Category Archives: Short Story

Six Hours

Rebecca, late once again, and as usual, Robert waited for her.  Today, she had called shortly before their planned meeting time and told him cheerfully that for once, I’m on time, and I did it for you.  I’ll be there in two minutes.  Aren’t you happy and do you love me?
— Yes, he said.  I’m waiting by the fountain, next to the old men playing chess.  It’s cold, so I hope you have a thick coat this time.
— I do, the red winter one you like.

In reality, he also was on his way, walking through the subway platform to exit on the northwest side.  For the past year he had planned their meeting times half an hour before he himself arrived since she was habitually late.  Nothing could fix her tardiness.

Most men wished (and hardly asked) their girlfriends to stop nagging them, want it more, and stop the inevitable weight gain, but Robert only wished that Rebecca would be on time.  When they went on their first date after they met at the circus he waited about 45 minutes for her on a humid morning, his back so soaked with perspiration that when she finally arrived, he stood apart, unwilling to impart a hug.  Date after date and it went on and on, and she said so sorry!  I’m so sorry.  I always try to leave earlier and somehow, it’s still always later.

She was beautiful and sweet and so he dealt with it for a while.  His resentment grew.  How many hours had he wasted, waiting for her in undesirable conditions?  She came to his house about twice a week, always about 30 minutes late, so that’s one hour there; they usually met for happy hour after work on Wednesdays, and she’d be anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour late, so total, about two hours so far.  On the weekends, when she had to “get ready”, it was at least two hours for each day, and they went out about two times a week, so four hours.  Suppose it was about six hours a week?

On a lucky night, six hours was a full night of sleep.  Three movies.  Two outings.  Like this, he calculated all the ways she had wasted his time.  He was almost at the park, but walked slower as he came closer, as if a direct result from the time she took from him.  Six hours.  I could drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco once a week.  New York to D.C.  Visits to the Smithsonian that never transpired.  He got closer, and saw a crowd near the fountain.  Still in a daze, he didn’t wonder what was going on until he walked right up to people leaning toward the center, gossiping.  He asked a teenage boy what was going on as his eyes searched for Rebecca in her red coat.

Some lady went to the hospital, he said.  A man threw acid on her face.  Random, isn’t it?

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Persimmons

Amanda, having lived in the same house for the past two decades, established a routine that wavered little from her first year on the farm.  She woke up at the same time every morning, drank English Breakfast tea with a little milk, and read the town’s newspaper.  It was a two-fold weekly, and shrank every couple of years.  After she was done, she put it in the mulching pile.  Her husband, Tom, didn’t care much for town gossip.

She put on the old boots and made her way out to the first greenhouse to check on the herbs.  They had about thirty greenhouses they customized with curved roofs, so the rain wouldn’t cave the ceilings in.  It was hard work, but it eased up after everything was established.  Tom did most of the work with little help.  In the dusky evenings, Amanda and Tom would go out to the persimmon groves and pick until their talk died down.  One in the box.  One in the mouth.  It was nice and they didn’t need anything more.

“Do you want to go on a cruise?”  Tom asked once.

Amanda had a friend over earlier that morning, picking up her cat after her vacation to the Bahamas.  She told them all about the ship, supposedly large enough for an ice rink, bowling alley, and a ballroom, among other things.  Not that any of those were utilized.  Most of the time was spent in the pool and in the restaurants.  It probably would have been fun, but she never cared much for the sea.  And she knew Tom; he was just offering because he knew she would decline.  And it was OK.

“No, you know how I hate being around large crowds.  And boats.  Seasick.”  She smiled.

He smiled back, taking a sip of his evening whisky.  “I know.”

“Want to pick some persimmons?”  she said.

He got up, walked over and gave her a bear hug, complete with a muffling squeeze.  “This is why I married you, sweets.”

….

Amanda was wearing her nicest dress.  She only had one dress for going out; there was no need for more.  She tried to read the magazines but her mind wandered.  Tom looked intensely focused.  The receptionist called Tom’s name, and they walked over to the door that separated before from after.

….

It was a nasty disease; the most brutal kind, robbing a person of their sanity, personality, and memories, and doing it in the most painfully slow way as possible.

On most days, Tom stared outside, quizzically, asking Amanda how the greenhouses were built, what was grown inside, and who took care of them.  Occasionally he asked her questions about herself, if she liked life on the farm, what she did, and sometimes, if she were married.  He seemed to deflate when she answered yes, but when she would add that they were married to each other, he would immediately brighten and say, “Oh!”

On good days, Amanda would find Tom putting on his boots.  He would wink at her and say,

“Hungry for persimmons, sweets?”

They would go outside to the groves, talking and eating persimmons as if the doctor’s visit happened in another world.  One in the box and one in the mouth, until it was time for bed.

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Annette

She could never get used to that name.  Since childhood, she would hear her someone calling and it would take a lingering moment for her to realize it was attached to her.  She never liked it.  It rang prude aristocrat.  If there were no choice other than to be imprinted with a snobbish name, it would be preferable if it were snobby and popular and fun, like Claudia or Brittany, or pretentious and confident, like Hillary.  Annette– both the name and the namesake– was neither.  She was not confident, or what others might call fun; she did not like to waste time with dalliances and petty commentary with people she didn’t much care for.  That did make her a little bit pretentious and snobby, but not aristocratic.  She was a working student, and her parents both worked when most mothers stayed at home.

Still, she was fun to the people she did like and care about– she was openly friendly and animated with strangers– that is, when they passed her immediate judgment test.  Hypocritically, she disliked people she perceived as pretentious or dreary.  She was not aware that she was somewhat pretentious.  After all, her name was Annette.

She had a long list of friends from the different and disparate phases in her life, but as she grew older, she became more dissatisfied with her relationships.  It’s obvious that it was plainly the passage of time.  Friends became preoccupied with new aspects of lives– first it was the prom, university, the thesis, and later, the fiance, the wedding, babies.  She didn’t blame them.

Gillian– a friend for almost 15 years– had changed so much in recent years that it was hard for Annette to justify their relationship.  Gillian, as sweet as she was, had leechlike charactertistics.  It wasn’t unusual for Gillian to disappear, but their friendship was easily picked up as if there were no lingering questions of where she had gone and what she had done and why.

Gillian and Annette had ongoing lunch plans at their favorite cafe and Annette showed up five minutes late, harried from rushing.  She was hungover.  She waited and Gillian never showed up.  She called and left messages.  No answer.  She emailed, sent a letter to her work address, and contacted her boyfriend, presumably left behind.  He didn’t know and he was pissed, refusing to address her by her proper name any longer, instead using “bitch” or “skank”.  Still,  he called Annette every few months to let her know he received a postcard from an tropical location, always postmarked from different islands.  Not much, just a simple message, often without a sign-off: “Doing well. Reading!”

A year and half later, Gillian called her and asked to brunch but offered no other explanation.

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Oh, Hamburger.

We left Fran’s at around 1:15 that Saturday.  First thing we did on Saturdays, right after waking up late from staying up late watching movies and drinking forties, was breakfast at Dan’s or Fran’s, nevermind it was clear into lunchtime.

Dan and Fran were married for about 30 years and opened a modest chain of restaurants aptly named after Dan.  Towards the tail-end of the marriage Fran was consumed with their growing popularity and began caring about things she never thought of before, like introducing herself to the town’s civic leaders, becoming part of the welcoming committee, and sponsoring a float in the county fair parade each year.  The float itself took an immense amount of planning– the day after the parade, a meeting was held to discuss ideas for the next year’s concept.  Dan was a low-key sort of guy and if he didn’t go to all the social events with Fran he never saw her, and she didn’t seem to miss him.

“If you really wanted to spend time with me, you coulda come to the charity bake sale last night!  In fact, I asked you to come and bring the napkins I forgot, and you refused.  By the way– we owe Natalie $3 for napkins.  Can you pay her the next time you see her?”

There was a cook at Dan’s that was friendly enough; she didn’t talk much and it didn’t really matter.  Dan spent more and more time at work– he didn’t want to come home to an empty house.  Soon he announced that Dan’s would be open until midnight, every night.

Cook and Dan were cleaning up on the first night with new hours, and they were awake with excitement over the crowds– it was immediately popular with high school and young college crowds who were under 21, and hamburger buns ran out.

“Imagine that!”  Cook said.  “Too bad Fran wasn’t here to see it.”

The next morning, Dan woke up with the intention to tell Fran that he was leaving her.  She was already gone to a meeting.  He called her and asked her to come home now– that it was urgent, they needed to talk, it was serious.

“Just write it on a note and stick it on the fridge, or something.  I’ve got to go!”  And she hung up.

The only thing Fran wanted during the divorce was half the chain.  Half!  She never cared before about the restaurants!  It was all about her– all her activities, her status in the community– her important meetings.

Fran’s Dan’s were renamed Fran’s.

We didn’t care where we ended up.  Menu was the same, prices were the same.  We just went to whichever was closest to where we woke up.

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Coffee and Pancakes easy.

Jack’s legs dangled over the long pier—he had been sitting there
For a while, since the sun traveled from one end to the other
Hovering over his pale legs and glassy pool of moss.
He always wanted to move to the city but he was there and there was not the city so he stayed.
Two cups of coffee never hurt no one, he thought– turned around to reach for
His pot and drank one more cup, straight up black, no cream or sugar
And he heard her– coming. He turned the other way and gazed into the glassy pool of moss. She sat silently next to him. Tossed her hair and dipped her legs into the lake. Until the sun reached its evening residence.
Good-Night.

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Melinda

I made imaginary plans to run away from home after Melinda did. It was unexpected. We were supposed to meet at the swings at the playground between our houses as usual, before going to Melrose to get matching tattoos, of monarch butterflies.

Even after 45 minutes, I wasn’t much worried. It wasn’t unusual for Melinda to take time wrangling from her mother’s grasp to teach her how to cook, to sew, to bake. After two hours of swinging I went home. While I was watching “Jeopardy!” later that night, I heard knocking. My dad went to answer it and I heard Melinda’s mom’s rushed voice. My dad came into the living room and asked when was the last time I spoke to or saw Melinda.

The previous month we had gotten our ears pierced without parental permission.

“I don’t care what she says or if she grounds me, I want to wear earrings! Who cares about some holes in ears,” Melinda had said, and we went ahead to the mall, got them done.

When I got home I tried to hide my ears behind my hair but my mother saw my newly minted ears glimmer and she pulled them out as I was swallowing a spoon of rice. Melinda got into trouble and her mother grounded her for rest of summer vacation, and I didn’t see any hint of her, except sometimes there would be notes in my mailbox. I didn’t know when she was able to deliver them, but they were my only link to her. When I tried to reply her mother intercepted them as contraband, and I’m sure she read them, so I wrote to her as if my letters had been unanswered.

Now she’s been gone for 10 months. I leave letters for her on the swing, but this time, they are sincerely unanswered. This was 1993.

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Creation

Some are weak, he said. Not like the old man down the street who is physically weak, too feeble to carry his own simple groceries any longer, but weak in mind and spirit. And though the old man moves at a pace for a snail, he is more admirable than the mentally weak man because the body often atrophies quicker than the mind.
The weak-minded atrophy at an early age, through misuse and poor handling, and, he added in secret, brain cells do not rejuvenate. We must be disdainful of the weak minds, he said, as if it were contagious.

This is one of many opinions I heard from the man on the corner stop. I, just a simple street pigeon, grey in color with white specks (quite beautiful, some say), came to his acquaintance only after many months of annoyance: he gladly ravaged up pieces of bread, torn from silly American tourists’ baguettes, for his own mouth.
Thank goodness he was not like the man before him, who licked his finger moist and picked up all leftover crumbs like a sponge: we nearly starved. Even the crumbs in the dirt between the cobblestones! That was the tragic spring that we never mention, for it brings back bad memories of shameful and drastic measures.

It’s a natural to be offended at the overriding and widespread assumption that pigeons are stupid, lazy, and fat. All young, adolescent pigeons go through a period of anarchy and physical dissent, usually characterized by shitting everywhere they sit. Trees, people– even Renaissance-period cathedrals—it doesn’t matter.
As a whole, we’ve accepted man’s low expectations and negative impressions by casting this stereotype off as an unfortunate misunderstanding due to the lack of human brain cell regeneration.

I was not sure of the corner man’s diatribe about weakness and brain cells. We believe we are the incarnations of clouds, crying rain in longing to reach Earth. Once on Earth, we fly upwards, in an attempt to reach the sky we miss—a lovely cyclical creation myth.

Because we are incarnates, our sole tenet is that our souls and minds pass to our worldly pigeon bodies. The idea that cells were unable to go through rejuvenation was absolutely repulsive.

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