Archive for the The Word: Stories Category

The New Song

Posted in The Word: Stories, Writing Exercises with tags , , on 04/24/2011 by Janet Fitch

The Word: Ear

Mel watched her daughter down in the living room, playing her old black Telecaster. Kat weighed what, a hundred pounds?  She certainly hadn’t gained any weight during her stay in rehab–how was it possible for a girl to be alive and yet so thin?  So alive and talented and painfully close to the edge–one small crumble of that narrow dirt ledge upon which she so precariously balanced would send her tumbling all the way down to the rocks a thousand feet below.  For some reason, she thought Kat would come back looking healthy, snatched back from the abyss. True, she looked a hundred percent better than she had in the days before Gerald, her ex, checked her into rehab–Gerald, who’d fought her every step on the raising of this thin, sensitive girl who was now supposedly clean and sober.

“What’s that you’re playing?” Mel called down to where Kat sat on the raggedy old couch, the survivor of the divorce, the couch that had seen how many hours of old movies and Kat’s favorite ’60s spy shows?

“It’s a new song,” Kat said. She was 22 but she looked like thirteen.  Yet there was nothing childish in the music coming from those long thin fingers on the black Tele, her thirteenth birthday present.

The song was surprisingly cheerful, a sprightly pop melody in E.  Absolutely unexpected from a girl who has been in anything but a pop mood for the last six months.  But she was still so thin, it was remarkable that a girl could be so alive and so barely there, thin and pliable as a shoot of bamboo.

And yet, bamboo had a tremendous vitality, didn’t it?  Didn’t it?  She  stirred the spaghetti sauce that Kat always liked, her ‘welcome back’ dinner.  Thinking of a show they’d once seen, a program Kat loved, that specialized in debunking legends. This one tested a legendary wartime torture, to see if a bamboo cane would actually work its way through a man’s body.  Indeed, they proved that a shoot would work its way through a side of pork in under three days.

Kat was alive.

And she had made up this song in the place Mel could only think of as That Place.

Did she even know this girl, this child which had come out of her, her talent seemed otherworldly now, her life a dangerous mystery. Mel gave the sauce a last stir, splashed in some wine and turned down the heat.  She went down into the living room, picking up her old Guild guitar from the rack, and joined her daughter on the old grimy couch.

“Play it again, I couldn’t hear from up there,” Mel said.

And Kat smiled at her.  A smile! That was unexpected. And began to play.  So confident, so authoritative.  When did she get so good?  And Mel listened, trying to work her way into the tune, she was improvising around her daughter’s line, picking it up.

They didn’t talk about That Place, the overdose, the why and the how.  For now, they were just playing.  Kat leading, Mel close behind.  She couldn’t ask for assurances, she couldn’t ask what came next.  There was no sheet music for this one, she would have to play it by ear.

Part  of a weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word.  “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”

 Next week’s word is: CANE

 

This Hand, on this Wrist Affixed

Posted in Moments of Clarity, The Word: Stories, Writing Exercises with tags , , on 03/06/2011 by Janet Fitch

The Word: Hand

This hand, on this wrist affixed, will remain until the end.

This hand, that held the first pen, rudely fisted, crabbed with the unnatural gesture of those early A’s and B’s, over the sample characters with arrows illustrating the proper direction, Aa, Bb, blue-lined sheets in landscape-format, triple-ruled for the edification of the beginner, paper so cheap the splinters lay embedded like flags. This very hand once struggling to ape those shapes.

This hand, that marveled at the lines of early corduroy, that touched a rosepetal for the first time, astonished at the velvet plush. These fingertips that traced Grandma’s face, that sneakily examined the satin cummerbund of Mommy’s cocktail gown. That cut Mary Jane’s hair with scissors as long as my forearm. Mischievous hands, sensitive, sensual, they stroked the silk edges of all my blankets into shreds. This thumb, that I sucked well beyond the age of cuteness. How many stuffed animals has it fondled to threadbare cloth, gloried in the the doily edges of cut-lace collars topping how many velvet party dresses? Ripe with the beloved scent of horse sweat and sweaty saddle-leather, intelligent with the mysterious grip of double Pelham reins looped between the fingers just so.

This hand. Its lines of fate have changed over the years, like rivers rerouting through flat countryside, although the fingertip whorls of identity remain forever fixed. Still small, child-small, but now boasting weathered backs dotted with freckles. The nails far cleaner than they ever were, but still short, unpolished, the facets of time marking them like ’80s disco glass.

A fortune teller reading my palm at a party once identified me as a writer. Did she actually read the lines, I wonder, or spot the bend in the index finger, the unmistakable cant, the way a pen will alter the hand that holds it after years of hard service, that bend, with the corresponding slight callous on the opposing second finger, where all those pens have rested. My profession written there.

The hand that laid out a thousand hands of tarot, hungry for future. That wrapped around monkey bars and men alike. Backpack straps and suitcase handles, letters of acceptance and rejection, mailboxes full and empty, receivers of telephones bearing great and bad news. That touched the beloved hands of lovers, friends, parents, children.

Ah, her little hand in mine. Clung often to just one finger.

The hand also slammed a thousand doors, gave people the finger, flashed the peace sign, hitchhiked, indicated the door with a thumb. Held innumerable glasses while conversations glowed in long evenings, burnished and bright, gesturing extravagantly. Shook hands with the great and the forgettable, a few treasured beyond all–hands that also held pens, that also spilled ink.

The oceans of ink these hands have poured. The pages they have turned in a half-century’s Alexandria of books.

Hands shoved in pockets so they wouldn’t betray me. Pointed and clung, twirled two ropes in cadence, double-dutch, and played those intricate schoolgirl clapping games, “A sailor went to sea sea sea…” The hand that fed this body, all these years. How many spoons, and forks and knives? One spoon in particular, a silver baby spoon incised with birds, which I still use for sugar, the pleasure of wrapping my hand around it one more time. The windows it opened and closed, their mechanical variety of cranks and latches and levers. The zippers and buttons it has worked. The ten thousand meals it cooked. Peeled and sliced and chopped and stirred. Lit a city of birthday candles.

That finger, there, third finger left, for two decades wore a wedding ring–oak leaves and acorns. Its trace still visible. Like a freed slave’s cofflemark. And in an additional adornment to the slight rightward bend in the right forefinger, a flag of skin, where I sliced it open cutting a galley of type in a newspaper’s production room, when I was trying to be a writer.

This hand that caressed a lifetime of lovers, that held my only child, that made her laugh, tapping the tip of her nose. So many diapers. Now it caresses a late-life love, smooths his hair, unkinks a shoulder.

I love to think of just the warm sand that it has sifted through its fingers, like silk, like time, flowing.

As I grow old, so will these hands. They were there for everything. They drove the first car, a monstrous insect-green Fury III owned by Fairfax High’s Driver Ed, which stalled between two blind curves on Laurel Canyon. They’ll drive the last car too, whatever and whenever that will be.

To think alone of the alarms they’ve set, and silenced.

This hand, this very one, will see me through my last illness. This hand. When this life drains out of me, it will still be there, even then, this hand at the end of my arm. At the edge of the blanket, folded across my breast like a stilled wing. Someone will cover this hand with tears–my lover, my child? It will be buried with me, it will lie under the earth with me, just there. It gives me comfort, somehow, to know I won’t be alone.

Part of a semi-weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word. “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”

Next week’s word is: EAR

The Disappearing Act

Posted in The Word: Stories, Writing Exercises with tags , , , on 01/30/2011 by Janet Fitch

The Word: MIRROR

Finally, the guests left. The old men, the cousins, the rabbi. The aunts and uncles. “Come stay with us, Amy,” said her cousin Sylvie. “You shouldn’t be by yourself now.” Would they never leave? One after another. Her mother and her new husband, Bennie. Her sister Tensi. Out out out! she wanted to scream, like Macbeth’s wife. But she didn’t, she sat during the endless shiva, she listened to the prayers, finally watched them pack up the cole slaw and the cold cuts, and stack them in the refrigerator. Enough!

“Please, I just need to be alone. Believe me, if I need help, I’ll be over,” she reassured her mother, and Tensi, and Mark’s buddies’ wives. “I’ll call. Yes, I promise.”

Then, at last, they were gone.

A houseful of well wishers, all that food. The last thing she wanted, a tongue sandwich.

The little house was so strange. In the bedroom, she almost stepped on a bowl of water, tucked by the foot of the bed. Something grainy on the floor of the bathroom, salt? She sat on the bed and looked at the sheet covering the mirror over their dresser. The bedroom set they’d bought when they moved into this little house, their own little house. The sweet gum in the front yard was bigger than the house itself. Her mother wanted them to cut it down, in case it fell in a strong wind or an earthquake. Her mother, always worried about the wrong thing.

She sat on the edge of the neatly made bed, with its quilted satin cover, where the coats had recently been piled. She was sure she looked a holy mess, but the cousins had covered the mirrors. It was such a ridiculous superstition. Sylvie said it was so the soul of the dead wouldn’t get caught behind the mirror. But the rabbi said it was so she could better concentrate on her loss, to underline that it was a time for sorrow and inward reflection. Like she needed some sort of reminder.

She kicked off her low heeled pumps and curled up on the bed that they were still making payments on. This house, this bed. They had been married eighteen months. They were going to wait to have children. Would it have been better to have had one who would now be an orphan? Or better this way, that she had no trace of him at all?

She turned onto her other side, trying to find a more comfortable spot. She couldn’t breathe, lying on either side. She took off her dress, unhooked her bra, wrapped herself in the satin. Her hands smelled of pickle, and mustard, though she had not eaten anything. She would wash them, but she didn’t want to get up.

The sheet spread across the mirror. How many times that mirror had seen them making love? It was good it was covered. She didn’t want to see herself lying here alone, she wanted to imagine he was lying next to her, on the dead pillow he liked, all squishy and rumpled. She put the pillow over her face. His smell. Stale. He’d been up in San Francisco, a sales meeting. He’d been driving a rented car. they said he had a stroke. How could he have had a stroke? He was only twenty five.

She thought of the way old people put their heads in plastic bags and tied a knot. Eighteen months. She knew she would somehow make it through the rest of the day–she didn’t know how, but it was only logical, unless she stopped breathing, night would come, and then she would somehow live through that as well. It was the way she got through her migraines. If you waited, the time passed, a minute, five minutes and so on. You breathed in and out. You lay in the dark and waited for the time to pass.

It was like a magician’s trick. Like someone had put a silk scarf over him and had made him disappear. Perhaps he was behind the mirror She wished someone would put that scarf over her too, and they could be together behind the mirror, in the magician’s dressing room, having a drink out of a pint bottle of rum, with the rabbit and the doves.

Part of a weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word. “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”

Next week’s word is: HAND

Pussycat Pussycat, I Love You…

Posted in Moments of Clarity, The Word: Stories, Writing Exercises with tags , , , on 12/30/2010 by Janet Fitch

The Word: Razor

Hank Seidel lathered up his face. He shaved with a straight razor, a source of pride, his hand still steady enough at 78. It was his zeide’s razor, Moisei Seidel. In Poland, they were all bearded, but when Moisei came to America, he shaved it off. Americans shaved. America saved Moisei’s life. So he learned to shave his face like an American. He might not have been able to rub two English words together, but shave he did.

The cat sat on the sink watching him. Its sable coat, its yellow-green eyes. Sadie and her cats. Sadie Katz, he called her. She used to have a whole genealogy of white cats–oy, the white hair all over his suits every morning. The one with the green eye and the blue eye, who broke all her crystal, getting up in the cabinet. But finally the last of them died out, he thought he’d get a rest. Then she started with the Burmese. Their daughter in law gave it to her. Sweet girl but another cat he could have done without.

“Mrrow,” said the cat.

“Mrow to you too,” said Hank.

He remembered how Sadie used to carry the cat around, and sing to it. “Hank listen, he’s singing.” Pussycat pussycat I love you, yes I do…

And he’d be damned if the little momser didn’t sing along. Mrrrow, mrrow mrrow. The funniest thing he’d ever seen.

Burma Shave, that’s what she called it.

The cat watched him, solemnly, like he was studying for his barber exam.

Hank stropped the razor, tested the edge and began to shave, up under his chin, then the sides of his face, and his moustache. She always liked a good close shave, his Sadie Katz. She was a redhead, had that redhead’s tender skin.

He looked in the mirror, his dark face with the boxer’s chin, the boxer’s broken nose. Broken in a smoker back in Boston. This face. The dimple in the chin made it a hard face to shave. She liked to put her finger right there.

He began to run the blade up under his chin. Sadie, Sadie, where did you go? He could cut his throat in one quick flash of the blade. It was what he liked about shaving with his father’s razor, his grandfather’s. It was the secret that none of them had ever spoken about. Silent men, all of them. That every morning, he held the possibility of death in his hand. Every morning, he decided his own fate. Rick wouldn’t understand that–his son, the professor. He wouldn’t understand how important it was for a man to have a choice. You had a choice, you could decide not to.

The cat walked delicately along the back of the sink, jumped up to the top of the side cabinet, so they were at eye level. He got the strangest sensation that Sadie was watching him through that little cat’s eyes.

“So Burma Shave, what’s new, pussy cat?”

How intently it watched him. It reached out a paw, and tried to touch him.

He grasped the little paw.

“I’m okay, honey.” He picked the cat up, and wrapped it loosely around his neck, It hung there, boneless. And he began to sing, finishing his shave. He had a lousy voice, but managed to get the words out. “Pussycat pussycat I love you…

Part of a weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word. “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”

Next week’s word is: MIRROR

A Lean Cuisine

Posted in The Word: Stories, Writing Exercises with tags , , on 12/20/2010 by Janet Fitch

The Word: Nose

Melody sat curled the on her couch, watching a Hugh Grant movie. She loved this film, but this afternoon, she couldn’t concentrate. She glanced at her cell to see if Geneva had called yet. She couldn’t wait to hear what had happened with her and Mike. Was she going to finally dump his sorry ass? Or would she let herself be sucked in again? And who was Mike, anyway, just some guy, just a dumb guy with a dumb job, she could never even remember what, some job type job with the city.

Still no call. Ever since Geneva and Mike got together, her friend had become nearly a stranger. She used to share every crisis, each triumph. She couldn’t go a half-day without checking in. It didn’t have to be a big thing. A DKNY jacket found for $40 at the Jewish Women thrift store. Or the dozens of near-misses with near-celebrities she met on the magazine she worked for. Her tangled relationships with exlovers and siblings. Every day there was something, Pete the photo editor had stood closer than usual, did she think she something was going on? Her mother had taken to wearing animal prints–should she tell her it was beyond the beyond?

After the parties Geneva attended for her magazine, Melody could hardly wait to get the call the next day, find out how it had gone, if she’d met anyone, what the guy had said and where they’d gone, what his apartment looked like, the things they did in bed. One had the equipment but didn’t know what to do with it, another was tiny but surprisingly inventive. One pulled her hair, another, a famous actor, wanted her to put makeup on him.

And now Melody couldn’t even get a callback. They’d been so tight, since elementary school. She remembered the time in 11th grade Geneva thought she was pregnant! And time she picked up a TV actor in the vegetable department at Trader Joe’s. And now it was like Melody was shit on her shoes.

The phone rang, but it was just Greenpeace. And then Elissa, the receptionist at the law firm, who had even less going on than Melody did.

It was five, the time on Sundays they’d usually chat, but now Geneva was with Mike, and suddenly, it was like she’d forgotten Melody’s number.

Melody had seen this movie three times already. She adored Hugh Grant. Hughie was her idea of a heavenly hookup–though to be sure, getting caught with an ugly hooker having car sex in Hollywood showed less suavity than you’d imagine. She had promised herself she would not call Geneva again. But she couldn’t resist. She just had to know.

She called the familiar number, Geneva’s picture on the screen, her big dark eyes and longish nose, the bangs she’d worn since forever.

“Hi, Mel.” Melody could hear music playing in the background, rock, a boy singing, something cool and original. Geneva always had something new and interesting playing. Never TV.

“Hi Gen. I was just thinking of you, haven’t heard from you in a while. I left a few messages–” but better not to mention that. “What’s up with you?”

She could hear the band in the background, and then Geneva’s sigh. “Let’s talk about you, Mel. What’s new with you?”

It was a strange thing to say. “Oh, same old same old.”

“Oh, surely you’re doing something,” Geneva said. Something in her voice. “Gone anywhere interesting? Seen a new show? Met anyone?”

Was she mad at her? “You know I would have told you if I had.”

“Would you?” Geneva said.

“Are you mad at me? I haven’t even talked to you for two weeks. You never return my calls.” She could feel her chest tightening, the tears welling up.

“Look, Mel, I’m just a normal person, now. I make dinner. I get the flu. I go out with Mike and have beers with his buddies at Parks and Rec. You’re the single girl. Why don’t you entertain me for a change?”

That band, the cool, nasally sound. Now she wished she hadn’t called. Why was Geneva mad at her? “Are you bored? Why don’t you tell Mike to take you somewhere.”

“So I can tell you about it?” Geneva said. “No. No, Mel. This is the way it’s going to be. From now on, I’ll call you and I’ll say, ‘hey what’s up?’ and you tell me. I think that’s what I’m going to do. So I’ll call you Wednesday, okay? Wednesday. And you tell me what all’s going on. Bye, Melody. Have fun.”

And there was a dial tone on the line.

Melody closed her phone and put it on the coffee table. Have fun. What was Geneva getting at? That Melody had nothing to do but snoop in Geneva’s life?

She turned back to the set, Hugh and Drew Barrymore, the car sex guy and the juvenile drug addict turned producer. Suddenly, she didn’t want to watch them. She would never be like these people, with their glamorous problems. She thought fleetingly of the Lean Cuisine she was going to nuke for dinner. Monday morning at the law firm. Why did Geneva be so mean. It wasn’t fair. Did she think people could just decide to be interesting? That they what? sort of fell out the door into an interesting life?

She stared at the blank TV screen, listening to the guys upstairs bicker about who would take the dog out in the rain. Was that all she had?

Okay, she could go out. She could show Geneva, she could be interesting. She could brush her hair and put on some lipstick and go out to some restaurant by herself, some bar. Maybe meet someone, why not?

But she as she imagined it, it just seemed depressing. Schlepping out, sodden and dripping wet, to some restaurant, some bar, and trying to have an adventure. Meet some pathetic boring guy, and pretend to be interested in his stupid life. She could even take him home with her. and pretend it was fun. “Oh yeah, Bill, I met him at Chin Chin. Yeah, I took home.”

And then what. Maybe he would steal her blind, or give her the clap. Maybe he’d fall in love with her and she wouldn’t be able to get rid of him. What if he was a junkie? Or didn’t like her enough to call her again?

If only Geneva hadn’t gotten so boring. It was so infuriating when women got stuck with men like Mike. They just drained the right life out of them. Who needed friends like that anyway.

Part of a weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word. “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”

Next week’s word is: RAZOR

Unter den Linden

Posted in The Word: Stories, Writing Exercises with tags , , , , on 11/26/2010 by Janet Fitch

The Word: Map

Helena opened her map of Europe, spread it before her on the kitchen table, sipped her coffee. Her next trip would be northern, she decided. Yes. In late spring. Germany, Denmark, Sweden. Maybe even Helsinki–their design was so good. Textiles, furniture, glass. Marimekko, Alvar Aalto. Curved birch. All right, Stockholm with its canals, the stony Swedish coastline. Though in winter, gas lanterns warmed the night down the major Stockholm boulevards. But Berlin in winter? She shuddered. No, it must be spring. Spring Unter den Linden, and the Zoo district where Shklovsky and the old exiles from Russia had lived… Koln, with its Carnival, when was Carnival? She checked her Lonely Planet Germany guide. Oh, it was early. February. She would have to choose between budding lindens and the wild street festival of Rosenmontag.

She traced the rugged northern coastline of Germany, the island-dotted Danelands. It would be an easier drive in spring. If she rented a car, she could hit the little villages, ferry between the islands. By train she could cover more territory. Warsaw? Or stay to the west, Netherlands, Bruges, Cologne, then across, Marburg, Leipzig, the university towns. Gottingen, Heidelberg, Tubingen… Freiburg too far south. But there was Prague and Vienna–Klimt, the Vienna Secession. The cafés–the pastries! She went to her files and pulled out her old Germany/Austria/Czechoslovakia Michelin road map–but really, it was too old, Iron curtain stuff. She would need a new one if she were to do it by car again.

She sighed. How much it had changed since she was there last. No more shuddering as a uniformed guard peered into the car, checked the passports. She wondered if she would like it as much.

Every year she went somewhere, a big trip, two months, she used to do it with Roger, but now that he was gone it took a great deal of planning. Roger used to attend to all these details, all she had to do was pack. But she was up to it. Last year she had gone to Argentina, Chile, Peru and Ecuador–oh the damp, and the headaches in that final ascent to Cuzco! The furniture shops of Buenos Aires–the value of the dollar was at least good somewhere–Europe hadn’t been worth it.

But now, the dollar seemed to have sorted itself out and Europe was possible again.

Her son, Bart, knocked on the kitchen door, came in, kissed her, set a bag of groceries down on the counter. “Planning another trip?” he asked. He was getting old himself, she could see the worry lines in his face, the silver threads in his dark hair.

“Germany. The university towns, Berlin, maybe Rothenberg. then Vienna and Prague.” She gazed at him owlishly through her large glasses.

He sighed and began unpacking her groceries into her refrigerator. Such a good boy, so thoughtful. But he really needed to travel more. Have more a sense of adventure. She had given him Travels with my Aunt for his birthday, ordered it online.

“Well, you know you won’t have to worry about dysentery this time,” he said.

She didn’t like his tone. Not one bit.

“I went to get your prescriptions,” he said, looking up from loading the crisper drawer–he’d gotten romaine again, instead of the redleaf she liked. “They closed that Walgreens. We’ll have to go over to CVS now, on Glendale Blvd. We’ll call Dr. Thomas to change the pharmacy.

“They closed the Walgreens?” she said. The Walgreens had always been there. It disturbed her that it was no longer where it had been. She didn’t like to have to recalibrate her image of her neighborhood.

“At least you could go out and get your newspapers, they’re piling up. On your way to the airport.”

“I’m not leaving until April.” Yes. It was decided. Unter den Linden.

“It’s six steps off the front porch,” he said. “It’s broad daylight. I’ll come with you.”

He was such a noodge! “I’ll get them when I get them.”

He kissed her then, and fished the trash out from under the sink, and carried it out to the cans, which she could see from the window. April in Berlin, that was just about right.

Part of a weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word. “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”

Next week’s word is: NOSE

The Skyroom

Posted in The Word: Stories, Writing Exercises with tags , on 11/11/2010 by Janet Fitch

the Word: Stamp
for C.S.

Her face wore the stamp of despair. Brian could see it through the makeup, behind the smile, the glossy lips, the shining hair. The eyes, a desperate blue. She knew she wasn’t up for this place, the Skyroom, a building that was once a bank, now the hot downtown hotel with the rooftop terrace. The girl was small town pretty, not big city bombshell. Her dress was too short, her heels too high, and she looked hunted, leaning against the bar, sipping a sugary drink from a stemmed glass. No one had told her, drink a grownup drink, for god’s sake, have a martini, a scotch and soda. A dress that short looked like hell with six inch heels. She looked like she wanted to cover her legs, she kept pulling at the hem of the skirt, and lifting the strapless top, but she stood very very straight and glanced around the bar over the sticky rim of her glass, to see if anyone noticed her. He had. He was drinking Glenfiddich, spoonful of water. He wore no socks with his ltalian loafers. His despair was far better concealed. He knew the crowd.

He moved in next to her. She smelled of something from his Midwestern childhood–Charlie? Those were the years the girls wore Charlie. He ran through opening lines like a dealer through a pack of cards, and rejected them all. Her name would be Heather, or Danielle. She had heard of this place, the Skyroom, where she worked, in one of the big buildings. A receptionist, Heather, or Danielle. “That’s Jupiter,” he said, pointing to the fat boy in the sky.

She frowned, then followed his gaze, his arm, his finger, the star.

“The other planets are behind the sun now.”

She cocked her head to one side, tucked a strand of sugar blonde hair behind a small, shell-shaped ear, where an overlarge hoop dangled, it looked like it was waiting to be set on fire for the tiger to jump through. The hoop, the skirt, the heels. Playing dress-up. Her hope layered over her despair like an abstract expressionist painting. But none of the exuberance, the sense of play of those paintings.

Girls used to be so full of life, when he was as young as this. Now they were just imitating something. She had no sense of her youth, her precious youth, flying, falling. She still didn’t know what he was talking about. It made him want to cry.

He remembered how Carl Sagan walked across a cosmic calendar, describing how, if the Big Bang occurred on the first day of January, man had only appeared on Christmas Eve, and human consciousness only in the last hour of the last day.

On nights like this, he felt the vastness of the clear sky over the rooftop pool, the insignificance, the full insignificance, of himself and this girl, all the people in the world. Coming and going in the space of a star’s heartbeat.

“I’m a Pisces.” the girl smiled, her lips shining, and her eyebrows arched, like two sweet little fish, jumping.

Finding her place in the cosmos, so easily. And if he wanted to pick her up, he would respond in kind, compare stars and palms and trade slogans, but talking to her was worse than not talking.

“Here’s to interstellar space,” he said. “To Orion’s sword, and the nursery of stars. To the inevitable descent of the yellow dwarves.”

She looked perplexed, but touched the sticky rim of her glass to his anyway. “I’m Heather.”

“Carl,” he finally replied.

Part of a weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word. “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”

Next week’s word is: MAP

The Last Thing, The Ring

Posted in The Word: Stories, Writing Exercises with tags , on 09/30/2010 by Janet Fitch

The Word: Clamp

The last thing, the ring. So tight around her finger,
the flesh softly bulged. They had been married so long.
The ring. This noose, this clamp. And her finger, like a young tree
which someone had carelessly left wrapped in its supporting cable,
so that as the tree grew, it absorbed the cable into its very flesh.

That which had once supported it, was now so deeply embedded, she feared it was inextricable.

It had been years since she had seen the inscription.
A quote, a date she would learn to forget.

She soaked her hand in dishwashing soap. Turned and turned, her sweat dripping into the sink.

Clamp. Noun. A device used to hold an object in a fixed position.

It took a jeweler’s great jawed cutter to remove this object
from its fixed position.

And two lawyers.

Part of a weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word. “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”

Next week’s word is: STAMP

Sorry About My Hair

Posted in The Word: Stories, Writing Exercises with tags , on 09/11/2010 by Janet Fitch

The Word: Brush
(For V.S.)

I can’t find my hairbrush. This has been going on for a month.

If I’m looking for my ring, my address book, my hot water bottle, though, there it is, where it doesn’t belong.

If I was getting dressed, tying my shoes, I would note its presence on the little chair in my closet. The chair Jocelyn gave me because she was moving. A French chair with leopard spots. Perhaps it needed grooming. Jocelyn fancies cats.

But when I need grooming, my brush absents itself.

It’s a metaphor.
For love of course.

The way it’s there when I don’t need it. Presenting itself at a party, when I’m already with someone with whom things were working out. Just as I’m tying my shoes and trying to get out of the house, emotionally speaking.

But when I’m bruised and skinless and weeping with desire, my emotional hair in a rat’s nest, then of course, it vanishes. Leaves the room before I enter. Hides under the bed. Someone puts it in his pocket as he rifles the vanity table.

Yes, I know. It looks bad, to go about like this. Yes. I know it’s an important meeting. Your birthday. A very nice restaurant. I’m sorry that my hair looks like this.

Part of a weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word. “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”

Next week’s word is: CLAMP

A Man Without Qualities

Posted in The Word: Stories, Writing Exercises with tags , on 09/02/2010 by Janet Fitch

The Word: GUARD

Doug didn’t realize. He didn’t know. Nobody told him. He took the job because it was easy. Sit in the hotel lobby and watch the to and fro. Read lots of books. He was a slacker. A stoner. His skin was bad. A certain time of night. Goodlooking women arriving. Alone. Well dressed. It was a swank hotel. Boutique. On a side-street just off the prime shopping district. He was told to challenge late night visitors. Women clearly not staying at the hotel. He read his book. All the time in the world. He’d already gotten through 2666, Infinite Jest, and A Man without Qualities. He heard the click of her heels. The waft of expensive perfume. Lilies or something. Lilacs. He looked up. She was long-legged, in a very short gold dress. Her honey hair in a ponytail, up high, cascading. “Can I help you?” he asked. His throat was dry. She smiled. She came close. She leaned over him. Lilies. She slipped something in the pocket of his guard uniform. He didn’t have to look. A folded bill. A twenty, probably. He swallowed. He knew he was going to be fired. Make way for some other reader. Some other pimply slacker. She kissed a fingertip, then pressed it to his dry unkissable lips. He watched her walk to the elevator on those heartbreaking legs, and press the UP button.

Part of a weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word. “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”

Next week’s word is: BRUSH

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