Short Stories

A Close Shave
Short Stories

A Close Shave

Red licked his lips and eyed the aces in his hand. Peering over his cards, he watched the grimy gamblers around the table. Each of them returned his stare, keeping one eye on Red and one eye on the mound of money in the middle. Cigar haze danced with the dingy light of saloon chandeliers and played with Red’s imagination. The pot assumed a heavenly glow that whispered to him, tempted him. 

Go all in, it said. This is your ticket out of Widow’s Rest. No more watching over your shoulder. No more living under the rich man’s thumb.

The rich man watched him now, flipping his own cards with that same oppressive thumb. Jasper Tate owned the saloon and half the men at the table, including Red. But not for long.

Read the whole story at Frontier Tales.

Bishop
Short Stories

Bishop

Wynn hooked a mostly clean fingernail under the chrome tab of the tape measure. The internal spring tack-tack-tacked as yellow inches emerged. Six, eight, ten, twelve. He stopped, had an idea, but let it go. The metal strip zipped back into the case, rocking his hand with a thwack. He did it again, careful not to cut his already dry and cracked fingers. Tack-tack-tack. Zip. Thwack. He waited. Nothing.

The click of the punch clock on his wall told him he had just wasted another half-hour of his day. In his mind, the woman from last week’s self-development seminar accused him of “activity avoidance.” Boy, there was three hours of activity Wynn was never getting back. No avoiding that. As a rule, he did the hard things first, paid the bills before he bought the boat, mowed the yard before he hit the lake. But what he had to do now, well, how do you start a thing like that?

Read the whole story at The Eunoia Review.

The Red Brick
Memoirs , Short Stories

The Red Brick

“I see Claire signed your cast.”

“Yup. Hey, Dad. Help me find a red, four-by-four brick.”

“I’ll try. There are a lot of legos here.”

“Dad, it’s not that hard.”

“Okay. So, did you ask her to sign it?”

“No. She likes to sign casts.”

“She does?”

“Yeah. That’s what she said.”

“Oh, I see. Hey, I found a red brick.”

“Cool. Thanks, Dad.”

“You’re welcome, son.”

Short Stories

I Do Love That Man

Two years ago, about this time of year, I wrote the following . . .

Just hung up the phone with the man I affectionately refer to as “Papaw.” This would of course be my grandfather, my mother’s father.   In so many ways this man  has played a vital role in my life.   Papaw is the universal fix it man for everything tangible in our lives.   If it’s broken, he can fix it.   If it’s not broken, he can still fix it.

I’ve spent many years watching him.   There were times I wanted to be just like him.   I still do.   I learned a few years ago that a man’s worth  isn’t found  so much in what he knows, but in what he does with what he knows.   I also learned, thanks to Papaw, that style is relative, and that class (like still waters) runs incredibly deep.

The phone call was like many others before.   “Hey man,” he would say.   “What’s going on?” I would ask, as if I didn’t know. “Aw, just sittin’ on the couch.   Your Mamaw’s cookin’ supper.   I’ve been down at the shop fixin’ that [you could insert any item here] for [you could insert any person here, especially a member of his family].”   And so on and so on.

Papaw’s not much for in-depth conversation.   No deep transcendental thoughts on the order of the universe . . . no philosophical  musings.   No.   Just chit chat.   It is enough for my grandfather to simply have you on the phone ““ to know you are safe, happy, and without want.   This is the purpose of conversation for him, to know his family is safe.

On occasion, however, he will (much like today) pierce  my unsuspecting heart with a love  so so profound, yet so unknowing.   It is then  that he  is like hot coffee in a cup that’s too small.    When he  spills out, you’re gonna  cry – only in a good way.

“I’m glad you’re coming in for Christmas,” he told me, as if this were a new thing.   We come home every year.   In 32 years, I’ve never spent a Christmas morning away from this man.   “Maybe we’ll have time,” he continues, “to just be together.”   My eyes watered as I listened. “I just enjoy  being with you, just driving and talking.   Maybe we can do that,” he says.

OK.   That’s not fair.   I had no warning.

There are two things you need to know at this point:

1) Conversation is never easy between my grandfather and me.   On the surface, it’s like Bartles talking with James.   The older I get, however,  our conversations remind me  more  of the dialogue in a Hemingway novel.   So much not said. It would take, I suppose,  someone of tremendous perception to appreciate the full value of each sparse word, each pregnant pause.

2) Since the arrival of my children, quality time with my grandfather (no matter how dysfunctional) has been VERY limited.    My family’s  abbreviated trips back to Alabama are usually reserved for  time spent  spoiling great grandchildren.    Papaw/Brandon time is hard for both of us to come by.

BUT ““ if I can ever get him alone and  start chipping away at those walls he builds around his mind and his heart, I can (on occasion) probe just a little deeper.   It is then that I get just a glimpse into this man that contributed  so completely to my raising ““ this man who still remains such a mystery.   He was now giving me another such opportunity.

Thus, the tears.

papaw.jpg

“Sure, Papaw,” I chocked back.   “Maybe L’Rancho [local dive good for just such an occasion] will be open on Monday morning.   We could go get some breakfast.”   I couldn’t say much more.

If you could only see what I see, or rather what I can’t see.    It’s a strange thing  to love someone so much and know so little about them.   He has so much bottled up inside.   I’m sure to let it all out would in many ways betray who he is to begin with.   But to just glimpse into who he really is  . . .  that’s what I want.

I want to hear  about being a father  to my mother.   I want to hear about working at 15 to support a family, about  owning and operating a business, about  thriving, about surviving.

Somehow, when I read or hear about men who buckled down in the face of adversity, it inspires me to do the same.   While it takes a true leader to do the right thing in the absence of precedent, it’s important for posterity to realize that it can be done.   Others have done it.   Great men have done it.   I belive the potential is there for my generation as well.   We can be great men.   We are born from great men.

Yet we are a spoiled generation of quick fixes.   Microwaves, computers, credit cards . . . not all evil (except for the credit cards) but still not representative of the hard working delayed gratification that built this incredible nation.

Only briefly have I seen Papaw open up about alcoholism.   Only briefly have I heard him speak of hard work in tough times.    I would so love to  have another opportunity to look inside once again and build on these small but giant moments.   I have so much to learn, and he has so much to teach.

papaw2.jpg

However, if  that time doesn’t come I can rest easy knowing that the really crucial  lessons have already been taught through his actions, and consistently so.

1. Love your family like they’re all you have, because they truly are.
2. If there’s work to be done, do it.   Then rest.
3. Don’t ignore problems.   They just get bigger.
4. Always keep air in the tires and oil in the engine.
5. Don’t shoot a BB gun when someone’s in your way.
6. Clean up extra food and crumbs, or suffer the wrath of ants.
7. Take care of other people’s things.
8. Take care of your own things.
9. Be on time.
10. It’s OK to wash your hair in the sink, if you have to.

And most of all, the greatest gift you can give your family is yourself.   Be there for them, even when it’s not fun, or when they’re not fun, or when you’re not fun.

When it’s all said and done, this is most important.

I do love that man.   And I know without a shadow of a doubt . . . that he loves me.

Short Stories

On Reading Faulkner

William FaulknerI read Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying in high school.   I even wrote a literary critique on the book.   Of course I merely compiled and reconstructed the thoughts of other noted scholars on the subject.   This earned me an “A,” and so I was happy. The End.

What it did not earn me was a true understanding of how this book, or any other by William Faulkner was to be read.   This is why, when I picked up this same book fifteen years later, I had no idea what I was doing.   I was expecting to read a Twain-esque account of the humor and absurdity of turn-of-the-century Yoknapatawpha, mixed with death and a few lofty social ideals.

That lasted until page two.

By chapter two, I turned the book upside down to see if it made any more sense.   Isn’t it a rule that if you use a pronoun it should be clear to what that pronoun is referring?   Isn’t it important to let the reader know with some degree of chronology the events leading up to a dialogue?   At least within 50 pages?

He (Faulkner – see, that isn’t so hard) didn’t play by the rules.   Which leads me to the first basic rule when reading Faulkner . . . get the Cliff Notes.   Or at least the online SparkNotes.   They’re very helpful for understanding at the very least concepts like  . . . oh, I don’t know . . . A PLOT!!!   But this reader’s guide will also be glad to tell you how to interpret the thematic elements behind what you’ve just read (read: how to think).

So, with the help of my online “aid,” I made it through a truly wonderful and fascinating book about the Bundrens and their journey to bury poor Adi.   Man, talk about your screwed up families.

I took some time to recuperate and re-organize my brain into proper lobe positions.   This took approximately six months, one John Grisham novel, one Nicholas Sparks novel, and a few Capote short stories.   After that, it was off to the races again.

Light In AugustMy next project, Light in August.   First let me say that this selection was solely predicated on the availability of audiobooks through my library’s online lending system.   I downloaded the book, transfered it to my PDA (thanks to my 1GB storage card) and committed my drives to and from work to the legendary author and his strange use of the “stream of consciousness” narrative.

I’m almost done.   While it helped that the actor reading the book is VERY good, I still had to break out the old SparksNotes bookmark in my browser.   I tried, really.   But by chapter four, I was as lost as last year’s Easter egg.   But this book has a rhythm.   It has a meter that can be followed for each character.   The language changes with each dialogue, much like As I Lay Dying.   And I finally understood the one thing every reader needs to have when reading Faulkner . . .

A lot of mental RAM.

If you are like me, you like to let go of useless information to make room for new useless information.   Normally, this is OK because any other author would give you clues to keep important details at the front of your mind.   To Faulkner, everything is important.   And he will most likely give you a detail in chapter one that will not make sense until chapter seven.   If you are able to piece together the seemingly random bits of data, you will most certainly find a very interesting, if not mind-blowing connection among characters and events.

My advice, read this book.   But don’t be afraid to follow every other chapter (or every other paragraph if necessary) with a glimpse at the SparksNotes.   If you’re like me, you’ll get the hang of it after a while.   And soon, you’ll not only be piecing together what you’ve just read, but you’ll actually begin anticipating what is coming next.   (Careful, professional driver on a closed course).

If you’re so inclinded, have fun.   And remember, Faulkner is best served  with a warm pipe  on a cool Autumn afternoon.   (But don’t tell my wife.)