Category Archives: Flash


It’s 6:17. The party began promptly at 6:00. It’s been four years since Todd’s seen them, but he knows they didn’t wait. His father is nothing if not punctual.

He’d forgotten to buy a birthday gift for his stepbrother. That’s not why he’s late, but it is the reason he will now be even more late, as he exits the Golden State Freeway for the nearest strip mall.

Would the boy understand that Todd had needed to pull over at the rest stop outside Chowchilla and weep? That his hands shook so badly he could no longer grip the wheel. “It’s time you get over it, Todd,” his father would say. “Face your demons.”

The sun is setting over Turlock as he pulls into the Safeway parking lot and steps out of the car. The reek of tired manure and late September tillage fills the air; off to his left the Diablo Range crouches, the beautiful hues of red and orange a reminder of the pastel walls in the room where Todd spent nine years of his life.

He makes his way to the back of the store where the children’s games and close-out lawn furniture is stocked. Todd doesn’t know what to buy a normal thirteen-year-old; at that age he’d been chained to the floor of a gaily-colored cell in the basement of retail sales executive Robert McDowell’s house, a few miles from where Todd now stands.

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Dancing in the Void

April 21, 2017

Three days before Christmas, Mary slipped in the shower and cracked her head on the soap dish. I found her a half hour later. The water was long cold and her skin had turned purplish, like an overripe plum. Her speech was gone, and she gave me one of her impatient looks: what took you so long? I wrapped her in her favorite plaid blanket, then carried her to the car and drove to the emergency room. After all the tests, they told me it was brain cancer, four to six months to live. That was seven months ago.

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shoe shine box

So he cleaned the car. Big deal. People do it every day. There’d been empty polish tins clanking around under the front seat all week with used brushes and stiff, smelly shine cloths riding shotgun. It was driving him nuts. Every time he climbed out, there were leopard spots of shoeshine on his hands, stained bristles like cactus thorns hitchhiking on the cuff of his pants.

He didn’t have a chance of finding a job, not with smears of Kiwi black on his dress tie.

When she found out, his daughter was livid. “Why did you clean his car?”

“Um…because it was dirty?”

She threw her hands up. “He said you think he’s a slob.”

“How does Artie know what I think? Is he a mind reader?”

“Dad! Don’t call him Artie. He hates that. His name is Artemus.”

What a name. Artemus Frank. Liz must be rolling in her grave: their daughter married a shoeshine boy.

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Losing Clint Eastwood

February 2, 2017


Nighties, sweatpants, and mismatched socks fly from the dresser in a polyester storm. She runs to the closet, shoves aside dusty his and hers towels, pulls down winter coats as though she’s urgent to get warm. For the third time in an hour, she opens the plastic tub of Christmas decorations; another ornament shatters, the garland is by now a tight knot of synthetic green. Damn it.

A sudden thought intrudes. Yes, that’s it, and skins her knee on the nightstand as she turns. A spatter of blood follows her to the bed. Her arms grope madly beneath the big four-poster, but she encounters nothing more than Bill’s abandoned paperbacks and a lazy heap of photographs, shoved there after the divorce. Where the hell was it?

It was only last week that she’d stood before the display case, the eyes of the store owner running from her ass to her tits and down again. “I want that one,” she said at last.

“A .45 cal? Are you…”

Her best Dirty Harry voice cut him off. “Make my day,” she said, laughing nervously.

He shrugged. “Whatever you want lady,” and took her credit card and ID. Ten minutes later, he handed her a heavy paper bag.

“I want to try it. Where can I go?”

After the range, she stopped at Home Depot for a fireproof safe. She wrestled it into the garage and bolted it to the wall beneath Bill’s workbench. Finished, she stacked her purchases inside, setting the combination with numbers Bill would never guess…

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The Other Side of Pepper

December 14, 2016

There’s a dog in the street. A cocker spaniel, I think. His head is flat and a tire track runs down the middle of his back. When Marilyn and I were first married, we rescued a cocker spaniel from the shelter. It was one of those “bring us closer together” things. I spent forty-five bucks for the dog and then another hundred to get him fixed. To thank me for saving his life, he pissed on the rug. Marilyn’s always been into rescuing things. She’s the queen of lost causes.

The dog’s bright red tag says My Name is Pepper – Call Jenny, and a phone number covered in blood. Pepper’s hind legs point south and his front legs point north. He crossed against the light and now his furry body looks like a black and white S.

There’s a homeless guy standing by the dog, a stack of newspapers at his feet.  He’s a bearded Danny DeVito, but thin and grimy, selling the news for beer money. DeVito weeps dirty tears. He regrets not stopping Pepper when he had the chance.

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Fat Vlad

October 28, 2016


Vladimir loves vampires. Ever since the night spent huddled on the couch, peering from beneath a blanket while watching Blood of Dracula on his mother’s little black and white television, he’s been hooked.

He faked the flu during grade school to stay home and watch Dark Shadows. Barnabas Collins was the greatest. As a teen he cheered when the Night Stalker repeatedly bested the Chicago PD, and scoffed at the hapless reporter Kolchak. During the nineties he wore out multiple VHS copies of Salem’s Lot and The Lost Boys; today he owns boxed Blu-Ray sets of The Vampire Diaries.

Bram Stoker, Anne Rice, Peter Tonkin — he’s read them all. The walls of his house are covered with paintings and woodcut drawings of draugar, moroi, ramangi, and pijavicae. A Lestat shower curtain hangs in Vlad’s bath, a Nosferatu statue lurks above the fireplace.

Vlad even keeps a wooden stake in his nightstand, but knows in his heart he can never bring himself to use it.

His father named him Vladimir, not in recognition of the most famous vampire of all, Vlad the Impaler, but for the pianist Vladimir Horowitz, whom his father had once seen at Carnegie Hall.

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Son of a Circus Clown

October 11, 2016

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My father loves children. Everybody knows that, even the Elephant Man, and Helga the Armless Wonder. He loves their sticky smell, their laughter and limitless potential. One night after too many beers, the Great Zambini said that my father must have been a nursemaid in a past life, or perhaps a pediatrician. In this life however, the one we currently inhabit, he is Binky the Clown.

Binky loves the circus too, but not as he does the boys and girls who come to see him here, to cheer his name and laugh at his foolish antics. And he loves his little car. It hurts his back something fierce, but still, he lives for the applause of the crowd as he climbs impossibly forth three times a day from within the car’s cramped interior. That car is my father’s five minutes.

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After the Movie

March 23, 2013

It was the stupid commercial that finally pushed her over the edge. The hot office broad, up on her desk like a pole dancer, and those goofy executive types leering at her. Be more attractive to your employers, it said, and I laughed.

Rachel jumped up off the couch and took a few jerky steps toward the kitchen. I thought at first she was going for more snacks. Then she turned on me, hair flying around her head in a pale yellow storm.

“You goddamned men. You’re all the same.”

I didn’t stand a chance. “Rach…it was just a commercial. What’s the big deal?” Is this another one of your rape things? I almost said.

“If you’d been with me that night, instead of out drinking with your fucking football buddies, it never would have happened.”

I could only stare up at her, my mouth stopped up tight, my hands making these little butterfly motions. Was she broken for good?

Seeing that yet another apology wasn’t forthcoming, she stomped off to the bedroom, her slight form refusing to lend an ounce of floor-pounding credence to her anger. I heard the bath water, and then the snick of the lock. Looked like I was sleeping on the couch again.

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Ten after seven on a Sunday night. Tomorrow’s the first day of school. My wife says Billy needs stuff for a sandwich. He wants some potato chips, too. Ever since we lost Janey, she’s pampered the kid. Lets him sit in his room and play video games. When I was his age, I had a job. Washing dishes, delivering papers. I’d gladly work one of those jobs now. I take a piss the color of Kentucky bourbon and step into the high-nineties of late summer. My piece of shit car sits in the drive, broken and brooding. Worthless.

The clerk at the grocery store is cute. Trailer simple. She flirts, I flirt back, and I hope she doesn’t remember me tomorrow. Five minutes later, a lumpy sack of bologna, Wonder bread, and melting American cheese dangles from my left hand. From my right, a fresh pint of Jack. My last twenty bucks is gone until Wednesday. Maybe there’s some change under the couch cushions.

My flip-flops are loose. They chafe, and a small blister forms, between my toes. Bits of sand, like glass, collect there. The cool, fruity smell of the grocery store lies behind me. I miss it already. The Arizona sun hangs low on the horizon, bloated and lazy, but still bright enough to burn blazing pinholes of light into my brain. My head throbs like a whiny bitch.

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Yesterday my wife caught me with a picture of her best friend Liz. It was the one of her at the Christmas party, wearing the skimpy red dress and the reindeer antlers. It’s my favorite photo.

So I’m standing there, the photo of Liz propped against the bottle of expensive hand cream Jen always buys, and she busts through the bathroom door like it’s the last toilet on earth.

“Jesus, Jen. Ever heard of knocking?”

She takes one look at the photo and starts bawling. “That was my favorite picture of her,” she says. I try to explain, telling her that even though I’ve been seeing Liz for five years, nearly as long as Jen and I’ve been married, it’s not what she thinks.

She doesn’t buy it. “Bastard,” she says, and runs for the car keys.

My belt buckle scrapes across the kitchen floor as I follow her. She tries to jam her shoes on but the laces have knotted. As I reach to help she pushes me away, furious. “Pull up your pants, pervert.”

I want to tell her she looks like Patty Duke when she’s mad. “I love you, Jennifer,” I plead.

She opens the door to leave and I offer up a last ditch cliché. “She doesn’t mean anything,” I say. But we both know that’s a lie. Liz means everything to me.

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