Healing through story

Month: September 2022

shortfiction24 – mi volvo es muy mal

This story marks #6 in the Jack and Diane series. The two met on a 50+ dating app a few months before this story occurs. I did not set out to create a series for these two characters, but they continue to live in my writing mind. Enjoy!

You can read the first five stories here:

Jack and Diane: the Series

Mi Volvo Es Muy Mal

Bob Gillen

Jack Marin parked his Ford F-150 at the curb in front of Diane Somer’s house. The double garage door was open. Her Prius sedan sat in one bay. As Jack walked up, he realized the second car was an old dark blue Volvo, its hood open.

“Hello?” he called.

Diane’s head appeared from under the hood.

“Hi. Right on time.”

Jack nodded. “A very old Volvo.”

“A 142-S. Frank kept it for all these years.”

On the wall facing the Volvo was a faded wooden sign. Mi Volvo es muy mal.

Jack pointed to the sign. 

“Frank got it from an abandoned garage somewhere up north, years back,” Diane said. “The old girl is fading, though. I only use it three times a year.”

“Why three?”

“Visits to the cemetery. His birthday, my birthday…and today, Margaret’s birthday.”

Diane ran a pair of battery cables from the Volvo to her Toyota.

“Can I help?” Jack asked.

“I got this.” She started the Toyota, hopped out and got in the Volvo. In a minute or so the Volvo kicked over. It coughed and sputtered, then smoothed out. She disconnected the cables and turned off her Toyota.

Ten minutes later Diane was driving them to the cemetery in the Volvo. She pulled up under a large tree. Opening the trunk, she took out two faded aluminum beach chairs and placed them at Frank’s grave. Then she set out a small cooler.

“Have a seat,” she said. “There’s water and soda in the cooler, and a few snacks.”

“I’ll wait,” Jack said. He sat.

“I usually stay for an hour or two,” Diane said. “If you get restless, feel free to walk around. And there’s a restroom in the office near the front gate.”

“Good to know.”

“Jack, I appreciate your being here with me.”

“Sure.”

“I sometimes sit in silence. Once in a while I will talk quietly to Frank. Today I’ll introduce you.”

Jack shifted in his chair.

Diane sat upright. She closed her eyes, arms resting in her lap. Jack leaned back, tried to relax. His own wife had been gone for two years now, but he had never once visited her cemetery. 

Diane whispered. “Frank, I drove over in the Volvo today. She’s still running.” She gestured to Jack. “I brought a friend with me today. His name is Jack. You’d like him. We met on a fifty-plus dating app a couple of months ago. Not really dating. More like hanging out together. Developing a friendship.”

Diane drifted back to silence.

Jack looked around the cemetery. Many of the graves had flowers or flags. Several other visitors stood around graves, or sat in the grass. He got up quietly and walked to the road. He walked the perimeter of the cemetery. Near the top was a section for cremated remains, graced by a small fountain. He circled and walked down near the office building.

A white BMW SUV sat in the office parking lot. Jack walked past without a glance. As he went by, a woman’s voice called out. “Sir?”

Jack turned. A woman slipped out of the BMW. “May I ask you a question?”

Jack pointed to himself. “Me?”

The woman nodded. “I’ve been sitting here for a while. Are you with that woman up the road, the one with the old Volvo?”

Jack hesitated.

“Her name is Diane?”

Jack took a step back. Held his palms out. “I don’t know you.”

“No, you don’t. But I was watching you sitting with her.” The woman pointed up the road. “That’s my mother.”

“Oh.”

A hawk screed in the distance. Jack looked up. A half dozen crows were chasing the hawk away from a stand of trees at the edge of the cemetery. The hawk flew calmly away while the crows squawked after it.

He turned his attention back to the woman.

“You must be Margaret.”

The woman leaned back against her car. “I’m guessing my mother told you about me.”

Jack shook his head. “I only know she’s troubled the two of you are not communicating.”

“Today is my birthday.”

“That’s why she’s here.”

Silence hung between them for a few moments.

“She didn’t tell me how sick my dad was…till he was gone.”

Jack nodded.

Margaret took a step toward Jack. “What has she told you about me?”

Jack held his palms up. “Please…don’t put me in the middle. I like your mother. I don’t want to be carrying a secret around. Reach out to her, but don’t pull me in. It’s none of my business.”

A tear slid down Margaret’s cheek. She looked out at Diane up in front of her dad’s grave. “I don’t know how to do this.”

Jack turned to walk away. Margaret slipped back into her car, fired up the engine, and drove off.

Damn! Don’t do this to me. 

Jack walked back up to the grave site. Sat down again without a word.

Diane looked up at Jack. “You were talking to Margaret.”

Shit!

“Yeah. You saw her?”

“I know her car. I spotted it as soon as we got here.”

“This is awkward.”

“What did she say?”

Jack shook his head. “I told her I didn’t want to get in the middle of this.”

Diane stood. “We should get back.” She folded her chair and packed up the cooler.

Jack remained seated. “I don’t belong in the middle of this.”

“Jack, we’ve been seeing each other for several months now. Like it or not, you are in the middle of it. My estrangement from Margaret is part of my life. Jump in the pool, or walk away.”

“Ouch.”

She stood over him. “Your ouch is nothing compared to my pain. You can help me with this, or I will go back to dealing with it alone. Your choice.”

Jack stood, folded his chair, put it in the Volvo.

They drove back to the house in silence. 

Diane nudged the Volvo back into the garage. “Want to come in for coffee?”

Jack shrugged. “This is getting complicated.”

“You’re in or you’re out…in, I hope.”

Jack smiled. “Got any cookies to go with the coffee?”

***

shortfiction24 – my bag is packed

Five years ago I published a play on Amazon Kindle titled Buried Lies. The story traced a young man’s efforts to learn about the father he had lost 16 years before. The youth made a film about his dad, about his search for his legacy, about the raw discovery of his dad’s lover.

Earlier this year I re-wrote part of the story from the point of view of the father’s lover, exploring first person point of view with a different character than the original. I find first person POV difficult to write.

I hope you enjoy reading it.

My Bag Is Packed

Bob Gillen

It’s been four days since the funeral. Since Clare buried her Patrick. Sorry. Since we buried our Patrick.

My bag is packed. I have nowhere to go. But I’m ready. Clare doesn’t want me here.

Patrick chose me. I know that. Know it as sure as I know my own name. Yes, I admit he loved her. But he was so conflicted in the short time I knew him. 

We met a few months ago, entirely by accident. One Friday we were both in the same subway car riding home after work. A couple of jerks stood over me. Kicking my leg. Shoving me. 

I saw a man who looked like a construction worker stand up. He put his tool bag on his seat. Stepped over to where I sat. “You know these two?” he asked me. I shook my head no. He grabbed each one by the back of the neck. Squeezed hard enough to put them both on their knees. I thought they were going to pass out.

When the doors opened at the next station, he told them to get up. He walked them to the door. Waited till it started to close. Shoved them hard out onto the platform. Before they could find a breath, the train was moving out of the station.

I bought him a drink to thank him. A quiet little bar I knew, nearer to my place than his. Conversation was awkward, but I worked hard to keep it going. We met every Friday for a while. It was the highlight of my week. No, it was my week.

My job laid me off in mid-December. Merry Christmas! I was already a month behind on my rent, thanks to transmission work on my eight-year old Chevy. Patrick told me he could finish the work he had been doing on his basement by early January. He had planned a rec room for his son. He would make it a small apartment. He wanted me to move in. I was thrilled. “How will you make this work?” I asked him. He shrugged. “You can be my cousin. Over from Ireland. Looking for work.” 

It had been a sub-zero January night. I had moved in a week before. We should have waited. Should have told Clare first. I was downstairs in the basement apartment. Small, cozy, not well lit. I was waiting for the cold spell to break before I looked for a job. I wanted to pay rent, carry my weight. Clare’s washer and dryer took up a small corner of the basement, but we managed to dodge each other most of the time. Twice I ate dinner upstairs with them. I loved seeing Sean. Their two-year old. Loved watching Patrick play with him.

Clare came home early that January night from a church bible study meeting. Apparently they cancelled it when almost no one showed up because of the bitter cold.

Patrick had come downstairs with two cold beers. He never came downstairs. Not when Clare was home. And she was almost always home. 

Only one lamp lit the basement. I was wrapped up in a blanket on the daybed. Trying to read but not caring about the story at all. He held out a beer to me.

I felt a smile break across my face. He pulled the blanket aside and crawled under with me.

Oh God, I can remember what I felt. Warmth. Tingling. Anticipation. For a few minutes we talked about how he couldn’t justify this… this… love? He was conflicted. Torn. An Irish, Catholic, construction worker. Married. With a son. Living in a traditional blue collar neighborhood. No place for infidelity. Certainly not with me.

I put a finger to his lips. “Hush,” I said. I kissed him. He pulled back. Looked deeply into my eyes. I saw longing. I saw fear. He leaned in and kissed me back.

I felt his hands caress my neck. My ear lobes. I shuddered.  The wonderful first touches.

We hadn’t heard Clare come home. She must have looked around the house upstairs without finding Patrick. The door to the basement had been open. 

I heard a scream. Looking over Patrick’s shoulder, I saw Clare was halfway down the stairs. Still wearing her unbuttoned coat. We were shirtless under the blanket. Patrick leaped up, tripping on the blanket. I pulled the blanket back. 

“Patrick! Jesus Christ! What the hell is going on?” 

“Clare, you’re home early.” As Patrick reached for his shirt, I could see the flame in his cheeks. 

Clare stomped down the rest of the stairs. I had started to get up. Forgot I was pantless. She looked at me. She screamed again. “Matthew? Oh my God!”

Patrick reached for Clare’s hand. “Okay, calm down. It’s not what you think.” I thought, Patrick, don’t say that. It is what she thinks.

“Not what I think? Not what I think? You screwing your cousin in our house is not what I think?”

“Clare, calm down. Please.” I saw Patrick was shaking. I pulled on my pants.

“You bastard! You goddamn bastard! Is this why you built the basement apartment? Is this why you took in your cousin? Matthew is not your cousin, is he? Son of a bitch!”

Patrick gestured towards me. “Let me explain.” I cringed, stepped back. 

“Get out of the house, Matthew! Get out now!” 

“Clare, we can’t do that.” Patrick stepped between Clare and me.

Clare looked around the room. She grabbed an empty beer can from a table and hurled it at Patrick. He ducked and the can clattered against the wall.

“Clare, stop. You’ll wake Sean.” 

“I’ll wake Sean? What’s the worry? You don’t want him to know his father is gay? Go to hell, Patrick. Go to HELL!”

“Relax, Clare. Come on.”

“Patrick, stay in the basement with your lover boy if you want. You made your choice. But don’t let me ever see your face upstairs again. Do you understand? Not ever!”

“But Sean…”

“You’ve seen Sean for the last time.”

“Clare, in the morning you’ll see…”

“See what, you bastard? See what? That I married a liar? See what, Patrick? That the father of my son would rather hump another guy than sleep with me? What am I supposed to see, Patrick? Tell me… what?”

A thought clawed its way into my conscious mind… yes, he’d rather hump me. Yes, he made his choice. I could not help smiling. 

Clare broke down sobbing and ran up the stairs. Slammed the door.

Two weeks later Patrick was dead. Came home drunk, slipped on the ice in front of the house, and slammed his head on the sidewalk. The sub-zero cold had lingered. The blood from his wound froze. But it was the head trauma that killed him. A neighbor found him after midnight. Called 911. Then rang the bell upstairs. I heard Clare scream. Heard sirens. Somehow I knew. I stayed in bed.

For a few days I cocooned myself under blankets in bed. Clare was out every night at Patrick’s wake. Her mother sat for Sean. I could hear her voice soothing him, reading to him. Every morning I heard Sean running his toys across the floor upstairs. I heard him squeal in delight. I cried each time. Cried for his dead father. Cried he would never see his daddy again.

I went to the funeral. Sat in the back row. Talked to no one. Actually knew no one. Patrick’s friends from work, his fellow contractors and carpenters, milled around after the service to offer a word to Clare. The burial was private. I actually don’t know where his grave is. She didn’t have anyone back to the house after the cemetery. I heard her sobbing for hours that night.

The separate side entrance to my apartment keeps me from running into Clare since the funeral. I make sure to go out every afternoon so she can do the laundry without seeing me. 

As I said, my bag is packed. But I will not leave willingly. Patrick made his choice in that moment when he defended me to Clare. He built this apartment for me. He invited me to live here. I didn’t care how uncomfortable it made Clare. Patrick wanted me here.

The problem is, as I sit here in the basement, everything screams at me that my love is gone. I barely knew him, and he’s gone. I have a place to live, and nothing to live for.

The basement door squeaked open. Clare did not come down.

“Matthew?”

I answered.

“I talked to my accountant. I have to sell the house. I want you gone before I put it on the market. Is that clear?”

I stepped over to the stairs. “Clare, may I see Sean once before I leave?”

“Fuck you, no. I repeat, I want you gone.”

I looked up. Our eyes met. Searching in mine. Bitterness in hers.

“I’ll be gone.”

***

Buried Lies, the play, is available on Amazon Kindle.

shortfiction24 – just another movie shoot

Have you ever blundered into an awkward situation? Casey Romero found herself in the middle of a film shoot, on camera in a classroom scene. An imposter syndrome magnified!

Enjoy the short read. I’m back from a month’s hiatus and will post a fresh story every week. Stay tuned.

Just Another Movie Shoot

Bob Gillen

“Monty, I have to get a notebook out of my locker!” Casey Romero pleaded with the school security guard.

“No can do, kiddo. The campus is closed for the entire three-day weekend.” He gestured over his shoulder. “This film shoot is paying the school to use the campus. I can’t screw that up.”

“I have to write a paper. Can’t you get my notebook? I’ll give you my locker combination.”

Monty shook his head.

A passenger van pulled up to the gate. Monty checked the driver’s name against his list. “Good to go. Let me give you your passes.”

Monty swung a box full of lanyards towards the van. One fell to the asphalt. Casey stepped behind Monty, keeping him between her and the driver. She scooped up the lanyard pass, stuffed it in her jeans pocket.

Without a word, she mounted her bike and rode away. Over her shoulder, she could see that Monty was back inside his doghouse-sized guard shack. She made a quick turn and headed for the back gate. No one around. She shoved her bike into the shrubs and climbed over the fence. Texted her study partner Martin. Might be a few minutes late.

With the lanyard hanging prominently around her neck, she weaved through the parking lot and headed for the classroom building that housed her locker.

Shoot!

The film production swarmed over that building. Large scrims on aluminum frames stood outside one of the classroom windows, blocking the direct sunlight. Cables snaked from an enormous generator in the parking lot, through the doors and down the hallway. Crew scurried everywhere. 

Casey held back to observe, trying to find a clear path to her locker. She straightened her shoulders, put on a false face of confidence, and walked into the hallway. She spied a big aluminum cart right in front of her locker. A guy sat on a stool, fingers working sliders on a sound mixer. Now what?

From down the hall she heard someone yell, Cut! The sound guy stood, stretching his legs. Casey approached him. “Can I just get to that locker?” she asked, pointing over his shoulder.

As the sound guy looked at her, she felt a hand on her shoulder. “You’re early. We don’t need background till this afternoon.”

Casey turned to see a tall young man with a clipboard and a tablet. The sound guy said to Casey, “This is our 1st AD. I can’t move this cart until this scene is done.” He pointed at the young man. “1st AD…First assistant director. His name is Rod.”

“Rod!” a voice bellowed from down the hall. Rod ran to the voice. 

“I just need a notebook from my locker.” Casey said.

The sound guy winked. “You’re not an extra, are you?”

Casey shook her head.

The sound guy edged his cart and stool away from Casey’s locker. She quickly spun the combination, yanked out the notebook, closed up the locker.

“Thank you,” she smiled at the sound guy.

He nodded, “Now get out of here before someone catches on.”

“You!” Rod came back, pointing at Casey.

“Too late,” the sound guy whispered.

Rod motioned to Casey. “Over here. The director wants to see you.”

Oh shit!

Rod steered Casey to a man wearing a baseball cap and sitting in a chair marked “Director.” An array of video monitors sat in front of him

The director said to Casey, “As long as you’re early, we’ll put you in this scene.”

A woman seated next to the director, a tablet and a clipboard on her lap, said, “It’s not in the script.”

“It is now,” the director said. The woman’s fingers flew over her tablet keyboard.

Rod ushered Casey into the classroom. Two actresses stood at the teacher’s desk. Towels covered the shoulders on their pants suits while makeup people fussed over their faces and hair.

“Sit there,” Rod said, pointing to a desk near the window. He looked around to make sure she would be in the camera shot.

Casey slipped into the seat, her notebook in front of her.

“Remember, you’re background. Ignore everything going on. Sit still and look at your notebook.”

Casey nodded. This isn’t happening.

Rod called to makeup. “Touch up this kid, will you?”

A woman blotted Casey’s face, brushed a bit of powder on her cheeks. “Take off the lanyard before I do your hair.” She ran a brush through Casey’s hair.

Moments later two men came in, one with a Steadicam camera strapped to his torso. The second man had his hands on the camera operator’s waist, ready to steer him. Another sound guy stood near the two actresses with a long boom holding a mic. From the corner, out of the camera frame, Rod yelled, “Roll sound.” Everyone went silent. Then he yelled “Roll camera.”

That’s me. Look invisible.

“And action!” Rod said. 

Casey froze, her eyes rigid on the notebook in front of her. In a few moments, Rod yelled, “Cut!”

The director stepped into the room. “Background,” he said, pointing at Casey. “You’re not a statue. I want you invisible, but I want you to look like you’re alive. Turn a page in that book. Run your finger over a page…got it?”

Casey felt her face turn red. She nodded.

“Okay, let’s go again.” The director left the room.

“Roll camera.” Rod yelled. Silence fell. “And action.”

The actresses engaged in a conversation, something about another teacher being incompetent. Casey turned a page. She moved the notebook slightly. 

“Cut!” Rod said. “Moving on.”

Casey sat still. The director came in. “Background, you’re released.” He grabbed her notebook off the desk, handed it to Rod. “Let the teacher hold this in the next scene.”

He and Rod left the room with Casey’s notebook.

Shit!

Casey put her lanyard back on, stayed in the seat as the room cleared and the crew moved on to a different location down the hall. One of the two actresses approached her. “Honey, be a dear and go over to Crafty and get me a bag of chips. I have to stay close.” The actress peered at Casey. “You look pale. Get something for yourself, too.”

Casey left the room, looked around for craft services. She spotted tables outside the building at the edge of the parking lot. She walked over, got a bag of chips and a bottle of water, and headed back to the classroom. 

The actress thanked her. “Listen, hon, help me out here. If I get crumbs on this outfit, Wardrobe will kill me.” She handed the bag back to Casey. “Open this and put a few chips in your hand.”

Casey tore open the bag, set chips in the palm of her hand. The actress picked one and nibbled on it, leaning forward to keep food bits from falling on her clothes.

“I need that notebook the director took away,” Casey said.

“It’s a prop, isn’t it?”

“No, it’s mine. I need it for a paper I have to write.”

The actress stared hard at Casey. “You’re not an extra, are you?”

Casey shook her head no.

“You’re a student here, right?”

Again Casey nodded.

“You got guts, girl. I’ll hand you that.”

“Thanks, but guts aren’t doing me any good right now.”

The actress finished a few chips. “Thanks. Listen…wait, what’s your name?”

“Casey.”

“Okay, Casey. I’m Nora.” She glanced around the room. A bookcase full of books sat in one corner of the room. Nora grabbed a book. “Here’s what we’ll do. I’m in the next scene with the actress who has your notebook. Let me go hover in the background. I’ll swap this book for yours when they’re done. You stay here. Keep your head down, I’ll be back. Okay?”

Casey nodded. “Thanks.”

Casey’s phone chirped. “Shut that off!” Nora said. “If the director hears it, you’ll be out on your ass.” Casey silenced the phone. Nora left. Casey glanced at the screen. Martin. Where are you? Aren’t we studying together?

Casey shoved the phone in her pocket. Later, dude.

An eternity later, Nora slipped into the classroom. She smiled, handed the notebook to Casey. “Get your ass out of here before we both get caught. The script supervisor will have a fit when she realizes the notebook is missing.”

Casey opened her mouth to say thank you. The actress grabbed her by the shoulders, turned her towards the door. She held up a hand. “Shh.”

The actress peeked out the door. All the crew clustered down the hall. She stepped out to block for Casey. “Go!”

Casey dashed for the door at the end of the hall, broke out into daylight. 

She had gone just a few steps into the parking lot when a voice called out. “You. The extra. Come here.”

Aah, no! 

Casey turned to see a woman standing next to a rack of clothes, pointing straight at her.

“You. Here.”

Casey stepped over, holding her notebook behind her back.

The woman held up a phone. “I need a picture of your outfit. For continuity. In case we have to shoot your scene again. Stand still.”

Casey held one arm down, the other behind her back with the notebook.

The woman took a few shots. “You dressed from your own closet, right?” she asked.

“I usually do.”

“Not bad. You look like a student.”

I am a student.

“Can I go now?”

“Yeah. They won’t need you till after lunch.”

Casey flew to the rear gate, climbed the fence again, and grabbed her bike.

She texted Martin. On my way. My film shoot ran late. Added a smiley face emoji.

***

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