Gramps’s Stereo … and … The Watcher

And so with another episode of my podcast, Slice Of Life Stories, I offer two short stories. As I read these I was reminded of some readers who complain that somebody always dies in my stories. Well, not in every story, but all too frequently, and these stories are no exception.

As always, this is the Spotify Link, but it’s also available in the ITunes Store, on the Apple Podcast app, and other podcast platforms.

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What NaNoWriMo Means To Me

National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo, is what started my writing life. For the uninitiated, it’s a creature of the internet age. An on-line effort to get people writing. The “objective” is to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November.

For years, I toyed with the idea of writing a novel. It was something I wanted to try some day. The only problem was that I had no idea about how to go about doing the thing. I’d occasionally have these ideas for opening lines or opening scenes, but I had no idea how to go further than that.

One day, a good friend who knew of this wish of mine told me about NaNoWriMo. It was the end of October. I believe it was 2003. I looked it up and then a magical thing occurred. I outlined (and I use that term loosely) a story in my head and on November 1, I started writing.

I didn’t write 50,000 words during that month. I think it was somewhere around 20,000 over the next couple of months. Than I stalled until I bought a laptop so I could write while being with my family, instead of going into the office and isolating myself from my young kids.

A year later, I had a novel that would eventually become One Night in Bridgeport. And the door was blown wide open. I’ve been writing ever since, although I’ve struggled with imposter syndrome, doubt, and writer’s block for several years now.

In the years since, I’ve tried NaNoWriMo two other times. Those efforts never went very far because I couldn’t turn off my internal editor, my internal critic. NaNoWriMo requires something that I typically don’t have — the ability to just write, to just let the words come out and type them and hope that it all makes sense. That’s just not the way my writing has developed over the last 18 years. I think about things a lot and my internal critic tells me regularly that what I’m doing is crap. As a result, this November tradition hasn’t done much for me since 2003.

As November 2021 approached, I thought of giving it a try again. It’s been a number of years since my last effort. I thought that maybe I could use NaNoWriMo to kick start something, to finish a WIP, to do something. Anything. It’s been months since I’ve done any serious writing. Maybe this was the time.

Then, in October, I wrote a short story via a writing exercise I put up on WritersSupportingWriters, and I decided to use NaNoWriMo to see if I could take that story further. Turn it into a novel.

To do that, I had to turn off that damn internal voice of mine. Or maybe it is internal voices. Because there are many voices having a conversation in my head. I wasn’t sure I could do that.

I needed to try. So, now, a little over half way through November, I have 25,000 words on this story. I’ve adopted the NaNoWriMo ethos and am just writing and writing. And whenever that little voice starts to make itself known, I shut it down. I am writing.

I know that I’ll have to go back and do a lot of work on this story if I want it to be anything real, but for now, it’s good to just write. That said, I’m getting a little worn out by the daily routine. I’m trying really hard to keep up with the word count. To meet the goal of 50,000 words. Last night, I wrote some, but not enough. For the first time this month, I’ve fallen behind the pace I need to be on to meet the goal.

And tonight, instead of writing the story, I’m writing this post. It’s time to get back to the story. NaNoWriMo, don’t fail me now.

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Sunbaked Sand

A story first published in The First Line and also found in Shady Acres and Other Stories.

(A note: for some reason, Anchor didn’t let me add background music. But you may hear a leaf blower and a dog barking in the background.)

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A Double Feature

Season 2, Episode 3 of Slice of Life Stories features two poems – It Starts and An Apocalyptic Love Poem. As always, it’s not just available on Spotify. You can find it on other podcast platforms, including the ITunes Store and the Apple Podcast app.

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The Smoker’s Club

Episode Two of the second season of Slice of Life Stories is up. Here’s the Spotify link. Or you can find it in other podcast platforms, including the ITunes Store and the Apple Podcast App.

https://open.spotify.com/episode/0RZP3J20218MI8HLdcGpNC?si=OVJjgWXYTkKHKK419RUusQ

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Slice of Life Stories Podcast

And so Season Two begins. Unlike with the first season, which was a six episode serialized new story written as I recorded the thing, this season will be just me reading some of my earlier work.

I’m going to focus on stories that have been published by others. There are at least five of these. And once I’ve recorded those, the final two episodes will be two stories I’ve posted on this blog. Two stories that I particularly like.

First up … The Ice Cream Man, first published at toasted-cheese.com, a long time ago, and also found in my collection, The Maria Lights and Other Stories.

(A note: I’ve given up on figuring out how to share the links from Anchor. So this is the link to the podcast on Spotify. The podcast is available in a bunch of other places, including the Apple podcast app and the ITunes Store.)

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Beelzebub and Lucifer, Episode 6

So … some preliminaries first.

This is why I shouldn’t try a serial format until I have the whole thing wrapped up. I did the first few episodes on consecutive days. Then had a bit of a break before episode four, then a longer break until episode five, and it’s been a month now since then.

There really isn’t any excuse. I knew what I wanted to do to end this. Although the final interaction with the inmate was a complete surprise for me. But life happens – work, cycling, a weekend away, other things – and this took a back seat for a little while.

This has been an experiment for me. It likely shows. Four of the episodes I wrote before recording. Two episodes – four and six – were off the top of my head. As a result there are differences in how the four were narrated versus the two. I like the two episodes that were off the top of my head, but I don’t know if I could do that for an entire story.

I’m curious how other people record their stories. Do you just read the story as written? Do you try for different voices for the different characters? I don’t listen to audio books, so I don’t know how this is done by the professionals. 😉

Anyway, here you go. Episode 6 – the grand finale. Now I need to figure out what is next. This is on Spotify and is alos available on the Apple Podcasts app. There is another podcast with the same name. Mine is the one with the picture of a sunset.

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Facilitation

While I take a bit of a break from Beelzebub and Lucifer (I know how it will end and I think I have two episodes left — plan on completing the thing next week), I started a writing exercise over at Writers Supprting Writers. A seven day prompt where I post a word each day that the writer has to include in a story, in the next few hundred words of the story. Other than that, there are no rules. No genre requirement. No length requirement. Just write and incorporate those words as they come along each day.

Here’s my piece. I’m calling it Facilitation. The bolded words are the prompt words for each day.

“How was your weekend, babe?”

I took a breath. Or two. “It was okay,” I replied.

John leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Just okay? Because I wasn’t there with you?”

I pushed him away and looked out the office door. “Stop it. Somebody might see.”

“Oh, come on. Nobody is here yet. You know that. We’ve got a few minutes. It’s not 9:00 yet.”

He wasn’t wrong. One of the things that always amazed me about my job. A place where the work hours were supposed to be 8:00 to 5:00, but most of the staff didn’t show up until 9:00. All while still taking their lunch break and smoke breaks and walk breaks and coffee breaks and there ‘oh, I just need a minute’ breaks. And then having to leave early for a kid’s game or a doctor appointment or … hell, a manicure.

“Yeah, but I told you. Never here. We have to be careful.” I looked at him, a couple of feet away from me with that look in his eyes. The one that told me how eager he was for me. “My husband … I can’t. Not yet.”

John sat down in one of the chairs in front of my desk, right as Sylvia, the front desk receptionist walked by my open doorway. I motioned towards her with my hand and whispered, “See …”

“Fine. What happened this weekend, Chloe?”

“It’s nothing really. It’s just that my daughter’s team was eliminated from the tournament. She’s heartbroken, and I am for her as well.”

“Soccer?”

“No, John,” I sighed. “Not soccer. That’s my son. Clarice plays softball. If they had won, her team would have gone to the regional tournament in Reno next week.”

“She’ll get over it.”

“Well, she hasn’t yet. She’s been in tears since Saturday when they lost.”

“It’s just a game.” John shrugged. “Maybe she shouldn’t take it so seriously.”

I sat back in my chair and looked at this man who had filled a hole in me that I didn’t know existed until he came along. I’d taken a chance, dipped a toe in the deep end, and then just jumped. Here we were now, talking about one of my girls like it was nothing, and what I really wanted to do was run away from it all. My husband, who never seemed to care about where I was going or what I was feeling. My job, which sucked the soul out of me on a daily basis. And the girls. I loved them so, so much. But sometimes I wondered whether I could finish the job of raising them without irrepairably harming them.

The softball tournament and Clarice’s response was a perfect example. If I had been a better mom, would she have reacted as though it was the end of the world. No, correct that … she was still reacting that way. She had begged me to allow her to stay home from school. 

I finally relented, with an admonition, “Only today.” I leaned over and kissed her forehead. “Take a break. Relax. But tomorrow, you’re back in school. Right?”

“Yes, Mom,” she said with her traditional eye roll, which told me she just might be okay. Even as I worried about the long run. How all of this would be in the years ahead.

***

“John,” I leaned forward, “you don’t have kids. You can’t possibly …” He held up his hands to stop me. Something Mike did all the time. Something that drove me absolutely crazy. “Don’t you dare do that!”

“What?”

“Don’t shush me. Don’t interrupt me. Don’t.”

“Chloe, what is going on with you today?”

I settled back in the chair, looked at my computer screen and saw that there was an email from Mike. I clicked on it. He wanted to know what was going to be for dinner that night. I … just … couldn’t. Not anymore.

I turned my attention back to John. “I don’t know.” I shrugged. “I’m just sad for my little girl right now. Even if she isn’t that little anymore.” He opened his mouth and this time I held up my hand to shush him. “I’m sad about a lot of things, John. A lot of things. Can I just be sad? Without having to explain myself? Please?”

John stood and looked at me. “I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do. Just know that I love you.” He turned and walked out of my office.

I turned back to my computer screen and Mike’s email. What do you want? I typed and clicked on send. 

I went and closed my office door and sat back down at my desk, leaning back in my chair. I thought about where I was. With Mike. With John. With my kids.

But back to Mike. And John. I began to feel like the whole thing was just … well, redundant. When Mike entered my life, he lit a fire in me. Sure the embers had kind of died down as we settled into married life and kids and work and bills and days and weeks and months would go by with barely an intimate thought or touch passing between us. Then John came along and he rekindled that fire in me. But … did that make it right? Did … oh hell, I was so fucked up. I put my head on my desk and tried to resist the tears, grateful that the door was closed, the blinds were drawn and nobody would see. 

I eventually got myself together, opened the door, and went back to my desk to get some work done. Emails, phone calls, a brief meeting with the big, big boss. She wanted some answers to some questions a reporter had asked her. The comms director was there. We spent a few minutes noodling over the questions, trying to massage some answers that would appear harmless. It’s what happens when the big, big boss is accused of sexual harassment. 

Mike finally responded to my email and said he wanted tacos. Tacos. Because tacos every week for years was just one of those things we did. One of those things he always wanted. So … tacos it would be. Chicken or beef? I asked in reply. 

Before I could do anything else, he answered back, Adobada!  

Nope. Not gonna happen. Unless you do it. That takes hours to marinade. I don’t get home in time. He knew that, too. 

Fine. Beef then.

I let out a big sigh as I walked out of my office and headed towards the kitchen. I needed some coffee, preferably an infusion straight into my veins. Since that wasn’t possible, I poured myself a cup and went back to my desk. My phone, which I had left behind for the meeting with the big, big boss, was vibrating there.

A text from Clarice. Mommy can you come home?

I sat down and looked at the words. She was fourteen. I couldn’t remember the last time she had called me Mommy. I sent a text back. What’s wrong? Can it wait until I get home?

My phone was silent for a moment. I took a sip of coffee. Looked at my computer. There was an email from John. I could see a few words in the window that showed the beginning of the email. It wasn’t work-related. I wished for not the first time that he would stop emailing and before I knew what I was doing, I picked up my phone and texted to my sad daughter what I meant to email to John. Stop it!

Seconds later. What!! She even added a crying emoji.

Shit. I looked at the text string, saw what I had done. That wasn’t meant for you, honey. 

What did Dad do now? Came her rapid response. 

Damn, it was amazing how perceptive she was sometimes. I shouldn’t have been shocked, even if the text wasn’t meant for her father. Clarice had started asking questions that hinted at a bit of knowledge about the state of her parents’ marriage.  But I couldn’t tell her who the text was really meant for. I ignored her question. Tell you what. I’ll come home in a little bit. What do you want for lunch?

I got a happy face emoji and a taco emoji. Tacos for dinner tonight. Come up with something else.

Meanwhile, I emailed Mike and told him I was headed home because our daughter wasn’t doing good and I’d get the adobada started. I got another happy face emoji and wanted to scream. But I didn’t. I held it in, like I’d been doing for years.

On my way out the door, I stopped by John’s office. I didn’t go further than the doorway. “Hey. Just letting you know I’m headed home.” He stood up and took a step towards me. “No. Clarice needs me. But … we need to talk. Lunch tomorrow.” I turned and fled before he could say anything. I wasn’t interested in another emoji, or John’s in-person version of same. I just needed to get home.

Driving home, I started to think things through. By the time I hit the driveway, I knew it was time to facilitate a few things. I took Clarice the meatball sandwich she had requested when tacos were a no. “How you doing, honey?” I asked when I went into her room.

She sniffled and took the sandwich. “I’m okay.”

“Yeah?”

“I guess so. I mean … it’s just a game, right?”

“Yes, it is.” I sat down on her bed next to her and brushed her hair from her face. “It’s just a game and you’ll have a lot more games to play … and win … in the years ahead.”

“I really wanted to win on Saturday, though.”

“I know, and that’s okay, too. Just realize you won’t win every game.” She took a bite of her sandwich and smiled up at me. “You’ll go back to school tomorrow, right?”

Clarice sighed dramatically. “If I must.”

“You must.”

I rose and went into the kitchen and unpacked the groceries I had purchased to make the adobada tacos. I got everything together, marinated the pork and then went looking for Mike. He was able to work from home, but he took it seriously. He wouldn’t have taken a break to get the adobada going. No, he stayed in his basement office all day long no matter what. Doing who knows what. I knew my husband was a consultant. I knew it had something to do with emergency preparedness and business continuity, but beyond that, what exactly he did all day was beyond me.

John was looking at his computer when I walked in. There was a spreadsheet on the screen and he was squinting at the numbers. I sat in the recliner he kept down there for his afternoon siesta — the only break he allowed himself during the work day. The squish of the leather alerted him to my presence and he turned his chair to face me.

“Hey. What’s going on?” he asked.

“Nothing. I brought lunch for Clarice. Have you talked to her?”

“No. I’ve been …”

“Of course. You’ve been working. You couldn’t bother to notice that your daughter is heartbroken, could you?” I stood up and leaned against his desk. “What is it you actually do down here all day, any way?” I had asked the question before and never really got a satisfactory answer.

“Work. You know that.” 

“Sure, but what exactly? I want to know what keeps you so focused down here you don’t even notice what’s going on in your family. With your … our … daughter.” I started re-arranging the papers on his desk, shuffling them here and there, generally just making a mess of them.

“Stop that,” he grunted, moving to protect his desktop from my interfering hands.

“Do you even realize what’s going on with me? With us?”

“What are you talking about?” Mike got all his papers away from me and was starting to leaf through them, re-organizing them, not looking at me. 

“You must know by now.” I sat back down in the recliner, moved the foot rest out and kicked back. I rested my hands on my stomach and looked at my husband. 

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” 

“Mike! We need to talk.”

“I have to work.” He turned back to his computer screen. “Can this wait until tonight?”

“Fine.” I slammed the foot rest closed and stormed up the stairs.

That night, after a dinner of tacos that Mike asked for and I made, I went to talk to him after cleaning up, but he was back in his basement again. 

So much for facilitating a conversation that might change the dynamic of our marriage. I gave up.

I texted John and suggested we take a long lunch the next day. Maybe at his place. In response, I got another smiley face emoji. 


I had made a decision. It involved a swan song for my marriage. I was going to put all my marbles in another basket. That night, I slept on the sofa. When John tried to talk to me in the morning, I had three words for him. Not the ones one might think in a marriage. No. I just told him, “It’s too late.” I walked out the door without looking back. I was going to have a great day, spend a little time with John, and then move on.

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Beelzebub and Lucifer, Episode 5

We’re back from our little diversion in jail and back in the apartment.

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When A Pet Dies

I’ve taken a bit of a break from Beelzebub and Lucifer, but I hope to get back to it soon. In the meantime, here’s a piece I submitted somewhere and got the accustomed rejection.

When A Pet Dies

“What should we do with the body?” 

“I don’t know. It’s too big to flush down the toilet. Remember when we flushed my goldfish when I was a kid? The mouse, too.” 

“You flushed the mouse down the toilet?” 

“Sure. It was a little guy …” 

“Do you remember what you named the fish?” 

“Yeah. Goldie?” 

“Wow, that’s some creative shit, right there. What did you name the mouse? I forgot.” 

“Little Guy.” 

“Even more creative.” Bob, my brother, shook his head. “You never were the smartest one in the bunch.” 

“So what.” I looked down at GP’s corpse. “You got the creativity. You can paint and write and have that damn voice of yours. But I got the athletic talent, the physical prowess … I mean, you couldn’t even hit one of those bowls with a ping pong ball let alone actually get the ball inside one.” 

“Woohoo. Sparky has talent because he got a goldfish at the county fair.” 

“It’s not just that, you know. You never made it out of right field when we played baseball, or got off the bench in football.” I took my eyes of the dead animal and glanced at Bob. “Besides, what’s all that creativity got for you. You work at Chili’s, for christsake.” 

“You just wait.” Bob started to wrap GP in a stained dish towel. “I’m gonna try out for American Idol next year and write a book about it. You’ll see!” 

“Sure you are.” I laughed, hoping that Bob would laugh with me. “Just like I’m going to be playing first base for the Cubbies next year. Maybe you can write a book about that.” 

He didn’t laugh. “Whatever.” GP was fully wrapped in the towel. “So what are we going to do?” 

“We can bury it.” 

“Where? There’s no backyard here. We live in a frickin’ apartment. Haven’t you noticed there’s nothing but concrete.” 

“Mom and Dad’s?” 

“No way. I’m not going over there.” Bob shook his head. “Have you forgotten what happened the last time we were there?” 

“No. I haven’t. But maybe it’s time.” 

“Nope. Not gonna happen. Dad gets drunk, he yells at me, makes me feel worthless, calls me a pansy and you and Mom just sit there. You want to go and bury your god-damn guinea pig, you go right ahead.” 

“Well, hell, if you’re not going, I’m not either.” 

We stood quietly looking at GP, yes, my guinea pig named GP. Bob wasn’t wrong about my lack of creativity. But then, you don’t need creativity to be able to hit a curve ball or to make a three-point shot. You just need to block everything out of your head and focus on a single spot. That’s what I’d been doing for years. 

“Hey, I know,” Bob said. “Don’t they consider guinea pig a delicacy in Bolivia?” 

“I think that’s Peru.” 

“Nope. It’s Bolivia. I’m sure of it.” 

“It’s Peru. Or Argentina. But it’s not Bolivia.” I thought for a second. “I remember this … uh … Bolivia … they’re all about llama jerky.” 

“Llama jerky? You mean like beef jerky, but with llama?” 

“Yep. Llamas, not guinea pigs.” 

“Huh. Llama jerky. I’ll be damned.” 

We stood quietly some more, pondering the mystery of what to do with a dead guinea pig. “What were you going to do?” I finally asked. “Send it to some poor family in Bolivia for their Sunday meal?” 

A dark look passed over Bob’s face. “Nah. What do you think I am? An idiot?” 

“Well …” 

“No. I wasn’t thinking we could send it to Bolivia.” He paused for a second, tried to smile, but failed, choosing to shrug instead. “I was thinking we could look up a recipe for guinea pig and see if it’s any good.” 

“What the hell are you talking about?” I picked up GP and took a step back. “Let me repeat myself – what the hell?!” 

“It was a joke, Sparky, just a joke.” Bob sat down at the kitchen table we had been standing around. “Relax a bit. That’s one of your problems. You’re too serious.” 

“You just suggested eating my guinea pig, and I’m the one with the problem?” 

“Fine. I’m sorry. I am really sorry that I made a tasteless joke.” He held his hands out and dipped his head to me. “Now, sit down.” 

I did. “What are we going to do?” I asked. 

“There’s the dumpster out back.” 

“True.” He had a point. The dumpster was probably the only option, but it hardly seemed dignified at all. Goldie got a burial at sea. Sort of. When our dog died, Dad in between drinking jags, dug a hole and we buried Speckles under the peach tree. We always said things when we buried our pets. “But I can’t see just throwing GP into the dumpster. We need to say something, don’t we?” 

“What, some kind of ‘dearly departed’ prayer or something?” Now he did laugh. “You’re not exactly the religious type, you know.” 

“So …” 

“Hold on a sec,” Bob said, interrupting me. “It’s a god-damn guinea pig, Sparky. A … guinea … pig. Come on, just find a shoe box, tape it shut, and let’s go throw it in the dumpster.” 

He had a point. Maybe I was just tired. “Okay. Let’s do it,” I said as tears started to well up. I sniffed. 

“You’re not crying, are you?” 

“Just a bit.” 

“My God, crying over …” 

“Stop it, would you. Can you just let me this one time feel what I’m feeling and not knock me for it? Just this once? Can you do that?” 

“Fine.” Bob remained quiet while I wiped my eyes and took a couple of deep breaths. “You ready?” 

“I guess.” 

Bob went into his bedroom and came back with the required shoe box. Nike, of course. I gently placed GP into the box and put the lid on. Bob wrapped tape around it a few times to make sure it stayed closed and off we went. 

It was when we turned the corner of our apartment building and I saw the dumpster when I realized I couldn’t do it. “Bob?” I stopped walking. He took a couple more steps before turning back to me. 

“What now?” 

“I can’t … I can’t throw him into a dumpster.” I pointed at the rusting piece of metal with piles of garbage spilling out. “I mean … look at it. I’m not going to just toss GP in there and walk away.” I turned around and started walking back to our apartment. “No, I’m not.” 

“Sparky. Come on.” Bob got ahead of me and turned around, holding his hands out to stop my forward movement. “It’s just a guinea pig.” 

“To you.” I brushed past him and kept going. 

“What are you going to do then?” 

“Mom and Dad’s.” 

“Aah, man.” 

“You don’t need to come with me.” I looked back at Bob as I started to climb the stairs to our apartment. “Dad might call you a pansy again.” 

“I’m going.” 

“Whatever. Do what you want.” 

In the apartment, I grabbed my car keys. Bob joined me as I walked to my car. Once inside, I handed him the shoe box. We sat quietly on the drive to our parents’ home. The place we grew up. Where things happened. Where sometimes the sun shone and other times it was a dark, dark place. We could only wonder what we would find when we got there. 

When I pulled up in front of their house, Bob broke the silence. “How long has it been?” 

I thought about it. I remembered being there for Mom’s 60th birthday. It was a hot June day. But I couldn’t think of any time since then that we had seen our parents. “I don’t know. A couple of years maybe?” 

“Yeah. I think you’re right.” We sat in the car for a moment. “You ever call them? Either one?” 

“I talk to Mom every now and then. You?” 

“Same.” 

Bob heaved a sigh and opened his door. “Let’s go. Let’s get this done. Bury your damn guinea pig and get a beer.” 

“You buying?” 

“Sure. If that’s what it takes to get this over with.” 

We walked to their front door. Bob knocked. Mom opened the door. Her eyes lit up. “Boys!!” 

“Hey Mom,” we said simultaneously. 

“Come in, come in.”  

It was hard not to feel the infectious quality of our mother’s happiness that we were there. Maybe this was going to be okay. “Dad around?” I asked as we entered our childhood home. 

“Oh. I’m sure he’s around somewhere. Don’t know where.” She giggled quietly, averted her eyes from us, and ushered us into the family room. “It’s been so long. I’m so happy to see both of you. My boys.” 

Inside, nothing had changed. Mom had the family room furniture in the summer layout, with nothing blocking the sliding glass door to the backyard. The kitchen was spotless. There was a puzzle at one end of the dining room table.  

“What’s in the box?” Mom asked. 

“GP.” 

“GP?” 

“His guinea pig, Mom,” Bob said. “It’s dead. We came here to bury it.” 

“Oh my.” Mom put her hand to her mouth. “Are you okay?” 

Before I could reply, Bob did. “Of course he is. It’s a damn guinea pig.” 

“Shut up,” I said through gritted teeth. “Just shut up.” 

Bob sighed. “Whatever,” he mumbled before starting to walk towards the sliding glass door. “We thought he could bury it in the back where Speckles is.” 

“Well, sure.” Mom started walking towards the door to the garage. “I’ll get you boys a shovel.” She stopped and turned back to us. “Will you stay for dinner?” 

“Of course,” I replied, looking at Bob who had turned to me, quietly shaking his head back and forth. “Right, Bob?” He shook his head one last time and resumed his walk towards the backyard and the shady corner under the tree where our childhood dog was resting in peace. 

I followed behind Bob, with the box held in front of me. When Bob opened the sliding glass door and walked through, I heard him grunt, saw him slow to a stop. “Hey, Pops,” he said through what sounded to me like a clenched jaw. 

“Bob? Charlie?”  

“Hey, Dad,” I said. 

“Well, isn’t this a nice surprise?” Dad got up from his lounger, stumbled for a moment before righting himself. Behind him, I could see the small accumulation of beer cans on the table he kept next to the chair, along with a cheap paperback and a pack of cigarettes. Before he continued, he belched for good measure. “To what do I owe this pleasure? My boys paying a visit after, what, how long has it been?” He yawned, scratched his growing belly, and picked up a beer. “Cheers,” he said as he brought it to his mouth and guzzled from it. 

He was like a pig at a trough. Slurping and burping, and generally not caring about anything other than what was in his trough. Beer. Glorious, wonderful beer. It was pretty much how he’d gone through his entire life, or at least the part I was aware of. His wife was his slop-tender, pushed out of the way as soon as food was on his plate, or beer was put in front of him. From what I heard, it was the same way where he worked. Just a ravenous glutton unaware of others. 

“Cheers,” I said. “Ummm … my guinea pig died. We were going to bury him back in the corner. Under the tree.” 

“Well, isn’t that just too damn cute?” He turned to Bob then, looked him up and down. “And you, you’re along for the ride on this one? Of course, you are. You’re still soft, aintcha.” 

“I knew we shouldn’t have come here,” Bob said. 

“Dad, knock it off,” I said to him. “Bob didn’t want to do this. It was my idea. I couldn’t throw GP into the dumpster. You wanna call somebody soft, talk to me. I’m the soft one.” 

He looked back and forth between us, took another gulp out of his beer. “Hell, what did I ever do to deserve two weak-ass sons? You played sports. I took you to games. I taught you how to be men. And look at you now. Burying your stupid little guinea pig and your big brother is here, too. What are you, Bob, his support system? Hell.” 

Bob started walking towards our father. The look on his face told me that he intended on showing our dear old dad. I stepped between the two of them, placing the box that held GP on the table we used to eat at for summer barbecues. “Stop.” I placed my hands on Bob’s chest and gently pushed him. “Stop,” I repeated. 

He didn’t. He pushed into me. His eyes unfocused. His mouth clenched. 

“Stop,” I said again. Louder. And I pushed him back harder. “Bob. Go inside with Mom.” I realized then that Mom had never come out with the shovel. I had a feeling I knew why. She knew that nothing good would come of this and decided to hide herself away. If she didn’t see it. If she didn’t hear it. Maybe it never happened. 

“Screw it,” Bob spat at me. “I’m gone. This was a stupid idea. We should have never come here.” 

Bob walked back through the sliding glass door with me in close pursuit. “Bob, come on. Let’s just get this done. Ignore him. Can’t you do that?” 

“Nope. Not gonna happen. I’m outta here.” 

What could I do? He was my ride home. I followed him out to the car. It was only when we were out of the neighborhood and halfway to our apartment that I realized something. “Dammit. I left GP there.” 

“Too bad. So Sad.” 

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