Tag Archives: short story

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The Rock Island tracks are about a mile yonder, ‘cross the field. That’s the Kansas City to St. Louis line. I hear the whistle and dream of being on the train, heading toward the big city. Gee, I’d love to go see the sights one day.

I can’t see the tracks or trestle from the house, but I love walking toward them ‘cross the field in the afternoon with my dog, Betsy. I especially love it in the fall and winter, when the sun goes down so early and the crows fly all ‘cross the corn stalks when the whistle blows. Something about the sunset, the crows against the orange sky, the barren field, the snow crunching under my feet and seeing Betsy’s breath in the cold…it’s all like a picture in a museum.

I love summer nights best, though. We have a little Philco portable, and I take that outside and lie on the grass with Betsy. I spin the dial until I can get Harry Carey and Jack Buck calling the Cardinals games on KMOX. And I just lie there in the grass, feeling the dew, seeing the stars, hearing Musial batting and that train off in the distance. My Daddy says he’s gonna take us to Sportsman’s Park next summer for a Cards game. Can you imagine that? Me going to see Stan The Man in person!

There ain’t much to say of life here. Just a small town in the middle of nowhere. Times have been hard since the depression and the war, but my Daddy gets by doing odd jobs here and there, and sometimes he catches on at the mine for a spell. A lot of folk have had it pretty rough, though.

But every day that Rock Island train come through, heading for the big city. And every day Betsy and I walk the fields and see the crows fly as the whistle blows. I can’t see the train, but I know it’s there, and I dream of hopping aboard and riding to the end of the line.



Image Source: Vivian Maier

I guess it ain’t too nice to say, but there’s already talk goin’ round Mulroney’s about how long The Grunt gonna be able to keep this one. Like say the last time I mentioned him, he ain’t exactly the most respectable or reliable type. But I’m holdin’ out hope.

I heard about this room to let ‘round the bar. Sven The Scrub – we call him that because he’s just over from Oslo an’ he’s scrubbin’ the floors of Mulroney’s – was gonna take it, but I talked him into lettin’ The Grunt have it, out of seniority and all like that. It was perfect for the old guy: a basement level job, meanin’ he only had to worry ‘bout climbin’ down three steps, not up five flights of steps. An’ the rent was enough that even The Grunt, who does nuthin’ but grunt work around a bar for drink money, could make it. Maybe with a little help, but he could make it.

An’ I – an’ I think I speak for everyone that ever sat ‘round that bar – was willin’ to help. A presence at the bar like The Grunt, you take care of him. Sure, he come back from the Great War all shell-shocked, an’ he aint’ been the same since. But we all know him, an’ we know he’s got a heart of gold.

In fact, because of all the talk – an’ The Grunt he don’t know this, so don’t go sayin’ nothin’ – we got a collection goin’ round for a few months rent. So maybe nuthin’ happens but The Grunt come into Mulroney’s an’ does odd jobs an’ sings for his supper. An’ maybe he blows a race or two at Saratoga. Well, if that’s all that happens, he’s got it nice in his new apartment for a while, an’ we got stories for the whole time, so it’s worth it to us, see? A guy like The Grunt, you wanna keep him ‘round, an’ you wanna take care of him much as you can.



Image Source: Tom Hubbard, EPA Documerica Project

Summer Sundays were never long enough. Never enough hours of sunlight for all our games. Gee, do kids even know how to play outside today?

After lunch we’d be out on the street, playing stickball until dark. Every week, all summer, all Sunday. And it was the greatest time ever.

We always played on my block. The Mirabelli’s stoop was first, the manhole cover was second, the Lazzeri’s stoop was third and home was the pothole that got patched over. The mound was in between the stoops. There were fire escapes on buildings on both sides of the street, and they could cause some crazy bounces. You had to be ready for anything if you were playing the outfield.

Our parents would get together on a stoop, or maybe set up a little table on the sidewalk. They’d play cards, maybe a little bocce, and enjoy the day with us, but on their own. They didn’t need to hover over us, ‘cause we were right there playing on the street.

We would all be our favorite players. Whenever I pitched, I was always Tom Seaver. I loved Seaver’s delivery, that bow-and-arrow release of the ball, the back knee almost on the mound while pushing off the front leg. Batting I was always Charlie Hustle, Pete Rose. Compact and coiled, a perfectly level whip of a swing, power to all fields. Rose was a joy to watch and fun to be. A neighborhood treasure.

We had some TV; three channels and we always watched the Saturday Game of the Week so we could play all day Sunday. Oh, I loved those endless days. Except for those late summer Sundays during the school year. I always hated that feeling of the weekend ending, and I always wanted the games to go on forever. But they always ended and Monday always came around…

I guess it’s all computers and twitting and texts today, and kids don’t give a damn about baseball anymore. Too many teams and they all play at night. And I’m not saying it’s all bad today. Just different.

But give me a stick and a glove and a full Sunday of pop flies bouncing off the fire escape any day. They don’t know what they’re missing, these kids.



Image Source: Larry Clark

I don’t remember anything whatever from leaving the house until it happened. That is all gone. I remember a squeal, and spinning. I was smoking a cigarette, and I remember it flying off into the back seat. I remember fearing that something would catch fire. This thought occurred while I was staring at the dome light and feeling the car hurtling into a violent spin.

And then…nothing.

Silence. An odd, peaceful silence, as though a pillow was wrapped around my head. Then sounds, muted and gauzy, started to come into focus. Gravel. A tire spinning. The sound of water running.

I opened my eyes, and the brightness of the sky made me sick to my stomach. I saw James, fuzzy and dark, standing outside the car. Then I noticed light dancing across a hole and a thousand cracks in the windshield.

The light was beautiful, shimmering like a diamond. I smelled beer and cigarettes, and saw it was coming from James outside the car. I smelled gasoline and tasted something metallic, like a penny.

I noticed the blood on my dress, and I wondered where it came from. Then I saw blood on the cracks in the glass, and saw that some of my hair was stuck in a crack. I suppose you could say that this snapped me out of my spell.

I put a hand to my forehead, and it was covered in blood. Why, I never screamed louder in my life when I realized that I was bleeding so! I saw myself in the rear view mirror, and all the blood terrified me. But it also partly fascinated me. I kept staring at my own reflection, screaming. This must have gone on for several moments, but it seemed forever. Then the sound of a siren way off in the distance started getting louder and louder…

They say the road was slick, and James was driving too fast. Funny how fast it all occurs. In a matter of seconds, your life changes forever with one slight miscalculation.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by to check my guest-post yesterday. And thanks to the Bluebird for hosting me!



Image Source: Thomas Hoepker

It was hard to avoid The Gimp. You wouldn’t believe how good that damn cripple got around town, and hell if I know how he did it. Ain’t seen nothing like it.

He had a little board with roller skates, and he managed to paddle his way around with his change cup. And Lord, did he ever get around! You’d go to Dolly’s in the morning for a cup of coffee and he’d be out front. Later that night you’d go to the pictures and he’d be out front before the show. The Gimp got around better than most people get around with two good legs.

There were lots of stories. The Gimp got hit by a train. He took shrapnel in the war. A jealous wife chopped ‘em off. No one really knew. The Gimp was kind of an outsider, and nobody took the time to get to know him. They clapped when he did a handstand or some other trick, dropped a few coins in his cup and moved on, and that was that.

Well, I wondered about The Gimp, so one day I offered to buy him a cup of coffee and a slice of pie. And wouldn’t you know, he was just a peach of a fella.

His name was Ward Denton, and he came from Cleveland. He found work in the mill, but then he got burned on both legs in an accident on the job. Both legs got infected, and they had to take them. Ward started drinking pretty bad, his wife left and he lost the house.

He didn’t have nothing left, but I never talked to no one more sunny about their prospects. He had cleaned himself up and was doing okay with the spare change. He got by, sleeping with relatives and at the charity hospital occasionally. And he was hopeful about finding some kind of work again, someday, somehow.

Ward Denton didn’t blame nobody for his troubles, and he didn’t spend time moaning about what he had done to himself. He just picked himself up and got back to business. He lost his legs, so he taught himself to crawl. He lost his way to make a living, so he did what he could. He lost his home and family, so he taught himself how to do a handstand and sing for his supper.

Just goes to show: sometimes it’s hard to avoid a fella every day, and you think you know him. But if you take the time to ask, the real story might be even better that all the talk around town.



Image Source: Lisa M. Robinson

I came here often after I kilt her. Maybe I was hopin’ the snow would purify my mind, or cleanse the blood. I don’t know that it did, but it sure was a pretty place to sit ’n think.

I don’t know why she done it to me. I always treated her decent, gave her money ’n took care of everything. An’ she done gone steppin’ out on me. Sure, maybe I deserved it, always drankin’ and steppin’ out myself. But I never laid a hand on her or nothin’. Besides, a woman is suppose’ to stand by her man, right?

This is a hard land, with hard people. Nothin’ but snow and nothin’ for miles around. Barren lands and barren minds. Takes a certain kind to be able to stand up to it. And maybe she want that kind.
But settin’ here, lookin’ at all that snow, it sure makes a man think. Ain’t nothin’ but pure, unbroken white. Undisturbed, like a man should be. One set of tracks in that snow, and the whole landscape is out of balance. Kind of like our relationship. She brought that other set of footprints in, and everything done went haywire.

Sure, I shouldn’t’a done it. But a man don’t like havin’ his balance thrown off.



(This is a very short ode to the infamous Troggs Tapes. Neither this post, nor The Troggs Tapes, are even remotely safe for work. Cheerie-o!)

“No, it’s all wrong!” Sir David Sebastian was spraying hot spittle in the main room of Studio B at Twickenshire Sound. “The decay on the delay is too quick! This guitar passage is supposed to sound like a swan gently gliding onto the surface of a pond, NOT a swan gently gliding and doing a fucking face-plant into a rock! Add another four tenths of a second of decay!”

The second engineer, Arthur Nevins, was sufficiently chuffed at his restraint over the course of the session. He dealt with Sir David’s tantrums and constant demands. He put up with Sir David’s barrage of insults and drug deliveries. And he suffered all with jolly good humor. But after three hours of knicker-soiling over milliseconds of echo, Arthur Nevin’s patience was about to run out.

“Look, David,” he said. “Are you fucking deaf, or are you a fucking blind rotter?!? If we add another four tenths of a second, the fucking listener is going to wonder when the fucking swan is going to land! We’ve been back and forth over this for fucking hours, and we ain’t getting anywhere! Cause you want your fucking swan to keep circling over the pond like it’s waiting for fucking permission to land from the control tower!”

“Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to?!?” Sir David said. “Do you have any idea how many quid we have invested in the fucking record? And you, a ten pence errand boy, are trying to crash my fucking swan! Add another four tenths of a second of decay, you wanker!”

“Why do you hate your swan, David?” Arthur said. “Why do you want to see your swan never landing, never coming home to roost? It’s just going to fucking stay up there, yeah? You swan is just going to glide for-fucking-ever, never seeing its fucking swan family again! Because you won’t let your fucking swan land!”

“Why do you want to kill my swan, you heartless bastard?” Sir David said. “Why do you want to see my swan fucking die in a fiery crash? Do I need to call fucking animal control?”

The argument went on, until the first engineer suggested two tenths of a second.



Image Source: Stephen Shore

Ain’t nothin’ here on the outskirts. The gold rush done left, if it ever even got here. Times are hard, an’ the town is beat. I’m hopin’ for a comeback, but…

I’m hangin’ on here, chargin’ half a buck a cut. That new place next county over, the one that’s chargin’ two bucks for a razor cut, they’ve taken some of my business, but I got my loyal customers. They just want a good, honest trim and a good honest price. Don’t know where I’d be without them. I’m lucky enough to own my buildin’, so I don’t gotta worry about rent and all. And it’s just me, so I ain’t gotta pay any salary. But still, with maintenance an’ upkeep, it ain’t easy.

But we all help each other out around here, as much as we can. That’s the nice thing about this town. Got a real sense of community here. Course most of us is just as hard up as the other. It’s been bad since the factory shut down. Lot of good people got thrown out of work, and it’s been a hard go of it since. But we’re proud. We take care of each other.

I do what I can. Sometimes someone in town is a little hard up, I only charge two bits. Sometimes I don’t charge nothin’. It’s a little bit I can do, an’ it all comes out in the wash. Maybe one day I’m the one that’s a little hard up, an’ where would I be then? So it all evens out, an’ it makes me feel good and Christmas-like to be able to help a little.

Lot of outsiders stop in while passing through, an’ that helps. Sometimes it’s suits, an’ you think maybe, just maybe, they might be talkin’ about opening up the factory again. Gee, that would be a big thing. Mostly it ain’t, though. Mostly just folks passing through.

But again, I know all my neighbors, and we’ve got it nice ‘round here. It’s a good, nice community, an’ you just don’t get that in the big city. An’ I wouldn’t trade it. Times are hard, but we’re proud. We take care of each other.



Image Source: Neil Perkin

The line went dead, and the wind and soul exploded out of Bill’s stomach. He stood in the booth, listening to the dial tone, not believing. Not accepting. She couldn’t have just done that.

Couldn’t have.

He dropped another coin in the slot and dialed her number again.

daah-daah-daaaaahh – The number you have dialed, five five five one two one two, has been disconnected. No further information is available about five fiv…

SLAM! GodDAMNitall!

She couldn’t mean it, though. She’ll call back and apologize. In a day or two, after she gets her head back. NO she won’t She’ll feel bad…maybe not bad enough to take me back hah!…but bad enough to apologize for her tone…her words… WRONG Maybe after she calls back we can be friends again…NOT going to happen, and after we’re friends again…

Outside the booth, a man in a hat and overcoat darkened by rain tapped his watch. Bill slowly became aware of the lines of people waiting for phones. The foot traffic of the station ebbed and flowed past, smoothing the staccato beep of a phone off the cradle.

He stared at the receiver in his hand, listening to the sound of the disconnect getting louder and louder.
That beep – the sound of heartbreak – would stay with him through the days and weeks of delusions and mental bargaining to come. He slammed the receiver back on the cradle, flung open the doors of the booth and headed toward the tracks, unrequited, lost and alone.


Image Source: Saul Leiter

Funny, ain’t it? I been staring at this framing for years, an’ I never really thought nothin’ of it. It ain’t much to look at, an’ it ain’t in no tour guides, so why would I think anything of it? It’s just a door frame, an’ I ain’t got the time or the inclination to go ‘round starin’ at door frames, if you know what I’m sayin’.

But one day, outta nowhere, I saw that frame, an’ I noticed all them patterns in it, from all them cracks. And son of a buck if it wasn’t all of a sudden one of the most beau-tee-ful things I ever did see! I can’t tell you why or how I saw it: I just saw it. I saw the patterns, an’ all of a sudden that door frame looked like one of them paintings up at the museum by the park. Can you imagine that?

Well, I don’t know nothin’ about art, or much of anything else, for that matter. But seeing all them cracks, it really made me think. I started wondering how they all got there, like from gettin’ hit by briefcases an’ purses an’ delivery boxes an’ all like that, an’ maybe from the building settling.

An’ some of the patterns were perfect an’ looked kinda like stuff, like faces an’ like that. An’ some of the patterns were broken an’ went nowhere. Just like life. Lots of bums goin’ nowhere, but overall it’s beau-tee-ful an’ perfect.

It ain’t much of a discovery in the grand scheme, nothing like curing polio. And I ain’t turning into some kinda pixie that goes around starin’ at every door frame in town an’ talkin’ about what I see. But it was kinda nice to be able to see that frame a little different, like to see it up close. Sometimes seeing things a little different makes all the difference.