For our purposes, a postcard story has 300 words or less. It can be a snapshot, a tableaux, a sketch — an arrangement of characters or things that evoke a story. It can be a fragment — the beginning of a story, the end of a story, or something in between. It can be the idea of a story. The best postcard stories give you a glimpse of the whole story through compression or implication. Postcard indicates the brevity of the narrative, and is not a suggestion for the format. A Postcard Story can be told in any style that suits you – the form lends itself to variety and experimentation. Consider how your favorite story might be told in just 300 words...———
Her mother chewed on her sandwich and Paula listened, though she did not want to. The sound gave her the willies. It made the hair on her arms stand up. Egg salad on toast—a favorite—but it was taking her a long time to get it down. Maybe her dentures were loose. That might account for the noise. Squirunch-squirunch-squirunch. Paula shuddered and stepped out of the room.
Without her dentures the food had to be softer. Oatmeal and scrambled eggs worked, but the noisy mastication continued. Paula could picture it in there, her mother moving the food around in her mouth, mixing it with her saliva and working it with her gums before finally swallowing it.
The canned shakes were a better choice. They offered more balanced nutrition than in the soft foods she'd been feeding her, but then the diarrhea started. The legs of the diapers didn't quite fit, so there were messes. The smell permeated the whole upstairs, and now here was a goddamned rash. Another thing to deal with. Would it ever end? Maybe the canned shakes were causing it. Paula would try taking her off them for a few days to see that made a difference.
Hi darling. Arrived here yesterday. You wouldn't believe it. Gorgeous beach-boys all over the place. They are irresistable. Took a couple home last night. You know those myths about blacker is bigger? True! I am used and worn but looking forward to even bigger and better tonight. Love ya, hon!———
The city is old. They never tell you that. You hear about "New York minutes" and all the bustle. But the buildings have gray brows arched up against the silver sky. They lean just a bit askew and totter carefully up the sidewalk.
I have all these words, but they won't fit. It really doesn't matter anyways. I'm here and you're there and the words won't fix that. We can't say them to each other, so now we just pray them into the breath-fog on the window glass.
Someday, maybe, we'll make it right. Until then, I'll watch my sodium lamp reflection waver over the city lights and city darks and try to wait.
About two weeks ago, I was in Times Square and it was dusk, around 7:30 PM and a really strong thunderstorm was approaching, a dangerous one. It was surreal to see how the lightning bolts zig-zagged in between the skyscrapers, and the humongous black cloud edging closer overhead - you could even see the rain pounding from it as it got nearer. People were actually pointing to it and screaming, racing, diving into the subway entrances to escape it, like it was Armageddon.———
Spring and summer, 1958———
You know, sometimes in mid-life, a man turns a corner and looks up the road and realizes there's nothing else within reach, that everything of significance has already happened in his life.
Well, the kids were up and gone and she started seeing some guy over in Huron. I think it started off innocently enough. He worked in a hardware store or something and he probably made some remark, in passing, about her hair or some such and she liked it and when she went back over there, of course, she was kind of looking for him. And the compliments got better and she felt her cheeks flush and was maybe a little surprised.
Anyway, Max hated running all the way over to Huron for little things so he'd send her and she would go willingly and sometime around May, she arranged to visit her sister and spend the night. She met this guy for dinner and maybe that was the first time they slept together. He had a little house out west of town and his neighbors had all known him since he was a kid delivering newspapers from his bicycle. He'd bought that little place when Mrs. Elliott passed on. Anyway, maybe that was the first time.
After that, whenever she had to go to town, she'd manage to come over around lunchtime and they'd meet up at his place and take an hour together. She started doing her nails again and worrying about her weight.
Max never saw it coming. When she moved out, he kept the shades drawn at the house for a long time. Karl stopped by a couple of times and knocked on the door. He could hear Max moving around inside but he wouldn't answer the door. Mostly folks just decided he needed some time alone.
About the third or fourth day, Tommy Fulenwider noticed the stock hadn't been watered so he pulled his truck up into the yard and spent the better part of an hour doing chore work. As he was leaving, he noticed Max sitting out on the back stairs watching him so he waved but Max never moved.
Afterward, no one could put a finger on why David killed himself when he did. The toxicology report suggested months of hoarding prescribed tranquilizers: did that mean he'd set a date certain and waited until he had enough pills? or were the pills just an emergency exit? There was no note, and David's depression had seemed no more nor less stark, variously, than during any other passage over the past few years. It wasn't that anyone was genuinely surprised by the fact of it; only the timing.———
What truly did seem a mystery was the paid receipt, tucked under the three empty amber containers on the file cabinet that served as a night stand, for a new pair of glasses. David had broken his on one side months before, and repeatedly repaired them with super glue because he didn't have money for new ones. The receipt was dated the day before his death; when the police called the shop, the clerk said the new pair would be ready for pickup the next day.
Angela had turned up the old pair in the waste basket under the bathroom sink, one lens missing where the frame had finally passed beyond the ministrations even of super glue. The missing lens stayed that way; David was never much of a housekeeper even at his best, and no one ever knew whether he had deliberately disposed of it or whether it had simply been overlooked and tossed out during the general excavation of his apartment.
When we were talking about the glasses at the funeral, I asked Angela why her initial reaction to finding David's body included emptying all the wastebaskets onto the floors. She told me don't be fucking stupid. I let it pass.
When Charlie came home from school, that afternoon, the first thing he saw was his mother's finger in his face. She was mad, really mad, and she was demanding an explanation for his actions.———
"What do you mean cursing out a teacher?" She asked. "I didn't raise you that way."
"What did they tell you?" He said.
"Never mind what they told me. You tell me why you did it."
"Okay, okay, Calm down and I will. Mister Whitehead called on stuttering Steve, that's Steve Proxmire, to read from the lesson, and he knows Steve gets nervous when he tries to read out loud. He laughed at Steve when he started stuttering and then yelled at him. The more he yelled, the more Steve stuttered. Then all the other kids started laughing.
I told him to stop and he said it wasn't my business, told me he'd send me to the Principal if I didn't shut up. Well, Mister Whitehead is from Georgia, or someplace, and he talks funny. You know, like that revival preacher that came that time. He talked funny too. Remember, Grandpa said he talked like he had a mouth full of shit." I told him that.
"Charlie, you can't be cursing in school. I don't care what the reason is. I want you to promise me that you will never do that again."
"Okay Mother, I promise, I'm sorry, I won't do anything to cause you any more trouble. I just didn't think he should talk to Steve that way."
"You're right, Son," she said, "and I'm proud of you for standing up for your friend, but...
"He's not my friend. Steve is just a boy in class."
I arrived in Austin at 6 p.m. and drove straight to the hotel where we agreed to meet. On the phone he told me he just wanted to take me out to eat but I knew that was a lie. Why have me meet him at a hotel if that was the case?———
Room 136. I stood outside of the door for a moment, looking at it, realizing a long awaited dream was finally going to come true.
With the tip of my right forefinger I covered the peep hole and tapped on the door with my left knuckle. I thought I'd let him wonder a few more minutes what I looked like.
Before I finished tapping, the door opened and I stood looking into his navy-blue eyes. I couldn't breathe and then realized I was holding my breath in anticipation.
In a smooth deep voice he said, "hello doll."
I knew then my life would never be the same and that all the poets were right...there is such a thing as love at first sight.
The last time we talked———
But I don't recognize you. What happened to the person I know knew?
Sorry. It's just,… I've decided to make a tradeoff. Are you disgusted?
Maybe, if I didn't know you. But then, maybe I am. And maybe I am because of the way you compare to the person I knew. I'm not sure yet.
For what it's worth, I'll understand if you are. To be honest, I kinda disgust myself.
But you're being the person I know right now, so what's with the neediness?
Well, it's not really needy. At least, I don't see it that way. I'm just going back to something that worked for me in the past. Wet behind the ears. That's how I look at it.
If you say so. But what I mean is you wouldn't mind the same kind of behavior from someone you didn't know.
I'd still have a lesser opinion of them.
Exactly. I'm not a threat to people who don't know me.
So that's going to get you something?
Maybe. I'm not sure. But I don't see any harm in giving it a try. I'm rather past caring.
That's good, because I don't like the new you.
You don't care?
Part of me does. But you, like me, we're just too jaded to care about.
Brave little man———
He knew something was terribly, horribly wrong. He was only seven, but still he knew.
There had been many clues these last couple of weeks, but the grownups said so many confusing things it had always been possible that he was mistaken. Until now.
Now, as he walked down the stairs into the silence he knew just as sure as he knew where all the adults were standing - by the phone in the kitchen -that the news was going to be very, very bad. The worst.
His grandmother saw him first and hurried to take him in her sweet-smelling, plump arms. Even now she smelled of fresh baked molasses cookies.
"Ah, little one. We have something to tell you." she said, her eyes brimming. "It's about your father..."
He didn't really listen to the rest. He knew what was going to be said before they opened their mouths.
Things would be different now, in ways he wouldn't understand even as an adult. Currents, eddies... he now had no father. No one to teach him to throw a ball. To talk to about boy things. To be proud of him for all the things he was going to do, as only a father can be. Or so he imagined.
"It's okay, Nana. It'll be okay." he said, the poor, Brave Little Man.
"Your grandfather will be here to pick you up, soon," he said, his brown eyes twinkling, running his tanned fingers through touseled hair. She thought that his hair was a lot lighter in the sunlight, but in the movie theater, while it was dark, the hair didn't look like anything, because, of course, you can't see in the dark. Unless, of course, you're a cat, and then you can see in near darkness. But not actual darkness -- that's a myth. And Imogen was no cat. She was a living, breathing 20-year-old girl -- albeit one who still lived with her grandparents, despite the fact that she worked for a living -- and part time as a vet tech. She looked at her freshly-painted nails, wondering to herself if the sodium in the popcorn was going to cause her to retain fluid.
"Yes, I know," she said. "The movie is almost over."
"Could you keep it down up there," hissed a woman behind them.
His eyes twinkled again, since the action was now taking place in a bright desert tableaux, and she could see that Steve's teeth were very white. At least in the darkness of the movie theater. She remembered that when they first met, they'd had a terrible argument about whether rabbits were rodents, and had had to settle the bet by calling her first boss. They'd both had a lot to drink, so the fact that they had called him at 2 a.m. was lost on them, which was probably why she had been fired. And now she sat, all alone with Steve, after having managed to be hired by the vet across town, waiting for her grandfather to come get her, and wondering whether anything would ever happen. No, there was too much exposition left for that.
"Hail Kgonen! Hail Swordmaster!"———
In less than an instant he whirled, his icy blade already poised to deal with danger. At first he saw nothing in the shadows. Then, she stepped forward.
Kgonen never forgot that moment, his first glimpse of the she-dragon who would be both mate and enemy in the years of passion and battle that lay ahead. She was as beautiful as he was ugly, her raven-red locks spilling from beneath a loose hood of tivl fur, which on Odin was reserved for royalty. Not that he needed any badge to tell him this was a princess. The long, lean legs sheathed in leather, the gently curving gown more than hinting at the steel that rippled beneath, the exquisite face with the full sensuous lips and yellow she-wolf eyes--on any planet, these would bespeak no ordinary bloodlines. Her being was as exalted as Kgonen's was debased. As much as her beauty and her strength, her very unreachability made the Swordmaster's blood howl hot with longing.
Had they known then what was to come, could they have foreseen all the doom they would bring each other, would they have forsworn such a dangerous love? Many years later, as he lay in a fetid dungeon awaiting agonizing death at the hands of the Smul, Kgonen's scarred features wrinkled in a wry grin, and he shook his head. Nay! The gods could only have intended two such for each other! Neither of them would ever have sated his passion in any lesser lover--nor found his right doom in any lesser foe. Fulfillment and destruction in one upleaping blaze of glory! To how many mortals is that given?
Early seventies and I had hitched into Friendship Airport outside of Baltimore. There was snow on the shoulder and I was in short sleeve khakis complete with Corporal stripes and my four ribbons baked a dark nut brown from the tropical sun in contrast. I wasn't cold and my thumb was out walking the beltway waiting to be picked up. I was thinking of home. A cab pulled up and the cabbie oppened the door;———
"Get in," he said.
I looked at him;
"Where you coming from?"
"Cuba, sir and I am on my way home to visit my girl friend."
"Got any Havanas?"
"No sir, I am not allowed to have them."
We stopped at the airport and I looked at him.
"Here is $5 maybe you can buy a good cigar to smoke."
I got out and entered the airport.
The plane was crowded and I sat in the middle seat next to an older, well-dressed gentleman who seemed intent on talking to me. The seat was wet and I could feel it soak through my wool trousers.
"Where you coming from?"
"Cuba sir and I am on my way home", I answered.
"How are things in Cuba?"
A gorgeous red head was making her way down the aisle and I watched her every step, half answering the older man's questions. the seat next to me was empty. I had already asked the "stewardess" for a change in seats explaining to her about the seat being wet. The redhead approached our row and sat next to me and I smiled at her forgetting the wetness of the seat.
She asked me where I was going.
It was then the "stewardess" told me of a set in back which was drier. I changed seats!
She looked like something you'd see crumpled in the gutter. The other kids moved automatically around her, without looking at her, or responding.
"You can always tell," Eddie said sadly, "which ones have it bad at home."
She was sitting alone on a swing. About nine, hair a little tangled, her jeans and t-shirt looked like she'd worn them for days.
"That's not rocket science. You can tell she's not being taken care of." I whispered sadly.
"Nah – a lot of kids around here come from poor homes – single moms, either on welfare or housing assistance. These kids end up raising themselves, but that's not it. Look at her face."
It was hard to see her face. She was looking down at her feet, and her stringy hair hung over her eyes. She wasn't moving much, listlessly moving her toe around in the sand.
"That's a kid who's used to keeping secrets."
I could see what he was talking about. I don't know where she was, but it wasn't on that playground.
"She's got a bullseye painted on her back. She's one who'd never tell."
Eddie turned around, opened the trunk, and took out a bag. He left the other – inside, I could see a boxed action figure, and some shiny packages of cards, with monsters on the front.
If she wouldn't take the candy, I'd ask them to help me find my puppy.
Postcard from the edges———
Having a wonderful time. Give my love to Dad (whoever/wherever he is). The weather is beautiful and the banks are open. Send money.
Hangdog Hotel Room———
Thanks to my friends at Lodgenet, I'm posting from the bathroom of my upscale big-city hotel room, on a wireless keyboard. Though a small-town boy by birth and temperament, I"m sensible nd open-minded enough to do as the Romans do when in Rome. So I responded with an affable urbanity to the announcement in the Directory of Hotel Services that "A companion fish is available during your stay. Contact Housekeeping." My companion goldfish Warren arrived an hour ago, and I led his deliverer to believe I'd shared rooms with hotel fish several times before. Now I'm panicking a bit as Warren has abandoned swmming for drifting, and that with a decided list to starboard. There doesn't appear to be anything instructive or helpful in the minibar. I'm afraid to call Housekeeping in part because I clumsily spilt shaving foam into Warren's bowl..........l....,
One night last Spring, I was up late working on some graphics, when suddenly I was overcome with a craving for chocolate. It was 2:30 in the morning, and I realized the streets were crawling with jocks and other such subhuman life…and the closest stop~n~rob is like 7 blocks away. So I decided to disguise myself - maybe try to look like a guy.
I've still got this old pair of Tom's jeans that I slip on when I'm doing handiwork or muckier yard work. Now you gotta understand, Tom was my height, but had much shorter legs, and he was very muscular. His waist got a bit wide, though – about a 38, and he wore relaxed-fit jeans with 30-inch inseam, (that comes about mid-calf on me).
Well, I decided to put them on...but instead of overlapping the two sides of the fly, and pinning them, like I do here at home, I decided to hold them up with a pair of his Santa-suit suspenders. (very roomy!) No one would see them, cuz they were going to be hidden by Tom's big bulky grey Pendleton jacket.
I tucked my hair under the collar, and put on one of his RMEF caps, a pair of really warm socks, and my redwing boots. ♪taDA ♪
Well, I got there, no problem. I didn't meet a soul on the street. I got inside, and was looking for a bag of Hershey kisses. Well, some guy comes up next to me…and I pretend he's not there…when alluva sudden he starts chuckling.
He says "trying to get up your nerve to rob the place?"
That startled me enough to look over, and it was cop! And now he's actually laughing!
"I don't know what you mean. I'm here for the chocolate."
"So what's with the costume?" You coming from a party?"
I told him the truth. "I'm came here on foot, and didn't wanna attract attention to myself."
Obsessive-compulsives design the best open-air markets.———
I note this as I pass others in less navigable lanes, which are all outlined by bright yellow paint on the pavement of the square.
Parents with their carriages look put-out even on the best of days; the impasse in the strollers-only lane increases their humorless expressions.
My morning: A cakewalk. I've practically had full rein of the market while looking for the perfect tomato. My canvass bag brims over with the prizes of short waits. I am even afforded an elongated flirt session with my favorite local barista, who gives me his number.
Life can be sweet when lanes are assigned for every predicament. On the outer edge is the lane reserved for the pick-and-pan crowd. Then, the strollers-only, which is still in a meltdown phase brought on by a child too old for a stroller and now sounding out cookie-choked yells. Next are the long-suffering elder bohemians, who carry Johnny Appleseed bags and are sometimes witnessed trying to barter with the Amish over a loaf of zucchini bread. They seem to resent the happy young couples, whose lane, not unpredictably, halts and resumes at weird intervals.
Since the OCD lane's the least populated, I take long, languid steps. People give my lane darting looks, as though reasoning how they could move over, despite the obviousness of their own defects chaining them to their own respective lanes. I draw curious stares, as some are trying to determine the veracity for my being where I am.
Passed by: Slow-moving parades of petulant children and harried parents; indecisive suburbanites who will accidentally hoist someone else's kids into the backs of their SUVs, and young couples on the verge of their first public bickering. I sprint past them all with a Casablanca lily.
I carry it like a scepter. I am queen of all I survey.
Tripped out on Johnny Walker and aching from the knee I threw at his ribs, mud-covered, mad from dancing and from the rain that dripped from his beard, my friend explained:
"Zidane was an Aztec. He believed that the purpose of war was death, that victory is the battle itself. He knew that he was the only one on the field who played the game rather than just kicking the ball; he knew no others would come after him."
We were no longer talking about soccer, of course. The wedding had been going on for six hours, and would last six hours more, and then there would be life, and its hard questions: will we ever be humans worth sacrificing? If not, what will we make of our bodies? If so, what will we make of our blood?
The next morning my friend yelped when the groom embraced him. They grinned like jasmine, got in their cars, and drove.