Short-Order Fiction: Five Vermont writers come to the same conclusion | Culture | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Short-Order Fiction: Five Vermont writers come to the same conclusion

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She hoped the rope would hold. That’s all we knew for certain. But who was she? What was she doing with the rope? And how had she gotten into such a bind? We needed to know but we didn’t have all day. So we brought our last line — She hoped the rope would hold — to a handful of local yarn-spinners and asked them to fill in the beginning and middle of the story in fewer than 400 words. Read on — it’s a great way to unwind. >>

On the Line By Jim DeFilippi

>Not twenty minutes into the first morning of her first real job, Theresa realized that she was in way over her head. This was not secretarial school. There, everyone spoke calmly, politely, with spaces in between their words that would let Theresa think and respond. Here, dark men shaped like fire hydrants shouted and insulted her.

>Mr. Meloni, her boss, was the worst. He gave her six commands, three bits of advice, and two warnings before she had taken off her coat. As she got herself seated behind the receptionist desk, the phone rang.

>She looked at Mr. Meloni helplessly; she had not yet been given the office protocol. He didn’t have to say, “Ya dumb broad.” His look said it for him as he reached across the console and picked up the receiver.

>There followed a terribly vulgar conversation, end-punctuated by a powerful phone slam.

>“My lawyer’s gonna call about my indictment,” he said as he went into his office. “Put the guy right through and don’t interrupt wit nuthin’ until we’re done. Not wit nuthin’, ya understand?” Theresa nodded and tried not to cry.

>As his door slammed, a thought came to her: lawyer… indictment… Meloni… Of course, she had seen his name and face in the Daily News, page two. Mr. Meloni was in the Mafia; the papers called him “Mr. Melons,” and he had been accused of killing a Starbucks waiter.

>A minute later, Theresa put Mr. Sawyer, attorney-at-law, right through to Mr. Meloni’s line. She prayed that she had hit the right button on the console. If she accidentally disconnected the lawyer, Mr. Meloni would recycle her for compost.

>The white light seemed to indicate that Mr. Meloni and the lawyer had connected.

>The phone rang again. Theresa said, “Good morning, Mr. Meloni’s office,” but her voice sounded like Tweety Bird’s.

>“Yeah, this is Larenza, gimme the boss, quick.”

>“Mr. Meloni is on the other line, sir.”

>“Look, sister, I just got access to information here that the boss needs bad. It’s gonna make him a free man, but it can’t wait. Put him on.”

>“Sir, Mr. Meloni has left instructions not to be interrupted.”

>“You know who I am? Tony Larenza, consigliere to the stars. Maybe ya saw me in the newspapers. They call me Tony the Rope, because I got this tendency to make people stop breathin’ suddenly, ya got me?”

>“Please stay on the line, sir.” Tears of fear and frustration rolled from her eyes, washing mascara, as Theresa hit the red button. She sobbed, she prayed, she tried to catch a breath.

>She hoped The Rope would hold.

>Jim DeFilippi has published two novels, Duck Alley and Blood Sugar. His third, Legal Bubbles, is expected next year. He is the editor of the new Winooski Eagle.

After Debbie’s Wedding By Michael J. Nedell

>She shouldn’t have driven, that she knew. Screwing Jack on the beach was another story. That fell into a big gray area, full spectrum; uncharitable because her usual control factor — herself — was not to be trusted. She had told herself no, and then she did it anyway. But it felt good. And bad. And sandy. It was Sunday morning.

>She blinked her eyes widely and untangled herself from Jack’s arms, standing to watch him sleep. The soft curve of his face, his body breathing deep.

>She shook her head as one would shake an Etch-A-Sketch — to clear it of the picture — and then she grabbed her head and moaned. “Damn hangover,” she cursed, making fading footprints to the water’s edge.

>Once again on this beach she shed her clothes. She waded into the surf and dove under, sliding through the cool blueness.

>Out in the air and clothed again, she walked over to Jack and prodded him with her toes. “Wake up,” she said.

>Startled, he came to, blue eyes blinking to gain focus. “Good morning,” he mumbled.

>“Come on,” she said. “I’ve… we’ve got to get back.”

>“I suppose you’re right,” he agreed.

>He didn’t try to kiss her or reach for her and hold her. He didn’t say anything about last night, and maybe that was better. Or worse. Only time, that snitch, would tell.

>Her car wouldn’t start. The engine just wouldn’t catch. Jack opened the hood and fumbled with something and said, “Try it again,” but to no avail. Damn car.

>“We could pull it with my car,” he said. “I have some climbing gear, some rope… It’s only a mile to town.” She agreed and watched as he backed his car up to hers and tied them together. She got in her car and waited for him to start driving. He gave her the sweetest smile before climbing into his car. Damn smile. He drove slowly, out of the beach lot and up the hill that would lead them back to the real world, the cars straining. She could feel the tension on the rope growing. She was tethered to this person now. Tied in too many ways for her to count or understand right now. Looking in the rear-view, she saw the growing distance, the long hill, and became scared suddenly of falling backward. She hoped the rope would hold.

>Michael J. Nedell’s last published book was Saint Michael’s Letters to the Aesthesians. He is working on another novel.

Lady Regina’s Medical Marijuana By Philip Baruth

>If the point was that it could make you feel even a little better when nothing else could, then she had no reservations. The arthritis now had undeniable hold of her. She could dull the pain, but never kill it, and the handsful of pills she found herself swallowing slowly filched her appetite. Eventually, Regina’s doctor lowered her voice: marijuana.

>As a 59-year-old divorced insurance agent with no children, it turned out to be surprisingly easy to acquire marijuana, one-two-three easy. One, she told herself that it was impossible. Jerry, her ex-husband, could have done this thing. Jerry would have gone to a low-rent bar somewhere, or a commune up in Island Pond, and then he’d have smuggled it home, madly in love with himself. Two, she became angry all over again about Jerry leaving her, and her own inability to face her own inner Island Pond. And finally three, she accosted the kid who lived on the first floor as he was getting into his Toyota because he had one of those dancing-bear bumper stickers, and she just blurted it out, red-faced.

>Eight months later, Regina was an old hand, a pack of Zig-Zags in the kitchen utility drawer.

>The kid downstairs turned out to be only nominally a kid, a 37-year-old roofer, and he liked Regina and her need. He enjoyed showing her how to roll a joint and collar the edges with a match, how to call marijuana rope and herb and bud. He called her Lady Regina because the silver in her dark hair, he said, was classy and luxurious.

>By the time she went down to make her third buy, she knew protocol enough to stay and smoke, pinching from her own baggie. “How’s the hands?” he asked, beside her on the couch.

>She flexed them and said that they were better.

>He gave her his brilliant roofer’s smile. “You’re set then, as long as the rope holds out.”

>They listened to some music, and later he showed her how to shotgun, the ember of the roach hidden in his mouth, the collared end sticking out of his pursed lips like a tiny exhaust pipe. And he brought his lips down close to hers, all but touching them, close enough for the hot smoke to pass in a tight, magical stream, nothing lost between him and her.

>She hoped the rope would hold.

>Philip Baruth is a writer living in Burlington. His most recent book, co-edited with Joe Citro, is Vermont Air: The Best of the Vermont Public Radio Commentaries.

Strung Out By Archer Mayor

>It had started as a whim, really. Well, no. Maybe more an impulse born of necessity. She was broke, she was hungry and strung out, she’d been dumped by her main supplier.

>She hadn’t been thinking clearly. A chronic state of late.

>She’d been lured to the store by the jewelry reflecting palely against the ghostly image of her thin face on the flat glass opposing her. She’d pulled open the door as if in a trance, drawn in by the warmth of the diamonds and silver, by the comfort they implied, by every promise she’d been made, and by the gnawing of her needs.

>The man behind the counter had looked at her curiously, torn between attraction and suspicion, struck by the very portrait she’d just seen against the window — eyes dark-rimmed, face sallow, its skin pale to translucence.

>There was only half of her left by now.

>“May I help you?” he’d asked, studying the rest of her with far less ambivalence.

>That had decided it for her, the disrespect of that scrutiny. Something she’d known all her life, from without and within.

>“I’d like to see the necklace in the window.”

>His expression had turned incredulous, making her next move purely instinctive. Almost as a spectator, she’d seen her right hand curl around the crystal desk set resting on the counter between them. and plant it with a thud on the side of his head, slightly high of his left ear. He’d dropped to the floor without making a sound, as if in a silent movie.

>That had helped the illusion, of course, had helped keep the movie running in her head. She’d filled her pockets with glittering things and had returned to the street, but feeling only slightly better, as if buoyed by a memory she’d already begun to forget.

>Unaware of the witness across the street, or the two rings that pinged on the pavement as they fell from her pocket, she’d gone to her apartment to take inventory, to call her contact, to start the process that would put the chemical life-blood back into her veins.

>When the cops came pounding on the door, she’d thought nothing of the solution. She’d read it in a children’s book. Leaving the jewelry scattered across her narrow bed, she’d slipped the end of an old cord around her waist, tied it to a radiator, and stepped out the fifth-floor window — to dangle like a doll high above the darkened street.

>She’d loved the cleverness, had briefly seen the irony of literally hanging by a thread. Except that finally, hearing the cops endlessly searching the room above, feeling her tether beginning to creak between her fingers, she hoped the rope would hold.

>Archer Mayor’s next book, The Sniper’s Wife, is due out in mid-October. His last book was Tucker Peak.

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