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.