Tuesday Night

It was a Tuesday night, and we were out drinking at the box. My days off were Wednesday and Thursday, so it was my weekend at that point, but it didn’t really matter much in those days; I didn’t start work until after noon most days, so every night was beer o’clock. On the corner, out front of the convenient store, there was this… I dunno, I think it was some sort of electrical or phone switching box, about waist-high, coated in some sort of hard, stippled green paint. There was a fence of aluminum tubing, just short of waist-high, on three sides of it, spaced such that if you were leaning on the fence, the box was the perfect height and distance away to put your beer and your snacks.

No open container laws, so we called it “the box,” and met there every night. Across the sidewalk, there was a trash-can that we’d sometimes use to play at “throw the empties away.”

Drunken gaijin playing beer-can basketball on the sidewalk.

I don’t think I’d been there long that night when my phone played the little section of MIDI Bach that I used to have as a ringtone.

“Ohmygod, are you watching the NYC live news?? Two planes just hit the world trade center. bush says terrorism”

Huh.

I really thought I had more to say when I started typing this, but we all know the rest of the story.

In a year, some young person in the United States is going to raise their right hand and swear away the next four years, or however much less is granted them, of their lives. Someone who has never drawn breath while the towers stood.

Yeah, that’s all.

Watching

Emma was a difficult baby. She’d fuss, but when I tried to get her to nurse, she’d just turn her head away. If I pushed her too long, she’d begin to howl, a sound that started out low and built into a scream of defiance, “ananananananaNANANA!” and when she finally ate a little, it seemed like she’d spit half of it back up when I burped her.

Still, it didn’t mean much to me at the time. She was my first, so I figured it was just a baby thing. There couldn’t be anything wrong with her, she was my perfect little girl.

She loved playing with her dolls. There was Parker the dog, and Runny Bunny, and a plush R2-D2 that was, inexplicably, named Tom, but the one she refused to be separated from was a big-headed, hollow-eyed terrycloth ragdoll named Annie. To this day, I don’t know where that damned doll came from, I just found it in her crib one day. Todd denied having anything to do with it, but when I took it away, Emma went ballistic, screaming like I’d never heard before.

So the doll stayed.

When she was four, she asked me if it was true that the pork chops we were having were “piggies”, and, upon learning that they were, declared herself a “vegabularian.” Annie had taught her the word, she said.

She said Annie would be angry if she ate piggies and moo-cows.

It was a struggle, but we finally managed to banish Annie from the dinner table. Emma said it didn’t matter, Annie was watching, and would always know.

When she went to kindergarten, I put my foot down and said that Annie had to stay home or she might get lost. On the forms, I left the “Special Dietary Requirements / Allergies” box blank.

She came home with a note from her teacher. She’d refused lunch, saying that Annie didn’t want her to eat it.

Every day, every meal, became a struggle. She went from being a vegetarian to a vegan by the time she was seven, and then, when she was nine, she learned about celiac.

From Annie.

Even the most carefully prepared meals went unfinished; we’d find hidden napkins full of things we thought she’d eaten. She grew dangerously thin. The counseling helped, but only for a while.

We did our best. It wasn’t good enough.

And when she died, we found her notebooks, notebooks going back years, full of drawings of big-headed, hollow-eyed girls, with a list of “The Thin Commandments,” a horrorshow of self-hating nonsense about starving yourself pretty, starving until your ribs show, never being skinny enough, and the phrases “Ana is watching me, Ana is always watching me,” written over and over on the pages.

Emma is gone now, but the little hollow-eyed girl is still there.

Todd tells me to eat, and I know I should, but I don’t feel very hungry anymore.

Because she’s watching me. Ana is always watching.

 

*I’m happy to announce that this story was the winner of the 43rd Flash Fiction contest at Writingforums.org

Missed Connections

So there was that guy that you killed.

You wanted to say that there were a bunch of people alive today who wouldn’t have been, but for you, but then you realized you put down that headset twenty-odd years ago.

Long enough ago that you not only don’t remember the day, but you’re not even sure of the year.

And some of them might be, probably are, dead by now.

So there were a bunch of people whose lives lasted longer than they might have because of you, and the one guy that you kind of killed.

You know it went down in your record, and, if you remember correctly, you were even punished for it.

You hate Picasso, and Joan Miro’s stuff belongs in the trash next to the fridge, to save the space for better artists whose medium includes macaroni and spray paint, but one of those fuckers did impressionism, or expressionism, or stuff that records the feelings imparted by a scene while completely rejecting the accuracy of the scene itself.

Probably Picasso, with those fucked up doodles of cows meant to evoke a Fascist napalm attack.

Whatever, the point is, if you want to understand what it is to work 9-1-1, you need to watch two horribly inaccurate movies, and one of them isn’t even about “public safety dispatch”, although it is.

There are two accurate points in Martin Scorcese’s “Bringing Out the Dead”. One is that there is, indeed, a city called Yew Nork in Damnerica.

The other is that there are ambulances.

You know this from experience; you passed through LaGuardia once, on your way to Chicago.

Which is, if you recall correctly, the setting for “Pushing Tin”.

Also, you worked for a 9-1-1 agency for more than long enough to get certified, and just short of long enough to get fired.

That is all, all other “(n)ames, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.”

But watching these two movies with your factual eyes off and your third eye open, gives very clear and accurate view of what life behind the phone, on the other end of the radio is when everyone you talk to is having the worst day of their lives and for you, it’s only Monday and you’re juggling a 12×12 panel of phone lines, and you’ve got three monitors, a foot pedal, a pushbutton, and a headset.

And one day a little girl calls in. A few hours ago, her sister got into an argument with their mom, took her schoolbag, and ran out the door crying. A nice man just came by the apartment with her bag; he found it where the tollway meets the state route and thought it might be lost. So you put in the ticket and your coworker dispatches the appropriate officer to take the report and the phone rings and it’s another call, a traffic accident, a barking dog, a man beating his wife to a pulp with the phone as she’s crying for help, and one of your units is on a traffic stop and another is stopping by the school and a third is rattling door handles downtown.

But about that guy you killed. It was a fight in a parking lot in the middle of the night, and you didn’t get enough information, didn’t ask about weapons and the stab wounds from the broken beer bottle killed him. You weren’t the only one to take a call on it, but you got less than the minimum and put in the ticket, moved on to the next call, took a suspension day or so later on, but they ruled it a justifiable homicide, which is the legal system’s way of saying everyone is better off with him dead, so you spent your suspension day having a beer with a coworker whose regular days off you didn’t share.

That other call though, the one with the little girl. You did everything right that time, got all the data, put in the ticket, but she and her sister are still gone, gone, gone except for when you wake up twenty-four years later, give or take, and wonder.

Training Day

A little bit of humor, with a bit of horror. This was written in response to a challenge to write a story with 237 words. Use the words: cart, blades, showmanship, and towels.

Look, kid, teppanyaki cooking’s got very little to do with cooking. If you done your job right, the guests’ll never notice how the food tastes, only the prep. I been here five years now, but don’t worry, coupla weeks and you’ll have it down.

First, in the kitchen, make sure your cart’s got everything you need. Checklist: Cutlery, oil, spices. Careful, them knives got blades that are sharper than God. Show you how to keep ’em that way later.

Next thing is the uniform. Make sure the hat fits right, too small and it’ll tip right off your head, too loose and boom, it’s a blindfold. Ditto for the jacket, that pocket’s gotta stay open nice and wide for the shrimp tail catch. I’ll teach ya that one later. Aright, let’s head out to a table and get in some practice.

Like I said before, it’s not about what you make, it’s about the showmanship; every move comes with a tap on the table. Get a rhythm going; place and tap, salt and tap, cut and tap, see? Okay, with me. One and two and shrimp down, spatula tap, salt the shrimp, salt shaker tap, shaker down, spatula tap, flip the shrimp, fork tap, spear the shrimp, knife tap, cut the shrim…

Shit, somebody get me some towels and call 9-1-1. And get that finger off the grill and into some ice. God I hate training days….

Irregular Updates

Well, this blog isn’t all that old, and when I started it I promised I’d update every Monday. I’ve been pretty good about that promise, but there are some family health issues going on that are taking up a lot of my time.

I’ll be updating when I’m able, and notifying (both) of my readers through the usual channels of Facebook and Twitter (@iain_aschendale).

Thanks for your patience.

Unpleasant dreams.

-Iain

Delayed Update

Right, this last week has been a difficult one, and I’ve got a lot of work to do to get ready for next week, so today’s update is going to be delayed for some time. I know both my regular readers will be crushed to hear it, but I promise to have new stuff up as soon as possible.

-Iain

Four Gallons

600px-Gunto_type_98

Japanese Type 98 shin-gunto. Source: Wikipedia

This is a true story that I always thought was funny.

Then I looked up the casualty figures.

 

When I was growing up, my dad had a Japanese katana* hanging over the fireplace. He’d take it down from time to time and pull it from its metal scabbard, the curved steel blade shiny and smooth with gun oil, except near the tip, where there was a dark blemish that no amount of oiling or polishing would remove. Dad told me that my grandfather, who had served in the Navy during WWII, had captured it in the Pacific.

He said the stain was probably blood.

Grandpa had been a Lt. Commander, captaining a destroyer escort, and when we went to visit him, he’d tell, in between pulls from his whiskey and drags from the foul little cigars he chain-smoked, stories of the war. The stories were often long, rambling, and didn’t include any fighting, but it’s not only the combat vets who face PTSD. He was just twenty-seven years old when he’d been placed in charge of 198 officers and men in the largest naval conflict the world has even seen, and the faces of his brother officers who hadn’t made it back came up through the mists of time and alcoholism more often than I could understand at twelve years old.

One day I asked him about the sword.

“Captured it on Saipan,” he said, “We were escorting the gyrenes coming in, and I went in once it was over.” He ordered another drink. “I got onto the beach, and there were these dead Japs just everywhere, so I figured I’d grab myself a couple of souvenirs, but the Marines weren’t having any of it. I suppose…”

He got quiet for a while, staring off into the past, but the arrival of the waiter brought him back around, and he downed half of the fresh drink. “There were a lot of dead Americans on that beach too. Lotta good men died there. So I saw that sword laying right next to a dead Jap, and I was going to take it when this big Marine came up and stopped me. No way he was going to let some Navy officer just grab a prize that his buddies had died for.”

I was too young to imagine the scene, so I just nodded. “But anyway, I wanted that sword, so I pointed out to where my ship was.”

“’You see that ship, sergeant?’ I said. ‘That’s my ship, I’m the captain.’” He lit up another cigar. “’You gotta understand, it was hot there, real hot, and those jarheads had been fighting for ages, so I told him ‘That ship’s got an ice cream maker on board. Whaddya say I give you and your boys four gallons of ice cream in trade for letting us take a couple souvenirs off this beach?’”

He died a few years later, when I was still too young to enlist, and I hope he doesn’t mind that the sword has found its way back into the hands of a Marine, four gallons or not.

*The sword in question is not what one thinks of when the word “katana” is mentioned. It is, as far as I can determine, a Japanese Type 98 Shin-gunto, a mass produced weapon issued to non-commissioned officers as a mark of rank as much as anything else, with no markings that could be used to identify the soldier to whom it originally belonged. Had he ended his war someplace other than the Yasukuni shrine, it would have, like my grandfather’s ship, been returned to the government and melted down for scrap.

Chat

Have you ever wondered if you’ve been someplace, or seen a friend, for the last time? I mean, I hear all these stories about, you know, couples having an argument and he storms out, then gets hit by lightning or a drunk driver or something, and she’s plagued for the rest of her life with the knowledge that the last thing they did together was argue.

Or places you’d like to go, things you’d like to see, maybe for the first time, maybe one more time. The whole bucket list thing. I’ve never been to Europe, for example. Nothing I particularly want to see there, but it seems kind of, well, off that I’ve been around so many places, most of the US, Canada, Japan Korea China Australia freaking Istanbul. I mean, yeah, I guess Istanbul is technically Europe, but you don’t really think of it as such, do you? Anyway, yeah, Mexico, Malaysia, I’ve ridden the Trans-Siberian Railway, but I’ve never been to, like, the real Europe. Paris. Germany. The Vatican. I feel like I should go there, should start making plans, and that’s the key, you have to plan things, you’re not going to just accidentally take the wrong exit on the freeway and end up in Dusseldorf, are you? I mean, not unless you live near Dusseldorf, duh.

My point is, you have to live your life, you can’t just go stumbling about hoping that good things are going to happen. Every day before I go to work, I make sure to kiss my wife, so that if anything should happen to either of us, the other will always have that one last good memory. Every day I’m thinking about what I want to do next, how I’m going to improve myself, through study, or travel, or just new experiences.

Like, the wife and I are going scuba diving in Okinawa in two weeks. Never done it before, and it looks fun, so we’re off on a mini-vacation. I mean, it can be dangerous, there’s the slight possibility that I could drown, but at least I’ll be doing something new. Heck, I might get hit by a bus on the way to the beach, might never get to go, life can be a real bitch sometimes.

What about you, got any plans? No? Don’t worry, it’s okay because even if you’d had, well, yeah….

I could tell you that this’ll be quick, and it won’t hurt, but we’d both know I was lying, wouldn’t we?

I’m glad we had this talk.

Abuse

I had really hoped to write something totally new for the site this week, and I was making a good start when I got sidetracked by something that’s threatening to turn into a novel. I may post some excerpts later on, but for now, here’s a light-hearted tale of child abuse. Believe it or not, no trigger warnings this time.

 

John sat at the kitchen table, flipping idly through the local paper on his tablet while Mandy busied herself at the blender getting breakfast ready. “Here you go, hon,” she said, putting the protein shake in front of him. “Um, John? What we talked about last night?”

“Mm, thanks,” he said, reaching for the tall, slightly pinkish shake without taking his eyes from the screen. “Yep, I think it could be a good idea. Doing some research right now.” He raised the glass to his lips, took a swallow, and started to cough and choke. “Ugh, oh god, no-,” putting his hand to his mouth, he shot up, overturning his chair, and rushed to the bathroom, the sound of his retching into the toilet coming clearly down the hall.

“John, what is it? Was it the shake? I know strawberry isn’t your favorite, but they were out of-”

“No, that’s not it.” He emerged from the bathroom, wiping his mouth on a small towel. “The things people will do to their….well, just look,” he said, handing her the tablet and pointing.

“Free to good home, healthy Caucasian baby boy, blond hair, eyes still blue at 6 mos., birth weight-”

“No, down at the bottom. Look,” he pointed, “right here.”

“Circumcised, poor thing, and….oh, no…..Okay Google” she said, and waited for the microphone icon to flash, “Child Protective Services, Monroe County.” As the new window opened, she looked at her husband with tears in her eyes. “The things people will do to a poor, innocent child. I hope they throw those parents and the doctor in jail for a long, long time. Vaccinated?”

Roses

In Japan, the story that inspired this is filed in the “Romance” section, which is far more disturbing than anything I could write.

Also, I should probably put some trigger warnings on this one.

Done.

 

He could feel water from the sodden grass of the cemetery soaking slowly into his shoes. Father Dunn, his soft voice almost drowned out by the patter of rain on umbrellas, was murmuring about the Lord’s mysterious choice to take Dolly to his bosom so early.

He twirled the flower idly in his hand. She’d been captain of the St. Mary’s Junior High Roses, the girls’ soccer team, and the local florist had donated several hundred of them for the mourners to place on her coffin. Moving his eyes upward from the polished wood casket suspended over the damp cut in the earth, his gaze met that of John Farr, the sheriff’s department’s sole detective. The deputy gave a tight smile by way of greeting, and resumed his slow scan, looking for any sign that that could reveal the identity of the person responsible for the mangled and violated corpse about to be interred.

While the adults in the crowd were wearing dark clothes and carrying black umbrellas, those of the students, in their school uniforms, were mostly of the cheap transparent variety. The Roses were easily identifiable by their blue jerseys, worn over their navy-blue blazers, and the scabbed knees which shown beneath their plaid skirts. Jenny, the assistant captain, all angles and elbows, took shelter beneath a garish yellow umbrella, incongruous. In her free hand she held another blue jersey, which she spread on the coffin as the priest neared the conclusion of the ceremony.

Hayes.
1

“May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace.”

One by one, Dolly’s classmates filed past to lay their roses on the coffin. He felt a sudden pain in his thumb, and lifted his hand. A drop of blood, released by an unnoticed thorn, dripped onto the soft pink petals of the flower. Crossing himself, he set the stained blossom gently down on the jersey, next to her name. As those assembled headed slowly to the parking lot, he noticed a lone dandelion, somehow unscathed, in the grass next to the grave. It seemed out of place in the solemn scene, and he reached down, plucking it out of the ground.

“Coach H?” He hadn’t realized that he was the only one still standing there. “The girls and I are going to get some lunch. Would you join us? It’d be good for them.”

“Lunch?” His eyes moved from the bright yellow umbrella and its owner to Sister Charlotte’s concerned face. “Yes, lunch, that’s a good idea, thank you.”

His hands, of their own accord, ceased their toying, and dropped the dandelion into the grave.