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‘Bite-size Fiction’ Category

  1. Sunday After the Shootings

    January 27, 2014 by Diane

    white church

    On Sunday after the shootings, a small Midwestern community gathered in their local church, stunned by the news reports. They murmured in groups as they filed in, the children tethered to their mother’s hands. From the pulpit Father O’Hare gazed out at his congregation, at their tight faces, the men with their blazing eyes, the children squirming in their mother’s embrace. He knew the evil that had consumed that young shooter; he knew the evil because it brushed against him now—that out of control anger—and he sensed it in his parish, felt it wafting through, clinging to the men with their tense jaws and the women clutching their children with fierceness.

    Father O’Hare asked them all to rise, to sing Nearer, My God, to Thee. Even Joe Peterson, who never sang, held the hymnal and bellowed the words. After the last note Mrs. Smith at the organ dabbed her eyes and folded her hands in her lap, and the choir in their blue robes sank down.

    “It is with heavy hearts that we are gathered here today,” Father O’Hare began. “And our prayers are with the families of the wee victims. I don’t have to tell you that there is a question we are all asking, one question: why? Why would a young lad commit such a horrible crime, a child of God no less—”

    Mr. Peterson reared up. “That boy was the Devil!”

    “He was screwy in the head!” Mabel Fricks hollered from the back of the church. “He should have been locked up.”

    And others chimed in.

    “Where does a boy that age get his hands on an assault rifle? Can you tell me that?”

    “It’s the government’s fault!”

    “It’s the NRA! They’re nothing but a bunch of bullies!”

    “Amen!” someone shouted from the choir.

    Father O’Hare came out from behind the pulpit and held up his hands until everyone had quieted down. He didn’t have a passage to point to, nothing in the Bible about twenty innocent children being gunned down in the middle of the day. All he knew is that the evil that overtook that boy’s soul was beckoning to others, a curl of smoke that made others follow blindly, luring the nation with its deceptive tune. He had to stop that evil energy from permeating his flock, from spreading further into the world. He had to tell them that the only way to defeat the dark was to turn toward the light and remember the good. To remind others. And to never forget, even after this day was long forgotten.

    “We’re trying to find something to blame,” he began, “instead of looking for something to cherish.” His eyes swept the angry faces and settled on Mr. Peterson’s. “Joe. Your beloved wife sits next to you, the mother of your children. When was the last time you held her hand? And Sam,” he turned to the choir director slumped in his chair, “this fine morning when you walked to church, did you give thanks for your sturdy legs?” Father O’Hare spread his arms to the congregation. “Did any of you notice the morning sky?  Did you marvel at the gold and the orange and the pink all swirled together, and let it settle in your soul?”

    Everyone was still.

    “Now then, here is the question we ought to be asking ourselves: Why do we let our anger blind us to what is good in the world? It’s not our job to find blame. It’s our job to find love. Take the hand of your grieving neighbor and lead them to the window and show them the sunrise, remind them of the good that survives.”

    Joe Peterson grunted, and folded his arms. His grandson was six. He would be hard pressed to find something good in the world if it had happened to little Joey.

    “Let us pray.”

    Joe refused to bow his head. When the choir rose he refused to stand, refused to pick up the hymnal again, refused to sing. But Joe’s wife did, her voice thin and trembling and off key. The skirt of her pale yellow dress brushed his knee as she swayed with each note, the lightest touch, a butterfly’s wing. Mr. Peterson closed his eyes and let the touch settle, let it take up residence in his aching heart.

  2. Only One Person Can Kill a Dream

    November 4, 2013 by Diane

    Superhero kid. Girl power concept

    Gloria remembers to turn on the porch light. She remembers to brush her teeth and set the alarm clock and give thanks for her blessings. But she forgets her yearnings until the lights are off and the covers draped over her shoulders and her eyes are closed behind the fuzzy pink sleep mask. Then she remembers:

    The inner child wanted to be a famous writer. Now the child is only allowed to read her work aloud in dreams, making garbled sounds, and someone in the audience yells “booooring!”  She wakes up, hearing the garbled sound leave her throat, and realizes that even in dreams the inner critic is awake.

    She drags herself through the day. She makes pancakes and drinks coconut milk. She practices her literary scales on the keyboard. She scraps it all, walks in circles around the neighborhood, and then confronts the keyboard again, daring it to write crap.

    Her inner critic whispers in her ear. No one wants to read your novel. Don’t embarrass yourself.

    “I’m not afraid of embarrassment,” Gloria snaps.

    You’ll fail.

    “What’s wrong with failing? Giving up is failing. Is that what you’re advising?”

    Don’t try. That way, you won’t be disappointed.

    “I’ll be disappointed if I don’t try.”

    Round after round, Gloria knocks him back into the corner. The critic smiles his twisted smile as a trainer sops sweat from his muscles then builds them back up with a brisk massage. She squeezes in a line of text before the critic is back swinging.

    If you publish your book and it bombs, you’ll be depressed. The pressure of writing will make you tense, raise your blood pressure. You’ll have a stroke. You’ll die.

    “Ah! At last. You’ve wound up in the gutter of death. Like a corpse, all decked out. If I’m dead, I won’t care what people think. And what people think is none of my business anyway.”

    You don’t believe that.

    “Listen to me, old man. Listen to me good. You won’t bring me down. You might knock me onto both knees, you might box my ears ‘till I can’t hear my wise self, but I’ll stagger up again. I’ll pull myself to the keyboard. I’ll write one lousy word after another and then come back a day later and mine the gems and write again. You can’t kill my dreams. You tried. You tried, and I let you. But not again. And if I see you in my dreams, I’ll squash you then too.”

    She left spittle on his face, on that twisted, contorted face.

    But no, it was the mirror she was looking into.

    It was the mirror, all along.

  3. Government Shutdown? Santa to the Rescue

    October 4, 2013 by Diane

    Santa Claus On Sledge recycled papercraft

    You better watch out when Santa takes action. And one October night in 2013, that’s exactly what he did.

    Santa was fed up with the politicians and their political bluster, claiming to know what every American citizen wanted. He was fed up with their shenanigans, swinging the country toward the fiscal cliff and then shutting the government down. Santa usually waited until Halloween to fatten himself up, but in 2013 he started early. He shook the moth balls from his red suit and polished his big black boots and practiced his ho ho hos and called the reindeers in from their reindeer games and notified the media, warning them that Christmas was coming early this year, and he asked the FAA to clear the skies, and then, skipping his customary whistle, he shouted “Now Dasher, Now Dancer…” but before he could finish, the reindeer surged upwards because they were fed up too.

    Santa plucked every politician from their beds and tossed them into the sleigh. He even roused Obama, letting him ride shotgun. And he carried them through the skies, the whole lot of them bickering and pushing and shoving and blaming and demanding to be let out. He dropped the Republicans in the blue states, and the Democrats in the red states, and he shoved Obama down Donald Trump’s chimney.

    Then Santa gathered up the homeless and the needy and the hungry senior citizens and all those kids who usually spend their days at Head Start and sent them down the chimneys of the wealthy. And he rounded up everyone who had ever been swindled by the banks too big to fail, and dropped them down the chimneys of the swindlers.

    And finally, he buzzed low over the museums and national parks, so low that his reindeer’s hooves clipped the barricades and knocked them all down. A father and son, camping in a parking lot outside the Grand Canyon instead of embarking on a three-week rafting vacation as planned, watched slack-jawed as Santa tipped a gloved hand in their direction before zooming away. They heard a hearty ho ho ho and then the faint jingle of bells and then nothing but their own astonished breathing.

    The next day the U.S. postal service delivered checks to the mailboxes of every furloughed worker, money that would have paid the salaries of every politican. And by the time those politicians returned to Capitol Hill via bus and taxi and train, some of them thumbing a ride, one of them walking the whole way in shoes that pinched tight, they discovered that their beloved aisle was gone. The chairs in both chambers had been uprooted and rearranged into two giant circles. In the center of one circle was a pile of every can that had been kicked down the road. And in the center of the other: a mound of reindeer droppings.