Now I’m the first to admit that I’m a Hemingway man. I stole everything I cold from Hemingway about point of view, dialogue, concrete sense details and the sequences of action. He taught me to distrust adjectives and adverbs. He taught me to distrust exposition. He made me a believer in show don’t tell.
He lived a very colorful life, a life full of exotic places and manly adventures. I could try to imitate his writing technique but I did not live the sort of life he lived. I really don’t know the kind of people he knew.
Raymond Carver wrote about the kind of people I knew, working-class and middle-class Americans. When I read Carver I had an epiphany. I could make flash fiction gold out of the life I knew, the life I lived. This is an especially important lesson for flash fiction writers to learn because so much of the very short story is about capturing the significant, quiet moments of life.
This is a lesson that every blogger and writer must learn. Or the way I like to put it, “There are no boring stories, only boring writers.”
Here’s a story from the archives of the Pittsburgh Flash Fiction Gazette. I’ve never been married. When I wrote the story some time in the 90s I was still hanging in the college bars around the University of Pittsburgh. The protagonist in the story seems pretty lonely to me…
I stand at the upstairs bar. Two couples walk in. The doorman checks their IDs. The one girl must have a pretty good fake ID. She comes closer and I see the irises of her eyes are violet. She’s a stunner. A shoulder-length mass of shiny auburn curls frame her face. Both couples sit at the bar. She’s on my right. The rest are farther down. The DJ plays “Don’t Stop” by Fleetwood Mac. The girl plays air guitar. She leans toward me and says, “Great song.”
When the song ends, she wants to know, “Are you an alcoholic?”
“Are you an alcoholic?”
I’m wearing a black leather jacket, a black pullover jersey, a wide black leather belt and tight faded blue jeans with black motorcycle boots. I’m thinner, my brown hair is touching my shoulders and I hope the gray is not too noticeable.
I go, “I hope not.”
“My parents say people who go to bars alone are alcoholics.”
“It was either stay in or go out alone.”
“You’re not dating?”
“Well, no. You could say I just broke up.”
“I’m dating six different guys.”
“Do they all know each other?”
She tries to explain who knows or doesn’t know who, confusing both of us. I think she’s nineteen. The young guy next to her wears an old denim jacket with the collar turned up. He talks to the other couple with his back to us. Telling her date she’s going to the bathroom, she slips downstairs with this preppy type, a white sweater tied by the sleeves around his neck. Ten minutes later she’s back sitting on her stool. “Rock Steady” by Bad Company comes from the speakers.
“So,” she lowers her voice, “which one should I pick?”
I lower my voice, “No way for me to tell.”
“I mean which one looks the best?”
“What kind of looks do you like?”
“I mean with me. Which one looks best with me?”
She’s wearing this lovely, expensive looking, dark blue long-sleeve blouse with a high stiff collar, black slacks and black flats. Her skin is flawless. Those violet eyes.
I tell her, “The one with the sweater around his neck.”
She throws her head back and laughs and claps her hands. She has good, white teeth.
I lean in close and whisper, “How old are you?”
She whispers back, “Sixteen.”
She and her friends leave. The place gets crowded. Too crowded. These two young women work their way to the bar. From the speakers comes “Love Hurts” by Nazareth and the joint is a madhouse.
“Let’s stay here,” the blonde one says to her friend. She turns to me and says, “You mind moving down some?”
I’m standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the young guy on my left. “There’s no room.”
“There’s lots of room.”
Her hair is crimped and hangs down to her waist. A black minidress seems to have been tattooed on her. She looks fantastic in it. She’s pretty. A hint of makeup. Lovely, strange hazel eyes. She talks to her friend while her butt presses up against me.
Her friend is in a looser white mini. She seems to be the younger one of the two. Brown skin and nice makeup. Her black curly hair so short I can see her scalp. Dark brown eyes and high cheekbones and a very kissable mouth. The three of us get to talking.
The blonde says to me, “Call us Mick and Stick.”
I go, “What do you do?”
She says, “I hang out.”
I ask, “You in school?”
She says, “I just hang out.”
“How long have you been hanging out?”
“Nine years? You must do something.”
“I work out.”
“You don’t have a job?”
“My folks own several apartment buildings and one day I’ll just manage one of their apartment buildings.”
The dark one says, “I’m going to be a doctor.”
Mick? Stick? She’s dancing in place or doing what young people call dancing: sex standing up.
She nods and watches me watching her undulate. She turns slowly in place all the way around and then when she’s facing me again she puts two fingers in her mouth and sucks on them. She pulls them out with a pop and laughs loudly. She has a wonderful laugh. The blonde rolls her eyes.
Later, I have a fresh bottle of beer. Nearly everyone else drinks from little plastic cups. Mick and Stick have moved on. A voice says to me, “Here you are all alone standing up against the wall.”
It’s Brian. He has a full bottle of beer. We sit at one of the small tables in the short hall between the barroom and the dining room. The other tables are filled with young couples probably on dates.
Brian says, “I saw Marybeth.”
“Marybeth. You know. Marybeth Jenkins.”
“That redhead in our old poli-sci class we both dated. You’re kidding. How long ago was that?”
“Yesterday I saw her.”
“What do you mean you saw her?”
“She was strung out sleeping in a doorway.”
“No she wasn’t.”
“I got her name.”
We work on our beers. “Gimme Shelter” by the Stones is coming out of the barroom behind me. I look up at this table of diners, probably a family.
He says, “I gave her a twenty. She didn’t know me.”
I try to think happy thoughts. This cutie in a gray sweatshirt with the Pitt logo on the front of it comes walking out of the dining room toward me.
I call out, “Go Panthers!” and smile.
She calls back, “Go fuck yourself!” and walks past.
Brian explodes into laughter. He pounds on the table. “The look on your face.” He sits there laughing, wiping the tears from his eyes. It takes a while before he settles down. I try to think happy thoughts.
Finally in control again, he says to me, “Bobby has a new band.”
Bobby Coleman is around our age.
He says, “The local college radio stations play them pretty good.”
I finish my beer and stand up. “Still doesn’t get him jack.”
“You never know.” He finishes his beer and stands up.
“He’s been at it since he was a kid.”
“Just don’t you give up.”
“One good thing.”
“What’s that?” he says.
“We waited till the kids were grown.”
“That’s one good thing.”
“The only good thing.”
“I’m here for you.”
Outside, we separate. I stand and watch the on rushing headlights of the right to left one-way traffic. I watch the flow of students. I take in their faces, gestures, clothes and hair. Some of them are shouldering backpacks.
Love Hurts (A Short Story) www.authspot.com/Thoughts/Love-Hurts.668183
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