Monthly Archives: February 2011

#5MinuteFiction Week 39: Teapot


His ears and face were burning red. Why was he on the verge of tears? Was it fear or shame? Was it the thought of bearing his father’s disappointment? Poor kid. But the teapot…

The teapot had always been in my life. It was a great loss. I couldn’t even speak to him about it yet. It wasn’t that I was angry with him. Loss is just…loss. I could still see the bright green, ceramic teapot sitting on my grandmother’s stove. I could see her pouring out the afternoon tea. Feel the steam on my young face.

It didn’t matter whether or not he’d been careless. I just needed to look at it for a moment trying to imagine how it could be repaired. He would have my forgiveness soon, but first the loss. What would my mother say if she saw it lying here in pieces? That it didn’t matter? That Grannie didn’t really like this teapot that much anyway? That accidents happen? Probably.

“Dustin.”
“Yes?”
“Come help me clean this up, ok?”

He didn’t look at me. I could tell he was trying to hide his reddened cheeks and teary eyes from me.

As we collected the broken pieces, I put my hand on his shoulder and smiled his face up to mine.

“Hey, accidents happen. Don’t take it so hard.”

In my own voice, I could hear my mother’s and her mother’s. It was ok.


Bay City Runaway


Walking Home On a Foggy Night - William Buckley Jr

She didn’t move.  She didn’t even blink.  She just stared back at me with a single question in her weary eyes . I still wasn’t sure if she was actually there.  After downing five drams of single malt some time earlier, I had passed out and had only just awoken at the sound at the window–actually, my body still slumbered in a scotch induced stupor, but my eyes were awake, and the shock of seeing someone at my window in the middle of a cold night had set my ears ringing.  But even still, I understood what she was asking.

I could just make out her face in the dim, halogen porch light of my Powell Street home on the edge of China Town.   I’d seen her earlier that evening down the street outside of Foley’s when I stepped out into the foggy night for a smoke.  She’d approached me, ghostlike and wordless, communicating her desire to bum a cigarette with a faint hand gesture.  I didn’t speak and I barely even looked at her, save a single moment of eye contact as I lit her cigarette, then she walked away glancing back at me once.  In her eyes I could see her need, and on her face I could see the bruising of a cruel hand.

A dilemma had frozen me in the stare, our eyes locked in an unanswered plea.  I’d met my share of hustlers in this bay city, but,  she was so lovely that  it would almost be worth the hustle.  But no, the need on her face was real, and she couldn’t have been more than seventeen.

But why me?  Why would she follow me?  Why not a friend or family…or a shelter?  Jesus! I was a stranger to her–a drunken, lonely bastard of a man on the street; too young to be her father, too old to be her lover.

I broke the stillness with a nod.

She was pale and shivering from the cool, damp night.  I watched her intently and silently as she passed over my threshold into my living room.  No words had come to my mind, so I did not speak, and even if they had, my tongue would have been too slow to form anything but foolishness.  She sat on my couch, and I handed her a heavy woolen blanket.

She had not been on the street for long, I guessed.  She didn’t smell badly–only of damp, night air and Marlboro.  Her clothes looked relatively fresh–jeans, hoodie, backpack, and sneakers.  I poured her a brandy from a crystal decanter–the one thing I kept for myself–and sank back down in the leather club chair where I’d just moments before been sleeping and had been every night since I’d moved in three weeks earlier.   She put the glass to her lips, her eyes never leaving mine.  Her mouth showed only a trace of grimace from the strength of the drink as she swallowed.

She broke the silence.

“I’m Amy.”

I took a sip of  scotch, and cleared my throat a bit.

“Hey, Amy.  I’m Brian.”  The words hung around my spinning head as if they weren’t mine.  “How can I help you?”

She shrugged her slender shoulders.  “Can I crash here tonight?”

“Why here?”  I replied, clumsily, perhaps even coarsely.

She shrugged again.  “I guess you were nice to me in front of the bar?”

“Look,” I started, “if this is a hustle,  I….”

“It’s not a hustle!”  she shouted, her voice breaking.  “Listen, I just need a place to stay tonight.  That’s all.”  Silent tears began to rolled out of her eyes pleading for just an ounce of mercy.

“Ok, ok.  Relax.”

Gesturing toward me, she said, “I guess you seemed–I dunno–like you’re running away from something, too.”   Her body relaxed into a slump as she dried the tears on her hoodie sleeve.  She sniffed and  took another sip of brandy making a sour face this time.  She put it down on the coffee table between us.

“Do you need to call anybody?”

She shook her head, and pulled the blanket close around her.

“Amy, are you ok?” I asked, my tone softening.

She nodded and settled back into the couch.  She seemed so at home…or maybe just too exhausted to care.

I watched her sleep for a while and listened to her breathing–almost peaceful– unconsciously timing it with the ticking of the mantel clock.  Asleep, her face was a child’s, spoiled only by the green and purple bruise under her right eye.

She was gone when I awoke the next morning, the runaway.  The blanket was folded on the arm of the couch exactly as it had been when she’d arrived, brandy snifter put away.  I might never see her again, and I wasn’t really certain I’d ever seen her at all.

As I let the steam from my freshly brewed coffee rise to my face, I pondered her words:

you’re running away from something, too…

part 2


Final Pilgrimage


He meditated on the sound of his boots pressing into the freshly packed snow, a million crushed snowflakes singing out together in fatal communion, while a burning Camel Blue that had promised peaceful succor in the icy sting of winter hung weakly from his lips.  He’d walked this path many times, and he wondered how many more times he would need it.

The snow around the tiny building of glass and aluminum was undisturbed, artfully sculpted by the sweeping winds of the Oklahoma plains.   He entered the smokers’ shelter as if it were a sacred chapel, and in some ways, it had been.  First kicking the snow from his boots, he sat down at the table and extinguished the cigarette in the glass altar that awaited his ashen offering.

For a moment, he listened to the wind pressing it’s force against the northern wall of the structure and pondered peace.  Would this next smoke bring him any peace?  Would it trigger the dopamine rush that began his worshipful love affair with a god that rolled itself in white and brown paper?  Doubtfully, he fished deeply in the pockets of his woolen, smoke-stained pea-coat and fingered the smooth, steel of a Zippo and the sharp corners of a cardboard Ark of the Covenant of sorts.   Ritually tilting and patting the half-empty pack, he eased out a cigarette and lit the end with a crack of flame.

Each puff was a dying prayer to a dying god.  Plumes of faintly felt bereavement poured from his mouth and nose.

After driving the final paper nail into the now dead altar, he dropped the pack and the Zippo in to the waste basket, knowing that this would be his final pilgrimage.  Slowly endeavoring the return journey to his office, he let the cold hand of Winter caress his cheeks numb hoping for some kind of purification.  From deep within his ruminations, an old idea awoke in his mind, that peace–true peace–had not forgotten him.  It sang its song under his feet, whistling in his stinging ears, cracking a new fire in the dark places of his restless heart.


Lenten Man


The Lenten Man - David Wilson-Burns © 2010

“Where am I?”

“Oh my God.  Phillip.  You’re in the hospital, honey.  You had an accident.  Oh sweety.”

His neck cramped with pain as he attempted to survey the room, his eyes eventually focusing and settling on a praying woman at his bedside.  He squinted at her through the bandages and crushing pain in his face and began to cry hot, stinging tears. Something terrible was wrong, but he knew this woman.  Somehow, he could feel her love flowing through his veins. He closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths.

“Jessica.  You’re Jessica,” he croaked, his voice barely audible.

“Yes, sweetheart, it’s Jessica.   I’m your wife.”

“Jessica.  Yes.   I know you.  Yes, sweetheart.  Yes, I’m your husband…so confused…don’t remember what happened…can’t remember. ”

“Honey, just rest.   You’re going to be ok.  God is taking care of you.”

All the time she’d been holding his hand.  And she kept holding and patting his hand as she bowed her head and wept in a low, murmuring stream of sobs and prayers.

“Yes, God is taking care of you, Phillip.”

God, thought Phillip. Yes, God.   God is taking care of me.

Glimpses of the last forty days began to form in his aching head.  Glimpses of prayer and fasting and worship and study of scripture.   These things he held on to, turning them over and over in his mind like precious jewels that he could scarcely believe were his.   They were nearly all he had left.  He thought of his wife who was holding his hand.  He thought of —Yes, children–his two beautiful children.  And he thought of his God…who took  care of him

Phillip’s memory never fully returned.  He remembered pieces of his childhood.  He remembered how he and Jessica had met.  He remembered falling in love with her.  He didn’t remember the days his children were born.  He wasn’t even there, but he didn’t remember that either.  He just remembered that he loved them.  He didn’t remember the nights of pouring stinging, numbing booze down his throat, the endless string of one night stands with roadside bar girls, or the times when he threw his fist into other drunken men’s faces.   He didn’t remember Easter night three days before, when he plowed his truck into an the 60-year-old, oak tree a half mile from a bar off route 77 with a fifth of bargain whiskey in his gut.

The only span of his life that he could remember with any completeness or clarity was the the forty days before his accident.   The forty days of Lent in which he annually–miraculously–managed to straighten out his crooked ways out of devotion to the God of his mother and her mother before her.  The forty days that had kept his wife hoping and praying desperately year after year for a permanent change…for a miracle to save their marriage.

To Phillip, those forty days were his life,  and they would continue to be his life.