Twelve stories- seven previously published and two Pushcart Prize nominations- highlight this collection of short fiction. Empathy is examined as we help push a grand piano onto a frozen lake or read century old lost braille love letters. These stories play the lighthearted adventure of language while taming the overwhelming significance of tiny things.
Targeted Age Group:: 16-99
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
The city of San Francisco, the art of minimalism, Raymond Carver, Amy Hemple, Gabrial Garcia Marquez, Loorie Moore, John K. Samson, Bob Nanna. I have always been writing, these are stories that I needed to write. I waited until they were absolutely necessary.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Some stories are focused around the premise, so the characters are just tools to explore the situation. Other stories are character based, I placed what I consider to be very interesting people in situations their eccentricites can be exploited to the fullest.
Flight and Weightless
“This is your opus.”
At the beginning of what is now Alaska’s first plain, where discoverers went to discover things (as we did) and where discoveries should have been made, before the Inuit cultures and the nose kissing, there were these strangers. And they would never say it’s so damn hard to meet people in cities, but they knew it’s not as easy on frozen lakes.
We tried on different hats in peculiar places: one’s for fishing, one’s for hunting, but they both kept our heads warm. We bought one of each and headed out to the lake.
We stood with parallel feet, two never intersecting lines, my lips on your forehead, pushing the steam to cool your hot head, which is all that was heating us before the next big push.
I wonder what’s left to hurt. Is it your frozen toes?
You told me the first time you got home from the hospital that your mother had lined your coats with longhaired carpet samples. You said, “She knew, you know?”
When I glanced down on this frozen lake I met the breath that left my lips. I tried pulling it back in, telling myself I was just steam-breathing to clear my throat, so I could tell you all those haught silly things caught like ghosts. Like how your ears will never actually hold your hair back (I’m sorry), and I can finally say for sure I’ll never beat you at Boggle.
I’ve clipped my index finger through your belt loop and drawn our hips together. I call myself your carved-out keychain. I’m keeping you, with all your tiny and easily forgotten and endlessly important things-your tools for discovery.
We were two people, with a grand piano on thin ice. We pushed it far enough to see the ice crack like the high notes it would play. I’ll push you out with it until those cold fish can enjoy the music with their cold deaf dumb ears. We will watch them struggle and wonder how it tastes when they push their snouts to the pane, painting breath, touching face, swimming to the surface. I’m sure it’s such a new and exciting air raid.
What were we doing?
I guess we were two kids playing feed the ducks in the winter, playing dance at the funeral, playing take the plane, the earthquake will soon be over.
Painkillers were holding your hand after you coughed but before you wiped your jacket. Painkillers were the half curls in your hair, that you yourself didn’t curl, that curled themselves either out of routine or out of unease.
Two years ago you were Maria and you played the piano endlessly. You stayed in Spokane and I moved to San Francisco. Your fingers were always long enough to make a point-they were your smallest bones and they were your favorites.
So we set rules. No, we set regrets. Your hair was at your shoulders and curly taut under your favorite beanie. You were a party favor smiling in winter. Maria you were half native and half unsure, and as often as the fishermen caught colds, they would say, “As long as paradise is never, then she Maria, is ever, ever, ever more.” We decided if ever we were to return to each other, I to Spokane or you to San Francisco, that leaving was a mistake. Breaking up was a mistake, a foul note, my old friend the delete key. Then we would have to deal with all that time we spent apart, that buried time, and we’d be cross wondering what we did right. Then there were the butterfly effects, and forks, and cysts, and poorly timed immeasurable things.
What a terrible life like dominos, is what I had said.
When we dragged that impossible immeasurable thing out to that terrible lake neither you nor I would seem to fall over.
I was fine in San Francisco, regrets be damned. I gave you my address and said show up if you’re ready to jump out of a plane. That was my promise to you, Maria-afraid-of-heights. Come to me, admit that you’re wrong to let me leave you, and jump out of a goddamn plane with me.
You can blame the mime, I’m pretty sure some people are still speechless.
I will admit I was drunk on our last night together and dreamt of you losing your old off-white beanie on our way back to earth. I heard skydiving is the most extreme way of being born again. We would leave everything’s everything, and the fresh air, oh the fresh air. Some say the fall smells like a labor room, and then I wanted to take all of your favorite nurses skydiving. Then I heard it smells like what you love most because your adrenaline is cooking.
And Maria, your adrenaline smells so good.
The chalk board scratch sound of piano legs on ice is not so terrible to hear when you can measure the notes by how thick the ice is, and you can tell that less than two measures ago you were safe. So you play castanets with your frozen fingers that sound as beautiful as breaking glass. Thick spots sound like a chandelier reuniting with the ground, in the two-two timing of your favorite handclaps.
Oh Maria you were old for twenty-two. You were always spying knitting needles and staying in. Your hips worn like a veteran waitress, bouncing back and forth between staggered tables. In Spokane, in winter, you would brush your teeth with hot water, and it was disgusting. So we pushed that piano out and made snow angels, except on the ice we called them ghost angels. Yours was called Flight and mine was called Weightless.
Two years after I said goodbye a big brown package arrived, a parachute, with your name on it. I had to sign for it; someone had to know, that I knew, it hadn’t merely fallen from the sky. I opened it in my apartment, it was the size of my apartment, and in the middle of all that vinyl and rope I found a three-page note. I pushed that piano onto that lake and your cheeks were the roses you were thrown. Your frozen hips bowed only because the cold had broken them so.
In the note you spoke of holding your own estate sale. When people asked you who had died you would just laugh, and brush your ever growing hair back behind your ears. You would cough a little, then point and raise the price of something in a fit of transference.
I remember we would go to estate sales and attempt to figure out the dying, the dead, using only what they had owned as clues. In memory, obituaries seemed to tell their tales out of respect, the way formal photographs hide scars and birthmarks. How we would brag of collecting dead grandfathers. Remember that board game Guess Who? We were trying on their winter coats, hiding in their closets like ghosts. We hoped the man who owned Venus in Furs had a hidden passage. If only we pulled the right book, perhaps something from the Marque De Sade, perhaps The story of O? We bought their old war periscopes, we lied and called them our family heirlooms. We dreamt them left to us with maps and keys. We were the children of sailors, pirates, and butchers.
Your note said that people only bargain at estate sales when the dead aren’t in the room. They will, however, sneer as if you’re leaving the country with their currency, as if the price of this jewelry box should be lower because heaven knows you won’t need it where you’re going.
When we pushed that piano out I knew you played much better without gloves or mittens or cancer too. You were once the little girl in church running loose with a bed of hair upon your head tied in ways only mothers knew, wearing those horrible PTA sweaters adorned with oversized treble clefs.
You said I had to come back and make my regret, I had to break a promise or two.
You were diagnosed cold, in a stale white room. You said it smelled of bleach and peanut butter, and you said you were so sure of it. I packed up the parachute, the note, and some endless amount of jackets.
. . . .
Now you can imagine me with a carry-on parachute on a commercial airliner, promising everyone, “I won’t be opening it, it’s really all I have to have.” On an airplane they will not believe you when you say a parachute is all you have to have.
I guess you took all the money you earned from that estate sale and bought this parachute, and it was two thousand dollars on sale.
You bought a parachute on clearance.
I laughed, a dying girl blows her life savings on a parachute, how cliché.
So I sold all I owned and bought a plane ticket.
It was the last available seat on the worst airline they had available. I bought it with the insurance of my own parachute.
By the time we got that grand piano to the middle of the frozen lake we shook hands in mitts so quickly I’d thought we’d start a fire in friction. I was afraid of falling into the lake like I was afraid of being hit by a train, or skydiving, or of dial tones, and other serious life-ending things.
On the flight to Spokane I hugged the parachute like I was holding you.
To the frightened flight attendant I could not stress enough, this is not a bomb… this saves lives. Besides she was only doing her job working for a terribly complicated machine she will never understand. She was, after all, an American.
They knew there was ice on the runway and they cut off our drinks as soon as we began the landing procedure. I had never flown before and those busy flight attendants strapped next to their TV dinners and mini-bar liquor kits just seemed to smile so nervously. I’ve seen those faces before. I once saw a National Geographic about the people who survived from being stranded on desert islands. They spent the rest of their lives playing the same saved face to every over flying plane. I’d figured by the end of the program that these survivors would have all the answers too. They didn’t. Worst of all they didn’t even start up the show with “If you were trapped on a desert island…”
These people stranded on desert islands dreamed of the same planes that flew the people stranded on crashing planes dreaming of desert islands.
Sure enough when the turbulence started everyone looked at me as if to say, “Why didn’t I think to bring a parachute?”
Even the flight attendant, I can see it in her eyes, she thinks it for a living.
The captain slides and kicks the plane like a filthy pig in frozen mud, his only two feet jabbing at the darkness below his swollen belly at those numerous pedals. Everyone on board claps as we land, though I remember the in-flight film ended hours ago.
“Welcome to Washington.”
Laughing like the veins on our foreheads.
I am home.
I throw the pack on my back with my extra jackets and run straight for the exit terminal, still having never sky-dived despite my best efforts not to. Congratulations Maria I am still without regrets.
When I’ve reached your doorstep with my tire-chained-Alamo-escorted-Chevy-Aveo, your house doesn’t have a quarantined circus tent, ET doesn’t even live here. When you answer the door you aren’t all nose-tubed for oxygen, you aren’t in a bed with those tie-down steel rails, you aren’t even limping. You’re just eyes and lips and ready for everything, still all bones and movement, still wearing no shoes in the snow, all Maria with your hair down, this time to your elbows.
“What do we do now?” I asked you, parachute on my back, spinning the rental car keys around my fingerless gloves with the same grace as anyone wearing about ten layers of California clothing, about ten layers not enough.
You say you don’t know, and smile as much as you’re allowed. You skip through the snow to the rental car, open the door, and sit down.
While I drive you aimlessly around I’m staring at all the drivers and passengers we pass by, mostly soccer practice in the snow, mostly Christmas shopping. I try so hard to give them a more difficult deed than the one I have in my passenger seat.
You say you’re hungry but don’t know where to eat. You say the lake is frozen but only two feet. You say San Francisco must be beautiful compared to this and apologize frequently. I head straight to the worst and slowest stoplight in town and wait. Right before it turns green I lean over and give you the worst kiss I have ever. It’s all teeth and bones like preteens, k,i,s,s,i,n,g, and then the light goes green.
“Where’s the piano?” I asked kicking the front tires in the snow.
“Behind the high school. I’ve tenured the Make a Wish Foundation” you laugh.
You aren’t supposed to be good at this.
You’re supposed to be all awkward and ill and tired. Maybe you’re moderately deranged, or awfully offended by how terribly I kissed you. Maria your hair’s supposed to be shorter, falling out, falling apart.
I’m straight to the railroad tracks off Fifteenth Street. You used to take me here. Standing on the tracks we would count down the first thirty-seconds, and then kiss the second thirty knowing full and well the train would hit us if we stayed for the whole minute.
You told me this is how we ration; we have thirty-seconds before impact, thirty-seconds to forget everything.
We had some close calls as most all teenagers do, and we always said while we were walking away, “If you loved me like a French film we would both be dead.”
Here we are and you are so cloudy confused it isn’t until I start counting down from thirty that you realize I’m wearing a watch. I’m wearing a wire. We can kiss or you can laugh but I’m hoping we can still just be children playing with death. Instead it’s just one tear after another and I yell, “GO,” at five-seconds, and find out you won’t be carried, you must be thrown.
I throw a scarf around your neck and wrap your face so fast I call you a ninja. You call me the new light speed champion. You tell me now that I’ve saved your life I can finally take it. I don’t know what to say so you call me a stupid head, then you tell me it isn’t in your brain.
. . . .
We’re off to our favorite park in winter, the frozen grass cracks under our feet and there are no geese to feed so we will eat the bread we brought. The sun sets sometime we’re unsure of, the clouds are just playing that game. I give you all the jackets that I brought and am not currently wearing. You shine them on and wear them like surrender blankets on your shoulders, never in your arms.
Aren’t you supposed to need these things?
Every time the park patrol rolls by we hide, lying flat on our backs. I get to hold your hand and freeze my ass off and exhale and pretend that I can breathe when the wind stings my lips. The long white frozen tips of the grass reflect brightly off of their flashlights, it’s blindingly beautiful, just enough to hide me, to hide us. Still they push their flashlights across us like a Sonogram, like a CAT scan, all bright white waiting for a dip in the radar. You roll over and kiss me and tell me, “We can be the illegal growths of this park. We can hide beneath the radar waves, and we can kick and roll our arms and make cement handshakes and snow angels.”
Then with your excitement up in flames he sees us, and we’re off running fast. We’re burning coal and spewing breath and when we’re safe, we’re safe behind that dumpster behind that strip mall, and you tell me it isn’t in your lungs.
I wonder if this isn’t an elaborate hoax.
When do the goddamn fireworks begin?
Who coined winter wonderland? Were they not aware of hypothermia and giving up, and goddamn Spokane?
I swear Maria, I can aside, and I will.
I’ve never been to a funeral. I’ve never helped someone die. I am the blind child running up and down the pews, smelling the oak and listening to the bells.
Where are your bells? Your red flags?
We’re all just showing ribs when we’re weak, and I can almost count your… thirteen? It’s a shaky destiny.
On our way back to my single room at the Double Tree we pass healthcare billboards asking us about “The Essentials to Health” to which you respond with a delicate snore. I’ll help you to my door and this is where you can and will pass out. I ask you what your parents might think and you tell me, “If you had X days left how would you spend them?” I tell you, “Maria I would care less.”
“Good, you see what I mean.”
I ask about your diet as we lay on the bed eating all the candy bars from the mini bar and then surgically replacing them with items around the room in their body bag wrappers. We put the toilet paper core in the Snickers wrapper, the toothbrush in the Toblerone, and filled the little gin with a little mouthwash and seal the plastic with heat and steady hands.
“How would you eat?” Is your response, “How would you live?”
“Yeah but I’m not the one who’s…”
“Never mind,” I roll over and wrestle some pillows.
You kill the lights and I can feel the bed creak and warm as you shuffle close to me. Then you breathe into my left ear, first breathing light as if to say listen to me, then heavy like please stay asleep, don’t talk back, just keep listening.
I am awake and listening.
You tell me the doctor told you there will come a day when you will wake up and will have forgotten which hand you write with.
You tell me your mother sewed small pillows into the knee caps of your jeans just in case you took up prayer. She knew your skin was weak and would break so much easier. I remember when you used to stay up all night dripping wax between the keys of your piano, saying your fingers needed to be stronger, your favorite little bones. I asked if you would ever sleep, and you would say you would when you were dead.
“Maria…” I whisper, “Where is it?”
. . . .
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