Healing through story

Tag: shortfiction24 (Page 1 of 4)

shortfiction24 – voiced by a lesbian comic

Milo finds a new voice in a lesbian standup comic. Change doesn’t come easily.

I’ve mentioned before, some of my stories have turned into series. The characters keep talking to me. I don’t have a story or character arc planned out. The continuing stories arise as they do.

Milo lost his beloved Maurice on stage one night. He was abandoned to the floor of a dressing room closet. He had a few adventures, with Maurice’s spirit helping him out of tight spots.

He has now been thrown together by serendipity with standup comic Moneen. They start a life which may be brand new for each.

Voiced by a Lesbian Comic

Bob Gillen

Standup comic Moneen Quirk waved to the audience, grabbed her water bottle, and left the stage to a healthy round of applause. Backstage the club manager called her over. 

“You did good. I’d like to have you come back. Call me in a month or two, when I have a fresh audience.”

He paid Moneen in cash. “Don’t forget. Call me.”

Deeper backstage in the deserted dressing room, Moneen counted out the cash, stuffed it in her jeans pocket. She wiped makeup off her face, ran her hands through her hair to soften the gel in her spiked blond tips.

“Time to hit the road,” she said aloud.

She reached into the closet for her jacket. The hanger broke, the jacket landed on the floor atop a pile of makeup-stained towels. Moneen reached down and her hand struck something hard. She took out her jacket, reached back in to find a head. The head of a dummy. 

A ventriloquist’s dummy. 

She pulled out the dummy. “Hey buddy. Who are you? What are you doing here?”

Waiting for someone to find me, Milo thought.

Moneen set the dummy on the counter, grabbed a cotton wipe and dusted off its head and shoulders. 

She studied the dummy. “Hey, you look pretty spiffy. Navy pants, striped shirt. A continental look. Can’t imagine anyone leaving you here.”

Moneen smiled, dropped her voice. “I spent a year working a ventriloquist routine. Couldn’t make a go of it. Never found the right dummy.”

 She glanced around the empty room. “How would you like to take a road trip with me?”

Anything but this.

Moneen threw her backpack over her shoulder, tucked the dummy under her jacket, and dashed out the rear exit before anyone spotted her.

In the parking lot sat her white Chevy Silverado 1500 all-wheel drive pickup with a low profile camper in the back. She set the dummy in the passenger seat, climbed in, fired the engine and hit the road.

A few miles ahead she pulled in at a McDonald’s drive through, ordered a Quarter Pounder and a coffee to go. 

As she ate in the truck, she said, “My next gig is tomorrow night. A three-hour drive. How about you and I just ride, see if we can get comfortable with one another.”

I can do that.

Moneen settled in behind the wheel.

“One thing is non-negotiable, Milo. I love driving the night roads.” She reached for the radio. “I prefer good old rock when I drive at night. Anything with bass, and lyrics that touch me…you must enjoy feeling the fresh night air, buddy. Been a long time, huh?”

Amen to that.

Moneen reached over to stroke Milo’s head. “Here we go.”

An hour down the road Moneen spoke. “Hey, buddy, I am so sorry. I haven’t introduced myself. Name is Moneen. Full name Moneen Felicity Quirk. I’m a standup comic. Travel mostly the northeast US, sometimes Montreal when the weather is warm. I live on the road six to eight months a year. This truck is my home. Wifi and internet is my lifeline.

“In the morning I’ll google you, see if I can find out what happened. At least I can find your name.”

My name is Milo. I can’t tell you that because I can’t speak without someone else’s voice. But I have feelings. They’re locked inside.

The wonderful silence of nights on the road fell over them.

After three hours they pulled off the road into a free camp site. Moneen turned the music off. “Have to move quietly in here, or they’ll toss me. We can sleep here. Clean restrooms and good showers.”

The two moved to the camper shell. 

“You can bed in here with me. Hope I don’t embarrass you. Don’t know if I snore. Been a while since I was with anyone.” 

Moneen set the dummy on a seating ledge, then nestled into a sleeping bag on her bunk.

“This is my life most nights. You’d think I can’t come up with any comic material living a boring life. But the humor is here. Gotta look for it, listen for it. I usually take the deep winter months off. Otherwise I play colleges and towns big enough for snow clearance to be a priority.”

In the morning, shortly before noon, Moneen stirred. “Morning, buddy. Let me hit the showers, then we can talk.”

Half an hour later Moneen searched the Internet for clues to what happened to the dummy. 

“Aha. You worked an act with Maurice. He died on stage at the club we just left. Almost two years ago. They left you there…your name is Milo, right?”


“Milo, I know you must have been close with Maurice before he died. I hope I can be a friend too.”


“I have an idea. We don’t know one another yet. I can’t pretend to be your voice. How about this? My next few gigs you can sit in the wings. Absorb my act, how I connect with audiences. After a while, you can come on stage with me. Remain silent for a bit if you’re not ready. When you are, we’ll try out an act.”


“And we’ll spend time on the road getting to know one another. That will help.” 

Better than sitting in a closet.

“You know, I started my career as a ventriloquist’s assistant. Worked my way up to ventriloquist for a short time, but I transitioned over to standup and never looked back.”

Moneen put on a jacket. She ran her hand over the dummy’s control mechanism. 

That feels good.

“Let’s go for a walk. We can talk for a bit.”

The two set out on a path that led to a small lake.

“I should tell you something. I’m a lesbian. Part of the LGBTQ community. I hope that doesn’t put you off. Being voiced by a lesbian.”

Milo spoke through Moneen. “I don’t do well with change. I guess it would be okay.”

“Ah, there’s your voice. Okay, we’ll try it. Might work. A lesbian standup comic voicing a straight dummy.”

They walked for an hour, tentative voices exploring one another’s personalities. As they approached the camper, Moneen said, “I am really slow on the uptake. Milo, you must be feeling a lot of pain. Losing your partner suddenly, in the middle of the act. In front of an audience.”

“It hurts like hell. We were together for a long time. Maurice’s wife divorced him. Said he talked to me more than to her. I was his best friend.”

“Alright, let’s hit the road. There’s a good diner near the next venue. Early dinner, and then we can scope the audience before we go on.”

That night Moneen set Milo on a chair in the club’s wings. She ran through most of her routine to a strong audience reaction.

Moneen glanced over at Milo. Nodded. Turned to the audience.

“Hey, you guys have been great. Before I finish I want to introduce a friend to you all.” She walked over, set Milo on her arm, and brought him out on stage. The audience stared.

“This is Milo. A new friend. I rescued him from the bottom of a closet.”

She had Milo face the audience. “He’s kinda shy.”

“Not shy,” Milo said. “Never been voiced by a lesbian before.”

The audience hooted and clapped.

“Okay, maybe not so shy. A new world for both of us. I worked a ventriloquist act a few years back. My dummies were all gay.”

Moneen unbuttoned the denim overshirt she wore, to reveal a white tee shirt with large bold letters that read: The Future is Female Ejaculation.

The audience erupted. A woman down front yelled, “I hear you, sister!” In the rear another woman stood, shouted, “You rock!”

Moneen sucked in the audience reaction. 

Milo spoke, “I’m a straight guy. This is all new to me.”

“Uh oh,” Moneen said, “I think I embarrassed you.”

Later, sitting in her truck, Milo balancing on her knee, Moneen said, “I owe you an apology. Too much too soon.”

“I told you, I don’t handle change well.”

“Milo, would you consider a costume change? Would you be more comfortable in a different outfit?”

Milo turned to glare at Moneen. “Okay, so we had an awkward moment, and already you want to change me. I’ve worn this outfit for years. Been this character since I can remember.”

“No, no. Just a thought. If you would be more comfortable…”

“I don’t want to talk about this.”

The two lapsed into silence. Moneen whispered, “I’m sorry. I don’t do change well either.”

Milo did not answer.

Moneen set Milo in the passenger seat, pulled out onto the highway.

“No gigs till the weekend,” she said. 

They drove in silence for hours. At the next campground, they tucked in for the night.

In the morning, Moneen drove to a pancake house for takeout. In the camper, she said, “If I said again I was sorry, would you hear my voice?”

She reached for Milo’s controls. Silence.

Moneen laughed. Milo turned to stare at her.

“I had a crazy thought. We could dress you in a monk’s robe. You could hold a jar of jam. You have a vow of silence. You never speak onstage.”

Milo snickered. 

“Aha, you’re hearing me.”

Milo said, “I’m this guy. I won’t change. Don’t try to make me something I’m not.”

Moneen nodded. “And I won’t change either.”

Milo said, “A straight and a queer. We can make it work.” He blurted out, “Okay, if one of us has to change, how about I take on a James Dean look? Jeans, white tee, cowboy boots, slicked back hair.”

Moneen laughed. “Yeah. Jett Rink from Giant.”

Milo reached over, hugged Moneen. “A straight and a queer with the same sense of humor.”


shortfiction24 – no more regrets

Finn’s day turns around when he meets a deep sea fisherman on Artie’s bait barge.

Today’s story is an homage to Steinbeck and Hemingway, characters very loosely based on characters from the two American authors: Steinbeck’s Doc and Hemingway’s Santiago.

Enjoy the story!

No More Regrets

Bob Gillen

Finn eased his nineteen foot Boston Whaler against the side of Artie’s bait barge. He tied off bow and stern, hoisted a battered cooler onto the deck.

“Whadya got for me today, Finn?” Artie called out.


“Your timing is perfect. I got a couple guys looking for them.”

Finn lifted a basket to the deck. “Mussels too.”

“Always in demand.”

Artie carried the cooler and basket into the shack that sat in the center of the barge. Outside, next to the door, stood a rusted Coca-Cola ice chest. Artie pointed to it. “Grab a beer, Finn. On me.”

Finn pulled a can of Miller Lite from the Coke cooler.

“How’s business, Artie?”

“Can’t complain. Been out here for twelve years now, and every year gets a little better. The season is already slowing down for winter, though.”

Finn sat on a bench and sipped his beer. He watched the boats come and go along the channel near the barge. Artie had moored his barge near the outlet of the bay, where bay meets ocean. Lots of traffic. He had a large sign on the barge: Artie’s Bait. Snacks. No Gas.

Finn turned when he heard a quiet rumble from the other side of the barge. A Bertram42 fishing boat pulled alongside the barge. One man behind the wheel. Finn got up and wrapped the man’s lines around cleats.

“Thanks.” A man, looking to be about seventy, khaki shorts, white tee stepped onto the barge. Artie came over while Finn went back to sitting on the bench. 

“I got your squid, Skip.”


“I’ll transfer them to your boat. Grab a beer and join Finn for a minute.”

Skip pulled a can of Coke from the cooler. He sat next to Finn. 

“I’m Skip.”


Skip hoisted his Coke. “Need my wits. Beer can wait for the trip home.”

“Where you headed? That’s a beautiful boat you got there.”

“Brought her up from North Carolina twenty years ago. Six hundred horses under the deck. Her name is Marlina. My wife was Lina. My passion is marlin fishing.”

“Any luck with the fishing?”

Skip shook his head. “Not lately. Haven’t caught anything worth talking about all summer. This will be my last run before I haul her out for the winter.”

“Going out alone?”

“No choice. My usual buddies are all busy.”

Artie stepped over. “I got them in your cooler.”

“Gotcha. Thanks Artie.”

A small skiff pulled up to the barge. The front of the boat was loaded with seaweed-covered crab traps. A boy held the boat while a girl hopped out. “We need a bucket of fish parts for our crab traps.”

Artie handed her a bucket, she paid, and they left.

“You a fisherman?” Skip asked.

“I am, but exactly the opposite of what you do. I collect marine specimens from tidal pools. Sell them to universities, mostly in the Midwest.”

“They got no ocean there, huh.”


“Hey, here’s a thought.” Skip said. “How about coming out with me?”


“Why not. I’ll be two nights at the most. I got her stocked with food and snacks. You can see the other side of marine life. Large scale. I’m going for swordfish.”

“That’s tempting, Skip. But no. I’ve got orders I need to fill right away. And low tide will hit in a couple of hours.”

“Low tide comes twice a day, every day. Just sayin’.”

“Gotta keep the clients happy.”

Skip pointed his Coke can at Finn. “I’d offer a raincheck, but not sure I can deliver on that.”

“There’s always next year.”

Skip said nothing.

They sat in silence for a few minutes.

Skip cleared his throat. “I got surgery waiting for me. First week in October.”

“Anything major?”

Skip pointed to his stomach. “A tumor in my gut. Size of a tennis ball. My doc says it’s benign. They won’t know for sure till they remove it.”

“Yeah, that’s major.” Finn sipped his beer.

“They tell me up to five hours on the table, then a week in the hospital…and a few months recovering at home.”

“No heavy lifting, right?”

“You got it.”

Artie stepped over.

“Skip, I don’t like you going out alone.”

“No worries, Artie. I’ll keep within five miles.”

“That’s five miles too far for you.”

Another small boat pulled up to the barge. Artie stepped over to help them.

Skip took a swig of his Coke, retched, ran to the edge of the barge. He heaved into the water.

When he came back to the bench, wiping his mouth and chin, Finn said in almost a whisper, “The tumor is malignant, isn’t it.”

Skip said nothing.

“I’ve seen it before,” Finn said. “A neighbor…it didn’t go well.”

Skip stared out across the bay. “Today is my last run. Period. Even if they get it all, I won’t be able to do any heavy lifting…including fishing for the big ones.”

“That’s gotta hurt.”

“You have no idea.”

The two sat in silence for a time.

“You sure you don’t want to go out with me.”

Finn shook his head. “Orders.”

“Can’t that university in Nebraska wait one more day for their starfish?”

Finn shook his head. “And I don’t have a change of clothes with me.”

“Who needs clean clothes? We’re fishing.”

Finn shook his head.

“You know,” Skip said. “I used to have a long bucket list. Just one item now. Take Marlina out one last time. Bring in a big fish.”

“I never had a bucket list,” Finn said. “Always took it one day at a time.”

“No dreams? No goals?”

Finn hesitated. “I have a short list of regrets. Things I wish I had seen or done.”

“Like what?”

Finn drained his beer, crushed the can in his fist. “I met a French girl once, back in 2012. We were at a TED talk. Kinda hit it off. She invited me to spend a week in Paris with her.”

“That sounds seriously cool.”

“Yeah. It started out that way. My last night in Paris, I planned to spend it with her. But she wanted to go out to a jazz club with friends. I got pissy, begged off, stayed home. She went out anyway.”

“A party girl.”

“Doesn’t matter. I don’t regret not seeing her after that. But I do regret missing the jam session They went to that night  at Le Duc des Lombards cafe when they recorded ‘The A, B, C and D of Boogie Woogie.’ Charlie Watts from the Stones, he was the drummer.”

“Don’t know that album.”

“I play it every time I have my head up my ass. Sets me straight.”

The conversation trailed off.

Skip got up. “My fish is waiting.”

He climbed aboard and started the engine. 

Finn got up too. His eyes raked stem to stern over the Bertram. He walked into the shack.

A moment later he came out, took another beer from the cooler. He hopped into the Bertram. “I’m going with you.”

Skip grinned. “No regrets?”

Finn untied the lines and pushed off from the barge. “Artie will watch my boat. The Midwest can wait on its starfish. There’s a swordfish out there to scratch off your bucket list. And my regrets list.”


shortfiction24 – a soldier’s wife

Agnes Morissey comes home to an empty house, with her husband away at basic training. No amount of prayer and pleading had kept him out of the draft.

She has held back some of her letters. He has enough to deal with without her passing on her own frustration.

A Soldier’s Wife

Bob Gillen

The midday Spring sun failed to light the dim interior of the old Manhattan church. A half dozen women were scattered about in the pews, all in deeply private prayer. All begged for the same thing: bring my husband, my son, my brother home safely from the war.

At the front of the church a wide rack of lit prayer candles cast a glow on the face of one woman kneeling in the first row. Dressed in black, with a black scarf pinned to the top of her head, Agnes Morrisey cast her eyes up on the statue of Mary looming over the candle rack. Her fingers moved silently over the beads on her rosary. Our Father. Hail Mary. Hail Mary.

A woman with a long scarf draped over her head stepped up to light a prayer candle. She nodded to Agnes. Peggy Gaffney. Her husband Vic had been discharged a week ago, in the hospital with a wound that paralyzed his left side.

Agnes finished her prayer, sat back in the pew. Opening her purse quietly, she removed an envelope thick with note papers. A large X slashed the address. These were letters she could never send Patrick. He had enough to deal with. 

She selected the top letter, read it to herself.

Dear sweetheart,

Easter is almost over and I’m so glad! Everybody kept telling me how much they missed you today, but nobody missed you as much as I do. It’s so lonely here with you gone, coming home to an empty house. Willie drove me home from mother’s house, so I didn’t have to take the trolley.

Our son Christopher has no patience and gets angry easily. The other day he slapped me in the face. I slapped him back but not in the face, of course.

Agnes paused, listened. So quiet you could almost hear the hot wax melting down the lit candles.

These letters reeked of disappointment, sadness. Even failure. Patrick could never see them. It would make his situation even harder to endure. Agnes worked hard, usually got  exactly what she wanted. Letters to the local Selective Service members. Calls to their homes in the evenings. Manhattan’s west side  was run by ward captains. She knew theirs well enough to feel confident asking for a postponement or even reversal of Patrick’s selection. Nothing worked.

She looked at another letter. 

Everyone I meet from the neighborhood says, What a shame a nice quiet fellow like you couldn’t be allowed to stay home with his family. I agree, of course, but all I can do is nod and smile.

I am trying to toilet train Christopher. I sat him on the toidy three times this morning. I tried for twenty minutes again right after lunch, but no luck. I took him off and he ran inside without any pants on, and hid behind the bed. I went to get clean pants for him and when I came back, he had left his calling cards from the bed to the bathroom, to say nothing of his legs and shoes and stockings. Was I mad!

In another letter:

Patrick’s a great guy, everyone says. Do anything for anyone. But there is no fight in you, is there. Willie thinks you should be okay, with your occupation as purchasing agent. Maybe be based here in the States somewhere.

Has basic training toughened you in any way? You’ll probably come home and be taking over. 

No, I can’t tell him that.

A woman slipped into the pew next to Agnes. She slid the letters onto the pew out of sight.

“Betty,” she whispered. “I haven’t seen you in ages.”

“Hi Agnes. I heard Patrick was called up. How is he doing?”

“He seems to be all right. Still in basic training. I hear from him almost every day.”

“Good. And how is little Christopher? He must be almost two by now.”

“Eighteen months…And how is Joe?”

Betty turned away.

Agnes gripped Betty’s hand.

“He was killed overseas last September. In Italy.”

Agnes felt redness creep up her face. “Oh no. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”

“I’ve been staying downtown with my mother. I’m all right. We didn’t have any children. That makes it easier to start fresh.”

“Oh Betty.”

“I better be going. My mom is outside.”

Betty left Agnes alone again in the pew.

How did I not know Joe died?

Later as Agnes climbed the stoop to her building, anxious to see Christopher, a voice called to her. She turned to see a man in a Western Union uniform. “I have a telegram. Do you live in apartment 201?”

Agnes froze, gripped the rail with both hands. She slipped down to sit on the steps. Not now. He hasn’t even finished basic training. She reached for the telegram, tore it open. Tears poured down her face. 

The Western Union man touched his cap. “Ma’am.” He walked away.

Agnes’s tears dripped on the edge of the telegram, fell down on her skirt.

Tears of joy.


shortfiction24 – boogie woogie resting place

Siblings Sarah and David are desperate to find a final resting place for their mom’s cremains. Music offers a solution.

I hope you enjoy the story. Thanks for reading.

Boogie Woogie Resting Place

Bob Gillen

Two teen siblings, backpacks slung over their shoulders, trudged the length of the St. Pancras mall in the heart of London. Shops lined both sides of the mall, a rail station anchoring one end.

Sarah said, “This wasn’t supposed to be hard. Mom loved this city. Why can’t we find a place where her cremains belong?”

David wiped a tear away from his cheek. He patted his backpack. “She deserves a proper resting place.”

He spied a small coffee shop. “How about an iced coffee? My treat.”

“Excellent idea, brother.”

The two snagged a tiny table at the front of the shop. They sipped drinks while watching a steady stream of travelers wheeling their carryon luggage down the mall. Other shoppers wandered in and out of the stores. Across from the coffee shop a piano, one of London’s public pianos, snugged up against the glass wall of an elevator shaft.

A man, black Dr. Martens, sunglasses, spiked salt and pepper hair, sat at the piano playing a soft tune. None of the pedestrians stopped to listen.

The piano man moved into an upbeat boogie woogie tune. Now a few passersby stopped, clapped along, swayed to the music. One random man stood next to the piano man and began playing the higher notes. More people stopped to listen.

“Mom would have loved this,” David said. “Live music, lots of people, shopping.”

Sarah nodded.

Piano man slowed the pace, now doing a soft boogie woogie version of ‘You are my sunshine.’

Sarah brightened. “Oh God, mom loved this song.”

“Too bad she can’t settle here.”

Sarah stood. “Why not?”


Sarah pointed to a large planter nestled under an escalator. “There.”

“Sure. Cameras everywhere. They’ll think we’re planting a bomb.”



Sarah spotted a mall cleaning lady park her cart in front of a restroom. The woman tossed her cap on the cart, disappeared inside. Sarah dashed over, pushed the cart next to the planter. She grabbed the cap and plopped it on David’s head. 

“You sit on the ledge, wipe it down like you belong here. Quickly. Dig a hole in the planter near one of those little plam trees. Let me worry about the distraction.”

Before David could register a breath of protest, Sarah put her backpack down near the planter and ran over to the piano man. He picked up the tempo. Sarah began dancing to the music. She kicked her legs, waved her arms in the air, managed to carry off a couple of cartwheels. Piano man was ecstatic for the attention. More people gathered around, clapping, stomping.

At the planter David yanked a magazine and a trowel from his backpack, and using the magazine as a screen, dug a foot-deep hole in the soft soil alongside the planter’s edge. He slipped a simple urn from the backpack, and poured the cremains into the hole he had dug. Just as quickly he covered the hole.

All eyes were on Sarah and piano man. David wiped fingerprints off the empty urn, the trowel and the magazine, shoved them deep into the trash bag on the cleaning cart. He wiped down the handles of the cart, pushed it away with his foot. The cap he crumpled up and stuffed in his pocket. Can’t leave any DNA evidence, he told himself. 

When the cleaning lady exited the restroom, she looked confused, spotted her cart, and pushed it away.

David stood slowly, stretched his limbs. He grabbed both backpacks and wandered over to the edge of the crowd. He resisted giving any obvious signal to Sarah. Piano man wound down his song, announced he was breaking for coffee. Sarah, sweating and panting, took her backpack as she walked off with David. He threw the cleaning lady’s cap in a nearby trash container.

“I didn’t know you could dance like that,” he said.

“Shut  up.”

After a few moments David said, “Mom’s at rest now.”

Sarah drew her arm through David’s as they walked away. She turned back for a moment. “Love you, mom.”


shortfiction24 – chasing freedom on a city bus

Jennifer Bailey needs a passing grade in her History course. Senior citizen Mrs. Rice drags her along on a bus ride and helps her create a moment in history.

I wrote this story a few years ago. It’s a bit longer than my usual offering. I hope you enjoy it.

Chasing Freedom on a City Bus

Bob Gillen

Jennifer Bailey stumbled up to the entrance of the Sweet Meadow Assisted Living Residence. Late afternoon in early December in Southern California. Temps hung in the low 50s. Cloudy, cold, a chill wind blowing. Her ears did not register the whine of the gardeners’ leaf blowers. The only noise she heard sat deep inside her head. A hollow echo. Her History teacher standing over her desk. You failed your American History exam.  She would need a miracle to finish her paper and pass the final in two weeks.

Before she opened the door, Jennifer stopped, pulled her cell phone out of her back pocket, and texted her friend Lindsay Beckwith. Two hours at the nursing home. Without service credits I fail History for sure. But I need to be writing my paper.

Lindsay replied right away. I feel your pain. Hang in.

As soon as Jennifer opened the front door Mrs. Hannah in Administration beamed. “Jennifer!”

Jennifer managed a weak smile.

“Jennifer, Mrs. Rice has requested you for this afternoon.”

Just kill me now.

“Please report to room sixty-two. Mrs. Rice is expecting you.”

Motor Mouth Rice. She never stopped talking. You only got a break when she went to the bathroom, which was usually every hour. No chance to sit and do some homework. She demanded you listen.

Jennifer dragged herself down the hall toward room sixty-two. Several residents gave her a big hello. “Will we see you later?”

Jennifer pointed to room sixty-two. One resident grinned, said, “Sorry, dear. Good luck.”

As she approached the room, she could hear Mrs. Rice’s voice. A drone like a thousand bees. Incessant.

“Why can’t I go back to my old house?”

“Tell them about the food… today’s lunch was indigestible.”

“The nurses ignore me.”

As Jennifer turned into the doorway, she spotted a man sitting next to Mrs. Rice, a pained look on his face.

“Jennifer!” Mrs. Rice called out. Before the word was out of her mouth, the man jumped up, waved to Mrs. Rice, and ran out the door.

“That was my brother,” Mrs. Rice said. “I would have introduced you if the wimp hadn’t run away.”

“Hi, Mrs. Rice,” Jennifer said.

“Glad you’re here, dearie.”

Mrs. Rice tossed aside the blanket covering her legs, pulled herself up out of her chair and stood wobbling on her cane.

“Did you bring your video camera today?”

“It’s in my locker at school.”

“What about that video function on your phone? Every kid has one, right?”

Mrs. Rice was a lot of things, but ignorant wasn’t one.

“I can do short videos with my iPhone.”

“Perfect. I need your help with a very important task today,” she said.

Now what?

“Please get my sweater from the closet. The wool one with the purple flowers. I want to go out for a walk,” Mrs. Rice said. “A walk out back in the gardens.”

“Mrs. Rice, it’s chilly out today and you have trouble walking.”

“Never mind, child,” Mrs. Rice said. “I need to do this today.”

Before Jennifer could get the sweater, Mrs. Rice took her arm.  

“Put that backpack of yours down and walk me to the bathroom.”

Ten minutes later Jennifer helped Mrs. Rice inch down the back steps of Sweet Meadow and out to the garden. A staff member called out as they walked. “Good to see you out and about, Mrs. Rice.”

The garden stretched down away from the main buildings. A pleasant place on most days. The nearing darkness made the cold wind feel like a hand pushing them along.

“Take me down there by the back fence,” Mrs. Rice said. “It’s pretty there.”

The two made their way along the path until they came to tall shrubs lining the back fence. Mrs. Rice looked around, saw that no one seemed to be watching, and pulled Jennifer behind the shrubs.

“Mrs. Rice, what are you doing?”

“There’s a hole in the fence back here,” Mrs. Rice said. “I’ve seen the gardeners cutting through here after work.”

“A hole? In the fence? Why? Where are we going?” Jennifer protested.

“Stop your whining, girl, and help me through.”

Jennifer held the old woman’s arm while she stooped and stepped sideways through a big gap in the chain link fence. Jennifer followed. Pedestrians passing on the sidewalk paid no attention to them.

“Do you know what today is?” Mrs. Rice asked.

“Tuesday,” Jennifer replied.  “December first.”

“Yes, and do you know the significance of today?”

“Uh, it’s the day you escape from the nursing home?”

“Don’t be fresh, young lady.” Mrs. Rice paused as the two walked along the sidewalk behind Sweet Meadow. “Today is indeed December first. It’s the anniversary of Rosa Parks’s refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus in 1955.”

Not history. Please, not today.

“Do you know who Rosa Parks is?” Mrs. Rice asked. Her eyes bored a hole in Jennifer’s.

“Uh, she was, like, part of the Civil Rights movement, I think.”

“Part of it?”  Mrs. Rice said.  “Jennifer, her action started the Civil Rights movement!”


The two continued along the sidewalk toward Ventura Blvd. and a bus stop.

“She refused to give up her seat on the bus and move to the rear,” Mrs. Rice said. “They arrested her. That prompted the Montgomery bus boycott by the black community.”

“Okay.” Jennifer eyed her surroundings.

“Every year on this date I ride a bus to honor her. My brother usually takes me. As you saw, he took the coward’s way out today.”

Mrs. Rice tugged Jennifer’s arm. “Let’s not miss the bus.”

“Is this a good idea?” Jennifer asked.

“You’re here to offer community service, are you not?”

Jennifer felt in her pocket for her iPhone. This escape was going to need an intervention. She slipped the phone out of her pocket and began keying in the phone number for Sweet Meadow.

Mrs. Rice spotted the movement. “Put that phone back in your pocket, Jennifer. When I want you to take video, I’ll tell you. Otherwise, I want to see your hands at all times.”

This was not going well.

They got to Ventura Blvd. just as a bus pulled up. Good timing. For Mrs. Rice. Jennifer looked around, hoping someone from the nursing home was running after them. No luck.

Mrs. Rice whipped out a senior-fare bus pass. Jennifer scrambled to find exact change in her pocket.

Mrs. Rice teetered as she boarded the bus. The driver motioned her to a couple of seats near the front of the bus.

They sat. Mrs. Rice said, “Jennifer, I want you to take a video of me right now, with enough background so people can see I’m riding a bus.”

Jennifer pulled out her phone. 

“Can you get audio on that thing?” Mrs. Rice asked. 

Jennifer nodded. As she hit Record, Mrs. Rice began speaking. “Today is the anniversary of Rosa Parks’s famous bus ride in Montgomery, Alabama. I am honoring her memory by riding a bus today.”

Several passengers looked up, decided she was crazy, and looked away. One older woman across the aisle from Mrs. Rice smiled.

“Thank you for reminding me about the date,” the woman said. 

“Does it mean something to you?” Mrs. Rice said.

Jennifer panned her phone to capture the woman.

“Indeed, it does.” The woman smiled. “My name is Barbara.”

“I’m Mary, and this is my friend Jennifer.”

Mary? Jennifer had never heard Mrs. Rice’s first name before. And my friend?

Barbara said, “I was a Freedom Rider. Mississippi, in 1961.”

Mrs. Rice nudged Jennifer. “Record this on your phone.”

“I’m getting it.”

“I admire your courage,” Mrs. Rice said to Barbara. “I almost did that, but I was too scared.”

“It had its frightening moments,” Barbara said.

“I wanted to spend a summer with the Freedom Riders,” Mrs. Rice said. “I thought voting rights were so important. I requested a registration form from Snick—.“ 

“What’s Snick?” Jennifer interrupted, as she panned back and forth between the two women.

“SNCC. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. It was a civil rights organization formed in the 1960s in the South.”

Barbara nodded.

“When my registration papers came,” Mrs. Rice said, “I got as far as the part about waiving my rights in case of injury or death… I did something else that summer.”

“Don’t be hard on yourself,” Barbara said. “It was a difficult experience. I lasted three weeks, and came home. After I left, one of my companions was hurt when their bus was burned. It was horrible.”

Jennifer interrupted, “Why did you do that?”

“I believed in equality. We are not a country unless we are all treated as equal.”

“Were you scared?”

“Terrified, at times.”

The bus driver’s voice squawked on the PA system. “Folks, there’s an accident up ahead. The street is closed. I have to divert up to Victory Blvd. to bypass it. It shouldn’t take us too long. Thank you for your patience.” 

Barbara jumped up. “I need to get off here. I’ll be late.” She pulled the cord and headed for the door. “Thanks for our little talk.”

Jennifer turned off her phone’s recording. “We should head back, Mrs. Rice.”

“Nonsense, girl. A few more minutes won’t be a problem.”

The bus turned north with all the other traffic. Jennifer glanced at the time on her phone. At this rate she would never get to her paper.

The two sat quietly for a few minutes. The bus moved slowly along the detour, stuck in a lot of traffic. Jennifer noticed that Mrs. Rice began to wriggle in her seat.

“I think I will need a bathroom stop very soon,” she said. 

The bus finally turned onto Victory Blvd. Mrs. Rice pulled the stop cord.

“Wait,” Jennifer said. “Where are we?”

“We just passed a fast food place. I can go there. Then we’ll get a bus back to the home.”

They exited the bus and trudged to the fast food restaurant. While Mrs. Rice was in the restroom, Jennifer texted Lindsay. Nightmare. Stuck in a fast food place on Victory Blvd. with a resident from the nursing home. Help. Do you have your car?

Lindsay answered: No car today. Sorry.

Jennifer whipped the phone back in her pocket as Mrs. Rice returned. “I need a snack.” She rooted around in her pockets, found a few singles, and bought fries for her and Jennifer. She insisted they sit to eat.

“Don’t even think about reaching for your phone,” she said to Jennifer. “We have plenty of time.”

“If they discover you missing,” Jennifer said, “I’ll never be allowed to do community service there again. And I’ll lose my extra credits. I need them.”

They picked at the fries. Outside, it was now full dark. Jennifer kept her eye on Mrs. Rice. So far she seemed okay.

“How are your grades?”

“I’m failing history.”

“Did you record our conversation on the bus?”


“You know, history is all about people. Not events or plans or movements. People.”


“So…” Mrs. Rice pointed a fry at Jennifer. “You can write a paper about your experience today. That should get you extra credit.”

“There’s not enough to work with.”

“Young lady, use your head. Research Rosa Parks. Research the Freedom Riders. And use today as anecdotes. Real people who were part of history. Well, Barbara anyway.”

“You were too scared to go?”

“Honestly, yes. I believed in rights for all, but I’m afraid it was not at the threat of injury or death.”

Jennifer’s phone chirped. She pulled it out. Glanced at the screen. A text from Lindsay. 

“Who is it?” Mrs. Rice asked.

“My friend Lindsay.”

“You can reply.”

Jennifer texted back and forth with Lindsay for a few moments. She looked up intently at Mrs. Rice.


“It seems that Sweet Meadow is trying to locate us. They called Lindsay because they couldn’t find my number.”

“Oh dear. I guess we should be heading back.”

Jennifer peered out at the street. Traffic crawled along Victory Blvd.

“It’s going to take us forever to get a bus back home.”

Mrs. Rice laughed. “And I will surely have to pee again before we get home.”

Jennifer smiled. Okay, now what?

“I surrender. You better call the home. Let them figure it out.”

Jennifer made the call. Gave Mrs. Hannah in Administration their location. Told her the streets were tied up due to the accident. Mrs. Hannah said they would have a van get as close as the driver could. They’d bring a wheelchair for Mrs. Rice.

While Mrs. Rice went to the restroom again, Jennifer texted Lindsay with an update.

An hour later they had Mrs. Rice settled in her room. Jennifer grabbed her backpack and hurried for the door.

“Jennifer,” Mrs. Rice said. “We made history today.”


Mrs. Rice tucked her blanket around her legs. “Very minor, of course, but a moment of history. A bit of interaction between generations. I hope you enjoyed it.”

Jennifer nodded.

“And thank you for having the courage to go along with me. It meant a lot.”

Jennifer smiled and stepped out into the hall. Now for making history over my failing grade.


shortfiction24 – stuck in a sunbaked rut

In Shelly Francis’s recent newsletter, I found a quote from poet David Whyte: Poetry is often the art of overhearing yourself say things you didn’t know you knew. It is a learned skill to force yourself to articulate your life, your present world or your possibilities for the future.

The quote reminded me of The Rut, a poem I wrote in 1993 and unearthed from old, paper-based files. I could not have imagined how the poem reflects much of I am now learning about my life.

Here’s the poem, exactly as I wrote it in 1993:

The Rut

Bob Gillen

For too many days,

Like a wheel rolling onward,

I am stuck in my unyielding,

Sunbaked rut.

Hard edges hemming me in, holding me

To where someone else has gone.

A gentle rain comes, frees me

To roll away from softened

Walls, broken down to mud.

My new track is uncharted.

Will anyone else follow?


I had a script written for the third act of my life. Actually, for the last scenes of the third act. Events of the last four months have forced me to toss the script for a series of ad-libs. As I wrote many years ago, my new track is uncharted. Exciting, and a bit terrifying. All I can say with certainty is that my writing will see me through the ad-libs. My hope is that, as David Whyte says, “Poetry (I would add writing) is a learned skill to force yourself to articulate your life…”


shortfiction24 – two strikes

I used Edward Hopper’s well-known painting ‘Nighthawks’ as inspiration for this story.

WWII Army vet Dan nurses the pain of rejection in an all-night diner, where he meets an intriguing woman ship welder.

Two Strikes

Bob Gillen

Three nights after his discharge from the Army at the end of World War II, Dan sat at an empty stretch of counter in an all-night diner not far from his old neighborhood. On the counter next to his coffee cup an engagement ring glinted in the neon light, a tiny diamond set in a gold band. Tonight had been the moment he dreamed of since he was drafted. 

She said no.

The counter man stepped over to refill Dan’s black coffee, remove the empty plate once graced by a hefty slice of apple pie. 

“Bad night, huh?” the counter man said.

Dan nodded.

The counter man grabbed the bill lying on the counter, balled it up in his fist. “On the house tonight. You come back again, you pay.”

He went back to chatting with the only other customers in the diner at the two a.m. hour, a man and woman about Dan’s age. The three laughed quietly while the counter man rinsed glasses.

Looking over his coffee cup, Dan saw the man across the counter get up, kiss the woman on the cheek, and head for the exit. The woman waved to him. As the counter man cleared dishes, the woman put money on the counter and also headed towards the exit. Moments later Dan heard the juke box begin playing, ‘I don’t want to walk without you.’

“Lonesome, soldier?”

Dan started. Without waiting for an answer, the woman sat down next to Dan.

Dan felt a blush rage up his cheeks. Who is this dame?

The woman signaled the counter man for fresh coffee. She pointed to the engagement ring. “You need someone to wear that ring?”

Dan turned to look at the woman. “You proposing to me? After your boyfriend walks away?”

“Not my boyfriend. Cousin. First time I’ve seen him since he was drafted.”


“She dumped you, right?”

Dan shrugged.

The woman sipped her coffee. 

“You deserve better than her.”

“My family, my whole neighborhood, had us married right after the war. I guess she thought different.”

“It’s over. Move on.”

“Not so easy.”

The woman gestured to the diner’s interior. “I come in here almost every night. Have been since the war started. I get off work at 10 p.m., come straight here. Beats a bar. I can’t deal with drunks.”

Dan asked, “Where do you work?”

“Brooklyn Navy Yard. Half hour by subway. I’m a ship welder.”

Dan reached over, took her hands in his. “Pretty smooth hands for a welder.”

“Gloves, honey. You gotta take care of yourself. This job ain’t gonna last forever.”

Dan eyed the woman’s outfit, a dark dress accented with a bright scarf. 

“You clean up pretty good.”

“I’m at the shipyard six days a week, nine to ten hours a day. That shit stays behind when I walk out the gate.”

Dan turned to stare at the ring.

“When did you get home?” the woman asked.

“Three days ago.”

“No surprise there. I can smell the mothballs on your suit.”

Dan held up his sleeve to his nose. Grimaced.

“Were you overseas?”

“No. I did logistics. Worked at a couple of bases across the states. I was lucky.”

“Sounds boring.”

“Not for me. I could find anything.”

The woman cocked her head. “Really?”

“That’s how I got the ring.”

“Tell me,” she said.

Dan sipped his lukewarm coffee. Wiped his sweaty hands on his pants leg.

“I once shipped a pallet of toilet paper to a tiny base in Greenland. Had to disguise the carton as winter coats.”

Dan sat up straighter.

“That base sent me a new jeep they had no use for. Still in its factory carton, some assembly required. I sent it to Montana, to a general I knew. His son had been wounded, and the general wanted something to occupy his son’s time, help him get past the trauma.”


“Yeah, so, the general sent me a box of fresh-cut steaks. I shipped them to a supply officer for a submarine crew ready to ship out to patrol the Atlantic coast. The supply officer sent me the ring.” Dan pointed to the counter. “He said he had no need for it.”

“I’m guessing he had the same luck you did.”

Dan nodded.

“So the ring’s got two strikes against it.”

Dan stared at the ring for a few moments. He grabbed it, stuffed it deep in his pants pocket.

“You can pawn it, use the cash for a new suit. You’ll need it.”

“You’re probably right.”

“What’s your name, soldier?”

“Dan…You always this forward?”

“No. I told you, I come here rather than a bar because I can’t deal with the scum. Three years without a decent man to talk to. Ray here,” she nodded in the counter man’s direction, “is a jewel. Keeps this place a safe haven. The baseball bat under the counter helps. Six nights a week I come here for a burger and coffee. So…when I see a man like you, I know the real goods.”

Once again Dan felt his cheeks blaze.

“I gotta go. Morning comes too soon.” She stood. “My name is Betty. I’ll be here tomorrow, and for a few more months, till all the men are back and I lose my job.’

“What will you do then?”

“No idea. I’ll land on my feet somewhere. A paycheck makes this woman feel good.”

She waved goodnight to Ray.

“You okay walking home?” Dan asked.

“Sure. No one messes with a woman ship welder.”

“Maybe I’ll stop in again tomorrow night.”

Betty smiled. “You do that, Dan. Without the mothball suit.”

She extended her arm, shook his hand. “Soft hands for an Army guy.”

“Maybe I wore gloves.” He laughed. “Gotta look good for the ladies.”

“I look forward to seeing you tomorrow night.”

Betty turned as she headed for the exit. She pointed to Dan, winked. “Be careful out there. It’s a tough neighborhood.”


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