him home.”

“Sir, I am sure you realize there is a city ordinance that forbids interning a deceased animal on private property.” After a short pause, he said, “You can’t bury the dog in your yard.”

“Oh, I know that. My wife has some property in the country, outside of city limits, and we’d like to take her there.” This was, of course, a complete lie. Harriet and the kids were in California, on the other side of the continent, living in Sam’s condominium. There was plenty of landscaped room behind that place but Marcellus didn’t think the Country Club would be happy about someone digging a hole for a dead sheepdog in the fourteenth fairway. The kids had wanted to take Margie out to California when they had moved but Harriet said Sam’s condominium complex had a limit of fifty seven pounds on dogs.

 

For a second, Marcellus thought about letting the workman take the dog. Margie was gone, after all, and this was, as the workman said, a “Carcass” and nothing more. But he couldn’t do it. It felt like a place he needed to take a stand, and he was going to do it.

“No, no you’re not going to take my dog. Margie goes home with me. I don’t care what the ordinance says. And I’m telling you now, I’m going to dig a hole under the oak tree in back of that house, there. Come arrest me.”

“Sir, If necessary, I assure you I will call the police.”

“And by the time they get here, dammit, I’ll be in my house with my dog. Then they can go to the judge and get a search warrant for me and my dead dog.” Macellus shook his cardboard in what he hoped was a vaguely threatening manner. A couple of silver colored plastic fake foil pine needles floated out and blew away in the breeze. “And you know, Mr. Orange Traffic Vest, there’s not a damn thing you or your book of city ordinance can do about it.”

A horn blared from one of the cars at the front of the line and he suddenly realized that he was standing right up against the workman, and that he was starting to shake a little. The horn on another car, this one across the intersection, went off, impossibly loud, and the workman jumped.

“Sir,” he said.

“Don’t ‘Sir” me. I told you, I”m taking my…”

“But Sir, the carcass seems to be gone.”

Marcellus looked down and, sure enough, Margie wasn’t there any more. He looked up and around and there was Margie, with a little limp and a good overall dog-shake, walking down the sidewalk, oblivious to everything, on her way home.

It had been a cold pre-dawn morning and Margie must have gone for a stroll around the neighborhood and decided to take a nap. The pavement was probably the warmest spot around and – blind, deaf, and oblivious – she had picked the middle of the intersection as the best place for a quick little rest.

Marcellus dropped his cardboard, thinking that at least the Carcass Control Officer could haul that back and walked behind Margie as she strolled home and scratched at the front door.

Marcellus let her in and led her to the kitchen. He thought about his coffee in the garage, but decided to brew his own fresh pot. Margie started nosing her dish and Marcellus went to fetch the special aged dog formula that Margie ate, but decided not to pour any out. Instead he fetched a dozen eggs from the refrigerator and broke four into a mixing bowl.

“You want to share an omelet with me, huh Margie?” She couldn’t hear him but he reached down and scratched her under the ear and Margie decided to take another quick little nap, right on the kitchen floor, waiting for their omelet to cook.

Short Story (flash fiction) Of the Day, Confrontations by David Galef

Maggie kept saying I should exercise restraint, that I might still have my teller’s job at First National if I’d been more polite. I had several replies to that, once bottled up, but no longer.

—–David Galef, Confrontations

(click to enlarge)

This guy came to see me at work. “I was almost run over in the crosswalk coming from the parking lot,” he said to me. This happens a lot, especially at certain times of the day; a good portion of the campus population goes by our entrance. When they are late they drive too fast and distracted and when the sun is just rising it’s hard for everyone to see. The guy at my desk though… I had seen him before walking around, very fast, with his head down – like a maniac.

“Do you have any details?” I asked, “What kind of car? Did you get a license number? How fast were they going?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I wasn’t looking, I actually walked into the side of the car as they drove in front of me. Never even saw it.”

“Umm, that’s a bad spot, you should look before you step off the curb.”

“No!” he said. He was angry. “It’s a crosswalk and I have the right of way. I don’t have to look.”

I think about this all the time. Technically, he is right. The cars have the responsibility to look for pedestrians and to stop. Of course.

But you are a sliver of soft flesh and delicate bone and they are huge metal machines that weigh more than a ton and rush around at high speeds. You are going to get killed and they are going to get smudged. To me, that gives them the ultimate right of way. You are responsible for your own fate, as much as possible… you should… you need to look out.

It’s amazing how drastically different other people can look at the same world that I do.

Read today’s flash fiction here:

Confrontations by David Galef

from BRILLIANT flash fiction

With All Their Speed Forward

“I’m not sure he’s wrong about automobiles,” he said. “With all their speed forward they may be a step backward in civilization — that is, in spiritual civilization. It may be that they will not add to the beauty of the world, nor to the life of men’s souls.”
Booth Tarkington, The Magnificent Ambersons

A while back, on July 26, 2012 to be exact, I wrote a blog entry called Bicycle Lanes. In it I wrote a bit about Richardson’s attempts at improving its cycling infrastructure. I praised the bike trails and especially the bike lanes (while noticing some dangerous flaws).

But I also mentioned how dangerous some of the railroad crossings are. For example, at Arapaho (a very busy street that is necessary for me to get to the library and a few other spots) I took this photo:

Rail crossing on Arapaho road – July, 2012.

I wrote:

There are three lanes of traffic both ways going through that little space – going fast, up to fifty miles per hour or more (don’t lecture me on speed limits… this is Texas). There is no sidewalk, no shoulder, no other way to cross. That hump has a set of rough wheel-swallowing steel rails sitting there on top of it. You hit that wrong on a bike and you are going down. There is no other crossing to the north for a mile. It’s two miles south to a safe crossing.

The Grove road bike lane is right behind me… as is the Arapaho DART station. If I want to ride my bike to the library; I have to go through there. If there is any traffic at all I have no alternative than to stop, get off my bike, and carry it over the tracks.

Which isn’t the worst thing in the world… but I wish someone would work on these choke points.

It’s been almost seven years now, and the city has done something. Here’s what that exact same railroad crossing looks like now:

Railroad crossing on Arapaho road, Richardson, Texas

Railroad crossing on Arapaho road, Richardson, Texas

It’s really only a couple of concrete plates, a bit of asphalt, and some sidewalk work – but it makes all the difference. To almost everybody – those that only drive – this is something completely unnoticeable. But to people that cycle for transportation (and for pedestrians) this sort of thing is a game-changer. To think that the city and the transportation departments are actually, finally thinking about people that aren’t in hurtling steel boxes is a breath of fresh air.

I know, by the way, that it isn’t a good idea to ride on the sidewalk – but that is a rule that sometimes, like along fast moving arterial streets – is made to be broken.

They did the same thing on the other side of the road – going the other way. That makes it not only possible, but easy, for me to ride my bike to the library. Little improvements.

An Amusing Maniac

Damn them, they are wrong. They are insane. Jeremy will take her like the Angel itself, in his joyless weasel-worded come-along, and Roger will be forgotten, an amusing maniac, but with no place in the rationalized power-ritual that will be the coming peace. She will take her husband’s orders, she will become a domestic bureaucrat, a junior partner, and remember Roger, if at all, as a mistake thank God she didn’t make….

—-Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

Downtown Dallas, Texas

It is sunset. You are fighting your way through traffic in the cold dark heart of a gigantic metropolis… cut off from the sky at the bottom of a crystal canyon up farther than you can see. Tired as an old cold bowl of leftover soup staring at brakelights in the wet cold of winter, ozone and gas fumes, the wheel gritty and the seats sprung under your aching back. There are untold miles to go and unknown blocks of jam between the never-ending red light and your warm, soft bed.

And there she is, the Angel of Neiman Marcus forever striding in elegant grace behind glass, out of place on these mean streets, A thing of beauty where no beauty should be expected. Quarter granted where no quarter was expected. You might make it home, yet.

What the Hell Is That?

“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.”
― Albert Einstein, The World as I See It

 

Trailer in front of us on US 75 – North Central Expressway

As we were transporting one son to the other’s apartment we were forced by cruel geography to drive down US 75 – Central Expressway. I have lived in Dallas a long time and have many memories of traffic jams on this long strip of concrete. Today was no different.

 

We saw a column of white smoke drifting up miles ahead and I knew it was going to be bad. So we settled in for the wait – about an hour, which is really not as bad as it could be. We chatted, listened to music, and stared at the back of the cargo trailer in front of us. I know it’s not a big deal, but I was forced to look at it for over an hour.

 

What the hell is that?

Cropped version of the back of the trailer.
What the hell?

It’s obviously the remmnants of a sign or a painted ad of some sort – heavily weathered or purposely mostly removed. You can see the white circles where the rivets are. There are two URLs on the design, I looked them up. One is a manufacturer of trailers, another is a local dealer that sells used trailers. No clue there. But the URLs overlay the design. Does that mean that it is supposed to look like that? Did they sell it that way?

As I stared at it – I wondered… What is that in the upper right? A dancer? Is that a skull in the upper left quarter? A lot of random shit ends up looking like a skull. One the bottom, those look like artistic shapes of some sort – but what?

I stuck my phone out of the window and snapped a photo right as we passed the charred carcass of a big burned out SUV (hope nobody was hurt) and the traffic began to speed up.

What the hell is that?

Nanowrimo Day Two

Ultimate goal – 50,000 words.
Daily goal – 1,667 words
Goal total so far – 3,334 words

Words written today – 1,885 words
Words written so far – 3,570 words
Words to goal – +236

“Living with a whore–even the best whore in the world–isn’t a bed of roses.”
― Henry Miller

Running of the bulls, New Orleans, Louisiana

As I committed the other day, I am doing Nanowrimo – the National Novel Writing Month this November – writing a 50,000 word (small) novel in a month. Not necessary a good novel, or even a readable novel, but one of 50K words.

The second day of Nano, November 2, I was supposed to have a flex day off of work and I figured I’d get some serious writing done. But, as often happens, I had to go into work, teach a couple of classes, and get a reclaim shipment out – so I worked a little more than a full day – though I was able to slip out over lunch and hit the early voting.

I didn’t get my writing in until late in the day, but I did get it in. My inspiration for today was a bumper sticker I saw while I was stuck in traffic on my home from work a couple weeks ago. The sticker said, “I Love Crack Whores” – with a big red heart where the word “Love” is. It struck me as so strange that someone would put something like that on their truck, so I wrote it down in my little book of writing inspiration.

In keeping with the idea of Nanowrimo (putting words on the paper without worry – maybe trying some experimentation) I decided to make today’s work a long dialog between two characters, Odette and Bernard, stuck behind a truck like the one I saw. An extended riff in dialog form on the phrase, “I Love Crack Whores.” I was able to hit today’s word count without much trouble… it was sort of fun.

Here’s a snip of what I wrote.

“I knew a crack whore once. A very good friend of mine.”

“What? I didn’t know you lived in that sort of neighborhood. “

“I didn’t. Bad things happen everywhere. This was a long time ago.”

“Who? How?”

“A girl I knew since I was a little kid. She only lived a block away from me. But her family life was awful. Her dad was knifed in prison once. I never saw her mother sober and she had this creepy big brother that scared the shit out of everyone and his friends were worse. So she spent a lot of time at my house. To get away. “

“So how did she end up a crack whore?”

“Well, it was easier than you’d think. She wasn’t very good looking, this moon shaped face, and with eyes so far apart they almost looked like they were on stalks. Straight on, she looked like she didn’t have a nose but from the side it was like stair steps.”

“Jeez, poor girl.”

“Yeah, she never thought any boys would like her. So when she was old enough – or almost old enough, she started sleeping around. In high school. She would go with anybody that showed any interest at all and would do anything they wanted. The stories were wild.”

“So she was loose, that doesn’t make her a whore.”

“Well, no. But what she told me was that one night, she was really broke, needed to buy some new shoes or something really bad, and asked some boy, some rich boy, for a loan. No big deal for the kid, ‘chump change’ she said he told her, he gave her the cash. She thought it was a good thing, it made her happy, she bought the shoes. But then the next one, some other boy, gave her money up front. It seems the rich kid let it slip he had given her money, and everyone thought that was the business.”

“God, and she went along.”

“Yeah, I guess she did. I told her to stop it and she said she needed the cash, the boys seemed to think it was cool, nobody cared about her anyway. “

“What about the crack?”

“Well, she had the cash, she didn’t give a shit about anything. It was a spiral. The usual. Weed, then hash, pills, speed, and finally hitting the crack pipe. “

“How old was she then?”

“Junior year. Really sad.”

“Christ that sucks. Do you know what happened to her? Is she dead?”

“Oh no. Not at all. She ran away from home and that helped. Must have been really fucked up over there when becoming a homeless crack whore was an improvement. But I guess she hit rock bottom and came back up. Turns out she was a lesbian. Never knew it. Went to Law School, passed the bar. Now she’s a hotshot in Kansas City real estate. We’re friends on Facebook. She’s really into fitness. Got married a year ago, now that she can. Still awful ugly though.”