My books can be purchased as e-books for only $1.99. If interested, just click here: Books.
Match Play is a golf/suspense novel. Dust of Autumn is a bloody one set in upstate New York. Prairie View is set in South Dakota, with a final scene atop Rattlesnake Butte. Life in the Arbor is a children's book about Rollie Rabbit and his friends (on about a fourth grade level). The Black Widow involves an elaborate extortion scheme. Doggy-Dog World is my memoir. And ES3 is a description of my method for examining English sentence structure.
In case anyone is interested in any of my past posts, an archive list can be found at the bottom of this page.
My newest novel, Happy Valley, can be found here.

Saturday, March 5

"What Are You Doing . . . ?"

Last week, I submitted a story to Glimmer Train, a really classy magazine that annually has five or six contests for short ficton. This was for really short stories of 300 to 3,000 words. What the hell. Why not? I realize they must get hundreds of submissions, but someone has to win, right? Why not me? It's a little racy but sort of clever also. See what you think.

“What Are You Doing . . .?”

One month after his wife’s death, John is still dazed and at a loss for what he will do with the rest of his life. John, an early retiree from high school teaching at sixty, lives in a retirement community in the Arizona West Valley. His wife Leslie was only fifty-seven when she died rather suddenly, a victim of the kind of cancer that appears one day with stomach pain. The doctors opened her up and found it everywhere, and the end was rapid. He kept assuming that he would be the first to die and would never have to figure out how he would cope with the loss of Leslie or how he would face his last years alone. This home was supposed to be the one they’d live in for at least another twenty years before they had to consider death for either one of them. And now, here he is, still a reasonably young man, alone. And he just doesn’t know what to do with himself.

Leslie and John had gone to the same small Minnesota high school, Leslie graduating three years after John. They had known each other then, but only casually, he being the big senior jock and she the lowly sophomore nerd.

John returned one humid July weekend for a five-year class reunion. He met Leslie in the First National Bank, a temporary summer job at one of the teller windows until she returned to college for her third year. No more the sophomore nerd. Here was a stunning honey-haired beauty that made his humidity rise when he first saw her. More than just his humidity rose.

“Good morning, sir, and how can I help you?” she asked, smiling brilliantly. She knew who he was but she was sure he didn’t know her from a bump in a Minnesota back road. He’d always been too busy charming a bevy of senior bimbos to notice her. And now, here he was.

“Uhh . . . uh,” he stammered, “I need some cash. From my savings account. In Colorado.” He waved his hand, like she should know what he was talking about. “Oh, yeah, you need my account information.”

“That would be good, yes,” she said with that same brilliantine smile.

He managed to give her his account. She managed to give him his cash. He asked her if she’d be willing to go to dinner with him. That evening.

“Yes,” she said. “I’d like that. But don’t you even want to know my name?”

He shook his head up and down, then side to side. “Duh, of course I should know your name.”

“I’m Leslie Johansson. I was three grades behind you in high school, but you probably don’t remember me from way back when.”

They went out, had a dinner he barely tasted or remembered. He was smitten.

They were married three months later.
* * *
Carol Shane, one of the bimbos Leslie referred to, had graduated with John. But she was as far from bimbohood as possible, a charming, intelligent young woman who admired John for his good looks and good sense more than his jock successes. But somehow they had never connected in high school.

She too went into teaching, English, spending her entire career in Montana. She had lost her husband more than a year before Leslie’s death. She and John had known each other all their lives but their contact over the years had been only occasional meetings in their Minnesota hometown for one class reunion or another.

She read about Leslie’s death in the obituary in the local Minnesota paper and felt compelled . . . no, that’s too strong a word for it . . . felt it somehow necessary to console him for his loss with more than a phone call or letter. It was a month away from the start of school. Still hot in Arizona, but why not, she thinks.

She calls John to see if he will agree to her visit. He agrees.

With that, she flies to Phoenix, knowing that John will probably be having a hard time getting over his loss. When John picks her up at Sky Harbor, she at first insists she will stay in a nearby motel while she is there, but he won’t hear of it.

“Hey,” he says, carrying her one suitcase to his car, “I’ve got an extra bedroom and it isn’t as though we’re kids who need a chaperone. Right?”

“Right,” she agrees. “And I guess you know how we teachers have to pinch as many pennies as we can. Okay. But you have to let me take you out to dinner tonight.”

After they get her settled in the guest bedroom and John has given her a tour of his home, they go out to a nearby Outback for a steak and conversation. The steak is excellent; the conversation a little awkward.
“You’re still beautiful, Carol. For an old broad, that is. Must be our Minnesota weather that does it.”

Carol takes a sip of her merlot, looks at John, and smiles. “Thank you, John. Although I’d rather not think of myself as an old broad.” She has to admit it is nice hearing her old friend tell her she is still beautiful. “You want to hear a short, very short, story I wrote not long ago?”

John remembered when they both had taken a creative writing course in high school, how Carol had always wanted to be a writer, had written short stories for the school paper.

“Yes, I’d love to hear something you wrote.”

“Here it is: ‘I do,’ she said. ‘Me too,’ he echoed before the question was even asked. She thought it was too much like him to say it that way, and wondered if maybe she was making a mistake. Father Martin thought it was a sign of how wrong this union might be. ‘Maybe,’ the young man thought, ‘I shoulda said I don’t.’

“There. Short and not so sweet, but oh so true. Well, what do you think?” She sips merlot.

“I think it’s the best short-short story I’ve ever heard. And I like it. Romance, suspense, conflict. And all in about fifty words.”

After dinner, they return to his house for more conversation, this time, with the alcohol lubricant, not so awkward. The subject of sex for elders comes up. John confesses that he and Leslie had struggled with their romantic endeavors. He admits that he had been impotent for several years and that his and Leslie’s relationship had diminished and all but disappeared.

“Even if you and I wanted to . . . dally a bit without a chaperone,” he chuckles, “I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to.” He goes on, haltingly, to explain all the remedies he had tried: First, the painful and embarrassing penile injections; then the really embarrassing penile pump that simply didn’t do what it was supposed to do; and finally the little blue pill that only made his face flush and not much else.

“You silly man, you,” Carol says. “Making love and having sex don’t have to have anything to do with the actual act of coitus. Intimacy is in knowing everything there is to know about each other, having no secrets or shameful parts hidden away. And that starts with physical parts.”

She convinces him they should try it. She will lead the way. They disrobe and shower together, scrubbing each other, laughing and talking all the while. They go to his bed and when he wants to turn off the light, she says no. All they are going to do is discover each other.

She begins by showing him various scars and injuries on her body, frankly discussing the ways in which her body has aged, sagging here and there, plumping here and there. She is totally unashamed of her body, showing him everything. Then she asks him to do the same.

He shows her his array of old physical imperfections—the ragged incision when he’d had his appendix removed by a very bad surgeon, the small scar on his forehead from an unfortunate encounter with a car door, the crooked finger from a fastball hitting finger and bat simultaneously. Each time she says, “Oh, poor baby,” and kisses him there. Then he tells her about the time his mother discovered a tick on the end of his penis and how painful it had been. She says, “Oh, poor baby,” and kisses him there, then briefly takes him in her mouth. He laughs nervously and tells her about another time when he tripped and fell leg-straddled on a park bench, blacking and bluing his penis and scrotum. She repeats her act, and he then starts making up story after story and they laugh each time as she poor babies his nether region. By this time, with the kisses and the slow awakening of his manhood, it is obvious he no longer has any problems with potency, but she tells him they must continue their project in intimacy. They explore all aspects of each other’s bodies. He is looking at her as she spreads her legs for his viewing and she tells him about the time a bee stung her, “Right there,” she says, pointing to her special place, her Clytemnestra Castle, and he kisses her there and says, “Oh, poor baby.” She says there was more than one bee and more than one bee sting, and he continues poor babying. “There must have been thousands of bees,” she sighs. By this time they are ready for anything and they couple enthusiastically and very successfully.

Later, he is telling her he hasn’t felt so good in a long time, so . . . masculine in a long time. She assures him his masculinity is well intact.

She spends several more days with him, but she insists they not repeat their first-night act, that she would like to be courted by him, virginally courted as if they were young again with life just starting. He agrees.
After four days of catching up with their lives since high school and college, after agreeing that they might make a senior life together, he takes her to the airport for her return to Montana to rearrange her life there. It will take her at least a month, she tells him, and the month will be a good buffer to see if what they have is truly real. In the meantime, she says, she would like to be courted by mail as well, hard-copy letters instead of e-mails. She wants love letters, she wants to send love letters, she wants them to burn up the postal system with their heat. He agrees. And as he watches the plane take off and ascend into the sky heading north, he feels as though he has a lifetime of life and love ahead of him.

He hurries home, composing in his head his first letter: “I remember a time when I was about twelve and I did a header off my bike and landed in a sticker patch. I had stickers all over the place, but especially from my belly button to my crotch . . .”
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