Category Archives: Short Stories

Short Stories

The Hardware Store

The Hardware Store

The hardware store still had the family name on it even though they had sold out to a franchise more than twenty years ago. At the south end of Main Street, the store had been a Brattleboro fixture for more than one hundred fifty years now. Plate glass windows graced the front, displaying wares to passersby, while the inside boasted a twenty-foot high ceiling supported by intricately scrolled columns resting on the original two-by-six tongue and groove maple flooring. Each aisle of the store so thoroughly trafficked that grooves had been worn into the wood and a person could tell when the floor plan had been altered more than fifty years ago from the waves running cross-way in a number of aisles. At the back of the store was a grand staircase leading up to a second floor loft, containing plumbing supplies, and downstairs to the paint department in the basement. The floorboards had shrunk enough that at some places the lights from the basement could be seen through the cracks.

The most traveled aisle was also the creakiest, hand tools, and that is where Gerry Newman stood talking to Bob Sterling. Gerry was fourth-generation owner of Newman’s hardware and was getting on in years. Recently he noticed that he spent many days reminiscing with customers about old friends who’d passed on. Today was another such day. Last night, Trent Dugan had passed and when Gerry saw Bob Sterling in the aisle looking at the tape measures Gerry asked him if he’d heard the news. They were in the middle of discussing Trent when young Dave LaFoe came down the aisle to ask Mr. Newman about some back orders on the truck they were expecting today.

“I’m telling you, it was right here. I was standing here talking to him and he just started coughing for no reason,” Gerry Newman was saying.

“Mr. Newman…” Dave hesitated, not wanting to cut the boss off.

Gerry turned to Dave, “yes, son, what is it?”

“Mr. Hollis came in. He’s over in Seasonal and wants to know if you thought the sale tulip bulbs are going to be on the truck today.”

“Good Lord,” Newman said to himself. Then, looking at Mr. Sterling, “I’ve gone over this with Chad I don’t know how many times.” Turning back to Dave he said, “Please tell Mr. Hollis that I put in his rain-check order. I place an order for tulip bulbs every time I place an order but we are at the bottom of the food chain up here in Brattleboro and when the wholesaler has three hundred orders to fill and only two hundred of the item, the big box stores get their orders and we have to wait. He’s a capitalist, he should understand that.” With that, Dave walked away and Gerry turned back to Bob Sterling, “He’s a banker so you’d figure he knows about supply and demand and all that.”

“He never was too bright though,” said Sterling. “I taught him for Algebra and Geometry and very generously I gave him a ‘B’ in both. Back to Trent though, I’ve heard that story so many times,” Bob said almost dismissively. “It gets more and more impressive every time I hear it but I still don’t buy it.”

Trent Dugan was the biggest and toughest guy Bob Newman had ever met. Trent had grown up on a farm in Guilford, the fourth of six boys. Bob met Trent when Trent came to Brattleboro High School in 1954, Guilford not having its own high school. The two had become quick friends and both loved football. Trent was over six feet tall and more than two hundred pounds in ninth grade. By the tenth grade he was a starting guard on the varsity football team. Bob had to wait until junior year to make varsity but by then he’d sprouted to six-three and became the best wide-receiver the school had known. During their junior year, 1957, the two helped bring the team to the state championship game only to fall short against Rutland. That was Trent Dugan’s final game as a Brattleboro Colonel though.

“OK, Bob. I’ll tell you the real story since you weren’t here for any of it and you would have been too young to remember it even if you were.” Bob Sterling was a transplant to Brattleboro, a fact that still mattered to some. The Sterling’s had come to Vermont in the sixties and settled in Bennington, part of the dreaded hippie migration that so many natives still lament. After finishing college in 1979 Bob Sterling had come over the Green Mountains to Brattleboro for a teaching job. Also, being fourteen years Gerry’s junior, he was only three when the event in question took place.

“I wasn’t there the night he was shot, I’ll tell you that right up front, but he was shot and that’s for sure. He was dating Marjorie, his wife. They’d been dating for about two months, from the beginning of the summer. Before him, Marge had been dating a senior, Dale Burrey. Dale graduated that May and was heading off to Dartmouth in the fall. As Marge tells the story, Dale was too impressed with himself to be good husband material and for some reason, probably Trent, she broke it off after graduation instead of waiting until he went off to school like people normally did back then. Marjorie had began dating Trent over the summer after meeting up at the Guilford fair.

“One night in August after Marjorie had turned eighteen  the two of them were in the Brew House down on Flat Street. Dale showed up later that night.  We’d all played football together but Dale and Trent didn’t get along.” Gerry leaned in and spoke confidentially, “Personally, I agree with Marge’s assessment that Dale was a poser and vain fashion plate and I think Trent did too. Either way, Trent was not impressed with Dale,” then stood back to continue.

“Trent was in the bathroom when a very drunk Dale came in the bar and walked right up to Marjorie as soon as he saw her. He began berating her, loudly, with ‘how could you leave me?’ and ‘it’s beneath you to date a lineman’ and ‘you’ll be sorry, just wait and see,’ stuff like that. When Trent came back out of the bathroom and tried to settle Dale down, Dale pushed him so Trent laid him out. As the story goes, he put him down with one shot.”

Bob interrupted, “Is this the Dale Burrey of the Burrey’s who still live here in Brattleboro?”

“Yep. You gotta know his nieces and nephews. They all went to BHS.”

Bob nodded, “They were all pains in the ass, to varying degrees.”

“To be fair, Dale had a bit of an ego problem. The next generation’s have had to live with the stigma that followed this event.” He continued, “Now, getting put down was not something Dale liked very much and he must have been very drunk because, though he never really seemed the type to me, he went out to his old Ford F-1, got his .410 shotgun and came back in the bar. The thing was filled with birdshot.

“Trent didn’t see him coming, he thought it was done. When Dale got within ten or fifteen feet, depending on who you talk to, Marjorie screamed. Trent turned around and Dale opened up with the birdshot.”

“Holy shit,” said Bob. “Right there in the middle of the bar?”

“Exactly,” Gerry nodded. “Not exactly a reasoned reaction to getting knocked on your can.”

Grey-haired Mrs. Gibbons had been standing by one of the front registers. As she heard the story being recounted, however, she had begun drifting her frail body closer to the conversation. Now that they got to the juicy part, she gave one look back at the register and abandoned all pretense at doing her job. “This is my favorite part,” she said as she approached the two men.

“Mrs. Gibbons!” Gerry reproached. “You have a true blood lust that I find disturbing.”

“It’s not bloodlust. He is a man, that Trent.   …was… was a true man, standing up for Marjorie like that. She told me that she knew he was the one for her on their third date but that if she’d ever had any doubts before that night, they were gone after what happened.”

“What happened then?” Mr. Sterling was fascinated now.

Dale shot Trent in chest and right shoulder . . . Did you ever see those pock marks on his right cheek when you saw him around town?”

“Yes, of course,” said Sterling.

“Those were the scars from the BB’s that Doc Hensley dug out of him. At that close range, most of the shot hit Trent in the chest. It missed his eyes, thank God.”

“So Marjorie Dugan married him because he didn‘t die? Because he’s so tough?” Sterling interrupted.

Newman continued, “No, not that. It was partly because Trent didn’t go down. The force knocked him back a step but then he regained himself. The other part is because even though he’d been shot, he then came at Dale again who was now putting the gun up in front of himself for protection. Trent knocked him out with one punch again, this time with a left and he’s a righty. And then, again, with his left Trent picked up that .410, slammed it against the bar and broke it in half. He snapped the barrel right off at the hinge from the lock and stock.”

Sterling’s eyes widened in disbelief but before he could object to the tale Newman continued, “Frank Tunstile was working the bar that night. He grabbed up the pieces of that gun. After the cops were done with it and Dale was convicted, Frank asked for it back. It’s the one still hanging behind the bar today. You ever go in there?”

Bob Sterling shook his head.

“You should. You can still see the dent in the mahogany if you look for it. That’s part of why the Burrey family has had such a tough go of it in this town ever since. Everyone tells and retells that story all the time; any time someone asks about what that broken shotgun’s doing hanging behind the bar.”

Mrs. Gibbons was flushed at just hearing the story again. “It really is the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard,” she agreed. “Burrey may have been going off to Dartmouth to be a big man,” she added, “but he never lived that night down the rest of his life. Beaten twice, and once after having shot a man,” she shook her head in amazement.

“The whole family bears the brunt of that event,” said Gerry Newman. “In a small town like this, memories persist and his whole family has had to live with his actions even to this day. Imagine shooting someone over getting knocked on your can,” he said agreeing with Mrs. Gibbons.

Pressing on, Newman said, “So Trent missed the whole senior year of football. He insisted he could practice within the month but Doc Hensley and Trent’s mom refused to let him. We didn’t make it back to State’s that year,” he added as an aside.

“One Sunday about three months later though, Trent is in the store, right here,” he pointed at the spot he was standing, “and we’re talking. I’m working, of course. He tells me he saw Doc Hensley the day before, while I was at the last game of the season, against White River Junction. Trent’s telling me that the doc tells him he should recover fully, how lucky he is, and the like, when he suddenly starts coughing. When I ask him what’s wrong, he says, ‘something’s itching, tickling inside my chest’. He keeps coughing and coughing and then he starts hitting his own chest with a balled fist, like he’s trying to get something out of him and then ‘bloop!’ out pops a BB from his mouth with one cough. It bounces across over to there,” Newman pointed toward the cash register, “and then rolls down the aisle.”

“No way!,” objected Bob Sterling. “That’s the story I heard. There is no frickin way that happens. How did he get a BB in his lung?”

“Hand to God,” swore Gerry  Newman, raising his hand in a pledge. “I picked the BB up and we brought it down to the doc. Hensley says that BB lodged in his lung when he was shot and finally worked its way free enough into a larger air sac. Trent’s first cough must’ve shook it free and then he could feel it in there and had a coughing fit until it came up. Toughest guy I ever knew,” he concluded, shaking his head again.

Retelling the story of his best friend had always somehow made Gerry Newman proud before. He was proud to be associated with Trent, proud to be Country, proud to be of Vermont stock. This time at the retelling however, all he could feel was the gaping loss. “I’m gonna miss him,” he said as he strode away toward Seasonal where he could hear Hollis still giving young Dave a hard time.

Short Stories

American Ghetto

An excerpt from the NaNoWriMo book I wrote in November:

…“You know how the last time Amanda Brecker told Chuck that he had to quit coming home so drunk that he makes a mess and then passes out?” Marjorie asked her husband over her shoulder while making the salad for dinner.

Spencer sat at the kitchen table, beer in front of him, “Yeah. That was, what, two months ago?”

“Two or three,” she agreed.

Spencer added, “He’s gotten worse over the last few years. Hell, the last time Juan and I were off the rig, we met up with him and had to help him home at the end of a night. Almost carried him.”

Marjorie agreed again with a nod and continued prepping the salad for dinner. “Well, two weekends ago, Chuck came home really drunk. Amanda heard him come in but he didn’t show up in the bedroom for a few minutes so she got up to check on him. She says she’s afraid he’s gonna burn the house down one night because he comes home and tries to heat up left-overs and then falls asleep while the food is heating up on the stove.

Marjorie walked to the kitchen table placing the salad bowl on it, “When she gets up to see after him, he’s not in the kitchen this night. And he’s not passed out on the sofa. She can’t find him anywhere. She looks in every room. Nothing. Then she hears something in the front hall. But when she gets there; still nothing. Then she hears something in the closet. When she opens the hall closet, there’s Chuck just standing there–pissing in the dark.”

Spencer had the beer up to his mouth when she got to that part and he laughed mid-swallow, forcing him to spit part of the beer back into the bottle as a result.

“Spencer, that is not funny!” Marjorie scolded him.

“What?” he protested. “You were smirking when you started the story,” he protested.

“That’s not what I was smirking about.”

“What then? What’d she do to him?”

“About that?” she said turning to the oven, “ Nothing. She just yelled, cleaned up the mess on the closet floor and smacked him. He pissed on the arms of a few of the coats for good measure so Amanda had to start a load of laundry in the middle of the night. Of course, he doesn’t remember doing it the next morning either.”

“Not surprising,” Spencer added.

The entire house smelled great when Spencer had come in ten minutes earlier, as it always did on his first evening home from the drilling rigs, but his mouth watered now as Marjorie opened the oven door and the smell of white cheddar and Parmesan macaroni filled the room with increased intensity. Marjorie was a great cook but always went out of her way to make one of his favorite dishes for his first home cooked meal in three weeks.

“Well, last weekend,” Marjorie continued as she checked the top of the dish, “he did it again. He came home so drunk that he passed out in the guest bedroom, probably to avoid Amanda, although I don’t know why. When she yells at him, he’s too drunk to remember it the next morning.”

“Well, he remembers it when he’s drunk,” said Spencer leaning back in his chair to get a look at the macaroni. He could see the macaroni bubbling under the top coat of Parmesan but the cheese on top was not yet browned and crusty, the way he liked it. His wife shut the oven door.

“Five more minutes,” she announced. “What do you mean he remembers when he’s drunk?”

“I knew someone else like that,” Spencer expanded. “It’s like having two friends. When he was sober, this guy couldn’t remember anything he did after midnight while drinking but he’d remember what he did while drunk when he was drunk. I bet the drunk Chuck knew he’d catch shit if he went into that bedroom.”

Marjorie looked dubious, “Really? That sounds weird,” and then shifted back to the story as she pulled out a chair next to his at the kitchen table. “So Amanda hears him come in and rattle around for a bit. Then she hears him go in the spare bedroom. When she goes out to the kitchen, it’s a total mess. I mean total,” she emphasized. “I saw it, she didn’t even clean up before the action began.”

Marjorie began recounting the carnage, “There were churro’s on the counter thawing out from the freezer, he’d spilled salsa and sour cream on the floor and the counter, there was a pot without water in it on the stove with four hot dogs in it, and the stove was on. Mustard was everywhere and there was a half a loaf of bread spilled on the floor while the other half was laying on the counter, two slices in the toaster. He had a can of chili opened, an opened tomato sauce jar in the sink, half of it poured into the sink.” Marjorie pulled up short, “It was worse than that, but you get the idea. It was almost like he was trying to make four or five different meals at once.

“Amanda’s screaming is what woke me up. She was yelling about how she had warned him, how she’d had enough, how he’d run out his line, and on and on. And then there was nothing for a long time and I fell back asleep.”

“The next thing I know, I’m straight up in bed from the noise. It was weird, like a screech owl. It didn’t really sound like Chuck and the noise didn’t sound like words. It was a continual, fluctuating, high-pitched scream. With this noise, I’m up and out of the bed and next door within a minute, banging on their door.”

Spencer’s eyes were dancing at the excitement of the story, “Was it unlocked?”

“No,” she said, “I had to run back to the house for their spare keys.” She paused, “Honestly, I thought that he was in there killing her. The sound was too high pitched to be him so when I ran back to our house, I grabbed the baseball bat on my way out the front door in case I had to fend him off.

“Then I’m back to their front door. I unlock it and run in. The noise is coming from down at the spare room. When I make it down the hall, the only light to see by is coming in through the room’s window. I can vaguely see Amanda swinging a broom handle at the sheets on the bed.”

“At the sheets?”

“That’s what it looked like to me when I first saw the scene. I thought she must have been hitting him with the broom handle, that Chuck rolled off the bed in self-preservation and that Amanda had just gone so mad with rage that she was still swinging away at the bed. The sheets were dancing in the air she was hitting them so hard,” Amanda’s hands were jumping up and down in demonstration. “And then I figured it out. Chuck was in the blanket. While he was passed out Amanda had sewn him up inside the blanket on the bed.”

Spencer was in the middle of lifting his beer. He slammed it back down and erupted, “She did what?”

Marjorie nodded in confirmation, “I’m telling you, she stitched him up in the blanket so he couldn’t get out and couldn’t fight back. When I asked her later, she said it took her almost half an hour to sew him up. Chuck was so drunk, he hadn’t moved once during the whole procedure. She did a good job too. He was thrashing about inside the blanket trying to escape the blows she was landing but no matter how hard he thrashed, he couldn’t escape.”

Now it was Spencer’s turn to smirk, “Ouch,” he said, “I couldn’t even imagine it; waking up drunk, in a bag, in the bag, in the dark, and being beaten by a stick.”

“No kidding,” Marjorie added. “Amanda got their push broom from the back yard and unscrewed the handle. She was choked up on it so she could raise it in the house but she was swinging it so hard that some of her back-swings were putting dents in the ceiling. Chuck was screeching in pure terror. It was the scariest sound I’ve ever heard.”

“What’d you do?”

“What’d you think I did?” she challenged. “I came up behind her and wrestled the broom handle away from her. As soon as I managed that, she began screaming at him again. Yelling at him about how she’d warned him, about what a mess he’d made, about how he deserved it. Just everything. And then she began slapping that thrashing mound of blanket until I dragged her out of the room and made her sit in the living room while I cut him out.”

“Damn,” was all Spencer could muster for a second. Then, “What’d he look like when you cut him out?”

“He was a mess. He had big welts on his head and his face and a few more on his forearms. I had to explain to him what had happened, of course, but the first thing I got to see was his wild eyes when I cut that end of the blanket open. He was scared shitless…and confused. When the hole was big enough, he began trying to work his own way out of the blanket. He was cursing the whole time, but he was so drunk that his help was making my efforts take longer ’cause I was afraid I was going to stab him with the scissors with all his struggling.

Once I explained what had happened, he was spitting mad and wanted to go after Amanda but he was so drunk that I didn’t  have a problem keeping him corralled in the spare bedroom. Then he starts yelling at her through the walls and, at that, up she jumps and down the hall she comes, yelling back at him on the other side of the locked bedroom door. It was a mess.”

“I’d say so,” Spencer said.

“After about another half hour,” Marjorie continued, “I got Chuck calmed down enough to agree to leave for the night. At first he didn’t want to but then I reminded him she could just sew him up again as soon as he was asleep, so he finally gave in. I called up Juan. I don’t think he was asleep by the sound of his voice, being only one more house away,” she added. “ Anyway, he came over to get Chuck and there was just a little bit more shouting getting him past Amanda in the living room on the way out of the house.”


Short Stories

In Dreams She Comes

In dreams she comes to me upon the

Carpeting sand,

Dancing snow-white promise lilies in

Her gentle hand.

“Know you what love is made of in this

Barren land?”

“Our diminution toward simplistic from

The grand.”



In dreams she comes to me upon the

Carpeting sand,

Dancing snow-white promise lilies in

Her gentle hand.

“Know you what love is made of in this

Barren land?”

“Our diminution toward simplistic from

The grand.”



Have you ever dreamed a poem? What a horrible experience—to pass a test like that only to awaken to the realization that she is to marry another. All this day I have walked and sat with that hollow in my belly influencing my view. Who else could I want after such a one and, thinking thusly, who else would want me?


I go in less than two months to a wedding and a funeral in that desert; for surely I will sacrifice some part of myself on that same alter where they make their vows.


“Boulders do not budge,” she also said to me last night, “for want of motive.”


I do not know whether to take offense to that one or not.


Upon stepping outside for my second walk today I confront a new sign on the acupuncturist’s window across the street which reads: “New Community Outreach Acupuncture” and in small letters to one side, “sliding scale.” So I walk over, being who I am and the day what it is, to ask if she could be of any assistance with my heartache.

I confront the smell of more than sixty glass jars of various herbs and a kindly old Chinese woman as I step inside the store. She stands on dried, old, maple floor boards twice her age that creak as she walks toward me. I imagine the noise as emanating from her very own joints as she approaches. Confronted with my question, I am surprised to hear her claim that she truly can help me. My next thought naturally is that she is merely attempting to part me from my money for, as she had just posted this “sliding scale” sign, I suspect maybe business is slow and, as the man says, no one ever got poor underestimating the intelligence of the American public. I think that would go doubly when applied to Eastern medicine in a Hippie part of Vermont susceptible to such philosophies.

First, to business. We discuss her rates, which are normally $40 a session. For something the nature of my problem it will take six sessions over sixteen days I am told. Given my pay-rate, she says she can knock the fee down to $15 a session. Cure my heartache for $90? My interest is piqued enough to continue on with the interview since the dollar amount is not entirely offensive.

We move to the next phase and Mrs. Hu, she introduces herself as, begins to explain where the pain I experience comes from and proceeds to break out those diagrams of human bodies with lines and dots all over them showing acupuncture points, nerve lines, chi-flow and meridian spheres. All this is not completely foreign to me as I’ve lived a varied and colorful life. The charts show points throughout the body that correspond to points on the head and, more particularly, the ears.

Mrs. Hu points to the lines of the body that control the symptoms of my malady and simultaneously shows the points on the ear she would be sticking needles into in order to open the chi pathways and relieve the pain. Before we begin, she says, she will need to ask some probing questions to get a better idea how to customize a remedy.

I find this odd seeing how a broken heart’s pain should not be effectible by the circumstance of its damage. Still, I continue the interrogatory, suspending my incredulity with the knowledge that Eastern medicine is holistic. So the questions begin.

“How long has this problem been?”

“About two years now.”

“So long? Why do you not seek assistance earlier?”

“I have,” I say, “but the different things I have tried have not worked.”

She looks at me with seeming suspicion. “This is not a healthy state to exist. If it goes untreated you do permanent damage to body.”

“Like I said,” I repeat, “I have tried a number of different things. Trust me. I do not like this pain. I do not like waking up in the middle of the night from it. I like my sleep.”

“Ahhh yes,” she says. “Lying down usually brings problem,” as if I confirmed something.

What does lying down have to do with anything, I thought. Maybe she means sleeping.

“Okay”, resuming, “diet?”

“My diet?” I ask surprised.

“Yes, yes. What diet?

Eastern. Holistic, I remind myself. “Not much protein. Since I do not have much money it is mostly starch: rice, pasta…like that.”

She nods, then, “fruits? vegetable?”

“Some. Not enough. Before this I used to eat a salad every day, not any more though.”

“How long?”

Again, “about two years since I moved from the desert.”

“Two years? Same as heart ache?”

“Yes,” I say, “when I left there my diet changed. I was working in a health food store and eating very well. I moved to Connecticut and my diet went back to the way it was before I was working at the store.”

“Hmmm,” she said scribbling on her clipboard like she had just found a corner piece to a jigsaw puzzle.

A part of me, confronted with the possibility of actually be ‘cured’ of this, starts to wonder if I would go through with the treatment. Like a scar, the ache is a memory. I hear her Echo in me and I am not really sure I want it do die. I was half-joking when I walked into the store but am now being confronted with a reality I had not foreseen.

“Exercise?” she asks.

“Not much these days. I just moved into town and have not joined a gym. I used to do martial arts, a few years back,” I say, trying to impress her with my oriental exercising. I get no response though.

“No exercise?”

“I walk around a lot but I don’t do it regularly for exercise. I want to start going to the gym in town but I just moved here and have not gotten around to signing up at the gym or the pool.

“Do you think it is important?” I query.

“Yes, yes. Very important for mind and body.”

“Would it keep my mind off my problems?”

“Not so. You exercise to keep chi flowing and meridians balance. Exercise can do same as acupuncture. Once I fix, you exercise to make balance. Yes?”

“Yes,” I say as she looks back over her notes. Diet and exercise are fine things for a good life but I am failing to see how adjusting these inputs in my life were going to help remedy the impact of the woman I love marrying another unless they would give me the courage to stand up at the wedding and object; so I ask, “How will this, the diet and the exercise, help with my heartache?”

“Heart ache is from poor diet and no exercise. I remedy problem right away with altering chi flow but you alter diet and burning not come back again.”

“Yes. Burning in heart. Heart ache.”

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

I could not stop myself from laughing as I explained the difference between ‘ache’ and ‘burn’ in English to this poor woman. She laughed too and told me that she did not have a cure for the ache, only the burn. But, she said, walking and exercise and the chi flow of martial arts would lessen the blow of the heartache too.

I agreed and bowed my way out of the store as she tried to sell me Holy Basil and Valerian root for my broken heart.