Flash Fiction Friday – The Story of Bob

His full name was Wendell Robert Forsythe the fourteenth. XIV. Legend had it that each generation of Forsythes produced exactly one child, a boy, and each had the same temperament, laugh, and sunken eyes. They all started off left-handed; some stayed that way. They all spoke in the same soft, low, slow way and they all spoke from the same slightly elevated altitude. But none of this mattered to XIV’s friends, who all knew him simply as Bob.
When Bob was six years old he attended a party thrown by his great-grandfather (XI) on the occasion of the old man’s 100thbirthday. Longevity was a Forsythe tradition and far be it from Old XI to give up the ghost without a fight. At the party Bob met a woman who spoke more clearly than he’d ever heard anyone speak before. He fell in love. “Life is too short for,” she said. It was obvious that she had more to say but before she had the chance to say it she stopped, got a queer look on her face, and dropped dead. She’d proven her point to Bob in the most eloquent way. “Life is too short for,” became his motto.
There’s a joke about the guy who lives every day like it’s his last: he wakes up, calls the funeral parlor, the florist… but Bob lived every last day a different way. If life was too short, and it obviously was, he would need to prioritize to get the most out of it.
Bob learned how to play trumpet. He never took a lesson or read a book on it. He picked up the instrument and put on a Miles Davis album. And he played it over and over and over and over and over and every time he tried to get a sound using only his lips, his breath, and a piece of metal. It took him three years to be able to play without the record but when he did it sounded right to his ear. He had found success.
The key to his success was indulgence. There was nothing indulgence couldn’t do for him. He indulged all equally – his mother, his cats, his son (XV), and his wife – but none more than himself. It was a Forsythe tradition for fifteen generations now. Bob had no intention or desire to break the chain.
When the end came, on a beach in Mexico, he was sifting sand into the bucket of Wendell Robert Forsythe the sixteenth. XVI. He was noticing the way the sun was glinting on a particle of sand. He reached for it and saw the same shining light reflecting from first one then all of his fingernails. Little Bobby (XVI) caught his grandfather’s head the way you’d catch a football. He was proud of himself, and rightly so, for his excellent catch. He buried his face on his grandfather’s neck and took a nice, long nap.

Find Your Voice

We all need to find our voice. We listen to our parents (and whoever else is around and talking while we’re growing up) and we learn their language and their regional accents and dialects. But we decide how we want to sound: how loud or soft in tone, how high or low in pitch, how masculine or feminine, regardless of our gender.
Then, after we work out the ground rules, our ‘voice’ is more about what we say than how we say it. How  much do we want our voice to reveal or conceal? Do we throw caution to the wind in favor of honesty or hold our cards close to the vest? Do we suppress our laughter, our tears, our beliefs, our racism? Bold and brassy? Strong and silent? And what parts do joking, or shouting, or lying, take in our voice?
Artists are told to find their voice as if it’s something hiding behind a rock, and maybe it is. Artists probably think more about finding their voice because it’s such a big part of the job description. You can hear Van Gogh’s across any room he’s placed in.
For writers, it’s mostly about the confidence that only comes from writing every single day. For singers it’s more literal. It’s the difference between Louis Armstrong and Whitney Houston. They’re both capable singers but which one sounds better depends on the ears of the beholder. 
Just because you can hit a note doesn’t mean you have to, or even should. In music, the voice should be slave to the song. When the singer believes they are the master and the song is their slave bad things can happen. Really bad things. When the voice and the singer are the same, and the singer is honest, the best things happen. Like the voice in the clip above.
And like a lot of other things, our voices get stronger the more we use them.

Four Dead in Spuyten Duyvil

Four people died outside my living room window yesterday. I sometimes use this space for fiction but this isn’t one of those times – I only wish it was.
I didn’t hear the crash. It wasn’t until I heard the sirens that I looked out the window and saw the fire trucks, ambulances, police cars, boats and helicopters swirling around my neighborhood.
The neighborhood was named Spuyten Duyvil by the Dutch because this spot, where the Harlem and Hudson Rivers converge, is a treacherous place and always has been.

The story goes that in the 1640s, when Peter Stuyvesant was Director-General of the New Netherland colony, he heard about an English expedition coming to seize New Amsterdam. He ordered the trumpeter of his garrison, Anthony Van Corlaer, to spread the message up to the Dutch villages along the Hudson River with a trumpet call to war. He made it as far as the northern tip of Manhattan.
From an account first published in 1856 in the United States Magazine of Science, Art, Manufactures, Agriculture, Commerce and Trade:
“It was a dark and stormy night when good Anthony arrived at the Creek, which separates the island of Manna-hatta from the main land. The wind was high, the elements were in an uproar and no Charon could be found to ferry the adventurous sounder of brass across the water. For a short time he vapored like an impatient ghost upon the brink, and then bethinking himself of the urgency of his errand, took a hearty embrace of his stone bottle, swore most valorously that he would swim across, Spuyt den Duyvel, (in spite of the Devil,) and daringly plunged into the stream. It seems that his Satanic Majesty had overheard the oath, and coming up from his vasty deep, discovered, in the person of a little fat trumpeter, the daring individual who had braved his power; and determined to exert it to the utmost to destroy the presumptuous mortal. Waiting until the luckless wight had reached about the middle of the stream, he stirred the waters into such a commotion that the poor fellow was obliged to yield the contest.”
Most of the emergency workers had left by the afternoon and been replaced by teams of investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and by the eyes of the media world. They’ll try to get to the bottom of the tragedy and provide a rational explanation for what happened. 
For the families and friends of the people whose lives ended down there, I doubt that any explanation will ever suffice, and the hand of the devil is probably as good as any other.

Flash Fiction Friday – The Jumper

            I don’t know why anyone, let alone a beautiful young woman, would get it into their head to think that jumping off a bridge is a good idea. There’s no accounting for taste. If you want to kill yourself I imagine that’s as good a way as any. There’s the whole illusion of flight thing (at least for a moment or two) and also the water makes things less messy than landing on concrete.
            Beautiful young women are a valuable commodity, and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if that was part of what drove her to such desperate measures. I can’t help but think that there are quite a few old men like myself who’d do just about anything to keep her from following through with her plans. A few young men too, like the officer on duty.
            For all I know the officer’s happily married, or gay, or really hates the paperwork involved in a suicide. Or maybe, like me, he’s just too squeamish to watch such a horrifying incident unfold. Maybe he’s a little reckless himself. Whatever the reason, I was still shocked to see him handcuff himself to her.
            She jumped. That’s what jumpers do, right? I’m surprised the officer’s hand didn’t rip right off. You could tell he was in a lot of pain with her hanging from his wrist, kicking and screaming. You couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. All she wanted to do was end her own life and someone more powerful than her wouldn’t let her do it. That might be another of the things that drove her to desperation.
            The other cops all grabbed at her and handled her body pretty roughly, well beyond the bounds of propriety. I guess they were just trying to save their buddy and it was she that was causing all the trouble.
            The language coming out of her was also well beyond the bounds of propriety. She screamed and cursed until her face turned red and her mouth foamed. She spit at the cops and called them every name in the book, and a few that must be coming out in the next volume.
            So I was as surprised as anyone, including the intrepid officer, when they finally pulled her up and she threw her free arm around his neck and kept kissing his face until she passed out.

Vegetarian Thanksgiving

I picked up a 20 pound turkey and stuffed it in the fridge yesterday. Is it heresy for a vegetarian to not be bothered by that?

Birds are different, right? Fish and fowl are not the same as cows and pigs and the other animals our species eats: rabbit, deer, and the occasional reptile or amphibian. Maybe the reptiles and amphibians are more like the fish and fowl, we can call them what they are. We can eat snake or frog’s legs, like we can eat salmon or turkey, but we can’t eat pig or cow. We have to eat pork or beef instead. Some animals are far enough removed from us to make them acceptable as food names. It’s the big mammals – the cows and the pigs – that made the whole meat-eating thing too difficult for me, psychologically. And you have to draw the line somewhere. Being an extremist, I draw the line well this side of the big stupid bird.

There’s always this question with eating birds too: what if the big bird is the big bird?

Even dairy’s tough for me now. Especially as it’s a staple of my diet, and I enjoy it, and it’s one of the worst things I eat. And I can’t escape the knowledge that the same large mammals that I can’t stomach eating are being caged, tormented, drugged, distorted and squeezed dry to produce the milk necessary for the shaved parmesan that melts on top of my pasta primavera.

 One of the solutions for vegetarians are the processed meat substitutes, usually made from some variation of tofu. But here’s the big problem with Tofurkey for me: I don’t eat food that has “furk” anywhere in its name.

Birds aren’t so different, really, except they can fly. But they can’t fly far enough to escape Thanksgiving.