Here are some previews of short stories I have published, including those from my series, The Bridge on Beer River.
Coming in Club Plum Literary Journal
My Third Divorce
from Literally Stories
My first divorce is a hippie divorce. We have few worldly possessions other than our record collection and our philosophy. We remember who bought each of the records, but the philosophy has no origin we can identify. We don’t fight over the wire spool, our major piece of furniture, or our Sears portable stereo. Since we never got around to having children, there is no custody fight, except for the dog, a black and white beagle mix my wife rescued from the pound. When he brings home the blackened carcasses of chickens and other animals, she says they are gifts for me. She claims he loves me best. You take him, she says. No, you take him. We agree on a visitation schedule carefully planned with intervals for cleaning and disinfectants. I consider running away when it is my turn, but he runs away before I can. I know he survives to terrorize another neighborhood and sire a pack of vicious little dogs. One day I expect the pack to come for me.
My first divorce is the beginning of my second divorce, a cycle of nature. Read more of My Third Divorce
The Butterfly Buddha
from Longshot Island
If I had actually met Jack Duquesne, I might be a healthier man. These are my wife’s thoughts about Jack Duquesne and my devotion to his literary genius. Carla wants me to give up my obsession and my tenure-track teaching position and return to selling books at City Lights before it’s too late. To her credit, she doesn’t want me to die like Duquesne, flamed out at forty-two.
Her pronouncements come in the wake of my Duquesne séances, as she calls them, when she finds me sitting cross-legged on the living room carpet hugging a gallon jug of cheap Villa wine and chanting poetry to the bop beat of Charlie Parker or Dizzy Gillespie. The sweet wine makes me sick, but I drink it anyway, a tribute to Jack. Sometimes I imagine him joining me, thirsty from cigarette smoke, speaking through me, a call and response about art and philosophy like some beat dialogue from Plato. My serious bouts call for a chaser of Johnny Walker and Miles Davis.
I use the same technique in my classes, arranging my students in a circle on the floor around my stereo speakers like frightened pioneers crowding around a camp fire. Within weeks after the beginning of each semester I hear bop cascading from dormitory windows, and empty jugs of Villa start appearing in the dumpsters. Duquesne is irresistible. Read more of The Butterfly Buddha
That Buzzing in Your Ear
from Jersey Devil Press
Imagine a cloud of insects descending around you, flying into your nose and ears, crawling on your skin, biting and licking, adding your DNA to their distributed database, a super computer swarming around the earth like atmosphere, with billions of transistors, diodes, resistors and other discrete components, and each component type an insect species connecting to one another like a wireless mesh. Their buzz fades and swells, endless logic gates open and close, carrying more instructions than any human brain can comprehend, their timeless organic mind holding artifacts from the origin of plants and fish, the birth and death of dinosaurs, the arc of human history, their sphere of knowledge expanding like the universe itself.
Fra Giuseppe Verno first discovered the language capability of insects in 1634. An entomologist and contemporary of Galileo, he hid his friend from the inquisition in a large glass jar in his study, instructing Galileo to wear black robes and lie face down with his arms and legs folded under him like a beetle, knowing the church’s fear of vermin would keep him safe. Read more of That Buzzing in Your Ear
About the War
from Eunoia Review
im draws back his spear. Several gray shadows drift across the green moss, swimming upstream where Eagle Creek narrows to flow under Highway 18.
Leaning forward, Jim strikes. The carp flails to escape, catching a ray of sunlight, flashing gold underwater. Jim lifts the shaft of his spear like a shovel and flips the fish up on the bank. Next to him, Barry throws his spear but the other carp have scattered. He pulls it back to show us a broken tine, laughing like he intended to hit the rock all along. I ignore him and focus on Jim’s carp.
Its fins bend and quiver as I scramble over the culvert to the other side for a closer look. On the bank the carp has shed any hint of beauty, dull brown and gray, the color of mud, with dirty white highlights on large scales and a stretched snout ending in a sucker mouth, a vacuum cleaner of crud. One yellow eye stares up at us. The carp tries to flip but it’s too heavy, too full of muck to move. Jim touches it with the toe of his boot, but I lean away, staring at the blood wash along its back where Jim’s spear entered. Barry pokes it with his pole. The carp curls its tail and tries to flip again.
“Maybe we should throw him back,” I suggest, recalling how we release any fish we catch. “He’ll die out of the water.”
Jim laughs and Barry laughs louder. Read more of About the War
The Bridge on Beer River
A series of linked stories about working class people in Reagan-era Binghamton, featuring a scarred veteran with drinking, work, and love problems who tries to do the right thing but often fails.
from The Fiction Pool
In mid-August the last wave of university graduates begins its migration back to New York City. Yard sales sprout on every street, piled with furniture, books, old clothes, and discarded lovers, a time for decisions.
I help Chelsea pack her Datsun, and at lunchtime we take my car to Otsiningo Park, the site of the annual Speidi and Balloon Festival. Over the campus radio station we hear the authorities cancelled the hot-air balloon launch this morning because of thunderstorms. They’ll try again tomorrow. But the food and beer booths are all open despite the Arctic cold front, their wet canvas and plastic tarps shining in transient sunbeams.
“This is fun!” Chelsea exclaims. She wears a green raincoat and a flat-brimmed cowboy hat, resembling a Mexican outlaw queen with her long dark hair pinned up and her orange umbrella tucked under her arm like a riding crop. Her sarcastic smile is contagious.
“Never ate a speidi,” I admit.
“Here’s your big chance.” Read more of Balloons
Joining the Circus
from Big Bridge
Debby wants to join the circus. She tells me in a dreamy way, lying on her side facing me, her eyes closed and a wet trail of drool on the corner of her mouth. She looks angelic, but I know she’s drunk, talking impossible futures like drunks always do.
“The strong man has huge tattoos,” she says, “and a shiny bald head.”
“Like a bowling ball,” I smile, “with tiny round eyes and a round mouth.” I point my thumb and fingers at her to show how I would grip his head and roll it for a strike, but I lose my balance and lurch sideways, nearly falling off the bed.
Debby laughs and props herself up on her elbow to fire a cigarette. “He says he can get me a job selling concessions or feeding the animals,” she continues. “Just the tame ones I told him, but he says I wouldn’t have to work if I didn’t want to.” She exhales through her nose and adds, “But I want to learn the trapeze. Or maybe ride the horses.” She tosses back her hair like a shampoo model.
“You’re pretty enough,” I tell her, imagining her with pancake makeup under the bright lights. “But why do you want to leave Binghamton?”
At that, we both laugh until we end up coughing. Anyone who stays in Binghamton is either looney or drunk. Bad jobs and worse weather. Outside the rain is blowing and beating an irregular rhythm above our heads, accenting our conversation like it does everything here, and now that I think about it, I expected the rain to start when Debby and I made love no matter how drunk we were. The dampness gives us an excuse to cuddle closer.
As she drifts off to sleep, she says, “I’m glad I met you tonight, Curt. You’re a real dreamer. Wanting to learn computers.” She nuzzles my chest hair while I stroke her curls. “You’re so tough looking.”
“Thanks, but I’m not that tough,” Read more of Joining the Circus
from Fictive Dreams
I scramble to answer the pounding on my front door, surprised to have a late afternoon visitor and even more surprised to see Artie leaning on his crutch and grinning with his remaining teeth.
‘Hi there, Curt,’ he says.
I smile back, not sure what he wants. Artie always has an angle. He pushes into my apartment, and I notice he has shaved for a change. I smell the Aqua Velva.
‘What’re you doing?’ he asks, staring at the open booklet on my chair. He spies my open beer can and winks at me before helping himself to a swallow.
I shake my head, hoping he remembered to spit out his plug and brush his teeth. Artie’s a master at coaxing free beers from his friends and acquaintances at My Mother’s Place, though he’s easily offended if anyone calls him on it. He pays for a round now and then just to keep his honor. Read more of Artie’s Dodge
from Doubly Mad
I shuffle down State Street in the late morning, my headache pounding with each step. Artie hops out of his apartment doorway as I pass. He mumbles a greeting but something’s bothering him.
We cross the Washington Street Bridge, though it’s out of our way. The gray planks laid across the grates make it easier for Artie’s crutch, especially in the light rain.
He stuck by my stool last night at My Mother’s Place when I bought a few pitchers to celebrate getting my job back at Crowley’s Dairy. Now he expects me to buy his coffee. By the time I start work on Monday I’ll be dried out and freshly showered. I can hardly afford the coffee and cinnamon roll at the Park Dine but I’m still celebrating. Read more of Celebration
Message from the Vampire
from Potato Soup Journal
A loud ring shatters my sleep, growing louder with each cycle like a police car racing up the street. I stagger to the living room, kicking a beer can out of my way. I snatch the telephone and hear a woman cry, bubbling over with short breaths between sobs, drowning her words.
New York Bell installed the phone yesterday at the insistence of Sherman, my boss at the dairy. I expect a different call waking me up. Julie my mentor in accounting warned me that if I screw up my punch card input I might get a call from the vampire, the computer operator who runs the accounting jobs overnight.
My keypunch skills are suspect, but not enough to make a vampire cry. I wait for the sobs to shorten, the breaths deepen. “Curt here.”
“I’m so sorry,” the woman says hoarsely before rising in another crescendo.
I try to identify her voice. Read more of Message from the Vampire
Sack the Quarterback
from Spank the Carp
“We’re getting married!”
I spin around on my bar stool. Debby beams at me, holding the arm of a guy I’ve never seen before.
“I thought tonight was your night off,” Artie says to her with a confused look. I’m sitting between Artie and Carl in My Mother’s Place where Debby works as a waitress.
“Congratulations,” I say, elbowing Artie as I extend my hand toward Debby’s fiancé.
“Joe, these are my friends Curt, Artie and Carl,” Debby rises up on her toes and shakes her auburn curls out of her soft brown eyes.
Joe is about my height but heavier. His unkempt dark hair frames a rugged, sagging face, blue eyes, and a dimpled jaw with a loose grin. He looks familiar. When he dips his head and says hello I make the connection. He looks like Joe Namath, the football star. Artie sees it too.
Joe tightens his grip, squeezing my hand until it hurts. I return his grin and clench my fist until his eyes glaze with pain and he lets go.
Debby doesn’t notice our contest. “We met last night at Pearl’s. We were pretty drunk, but we were still engaged when we woke up this morning!”
“Congratulations,” Artie and Carl stammer.
Joe nods his head. I don’t like him and I tell myself it’s not because he squeezed my hand or because he met Debby at Pearl’s like I did, dancing on peanut shells, and holding her tight body through the slow dances to close out the night. He studies Artie and Carl but avoids my eyes. Maybe she told him about our weeklong drunken romance. Read more of Sack the Quarterback
Bridge Eight Press
Artie waits for me outside My Mother’s Place on Friday night, leaning against a parking meter with his crutch tucked under his arm. He pulls a plaster cast out of his pocket and shows me the imprint of his gapped mouth.
“VA’s getting me false teeth in two weeks.” He spits a brown stream of tobacco juice into the gutter and checks the sky. “Smells like rain.”
“I’m happy about your teeth, but you could have shown me inside where it’s warmer. What about your new leg?” I glance down at his stump.
“Needs a refit.” He shoves the cast into his jacket. “They sent Rich up to jail in Auburn today. Debby’s in the kitchen crying.”
I turn toward the bar door and Artie taps my shoulder. “Curt, you should forget about it and go home. You got your job back at the dairy. You don’t need Debby messing you up.”
“I won’t stay long.” Read more of Cold Goodbye.
Drowning in Joy
Blue Lake Review
Most guys come out of jail looking a little pale, but Rich flashes a tan like he just stepped off a Caribbean cruise. He saunters into My Mother’s Place with Debby on his arm, heading to the bar stool between Artie and me while Debby splits off to the kitchen to prepare for her shift waiting tables. Her quick glance tells me she hasn’t told Rich about our short tryst when he was locked up in Auburn.
Rich stands 5′ 6″, built like a small tank with a wide frame and arms like iron pipes. He has hardly any neck. His shoulder muscles wrap around the base of his head like a thick weld. His red hair is shorter now and his moustache trimmed, his Yosemite Sam appearance lost on the floor of the prison barbershop. He flashes a warm, toothy smile and focusses his steel blue eyes. “Great to see you, Curt,” he says to me.
I wave to Mike the bartender for another glass and fill it from my pitcher of Genesee Ale. “Welcome home.”
Artie and I catch him up on the news of the past week, every subject but Debby, and I wonder if he’ll tell us why they threw him in jail. Read more of Drowning in Joy