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Got a Minute Stories


© 1995/2008 by Charles Wehrenberg

        The stories below reveal different aspects of my writing. They are emblematic of my novels, and reflect the short stories in Radio-reactive Apples. If you like the atmospherics of Four Mouthfuls of Tea, you would enjoy reading Before New York. If the sexual tension in Scarf appeals, then I suggest you start with Will Ball. On the other hand, if the turn-around in Crosswalk intrigues, I think The Ploy of Cooking is my novel for you.

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        Four Mouthfuls of Tea


        I was aware of the soft light for a while before I thought about anything. It was very quiet. The cool morning air was delicate with the grass odor of the tatami mats. I was wearing a soft blue yugata which I had no recollection of putting on. The last thing I remember was the familiar taste of the poppy tea, and the first miles of the dark night palanquin ride.

        The sliding door panels were not locked and the garden immediately outside them inviting. A beige, mortar-plastered wall surrounded the zen-raked sand. I stepped out and the brightness told me instantly that it was going to be hot and muggy in a few hours. A gentle sound drew my gaze to a priest tapping a broom to free it of dirt. In spite of his plain robe, his elegant bearing made it obvious that he was an aristocratic monk. Our eyes met, he bowed, and offered tea.

        Inside his adjoining rooms, one of my grandfather's paintings adorned a six-fold screen, but he said nothing of it, so neither did I. He knelt unceremoniously at a low table, beckoned me to do likewise, and then banged together a bowl of tea as if he were mad at it. Not one drop splashed, nothing spilled, it was more like an impatient craftsman at his tools.

        Suddenly the low bowl was in front of me. It was filled with a single mouthful of green froth the color of a freshly overgrown pond. The bowl was dark brown, maybe a hint of red, solid save for the slight warpage of its lip which made me think of swirling water and how caught up in a whirlpool I had been. I took it in and bowed.

        He whisked together another mouthful and set it before me, this time the same bowl was blood red as he had rotated it for my eye to see another side in different light. I thought of how fragile any one life, how easily lost. I took it in and bowed again.

        Still without a word, he made me a third swallow, his movements now fluid and smooth, like the water and steam themselves. The bowl offered once more in a different way, now a recurved line between darkness and red, like a senuous woman, I felt the need as I took it in.

        The fourth bowl all but made itself, his movements imperceptible, until suddenly the bowl waited for me to touch it. Red now sprayed across a sharp edge of darkness, a knife opening a throat, a flood of knowledge. I took it in and bowed.

        Next he made himself a bowl, larger than any offered me, and he drank it as if it were only tea.


        Crosswalk


        Every moment together was agony. It wasn't going to wait, he had to fart. And him there with a new hard-to-get-to client. Why did hehave to say yes when she offered a ride in her new Lexus? He looked at the business card in his hand as she braked for a traffic light.

        "Hoho, Second Street not Twenty-second, we're here. I'll hop out so you can make this light." He was out of the car before she could say boo, but he held it while he leaned down and promised to call. "Go, it's green." He let it go loud as she pulled away. It was bad, really bad.

        "Jesus! You can't fart like that in our neighborhood."

        He whirled in the crosswalk to find two hyper-disgusted teens six inches from his face. He said "excuse me" even though they were hard to take seriously in their chaos-laced sneakers, too-big shorts, and hats on wrong. "Don't take it personally, boys...strictly business."

        The taller teen took it personally. "Business? That shit's pollution, Porkchop. There's fines for that shit."

        OK, maybe he was only a salesman but he was in good shape. He could take care of himself. It was broad daylight. There were other people around.

        "Cash me out, Porkchop!" The taller punk produced a huge automatic pistol.

        Sputtering, the salesman contained his rage, even acted like he was getting ready to hand over his wallet which housed a thousand in hundreds, while he coiled his striking energies, calculating.

        "Now, Porkchop!" Click. The punk cocked the Glock's hammer. "I'm gonna--"

        BLAM! Struck in the face, he thought he was dead for sure. Blood everywhere. Falling. Running footfalls.

        BLAM! The second shot cleared his mind. Out of nowhere, a uniformed cop was there, his revolver poised to shoot again, the first one dead barely on the ground as the second crumpled once and for all.

        "These kids are so violent," the cop shrugged as he holstered his gun. "You OK?"

        "I've got my money," the salesman said, noticing the traffic light turn red.

        "I wouldn't turn down a tip," the cop said, extending an open hand.


        Scarf


        Whatever I mean to be doing with this current appointment, I keep getting swept away by an intercepted image of a thin-boned woman with naturally red hair. She appears in black clothes, loose pants and linen shirt, her skin aglow with recently absorbed sun, definitely nice-looking, except she has no eyes.

        A delicately folded, black silk scarf covers her eyes like a mask. I can tell from the way her hands feel for familiar things that she can not see. And I know from her easy movements that this is a self-imposed game. I watch her, knowing she is aware of me, wondering what she knows. Her hands turn my way, fingers rotating up, her palms sensing some longer wavelength emanating from me. A smile. I'm faintly aware, from a rhythmic crackling that approaches with her, of the music pumping through the earphones connected to a bulge in her back pocket. Seconds later, she stands in front of me, close, her long-fingered hands on her own hips, her feet set apart.

        Her face never inclines toward me, seeking approval. When she talks, she speaks very loud, undoubtedly due to the din in her head. As her hands lift off her hips, she begins simply, "I want to--"

        At that exact moment I snap out of it to find myself somewhere, in an office waiting, or in a taxi, even once at a friend's place. I tell myself everything is OK, it's just surplus brain-waves shorting to ground. Hormone overload. Still, the vividness never allows for any mistake: this is the same dream, or the same apparition.

        Only once did she go further, unfortunately by the time I was in a listening groove, I already had missed something important and heard only, "...with oil until you know. Then I take off the mask. This is an arrangement; there are no rules."

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