Love, Lies, and Pumpkin Pies: A Short Story

Matthew Campbell leaned over the chain-link fence he shared with Ramona Stocks and said, “Ah, don’t you just love these crisp October mornings?”

“I do,” Ramona replied as she tugged her summer flowers out of the soil. The first frost had arrived and done them in. She didn’t mind, though. Ramona possessed an infinite amount of patience, and so the endless planting and replacing of flowers each season did not bother her. “In fact,” she resumed, “fall is my favorite time of the year.”

“Mine, too,” Matthew agreed. His hands clasped together and hung over the fence, just a few feet from Ramona’s head as she toiled in her flowerbed. He twisted his wedding band around his finger—something he’d started doing after his wife passed away many years ago. “Whenever the leaves start changing and a chill enters the air, I always think about my mom’s cooking. Dad mostly grilled our meals in the summer time, so fall meant Mom was back on the job.”

Ramona smiled. 

She’d been a high school science teacher, and because she’d given every ounce of time she had to her profession, remained single. She enjoyed retirement, and as she glanced up at Matthew, thought perhaps it was the right time to finally start dating.

She moved into the house next to Matthew two years ago after occupying an apartment for most of her adult life. Renovating it was something she did for amusement, and gardening quickly became a passion for her, too. It also gave her an excuse to chat with Matthew, who never failed to appear when she was outdoors.

“Was your mother a good cook?” Ramona asked after pulling out the last of her impatiens.

“The best,” Matthew answered. “She kept my brother and me plenty fed, let me tell you.”

Ramona stood and removed her gardening gloves. “I bet she could bake well, too.”

“Oh, yes.”

Sensing an opportunity, Ramona said, “Well, baking is something I’ve been meaning to take up. What’s your favorite treat?”

Also sensing an opportunity, Matthew wasted no time in answering, “Pumpkin pie, without a doubt. Mom’s were to die for, but I’ve never found one quite like hers.”

Ramona patted away the dirt on her knees while asking, “Maybe I could practice by baking you a few? You could sample them and then offer some advice on how to make one like your mom’s. Once I get it right, I’m sure I’ll start winning contests in no time.”

Matthew adjusted his cap, grinned, and said, “Why, it’d be my pleasure, Ramona. You just bring those pies over whenever you like.”

Two days later, Matthew’s doorbell rang. When he opened it, there stood Ramona with a fresh pumpkin pie. She beamed when she saw him lick his lips.

He practically sang, “Let me put on some coffee.”

Once the coffee brewed, they both sat down at his kitchen table. “Some people put whip cream on their pumpkin pie, but not me,” he informed. “I appreciate it for what it is. Of course, that doesn’t apply to my coffee.” He then dumped two spoons of sugar into his mug.

“I can’t wait any longer, Matthew,” Ramona said. “Go ahead and take a bite.”

Ramona saw a flash of ecstasy on Matthew’s face followed by what seemed to be a concerted effort at looking disappointed. Teaching had given her the ability to read body language without error, and Matthew proved a poor actor.

Nonetheless, she asked, “Is something wrong?”

“No! No, it’s delicious,” Matthew responded between chews. 

“But?”

“Well, if you’re really trying to make it like Mom’s, she always served it after it’d spent the night in the refrigerator.”

Ramona chuckled and said, “So you like it cold.”

“Yes, but you couldn’t have known that,” Matthew said. “I should have remembered to give you that detail the other day. I can’t really comment on the ingredients unless it’s cold, you know, because the coldness changes the flavor.”

It was all Ramona could do to keep from laughing. “I understand, Matthew. Think nothing of it. Why don’t you keep this one and I’ll bring you another one—a cold one—in a few days and we’ll take it from there.”

“Perfect!” Matthew agreed. They then passed several hours talking while Matthew nibbled away the entire pie.

As the weeks passed, Ramona brought pie after pie to Matthew, and though each pie was delicious in its own right, Matthew always recommended a few things. A bit more ginger; a little less salt; a dash of extra cinnamon; add lots of sugar; just a hint of vanilla extract; go easy on the ground cloves; and on it went.

But after each sampling, Matthew and Ramona spent an increasing amount of time together. They went to the movies, out to dinner, took drives in the country, and even rode the train to the city for a few days of sightseeing. A relationship slowly developed, and both of them were perfectly happy with the way things progressed.

Finally, near the end of October, Ramona dropped a pie off at Matthew’s while his younger brother, Peter, happened to visit. 

She didn’t stay long because she didn’t want to intrude upon the brothers’ time together, but also because she didn’t want any complications thrown into the farce. 

After exchanging some friendly words with Peter, Ramona told Matthew to tell her later what changes needed to be made to get it more like his mom’s. The stunned expression upon Peter’s face did not go unnoticed.

The boys sat down to try Ramona’s latest incarnation. It was, as usual, scrumptious. Before they knew it, Peter and Matthew devoured the entire thing.

Leaning back in their chairs, Peter finally asked, “What was that about Ramona trying to make pie like Mom’s?”

Shame spread across Matthew’s face as he said, “She wanted to learn to bake well. I really like Ramona, and I really like pumpkin pie, too. I told her she could practice by making it like Mom’s. I wanted to continue seeing her, so I kept suggesting little changes to the recipe here and there.”

Peter’s mouth hung open. At last, he revealed, “Matthew … Mom hated pumpkin pie. She couldn’t even stand the smell of it. She always bought it for you at Parlier’s Bakery!”

“I know,” Matthew confessed.

Later …

“Good to see you again, Ms. Stocks.”

“Hello there, Jeremy. How are you?” Ramona asked her former student.

“I’m doing very well, ma’am. What can I get for my best customer today? Yet another pumpkin pie?”

“That’s right, Jeremy,” she said as she stood inside the bakery Jeremy inherited from his father, Robert Parlier. “Yet another pumpkin pie.”

“You sure you don’t want something else?” Jeremy asked. “I would think you’d be tired of it by now. At least let me make you one fresh with some different spices.”

“No, thank you, Jeremy,” Ramona said with a sly wink. “Your pumpkin pie is perfect. Don’t change a thing.”

________________________________________

Copyright © 2009, 2017 by Scott William Foley

This work originally appeared in Bloomington News and Views for the Young at Heart, October 2009

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Borderline: A Short Story

“Back away from the gate or I will shoot you!”

“No, don’t!” the girl shrieked with tears streaming down her face. She appeared no more than fifteen years old, and the boy with her couldn’t have been over ten. Both had obviously been traveling over rough terrain for quite a while. Their clothes were dirty and torn. She continued by pleading, “Please don’t kill us! Let us in; they’ll be here soon!”

Sentry Corporal Soto sat atop the wall mounted in his Individually Operated Cannon. He looked down at the kids through his reflective visor which obscured his eyes. Though he kept his left hand on the IOC control stick, he used his other to point a sidearm at them.

“No exceptions!” he shouted. “Turn away—now!”

“What’s going on here?” a new voice asked.

SC Soto glanced over his shoulder to see Sentry Sergeant Badu bobbing next to him. SS Badu operated a Piloted Hover Pack, which allowed him to quickly cover the half-mile distance between each IOC.

“Please!” the girl wailed through the gate. “Let us in! They’ll kill us!”

SS Badu briefly studied the kids and then faced SC Soto while saying, “I’m opening the gate.”

As SS Badu began to input the authorization codes on his wrist unit, SC Soto yelled, “Stand down, Badu! You’re breaking protocol!”

“We don’t have time for procedure!” SS Badu shouted as he pointed beyond the wall to the south.

There it was, just a tiny speck on the horizon but approaching quickly—a thornship.

The kids started crying even harder. The little boy covered his eyes.

“They’re terrified!” SS Badu yelled. “I’m letting them in!”

“They could infect us all!” SC Soto roared. “You want a repeat of what happened in Florida? This is exactly how we lost Georgia!”

“We’re not infected!” the girl howled. “We escaped Carmargo–we just want the cold! Please, let us in and you’ll never see us again!”

SC Soto sneered at SS Badu as he said, “Have you forgotten the Weedies infect humans and try to get them into the FHZ? The aliens can’t go north themselves, so they count on our bleeding hearts to do the job for them by letting in their infected prisoners.”

The girl declared, “Our parents told us you’d protect us! They died getting us out!” She next reached for the bars on the gate.

SG Soto barked, “Do not touch that gate or I’ll shoot you in the head–do you understand?”

SS Badu ordered, “Put that gun away, Soto.”

“Screw you–you don’t outrank me,” SG Soto returned.

“If that ship reaches them, they’re dead,” SS Badu said.

SG Soto replied, “Only if they’re not infected.”

The girl cried, “We’re not infected—I promise!”

SS Badu flew the PHP closer to SG Soto and asked, “You’re willing to let them die?”

“Better than being the guy who lost Texas,” SG Soto declared. “How can we be a Free Human Zone if we don’t have any free humans left alive?”

“It’s getting closer!” the girl screeched. “Please!”

“We’re letting them in,” SS Badu said.

SG Soto shook his head while arguing, “No one gets in who hasn’t been scanned and verified by the big brains–no exceptions!”

The girl wrapped her arms around the little boy as she bellowed, “We’re begging you!”

SG Soto said to SS Badue, “You do this and I’m filing a report that you broke procedure and allowed them in. If they’re infected, it’s all on you. Are they worth it? Thousands of free humans for two kids who have been sent to kill us all?”

The girl looked up at SS Badu with pleading eyes.

SS Badu landed his PHP and approached the gate. He placed his helmeted forehead against the bars, lifted his visor, and made eye contact with both children. After a few moments, he simply said, “I’m sorry, kids. I’m so sorry.”

The girl’s face went blank. She grabbed the young boy’s hand and started running west along the wall.

SG Soto and SS Badu watched the thornship approach. They knew it wouldn’t dare cross the border, but SG Soto prepped his IOC nonetheless. As expected, the ugly shaft of a craft banked west. Minutes later, the men heard the unmistakable sound of disintegration.

“Told you,” SG Soto seethed.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” SS Badu asked.

“That thornship was going so fast, it would have been way past the kids. They were infected, just like I said. Weedies don’t vaporize the infected. They’re counting on some other idiot like you to let those kids through.”

“It could have slowed down,” SS Badu said. “We might have just sentenced them to death.”

SG Soto holstered his sidearm, shrugged, and said, “Guess we’ll never know.”

SS Badu knew he could review the video after his shift. The entire wall was monitored at all times from California to North Carolina.

He knew he could … but he also knew he wouldn’t.

___________________________________________

Copyright © 2021 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Cold Turkey: A Short Story

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Eddie stands fuming outside in the bitter cold while his son, wife, and in-laws sit at the dinner table surrounding a cold turkey.

How did such woeful events occur on Thanksgiving Day? Read on …

***

As his favorite football team seemed determined to get trounced on national television, Eddie decided he saw enough. He rose from his father-in-law’s recliner, made his way to the front hall, retrieved his coat, then backtracked through the living room and traveled through the kitchen while enjoying its delicious aromas. His six-year-old son colored at the little-used kitchen table and they exchanged wordless smiles before Eddie reached the back door.

As soon as Eddie stepped into the frigid November air, he reached into his left coat pocket.

Nothing.

He tried the right pocket.

Equally barren.

Charging back into the house, Eddie once again noticed the smell of cooking turkey while he rumbled past his son and through the kitchen.

He found his wife and in-laws waiting for him in the living room with the television turned off. They wore expressions of trepidation.

“Susan,” Eddie said to his wife of eleven years, “where are my cigarettes?”

“Eddie,” she began after a quick glance to her parents, “you’ve been promising for years. We talked it over, and we decided to take matters into our own hands.”

“You mean you stole my cigarettes?” Eddie asked in disbelief. “You took them right out of my coat pocket?”

Her eyes pleading, Susan said, “We knew you didn’t have a secret stash here; we figured this was our best chance to prove you don’t need them. If you can get through today, then you can get through the rest of the week, and then the month, and then maybe even the year …”

Eddie, bewildered, looked at his in-laws and questioned, “Donna, Marvin—you two were part of this?”

“We love you like our own flesh and blood, Eddie,” Marvin said with his palms up. “I know it was a dirty thing to do, but we did it because we care so much about you.”

Donna amended, “We want you around for a long time so you can raise that boy of ours. My father died from emphysema. He smoked his entire life, just like you’re doing. Do you want your son to go fatherless?”

Detecting her husband’s rage, Susan confessed, “This seemed like our best option—our only option.”

His eyes narrowed to slits. Eddie said nothing in response to his family. Instead, he spun on his heel and plowed through the house once more. Of course, to make his way to the back door, he had to enter the kitchen anew, and when he did so, the smell of succulent turkey filled his nostrils again and made his mouth water.

A petty, underhanded idea invaded Eddie’s mind. 

He stopped right in front of the oven. He turned his head ever so slightly and saw his son still engrossed with his coloring book, paying Eddie no attention at all. In one deft movement, Eddie did the unthinkable.

It would be hours before anyone noticed.

***

Now that you know why Eddie endures the freezing elements and his family sits staring at a half-cooked turkey, we shall conclude our misadventure. Can any good possibly come of such calamity? We shall see …

“Daddy?” Eddie’s son asks as he pokes his head out the door.

“Yeah?” Eddie replies. His face is flushed and his voice quivers both from anger and the icy temperature. But when he looks into his son’s eyes, his fury subsides. He thinks of the mess he’s made of their Thanksgiving.

“Daddy, aren’t you going to come sit with us? We’re all waiting for you at the table.”

Eddie figures Susan, Donna, and Marvin didn’t disclose Eddie’s transgression to the boy.

“Um, I don’t really think the turkey’s fit to eat this year,” Eddie says.

“Yeah, but aren’t we still supposed to join hands and give thanks?” his son asks. “Isn’t that what today’s all about? I mean, that’s what we’ve been doing since I was a little kid.”

Before taking a deep breath, Eddie’s recognizes that he’s the biggest turkey of all. 

“You’re right—you’re exactly right. Let’s go in and first I’ll give thanks for having the world’s wisest six-year-old, then I’ll apologize to your mom and grandparents, and then I’ll give thanks for their love and—hopefully—forgiveness.”

Eddie sees his son looking at him knowingly.

“You saw me do it, didn’t you?” Eddie asks.

Nodding, the boy returns, “I didn’t tell. I think they figured it out, though. Don’t worry, you and Mommy always tell me if you say you’re sorry, people will forgive you.”

With moist eyes, Eddie takes his son’s outstretched hand and says, “I’m sorry to you, too. Do you forgive me?”

“I forgive you, Daddy,” his son replies. Then, looking up at his father with a bright, semi-toothless smile, he asks, “Can we order a pizza?”

Eddie laughs as they reenter the house and says, “Yep, and I’m buying. Just don’t get used to pizza on Thanksgiving. This is our last year of cold turkey.”


Copyright © 2008/2013/2020 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. This story first appeared in the November 2008 issue of News and Views For the Young at Heart.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Stasis: A Short Story

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I’m standing in our dining room, looking out of the picture window. Honestly, that’s not true. It should be our dining room. It’s actually our kids’ toy room. 

I like to see what’s going on out there. Usually, the answer is “not much.” We live on a cul-de-sac, and now that it gets dark early and the cold is here, there’s rarely anything to see. But it’s either look out the window or watch Lizzie McGuire reruns with my eight-year-old—her nighttime show—so I opt for the empty street. 

Here comes some action. A walker is approaching from the other side of the cul-de-sac. It’s hard to tell who it is with all of the winter wear. I generally recognize everyone in our subdivision, but we sometimes have strangers pass through. I notice this person is eyeballing my “Biden-Harris 2020” yard sign. Maybe a fellow fan?

Maybe not!

The guy just tore my sign out and tossed it into the street!

“Brisa!” I yell as I head to the mudroom. 

“What?” Brisa calls back from the TV room.

I pull on my heavy coat while saying, “When your mom gets out of the shower, tell her I’m going on a walk.”

“But it’s too cold, Daddy,” Brisa says.

After putting on my stocking cap, I next slide into my tennis shoes. I’m not going to let some Trump supporter get away with this!

“I’ll be back in a minute,” I say while making my way to the front door. 

“What are you doing, Daddy?”

I ignore Brisa’s question as I shut the door behind me.

Our neighborhood is beautiful in that it’s a series of sidewalks weaving through yard after yard. The covenants don’t allow privacy fences, so everything is wide open. I just catch sight of the walker at the far end of the sidewalk leading into the next cul-de-sac. I see him turn left, which means he’s heading towards the elementary school.

It’s only eight o’clock, but it might as well be midnight. There isn’t a soul out here except for the walker and me. As I trot after him, I feel the frigid air bite into my lungs. We could be in for some very serious trouble if it’s already this cold in late October. Like 2020 hasn’t been bad enough already. Between Covid-19 and Donald Trump … But better days can’t be too far off now, right?

I enter the adjacent cul-de-sac and see the guy at the end of it, crossing the street. He takes the sidewalk between two houses that leads to a trail around a big field that the neighborhood school uses. On such a clear night, I don’t think I could lose him once he reaches the field, but I increase my pace nonetheless.

What will I do when I catch the guy?

I have no idea.

I think I’ll start with just telling him that I saw what he did and that I didn’t like it. 

I reach the edge of the field just as he’s made it almost halfway across. Our subdivision ends along the west side of the field, the side I’m entering. Houses line the entire length of it. A retirement community resides on the east side of the field, with the school on the south side. 

The cold grass crunches under my feet as I try to catch up. I’m pretty sure the guy has no idea he’s being followed. Was he just walking around messing with Biden signs? How sad is that?

Without warning, the man stops. I mean, he’s frozen in place—mid-stride. 

I mumble, “What the hell?” 

Then, I scream.

A beam of light shoots out from the sky and surrounds the guy. Within seconds, I see his feet leave the ground. 

Still screaming, I dive onto my belly. 

I watch as the man goes up higher and higher towards the starting point of the light. 

But there’s nothing there! What’s shining the light? There’s nothing there!

Other than my screaming, there isn’t a sound. The man doesn’t move—not a muscle. He still appears as if he’s about to take another step. 

And then …

He’s gone. 

He’s just gone. 

The light’s gone. 

Everything is quiet again. The whole thing probably took five seconds.

What the hell did I just see? 

I’ve got to get out of here!

I jump to my feet and start sprinting. Sidewalks be damned, I’m cutting between houses!

I cross the street and race through my neighbors’ yards. I’m looking up at the sky for any sign of the light, but all I see are the stars. It’s like nothing happened at all!

After bursting through yet another yard, I spill out onto my own street and run towards my driveway. I’m so close! 

I step on the Biden sign and start to slide, but I manage to regain my balance. 

Almost there!

My front door is just within reach when I freeze.

I can’t move; I can’t scream; I can’t do anything. 

God, no! 

Light—the light—it’s surrounding me!

I feel the ground let go of my foot and I float upwards. 

No! No! This can’t be happening!

I move my eyes downward and see the top of my daughter’s head far below.

She’s asking for me—calling out my name. 

Thank God, she isn’t looking up. 

Please, God, don’t let her look u—

______________________________________________________________________________

Copyright © 2020 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Gunsmoke’s All-In: A Short Story

When my mother asked me to invite her friend’s son to my poker game, I didn’t think much of it. Sure, we like to keep our games closed, but she explained that this guy was new in town, a medical professional, single, and simply looking to make some acquaintances.

Since, like us, he’s in his early forties, I figured it didn’t hurt to include him. My friends would understand.

… If only I’d known.

My mother gave me his number, and, when I texted him, I purposefully had him arrive after everyone else. I wanted to explain the situation to my friends. For the most part, we’ve been playing poker together every other week for fifteen years. He would be the first novel face in our group in quite a while. Honestly, we were excited to have a new dynamic to the game.

Of course, we soon found out it was the wrong dynamic.

My wife took the kids to her parents’ house for the evening. This allowed us to drink, curse, insult each other, and otherwise try to act macho in ways only middle-aged men can manage. Of course, we had to fit all this debauchery in before ten o’clock at night because none of us could stay awake much later than that.

Our poker games were pretty low-stakes. Five dollars bought you in. Everyone got the same amount of chips. Second place won his money back; winner took the rest. We normally had a total of six guys who, like I said, have known each other for a long time.

As we all sat around the table waiting, Tomas, a fellow teacher, asked, “So what’s this guy’s name again?”

“I told you—I don’t know,” I replied.

Marcus, who’s in marketing, questioned, “But he’s a doctor?”

“Maybe,” I answered.

“Doctors have money,” Dewey said. Dewey’s a travel agent.

“What’s it matter with a five dollar buy-in?” Tomas laughed.

Karl added, “Nobody’s getting rich off these games.” Karl’s also a teacher.

I nodded and said, “And no side-hustles, okay, Dewey? I don’t know this guy and I don’t want any trouble.”

“A little trouble might be nice nowadays,” Jalen chuckled. Jalen’s the most financially successful among us—an orthopedic surgeon.

Jalen, by the way, probably sealed our fates with that comment because at that moment we heard my doorbell ring. The guys all looked at each other and tried to hide their nervousness. You could say we had become a bit set in our ways.

I opened the door and heard, “Heeere’s Johnny!”

As a twenty-year veteran teacher, it’s hard to shock me anymore. Let’s just say that the sight of this man … well, it surprised me.

It was obvious at first glance that he was taller than any of us, and broader, too. Though he wore a baggy Hawaiian shirt and frumpy cargo shorts, his exposed arms and legs showed sinewy musculature. He might have even been handsome, but large, mirrored sunglasses covered most of his face. A semi-transparent green visor partially concealed his wavy, dark hair.

“Hi, there,” I said. “Welcome. So, the name’s Johnny?”

“How ‘bout … nooo,” he droned while entering.

“Okay, yeah, come on in,” I muttered.

He made his way to the table, lifted up a hand, and said, “Greetings, Earthlings.”

“Uh, hey,” Karl replied. “Have a seat.”

“I’m Tomas.”

“Marcus.”

“Jalen.”

“Karl.”

I said, “You know me already.”

“Gunsmoke,” he revealed. He slowly started to grin, exposing huge, perfectly white teeth.

Jalen laughed, “A nickname. Got it. What’s your name for real, though?”

“Kiss my grits!” Gunsmoke exploded.

Everyone at the table jumped. Marcus even knocked over his beer.

“Damn, man!” Dewey cried.

As I ran to the kitchen, I heard this awful sound. It struck me as a cross between someone sobbing and a tiny dog howling. I realized it emanated from Gunsmoke.

I tossed Marcus a towel and then took my seat.

Gunsmoke stopped giggling, pointed at Marcus’ beer, and squeaked, “Did I do that?” He next started that awful laugh all over again.

“This is too weird,” Tomas said.

Dewey looked at me and asked, “Is this a prank or something?”

“You got some explaining to do,” Gunsmoke sang.

“Okay, um, let’s just get the game started,” I said. “So, uh, Gunsmoke, it’s a five dollar buy-in—”

He interrupted with a childish tone, saying, “You got it, dude!”

“Right,” I mumbled. “We’ll start with a dime and quarter blinds.”

“Alll-righty, then,” Gunsmoke barked.

Marcus complained, “Bonkers. Totally bonkers.”

I started dealing the cards.

“So, Gunsmoke …” Jalen began. “I understand you’re in the medical field? Me, too. What do you do?”

“Yes, that’s right, thank you for asking,” Gunsmoke responded.

He used such a pleasant voice, a voice we had not yet experienced until that moment, that it took us all aback.

“I serve as an intermediary between doctors and patients in the telemedicine industry. My primary focus concerns mental health, though I would like to expand my reach into the field of addiction as well, since the two sometimes go hand-in-hand.”

“Wow. That actually sounds really interesting,” Dewey said.

“Yes, thank you,” Gunsmoke answered. “It’s highly rewarding, fascinating work. Connecting patients with the appropriate caregiver is a fulfilling passion of mine.”

“Very cool,” I said. “Read to play?”

“Oh, you betcha, yeah,” Gunsmoke replied through his nose.

The charming, articulate version of the man dissipated. We all looked at each other, utterly confounded.

“Texas Hold ‘Em is the game,” I said. “You know how to play?”

Gunsmoke put his hands together as though they were cuffed, adopted a sultry, serious voice, and grumbled, “I know.”

“Oh, my God,” Tomas murmured.

“Here we go, then,” I said.

Gunsmoke sat to my left. He’d already tossed in the small blind. Karl was next and had thrown in the big blind. Tomas raised to fifty. Marcus matched. Jalen matched. I matched. Gunsmoke threw in enough to get to fifty, as did Karl.

Next came the flop.

Gunsmoke checked. Karl checked. Tomas tossed in seventy-five. Marcus folded. Jalen matched. I matched. Gunsmoke matched. Karl matched.

Finally, the river arrived.

Gunsmoke bet one twenty-five. Karl folded. Tomas raised to one-fifty. Jalen matched. I matched.

Gunsmoke pushed his chips while saying, “All-in.”

Tomas screamed, “You can’t be serious!”

After frowning behind his sunglasses, Gunsmoke shouted, “What’chu talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?”

“Um … Gunsmoke,” I said, “it’s the first round. You sure you want to go all-in? We’ve still got a few hours left …”

He replied with a big smile before saying, “How you doin’?”

“This is nuts,” Jalen chortled while shaking his head.

“Are you crazy or something?” Tomas asked.

I held up my hands and said, “C’mon, Tomas, don’t—”

“My mama says that crazy is as crazy does,” Gunsmoke slowly replied.

Marcus shrieked, “That’s not what mama says, you—”

Gunsmoke interjected with, “What we’ve got here … is failure … to communicate.”

Jalen asked, “What happened to that professional dude we were talking to?”

“If he dies … he dies,” Gunsmoke growled.

“I don’t even know what the hell that’s supposed to mean,” Dewey said.

I suggested, “Let’s just play, okay? Sound good, everyone? Tomas, you in?”

Tomas threw his cards down and hissed, “I’m out. This is ridiculous.”

“Okay,” I said. “Jalen?”

Jalen grinned while offering me a wink. He tossed down his cards. “Out. Up to you, my man.”

“Okay, I’ll stick around,” I said. “We’ll see if Gunsmoke knows what he’s doing.”

Gunsmoke bellowed, “I’m just getting warmed up!”

I pushed all of my chips in and said, “I call. What do you have?”

After laying down his cards, Gunsmoke said, “Three of a kind.”

A warm rush pulsed through my body when I saw his three twos.

I laid my cards down in a neat row. “Flush—diamonds.”

“Nice!” Tomas yelled.

Gunsmoke’s mouth dropped open as he moaned, “Ohhh, fuuudge …”

“Now that’s a first round,” Marcus added.

“You’re not going to stick around, right?” Dewey asked Gunsmoke. “You’ll be leaving now?”

“This is unbelievable,” Karl uttered.

Jalen caught my eye. I looked at him. He glanced at Gunsmoke’s cards. I followed his sightline.

Damn it.

Yes, Gunsmoke had three twos. But he also had two sevens. Three twos and two sevens—a full house. Which beat a flush, by the way.

Karl shook his head at me, silently begging me to keep my mouth shut.

Jalen smiled with a shrug.

“Guess what, Gunsmoke,” I said.

He wouldn’t make eye contact when he replied, “You’re killin’ me, Smalls.”

“You actually won.”

Gunsmoke lifted his head and faced me.

“You’ve got a full house there—twos and sevens,” I informed.

“That beats a flush,” Jalen clarified.

Dewey squawked, “Damn it. You could’ve gotten him out of here.”

“That’s a little rude, Dew,” Tomas chided.

“Thank you,” Gunsmoke said. “Your generosity does not go unnoticed. It’s the epitome of fair play.”

“No worries,” I replied.

Karl looked at me while saying, “Guess you’re just hanging loose tonight, huh?”

Gunsmoke quickly crooned, “Thaaat’s what she said.”


Copyright © 2020 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Click the image to view the author’s latest book at Amazon.com.

Drive By: A Short Story

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I stand by the window, looking out, watching my daughter play in the front yard.

My heart fills with dread.

They should be here any minute.

Should being the operative word.

Will they come?

Why should they?

I’m amazed how everyone seems to know everyone—everyone but me. How do they all know each other? Our kids are in third grade. When I was a kid, if my classmates didn’t live in the neighborhood, my parents didn’t know their parents at all.

I seem to be the only one upholding that tradition. How would I even begin to meet the other kids’ parents? PTO? Sports?

I honestly have no idea.

I don’t want my daughter to pay for my ignorance. She’s going to be the outcast. The weirdo. The kid with the dad who’s clueless about throwing birthday parties under ordinary circumstances. But during a pandemic? Hopeless.

When the mom emailed, my instinct said not to trust her.

She wanted to organize a birthday parade for my daughter. She said my daughter’s teacher asked her to do it, which is also how she got my email address. She said she’d be happy to lend a hand—I just needed to make sure my daughter hung out in the front yard at a certain time. She included her phone number and asked me to call.

I did.

It wasn’t bad, but it was awful.

Against my better judgement, I agreed to it. I asked if I could assist, and—to my relief—she said not to worry about a thing.

Why?

She doesn’t know me. I’m not even sure she knows my daughter. She owes me nothing—no favors, no kindness, no mercy. Yet, she supposedly got in touch with all the kids’ families and set up a parade.

But what if she didn’t? What if she changed her mind? What if she got busy with her actual friends or her real commitments?

I’m expected to trust her without knowing her.

Maybe I should have just thrown a party. Screw it. Get the bouncy house. Hire the clown. Order pizza. Invite the entire third grade to our backyard. Pandemic be damned.

No.

I couldn’t bring myself to do that. It would have been hard when things were normal—but I would have done it. I keep telling myself I would have bitten the bullet and hosted a party.

But now? I can’t bring myself to take that risk. No matter how unlikely, I can’t jeopardize my daughter’s health.

The neighborhood thinks I’m a freak for taking this so seriously. My daughter will likely be ostracized for the rest of her school years because of me. She’ll be the kid with the nutty dad. The house nobody wants to come visit. She won’t be invited places because no one will want to deal with me.

What they must think—all those normal parents. I can’t even organize a birthday parade on my own.

What’s wrong with me?

I watch my daughter.

She’s the only bright spot in my life. The only thing I got right. I’m doing the best I can, but I’m not equipped for parenthood. It doesn’t come naturally. I never expected to be doing it alone.

I watch her.

My heart is full of joy, fear, confusion, love, anxiety, and happiness all at once.

Tears zigzag down my face.

For the longest time, nothing happens but the hitch of my chest.

And then I hear it—a blaring of horns. I see my daughter begin to jump up and down, waving her arms. Cars and minivans appear. Most have balloons attached. Some even have her name written on the sides, wishing her a happy birthday.

She looks at me through the window, gestures for me to come outside, and then goes back to jumping for joy.

I wipe off the tears, walk to the front door, and reach for the knob.


Copyright © 2020 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Stranglehold: A Short Story

STRANGLEHOLD

I can’t breathe.

All the time.

You hate me so much.

You hate me if I laugh.

You hate me if I cry.

You hate me if I silently kneel.

You hate me if I peacefully march.

You hate me if I speak my mind.

You hate me if I don’t want to talk.

You hate me if I’m smarter than you.

You hate me if I’m not smart enough.

You hate me if I look you in the eye.

You hate me if I turn my head.

You hate me if I live in the “bad” part of town.

You hate me if I’m your neighbor.

You hate me if I’m sitting on my porch.

You hate me if I’m at the park.

You hate me if I’m in my car, on the bus, or riding the train.

You hate me if I’m walking somewhere.

You hate me if I’m rich.

You hate me if I’m poor.

You hate me if I go to college.

You hate me if I don’t like school.

You hate me if I’m your boss.

You hate me if I’m unemployed.

You hate me if I’m submissive.

You hate me if I fight.

You hate me if I win.

You hate me if I lose.

You hate me if I live.

You hate me if I die.

You hate me so much.

All the time.

I can’t breathe.


Author’s note: Since George Floyd’s murder, I have felt inept. I didn’t know what to say, what to do, or how to act. I finally decided to follow the adage of putting myself in someone else’s shoes. “Stranglehold” is the result. It is my sincere hope that this work helps with the struggle against hate, inequity, police brutality, racism, discrimination, and injustice.  


Copyright © 2020 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

You Come First: My Short Story Of the Week

YOU COME FIRST

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You want to know who comes first? That’s right—you do.

It’s your right—your God-given right as an American citizen—to do whatever you think needs to be done. Who are they to tell you anything? You’re smart. You’ve been through a few things. You know what’s what, right?

These scientists, they’re changing their story every day. One day we’re supposed to wear a mask. The next day the mask doesn’t do anything. Then they’re back to telling us to wear masks again. Guess what? You’re perfectly healthy. You don’t have the virus, so you obviously can’t give it to anyone. You can’t give what you don’t have. There’s some real science.

Speaking of which, where do these grocery stores get off trying to force you to wear a mask? Are they the Gestapo? Who put them in charge? You go right into that store without your mask and just watch what they’ll do—nothing. Oh, they’ll talk. That’s all anyone does—talk, talk, talk. They’ll probably say something like “it’s for the safety of our workers,” but we all know that they shouldn’t have vulnerable people working there. Their employees’ frailty is supposed to keep you from eating? Not happening.

On the topic of food, can you believe they shut down the gyms? That’s a great strategy. There’s a virus going around, so let’s make sure people can’t exercise. Brilliant. Here’s some more science—exercise makes people healthy. The government has you sitting at home, eating like a pig, and won’t let you pump iron at the gym. They want you to get fat. They want you lazy. They want you at their mercy. That’s how they try to control you.

Furthermore, let’s talk about these people in charge. They think they can dictate where you can go, what you can buy, and who you can hang out with? Last you checked, you live in a democracy, and you most definitely did not vote for fascism. If you want to have people over, that is none of their business. Your friends are all grown, aren’t they? You can trust them to stay home if they’re not feeling well. You’re being treated like a child who’s been sent to your room, and you don’t like it. Not one bit.

In fact, they won’t even let you go to church. Seriously? There’s two things guiding the course of your life—God and the Constitution. Both of them want you in church. After all, you live in one nation under God. Are you really going to let some commie pinko tea party snowflake socialist get between you and your lord, Jesus Christ? No way. This is how they’ll eradicate Christianity from our schools, and you know it.

Schools. Can you believe this? It’s a fact that kids are barely getting sick at all, yet they shut down every school across the land. Just what are these teachers doing at home all day, anyway? Your kid hands in some papers a little late, just a few months, and those teachers take their sweet time grading. They’ve already got the whole summer off, and now an extra three months on top of that? Just to sit at home. You’re working your butt off, and they’re probably out on the golf course instead of grading papers the day they come in. You emailed your thoughts about that to your kid’s teachers, but they’re too cowardly to even respond.

Cowards. That’s the operative word. Everyone is scared of their own shadow. Not you, though. Just the other day, you were at the hardware store. You needed a new snow shovel—everyone with half a brain knows off-season is the time to buy. Some guy was taking too long looking at rakes, so you just stood right next to him and searched for the best price you could find—capitalism, baby. He thought he was tough, said something to you about keeping your distance. One cough in his direction proved what kind of courage he really had.

You’re good to go. You’ve got a big house with a giant yard and a great job you can perform from home. You earned everything you have, and if people are catching some bad luck during the Covid outbreak, that’s on them. They should have worked harder. The smart people know how to get things back on track, and it starts with the economy. When’s the last time the Covid spent a dollar?

You understand the Covid is flu. Technically, it’s not, but basically it is. Flu kills less than 1% of people who get it. The Covid kills less than 5%. You wish you were shocked the whole world shut down for less than 5%, but that’s today’s leaders for you—only worried about getting reelected. Let’s make everyone suffer for less than a handful of the population. The old, the weak, the sick—how much are those people contributing to society anyway?

You need to get this country up and running again by sacrificing whatever it takes.

America comes first, right after you.


Copyright © 2020 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Huffy: My Short Story Of the Week

HUFFY1

 

Dino and Cary closed the screened-in summer porch’s deep freeze. Each boy giggled while sneaking back into the house with several Schwan’s frozen cookie dough patties in their hands. Cary looked around, saw no one, then led Dino through the hall that led straight to the garage.

As soon as Cary opened the door, both boys dropped their cookies.

There, in the middle of the garage, stood Mick’s black and gold Huffy bicycle with the garage door wide open and the family cars parked in the driveway. The bike faced outward, toward the street, eager to rocket through the small town.

The boys froze. They looked around them, behind them, even above them. They didn’t see Mick anywhere. Cary and Mick’s dad always made them park their bikes along the wall so that the cars would have plenty of room. It didn’t make any sense—both of Cary’s parents were home. Why were the cars in the driveway? Furthermore, Mick’s bike had no business sitting there, dead center, primed and ready, begging to be noticed.

It had to be a trick.

Cary didn’t bother to pick up his frozen cookies as he descended three steps into the garage. A slight breeze whistled though the garage’s only window, slightly opened, as he approached Mick’s bike.

It was beautiful. The rims and handlebars were golden and caught every bit of sunlight that shined its way in. The hand grips, frame, and seat were black, the kind of black Old West gunslingers wore. There wasn’t a chip on it; Mick kept the paint pristine. The chain had been freshly oiled and smelled like action. As far as Cary knew, no one else in town had a black and gold Huffy—Mick alone wielded the prestige. Comparably speaking, Cary’s own blue and white BMX could only be described as inadequate.

But why was it sitting out in the open? Mick never left it unguarded. He normally chained it to his dad’s rolling tool cart in the front corner.

Cary lifted a leg in order to straddle the Huffy.

“Don’t,” Dino warned. “It’s a trap—you know it is.”

Looking over his shoulder at Dino, Cary whispered with a grin, “I don’t care.”

And with that, Cary hopped onto Mick’s Huffy, kicked up the stand, stood on the peddles, and then jettisoned down the driveway into the street.

“Follow me!” Cary screamed against the wind.

Dino ran to the yard, lifted his blue and yellow Raleigh up off the grass, then tore after Cary down North Street.

“You’re crazy!” Dino yelled. “Mick will kill you!”

“It’s worth it!” Cary hollered back.

Dino caught up to Cary and they raced side by side. The other neighborhood children stopped what they were doing and stared, dumbfounded. Though Mick was a well-liked, charismatic teenager, it was common knowledge that you were not to provoke him. Cary saw a young girl with a Popsicle in her mouth close her eyes and do the sign of the cross in his direction.

“Isn’t the seat too high for you?” Dino questioned.

“I’ve never felt more alive!” Cary roared in return.

They angled their bikes and swerved right onto Beard street. Both boys knew they would pay for this infraction, but at that moment the thrill proved too intoxicating. Whatever the future held for them, nothing would ever top the day they stole Mick’s Huffy.

“Pop a wheelie!” Dino squawked over the torrent of air flowing through their hair.

Cary had never successfully popped a wheelie before, but he knew he was destined to do so on that July day. A blissful smile spread across his face. In perfect synchronization, he pushed with his legs, thrust back his chest, and yanked upwards with his hands as mightily as he could.

And for a brief instant, the front tire lifted off the pavement.

Cary bellowed, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”

But then the unthinkable occurred.

Cary bawled, “No! No! No!”

For as the tire rebelled against gravity and became airborne, the handlebars ripped loose—completely loose.

Though he still clutched the hand grips, Cary found himself effectively riding with no hands as it wobbled precariously from side to side.

“What happened?” Dino screeched.

“I don’t know!” Cary replied.

Then things grew even more dire for the boys because, seemingly all at once, the bike’s front tire disengaged, both peddles flung away, and the seat spun at a ninety-degree turn.

Somehow, Cary landed on his feet.

He stood among a heap of gears, parts, nuts, and bolts as he still held the handlebars aloft.

Dino skidded to a stop next to Cary. He uttered, “Oh, no …”

“I don’t believe this,” Cary mumbled. “Do you think Mick booby trapped his bike?”

“What?” Dino asked. “Are you crazy? That’s impossible!”

“Then how do you explain this?” Cary wailed.

“I don’t know, but you’re a dead man,” Dino groaned.

“Go get my dad,” Cary said. “I’ll start gathering everything up. Get my dad and tell him I’m in front of Christian Academy. Maybe he can help us take it home and put it back together before Mick finds out.”

“What if I bump into Mick?” Dino demanded with bulging eyes.

“Just do it!” Cary yelled.

“Oh, man, this is so nuts!” Dino shrieked before racing down the rest of Beard and turning right onto Sunset.

Cary sat at the edge of the road and waited five minutes. He noticed a grey cat leering at him from within a bush across the street, then waited another ten. When twenty minutes passed, he realized that his dad wasn’t coming. Either Dino lost his nerve and went home or Mick had gotten to him. Either way, there would be no help.

After staring up at the blue sky for several seconds, Cary took a deep breath, then collected all the small parts that he could find and stuffed them into his front pockets. Each peddle went into a back pocket before he hoisted up the bike frame and slid his right arm through it until it rested on his shoulder. The handlebars were wedged under his left arm and he took a tire in each hand. He searched the pavement one last time with eyes darting erratically. No piece could be left behind—partly because he feared his brother, but also because one didn’t abandon even a bolt of the black and gold Huffy. It was a treasure, a paragon of bicycles, and it had to be treated as such.

Then began the long walk.

It wasn’t that far of a trek back to his house, but it felt interminable. Cary had no idea how he would explain the situation to his parents, and he was even less certain about how he would survive Mick’s guaranteed rage. He only knew he would put the Huffy back together again. No matter how long it took, no matter how hard it proved to be, he would right this awful wrong. The Huffy had asked for none of this—its days would not end as a heap of parts on Beard Street.

When Cary finally reached the opening of the garage, he fell to his knees in exhaustion and carefully allowed each part to rest upon the cold concrete floor. Evening approached and the crickets reproached.

The door then opened, and, while stepping over the thawed cookies, Mick walked out.

The older brother stepped down, and once he reached the bottom Cary saw that Dino trailed. They both stood a few feet from Cary and simply stared at the grease-stained, weary boy.

“Wha—I don’t understand,” Cary stammered.

“I had to be sure,” Mick said.

“Sorry, dude,” Dino added.

“Sure?” Cary repeated. “Sure about what?”

Mick crouched down with clasped hands before his younger brother. He said, “I turn thirteen next week.”

“Yeah? So?” Cary replied. He felt himself devolving into hysteria. It was all too much for him.

“Mom and Dad said I could pick out a new bike. I’m getting too big for the Huffy—I’ve had it since I was your age.”

Cary studied the Huffy’s parts surrounding him. A realization dawned.

“You did this,” Cary seethed. “You didn’t want anyone else to have it …”

“Whoa,” Dino warned, “you’re way off, man. Let Mick explain.”

Mick stood, put his hands behind his back, and paced the garage. He said, “It’s true—I set you up. I rigged the bike to fall apart. I knew you would take it for a joyride—who wouldn’t? I had to know …”

“Know what?” Cary whooped.

“If you’re worthy,” Mick answered.

“Worthy?” Cary repeated.

“If you left the bike, if you came running home like nothing happened, if you never admitted to what you did … then I would know you didn’t deserve it. But if you scooped it up, carried it with you, refused to leave it behind … That was the test.”

“And you passed, dude!” Dino proclaimed.

Narrowing his eyes at Dino, Cary growled, “You were a part of this?”

Mick interjected by saying, “The Huffy is yours, little brother.”

Cary took in the mess encircling him, then looked at Mick with his eyebrows lifted.

“Relax,” Mick said. “We’ll help you put it back together.”

Dino giggled, “This was so awesome.” Then, to Cary, he asked, “You’ll let me ride it, right?”


Copyright © 2020 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Chubby Tummy: My Short Story Of the Week

CHUBBYTUMMY

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I remember standing in the shower with the steam rolling around me. The roar of the water combined with the whir of the fan created a loud, encapsulating experience. White stripes, about the width of three fingers, stretched across the middle of the door just enough to shield one’s private parts should someone enter the bathroom. In a house full of two adults and four children, such an invasion always proved likely. Even the dog committed the occasional incursion.

I remember staring at that clear glass with the white stripes. We once had a frosted glass door, but when my sister pushed it open too hard, it shattered. The shards fell everywhere and managed to slice open her forearm in the process. The neighbors put my two older siblings and me to bed that night because my parents drove her to the nearest emergency room, which was thirty minutes away.

I remember thinking my sister would not return home that night or any other night ever again.

I remember the beige stain that would appear on the floor of the shower. My mother made one of us scrub it every three days with powered bleach, but that brown residue never relented. With six people using one shower, Comet didn’t stand a chance against the constant barrage of oil, dirt, and, in my case, urine.

I remember the metal drain in the center of the shower floor. At one time it appeared silver—a round, metallic plate with twenty-three holes. The drain had taken on a greenish tint, however, with a bit of blue mixed in. It reminded me of shipwrecks featured in those shows with strange sounding men that hunted undersea treasure. Bits of mashed Dial clung to the edges of the holes on the underside of the drain. When the soap wore down to a sliver and careened to the floor, we would press it against the drain until it pushed through like sausage in a grinder. We took my mother to the brink of insanity.

I remember all the bottles lining the perimeter of the shower stall. My mother and two sisters each had their own brand of shampoo and conditioner. My dad complained he barely had anywhere to stand because of all the plastic containers. Dad told my brother and me just to use the bar of soap for our hair, but I actually used my sisters’ stuff. I would wash my hair every other day while making sure to switch from one brand to the next to the next. This method served me well for months until my oldest sister recognized her scent of raspberry atop my head during an impromptu wrestling match that resulted due to my unauthorized use of her athletic socks. As the youngest member of the family, I mastered the art of scavenging in order to fulfill my needs.

I remember looking down in the shower only to see my tummy blocking the view of my toes. The hot water hit the back of my head and flowed downward. It caught my dark hair in its currents and pushed my bangs into my eyes. I saw black tendrils hovering over a pink balloon—my fat gut.

I remember hating myself.

I remember my sisters, my brother, my father and mother—they were slender, toned, slim, strong. You could actually see my brother’s muscles through the skin of his stomach. I didn’t understand. My legs were lean, as were my arms. But my face carried a lot of flab in the jowls and my stomach—it looked like someone blew up a beach ball inside of me.

I remember being so confused. We all ate the same foods, drank the same drinks. Why were they so skinny? Why was I the only tubby member of my family? To make matters worse, it seemed like I got fatter every day. Wasn’t it bad enough that I regularly got the lowest grades amongst my siblings? Didn’t the world beat me up enough in that I always got picked last for sports? My oldest sister earned multiple academic scholarships—colleges lined up for her approval. My oldest brother consistently won the lead in every school play through elementary, middle, and high school. My other sister, though only a year older than me, could outplay anyone at soccer. Everyone agreed the Olympics could be in her future. Me? I could eat twice as much bread at dinner as my entire family combined. That was my only claim to fame.

I remember feeling hopeless. My grandmother once called me chunky when we hosted Thanksgiving. She said I inherited it from her side of the family. After her proclamation, I slowly and inconspicuously backed away from the table before fleeing to the room I shared with my brother. I sobbed for an hour before my mother found me. She tried to assure me that I would thin out. She compared me to a squirrel saving up for the winter. According to her, I would soon hit a growth spurt. This sudden growth would burn up all of my blubber as I got taller and taller.

I remember thinking that was bullshit.

I remember looking down at my gut in the shower. It would glisten like raw chicken meat as the hot, soapy water streamed over it. It stuck out so far that I couldn’t even see my thing. My best friends were thin as could be. We ate the same food at lunch—why weren’t they fat? Pudding pies, Twinkies, Nutty Bars, Swiss Cake Rolls, Cosmic Brownies—we all ate them! They drank Coke just like me, too.

I remember wondering if I would always be fat. Would I just get fatter and fatter? Would my arms and legs start to swell as well? Was I eternally destined to be the beefy kid? Would girls like me? Would I ever find someone willing to marry me? What would PE class be like for the rest of my life? Would coaches keep teasing me worse and worse, year after year? Would my dad’s friends ever stop accusing me of sneaking beer? Would the middle school kids bully me? Would people laugh at me until the day I died?

I remember standing in the steaming, noisy shower while praying to God to make my chubby gut disappear before sixth grade.


Copyright © 2018 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.