Short Story Wednesday: Blessed Those Who Mourn; They Shall Be Comforted

Short Story Prompt: “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin

 To Maggie McNamara

Gaby got home around six. Opened her box and took out the mail. Climbed the stairs to her third floor apartment, dog-tired from a day standing before her sixth-grade classes, trying to teach them a piece of music they did not want to learn. Everything her students wanted to learn was out on the streets and not in her classroom.

Rifling through her mail, she found the special letter she had expected for the last few weeks. The one from Carl. She dropped her other mail on the table without looking at it. She lifted Carl’s envelope to her nostrils and smelled it. It had his scent.

She decided she would save it for a treat later. Besides she knew what it contained. A ticket to join him in L. A. She laid it lovingly on the coffee table. Then made herself a cup of tea and concentrated on the work ahead. It shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours to crank it out.

Taking her tea and scone over to the computer, she booted it up. It was Friday night and time for her to respond to the email from her editor. His email contained three letters asking relationship advice. Her editor expected a response from “Aunty Jabberwocky” by Saturday afternoon.

The letters often were several paragraphs long. For each, she gave the editor a required two hundred and fifty to three hundred word response. Most of the time she wanted to respond with “Get a life”. But she didn’t. Her editor wouldn’t like it. He wanted a positive outlook from her. Something to soothe bruised egos and help them on their way.

She opened the email and read through the letters quickly. Though they were each different, they were in many ways the same.

“I’ve been married ten years. Now my husband is cheating on me.” Gaby’s response, in a diplomatic way: “Shoot the son of a bitch.” Advice she would never have followed since she was afraid of guns.

Or “I am seventeen years old and I am so lonely. My boyfriend left me because I wouldn’t have sex with him.” Gaby’s response, in a diplomatic way: “Ask the b/f why God gave him two hands.” Advice she never followed. She had lost her virginity at fifteen, giving it to a seventeen-year-old who wouldn’t even ask her out on a date.

Or “My mother is dating a new man. She wants to know if she should accept his proposal for marriage.” Gaby’s response, in a diplomatic way: “Tell her to accept. It will be a great way to get Mom off your hands.” This too was advice Gaby would never have followed if she had known who her biological mother was.

Sometimes she wondered how she, of all people, ended up doing relationship advice. She was no damned good at relationships. All of hers fell apart.

Four years earlier, she had been looking for a way to bring in some extra money for a cruise she wanted to take. So she answered an online ad for a local newspaper. “Need advice columnist. No experience necessary but the applicant must be able to write.”

Steve, her editor, liked her honesty and hired her on the spot. He figured anyone who had done as poorly as she had in the relationship department would have some ideas on what might work for other people. He slid a couple of relationship books across the desk and ordered her to go read them, then said he would email her the first three letters the following Friday. The answers were expected by Saturday afternoon for the Sunday edition of the newspaper.

In the beginning, she went to work at the job with a gusto that surprised even her. And the relationship advice she sent out was some she got up the courage to take herself. Each new guy she dated became Mr. Possibility. That is, until he became Mr. Dud. Over the four years, she had taken on four relationships, each one looking better than the previous. The first three ended with a thud. Then finally, at forty, she met the One.

Carl had everything she was looking for in a man. He was tender. His jokes made her laugh. He was a great Mr. Fixit. There was never any putdown from him the way the others did. He seemed to be able to read her mind when he would come out with the most outlandish suggestions. If she had believed in soulmates, Carl would have been hers.

He was twenty-five. But it wasn’t a problem for him. He told her that older women always attracted him. The younger ones, the ones his age, fell flat. And he felt like he and Gaby were perfect for each other.

When they first met at a dinner party, Carl had done several small roles in avant garde plays. For the year they were together, his skill as an actor and his roles grew. A month earlier, he had gotten a role in the pilot for a new series. It was to be shot in L. A. If it panned out, he told her that he would send for her. No use for her to give up her job if the pilot was not picked up.

So here she sat at her computer, writing relationship advice, and not sure where she stood. At least, until tonight and the letter. The letter on the table.

She finished her email, then hit send and off it went to Steve for the Sunday edition. It was back to the kitchen nook for another cup of tea.

While she waited on the water to boil, she picked up the envelope with his letter and her ticket to paradise and smelled it once again. His faint odor, the odor of the earth, wind, water and sun. Just one whiff of him was enough to drive her into ecstasy. The kettle whistled. Like a train whistle, she felt lonely would soon be long gone.

She pulled out a bag of mint tea, her favorite, and dropped it into the cup. Over the bag she poured the hot water. She waited for the bag to steep in the water. Her waiting seemed like an eternity. The cup of tea was ready. She walked it over to the coffee table, set the tea down and settled on the sofa.

Her trembling hand picked up the envelope. She sliced it open with her letter opener. Afraid to touch its contents, she shook them onto the table.

Five one-hundred-dollar bills fell out.

She shook the envelope again and nothing more. She ripped into the envelope. It was empty. No letter. No note. Nothing. The envelope had contained only the five hundred dollars Gaby had lent Carl to go off to California for his pilot.

Her body slumped deep into the sofa. She did not feel pain. She did not feel her heart break. She did not feel the loneliness.

Where once there were dreams, there was now only emptiness. Where once there was hope, there was now only a void. Where once there was a woman, there was only an old haggard body, ready for the Angel of Death to carry her off not to Paradise and not to Hell. To limbo, that gray netherworld where lost souls go to live out their forevers.

Across the room and on a bookcase, she spotted a black case. She tried to pull herself together but she could not. Her body sunk deeper into the cushion. She pushed herself off the sofa and onto the floor. If she could reach the case, everything might be better. Her hands pulled her dead body closer and closer to the bookcase. Finally she reached it. She raised her arm, her hand barely touching the case. She strained and managed to make the case fall onto the floor, almost hitting her in the head. She pulled her body up against the wall and unsnapped the black case.

In the case was a trumpet. She lifted it out of the case. She took the Yamaha 14B4 mouthpiece, spat into it, then rubbed it dry on her dress. She inserted it into the trumpet.

She managed to get herself into a standing position. The trumpet somehow gave her the energy to make her way to the window. The world of the city stood before her, and a lightly lit street below. A drunk stumbled out of a bar and into a dark alley.

Gaby lifted the trumpet to her lips. At first, nothing came out of the brass instrument. Then a little peep. Pretty soon she had that trumpet making a sound, and then more sound.

The sound she played filled her body, each breath giving the trumpet more sound. Soon it went to that deep secret part of herself that she had shared with no one, not even Carl. She became the sound and the sound became her, a requiem rising toward the heavens, mourning for what had been, a grief for what never was.

She breathed into that trumpet the way God must have breathed into the first man. The music became a living thing. She was in the deep water of the sound she played, heading further and further out to sea.

Her neighbors, who were prone to complain about any noise, did not complain. For some, the music sounded as if it was announcing the Second Coming. For others, it reminded them of all the loses they had ever had. For still others, it was the most beautiful noise. The music reached down into each of their souls and made them feel as if they had never felt before.

The music ascended like incense rising into the heavens, and the angels wept. It was that kind of noise.

 

Next Week’s Prompt: “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin.

A Romantic Virtuality

Another pickin’ and grinnin’ lyric

1.I met you on Stumbl Upon

Oh, what a surprise that it was

I followed you on Twitter

Your tweets were oh so marvelous

I saw your selfie on Facebook

Joining Facebook became a must

Read your resume’ on Linked In

It gave me one heck of a crush

Chorus;

The font and pixel of you

The magenta, black, yellow and blue

Our virtual reality was cool

Our romance unbelievably true

2.It’s hard to know what love may be

I can’t tell, though I’ve made the rounds

Then I saw your photograph on Flickr

Before you moved on to Instagram

It was such a beautiful face

Always smiling, never a frown

Your voice was so incredible

Your podcasts a magical sound

3.I tried till I got up the nerve

To ask for a date, you said yes

Soon we were a steady pair

Asked for your hand, hoped for the best

Amazon and me were married

Our true love had stood the test

Now we’ve got a bundle of kids

Fire and Kindle and all the rest

 

Short Story Wednesday: Just Passing Through

Short Story Prompt: “Shiloh” by Bobbie Ann Mason.

Max is hungry. The diner waitress brings him a breakfast that will satisfy his appetite. He takes a whiff of the eggs and grits and bacon and toast. It smells good, good enough to eat. “Now, that’s a breakfast,” he says to himself.

He starts with the bacon. It’s crunchy and greasy but good. He dips his fork into the grits, all buttered just the way he likes his grits. A story comes to mind that a friend, Sam, once told him. Sam and his wife, Irene, were driving south, moving from Pennsylvania to Florida. They stopped in a mom-and-pop restaurant in North Carolina. Having heard of grits for years, she decided that was what she would have. “I’ll take a grit please,” she ordered. The waitress and Sam bowled over with laughter, Then the waitress showed Irene what one grit would look like. Max smiled.

Max watches one of the waitresses follow a man to a booth, asking, “What are you doing off, Charlie?” He’d like to tell her what he was doing off but she didn’t ask him. He takes another bite of the bacon. Tries the toast. It’s good too. So’s the coffee, and the orange juice.

A large Indian, long black ponytail swinging down his back, stops, sits down across from him. He wears a suit and a tie. The tie is painted with a white Crazy Horse riding a mustang toward Max against a black background. “Know what I did last night?”

Max doesn’t know, doesn’t care. He wishes the Indian would move along, let him listen to his thoughts, make up his mind about things.

“I kicked some butt,” the Indian says, sees Max is only interested in his breakfast. Gets up. Towering over him, the Indian continues, “Well, if you aren’t interested.” Then he strolls over to the counter, like he’s stalking prey. Maybe he is. Maybe one of the waitresses is his prey.

Max stares down at his empty plate, pushes it aside, then takes a sip of his coffee.

“More coffee,” his waitress asks. He nods and she pours. “Don’t mind Dave.”

“Dave?”

“The Indian,” she says. “He does that to everybody.” She smiles. Her smile reminds him of his ex-wife when they first met, the one that took him for all he had. “Haven’t seen you in these parts before.”

“I haven’t been in these parts before,” he concedes. Then relaxes, “I’m just passing through.”

She invites herself into the booth and sits down across from him. “Where you going?”

Max notices that she is Indian too. At least part Indian. She has the darkest eyes he has ever seen. He returns her open smile with a smile. “I only wish I knew.”

She leans forward and halfway whispers, “There ain’t much here to see, that’s for sure.”

Max takes a chance and offers, “There’s you.”

The waitress starts to laugh, then realizes that Max is serious. She says, “I’d rather be on my way out of here.”

“Why don’t you? Leave, that is?”

“Got a kid. Joe’s his name. Cutest little five year old you ever wanted to see. Want to see his picture.” She pulls a photograph out of her pocket.

Max takes the photograph and looks at it for a minute or two, then hands it back to her. “That’s some kid.”

She takes the photograph, looks at it, smiles and puts it back in her pocket. “He wants to play baseball when he grows up.”

“Where’s his dad?” he asks, then thinks better of things. “Sorry, didn’t mean to pry.”

“The son of a bitch ran off to God-knows-where. I sure don’t. Left me knocked up in this God-forsaken place.” Her face says everything about disappointment. “I had a ticket out of here.” Then pride comes to this same face. “Had a scholarship and all.” She stands up. “I’ve got to get back to work. My name is Lyla. If you need anything, let me know.”

He watches her leave. He lifts the coffee cup and takes a sip. The coffee is hot, but not so hot as to burn his mouth. Just right hot, he thinks. For the first time since, he walked out of the divorce court and got in his car and drove away from that life a thousand miles ago, a life that just about destroyed him; for the first time since, he sees some hope on the horizon. Maybe there is a Lyla where he is going.

Max finishes his coffee, then pulls himself out of the booth and drops a five on the table for a tip. He goes over to the cash register. It’s not Lyla that rings him up. She’s taking food over to the Indian. Max takes his change and walks out of the restaurant and into the morning. The desert sun fills everything with its brightness, washing out the world around him with its light.

He heads over to the old green Chevy. Just about on its last legs but with still enough life in it to get him where he’s going, He backs the car out of the parking lot and onto the highway and heads west. He starts going over in his head the phone conversation he had with his son, Jake.

“C’mon out here,” Jake had said. “You can get a new start with me and Ash.”

“But I’d be a bother. The two of you have your life.”

“You’ll be no bother. You have to get away from that place. After what Mom put you through, you deserve to get away.”

Max pulls the car over to the side of the road. Stops it. Then decides. He turns the car back toward the town he just left. He parks in the half-empty parking lot of the diner and gets out of the car and makes for the restaurant door, hurrying before he loses his courage. The door jangles as he opens it. Lyla is at the cash register, ringing up a customer.

She finishes and looks over at him. “Did you forget something?”

“I did.” He hesitates, then finishes. “I forgot you.”

“What?” she whispers.

“And your son. You want to go to California.”

“What?”

“To California? You want to go?”

Lyla isn’t sure what to say.

Max says, “You’ve got one minute to decide.”

Lyla still hesitates, then her body says to hell with it. She unties her apron and throws it on the counter and goes over to him and says, “Let’s go.”

He takes her hand. They laugh as they make for the car. Then they are off to pick up Joe and on to California.

Next Wednesday’s Prompt: “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin.

Big Don

This here is my theme song and it is to be sung to the tune of Jimmy Dean’s “Big John”

1.He was a heck of a man

With a slight slight tan

Six foot none

And his hair was gone.

He was Don, Big Don,

Big Tall Don.

 

2.He wore a hat

To the right it tipped

And dark glasses too

So he wouldn’t catch flu.

He was Don, Big Don,

Big Tall Don.

 

3.He was a library clerk

And he loved to work

He came in at noon

Sometimes a little too soon.

He was Don, Big Don,

Big Tall Don.

 

4.He arrived at work one Monday day

Everything was thrown every which-a-way

He looked from side to side and all around

There wasn’t a clerk anywhere to be found

He heard a noise from away far-off

A still small voice with an obvious cough

He went to the cabinet sitting in front

He pulled out a drawer and began his hunt.

He was Don, Big Don, Big Tall Don.

 

5.The voice he’d heard it was down in there

Where it was he couldn’t be sure

He reached on in and pulled himself through

The hole in the drawer fit like an old shoe

He followed what he’d heard deep deep down

Through the caverns and caves he followed that sound

When after a heck of a whole lotta feet

He found himself just about to retreat.

He was Don, Big Don, Big Tall Don.

 

6.The hole got smaller but the sound grew louder

So on he plunged and the tunnel was a bit tighter

While up above the librarians stood

And listened all the best that they could

For the Yodeling Don and the lost clerks

Trapped deep down in the depths of the earth

He kept on moving and moving on he went

Creeping and crawling through every little vent.

He was Don, Big Don, Big Tall Don.

 

7.Until upon a group he finally came

All stuck under a pile of books and magazines

Well he digged and he dugged and he digged real fast

The air in that tunnel surely wouldn’t last

He pushed and he pulled and he got a clerk out

Sent her above as the librarians gave a happy shout

There were ten, twenty, thirty clerks or more

And pulling them out was like mining for ore.

He was Don, Big Don, Big Tall Don.

 

8.But out they did come one by one

And the books they fell ton by ton

Barely missing clerk by clerk until

There was only one clerk left to kill

Then Don had saved them all

He’d come to the rescue and didn’t stall

But now he was caught in the head

Banged by a ten pound book about lead.

He was Don, Big Don, Big Tall Don.

 

9.First he was stunned and then knocked out

As he fell to the floor turning around and about

They came crashing down upon him they fell

As the last rescued clerk crawled through the shell

Of an underground that was all blocked off

By all those books that had fallen rough

Upon the man they’d known as

Don, Big Don, Big Tall Don.

Short Story Wednesday: Sam

Short Story Wednesday Prompt: “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner.

I want to talk about a dawg. His name was Sam. Least that’s what he called hisself. Others knew him as Dammit or Git or Sumbitch or Git-on. That’s cause he was a tramp. He walked from place to place, calling no place home. Wasn’t that he didn’t want a home. He did. He wanted one mighty bad. Yet nowhere did he find any hospitality for the likes of hisself.

He was about knee-high-on-a-six-foot-man tall and what you’d call a half breed, half this and half that and half something else. His coat all caked up with mud and so it was hard to tell what color that coat was. If you looked hard, you’d see some brown and some black and a bit of red.

Mostly he was passing-through, getting his meals wherever he could. Got real good at finding a dumpster that might have a feast every couple a weeks. He stocked up his stomach real good, then moved on. Cause he knew nobody wanted him. ‘Tween dumpsters he’d find a garbage can, then someone’d see him tearing at the trash and throw a rock at him. With that, he moved on some more. Long time ago, he’d decided he didn’t want to be any bother, and he tried not to be. But it’s hard when you’re a dawg and nobody cares and you’re hungry all the time.

There were times a dog catcher showed up. Tried to outrun him and net him down. Sam was smart and he was fast. So he ended up on the no-catch list. By that time, he was on his way to another place, another town, another neighborhood. It wasn’t no matter where it was he was going. All that mattered was that he was going.

Now if you’d got up real close to Sam, you’d see the kindest eyes you ever did want to see. You’d know there was no danger in this dawg. There was only love. And you’d see lonely too. When a dawg is on the move the way Sam was, it was rare that any human person would get that chance to see them eyes of his up close.

Where Sam started out, he couldn’t have told you. Some distant memory of a family lodged deep in his brain but that was a long time ago. These days there was hurt and there was fear in that heart of his. As I said, the wandering life is a lonely life. So from time to time Sam would find a tree to keep him company and lie under that tree and dream. He preferred an oak tree. He would wonder if there was a human in his future. He wasn’t choosey. Any human would do.

Sam must have been on the road four, five years with no particular destination. Seems he’d been looking for something or someone all those years and still had not found what he was looking for. But you know, you may just find that which you been wanting, if you search hard enough, and you search with a pure heart. Sam sure searched hard enough, as hard as any, and it was for sure that he had a pure heart.

Maybe it was that some angel came up to God, pulled on his sleeve and said, “Sir, You might want to take a gander at this here dawg. He is a wandering dawg. He’s in need of a friend real bad. I been watching him a long time and I guarantee he is worthy.”

Well, that was why God had angels. So they could watch for things and folks that He might miss. When You are God, You have to keep Your eye on the Big Picture. Which means He didn’t often get a chance to see the little things.

God looked down on Sam and a tear fell from His eyes. Seems that God had a soft spot for dawgs like Sam. So God started doing some thinking. He thought and He thought and He thought some more. Then it came to Him. He knew just the thing for Sam. He called over to one of his extra-special angels and told her the plan He had in mind.

Sam had been tramping for a good four days. His stomach growled mighty hard as he made his way down a dirt road. He thought there might just be a farm nearby. Seems it had been aways since he last saw anything that he could reasonably call dinner.

In the distance, he heard some crying. Sam was a curious kind of dawg. That curiosity got Sam in trouble way too much, but still it was crying he heard. Even though humans had treated him unkindly, you’d think he would’ve not taken the chance. But he did. The crying came closer and closer as Sam edged hisself through the field of grass. Then he came upon it.

It was a human person. Must have been something like five years old and she sat there on the grass, bawling her eyes out. Sam being Sam he felt compassion for the little person. He walked right up to her and gave her a big lick like he’d known her his whole life. She stopped her bawling. Sam did another lick. This little girl started laughing. He did it again and she laughed harder.

Sam did not hear it. He sensed it. He made a quick turn and there was a rattler staring him right in the eye. That rattler was about to strike. Not at Sam. At the girl. The rattlesnake went for the girl. Sam went for the snake. Just as the snake was about to hit the girl, Sam bit into it. He bit that snake so hard, he bit it in two. Then he threw the snake’s head over aways.

Nearby a man stepped through the grass. Saw Sam and thought the girl was in danger from the dawg. He raised his rifle and aimed. Just as the hunter went to fire, he stopped. He saw the dawg throw that snake away. Then the dawg dropped down in front of the child. The girl went quiet.

The man ran over to the child. Sam bared his teeth. Nothing was going to hurt this child, those teeth said. The man dropped to his knees and said, “Easy, boy, easy. This is my Naomi and I am not about to hurt her.”

Sam liked the softness in the man’s voice. He picked himself up and moved away from the girl. The man lifted his daughter into his arms and hugged her. “Darling, we been looking all over for you. How in the world did you get here?” The girl giggled.

The man walked over and picked up his rifle as Sam saw his opportunity to sneak away.

The man looked over at Sam. He said, “Where do you think you’re going?”

Sam did not know what to think. Should he trust this man. He went to run away.

The man called after him, “Sam,” he said. “It’s about time you came on home with us. You look like you could use a meal, some cleaning up and a home. Don’t you think?”

Sam barked. It was the first time he had barked in years. At least, the kind of bark that said, “Thank you.” Then Sam followed the man toward a nearby red barn.

God looked down from His cloud. He said to his angels, “It is good.” The angels all agreed. God smiled. Finally Sam had a home.

Next Wednesday’s Prompt: “Shiloh” by Bobbie Ann Mason.