I continue to explore this work of quick/flashfiction. It’s interesting because I am trying to use the concept of podcasting and voice to help me edit the writing, speaking as I write and editing as I speak. The difficulty with this form is providing enough of a story, without giving the story away. It’s all about the gaps in the narrative and how the reader/listener might fill them in.
Here are my latest:
How do you explain this? You can’t. It’s 2 a.m. You should be home right now, sound asleep with the cat purring near your head and the desire, if not the reality, of a warm body sleeping beside you. You need comfort, not bone-chilling cold. You should not be here, at this hour, in this place, waiting in this line. But here you are. You hold the ticket up in the moonlight, and you see the number 27. You can hear the mini-vans and the cars and the trucks running in the parking lot and you imagine the heat. You can’t risk it so you bundle up as tight as you can possibly be. You draw yourself up inside of yourself, like so many other recent nights and descend into the darkness. Part of what brings you here is the understanding that he is there at home, with his youthful dreams of something that must better than what it is, and the other part of it is the knowledge that so much of your life together has been wrangled so completely out of your control. The divorce. The violence. The terrible abruptness of departure that has settled upon the two of you so heavily that it makes you choke sometimes. You can feel his inherent trust in you withering in this dark winter. Words are beyond you now. Words have no currency anymore. It kills you that your only way back into his heart may be through the object that sits on the shelves in there, beyond those big glass windows and bright neon signs. It’s 2 a.m and you feel as if you have sold your soul to something wicked. You finger the credit card and hope to God that there is enough of a ceiling left to allow you to bring it home, wrap it up and be his hero again, if only for that one morning in December.
The instant the doors closed, he knew he was on the wrong train. He could barely catch his breath from the mad dash down the tunnel and his overnight bag and computer felt like bricks in his hand. It had been all he could do to find a seat in the crowded car. He watched the doors slide shut and he knew, in that instant, that this train was not his train. He wanted to curse out loud but that was something he never did. His mother had taught him better so he held it inside and felt the blackness seep into his head. He tugged out his ticket from his overcoat pocket and looked it over, as if it and not he were the mistake. There were faces of every color all around him. None seemed to invite a question so he wrapped himself up in loneliness and wondered where he was bound. He felt the familiar unloosening of life that comes from making yet another bad decision and imagined one of his grandmother’s beautiful hand-woven afghans being pulled apart thread by thread by thread. That was his life. The ticket-puncher temporarily saved him. She took the ticket from his outstretched hand and shook her head in that sad, pathetic way people often did with him. He could feel another thread being pulled.”You’re on the wrong train,” she told him, in almost a whisper, and he nodded. “This one goes to Philly, not Penn Station.” He lowered his head. Philly. “Nothing to do now but ride into Philly and get on another back to the city,” she offered, handing him back his ticket and moving on. He could hear the rhythm of her clicker as she moved down the aisle. Philly. He’d be late for the meeting. His bags felt even heavier in his lap and he fumbled around, trying to reach his cell phone. He’d have to let them know and ask to reschedule. It occurred to him, however, that in his rush to get the train to New York on time that morning, he had left his phone sitting on the counter, all charged up for the day. Another thread, being pulled, as he watched the landscape roll past him.
She cursed when the guitar string broke. She tried to keep going but it was impossible with the wire dangling down the fretboard. It made a loud twanging noise that made her curse even louder than was normally acceptable on this street corner. The little girl was watching her, so she turned away from the sidewalk and faced the wall behind her. “Damn it,” she muttered, and looking back over her shoulder, she saw the little girl still there, watching, waiting. The collection hat sat between them. Just a few coins and a dollar bill or two in the old cowboy headgear her father had given her years ago. Not much, but enough for dinner before she would knock again on the shelter door for the night. Katarina nodded and the girl smiled back, showing gaps where teeth had fallen out. Where was this child’s parent? No one seemed to be tending her. Katarina ignored the girl and dug into her case for another string, slowing unwinding the broken one and rewinding the new one. The guitar made a strange whirling noise as she twirled the peg and tried to get the string in tune. It took longer than usual as the uncooperative string seemed bent on going too sharp or too flat before being herded into the right pitch. Katarina looked up. The girl was gone. Good. Damn it, she muttered. The girl was gone, and so was the hat.
If it were at all possible, he remembers his life beginning after the yawn. It was clear as day and it happened in second grade. Tommy and Sandy were nearby, having one of their endless arguments over whose turn it was to use the computer when it was that he realized that he had been yawning for what seemed to be forever and that nothing had existed before the yawn. It was as if everyone was a blank slate. Was that even possible? Years later, that yawn would seem like some Great Awakening in his life. For it was now, with clarity, that he realized a few things. Tommy was nothing but a bully and at recess that day, he pushed his former friend away and made him cry for the first time in his life. That felt good. Sandy was not quite the yuckiest kid on the planet. He thought about this as they walked around at recess together in the snowstorm that stung their eyes. The snowflakes looked wonderful on her outstretched tongue.Words in books suddenly seemed important. He could hear his teacher talking and understood. He was listening for the very first time in his life. Really listening. And then he went home and lost it all in a good night’s sleep.
Peace (in shortprose),