I write short fiction

Month: July 2021

Mannequin Monday – Reddy is Gone!

image of wooden hand

Our mannequin this week takes the form of a teacher enduring yet another back-to-school night with her fifth graders’ parents.

And I offer comments on two mysteries I read. Welcome back.

What I’m Writing

Back to school night. Always fraught with tension, even for an experienced teacher. I hope you enjoy this story bite.

The Hard Times of a Classroom Gerbil

Bob Gillen

Dear God, I dread this night. Ms. Caroline Stott gave her fifth grade classroom a final look. Back-to-school night. From behind her came a clattering noise. She turned. Reddy, the class gerbil, was flitting around in his cage. You dread it too, huh?  She reached in, placed Reddy in his transparent exercise ball, and let him roll about on the students’ worktable.

A bell rang. Parents flooded into the classroom and crammed themselves into the kids’ desks. “Welcome, everyone!” Ms. Stott left the classroom doors open as she began her presentation. Outside the room a few students played quietly. The kids whose parents could not find a babysitter. 

Ms. Stott handed a sign-in sheet to one parent. “Please pass this around.” 

One parent raised her hand.

“Yes?”

The woman pointed. “Why is that ball on the table behind you moving?”

Ms. Stott turned. 

Credit: Lessonpix

“Oh, that’s Reddy. He’s our class gerbil. I put him in that exercise ball to work off some energy.”

She picked up the ball and extended it to the woman. “Would you like to pass him around? Take a closer look?”

The mom peered through the clear plastic ball. The gerbil retreated from her close-up face.

“He’s kind of shy,” Ms. Stott said. “I got him last week. He’s still getting used to the students.”

The woman passed the ball to another parent. Ms. Stott continued with her presentation, talking about the curriculum and what she expected from the students.

Reddy and his exercise ball got passed to the back of the aisle. A dad put the ball down on the floor. He watched as the gerbil rolled the ball around, bumping the wall, bouncing off a couple of chair legs. 

Ms. Stott said, “Thank you for coming this evening. Why don’t you walk around and look at your children’s displays before you leave?”

The parents stood. One woman, who had been keying into her phone through the entire presentation, spied the ball rolling on the floor. She looked up, spotted two kids near the door outside, and kicked the exercise ball through the doorway in their direction. “They don’t call me soccer mom for nothing.”

After the parents had cleared out and moved on to another classroom, two students approached Ms. Stott. They handed the exercise ball to her. Ms. Stott gasped.

“We think he’s hurt,” one kid said. “He doesn’t look right.” 

Ms. Stott opened the ball and placed Reddy back in his cage. The gerbil limped across the cage and burrowed into his nest.

Reddy is gone!

The following morning Ms. Stott greeted her students as usual. The pair of students responsible for feeding Reddy today peered into his cage. “Ms. Stott, Reddy is gone!”

Ms. Stott attempted a smile. “Reddy had an accident last night.” 

One student pointed to another. “Derek, your mother killed him. She kicked him out the door. My father saw the whole thing.”

“That’s not true!” Derek burst into tears.

Ms. Stott said, “It was a misunderstanding, James. Your mom thought it was a soccer ball. She didn’t realize.” 

Score another one for back-to-school night.

***

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Mannequin Monday – From the Inside Out

I have a spirit that walks with me outdoors. This week’s mannequin takes on spirit form.

What I’m Writing

I’ve been experimenting with writing exercises and prompts this week. I am one week into a four-week program that uses prompts to kick start writing. It’s not journaling, as such. More like pulling up “raw material,” as they call it. Looking for themes to emerge over time. Anyway, here’s a prompted piece I did for the program. Enjoy. And thanks for stopping by every week.

From the Inside Out

Bob Gillen

Hey, good to see you today. Have I told you, I have a spirit that walks with me outdoors. On real walks, not the steps to the mailbox or the trash bin. She began walking with me a week ago. Oh, sorry, I should say they. She prefers the pronoun they/them. I can’t explain why. They did not elucidate.

As I said, I was walking down the street last week, set on going up into the park that overlooks our little town. Halfway down the street I became aware of someone alongside me. Keeping pace. Not hard to do. I am not an assertive walker. First I heard the footfalls. Heavy, thumpy. I looked to my side to see a woman in a long coat, a kind of steampunk outfit, oversize collar and lapels. Big boots on her feet. No cap. Hair in a long ponytail. Light brown. 

They didn’t speak. Simply kept pace. I passed several neighbors who gave me the obligatory hello, how are you? The neighbors looked only at me, apparently not seeing my companion. My new companion never offered me a name. I will refer to them as my spirit from here on.

And spirit they are. No one else can see them. Even I cannot hear them. We don’t speak. I suppose that would be awkward, me walking along talking out loud to myself. Although most would no doubt assume I was on a mobile call.

I did not know I had a spirit.

No, we communicate by thought. I found myself on that first day wondering, who is this person only I can see? And a thought came, as in a reply. I am your spirit. I wondered further, I did not know I had a spirit. The answer, ah, now you do.

I have been out walking three times since that first encounter. Each time I had my shadow with me. I am convinced they have a sense of humor. The second day they dressed as Wonder Woman. Another day they looked like Doris Day. Yesterday they resembled Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story, slacks and top in flowing white, fluid movement.

They simply make their presence known, walk alongside, share thoughts, and fade away till next time.

I have to admit, this bit of magic is encouraging me to walk more. If nothing else, that’s a benefit. 

When I reflect on what’s happening, I get an inkling of awareness. Nothing more, as yet. You see, there is presently an emptiness in my life. A vast gap, needing to be filled. I have gone from a doer, a caregiver, someone needed by another, to a person with nothing to do. Nothing. Finding time, making time for tasks, for creative work, for relaxation, was always a challenge, but always possible.

Now, with no obstacles, only a wide expanse of time, I find myself frightened by the challenge. What to do? How to fill the hours? 

And, as by a miracle, along comes this spirit. My spirit. They do not offer answers, advice, admonitions. Nor ammunition. Nothing to chew on, to think about. They are simply a presence. A presence that fills in the emptiness just a bit. Takes the edge off the anxiety. Yesterday, for example, as we walked, I passed a woman pushing a man in one of those complex wheelchairs. I thought, that woman was me, in a way. A caregiver. And my spirit simply sighed, not any more. Not any more. No longer a caregiver. I take a breath, realizing I do not now have the burden of care. The fear of not being able to do it properly. Of failing.

Now my fear has come full face. I can now fail by doing nothing. I can fail by stagnation. I can fail without moving a muscle, or having a thought.

On my walks, on our walks, thoughts drift through my mind, I suspect prompted by my spirit companion. You’re okay. Stronger than you think. You are graced. Be gracious to yourself.

If I may use a medical metaphor, I suppose this situation is similar to a deep, open wound. You can’t stitch it closed till it begins to heal from the inside out. 

From the inside out.

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Mannequin Monday – Neither Immortal Nor Infertile

“The truth of things can only be expressed…in story, picture, film, dance, music.” Thomas Moore.

A summer intern hits a few speed bumps on her path to a business career. Our mannequin is dressed for success this week.

What I’m Writing

I’m sharing another story bite. Bits and pieces of memory in a fictional framework. Enjoy.

The Summer Intern

Bob Gillen

Isla Reid stood tall as she stepped into the human resources manager’s office for her summer intern orientation. In a navy pencil skirt, matching jacket, ivory blouse, she felt strong. The manager, Stephanie Lennon, gestured for Isla to sit. Lennon took her own chair across an expansive wood desk. Isla could not keep her eyes off the view from the office window. Mid afternoon, a stunning early summer day, twenty-three floors up in an office tower on Water Street at the tip of Manhattan Island, looking west over New York Harbor.

“You must be very important to have this awesome office,” Isla said.

“Hah,” Lennon said. “Your being impressed is exactly why I have this office. We are a prestigious financial services firm, and every job applicant sees me first…and this view. It’s all about the visuals.”

“Well, it’s really impressive.”

Lennon turned to look at the view. “Looks like we have a thunderstorm rolling in. I hope you brought an umbrella.”

Isla shrugged. “We don’t use them much in LA.” She thought, my outfit will get soaked.

“You have an advantage over the other interns,” Lennon said. “They don’t start till next week.”

“My school got out early this year.”

“I’ll walk you through the basics of our orientation. You can get the details with the rest of the group next Monday.”

Isla nodded. She looked at the view again as Lennon interrupted to take a phone call. The view was already obscured by storm clouds that covered the western horizon.

Lennon completed her call. “Isla, you made a strong impression on your Zoom interview over spring break. I like your experience and your skill set. I’m going to assign you to the marketing department. More specifically, to the group that maintains the firm’s social media pages. The group manages our social media accounts and monitors what’s being posted about the firm online.”

“That sounds wonderful. As I told you, I do that for our college newspaper’s social media presence.”

Lennon held up a finger while she fielded another phone call. Isla glanced at the window. All of the western horizon was now black. She could no longer see the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge or Staten Island. Far below a yellow ferry plowed through the Harbor directly towards the storm.

That storm is huge.

Isla took her gaze away from the window. Lennon was staring at her.

“Are you okay?” Lennon asked.

“That storm is huge.”

Again Lennon turned to look. “Yes. It looks now like a line squall. We get them occasionally. A fast-moving rain storm. Over and gone in a few minutes…Is this your first trip to New York?”

Credit: SIGMA blog

“My first time outside California.”

“By end of summer you’ll be a veteran at this.”

The storm began to darken the sky around the building. Isla’s eyes grew wide at the force of the storm. She felt drops of sweat running down her back.

“Would you be more comfortable if we went to the break room for a few minutes?”

“Uh…I guess so…Yes.”

Lennon took Isla to a windowless room in the center of the floor.

“Coffee?”

“Yes, please,” Isla said.

The two took a table in the far corner of the room. In the distance Isla heard the deep rumble of thunder. She wrapped her fingers around the coffee cup.

“Isla, in our orientation session, there is something I tell every intern we take on.” She smiled. “We pride ourselves on providing a challenging as well as secure work environment for all our employees, and especially for our interns.”

“Okay.” More thunder rumbled, closer now.

“You may take this any way you wish…You young interns are neither immortal nor infertile.”

***

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