Fiction Friday

Here’s a very short story based on a true story I heard just the other day.

Melinda Jenkins

Melinda Jenkins watched the people at the party sipping drinks and eating finger foods. They talked loudly and laughed open-mouthed. Most of them were disgusting. They had such a variety of flaws from large crooked noses to outdated outfits. Some had gaps in their teeth and others had red blotchy skin. After scanning the room carefully, Melinda settled on Dave.

“…and that’s how I got to fly on the company plane.” Dave ended yet another long, dull story meant to impress.

Melinda sipped her drink and laughed politely. He was a braggart. He’d spent the entire evening telling one impressive story after another. His teeth were crooked and yellow. He talked with his mouth full. And he was fat. His belly hung over his belt and his shirt buttons strained to stay closed. There were so many things wrong with him that it was difficult for Melinda to pick just one. She glanced down at her watch, “Where did the time go? I have to get going,” she said.

“So early.” Dave set his glass on the table next to him and took a few steps closer to her.

“Yeah. I have to get up early tomorrow. You know how it is?” Melinda started walking to the door.

Dave followed. “That’s too bad. I really enjoyed talking to you.”

She checked her hair in the mirror near the door. Every hair was still perfectly in place–frozen by a generous coating of hairspray. She took her red trench coat from the coat rack and slid into it. She buttoned it and as she carefully tied the belt around her waist in a neat square knot she scanned the crowded room for the host of the party.

This is the way it usually happened. She’d wait until they were saying goodbye. Then she’d lean in to give them a hug and just then she’d whisper their flaw into their ear. Usually the person wouldn’t quite  understand what she’d said. They’d smile and nod in agreement. Some would even thank her. The ugly are so stupid, she’d often think.

Even as she leaned in to give Dave his goodbye hug she was still deciding what she should say. “You’re fat,” she whispered quietly in his ear as she pulled away from him. She emphasized the “t” at the end of fat for effect.

Maybe she’d misjudged the noise level in the room or the volume of her voice. Maybe despite all his other flaws Dave had particularly good hearing. She didn’t know what she’d done wrong, but she knew she’d blown it as soon as she saw his face.

At first his expression was blank. Then he cocked his head and narrowed his eyes. “What?” he said.

“Nothing. I have to go.” She opened the door to leave. She’d have to call the host tomorrow and apologize for leaving without saying goodbye.

“Did you just call me fat?” Dave yelled out the door as she walked to her car.

When Melinda got into her car he was still yelling at her. She calmly started the engine and pulled away.

Fiction Friday

Here’s a new short story.

Eighteen

Melanie couldn’t believe it when she opened the envelope. “Are these for real?” she asked holding two concert tickets up.

“We’re going to see The Pillars tomorrow night!” Patrica grabbed Melanie’s arm and shook it. “Can you believe it? It was so hard for me to keep my mouth shut. I did a good job, didn’t I?”

“A great job,” Melanie said. Patrica and Melanie had been friends since third grade. During that whole time Melanie couldn’t remember Patrica ever keeping a secret–not once. Keeping this one must have nearly killed her.

Melanie was hoping for the perfect eighteenth birthday and she thought she had already had it, but this present made it better than she could’ve ever imagined. Turning eighteen made her feel electric. She felt like the world was opening up to her. These concert tickets were the exact right thing to add to the electricity of the moment. The Pillars had been her favorite band ever since she was eight. She’d always wanted to see them in concert, but had never gotten the chance. With their recent break-up announcement she never even imagined she would. This was their final tour. This was her last chance to see them live and now she was going to.

Melanie dressed up for the concert in her favorite black leggings and a black and silver designer shirt she’d bought off the clearance rack the week before. She wore thick black and silver belt that she borrowed from her older sister around her waist. Patrica helped her do her make-up for the night. She didn’t usually wear make-up, but tonight was special.

On the way to the concert Melanie kept pulling down the sun visor to check her make-up in the mirror. The waxy red lipstick made her lips feel dry.

“You look great,” Patrica said.

“I just can’t get used to it.” Melanie rubbed her lips together to make sure her lipstick was evenly spread. She felt tempted to wipe it off and put on the cherry Chapstick she always carried in her purse.

Their spots at the concert were better than Melanie expected. They were on the right side toward the center. Patrica must of spent a fortune for the tickets. Melanie wandered how much they cost.

Once the concert started Patrica wasted no time trying to get closer. “We should move to the front. It is your birthday after all.” she said.

“Can we?” Melanie had never been to a concert like this before. She didn’t want to break the rules.

“Of course we can. Who will notice?” Patrica started pushing her way to the front and Melanie tried to follow her, but somehow lost site of her in the dizzying excitement. She stood on her toes but couldn’t see her over the crowd jumping and yelling. Giving up on ever finding Patricia in the crush of people Melanie decided to try to get as close to the stage as possible and enjoy the action. Now the only thing that separated her from the stage was the metal barrier and a large bald man in a black t-shirt his arms folded talking into an earpiece. Security.

Melanie never liked crowds. She usually did what she could to avoid them. Now here she was throwing herself into one. She was close enough to see the lead singing clearly. When he came to her side of the stage to sing she swore he could see her too. When he took off his scarf and threw it into the audience she knew he was throwing it to her. She reached up to catch it. It grazed her fingertips and as she extended back to get it she started to fall into the crowd. She didn’t hit the floor all at once. She fell slowly cushioned by one body and then another. Each moving out of her way until there were no more bodies to hold her up only the hard dirty concert floor.

She couldn’t see anything but legs and feet pushing into her. She called out, but the music was too loud for anyone to notice. Her head hit the concrete floor again and again as the feet came down on her.

The music pressed into her eardrums. It was the day after her eighteenth birthday and her favorite was playing her favorite song.

Fiction Friday

This is a story I wrote just now, based on a dream I had last week. The dream was a lot more complicated, but I could never fit all of the details into less than 1000 words.

Tinfoil

Kelly left her spoon in her bowl of half eaten soup and crossed the restaurant to talk to him. She left her purse unattended on the chair. Her wallet and car keys huddled inside.

She’d watched him for thirty minutes now as he ate his frittata and read Watership Down. At points he’d lower the book, glance around the restaurant, and chuckle. The last few bites of his frittata growing cold. The fork abandoned beside the plate.

It was lunchtime and the restaurant was full of office workers on their breaks talking about company business and company gossip, but Kelly didn’t see any of them. She only saw him. She heard him from the moment he walked in the door–the sound his bruised, brown cowboy boots made clipping the tile floor as he walked in, the sound of his hoarse voice as he placed his order. He unbutton his gray tweed jacket. His double chin hung over his beige turtle neck. His skin was reddened from the heat and the sun.

Waiters crossed her path with trays stacked high with plates of sandwiches and salads. As she approached him, she could smell burnt leaves a much more comfortable smell than she expected. She stood next to his table and breathed in deeply.

He let out a loud guffaw and looked up from his book to see a short, round, brown woman standing beside him. Her straightened hair pulled into a neat bun at the nap of her neck.

“I know you have horns under that hat,” Kelly said. There was probably a better way to break the ice, but she was never much for ice breaking.

“Really?” he took off his gray tweed hat to reveal close cropped brown hair thinning at the crown. “What else do you know?” He winked at her.

Kelly couldn’t let this fluster her. She knew. Even though he wasn’t exactly what she’d expected, she knew. She pulled the chair out across from him and sat down. She couldn’t walk away now. It had already started. “I know who you are.”

He laughed again. “I’m glad somebody does. It’s hard to get any recognition in this town.”

Kelly expected black fangs, but his teeth were slightly yellowed and crowded on the bottom. “I have something for you.” She reached into the back pocket of her jeans and pulled out a piece of tinfoil three inches square. The foil had been crinkled and smoothed and crinkled and smoothed again. Pin sized holes in its center let the light through. One of the corners was missing and another folded over. She held it out to him.

“What’s that?” He put his book down, squinted and leaned in like he couldn’t quite see it.

“I thought you’d know.”

“It looks like a piece of aluminum foil.”

“That’s what it is.”

“Why would I want that?”

Kelly’s hand remained suspended in the middle of the table. “I don’t know. I thought you’d know…My grandmother gave this to me when I was eight. She told me if I ever saw you to give it to you. She told me you’d know what to do with it.”

“She must’ve been insane. And you obviously believed her.”

“She was convincing.”

“I’m sure she was. Crazy people usually are.” He leaned back in his chair and placed his hat back on his head. “Look if you want to offer me something useful like your soul, I’m ready. But I can get tinfoil at Walmart…”

Kelly pulled back her hand and placed it and the foil it contained in her lap. “You’re right. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“I can’t believe that you were so sure you’d meet me one day that held on to that for…how long?

“25 years,” she sighed.

He laughed and smacked the edge of the table with his hand. “25 years.”

Kelly stood up. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to bother you.”

“No bother at all. I’m always up for a good laugh.”

She turned her back and walked away with his sharp laughter cutting into her. The restaurant suddenly came alive to her. Everyone was talking and laughing—talking and laughing at her. She dropped the foil on the floor . It wasn’t the same piece her grandmother had given her anyway. She’d lost that long ago, but that didn’t matter anymore.

The chime rang as she pulled the door open and stepped out into the summer heat.

Fiction Friday

I haven’t quite gotten this weeks short story together yet. It’s has something to do with the devil, but it’s not quite were I want it. So that will go up next week. For this week, I have an oldie that I wrote a few years back for a writing workshop I was in. The assignment was to write a story called Weekend Special.

Weekend Special

The bumper stuck up through the glassy surface of the lake. I sat on the bank shivering, watching the sun’s show of orange and gold. The grass tickled my bare ankles. Just up the embankment, the traffic roared by in waves. The coarse fibers of the wool blanket the police gave me scratched my neck.

Officer Taylor squatted down in front of me. His blue, polyester uniform pants strained over his bulging, middle-aged midriff. “What happened?”

I watched his mustached mouth. “I don’t know. I guess I just fell asleep.” I picked a blade of grass and twisted it around my finger. My head felt heavy.

“Where were you headed?”

“Nowhere really. That’s unimportant. The important thing is where I was coming from?” The tow truck beeped as it backed down the embankment.

Officer Taylor didn’t respond at first. He looked straight into me as if looking for something. “Okay then. Where were you coming from?” He struggled to balance on his hunches.

“Atlantic City.” My wet jeans clung to my legs. My thighs itched.

“Gambling trip?”

“Something like that.” The metallic ring of the tow truck’s hook as it clamped down on the car cut the air.

“Where you from?”

“Originally?”

“No. No. Coming from or returning to. Where were you returning to?”

The chain clinked around itself as it rolled onto the giant spool on the back of the truck.

“Vermont.”

It emerged slowly. The weekend special was only nine dollars and ninety-nine cents a day–a red Geo Metro shaped like a jellybean. I rented it for this trip.

Unable to squat any longer, Officer Taylor stood up. He looked over at the car, then back down at me. “You’re lucky to be alive.”

The front of the car was flattened. I looked at the car sitting on the bank, water bleeding from its seams. I thought about the duffle bag in the trunk. I imagined the block of white powder inside turning to paste. “Yeah. I’m lucky to be alive.”

The Rent–A Short Story

I should just post this without prefacing it but I can’t help myself. I wrote this story for a contest. They wanted a story that portrayed the life of a jazz musician. I thought that seemed easy enough and wrote this silly little story. I know it has some problems, but it’s a much more realistic portrayal than the stereotypical stories that won. No, I’m not bitter.

The Rent

Alex started packing up his trumpet as soon as he noticed the smoke billowing out of the kitchen. He didn’t wait for the end of the tune. He didn’t wait for J.D., the bandleader, to dismiss him like a third grade student.

This was only his fourth week on the gig with the big band on The Sunshine Casino Boat. The boat was full of senior citizens drinking and gambling away their pension checks. He always hated tuxedo gigs and only took this one because it was a steady three days a week and in the afternoon, so he could take another gig at night. But every time he boarded the bright yellow Sunshine Casino Boat his stomach sank to his feet. This is not what he thought it would be like when he decided to become a jazz musician. Alex was only allowed to take two solos on the gig and they were always on Satin Doll and a big band version of The Pointer’s Sister’s I’m So Excited.

The bandleader was a five foot three piano player with a perpetual cold sore on his upper lip. His face was all squashed in and drooped slightly on the right side. He often took his unfortunate appearance out on the band, criticizing their playing and constantly shortening their breaks. Anytime Alex felt like he had really expressed himself during a solo J.D. would pull him aside during one of their six minute and forty-one second breaks and say, “You’re playing too out. You need to tone it down for this crowd. We have to keep the old people happy…you know?” He added “you know” to the end of everything. Alex usually refused to work with him, but his girlfriend had pressured him into taking this gig.

“Steady money,” she’d said as she waved his gig calendar in the air. “Most of the days on this are empty and you’re turning down steady money!” This was just after she’d heard him turn the gig down. She made him call J.D. back and sat on the sofa staring at him the whole time he was talking. Alex had to make up an excuse about misreading his calendar and said that he could take the gig after all. It was a hard thing for him to do, but it was done.

The band continued to play Stolen Moments as Alex joined the mass of fleeing passengers making their way to the lifeboats, his tight black shoes slipping on the slick wooden deck. As he stepped towards a lifeboat, he lost his balance completely. His arms flailing out to the side to steady himself, he accidentally knocked an old woman in the head with his trumpet case. She fell to the ground and cried out, but Alex couldn’t think about her now. He had one thing on his mind–escape.

The scooter ride home was a thousand times more delightful than usual. Alex was able to notice the blueness of the sky for the first time in a long time. He didn’t realize that the boat didn’t actually sink. The evacuation was just an overreaction to the cook’s first attempt at making blackened catfish. After that first lifeboat was deployed the captain was able to calm the crowd, and everyone went back to drinking, eating, and gambling as usual.

Testing fate, he rode home without putting on his helmet. It was only a five-mile drive to Blue Orient Mobile Home Park, where he and his girlfriend, Rita, rented a pink, one-bedroom mobile home complete with plastic flamingo lawn ornaments.

When Alex got home, Rita was sitting at the kitchen table paying bills. Her black hair was pulled back into a ponytail. Her face was heavily made up with emerald green eye shadow and red lipstick. Mascara made her eyelashes look like spider legs. He did think she was beautiful under all of that. He had tried to tell her that she didn’t need it but she never seemed to hear him.

She had all of the bills lined up across the table end to end–water, sewage, electric, cable and so forth. The checkbook lay on the table in front of her. She twirled the pink sparkly pen she always used for paying the bills in her right hand.

“You’re more than an hour early,” she said placing the pen down on the table. Alex was early. He was one hour twenty-three minutes and fifty-seven seconds early.

Alex put his trumpet case down on the floor near the door and walked over to her. “The boat caught fire! We had to evacuate!”

“What?”

“It caught fire. I made it to shore on a lifeboat.” Alex was a little too happy about this turn of events.

“What about the rest of the band?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know Alex? Did you get your check? You were supposed to get your check today.”

“The boat caught fire Rita! What am I supposed to do about that?”

Rita stood up from the table and faced him. “The rent Alex! The rent!” She picked up a random bill off of the table and waved it in his face. She had taken to waving things in his face these days.

Alex caught her wrist to stop the fluttering paper. “I have a good gig tonight and two more good ones tomorrow. We’ll have the money for the rent. Don’t worry.” Neither of them knew this but Alex was about to make it–just when they had given up, just when he had decided that the music profession was no longer.

After his Saturday afternoon gig at a building demolition, Alex would stop at a 7-11 to buy a candy bar and, by chance, start having a conversation in with Herbie Hancock’s drummer. He would tell Alex that their trumpet player had broken his hand that day, leaving them in a jam for that night’s concert.

“Can you read?” he’d ask Alex.

“Yeah,” Alex would respond and that would be the opportunity he had been waiting for all of his life.

“I have to take a nap,” Alex said. He kissed her cheek and walked to the bedroom to lie down.

****

Rita cleaned other people’s homes. Though she never stole anything, she liked to rummage through their things so she could feel jealous of what she didn’t have. She had been doing this when old Mrs. Vandercamp came home forty-two minutes and thirty-six seconds early. Rita didn’t hear her come in and was casually trying on her diamond earrings when Mrs. Vandercamp walked in on her. Startled, Rita dropped the back of one of the earrings onto the plush beige bedroom carpet.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Mrs. Vandercamp tapped her left foot disapprovingly on the floor.

“I’m sorry.” Rita struggled to find the earring back while using one hand to hold the earring in place in her ear.

“Unbelievable! You can’t trust anyone!” Mrs. Vandercamp declared. She walked over to the dresser and snapped the jewelry box closed. “If you don’t find that back you’ll have to pay for those earrings.” Mrs. Vandercamp had eleven pairs of diamond earrings and those were her least favorite, the diamonds being the smallest, but that didn’t matter. It was the principle.

“I’m sorry,” Rita repeated in a small voice. Her hand ran across the cold earring back. She picked it up, removed the earring from her ear and placed it in Mrs. Vandercamps outstretched hand.

“I’ll have to call the agency.” Mrs. Vandercamp loved calling the agency or any place else she could think of to complain about anything she could think of that needed complaining about.

Rita stood still, looking shamefully around the room. What would she tell her boyfriend?

“You should leave.” Mrs. Vandercamp opened the jewelry box again and started looking through the jewelry. “If anything is missing I’ll have you arrested.”

“Nothing’s missing ma’am.”

Rita was still standing there when she looked up. “Leave!” she demanded, narrowing her eyes.

When Rita got home she noticed that someone had knocked over one of the pink flamingos on the lawn. She stood it up and looked around the unkempt yard. She didn’t notice how beautiful the weather was–the blue sky, the gentle breeze. She didn’t hear the birds singing. She was too worried that she would get fired from her job. She was too worried about the money they didn’t have in the bank.

Rita showered, changed and made up her face before Alex got home. She always made sure that she at least looked nice when he came home. She still had an hour and a half before he arrived so she decided to pay the bills.

She lined up the bills on the table and carefully studied the amounts. Then she looked at the balance in their bank account. They didn’t have enough and she knew it. Her head started to ache.

She was considering calling Mrs. Vandercamp and offering to clean her house for free for the rest of the year if she didn’t call the agency to complain about her, when Alex walked in—early. He was saying something about the boat catching fire and smiling from ear to ear, but all Rita heard was that he didn’t get paid. Her brain was about to burst. They were going to end up homeless, and he didn’t even seem to care. Rita waved the electric bill in his face to try to snap him out of it, but Alex just grabbed her wrist and told about the good gigs he had coming up. “But the rent is due today,” she said quietly as she watched Alex walk away from her to the bedroom.

Rita picked up the phone to call Mrs. Vandercamp. She didn’t realize that Mrs. Vandercamp was getting senile in her old age. She had forgotten to call the agency and had already forgotten about the whole event.

“What a nice girl,” Mrs. Vandercamp said as she hung up the phone. She couldn’t recall anyone ever having offered to do anything for her for free before. She was moved by this gesture. Four months later, when Mrs. Vandercamp passed away, Rita would discover she had been included in her will. Rita would get to split Mrs. Vandercamp’s estate with her dog, Tinkles.

Rita hung up the phone and walked into the bedroom. Alex was already asleep. The loved his sleeping face. It looked so innocent. She joined him in bed. He didn’t wake up. She snuggled up to him, and draped her arm around his waist. They would have to pay the rent late this month.