Her foot dangles off the bow of the canoe
and flicks lake water onto the gravelly shore.
For fifteen minutes
I’ve been watching her.

If the stars had any of the curiosity that terrified me that night
they would have wondered why this lad let his dungaree knees
soak in an April mud blackened with the memory of winter
as his friends danced in the warm gymnasium.

Like every night, he dozes uneasily in his recliner,
glasses slipping down his nose.
At any sudden noise — setting my glass down on the table,
the front door opening, a shout from the sports announcer —
his eyes snap open, and he cries out, startled and afraid,
until he sees one of us, and we tell him everything’s fine,
encouraging him to go to bed for crissakes.
Some mornings he wakes up in that chair.

An envelope in my graduate school mail slot,
filled with the two twenties, a five, and three singles
I had left on the table the night before,
storming out of the bar in anger.
I needed a sign to renew my trust in them,
and was disappointed at their passing my narcissistic test.

Her responses were exactly opposite of mine,
eruptions of anger instead of simmering resentment.
We saw the flaws in each other,
and the love we shared allowed us to be each other’s healer.

I hope these young men have acquired
the strength and wisdom necessary
to overcome their fears
and forgive my role in their creation.

Two brown circles, each a quarter inch diameter, every night.
The supplement is half that size, and looked much cooler as a green capsule.
When I forget about not liking to ascend mountains, there’s one other.
For the past two years, I’ve said the same words to two licensed professionals,
but those words have lost no potency in their repetition.

We all become legacies.
But our stories are always changing.


Innocent Elimination


When the elderly couple stepped out of their car into the dawn light of the parking lot, Harlan knew he should kill them.

He glanced at his watch. Nineteen minutes before his client’s arrival. Witnesses were a problem that needed to be eliminated. Like the joggers from last week.

“Excu-u-u-use me?” The woman’s voice warbled, like the bleating of a lamb addressing a butcher. “Do you-ou-ou-ou know, where-re-re dock 13 i-i-is?”

Harlan then heard the boat’s engine, as if it were calling him. He then lead the grateful couple to their boat, which pulled out of dock 13 as Harlan’s client arrived.

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly contest that’s just a whole lotta fun.

Experimentation as Experience

Mandibelle16, reblogging a post from Ryan Lanz which reprinted an essay from Meg Dowell recounting the best writing advice Meg have ever received — can I stop with the attribution now? — makes an argument for experimentation, for following even the craziest idea to its end, for no other reason than to see what you encounter along the way.

Most of the stories on this blog start exactly that way, with an idea so compelling that my imagination can’t let it go until it is fully expressed. None of these stories is anything near polished, and most will never be revised; they’ll remain in their underdeveloped state, like the wooden skeleton of a framed house without walls.

I’m not always happy with the end result, but even when an experiment fails, I’ve found value in having gone through the process. Writing these stories not only satisfies the curiosity engaged when an idea comes to me, but also develop my skills in plotting, dialogue, and characterization. I gain valuable experience from each one of these projects, and I hope the day never comes when I stop enjoying the effort they require.

Renny and Lenny

This photo was taken soon after I resumed fencing. After competing as a high school and college fencer, I had been away from the sport for nearly three decades, and within a month after getting back, I wondered why I had ever left.

Here is a more recent image, from the time I began practicing as a left-handed fencer. It has been a difficult experiment, as I’ve had to convince my legs that yes, I really do want the left to take the lead, and the right simply must provide the power.

Yesterday, I had a little fun with my transition.

My club conducts two week-long summer camps for student fencers, and this past week I helped our coach run the show (one benefit of my recent career change is the ability to say yes to myself more often). I enjoyed working with the youths — people who believe the coming generation is a collection of smartphone-addicted zombies need to spend time in the places young people want to go — and found that explaining and demonstrating our drills made me appreciate the importance of proper technique.

The final day of camp consisted of an in-house tournament, an opportunity to test the skills worked on during the week. Due to lack of lames for saber, we decided to forgo electronic scoring equipment for that weapon. I was suddenly inspired, and couldn’t resist making a proposal — “Why don’t I fence saber as both a lefty and a righty, to see which is my better hand?”

(Momentary aside for any Inigo Montoya fans who might be reading this — no, fencing rules do not allow you to switch hands in the middle of a bout. If you’re injured during a tournament and the on-site medical staff certifies you cannot continue competing with the hand you’ve been using, it is possible you could continue with the other, although it’s hard to imagine that same staff agreeing to let an injured fencer compete.)

Perhaps sensing a wavering of my transition, our coach was completely against my proposition. But after seeing the overwhelming enthusiasm of our campers to the idea, she had little choice but to acquiesce.

Two entries were made on the tournament whiteboard, and I volunteered my names be entered as Ken R and and Ken L. (Perhaps, in keeping with the tradition of this blog, it should have been Keigh Ahr and Keigh El.) But another coach then suggested that Kenny — only members of my fencing club call me Kenny, and they will always call me Kenny — should compete as Renny and Lenny. The suggestion was too brilliantly adorkable to do otherwise than win the day.

The results were not surprising. Renny and Lenny were closely matched, both winning two bouts and losing two others. However, Lenny was able to score one more touch in his losing bouts than did Renny, and surrendered one less touch in the bouts he won, giving Lenny a +3 indicator that bested Renny’s +1. “It’s time for Renny to retire,” our coach proclaimed at the end of the tournament, and I’m fine with that, because I’m getting used to the idea of being a little sinister when I fence.

Untitled Story, Part 11

“Please, come in Agent Marcel.” The man spoke weakly, his voice as gray as his hair. “And you must forgive me for not rising to meet you — I fell in the bathroom yesterday.”

Agent Marcel walked into the room, and as she approached the mahogany desk, lifted the nylon carrying case resting on her hip. “I believe I have something of yours, Mr. Thorson.” She laid the case on the desk, then unzipped its top. Reaching into the case, she then pulled out a red notebook.

She presented it to her client, who eyed it nervously, like a dog suspicious of an offered treat. “You’re certain this is the notebook?”

Agent Marcel smiled at the thought he was right to be suspicious, considering he hadn’t seen this object in nearly five decades. “Your orders gave me permission to read the notebook’s contents to verify its authenticity. I turned to the last page, then flipped through the prior pages until I found your research notes. You were years ahead of anyone, Mr. Thorson; nobody else could have written these words in 1990.” She laid the notebook on the desk in front of him. “This is your notebook, Mr. Thorson, the one you lost on that November day. All that money you paid to get this back, has resulted in success.”

Thorson leaned over the desk, then with a frail hand turned the cover of the notebook. “Ah!” He pointed to the top of the first page. “There’s a phone number here, for Nathan Gorlick, and I wrote Blackhawks under the number, along with a date in January. We must have gone to a hockey game together.” He turned to the next page. “Not that I remember that game, or Gorlick for that matter.”

“So, can you confirm that this is the object you asked for us to retrieve?”

He looked up, and frowned. “I authorized the release of funds from escrow earlier today, Agent Marcel. After reading your report.”

She looked at him in confusion. “You didn’t wait to confirm I had retrieved the right notebook?”

He leaned back in his chair, and hummed with satisfaction. “Do you really think this was about a silly little notebook?”

Untitled Story, Part 10

[Began this story way back here]


February 18, 2036

“Open driver window.” At Agent Marcel’s command, the window to her left glided into the side of her transport. She looked into the security camera and kept her head steady as a sea-green light illuminated her face. The light vanished, and a mechanical voice from the camera welcomed her, as the gate in front of her transport swung open.

The transport rolled lazily along a path of crushed white stone, lined on both sides by trees that blocked all view of the sky. Agent Marcel had visited an estate like this once, to attend the wedding of a friend from college, but had been too caught up in the day’s celebration to contemplate the location. But now, riding comfortably in her transport on the way to a routine appointment, she imagined her client’s landscaping bill was higher than many people’s salaries. She also thought it odd how her client defended Extended Social Security, considering the impact ESS was certainly having on his taxes.

The pebbled path led to a large brick mansion, and the transport eased to a stop in front of the large oaken entry door. A Protobot emerged from its locker, and glided to the transport. “Thank you for coming, Agent Marcel.” She recognized the tone of the bot’s voice; it was identical to Katie, the young woman the agent had seen yesterday, which happened 46 years ago. “Mister Thorson is feeling well today, and is eager to see you in his study.”

The agent let the Protobot lead her into the mansion, through a marbled foyer with the largest chandelier Agent Marcel had ever seen, up a curved staircase so wide she would not have been able to hold both handrails, and into a brightly lit room. Sitting behind a mahogany desk was a man who, when she had seen him yesterday, looked a half-century younger.

Friday Fictioneers: The Signifying Leg

My leg has become my identity. Hobbling down the street, passersby here the distinct clatter of my prosthetic, and look down.

“Thank you for your service,” one of them says on occasion without looking up, like slaves terrified of addressing their master.

I no longer spare them. “I slipped under a commuter train, getting to work,” I reply. Nobody ever apologizes.

I may as well be invisible, save for my leg. If I could power it remotely, I’d send it on its own, and shatter the illusion of normalcy.

[Friday Fictioneers is a weekly photo prompt challenge. Join the fun!]