The following are excerpts of fiction by Cynthia Robertson.
From TFSH, a short story
In the afterlife, Cathy hears of Joe’s success via the grapevine and she excuses herself from the group of musicians she’s playing with so she can tune in and see her former husband accept his trophy. (As Cathy is setting down her mandolin Amadeus looks up from his keyboard and asks where does she think she is off to? Jimi just lifts his chin briefly and flashes her a peace sign.)
Cathy is touched by Joe’s mention of her and pleased for him that he’s finally won the prize he’s longed for. She thinks he looks really happy. But she can’t stay to watch the whole thing. She’s due at a previously scheduled Love In at which both The Buddha and Gandhi have promised to be Present, and she doesn’t want to miss a moment of it because at the last such get-together those two had instigated this game – called Essence Morphing – in which the point was…
Oh, but never mind about all that. The thing is, she doesn’t want to miss out on all the hilarity, and so she is off.
Cathy misses Joe’s photo on the cover of Sports Illustrated, (a full length photo with him dressed nattily and leaning casually on his three wood). And she isn’t aware of him signing with Callaway (an extremely lucrative contract that promises to bring in several more of those large checks).
She is also oblivious when, six months later, while playing in a tournament at Kingsbarns on the coast of Scotland, Joe is pounded in the temple by a stray golf ball (a Titleist, specifically; blasted off the tee by a pro and diverted by a sudden gust off the ocean) at the twelfth hole. Nor is she aware of his subsequent immediate arrival in the afterlife.
From A Little Morning Madness, a short story
When the large, tattooed man in the ‘wifebeater’ undershirt pushed through the door into his liquor store Daryab knew he was going to be robbed. And he was very disappointed, very disappointed indeed. Hadn’t he relocated, at great financial expense to his family, just to avoid this very occurrence? An occurrence that happened with much too much regularity in the old neighborhood, but was not to be expected here, in this more prosperous part of the city.
The only question now was whether or not, after the traditional emptying of the cash drawer, he would finally be murdered this time.
From Spring Break, a short story
A thumping on the side of the camper startles me and I look out the window at my parents. “Why don’t you come out here for a while?” my mother yells through the glass. “Here we sit at this beautiful beach and there you sit like some kind of hermit.” She brays this loud enough for people nearby to hear.
I hold up the book so she can see it. “I was reading,” I say. “Homework.” But I get up and pull on a sweatshirt and go out, since at this hour of the day it would be unwise to disagree. The Queen has requested my presence.
I flop down in a folding chair out of arm’s reach and gaze out at the Pacific. The beach we’re on has been thoroughly bum-rushed by vacationing partiers. Dune buggies and dirt bikes have torn up the sand and the sound of the surf is accompanied by blaring music from both sides of us. Behind us, up the beach near the dunes, all the garbage cans overflow with plastic wrappers and disposable diapers and empty beer and soda cans. Down here near the surf, the sand is stripped bare of every stick of driftwood, every shell.
From Puck Amuck, a novella
The package was a small brown-paper-wrapped square roughly three quarters the size of a shoebox. It sat on the floor in the front hall just inside the door. Todd’s firm printing on the top told her it was from him. He often sent her gifts from the foreign countries he visited when the ship was under-way, but this wasn’t a regular cruise and she didn’t expect any gifts this time. What was taking place in the Gulf was something altogether different. She only wanted it to end and for Todd to be safely home.
She set the package, which was surprisingly heavy for so small a box, on the coffee table in front of her and realized she would probably need a knife to open it. Todd always used enough heavy yellow strapping tape to wrap three or four packages securely. She smiled as she went to the kitchen to get a knife from the block on the counter. Todd was a chronic over-wrapper, wrapping every gift as if it had to travel around the world several times, and then to the moon and back, before it would get to her.
Tabitha selected a small apple paring knife from the block. Back in the living room, she used this to slice through the tape at the sides of the box. She had to put the knife down and tug at the heavy brown paper several times before she was able to get the box free of the paper at last. Then she wasn’t surprised to find the box was taped closed just as firmly.
Their first few Christmases together had involved lengthy unwrapping episodes not much less strenuous. By their third Christmas Tabitha had outlawed any gift box held closed by more than two small pieces of invisible tape and wrapped using no more than three, arguing that they were highly unlikely to come unwrapped just sitting under the tree. Todd had complied, but it was clear he thought the gifts might be in some peril.
Tabitha studied the box. Was it another of the voluptuous fertility goddesses Todd was so crazy about? The shape of the box, like the brown paper that had wrapped it, told her nothing about what might be inside. There were no markings on the plain brown surface. It looked to Tabitha like Todd might have cut down a larger box to better fit whatever was inside. Tabitha wedged the box firmly between her knees and prepared for the final assault.
She slid the knife along both sides of the top then lifted the top slightly and ran the sharp tip of the blade along the center seal. She leaned forward across the box to set the knife on the coffee table and as she did she caught a whiff of something strange. She set the knife down and opened the flaps of the box. She sniffed at the white tissue paper inside, but didn’t smell anything now. She felt the tissue paper and decided that whatever was inside had been rolled up and lay at the center, so she carefully removed the whole wad. She let the box drop to the floor and twisting to the side, laid the tissue on the sofa cushion beside her. As she pulled away the layers of white she again thought she caught a whiff of some strange odor. It was faint but very unpleasant, and gone as quickly as she noticed it.
The last bit of paper removed, she found herself holding an object like nothing she’d ever seen before.
From, Dead Girl, a short story
Luthor was out on the roof of our apartment building when I pushed open the metal fire door at the top of the stairwell that first time. He was sitting in a rusting old lawn lounge somebody had probably rescued from the trash and he looked up at the wood and metal shriek the fire door makes in its too tight frame when you push it open. I can hear that shriek down in my apartment and hadn’t heard anybody come out here since getting home from my job in the coffee shop, so I’d thought I’d be alone up here. Maybe he came out here when I was flushing the toilet or something. I stepped out onto the roof and he nodded a greeting at me.
“Hey,” I said, nodding back. I walked over to the walled edge and leaned against it, not sure if he wanted my company in one of the other beat up chairs near him. Thinking maybe he might come up here to be alone. Or that he might be composing in his head, or something. He’s a musician. I can hear that from my apartment too. Coming up through the floor vents along with the faint odor of pot smoke. Blues and jazz guitar mostly.
From Intelligent Design, a short story
I sit in my grandparent’s kitchen, at the same round candy apple red Formica table they have always owned. The same table that has hosted marathon games of Parcheesi and Monopoly, Backgammon and chess. I love this table and all the memories it holds. It’s the middle of the night and I am up but trying to be quiet so I don’t wake one of them. Old people are light sleepers. I made myself some hot chocolate using a pan on the stove, the way my grandmother makes it, the old way, so the beep of the microwave would not wake them. I reach into the bag of marshmallows and grab out three more and push them down into the hot brown liquid with the back of the spoon. I wait for them to get gooey and then devour them, licking the sticky spoon clean afterwards and waiting for the little sugar rush I know will come. I lift my head and look out the window, wanting to see the trees I know are out there, standing sentinel around the old house like brilliant living green flames; I am in love with trees. But all I can see at this hour of night is my reflection looking back at me from the shiny black square of glass.
From Watermelon, a short story
My husband and I were on our way to a party where we would possibly be the only white people. I was nervous and irritable. But it’s not what you think. The fact of all the other people being black didn’t bother me so much as the fact of their being complete strangers. You see, these were my husband’s work buddies and their wives and girlfriends. And I’m a complete loser at parties where I don’t know anybody. I seem to have no small talk in me. I’m the one that can never think of anything to say. I hover around the food table and keep my mouth busy so I don’t have to start conversations with people I don’t already know. And there would be nobody I knew. So I was going to be eating a lot.
It was a hundred and five out and we still had to stop and pick up something to bring to the party to drink. That’s the other reason I was irritable. We got in the car and I cranked on the A/C. It was finally just beginning to cool the interior when I pulled up outside Safebuy.
“I’m not coming in,” I said, very snarky. (Like I said, I was irritable)
“Well what do you want me to get?” Miles asked.
“I don’t know, you figure it out. But I’m not drinking Heinekin. That crap gives me a headache.” I put the car in park in the shade of the building and wiped sweat off my face.
“Well should I get something for dessert? Andre said we could bring a dessert if we wanted to.”
I aimed all the A/C vents at my face and leaned back, letting the cool air blow across my neck. “I’ll be waiting,” was all I said. Miles got out of the car and disappeared into the darkened automatically sliding doors of the grocery store.
I watched a Mexican family cross from the sun into the shady umbra of the building and dissolve through the doors after him. I drummed my fingers on the wheel and brooded about the long drive to the party – it was in the east valley – and the moment of walking into a room full of strangers. Strangers I knew were into sports. That made it even worse. You see, I am completely without sports talk. And someone always walks up to me at one of these things and says something like: What do you think of those Mariners? And I have to tell them I have no clue. That I don’t, in fact, even recall which sport that team plays. If you held a gun to my head and asked me to name a sports figure, I could do it. Tiger Woods, I’d say. Who doesn’t know him? Especially with all the multiple mistress stuff in the news lately. Okay, name another, you might say. Babe Ruth, I’d reply. You might roll your eyes and say, one that’s alive. I’d have to think a moment, but then I’d remember either Larry Bird or Shak. (Not too bad, you might be thinking at this point – she knows some sports) But probably you’d roll your eyes (again) and say: name one that’s still playing. And there you would have me. Because even if the fate of the world hung in the balance, I couldn’t do it.
I know what you’re thinking. But trust me; it’s even worse than that. My husband is a sports writer. And we have been married for almost twelve years. He’s tried.
I am irredeemable.