Thirty-First

Photo by Josh Felise

Photo by Josh Felise

Her father complained incessantly about light pollution, about how the city ruined everything when it came to stargazing. Mother asked him, just as incessantly, why he hadn’t accepted a job at the college out in Iowa if the city really bothered him that much. She asked, but he never answered. He’d roll his eyes, shrug his shoulders, and sigh a heavy sigh. Then he’d take his newspaper and a brandy out onto the terrace to complete his life as a cliché.

When she was a teenager on her first camping trip with friends, her best friend’s single mother the chaperone, she led an exploration committee up the highest hill on the grounds. It was night, an almost indecent hour, and before they made out with the boys who’d snuck away from their own chaperones, the girl told her friends her theory on what the lights of the city were really trying to do.

“They’re not there to pollute,” she told her friends. “They’re there to call back to the stars, all of them together, to say, ‘We’re here!’ in case someone is out there listening.

“That’s why we build fires,” she told them. “That’s why we build anything at all.”

Then she took out her flashlight and pointed it toward the heavens.

Her friends giggled for a moment, but then saw she wasn’t budging, that she wasn’t even looking at them, probably couldn’t even hear them with the way her gaze zoned in so intently on the blanket of stars draped above them.

They stopped giggling, took out their own flashlights, and joined her. And when the boys came out of the woods, calling out to them with whistles and words, the girls stood there with their flashlights in the air for almost too long.

Or not long enough, I guess, depending on your point of view.

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Thirtieth

As the red trolley makes its way down the narrow street, a man on a scooter keeps pace beside it, shouting up to a woman through the open visor of his helmet. She is staring straight ahead, not bothering to wipe the tears his words are conjuring from her eyes.

The trolley brakes suddenly as a pedestrian dashes across the lane, and this jostles the woman, her hip snapping out toward the man on the scooter as she struggles to keep hold of the handrail. The man lifts a hand to make sure she doesn’t fall and it brushes against her backside. She swats at him as soon as she is able, still not speaking.

And yet, this is still not a strong enough message for him. So, when they finally come upon me, I throw a hard right at him, connecting with his even harder helmet. It’s not much more than a glancing blow, but it’s enough. He tumbles to the ground as his bike bounces off the trolley’s side, then skids into a food cart selling nuts and popcorn, making a grand old mess.

The woman glances back at me as the trolley moves along, and she flips me the bird. “I had it under control,” she shouts.

I shrug. And then, seeing the scooter guy standing up and brushing himself off, I run.

I write and publish new short fiction for free every day. If you like what you’re reading, support me on Patreon to read tomorrow’s story today.

Twenty-Ninth

Photo by David Aler

Photo by David Aler

On the lake that afternoon, paddling toward the shallow water, I saw the grass rising from the depths as a kind of solace. Yellow then, in the last days of autumn, the tall stalks trembled in the wind. They shook as I did, though not for the same reason.

“You’re not going to drown,” she told me.

My shoulders ached as I drove us into the midst of the gently swaying stalks, as I sought the closest thing I would get to land until we completed our lap back to the beach house’s dock. I closed my eyes and focused on my breath, tried to ignore the heat radiating from my nose, my cheeks, my ears. I’d forgotten a hat, which was almost as bad as forgetting a life jacket.

Almost.

“Look,” she told me.

A pair of dragonflies were flitting through the grass, taunting a hungry mallard that swam to and fro. Dragonflies were her favorite, a reminder of camping trips with her family, back in the day. We had a dozen dragonfly ornaments on our Christmas tree. It was a thing, those buzzing little buggers, a real thing. I smiled at the thought, though she couldn’t see it.

“Sorry,” she said. “I just thought it was cool.”

I should have told her it was. I should have turned around and showed her the smile that her simple observation had brought to my pained face. It wasn’t the first time that I forgot she couldn’t see what I saw, or the way I saw it. Sadly, it was one of the last.

But, for now, I want to forget all that and remember the two of us in that canoe, amongst the lawn of the lake. The two of us, the duck, and the dragonflies in the moment before we began to row again.

I want to forget everything except what I want to remember. Is that too much to ask?

I write and publish new short fiction for free every day. If you like what you’re reading, support me on Patreon to read tomorrow’s story today.

Twenty-Eighth

Photo by Philip Estrada

She was at the end of her rope, he at the end of his string. And, oh, there was their fuses; that was another thing. They both liked Dr. Seuss and greeting cards that rhymed, but he could never bear to hear the stories of her mime. She had a mime, you see, instead of having mom. And as he stroked his beard and thought, she told him he was wrong.

A ball of orange yarn between them, on the sheets where they once laid. Two glasses on the nightstand filled up with Minute Maid. Bacon on the fryer, eggs whipped in a bowl. Breakfast for the tired, and supper for the bold.

But uneaten went this food, undrunk this orange juice, for the rope and string and yarn, my friend, they wove into a noose.

Now who swung first, you ask, but I can never tell. For I am sworn to secrecy, until they toll the bells. Until they toll the bells for me, these ghosts that I once knew. Until they toll the bells for me, till orange turns to blue.

I write and publish new short fiction for free every day. If you like what you’re reading, support me on Patreon to read tomorrow’s story today.

Twenty-Seventh

Photo by Anna Demianenko

“Why won’t she look at you?” you ask me.

“Because I told her a joke.” I say.

“The one about the snowmen?” you say.

I raise an eyebrow. I don’t know this one, my eyebrow is meant to say. Also: be careful. You know about me and snowmen after whatshername, my ex, and that damned song from that damned movie that we never should have seen because we’re in graduate school now and not kindergarten.

“What did one snowman say to the other snowman?” you say.

“What?” I say, waiting to slug you.

“Smells like carrots.”

I don’t slug you. Instead, we look at the girl staring away from us. From me, actually. You, she couldn’t care less about. She’s beautiful, this girl, the sun lighting up the yellow in her dirty blonde hair, her freckled shoulder bare but for the bra strap that is revealed now by her loose blouse.

“What’s the joke you told her?” you ask me.

I gaze at my shoes. I’m a shoe gazer. Ugh. It’s only for a moment, but it disgusts me.

“Was it that bad?” you say.

“Why shouldn’t you ever make fun of a paleontologist?”

“You made fun of her?” you ask, laughing, punching me in the arm, holding your fist up to your mouth and doing a little shuffle as you guffaw. “Oh shit, son. Why’d you go and do that, br’ah?”

I say nothing.

“You didn’t mean to make fun of her?” you say.

Again, I say nothing.

“Okay,” you say. “So, why don’t you make fun of paleontologists?”

“Cause you’ll get jurassikicked,” I say.

And that’s when she turns and looks at me again and gives me a big old smile. Son of a bitch, I think. Ass kicked indeed. She was just fucking with me.

You, on the other hand, aren’t fucking with me when you say, “I don’t get it.”

I write and publish new short fiction for free every day. If you like what you’re reading, support me on Patreon to read tomorrow’s story today.

Twenty-Sixth

Photo by Anna Demianenko

Mesmerized by her hat, the boys stared the photograph and tried to trace the white spiral outward from the blue center to the furthest floppy edge. The older of the two gave up first, his attention drawn away by her bare arms resting along the edge of the pool. He wondered how much of the rest of her was bare and smiled at the notion.

“She looks totally uncomfortable,” said their sister from behind them, grabbing the magazine out of their hands and then stepping away from the couch as they reached backward for it.

“Give it back,” said the younger brother as she swatted at his pudgy hand with the magazine.

“Do you realize,” said the sister, leafing through the pages, “how uncomfortable women make themselves in order look comfortable?”

“How can you tell she’s uncomfortable?” asked the older brother. “You can’t even see her face.”

The sister rolled her eyes and tossed the magazine back at them. “I’m a woman,” she said, readjusting the strap of her training bra, which just would not stop sliding down her shoulder. “I am a woman,” she repeated, “and women just know.”

I write and publish new short fiction for free every day. If you like what you’re reading, support me on Patreon to read tomorrow’s story today.

Twenty-Fourth

Photo by Sergei Zolkin

Photo by Sergei Zolkin

Do you remember that day that we took pictures of each other? On the hike over the river and through the woods, the day we meant to visit grandmother’s house, but didn’t?

You were wearing a blue shirt—before I took it off and we lost it in the leaves—and you started in with your camera, snapping and laughing as you held it just outside of my arm’s reach. To fight back, I slipped my phone from my pocket and started taking pictures of you, too.

“Nuh-uh,” you said, still smiling as you tried to wrestle the phone away from me.

When you look at those photos, am I chewing on my lower lip, the way, in my photos, you’re chewing on yours? Is there an invitation in my eyes? There was in yours. I see that now, though I was too blind to see it then. Thank goodness for your vision.

Or for your imagination, at the very least.

I write and publish new short fiction for free every day. If you like what you’re reading, support me on Patreon to read tomorrow’s story today.

Twenty-Third

Nobody knew where the wheel came from, why it had spun for as long as it did, or why it had stopped. But they all marveled at its heft, its girth, and the way the stone of it looked like it had been torn from the belly of Mother Earth herself—or maybe her gall bladder. They all marveled at it, and then, when others began to ride their horses to town to see it, or drive their buggies there, the people of the fair town erected a fence and a ticket booth, and began to charge a quarter for admittance, a buck for a photo.

One should not let marveling happen for free, after all, if one can help it.

I write and publish new short fiction for free every day. If you like what you’re reading, support me on Patreon to read tomorrow’s story today.

Twenty-Second

The day the last ship came home, the widows climbed down from their walks and served tea and biscuits. They waited at tables by their windows, fingers fiddling with doilies, eyes trained on the dusty lane that led to the harbor, and they wondered for the last time whose tables would be empty and whose would be full.

I write and publish new short fiction for free every day. If you like what you’re reading, support me on Patreon to read tomorrow’s story today.