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

Mr. Maguire: I want to say one word to you, Benjamin. Just one word.

Benjamin Braddock: Yes, sir.

Mr. Maguire: Are you listening?

Benjamin Braddock: Yes, I am.

Mr. Maguire: Plastics.

—-The Graduate

Grapevine, 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 (#29). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

 


Plastics

 

Baker worked for Yoyodyne Injection Moulding (marketing insisted they always use the British spelling). One thing he had to do was to walk out every morning to the tank farm where the monomers were stored and inspect the containment around the tanks to make sure there were no leaks or spills – no foreign material inside the dikes.

It rained all the time, especially at night. There was usually water in the containment and the maintenance crew would come out  most afternoons to drain the accumulation. They were the only ones with keys to the valves.

He had a form on a clipboard that he had to fill out. Date the top, make checkmarks by each line that corresponded to a tank. At the bottom was a space for corrective actions in case of a leak. He had never written in that spot.

It was very tempting to pencil-whip the inspections – not do the walking around and looking – simply check the forms and file them away. He knew that’s what Duane did, the guy that used to do the job. He would sneak out for a smoke when he was said he was going for the inspections. But Duane was caught with a joint in his mouth while he was operating the big press and they fired him. The union was going to get him reinstated but the inspections looked like they were Baker’s for good.

The factory was located in a swamp in the south and it was always incredibly hot. Humid too. And giant mosquitoes. Baker would try and get out to do his inspection right as the sun came up but it was still so soggy and sweltering he felt he couldn’t even breathe properly – the air so full of hot water that it displaced the oxygen. The very air of the place could not support life.

At dawn, the sun would be peeking orange over the swampy jungle that surrounded the factory, the tanks looming huge – white cylinders shrouded in mist burning away by the growing daylight. All sorts of birds would be chattering, chirping, or singing – their sound competing with more guttural cries from swamp critters – Baker had no idea what was making those noises and didn’t want to learn. The smell of decomposing miasma wafted across the property and competed with whiffs of acrid stench of volatile monomers coming from the vents as the tanks were heated by the sunrise.

That day, however, it was not like that. It was February and a historic cold front had blown through the night before. These blue northers were not common, but they happened. There had been a good bit of cold rain and he knew there would be water in the containment. Baker dug an old musty coat out from his locker and had brought from home a knit cap and gloves that he had kept from when he had moved from that more northern, civilized place.

“Cold one out there today,” said Dale, the shift boss.

“Yup,” was all that Baker could think to reply as he pulled on his gloves.

“Better you than me,” said Dale.

Bundled up, he trudged out to do his inspections.

Right at the first containment he saw there was something wrong. The water that stood inside the dike was almost covered with solid plastic. Baker’s heart jumped as he looked at the contaminated containment. The material looked to be about at least a quarter inch thick on the side nearest him… maybe more in places. It tapered off across the water until it disappeared on the other side – he could see ripples there where there was still open water. The solid material was smooth and clear.

The material must have leaked out of the tank – bad valve, overfill, broken connection – floated on the water and then polymerized. He wasn’t sure what was in that tank – maybe styrene, maybe vinyl chloride. Any of them could do what he was looking at. He was surprised that it didn’t smell worse than it did, but the polymerization must have been complete and the cold would keep the vapors down.

He wasn’t sure what to do. There was a little guard shack and he grabbed an empty metal paint can and a pair of tongs. The technician that unloaded the tank cars used these to take samples. Carefully leaning over the concrete dike he grabbed the edge of the solid polymer with the tongs. A chunk broke off easily and he transferred it to the can.

Leaving his clipboard behind he hurried back into the factory. Nothing about this was his fault and it was a good thing that he had done his inspection and found the leak – but he was afraid he would be blamed anyway. He was always the fall guy – the outsider – who could be blamed for anything. That wasn’t altogether bad – Baker had learned in his short career that if you could take unlimited blame and abuse – well, there was surprisingly good money in that.

Inside the warm factory he found the nearest phone and spent a minute getting his gloves off so he could dial. He called the emergency number. A tired and bored voice answered.

“Hello,” the voice said.

“We have a spill,” Baker said.

“Where is it? What material?” the voice said. It still sounded bored and bothered, like this happened every day.

“The containment farm.”

Baker looked down at the paint can he was holding and was shocked to see it contained a clear liquid instead of the chunk of plastic he had put it in there. It was weird – he didn’t smell anything.

At that moment there was a click inside Baker’s head, a shift in understanding so sudden he almost could hear it.

The stuff in the can was water. The spill in the containment was ice.

It was usually so hot and tropical he never imagined that the water could freeze. It never entered his mind. The blue norther had dropped the temperature to freezing. Ice. Ice.

“Umm, never mind,” he said into the phone.

“What do you mean? Where is the spill?”

Baker hung up.

Later that day, he wrote a letter to his Uncle in Chicago. He never really liked that branch of the family tree, but he asked if knew of any job openings in the city. Baker was thinking he wanted to return to civilization. Even some place that had ice half of the year.

Short Story Of the Day, Weeds by Bill Chance

“The new owners kept the lawn up all right, they hired a crew to come in once a week, Mexicans in a pickup, trailer in back, mowers and edgers and in an hour it was done. Other than that, though, things were worse. Way worse.”

—-Bill Chance, Weeds

Wildflowers, Huffhines Park, 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 (#11). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

 


 

Weeds

Weeds! Weeds!

Jonny pulled and moved forward. Working carefully on his hands and knees he inched along his side yard. This was Tuesday and Thursday work, pulling weeds. He was retired and had the time to do this by hand, to do it the right way. Monday was mowing and edging. Wednesday was for the flowerbeds, Friday the vegetables. The weekend was for fixing and painting.

He glanced up for a minute from the lush green growth to look across the street at the house there. It had been purchased six months earlier by some young man, named Douglas. At first Jonny and the other neighbors were happy, anyone would be better than the crazy slob that lived there before. That nut never kept the place up at all. When his nephews came to visit Jonny had been so embarrassed at the tall grass across the street he sneaked over one day when the nut was gone and mowed it. The nut called the police when he came home but they wouldn’t do an investigation, mowing someone’s lawn might be trespassing, but it wasn’t a thing they had time to pursue.

The new owners kept the lawn up all right, they hired a crew to come in once a week, Mexicans in a pickup, trailer in back, mowers and edgers and in an hour it was done. Other than that, though, things were worse. Way worse.

First were the bars on the windows. Then the big siren up on the roof, hooked up to a burglar alarm. That damn thing went off one night, woke up half the neighborhood. Cars coming and going, all night. Dark cars, tinted windows. Quick, hairy, odd folks. Darting in and out.

Jonny didn’t like it. Not at all. Right across the street.

Not much he could do about it. He cursed a little under his breath, turned his head back to the lawn and started to inch forward again. This time of spring the spurge was bad, round bright green leaves mixed in with the darker St. Augustine blades. It didn’t look right, so Jonny would pull them by hand, before they could get a stranglehold on his lawn. Had to nip these things in the bud, Jonny always said.

He was so intent on his weed pulling he didn’t see the first police van pull up. It was silent, no siren. The second one came faster and squealed its brakes. Jonny snapped his head up in time to see the third, fourth, and fifth speed in from different directions, all slamming up to the curb along the neighbors house. A few police cars came screaming in too, filling the street.

The black-clad helmeted police poured out of the trucks and ran up to the house, one at each window, the rest in groups at the front and back doors. Then the shouting started, and a loud banging, and the sound of wood being torn apart. The two groups of police disappeared into the house and, on cue, a big dark green truck pulled up, one with big back double doors that opened wide.

More shouting. The police came out with a black man wearing only bright red underwear, his hands cuffed behind his back. They threw him roughly into the back of the truck. Then they led out a skinny blond woman, wrapped in a blanket, smoking a cigarette, she went into one of the cars.

A group of police came out the back door, shouting louder than ever. Jonny could hear grunting and cussing, the police were red-faced and heaving at something. Then Jonny recognized Douglas, the young fellow that bought the house, he was wearing a black leather jacket like the police, it was hard to tell who was who.

Suddenly Douglas let out a scream and heaved forward and somehow broke loose. His hands were cuffed behind but he took off running across the street, straight for Jonny’s house. The police pulled guns, but didn’t fire. Two of them, maybe the biggest men Jonny had ever seen caught up with Douglas and knocked him down like he was made of straw. He bounced into the grass not ten feet from Jonny. The police gathered him up, quiet now, and hauled him quickly over to the truck. Even though he was right there – nobody said a word to him. They ignored Jonny completely, like he was invisible.

The trucks all left along with most of the cars. Only one marked car was left behind. One man took photos while another stretched yellow tape across the doors of the house. Soon then they left too. Suddenly quiet. Jonny hadn’t moved an inch. He still was on his knees, a freshly pulled weed between his fingertips. Nobody had said a word to him.

Jonny knelt for a minute, trying to decide what to do. Should he go in the house? His wife wasn’t home; on Tuesdays she spent the day at the Center… was it ceramics day? He thought for awhile but couldn’t come up with any reason not to keep weeding. Jonny looked up and saw something white on the grass, right where the police had thrown Douglas down. A fleck of what looked like a scrap of paper. He started to get up to walk over, see what it was.

“Jeez! That shore was sumpthin’!” a voice startled Jonny. He stood up quickly and looked into the face of Fred, a neighbor from down the block. Fred smelled of fresh clippings, he must have been mowing.

“Uh, yeah,” was the only comment Jonny could come up with.

“I always knew somthin’ fishy was goin’ on over there… but Jeez!” continued Fred. “Come back from Vegas yesterday, lawn growed up somethin’ awful. I’s out mowin’, then this. Jeez!”

“How was Vegas?” Jonny asked, eager to change the subject.

Fred was happy to oblige, “OK, I suppose.” “Wife and I ate at the buffet, at the Brass Nugget, same as always. ‘Cept this time we went to pay and the girl said ‘Thirty-Two dollars.’ ‘Thirty-Two Dollars!’ I says back at her. I couldn’t believe it had gone up that much. ‘It’s whole lobster night,’ she says. That explained it, it was whole lobster night.”

“Did you eat a lobster?”

“Yeah, you had to use a coupon so it wasn’t really all you could eat, you only had one. You picked out your lobster, only they weren’t very good. Too big ‘n tough. I’d never had a whole lobster before, only tails ‘n claws. This one was too tough.”

“Oh, sorry.”

“Well then,” Fred went on, “I went back, to the regular part of the buffet, and got some of the meat. Some beef. And, you know, it was so tough I could barely chew it. Like horsemeat.”

“Oh, the buffet wasn’t so good?”

“It’s OK. Same as always, really. All you can eat. Can’t beat that.” “Well, Jonny, I’d better get back to that mower. Lawn’s all grown up ‘n all.”

“Oh, talk to ya later, then.”

“Talk to ya later.”

And Fred strolled off. Jonny watched him for a minute, thinking about Fred flying all the way out to Las Vegas for a vacation. Thinking about going all that way to wait in line in an all-you-can-eat buffet. Piling up tough meat on a plate.

Jonny turned and looked at the fleck of white. It looked even worse than a weed, so he walked quickly over to get it off his lawn. In a few steps he was on it and could get a good look down into the turf.

He wasn’t so young anymore, he wasn’t up on all the new stuff, but he wasn’t an idiot either. He knew what that was down there. It must have fallen out of Douglas’ pocket when he went down. In all the hubub nobody noticed such a small thing stuck there in the blades of grass.

It was a marijuana cigarette, a joint. Handrolled, ends twisted, a little bent, Douglas must have rolled onto it as he fell. Jonny had never seen one of these before. It looked familiar, though. In the army, he and the other men would buy tins of tobacco, packs of thin, gummed papers, roll their own cigarettes out on maneuvers. He knew this wasn’t tobacco, though.

Jonny didn’t know what to do. The police were all gone. The few neighbors that had come out onto their porches right after it happened had all retreated back inside. He looked down the block and saw Fred pushing his mower around the corner into his side yard.

Jonny bent over, picked it up quickly and walked fast into the door of his workshop.

It used to be a detached garage, but Jonny added space on to the front that would hold their car and converted the rest into storage for his tools and a bench. It was dark and quiet, the one place where Jonny felt always at home. It had been more than five years since another human being had been in this room. He pulled the hand-rolled cigarette out of his pocket and put it down on the bench between his soldering iron and the case of his socket set.

Jonny stood there motionless. He kept thinking of Fred and the buffet. He could see the trays, almost taste the tough meat. He thought of all those retired people on vacation, trading in their little coupons for tasteless old lobsters, picked from a tank and boiled alive. He could hear the sound of mowers through the wall of his shop, not only Fred, but others out pushing the machines. It sounded like bees buzzing through the walls. Jonny thought of the third of his yard he had left unweeded, of the brighter green leaves of the spurge mixed in with his carefully tended turf.

Without even knowing why, Jonny reached out to his pegboard and pulled the long propane lighter he used on his bar-b-que grill.

He sat down on a stool. “I think I’ll let the rest go today,” he said out loud to himself and picked up the marijuana, stuck it in his mouth.

Short Story Of the Day, Fourth of July by William E Burleson

But now he plays. As always, he plays because that’s what he’s paid to do. But this time, he also plays for his co-workers. This time, he plays for honor. And he plays brilliantly.

—- William E Burleson, Fourth of July

The end of a game of giant Jenga – Community Beer Company, Dallas, Texas

I remember… let’s see… I was about ten – that would make it about 1967. Well over a half-century ago. The memory is from a small farming town (about 500 souls) in the middle of nowhere – so that would mean, if I was living there, probably it was when my father was in Vietnam. I remember discovering a well-worn building within walking distance of my house (everything was within walking distance) that had a couple of pinball games right inside the front door. I would walk down there and some old man would give me a quarter so I could play.

A quarter was a lot of money in those days.

If you were weaned on video games you don’t understand the thrill of a real, mechanical marvel. The sound, real sound, of the metal ball and the flippers and the bumpers, clanking and chunking – the bells chiming – the mechanical counters clicking around (and hopefully the wonderful CLUNK of a new free game). The slight smell of ozone in the air from the thousands of contacts making and breaking. The flashing lights and garish graphics – real wood, real glass, real paint. The feel of the spring loaded piston that sent the heavy ball – you could feel the weight in the handle – shooting up and around and the moment you felt your fingers move to the round buttons on the side with your palms against the wood to give careful, tiny shoves (don’t want to TILT – you learned the limits of your machine) to keep the ball moving and away from the gutter. You became one with the flippers – the game would last as long as your skill and luck held out.

Those days are gone.

Read it here:

Fourth of July by William E Burleson

William E Burleson homepage

Rather Be Exact

“Only I have no luck any more. But who knows? Maybe today. Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.”
― Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

Galveston, Texas

How I Feel Tonight

“The challenge lies in knowing how to bring this sort of day to a close. His mind has been wound to a pitch of concentration by the interactions of the office. Now there are only silence and the flashing of the unset clock on the microwave. He feels as if he had been playing a computer game which remorselessly tested his reflexes, only to have its plug suddenly pulled from the wall. He is impatient and restless, but simultaneously exhausted and fragile. He is in no state to engage with anything significant. It is of course impossible to read, for a sincere book would demand not only time, but also a clear emotional lawn around the text in which associations and anxieties could emerge and be disentangled. He will perhaps only ever do one thing well in his life.

For this particular combination of tiredness and nervous energy, the sole workable solution is wine. Office civilisation could not be feasible without the hard take-offs and landings effected by coffee and alcohol.”
― Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

Decatur, Texas

I was looking forward to an easy day – especially since it was supposed to be my day off. But the phone calls kept rolling in, the emails kept coming, everybody wanted a piece of me. By the time I made it home… there was nothing left. Another day stolen by the man.

Choose Which Poison

“You’re going to pay a price for every bloody thing you do and everything you don’t do. You don’t get to choose to not pay a price. You get to choose which poison you’re going to take. That’s it.”
Jordan B. Peterson

Bolivar Peninsula, Texas

I am working on a list of “Bill’s Rules” – hopefully coming up with a list of useful, yet pithy, statements that I, more or less, came up with on my own. I’m up to four, but have serious doubts about the fourth – probably goin’ to give that one up.

At any rate, Numero Uno:

The key to creativity and innovation is to embrace failure

This seems obvious at first – of course if you are to be creative and innovative you have to be willing to fail. What I’m saying goes beyond that – you have to embrace failure. You have to crave failure. You have to have failure as your primary goal.

To illustrate, I’ll give an example from that white-hot furnace meant to burn away all and any trace of creativity and innovation (and joy, and human-ess, and anything else worthwhile) – the world of the modern giant corporation. It is a world of metrics, and goals, and people scurrying like ants to meet those metrics… and the world be dammed. Not meeting goal, having that dreaded red box on the monthly PowerPoint metric presentation – projected on that screen in that sterile conference room – , is the worse thing in the world and a source of executive shame.

And they don’t understand why other companies (usually very small) always come up with the new ideas.

Here’s my idea – everyone should have on their annual review goal list – “I will initiate at least six major projects in the coming year that will fail… preferably fail in a spectacular and embarrassing manner.”

That would spur some creativity and innovation. And what happens if your projects all succeed in wild and unpredictable ways? Well, you weren’t innovative and creative enough – if you manage to hold on to your job you better try harder next year.

Best Part of a Holiday

“After all, the best part of a holiday is perhaps not so much to be resting yourself, as to see all the other fellows busy working.”
― Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

Zen-like Christmas decorations, Waxahachie, Texas

Oblique Strategy: Do something boring

Went in to work today for the last time this year (not entirely true – thanks to our government and their thoughtful regulations I will have to stop by a couple more times, but that doesn’t really count). It was surprisingly not-unpleasant despite the fact that I finally had to to all of the stuff I had been putting off all year.

Oh, sorry, can’t help myself – I stumbled across one last quote:

“The main reason Santa is so jolly is because he knows where all the bad girls live.”
― George Carlin

Man, I miss George Carlin. Actually, now that I think about it – as far as I’m concerned (I never met him and never would anyway) he is as much still here as he always was.

Everything Worth Fighting For Unbalances Your Life

“There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life.”
― Alain de Botton

VisionShift, Sonia King, Mosaic, Arts District, Dallas, Texas


VisionShift – Sonia King

Oblique Strategy: You don’t have to be ashamed of using your own ideas

Every year, going into the holidays, I am stressed at work and looking forward to getting away, doing some of my own stuff, and getting everything teed up for next year.

But the hits just keep on coming. Everybody is in a hurry, they want their problems solved, and they seem to think I’m the only one to solve them. I’m sure everybody feels this way.

On another note – I have become re-fascinated by this wonderful piece of music. I keep listening to it over and over. It’s a shame it was used as a cigarette commercial jingle for so many years, and that’s how so many remember it.

A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 30 – SCHOOL by Melissa Goodrich

Sundance Square, Fort Worth, Texas

Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. 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 – In September this time… because it is September.

Today’s story, for day 30 – SCHOOL by Melissa Goodrich
Read it online here:
SCHOOL by Melissa Goodrich

They eat spicy Cheetos and Ramen noodles, have the kind of beautiful faces that crack rearview mirrors.
—-Melissa Goodrich, SCHOOL

We were talking today, like we often do, about Game of Thrones, gratuitous nudity, and little person sex. I said, as I often do, “The problem with the world that Game of Thrones is set in, is that everybody’s life is miserable. From the most destitue peasant to the kings of the world, nobody is happy and life is so difficult and, despite the gratuitous nudity and little person sex, so joyless… If I lived there, I’d just kill myself, and anyone else would too.”

Someone else said, as they often do, “It’s like the life we live today.”

I replied, “No, we don’t live in miserable times… we live in the crazy times.”

Interview with Melissa Goodrich:

Is writing more of a blessing or a curse?
God. Both. I usually think I’m not writing enough. I’m haunted by those people who write every day, and run ten miles, and read new books and journals, and eat organically nurtured produce…I’m still a cereal-eater, a sleeper-inner, a person who writes slowly and then binge-watches TV.

But the blessing is I trust my voice now. And I trust that writing should be joyous and surprising, and that none of it is wasteful.
—-from Cultured Vultures

Kyde Warren Park, Dallas, Texas