I began writing 35-word (or shorter, never longer) stories by accident, a result of my failed attempts at a decent six-word story. I couldn’t be that concise and not feel some regret for the leftover words. The short-short-short story kept at me, until I found a format that gave me enough, but not too much. The stories reveal themselves almost every day. I can’t make this stuff up, or at least not all of it. Here are some of my favorites.
Chapter One | Road Trips
I saw the town’s name on the map, but wasn’t convinced
until I came upon the sign at the side of the road.
A questionable place, settled for good.
The empty highway made sense.
The cattle and cowboys.
Barns held up by spider webs and spit.
Even the llamas.
But the red high heels, abandoned by the side of the road,
those lost me.
She decided to
move light this time,
tossing her books,
the last bit of guilt,
plus the damn umbrella that never protected her anyway.
She kept the silver compass,
just because it might.
Traveling on the overnight train to Seattle,
a kind looking man sat next to me.
After he settled in,
he turned and said,
“Don’t freak out,
but I am going to take off my leg.”
Chapter Two | Game Day
Baseball is a season of bearing witness to the
“maybe this time” to
“maybe next time”
A 162-game social contract
between player, coach, fan,
and the guy hawking beer in the upper deck.
His position was the hotdog slingshot golf cart dude.
No longer a player, but provider,
the crowd cheered as their sixth inning hero
rounded the baseball diamond.
He was happy just to throw again.
Chapter Three | Second glances
He wore a dapper sweater,
appropriately dressed for flying first class.
He sipped on a Bloody Mary,
I squeezed by on my way to coach,
if cats appreciate good vodka.
The day full of dispute,
but everyone agreed
when recalling their friend and foe—
he wore his kilt with reckless abandon.
For weeks I practiced for
my first karaoke night.
But when the trio of bearded bikers
in studded leather vests and
American flag headwear,
launched into their Little Mermaid medley,
I was stunned into silence.
that’s the hardest part
of being a mermaid,” she said.
“Also, everyone asks if I know Ariel.
Which is ridiculous,
because there are lots of mermaids,
and it’s a really, really big sea.”
Ryan, I mean,
what is your superpower in real life?
Like how Mom can see behind doors,
and Dad can open anything with his teeth,
and I am half monkey.
So where’s your magic?
Chapter Four | Marriage and other mountains
When we dared
be honest about our marriages,
she said, “I knew there would be peaks and valleys.
I just didn’t know the peaks would be moments
and the valleys would be years.”
As I overheard
the two of them
discuss the merits
of living in a yurt vs. a shipping container,
I knew, without a doubt, my daughter had met a mate
worthy of her imagination.
The coffee is proxy
for words we aren’t
to say just yet.
Marriage dawning in
two strong cups.
Change doesn’t happen
unless you change,
I’m fine, I said.
But I’m not, he said.
Not changing? I said.
Not fine, he said.
Must we both change? I said.
the possibilities before him.
Anticipation, discovery, adventure.
Laughter, love, satisfaction.
this was the right choice.
Opening the pickle jar,
he committed himself to their shared life
and carefully built
two magnificent sandwiches.
Chapter five | The parenting years
That’s a good idea, I said.
Technically, it’s fraud, she said.
You can get away with it, I said.
You’re supposed to be the mother, she said.
Wisdom and sound judgment
skips a generation.
Today would be different.
She would be strong enough.
She’d be in control
and show she would lead.
my six-year-old reached up for the leash,
calling her dog for their morning walk.
one must feed them,
day after day, year after year.
Luckily, we made it.
They’re grown and flown,
and I’m grateful that
(when no one was looking)
frozen cookie dough
was acceptable supper.
Moving to a college town as an 85-year-old
wasn’t his idea.
However, burritos, beer, and books
are fine companions.
Underage students and over-age seniors,
sharing a fragile relationship with
dignity, decision making and long-term planning.
The road back to dependence is littered with loss,
my friend once said.
but easier to hear
before I was picking up after my parents,
and once in a while,
a risk taker,
Rules need not apply
when one eats danger for breakfast,
with an adrenaline chaser.
He’s not quite done.
Leaving his walker behind,
he scaled the step stool,
I am not old, she said.
Mid-century modern, perhaps,
but certainly not old.
And then she settled into her Eames lounger,
Just because she could.
My dad was always the
Certainly, the handsomest.
The one we could lean on.
Today, he’s wobbly,
a fall waiting to happen.
He stubbornly refuses his cane,
so I offer myself
Chapter Six | Will work for words
He was dancing on the street corner
spinning a “world’s best sandwiches” sign,
wearing a giant pickle costume.
Last night’s dinner party topic of
making a living or making a life
wasn’t especially relevant today.
On a good day
he imagines the giant pickle costume
as wearable art.
No one knows he listens to NPR podcasts
while spinning his sandwich sign.
He’s no fool,
just an artist in a pickle.
In his dreams,
Carlos is a concert pianist.
He works at the carwash,
the one with the lavender piano on the corner,
just beyond the detailing area.
He practices during breaks,
Eli’s gig as an elevator operator
is the best job
at the New York Stock Exchange.
the ups and downs,
and masterfully controls
the red button
that makes them so.
at the train crossing.
His shopping cart overflowing,
he nods hello.
I smile back.
The train flies by and we cross the tracks together.
We each head back to work,
in opposite directions.
Sylvia drives through Chicago,
delivering Uber customers
to their destinations.
She has a novel in progress and
one passenger at a time.
Everyone needs a bit of fiction
to get where they’re going.
Chapter Seven | Lessons worth living
Her body was riddled with cancer.
The tumor wrapped around her ribs,
poking out through her shirt.
In the background, the oxygen tank hummed.
“I think this is going quite well,”
He always keeps spare change in his pocket
to give away.
I suggested this might be dangerous,
because they’d just want more.
That’s lucky he replied,
because I have plenty more to give.
Band aids, three just this morning.
Rivulets of blood seeping through.
Sore, throbbing and a little embarrassed.
This is why I can’t have nice things:
sharp Japanese knives, thinly sliced persimmon,
Sometimes you learn something
about someone you love
that can’t be undone.
But people are woven into you
and love gets tangled.
This is where it gets messy
and requires surprisingly
Toss a beautiful salad,
brew strong coffee,
arrive on time,
say I love you,
spot a scam,
conjure new ideas,
look you in the eye.
At 60, my most tangible skills.
Chapter Eight | Dreams, defined and deferred
Unnerving the resemblance—
Sunday morning’s communion cup
and last night’s shot glass.
She closes her eyes
asking for forgiveness,
just one more time.
Morning sneaks in
when she least expects it,
interrupting her intimate relationship
with the dark.
It is relentless, that light,
demanding she get up
and give up
to try again.
She doesn’t move.
He blames gravity.
Remorse for acts he can’t recall.
The death of Princess Leia.
Melted glaciers, never seen.
He doesn’t recognize
caring is for the strongest.
And spring will eventually come.
This will always be a sad trombone note of a day.
Even the dog, Tommy Dorsey,
mopes in mutual agreement.
to sit still with their memories,
and let the others
Pebbles and regrets
fill her pockets,
where anxious fingertips
small and imperfect
A small hole eventually provides escape,
pebbles and regrets
left for another collector
to call her own.
Shiny objects were her weakness.
Diamond earrings, sparkling wine, silver cars, pretty boys.
She was relieved
when she grew older (and wiser)
and the best gift
turned out to be a fine man
Bungee jumping in Australia
wasn’t on her life list.
Of course she had a list,
but it included
knit a sweater,
And that is how she found herself,
waiting to leap.