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Between You and Me . . .
by Mimi Speike
Bear isn’t much company. Maisie, having seen a lot of life, was able to talk* on any subject. Bear had a few good years playing tea party with a snot knee-high. From there, he saw the inside of a box. Even if he could talk, he’d be no great-shakes of a conversationalist.
I tell him he’s a fascinating fellow. I’m trying to build up his confidence. I talk too much about Maisie. Gotta hit the breaks on that. He feels compared to a truly extraordinary personality.
A kid down the hall is one of them Jehovah’s Witnesses. Nobody in my building wants to have anything to do with me except for him. He checks in with me nearly every day. If he’s going to the market, he asks if I need anything.
I have a suspicion my sister in Teaneck, who drops by less and less frequently, has deputized Buzzy to look after me. She and my brother in Asheville pay my rent, that’s how come I’m not on the street. My business buying and selling Mulot memorabilia has not taken off. That’s one reason I’m writing Maisie’s bio. I’m sitting on a small fortune in Mulot items. When interest in her explodes, I’ll be sitting pretty. Then my sister will be laughing out the other side of her mouth. My brother too. They both think I’m unhinged.
Buzzy’s not so on-the-ball himself. He’s a former alcoholic eager to share his story of redemption. Hey, we’re all trying to latch onto a lifeline of some sort. My sister is a case in point. Our family was difficult. My sister reacted to that turmoil by falling prey to one creep after another; she couldn’t bear to be alone.
I’ve always felt my upbringing was like a party game we played as kids. You were blindfolded, spun around, handed a paper tail, asked to pin it onto a representation of a donkey tacked to a wall. My parents spun me around all my growing-up years, after which I was expected to walk the straight and narrow and to do big things with my life. Yeah, right.
My sis most recently took up with a former priest who’d served time for altar-boy molestation. Booted from the Catholic church, he’d glommed onto something called Science of Mind. For a couple years, until that creep dropped dead (they either left her or dropped dead. I do thank them for that), I got a packet of Science of Mind goofiness every Christmas.
Her husband managed to convince her that Science of Mind was the solution to her fear of being alone. Sci-Mi, she tells me, is a wonderful support system. She feels safe. She feels accepted for the first time in her life. She feels whole.
Safe. Accepted. Whole. Similar to redeemed, no? Buzzy talks redeemed a lot. Bear listens intently. He feels redeemed, I’m sure. Fifty years in a box. Talk about risen from the dead! I get where he’s coming from.
Buzzy comes by, grills me. “Do you honestly believe life has no meaning? Everything that happens is a random occurrence?” Yes, Buzzy, yes I do. He always gets around to some version of: Seek refuge in a higher power.
I quote George Carlin: “People believe in an afterlife because they can’t bear not to.” We go at it, we spar.
Buzzy: “I will not fear, for He is ever with me, and will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
Me/Carlin: “Religion is like a pair of shoes . . . Find one that fits for you, but don’t make me wear your shoes.”
Buzzy: “Belief in a heavenly presence gives peace of mind. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end for me.”
Buzzy is getting on my nerves. Yesterday I hustled him out the door and, I’m sorry to say, exploded at Bear. I spat, “Well I know where it will end for you. Back in that box for another fifty years.” A low blow. I regretted it immediately. I tried to make it up to him: “You have every right to your own opinion. Back in the box, I’d never do that to you. And I’ll see you’re in good hands before I cash out of this casino.”
Tonight I’m sending out for pizza. We’ll have Buzzy to a pizza party. Bear’s always at me to ask him over. I’m in for a God-Gab to beat the band. But here’s my chance to smooth things over with the Bear-o. I’ll lean into the J-Hov joke. That will maybe make up for my unnecessary nastiness of yesterday. That’s my short-term fix. Long-term is trickier. I have to nip this thing in the bud, or I won’t only have a crazed J-Hov down the hall, I’ll be co-habitating with one.
I hide my booze when Buzz drops by. J-Hovs don’t drink. Bear doesn’t drink, but he doesn’t object to me sipping my martinis. But I see it coming. Bear’s lapping up that J-Hov guff like it’s a jar of honey.
Buzzy lends me his study-notes to peruse. Maisie made me read Dickens to her. Bear expects me to read those notes to him. I read a page a night. Buzzy writes a large, childish hand. It takes no time at all, and pleases Bear no end.
I’ve decided to rename Bear Buckley. He looks down his long nose at me. He has that small smirk on his face that William F. Buckley frequently wore, that so-pleased-with-himself smirk that made you want to sock him a good one. Buckley is perfect for him. Buckley it is.
I’ve given Buckley a good home. Good as I can afford. It can’t compare to the surroundings he once enjoyed. The set of furniture he came with was a toy for a rich little girl. It wasn’t cheap then; it isn’t cheap now. A similar set sold at Christie’s for eleven-hundred dollars. Their set didn’t include the box, nor did it have a tiny teddy bear of the same vintage. I expect mine to bring a deal more.
How’d I get my mitts on that set? Auctions sometimes include box lots that few have the patience to dig into. (I hit the auction sales for, natch, Mulot merch.) I have money put aside for just such an opportunity. I won a box lot for two-hundred dollars.
A housemate of mine way back snagged a small Lenci, not one of those nothing-special international dolls either, in a box lot for, as I recall, fifty bucks. It happens.
Maisie regarded our humble home as a refuge. She’d lived in splendor also, but was almost embarrassingly grateful for the few comforts I was able to provide her. She never looked down her nose at me in all the time I knew her. And she was a creature of gargantuan accomplishment.
Buckley may or may not be a fine pianist. In my initial enthusiasm, I may have made too much of it.
He’s certainly not the soulmate I was hoping for. Not the remotest chance of that.
Buckley, same as any of us, deserves a home in which he is cherished. He’s under the J-Hov spell, that’s crystal-clear. I must impress on Buzzy that he has made a convert. I must convince him to take custody of the little twit.
But I’m keeping the furniture, unless he come up with eleven-hundred smackeroos. With bear and box, that’s a bargain. Okay, I’ll cut him a real deal. I’ll let it go for an even thou.
It occurs to me that Bear may refuse to be resituated without his piano. I’ll rent them the piano. They’ll have to sign a contract: Buzzy buys me an extra-large deluxe pizza once a week, or the equivalent value in salads and grinders. I retain ownership of the piano; physical possession of said instrument to revert to me upon demand.
What if Buckley refuses to let go of it? What if he insists on moving back with me? Maisie would know how to handle this. I sure wish Maisie were here.
*Maisie did talk to me. She produced cleanly-articulated sounds that I understood. She was also a master of body language. She had been an (you must permit me, her biggest fan, to say the) outstanding presence in silent pictures, where body language was crucial to telling a story.
Bear has his body language, that you pick up on after you’ve lived with him a while. What I’ve gleaned of his politics, I don’t care for at all. He and Maisie are diametric opposites. She was the ultimate free spirit. He, having spent his formative years amidst privilege, is, unsurprisingly, big on rules, tradition, that crap.
That would be some meet-up, the two of them facing off.
It’s never gonna happen. Except in my dreams maybe.
Eleven Thousand Miles Away
by GD Deckard
The children watched it approach, a dark spot on the horizon becoming a dust cloud then a dust cloud following a truck on a road through the savannah. Others came out of the camp to watch, excited.
“It’s the NGO!”
“Yes! The NGO is coming.”
“We’re saved,” they told each other. “Food is coming.”
The children were very hungry. Malnourished and too weak to cheer, they watched the truck arrive, U-turn and back up to the people. Brisk young men and women jumped out. They set up a solar charged satellite station and wired it to a TV on a table and got back into the truck and drove off. Everyone gathered around to watch the cooking shows.
In New York, an accountant looked at the bill and smiled. The NGO loved doing things for people in remote areas where nobody ever checked and giving needy people a TV was expensive. Donors would pay handsomely for this one.
by Scott D. Vander Ploeg
The weekends were the hardest part of the divorce. Ted had the rental house wired to play the local NPR radio station as soon as he entered and hit the light switch. The voices and occasional music helped him feel less alone, though he consciously had come to a sort of equilibrium about it. He had lost interest in masturbating, after the initial few weeks of separation. He had two piles of books on either side of the lounge chair that he brought to the unfurnished house. The pile on the left were the unread books he intended to read, and the books he had read mounted high on the right. He thought it good that like reading, the books went left-to-right and mentally congratulated himself on this fact. Such small victories were important to him. He did not bother with getting a television.
He had no trouble occupying his time, but by Sunday night, he felt a good deal bereft, for having had no human contact, nobody to speak with, for half of Friday and all of Saturday and Sunday, something like sixty-hours. Ted had decided he would not be mournful over his situation, that he would celebrate in quiet joy the continued small victories and minor accomplishments: dishes drying in the rack, the sink clear and empty and scoured clean. Dirty dishes felt like death to him. He was not OCD about the clean kitchen, but it was a point of pride. He had accomplished something, albeit commonplace and astringent, like a sip of soured milk. Looking back from Sunday night, the hours stretched back as a pathway incrementally dimmer in memory.
The week ahead included people, but he carried his solitariness with him into those interactions. It was good to speak with other people, and hear about their emotions and accidents, their other-people-ness. The contacts were minimal though, because at the warehouse he assistant-managed he mostly went over lading bills and inventories, and only spoke to co-workers when there was activity that needed performing. At lunch, he ate the sandwich he had prepared the previous night, or microwaved some leftover bowl of whatever pasta dish he had mindlessly prepared for the dinner before. Nobody else took lunch with him.
He switched the audio from another episode of “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” to his CD-player, a five-CD carousel, and pushed the remote-control button for the shift to random play. After some time listening to Pat Metheny and Miles Davis, Simon and Garfunkle’s “I Am A Rock” began to play. Ted stopped reading the interminable Ken Follett historical-fiction series and paid attention to the lyrics:
I have my books
And my poetry to protect me
I am shielded in my armor
Hiding in my room
Safe within my womb
I touch no one and no one touches me
I am a rock
I am an island
And a rock feels no pain
And an island never cries
Ted hadn’t had a hug or a kiss, a pat on the back or a nudge by an elbow in many months, and he reflected on that as a kind of ghost-limb that he missed. He couldn’t completely prevent a few tears, staring at the CD-player remote-control. Somehow, he would have to change this existence.
by Perry Palin
I sat alone on the tailgate of Bill’s pickup, listening to the warblers in the trees, and discouraging the mosquitoes from biting the backs of my hands and my face and ears. I had taken off my waders, taken down my fly rod, and stuffed my gear in the proper bags. I was waiting for Bill, who was late. I didn’t think a little lateness was a problem.
Bill had been anxious to try Juopunut Mies Creek, a small stream of clear pools and gravel shallows running through mixed hardwoods and black spruce. He parked the truck where I told him, in a pullout on the fire lane a quarter of a mile from the stream. I told him to fish downstream into the woods, and when I reached the water I would wade upstream to the beaver meadow and the swamp. We were to meet at the truck in three hours. Bill made sure his new phone was on.
I asked him, “Why are you bringing that thing into the woods?”
“It has GPS. When I am done fishing, it will lead me right back to the truck.”
I thought his phone was an encumbrance. “I thought you went fishing to get away from your job, and your responsibilities, and your kids, and your emails. And now you carry them all along in your pocket.”
“I won’t look at emails and I won’t answer the phone if it rings. I just want to be sure to get back to the truck.”
He wasn’t going to leave his new pet behind. “So you navigate the woods by remote control. Why don’t you watch your path on the way in, and then retrace your steps to come out?”
Bill said, “Let’s go fishing.”
He went downstream and I went upstream on Juopunut Mies Creek. Four hours later I was waiting on the tailgate of his truck.
Bill finally emerged from the roadside brush. He was soaked from head to foot. His chest high waders were full of water, bulging like a balloon. I didn’t have to say anything. He lay down on a low slope alongside the truck, feet up and head down, and some of the water ran from his waders onto the ground. He got to his feet, shivering.
Bill said, “I fell in.”
Bill threw his sodden cap into the bed of his truck. He needed help with his waders, and tugging and pulling, I got them off. He threw his dripping socks on top of his cap. He pulled his new phone out of a pocket and placed it on the tailgate. The screen was dark.
“Well, at least your phone led you back to the road.”
“It stopped working after I fell in.”
“Hmmm. How did you find your way back, then?”
“I followed the path that I made when I was walking down to the stream.”
The Happiness Catcher
by Boris Glikman
In a land distant both in time and place,
the most sacred object is a butterfly net
with big holes in it—symbolising happiness.
For, you see, we spend so long chasing happiness
and then, having captured it, we try
to embrace it with both our arms
and hold it close to our hearts,
yet it wriggles free from our clutches
and flies far away,
leaving us only with precious recollections
of our momentary encounter
to sustain us for the rest of our lives.
Perhaps it is just as well it escapes our grasp,
for it is so fragile and delicate
that were we to grab its gossamer wings
with our crude, clumsy fingers
we would damage it at once beyond repair.
And so it is better we are granted
a fleeting glimpse at happiness
rather than mangling it
and destroying forever its magic.
So Far Away
by S.T. Ranscht
Six-year old Sarah tiptoed into the darkened bedroom and quavered in her tiniest voice, “Mommy?”
Mommy lay on top of the perfectly made bed — the way only Daddy made it. Her black satin, lace-edged eye mask was the darkest shadow on her face. The creepy painted-on eyes stared at the ceiling.
It was lunch time, but Mommy was still wearing the flannel nightgown and knee socks she wore last night when she came to the table after Daddy told her the pizza was there. The only thing she’d said then was, “Thanks.” She seemed to be somewhere else.
Mommy’s response now was, “Mm.” It wasn’t a question or even an acknowledgement that Sarah was in the room. It was just a sound she might have made in her sleep.
Edging a little closer to the bed, Sarah whispered, “Mommy? Are you going to get up?”
Mommy rolled onto her side, away from Sarah, leaving a wrinkled dip in the bedspread. “No,” she mumbled.
Sarah’s thumb found its way into her mouth. She left without a sound and closed the door softly behind her.
In the living room, she climbed onto the couch next to Daddy. He set his favorite computer magazine aside.
“What’s up, kiddo?” He smiled as he took her hand and wiped her wet thumb on his sleeve.
“Does Mommy have the flu?”
“I don’t think so,” he answered. “Why do you ask?”
“She said she won’t get up.”
“I think she’s just really tired and she needs a nap.” Daddy put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her into a hug. His shirt was comfy and he smelled like fabric softener and coffee. He looked at his watch. “Hey. How’d you like to go get a cheeseburger? And maybe a chocolate shake? And after that we can go to the park.”
Sarah leaned back to see his face. “Can we go to the library, too?”
“That’s what I was gonna say!”
“Should we tell Mommy? She might worry if we’re gone when she wakes up.”
“I’ll let her know right now. You go get your shoes on.”
Her parent’s voices were low and serious-sounding when she stopped to wait outside their bedroom door. She couldn’t tell what they were saying. Daddy wasn’t smiling when he opened the door, but as soon as he saw her, his whole face lit up.
“Mommy hopes you have a good time today,” he said, taking her hand and leading her to the car.
When Sarah came home from school the next day and Daddy was still at work, the bedroom door was open and the dressing area light was on. She watched Mommy’s reflection in the big mirror over the two sinks as she poured all the pills out of a brown container from the doctor into her hand and looked at them. Sarah thought she must be counting them. Mommy looked up and saw her in the mirror.
“You’re home,” she said. She scraped all the pills but two back into the container, then swallowed the last two with some water.
Sarah hugged her around her hips. “I love you, Mommy.”
Mommy didn’t move or say anything.
“Do you love me?” Sarah asked, trying not to cry.
Putting the pills in the medicine cabinet, Mommy’s voice was flat and hard. “Don’t be ridiculous. I’m your mother. Of course I love you.” She released herself from Sarah’s hug, then stopped to really look at her upturned face. Mommy’s eyes closed and her shoulders sank. Her voice softened.
“I’m sorry, Sarah… I just can’t… Maybe it would be better if…” She picked up her eye mask from the nightstand. “I have to sleep,” she said as she stretched out on the bed.
Sarah looked away and left the room when the creepy eyes turned toward her.
Later, she met Daddy at the front door, saying, “I think Mommy’s sick.”
“Oh?” He squatted down to face her. “What makes you think so?”
“She’s so far away and she’s still in her nightgown and she was taking some of her pills from the doctor.”
His lips tightened as he nodded. “I’ll go check on her.”
When he came back, Sarah followed him into the kitchen and watched him toss Mommy’s pills into the waste basket.
“Doesn’t Mommy need those any more?”
“No. The doctor can give her more if she needs them.” He turned to her and smiled. “What would you like for dinner, kiddo?”
Mommy and Daddy’s bedroom door was closed when Sarah came home from school the next day. She knocked a feathery knock. “Mommy? I’m home.”
She wasn’t sure she heard a sleepy groan. Sighing, she went to get a peanut butter crackers snack pack, but somebody had messed up the kitchen. Cupboard doors hung open, drawers were pulled out, and there was trash all over the floor.
She left without the snack and curled up on her own bed with her thumb in her mouth.
Moonlight was the only light in her room when Daddy sat on the edge of her bed and rubbed her back to wake her up. Other people were moving through the house making bumpy rolling noises as they went out the front door. Something dripped on the back of Sarah’s hand when Daddy picked it up to dry her thumb.
“What is it, Daddy?”
“Sweetie, Mommy’s gone,” he whispered.
“Where? I thought she was sleeping.”
“Someplace far away.”
“Can we visit her?”
“No, we can’t. I’m sorry, Sarah.”
Sarah sat up. “But she didn’t say good-bye.”
“I know, and that’s hard.” He lifted her chin to look in her eyes. “You know she loved you, right?”
“Yes.” Sarah heard the distant voice in her head. “She told me yesterday.”
“She did? Then you are a very lucky little girl,” Daddy said, wrapping her in his arms.
Sarah wondered why he thought that. Maybe someday she’d ask him. Right now, it was enough that he smelled like coffee and home.
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