Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Alice: A writing prompt

Okay, I forgot about this weeks writing prompt, although I did manage to send out the piece, "God's Wife."

The prompt that everybody else chose was this: Alice didn't remember who had given her the key. Well, it's hardly polished, but here's something.


400 words

Alice couldn’t remember who had given her the key. She hoped it was the Klingon. Even under all of his scowling makeup she thought she had seen a twinkle in his eye. But then, it could have been the Vulcan. He had sort of twinkled at her too.

The afterglow party had left her rather confused. A couple dozen from TrekCon2290 had moved from the hotel bar to the hospitality suite. Between sniffing more than too much from the tank of Arcturian atmosphere gas, and smoking a bit of Silurian ceremonial herb, Alice couldn’t remember much.

Holding the key-card to her barely covered green breast she tried to concentrate. She had been among a small crowd in the corner, tightly packed together, whispering gossip and catty comments about the lack of fidelity some of the participants had displayed this year. It takes more than a pair of ears to make a Romulan. And then she felt a warm press on her arm and when she brought up her hand to look a moment later, there was the key, and no one near enough to have obviously put it there.

She thought for a minute that any potential friend for the night should have at least introduced himself before the invitation. But then she realized that as Vina, the Orion slave girl, if she was to be faithful to her role, she was only to respond by obeying. It wasn’t an invitation.

The vine-like armbands of her outfit felt tight. She tugged a bit at the very low cut sheath dress that she had created in her basement. She was not Alice and she was not the clerk at an insurance company who hasn’t had a real date in nine months. She was Vina. She was an animal. She was desired.

Making her way to the fourth floor, she steadied herself on the elevator door frame. She rechecked the key number and moved up the hall and did a quick inventory in her tiny, leaf-shaped purse for breath mints and condoms. Some things are universal.

The key purred and clicked at the door, she took a breath and stepped in. The lights were low. Then from the bed she heard a voice, “Krall nacck tranmat niir.” She thanked God that she had practiced her Klingon vocabulary, smiled a wicked smile and began dancing.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Vermillion Express

This is my first post in nine months and I have my new writer's group to thank. Interesting people and serious about their writing. And there was an assignment: a story of about 500 words containing three elements:
1) A man dressed in black 2) a train 3) a goldfish bowl

This is what I came up with.

The Vermillion Express

Yost Haddeson slumped in his seat, in and out of a doze, exhausted from his escape, exhausted from loss of blood. The train was hot, but right leg was alternately cold and numb, the inside of his thigh a sticky wet. But he had done his job. He had killed the man and gotten away with what he hoped was only a flesh wound. He almost wished that there were more pain as that might be assurance of less than permanent damage.

He had rightly guessed that there would be road blocks so he stole a bicycle and peddled back streets as fast as one and a half legs would go. The airports would be monitored and the bus stations too. He planned to bike past the periphery of the road blocks and steal a car.

But then, as his leg strength ebbed, he saw the train station. He’d never imagined that there, deep within the industrial heart of the city, would be a train station. He stopped, leaned the bike against a trash can went in. The place was nearly empty. He followed a lone yellow glow to a caged counter staffed by a single clerk.

“Passenger trains,” he said. “Are there passenger trains that stop here?”

The clerk didn’t look up but glanced at a schedule card. “There are,” he said.

“Any time soon?”

Another glance, “You’re leaving soon?”

“Yes, I’m leaving very soon.”

“Of course you are. And your destination?”

Yost hadn’t considered that. “Chicago,” he said. “Anywhere, really. I mean anywhere west. I’m meeting my grandfather. He’s been sick.” A stupid, unnecessary lie he thought. His grandfather had died in the seventies.

“West bound train?” asked the clerk. “The Vermillion Express leaves in ten minutes.”

He felt a low thrumming hum building in his chest and then in his ears. He turned and saw through the station’s back window, the towering side of the Vermillion’s locomotive. He limped to the platform. Six cars long, the train was a solid flat black with a slim streak of vermillion red running its length.

Yost boarded, found a seat and dozed.

When he awoke he was not alone. In the seat facing his was an old man, rumpled in all ways; his hair, his Einstein moustache, his black clothes, even the flesh of his sleeping face. The car felt warm and he slept again.

His eyes opened a minute or an hour later. His seatmate was awake and in his lap, a sloshing fish bowl, with fetid green water and small orange koy floating on its side.

“Your’s wet,” said Yost.

“As is yours.” Yost touched the spreading stain on his thigh. The thick hot air was becoming unbearable.

“And that fish. It’s dead.”

“Of course it is.”

Yost blinked and looked and there, heavy and hot in his lap, a bowl, spherical and full and stinking. His fish floated and twitched and then it didn’t move any more. The hot thick water slapped with the rocking of the train, flowed down the glass and soaked Yost Haddeson. It soaked him to the bone. One last time he opened his eyes. He saw the old man. He said, “Grandfather?”

Thursday, February 21, 2008


Let me say this very plainly: The word is "pundit." The word is not, "pundint."

Okay, I can't help myself...I'm intollerent of people who mispronounce words (even though I probably do it too.) When someone mentions the raised column upon which a statue rests and they call it a "pedistool," I go nuts.

But the word of this political season is pundit, and fully eight times out of ten I hear it pronounced with an "n." And this by professional media folks. It's crazy.

So cut it out!

It's no doubt a hopeless cause. These are probably the same folk who call their aunt's child their "cousint."

Sunday, February 17, 2008


Geez I write some wierd crap sometimes.


He is unsteady but moves with a focused determination. He thinks he should have opted for a lower heel. Three inches is quite a reach for his first time in stilettos. He is reasonably certain the rest of his outfit is satisfactory. The decision to wear slacks instead of a skirt had been a hard one, but there was so much else to concentrate on that the ease and familiarity of pants legs just made too much sense.

Through the parking structure of the Tropicana, down the half flight of steps to the casino floor and past the first row of slots. The casino air feels smooth on his newly shaved face. No more beard. No more moustache. After twenty years. He would find some explanation for his wife when he got back to Indianapolis. Past now a small bar on the gaming floor and a look in the mirror. Without breaking stride, all he can see are his full, gel-padded breasts. Forty-two D. He is not a small man and would not, therefore be a small woman. In the next mirror, again, all he sees are breasts. He stops at this bar and orders a whiskey and ginger ale. He considers his hands on the glass and guesses that he has known women with bigger hands than his. He sips his drink and studies the mirror.

The wig is good. Not too long nor too short. A casual style. Feminine without being frilly. His silky blouse is tasteful; jewel garnet in color and high in the neck. The breadth of his shoulders is unavoidable. He smiles at the barman. The barman smiles at him. Charles knows that the barman knows and he doesn’t care. But suddenly he thinks the barman may ask his name. He has no name; no new name. What would he say? Who would he be? How did he miss this detail? It couldn’t be a name that sounded made up. He couldn’t be Fantasia or Desiree. But he wouldn’t be Sylvia, either, nor Francine. Jill. His mother had told Charles that she thought he was going to be a twin and that she would have called his sister Jill. But he decides not to volunteer this name. He’ll keep it for emergencies.

His drink finished, he walks on, thinking that it might not have been the smartest thing to drink while learning to walk on high heels. A few people glance at him. He categorizes their looks. Some know. Maybe most know. A few much older men look him up and down. One winks and stares at his chest. Two women pass and he hears one comment on the color of his blouse. Luscious. That is the word she uses.

He walks up the Strip for maybe a block but it is very hot and he worries about sweat spoiling his make up. He worked hard on his make up. He turns and walks back to the Tropicana and back to the bar. He needs the cool air and he needs to think. He needs to take the next step but it’s not clear what that next step is. He orders a straight ginger ale and sips.

He takes a breath and says to the barman, “I’m looking for a bar. Someplace where…” He hesitates.

“Someplace where you’ll be comfortable?” says the barman.

“Yes. Exactly that. Nothing too…” He hesitates again. He almost says, nothing too queer. Charles is not queer. Charles is very straight. It’s just that today he is a straight man with tits and a garnet jewel colored blouse.

“You want Sandy’s,” says the barman. “It’s not too…much.”

“Right. Not too much. Exactly that.” He pays generously for his ginger ale and leaves with a brief, small stumble. He has forgotten about the heels.

In front of the Trop he has no problem hailing a taxi. He says, “Sandy’s,” the cabby nods and Charles settles back to watch the Strip go by.

Down Las Vegas Boulevard, a left at a wide street the name of which Charles misses, then down to Industrial, a right turn, another left and there, between a strip club and a party store is Sandy’s. Stepping form the cab, Charles feels the heat reflected off the beige cinder block walls. He enters the club, pays a twenty dollar cover charge and waits while his eyes adjust. The dark seems complete at first, with only a few shallow pools of light to his right and sharper neon beer signs by the bar to his left. Within a minute more detail resolves and he sees his way to a bar stool. He stands beside it, not wanting to have to hike himself up.

He orders a whiskey and ginger ale, “Easy on the whiskey,” he says.

Charles looks around the bar and sees that he is in company. Gay men holding hands with gay men. Lesbian women holding hands with lesbian women. A stern woman in leather. A much less stern man in a silk shirt. One other cross-dressed man who looks to Charles to have taken much less care in his appearance. A man in a business suit asks Charles to dance. Charles says, “I’ll try. I’m not much of a dancer.” It is a slow song and he spends most of his time paying attention to his feet and little of his time noticing his feelings. The dance over, Charles thanks the man. The man kisses Charles on the cheek. He is surprised. It is not unpleasant, but it is not pleasant, either, and certainly not erotic.

Charles looks back to the bar and sees that it is full; his place is taken. The bar is filling up. The tables he can see are occupied. He walks to the back of the bar, looking for a place to be; a place to observe; a place to assemble himself.

At one table sits one girl, unaccompanied. Charles’ calves ache. He touches a chair at this table and says to the girl, “Would you mind?” She half smiles and half nods, and he sits.

After a short while he asks, “Are you waiting for someone? I could leave.”

“No,” she says, “I’m just sitting.”

“Have you been here before?” asks Charles.

“No. You?”

“No. I’m from Indianapolis,” he says as though that will explain things.

“Fresno,” says the girl

Charles says, “I’ve never…been here or anything like that. I’m married. I’ve never…”

“Dressed? This is you first time out?”

“Yes,” says Charles.

“You look wonderful.”

Charles wants to say, “Really?” He wants to angle for compliments. He wants to hear how he looks.

She looks him over. “Yes, really,” she says.

“This seems to be a decent place,” she says. “But still, be careful. I don’t know anything about the guys you might meet here.”

“I’m not looking for a guy.”

“Oh,” she says. “Then what?”

“I don’t know. I think I just wanted to do this. To be this, even just this once. But I’m not looking for a guy. I’m married. And,” he says, “I’m straight.”

“Can I ask,” Charles says, “What you’re looking for here?”

“I don’t know either. I thought maybe I’d like to meet another girl. I’ve never been with another girl. I have a boyfriend. I’m not a lesbian.”

They both scan the room. “Why?” asks Charles. She looks at him. “Why did you want to be with a girl?”

The bar is dark enough that honesty is easy. “I like the way they look,” she says. “Women…look nice. I guess somehow I imagined I’d like to be with a girl but then in my mind, if it ever came to…intimacy…I don’t find that idea appealing. I don’t know.”

They, at that moment, look at each other.

“You know what we want?” askes Charles. “We want each other.”

She furrows her brow.

“Yes,” he said. “You want a woman with a penis who likes women.”

She laughed, “Yes, and you want to be a woman with a penis who meets a woman who wants her.”

For an hour they chat. And then there is an awkward silence. She says, “You know the chances of us meeting like this are microscopic.”

“In Vegas?” says Charles. “Chance is everything. But, you know,” he went on, “when we leave here, we will not be leaving together.”

“I know that,” she says. “You’re married.”

“And you have a boyfriend.”

They stand together. “Good bye,” she says.

“Good bye,” says Charles. As she walks away he whispers to the back of her neck, “We’ll always have Vegas.”

Sunday, January 20, 2008

One Touch Removed

One Touch Removed

In college I met a girl who had been to a Beatles concert a few years previously. She told me that she had been midway back in the audience, couldn’t hear a thing and could barely see the lads as they performed. But when the show was over, instead of moving with the crowd as it left, she stood behind a pillar in the auditorium and waited until the place emptied out. She made her way to the front and touched the boards of the stage. She told me that she cried to think that she was touching the very place where George Harrison’s boots had scuffed. She didn’t wash her hand for a week and her friends who hadn’t been to the show would often take her wrist and hold her palm to their cheeks. The power of touch, as remote as it may be.

I think about that as I think about the very long life of my great grand mother. She was one hundred when she died...born in 1863. I remember sitting on the porch with her when I was very young and she was very old. I asked her if, when she was a child, she knew anybody as old as she was now. She thought for a minute and then recalled to me a very old man named Messerschmidt who lived up the road from her house in Germany. She guessed that she might have been five or six years old then and that he was in his nineties. She couldn’t recall much but she knew he had a pet crow and that the crow could speak a few actual words.

I don’t know if I’ll explain the next part of this correctly; the Beatles and the stage and the old man and his crow and the touch. You see, my great grandmother, when she sat with me, would pat my hand while she talked. I imagine the old man would have patted hers. She was born in 1863. Lincoln was still in office. The old man must have been born around 1778. Washington was yet to be elected president. I have touched a hand that touched a hand that lived before the Constitution was written. One touch removed.

I’m somewhat saddened that with a health history that is problematic at best, I won’t reach the ages of my great grand mother and Herr Messerschmidt. If by some freak chance I do make it to 2045, I hope someone will bring me a baby so that I might pat its hand and sent it deep into the twenty-second century only two touches removed from the generation of the very birth of our nation.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

My Mother and the Crow

Mom 1955

My mother was ninety-three when she died last month and frankly I was a bit surprised that she left so young. Her grandmother was well over one hundred when she died, so I just kind of assumed that mom, being in nearly perfect physical health at her last birthday, would probably carry on until at least 2015. But that didn’t happen. That dark crow, Alzheimer’s, hovering over her these last few years, made a last great swoop this past Autumn. He roosted somewhere in her mind and didn’t leave. There were, however, moments when he dropped his guard. These were not warm, blessed minutes of normalcy but tragic windows through which mom saw where she had been and where she was and where she was surely heading. Those were the terrified, “My God, what’s happening to my brain?” moments. It must have been in one of those brief, bright episodes that she devised a plan to beat the bastard; she’d starve him to death. In little more that three weeks she went from her usual eighty-six pound weight to about sixty-eight pounds. I am convinced that she had decided to kill the crow, even if it meant he’d take her with him. And she did. And he did.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Walking the Wolf

Is this a new genre? The fictional essay.

Walking the Wolf

There is no such thing as a tame wolf or even a partly tame wolf. There can only be a wolf who, for the moment, has decided not to attack.

Walking for three or four miles with a wolf on a leash is never casual. There are no moments of illusion that you are one with your “pet.” You are only there as an adjunct to his hour. The leash only keeps you within each other’s boundaries in a vaguely consensual orbit.

There is always, in the pull and tug, the awareness of the relative pound for pound difference in your strengths. He is ninety-five pounds, and if you consider this in strictly human terms, you lull yourself into a false feeling of equality, or worse, superiority. A ninety-five pound man, when pushed, will fall. The wolf will not even allow himself to be pushed. His bones are light and his body fat is nonexistent. He is all muscle. And heart. And will. Pull hard and he may come, but you must always know that he will come on his own terms, and he may decide one time that those terms may be backed with anger. So you go together as a small pack, every minute weighing which of you is the leader.

You jog past a house with a fenced yard and in the yard is a large German Sheppard. The dog barks. The wolf stops. Wolves don’t bark, except when they are pups. We have bred dogs to remain pups through their lives and so they bark. The wolf sniffs. You feel a quiver through the leash, but the wolf calculates and in that moment decides the dog is not worth fighting and not worthy of inclusion with the pack. You move on.

Rounding the third mile the road heads home. A dog, sensing the nearness of his kennel will pull, or maybe drag back, tired from the walk. A wolf does neither. Home is where the wolf is. And wolves never tire.