Archive for the ‘Short Stories’ Category

The Pull

by Joshua Malone

Originally published in SAGA Magazine Vol. 76 Spring 2013

Recipient of Best in Prose Award

 

 

The three of them congregated in the tiny main room of the home, if you could even call it that. The house was more like a small cottage, or even a shack. It had obviously once been a nice place to live, most of the other houses on the street. Nice wood floors and actually a pretty intricate fire place mantle. But now it was falling apart. A think sheet of metal covered a gaping hole in the roof, and most of the top portion of the chimney had since crumbled away. There were only three rooms- the bathroom, the bedroom, and the main room. The latter served as kitchen, dining room, and lounging room all in one. The once nice wood flooring was beginning to rot away in certain spots, giving way every now and again. But such was the fate of every house in this portion of Queens. People living here couldn’t afford the upkeep needed, nor could they afford to move anywhere else. So they just stayed, and continued hating their lives.

Connor, the oldest at thirteen years old, stood facing his brother Jeffery who was sitting in a chair. Jeffery was ten years old.  Their sister Clementine was the youngest at eight, and she stood by Connor’s side. In the chair Jeffery sat, fidgeting and clutching his jaw with tears rolling down his face. For the last week he had complained of a toothache. Their mother had examined him, and found a small hole in one of his back teeth. She promised that she’d bring home enough money by the end of the week to pay for a trip to the dentist… like she often promised bringing home enough money for things. But she wasn’t here right now, in the middle of the day. She was at work, or at least trying to find work. The three of them were left at home, and while typically they may be out enjoying the nice Saturday off of school they had this current problem at hand.

When he had gotten up, Jeffery had went into the main room and sitting on the table was four pieces of tack bread for breakfast that mom had made for them, as was often the case. One for each of them, and one for mom later on in case she couldn’t get any other food to bring home. Instead of waiting for his siblings to get up with him, Jeff went to work on his piece right away. As he ate it though, and chewed the hard dough, he suddenly felt a crack in his mouth followed by a searing pain.

That was what Connor had woken up to.  Jeffery crying in pain. His tooth, the one with the hole in it, had cracked almost straight through.  And for the first hour they had no clue what to do. Clementine suggested a trip to the dentist, and Connor explained that they didn’t have the money. Clem thought that maybe the dentist would be in a helping mood today, and said that they should try anyway. Connor had smiled at her, but just ended up shaking his head. Nobody was ever in a giving mood. Not anymore. Connor debated going out and looking for mom, but he decided against that. They needed the money. Which left it all on him.

Connor stood before his brother with a stone face. Jeffery was sobbing, and hunched over. On the ground was a giant wet spot where Jeffery had spat a thimble of gin out. Connor had gotten it from mom’s “hidden” bottle that she only took out not more than once a week. He figured maybe it would help, but once it had hit the tooth Jeff just howled and let the liquid pour out of his mouth, making a mess.

“Clem,” Connor began in a hushed tone as he lowered himself down to one knee and looking at her. “You love Jeffery right?” She just nodded her head. “Well, when I say so I want you to show him how much you love him by giving in a big hug and not letting go until I say so. Okay?” She nodded her head again. “Make sure you wrap around his arms, okay?” She had a confused look, but nodded a third time. Conner got back up and faced his brother again. As he did he reached into his back pocket. Jeffery looked up and saw his older brother grasping for something behind his back. “Clem, give him the hug” Connor said calmly.

Clementine trotted forward and wrapped her arms around her brother and squeezed him. Jeffery, caught off guard looked down at his sister. Then he heard two loud footsteps and as he looked up Connor was already behind him, putting his hand on Jeffery’s forehead and tilting it backwards while the other hand lifted a pair of pliers.

 

 

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ROOM 125

by Joshua Malone

Originally published by SAGA Magazine Vol. 77 Spring 2014 – Page 44

Recipient of the Barbra Anderson Miller Award

 

 

      God, I don’t want to be here.

Benjamin O’Neill walked through the brightly lit hallways. The scent of antibacterial soaps and talcum powder flooded his nostrils. He hated this place. He never wanted to visit. He hated seeing these people; he hated seeing the ugly yellow wallpaper and the even uglier shag rug. Christ, he thought. The south wing got a renovation last year. When will they finally update this wing? At twenty five years old Ben still lived in Bourbonnais, Illinois which is where he grew up. He even attended the local college, where he graduated from a little over three years ago.  As selfish as it seemed, he really had wanted to move north after graduation, but he couldn’t find it within himself to do it yet, and he wasn’t going to move with mom. So he stayed in the area, continuing to make these visits.

Down the hall he could see his destination, room 125. In his left hand he carried three bags of groceries. One bag had a gallon of milk, bread, and soups. The last one had cheese, peanut butter, bananas, apples, and a pack of Oreos. He passed an open area where two elderly gentlemen sat watching an episode of Matlock. Ben saw one of them look up from the television, staring at him as he continued down the hallway.

There was a moment of silence before he heard movement from the other side and somebody finally called out.

“Yes? Did someone knock?”

“Yeah, it’s me, Ben. I brought you your groceries.”

“Come in then.”

Ben opened the door and stepped inside the dimly lit room. The change in lighting caused him to blink and squint his eyes, allowing for his vision to readjust. The room had a fifteen by ten foot area, with a door that led into a smaller room that served as a bedroom. There was also a small bathroom that could be accessed from the bedroom.

In the corner of the room, sitting at a desk, sat a man hunched over a type writer. The lamp on the desk was the only source of light for the room besides the sunlight trying to peek in through the shade covered window. The figure at the desk leaned back in his chair and peered through the darkness.

“Who is that?” the man asked.

“Ben.”

“Flip the light; I can’t see a damn thing.”

Ben reached across the wall beside him and turned on the room light, forcing his eyes to readjust again.  “Then what are you sitting in the dark for, dad?”

Samuel O’Neill, a scruffy looking man in his early sixties, sat at the desk with a confused look, mouth slightly agape as he looked at Ben through the glasses that rested on the bridge of his nose. Ben walked forward a few steps before Samuel cleared his throat.

“What are… oh, Mitch. I didn’t know it was you. What do you have there?”

“I’m Ben, dad.”

“Oh.”

Ben walked towards the small fridge that sat next to a big arm chair facing a TV which rested on a table opposite the desk his father was currently sitting at. He opened the fridge and looked inside. There were at least six partially drank bottles of water, along with three unopened cans of RC soda. Nothing else. Ben set the bags on the chair and started removing the unfinished water bottles.

“You going to finish these?” Ben asked.

“No, just pitch them.”

“Okay.”

“What do you have with you?”

“Same things I always get you dad. Milk, soup, stuff like that. You can make the soup in the new microwave I got…” Ben looked around. Where is it? Sitting behind the TV was the microwave, still in the box. I knew I should have set it up for him.  “I’ll set it up for you in a minute. Do you need more water?”

“No, I still have two cases I think, in the room.”

“I’ll check in a minute. I wish you’d just use that water bottle I got you.”

The old man did not reply, and instead turned towards the typewriter again. Ben looked over as he began to place the contents of the bags he had into the fridge. On the desk there lay a stack of papers maybe an inch thick; Samuel was at least half way down the page he was currently working on. But under the desk a mesh trashcan was overflowing with half-finished pages.

“Dad, I’m going to put the peanut butter, cookies, and bananas in your cupboard.” Along the wall, above a dresser was a small wooden cupboard.

“’Kay.”

Ben finished unpacking the items, closed the door, and walked over to the boxed microwave. He lifted the box and brought it over to the arm chair. As he opened the box he could hear Samuel typing away one letter at a time on his typewriter.

“How’s the writing coming along, dad?”

“Oh, you know. Slowly but surely.” Samuel looked back over at Ben. Ben removed the microwave, and then set it on top of the fridge.  Samuel’s  gaze went to the floor where he saw all of the bottles of water scattered around.

“Dad, all you have to do is turn the dial on this one, remember? You don’t have to press any buttons or anything. Just turn the dial here to the number of minutes or seconds that it needs to be cooked and-”

“What are those bottles doing out? Why are they on the floor?”

“Dad, I just asked you if you want me to get rid of them.”

“No Mi-, Ben. No, please just put them back into the fridge. I – I mean you can see that I haven’t finished them.”

“I know, sorry. I’ll put them away in a second.”

Benjamin got to his feet, grabbing the bottles and headed towards the bedroom.  The bed was messy, which wasn’t abnormal nowadays. Ben could remember when his parents were together; dad always made the bed. Mom would always get pissed if he forgot, since he was stuck at home all day anyway. Samuel had been on disability since Ben was in seventh grade. Mom had been a daily stimulant that helped him remember simple tasks like making the bed, which this “assisted living” facility was supposed to do as well, but that was utter bullshit. They don’t help at all. And Samuel didn’t want to move again, so here he remained. But this wasn’t living. All Samuel was doing day in and day out was sitting at that desk, typing away, trying to remember the past and figure out the present.

Ben looked around the room. On the headboard rested Samuel’s leather bible, collecting dust next to the phone.  That was another thing Samuel used to do all the time, read his bible. But Ben couldn’t recall the last time he’d seen his father doing daily devotionals. He wasn’t sure if it was from lack of faith (which really he couldn’t blame his father for, all things considered,) or if it was because the bible had just become another thing that confused him. Really can’t blame him for that either. I get confused reading it too.

In the corner of the room there was only one case of water left and it had already been opened. He didn’t bother to see how many were left, but made a mental note to himself to get a few more packs of water before his next visit, as he headed to the bathroom with the bottles. Ben heard the typing stop.

“How’s your mom, Mitch?” Samuel asked from the other room. “She find a place yet?”

“Dad, she’s been in Defiance for three years now. You know that. And I’m Ben.”

“Oh, yeah. Well I’m sure she’s good. I wish she’d visit more.” The typing continued.

She placed him here, and that was the summer before Ben started college. She stayed in the area and visited every now and again but after the accident happened she stopped visiting all together.  That was Ben’s junior year of college.  She felt like there was “nothing left to visit.”  He just got worse after that. Samuel had essentially shut down mentally after the accident. That wasn’t true, it was just an excuse to finally divorce herself from the situation… which was her right, Ben guessed. She’d had it hard as well. But it was because of her abandonment that Ben felt he couldn’t leave.

Ben walked into the bathroom and turned on the light. One by one he began unscrewing the caps off of the lids of the bottles and started filling them up. When he was finished he came back into the front room, just as Samuel was standing up.

“I’m taking a break,” Samuel explained. “Writers block, ya’ know. And I’ve been sitting for so long, now I need to take a pee!” He gave Ben a wink and a goofy grin. Ben smiled back and moved to the fridge. “Thanks,” Samuel said, pointing to the bottles. “You get those from the room?”

“Um, yeah, dad. You didn’t have any in your fridge so I figured I’d get you some.”

“Thanks,” Samuel said again as he moved towards the bathroom.

Ben got up and walked over to the desk.  He peered down at the stack of papers, before picking them up. From the bathroom Samuel yelled out, “So you said your mother is back in Defiance?”

“Yeah, dad. Moved there after I graduated.”

“Graduated? Jesus, you finished? Already?”

“Yeah, dad,” Ben said, as he thumbed through the pages. “I’ve been done for three years now.”

“I’ll be damned.”

Ben looked at the pages. He knew that his father had been working on this memoir for a while. Samuel had started it back when Ben was in seventh grade, on a computer that they had owned. Unfortunately only a few years later the computer had crashed and none of it had been saved to any back up disks. Dad had to start from scratch.

Ben skimmed over the first page, and then the second. Then the third and the tenth. The twenty-eighth, and the thirty-fifth. He looked at the page that Samuel was currently working on. Every day he has to start from scratch.

Ben heard the toilet flush, and the faucet turn on for a few seconds before shutting back off. The older man shuffled back out into the front living area groaning.

“Oh, Mitch, it’s heck to get old.”

“Dad you ever read the pages you type?”

“Once in a while. Probably not as often as I should. Why, what’s wrong with them?”

“Well, they’re all the same. Some of the wording’s different but yeah it’s all the same. All talking about the day Mitch was born.”

Samuel smiled and looked at Ben, puzzled. “When you were born, you mean.”

“No dad, Mitch.” There was silence for a long moment before Samuel spoke again.

“Sorry, it’s just, you know you boys look the same. Could damn well be twins. Ya’ know people used to mistake you guys for twins all the time.”

“I know, dad.” Samuel started back towards the desk. “You take your meds today dad?”

“Yeah, yeah. Almost out though, I think. Need more.”

“The worker’s, or attendants, or whatever haven’t gotten you anymore?” Samuel just looked at Ben blankly. “Okay, I’ll get them for you. Mematine now, right?”

“Yeah, mime-a-whatever.” Samuel made his goofy grin again, and acted like a mime pulling a rope back to his desk. “And just pitch those, will ya’? I’ll keep working on the page I have and go from there.”

Ben leaned over and tossed all the pages in his hand away.  Samuel reached out for the chair, but Ben stopped him. “Dad,” Ben started. “Why don’t we go outside for a walk? It’s nice out. Not too cold either.”

The old man stood for a second, thinking before saying “Okay, sounds good. Let me grab my coat.”

Ben’s cell phone rang in his pocket. He took it out and saw that it was Jenny. “I’ll be out in the hall dad, I’m gonna take this call. You get your stuff , lock up and meet me.”

“Okeydoke,” Samuel said as he moved into his bedroom.

Ben left the room and answered his phone. “Hello,” he said as softly as he could. Even so he saw the two men sitting at the TV turn to glare at him and shake their heads. Ben rolled his eyes and turned away from them.

“How’s it going?” Jenny asked.

“So, so. He mistook me for Mitch a few times but that’s all. Hit another slump in his book.”

“He was doing well before, what happened?”

“I don’t know. He may have thrown out all of the other pages by accident and then lost his place. We’re gonna’ go for a walk here in a few minutes. I think it’ll do him some good to get out of the room for a bit today. Nice day and all.”

“Yeah, probably. Sorry I couldn’t come today.”

“Don’t worry ‘bout it. Next time.”

“Okay, well I just wanted to check in. Call when you’re leaving or something comes up. Love you.”

“Will do. Love you too.”

Ben pressed call end, and the phone beeped. He stuffed it back in his pocket and sighed. He watched as an attendant in scrubs walked from the room next to him back to the desk that sat in front of the main entrance doors.  A few minutes passed before Ben heard the faint sound of ticking on the other side of his father’s door. Ben blinked, confused. He entered the room.

At the desk typing away with his coat on, sat Samuel. His eyes were focused on the page wrapped around the platen. Ben stared for a moment, contemplating, and then shut the door loud enough so that Samuel could hear it. The old man turned in his chair.

“Oh, sorry, I wasn’t expecting anybody.”

“Dad, what are you doing?”

“Mitch? Oh sorry, didn’t recognize you for a second. How have you been?

“It’s Ben dad. Do you rememb-… dad, why do you have your coat on?”

Samuel sat there for a second, examining himself, and thinking. He finally responded saying, “I must have been going somewhere. You know my mind isn’t what it once was.”

“Dad, I was just here a few minutes ago; we were about to go for a walk. I only stepped outside for a minute to talk to Jenny.”

“Jenny? Ben’s Jenny? What she want with you?”  Samuel smiled. Ben took a deep breath, and walked forward.

“Dad look, I’m not-”

“How is Ben anyway? Have you heard from him? He doesn’t talk me about how college is going. I hope he’s doing okay. I wish he’d visit more.”

“Dad, I AM Ben. I’m Ben. Mitch isn’t… here.” The two stared at each other and Ben could see that Samuel did not quite comprehend what was going on. “Dad, Mitch isn’t…. Mitch is dead.” Ben breathed. “He’s gone, dad. Five years ago.”

There was a long moment of silence as Ben stood in front of his dad, with his hands stuffed in his pockets. Samuel spun slowly back to his typewriter. His hand moved up to his face and he rubbed his stubble. Finally he removed his glasses and placed them on the desk.

“Um… ho-how? How again?” Samuel asked.

Ben sighed again, and sat down in the arm chair. He looked at his father, his expression soft. “It was a car accident, off fifty-seven.” Ben watched as Samuel began to nod. The old man looked at his son, tears in his eyes.  “I’m sorry, dad.”

“No… I’m sorry, Ben. I just. I don’t know sometimes. It’s hard to… remember. God.

“I know.”

Benjamin sat there, watching his father struggle with himself. Samuel leaned back in his chair, his hands covering his face. The old man growled at himself, trying to hold back the tears and failing. Ben got up from his seat, and walked over to his dad. He leaned over and hugged him. Samuel embraced Ben; the two stayed that way for a long moment. Ben felt his father’s breathing slowly turn from sobbing breaths to deep inhales.  After a while Samuel gave Ben a quick pat on the back.

“Boy, it’s good to see you,” Samuel said, sniffing. “Feel like it’s been forever.”

“It’s good to see you too dad,” Ben said with a smile. “I love you.”

“Well, I love you son,” Samuel replied with a smile back.  Ben raised himself up and took a few steps back. He watched as his father sat there, looking at his son and then around the room blankly. With a nod of his head Samuel turned back to his desk and raised his hands towards his typewriter.

“Dad, wait,” Ben interrupted. Samuel’s head snapped towards Ben. “Do you still want to go on the walk? Remember, it’s a nice day?”

“Oh,” the old man said. He peered through the blinds. “So it is. Nah, I think I’ma stay in right now. I think I went on a walk earlier, before you got here.”

“No, we-…” Ben started, and then stopped himself. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah, positive. Look, it is a nice day out, I’m sure you’ve got better things to do than hang around your absent minded father. Go enjoy it. Besides, I’m getting some headway again on my book. Remember when I started this thing?”

“Yeah, dad. I do.” Benjamin zipped up his jacket, and turned for the door. As he turned the nob he looked back at his father, who was now busy typing away at the sheet of paper. “Love you, dad.” Then he left the room. Before the door closed behind Ben heard his father’s reply.

“Love you too, Mitch.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Pull

Posted: January 23, 2015 in Short Stories
Tags: , , ,

The Pull

By Joshua Malone

Originally Published in SAGA Magazine 2013 Spring Volume

            The three of them congregated in the tiny main room of the home, if you could even call it that. The house was more like a small cottage, or even a shack. It had obviously once been a nice place to live, most of the other houses on the street. Nice wood floors and actually a pretty intricate fire place mantle. But now it was falling apart. A think sheet of metal covered a gaping hole in the roof, and most of the top portion of the chimney had since crumbled away. There were only three rooms- the bathroom, the bedroom, and the main room. The latter served as kitchen, dining room, and lounging room all in one. The once nice wood flooring was beginning to rot away in certain spots, giving way every now and again. But such was the fate of every house in this portion of Queens. People living here couldn’t afford the upkeep needed, nor could they afford to move anywhere else. So they just stayed, and continued hating their lives.

Connor, the oldest at thirteen years old, stood facing his brother Jeffery who was sitting in a chair. Jeffery was ten years old.  Their sister Clementine was the youngest at eight, and she stood by Connor’s side. In the chair Jeffery sat, fidgeting and clutching his jaw with tears rolling down his face. For the last week he had complained of a toothache. Their mother had examined him, and found a small hole in one of his back teeth. She promised that she’d bring home enough money by the end of the week to pay for a trip to the dentist… like she often promised bringing home enough money for things. But she wasn’t here right now, in the middle of the day. She was at work, or at least trying to find work. The three of them were left at home, and while typically they may be out enjoying the nice Saturday off of school they had this current problem at hand.

When he had gotten up, Jeffery had went into the main room and sitting on the table was four pieces of tack bread for breakfast that mom had made for them, as was often the case. One for each of them, and one for mom later on in case she couldn’t get any other food to bring home. Instead of waiting for his siblings to get up with him, Jeff went to work on his piece right away. As he ate it though, and chewed the hard dough, he suddenly felt a crack in his mouth followed by a searing pain.

That was what Connor had woken up to.  Jeffery crying in pain. His tooth, the one with the hole in it, had cracked almost straight through.  And for the first hour they had no clue what to do. Clementine suggested a trip to the dentist, and Connor explained that they didn’t have the money. Clem thought that maybe the dentist would be in a helping mood today, and said that they should try anyway. Connor had smiled at her, but just ended up shaking his head. Nobody was ever in a giving mood. Not anymore. Connor debated going out and looking for mom, but he decided against that. They needed the money. Which left it all on him.

Connor stood before his brother with a stone face. Jeffery was sobbing, and hunched over. On the ground was a giant wet spot where Jeffery had spat a thimble of gin out. Connor had gotten it from mom’s “hidden” bottle that she only took out not more than once a week. He figured maybe it would help, but once it had hit the tooth Jeff just howled and let the liquid pour out of his mouth, making a mess.

“Clem,” Connor began in a hushed tone as he lowered himself down to one knee and looking at her. “You love Jeffery right?” She just nodded her head. “Well, when I say so I want you to show him how much you love him by giving in a big hug and not letting go until I say so. Okay?” She nodded her head again. “Make sure you wrap around his arms, okay?” She had a confused look, but nodded a third time. Conner got back up and faced his brother again. As he did he reached into his back pocket. Jeffery looked up and saw his older brother grasping for something behind his back. “Clem, give him the hug” Connor said calmly.

Clementine trotted forward and wrapped her arms around her brother and squeezed him. Jeffery, caught off guard looked down at his sister. Then he heard two loud footsteps, and as he looked up Connor was already behind him, putting his hand on Jeffery’s forehead and tilting it backwards.