Steven & Kitty (a nugget of fiction)

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Winter.

Nine o’clock Saturday morning. Wind-driven mean cold washed through the streets of Pearl River. Winston’s Newsstand opened at five a.m. Seven days a week Steven Winston opens the shop promptly at five a.m. Steven is twenty-six. He is the fourth-generation owner. His great-great grandfather, Marcus Winston, opened the shop in 1918. After the great war.

Like most places in life, things you could really count on were often in short supply. However, residents of Pearl River could count on Winston’s Newsstand.

Winston’s Newsstand had the best coffee in town. Common knowledge. Marcus Winston used to say: “Life is tough enough. No one should be shorted on a good cup of coffee.”

No one argued.

Steven Winston was a stocky five six, dark chocolate eyes. Wore glasses, a reality he hated. He’d been next in line to run the family store, another reality he hated. It wasn’t that he hated the customers or his family or the store. What he hated was being stuck in Pearl River.

The only good thing about living in Pearl River was he was in love with Kitty Delia and she lived in Pearl River. He’d been in love with Kitty Delia since kindergarten. She was good enough to tolerate him back then. Kitty, with the famous Delia chestnut brown hair, then and now past her shoulders: thick, shiny, glorious waves. Good enough to eat. Her eyes dark, deep-set, glistening. Chocolate brown. Her face a soft oval, her lips, further evidence Michelangelo had ample reason to sculpt the human form. Now, at twenty-six, she was as beautiful as ever. More so in Steven’s eyes.

They had never been an item.

But toleration turned to a real friendship after Kitty’s house caught fire. Kitty was seventeen  and suffered third-degree burns on her left arm. Many neighborhood boys who’d nearly begged for the chance to go out with her disappeared,  some casting petals of pitiable expressions in their wake.

Not so Steven Winston.

He really did love her and care about her and made a point of visiting her in the hospital and when she was recovering at home.

The first time she put on a sleeveless dress after the fire, exposing her badly scarred arm, she called Steven and asked him to please come over. When he got there, she showed him her arm and asked him how she looked.

“Don’t lie to me, Steven. Tell me the truth.”

And he did. He told her the truth. “You look beautiful, Kitty.” He meant it.

“People are going to stare.”

“The hell with’m. Let’m stare. Hell, if those burn patterns were on canvas someone would call it a great abstract painting about the storms of life and pay millions for it!”

She laughed. “You know, you’re right.” She looked at her arm and said: “I name thee, Pompeii.”

He smiled. “You’re beautiful, Kitty.”

 

 

K’s Crow

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His name was simple enough, so he thought of himself as K. He liked Kafka, though Kafka was not what his K stood for. It didn’t matter what it stood for. It stood. That’s what counted. More than once he wondered, where do we go once we’re gone? If not anywhere, if it is indeed from life to blank, where was nature’s balance in that?  Carl Sagan said something about the universe being organized. Is it so unlikely there are manifestations of nature we are incapable of imagining? Why not? How can that not be true? And who are we to assume ours is the best vantage point from which to decide the matter? Humble up, folks.

K’s head found itself busy with thoughts like these from time to time. Old enough now to worry about how much time he had left, a clarity had begun to emerge. Could the point of us simply be the contribution of our life as a whole, and then, that’s it. It seemed out of balance to him.  Why should Hitler receive the same fate as Gandhi? Is there really a conflict of good and evil? If not in those words, certainly there is a battle between healthy and unhealthy?

Wasn’t there something in the bible about a rich man having about as much chance of getting into heaven as a camel has of getting through the eye of a needle? The older you get, the more questions you have, is what K believed, at least for himself.

All this led to Alice, this woman who had once captivated him, and seemed to digest who he was almost instantly. The array, accuracy, and potency of the armor he had built up over six decades plus was acutely formidable, and it found no threat to respond to in Alice. K knew if he was asked what he loved about Alice he wouldn’t know how to answer with precision. It’s like asking what was it you loved about Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the only fair answer one can muster in a moment like this is so say, “Where to begin.” Then, stop talking.

Early afternoon, an exquisite blue cloudless sky, not steel blue, but all a powder-soft velvety blue.

A crow arced across the blue sphere like a God.

A short story: The grenade

How was he going to write anything if the bent corner of the notebook’s cover kept derailing him? It was pitiful. He was pitiful. He knew this perfectly well. No matter how he placed the notebook on the table, adjusted the light, angled the pen, the triangular shape of the bent corner was still there, causing chaos. 

He could not concentrate. His body felt like a clenched fist. Worse than that. A grenade. He half expected to explode into pieces. First, a bent corner. Then, carnage.

He drank come coffee. It occurred to him that the last thing a grenade should be ingesting is caffeine. Talk about adding fuel to the fire. The thought made him laugh out loud.

Outside his window his neighbor, Shirley, mid-seventies, maven of sweatsuits, enamored with the idea of bellowing absolutely everything she said, asked another neighbor:  “ARE YOU GOING TO THE GROCERY?!” 

It was a wonder the concussive impact of her voice didn’t catapult her neighbor to the grocery on the spot. After all, it was only a half mile away. The grenade heard no response to Shirley’s question. Perhaps the neighbor had been knocked unconscious.

He drank more coffee.

A boy watched from the corner of the room.

The grenade could not see the boy.

The boy was not troubled by the notebook’s bent corner. 

An old man sat in the corner opposite the boy. They could see each other. The grenade could not see them. Like the boy, the old man wasn’t in the least troubled by the notebook’s bent corner. A corner is a corner and a bend is a bend, nothing more, nothing less. 

“Matters of a small frame,” said the old man, in silence. 

In a third corner of the room stood a three-year-old girl. The boy and old man could see her. She could see them. The grenade could not see her. That a bent corner had gotten hold of so much of grenade’s decision-making broke her heart.

The little girl said: “I am his mother. I am stuck here. My mother died too soon. If he could hear me, I would say, I am your mother, you’re safe now. ” Her eyes were tears. She looked at the grenade. “I am your mother.”

The old man and boy watched the grenade. The grenade remained still, staring at the notebook’s bent corner, unaware of the truth surrounding him. He thought he would explode at any moment.

No One Goes Home Again

“Oh woe is me,” said Scruffy Man, sitting at the diner counter. The Scruffy Man in oversized overalls, bushy eyebrows and a stained white t-shirt missing one of its sleeves. His red hair swirled on his head like a whirlpool, making it impossible for even the most attentive eye and fashion-plate mind to understand how on earth the hair had arrived at its visually dysfunctional resting place.

“I am the garden fool,” Scruffy Man went on. “All the planting for naught. Seeds unsown, dreams all famished.” Here he belched and scratched his groin with his left hand. Then, in a whisper, “Famished.”

No one knew what to say. This was not the first time Scruffy Man had let loose with phrases linked to a reality that only he and he alone understood.

“You know, son,” said Scruffy Man to the elderly man sitting to his right at the counter, a man easily 30 or more years his senior, “at night I remove my head and place it on the night stand. Never have bad dreams that way.”

The elderly man lifted his coffee mug in a toast, “Not a bad idea come think of it.”

Scruffy Man, in a whisper that only allowed everyone in the diner to hear, said, “Can’t get that woman out of my head.”

“Even when it’s on the night stand?”

“I know she’s in there.”

Outside the sun slipped behind a cloud, the light in the diner dipped into dusk, the diner lights suddenly stark, surreal.

Scruffy Man looked out the window, “I know she’s in there.”

The Older Man looked down at his forearms resting on the counter. A tattoo of a parrot was on his left arm and a tattoo of an empty cage was on his right. He’d gotten both 10 years earlier on his sixty-seventh birthday because it was then, after the death of his beloved wife Dora, he realized, finally, he would never go home again. No one goes home again.

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