a media monopoly

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Image credit goes to “The Presurfer: Your Daily Dose of Diversion

Green note: this here is for SS2 #19 “an old newspaper,” vignettes that bred like rabbits, now reduced to a population of three. I’ve been swept up by the attention deficit movement, so these vignettes, though intertwined, read as standalones. If you’re short on time, go directly to Vignette III, do not pass go : )

 

VIGNETTE I – Herald of Change

Every day it’s the same: Helen wakes and says, “Good morning, Dear,” to his pajamas in the bed. “Let’s go have our coffee, shall we?” She puts on her robe, starts the coffee machine, and thinks while she waits how hard it is to carry on. She pours coffee into their matching mugs and sets them on the kitchen table. Then she opens the buffet drawer and pulls out the old newspaper, the one he died holding on the first morning of his retirement. She sets it by his coffee, says, “There you go, Dear,” and she sits down with him, talks to him about how hard it is to carry on.

On this particular day, Helen sat sipping her coffee so deeply sunk into her bittersweet reverie, that she didn’t hear car tires crunching on her gravel drive. The kitchen door burst open and she found herself staring wide-eyed at a man in a business suit.

“Sorry to drop by unannounced,” he said, “But your phone seems to be engaged.”

“Oh mercy, you scared me, Dan!” Helen said, patting her breast.

“I’m sorry, Mom,” he said. “Judy tried you last night and again this morning, so I told her I’d stop by on my way to work.”

“It’s alright, Hon. Go ahead and fix yourself a coffee if you want and I’ll go have a look.”

Helen blustered off to the desk phone in the study, and while she was gone, the yellowed newspaper caught Dan’s eye. He picked up the paper to have a look at the date. February 8, 2011.

“Well I’ll be darned,” he heard her say from the study. Then he heard her traveling back to the kitchen thinking aloud, “Let me see… Why it must’ve been when I called Loretta the day before yester—”

“Mom, it’s been three years. You seem to be locked into one stage of grieving and I’m concerned about the long-term psychological effects… This paper is not Dad.”

“You’re right, of course I know you’re right, but…” Tears filled Helen’s eyes and she put a box of tissues on the table and sat down. “It’s just so hard…”

Dan sat next to her, put his arm around her. “I’m sorry, Mom, I’ve got to leave or I’ll be late for work, but you’ve got to work at this.” Helen nodded. “Listen, Mom, you’ve got a heart full of memories of Dad that you can call on anytime you want, you don’t need an old newspaper.”

“That’s so right,” Helen said, sniffling. “Wait, I just got an idea,” she said. “I know this is silly, but it will mean something to me to give the paper to Bob.”

“Bob?”

“He’s a homeless man who spends mornings in the park near where I volunteer.”

“He isn’t dangerous is he?”

“I’ve never spoken to him, but folks I work with say he’s nice.”

“Alright, Mom. And now I’ve really got to move.” Dan gave her a hug and took off.

Helen showered and dressed, picked up the newspaper and got in her old Lincoln. She drove down Turtle Creek Blvd, parked crooked and walked determined across the grass to a park bench where Bob was enjoying his coffee. She handed him the paper, told him it’s special. “It will guard over you,” she said, and he accepted it with great pleasure.

As Helen drove away, Bob’s friend, Sal, showed up with a bag. He sat down on the bench chortling, held the bag open so Bob could feast his eyes on a half-drunk fifth of Jack Daniels. Bob’s face lit up, “Where’d you come by that, man?”

“Out back behind the Cotton Bowl,” Sal said. He concealed the bag under his jacket and stood up. “Now c’mon!”

Bob tucked the newspaper under his arm and they went off joking and tittering, to sit under the I-75 bridge and get joyously sloshed.

 

VIGNETTE II – Sign of the Times

“I guess there’s nothing left to say,” Paolo said.

Shari tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “I guess not.” She looked at the clock. “Cab should be here soon…”

“I’ll walk you down.”

Shari looked at the rain pelting the window. “No, Paolo, it’s pissing down. I’ll be fine.”

“No, it’s late. I wanna make sure you’re safe.”

Shari shrugs. “Suit yourself.”

“I will.” Paolo slid his keys off the kitchen counter, went to open the door.

“Oh wait.” Shari dug around in her purse, pulled out a key to the apartment. “Here.”

“Why don’t you hang onto it, in case you change your mind?”

“I won’t.”

Paolo turned away and opened the door for Shari. She put the key down on the counter and went out into the hall.

They walked to the elevator in silence, waited in silence. On the elevator Paolo grabbed Shari’s shoulders, spun her around, looked in her eyes. “Give it another chance.”

“Oh come on, Paolo, you’re on tour most of the time. And all the rumors of your groupies backstage…” Shari looked away. “And we have less and less to say…”

“I can’t control the rumors but I can tell you I’ve always been faithful to you.”

The elevator bell rang. “I can’t… Paolo, just let me go.”

Paolo’s hands slid down her arms to her hands and reluctantly let go. He walked with Shari to the lobby doors and out to the cab.

Shari opened the cab door, put her case on the seat, and turned to Paolo for a last look.

“I guess it’s goodbye, then,” Paolo said.

“Yeah,” she said and got in, told the driver, “1500 Nolan Ryan via I-30 West,” and the cab pulled away from the curb, took a left on Canton, and just as it started to accelerate, the window rolled down and Shari stuck her head out, yelled, “I love you!”

“Aw shit,” Paolo said, and he stood devastated, drenched, watching the cab taillights blur and finally fade away. A mechanical street sweeper droned in the background. And across the street, under the I-75 bridge, a couple of homeless men wrapped in newspaper lay sleeping.

 

VIGNETTE III – Almighty Tribune

As the sun came up in Dallas, two homeless men woke up under a bridge, an empty bottle of Jack Daniels lay smashed at their feet. They flung off the old newspapers now stiff and formed around their bodies from the damp of the night. And they went grumbling to the wing wall to take a piss.

“Man, I had a really bad dream last night, but it felt so real,” Bob said. “Say, you didn’t hear a woman screamin’ last night did you?”

“I didn’t hear nothin’, drunk as I was,” Sal said.

“Well, in this dream I saw a young woman screamin’ out the window of a speedin’ car, something like ‘Don’t wanna be your Jerry Hall forever, I’ll never be her, never, and that’s all, it’s done!’ and then it took all her might to push the car door open far enough to throw herself out, just as a semi was barrellin’ down the highway… It was awful.”

“Thank God it was just a dream,” Sal said.

“Yeah… Say, what day is it, man?”

“I have no idea.”

“I know,” Bob said, “We’ll have a look at this paper that strange lady gave me yesterday and that’ll tell us.”

“Brilliant idea!”

Bob snatched up one of the sheets they’d cast off and looked at it. “Holy smoke! This says Wednesday February 8, 2011!”

“It can’t be…” Sal said. “Can it?”

“Well the strange lady told me this paper was special…” He nudged Sal with his elbow, said, “Maybe it’s like a time machine, eh?”

Sal looked around, said, “I dunno, Bob, everything looks the same.”

They both roared with laughter, wiped tears from their eyes. “Aw that’s a hoot,” Sal said.

“Yeah,” Bob said. “Say, let’s go to Lulabell’s Diner. She gives me a free cup of coffee every morning. We can snag today’s paper there.”

Bob and Sal headed north on Henry and went cross lots over to North St. Paul and stood off aways in front of LulaBell’s. Lula was inside rushing around with a tray above her head. Ever watchful, she caught a glimpse of two bums outside. She dropped off her order and made ready to call the police when she saw one of them was Bob. She motioned to him to go around to the back and carried on working.

Bob and Sal hightailed it back there, knocked on the door to the kitchen. One of the line cooks opened it and got them two large coffees and a used copy of the paper. They scurried off aways and checked the date.

“Well that’s more like it,” Bob said. “It’s Wednesday May 14th, 2014.”

Bob and Sal headed back south to the park where Bob likes to sit and have his coffee in the mornings. They divided up the paper between them and were enjoying the sunshine, showing each other news articles of interest, joking and chatting and arguing, when Sal choked and spat his coffee out. “Shit fire!”

“What?” Bob said. He watched Sal just stare at the paper in his hands. “What?”

“This here is like that dream you was tellin’ me ‘bout where the young wom—”

Bob snatched Sal’s paper, read the headline, “Woman killed by semi after jumping from cab on I-30W.” Bob went white, the bottom of his stomach dropped out and he thought he’d be sick. “What does this mean?” Bob said, all feverish. “Am I a killer? What if I have another bad dream about someone else an’ it happens again, Sal? Then I’m a killer! I won’t dare sleep! I can’t live like that…”

Just then they saw a woman, maybe in her late 60’s, marching straight at them, arms pumping, all determined and businesslike. “Oh no, it’s that strange lady,” Bob said. “Could things get any worse?”

“Bob, I’m Helen,” the woman said. “I gave you a paper yesterday, I wanted you to have it, it’s a special paper, you see, my husband had in his hands when he had a heart attack and died, and I thought I could part with it but I’ve just got to have it back.”

“Wait,” Bob said to her. “You told me it was special, but you didn’t tell me it was a dead man’s paper. I wouldn’t have taken it from you if I’d known that.” Then he turned to Sal and said, “So the paper was the killer, it was jinxed! It wasn’t me or you, even, ‘cause we both slept under it… If anything, we were protected somehow—”

“That’s right, that’s what I told you,” Helen said. “Don’t you remember? I said it would guard over you.”

Bob just stared at her. “Oh shit.”

“Bob? May I have the paper back, please?” Helen said.

“We burned it,” he told her.

“What?” Helen screamed.

“To keep warm,” Bob said.

Helen went ballistic. She ran in circles, tearing at her hair, then she ran for Bob, her arms outstretched to strangle him, but he grabbed Sal and the both of them ran for their lives. Helen was hot on them for a short while but she was too old to keep up with two middle-aged men, and they kept on running until they were well out of her sight. And when they’d stopped, Bob said through gasps for breath, “It’s true, I remembered it after the crazy lady said it, that the paper would protect me. We gotta go back to the bridge and get that paper!”

 

this could go on forever but I’m calling it “Fin”

 

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Click here for more on prompt “SS2 #19 – an old newspaper” from other Sunday Scribblings participants

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11 responses to “a media monopoly

  1. As you say the story could keep going, involving the paper, the people, the grief and even the bridge, even Lulabells! Fascinating and enjoyable read.

    • Thanks, OE. Yeah, I’m trying to decide whether to carry on with this stuff, like for SS2 #20… I’m not so hot at picking up something I’ve already thrown down, though…although I’ve been on the planet long enough to know anything at all could happen : )

  2. Mark Twain said “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.” Well, I’ve just read the Herald, the Times and the Tribune, and I’ve been entertained.

  3. Bloody fant-tas-tic! Excellent titles and such twisty endings. I love how she spoke to his pyjamas in the bed – the 1-75 bridge connection and the homeless guys as it went through the vignettes and the curse of the paper! The Almighty Tribune. You are a talented and mischievous soul, Miss A and I love it. :)

    • Aw Jules, you always pick my ego’s jowls up off the floor, and for that I’m eternally grateful : ) So now it’s grinning at me with its yellow teeth, nudging me to tell you that someone once told me I should be a professional story title generator. Egos aside, I’m glad you stopped by for the pyjama party :-D

  4. Wow–my head is about to blow off! With each successive vignette you tease the story farther out. Fantastic, but real enough to make us care about your characters. So rich, so many questions–terrific!

    • Great comment, J! Loved the feedback on the characters. All feedback is welcome, by the way, because I feel like it’s getting harder to see the story from outside myself. Especially, today wrangling with flash fiction where you’re bluffing until the POW! of the truth, and all within the space the size of a piece of burnt toast!

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