Pretty Short

Crack (2)

Et voila! says Jonnie, with a flourish.

The place is pretty sweet. You step out of the elevator. One of those key lock elevators that open into the apartment, like in the movies.

The ceilings are high and molded. There are tall sash windows with leaded panes. Yes, you feel like you can maybe taste air again.

Then he leaves you.

There’s a gallon of milk and three microwave dinners in the fridge.

Far below, mangled swings in a playground, a liquor store and a sign. ICE OLD EER.

Voices through the wall – Fuck you. No, fuck you.

You fumble for your phone, then you realize he took it. Your laptop’s on the table.

Unauthorized webpage.

Jonnie’s there, smiling.

Everything okay?

He lays a cool palm on the back of your neck. He switches off his smile and the overhead light, picks the keycard back up from the counter, and he’s gone again.

The setting sun makes drops of blood out of the glass roses, across the polished oak floor.

No, you say to the closing doors, in the darkening room. Everything’s not okay.

That night, the sound of chains and ropes cranking unknown bodies up and down. The bed facing the elevator and you can’t decide which way to lie in it. Head down, head up – you’re always vulnerable.

There’s a crack in the dark paneled elevator doors. Something not adjusted quite right. As the elevator passes, light flickers and dances across the sheets in odd random beats.

So you lie on the floor.

The ceiling starts to crawl. Gargoyles erupt from the molding.

Open your eyes. See burned fingers pry the elevator doors apart. A woman. Blisters on her lips, a narrow thread of blood across her cheek. Her eyes fall into her head like sinkholes.

Looking into them, you see chains, going down forever.

Jonnie finds you, in the morning, curled around yourself as if to protect a child, and he takes you in his arms. He rocks you back and forth, touches your cheek.

And he leaves you, just one more time.

Friday Fictioneers

Feel Good

Where the kid got shot in the face and lay there all night before anyone found him – down by McCormick Park. Up to the right there’s a red and white sign, you never noticed it before, but it’s been there a while, and it says: Chuck’s Detail And Hand Wash. Underneath, in those movable black letters, like the church signs that promise: JESUS IS TOUCHING YOU, it says: FEEL GOOD IN A CLEAN CAR. The kid lays there with his face in the sand, watching the sign turned on its side, and all the world drives by, not caring.


Friday Fictioneers


A Shallow Place

‘Dry drowning,’ was what they called it, but the newspaper articles were wrong. It was a ‘secondary drowning’ – and this I had learned in my first (and last) year of medical school, along with the fact that I was incurably squeamish in every respect.

“Why would they keep calling it that then?” says Mother, shucking oysters by the sink. She won’t hold them in a dishtowel, and every time she slips in the knife, to crack the hinge, I look away.

“Maybe because it’s alliterative?” I suggest. “It sounds more poetic?”

She’s silent; I feel her eyes on me. I try to suck up the space between us, gulping air.

“It’s like, secondary drowning, so what? Sounds prosaic, uninteresting, right? Whereas, dry drowning, well, how can that happen? If you can drown without water, who’s safe?”

She’s running the tip of the knife around the shell, then twisting to pry it apart – the soft crunch of the blade tells me what she’s doing, though I can’t look.

Slicing the muscle with one deft stroke, she says, “Why must you always be so facetious?”

She releases the shell and bares the flesh. She jabs it towards me. It lies on her palm, glistening.


She knows I can’t stand oysters. (Just another thing he can’t stomach, I heard her tell my father.)

“You think it’s funny? A dead boy?”

Some things take a while. And maybe you think they’re buried deep, but they’re not.

And I think I know what Corey was diving for, what he thought he saw, what made him go down too far, for too long. I see him clambering up onto the pier, slick as a seal. Walking back smiling towards his family, oblivious, the sun hot on the back of his neck and the salt drying slowly between his toes.

Already drowned, but not knowing it. Not knowing yet where the end would come from. That it would not come from deep down, but from a very shallow place.


Friday Fictioneers

An Honorable Discharge

When two became five in 1974, you learned the drill quick, took it all in your stride. (When nappies became diapers, you stormed that bridge too.) A real trooper, said your husband – briefcase under his arm, car keys around a forefinger, blowing you a kiss. Grade school to high school, training wheels to parking passes, ABCs to SATs: a military operation, second to none. Then one quiet morning (in mid-1995), you stand at attention by the sink, watching dust motes twirling in empty space, two eggs boiling dry in a pan, and you realize: there’s nothing left to guard.


Friday Fictioneers

Trifecta Challenge, Uncategorized

Starting Over

Wednesday at the Club, Selma pulls up a wicker chair, looks at me over the table number (our regular – 23), says: ‘I’m breaking up with you, Leonard’ – and I just about bust out laughing. It’s the way she says ‘breaking up’ all serious, and pulls a paper square from her purse, the edges secured with tape. Makes me think of schooldays, grubby pawed-over notes, passed hand-to-hand under desks. When breaking up meant the end of the world. Around here though, surely, nobody breaks up anymore. There just isn’t time.

But, because I catch something, an increase in the moisture that lately seems to be constantly brimming in her eyes, I don’t laugh. Not that she’s sad: the tears are something hereditary, she told me, an ailment that strikes in later years, malfunctioning ducts. She dabs at her eye with a lace handkerchief. (A fine looking lady, she’s got a lot of class, always turns out nice for brunch, no jogging pants or those nasty shuffly slippers.)

She lays her hand next to the note. Her fingernails are hard crimson shells. She’s looking over my shoulder. It’s hard to twist my neck (shrapnel wound, Pork Chop Hill, June 1953) so I kind of shimmy round in my chair. And there’s George Malone’s ugly mug at table 25. Jesus wept. Who let him in the Club?

He’s wearing a baseball cap (‘Combat Veteran – Korea’) which he pushes back on his liver-spotted forehead with knobby knuckles. He winks at me, the old bastard. Combat? He saw just enough to make him put his dick between his legs and jump the first trooper home, faking something colorectal. I’ve got his little number. Then I swivel back to that look in Selma’s eyes and realize: no, I don’t. The scar on my neck gives an electric twang.

So that’s the deal. I’m eighty-nine years old, weigh a buck five on a good day, have to sit down to piss, and now, goddammit, I’ve got competition.


333 words

Trifecta challenge

Trifecta Challenge, Uncategorized


‘There’s nothing. There’s noone there.’ A tight twist at the edge of Paul’s smile. Condescension? She thinks so. He is forever trying to make her feel as if she is delusional, or worse: crazy. She pauses, in the act of handing off the binoculars, unwinding the strap from her wrists. Was crazy worse? Or was it the same thing, really? Why is she even thinking this way? She knows what she’s seen.

He pulls the binoculars from her, a little roughly, and the strap, not fully disengaged, pulls her hands together, up and towards him. She has the strange impression of supplication, a cameo she sees from the outside. Like the peeling Madonna in the chapel from which they emerged ten minutes ago, blinded by the Tuscan sun. She shakes her head to free herself of the shadow of the idea. She shouldn’t have to beg. ‘I saw him,’ she repeats. He screws the binoculars into the sockets of his eyes and sweeps them over the teeming piazza below, twiddling savagely with the focus.

She was not religious, not really, not even in the time she had most needed to be, had prayed to become. Winding their way up the hillside that morning, she pulled a handful of poppies from a ditch. She made a point of the abandoned roadside shrine with its headless saint and dry jamjar of faded silk flowers. You see, she said to him, how your God bleaches the life out of things. But in the gloom of the chapel, golden rays poured down on the Virgin’s face like arrows.

‘He’s not there, Mary, he’s gone. You have to stop this.’ He’s bending to pack up the binoculars. He’s turning towards the steps. Leaving without her. The bright certainty drains from her in an instant, leaving nothing but a small, muddy pool of doubt. ‘You’re right,’ she tells his receding back, the line of sweat between the broad shoulderblades. ‘It was just a trick of the light.’


333 words
Trifecta challenge

Trifecta Challenge, Uncategorized


The first time she sees him, as he climbs onto their train (crawling west through a blazing summer), she unlaces her damp fingers and spreads one hand wide on her husband’s thigh, momentarily amazed at her own audacity. The second time, as he moves through their carriage, she loosens her wedding band, to see another ring underneath, pale and humid as the skin of a drowned man. Stepping onto the shimmering platform of a prairie station, she glimpses him for the third time, and feels a detaching – almost believes she can hear it too – the minutely perceptible fraying, the final unraveling, of nine years, three months, and one intolerably hot August afternoon.


Trifecta challenge: story in 3 sentences