Saturday, February 14, 2009

"The Blues": Flash Fiction

Here's my first go at writing fiction on a not-at-all-strict deadline with general instruction. She said "1000 words," "The Blues," and gave me five days.

At some moment that afternoon, a formerly-teal pen had been dragged across that dry erase board, squeaking a half-hearted “LIVe bLUes 2nite 9-tiL” to whatever foot patrol or wayward tourists might wander into that district.
That district. “Too close to the docks and too far from the shops.” A crowd of two-story monuments to the steadfast quaintness of clapboard and shingle, huddled against gusts that meandered up the channel every afternoon, May through October. Every vessel could count on the “Afternoon Nannies” that mustered the daysailers. Southwesterlies obligingly spanked the little boats’ transoms until they all filed back together into the sheltered safety of the harbor, toddling buoyantly to nuzzle at the security of their moorings.
He had sailed the schooner Lapis, with uncharacteristic detachment, up the channel from the bay, bare feet on the wooden deck. In a wildly improbable fantasy, he pictured her, her hair shining in the sunlight as she dotingly watched him maneuver the ship up to the dock, in honorably skilled silence, not relying on the engine.
But she was not there.
She was not waiting for him when the Skipper struck the main and turned on the engine. The twins, Pete and Steve (“Port'n'Starboard”), threw the fenders over and just as quickly as they had tied off the docklines, they ducked back below. The Skipper pulled the key out of the ignition and barked: “You go ahead. Me and the boys’ll deal with the passengers.”
The old man – he called him “old man” because that’s what he had been taught to call the Captain, not because the man was old – was not particularly adept at public relations or customer service. He and his young louts would get the passengers aboard, deliver them an uncomfortable lecture on safety, and scare them into staying below for the trip.
“You go on. I know you’re thinking about her. But be back,” and that was the closest he’d ever gotten to an order from the old man. An order, at least, that he would follow.

From the first channel marker, that district looked like a mouthful of ragged teeth barely managing a smile, but as he neared the row of bars with no names, that smile became a welcoming embrace. He entered the nameless club through its cyan door, felt his way past the Navy guys and to the bar. It was obvious that the other occupants’ experiments in insobriety had begun at about the time that he had tied off, so he had some catching up to do. That is, if he weren’t planning on sailing back out in a few hours. No lagers, no cocktails.
The place was just as he remembered it: Darker than necessary and more claustrophic than comfortable.
He noticed that the bar was drier than the floor, so he put his bag there and greeted the bartender whose name he could not recall.
“Nah. I gotta work.”
“Aright. You lemme know.”
He could just barely hear the sound of an old Joni Mitchell song on the radio. Vocal gymnastics from the kitchen. Let’s have another round for these friends of mine...
He could hear her. She was singing along in the kitchen.
“He’s out here!” the bartender called.
There must be a word for it, he thought, remembering that night when his heart had soared twice. At first, because she had held it so exquisitely. And then, because she had kicked it.
In his dreams, she would float through the doorway and the room would brighten. In his dreams, her eyes would caress his face with soft deep chestnut swirls. In his dreams, her smile would strike him still and fill him. In his dreams, their embrace would join them in ecstasy and explode ---
“Hey,” she coughed, leaning the mop and sliding the bucket under the slop sink. She pulled an unopened bottle of Bombay Sapphire from the rack, planted it on the bar. “The usual?”
“Naw. I gotta work.”
“Lemme guess: ‘Leavin’ on the tide,’ right?”
“Yeah.’ He watched as she snuffed out her cigarette and dumped the ashtray. “So, I’ve been thinking a lot about, uh… You look great.”
She curtsied.
“Yes I do. You sure you don’t want a drink? You seem all tongue-tied,” she said, offering the bottle again. “Listen, he’ll be back any minute, so what’s up?”
That would be the other ‘he.’ He felt a silence. A silence that had been caught in his throat now threatened to block the air from his lungs, lungs that felt bruised.
“Look,” he began. “When I'm at sea –“
“You’re not ‘at sea.’ You steer a boat from Beachport to Pig Harbor, carrying rich tourists. ‘At sea.’ You do have some dreams.”
A beat.
“I’d better go,” he murmured.
“Yeh, I suppose you had better. Nice to see you, though. Really.” She stayed behind the bar, handed him his bag. “You come back when you have more time to chat.”

He hopped up to the quarterdeck, tossed the bag by the helm and nodded solemnly at the Skipper, who had been idling the diesel.
“You ready to go?” the Skipper winked. “Hope you had a good time.”
At the helm, he knew where he was. The GPS, the depth-finder, the coffee cup-ringed chart stuffed into the binnacle. The sun setting behind him overcast his plain, unconcealed, and inconsolable case of the mopes. Just a few more moments East, then East-by-Southeast, and then South. And then, he would be his old self: mate at the helm.
His eyes focused on an image on the compass: a reflection of the second full moon of the month.
His foot kicked his bag, which tumbled, spilling some contents: a paperback about sulphur-bottom whales, an apple that had been in there too long, various pieces of flotsam, small stuff.
And an unopened bottle of gin that he had not placed there.
Was it starting to rain? No clouds. No forecast of weather at all. A taste of a teardrop, if anything. The cool of the open sea past the jetty, the roll that sneered at the safety of the harbor. Not everyone notices how water breaks free from the beach. That boundlessness: one can feel the seabed drop to the unfathomable ocean floor.
That could catch a man off guard. That could cause a kind of hiccup, a choke that might blur a man’s vision. Sure. A stray leap of saltwater must have hit his cheek.
He may just have enjoyed some of that “LIVe bLUes 2nite.”


A Synchronistic Catalyst said...

This was clever. I enjoyed it.

Straight away, I just loved this line: “Too close to the docks and too far from the shops.”

The only oddity I had was "old man" just makes me think of Adr. William Adama (from BSG).

I liked all the hints of blue... the obvious being the "LIVe bLUes 2nite" but then there was the formerly teal pen, Lapis, the cyan door, the "Navy" guys, Bombay Sapphire booze, the sea/ocean itself, the blue moon aka 2nd full moon of the month and I am hazarding a guess that the sulphur-bottomed whales might be blue whales but I'm not sure on that one.


All that being said, I really loved this most of all:

"Southwesterlies obligingly spanked the little boats’ transoms until they all filed back together into the sheltered safety of the harbor, toddling buoyantly to nuzzle at the security of their moorings."

Fantastic :>

karie said...

Nice job!
Took my mind and heart on a ride.
(the Joni Mitchell "blue" was sneaky)

"And then, he would be his old self: mate at the helm.
His eyes focused on an image on the compass: a reflection of the second full moon of the month."

Thank you for writing.

Melanie Avila said...

I really like this piece, and I love all the bits of blue that you worked in. My dad's a boat captain so I can really picture the details on the boat. Great work!

Kat Frass said...

Beautifully done!! What an enjoyable read. And all the bits of blue woven in were fantastic!!

Your ability to describe a scene is fantastic. I could see it all.. and feel it all.

Matter of fact.. I feel the need to go read it again! :-)

Anonymous said...

Excellent mood and atmosphere in this story. I liked the details that really put you in the scene. Great job.

ThirdMate said...

Thank you all for letting me try this, and noticing all of my cheap English major tricks.

I thought I ran a bit long.

I might sell "Too close to the docks and too far from the shops" to the Office of Tourism in every town I've sailed into. You're right, nobody calls a Skipper "Old Man" anymore. Complete nautical nonsense.

I'm going to leave it here to keep me humble. I enjoy your work immensely. Thanks again, everyone!

Kappa no He said...

Everyone says it so well. Love the mood of this, all the blues echoed throughout...a case of the mopes. Really sweet.


ThirdMate said...

I sailed on an at-risk kids training cruise with this huge crazy-looking red-haired guy who would say things like "Somebody's got a case of the mopes" to the kids if they were sullen.

Ashore, after a few rounds in the bar, he would get up from the table, excuse himself, and say that he had to "go tinkle." Hearing a Viking say things like that sticks with you.

srr said...

VERY clever way to work 'blues' in so much. AND what a terrific first piece of fiction. I enjoyed it very much.

FFC@Facebook said...

Okay, you need to preview for spacing because I got muddled in there.

Otherwise? Nicely crafted. The reserved nature of the MC and the inner workings revealed to the reader worked well. The woman? You can do better. I know it. She wasn't quite [i]there[/i] for me.

This makes me want to see what you can do w/out the sort of a prompt that you can weave in so neatly. I look forward to the challenge of finding such a cue...

ThirdMate said...

"Preview for spacing?" Your world frightens and confuses me.

RE: "the woman." Exactly correct; she's not there. I wouldn't be so presumptuous or unsubtle as to just make her unlikable (that's up to the reader, ultimately). I let "him" show her to us through his blue lens, establish anticipation for her, and then present her in plain light, leave the reader feeling as you do.

How did you feel about her gift?