Archive for the ‘short fiction’ category

Through Glass Darkly

November 24, 2014


Through Glass Darkly

I step into a circular glass elevator.  I find it terrifying–all the mechanisms of descent–blue tubes and looped hydraulics–showing so clearly against the ash grey shaft.

I am also concerned by several large gaps in the curved glass, uncertain as to whether I am supposed to hold on to the openings or stay away from them.  I worry that I could fall through one of the gaps, but, at the same time, that I can’t squeeze into the spaces between them.  I worry also about the several kids on the elevator, one with braids and a triangulated smile; there are mothers with babies too.

I decide at last to use the openings as grips– I need something to hold onto.  But the openings are placed at such extended angles that getting my hands and feet into them splays me, spreading me into a position I cannot sustain.

Finally, I let go, just stand there.  The kids, the mothers with babies, look at me with bemusement; they like the moving glass.  I tell myself that they just don’t understand that gaps like that have consequences, though, honestly, the elevator moves down slowly enough.

We arrive at a party for babies; it’s being held in a loft; a place with old wooden floors, well-buffed, but showing the darkness of wear.

My mother is there, and my brother, and, for some reason, my mother has brought my dad, though he is dead.  Maybe she has brought him because he, like a baby, is bald and also has rounded cheeks.  (It is only as I write this that I realize the dad she brought is not my dad as he died, whose face was so gaunt as to almost look bruised, but an earlier dad, whose features shone with curves of flesh and bone structure.)

The babies are very cute, different ages, but all with the pale softness of dough not nearly full-baked.  My dad lies in an adjacent room, I think of it as a back room, on a high cot, his skin considerably darker than the babies’ skin.  It is not the darkness of decay, but the pored reds and olives of someone who’s lived in the world; a light grizzle bristles his chin.

The babies are mostly too little to crawl.  When they are not being carried, they lie on a large double bed.  At least one is the child of an acquaintance–that one is quite wet and me, not wanting the damp to spread to the entire bed cover, but also wanting to be polite, asks the mother if she’d like me to change him.  I say something about how sure I am that I could do it just fine (as if there were a question on that point.)  My seeming assurance makes her immediately take the baby from my arms.  I leave that room then and go back to my dad.

I would like to touch him, to cradle his head, but am too fearful to reach out.  I have touched, caressed, even kissed the just died, but he’s been dead now for a few years.

Though he does not lie still as one would expect of the dead.  Rather he coughs, bends, twists.  Each move shocks me–could he really not be dead after all this time? When I recover a little, I peer into his face. I realize then that his mouth is slightly open and that his body is acting as a kind of wind tunnel.  I do not mean here human wind–the gases expelled by the dead when their bodies are tossed up to a shoulder, transferred from bed to gurney.  Rather he is a channel for surrounding air currents–the coughs, the turns, the twists all caused by random air entering through his mouth, then moving around inside him.

I rub my arms, remembering the time-lapsed video of a sleeping baby I saw the day before. The baby, though never waking, angled about the crib through the night like the hands of a clock, only an extremely jerky clock, given the time-lapse.  My father does not move so dramatically for this is real time, and my father a much larger person, at least he was before his last illness, which kept him from swallowing for about a year.

It’s harder than ever, what with his sudden twists for me to touch him.  At last I get the nerve to brush up against his ear, which looks so red as to be fevered.  It does burn to the touch, but it’s a burn of ice–I pull my hand instantly back.  In the current stirred by my agitation, my father coughs powerfully, his whole chest torquing to the side, and now I jump away, which is both terrible–this is my father, my father whom I loved–but also understandable–for the touch of cold has let me know for sure that my father is still dead.  This knowledge makes the movements of his body somehow more horrid.  It is as if even air can push him about, treat his body, now left behind, as a marionette.

A part of me is upset that my mother has brought him here, to this party.  Another part of me understands how she could not leave him at home, not in this condition.

And why had I not known this before, I ask myself, how the dead move, in air?

I look at him for a long time, the twists, the releases, the babies pale as ghosts in my vision’s periphery, until I decide the reason people don’t talk about this phenomenon, don’t even seem to know of it, is because the dead are usually in coffins, underground, where air cannot pass through. This, I realize, may be another justification for coffins.

Only now as I type this, I remember how my father used to always call me baby, even when I was a grown kid.  He wouldn’t do it to embarrass me, just not thinking.  I remember as he went outside, evenings, to call me in from play in the neighborhood.  “Baby,” he would call, “Baby,” to my absolute mortification.  I can see him, as through the round of a lens, standing on the small sidewalk that cut a path from the street to our front door, his face shadowed by the lavender light of late summer, the grass to both his sides so very dark in that light.  When I look through that lens harder, it is not his face I see, but that grass, the blades that stand up straight, and too those blades that are bent, crumpled, even those.



Here’s a story of a dream that is probably way too long and personal to post or to link anywhere, but bear with me!  Sorry for the length!  I am linking it to With Real Toads Open Link Night.  

Self-Portrait of Celia Pratchett (NOSE DIVE)

October 27, 2012

The prompt for dVerse Poets Pub Poetics today, hosted by Fred Rutherford, is self-portrait.   Fred writes a really interesting essay about self-protraiture and I encourage you to check out his post.  Nonetheless, I find myself shying away from a direct self-portrait, so I am posting instead the self-portrait of a character of mine, Celia Pratchett, taken from my novel NOSE DIVE (published by BackStroke Books).

Yes, I know it’s prose – but I think/hope it reads much faster than it looks (and it is undoubtedly way more fun than my direct self-portrait would be.)   Thanks much to you who try it!  The drawing below is by the wonderful Jonathan Segal.


From NOSE DIVE, by Karin Gustafson, illustrated by Jonathan Segal

NOSE DIVE   (Excerpt from Chapter I)

(The hills are alive…with the sound of music.)

Maybe. But first period assembly was comatose with the boredom of teenagers. Even people’s yawns stretched out in slow-mo.

(A song they have sung…for a thousand years.) 

Then Brad Pierson sauntered to the podium. A lot of yawns filled instantly with drool.

“Yo Brad,” some girl wailed.

Brad smiled. It was a sheepish, glinty smile, the kind that commercials flash above surfboards.

I looked back down to my Bio notes, trying to cram for my next period test. Brad was in my Pre-Cal class but that was about the only thing we had in common: he was captain of the tennis team and hung out with the cool popular kids while I sang in the school chorus and hung out with Deanna, my one true friend since age five. Deanna was plenty cool in her way, but I wasn’t. For example, the title song of The Sound of Music was just then spinning around my head.

(The hills fill my heart with the sound of music.)  

I really love The Sound of Music—actually, I love the sound of almost any musicbut I wouldn’t mind if it stayed clear of my brain once in a while.

Brad, after gently adjusting the microphone, gave a cute little waist-level wave.

‘ATP stands for—’ I scribbled in my notebook.

“With the help of Principal Eggars—” Brad said.

(My heart wants to sing every song….) 

“—I’m arranging for the spring musical to be part of a new TV reality show.”

The auditorium inhaled one huge “omg.” Even the singing in my brain came to halt.

“The show is going to be called ‘Musical!” Brad went on.  “And the TV people are going to film everythingthe rehearsals, the showeverything.  And it’s going to be way better than all those other high school musical shows because it’s going to be all about us cool kids at Spenser.”

“Braaaaaddd!” someone shouted.

“Just a minute there, Mr. Pierson.”

The plaid jacket of Principal Eggars hovered beside Brad’s arm (Brad’s perfectly tanned, not-too-buff-but-tautly-muscled arm).

“The school’s participation in the TV program is not a done deal,” boomed Principal Eggars, a man who knew how to get the most out of a mike. “I only asked Brad to make the announcement today because his father has been so instrumental in making the show a serious possibility.”

A weighty pause followed as we all pictured a slightly greying, slightly heavier Brad-clone.

“I also wanted to assure you that if the program does go through, every effort will be made to avoid any disruption in your academic studies, which, as always, are the top priority here at Spenser.”

Brad gave a big ‘oh sure’ kind of nod.

“Many details still need to be worked out by Mr. Pierson, Brad’s father…and myself, of course. But if you have any immediate questions—”

Brad scooted his beautiful sun-bleached head to the mike again, “ask me.”

“I guess that’s right for the time being,” Principal Eggars sighed.

“I love you, Brad!” came a wail.

Wow.  I slowly closed my Bio notebook.

I love musicals. Yes, I sing them in my head, but I sing them out loud too. (Ask my older sister!) I am also a pretty good musical singer. (Her name is Maddy.) Not only because I’ve been practicing along with Julie Andrews, Bernadette Peters, and the Little Mermaid since age two (Maddy’ll tell you), but also because I happen to have this really big singing voice. (Man, will she tell you!)

I don’t like to brag, but I think I also have a pretty good singing voice. I had a chorus part in last year’s musical, even as a lowly freshman, with a couple of solo lines too.

As Principal Eggars dismissed us and I waited for my row to move, I remembered how much fun last year’s musical had been. My heart felt like dancing just thinking about it.

(To laugh like a brook when it trips and falls… over stones on the way.)

And then my dancing heart just tripped, only not like a laughing brook.

Because my heart was remembering something else about last year’s show—the clips of it posted online after the first performance.

Which also made me remember Hank.

How could I forget Hank?

Hank was my nose, huge, curved, bulbous, pointed at the tip—the bane of my entire existence.

Okay, maybe not my entire existence, the bane of my existence for the last year.

It seems odd, I guess, but until I entered high school (actually, until I saw those clips of myself in last year’s musical), I had never really thought much about Hank. Oh, I knew he…it was prominent. (My mom’s word was “strong.”) But that had never bothered me. Maybe because Hank was my dad’s nose.

I was too young when my dad died to truly remember him, but when my mom and sister and I looked at old pictures or videos, it had always made me feel proud—sad, but proud—to have a nose almost exactly like his.

But after seeing those clips last year, everything changed. It was like a veil had been lifted from my eyes, or, maybe, my nose. I could suddenly see it clearly. How could I miss it? Hank was gi-normous.

As a free space opened in front of me, I straightened my backpack over my shoulders, trying to feel more positive.

(I go to the hills…when my heart is lonely.) 

It was hard. Being on TV would be way worse than being on the Internet. TV cameras take close-ups. In focus. Women in those focused TV close-ups do not have Hanks in the middle of their faces, not even women in local weight loss commercials who have lost two hundred pounds and whose noses shouldn’t matter.

I stared glumly around the auditorium. Brad was on the other side. Even on normal days, he stood out like a castle, male turret circled by girl moat. In the minutes since the announcement, the moat had swollen to a girl river, maybe even a girl sea.

The only bright spot on the horizon was Deanna, who waded straight towards me. (Deanna, who is both super tall and a little bit large around the middle, is not particularly fazed by girl moats.) Her hair was dyed silver blue to match a new book bag she carried. It looked like a bag she had made; duct tape crisscrossed its sides in a complicated geometric pattern. Deanna was big on duct tape.

Just now, random strands of hair clung to that duct tape, some straight and blonde, some curly and dark. I tried to let the sight of those hairs, which I was pretty sure were from Brad’s girl moat, make me feel better.

(My heart will be blessed with the sound of music.) 

I shook my head to get the song out.

(And I’ll sing…once… more.)

So much for that.

(Da daa da da daa.) 

If you’d like to know what happens next, get Nose Dive from Amazon, or on Kindle (for only 99 cents!)

“Spined” – Flash Fiction 55

July 20, 2012



The sweetest part, he said, jamming the core across her clenched lips/teeth; I’m telling you to try it, and, when she stuck out her tongue, slapped her.

You’re only hurting yourself.

As she tasted sting over blood, even over pineapple, she couldn’t quite believe that, and would not, she swore, even if she could.


Yes, I know this is both a bummer and a bit out of character, and I almost hate to tell it to the G-Man because I like Fridays to be more cheerful, but it is 55 words, and part of a larger story, and well, all I could come up with today.

DO have a nice weekend! (And sorry, and thanks.)