Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Tips on Writing a Short Story

Kurt Vonnegut on Writing a Short Story

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things–reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them–in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
Advertisements

A Short Story: “The Happy Prince” by Oscar Wilde (Part 2)

The Happy Prince ~ Part 2 of 2

by Oscar Wilde

When the moon rose he flew back to the Happy Prince.  “Have you any commissions for Egypt?” he cried; “I am just starting.”

“Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “will you not stay with me one night longer?”

“I am waited for in Egypt,” answered the Swallow.  “To-morrow my friends will fly up to the Second Cataract.  The river-horse couches there among the bulrushes, and on a great granite throne sits the God Memnon.  All night long he watches the stars, and when the morning star shines he utters one cry of joy, and then he is silent.  At noon the yellow lions come down to the water’s edge to drink.  They have eyes like green beryls, and their roar is louder than the roar of the cataract.”

“Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “far away across the city I see a young man in a garret.  He is leaning over a desk covered with papers, and in a tumbler by his side there is a bunch of withered violets.  His hair is brown and crisp, and his lips are red as a pomegranate, and he has large and dreamy eyes.  He is trying to finish a play for the Director of the Theatre, but he is too cold to write any more.  There is no fire in the grate, and hunger has made him faint.”

“I will wait with you one night longer,” said the Swallow, who really had a good heart.  “Shall I take him another ruby?”

“Alas!  I have no ruby now,” said the Prince; “my eyes are all that I have left.  They are made of rare sapphires, which were brought out of India a thousand years ago.  Pluck out one of them and take it to him.  He will sell it to the jeweller, and buy food and firewood, and finish his play.”

“Dear Prince,” said the Swallow, “I cannot do that”; and he began to weep.

“Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “do as I command you.”

So the Swallow plucked out the Prince’s eye, and flew away to the student’s garret.  It was easy enough to get in, as there was a hole in the roof.  Through this he darted, and came into the room.  The young man had his head buried in his hands, so he did not hear the flutter of the bird’s wings, and when he looked up he found the beautiful sapphire lying on the withered violets.

“I am beginning to be appreciated,” he cried; “this is from some great admirer.  Now I can finish my play,” and he looked quite happy.

The next day the Swallow flew down to the harbour.  He sat on the mast of a large vessel and watched the sailors hauling big chests out of the hold with ropes.  “Heave a-hoy!” they shouted as each chest came up.  “I am going to Egypt”! cried the Swallow, but nobody minded, and when the moon rose he flew back to the Happy Prince.

“I am come to bid you good-bye,” he cried.

“Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “will you not stay with me one night longer?”

“It is winter,” answered the Swallow, “and the chill snow will soon be here.  In Egypt the sun is warm on the green palm-trees, and the crocodiles lie in the mud and look lazily about them.  My companions are building a nest in the Temple of Baalbec, and the pink and white doves are watching them, and cooing to each other.  Dear Prince, I must leave you, but I will never forget you, and next spring I will bring you back two beautiful jewels in place of those you have given away.  The ruby shall be redder than a red rose, and the sapphire shall be as blue as the great sea.”

“In the square below,” said the Happy Prince, “there stands a little match-girl.  She has let her matches fall in the gutter, and they are all spoiled.  Her father will beat her if she does not bring home some money, and she is crying.  She has no shoes or stockings, and her little head is bare.  Pluck out my other eye, and give it to her, and her father will not beat her.”

“I will stay with you one night longer,” said the Swallow, “but I cannot pluck out your eye.  You would be quite blind then.”

“Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “do as I command you.”

So he plucked out the Prince’s other eye, and darted down with it.  He swooped past the match-girl, and slipped the jewel into the palm of her hand.  “What a lovely bit of glass,” cried the little girl; and she ran home, laughing.

Then the Swallow came back to the Prince.  “You are blind now,” he said, “so I will stay with you always.”

“No, little Swallow,” said the poor Prince, “you must go away to Egypt.”

“I will stay with you always,” said the Swallow, and he slept at the Prince’s feet.

All the next day he sat on the Prince’s shoulder, and told him stories of what he had seen in strange lands.  He told him of the red ibises, who stand in long rows on the banks of the Nile, and catch gold-fish in their beaks; of the Sphinx, who is as old as the world itself, and lives in the desert, and knows everything; of the merchants, who walk slowly by the side of their camels, and carry amber beads in their hands; of the King of the Mountains of the Moon, who is as black as ebony, and worships a large crystal; of the great green snake that sleeps in a palm-tree, and has twenty priests to feed it with honey-cakes; and of the pygmies who sail over a big lake on large flat leaves, and are always at war with the butterflies.

“Dear little Swallow,” said the Prince, “you tell me of marvellous things, but more marvellous than anything is the suffering of men and of women.  There is no Mystery so great as Misery.  Fly over my city, little Swallow, and tell me what you see there.”

So the Swallow flew over the great city, and saw the rich making merry in their beautiful houses, while the beggars were sitting at the gates.  He flew into dark lanes, and saw the white faces of starving children looking out listlessly at the black streets.  Under the archway of a bridge two little boys were lying in one another’s arms to try and keep themselves warm.  “How hungry we are!” they said.  “You must not lie here,” shouted the Watchman, and they wandered out into the rain.

Then he flew back and told the Prince what he had seen.

“I am covered with fine gold,” said the Prince, “you must take it off, leaf by leaf, and give it to my poor; the living always think that gold can make them happy.”

Leaf after leaf of the fine gold the Swallow picked off, till the Happy Prince looked quite dull and grey.  Leaf after leaf of the fine gold he brought to the poor, and the children’s faces grew rosier, and they laughed and played games in the street.  “We have bread now!” they cried.

Then the snow came, and after the snow came the frost.  The streets looked as if they were made of silver, they were so bright and glistening; long icicles like crystal daggers hung down from the eaves of the houses, everybody went about in furs, and the little boys wore scarlet caps and skated on the ice.

The poor little Swallow grew colder and colder, but he would not leave the Prince, he loved him too well.  He picked up crumbs outside the baker’s door when the baker was not looking and tried to keep himself warm by flapping his wings.

But at last he knew that he was going to die.  He had just strength to fly up to the Prince’s shoulder once more.  “Good-bye, dear Prince!” he murmured, “will you let me kiss your hand?”

“I am glad that you are going to Egypt at last, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “you have stayed too long here; but you must kiss me on the lips, for I love you.”

“It is not to Egypt that I am going,” said the Swallow.  “I am going to the House of Death.  Death is the brother of Sleep, is he not?”

And he kissed the Happy Prince on the lips, and fell down dead at his feet.

At that moment a curious crack sounded inside the statue, as if something had broken.  The fact is that the leaden heart had snapped right in two.  It certainly was a dreadfully hard frost.

Early the next morning the Mayor was walking in the square below in company with the Town Councillors.  As they passed the column he looked up at the statue: “Dear me! how shabby the Happy Prince looks!” he said.

“How shabby indeed!” cried the Town Councillors, who always agreed with the Mayor; and they went up to look at it.

“The ruby has fallen out of his sword, his eyes are gone, and he is golden no longer,” said the Mayor in fact, “he is litttle better than a beggar!”

“Little better than a beggar,” said the Town Councillors.

“And here is actually a dead bird at his feet!” continued the Mayor.  “We must really issue a proclamation that birds are not to be allowed to die here.”  And the Town Clerk made a note of the suggestion.

So they pulled down the statue of the Happy Prince.  “As he is no longer beautiful he is no longer useful,” said the Art Professor at the University.

Then they melted the statue in a furnace, and the Mayor held a meeting of the Corporation to decide what was to be done with the metal.  “We must have another statue, of course,” he said, “and it shall be a statue of myself.”

“Of myself,” said each of the Town Councillors, and they quarreled.  When I last heard of them they were quarreling still.

“What a strange thing!” said the overseer of the workmen at the foundry.  “This broken lead heart will not melt in the furnace.  We must throw it away.”  So they threw it on a dust-heap where the dead Swallow was also lying.

“Bring me the two most precious things in the city,” said God to one of His Angels; and the Angel brought Him the leaden heart and the dead bird.

“You have rightly chosen,” said God, “for in my garden of Paradise this little bird shall sing for evermore, and in my city of gold the Happy Prince shall praise me.”

A Short Story: “The Happy Prince” by Oscar Wilde

The Happy Prince Part 1 of 2

High above the city, on a tall column, stood the statue of the Happy Prince.  He was gilded all over with thin leaves of fine gold, for eyes he had two bright sapphires, and a large red ruby glowed on his sword-hilt.

He was very much admired indeed.  “He is as beautiful as a weathercock,” remarked one of the Town Councillors who wished to gain a reputation for having artistic tastes; “only not quite so useful,” he added, fearing lest people should think him unpractical, which he really was not.

“Why can’t you be like the Happy Prince?” asked a sensible mother of her little boy who was crying for the moon.  “The Happy Prince never dreams of crying for anything.”

“I am glad there is some one in the world who is quite happy,” muttered a disappointed man as he gazed at the wonderful statue.

“He looks just like an angel,” said the Charity Children as they came out of the cathedral in their bright scarlet cloaks and their clean white pinafores.

“How do you know?” said the Mathematical Master, “you have never seen one.”

“Ah! but we have, in our dreams,” answered the children; and the Mathematical Master frowned and looked very severe, for he did not approve of children dreaming.

One night there flew over the city a little Swallow.  His friends had gone away to Egypt six weeks before, but he had stayed behind, for he was in love with the most beautiful Reed.  He had met her early in the spring as he was flying down the river after a big yellow moth, and had been so attracted by her slender waist that he had stopped to talk to her.

“Shall I love you?” said the Swallow, who liked to come to the point at once, and the Reed made him a low bow.  So he flew round and round her, touching the water with his wings, and making silver ripples.  This was his courtship, and it lasted all through the summer.

“It is a ridiculous attachment,” twittered the other Swallows; “she has no money, and far too many relations”; and indeed the river was quite full of Reeds.  Then, when the autumn came they all flew away.

After they had gone he felt lonely, and began to tire of his lady-love.  “She has no conversation,” he said, “and I am afraid that she is a coquette, for she is always flirting with the wind.”  And certainly, whenever the wind blew, the Reed made the most graceful curtseys.  “I admit that she is domestic,” he continued, “but I love travelling, and my wife, consequently, should love travelling also.”

“Will you come away with me?” he said finally to her; but the Reed shook her head, she was so attached to her home.

“You have been trifling with me,” he cried.  “I am off to the Pyramids.  Good-bye!” and he flew away.

All day long he flew, and at night-time he arrived at the city.  “Where shall I put up?” he said; “I hope the town has made preparations.”

Then he saw the statue on the tall column.

“I will put up there,” he cried; “it is a fine position, with plenty of fresh air.”  So he alighted just between the feet of the Happy Prince.

“I have a golden bedroom,” he said softly to himself as he looked round, and he prepared to go to sleep; but just as he was putting his head under his wing a large drop of water fell on him.  “What a curious thing!” he cried; “there is not a single cloud in the sky, the stars are quite clear and bright, and yet it is raining.  The climate in the north of Europe is really dreadful.  The Reed used to like the rain, but that was merely her selfishness.”

Then another drop fell.

“What is the use of a statue if it cannot keep the rain off?” he said; “I must look for a good chimney-pot,” and he determined to fly away.

But before he had opened his wings, a third drop fell, and he looked up, and saw—Ah! what did he see?

The eyes of the Happy Prince were filled with tears, and tears were running down his golden cheeks.  His face was so beautiful in the moonlight that the little Swallow was filled with pity.

“Who are you?” he said.

“I am the Happy Prince.”

“Why are you weeping then?” asked the Swallow; “you have quite drenched me.”

“When I was alive and had a human heart,” answered the statue, “I did not know what tears were, for I lived in the Palace of Sans-Souci, where sorrow is not allowed to enter.  In the daytime I played with my companions in the garden, and in the evening I led the dance in the Great Hall.  Round the garden ran a very lofty wall, but I never cared to ask what lay beyond it, everything about me was so beautiful.  My courtiers called me the Happy Prince, and happy indeed I was, if pleasure be happiness.  So I lived, and so I died.  And now that I am dead they have set me up here so high that I can see all the ugliness and all the misery of my city, and though my heart is made of lead yet I cannot chose but weep.”

“What! is he not solid gold?” said the Swallow to himself.  He was too polite to make any personal remarks out loud.

“Far away,” continued the statue in a low musical voice, “far away in a little street there is a poor house.  One of the windows is open, and through it I can see a woman seated at a table.  Her face is thin and worn, and she has coarse, red hands, all pricked by the needle, for she is a seamstress.  She is embroidering passion-flowers on a satin gown for the loveliest of the Queen’s maids-of-honour to wear at the next Court-ball.  In a bed in the corner of the room her little boy is lying ill.  He has a fever, and is asking for oranges.  His mother has nothing to give him but river water, so he is crying.  Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow, will you not bring her the ruby out of my sword-hilt?  My feet are fastened to this pedestal and I cannot move.”

“I am waited for in Egypt,” said the Swallow.  “My friends are flying up and down the Nile, and talking to the large lotus-flowers.  Soon they will go to sleep in the tomb of the great King.  The King is there himself in his painted coffin.  He is wrapped in yellow linen, and embalmed with spices.  Round his neck is a chain of pale green jade, and his hands are like withered leaves.”

“Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “will you not stay with me for one night, and be my messenger?  The boy is so thirsty, and the mother so sad.”

“I don’t think I like boys,” answered the Swallow.  “Last summer, when I was staying on the river, there were two rude boys, the miller’s sons, who were always throwing stones at me.  They never hit me, of course; we swallows fly far too well for that, and besides, I come of a family famous for its agility; but still, it was a mark of disrespect.”

But the Happy Prince looked so sad that the little Swallow was sorry.  “It is very cold here,” he said; “but I will stay with you for one night, and be your messenger.”

“Thank you, little Swallow,” said the Prince.

So the Swallow picked out the great ruby from the Prince’s sword, and flew away with it in his beak over the roofs of the town.

He passed by the cathedral tower, where the white marble angels were sculptured.  He passed by the palace and heard the sound of dancing.  A beautiful girl came out on the balcony with her lover.  “How wonderful the stars are,” he said to her, “and how wonderful is the power of love!”

“I hope my dress will be ready in time for the State-ball,” she answered; “I have ordered passion-flowers to be embroidered on it; but the seamstresses are so lazy.”

He passed over the river, and saw the lanterns hanging to the masts of the ships.  He passed over the Ghetto, and saw the old Jews bargaining with each other, and weighing out money in copper scales.  At last he came to the poor house and looked in.  The boy was tossing feverishly on his bed, and the mother had fallen asleep, she was so tired.  In he hopped, and laid the great ruby on the table beside the woman’s thimble.  Then he flew gently round the bed, fanning the boy’s forehead with his wings.  “How cool I feel,” said the boy, “I must be getting better”; and he sank into a delicious slumber.

Then the Swallow flew back to the Happy Prince, and told him what he had done.  “It is curious,” he remarked, “but I feel quite warm now, although it is so cold.”

“That is because you have done a good action,” said the Prince.  And the little Swallow began to think, and then he fell asleep.  Thinking always made him sleepy.

When day broke he flew down to the river and had a bath.  “What a remarkable phenomenon,” said the Professor of Ornithology as he was passing over the bridge.  “A swallow in winter!”  And he wrote a long letter about it to the local newspaper.  Every one quoted it, it was full of so many words that they could not understand.

“To-night I go to Egypt,” said the Swallow, and he was in high spirits at the prospect.  He visited all the public monuments, and sat a long time on top of the church steeple.  Wherever he went the Sparrows chirruped, and said to each other, “What a distinguished stranger!” so he enjoyed himself very much.

Trust Fund Baby ~ 47 A Satire

Chapter 47

After I dropped J off at Loomis I drove out to the country club. The way I had it figured, Mother and Father are going to love J. I’ve got to assume the fertility rate among Black American women is a point in J’s favor. One thing puzzle’s me, the mean number of children that filthy rich people have is one point three. How do you have a point three child. I didn’t attend math classes so statistics is a puzzle I prefer to leave to the family accountant.

It was 2 p.m. when I got to the country club. The morning golfing crowd was gone. The hot filthy rich women who compete to take tennis lessons from the hot male and female tennis pros were all out on the courts getting hands on instruction. I sat alone at the bar, my only companion was Louie the bartender, a short guy with wavy black hair and a nose that could be used for a spear. 

Louie was wiping glasses with a white towel. It occurred to me this is what all bartenders do when they have nothing to do. Louis carried his towel and glass and walked toward me. “Off work early, Martin. Can I get you a drink? he asked.

“Louie, can you keep a secret. I mean a really, really big secret?” I asked.

“How big?” He asked.

“I took out my billfold and slid two one hundred dollars bills across the bar to him.

“Oh, you mean a small secret that is okay to get out as a rumor?” said Louie setting the glass down and slipping the two one-hundreds into his pocket.

“It’s much bigger, Louie. It’s like super top secret,” I said. The moment the phrasing past my lips I thought I sounded like a girl in junior high school telling one of her girlfriends about her latest crush.

Louie looked down the empty bar toward his glasses. “Man, I’m behind time wiping glasses. I take pride in my spotless, shiny wine, beer, and shot glasses.”

I still had my wallet in my hand. I opened it, and put one, two, three more one-hundreds on the table. “Can this buy ten minutes, Louie? I got to talk to someone and I’m not Catholic. I can’t go to confession because I don’t have anything to confess. I’m the salt of the earth according to Mother.”

Louie took hold of the three one hundred dollar bills faster than a Vegas casino dealer, deals blackjack. He said, “I haven’t seen much of your mother lately. Oscar keeping her busy? Or, is she keeping Oscar busy? I’m not quite sure how that one works. BTW, I’m Catholic, consider yourself in confession. My lips are sealed tighter than a …”

I interrupted Louie because every simile he uses is sexually explicit. I said, “Thanks Louie. I’m in love. I finally found the woman I want to be with the rest of my life. It’s driving me nuts. Today, she told me she loved me.”

“What’s the problem with that? She’s not pregnant? Already have kids? Is she married and needs a divorce? If so, my cousin Gino is a good divorce lawyer,” said Louie.

I shook my head no. “None of the above, Louie. The problem is enormous, gigantic, overwhelming.”

Louie held up a hand to stop me, “I get the picture, photo, selfie, whatever. It’s serious.”

“Thanks for the summary, Louie. Here’s the real problem, I’m introducing her to Mother and Father tomorrow night at dinner.”

Louie smiled, “You know I’m Italian. Italians work around the principle that it’s a good thing to have someone you’re going to marry meet the parents before the wedding. And, it’s always better if there is plenty of good food around. I’m not sure how it works among the filthy rich.”

I said, “The filthy rich think it’s a good idea too, but not for the same reasons your people might think it’s a good idea,” I said, edging closer to what I really wanted to say.

Louie placed both palms flat down on the bar and bent over a bit toward me, His nose was freaking me out. I think he sensed it and backed away. He said, “I see the problem. My nose bothers you. I like my nose. It’s the only one I got.” Louie started laughing. I like someone who likes their own humor. 

“It’s kind of like that Louie. The filthy rich want to make sure their filthy rich children are marrying someone who is pretty much the same. You know, filthy rich, went to filthy rich private universities, never a public university, go to a mainline Protestant church, and have the same skin tone give or take how they tan.”

Louie nodded his head, “Where does this woman who you want to marry fit into this description?”

I chewed on my lower lip for a second, contorted my jaw into a grotesque position and tried to speak but it came out sounding mfff, durr, flliss.

Louie took a step back from the bar, he bent over, and scanned the area under his bar. After a few seconds, he smiled, and he lifted out out bottle containing a dark caramel colored liquid. He set it on the bar and reached under and returned with a shot glass. He filled it so that the liquid hung precariously at the lip of the glass threatening to spill.

“Drink it in one gulp, kid. Don’t ask me what it is. Don’t ask me where I get it. Don’t ask me anything about it. It’s what Catholics do in confession when they got something really hard to confess.”

“They do? They get to have a shot while they’re in confession?” I asked.

Louie nodded.

“I’ve thought about converting, but Mother and Father made codicils in their will stating that any heir in perpetuity that converts to Catholicism is disinherited from all wealth.”

“Is this woman Catholic?” asked Louie.

“I don’t think so. I never asked her exactly what her belief preference is. I know ours is money.” 

“How long you been going with her?”

“We had our first date at lunch today. I’ve known her five days.”

“Kid, drink up. I’m beginning to see the problem,” said Louie as if her were a doctor giving me prescription.

I put my right hand around the shot glass and in one swift motion I brought the caramel colored liquid to my lips and tossed it down. “Yeowee. Oh, Mother. Oh, mama. Get me something, anything. I’m being consumed by a fire raging in my mouth my throat, my esophagus, my stomach. Oh my, oh my.”

Louie’s hand went under the bar again, seconds later he handed me a large pickle with skin that looked like alligator hide. He said, “Take a bite.”

I took a bite, it was sour, tasted of garlic and made my lips pucker. A moment after swallowing the foul tasting crunchy excuse for a former cucumber, I felt an easing from the deadening of every nerve cell in my body. My only concern was the destruction of the entire membrane of my stomach lining.

“Don’t think about it, Kid. It will go away. Now spill your guts, not literally, of course. The filthy rich bitches are almost finished with their tennis lessons. The ones that weren’t able to take a pro home will be here complaining about the one’s who scored.”

I said, “Here’s the deal, Louie. One, she comes from poor roots.”

“So do a lot of people. You can get past that one.”

“She went to a public university.”

“I think you can swing that one.”

“She is breathtakingly beautiful.”

“That’s in her favor.”

“She’s got the most delicious coffee with a hint of cream colored skin.”

“She’s black,” said Louie.

“Yes,” I said.

Louie poured me another shot. “Good luck, Kid. Your secret is safe with me. This one is too hot to handle. I woulda charged you a grand if I knew. But a deal is a deal.”

I threw the shot down, Took another bite of pickle and said, “Can I have another shot?”

“You’ll destroy your stomach,” said Louie as he walked down to the end of the bar where he started wiping glasses.

 

NEXT EPISODE ON MONDAY.

TRUST FUND BABY CONCLUDES NEXT WEEK, DON’T MISS A SINGLE EPISODE.

Trust Fund Baby ~ 40 A Satire

Chapter 40

There were close to forty tables in Lonnie’s Diner. Not an empty one in the place. From thirty-nine tables happy chatter rose like steam off a boiling pot. At one table, the sounds of silence. We may as well have been packed away in a sound proofed room and ordered not speak or face a firing squad. I kept gazing at J who was staring at Evelyn who was scrutinizing the contents of her purse. She placed her purse on top of the table directly in front of her. I’m not familiar with the black culture in the US. I didn’t know if this was a sign she wasn’t hungry, a sign she wanted to pay for the meal, or a sign she wanted to make sure she didn’t forget her purse when we left. 

I decided to break the ice. I said, “Nice choice. I can’t wait to try the fried Snicker’s candy bar for desert.” 

You’d think I inadvertently stepped on a rattlesnake. Like a cloud to ground lightening bold, Evelyn spoke, “You a damn fool. You a bigger fool than a damn fool. You trying to patronize me making me think you can handle a fried Snicker’s bar? You can’t handle a deep fried donut. You can’t handle a baby French fry. You not man enough to eat grits.”

Evelyn had a point, maybe more than one point. I was playing for high stakes, J’s love, and I wasn’t going to back down. I said, “No ma’am. I’m trying to get a conversation started. You said you were going to test me. How about testing me now?”

J lightly touched my arm. Her touch sent a lightning bolt straight to my brain, the one in my skull, which then sent a red alert signal to my other brain. 

J said, “Mama. Watch your language. M is asking you to play nice. Ask him your questions.”

Evelyn snorted like she was the lead bull in the running of the bulls in Spain. She gave J a look only a parent can give a child. The looks tells it all and it’s not good. Evelyn said, “You don’t tell your mama how to talk. I been on the planet long enough to know I can say what I want, when I want, and how I want.”

“Mama, did you take your pill this morning?” asked J.

“I flushed them down the toilet.”

“You’re supposed to take your pills. They keep you calm and keep your blood pressure down. You don’t want a stroke do you?” asked J trying to bring Evelyn temperature down to near the boiling point.

“I flushed them because I ain’t listening to no white man who claims he’s a doctor no more.”

“Mama, how long did you watch cable news yesterday?” ask J.

“I watched it from the second I woke up, till the second I went to bed. Know why I sat and watched it and watched it and watched it?”

“No, mama, why did you sit and watch cable news all day?” asked J politely. With every word J spoke I fell more deeply in love with her. There is no turning back for me. I’ll stop living if she doesn’t marry me.

“You better listen, girl. No one called. No one visited, not even my children. Now, Dante got an excuse cause the white man locked him up. My daughter, I don’t know what she’s up to. She hardly calls me or visits me.”

“That’s not true mama. I call every day. I called you and you said not to call you were watching CNN News. I visit you every weekend and take you out for lunch after church on Sunday.”

“That don’t make no difference. You probably got it wrong. This white man fill your head with crawfish and bed bugs to make you so crazy you don’t remember who you are. Now, I going to ask my first question to him and don’t help him. “What you watch when you watch TV?”

J had her right elbow resting on the table. Her right hand stroked her forehead. Her eyes had the kind of glaze you see on a honey baked ham. “TV? Oh, TV. Mother only allows Public Broadcasting, the business channel, and only news stations that promote the Republican agenda.”

I hadn’t finished when Evelyn cut in, “Just what I thought. You watching only the shows that filthy rich white people watch. How come you not watching Oprah or reality television or Family Feud?”

I never heard of Oprah. Did she mean opera? I personally hate opera. Mother and Father are patrons of the city opera and symphony. When they die and I have all their money, I’ll make sure the opera gets nothing. I can’t understand them and I hate the tiny binoculars you have to carry. I wonder if I can become a patron of …

My thought was interrupted by my conscience, “Don’t think it or say it. I know what you are thinking and going to say. What will J say if you’re married to her and you tell her you want to become a patron of strip clubs? Well?”

“It’s a form of art,” I argued.

“You moving your mouth, but I can’t hear you,” said Evelyn.

J pivoted her head, now resting on the palm of her hand, toward Evelyn. “M is having an private conversation going with an imaginary friend. Let him alone.”

I perked up, “I hadn’t finished. I do not watch those shows, so you can’t put the blame on me for that one. I’m too busy going to bars and trying to hook up. What’s the next question?” I don’t know what I said that made J rub her forehead again. I’m trying to be honest.

Evelyn shook her head like she was trying to shake the dust out of a blanket. “That was an easy question, now I’m going to give you a hard question. How many baby mama’s you got. I can tell if you lying.”

I turned toward J, “What’s a baby mama? Did she mean baby llama? We don’t have animals on our property unless you call birds animals.”

“You heard right. Let me put it this way to you. Have you fathered any children?” Evelyn didn’t give J a chance to help me.

I turned back toward Evelyn. “I always use a condom, so I don’t have any.” Evelyn was about to come back at me when my conscience whispered something in my ear. I nodded and said, “Evelyn, let me continue.”

“Hah! I knew it. Now you going to confess to having baby mamas.”

“Honestly, I don’t have any baby mamas. What I want to say is if J decides to marry me and make the happiest man in the world, I will buy you and Deeter a beautiful home. It will be yours free and clear. And, I’ll toss in a gardener.”

Evelyn squinted at me, her eyes looking like those on a ravenous wolf. I wasn’t sure if she was going to strike me, fall asleep, or die. Then she spoke, “You toss in a weekly maid and you got a deal. Hell you can take her home tonight.”

“Deal,” I said.

J jumped in with both feet. “Not so fast. Mama I will marry who I want to marry. I am not going to spend the night with M.”

“Do you hate your mama? Do not blow this deal for Deeter and me. Don’t sign a prenup. He’ll toss you out and you have to come and live with Deeter and me. I already raised you once. I don’t want to raise you again.”

I whispered to J, “There will be no prenup.”

J rolled her eyes. Dinner flew by. Even Evelyn opened up and started telling stories about growing up in Chicago. I paid and left a generous tip. When I drove Evelyn and J back to Evelyn’s apartment. I helped Evelyn get up the incline and almost fall into Deeter’s waiting arms. J stayed back by the car.

When I came back to the car, J took hold of my hand and said, “Thanks M. You turned a disastrous evening into a great one.” She leaned over and kissed me lightly on my lips and before I could engage her in an open mouth kiss, she let go my hand and turned and headed toward the sliding glass doors. I will not wash my hand or face tonight. My hand still tingles from the warmth of her hand. I’ve been branded with mark of J on my body. More than anything, I want the feel of J’s lips on mine to linger.

Trust Fund Baby ~ 39 A Satire

Chapter 39

While we waited for our table, I noticed the health department rating hanging on a lime green wall. Last quarter, Lonnie’s received a C health rating, not good. Posted next to the C rating, as required by state law, was the latest health department review. I tried to read the review from ten feet away, but I made out only a few words. Someone, I assume inadvertently, smeared ketchup over the summary. I could see the words cockroaches, rodent hairs, and dirty utensils. I stopped trying to read more because I felt a panic attack coming on. The symptoms are always the same, a craving for alcohol, unprotected sex, and a desire to eat pickled eggs. I talked to Mother about this and she claimed I inherited something from my surrogate mother and it will go away if I can get my mind off of what triggered my anxiety attack. I needed a diversion and fast or I might ask Evelyn to have unprotected sex with me. Lonnie can take care of the alcohol and pickled eggs. Fortunately, Lonnie provided the one diversion that can take hold of my mind with a gorilla’s grip. I assume it was Lonnie who surrounded the health department rating with large glossies of ravishing, topless black women who are performing nightly next door at Lonnie’s Saints and Sinners Bar. My daydreaming was stopped faster than a car hitting a brick wall.

“What you staring at? You get your eyes off those women’s breasts or …”

J gently touched her mother’s arm, “He can’t help himself, mama. He was breastfed until he was five.”

“Oh Lordy, Lordy, Lordy. This splains everything to me,” said Evelyn.

   On the way to our table, J told me it might be a good idea not to open the menu. A better idea might be to ask Evelyn if she’d mind ordering for me. I thanked her, but told her I could handle it. J took a deep breath and mumbled something about a disaster date. I knew it couldn’t be tonight. She must be referring to someone in a past life. We sat at a table that hadn’t been cleared. A platter of gnawed ribs sat in front of me. Shrimp peels filled a bowl in front of J, and a plate of four eaten ears of corn were in front of Evelyn. There were a half dozen empty beer cans randomly placed on the table. A young black woman wearing a tight leather skirt that dropped between mid thigh and her pelvic area and a low cut tight gray cami came to clear our table. When she bent over in front of me to reach for the plate, I wondered if I should tell her she wasn’t wearing a bra.

“If it was me, I’d dump him. He don’t miss a pair,” grumbled Evelyn.

As the young woman straightened up and put the dirty dishes, plastic eating utensils, and plastic cups on the cart, I averted my eyes and turned toward Evelyn. I said, “A pair of what?” I asked honestly not knowing what she was talking about.

Evelyn grabbed hold of the ketchup bottle and jabbed it at me. “You. You can’t take your eyes off of a woman’s breasts. How do you think that makes a woman feel?”

“Mama, drop it. The young woman purposely flaunted herself.”

“Why you sticking up for him? He got to have a woman fight his fights for him?”

I said, “J, you’re doing fine. You go girl.”

J muttered what I thought was a prayer. “Dear Jesus. I thought it would be a good idea to have M meet mama. Bringing them together is like pouring gasoline on a fire, adding habanero peppers to a mild sauce. Lord I pray for the strength to survive this evening.”

I felt J’s prayer was incomplete without asking to spend the night with me. The chivalrous dude that I am wanted to help J, I said, “I’m ready to order.” Actually, I wasn’t and there was nothing on the menu that passed the healthy food test. Hell, I decided to take one for the team.

“What you going to order?” Evelyn said more of a demand than a question.

I decided to go for the aphrodisiac, I said, “I want roasted oysters.”

“That all? You think the oysters going to give your sperm a jolt? Nothing can help you.” Said Evelyn.

“Mama!” said J. “You are impossible tonight. What’s got into you.”

“I tell you what’s got into me. I was sposed to have a romantic dinner with Deter. He even got his blue pill prescription filled. You so thick, you can’t take a hint I don’t want you in the apartment. How do you think I’m going to feel walking in front of Deter with my lingerie on and you watching me be seductive.”

I’m trying to imagine Deter and Evelyn in this scene. I tried to imagine Evelyn in skimpy lingerie, and Deter half naked, but the images that came to mind were terrifying.

“Oh my God,” said J. “He’ll break your pelvis.”

“At least I’ll die happy,” snapped Evelyn. 

I understood in that moment, no one was going to get the last word with her. Not even my black Venus.

We were saved by a tall, thin black man carrying a notepad. “You folks ready to order?”

I saw him checking J out. She was mine and he better not have designs on her or I’ll sic Oscar on him. 

Evelyn spoke up, “What you think of my daughter dating this white man?”

The waiter looked at me, then over at J, then back to Evelyn. He said, “If they’re happy, it’s okay. You got to get with the times old lady. Race is no barrier to relationships. Maybe you can find a rich old white man and you will be his black trophy.”

Evelyn a trophy? How about Pettibone? A perfect match made in hell.

Evelyn muttered something so low none of us heard. I saw J give the waiter a smile and I took the opportunity to slip my hand under the table and give J’s hand a gentle squeeze. I wasn’t quite sure how she’d react to the squeeze, but she turned a bit toward me and smiled. 

I couldn’t help myself. My heart took control of my brain. I said to the waiter, “I’ll have the chicken and dumplings and shrimp and grits, collard greens, and fried pickles.”

“You got one big appetite man,” He said.

J jumped in, “He ordered for all of us.”

I wanted to smother J with kisses, money, stock fund tips, and no limit credit cards. Evelyn sat with her arms folded and didn’t say a word. If here eyes were guns, I was a colander with more holes than a screen door.

Trust Fund Baby ~ 38 A Satire

Chapter 38

I’d never been in the head over heals, don’t want to live if I can’t have you, I’ll make you the happiest woman in the world kind of love. Sure, I dropped the L word a few times to move the relationship along. Mother tipped me off about her species. She said, “Martin, you can tell a woman who is not nearly as rich whatever you want and they’ll believe you.”

I said, “Isn’t it wrong to lie, Mother?”

Mother said, “It’s only wrong to lie to Father and me. As for everyone else, you can tell them whatever you want to tell them. Here’s the secret. Don’t tell anyone the secret who is not filthy rich, we don’t want those lesser than us to know. You can tell them anything you want and it becomes true even if it doesn’t have a grain of truth if you say it is a lie in your mind. That covers it ethically. No court with a filthy rich judge will ever convict you.”

It was this kind of unconditional love that Mother gave me. I decided I’d tell whatever lies I had to tell to get along with Evelyn. She can beat me over the head with her large plastic purse. She can whack me in my shins with with her walker. I don’t care. I love J. I want to marry J. I even love her more than I love Mother. I want more than anything to take her home tonight and have sex all night long.

J tapped me on the shoulder. “I know what you’re thinking. It’s not happening.”

“How do you know what I’m thinking?” I asked.

“I’m watching you in the rearview mirror and you’re moving your lips. I took a course in lip reading.”

“What’s the white fool saying? Is he trying to take me to bed? I’m not easy or so hard up I’m gonna have sex with a white man,” said Evelyn.

“Mama!” said J. “He didn’t say anything about taking you to bed.”

So much for my promise for self restraint. My manhood was challenged. I couldn’t help myself. I’ve taken all I’ve could take. I said, “You think Deter is a better man in bed than me?”

Evelyn half twisted toward me. Her eyes ran over my body as if she were a TSA agent and I was singled out at the security line for a pat down and wand waving. She said, “Un huh. No question.”

I said, “I have a very good resume with the ladies. If you want references, I can get plenty of them.”

Evelyn said, “Ha! They were faking it like they was making it.”

J butted in. “Will you two stop acting like children at the playground?”

“He started it,” said Evelyn.

“How? You accused me of not measuring up in the male ego department. No male can sit back and not respond.”

“You got a point, white boy,” said Evelyn.

“I have a name. I don’t call you black lady. Please be respectful and call me by name. J calls me. My name is Martin although my parents changed it to Artin. J doesn’t like the name Martin. I also go by my gangbanger name, Double M,” I said.

Evelyn said, “J, darlin, your filthy rich white boy got a bit of a temper. I can see that the way he is attacking me. I don’t believe you or me is safe in his company alone. No telling what he’ll do and then get his rich white lawyer to get him off.”

J unbuckled her seatbelt. A beeping sound started and a red flashing dot pulsated on the car console. J leaned forward. “Mama. You are being racist. You don’t like M only because he is white. You don’t know him. You haven’t tried to know him. I have a good mind to tell Pastor Jenkins about you. What do you think he is going to say to you?”

Evelyn turned toward the front of the car. She closed her eyes, folded her hands as if she were in prayer and began moving her lips.

J leaned a bit toward me and said, “Don’t say anything. Mama’s communicating with Harold.”

I said, “Who’s Harold?”

“Harold is Mama’s great grandfather. He was a slave, but he ran away and got his freedom. When Mama has a problem she talks to Harold.”

“Does he answer her?” I asked watching Evelyn gesturing with her left hand and shaking her head.

J shrugged. I don’t like to talk about it. Please don’t tell anyone. She’s very sensitive about it.”

“Okay,” I said. Then I thought, I’ve got to tell Mother and Father about this. Maybe Harold can help them to pick stocks that are on the rise and sell stocks that hit their peak and are about to fall. 

“If you tell your mother or father about Mama or Harold, you will need a new set of Veneers,” whispered J. 

“How do you do this? What’s the trick? It’s not right to know what I’m thinking before I say it. You’re breaking all the rules.” I turned my head toward J.

She hit my shoulder, “Watch the road. I know what you were going to ask. A voice in my head told me.”

My conscience! “Mind your own business. You are not helping this relationship,” I said to my conscience.

“I’m on duty so watch yourself,” my conscience replied.

“Who are you talking to?” asked J.

“Not Harold. It’s complicated,” I said.

Evelyn’s lips stopped moving. She pointed an index finger toward the car roof, and smiled. She turned to me and said, “If you apologize, we can go to dinner. If you so much as make a pass at me, the truce is off.”

“What would make you think I’ll make a pass at you?” I said.

“People in the apartment building always saying J and me can pass as sisters.”

J tapped my shoulder and slowly shook her head.

I said, “I can see where J gets her beautiful looks. I promise not to flirt with you or any other woman. I apologize for whatever I have to apologize for.”

Evelyn said, “For being filthy rich and white. Apology accepted.

“Huh,” I said. Progress is progress. Anyway, it was J I wanted to spend the rest of my life with and not Evelyn. Hopefully, Evelyn will connect with Harold sooner and not later.

As I pulled into the packed parking lot of Lonnie’s Family Diner, Evelyn said, “I’m  going to test you. If you gonna date my little girl, you got to prove to me you a man worthy to date her.”

I said, “I never ate okra, but I’ll give it a try.”