Lou Beach’s new book of very short stories – 420 Characters – packs vivid descriptions into tiny narratives.
We want to read your 420-character story!
Submit yours below to enter our contest.
→ The story must be 420 characters or fewer -- including spaces.
→ Only one entry per author will be considered.
→ The deadline to be considered for our contest is 11:59 EST December 31, 2011.
The winner will be announced on the show and will receive a signed print of an illustration by Lou Beach.
Vivian felt unencumbered. She called Rick; took him to Alphonse’s for their incomparable Piccata, then to the docks. Along the waterline, they watched the ships; drank their red Zin; flirted like 20 year olds - 1983 again. Soon they were sharing long wet kisses and delicate gropes; the kind they’d denied themselves back at Steubenville. Vivian breathed deeply and realized that old connections restored are the best.
Keeping careful track of the way she stacks one glass into another, I repeat her pattern. Quickly the clinking glasses lull me into the deep sigh of my thoughts. The tiny restaurant, sturdy tables in plastic, the man in the bowler eating a Reuben. Soft chuckles escape his beard, and he sneaks glances at my butt, not covered by the apron that frees my hands from restaurant grime. I have stacked all of the glasses.
Day five and my thighs burn from a thousand squats removing bricks and replacing floors. My skin bleeds, dried-out from soot, saw dust, and soapy scrubbings. But here between earplug muffled sounds of hammer and saw, I transcend to commune with century-old spirits and remember the words my neighbor handyman once said, "Your house is the greatest gift you can give your children. Serve it and it will serve you well."
A drunk young man in a sagging suit leans beside me at the bar. "My sister-in-law is a lesbian now after ten years of marriage." He shakes his head and repositions his glasses. "But you don't understand. My brother is conservative. I don't want to talk about it," he says. "You brought it up," I say. "I'm glad I stopped drinking," he says. "But you're already drunk." He walks away and sits next to a table of friends.
They decided that a one-day bus trip would be a nice thing to do. Within minutes of reaching the selected small town, their hike began. After the first turn, she decided to break away and walk alone down the dirt path. He watched her disappear. He waited and waited. She never returned. Startled, coming out of the dream, he relaxed, knowing he would see her again. Slipping back, an unmanned unicycle came towards him.
“Marriage is like calligraphy,” you said, “there’s thick and there’s thin.” We have invented a new egg timer: you make me scrambled eggs, and as long as it takes me to eat them, that's how long your tea will steep. You don’t hang the moon – you leave it on the floor. You pull a lose thread in my dress and unravel the sun. And I would never let you be a sailor, because you’d have to refer to the ship as “she.”
"Have a seat." Her smile was not kind. She flipped through his file. "Hm. Forty years experience, careful, systematic, well-liked, cheerful. Yes, unfortunately the position has already..."
The carpeting felt thin. He focused on her paper cup of tea. Poisonously strong, the Tetley tag stained, dangling. Everything stale, bitter, uncivilized. "Ah- your lucky day! Accounting needs an assistant clerk. 32K. Interested?"
Even she was bored with the implicit bombast in her own unfurled ellipses. Something tinkly would be needed to assuage the wooden echoes of her attempts at lightsome banter. “I’m no ghost, I’m afraid, though it’s easy to see through me.” It’s possible that a long table-full of progeny looked the other way as her tiny transparent hands lapped the grooved tumbler of livid Manhattan, like sightless deep-sea arthropods.
Cory’s taking off for Mexico with some chick. He says Jill’s not just some chick. I say I don’t care, he’ll barge out searching for local color and end up with a chest full of ammo, picked apart by parrots. The cops will find nada. I thought we’d be through fretting about Cory when he got out on his own. The waitress asks, “Another green tea?” I say my son and I are grabbing a quick bite. He should be here soon.
The man followed them for three blocks. At first, Linda folded herself into Sam’s blazer, knocking her knees into a triangle, molding her body to his. Willing the stranger far into the butter of night.
A city square later, in the musk of the bar, sipping a lukewarm draft, Linda lied and whispered that she hadn’t been worried at all. Her stomach wormed; festered.
Her brother’s retreat washing wane across her eyelids.
I can’t tell where I am, not exactly. When the bombs fell, I just ran but couldn’t tell which direction, the smoke too thick to see the sun. Nothing is familiar, just shells of buildings. They are jamming GPS. Street signs are burnt twisted pieces of metal. The sound of tanks and drunken soldiers is getting louder, but the din surrounds us, masking its source. If you can find me, don’t. Save the movement. Save yourse
Hazy with sleep, I hear distant music, growing louder. My cell phone. I look at the clock. 5 am. “NOT again!” Woken the day before with a call from our toddler’s gym, reminding about enrollment. The time difference. My own fault…forgot to shut it off, even after yesterday. A voice. “There’s been an accident.” The haze deepens then vanishes. He is dead. Regret oozes. Yesterday’s quarrel. Never to end.
The cat awoke wide-eyed and looked toward the door. I turned at the whine and looked for the dog in the window. She would be on the outside looking in, stretched to full length. A swivel of the head would command admittance. I could smell her; feel her cold fur beneath my hand. My eyes focused on the empty frame. She was dead. How many months now? I turned to my father to continue our conversation. He was gone.
At 12 years old, the girl saw the movie "La Dolce Vida." Stuck in her unconsciousness: the party scene where the glamorous, sensual party woman sobbed (so powerful in Italian vernacular)as she looked at her aging reflection in the ornate, full length mirror. Her kohl-lined eyes melted into pathetic streaks down chiseled cheek bones. Fifty years later the girl understood the woman's grief.
Winter Solstice, birthday, and backpacking; how could one ask for more. I teared up coming down the trail singing Hark the Herald, because that’s what it does to me. I’m not good at Christmas with the kids gone. Jack gave me a second dog for my birthday, but I want to spend more time with him. The best was in Nepal. We should have stayed, all of us, together. It’s 6:30. I’m getting in the tent. It’ll be raining soon.
Face angled, catching a glimpse of the rays beaming out from a burning ball of heat. Brightness commenced from above, while darkness below. He prefers a little of both. Time slows and calmness covers his aura. Eyes radiate as twilight emerges. Walking towards a black lantern he plans to turn aglow in the windowsill while the moon arises. Is sight a warm, pellucid feeling? No matter, his blindness is his miracle.
We ride over the ridge. Reins held by hands blistered from digging at frozen earth, dried blood under our nails. We weave around headstones, avoid gopher holes, pause at the fence line. The horses nod, eager to keep moving. By dark we’re seated in her kitchen. Hot coffee and Irish whiskey. Listen as December winds whistle across Nebraska fields. Come morning we’ll head back out, make sure the job is finished.
Late, Mom and Dad argued. The adults of this world take care of the children. Can't, Dad said, ashamed. World, hunger, children. Pay the rent, Dad said. In my room off the kitchen I faced their voices, their words fronding out, singing mazes I longed to follow. Crumbs fled on a current. Mom said, Providence arranges. I stretched thin, hungry for language, and vowed to take care of the children who came after me.
Her father’s death made her feel like a strongman’s dumbbells had been lifted off her head. Now as light as mama’s gnocchi, she could float beyond the moon, visit Christ and finally ask his mangled spirit why. Why, she asked the sky, am I so happy? What came back was far from divine. What came back smacked her to her knees, praying for relief from something she’d never felt before. Something called grief.
The Caller ID says “Unknown” but I know your ring. Twenty years dead and still you call. They found my number scrawled a dozen times on your wall. Hello? Intently, I listen, but it’s useless. There was a time when I could hear your faint voice wavering, maybe decipher a few incoherent words. But in time, static claimed the air and cell phones gobbled up the ether. Click. I push the button: “You have NO new messages.”