“You’re not hearing me,” he said.
“You won’t let it go.” She scrubbed the plate in the sink, rinsed it and scrubbed again. It was already clean.
“Why should I have to just let it go? It’s a thing you did.”
“You want me to say I’m sorry. OK, I’m saying — “
“Be sorry. Say whatever the hell you want, but be sorry.”
“I am saying ‘I’m sorry’. I am saying it.”
She soaped the sponge again, scrubbed the same clean plate.
“Stop doing the dishes.”
“So that’s it then?”
“I don’t know what you want me to say.”
What they knew: only that the party ended late after dinner, dessert and drinks with Tom and Linda mad at each other again. No one knew the reasons why. Only that when his hand went to her throat and she ran up the stairs and he cursed her and poured another drink they all made their apologies and they left. No one knew the reasons why. Only that Tom was found on the front lawn in the morning. He may have fallen from the window. And two weeks later, Linda: Closed garage, running car. No one knew the reasons why.
“Bruce, I talked to her.”
“And? What did she say?”
“That she doesn’t want you back. That you don’t respect her.”
“That’s not true. She’s the mother of my kids. How could she say I don’t respect her?”
“Yeah, well I asked her about that. I didn’t want to, by the way. But you asked me to.”
“I know. I want to hear it. What does she mean I don’t respect her?”
“She said ‘sometimes I had hard days and I wanted Bruce to say what can I do for you.’”
“No. You said ‘what’s wrong with you.’”
We serve “endless crinkle-cut fries”. Guys’ll come in here, say “that mean the fries are infinitely long?” Or if they’re the dumber ones say “How ‘bout you taste my endless crinkle-cut fry, hun?” Smart or dumb it’s always the guys. And like I’ve never heard that before, right? Only there was one time, this couple comes in, young kids, dog of a boy, beautiful girl. Clearing plates I hear her, “when this dinner is done, we’re done,” she says. But the boy ordered the endless crinkle-cuts. He tried. Really tried. Five, six baskets. You feel for a boy like that.
1975, this was. My wife points out marriage should be a partnership. “This home is not, in fact, your castle,” she said. She thought it best I start with an unskilled job. She gave me grocery shopping. There I am one day at the IGA, studying the list she’d given me. I’m asking the cashier, “TP? She wrote TP. You know what that means?” The cashier blinks. Then I hear behind me a big, gravel voice: “Jesus! That’s toilet paper you dumb shit!” I look back and there’s old Tom Wilson with a full cart and his wife’s list too.
His mother would not fly to meet her grandsons when they were born and he could not afford to fly to her. When they were four and three he tried to drive them to her. The engine exploded in Fond Du Lac. They spent three days at the Motel 6 pool waiting for repairs and then came home. When they were five and four he tried again. The engine died in Fond Du Lac. Motel 6, repairs, home. He took it as a sign. She could come to them, but nothing good could come of delivering his boys to her.
How many words does it take to make a story? Hemingway did it in six: “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.” I’ve done a handful here in 100 words each — no more, no fewer. The short short, some call it. Sudden fiction. I’ve always liked pencil sketches – the way a few lines can excite my imagination to fill in the rest of the picture. These short shorts are word sketches. The story must get to the point and the writer has to choose only those essential elements necessary to excite a reader’s imagination to fill in the rest of the story.