Sunday, August 21, 2005

BREAKING UP: a short story

While the holidays are happy for most, they can also bring a load of dispair into people's lives. This short story is adapted from my first novel, A Brief Affair. Any thoughts, whether they be brickbats or bouquets, will be appreicated.

Bayou Bill


by Bill Fullerton

Weak light from a leaden sky revealed a scattering of forlorn leaves clinging to the dark, wet limbs of trees bordering the deserted playground and half-empty parking lot. Cold, misty rain and swirling winds hastened the inevitable outcome of this doomed struggle.

A typical winter day in New York, thought Gwen Kaplan, as she took in the scene from inside her snug bedroom. To her, it seemed beautiful. The nasty weather had provided a great excuse to spend the entire day inside, loafing, snacking, and reading.

Her family used the holidays to make extensive, and exhausting, visits with relatives on both sides of her large, extended, family. Throw in a few special functions such as a bar mitzvah or wedding, and it could mean a very active, if exclusive, social calendar.

And for the last four years, there’d been Johnny. She touched her engagement ring and thought about the man she planned to marry. Somehow, he’d managed to get off work almost every day during her break. That meant they’d been together most afternoons and, on those rare occasions when she wasn't at some family function, also in the evenings.

To her relief, as New Year approached, the family’s social life slowed. Those relatives not exhausted were either visiting out-of-town relatives or on vacation. Even Johnny wasn’t around. His mother had dragooned him into taking her to a family gathering in Boston. With her own mother and sister out checking on the after Christmas/Hanukah sales and her father at work, Gwen now savored the rare luxury of having the entire apartment to herself.

She lay propped up in bed with the hardback copy of Love Story Mark Cahill gave her at their strained parting. That tense scene had convinced her to stop thinking about the big, flirtatious southerner and concentrate all her attention on Johnny. After all, he was her fiancé, the man she had always wanted to marry, wasn’t he?

Alone for the first time since coming home from school meant she didn't have to get dressed up or put on makeup or answer the phone. But it just kept ringing. At first she tried to ignore the shrill sound but gave up. Irritation at the persistent noise and curiosity about the callers identity compelled her to answer.

It was Mandy Finkelstein. Shy, slim, quietly pretty Mandy had been her best friend since they sat together in second grade at PS 75. Mandy's soft voice seemed even quieter and more hesitant than usual. "Uh, Gwen. I was wondering if could come over? There's, well, there's something I really need to tell you."

Gwen did not want company. But Mandy was her best friend. And judging from the quiver in her voice, she had a problem. With no hesitation, Gwen said she'd love company. After hanging up, she consoled herself over the loss of today’s solitude with the thought that at least she didn’t have to get dressed and put on makeup.

When Mandy arrived, Gwen took her wet raincoat and hung it in the bathroom to dry. They hugged and retreated down the hall to the sanctuary of Gwen's room. Although they had the apartment to themselves, that’s where they’d always felt comfortable and safe.

The shy Mandy seemed reluctant to bring up whatever bothered her. Gwen sat beside her friend on the unmade bed and patiently endured a few minutes of idle small talk. From years of experience, she knew that sooner or later, Mandy would get to the subject. And judging by Mandy’s body language, it would be sooner, not later.

Gwen had a hunch all this would have something to do with Arnie Greenblatz, Mandy's big, wisecracking boyfriend. About twice a year Mandy and Arnie got into a big fight which sometimes took weeks to patch up.

Before Gwen could decide if it were time for another squabble, Mandy cleared her throat. "Gwen.” There was a moment of uncertainty, then Mandy took a deep breath and hurried on. "Oh, Gwen, it's Johnny, he's become a pusher."

With those few words, the pattern of Gwen's life, the long cherished, carefully thought out plans she had devised for her future, ceased to exist. For a long, painful moment, she just stared at Mandy, her mind unable, unwilling to accept what she’d heard, much less its implications.

Mandy began presenting her evidence. "According to Arnie, the word’s out in the neighborhood that Johnny is the person to contact for marijuana and maybe, he’s not sure, other stuff.”

She paused to sniffle, then continued. "I couldn't believe it, not at first. I thought Arnie was trying to pull one of his bad jokes. You know, get Johnny in trouble. But I mentioned it to Shirley and she said Arnie was right. So did some other people who know Johnny.

"That's all I know, except that I don't think he's got a real job." Tears began rolling down Mandy’s cheeks. "What I mean is, with my college practically around the block, sometimes I come home, you know, between classes. Well, it seems like every time I do, I see Johnny hanging around the candy store or pool hall."

There was a sick feeling in the pit of Gwen's stomach. She had no doubt that Arnie and Mandy and Shirley and all the others were right. For weeks she’d ignored the changes in Johnny. Now they all added up: the money and new clothes, always getting off work, his sudden burst of self-confidence, and the evasiveness about his job.

Johnny had become a pusher. She wondered how long he’d been spending money on her that came from dealing dope? Whatever the answer, there was no question about what she now had to do.

Like most people her age, Gwen had no moral objections to smoking grass. What she did object to was the felony conviction that still went with the simple possession of marijuana in New York. As she often reminded Johnny, such a conviction could bar her from ever becoming a registered nurse.

Drugs had always been a non-negotiable issue with Gwen. From the very beginning, she'd made it clear that if Johnny ever started doing dope, they were through. Over the years they’d attended a few parties where people were smoking pot. And while she never insisted on leaving, it always made her nervous.

The bottom line had been a simple one. She wanted to be a nurse, and wouldn’t let anything as trivial as smoking dope keep her from reaching that goal.

Unable to move, she sat in stunned silence, trying to compose her thoughts. She briefly thought about their past, and about what might have been their future. While they had never openly discussed the subject, both knew each had three conditions to meet if their relationship was to last. Her tasks were to provide Johnny with a steady supply of love, attention, and ego gratification. For the last couple of years, that had included sex. His part of the bargain had been to get and keep a steady job, massage her low self-esteem, and stay away from dope.

Well this crap isn't helping my self-esteem one damn bit, she thought in a sudden burst of bitter self-pity. And he sure as hell has broken the other two conditions.

Her anger quickly dissolved into anguish. As the scope of her loss began to register, she emitted a half sob, half moan. After all the years and all the time they had spent together, it was over—just like that. All those dreams and plans about marrying Johnny and moving into an apartment near her folks and working in a local hospital and raising a family, were over, forever.

This time there would be no breaking up to make up in a few weeks. She and Johnny were history. For four years she’d walked toward her future, secure in the knowledge that he would be by her side. Now they were standing on opposites ends of a burning bridge. From this moment on, she'd be walking alone into a future that had become both unknown and unpredictable.

Through her own tear-filled eyes, Gwen noticed Mandy was also crying. Somehow it made her feel better knowing her old friend was sharing her grief. "Mandy, you look about as bad as I feel. Thanks for telling me the truth and for crying with me.”

They clung to one another and cried, until Gwen reached toward her nightstand and grabbed a handful of tissues. "As soon as I can stop all this crying, I've got a phone call to make. You probably don't want to hear what I'm going to say. So if you don't mind, why don’t you go on out to the kitchen and fix us a couple of sodas? Watch TV or whatever. Once I'm through, I'll need your help figuring out how to endure the rest of this happy holiday season."

Mandy nodded her understanding and left the room. After drying her eyes, Gwen reached for her notebook with the Boston number where Johnny and his mother were visiting family. With a trembling finger, she dialed zero, and gave the long distance operator the number. A minute later, a familiar male voice came on the line. Struggling to overcome the tremor in her voice, Gwen began, "Johnny, this isn't easy for me to say, but...."

When it ended, she made her way to the living room. Mandy stood staring out the big window, waiting with two glasses of cola. Gwen went into the kitchen, reached under the sink and pulled out a half-empty bottle of blended whiskey. Without asking, she poured a generous shot into both glasses.

"Mandy, did you ever hear Frank Sinatra sing, “One For My Baby?”“ Not waiting for her friend to answer, she continued. "My father loves Sinatra and that's his favorite. I must have heard it a thousand times. But you know, today's the first time I've understood how crappy the guy in that song must feel. Of course, we're drinking my friend to the end of a very long, four-year, episode. Cheers."

Mandy sniffled again and sipped at her drink. Gwen took a big gulp, then choked and almost spilled it on the carpet. The two friends looked at one another, and began to giggle.

Their laughter soon reverted to tears as they grieved for the loss of love and innocence and dreams. When they cried themselves out, Gwen put away the bottle while Mandy poured their unfinished drinks down the kitchen sink and washed the glasses.

"Mandy, if you don't mind, I could use your help. I want to go ahead and take his stuff back today," said Gwen, avoiding saying the name, Johnny.

They found a cardboard box and filled it with photos, presents, and other mementos. Once finished, Gwen tugged off her engagement ring and laid it next to the ankle bracelet Johnny had given her. That done, she closed the box.

Years ago, Johnny's mother had given Gwen a key to their apartment. Whenever the DeAngelo’s were out of town, she would go feed the goldfish and water the plants. Now as she entered the small, familiar apartment, Gwen knew this would be the last time.

She paused, then handed the box to Mandy. "Would you mind taking this to his room? It’s the third door on the right down the hall. I don't think I could, you know, face going in there."

When Mandy returned, Gwen was feeding the fish. "See that big one there?" She pointed to a robust-looking specimen moving sedately near the top of the aquarium. "That's Buster. He's my favorite."

In silence they watched the feeding fish. When Gwen put their food away for the last time, she began to cry. "I'm going to miss Buster and all the other fish. And I'll miss Mrs. DeAngelo, too. She was always so sweet to me. But you know, after what her son did, I wonder if I’m going miss these fish, and going steady, more than I'll miss him."

After one long last look around, she followed Mandy outside, re-locked the apartment door, dropped the key into the DeAngelo's mailbox, and left the building. Neither spoke as they walked back toward Gwen's building. Their moods were mirrored by the gloomy afternoon skies.

At the entrance to Gwen’s apartment, Mandy said she had to get home. “I didn’t want you to have to walk all the way back by yourself. But my folks expect me to go with them to visit my grandfather.”

"I understand. Believe me, I understand," said Gwen, with a thin smile. "I must have visited every relative on both sides of my family at least twice over the last couple of weeks."

The two old friends hugged. "Mandy, thanks again for telling me the truth about, you know, everything. It hurt, but I needed to know. Most of all, thanks for being my friend."

Much to Gwen’s relief, she found the apartment empty. She'd have to face her family soon enough. Right now, she just wanted to hide and not talk to anyone, especially her mother.

Once inside her room, Gwen closed the door and walked across to her bed. Not bothering to turn on a light, she sat down and stared out the rain streaked casement window into the dreary, slate-gray, sky. She noticed the vacant spot on her left ring finger, fought back a sob, and struggled to sort out her emotions.

What now? What was Gwen Kaplan, student nurse, supposed to do now? She still wanted to be a nurse, but what about after graduation? For the last four years, she’d known all the answers. Now she knew nothing.

A wave of intense despair overwhelmed her. With a sob, she fell back on the bed. Tears once again filled her eyes. She rolled over, clutched at her pillow, and felt the tip of something poking her side. Buried among the disheveled sheets, she discovered the hardback book she had been reading when Mandy called.

"Love Story, boy is that ironic, or what?" She checked her initial impulse to toss the book aside and curl up under her blanket. Instead, she hesitated, then opened the book's front cover.

In the fading light from the rain streaked window, Gwen could just make out the inscription. "Dear Gwen, Because of you, my time in New York has been a Love-ly Story. Thanks for becoming a very important part of my life. With love, Mark."

For some time, she sat in the growing dark, contemplating what she'd just read. Then she reached out in the gloom, turned on her lamp and re-read the message. After reading it two more times, she closed the book and, with great care, set it on her nightstand.

She got out of bed, walked to the bathroom and washed her tear-streaked face. After getting a glass of water from the kitchen, she returned to her room, peeled off her damp clothes and tossed them in the general direction of an overflowing hamper. After slipping on new panties, she went to the closet, pulled out her battered suitcase, and rummaged around inside until she located a large, long-sleeve, shirt.

After a half-hearted try at shoving the suitcase back into the closet, she gave up and left most of it sticking out the door. With the heavy, starched shirt pressed firmly against her bare breasts, she walked back to her bed.

She struggled with the buttons, then forced her arms through the stiff sleeves. With that accomplished, she pulled the hard fabric up over her shoulders and redid the buttons.

What she saw in the long dressing mirror pleased her. The color worked well with her skin and eyes while the shirt's mid-thing length accented her legs.

She hadn’t worn the shirt before, not wanting to answer questions about its origin and worried the thick, starched fabric might chafe and scratch her skin. But the well-worn material seemed to mold itself to the contours of her body. It gave her an unexpected sense of security and belonging.

Her new nightshirt was a regulation, olive drab, military fatigue shirt with colorful patches on each shoulder. In front were two pockets with flaps secured by big, green buttons. Above one pocket was a strip of cloth with dark letters that read, US ARMY. Above the other pocket, another cloth strip bore a single word, CAHILL.

She picked up the book she’d been reading earlier that afternoon. It had been given to her by the same man who gave her the shirt she now wore, Mark Cahill.

He’d be back in two weeks. Until then, she had his book and his shirt. The book felt at home in her hands. The shirt seemed to belong on her body. Who knows, thought Gwen as she snuggled under her covers, maybe it does.

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Sunday, August 07, 2005

Hurricanes Need Southern Names

Cajun Justin Wilson
Greetings, world.

It has come to my attention, that Mr. Ed (aka Hurricane Edouard) had a French name. Though born and raised in Louisiana, I've never come across a single person of French descent (aka Cajun) named Edouard knocking around down in the bayous. Still, I'll accept that info-dump for the sake of argument.

How-some-ever, it occured to me that since those of us who dwell in the South have to deal with about 95-99% of the tropical storms that hit the US of A, instead of using a bunch of fureign names for hurricanes, the storm folks outta consider some fine monikers with a southern orientation.

IMHO, the top three names on any men's list would, of course, have to begin with:


followed closely by:
HURRICANE GOOBER (Gomer Pyles' beloved brother)
HURRICANE JOE BOB (famous Texas drive-in movie critic)

On the distaff side, what about leading off with:


and then maybe:
HURRICANE JOLENE (title of a Dolly Parton song)

Any suggestions for other names would be welcome.

Bayou Bill

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Strange as it may seem, there’s been no outcry for more inside info on me. In fact, there's never been an outcry for any tidbits, not one. Guess it proves there’s still some good taste and sound judgment left in this world.

To avoid the risk of some poor deranged soul being tempted to ask for up-close and personal details, I’m hereby giving faithful readers, okay, make that any reader, a copy of my interview now running in the current edition of Long Story Short.

In addition to the interview, this issue contains my story, Willie and The Brain, which they selected as “Story of the Month.” Long Story Short has been a well-respected, writer-oriented e-zine. After this issue, well, they'll still have one out of two of those, which ain't bad. Check it out.



LSS. Tell us a little about yourself.
A. At one time or another I've been a country grocery store clerk, oil field roustabout, infantry soldier, graduate student, paper pusher for the government, out-of-work, a newspaper columnist, and now a struggling fiction writer. I have a Bachelor’s from LSU and a Master's from Louisiana Tech (both in history), and had academic work published. My fiction has appeared in Rose and Thorn, USADeepSouth,, New Works Review, Chick Flicks, Muscadine Line, Nibbler, and now, Long Story Short.

After picking up a Combat Infantry Badge and Purple Heart in Vietnam, I lived in New York City off-and-on from 1970-1972 undergoing a series of eye operations and meeting my future wife. That experience is the background for my first novel, A Brief Affair. Although born and raised in Louisiana, I'm out-stationed with my family in Dallas where I've just finished my second novel, We Danced to Ray Charles, a coming-of-age, mainstream story, set in a small Southern town in 1968. As proof the age of miracles hasn’t past, it was named a semi-finalist in the 2005 Faulkner competition.


LSS. How long have you been a writer?
A. I was a slow learner, but about halfway through the first grade I started to get the hang of writing.


LSS. What made you put that first story down on paper?
A. I’m not positive, but odds are my fear of getting a whipping if I came home with a “F” in English on my report card played a big role.


LSS. What types of stories do you write?
A. Most of my short stories have been romances, dramas, comedies, and/or unpublished. My two novels have been mainstream.


LSS. Do you take most of your ideas from life? Or your imagination? A mix?
A. I use a lot of imagination to try and turn selected bits of my real-life experiences into something interesting. It’s a challenge.


LSS. What are your goal or goals as a writer?
A. To write at least one novel that’s well-crafted, entertaining, and what Hemingway referred to as, “true.” I suppose getting the thing published would be another goal. Otherwise, it would be like talking to myself.


LSS. What do your family/friends think about your writing? Are they supportive?
A. My wife suggested I write my first novel which was based on our meeting in NYC, but I’m not certain she now doesn’t regret that rash act. The attitude of my family and friends would probably best be described as benign tolerance.


LSS. For you, what is most frustrating about writing? Most rewarding?
A. I’ve never pulled a Balzac, and rolled on the floor, tearing my hair out trying to think of the perfect word, phrase, or description, but I feel his pain.

The most rewarding part is when a reader says something you wrote touched them. It’s very humbling, but also an incredible rush.


LSS. Do you read much? What kinds of books inspire you to write-if any? Favorite authors?
A. A three-for-one question? You’re tough. But I’ll bite.
A1. A lot, at least these days. Back when I was working full-time, very active in community service work, and doing my best to help housebreak three kids, there was no time for novels. That was tough for a guy who minored in English Lit. Now, I’m trying to catch up.
A2. Good ones.
A3. The usual list of suspects: Faulkner, Hemingway, Steinbeck, P. G. Wodehouse, Elmore Leonard, Walker Percy, Walter Moseley, Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor, many others.


LSS. How do you handle rejection letters? Any hints?
A. I try to pity the poor fool who wrote the misguided sucker. If that doesn’t work, there’s always Jack Daniels.


LSS. If I were sitting down today to write my very first story, what would your advice be?
A. Don’t. If you reject that sound advice, I’d tell you to write, write, write, and then, while recuperating from carpel tunnel syndrome, read Stephen King’s On Writing.


LSS. What's your opinion on "How-to" books on writing? Helpful, a waste of money?
A. The good ones can teach you things you’d otherwise have to learn through trial-and-error. The trick is picking out the right one.


LSS. Do you have days when the words won't flow? What do you do?
A. Who me, writer’s block? What a concept. But seriously folks, when stuck I either re-write, which often restarts the flow, or walk the dogs.


LSS. What's a typical writing day like for you? Do you have a schedule? How do you keep from procrastinating?
A. Another three-for-one question. And I bet you’re not even ashamed. Okay, here goes.
A1. For me, there’s no such thing as a typical writing day.
A2. Of course I have a schedule; it’s just very neglected.
A3. You mean there’s a way to keep from procrastinating?


LSS. Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night and started writing? Do dreams inspire you?
A. No, but I’ve got a notepad in my nightstand in case it ever happens.

Do dreams inspire me? Well, I’ll assume the scope of that question is limited to writing and say, sometimes.


LSS. Do you have a 'golden rule' of writing that almost always works for you?
A. Don’t bore your reader. It’s analogous to Elmore Leonard’s famous writing maxim: Try to leave out the parts readers tend to skip.


LSS. Did we forget anything?
A. Well, we’ve left out any mention of me winning second place in the tetherball competition at Boy Scout camp one year, fouling out in the second quarter of a basketball game, being class reporter in ninth grade, or breaking my nose while playing chess.


LSS. What would you like to add?
A. My thanks to Long Story Short for all they’ve done for me and other writers.

Monday, August 01, 2005


Two parents discussing sportsmanship

I wrote this many long years ago for my sports column in the Ruston Morning Paper as a satire on the often overzealous attitude displayed by the parents of some young athletes and the overemphasis on winning by certain religious organizations. Since then, the situation appears to have gotten even worse. So much for the power of the press.

Bayou Bill


by Bill Fullerton

"Welcome to parents participation training.” The debonair young man holding the microphone had a big, toothy grin.

"Many of you will be first-time parent participants in this area's various summer youth league competitions. Your appearance here demonstrates how, as concerned parents, you have realized the importance of displaying appropriate conduct while your child is participating as an athlete.

"To start today's session, we'll have an overview of the entire training program. Our first block of instruction will involve the basics of yelling at the umpire. Next will come a quick look at the principle tactics involved in baiting managers. The final segment is devoted to disorderly conduct, with both other parents and officials, during games."

The young man’s smile somehow managed to broaden as he continued. "I know that's a lot to cover, but this is a very important subject. And if you pay attention, we just might have a surprise lecturer come by before the evening is over.

"Now when first beginning to yell at umpires, it's best to limit your attacks, we prefer to call them, interactions, to total strangers. However, as your expertise grows, you'll discover being rude and abusive becoming easier and easier, even when the ump happens to be some life-long acquaintances."

At this point a look of seriousness passed over the man's face. "Remember, it's your duty as parents to serve as role models for your children. You must show them the importance of authority and how to give it proper respect. If you must question a friend’s honesty or intelligence to accomplish this goal, well, that's just the breaks.

"Let's move on to the subject of manager harassment. Of course anyone can verbally degrade and vilify the opposing team's manager. What takes special talent is intimidating your child's manager."

With a tolerant look, the dapper young man let the buzz in the audience die down before continuing. "If this were a perfect world, perhaps there would be no need to straighten out managers. But, sad to say, we do not live in a perfect world. Almost inevitably, your child's manager will either fail to give your young star enough playing time, or else play him in the wrong position."

Waving his hand in response to several parents who had raised their hands, he continued. "Now I know what you're thinking. What if my child's the team's pitcher?”

The speaker nodded his understanding. “It is not impossible for a manager to recognize your child's greatness and play him in the proper position and for an appropriate amount of time, like every minute of the game. However, even these managers are prone to call for the wrong pitch or signal some totally inane play. In that case, it becomes your job as responsible parents to loudly remind the manager of his shortcomings. As with the abuse of umpires, this public humiliation of managers will demonstrate to your child the importance of authority and the proper respect it should be shown."

The young man picked up an empty bottle and held it high. "This object is one of the primary working tools of the disorderly parent and, as we all know, being an effective disorderly parent is often an essential element in your young player's chances for victory. After all, there are likely to be other parents in the stands who will also be threatening the ump and vilifying the managers.

"It will be up to you to see that your child's team, and its followers, presents a truly hostile and aggressive demeanor. If the other team ever seems to be gaining the upper hand, it will become your duty to negate, if not terminate, the effectiveness of their parents. Several tactics can be used to accomplish this objective. One is physical threats and intimidation. By the way, this is most effective at your home field."

Just then the crowd stirred as a distinguished looking older gentleman walked on stage. There was a note of excitement in the younger man's voice. "Ladies and gentleman, this is the special surprise I mentioned earlier. The Right Rev. Doctor Dorite from Mighty Big Church has stopped by to make a few choice remarks.”

Beaming, the Right Rev. Doctor took the microphone. "Thank you Eddie, you're doing a fine job." He turned to the crowd and beamed. "And you're a fine group. I just know you'll make excellent parent participants.

"I'd like to say a few words to those of you with children playing in church leagues. Don't think for a second that Eddie's advice doesn't apply to church league play. Like many other churches, we at Mighty Big Church see it as part of our mission to field winning teams.

"To accomplish this goal, we can always use the help of you parent's. That doesn't mean we're not doing everything possible to win. For instance, like other churches, we occasionally recruit ringers who have seldom, if ever, attended worship services in our tabernacle."

With a confidential smile, the Right Rev. Doctor proceeded. "We've even formed our own league, the Behemoth Churches Alliance, designed to exclude those little churches which might happen to have winning teams. Of course we always load up our best players on one or two teams. This does tend to keep the less gifted children from getting much playing time, but sitting on the bench teaches them patience.

"All this is dedicated to one objective, beating the stuffing out of those lost souls at all the lesser houses of worship, thereby demonstrating our physical, and spiritual, superiority."

Spreading his arms wide, he concluded, "So remember everything Eddie has taught you, and go out there determined to win, win, win, at any cost! Amen and Halleluiah.”

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