Monday, October 17, 2011

I enter the Reginald Marsh flash-fiction challenge


(Junkyard Scene by Reginald Marsh,
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
)
Patti Abbott has created a flash fiction challenge for a good cause. She asked readers to create stories inspired by the American painter Reginald Marsh, and she promises to donate five dollars to Union Settlement for each entry. (Union Settlement is where her daughter Megan works. Yep, that Megan Abbott.) Here's my story.

============

"Smithers Should Have Listened"

by Peter Rozovsky

 You'll drive."

“Like fuck, I will,” Cappy said. "I’m—“

Smithers put his mug down hard. “You’ll drive, or you’ll stay the fuck home. Now, here’s what we’ll do…"
***
The job went off without a hitch. Cappy pulled up to the bank's side entrance. Smithers and Ben slipped in the front and mingled with the customers. Ben queued up to see the business manager, his hat in hand, with a story about the men's haberdashery he could open with just a $2,000 loan.

At 10:06 two guards accompanied the bank president to the vault, and Smithers nodded to Ben. The president clicked the dial, the guards turned a massive steel wheel, and Smithers pulled a shotgun from his long coat. Ben brought his hand down on the business manager's wrist and said, "Don't."

Smithers stepped into the vault and raked up the cash — $175,000, the papers said. Gus stood by the front door, keeping the way clear, while Ben covered the business manager and the tellers with a revolver, making sure no one went for an alarm. In the meantime, Cappy pulled the car around the front and collected Smithers, Ben, and Gus as smoothly as if they'd been heading out for a drive in the countryside.

At least, that's what I read in the papers the next day. I sat out the job because of a hunting accident. Me, the shooter in the gang, and laid up with a keister full of buckshot!

It seemed that the boys had made it clear to the last traffic light in town, a big brewery truck bearing down from the right, Cappy laughing like a madman behind the wheel, Ben and Smithers going crazy in the back seat, the truck bearing down, Gus throwing himself from the car just as the truck hit.

None of the boys made it out alive, of course, and there wasn't much left of that fine black sedan of theirs, either. Gus's body was torn clean in half at the waist, and the traffic signal, knocked from its post but still blinking from red to green every thirty seconds, lay in a pool of gasoline, brain tissue and beer next to what was left of Cappy.

Poor kid. I knew him better than I'd known the others, known him since he was a boy, in fact. That's how I knew what he'd been trying to say when Smithers ordered him to drive: "Like fuck, I will. I'm color blind!"

Smithers should have listened.
==============
(This is the second story I've written for a flash-fiction challenge. Read the first one, "Down the Shore," here.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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44 Comments:

Blogger pattinase (abbott) said...

Hey, a great one, Pete! And well worth $5. Thanks for helping me.

October 17, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Many thanks. I wouldn't mind sending these folks a small contribution myself. Do you have an address for them?

October 17, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Very nice work!

I've said it before and I'll say it again. You really should give the long form a go. You have the moves and the hustle.

October 17, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

well maybe not the hustle but you certainly have the moves.

October 17, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I thank you for the apposite amendment. And thanks for the original sentiment, too.

I think what I need to do if I want to write fiction seriously is to keep writing short, short, short, saying exactly what has to be said and not a word more, and gradually that minimum will get bigger and bigger, and eventually short will be long.

October 17, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Not a cozy, then.

Great title and follow through. Glad you're keeping at this stuff.


v word=wakinsop

October 18, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Wakinsop -- s name out of Wodehouse?

Thanks for the kind words, though I would not exactly say that two shorts in, what, three or four months constitutes keeping at this stuff.

October 18, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Sure it does.

As to the v word, I was thinking more along the lines of waking in some unidentifiable but disagreeable stuff on the floor.

October 18, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'd set my own challenges if I were serious about this stuff.

You v-word could also be a checklist of what one does upon entering one's vestibule from out of a torrential rain.

October 18, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Good, terse short story, ala Hammett's style, no extra words, no tangents, no lengthy introspection.

I guess you did find Union Settlement's address for donations.

It's this:
Union Settlement Association
Attn: Development
237 East 104th Street
New York, NY 10029

And this is a reminder for me to donate to them.

October 18, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for compliment and the address. I’ve found in these two attempts at fiction that terseness is the only way I can work.

October 18, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Did you ever see The Singing Detective on the BBC?

At the very end he is glad that it becomes extremely painful for him to write because every single word becomes important and there's no waste at all in his prose.

October 18, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yep, that's me, but without the loathsome skin condition.

October 18, 2011  
Blogger Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Great job Peter. I really enjoyed your Noir @ The Beachhouse short, but this was even better. Great names for the characters, some very clever lines, excellent descriptive scenes, and a nice twist at the end. Looking forward to more stories from you.

October 18, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Very nice indeed! I can't do short, alas!

October 18, 2011  
Blogger Dana King said...

Great job, Peter. For a second I thought we were going to get a ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA twist, but this was even better. Some people should slow down and listen once in a while.

October 18, 2011  
Blogger John said...

Super job! Great twist. Everyone told such great stoires in this challenge. Mine's more like a character sketch and coincidentally also features a getaway car driver.

October 18, 2011  
Blogger Yvette said...

Terrific, Peter. Love the twist at the end. Smithers SHOULD have listened.

My story was a bit more...uh, fanciful. :)

October 18, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

It's been awhile since I wrote a limerick reprise, but I find that the knack never really leaves you:


There once was a man name of Smithers
Whose driver had terrible dithers
Mixing reds up with greens
Turned them to smithereens
Lofted hither and thither—poor Smithers!

October 18, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Sean. The name of one character is what really sparked this story. I'll tell the story behing that name in a later comment. Did you enter this one?

October 18, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And thanks, I.J. You've probably been writing novels long enough that you have 300-page ideas. I have 300-word ideas at this stage.

October 18, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, even though I've seen a bunch of the Sergio Leone spaghetti Westerns, I've somehow missed "Once Upon a Time in America," so such a twist would have been a fluke. I shall try to get and watch the movie soon. Thanks!

October 18, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

John and Yvette: Thanks. Entries must have flooded in late for this challenge. When I last checked last night, I found just three stories besides mine, and none of them were yours. So I have some reading to do today.

I had thought about the challenge for weeks and was about to give up on it. Then an idea came to me, and I wrote my story in twenty minutes on my dinner break at work. But then, good vibes may have been in the air. I work two blocks from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, which owns a number of Marsh's works including the one I wrote about.

October 18, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, you could call your collection Smithereens: A Book of Very Short Poems.

October 18, 2011  
Blogger Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Peter- No I didn't, would have liked to but, it slipped under my radar. Got a couple, maybe more, things coming out the next month or two though. Been busy, that's always good.

October 18, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Sean, as was the case after the summer challenge at Do Some Damage, I'd like to keep track of flash-fiction challenges. They're a great spark for getting a piece of work finished.

October 18, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J.: Mea culpa for writing "none ... were" above!

October 18, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

OK, Sean, here's what happened with the names. (I've been having bad connection problems at home and did not want to risk getting disconnected in the middle of a long post before I'd had a chance to answer everybody.)

I'd been browsing Marsh's work for weeks and was attracted to a number of the pictures, but none sparked a real idea. In fact, I'd given up on the challenge. Then I remembered a scary experience I'd had when I was in high school.

A bunch of us were returning from someone's Sweet Sixteen party. We all loved to drive at that age, except for one kid who almost never got behind a wheel. But this kid drove that night, and he ran a red light or something. His name was Caplan and yes, I seem to recall that he was color-blind. And that was it. I had the story right there.

I wanted a name that would sound vaguely old-fashioned to modern ears, since the story is set in the 1930s, and Smithers fit the bill. And I've always liked the sound of Gus!

October 18, 2011  
Blogger Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Peter- I wish every short ended with a "how I came up with this story". I love this type of thing. Glad your experience ended with only the red light violation. The ending scene of your story was vivid and moving.

October 18, 2011  
Blogger sandra seamans said...

What a great story, Peter! Who would have thought that getting shot in the butt could save your life :)

October 18, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Sandra: There butt for the grace of God!

I am proud to receive such a high compliment from a master of the form!

October 18, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Sean, we didn't get stopped for the violation either, we just kept on going. That made the moment scarier.

It was interesting that the spark of the story was not the Marsh painting and not my long-ago experience, but rather a mix of the two -- a nice insight into the psychology of, well, I don't want to claim inspiration, but--

October 18, 2011  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

Ah, a great piece, Peter! I particularly enjoyed the twist at the end.

You sure you don't want to write a novel? I'd buy it.

October 19, 2011  
Blogger Dan_Luft said...

Very cool story.

Hell, the painting should be re-named "Smithers Should Have Listened."

October 19, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Loren. I'd love to write a novel. All I meant is that I'd have to work my way up to it first by writing short pieces.

I have ideas for two more, so I may be on my way.

October 19, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, thanks, Dan. In fact, the painting doesn't really have a name. The Pennsylvania Academy's catalogue lists it as Untitled (Junkyard Scene), so maybe I'll just stroll over to the museum before work one day and suggest to the curators the change you mention.

October 19, 2011  
Blogger Thomas Pluck said...

I like to imagine our narrator went hunting with a young Dick Cheney...
Great story Peter.

October 19, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dick Cheney's name crossed my mind fleetingly when I wrote that scene. Thanks!

October 19, 2011  
Anonymous May said...

Good story, Peter.

If you're looking for some inspiration for writing something longer, I recommend Stephen King's 'On Writing' if you haven't read it already. Don't think I've ever read any of King's work besides a book of short stories, but I found it on the shelf of a mystery bookstore while I was in New York recently and just finished a few days ago. I was so pleased with just the forward that I thought I ought to read the whole thing. I was no disappointed. A very interesting look behind a very successful writer.

October 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. I have heard and read recommendations for King's book before, with the similar suggestion that one need not have read his fiction to find the writing book worthwhile.

October 20, 2011  
Anonymous Gearcog said...

Enjoyed the flow of narrative, nice genre/anti-genre twist at the end.

At least Cappy is dead blind now.

Good work!

October 25, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. And poor Cappy. Now I have to write a prequel if I want to bring the gang back.

October 25, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

When you retire, you can find your second career as a short story mystery writer.

October 30, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

More likely a hobby than a second career, and I don't think I'll wait until I retire. Thanks.

October 30, 2011  

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