Lower My Mace?

Turned out the drunk who hollered “$20 to blow this” was referring to his dashboard breathalyzer.

Didn’t immediately lower my mace, though.

“Lower My Mace?” was originally published by One Forty Fiction in 2012.

Honeysuckle

Feelers first – that’s the way the honeysuckle vines grew over the chain link, groping blindly for something to cling to.

Feelers first – that’s the way they grew. And that’s the way she cut them down.

The multicolored beads of rubber on her white work gloves looked like sprinkles on frosting, but there was no sweetness in the way the hands they covered ripped the vines away from the fence then severed them with a pink-handled pair of scissors. We hadn’t lived in the craftsman bungalow long enough to have acquired authentic garden shears.

“They’re seasonal,” I protested. “Like the tree.”

I pointed up at the jacaranda that shaded the sidewalk, its foliage withering like the fronds of a fern dying of thirst in the corner of a dimly lit bar.

“They’re dead,” Heidi insisted, swiping a dismissive hand through a cluster of brittle, heart-shaped honeysuckle leaves.

I worried my knuckles across the ridge of wire twists ­– worn smooth and dark by the oil of sliding fingers ­– crowning the waist-high fence in front of the house painted to match the ocean that lapped against the base of the bluffs a half-a-dozen blocks down. Rubbing one of the vines between thumb and forefinger, I thought about how the fine, soft hairs resembled the ones at the base of Heidi’s neck. I leaned across the fence to impulsively plant a kiss on them.

She stiffened. Took a step back and hitched up the faded jeans that had once fit her hips so snugly. Heidi had been spending more and more of her time at the gym lately – maybe because she was getting tired of spending it with me; maybe because she was getting ready to spend it with someone else.

“That’s dead, too,” she said, wiping away the wet imprint my lips.

“Dead? We just signed a thirty-year mortgage thirty days ago, Heidi. Don’t you think it’s a little too soon to pull the plug?”

“It had been on life support for a long time, Charlie. Buying the house was like … what do they call them in living wills? Those measures you don’t want your life to be prolonged by?”

“‘Heroic,’” I spat, “although that’s hardly the adjective I’d use to describe your actions.”

“Whatever,” she said, retreating into the house.

I looked down at my fingers, which had curled around the chain link. Like most things between us at that point, it was merely utilitarian ­– practical, not pretty. But that stark structure had nevertheless become a trellis for something beautiful, something that had insinuated itself into spaces where nothing had been meant to grow.

As I reached out to open the gate, I noticed how the honeysuckle had climbed over the hinges, but not the latch. She could still get out.

“Honeysuckle” was originally published by Fewer Than 500 in 2015.

‘Uniform First’

He starts to slide my last paycheck across the top of his desk. He stops halfway. “Uniform first.”

Sliding it toward him, I take a last look at the word stitched into it before he snatches it away: “Security.”

“Uniform First” was originally published by The Binnacle in 2012 after earning an honorable mention in its Ninth Annual Ultra-Short Competition.

Like Godzilla

Like Godzilla, I stumbled down a street lined with skyscrapers. They tumbled down as if they were made of blocks. Which they were.

My son looked up from the floor, horrified.

Only then did I realize how much damage I could do in his world.

“Like Godzilla” was originally published by Postcard Shorts in 2014.

First Contact

When the aliens arrived, we asked the scientists to figure out what they had come for first.

We asked the science fiction writers next.

We should have asked the poets sooner. They came for love.

“First Contact” was originally published in 2018 by Cuento Magazine, which has retweeted it as one of eight stories from its first eight years as part of its anniversary celebration.

 

Angels Flight

“This isn’t working,” I admitted. “Not anymore.”

Heidi and I stood next to the gate at the bottom of what the dog-eared guidebook we had purchased when we decided to move to Southern California assured us was “The Shortest Railway in the World.” Riding it was the only item on the guidebook’s list of “The Top 25 Things to Do in Los Angeles” that we hadn’t checked off.

As the sun set, however, none of the dozen light bulbs lining the arch that topped the pillars at the station on Hill Street turned on. Painted in black on orange, the two words at its pinnacle – Angels Flight – threatened to disappear into the twilight. The twin funicular cars sat, stalled, at opposite ends of the approximately 300-foot track to the top of Bunker Hill.

“I told you our guidebook was out of date,” Heidi sighed. Leaning against the peeling paint of one of the pillars, she slipped her smartphone out of her pants pocket. After tapping out Angels Flight on its touchscreen, she hit the Search button on its web browser.

“According to this article in the Times, the National Transportation Safety Bureau shut down the Angels Flight after a quote-unquote ‘minor derailment’ a few weeks ago,” she summarized. “Apparently, the operators were using a tree branch to hold down the start button.”

“Why?”

As she attempted to scroll through the article, frustration started to set in. “Hold on, hold on, my signal isn’t strong here…. The use of the stick appears to have been an attempt on the part of the operators to, to … override a safety system that had detected a problem.”

I looked down at the guidebook in my hand. “Just trying to ignore the problem, to go through the motions – up the hill, down the hill, up the hill, down the hill, up the hill—”

“Yes, then down the hill,” she snapped. “I see the pattern, Charlie. But what was the point of it? Why up and down this hill, day after day?”

In the deepening darkness, I squinted at the description of the Angels Flight in our guidebook. “When it was built in 1901, Bunker Hill was a fancy neighborhood full of prosperous people whose homes were at the top of the hill and whose jobs were at the bottom of the hill. Before all the affluent folks abandoned downtown for the suburbs, the Angels Flight used to make 400 trips a day up the hill—”

“Yes, then down the hill,” she sighed. “Why are we still here, Charlie?”

“You mean, why is the Angels Flight still here?”

“No, I mean why are we still here, in Los Angeles?”

“Because we haven’t done all ‘The Top 25 Things to Do in Los Angeles’ yet?” I flourished the foldout checklist tucked inside the cover of the guidebook. The 24 checkmarks weren’t all in the same color ink. Hell, they weren’t even all checkmarks – a couple of the boxes had Xs in them, instead; one was simply filled in neatly, like an answer on the form for a standardized test. But that wasn’t the answer she wanted.

Without a word, Heidi tore the checklist out of the guidebook. Ripped it apart.

As she shredded it, I suddenly understood that checklist had become our tree branch – an attempt to override our problems. Since we had decided last weekend to ride the Angels Flight, to check the last item off the list, I had had the words of “Angel From Montgomery” – the live version that John Prine and Bonnie Raitt duet on – in my mind. All week, I has assumed the connection to our visit to the Angels Flight was simply the “angel that flies” in the chorus.

Make me an angel that flies from Montgomery.

Make me a poster of an old rodeo.

Just give me one thing that I can hold on to.

To believe in this living is just a hard way to go….

But the words that came to my mind at that moment, the ones from the last verse, those were the ones that truly mattered.

And I ain’t done nothing

Since I woke up today.

How the hell can a person

Go to work in the morning

And come home in the evening

And have nothing to say?

Heidi and I had nothing left to say to one another, had nothing left to do with one another. Without that checklist, we had nothing left.

Silent at last, we stared at one another for what felt like a long time. Finally, she looked down at the wreckage of the guidebook.

“I never meant to stay,” she whispered.

I nodded. “You just meant to be a tourist.”

Here, at last, was our delayed derailment. Like the Angels Flight, we weren’t working. Not anymore.

“Angels Flight” was originally published by the Journal of Microliterature in 2015.