Short Story Wednesday: How I Really Met Your Mother

Short Story Prompt: “Odour of Chrysanthemums” by D. H. Lawrence.

Jack scoped out The Dancing Leprechaun with his usual scan, checking out the terrain. He wasn’t looking to make a connection of the female kind. If he ran into an attractive someone, he would introduce himself, then make a go for a weekend date. Wednesday nights were for a bull session with three former college buddies.

You could tell the Dancing Leprechaun was an Irish pub by the decor on the walls. Posters and paintings and photographs of great Irish folk the likes of Yeats, Lady Gregory, Joyce, and the Big Fellow, Michael Collins. In the middle of the floor stood a statue of the Irish Hercules, Cú Chulainn, brandishing his broad sword.

Jack was the last to arrive at their regular booth. After four hi-yas, they started talking NFL draft and Stanley Cup. In no time, Jack finished off a burger and was ready for a second Guinness. Looking for a waitress, he turned around from his seat in the booth. Across the room, he spied a brunette in a yellow dress. It was like a bomb detonated inside him.

He had to meet this woman. While some other guy might have hesitated, Jack didn’t. And he wasn’t about to wait till the weekend. He had to get to know this woman immediately. He got up from his seat and told his buddies he was calling it a night.

George looked over at the woman’s group and grinned. “Hmmmm. You may be messing where you shouldn’t be messing. It looks like they’re both with somebody.”

“That never has stopped Casanova before,” Dan commented.

Horst said. “You remember what happened the last time.”

Jack laughed. “That was then; this is now.”

Jack walked over to her group and introduced himself to the brunette and her friends, looking directly into her eyes and smiling. “Can I buy you a beer? I mean the four of you.”

“Don’t see why not,” the brunette said. “My name is Ashley.” She reached over and shook his hand. She wasn’t what you would call the kind of beauty you would see on television and in the movies. She had other qualities which gave her face a glow, but it was her beautiful brown eyes and the spirit behind them that reached deep inside Jack, a spirit that had known great pain, a spirit that could love deeply. “This is Helen.” She pointed to the other woman. The curly guy was Doug, the blond Thomas.

“Five beers please,” Jack called out to the waitress. Then he motioned to a table. “How about there?”

“Sure,” Helen winked, then pushed blonde hair strands out of her eyes. “Anything for free beer.”

Jack eased into the chair between Ashley and Helen. “What brings a party like you guys to a place like this?”

Ashley laughed. “Doug here wants to marry me. I’m trying to decide. What do you think?”

“If you have to ask a stranger, I’d say you shouldn’t.” He lifted the icy Guinness bottle and drank from it.

“But I’m rich.” Doug gave Jack a smile that didn’t feel like a smile. “And I love her. That should count for something.”

“Then I guess that settles it,” Jack said. “Right, Ashley?”

Ashley smiled and said, “I haven’t said yes yet.”

“You will,” Doug said to her, anger in his eyes.

Helen changed the subject. “What about you? What do you do?”

“I’m single. I write poetry, and I teach high school English,” Jack said.

“Poetry?” Thomas asked. “Write us a poem right now.”

“Oh, it’s not that easy,” Ashley said. “I’ve tried.”

“Let me see,” Jack said, looking at Ashley. “Tell me a favorite thing of yours.”

“She has this pillow she really loves,” Helen said. “We used to be roommates, so I know all her secrets. In case you wanted to know some.” Jack could tell that Helen didn’t like Doug or Thomas and she was going out of her way to flirt with him. If he had been after her, it would have been easy.

“Don’t,” Ashley said to Helen.

“Aw, c’mon,” Doug said. “You never told me about your favorite pillow.”

“And I don’t intend to,” Ashley said.”Now.”

“In that case, I won’t ask,” Jack said. “Maybe I can write a poem for you some other time.”

“No,” Thomas said, downing the last of his beer. “I think you should do it now.” Then he called for another round of beer. “This time I’m buying, okay. The poem will be your way of paying for our company. Right, Dougie?”

“I don’t really care for your company,” Jack said softly. “It’s the company of the women I want.”

The waitress sat the five beers down on the table.

“Now,” Helen said, “calm down, tigers.”

The waitress left.

“So you’re a poet?” Doug asked.

“That’s me,” Jack said, then drank from his bottle.

Doug went for a put-down. “Must not be many bucks in that line of work.”

“Oh, you’d be surprised how well we poets do.”

Thomas snorted and spilled some beer on Helen. “Thomas, you shit,” she said and jumped up. “I’ll be back in a moment, darling,” she said to Jack.

“Bitch,” Thomas said, watching her stalk away to the bathroom. “Dougie, why don’t we get out of here?”

“What and miss Mr. Poet’s rendition of the poem he’s about to do for Ashley’s pillow.”

“Doug,” Ashley snapped. “What’s got into you?”

Doug leaned forward toward Jack and glared. “Oh, I’ve just become a poetry freak.”

Jack smiled and looked at her and took a sip of his beer, then said to Doug, “You wouldn’t know a sestina from a sonnet if you saw one.”

“Guys,” Helen said, sitting back down at the table. “Let’s be civilized.”

“If we were civilized,” Jack said, “we probably wouldn’t be here, snarling at each other.” Everybody laughed.

Doug smirked. “Shouldn’t of let you get under my collar.”

Ashley breathed a sigh of relief, then leaned over and kissed him lightly on the lips. He kissed her back hard, showing the rest of us that she was his woman. But Jack noticed her body wasn’t into the kiss.

“It’s okay, man,” Jack said. “Seems to happen all the time to us poets. Guess it doesn’t take much to bring out the Neanderthal in us guys.”

“That’s my last name,” Thomas laughed. “Neanderthal.”

“You can say that again,” Helen said, rubbing Jack’s left foot with her foot under the table. But Ashley was the one he wanted.

“Neanderthal,” Thomas repeated himself. “Sorry, guys. I got to go to the little boy’s room.” He slid out of his chair and headed to the men’s room.

“I got to go pee too,” Doug said and stood up. “Now y’all behave yourself, you and Helen.” He winked at Jack. Then he was gone.

Helen moved herself closer to Jack and pushed her hand between his legs. Then she said, “Damn, I gotta go pee too.” She got up and rushed off.

Ashley smiled at Jack. “Well,” she said.

“Well,” Jack said.

She took his hand and ran her fingers across his palm.

“I’m going to have to get home soon,” she said.

“Too bad,” Jack said. “I was just getting to enjoy your company.”

“Yeah,” she said, “Doug’s going to drop me off at the Everglades Apartments. I am in Apartment 6B. That’s where I have my pillow. You should see it sometime. It was my granny’s.” Then she took back her hand as Helen returned and sat down next to Jack.

“I’m afraid I have to go,” Jack said.

“No,” Helen said. Then pouting, “Don’t go.”

“Have to,” Jack said. “Got a class to teach tomorrow. Those kids wear a guy out if he doesn’t get his sleep.”

“I bet,” Doug said as he and Thomas sat down.

“It was good to meet you guys. I haven’t had this much fun since…I don’t know when. And congratulations, Doug. Maybe you can invite me to the wedding. Here’s my card.” He handed Ashley the card.

“Sure thing, poet,” Doug said. “Maybe you’ll read the poem at our reception.”

Jack walked back to his apartment four blocks away, then drove over to the Everglades. As he pulled into the parking lot, Ashley walked up the stairs to her second floor apartment. Her lithe body had the grace and athleticism of a Jordan Baker from  “The Great Gatsby”.

He parked in an empty space at the end of the building. Then he saw Doug start his Lamborghini and take off, speeding out of the parking lot. Wonder where he’s going so fast? Maybe to Helen’s. Wouldn’t that be something?

Jack gave Ashley five minutes to settle in, then got out of his car and hurried up the stairs. He rang the doorbell.

From inside, Jack heard her call, “Doug, it’s late.”

“It’s not Doug.”

She opened the door. A white robe covered her slender body. “Well,” she said, smiling.

“I’m here to look at that pillow.” A boyish grin filled his face.

“Come in then.”

He followed her into the apartment.

“It’s in here.” She led him into her bedroom. He followed her.

“This is it,” she said, taking a hand-knitted pillow off the bed. It was white with blue unicorns dancing on it. She handed it over to him, as she looked into his eyes and he looked into hers. They kissed, the pillow between them. It was like the first kiss he had ever had. Suddenly he was happy. They sat down on the side of the bed and kissed some more.

“That’s some pillow,” he said.

“I thought you would like it.”

Afterwards, they lay side by side, both of them smiling.

“That was wonderful,” she said.

“That was what I was thinking. But what about Doug?”

“Doug? I’ve forgotten him already.”

“He’s not going to give you up that easily.”

“I’m not his possession, you know.”

“Oh, he thinks you are.”

“Well, he’s got another think coming.” She kissed him again.

The next morning her smart phone woke them at seven.

“Yes,” Ashley said, answering it. “No, I won’t be in to work today. I think I’ve got a bit of the bug.” Then she hung up and said to Jack, “That was my office. I work as a paralegal. One of my co-workers called to ask if she could get a ride.”

“I thought you were a student at the college.”

“I work three days a week and take a class on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”

“I’d better call in too.” Jack called work and told them they needed a substitute for his classes. Then he hung up and they made love again.

Later, she turned to him and said, “You want breakfast? I am a great breakfast maker.”

He kissed her and she crawled out of bed and took a shower, then headed for the kitchen as he showered. If the rest of his life was this good, then he was going to be a very happy man.

Across from a breakfast of eggs and bacon and toast and coffee and orange juice, she reached over and took his hand and said hesitantly, “I have something to tell you.

Oops, he thought. Here it comes. Oh, well. Things were good while they lasted.

She gulped, then let it out, “I only have three years to live.”

That hurt. That hurt bad. He gulped.

She went on to explain, “Don’t worry. I’m not contagious. Something inside me is all messed up.” Jack wanted to ask for more details. The tone of her voice told him she was in no mood to give him more.

He leaned over toward this woman he loved and kissed her, softly, gently, then said, “We’ll just have to make the best of those three years, won’t we?”

Next Wednesday’s Prompt: “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien.

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Five Rules for Lead Characters To Live By

I want to thank Martha Ann Kennedy and her blog post “My Rules for Good Writing” for this idea. You just never know where an idea will come from. Thanks, Martha.

1.Get to know your writer.

She won’t bite. She needs you just as much as you need her. Sure, she may put you through a beaucoup of manure. It’s okay. That is her job. Things will work out well in the end. Ask her questions about your role in the story. If you make her like you, you might get a return engagement. Series have been built around characters who have made nice to their author. Just look at Harry Potter. Seven books just because he said please and thank you and ma’am. Believe you me that boy knew exactly what he was doing. And guess what? His author may be bringing him back.

It wasn’t that James Bond and Tarzan were so popular. It was that they gave their creators a warm, fuzzy feeling. So ask your writer if they like wine? If they do, there’s no rule that your can’t give them a nice bourdeaux. Maybe she’s into clothes. Give her a new pair of shoes that fit comfortably and look great and she will be your friend for life. Just ask Scarlett O’Hara. Tomorrow may have been another day, but shoes got her the job. Jake Barnes knew his Hemingway. He gave Papa his first typewriter. It was Jay Gatsby that showed Fitzgerald how to get Zelda to marry him. And Huck Finn taught Mark Twain everything Sam Clemens knew about humor.

2.Let your writer get to know you.

You think Holden Caulfield was invented in a day. Absolutely not. Ol’ Hol was sharing his stories with J. D. for years. Originally Sal was only going to put Hol in a short story. Hol kept telling his creator more and more. Pretty darn soon Sal had a whole novel.

So tell your writer everything. How you wet the bed till you were seven. How Mary Lou Wizzama broke your heart when you were eight. How you almost died of the flu when you were nine.  Don’t forget the secrets either. How you almost got caught shoplifting when you were twelve. You just had to have that first number of The Flash comic book. How you were dumped by your first girlfriend because she didn’t like the shoes you were wearing to the prom.

Stuff like that. Believe me. Your creator will love that kind of stuff. And if you don’t have any interesting stuff, make something up. When he finds out that you did make it up, he will be impressed. It means you’re ready to work hard in your role as a character. He might even promote you from sidekick to protagonist. That was how Huck Finn got his lead.

3. Dress appropriately.

I can’t tell you how many characters have shown up on set in the wrong duds. Othello showed up in a kilt. Talk about mad. The Bard was livid. Tom Sawyer showed up in a suit. Mark Twain just about laughed him off the set. And that Nick Carroway of Gatsby fame. He thought Fitzgerald wanted him to be a cross dresser. F. Scott was drunk for a whole week over that one.

Do some research. Find out what time period your character is supposed to be in. Have a little looksee at your character’s resume. It will keep you out of all kinds of trouble. Dickens fired a character once because she thought she was doing Jane Austen. Jane Austen was very forgiving. Mr. Darcy thought he was playing Tom Jones’ daddy. Can you imagine?

4. Choose your friends wisely.

Loners don’t make it in the story business. Don’t forget how useful Doctor Watson was to Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock had a good eye for character and Watson was his man. Tom Buchanan in “The Great Gatsby” got his job because he coseyed up to Nick Carroway. And talk about great sidekicks. How about that Tonto? Originally The Lone Ranger saw him working in a raid on the wagon train in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. He knew he was the right sidekick the moment he laid eyes on Tonto. Besides nobody else in Hollywood could say kemosabe with a straight face.

Remember this character can save your butt in a tight spot. Don’t forget that Gretel would never have been able to get that witch into the oven without Hansel. Dick Whittington would have been nowhere without his cat. Do you think Dorothy would have ever made it back home without Toto? Absolutely not. And Peter Pan could never have found his way to Never Never Land without Tink. She was his GPS Navigator. I’m telling you sidekicks matter.

5.Don’t forget to join the Character’s Union.

It will save you a lot of heart ache and pain. There are characters who absolutely refused to join. Look at them now. Take Hamlet. He could be a rich character. Every performance would be bring in a royalty. Hundreds of times a year, that is how many performances go on. For each of those performances he would bring in the big bucks. Could be living in a mansion. Instead he’s forced to live in a trailer park. He can barely pay the rent on that run-down trailer of his. Last I heard he was a neighbor of Honey Boo Boo’s. Can you imagine how humiliating that is for one of the best known characters in all of Western Civilization? Compare that to Ham’s ghostly dad. He’s only in three scenes. But he now owns an island. For each performance in the last four hundred years or so, he has gotten minimum. Makes you think, don’t it.

If you follow these five simple rules,

you can have a successful career as a character. It worked for Moby Dick, for David Copperfield, for Emma, and it can work for you.

Short Story Wednesday: Aurora Farquhar’s Prayer

Short Story Prompt:”An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce

Lord.

I shot a Yankee today.  I know it ain’t right to kill a man. That’s what the Commandments say. I had no say in the matter. He come snooping around. Wanting to know where Peyton was. I didn’t dare tell him Peyton was off fighting Yankees down at the bridge.

Little Eli, he told the Blue Coat to git. The man was having none of that. He just laughed and laughed like he knew something we didn’t. He knocked my boy out of his way and come at me, looking like he had something dreadful on his mind.

I pulled that pistol Peyton done give me out of my apron. It was hard cocking that gun but I done it. I shot that Yankee in the face and killed him.

My oldest, Noah, was out plowing the field. He heard the shot and come running into the house and seed the dead man, lying on the floor. He rolled the Yankee’s body onto the rug I braided last winter, rolled that red rug up, and tied that rug around the body real tight. Then that boy, only thirteen, threw the bundle onto his shoulders. With that body of his, all tall and muscular like his granddaddy, he toted the bundle out to the back of the house. I stood there on the back porch and watched my boy bury that Yankee and cover the grave so there’s no trace.

He said to me that we got to speak some words over the man. Ain’t right to leave a man in his grave without some words, no matter how mean he was, or how much he’s out to do the bad things this Yankee had on his mind, So that was what we did. We stood over that grave and my boy said them words just like the preacher would’ve. Noah made me so proud, him taking charge and all.

About the time Noah got hisself cleaned up, this Yankee lieutenant come riding into our yard. He was real spit and polish sittin’ on the back of a mighty fine horse. He calls down to me, “Ma’am, we hung your husband. He’s on that wagon there. Where you want him?”

I never cried. I would not cry. I would not wring my hands. I would not grieve. I would not let that Blue Coat of a lieutenant see me weak like he was expecting. I give Mr. Spit-and-Polish directions to the little church down the way. Then me and the boys followed that wagon to the church. Preacher tried to comfort me, and I was comforted best I could be. It was best to get the burying over with, and that’s what we done. We sent Peyton on to You, Lord. I just want You to know that Peyton was a good man. The best man I ever knowed. And I’m wanting You to take good care of him, y’hear. I’ll be much obliged if You do.

There’s just me and my two boys left now. That Blue Coat lieutenant told us to gather our things and git. We couldn’t stay at the house. The Yankees aimed to burn the house and the barn down, and the crops too. He give us no choice but to hitch up our wagon with the mule. So we’re going now.

Oh, Lord, strengthen me for the road ahead in these dark times. Lead this husbandless woman with her two fatherless boys safely through the wilderness and to the promised land of my sister’s house.

I got to go for now. Night will be upon us soon. May light return on the morrow, and may Your grace light all our tomorrows.

Amen.

Next Wednesday’s Prompt: “Odour of Chrysanthemums” by D. H. Lawrence

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.