I have a good terrier with a weak heart. She’ll die early.
She’s still young, just four, and her condition isn’t apparent unless she’s playing hard at fetch or chase the hose water. When it gets her, she stops, lies down, rolls over, breathes, and waits. It’s syncope — the light headedness you feel when you stand too fast. Her heart can’t keep pace with her legs and her lungs and eventually there isn’t enough blood to her brain. When she was a pup it would sneak up on her while she romped — Boom, and over she went. She’s older now and feels it and puts herself down and settles into the grass, breathing, waiting.
When it passes, up she goes to her feet and she finds the frisbee again or the spray from the end of the hose. The game only ends when I get bored of it.
Today’s story comes in at 197 words — 47 words over the 150 word limit of our super short fiction series.
Maybe I should stretch it to three hundred and make it a two-parter.
Even better, maybe you should try writing a Hundred-Fifty word fiction and then send it to us so we can publish it.
Today at the checkout in Whole Foods, the checkout girl, or young woman, I guess, scanned my fancy ginger ale and said, “Making a Ginger Ale Mojito?”
“Err, no. Not a … Mojito. I will be making a Buck.”
“A … Buck?”
“Yes. It is an old cocktail, well not truly a cocktail since there are no bitters, but nobody really pays attention to that. It’s a descendant of the Sling, which is an even older mixture, a portable Punch. Grog fits in there, too. A Buck is ginger ale, rye, and the juice of half a lime, over ice, in a Collins or highball glass.”
“Rye is a kind of super bourbon. Spicy and with a little more oomph.”
“Oh. I just turned 21 and all this is new to me. I’ll try anything, though.”
“Yeah, so thanks for bringing in your shopping bags.”
“Yes, well, try a Buck. Quite refreshing and you can moderate the bourbon or rye with the ginger ale. If you make it with vodka it’s a ‘Moscow Mule’.”
“OK, well thanks. Receipt in the bag?”
I’m getting used to feeling old. What’s surprising is how little I’ve learned while getting here.
It’s poetry month at the writing academy and I want the students to practice describing things accurately. From a suggestion in Robert Wallace’s Writing Poems, I’ve decided to use the first springtime oranges as objects to describe. We read a few haikus, first, to get an idea about how an accurate description of a thing can say something about the poet (or more).
I like to keep things simple at the writing academy.
I cut an orange in half, then I cut one of the halves into four pieces and arrange everything onto a translucent plastic plate. The plate is yellowish, the tabletop is golden, the walls of the classroom are sunkist and dimpled. The orange-half lies in the middle of the plate, wet side down, a softly cratered planet swaddled in orange, four smiling eighths in close orbit. I’ve given each student an eighth of his or her own and instructed them to describe the orange in their own words, according to the orange’s terms.
“See the orange, write the orange,” I say. “Eventually you’ll have material for a haiku.” It’s not a very helpful thing to say, and I feel stupid saying it, but the students are much younger than I am and by the time they figure out it’s a stupid thing to say, they will have forgotten that I ever said it. I don’t know how else to tell them to write what they sense in this orange and not write what they already know about oranges.
The students are unsure. They are skeptical about seeing the orange and writing it down. They want to take notes first. They want to write topic sentences according to their notes.
“Can we eat it?” a student asks.
Everybody drops their pens and takes up an orange slice. They giggle about breaking the rule that prohibits food during class, smiling widely behind their orange slices. Eating it is easier than writing about it. In no time we reduce our slices to hunks of fragrant peel and we don’t have anything else to do but write about the orange and what we’ve done to it.
Afterward we read aloud what we have written. We all agree that the orange is delicious, tart, sweet, juicy, and we’re all surprised at how the orange’s sharp tang fills the room and how its pulp clings to our teeth.
Linguists used to think there was a special region of the brain devoted to language. But beginning in the 1990s, researchers with access to advanced brain imaging equipment like MRIs found that in fact the brain did not have a single region or node dedicated to processing language. What they noticed was that when a subject was read a sentence, say, “The shortstop fields the ball and throws it to first base,” several regions of the listener’s brain lit up. Which regions? Visual, suggesting the listener recalls a related scene from experience; motor, suggesting the listener recalls making a throw or catch; tactile, suggesting the listener has worn a glove and held a baseball. The effect is particularly strong when metaphors are used to convey the message.
- How wonderful that we have cobbled together something so powerful as language from the bits and pieces of machinery we already had on hand;
- How much more powerful the writing instructor’s direction to “Show, don’t tell” becomes when MRIs and science show us that the right words on the page fire the right physical processes in the brain and make imagination real.
Read more: Louder Than Words
Someone made that typo recently, “Manuel” for “Manual,” and how I wish there really were a Chicago Manuel of Style.
“Say, Manuel, do I hyphenate this or not?”
“Well, it depends.”
“Yes or no, Manuel. Geez. Why do you always have to make everything so hard?”
“Well that’s because style is not a “yes” or a “no,” my friend. Style is feeling. Style is mystery. Style is life. Tell me. Where does this hyphenation occur? Is it an adverb that ends in ‘ly’? Is there an abbreviation involved? Is there a number or ordinal? Do not roll your eyes. Do not sigh. These details matter to style and so they matter to me. Share them and then together we shall decide whether to hyphenate or not.”
Commerce doesn’t feature much in the story itself (sorry, no strippers or prostitutes or escorts), but it’s sprinkled throughout in the form of affiliate links to Amazon. We will run these commerce stories from time to time and hope we can make the site pay for itself that way. Some will be incidentally commercial — we’ll just stuff affiliate links into the copy and see what happens. That’s what today’s story is. Some others will be intentionally commercial — we’ll target one or two or three products and we’ll shape the story around them. Those are on their way. Any suggestions for products to feature? Or maybe you’d like to write one?
Anyway. Think of it as product placement. If you need ketchup or light bulbs or a really cool puzzle, you know where to look.
There’s a self-consciously Irish pub on the north side of Broadway a couple of doors east of the intersection of Broadway and Redondo. The pub is tucked between the Clever Gift Shop that sells clever greeting cards and clever pewter candlesticks and the Narrow Hardware Store that has a wide selection of light bulbs and screws and spackling paste and not much else. The food is good at the pub, as is the beer (the pub doesn’t sell liquor) and there are plenty of TVs tuned in to sports for entertainment. The place is called O’Shannon and it’s a mystery to both patrons and staff who the pub’s namesake is or was, though all believe that there was an O’Shannon in the beginning. There is a Shannon who works at O’Shannon, four nights a week and one weekend morning, but Shannon’s link to the founding O’Shannon is a coincidence. Shannon isn’t even Irish. Shannon doesn’t know what she is.
Shannon stands behind the bar at the end of another weeknight shift when most of the tables have cleared and been cleaned, refilling salt and pepper shakers and bottles of ketchup and bottles of malt vinegar, as usual. She’s thinking about Chris Across the Street. Her love for Chris Across the Street has never gone further than this, and this is how she likes it; the quietest romance, a never whispered secret, so secret she’s safe from knowing herself whether she means for it to exist or does not. She doesn’t know if she pretends she and Chris Across the Street are lovers because she’s afraid they may never actually be lovers (or that one day they will be lovers), or because it’s fun to pretend and look at the world made lavender by pretending. She doesn’t puzzle over it because it’s fun to be in love and that’s enough for her.
She’s also having a conversation with That Guy Jeff, the same conversation they always have at the end of her shift, a conversation she would never have with Chris Across the Street. That Guy Jeff tells her about his commute; about getting quarters from the laundromat and getting caught; about catching his assistant, not really his assistant, the department’s assistant, but you get the idea, catching the assistant reading blogs on company time, regularly it turns out, there are extensive computer logs of illicit blog-reading; about accidentally slipping an inflated expense report past his boss and making up the difference when he discovered the error a week later; and about his upcoming trip to the desert where he plans to camp out and listen to nothing, not a sound, not a peep, only the steady thumping of his heart and that whispering from inside as blood flows through his veins. He pulls off his blue LA Dodgers ball cap, runs his fingers through his hair and says, “What about you?”
Jorge the busboy bustles around her, collecting floor mats and stealing glances. Shannon doesn’t mind Jorge and his glances because it’s fun to be secretly in love.
“Oh, you know. Work” she says. “School. If I go anywhere this year it’ll be San Francisco. Or New York. I’ve never thought that sound was a whisper. I’d call it a ‘shuuush.'” She purses her lips into a delicious kiss to make the sound and That Guy Jeff stares, wordless for once.
Jorge looks over at That Guy Jeff as Shannon shushes and Shannon notices Jorge’s glare. Jorge is a sweetie, Shannon thinks.
“New York’s great,” says That Guy Jeff, regaining his senses. “San Francisco seems too precious to me, if you know what I mean.”
Shannon stops fussing with her bottles. “They’re noisy places and lately that’s what I like.”
“Sometimes noise is nice. Wanna get a drink with me after your shift?”
“A what? A drink? Where?” A guy like That Guy Jeff is supposed to understand the rules of secret love.
“I dunno. Someplace noisy? I’ve been wanting to ask for a long time. For forever, really, but you know, it’s hard, and I think I just decided to follow up finally…”
“You’re such a sweetie. Where then?”
“Across the street.”
“The Wriggle Room is not very noisy.”
“I know the bartender,” she says, “and he’ll turn up the jukebox if I ask.”
She arranges all the ketchup bottles onto a tray and carries them out to the tables, wishing she hadn’t suggested the bar across the street. That Guy Jeff nurses his beer and looks at SportsCenter on the big screen behind the bar. Jorge disconnects a beer keg from the tap and carries it back to the kitchen, returning with a fresh keg loaded onto a hand truck painted red.
After her shift, Shannon and That Guy Jeff cross the street to the Wriggle Room where Chris Across the Street tends bar. The Wriggle Room used to be a real dive, and it used to be called Caroline’s Wriggle Room, but that was long ago when the neighborhood itself was much scruffier, and much dirtier, and when visitors from the Shore and the Heights referred to Broadway and Redondo as ‘iffy.’
“Shannon! The usual?”
“I’ll have a draft beer,” says That Guy Jeff.
Chris Across the Street returns with Shannon’s vodka and grapefruit juice and That Guy Jeff’s draft beer and stands, waiting. After a moment he says, “Cat got your tongue?”
“Something like that,” she says, smiling.
“Goof,” says Chris Across the Street. “Always goofing.” He leans against the bar-back and re-arranges blank lottery slips for a moment then leaves to refill another quiet drinker’s glass.
“The thing about going to the desert…”
“I know,” she says. “‘Shuuush.'” They sit and drink their drinks. She watches Chris Across the Street tend bar while That Guy Jeff looks from television to bartender to Shannon and back.
“Okay,” she says at the end of her drink, “Let’s go.”
“Up the street.”
“The lesbian place?”
“That’s right. Very noisy.”
She waves and smiles at Chris Across the Street, who smiles in return and nods to That Guy Jeff. The Lesbian Place is on the same side of the street as the Wriggle Room, but on the other side of Redondo. Packs of cigarette smokers flank the entrance, engaged in conversation, some quiet, most loud. That Guy Jeff pulls the door open and many, many loud conversations pour out onto the sidewalk. Shannon reaches for him and pulls him back.
“What’s the matter?” he asks.
“Nothing. If you do me a favor I’ll let you in on a secret.”
“When we get inside, pretend you’re him.”
“Pretend you’re him,” she says, nodding east toward the Wriggle Room and Chris Across the Street. “And I will pretend you’re him, too.”
Soon their conversation rises up and joins with all the other conversations muttering through the bar. It is the same conversation she always has with Chris Across the Street, the one she’ll never have with That Guy Jeff.