Tag: Mannequin Monday (Page 1 of 9)

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A Hard Frost

A reminder that my Mannequin Monday blog is now reborn as shortfiction24. I explain it all here.

What I’m Writing

This week’s story is inspired by a photo my brother Jim posted to his Facebook page last week. He titled it “Hard Frost on the Hydrangea.” It sparked the following story. I share it for your enjoyment. A short bite to read on the bus or subway, before bedtime, even on the toilet.

A Hard Frost

Bob Gillen

Christine sucked in the chill morning air as she ran her daily five miles. First day with the temps slipping below the freeze mark. The rising sun smeared the eastern sky with color, pushing away the stars, promising a warmer day. 

Christine ran hard this morning. Fueled by anger. An anger that made her sweat pants and hoodie almost too warm. She pounded along the asphalt road, dodging a few raccoons still picking over the trash cans at the curb.

Her thoughts would not let last night go. She and her husband had watched their favorite football team lose a critical game. The defense collapsed. The quarterback had been sacked. Twice. They carried him off the field with a probable sprained ankle. Christine had said, “They can put ice on the ankle.”

Gavin, her husband, had snorted. “He needs to keep playing. The team needs him.”

Christine had retorted, “You’re an ER doc. You know he needs treatment.”

And Gavin had said through clenched teeth, “Real players play hurt.”

“You can’t believe that.”

“Do you know how many people I treat who just need to suck it up and keep going? A few stitches or a taped up wrist and they go out on medical leave.”

Both had gone to bed pissed. Gavin left early for his shift. Christine ran.

As her mind rehashed last night’s fight, she failed to see the handful of broken stones in the street. Her left foot slammed down on a chunk of stone, dropping her to her knees. She stood, brushed at the road dirt on her knees, attempted to run. Pain shot through her left foot. She limped across the sidewalk to a park bench.

She slipped off her sneaker, rubbed at the bruise on the bottom of her foot. Nothing broken, nothing bleeding. But it sure hurt like hell. She put the sneaker back on immediately and laced it tight.

Let me rest it for a minute, she thought. No need to push it. She heard her husband’s voice in her head. Real players play hurt. Fuck that, she thought. 

Christine shivered on the cold bench. She stretched her limbs to keep from freezing up. As she rotated her neck, she spied a bouquet of flowers lying next to the bench. Hydrangeas. A pale purple, tinged with darker edges. And frost laced across the flowers. She picked up a card laying in the grass next to the bouquet. I love you forever, it read in green ink. She dropped the card back in its place.

Credit: Jim Gillen

“You can keep the flowers if you want.” The voice startled her. Where was the situational awareness her dad the cop had drilled into her since she was a tiny kid. She looked up to see a young man approaching, trailing footprints on the frost-covered grass. He wore wrinkled tan chinos, grass stains on the knees. A dress shirt with an open cardigan sweater, shoes coated with dirt. The man had stubble, disheveled dark hair, a haunted look in his eyes.

Christine stood, ready to run despite her injured foot. 

“Relax, I’m cool.” The man drew nearer. She saw his eyes were red and swollen.

“I gave that bouquet to my girlfriend last night.” He pointed. “Right here on this bench. Hydrangeas. Her favorite flower. She always talked about having them for her wedding bouquet.”

“Oh.” Christine sat down again as the man sagged down near her on the bench.

“I proposed last night.” The man pulled a ring box out of his pocket, opened it to show Christine a one carat oval stone in a simple setting. 

“That’s a lovely ring,” she told him. 

“She laughed last night when I opened the box. She wouldn’t even try it on. Is that the best you can do? she told me.”

“Wow. Cruel.”

“Yeah. I’ve been pacing around the park all night. She actually walked home by herself.” He shrugged. “I guess I should have seen it coming. She was champagne to my beer budget.”

Christine leaned over and picked up the bouquet. She twirled it in her fingers. Frost covered the petals, sparkled in the rising sun.

The man laughed. “Fitting, isn’t it? Frost on her bouquet?”

“I can’t say anything to console you,” Christine said, “but look at it this way. You saved a lot of money on a pricey wedding.”

The man laughed, nodded. “She would have run me into the ground with her tastes.”

He gestured to the flowers. “I’m serious. Take them home. The sun will melt the frost off them. They’ll be good as new.”

Christine stood, tilting to favor the bruise on her foot.

“You okay?” the man asked.

“Bruised my foot on a stone in the road.”

“I didn’t realize you were hurt. Thought you were just resting.”

The man noted the rings on Christine’s left hand. “I see you said yes to your guy.”

Christine snorted. “After last night I’m not so sure.”

The man nodded. “But you cared enough to say yes.”

She shrugged. “Yeah. We both said yes.” 

 He stood. “My car is there at the curb. Let me drive you home.”

“No, no. I’ll be fine.”

“I insist. You cheered me up a bit. I’m grateful.”

Christine hesitated.

“It’s okay. I’m no perv.”

Christine limped to a green Toyota Prius. 

As they settled into the car, the man said, “I’m a copywriter. But I write novels on the side.”

“That’s cool.”

“I think I found my next title. A Hard Frost on the Hydrangea.”

Christine laughed. “I’ll watch for it. I love a good romance.”

The man said, “No happy ever after in my story.”

Christine paused. “You know what? Can you drive me to the ER?”

“Sure. It’s actually on my way.”

“My husband works there. I need to see him.”

“You want to give that foot some attention?”

“Just the opposite. Give him and me some attention… Real players play hurt.”

***

What I’m Reading

I am about a hundred words into Kathleen Glasgow’s new book, You’d Be Home Now. I am a huge fan of her first two, especially Girl in Pieces. All her books are classed as Young Adult but read well for adults too. Her characters come alive on the pages. More comments next week when I finish the book.

What I’m NOT Listening To

Christmas music!

***

Mannequin Monday: Reborn

shortfiction24

Only Dead Fish Swim with the Current

An apt quote from Ernest Hemingway. When I focused my blog on short fiction well over a year ago, I had thought the title “Mannequin Monday” was a clever takeoff on “Manic Monday.” Every week words would drape the bare mannequin, clothing it in story. I added quirky mannequin photos to supplement each post. I have certainly enjoyed posting to it weekly. But “Mannequin Monday” has evolved into an ill-fitting name.

I have re-designed my blog to reflect more accurately my writing interests, my author identity. I now term it shortfiction24

I’ve been a presence on the internet for 12 years. I started with my filmmaker site in late 2009, added a blog about storytelling (now merged into the filmmaker site), then developed my current blog, this one my author site. I’ve also written a handful of non-fiction and fiction books in that time.

In those 12 years I have seen many of my original internet interviewees and connections change their online identities, their site logos, their purposes. Some simply moved from one social media outlet to another. Others have changed careers or even disappeared from the internet. 

For a time I found it puzzling how they all changed, thinking it displayed inconsistency. But recently I am realizing how normal this is. Change is normal. Stuck in a time warp is not.

Maria Popova has re-titled her popular Brain Pickings newsletter, now calling it Marginalian. “Becoming the Marginalian: after 15 years, Brain Pickings reborn.” Popova says that many things in life are beyond our control. “But amid our slender repertoire of agency are the labels we choose for our labors of love — the works of thought and tenderness we make with the whole of who we are.”

an ill-fitting name

She further says, “As we evolve — as we add experiences, impressions, memories, deepening knowledge and self-knowledge to the combinatorial pool from which all creative work springs — what we make evolves accordingly; it must, if we are living widely and wisely enough.” Her realization: Brain Pickings had evolved into “an ill-fitting name.” Time for change, for growth.

I once interviewed a Dutch video journalist named Ruud Elmendorp, who has covered Africa for various news services for many years. Ruud is now beginning a new journey filming from a large ship as it roams the Mediterranean Sea searching for immigrants in need of rescue. He has been posting video and his personal thoughts as he begins this journey, seeking a new purpose.

book cover for Keep It Moving, by Twyla Tharp

Twyla Tharp, in her book Keep It Moving, talks of growing and changing as we age. Of not being stuck in the past. She says, “Your objective is to free yourself to be whatever and whoever you need to be right now.”

I am seeing changes in my own identity and purpose. For years I wrote non-fiction. The move to writing fiction was difficult. Still is. I have now further evolved (at least for the moment!) from writing full length novels to focusing on short fiction. Writing a novel, and then trying to market said novel, is quite difficult. And time-consuming.

I have come to enjoy writing short fiction. Hence the change in my blog from “Mannequin Monday” to shortfiction24. The 24 honors my wife Lynn, born on the 24th of one month, years ago, died on the 24th of another month, in 2020. The image of a cupcake is one of Lynn’s creations, drawn digitally to create a simple greeting card. The cupcake represents a small story bite.

Writing short fiction is, for me, perhaps an outgrowth of writing exercises for the writing courses I have taken in recent years. I’ve worked through three online MOOC courses with the International Writing Program (IWP) of the University of Iowa. Each course involved writing exercises. And I currently belong to a small writing group which is an offshoot of IWP alums. I have also taken a short course in journaling, again with short writing pieces as a daily requirement. 

just keep swimming…

I have evolved through many iterations in my lifetime, yet I believe I have remained rooted in who I am. None of my changes have been total disconnects. As Tharp says, “When making big choices in our lives, the best course is to recognize continuity in our intention. Thus we are neither repudiating nor repeating the past but, rather, respecting it as we move on.”

As Hemingway says, “Only dead fish swim with the current.” And as Disney’s Dory says, “Just keep swimming…swimming.” We keep moving. Always upstream, if we are alive.

My blog shortfiction24 will remain true to its core, storytelling. A new story will appear next week, and every week. And more discussion on storytelling.

I hope you continue to celebrate story with me. Thanks for loving story as I do. Storytelling makes the world go round.

***

Mannequin Monday – The October Tree

What I’m Writing

In keeping with my October Halloween-themed stories, here’s one inspired in part by my friend Caroline. Maddie and Lyndie are two characters from my teen Film Crew series. This story serves as a kind of character study as I explore their personalities further. I hope you enjoy it.

The October Tree

Bob Gillen

Mid October. Fall descending into winter. Rain pelted the north-facing windows of Maddie Dela Riva’s house. Sodden gold and red leaves blanketed the backyard. 

Maddie hung a palm-sized pumpkin on a branch, stood back from the six-foot artificial tree standing in a corner of the living room. She smiled. Done.  

Winding around the tree was a long stream of narrow tatted lace, yellowed in more than a few places. A string of black-lit skull heads circled from top to bottom. Front and center hung a foot-long skeleton. Several smaller skeletons peered out from other branches. At almost eye level a puffy white ghost floated in a silent stare.

Miniature orange pumpkins followed the line of the tatted lace around the tree. A handful of glossy pine cones filled in the blank spaces on the tree.

Topping the tree, with a commanding view, a doll bedecked in black and white lace, black hair cascading down the sides of a skull face.

Maddie reached for her phone and snapped pictures of the tree from different angles. She texted her mom at work, sending her the pictures.

The doorbell rang. Maddie’s friend Lyndie Reed stepped in out of the rain. 

“Hey. Thanks for coming over.”

Lyndie shrugged out of her soaked parka.

Maddie smiled. “I just finished the tree.”

“Tree?” Lyndie peered over Maddie’s shoulder. “Way too early for Christmas decorations.”

Maddie stepped aside.

Lyndie’s eyes popped open. “Holy shit! What is that?”

She stepped closer, taking in the image before her.

“Girl, this is awesome!”

“You like it?”

“I love it. Do you do this every year?”

“The last two years…since my dad died.”

“Oh.”

Lyndie saw a tear roll down Maddie’s cheek.

“Hugs, girl.” She swallowed Maddie in an enormous hug.

Maddie stepped back. “My dad died on Halloween. Mom and I started this to honor him. You don’t think it’s weird, do you?”

“Weird? I love it.”

“My aunt, my dad’s sister, hates it. She thinks it’s creepy. Won’t come over till we take it down on November second.”

“November second?”

“All Souls Day.”

Lyndie looked down at the base of the tree. Black lace wrapped around the trunk. A black knit cat sat peering up. A large battered book titled “Witches” sat off to the right. And at the center, nestled in the lace, a white box with a raffia ribbon bow on top.

Lyndie pointed at the box. “You do Halloween gifts?”

“Dad’s ashes.”

“Oh…oh.” Lyndie paused. “I didn’t know you back then. Your dad’s not buried in a cemetery. He’s…”

“Here.”

Lyndie shuddered. She turned, sat down on the nearby couch. “I’m missing something.”

“Yeah?”

“Isn’t this a dark way to remember your dad? I mean, skeletons and witches and skulls…”

“My dad’s gone, Lyndie. He’s at peace.” Maddie waved her hand at the tree.

“The skeletons and skulls are for me and my mom… till we find our own peace.”

***

And don’t forget, I’ll be starting a new blog theme soon to replace the Mannequin Monday one. Stay tuned.

What I’m Reading

I’m bouncing from book to book this week, not able to keep focus for too long on anything. Last night I started Drift, a thriller by L.T. Ryan. Looks promising so far. I’ll let you know next week.

***

Mannequin Monday – James the Invisible

What I’m Planning

I am working on a redesign of this blog. I want to move away from the Mannequin Monday theme and make the tone more heartfelt. A bit warmer. More on the redesign next week.

I’ll continue posting a short short story every week, and maybe offer more thoughts on my reading and my journey as a writer/creative. As they say, watch this space.

What I’m Writing

Continuing the Halloween theme for this month, here’s a fun story I wrote about a boy and his new crush. Enjoy.

James the Invisible

Bob Gillen

James the Invisible sat in Science lab, partnered with Dawn, the curly haired redhead. Dawn, the only person he would shed his invisibility for. Dawn, who looked right through him. Dawn, who was currently crushing on Ian, at the lab station next to them.

James dubbed himself The Invisible. No one knew him. No one saw him. And he was fine with that. Until now.

Ian passed Dawn a note. James peered over Dawn’s shoulder at the note. Meet me in the pumpkin patch after school. I’ll buy you the biggest one they have.  Pumpkins. She likes pumpkins. 

That night James the Invisible waited quietly for his parents to fall asleep. His little brother snored blissfully. James pulled on a pair of jeans, a black hooded sweatshirt, and sneakers. Marker pens in several sizes and colors. A pocket knife with a four-finger blade. Ready. James slipped downstairs and out the kitchen door. 

A chill breeze ruffled his hair, the bit that hung out from under his hoodie. A harvest moon hung up there somewhere, hiding behind clouds. James walked briskly to Randall’s Farm, the town pumpkin patch. 

She had been here, he thought. Only a few hours ago. With that clown Ian. Ian wasn’t strong enough to lift a large pumpkin, much less carry it home to Dawn’s house. James thought himself smarter than Ian. He would not pick the largest pumpkin. Nope, he would go for beauty. For symmetry. The pumpkin with the best shape. Like Dawn. Graceful. Cool. A radiant kind of beauty.

Credit: Goodfon

James slipped into the pumpkin field at the far end of the property. Away from the barn and the dogs. Away from the lights. He treaded his way down rows and rows of pumpkins. All so-so. None stood out. A bad crop, he thought. Fit only for carving up. But no carving tool would touch James’s pumpkin. No, its beauty would stand out of its own accord.

A dog barked off in the distance. James froze. Waited. The moon remained behind clouds. Not much chance of it showing itself tonight.

James spied the pumpkin. Dawn’s pumpkin. Round, no blemishes or scratches on the surface. He pulled out his pocket knife and sliced off the vine, preserving a three-inch stem. A gentle curve to the stem. Like Dawn, he thought. All gentle curves. No blemishes, like some of the other girls at school. Perfect. 

James pulled a rag from his pocket, wiped the field dust off the pumpkin. It was a beauty. Perfectly round. Smooth. 

James pulled markers from his pocket. Began writing Dawn’s name on the pumpkin. On her pumpkin. DAWN, in a graceful script. Red letters with several green leaves for a flourish. The letters wrapped around half the pumpkin. James smiled.

He waited a few minutes for the marker ink to dry. He could not dare smudge this beauty. He checked his phone. After midnight. Time to move. He lifted the pumpkin carefully. Admired his work. Walked away from the field.

One last thing. Leave the pumpkin in front of Dawn’s door. He knew where she lived. He had spotted her address on a form she had at her desk last week. Easy. Drop it and run. Mission accomplished.

James slipped along the sidewalks in the dark. Not a sound anywhere. No one walking their dogs. No cats prowling about. James found Dawn’s house easily. Number 1215 on Broad Street. He looked right and left, satisfied no one was around. 

As he stepped up to the porch, lights flashed on. Damn. Motion detectors. James put the pumpkin down in front of the door, turned to run, and smacked face-on into a rock pile of a man. The man pushed James back. James landed on his rear on the porch step.

“What are you doing, you little shit?” the voice boomed. “Ready to TP my house again?”

James could not find his voice. He squeaked. Pathetic. But no longer invisible. Nope, quite visible to this huge man.

The man stepped around James and peered at the pumpkin. He picked it up, gazed at the writing on its surface. Looked over at James. The man looked back and forth between the pumpkin and James’s face. Back and forth. And a grin cracked the man’s face. Just a slit at first. Then wider. And wider. Now, almost a laugh.

“You crushing on my Dawn?” the man asked James.

James felt redness flaring up his neck, his face. He could not lift his eyes to meet the man’s stare.

The man put the pumpkin down in front of the door. “What’s your name, kid?” 

A whisper. “James.”

“Okay, James. Here’s the deal. I will leave the pumpkin there for Dawn to find in the morning. I will not tell her who left it. How she finds out, if ever, that’s for you to figure out. Deal?”

James nodded. 

“Now go home before I kick your ass down the street.”

James jumped up and ran off. Mission accomplished. 

And still invisible.

***

Continue reading

Mannequin Monday – Full Moon

October. The month of hauntings. Ghosts. Spooky visions. Ichabod Crane fleeing in fright through Sleepy Hollow. I am aiming to offer a Halloween story every week this month. Today, Straw Man.

Mannequin Photo Credit: Dennis Duchet, CNN

What I’m Writing

I offer a Halloween story for your reading enjoyment. A short read for busy people.

Straw Man

Bob Gillen

A figure stood tall in the dark field, lit by a full moon lurking behind clouds drifting across its face. The figure stood stippled, dappled by the erratic moonlight. The first thing that came to the mind of the person watching the figure was a Halloween movie. A mysterious figure, tall, most likely male, silhouetted in the moonlight. No doubt a pitchfork or razor-sharp scythe in his hand. Ready for dark deeds. 

Credit: Depositphotos

The watcher stood motionless at the fence rail lining the pasture. The figure in the field did not move. Did not so much as lean or tilt for a moment. The figure did not look at the moon. It stared off toward the forest that rimmed the field to the north. The watcher saw a flicker of light at the edge of the trees. A whisper of a breeze gave the leaves the tiniest of movement. The flicker could have been moonlight reflected off a shifting leaf.

The figure in the field raised one arm and pointed in the direction of the now-disappeared light. There. Another flicker. Brief, almost unseen if one was not looking in that direction. The watcher leaned on the fence rail, leaned easily so as not to cause a creak. The figure’s arm lowered. The figure took a step toward the light. The light was now constant. A pinpoint of light. Like a candle flame off in the distance. Tiny. Steady. 

The watcher saw the figure take more steps, stiff, awkward. The clouds above streaked it with mottled light as it moved. Moved slowly. Moved toward the light. 

The watcher moved stealthily along the fence rail, staying parallel to the figure. The watcher remained vigilant, avoiding a snapped twig or a step in cow flop. 

The figure drew closer to the rim of the forest. It was within mere steps of going into the trees when the tiny light exploded in a flash. Illuminating the distant figure. The watcher gasped, shuddered in disbelief. The watcher saw a scarecrow, straw sticking out of the arms, legs, neck of ragged clothing. The figure, the scarecrow, disappeared the moment the light went out. Blinded by the flash of light, the watcher could see only the silhouettes of the trees edging the field.  The watcher blinked, trying to adjust to the darkness. The moon hid behind clouds now. Darkness. Impenetrable darkness. The watcher lost sight of the figure. The scarecrow. The tiny light in the trees, now gone. 

The watcher moved a few steps along the rail, peering into the darkness. Nothing. No figure. No light. No moon. 

Darkness.

And in a moment the clouds floated slowly away from the face of the moon. Light moved across the field. Moved toward the watcher. And as the sweep of moonlight reached the fence rail, a straw figure reached up from the ground under the rail and grabbed the watcher by the throat. Pulled the watcher over the rail. Slammed the watcher to the ground. A light flashed next to the rail. 

And then, only darkness.

***

What I’m Reading

I recently read William Kent Krueger’s latest book Lightning Strike. This is a prequel to the series of mystery novels with lawman Cork O’Connor as sheriff in a small Minnesota town. In this book we find twelve-year old Cork learning crime-solving, and the path of honesty, from his father, also a sheriff.

Krueger fills his stories with lively characters, locales that breathe with life, and a strong dose of Indian lore. Every page vibrates with the foibles and the goodness of human nature.

Don’t miss this one. It’s a joy to read.

***

Here’s another adventure story, as three teens film an off-road race in the Mojave Desert while facing down environmental activists set on sabotaging the race – and their film. Off-Road is a short novel on Amazon Kindle.

Mannequin Monday – Out of Sight

Credit: WorthPoint.com

This week I clothe the bare form with words I wrote 10 years ago.

What I’m Writing

I’d like to share a writing exercise I found this week from an old notebook. It’s dated October 24, 2011. The writing prompt was “Out of sight, out of mind.” It clearly needs polishing, but I will post it as is. An example of my writing, my thinking, from 10 years ago. I hope you enjoy it.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Bob Gillen

What can I do to make myself remembered? Will you never forget me? I slip away from your awareness. I slide out of your consciousness. I feel myself drift away. I see you look for me less and less. Like a sailboat moving out to sea, you stop watching from the shore. When? When I drift far enough that you can’t see my face clearly? Far enough that you can’t see my shape? My boat?  When I am finally over the horizon? My boat moves with the wind. I can’t – I won’t – stop it or turn it around. I move with the winds. I stand tall and catch the wind. I move. You stay. We drift away. I want you to remember me. How? Will you remember me when you feel the wind in your face? The same wind that moved me. Yes, it won’t be a picture, a memento, a recording. No, it will be a breath. A spirit. A moving, tuned to the earth, to the spirit, to the air and the wind. Tuned to life.

***

What I’m Reading

I enjoyed a book from Pamela Toler, whose work focuses on women in history. Her latest story is targeted at middle grade readers. I always enjoy this market. The stories are direct, basic, always a good adventure. This one, centered on World War Two, is titled Great Escapes: Across the Minefields. In the deserts of Libya, as the Allied Forces attempt to keep Rommel’s army from seizing the Suez Canal in 1942, nurse and driver Susan Travers fights alongside the French Foreign Legion.

In the desert the Allies are surrounded by Rommel’s forces. They attempt a daring escape, with Travers driving the lead truck through enemy lines… to freedom or to death.

Credit: HarperCollins

Travers became the only woman ever to be accepted as an official member of the Legion. The book is available on Amazon Kindle.

You’ll find more about Pamela Toler at her own site.

***

Mannequin Monday – Half Pepperoni

This Monday our mannequin stops for pizza before catching a flight back to LA. Two surviving brothers share a moment after yet another family funeral.

What I’m Writing

Here’s a writing exercise I did for a course I’m taking with my writing group. The goal was to create a story around a memory shared by no more than three characters. Their voices should contribute to the reader’s sense of place.

Half Pepperoni

Bob Gillen

Andy and Peter drape their coats over an empty chair, sit down at a table in a deserted pizza place in Queens. The room looks out on a creek, quiet today, two p.m. on a January weekday. 

The owner steps up to the table, wiping his hands on a stained apron. 

“Hey guys. Ain’t seen you in a while.”

“Hey Pat,” Andy says.

“Hi Pat.”

“No one else coming?”

“Just us today.”

“Who died?”

Peter points to his brother Andy. “Andy’s sister-in-law. Michelle.”

“Hey, I’m sorry. Last time you was in here, it was a whole crowd.”

“Not anymore.”

“What’s your poison?”

“Large pizza,” Andy says.

“Half pepperoni,” adds Peter.

“You got it. For you, I’ll make it right away.”

Andy looks around at the empty room. “Pat, we’re the only ones here.”

“Hey, I get delivery orders too, you know.” He disappears behind the counter.

Andy fingers the faded red and white check cloth on their table.“I swear these are the same table clothes from the last time we were here.” 

Peter nods. Says, “So?”

“Yeah. Back again.”

“I know. Another in and out funeral for me.” Peter looks at his watch. “I got time to catch my flight, yeah?”

“Sure. JFK’s got security moving faster these days.”

The two turn to stare out at the creek, all the small boats covered for the winter, bobbing slightly in the chill breeze. Seagulls perch on several of the boats.

“See that white house across the creek? With the closed-in patio?” Peter points out the window. “The one with the floating dock?” 

“Yeah.”

“My eighth grade girlfriend’s house. We used to swim off the dock after school in the spring.” 

“Her name was Patricia?”

“Right. Good memory.” Peter smiles. “I never told mom I was swimming there. I would dry off as best I could, pull on my jeans over my bathing suit, and hope the wet didn’t soak through by the time I got home for supper. She never found out till Patricia’s mother met mom in the market and said it was so nice that we were all swimming every afternoon.”

“She must have been so pissed at you. Because someone knew something she didn’t.”

“Tell me about it. I had so much guilt laid on me over that. Why didn’t you trust me to tell me…”

“And have her say no, right?”

“Yeah. Trust me, but if it’s fun, no way.”

“I remember one day she was crying after she talked to you. Crying in the kitchen. She didn’t see me. Maybe that was the day.”

Peter shrugs.

“Man, that was a lot of years ago,” Andy says.

Peter gets up and walks over to a jukebox standing along the far wall. He drops a few coins in, punches a couple of buttons. As he sits, the first song comes up. For the good times.

“Shit,” Peter shakes his head as he sits. “The day after mom’s funeral, Michelle said to me, Well, Peter, with her gone, you and I are the oldest in the family now.

“I don’t remember her saying that.”

“Yeah, right here. Maybe this same table.”

“And now she’s gone.”

“You and me, man.”

Pat slides a large pizza pan down on the checkered tablecloth. “It’s hot.”

“I hope so,” Andy grins.

Pat tosses paper plates on the table. “Drinks?”

Andy asks for water. “Coke for me, Pat,” Peter says.

Peter reaches for a slice. Bubbling cheese, pepperoni crisp around the edges. Oil dripping onto the plate. “I miss this.”

Andy runs a hand through his hair. “First time we were here…right after dad’s burial. I couldn’t believe he lasted as long as he did.”

“Three years sober and the juice still got him.”

“I don’t think mom was upset at all.”

“What the hell. He used to get loaded, then throw rocks into Jack’s pool next door. She was mortified.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“Sure, couple times a week. I’m surprised Jack didn’t slug him.”

Peter laughs. “For almost a year before she died, I’d call mom every week from LA and she’d say, if you can’t get in here to visit me, don’t bother coming to my funeral.”

“She said that?”

“Yup.”

“And you almost didn’t, right?”

“Yeah. It was a busy time. I think I did it just to spite her.”

“That was a big wake. Everyone showed up. In the middle of winter. Probably afraid she would haunt them otherwise.”

Peter laughs as he scarfs down a mouthful of pizza. “I was so annoyed. People kept coming up to me saying, do you remember me? Shit, I hadn’t seen those people in thirty years. One guy, Johnny, the cop from Staten Island, he says, Remember me? I say, “Sure, Richie, how are you?”

“He says, no, I’m Johnny.”

“People do that.”

“It pisses me off. Just say hello and give me your name. Come on…I do appreciate that they came for the wake, though.”

Andy and Peter chew silently for a few minutes.

Pat comes over to the table with their drinks. “You guys, I was just thinking, last time you were in, you had your wives with you.”

Andy looks at Pat over his cheese slice. “Both gone, Pat.”

“Oh shit. I didn’t know.” Pat crosses himself. He waves his hand at the pizza. “This one’s on me. You guys been through a lot of shit.”

“You got that right, man.”

“Hey Pat,” Andy says. “How you doin’? Everything okay?”

“Yeah, business is good. Little slow for the winter. Come summer this place is a gold mine.”

“Your family?”

Pat smiles. “Remember my daughter AnnMarie? Used to wait tables here?” He wipes his hands on his apron, pulls a phone out of his back pocket, thumbs through the pictures. “Here’s the whole family…at her wedding last June.”

Andy and Peter smile at the photo. “Good for you, Pat.”

“I been lucky.” He crosses himself again, walks away.

Peter hoists his Coke glass. “So, Andy, like Michelle said to me, you and me, we’re the oldest in the family now.”

“I still got some good years left in me. You?”

“The same.”

“From our lips…”

***

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