Fiction 59

The winners, one living legend and one heartbreak

Mike Bagwell

Mike Bagwell

Photo By Tom Angel

Mike Bagwell placed first, second or third in three of the last four years of our Fiction 59 competition, so we made him a “living legend” this year. With the way cleared, we had a new winner, but a careful recount revealed a devastating error: 60 words! Read what perennial 59er Bagwell does with a little space, then see who wrote well and followed the rules.

Good-bye, Pepper Red
Sunday, Pepper Red, “Going out of business” signs tacked to the walls. Last day! After how many years? How many happy hours?

The bartender looks like Satan in his niche behind the bar, moving in the smoky red darkness, juggling bottles and cocktail glasses, wearing a short beard on his jaw and chin, cigarette hanging out of his face, wearing a red vest, short-sleeved white shirt. He is cursing the buxom airhead barmaid.

“I hate working with dumb broads,” he hisses.

He gives away the drinks, though I had ordered two. I take my vodka-tonics and sit in my half-lit corner. Pretty good crowd for the last day. Where would all these poor displaced bastards go? Hell, where would I go? A good spot was hard to find. Especially a place to think, drink and write.

Strange time of changes. I thought of my favorite song: “You Don’t Pull No Punches But You Don’t Push The River.” Even this latest journal was about to close. How many had I filled in this bar? It would be a lifetime unscrambling them all.

Satan summons me, wants me to run for limes. I put the journal back in my poet’s coat pocket and walk out the back way into the alley. The glare is intense after the drinks. The co-op hipster grocery store is crowded with the usual long-hairs, tofu-heads, degenerates, women with mustaches, men with earrings, baldheaded, kids naked, screaming. I select five limes, go to the checkout stand and hand the thin, gay cashier two wrinkled, whiskey-soaked dollar bills.

“Member?” he inquires daintily.

“Naw,” I growl. I want another drink. I bag the limes myself, take my change, and head back to the bar, up 10th to the alley, sun’s glare to my back now, re-slip into the Pepper Red, last day forever, signs on the walls, bankrupt finally after several million unprofitable happy hours, how many years, in through the back door. It is really crowded now. I hand Satan the five limes and the change and order two more vodka-tonics. Free again.

Luckily, my spot is still vacant, all the din in the background. Start thumbing through my notes. Weird, the kind of shit a writer finds in his notes sometimes. Sitting there at the last happy hour, I turned to a page in the back of one of my small notebooks from a year ago, reading: “BAR FUCKERY #9,972—DEPLOY GEESE? … ODD ENDS… JOURNAL MARROW… DOG LOGIC…”

I never knew what to write. One doesn’t. When a writer means to put something together, that is re-writing.

1st, Jennifer White

Photo By Tom Angel

Anyhow, “DEPLOY GEESE?” was an idea I and some drinking pals had come up with one typical afternoon at happy hour. Over our drinks and stale popcorn we had been laughing about the threat of accidental global nuclear annihilation, specifically about the North American Early Warning Radar System, or whatever they called it, the mega-thing NATO had set up to detect incoming mindfucking apocalyptic Soviet missiles. Something was always going amiss. For example, a flock of geese flying over could set off the alarm and start the whole fucking thing off. Our idea: “DEPLOY GEESE.” Simple drunken solution.

“ODD ENDS” was a flash I’d had for a title—to whatever. Often I would invent titles for which no work existed. That was all right.

“JOURNAL MARROW"—ah. The journals were living tissue, flesh and blood, but largely full of shit. So in re-writing, composing, you dug only for the marrow.

“DOG LOGIC"—now, where in the hell did that come from? It did seem to make sense. Dogs are not stupid. Logic by instinct. I liked that. Thus, “DOG LOGIC…”

I ordered two more, re-read this and tried to figure out what it was all about.

What matter?

Good-bye, Pepper Red!

Someday I would re-write it all.

by Mike Bagwell

First place

Contractual Obligations
Vanessa Loverly and Danny Peaceston made arrangements with their wedding planner to have doves released after their vows. Our company was hired to liberate the doves at exactly 5:53 p.m., but the shipping company lost the crate of doves, and we resorted to releasing 50 pigeons my partner captured from our roof. The pigeons reappeared, pecking the vegetarian buffet.

Jennifer White

2nd, Tom Spofford

Photo By Tom Angel

Second place

Wishes Last
I’d asked for just two things of my family after the doctor diagnosed the bone cancer. I wanted to die outside and I wanted my obituary to say I wrangled with cancer instead of battled. I’m sitting on a dock by a lake watching a sunrise. I’ll have them change it to “he eased toward death.”

I’m no wrangler.

Tom Spofford

Third place

Family Tree
My Aunt Carla’s asleep on the couch, naked. She shaved all the hair off of her head. I was the first one up so I found her like that. How can I go to school and think about math and English when I keep seeing her bald head with little dark bloody spots where the razor cut her scalp?

Roxy Hughes

Honorable mention No. 1

A Moving Romance
Taking a shortcut home, the “for sale” sign caught my eye. I’d never been there, so why did the street address look familiar? Oh yeah, the phone book confirmed it: It’s his house. Mr. Come-on-strong and then run away. “I have intimacy issues.” He never called and the fucker still has my copy of The DaVinci Code.

Julie Boone

Honorable mention No. 2

It was a dark and stormy night in downtown Chico. It was just me and her and we were bored. Our backyard hen had finally produced. We hate omelets so we egged the News & Review building and went to Duffy’s. Tom’s going to have a cow tomorrow. He’ll probably get two columns out of this. We were bored.

3rd, Roxy Hughes

Photo By Tom Angel

Ronald Angle

More judges’ favorites

Blue Jay Frondi
He landed on the fence and squawked, “My name is Frondi.” “Frondi, you got to be kidding me,” I thought in disbelief. He said, “Do I look like I’m kidding you.” I said, “I don’t even know man, you’re a blue jay. He said, “You’re damn straight I’m a blue jay and my name is Frondi. Blue Jay Frondi.”

Lenny Hubbard

Down the Alley
Two ferocious black dogs charge the chain link fence. Blue throws his 15-year-old Labrador body, hips collapsing, into the assault. Fangs bared, hackles up, barking, straining against the leash.

I peel him off the fence, pick up his hind end, straighten his legs. He trots proudly, soundly, for several feet, until his age catches up with him.

Vita Segalla

After the Rain
Before the rain, things were different. They were dry. Except for Mr. Salsa’s constantly rejuvenated outdoor pond, with 63 uniformly sized goldfish swimming in a perfectly choreographed water ballet under 18 uniformly shaped plastic waterlilies floating on the surface like green rubber placemats.

Except for that, before the rain, things were dry. After the rain, well … everything was mud.

Bob Garner

Cobras and Confidence
The snake charmer took the lid off the basket, removed the cobra, and plopped it down around my neck. No finesse, no soothing charm-utterances. Just abrupt slithering weight. I hope this thing is sedated, because my man’s charm is questionable. It hissed, inches from my face, watching me, widening its hood. Rapid tongue flickering means it’s happy, right?

Conor McNerney

Jesse Davis

Photo By Tom Angel

Jimboy’s is my brother’s favorite taco place. Unfortunately, there isn’t one where he lives. Via telephone, he asked, Are you driving through Yuba City? I knew he meant: Are you going to Jimboy’s? I could hear his wife in the background: What about mad cow? Tell her, I go for the mercury poisoning. I always order the fish taco.

C. M. Lai

The Interview
My brother finds my boyfriend catastrophes tiresome and slightly redundant. He ordered me to write down the following questions and refer to them on a very regular basis: Are you currently married? Have you, at any time, been in jail for longer than six months? Is your annual income currently more than $15,000? How many firearms do you own?

Elaine Ellsmore

Night Bikes
On some warm summer nights, my bicycles loose their locks and sneak out to ride by themselves.

Freed of road and rider, they carve their arcs in the midnight sky, spinning through the stars.

The owls wonder what birds are these with circular feet and flapless wings.

They steal their way homeward as dawn relights itself, locks clicking closed.

Ed McLaughlin

I stood in the tiny airport and stared at the walls. No one came to meet me, my luggage was stuck in Anchorage and Kenai had no cabs at 2 in the morning. For a moment I envisioned staying in this place. I could sleep on the display of sealskin and stay clear of the scary, stuffed, Kodiak bear.

Carla Andersen

There’s two cherries left in the bowl. Sylvia wants ’em. Sylvia wants everything I’ve got. My coffee table, my CDs, my dog—my friends too. Sylvia’s got nothing—no dreams, no vision—that’s why she wants mine.

Illustration By Linda Silvestri

I’m leaving soon and there’s still two cherries left. She’s not gonna get ’em. They’re mine and I’m taking ’em with me.

Dusty Taylor

Each year, the News & Review’s Fiction 59 contest gets a fair number of entries from writers who are of a younger persuasion: the under-12 set. We can’t say they’re less jaded than their grownup counterparts, but they do have a way with words. This year, we gave them their own category.

First Place

I was having a bad day, my mom just bought a cat. I played with it till I got very tired. The next day I couldn’t find my cat. I looked everywhere. Then I saw him come out of his box. I took him outside to play with him. I heard a car coming, then my cat was gone.

Jesse Davis
age 12
Red Bluff

Second Place

Ghost Boy
On a cold night an innocent family moved to a mansion that was haunted. People say that a ghost boy and his dog haunt the mansion. That gravel and dirt hits the windows, that the boy’s little sister runs around the halls while licking a sucker. The family didn’t believe and moved in. Days later, another family moved in.

Vincente Fuentes
Red Bluff

Third Place

Brandy was swimming one day when she met a mouse on the lakeside. The mouse said, “Hello there, how do you do?” She was shocked but she managed to shudder, “I … am fine.”

The mouse told her his name, which was Ralph. They had a great time together while they were swimming in the lake having fun.

Rebecca Bass
age 12
Red Bluff