Short Story

Back to School

August already?

Boy, how the summer flew by.  Clearly, many of those well-intended plans would have to be scrapped – or significantly reduced.

Diet?  Er…that didn’t happen.

Finish that class for her Master’s?  Good intentions, but sleep and afternoons at the pool won out.

Having a garden full of vegetables and herbs?  Is crabgrass edible?

Janie hated the pressure she put on herself – the big expectations only led to big disappointment.

Kindergarteners – a whole new class of ’em would be starting their scholastic journey in a few short weeks.  Little faces full of fear, hope, and potential.

(Maybe there was still time for another weekend getaway before the reality of another school year set in….)

Nope, her principal kept nagging her for the list of required school supplies.  Only seems to get earlier every year.  Probably they’ll start back to school shopping for the 2014-15 school year in October….

Quit bitching, there were plenty of chances to do the things she wanted to do.  Really, Janie knew she had chosen to put off her responsibilities.  Stupid, selfish, and shortsighted?  True, but deep down Janie knew she was okay with it.  Understood that being a teacher is hard, underappreciated work for paltry wages.

Very soon she would be back in that classroom, teaching 26 letters to 26 kids.  Worrying that her failures could impact the rest of their lives.

(Xmas break was just over 100 days away, Janie reminded herself…)

Yet, as Janie hung the oversized letters above the pristine whiteboard, she knew it would all work out fine.

Z…where the hell was the Z?

*   *   *

Author’s note – The preceding was in response to a WordPress Daily Prompt entitled “Orderly”.  On the off chance you didn’t catch it, the goal was to start each sentence with a different letter of the alphabet.  I’d like to apologize to any teachers reading this for all of the grammatical and punctuation rules I broke.

Weaving Old Hickory

Author’s note:  This post is part of a WordPress Daily Writing Prompt, about weaving an object or symbol through three unrelated stories.

Don’t worry if this isn’t your cup of tea – there is another snarky Rejects list coming soon!

*   *   *

“Happy birthday, Andrew!”

Andy opened up the blue envelope and pulled out the birthday card his Grandpa had purchased.  He suppressed the urge to roll his eyes when he saw Snoopy staring at him from the front of the card.  Snoopy was for kids.  Andy was 13 now.  Practically grown up, in his mind.  Besides, Grandpa meant well.

Andy opened the card and found the jackpot:  a twenty.  “I’d much rather stare at President Jackson than Snoopy,” Andy thought to himself.  Andy lifted up the twenty for the room to see and thanked Grandpa for the gift.

As he held the twenty dollar bill, he was struck by the crispness, the rigidity of it.  This was a brand new bill.  Andy pictured Grandpa waiting in line at the bank, his gold Buick parked right next to the drive-thru lanes, asking for the newest twenty they had.

The bill was so new and perfect it almost felt fake.  Andy grinned slightly as he pictured Grandpa puttering around the back room of his apartment, counterfeiting twenties.  The perfect crime.  Who would suspect an 84-year-old man?

“What are you going to buy, Andrew my boy?” Grandpa asked.  “Something good, I hope.”

Andy thought about it.  He was going to meet his buddies at the mall later today, and there was a good chance President Jackson would not be coming home.

“Beats me, Grandpa.  But I’ll put it to good use.  Thanks again!”

*   *   *

Rachel wriggled free of the cramped dance floor and into the relatively peaceful bathroom.  You could still hear the house electronica, although it was muffled; the raw, thumping bass was the primary noise.

Rachel let out a relaxing sigh and sat down in an empty stall.  As she peed, she had the sort of epiphanies that seem to only come while on the toilet.

Her life was like this club – chaotic, packed, almost unbearably noisy, and far too expensive, but at same time fun, exciting, and full of people she knew – or would like to know.  She knew that there would be a time where she could no longer stand to go this club and wondered if there would be a time where she could longer stand her life.

Oy, that was depressing.  Rachel shook her head violently to clear out the dark thoughts and opened her small clutch purse.  No new messages on her iPhone.  “I’m like this club,” she thought, “No one will miss us when we’re gone.”

She laid the iPhone on her thigh and pulled the baggie from her purse.  She placed a small line of coke on the phone’s glass face and moved it around with her credit card.  She grabbed a twenty from her purse, rolled it into a tight tube and snorted the coke deep into her body.

As she left the bathroom, the wall of noise, bodies, and sweat hitting her like a ton of bricks, she spied her friends at a table in the corner.  Rachel headed to the bar, twenty in her hand, to buy some shots.  Before they drank the cheap vodka, they toasted with their favorite expression:  “YOLO, bitches!”

*   *   *

As far as class projects went, this one was at least somewhat interesting.  They were to use five pieces of paper money and enter their serial numbers on the Where’s George? website.

Jack was game for this.  Their Economics teacher had told them that you could track the movements of money – dollar bills mostly – as they were used to buy and sell goods, bouncing across the country through businesses, banks, and consumers.  Jack was hopeful that his bills had some good history – or at least some funny comments.

He opened his brown leather wallet.  He only found four one dollar bills.  He plugged their serial numbers into the site and clicked Continue.

Each time, his pulse quickened a little bit, he wanted something interesting, something unique, to feel more connected to the world outside of Waxhas County.

Jack still remembered the times in elementary school when released balloons, always with a note to call or write when they were found.  Jack dreamt of his balloons soaring across the sky, flying farther than everybody else’s, and being found by a famous celebrity who would not only write a letter, but would come of Jack’s town and shake hands with him in front of the whole school.

But Jack’s balloons did not have that destiny.  Only one was ever returned, and it was fished off of an electric line three blocks from school.  The power company raised a big stink and they stopped letting balloons go after that.

Four times Jack entered the serial number, hoping for excitement.  Four times he got next to nothing – a couple of random trips through the local Fed Reserve.  Jack was bummed.  What a stupid assignment.

Jack asked his dad if he could get the serial number of a dollar bill for a project.  Dad only had a wrinkled and worn twenty, and suggested he use that instead.

Jack entered the numbers and clicked Continue.  Out of habit, his adrenaline shot up, even as he mentally prepared himself for another letdown.

As the screen refreshed, Jack’s eyes lit up…

One Thousand Words (A DP Challenge)

Author’s note:  This piece is a bit of a departure from what I usually post.  For those of you who are expecting to read about the Huskers or get a snarky list, feel free to check back soon – there is much more where that came from.

I saw the “Weekly Writing Challenge” on the WordPress Daily Post blog, and was inspired to try something new.  The challenge (“1,000 Words, Take Two”), was to write a post based upon a picture.  While not a specific part of the challenge, I also wanted to make this exactly 1,000 words, which it is (minus these ramblings).

I’ve included the picture at the end of this post so you can see the genesis for this.  I’m curious to know if your mental image of the scene matches the picture that inspired it. 

*   *   *

Marco was upset.

He groaned and drug his feet slowly as he sulked around the kitchen of his family’s tiny apartment.

“You can pout all you want,” Mama said, “but you’re going to get your ass out there and clean up that mess you made”.

“Mm-hmm.”  Marco knew he had no choice.  He gathered up a brush, some rags, and a variety of cleaners from under the sink, dropping them into the old blue mop bucket.

As he walked out the door, Mama called after him “Don’t you dare half-ass this Marco.  I will walk by there tonight, and if it is not done to my satisfaction, I’ll drag your ass out there at midnight to do it again.  You got yourself into this….”

The slam of the door cut Mama off mid-lecture.  Of all the humiliation he’d received, this was probably the worst.

*   *   *

Marco trudged out onto the bright street, blinking away the early morning sun.  As he approached the scene of the crime, his home for the next few hours, he cursed under his breath, “Goddamnit.  The fucking tourists are out already.”  He plopped his bucket down and set up shop.

Why did he do it?  This was the question he could not answer.  Yes, he wanted to fit in.  Marco was tired of the teasing, the taunting, hearing “Polo!” called out behind his back as he walked the halls of his new school.  Maybe if he could show that he was tough enough and cool enough and bad-ass enough to be one of the New Market Eagles, he could transform himself from an invisible face to somebody who is known.  Somebody whose presence – in this school, in this city, in this world – MATTERED.

But was that really the reason?  Marco’s mind wandered like the meandering tourists behind him as he set about his work, rhythmically moving back and forth, up and down, side to side.  He thought about his old friends back home, about living in that tiny apartment above the Vietnamese restaurant that smelled like fish and feet, about seeing Lila again.  Picturing Lila always made the pain go away.  He missed her.

*   *   *

The clanging bell from the street car snapped Marco back into reality.  He had been at this for almost an hour, but it looked like he had barely begun.  Marco poured a bright purple liquid into the mop bucket.

Why did he have to do this?  What difference did it make?  Does Mama really think that if he served this punishment – “right my wrongs” as she always said – he’d suddenly be a better person?  He’d leave a bad path for the straight and narrow?  Did Mama think that he would fondly recount this story when he was elected President of the United States, became a judge, or one of the men in their fancy suits who never made eye contact with people who looked like Marco?  The thought made him snicker with disgust.

On and on he worked.  Knees aching, arms burning, a faint pool of sweat collecting in the small of his back.  Hunger was definitely setting in.  Marco could smell the street vendors setting up their carts.  The aromas from the hotdogs, empanadas, and other treats filled the narrow street and bounced off the walls into his nose.  Marco knew none of these delicious foods were waiting for him at home.  Today was the 28th, and Mama did not get paid again until the 31st.  Besides, Marco knew better than to take a lunch break before his work was done.

*   *   *

What was the worst?  The absolute, rock bottom lowest point?  Marco had been wrestling with this question too.  Was it having to face Mama?  Watching those stupid cops smirk as she lit into him, calling him “stupid” and an “embarrassment”?  Serving this punishment?  He still didn’t know.


Marco knew it wasn’t just the shadows from the tall buildings blocking the light, the yellow was definitely fading.  His optimism slightly renewed, Marco attacked anew.  But the blue…That blue was being a stubborn little bitch.  He continued on.

*   *   *

More laughter.

Marco’s face flushed and his ears burned red.  The people and the goddamn tourists continued to file past, suppressing their bemused looks and giggles at his expense.  The one time Marco didn’t blend into the background was now, as he performed this humiliating and exhausting task.

And then he knew:  the worst was the realization that his so-called friends bailed and left him holding the bag – literally and figuratively.

The worst was that he hadn’t actually done anything wrong.  He had not helped to shoplift the paint.  He had not defaced any public property.  Hell, he had not even touched any of the goddamn cans.  Marco was just standing there watching the other New Market Eagles tag that wall when the patrol car crept past the entrance to the street.

That is when the chaos began.  Luis yelling “Cerdo!” – the Spanish word for pig – and running faster than he’d ever seen that fat bastard run.  Hector thrusting the backpack full of cans at Marco – why did he take it?  Sam, who was actually holding the paint, hissing “N.M.E.’s don’t turn on their own” as he bolted.  The forceful shock as somebody – was it Tiny? – shoved him in the back.

Marco tripped on one of the steps, the backpack and cans flying everywhere, giving that damn cop enough time to pin him to the ground.

*   *   *

And so Marco kept scrubbing the wall.  Kept cleaning up a mess he did not make.  Made by people who were not his friends.  On a building in a town where he didn’t belong.  Just so the one person in the world who loved and respected him – Mama – would continue to do so.

The blue was still being a stubborn little bitch, not wanting to come off.  Marco did not know it, but that blue would be there until the day he died, forever taunting him.

(photo by Cheri Lucas, via


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