Losing One – Fiction

So, here’s my last short story of 2017, ya’ll. It’s a story about some neighbors who can tomatoes, and partake in other activities. There’s also a dog. I guess it’s kind of a gay romance. Tried to avoid cliches. I was worried about it at the beginning of the week, but I like how it turned out.

*

The rain stopped hitting the tin roof above the garage door. Sean turned off the table saw and wiped the sawdust from his face with his faded red t-shirt. Maggie ran out from under the silver Nissan. She shook the water off of her and sat down on her hind legs. She scratched behind her ears and breathed through her mouth. Sean put his arms out and she ran to him. She hung off his shoulders and licked the wood pieces off his face.

 

“Easy now, Maggie. How long have you been over here? They’re prolly looking for you,” Sean said. The smell of rain and watered-down sweat choked him. He stood up and patted out his jeans and t-shirt. Maggie leaped off her front legs and dropped back down as she turned. Sean flipped the switch on the inside of the garage and ducked under as the door came down. He walked down his driveway, across his yard, past the water meter and lighting rod, and toward a red and brown brick house. Sean stepped from his overgrown yard into the well-clipped lawn of his next-door neighbors’. He scratched his throat with a cough at the smell of herbs and ground bark. Maggie wagged her tail through an overgrown tomato garden between his house and theirs. Sean went around it and past the pea green Charger in the driveway.

Maggie ran through the grass toward the side door of the brick house. Sean followed the stones that the grass had overgrown. The screen door opened before either of them reached the house.

“Oh my God. I don’t know how she always manages to get out when it rains,” Stacy said. The dog ran in through the open screen door. “Maggie, stay there, no, there,” she said. She yelled and pointed into the kitchen on the right. Maggie’s tail fell down onto the linoleum, then she stood and ran onto the carpet in the living room. Stacey threw her hand up and shook her head.

Stacey was a woman in her mid-30s with black shoulder-length hair. Sean would never admit to her or her husband, Frank, that he could see some gray as she leaned out the door and into the sun as light glided across the yard. “How are you, sugar?” Maggie said. She grabbed her purse by the stand under the light switch and stepped outside.

“Oh, Stacy, you know, getting a little done with this and a little done with that,” Sean said. He rubbed the back of his head and smiled.

“Uh-huh, aren’t we all?” Stacy said. “Casey here yet? Figured you two’d already have your guns out.” She scratched her ear then felt inside her purse. Her long earrings flashed and Sean looked away.

“Not yet. A few hours, probably. You know Miranda.” Sean popped his knuckles.

“Uh-huh. Frank’s in the basement. Careful, he’s got that mess with the tomatoes down there.” Stacy pulled her keys from her purse and drove the Charger out of the driveway. Sean went inside. He took off his shoes as the screen door shut. Maggie put her front paws onto Sean’s shirt. She ran them down his jeans and lifted them to the shirt again. Sean rubbed her head and lifted her legs off him. She dropped down onto the carpet. Sean took a step into the living room. Maggie followed. He lifted her up and carried her to the open basement door. Sean followed Maggie down the blue painted steps.

The basement smelled like a stewed garden. White boxes were tossed behind the pillar ahead of the steps. More boxes and totes were stacked along the left, stopping just before the refrigerator. The yellow door was left open. Sean pushed it shut, careful not to touch the brown stains on the door.

Maggie sat down by Frank at the stainless steel pot of tomatoes on the deep freezer in the corner. She wagged her tail. Frank’s white and red Louisville shirt was clean until he grabbed a gob of tomato and dropped it onto her face. She pulled the pulp in with her tongue before it fell over and off her snout. Juice dripped onto the concrete.

“Casey here yet?” Frank said.

“Not yet,” Sean said. Frank turned his head away from the glass jars and funnels.

“That’s not like Miranda is it? You call them?” Frank picked up the basket of sugar and sifted through it with a little yellow spoon.

“Casey’s a teenager now. Probably busy with boys.” Sean put on the oven mitt laying over the freezer door.

“Uh-huh. Or Miranda is.” Frank dropped a small amount of sugar inside each funnel.

“We’re going hunting when she gets here. You can come with us if you want.” Sean leaned into the freezer. A jar fell into the floor. He kneeled down beside the shattered pieces.

“Use the broom. You’ll cut yourself.” Frank closed the sugar. Sean tossed the glass into a plastic trash can under the back of the stairs and put back on his oven mitt. Frank grabbed the handle of the pot with a towel. Sean grabbed the other handle. They walked the big pot over the jars along the freezer together and let the tomatoes fall into the funnels.

“You were gonna do this by yourself without a ladle?” Sean stumbled into Frank’s ribs. He let his elbow rest under Frank’s armpits.

“I would’ve managed.” Frank held the pot still over the last jar in the first row. It was full. “Ready?” Frank waited. Sean let Frank’s weight hold him a moment more.

“Ready.” They leaned forward and took the pot the other way across the freezer. They sat the pot back down when the last jar was filled. Maggie stood up and rubbed her paws on Frank’s Louisville shirt as he walked with the pot towards the staircase.

“Down Maggie,” he said. Maggie tried her luck with Sean. He held up his hands, palms out. Maggie whined. He reached out and scratched behind her ears. She jumped up onto him and ran her paws down his shirt.

“Maggie, come on,” Sean said.

“Down Maggie,” Sean said from upstairs. Maggie went to the far side of the basement, between an old dresser and more boxes. She laid down beside the dresser and spread all four of her legs across the concrete.

Frank came downstairs with a clinging pan. The steam from it had fogged his glasses. He sat the pan on the freezer, removed his glasses, and wiped his face with his long sleeve. He grabbed the tongs from the pan and placed a lid on a jar.

“What’d you end up getting Casey?” Frank said.

“Some game she wanted.” Sean squeezed a cut on his ring finger.

“She plays video games?” Frank said. He placed another lid.

“No, a board game. Some kind of talking game with a mouth piece that makes it hard to talk.” Sean went to the sink by the refrigerator. He pulled the lever up and watched the blood spill down the drain.

“Now that sounds like Casey.” Frank tightened a ring around a lid. “You alright? Looks like you’re canning your own set of tomatoes over there.”

“Should’ve used the broom.” Sean held his finger under the running water and then applied pressure. Frank went to the shelf above the top of the steps and returned with a small bandage. Sean wrinkled a paper towel from the holder on the side of the fridge into his hands, then he finished by wiping them onto his red shirt. He reached for the bandage.

“Let me,” Frank said. He peeled the paper off and removed the tabs. Sean pointed his finger below Frank’s chest. Frank lifted Sean’s hand up to his eyes, then he pulled the hand back down by the wrist and rolled the bandage up over the finger. He lifted his glasses from his nose and sat them up higher as Sean wiggled his digits at him. Frank stared past Sean’s fingers. He leaned Sean onto the edge of the sink. Sean held onto Frank’s arms.

“Stacey?” Frank said. His hands were around Sean’s lower back.

“She left.” Sean lifted his thighs away from the sink. Frank held him tight. Their lips mashed and their jeans unzipped. When they got off, they cleaned themselves up with paper towels and water from the sink. Frank cleaned his glasses with his shirt and went back to the freezer. He grabbed the tongs, pulled a lid out of the water, and set it on top of the next jar. Sean fixed his brown hair and felt of his pockets.

“Where’s my phone?” Sean said. He looked around the sink and through the steps to the freezer.

“You didn’t have it out none,” Frank said. He tightened a ring around a lid. The jar busted. Glass shattered over the concrete. “Shit. Lose one every time.” He slid in his socks across the floor and stopped between the two shelves in the corner along the sink wall. He pulled a broom from behind the furthest shelf and grabbed some paper towels from the holder by the fridge. Maggie wagged her tail on the other side of the steps. She jumped up onto Frank as he came back over to the red splattered glass. “Down, Maggie, down.” She whined and came over to Sean.

“Down Maggie,” Sean said. She jumped up onto him and ran her paws down his shirt. He grabbed them and held onto them. They danced while Frank swept and wiped up tomatoes. He held his palms out to Sean after he finished.

“No cuts,” Frank said. He wiped the excess tomato juice from his hands onto his shirt. He pulled another lid up from the water with his tongs and set it on a jar. Sean set Maggie’s paws down as she licked his wrapped finger. He pulled his hand up and Maggie turned around. The side of her blond coat was red.

“Hey Frank, Maggie’s bleeding.”

“What?” Frank dropped the tongs into the pot and squatted by Maggie. He examined her coat. Sean went to the sink and pulled the roll of paper towels off the holder. He got down next to Frank, who looked at him from overtop his glasses.

“It’s tomato,” Frank said. Maggie licked his glasses. He cleaned them with his shirt and went back to the jars. Sean ran a paper towel over Maggie’s side. She darted away. He tossed the towel into the trash under the stairs and put his hands in his pockets. He looked around the basement from under the stairs.

“You sure I didn’t have my phone down here?” Sean said.

“You wanna use our phone to call?” Frank pointed upstairs.

“No. I’d better get I guess. You wanna come hunting with us later?” Sean watched Frank tighten the lid around the jar.

“Come back later.”

“Okay.” Sean went up the stairs and walked through the house. He put on his shoes and went out the door.

The sun hid behind the clouds. Sean walked along the grass-grown stones, across the empty driveway, past the garden, over the lawn, and through his overgrown yard past the lightning rod. It started to rain before he got past the water meter. He went through his front door and into the garage. His phone was on his saw table. He slid his finger across the screen. No missed calls. He called Casey. No answer. He opened the garage door and watched it rain.

His phone vibrated in his hand. It was an unknown number. He slid his finger across the screen.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Dad,” Casey said. Her voice was low and raspy.

“Casey? Where are you two?” Sean said.

“Mom’s in the hospital.” Sean put his hand over his hip.

“What happened?”

“She wasn’t feeling good this morning and she came in and they’re keeping her.” Rain pounded the tin roof of the garage.

“Do you want me to come get you?” Sean listened to Casey’s breath.

“No. I’m gonna stay here.”

“Okay.”

“Okay. Love you, Dad.”

“Love you.”

Sean didn’t know which of them hung up first. He put his phone in his pocket. Maggie ran across his driveway and under the Nissan wearing her tomato stains. He turned on his table saw and split a two-by-four.

*

You can read more of my fiction here.

Eric Shay Howard is a writer and editor. He lives in Louisville, KY and edits Likely Red Magazine.

cropped-Eric-Shay-Howard-Louisville-Cropped-Headshot

The Arrangements of Bird Men – Fiction

Thanks again for voting on which short story to post on my blog. I’m pleasantly surprised at how this one turned out. This is a version of a short story about mystery, plastic bird men, and awkwardness, I guess. If you like it, please share it.

*

He sits down next to me. His slim fitted pants wrap up his legs like a much anticipated Christmas present, one you don’t even intend to eye all that often because you already know what’s inside, but you stare anyway. It’s been awhile since I’ve had a good conversation with a stranger, even longer since I’ve flirted with one. Longer still that I’ve been flirted with.

We’re on a stone block between a fountain that doesn’t have any water in it yet and a lamppost. He takes his glasses off and places them in a blue case after he removes a lighter and a cigarette from to it. He lights the cigarette with his eyes closed, covering his mouth with his right and as sucks. The lighter goes into his right pocket. The cigarette tilts down from between his left index and middle fingers. The fingers squeeze the cigarette flaccid. He holds it in his mouth and plucks it from between his lips with his thumb and index fingers, blowing smoke out at the couple standing near the statue of a man with his arms stretched out under a bear. The tall woman under the armpit of the bear swings her head, straightens the back of her hair against her back, and walks away from the smoke.

“You think they’ll ever let us in?” I say. The man blows out his smoke mid-puff and looks over at me. We both look past the fountain at the steps up to the museum. A woman in a black dress and boots stands at the top. She checks her watch and scans the crowd below.

“Last year it took an hour before they let us in,” he says. He puts his cigarette out on the stone under us.

“I’ve never been,” I say. I watch his brown eyes and then look down at the charred paper on the stone. He moves his hand away from mine.

“It’s pretty alright. Weird stuff. Are you with a blog or are you here for pleasure?” he says.

“Both. You?”

“Insider.” He flashes his press pass.

“You’re with the Insider? I thought they went all freelance now.” I back my head up and scoot away, but then scoot over to him, an inch or so more than before.

“One of the last. Local events. Finn Wayland.” He scoots closer and extends his hand. I shake it. We stare at one another.

“James,” I say.

Two women come over and stand by us. Finn lowers a leg. Our knees touch. He gets up off of the stone. “I’ll see you inside,” he says. He walks the women closer to the steps. The crowd gathers under the woman at the steps. I join them. She walks down, her hands at her sides. I smile at an older gentleman in a dark green sportcoat and at a woman in a gray cashmere turtleneck. I grin at a man in straight bootcut jeans and a polo, my dry front teeth rubbing against my upper lip. He smiled back. He has a wallet chained around to his front belt loop. I settle in place.

“We’re about to get started,” the woman says. She matches the volume of the crowd. “Before we start, we want to thank Dr. Bloom for once again sponsoring this year’s opening and keeping the ticket price free until 2020.” Everyone claps. A man in a black suit blushes and retreats as everyone around him pats him on the shoulder. The woman raises her voice. “Now if you’ll all join us inside, you’re free to enjoy the evening at your leisure. Also please talk to any of the staff in red shirts about giving a donation. We appreciate you being here with us tonight.”

Finn walks in with the front half of the tide of bodies washing up the steps. I look for my cowboy. He’s behind me with a young woman. He wraps his arm around her and puts his other hand in his pocket. He wears his smile as he walks up the steps. He removes his hand from his pocket to scratch behind his ear. He keeps it down at his side the rest of the way. I excuse myself through the crowd.

“Hey, buddy, we’re all going to the same place,” Dr. Bloom says. He’s walking with a gang of suited men and women behind him. He tucks on his white bow tie. I smile at him, push through the crowd, then the heavy door.

Beethoven on low. The hand painted walls are frameless, but cluttered with black and white murals. Empty off-white squares of various sizes are scattered up and down throughout the lobby. Employees in red shirts and black slacks all stand and pace in little circles, watching. No one is behind the counter.

Finn stands under the archway that leads to the sculptures. He talks to two blonde women who share a nose and a man with a scruffy face who looks like he smells of a thick cologne. As I get closer, I can smell it. It smells like distrust.

I walk between Finn and the scruffy man, keeping my eyes fixed on the muscular bust in the center of the next room as I step through the short hall. I adjust my eyes in the room with the white walls as I browse the centerpiece, a gray nude dancer with no feet, melting into the base, kneeling, his arm resting on his knee. His hair is detailed, dark from a distance, fine and precious up close. I touch the hair on the head.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Look at the body hair,” Finn says. I melt into the stone. One of Finn’s girls laughs at a small brown clay figure on a pedestal. A skinny bipedal figure stands with its mouth open wide. It’s arms are held out. A woman screams.

The chatter softens. Men in red button ups run into the next room. The woman in the black dress follows. Through the doorway leading into the contemporary art room, someone shouts.

 

“Call 911.” The woman in the black dress takes a cell from the staff member nearest her. A woman pulls a black gate closed.

“What’s going on?” I say. A cell phone dings.

“Doesn’t seem good,” Finn says. People, huddling in small grounds, keep to their corners. Another cell phone dings. I stand in place and look around the room. Near the gate, a dollhouse carved out of stone rests on a table. Inside it, using the stone furniture, are little plastic people with bird heads, all different colors. Their beaks are enormous. The walls and furniture are smooth and solid.

“Do they know who it was?” An older woman in a turtleneck says, ruffling her hand through her thick gray hair. Her mouth is open and her eyes are wide.

“I don’t think so. No one is saying anything,” another woman says.

I move all the bird men and all the bird women into the sitting room. Finn watches me.

“I guess you got your story,” I say.

“Not quite,” Finn says. He picks up two of the bird men, one red and one blue, and places them next to each other in the hallway. He peeks through the gate.

A fast melody plays from a cell phone from one of the women behind me. The woman with thick gray hair answers.

“Okay. Okay,” she says. She whispers to her friend. Finn joins his friends over by the melted man. I keep to the birds. I rearrange the bird people in the sitting room so that they are all facing a partner of a different color. Their beaks don’t touch.

My cowboy in boots pulls on the top of the brown paper head a few sculptures down. The young woman he’s with laughs. They move on down to the dollhouse.

“Cute,” the woman says.

Three men in blazers and two women in blue t-shirts and black pants walk in from the lobby. I stay by the dollhouse. A woman in a red shirt opens the gate. They go in, one by one. The oldest looking man enters through the gate last. He wears a badge on his belt. He smiles. The gate closes.

Many people are on their phones. Finn leans against the wall by the short hallway and smokes a cigarette. Finn plants his foot onto the wall behind him and extends his thickly wrapped thigh. He sucks and breathes. I walk over to him, lean against the wall beside him, and watch through the gate beyond the melted man.

“Couldn’t hold out, huh?” I say.

“Nope,” Finn says. He shows me the open pack. I shake my head and wave my hand sideways. He returns his cigarettes to his pocket and lays his hand along the wall. I let my arms fall from their fold over my chest down to my sides.

The gate opens and then closes. The older officer walks toward the melted man with his badge held high.

“Hello. I’m Detective Kurr. I apologize for the inconvenience. We appreciate your cooperation and as soon as we ask you all a few questions we can continue to evening,” he said. He starts with the man nearest, the cowboy. They speak briefly and then he talks with the woman from under his shoulder. He moves on to the scruffy man who smells of distrust near the dollhouse.

Finn drops his cigarette and mashes it with his shoe. He pushes away from the wall. He walks into the lobby and touches the screen on his cell phone. The scruffy man joins him. Detective Kurr moves on to a woman in a salmon colored dress over by the brown paper head.

“Is that yours?” A man in a red shirt says. He points to the cigarette in the floor. Smoke rises. I stomp my foot over it.

“I don’t smoke,” I say.

“There’s no smoking in here,” he says.

“It’s not mine,” I say. He curves his mouth and picks up the butt. He bends at the knee and extends the cigarette out from his chest. He walks over to the dollhouse and tosses the cigarette into the trashcan just before the gate. Finn plays on his phone and cuts up with the scruffy man. I walk across the room and play with the dollhouse.

“Have you spoken with Dr. Bloom any this evening?” Detective Kurr says. He came out from behind the melted man.

“Doctor Bloom?” I say.

“Yes. Well dressed. Older. Bow tie,” he says.

“Only outside. I accidentally cut him off coming up the steps,” I say.

“What did he say to you?” He says.

“He told me to slow down,” I say.

Detective Kurr looks at me. His brown eyes scorch mine. He smiles. He walks to the other side of the melted man. I move the red plastic bird man into the sitting room and leave the blue bird man in the hallway. Smoke rises. People say fire. A man in a red shirt rushes over. He sprays. Detective Kurr comes back from behind the melted man.

“Sir, may I take your name?” He says. His sulfur eyes strike mine.

“James Hatcher,” I say. I play with my bird men. Detective Kurr writes on a legal pad. He walks across the room, back behind the melted man. I look for Finn. I play with my bird men.

*

cropped-Eric-Shay-Howard-Louisville-Cropped-Headshot

Eric Shay Howard is a creative writer and editor. He lives in Louisville, KY and edits Likely Red Magazine. He’s on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Setting Daily Goals Helps Me Stay Focused, Braxton John – Fiction

On Wednesdays, I work on my blog.

Today, I have three goals. I need coffee, I need to write this blog post, and I need to get more editing clients. I’m off from my part-time job today, so I can spend the day focusing on my writing and editing business. I’m taking a shower and heading to Bardstown Road. I might text my friend Braxton John to see if he wants to sit down with me over coffee for a bit, or I might just force myself to go out by myself. Either way, it’s early and I need coffee. The buses are more frequent this early in the morning and I’d rather spend the money I’d spend on an Uber on a better latte. Continue reading “Setting Daily Goals Helps Me Stay Focused, Braxton John – Fiction”