Stories

Ritual and Romance, by Michael Moran

#comedy #dating #religion #romance #shortstory

Billy Pruitt had lived all of his twenty-eight years in the same coal mining town in southern West Virginia. He married his high school sweetheart and made a good living as a mechanic working on heavy-duty mining equipment. But one day the world changed for him when his wife began speaking in tongues and eventually left him to marry a snake handling preacher in the next county. Heartbroken and lost, Billy sought new surroundings and landed a job with a large coal company in Wilkes-Barre, PA. The transition from the soft coal of West Virginia to the hard coal of Northeastern Pennsylvania was relatively easy. Adjusting to differences on the surface proved to be more challenging.

The people of Wilkes-Barre were a mix of Irish, Italian, Polish, and other Eastern European nationalities all holding strongly to their heritage and customs and all very unfamiliar to Billy. His friend and co-worker at the coal company, Marty O’Malley, tried to help orient Billy to his new surroundings. Marty, a ruddy-faced Irishman whose waist measured almost twice his in-seem, thought the best way to acculturate the recently transplanted young man was to introduce him to the local cuisine. Marty taught Billy the difference between cannoli and cannelloni, told him that in that part of Pennsylvania “pigs in a blanket” referred to stuffed cabbage, and that green peppers were called mangos. On Wednesday nights, Marty took him to Fumanti’s tavern for tripe, which Billy enjoyed until he discovered that it was cow’s stomach.  Although Billy appreciated Marty’s efforts, most of the culture lesson ended up giving him indigestion and, more importantly, it wasn’t food that was troubling Billy. As with so much of the world, religion was at the center of Billy’s angst. Knowing Marty to be a Catholic, Billy raised the issue with his friend one Wednesday night over beers at Fumanti’s.

“Marty, you know I’ve been dating Sharon Grady for a couple months now.”

“Yeah.” said Marty, “She’s real cute. You guys gettin’ serious?”

“We might be, but there’s a problem. She’s Catholic and I’m not. I was raised Baptist but I ain’t much o’ anything anymore.  ‘Course that don’t matter ‘cause you people got a problem with your women marrying anybody who’s not Catholic, especially if they’ve been divorced.”

“Oh yeah!” said a sympathetic Marty. “A Catholic girl marryin’ a divorced Protestant, that makes the Pope shit in his hat. She’d be excommunicated and her family would probably disown her. …You know you could convert and try to get your first marriage annulled.”

“Yeah, I don’t know if I wanna do all that. For now Sharon thinks I oughta at least learn somethin’ about her religion, so she wants me to go to Mass with her on Sunday. I’ve never even been inside a Catholic church and I’m a little nervous about it. I heard y’all do a lot of standin’ and kneelin’ and talkin’ in Latin. I don’t wannna do somethin’ dumb and embarrass her.”

“Oh, hell,” Marty snorted. “Half the men who go to church wouldn’t know what to do if they didn’t watch everyone else. Just stand when everyone stands, kneel when they kneel’ like that. And we say mass in English now, so when the congregation talks, just move your lips and mumble a little. We ain’t like you holy rollers always yellin’ and screamin’ and praisin’ Jesus at the top o’ your lungs, we’re pretty low key.  Let’s see… what else should ya know? … Oh yeah, when everyone goes up to take communion just stay in your seat, only Catholics are allowed to take communion.”

“Won’t that let everybody know I’m not Catholic?”

“Naw, they’ll just think that you committed some mortal sin and didn’t get to confession.”

“So it’s better they think I’m a sinner than a Baptist?”

“Sure, sins can be forgiven, but being a protestant… that kind of sticks with ya.  Oh, one more thing, before you get into your seat, you need to genuflect”

“What’s that mean?”

“You go down on one knee, always your right knee like this.” Marty clambered down from his bar stool to demonstrate, startling the bartender who thought that his rotund customer was having a stroke.  “Sharon’ll be real impressed if you know enough to genuflect.”

“OK, Marty. I’ll give it a shot.”

The following Monday during coffee break, Marty found Billy and asked, “Well, how’d it go Sunday?”

“Not so good”, replied a glum Billy. “Sharon was pretty nervous about showing up at church with a strange man, so she was lookin’ around to see if people were starin’ at us. I saw a couple of open seats and did that one-knee thing you told me about. Well she didn’t see me go down and she went flying ass-over-tin cups right over my back, looked like one o’ those Chinese acrobats on Ed Sullivan.”

“Ow! Did she get hurt?”

“Nah, just her dignity. But that’s not the worst of it. I really embarrassed her when I took off my top coat.”

“Oh no, I forgot to tell you that Catholics around here never take off their overcoats in church. That’s a Protestant thing.”

“Thanks for telling me that now. I couldn’t o’ felt more outa place if I was wearin’ a Masonic Lodge bowling shirt.  You Catholics have some odd ways about ya.”

“Well like my mother used to say, if you don’t like Catholics you can go to hell because there aren’t any there.”

“Funny, that’s where my mother always said you people were headed.”

As the weeks went by, meatless Fridays, sexual abstinence, and having to wear his overcoat in church wore Billy down. His relationship with Sharon ended and he began to look toward other women.  After a few weeks he once again turned to Marty for advice.

“I’ve been talking to Shelly in the front office. She seems like a nice woman. I think she’s Amish because she has a picture of her family on her desk and one old man has a big black hat a long beard like the guy on the “Dutch Country” pretzel box.”

“Her name is Shelly Goldberg,” said Marty, “So I think she’s Jewish.”

“Geez, I didn’t know there were Amish Jews.”

“They’re not Amish Billy…Oh never mind.”

“If there is one thing we got less of in West Virginia than Catholics it’s Jews. But she seems to be interested in at least being friends. Her sister just had a baby and she invited me to a family shindig on Sunday. I guess it’s like a Jewish baptism or somethin’, she called it a bris. If nothing else it’ll be a new experience for me.”

“Oh, I think that’s exactly what it’ll be,” chuckled Marty.

The following Monday, Billy didn’t even wait for the coffee break. He burst into Marty’s office looking like he had just returned from a space alien abduction.

“Do you know what those people do at a bris? cried Billy. “They trim up a baby’s pecker right there in the living room. Then they eat bagels with some kind of fish on them.”‘

“Yeah, bagels and lox, they’re pretty tasty, huh?”

“Are you kiddin’? After the pecker trimin’ I couldn’t eat anything. Y’all are crazy up here. I don’t know if I can live in this place anymore.”

Billy’s decision to relocate was helped along by economic factors.  As the coal industry in Pennsylvania declined, the company was forced to cut back on staff and Billy was laid off. Seeing this as an opportunity for adventure, he took a job with a copper mining company in Montana. He sent a letter to Marty telling him that the food in Montana wasn’t as good as in Pennsylvania but the people seemed more normal. He also told Marty this:

“I’m dating a nice woman. She told me that she is LDS. I think that means she’s got a learning disability, but she seems plenty smart to me. I’ll let you know how that turns out. Best regards, Billy”

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Stories

The Rescue by David Nees: Part One

#action #adventure #fiction #shortstories #shortstory

“The Rescue” is an excerpt from the forthcoming novel,  After the Fall.

After an electromagnetic pulse attack on the U.S. all transportation and communications were destroyed.  Shortages of food, fuel and other essentials quickly developed and Jason retreated to the mountains to escape the breakdown of society that occurred.

He stopped at the edge of the woods and scanned the house; no sign of anyone.  Cautiously, Jason approached the rear corner of the house from the field and quietly tested the back door.  It was locked.  He went around to the front. It was broken open.  He slowly entered.

The furniture was overturned—signs of a struggle.  Jason stopped and listened for some time.  It was completely quiet.  Moving further into the house, he found Sam in the hallway on the way to the kitchen.  He had been shot multiple times.  There was blood everywhere.

Jason reeled in shock and turned away, his stomach heaving.  His fought back the reflex to vomit; his head was light. Stumbling back out onto the porch, he dropped to the floor and breathed into his cupped hands to keep from passing out.  Tears welled up in his eyes.  After a few minutes he ventured back into the house to try to find Judy.

The kitchen was ransacked, the table was overturned.  Cabinets were torn open and emptied.  He found a part of Judy’s dress torn and lying on the floor but he could not find her.

They’ve taken her, she’s alive!  

Then his face clouded as he thought about how they might treat her.  The basement where Judy kept the food supplies had been discovered and stripped.  The liquor cabinet, Sam’s pride, was empty.  Jason could not find any other sign of Judy in the house.  He took a sheet from the bedroom and covered Sam.

I’ll find her, Sam.   I’ll get her back and make them pay for this…this…  He couldn’t find a word to describe it.

I don’t know how far they’ve gone, but I’ve got to follow.  He was filled with grim thoughts of what was to come.  He went to the well in the yard and pumped cold water over his head, took a long drink and shouldered his rifle.  Then he set off at a trot on the road going south.

Jason kept up a trot for over an hour when he saw smoke ahead.  He veered off the road and worked his way through the fields and hedge rows, slowing and moving more carefully as he got closer.  Finally he stopped and laid down at the edge of an overgrown field.  He was about 50 to 60 yards from the encampment, which was in front of a burned farmhouse. There were a number of tents spread around the yard with people—mostly men, although Jason spied a few women—moving in and out of the remains of the farmhouse.  From the looks of it, the group was getting ready to party and feast.

Enjoying what you stole from Sam and Judy.

Evening approached and Jason lay back in his hide position.  Got to wait till dark; how do I find where they’ve put Judy?  He hoped she was not in the house. He couldn’t see how he could get either of them out and survive.

Stay tuned for part 2!

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Soup Kitchen by Louis Rive

#creative nonfiction #london #nonfiction #shortstory

Fuck I’m ill. On the plus side, everybody else is too and that feels good. It’s raining today as well, gone are the shorts and the ray-bans, gone is the illusion of British summer time. This feels good too.

Today at work I get to spend the day in the basement. I was too hungover to wheel out in front of the guests last time, so now I am paying penance for my actions. I am to polish glassware.

The limescale in the London water forms little white splodges on the glasses, splodges which subsequently need to be rubbed off so that some matrimonially minded arseholes or matt-grey conference manatees can revel in the idea of cleanliness. They don’t see the rats by the bins or the traps clogged up with roach carcasses. They just don’t see white smudges on their glasses and that contents them, apparently.

Ironically the process that involves the removal of limescale from the glassware is remarkably multi-faceted. The industry standard cleaner for cleaning London limescale smudges from glasses is London water itself. This water is obviously packed with limescale, it being from the same tap etc. Effectively this is like cleaning up paint with paint. Great smears of limescale adorn “polished” glasses which, with a sense of due irony, will need to be re-polished by order of the management. Obviously the bosses don’t help or sympathise, their sole role in the whole sordid affair is merely to evaluate and obviously find my workmanship “poor”.

To get a glass to a tolerable state of smudging takes a minimum of three minutes. This has to be done for every glass in the building. There are over 400 glasses. Mathematically this represents about twenty hours of continuous work. My shift is only thirteen hours long. Added to the equation is the fact that the clients keep using the clean glasses to drink a variety of soft drinks, all of which are diluted with London limescale-rich tap water. Occasionally the boss comes in and drains a glass right in front of me before leaving it in the “to be washed” pile, its journey to the polishing basement begun in earnest. I stand and watch his fat face guzzling down the limescaly drink. I can see the small smudges forming as he slakes his thirst with a dramatic “ah”! I think he does it just to spite me and my mind inevitably turns to revenge. I imagine ramming the vessel into his smirking mouth, laughing as he spits out glass and teeth. I watch closely as small splodges of limescale form on the collar of his acrylic suit, showing up perfectly against the crimson hue of his own claret.

But in the end I do nothing as always and subserviently return to my job, which is smearing the limescale around the rim of a never-ending carousel of glassware. The manager tells me to finish before I leave, a task that’s literally impossible, Sisyphean even. The true definition of a permanent job.

I have been looking for a good analogy for how this city takes pride in fucking you at every possible opportunity and finally it came upon me in the form of soup, yes soup. From the great soup kitchens of Tottenham Court Road to the value bucket at Best-In, this watered down vegetable mush has long been associated with hunger, longing and destitution, the triumvirate of modern London. It’s a culinary pairing with those that society shits upon, time and time again, that and bread. Still I mentioned I was sick. The infection had spread to the area under my back teeth so a bowl of hot soup sounded like practical paradise as I needn’t chew.

Now the Vietnamese are the kings of this scene with steaming bowls of spicy broth, replete with noodles like wet horsehair. Luck would have it that there was a “street food market” around the corner so off I went.

£7.95. For a bowl of soup. This represents one hour and twenty minutes on the minimum wage, which is what I earn. One hour and twenty minutes of pushing limescale around a glass just for a bowl of soup. Ah London “street food” everything “street” but the price.

Then I remember the Chinese supermarket does soup in a cup. It says it’s hot and spicy too but more importantly it costs 70p. Even though 70p represents 7 minutes labour, or 2 1/3rd glasses smudged acceptably clean, for those paying attention. This is sadly how I think now, my unit of time measurement is the polished glass, metric or imperial? It really doesn’t matter.

I still buy it because I want some soup you see and I don’t want London to win again. You will be familiar with these contraptions that simply require hot water to create the Styrofoam-enclosed miracle. I go to an evening language course round the corner thinking they must have an urn and they do. There it sits, steaming behind a counter manned by an insect like man called Keith. Soon I will have fucked the system with my cheap soup so I ask Keith for some hot water. I am top of the town, cock of the walk as I watch Keith methodically fill up a cup from the chrome urn but then just before he hands it too me he stops and his finger turns to the till.

50p. For tap water in a university. Keith actually smiles as he sees my face visibly drop, deflated by the last minute winner. I was clearly not the first to be making instant soup on the sly, which Keith’s broken smirk testifies too. Now 50p is by no means expensive but it’s the principle of the whole affair. Some of the students pay £6000 a year apparently. If ever there was a physical embodiment for education being a business, then this was it. I was ill and weak though, with an infected tooth so in my shame I bought it and London won again, his shard shaped dick tearing another inch into my colon. I made the soup. It looked like iodine solution and tasted of chemicals, mainly chlorine. Next time I would just buy beer like normal.

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You First, by Kasey Thompson

#brooklyn #christmas #fiction #na #new york #recovery #shortstory #women

you_first-2

Design by Vincent Walden.

“Hi, my name is Alex and I think I’m addicted to Xanax.”

Hi, Alex. The group chants droningly back towards me.  It’s December and after the mishap on Thanksgiving and my mother said I wasn’t allowed home unless I figured out a way to get myself some sort of help.  Narcotics Anonymous is some sort of help.  Or at least it’s a start.  I’m not ready to share that story with the group.  I’m not ready to share any story with the group actually so I just fumble for a second before sitting back down.

I look up from my chair, once.  Of the six other people in this group, four look homeless.  At least they are worse off than me; that’s always reassuring.  One of them stares behind me at my leather coat draped over the chair.  Two more stare at the black and brown purse slouched in front of the girl across from me.  Her hair is bleached and stiff.  I’ve only seen her eyes three times even though we’ve both been to seven meetings in the past three weeks.  She’s always wearing sunglasses that cover half of her face so all I can see are her bright red lips.  This is Kelsey.

She never shares any stories at group either.  I actually think she might sleep through half the sessions.  That could be why she wears the sunglasses.  I’ve noticed her on the train going home from group a couple of times but never talk to her, not until this Monday.

“Why do you always take the train back to Brooklyn after group?”

“Excuse me,” I say, looking up from my phone to see who has been observing my train routine so closely.  Kelsey is standing in front of me.  She sits down and repeats the question.

“How…and why, do you know where I take the train?”

“Because I live in Brooklyn, too, about one stop down from you I think”

“I don’t know why you know that, but I think you just answered your own question then,” I say.

“How,” she says, looking amused at my slight sign of both annoyance and confusion.

“Because I live there.”

“Why don’t you go to group there then?”

Because they are smaller in Hoboken, I don’t know, why do you go if you live one stop away from me?”

“Because I used to live in Hoboken and I like the ride, it’s a little break where I can just do nothing but sit,” Kelsey says as she stands up seeing the train approaching.  She walks down a few paces from me and enters the train.  I don’t know why I follow her but I sit two rows behind her so I can watch her, still confused as to what extent she has been watching me.  She waits three stops and turns around to face me.

“Want to come over,” she asks.

“No,” I say, not even meaning to reject her so quickly.  She isn’t fazed though.

“Why?”

“Because I don’t even really know you.”

“Yeah, you do, I’m Kelsey from group and I’m a recovering narcotics addict, so you probably know more about me than most of my friends even do.”

I have work at 9:30 a.m. and by the time I get home I’m usually exhausted.  If she lives one stop away though, she might be closer to the store than me anyways.  I don’t know why I’m making excuses to hang out with this girl or why I’m assuming that I’ll stay over night at her place? Before I could answer my own questions though, I answered her’s, “yeah, sure.”

I immediately don’t know why I said that, but I’m not overly upset about it either.

“Awesome,” she says, turning to face the front again.

%%

The third time I go to Kelsey’s after group I sleep with her.  She sits with me on the train home and invites me over like she has the other two nights.  She doesn’t say anything on the train because she saves her questions for pillow talking.

She props her head up on one hand and lies on her side facing me.

“So, what happened on Thanksgiving?”

I turn to face her.  Her red lipstick hasn’t wandered across her face at all.  It is still perfectly placed on her pursed lips, which always amazes me; I forgot about her question for a second while just staring at them.

“Nothing, it was just typical stupid shit, you know?”

“Nope, its something, that’s why you never want to talk about it in group.”

“You never say anything in group, Kelsey, not a single fucking word.”

“Yeah, but I’m different and I asked you first so what happened.”

She’s so casual about it, as if she is asking “what are you doing this weekend.”  I like that, but I still didn’t want to tell her.  I didn’t want to tell her that Thanksgiving was the first time I hadn’t been able to get Xanax for two years and was experiencing withdrawals so bad that I had a mental breakdown.  I didn’t want to tell her that I punched my Uncle Leo in the face and broke his nose when he found me ransacking the medicine cabinet at my parent’s house.  I didn’t want to tell her that I proceeded to fall in an attempt to punch my father in the face who charged at me after I had punched my Uncle Leo.  I didn’t want to tell her that thanksgiving is when I decided to tell my mother I was dropping out of school right after I found her purse and stole three hundred dollars in cash and one of her credit cards from it.  I didn’t want to tell her any of that.  I did though.  I tell her everything and she just looks at me with her big, green eyes and then smiles a little.

“What, its not funny, its fucked and it was stupid and it was a pretty big ordeal in my house.”

“It is a little funny, and a little dramatic, and a little cliché, don’t you think, so that’s why it’s a little funny,” she says still smiling.

“Fine, it is, it’s very funny and dramatic and stupid, whatever, why are you in group?”

“Nope, too tired, maybe later,” she says and she rolls over to face the wall and falls asleep.

%%

It’s only been one week since we’ve slept together after group, but I think bringing Kelsey over for Christmas dinner was actually a good idea.  I haven’t brought a girl home since junior prom four years ago and no one will make me talk about Thanksgiving if they think I have a guest to impress.

She’s in a loose black dress and an oversized green cardigan.  I’ve never seen her without a sweater of some sort.  This is probably the most color I’ve seen her wear though.  Kelsey’s wardrobe consisted of black, white, tan, and the occasional red or maroon.  I’m surprised she even has anything green actually.

“You look nice,” I say when I answer the door.

“You’re wearing red?”

“Yeah, I’m embracing Christmas and thought it’d be nice if I matched your lipstick,” I say, looking down at my red button up.  This is probably the most color she’s seen me wear, too.  My closet’s composed as the same colors as Kelsey’s I guess.  I always make a point to wear some sort of Christmas color back to Christmas in Connecticut though otherwise my mother will make jokes about how the city has made her son some freaky fucking goth boy as reflected by my all black attire.  This obnoxious ragging lasts about 45 minutes, usually after her second gin and tonic when she thinks she’s much funnier than she is.  She identifies as a borderline alcoholic, like that’s a good joke or something.  Hypocrisy is clearly a huge problem in this family.

“Kelsey, we’ve heard so much about you, it’s so great to finally meet you, and you are just so pretty, just as pretty as Alex described over the phone,” my mother says, shaking Kelsey’s hand.  She says some variation of this to everyone she meets even though for all she knew Kelsey could have been a fucking goldfish.  I don’t like to go into specifics because it just provides more potential fuel to her fire of terrible and usually inappropriate “jokes.”  All I had ever told her was, “I have a new friend.”  Kelsey knows this though so she just smiles at me after my mother says it.

I don’t need to talk much at Christmas dinner.  My mother picks Kelsey’s brain, which I like since Kelsey almost always seems to be the one asking me all the questions.  She asks her the basics: where she’s from, where she lives now, if she’s in school, if she works; then, the question finally comes that I’m waiting for.

“So, Kelsey, how did you and Alex meet?”

“At Narcotics Anonymous.”

I don’t know why I am surprised by how quickly and confidently Kelsey answers.  Her nonchalant approach to conventionally uncomfortable situations is never really shaken and I think this might even be my favorite thing about her.  Everyone looks around and murmurs oh or interesting uncomfortably, except for my mother who springs on the opportunity to bring up my Thanksgiving story.

“Ooooh, so you’ve heard about Alex and his inappropriate outbreak on Thanksgiving,” my mother blurts out, on her fourth or fifth gin and tonic by now.

“Yeah, just the other day actually,” she says, looking over at me with a reassuring smile, a smile that I found comfort in immediately, and I still don’t know how she could get me with the slightest look.

“So, what are you going to these meetings for Kels,” my Uncle Leo asks.  My mother immediately motions to him that that’s enough.  She is the only one allowed to make the inappropriate statements and ask the inappropriate questions at this table.

“Kelsey, you don’t have to answer that,” my mother says.

“Oh no it’s fine,” Kelsey says.  I lift my eyes from the table and lock them onto Kelsey.

“I’d been prescribed a lot of medicine for a while and about six months ago I took a lot of it, too much of it, actually all of it, in hopes of killing myself, but instead I just got really sick and then my roommate came home and found me so clearly I was unsuccessful, so it’s court ordered, along with therapy, but I’d say I’m doing much better now.”

She continues eating the potatoes on her plate and everyone else looks down to the table to avoid eye contact, except for me.

Vincent Walden is an aspiring student Graphic Designer and Illustrator. He is always looking to work and learn, to progress through inspiration and to create beautiful things. His website is vincentwalden.com.

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