Short Stories

My sister is a strange person. I should know. I've lived with her for thirty years, ever since my son Charlie was born. Hester took us in when my husband ran off, leaving me with a new baby and no money. Unless you call twenty-two dollars money. Hester had a good job teaching history at the high school and we raised Charlie together. In exchange for room and board, I kept house for Hester. It was an arrangement that suited both of us.

My mother and father got married the day the Hindenburg fell from the sky in flaming fragments, May 6, 1937. I was born a month later and shortly after that the marriage burned up just like the Hindenburg.

Everybody said they were such a lovely couple. So when they took her away in a body bag and put him, handcuffed, in the back seat of a police car, I knew, as I have always known, that things are never what they seem.

I was in the supermarket the other day when I saw someone wearing a T-shirt with a picture of a woman slapping her forehead and the words "Oh my god, I forgot to have children!" written on it. At first I chuckled, but it made me think about my own two kids and whether or not I should have had them. I remember the first time a woman said that to me: If I had to do it over again, she said, I'd do things differently. By that I knew she meant she wouldn't have children.

Whenever I think of Melinda, I wish I could wake up and find it was all a bad dream. It's been more than twenty-five years and she still creeps into my thoughts when I'm least expecting it. Like, I'll be clearing the table after dinner and suddenly I'll see us, both of us, in our white uniforms and little blue aprons, clearing tables in the big dining room of the lodge, wishing we hadn't signed on for the whole summer.


The first book I remember reading on my own: The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting. After so many bunny books, Curious George, and Dick and Jane, this was a “real” book that had chapters and required a bookmark to mark where I had stopped reading because, of course, it was much longer than any other book I had read.

To read Cornell Woolrich is to enter the nightmare mind of a man whose life story was as bizarre as anything he wrote. Born Cornell George Hopley-Woolrich in December 1903, this son of an engineer father and socialite mother would become one of the most prolific and popular of the pulp fiction writers of the 1930s and 40s.

There was something in Thompson's writing that was very hard to capture on film. Perhaps it's the fact that most of his characters have such savage and intense internal lives that what we see on the surface is only a small part of who they are. And, of course, nothing is as it seems.

This is the kind of stuff James M. Cain wrote. Spare. Clean. Essential. He wrote in the vernacular of 1930s California, the common man's idiom that his readers understood and related to on the most basic level of craft: story and dialogue. And when he was good, his writing approached poetry.