Short Story Friday

Bright Lights & Chilly Nights

by

Anne Marie Andrus

 

Setting sun trickled through colored glass, illuminating mirrored letters behind the bar until LEGENDS sparkled like lost gold from an enchanted city. The bartender brazenly whistled off key and polished curved mahogany with a vintage rag. According to the calendar, autumn was still two weeks away but last night he felt “it” for the first time this year. That fleeting bite of a rogue breeze and rustle of dying leaves followed by a whiff of fragrant firewood. His favorite season was right around the corner—exciting and bittersweet—ruthless and glorious, all at the same time. Baseball was more than a game; it was a way of life that lasted from February all the way through October. Only one team would win their final contest and then silence would descend until next season.

Behind the bar, numbered beer mugs hung from pegs. The bartender glanced over his shoulder at a still empty parking lot and picked out the prized #7 and #42 mugs for two regulars who would arrive first. Always gleeful Yankees fans. Grumpy Boston #34 would be close behind followed by perpetually hopeful Mets #31. A lucky few would be in attendance at the big ballparks in October. The rest would be on bar stools watching their teams pack up lockers and lug golf clubs through private airports while arch rivals padded win-loss records and secured coveted home-field advantage.

The bartender eyeballed bottles of top shelf bourbon—the perfect elixir to calm nerves that would be frayed moments after the roar of the pre-game flyover faded. As players waxed poetic about fan appreciation and stadium acoustics, experts sounded alarm bells over statistics and injuries. Lifetime baseball addicts agonized over traveling ghosts and whether the powers of aura and mystique would be making a nightly appearance. Despite all the famous curses being broken, from The Bambino to The Billy Goat, dread of the jinx never really vanished, it merely slunk into the shadows ready for ambush on a supremely pivotal play. Innings would crawl by, pitch by agonizing pitch, unless the home team was losing of course…then it seemed to get late early. A wise quote from a true legend so many years ago.

Outside, music blared and tires screeched to a stop on loose gravel. The bartender waited for the door to slam open before he shouted. “Most important pitch of the game?”

“Strike One.” Mug #42 tossed her auburn hair back and slid into her usual seat. “Most exciting two words in sports?”

The bartender picked up the TV remote and grinned. “Game Seven.”

 


October 18, 2003…2 nights after the Game Seven, Aaron Boone home run…

 

Short Story Friday–Birthday Edition

Trash Talk

by

Anne Marie Andrus

 

Gentle wisps of September breeze swirled through The Beach Haunt reminding Ajay of summer’s magic at the Jersey Shore. A single sharp gust warned him of the season to come. Flicking his eyes from the empty inbox on his smart phone to the televisions and back again, he zipped the collar of his sweatshirt up to his chin. Outside, his part-time cameraman wandered the abandoned boardwalk, puffing an electronic cigarette.

“What can I get the master of local turmoil tonight?” A lady with blue hair and an enormous dolphin tattoo slapped the bar in front of him. “Earth to Ajay!”

“Sorry, Gilda. I applied for a ton of newsroom jobs—they’re all playing possum. I’ll have ice water with a slice of lemon, please.”

“Freakin’ boring.” The bartender flashed a frown that rippled into a smile. “What’s really got you so distracted?”

Ajay stared at the screens surrounding the bar. Dressed in a navy pinstriped suit, the global affairs correspondent flashed her perfect teeth and plunging cleavage.

“You know her?” Gilda sopped mystery liquid off the bar and squeezed the rag over a rubber mat. “Oooo…you do. How well?”

“I went to journalism school with her, that’s all.” Ajay chuckled. “Pretty much.”

“She’s living the life, that’s for sure.”

“Chasing the dream.” Ajay pointed to the television and then to himself. “Eeeking out an existence.”

“Come on, you’ve turned YouTube tabloid commentary into a distinguished art form.” Gilda tapped her nails on a tequila bottle. She flashed the lace of her bra and leaned forward. “I’m sure your classmate had surgery. I’m just dying to know how much.”

“I’ll never tell. No swill.” Ajay pushed the cheap tequila away and winked. “Or l might…what else do you have?”

Gilda jingled her keyring and fumbled through a hidden cabinet until she found a green and gold bottle. She puffed dust off the cap, poured a shot for each of them and then filled a third.
Ajay waved the cloud of sand and ash away. “I’m not drinking all that again.”

“Just think about the parade of drunks you’re about to interview.”

“Sinking to new depths of stupidity every Sunday night, yet I still need to speak in coherent sentences.” Ajay grabbed the salt shaker and fished the lemon from his water. He licked the back of his hand before tapping out a healthy dash of salt.

“One for me, one for you, plus the emergency ration.” Gilda grabbed a fresh lemon. “Here we go. Lick, slam, suck.”

Ajay followed her instructions, gagged and groaned. Outside, a bus boy dumped three huge bags of garbage on the corner, turned around and flashed him a thumbs-up.

“My stage awaits.” Ajay closed his eyes and drained the back-up shot. “I’ll make those network execs sorry.”

“Enough of this crap.” Gilda snagged the television remote and hit mute. “Go out and smash it.”

♦♦♦

 

AnneMarieAndrus.com

 

Short Story Friday

Parkway Picnic

by 

Anne Marie Andrus

 

“Are you freakin’ kidding me?” I shouted at the six lanes of southbound traffic that slowed to a miserable crawl and then ground to a complete stop.

     Never should have agreed to go in on this ridiculous shore house with my friends. Never.

I unbuckled an antique lap belt and hoisted myself through the old car’s sunroof. Red brake lights snaked ahead for miles.

     Way back in January,No thank you,” had been on the tip of my tongue. But everyone insisted I get out more—find a man—up my game. I’ve met every doctor, lawyer, accountant and stockbroker in this state. Boo, not interested.

Across the median’s concrete barrier, the northbound lanes were eerily empty.

     That’s a lousy sign. Looks a bit like my love-life.

I slumped down in my seat just as sirens blared and strobes lit up the rear-view mirror. Police cars wove down the gravelly shoulder followed by firetrucks, wreckers and a lone ambulance.

     If one ambulance is all they need, maybe it’s just a fender bender?

I fished for a tablet in my backpack and scrolled to the traffic app. Bright red lines in both directions were punctuated by a slew of orange circles with lines through the middle. I banged my forehead on the steering wheel until a muffled bark and wet nose brought me back to reality.

“Oh, puppy. It’s you and me against world, right?” I rubbed fluffy ears. “And I’m sure you have to pee.”

Buried under folding chairs, a mini barbecue grill and my bundle of beach towels, I found a leash.

The car sputtered and stalled.

     Damn jalopy. At least it won’t overheat.

I reached out and checked the pavement with my hand. “Too hot for you, little Bonnie.” I hoisted the tawny furball into my arms and knocked the car door shut with my hip. Two lanes away, the grassy median beckoned. I squeezed past a conversion van covered in bible-verse bumper stickers. Inside tightly rolled up windows, the driver blasted show tunes and conducted an invisible orchestra to his own private musical. A silver-haired woman in the car next to him pointed and laughed. I giggled and waved to her with one of Bonnie’s paws.

While I looked around, the puppy sniffed the grass, investigating the scent of every soul that had stopped here before.

     What is that rumble? Can’t be thunder. Maybe a dragon?

I swallowed hard as if I were on a plane, trying to relieve eardrum pressure. A few seconds of silence fell over the crowded highway before the crystal-clear sky exploded into chaos.

     Helicopters!

One—two—three! Medevac choppers roared overhead, low enough for me to read the numbers on their bellies. I spun to check for another as the leash snapped against my wrist. Searing heat shot through my ankle just before my shoulder crashed against the edge of the pavement.

Screams and slamming doors echoed in my skull as I scrambled, desperately searching for the leash. Invisible hands came from all directions, sitting me up and brushing me off.

“Bonnie!” I pushed everyone away. “I lost my dog!”

“Don’t worry dear.” A lady in hospital scrubs handed me an ice pack for my ankle, took my pulse and looked deep in both eyes. “A young man ran after the pup.” Apparently satisfied I would live, she peered past me. “And . . . he’s got her.”

“Small miracle I didn’t hit my head.” I accepted a gauze pad from over my shoulder and held it against my skinned elbow. I turned to see the four-pronged base of a cane and followed the trail of oxygen tubing to a tan, smiling face.

“I have a first aid kit, dear.” The silver-haired woman patted my good shoulder. “For just this situation.”

“How klutzy am I? A blind person could see that—” I gestured toward the rough curb.

“Here you go, miss.” A silken baritone voice swept over me as calloused palms placed a wiggly puppy in my lap. “What a perfect angel. Half terrier, half collie?”

“She’s a rescue so, probably a little of everything. Thank you so much for—” I kissed Bonnie’s fuzzy head and looked up at the good Samaritan who retrieved her.

     Whoa.

“Thank you…” I read the letters on his navy-blue work shirt. Beveled Edge Blacksmith Shop. Is that even a thing? My gaze wandered over his sculpted biceps, past his perfectly trimmed goatee and up to dancing emerald eyes. “Ummm, you’re totally covered in dog hair.”

“You’re very welcome.” The man started to brush off his chest and tossed his arms up. “Mud, dog hair, horse hair…all day. Everyday. I may be hopeless.”

“You can’t be from around here.”

“Of course, I am. Born and raised.” The man offered his hand and helped me to my feet. “I’m Justin.”

“I’m Grace.” I looked at my bruised knees and handful of bloody gauze. “Just a name, not a description.”

“Come on, Miss Grace. I have water and snacks in the cooler. Enough for everyone.” He waved all the bystanders toward his shiny pick-up truck, stopping to make sure the silver-haired woman’s cane was firmly planted on flat pavement. “Ma’am, what’s better than a Friday night Parkway Picnic?”

Butterflies swirled in my stomach and tiny sparks danced in my throat. I hoisted Bonnie in my arms and whispered in her ear. “Okay, so I maybe I haven’t met every man in New Jersey.”

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