Flash Fiction: Dinner Music

My flash fiction for this week is “Dinner Music.” Please share any constructive criticism you can offer. To read more flash fiction from a great group of writers, search #fridayflash on Twitter or visit Mad Utopia.

Dinner Music
by Olivia Tejeda

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=MRE&iid=4247012″ src=”f/f/5/0/Marines_Continue_To_8ac2.jpg?adImageId=8208227&imageId=4247012″ width=”380″ height=”255″ /]

The tedious, dawn to dusk recon was winding down and Lance Cpl. Jason Palmer said a silent thank you that he made it through another day. The nine-man squad didn’t see any action on this patrol. Nothing. But that only made the day longer and would make the night more tense. At least when you’re in combat, the adrenaline burns off with the fighting, but on a day like today, when there’s nothing but uncertainty, the pressure just keeps building and has no good outlet, at least not one that they had found so far.

The men gathered where their squad leader told them they’d bivouac for the night, and they unloaded their gear in exhausted silence. Palmer still had to dig a hole to sleep in, but his hunger won out. He stuck his hand deep into his pack and pulled out the first MRE he felt. Chili mac. Not bad. At least it wasn’t the chicken fajita. That was the worst.

Most of the squad had the same idea and by time Palmer was pouring water into his food packet he was surrounded by six other Marines tearing open their own dehydrated dinners.

“Fucking fajitas again,” Pvt. Lozano said, looking at the label on the plain cardboard box. “I can’t eat that shit tonight.” He tossed the box on the ground and dug into his pack for something else.

Pfc. Carnahan whooped. “Yes,” he said, pumping his fist in the air.

“What’d you get, Carny?” Palmer asked, surprised at Carnahan’s enthusiasm.

“Meatballs Marinara,” Carny said, smiling at the box. “My favorite.”

“Wanna trade?” Lozano said.

“Live with it, buddy. I’ve had fajitas six nights in a row,” Carny laughed. “Tonight, I got the balls.”

“Yeah, it’s the only time you got balls,” Lozano said.

Carny put the MRE down on the ground beside him. He slowly stood up, straightened himself out, and stood tall, staring at Lozano.

“To celebrate my meatballs,” he said, pointing to the foil pack on the ground, “I have some dinner music for you.”  He had never outright performed for the squad before, even though they all heard him sing. He had a beautiful voice, deep and rich, and he sang all the time. Back home, he was a member of the choir and performed in local musicals. Some of the squad made fun of him; Wheeler called him songbird, Tats called him Pavarotti, but mostly they appreciated Carny’s singing, and looked forward to the  sweet diversion that came with it.

The group quieted as Carny cleared his throat and he began:

On top of spaghetti,
All covered with cheese,

I lost my poor meatball,
When somebody sneezed.

After the first line, most of the guys were laughing, Lozano cursed at him and Palmer threw his empty MRE box, but by the end of the second line they all joined in. Mostly they didn’t know the words beyond the first verse, so as quickly as they joined in, they stopped and let Carny finish on his own.

It rolled off the table,
And on to the floor,
And then my poor meatball,
Rolled out of the door.

It rolled in the garden,
And under a bush,
And then my poor meatball,
Was nothing but mush.

The mush was as tasty,
As tasty could be,
And then the next summer,
It grew into a tree.

The tree was all covered,
All covered with moss,
And on it grew meatballs,
And tomato sauce.

So if you eat spaghetti,
All covered with cheese,
Hold on to your meatball,
Whenever you sneeze.

“Everybody finish with me,” Carny said, and they all joined in as he led them through the verse like a conductor:

On top of spaghetti,
All covered with cheese,

I lost my poor meatball,
When somebody sneezed.

They ended the verse with a flourish, as Carny raised his arms up in the air and shook his open hands like a crazed conductor leading his chorus to a deafening crescendo. They sang at full volume, each trying to out-sing the other.

As Carny signaled to end the last note, they followed his lead and burst into applause, laughing, whooping, and cheering each other.

“That was fucking great,” Lozano said still catching his breath. “Hey, Carny, Do you know the other one?” he asked. ‘The real one?”

“No, that shit’s a bummer,” Carny said. “You don’t want to hear that.”

“Yeah, we do. Come on sing it,” Lozano goaded him. The squad cheered him on, chanting, “Carny, Carny,” so he went ahead.

On top of Old Smokey,
All covered with snow,
I lost my true lover,
For courting too slow.

For courting’s a pleasure,
But parting is grief,
And a false-hearted lover,
Is worse than a thief.

A thief will just rob you,
And take what you have,
But a false-hearted lover,
Will lead you to your grave.

The grave will decay you,
And turn you to dust,
Not one girl in a hundred
A poor boy can trust.

They’ll hug you and kiss you,
And tell you more lies,
Than crossties on a railroad,
Or stars in the sky.

So come ye young cowboys,
And listen to me,
Never place your affection
In a green willow tree.

For the leaves they will wither,
The roots they will die,
And you’ll be forsaken,
And never know why.

After Carny sang the last line, there was no applause. Palmer had stopped eating and was staring blankly out into the distance. Tats was looking down, his head resting heavily in his hands.  Wheeler turned his back. Carny stood there lost in his own thoughts, wondering if the lyrics were true. Hoping they weren’t.

Only Lozano spoke up. “Why’d you sing that shit?” he asked.

“Oh, fuck it,” Carny sighed.

He sat down among his fellow Marines and they finished their MREs in silence.

© Olivia Tejeda and Liv Loves Lit, 2008-2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Olivia Tejeda and Liv Loves Lit with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Flash Fiction: The Letter

Here is my flash fiction for this week. Please share any constructive criticism you can offer. To read more flash fiction from a great group of writers, search #fridayflash on Twitter or visit Mad Utopia. Thanks for reading.

The Letter
By Olivia Tejeda

Jolene squatted down, working Kate’s spindly arm through the sleeve of a her brown cardigan, as Nancy click-clacked into the room on too high heels.

“Hey, Jolene,” she chirped, looking down at the nurse’s aide. “Is Kate writing again today?” She laughed as she dropped an envelope onto Kate’s dresser and walked back out, click-clacking her way down the rest of the hallway.

Jolene shook her head and looked at Kate. “Something’s gonna fall off that girl, she keeps shaking it like that.” She laughed at her own joke, but Kate didn’t respond. She sat silently staring out at nothing as Jolene’s stubby fingers fumbled with the small buttons on the front of her sweater.

When she finally finished dressing Kate, Jolene grabbed the sides of the chair and hoisted herself up, breathing hard from the effort. “There now, Mrs. Kate, don’t you look pretty.”

She carefully rested Kate’s arms on top of the wheelchair tray and rolled the chair out of the way. Working quickly, Jolene scooped up the pajamas and towels she left on the floor while she was dressing Kate and dumped them into the wall hamper with a big sigh. Thank goodness she was off for the next couple days. The nursing home was short staffed for more than two weeks now and there was just too much to do. Already this morning, she was behind schedule and she still had five more residents to wash and dress.

“Breakfast is coming, so I’m gonna take you to the Sun Room,” Jolene said, swiping her hair up off her forehead. She  gave the room a quick once over, flipped off the light, and wheeled Kate down the hall to leave her with the others.

After her weekend off, Jolene came back to find three more residents assigned to her morning rounds. She wouldn’t fight it this time, though; she learned there was no sense to that. The work had to be done and the residents had to be taken care of, but maybe it was time to look for another job.

Half way through her rounds, Jolene came to Kate’s room and expected to find her doing the writing thing she did. Instead, she found her trying to get out of her wheelchair.

“Whoa, hold on, Kate,” she said running to her side, hoping to reach the old woman before she fell. Jolene never knew what she’d find her Alzheimer’s patients doing, but Kate was never a problem. She spent her days silent and still. Only her hands were in near constant motion, writing something that wasn’t there. An imaginary pen moving line by line across an invisible page kept Kate busy and quiet, even as residents around her screamed or threw things.

Jolene tried to settle Kate back into her chair, but Kate fought her, pushing her away and trying with all her might to break free of her hold. Jolene was surprised, but she held on. “It’s okay, honey. It’s okay,” she repeated over and over until Kate quieted down.

She stepped back to catch her breath and saw Kate trying to get up again, but this time she noticed Kate was reaching toward the letter Nancy dropped on her dresser days ago.

“You want your letter,” Jolene said, finally realizing the problem. She picked up the letter and gave it to Kate, who immediately relaxed and sat back down.

“Oh, Kate,” Jolene said with a big sigh. “I can’t believe this entire weekend and nobody read you your letter.”

In that moment, Kate’s vacant stare was gone. Her eyes were clear and pleading as she looked directly at Jolene. For the first time, Jolene felt Kate’s presence, and she got a glimpse of Kate, the real Kate, the one held hostage behind the foggy curtain that kept her shut in.

Jolene bent down to eye level. “You want me to read your letter?” she asked quietly. A little smile relaxed the skin around Kate’s mouth and she handed the letter to Jolene.

There was a long list of duties that needed Jolene’s attention, and she figured she’d be written up for taking the time to do this, but she put all that aside and instead pulled up a chair and read Kate her letter.

When she finished and folded the letter back into the envelope, Kate leaned forward, reaching out her shaking hand.

“You want the letter?” Jolene asked, handing it to her. Kate reached past the letter and touched Jolene’s hand.

“What is it, Katie? What’s wrong?” Jolene put the letter down and took Kate’s hand in hers.

“Oh, you’re welcome, honey” Jolene said, understanding now what Kate wanted. She squatted down to eye level again. “Next time a letter comes in, I’ll read it to you right away. Okay? I shoulda done it Friday, but I’m not too bright sometimes,” she said with a little laugh. Kate didn’t respond. She was lost again behind the curtain, but she kept a tight hold on Jolene’s hand.

“Wow, Katie, you’ve really got the Vulcan death grip, there.” She rubbed Kate’s hand in hers, and she looked at the little lost lady who sat silently writing every day. Kate’s grip relaxed under Jolene’s touch, but she wouldn’t let go until Jolene put the letter in her hand.

When their morning routine was finished, and the room was neatened up, Jolene saw Kate had taken the letter out of the envelope and was looking at it. She kept hold of the letter as Jolene wheeled her down the hall into the Sun Room for breakfast.

When her shift was over and she had her coat on ready to go home for the night, Jolene thought of Kate and decided to check in on her one last time. Kate sat quietly in her wheelchair under the dim reading lamp in the corner of her room. In one hand she held her letter. In the other hand she held her imaginary pen and wrote across a page that wasn’t there.[picapp align=”center” wrap=”false” link=”term=hand+holding+letter&iid=249795″ src=”0246/7c40b4fd-cb95-4a6c-8120-4068a9bac82b.jpg?adImageId=8025722&imageId=249795″ width=”500″ height=”338″ /]

© Olivia Tejeda and Liv Loves Lit, 2008-2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Olivia Tejeda and Liv Loves Lit with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Friday Flash: It’s 4 A.M.

Here is my flash fiction for this week. Please share any constructive criticism you can offer, and thanks so much for reading. To read more flash fiction from a great group of writers, search #fridayflash on Twitter or visit Mad Utopia.

It’s 4 A.M.
By Olivia Tejeda

The Estates at Vineyard GlenEarly this morning, just before 4 a.m., as the Estates at Vineyard Glen settled in for a final stretch of darkness before sunrise and the last of the fat bodied moths withered away from the street light outside 803 Grapevine Court, Mary Ann Barnes lay silently in her bed after waking up too early – mind racing – for the sixteenth night in a row.

Sleep came with no problem. By 11 o’clock, midnight, she was out, but these past few weeks, her sleep ends at 4, and her brain starts working like it’s slept for hours.

Today’s Tuesday, right? Damn, Tuesday is taco day, I need to make Dillinger lunch. Do I have anything? I should have shopped yesterday. Why can’t he just eat the goddamm tacos? Kids love tacos.

And why the hell did we name him Dillinger? Was I drinking? Why not just call him Berkowitz or Oswald?

She thought of her sweet-faced, blond boy.

Fourth grade already. How is that possible? If he doesn’t start behaving he’s won’t make it to fifth.

If I don’t get some sleep soon, I won’t either.

She took in a deep breath to sigh, but kept inhaling, turning it into the cleansing breath she learned in her yoga class. She wanted to fill up on relaxation now and store her energy before giving in to the demands of the day, but it was useless. She was already exhausted.

What did that doctor on Oprah say? If you’re not sleeping, you’re not dreaming, and then something happens and you could have a heart attack or stroke.

I’m too young for a heart attack.

I think.

Probably should exercise more. The yoga’s great, but it does nothing for my heart. Or my ass. My instructor’s ass, though. Boy, she’s got an ass. Even in my best days, my ass couldn’t touch hers.

Pete has a great ass. Is he gonna flirt with me today? That smile. He’s so sexy.

She looked over at her husband. His back was to her, exposed, and she listened to him snore.

Maybe I can rub off a quick one before he wakes up.

Her eyes moved along the path of his spine from his neck down to his waist, the sheets obscured the rest of him.

I could scratch four long welts into his back if I wanted.

She brought her hand to his neck, fingers like claws, ready to tear at him. She held it there, looking at his smooth skin.

Oh, the hell with it.

Should I have an affair? Karen is, and she looks great. I’m not good at lying, though. And I’d have to shave my legs. I haven’t done that since Labor Day.

Oh! Chicken fingers. I can nuke chicken fingers for Dillie’s lunch. Stop calling him Dillie. He hates that. I do, too. Oh, fuck it, I haven’t slept in weeks. The kid can eat a friggin’ taco.

I wonder if Michelle Obama make her kids lunch. Does she shave her legs? She hates pantyhose, so she probably does. I bet she does yoga, too. My instructor has a better ass, though.

The news said Obama is considering sending more troops. God, how do those mothers sleep? Maybe we’ll all have heart attacks and the troops will come home to take care of everything the dead mothers used to take care of.

Did Eric tell me Annie’s Civil War project is done or did I imagine that?

She looked at her husband again. She loved him most of the time, but at that moment she wanted to kick him for being able to sleep like that.

I wish he’d wake up. I’m the tired one. I’m going to wake him up early to make sure Annie’s project is done. And he can help her pack it up before he leaves for work.

I hope he’s not having an affair.

There’s something else I need to tell him. What was it? What was it? I can’t remember anything anymore.

I definitely have to shop today. Fruit, stuff for lunches, face cream, milk, dog biscuits. Five things. I can remember that. And canned goods for the Thanksgiving drive. Six things. I need to get more donations for that. And we still need to put up signs. Shit, we didn’t make the signs. I should ask Karen if they can make them. She’s got time to fool around, she’s got time to make some signs, right?

Is Mom coming for Thanksgiving?

She said her furnace smelled like it’s burning. I wonder if she called the plumber yet. I hope that doesn’t cost her a fortune. I have to remember to call her today.

I should keep a notepad by this bed.

That’s what I needed to ask Eric. Did he pay the cell  bill?

Is he having an affair?

I need eggs, too.

Seven things.

I won’t remember all that.

Make a list.

It’s quiet.

It’s so quiet I could lose my mind. If I listen too long it scares me. Feels lonely.

Oh, the birds. They’re starting to sing.

© Olivia Tejeda and Liv Loves Lit, 2008-2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Olivia Tejeda and Liv Loves Lit with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Flash Fiction: Back Left Corner

Here is my flash fiction for this week. I’d love to get any constructive criticism you can offer. Truly! If it stinks, tell me. If parts of it stink, tell me. If all or parts of it work, tell me that, too.

Thanks so much for reading, and if you’d like to read more flash fiction from a great group of writers, search #fridayflash on Twitter or visit Mad Utopia.

Back Left Corner

“Where’s the bathroom?” was the question Eleanor answered most often since starting her job at the bookstore after agreeing to an early retirement to help the Library cut costs.

The frequency of the question (1.2 times an hour for a five-hour shift) surprised Eleanor, but after taking care of the Customer Service Desk five days a week for the past six years, with no sick days and no requests for vacation, she barely needed to think about her answer anymore. It became conditioned, just like taking the correct number of steps from the front of the store to her locker in the back (42), and knowing the precise location for the pen on the Customer Service counter (2 inches to the right of the phone, blue ballpoint, cap on, point facing me).

“Oh dear,” she would say when her customers asked the question, worrying as she often did, about their well being. She’d quickly smile and say, “Back left corner,” as she looked and pointed in the direction of the bathroom. Then she would watch them hurry off to ensure they were headed in the right direction before going back to organizing, shelving, dusting, or whatever task was awaiting her careful attention.

She found that showing and telling was the best way to help her customers. She wouldn’t just point, because that would simply be rude, but saying only “Back left corner,” without offering visual guidance confused her customers, leaving them uncertain if she meant her left or theirs.

Before settling on “Back left corner,” she experimented with more explicit verbal direction.

“Go straight to the magazines. Make a right when you get to the travel section, then follow left around the corner straight into the bathroom.”

The blank stare on her customer’s face told her that was not the way to go.

No, no, she scolded herself. Too much detail. When a customer asks for the bathroom, as when they ask for anything, keep your answer short, clear, and complete.

It was a lesson she learned over and over during her 37 years at the Library, where, in her interest to be helpful, she could sometimes be too helpful. In those moments, she found that it was because of her natural shyness, not in spite of it, that she could provide the best service and give the Library patrons exactly the help they needed with the least amount of wasted effort.

Not that she was ever stingy with her time or assistance. The Library did not afford such behavior, and that’s one of the things she loved most about it, its constant, steady need for her attentive care. Early on, that meant days filled with the meticulous indexing, filing, and cataloging of cards and books. When the Library installed computers, Eleanor worried that she wouldn’t be needed anymore, but she found she was as busy as always. Patrons still needed her help researching topics or finding books, but the addition of the computers allowed her to find enough time to start working on the back stacks and archives she waited years to organize.

“Crazy,” her husband called her one night years ago, after growing tired of her constant cleaning, sorting and organizing at home.

“Committed,” she said, hoping to make him understand.

“You should be,” he frowned.

A few months after that, she came home from work to find a note on the kitchen table telling her he’d moved out. She put the note back down on the table and sat stiffly in her chair, staring at the folded paper for a long time. She knew her habits were strange, but she believed some of them were among her best qualities. She didn’t understand why Donald got so irritated when he found her refolding the laundry before putting it away or when she stayed home every night to clean the house, instead of going for a drive with him, or bowling, or to the movies.

She finally picked up the note again and carefully realigned the bottom edges to straighten the crooked fold. Holding the paper down with one hand, she slowly ran her finger along the top edge three times, giving it a new crease, sharp and straight right across the middle. She brought the note into the spare bedroom where she kept her filing cabinet and she put it in the front of the folder labeled, ‘Ford, Donald.’ Then she went back to the kitchen to make herself dinner.

Eleanor worked even harder after that, sometimes getting so involved in a task she wouldn’t check her watch until an hour or two after her shift was over. She’d just shake her head and smile at her good fortune. Even if she had created her dream job, it could not have been a more perfect fit than the one she had.

She was not quite as well suited for the bookstore. Her supervisors often pushed her to make more sales or to work faster, but she was grateful for the job and for the opportunity to keep working with her beloved books and her customers.

She missed the Library, though, especially this time of year when they were swamped with donations, volunteers, and preparations for the summer book sale. She was standing at the Customer Service Desk with a distant smile on her face, lost in her memories, when she realized someone was talking to her.

“Excuse me, ma’am?” the male voice said a second time, trying to get her attention. Eleanor looked up, slightly startled, taking a moment to bring herself into the present. “Yes?” she said cheerily.

“Where’s the bathroom?”

“Oh, dear,” she said. “Back left corner.” She smiled and pointed him in the right direction.

© Olivia Tejeda and Liv Loves Lit, 2008-2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Olivia Tejeda and Liv Loves Lit with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.