Monday, September 29, 2008

Rosie Heindel: A Story

King of a Glass Cage

My wife had taken our son to the restroom and I was glad to get a moment by myself. I sat on the bench taking in the majestic power of the lions. I shifted my weight uncomfortably as I studied the pathetic enclosure that kept them in. Thick glass separated the noble beasts from the carnivorous crowds. The cage was no larger than a modern day suburban house. Two lions drowsed lazily underneath a cement block which had an African safari scene painted on it. They looked bored. A large male with a mane full and wild looked straight at me with imploring eyes. He breathed steadily and defeated, king of a glass cage. The female, slightly smaller than the male, swished her tail nonchalantly.

My thoughts were broken by hideous scream from the bathrooms. I jumped to my feet. I started to rush towards the bathroom, but something inside told me that another form of action must be taken. I doubled back to the lions’ cage and pounded hard on the glass with my fists. He sat up, enlivened by my call for help. I pleaded with my mind, hoping glass wouldn’t muffle the wavelengths. Help me, Dear Beast, help me!

He rose slowly to his feet and shook off the dust. I pressed harder against the glass. The Great King glanced over his shoulder and I anxiously followed his gaze. The door! Ah, yes! I scrambled to the heavily dead-bolted door of the cage which smelled so strong of metal that I could taste it. It required a key to be opened. Frustrated, but not deterred, I pulled on the handle as hard as I could filled with super human strength. My wife and child needed me, I knew.

“Stop that man!” a voice from behind cried out. Two uniformed men ran up behind me, but I easily knocked them down with a quick swipe of my right arm. “What’s going on today?” a baffled woman exclaimed. “First a woman in the bathroom began to scream out of control because her life has become a bore. Now this crazy man!”

Some people gasped, others screamed, but all cleared out of the way as I tore down the heavy door with my bare hands. My war-like cry was indistinguishable from the roar of my king as he leaped beside me with his Queen. I grabbed hold of his wild mane and pulled myself on his back.

The baffled woman lit up with recognition. “Ah!” she exclaimed. I rode past her, to the bathrooms, to come to the aid of my distressed wife and child. When she came into view, she glowed like a metal rod which had been heating in the fire. She laughed crazily as she mounted the Queen and pulled our son up behind her. The people trembled with fear, joy, and excitement. Just before we made our triumphant exit I heard the repeated groan of a flamingo. I glanced over to see his pink wings fully extended and chest puffed out. The bold and intimidating squint in his eyes told me that he would not allow this extravaganza to go on.

Dan Van Holten: A Story


Little Danny’s head was on fire again. It was pretty common for him. He was walking ahead but stopped when he noticed I was behind him. I popped the last of my hot dog in my mouth. As I sucked the relish and mustard off the dog, I realized probably shouldn’t call him Little Danny. He had to be at least twenty now. When he was little, I didn’t suspect he would be the sort of kid who would set his head on fire. Tattoos just weren’t good enough anymore.

“Hey there Mr. Turner. You headed to the park?”

From a distance, it was hard to tell his head was on fire, all I could see was waves of heat above his head. Now I could see he had a pretty good fire going; it was a cheerful campfire yellow and occasionally crackled, sparks contrasting nicely with his red hair. The heat wasn’t too intense, so I was able to have a normal conversation.

“Yes, it’s a nice day for a walk. I heard from the hot dog guy that some kind of event was going on.”

We decided to walk together. I meant to ask him about his head, but I got derailed when he told me the event was a gay pride demonstration. There hadn’t been one of those in years. Now there was going to be one and Little Danny was the one who organized it.

“I didn’t realize you were gay.” I used my napkin to dab sweat from my forehead, the fire and the June sun both doing their best to get me. “What exactly are you protesting? There hasn’t been need for a protest in five years.”

“Oh, I’m not. I have some friends who are and we got to talking and decided that we should hold a gay pride march in honor of all the people who protested for rights. Most of the people attending don’t call themselves gay.”

It seemed as good a reason as any for an event and I felt in a festive mood. I ran a stick along a picket fence until I disturbed the guardian shih tzu.

The park was colorful. Butterflies and cardinals flitted to their preference of trees or flowers. Several families picnicked while younger children played. Near one of the larger shelters was a group of people with their heads on fire. I would have stood gawking if Danny hadn’t tugged at my arm.

It was a small group; the event wasn’t supposed to start for almost an hour. The crowd was incandescent! Some of them looked closer to my age. They looked young enough to pull off the fire look, but it wasn’t really something for our generation.

There was such a variety of color! Canary Yellow. Passion Pink. Conflagration Red. Bonfire. Burning Magazine Purple. Hydrogen Blue. More with each arrival. A wizened bald man in Charcoal Blaze used a gloved hand to close a smoker with a pig on a spit. Smoke billowing out carried the smell of hickory, mesquite, and pork.

“The food should be done when y’all git back!”

The news inspired a cheer from all of us. We all sat around and joked until it got close to time for the march. Since I hadn’t come with my head on fire, the others lent me some of their own. Danny and four others stood in a circle around me and took fire from their heads and put it on mine. There was some bickering about arrangement and one of the other four left to find someone with a more appropriate color, a severe looking woman in Toxic Blue. When they were done, I was a pleasant combination of Campfire Yellow, Toxic Blue, Marshmallow Orange, Charcoal Blaze, and Ember Sparks.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Autumn Foxes

Leaves already changing, first I’d noticed—down the path, one side touched by fall. It sets the birds chirping in a new light—bright and frantic. My foot, the right, hurts on one side, where bone meets earth. Tends to feel better the longer I walk. Pay attention, it will make greater demands. Stick helps, broken branch, and the fading light.
Working on a painting all day long: time goes by and disappears. Canvas soaks it up. Scent of turpentine on my fingers. What will become of this one? Is it always nothing anyone will understand, or want to? How did I ever get to this place, painting for people younger than me? Comes a time you’re doing for an audience of one—the face in the mirror. Even that gets more interesting to me and less to the world. Can’t change what wants out or how I see it. Nothing but go with it.
Out here, a world of wonder, herons, turtles, muskrats, beaver, the carp in the old Ohio Canal, birds in the trees, that dying generation at their song. Earth beneath my feet, one keeps reminding me—passed an old woman back there, smiled at me. How do I look to her? White hair, ragged beard, large bodied, big shoulders—still dog meat for fine old ladies? A mile back, I left the path. The thinner one had more sun at growing dusk.
What’s that, peeking out the rushes, little cave of dark, through the brush, pointy face of red fox—a rock for sitting. Wait him out, pretend I’m staring at the sky, trees, the grasses, nose, eyes poking until he comes trotting across the path, longer legged than I’d have thought, redder, with blacks socks: I’ll stand and watch a moment, thank you.
Beautiful fellow, wild creature, sweet existence; now a young one, the teenager, crosses behind; look my way! Here comes the Missus, to the other side, where the youngster went, glancing at the old fucker on a rock. Thank God and Reddy Fox. Darker now, light fails, and Papa stands watch still, eyes on mine—might have shivered me one time.
Who am I? Are you the last to want to know?
Standing there so quietly, with night settling, like something grown out of the earth? Have something to say to me, Monsieur Reynard? At long last, grant my heart’s desire? How will you manage that? Do you know how much I want? Sliver moon, thin and white, a sickle over trees; stars speckle the sky. Good-bye, my family!
Good-bye, Sweet One. Here comes the night.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Beware.........Political Commentary

While I generally do not like to read a lot of political commentary, I do have political responses, though I hope I keep them as non-political as possible. I once wrote a poem which said:

Is an Onion
With a pin in it.

Not much of a poem, maybe, but how would you like to bite into something like that, unless you've got a cast-iron stomach?

That's what my father used to say: cast-iron stomach. He did not have one. He drank too much coffee, smoked his pipe too much, liked things like chili too much, and popped Tums from the little rolls like candy. He would say, You'd have to have a cast iron stomach to eat that... Once, he took the family to a Mexican Restaurant called El Gato, and when he saw a dish on the menu called Son of a Bitch Stew, he laughed and ordered that because he didn't shy away from being a son of a bitch.

I turn on news and hear political commentary coming out the ass--literally. All these braying asses they have on news shows now to make sure the nuts in the audience have something to scream about and someone to show them how to scream. So much for objectivity. Newscasters pass judgement on news they report, and in case you weren't worked up enough, we've got someone here to get you stirred up.

Lisa told me she heard a woman say, about her boyfriend I think it was, 'He talkin' out the side of he ass.' I think that's a variation on 'He's just talking through his hat' and 'He's talking out the side of his mouth', but better than either one, and a nice visual image as well. That's what all these commentators are talking out, the side of they ass.

I don't know, I just never liked to hear people spouting opinions. I'd rather hear a story or even a joke. Opinions can be so violent.

But here's my opinion: I hope to God that America will elect a thoughtful, intelligent, vital, humorous man like Obama.

Last night I watched the debate, and I think that for many people, McCain won the first one, because he was so strong, so brutal. I may have a phrase for it. Maybe some of you will understand this, if you go back far enough.

John McCain is the American Nikita Krushchev.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Dave Materna: A New Story


It was cold in the woods, but Roger peeled the socks from his hands anyway. They were too small, the socks, so he threw them away. There was a nice big tree and he sat for a minute back from the path to watch the frost from his breath and to look at his hands—nothing special, scarred as usual. Roger’s feet wore workman’s gloves that fit better than the socks did, but didn’t fit all ten toes quite right. Roger was on vacation.
He shouldn’t have used the socks, he knew that, not the way he did, but this time was his time and he knew that too although his third wife warned him, “Don’t try to escape.” Well, he wasn’t. Trying, that is. If he was trying, he wouldn’t have taken the socks. Just the gloves for his feet that didn’t really fit. Rabbits brought rubber bands and he secured the gloves on his feet enough to get up and walk on.
Now it was night and much colder and the dew on the damp grasses around him sparkled with starlight. Roger wished he’d never thrown the socks away. He’d played a joke and after, forgotten his coat but had his lighter and a whole box of cigarettes so he started smoking to keep warm. As he walked, he thought about what a sorry vacation he’d picked this time, mostly spent running or lost, and now both, in this place he knew nothing about.
After a rest he saw light through the trees. He stood up and approached the noise and shook his head. A whiff of beer, the smell of popcorn. Of all things: a bingo game all the way out here. Roger looked up at a cloudless midnight sky and shuffled with his work-gloved feet down to the bingo tent.
He started to skid and tried to stop but couldn’t, not with those gloves on and wound up bashing onto Delores and Dorcus, twin sisters who play here nearly every night.
“B-Bingo in the woods!” Roger stammered as he stood up and dusted himself off.
“What. Never heard of it before?” Delores sneered as she marked “N-5.”
“I’m on vacation,” Roger explained then offered, “I brought cigarettes.”
“Sit down,” Dorcus the other twin advised, “and shut up—here’s a marker.” Dorcus handed Roger a bright pink fat felt-tipped marker and a score card.
“N-5...” the bingo caller called out as Roger looked around for the first time at all the other players. Women. A hundred of them. Every one a woman and all of them twins.
Roger said to Delores, “I’m probably the only one here with work gloves on my feet...”
“Shhhh,” said Dorcus. “N-5,” said the caller. Roger looked at his bingo card. All twenty-five squares had N-5 scrawled on them–“No no no,” Roger said,” No no, this ain’t It... I’m on vacation...” The bingo caller called out N-5 one last time and the night was perfectly black, the moon long gone as the rubber-band-rabbits came back pink with glowing red eyes bleeding and Delores and Dorcus and everyone finally called out “bingo.”

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Eric Wasserman: A Play in One Act

...The Intelligentsia

Comrade Pope: There is no faculty discount at the food court in the Student Union.

Comrade Bean: Yes, we must plan a coup.

Comrade Ambisco: After that we storm the administration building, undermine all scientific research funding and make the adjuncts wash our cars.

Comrade Bean: Let's just start with getting the discount on sandwiches.

Comrade Pope: We should insist on good omegas in everything we buy to eat.

Comrade Ambrisco: An excellent idea. But tell Comrade Wasserman bagels and lox will be distributed at our faculty meetings evenly amongst all of us.

Comrade Bean: Tell his wife. She's much smarter than him.

Comrade Pope: Agreed.

The Intelligentsia: Bean, Ambrisco, Pope

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

New Story Idea: The Others

Your main character is someone ten years older than you.

Don’t sentimentalize. Don’t overdramatize his/her age. Just know the character is ten years older than you are.

The world is a real world. The person is outdoors, on foot.

Comes to a family outing, picnic, gathering, etc, not his own. Different nationality, race, gender, or identity…

Joins to some degree, in some way, however slight or complete…watching or entering…

A magical or quasi-magical event occurs, manifests, suggests itself, however magical or common it might be…could even be slight-of-hand, or illusion…

Don’t forget environmental descriptions—weather, sun, moon, stars, wind, breeze, season, etc…

An animal and a plant should appear somewhere.

Include a glove or a sock somewhere.

Don’t forget the senses….

Length: 3-5 pages...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Robert Miltner: Two Brief Stories

Robert Miltner teaches at Kent-Stark and visits The University of Akron regularly to speak to writing classes. These two pieces give us a chance to see his work and what is possible within a very short space.

The Dogs of August

It was hot.

He sat on the porch.

His neighbor Wally was complaining to his neighbor Jack that his tree--the new one he got from K-Mart and just planted, a red maple--was casting shade on his just-chemmed lawn.

His neighbor Jack walked away.

His neighbor Wally got out a can of gasoline from his garage and doused the tree. He flicked a Bic lighter. The tree burst into bright flames.

Neighborhood kids gathered, a holiday look on their faces.

His neighbor Jack came out with a shiny new firearm and pointed it at Wally and fired point blank with live ammo.

Neighborhood kids gathered, a documentary look on their faces.

The police came.

The EMS unit came.

A fire truck came.

His neighbor Wally left with the EMS unit.

His neighbor Jack left with the police.

The fire truck left with the neighborhood kids running behind, noisy as tin cans tied to a bumper, their faces glowing with the imprint of fresh news.

Then it got and stayed quiet.

He went back in. His show was coming on on the tv.

True South

Jay took up birding late in life. When he turned fifty, his girlfriend Brenna gave him a Peterson Guide and a nesting box. You’ve got to get out of the house more, she told him, or that cholesterol’s gonna kill you, regardless of how much red wine you drink. Even though Jay thought the whole idea was for bird-brains, he figured he’d give it a try to keep Brenna happy.

That first summer, they had a brood of six tree swallows. By the second summer he’d added five boxes to his trail in the park, and he fledged eleven bluebirds and nine tree swallows. By the fourth year, Jay was going to Pelee Island for the Hawkwatch, to Nebraska for Sandhill Cranes, and the Everglades for cormorants, anhingas, and ospreys.

One August, he was standing with Brenna in a cattail marsh on Presque Isle, watching purple Martins gather. He was pricing out in his head what two weeks in Belize would cost when he began to notice his shoulder blades were bothering him. Brenna’s Oh-oh as she felt his back made him remove his Eddie Bauer all-cotton wilderness shirt so she could have a better look. Looks like you’re sprouting, Jay, she observed, concerned.

His doctor confirmed what he suspected: he had actually grown small wings--white ones, maybe seven inches long--from his shoulder blades! And, his doctor added, they may stay and grow. It’s like those freak kids born with tails now and then. While the doctor recommended surgery, and Brenna suggested larger shirts (she found it all a little sexy, after all), Jay was uncertain.

He stood on his back porch one morning at sunrise, not having slept much during the night. The coffee cup warmed his hands. Facing north, he thought he could scent the coming winter. But the little wings were lifting and falling, turning him around, to the south. Migration time was beginning. He needed to be ready.

Dan Von Holten: A Story


Chelsea suddenly woke up, convinced that a monster was under her bed. She didn’t pull the covers all the way over her head; that was for babies. She remembered that she was at her aunt's house. First Dad left, then Mom bought us presents, then Mom brought us to Aunt Becca's, then Mom left. She was about to cry when she heard a creaking sound in the room and remembered the monster wanted to eat her. Chelsea was pretty sure that monsters weren't real, or didn't eat people very often because none of the kids in school were ever eaten by monsters. She remembered something else: the mirror. She planned on pretending to go to sleep and then playing with the mirror after Jason had fallen asleep. Why can't I have my own room? Why isn't Dad here to make sure there are no monsters in the room before I go to bed?

If a monster did eat her, her parents would be sorry for leaving her with Jason. Maybe it would eat Jason too. Then her parents and Aunt Becca and Uncle Jim would stand in the room crying and the policeman would tell them that there was a monster under the bed and must have been very hungry because it ate the sheets and everything. When she was satisfied her parents felt bad and said they were sorry, she decided she was going to play with the mirror.

She hung the blanket over the side of the bed, just in case, and moved quickly across the room to the big mirror in the corner. She could barely see it in the night light, but she remembered it looked like the kind of mirror a princess would have. Before be, she had been admiring her present from Mom; pajamas that made her look like a princess. She planned on being a princess when she grew up and thought she should practice looking like one.

As she got to the center of the room she heard the floor creak under her foot. She didn't scream; princesses don't scream. Farther along, the floor creaked again and she was confident now that it was the floor that made the sound, not a monster. She had to make sure Jason was still asleep. He didn’t know how to whisper and if he started asking questions, everyone in the house would wake up. She looked at his bed. Empty. His light up fire truck wasn't on the floor by his bed either. Monsters don’t eat toy trucks. Jason must have snuck out of bed again. He always did that at home and wouldn’t go to bed until he got a drink.

Chelsea decided that she should find Jason before he woke anyone up and got them both in trouble. She checked the doors for the other rooms on the second floor first, but all the doors were closed except the empty bathroom. The house smelled strange – old. She was glad that Aunt Becca left night lights all over the house. She let the yellow lights guide her to the stairs. He's probably in the kitchen. He better not break anything. The stairs were lit at the top and the bottom, but not on the way down. Chelsea stayed next to the railing, trailing her hand gently on the generations smooth wood of the railing as she slowly walked down the stairs.

Jason can't even walk on stairs; he has to crawl up and down like a baby. At home, he wakes me up after he gets to the kitchen and decides he needs help. Maybe he got lost and can't find his way back to the stairs. Maybe he fell asleep on the couch. I don't like this house, it looks like Halloween.

The stairs came down between two living rooms and she reached up to turn on the lights. This was the living room with the fireplace; the other one had a wood stove. She whispered as loud as she dared, "Jason!"

He wasn't in either of the rooms so she went to the kitchen. Chelsea played with one of her blond curls. Where did he go? Maybe he climbed into the cabinets or the pantry. A breeze tugged at the hem of her pants. The dog door was stuck open; the bar that kept it locked was moved enough for Jason to squeeze through.

Chelsea opened the latch the rest of the way and crawled on her hands and knees to the porch. She quietly whispered for Jason after she stood up. She could see shadows of what was on the porch and continued down the wood stairs to the front yard. She felt the wet lawn beneath her feet and looked down at her toes as they wiggled in the grass. Her toenails were supposed to be pink, but the light made them look almost blue. She looked up to see the full moon, almost directly above her. Stars! She had never seen so many stars!

Chelsea began to trace a big fat band of stars across the sky with her finger. Then she pretended her finger was a shooting star and traced a path in the sky. A flash of light followed her finger to the horizon! I can make shooting stars! Chelsea tried again, making a sound for a shooting star and saw another not far from her finger. This time she made a wish: I wish Dad would come back! Another: I want Mom to come back! She started a third at the horizon and made a shooting star sound. I want to find Jason and go to bed!

"Moo!" Everything turned red and yellow. Chelsea screamed and fell to the ground.

Jason laughed and did a little dance with his fire truck flashing in his hands. Chelsea wanted to be mad. Her new pajamas were all dirty now and she could feel the wet pulling itself into her pant legs. "Jason, we have to go to bed." Chelsea reached for his hand, but Jason pointed off to her right.

"Wannaseecows. Moooo!" The barn wasn’t very far and the lights were on.

Saying no would result in a tantrum. “Let’s go get a drink of water and go to bed.”

“No. Cows over Daer!” Jason pointed again. “Goseecow Chesey. Cow.” The last word hung in the air filled with all the sorrow Chelsea couldn’t see in his face.

“The cows are sleeping Jaysey, they went to bed; cows go to bed too.”

Jason flashed the lights on his truck again. “Wandrinkawater.”

“Look at the moon Jaysey.” While he looked, Chelsea made another shooting star. “Make a wish.”

“Star!” Jason swung his arm across the sky.

Chelsea saw streaks of light following his hand and raked her hands across the sky, “Shooting stars!”

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Speaks for Itself

Another Story by Dave Materna!


I know what I was supposed to look like. I know what he wanted me to look like— big tits and long legs in lean black jeans with stiletto boots and a black leather jacket snug across my boobs with Ray bans and wild long black hair.
But I don’t look like that. Yet,anyway. Right now I’m sixteen years old and I love power-pop punk and Chuck Taylors and baggy sport coats. I’m five foot three with a blonde pony tail and “Abercrombie” on my sweat-pant ass. I smell like lilac soap and I might start smoking cigarettes. I think he hates me, but he’s gonna hafta listen to this.
I wait tables sometimes at Johnny’s ‘Getti Shack and one night I stayed to help the dish washer finish up. I kinda liked him, ya know. So I was helping out and it was real late when we left. As I walked to the back door, I felt a rumble like a big truck goin by, a woosh like a jet, that lasted a few seconds, maybe, like five or ten, but by the time I put my jean jacket on and went outside it was gone. So was my dishwasher-boy.
It smelled like motor oil or gas burning with rotten eggs. I mean, it sucked. And there was mist all over the parking lot, but it smelled like smoke. Foggy, rotten-egg-smoke. Then I saw this couple just sitting there, staring straight ahead.
“Jesus Christ,” the bug-eyed girl hissed,” Did you see that?” Jesus Christ no I did not. She stood up from her seat on a parking lot concrete stop and came up next to me. Her boyfriend got up and stood beside her. He was kinda fat and sweaty. He wondered if I’d seen it too and by then the smoke was gone but it still stunk bad. The girl took my arm and yanked me along with her and started talking.
“We were just sitting in the car talking,” she was saying,”when these two cars pull up. They pull up on either side of us and two people, or what we thought were human people, got out of the cars. Then they walked over to that drum—see that drum over there?” She pointed to the other end of the parking lot. I could make out a big old barrel leaning in the shadows. It kinda glowed and it was smoking, like it was real hot. The bug-eyed girl said her name was Lilly. She kept talking.
“Anyway, the man was really tall, I mean really tall like seven feet and the girl was well I guess just a girl. A woman. They didn’t really look at us—I don’t think they knew we were here. At first.” Lilly pointed to their car. “We were sitting in the car freaking out.” She was really starting to freak ME out. Lilly had me by the arm and then she put her arm around my waist and the boyfriend took my right arm by the wrist. We walked across the parking lot to the smoking barrel. Lilly looked up at the sky.
“This is where they stood,” Lilly explained. They held me tight. “This barrel, right here, this one started to glow, and it got hotter. The tall guy stood here with the woman.” She brought me closer to the barrel. It was an old fifty gallon drum and I could really smell it now. The man was holding on to me for dear life.
“We better go back to the car,” Lilly said. I had my little red Honda and I wanted to go back to it too.
“But we gotta tell you what happened.”
So I hiked up my pants and sat on the hood of my car to listen.
“We just sat in the car watching and the tall man took the woman and held her hands with the barrel between them, held hands around it, and as we sat there, no shitting, there was a blast-off from the barrel—I can’t describe it any other way”
The fat, sweaty guy spoke up and let go of my hand. I wiped my hand on my shirt and started to get into my car. His sweaty drops fell on me, God. He said, “The light from the barrel that blasted up, into the sky, higher and higher until the clouds lit up”—“Yeah,” Lilly cut in, “Like a thunder storm...” The sweaty fat guy was wetter and wetter and said, “He blasted her off into space.”
That’s when they let go of me. That’s when they let go of me and said how the tall guy came up to their car and put his hands on the hood and he was so tall he could lean all the way up to the windshield.
Lilly said, “All he did was wag his finger at us. Like he was saying ‘Don’t ever, ever tell a soul.’ That’s all he did.”
There was my car and their car and one other car left in the parking lot. The extra one was the woman’s who went up to heaven, I think. The fat sweaty guy held on to my hand when the headlights, then the cars came and I tried to roll up the window.
Two of them again.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Thanks to Tobin, Kristina, and Robert...

In my Writing Short-short fiction class this past Tuesday evening, Tobin Terry and Kristina von Held came to my class to read and talk about their very short prose pieces. You can read some of their work in postings in this blog from earlier in the month. I am extremely fond of Kristina's work and the new pieces Tobin read may be his best writing yet.

In addition, Robert Miltner, who teaches at Kent-Stark, was generous enough to come to share his thoughts about writing and read a few prose poems as well as a short short fiction he said he had been working on for several years--maybe a year for each page. It was almost all dialogue, with a minimal but effective setting. The initiating object of the conversation was a birthday card the woman had received from her father, who had since died.

The dialogue was so perfectly made, the emotional reality it illuminated so vivid, that just a few pages have set in mind and memory--if those are different things--and have started me thinking all over again about the very nature of short short fiction. This is the third or fourth time I have asked Robert to come to my writing classes. I am always inspired by his visits, and I know my students are as well. He shows us, through his talk and his performance, what the written and the spoken word mean to us all.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I Could See Olives

I got dressed quickly when Cherry called to say she'd pick me up in fifteen. I let my hair go with nothing more than a pass of the brush. I had on my blue dress and black heels, not ready for anything but driving to Cherry's for her afternoon gathering. She wanted me there before anyone arrived. I could taste the martini she promised, with her famous blue cheese stuffed olives!

Then I heard a sound like a chair being scraped back and forth across the floor in the condo upstairs. But the sound didn't go away as you'd think it would with someone moving a chair, unless they were purposely trying to scar the floor of their own condo. That would be the Mortimers, but I couldn't imagine one of them doing something like that. Old Mrs. Mortimer, with her puff of purple hair, her pink lipstick and green eye shadow, could be excercising in her black tights and platforms.

But now it sounded not so much a mechanical thing as a voice. I pulled up the blind, opened the window, stuck out my head. A grown man sat on the curb across the street, his knees up and his face buried in his hands. He had a full head of red hair above his hands, yellow shirt, green sport coat--not exactly dressed for curb crying. I ran out through the livingroom, out the door, and across the street, no small feat in heels.

I stopped right beside him. He didn't look up though he must have seen my feet in those shoes. I felt self conscious about being well dressed at a time like this, but he had on nice wingtips and brown slacks, so he wasn't homeless. The sun actually felt good on my arms.

A blonde woman in a yellow shirt and jeans came toward me from the nearest building, her arms crossed over her stomach. I had seen her once or twice, coming and going, and knew for a fact she drove a little red convertible.

Her pale face had small, shiny eyes looking out like the eyes of a tiny animal. "Do you know him?" she asked me. "Do you know who he is?"

He had not stopped crying during her approach.

"I'm Marge," she said. "I live in this one." She thumbed back over her shoulder, and I could see she had a cigarette between her fingers. "I saw him come from that one."

Marge pointed with the cigarette hand toward a building directly behind mine. I looked, even though nothing distinguished one building from another.

"He was stumbling," Marge said. "I thought he'd been drinking, but I think something happened. I don't mean physical. I didn't see blood or anything. Emotional. His wife left or someone died, that kind of thing."

Though she didn't have any makeup, I noticed her nails were painted.

"I was getting ready," she said. "I work in the city. I like that dress. The shoes too. Something lighter would be good too."

The man had not exactly stopped crying, but he removed his hands from his face. His eyes were squinched and his mouth worked like he would have been saying something if words came out.

"He dropped on the curb once he got across the street," Marge said. "I saw from my window."

She pointed back at her window. "That's Binky, my Siamese," she said. "He's a dollbaby."

The man looked over his shoulder at the woman.

"Are you feeling better now, Sweetie?" she asked him.

Then I heard an angry voice shouting, "Jason! Jason, goddamn you!"

I looked back at the building from which Marge said he had run. A man leaned out the window, shouting angrily, "Jason! Get your ass back in here and finish this!"

The sound of a honking horn startled me. I turned to see a black Regal pull up beside me, then Cherry's long, bare arm came out, holding up a large martini glass.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Dave Materna: A Story

The fiction of Dave Materna, a student in the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts Program (NEOMFA), explores extremes, taboos. "Razor" is a response to "Some Other Character," my entry for August 27, 2008.


He cut them off every chance he got.

Warts. On his face like someone threw a handful of sticky pencil erasers at him and they stuck. Warts on his face that disguised his nose and made his lips protrude and shut his chin off, warts that covered his head. Those Goddamned warts so when he got on that bus warts an’ all and sat down next to her he knew she couldn’t see them, the warts, and no one else could either, except for the band aids that covered the cuts where he cut the warts off. With a one edged razor blade that he always took with him.

Eddy got off four sticks down the line and backspaced, big long strides to the train station. The men’s room there had a mirror. He was tall enough so that the mirror chopped off the top of his head. When the train came he stopped looking and jabbing and put on band aids and got on board for the city. The train door closed and caught his case and he thought about the things he lost. He’d lost a cat in a rubber match once and he was not about to let that happen again. Aunt Gabriella made pies out of Cicadas that only she would eat. Shit like that.

The city was new to him, this big city, and he headed to the restroom at the main train station to find his razor blade and chip at his face but his mouth looked wrong. There was light when he walked out.

Eddy had a box of blue tip matches from Ohio and old shoes from Polsky’s, the old department store, that he wore for special occasions. Big city, Eddy thought, better wear my shoes. He dumped the matches on the train tracks and kept the box because that’s what she told him.

“I gotta get rid of these warts,” Eddy said

“I know,” she said. “Come see me.”

It was that easy, Eddy thought and walked through the beads of a door to a room where she sat and gave Eddy his relief.

“Get a room. Sleep,” she offered when she finished.

Eddy touched his face. She flicked her bony finger at a bit of blemish from his bleeding cheek.

“Perfect!” she exclaimed. Eddy found a room down the road. It cost too much, sixty-eight dollars, so Eddy sat on the bench outside of the Burger Wank and waited for the spell to finish.

“Won’t be all done till tomorra,’” she said. So Eddy sat on his hands and waited. The razor was in his pocket and he took it and threw it away. But the thing is, she said, you gotta put it all some where, so bring a little empty box”

Okay, Eddy said, I’ll dump out the matches. And there was something to be said for Eddy’s resolve. The matches wound up wet and gone and Eddy put the empty box in his pocket. Just like she said to.

“And when that number five shows up you get on it and leave that match box on a seat,” she winced, ”and get off at the next stop—and get the train back home.”

Eddy walked the miles back instead, thinking of a place to stay and thought about his stupid little office, the one where he could sleep all day with his feet up, horns in his hands, cough syrup, and not talk to her. The moon was like milk when he did not. The number five went past, spraying mist and mud. He could go there at least to itch his face and sit in the dark. Ahh, he had an old razor there too.

There’s light at the end of the tunnel, man, this much Eddy knew, toweling off his new face. The mirror in his office was new—

And rusty saw blades under the floor boards, which he found in time to saw himself in two! Eddy was so pencil- skinny anyway and he figured it out, the way to saw himself apart every chance he got. Then he thought again about her and sneezed and remembered his bicycle.

“Quicker,” he said and pedaled off in half with a wet, red, empty match box.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Next Story: Alarums!

For those of you trying to write short-short fiction, here's a new assignment. It definitely looks a little strange, but give it a shot. I'm calling it "Alarums!"

Imagine an opposite sex person inside you (the one that carries messages between unconscious and conscious mind in dreaming, art, and daily life, unbeknownst to you).

Though he or she is the narrator-character of this story, you can’t have her or him say anything out loud in the story—just to us in telling the events of the story.

At the start of your story, your narrator-character is moving toward a scene where some form of harm or alarm has occurred, and he or she is in anxiety.

She or he witnesses the aftermath in some detail; a new character becomes aware of him or her and feels compelled to tell her or him exactly what happened.

The new character explains something of what happened, and though we cannot know if this new character knows or tells the true account, we feel the urgency.

The story ends with a new, repeated sound that draws the narrator-character’s attention to another image, even while the new character still wants to explain.

Appeal to the senses of seeing, hearing and smelling.

Your story may range from four to nine pages.

I'm looking forward to seeing stories by September 23.

Personal Aside: Mom and Dad

Since I have been posting (below) stories by a couple of writers who will visit my Writing Short-Short Fiction class, I almost feel a little strange adding a personal aside here, about a dream I had last night, right before I woke up at about 3:00.

My mother and father were walking, almost running down a sidewalk in some foreign capital or other; it was made up of several they (and we) visited years ago. They appeared to be in their thirties, both of them handsome, full of life, and very happy. Both smiling. I believe my father might have been wearing his uniform, but he looked free, at ease with himself. My mother looked beautiful as they held hands and nearly danced down the sidewalk.

Birds flew up like St. Mark's Square, but it was not St. Mark's Square. I watched them passing from the top of a wide set of white steps leading up to a building at my back. It was so great to see them I clapped happily. They had been freed from the cares and burdens of life, restored to their happiest moments, enjoying them to the fullest.

When I clapped, others all around began to clap as well, looking in the direction of my parents, who fairly ran past holding hands, but as they passed I noticed, on the other side of the street, a couple emerging from a church: they had just gotten married, a traditional European wedding, and everyone thought I had been applauding them. I applauded more heartily then and laughed as well, because the entire scene was worth the happiness bursting from it.

What a nice dream.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Kristina von Held: Two Stories

Kristina von Held is a student in the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts (NEOMFA) in poetry writing, but she is also a talented writer of prose, particularly short short prose. These two pieces show a deft hand that makes us feel the surface of the prose has a deeper story of tell.

The Pull of the Water

On Sunday, she went to the Arboretum. It was a late September afternoon, the sun already low in the sky, and every bush casting long shadows across the grass. After walking through the rose garden where a few late summer roses were still in bloom and quietly sending fragrance to no one in particular, she made her way to the pond, where she sat down right by the water’s edge and watched the leaves of the water lilies, bright green trays set on the watery surface. Mottled red goldfish were sitting in the dark green water underneath, hardly moving at all.

Suddenly a motion at the corner of her eye caught her attention and she looked up to the opposite edge of the pond. On one of the rocks by the edge sat the biggest frog she had ever seen, motionless and without expression in his huge eyes. She stared at him with a mixture of disgust and fascination. His skin was olive green with some brown on the legs. He looked otherworldly. When he opened his mouth she noticed that his inside was not green, but a lovely soft pink color.

“You know what to do,” he said, but she wasn’t sure she had heard correctly.

“No,” she found herself answering, briefly looking around to check that no one was nearby, overhearing her conversation with a frog, but the place was empty except for her and the frog.

“You must climb down the lily pad and join me at the bottom of the pond, where we will hibernate.”

“But isn’t it cold and dark down there?”

“It will be cold and dark up here soon, and down there no one will bother you. Occasionally, fish will nibble on your toes, and the water will hum you to sleep.”

“But what would I do? How would I breathe?”

“You will lie back, hair floating in the water, and forget about your life up here: the air you were breathing so eagerly, the flowers you were looking at with such longing, and the people you thought would bring you joy.”

A dragonfly made its erratic path across the water. She gazed at the frog’s shimmering green skin. The water below seemed dark and deep. She imagined it seeping into her lungs, turning her body weightless.

“Perhaps next year.”

She got off the rock and walked back to her car.


Alyssa was walking through the woods. Even though she had come down this path before, she noticed a basswood tree with low branches for the first time. It seemed to offer itself to her, and she couldn’t resist. Swinging her arms and legs around the lowest branch she pulled herself up. Slowly she made her way into the tree until she reached a branch at least twenty feet from the ground. There she rested and looked around. The path was now far below and she felt herself embraced by leaves. A whispering sound reached her ear.

“Alyssa, Alyssa.” How did the tree know her name, she wondered.

“Come stay with me,” he continued. “I know you better than you know yourself. Let go of the world. I will catch you in a bed of soft moss that I have prepared for you between my roots.”

The leaves were rustling in the breeze, and a blue jay was calling nearby. Alyssa felt the rough bark of the tree underneath her fingertips. It seemed easy to loosen her grip on its trunk, slide off the branch, and let herself fall into the soft leaves.

When another hiker came across her lifeless body beneath the tree, he found her hands clutching small branches with leaves, as if they were sprouting from her arms.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Tobin Terry: Two Stories

Tobin Terry, a student in the Notheast Ohio Master of Fine Arts (NEOMFA), has become known as a master of the short-short (fiction or prose poem). His peculiar style is evident in the following two pieces.

The Boyfriend of a Burning River Roller Girl Expresses His Displeasure

Sitting here in the ER, I’ve had a lot of time to think about, well, us. Remember when we first started dating? Boy, things were good then weren’t they? I wasn’t laid up in here. You were a gentle, caring, peaceful woman, everything I could hope for. One day you came home and told me you were going to join the Burning River Roller Girls. You said it would be good for you to get some exercise, that it would be nice to meet other women too. I agreed and for the first couple of weeks you were right. You started being more confident in yourself, more assertive at work, and the sex was great. Then, do you remember the day when I saw something on your arm? What is that? I asked. What’s what? Oh this, you said curling your arm like Rosie the Riveter, this is a bicep, silly. That same night in the midst of a nightmare that very bicep powered the devastating blows to my face that gave me both a fat lip and a black eye. You have no idea what I had to put up with, besides the pain of course. At work my boss cornered me in the copy room and told me that if I needed to talk about anything, say an abusive relationship for instance, his door was always open. I could hear co-workers snickering in the hallway. I was the laughing stock of the office. Remember that time, when you jokingly punched me in the arm and I couldn’t write for a week? Then when we were playfully wrestling around and you got me in a headlock and I lost consciousness? I mean, I’m all for gender equality, but I felt totally emasculated when you punched out that guy at the bar for spilling my drink. He was the bouncer for Christ’s sake! I have to be honest with you; I’m not sure how much more of this I can take. You go out with your friends from the team and then you all come home loaded and trash the place. When I asked you guys to quiet down a little since I had work in the morning, you told me to quit being a pantywaist and to make you some sandwiches. That was the last of the bread! Look, don’t get me wrong. I love you, and I still think we can make this work. But we have to make some changes. Really. Who is going to believe I slipped on one of your skates and fell down the stairs?

For My High School Friend, Frank

I never told anyone this, but I too thought it was creepy when Frank started wearing the same clothes on the same day as you. I told you not to worry. It was just a coincidence. It was really hard to believe in coincidence though, when Frank dyed his hair blonde, like yours, but we said it was the style. Or when he bought a gold chain necklace with a charm, the number 22, your football number, just like yours, we said it must have been on sale. Even when Frank bought a '93 Firebird, just like yours except a different shade of blue, we said it must have been a popular model. Now that I think about it, I should have been suspicious when we saw Frank at TGIFridays eating a piece of birthday cake with your recently ex-girlfriend on your birthday. I should have questioned it, but I didn't have the foresight you did. When you finally confronted Frank about it all, he denied everything, but you wouldn't believe him. When you threw the first punch, it was like he knew it was coming, like trying to punch a mirror, and the two of you ended up wrestling on the ground. I wanted to jump in because one of you was getting pummeled, but with all of the commotion, I honestly could not tell you apart. The next day I didn't see you at school. A week later your parents and the police called my house asking if I'd seen you. I had to tell them the truth. I could have sworn I saw you walking down the hallway that very day, but then again, it could have been Frank. The two of you looked so much alike from behind. For a while everyone was worried about you, but things seem to be getting back to normal. As it turns out Frank is a pretty good quarterback and the football team is doing really well. After the game tonight I'm meeting him and the guys at Fridays for sodas and appetizers. Believe it or not, Frank always orders the nachos but complains that they are too cheesy, just like I do.

About Me

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I write short stories and essays. I have published over seventy stories and essays in magazines, as well as a novel, Jack's Universe, and a collection of stories, Private Acts. I grew up in a military family, so I'm not from anywhere in particular except probably Akron, where I've lived for forty years. Before I came here, I never lived anywhere longer than three years.