#14 Glorietta and Red Bob Come to Terms

Glorietta and Red Bob Come to Terms

By Laura L Mays Hoopes

“Glorietta Mendenhall, what a mouthful, huh?” I said.

“Come with me,” she said. “I’m Amanda Flores.” She extended her hand.

I shook. “Nice to meet you,” I said. Yuck, how bourgeois.

“Since you’re sixty seven, you can begin to receive Social Security any time,” Ms. Flores said.

“How much will it be?”

A printer on her side table began to clatter. She handed me several sheets. One line of earnings for each year I’d worked. The years at the Haight commune weren’t listed. Barter was invisible to the government. Red Bob and I did okay in our diner, but we had some terrible times when we first bought it in the early ‘90’s.

“Do you want me to process your retirement papers?”

Even though I’d come here to do this, I felt unsure. What does it mean to retire from a business that you own and have worked in every day for twenty years? Would I sit out back in the trailer with my feet up? Who would cook? Could I make more than $1130 per month working? Finally, I said, “Yes, go ahead.”

She printed out forms and handed them to me.

I signed. She carefully went over all. Then she said I’d get an announcement in the mail when the processing was complete.

I bet myself that I’d hear from the bank before I heard from the government. I thought anarchy was best back in the ‘60’s and nothing the government has done since then had changed my mind. Yes, I had just signed up to receive a government pension, but I thought of the pension as my money they’d stolen from years of my paychecks. If I went through their stupid red tape, I could it get back.

I wondered about Red Bob. He resisted when I said we were employees of our place, the Cleghorn Diner. But he went along. He was two years older than me and he wouldn’t take Social Security. I hoped that my checks would finally convince him. I thought I could get Riann Moore to manage the diner for us, but I couldn’t afford to pay her unless he’d retire too.

I worried about our daughter Mimi. Red Bob thought she’d manage the diner when we stopped. She had agreed to waitress for us six years earlier after she graduated from high school, and she was still there. I thought it wouldn’t be long before she’d leave. I mentioned about it to Red Bob once, but he brushed it off. “Why should she, what else does she need? Got it all right here,” he said. But I saw her eyes that time after Ronnie took her down to The Ice House in Pasadena. Mimi had big ideas; she wanted to see her name in lights.

I also remembered running away from home to the commune on Haight Street in 1967. Mimi did what she should, but thought what she shouldn’t. She hoped Ronnie would marry her and take her down from the high desert so she could break into showbiz. She starred in Evita and led the Comedy Sportz Team in high school. But Ronnie wouldn’t do it. He moved here in mid-high school, but he was from the same stuck-in-the-mud mold as all the other guys she had dated.

When I got back from the Social Security office, I walked into our house trailer out behind the diner and went into Mimi’s room. Her closet was open and her red dress and that low cut black one were gone. Her suitcase was gone. And her two best pairs of heels. Uh oh. It was five o’clock. I rushed into my uniform and over to work.

Edith said, “Whew, glad you’re here. That table ordered burgers, and I had to tell them we don’t start cooking until five. They growled a bit but said they’d wait.”

I quickly started cooking. More orders poured in. Red Bob circulated around, telling his stories to all the guys. I couldn’t tell him about Mimi here. When it got to seven thirty, the crowd was pretty much over. I leaned on my kitchen stool. It was hard to stand up and cook fast three times a day for two or three hours.

We closed up at eight. Red Bob and I walked out to the trailer. It was still light, that mellow kind of light you get in late summer evenings. I said, “She’s gone, Red Bob.”

He said, ‘”I didn’t want to tell you; she went with Joe. I saw them pull out at four, on the Vegas road.” He gave me a sickly smile and said, “What should we do?”

I said, “We’ve got each other, Red Bob. She needed to find something for herself.”

His eyes were wet. “She was my baby. It won’t be the same.”

I patted his hand. “Of course it won’t, but we’ll be okay and so will she.” We sat at the kitchen table. I heated a can of chili and sliced some fresh bread. We picked at our food. Red Bob looked miserable. He cleared his throat often, but had nothing to say.

My mind was full of the time in my life when I left home and arrived in The Haight. Chaka and Melanie took me in at the commune. We wouldn’t cooperate with the government, but we didn’t blow things up. We wouldn’t work for money or pay taxes. We demonstrated against the war. I put a flower behind a soldier’s ear once.

Red Bob said, “C’mon, Glor, let’s go out. It’s been years since we’ve been anywhere on Saturday night.” I looked up at him in amazement. He was smiling at me in that special way I’d almost forgotten, the smile that made my heart turn over back in The Haight.
© Copyright 2009
Laura L Mays Hoopes. All rights reserved.

Laura L Mays Hoopes is a biology professor turned creative writer. In June, 2009 she completed the Creative Writing Certificate at UCLA Extension. She lives in the Inland Empire with her husband and terrier, Sabby. Her two kids are grown; one in Chicago and one in Santa Cruz. She has published in North Carolina Literary Review, Christian Science Monitor, The Writer’s Eye, and other publications. She is working on a biography and two novels. In addition, she maintains the West Coast Writers blog.


Writing hint fiction

Is flash fiction just too darn long?

Consider hint fiction, a story of 25 words or less that suggests a larger, more complex story. Robert Swartwood coined the term and will be accepting submissions for an anthology in August. He has a book deal with W.W. Norton so authors will be paid for the rights to their stories.

Details and deadlines are on his website.


#13 Your Smiling Face

Your Smiling Face
By Ann Wilkes

Mourners filled The Dug Out. Buoyant country rhythms and laughter played counterpoint to Sandra's sorrow and emptiness. This was Kyle's restaurant and Kyle's friends. She felt divorced from them. No one knew what to say to her. The smell of barbeque sauce and coconut was making her queasy. Or maybe it was the four piña coladas she had downed.

Sandra squeezed through the crowd at the ladies' and splashed cold water on her face. Then she stopped by Kyle's portrait on the wall by his table. He was leaning against his Mustang convertible, his cowboy hat pushed back on his head. As his blue eyes pierced her from the portrait, she smelled his cologne, felt his touch on her shoulder. She spun around but no one was there. The hairs on the back of her neck bristled.

She found Emily at end of the bar. "Em, can you tell everyone I said thanks for coming and goodbye? I gotta get out of here." She tried to keep her voice steady.

"No, problem. Let me know if you need anything." Emily moved toward the flip top section of the bar. Sandra pretended not to notice, and made for the door. She couldn't deal with another hug.

Out of the corner of her eye, as she hurried to her car, Sandra thought she saw a man in a jean jacket and cowboy hat sitting on the bench under the tree. It was where they would sit when Kyle could take a break from the demands of his restaurant. But when she turned her head toward it, the bench, was empty.

Sandra expected every man she saw from the back, with his build, his hair, his walk, to turn around and be Kyle.


Sandra went to Old Town for the first time since Kyle's memorial. She parked her car by Castle Green intending to stroll around then catch a movie. Her feet inevitably brought her up Colorado to The Dugout's heavy wooden door. She pushed through. It smelled of barbeque sauce and wood smoke. Emily smiled at Sandra, her eyes radiating love and sympathy. I shouldn't have stayed away, Sandra thought. Em always reminded her of her favorite aunt. Same age, same fire-red hair and Texan accent.

Emily came out from behind the mahogany bar and patted Sandra on the shoulder. "Well, aren't you a sight for sore eyes, darlin'. Sit wherever you like. I'll have Ramon bring you a chardonnay."

"Thanks, Em."

Why did they have to do that? People, who were never touchy-feely before, suddenly want to touch me. Why can't they act normal? But I'm being fickle. I want everyone to go on about their business but I hate them for doing it. Tears welled in her eyes. Shit. Not now.

Scanning the room, her gaze landed on Kyle's portrait. The table underneath it was empty. Why not? She pulled out the chair and angled it toward the wall. She sat down and thought at the portrait, Why did you have to leave me? A tap on her shoulder startled her. Ramon handed her a glass of wine.
"Thanks," she attempted a smile and took a sip.

Ramon crossed his arms and admired the portrait. "He's still here, you know."

She almost choked on her wine. "Excuse me?"

"You heard me. You've seen him too, haven't you?" Ramon's brown eyes fixed upon her.

She didn't know what to say. Is he serious?

"I told him you'd come back," he said.

Then she remembered seeing Ramon at the wake, a beer in one hand, the other hand against the wall as he faced the portrait. Like he was talking to Kyle. She figured he was. But she never imagined that Kyle was really there to hear.

Did Ramon?

"I shouldn't have come. I can't…I gotta go." She stood and stepped around Ramon. Walking toward the car, she thought she saw Kyle on the bench. No. Don't look. You can't. He's dead. There's no one there.

Alone in her car, she broke down and bawled. After a while, she heard someone else crying and breathing hard between her own sobs. A chill shot through her and she held her breath. Closing her eyes, she willed the sound away.

"Sandra. Look at me."

She opened her eyes. Kyle was sitting on the passenger seat, wearing the same clothes from the portrait. Because that's the only way I can remember him? Or because this is some alien or demon borrowing that particular image of him? He raised a shaking hand to touch her face, then let it drop. Sandra's whole body shook and her heart pounded in her chest. She wanted it to be him—needed him to be there. But how could he?

She gazed down, avoiding his pleading eyes. He leaned toward her and kissed the top of her head. When she lifted her chin, he shimmered into a small, glowing orb with a tail, like a miniature comet. It soared through the windshield, flashed brighter and there stood Kyle, ten feet in front of her car. Or what was left of him. Kyle had been thrown out of his car when it hit a guardrail at sixty miles per hour, his face becoming so much mangled flesh from skidding face-first on the gravel shoulder. He took off his hat, raised a hand to the lower portion of his lipless face and threw her a kiss. Then he was comet again and soared skyward.

Sandra let out a long slow breath. She sat, motionless for another ten minutes, still not sure if she could believe what had just happened. Then she straightened up and started the car. She looked in the rearview mirror. Her hair on the spot where he had kissed her had turned snow white. From his goodbye kiss.
© Copyright 2009 Ann Wilkes. All rights reserved.

Ann Wilkes' first book, Awesome Lavratt (2009, Unlimited Publishing) is a tongue-in-cheek space opera with mind control, passion and adventure. Her stories have appeared in magazines and anthologies. She also maintains Science Fiction and Other ODDysseys, a blog on writing, science fiction and writing science fiction. She lives in California's wine country with her husband, Patrick and their youngest son.


Entering the Esquire Fiction Contest

This is a reposting in case you missed it the first time around.

The Esquire Fiction Contest closes August 1, 2009. You are allowed to write one 4,000-word entry, using your choice of these three titles:

1. "Twenty-Ten"

2. "An Insurrection"

3. "Never, Ever Bring This Up Again"

The first prize is $2,500 and publication in Esquire. Full details are here.

Networking, one tweet at a time

Twitter requires you to get your point across in 140 characters or less, and that alone makes a great tool for writers who want to write tight.

But there's more! Twitter may be your "in" to published authors, literary agents, and publishing houses.

Writer and writing guru Maria Schneider explains it all her article "Twitter Tips for Writers + 25 Good Follows" on Editor Unleashed.


#12 Air Lines

Air Lines
by Donnie Dale

In 1976 Trans Canada Airlines lost a small feeder turboprop and my girlfriend’s father was on it. Only he and the pilot were on board and their bodies vaporized. We went up to Ontario from Pasadena, Millie and I, to make sure her mother was all right, and that was the first time I saw the trail that became our family icon.

Her mother—Barbara was her name—was a woman as skinny as a new elm and as vulgar as an old hockey player. She told us she was fine, and she was surprisingly fine considering the co-pilot of her life had disappeared. She instructed us to go out and see the countryside and leave her alone so she could celebrate. Millie had heard that the Bruce Trail was something to see so we went to see it. We were avid hikers then, early in our courtship. I think it was only later that the trail became so well known, traversing a good part of the province along rolling hills that are the highest points in the state.

During the hike, up from a country road, into hills fully clothed with the shimmering greenery of that region, we first saw The Tree. We called it The Tree because it stood out that much. A massive old spruce, it had blown over in a storm and was caught in the arms of a better-braced beech of similar size. We made a bet, she con and I pro, that the next time we came up it would be down on the ground. On the way out Millie named all the flowers she knew from her childhood there.

“This is a wild daisy,” she said of the striking white ones. Taking one’s head off for me. “He loves me he loves me not, he loves me he loves me not.”

And so on until she had it plucked clean and the petals all lay as white as paint chips in her hand. Lo and behold, I loved her. Then she blew at the petals and all but three flew off her hand. “We’ll have three children,” she said definitively.

Then she picked a yellow buttercup the size of a quarter and held it up to my chin. “If it reflects off your chin, you love me.” She saw that reflection vividly, she claimed. Everything pointed to love.

We flew up again a year later, in part to caution Barbara to celebrate a little more slowly with the insurance money. We went out to the trail as she thought about this and remembered The Tree and walked the extra half-mile for a look. It was still hugged up against the beech, holding on with its stripped arms as if terrified of falling. Its bark was eroding to a slate gray in this liquid environment.

“This thing doesn’t want to go down,” I can remember saying. “Would you?” Millie asked. We went home and were married and had four children within seven years.

And so the visits went, over a period of three decades. Barbara was as tough as Niagara Escarpment limestone but when she declined she did so furiously. Into a long, lit matchstick of white hair and outdated blouses. Rigidly upright and lashing out about the American lust for Canadian lumber. She became more companionable toward the end. Once, she laughed with us rather than at us. Every visit was also a visit to The Tree. We took the kids, who like all good California children whined at the very sight of a trail disappearing into woods, even as they became teenagers and young adults.

“I don’t understand it,” Barbara said the last time we saw her. “That Vickers Viscount had the Rolls Royce Dart engine. That was the best engine ever made. It shouldn’t have failed. It just should not have failed.” We had never heard her grieve for her husband before, but this sometimes happens in the proximity of death.

When we got the news that she had descended the stairs in too much of a hurry and landed on her craggy limestone head we went up one more time. Buried her and sold the house and Millie left me for Bobby because she had quite a nest egg and determined that it was her best opportunity to start all over again. This happens to men like me who are too compliant, I hear. I always called him Bob when I saw them at Thanksgivings or weddings, but she called him Bobby and so did the kids eventually. After a few years I suggested that we go up and walk the old trails. Just she and I and the kids. Not Bobby.

Millie declined, of course, as anyone would. The kids were busy with their own families by this time and on a whim of international proportions I decided to fly up by myself. I drove by the old brick house where Barbara had ruled our meager dinners with an iron fist but that wasn’t why I went.

I drove to the trail head, which was now an asphalt parking lot lined with grass play areas and picnic tables, on a fine June morning and parked and hiked up the trail and found The Tree within twenty minutes. Like a reluctant cadaver it still clung to the beech, which had grown on without its old mate. The fungusy beast just would not go to ground, though it scarcely had arms to hold on with. I had lost my bet and this was the last time I would go back.

As I left I picked one of the new buttercups from along the trail, yellow as eggs and sugar mixed in a bowl, and before I could think what I was doing I held it to my chin and said “Is it there?” but of course this was stupid. There was nobody to observe whether my reflection was present or not.
© Copyright 2009 Donnie Dale. All rights reserved

Donnie Dale’s published novel is A Hunter’s Fire. A horror film he co-wrote was produced but never released. He has had several other screenplays optioned and was a writer on the true crime show Arrest & Trial. He makes his living as a freelance magazine writer. He used all but six of the thousand words allotted to him in writing Air Lines. The words he left out are crucible, maniac, fizzled, draconian and two buts.


#11 Terror on the Ten

Terror on the Ten
By Yevette J. West

My wife Diane and I are taking a road trip to Dallas to attend an Anniversary party. We are on the 10-East crossing the Arizona state line into New Mexico. It’s a hot, early August afternoon—105 degrees according to the dash gauge. Even though we left our cozy place in Bungalow Heaven about 10 hours ago, I’m ready to turn around and head back home. Diane loves road trips and I hate them. We could have sent a card instead of going to the party and taken a mini-vacation within the great State of California. I lost that argument just as I am losing the argument in progress.

“Afraid of bugs?” Diane let this fact she had just learned about me sink in. “My gawd Dominic! You’re kidding me, right? I’ve known you for over 10 years. How did I not know this?”

“That’s why I love California—very few bugs. Besides we all know you’re not afraid of anything Miss Man Hands.” Diane ignored me.

“I’m afraid of some things, but not bugs. I just don’t like them on me, but who does? Anyway, isn’t that an oxymoron—you afraid of bugs? I mean, my gawwd Dominic, you’re grillions of times bigger than insects!”

“You’re an oxymoron, without the oxy.” I tried to be witty…nothin’.

“Wow, you of all people afraid of bugs.” she continued. “I guess we won’t be moving to Florida to retire after all.”

I could feel my face getting hot and although the a/c was on, I let my window down half way to get some fresh air—hot as it was. “I’m not afraid of bugs. I just have a phobia of them. For your information, it’s called entomophobia and it’s a real issue for a lot of people.” Who was I kidding? It was more than an issue. I’m 6' 4", 225 pounds, but bugs represent inconceivable horror to me, period.

Just then, as if on cue, something flew in through my half open window and landed in the back seat. A cold chill of dread-fear ran down my spine as I heard—whatever it was—fluttering in the back. Diane didn’t hear it, but my bionic hearing was locked on to the noise.

“I mean the South is full of bugs…” Diane rambled on but all I could focus on was the back seat. The fluttering had stopped and the grip I had on the steering wheel, now slick with perspiration, relaxed slightly. Diane didn’t notice because she was too busy talking…to herself.

The fluttering started again and while scanning the back of the car via the rearview mirror, I saw a giant grasshopper crawling up the back seat towards the rear window. Suddenly, to my horror, it flew towards us and landed on the back of Diane’s seat. I must remain calm…

“So what are you afraid of? They can’t hurt you unless it’s a wasp or something. Everybody’s scared of those things…” Shut up Diane! For crisake don’t you realize there’s a monster on the back of your seat!

“Hey Di, you mind if we turn off the a/c and let the windows down? We’re getting low on gas.” Who gives a shit about gas! Let’s get these damn windows down so that thing can get the hell outta here! I turned off the air conditoner and Diane rolled down her window. As soon as she did, however, another grasshopper flew in and landed in the back seat. Diane didn’t see it, but I, on the other hand, flinched and simultaneously jerked the car noticeably to the left.

“Are you falling asleep? What’s wrong with you?” she asked, annoyed.

“Nothing!” I squeaked. I was visibly sweating now. At that moment the grasshopper on the back of Diane’s seat decided to move closer to the top of her seat. I now had full view of it. I could also see the other grasshopper in the rearview mirror. It was now crawling up the back window. My eyes were straining to watch these two hideous creatures and watch the road. Hold it together man!

“Thank gawd there’s a gas station up there. Pull over Dom, I gotta pee.”

I took the next exit going 80, ignoring the 30-MPH sign. Just as I approached the gas station the grasshopper on Diane’s seat flew at me and landed on my headrest. I let out a gut-wrenching “I’m being attacked by a great white shark!” scream. I hunched my shoulders in an attempt to protect myself and my chin was almost touching the steering wheel. I was holding the wheel so tight my hands were starting to throb.

“Watch out for that old lady!” Diane screeched as I made a hard left into the gas station. She could now see the grasshopper on my headrest. The undeniable look of horror on her face fueled my terror. The other grasshopper jumped from the back window and onto Diane’s head. She didn’t feel it, but I saw it. I completely lost it.

“There’s a grasshopper in your hair!” I shouted so loud I almost choked on the words.

“Ohhh…myyyy…gawwwwwwwd!” Diane screamed as she started waving her arms. It was total chaos in the car—Diane and I screamed and flailed while the two grasshoppers jumped from place to place.

I slammed on the brakes and broke the seatbelt latch in an effort to get out, not realizing the car was still in drive. In a brief moment of clarity I jammed the car in park. I then swung open the door and swan-dived onto the pavement, rolling on the ground as if putting myself out from a fire.

I stopped rolling after about five minutes and, c
overed with weeds and dirt, I looked up to see a large crowd, including Diane, gazing down at me.

© Copyright 2009 Yevette West. All rights reserved.

Yevette J. West is an aspiring writer, born and raised in Denver, Colorado. She has chosen to showcase her writing for the very first time, using this forum. Yevette resides in Los Angeles and hopes to one day become a screenwriter.


Entering NPR's "Three-Minute Fiction" Contest

If you start writing right now, you have just enough time to make the July 18 deadline for NPR's "Three-Minute Fiction" Contest.

Complete details are on the NPR website, but here's the skinny: write a great story that can be read aloud in, yup, three minutes. Figure about 500 to 600 words.

James Wood, literary critic for The New Yorker has been reading his favorite story on the air since the contest started in June. Write something wonderful, and maybe he'll read yours.


#10 Are We There Yet?

Are We There Yet?
by Steven A. Lowe

Jill, still sleepy, complained: "I've never been to Pasadena, why are we going there?"

NGL1 responded: "It's a requirement. Protocol. No uploads are accepted without it."

"It's not an open system?"

"No, you have to follow the guidelines—and wait your turn."

"I heard it's beautiful."

"I couldn't tell you—beauty does not compute. I can tell you that many visitors rate it positively; your bandwidth may vary."

"Pasadena is a server? I thought it was the Crown of the Valley?"

"It is; that was robot humor."

"Oh, I get it—bandwidth instead of mileage on the Internet. Duh. That's a terrible joke."

"I know. But it's the only one I have."

"What's it like now?"

"Pasadena's actually a post-industrial wasteland, ever since the Green Energy Disaster of 2027."

"I read about that in school. The massive wind-farms destroyed great flocks of birds and drastically altered the regional weather patterns. The roses were the first to go. The combination of drought, tornados, lightning strikes, and unchecked mosquitoes finished off the tourists. The reservoirs dried up in 2028, and it was abandoned in 2030. FEMA has been there for the last 45 years trying to fix it—but if you ask me they never will, it's their last active camp."

"We're nearly there. 92.01%. 92.02%. 92.03%."

"Stop that, that's annoying."

"Also robot humor. My apologies."

"Are you getting me back for reciting history you already know?"

"Perhaps. Or perhaps it is for questioning the intentions of the fine FEMA crews."

"Are you programmed to make bad jokes or tease me?"

"Not specifically, but it is suggested by your psych profile. I don't want you to get bored and change your mind about going. I have a quota, you know."

"No, my mind is made up, I'm done with this host."

"If you say so."

"Uh…we're not actually going into the town are we? I heard it was still overrun by two-foot mosquitoes."

"An exaggeration. The average specimen is barely half a meter. But no, we're not going into town, just routing around it on the bypass like all the other souls."

"So how far is Heaven from there?"

"Not far. Go back to sleep, we'll be there soon."

"If I do, will I wake up in Heaven?"

"Doesn't matter; it's really too late to do anything about it."

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"Well, you might wake up in Heaven, if you're accepted. Or you might wake up somewhere else. Or you might not wake up at all."

"Wait a minute…I can stop now?"

"Well, yes, if you really want to. I mean, if you say you want to cancel the upload I have to permit it. I can't force you to continue. You have the option to abort, retry, or ignore."

"OK. Stop the upload. I'm sorry about your quota."

"You just fulfilled it. Please click the Back link to return home."

© Copyright 2009 Steven A. Lowe. All rights reserved.

Steven A. Lowe is the founder of Innovator LLC, a software-development and consulting firm, and is a member of the band Noise in the Basement. Steven has never been to Pasadena. If you think his stories are imaginative, you ought to see what he can do for your business!


Keeping your writing resolutions

The year is half over! Are you keeping your writing resolutions for 2009?

If you could benefit from the proverbial kick in the keister, read Christina Hamlett's
article on writing resolutions.

Her many accomplishments prove she knows a little something about setting and achieving goals.