In Their Shoes (Flash Fiction)

Congress of Rough Writers January 27 Flash Fiction Challenge: In 99 words, no more and no less, write about a community outreach:

People saw the shoes. Many signed the petition, most just kept walking. But hundreds, thousands, saw.

 

In Westlake Square, more than 3,000 pairs of shoes, to make it real, how many people are without shelter in this city. How many kids’ shoes.

Jane Doe is here, too. She signed the petition. Mostly she’s here for the free hot dog and coke.

Demonstration over, the organizers give the shoes away to those who need them. Jane shakes her head no, thank you, she has shoes. She has a home too, so to speak. Unheated and illegal, but it’s shelter.

Photo: RealChange.org

 

Author note: This flash isn’t strictly fiction. It is based on the Real Change demonstration in May 2014, where they laid out 3,123 pairs of shoes in Westlake Square, Seattle, to make it visible how many people are without shelter in King County, Washington. It was part of a petition to make things happen to lower the One Night Count, an annual head count performed by volunteers to determine how many people are sleeping outside.

The count did not go down. In January 2015 was 3,772, and in 2016 it was 4,505.

I have previously ranted about our society’s neglect and cruelty to its own here.

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson (Book Review)

CryptonomiconCryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I just finished reading this for the second time. It’s STILL probably the best historical, cryptanalytical, mathematical, technological, warfare, nerd-heaven, looking-for-buried-treasure tale ever. It’s a doorstop at 900+ pages so if that intimidates you, turn back now. If you love complex plots and intertwining timelines and a good long read to lose yourself in for days, this is the one. And…it’s got Alan Turing in it!

Can, or Can Not (Six Sentence Stories, Installment 2)

I don’t know if I can do it.



She’d been sitting here in the coffee house for fifteen minutes now, thinking she was just a little dizzy, all she needed was a cup of tea and she’d be fine. She’d drunk the tea, she’d sat quietly, but she didn’t feel better in the slightest. Everything still had that just-off-of-normal look, and her heart was still thumping right along.

If she could just make it out the door, up the elevator and back to her desk, she’d be safe, but here she sat, too frightened to move.

Why can’t I do this?


This is a Six Sentence Stories Installment, #2. The cue was “can.”

Click here for Installment 1.

Click here for Installment 3.

Click here for the link-up to read Six Sentence Stories from other writers.

A Boy and His Dog (Flash Fiction)

Congress of Rough Writers January 20 flash fiction challenge: In 99 words, no more and no less, write a story about a boy and his dog.

ciadefoto: Flickr/CC Attribution 4.0 License
Jane watches Troubles run around the dog park. A soft voice speaks. She hadn’t felt anyone sit down on her bench.

“I like your dog. I had a dog but he ran away.”

She glances at the boy beside her. “I like him too.”

“Where’d you get him?”

She doesn’t want to say she found him, abandoned along with the house she broke into and squats in. She inspects the boy surreptitiously: healthy, expensive clothes, could afford to feed Troubles better than she can. Sadness limns his face.

This boy needs this dog as much as she does. Almost.

Night Film by Marisha Pessl (Book Review)

Night FilmNight Film by Marisha Pessl
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Next time I’m stuck with nothing but a Marisha Pessl book to read, I’ll kill the hours by picking my toes instead.

“…the territory between two people who were once soul mates but were no longer was akin to…”

and

“I noticed the wicks were still smoldering orange, three orange pinpricks in the dark.”

and

“I swore I heard a man’s dull, prolonged moan.”

and

“…grabbed the black iron grating over the arched window and began to climb. ..hoisted himself higher, dangling there. ..”

By page 27, the way this writer italicizes everything for no apparent reason had become very annoying. For me putting up with that, the book owed me phenomenal.

It did not put out.

“ ..his shoulders were rising and falling, as if he was out of breath. “

Is that so I know what I need to pay attention to? I don’t need the help. I can read. And if I’m not bright enough to figure it out for myself, well, that’s what the denouement is for.

“A human shadow had just moved directly behind it, though, as if sensing we’d spotted it, it froze.”

Reading this is what I imagine it would be like to listen to a narrator read all 600 pages in a singsong tone. Is it for want of an editor who knows what italics are for? Or is it some artsy-fartsy thing I don’t get because I’m a philistine? Don’t care. Annoying as hell.

And purple prose? It doesn’t get much more purple than this. “[Men] melted and sweated and went weak in front of her like a bunch of idiot iced teas.” Just awful.

So while the story is badly over-written with its endless italics and clumsy metaphors, it manages to be under-written at the same time. There was a lot of potential for surrealistic creepiness but it never got there. There is no tension. We just traipse from here to there, find out this, find out that, oh, look, another clue conveniently lands in our laps so now we’ll go over here, but there is no sense of urgency. It could have been pruned of 200 pages and not lost a thing. By around page 350 I was weary of the whole tedious mess, but was stuck with nothing else to read, which is admittedly no one’s fault but mine. Long before I made it through the acid-trip-hexagon-coffin scene, which should have been wonderfully Kafkaesque but was merely another slog, I was anticipating those fucking italics even where there weren’t any, but at that point, I’ve got 100 pages left, might as well finish the thing and find out the unrealized premise behind it all. Right?

Wrong.

I’m around 60 pages into the denouement – seriously, another 25,000 words to tidy everything up and finish it off, that’s how tiresome this book is – and I’m still not sure I’ll finish it. I just don’t care.

Trippy (Six Sentence Stories, Installment 1)

The world lurches, the floor trying to escape from under her feet. The world seems to be melting around her, like that time she dropped acid in high school.


She gets a grip on the table’s edge and lowers herself back to her chair, reaches for her tea to see her hand trembling violently. Now she notices, through the whirling fog that seems to have descended over her mind, that her breath is short and her heart is pounding.

“Are you all right?” a voice asks.

Embarrassed, feeling herself flushing, she tosses back, “Fine, just took a little trip without leaving the farm.”

70023venus2009, Flickr/Creative Commons

This is the first installment in a series for Six Sentence Stories. The cue was “trip.” I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes.

Click here for Installment 2.

#1000Speak: Forgiveness Sucks, So Let’s Try Something Different – Updated

Here I am again, awake. I have what may be the world’s worst insomnia. Tonight I’m not worrying about money or children or husbands, and it’s not noisy people. I was actually asleep, but a bad dream woke me up.

I moved to Seattle to take a job after no luck finding one in my home state of Nevada for a year. It should have been my dream job, stepping up to the big leagues of paralegal-dom after many years working for country, but good, lawyers. It should have been a whole new vista for me, an exciting new professional experience in an exciting new city in beautiful new country.

It was the job from hell. Seriously. In my 40 years in the work force, I could not imagine a more horrific experience. I suspect my boss was a true narcissist, and I’m dead certain she was emotionally and mentally abusive. In current nomenclature, I was bullied mercilessly. The three months I worked at that firm was the longest, most horrific time I can remember aside from one marriage I’ve worked hard to block from recall. It should be noted that the dynamics of an abusive intimate relationship and an abusive employment relationship are extremely similar. That job and that woman damaged me. I needed counseling to get past the worst of it.

I’m still damaged. What woke me up a little while ago was a dream that I was right back there, working for that harridan again. I woke gasping, with the electricity of a panic attack running through my veins.

Great.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve moved on with living my life, and I’ve accomplished a lot since then. I stayed in counseling for a year and unpacked a lot of things. I made the decision to return to school, excelling at that and enjoying it, and I have another job I more or less enjoy too. It doesn’t challenge me and the pay is middlin’, but I don’t bring any work stress home at night either, and that’s worth a lot. I am the only person in my office; I run the whole damn state for my company and for the most part, I like that solitude and independence just fine. If some jerk brings donuts into the office when I’m cutting out sugar, well, I have no one to blame but myself. To further my healing, I considered writing her a letter but opted instead for scathingly honest review on Glassdoor, and if it saves even one person from what I went through, I’m glad.

And yet, here I am dreaming about that horrid woman, and still losing sleep to her, three years down the road. What gives?

I was lying there, having burned one of my precious few anxiety pills and trying to read a bit of War and Peace in the hopes I could return to sleep, when I realized it.

Forgiveness.

And then: Why should I? That bitch hurt me. She’s hurt lots of people, that I know of; I was far from her first. Why does she deserve anything from me?

And the truth is, she doesn’t.

And I know the platitude, that forgiveness isn’t for the other person, it’s for you, and I kinda believe that, but then again, I don’t believe it at all. To forgive is to absolve the person of what they did, and I’m just not going to do that. She’s accountable, past and future, because I know she’s still doing it to others who were looking forward to a terrific position just as I was. When I was there I saw payroll records for three other legal assistants in the eight months before I arrived. Add me, that’s four in a year. She’s accountable. I might not be willing to confront her any more directly than an anonymous online employment review, probably because I loathe conflict with a flaming purple passion, but it’s what I can do.

No, what popped into my head from the depths of I-don’t-know-how-long-ago was another definition of forgiveness I heard once attributed to Oprah, I think it was, and I’m not a fan of Oprah, but I’m a fan of this definition, because it works:

Forgiveness is giving up the wish that things had been different.

And as I lie there still unable to go back to sleep but also unable to unscramble the letters on the pages of War and Peace, I realized that’s what I need to work with.

I am not making the buckets of money I did, briefly, at that firm. I do not have the nice house, and the nice new car and maybe a truck for the Tominator, and long weekend trips up to Vancouver and Whistler and a canoe for all the lakes around here. I do not have a 401(k) and killer health insurance. I do not have the prestige of high-end law firm experience in a posh downtown office tower. And that’s what I should have had. It’s what I’d worked for, for so long. It’s what I was offered when I left my family behind, left my home with my Mother’s Day rosebushes tended lovingly in the yard, and dragged the Tominator and Dream Girl and my stuff up here, and I should have it. I was robbed.

Yeah, I know. Shit happens and who said life was fair, suck it up buttercup. But underneath it, as superficial as it sounds, I am angry about that. Still. I moved up here for professional and financial advancement but here I am, scraping by from paycheck to paycheck, as I have for most of my life.

But on the other hand, as I struggle through many of my days, one of the first things I count when I’m reminding myself of all I have to be thankful for is that I no longer work for that Medusa. I may not have what I should have had, but I have enough, and I’m away from her, and I’m nowhere near anyone remotely like her, and that should be nothing but good.

I don’t have to absolve that woman of anything, but I can give up my wish that it had worked out. I can do something radical, even, and wish for something good tomorrow instead of in the past.

New entry on tomorrow’s to-do list. Make that today’s to-do list; cruising up on one a.m.

I’m going to try to get some sleep now. And even if I don’t, even if tomorrow – no, today – is another day I have to wade through in a sleep-deprived fugue state, I know one thing I can work on toward my own brand of forgiveness: I can wish forward instead of wishing behind.

It’s a start.

Update: Yesterday I was scrolling through job listings, thinking it might be time to go for an upgrade, and I see this Hagatha is advertising for a new victim paralegal. The ad doesn’t list the firm but I know her writing style, and the location is the same. Oh, God, all I can do is pray for the poor sacrificial virgin new hire. Another one. A therapist can make a career out of this woman’s employees.