Sign Language

The sign by the pool says, “No diving under five feet,” and I always wonder if it shouldn’t be six. I always wonder if no one should dive at all. But I don’t say anything. I don’t want to disturb anyone, even from getting a cracked head.

I sit there on the edge, staring at the sign, feeling drowsy because chlorine always makes me drowsy. I will probably drown someday if I stay in the pool long enough. Maybe I should have my mom check the box so I don’t have to swim anymore, like she did with gym class.

The others splash about in the deep end. The sign over there says, “Only with a lifeguard present,” and I imagine the skinny high schooler standing up and saying, “I’m present,” when he sees the sign. Of course he’s reading a book, it’s Moby Dick, but I don’t think that’s allowed. There should be a sign to tell him that.

“It’s your turn to swim, Thom,” Miss Myrtle tells me. Her hand is on my shoulder. I don’t like it when people touch me without asking. I don’t like many things, but Miss Myrtle smells like the beach, and I forgive her for it. It’s not enough to make me swim, though.

“Thom, we go through this every Thursday,” she says, when I don’t speak up. Continue reading “Sign Language”

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Not the Swearing Kind

He had Tourette’s, but not the swearing kind. In fact, if you didn’t know him very well you wouldn’t even suspect he had any issues. If you looked closely, however, you might notice the trembling in his right hand, the clicking of his tongue slamming repetitively against the back of his teeth, or even the twitching of his left eyebrow in time with some hidden drummer in his head. It was at once both familiar and reassuring, but also supremely frustrating to him. It had only caused him real trouble twice in his life: the one time when he accidentally voted for Jill Stein, and the other when he wet himself at the urinal at City Hall. Both times had been quite embarrassing. He had vowed not to let either one happen again.

He was a tour guide at the Museum of Modern Art, one of the fifty white-jacketed walking encyclopedias of the history of painting, with some sculptural knowledge on the side. When he was on his feet, using his hands to gesture at the works on the walls, he sometimes forgot the shaking that consumed him at all other times of the day. It was as if the motion lulled his brain into a sense of comfort that nothing else could. He wished he were able to bottle that feeling and keep it with him all day long, but he knew it was as impossible as Easter on the Fourth of July. Continue reading “Not the Swearing Kind”

No Silver Linings

“That cloud looks like Mike Tyson,” Sheena said, poking me in the ribs.

She was always poking me in the ribs, but I had nowhere to go. We had been shoved together in the backseat for five hours straight, and if I thought she was annoying in a room, Sheena in the car was worse.

“That cloud does not look like Mike Tyson,” I responded without looking.

“You didn’t look!” she squealed. “Joey didn’t look!” she told my mom, who also didn’t look.

Honestly, I don’t even think my mom wanted to go on the trip in the first place, but Barry insisted on it. He and my mom had been together for two years, and I felt like he was pushing it a little bit, with those stupid family trips. Sheena was his kid, a little brat who never stopped talking.

“You missed the cloud that looked like Mike Tyson,” she said, pouting. Continue reading “No Silver Linings”

In the Beginning…

“The farmer looks to his field for sustenance, even when it is a lean harvest. Because he is a farmer, and that is all he has.” ~Theodicus

I wrote my first short story when I was in sixth grade, well, the summer after sixth grade, while everybody else was at the YMCA learning how to swim. I spent that summer in my mom’s office, for the most part. These were the days when kids could do that without repercussions from employers. My sister and I would hang out in the back offices, where no one seemed to have worked for a decade, drawing, playing tag, and occasionally getting into other sorts of mischief.

We also took these classes through the university (where my mom worked). These were for kids who were in middle school, to keep up their skills. I absolutely loved most of them, one of which was a creative writing class. Sure, I had written flashes of fiction prior to that summer, but nothing cohesive, nothing that hung together nicely enough to call it a real story. So I was excited to put it all together. I had an inkling that writing would mean more to me and my future, even back then.

That’s when I found out how hard it was to write, to put words together that made some kind of sense in a complete story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. The first day of class our teacher came in and said, “Write a story.” He told us we had the whole 50 minutes to write on anything we wanted. I spent the first 20 coming up with something I thought might be good enough for him. Continue reading “In the Beginning…”

Pipe Dreams

The hood was life. We ate it, slept it, sucked it in like air, but that ain’t leave too much time for nuthin’ else. Hell, me and Ricardo ain’t even know there was no big world out there til we was twelve, and then what good it do us? Ricardo always talkin’ ‘bout movin’ on up, but we ain’t got no ladder, no stairs, not even no step stool cuz Bubba Jones took it last Tuesday and momma said we ain’t gettin’ it back.

“Y’all don’t got no prospect, ‘cept what the hood give y’all,” Seph Mason told me and Ricardo that summer we both grew in our wisdom teeth.

“Momma say sky’s the limit,” Ricardo told Seph. Seph backhanded him upside the head. Ricardo’s ratty Phillies cap flew off.

“Yo momma don’t know no better,” Seph said. “She always smokin’ that crack, make you have them delusions and shit. She wudn’t ever no good.”

Which is what everybody say about Ricardo’s momma, but I stay out of it. ‘Sides, we was gonna get a taste of that Jefferson movement ‘cuz our school got a field trip downtown next week.

“How you think they build them big buildings and stuff?” I asked Seph. He got out his crack pipe and lit up before he got to respondin’.

“They use slave labor, same as always,” Seph said, looking me and Ricardo in the eyes. His was bloodshot. Continue reading “Pipe Dreams”

Flash Fiction: Greater Atlantic Switchboard

“Greater Atlantic Switchboard, this is Quinn,” proclaimed the slim girl behind the reception desk, headset protruding from her left ear, microphone poised at her lips.

“Hi Quinn!” the man on the other end of the line replied, rather loudly. “I’m calling to report otters building a dam across the road down Loving Lane, you know, where the Peavy Farm used to be?”

“Mr. Hanson?” she asked, adjusting her headset even though it was unnecessary.

“Yes, ma’am!” he screamed back at her. It was obvious he wasn’t wearing his hearing aids, and it wasn’t the first time he had barked at her, but Quinn still found it sad.

“Mr. Hanson, there are no otters building a dam across the road down Loving Lane,” she assured him, but the man’s mind was stuck on autopilot, as it always was.

“Damn straight they are,” he said, a rustling sound gaining momentum in the background.

“No, sir,” she tried again. “Otters don’t build dams, Mr. Hanson.”

“Well, tell that to these two who are damn sure building a dam across the road,” he replied, gruffly. “I can see them outside my window, having a grand old time. Someone’s going to have an accident.”

“Do you have your glasses on, sir?” she asked, trying hard to stand her ground.

“Well, no, but…” he began, immediately defensive.

It was her daily exercise in using kid gloves, humoring the old man without embarrassing him, which was a thin line indeed. Their call center was inundated with real emergencies from morning to night, so she couldn’t stay on with him forever. Some days he was convinced possums were playing dead in that selfsame road, others he would swear to an earthquake rocking the foundation of his home, so the story of otters wasn’t very unique as far as his tales went.

“Now, I’m not saying you’re seeing things, Mr. Hanson,” she cut in. “But we both know there were no possums that time, and there was no earthquake, so… can you at least entertain the possibility that there are no otters building a dam across Loving Lane?”

“Hell no,” he said. “They’re there, and if you don’t send someone out I will take care of them my damn self.”

“Sir, there is no need for that,” she quickly replied, knowing he meant to get his shotgun out of mothballs. The last time Ed Hanson pulled out that gun he shot up Millie Gray’s peach garden. There had been peach juice running down the road for several hours, and poor Millie didn’t sleep right for a week.

“Good,” he said, properly placated. “Tell them to hurry, because it looks like these otters are fixing to have relations right next to that dam, and hell if I’m going to sit here and watch otters have relations.”

He hung up with a great clattering, as he always did, leaving Quinn with the disgusting mental image of otters having sex in the road. She sighed and switched over to the next call.

Sam

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