Archives for posts with tag: Stories

watercolor girl

Tending the Dogs
by Elizabeth Hilts

“A job would be good for her,” Mrs. Pierce told my mother when I was 12 and the chaos of Mother’s schizophrenia was taking a firm hold on our lives. “She should go work with my daughter, tend the dogs.”

Mother drove me over to the Count and Countess’s stone mansion on the Point. He had escaped the Hungarian Revolution with his title; she was rumored to be a Guggenheim. They bred Miniature Schnauzers. Countess and Mother chatted over tea and small cakes carried in by a uniformed maid. “She can start on Saturday morning,” the Countess said.

Five mornings a week the cook doled out each dog’s breakfast: hard-boiled egg, cottage cheese, and kibble. I carried the bowls out to the kennel where the dogs quivered in their crates, stacked four high, five wide. Twenty of them, plus the Count’s dog, Dolly, who I collected from his suite where he lounged on the bed, lounged in the bubble bath. Dolly would not come when called. “You’ll have to come get her,” he’d tell me, his robe falling open, the bubbles parting.

After breakfast, I brushed their teeth, hand clamped firmly around each muzzle while they growled deep in their throats. Washed and blow-dried their cunning little beards. They took their revenge during the walk around the point of land overlooking the tidal inlet, skittering into the underbrush before charging out to nip at my ankles. I was already accustomed to the mad ambush but wasn’t yet immunized from fear.

The cook made me lunch: hot soup and a sandwich, doled out on plain white china. My mother had already stopped cooking by then. I ate in the kennel, understanding that it was possible to be grateful for small simple things.

IMAGE: “Miniature Schnauzer” by Watercolor Girl. Prints available at fineartamerica.com.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I loved and hated my first job in almost equal parts but I’d never completely understood why, of course, until attempting to write this piece. That’s part of why I write: to gain access to the parts of myself that remain shrouded somehow.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Elizabeth Hilts writes memoir, essays, and fiction; though she has written poetry, no one needs to really know about that. During the academic year, she toils in the fields of academe as an adjunct instructor of English and related subjects. She is in a constant state of revision both as a writer and as a human being. Her work has appeared in Spry Literary Journal, Extract(s), and in the Black Lawrence Press anthology, Feast.

gourmet cheese platter

The Art of Cheese
by Jayne Buckland

My first job before I went to Art College was scraping the mould off and rewrapping cheese.

Sixteen years old in a white coat that was too big and a hairnet from my Granny, I was kept in a windowless, whitewashed backroom of a village supermarket doing this illicit activity every Saturday.

There I would spend whole days scraping green furry creatures off the shiny, sometimes sweaty, yellow pieces of cheddar and numerous exotic cheeses for the 1970s’ cheese board. Some of these pieces of cheese became old friends. I would unwrap and scrape them at the beginning of the month and say hello again when they would reappear, sometimes week after week; because I discovered that once the mould had got started it wasn’t going to give up. Its ghost remained, unseen to the human eye.

I would first unwrap the cling-film and place the cheese on the wooden board. If there was mould, I would have to use my wire cheese cutter. The pleasure of this was so satisfying, cutting away through the solid moistness and restoring its original hue. But this enjoyable activity was carefully monitored by the Store Manager to make sure I did not cut too much away. Then it was wrapped in the cling-film and on a heated plate I would seal the plastic and weigh and label it again.

The textures and structures of this most delicious substance, and the joys of cutting, scraping and covering it with a stretchy clear plastic, has never left me. I formed little sculptures to sit on the Deli counter.  Cheddar, Stilton, Gloucester, Apricot Wensleydale, Brie, Chèvre sec, Gorgonzola were part of my new beginning of life in the workplace. They were my small works of Art that would go on sale and bought by Art collectors.

IMAGE: Gourmet cheese plate, found at jerseypottery.com.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jayne Buckland lives in North London with her three cats. She enjoys the stimulation of the City and the peace and quiet of the Green belt to write. In her Day job, she works as a teacher and the evenings are taken up with singing with the local Operatic Society. Her ambition is to become a full-time writer and artist.

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My First Boss
by Vincent Francone

My first boss told me to wash dishes, showed me the sink, the hose a hook that I was to position, squeeze out the blustery stream, hunt for flour and red sauce caking the bits of machine.

Years later, I lied—told a girl I was fired for smoking Camels in the kitchen, even said I’d ashed my cigarette into the dishwater.

Truth: I was slow.  It was my first job. I had no drive, no desire to move up to stretching dough or painting with red sauce, making mozzarella rain, counting the precise number of pepperoni discs per uncooked pie, smiling at mall dwellers who condescended to my station having decided against three straight days of Dairy Queen burgers.

The boss had the decency to fire me over the phone.  He saved my mom a trip to the mall.  A week later, I picked up my check.  It wasn’t much, but I deserved less.

IMAGE: “Spoons” by Paul Wonner (1964).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Vincent Francone
 is a writer from Chicago whose memoir, Like a Dog, was published in the fall of 2015.  He won first place in the 2009 Illinois Emerging Writers Competition (Gwendolyn Brooks Award) and is at work on a collection of poems and stories. Visit vincentfrancone.com to read his work or say hi.

holiday inn soap

A Match “Maid” in Heaven
by Karyl Carmignani

I got kicked out of the house when I was sixteen and had to find a job fast. I needed something within walking distance of my new apartment and high school. Living near an airport with its bevy of hotels and restaurants was about to pay off. I landed a gig cleaning hotel rooms at the Holiday Inn. I enjoyed working after school, as I mostly cleaned rooms of “late check-out” airline people. The pilots barely shed and left their beds politely rumpled. Stewardesses—yes, we called them that in the 70s—left their rooms messier, but with a clean, shampoo-y scent lingering in the air. Sometimes there was even a dollar and some change left next to the TV. Other rooms were used more recreationally, and my adolescent nose would catch a heady whiff of sex haunting the darkened room. But on weekends, families were holed up like wild animals leaving a whirlwind mess, with hide-a-beds, playpens, room service trays, and empty bottles left in their wake. At least they didn’t lick the doorknobs!

Loading my cart with tiny soaps and still-warm linens, there were always foreign tongues wagging around the folding tables to the persistent throb of industrial-sized washers and the twirling of bedsheets behind the glass face of the dryers.

I learned to clean fast—dusting, scrubbing, vacuuming, and polishing with great efficiency. My beds were made taut, pillows plumped, with bottom sheets folded tight around the mattress, like a gift for the weary. These days, I make my living in front of a computer. But still, when I put my line-dried sheets on the bed, shaking them out like billowing parachutes and tucking those corners snug, I recall those dim rooms and my first real job.

IMAGE: Wrapped bar of  soap from Holiday Inn (1970s).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: As a lover of wildlife, the great outdoors, and writing, Karyl Carmignani is blessed to have a day job at San Diego Zoo Global as a science writer. She grew up in Seattle, traveled the world, and graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in Anthropology. This led to more traveling and pursuing her fascination with nonhuman primates. She relocated to San Diego in 1999 to find a husband and an animal job and is pleased that both have landed in her world. She is fond of taking writing classes, which provide the perfect excuse to reconnect with her “core stories” and spill her honest, floundering guts on the page. Her writing has won several Press Club awards, and she recently won third place in the Mesa Visions Magazine Creative Writing Contest 2017. If there was one thing she’s like to tell the next generation it would be: follow your dreams, even if you have to wrestle them to the ground. And be kind to animals. And to each other.

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Touch
by Patricia Coleman

He sought the perfect bodies of young women. He made a reputation in the 80s art world with this unexceptional predilection. His live-work loft was in a cast iron building on lower Broadway. I went up in a large freight elevator and entered directly into the open space, empty except for paint and canvases, rollers, no brushes. Into the windowless back he squeezed a kitchen, above it a raised bed. He’d drink tea at a little table there after work and tell young models of his depression, his search for failures, his sexless ecstasy with a Japanese woman.

He also explained that he wanted to take the virtuosity out of the art-making process so that the canvas reflected more the models than the artist — the beautiful bodies of young women.

He dipped his roller into a pan of red paint and stroked back and forth, up and down over my t*ts, legs, tops of feet until he covered the entire front of my flesh. He stepped back a few feet holding his paunch to gaze detachedly at a wet body. He led me by my palm to two inches from the canvas, so that he would neither mar his work nor sully his objects. Now his fingers lightly pressed at the small of the back and other places that held their ground, kept their distance. He wanted no voids between object and work. He especially made sure the pelvis and widow’s peak made contact. He tried bodies out in all the primary colors.

After he finished, he’d invite me to the kitchen where he’d spend hours bent over in confession. I listened to his tales of impotence and desire, waiting to get paid. He paid according to mood. Too much or not enough.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION:  The pic is of me in 1980/ Downtown modeling job for a paper — I do not remember which. They were highlighting paper suits like the one I am wearing.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Patricia Coleman is a writer/director, born and living in Brooklyn.  She has published stories, essays, poems and interviews in Bomb, PAJ, The New Review of Literature, Nedjeljni Vjesnik, Culture Magazine, Maintenant 11, Zoetica, POST Vote, FishFood, and Poetica. She has presented papers on silence, sound, and the disembodied voice at FOOT, ATHE,  Le Son au Theatre. As a director and sometimes as writer/director, she has staged 25+ productions at The Kitchen, Chashama, Here, etc. In 2014 she staged her site-specific adaptation of Euripdes’ Medea  with soundscape by Richard Kamerman at Brooklyn Glass (a glass blowing studio in Gowanus). She received her PhD in Theatre from the Graduate Center. Her dissertation was on the disembodied voice of Richard Foreman’s Ontological-Hysteric Theater.

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Gender Inequality
by Kerry E.B. Black

As enterprising preteens, my brother and I shoveled neighbors’ driveways every winter to earn a little cash. One winter afternoon, we trudged along, shovels slung over our shoulders, noses and cheeks pinched red by wind and cold. Our feet crinkled in our boots, because our mom made us wear plastic bread bags over our socks to keep dry.

We hunched over heavy piles of accumulated snow, shoulders and backs straining with the effort. We set up a competition. “I’ll get more done than you,” we’d taunt, and the good-natured rivalry helped speed the tasks. In truth, though, our labors pretty much equaled out.

We hurried up the driveway of a widower whose surly reputation preceded him. With some foreboding, I knocked and asked if he needed our services. He narrowed his eyes. Under his scrutiny, I grew conscious of our mismatched outerwear and shabby coats. I squared my shoulders and repeated my question. “Mr. Penney, do you want us to shovel your driveway?”

He pointed his cane at the braids poking from beneath my tassel cap. “You a girl?”

My words puffed out like dragon breaths. “Yes, sir.”

“Well, shovelin’s boy’s work.” He nodded to my brother. “You can clear the snow.” He shoved me in the chest with his cane. “You go home and learn to sew or bake or something.”

I felt as though I’d been slapped. “Sir, my brother and I work together.”

“Go home, girl. I don’t want any of your feminist crap, and don’t you start crying, either.”

Nostrils flaring, blood pumping, I turned homeward. “Let’s go, Chris.”

The old man’s voice quivered. “Pay you double what you’re askin’, son, if you do a good job.”

My brother stayed, and I, indignant and disgusted, huffed home, feeling betrayed and enraged.

IMAGE: The author as a young entrepreneur.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kerry E.B. Black writes from a small suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, the eldest of her siblings and a virtual slave to the responsibilities of parenthood and pet ownership. Follow her on Facebook Facebook and Twitter.

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Paperboys
by John Hardic

In the seventh grade my brother and I became paperboys. We delivered the evening paper six days a week and the Sunday morning edition.

Saturday was collection. I was out around 10 a.m. to collect my money. In the winter I adjusted and collected while delivering papers. Why be out in the cold more than necessary?

One customer on my route had a mental health history that the entire town knew about. My father told me that Ray was a genius and had gone to Carnegie Mellon University. He had suffered a nervous breakdown and ended up in a mental hospital for some time.

Ray was about my father’s age. When he was discharged, Ray worked for the turnpike passing out the toll cards. This was back in the early 1970s before EZ-pass and automatic ticket machines.

Ray lived with his two sisters and every time I went to their house they were eating scrambled eggs. Whether it was ten in the morning or four in the afternoon, I’d knock on the door and whoever opened the door would be chewing on eggs.

Because it was a small community, news traveled fast. Ray was in jail for killing his two sisters. The word on the street was that “Ray blew his top” and killed his sisters because he did not like the way they made his eggs that day. Ray went back to the State Hospital.

About a year later the word buzzed around town that Ray was getting out and coming back home. My parents told me that I would NOT be delivering to him. If he wanted the paper that much he could walk to a store and get it.

IMAGE: “Sad egg,” courtesy of pdpics.com.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I belong to a writers’ group that meets weekly. We critique each other’s work and offer suggestions and opinions. One of the benefits is having creative people around to bounce ideas around and help stimulate and nurture an idea. When the prompt came up for the “My First Job” submission I was initially not interested. “How could being a paperboy be interesting? I delivered papers to people.”. This brought out a discussion among the group and one of my colleagues suggested things that happened while collecting money and delivering papers. Although this was 40 years ago, I began to think of the people on my route and an event immediately came to my mind. I shared my story with the group and was encouraged to submit it.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: John Hardic is a 1978 graduate of Gannon University, where he studied biology and writing. He ascribed to theory of having a backup plan and while writing and perfecting his craft worked in the health care system for over 30 years.  Several of his short stories were recently published in a book about writing titled Prompted, Prodded, Published. John enjoys science fiction/ fantasy and stories that challenge the reader to think. He is influenced by The Twilight Zone, the writings of Albert Camus, and enjoys the Dune novels by Frank Herbert. He is an avid Pittsburgh sports fan and brags about being at Three Rivers Stadium for Franco Harris’s Immaculate Reception which he did not see. John lives in a Pittsburgh suburb with his wife and four cats.

my first job
Switchboard Symphony
by Maria Nestorides

Summer, 1981. I’m thirteen and I’m starting my first summer job, standing in for Crystal, the phone operator at a local company, so she can go away on holiday. On my desk, sits a huge state-of-the-art digital telephone switchboard. Its flashing lights wink at me menacingly as if to say: fat chance you’ll learn how to use me.

On day one, Crystal comes in for an hour to show me the ropes. She says that each night, before I leave, I have to program the switchboard to divert all calls to the General Manager (a ruddy-faced Frenchman who chain smokes unfiltered Gitanes and leaves a faint whiff of sulphites and tannins in his wake). She demonstrates how I should do this, her fingers flying over the buttons as if they have the precise order ingrained into them. With that, she wishes me good luck and wiggles her fingers in a happy, farewell wave.

I sit behind the switchboard, order a Nescafé and set to work answering calls. The day goes by smoothly and I’m ready to go home at five.

Time to divert the calls.

How did Crystal do it this morning? I tap a few buttons.

Nothing.

I tap a lot more buttons and suddenly the whole switchboard comes alive. Lights flash on and off and a sharp, siren-like screech emanates from it, screaming bloody murder. The blood rushes to my head and pounds hard in my ears. I find the scribbled notes I jotted down for the correct sequence and stab at the buttons, hopefully in the right order. The possessed switchboard shuts down.

By the end of the month, I too am a pro at answering the phone and diverting calls, my fingers flying over the buttons as if they have the precise order ingrained into them.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: The telephone switchboard I used that summer was very similar to the one pictured here.

Nestorides

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Maria Nestorides was born in London, England, in the swinging sixties, but her whole family relocated to the Arabian Gulf when she was just seven years old. She now lives in Cyprus with her two teenage children and her husband. Several of her short stories have appeared on Inkitt  and on The Story Shack, and she has also contributed a six-word memoir to the book Six-Word Memoirs on Love and Heartbreak: by Writers Famous and Obscure, by Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser (Jan 6, 2009). Visit her facebook page: Maria Nestorides.

brillo warhol

Strike Out
by Joseph Lisowski

Workers of Spang Steel were out on strike for the third time.  My dad, once again, was on the picket line fighting management’s efforts to keep the union out.

Worry seemed to seep out of the floorboards and down the walls of our two-bedroom rented row house.  There was no telling if dad would come home bruised, beaten, or broken after a day on the line.  Or if he would come home at all.  And we were dead broke.  Starvation threatened.

My mother just had another baby and my four other younger siblings did all they could to keep from getting in trouble.  I figured I had to do something, so  I went out looking for work, big for my age but still in eighth grade.

After a week of desperate searching I lucked out.  St. M’s hospital hired me to work in its kitchen as pot scrubber and potato peeler. I’d punch in at three and out at nine, earning 75 cents an hour, five days a week.  At that time hospitals were exempt from minimum wage or child labor laws.

March dragged on to become April, then crawled into May.  Luckily, I didn’t have to do much schoolwork, but needed to attend each day.  Working conditions were horrible — hot, always noisy, dank, drear.  I only got 15 minutes for lunch and that to be taken in our basement locker room, which was adjacent to the hospital morgue.  The only time I breathed fresh air and glimpsed the sky was when I hauled the heavy garbage cans from the kitchen to a series of dumpsters overlooking the park’s dirt ballfield.  Having to watch my friends through the cyclone fence playing baseball seemed particularly cruel.

IMAGE: Brillo Box by Andy Warhol (1964).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joseph Lisowski, Ph.D., has taught at several colleges and universities, most notably, Duquesne University, Point Park College, The University of the Virgin Islands (St. Thomas serves as the setting for his three published detective fiction novels), J.Sargeant Reynolds Community College,  Elizabeth City State University, and at the Virginia State Penitentiary. Seventeen of his chapbooks have been published, and two — Looting the National Gallery  and John in Prison, Herod Responds are forthcoming from Praxis Press.  Three more chapbook manuscripts are in search of a publisher.  Among his awards, he received the UNC Board of Governors Teacher of the Year award (2013-2014).

jorgo photography

Lessons Learned as a Movie Theatre Popcorn Slinger
by Melissa Ford Thornton

I landed my first job at a movie theatre when I was 16 years old. I thought I was cool standing behind the concession counter, taking orders from cute guys I’d never dare speak to at school. But, with a glass counter separating us, I confidently smiled while filling their cups with Dr. Pepper. I blushed and my hands shook when I turned away to make change.

But, that job was more than secret flirtation and free candy. I learned to artfully balance speed and patience to keep up with Disney matinee crowds, slinging popcorn and counting sticky pennies while kids with gap-toothed grins selected chocolate-covered peanuts or raisins. I sold tickets and restocked toilet paper between shows. My fingernails were stained orange from that popcorn seasoning stuff and my hair smelled like grease.

Movie theaters don’t close for holidays. My first Christmas on the job, I met customers who didn’t come for entertainment as much as escape. There was the painfully thin woman who burst into tears when I wished her a Merry Christmas. She confided she just signed divorce papers. There was the man with the white-tipped cane. He told me in a conspiratorial whisper that he bought his sister’s ticket and popcorn so she would describe the actresses eye color and hairstyles to him.

I met many holiday moviegoers whose lives bore little resemblance to a Norman Rockwell illustration. These folks taught me the deeper lessons of my first job, sharing tales of life’s twists and turns, then thanking me for just for listening. I’m richer and wiser for having done so. Today, when my life seems hard, I know I can escape into the world of a big screen and step into someone else’s story, if only for a little while.

IMAGE: “Movie Nostalgia” by Jorgo Photography. Prints available at fineartamerica.com.

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NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: It was poignant to return to memories of my first job, when idealism was untainted and life’s infinite possibilities stretched out ahead of my teenaged self. I suppose it fitting for my starry eyes to have lost a bit of their shine in a movie theater setting between long hours, aching feet, and the occasional grumpy customer. But my interest in others’ stories, first gleaned from my post at the concession stand counter from those customers who ventured out of their loneliness on holidays, laid a foundation for my writing career.

PHOTO: The author, around the time of her first job.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Melissa Ford Thornton, was born in Redondo Beach, California. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English Literature from the University of Alabama Huntsville. She is a published author, poet, and publicist for musicians Ricky j Taylor & the Live Roots Ensemble. Melissa’s blog “A Slice of Life: Observations from the Periphery,” challenges readers in a poignant, honest — sometimes quirkily humorous manner–  to embrace life’s little moments with an eye toward discovering or rediscovering hope. You can connect with her at facebook.com/mft.writes and Twitter @mthorn626 and check out her website at mftwrites.com to read more of her work.