Posts Tagged ‘short story’

The First Visit: A Story of the Early Sixties

January 24, 2018

 

Paul was sitting alone in his apartment over the Rexall where he worked. As he had finished supper, Paul had listened on the radio to Jack Kennedy declare support for President Diem and liberty in Indochina. Now he was half listening to a radio episode of Gunsmoke. Paul had a lonely life. The brutal realities of the Cold War and life in the Old West were unlikely to cheer him up. But he was very happy. Aunt Emma, his last remaining relative, had finally died.

Her death itself did not make him happy. He had liked Emma, a bit. But Paul’s aunt had left him enough money to buy new clothes, rent an apartment with a private bath, and buy a new Studebaker Lark convertible. He was signing the lease on the apartment tomorrow morning, and it wasn’t over the Rexall where he worked. He was talking to the Studebaker dealer tomorrow afternoon. By next week Paul’s friends might start to respect him.

Paul finally had enough money to live. People said he should be happy he wasn’t still a stock boy, but Paul knew he had no future standing behind a soda fountain in a drugstore. Jerking sodas is cool when you’re eighteen, but not when you’re thirty-two. Today the bank had transferred the funds for a new life into Paul’s new personal checking account. Paul was very happy indeed.

Paul was sipping Champale when he heard heavy footsteps on his stairs. Since he had the only apartment at the top of stairs, he got up to answer the knock he expected. But before he got there, both the latch and the bolt lock released themselves. The door swung in.

A muscular arm ran up from the door knob into the shadows above the door frame. Only the chest and lower body could be seen behind the opening door. Then the shoulders dropped as the giant ducked his broad face under the door frame and strode into the room. The giant stretched himself to full height, straightened his sharkskin suit, and looked around with satisfaction.

Paul stepped back. “What do you want?”

Turning, the giant folded his arms and smiled down at Paul. His eyes were a warm brown, and his smile seemed good humored. Paul watched him reach up and tease a corner of his dark mustache.

“I want your money, Sonny Boy.”

“What?”

“Come on. Fork it over, Paul. Everything you’ve got.”

“I only have ten dollars, and change. Honest.”

The giant cupped both hands and stuck them down below Paul’s chin, as if to catch the jackpot from a slot machine. Paul emptied the bills out of his wallet, Then dropped his change into the giant’s hands. His money seemed so small in those hands.

“That’s all I’ve got.”

The giant moved about the apartment, dumping out drawers and occasionally pocketing small objects. He didn’t even glance at Paul. But once, as he passed, he bent down, parted Paul’s hair quiff, and looked inside. “Any gold in here?” Then he laughed and patted Paul’s head.

The giant pulled a book of counter checks from his pocket and handed it to Paul. “Now write me a check. Make it for the amount in that rockin’ new checking account of yours. I’ll go by your bank when it opens and cash it.”

“I only make minimum wage.”

The giant laughed. “Now put down what’s in your account, Paul. And don’t you forget what your sweet auntie left you.”

How could he know? Paul opened the book and found dozens of signed checks, each drawn on a different account. He found many names he knew. John Dickens, the pharmacist. His landlord, Mr. Ladd. Patty Schmidt, who worked beside him at the soda fountain. Even Rex Masters, the Chief of Police! Finally he found a blank check. His name, bank and account number were already printed in.

“Put it down as a visitation fee.”

Paul saw a chance for delay. He wrote down seven dollars more than what was in his account. In the morning, his bank would refuse the check and he would have time to find help. Surely someone would help! Paul handed back the book, but he couldn’t look into those brown eyes. All he could see was the giant’s mustache, and a spreading smile.

“That will do for now, Sonny Boy.”

Paul followed the giant to the door. He listened to the steps going down the stairs, so unhurried, so sure.  He didn’t know who could help. Half the people he knew were in that book. He leaned against the sides of the open door. The radio inside his apartment had moved on to Sam Cooke singing “Wonderful World.”

Then the giant reappeared as a shadow that filled up the lower hallway and moved to the foot of the stairs. As he started back up, a step creaked and Paul felt hot urine rushing down his leg. The giant paused near the top to study the puddle still forming around Paul’s feet.

“Sometimes,” he said, “I have a bit of trouble with young folks. They don’t respect me when I first visit. But you will respect me, Paul. And we will have a long life together. Tomorrow I will give this check to the teller and watch it bounce. Then you will cover the amount, and more.”

The giant looked up and Paul saw that his eyes were blue. His face still seemed the same, all but those eyes. Such a bright blue! Paul blinked and saw that the giant’s mustache had turned white. Paul could no longer feel his shoulder against the doorjamb or even the wetness of his pants.

The giant slid Paul’s Gruen watch off his wrist. “Ten p.m. already, Sonny Boy,” he sighed, dropping the watch into his pocket, “and I have so many people like you to visit.”

The giant guided Paul back into his apartment. Then he gently shut the door.

 

Copyright © 2018 by Michael B. Smetzer

 

1960 Studebaker Lark Regal Convertible - cars on line

1960 Studebaker Lark Regal Convertible – Cars On Line

Skunky’s Steel Mill Story: A Verse Fiction

June 24, 2017

 

Wasn’t my department, Mikey. But, God! I’ll never
forget that day. Must be forty years ago now.
Still seems clear as that Pellegrino you’re drinking.

Steve and I were new hires then. Lloyd, our foreman,
had gone off somewhere, so that morning we played
broom hockey with a pint we dug out of a fan mount.

Jack Daniels, Black Label. Pretty good sipping whiskey!
Sometimes we found bottles part full, but this was open
and empty. Except maybe half a teaspoon, dried to a syrup.

I remember it was hot that noon. No breeze off the lake.
I was sitting outside on the loading dock, leaning
on the corrugated steel. That steel felt cool in the shade.

The explosion had to be loud, but I don’t remember. I think
I saw an orange flame. Then the top two thirds of Number 3
Blast Furnace disappeared in churning, black disaster smoke.

You’ve seen that stuff on CNN. Can’t really see much.
What I remember is the little balls of coke. Pea sized.
Coming down all around and bouncing on the concrete.

I had a carton of chocolate milk beside me. My hard hat
was upside down on the concrete with an unwrapped
sandwich inside. Pickle loaf with American cheese.

Next thing I remember, I was standing inside the dock,
listening to alarms going off all over the plant. My hard hat
was on my head and pickle loaf mush was on my hand.

I looked back. Men were hustling down the stairs along
the outside of the furnace and running toward the road.
I remember light shirts moving under a black cloud.

I finished lunch later, inside. Went back to the dock
for my chocolate milk. Bought a Butterfinger and a bag
of Cheetos at the power station canteen. Tasted good.

I have forgotten who died. They posted a list by the clock.
No one I knew. Not my department. But I remember those
pellets of coke, dropped around like petrified bunny shit.

We swept coke balls off the parking, all afternoon.

 

Copyright © 2017 by Michael B. Smetzer
A prose version of this story was first published in Staccato Fiction, Fall 2011.

 

Discussion

Skunky’s story started with one of my experiences working at the steel mills along the southern tip of Lake Michigan in the 1970’s. I had a job in the power station of the sprawling Bethlehem Steel complex at Burns Harbor, Indiana. Several of us were outside on the loading dock eating lunch when the coke bin of the blast furnace across the street exploded. The scene was as described. All I added was the carnage. I then gave Skunky an audience – a dumb-ass new kid like I was when I started in the mills. So I end up talking to myself again.

Verse novels are an established genre that is growing in popularity, but the use of verse is also effective with shorter works of fiction. I like to use it for some short short stories. Shorter verse fiction does not use as many characters or points of view as are sometimes found in verse novels. Otherwise, it works the same way – by combining the line structure and concentration of poetry with the plot development, syntax, and rhythms of prose fiction.

Mike Smetzer at Harbor - Photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer

Mike Smetzer at Harbor – Photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer

Joe Bought a Truck

May 24, 2017

 

Joe’s new truck was one tall ride!
Ram 1500 Sport.
V-8, 8-speed transmission.
Blue-streak-pearlcoat exterior.
Brand new!
With the biggest mud tires the dealer could fit.

We could never afford a wonder like that.
But my brother Joe went down to Foxwoods
and he won. He won big!
So, being a man, and being single,
he bought this truck.

I said, “You could have bought
a lot of ho’s with that money.”
“Think harder, Bro,” he said.
“I bought the Ram.
Now the sluts will jump in for free.
I can drive the girls and the truck!”

To begin with Joe couldn’t really handle
the girls or the truck.
His ego was just this pale little thing
about the size of a baby mouse.
It slept quietly inside a Big Mac wrapper
stuffed between our seats.

What with all the near collisions,
I can’t say I even noticed it the first two days.
But Joe was right about the sluts.
His best play was to park the Ram near
where some muffins in tights would pass.

Then chat them up from inside the cab.
He looked like a cowboy, as long as he
didn’t try to move the truck.
Soon he was helping girls into the cab
and taking them for rides.

He got better at driving and chatting,
and sometimes,
if the girl didn’t know him,
he scored!
Joe’s ego was growing up now
and growing some thick hair
along with a visible pair of balls.

Joe had to take it out of the wrapper
and put it in the toolbox behind his seat.
Not like he had any tools.
By this time, I was no longer welcome,
except when we drove to work.

Still, when he needed recovery time
or when I was the one with gas money,
I got to ride along on his outings.
Sitting in that Ram was as near ecstasy
as you can get without a dealer.

The guys had to look up to us
‘cause we were cruising way above
their silly little rides.
When the sluts saw our stuff,
they couldn’t help giving
their booty a twerk or two.
Sweet ride! Sweet life!

Soon Joe really got to be the man.
He’d drive up next to one of our buds
lining up a slut in a Ranger or something.
The girl would look up
at Joe in his powerful Ram,
and that guy’s junk was toast!

Joe loved it!
But every time he pulled that stunt
his ego swelled inside the toolbox
and it wanted more.
I could hear it behind the seats, mumbling
and pounding on the inside of the box.

Then it started to talk,
and it talked loud!
Joe had to quiet it down with Captain Morgan
before he could pick up a slut.
Still, Joe was the man.

A lot of girlfriends took a ride in Joe’s Ram,
while their guys were at work.
Joe turned a bucket full of promise rings green.
Pretty soon none of our old buds would talk to us,
and Joe had to park next to the guard house at work.

One night Joe forgot to latch the toolbox.
His ego got loose in the cab.
By morning it had shed hair all over
and grown too big to get back in the box.
We had to let it ride between us
and try to pass it off as a lab.
Smelled like a badger!

With his ego out, Joe had to give up
poaching tights, except for Goths,
but he still loved to drive his Ram up beside
some guy with a slut.

Soon Joe’s ego needed more room in the cab.
Joe could hardly shift.
I was hanging out the passenger window.
People looked at us funny.
No one thought it was a lab.
More like a gorilla!

Even our family stopped talking to us.
And Joe’s ego just kept growing.
We moved it into the truck bed.
But we still couldn’t relax.
Joe’s ego growled and snapped
at us through the sliding window.
Couldn’t even pass it off as a bear!

Now when we pulled up next to a couple,
the girl would look up with big-eyed horror
at the three of us looking down.
Then she’d roll her window up.

Good thing we had heavy duty springs.
Joe liked this new power he had over people
and his ego kept growing.
The truck started banging at every dip in the road.

In the end, Joe’s ego took to leaning
against the tailgate,
which threw off the truck’s balance.
Joe could hardly steer.
The weight of all that ego was too much,
and Joe lost control.

It was early December and raining ice water.
The Ram flipped on a curve.
We found ourselves upside down in a ditch
with six feet of mud-flavored slushy over our heads.
We straight out lost the Ram
‘cause Joe could only afford liability.

Both of us ended up in the hospital
with cuts, bruises and serious hypothermia.
And we collected buckets full of towing bills,
ambulance bills, medical bills.
We couldn’t pay any of it!

Even worse, since we had lost our friends,
we had no way to get to work to make money,
except to walk!

On the other hand, we also lost Joe’s ego.
It shriveled up in that ice water like our testicles,
and it drowned right there under that Ram!
So, yeah, I guess we look like two losers
walking to work every day in the snow.
But at least we got back some peace of mind.

 

Copyright © 2017 by Michael B. Smetzer