More Than a Man Behind a Beard


The Santas have come
to the malls again,
carried in by the warm breeze
from ovens opening to release
the Thanksgiving turkey
to its joyous greeting and
Black Friday leftovers demise.
These red-clad stand-ins aren’t
really the jolly one, though.
Just like Teddy Bears aren’t
named Teddy and definitely
aren’t bears. Not really.
Well, they are in the imaginations
of children and those who wish
to hold onto memories from childhoods
too early lost to revelations
from the older ones who still
feel anger about losing theirs.

I wonder if the shopping mall,
sidewalk and Salvation Army
Santas enjoy their roles as
symbols of something lost
or soon enough so. Just as
they’ll lose their jobs
come the 25th of December.
If I was one of them, sitting
on my photo prop throne or
ringing my alms-seeking bells,
I’d prefer to think I’m grasping
a month in my life, mere minutes
over 30 days, perhaps as some
child’s lifetime memory of something
pureand good. Something greater than
just a man behind a beard.



Um, good afternoon, I’d like to speak to Jason Lafleur, please. Oh, hi, Mr. Fletcher, this is John Berdar from the Press-Republican. Heh, yeah, the Republican Press. I hear that a lot.

Anyway, I was hoping you had a minute to talk to me about…. No, nothing to do with that. I never heard about any DWI. Not anything with your name attached. I just was kinda wondering if you’ve heard about the State Police looking for your cousin, Loyal.

No? Okay, thanks. Oh, wait a second, please. You don’t know anything about Loyal’s disappearance, but maybe you can help me fill in some blanks the troopers won’t. I won’t have to use your name or nothing. You could be what we call a source close to the family. Funny, huh? Someone in the family being called close to the family. I’ve got only one brother left and I don’t think I’d want him to be that kind of a source, close to the family. He’s a real dick.

Oh, oh, I’m sorry, you don’t need to hear my sorry story. Let’s get back to Loyal. You two grew up together, right? Uh huh. Sure, up in Chateaugay. Love how you local folks say that, shadda-gee. Sorry, I’m from Albany. I’m sure you think I’ve got my own weird accent.

So, you and Loyal grew up in Chateaugay. Would you say he was a quiet kid, kinda a loner? You know, like how the neighbors always describe their neighbor who chopped up his mother and fed her to the cats or sprinkled her on his salad or whatever.

Oh, yeah, sorry. You were saying he was a hell raiser then? I hear you kinda ran together back in the day. Were you the quiet one in your dynamic duo? Kind of a balance thing. Funny how nature likes that balance. Human nature too, I guess.

Anyway, the troopers tell me, what little that is anyway, that Loyal once got caught outside your Mom’s house holding something they later connected to a beating he must’ve given a guy named, ummm…Steve Yaddeau? Yeah, he must’ve been a tough kid. You didn’t see that did you? Him beating up Yaddeau? You two always together and all, I figured. Yeah. Yeah, No, of course not. Not you. He ever put a whupping on you? Oh, sorry.

Just a few more minutes. You’re being a great help. My editor, Teddy, he wants all this background stuff and he’ll cuss me out something fierce if I don’t come up with something. Hate to lose my job over just a conversation between two guys, couple of poor kids who grew up with some rough guys around our family. Ya know?

Thanks, I appreciate it. Now, you say you were around when Loyal put that whuppin’ on Yaddeau? Uh huh. What about the time he got caught joy-riding in your dad’s Chevy? Oh? You tried to stop him? Rode with him so he wouldn’t get in any more trouble. Your a good friend, Jason. Sorry, can I call you Jason? You can call me John. How’s that?

I guess having the under-sheriff as an uncle helps in times like that. Oh, no, I wasn’t saying that. Of course not. That’s just how my silly mind works. No filter, as they say. Just BLURGH, out it comes. Sorry.

So you and Loyal were caught joyriding in your dad’s car. Glad he didn’t press charges. Woulda been a terrible thing. Family and all. And I know how families are, believe me. You can be going along your whole life like brothers, even closer, and BANG something happens between you two and it’s over. Happened to me and my brother. Don’t speak anymore.

I’m not prying or anything, you know, but were you and Loyal still on speaking terms lately? Just as background, mind you. My editor Teddy will be asking how credible my source is. And who could be more credible than the cousin and one-time best friend of the deceased.

Oh, I’m truly, truly sorry. Did I say deceased? I meant missing person. I’m sorry, you’ve been a great help to me for the story, talking to me all the way from Watertown and all. You moved away after your grandfather died, right? About six months ago? Was that when you and Loyal had your falling out? Man, I know how those tough guys can be about personal stuff like that. Emotions always close to the surface. Sorry for your loss, Jason. I’ll bet you were your grandpa’s favorite weren’t you. The good grandson.

Oh? Go figure. You two being his only living kin and all. I figured, you know, that balance thing again.

Oh, yeah, I’m sorry, taking up so much of your time. I really really thank you. My editor will skin me with a pica ruler if I don’t get a couple more facts. I promise.

Anyway, I’ve got this friend over in the probate court. You know how it is, young reporter from the Big City, Albany, and a sweet girl originally from Rouses Point. Sweet girl. Yeah. Anyway, she told me that your grandpa left most of his estate to Loyal, with you as secondary heir. That can’t be right, can it? I didn’t believe that.

No, no, strictly on deep background. Just so I understand how Loyal ticked. A bad kid who connived his way into his grandfather’s good graces, an Eddie Haskell-type sucking up to his elders while being a creep to the younger kids. You ever see Leave It To Beaver? Sorry if the analogy is… Oh, you knew about that. No Kidding. Must’ve been a real ball breaker, you’ll pardon my French.

Anyway, I want to thank you for your time, Jason, Mr. Lafleur. You’ve been a big help. My editor will only have to skin me from the waist down now, ya know? Heh…

So thanks again. You have a….

Oh, one more thing. I’m so freaking stupid. You said you saw Loyal at your grandfather’s wake, right? Oh, you didn’t? I would have sworn you did. Must have been that funeral guy I talked to from Brown’s. Said he saw you guys in the parking lot that night. All those Elks and Knights Pythias herding around, I don’t know how he could, but there ya go.

Said you two were having words, but he coulda been mistaken. Coulda been an Elk and a Knight or a Rotarian arguing about the Habs or Democrats or something like that.

So I want to thank you for your time. I’ve gotta make another call to get a second source. Yeah that’s the rules around here. Yeah, ain’t rules a bitch. No, I won’t use your name in this story. Not today, nope. Hey, and you have a great day, okay? If I hear anything from the troopers or sheriff I’ll be sure to give you a call if you like. No? Okay, you’ve been a great help anyhow. My editor… Yeah. Yeah. You too. Yeah, have a great…

Ouch. That was a loud one. Must’ve hung up with a baseball bat.

Hey, Ted! You might want to look at my notes here, but first I got one more call to make. Yeah, troopers. Want to go over my notes with them, too. Think I might be able to wrap this story up for ya with a big bow by 10:00. Just hold another seven inches on A-1. No, I’m not shitting you. No. Then come on over while I call Troop G.

Sheesh. What a grouch. Wish he’d stop calling me Li’l J-Bird. Demeaning shit. Oh, hi, sorry, good afternoon. This is John Berdar from the Press-Republican. Hah, Republican Press. Never heard that one before. Anyway, I’d like to speak to inspector Gallo? Yeah about the Loyal Lafleur murder. I got some new questions, shouldn’t take more than a couple of… Sure I can hold, but tell him I’m on deadline.

Story #7 of Story-A-Day may. One week in the bag. Wouldn’t you know it, the day after I wrote a story using practically all dialog, the prompt from Julie Duffy is for a story written…you guessed it. All dialog. So I decided to write one that’s all-dialog, just only with the reader hearing one side of it. I hope it works. Drew from my nascent reporter days for the setting and character(s). This is, as are all of my Story-A-Day postings, a first draft. It’ll change quite a bit should I decide to revise it into something more palatable for editors and discerning readers.

Breaking Into the Papers


A newspaperman, that’s what I almost always wanted to be.

But the closest I got to that dream as a 10-year-old was writing stories for my own little family newspaper, using one of those old twist-the-dial-to-the-correct-letter-and-push 1960s toy typewriters.

Precocious little devil that I was, I also wrote stories for my grammar school newspaper, but the nuns’ semi-sincere, though remarkably soft-handed, pats on the head wore thin pretty quickly. Stories about field trips and altar boy assignments weren’t interesting enough for me, even when I applied my own slant to them. Righteous religious redaction always put its raven-stockinged (so hot!), high-topped, black-shod foot down. The United States Constitution and Bill of Rights did not exist in St. Patrick’s School.

When my Scout Troop visited the local newspaper building and all the other kids were gassed about getting the cool hats that the printers folded from newsprint, I was more interested in what most of the other kids thought was the boring part of the tour – the city room.

The other kids oohed over the rumble and whirr as rolls of clean off-white paper entered the big presses at one end and came out covered in strips of gray and pictures and ads for milk and Nash Ramblers at the other end. Upstairs, I aahed at the opera of telephones, typewriters and the cursing men, who glowed like angels under the harsh fluorescent lights in dingy white shirts and narrow dark ties.

Besides the sights and sounds, I was intoxicated by the smell of the city room. Half gin mill, half opium den, the reporters and editors huddled in or scurrying to or from their places beneath a yellow-gray cloud of cigarette and cigar smoke that horizontally bisected the high-ceilinged room at about the seven-foot mark. I remember smelling Old Spice-tinged sweat and corned beef on rye with mustard and … what was that? … oh, and rubber cement.

Though I knew I would never smoke, and I hated wearing my green little clip-on St. Patrick’s uniform tie, and I really hated it when I heard my old man use the cuss words these journalists spewed with what seemed like every other exhalation, I knew that somehow, some way, my future had to be part of what I saw that day.

The local papers were not going to hire 11-year-old cub reporters whose clip file contained stories about nine-year-old cross-dressers, uh, superhero trainees, and that Dennis had scored the 9 o’clock Mass again, which included free donuts, hot cocoa and a too-long-held hand on the knee from Father X in the rectory.

Nevertheless, I wanted to stay close to the newspaper business while I prepared myself for the city room. So, I took a job delivering the afternoon Knickerbocker News. And it was quite a job.

I’ve told many of you about my days dodging robbers and cursing the cops who drove the lovely ladies in the yellow house with the red door from my delivery route and inquisitive libido. By the time I got to high school, I was writing funny bits and essays in class, some that got into the hands of the black-robed enforcers who, instead of going all Francis of Assisi with their cinctures on their own backs, decided to vent their sexual frustration on the author.

My Freshman English teacher directed me to the office of The Blue Banner, our high school newspaper. I became a sort of writer/editor-at-large by the time I was a senior. Sister Mary Carmel threw me out of class twice for bringing “banned” books into her realm – Phillip Roth and Hemingway.

Oh well, on to College. I hit Brockport State like a multi-megaton testosterone bomb. Yep, by the time my westward-rolling wheels passed Sacandaga Lake, which I considered International Waters, I was no longer under the scrutiny of the publishers of the Hesch Family Times. First choice: Phys Ed /English teacher or Journalist?

Once again, I set my course for the newsroom, though I took a circuitous route there through bars, bedrooms, athletic fields, locker rooms, hashish flops, Canadian Border Patrol and Mounted Police holding cells, and a couple of visits to the hospital (once because an article I wrote pissed off the entire Brockport Rugby Club, the tools!).

Both the college and I felt I would be better served – or perhaps not served so much – if I were to take my business elsewhere until I grew up a little. So, home I went. Two years of community college later, I climbed over the Adirondacks and landed in scenic but chilly Plattsburgh, New York, where there are but two seasons, winter and the Fourth of July. Nevertheless, I began writing again, with an eye on some sort of newspaper career.

My Expository Writing professor got me an interview with the man who ran the college News Bureau and I got a job writing news releases for Plattsburgh State. It was supposed to be a work-study job, but they had no more money. Hell, I just wanted to write news and develop my chops. I learned a lot in that office, like the basics of news story structure and what editors were looking for. Like not ending your sentences with prepositions.

Upon graduation, I pelted the Albany news market with résumés and clips of my releases from when they ran in the Plattsburgh newspaper. I dropped the same stuff off at the Plattsburgh paper, too. In August, I got a call from Al Gillon, the managing editor of the Plattsburgh Press-Republican. He had received my materials and wondered if I would be interested in coming up to interview for an open reporter’s position. Let’s see, sell Casio calculators and typewriters for the rest of my miserable life, or attempt to kick-start this demented dream into a small but solid reality.

I drove to Plattsburgh the following week, sporting my au courant polyester sport coat and breastplate-wide tie. Even though I sat in my chair like a six-footer — my butt was so tight, I gained two and a half inches — I felt like that Cub Scout in the Albany newsroom from ten years earlier. I interviewed with Mr. Gillon, the editor and city editor, as well as the publisher.

I think I passed their test when they asked me if I was into “advocacy journalism.” With my track record of being shallower – as Grandpa used to say – “than piss in a platter,” I could barely advocate for myself, let alone some grand ideal or organization. The newspaper’s hierarchy wanted their reporters to be less than vanilla. They wanted boiled potato. Inwardly, I resolved to bring my own salt and pepper.

A week later, I belonged to the P-R. I found an apartment in one day, motored back to Albany, threw my stuff in the Pontiac, said goodbye to my Mom, Dad and the sibs and I was OFF!

Two weeks of writing obits, tomorrow’s weather, editing news releases for P-R style and almost getting killed at a construction site accident they had no one else available to cover, I was handed my first paycheck. I ripped open the envelope and looked down at the check. I didn’t even notice that it said $225 for two weeks of work. I saw only two things: The newspaper’s name at the top, The Press-Republican, and the name of the payee, Joseph A. Hesch. You know, the newspaperman.

My poet friend Mary asked the folks at dVerse to write a poem about the news. I didn’t think I could participate, so I didn’t write one. But then American journalism giant Ben Bradlee died yesterday, and memories of my birth in the news business came rushing back to me. This is a long-winded (and obviously unedited) story about this short reporter’s breaking in the papers.


As the man in the midnight blue silk suit nibbled his date’s neck again, instead of the now-cold Chateaubriand for Two on the plates sitting before them, Eddie Pietro pulled at his collar and twisted his narrow black tie once more.

“Jesus F’ing Christ, why don’t these two just climb on the table and get it over with? At least someone would be done with their business before midnight,” Eddie said in the kitchen doorway to the busboy, Martin Leo.

“Chill, man, not like you got no woman waiting for you out there tonight,” Martin said to the back Eddie’s sweat-stained white shirt as the waiter steamed to the men’s room again.

Eddie parked himself on the toilet, locked the stall door and shook out the barest remains in the cocaine vial onto the back of his hand while, at a club across town, Loosh glared at his knock-off Piaget, decided he couldn’t wait any longer and whispered into the ear of the college boy on his lap, “Hey, Cariño, would you like a bump?”

Based on the Five Sentence Fiction prompt WAITING.

Beating of the Heart ~ A WIP

This WIP is a story related to me by my mom about her grandparents, Pat and Elizabeth. Young Lizzie left County Kilkenny, Ireland, for a better future in America. Pat left and traveled a long and arduous journey for a future with her. It was in Albany, the center of my maternal and paternal familial universe, they reunited and built that future.

I found the bare details of this story’s main action in our local newspaper’s This Day In History section, under 100 Years Ago Today. There was my great-grandfather’s name and what happened that day during one of the longest hot spells in the city’s history.

I’ve still got a lot of work to  do on it, too much tellin’ and not enough showin’ for starters, but I’ll give you all a look anyway. The story’s working title (still) is…

Beating of the Heart

State & Pearl

Corner of Broadway and State Street in Albany, early 1900s.

Patrolman Pat Shortall knew it was time for a cool beer when he felt the stream of sweat run from beneath his domed hat, down the back of his neck and inside the snug collar of his blue wool uniform. Even the backings attaching the ornamental brass “APD”s to the collar burned his throat.

This was the fourth day in a row temperatures rose above 90 in Albany. Horses and people were dropping dead or near-to all over town this July of 1912. Tempers were growing short.

The curse of my fathers sure as hell did when I blew up at Bridie last night, he said to himself. And to think of what I’ve been through to marry that girl. Daft, I must be.

“Hey, Patty, a beer kin I gitchoo?” Otto Olendorff said with a laugh from the wide open front door of his tavern near the corner of Broadway and State Street.

“Nah, Otto, thanks. Maybe I’ll join you after me shift’s over. I could use it. Keep it cold for me, will ya?”

“You bet, Patty. How’s Brigid doing in this heat? She didn’t fare too well last year, if I remember. What with losing the baby and all.”

“Ah, she’s suffering just like everyone else,” Pat said. Bridie was still pining for a little one, though. He loved the girl beyond all reason, but she was driving him crazy with her sighing, crying and staring at him, as if he had done something wrong. A baby would come along in time.

“She’ll be fine,” Pat said.

His wife Brigid, called Bridie since she first drew breath in the village of Knocktopher, County Kilkenny, had begun praying to a Saint Gerard. Her confessor, Father Tremblay, had told her, “Bridie, darlin’, this holy martyr of Mother Church is the patron saint of expectin’ mothers. You say a few novenas to the holy man, conduct your, uhh, wifely duties, and you shall have a little one soon enough, God bless.”

If she keeps up this nattering nonsense, she’ll be needin’ one of those miraculous conceptions, God forgive me, Pat thought, wiping sweat from his red face. If I didn’t love my sweet girl so, I’d be goin’ over to the whores on Green Street like the other coppers. But I do love her.

Bridie and her sister had left Ireland three years before, bound for America and jobs as housemaids in the mansion of Albany hotel owner and restaurateur William Keeler.

Pat promised Bridie he would follow her and they would be together. He wrote to her every week for a year with that message, until he found a sponsor to pay for his immigration to America. That trip did not come easily. First came the trip to Nova Scotia in steerage on that Italian freighter out of Cork. Then Pat rode the empty livestock cars to Minnesota, where he worked another year on the farm of a distant relative who had come to the States before the American Civil War.

But his love for Bridie, the little girl who would walk barefoot to school, carrying her only pair of shoes to keep them from wearing out, never faltered. Nor did hers for her hero who fought anyone who made fun of the skinny girl who left school at 12 years old to help work her father’s scratch of a farm.

The day he knocked on the servants’ entrance of Keeler’s Albany mansion and Bridie answered, smothering him in hugs, kisses and tears, he knew all his efforts were worth every mile, every scar, every lonely night.

The heat today reminded him of the light-headedness he felt sitting in the hallway of Keeler’s home two weeks later. At the time, Pat was uncertain if it was caused his nerves or the stiff white collar Bridie bought him at Lodge’s on Pearl Street.

“A fine gentleman like you should have a new collar showing, even if his suit isn’t perfect,” Bridie had said. “And I’m afeared this suit has seen better days.”

She was right, Pat recalled. He had borrowed an outfit from his friend Jack Burke, who worked as a pall bearer at the Maginn’s funeral parlour.

“Bridie, how long will we have to wait?” he’d said.

“You’ll wait until Mr. Keeler calls for you, Padraig. Now sit up straight and give me your hat. You look lovely. And when you meet the great man, shake his hand and say, ‘Very pleased to meet you, Sir.’ And for God’s sake, please don’t swear. Please?”

“Damn it, Bridie, I…”


Down the paneled hall, a door opened. Bridie’s sister Mazie’s head poked out and she stage-whispered, “He’s ready now.”

As he had that afternoon, Pat gulped, his throat near-dry. Only today he spat a sorry excuse for a spit onto the cobblestones of Broadway. He cringed with guilt, not so much for being a copper sullying the streets he protected, but for expectorating within, well, spitting distance of the Broadway hotel where Keeler made his vast fortune.

A loud yell and laughter resounded from within the tavern. Olendorff turned and glared into the dim light within.

“Gott damn!” he said.

“Everythin’ all right, Otto?” Pat said.

“Ja, yoost another vild boy, tirsty and too hot,” Olendorff replied. “Nothing I can’t handle, Pat. Vee’ll settle him down.”

“All right, I’ll be seein’ you later, Otto,” he said over his shoulder.

Pat strolled south along Broadway, his beat intersecting where the trolleys came to the bottom of the steep State Street hill. People were waiting for the Main Line car to skid, brakes squealing, downhill from the State Capitol.

Glad I’m not working on those filthy beasts anymore, Pat thought. Old man Keeler did right by Bridie when we married, getting me a job as a conductor with the trolley company, but a man comes to America to be his own man.

He’d quit the trolley company, embarrassing Bridie by his tossing the wedding gift from Keeler.

“If I’d have known you would steal my girl from me, I’d never have let her marry you,” Keeler told him when Bridie gave her notice.

Pat turned the corner and searched out any shade he could find on State Street. He pulled the gold railroad watch Bridie had given him on their wedding day from his pocket.

“Think of this as my beatin’ heart for you, Patrick,” she’d told him. “That way, I’ll never be leaving you again.”

Pat flipped open the case and saw it was only 1:45.

“Jesus, two more hours,” he said. He stared at the watch, noticed haze near a crack in the crystal over the gilt 4 and 5. Pat remembered Bridie’s face when she presented it to him, proud and loving. Her man. His girl. Since they were mere sprogs and forever.

“Have to get this fixed before she finds out. The poor dear doesn’t need anymore heartache,” Pat thought.

Pat heard the sound of breaking glass behind him. A big man he didn’t recognize was wailing away on Otto Olendorff in front of his gin mill.

Blowing his whistle four, five, six times, signaling any nearby coppers he needed help, Pat ran toward the melee. Otto was a rough German with hands as big and tough as briskets. But whoever this son of a bitch was, he was beating the barman like a stubborn horse.

Otto went down like he was shot and Pat ran and launched himself at his friend’s assailant.

Pat tackled the burly drunk, who still kept beating the sagging Olendorff. Gripping his billy club, Pat made damn sure he cracked the big man behind the ear. The drunk merely turned and gave Pat a right hand that shivered him, turning the world red. Pat’s billy club flew into the street and his hat, with its glinting police insignia, rolled into the entrance of the tavern.

Though he was a farm boy and not some Waterford harbor tough, Pat knew he could go with anybody for a short while at least.

When the sun glinted on his hat’s insignia, he recalled the flash of the knife-wielding Italian sailor aboard the Santa Elisabetta on the trip to Canada in his journey to follow Bridie.

Instead of the drunk’s meaty paws on him, Pat felt the big hands of the Norwegian farmhand in Kilkenny, Minnesota who had no love for “Papist micks.”

“I can do this,” Pat thought through the haze, as another right hand crashed into the side of his head. “Where the hell is Burke? Where’s O’Shea?”

Pat reached into his uniform pocket and wrapped his hand around the small leather cosh full of lead shot he carried, just in case. He whipped it up and caught the big man beneath the nose with it, covering both of them with a spray of scarlet.

“Aghh! Fucking copper,” the big man bellowed, cocking his red and scraped right hand for another blow. Pat caught him a shot across the temple with his cosh. The big man sagged and grabbed for Pat’s neck, snagging his collar and pulling his head down. Pat heard the rip, saw a big knee coming up toward his face. He twisted and caught the knee in the chest, feeling a crunch and the wind whoosh from his lungs.

As he lay looking up from the sidewalk at a white and red sky, Pat was confused why he thought of their first night together, when Bridie gave him his watch.

Olendorff whacked the big man with a bung starter. It sounded like a gunshot and none of the cheering drunks in the tavern doorway could tell where the blood stopped and the heat-reddened faces began. Once again, one short punch from the drunk put Otto on his back. As the big man reached for the bung starter and raised it to swing down on Otto, Pat jumped on him and hit him once more with the cosh.

A giant left hand reached back, grabbed Pat’s sleeve and threw him to the ground again. Bung starter raised again, blood in and on his eyes, the big man never saw Burke and O’Shea behind him, but felt the barrel of O’Shea’s pistol drop him to his knees. After he fell, it allowed both cops to click on manacles and give him a little of his own medicine as he lay half on the filthy sidewalk and half on the cobblestones of Broadway.

For good measure, Burke gave him a kick to the head before he walked over and helped Pat to his feet.

“And where the fuck have you been?” Pat sputtered through already puffy lips.

“I was way over on the far end of Green Street, Padraig. Came as quick as I heard your whistle,” Burke said.

He didn’t look Pat in the eye, though. Pat knew Burke had been visiting one of the whorehouses on Green Street. What buttons on his trousers were fastened were not in their assigned holes. A situation describing Burke, himself, Pat thought.

“So who’s taking him in?” O’Shea asked. “Jaysus, Patty, you look like shite. You can have him. Besides, shift’s almost over and I’ve got a date with a few cold one’s up Livingston Avenue.”

Pat looked at his reflection in an unbroken part of Olendorff’s front window. His uniform collar was nearly torn off and his sleeve drooped from his left shoulder. And this was the winner of this fight, he laughed.

“You’re welcome, Patty,” Burke said.

“Huh? Oh thanks, boys. I owe you one.”

Walking to the corner, Pat opened the call box and turned the crank inside, requesting the wagon come and pick up his prisoner, who was now sitting on the curbstone. Within minutes, a Black Maria turned off Madison and clattered north to State and Broadway.

“Jesus Christ, Shortall, what the hell happened to you?” the driver asked.

“Just another drunk, buddy,” Pat said. He and the driver hefted the big man, who had identified himself as John Day, into the paddy wagon. Then they climbed up in the front seat and headed for the City Court Building.

“You’re going to appear before the judge in THAT shape?” the driver said.

“I’ll wash up a bit when I get there,” Pat said.

When they arrived, Pat handed Day over to the bailiffs, then walked to the men’s room and washed his face. He winced once when he saw what Day had done to it, and twice more when he rubbed soap on it, and again when he toweled off the dirt and blood.

“Officer Shortall,” the judge said, “do you require any medical attention?”

“No, sir, you honor.”

“Was it only Day do this to you?”

“Afraid so, your honor, sir.”

“And it was you put him in this shape?”

The judge pointed to Day’s swollen mug.

“I may have had a little help, your honor.”

“Before you get back to work, please make sure your uniform is in order and you look at least half presentable. Good job, Officer Shortall.”

“Yesh, thank you, your honor,” Pat mumbled, nudging a loosened tooth with his tongue.

But his shift already was over. As Pat walked up to his house on First Street, neighbors sat on their front steps staring at the scraped and filthy policeman who looked for all the world like some hobo rag picker who found a discarded uniform.

When he approached his house, Mrs. Pangburn from next door sat on the stoop. She gasped at the sight of him.

“Bridie, you better come out here,” she yelled through the open window.

Wiping her hands on her apron, Bridie came to the front door.

“Padraig!” was all she could say.

“Now don’t fuss,” Pat said. “I’m all right. Just a few bumps and scrapes. You should see the other guy.” It hurt when he laughed.

Bridie walked him up the stairs and helped him out of his coat.

“I’ll have this cleaned and mended by morning, Pat,” she said. Her voice sounded like glass breaking and her face took on the look of the girl who stood at his side when he’d met Keeler that afternoon.

Pat grabbed a towel and some clean clothes from the dresser and walked toward the bathroom.

“Darlin’, I’m gonna take me a bath, I think.”

“Well, fetch me those pants so I can get them fixed up, too.”

“Right away. Just a moment,” Pat said. He closed the bathroom door and unbuttoned his uniform trousers. Before he handed them out to Bridie, though, he fished in the pocket and pulled out the pieces of broken crystal and the bent and loose minute hand. He placed the watch to his ear.

“We’re all still tickin’,” he said to himself in the mirror. He placed the watch and its pieces in the pocket of his civilian trousers and figured he could bring it to Olendorff to have fixed. Otto owed him one.

A year later, after little James Patrick Shortall was born, Pat would put the watch in the cradle with him when his son would cry.

“Hear that, Jimmy?” he’d always say. “That’s the sound of your mama’s beating heart.”

© Joseph Hesch 2014

The Best Gift EVER


Little Black Book 2 by lusi

Like most of the aides at the Glen Rest Home, Hildy Zink thought her favorite patient, old Chris Kriegel, was cute and sweetly wacky, the way he would begin keeping a Naughty and Nice notebook and let his beard grow out each year around Labor Day.

But Hildy’s new supervisor, Mrs. Fassbender, who came on board after the first of that year, didn’t think Chris was cute at all, telling Hildy, “He’s disruptive and I think he’s a nut log who, if I had my way around here, would have been moved to the psychiatric wing years ago…Now go give him a shave”

One afternoon in early December, Chris wandered into the linen closet, thinking it was the men’s room, and found a crying Hildy there, who told him she was one of three aides Fassbender was letting go before Christmas because she “didn’t like their insubordinate and unprofessional demeanor with the clients,” which was Fassbender-code for Wouldn’t Shave Chris.

After patting Hildy on the head and telling her not to worry — “After all, Christmas is the time of joy and miracles” — Chris went back into the hall, pulled the black notebook from the pocket of his red flannel robe and put another Happy Face on Hildy’s page, writing The Best Gift EVER at the bottom.

Flipping through the pages until he found the one marked Fassbender, Chris put another Frowny Face next to the hundreds of others and wrote as he did for Hildy’s previous supervisor, Best Gift EVER: Stairwell – Push.

This week’s Five Sentence Fiction is based on Lillie McFerrin’s prompt inspiration Whimsical. Not sure I nailed it, but, as a whimsically cranky old man, I like this story.

A Writing Process Blog Hop

Thanks very much to my dear friend Heather Grace Stewart for inviting me to participate in this blog hop about the writing process. I met Heather through some Twitter conversation a couple of years ago. It was like talking with an old friend. Strangely comfortable and most comfortably strange. She has been a great cheerleader and supporter of all my writing projects ever since. Thank you, Heather. There have been times that, without you and a few others in my corner, I’d walk away from this bloody and blessed obsession.


Heather Grace Stewart’s first novel comes out this June, but she is best known for her poetry, which includes: “Three Spaces”, “Carry on Dancing”, “Leap”, and “Where the Butterflies Go.” In 2012, she published the screenplay, “The Friends I’ve Never Met”, which has been well received on both Kindle and Kobo. Her two non-fiction books for youth are part of the Warts & All educational series on Canada’s Prime Ministers.

She has written for a wide range of magazines, including Reader’s Digest and Canadian Wildlife magazine. Her column in the Queen’s Alumni Review magazine, Grace’s Grads, was created in September 2005.

Heather’s poems have been published in Canadian literary journals, newspapers, and magazines, Canadian and British school textbooks, audio CDS, online journals, international print anthologies, and in the British small presses. She was awarded Queen’s University’s McIlquham Foundation Prize in English Poetry and the UK journal Various Artists’ “The Poet’s Poet” Award (2008 & 2012).

Heather can be found on Facebook , Twitter , her blog , and her website . Her women’s fiction/general fiction novel “Strangely, Incredibly Good” will be released by Morning Rain Publishing on June 5, 2014.

Yeah, she’s the goods. So, with special thanks to Heather, who still believes in me (and my future) as a writer, even when I don’t, here’s a look into how I do what I do:

What are you working on?

Until recently, I was worrying more than working. I’d suffered through a slowing down on day-to-day production for my blog. But since last year, I’ve gathered together a collection of poems and stories I call Penumbra, or The Space Between. It explores the observations and feelings, the radiance and darkness, of a man in his life’s penumbra, the space of partial illumination between perfect shadow and full light, no longer young but not yet old. The manuscript file gets tweaked a couple of times a week, depending on my mood and belief in myself that day.

I am gathering research for a novel I have gnawing at my brain and guts about a woman I read but a single sentence about from Somerset, England, who came to America in the 1700s. She is said to have been killed while fighting for the American side in one of the Battles of Saratoga in the fall of 1777. That, her date of birth and her name, Trish Bodden, is all I know. At that same time, a noblewoman from that same county came to America to be with her husband, who commanded a British grenadier regiment at Saratoga. I found the comparisons and contrasts of these women fascinating. It’s a push whether I’ll have an empty skull and abdomen before this novel sees its way to publication. But there it is.

How does your work differ from others in your genre?

Thanks for making me think about this self-centered mumbo-jumbo of the writing craft. I think my status as someone who’s written for publication and a living since 1975, yet only recently allowed myself to be open to creating things from my heart, makes me stand out a bit.

This is no doubt most obvious in my poetry. I straddle the line between dewy emotional ingénue and that gritty, seen-a-lot storyteller who wants you to listen his story and then get the hell off his lawn.

I have, I’m told, a unique voice and vision. That’s probably true, since I don’t read much other poetry and fiction from which to absorb any influences. Couldn’t remember them anyway. So my voice is unique to me. But what writer’s isn’t, right? I just hope mine is more ruggedly handsome than the next guy’s.

Why do you write what you do?

I write what I do because I can. Or, rather, now I can. It’s exciting to express myself as I couldn’t or wouldn’t allow myself only a few years ago. I think I have a lot of stuff I don’t even know I do that I can share in my own way for quite some time to come.

Every day I have to write something. Most you will never see. It may only be a line of a poem, or a horrible first paragraph of a story, a research note for a book I might someday write, or a list of words I free associate upon a subject that might become a poem or story I can dash off. But to not write something would be to stop treading the water that would draw me back into the shadowy swells of my old empty obsessions. I could sink so easily into them again.

How does your writing process work?

It’s changed slightly since my dog Mollie died. Not much in my life hasn’t. When I’m really open to the world and my feelings, some image or emotional expression will inhabit me when I’m falling asleep at night, on a walk or when Mollie and I would go out at 5:30 in the morning. By the time I finish my walk or my commute to work, that something has become an idea with strings of words attached. While my computer boots in the darkened office, I grab a pencil and pad and write…fast. I figure the poem doesn’t have to be an arbitrary good, it just has to be.

My story-writing process is a little less, oh..ethereal. For that, I somehow place myself into a scene, actually crawling inside it as 3rd-person observer or inhabiting the skin of the protagonist. And I mean, Daniel Day-Lewis Method-acting “inhabit.” I see, hear, feel and smell everything, which probably is why I tend to infuse a lot of deep detail into my story drafts. Maybe I’m a poet trying to write prose, or a prose writer trying to write poetry. Or maybe even a ham actor trying to portray each.

I have recently tried something new in my creative process that I’ve borrowed from Ray Bradbury and the terrific Canadian writer Sarah Salecky…lists. I’ll grab my notebook, write a word or image at the top of the page and then write 1 through 10 down the sheet. From there, I write whatever words ooze from the shelves in my head. Very free. I look at the list and find connections and off I go. Weird, eh? Don’t do it all the time, but find it a good way to get the ball rolling when I’m stuck.

The most important part of the process, though, revision and polishing, I have a major problem with. Some of it’s not knowing how to really revise, right down to the DNA, a story or poem. The rest of it might be..let’s call it Editor’s Block. Paralysis by analysis. In other words, I probably ned an editor until I learn (and am viciously brave enough) to do it myself.

And that’s the big secret of what you read here. It’s all pretty much first drafts with a tinker here and there.

PLEASE visit these following writers, who will be posting their answers to these questions next week, Monday, April 7, 2014. They are terrifically talented writers and have become some of what Heather calls the “friends I’ve never met.” They have the passion for expressing their true hearts and sharing them through the written word with you that I don’t think I ever could.


Beth Winter writes poetry, prose, and anything else her itchy pen decides to scratch. A self-taught poet, she has written nearly 800 poems, nearly as many journals and has possibilities piled around her. She lives and works in the beautiful Kansas Flint Hills. She maintains a website called Eclipsing Winter where you can read more of her work.


Emmett Wheatfall lives in Portland, Oregon where he reads, writes, and performs poetry. He has published four books of poetry entitled He Sees Things (2010), We Think We Know (2011), The Meaning of Me (2012), and Bread Widow (2013).
He has published four chapbooks under the titles Queen of the Nile, I Too Am A Slave, The Majestic, and Midnight In Madrid. Also, a number of his poems have been published by online journals and periodicals.

He has released three lyrical poetry CDs. When I Was Young (2010), I Loved You Once (2011), and Them Poetry Blues (2014), all of them contain great poetry writing set to jazz, blues, gospel, and pop musical influences.

Their Life’s Blood


“In the old days, we used to empty the sap buckets by hand into big ol’ vats on sled runners, instead of runnin’ through all this tube stuff that makes the damn trees look like my uncle Edwin when he was on life support,” the oldtimer said to his grandson.

“We’re just maximizing our resources, Gramps, and making the most from what we’ve got here in the sugarbush,” the young ag-school graduate replied.

“Just ain’t natural to suck the life’s blood from these old trees with a vacuum pump when the rest of the process hasn’t changed that much since the Micmacs  and Abenaki cut the old ones’ bark with hatchets like this, and put the spirit sap to the boil even before the first white man set foot in these mountains,” said the grandfather and limped away.

“Yeah, well, if the Micky-mackies had vacuum pumps like this maybe they would have been able to get forty bucks a gallon for Vermont Grade A Amber from the Frenchies and they’d still be here, wouldn’t they, Gramps?”

As the oldtimer and his grandson trudged down the hill from the sugarbush, the grandfather thought he saw the pained faces of the old ones within the clouds of sweet-smelling steam from the boiling shack and thought, Forgive him, my friends, he don’t know no better and probably will never realize you’re still here until after the great Axeman takes this old believer to join you, too.

Here’s another combo platter of a short-short based on my friend Heather Grace Stewart’s prompt of the maple sugar harvest and Lillie McFerrin’s Five Sentence Fiction suggestion of the concept of ACHE. And then, son of a gun if my dear friend Kellie Elmore didn’t use that photo up there up for her Free Write Friday prompt, asking me to tell his story. And I did.

Five Sentence Fiction ~ Delicate

Baby Face

Black Eye 9

Black Eye 9 (Photo credit: diongillard)

“Sweet Baby Jesus, what’s this?” Nurse Brenda Jarvis said as two 300-pound men in tracksuits lumbered through the swooshing sliding double-doorway of the hospital emergency entrance.

“The bell, the bell,” roared the one whose right eye was swollen shut in what looked like an impression of a purple and red desert sunset and who seemed a little wobbly on his feet.

“You’ll have to pardon my friend, he caught himself a terrible shot — well, I actually I caught him a terrible shot, my bad — downtown tonight and I’m afraid he’s a little loopy and been ranting like this since he looked at his phone,” said the other behemoth, sporting a bruised cheek, scarred forehead, and swollen hands with which he held his friend steady as best he could a ranting bull.

As Nurse Jarvis took the arm of the injured man, with an assist from his wingman, to lead him and to Treatment Room 6, he jerked free from both and bolted for the stairwell, roaring, “Coming, baby!”

Fifteen minutes of frantic, lock-down searching later, security found Mickey Karpinski, who wrestled under the name Awesome Dawson Dare, in the room of his wife Cathy, tenderly their holding hours’ old, pink-swaddled firstborn, Bella.

Here is my latest Five Sentence Fiction offering, based on a prompt from Lillie McFerrin. This week: Delicate.

Lillie McFerrin Writes

Five Sentence Fiction ~ Ringing

For Whom the Bells Toll

CT Brain Scan

CT Brain Scan (Photo credit: kargig)

The girls, 11-year old Cara and her 8-year old sister Maria, had learned what to do and they quickly, quietly ran toward the front door and closed it carefully and even more quietly behind them.

Their mother, Sandra, got back to her feet and said, “Josh, that’s the last time you will knock me down, and I’m not going to watch you sit in the dark and scream at the slightest giggle from the girls anymore,” Sandra said.

She kept out of her husband’s reach as he struggled to raise himself from his chair in the darkened den, just as she had hidden herself and the girls from him those other times.

“I’m not going to tell you again, Sandy,” said Josh, a former NFL defensive tackle, “there’s no way to make it better, to make the headaches or tinnitus even marginally passable, other than that damn medication or I drop dead.”

Turning to the door, Sandra said over her aching shoulder, “You’re right, you won’t have to tell me again that you don’t like taking your medicine–which was the reason you gave the last time you hit me and pushed Cara–so I left that gift you gave me for protection when you were on the road in the nightstand drawer…protect us.”

Here is my latest Five Sentence Fiction offering, based on a prompt from Lillie McFerrin. This week: Ringing.

Lillie McFerrin Writes