Friday, June 28, 2013

Today's Guest Is... #FridayFlash Fiction

     Of course it was wrong; but they had threatened her yet again, and she was so tired, so hollowed out that making the drug buy was definitely the lesser of two evils. Three evils if she counted her stepfather, five evils if she included being tossed out in the street or sent to live with her sister in Buttcrack, Idaho.
     What kind of parents send their teenage daughter out to score some coke for them? A rhetorical question. It was her last thought before running footsteps and a blow to her head so hard she couldn't even suck in enough breath to scream.

     She sinks into a chair which exudes a delicate flatus of leather-scented air, mixed with cologne and sweat. Her escorts you can call us Jamie and Robert sit with legs crossed in carefully orchestrated nonchalance; if they had tails, the tips would be twitching. A green light flickers on, they motion for her to stand up, and taking her each by one arm, propel her thru the door.
     A wall of faces roars with approval, beams of light nail her to the floor, and her mouth salivates in preparation to vomit as a giant of a man ambles into view and places a heavy hand on her shoulder.
     "Come and sit down with us, Amy," he says gently, guiding her to a sofa. A montage of photos - her riding a pony, playing in a pool, holding up a play-doh hand print, playing baseball - takes up an entire wall. Her mother is on one end of the plump couch, and she's made up to look like a decent human being for once. Her stepfather looks like a preacher who's just seen the devil.
     The kindly man who first greeted her, whom she now recognizes as Dr. Jerry, addresses the audience. "I'd like you to meet the beautiful young lady we've been talking about. Now Amy has a long history of behavioral problems. Her teachers tell us that she often falls asleep in class, starts fights with other girls, and is disrespectful. Just last week she disrupted her math class by arguing with the teacher that a rectangle is NOT a square. At home she refuses to do chores, is rude, and sneaks out at night to buy drugs. As a matter of fact, a few nights ago she was badly beaten because of a drug deal gone wrong. Her parents are here on our show because they love her but they just don't know what to do any more."
     Shocked faces, vague stirrings and murmurs of approval ripple through the human reflective pool.
     Amy lowers herself carefully to the couch, as far from her mother as she can possibly get. Her mother reaches for a tissue from her pocket and manages to give Amy the finger at the same time.
     "I hate you!" Amy hisses. The microphones pick it up and everyone gasps.
     "Now Amy, it's obvious that you have very strong feelings of anger toward your mother. And we're here to help you learn to cope with them in a more constructive manner."
     "She just flipped me off!"
     Dr. Jerry calls for a replay of the tape, and there is Amy managing to look like a wide-awake drunk while her mother clutches a tissue and sadly dabs at her eyes.
      She concedes that yesterday she hit a girl; it doesn't matter that she is bullied daily and that other girls steal things from her locker at school. They are, after all, members of the Key Club and Pep Squad.
      She explains that the drugs were for her parents; she is called a liar.
      After a parade of accusers, a litany of crimes and everything but the national debt is hung upon her frail shoulders, Amy is informed that she will be taken directly from the show to a boot camp for teens in - wait for it - Idaho. Applause. Part of Amy wants to clap as well; at least she won't have to go back to their crummy apartment and eat some variation of Tuna Helper every night.
     "And we're also sending her folks to an all-inclusive resort in Hawaii for a week so that they can reconnect as a couple and enjoy a well-deserved respite from teenage chaos."
     Thunderous applause.
     Mother now has Dr. Jerry's enormous handkerchief to mop her bloated features - and cover her self-satisfied smirk.
     Amy leaves the stage between her handlers and passes a boy with a linebacker build and golden hair flopping across one eye. He flicks it out of the way and smiles lasciviously at her.
     "See you at the Happy Trails Camp I guess," he manages before he disappears through the doorway and into the spotlight.
     She just catches the introduction before the door swings shut.
     "Meet Robert, who has a drinking problem, steals cars, and is now accused of raping a girl..."


Friday, June 14, 2013

Family - #FridayFlash Fiction

He held the massive head between his hands and crooned, softly. "Tonight will be the last, I promise you. Just one more. Then you'll never have to go in the ring again." The scarred and heavily muscled body wriggled with puppyish glee.

"Blood in, blood out, bro. We was family, took you in, raised you up, had your back. Now you turn on us, squeal like a stuck pig, think you can walk away. Nah, you ain't walkin'. And you sure don't deserve to wear our name."

He felt the concrete pressing into his spine, knees on his joints, pain blooming in red and white flowers. Just another beating, one he would survive; and the loss of his prized jacket and colors another memento of a bad decision made when he was a kid. It had seemed the best way to survive, back then. His "real" family had been practically useless, this gang "family" parasitic and opportunistic. No such thing as family, really; born alone, suffer alone, die alone. He watched JJ approach with a chunk of wood wrapped in something. So, the clubbing would continue.

He felt JJ place a finger on his chest and trace the outline of his tattoo. "No right to wear this. I'm gonna sand that mother off."

Cold rivulets trickled under him, legions of scurrying things rushed over him, by turns he shook and writhed, soundlessly forming words stolen by the air. Often there was a blessed nothing; sometimes there was comforting warmth by him, and gradually his wits reformed themselves into some semblance of order. Broken macadam, prickly grass, thunder from cars on the overpass above, a body lying beside him. The dog twitched and rose unsteadily to its feet. There was blood and one ear partially torn off.

"You look like I feel Bro," he managed from parched lips. The dog whimpered, and licked his cheek.

"You work too hard. All these extra shifts. Go home to your girlfriend, or go find one. Drink a couple of cool ones. Hey, you wanna go bowling? Bunch of us go every Friday night you know. Hell, you don't even have to be any good. Ralph ended up on his keester last week. You been here on the force for what, four years now? Time to really join the brotherhood, man."

"No thanks. I got stuff to do. You know, paperwork, laundry. The neighbors are gonna call the cops about the smell soon."

The other man guffawed. "I hear you man. OK, the option's always open. But lone wolf types don't last long around here."

"I got a partner already. But I'll let you know if there's an opening." He grinned crookedly.

He tossed his uniform on the chair and exchanged his service revolver and holster for a Glock in his waistband. Just in case, of course. A brindled pit bull danced at his heels, desperate to go outside. He checked through a sheaf of papers one more time, memorizing details, then set them alight and dropped them in the sink.

"Let's go."

Sergeant Ralph Meltzer happened to run into a fellow officer and his dog on Elm Avenue. "They've got a body over on 33rd. Another nickel and dime thug, looks like one of their fighting dogs turned on him. Second one in a month. But we busted that dog ring four years ago, and there's no sign of kennels. The neighbors are all rollin' their eyes and blathering about voodoo and chupa somethin' or other."

The officer reached inside his shirt and scratched his chest thoughtfully. "Maybe his old lady did it. You know how those gang chicks can be."

Meltzer grinned. "That's all women, once they get riled. Maybe you've got the right idea. Just a man and his dog."

"All the family I need." The officer reached down and scratched the dog's long-healed ear.

The dog whimpered and licked his cheek.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Where the Wind Blows - Flash Fiction

Farmer and sons during dust storm Oklahoma. Photo: FSA. 

                                                  Public domain via wikimedia commons.

"The wind blows where it will, and you  hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes..."
                             John 3:8

It never seemed as though they had much, and yet when it came time to take their lives with them, even not enough was too much.

Beds and food, water and tools.

Can I take my books? If he takes his books, then I can take my toy horse. No, only God's book. Whichever toys will fit in your pocket. Marbles, a tin wind-up mouse with sparkling eyes. What about the dogs. Wishbone can go, he hunts. Good to have him as pertection. Smoky stays with the old man down the road. Ain't got more than a season left in him, one more mouth to feed.

Wishbone, hearing his name, thumps his tail with an apologetic grin and then belly crawls under the 27 Hudson and flops down in the marginally cooler dust. Smoky has already taken his rightful place in the trace of mud under the pump. The few scraggly chickens by the shed set up a ruckus; a shadow streaks by and disappears up the stone step and into the sagging house. The cats, never ones to be completely subjugated by man or nature, have been skulking about and eying the proceedings. When the people move on, cats will hunt the mice which nibble the seed from the vegetation which will grow between the floorboards. Doors will drift open, the wind will scour the walls, the dust will find every nook and niche and settle gently into a dunescape. Left in the kitchen are the cracked plates from back east, the dainty christening cup from England, the paperweight brought all the way from Chicago's World Fair. A flyspecked picture of Jesus torn from a calendar smiles benignly above the iron stove.

The wind, which has scoured everything else in the great Dust Bowl down to bare bones, has stripped its inhabitants as well. Fields of wheat, taller than a man, great steel tractors thrumming in solitary parades across the land, the hope of stout sons and well-fed wives; the Promise of Tomorrow, all suffocated under the multi-hued clouds endlessly rolling over them. Black from Kansas, gray from Colorado, red from right here in Oklahoma. Hello neighbor.

The wind blows, burying and exhuming. Fanning the wildfire and blowing out the lantern. Bringing the storm and one day heralding the rain.

Ma, in her bleached Mother Hubbard, she of loving and infinite patience, wedges the last of the bundles into the cramped back seat. Of all the things left behind, it is the tiny body of her firstborn, asleep in the family plot, which tugs at her the most. Only the name, painstakingly spelled out in the family Bible, can go with them.

Down the road to the east the suitcase farmers, of vulturistic and infinite patience, await the start of an auction. They will buy at rock bottom, hold the land, sell the rest. One day the rains will return and Europe will be needing wheat again. Look what the War did for prices. Might even be another one. Wouldn't be such a bad thing.

Down the road to the west Rev. Poley readies the sacraments for the few left to attend services tomorrow. Behold, I have smitten my hand at thy dishonest gain which thou hast made.

Down the road to the south a gray stubbled farmer rocks on his front porch. In 1888 mercury froze solid in Minnesota thermometers, ice crystals clogged ears and noses, even the film on eyeballs thickened. Children caught in the blizzard died in schoolhouses, in fields, in barns. Four feet of snow, drifts as high as fifteen, and when the spring thaw came bodies of people and livestock bloomed in macabre unison with crocuses and snowdrops. Lord, if ever I can be warm again. And so 48 years later he is uncomplaining.  Thermometers stuck in the ground read 151F. The rest of the family pulled up stakes and left for California, not without cajoling and pleading, father and son finally blowing like bulls and pointing shotguns at each other in mutual fear and admiration at the others gumption. But he will not leave the land, he belongs to it, is too old to move on and start over. There's a keg of salted pork and tinned beans in the storeroom, sorghum and coffee, flour and lard and soap. Son and father had grasped hands, cleared throats, stood back. Ain't got more than a season left in me, one more mouth to feed. Well then, we'll send for you when we make it, Pa. Anyways, yer too ornery to die anytime soon.

Soon he'll have the old dog to keep him company. And the preacher, who's vowed to stay, nearby to give him a proper burial. Nothing fancy, just wrapped in the quilt his long-dead wife had sewn with her beautifully gnarled hands.  Drop me in a hole deep enough to keep the coyotes and cats out. He stands creakily, feels to see if his fly is buttoned, pours a little water from a tin cup over his head and rinses the dust from his eyes. The groaning door echoes his joints as he steps into the kitchen and sits down at the table. Opening the Bible to a random page, he laboriously copies a text; he will follow its lead. Yesterday's is still on the table, already curling at the edges. Psalms 119:35 Thy word is a lamp unto my feet. In curling script after he has written  the lantern on the table is the same one used to find William doring the blizard. It saw the black colt with the star born. It was by my Violet when she passed.

Today's reads Nehemiah 7. And I found the book of the genealogy of those who came up at the first...

And so today he will write the names of his forefathers, and his family, and how he came to be here. The slip of paper will be rolled and placed into a Mason jar, one of hundreds once filled with bounty but now waiting expectantly for something other than dusty air.

Screw the lid down tight. Carry it carefully back to the rapidly emptying store room. Place it with the others, a glass pyramid, preserves of another kind. Shuffle across the floorboards as dust eddies mark the slow passage. Lie down on the left side of a mattress which still bears the faint imprint of another on the right. Close gritty eyes and and trust that they will open again. Listen to the one unfailing companion.

The wind has always blown, will continue to blow. What we take with us is one story. What we leave behind, another.

This is one in a series of short stories and vignettes set during the Dust Bowl years. Other include  Rain's Gonna Come and What Follows the Plow