Hard Times Require Beer (and a Favorite Uncle. Oh, and a Porterhouse)

Elliott’s favorite place is on his aunt and uncle’s back porch leaning against the house in an old kitchen chair with his feet up on the railing. Summertime finds him with an iced tea or a beer. Winter is a hot mug of coffee, or at Christmas, with his aunt’s holiday hot toddy. Elliott could sit like this all day watching the world drift downstream along the fork of the river at the edge of the property.

But on this summer’s day Elliott was leaned forward, elbows on his knees. He slowly peeled the label off of a bottle of beer, wadding up the remnants between his fingers and then poking them down the bottle’s neck. He thoughtfully placed the bottle with the other empties, then reached for another in the cooler under the chair. He took a long draw off of it before going to work removing its label.

“Hard times are easy to find, aren’t they?” Elliott’s uncle’s voice came from just behind the screened door.   

Elliott reached into the cooler and offered his uncle one. The man took the beer and sat on the stairs on the edge of the porch, looking back at his nephew.

“You need to get a new No Trespassing sign,” Elliott said, pointing out toward the river.

His uncle glanced out across the property and shrugged. “Folks can pretty much guess what it says.”

“It’s not like a new sign’s ‘gonna set you back.”

“Don’t see the need, son. But thanks for your concern.”

Elliott finished his beer, jammed to the bits of label down the bottle, set it down with the empties, pulled out another one and got to working on that label.

“Look, kid, it’s a bum deal, but a case of beer isn’t going to make you anything but a drunk, sad-sack S-O-B, more than you already are.”

“Yeah? Well, could be worse,” Elliott grumbled. “Could be out with my guys making a night of it. Been a while since we were out looking to score.”

“OK. I’ll give you that,” his uncle conceded.

Elliott stopped fiddling with the bottle and looked up at his uncle. “Look, I’m a grown man, I know life’s not about scoring, and it’s not always going to turn out to be like some huge winning lottery ticket. I just wish,” he shook his head. “Whatever. Forget it.”

“No, I get it,” his uncle replied. “And don’t go mistaking my big mouth for God’s only truth. I just been around the block a few times more, is all.”

“I appreciate you bein’ here for me.” Elliott smiled as he took a moment to focus his thoughts. “I mean, if we’re talkin’ truths here, me and her? We were chalk and cheese. Take this place,” Elliott leaned his chair back into his customary position, “I love it here!” He sighed as he opened his arms wide. “How can you not love every bit of this?”

“I agree, I agree, of course” his uncle said. “But, you only brought her around that one time. She didn’t take to the place?”

“Who knows. I mean, she said it was pretty out here, but, yeah, I guess not. Anytime I suggested we come out here? She’d make a face and then say we should go shopping at the mall, or see a movie, or go out to dinner, or hang out at the casino, or whatever.”

Two gun shots echoed through the valley, setting a flock of startled crows aloft.

“Mick and Geraldine’s got their grandkids for the summer. Teaching them how to shoot,” Elliott’s uncle explained. Elliott nodded.

“So, how ‘bout I take you and Aunt Mary out for a bite?” Elliott said as he gave his uncle a slap on the back. “Your choice!”

Elliott’s uncle smiled. “Oh, well then, I could do with a porterhouse from River Bend Grill. With one of their whiskey sours Mary likes? You’re on!”

———-

I like to accumulate prompts and then have a go (as the Brits say). Mostly, I like to force myself to just “get with the program” and write, something, anything!
The Un-OLWG prompts used are: big door prize; a simple kitchen chair; hard times are easy to find; gut shot; chalk and cheese; while the world drifts downstream; no trespassing; mistake my big talk for truth; who am I kidding; shamelessly speak the truth

The New Blog Propellant Prompt #9

I used to maintain a writing prompt blog called The Blog Propellent. It was a lot of fun and I am enjoying getting back into generating writing prompts.

Write a post: Fiction, poetry, even a true story based on the following prompt. When you are done, include the URL address of this post in your post. Simple! All those who read this will see a link to your post in the comments, and all those who read your post will have a link this one. Why do this? Because it is fun to share!

The prompt:

I found a greeting card series that made me, truly, laugh out loud (as in, heads turned and stared, laughed out loud). It inspired a prompt post!

The cards start with a basic greeting: Happy Birthday to… ; Thank You for… ; Congratulations on…
Under the ellipse are multiple choice checkboxes. And, when I say multiple choice, I mean something in the area of 30-40 choices.

Select at least 3 (or as many as you wish) of the following choices to incorporate into your story that begins, Once upon a time…

  • swarm of bees
  • fresh cadaver
  • act of kindness
  • grasping landlord
  • shady fortune teller
  • unsolicited death threat
  • tolerated ex
  • surrealist poetry
  • deranged manservant
  • rude awakening
  • distant acquaintance
  • molds and fungi
  • enchanting colleague
  • one weakness
  • peculiar friend
  • matching accessories
  • faithful canine
  • gilded lily
  • chef to the stars
  • ancient book collection
  • necromancer


Happy Memorial Day!

The New Blog Propellant Prompt #8

I used to maintain a writing prompt blog called The Blog Propellent. It was a lot of fun and these days, fun is what we need to keep going until the day we are all vaccinated!

Write a post: Fiction, poetry, even a true story based on the following prompt. When you are done, include the URL address of this post in your post. Simple! All those who read this post will have a link to your post, and all those who read your post will have a link this one. More readers = more followers (so they say). Regardless, it is fun to share.

This week’s prompt:

In your WordPress Reader, have you noticed at the top they post three suggested topics to explore? The suggestions are usually a weird combination, but always entertaining.

My suggestions today are: CocktailsCommunity PoolGroovy. Write a post inspired by these suggestions. I left in the links just in case you want to explore blog posts on those topics.


Happy May Day!

The Blog Propellant Redux #15

I used to maintain a writing prompt blog called The Blog Propellent. It was a lot of fun and these days, fun is what we need! Every so often, I repost former TBP prompts.

Write a post! Fiction, poetry, even a true story based on the following prompt. When you are done, include the URL address of this post in your post. Simple! All those who read this post will have a link to your post, and all those who read your post will have a link this one. More readers = more followers (so they say). Regardless, it is fun to share. Anytime! Respond now, or come back to this prompt when it suits. “The door is always open.”

The Prompt: This is a re-work of a previous prompt. 1) Write of the most beautiful place you have ever seen, then 2) Place one of your favorite characters in this setting. The character can be one of your own, from another author’s story, or maybe someone you know, and then lastly, 3) Surprise the reader with something unexpected.

***

Happy Easter!

The New Blog Propellant Prompt #7

I used to maintain a writing prompt blog called The Blog Propellent. It was a lot of fun and these days, fun is what we need to keep going until the day we are all vaccinated! I have re-posted several prompts from TBP, but I enjoy coming up with new ones.

Write a post: Fiction, poetry, even a true story based on the following prompt. When you are done, include the URL address of this post in your post. Simple! All those who read this post will have a link to your post, and all those who read your post will have a link this one. More readers = more followers (so they say). Regardless, it is fun to share.

This week’s prompt:

Let’s speculate, shall we? Two beings with intersected consciousness.

This prompt has particular request: Because this is a prompt about speculation, try avoiding a story about a married couple, lovers, ex-lovers, friendship, or familial relations, etc. Need some ideas? Explore mythology as a place to start. Ask yourself, are they the same entity, or not? Is this a new discovery, or are they falling apart? Did they come by this state naturally, or was it imposed? Is their connection liked, or disliked? Is it threatening their status quo, or is it a dream beyond their known universe?


Happy St. Pat’s!

The New Blog Propellant Prompt #6

I used to maintain a writing prompt blog called The Blog Propellent. It was a lot of fun and these days, fun is what we need! I have re-posted several prompts, but it’s fun to come up with new ones.

Write a post: Fiction, poetry, even a true story based on the following prompt. When you are done, include the URL address of this post in your post. Simple! All those who read this post will have a link to your post, and all those who read your post will have a link this one. More readers = more followers (so they say). Regardless, it is fun to share.

This week’s prompt:

It’s proposal season at work. Lots of ideas for sessions and workshops. Every year is a trend in proposed topics. One year it’ll be Memoir. The another will be YA, another year is Mystery, and so on. Not sure why. I leave that question to the publishers.

This year’s trending topic is a fun one, and certainly one I know a couple of you enjoy, given your love of visual art and poetry: Ekphrastic poetry

Basically, an ekphrastic poem is a poem inspired by a work of art. If you’re interested in more info, Wikipedia’s Ekphrasis page is chock full, and if you do an internet search, you’ll find many sites and blogs dedicated to the topic.

Choose your own work of art, or select from the following Public Domain options (courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Open Access Collection):

Viennese Cafe: The Man of Letters
Moriz Jung, 1911
Landscape with a Waterfall
Johann Christoph Rist, 1816
In the Studio
Alfred Stevens, 1888


little tpb guy logo
I was aged about seven years
The first time that I flew
I strapped a rocket on my back
And the next thing that I knew
I could touch the clouds.
As I lifted off, went airborne
As I soared into the sky I knew then what a junkie feels
For truly hooked was I
I could touch the clouds.
The other lads played baseball
But me, I never did
I perfected my propellants
And left contrails overhead
I could touch the clouds.
I’m older now, still flyin’
Sometimes every day
I’ve got a gig with TBP
And you know what they say,
“He can touch the clouds.”
In the time I have been doing this, Working for Ms Rose,
I’ve inspired poetry
I’ve inspired prose I’ve inspired writers
To raise their voices loud
Meanwhile I’m doing what I love
Each day I touch the clouds.
(by Thom Kerr)

The New Blog Propellant Prompt #5

I used to maintain a writing prompt blog called The Blog Propellent. It was a lot of fun and these days, fun is what we need! I have re-posted several previous prompts, but it’s fun to post new ones.

Write a post: Fiction, poetry, even a true story based on the following prompt. When you are done, include the URL address of this post in your post. Simple! All those who read this post will have a link to your post, and all those who read your post will have a link this one. More readers = more followers (so they say). Regardless, it is fun to share.

This week’s prompt:

Use the theme “prompt,” or one of its synonyms to create a story or poem
(Some synonyms: incite, arouse, cause, convince, elicit…)


Happy Mardi Gras

Apartment #404 Error

Toni stepped back out into the hall to double check the number on the door. She shook her head. Of course it was her apartment. Her key would not have worked if it wasn’t.

“Oh, there you are! This cake is fantastic, honey, you want some?”

An older woman and man were sitting comfortably on Toni’s couch. The woman had a wide, warm smile. The man, with an equally pleasant smile, placed his empty plate on the coffee table and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Darn good!” he replied.

Wildly confused, Toni looked down the hallway to the apartment building exit, contemplating if she should make a run for it. She looked back at the couple in her apartment. The woman was standing now, holding out a plate with a piece of cake.

“Well, come on in, honey!,” the woman said. “Look! I got us some cake. Have a piece!”

Toni walked cautiously into her living room, leaving her front door wide open as a precaution and clutching her purse and coat against her chest as if it was armor.

The man asked, “Have a good day?”

“Uh, can I…”

The woman stepped toward Toni with the slice of cake. Toni back up a couple of steps, waving the woman off.

“No, I don’t…”

“Oh, come on, now, don’t be like that. Have a piece! We got it from the bakery you told us all about,” the woman said.

Toni thrust her hand out to stop the woman’s further approach. “Excuse me, but…what…how the hell did you get into my place?!”

The man huffed, “Well, you didn’t leave us a key, so what’ya think? We had to find the manager!”

“What? He just let you in?!”

Toni took out her phone and dialed the building manager, retreating back into the hallway to wait for him to answer her call.

The man and woman exchanged disbelieving looks. The woman walked into the kitchen. Toni heard her throw the plate with the slice of cake she had been holding into the sink. The woman came back out, and in a low, angry tone that sounded almost like a growl announced to the man that they were leaving. The man shot Toni a look, which she thought seemed strangely sad.

The man and woman left the apartment, slamming the apartment door behind then and aggressively brushing past Toni where she stood in hall. As they cleared the apartment building exit, Toni heard the woman curse a blue streak.

Toni’s call to the building manager went to voicemail. She sent a text instead, trembling as she keyed in her message. She then went back into her apartment and started to go through all her belongings to see if anything was missing. Maybe the man and woman were burglars. A sweet old couple like them? The manager would never suspect them of being anything other than her parents, or an aunt and uncle.

A couple of hours later Toni overheard her neighbor talking in the hallway to another resident.

“John finally found his grandparents at a hotel downtown. They said I threw them out! I was so confused, like, how could I throw them out when I hadn’t even seen them!”

“But you left them a key under your mat, right?” replied the other.

“They said they didn’t find the key and so they had to get the manager to let them in.”

“Have you talked to the manager?”

“No, he hasn’t returned my calls. God, they are so pissed. Now they won’t even answer the phone. John’s gone to the hotel to talk to them. It’s just so screwed up!”

Toni shyly opened her door and approached her fellow tenants. “Sorry, um,” she began, and then gave out a little laugh. “Hi. I’m Toni. Yeah, uh, I think I know what happened.”


In response to TBP Redux #14

The Blog Propellant Redux #14

I used to maintain a writing prompt blog called The Blog Propellent. It was a lot of fun and these days, fun is what we need! Every so often, I repost former TBP prompts.

Write a post! Fiction, poetry, even a true story based on the following prompt. When you are done, include the URL address of this post in your post. Simple! All those who read this post will have a link to your post, and all those who read your post will have a link this one. More readers = more followers (so they say). Regardless, it is fun to share. Anytime! Respond now, or come back to this prompt when it suits. “The door is always open.”

This week’s prompt: It’s an oldy, but a goody from ye ole WordPress Daily Prompt files.

You walk into your home and find two people you don’t know eating cake. What happens next?

***

Care to play a game?

The OLWG #193 prompts are:

just shallow socializing

and then I heard this …

she’s already cooler than me

The following two stories have all three of the above prompts, but they are not literally spelled out. Can you spot them? Give it a try!


Good Fences

Lee Radcliff continued to work in silence for the better part of ten or fifteen minutes, fully aware he was being watched as he weeded his flowerbed. Lee knew who was watching him and he did everything possible to point his attention in the opposite direction.

“Mither Ra-ciff?

The meek four year-old voice was far enough away that he could justify not hearing the little girl call out his name.

“Mither Ra-ciff? ‘cue me Mither Ra-ciff?”

Please kid, Lee thought, go away.

“Lee!”

Lee looked up to his wife Marianne standing in their door. She nodded toward the little girl. Lee turned around to see their neighbor’s youngest child Jenny standing as she usually did on her side of the low chain link fence with her fingers twisted around the thin metal and her face pressed hard against it.

“Little Jenny, don’t do that,” Lee grumbled. “You’ll get a mark on your face.”

Jenny pulled back from the fence as Marianne made her way across the yard.

“Where’s your mommy today honey? Is your daddy home?”

“No,” Jenny said, then offered, “Daryl went to Mickey’th.”

“Who’s Mickey, honey?” Marianne asked.

That poor, damn kid, Lee thought. He shook his head and went back to weeding.

Marianne asked again, “Jenny, sweetie, who’s Mickey?”

“Daryl’th friend.”

“Does Mickey live nearby?”

Jenny shrugged a quick, sharp, sort of spasm with her shoulders.

“Sweetie,” Marianne continued, “Where’s your mommy?”

“She went to work.”

“OK, your brother is at Mickey’s, whoever that is, and daddy? Where’s daddy?”

Jenny nodded her head, up and down repeatedly, like a horse frustrated with its bit, followed by her little spastic shoulder shrug, and then the two together, then finally replied, “Daddy’ thleep.”

“Well, then, hm.” Marianne turned to wage Lee’s response, but he was ignoring the conversation.

“Why don’t you come on over here, honey.” Marianne gestured toward the gate of Jenny’s yard with a sweep sweeping her arm over the sidewalk, and then circling her wrist as if waiving Jenny in. “C’mon. You come spend the day with me and Mr. Radcliff.”

Lee shot a scowling look at his wife. It was difficult to get anything done with the kid underfoot. Lee decided it was high time he had some words with Jenny’s folks. That poor damn kid.

Marianne walked up to Lee with Jenny in hand. Lee dropped his head to his chest in frustration and defeat.

“Let me finish in the yard,” he pleaded, “and then some lunch, and I’ll set up the train, OK?” he said.

Marianne smiled and Jenny jumped up and down, squealing, “Train!! Train!!”


When I’m 64

At sixty-four, Ken knew he was fortunate. He was, for the most part, in good health, comfortable, and though he never pictured himself single, and living in a small town in the mountains, he knew he shouldn’t have any complaints about his lot in life. He had several good friends and plenty of work as the town’s only general contractor. So, as long as his the old bod’ could hack it, he’d keep building homes, mending roofs, remodeling kitchens and live out his days where he was.

Ken had not always been a bachelor. He had two ex-wives. No children, hence, the two ex-wives. His first wife, Marcie, was actually the one to say she didn’t want children. Ken knew she was perfect for him. But, two years later, over dinner one night, she announced she had a change of heart. She filed for divorce the next day. Losing Marcie was a hurt that never did heal.

Abigail, his second wife, figured Ken was just a typical guy afraid of kids. She was sure that, once she was pregnant, he’d be OK with being a father. Ken cared about Abigail enough to agree to think about it, meaning, he would think about getting a vasectomy. She was gone as soon as Abigail landed a lover who, when learning she was having his baby, promised to marry her (and believe me, she tried her luck with more than a couple of men).

Ken quit his job as a foreman shortly after Abigail left. He moved to the small town in the mountains and hung his shingle out as a general contractor. Here, he could not only start over, he was far away from his failed marriages and the rest of his disappointed family. It was a fresh start with new people who knew nothing about him, and time to rethink his prospects.

That was almost 30 years ago.

“Hey, Ken!” John Capshaw called out when Ken came through John’s hardware and feed store door. “You made it in, and in one piece!”

“It’s not as bad as the last couple of years. Even found a place to park.”

John finished ringing up a line of people purchasing various Christmas decorations and supplies. He thanked the last of them as they left and then went looking for Ken, who was contemplating items in the plumbing aisle.

“This town during the holidays, I tell ya. Man! Anything I can help with today?”

“Don’t think so my friend. Just making mental notes. I promised the Fairchilds I’d do some work on their place. You know Don’s still laid up.”

“No, didn’t know. Figured he’d be up at back at it by now.”

“He’s had some complications. Not sure what, but Alice called last week and asked if I’d see to a few things around the place while he’s recovering. Their bathroom’s in pretty poor shape.” Ken placed a hand on John’s shoulder, “You have a good Thanksgiving?”

“Oh, sure. Always good to have the family around. Too much food, as always, but you get my grandmother and Carol in the same kitchen? It’s gonna be a cook-off!” John patted his stomach. “You go to your sister’s this year?”

“No. If I’m going to sit around with nothing better to do than watch the game, I might as well stay home. I’ll see her in summer.”

Ken selected a couple of pipes and fittings from the shelf and followed John up to the register. “And a bag of popcorn, and that’ll do it.”

His purchase tucked under his arm, Ken walked slowly back to his truck, munching on his popcorn while taking in the spectacle the little town’s business district magically transformed into a scene from a Christmas card. The merchants and Street Department colluded each year to wait until fairly late in the evening on Thanksgiving to completely decorate the stores and streets. Locals and visitors alike stream in the following day to see the decorations with the same excitement they had as children when they rushed from their beds to see what Santa Claus silently slipped in their stockings the night before. The town would be jammed with people from now through the first of January.

Ken’s phone chirped. He looked to see who it was before answering. It was his sister. He took in a sharp breath and answered the call.

“Hey Tina.”

“Hey yourself!”

“What’s up?”

“What’s up? It’s Thanksgiving! I meant to call, but things are just crazy here. Donovan and Cheryl’s baby was not having a good time of it, and, well, you know…crazy! I’m sorry I didn’t call yesterday. What’d you do?”

Tina was an affable, warm hearted woman. Ken’s senior by eight years, Tina looked very much like their mother. So much so, it sometimes gave Ken a bit of a start. Their mother died when Ken was nineteen and during those first years after her death, Ken looked to Tina more as a parent than a sibling. Tina never quite kicked the habit of playing the parent ever since.

 “Did you go somewhere? Thanksgiving with friends? Anything?” Tina proded.

“I was at the Lutheran church for a couple hours in the afternoon. Helped them clean up after their annual community turkey feed. They sent me home with leftovers and I watched football the rest of the night.”

Ken and Tina finished their call with Ken promising to consider Tina’s invitation to come to her place for a visit sometime between Christmas and New Year’s. He climbed into his truck and drove home.

For a long while Ken stood on his back porch and watched as the afternoon wane into twilight. The temperature made a sharp drop, but Ken did not move to get a coat. He was too deep in thought to take much notice.

It was always the holidays that made the bachelor life rub him a little the wrong way. From time to time over the years he would think about pursuing something with one woman or the other he met along the way, but inevitably ruled out the idea. But each year with the advent of the holiday season came the keen reminder of how lonely he truly felt.

As the twilight gave way to nightfall, Ken could barely make out the black silhouette of an owl, the female who nested somewhere nearby, slowly sweeping by, on her way to her favorite perch in the tree next to his house. Ken marveled at the grace of her flight, and grateful for her company.