Fiction, Personal, Short Stories, Writing

Short Fiction: The Caretaker

Hi guys. This is a short writing exercise I did the other day. I used the prompt for October 17th from A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves. Kind of quickly thrown together, but in the spirit of Halloween, enjoy!

The Caretaker

by Shannon Fox

The caretaker had lived alone on the hill for more than half a century. His hair had grown white, his limbs stiff, his eyes murky, and his tongue clumsy. He rose every morning at dawn and retired at dusk. Then, he would wait for his visitor.

The man in the black boots arrived every night after sundown. If there had been anyone around to ask him, the caretaker would have sworn to nothing about the man’s appearance except for a pair of black boots. The toes were usually scuffed, sometimes covered in mud, sometimes with bits of grass and dew clinging to them, and always bearing a smell the caretaker never mentioned to the visitor.

At eighty-four years of age, the caretaker had grown used to passing his days in much the same way. After a day spent tending the weeds that grew around the headstones and sweeping the dust and dead leaves from the mausoleum, he looked forward to sitting in his old wooden chair and eating his dinner, usually a hearty stew and hunk of bread.

The man in the black boots always came in while he was eating. Taking a seat in the rocking chair opposite the caretaker, he would wait for the man to finish eating before commencing their conversation. The caretaker knew better than to offer the man any food.

It was raining. The caretaker wasn’t worried, though. He had never known the visitor to miss an appointment on account of a storm.

He arrived just as the caretaker took the stew off the stovetop. His shoes were already drying in front of the fire, wet and muddy after a day tending to the dead in the rain.

“Lamb?” the visitor asked.

“This was a good week,” the caretaker replied.

“Have they started paying you more?”

“No. Just the same.”

“How many did you bury this week?”

“Nine,” the caretaker said, cutting his bread. “The last one was a little boy. His mother gave me ten dollars for my time.”

The visitor rocked slowly in his chair. “Not many tips in this business.”

“No,” agreed the caretaker. He sat in his chair with his bowl of stew, his spoon, and his bread.

They sat in silence as the visitor watched the caretaker eat. It continued to rain outside, the wind lashing the water against the windows. The house smelled musty on the driest of days and now it smelled quite damp and mildewed. Finally, the caretaker set his bowl on the floor.

“How many since yesterday?” the visitor asked.

“None. I suspect there will be plenty when the rain lets up.” He turned towards the window. “This is good weather for death.”

The visitor nodded and tapped his boot on the floor.

“Are you ready?” the visitor asked.

The caretaker nodded. “Soon.”

“Tomorrow?”

“Perhaps.” The caretaker continued to stare at the rain. “Someone must tend to the dead.”

The visitor rose. “Then I’ll come back tomorrow.”

Personal, Uncategorized, Writing

Short Fiction: The Unicorn’s Girl

A Writer’s Book of Days Prompt for June 25th

The Unicorn’s Girl

by Shannon Fox

In the Italian quarter, she drove her car past old Italian men seated outside of cafes, drinking their morning coffees. The stereo was playing a Radiohead song as she turned the heat up higher, blowing hot gusts across her eyes and nose.

Tentatively, Emily parked her car in the lot next to the art store. The clock read five to nine. She glanced across the street and felt her stomach drop as she recognized the Italian restaurant they’d ate at, the afternoon he’d picked her up from the airport. They’d eaten a late lunch of lasagna and minestrone soup, rivers of red on china-white plates. Afterwards, they’d gone into the market next door. She picked a red wine, entranced by its Romanesque label. He picked up a baguette and a six-pack of Aranciata. That was the first, last, and only time she’d been to the Italian quarter.

And here she was again, on a December morning, alone in her car, exactly one month to the day. She turned off the radio. The clock ticked over to nine and she got out, carefully locking her car behind her. As she walked around to the front of the building, she sniffled and pulled her coat tighter. Sadness welled up behind her eyes, pressing into the small spaces of her sinuses, threatened to flood out and down her face. She sniffled again.

Emily walked up to the door as she man flipped the sign from CLOSED to OPEN. She stepped inside, grateful that they’d rearranged the floor displays since she’d last been in. This was the only store in the city that carried what she wanted.

She cut through the aisle stocked with tubes of paint and went up the iron stairs to the second floor. Wandering the aisles, she located what she wanted without much difficulty. She selected a generously-sized wooden awl, the nub about the size of her palm. Emily thumbed through packets of waxed thread, extracting the cheapest one. She consulted her Sticky-Note list of items and perused the ingredients of the glue bottles lined up on the shelf. She turned them over in her hands, noting their heft and color. This she did not know how to pick. But rather than ask, she chose one and added it to her basket. Her eyes ran over the shelf tags, looking for the book board. There were different sizes, in black, white, and brown. She chose a packet of black, briefly debating whether she would need one or two. Emily took one.

Hoisting the basket higher on her forearm, she turned back to the front of the store and headed back down the stairs. Chilly winter light filtered through the front windows, dappling the tile floors with squares and stripes, dust moats illuminated in the air.

Near the cash register, she found an assortment of cheap trinkets, perfect Stocking-Stuffers for Christmas. She selected a packet of brightly colored erasers in the shape of Matryoshka dolls. Emily sorted through a bucket of fridge magnets and pulled out a set for writers: a pen, a pencil, a paperclip, and a typewriter. To this she added a small pouch of paper clips carefully molded into the shape of horses.

Taking a deep breath, she approached the racks of paper. They were all beautiful. So soft that they might tear beneath your fingertips, yet sturdy enough to be cut into artwork, origami, cards, and whatever else you might desire to use it for. As she gazed on the rows of blues and greens and reds, a rainbow organized in ombre, she felt a twist in her chest as she recalled him, standing just behind the first display. In her memory, he was holding a paintbrush and a tube of paint, the specifics lost to the haze of distance. She remembered him laughing, in the plain white t-shirt with the hole in the sleeve, the one she always begged him to throw out. His warm skin was bronzed from the summer sun. He told her they’d go to the beach and he’d paint her, sitting on her favorite rock, the enormous one with the miniature tide pool in the center. He’d paint her in front of the setting sun, her hair and face luminous in the fading rose light, her toes just tucked into the briny water. He’d paint her as he’d seen her that first day, when they’d hiked down to the shore and stared at the sunset. They’d hiked back in the dark without a light to guide them. He fell in love with her then.

She didn’t know the moment when she’d fallen in love with him. It had come on slow until one day he’d been standing in her bedroom, flipping through one of the books on her desk, and she looked up from vacuuming the carpet and realized, This is love.

The boy at the cash register came up to her, in his bright blue apron and obnoxious buttons. His nametag read “Dave”.

“Let me know if I can help you,” he said. His eyes lingered on her face a moment longer than necessary. He blushed a little and his face folded into a nervous smile as he disappeared down one of the long aisles.

She returned to the paper, trying to visualize what kind of book she wanted to make. So many patterns and shapes, regular and irregular. Finally, Emily chose a sheet of black paper with copper swirls on it. It made her think of the old tapestries in European castles, the kind that depicted bearded white unicorns with feathered feet. Besides them, always, knelt a young girl, virginal and pure, the unicorn’s girl, her life untarnished by things as tawdry as lost love.

Local San Diego

Local San Diego: Judy Reeves & Jim Ruland

Judy Reeves & Jim Ruland presented by the reading series at the San Diego Museum of the Living Artist in Balboa Park 6/21/12

Some of you have seen my Open Mic Etiquette post on The Dark Globe. The event that inspired that post happened at this reading. The reading series put on by MOLA features an Open Mic after the featured reading. Below are my thoughts on the actual reading, which unfortunately got overridden by the very rude behavior of a reader during the Open Mic.

This was the second time I’d been to MOLA for a reading. Jim Ruland read first. He is the author of a short story collection, The Big Lonesome, and curates another Los Angeles/San Diego reading series, Vermin on the Mount, which I intend to check out in the coming months. He is also on the board for San Diego Writers, Ink. At MOLA, Jim read a lengthy short story about short stories and short story writers. That should already tell you something of his personality. The story was very engaging, about a short story writer on a deadline who receives a package containing a book of his work translated into Czech, except he didn’t write the work. Short stories are hard to pull off at readings. I know. I usually read poetry, but occasionally will throw some flash fiction at the audience. It’s very hard to keep an audience’s attention during a piece of fiction, so that they won’t get lost or confused. Ruland accomplished this in an exemplary manner. His writing is littered with such powerful witticisms as “the purloined story”, “a prose technician”, “a coffin in miniature”, “succulent groupies”, and “the details needed massaging”. Looking back, I think one reason why this particular story worked so well for a live reading, is the way it was structured. It was a neat, compact story, but it didn’t get too overblown and lose the reader. It wandered off into anecdotes and tangents as writing is want to do, but always he’d include a little grounding tidbit, something to the effect of “but now here he was, staring at the package on the table”. Little flags like that are helpful in a live audience. If you zone out a little, once you hear a grounding flag like that, you can jump back into the story with ease.

The second reader was Judy Reeves, the author of A Writer’s Book of Days. She is a teacher and author, as well as the co-founder of San Diego Writers, Ink. She runs a number of workshops and groups at San Diego Writer’s Ink. At MOLA, she read a series of flash fiction pieces. Her work (or at least the pieces she read) are very focused around women and women’s issue, such as sexuality (straight or gay) that is often tabooed in American culture. One of the stories she read was based around the Chinese Legend of the Moon Mother, who had twenty-eight houses in which she kept a different consort. Reeves took the legend and translated it into the American West, telling the story of a cowgirl on a farm full of cowboys and ranch hands, a cowgirl dancing by light of the moon. One of my favorite descriptions from this piece was “the tips of her boots a bright constellation”. She read a couple pieces. from which I collected the lines “one-light towns”, “silos like fat, silver fingers of God”, and “men with sunburned necks and flinty eyes”. I have Reeves book, A Writer’s Book of Days, which I got her to sign for me when the evening was done. I read a short piece of fiction during the Open Mic, which she liked.

My signed copy!