Short Fiction Break

While I’m awaiting feedback on my novel, I’ve been dabbling in other writing. Of course I’m always writing poems, but I’m now ensconced in editing some of the poems I wrote during our trip to Africa with the goal of putting together a book of images with poems.

I’ve also written a couple of pieces of short fiction, inspired by an article I read in “The New Yorker” a few weeks ago about Lydia Davis, a short story master. According to her Amazon page: “Lydia Davis is the author of one novel and seven story collections, the most recent of which was a finalist for the 2007 National Book Award. She is the acclaimed translator of a new edition of Swann’s Way and is at work on a new translation of Madame Bovary.”

I immediately bought a copy of The Collected Short Stories of Lydia Davis.  What intrigues me is that she writes stories of varying lengths – some only a short paragraph or a line or two long. I like writing short poems — Haiku and Twitter-140-character poems — so I like the idea of writing very short fiction.

When Jeff Elkins invited me to submit a story to his new website Short Fiction Break, I decided to take him up on his offer.  And, I’m pleased to say (since the competition is pretty tough), he posted it last week. Here it is:

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Three Brothers

The three young men sat on the low wall across from the house of mourning. Jerry’s brother had died a few days before, and the house, that faced the Pacific Ocean, was teeming with people bringing in food and offering condolences.

“I hate this part of it,” Jerry said to his two buddies from grade school as he loosened his tie and unbuttoned the top button of his long-sleeved dress shirt. “Why can’t they just leave us alone? It’s hard enough as it is. The last thing I want to do now is put on a happy face. This is death for God’s sake – not a party.”

He shuffled away a few leaves that lay on the ground with his good leather shoes. The day was warm and sunny. People carrying beach chairs and umbrella walked by on their way to the beach.

“I know. The same thing happened at our house when Sam died,” Al said. “I think it’s some kind of Jewish thing. You have to pray with the family for seven days and make sure they eat and take care of themselves. They swarmed us. People were even in my room – I couldn’t get rid of them fast enough.”

All three young men sitting on the wall had lost a brother. Jerry and Frank’s died in automobile accidents. Al’s brother, Sam, committed suicide.

“Yeah, I guess I was lucky. Everyone came over to the school auditorium after Buzz’ funeral. No one came over to our house,” Frank said, throwing his tie over his shoulder. “But really I could have used a little company – being around my parents after my bro died was like living in a morgue.”

They all looked at each other. Yeah they could relate. When the funerals were over and the open houses stopped, their houses would be empty, silent – except for occasional sobs and door slamming and the angry punching of pillows.

“Can you imagine?” Frank said leaning in close to face the group. “Each of us with a dead brother. I don’t get it. At least, Al, your bro was sick. But that he offed himself must have been the shock of your life.” He paused for a second, took a swig of beer from the bottle he had set on the sidewalk. “Though come to think of it, I sometimes wonder if automobile accidents are a form of subconscious suicide too.”

Al put his head down and dug the heels of his hands into his eyes.

“Yah, I never understood his manic behavior,” he said. “I just thought he was acting in his usual selfish way. But, killing himself was so unlike him – and how he did it – in our bathtub, slicing his throat with a box cutter. My God. And he loved his things so much. He was so attached to everything he owned, that for him to just let it all go never made any sense.”

Frank put his arm around Al. “I’m sorry, Bud. And I know it doesn’t get better. You too, Jerry. That’s just the way it is. Losing a brother is like losing a body part. Something will always be missing in our lives no matter how good things are.”

Jerry got up. The others stood up as well and they shook hands. “Thanks for being here today, guys. You made this day a whole lot easier. I know, it will get worse before it get’s better, but knowing you’ve lived through it will help.”

He turned toward the house, nodding his head as a couple of family friends walked toward the front door. “I better get back inside,” he said.

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