The man sat in his old truck listening to songs from the Roarin’ Twenties; remembering the days, long ago, when he would put on a suit and go down to the dance hall.
The dance hall was always overwhelming–with fresh flowers, shimmering lights and colorful ribbons and bows. Live bands were playing and servicemen on leave would be dancing with a bevy of beautiful women. He, too, danced with the loveliest women, however, he longed instead to dance with his best friend Jeff. It was a secret he would take to his grave.
Jeff was in the service. Unfortunately, he died in a boating accident shortly after that night both men had visited the dance hall. A pointless accident the fates allowed, to keep the man from his true love. In time, his friend grew old and died, too. Alone. Except for one nurse at the old folks’ home, no one remembered him. And, quickly, he faded from her memory as well.
The fates are fickle, however, and sent the man back to earth once again as a human. He had no memory of his past life; that is, until one evening while sitting in his truck, he heard “Blue Moon” playing on the radio and it all came flooding back into his memory–the good, the bad, and the ugly. Down to the last night–at the dance hall–the ugly wallpaper with a flower painting on the wall. And the smell–a strong scent of urine.
How he longed for Jeff. Now, in his new life, at least he could be himself, openly, and find a man. Maybe a sailor to slow dance with to the music from his past life so long ago.
FREE THOUGHT WRITING: NORMAL
What is normal? A body of water untouched by the wind; no waves without or within? A parrot whose feathers are a single shade of grey? A cloudy, overcast day? What is normal? Why can’t it be me? Weird, freak, strange and that is just what friends and family call me. What is normal? A luminescent bulb lit room? A poster of a cat hanging by its claws? Counting brush strokes while looking at a mirror on the wall? “Normal”–a setting on appliances, so simple to be. Why is it so unattainable, because I am wild and free. I strive for normality. I always fall short–like falling in a dream, I open my mouth but cannot scream. What is normal? The rules you all follow? A distant memory; alien to me? Normal a far reaching star of which light I shall never see. So I shall try again tomorrow to simply accept me.
Lefty was a scrawny boy with thick, square glasses, green hair and green eyes. In kindergarten he was mocked as his arm hair was also green and he started to appear more plant than boy.
BOY WITH THE GREEN EYES
In his free time he would escape out of his yard. His parents put up a fence to keep him in, and the bullies out. Other parents encouraged the bullying by calling him a freak and worse even calling on the town counsel to evict Lefty and his parents from town. By thirteen Lefty got laser eye surgery as his present from his folks so the kids would not pick on him. At 16 he got laser hair removal, but no matter how many treatments he got his hair returned green as ever. He tried dying it only for it to come back deeper green the next day, followed by a week of migraines.
By twenty-two, Lefty was in a premier university studying genetics to solve his problem when he discovered he was not human at all. He had more connection to the mint plant than his parents.
Confused by this news he went to the people who raised him. Turns out he was the child of Mother Earth, a last envoy to human kind to change their ways before she wiped them from her surface. Knowing this, he went to tell the world. No one would listen so he grew angry and one day, after many years, he planted himself by the redwoods of California and sprouted a fungi from his head. The spores killed off humanity and spread Lefty’s children around the world… replacing humanity with walking, talking beautiful plants!
As well as I remember, Aunt Lucy Mae mentioned she was born around the time World War I ended, which would have made her about eighteen or nineteen years old as I was preparing to start to school. I have fond memories of those “good ol’ days” when things were booming. Folks were feeling good about the future, new businesses were sprouting up everywhere, and the First National Bank opened its doors not half a mile down the road from our house.
Little we knew about the future! I recall a Thursday morning:
Granny was readyin’ up the breakfast table when Aunt Lucy Mae flounced downstairs–late, as usual. Granddaddy folded his Daily Mail slowly, laid it beside his plate, and slid his chair back far enough so’s he could cross his legs. I could always tell when Granddaddy was upset because everything about him slowed down. I mean everything! Every gesture, every word, every move. I’ll always venture Lucy Made knew what was comin’, too.
“G-o-o-d mornin’,” she said to no one in particular, sliding into her place between the table and the back wall. “L-o-v-e-l-y day!” Lucy Mae couldn’t say an adjective without drawing it out to kingdom come.
“Damn nigh evenin’,” Granddaddy muttered. He folded his arms across his chest. “Lucy Mae, can’t you manage to get down here on time for breakfast one of these days?”
“Oh, Poppa, don’t get all revved up. It’s too n-i-c-e a day to get off on the wrong foot. Besides, the bank doesn’t open until nine.”
“You want bacon?” Granny said.
“If you don’t mind, Momma.”
Aunt Lucy Mae arranged her plate and utensils like she liked them while Granddaddy stared at her. I was finished, but I sat with my hands folded in my lap–waiting. Something as brewing.
After a while, Granddaddy scooted his chair back and leaned forward, elbows on the table, his hands wrenching together, his bushy, gray eyebrows quivering. He never took his eyes off Lucy Mae, and it was clear he was working up to something good.
“Sarah,” he said to Granny, “Fetch me that letter!”
I saw Lucy Mae flinch, but she didn’t look at Granddaddy. She picked at her fingernails, careful not to chip off the polish.
“You know anything about this here letter, Lucy Mae?” Granddaddy said.
“Why…what letter’s that, Poppa?”
“I’m talkin’ about this here letter from your bank that come yesterday. It says they’re taking out fifteen cents for keeping my money! That’s what letter!”
“Oh, P-o-p-p-a, that’s what we call a service charge. Everyone who has an account pays a service charge,” Aunt Lucy Mae said, “Is that all’s troubling you?”
“Troubling me? Troubling me?” Granddaddy said, his voice rising a pitch each time he said it. “Lucy Mae, when you got that job down at the bank I thought I’d help them out a bit for hiring you by letting them take care of some of my money. Not all of it, mind you. Just enough so’s you’d look good. I give it to you to take down there for me, and the next thing I know, I’m getting this here letter saying they’re aking my money fifteen cents at a clip.”
“Poppa, you don’t understand–“
“I understand perfectly well that bank of yours taking my money fifteen cents at a clip. It says it right here in black and white!”
“Poppa, you told me you’d agree to put your money in the bank if you could get it out any time you wanted it. Don’t you remember? So I put it in a checking account so you can draw it out any time you want to. Now, that’s the way it’s done.”
“Well, now,” Granddaddy grunted. “That’s a fine howdy-do! I put fifty dollars in that bank an’ I figure I ought to get fifty dollars out any time I want it, like you said, but according to this here letter, I only get forty-nine dollars and eighty-five cents down there now ‘stead of fifty. The way I see it, when you put your money in one of them banks, you’re just givin’ them people your money. No wonder them bankers can lay up in bed til noon while us working people’ve got to get up with the sun.”
I was beginning to understand something bout the banking business.
“Eat your bacon, Lucy Mae,” Granny said. “You’ll be late.”
“Late…hell!” Granddaddy thundered. “Maybe Lucy Mae shouldn’t bother to go in at all. She’s making money for them jest bein’ my daughter. Take my money down there like that! Get up at noon and come down here and eat my food. If that ain’t the life I don’t know what is!”
“Poppa, it’s h-a-r-d-l-y noon.”
“That’s not the point, Lucy Mae,” Granddaddy said, “The point is I want my fifteen cents back. Now you either get me back my fifteen cents…or I can go down to your high-and-mighty bank and get my fifteen cents back myself! Everybody in this whole county can get took in by that new bank, but they’re not taking your daddy in!”
“Poppa, you s-i-m-p-l-y don’t understand. You’re supposed to keep putting your money in the account, and the bank makes its money off everyone’s account. All the accounts pay a service charge. That’s where my paycheck comes from. The bank looks after your money. It’s in a vault. It’s protected, don’t you see?”
“My money comes from workin’ this here farm! I ain’t leechin’ none of my money off another man’s hard labor! And, as far as protecting my money, I can damn well protect it for myself like I always did. What I want to know is are you gonna get me back my fifteen cents, or am I going to have to go down there and get it myself.”
“P-o-p-p-a, a service charge has to be deducted–“
“Well,” Granddaddy snorted, “I reckon that answers that question!” He shoved back his chair further and stood up. “Eat your bacon and go down to your bank, Lucy Mae. Go on to work and d-e-d-u-c-t some more money from some of them other people’s accounts.”
It looked like the matter was settled, so I went on about my business, but I noticed Aunt Lucy Mae didn’t look none to happy when she left for work.
Later than same afternoon, Granddaddy headed down the road. He was wearing his best Sunday-go-to-meetin’ suit, tie and all. When I asked him if I could come along, he said he had some important business to tend to and I’d best stay home with Granny.
“You goin’ down to get your fifteen cents, Granddaddy?” I inquired innocently.
With a trace of a grin, he said, “Never you mind about that, boy.”
I don’t know what happened down at the bank that Thursday afternoon, but I do know the following Monday morning Granddaddy was sitting at the kitchen table with a satisfied look on his face as he tallied up his money, the doors of the bank were closed tighter’n a drum, and Aunt Lucy Mae stayed in bed all day long!
[*Editor’s Note: James Merritt is a pioneer in the development of a fresh literary genre known as “Flash Fiction.” Flash Fiction, in short, is stories told in the fewest words possible. They may have their roots in “meme,” We are pleased to have published some of Merritt’s early work.]
A great giant sleeps with only his beard allowing man to see him. The trees and scrub grow the beard from him. In the day all other vegetation turns to dust, his beard shall fall away and the giant will awaken. The giant will go forth and crush the last humans surviving. The time of the giants will come again. Many types of world endings have been foretold. Since I will not likely see the end, I will choose to believe an ending of my own making.
JOY IN HIS EYES
With joy in his eyes he took his father’s hand and walked to the morgue. His father explained his mother would not speak, open her eyes or move. The boy said he understood. They walked in, and his mother was laid out covered by a white sheet. The father began to weep but the young boy’s eyes did not shed a tear. He took his mother’s hand and flashed back to all of his memories with her–the moments she smiled and laughed with him, the moments she wiped away his tears, the moments she kissed his ouches away. When his memories caught up to the day, he spoke. He told his mother he would cry for both of them and laugh twice as much to keep up her end of things. He told his mother not to worry or fear as he would be okay.
His mother often took pictures of their life, so he pulled out her phone he had hidden away in his pocket and took one last selfie. He promised his mother he would take lots of pictures so she could see him grow. He squeezed her hand one last time as his father stroked the hair away from her eyes. The two joined hands and walked from the room.
The boy kept his promise and took a hundred photos each day. Later in life, becoming a photographer, he brought his best photos to his mother’s grave on her birthday.
At the age of eighty-two he lay on his death bed and had the nurse take a last photo. The nurse took the photo to the old man’s mother’s grave. She did not look at the picture until she got to the graveside. When she lay the photo down, she saw it had a strange light glare in it as if someone was standing by the bedside holding the old man’s hand.
THE JOLLY GAYS
Two jolly gay men strolled through the park hand-in-hand, loving each other. Each reminiscing their lives together; staring up at the trees and stars above. Their children grown, and retired, they were truly the perfect couple. Walking to a bench they sat and disappeared as the universe itself would crumble if they continued one more perfect day. Perfection in all its glory cannot happen here.
A long time ago in Eastern Europe, what is now known as Germany, a stinky beggar awakened and sat up out of the stale piss-smelling straw he called his bed to a grand realization. Fleas!–the small black flecks that ate at his already skin-and-bones body, that were causing him the most grief, would soon be his greatest relief.
It was impossible to tell the beggar’s nationality because of the millions of black bugs which covered him from head to toe. His “grand realization” was that he would put them to work. So, he began the struggle of training them. He taught them to jump through hoops, walk a tight rope, and created the greatest flea circus of his time. His circus was such a hit with the local village they stopped throwing rocks at him and replaced the rocks with vegetables. He didn’t mind being hit in the head with a cabbage, as that meant he had dinner for the week.
When he got all the fleas trained, he started training larger insects, like flies, bumblebees and even a butterfly. People stopped attacking him altogether to see his show and even tossed him an odd Bob or two. He invested the funds back into his business as he didn’t like sleeping inside, and baths would sure kill half of his performers that lived off his flesh. He was growing weaker and weaker while his show grew stronger and more popular.
Once the king himself came to see the beggar’s tiny circus.
THE MEDIEVAL KING
He offered the beggar a better life. The tramp refused the king, as no normal man would dare. When the king was moved to insist, the tramp proffered his greatest defense. The king’s confrontation and the ensuing defense brought the show to a close. The fearful audience ran away.
After that no one came to his shows or even acknowledged his existence. They ignored him no matter what amazing new acts he crated. He even used an eyelash to paint the fleas into clowns, but no one cared. Without money or food he gave up his body to his performers to devour, dying in the straw under the bridge he called home.
The day he died, his soul was met by a great god-like being that recognized his love for his performers although they had stolen his life. The being offered him a second life–one of magnificent performances. He was reincarnated as a politician.
He was perfect for his new profession–man’s version of a performing flea sucking the life from society, but performing so magnificently that no one cared. He was draining the life from his audience–his constituents–or anyone who would listen. He spent his second lifetime without seeing a single flea–ever!
On his second death bed, he missed his family so much he decreed that his body was to be interred in the local sewer so that it would once again feed the only creatures he really loved–the blood-sucking flecks of death and disease. From the former flea-infested politician sprang the greatest disease known to man.
The reincarnated beggar referred to it as the kiss of a friend; others called it the Black Plague.
Because the warden is a cousin, my
mountain friends hunt in summer, when the deer
cherish each rattler-ridden spring, and I
have waited hours by a pool in fear
that manhood would require I shoot, or that
the steady drip of the hill would dull my ear
to a snake whispering near the log I sat
upon, and listened to the yelping cheer
of dogs and men resounding ridge to ridge.
I flinched at every lonely rifle crack,
my knuckles whitening where I gripped the edge
of age and clung, like retching, sinking back
then gripping once again the monstrous gun,
since I, to be a man, had taken one.