Saturday, August 22, 2015

Ultimatum

A short writing exercise on the theme "Ultimatum"

Which one do you love more?

“You have thirty seconds to decide,” says the man behind me. “Which one do you love more?” In front of us sit my parents, strapped into chairs behind a plexiglas window. His tongue brushes my earlobe.

“Please don’t do this,” I beg.

“It’s up to you, Maria. Which one lives, which one dies? Pick one, or else they both die.”

Within my reach are two buttons. The left button kills Mother, and the right one kills Father. Taking no action kills them both. A timer counts down with large red digits. My head swims, and I am short of breath. This is punishment for my part in the insurrection. My parents despise the regime as much as I do, but they have warned me that resistance is too dangerous.

Father’s lips move. “Me,” he seems to say.

Mother’s lips move. “Me,” she seems to say.

“Fifteen seconds,” the man says.

“Let them go,” I say. “Take me instead.” He ignores my plea.

My parents have done their imperfect best in my seventeen years. Father could be harsh with the palm of his hand; Mother with the lash of her tongue. But they love me, and I them. And we loved my elder brother, whom we watched hang this morning.

“Decisions, decisions.” His hot breath is on my ear. Ten seconds left on the timer. Nine. Eight. Seven. “God hates you, and so do I.”

Six. Five. Four. There is nothing more for me to say. My hands shake, palms sweat. Father and Mother close their eyes.

~~ Idea borrowed from William Styron's Sophie's Choice~~

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Message in a Bottle

A short writing exercise on the theme of "message in a bottle," specifically communicating with your younger self

DAVEY DOES DARLENE

Davey and Darlene were making out in the back seat of his Dad’s Henry J, sucking each other’s tonsils at the drive-in. She was easy about everything from the waist up, but getting in her knickers was a no-no. “Oh baby,” he whispered in her ear, along with other romantic shit his big brother Mel told him made the girls go limp. What was about to happen was he was going to go limp, which was not the idea at all.

“You’re just like all the boys,” she said.

All the boys, yeah. Half the guys in high school had done Darlene at least once; he had his best pal Mikey’s word on that. So what was the matter with him? Finally, she pushed him away, sweetly but firmly. “Let’s watch the movie.”

Which she did, as he reached for his bottle of Narragansett and swigged the forbidden brew. Jesus,
Mary, and Joseph, why did they have to sit through Peter Pan before Stalag 17 came on? Some fairy twinkle-toed across the big screen as the moon rose behind it.

Davey stepped out of the car. He drained the last dewy drop and held the amber bottle up to the moonlight. He saw handwriting through the glass bottom. It said, “You’re screwed.”

“Huh?” he muttered.

“You know what I said. You’re screwed six ways from Sunday.”

Davey looked around and saw an apparition, a man who looked like he’d lost a few bar fights. “I had to show up in spirit,” the man said, “because I couldn’t fit the whole message in the bottle.”

“What do you want?” Davey said.

“I’m your older self, here to say enjoy life while you can, since it’s going to turn into one unholy mess. First, don’t worry about getting laid. She’ll do it with you during the second feature, and you’ll knock her up.”

“But I’ll wear a—”

“You forgot them. Your unwanted son will spend most of his short life in juvie, by the way. From tonight on, your life is one long string of mistakes.”

“But tell me what they are so I won’t make them!”

“That’s not how it works, kid.  The future’s already happened, and no one can change it.”

The apparition disappeared. Was Davey going nuts? What was in that beer, anyway? Then he promptly forgot the meeting.

Back in the car, he reached for Darlene.


Sunday, August 02, 2015

Money is the motive

A short writing exercise on the theme of money as the motive

Slick Willie

Let me tell you I got this friend Willie, he was in for a thirty-year stretch but just got self-paroled. See, he puts this ladder up against the prison wall and whaddya know, the spotlight catches him. So he looks right up at the tower and waves, yelling “It’s okay!” and the dumb butts let him escape.

Long as I’ve known him, he’s robbed banks. “That’s where the money is,” that’s how a newspaper quoted him. Me, I mostly rob the five-and-dimes like Woolworth’s, and right now I’m doing a nickel for it upstate. But Willie puts on a disguise, walks into a bank waving a Tommy gun, and just like Bob’s your uncle he walks out with loot. The gun’s always unloaded, he says, because a loaded gun might hurt somebody. The bank tellers never know that, though.

So why does he do it? Money’s the motive, sure, but I think there’s something else. There’s a pure joy in the act of it, like the robbery itself is a work of art. It’s like the way Joe Dimaggio smacks a double, the way Enrico Caruso hits high C, the way Pablo Picasso paints whatever the fuck he paints. It’s like getting up and going to work at a job you love.


Not everyone appreciates Willie’s dedication to his art, of course, like cops and judges. He’s spent as much of his life in the can as out of it, and dollars’ll get you donuts he hasn’t seen the inside of a prison cell for the last time. But if he does come back inside, he has a lot of friends to look out for him. He’s never been known to hurt a soul, and he loves to teach his craft.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Silence

A short writing exercise on the theme of silence

After


The air is calm today. Smoke is long gone, soot and dust long settled. No sirens, no whistles or honking horns. No chatter in thirty languages or happy laughter or trucks unloading or bus brakes squealing.  Across the plaza, no one sits in the sun next to the torched tree stumps. Skyscrapers have crumbled as much as they ever will, the twisted I-beams and concrete clumps ten thousand monuments waiting for someone to remember. They will make perfect homes for any rats immune to radiation, but there may be no tenants for a thousand years. Stop signs blackened, but nothing to stop. Nothing moves in Manhattan.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Buyer's remorse


A writing exercise on the theme of buyer's remorse

Played for a Fool

Nineteen-sixty-four was a big year for me. I turned 21 just in time to register to vote, and of course I planned to cast my first vote for Lyndon Johnson. His opponent was Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, whose slogan was In your heart you know hes right, which his enemies countered with In your guts you know hes nuts.The Democrats ran a TV ad showing a little girl plucking petals off a daisy  three, two, onefollowed by an image of a thermonuclear explosion. It ran only once, but it carried a devastating message: Barry Goldwater was a warmonger, unlike the incumbent. My vote was already a foregone conclusion when Johnson publicly vowed that he would neverno, not eversend a single American boy to fight and die in Vietnam.

Goldwater never had a chance. I was proud to be part of the landslide of sanity that prevailed on Election Day 1964. President Johnson would surely find a way to keep us from sinking deeper into the quagmire of a foolish war.

And then in April 1965, the Presidentthe one I helped electescalated American involvement. He said in a speech, the infirmities of man are such that force must often precede reason, and the waste of war, the works of peace. Translation: We have to kick Commie ass before we can talk sense into them. About to go into the military myself, I was furious with him. In my mind, Johnson had personally betrayed me. In the years to come, tens of thousands of Americans and untold numbers of Vietnamese would perish under Johnson and Nixons watches. Americans had been played for fools.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Silence

A writing exercise on the theme of silence

After


The air is calm today. Smoke is long gone, soot and dust long settled. No sirens, no whistles or honking horns. No chatter in thirty languages or happy laughter or trucks unloading or bus brakes squealing.  Across the plaza, no one sits in the sun next to the torched tree stumps. Skyscrapers have crumbled as much as they ever will, the twisted I-beams and concrete clumps ten thousand monuments waiting for someone to remember. They will make perfect homes for any rats immune to radiation, but there may be no tenants for a thousand years. Stop signs blackened, but nothing to stop. Nothing moves in Manhattan.