Idle Hands

This is a piece of flash fiction I wrote for Jeff Tsuruoka’s Mid-Week Blues Buster, inspired by The Smiths song “What Difference Does It Make?”

Two girls with dirty clothes holding hands, (c) William Gedney 1964

Ma always says, “The devil’ll find work for idle hands to do.” So I work from the second I roll off my old quilt to the last bit of light before it disappears behind the mountain. I sweep the uneven boards of our two-room house, stomping bugs as I go. I take the clothes down the stream and scrub till my hands are raw. In the winter, the wet clothes freeze to the line.

Some days, I don’t even wash. Ma don’t care much if I do. In fact, Ma and Pa don’t talk much ‘bout nuthin’. I’m too big to go to school anymore, ‘cause Ma tole ‘em she needed me ‘round the house. Only thing that makes life okay is Reenie next door. Reenie’s a little older than me, ‘bout eleven, but she’s small for her age. She’s got three brothers and six sisters and has to share a bed with four of ‘em.

I dunno know how to say this but I love Reenie.  She gave me my favorite skirt, polka dot bright blue with big flowers painted on. When I wear it I forget how my shrunk ol’ top rides up my belly and the coldness of my bare feet. I stole my ma’s barrette for her soft brown hair. I braid it over and over again.

When Pa heads to the abandoned mine to hammer off enough for the stove, we run to the woods to collect horse chestnuts. We fling ‘em in the pond, then make clover chains and decorate each other. We scavenge from garbage heaps, then hitch a ride to town and smoke cig stubs from the ashtrays outside the courthouse.

In town, we walk hand-in-hand. People always stare, but I don’t care. We swore to love forever and never be done parted. I tole her I’d take a bullet to save her. Though we fight and she makes me crazy, every night I huddle under my thin blanket and dream of her.

Pa caught us kissing by the woodpile behind the house. He shouted, pounding his coal-grimed fist on the stovepipe. Reenie grabbed my hand and we backed against the clapboard siding, feet sinking in cold brown mud.

Pa grabbed up his shotgun – it was filled with birdshot – and cocked it, tole Reenie to git on home now and not come back. I know he just meant to scare her but the gun went off – too close – and a red flower bloomed on Reenie’s faded blue work dress.

I caught her – she jerked and shook in my arms, pale brown eyes staring up at me.

Pa ran for the doctor, but the nearest one’s in Greenville, two miles away, and I know he won’t get back in time. I hum little snatches of hymns I can remember.

I held her on that sawdusted floor till she went still. Pa found me there, two hours later, sticky-dried with Reenie’s blood, “I got the doctor. ”

“What difference does it make? “I said.

Mid-Week Blues Buster: Tu Vuo’ Fa L’Americano

Here is my contribution to last week’s Mid-Week Blues Buster from Jeff Tsuruoka.

This was the inspiration song, “Tu Vo’ Fa’ L’Americano” (You Want to be American?), sung by Fiorello, Jude Law & Matt Damon from “The Incredible Mr. Ripley”.

Cigarette smoke billowed through the orange-tinted spotlight, taking on strange undulating shapes as the dancers shimmied their way through the clouds.

The haze obfuscated the true self. Everyone became better looking, more cool, more charming: the ineffable boost that a buzz of booze and a good smoke could confer.

Except for her boyfriend. He oozed through the crowd and managed to look just as sleazy as he was. He grabbed her around the waist and swung her into the crowd, using her as a wedge to lever his way over to Marco, a prospective client.

The club squealed along with the trumpet, wailed along with the clarinet, throbbed along with the deep thrum of the slap bass. The overhead lamp swung with the bounce of the beat, gleaming off Eddie’s sweaty bald forehead.

Naples wore its most vivid colors tonight. Lemon yellows crashed into avocado greens; her subdued cream dress drowned in a sea of feminine attention-seeking. The heat was oppressive; even the walls of Perma-Stone siding had beads of sweat sliding along its face.

“Eddie, I wanna go,” she mumbled.

“Naw, Betty baby, I’ll show him the American way of doing business.”

He pushed her further into the crowd. Her heel caught in a crack in the terrazzo and she stumbled right into Marco’s arms, knocking his partner into another couple.

“Perdono, signore.” she stuttered. She had bumped her nose on his tie-tack, set with a ruby as big as her thumbnail.

Eddie was on them before she could even straighten the hem of her dress, “Mister Bertolazzi, I just wanted to introduce myself, Eddie Mayhew (rhymes with achoo). You won’t want to forget it because I’m going to show you something that’s gonna save you a lot of money.”

Marco held up a well-manicured hand to Eddie and turned to Betty. “Are you right?” he asked, in perfectly Italianate-accented English.

“Yes, thank you,” she said, flustered, retrieving a tissue from her handbag. “Please forgive my clumsiness.”

He offered his arm and escorted her off the dance floor, leaving Eddie in the wake of fifty other jostling couples. “I hear Americans are good to do business with.”

Mid-Week Blues Buster: The Death of Undine

This was my entry in the Jeff Tsuruoka’s Mid-Week Blues Buster from two weeks ago. I earned a 3rd place mention with it. Feel free to listen along to the song that inspired it.

I have always found this myth especially tragic, the story of a doomed water nymph whose love of a human makes her mortal. I hope you enjoy this retelling.


The Death of Undine

Would the sea be the ink and the sky the paper, could I not write then how deep my love is. – “Ink”, Faun

Thorns tore at her water-laden skirts. These mortal fabrics weighed her down as she stooped at the water’s edge.

She dipped her hand in the water eagerly, but it was brackish and did not caress her skin as it once had. She tasted blood where her lip was cut by a small stone.

Her fingers traced along her leg, where the fishermen’s net still bound her. As the cords dried, they cut cruelly into her pale-washed skin.

She plucked at them hopelessly. They bound her as surely as Hans did. Water lapped at her feet, bringing her an unfamiliar reflection of a woman with dark, empty eyes and hair stiffened to seaweed strands.

She spun at the first twig-crack. “I told you to leave me,” said she, “or they shall see you die too.”

His dear hand, thick-fingered and studded with riding calluses, traced the tear down her cheek. Hans tasted it, “You are the only woman I have met whose tears never taste of salt.”

She closed her eyes and kissed him once more; she couldn’t help it. Every drop of her feelings trickled to her fingertips as she touched his face. When she opened her eyes, her sisters rimmed the far edge of the pool.

“Undine,” the first said.

“Please,” Undine begged, “you take too much. Why can I not suffice?”

“Undine,” said the second.

“Cruel sisters, I implore you…”

It was too late. Hans folded up like a leaf in the current, her tears on his lips.

Undine turned to her final sister, who stepped into the edge of the grey-tinted pool.

“Say it, then,” Undine said.

“Undine,” the third sister whispered.

Undine looked with mild surprise at the man curled at her feet, “Who is this handsome man who lays here?”

Undine’s first sister drew near, taking her hand.

“Sister, can you not heal him?”

The wind through the trees murmured of impossiblities. Her sisters tugged her gently beneath the surface of the water.

“Pity,” thought Undine, just as her mouth filled with water, “how I should have loved him.”