• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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I Wanna Feel WHat Love IS

 I’m returning my car to the Thrifty Rental Car Return (cause that’s how power agents roll), when two men, a woman, and a baby girl get off one of the airport shuttles and proceed to unload nine suitcases, most of them huge. The woman fills two bottles with orange juice and takes a long, slow pull off the carton, the pleasure of which registers in her neck. Her skin is so pale I wonder if she is wearing powder. Her cheekbones redefine cheekbones. Dark hair pulled into a tight pony tail, and yes some loose strands have escaped to tempt the gods.

The men. Could be brothers, so close are they in physical characteristics. One openhearted, clean shaven, thin, muscular. The baby is his daughter. Later on the bus, he will kiss her hand over and over, make a game of it, and she will laugh each time with the same amount of pleasure. The other man is also handsome, he wears a closely cropped beard, doesn’t take any joy in the baby’s laughter.

None wear wedding rings, but I am certain the clean shaven man and the woman are together, and are the parents of this child. I am also certain that the bearded man is in love with her. A man on the bus with a black cowboy hat asks where they are going with all that luggage. The bearded man says, home, and shuts down all further questions with his clipped delivery and withdrawal of eye contact. I imagine the bags are filled with cocaine, with cash, filled with organs, monkey paws, filled with worn clothes from the Salvation Army and a few personal effects grabbed in haste.

Home. A house bleached with sun, paint peeling like bark on a birch. Curtains that filter light like leaf cover. An enamel pail. A field full of fire. I get off the bus having fallen inexplicably in love with the couple and the baby. The bearded man continues to glower. I want to save him. A Foreigner song comes on the radio. He mouths the words.

What short story did you step into today?

47 Responses

  1. Short story: a woman reviews her life, and abandoned dreams, in a box of old papers while cleaning her house in preparation for her suicide.

  2. Before anybody gets any ideas, I’ve been reading Kay Redfield Jamison’s Night Falls Fast (based on a recommendation from Betsy’s Diane Arbus post), and cleaning out old papers that have been sitting in a box since before I went to India, geez, almost a year ago. I haven’t been out of the house all day, so what other story could I step into? So I juiced up my boring day by changing the scenario from “reading about” to “preparing” for suicide. I don’t write fiction, but I know that mere reading about suicide does not a short story make. Besides, she never would have gone through with it.

    • A retired yet moderately attractive psychiatrist sits to log on to a power agents blog and finds a beautiful short story. She sighs and reads the first comment and has a mild heart attack. Then she reads the second one and miraculously recovers.

      Kay is an amazing woman, and like Betsy she can weave a great yarn.

      • MODERATELY attractive?! Ha, you’re a (silver) fox. I’m older than you, but in five to seven years, I’m hoping my hair will be like yours.

        If you talk to Jamison, tell her she’s got a fan.

    • Not a book for everyone, but it seems to find those who need it. I like to think new dreams are replacing the abandoned ones?

      • >>new dreams are replacing the abandoned ones<<

        They should. The sickness is holding on to the past. If we love it so much, the least we can do is let it grow into the present and future.

    • UPDATE: as an “antidote” to Jamison’s book (not that it was poisonous, but the subject matter lingers in the consciousness), I’m now reading Kathleen Norris’ Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and A Writer’s Life. I have found a new hero. Highly, enthusiastically recommended. It may be just what will turn the key to get unblocked and stay that way.

  3. Lovely. So good to know I am not the only one who falls in love with strangers because of the shape of their face, the way they interact…my kids tell me to stop staring but it is too tempting, like filling the wine glass one more time or biting into a chocolate bar.

  4. Two young men, born the same day three years apart, leave the house together. Outside the sunlight is meagre and today is the day they were both born. Together they drive away towards Venice over the fields.

  5. Not today, but once, in New York.

    Getting on the subway, a woman of a certain age. Not beautiful, or rich, or especially confident, but with something beatific in her face. Brownish work clothes, neat. Around her throat, a pink, sari-material scarf. With precise movements of her hands, she wraps it again, adjusting the material so that it floats over one shoulder. I don’t have to see that she smiles at this.

    I haven’t been home across the ocean in nearly a year. Haven’t seen my mother in all that time. I get so close to crying, at this woman, and her grace, and she doesn’t notice, and no one in the carriage does.

  6. It’s easy to fall for strangers. I’m already in love with yours.

    I shy from headlines but Amanda Knox’s story has me by the balls. To suddenly be free after years of imprisonment and the only thing you feel in your heart is gratitude? Clearly I’m the one with deep psychological issues ’cause one thing is for damn sure. If that happened to me, I’d be shit pissed.

    • even if you were some degree of guilty?

      • What do you mean “some?” Are we talking being stoned and not making smart choices or are we talking helping to kill another human being? If it’s the former, yes, I’d be angry as all hell. If it’s the latter than I’d probably say yes, again, ’cause I’d just be a psychopath deflecting blame.

  7. A woman — a retired teacher and now a novel writer of sorts — gets up from the computer and looks out a second-story window. Her sixty-five-year-old husband is mowing the lawn. His once thick brown hair is white and thin, almost bald on top–a side effect of the Aricept he takes to hold the Alzheimer’s at bay for a few extra months before it slithers into the next stage. He doesn’t read anymore or use the computer or have deep discussions about math concepts and politics and philosophy with his good friend across the street.

    But mowing the lawn–that he can still do. The woman wonders who’ll be doing that job next summer. But then she shakes it off and goes into the kitchen to check on dinner and so she doesn’t start to cry–again. The

  8. A businessman sits on the upper deck of a commuter train fingering his rosary beads while mouthing words to the small card given away at funerals. She watches him, as she does every day, and doesn’t know it yet, but it isn’t the rosary he’s saying.
    They’ve never met. Her name is imprinted on the top of the card.

  9. Step son’s Rubenesque ex-girlfriend and baby daughter move in to narrator’s farmhouse. Narrator is not yet 50, but marriage to her new husband transforms her from a love-soaked woman in full to a granny, just like that. Edits on memoir, money from which pays for the farmhouse, are due. Baby crying. Teenage parents at school. Husband at a job out of town. Did you know that you can hold a baby in one hand and type with the other? Granny IS woman in full.

  10. I think this story you gave us is plenty for me today. It’s good to be the audience.

  11. Fifty bucks, man. Mark told me that’s what they’d pay me at the plasma center if I donated my plasma. So I went down there. I mean, shit, I haven’t had a job since before I got busted and there’s not anybody gonna hire me now. Even if anybody was hiring, and they’re not.

    So I went down there. I had to sign up the first time. They give you a log-in for the computer so you can log in when you come back. So I did all that and they took my plasma and they gave me this debit card with a fifty dollar credit on it.

    But when I went back the next week, I couldn’t log in. The computer wouldn’t let me log in. Then this supervisor comes up to me and he takes me into this little room. He said, I’m sorry, Pete, but you tested positive for hepatitis C and you can’t donate.

    So I’m like, shit, what am I gonna do? I need the money. The supervisor says, I’m sorry, man. So I left.

    Then Mark goes down there and the supervisor takes him into the little room. And there’s other people in there. And the supervisor starts telling him, Your friend Peter tested positive for hepatitis C and he can’t donate and we’re gonna hafta blackball you, too. I mean, right there in front of all these other people.

    So now what do I do? Mark has family. But my family–if they find out I have hepatitis C, they’ll treat me like a leper. I don’t have a job. I don’t have any money. I sure as hell don’t have medical. I’m gonna end up living under a bridge someplace and begging for change and eating at the shelter. I may as well go back to jail. So gimme your wallet. Then I’m gonna hafta beat you up. I’ll try not to do any permanent damage, but if I rob you and hurt you and use your credit cards, I’ll probably get to go to prison for a few years. In fact, I should rape you, too. Then I know I’ll get a good stretch of time inside. They’ll feed me and house me and I’ll get to see a doctor.

    I’m sorry. It’s nothing personal. I don’t mean to hurt you, but I don’t know what else to do. Scream if you want to. I don’t care. I wanna get caught.

    • Cut to 78 words for free travel to NYC, where you can march with Betsy at OWS: http://aspenwriters.businesscatalyst.com/esquire-magazine-contest.htm

      Two men, a woman, and a baby girl ride the airport shuttle. The woman fills two bottles with orange juice.
      The men look like brothers. One open-hearted, clean-shaven, thin. He kisses the baby’s hand over and over, and she laughs each time with the same amount of pleasure. The other man wears a close-cropped beard, doesn’t take any joy in the baby’s laughter.
      The driver asks where they’re going with all that luggage. The bearded man says, home.

      The first week, the plasma center gave me a debit card with fifty dollars, but the next week, the supervisor says, I’m sorry, man, you tested for hepatitis C.
      He says, I’m sorry, man.
      I don’t have a job, forget about medical. So gimme your wallet, I’m sorry too, it’s nothing personal, but if I hurt you bad enough, they’ll send me back inside. See a doctor.
      Scream all you want, I don’t care. I wanna get caught.

      Easier than working. Plus, I hear Betsy just laughs at pepper spray.

  12. Thanks for this absolutely gorgeous post.

  13. I have no story today, but thank you for the evocative photo of Linda Manz from Days of Heaven. Such a beautiful film, and her character is unforgettable — great choice to illustrate this post.

  14. There’s a man who eats lunch at the same deli I do. I steal glances at him over my book. His face shows the ravages of great beauty over perfect bones. The whites of his eyes glow around irises that must be blue, though I’ll probably never know, since I can’t stare at him the way I’d like to.

    He’s not Robert Redford—he’s Nora Desmond, and I want to wrap his short, silvery-blonde hair in a sapphire blue turban with a jet ornament right here. Dress him in satin beaded robes and rouge and send him center stage for a close-up.

    He’s been there before, I can tell— he switched to choreography years ago when his knees went, but he still anchors the dinner show at the best club in the rainbow district near the river. He glides on stage and does an Ella Fitzgerald that knocks the front tables back: “I’ve got a feeling . . .”

    After two encores, he goes backstage, removes his makeup, puts on one of his thin, loose sweaters and jeans, and visits the love of his life at the assisted living center, just up the street from the deli.

  15. coughing attack at yoga. yogi glares. karma’s a bitch.

  16. It had been awhile since his day started this good. Daddy Sorta was spending time with his little girl after a few weeks of waking up the grouchy kid and hustling her through morning routines, cereal crammed down her throat while her mother brushed her hair, foamy toothpaste mixing with the water spiraling down the drain, quick face wash — No talking please! -and loaded on the bus so the old man could go to work in a dungy cave, performing a dying job. Relief work, part time, temporary; you know, so they don’t have to pay much or provide benefits. The momster said the kid wanted to sleep in, so could the dadster drive her to school? Sorta and his daughter, Miss Beana, watched Curious George, read from Shel Silverstein’s “Falling Up” and told each other stories on the drive to school. Once she saw her friends, she barely said goodbye to the weary man who stood smiling when he thought of everything about her. The ride home was uneventful as he noticed the patches of frost in the shaded areas of nearly dormant lawns. Before he left, Sorta had plugged in his electric guitar and loaded a bowl, ready to rock until the rafters broke or the windows cracked. But first he needed to stop at the old job, talk about some forgotten paperwork with the man who was his boss, the guy he filled in for during a medical emergency.
    “Hola, Jorge!”
    Jorge didn’t look good and Sorta quickly filled him in about the checks he had failed to enter into the system.
    “No problem. I can do them. I’m sorry, I just don’t feel well right now. I threw up a few times last night. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
    Sorta heard himself saying he would fill in for the sick man if necessary, knowing what had to be done but still thinking about how fast and hard the good times crash and burn.

  17. Oh, I love this. I am always imagining back stories for strangers. Yesterday, on the first power walk in a long, long time, I notice what look like two businessmen on a lunch break sitting on a bench by the river. On my next loop past them, I hear one say, “So they put me back in the holding cell. ‘You’re staying overnight.'” All this with a calm smile.

  18. I’m at the fair with my camera. On the midway I catch the eye of a young redhead. If I was younger the look she gave would have said, “I want you”. But being the age I am I know the look is actually saying, “I want you to take my picture.”

    I circle back and put my camera down low. I turn it facing upward to catch the arcade ride flying behind her. She strikes a pose.

    She calls me over and says she is a model. Her ego is stroked knowing I bowed to her unspoken request.

  19. Curtains that filter light like leaf cover.

    And the killer line near the end: I want to save him.

    Wow. Great post.

  20. Damn. I was right there with you, without ever leaving my office…

  21. First that lovely post by our darling, then all these wonderful stories that-I-wish-to-god-would-get-written:

    Betsy births beauty.

  22. i’m hooked, dying to know what’s in the suitcases…where were they going, where had they been…what history the bearded one and babymomma share,

    my short story for today (yesterday) involved holding my 12-yr old’s sweaty palm while the dentist pried, chiseled and wrenched her four remaining baby teeth – one of which was fused to the bone – out to pave the way for braces. Head between my knees deep-breathing as they dug at the the last chunk of the last tooth with pliers, a drill, a blade, never did get it out so they left the fragment there right next to the nerve bud…went straight from dentist’s office to nordstrom’s to buy her the moccasin boots i promised her in the trenches…shaved head russian mobster type squatting down in skin-tight hounds-tooth trousers (nut-huggers) to slip her foot into the boot…a bloody wad of guaze dropping out of her mouth and onto the carpet between his knees as he wriggled the boot on,

  23. That is beautiful. I feel inspired to drag my butt back to my desk and get working on that chapter I’ve been avoiding this morning. Thanks.

  24. Last paragraph gutpunch. Screenplays, pffft. You’re a crazybeautifulgorgeous poet, sugarplum.

  25. A renovation project in the French Quarter has guaranteed me an anthology of short stories each day. I’ve taken to parking my car 10 blocks from the job site so I can enjoy the snippets of conversation, the aromas and odors, the tattoos, the dialects, the whole messy cacophony of tourists, residents, nuns, Asian busboys, street musicians and questionable loiterers. I especially watch for the gaunt man who slowly walks his three-legged dog in the shade of the ironwork balconies. The dog’s determined hopping steps syncopate with the man’s shuffling gait. When the calliope plays, their movements transform into a dance.

  26. The baby’s name is Maisie.

  27. What a compelling beginning! I am intriqued and want to know more.

  28. Had lunch with a friend who told me the story of her 20th high school reunion. Her husband had bought her a red, backless dress made out of stretchy material. It was the only dress she’d brought from across the country, but when she put it on, she realized how incredibly tight it was. Her husband said the length — mid-calf — looked funny with her body type, so he tried to fix it. He cut off too much fabric and it ended up being more like a minidress. Also, remember: skin tight and backless. She had brought high, high red pumps to wear with it, and the effect was…well, you can imagine.

    But off they went to the reunion, where they discovered that all the 38-year-olds in this midwestern town apparently dress in frumpy, potato-colored clothes. And there is my friend, standing in her red hooker dress and shoes, and to make it worse she doesn’t even recognize anyone (she was shy and mousy in high school; weren’t we all). So she and her husband stand alone near the front of the room, staring out at all the people staring back at her. Finally, finally, someone inches up to her and says, “Is that you? We were all wondering who the whore was.”

  29. Here’s the thing: I know screenwriting is apparently your passion. But the way you write, screenwriting strikes me as not the best medium for your talent. I just don’t understand why you keep butting your head with this screenwriting stuff and obsessing over it. It seems clear to me your talent lies in writing fiction. In spades. So why not write a damn good novel which is obviously where your talent truly and unequivocably lies and THEN get it optioned. THEN write the damn screenplay. Back door the sucker.

    • Here’s what I would rather do than write fiction: ANYTHING. But thanks for the really nice comment. Also, I used to think the anonymous tag was kind of weak, but now I think it’s really sexy.

  30. It was actually a paranormal series I stepped into today. On the heels of Steve’s death, as well as several other 50-somethings of my acquaintance who’ve been walloped by the tsunami of a quick, fatal disease. (Bad actor is how the docs put it. As if.)

    Here’s the premise: A benevolent witch grants you a year of robust health before the diagnosis. And in that year, you get three personal wishes (as long as they aren’t to not get cancer and die). For example: say you always wanted to be a rock star. Bingo. Or, you wanted your gay son to suddenly be straight and get married. Done. Or say you always wanted to sleep with your daughter’s gymnastics coach without consequences. See where I’m going?

  31. The student I work with, standing there with sad eyes at the end of the day. Looking for something, wishing he didn’t have to go home. Where all has been taken from him.

  32. I read the final chapters when they cross my desk: The woman who heard a pop in her ear which turned out to be an aneurysm, the man who was beaten to death in a cheap hotel, a kid who fell while car surfing (with his brother driving). Suicides, strokes, car accidents. . . .

    There was a young man (so many, many young men) who was goofing around with his friends and a shopping cart. They dumped him out, he landed on his head, and just like that he’s gone. A baby showed up with bruises on her arm and a subdural hematoma. They arrested the mother’s boyfriend, I think.

    House fires, homicides, small children who drown while a party is going on around them. . . .

    Today I closed the file on a 4-year-old who was sitting on the back of a truck with her twin sister, while their parents practiced at the gun range nearby. The child fell out of the truck and was unconscious, so an ambulance was called. Turns out the little girl was shot in the head and no one realized it until they got to the hospital.

    The chart says, Mother unable to give patient’s medical history.

  33. For some reason, reading this made me think of East of Eden–one of my all time favorites.

  34. Toddler left with a friend, they enter the consultant’s room. Two pages of worsening symptoms shake in her hand as she prompts him to say how it is to really feel your heart breaking. Then he lies on his side, as his daughter often does, watching the monitor in a mirror. She stands behind the consultant as he clicks from pulsing blobs to rhythmic mountain ranges. Every heart is a miracle, but this one has worked so hard, from before day one, to keep her husband alive. It has been through more than anyone thought it could take. Prayers of please, please become prayers of gratitude. On the way home they argue because it is exhausting being so damn brave and because sometimes decisions about supper mean I love you.

  35. You’re a master of brevity. Or mistress to.
    Thank you.

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