always short and almost true stories

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.

Maybe, California.

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,

boots,

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

 

Optimism.

Hope.

Delight.

Disbelief.

Disappointment.

Despair.

Repeat.

Baseball.


 

Baseball is a season of bearing witness to the

“maybe this time” to

“maybe next time”

pivot.

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,

purring contentedly.

I squeezed by on my way to coach,

curious

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.


 

“Walking,

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.”


 

Overheard:

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

ready

to say just yet.

I’m sorry.

Don’t touch.

Still mad.

You ok?

Miss you.

Love you.

Finally,

good morning.

Marriage dawning in

two strong cups.


 

Change doesn’t happen

unless you change,

he said.

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.

Already did,

he said.


 

He considered

the possibilities before him.

Anticipation, discovery, adventure.

Laughter, love, satisfaction.

Yes,

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.

Courage mustered,

my six-year-old reached up for the leash,

calling her dog for their morning walk.


 

With children,

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.

She’s right,

but easier to hear

before I was picking up after my parents,

his parents,

and once in a while,

myself.


 

Always

a risk taker,

daredevil,

explorer,

adventurer.

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,

unobserved.


 

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

tallest,

smartest,

strongest.

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

instead.


 

Chapter Six | Will work for words

 

Part One:

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.

 

Part Two:

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,

surprising everyone.

Except himself.


 

Eli’s gig as an elevator operator

is the best job

at the New York Stock Exchange.

He knows

when

to expect

the ups and downs,

and masterfully controls

the red button

that makes them so.


 

We meet

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

collects stories

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,”

she said,

“don’t you?”


 

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,

And evidently,

fingers.


 

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

flexible heartstrings.


 

Toss a beautiful salad,

brew strong coffee,

arrive on time,

say I love you,

listen carefully,

apologize,

forgive,

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

and drinks,

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

her misery,

to try again.

She doesn’t move.


 

He blames gravity.

Winter rains.

The election.

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.

Their strategy—

to sit still with their memories,

and let the others

play on.


 

Pebbles and regrets

fill her pockets,

where anxious fingertips

remember exactly

how

small and imperfect

feels.

A small hole eventually provides escape,

pebbles and regrets

tumble together,

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

named Rusty.


 

Bungee jumping in Australia

wasn’t on her life list.

Of course she had a list,

but it included

“read Ulysses,

knit a sweater,

stay longer.”

And that is how she found herself,

waiting to leap.