For the fifth year in a row, CityBeat asked readers to write us a story no longer than 101 words. And, like in past years, our marginally qualified and only slightly buzzed panel of judges sifted through the entries, lobbied for individual favorites and narrowed it all down to the 20-something stories reprinted here.
For maximum Fiction 101 enjoyment, we encourage you to convene a discussion group--meet at a coffeehouse, bar, living room, whatever. Read the stories aloud and then discuss. What does the groundhog in “The Accident” symbolize? What might Karl Marx have to say about “Timmy the Termite”? And is the first line of “First Time” literal or figurative? Good stuff, all of it.
A big thanks to everyone who entered--especially those of you who've made entering this little contest an annual tradition. We look forward to reading what you come up with next year.
Our town is dismal, the color of coal. Dad spits black, even on weekends. August is too hot and I can't swim in the strip mine anymore because Joey drowned there. Everyone sits on the porch in their underwear and complains. Uncle Ralph talks about sex, tells us Aunt Millie's tits weigh eight pounds. Mostly, I'm bored. At night, I avoid my older brother and sleep nude against a broken window screen. In September, Our Miss Brooks makes us write about summer. I make something up and get an A. Nobody wants to hear the truth about summer in this place.
His dick shot bullets, but I wanted him anyway.
“No!” my mom gasped.
“You'll die,” the priest warned.
“I'll miss you,” said my sister.
“He can't die a virgin,” I said. “I love him.”
We chose a motel near the VA. He trembled at my touch, shuddered as he entered, whimpered.
I said, “Shhh.”
We both cried. He called my name as he came. It was so loud I couldn't hear for two days.
The governor put him away. His letters call me: Angel. Goddess. Savior.
I recovered, but he's ruined sex for me. With other men, the safety's always on.
You Should Try Yoga
It's true--yoga can increase awareness.
After class, while lunching, I heard my fork scream, “No, not the Kung-Pao! My tines--they burn!”
My stick of Trident yelled, “Stop it, man! This is torture!”
Later, it was my phone, not my boyfriend, that yawned during another marathon conversation.
As I sought refuge in a warm shower, I swear each droplet snickered as it fell past my slightly zaftig form.
I then turned up the volume on my CD player only to hear the music drowned out by the stereo coughing, “Garbage!”
Tomorrow I will try step aerobics. And drinking.
I call from Nunu's, Turf Club, Star Bar, leave a message.
“Hey,” I say, “don't forget the sweetness in that Romanian girl's mouth.”
“And don't forget the way that one fat guy watched that other fat guy waddle out of the bar, like, poor bastard.”
“And please remember to remember how that homeless lady stared into her clamshell mirror, touching the corners of her eyes.”
Tonight all the citizens of my head will drown in Stella, shots of Sambuca, and tomorrow I'll wake alone in the strange light of oblivion, floating in my sheets, three messages on my phone.
When I was promoted to Senior Engineer, I was given my pocket protector. For the past 42 years I have used my pocket protector. Today's Senior Engineers have given up the pocket protector. Today it is a computer and a cell phone.
Yes, we need pocket protectors! Remember, the levies held during the time of pocket protectors. In my day, I once drove a car that had a big steering wheel. Do you see big steering wheels today?
Lunch was good, but the tuna tasted like cheesecake. The cook said it was cheesecake. I know she works for the Soviets.
“Bless me, Father, fer I've sinned. It's been 42 minutes since my last confession.”
Mary enunciated in the proud country way when a person's humility should be acknowledged. The third confessional at St. Yeats of Sligo was like a favorite pair of her milking britches; the box had a similar smell and conformed to the humps of her bum like she'd been squatting in it all day.
“Jayzus wept, Mary. Weren't you just here? Sure the cushion still has the shape of your backside in it!” Father Timothy crossed himself over his rational unholiness.
“Five Hail Mary's, Mary,” he sighed.
THE BEST OF THE REST
Papa didn't have enough money to buy a black suit for Mama's funeral. He cried in the kitchen while I waited for sleep to come. The door to our bedroom was left ajar, because my little brothers were afraid of the dark, but they had fallen asleep hours ago. Our stairway smelled of cooked potatoes and cabbage, the way all stairways do in our neighborhood. Our house was the kind that knew all about death and tears, four stories of pealing plaster and broken banisters, with screaming babies and laundry in the windows. Until today, I was always happy here.
Saidah von Gontard,
I find Jerilyn talking to the artist next to a piece I recognize.
“Oh, Cissy, come here! Andrew, my daughter-in-law, Cissy.”
“Andrew, how are you?”
“You two know each other?”
“We went to art school together,” I say, carefully.
Andrew leads Jerilyn away, “Here's one you'll love--a close-up of an elephant's hide….”
Alone again, I turn to the familiar photograph.
Curly, red fibers against a pale white background. In the corner of the photograph is a round spot. It's a mole. Few people know it's there. Even at the beach, it's covered by my bikini.
Andrea Contreras Dixon,
Walking down Broadway one afternoon, I spotted a cape draped over a fence.
Odd place for a cape, I thought, as the cape said, “I can make you fly.”
Astounded by the talking cape, I wore it.
Embarrassed by people staring at my many failed launches, I started to doubt the cape's decree.
A beautiful girl approached, laughing, “Where did you find that cape?”
“Hanging on a fence.”
“Odd place for a cape.”
“You don't know the half of it.”
“Really? What's the other half?”
“Can I tell you over some coffee?”
I suddenly realized the cape was right.
Danny De La Cruz,
A bitter March wind propels newsprint and tumbling cans down the cobblestone street. One last trick, she is thinking, though it is past midnight. The other whores have departed. She shivers beneath the streetlamp, cups her hands and lights a cigarette, eyeing the bierhaus, Brownshirts inside, drunk, thunderously mauling the Horst Weil. The tavern's sign creaks in the wind.
A Brownshirt exits, urinates against the foundation, then turns. “Ach, Lili Marlene!” He staggers across the cobblestones, arms wide open, stumbles and sprawls in the gutter before her.
She spits, struts haughtily away. “My name,” she says, “is Hildegarde Doppelhoffer!”
People hate Marvin because he is pretentious and employs too many big words in informal exchange.
He has submitted fictions to The New Yorker.
Many have described him as an “asshole.” If Marvin were to depict a Marvin character, he would probably use “loquacious charlatan.” In describing the Marvin that is himself, he preferred “scholarly,” “erudite” and “enlightened.” He would occasionally sneak these self-evaluative adjectives into conversation to remind people that he is an intellectual and that even his opinions have academic legitimacy: “Being a scholar, I believe….”
Was Marvin conscious of his neurosis? No, he was an asshole.
The Eye of the Beholder
“This is beautiful,” Martin said, running his hand over the smooth tabletop, standing in a quiet corner of the abstract art gallery. “It reminds me of an orchid, or… an apple.”
Janice walked over to see the table her father was caressing. He was bent over it, bifocals pushed up on his forehead for a better look.
At first, all she saw was the deep red of the cherry wood, the lights reflected in the thick shellac, the vague opalescent design.
She came up alongside and patted him on the back.
“Dad, that's not a flower. That's a vagina.”
Timmy the Termite
Timmy the common Regurgitating-termite hated his job as much as he hated a vegetarian diet. It all seemed rather monotonous. If only he could've had a moth occasionally, or perhaps a mosquito, but no--it was up the tubes to chew the wood then down the tubes to vomit, day after day until he was completely worn-out, and when that happened the terrible Terminator-termites arrived and pinched off his head and ground his greasy little exoskeleton into a thick brown paste that was used by equally vile Masonic-termites to build more tunnels. It seemed sort of pointless.
The Game of Mary and Joseph
Mary hasn't had her period for several years now, yet she continues to purchase tampons and maxi-pads whenever she goes shopping. She also buys spermicidal creams and sheep-gut rubbers just in case the improbable might occur. My name's Joseph, and I'm the one who takes the unopened fem-hygiene packages to the Salvation Army once the bathroom cabinet starts to overflow with them. I also squirt the tubes of gel down the toilet because the “Army of Salvation” won't accept contraceptives. I don't know who's more disturbed, but I've decided to seek professional help, I swear to God.
Jack and Coke
Jack and Coke. The Bartender eyes me with suspicion. I've had my nose broken 17 times. That'll get some looks.
A man in a raincoat two stools down says, “You have any Early Times?”
Bartender sighs, “We don't carry it.” His suspicious little eyes still on me.
“Why the hell not?” asks the Raincoat Man.
“I guess it don't sell around here.”
The clunk of steel on the bar. Raincoat Man has a gun.
Pow. The Bartender collapses.
“Business is business,” Raincoat Man looks over at me, “You mind?”
“He looked at me funny.”
“It's what a broken nose does.”
His patience having turned to dust, Manny cried, “Twenty-six just isn't enough. I need more!”
What followed was an excruciating expedition into the cavernous depths of his rapidly devolving mind, from which Manny emerged with six lustrous gems, a half-dozen previously undiscovered and much-needed enhancements to the dull and antiquated palate which he had inherited from his ancestors. Two he inserted between K and L. Four after Z.
Thirty-two would do.
No longer limited by uninteresting permutations of merely 26 bland and hackneyed characters, Manny constructed new words with new meanings, and with them he changed the world forever.
The Legacy of Franz K.
For certain a task had been assigned to him, but J could no longer remember what it was or who had assigned it. He had met the employer only once and very briefly at that. During his interview the employer had asked, “What is it that you think you can do for me?”
Unflinchingly, J had responded with a flawless dissertation about increasing productivity and achieving maximum efficiencies through keen analysis and enhanced communications.
“Clearly you've much to learn and little to offer,” had been the employer's reply. “The job is yours, but only if you truly do not want it.”
On Austin's First Day
On Austin's first day, his boss--a silverback gorilla--showed him around the office and introduced him to his fellow employees. They welcomed him politely with wary eyes. But what Austin noticed most were the tufts of black hair sticking out of his boss' starched collar and his cuffs.
When they got to Austin's new office, his boss proudly showed him the latest model telephone and computer for him to use. Austin immediately raised his boss's shirt and pushed aside the undershirt to suckle on his speckled nipple. His boss closed his eyes and leaned his head back, smiling.
What do you get when you take a waffle to the beach?
“When this Omaha-by-the-sea sinks into the Pacific, I'll fiddle like fucking Nero!”
I ignore Seth, instead focusing on swirling my Pinot, his comfy sofa and his girlfriend Riley's perfect, crossed legs.
“If you've got balls, you'll blow out of here tomorrow, too,” yasps the drunken accountant.
Riley, too, seems bored of the tax-preppers beer bellowing.
She smiles at me while the words “blow” and “balls” make my underpants wiggle.
The yammering jerk is on the balcony yammering.
Riley leans in, rubs the rim of my glass, swishes into the bedroom, looks back and leaves the door ajar.
The moon in the sky is ripe. I finger my cigarette into a better position and take a drag, watching the ember as it burns towards me. I measure these moments with cigarettes. It's my thing.
I look down at the man cowering at my feet. He's stammering.
“What did I do? I don't understand. Why are you here? Who sent you?”
I never know the answers; I'm just a solution.
I take another drag and then the ash falls. I level the gun to his forehead and pull the trigger. His skull hits the asphalt before the ash does.
Lost in Translation
Miss Chang, who speaks no English, panics on the New York subway. She can't remember which stop is hers. Ed Bailey, standing nearby, doesn't understand her problem, but he dials a Chinese friend on his cell phone and hands it to Miss Chang. She says a few words and returns the phone. Ed talks with his friend.
“They speak different dialects,” Ed explains to the other passengers.
“I know a linguist,” volunteers another commuter. “May I call her?” Ed hands him the phone, and he dials. While everyone waits, Miss Chang gets off at the next stop.
Franklin F. Gould Jr.,
Don Coyote of La Mesa
Don Coyote and his sidekick Sancho head west to right wrongs.
Sancho steers the old Mustang on Beach Boulevard, encountering a rowdy mob. Don jumps from the Mustang, surges into the sweaty bodies and leaps between a battling man and woman.
“Stop,” Don cries, facing the man. Bam! Woman hits him from behind. He turns. Wham! Slugged by the man.
As Sancho drags the unconscious Don back to Mustang he sees the man and woman kissing.
Heading home, Don mumbles, “Did I do an impossible-dream thing?”
“Yes,” says Sancho. “You brought love to war.”
Don sighs and closes his eyes.
Dave sold his soul to the devil yesterday for a couple of bucks and a cigarette.
It may not seem like a lot, but Dave took an economics class or two in college; he knows that, in today's volatile economy, a few bucks today can be a few hundred bucks tomorrow can be a few million bucks next month--all it takes is a sound investment strategy.
(Dave also has self-esteem issues and an almost pathological inability to negotiate. Just ask him what he paid for that shitty '92 Sentra.)
Regardless, it was the best goddamn cigarette Dave'd ever had.
Dr. Quick, my cardiologist, says that my heart's voltage is all wrong. “If you think of your heart as a fuse box,” he says, “yours has a short circuit.” He holds out his hairy fist and squeezes, as if to make it beat. “Sometimes a random impulse throws off the rhythm. That's when you'll feel it wobble, then race out of control.” His fist is now pumping spastically, like the puppet of my heart is going to explode. For a few seconds we both watch, waiting to see what will happen.
She slid the stems of the white roses into the glass vase and positioned them neatly on the kitchen counter.
He came in from the bedroom and placed one more suitcase by the front door.
“That's the last one,” he said.
She cleaned a bit of dust off of the countertop.
“I'm leaving now,” he stated.
She smiled at the roses.
“Do you even hear me?”
He sighed, picked up his bags and walked out the door.
She touched one of the white petals, smelled its aroma and then gently pushed the vase off the countertop and onto the floor.
Troy Davis was the 38-year-old embodiment of the boy who cried wolf. His time between blackouts and pizza-delivery was spent sorting through the strands of tiny lies he had woven into a crippling web that entirely consumed his lonely life. Troy's fabrication of his past left him without the prospect of a fulfilling future. He had alienated every person that ever tried to love him and been abandoned by every person he ever tried to love. One night he told me that he wanted to die; it was the first time I ever believed a word he said.
“Four! Four feckin' eggs! “Ye'd tink the ruddy chickens were selling eggs for their own account!”
The sturdy woman emerged from the ramshackle coop muttering through the scraggly woolen scarf wrapped high over her nose, palming several speckled eggs. Chicken Mary preferred the ancient handmade scarf to those “fancy Chinese” garments she saw in the Dunnes in Galway when she went to the city once a month for her tin of biscuits.
“Ye don't want to be getting comfortable in that stinkin' henhouse” she'd often say. “And a fancy store-bought scarf will send ye down the path to goodfernothingness.”
The groundhog flew through the back window of the Subaru like a missile, embedding its head in the back seat.
Before flight, the mummified groundhog, wrapped in medium-weight rope, was proudly mounted on the roof with a plastic armadillo in red, white and blue armor holding an American flag. Traveling at 60 mph, the armadillo's flag flapped and the mummified groundhog's hair fluffed. Inside, the driver with flowing white beard and yarmulke slugged a drink happily and chatted with his nonexistent companion, failing to notice traffic stopping. Then the ancient Celica struck, crumpled and sent the animals flying.