Healing through story

Tag: filmmaking

shortfiction24 – my bag is packed

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

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

I hope you enjoy reading it.

My Bag Is Packed

Bob Gillen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Clare, stop. You’ll wake Sean.” 

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

“Relax, Clare. Come on.”

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

“But Sean…”

“You’ve seen Sean for the last time.”

“Clare, in the morning you’ll see…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


I answered.

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

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

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

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

“I’ll be gone.”


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

shortfiction24 – shaping a story

I offer a collage, a convergence, of past work for this week’s post. On LinkedIn yesterday I saw a reference to a sculptor named Michelle Millay, who works in the film industry. I interviewed Michelle in May of 2013 for my website on filmmaking. Her sculpting work is featured on movies like Batman and Robin and Pirates of the Caribbean.

What I’ve Written

Thinking of Michelle reminded me of two stories I’ve posted here in the last few years that have sculpting as a theme.

One story is titled “The Hand”. I used an image of several Rodin sculpture as inspiration for the story. I first posted it in February of 2021.

The Hand

A man’s left hand reaches forward, bent at the wrist. Three fingers curl inward. Thumb and index fingers extending. Poised. Expectant. Ready to grasp. 

His love lies dying. Ravaged by disease. Poised to let go. In a moment of mindfulness, she comes through the pain. She slides her wedding ring off her left hand and holds it out to him. A gesture of giving, of surrender. I won’t need this. I want you to keep it. Her eyes speak. Remember me when you hold it. Touch it. Feel its smoothness, worn by years of  love. Years of twisting and turning. Of sliding off at night, back on every morning. 

He reaches for the ring. Index finger and thumb extend. Moving in hesitation, in reluctance…in acceptance. He grips the ring lightly. Feels the warmth of her finger as it fades slowly from the ring’s surface.

He has no words. He slides the ring partially over his forefinger. Enough to maintain a grip on it. He knows that to accept the ring is to accept her leaving. 

His eyes meet hers. She smiles weakly. Closes her eyes. A shallow breath. Another. And a last one.

He rubs his thumb hard against the ring. I will remember.


More on a Convergence of Theme

I add another converging element on the theme of carving and sculpting. Check out a song of loss and remembrance from The Subdudes: Carved in Stone.

And read on for the second story about a woman with cancer scars.

Continue reading

Don’t Wait for Anyone

“Don’t wait for anyone. Life doesn’t wait. Don’t become what you most fear. A wasted soul. Leap for the rope and swing towards the stars.”

John Patrick Shanley


It’s been a long time since I last posted here. A family illness, now resolving itself, absorbed time and attention. I’m working my way back.

My next book, Off-Road, is close to completion. The time away from working on it gave me a new perspective, and I am re-structuring the story. Publication date will likely be September. I’ll keep you informed.

One of the most fun aspects of writing this story has been creating and developing the characters. One of them, Lyndie Reed, is a high school junior. She’s always on the move. An avid runner, she logs many miles every day. Lyndie is inspired by one of my nieces, who recently ran the Boston Marathon twice – in the same day! She started early, ran the course backwards, and arrived at the official starting line in time to run the prescribed course with all the other runners. Fifty-two point four miles. Amazing.

Lyndie is Tessa Warren’s best friend. It’s a new friendship. Tessa has spent the last two years mourning for her brother, killed in a car crash a few months after he graduated from film school. She’s now “leaping for the rope,” beginning to step into her brother’s film shoes.

I look forward to introducing the Film Crew to you. And, with luck, the book will become a series. Talk soon.



Movies to Help Kids Fall in Love with Cinematography

Cinematography is more than stunning visuals

“Raindance is dedicated to fostering and promoting independent film around the world. Based in the heart of London, Raindance combines Raindance Film Festival, training courses — which are offered throughout the year at our 10 international hubs — and the British Independent Film Awards.”

In discussing how films can influence young people’s love for film, Raindance says, “…cinematography is more than stunning visuals, and movie-loving kids have plenty of opportunities to understand the power of storytelling, acting and between-the-lines messages.”

Los Angeles - USA - October 31, 2015: Replica of the Back to the Future DeLorean during Comikaze Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Los Angeles – USA – October 31, 2015: Replica of the Back to the Future DeLorean during Comikaze Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

They go on to say, “It is not that hard to get children interested in films, but now that your little cinema buff caught the taste for it, it’s time to feed his passion with well-selected titles. Once they fall in love with cinema, this feeling will burn bright in their hearts forever, but the first steps into this world of wonder are essential to keep that fire going.”

Their recommended films are:

  • The Harry Potter Series
  • Jumanji
  • Charlotte’s Web
  • Frozen
  • Mary Poppins
  • Peter Pan
  • The Lion King
  • Coraline
  • Back to the Future I
  • Inside Out

Here’s the link to Raindance’s article: “10 Movies that Will Make Any Kid Fall in Love with Cinematography.”

Enjoy these films, or share them with young people you know.


What inspires me to write for young adults

Teaching High School Media Production

When my wife and I taught our Media Production class to high school seniors, on day one of the semester-long course we screened the introductory podcast of film director Baz Luhrmann’s Set to Screen series. The series, created by Apple, follows Luhrmann behind the scenes as he directs the 2008 film Australia.

We watched the students’ faces as they viewed the podcast. Rapt attention. Even awe at times.

Then we told them, you can do the same thing. Of course, you don’t have the budget, the equipment, the production company that Luhrmann had for Australia. But yes, on your own terms, with your equipment and imagination, you can do the same thing in this class. Make movies.

And that’s exactly what they did.

The girls in our class found their voice. It was often lighthearted. Parodies, music videos, fun video stories. But it was theirs. Theirs from conception to final screening. They owned it. They told stories rooted in their imaginations, their own lives.

Here are a couple of screen captures from their productions. One features a western movie, shot on location at the historic  Paramount Ranch in Agoura Hills, California. One student played all the parts. The students composed original music for their film on Garageband.


Media production class on set

Media production class on set

Paramount Ranch location

Paramount Ranch location








Another student project features a black and white  music video based on Marky Mark’s Good Vibrations.

The screen capture on the left is the original Marky Mark video. The one on the right was done by our class.


Marky Mark's Good Vibrations

Marky Mark’s Good Vibrations

Student version of Good Vibrations

Student version of Good Vibrations










Helping young people find their voice is what my writing is all about. I have a YA book series coming soon about teens who use film and media to find their way in this world. I’ll let you know a soon as it’s available.

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