Short short stories
The best of Fiction 59 in 2001
It was a dark and lonely sight. Piled on the center of a conference table were 500 Fiction 59 short-story entries. The six people charged with their fate exchanged brief glances. They knew what they had to do—read, consider and judge. They did. Some stories were good. Some were not. When it was over, winners were declared.
Most of the day, it was the big nun, writing in flawless cursive, on dusty slate, with the bones of prehistoric sea creatures. Dry white shells, streaking across a dry black sea.
In mid-winter, my teacher lost her umbrella. She arrived from the walled convent, with her black habit glistening, as if a cloud had appeared in the classroom.
The big hand of alcohol smeared our family portrait. Young, shadows protected us; later, we chased that same darkness for glass kinship.
Father returned once to tuck us in, again, after my college graduation.
He sits on the floor and laughs at odd times. He cleans casino floors now; he comes older and sober, fighting loneliness, then disappears.
David M. Martinez
Lisa’s ass was still good, I noted, wondering to myself what I would do when she got really enormous and emotional.
She talked and talked while I looked for more food.
“WHEN DO WE EAT?” Lisa demanded, returning from puking.
I had mixed feelings about the whole deal.
“Now, in arena one …” barked the ringmaster. “Fresh from Wellesley. …” The crowd roared. Amy soared overhead, her MBA trailing in her wake as, grabbing the second trapeze, she flew toward the final platform.
“So, why did you want the MBA?” mouthed Gus, eagerly waiting to catch her.
“Security,” shouted Amy, and hurtled past into space.
How Freud Spent His Time
“Look,” she complained. “White, red, black.”
“Oh? You might as well add ‘clock.'”
“Yes.” She got up from the couch with a sigh. “Our time’s about spent, and I still don’t understand the symbols of sleep.”
“Next week,” he suggested, “try some color in your dress.”
She gave him a snotty glance and waited while he opened the doors.
Roger Ladd Memmott
Red T-shirt, black pants and black Converses, kind of looking Latino. He was going to kick it with his “vatos” in Chapmantown. Dropping scraps left and right. That’s all the “vatos” did in Chapmantown. Drinking 40s every night, looking for another fight. Going home and smoking grass until my mom comes out and spanks my butt.
106 degrees. Ravens work roadkill, rusty oil drums hunch in star thistle, like sleeping bears. On the shoulder, I gaze under the peeling hood of my Pontiac—now nearly afire.
Without words, Angela escapes into the cab of a clean, white pickup. It moves away slowly, like a glacier, dragging flakes of blue shale, toward the sea.
The best of the rest
Aunt Sharon the Vegetarian
Aunt Sharon became a vegetarian on Thanksgiving of 1990. She decided not to have turkey because she didn’t want to eat anything that had lived a miserable life and died a horrible death. Bad karma, she said. My dad likes making fun of her. He bought her a T-shirt for Christmas that says SPAM. She wears it to bed.
Conundrum Number Two
Since his mother taught him to use only three squares of the one-ply bath tissue each time he wiped, Brutus was at a loss when he inadvertently tore off four squares. It was the middle of the night, but even then in the darkness he could feel the heft of the paper and knew he had too much.
F. T. Barrett
Farfetched Friendship Forges Forward
Phoebe phones physically fit Fred, flirting: “Food, fun, frappaccinos, Phoebe…”
Fred flips—Phoebe’s foxy! “Fantastic, five’s fine!”
Fred faces fourteen floors… Finally finding Phoebe’s, Fred finds Phoebe’s, Fred frowns. Phoebe’s frying food, phooey.
Fred figures Phoebe’s fabulously funny. Phoebe forks frog-legs for Fred. Freaked, Fred flees. Friday Phoebe phones Fred for forgiveness.
AnnaMarie E. Whitely
One man running.
In my house.
He chases me.
I chase him.
That man is …. (fill in the blank)
Teran Howell, 4
Life Is Loss
“Life is loss,” his father had once said. Since that time, he had lost a brother to war. Downsizing had eliminated his job. Neglect had cost him his health, and death had taken from him a loving spouse.
His dignity was all that was left him. But if Robert didn’t find his pants soon, that too would be gone.
He pushed too far. She sat silently, absent-mindedly chewing on her fingernail. No tears, yet.
He went to her, but she flinched. Big-time doghouse, he thought.
Going to the kitchen with the leftover Danish, he stepped on the cat. As she guffawed at the Danish dripping off his nose, he thought, Thank goodness for pratfalls.
Pandemonium reigned and a riot erupted yesterday at Seattle’s All Things PC Convention, when Herman Melville VI appeared hoisting a “Save the Whales” placard. Feminist schoolteachers demanding texts that exclude dead white men clashed with the Mammal Friendly Tuna Packers’ Union. One harpooning, numerous injuries reported. Melville, beaten and confused, was last seen drinking heavily at Starbucks.
The samurai was caught poaching in the Imperial Forest when a cedar limb blew aside in the breeze, revealing him. Disgraced, he lived under house arrest in a virtual shogun shotgun shack. For years he plotted his revenge against the emperor and his trees. Finally, he escaped and chopped every tree in his path down to size. “Bonsai! Bonsai!”
Behind the kitchen camcorder a walleyed smiley face greeted her.
“I call this the jam can. Get it?”
Get a life.
He nuzzled her. “DSL operational and contract signed; no turning back.”
“Six months to a new Beamer.”
The bedroom wham cam peered at them. She avoided his eyes. What a prince I married. Machiavelli’s gift.
“Without asking me?!”
Some 13-year-old homey gee stumbled on his own sagging baggies, dumping his cheese fries and catsup within inches of Ryan’s brand-new Etnies.
Then the line shuffled forward, but the butterfly tattoo on Summer’s ankle stepped aside. “I 911’d your pager all last week,” she hissed before leaving.
“Murderer,” he grumbled.
They were driving to Sacramento for a wedding dress. Father, 47. Daughter, 18.
“Are you sure?”
“I love him.”
He sighed. She looked away.
“He doesn’t have a job.”
Miles of silence.
He smoked a cigarette. She gazed out the window.
He played his trump card. “I’ll buy you a pony.”
She seriously considered his offer.
F. Jay Fuller
The Proud Warrior
In Mexico City’s Zêcalo, the square bordered by both the Presidential Palace and the Metropolitan Cathedral, an elderly descendant of the Aztecs, in full ceremonial dress, began to dance for the pesos that passersby threw into his basket.
Susan averted her eyes as she added to the basket. He was humiliated enough.
I had lunch with K. and her new hubbie, $10 for a burrito at a yuppie place.
They showed off their photo albums, pictures of the wedding and the trip to Europe.
They work for a living. They own a home. They’re tight with their families. They’re attractive and intelligent. They don’t have any problems.
I got totally bored.
A Warthog’s Predicament
One morning on the Serengeti, my clumsy hoof became stuck in a dung heap.
“Bloody hell!” said I. “Why don’t I have opposable thumbs?”
Soon my mother waddled along, putting up a fuss. “You naughty piggy! Get out this instant!”
In her tizzied state, she ran away squealing. Since I’m still stuck here, can you lend me a hand?
Is Our Love Just Gone, Aria?
“Well … doctor?”
She rose from the stool and deftly snapped the latex gloves into the trash.
After two large syringes of penicillin, one per cheek, I called.
“Aria, I just wanted to thank you for all the wonderful things your love has given me. Dinner tonight?”
I stopped by the pharmacy on the way to her apartment.
J. M. Michaels
“What shakes, Bags?” said Big George, assuming a very earnest expression. “You can count on me.”
“Lisa is pregnant. … “
“I’LL BE DIPPED IN SHIT!”
“No, wait. So is Deborah.”
I’d forgotten how sympathetic the Big Man was. He gave it to you straight, but it was good for you.
When he was small he sometimes growled at the neighbors. Once, when his sister reached for the last snicker doodle, he snapped at her. He relished a cold nose, and cats on the block hadn’t a chance. In time he learned to run with the pack, was given the Alpo account, and hounded his way to the top.
Roger Ladd Memmott
Rattle and Roll
A small rattlesnake in his briefcase wouldn’t work. But in the glove compartment of that damn SUV, gingerly popped in with a cell phone, well, it would be good reason for an early call, as he drives, windows down, inhaling aromatic oleanders in the brightness of the freeway morning. Best of it, it’s revenge she could afford.
Her gold ring clattered as it landed beside the knife on the kitchen counter. Red-faced, I pulled with all my might at my ring. The ring refused to give, just as she had always refused to give. Enough! Placing my hand on the cutting block, I swiftly brought down the knife. “Here,” I said, giving her the finger.
Riding Her Madness
When she saw another strawberry stand ahead, she knew she would gun her Harley right past it. The primitive red lettering splashed on peeling signboard offended her aesthetic, and she had no seconds to spare to gratify a seasonal whim. Cordelia was after something that her father couldn’t give her, and it had nothing to do with fresh berries.
The Ghost of Reticence Past
Falling asleep writing “Fiction 59” entries, I dreamed a visitation by President “Silent Cal” Coolidge. Famous for few words, he once told a woman who bet she could coax three words from him, “You lose.”
The apparition’s advice astonished me. “Be warned. I learned the hidden costs. Be as loquacious as needed to say all that’s in your heart.
The Big Spin
The bottle of his favorite wine is chilling. I’ll break it to him gently, after he’s had a couple of glasses. I’m not ready. It’s a big step. We can still be friends. I’ll return the ring.
He enters, face flushed with excitement. I take a deep breath, and he says, “Baby! Oh my God! I won the lottery!”
The children, dressed in their matching uniforms, ran down the street with lunchboxes in hand. Skipping and laughing, they pointed at the tiny airplane flying high above. Some stopped for a moment and stared, others waved towards the clear August sunrise. Mustn’t be late for class! Dutifully, they all held hands and crossed the street together.
Jason W. Seaman
Dark Side of the Pill
I remember once at a rave when Matt took three and a half Ecstasy pills. For about an hour he was dancing and having fun; then he just sat down and started to turn red and swell up and choke. We thought we had lost him, but he came off it and lived to party some more!
Pleasant Valley High School
One Hundred Proof
Brothers Bertram and Tilzer Pinkowitz kept illegal stills in backwoods Magalia, distilling a serious whiskey beloved by all the locals save for two self-appointed guardians of morality who decided to shoot holes in the barrels of booze one wintry morning. Too early, it turned out, as they were found at dawn, rifles pointed in frozen poses, still killing.
The breathtaking, exquisite sky, bright with stars, cosmos pulsing, is a crazy quilt wrapping the earth in heavenly splendor. David and Sandra, enveloped in down, declaring eternal devotion, assume kismet can be controlled with a kiss.
Sunrise. David forgot the coffee. Sandra needs a smoke. There’s bugs. The expressway home to separate apartments, mainline to reality, isn’t fast enough.
Still Life With Redneck
Fuck! Well, ain’t that the first word the kid had to learn. Daddy says it all the time. Like father, like son. Can’t wait till the damned kid is out fixing the Camaro, Coors in hand, getting it ready for some hot date with his cousin or some shit. What the hell was I thinking?
“Take the micropipette and suck out the old egg nucleus.”
Howard’s eyes burned from Dr. Robac’s putrid cigar. “Please, I’ll heave.”
“Sorry. Now take the other pipette and approach the egg center. Easy does it.”
Through the microscope Howard directed the pipette tip to the donut hole.
“Depress the plunger evenly. … Baby, it’s in!”
“My son!” Howard cried.
They stood together overlooking the once beautiful valley. A swath of devastation and the screams of the anguished marked what had once been a thriving dairy. In the distance, they could hear the First Army and Red Cross helicopters arriving.
“Some heifers just go bad,” Andrea said, as if this explained it all. “There’s one in every herd.”
Sitting in the yard. No rake. Staring at the barbed wire on top of the gate. Beyond, the line “es mi familia” and friends. I’m hoping that this nightmare will end. This manure “es serio” isn’t a dream. I’m hearing inmates dying. I’m hearing their last screams. It’s making me sick, surrounded by bars and walls made of bricks.
Tom Waits, and So Does Venus
Skinny Tom Moon hung low, discrete, at horizon happy hour. Venus, blinkin’ her good eye, muttered, “Damn. I suppose you’re off with those superstars for the night, leavin’ me nothin’ but the same old twinkle-twinkle shit.” They both sighed, knowin’ nothin’ could be done, but that in a few nights she’d be lyin’ right between his horns.