Short Stories

Small Men

September 12th, 1868

Dear Philip,

As you might imagine, I was quite surprised to see a notice in the Herald that you had returned to New York and opened your own practice. Congratulations! I do hope you are well otherwise. Indeed, the notice refers to a Mr. and Mrs., so double congratulations are in order. I am, myself, robust and quite sanguine over recent developments in my own practice, while having every expectation of further success here in Brooklyn. Regrettably, as of yet, I have not been so fortunate as to find my true helpmate.

I was disappointed at first that you had not been able to contact me straightaway, if only for advice, but now it has occurred to me that, sadly, you must have missed my previous letters and therein lies a better answer for your long silence and not some now forgotten slight. read more…

An Unusual Happenstance

You get to a point in life where you ought to make out a will. I’m passed that.

You get to a point in life where you wonder if any of it—all the things you did or did not do—will be remembered, and for how long. Not whether or not any of it should be remembered. That’s not for you to judge, after all. But it was important to you. That’s all.

Nevertheless, in the scheme of things, I think some of what I did is worth something, and worth remembering—especially by the grandchildren. My kids have heard it all, pretty much. Their mother has seen to that. And too, she was never good at most secrets anyway. It was always best, if there was something you wanted everyone to know about, to tell her first. But then again, you didn’t have to tell her all that much. She always knew, anyway.

So listen to this if you haven’t heard it before and listen anyway if you have. I might be able to add a thing or two.

This is the way it worked—still works, I think.

I was a freak of nature. Not like your grandmother true, but different, in my own way. Claire’s talents are just better known.

Now, if you speak too readily or too often about a circumstance like this you’ll be thought of as nuts, as in crazy, or mad, and thereafter ignored. It’s our way as a society, I think. What we don’t understand we dismiss as impossible or accidental or incidental. And what we do understand, or think we do, we quickly tire of. We give little value to the familiar.

So, there’s the trick, isn’t it? Ambiguity. Our attention is maintained then by the fact that we recognize some part of the matter but not another and it piques our curiosity. And curiosity is the best thing to pique. And in my time, I have always piqued a lot of curiosity.

Yet, outside of the immediate family, not many know. And funny thing, you can give credit to your grandmother for that as well. When Claire does not want something known, you might as well talk to a wall about it.

And it is for that reason that you might be surprised about a certain facility I have. Not an ability, mind you. I’d say, more of a predilection.

I fly. read more…

Live Oak

As the story was told, they had met in a hot tub and he had asked her to marry him twenty minutes later; they had eight kids, and after another fifty years, he had died only a month after her own passing. It was the kind of thing you hear and don’t believe for a minute longer than it took to tell.

Gene pulled his jeep over to the side of the road—what there was of a road to be seen beneath the texture of fallen leaves—following a graveled path a dozen yards above the creek. It was nothing more than hardpack but it was clearly raised enough to be dry for most of the year. On a hot Southern California day in June, the shade of the live oaks was water cool. read more…

The Faith in Dreams

The faith in dreams, like the beliefs of small and ancient religions, is often lost with the simple passage of time. Mere time. Simply forgotten. A figment of midnight delusion at midday. Too vague to grasp. We all remember the faith we once had in our fathers, or mothers, for instance. Or the absence of such an absolute trust, perhaps. But what of those other beliefs, and their failure or strength, that were so instrumental to our being and to what we would become?

There were many such smaller religions in my past–a thousand convictions which I once held dear–all of them long since lost. There was the sure knowledge that summer would come and school would end. That Bill, the bus driver would always be there on the colder days, or wait a moment longer. That Mel, the Good Humor man would let me the extra nickel needed for the orange-cream popsicle. That the profound chill and still-hollow of a winter night would soon enough be transformed into the lush dark of mosquitoes and crickets and tree frogs. But all of those simpler faiths were set aside when my first full time job showed little interest in the seasons and getting to work in time depended on the IRT.

It is only by circumstance that a few of those convictions, remembered now, were caught in such a neat web of events that they might easily be recalled afterward–or, the better metaphor, that they left a bright scar on the darker skin surrounding. Years later, you finger it gently at first notice, as if it might break open at this touch. You pause to remember.

Let me tell you about this one. read more…

Seeley’s Surfside

The hanging road sign for Denton Real Estate offered a constant chirping against an intermittent wind. It was a small and familiar voice to Burk as he approached Seeley’s Surfside Diner. The murmur of tires on passing cars was dampened by the new snow. With the hood of his parka pulled tight against the cold, most other sounds were obliterated by the rub of fabric against his ears and he had to keep an eye out for the car lights through breath-fogged glasses as he made his way from his apartment.

The blaze of neon from Seeley’s was not comforting against the black and white of snow and night ahead. It never was. Even on a hot evening in the summer it was joyless. Tonight, it cut through the falling snow more pink than red. Burk had thought before that it was an odd thing, how the color in the sign seemed to change depending on the weather. He had mentioned it once to Pat, but the observation was shrugged at. Ignored.

read more…

She Knows Her Onions

You want me to tell you about Zim? I don’t know you. And I never forget a pretty face. . . . Sure, I worked over at the Mirror years ago. Probably before you were born. There wasn’t a single dame in the entire newsroom back then. I guess times have changed. For the better, heh? But if Barry George sent you over, then you must be okay. . . . Cass, is it? Just call me Jim. Is that shorthand you’re doing? Geez! Chicken scratch. Nobody’s gonna be reading over your shoulder. But let me tell you about the old days. I had a stubby pencil and a notebook and the best I could do was to spell the names correctly. . . . Yeah. I got canned. That was because of Mayor John F. Hylan. Sonofa—I’d tell you what the ‘F’ stood for—But that’s why I gave it up.

Right. So this is what I know. At least what I’ve heard. The part that I think is true.

No. Just cream. I can get you some milk out of the icebox if you want it?

So. Despite what you read in your own paper, it wasn’t Joan who caused any of it. She might not be innocent, but she was a bystander right up to the end, almost. . . . Joan? Yeah. I did my time waiting in the outer office at Daring. Smart cookie. But I never got to first base.

It was Florrie that was the first guy to get a hook on Zim. This was something of a surprise to me, you see, because Florrie was the last guy you’da thought needed the help. read more…

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About

I have been informed by trusted authority that the short quip which I have placed here for the last year or so, by way of biography, lacks gravitas. “Over-paid by others for hyphenated jobs such as lawn-work, snow-shoveling, house-painting, office-boy, dish-washer, warehouse-grunt, table-waiter and hotel night-clerk–I’ve since chosen to be a writer, editor, publisher, and for most of my life, a bookseller, and even managed to occasionally pay myself. Houndis my first published novel.” And so it does. It is hard to be serious about so unserious a subject as oneself. But herewith, and keeping the ‘nasty bits’ (Brit expressions are so brilliant) to myself, I offer then, this ongoing post begun as posts at Small Beer Press. If anyone is interested, from time to time I will add something at the end to bring the epic closer to the present moment.

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