Prodigal Son

“There was not a cell of modesty in Pop’s bloated old body; he’d probably want to raise PT Barnum from the dead to put on the show of all shows.”

Amid the chaos, the family arguing about who would get what, you figure no one will miss you. He’d told you where to find the paperwork. Which car to take to the house in the country. Your older brothers call it “the cabin.” What a joke. Pop only bought it because he thought it would make him look smart. Because some wise man in the past droned on about doing his best thinking in his cabin in the woods. Pop had been there once. He stayed exactly two hours, pronounced it “boring as hell,” then went back to the city. But you’ve always liked it. You really want nothing from him, and told him so the last time you spoke, and somehow he respected you for that (probably calling you a schmuck behind your back). Now a small part of you hopes he left you the house in the woods. Maybe that’s why he’d hidden his will there, and gave you, as final instructions, the job of driving up alone to read it and bring it back.

The house isn’t easy to find. A highway to a series of two lane roads to a dirt path to a cluster of pine trees across from the remnants of an old barn. The gate, cleverly designed to look like scrub and deadfall, opens with a touch of the remote. Soon you’re inside, lighting the fire to chase off the chill and drinking his good scotch out of the bottle.

A manila envelope sits on the coffee table. During the drive, you’d speculated about the funeral he might want. There was not a cell of modesty in Pop’s bloated old body; he’d probably want to raise PT Barnum from the dead to put on the show of all shows. Pomp and goddamn circumstance.

But when you get all cozy to read his last wishes—images of showgirls and champagne dancing through your head—you are stunned to find, attached to a standard will, a page with your name on it that reads: “I don’t want a funeral. They’re depressing as hell, no matter how much you tart them up. So, put on a party if it makes your mother happy. Otherwise, use the money for something better. That, I’ll leave up to you. You were always the smart one. The good one. The others, not so much.”

You set down the papers, drink more scotch, watch the flames dance in the hearth. Wondering. True, you’ve been away for a while. Unable to stomach the political circus, the election, the mockery he made of every institution. But was it the office that changed Mr. Flash-and-Dazzle’s tune? The consequences of his decisions? The bombs he dropped, the ruined lives, the plummeting poll numbers, the flag-draped bodies coming home?

You can see that. Even his handwriting on the note looks less self-assured than the confident scrawl of his prime. No doubt the government will feel obliged to give him a proper funeral. No doubt your brothers will want a four-story golden mausoleum in the middle of Park Avenue, emblazoned with the family name. Part of you doesn’t give a shit what kind of pharaoh-like send-off they envision, and you realize there’s nothing you can do to stop them. But a portion of his estate is legally yours.

Maybe you can do some good with that. Maybe he would have wanted one of his children to spend his legacy righting some of his wrongs. When and if you have kids, maybe you’ll want that, too.

There’s no need to return to the city right away, so you slip the letter into your pocket, take the scotch and head outside to watch the sun set, marveling at how beautiful the light looks, melting into the lake. You drink a toast to the old man. If he’d stayed long enough to see this show, maybe he would have had some good, wise thoughts in his cabin in the woods, and maybe everything would have worked out differently. Maybe you wouldn’t have had to kill him.

Sunday Flash Fiction: Deja Vu

navigation-1048294_640This piece was inspired by this week’s 2-Minutes-Go Flash Fiction, and I wanted to share it:

Deja Vu

Lunch wasn’t sitting well, the sudden rise in the humidity was making his sinuses throb like a mother, and Malcolm still had one more job to do before he could call it a week and collect his money.

The déjà vu of the address he plugged into his crappy GPS stopped him for a moment, but then he shook it out of his head and followed its schoolmarm directives. He knew the cardinal rules of the job: have a short memory and don’t get involved. Maybe that was why he drank so much. It helped with the memory part, but it didn’t help so much with the guilt. He woke each morning with the gut-sinking sensation that he’d ruined someone’s day, maybe even someone’s future. But several cups of coffee usually killed that. So did the piles of bills on his kitchen table and the rationalization that if people hadn’t done something stupid he wouldn’t be visiting.

But when he turned up the broken driveway and saw the sheared off gutter dangling by one clamp over the raggedy lawn, one of those smothered memories snuck up and sucker-punched him.

He’d been there before. The driveway had been less choppy; the lawn had been shorter. A pale wisp of a girl, many months pregnant, had answered the door. She’d looked like his daughter, whom he hadn’t seen in years. He’d mumbled the name on the papers and she shook her head and he said he was only doing his job and she stood there growing paler and he shoved the papers at her and got the hell out of there as fast as he could and downed most of a fifth of JB when he got home.

Now he turned the car off and sat, staring at the crumbling stairs, the sagging gutters, and one intrepid weed growing straight up out of it. The doorbell glowed orange. The papers lay crisp and stapled on his front seat. His breath quickened. His mind snatched at excuses. Had an accident. Lost the paperwork. Nobody home… His smile dissolved. No matter what he dreamed up, this would not end well for her.

Then a car pulled up behind him. The pale and less-wispy girl flew out, fists clenched, eyes blazing. “You people. You people, haven’t you people done enough? He’s not here. He’s not here, all right? You want him? You go to his girlfriend’s house, you get him there, and you know what? You tell him he owes me for the care and feeding of our child.”

And with that she pointed to the backseat, and the pale, towheaded baby, and the lunch that hadn’t been sitting well in Malcolm’s stomach punched him too.

Her once-pale face flared red, but she seemed to have shouted herself out, so he rolled down his window. She stood with sagging shoulders, her right hand extended. “Okay,” she said. “I get it. The papers are all made up there, and you’re only doing your job, and I guess”—she sighed—“I guess I’ll have to find a lawyer or something, huh.”

“I can help you,” he mumbled.

“Huh?”

Malcolm cleared his throat and said, louder, “I can help you.”

And when he got home, the undelivered summons back in his briefcase, he collapsed into a kitchen chair and made two phone calls. One to his boss, telling him he quit. The second to the public defender, telling him the name and new address of the deadbeat dad.

He then tried to make a third, but the same sort of schoolmarmish voice that scolded him from his GPS said that the number had been disconnected.

The robotic words were still echoing in his mind when he drank the JB straight from the bottle, knowing it would not kill everything that he’d done, but he damn sure hoped to give it a try.

The Ride

hitchhiker-691581_1280Hi, everyone! I’m sharing one of the pieces I wrote for this week’s 2MinutesGo flash fiction luau and quilting bee on JD Mader’s blog, Unemployed Imagination. Maybe you’d like to drop by and see what we get up to. It’s fun, and free, and there’s some great writing.

—–

The Ride

“Been out there long?”

It was the first thing he’d said to her since the car pulled away from the shoulder. She stared at his unshaven profile, the pointed chin, the glasses sliding down his nose. Was he dim or just trying to make conversation? Of course she’d been out there long. She was soaked clean through and her backpack was a dripping mess in the trunk of his ancient Gran Torino. Then she sighed. As if the damp, overheated closeness inside the car needed any more twice-breathed air. He didn’t have to stop. He could have just left her there in the pouring rain and made an anonymous phone call from the road.

“A while.” She drummed her fingers atop her wet jeans.

He nodded, keeping his eyes on the slick road ahead. His skinny arms, tense from gripping the wheel, reassured her. If he were a big hulking guy, she might not have gotten in. Her mother’s warnings about taking rides from strangers had only partially penetrated her brain. She was certainly old enough to discern whether a driver represented a threat, and although the weather might have flavored her judgment, he seemed kindly. Like an uncle. Like the kind of guy who might have teenage daughters at home that he would want picked up by a law-abiding, decent man if they’d been stuck out in the rain.

“Where are you headed?” he said finally.

She shrugged. “As far as you’re going would be fine.”

His laugh came out like a tiny squeak. “Well, you might not want to be going that far. I’m aiming for Canada.”

“Funny,” she said. “That’s exactly where I’m going.” She liked the sound of Canada. Of starting over somewhere no one knew her, where no one looked at her sideways because of what her father had done.

He didn’t answer. Cold rainwater dripped down her back and she shivered. What if he started asking questions? Like how old she was, and why she was leaving the country, and if there was someone he ought to be calling? But he said nothing. The tires sluiced through the flooded roads; passing eighteen-wheelers drenched them and he flipped the wipers on high.

As they approached the next exit, he cleared his throat. “Okay, then,” he said, as if making some decision on the spot. “But I need to, um, pull off here and take care of an errand, first. Maybe you can help.”

Considering that he was driving her a couple hundred miles, hadn’t asked her any questions, and there wasn’t that much money in her mother’s purse, she’d be willing to give him a hand. Within reason.

“What will I be doing?”

He smiled at the tollbooth collector and handed over a few singles. As he rolled through an intersection and took a left into the parking lot of a small strip mall, he said, “There’s a gun in the glove compartment.” He brought the sleek, giant car to a stop but left the engine on. “If anyone comes after us, start shooting.”

(New: audio version on SoundCloud!)

Two-Minutes-Go Road Trip

writerWhile JD is wading some mountain stream in search of Moby-Trout, or at least that’s what he told me to say when the FBI come by asking questions about him, he’s entrusted our Friday flash fiction fandango to me. No Black Friday crowds here. Just a place to share some words.

Or, in a passage I stole from his website:

Hey, writer-type folks. AND PEOPLE WHO JUST WANT TO PLAY BUT DON’T IDENTIFY AS ‘WRITERS’ – all are welcome here! Every Friday, we do a fun free-write. For fun. And Freedom!

Write whatever you want in the ‘comments’ section on this blog post. Play as many times as you like. #breaktheblog! You have two minutes (give or take a few seconds … no pressure!). Have fun. The more people who play, the more fun it is. So, tell a friend. Then send ’em here to read your ‘two’ and encourage them to play. 

Here’s one to start us off:

The air cooled a few degrees, and that’s when I knew she’d arrived. So I snuck up the back stairs, and at a safe remove on the balcony, I readied myself to eyeball the intruder. Rumors had been flying about her—her beauty, her feline grace and charm that belied a volcanic temper. But before any polite introductions could be made, before we could circle each other and stake our claims, I had to see for myself. Evaluate the potential trouble.

And she looked like trouble. Green eyes widening, she flattered the hosts while scoping out the room, hunting her next mark. I knew that game. My muscles went on alert, a ripple of tension beneath my skin, tiny hairs standing on end like tiny field agents reporting to command. No. Boundaries must be set. There could be no room for misinterpretation, here. This was my turf. I’d been deftly ingratiating myself to these people for years. I had them just where I needed them, each step of the plan clicking neatly into position, and I could not allow some slick interloper to get between me and what I deserved.

They were calling for me. I set my expression. Welcoming, but cool. Calm, but alert. One that spelled delighted to meet you, my dear, but no need to make yourself comfortable, because I’m sure you won’t be staying long enough to even learn what kind of soaps are in the powder room.

Ready, finally, because I would not be rushed, I sashayed down the stairs. And on the second from the bottom, I froze. She had her nose in my food dish. In. My. Food. Dish. The hairs on my back shot to attention. I did not care a whit how lovely she was. This meant war.