Cover for Shrapnel: Short Stories designed by the author
Working on recording a reading of one of the short stories in my anthology, Shrapnel, as a nod to the kind of PR one usually does for a book, travelling here and there, doing readings in book stores and such. Because of he pandemic, that kind of marketing isn’t really viable, so one has to be creative. I will choose one of several stories in the collection that lends itself to reading aloud and I’ll practice until I can do it properly, record it, and post it here with enough fanfar, I hope, to attract listeners who can listen when they have the time… which is probably a better way than scheduled stops in various bookstores, certainly a greater possible audience.
Today, however, I want to give you a little sample, a scene from one of the stories in the anthology, a story titled The Zen Society of Cleveland. The premise for the scene? A young Vietnam Veteran living in Cleveland during the mid-1970s has reached a point of desperation. The war, a failed marriage, growing debt and alimony, coupled with a dead-end job represent a string of events that have left him flat broke at the end of every day and hungry. With a few dollars in his pocket, he is looking in the phone book for the number of a pizza parlor and instead stumbles upon a listing there for the Zen Society of Cleveland. He sees it as some kind of sign, a serendipitous possibility in the midst of his despair and wonders whether he should call them and ask them what the hell it’s all about… why is he even here?
He wrote down the number and slipped it in his wallet. He’d forgotten all about the pizza, made some fried rice instead. He’d been living on that for weeks now. Cheap. Filling. Just rice, salt, some oil, and an egg.
It was never enough to satisfy, but it kept him alive.
Sometimes, he got so hungry, he thought about robbing a bank… or a liquor store. He had all the tools that were needed for the job. A gun, some bullets, and a fast car, the only things of value he’d managed to salvage from the marriage, the only things of value that he’d not yet pawned. The gun was his security blanket, the metaphorical switch behind the glass that reads, “For emergency only.”
In a pinch you could rob a bank, or…
In a pinch you could blow out your brains.
Sometimes at work, he would daydream about walking into a bank and walking out with enough money to live like a human being. And that’s what he thought of in terms of quantity. He wasn’t thinking about making himself suddenly rich. He just wanted… enough. Money enough to fill his belly. Money enough to pay his bills.
He made plans.
He’d get to the part in his mind where he would be forced to demand the money, and he thought, ‘What the hell do you say?’
He considered that he might write a note. He could hand it to the teller, along with a cloth bag he used to carry his laundry down to the basement. With a note, he wouldn’t have to speak and could concentrate on watching all the tellers. He reasoned that there would have to be clear instructions in the note… that he would have to include the order to put the note in the bag along with the money, so it wouldn’t be left behind… no fingerprints or handwriting analysis to use against him. But the more he thought about it, the more complex it became. A solution to a problem led to another problem and the solution to that to more questions. Bottom line? He knew he couldn’t do it.
Armed robbery was desperation and desperation seemed like a trap for even the cleverest of criminals and he was neither criminal nor criminally clever. Nonetheless, he continued to cash his paycheck in a different bank each week, checking out the building, mapping the whole thing out in his head, step by step. The practice was either a distraction or a prelude. He wasn’t sure which.
Will he call the Zen Society of Cleveland? What will be the end of his desperation? You get the answers to these questions and perhaps greater questions in the conclusion of the short story, The Zen Society of Cleveland.
Shrapnel: Short Stories is available on Kindle and in print through Amazon. Click on the link below to purchase: