Category Archives: Short Stories

BROTHERLY LOVE?

The Manfred Story—1985 Writing Assignment…

Manfred padded into my hospital room wearing bedroom slippers and no socks about three the next day, not wanting me to expect regular visits of compassion, his being busy with his cockroach collection and all. Told him I neither expected nor wanted them, his camaraderie being something I had gotten used to doing without some fifteen years ago around the time we began sharing the dim little flat I hated to admit was home. He did tell me he wouldn’t rent out my room while I was laid up, felt he owed me at least that since I was his brother and all, and felt like he owed at least that much to our mother, “May she rest in peace.” He had this annoying habit of always tacking on that stupid epitaph whenever he mentioned our long-dead mother. I knew at that moment that by the time my confinement ended, I would probably not only hate my priggish brother, but my poor mother as well.

Thinking about being chained to that bed by the octopus contraption suspending my mangled leg, and having to endure even irregular visits from Manfred, I began plotting my escape. There had to be a way out, but the doctor only laughed when I suggested that night that a pair of crutches would free the bed up for somebody who really needed it, malpractice suits, that sort of thing.

I was doomed to endless ramblings about gutter-side neighborhood happenings, listening to excerpts from The Old Man and the Sea, insincere words of cheer, from Manfred’s drool-dripping lips, until in my second month of sober imprisonment the idea struck of pretending to lapse into a coma, a result of a delayed concussion from the tumble into my premature grave.

Manfred, being the ignorant porker that he was, believed these theatrics for two-and-a-half weeks until one of his cronies told him he overheard a doctor on the street at his lunch hour talking over my case with another hospital type.  Reported that they were going to release me if I continued to improve at the rate I seemed to be.

He descended on me within days of hearing this good news to assure me he really was glad I had regained consciousness, because he had something urgent to discuss, which turned out to be not so urgent, but he thought that was the only way I would agree to let him stay in the same room with me for more than two minutes. And he was right, having been without a drink for about two months, I was not fit company for even normal folks, let alone this sloth I had to admit was related. Sobriety making it even more difficult to look at him, his distended belly eliminating even a hint of belt somewhere where his middle was assumed to be, yellowed teeth, stained tee shirt, that sort of thing. Anyway, it seems when he agreed not to rent out my room he was sure I’d be up and good as new within a week or so, but my coma act convinced him that taking in a boarder might not be such a bad idea after all, him being afraid of being alone as he was, which he did, but now didn’t know what to do about, so he wanted me to be sure to give him plenty of notice so the other guy could clear his pigeon coups and stuffed squirrel collection, that sort of thing, out of my room before I got out and came back to the flat, if that’s what I was planning to do. Told me he would understand if I wanted to look for a place of my own, since he guessed I probably wouldn’t be drinking anymore because of the fate it brought me to.

Good God, what an idea, not to go back there, maybe sobriety would be worth it, my head gears shifted into third. No more Manfred, no more enduring conga-accompanied monologues about Moby Dick, watching spit drip down that double chin. Maybe sober I could do it – escape, sweet thought. Had to concentrate. Manfred left.

Spent the next week and a half reading apartments for rent pages, too much money, no private bath, that sort of thing, until at last I found it — third floor one bedroom, he’d never make it up all those steps, it was perfect. Called and set myself up for the day I was getting out.

Had to see Manfred one more time before I could leave, called, said he was busy reading or something, couldn’t make it out. Told him he could keep his new roommate, I wouldn’t be coming back, but now I couldn’t leave the hospital with no trousers to wear because of the shearing they took when I was brought in. Said he would see what he could do since he promised our mother, “May she rest in peace,” that he’d look out for me when she died. Told him I would let him out of that promise if he’d just bring me the trousers as quick as possible, I was anxious to breathe fresh air and take a walk and maybe see some other faces, and he brought them, after waiting two days, that was to be expected.

Manfred was a little slow-witted, not all home, playing with a light deck, that sort of thing. And I was ready to forgive him for taking so long and all, and I would have, if he hadn’t taken that awful tumble on the way into my hospital room, hitting his head on the protruding part of the bedpan on the table by the door, and died before I could. That was to be expected, if you knew Manfred as I did.

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ONCE MORE. . .WITH FEELING!

Old couple watching TV

“Would you like to go to NYC for New Year’s Eve?” he asked.

“Sure. Why not,” she said.

And so,  they held hands.

“What is your favorite color dead leaf?” he asked.

“Orange,” she said.

And so,  they dated.

“Will you marry me?” he asked.

“Have another beer,” she said.

And so,  they laughed.

“He asked me to marry him, is that okay?” she asked.

“About time. It’s your life,” her children said.

And so,  she said yes.

“Does Bastille Day work for you?” he asked.

“Definitely,” she said.

And so,  they were married.

“Will you hand me the remote?” he asked.

“Here ya go,” she said.

And so,  they smiled and grew old together.

 

TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME!

Baseball season is upon us!

To celebrate this “National Pastime” I’ve decided to share an excerpt from my book—

“Bosses and Blackjacks: A Tale of the ‘Bloody Fifth’ in Philadelphia.” http://tinyurl.com/j4qbpsz

(From Chapter Twenty – 1916)

Out in the crisp air of the sixteenth of April, after leaving the station early that afternoon, Dave forgot the morning’s row and felt a bit like his old self. He began to whistle “It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary” as he waited for Howard and Johnny on the corner outside of Baker Bowl, the ballpark on Huntingdon Avenue.

“How’re ya doin’ Davey,” Johnny greeted him with his usual enthusiasm. “Damn, look at this crowd. They’re even up on the roofs! Lucky for us you got them tickets. Where’s Howard? Not here yet?”

“No, but I hope he gets here soon. The owners are going to give presents to the players for winning the pennant last year, and I don’t want to miss it,” Dave said.

He spotted Howard trying his best to rush through the crowd.

“Here he comes, Johnny. Over here, Howard!”

Howard spotted Dave, and waved back with both arms.

“Shit…I forgot how bad that limp of his is,” Johnny said. “Come to think of it, I don’t remember the last time I saw him.”

Howard’s broad face shone with anticipation and perspiration when he met up with them.

“Hello, Johnny! How’re you doing, Dave?”

They joined the large throng entering the ball field.

As they took their seats, the announcer on the field started naming the players as they entered, each one to louder and louder cheers. Grover Cleveland Alexander, the Phillies’ star pitcher, appeared last. Dave and his two friends joined the other rooters as they stood to give the pitcher his well-deserved ovation.

Everyone sat down again, anticipating the start of the formal ceremony. The owners presented each of the Pennant-winning players of 1915 with a monogrammed gold watch. At the end, the crowd stood again and cheered.

To start the opening game of the season, Mayor Thomas B. Smith threw out the first ball, which got picked up by the catcher who tossed it to Alexander. The Phillies’ twenty-nine-year-old right-handed pitcher’s uniform hung like a potato sack on his slim six-foot-one-inch frame and his cap looked like it belonged to a child, but he didn’t take notice. He curled into his windup and let fly.

“Can’t they afford to get their players uniforms that fit?” asked Howard. “He looks like hell!”

Grover_Cleveland_Alexander

Grover Cleveland Alexander, Phillies star pitcher, 1916 “Old Low and Away”

“Who gives a shit how he looks as long as he beats the Giants?” Johnny replied.

About that time, a beer hawker came through the bleachers to where the friends were seated.

“Over here—three!” Dave called.

As he passed the beers to the other two, he said, “Beating these bums’ll be no problem—they were dead last, last season.”

In the first inning, however, the “bums” made a game of it thanks to a wild throw by the normally steady shortstop, Dave “Beauty” Bancroft, which allowed two Giants to score.

“Son of a bitch! What the hell are ya doin’?” Johnny yelled.

“Take it easy. Here, have some peanuts.”

“I’d like some more.” Howard reached into the sack Dave held, and grabbed a handful. He brushed peanut shell fibers from the front of his shirt. “Wish this damn wind would settle down. I think it’s throwing their game off.”

“It ain’t the wind—they just stink,” Johnny replied.

The Phillies answered with one run in the first, and two in the second. Johnny calmed down.

The Giants managed another run in the third inning. Johnny and Howard both cursed.

In the fifth inning, Dave worried Johnny would have a heart attack. Alexander tossed a rare hanging curve to Fred “Bonehead” Merkle, who smashed it 272 feet over the right field wall.

Johnny’s face turned purple. Howard held his head between his hands and moaned. Dave ordered three more beers and some more peanuts from the hawkers.

The sixth inning saw both teams score, bringing them to a tie at four each.

By the ninth inning, the tension became so great the three friends were not talking. They were leaning forward on their elbows with their beers gripped tight.

Then it happened. Ninth inning, Phillies up, with two outs. Stock, the third sacker, grabbed a free pass, stole second, and scored after a passed ball and a wild pitch. Final score: Phillies—5–4.

It all happened in a flash. Johnny and Howard and Dave stood in place in shock, along with about 21,000 other rooters. Then, as if on cue, they all began to cheer and laugh and hug and spill beer over each other.

“Damn, Davey…that was the best baseball game I ever seen!” Johnny said. “Thanks a lot for bringin’ me along.”

“Yeah, Dave. That was great!”

“Nothing like a ballgame with your buddies,” Dave said. “Let’s get the hell outta here. I’m starved.”

 

WHY I HATE UNICORNS!

When the kids were young, they depended on me for everything. Food, clothing, shelter, changing the channel on the TV…you know—all the important stuff. I even bathed them when they were dirty! I was a good mom.

Through the years, I taught them how to sing, read, do all kinds of crafty things on rainy days. The crafty lessons were mainly to help me keep my sanity while they were stuck indoors.

They would fall down. Get scrapes and bruises. Push each other down. Get more scrapes and bruises. The crying and screaming sometimes became as irritating as nails skimming a blackboard. But, they were mine and I loved them, so I’d hug them, kiss them, patch them up, and tell them not to hit, bite, or kick the perpetrator in retaliation. Some times that worked.

During those early days, home desk-top computers came into fashion and affordability. Naturally, only the adults were allowed to touch the keyboard. After all, kids didn’t understand “if then/goto” and all the very complicated jargon of that early behemoth that required its own special room in the house. God forbid anything spilled within ten feet of that fifty-ton monster.

As the mom, I was permitted to play “games” on the computer. At the time, my game of choice (my only choice) was a text-based game called, “Zork.”

The only clear memory I have of suffering through that adventure game was the phrase, “The Unicorn is a mythical beast!”

That phrase glared at me in annoying white letters on that beast of a black screen more times than I could count. I recall it was in response to my trying to remove the key hanging around the Unicorn’s neck so I could open the next door…or some such thing.

In my frustration, the word choices that exploded from my brain to my mouth could only be spoken out loud after the little darlings were fast asleep!

Special Note: For those today who believe Facebook is a time-suck machine—you obviously never played “Zork!”

After hours and hours of hunching over the keyboard, tapping various instructions to the gremlins everyone knew lived inside the monster (and who obviously took great pleasure in making me crazy), I would trudge up the stairs to bed, bleary-eyed and grumbling to myself about how I would kill that Unicorn some day!

The next morning, my adorable, loving children would stare at me, frightened,  as they sat down to eat their breakfast of scrambled eggs and jelly beans.

Ah, technology!

 

PLEASE SHARE YOUR EARLIEST MEMORIES OF HOW MODERN TECHNOLOGY AFFECTED YOUR LIFE . . . INQUIRING MINDS WANT TO KNOW!

EDITING COUNTS

 

“Probably the fastest recovery in the history of lost dogs, but “Muffin’s” owner has been located and returned home!!! Thank you!!!!”

(The above update was an Actual Facebook post)

Lost dog ad

 

Thank God!

Muffin has been losing her mind with worry for over forty-five minutes. Her owner was last seen wearing a heavy parka, boots, gloves, and carrying a snow shovel.

Muffin tried giving the police a description of her owner, but all that came out of her mouth were barks and howls. The cops simply patted her little head and ignored the APB she offered.

At last, her owner heard her wailing over the sound of the snow plow going past. He came back inside Muffin’s home, only to be accosted by two men in blue. They ascertained this individual was truly Muffin’s owner and left the pair cuddling on the sofa, licking each other’s face. (ewww—gross!)

Another happy ending brought to you by “editing!”

TURKEY TROT

Thanksgiving is next week. I can’t believe how calmly I said that.

We celebrate Thanksgiving each year at our house—and by “we” I mean twenty to forty immediate family members!

In the old days, when there were seven or eight of us sharing the holiday, the beautifully roasted turkey would take center-stage in the middle of the dining table waiting for the ceremonial (dramatic music playing in the background) carving. It was surrounded by the appropriate side dishes and condiments, with lovely serving forks and spoons of polished silver.  Each person had at least two glasses included in their place-setting that rested on a lovely table linen, and their napkins were actually held, just so, in rings of appropriate autumnal materials.

We all sat together,

said “Grace” together,

ate together,

and sang “We Gather Together” together!

We made Norman Rockwell proud!

Kiss those days good-bye!

Thanksgiving now begins the night before, with the female regulars coming over to peel and cut up every vegetable there is; eating pizza in-between mincing olives for the stuffed celery; arguing over using a food processor instead of knives for chopping onions for the stuffing and gravy; singing and dancing and telling stories of the “old days”; eating chocolates; and drinking wine. Drinking a lot of wine. When the wine is all gone, the evening ends.

The family has grown exponentially. And the next day, Thanksgiving:

It’s buffet-style from the kitchen counters:

Elbowing each other to get to the gravy.

Making “yuck” sounds, as one of the perhaps two people who actually like them, spoon creamed onions onto their plate.

Waiting in line to take your seat at one of the three to six tables in various rooms because the person seated at the end in the corner is still in the kitchen fixing their plate and nobody else can sit down until they do—unless everyone stands up and moves out of the way to let them through—which is not done with smiles on their faces because their food is getting cold!

Make sure you grab a napkin before somebody else takes it!

Invariably, someone says, raising their voice above the din, let’s say “Grace.”  Five people actually hear them, and so a syncopated “Amen” is heard.

As the hostess, I try to join at least one or two people as I eat my always over-filled plate of turkey and everything else, before most of the clan are back in the kitchen for seconds.

Finally, when the thirty-seven desserts (I might be exaggerating a bit here) have been transformed from their initial beautiful presentations to mounds of unidentifiable mush, it’s time to do the dishes. At this point, the male family members all forget what their thumbs are for and cannot hold a dishtowel.

Through the evening, laughter is the underpinning of the chaos!

Time is not on my side at Thanksgiving, which is why you will never see an artistic vegetable tray like that pictured above anywhere near my house!

But, in the end, I know I am blessed more than most to have such a large, boisterous, loving, family to be with at this beautiful time of year. So, yeah—

Thanks!

Happy (early) Thanksgiving everyone. Please let me know in the comment section if you have any suggestions for keeping the craziness at a minimum this year!

Halloween Horror

LET’S PLAY

If you can guess what I have in my pocket, you can have it.” He patted the right pocket of his dirty overalls as he approached.

Glancing around, I discovered I was alone down here with this small skinny boy. How could I be alone? I’d followed at least a dozen other commuters through the turnstile before descending to the platform. I backed away quickly, trying to recall which way I should run to reach the subway steps leading up to the street.

“No thank you,” I replied.

“You don’t even want to guess?” he asked, more aggressively.

I couldn’t move. I don’t know why. I think it was his eyes. They were an iridescent green I had never seen before.

“I’m not very good at guessing,” I told him. Again, I managed to take a few steps back.

“You’re just like the rest of them. Nobody ever wants to play.” His eyes grew brighter.

“I just want to go home,” I said.

“Then try to guess, and I’ll let you.”

I began to shiver. Was it his closeness? Probably the cool draft that’s always present in the subway tunnel. No—this was different. Panic was starting to tighten my throat, making it hard to respond.

“A toy?” I asked weakly.

“Don’t be stupid! If I had a toy, I wouldn’t need you to play with me.”

“A piece of candy?”

“I’ve been down here a long time…if it was candy, I would have eaten it by now,” he scoffed.

I tried to think back to the kinds of things my brothers always had in their pockets.

“A pen-knife?”

“Nah.”

“A yo-yo?”

“Nope.”

Trying to buy some time, I decided to ask a few questions of my own.

“How long have you been down here?”

“What year is this?”

“What year?”

“Yeah…what year.”

“1990,” I replied.

“Then I’ve been here about forty-three years.”

“What? Wait a minute…you’re only about twelve years old—how could you be down here that long?”

“It’s a story I won’t tell, unless you guess right. C’mon, c’mon…make another try.” He was growing impatient.

“A piece of paper?”

“Ha! You’re smarter than the rest. you’re close.”

Oh my God…“Is it a ticket?”

“Hoorah! At last! I knew you were a smart one! And now you may have it.”

The strange, transparent little boy with the mesmerizing green eyes reached into his pocket, pulled out a faded ticket, and handed it over to me with a grin.

“I’ve been saving this since that day I fell onto the tracks.”

I took the ticket from him and squinted to try to read the destination. “Hell?”

All at once I could feel the poke of the elbow into my back pushing me over the side of the platform, and the sharp edge of the iron rail as my head slammed down into the dark gravel. Then came the screeching sound of the train’s breaks as they failed, and the laughter of a young boy.