Sorry

He’s not too bad a guy. He has feelings as deep, sore and soaring as anyone else’s, I guess. Maybe even more so, we just don’t know. Few have ever seen them as he moved through the vacuum of his days.

I once caught him in one of his brooding moods, the ones maybe you’ve seen or you’ve felt. He broke through the 1,000-mile stare and wall of his self-imposed isolation to look up at me, half-grinned and raised his chin in greeting. He hummed his shrugged-shouldered humph when I inquired how he was.

“So how you doing?”

“I’m doing. Wondering if all this is worth it.”

“All what?” I asked.

“Just doing, being, thinking. You know, like that Descartes guy said, ‘I think, therefore I am.’ Maybe I should just stop thinking so much.”

“That’d be no fun.”

Then he surprised me with, “I’m sorry.”

“What are you sorry for? You haven’t done anything to me,” I said.

“I’m sorry because I’ve never expressed to anyone my regrets for my sins and omissions, never cried at their funerals, never spoke up about how I truly felt, never professed my love to those I should have and never moved on from the ones I shouldn’t,” he said.

“Why are you telling me this?” I asked.

“Because you’re the only one I can and that’s what I lament the most,” he said as we each turned away from the mirror and switched off our bathroom light.

From St. Pierre aux Portes to Bayou Enfer

Credit: Dreamstime

“You’re sure you know the way? For thirty silver dollars I’d hate to get lost in this damned place,” Amos Adams said.

The old man had little more than grunted since they left St. Pierre aux Portes, bound for the other side of Bayou Enfer.

“Quiet, boy, or you’ll wake the dead, or worse, the living who might lie ahead,” finally came from the tobacco-stained hole in Bub Renard’s beard.

“Listen, Bub, which way out of this infernal wilderness? Seems we’re going in circles, with no rhyme or reason.”

“Rhymes? Sonny, ask me what I knows of the to’s and the fro’s, the gives and the takes, the misses and the makes, and I’ll say, ‘That’s a good question’,” Bub replied.

“Look, there’s a price on my head and I’d just as well put YOU under as listen to anymore of your nonsense. Just get me away from here, okay?”

Then came the howls.

“What was that?” Amos said, eyes wide.

“My children be callin’, with hunger they be bawlin’,” Bub said as the sound of little feet danced toward the man judged for respecting life not enough by the one didn’t respect Amos’ so much.

When they were done, Beelzebub Renard, the guide into but never from this dark place, told his children, “If they ever ask, in earnest or in passing, mine would never be the face they’d see the last thing. They never suspect my smile’s vestigial. And their sins? Hell, mine was the original.”

My 250-word bit of flash fiction (with a poet’s splash of rhyme) for Cara Michaels’ #ModayMenage challenge.

From Mindanao to Macao

Source: Dreamtime

“You sure you saw something?” Captain Ben Giotto asked Navigator Frankie Keyes.

“Pretty sure. Clouds so low and the sea so dark and rough, though, I can’t be sure,” Keyes replied.

“Okay, start the fire. If there’s someone out there, maybe they’ll see the smoke,” Giotto ordered Lieutenant Lenny Shue, the third survivor of their crashed Navy transport.

“What if it’s Japs?” Shue asked.

“Then we get rescued by Japs. If we stay here, we’ll be dead in a week,” Giotto said.

“What am I supposed to start the fire with?” Shue, said. “Numbnuts there used our last flare two nights ago, like a fool, trying to signal some chain lightning or whatever. We got nothing to spark it.”

“You’re the engineer, Mr. Shue. Start engineering,” Giotto said.

“I saw it again!” Keyes shouted. “Sitting out there maybe six or seven miles.”

“You know, Numbnuts, you’ve done nothing but screw up since we left Manila,” Shue said. “Got us lost, then bounced by that flight of Zekes, and dumped us in the lost keys somewhere between Mindanao and Macao. You’d be more help to us dead than alive. At least we could eat you then.”

“Enough!” Giotto growled. “Keyes, make yourself useful anyplace away from Shue.”

* * *

Two days later, when Commander Walt Sunday’s submarine picked them up, he told Giotto and Shue, “We found the kid yesterday morning. Life vest deflated, but we saw the yellow on the dark water. Found the note about you fellas in his pocket.  Kinda ironic, wouldn’t you say? I guess he died just swimming out to fetch us to save you.”

“Yeah, I guess he did,” Shue whispered.

Here’s a 250-word response to author Cara Michael’s weekly #MenageMonday challenge. Have to use three prompts in a flash of 250 words or less. This week’s prompts were two phrases to be used in quotes (“like a fool” and “the lost keys”) and that photo above. I’ve added a few words here to my entry and would love to sit for a day to try turning it into something to the tune of 3,000 to 5,000 words. Maybe someday.

I Promise

“What?!”

“I wish you’d not sneak up on me like that. It freaks me out and I lose the flow,” I said.

“What the heck does that even mean? Who’s THIS woman your main character’s talking about,” Jeanne said, her finger leaving a smudge on my computer screen. Her tone more accusatory than interrogative.

“She’s the angel who smashed the bottle on the bow of his Titanic of a life,” I said.

“The Titanic sunk,” she said. “So you’ve longed for some woman all this time? And you’re going to write about her for the whole world to read and talk about? I hate you.”

“She’s imaginary, like Queen Elsa and Olaf,” I said.

“Well she came from some somewhere inside you. You couldn’t have just made her up from nothing. Who is she, Eddie?” Jeanne said.

“Do you know how many books I’ve read over my whole life? Thousands. And all those characters are smushed together up here,” I said, pointing at the side of my head. “My imagination just picks pieces of those characters and builds a new one. That’s where she came from. If it’ll make you feel better, I’ll put a big notice on the flyleaf that swears that. Okay?”

“Fourteen-point type?”

“Eighteen,” I said.

“Okay,” Jeanne said.

“Now can I get back to this? My deadline…”

“Okay. But please don’t work too late. We’re going to Mom’s tomorrow and you can’t be nodding off again.”

“I’ll be up soon. I promise,” I said.

When the door clicked shut, I returned to my keyboard, closed my eyes and that snowy day thirty years ago with Diana flowed back to me. And started I typing again.

This is a slightly lengthened version of my 250-word story for Siobhan Muir’s Thursday Threads flash fiction contest. I had to use a phrase from last week’s winning story (my own): “What the heck does that even mean?” If you’re a writer, a romantic or a romantic writer, you know what this story is about. If you’re not… Well, it’s about angels and magic.

Black, Two Sugars, Shhh…

“Why do you do that?” my girlfriend Sara asked.

“Do what?” I said, since I am a simple man.

“Why do you insist on using that cup every day? Even after you’ve washed it, it’s still a stained mess,” she said.

“Because,” I said, since I am a simple man and she probably wouldn’t appreciate my mansplaining.

“And that’s it? Because? What the heck does that even mean?”

“It means it’s more important to me than some shiny new cup. I’ve had this cup for twenty-some years,“ I said.

I stared into the coffee, black as the nights in the Arma Mountains, when to make any sound would offer Taliban fighters enough intel to blow you away, or even five of your buddies.

I was about to take a sip when Sara noticed more of the interior of the cup.

“I mean, look at that. It’s so scratched and stained, I don’t know what to say except ‘Why?’” Sara said. I’m sure she was just trying to plumb the depths of my male mind.

She was right, though. Its interior wore the dark scratches where thousands of turns of a spoon or field knife had stirred two sugars into it. If we had sugar.

Finally, I took a sip of my coffee and it scalded my tongue. Again.

“Damn it, Sara. I keep it because it’s important.”

“Gahhh,” Sara huffed and stalked away.

“If only…if I had held my tongue,” I thought. With Sara, too, for that matter.

Wrote this 250-words of less story for Siobhan Muir’s Thursday Threads feature. I was supposed to use the phrase “if I had held my tongue” anywhere in it.  Oh, and somehow think of a wee story in which to place it.  No idea where it came from.

All The World Was His Stage

Will always got a perfect mark from his favorite professor. I don’t begrudge him his success. He came from pretty tough circumstances. First of his family to go to college, small rural high school and all.

Okay, I kind of resent the fact that Will Shakespeare got a reputation as “the most inventive and gifted writer our English Department has ever produced” according to a college newsletter to alums and donors.. 

Will was a nice enough guy. Quite friendly and very well-spoken. We hit it off our first week at a dorm mixer. I’d say he over-compensated for his farm boy upbringing by walking around like he was strutting on stage or something, but it did get the attention he craved. 

“Christine, I understand you write poetry,” he said as he swept up to me.

“Uh huh,” I said. “Been lucky enough to have a few things published. But I want to be a doctor, so the artist side of me will have to take a bit of a hiatus, I guess.”

“Wow, I’d love to have my words published one day. See some of my stories turned into plays, movies or even video games. Would you like to read some of them?” Will said.

“Sure,” I said. They were pretty bad. 

After that, Will was always hanging around my room. That is, if he wasn’t sucking up to the head of the English Department. 

Will made sure we always sat together in our Freshman Composition class. Soon it became, “Christine, I’m having trouble with this poem.” “Chrissie, how can I straighten out this essay?” “Chris, can you fix this story for me, pleeeeze?”

And, for whatever reason, I would help him. That more often than not, ended up with me putting aside my Organic Chem or Spanish 3 and essentially rewriting his work.

“What do you think of this?” he’d say.

“Will, you saw that on TV just last night.”

“So, it was a good story.”

“Yes, but you have to switch it up, give it a different slant, change the characters and setting, and puh-leeeze stop writing ‘should of’ when it’s ‘should HAVE.”

“Show me,” he’d say.

He was very sweet. Handsome in a gentle, long-haired, softly goateed way. I loved how he’d massage my shoulders while I turned his chicken shit prose into Chicken Kiev for Professor Kaplan. He’d enter my room with a flair, never wander in, always a grand entrance. 

And I loved how he’d softly compliment my hair, my nails, my new bedspread, the photos I’d taken from my trips to Europe and California. Oh, and my clothes, always my clothes.

He’d wear those skinny jeans with nice buttoned shirts that bordered on something from Forever 21. He even asked if he could borrow one of my peasant-sleeved blouses more than once. He was pretty skinny and could get away with wearing a size 10 or a medium. Just like me.

Next thing I know, he’s borrowed (stolen) a pair of my leggings and he’s wearing them around campus under a pair of workout shorts. As I said, he was pretty skinny and about as unathletic as a combined English/Theatre major could be 

“Will, I want my clothes back,” I told him.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Chrissie. I thought I’d try that look. Nathan loved it and he gave me a pair of his running tights to wear instead — more colorful than plain black. I’ll drop them off tomorrow.”

Nathan was Professor Kaplan. And tomorrow was never. Next thing I know, Will left school. His roommate told me he headed to New York with Kaplan to meet some of his old theatre buddies. Never came back. No note or a text or any kind of goodbye. When I got back to school for my senior year, I saw that alumni magazines with a photo of Will on the cover. It said he’d become a protegé of some writer-producer and had mounted his first off-Broadway play, which got great reviews from the New York papers.

I can’t remember if I cried the night I read that. Not that I should care what a skinny, femme, social-climbing, plagiarizing wanna-be Sam Shepard did with his life. I was headed to Duke Medical School, after all.

Will died recently. Nice obit in The Times. I was surprised when I received a letter at my Charlotte practice from a New York lawyer.

The Broadway whiz kid had mentioned me in his will. I was to receive his second Golden Globe, the one for that execrable movie that his last mentor had juiced the Hollywood Foreign Press to give him.

A second envelope, addressed in Will’s flourishing script was addressed it to me, Christine Marlowe. I pulled from it a note written by Will. No doubt. It read:

Good friend, for Christ’s sake listen,
Without you my career would sure be missin’
Thanks for always being there to save my ass,
And fuck those critics who doubted I had class.

Yeah, he always sucked as a writer. But the boy could act. Oh, how we loved that boy’s act.

This is a quickly penned response to a prompt from writer Julie Duffy. I needed the help. I was supposed to write a story of 750 words or less (FAIL!) featuring a character from history or mythology, but place them in a different era. I pulled this scribble out of my nether regions in about an hour. I know. Reads like our Will Shakespeare’s hideous “real” writing. I may try this again with someone else later.

Taken

Photo copyright K. S. Brooks.

In the evening she told me her name was Kahwihta. And when I asked how many in her basket, with what I figured was a universal kind of gesture, she held up two hands and shook all the fingers, then one hand with the thumb and first finger extended.

Tékeni iawén:re,” she said, which I guess meant a dozen.

“Well, now, that’s enough apples to make a fine pie,” I said. But I was sure flour and cinnamon were in short supply here near Ta-ra-jo-rees, the village of the Turtle Clan. I was camped on the south shore of their River Flowing Around the Mountain. We call it the Mohawk.

I’d been surveying there in the wilderness for three weeks. The geography was perfect for one supporting grazing and farming, which is what Mister Proctor, the land speculator, had sent me to assay.

Sir William Johnson, His Majesty’s agent among these people, had warned me off, lest I incur a deadly suspicion among his charges. I believe he was trying to keep this land for his own devices, since he has become almost one of the natives and keeps a Mohawk woman, who he calls his wife.

And if she looks anything like Kahwihta, I can understand why.

With what pieces of the language I’d learned, I said, “Konnòn:we’s,” which I think meant “I like you.” Since she dropped her head and giggled behind her hand, I surmised I must have said the right thing. So I reckoned I might as well try to be more like Johnson.

Kwah tokén:’en sén:ta’wh?” I said, which I believed meant to have a good sleep. I pointed at her and then to myself and then the soft fur robe on the floor of my tent.

Kahwihta giggled again and laid down, which surprised and encouraged me in a very fine manner. I was hoping the language of love was as universal as the poets say. I laid down next to her and pulled the robe over us. In the light from my campfire through the canvas, her skin glowed like polished bronze. 

Kahwihta turned toward me and repeated, “Kwah tokén:’en sén:ta’wh.” After that, I remember nothing of the night.

Next I know, I am waking, waking with this vicious pain behind my head, lying there in the open beneath the trees. My tent is gone, as well as my gun, powder and lead, surveying instruments, maps, ledgers, drawing tools, everything. Well, not quite everything.

I still had the clothes on my back and my knife. And there on the robe next to me were seven red apples. I surmised Kahwihta must have felt some remorse that probably one of her brothers entered the tent and tried to crush my skull with his warclub. That he failed was scant comfort in light of the bloody, swollen gash on the back of my head. 

I stumbled to my feet and felt a dizziness like I’d not known before. Thereafter I fell to my knees and spewed my previous day’s victuals on the ground next to me. 

I felt it wise to leave behind, in greatest haste, the village of Ta-ra-jo-rees as best I could, lest Kahwihta’s brothers returned to take my clothes and life, too. So I gathered up my robe, tying within it the seven apples of regret left by the comely Kahwihta. I then crawled on my hands and knees, like some beast of the wild, into the dense forest surrounding me.

It took me four days and every apple to reach Fort Hunter to the north by east. 

I should be quite grateful to Kahwihta, for I’m sure it was through her intercession that I am here today to tell my story of that verdant valley and the beautiful Mohawk girl. I blame myself, my arrogance and my poor language skills for all of this: my failed mission, the loss of my gun and the tools of my profession. and my near-death. 

You see, one of the old scouts at Fort Hunter told me what Kahwihta means in the Mohawk tongue. It means She Takes it With Her.

Indeed.

This story started out as a hoped-for 250-words or less piece of flash fiction for the weekly contest at Indies Unlimited website. But then, as usual, creative momentum and a too-long-dormant story-telling muscle went on a spree.  Yeah, it’s rough as a cob, but it’s just shy of 700 words, so it still qualifies as flash. And I feel better for having stuck with it.