Short story time


One of the things that I have been doing with my idle time the last few weeks is to pore over old journals and short stories I have written. I have a ton of them. Between my written journals (about 30 of them stretching over 20 years) and my short stories (a couple hundred pages worth) there is a lot of material. It is interesting to go over them, written as they were at various stages in my life. Some of the writing still appeals to me greatly, some of it I find horrid. Some of it I find hopeful and some of it bleak. Some of it begs to be reworked, some of it begs to be put out of its misery and some of it begs to be thrown in the garbage.

Since I am not moving around as much as I have been over the past year, I have fewer travel related things to present. So I thought I would start a new series on the blog: Short Story Time. I will be presenting new or old writing, sometimes as is, sometimes reworked. Most of it is first person fiction, me trying to get inside the head of a character I have created. Here is one created about 5 years ago.

Something Tells me

“Something tells me I should turn down this street,” I think to myself as I’m walking along on my way home from work.

I often get these strange compulsions, small voices that tell me to do things. Not crazy or harmful things like, “I must stick my head in the oven”, but gentle compulsions that I feel certain will bring me good luck, or lead to some happy circumstance. Not that they ever do, at least not more than pure chance of being anywhere, anytime will. But it gives me a hopeful feeling to follow these little whims.

I’ve sometimes wondered if perhaps these impulses are in fact negatively guiding me away from a happy bit of luck instead of towards it. Unable to completely make up my mind, I still end up following these voices most of the time.

On this day it was drizzling slightly, and I had the feeling that the drizzle might turn to a downpour at any moment. I turned down the side street where my intuition had beckoned me. There were several cars backed up and honking – a truck was blocking the road and the driver was slowly unloading his wares. One of the cars swerved quickly to turn off down a side street, nearly hitting a mother and child. The mother screamed at him as a hen would, I could see her visibly ruffled.

My life seems to be lived this way. My mother always told me growing up that I could do anything I put my mind to. I believe she was probably right, but the problem is I don’t seem to be able to put my mind to anything in particular. I float, let’s face it. It is one of the reasons I listen so intently to these vague winds when they speak. To have any whim, no matter how faint, to actually respond to it, no matter how brief, in the hope that turning that corner, I’ll find passion.

Passion for what? I don’t know. For sculpture, for a beautiful man, for being in the city. Passion for life, that’s what. It is the problem of our age; liberated as we are from the basics of hunting and gathering, what are we left with? Truth be told, I’m not even really liberated from the daily needs of food and shelter, yet I change vocations in an endless search for something I can’t name or touch. So many roads and I tell myself that I’ve finally found something, some passion for anything. But life remains elusive, ghostlike.

I think of a book I’d seen and was fascinated with as a child. It went through the alphabet, giving the names of children and a statement of how they died. It was quite a grizzly book, with quaint little pen and ink drawings depicting death, imminent or past. There would be pages with a little skeleton in the snow, a cleaver lodged in its backside, and a caption that read, “K is for Kate, struck with an ax”. My favorite was the letter N. “N is for Neville, who died of ennui” and showed a little boy looking out a window, his face completely devoid of expression or emotion. How I understood Neville; how he spoke to me without speaking.

I put on the glasses I almost never wear and barely need, just for the feel of something different. Am I a different person? Sure I am. I return to the street and alight at one of my favorite neighborhood cafés to write and ponder life some more. Who is that guy staring at me? What a strange looking dog. Oh look, the flowers are beginning to bloom. I catalogue the exceedingly boring minutiae of my life for the benefit of some imaginary future biographer. It sure isn’t for my own, no matter how hard I tell myself that one day, I’ll be a famous writer, a famous artist, a hero or a fool. Anything to feel something, some touch of distant greatness.

I’m not very creative, to tell the truth. When I go online and enter some chat-room, I’m not very good at fantasy. The most I can come up with is a fake name and feigned interest. Here again, I’m imagining meeting someone. No, actually connecting with someone. Communicating. That’s another elusive dream: communication. I’m sure it exists, somewhere for some people, but I never get the hang of it. My life communicating with others is a series of near misses, and well-intentioned misunderstandings. I feel as if I’m some sort of autistic curiosity, fooling people just enough to believe I’m not.

Movies, the worst form of escape, only makes matters worse. I’ll go see some historical epic and imagine myself a part of that past, at court with the queen, when inevitably, she’ll bore of me and decide I must be beheaded. Or science fiction. I like worlds of the future, where no one has to work doing anything they don’t enjoy, or anything at all, for that matter, but they’ve got tons of cool gadgets to play with. Of course it is most painful to go see films that are not great but good and speak to my particular worldview or sense of life. These are the worst, because I can vaguely imagine myself being the writer or director, and realizing most intently that I am not. This hits me like a ton of bricks every time.

I have no shame in anything; you can ask any of my friends about that. Nothing is sacred, I can imagine any point of view with ease. What I mean by this is I’m able to see all sides of an issue, the ultimate dispassionate observer. Many people long for this kind of cool objectivity, and it’s true that my friends admire this quality in me. I detest it. If nothing is profane, no idea (of someone else of course), then it stands to reason that nothing is sacred either. We’re back to square one, my total lake of passion, and my crippling lack of belief. To create, an old college professor once told me with a sigh, you must be able to suspend disbelief. I guess she and I have the same problem.

Sitting here in this old coffeehouse, I spot an ex boyfriend of mine. Not ex-boyfriend, really just some guy I dated a couple of times. This was the most I could do; as with everything else in my life, I have never been able to hold a relationship very long. I believe the longest I ever went out with someone was for a period of about three months; and that was only because he lived in the next state and we didn’t see each other except for weekends. After the first few dates, I always thought I could read the writing on the wall, so why bother? I drop them as easily as I drop a book, or an idea, which is to say very easily indeed.

Something tells me to wave hello; I do, and he waves back sheepishly, then turns around as if not finding what he was looking for here, and walks out.

So what? There’s plenty of other fish in the sea, I tell myself. I didn’t really want to talk to him anyway; I’m busy writing, and organizing my thoughts. He can just go to hell, and damned if I bother to wave hello to him next time. I order another coffee and think about the last time I had sex, a couple of weeks ago.

Something tells me to finish my coffee quickly and leave. I must obey. Something is in the air, something is going to happen, I feel it. I’m slightly edgy and nervous. Perhaps it’s the result of three too many coffees, or something else. It could be anything.

Something tells me to cross the street quickly, without looking. I look up in horror as a truck is barreling over me, crushing my body under its huge weight.