Now and then I'll post a new bit of my short fiction.



Coffee Can

In the evening her man friend goes off to do something with someone. Do what. With whom. Is it another lover. Is it an illegal activity. She doesn’t know, the man friend has his own agenda, he doesn’t bother keeping her in the loop. She has the apartment to herself, she sits on the bathroom floor and pries up a certain plank in the corner. The plank is slippery and mildewed. From the space underneath she removes a rusty coffee can. Tonight another handful of coins is added to the contents of the can. Tonight a few metallic clinks, last night a few, tomorrow night a few. Few and few and few and eventually the can filled to the brim and magnificently heavy in her hand. These are bits of copper and silver scoured from street gutters or taken from pockets of drunks in the bar where she works. The man friend has no idea about the plank or the can, otherwise the coins would go away and the saving would start again. The man friend is more or less without scruples. He tends to his needs first and hers a distant second. It is what it is. The can is the can. The money inside is the money. When she has enough it will be possible to buy a bus ticket to somewhere other than this city where there is no man friend and no one like him. The ticket will be printed on paper. The paper is the paper. Slowly she adds today’s coins. Today is twelve clinks, which isn’t thirteen or twenty or fifty, but also isn’t six or three or zero.

A pretty good night after all.



Outside the city are the fields. At the far edge of the fields there stretches a desert. The desert is bordered by mountains, and beyond them lies the gray and restless sea. The sea reaches for another shore. Who lives here in this unfamiliar land. The enemy. Not like us, not good like us. Not decent or fearful of the holy powers. These are terrible creatures undeserving of breath and blood. If the sea were to boil forth and drown the enemy once and for all. If justice should be served. But the sea does not care. Good versus evil. To salt water the concepts are interchangeable.

Ashen gulls hang by invisible strings on the acrid breeze. They scream and fling themselves down in search of fish. They know little about the shore behind or the one ahead. Gulls are not truly alive, they are illusions of the ocean sun. Spun like dirty silk from the haze and set to motion by deep hidden forces older then the earth itself. Who can honestly claim to have touched a gull and felt its down, its beak, its claw. Anyone says he has, that person is a liar.



I remember seeing this dead woman once, I was dropping a letter into the corner post box and the dead woman came out of an alley pushing a rusted shopping cart with crooked wheels. The cart pulled her to the right and the left. The dead woman fought to control the cart. A better way to say is that she struggled with the cart. The best way is to say she warred with the cart.

Suddenly the dead woman stopped and looked all around.

Where is it she said.

Where is what I asked.

I’ve misplaced the damned thing.

Something fell from the cart?

I had it. I had it and now it is gone.

When did you lose it?

The dead woman made a strange sound.

I didn’t know what the dead woman lost, she never explained, she appeared to think I already knew every detail of her misfortune. She swung her head awkwardly, scanning. She began to weep and I almost offered to help look for whatever had gone missing. But it was getting late and I had things to do and the moment to offer aid passed. The dead woman began to speak quietly to herself in a language I didn’t recognize. She got down on her knees and crawled into gutter. She picked up loose change and discarded cigarettes and soiled bits of paper and held each item and sighed.

Another moment came and went. I couldn’t say what kind.

The dead woman crawled along the gutter. The dead woman crawled to the corner. The dead woman turned left and crawled out of my sight and that was all the time the dead woman and I would ever share.

Still. Some nights I dream of her. There she is, wandering though the vapors. I have questions for the dead woman. Did she ever locate her missing treasure? Was she still out there crawling in the darkness of the soulless city? Had she worn out the flesh of her knees? Was she scuffing along on bare bone?

I have questions for myself. If the woman was dead, then how could it be possible for her to return to life? And if she lived anew should I really consider her as having been dead in the first place?



She opened a dusty box on a shelf at the back of her thoughts, she revealed to the love of her life a closely guarded secret, one locked deep inside for many years, I am ---------- she said, and ---------- was a word she feared to speak, and ---------- had long caused great shame, never in decades had she been free of being ----------, ---------- was how she identified herself, ---------- was a small agony firmly anchored to her soul, the only thing conceivably worse than being ---------- was to be *******, which is what the love of her life chose to reveal about himself.
In fact, I’m proud of it he said, and she knew not how to respond.



The veins in the back of his hand, thick and twisted and shadowed blue. Move across the wrist past a gnarl of ancient broken bone. Advance along the forearm and a constellation of moles. Lost temporarily within a forest of grey hair. Reappear again at a swollen elbow. Flank the scar shaped like a wingless bird. Vanish beneath the sleeve of the shirt he threw on before storming out the door and after saying to her four absolutely unforgiveable words.


Catching Up

At 11:33, shaking and exhausted, he finally went to bed. His habit was to end the day no later than 9:00. All right. 9:15 if a particularly good book had his attention. 9:30 at the very latest. But this evening a veritable parade of distractions kept him up long past a decent hour. Stopped-up toilet begging to be plunged. Phone call from sister. Neighbor and neighbor’s wife carrying on a drunken argument on their front lawn. Forget 9:15. Forget 9:30. 10:00 came and went, then 11:00. 11:10. 11:20. Only at 11:27 was he able to brush his teeth, drag on pajamas and collapse into bed.

Find a comfortable position under the blanket.

Reach out with one hand and snap off the lamp on the night table.

The clock by the lamp wearily blinked an unhappy message.




11:32. . .

11:33 saw the onset of unconsciousness. 2 hours and 33 minutes late. Blame the toilet. Blame the sister and the neighbors. 2 hours and 33 minutes behind schedule. Was there anything he hated more than being behind schedule?

Little comfort that a cool and dim-lit day would dawn when he could catch up on this lost bit of sleep, forever.



He went out to the car and found his ex in the front seat listening to a song from back when. The song seemed familiar, but the title danced away from his recollection. The ex, she wasn’t going anywhere, so when he went for a drive it wasn’t alone.

I didn’t expect to see you again he said.

I need some money his ex said.

How much.

Whatever you can spare.

I can maybe give you twenty.

Forty would be better.

Twenty’s what I can afford.

The ex slumped in her seat. OK OK she said. OK OK.

They headed in the direction of downtown. The sky turned storm-green. The wind picked up. Blobs of pollen whirled past the windshield like lost birds. A scrap of paper blew in one window out the other. At the atm by the liquor store he withdrew twenty and the ex put it in her purse and he waited to see, all right now, and she made no move to get out of the car.

Let’s keep on driving the ex said.

Where to he said.

See where the road takes us.

Which would have sounded fun, like an adventure, if not for all the times he’d been down the road she meant and ended up exactly nowhere.

Minutes later they passed a house with a swaybacked roof and leaning garage.
I used to cut grass at this place he said, slowing the car to a crawl. A lady on crutches lived there. She lost her feet in an industrial accident. She used to sit on the porch and yell about being a cripple. How her stumps hurt. How everyone always wanted to help when she didn’t want it and ignored her when she did. She wouldn’t shut up. I’d hear her over the lawn mower engine.

When did you ever cut grass the ex wanted to know.

Back in high school. I didn’t do it long. I’d see these guys who’d been cutting lawns a few years and they weren’t alive anymore. The sun beat them down. Their hands were stained green from picking up grass cuttings. I didn’t want to turn into that and got a job in a garage.

I remember those wrenches of yours.

Gone. Them and that job are history.

He stopped the car and got out and opened the door for his ex and they waded through kneehigh weeds to the rear of the house. During the previous winter or perhaps the one before a birch tree had fallen against the garage. The windows of both the garage and the house were missing. The storm was getting close. Flash of light. Count one two three four. Here came the thunder.

His ex dug through her purse for a cigarette and lit up. She exhaled soft smoke and the scent whisked him off to a place he’d thought locked up and forgotten.

I hate summer he said and pretended, not for the first time, to be the only human being left in the world.


"These Ones"

Who are they, drifting into our camp by the lake. Appearing from the woods and wandering through a maze of shabby tents and filthy sleeping bags. Stepping around a hundred small fires. Day and day and day again. They come and they come. The one who waves hello to everyone he sees. The one who keeps her mouth covered with a hand. The one with weary eyes. The one with many nervous tics. The one who peels off his clothes and dives deep into the lake. The one who sits on a stone by a blackberry bush and picks off berries and feeds them to squirrels. The one who writes in the dirt with her fingernail. The one who claims God has a plan. The one who laughs at the notion that a higher power can possibly be at the wheel. The one who goes a little mad, then a lot mad, then seems normal again, but isn’t, not really. The one who walks to the center of the camp and dances in tight circles. The one with two hats on her head, pink and the bright yellow. The one, I think he’s a man, but so old who can tell, just loose skin and white wispy hair and so many wrinkles it’s hard to make out a human face. The one who smiles and smiles and smiles, then lies down under a tree and stops breathing. The one with a limp, who says he was born lame, the limp used to be much worse, it has steadily gotten better the further west he’s walked, maybe if he travels far enough his gait will completely heal. The one who can’t stop looking over his shoulder, but never explains what terrifying entity haunts the rear. The one with red hair tied into dirty knots. The one with hair that is no definable color. The tall one. The short one. The one so thin she seems transparent. The one who talks to himself with a variety of unique voices. The one who nods quietly and seems so wise it makes me hurt deep down in a way that defies description.

These ones. I used to hear people use the phrase, maybe hundreds of times, and always wanted to ask them hey what’s wrong with you, these ones doesn’t make any sense, a plural describing a singular, can’t you see the obvious contradiction of terms. There is no these. There are only ones. We are all ones. We are all part of a great unseen whole that moves towards a common fate. Proper grammar isn’t the issue. There are matters of much more importance.



A long while back I lived in a crazy part of town, populated by artists and musicians and drug addicts and thieves, maybe the thieves weren’t crazy, they had business to conduct is all, business isn’t crazy, business is business. The others, though, they were clearly insane. Don’t tell me artists and musicians aren’t as bad as drug addicts. All of them are out of their heads. I was probably out of my head living down there in the gutters with the rest of them. I didn’t have much money, so that maybe counted as an excuse. I don’t know. Humans come up with a lot of reasons for their failings. How was I any better than the rest of them. Not by a long shot.

There was a pub where I took my nightly drink. End of a twisted and dirty street. No name, that pub. No sign, even. Everyone in the neighborhood understood what the place was, they pushed through the screen door and sat in the dimness and filled themselves with whatever the bartender had to sell. Beer, homemade wine. Whiskey on special occasions, where it came from was anyone’s guess. One night the pub burned down, a candle left unattended the most likely culprit. We almost lost the whole damn neighborhood with the pub, it was a hell of a bonfire, the devil would have felt right at home. The pub went, the buildings on either side went. The grungy squatters in the buildings went. The bartender didn’t make it out of the conflagration. She ended up on the roof, trying to decide whether or not to jump and die on the cobblestones or wait for the flames to gobble her up along with the rafters and shingles. She waited so long the roof gave way and made the decision for her.

Don’t ask me if the poor bartender was one of the crazies. I would probably have done the same thing.



She hated the name Lish, it reminded her of failed poets and Victorian school teachers. She said that he must hate her for having such an old fashioned name, but he said not really and smiled and she went back to making coffee. It was late afternoon and late summer and he’d come home late from work and she was late in a different way and worried and unhappy and not in the mood for coffee or dinner or anything, really. What she wanted was not to be. For a little while. If that were possible. If she had the ability to temporarily deactivate herself. If, by some benevolent manifestation of fate, she could locate the off switch.

Through the open kitchen window she heard the hot wind roaming through a garden that had never quite managed to do more than make weeds. The sunlight looked brittle. She imagined it fracturing. What a lousy name she said. I mean, Alicia. Who names their child Alicia in this day and age. What the hell were my parents thinking. You give a kid a name and it should serve as a guide for life. Tell me anyone named Alicia who amounted to a hill of beans.

He went to the stove and got the coffee pot. He poured two cups and added cream to them both.

What about that cool woman from the Fantastic Four.

The invisible one?

No, the Thing’s girlfriend. The blind sculptress.

What’s cool about being blind. What has a blind person ever accomplished.

How about Helen Keller. Stevie Wonder.

Sure, them. Two people in all of history.

How about Homer.

Homer who she said, weary and confused.

He laughed, absolutely the wrong path to take at that moment.

Shaking his head in frustration she went off to the bedroom, forgetting about coffee and whatever might next be said.



Nobody else noticed the absurd event. The clown. The dog. The ducks. Only the man in the threadbare overcoat saw it happen. The absurd event unfolded on a busy street corner. The man in the threadbare overcoat was there for the beginning of the absurd event. He saw the clown. He was there for the middle portion of the event. The dog. A few moments later the man in the threadbare overcoat nodded his head at the conclusion of the absurd event. This was the thing with the duck. Who would have believed a bird could manage such a feat?

Three elements came together and formed a progression. The man in the overcoat bore witness and, in so doing, became a part of the progression.

Four elements, then.

Hey. Did you see that the man in the threadbare overcoat asked a young woman in a flowered hat as she stepped out of a nearby drugstore.

What? Was that, mister?

The young woman spoke with a noticeable stutter.

The man in the threadbare overcoat couldn’t decide.

Was this another part of the progression?

Why not?


Now You Know

For a time she had a male artist friend who carved miniature wooden birds and sold them to local boutiques. He was immensely talented and she admired his ability to translate rough blocks of pine into ornate parrots and stately eagles and long legged storks. Her artist friend lived down the hall, she often saw him at the elevator and talked about movies or books or some new restaurant. Once, when the elevator took an inordinately long time to arrive, she branched off into new conversational territory and detailed her upbringing on a large horse farm in the west. A nice bit of description she thought, but the next day she passed her artist friend’s apartment and saw the door standing open. She took a few steps inside. The rooms within were dark and desolate caves. Her artist friend had vanished without a trace. No note goodbye. No hint of where he might have gone.

She had her suspicions.

I shouldn’t have told him that story about stallions. . .


Across the Street

The neighbor’s wife left without any warning, it goes that way more often than people think. People consider the matter of abandonment and tell themselves there are always signs of it coming, but in truth there are rarely any signs, a person is there and the person is not. Some force spirits them off. What motivates such spirits, who can say. That’s life for you. That’s about what we can expect. I didn’t observe the neighbor’s wife make her departure, but did watch the neighbor walk around and around the house that night. I guess he was looking for his missing spouse. Maybe she’d come leaping from a bush or pop out of the garage. Don’t ask me what he expected. The neighbor went around and around. I was on the porch, dead from working all day, drinking grape soda because I’ve enjoyed grape soda since childhood. The neighbor circled his house more times than I bothered to count. Three soda glasses worth, anyway. Just after dusk he started, and continued until the moonless dark swallowed him up. The neighbor had never been a friend, just the guy across the street in the red house with the shutters. Still, I felt bad for him. I knew what the poor bastard was going through. Seven years back my own wife took off. I hadn’t received any warning signs, either, and had done a lot of things odder than walking around the house.


Focal Point

An undetermined point in the future. Stolen car. Unfamiliar country road. Her. Him. Night sky an inverted black bowl. Paper sack of money stuffed under the seat. Liquor store miles behind. Man on the floor, he went for a gun. Car’s left headlight flickers and dims. Right headlight is already gone. Lots of curves to this road. They might well be driving along blind. She says We really did it. Uncertain, he glances down at the gas gauge. Have you ever felt so damned alive she asks, giddy, almost laughing. The gauge nudges to the wrong side of E. Now he’s certain. Now, when it’s far too late.


Nom de Nom

Without any conscious planning he began to use a different name. This was on a dark and rainy Tuesday afternoon, though the weather had nothing to do with anything and served only as a peripheral detail in a much larger scenario. Rain. Water dripping from the sky. He ignored the open apartment window and buckling wallpaper. Who the hell cared about rain? What was rain but liquid kicked out of heaven.

He spoke his new name aloud. Dubois. Dubois. That would be it from now on. Not Mr. Dubois. Not Dubois with initials and honorary titles. J. M. Dubois Esquire? Screw that. Ignoring the soggy wallpaper he closed the apartment window. He paid no attention to the thunder-rattled walls. Dubois, plain and simple. Dubois was exactly it. Dubois was dead center.

Later on while sitting on the toilet he wrote on the little pad that hung on a hook by the roll of bathroom tissue. Dubois. He wrote it again in caps. DUBOIS. He added the appropriate punctuation. DUBOIS!!! How the name flowed with power and made itself known to the deepest parts of the mind and body. DUBOIS!!! ran like electricity along the nerves and merged with the bones, transforming them into steel. He finished his business and tore the sheet from the pad. He tucked the paper into the corner of the bathroom mirror. The name stared out at him with the intensity of a nova. DUBOIS!!! Magnificent.

It seemed fitting to alter the manner in which he answered the telephone. Hello? Yes, this is DUBOIS!!! speaking. What may DUBOIS!!! do for you? At first it felt slightly awkward to speak of himself in the third person. But DUBOIS!!! Didn’t the name practically beg to be set off in spectacular fashion? Why on earth not use this minor literary device as accent? As highlight? So what if the person on the other end of the line failed to comprehend and abruptly hung up? DUBOIS!!! needn’t be bothered by such petty minds. DUBOIS!!! was far better off listening to the patient hiss of a dial tone.

Once it was a woman who spoke from the phone.

Hello, Mr. Coombs, this is Elsie Ormand.

You have the wrong number, madam, there is no Coombs here, there is only DUBOIS!!!

But you have Alton’s pleasant voice, I’m sure you’re him, don’t you remember how we met at the church picnic last year and shared a plate of fried chicken?

Madam, you are mistaken.

We talked about getting together at some point. Lunch. Perhaps a movie.

I’m afraid not.

I was sure we forged a connection, an emotional bond. Even after a year I still feel it, which is why I called.


Are you sure?

DUBOIS!!! is quite certain.

I’m sorry to have troubled you.


DUBOIS!!! felt puzzlement over this particular call. What had the strange woman meant with her odd familiarity? What had been her purpose? Was she an agent of forces determined to manipulate DUBOIS!!! into thinking he was someone else? Did she and these unknown others wish to have DUBOIS!!! cast doubt upon his own perceptions? What other explanation could there be? Why else would she have called and insisted that DUBOIS!!! was this lesser personage, this Alton Coombs? For whom did this Elsie Ormand work? What was DUBOIS!!! up against?

DUBOIS!!! stopped leaving the apartment.

DUBOIS!!! disconnected the telephone.

DUBOIS!!! got rid of the television and radio because of the very real possibility that the mystery woman and her unseen commanders might have compromised the airwaves and bent them to their will.

Nobody can touch DUBOIS!!! now DUBOIS!!! proclaimed. Yes, DUBOIS!!! may know hunger and DUBOIS!!! may come to understand loneliness. But in the end DUBOIS!!! needs only one thing and that is DUBOIS!!!

This island stands inviolate DUBOIS!!! shouted at the piece of furniture nearest to him.

The couch.

Weeks later a neighbor found him, dead and stiff on that same couch. Thank God there were no cats, everyone knows what vile acts those evil little creatures are likely to perform when their masters expire. Bad enough for the neighbor that the death occurred in July. Imagine the smell. Picture the sodden mess leaking into the cushions. The neighbor lamented the couch, now a complete loss. The neighbor held her nose. She notified the authorities, her duty as a citizen, but had to tell the responding officer she knew nothing of the deceased other than that he had lived alone and never caused any trouble.

What about a name the officer asked.

The neighbor stared at him as though he had uttered something completely strange and unfathomable.