Free Fiction: “A Different League” (flash, noir)

Originally posted August 2013, at Akashic Books. Guidelines required a 750-word limit and a distinctly recognizable setting. Felicia’s isn’t downtown anymore, but everywhere else still exists, and looks a lot like this, under a certain light…

A Different League
by Carrie Cuinn
Downtown, Ithaca, NY

Two a.m. at The State Diner came with a refill on my half-drunk coffee and an impatient smile on the lips of the waitress who’d been hovering nearby. My appointment was late, but my wallet was empty, so I couldn’t afford to leave. A week of poor sleep, too much caffeine, and more than one drive-thru meal meant my stomach was churning like the Buttermilk Falls after a storm, but I glanced over the menu anyway.

“Turkey club, side of fries,” I said. She smiled for real this time, her eyes sparkling. If my taste ran to tired bottle-blondes with swollen feet, I might have chatted her up, but just then the bar crowd stumbled in. Carefully-trimmed beards, pastel plaids, and skinny jeans . . . hipsters from Felicia’s Atomic Lounge, drunk on Black Cherry Old Fashioneds and Fig Manhattans, the upscale cocktail-revival staples.

A petite beauty in a yellow dress disentangled herself from the pack. Naomi Le’s three-inch heels clicked against the tile floor until she paused at my booth, looked back over one shoulder, and quickly sat down. I wanted to tell her she was late, that she was a liar, but too much truth at once and she’d bolt. She had that look about her, as if she was only half-girl sitting on a black bench seat. Her sparrow half was already fluttering away.

“Are you hungry?” I asked instead.

“No,” she replied. “I couldn’t get away sooner. Derek got an internship in DC, and we were celebrating.” She tucked a strand of night-black hair behind one ear, revealing a diamond bigger than a pea.

“That’s a nice dress,” I said. “Vintage?”

She smiled, now on familiar ground. “It’s from Petrune, on the Commons. Have you been?”

“Sure, loads of times,” I lied. The waitress sidled up and set my order in front of me. I waved her away with, “We’re sharing, thanks.” She sighed, but left us alone.

I couldn’t afford to dress out of Petrune’s closet. $250 for a new jacket constructed in a vintage style made the shop popular; only a certain kind of rich could drop that amount of cash on a casual wardrobe. Cornell University had plenty of those, playing out college party fantasies on their absentee father’s dime, and I was just another day-player in Naomi’s life. But I was going to get paid before my scene ended.

I took a bite of my sandwich, enjoying the crispy bacon and the crunch of cool lettuce, before I said, “You were right. Your fiancé is having an affair.”

She gasped, her brown eyes going wide. It was almost believable.

“Are you sure?”

I pulled an envelope, fat with glossy photos, out of my pocket. “I tailed Derek for a week. During the day it was business as usual: classes on the Hill, studying at Olin. But Tuesday night he had a visit from a woman with red hair. She didn’t leave until after midnight.” I pulled one photo from the bunch and slid it across the Formica table. “Do you know her?”

She shook her head. “Was . . . was that the only time?”

“No. There was an overnight stay at The Statler Hotel, too.” I concentrated on my fries while she studied the woman in the photo.

“Do you have any that show her face?”

“Sorry. They were discreet. I only got what I did because I’m very good at my job.”

That line usually does the trick. She handed over a platinum card with a little nod. I scanned the numbers with my bank’s app, and authorized the payment. “I’ll email you a receipt,” I said as I handed the card back. She stuffed it and the photos into her pocketbook and stood up to go.

“What are you going to do?” I asked, staying seated.

She shrugged. “I don’t know. Our families are old friends. Our fathers golf together. I can’t just leave.”

“Of course. Good luck.”

She strolled back to her friends and nestled under Derek’s arm as if she’d never left. I pulled up an image on my phone, one I hadn’t had printed out: Naomi Le in a red wig, checking into The Statler with her fiancé.

They weren’t the first couple to play bad boyfriend/naughty mistress, though not many could afford a private eye to heighten the drama. But what did I care? Mr. Le’s allowance would be paying my rent this month, and tonight I didn’t have to stiff the waitress on the tip.

And that ain’t nothing.

New story: “Routed” (Creative Non-Fiction)

Routed

I often notice the people who ride the bus with me, just like I’m sure some of them notice me. Not everyone does. Some people fold in on themselves like an origami bird when they go out in public, seeing only their own devices, and out of habit, their stops. We all follow the code though: you keep to yourself. Don’t talk too loudly. Don’t take up more than one seat (two, if you have groceries, and the bus isn’t crowded). People who don’t respect the muffled quiet of the commute get away with it, of course, because when you follow the code, you’re not going to break it by speaking up, but we notice.

Halfway home from the store, the bus stopped for five minutes of scheduled break before the route number changed. If you’re going up the hill, there’s no point in getting off the bus and then back on, so the drivers let us sit until it’s time to go again. A man, with long greasy graying hair, wearing a dark grey sweatshirt, Cornell hat, aviator glasses, and jeans, plus a heavy-looking backpack, pulled the bike rack down from the front of the bus with a loud clank. He situated his bike, then boarded. Loudly, he asked, “Anyone got anything for sale?”

No one replied. Few looked at him. The bus was not crowded yet; we were waiting at Green St, in front of the library, for more passengers. Our driver was off getting a drink from the nearby coffee bar.

“Any chips?” the greasy man asked, voice still booming, as if the half dozen people sitting quietly on a standard-sized city bus might not be able to hear him. He sat down on a bench near the front, next a middle aged Latina wearing a red t-shirt and red plastic sunglasses, who scooted over a few inches, moving away from him as far as the seat would allow.

“I’m hungry,” he said, leaning toward her, by way of explanation. He wasn’t so loud this time, and he mumbled. She nodded as if understanding, with the half smile we women use to acknowledge people we wish would stop talking.

The man took off his backpack and set it on the floor with a tired thump. He scowled, looked around at the other passengers, and shook his head. We had failed him by not having food to share with or sell to him, and he would not forget it.

The bus driver got back on, and checked his machine to be certain the greasy man had paid the right fair. Satisfied, he let a few other people on, cheerful enough, though saying little more than everyday bus pleasantries. We gained a dozen Cornell kids as we rode up through Collegetown, where the scent of lunchtime restaurants landed in my nose and inspired my belly. The man said nothing, but his expression made it clear he’d noticed the same smells.

Our numbers diminished as we wound through campus, releasing students into the bright September afternoon one stop after another. The man stood for a moment as we passed the century-old Theta Delta Chi fraternity house, but sat down quickly again. He had perhaps two days worth of scruff on his computer, and his tanned face was sparsely but deeply lined. After the Thurston Hall stop, there were only six of us left on the bus, including him.

On holidays the bus takes a slightly different route than I’m used to. The change in route number is clear but I forget anyway, just enough that I wonder once or twice if we’re still going in the right direction. At Jessup, we lose the last student, and the red-shirt woman starts up a conversation with the young black girl across the aisle. She had purple hair and was going to the airport; the man leaned in, trying to grab a piece of the conversation, but neither women had any more to say, and he leaned back into his seat.

At the cemetery, the landscape became familiar to me again. I always know my relative distance from a graveyard.

The airport girl gets off at the pharmacy stop, which means she’ll have to wait an hour for the next bus if she wants to catch her flight, and I realize then that I may have misheard her. Who goes to the airport without luggage?

It’s not until we–my son and I–get off a few minutes later that the hungry man notices our grocery bags. We stepped off onto the warm asphalt as he opened a window and shouted,

“Hey, you have food!”

There are two cars idling behind the bus, and I’m surrounded on all sides by apartment buildings, but the bus isn’t moving.

“Ingredients,” I called back.

He shakes his head at me.

“Flour,” I said loudly as I raised the translucent bag containing 5 pounds of unbleached white. The noon sun beats down like a spotlight of discomfort. “It’s for baking.”

Whatever response he had was lost as the bus trundled forward, leaving us behind. The cars pass. A wispy cloud drifts in front of the sun. We head home, flip flops smacking against the new parking lot, to our little apartment, where no one has to notice us at all.


I wrote most of this as it happened on the bus today, and finished it when I got home. It is nearly entirely true, but it’s the way you tell a story that makes it creative, I’m told, though if you tell it well enough, it somehow diminishes the part that’s real. (Personally, I think the real parts are what make fiction work best.) As always, comments are appreciate. Thanks for reading!

Have you read my short fiction collection, WOMEN AND OTHER CONSTRUCTS? It’s free!

Published in 2013, Women and Other Constructs includes six previously published tales, plus two new ones, and–just for fun–a sonnet about a murderous robot. The “Introduction” talks about the broader themes behind the book, and “About the Stories” gives a quick look at what inspired each of them. I assembled the books myself: print layout, ebook creation, and designing the cover. It’s not long, just over 20,000 words, but it best represents my work to that point, and though I’ve evolved a bit as a writer since, I still love these pieces.

Table of Contents:

  • Introduction
  • “Mrs. Henderson’s Cemetery Dance”
  • “Letter From A Murderous Construct and His Robot Fish”
  • “Annabelle Tree”
  • “A Cage, Her Arms”
  • “Call Center Blues”
  • “Mitch’s Girl”
  • “All The Right Words”
  • “Monsters, Monsters, Everywhere”
  • “About the Mirror and its Pieces”
  • About the Stories

You can see what other folks thought at the Goodreads page for the book. (Liked it? Please leave me a review.)

Download a bundle of all 3 ebook formats, here, or individually: ePubMobi, or PDF. You’ll have to “check out” but there’s no charge, and no financial information required.

An Obituary For @talkwordy

Correction: Brian J. White, known on Twitter as the estimable @talkwordy, is not dead in the literal sense. I mean, he’d want want you to know this fact. But a hilarious series of events caused @wa7trel to request this “obituary”, and I turn in my assignments as ordered.

Latest Obituaries: Local Spotlight

BRIAN J. JONAH JAMESON WHITE, of Boston, MA and Elsewhere. Beloved husband, newspaper editor, publisher, miscreant, and hedgehog fetishist, Mr. White died suddenly last week while announcing that he was stepping down from Fireside Magazine, which he had founded. White, who had quietly suffered for years from an embarrassing illness which caused uncontrollable shouting on the internet and an inability to use simple punctuation, passed away surround by his wife, cats, and a pile of improperly nibbled KitKat bars.

White’s death was announced online by his dear friend, , who immediately began gathering messages of grief and support from the community, under the hastag #RIPwordy. Hundreds of tweeters shared their favorite memories of the cantankerous clown-fondler, from the way he mangled candy with his face, to his innocent love of hedgehogs, and of course, his many cat pictures, which will be missed.

The family has been alerted to ongoing activity on White’s Twitter account, which seems to have been hacked after his death; though it’s unclear whether the faux-Wordy tweeting from this account now is a fan or a Markov bot, the cats have decided to hold off deleting @talkwordy for now, as a sign of respect for the community’s need to grieve. (The harsh language directed at @KitKat_US, the social media intern behind the official US account for Hershey Kit Kat, has caused some confusion, as it is especially on message for White’s brand.) Please bear in mind that any responses White’s Twitter bot provides should be consider parody, for entertainment purposes only.

White’s family has asked that in lieu of flowers, you consider supporting Fireside Magazine on Patreon, so the publication White began may continue to publish great stories, and pay writers well.

Those interested in reading a collection of newsletters, created by White and found in a desk drawer after his death, may subscribe to “his” Patreon here. (Though these newsletters will be checked for content and clarity before being sent to subscribers, White’s cats have stated for the record that as cats, they cannot read, so it’s possible a few clown references will sneak in.)

An “unofficial” public wake will be held at this year’s Readercon, in the bar.


I’ve been taking prompts from friends and fans who contribute to my rent and expenses, and writing them into flash length fiction stories. So far in this round, I’ve posted six other tales:

If you want to inspire your own story, you can get on the list by donating any amount via my PayPal, HERE. (Seriously, any amount. I appreciate the help.) You don’t need a PayPal account to use that link.

Free Short Story: “Tomorrow Can Be A Better Day”

I admit right now that this is not “flash” fiction. At 1727 words, it’s definitely a short story. Clarissa Ryan asked for one that included a lot of cute and happiness-inducing things, and when I’d finished drafting it, there was nothing I wanted to cut out. So, a short story it is, and I hope you enjoy it.

Tomorrow Can Be A Better Day

Jana stroked the kitten’s soft, calico fur as the elevator rose slowly. She left it cling to her shirt, held tight to her chest, as its tiny claws extended and retracted happily. The elevator stopped at the 7th floor, and Jana carefully reached down for her bags with her free hand.

“Time for you to go to your new home, honey,” Jana said to the kitten as she searched the recipient’s apartment. Spotting the right number on the door, she stopped, and set her bags down to one side. She pulled out square pink box large enough to hold the kitten, gently unhooked its little paws from her shirt, and placed it inside. “Now, shh,” she whispered. “You’re a surprise.” She grabbed a shiny bow from the bag, set it atop the box (careful not to cover up any of the air holes) and knocked on the door.

Just as Jana was about to knock again, the door finally opened a crack. An older woman, her graying hair up in a loose bun, clutched her bathrobe tightly with wrinkled pink hands. Her sandy blue eyes were red and her eyelids were puffy.

“Mrs. Margorie Hanta? Happiness Delivery Service,” Jana said in her bubbliest voice.

“I don’t want whatever it is,” Mrs. Hanta said softly. “Thanks anyway.” She started to close the door.

“Oh, but wait,” Jana said. “You’re the only one who can take this.” She held the box up.

The other woman sighed, but let the door stay open.

The kitten in the box mewed softly.

“No,” Mrs. Hanta said to the box, shaking her head. “I am not ready.” Continue reading