Category Archives: Short Stories

Short Stories

Checking Out

Checking Out


“How much longer now?” she asked.

I looked down at my watch, “Not much, I think.”

“Do you ever find it sad? The Fall, I mean?”

“I do,” I admitted.

“The fecundity?” she inquired. “Wait, no. I hate this misremembering; the opposite of fecundity. Falls always make me feel sad. Too many things waning at once.”

“I guess that’s it,” I agreed. I put my hand on the park bench between us. She lay her right hand in my left and grasped it, her half-gloves allowing me to touch only her cold finger tips.

She looked around at the thinning canopy above us, leaves abandoning their high perches to continue their existence among the rest of the fallen. It was colder than usual for mid-October and she had bundled up. The gloves matched her beret and over-sized muffler which was wrapped twice around her neck and stuffed into her coat. A gift I had purchased four winters ago.

A cold wind was howling up forty-second street from the Hudson, through the glass and steel and concrete canyons, spinning off into dervishes wherever it found an opening. This morning, we were seated in one such opening, facing the hawk wind. She had wanted to come to this park, her favorite, on this gloriously drab morning. Bryant park is where she had learned her life. Reading, listening, smelling; watching the people all around her. During the first year she’d been allowed to come here alone, her fourteen year old self was absorbed into the soil of Tara right here on one of these benches. She’d sweated under the same summer sun with Paul on Arrakis and been frightened in the gloaming of Salem’s Lot.

We met here when she was making her rounds with Breakfast of Champions. I chose a bench across from her and paid more attention to her than the copy of Hot Water Music I’d checked out until working up my nerve, offering to buy her a hot cocoa at the cafe. Hot cocoa in the summer. I smile now at how suave I was.

“What are you doing later?” she asked, her wane smile curling up just enough to reveal those famous dimples.

I considered the question for a moment, gripped her hand, “I think I’m going to be bogged down in bureaucratic paperwork and making phone calls.”

Her eyes were glassy and I couldn’t tell if it was from the cold wind. “You really need to find something better to do with your free time.” Her words came as whimsy on a breeze. “If I were you, I’d check out that new book by Olen Steinhauer. Lindsey said it was very well written.”

“She didn’t qualify it?” I said with a wry grin.

A low laugh escaped her. “No. She didn’t add, ‘for a spy novel’.”

“You think she’s lightening up?” I asked hopefully. We’d often wondered from where she’d gotten her pretentiousness.

“Getting older changes people in certain respects,” she said. “Maybe she’s unpuckered her butt enough to admit that good writing is just good writing, no matter the genre.”

“That would be a change for the better,” I agreed.

Her tone changing to serious for a moment, she said,“You’ll need to be nicer to her, at least in the short term.” Lightening up again, she finished, “She’ll need you, whether she likes it or not.”

I asked, “And what about me? Will I need her?”

She released my hand and gave my knee a push, “Her? No. You’ll be fine here,” she said hooking her thumb over her shoulder at the public library. “You’re adjusted enough. ‘For everything there is a season,’ and so on. You know how this dance goes.” She smiled wanly again.

A chill ran up the back of my neck and my body tightened in defense against the cold wind. Flipping the collar of my tweed jacket up in hopeful defense, I asked her, “Would you like a hot cocoa or maybe we can take a walk around the park one last time?”

She stomped her shoes on the cobble stones beneath her. “I can’t feel my feet,” she said looking down. “How about some cocoa, like when we met?”

A word caught in my throat as she looked at me. She saw my look but did not turn away. She held my gaze a long moment and then said, “What did you check out that first day we met?”

“Bukowski,” I said almost automatically, “Hot Water Music.”

“That one really defined him,” she said.

I nodded in agreement. “He was an exquisite mess.”

To this, she nodded in reply, then, “For some people, when it takes them longer to find their voice, its stronger. For him, it was unshakeable. The pain of looking for it seemed to infuse his voice with such clarity and originality.” Her voice had taken on a dreamy quality now. “What was I reading that first day?”

“Vonnegut,” I said. “Breakfast of Champions.”

As if this were a surprise to her, she exclaimed, “Awwww… Poor old Dwayne Hoover, can’t tell fact from fiction. I love that novel.” Then she sat up straighter, “And here we are, ‘on a planet which is dying fast.” Then she added, “I can’t feel my feet,” as if for the first time, “can you get me a hot cocoa like when we first met?”

I tried smiling but it and my chin began to quiver so I gave up on the attempt and instead inhaled deeply as I stood, widening my eyes to prevent the tears from coming. “Of course,” I replied. “With a splash of milk and marshmallows?”

“Of course,” she repeated in a mock baritone. Then she held out her hand. Upon my grasping hers with mine, she said, “You were always my favorite, know that.” Her green eyes twinkled in a promise of mischief as the hint of a smile graced her face again, “I love you.”

I gave her hand a squeeze and managed, “I’ll be right back,” and, “I love you,” before turning toward the cafe.

The line was short and I was on my way back to the bench within minutes. Approaching her from behind, I could tell. Her head lolled to the right, as if I was still seated next to her and she’d decided to nap on my shoulder. I felt the paper cup in my hand lose its structural integrity before I noticed the grip I had on it. As I slackened my grip on the cup, my knees followed suit and I barely made it back to the bench before collapsing next to her. My weight shook the bench causing her head to roll forward onto her chin.

As I raised her head, I noticed that her clear green eyes that a moment ago held the flicker of mischief were already glazing over with a milky whiteness. The pain squatting on my heart rose and knotted painfully below my Adam’s apple. Silver slivers stabbed the inside of my forehead as I held back the tears and my nose began to run. Placing my arm around her, I lay her head on my shoulder and reached in my pocket for my cell phone and dialed 911.

Suicide is a crime and the police would be dispatched. Her note, outlining her intentions and motivations, was in her purse as was the bottle of pills she’d used. Lindsey was my next call after hanging up on the 911 operator. She would not approve, pretensions be damned, of her mother choosing an aristocrat’s death. But she was. An aristocrat.

Short Stories

The Great Recession

Marjorie looked through the rear-view mirror of her white Dodge Caravan watching Craig descend into the parking lot of the construction site. All the while, please, please, please, please, running through her mind as she rubbed her crucifix. Craig had been unemployed for more than three months now since his unemployment insurance ran out; since the company for which he’d worked more than fifteen years had folded up shop two years into the recession. This summer was brutal in more ways than one. With only four days of rain in this area of New England over the last two months, every step Craig took in his steel-toed boots caused pillowy plumes of dust to erupt from the ground and swirl around his ankles.

Craig walked with determination down the hill and through the gate of the construction site, shoulders squared, back ramrod straight. He’d seen the job posting online first thing this morning and drove with Marjorie straight to the site to apply in person. His gait was uneven. Watching him, you could tell he had sustained a severe injury that rendered him incapable walking properly. His steps were similarly measured but he seemed to throw his left leg out in front of him based on the momentum of his body rather that by using his thigh muscles. He also seemed to sink slightly lower when landing on that leg. Odd walk though it was, Craig was lucky to be alive, much less walking at all. Six years ago he’d been pinned against a concrete abutment by a front loader’s bucket, crushing his pelvis on the left side and snapping his left femur in two places.

Ah, shit, Jim thought as he looked out the site’s management trailer. Another one? He turned to Matt, “Doesn’t anyone around here have a job?” When Matt looked up, Jim tilted his balding head toward the window and the figure bobbing down the path toward them.

“What’s with his walk?” Matt asked as he got up from his chair. “He looks like a puppet on strings.”

Jim grunted his laugh out. “I got this,” he said in his cigarette-etched baritone as he swiped his hard hat off the table and walked out the trailer to intercept the man.

Craig walked briskly, with purpose, straight up to Jim. “Craig Stevens,” he said, extending his hand. “I came by because of the ad you posted online this morning.”

Jim grabbed his hand and shook it. “Jim Pearson. Site supervisor. I’m sorry to say that job is taken already.”

A shadow danced across Craig’s face but he pushed on, “I see your laying down some HDPE over there,” and nodded at the men near the trench who were welding together forty foot lenghs of high density polyethylene piping. “I’ve got five years on that McElroy fusion machine.”

Jim eyed the man, toe to eye.

Craig pushed on before Jim could again tell him that there was no work for him. “I also got a Massachusetts hoister’s license, certified for hydraulics, and got my DOT. I passed my Connecticut MIG test and started out as a pipe-fitter. Anything you got going on here, I’m sure I can help,” he finished, looking over Jim’s shoulder at the welding curtains beyond the trailer.

Jim thought the man looked ex-military, the way he stood. As short as he was, coming only to Jim’s shoulder, Craig’s presence was still substantial. He was squared off, his head held high.

“Look, fella…”

“Craig,” Craig repeated.

“Right. Craig,” he paused. “I posted that ad this morning and you’re the fifth guy to come by and my phone hasn’t stopped ringing. I’m sorry but we can’t use you.” With that, Jim involuntarily glanced down Craig’s left side again as if trying to see the injuries that caused the man to walk the way he did.

When he looked back up at the man, Craig was staring at him with resolve. The stare broke into a smile. “Fair enough,” he said. “Do me a favor,” he continued, reaching into his breast pocket, “keep me in mind. I’m more than twenty years in, licenses and certifications for all over New England. Any job’ll do.”

Jim looked down at the slip of paper. It said, Craig Stevens with home and cell phone numbers and an email address. He looked back up at the near-crippled man. “You got it,” he said as he clasped the man’s extended hand and shook it.

Craig turned on his heel and began walking back up the slope to the waiting Dodge. Looking at the man with his shoulders squared and head held high, the thought occurred to Jim, near-crippled but not broken. He followed up with a, “good luck.” Without looking back, Craig raised his hand and waved in acknowledgment.

At the job site’s fencing, Craig’s attention turned to Marjorie. Even from this distance, he could see that she was watching the proceedings through her side-view mirror. He focused on his gait, trying to walk as normal as possible back to the minivan. He’d met Marjorie in the hospital after the accident. She was his rehab nurse after the accident. Marjorie could tell by the size of his limp how much pain he was in and so he focused on making his walk seem as normal as possible. She had enough to worry about, he thought.

That was too short, Marjorie thought as Craig turned from the man and proceeded up the hill. He didn’t get it. Another one. Tears welled in her eyes. Not for the first time, a shriek of outrage echoed through Marjorie’s mind that life was unfair. Craig was the best man she had ever met and he did not deserve what had happened to him. The man who had done this to him was a drunk and a drug addict.

She noticed that when Craig looked up and caught her face in the side-view mirror, he began to walk more smoothly. Trying to hide it from me so I won’t worry, she knew. The welling increased until a single tear rolled down her cheek. As Craig came around the passenger side, she wiped her cheek.

The grim determination on Craig’s face relented as he crested the hill and came upon the passenger side of the Caravan. He opened the door and fell into the seat, the only concession to his injury. Pulling the door shut, he forced a smile onto his face and turned to Marjorie, “Well, they’re all full up. Someone beat me to it. He said that I have a lot of qualifications and if they need someone else that he’d call me so I gave him my card.” At the lie, his smile flickered slightly. He hated like hell to lie to her but, really, she worried enough about him already. It was not a woman’s job to take care of a man but this recession had hit the construction industry particularly hard and most everyone he knew was living off his wife’s paycheck.

Marjorie saw the lie flicker across his face but let it pass. Craig was such a good man that he could not lie without giving it away. There was no reason to call him on it though. He was so bad at it that she always knew and there was no harm in his lying while trying to protect her. She let go of her crucifix she’d been rubbing and turned the key in the Caravan’s ignition as she smiled back at him, “That’s good. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.”

Short Stories

The Honeymooners


The dismal, slate-grey sky of the day was made worse only by the fact that this was her honeymoon. Yesterday had been different but just as bad– eighty-five degrees, humid and no breeze. Jonathan had altered the plans to the weather, he’d said. Yesterday they went for a hike in the woods, where it would be cooler, he’d said. Today they were out on a canoe on Raquette lake. This is not what she thought she would be in for when she enthusiastically agreed to a honeymoon in the woods. Jonathan, of course, had grown up out here and knew what to expect. Charissa was a city girl. She thought that the wilderness was Central Park. This was not in fact true but this trip had still caught her completely off guard.

The exertions involved in carrying a backpack up a hill, for instance, with that stifling humidity and heat was nothing like a workout on the stair machine at her branch of the New York Sports Club. And the bugs. Why did no one make a bigger deal about the bugs when talking about the outdoors? The mosquitoes were the size of humming birds, with little exaggeration, and they liked to bite her even after spraying herself with Deet a third time.

Jonathan thought she was cute in her discomfiture but she was finding the reality of the situation unsettling. They were both conservatives, he from the woods, basically, and she from the city. Charissa thought that moving to the country and living a more self-sufficient life would agree with her and so they planned the first step in this direction with their honeymoon. There was a more conservative mindset in rural areas and Charissa was tired of being in the minority in a city like New York where even a conservative was quite liberal if compared to some in other parts of the country.

Charissa had never thought of herself as naive or unrealistic yet here she was, in a canoe on a lake in the Adirondacks reconsidering the plans she had made with the man she had made them with sitting only four feet behind her. Was she that soft, that city-born? She found this assault on her resolve disconcerting. Charissa admitted to herself that she possibly had some romantic notions about country life, driving a pick up to the dump, snowmobiling around the property they would own in the winter and things of that sort but now she was wondering what else she was missing. For instance, paddling around a lake on a canoe seemed like something one would enjoy. In fact, she did enjoy it a bit. When she commented on the way all the trees had their lowest branches stop at the same point, creating a perfect line between them and the waterline, Jonathan had informed her that it was not by chance that this happened nor was it, as she had speculated, due to a genetic predisposition of the trees. Rather, he informed her, it was caused by deer. In the winter, the deer would walk out onto the ice and raise up on their hind legs to eat every leaf and branch they could reach. Deer trimmed the tree line to a perfect, uniform height. This was something she could never have even suspected, and something she found fascinating. But right now, on this boat, she was getting wet. How could she have suspected that one would splash oneself with water while using a paddle. That was another thing no one ever complained to her about during their retelling of their journeys into the wilderness. The mosquitoes generally stayed away out here on the water but there were gnats and no-see-um’s, smaller than gnats, (and that could not be their real name) that would fly right into your eyes and get caught and then, from your blinking, get buried under your eyelid so that you would be lucky to get them out later with a wet hand kerchief.

What a mess. Jonathan was still paddling around, doing most of the work while Charissa was trying to not let her dread show. The future was daunting now and she was being gripped with a sensation that she had made an awful mistake marrying this man. He had come to the city for a job in a prestigious law firm and had always planned to move back up to the Adirondacks and open a firm in Utica. She had agreed to this future and this marriage on these terms. Right now she was trying to recall if any of Jonathan’s stories ever skipped over the harsher aspects of reality in the wild. Was he to blame? Did he dupe her into this? Could she escape this nightmare with a sense of righteousness or was she the one to blame?

She had to calm down first, think this thing through. There was always the possibility that this change in environment was only being accentuated by the fact that she had just gotten married. That could be a contributing factor, she admitted. She did love Jonathan but still, marriage was not the highest thing on her priority list when she’d met him. She was driven and directed, in a professional way, so was he. She had things she wanted out of a relationship and he was so laid back about their life together that it had seemed almost effortless from her point of view. He never fretted over her nor held her back, never judged her. His work life took up a lot of time, as did hers and they met in the moments in between. The lack of pressure about the inconveniences associated with these facts of life were what made Jonathan even more endearing to her. He was never irrational or overbearing in his need to see her.

But now she felt pressure. She suddenly, for the first time in their relationship, was staring at a problem that she was not sure could cope with. How could she talk to him about it? Give acknowledgment to a fear that had crept into their life on its second day? Could she call her mother? No, not from her honeymoon. Besides, Jonathan would have to make a trip to the store for her to do something like that because she would not get caught calling her mother from her honeymoon, not that she held out much hope for sound advice from that quarter.

She looked around the lake again, at this remoteness that she felt was now closing in around her. One hour by helicopter, that is what the camp ground host had told them. The nearest hospital was one hour by medivac, so be careful. That, too, was a chilling reminder of the difference between the city and the country. They had driven for more than half an hour without seeing a town. Old Forge was the name of that town and it seemed to have about fifty people living in it. Charissa had wanted to be more independent, more self-sufficient, but she had not thought that you could live somewhere in America where you would be an hour away from a hospital…by helicopter. When they had gone for their hike yesterday the host had told them that the trail was, at its farthest point, twenty miles through the woods to the closest road…so be careful.

What else could be waiting for her out here to mystify and frighten her, she wondered? Are there no sewer systems? Do people drink from wells? Snapping her out of her daymare, she heard what sounded roughly like an owl. Higher pitched but in the same pattern that she had heard in movies and on TV. The noise was more like a who, who, who, who, who, who, who, who….trailing off at the end there. Just as she turned to ask Jonathan if owls were ever out in the day time, his hand reached out and touched her left shoulder, “Look,” he said in a low whisper. As she turned to her left, her eyes followed his hand out onto the water. She saw what looked to her like ducks. They seemed to be sitting too low in the water though.

“Are those what made that sound?” she asked.

“Yep. Loons,” Johnathan answered.

“Loons,” she chuckled, “really?” Good Lord, what next? she thought. The only loons she’d ever heard of where extremist liberals on internet chat sites.