Tag Archives: fiction

The Girl Who Loved Cigars

It’s said that those who experience a life-threatening event see their whole life flash before their eyes.

What if a fetus, at the moment they feel their limbs about to be torn asunder in abortion, see their whole unlived life flash before their eyes?

Marla is haunted by nightmares of being in the womb, terrified by the prospect of having her whole life—everything she’ll ever have and everything she ever will be—taken from her.

The Girl Who Loved Cigars is my new work in progress. It’s been nearly two years since I finished my last novel and I’ve been itching to start a new one. After kicking around two ideas for several months I finally settled on this one and set pen to paper.

I love new projects, but it’s a love-hate relationship. I love them because… well, they’re new, fresh. The ideas for characters, story, plot twists flow freely. The downside is they’re new, fresh. Ideas abound, which results in a lot of starts and stops, and false starts. It takes me a while to settle in, to become intimately involved with the characters, and settle on a theme.

The Girl Who Loved Cigars promises to be my most challenging write to date. I’ve written several short stories from a woman’s perspective, but never a novel. It’s intimidating, and I fear I won’t be able to pull it off, to write convincingly from a woman’s point of view. I don’t know whether I’m good enough to succeed. But I do know I’m ready to try.

Below is a short excerpt.


“It’s a hell of a thing, killin’ a man. You take away everything he’s got, and all he’s ever gonna have.”
Bill Munny, Unforgiven

“Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”
Galadriel, from the movie adaptation of Lord of the Rings


Part One

“I’ve noticed that everyone who is for abortion has already been born.”
Ronald Reagan


Chapter One

“I’m Marla. I’m almost four years old.”

“Good. And where do you live?”

“In Michigan.” I giggled. “It’s shaped like mitten. Daddy showed me a picture of it in a big book of maps that has all the states. There are fifty. That’s a lot. But not as many as a hundred billion. Which is how many stars Daddy told me are in the Milky Way. The galaxy, not the candy bar.”

“Our address, honey. What’s our street address?”

I felt my smile turn into a frown.

“Come on, sweetie. You know this. It’s just four numbers.”

“I live at 6-5-4-3 Arcola in Garden City, Michigan.”

“That’s right. And what’s our phone number?”

I closed my eyes and tried to picture it. Mommy had written it down on a piece of paper. “Our phone number is Grafield—”

“Garfield.”

“Garfield, G-A-2-468—”

“Nine.”

I felt my eyes begin to tear. Mommy had been making me say my name, our address, and phone number for the last long time. I was bored. I wanted her to read to me. Tubby Turtle is my favorite. Tubby is sad because he’s slower than all his forest friends. But one day he saves Squirrel and Rabbit from drowning and becomes a hero.

“Say it again, honey, from the start.”

“Mommy, but why?”

“Because if you should get lost you need to be able to tell whoever finds you who you are and where you live.”

“Why?” I didn’t understand. Lost is what happens to pennies when you can’t find them, or a sock. And then you do, between the cushions of the sofa or in the dryer. Nothing is ever really lost. You just need to find it.

“I just told you.”

“Why would I get lost?”

Mommy breathed deep. She did that when she got mad.

“I’m sorry, Mommy, I’m sorry.”

“For what, Marla?”

“For making you mad.”

Mommy took my face between her hands, which always makes me feel happy and safe. “I’m not mad, honey. It’s just…”

“What, Mommy?”

“I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

“Why would anything happen to me?”

Mommy hugged me. After a moment she pulled back, holding me by my shoulders.

“Remember yesterday when we went to Hudson’s?”

“Oh, yes!” It was a grand adventure: a bus ride downtown, all the pretty clothes and shoes and perfume—and the toys! All the toys on the twelfth floor!

“Remember when we got separated?”

I nodded. “Is that what it means, getting lost?”

“Yes.”

“But you found me.”

“Yes, I did. But what if I hadn’t? What would you have done?”

I looked at Mommy, unsure. Then I shrugged.

“That’s why you need to know your address and phone number. So you can tell someone if I can’t find you. So they can tell me where to find you. Understand?”

I wasn’t sure I did. But if Mommy thought it was important, then it must be, and I wanted to make Mommy happy.

“I guess so,” I said.

“Good. Now tell me again, your name, where we live, and our phone number.”

And so it went for the next long time, until I got it right enough times to make Mommy happy, and she knew I wouldn’t ever forget.

After she read Tubby Turtle to me it was time for my nap.

Floating, warm and safe and comforted by the rhythm of life, in a black hole of perpetual darkness. Not blinded by obscurity, uncaring of lack of sense of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. Nothing exists in this crèche to delight or disenchant, save the bean.

Muffled sounds from nearby—voices, words mean nothing, not having mastered language—other times cadences of varying tempos, some canorous, soothing; others cacophonous, unsettling…

Accosted by upset, fear, anger: emotions not understood but eschewed, embracing, always seeking to commune with the constant rhythm of life. The voices intensify in volume—short, clipped words. Meaningless, they communicate more upset and anger and hurt…

The passage of time has no meaning, not hours, days or months to mark the growth of the bean—constant change, evolution, becoming, unquenchable thirst.

Stirred by sorrow followed by great distress. Sobbing, the darkness wracked by great waves of anguish, then dizziness and a feeling of sickness followed by euphoria. But the euphoria, too, sickens, alters. Turns perfection into something… less perfect.

More time passes and something changes. The rhythm of life distorts. Still floating, still warm, the previous tranquility gone, replaced at first by indifference, then a growing loathing, directed at the bean that has done nothing save only desire to grow, to become more, to seek meaning, find acceptance. To love and be loved…

In time, immeasurable, more words, filled with vitriol, spoken by a single voice, hurled at the bean. After the words comes acceptance, the anger gone, replaced by a singular purpose that frightens…

The seat of creation preemptively invaded. The fluid that sustains drains; air rushes past unformed ears, lungs sear, pressure exerts on limbs.

In that split second, as the pain grows to excruciating proportions but just before being torn asunder, an unlived life flashes before unseeing eyes…

“Shhh, honey, it’s okay. It’s okay.”

I was awake before I knew I was, wrapped by familiar arms. My scream died in my mouth, replaced by a whimpered, “Mommy?”

“Yes, sweetie, it’s me.”

I wriggled out of her hug. I needed to see the proof. Mommy wiped a tear from my cheek with her thumb. “The bad dream?” she asked me.

I nodded. “Uh-huh.”

“The monster?”

I shook my head.

“No?”

“Nuh-uh.”

Mommy moved my hair away from my face. “Want to tell me about it?”

“I—”

“What is it, honey? You can tell me.”

I shook my head again. “I can’t.” Because not yet four years old I was unable to explain what I did not understand.

“Well, you can tell me about it whenever you feel like it. Sometimes talking about something unpleasant can make it go away. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Now come on. You can help me fold the laundry and then help me get dinner ready.”

“Daddy!”

Daddy scooped me up into his arms. “Who’s this little girl?”

“Daddy’s little girl!”

“That’s right. Daddy’s little girl. But you’ve grown so big since I saw you this morning.”

I giggled as Daddy kissed my cheek. Then he rubbed his cheek against mine and I felt its roughness.

“You’re picky,” I said.

“Darn right I am. I picked you as my little girl, didn’t I?”

I giggled. “Silly, Daddy. Your face is picky.”

“Well, excuse me for not shaving before coming home.”

“You smoked a cigar, too, didn’t you? I can smell it.”

“No pulling one over on you, is there?”

“How come Mommy won’t let you smoke at home?”

“She does.”

“Outside doesn’t count. How come she doesn’t let you smoke in the house?”

“Not everyone cares for the smell of cigars, Marlie.”

“It’s not that,” Mommy called from the kitchen. “It leaves a film on everything—the cabinets, the furniture. Now come on. Dinner is on.”

After dinner Daddy put Glenn Miller on the record player and when “Kalamazoo” came on we danced. I stood on his feet as he twirled me around the living room. I sang the chorus: “K… A… L-A-M-A-Z-oh, oh, oh, I gotta gal in… Kala-ma-zoo…”

Then we went onto the patio. Daddy lit a cigar and I sat on a cushion between Mommy and Daddy and we watched two sparrows bathe in our bird bath next to the garage. After they flew off I asked, “Daddy, can we move to Kalamazoo?”

Daddy laughed. “Why would you want to move to Kalamazoo?”

“I want to be a girl in Kalamazoo.” I loved the melody of Glenn Miller’s song. It was playful. That’s what Daddy once said. But I also loved the word Kalamazoo, the way it made my mouth feel when I said it. The way it sounded in my ears. I saw it as a fun place. Otherworldly, like the land of Oz, which also had a “z” in it.

Mommy said, “Not satisfied to be a gal in Garden City?”

“There’s no song about Garden City.”

“Well then, why don’t you write one when you grow up?” Daddy said.

That surprised me. “You really think I could?”

“You can do anything you want, honey,” he said.

We went quiet then, as the sun set behind the house behind ours. Soon the crickets started chirping. I looked up at Daddy. The end of his cigar glowed cherry red as he drew on it. He saw me watching him.

“What am I doing?” he asked.

“Drawing,” I said. “Which isn’t the same thing as drawing a picture.”

“Good girl.” Then he added, “English is a funny language.”

I recalled our lesson from a few days ago. “‘There,’ ‘their’ and ‘they’re’ all sound the same.”

“But all are spelled differently and have different meanings.”

“There,” I said, pointing at an airplane passing over our house, “is an airplane. T-h-e-r-e.”

I heard our neighbor’s dog, Skippy, bark. “Skippy isn’t our dog. He’s their dog. T-h-e-i-r.”

“Right.”

“The Tigers lost fifteen of their first seventeen games this year, but they’re—‘they are’ with a, a…”

“An apostrophe.”

“A apostrophe.” I said the word slowly so I would remember it.

“‘An,”” Mommy said. “An apostrophe.”

I ignored her. Mommy was always correcting me. I didn’t like being corrected.“They’re playing better after firing their manager.”

“That they are,” Daddy said. “Although I don’t believe Norman’s replacement, Jimmy Dykes, is the answer.”

He was nearly finished smoking his cigar, which meant it would be time for me to go to bed. I shivered, although it wasn’t cold outside. I inhaled deeply. I loved the smell of cigars. It reminded me of Daddy. I couldn’t understand why Mommy didn’t like it. If she loved Daddy she should love cigar smoke.

But I had another reason for wanting to take the smell of Daddy’s cigar to bed with me: I hoped it would keep away the bad dreams.

The face, long and white and haggard, nearly hidden by long hair, greasy and unkempt, loomed above me. I reached for the face. Tiny arms with tiny fingers flexing fell woefully short. I wailed, wanting to be held.

The head shook once from side to side. A hand, large and heavily veined, pushed a smoking white stick between the lips on the face; its tip glowed red as the face breathed in deeply. A sigh accompanied by a thick cloud of smoke.

I wailed and reached.

Words mumbled, barely audible. They meant nothing to me, whose only means of communication was crying.

Hungry: cry.

Soiled: cry.

Hold me: cry.

The words registered no meaning; but the hostility with which they were spoken instilled great fear in me. But fear held as little meaning to me as did words. I only wanted, needed, to be held. To be coddled. To be loved.

The lips on the face parted to reveal yellowed teeth—nearly as yellowed as the hair that hung to either side of the face. The smile was not one of affection or meant to reassure. Cold, calculating eyes stared down at me, helpless and needy…

I wailed: Hold me.

The hand that held the smoking stick dropped. A moment later I felt a searing pain on the bottom of my foot. My wail turned to a scream…

I came awake, unsure whether the scream had passed my lips or was only in my dream. When neither Mommy or Daddy came into my room, I knew the scream had only been in my head.

I rolled over onto my tummy and turned my body to let my feet drop to the floor, then pushed myself away from my bed.

Barefoot, I walked past Mommy and Daddy’s room to the bathroom. The wood floor creaked and I hoped it wasn’t too loud. In the bathroom, after closing the door, I switched on the light. Then I hoisted myself onto the toilet seat to tinkle.

When I finished I got down and sat on the rug in front of the sink. Grabbing my right foot I leaned forward and turned my foot so I could see the bottom. There were several pink, puckered scars. But they didn’t hurt.

I got up and, standing on my toes, reached for the cold water tap. I let it run for a while to get good and cold, then half filled the cup that sat next to Daddy’s razor. I drank most of it, spilled the rest into the sink, turned off the light, and went back to my room.

As I passed Mommy and Daddy’s room Mommy said, “Are you okay, Marla?”

“Yes. I was thirsty.”

“Okay. I love you.”

“I love you, too,” I said.

A moment later I crawled back into my bed, confused.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction

A Dog’s Wisdom

Joe is sad today. He sits and taps with his fingers. He stops tapping for a moment and says something aloud, which I don’t comprehend – I understand maybe four hundred words, mostly commands. Sentences are outside my understanding. The concept of “opposable thumbs,” which he once told a friend is what leaves Man inferior to the lower life forms, is beyond me. When he asks me if I want to go for a walk, it’s “walk” I respond to. I look up from where I’m laying, at Joe’s feet, to see light flicker across his face as he goes back to tapping.dog_wisdom_quote_wood_wall_art-rbe31e22c49434b52b049d65342392213_zfgxb_324

Earlier, while it was still dark outside and before he started tapping, he stared into the light and said, “Another rejection letter. I’m a slave to the whims of others.” I don’t pretend to know what that means, but it made Joe pissy, as the woman who used to come around said. He sighed and put fire to one of those sticks he sucks on without ever eating. I don’t like them; they make me sneeze. He sipped from the cup on his desk – I can smell its bitter scent – sighed again, and began tapping. I find the sound pleasing because it brings Joe contentment. I can sense Joe’s moods as easily as I can detect my favorite smells – grass, bacon, and Joe’s scent. The woman who used to come around no longer does, and I sense from Joe sadness in her absence, but also ease. They often raised their voices at one another, which left all three of us unhappy.

Joe finds the smelly sticks soothing, and the steaming water in the cup leaves him alert. He calls them his muses. Still, there is an underlying sorrow to his mood this morning, despite the tapping, which usually leaves him feeling happy. He stops tapping to sip from the cup, and he puts the stick between his lips; I watch its end glow and smoke rises lazily from its end. I sneeze, and Joe leans over to scratch me between my ears and then goes back to tapping. A moment later he stops and, looking into the light, eyes moving from side to side, says something I don’t understand. Then he sighs and says, “Shit,” which is one of the commands I know. I cock my head because I’ve already been outside.

Joe gets up and takes his cup with him to the kitchen. I follow him and as he pours more water into his cup, black and bitter smelling, I sit salivating, staring at the door behind which he keeps my treats. A moment later, the door swings open and Joe reaches in to get me a Milk-Bone – another word I understand.

“Good girl,” he tells me, a sad smile on his lips. “You’re so easy to please.” I wag my tail: a dog’s response to a human’s smile. Then he scratches me between my ears before leaving for the den and more tapping.

I don’t know why Joe is so sad. I wish he could be more like me. I’m happy with my morning walk, a tummy scratch, fresh water in my bowl twice a day, and food in my dish, along with the occasional Milk-Bone and table scrap. I’m happiest when Joe takes me to the park and lets me run free among all the wonderful smells.

I wonder if Joe would be happier if he had four legs and could run free with me.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Flash Fiction

Monday Moanin’ Blues

A Michigan novelist I know claims to cut from her finished manuscripts her favorite line. Symbolic, I guess, of not getting too attached to her own work.

Below is an excerpt from my latest novel, A World Without Music. I can’t say it’s my favorite paragraph. Some critics might say it deserves to be cut. Perhaps some readers will skip over it for its density. But I think it goes a long way toward establishing Reagan’s state of mind, his PTSD. He goes on to admit, in the next paragraph, that since his wife left him he’s been more prone to long and meaningless meanderings. As meanderings go, I think it’s rather entertaining.

Dropping into a chair at the table, opposite the door wall to his deck, Reagan considered the drapes, drawn closed against the rising sun. They were blue. Not in the tone or shade of a John Lee Hooker tune, or in the term one might use to describe their disposition to their physician when seeking medication for depression, which is really no color at all but a mood. Not a navy or a midnight blue; not a Miles Davis “Kind of Blue.” Not the blue that accompanies the maize in the University of Michigan school colors; not the blue eyes of a Siberian Husky or a sky blue; but a sapphire blue—neither annoyingly cheerful, nor that draws attention to itself and away from the other furnishings in the room—pleasant, soothing. They were a blue that complements both a morning cup of coffee or tea—although Reagan believed, as Oliver Wendell Holmes had written, that the morning cup of coffee has an exhilaration about it that the cheering influence of the afternoon or evening cup of tea cannot be expected to reproduce (Reagan had not been cheerful, not in the morning or any other time of day, for more years than he could recall)—as well as an early evening glass of bourbon. They were the color blue that invites one nearer, if only to draw them wider to admire the panoramic view on the other side of the glass or to let more Sunday morning light into the room, to chase away the previous night’s bête noire. The trouble was the beast could always be counted on to return the next night.

got-the-monday-blues

Leave a comment

Filed under Books

Author Interview

What is your book about?

School of Lies is funny mystery novel about a bunch of teachers who work in a dysfunctional, urban high school. The stressful environment is a perfect catalyst for the murder that takes place. My new book, Deadly Traffic takes a teacher out of her comfort zone into the word of human trafficking when female students disappear from campus.

Tell us a little about your main characters. Who was your favorite? Why?

My MC is a Special Ed. teacher named Kendra Desola. She’s compulsive and overly inquisitive; every problem has to be examined and solved. She is devoted to her students but has learned the hard way that the best way to help them often involves breaking the rules. There’s a tension between her wanting to be a good role model and her willingness to lie when she thinks it’s useful. In Deadly Traffic, Kendra meets a young man, Win Ni (who my brother decided to call Win Ni the Pooh). Win has a good heart but he wants to be rich and is willing to do almost anything to achieve his goal. I wanted to make him a lot darker than he ended up because I became fond of him.

Who is your most unusual character?

I’d have to say most of them are unusual, but they’re true to form. The good characters I create are never all good and that bothers some people. Readers who aren’t familiar with what really goes on in public schools may think the teachers I portray are over the top. I’ve had people react in shock. They say, “A Vice Principal wouldn’t talk like that.” Oh, but they do, they do.

Did you do any research for the book? If so, how did you do it? (searching Internet, magazines, other books, etc.)

For School of Lies I relied on my own experience moving through different schools. I mentally filed away what other teachers told me of their experiences as well. The book, in fact, started because some of my fellow teachers knew I liked to write and said, “You should really make a book about some of this stuff because no one would believe it.” For my second book, Deadly Traffic, I read several nonfiction books about modern slavery—in this country as well as overseas—and human trafficking, and visited many websites.

What was the first story you remember writing?

My family used to make up poems and stories in the car during road trips when I was very young and I’d try to contribute when my older brother would stop torturing me. Just kidding. I do recall writing a play in 9th grade with some friends about a super pigeon named Supersplatt.

What do you like to read?

I like mystery novels, fantasy and science fiction. I try to find mysteries with puzzles and with as little gore as possible. Some of my favorite writers are Elizabeth George, Ian Rankin and Tad Williams.

What writer influenced you the most?

Mark Twain. Absolutely.

What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you’d written yourself?

Hitchhiker’ Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

What, in your opinion, are the essential qualities of a good story?

I want the main characters to have a “quest.” The quest can be a real journey or one in their heads and if there’s mystery involved all the better.

What is the best advice another writer gave you?

I asked how you tell when your manuscript is finished. The reply: “You don’t leave a book when it’s done, it leaves you.”

See also:

Mickey Mickey Hoffman’s author page at Second Wind Publishing, LLC
Interview of Kendra DeSola the Hero of School of Lies by Mickey Hoffman
The first chapter of School of Lies by Mickey Hoffman
Review of School of Lies by Mickey Hoffman

Leave a comment

Filed under Interviews, Writing

Let There Be Darkness

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

With the words, “Let there be light,” I spoke existence into existence.

Now, I think it’s time I did something about this creation of mine called Man.

He’s evil plain and simple, and I’m deluding myself by insisting that sometimes good beings just do bad things. The truth is, he has always been fascinated by the allure of the fruit—indulge the desire, ignore the cost. He has come to worship the seven: lusxuria, gula, varitia, acedia, ira, invidia and superbia.

I’ve always despised haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plots, feet that are swift to run into mischief, a deceitful witness that utters lies, and, most of all, he who sows discord among his brethren. Like the child who chooses to ignore his parents’ warning against disobedience, man has embraced the seven; indeed, he has taken them to levels even I could not imagine.Darkness

And still I forgave him. To love someone is to forgive them.

Adam was the crowning achievement of my creation. There was nothing I wouldn’t do for Adam, nothing I wouldn’t give him, and so when I saw that he was lonely, that he hungered for a companion, I created for him a woman. When Eve bid him to taste of the fruit, I knew I had lost him forever.

From that moment I knew nothing I offered could compare to earthly delights, not even the promise of eternity.

I once sent a great flood to wash away the evil, to start anew, but man again chose pursuit of that which he could see, taste, touch. For that I have no one to blame but myself. Being human must be very lonely.

As a deity, I am everywhere at once; wherever I am I am at the center of the universe, and can commune with the lowliest creatures.

I trapped the spirit of man in flesh. As a fetus he is one with his mother; but at birth he knows solitude, and for the remainder of his life he seeks the comfort of earthly pleasures—food, wine, the touch of others. Man mistakes communion of the flesh as love (a lie to himself as well as his mate), while woman is untrue to her mate in the intimacy of darkness.

The comfort I can provide he eschews because I am something he cannot see, touch.

And his desire, his need for creature comforts only grows with each generation.

Like the child who outgrows the need for parents, man has cast me aside. His hunger for knowledge has turned to a thirst for power and materialism, which, in the end, he must leave behind. Sadly, his wisdom has not kept pace with his knowledge.

I am at fault for setting rules to which he could not adhere. I set him up for failure, giving him the freedom to choose, fully aware that he might choose against me. I knew this, yet I hoped it would be otherwise. Such is hindsight, even for God.

There were, are, good men, and women, but always I know their hearts.

Mother Theresa, who endeavored so diligently to do my work, knew doubt. In her doubt, she chose not to feel my presence within herself.

Rodin created beautiful works of art, but always he lusted for that which he sought to immortalize in clay. I cannot condone beautiful creations born of vulgar, evil thoughts.

Mozart sought, in his musical creations, to be godlike. Does God suffer superbia in wishing acknowledgement of the gifts he bestows upon his creation?

Man has become a blight on my creation. Like a germ that devours its benevolent environment, he takes and gives nothing in return, not to his environment nor his brethren. He knowingly wreaks havoc and absolves himself of any wrongdoing. He is ego, avaritia his birthright. The world around him, his brothers and sisters, exist only for his benefit. No other creature save man savors, revels, in its cruelty toward others.

And so I find myself at this precipice—a perfect being having created in man imperfection incarnate. I wonder if, long ago, evil once lived in me and, in seeking to rid myself of the bile, I poured forth the evil into my creation. Perhaps the vitriol sought a host it could manipulate to its own ends and slipped from me into the flesh of man, where it, too, could be fruitful. Surely, before this instant to which man refers as the universe, evil had not existed.

With no one to blame but myself, I speak the words:

“Let there be darkness.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Flash Fiction