Monday, September 24, 2007


There has to be a first time, a beginning, an alpha moment for everything. This flash fiction (950 word) short story is adapted from a scene in my sort-of-a-memoir first novel, A BRIEF AFFAIR, about how a nice Jewish girl from Queens ended up getting stuck, for the last 34 years, with a beat-up vet from Louisiana.

This is my part in the AbsoluteWrite Flash Fiction Carnival. For more information, see:

Any other comments, suggestions, and/or passing thoughts will also be much appreciated.

Bayou Bill


by Bill Fullerton

On slow afternoons, Gwen Kaplan could sometimes take a break from her summer job as a nurse tech and stop by the new patient’s room. She liked the young vet, knew he must be lonely, loved listening to his southern accent, and felt comfortable around him. When he flirted, it was more a teasing compliment than a pass—maybe because he knew she was engaged. And he seemed to respect her being halfway through nursing school.

Today, however, she felt he might really need to talk. After spending another weekend alone on the ward, he’d learned of a buddy’s death in Vietnam, and just now had struggled buttoning the pajama top she’d brought him due, he said, to the distortion caused by his thick, cataract glasses.

"Mind if I stay for a minute and rest my feet?"

Mark Cahill seemed startled by the request. "If I ever mind that, then I really will be in trouble.”

The humor was familiar, she thought, turning the bedside chair toward him and sitting, but it sounded strained and his smile looked forced. "Things like what just happened, do they bother you?” Of course, they did. She knew that and didn’t like being so direct. But she sensed he might be ready to open up a bit, and didn’t want to lose the opportunity.

"Just two times—daytime and nighttime. No, really, I can usually laugh ‘em off, but not always.” For the first time he began talking about being totally blind for nearly a year and how, even with some eyesight now restored, he still struggled with its limitations and the resulting frustrations.

After a moment of indecision, she decided to risk asking the question that had always bothered her. “Do you mind telling me why you joined the Army? You had to know it meant going to Vietnam.”

“Well, the war was out-of-style, very uncool, and I was in kind of a slump, so what else was I supposed to do? Besides, it was the only war around and I wanted to do my Ernest Hemingway thing. You know, check out what war was like.”

Gwen sensed they were circling a much bigger issue. Hoping she wasn’t making things worse, she said, “Mark, it’s okay if you don’t want to tell me, but I’d really like to know what happened when you got hurt.”

“No problem. My recon unit was on patrol just before dawn. The guy in front of me stepped on a booby trap. I caught the blast from the waist up and couldn’t see a thing. About a month later, I was flown to an Army hospital in Texas. The doctors there removed one eye and said odds were I’d never see out of the other. And if I hadn’t gotten a chance to see the top eye doc here in New York, they might have been right.”

“So how long have you been here?”

“Since January. I’ve gone home a couple times. That’s where I was when a certain long-legged Bellevue nursing student named Gwen Kaplan began her summer job here at the VA.”

Mark was sitting on the edge of his bed, feet propped on the lowered railing, elbows resting on knees. His voice was so low and soothing, Gwen had to scoot closer and lean forward to hear.

He paused in the middle of a sentence, apparently having noticed something around her eyebrows. In a casual tone, he said, "Close your eyes a second.”

Assuming he wanted to remove whatever he’d just spotted, she obeyed—and was stunned to feel Mark's lips press gently against hers. An intoxicating erotic energy took possession of her body. No hands touched her, but she couldn’t move. As if in a dream, she responded to the unexpected kiss.

The tip of his tongue met no resistance as it slipped between her lips. Once inside, it made slow sensuous love to her mouth, caressing and coaxing her into returning its touch. She felt powerless to resist. All she could do, all she wanted to do, was savor the feel of Mark Cahill's mouth against hers.

Seconds, minutes, hours, days later, she couldn't be sure, he broke the kiss and leaned back. Gwen opened her eyes and saw him looking straight at her. What he’d done wasn’t right, she was certain of that. But what was she supposed to do now? After all, she didn’t want to hurt his feelings, and she’d loved the kiss.

From somewhere deep inside her jumbled brain came a memory of instructors saying to reject the act, not the patient. Now all she could think to say was, "I like you, Mr. Cahill."

He responded in his trademark soft southern voice. "I like you, too, Miss Kaplan."

Unable to think of anything else to do, she struggled to her feet and somehow managed to reach the foot of Mark's bed on legs which threatened to collapse. "And Miss Kaplan,” she paused at the sound of Mark’s voice and looked back, “someday I'm going to kiss every inch of your body."

Still shaken by the kiss, she couldn’t believe this guy had just told her something so blatantly sexual. Things like that weren’t supposed to happen to nice Jewish girls from Queens, especially when they were engaged.

With her head spinning, she mumbled good-bye and made her way out of room 24. In the empty, neon-lighted corridor, she sagged against the wall. Her addled mind raced with unanswered questions triggered by that unexpected kiss.

How had it happened? She wasn't sure.

Had she, somehow, encouraged him? No way.

Should she tell her fiancé? Definitely not. Johnny was way too insecure. Why worry him?

What should she do the next time? She didn't know.

Would there be a next time? Possibly? Probably?

She glanced back at the door to Mark’s room. Hopefully?

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Blogger bunnygirl said...

I like this. It's very clean-- not a lot of excess telling. And that makes it sexier, the impact of the kiss more immediate.

9:38 PM  
Blogger Virginia Lee said...

Lovely, Bill. Just lovely.

You made the couple very real for me.

Well done.

4:46 AM  
Anonymous twizzle said...

it makes you wonder, how they'll end up together? such different people. I hope you share more.

10:22 AM  
Blogger Bk30 said...

ah Bill, you know how I feel about these two :), but even the third time reading it, it still gets me right here.

9:51 AM  
Blogger Elrena said...

I only have one quick suggestion, to keep or toss as it suits you! As bunnygirl said, there's not a lot of excess telling here -- so the paragraph describing the kiss seemed a little surprising to me. I'd maybe consider trimming it, or even just going right from "the unexpected kiss" to "seconds, minutes, hours."

Just my two cents! :)

5:54 PM  
Blogger Shauna Magill said...

Oh, what a fun story! I really enjoyed it. My only suggestion would be to change the title. We knew a kiss was coming, so it didn't catch as off-guard as you were aiming for. The best of luck!

5:25 PM  
Anonymous Mari Sloan said...

Grinning. I like the way she didn't say anything phony or insincere at the end, but merely stated the truth. No games. I liked the surprise! I loved this piece and I usually don't enjoy romance.

9:24 AM  

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