Healing through story

Category: storytelling (Page 2 of 27)

shortfiction24 – hot wings, hot words

Trust is everything. Brian’s lack of trust (read, stupidity) threatens to destroy his relationship with Erin.

This story started as a prompt almost a year ago. It has evolved a long way from my first draft. Please enjoy the story. I hope you like the characters.

Hot Wings, Hot Words

Bob Gillen

Brian tossed his phone face up on the bar table. “Shit! She’s still not picking up.”

Coming up on midnight on a Monday. Brian slid off his stool. “Who wants to go in on a double order of Nashville wings?” He pointed at Dina and Scott as they sipped their beers.

“I’m in, my man,” Scott said, hoisting his longneck.

“Not me,” Dina said. “Morning will come too soon. I need to leave in a few.”

Brian stepped away to put his order in with the bartender.

Dina turned to Scott. “He’s getting desperate, isn’t he?”

Scott nodded. “He wants her to be the one.”

Brian returned to the table. “Food’s up in a few.” He glanced at his phone. “I don’t get it. Erin isn’t answering my texts. Nothing. She said she’d be here tonight.”

A long moment of silence. 

‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ came up on the bar’s blues sound track.

A server set a plate of Nashville wings, a bowl of white sauce and a stack of napkins on the table.

“Pure heaven,” Scott said, grabbing three wings. “Hot wings, hot company.”

Dina grimaced.

Brian glanced again at his phone. A frown creased his face. “Is she dumping me?”

Dina said, “Brian, come on. Maybe Erin got caught up in a family emergency.”

“Huh?”

“Stop looking at your phone. She’ll answer when she can.”

Scott motioned to Dina. “Try the wings.”

Dina rubbed a finger on a crispy wing, touched it to her lips. She shook her head. “Too hot for me.”

“More for me,” Scott said with a smile. He began piling bones on a napkin.

Brian stared at his phone.

“We have plans to go to Venice tomorrow. Walk the beach. Get some tacos.”

He took one bite of a wing, smearing sauce on his face. Carrying the wing, he got up, strode to the front door. He stepped outside, looked up and down the sidewalk.

“Man, I’ve never seen him so manic,” Scott said. “Someone has to talk him down.”

“Leave me out of this,” Dina said. 

Brian came back to the table, still holding the wing. “This sucks. Where is she that she won’t answer me?” He took a long pull on his beer with his free hand. 

The bar’s sound system thumped out ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine.’

“Love this song,” Scott said as he wiped grease off his fingers. “Got an awesome bottom to it.”

“Dude, you’re a bottom feeder,” Dina said.

“Proud of it,” Scott replied, taking a swig of his beer.

Brian’s phone chirped. He dropped the half-eaten wing on the table and wiped his hand on his jeans as he snatched up the phone. 

“Yeah?”

Brian listened for a moment. “Thanks, buddy.”

He set the phone down.

“That was Josh. He’s walking home past the new club over on Melrose.”

Brian stood, shoved the plate of wings aside. 

“He spotted Erin coming out of there with a tall guy in a dark suit. He said she’s all dressed up.”

B. B. King’s ‘The Thrill Is Gone’ came up on the sound system.

“She lied to me,” Brian said. He flipped a middle finger at the phone. “She lied. She said she’d be here tonight.”

Scott and Dina exchanged worried glances.

“Enough with her bullshit,” Brian said.

He pounded out a text message on his phone, hit Send.

Dina put her hand on Brian’s arm. “What did you just do?”

“I told her off.” He slammed his phone down on the table.

“Not a good move, Bri,” she said.

Brian slammed his hand on the tabletop. “She lied.”

Dina raised her eyes to the bar’s door. Squinted. “I think I need to go.”

She slipped off her stool. Took a last gulp of her beer.

Scott continued chewing the wings, adding to the pile of bones in front of him. Dina caught his eye, directed his glance to the door.

His eyes popped wide. He jumped up, fisted two more wings, and followed Dina to the door. “See ya, buddy.”

“Where are you guys going?”

They were gone.

Brian sagged, grabbed for a wing, dropped it on the floor.

He stooped to pick  up the stray wing. A pair of white sneakers spattered with red moved in front of the wing, blocking Brian’s grip. He looked up.

Erin glowered down at Brian. She stepped up next to him, waving her phone in his face. “I just got your text!”

“Wait, I thought you were clubbing with some guy.” He stood quickly, bumping his shoulder on the table’s edge.

“Where did you hear that?”

“Josh saw you.”

She pointed to his phone. “You took the word of your drunken buddy over mine?”

“He said he saw you.”

“Whoever he saw, it wasn’t me.”

Brian’s shoulders sagged with relief.  “Oh.” He attempted a smile. “I guess you can ignore my text, then. Sorry.”

Sorry? Ignore your lack of trust?”

Panic flashed in his eyes. He combed his fingers through his hair. “Where’ve you been all night?”

 “I got called in to the ER. They had five gunshot victims and they needed more trauma nurses.”

“Oh.”

“I didn’t have time to text you. It was a nightmare. We lost two. The other three will probably wish they didn’t make it.” A single tear inched down her cheek. “After what I saw tonight, I hoped for a warm hug.”

Brian looked over toward the bar.

“Can I get you a beer?”

Her head shook. “Are you serious?”

Brian shrugged. Reached for a wing. Dropped it back on the plate.

Erin shoved her phone in her jeans pocket. “You expect me to sit here and drink with you?”

Brian nodded weakly. His eyes could not meet hers.

She lifted one foot. “Did you not see the blood on my sneakers? I spent the last six hours piecing people back together. I am damn good at it. The ER docs and the trauma surgeons trust me. The patients trust me…But you? Zero trust.”

A quiet fury flamed in her eyes. She gritted her teeth to hold back tears.

“You…after a year of seeing each other…you don’t trust me.”

Brian’s cheeks burned red.

Erin pointed to her chin. “Take a good look. This is the last time you’ll see my face. Asshole.”

She turned to walk out. Stopped and pivoted.

“Wait. This is my bar. I introduced you to this place. I want you to leave.”

She waved to the bartender. “Joe, vodka rocks…please.”

Brian stood motionless. 

“I’m serious, Brian. Move your ass.” She waved her thumb towards the door.

She pulled over a stool. “And leave the wings.”

***

shortfiction24 – peter’s heavenly holiday

Peter enjoys a brief break from his gatekeeper duties. But long lines of souls pile up at the gates.

I enjoyed an exercise of “what if” speculation for this story. I hope you enjoy it as well.

Peter’s Heavenly Holiday

Bob Gillen

It’s a known fact that St. Peter guards the gates of Heaven. Well, perhaps guard isn’t the right word. More like monitors or oversees. No one is ever turned away.

What is little known is Peter has a crew that helps him admit souls to Heaven. On a normal day Peter can handle the admissions well enough. But normal days are relatively rare these days. The earth’s population has grown exponentially, and the world continually suffers with death-dealing events.

Peter’s crew are individual souls who are earning their way into full joy and eternal bliss. Despite common belief, there is no Purgatory or Hell. The afterlife is only Heaven. But within Heaven there are levels of bliss. Most souls need to atone for something to earn higher levels of joy.

Peter has been at the gates for two thousand years, in earthly time. Ever since shortly after Jesus told him he was the rock on which Jesus’s church would be set. While there’s no measurement for time in the spirit world, Peter would tell you he’s been on the job for a long time. He doesn’t remember who had the job before him. Not important, anyway.

So, here’s Peter, standing at the gates 24/7. For two thousand years. Even spirits get tired. Peter’s second in command, Calvin, is earning his way to full bliss in Heaven. Calvin approached Peter.

“We got advanced notice. There’s going to be a massive earthquake tomorrow on earth. Many thousands of souls will be lining up at the gates. All at once.”

Peter groaned. “It never stops, does it?”

“Billions of people down there. Earth’s population keeps growing.”

“I’m tired,” Peter said.

“Want a break? I can take over while it’s quiet.”

Peter nodded. “See you in a few.”

Peter smiled, moved off.

He wandered through sections of Heaven. First he passed the many souls enjoying full eternal bliss. Everyone entering Heaven got to see these souls first. Kind of a teaser. This is what you will enjoy when you have grown into it, earned a path to it.

Farther, deeper, into the folds of Heaven, he came upon the area reserved for those who have a long way to go before experiencing full joy. This was Heaven’s back forty. A dark aura pervaded. In earthly terms one would experience dark purple clouds, even an occasional flash of lightning. An area Peter took no joy in visiting. Hitler’s spirit resided here. So did the spirits of the clergy who had abused children. In one small corner were the spirits of several deceased American politicians, people who had boldly displayed willful ignorance in their years allegedly serving their constituents.

Peter moved on quickly. He found himself in a part of Heaven he wished he could spend all his time in. He enjoyed music. There wasn’t much one could call music when he was working on earth so many years ago. He had seen many musicians pass through the gates in his time as gatekeeper. He marveled at what they could do with instruments and voice. Here, too, were the spirits of children. School children. Children murdered by shooters in their own classrooms.

Peter smiled. Freddy Mercury, Janis Joplin, Loretta Lynn and Charlie Watts entertained this group of children. Actually, referring to them as children was a point of discussion. Was there any age distinction in Heaven? Were all spirits the same level of spirit regardless of their ages on earth? 

Peter has had this discussion with Calvin many times. With no definitive answer. Peter believed all souls would be equal when the last of times occurred.

The four musicians Peter knew well. They were in various stages of their own personal transitions into full joy. They provided joy for the children’s spirits until their parents and friends passed and joined them in Heaven. Peter lingered for a time, watching the musician spirits bring joy to the younger souls.

Peter had recently yearned to go back to earth for a visit, to attend a Springsteen concert. “Hungry Heart” was a favorite. But Peter had no time for that kind of activity.

He crossed to the section where well-known authors tended to gather. Hemingway, Sontag, Steinbeck, Seuss, Bradbury, Silverstein. Here, too, the creative process amazed him. Making scenes come to life with words. Many children’s souls lingered here, as the authors told stories of adventure and drama.

“Peter!”

The voice of Calvin.

“It’s time. Incoming.”

Peter sighed. Back to the gates.

There would be a day, he knew not when, when life on earth came to an end. Then no more souls would cross through the gates. His duties would be done. For the moment, however, souls kept coming.

Peter glanced at the children. Sighed. “I’ll be right back, Calvin.” 

***

shortfiction24 – small-town betty

The local shortline railroad that ran through Betty’s town made a sharp curve within inches of her house. For over sixty years, Betty lived with this oddity. Even with offers to relocate her home, Betty refused to leave.

Enjoy the story.

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Small-town Betty

Bob Gillen

Betty Thorndyke has lived in her quaint, gingerbread-edged home for over sixty years. Her husband Charley, gone nine years, had built the house as soon as Betty accepted his proposal. Charley worked at Jaxon Industries, the local factory at the west end of their town. He loved the work, and thrived on having no land to cultivate, not even a lawn to cut or a shrub to trim. When Charley was not working, he was on the front porch with a can of beer in his hand.

Main Street in their little town spanned a mile-long stretch extending from Jaxon Industries at the town’s west end to Charley and Betty’s home, the last house on the east end. A short-line railroad served the factory and half a dozen other factories in the area.

Unlike many other rural main streets, this one had every shop occupied. Occupied and thriving. A hardware store, two grocery stores, a barber and a hair stylist, a diner. A strong local economy, thanks to the town’s factory, Jaxon Industries, which employed a number of residents from the town and the surrounding county. 

Every morning, Monday through Friday, a diesel locomotive pushed two empty box cars down the track in the middle of Main Street to the factory’s loading dock. The engine then coupled to one or two box cars loaded with Jaxon product to ship out. The engine pulled the cars back up Main Street, turned north around Betty’s house, and headed for the other factories. Twenty miles up the line the engine set out the loaded cars to be picked up by a mainline railroad.

The rail curve from Main Street around Betty’s home was sharp, the trains passing within a foot of the house. Any stranger to the town stood in amazement watching the train navigate the curve.

Betty and her husband Charley had lived in the house since they were married sixty years ago. The railroad track was there first. Charley bought the property because it was so cheap. Who would want a house so close to a railroad track? For Charley and his new bride it was not an issue. The train passed only in the morning, only Monday to Friday, only moving at slow speeds. 

Now long retired from her earlier career as a nurse, with Charley gone nine years ago, Betty sat on her front porch and waved to Benny the engineer each time he passed. Benny drove a re-built SW1200 diesel belonging to Forward Rail, the shortline servicing the area. It was a small diesel by railroad standards, but a monster when passing within a foot of someone’s front porch. The diesel’s shorter wheelbase and minimum turning radius made it an ideal choice for the town and the curve around Betty’s house. 

In the summer months, with schools closed, Forward Rail had two men, one on each side, walk Main Street with the train to keep the local kids from climbing on the box cars. That, after one boy slipped and lost a foot under the train.

David Bauer, CEO of Jaxon Industries, was a decent employer. He paid his people well enough, considering he was the only game in town. But Bauer was a business owner interested in making profits. And additional profits were proving elusive. Bauer’s business had grown strong enough that he could ship more product. And in turn he could offer more jobs for the town. But that would require larger, longer box cars. And those cars would not tolerate the sharp curve around Betty’s house. Not without tearing the corner off her building. Bauer had first approached Betty three years ago. He offered to pay to relocate her house fifty feet back from the railroad track. The cost would be incurred equally by his company and by Forward Rail.

Betty refused the offer. The house was precious to her. The view of the countryside south of her front porch was magnificent. And having to move to a motel during her home’s relocation was in no way attractive to her.

Bauer came back with his offer yearly. 

Betty’s answer was always the same. 

No.

The cost of moving the rail track away from Betty’s house would not be exorbitant, Bauer knew, but the down time would be prohibitive. Product had to move out daily.

Last year someone had proposed using trucks to move the product out to the mainline railroad. Bauer considered it. But he would have to build more loading docks. And the town would have to tolerate trucks moving up and down Main Street. Not to mention cutting seriously into Forward Rail’s business.

 Both Bauer and the head of Forward Rail had also approached the town’s mayor several times to pursue eminent domain for Betty’s house. The mayor always backed down. Too harsh a solution, he said.

What the mayor did not say, not out loud – the town could not afford to offend Betty. For over thirty years, with her nursing background, Betty had run a free clinic for new mothers out of the church meeting room. Every Monday and Thursday morning she sat in the clinic, offering help and advice to the new and older mothers of the town. Rashes, scrapes and bruises, coughs, fevers – Betty got the moms through it all. Anything more serious, of course, had to be referred to the county hospital. After all, Betty was a nurse but no doctor. 

So Forward Rail added an extra boxcar when needed to accommodate added product shipments. Not ideal, but workable. An impasse, but not a nasty one. All the factory workers and railway people still greeted Betty in a friendly fashion on the street and in the market.

Each Christmas Betty’s two sons and their families showed up to celebrate the holiday. The grandkids were fascinated by the huge train passing within inches of grandma’s house. They loved waving to Benny the engineer. Betty kept a jar of pennies in the house, and her two sons showed the children how to place the pennies on the rail before the train passed. The huge train wheels flattened the pennies, which delighted the kids.

Betty lost her Charley almost nine years ago. A tragic disappearance. Charley left home one evening to go fishing and never returned. He was never found. After seven years the courts declared Charley dead and Betty collected five thousand dollars on his life insurance policy.

Charley’s disappearance and assumed death had upset the town. There was a large turnout at his church service. More casseroles than Betty could eat in her lifetime. And Betty had soldiered on. Every morning, on all but the bitterest winter days, Betty sat on her front porch. Her failing eyesight would not allow her to create the beautiful quilts she once made. Now it was mostly knitting. Easier on the eyes.

Nine years ago, Charley and Betty had driven to a hospital two counties over. Looking for anonymity. Within two days Charley got his diagnosis. Terminal cancer. Less than a year to live.

Back home, Charley had spent all his free time for the following weeks digging a four-foot deep grave in their basement. The basement was windowless, dark, dank, not much more than a tornado shelter.

After he completed his task, he and Betty made plans. When he began to have trouble functioning, when the pain grew intolerable, they would initiate his last days. Betty acquired a strong sedative and a lethal injection.

Charley ordered a body bag online. On his final day, he gathered his fishing gear and set out one evening to spend the night fishing. He left his gear at the river’s edge and quietly sneaked back home in the middle of the night. He and Betty descended to the basement. Charley pulled the body bag over himself, leaving enough room for Betty to do what she had to do. 

They kissed, held hands. After a while Charley simply nodded. Betty applied the sedative, waited for Charley to doze. Then she administered the lethal dose. She slipped the syringe into the body bag, zipped it up, and rolled Charley’s body into the grave. She spent an hour shoveling dirt back into the hole. She smoothed it over as best she could, dragged a sheet of plywood over the loose dirt, and laid an old rug over the plywood. She stomped down on the rug to flatten the soil.

A tear rolled down her cheek as she mounted the stairs.

A day later Betty reported Charley missing.

Now, nine years later, Betty will never move from her home. And her Charley.

***

shortfiction24 – i’m glad he’s gone

Donna Sykes tells the priest presiding at her teen son’s service, “I’m glad he’s gone.”

A boy’s love of his car brings a dark cloud over the people in his life.

Enjoy the story.

I’m Glad He’s Gone

Bob Gillen

The gray-haired priest stood in front of the closed casket in the crowded funeral home.

“Hail Mary, full of grace…”

The mourners picked up the prayer. “The Lord is with thee…”

Donna Sykes sat alone in the front row. She wore a gray business suit. A dark shade, just short of black. Her lips moved to the prayer, but no sound came out of her mouth. No tears were visible.

The priest finished the prayers, made the sign of the cross over the casket, took off his purple stole, and turned to the woman.

“I’m sorry for your loss, Mrs. Sykes.”

“Thank you.”

“The Lord will help you find strength to get through this. Losing a son, a teen son on the cusp of life,  is a deep tragedy.”

Donna grimaced. “You know something, Father? I’m glad he’s gone. I had no control over him any more.”

The priest took a step back.  Blinked away his surprise.    

Donna turned away from him. Several mourners stepped forward to speak with her.

The priest nodded to some of the mourners as he headed for the exit.

Two teen girls, one on crutches, entered the back of the room. They both wore black dresses. The one on crutches had a navy blue paisley bandanna over her head, partially covering several gauze bandages and tape. They sat down in the back row.

“Donna, I’m so sorry. You must be going through hell.” A woman in black, a small black veil over her head, rosary beads wrapped tightly around one hand, took Donna’s hand. A few tears rolled down her cheek. Donna whispered, “Thank you.”

“And that flower display,” the woman pointed to an enormous spray of flowers near the head of the casket, “it’s so beautiful.”

“My company sent it,” Donna said.

The woman then moved around Donna and knelt in front of the casket. She crossed herself and mumbled a prayer.

After the mourners had greeted Donna and moved back to their seats, the girl in the back rose, hoisted herself on her crutches, and hobbled up to the front row. All eyes in the room followed her. Someone whispered, “She’s the one who was with him…in the car.”

The girl looked to Donna Sykes. No words came out of her mouth. She simply stared at Donna.

Donna patted the chair next to her. The girl sat down, her crutches stretched out in front of her.

“How are you feeling, Rosemary?” Donna asked.

Tears welled up in the girl’s eyes. “Okay, I guess. Doctors say my leg will be healed in a month or so.”

Donna looked over her shoulder, said in a low voice, “I just told the priest I was glad he was gone…I couldn’t control him any more.”

Rosemary drew back. “Did you really mean that?”

“In a way, yes. I had no influence on him at all. He did whatever he wanted to.”

Rosemary sat silent. 

“That car,” Donna continued in a low voice. “He worked his ass off to buy the car and pay for the insurance. I wanted him to save his money for college.”

“He loved the car,” Rosemary said. “It was his whole world… I think he loved it more than he loved me.”

“And me. Yeah, I get that.”

Donna took Rosemary’s hand.  “How did the accident happen? The police told me nothing.”

Rosemary said, “We were down on Shore Road. Just cruising. A guy in a GTO pulled up next to us at a red light. He revved his engine. Jesse did the same. When the light turned green we both took off. A car backed out of a driveway. Jessie swerved to avoid the car and slammed into a tree.”

Donna said, “It’s a miracle you survived.”

“I put my hand on his arm just before we took off, to keep him from racing. He shrugged me off. It was the last thing he did. I didn’t know he was gone till I woke up in the hospital.”

Rosemary hesitated. “He loved you. He was so proud of buying his car. He wanted to take you for a drive. He said you were never around.”

Donna nodded. “I was entertaining clients almost every night. Selling ad space is a tough business.”

A tear finally worked its way down Donna’s cheek. “For me that car stood in the way of Jesse’s future. He wouldn’t talk about college at all. Shut me down every time I brought it up.”

Donna wept openly now. She gripped Rosemary’s hand. “I’m alone now…and I will miss him.”

Rosemary reached her arm around Donna’s shoulder. “For what it’s worth…I’m here.”

Donna dug a tissue out of her purse and wiped her eyes. “It’s worth a lot..”

***

shortfiction24 – a meditation lost

The grinding of a landscaper’s wood chipper conjures images of horror movies in Carl’s mind as he attempts to do a morning meditation.

Everyone who meditates can appreciate how distraction seeps in to destroy the moment. Enjoy the story.

A Meditation Lost

Bob Gillen

Carl sits in the center of his living room in the early morning hours. Sun streams in through the east-facing patio sliders. He feels the warmth on his bare feet. Enjoys the light splashing over the floor and furniture. Appreciates the early silence.

He closes his eyes, takes five slow breaths. Inhale. Exhale. Carl breathes in the vanilla-scented candle burning at his side.

Becoming aware of his body, he starts at the head, the eyes, the jaw and neck. He feels tension there. Always tension in the jaw. He tries to release it. Not happening. Not yet.

Carl extends his awareness down through his torso. He pauses to acknowledge his heart. His constant companion. He calls on his heart for an attitude of openness and gratitude. He directs his awareness down until he can sense his feet planted firmly on the floor. More deep breaths. A feeling of warmth and openness quivers within him.

A loud droning pulls him out of the moment. From the upstairs condo unit a vacuum cleaner starts up. Grinding, sliding back and forth, back and forth. He tries to acknowledge the sound, be aware without judgement, without distraction. But he feels warmth and openness seeping out of him. 

Carl hangs in, calls on loving kindness, until the vacuum motor finally turns off. Silence again. He focuses on his breath once more. Inhale. Exhale.

Moments later another whining noise jolts him, this one off in the distance, yet stronger, louder, than the vacuum cleaner. The sound of a landscaper’s chain saw. Tree trimers. A wood chipper joins the noise. Chattering as the machine grinds leaves and branches.

Carl struggles to envision a peaceful place. A walk on a deserted beach. His feet nestled in the warm sand. A gentle breeze caressing his face. Anything to move his mind beyond the wood chipper sound. He focuses on his breath. Inhale. Exhale. 

Carl’s mind wanders. The chipper’s grinding conjures up images of horror movies. Victims tossed into chippers. Piercing screams. Bodies torn apart. Blood spraying everywhere.

Carl opens his eyes. One long deep breath. So much for meditating today.

***

shortfiction24 – what a stupid thing to say

Frank was enjoying a book and a coffee when a kid’s overheard comment sent him spiraling down a regrettable memory. The stupid words we can’t take back.

Enjoy the story.

What a Stupid Thing to Say

Bob Gillen

On an October afternoon, Frank Meek sat at a table on his local Starbucks patio, re-reading Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and sipping an Americano. Retirement could not be better. 

At the edge of the patio, cars lined up at the drive-through window. The squawk box voice echoed across the patio. Hello. What can I get started for you? Kids from the local middle school filled most of the tables, waiting for their parents to pick them up. They were noisy, but it didn’t bother Frank. Life was good.

Four students sat at the table next to Frank’s. Two boys, two girls. Both by appearance and by noise level, Frank placed them as eighth graders. One boy, a tall kid with short brown hair and a long hoodie, stood up abruptly. He hoisted his empty drink cup, said, for all to hear, “Okay, I’m done. We can go now.”

No one at his table moved. After an awkward moment the boy slid back down in his chair.

The boy’s words jolted Frank, woke up a memory he has spent a lifetime hoping to forget. “Okay, I’m done.” Frank’s words exactly, so many years ago. He had never forgotten. It was the stupidest thing he had ever done in a long life filled with stupid moments. Something he regretted to this day.

Frank’s mind chased down his memories. It was the early spring of his eighth grade year. Frank and three of his friends were out one chilly afternoon after school, riding their bikes around the neighborhood. Back then Frank was known to all his schoolmates as Frannie. No one could remember how he got the nickname. One theory was that his teacher, Mrs. Gerard, could not see very well and saw his name as Frances, not Francis, and began calling him Frannie.

The other theory, just as plausibie, was that the teacher confused him with another student. A boy named Francois had moved to the neighborhood the year before. Francois came from Montreal, and of course everyone called him Frenchie. Mrs. Gerard may have mixed up Frenchie and Frannie. Either way, to Frank’s dismay, the nickname Frannie stuck all through the year.

Frannie and his friends left their bikes at the base of a large wooden bridge that spanned the mouth of the town’s wide creek. It was a draw bridge, capable of opening to large cabin cruisers and sailboats that moored in the mile-long creek. But opening only by reservation. There was no budget for a man to stay at the bridge 24/7. You called ahead to be sure an operator could get to the bridge and open it for your boat.

The bridge was strong enough for car traffic, heavy beams and rails, planks that clattered when a car crossed. 

Frannie had climbed up on the support beams under the bridge with his girlfriend Pattie, followed by their friends Ed and Diana. The two couples had sat snuggling in the chill air. They kissed. Warm and wonderful kisses.

And then Frannie pulled away from Pattie, said loudly, “Okay, I’m done. We can go now.”

Frannie did not remember if everyone immediately climbed down off the bridge, or if they ignored him for a while. The only thing he remembers, what is burned into his psyche, is what a stupid thing it was to say. But Frannie was not exactly experienced around girls, not very much in touch with his own emotions.

He could have enjoyed sitting there with Pattie, arm around her shoulder, warming each other in the chill spring air.

But no. He blew the moment.

Frank spent much of his lifetime socially inept, emotionally naive. He could list dozens of things he had done and said over the years that were stupid, regrettable. Things that betrayed his social ineptitude. 

Today, on the Starbucks patio, he turned slightly for a glimpse of the boy who had spoken. Poor kid. I hope he learns sooner than I did.

***

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