30 June 2005
Inter Species Communication
When the vegetable seeds in our garden began to sprout we sat next to them and did sign language endlessly. This helped them grow. We watched the plants for hours on end. Some of us were sure we saw deliberate leaf movements, as though the plants were trying to talk to us. Others scoffed at the very notion. We invited a communications expert to settle the question. She watched us sign, then took time lapse films of our plants. I don’t think they’re signing, she finally said, but let me sit with them for a while. Just to be sure.
29 June 2005
Lemonade Hotplate grew his hair to an exceptional length. He required a team of stylists just to wash and dry the yards of it. When Lemonade died he willed his hair to a museum that specialized in weird objects. Each week visitors voted on what shade the museum should color Lemonade’s hair. Red was most popular, but any particular week it was possible to see Lemonade’s hair tinted silver, brown, or even blond. Lemonade’s great grandson, upon viewing the cascade of locks, slumped to the floor. I’m flying, he said in a shaky voice. Museum guards brought him smelling salts.
28 June 2005
My friend Pillbox Phantomlimb’s kiln was behaving oddly. I put in my pots, she told me, but after the firing I open the door and my pots are completely vanished. I examined the kiln and the door. I know what the problem is, I told Pillbox. Fairies are taking your pots. I can get them back, but if I were you I would consider just letting them go. The fairies probably really need them. Pillbox narrowed her eyes. They give me a headache, she said. I sympathized. It’s nothing personal, I told Pillbox, the fairies are just trying to survive.
27 June 2005
Not Quite Grasping the Big Picture
On his wedding day, Moondust Lightverse woke up in the shape of a fish. His best man found Moondust gasping on the bed, and quickly ran water in the bathtub and dropped Moondust into it. The phone rang. It was Moondust’s bride to be. I have this feeling something is wrong, she said. Don’t worry, said the best man, everything’s fine. He hung up the phone. Bad news, he told Moondust. We’re going to have to find you a new tux. Moondust expelled a long line of bubbles that popped, one by one, at the surface of the bath water.
26 June 2005
Chalkdust Hourhand wrote autobiographies for business people who got lucky in life and wanted to tell the world how smart they were. Later she’d watch them give interviews on tv and misquote the books. I never wrote that, she would shout to the screen. Didn’t you even read it? Then she wrote letters under a fake name, telling the business people how much she loved their books, but that they should be more careful when doing publicity. It’s like there are two people in you who never met: the brilliant captain of industry and the equally brilliant author of books.
25 June 2005
My father was a police officer in Serbia in the fifties, and a loyal member of the communist party. Someone who wanted his job spread rumors about his supposed disloyalty to Tito. My father was jailed while the party investigated his background. He slowly grew sour on the party and his country. He later told me he had believed the communists were for the people, but his experience proved him wrong. When he was released after three months he escaped Serbia, rowing alone across the Adriatic Sea in a tiny boat, and arrived in Italy to begin a new life.
24 June 2005
Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Stopwatch Morningfog sent his proof for squaring the circle to the mathematics departments of universities all over the world. The project took him a solid month. When he was finished, thousands of institutions had a copy of his proof and Stopwatch was broke. Stopwatch was not worried, however, since he knew at least one of those copies would get noticed and bring him fame and the fortune that goes along with fame. Stopwatch checked his mailbox everyday. He soon figured out that the world was not ready for his genius. Stopwatch decided he would wait a decade and try again.
23 June 2005
The Rhythm of Life
Matilda Woodwork welcomed the ghosts that stained her house just as she welcomed the memories that had been staining her mind for decades. As her house aged, so did the ghosts. They grew creakier and didn’t move around as much. But they still exuded comfort. Matilda sometimes threw parties for her other friends, the ones who were still alive. The ghosts were tolerant of these visitors, but they preferred to have Matilda all to themselves. In the evenings they played music. Matilda listened with her eyes closed. She tapped her foot on the floor. This made the ghosts very happy.
22 June 2005
Turquoise Panda loved nothing better than manipulating the massive mirrors in the telescopes atop Kitt Peak to collect the light of the cosmos. She studied the data from the telescopes the way genealogists pore over birth records and ship manifests, spending up to eighteen hours a day on the task. Her colleagues recognized Turquoise’s devotion to the light as something special. On cloudy days she phoned her widowed mother who usually asked if Turquoise had seen her father anywhere up in the stars. Not yet, said Turquoise, but I’m looking, Mom, and I’ll let you know the minute I do.
21 June 2005
For the Grandchildren
We donned fish costumes and ran with the salmon. Some of us saw this as a meaningful way to end our days. Others were more interested in the freedom ride, shape changing from sea life to fresh water creatures, feeling the rush of the elements over our perfect forms. We all approached the endeavor with solemnity and a deep respect for the ritual. All except the youngest of us, who laughed while dodging bear paws and whooped and hollered while climbing fish ladders and leaping over white water. We let them swim on and embraced the comfort of the end.
20 June 2005
The Voice of Experience
Ricehusk Jailbird took apart broken clocks. When she reassembled them they kept perfect time. Ricehusk tried to explain her method. When I look at a busted clock, she said, I see two colored shapes in my head. Then the shapes sort of swallow each other up and make one shape. I look at the new shape and I know exactly how to fix the clock. Ricehusk had a large collection of clock gears that the clocks she repaired did not need anymore. I’ve noticed one thing, said Ricehusk. Clock makers use a lot more gears then they really need to.
19 June 2005
His Dry White Bones
Riverbend Swansong was so afraid of water that he rarely bathed. This was unpleasant to his friends and acquaintances, but Riverbend could do nothing about it. Whenever he was in the vicinity of water, he became seriously ill, the way some people get faint upon seeing blood. Riverbend moved to the driest place he could, a house in the desert where it rained only a few times each year. Riverbend let his toes luxuriate in the dust. His skin shriveled up. He ended his days looking like a wrinkled cactus. Riverbend welcomed the hot melting sun like a lost relative.
18 June 2005
Shadow Linedrawing was an architect for many years. His specialty was designing buildings that no one built. Clients marveled at his imagination and unique style. They loved his drawings and models, but his buildings were invariably too expensive to erect. Shadow didn’t care. He framed the drawings of his unrealized structures and sold them as art pieces. When he retired a prominent art gallery put on an exhibition of his works. Shadow arrived at the opening in a costume that looked like an extinct bird. He flapped his wings and clicked his beak whenever anyone complimented him on his vision.
17 June 2005
A Slight Overreaction
Grace tripped on a crack in the sidewalk and began falling. She saw herself being born. She watched her parents shed a tear at her high school graduation. Grace observed herself pick up a butterfly and hold it close to her eye. She watched herself kiss her husband at her own wedding. An instant later she was at her son’s wedding and immediately after that she watched her grandchildren run into her arms. Grace looked down from the sky as she and her husband journeyed up the coast on a cruise ship. In the end Grace had a bruised knee.
16 June 2005
Offshore Axhandle moved into an elevator shaft when his encampment under the Senator Puffbreath Memorial Bridge got flooded. At first Offshore didn’t particularly like his new digs, but it was hidden from the authorities and in time he grew accustomed to the sound of the car whooshing up and down above him. He spent many cozy years in his elevator shaft and made friends with the rats who came to visit him. The custodian of the building knew about Offshore and always warned him when the elevator maintenance man came around. Offshore gave the custodian a Christmas card every year.
15 June 2005
We were hired to feed the guy on the mountain. We assembled a team, packed up all we needed for a few days climb, and set out. Some of us had questions for the guy on the mountain, but we were told not to ask them. He was working on important stuff and couldn’t tolerate distractions. When we arrived at his shack we found a Do Not Disturb sign on the door. We left the food for the guy on the mountain. When we returned to the office, many of us put up Do Not Disturb signs on our cubicles.
14 June 2005
Ownership is in the Eye of the Beholder
Saltshaker Goldcap collected seashells. She stored her collection on beaches all over the world. Saltshaker never minded if people borrowed her shells, but she expected folks to return them promptly and in good condition. Once she was visiting her friend Pamela and saw a large conch shell on the coffee table. Saltshaker picked it up and ran her hand over the polished surface. I am so relieved to get this back, she said. My grandmother found that in Italy years ago, said Pamela. Saltshaker put the shell in her bag. Please convey my sincere appreciation to your grandmother, she said.
13 June 2005
Pokerface Spiderbite lived in the desert but dreamed of the sea. When she retired from her job as a card dealer in Las Vegas, she bought a motor home and made the journey to the Oregon coast. She parked near a beach and walked down to the sand. The tide was low. Pokerface walked out to towering exposed rocks covered with barnacles and anemones. She sat near a stand of kelp, closed her eyes, and fell asleep. As the tide rose—turning her rock back into an island—waves lapped at her feet. Pokerface dreamed of scorpions biting her ankles.
12 June 2005
Deadbolt Saddlestitch had put on a lot of weight over the years. His poundage was twice the median for men his height. This did not trouble him until his doctor told him he was overdue for a seriously massive heart attack. This upset Deadbolt very much. He promptly swore off all doctors for good. Deadbolt lived into his eighties. He went to the funeral of his former doctor, suppressing a smile as he sat in the back of the church, taking up half a pew. It’s not my fault, Deadbolt whispered to the air. It’s just the way I’m made.
11 June 2005
You Could Say it's Kind of a Zen Thing
Before my friend Chiptooth Hummingbird did it, I thought it was impossible to preserve your own shadow. What you have to do, said Chiptooth, is kind of sneak up on shadows with the thought that they will not move until you grab them. Then, bam! you go for the center—not the edges—and wrap ‘em up in your fist. Chiptooth had many shadows stuffed into jars of alcohol. They floated in there like jellyfish. What are you going to do with all these? I asked. Chiptooth shrugged. I’ll donate them to some museum, he said. Or let them go.
10 June 2005
Porchlight Thumprint read some good reviews of a house a few blocks from her apartment. Raw and powerful, said one reviewer. It will change your view of humanity, said another. Porchlight walked to the house. She was relieved to see no line at the door. She dropped her money in the bowl by the front steps and went inside. The parents were having an argument about what to do with their pregnant teenage daughter. Porchlight sat on a chair and listened. This is going to be good, she thought. She reached for the bowl of popcorn on the coffee table.
09 June 2005
On most days Foolscap Quarternote woke up hours before the sun to go to his job at the bakery. Foolscap spent the early morning hours mixing and kneading dough and sliding trays of loaves into ovens. By the time customers began coming into the shop, Foolscap’s working day was almost over. How do you keep from eating all this yummy stuff? said the customers. Foolscap shrugged and smiled. The customers smiled back and left with their donuts and bagels. During his breaks Foolscap composed songs. He sang them on the way home and didn’t care about the looks he got.
08 June 2005
Seeing the Big Picture
The alien’s spaceship crashed into Cactus Bitpart’s garden. Cactus came out of her trailer to survey the damage. I’m so sorry about this, said the alien, but I will fix it, don’t worry. Cactus offered the alien a place in the back of her trailer to spend the night. Around two a.m. the alien got up and shuffled into the kitchen for a glass of water. While you’re there, said Cactus, get me one too. The alien brought Cactus an empty glass. She rolled her eyes. With water in it, she said. Geez. It’s no wonder you crashed your spaceship.
07 June 2005
The Heartbreak of Calculus
Fatlip Cigarsmoke had been a ghost for several years before the monotony of lacking mass drove him to seek reincarnation. The ethereal plane is not to my liking, he wrote on his application form, and I therefore request a placement back in the material realm. Fatlip’s request was granted, on the condition that he eat a bowl of amnesia soup to insure he would forget his previous life. Fatlip did so gratefully. He landed on Earth the next day as a mathematician, in love with the wispy beauty of numbers. When the time came again, Fatlip didn’t want to die.
06 June 2005
Nightlight Horseshoes took the ferry from Seattle bound for Bainbridge Island. On the way, the ferry began to sink. Nightlight put on a lifejacket and swam away from the ferry, which soon slipped under the surface, taking Nightlight’s car, a cherry red Mustang, with it. Nightlight bobbed in the bay for a while until rescuers plucked him from the water. They took him to a hospital where doctors decided he had no permanent damage and released him. Nightlight went to a bar and ordered a whiskey. How’s your day been? said the man next to him. About average, said Nightlight.
05 June 2005
Some Notes Towards a Theory of the Short Short Story
Get to the point. Don't spend a lot of time on descriptions. Use distinctive names. Avoid excessive planning. Remember the basic plot skeleton: a character with a problem must attempt to solve the problem. Seek distinctive endings. Look for imagery. Keep notes for possible future stories. Pay attention to the life around you. Recall Muriel Rukeyser's words: The universe is made of stories, not of atoms. Pretend your audience is invisible. Seek the essence. Background becomes figure. Dialog sings. Don't ignore your subconscious. Embrace the freedom that limited markets bring. Self censorship can be fruitful. Form will usually follow function.
04 June 2005
While the Stars Streamed Past Her
Goldcap Hollowfeather was born on a generation spaceship traveling to a distant star. She grew up believing the ship was the universe. When she was fourteen she was given the option of going into stasis until the ship arrived at a suitable colonization planet, or remaining awake as part of the ship’s crew. Goldcap chose wakefulness. The idea of stasis gave her the willies. She and her friends began remaking the ship into a nursery for exotic plants. They neglected their duties. The ship’s navigation system failed. The propulsion system became erratic. Goldcap didn’t care. She had orchids to raise.
03 June 2005
Cinderblock Pushbroom was a big eater. He liked nothing better than sitting down to a good meal five or six times a day. He favored steak, potatoes, and pasta, and always cleaned his plate. Most meals he also managed to find room for dessert. Pie with ice cream usually caught his fancy, but he would not refuse cake or cobbler. Cinderblock grew very large. News of his girth got around. Cinderblock learned there were people in a remote rainforest in South America who worshipped him as a deity. This humbled Cinderblock. Before his next meal he said a little prayer.
02 June 2005
They Had Holes in Them Anyway
Panicbutton Highwire put birdseed in a bird feeder in her backyard. Starlings, blue jays, juncoes, and sparrows came. Panicbutton put out more seed. More birds arrived: robins, wrens, and cardinals. Panicbutton bought sacks of seed. It all got eaten in a few days. She mortgaged her house to keep up. The birds were ravenous, eating all she put out. Eventually Panicbutton ran out of money. I have nothing left, she told the birds. I gave you all I have. The birds perched quietly, trembling, staring. Panicbutton put her worn shoes under the bird feeder, then quietly returned to her house.
01 June 2005
Spindrift Braindrain worked at a passport office, but spent his free time developing a theory of memory. He wrote papers outlining his belief that memory was stored in a fourth dimension of the brain, which everyone carried around with them like an invisible hat. Spindrift submitted his papers to distinguished scientific journals. He never heard back from any of them. When he retired from the passport office Spindrift collected all of his papers into a book, which he self published. His friend asked him how he got the idea of a fourth dimension for the brain. I forget, said Spindrift.