Thursday, July 09, 2009

Entry #7

The Sober Truth about Tyler & Zachary on Bickerstaff Street
by James R. Tomlinson


Management switched my route. No overtime. No allowances for strange dogs sniffing at my heels, slowing me down. I’m on Bickerstaff, a cul-de-sac, last street before lunch. It’s hotter than the Devil’s breath out here.

“Mister, you look thirsty.”

“Well I’m not.” This kid’s sitting with a younger boy at a card table. Crystal stemware flicker like diamonds above a handwritten sign: Drinks, $5. A cooler sits in the uncut grass.

He introduces himself as Tyler, says, “It’s for a good cause.” He tells me a sob story how his baby-brother Zachary broke Mom’s vase, how they’re raising money to replace it.

Mom obviously doesn’t know, or they’d be using Styrofoam or plastic. I cram letters in their mailbox and smile at Zachary.

“Daddy said Mommy’s a whore.”

“Pardon me?” I wasn’t sure I’d heard correctly.

“Zachary’s disturbed,” Tyler says.

“What,” I ask, “could you possibly be selling at that price?”

Tyler opens the cooler, pulls out a bottle of Merlot, starts pouring.

“You can’t serve alcohol. You’re minors. Where are your parents?”

“Dad’s gone,” Tyler says.

“And your mother?”

“She’s gone too!” Zachary shouts.

There’s definitely anger in his voice. I wave my cell phone, indicate “police.” Tyler pleads with me, gives me their aunt’s number. I call her instead.

“I’m their legal guardian,” she says.

I explain my predicament, the alcohol, my social obligation.

“Their father’s in prison,” she says, “for murder.”

“And the mother?”

“Are you kidding? She’s on the fireplace mantel.”


[James R. Tomlinson has spent 18 years in prison at 8 hour increments. In order to keep his sanity, he volunteers his time at Motor City Burning Press.]

52 comments:

Chris Eldin said...

Gave me goosebumps the whole way through! The ending literally took my breath away.


Your opening is quite strong, and your writing is brilliant. Truly loved this one!

laughingwolf said...

james, that's a keeper!

Laurel said...

Damn. I had no idea where that was going but it clearly was nowhere good. Great ending.

Unfortunately, this EXACT thing happened to someone I know this spring so it hit pretty close.

wrath999 said...

I enjoyed every bit of this.
alex

Aniket said...

I expected nothing less from you. Superb story. Intense and gripping till the end. And it had a very easy flow of words that made the story alive. Great work.

Josh said...

Yow. This story shifts quick from the cute kids selling lemonade to quite the tragic tale. Nicely done.

Catvibe said...

JR that is just downright creepy. I loved it all the way. I liked the voice that comes through in your writing as well. Details like, 'last street before lunch' give your writing an extra nice quality.

Rohan said...

Awesome James...im at loss of words for this one...

Shadows said...

I enjoyed this. Smooth as glass. Good job.

Aerin said...

Well, I totally expected the ending but that didn't stop me from gliding all the way through. A story is no good unless it's in the hands of an excellent storyteller, which this one was. Deft dialogue, quick pacing, no awkward moments. I would say "awesome" except - now I want to call social services.....

Merry Monteleone said...

This was really well done. Unique voice that kept me right in the moment. Good work.

Therese said...

Awww, those poor kids.

Really well written, James. I very much enjoyed your entry.

JR's Thumbprints said...

Aerin, you're too funny. At one time I worked for Social Services; then I made it to the Big Leagues--the Dept. of Corrections.

Lauren, the exact same thing? I hope they cleaned up the mess.

Thanks everyone for the wonderful comments. I'm having a ball reading the entries.

Tessa said...

A great story - I found myself playing out alternative endings all the way through. Really gripping!

Charles Gramlich said...

gotta love family values.

Karen said...

Teaching elementary school, I heard similar words from my students...truly. It's a scary world, JR, but I guess you know that better than most.

Precie said...

Excellent. You capture the kids so hauntingly.

Whitenoise said...

Very nice, Jim. You have a gift.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Seriously slides you into spooky with no bumps or hitches. Well done!

The Preacherman said...

Easily the best I've read up to now and there's good stuff around here.

Nice one mate. Very nice.

Four Dinners

Vic said...

It probably doesn't say much about me, but I didn't expect that ending at all.

Adisha said...

Often kids that bear the brunt of such horror stories .... touching !!

the walking man said...

i think you have found your genre Mr. Tomlinson...excellent

Hadley said...

James, this is absolutely wonderful! I never predicted the ending, and it caught me so off guard, I laughed. Great, realistic POV and dialogue.

jodi said...

J.R. Loved it. Do those poor kids stand a chance? Maybe was doesn't kill ya does make you tougher.

Mona said...

what a story! Reminds me of the kids in slumdog millionare! Very well told!

pjd said...

Broke mom's vase! Ha, ha, ha! Love this. Extremely well told. Somehow, I flew through it quickly, which means it was smooth... but it also felt like so much was told that it must be well over the 250 word limit. All in all, a superb story with complete plot, tension, conflict, great characters. (Unlike Aerin, I never saw the ending coming until the final period.)

RKCharron said...

Hi :)
I never saw the ending coming.
Broke their mother's vase meaning her urn.
Great story. Strong dialogue.
I loved your MC's POV.
Nice!
twitter.com/RKCharron
:)

Christina said...

Wow. This really reaches out and grabs me.

Well done. I really like it.

Julie said...

Excellent work! It flows so naturally and yes...that ending is powerful.

Kurt Hendricks said...

I love these kids! You did a great job displaying their complexity.

Patsy said...

I like that we're not sure how much, if any, of what the kids say is true.

Love this bit - 'last street before lunch.'

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

Brilliant - loved this story - that last line's a classic! Well done!

aditi said...

All the brilliant's and awesome's u got are so well deserved.
Talk about a well thought out, well written post.

Gughan said...

Will he transcend the protocols of social obligation? Would anyone? Would I?

For me, this write up provoked a lot of thinking.

Compelling!

Shadows said...

EXCELLENT! Umm. I've drawn attention. I like the casual tone and certainly the ending. Leave it to us smarty-pants readers to figure it out will ya? Why thank you kindly sir.

JR's Thumbprints said...

Gughan, In reply to your questions:

"No allowances for strange dogs sniffing at my heels, slowing me down."

But seriously, who wants to get involved in a messy situation nowadays?

Sure had fun reading all the posts and commenting. Thanks everyone for your kind words.

desiderata said...

JR'sT:

Ending floors me: I like such impactfool ones which escape me often in my own writes. Great piece, among my Reader's Choice now that we are at that FUN stage!:) YL

Dottie said...

As always JR, you've written an excellent piece. The mother above the fire place. I love it.

Jade L Blackwater said...

Your story has a nice completeness as well as mystery within the short word count - well done.

As the Mind Meanders said...

That was scary... only because it sounded so real...

Awesome...

Margaret said...

Awesome piece of writing!!

Deb S said...

Nice! You're in my top 5. I loved the dichotomy of the setting vs the conflict. Great set up AND payoff.

JaneyV said...

I was wondering when I'd finally get to yours JR. I guess I should've read them in correct order eh?

You don't disappoint. I'm moved and blown away by this. As Pete said it feels like so much more that 250 words. Loved it. So what did the prison population think of your entry?

JR's Thumbprints said...

3:08 AM? You're dedicated Janey!

I gave the prisoners in my classroom a select few stories of personal favorites (including my own) and regardless of educational level, their insight was truly amazing.

As for my story, after I'd already submitted it, I gave them a 5 question worksheet to do. Their answers floored me. What stood out was their mixed emotions. While most found "The Sober Truth..." hilarious, they also offered insight into their own childhoods, an insight that included neglect, abuse, alcoholism, and so forth. I don't want to ramble, but I found your question timely. Now I'm of to teach the unteachables. I'm glad you were entertained by my story. And thanks everyone for your kind words of encouragement.

Dottie Camptown said...

You were my #1, too. I have a feeling you got that vote from more people than just me.

JaneyV said...

That 3.08am was EST - I'm on BST (British Summer Time) so it was 8.08am. So not that dedicated!

Thank you for your answers. I think stories are an important part of daily life. We all need a little escapism. I would imagine that for the incarcerated they are essential. One of the important things about writing - whether you are a writer or a reader - is how it gives language to feelings. The more complex and in turmoil your inner feelings are the more vital the written word.

SzélsőFa said...

Congratulations JR. - this one kept me reading all the way. It was so realistic like I was watching a documentary taken with a hidden camera.

McKoala said...

Stunning ending! Congrats on your victory, well deserved.

pjd said...

Hey! Great job, congratulations! I knew this was a front runner. Isn't it a kick to be selected out of so much really outstanding competition?

jason evans said...

Perfect writing. You showed how much can be poured into a story in 250 words. Brilliant!!

Perfect score.

Congratulations on First Place!!

Jaye Wells said...

This one stuck with me for days. Your voice is spot on and you manage to pack a lot of emotions into so few words. Congrats on the first place win.