Perfect Square of Sky

palmtree50pFlash Fiction Press published my story. Given the name of the journal, you will be fooled into believing that this is a made-up tale, when in fact it happened to me. So in reality, these 350 words are non-fiction, and having admitted it, the short story police will soon be on their way.

Please read it anyway and pretend it happened to a fictional character. That’s what I did.


Spat

spat50pPublished June 2016 by
Fewer Than 500

90 days have passed since this story first appeared in electronic print, so it’s time to reprint the piece for readers of the blog. Usually, I write a prologue to reveal some of the background for the piece. FT500 did all this for me, and more, with a very generous author profile.

Please enjoy in all its sad glory:

Spat

by DL Shirey

Every day, the same thing for breakfast: cold, tasteless ridicule from a woman who owned everything but happiness, served to the husband she surely blamed for it. She couldn’t start her day without cupping her displeasure in venomous words. It didn’t matter if the man or the cat or the kitchen wallpaper sat before her, the room received invectives. Most days, more than he cared to count, the husband was there to receive them.

He had thought today’s vitriol might have been earned since he had forgotten their anniversary, but it turned out she hadn’t remembered either. This date had long been uncircled from her mental calendar, filled instead by back-to-back appointments of acrimony and stony silence. He used to fill the daily aftermath with reason or excuses, but any volley of words turned the brief, painful harangue into a protracted argument. It was wiser to bite his tongue, no matter how much it bled.

He made one of the throat-clearing sounds she found so annoying. Something warm and thick had come up to the back of his throat. Another cough and it was on his tongue.

“Everything okay?” she said in reflex, no concern in her voice. Weary eyes flicked once over her china coffee cup and back down to concentrate on the news.

He wouldn’t answer. He couldn’t, unless he spat.

The mass moved to his cheek and he was surprised by the hard clack on teeth, but more by its smoothness. He remembered the day when he’d stopped talking back, how the words burned when unspoken, how they clawed and prickled when strangled down. Now, years later, everything he had always wanted to say, but gagged back, had somehow been layered smooth and round and bland. There was no taste to them now, not anymore.

She wrestled up the newspaper, folded the page hard, and raised a wall of print between them. He verified the date on the masthead, thirty years since the wedding; a day traditionally gifted with pearls.

He swallowed his feelings again as a present to his wife.

END


Forget-Me-Pops

zeroZeroFlash features stand-alone flash fiction on their site. Today they published my “Forget-Me-Pops” piece. Probably the most fun I ever had on a job was writing radio spots for an ad agency in Santa Barbara, California, and F-M-P is a throwback to those days.


Barbarism

barbarism25p

My 50-word story published by 50-Word Stories. What are the odds of that?


Surf Guitar

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Published Monday, June 6, 2016 in
Microfiction Monday Magazine

“Surf Guitar,” a 100-word story was published by Microfiction Monday Magazine. The soundtrack for the piece came before writing it. I happened on a band I hadn’t heard before: Daikaiju. The word in Japanese means “giant monster,” but to me, as inspiration for this brief, grizzly tale, it was the band’s giant surf-rock sound. Please do not read this less than hour before swimming.

 

Surf Guitar

by DL Shirey

My little sister’s screams filter through salt water like the tremolo of a surf guitar. Who knew the undertow had a soundtrack? It crouches out where the slant of sand drops deep, always moving, crabbing sideways behind bones of coral, peeking up, pulling hard.

I call to my sister. The words skitter up the frets of my throat into a useless strangle of bubbles, left behind with scratched strings of flesh, cut by coral, picked by fish.

Black-green stands of seaweed block what little light remains. The last thing I see are long shadows swaying to the strums of riptide.

END


Monocle is for M

MonoclePublished June 23,2016
in Pound of Flash
This flash piece is a study of two characters, the monocle and the man who wears it. The story is the result of a writing class assignment: choose an article of clothing and make it central to the tale.

Monocle is for M

by DL Shirey

The little bell tinkles a half-tone brighter when Maximilian walks in. He dresses like an English gent, but he is not English. Nor is he wearing the monocle when he enters the tea shop. As if flourishing a cape, he strolls with dramatic, elongated arm swings aside his lengthy strides. He has no cape, but the finely-tailored suit would look so-much-the-better if he had. His crisp shirts are monogrammed on the pocket, an M bookended by fleurs-de-lis. There’s even a special pocket in the pocket for the monocle.

Ask him his name and he’ll answer it fully, neither Max or Maxi. Friends may call him M, yet he’s never brought a friend to the tea shop. He leaves with one quite often.

He and I have a standing joke. It comes after I ask what kind of tea he wants. “Oolong,” he says, rattling off the country of origin he prefers that day. M knows tea and the perfect steeping time for each variety, but he loves this little moment. I’ll ask him how many minutes the Shui Xian should steep? “Ooo. Long.” he says and laughs his one loud ha.

Now the monocle. It glints from his pocket; the half arch of lens, ringlet and chain, protruding like a tethered sunrise. M sweeps his manicured pinkie under the slack of chain, then, reeling in his catch, pinches the ringlet at the apex of its arc. M holds the monocle in brief concentration to read the chalked list of fresh baked goods. Warm butter cookies are his favorite, and no other sweets seem to tempt him.

Except the ladies.

M sits at the tiny table farthest from the door, and adjusts the fold of the linen napkin. He moves the teaspoon, cup and saucer to their proper places and waits for the teapots. Two of them. At the very peak of steep, he strains leaves by pouring from one pot to the other. I can see his lips move beneath the pencil-thin mustache, a silent chant to accompany transfer of liquids. As the stream reduces to a meager trickle, his eyes close with reverence. To the empty pot he nods thanks, the same to the full. The sacrament closes with one last embellishment: M takes the monocle and holds it over the steaming pot of tea. With a figure-eight motion, which is either a sign of infinity or the most efficient method to fog the lens, he oscillates the eyepiece, and cleans it with his spotless handkerchief.

M twists the monocle into the squint below his bushy brow, and eyes the patrons in the tea shop, lingering on each woman. I quietly remove the empty pot and place the top on the full one. M rests his fingertips gently atop the vessel as one might the planchette of a Ouija board. A pleased grin curls his cheeks, his long lashes flick the monocle. The tea remains uncupped until one woman meets his eye.

Only then he pours.

END


Stealing Valium

unbound Published May, 2016 in
Unbound Octavo
I’m not sure what it says about my work, but within a year I’ve had stories appear in the waining moments of three different publications: “Beyond Imagination,” “Saturday Night Reader” and now “Unbound Octavo.” I’d like to think it was because my writing was hard to top, rather than cause for the publications’ demise. Remnants of Unbound Octavo still remain. Alas, Volume Two, which would have included my story, will never see the digital dawn. The good news is that they featured the story on their website, wrote me a check and the rights they paid for no longer apply. Please enjoy:

Stealing Valium

by DL Shirey

Stealing Valium from my father used to be easy. After school, before he came home from work to drowse in front of the TV, I rattled the orange vial and dropped a few in the toilet. I hoped his doctor would notice how quickly the tablets were used and stop the prescription.

Dad started the pills the day after Mom’s accident. Those closest to us were called to the hospital where we held off fears in familiar arms. But my father shrugged off hugs, wanting only to sit in a far-off chair and hold the blood-specked purse he had given his wife as a gift.

Surgeons finished later that day, snapping off bright overheads, satisfied with rewired ribs and a plug for the unwanted lung hole. For now, nothing could be done for her spine.

Valium came home the next day. The bottle clanked with permanence in the metal medicine cabinet next to his never-changing brand of shave cream.

For two weeks I biked straight from school to hospital to watch my mother adjust from sleep to pain to tolerance. With each day’s gain, fewer neighbors and acquaintances would visit. And though the hospital was near his office, my father first drove home before joining me bedside. I would see him in the hall, shadowing the frosted window until the pills blanded worry from his face.

He would eventually enter, touch her sheet to let his presence be known, then warm his hands in pockets. As their eyes met, Dad would raise his cheeks with half a smile, but the muscles couldn’t move the dullness from his gaze.

#

When I was pedaling home again, the thing to stare at in the living room wasn’t television but a rented hospital bed. Conversation came only from the periodic nurse whose face and name kept changing. Then a new TV appeared in the master bedroom, next to the bathroom where he caught me flushing pills.

Mother smiled when she heard my confession. Then asked for another pillow to put behind her back.

It seemed I was always first to arrive, wherever my mother’s bed resided: the spare bedroom, another hospital, a nursing home, or funeral parlor. It was only at the final visit did someone else arrive, well before the acquaintances.

I recognized him from the rattle in his pocket.

END