Healing through story

Category: storytelling (Page 2 of 23)

shortfiction24 – Ashley plans for her transition

Searching for a college is a daunting task for Ashley. A poor GPA and an upcoming gender transition narrow her choices dramatically.

College night at her high school is a bleak experience until she meets an unlikely possibility.

Ashley Plans For Her Transition

Bob Gillen

Megan pulled her Prius into a spot in the school’s lot.

“College night, Ashley. Seniors rule.” She killed the engine.

“Let’s wait a minute.”

“Yeah? What’s up?”

“I’m nervous.”

“No worries, Ashley.”

“Easy for you to say. You got your pick of almost any college in the US, with your GPA. Me, I could double my GPA and not come close.”

“Remember what our counselor said. There’s a school for everyone.”

Ashley shrugged. “I have to limit my search to schools in fifteen states, the fifteen that are LGBTQ-accommodating.”

Megan punched Ashley on the arm, slid out of the car. “Come on. Let’s find our schools.”

Inside Ashley followed Megan to the Duke table. Out of her league. Ashley left Megan there and walked the aisles. She found herself getting discouraged quickly. A number of the smaller colleges were in states Ashley would avoid.

Ashley wandered to the rear of the room. Her classmates crowded the UC system table. At the end of the row, Ashley spied a table with a banner that read: Vancouver. Discover Canada. The rep behind the table was reading what looked like a well-worn paperback copy of Kerouac’s On the Road. She looked up as Ashley approached the table.

“Hi. Can I help you?”

The rep had black curly hair to her shoulders. She wore a simple black dress, a necklace with a turtle hanging down.

“If you take students with a 2.6 GPA.” Ashley managed a weak smile.

The rep wobbled her head for a moment. “That might be doable. Talk to me. What are you interested in?”

“Wildlife conservation.”

The rep nodded. “My name is Jennifer. You are?”

“Ashley. Hi. Glad to meet you.”

“I represent three different colleges in Vancouver.”

“I didn’t know we had Canadian options.”

“We welcome international students…and yes, America is considered international for us.”

Ashley fingered her list. 

“I see you prepared for tonight. Mind if I see your list?”

Ashley handed Jennifer the list. 

Jennifer glanced at the items on the list. She nodded.

“I know this list. States favorable to LGBTQ, right?”

Ashley felt her face redden. She nodded.

“You can add Vancouver to your list.”


Jennifer glanced around. “You know what, I think it’s snack time. Will you watch my table for a moment while I get coffee?”


“What can I get you?”

“Coffee…black. Maybe a brownie bite?”

“Done. Be right back.”

Ashley looked around the room. There was a soundtrack of dozens of voices, all animated, excited. A big moment for many of the seniors. Searching for their leap into the future.

Jennifer returned, juggling two drinks and a plate of snacks. She grabbed an empty chair and set it beside her. “Come. Sit with me. I think we have a lot to talk about.”

Ashley slid behind the table, grabbed a snack.

Jennifer sipped her drink. “Let me start by saying the colleges I represent tonight do not offer much, if anything, in wildlife conservation. Can I ask what appeals to you about that career?”

Ashley shrugged. “I’ve always liked animals. I don’t have the grades to go for a veterinarian degree.”

Jennifer peered at Ashley. “What really appeals to you about wildlife conservation?”

Ashley sipped her coffee. She looked directly at Jennifer. “It looks like a quiet way to make a living.”

“Quiet how?”

Ashley took a breath. “Away from a lot of harassment.”

Jennifer smiled. 

Ashley found herself spilling to someone she just met.

“I’m trans. My parents are giving me a breast reduction surgery as a graduation gift. Once I get out of here I’ll change my name to Asher. And I need a school in an LGBTQ-accommodating state.”

Jennifer smiled. “I’m trans too. Made my transition five years ago.”

Ashley stared open-mouthed. “Wow. you fooled me.”

“Yeah, the docs did a good job.”

Ashley brought the conversation back to its purpose. “Your schools don’t have a wildlife conservation program.”

“We don’t. The bigger schools in Vancouver do, but honestly, I don’t think they would look at you with your GPA.”

Ashley nodded.

“Let me ask you this. Would you consider a different major if it suited your lifestyle?”

“Like what?”

“Film and television, for example.”

Ashley frowned. “Never thought of it, but the work involves lots of people, right?”

“If you mean, a lot of people collaborating on projects, yes.”

“I don’t know…”

“One of the schools I represent is Columbia College. It has a strong media program. Film, television. Good internships. Are you aware they are calling Vancouver Hollywood North?”

Ashley shook her head.

“Tons of film and television production going on. Plenty of jobs and internships.”

“I don’t know…”

“You certainly don’t have to decide tonight.”

Ashley picked up her list from the table.

“Before you go… have you considered a gap year?”

Ashley squinted. “How would I do that?”

“If I am getting too personal here, stop me. You said you’ll have surgery as soon as you graduate.”


Just then two classmates stopped at the table. One said, “Ashley, are you already a college admissions rep?”

“I’m repping for our high schools. You two morons want to repeat senior year? Lots of perks.”

The two laughed and moved on.

Jennifer continued, “With a gap year you can manage your transition more effectively. Take the summer to recover, and start your transition. Columbia College will admit you as a delayed admission. You may have access to student housing. I would have to look into that. I should add, Vancouver is an expensive city to live in. Rent and housing are among the highest in Canada.” 

She sipped her coffee. “With your admission and initial leave of absence, you can get an entry level job in film right away. I told you, Vancouver is quite LGBTQ-friendly. You can explore the city, find groups that will support your transition. And with the job you will have insurance. That may pay for at least some of your hormone therapy.”

“This is too amazing to be true.”

“All true. After a year you can decide if you want to continue with Columbia. You will be admitted as a full-time international student.”

Ashley said, “That’s a lot to think about.”

Jennifer handed Ashley a business card. “My phone is here. Call or text anytime.”

Back out in the parking lot Ashley met up with Megan. “Duke, here I come,” Megan said. I can get early admission if I want.”


“How did you do?”

Ashley pulled her list from her pocket, ripped it in shreds.

“Fuck the US. I can go to Canada. Take a gap year and work in film and television while I manage my transition, then attend Columbia College. As an international student.”

Megan stared at Ashley for a moment. Broke into a grin. Hugged Ashley hard.

“Friends forever.”

Ashley’s phone chirped. A message from Jennifer. So happy to meet you tonight. Call if you need more info or just want to talk.

Ashley texted back. Thanks! I’ll be in touch soon. I already feel safe about my future.

Jennifer replied. Safer, yes. But safety will remain elusive. We are always vulnerable.


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.”


shortfiction24 – no more regrets

Finn’s day turns around when he meets a deep sea fisherman on Artie’s bait barge.

Today’s story is an homage to Steinbeck and Hemingway, characters very loosely based on characters from the two American authors: Steinbeck’s Doc and Hemingway’s Santiago.

Enjoy the story!

No More Regrets

Bob Gillen

Finn eased his nineteen foot Boston Whaler against the side of Artie’s bait barge. He tied off bow and stern, hoisted a battered cooler onto the deck.

“Whadya got for me today, Finn?” Artie called out.


“Your timing is perfect. I got a couple guys looking for them.”

Finn lifted a basket to the deck. “Mussels too.”

“Always in demand.”

Artie carried the cooler and basket into the shack that sat in the center of the barge. Outside, next to the door, stood a rusted Coca-Cola ice chest. Artie pointed to it. “Grab a beer, Finn. On me.”

Finn pulled a can of Miller Lite from the Coke cooler.

“How’s business, Artie?”

“Can’t complain. Been out here for twelve years now, and every year gets a little better. The season is already slowing down for winter, though.”

Finn sat on a bench and sipped his beer. He watched the boats come and go along the channel near the barge. Artie had moored his barge near the outlet of the bay, where bay meets ocean. Lots of traffic. He had a large sign on the barge: Artie’s Bait. Snacks. No Gas.

Finn turned when he heard a quiet rumble from the other side of the barge. A Bertram42 fishing boat pulled alongside the barge. One man behind the wheel. Finn got up and wrapped the man’s lines around cleats.

“Thanks.” A man, looking to be about seventy, khaki shorts, white tee stepped onto the barge. Artie came over while Finn went back to sitting on the bench. 

“I got your squid, Skip.”


“I’ll transfer them to your boat. Grab a beer and join Finn for a minute.”

Skip pulled a can of Coke from the cooler. He sat next to Finn. 

“I’m Skip.”


Skip hoisted his Coke. “Need my wits. Beer can wait for the trip home.”

“Where you headed? That’s a beautiful boat you got there.”

“Brought her up from North Carolina twenty years ago. Six hundred horses under the deck. Her name is Marlina. My wife was Lina. My passion is marlin fishing.”

“Any luck with the fishing?”

Skip shook his head. “Not lately. Haven’t caught anything worth talking about all summer. This will be my last run before I haul her out for the winter.”

“Going out alone?”

“No choice. My usual buddies are all busy.”

Artie stepped over. “I got them in your cooler.”

“Gotcha. Thanks Artie.”

A small skiff pulled up to the barge. The front of the boat was loaded with seaweed-covered crab traps. A boy held the boat while a girl hopped out. “We need a bucket of fish parts for our crab traps.”

Artie handed her a bucket, she paid, and they left.

“You a fisherman?” Skip asked.

“I am, but exactly the opposite of what you do. I collect marine specimens from tidal pools. Sell them to universities, mostly in the Midwest.”

“They got no ocean there, huh.”


“Hey, here’s a thought.” Skip said. “How about coming out with me?”


“Why not. I’ll be two nights at the most. I got her stocked with food and snacks. You can see the other side of marine life. Large scale. I’m going for swordfish.”

“That’s tempting, Skip. But no. I’ve got orders I need to fill right away. And low tide will hit in a couple of hours.”

“Low tide comes twice a day, every day. Just sayin’.”

“Gotta keep the clients happy.”

Skip pointed his Coke can at Finn. “I’d offer a raincheck, but not sure I can deliver on that.”

“There’s always next year.”

Skip said nothing.

They sat in silence for a few minutes.

Skip cleared his throat. “I got surgery waiting for me. First week in October.”

“Anything major?”

Skip pointed to his stomach. “A tumor in my gut. Size of a tennis ball. My doc says it’s benign. They won’t know for sure till they remove it.”

“Yeah, that’s major.” Finn sipped his beer.

“They tell me up to five hours on the table, then a week in the hospital…and a few months recovering at home.”

“No heavy lifting, right?”

“You got it.”

Artie stepped over.

“Skip, I don’t like you going out alone.”

“No worries, Artie. I’ll keep within five miles.”

“That’s five miles too far for you.”

Another small boat pulled up to the barge. Artie stepped over to help them.

Skip took a swig of his Coke, retched, ran to the edge of the barge. He heaved into the water.

When he came back to the bench, wiping his mouth and chin, Finn said in almost a whisper, “The tumor is malignant, isn’t it.”

Skip said nothing.

“I’ve seen it before,” Finn said. “A neighbor…it didn’t go well.”

Skip stared out across the bay. “Today is my last run. Period. Even if they get it all, I won’t be able to do any heavy lifting…including fishing for the big ones.”

“That’s gotta hurt.”

“You have no idea.”

The two sat in silence for a time.

“You sure you don’t want to go out with me.”

Finn shook his head. “Orders.”

“Can’t that university in Nebraska wait one more day for their starfish?”

Finn shook his head. “And I don’t have a change of clothes with me.”

“Who needs clean clothes? We’re fishing.”

Finn shook his head.

“You know,” Skip said. “I used to have a long bucket list. Just one item now. Take Marlina out one last time. Bring in a big fish.”

“I never had a bucket list,” Finn said. “Always took it one day at a time.”

“No dreams? No goals?”

Finn hesitated. “I have a short list of regrets. Things I wish I had seen or done.”

“Like what?”

Finn drained his beer, crushed the can in his fist. “I met a French girl once, back in 2012. We were at a TED talk. Kinda hit it off. She invited me to spend a week in Paris with her.”

“That sounds seriously cool.”

“Yeah. It started out that way. My last night in Paris, I planned to spend it with her. But she wanted to go out to a jazz club with friends. I got pissy, begged off, stayed home. She went out anyway.”

“A party girl.”

“Doesn’t matter. I don’t regret not seeing her after that. But I do regret missing the jam session They went to that night  at Le Duc des Lombards cafe when they recorded ‘The A, B, C and D of Boogie Woogie.’ Charlie Watts from the Stones, he was the drummer.”

“Don’t know that album.”

“I play it every time I have my head up my ass. Sets me straight.”

The conversation trailed off.

Skip got up. “My fish is waiting.”

He climbed aboard and started the engine. 

Finn got up too. His eyes raked stem to stern over the Bertram. He walked into the shack.

A moment later he came out, took another beer from the cooler. He hopped into the Bertram. “I’m going with you.”

Skip grinned. “No regrets?”

Finn untied the lines and pushed off from the barge. “Artie will watch my boat. The Midwest can wait on its starfish. There’s a swordfish out there to scratch off your bucket list. And my regrets list.”


shortfiction24 – a soldier’s wife

Agnes Morissey comes home to an empty house, with her husband away at basic training. No amount of prayer and pleading had kept him out of the draft.

She has held back some of her letters. He has enough to deal with without her passing on her own frustration.

A Soldier’s Wife

Bob Gillen

The midday Spring sun failed to light the dim interior of the old Manhattan church. A half dozen women were scattered about in the pews, all in deeply private prayer. All begged for the same thing: bring my husband, my son, my brother home safely from the war.

At the front of the church a wide rack of lit prayer candles cast a glow on the face of one woman kneeling in the first row. Dressed in black, with a black scarf pinned to the top of her head, Agnes Morrisey cast her eyes up on the statue of Mary looming over the candle rack. Her fingers moved silently over the beads on her rosary. Our Father. Hail Mary. Hail Mary.

A woman with a long scarf draped over her head stepped up to light a prayer candle. She nodded to Agnes. Peggy Gaffney. Her husband Vic had been discharged a week ago, in the hospital with a wound that paralyzed his left side.

Agnes finished her prayer, sat back in the pew. Opening her purse quietly, she removed an envelope thick with note papers. A large X slashed the address. These were letters she could never send Patrick. He had enough to deal with. 

She selected the top letter, read it to herself.

Dear sweetheart,

Easter is almost over and I’m so glad! Everybody kept telling me how much they missed you today, but nobody missed you as much as I do. It’s so lonely here with you gone, coming home to an empty house. Willie drove me home from mother’s house, so I didn’t have to take the trolley.

Our son Christopher has no patience and gets angry easily. The other day he slapped me in the face. I slapped him back but not in the face, of course.

Agnes paused, listened. So quiet you could almost hear the hot wax melting down the lit candles.

These letters reeked of disappointment, sadness. Even failure. Patrick could never see them. It would make his situation even harder to endure. Agnes worked hard, usually got  exactly what she wanted. Letters to the local Selective Service members. Calls to their homes in the evenings. Manhattan’s west side  was run by ward captains. She knew theirs well enough to feel confident asking for a postponement or even reversal of Patrick’s selection. Nothing worked.

She looked at another letter. 

Everyone I meet from the neighborhood says, What a shame a nice quiet fellow like you couldn’t be allowed to stay home with his family. I agree, of course, but all I can do is nod and smile.

I am trying to toilet train Christopher. I sat him on the toidy three times this morning. I tried for twenty minutes again right after lunch, but no luck. I took him off and he ran inside without any pants on, and hid behind the bed. I went to get clean pants for him and when I came back, he had left his calling cards from the bed to the bathroom, to say nothing of his legs and shoes and stockings. Was I mad!

In another letter:

Patrick’s a great guy, everyone says. Do anything for anyone. But there is no fight in you, is there. Willie thinks you should be okay, with your occupation as purchasing agent. Maybe be based here in the States somewhere.

Has basic training toughened you in any way? You’ll probably come home and be taking over. 

No, I can’t tell him that.

A woman slipped into the pew next to Agnes. She slid the letters onto the pew out of sight.

“Betty,” she whispered. “I haven’t seen you in ages.”

“Hi Agnes. I heard Patrick was called up. How is he doing?”

“He seems to be all right. Still in basic training. I hear from him almost every day.”

“Good. And how is little Christopher? He must be almost two by now.”

“Eighteen months…And how is Joe?”

Betty turned away.

Agnes gripped Betty’s hand.

“He was killed overseas last September. In Italy.”

Agnes felt redness creep up her face. “Oh no. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”

“I’ve been staying downtown with my mother. I’m all right. We didn’t have any children. That makes it easier to start fresh.”

“Oh Betty.”

“I better be going. My mom is outside.”

Betty left Agnes alone again in the pew.

How did I not know Joe died?

Later as Agnes climbed the stoop to her building, anxious to see Christopher, a voice called to her. She turned to see a man in a Western Union uniform. “I have a telegram. Do you live in apartment 201?”

Agnes froze, gripped the rail with both hands. She slipped down to sit on the steps. Not now. He hasn’t even finished basic training. She reached for the telegram, tore it open. Tears poured down her face. 

The Western Union man touched his cap. “Ma’am.” He walked away.

Agnes’s tears dripped on the edge of the telegram, fell down on her skirt.

Tears of joy.


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