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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Flash Fiction: Sharing Stephen

“I can’t believe you went out with Bob!” Lisa said, but it wasn’t really about Bob. It was never really about Bob. In fact, there had been about a million Bobs since Stephen. Lisa still missed Stephen, and the gaping emptiness he had left in the world around all of them, but specifically in her world.

“I don’t even know why I tell you anything,” replied Kat, sighing loudly for emphasis. For her it wasn’t about Bob either, but really about what Bob represented – change. The entirety of her adult life had been spent chasing shiny guys like Stephen – all flash and no real substance. But Bob, well, Bob was steady, if unremarkable. “Why couldn’t one guy have the whole package?” she often asked herself, but she never asked Lisa.

That’s because Lisa was madly in love with Stephen, as shiny and as unsubstantial as he was. Kat knew it ever since that Dave Matthews concert, when Lisa seemed all aloof, like she didn’t really care for Kat’s new boyfriend. It was Lisa’s tell, the sideways glances, the way she ignored him unless he was speaking directly to her – so obvious. But she would have denied it to her grave, liking Stephen, wanting to be more than just his girlfriend’s best friend, which is why Kat never pressed her on it. What was the point? It was like everything else between them, just below the surface but never explicitly stated.

“You tell me everything because you know I live vicariously through your relationships,” said Lisa. Which was true enough. She herself hadn’t had a date since no one knew when because she kept everything buried inside. In fact, Kat had come to realize that throughout most of their friendship she was always the one to do the majority of the sharing. If only she had shared Stephen.

But it wouldn’t end up mattering, the sharing of Stephen, because he inexplicably broke up with her, as reticent as he was to admit it was her fault. Yet she knew it had to be her, her inability to be what he needed, what he craved in a partner. Either that or he was too immature to see what she really had to offer. Of course by then she had grown distant as she always did when things got too serious. That’s why there had been a series of Bobs before Stephen, why there would be a series of Bobs after him, and why she really wished she had an answer to her many issues.

“I tell you everything because you’re the closest I’ve ever had to a therapist,” Kat answered, realizing it was true only as the words tumbled from her lips, realizing why it really hadn’t worked with Stephen. To her he had been all flash, but to Lisa he might have been something special. Lord knew she needed something to hold onto other than the dregs her friend had always given her.

“Damn straight!” said Lisa, emphatically. “But Bob? Really?”

Sam

Two Parts

6a12888bb450cb0e1caa447145add377“You grew up where?” he asked me, incredulity in his tone, head cocked to the side.

“Philadelphia,” I repeated, for the apparently hard of hearing barber, whose nametag proclaimed him BoCeephus.

“My cousin Dewey was born and raised in Philly,” BoCeephus said as he brushed off the tattered apron and placed it around my neck. “Went to school somewhere in North Philly. Don’t know the name. Had a good ball team. Not that he was on it or anything. Dewey had a trick knee. Never was good at sports.”

I knew his type, the kind who had connections everywhere and nowhere at the same time, the kind who had to make small talk even when waiting for the subway.  Yeah, I had known guys like that my whole life, whether they were Main Line or ghetto, old city or downtown. They were only different insomuch as they didn’t look the same. But once they opened their mouths all that came out was the name dropping because that’s all they knew.

“I think Dewey went to Fox Chase, or somewhere like that,” BoCeephus continued, and I’m sure he said something in between but I had totally tuned him out. It was easy to tune people like him out.

“I knew people from Fox Chase,” I responded, because I knew he would go on until I said something, and I wanted a good cut. Most guys I know will do basically anything for a good cut, and everyone told me this was the place to go. So I told him I knew people from Fox Chase, because who would know different?

He tightened the apron strings around my neck with surprisingly nimble fingers for a wizened man who had obviously seen more than a little in his time on earth. The barber shop was surprisingly empty, given the word of mouth that had brought me to the place, but the ambiance was bar none. The smell of aftershave in the air, the stray hairs on the tiled floor, all hearkened back to childhood Friday afternoons spent waiting for the perfect cut, a fade with two parts. My momma always said I had to have those two parts.

“Yah, the more I think about it the more I think Dewey went to Fox Chase,” said BoCeephus, a bit louder because he had turned on the clippers and they buzzed like angry bees. “Yes sir, that Dewey was a cut up too. Been dead since ninety-eight, though. Damn X mess everybody up. But yes sir, he was from Philly too. Been a long time since I thought of him.”

“Many people from Philly,” I replied, because I felt like he expected it of me, the clippers moving across my scalp all tingly, bringing back more memories.

“Got that right,” said BoCeephus, laughing, a deep-throated laugh that seemed to come up from the ground, gravel deep down. “But don’t get many folks from Philly here in Columbus. More likely Pittsburgh. Yah, this a big destination for folks trying to get out of Pittsburgh, but not so much Philly. No sir. What brings you out this way?”

“Work,” I said. “A man’s gotta work.”

“You can say that again,” responded BoCeephus. “You want a high fade or a low fade?”

“Take it high,” I told him, because that’s the way I used to always get it, and I was feeling nostalgic, with the place, and the man, and the aftershave. Even the conversation. If I closed my eyes I could imagine I was back on 45th and Walnut, back in my own hood.

“Oh, and two parts,” I added quickly at the end, surprising even myself. I hadn’t worn two parts since I was ten, since my mother died, since I stopped caring. But something deep in my subconscious must have spoken for me, and I didn’t correct it once it was out in the open air.

“Two parts it is,” BoCeephus said. And I knew he would do it right.

Sam

“Do You Beverage?”

beertaps“Do you beverage?” she asked me, and I said yes because I wanted her to think I was cool.

Six beers later I was tipsy, a bit off my game, so I admitted to her the only reason I said yes, and she didn’t laugh as I thought she might. Instead she took my keys and left me there.

It was cheap beer too. If you’re going to strike out with a girl, shouldn’t it at least be because of the good stuff? It didn’t really matter though. I was stuck at a club with no keys, a cheap beer buzz, and not much game. Just another Friday night.

I sat two stools down from the end of the bar, those kind of vinyl stools that look a bit like linoleum if you don’t look too closely. The club was called, appropriately enough, Vinyl, but the name was for the authentic DJ booth in the far corner, not for the hideous stools. It of course didn’t really matter. Before too long the club would go the way of the dinosaurs, like most clubs in Manhattan did.

Luckily I lived two blocks away, in a tiny walk-up squeezed between an all night pharmacy and a pawn shop that specialized in “The Best Prices For Your Gold!” So the issue of having no keys wasn’t really an issue when it came to driving. Unfortunately for me, getting into my apartment would be a bit of a problem, but one that I would gladly deal with in a few hours.

“I’ll have another,” I told Ray, the tattooed guy behind the bar, who seemed not to hear me, but only moments later a cold mug of Pabst Blue Ribbon slid into my hand.

I slapped a $10 on the bar and scanned the dance floor for another girl, any girl, or at least one who wouldn’t take my keys and leave me homeless. There were exactly two valid candidates who were ironically grinding on some douchy looking guys in the center of the parquet floor. I looked away. Maybe later they would pry themselves free from the attached appendages of those losers.

In the DJ booth an Asian guy in a backwards cap spun records like a pro, sliding effortlessly from old school to new school to everything in between, and I was impressed. Of course in a couple of months he would go the way of most DJ’s in New York — to the clubs in Jersey. It was a revolving door, and I’d seen way too many come and go just at the clubs uptown. I couldn’t even imagine how many moved through the seedier establishments in Brooklyn in the same amount of time.

Two more beers disappeared down my throat, warming my belly and fuzzing my brain even further. Odds were that Kelly was waiting for me back at my place. I think I told her where I lived anyway. She had seemed up for anything when she’d first posed the question, and maybe I was wasting my time hanging around a curiously retro club when I might have been looking at a sure thing if I just walked the couple of blocks.

Or, on the other hand, she could have been robbing me blind at that exact moment. She and a couple of burly friends of hers could be carting off my 52 inch TV right then, along with my collection of signed Yankees baseballs, and my shower curtain. Why my shower curtain? Why not? I had seen robbers take some crazy stuff before, and I wouldn’t put it past them to leave me vulnerable in that way as well.

I had just talked myself into heading back home to either get laid or to file a police report when a warm body slid onto the stool beside me, all perfumed and sweaty. The sickly sweet smells clashed in a comfortable way as I turned to take in the new scenery, a world of possibility that I hadn’t known existed even a moment before, but one that I was ready to take full advantage of… in the moment.

“Do you beverage?” I asked her.

Sam

Signal to Noise

sound_waves_by_zerosilverfang-d469d3aThese walls are so thin I can hear the ocean from here, its tide crashing against the shore, storing up energy for the return trip out to sea. I sit here in a padded metal chair, but the padding is just for show, all cracked but otherwise nondescript. It is the only feature in a featureless room in the exact middle of a three-story building that I’ve never visited before, yet it feels familiar.

I can hear the others screaming from so far away, or from the next room, whichever makes more sense. They are always raising their voices as if the heavens could hear and judge them from so far away, as if their very lives depended on the ability to stretch their lungs to contain God in a breath. I do not join them, although I know I am always welcome, and indeed I used to be the loudest one, but I have changed. It was subtle at first but it has taken root and blossomed in my soul.

My headphones are on the other side of my self-imposed prison cell, lying haphazardly in the corner as if I left them there as punishment. Which I suppose is a sort of truth in and of itself. I was listening to Peter Gabriel earlier, but I kept missing the sounds of the ocean, and the sounds of the others, and the sound of my own heartbeat thrumming in my chest, reminding me that I am alive. I had to keep checking to make sure I wasn’t a zombie, so I tossed them where they now lay.

But I’m driving myself crazy with the wondering, with the constant fear that at some point in the near future this will all go away, that no sound will survive the apocalyptic season that I know will come. I wonder if anyone even knows I’m here, listening, creating stories for the sounds I hear, wanting to be immersed in them but remaining on the fringes of a world I can only surmise. It’s been so long since I joined in that I’ve become a specter, a shadow on the wall of experience.

I can hear the whispers in my head, all the voices I can’t stop creating, or letting come through me. They swirl around in the dust bowl that is my scattered mind, reminding me that I’m not alone even when I so desperately want to be. These quiet aphorisms drift in my mind, calling out to me in the supposed calm, taunting me as only they can. As only I can. And as much as I want to be rid of them, they comfort me too, because they provide evidence that I’m alive as surely as my heartbeat does.

These walls keep me in, but they don’t keep sound out, so I pound on them, a beat so steady it begins to blend in with the other noises that crowd out my periphery. I open my mouth and scream into the confined space, but I know they hear me on the outside, just as I hear them, even though they don’t respond. And I guess that will have to be enough. I lean back in my uncomfortable chair and scream into the dissonance, adding my voice to theirs, adding one more brick in the wall of sound around me.

And I long for Peter Gabriel to drown it all out, as he did once before, as he will once again. If I let him. I glance across the room at my headphones. Where they sit waiting for me. In silence.

Sam

Flash Fiction Challenge #8 (Something New)

flashfictioncartoon-300x300Back in 1998 I was writing… a lot. And most of what I wrote back then was short fiction. It was a renaissance of sorts because I hadn’t really planned on it. In fact, for the past year before that I was writing a lot of poetry snippets. Not real poems, mind you, just bits and pieces, lines here and there that came to me. Suddenly, though, those lines transformed into snatches of conversation. Those words became characters who spoke to me, forcing me to set them in motion and see what happened.

Before this challenge I could probably count on two hands the number of short stories I’d written over the past year. That was probably because of many factors, not the least of which was the maintenance of my blogs. I guess I forgot that writing short fiction could be a part of anything else I decided to write. But I’m proud to say that if this is my second renaissance it is a fruitful one. I’ve fallen in love once more with short fiction during this challenge.

Only three more stories to go. Here are the rules of the Flash Fiction Challenge…

  1. Each entry has to follow a set prompt
  2. Each entry has to be 1,000 words or fewer
  3. Each entry has to be written specifically for this challenge

“Something old, something new, something borrowed,” Thalia said, counting on her fingers and feigning confusion.

“…and something pink,” laughed Celie, fluffing her hair in front of the gilt-edged mirror.

“It’s something blue, silly,” Thalia corrected before giggling. She couldn’t help herself.

“What. Ever,” said Celie, fingering the chiffon fringe of the ivory gown on the rack in front of her.

“Although pink would certainly be more interesting in a wedding,” added Thalia, grinning. “Imagine pink bow ties on the groomsmen, pink shoes on the ring bearer, pink highlights in the groom’s hair.”

“If the groom has pink highlights, I’m going to say that couple is not staying together,” Celie said, letting the gown slip through her fingers and moving on to the next one.

There were miles of gowns at the Wedding Wearhouse, rack after rack of white, off white, off off white, and other pale shades of dresses. On first glance they appeared ghost-like in the massive space of the Wearhouse, as if twenty thousand headless brides awaited their grooms in shameless expectation, pressed together like cattle at milking time.

Celie was bored, and she wasn’t even a bridesmaid. She wasn’t the maid of honor either, even though she was Thalia’s best friend, and had held the title since grade school. But it didn’t phase her because 1) Thalia wasn’t even getting married, and 2) she didn’t believe in weddings. They were only at the Wearhouse because her friend wanted to jumpstart the proposal she was certain was just around the corner.

But Celie knew that Brett was never going to propose, at least not anytime soon. He was the kind of guy who talked a good game but never got off his ass long enough to do anything he said he would. In fact, if looks could be believed, he had gone backward instead of forward when it came to commitment. More often than not he did things without even telling Thalia, and she let him. Celie knew if that was her she would have dumped him ages ago, but Thalia was a bit of a pushover.

And a bit of a romantic, the hopeless variety.

“A guy can be into pink and not be gay,” said Thalia, holding up a strapless gown against her size zero figure with her eyebrows raised.

“Uh, yeah, and my father watches Barney every night before bed,” huffed Celie, flopping onto a nearby chair as if exhausted.

“There are worse things to watch than a big purple dinosaur,” Thalia said, tossing the gown into her shopping cart full of things to try on.

“Like your weight, so you can fit into that dress,” said Celie, smiling.

“Well, probably not this dress,” Thalia replied, eyeing the others in the cart.

“You’re worse than those bridezillas on ‘Say Yes to the Dress,'” laughed Celie, rolling her eyes.

“I just want things to be perfect,” said Thalia, sighing. The sound was more pitiful than anything else to Celie’s ears.

“And you’re absolutely certain Brett is going to propose?” Celie asked tentatively.

“I’m a million percent certain Brett is going to propose, silly,” Thalia said, her tone final.

“Well then, I would go with strapless,” said Celie. “You’ve definitely got the shoulders for it. It could be your something new.”

“Your something new can’t be the dress!” gasped Thalia.

“I don’t see why not,” Celie argued. “It’s new, isn’t it?”

“No, no,” maintained Thalia. “Your dress is above all of that stuff. It can’t be used for anything other than the most special thing on the most special day.”

“I thought the most special thing was getting married,” said Celie, laughing.

“Grrrrr, you get me so agitated,” Thalia said, but she was laughing too.

While Celie knew that Brett wasn’t ever going to strap on a pair and make an honest woman out of Thalia, she also knew the fiction was the only thing keeping her friend from being depressed. It was a fragile string to pull, so Celie knew she had to avoid pulling it at all costs. She had already voiced her concerns, but short of yelling them at Thalia there was really nothing else she could do but be supportive.

“You can get a new bra for the day,” Celie said with a straight face. “It can be one of those strapless ones that makes your boobs look like they’re floating. Like Princess Jasmine’s from Aladdin.”

“Like Princess Jasmine’s magical floating boobs from the kids’ movie Aladdin?” repeated Thalia, dissolving in giggles. “I’m sure that’s exactly how the director intended it. I’m sure he spent a lot of time wondering how her cartoon boobs were going to be supported.”

“Hey, it was before Pixar,” Celie argued. “They had to do something to keep the movie interesting.”

“You’re crazy, C,” said Thalia. “I hope you know that.”

“Seriously, though,” said Celie, her smile muted a tad bit. “It doesn’t even matter what you get, what’s going to be your something new, because when you find the right guy, and he’s standing there in front of you, you’ll feel new yourself.”

“Wow, I never thought I’d hear something so romantic out of your mouth,” Thalia gushed, leaning down to hug her friend. “You sure you don’t want to be my maid of honor?”

“You’re going to make me regret my caring side,” laughed Celie, blushing. “I’ll think about it. You gotta get engaged first though, then some back and ask me again.”

“You’d better believe it,” said Thalia. “You know, you’d look great in taffeta.”

“Yeah, I’m out of here,” Celie said, rising from the chair.

“And we’re back to the way things are supposed to be,” Thalia laughed, pushing her cart in the direction of the fitting rooms, Celie trailing a few steps behind.

And for the first time ever, she hoped she was wrong. Because if Brett broke Thalia’s heart she knew it would break hers too.

Sam

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