Offspring, Forward, Tin

A short piece incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

It was a simple bike. A red one with a single gear. She loved it. With the exception of a few flat tires, the bike never gave her problems. Not like her previous cycles with their rows of teeth continually biting into the chain and causing it to slip with every hill climb, slope or flat. The red bike simply went, not backward, always in the same direction.

When her mind wandered, she would allow the bike and her legs to carry her body wandering as well. When she felt the pressures of all that is external tightening her body, she would let the curves, slopes and speed of a ride loosen her up. When her heart ached, the two wheels and single frame were as sturdy a companion as any. Though at times she did feel, out of want and not necessity, that a companion would be nice.

She thought about someone with whom she could share her joys, fears, triumphs and failures. Not out of necessity but simply of want, a desire not to be lonely. Perhaps even one day to share the lessons the two of them would learn about their joys, fears, triumphs and failures with little versions of themselves. To create life would be yet another adventure.

Pedaling every day for the same reason yet spurred by different emotions, she thought about her past attempts at love. As she mulled each relationship over in her mind like beads on an abacus, she considered the weight of each person she had loved or nearly loved.  The sum total of which lead her to a question, are there any good men left?

Climbing up a hill, she leaned off the seat and pedaled with her head down. Some of those men had been thieves, stealing her time, attention and love by not completely sharing themselves. Or in some cases, sharing much but not exclusively.

At the peak of the hill, she sat back down and slowed her feet. She thought of the men who had tried to stifle her, to prevent her from being herself and only being for them. Those relationships were shorter.

At the crest of the hill, she stopped pedaling and let the physics of the slope and the wheels do the work. She thought of one more lover and friend. He was none of those things yet he could not take care of himself.

She coasted into her driveway and into the garage. Perhaps someday, he would be ready to come home. Until then, she would protect her heart, protected by dented tin, nevertheless protected.

Cope, Oppose, Manage

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

An ocean of booze is not enough to forget. It’ll still spit you up on shore and you’ll squint at the sun wondering how you got there. But you don’t forget. You never forget. So you jump back in, swim as far as your arms and legs will let you and stop, maybe thinking of something else, but you’ll eventually crawl back up the sand and feel the hot sun.

You wade back into the water, jumping the small waves, diving under the big ones until again, you’ve reached the chop of the ocean. Then you find yourself spitting out sand and protecting your eyes from the sun. You take a skiff out until the engine runs out of gas. You can’t see the shore and so you think this enough. So with no life preserver you jump into the water, moving your arms and legs just enough to keep your mouth free for air. You don’t want to die, just forget. Yet you find yourself stuck in the rocky crags at the mouth of the bay. Hands, feet, sides and head bleeding from the beating your body took to get back to shore.

After climbing back to the sand, you lay down, exhausted. The tide begins lapping at your feet, your legs, your thighs, your hands and you remember. You jump in a plane and fly for hours until the view below is all blue with ocean. You jump and think you’ll never remember again. Your body slaps the water, bruising all over. Later you wake up with coast guard above you and family members crying. And still the waves lap at your feet, you can’t forget. You never forget.

Now you hobble back down to the waters edge, your legs are wobbly, arms feel like lead and that little ball of light inside you is dimming. You fall into the water pushing yourself crawling into the deep of the ocean. Why not just turn around and forget the water completely? Why keep trying to find the deep?

How do you cope with what you can’t forget? How do you manage what you remember? How do you prevent the memories from drowning you if you never stop jumping into the ocean?

Base, Meet, Deep

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Lemuel picked up the ring on the table, size 4 finger. It had fit for a while, then in the middle of their marriage she had gained some weight. After much struggle she was able to slide it off. Butter, go figure. When she slimmed down again, the ring was back on for a week but came off again. A lot of things became off after she lost weight. Lemuel’s base instincts knew something else was off.

Then a few months later, like a bad movie, he found the evidence that became the catalyst to their divorce. She would meet others, Lemuel didn’t know them. She wouldn’t answer the phone. Lemuel couldn’t sleep. She never slept with him. Lemuel puffed out his chest and stuck out his chin as if it didn’t matter, but there was too much darkness down deep to keep pretending his confidence came from the light.

Lemuel tried, for a while, to pretend it didn’t bother him. He reached out to friends, family and without telling them what was going on, pretended to have a change of heart that bent towards connection. Really he was trying to fill that new crevasse that had split him open after the earthquake of her absence.

Because he had reached out to loved ones, they began reaching out to him. But the darkness was taking over, even if he didn’t realize it. One day he was in its shadow and the next he was swallowed whole.

After a night of hard drinking, Lemuel loaded his dog into the car, grabbed some clothes and food, and drove in one direction. East. East would let him drive farther, too far west and he’d need a boat. Too far North or South and he’d need a passport. All things he didn’t have the capacity to deal with.

He stopped. There were rows of wooden cabins that looked like something gold miners during the rush of early California days would build quickly to sustain them for sleep and food. An inn that allowed pets and plenty of space from one room or cabin to the next.

Lemuel paid for a week and moved all his things into the room. Keeping the dogs in the air conditioned inside, a detail that he was thankful to be added, despite it’s historical gold rush inaccuracy. Lacing up his boots, grabbing a bottle of Bulleit Kentucky Straight Bourbon whiskey, or what he referred to jokingly with his ex-wife as his dancing shoes. And so Lemuel laced up his dancing shoes and waltzed into the desert.

Taking shade in an outcropping of boulders, Lemuel rested. A pain emanated from his stomach. When he pulled up his shirt, he saw something moving underneath his skin. Always carrying a pocket knife, but rarely using it, Lemuel found the perfect opportunity. He flipped open the knife and poked his stomach where the bulge had emerged. The stab hurt, but it was a duller, less urgent pain. Sure the blood would run and he might feel faint, but it wasn’t the sort of pain that wrapped his head and heart in butcher paper, pounded by a tenderizer 24/7.

The bulge emerged at his side, between his last bottom two ribs. He poked and dragged the blade, this one made him wince, but nothing came out. However, he did feel a small sense of release which also felt like relief. He stood up and wandered back to his cabin, wondering what HBO might have on their station this evening.

Failure, Clock, Wagon

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

He tapped it a couple more times. The hands stayed frozen at 3:15. AM or PM? He couldn’t remember the last time he looked at his watch. The old grandfather in the corner of the room struck snake eyes. The dings of the clock’s bells conjured up a memory. A train station, a whistle, some bags he hadn’t packed but carried for someone else. Someone he used to know.

She didn’t even look out of the window as the engine yanked the cars forward and away from him.

The grandfather stopped its whining. He check his watch out of habit one more time then slid it off his wrist. Another thing he thought he could count on gone.

Sitting in his chair, letting the momentum of its rock jostle up more thoughts, he looked at the wagon through a window. It was parked in front of the porch. The mare in his barn, really a shed, hadn’t been on a ride in a while.

Rocking the chair forward and pushing off his feet, he stood. Too quickly. Little stars danced around his head, just outside his vision. She’d asked him once if he was happy and the only thing he could say was that happiness were like fire flies in the eyes, you could only see them if you didn’t try.

Cinching up his belt, he grabbed the bit by the front door. The night was cool, bright with stars and the light of the moon. No breeze, just the world holding it’s breath. He took the three steps down to the yard one leg at a time, listening the groans of his tired knees. He’d learned to stop holding his breath a long time ago, she wasn’t coming back.

The latch to the barn door was cracking and splintering. He grabbed it carefully and lifted, swinging the big door open in the same motion. The mare pawed at the ground and snorted. He smiled.

“Atta girl.”

She trotted past him and out into the yard. He patted her back and fit the bit in her mouth. He hitched her to the wagon and pulled himself up onto the seat. Yes, a night ride always did him good. For fifty-some years, it was the only time he saw the stars.

With a click of his mouth and gentle tug of the reins, they moved toward the old dusty road, rutted from nightly rides. The wheels creaked and he bounced in his seat but with one hand gripping the reins and the other stroking his beard, he was content.

Content to think about his short comings. Maybe if he had wound it religiously. Maybe if he had carefully dusted its face. Maybe if he had taken it apart once a while for a good cleaning, the watch would still work. Maybe if he had just paid more attention to it, the hands would still be faithful to him.

Or maybe if he had paid more attention to her…