A Belly Full – short story

Alex was tired of cold feet, sleeping in the van with the cat, and constantly moving across country.

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Alex, a bartender with an attitude, strode into the local restaurant. No one noticed. The old geezers at the counter recognized the sound of those big old city boots and grunted. They read the paper. Drank black coffee with two sugars. Ate eggs on toast. The usual. Not that Alex would know. Or care. Alex did not like living in Hot Springs, Wyoming. Not one bit. And no one noticed.

Life sucked when you were an itenerant bartender, driving across the States, following the seasons, the snow in this case, soon to become the sun. Alex was tired of cold feet, sleeping in the van with the cat, and constantly moving across country. And why? For work? A pay check? There was free camping by the river or on the reservoir. Amazing birds, silence, and a decent dose of loneliness. Thinking about it though, there was BLM land all across the West so why not head south? To New Mexico? Or Marfa, Texas? There’d be good work and sunshine. Not a bad idea. Tempting.
Alex sat at the counter near the Grumpies. – Coffee please, with cream, no sugar. Thanks. And cake. Chocolate cake.

They looked up at that. – Is it your birthday?

– Yes. And I’m celebrating.

The men with the red ball cap put down his paper. – Is that right?

– Yep.

The silence lingered. The cake was brought out. And the waitress stood there. The Red Cap looked at Blue Cap and nodded. – We’d like some cake too, Rita. Don’t tell our wives though.

She laughed, a short harsh sound. – I wouldn’t dare. They’d blame me, tell me off in front of my other customers. Oh, no, what goes in your mouth, stays in your mouth. I’m not telling.

– Ice cream too, please, said Blue Cap with a toothy grin. He was a skinny little retired farmer, muscles still showed beneath the white tee shirt and leather vest. His jeans were clean but soft with age, as were his blue eyes.

Red Cap nodded. – Vanilla if you have it. And you, Alex? Want to share?

– You know my name?

Rita and the Caps nodded. – Of course. It’s a small town. You work at the new Brewery over the river, don’t you? You work with my son, James, the ex-football player with the broken nose? His half-sister is in the kitchen too. Carla? My kids, mostly. Good ones, stuck around, didn’t move to Laramie like the neighbors’.

Alex was surprised and sipped the coffee, adding more cream to the black tar.

Blue Cap continued. – Yes, we took bets on how long you’d last. My son thought only a couple of weeks. Carla now, she has a crush on you, she bet it’d be all winter.

– She did?

Rita laughed and slapped him gently on the shoulder. – You hadn’t noticed her? Always bringing you extra lunch outside? Or soaking at the springs when you were there? We did!

Blue Cap reminded Alex. – It’s a small community. We worry…

– About our young ‘uns leaving. The influence of outsiders like yourself.

– Oh.

Rita plopped down a big bowl of ice cream and three spoons. – To share, she said.

Alex waited, not sure of the etiquette but the men dolloped big chunks of solid ice cream on their cake. Alex did the same with a wide grin.

– This is great. Who made it?

– Rita made the ice cream with milk from my own dairy, said Red Cap. – And the cake was Carla’s. She wants to run her own kitchen some day. She’s learning. She’ll make it happen. She usually gets what she wants.

The men chuckled and ate in silence. Alex looked around, licking the spoon clean and sighing. It wasn’t so bad. Friendly folk in town after all.

– Oh, and happy birthday. How old are you?

– Twenty-five, said Alex.

– A good age to settle down.

The men chuckled again. – Nice cake, eh? Special ingredients. Carla’s own recipe.

Alex wiped a finger across the plate. – Yes, I’ll have to thank her. Excuse me. I’ve got to go to work…can’t be late for my shift.

Alex pulled out a twenty but Blue Cap shook his head, – on us. Happy birthday, Al. Say hello to my girl for me.

Alex nodded, thankful for the simple conversation that morning. – I will. And thank you.

– Our pleasure. Think of it as an investment…

Alex didn’t know what he meant but ambled off to the other side of the river with a full belly of hope.

 

 

Sheeplifting: a short story with Harold the Handsome

“Go on, Harold. Go pee.”
The writer opened the door and checked the street for traffic. It was quiet. “Go on, I trust you.”

Harold was an old dog, well, not exactly old, just the far side of middle-aged. He was a good dog, honest and reliable. The writer wandered back inside and sat at the desk and stared at that metal bland object she loved more than him. He was bored. He decided to go get himself a treat.

Harold walked down the hill to Main Street. When the voice at the corner said Wait, he waited. When the beeps began and all the humans walked, Harold walked. He walked past the temptation of the popcorn maker, the bagel maker, and trotted past the booze seller and into Shaw’s, the grocery store. He’d never been inside before. It was all rather exciting. The doors opened when he stood there. The cashiers smiled at him. The other humans petted him. He was a big boy, with thick black fur and a red bandana. He looked pretty good and he knew it. His tail wagged, sweeping from side to side, and so he strolled past the carrots and spinach and towards the butchers in the back. He sniffed and found heaven.

Rows and rows of dead animals. No hunting needed.

He stood there, did Harold, nose sniffing deeply, jowls dribbling, and tail picking up speed. He stood on his hind legs and peered into the fridges. Sheep. Cow. Pig. Chicken.

Which should he pick? Sheep, he decided. You don’t come across them often, not something he gets to chase for himself. He chose a decently sized lamb chop with bone and clamped his teeth into it and drooled. He lay down for a quick chew.

Yes, it was good. He took it with him as he strolled back down aisle three, wondering why the writer always made him wait outside. He had just stepped through the magically opening doors when a voice stopped him.

“Wait!”

Harold is a good boy. He waited.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

A hand clamped onto his collar and in surprise Harold yelped. He dropped the meat. The hand let go to pick it up.

“I’ll have to call your owner. Where are your tags, dog? Don’t you have any? Should I call Animal Control to take you? Come here, dog. Poor thing, don’t you have a home?”

Home? Harold thought of home. He bared his yellowing teeth and then ran. Oh boy, did Harold run. Up Main Street, along State Street, waiting at the crossing like a good boy and then home up the stairs to his home.

His writer hadn’t moved. She glanced up at him standing in the doorway.

“Did you go pee?”

Harold turned around. He’d forgotten about that. He walked back downstairs and thought about getting a treat.

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Twenty-one Days to Change a Habit

Flash Fiction:

Can I go twenty one days? It seems like an awfully long time. I thought about three weeks and what it means, not as Mr Gerard Faulkner wanted me to consider it (as a time to respond the changes in the condo association ordinances number 201:45B and 201:45C) but as a dry time. I sat there at the new neighborhood monthly maintenance meeting at the up and coming golf club restaurant with a pint in hand, listening and throwing in my two cents worth, that is – not much–but I was speaking up every so often so my neighbors thought I cared as much as they do but I don’t. I don’t. I have to show up or I’ll have them screech to a halt on their way home down the cul-de-sac past the gatekeeper’s original home which is now my home and I’m no gatekeeper by any sense. I can’t be bothered and so I’m not bothered except I am but I don’t say anything because like I told you I don’t want them to stop and yell as me as I sit in my front yard sniffing my family heirloom roses as if the new development hadn’t magically appeared after Mom and Dad died. I’d sold the farm for a good price not thinking I’d miss the fields or the view of the Lindon Hills over past Mrs. Jarrod Hunkers place half a mile a way but I do miss them, Mom and Dad, and the farm and the fields, and the view and even Mrs. Jarrod Hunhkers who’s never forgiven me and neither have I and so I drink to keep it all in and I drink to shut up and I drink to be social and what would happen if I stopped?

The Bus Ticket

Her eyes lit up. Blue. Pale. Her skin was dirty, skin weathered, chin sunburnt, and a huge genuine smile that broke you open again. Again. Linda, you’d chatted a few times on Main Street over the months. Her and the backpack, talking of camping in the park out of sight. “I’ll be alright, won’t I?” she’d asked and you’d said yes. You think she was.

You waved at her this morning. She was walking slowly up State, the farmers’ market out in force. She stopped at your voice. She lit up seeing you. You chatted, glad she was okay. Then she asked you for money for a supposed ticket. Instinct kicked in and you said “no, I can’t help.”

But you gave her $3.25 in quarters from your front pocket.

“I’m going home to my mom. I need to catch the bus today, that’s what she said. She worries about me for some reason.”

“They do that,” you joked.

You talked about how much the bus ticket was – $35, how much she needed – $8 total, and perhaps she could ask at the market? Feeling shy today, she muttered.

She again asked for your help. You lied. You fucking lied to her.

In your back pocket was $25 in cash. You never have cash. You’d just bought and eaten a fresh ham and cheese croissant for $4.50. She’d only asked for another $5 for a ticket home to her mom and you’d lied? For fuck’s sake, Sleam. You chatted a bit more, crossed the road together and then she walked to the bus stop anyway.

You walked away.

The sun beat down.

Hot day ahead.

Your cool apartment.

Fans blurring the edges.

Fridge full.

Cash in pocket.

Croissant crumbs on your tee shirt.

And

You’d lied to Linda.

You walked around Bear Pond Bookstore, tempted by another collection of essays that you don’t need. You walked out. Linda sat on a concrete bench in the shade of an Ash tree, stretching out one leg, pack at her feet. You called her name and gave her a fiver.

Her face lit up. You chatted together. Again.

You walked away, crying. You? You… No, me, but you knew that, right? Yes.

I had lied to Linda.

Wishing her a safe trip home, I turned home and began to cry again because I’m so fucking angry at the world and life and me me me and for fuck’s sake, someone asked for help and you didn’t want-that is, I didn’t want to be responsible for anyone and I couldn’t shut down and so my heart broke again and I cried. I am now. I’ve been there: Broke. Homeless. Reaching out. And helped by strangers for their own reasons.

Linda gets to see her mom.

I wish I could see mine one more time.

pavement stains

Flash Fiction: Pavement stains. I broke your wings on the way home. Sorry about that.

I broke your wings on the way home. Sorry about that but your fingers were like antennae and my skin split. The mess, it’s all mine, and now that stain on the sidewalk won’t wash away. I tried, I did, I hosed it down. I’d even bagged you up, stuffed into a grocery bag from Trader Joes, and you bled, still dead on the sidewalk’s dust and time screamed slow down under foot pushing me back into those glorious guts that didn’t bring you back. Jealousy’s a killer, isn’t it my love, that burn of shame and those black-outs drowning with desire and desperation and I’m thinking of how all the stupid things I’ve said are now caught inside but I never meant to cause you trouble or do you harm or kill you, not really, sorry love. Your belly button and all its fluff tossed me sideways alone and alive with me begging you still breathless wrapped up in arms. You bled me dry scraped on pavement and nameless and numb without eyes. Confusion steeps in the clouds pouring down in the drizzle like chilled tea. What if you’d wanted me back? You’d waited too long to leave: I blame those flying broken dreams. My landlord won’t return my deposit now there’s yet another stain in front of my home.

Twitter @Princeharry5566

Twitter. Today. Dear Princeharry5566. Got your message. I can answer you now. It’s already been a couple of hours, I’m sorry. Princeharry5566, thanks for following me, I’m right flattered. Princeharry5566, not many young men notice women my age, you were raised right. I’m flattered of course, who wouldn’t be, what with a real live prince? I got the message you sent asking me where I’m from; maybe you looked at profile and saw I’m English too? We’ve not met, yet, but I remember getting plastered when your mum and dad got hitched, it was scrumpy cider and we were in the Mendip hills, and us girls got a bit messy. We spent the afternoon on a horse ride until 3pm and then cleaned up and sat in front of the telly with our cider and snacks, waving our silly little flags, but we’d drunk all that cider and then those flags did naughty things and the telly went on the blink and that was that. Did we miss much after four when it was tea time, you wouldn’t know really but maybe your mum said something? It was quite the day and so much has happened since then and you’re tweeting to me about your wife and you. I read your profile and your posts but you do need to edit. Your profile is in first person and third. Like it’s copied and pasted? Well, nice chatting. To think. Princeharry5566. And me.

Flash Fiction: A Few Things You Wish You’d Said

A few of the things you wish you’d said and done in that bathroom

 

It’s been a good night, a fun night, you’ve been drinking with your friends at a diner in Tennessee, Friday night in the next county over. You need the bathroom. A public bathroom. Not your favourite place to visit, even in the city, and well, you’re here in the middle of bumfuck nowhere, a Baptist enclave of reluctant drinkers, or at least – unpracticed drinkers. You go to the women’s, do your business, flush, and then stand at the sink to wash your hands. The door opens behind you, closes, opens, closes. You look up into the mirror, a woman stands there, stepping back to check the sign on the door. She looks you up and down, the jeans, boots, sweatshirt, and short brown hair. Think Amelia Earhart, slender, scruffy, and a woman in your own right, that’s you. This woman in polyester and hairspray takes you in slowly, her eyebrows raising up as she notices you staring back. She closes the door behind her. What are you, she asks? Why, you reply, what are you? She steps closer, taking a big inbreath, a sigh of impatience, but you smile, friendly and polite as usual and turn off the faucet. You reach for a towel from beside her, and she flinches. No, what are you? She persists, and points her lacquered nails in your vague direction, not too hard to do in this tiny linoleum lined bathroom with only one stall. Are you a man or a woman, I can’t tell, she says with a snarl and snark, too close, too mean in the eyes, all fire and righteous religion, I can’t tell, she insists, am I in the wrong bathroom? You laugh, how would I know unless you show me, and you look her up and down, saucy and slow, a firey anger building in your gut as you take in the pink blouse, puckered lips, and blue eye shadow, the hennaed hair and mouthful of her toxic perfume. She spits, are you a man? You counter with, well, what are you, a drag queen? She squares up to you, her heaving chest to your flat one, stands too close, spitting and spouting, cursing like a backwoods heathen, calling you the devil’s work, as pure evil, a pervert, a disgusting specimen, you you you, you should be killed looking like you do, you should die, what are you, what are you, what are you? She yells at you, GET OUT! GET OUT! but you say, I’ll show you mine if you show me yours, and she swallows, as you slowly, with hands on your belt, unbuckle, unzip, and drop your pants.