Hands

So much of a writer’s job is paying attention. Robyn Graham’s Photography Blog recently reminded me of this. She posted a photograph called “Grandma’s Hands” of her 90-year-old grandmother’s hands. Those hands were absolutely beautiful hands. Hands that had worn life with grace.

The photograph called to my mind the dignity that we often miss in our fellow human beings. And the details of another’s life. Details that are important. Florida writer Robert Newton Peck, in his book “Fiction Is Folks: How to Create Unforgettable Characters”, says that you can tell a lot about a character from his hands.

It’s in the details that our characters come alive. You can tell whether a character is a worker bee or someone who does no physical work at all. A guitarist will have callouses on his fingers. What does the reader learn about a pianist with short stubby fingers or long graceful ones? Are the hands of a character manicured or are the fingernails chewed off crookedly? Chewed from worry? Is there dirt underneath the fingernails?

When I was reading Adam Begley’s biography of John Updike, he mentioned that John Updike never wore a wedding ring during his first marriage to Mary. During his second marriage to Martha, he wore a wedding ring. This told me so much, not about the writer, but about the man.

One of the things I love about the photographs of Ansel Adams and the paintings of Andrew Wyeth is how much dignity they bring to their subjects.

My Uncle Howard was a butcher. He was larger than life. He could fill a room just by walking into it. One time I asked him, “What happened to your pinkie?”

He threw his head back and laughed that big laugh of his. “I lost it years ago when I was slicing sausage. You can’t imagine the blood that poured out of that hand, enough to start a swimming pool. Anyway I got that hand all patched up. Decided I would honor that pinkie with a name. So I called it bologna.” At that, he winked at me.

“Where’s that pinkie now?” I asked.

“It’s in heaven, waiting for me. Guess I had better be good or I am going to have to spend eternity with one less pinkie, huh?”

Just want to thank Robyn Graham for her beautiful photograph and reminding me of the details that I need to pay attention to.

Short Story Wednesday: Do Socks Get a Divorce?

Short Story Prompt: “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant.

Inquiring minds want to know. Or at least this inquiring mind. I have a perfectly nice pair of socks. They look good. They sure feel good on my feet. There isn’t a soldier who wouldn’t like this pair of socks.

The pair would make a great companion for the long march ahead. After all, there are those in the know who say a battle is lost or won by the socks on a soldier’s footsies. Napoleon learned this the hard way. That was what defeated him in Russia. Not that he got cold feet, but that his soldiers had cold feet. They didn’t have holy socks. They had holey socks.

You can see why this pair of socks I have brings me such comfort. Not only do they make me feel like I am walking on air, they make my feet smell good too. That’s no easy feet. I mean feat.

Last weekend I did laundry. Separated the lights from the darks. The whites from the lights. Put them into separate piles. ‘Fore you know it, my washing machine is going chug-chug-chug. Then my dryer is whirring away with my load of laundry. I open the dryer door, pull out the load, throw them into the basket, take them into the bedroom for sorting and folding.

At the end, there is only one sock left from the pair of those best socks. You know, the comfortable pair. The pair that look good. The pair that made my feet smell nice. Real nice.

I am frantic. Where’s the other sock? I hurry out to the laundry room, open the dryer door and hope against hope. No, it’s not there. I look in the washing machine. The sock isn’t there either. I trace my trail back to the bedroom where I once sorted. No sock.

So I give the sock remaining the inquisition. How did you do it? Did you poison your partner? Did you strangle her, then bury her among the lint? Then it hit me. Maybe it was a Sock Rapture. Maybe the Sock Jesus returned and claimed all the good socks. Yes, that had to be it. The reason for the disappearance. It could happen. Not.

If the Sock Jesus came and took all the good socks, why was this one sock the only one who disappeared. Were there no other good socks in the load? Was my sock drawer a regular Sodom and Gomorrah? I don’t think so.

No, it was looking more and more likely that something had come between the pair of socks. Maybe they had a fight and the female of the pair went home to mother. Maybe there was a different explanation.

They were such a handsome couple. Let’s call them Fred and Wilma. They seemed so happy. Deep down Wilma resented her lot in life. She deserved a sock much better than Fred. She was locked into a marriage she had come to despise, forced to stay home and clean house, babysit Pebbles and cook Fred’s Neanderthal dinners. When she wanted to go vegetarian, all Fred could spout out was “Meat. I want meat.” Then there was Dino problem. He wa the family’s pet dinosaur. Have you ever tried cleaning up dinosaur poop. As John Lennon once sang, “Christ, you know it ain’t easy.”

You get the point. Wilma Sock was deeply unhappy. She was a fine wine and caviar kind of girl and Fred was all pretzels and beer.

Then a day later, quite by accident, I discovered another sock missing. You know, those socks the tennis pros wear. This was a sock like that. Let’s call him Fabio.

After much investigation, I got to the root of the problem. Wilma found herself in the washing machine with Fabio. He was whiter than white and he was very unhappy with his partner. Her name was Betty. She had stains all over her. He wondered what had happened. When they were first dating, she kept herself spotlessly pure white. Then they married and she let herself go. She just didn’t seem to care anymore. When Fabio Sock saw an unhappy Wilma, he was smitten. She was something, taking pride in her appearance.

Fabio sang “Sock it to me” to Wilma, “Sock it to me.” Before Fred knew what had happened, Wilma ran off with Fabio to Sock Vegas. The couple got quickie divorces and remarried in twenty-four hours. It was like the dish running away with the spoon. As everybody knew, Fabio was a real stud and Wilma was a real dish, a very Socksy Lady.

Unfortunately there was no happily ever after for Fabio and Wilma. Wilma has triplets on the way and Fabio is laid up with tennis elbow. His pro career is over and he can’t even find a job in a pro shop at a country club.

In the meantime, Betty realized she needed some whitener. In the next wash, she had an extra dose of bleach. It worked. She was back to a perfect white. Fred and Betty met at a Speed Dating for Singles of the Socks Set get-together. They hooked up. Next thing you know Betty is a perfect housekeeper, loves to cook only meat, and is helping Pebbles, as a Girl Scout Daisy, earn her Golden Honey Bee Award. Fred got a new promotion. Mr. Slate retired and Fred is now General Manager of the Slate Rock and Gravel Company.

Oh, and one final thing. Fred and Betty have new neighbors in the drawer. Right next to them is what seems like a nice couple. Names are Barney and Wilma.

Next Wednesday’s Prompt: “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce.

God is not dead. He’s moved to Phoenix, Arizona instead.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, then he moved to Phoenix, Arizona. He didn’t have any choice. It was doctor’s orders.

“Look,” Dr. Job said. “You have to get out of Florida. The humidity and the mold and the pollen are killing you.”

“I can’t leave. I can’t sell the house.” God tucked his shirt back into his pants. “This is the worst market I’ve seen since the Romans tried to sell a lot of bad real estate to Attila and the Huns. We all know how that turned out.”

Recently God bought way more house than he could afford. Had financed it with an adjustable rate mortgage, hoping to flip the house and make a killing. At the time, it seemed like a good play. Then the market crashed.

“Then,” Dr. J said. “you’re going to have to find a renter. Maybe your Son can rent it.”

“All he wants to do is go fishing. Him and his buddies. His disciples he calls them. Disciples, hah! Lazy bums more like it. Besides I don’t think I can trust him. Pretty soon he’ll move the homeless in and start a shelter. Don’t know what’s happened to him. I raised him to be a good capitalist and he’s turned into a socialist. Next thing I hear the pope will be taking his side.”

“Kids, I know they’re all alike,” Dr. J said. “Mine wants to be an actor. Run off to Hollywood and be a star. That kid couldn’t act his way out of a wet paper bag.”

“No appreciation,” God said, “for all the hard work it took to get us where we are today. All my hard work, I only did it for him.”

The doctor handed God a prescription. “All I’m saying,” Dr. J. urged, “if you get another attack like the one you just had, that’s it. No more God. God is dead. It’s the writing on the wall.”

God looked at the prescription. “This isn’t going to cost me an arm and a leg, is it?”

“Nope, it’s a generic. Besides Medicare pays for it.”

“Well, where should I move to?” God sighed.

“Phoenix would be good. I hear housing prices have dropped so much you can get a new house for a dime.”

“That so?”

“Yes, and you’ll be close to the Grand Canyon. I hear the view is downright awesome.”

“You mean in Arizona?”

“That’s the one.”

“I did put a lot of work into that canyon. It would have been a big sinkhole if I hadn’t done my thing. Nice job, if I say so myself. And then there’s those folks in Sedona. They do seem to have a knack for healing. I get a healing and I’m back in Florida.”

“Why do you like Florida so much?” Dr. J wanted to know.

“Oh, the weather’s nice here. Everywhere else it seems to have gotten out of hand. I mean, forest fires, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes. At least, I can see a hurricane coming several days ahead.”

“Sounds like it’s time for a Rapture and a Second Coming. All this weather and the wars and rumors of wars. The Middle East is coming unraveled. Makes me think Armageddon. ‘Course I don’t believe in all that stuff.”

“Oh, you don’t?” God asked.

“I’m Jewish,” Dr. J said. “Reformed, you know.”

God sticks out his hand. “I didn’t know,” he said. “I’m Jewish too.” The good doctor shook God’s hand. “Orthodox. Do you keep kosher?”

“Did Moses write the Torah,” Dr. J said. “Darn right I keep kosher. But you know it’s getting harder and harder to find a good kosher deli in the neighborhood.”

“Tell me about it.” God put on his coat and straightened his tie. “Seems like everything’s going online. Even the kosher delis.”

As God walked out into the waiting room, he heard the nurse call the next patient. “Mr. Satan, the doctor will see you now.”

God drove straight to the pharmacy. As he waited on his medication, he thought over what the doctor said.

Of course, I’ll have to transfer my job. Hopefully there’ll be an opening in Phoenix. One thing is for sure. If this doesn’t work out and I don’t get any better, I swear on a stack of Bibles I will come back and smite that s.o.b. of a doctor. He thinks he’s seen boils. He ain’t seen nothing compared to what it’ll be like when I’m through with him.

Short Story Wednesday: A Story As Old As the World

Short Story Prompt: “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell

“I am the man who killed your son,” said the early balding man in a dark blue suit and tie to the woman behind the screen door.

“Dead?” she said without thinking. Then the woman’s face went as pale as the ghost of her dead son who was haunting the man. Then she said, “You?”

The woman turned away from him and back into the house, closing the door behind her.

In his hotel room, the ghost of her son confronted him. “Did you tell her?” The ghost could see that he had not told the woman the circumstances of his death. “You must tell my mother,” the ghost urged.

The next morning the man set off to the woman’s house, each step heavier than the last, like he was a man plodding forward to the gallows for a crime he did not commit. Unlike that innocent man, he had done the deed. He had killed the woman’s son. And now the son’s ghost was haunting him. He couldn’t get the ghost off his back until he told the dead man’s mother how he had been killed.

He came to the house with the white picket fence. He walked through the gate and up onto the porch, straightened his tie and made a loud knock. “Go away,” came the words from inside the house.

So he went away, head bowed, and returned to his hotel room, and to the ghost. The ghost could see that his mother had once again rejected the man.

“Look, I tried to tell her,” the man pleaded. “You have to give me credit for trying.”

“Trying isn’t good enough,” the ghost said.

“She won’t listen. I could force her but I am not going to do that.”

“It’s the only way,” the ghost said, “for you to get off the hook. Now get over there and tell her. Otherwise you’ll never be rid of me.”

“But…”

“Don’t but me. If you don’t want me to continue to haunt you, then you have to tell her what happened. Otherwise she will continue to blame you for my death, and I can’t have that.”

The man looked over at the gray ghost. “I wish you hadn’t started the whole thing. You’d be alive today if you hadn’t. And I wouldn’t be on the hook to tell her the circumstances of your death so I can get you off my back.”

“It was all a game. Then you had to go and kill me.”

“But it was in self-defense.”

“Are you sure?” the ghost wanted to know.

“Yes, I’m sure. And I seem to remember that you said it was the most dangerous game.”

“I was just kidding,” the ghost said. “And you couldn’t take the joke.”

“Oh, you weren’t kidding. Chasing me with that gun and those dogs.”

“And you had to kill my lead dog too,” the ghost said. “What kind of man are you, killing an animal like that?”

“He was going to tear me apart. And you would have let him too. I had no choice. It may not have been a dangerous game when you started but it sure got that way.”

“I didn’t think it was going to be that dangerous,” the ghost said. “I was so relieved when you jumped into the sea. I thought you’d actually escaped. But no, you had to come back and do me in. Now I am being punished because you screwed up and killed me. For no good reason too. You’d escaped.”

“Oh, I had good reason.” The man glared at the ghost. “Your death has made our mother sad. My mother will no longer speak to me. She sees in me nothing but a stranger, a wanderer, a murderer.”

There was a knock on the hotel door. It was insistent that it be answered. The man got out of his chair and opened the door. A handsome young man in his early twenties pushed his way into the room. “May I come in?” he said.

“Who are you?” the man asked.

The young man answered, “I’m the man who is here to tell you to leave my mother alone. She can’t take it. And if you don’t, I will make you.”

The man said, “I have no choice but to speak to her and explain.”

“Why do you have no choice?” There was anger in the young man’s voice.

The man pointed at the ghost. “Doofus over here insists.”

“Don’t call me Doofus,” the ghost said. “You know how much I hate that, Cain.”

The man laughed. “Well, you are a doofus, Abel.”

“Wh-wh-what?” they young man asked. Exasperated.

“Well,” the man said, “you’re not going to believe this. I can’t ditch this guy until I tell our mother the story of how he died. I know she won’t believe me but he insists.”

“And I cannot escape roaming the earth and haunting my brother until Mom knows that it wasn’t his fault. I got the order from Dad and the Man Upstairs. Oh, and Dad says to tell you hello. He’s sorry he had to leave so early in your life, Seth. It couldn’t be avoided. Some nimrod wanted to build a Tower on a little piece of property Dad had been saving up for his retirement. The nimrod even had the gumption to call it Babel. The darn thing fell on Dad.”

Seth could not believe his ears. He dropped into a chair, shook his head and said, “Mom lied to me. She told me I was an only child. Now I find out I’ve got two brothers.”

“Just like Mom,” the ghost said.

“Yep,” Cain said. “And she lied to Dad about that apple too. Can you believe that she called it a lollipop?”

“And Dad believed her,” Abel the Ghost said. “If he’d only gotten glasses, he would have been able to tell an apple from a lollipop.”

“By the way, Bro,” Cain asked Abel, “is he still as blind as he used to be?”

“Blind as a bat,” Abel said.

Next Wednesday’s Prompt:”The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant