Tag: short bite

shortfiction24

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!

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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.

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