Healing through story

Month: March 2023

shortfiction24 – why I write

Why I Write

This week my short stories yield to a few personal comments on writing. I have several stories in the works, all of which need endings. Coming soon. Today I attempt to answer the question: why do I write? I don’t have a single answer for that. It has varied over time. Varied as I transitioned from non-fiction to fiction. 

Presently a Hemingway quote moves me: “Write hard and clear about what hurts.”

And there is so much hurt. Some personal, some physical/medical, some PTSD from COVID lockdowns, much of it political and global. So much beyond my control. Writing short stories is my way of dealing with the hurt. My hurt. The hurt that so many others bear.

Only last night I discovered an interview with writer Percival Everett. I had never heard of him before. He talked about why he writes. He is not an outliner. He carries it in his head, creating what he calls a kind of map. Ironically, a map is, for him, an excuse to get lost. “It gives you a certain kind of security that allows you to wander into a place you don’t know.”

I can relate to that. I rarely outline. When I am carrying a short story in my head, I don’t know where it will take me. Often into a place I don’t know. It might be an unexpected, even quirky ending. It could be a character whose traits I initially knew nothing about. And it is both fun and a challenge to go to these unknown places.

My Readers

Everett goes on to talk about who his readers are. “When people ask me who’s my audience, I can’t imagine one, since everybody’s different. So my audience has to be myself. I write for myself, knowing that at any given time I’m not the same person that this was created for. The writer who made it is gone and no longer exists. So what it meant to that writer is gone too. The only meaning that’s left is to be made by whoever is reading it at that moment.”

I can appreciate that comment. Writing coaches so often advise authors to identify their ideal readers, even if it is a narrow base. I have always found that difficult. Yes, I know who some of my readers are. I have no clue who most of them are. (Always assuming I actually have readers!) 

I do write for myself. And yes, I come back to my drafts, my stories, as a different person each time I read the item. I can only assume my readers come to them differently as well. 

Why do I write? To go to unknown places. Places that may alleviate the hurt.

shortfiction24 – my shoe is on the roof

This week I reach deep into my own archives for a fun story about a girl who loses her shoe just before she is up for a class presentation. Enjoy the story.

By now I am coming up on just short of 90 free stories I have posted to the blog over the last three years. My motto is, I show up. I hope some of the stories have brought a smile, a memory, a few moments of escape to your lives. Thanks for reading.

My Shoe is on the Roof

Bob Gillen

When the bell ending lunch period rang, Becky Brockway and Maria Ruiz broke off from their soccer game. They took places at the very end of the class line.

“I wish the afternoon was over already,” Becky said. “I dread reading my Social Studies report to the class.”

Just then, Mrs. Spaulding, pointing across the yard, called out, “Who left a sweatshirt out on the field?”

Becky said, “Oops, that’s mine.”

“Go and get it,” Mrs. Spaulding said. “Hurry back and meet us in class. And take Maria with you.”

Becky and Maria raced across the yard while the class filed inside.

After Becky picked up her sweatshirt, she lagged behind Maria on the way back to class. She tied the arms of the sweatshirt together to shape it into a rough ball shape. She then kicked it all the way back to the one-story class building at the other side of the schoolyard.

“Come on, Becky,” Maria said. “We’ll be late.”

“That’s okay with me.” Not able to resist one last kick, she swung her leg hard. 

Something felt wrong. The sweatshirt lay in the grass a few feet further ahead.

Her right foot felt weird. She looked up to see her shoe flying through the air. It landed on the school roof.

Maria was already in the doorway. “Come on,” she called out.

Becky stood staring at the roof. She looked down at her foot. Then back up at the roof. A knot began to form in the pit of her stomach. She felt the blood rush out of her face.

Maria stepped back out from the doorway. She looked up at where Becky was staring. Then she looked down at the shoeless right foot. She laughed. Hard.

“What did you do?”

Becky pointed at the roof. “I lost my shoe.”

“Nice move,” Maria said. She was still laughing. “You can say goodbye to that good Social Studies grade.”

“Oh no!” Becky shouted. “My report! How am I going to read in front of the class? I’m doomed.”

Just then, Jason Arnold stuck his head out the door. “Mrs. Spaulding is waiting for you… She won’t start the class without you.”

“I can’t do this,” Becky said to Maria. “I can’t go back to class.”

“We have to go in. Come on. You can cover the missing shoe.”

“No. I know… I’ll go to the office and say I’m sick.”

“How are you going to get through the office without a shoe?” Maria asked.

“I’m ruined,” Becky moaned. “I have an F before I read the first word of my report.”

“Try my shoe on,” Maria suggested as she slipped one off.

Becky struggled to get the shoe on her foot. Even when she realized it was too small, she kept pulling. 

“Alright, alright!” Maria said. “Don’t ruin it. It isn’t your size.”

“What am I going to do? I’ll be so embarrassed in front of the class. Everyone will laugh at me.”

“Walk behind me,” Maria said. “Just get to your seat. You’ll figure something out.”

By now they were at the classroom door. Maria opened it slowly. Becky followed her in so closely she stepped on Maria’s heel twice.

“We’ve been waiting for you,” Mrs. Spaulding said.

Becky slid into her seat. “Sorry.”

“We’re ready now to begin the reports.”

Slumping down in her seat, Becky thought, I’m dead. There’s no way I can do this

“Jason, please read your report,” Mrs. Spaulding said.

Oh great, Becky thought. Alphabetical order. I’m next.

When Jason finished his report, Mrs. Spaulding left her desk and walked to the rear of the classroom. “That was excellent, Jason. Becky, would you step forward to read yours?”

Becky hobbled to the front of the room. She stood with her right foot on tiptoe.

From his seat in the front row, Jason noticed that Becky’s shoe was missing. Turning to make sure Mrs. Spaulding wasn’t looking his way, he stretched out his foot to step on Becky’s toes. Becky jumped, then stepped back away from him. She smiled weakly in Mrs. Spaulding’s direction and began to read.

Halfway through her report, her right foot cramped from the awkward pose. She had to put it flat on the floor. She read the second half of the report tilted to one side.

When she finished, she looked up. She felt like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

So far so good, she thought.

“Thank you, Becky,” Mrs. Spaulding said.

Becky went back up on tiptoe and started for her seat. Mrs. Spaulding motioned for her to stay in the front.

“Does anyone in the class have any questions for Becky?” Mrs. Spaulding began walking to the front of the room.

Becky felt what must have been a million eyes looking right at her. She knew her face was getting redder by the second. 

Jason’s hand went up.

“Yes, Jason?” Mrs. Spaulding said.

Jason had just a hint of a smirk on his face. “Shouldn’t she stand up straight when she does her presentation?”

By now Mrs. Spaulding was almost to the front of the classroom.

“Yes, I suppose proper posture would help,” she said. “But Becky did a fine job on her report.” She turned to Becky. “Your report was informative, well-researched, and interesting. You’ve shown a lot of improvement, Becky.”

Becky beamed. She couldn’t believe it. She likes my report!

Now Mrs. Spaulding reached her desk. She stopped, looked down at Becky’s foot. “Becky, why are you wearing only one shoe?”

Becky swallowed hard. Jason laughed out loud. The whole class shifted to look at Becky’s feet. Others began to laugh. Becky felt ready to die.

“Class, we don’t need any laughter. Becky, where is your shoe?”

“My shoe is on the roof,” she said in a voice just above a whisper.

“On the roof?” Mrs. Spaulding said.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“And when did this happen? Didn’t you have both shoes on at the end of lunch period?”

“I was practicing my soccer kick after I picked up my sweatshirt, and it slipped off my foot.”

There was a long silence. Becky stared at the floor.

Becky heard a giggle. She looked up to see Mrs. Spaulding beginning to laugh.

“Only you, Becky Brockway!” She turned to another student. “Ryan, you’re up next.”

As Becky hobbled back to her seat, Ryan whispered to Maria. “I’m going to mess up.”

Maria whispered back. “Take off a shoe. It worked for Becky.”

shortfiction24 – heaven ain’t all joy

A woman struggles in the afterlife as she grieves for the family she left behind.

This story came to me when I woke up this morning. It doesn’t get any fresher. I have often pondered the afterlife. Pure being. What does that mean?

Enjoy the short story!

Heaven Ain’t All Joy

Bob Gillen

I am so disappointed. There was no pearly gate. No St. Peter with a clipboard to welcome me. I’m here, for sure. It’s been maybe a month in your time. Here, there is no time. I measure it by watching my family. 

I miss my family so much. I ache for them. My dear husband Matt, who cared for me to the end. Ryan, my high school senior, set to graduate in a few months. He already has a black band he will wear with his cap and gown. Katy, my fifteen year old. She lives on the autism scale. I know they are grieving. I can see that. But it makes it even harder for me. I grieve them.

Breast cancer nailed me. Nailed me in my prime. A great job as a home health nurse. A schedule I could work around important family events. I was happy. And then, my annual mammogram. Downhill from there. 

So, I’m here. Not at all what I expected. I was so fearful of dying, of going to the afterlife. What would I do there? Sit around and feel joyful? Not my cup of tea. I don’t sit around. I move, I do things. And here I am, dealing with my own afterlife. 

They used to say, after death you are pure being. I am still grappling with that. Still not sure what I am feeling. One thing relieves me. I can see my family. Not too many other people. A few relatives and friends. But not everything going on back there. And not the future. I have no idea what the future will bring for my family. And I don’t appear to be able to influence their lives in any way. I can simply see them. Watch their routines, see the empty space where I should have been.

I miss them like crazy. It’s almost too hard to deal with. Is this some kind of purgatory? Do I have to deal with my own grief? And will it last until they’re all here with me again? I have no answers. And no one here has offered any help in that regard.

I met my parents. We talked. I found out it was not my mother who manipulated me away from my group of friends when we graduated from eighth grade, and pushed me towards a more desirable crowd. I guess I feel okay about that now. It’s like, being here, part of me doesn’t care.

I see people who died before me drift by. Relatives, friends, associates. Some merely nod. Some don’t appear to realize who I am. We don’t communicate in any way.

I saw JFK the other day. The other day, your time. He was smiling, talking to Marilyn Monroe. I did not see Jackie.

And I saw Gov. Dewey. Remember him? Thomas E. Dewey, declared the winner prematurely in the press in the presidential race, only to lose to Truman. My father worked for his law firm for a few summers when he was in high school. He passed Dewey in the hallway back then one day. He said, ‘Good morning, Governor.” Dewey replied, “Good morning, son.” My dad always talked aout that moment.

Okay, I’m saying it again. I miss my family. Are we supposed to grieve up here? I sure am. It hurts like hell. It’s like watching the people you love on television, but you can’t reach out to them.

Ryan plays basketball. A great team. He’s a starter. They have a chance at finals this year. I am so proud of him. Katy, with her autism, loves theater. She builds dioramas of stage sets. She has been constructing the stage set from Hamilton for months. Almost finished. She posts her progress and her completed sets to Instagram, where she has a strong following. A couple of local theater people have encouraged her to create a calendar from her images and sell it online. She’s not ready yet, but I think with Matt and Ryan helping her, she could do it. She has a neurological issue, has to wear earplugs for large, loud gatherings. We had attended mostly local theater, black box theater. Not so difficult for her. She wore her earplugs when we went to see Hamilton. They helped her through the performance without her missing out on the experience.

Matt, my dear Matt. I didn’t thank him enough for the care he gave me, for being at my side till the end. He supported the kids so well. I wanted cremation. They have not been able to decide where to scatter or bury my cremains. Matt wants our backyard. Katy says no, what if we ever moved. Ryan wants the beach, but it’s not legal and there is always someone at the beach who would spot us. As of now, I am in the living room on top of a bookcase. My guess is I will stay there. Okay with me. I’m here. That’s no longer me there. Only bone fragments. 

I am grieving. I said that already, didn’t I? Why? If this afterlife is supposed to be all harps and joy, I don’t get it. I talked about this with my hair stylist one day. She said she knew a medium who had the belief that the afterlife is a series of adjustments, learnings. You are constantly growing as you learn more about life in all its forms. Maybe she was right. I am certainly adjusting. If that is what they would call grief here. Not sure yet about the growing. 

There are people I want to meet here. So far I have not seen them. My eighth grade boyfriend Spin. One of the friends I lost when we all went off to different high schools. Spin, me, Patty, Frank. We were a tight group. I had periodically Googled them in the last few years, but I found no mention of them anywhere. Maybe it just takes time here. Wait, there is no time. I don’t know how to measure anything. 

Do I somehow have to be ready to meet them? Or, this just occurred to me, maybe some of them are not here yet. Duh! I made it to almost fifty. Young for hitting the afterlife. Yeah, most or all of them are probably not here yet. How would I find? Is there a registry? Is there a Google for the afterlife? Search for people who are here? The more I think about it, there are many people I know preceded me that I would like to connect with. I already meet my parents. But so far we have not discussed their earlier lives. I never knew how they met. Where they went to school. What secrets were buried with them. 

My maternal grandmother is here somewhere. She came over from Ireland as a young girl from County Waterford, passed through Ellis Island. Married, lost a husband and a son, remarried. I have not seen her yet. I’d love to know her story about immigrating to New York. I’ll watch for her.

My head is spinning. I have much to do, after all. Watch my family. Try to communicate with them (although that does not seem possible, at least not yet). Look for people here. Look for answers to questions that puzzled me all my life. Was there a conspiracy behind JFK’s murder? How did Marilyn Monroe really die? Yes, I was something of a true crime follower. Always fascinated by questions that had no obvious answers. A high school classmate who disappeared on prom night. Never found. Did she run away? Is she dead? I saw a story recently about a woman who was assumed dead, who turned up very much alive in Rio twenty years later. 

Well, that’s my story for now. I am grieving. Did not think that would happen here. I am struggling to find my way. No one has stepped forward to guide me. I may be on my own for this journey, this sojourn. Only time will tell. Except, there is no time here. 


shortfiction24 – voiced by a lesbian comic

Milo finds a new voice in a lesbian standup comic. Change doesn’t come easily.

I’ve mentioned before, some of my stories have turned into series. The characters keep talking to me. I don’t have a story or character arc planned out. The continuing stories arise as they do.

Milo lost his beloved Maurice on stage one night. He was abandoned to the floor of a dressing room closet. He had a few adventures, with Maurice’s spirit helping him out of tight spots.

He has now been thrown together by serendipity with standup comic Moneen. They start a life which may be brand new for each.

Voiced by a Lesbian Comic

Bob Gillen

Standup comic Moneen Quirk waved to the audience, grabbed her water bottle, and left the stage to a healthy round of applause. Backstage the club manager called her over. 

“You did good. I’d like to have you come back. Call me in a month or two, when I have a fresh audience.”

He paid Moneen in cash. “Don’t forget. Call me.”

Deeper backstage in the deserted dressing room, Moneen counted out the cash, stuffed it in her jeans pocket. She wiped makeup off her face, ran her hands through her hair to soften the gel in her spiked blond tips.

“Time to hit the road,” she said aloud.

She reached into the closet for her jacket. The hanger broke, the jacket landed on the floor atop a pile of makeup-stained towels. Moneen reached down and her hand struck something hard. She took out her jacket, reached back in to find a head. The head of a dummy. 

A ventriloquist’s dummy. 

She pulled out the dummy. “Hey buddy. Who are you? What are you doing here?”

Waiting for someone to find me, Milo thought.

Moneen set the dummy on the counter, grabbed a cotton wipe and dusted off its head and shoulders. 

She studied the dummy. “Hey, you look pretty spiffy. Navy pants, striped shirt. A continental look. Can’t imagine anyone leaving you here.”

Moneen smiled, dropped her voice. “I spent a year working a ventriloquist routine. Couldn’t make a go of it. Never found the right dummy.”

 She glanced around the empty room. “How would you like to take a road trip with me?”

Anything but this.

Moneen threw her backpack over her shoulder, tucked the dummy under her jacket, and dashed out the rear exit before anyone spotted her.

In the parking lot sat her white Chevy Silverado 1500 all-wheel drive pickup with a low profile camper in the back. She set the dummy in the passenger seat, climbed in, fired the engine and hit the road.

A few miles ahead she pulled in at a McDonald’s drive through, ordered a Quarter Pounder and a coffee to go. 

As she ate in the truck, she said, “My next gig is tomorrow night. A three-hour drive. How about you and I just ride, see if we can get comfortable with one another.”

I can do that.

Moneen settled in behind the wheel.

“One thing is non-negotiable, Milo. I love driving the night roads.” She reached for the radio. “I prefer good old rock when I drive at night. Anything with bass, and lyrics that touch me…you must enjoy feeling the fresh night air, buddy. Been a long time, huh?”

Amen to that.

Moneen reached over to stroke Milo’s head. “Here we go.”

An hour down the road Moneen spoke. “Hey, buddy, I am so sorry. I haven’t introduced myself. Name is Moneen. Full name Moneen Felicity Quirk. I’m a standup comic. Travel mostly the northeast US, sometimes Montreal when the weather is warm. I live on the road six to eight months a year. This truck is my home. Wifi and internet is my lifeline.

“In the morning I’ll google you, see if I can find out what happened. At least I can find your name.”

My name is Milo. I can’t tell you that because I can’t speak without someone else’s voice. But I have feelings. They’re locked inside.

The wonderful silence of nights on the road fell over them.

After three hours they pulled off the road into a free camp site. Moneen turned the music off. “Have to move quietly in here, or they’ll toss me. We can sleep here. Clean restrooms and good showers.”

The two moved to the camper shell. 

“You can bed in here with me. Hope I don’t embarrass you. Don’t know if I snore. Been a while since I was with anyone.” 

Moneen set the dummy on a seating ledge, then nestled into a sleeping bag on her bunk.

“This is my life most nights. You’d think I can’t come up with any comic material living a boring life. But the humor is here. Gotta look for it, listen for it. I usually take the deep winter months off. Otherwise I play colleges and towns big enough for snow clearance to be a priority.”

In the morning, shortly before noon, Moneen stirred. “Morning, buddy. Let me hit the showers, then we can talk.”

Half an hour later Moneen searched the Internet for clues to what happened to the dummy. 

“Aha. You worked an act with Maurice. He died on stage at the club we just left. Almost two years ago. They left you there…your name is Milo, right?”


“Milo, I know you must have been close with Maurice before he died. I hope I can be a friend too.”


“I have an idea. We don’t know one another yet. I can’t pretend to be your voice. How about this? My next few gigs you can sit in the wings. Absorb my act, how I connect with audiences. After a while, you can come on stage with me. Remain silent for a bit if you’re not ready. When you are, we’ll try out an act.”


“And we’ll spend time on the road getting to know one another. That will help.” 

Better than sitting in a closet.

“You know, I started my career as a ventriloquist’s assistant. Worked my way up to ventriloquist for a short time, but I transitioned over to standup and never looked back.”

Moneen put on a jacket. She ran her hand over the dummy’s control mechanism. 

That feels good.

“Let’s go for a walk. We can talk for a bit.”

The two set out on a path that led to a small lake.

“I should tell you something. I’m a lesbian. Part of the LGBTQ community. I hope that doesn’t put you off. Being voiced by a lesbian.”

Milo spoke through Moneen. “I don’t do well with change. I guess it would be okay.”

“Ah, there’s your voice. Okay, we’ll try it. Might work. A lesbian standup comic voicing a straight dummy.”

They walked for an hour, tentative voices exploring one another’s personalities. As they approached the camper, Moneen said, “I am really slow on the uptake. Milo, you must be feeling a lot of pain. Losing your partner suddenly, in the middle of the act. In front of an audience.”

“It hurts like hell. We were together for a long time. Maurice’s wife divorced him. Said he talked to me more than to her. I was his best friend.”

“Alright, let’s hit the road. There’s a good diner near the next venue. Early dinner, and then we can scope the audience before we go on.”

That night Moneen set Milo on a chair in the club’s wings. She ran through most of her routine to a strong audience reaction.

Moneen glanced over at Milo. Nodded. Turned to the audience.

“Hey, you guys have been great. Before I finish I want to introduce a friend to you all.” She walked over, set Milo on her arm, and brought him out on stage. The audience stared.

“This is Milo. A new friend. I rescued him from the bottom of a closet.”

She had Milo face the audience. “He’s kinda shy.”

“Not shy,” Milo said. “Never been voiced by a lesbian before.”

The audience hooted and clapped.

“Okay, maybe not so shy. A new world for both of us. I worked a ventriloquist act a few years back. My dummies were all gay.”

Moneen unbuttoned the denim overshirt she wore, to reveal a white tee shirt with large bold letters that read: The Future is Female Ejaculation.

The audience erupted. A woman down front yelled, “I hear you, sister!” In the rear another woman stood, shouted, “You rock!”

Moneen sucked in the audience reaction. 

Milo spoke, “I’m a straight guy. This is all new to me.”

“Uh oh,” Moneen said, “I think I embarrassed you.”

Later, sitting in her truck, Milo balancing on her knee, Moneen said, “I owe you an apology. Too much too soon.”

“I told you, I don’t handle change well.”

“Milo, would you consider a costume change? Would you be more comfortable in a different outfit?”

Milo turned to glare at Moneen. “Okay, so we had an awkward moment, and already you want to change me. I’ve worn this outfit for years. Been this character since I can remember.”

“No, no. Just a thought. If you would be more comfortable…”

“I don’t want to talk about this.”

The two lapsed into silence. Moneen whispered, “I’m sorry. I don’t do change well either.”

Milo did not answer.

Moneen set Milo in the passenger seat, pulled out onto the highway.

“No gigs till the weekend,” she said. 

They drove in silence for hours. At the next campground, they tucked in for the night.

In the morning, Moneen drove to a pancake house for takeout. In the camper, she said, “If I said again I was sorry, would you hear my voice?”

She reached for Milo’s controls. Silence.

Moneen laughed. Milo turned to stare at her.

“I had a crazy thought. We could dress you in a monk’s robe. You could hold a jar of jam. You have a vow of silence. You never speak onstage.”

Milo snickered. 

“Aha, you’re hearing me.”

Milo said, “I’m this guy. I won’t change. Don’t try to make me something I’m not.”

Moneen nodded. “And I won’t change either.”

Milo said, “A straight and a queer. We can make it work.” He blurted out, “Okay, if one of us has to change, how about I take on a James Dean look? Jeans, white tee, cowboy boots, slicked back hair.”

Moneen laughed. “Yeah. Jett Rink from Giant.”

Milo reached over, hugged Moneen. “A straight and a queer with the same sense of humor.”


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