Another week of short stories. For those who didn’t join us last week, I’ll be posting short stories submitted for the Baer Books Press writing prompt. The prompt was to write a short story, no longer than 1500 words, based on lyrics from your favorite song. There are a few expletives in the latter story. Watch the videos so you have a better understanding of the story. Let’s get started.
A Jar by the Door
Eleanor Rigby, of 810 103rd St, lived a solitary life behind the ordinary entrance of Apartment 4R. She was oblivious, as most of us are about such matters, as to her fate. It had been predetermined by a song from the 1960’s. Her parents should have known better. After all, she was born in 1972, and Eleanor ranked 550th for female baby names.
From an early age her only companions were her tears. Most every evening her neighbors would hear them as they seeped from beneath the bottom of her door, flowing like still waters down the four flights of stairs. Those cries sprung from Eleanor’s bulging, brown eyes, within a round, red face, atop a butterball body: A Fernando Botero painting come to life.
Two steps lead from the landing to the doorway of Apartment 4R. A male’s muffled “whose there” could be heard when clunky shoes went “knock, knock” on those wooden steps. When the visitor knocked twice on the door, one would usually hear Eleanor’s faint echo in reply, “Whose there?”
She knew there was a man who lived below those stairs. One of her neighbors had referred to him as Father McKenzie. But try as she might, she had never seen him. Once she waited an entire day at the window; another she spent staring through her keyhole, both to no avail.
Eleanor, who considered herself a good Catholic, prayed there was no harm in calling him her “knock, knock” friend, although he could hardly be considered a friend. It was Eleanor who had done the friendship things, such as leaving food, newspapers, or small gifts for him. She even provided wine as a lure once she had heard he was a man of the cloth. She’d have darned his socks if he’d let her. But he had never reciprocated.
Even so, she had furtively fallen in love with him. It was because he had made her laugh with his “knock, knock, whose there?” jokes. She would never forget his first: “Boo.” “Boo who?” “Don’t cry. It’s only a joke.”
One particularly cold evening, after a delivery boy’s boots banged on the top two stairs, he heard a man asking, “Whose there?” As he knocked twice, once for each syllable, on the door of Apartment 4R, he replied, “Nobel.” That night, instead of the occasional echo, from inside the apartment immediately behind the peephole came the hushed reply, “Nobel who?” When there was no answer she asked, “How much do I owe you?”
Eleanor’s petite, chubby fingers slid the dollar bills under the door. Ignoring the few pieces of rice that tumbled from between the money, the boy dropped the pizza box on the landing, jostling the jar with the face by the door, and ran down the stairs.
By the time Eleanor gathered enough courage to step outside, the box had disappeared. Shyly peering around she heard a muffled, “Nobel.”
“Nobel who?” came her breathy, inquisitive reply.
“No bell. That’s why he knocked.” As she demurely chuckled, the masculine voice continued, “Next time kindly leave off the peppers. They repeat on me.”
Languidly closing the door on her loneliness, Eleanor stepped back inside. Her neighbors wouldn’t hear her hushed whimpers and moans tonight. Not now that she had heard a new joke.
Although it was hopeless, Eleanor knew she would continue loving him, in her way, for as long as he supplied those brief moments of joy in her world of sorrow.
And Father McKenzie, for his part, would continue writing sermons no one would hear.
James Stack is a recipient of the Freedom of Expression of Courage Award from PEN America. He has self-published a memoir, WORLD’S FAIR, and collection of poetry, PLEASURES & SEASONS OF VERMONT. His short stories have appeared, or will soon, in Ghost Stories: A Zimbell House Anthology (Zimbell House Publishing), Maine Review, Five2One Magazine, Ruminate Magazine, and FishFood Magazine, and been semifinalists in the New Millennium Writings and Cutthroat contests. To learn more about him, please visit his Facebook Page.
As elevator music went, this was none too shabby, none too shabby at all. Belinda hummed along all the way down to the car park.
A holiday weekend and a forecast of inclement weather made her mind up for her. She would gut the flat from top to bottom then sort through the hundreds of downloaded songs piling up on her computer, that would keep her busy.
The car radio burst into life when she turned the key in the ignition but she couldn’t get that song out of her head and switched it off. Try as she might, she couldn’t remember the words although the tune was ever present in her mind.
She had been a bit of a tomboy as a child and had learned to whistle. Whistling, spitting and swearing had been her three favourite pastimes back then, much to the horror of her parents and teachers.
So, she whistled the tune to herself on the short drive home. One dude in a flashy sports car thought she was blowing kisses at him and she stopped in mid whistle to have a good old belly laugh. She then gave him the finger when he started up with the hand signals.
She gave the song a name, obviously not its real title but something to keep it at the forefront of her mind. Since she worked on the sixteenth floor, she called it her ‘Song from the sixteenth floor’.
Most of the words had left her by then but that tune would live on forever in her head.
She went straight to the computer as soon as she had her coat off, and on a whim, typed ‘song from the sixteenth floor’ into the search engine of her best download site.
The phone rang, distracting her momentarily, well, more than momentarily since it was her mother, hell bent on a marathon catch-up conversation.
She carried the phone to the computer and let out a scream, “fuck me rigid, there’s a song, there’s a song called ‘song from the sixteenth floor’, would you believe it?”
Her mother tut tutted on the other end of the line then carried on where she’d left off. Belinda only lent half an ear while she pressed the download button and watched anxiously as the song started coming down.
She made all the right noises back at her mother, going more off the inflections in her voice rather than the content of what she was saying. She didn’t know the artist, one Paul Kelly, whoever he was; but she couldn’t wait to hear what he had to say for himself.
She arranged to go to her mother’s for Sunday dinner, listened to her for another twenty minutes or so then told her she would have to pee or burst; her mother let her get on with it and hung up.
It wasn’t her song from the sixteenth floor, just pure coincidence it had her chosen title. It was Paul Kelly’s song though, instantly likeable. She put it on repeat and turned up the volume so she could hear it from the bathroom while she had a soak, a pee first then a soak, she hadn’t been lying about the pee.
Strange thing coincidence, she might never have heard of Mr Kelly if she hadn’t stepped into the elevator at that precise moment. She was curious now. If he had written one fine song, surely he had written others? Typing ‘Paul Kelly’ into the search, Belinda sank back in her chair with a cup of coffee and waited expectantly.
Sure enough, another twenty odd songs came into view, she couldn’t set them to downloading quickly enough in her excitement.
Then, she punched his name in again, he was sure to have a web site or some sort of information outlet. Bingo, wow, an impressive discography, all Paul Kelly but with a number of different bands, he had been busy. He was an Australian, she wouldn’t hold that against him, someone had to live there.
She lined up twelve already downloaded songs into her media player and went back to the site. Her eyes wandered to the tour dates guide and she let out another scream the neighbours would surely have heard. Paul Kelly was in Chicago this coming Sunday, another coincidence, or was it fate?
Belinda was a great believer in fate, even more so now. Paul Kelly’s current band went by the name of, ‘The Boon Companions’. One of the solicitors she worked for was named Boon, Daniel Boon, another coincidence.
Then it dawned on her, she was having dinner with her mother on Sunday, she had promised.
She played the songs over and over as she got stuck into a bit of housework and was completely hooked. Digging out her credit card, she did a little online shopping and ended up with the man’s entire back catalogue.
Ten minutes later she was on the phone to her mother, not cancelling but inviting her to attend a concert with her; an early dinner at a nice restaurant and then a concert, everybody happy.
I’m Angus Shoor Caan, (65), resident of the west coast of Scotland and author of twelve novels, one book of short stories and fifteen books of poetry; fourteen of which are written phonetically to the way I and many others from round here speak. I’ve been writing for ten years now and take a lot of inspiration from strolling the nearby coastline. All volumes are available in ebook or paperback from Amazon.
Here are last week’s short stories. Don’t forget to subscribe for more information on future writing prompts, writing advice, expat life, etc.
Words and Rhythm,