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Excerpt from “You Write Good”

This is Part 4 of a series of excerpts from new stories.

I was standing in the shade of my tree when an old, faded, rusted, and at-one-time-military Jeep drove up. It was a standard army model without doors, with a currently upright fold-down windshield, and no creature comforts. Pancho drove, Little Rigo rode shotgun, and a pretty, young woman sat in the back. None of the four of us moved while their rooster-tail of dust blew away or settled to the ground. 

Little Rigo hopped out first, grinning and waving at me, then tilted his seat forward and stood by while the young woman climbed out using the boy to steady herself as she stepped down. Pancho was smiling from ear to ear and he wasn’t waving a pistol, which were moves in the right direction. I went to the door and motioned them inside.

The young woman was, of course, Rosalita Gomez-Garza and her English was serviceable but hesitant. The kid was our translator and he spoke good English. I unclipped the sheaf of paperwork that made up the I.N.S. form, took a pen and a fresh notebook from my bag, then sat down. Through Little Rigo, I asked them to sit.

Rosalita, the kid, and I sat at the table and began answering the questions on the form. Pancho leaned on the fridge or fidgeted between the front door and one of the little windows. The windows were too high to see out but Pancho kept trying as if the height of the window might change. It didn’t.

In less than an hour, we had all the questions answered. I explained that we could fill out this form using a pen or, whenever I could get an internet connection, I could download a clean form to fill out neatly as a PDF or word document. Of course, this would mean finding a printer as well as an internet connection.

My suggestions for downloading a fresh document, getting a connection, finding a printer, etc. caused excitement and much discussion. Rosalita and Little Rigo started talking happily in Spanish, then they were joined by Pancho Villa who grumbled and mumbled in counterpoint to the other two. I occasionally caught Pancho’s ‘fockin’ or ‘el norte’ and the kid’s ‘Tay-haus’ or ‘dol-larz.’ Rosalita spoke so fast that I wouldn’t have understood even if she’d been speaking English.

Little Rigo was grinning, Rosalita giggled, and even Pancho’s grumble sounded happy. “OK, we got it,” said the kid.

I asked, “What? You’ve got what?”

“Innernet, printer, all that chit.”

“All right.” I had been told that WiFi was an hour away. “Where is all this technology?” I imagined a drive back to Brownsville.

As if they’d practiced saying it together, Rosalita and Little Rigo both said, “La Bodega.” Then all three laughed at the obviously shocked gringo.  

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Excerpt from “Indecency”

This is Part 3 of a series of excerpts from new stories.

Sylvia Lennox drove a four-door, air-conditioned, eight-cylinder Pontiac and was, whenever possible, allowed to park first. That her car had an air conditioner and her home did not seemed odd to the other ladies with whom Sylvia played rummy. Annie Mary Patrick kept her Ford on the highway with the left turn blinker notifying traffic that she would, eventually, turn across the highway into Leeanne’s paved driveway. It would take some minutes for Sylvia to fit her Pontiac into Leeanne’s driveway with the three cars already parked there.

Small as Sweet Ivy was it would have been an easy walk from anyone’s house to anyone else’s house, but being on a highway and with only one hundred fifty feet of sidewalk, and that directly in front of the general store and the post office, walking was out of the question. Six ladies and one colored maid meant seven cars. The driveway was completely taken.

The stay-at-home white ladies of Sweet Ivy met on the second and fourth Thursday afternoons, for rummy, iced tea, and gossip. The rummy game varied occasionally; gin rummy, 500 rummy, knock rummy, queen city rummy, and the iced tea may or may not have mint or lemon, but the gossip was, for all intents and purposes, consistent.

The subject of the gossip was other people in the community, their affairs and peccadilloes, their foolishness with or their lack of money, the misbehavior of children, and the sins of the husbands. Most of the husbands’ sinfulness was that of omission, seldom of commission. Men of Sweet Ivy, Potomac county, Virginia were far less venal than they were forgetful.

 

Excerpt from “Trouble”

This is Part 2 of a series of excerpts from new stories.

This was the goddammedest thing ever happened in any bar around here, at least on a Friday night. Sometimes, you just smell trouble, feel it like oil on your skin. It ain’t always the same smell, the same feel, but if you’ve been round the block a few times, you know. This old boy, soon as ever he come in had that trouble stink on him. It was still pretty early last Friday.

Friday, they was three or four bikers, you know, the leather and ponytails and Harley crowd, shooting pool and drinking pitchers of draft, but not loud and not bothering nobody. They grew up around here, most of ‘em, and don’t cause any trouble, least not here. Then crippled Willie and his boy come in. It was all like most any other Friday; locals come early. …

So this guy, Mr. Stink. Sweaty but it weren’t hot out and he just has that look, that smell, that whatever-it-is. You know he’s going to cause somebody a problem. But he sat down, near end of the bar away from crippled Willie, and ordered a beer and a straight-up double Jack. Crabtree put them in front of Mr. Stink and collected his money. Crab knows you, he runs a tab, but when he don’t, he don’t.

A crowd of twenty-somethings, boys and girls, came in and got the table near the bandstand. I believe it was seven of them, four young women and three young guys. Two of the women came to the bar and got two pitchers and seven mugs and asked old Crabtree if they’s a band that night. He tells them no, but that the Moyock Motorheads would be there Saturday. So, they paid and took the two pitchers and a tray of mugs back to the table and one of their fellers went to the jukebox and started shoving in money.

Us old-timers ain’t always happy when young folk pick songs on the jukebox. It’s like young folks haven’t developed any taste yet. Sure enough, first song he played was one of them kind of new ones, like you’re never sure what it is, rock or hillbilly or maybe even some soul stuff. You know what I mean, guitars and maybe even a steel or a mandolin, but with kind of a Motown groove. While that one was playing the bikers were kind of frowning and muttering back and forth, not causing trouble but just not too happy. Then the next tune that came on was an old-as-hell Kenny Rogers and the First Edition. The bikers like that old sixties stuff so everybody just kept doing what they’re doing.

From out of nowhere, there was suddenly a ruckus at the end of the bar and we heard a kind of loud wet cement plop sound followed by a yelp. Everybody, all of us, came alert and started paying attention to what was happening at Mr. Stinker’s end of the bar. What was obvious was that the trouble had started.

What we saw was old Stinky with his mouth agape and a high-volume nose-bleed, trying like anything to whack Mr. UAW with his beer mug. But all Stinker could manage was waving that glass around while his eyes went wide with pain. The union guy seemed to have him by the throat and the balls at the same time. Willie couldn’t see the floor from the far end of the bar but he swore that union man had Stink suspended in the air. Stink was bleeding from his nose, yelling, waving his beer mug, and looked to be trying to climb a barstool backwards. Union man was grunting and gripping and had a grin on his face that resembled a snarl. Mr. Stink’s yelling got weaker as his face went red, redder, then purple. …

Excerpt from “Family Lore”

This is Part 1 of a series of excerpts from new stories

Winston Cooper had been brought up with the stories: Gramma Willie’s railroad boarding house and dining room, Mr. Wash’s livery stable, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and visits from the President. These were family tales that were always retold at the infrequent but mandatory reunions. They varied little from one time until the next and then only due to fading memories and forgetfulness of dates or names. …

In addition to a general store that sold nails, kerosene, bolts of cloth, milk, eggs, meats, and canned goods, Mr. Wash ran a livery stable. He hired out horses and tack, horses and traps, horses and wagons, mules, and for the ‘right sort’ of people would feed and board their horses. These right sorts often were catching the train or sleeping at Gramma Willie’s boarding house before continuing on the next day. In his day, George Washington Cooper was quite an entrepreneur.

Gramma Willie was known in the community as Miss Willie and she was nobody with whom anyone wanted to be crosswise. She attended a hard-shell Baptist Sunday School and church each Sunday morning and a prayer group each Wednesday evening. She knew what God wanted and heaven help anyone who attempted to change her mind or stand in her way. Miss Willie, at 4’11” tall and weighing less than 100 pounds, was well known to be righteous, strong, opinionated, and correct. She showed little affection to anyone, including her family.

Miss Willie Cooper did have one weakness: she hated strong drink. When a movement opposing liquor formed a chapter in the nearby college town, she immediately, and with no sanction from anyone, formed her own local organization. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union of Crossroads Virginia started in Miss Willie’s parlor. She insisted that her church get behind it. By the time they received a cease and desist letter from the national organization for coopting the name without charter, the W.C.T.U. of Crossroads had shut down, forced to move, and broken up over a dozen drinking establishments. The group changed its name but continued to cause mayhem for quite some time. Between Charlottesville and Lynchburg, no tavern, roadhouse, dance hall, or shot-house was completely safe from the wrath of Miss Willie and cohort.

Miss Willie hated demon rum and John Barleycorn and swore that there would never be alcohol in her house. She declared to anyone who would hear, “No one in my family takes strong drink and none ever will.” …

In 1904, before the campaign season officially started, President Theodore Roosevelt purchased and outfitted a private get away in Virginia’s Blue Ridge mountains. The closest stop to his personal retreat was at Crossroads just south of Charlottesville. While his getaways were infrequent during his time in office, he made a point of dining, hiring horses and pack animals, and buying supplies from the Coopers in Crossroads. Upon leaving the presidency in 1909, the trips to the mountain and stop-overs in Crossroads happened more often. His post-presidential entourage was usually about half a dozen young outdoorsmen.

Dinner at Miss Willie’s, a cigar with Mr. Wash, and always some negotiation about buying a stallion kept Mr. Roosevelt busy while his guests and familiars took care of saddling horses and packing mules. The Cooper children were fascinated with having an ex-president visit. Young Leroy Stover felt honored by the occasion but what held his attention was the discussions between Mr. Wash and The President in the stable. Always, a last saddlebag was loaded when the negotiation ended.

 

Previews and Trailers

What’s coming up next?

Magazines, periodicals, coffee-shop handouts?

Hare Krishna handouts at airports? Maybe.

We’re already working on more stories. I’m not certain what to do with them. We’ve self-published twice and you have stepped up: buying an occasional print book or e-book and maybe even spreading the word for us. But my ego and our economics require a wider audience. My plan is magazines. Don’t panic, we aren’t starting a magazine — there is a plethora of good magazines that carry short fiction.

Based on advice from a totally disinterested party, I’m attempting to write ‘shorter’ short stories. Magazines (unless they are literary journals) apparently want stories to fit in a six-page window. Print is expensive, distribution costs can be onerous, and only commercial advertising pays its own way. So, a story, no matter how good, needs to get told and get the hell out of the way of the next full-page ad for a laxative you probably don’t need or a new underarm-mouthwash.

Therefore, I’m trying to keep some of my stories less wordy. Based on my history, it is much better if the thing starts short. A magazine that hopes to remain commercially viable would not look kindly on my cutting a 17-pager down to 434 pages.

So, I’m attempting less wordy stories while keeping them as clever as you’ve come to expect. (What’s that? You don’t expect clever? One of these days, I’ll write something clever and there you’ll be with egg on your face.)

Meanwhile, we’ll occasionally give you little bits and pieces of some “in the works” stories: excerpts of what we’re hoping to get into periodicals such as Judges, Lawyers, and Shylocks’ Journal; Garden and Gun; Bay Area Subway Litter; and The Southern Alabama Monthly White Christian Newsletter. In case you hadn’t figured it out, one of those titles is a real publication, and I’m forced to admit that it’s a good magazine.

So, next week, while you’re trying to ignore the blog, poking around in the back of the refrigerator looking for something without mold, we’ll give you the first installment in our Preview of Coming Attractions. Hurry or you’ll miss it.

Come back next week and don’t say you haven’t been warned.