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Entries in Flash Fiction (3)

Sunday
Oct212012

Caesar and Cleopatra: A Short Story

(I wrote this short story published in Rock, Paper, Scissors. West Egg Literati, St. Paul, MN, 2009. You can also listen to the audio here.)

Kirk Henderson’s dogs had been a problem going on four months and I’d just about had it up to here with them mongrels. They weren’t really Kirk Henderson’s dogs. They were a pack of homeless, rib-thin, wild animals that Kirk Henderson had taken a perverted pity on. Rumor was that he came out of that shack of a house only once a day and that was to feed them. The only reason they stuck around was for his handouts. He’s our closest neighbor, a half mile away, and if it weren’t for them dogs, we’d never know if that hermit was alive or dead.

“Have you called the Sheriff, hon?” my husband, John asked me as I drank my second cup of coffee the morning after those dogs got into the bantams for the hundredth time. This time they dug a hole under the chicken wire beside a rotten post. They’d got Chester, my 2006 State Fair Grand Champion, and all that was left was a fist full of feathers and some guts strewn about from some other unfortunate hens.  I should’ve replaced that post, set it in concrete the day before when I leaned on it and heard it crack down below my feet.

“Didn’t I tell you?” I said. “Sheriff says he can’t do nothing about it. Nothing. Says animal control’s not in his job description. Says even if Kirk Henderson owned those dogs he couldn’t just go over there and arrest him without proof of property damage or personal injury.” But he don’t own those dogs. Nobody owns those dogs. No body would want to own those dogs.

We own two pure bred goldens, Cleo and Caesar. After my little kids, those dogs are my babies. John’s trained them to be outdoor dogs: up in the truck, out of the truck, stay, fetch, give ‘er up. Good dog. I’ve trained them to be indoor dogs: sit, lie down, roll over, shake, kiss, stay, come. Good dog. I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t rub their silky fur, kiss their wet noses, and talk to them when everybody else is gone off to work or school. And the kids love the dogs and the dogs love the kids.

The night after Chester went missing, the kids came screaming in from playing outside. “Those dogs! They’re out there again,” they cried. “Seven of ‘em.” Sure enough, they were out there in the twilight trotting around the edge of the yard, sniff’n and piss’n, marking out their territory. One was limping real bad, another’s skin was so raw it was missing half its fur. It was the first time I’d seen all of them at once, that close to the house, and during daylight still.

So John and I got to talking and decided we’d take the matter into our own hands, take care of them mongrels once and for all.

Yesterday John took off a little earlier than usual from planting and drove into town to pick up twenty pounds of fresh fat, gristle, and bone from Jerry’s Butcher Shop before it closed. He stopped by the hardware store on the way back for a tub of that paste kind of d-Con Kwik Kill rat poison. I said I didn’t want nothing hanging around the yard; it had to be strong and fast.

That night, after I tucked the kids in bed and locked up Cleo and Caesar in their kennels, John and I put on rubber gloves and set out to fix those meat trimmings up real good. We spread that d-Con on thick like mustard, worked it in like we were rubbing a roast for the grill. We left the bait in the bed of the truck so it would be easier to clean up afterwards. John parked the truck on the side of the house, down the hill on the edge of the lawn. We didn’t want none of those nosy folks passing by on the county road to wonder what we were up to.

It took me a long time to fall asleep. I was getting second thoughts. Dogs will be dogs. It wasn’t their fault, it was Kirk Henderson’s fault. When a dog goes wrong it’s the master’s gone wrong. If you don’t master them yourself, they’ll go out and kill whatever dinner they can sniff up for themselves and if a pack is hungry enough it don’t matter if it’s bantams or little children.

My teeth grinding woke me up early, 5:10. I couldn’t fall back asleep and John was still buried under the sheets. I peeked out the bedroom window looking to see if anything had changed overnight. With the sun just thinking about making a show of itself along the edge of the bare, black fields, I couldn’t see much. I put on my robe and slippers. Cleo must have heard me cause she started whining from her kennel. “Hush!” I told her, “I’ll be back, baby.”

I went out the kitchen door and stepped real high across the grass so as to keep the dew from getting the tips of my slippers wet. I looked down towards the truck. The bed was empty. Where were those dogs? A soft clucking drew my attention to the chicken house. A couple of bantams stretched their iridescent wings and pecked at the stubby grass at the edge of the pen. This was a good sign, clucking and pecking. It seemed that peace had settled over our little farm over night. Then I saw something. There, in the shadow of the chicken house laid a bunch of dogs sleeping, noses all tucked into each other’s fur like a giant puppy pile. I stepped closer. Those dogs weren’t puppies and those noses weren’t breathing and those bodies weren’t sleeping with their legs set stiff in unnatural positions. I got close enough to see half their eyes wide open, the other half closed shut, their lips drooping red and sticky, crusty, pink foam spilled out. My toes felt cold. As much as I had tried to avoid the dew, my slippers got soaked clear through.

----

Before the kids woke up and as I started to fix this morning’s Sunday breakfast, John wrapped those dogs up in a tarp and took them to the dump. I tried to avoid looking at the red and white strips of muscle and fat in the fry pan as the bacon sizzled and popped. As sad as it was sad, those dogs were gone, dead, out of their misery. But the price was worth paying, I thought, because now the bantams and most of all, the kids are safe again. Cleo nudged me on the back of my calf. I turned. She sat down real quiet with her dark, marble-eyes begging up at me. “You want a treat, baby?” I asked. I pinched off a piece of half-cooked bacon and tossed it to her. Caesar wouldn’t be left out of it so I tossed him a piece too.

When John came back in the kitchen door, Caesar and Cleo finally went out. John had that worn-out-glad-that’s-over-with-look on his face. Once we all sat down to eat our bacon, scrambled eggs, and pancakes with the kids not knowing what we knew and us knowing what we knew, John and I started to laugh and joke like we used to before those dogs started coming around.

After breakfast, as I wiped a dish with a soapy sponge, John came up from behind and put his arms around me. “I’ll help with the washing,” he whispered in my ear as he gave my breasts a light squeeze. “How ‘bout if I help with these dishes here, and then with the other dishes later?”

I leaned back into his warm chest as I gazed out the window. Caesar was chasing Cleo for what looked like a bone as they raced around the truck. Then Cleo caught a scent, stopped dead, and dropped the bone. Her nose followed the edge of the pickup’s open tailgate. She licked it and then leaped up. Caesar followed her and the two of them began licking the tailgate, the wheel wells, and the bed of the truck like it were liver-treat candy.

“John, did you get ‘round to washing that truck of yours?”

“No, hon, I was waiting until after breakfast.”

“John,” I cried, “the dogs!” I dropped the sponge, tore myself from his arms, and ran out the kitchen door. “Cleo! Caesar! Come!” I yelled.

The dogs stopped licking and their heads turned towards me, saliva drooling from the corners of their mouths. I dropped down in the wet grass onto my knees. “Come here, babies. Please, come.”

A fly buzzed around Cleo’s face, she snapped at it, then she and Caesar began to lick with a fever at the bloodied truck bed once again—it was like nothing they’d ever tasted before—and as dogs will be dogs, they didn’t stop.

Sunday
Dec182011

I Wanted Her to Go Kicking and Screaming

(Watch and listen to Wendy reading "I Wanted Her to Go Kicking and Screaming" at a 2013 St. Paul Almanac Lit Festival reading.)

Instead, Ruby lied, crafted a story of shells and salt, Buddha and incense. As if in a trance, she spoke not a word when she brushed my cheek with her wispy lips. When will you come back? I asked as I pushed stray hairs off her forehead, anything to touch her, to keep a hold of her. I reached for her hand and instinctively felt for the ring I’d given her in the spring, but she pulled her hand away before I could feel its absence.

She never answered my question. She flashed a brief grimace of a smile, glanced at the giant airport lobby clock, and she was off through security, piling her backpack filled with her sole possessions into a grey tub on the conveyor belt. She passed barefoot through the metal detector, never looking back.

That was in November, a year after my promotion to grain consulting manager and the 60-hour work week, a year before I joined AA and surrendered to the Higher Power, and two years before I met and married my wife.

It was seven years before I saw Ruby again.

My wife, our three-year-old daughter, and I were at the Minnesota Zoo and had stopped along the Northern Trail. Families of wild Asian horses and Bactrian camels lounged in the grass stubble of their enclosures, lazing in the Indian summer sun. Did they have any clue that they lived the royal, free-lunch life of captivity? Or that their wild, peasant ancestors, the few that survived on the wind-swept steppes of Mongolia, had to fend for themselves? I couldn’t decide who had the better life, the coddled captives or the barbaric beasts. My wife told me to not think so hard, Honey, relax. It’s just a zoo. She was right. Come on, Daddy, said my daughter. They moved on ahead to see the prairie dogs while I went back to the refreshment stand to grab us some drinks and a snow cone—grape—my daughter’s favorite.

There she was, ordering a Coke. I was ninety-nine percent sure it was Ruby. Sunglasses, the movie star kind with thick, black rims and gold embellishments rested on the bridge of her nose—her nose with the little crook in it, the nose I used to suck on with my lips, nibble with my teeth, and stroke with my tongue. She’d bleached her hair. Instead of going gray and in spite of her Czech blood, she’d chosen to go Swedish and it gave her a sexy, coquettish look. It reminded me of when we first met, back in college over summer breaks when we used to lifeguard together at the rec center pool, but then it was natural, burned blond by chlorine  and the Midwestern sun.

I tapped her on the shoulder.

Oh, my god, Ruby said.

My thoughts exactly. I was right. Lady Lazarus stood before me, but instead of the foul rancidness of four days’ rot, a field full of lilies of the valley blossomed invisibly around her. My cock stiffened.

She pushed her sunglasses up and over the top of her curling hair and with her jaw agape, she stared as if to verify what she’d seen through the Polaroid lenses.

I asked her how long she’d been back in town. She pulled her glasses back down and grabbed her Coke. She said, a while, and stepped back from the stand.

She invited me to sit on a bench in the shade with her, but by then I had two Cokes and a melting glob of ice in a soggy paper cone balanced in my hands. Couldn’t she see I had other plans, other responsibilities? I fumbled with the snow cone and spilled some of the purple syrup on my sandal as I explained that I had to catch up with my “group.”

She looked at me suspiciously from the corner of her glasses.

The familiar lull of Ruby’s voice and a peek at those doe eyes of hers made me want to confess my sins and forgive any misunderstandings there’d been between us years ago: my growing neglect of her, the drinking, her flirting, my jealousy. I loved her, asked her to marry me, but if this was love, she sure as hell didn’t want to get married. I’d work less, quit the booze, give her space, but unless she moved to the other side of the planet, I wouldn’t let her go.

All forgiven, all forgotten.

I wanted to nuzzle into the girlish ringlets that haloed her face and inhale her perfume. I wanted to find out what adventures she’d had without me in Asia over the last seven years. Had she found herself? God? Was it all worth leaving me?

I asked her to meet for drinks after work the next day. She winced, sipped on the Coke, and shrugged her shoulders. I suggested I give her a call and just as I asked for her number, I heard a man’s voice call her name from behind us.

I gotta go, she said.

I blurted out, Exactly how long have you been back in town?

I never left.

You never went to Thailand?

Ruby slowly shook her head.

She set her face flat towards me and grimaced just like she did in the airport. More syrup dripped across my toes.

Coming, Ruby called back over her shoulder to the man’s voice as she stood up. She skipped around me where she ringed her arm with another man’s and walked away barefoot, never looking back.

 

Unfortunately, some online lit mags evaporate into cyberspace and along with them, writers' hard-earned stories. This flash fiction piece once appeared in Verbumcavus. Now, it only appears here! Thanks to inspiration from The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction: Tips from Editors, Teachers, and Writers in the Field (see my previous blogs!).

Friday
May142010

Flash Fiction

I'm reading this book I discovered at the AWP conference in April titled, The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction: Tips from Editors, Teachers, and Writers in the Field, and am using it to generate new material in the form of flash fiction.

Some of the contributing authors spoke at the Flash Fiction session at AWP where Flash celebs like Randall Brown (Smokelong Quarterly), Kim Chinquee (Oh Baby and Pretty, Online Writing: Best of the First Ten Years, Pushcart and Henfield prizes), Sherrie Flick (I Call This Flirting and Reconsidering Happiness), Robert Shapard (Sudden Fiction), and Lex Williford (The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction) shared their experiences and insights.

What I like about this book is that it's a collection of essays from different writers, teachers, and editors that when put together makes a varied and well rounded discussion on a somewhat fluid genre.

The format for each contributor is an essay followed by a flash example and a relative exercise. Simple and to the point, yet still creative and thought stimulating.

I'm taking my time to read through this and actually do the exercises as a way to generate new material over the summer. I can create a <1,000 flash and leave it at that, or I can go back to that initial flash and use it as a jumping off for a larger work. We'll see what transpires!

So, to leave you something to mull over while you're waiting for your own copy of Rose Metal Press's book, here's one highlight from the AWP flash fiction session:

What makes a flash stand out?

  • Realist pieces
  • Poetic flash
  • "Hands are unprepared by the sudden drop [at the end of the story] - HEAVY little thing."
  • Sound, rhythm, image, conflict
  • Word for word--every word counts
  • Strong sentences
  • Ability to condense time and space
  • Poinancy not replicable in a longer story
  • Compression in word & structure

 

Enclosure