Healing through story

Tag: Short fiction

shortfiction24 – state property

Credit: John DeVore

What I’m Writing This Week

Kate Skelton waits till Spring to scatter her husband’s ashes at his favorite park pond. A park ranger faces off against the feisty Kate.

This story started as a man spotting a blue-beaked duck on a pond. It didn’t work. He morphed into she, and the duck went away, maybe for another story.

Please enjoy.

State Property

Bob Gillen

Kate Skelton looked east into a morning Spring sun that warmed her face, made it feel hotter than the air temperature. She ran a finger along the wooden bench sitting six feet back from the edge of Oak Pond. The smell of new grass and budding shrubs tickled her nose. This had been Harry’s favorite outdoor place. For two years after he had retired, he came here three or four times a week, to this secluded spot near the state’s largest reservoir. Came here because no one else did. Came here to forget. Forget the years he put in as homicide detective. Forget the evil that man inflicted on man. 

Kate set her tote bag in the grass next to the faded bench. Okay, Harry. This is it. She pulled out a can of paint, a brush, a couple of rags, and a small screwdriver to pry off the can lid. She left a pewter urn in the tote. With one rag she dusted off the surface of the bench. Fifteen minutes later she was midway through painting the bench a deep hunter green when she heard a scuffling in the brush behind her. She turned to see a state park ranger staring at her.

“Mind if I ask what you’re doing?” the ranger said.

Kate pointed to the bench with her brush. “Painting.”

“That’s state property.”

“So are you,” she replied.

“Ah, I see we have a wiseass here.”

Kate looked around. “I don’t see one.”

The ranger shook his head. 

“Why are you doing this?”

“The bench needed fresh paint.”

The ranger blew out his breath. “Why here?”

“Oh. That’s easy. This was my husband’s favorite spot — she waved her arm around — in the entire park. This bench and this forgotten little pond in the corner of the park.”

“And where is your husband now?”

Kate hesitated. Pointed out over the pond. “Out there.”

The ranger peered over Kate’s shoulder. He shook his head.

Kate set the paint brush across the top of the can. “My husband is dead. His ashes are out on the pond.”

The ranger nodded. “His ashes are in the pond.”

Kate smiled.

“That’s illegal, spreading human remains on public property.”

She held her hands out. “I didn’t know that.”

“Did you do it?”

Kate shrugged. “Maybe.”

The ranger reached for a notepad and pen. “Do you have ID?”

“Yes.”

He blew out another breath. “May I see it?”

“It’s in my bag…in my car…in the parking lot.”

“Name?”

“Kate Skelton.”

The ranger wrote on his pad. 

“Address?”

Kate smiled. “Are you writing a ticket?”

The ranger nodded.

“Wow.”

“What?”

“You left your heart at home today.”

The ranger bit his lower lip.

Kate pointed at the ranger’s chest. “Your heart. It’s not there. You must have left it home.”

“Address!”

“I wonder where you put it. Left it on the bathroom sink. Or on the kitchen table…No, no. I got it. You tucked your heart away in your sock drawer. Where you keep all your personal stuff.”

The ranger flipped his notebook closed. “Lady, I can see I’m wasting my time with you. I’ll get a photo of your plate number off your car. What do you drive?” He held up a hand. “Don’t tell me. A Toyota Prius.”

Kate snickered.

Not even close.

“Yeah, that’s it, lady. A Prius, the model that comes without a gas pedal.”

Kate laughed, shook her head. “Not even close.”

She pointed to the can of paint. “Do I finish painting the bench? Or leave the can for a state employee to finish the job?”

The ranger said nothing.

“I could leave it half painted. It will become a state park legend. A curiosity. Who is the mysterious artist who painted half a bench? I can see the headline: What is the meaning behind the half-painted bench?”

The ranger’s Sat phone squawked. He listened, grunted.

“I gotta go. Finish the job, and don’t let me ever see you here again.”

“Yes, sir,” Kate said as she saluted the ranger. “Mission will be completed.”

The ranger spit to the side, turned and left.

Kate waited to be sure he was gone. She grabbed the brush and finished painting the bench. The can, the brush, the rags went into a plastic trash bag.

She took the  pewter-colored metal urn out of the tote bag. Unscrewed the lid.

“Okay, Harry,” she whispered. “Now it’s time.” She stepped to the edge of the pond, took a final look around, scattered Harry’s ashes over the pond. She rinsed out the urn, filled it with water, and threw it out to the middle of the pond.

“Bye, Harry.” 

All her memories welled up, turned to tears, dripped down into the pond.

Kate sobbed. Shook head to toe.

She backed away from the pond, sat down on the bench.

“Shit!”

***

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 – 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.

***

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