Healing through story

Month: November 2022

shortfiction24 – bridle path

Bridle Path

This week I’ll pass on my usual short story post. I’m sharing instead a tiny scrap of memoir, inspired by Edward Hopper’s 1939 painting Bridle Path. I’ve long been a fan of Hopper’s art, yet I know little of his life or the extent of his work. I came across Bridle Path by accident on social media. Commentators say the painting depicts the Park at 72nd Street. For me it elicits memories further uptown in the 90s.

This painting came to life shortly before I did. I spent my first seven years on West 95th Street on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. For those years my life was the color and texture of brownstones. We lived in a fourth-floor walkup. By the time I reached seven, we were mom and dad and four boys in that apartment. Johnny’s Liquor Store occupied the ground floor.

Out on the street we roamed the sidewalks, climbing stoops, hanging out in lobbies and stairwells. W. 95th Street was a contiguous row of brownstones on both sides, parked cars lining the curbs bumper to bumper. We lived a cramped life. On a cramped street. In a cramped city.

Ah, but then there was the gem that Edward Hopper captured in his painting. Central Park. My mom would wrangle the four of us plus strollers and snacks, and we’d walk up to the Park. Stepping in from Central Park West was like entering a portal to a wide open world. Winding paths, open green fields, benches – space. And horses!

The bridle path circled the Park. For a little city kid it was a thrilling sight to see horses galloping along the trail and under the stone bridges. My brothers and I played cowboys on the rocks lining the path. We shot at each other with our cap guns, leaped and jumped over the rocks. And we always paused when the horses came by. I didn’t see horses running freely like that again until one college summer I worked at Aqueduct Race Track.

Hopper’s style of social realism brought all of that back for me. My earliest years – a cramped lifestyle broken by bursts of sunshine, horses and green fields.


In the last year and a half I’ve written a couple of short stories based on several of Hopper’s paintings. I posted Morning Sun on 5/11/22. And earlier, A Day on the Cape, posted 5/3/21. Enjoy!


shortfiction24 – not ready for us yet

This past May we left the spirits of Vinny and Lewis tangled together after their cremated ashes were intermingled at the crematorium. They are struggling to separate and continue their journeys to the next world. Nothing has worked so far.

Here’s the link to the original story. Enjoy their further escapades.

I should note that some of my stories have become series. I don’t plan these continuing stories; the characters simply continue to live. So – I have no pre-planning for these series.

Not Ready For Us Yet

Bob Gillen

Margie Pasquilino sat in her backyard, warmed by the sunlight of a fresh morning. A mug of coffee rested on the arm of her husband Vinny’s favorite red Adirondack chair.

Vinny and Lewis squirmed in their box of ashes, buried under the bottlebrush tree in the yard. “Morning.”

“Back atcha,” Vinny said. “Is it another day?”

“I think so. I can kinda feel warmth. A new sun.”

“Let’s go up.”

The two wiggled up out of the box into the fresh air. 

“Margie,” Vinny said, smiling in her direction. Margie did not look over. “She can’t hear me.”

“We kinda knew that, didn’t we?”

Vinny moved around, taking in the scene. Only a few days till Halloween. Margie had placed a pumpkin over the burial site. A long white skeleton hung from the tree.

“She did a little decorating, huh?” Lewis said.

Vinny was silent. He gazed at Margie, lit by the early sun. A long shadow hung across half the yard, the sun blocked by the house.

“She looks like a Hopper painting,” he said.

Lewis stared for a moment.

“Yeah. Cool. You got a good eye.”

“He was always one of my favorite artists. Solitary figures. Sunlight and shadow.”

Lewis’s spirit twirled around slowly. “Speaking of art…Listen to me, Vinny. Trust me. This is our moment.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“Did you and Margie ever go to the theater? A play, a musical?””

“Long time ago. ‘Oklahoma,’ I think.”

“Okay, think back. There’s a special moment in the theater. The moment when the stage lights and the house lights go dark. The moment the audience grows silent. That wonderful moment of anticipation. For the performers, all the hours of rehearsal are behind them. For the audience, they are ready to put their daily grind behind them. They all wait in darkness. And it only lasts a moment. And then…lights, music, movement, dialogue, action. Then performers and audience become one.”

Vinny shook his head. “I don’t remember.”

“Vinny, look. You’ve rehearsed your whole life for this moment. You’re ready. Now you can enjoy an unending performance.”

Vinny’s spirit stopped swirling. “You really think so?”

“What else could this be? Think about it, Vinny. You die. Then there’s a moment of blackness. That’s what this is. Admit it. You can feel the anticipation. And then, bam, the lights will come on. You’re in the show. Forever.”

Vinny hesitated.

“Vinny, you know how people who have had a near-death experience talk of seeing a bright light?”


“Maybe some of us gotta do a bit of transition to see the light. First, a moment of darkness.”

Vinny’s spirit shrugged. “I’m not saying you don’t make sense.”

“Okay! Let go. Let’s go home.”

And the bright sunlight intensified, enveloped them, pulled them up out of the yard…

And dumped them back in the yard again.

Lewis was the first to speak. “They’re not ready for us yet…why? What are we missing? Didn’t we get our shot just now?”

The two spirits shifted over and sat on the pumpkin.

“You sound like a theater guy,” Vinny said.

“To the core,” Lewis said. 

“What was your favorite role?”

Without hesitation, Lewis repled, “Duvid, the missing husband, in the play A Shayna Maidel. Two sisters separated in World War II. Rosa escaped Poland to Brooklyn. Lusia survived the Holocaust, then reunited with her sister and father in Brooklyn. Duvid found them later.”

“I don’t know it.”

“What about you? What did you do?”

“Transport driver for the film industry. Drove cast and crew from staging areas to their shooting locations.”

“Union, right?”

“Yup. I did all right.”

“Meet any famous actors?”

“Lots. Like Vegas, what was said in my van stayed in my van. One actress, years back, well-known now. She was a stutterer. She struggled as a girl and teen. A speech therapist noted she did funny accents and voices. He encouraged that. It helped her get past the stutter. Got work as a voiceover artist, cartoons, animations. Landed a role in a horror movie. Took off from there.”

“I get the stutter thing. Every actor has to get out of themselves, inhabit a character.” 

Vinny and Lewis grew silent, each searching for a clue on how to separate. Margie went back inside the house. As afternoon came on, the sky darkened.

“Thunderstorm coming in,” Vinny said. “Rare for us in LA.”

“I wonder if we’ll feel the rain.”

Hours later the sky fell to black, clouds low. 

“I say we retreat to the box till this is over.”

The two slipped back down to their burial box.

Thunder boomed, lightning flashed. The yard lit up like day when a lightning bolt struck the bottlebrush tree. The tree split in half, scorched black, seared branches clawing at the sky. Fire lit the exposed center of the trunk.

An hour later the storm had passed and blue sky edged out from behind the departing clouds.

Vinny and Lewis came up.

“Holy shit,” Lewis said.

The bottlebrush tree stood unrecognizable as anything but a scarred stump. The skeleton decoration lay blackened and twisted at the base of the tree. 

Smoke seeped from the trunk, from the roots. Wisps of smoke seeped up through the skeleton.

“The roots must be burning,” Vinny said.

As they watched, the wisps of smoke grew more intense. They stared.

Spiraling smoke around the skeleton began to take shape. A spirit emerged, smoldering, shaking off bits of burnt material. 

Lewis wrapped himself tightly around Vinny.

“Back off. You’re killing me.”

“You’re already dead. Remember?”

The spirit moved toward them.

“What the fuck?” Lewis gasped.

The spirit turned to face Vinny and Lewis. “Is that any way to greet a lady? I’ve been trapped down there for going on thirty years, and the first words I hear are, what the fuck?”


“Who are you? What’s going on?”

“My name is Fanny. Me and my husband lived here before you moved in. I died of natural causes…all my organs basically failed. My husband – his name was Joseph – he was a loving guy…but a cheap bastard. He would squeeze the guts out of a buffalo nickel before it left his hands.”

“Tell me about him. He wouldn’t negotiate at all when we bought the house.”

“Anyway, I died. Joseph told everyone I died in the hospital. He did a little private service here in the yard, had people in for coffee and sandwiches. He kept my body here in the house till my rigor mortis softened up. We were having yard work done. That’s when we planted this bottlebrush tree. He dug a small grave one night, folded me up and buried me here. He wrapped me in layers of burlap. I’ve been rooted to this spot all this time. Rooted. Ironic, isn’t it? The roots caught fire, ignited the burlap that had not yet rotted away, and here I am. Free of that hole in the ground.”

Fanny’s spirit darted up high over the yard, flew in circles over the scene. “I’m free.”

She settled back down in front of Vinny and Lewis. “So, what’s your story?”


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