You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘my original fiction’ category.

46 poems by me published in
27 lit mags and journals (and a couple of blogs)
10 readings by me
3 book reviews of my book Better With Friends
4 book reviews by me
1 short story by me
1 interview of me
1 article about me
1 radio appearance by me
1 recording of a poem of mine
1 art show contained a poem by me
1 book accepted for publication.  Seriously Dangerous coming from Main Street Rag in 2011 is in advance order now.

I have a short story, “Memories of a Joplin Bum,” on Fried Chicken and Coffee.

Thank you editor, Rusty Barnes.

Rita liked the pace of Sunday mornings: a huge change from her weekday routine, rushing to an office downtown.  Waking slowly, while watching the sun change from a slit to a ball, she glanced at the paper and sipped a purple mug of foamy, vanilla coffee.  She took a long, hot shower before dressing for church.  The drive was pleasant.

Then entering the sanctuary, she selected her usual sixth-row pew, spoke to her friends, removed her coat, and sat down.  The choir’s entrance, always to a familiar chorus, signaled the beginning of worship, so when Rita rose with the others and began to sing, nothing seemed different.  Closing her eyes to shut out all but God, Rita stretched her arms skyward and felt the Spirit descend.

When she saw golden rays radiating from a crimson heart, she opened her eyes in disbelief.  Shaking her head profusely to clear it of delusion, she was sure she had seen a reverse image of a glowing, decorative, light bulb. Yet when she closed her eyes again, she saw the heart a second time, being drawn in the air by an invisible hand.  Each stroke was deliberate:  The heart, the rays, then the rectangle—over and over again.

When the song was over, the heart was gone as suddenly as it had appeared, leaving Rita, who now sat on the padded pew, shivering and dizzy.  Although she did not purposely squelch the vision, she did not bask in its afterglow as fully as she might have done had she known how to savor it.  But she did not.

The ineffable heart had spoken to her as gently as the Father to His Beloved.  And when the pastor climbed to his lofty pulpit, Rita opened her Bible to the appropriate text, and, balancing it gracefully on her lap, fixed her eyes on him.  Everything looked normal, but Rita did not hear another word. 

I’m a guy who likes my privacy—maybe I said that before—but people all over this town recognize me.  I’m a bit of a landmark here, if I do say so myself.  Even the kids.  I can hear ’em screamin’, “Ol’ Henry!  Ol’ Henry!” when they see me comin’.  Screamin’ and squealin’ like I was a star out of a monster movie showing at the Paramount Theatre or even the Fox.

There’s a group of ’em—two girls, two boys, always together—climb up an old mulberry tree out by the alley in the north end of town.  Not way up north where the rich folks live.  No, this is before you get to those curvy streets with the alphabet names.  About the three hundred block of Jackson or Sergeant.  Up near the DeTar Clinic.  Just a couple of blocks from the Safeway.

The minute those kids see my cart turn into the alley, the girls go to squealin’—even before they even see me.  Then up they go into that tree, all four of ’em.  They sit there as quiet as kids can sit, which ain’t very quiet, and they eat those mulberries—bugs and all.  Bet they eat a quart of bugs every summer!  It’s mostly in the summer when I see those kids.  I just hold my head up and keep on walkin’—walkin’ and pretendin’ I  don’t even know they’re up there. And they sit up there gigglin’ and munchin’ those berries.  Bugs and berries—ha!

I remember one day last summer, they were up in that tree.  I remember that day real well ’cause I turned into that alley on purpose.  You see, I found a bunch of bottles of beer behind Jimmy’s.  I don’t know who left them there ’cause Jimmy don’t sell no beer in his place.  It was a hot day.  Anyway I drank about three bottles before I put the rest in my cart.  So when I got to that alley, I was wantin’ to pee real bad.

There’s a spot down there with a lot of trees—well mostly bushes—but they’re tall enough for a guy to take a quick leak.  In my line of work, you learn the value of bein’ quick.  Comes in handy lots of times.  I just sort of rummage through the trash.  Then I  slip off for a bit—you know, take care of “business.”  Sometimes it’s one kind of business, sometimes it’s another.  I’m quick about it either way.

Well, usually those kids stayed in that tree until I was long gone.  But wouldn’t you know it, this was the day they came down.  All four of ’em right there behind me.  So I had to go on pushin’ my cart two, three more blocks.  I was about to bust!

(The two girls and two boys are me, my sister Pam, my brother Michael, and our across-the-street-neigbhor Mike, also known as “our other brother.”)

I’m really a person who keeps pretty much to myself, but you’d probably know me as the guy you see all over town pushin’ the old wooden cart.  You’d call me a bum, but I’ll get to that later.  I have a life, though you might not think it’s much of one—not by your standards anyhow.  It hasn’t always been like this, you know.  I wasn’t born forty-seven years old pushin’ an old wooden cart everywhere I go—all over this two-bit town.  I had a family . . . wife.

Things are different now.  Every day I do pretty much the same thing, except Sunday.  No sir, I don’t push that cart on Sunday.  Man deserves a bit of rest.  Six days to make a livin’.  One day for takin’ a rest!  That’s the way I see it.

My life’s not all that hard, but it ain’t no picnic either.  I’ve always been—well, poor, even when I had a family and all.  Lived in East town.  You know, lots of people won’t even go into East town on account of the colored people.  Not that it’s all colored, get me, but they live there all right.  Stay to themselves mostly.  I like that.  Nothin’ worse than nosey neighbors.  Colored ain’t all that nosey, not to me anyhow.

Most people don’t trust me a bit.  Call me a bum.  Some folks run when they see me—lots of kids do—but most people don’t pay me all that much attention.  At least that’s what they want me to think.  Some folks just don’t trust me. I can see ’em watchin’ out of the corner of their eye, when I pick up things.

I make my living pickin’ up things.  That’s why I need my cart.  I pick up things.  Sell ’em.  Most of the time it’s things people throw away.

People throw away some of the damndest stuff.  I furnished my house that way.  All my furniture—stuff people just throwed away.  And it’s not only furniture, I found an old saxophone once just  lyin’ out in the alley with the rest of the junk.  Or, maybe a kid put it there, I don’t know.  It played good.  I don’t play myself, never took lessons.  But I sold it to an old colored man who swore it was in great shape.  Sold it to him for $27.

Man, was I livin’ high then!  Ate at the cafeteria and ever’thing.  Yep, Robert’s Cafeteria.

I was standin’ right in front of the cafeteria, after I ate myself a fine meal, when I heard a couple of guys talkin’.  One of ’em was a cop.  I don’t know what the other guy did.  But they were standin’ there on the curb talkin’, and this guy says to the cop, “You know the difference between a bum and a ’bo?”

Now lots of ’bo’s still hang out back of the old Frisco Building on Main, especially at night. The cop said he couldn’t see much difference, but the other guy set him straight.

“A ‘bo will work for a living!”  And he said it like that, too—living!  And they both laughed real hard.

Well, I decided right then and there that it didn’t matter what folks called me. Those fellas laugh like that ’bout anyone who ain’t like them.

I work, all right.  Real hard sometimes.

Lots of folks don’t really know nothin’ about me and maybe not a hell of lot of other stuff either for that matter.  Some folks think that they are so damn smart.  I never had a whole lot of schoolin’.  Education just don’t mean a whole lot to me.  I work, and I have a home.  Oh, it’s not much to look at, but it’s a home, all right.  It’s all I need.  I don’t need all that much.  Yep, I work, all right.

I cover this whole town in about a week.  Just about a week.  Up and down every street.  I don’t really know how many miles I walk in a day, pushin’ that cart.  Never even tried to figure it out.  Too many.  But one thing for sure, I wear out shoes pretty damn quick—even good leather shoes.  I get lots of shoes.  People throw away real good ones sometimes.  Like I said,  I don’t know how many miles I walk or even how big this two-bit town really is.  Sign says:  JOPLIN: POPULATION 38,711.  But what does that really tell a guy?

(taken from a short story written for a class in fiction writing)

January 2023