Matt Hannafin
writer / editor / percussionist

Let me tell you a story.

A Whitman's Sampler of short fiction, principally (though not exclusively) in the micro-fiction and micro-drama genres.


SAMPLE 1

 
With Salvador Dali at the Bloomingdales

 

In the late 1950s, when I was a young dancer in New York, my friend Mara was a model for the painter Salvador Dali. She would model for him, and he would paint. This went on for some time, and I often found myself in their company. I thought Dali was irritating. It was always Dali this and Dali that, and no one could get a word in edgewise.

 

The last time I saw him was at the Bloomingdales. I was shopping and he was being Dali. Suddenly he saw me and began walking in my direction, but something distracted him and he stopped. I walked around behind where he was standing, then watched him looking for me where I had been, among the racks of clothes. He looked and looked and looked, but he couldn’t find me.

 

And that was the last time I saw Dali.

 


SAMPLE 2

 
Happy Events Will Take Place Shortly in Your Home

 

Barney Lefkowitz takes one look at his bill, pounds his fist on the counter, and promptly keels over from a massive coronary. Screw him. I never liked him anyway. Let's talk about his brother Harry instead.

 

Harry Lefkowitz has a little pug dog that his wife, Myrna, has fed until now it's as round as a basketball and can't walk right even on a level sidewalk. In addition, his daughter Alex recently took up with a longhaired guitarist from Bay Ridge and can't be trusted anyway, not by a long shot. Only the other day she took the money Harry gave her for lottery tickets and spent it instead on penny stocks, which she said were a better investment in today's economy. "What does she know about today's economy?" he says to himself, and spits.

 

For her part, Alex thinks her father is as dumb as a stone, and now that I think about it, so do I. So let's talk about Alex.

 

She's eighteen, with large dark eyes and a Maori-style tattoo around the upper part of her right arm. She got it with her boyfriend Marty, before she left him for Ed, who she thinks is cuter anyway. In point of fact, Ed and Alex look so much alike that I'd be tempted to weave a long story involving separation at birth, and black market babies, and the amazing quirk of fate that brought them back together again after so many long years. I'd be tempted, only I have to go to the market at 6:30 and don't want this story to go on too long anyway, so let's just say they look a lot alike.

 

Ed is nineteen, and took up guitar five years ago when he realized it's a good way to meet girls. His father, Frank, complains constantly about his practicing, and with good reason: Ed is a terrible guitar player. He has no talent for it, but still plays loud enough to make the earth shake. It's shameful. If I were Frank, and it was my son, I'd have taken the thing away from him years ago and maybe sold him to the gypsies to boot. He looks like one anyway, with that hair.

 

"Hey," Frank says, "that's my son you're talking about. I can complain, I'm his father, but who are you to talk? It's not like you can do any better. And anyway, he's got a nice girl now who's straightening him out. She's studying to be a stockbroker."

 

Now, I'm not one to tell people what they should and shouldn't do — well, no, that's not right; I am. I admit it. But that's because I'm the narrator, and can do what I want.

 

"Frank," I say, "Go piss up a rope."

 

And he does.

 

But that still leaves Alex, who as I say is very attractive, and I'm tempted to just end the story right here and ask her to have a drink with me, but I have to draw the line somewhere, so I'll just go have one on my own.

 

My favorite bar is a dark old place called Mallone's, frequented by notorious low-lifes and a regular contingent of boozy old women. This time, when I walk in, the first thing I see is Barney Lefkowitz, who's lying on the floor clutching his chest, and since that's where we came in, and since I have my shopping to do anyway, let's just leave it at that.

 


SAMPLE 3

 
A One-Act Play

 

An empty stage. Two men stand at middle stage left. Both are in their mid-seventies and wear neat but slightly loose-fitting, slightly rumpled suits. The first man’s name is MAURY. The second man’s name is SAM. The audience does not need to know this.

 

MAURY

 

Did you hear? Marty, the shoe guy. He’s going out of business.

 

SAM

 

No!

 

MAURY

 

Yeah, after forty years. He’s got Alzheimer’s. The family’s totally in denial. He can’t function.

 

SAM

 

I always get my shoes from him. I’ve been wearing the same pair for twenty years.

 

MAURY

 

You’ll have to make this pair last.

 

SAM

 

I can’t even remember what size I need.

 

MAURY

 

(Looking at Sam’s feet)

 

A 9½, right? You wear a 9½.

 

SAM

 

I don’t know. I haven’t been to a shoe store in twenty years.

 

MAURY

 

I haven’t been in seventy years. Remember? My father was in the shoe business. I’ve never been to a shoe store.

 

SAM

 

Times change.

 

MAURY

 

They do.

 

The curtain falls.

 



SAMPLE 4

 
Perspective

 

There is not one thing I’d rather do than walk over right now and smack Yuri in that smug face of his.

 

Well no, actually, that’s not true. Really, I would much rather slip my hand into Rachael the barmaid’s blouse.

 

And when it comes to it, I would also rather have a meal of marinated mushrooms and mashed potatoes, such as I ate last Tuesday at the Roman’s.

And yes, I would also rather vacation in Hawaii and own a really fine suit of clothes, and play baccarat with an Arabian sheikh at a Monte Carlo casino, and wake one morning to find that my hair had grown back, and my eyes become clear, and my body trim and youthful. And I would like to jump from a tall cliff into the perfect blue waters of the South Pacific, then rise like an angel on feathered wings and soar over the rooftops of Paris.

 

Yes, I would rather do all those things, but oh! that Yuri makes me so mad sometimes.

 


SAMPLE 5

 
His Hair

 

At times his hair, which normally rose from his forehead like anthracite cliffs from a foamy brow, would tire and droop, becoming lax, breaking engagements at the last minute, drinking too much in the evenings and awaking dissolute and angry. At such times friends became scarce, opportunities few. At such times, the man    whose own life was the model of probity and stability    would regret ever having entered into association with his hair, and would sigh.

 


SAMPLE 6

 
I Am Not Michael Rockefeller

 

In 1961, Michael Rockefeller, scion of the rich and powerful oil family and son of New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, disappeared following a boating accident off the coast of Papua, New Guinea, and was never heard from again.

 

Later that same year, a baby boy was born to electrician Joe Riordan and his wife Maureen in the town of Waldwick, New Jersey, pop. 13,948. A big baby, they named him Jack after Maureen's father, who had been a longshoreman. The younger Jack would grow to be tall and handsome, and after a brief, directionless period in the early 1980s would marry, complete a master's degree in business, and amass enough of a nest egg in the booming ‘90s stock market to buy a second home in the Hamptons and set up trust funds for his two daughters. His eldest, Jessica, would later make a name for herself in the field of public policy, while his youngest, Heather, would drop out of Princeton after her sophomore year to join an ashram in upstate New York, later leaving to become a glass-blower in Boulder, Colorado.

 

But that's getting ahead of the story.

 

Though I may be going out on a limb to state my position so unequivocally, I think it's fair to say that all of Jack's success came as a result of his being the reincarnation of Michael Rockefeller, who, as it happened, survived his boating accident only to be killed and eaten by Otsjenep cannibals two days later. I am convinced of the truth of these assertions, and contact with other investigators has proven that I’m not the only one pursuing this line of inquiry.

 

Two months ago I published my allegation in the pages of The New York Times, as part of an exposé on famous current reincarnees. In addition to exposing Jack for who he really is, I asserted my belief that Douglas J. Ward of South Hampton is in fact the reincarnation of former chief justice Salmon P. Chase, that Alex Simidian of Weehawken, New Jersey, is none other than heavyweight champion John L. Sullivan, and that Mr. Meyer Abramowitz of Cornwall-on-Hudson harbors the soul of silent film star Clara Bow in his balding, pudgy self.

 

I reached these conclusions based on the most exacting scrutiny, using the latest scientific means, and did not make them public without careful consideration of the impact they might have on the public good and on the persons involved — all of whom reacted in ways that only confirmed my suspicions. Mr. Simidian, a seller of Oriental rugs, came to my office and punched me in the nose, while Mr. Ward contented himself with a strongly worded letter sent through his legal firm of Ward, Ward, Ward, and Just. Mr. Abramowitz allowed first that I’d called his masculinity into question, but then admitted to a secret delight as he’d always been a fan of Ms. Bow, though born many years after her heyday.

 

Jack Riordan attempted to prove he is not Michael Rockefeller by losing the bulk of his assets in the Worldcom debacle and later being indicted for pension fund mismanagement, but I remain unconvinced of his innocence.

 

My investigation continues.

 


SAMPLE 7

 
Another One-Act Play

 

Setting: Brooklyn, New York. A bench along the sidewalk. Late morning.

 

Two Italian women, 70-ish, sit a little apart. Both wear muted skirts, sensible flat shoes, stockings, dark coats. Their hair is permed. Both hold purses. One woman is named GLORIA, the other MARIA. The audience does not need to know this.

 

Curtain rises. The women do nothing, the way people do nothing: looking into space, occasionally turning their heads at a noise, glancing at their fingernails. At least a minute passes.

 

GLORIA

(sniffing)

 

I smell something cooking. Somebody’s cooking something.

 

MARIA

(sniffing)

 

I smell it too.

 

GLORIA

 

It makes me want a piece of lard bread. That just popped in my head: Lard bread. I don’t know why.

 

MARIA

 

Didn’t you eat breakfast?

 

GLORIA

 

I had toast. You know, with the raisins. It was nice, but it’s not enough.

 

MARIA

 

No, that’s not enough.

 

GLORIA

 

Lard bread, a nice piece of lard bread. That just popped in my head: Lard bread.

 

MARIA

 

That would be good.

 

GLORIA

 

But I just went to the doctor. The cholesterol.

 

MARIA

 

It’s good that you went.

 

GLORIA

 

With my parents going like they did? I know.

 

MARIA

 

But sometimes you want something nice anyway. I’m going to the bakery after this. [She points, out over the heads of the audience.] You know, the sfingi?

 

GLORIA

 

[Dreamily] Lard bread. That just popped in my head. I don’t know why. Lard bread.

 

The women go back to doing nothing, looking out into space in the audience’s general direction. At least twenty seconds pass. The curtain falls.

 



SAMPLE 8

 
Short Studies on Great Subjects

 

Seven characters are arrayed across the stage, some sitting, some standing. They begin delivering their lines in no particular order or rhythm. Each repeats his or her lines over and over, varying the length of time between them. It does not matter if the characters speak them simultaneously with the other characters. In fact, it's advisable that they do. The play ends when the overlapping lines reach a suitable density, or when there is silence. Either will do.

 

The characters and their lines are as follows:

 

Luther, a street entrepreneur, selling used books from folding tables. He is big, black, handsome, cleanly dressed. He has a moustache like Billy D. Williams. He speaks to his assistant, Ernesto: "What’s with the bad attitude? You gotta be happy. When you’re happy, good things happen to you."

 

Ernesto, Luther's assistant. He is small and very thin. He may be homeless, or he may have a room somewhere. He 's missing several teeth, his hair is permanently scruffy, and he has several days' growth of beard. His clothes are well worn. He listens intently to Luther, then, squinching up his eyes, says loudly: "What?"

 

Atalya, who works in an office. She's about 32 years old, thick but not fat. She's huddled in a chair, sitting on her jacket but hugging herself for warmth. Occasionally she whispers, "I'm cold" or "I'm hungry."

 

Larry, a backhoe operator, large and fleshy, with sandy blonde hair, wearing a football team jacket. He sits on a bench, back straight, with his hands on his knees. His eyes betray tiredness. Occasionally he lets out a huge silent yawn that, after several seconds, resolves as a perfect, sustained B natural, one octave above middle C.

 

Rahkim, slim and muscular, with a wifebeater shirt and gold chain, speaking into a phone: “Listen, old man, I ain’t playing wit’ you. You give me that money or I'ma never let you see your grandkids again."

 

Maria, a 70-ish Italian-American with a Brooklyn accent, wearing a muted skirt, sensible flat shoes, stockings, a dark coat. Her hair is in a perm, and she holds a purse. She speaks to an unseen bakery clerk: "A pound of the sfingi, dear, and make sure it's fresh."

 

Phil, rough, drunk, middle-aged, in a well-worn leather jacket and black jeans, leaning with his elbows on a table, face jutting forward and barking: “Hey, cousin, get ovuh here!” Then pausing, looking hurt, and continuing in a quiet voice: “It’s nice to be nice.”

 


SAMPLE 9

 
Sheriff’s Report

 

On Saturday, August 5, callers reported: A puppy, a pig, and a pit bull who come to the door repeatedly, wanting to be fed. A neighbor who is yelling and throwing shoes. A woman who is stopping traffic and saying the power is off. A wife who struck her husband on the toe with a hammer. A truck with its lights on, parked in a field. A man who has been watering his garden for three days. Six youths with guitars. An embarrassing phone call in Hayfork. An object in the roadway. A man refusing to leave a beauty shop. A man threatening to jump from a first-floor window. Several stray and lost dogs. Loose goats eating a barn and hay. A couple dancing in the intersection at Emerson and Powell. A woman with no hair.

 

There were no calls for medical aid.



SAMPLE 10

 
Waiting for Figot

There was never any question of him showing up on time — he was simply not that kind of man. It might seem illogical, then, for me to have arrived not only on time but several minutes early, but that’s the way it had always been with us, and I saw no reason to make a change.

It had been several months since I’d last seen Figot, months I had spent in my usual fashion — days at my drafting table, lunches at Bartlebee’s or the Chinaman’s, and evenings at home with my books and drawings — but in those months Figot had, by all accounts, distinguished himself in a number of obtuse and self-destructive ways, impregnating at least one young woman, having two teeth knocked out in a brawl, and losing his job at the journal after calling his editor a most unpleasant name.

We were to meet in a barroom we’d both frequented in our student days, and which had seemed to age with us, its wallpaper wrinkling slightly, the light emerging hazy from behind now-smoky shades. The proprietor, a portly though curiously ageless man named Thomas Jefferson, had at some point been joined in business by his son, also portly and also named Thomas Jefferson, with the result that someone dropping in at morning and then again late at night might mistake the two for one man, and presume that man possessed of a most remarkable and tireless constitution.

As I waited, I sipped a glass of beer and read from a thin novel. It had been twenty years since I’d first sat at this table, invited in fact by Figot, a classmate who’d befriended me during my first week at university. I sat then as now, waiting for over an hour before he arrived, and when he did it was with a guiltless smile on his face and his arm around a beautiful red-haired girl whom he introduced as June. That day, and the next, and countless others over the next four years, he and I sat at that table, talking and arguing, drinking artist’s wine, hatching plots for fame, emitting endless clouds of cigarette smoke, broaching the defenses of endless Junes.

Older now, I had settled into an orderly if sometimes frustrated bachelorhood, but Figot’s appetites had simply grown larger along with his appearance — he was one of those men for whom hard living, drink, and nicotine seemed to have a reverse effect, making their eyes black and their bodies hard. Neither of us had yet written his great novel, or painted his great portrait, but we had the tools, which had permitted us to chisel out comfortable if unspectacular incomes over the years. We were young yet.

It was only twenty minutes past our scheduled meeting time — hardly within striking distance of when I expected my friend would arrive — so I was mildly startled when above the rim of my reading I saw a presence collapse noisily into the booth across from me. I opened my mouth to say hello, then shut it again when I saw that my new companion was not Figot at all, but rather a wiry man of later middle age, wearing a captain’s cap and a dusty, well-worn sweater, and smiling at me with a crinkled and off-center grin.

I nodded.

“Hey ya,” he said in return. “How ya doin?”

“Pretty well,” I said, assuming I knew what would come next. The barroom was not seedy, but nor was it of the highest class, so it did not particularly surprise me that a man like this would approach in hopes of extracting a free drink. I could afford him the favor but was not about to suggest it myself, lest he linger even after Figot arrived. Figot, I knew, might end the night his boon pal.

The man, however, seemed happy just to be sitting, smiling at me in that curious way. After a few moments he leaned back, stretched his arms to both sides, and laid them atop the bench-back, letting out a contented sigh.

“You know, I was in the Navy,” he said. “Joined up when I was seventeen, during the war. Saw some action . . . yeah. Stayed on after, then went to work on the freighters. Saw the world!”

I was puzzled, then remembered the book I’d been reading, its face to him: a cheap edition of a popular war novel, cover art depicting a warship against a crimson sea. His invitation.

“Yeah, I got everywhere: Tahiti, Japan, Argentina, even up around Norway an’ Iceland. Froze my ass off. Met some women out there, boy! Them little women in Thailand? God’s gift to a sailor.” He stuck out his hand. “What’s your name?”

“Nicholas,” I said, taking it. A strong grip. “Nick.”

“Mine’s Pete, and like I said, I went everywhere, spent thirty, thirty-five years. Worked the engine room them early days. Loud as hell. Hot. Spend a day down there you come up in the sun after and it’s like bein’ born. You’re all achy, dirty, you gotta squint against the sun, but one good thing: No matter how hot it is out, it feels cool to you. Tough-ass job, but you make friends doin’ it, you know? Like me and a guy name Big Jules, another engine guy, we signed on together for years, always on the same ships, same tours, Navy and after. He was a wild guy. About six-feet three with big hands, big as melons. Good guy. We drank every sailor in Singapore under the table! Heh! Did that a more’n a few times.”

I smiled. “He sounds like my friend, who I’m waiting for.”

“Yeah? Friends’re good. You’re a rich man if you got friends. Me and Jules was tight.” He wagged his head, chin down, laughing softly. “One time, we was in Abidjan for a week, out on the Ivory Coast, and Jules hooked up with a gal named Wanda, about 15 years old, black as tar, built like a amazon. The next day we’re out in the same bar, these four huge guys come up with friggin’ machetes. Machetes! They was Wanda’s brothers, and they didn’t think too much of Jules poppin’ their sister. We lit outta there so fast you clocked us we would’a set the world record back to the ship, winched up the gangway behind us and stayed there till we sailed, with them down below screamin’ and shakin’ their fists. Ha! Those were the days.

“But I don’t know, maybe things like that put the fear a’ god in Jules, ‘cause the next year we was off on a break and he went an’ married a dame named Agnes, widow in New Jersey had her own restaurant, got it in her name after her old man kicked. Jules sent me a card to the union hall, told me all about it. Met her when he was visiting his brother in Paterson. Told me he was settling down for a while, keep his belly full on her cookin’ and help out around the place. I couldn’t believe it. After all the years we had out there.

“Eh. But I wasn’t ready to do somethin’ like that yet, so I went back out. Did banana boat runs out of Cuba for a while, then worked some pleasure boats down in South America. That was good. Then some more freighters. You know how much work there is for a good man on them ships? I coulda gone on forever if I hadn’t busted my leg comin’ up from Brazil two year back. That fucked me. That’s when I came to the city, got a room.”

He paused. It was the first long breath he’d taken, riding on memory. “You still see your friend, then?” I asked. “Jersey’s just across the river.”

He looked at me, rubbed his eye, smiled. “Jules? Yeah, I hooked up with him when I got out of the hospital. Met him at a bar in Hoboken. Agnes had died by then. Got a cancer. He been runnin’ the restaurant for a couple years then by himself. Asked me if I wanted to come help him out, an’ I did for a while, few months, worked the grill, but it wasn’t for me. I started going to the races, you know? Lost a little money, then I figured I better get out before I jinxed Jules too. Now I mostly just bum around, maybe get a little drunk.” He winked.

“Yesterday? I was comin’ down those big stairs at the bus station? You know the two flights down from the gates? I tripped an you know goddamn I fell right down those whole two flights. Thought I’d bust my head right open.”

He paused again, grinning, and looked around the bar, then leaned forward with his forearms on the table, speaking slyly from the side of his mouth.

“But you know, I got a plan. Know how I said I got around? Spent a lot of time down in Australia once. Great place. Warm. Don’t gotta worry about freezin’ in the winters like here. And they got good beer there, and the women, with those accents? I’m a sucker for those accents. Yeah. I’m sixty-four now. Another year and my pension kicks in. And you know what I’m gonna do? I’m goin’ to Australia. Fuck this place!” He tossed his chin at the room behind him, his eyes flashing anger before it all dissolved again into grin.

“Yep. One more year and I’m gone. Just gone. Gonna go down there, lie on the beach, and drink beer while I get the best tan I ever had. Better’n when I was in the Navy. Better’n anybody’s got. Gonna be the king of Australia.”

He sat back, looking contented, then pushed up from the booth and stuck out his hand.

“You ever get down Australia ways you look me up, cousin.”

I took his hand, the same strong grip, and said I would. He turned and rolled away, not to the bar as I’d expected but straight toward and out the door, into the late fall air.

I sat for a while tapping my fingertips against my book, then glanced at my watch. It was forty minutes past the hour, which meant Figot would soon arrive. I looked over, caught the elder Mr. Jefferson’s eye, and motioned for a beer.

I thought about Australia.

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