What Might Have Been – A Quick Fiction Story

A tear rolled down her cheek as she was sat there, alone, coffee in front of her.  She had the window seat in the small coffeeshop, and she quickly wiped the tear away, angry with herself for allowing it.  She resolved to keep the rest from flowing, and she took a sip of coffee to relieve her distress.  It didn’t help.

Five years.  It had been five years, and now it had come to this.  Alone, watching the snow drift down on another dreary Pittsburgh winter day.  She loved this city, had stayed here long after many of her friends had gone.  She enjoyed every season, even the winters.  She had dreamed of raising children here, of showing them the–

But no.  This wasn’t a good train of thought right now.

She forced herself onto another track, tried to focus on the book she had brought.  It talked of Italian cooking, had recipes from the southern part of Italy.  She loved Italian food, for some reason.  Thanks to her blonde hair and big blue eyes, she was pretty sure she didn’t have any ancestors from the Mediterranean, but she adored pasta and olives and good crusty bread and all the other wonders of the cuisine.  She had loved learning to cook various recipes, from Tuscany, from Naples, from glorious Roma itself.  She had planned, in her mind, family dinners, where she would surprise her–

No.  Stop.  Again, don’t think of that.  Think of something else.

A man walked in, wearing a Penguins jersey, and she wondered if the Pens would get to the championships this year.  The Steelers hadn’t done too well, and the Pirates seemed like a hopeless cause at this point.  Like most pittsburghers, she was a fan of all the region’s sports teams.  Her blood was probably black and gold.  She knew her children would be fans, raised that—

She choked then, and rose from her seat, fleeing blindly into the night.

The barista came over a little later, found the piece of paper sitting on the floor, picked it up.  Seeing the hospital logo on the top, she scanned it in case somebody might need to come back for it.  Then she closed her eyes and said a grateful prayer she had been able to have children, even as her heart broke for the poor woman who never would.

A New Story

Not my best, but scribbled on a Sunday at Starbucks.  Anne LaMott was right – crappy first draft.

Comments welcome.

            She sat in the café, her hands wrapped around the hot cup of tea, and a tear rolled down her cheek.  It was cold outside and she shivered – the scarf around her neck was of no help in reducing the chill, nor was the pink cap with red hearts on it.  This was probably the worst Valentine’s Day she could remember.

            It wasn’t that she was alone, nor was it the loneliness of being in this city, of being in a place far from home.  That was nothing new either, and really, she didn’t mind travelling.  She knew she always had a place full of warmth and love to return to, a family that truly cared about her.

            No, it was for him that she was crying.  They had been lovers once, long ago, and each had moved on.  She had moved on to a literary career, writing articles for magazines, even a few chick-lit books, and finally several full length novels.  She had made a good living, and she knew that she lived a good life.

            But him, that was another story.  He had been a lover of many women, had been a traveler, an inveterate gourmand.  But he had never found his role in life.  He had wandered from place to place, never truly finding a home.  He had never known the joy of a child’s love – although he certainly had a few scattered here and there.

            He had been a dilettante, always dabbling in some new subject, participating in some new get rich quick scheme.  On the occasions when they worked, he had gone through the money quickly, spending it on women and dissolute living.  He had enjoyed all kinds of experiences, from skydiving to rafting, to backpacking through foreign countries.  When he ran out of funds he had friends all over that would send him money.  She herself had, on several occasions – it was to his credit that he had remained friends with many of the women he had bedded.

            It had never been a one night stand thing.  He had carried on extended affairs with each of his conquests.  For several months he made them feel like the most special woman on earth – and eventually, as the flames of passion faded, they came to see that he would leave, and eventually even the most infatuated woman had to let him go.

            The letter had come on a Friday – he was bedridden in a small town, and could she please come – he needed money to pay for his treatment and he needed someone that cared.  So she came, astonishing herself, and by the time she arrived, he had died of complications.  There was nothing left but the clothes he had worn into the hospital, and a note, to her, dictated to the nurse.  “Please take me home.”

            The body had been cremated, the little urn sitting on the dresser in her hotel room.  And now she cried, because she was unable to fulfill his last request.  For she didn’t know what place he could ever call home.  The best she could do was to scatter his ashes to the winds and hope that it would bring him peace, wherever he was.


Homework from Dawn on Character Creation

Homework from Dawn:


It was a cool autumn evening in Prague as Lenka walked home through Stare Mesto.  She had been at Jo’s Bar across the Vltava discussing her favorite book, The Sun Also Rises, by Hemingway.  It had been a spirited discussion with some of her American friends, who didn’t always take kindly to Hemingway’s chauvinism.  But that was the times he had lived in.


Speaking of times, she smiled as she entered the town square.  Fall was her favorite time of year here in Prague.  The only way it could be better would be if she had someone to share it with.  Currently, though, she was single.  She had come close to marriage once, but her brother, her only sibling and her best friend, had helped her to see that it wouldn’t have been in any way good for her to marry that particular man.


She passed a street vendor selling nuts, and shook her head as she sped up slightly.  Nuts gave her the sniffles, and she avoided them for that reason.  She’d heard that some people were so allergic to them that their throats would close up if they even tasted one.  She shuddered, thankful she didn’t have that particular reaction to them.


She could see the Powder Tower now and she stopped for a moment, remembering the man she had met there a year ago.  He was visiting from America and he had hesitantly struck up a conversation.  Upon finding out he was a writer, she had excitedly told him that she hoped to become one someday as well.  He had smiled and encouraged her to follow her dream.  And ever since, she had continued to write, buoyed by the fact that surely if he could do it, she could too…

Scenes from a coffee shop

Most days, if possible, I leave the cubicle and go to Caribou Coffee at lunchtime, to get a break from staring at the same three walls.  Usually I take a book and my Moleskine journal with me, so I can write and pretend I’m not a corporate flunkie for awhile.  The women who work there know me by site and we’ve gotten to the point where I can just order “the usual,” an iced chai latte since I’m not much of a coffee drinker.


I usually sit at one of the high tables right by the window.  Today was gray, a typical Fall day in Pittsburgh.  But across the strip mall parking lot, the railroad tracks, and beyond the new condo development is the Allegheny River – regretfully out of sight, and on the other side of the river the trees on the hills are a riot of color, in yellows, browns, and reds.  The occasional green marks a tree that didn’t get the memo that winter is coming.


Inside Caribou is all greens and browns, with a big stone fireplace.  It reminds me of a hunting lodge, or at least the one I’m used to.  They even have a carpet, which is more than Starbucks can say.  Along with free wireless that doesn’t require a card or a subscription.  The tea is even more flavorful.  There’s none near where I live though, so the only time I’m here is when I work.


There are regulars there every day, and though I don’t know any of them personally, I recognize them immediately.  First there’s the guy with long red hair and a sparse goatee.  He wears glasses, a ballcap, and most days camo pants.  Oh, and tennis shoes (sneakers for all of you not from Pittsburgh).  I think he’s dating one of the girls, but I’m not sure.  He sits in one of the armchairs with a Macbook that has some kind of label on it – his name? A music group?


The second is a tall girl, athletic, I’d bet based on the fact that she wears Nike shirts a lot.  She always wears those shorts that come just past the knee, and tennis shoes.  Her hair is a light brown.  She uses a PC instead of a Mac and is always studying a huge stack of books.  I’ve no idea what the subject matter is, but I’d be willing to bet it’s medical-related since there’s a hospital nearby and a lot of the nurses come in here.


The last regular is a big long haired guy with dark stubble to match his black clothes.  He too seems quite familiar with the staff and I sometimes wonder if he is a manager or something, although I have no evidence for this.  He brings a leather binder every day that has a folded copy of the newspaper – folded so that the crossword puzzle is showing.  He usually brings his lunch with him and eats it there.  Sandwiches always; Subway usually.


I see these people every day and notice when they aren’t there.


It makes me wonder, what do they think of me?  Do they notice when I’m not there?


Writer’s Block Angst

From my journal.  Kind of whiny and angsty and stuff…

So what concerns me is this:  If you say you want to write, but you’re not writing, because you can’t think of anything you want to write, does that mean you really don’t want to write or that you have too high an expectation of yourself and you’re afraid or maybe you’re afraid that this is just another time you’ll start and not finish or is it that you have one big gorram case of writer’s block?


‘Cause that’s where I’m at right now.  Can’t think of a bloody thing I want to write, at least for longer than a few seconds or so.  And I sure don’t have any stories just bursting to get out of me.  It used to be easy.  First there were the post-nuclear war stories with me and a friend.  Then there were the World War III stories with me and all my acquaintances and friends, Then there were the space stories with my acquaintances and friends, and then there were engineer traveling the world stories with, yep, you guessed it, me and my acquaintances and friends.  And what tied them all together was ME getting the hot chick and having some neat adventures and then getting married and stuff.


And then I got married and I stopped writing that kind of thing because, after all, I had MET the girl here at home and married her and started a family.  I also realized that I was most likely not going to get the kind of job where I was often travelling internationally, and really, I didn’t want to be away from my wife and child all the time anyway.  To grow as a writer, I needed to write about somebody that was NOT me.


And so, I decided I wanted to write about my hometown. You’re supposed to write about what you know but literature or mystery or suspense were never the genre I read, only international thrillers and war, but not having been very many places you can’t write about what you don’t know…


And maybe I’m a very good scene writer but kind of weak at characterization and absolutely unskilled at plots, but there’s no one to teach me how to do that, anyway.  The one time I went to a writer’s group it was a disaster.  They informed me that I wasn’t even writing in their genre and besides, my story should have started in the middle, and the story I’d spent three years polishing and having people tell me was good was, in fact, not good.  And that shook my confidence, and besides, nobody makes a living as a writer, not really, and who am I, and I’m 37, and isn’t it time I grew up anyway?


And these and other thoughts are assaulting me because that thing called Resistance is really strong, and that’s where I’m at, because I haven’t come up with the weapons I need to fight it, namely persistence, perseverance, and so on.


And worse is that I’ve read truly good books by masters of the craft, and other people have written badly written books about boy wizards and become runaway successes, and I realize that what I turn out probably won’t be either, and that doesn’t help either.


And that’s when I just write in my journal occasionally, whining about how I’m procrastinating and stuck and vowing that I will start to write, and then a week or two goes by and I’m writing the same thing in my journal, and so I have accomplished nothing, and the cycle starts again, because I vowed, and as soon as I figure out what genre and locale and what POV I’ll use, and then there’s that whole pesky plot thing again, and creating characters but who wants to spend time on the villain when I want to work on the characters I like, such as the main character, the hero guy, and the hot chick that he has a romance with – not too deep, mind you, just your typical James Bond coupling, except wait, I want to reflect Christian values, so maybe I’ll make them married, except that then the whole situation changes, so okay, he’s married and no relations with the hot chick, but what fun is that, so now what do I do?  And besides, he’s getting awfully suspiciously like me, and that’s not how it supposed to be, so let’s go back and create this character, the hero guy, who gets the hot chick, except not if they’re not married, and here we go again…


War was so easy to write.  Just plop my characters into a battle and off I went, and made sure to describe all the really cool hardware while I was at it.  International spy was easy too, because the character just went to exotic locales had had gunfights with the bad guy’s henchmen, and the girl was the one he rescued and fell willingly into his arms (in both types).  Except that real life, of course, is never that easy but who wants to write about real life?


And then I wanted to, and I didn’t know how, because I never read that kind of stuff, and couldn’t think of a plot that didn’t involve a gun battle of some type.  Which is great for potboilers and so-called men’s adventure but not so good for getting published in a magazine.  At least it wasn’t too useful for short stories.  I didn’t want to write potboilers, so writing a book length thing was kind of out, and besides, that took me right back into that whole not writing about what I didn’t know scenario.


And so that’s where I’m at today, at least part of it.