Illustrations by Scrojo
Last year, after we published our sixth annual Fiction 101 contest, we got an e-mail from Walter Ritter of the theater group Write Out Loud. He wanted to know if it was OK for Write Out Loud to hold a staged reading of the stories that were published.
Oh, hell yeah, we said. Fantastic idea.
The event was held at the now-closed Caffe Forté in North Park, and it was a great time.
Write Out Loud and CityBeat are teaming up again this year, and this time the readings will happen from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Monday, Oct. 19, at Claire de Lune Coffee Lounge (2906 University Ave. in North Park). The event is free, so come on down and hear some talented folks read some whimsical little stories.
As usual, we so appreciate everyone who takes a chance at creativity and sends in their entries. This is one of our favorite issues of the year, and we couldn't do it without the contributions of you brave souls. Congratulations to all the winners, and we'll see you on Monday.
Mom did the Christian thing, welcoming a battered beautician into our home. Mary arrived from church with out-of-state plates and a bandaged face. Mom counseled her and prayed with her, dismissing our fascination with Mary's enormous feet, ugly hands and penchant for neckerchiefs. She'd been tormented enough, Mom warned, letting Mary transform her hair and makeup, “helping her feel empowered.” But Mary empowered Mom. Had her shopping Neiman Marcus, blending margaritas and country line dancing before the police caught up. Auto theft. Larceny. Fraud. His arrest ended Mom's “sinful self-indulgence” and our family never Boot Scoot Shuffled again.
Multinational conglomerate GeneralCorp was slumping. Years ago, in an unprecedented display of nepotism, the CEO had retired and appointed his 7-year-old nephew as replacement, citing qualifications including a 98% on a math quiz and S's in legibility. The youngster quashed doubts, however, uncannily predicting market trends in toys and snacks. But lately, in the executive's adolescence, the company had lost its direction. Acquiring tobacco companies and pornography studios proved unhealthy. The boy called a press conference to announce his new vision: They would attempt a merger with Little Debbie and try to get up her blouse. The investors cheered.
Scooby Dooby Do-es anybody want to please kill this ugly dog?
Owning the World's Ugliest Dog carries with it certain undeniable responsibilities. Feeding it, walking it, they're the obvious ones. But the degrooming process is far more intensive than people realize. There's the hair nappying. Mange enhancement. Claw filing. Tooth-plaque sculpting. Butt-smell chemistry (most people don't consider that one, but it affects the judges on a subconscious level). So, yeah, a lot of work. So when you get all the way to the semifinals at the Newark Civic Center and they tell you that your Ugly Dog is actually a 4-year-old child, it cuts deep. It cuts deep.
A man pushes through the glass doors into a white-tiled, heavily air-conditioned ice-cream shop and regards the contrast to the shimmering desert outside with indifference. The 90-plus heat. He regards the sweat stains under his arms and neck with the same indifference. The girl at the counter loses interest in her magazine and jumps to her tiptoes for a better view, running her tongue across her braces. She eyes the tattoos over his knuckles: “hate” on one and “hate” again on the other. He smiles and moves to the counter to order. He doesn't take off his sunglasses.
Rum and Coca-Cola
Grandpa fucked the Andrews Sisters in Tunisia in 1943. Got them drunk on Cuba Libres after a USO show and screwed them in his tent (one at a time in most tellings of the story, sometimes all at once). They wrote “Rum and Coca-Cola” to honor his lovemaking prowess.
His story seems spurious for several reasons, including repeated references to the “colored” sister (all three were Greek/Norwegian). Moreover, the song was written by Trinidadian calypso singer Rupert “Lord Invader” Grant.
I asked grandpa if he fucked Rupert, too.
“You don't know what the hell you're talking about,” he said.
The first time I came close to seeing a girl's boobs was in sixth grade during a game of truth or dare. She had stripped down to a lime green bra and blue jeans. Someone dared her to go into a bedroom with me and take off her bra. She looked uncomfortable, so once the door closed, I told her she could keep her clothes on. She sat and cried while I perused some Judy Blume books on a shelf. Later, she told everyone what happened, leaving out the part about the crying. Everyone said I was a faggot after that.
The Other Good Ones
The Record Deal
I went to a bar and got drunk. There was this guy singing. I told him my asshole brother could get him a record deal. The day the record came out the guy died. He had no family and had left everything to me. I spent all the money, got addicted to drugs, robbed a liquor store and shot the clerk. After prison I started singing. One night at a bar this guy came up to me and said he could make me rich. The day the record came out I got drunk and drove over some people at a crosswalk.
David T. Crowe II
All the dignity of Diablo Cody
I decided that my ticket to fame and fortune would be to impersonate a famous person on Twitter. Get a few thousand followers, and then turn that into a book deal. Piece of cake. My first account, a fake LeBron James, got shut down within days. I set my sights a bit lower. Fake Guy Who Played “McNulty” on The Wire. Nobody wanted to follow that. Fake Bil Keane, author of “Family Circus.” Massive failure, threat of devastating lawsuit within hours of creating it. But 856 followers in, Fake Clarence Thomas seems to be going well. Fingers crossed, of course.
I overheard Dan on the phone today. With a “Rabbi Rebecca.” What's up with that?
Dan was raised Jewish, but he fell out with his parents (and religion) when he brought me, his shiksa girlfriend, home. Teeth gnashed. Mama cried. They never spoke again. Twenty years it's been.
And he's been acting all mid-life weird. Like yesterday. He chided me for flipping off a guy who jay-limped in front of our car. (Like Dan's never done it!)
Now this call. I heard them arrange to meet.
What do you bet she's a raven-haired … What's Yiddish for slut?
The bottle whistled by.
“Hey, baby, don't be like that.” Touring. He had a steady at home. He had a steady here.
This wasn't her. She was holed up in a dark corner of the bar. Watching.
“You didn't even tell me you were here!”
“We got here late and had to play,” thankful the set was done.
“You never called!”
“Look, we gotta load out. Just wait over there,” he motioned to the dark corner where she waited and watched. He hoisted the amp and joined the procession of moving gear.
“Cat fight!” someone yelled.
Winner take all.
When the Carnival Comes to Town
The carnival boss don't ask my age, cause I look strong.
“You work hard, I pay good,” he grunts.
A hawker with snake tattoos on his neck, black teeth and booze breath shows me how to short-change customers. Inside the tent, a fat lady strips, squats and summersaults backwards without no music. “Make some noise, muda fuckas,” she yells.
The place smells like wet sawdust and rotting fish. Customers get mad and say the show's a gyp. Mom says it's good to have a summer job and meet new people. She don't know.
Once, I turned my brain upside down and let the contents spill out (using a piece of double-sided wax paper in case of germs). Out poured some old memories: high school equations, the taste of last night's kimchi-fried rice and the house my parents used to call The Blue Crab (for reasons never made clear to me). But the weirdest thing that came out was a beaten-up old red shoe. I tried it on, but it didn't fit at all (too tight). I think it used to belong to my friend Brian, who had lost it once and looked everywhere.
Adam snapped awake with the realization that, although time continued at the same rate, his experience of it was accelerating. He jumped off the couch ready for action, but nothing seemed worth spending his fleeting life on. Agitated, he milled around, rearranged the silverware, then went in the bathroom and Q-tipped, searching his pupils for purpose. Nothing. He panicked, stripped, sprinted outside and stuffed as much raw experience into his senses as he could before it all disappeared. He ate roses, punched mailmen, licked egg cartons, frottaged pandas, and within minutes he died 45 years later in a mental institution.
Loyd Said Let Me Dance
A pool guy is what Loyd was. When the bills weren't paid and dreams weren't met, he looked for a second job. The strip club wouldn't hire him. “Our patrons are straight men,” they said. So Loyd filed a discrimination lawsuit. Loyd said “Let me dance,” and the judge agreed.
The first night Loyd got on stage to many boos. However, the female dancers admired his courage and rewarded him with their tips. The booing men's money went straight to Loyd's pocket. Loyd never danced again, but for only one night Loyd said “Let me dance.”
In the Beginning
He was puzzled when she started a book club. It was an idea fraught with challenges. She couldn't read. Books hadn't been invented. Paper still disguised itself as trees. What's more, they were the only two people in existence. So when she didn't invite him to join, his puzzlement turned into resentment.
Still, anything was better than hearing her talk. She'd been a complainer since day one.
“These fig leaves make me look fat.”
“You never take me anywhere.”
“But I think I'd like apples.”
And besides, she'd been talking about an “open-dating” policy lately. Some snake in the next county.
Suburbia Don't Sing
Don't look at the neighbors. They have guns.
Once their daughter came over dressed in a suit and tried to tell us our house was being foreclosed.
A guitar screams from inside.
Our neighbors hate us.
Downstairs my brother is having a jam session.
“Grab something,” the drummer says to me. “Play!”
I grab a gong. Hefting the mallet I swing, catching the vibrations in my chest. I know their band will get them nowhere.
You can't rob a bank with a gong.
The bass player was eaten by a shark. He had, for some reason, been flying the plane when it went down.
The lead vocalist drowned. He wasn't as good of a swimmer as he thought.
The keyboard player killed the guitarist in a dispute over coconuts. He later fell in love with a chimpanzee and disappeared into the trees.
The drummer, quietly resourceful (and handy with a spear), survived in solitude for a month. In the helicopter, he vomited.
The trick was pretending you loved it, dripping succulent “Mmm's” and “Oh, Daddy's” while the client slammed into you like returning a shopping cart. You couldn't seem impatient, even when your muscles tensed and your watch taunted “check me” at the end of your wrist. Even if he twisted your nipples like toothpaste caps, slapped your ass like a TV on the fritz or (god forbid) fell out and had to start all over, you giggled with glee and pictured diamonds and cupcakes and rolling on a mattress stuffed with millions. How dare Jimmy tell Mom you're “not really” an actress.
City Boy Wanders Into the Wrong Neighborhood in Rural Ireland While Looking for a Trout Stream
Yew trees and Elms crowded the lane, branches reaching to pick pockets. Trunks leaned against stacked stonewalls, shards of green glass cemented onto the capstones. Sinister squirrels hunched provocatively, throwing signs and chattering in a threatening language. Different from squalid innercity alleys only by the species of hoodlums. Alex shivered and reached for his wallet.
Mickey, his country guide, called back as he picked his way through the low branches, “Do you know the secret of life?”
Mickey paused and grinned through the gloom.
“Sing like nobody's listening. Dance like nobody's watching. And whatever you do, don't trust the squirrels.”
The Only Way Out
“Why are you smiling?” the hijacker asked, gun to the passenger's head. “What are you, religious?”
“No, not at all, at least I don't think so,” she said.
He thrust the gun into her temple to make her flinch, reclaim his status.
She felt the need to explain. “It's just that I've wasted so much time wondering, dreading, how and when I'll die. Cervical cancer? Car accident? Food poisoning? Swine flu? AIDS? The slow painful anonymous death of Alzheimer's? Now, finally, I know the answer! I almost want to thank you.”
The hijacker couldn't decide whether to shoot her or not.
It was sufficiently appalling that everyone had arrived more than fashionably late. Now the appetizers were going to be delayed and the salmon would be either cold or congealed. A good hostess plans for such contingencies. Nothing some chilling and capers wouldn't correct. But now everyone was ignoring the place cards—which perfectly complemented the centerpiece, thank you very much—and just sitting willy-nilly about her table. She politely tapped her spoon against her glass. Louder. Loudly. “Can everyone please sit in your assigned fucking seats?!” Silence. “Please?” she repeated. A good hostess always suggests rather than demands.
There's a girl in the banyan tree.
Tangled dark hair, turquoise bikini, dirty yellow sarong. She's half hidden between thick spidery branches, tan legs like tree limbs, clutching a striped beach towel, which she occasionally presses against her face.
Three days now, and she won't come down. We bring her fruit, bread, coconut milk and decorate the tree with shells, orchids and jasmine. We sit on the sand below, singing ancient island prayers as she watches the ocean swell, curl, crash, waiting to see what the tide will bring.
We know she'll be lucky if even his board washes up.
The Shitty Driver
A cop rear-ended me. I got out and told him he was a shitty driver. He pulled out his baton and beat me. I woke up in the hospital just as they were putting me back together. A cute nurse put a gown on me. I got a boner. She smiled, jabbed me in the ass with drugs, and I passed out. Later, someone was screaming in the next bed. I opened the curtain. It was the cop from before and he had been shot in the face. I watched him die and told him he was a shitty driver.
David T. Crowe II
In Vegas, the stripper talked about C.S. Lewis, the theory of morality as evidence of God. It's like, because we know right from wrong, she said, straddling me with long legs. There must be a God. She unhooked her top. It makes total sense, she said, grinding against my crotch, because where else do morals come from? My hand slid down her thigh and she grabbed it. No touching. Her breasts rolled over my face. These things don't evolve, she said. Goodness, evil. Her fingers were in my hair, her breath hot against my neck. It must come from God.
Our Usual Booth
“Did you hear about that computer simulation they ran,” my younger brother says, “where they proved a zombie onslaught would destroy humanity?”
“Nope. ‘They' have too much time on their hands, don't they?” I slip my menu back behind the napkin dispenser. “You ordering?”
He shrugs and reaches for the menu. “Maybe a little something.”
“You worried about zombies?”
“I just thought we'd maybe add a Zombie Onslaught addendum to our loan agreement.”
“Like the Acts of God addendum we added last month?”
“Yeah. Like that.”
“And the Acts of Very Disgruntled Third World Dictators addendum?”
Twilight on Bourbon Street. I'm in Rick's Cabaret, for happy hour and the free buffet.
She walks in and sits down next to me; all red hair, lips, dress and matching shoes. I'm Ginger, she says. She's a Public Administration major at UNO. My bachelor's was in PA, I say. She volunteers with a community-based organization. I work with CBOs.
She invites me to a neighborhood redevelopment meeting, gives me her number and says she has to go to work.
Five minutes later, she's on the stage, peeling her dress off under a spotlight, while the DJ plays “Sexual Healing.”
Mark Ben Friedlander
East San Diego
None of the residents of Pointe Falls were sure just what they saw that day, but the lazy-eyed sweeper from Papa Verne's market swears it was the devil. An hour after her father's body was planted into Saint Francis' cemetery, little Lorna Verne was seen arguing with a peach tree. She knocked on its bark three times, or maybe twice, and the trunk burst open like a scream. No one actually saw the tree take her—but they buried her torn dress next to her father that Sunday. And that's when the peaches in the market started to bleed.
When my father bought a foreclosed house we could afford, we were elated. But there was a catch: We discovered a hellhole in the kitchen. We put a dining table over it and pretended to ignore it. But whenever a sinner in town died, we had to drop the body into the hole. We thought it was fun. Soon it got old, and we resented the intrusion. Then the city started paying us—two hundred bucks a drop. Yeah, the arrangement amounted to sin. On the other hand, when the time came, we didn't have to go very far.
If your cat shits on my doorstep again, she said, I will stitch up its asshole.