Reaching the Beginning

Reaching the Beginning

By Stephen M. Tomic

 

The casket had been closed for nearly an hour when a faint, wheezing oboe rendition of The Beatles “I Should Have Known Better” penetrated the thick summer air. Accompanying birds chirped from the perches of surrounding oak tree branches and tombstones. A modest group of people gathered around the casket of Sylvie Rosenthal, dabbing at droplets of sweat, while Otto Rosenthal concluded his musical tribute to his deceased wife. Reverend John Becker made a wry comment about the irony of a drought at a funeral before he began the Rite of Committal.

The crumbling hulk of Otto then sat down next to his two young boys, Levin and Horace. Levin rolled up the sleeves of his over-starched brown button up shirt, not yet quite the age of seven, and stared at the lacquered coffin that sat in front of him. Horace, his blonde haired brother, three years his junior, tugged at the pant leg of Levin and whispered “Lee! Lee! How come daddy is crying?” Levin knew and didn’t say. What he didn’t know was why.

A few weeks later, heavy rainfall finally swept through the land. It seemed God was giving the world a reprieve; a chance to make amends. Otto saw the rain as a glorious sign from his wife. He kissed his children goodnight and dialed 911. After the call had been made, he went outside to sit down upon a chilled stone bench, his polished shoes in fresh puddles. He smiled, whispering lines of a sonnet to his beloved Sylvie. Then, Otto looked skyward at the falling mesh of rain and shot himself in the head. Continue reading “Reaching the Beginning”

A list of places I’ve submitted stories to in the last 12 hours

Deadlines!

They’re magically motivating things. I spent most of my Saturday in a whirlwind state of rewriting, revising, and seeking out literary magazines, reviews, and journals to submit to before the end of the day. I’m saving The New Yorker for when I’ve had some sleep.

37 places, though! That’s a personal record!

Submissions and deadlines

There may be some radio silence on my part for the next few days. Several literary magazines and online publications have submission deadlines on April 30th and while I’m not the slightest bit ready to submit anything, much less anything good, I’d really like to try to polish a short story into shape for the occasion.

Wish me luck.

The Ballad of Bernard & Caroline: audio version

The Ballad of Bernard & Caroline: audio version

The Ballad of Bernard & Caroline: an unfinished short story

The Ballad of Bernard & Caroline: an unfinished short story

The Ballad of Bernard & Caroline: an unfinished short story

There’s a city in western France that is cradled between two rivers.

One might be tempted to call the region a fertile valley, but the truth is somewhat less inspiring than that. Farmland populates the suburbs, and it certainly rains a lot, which helps to give the flowers a certain glow. Aside from the springtime floods and the mild, often snowless winters, it’s generally remarked upon as a quiet town. Pasttimes include evenings out at the cinema, shopping, theater, music, and the endless search for fine gastronomy. Or outdoors at a terraced café, if the weather’s nice. A college town in a sense, for what it’s worth, neither too big nor too small.

For the less adventurous, more habitual-minded folk populating the area, there’s a shopping center on the other side of the river with a restaurant inside. The shopping center is modest as far as these things go, neither a one-stop shop or a grandly conceived megaplex with something for everybody. They leave the outlet-sized monstrosities further outside of town. There are the usual things available: the all-purpose grocery store with the annex of books and electronics for sale, a pharmacy and a florist, a women’s clothing store, prescription eyewear, cosmetics, and what the French call the coiffure, or hair salon. There’s also a magasin de presse, stocked with the latest newspapers and magazines and pap in addition to a kiosk of various lottery games and e-cigarette technology. A boutique shop chock-full with farm and dog themed kitsch receives about as many customers as the travel agency. At one time there was a stylish men’s clothing franchise that went out of business and nothing ever went in to replace it. Conversely, the phone store on the corner seems to change carriers every other year.

This isn’t to say the entire complex doesn’t do much business. On the contrary. There is a flux of people passing through, couples pushing a cart to pick up their groceries for the week, the single guy rushing in and out for the daily essentials like a baguette or a case of beer, the trio of teenagers browsing about for nothing in particular. Families, single parents, with a child or several in tow. And, of course, the ever-present old retirees. They are the essential lifeforce that courses through this ovular-shaped building like slowly coagulating blood, or perhaps gravy, dragging their large shopping bags on wheels at a glacial pace or else holding up checkout lines by writing personal checks. They are the regulars. When one dies or moves into a retirement home, another one steps up to replace them. Continue reading “The Ballad of Bernard & Caroline: an unfinished short story”

The Rain Must Fall: audio version

The Rain Must Fall: audio version

The Rain Must Fall” is a short story that takes place one night on the road to Seattle. Blaine and Audrey are on the run from something. But to leave the past behind, they have to confront the storm clouds ahead.

Zooey untethered: a book fragment

Zooey untethered: a book fragment

The following is an excerpt from chapter 4 of my first novel…except that it isn’t.

It’s an archaically early draft circa 2005 and is riddled with crassness, cliches, and pretentiousness. It underwent dozens of iterations before arriving at its present form, written from a completely different point of view. There are ideas and motifs that trickled down through various versions, but this is nearly unrecognizable from what the book ultimately became.

Chapter Four

I never saw her again.

We all wonder sometimes, don’t we? We all wonder what people we once met or knew or loved are doing now, right? I can’t be alone in that regard. I catch myself caught in that reflection all too often – women I pass on the streets, cousins, kids from kindergarten, oh, the list goes on and on and on . . .

I light a cigarette and rub in the natural oils on my forehead and lie on my piss-stained berber carpet and, in between drags, I wonder how their lives have turned out. I take a drink from some warm bottled water and wonder how beautiful or smart they eventually became. I rub the bottom of my left foot that’s fallen painfully asleep and wonder what they do now for a living. I put an old and slightly scratched Django Reinhardt record on the vinyl across the room and begin to wonder if they’re happy or hurt. Then, I wander to thoughts of what my great aunt Beth was doing that day she procured her first Django album. I heard she saw him once play in some posh Parisian nightclub, but I don’t think I’ll ever really know for sure, as I can rarely trust grandma, as she’s a bit on the insane side. Later that night, some time around midnight, I sit as comfortably on the toilet as possible with the latest tragically romantic novel I own and wonder how their life is without me. Plop. Continue reading “Zooey untethered: a book fragment”

Untitled short story

Untitled short story

Though it was just past midday, Grayson Avenue was barren and the cracks between the timeworn cobblestones were filled with small rust colored puddles of water.

The sky looked anemic. At the corner of Grayson and Lilac, two individuals stood outside making small talk and soft jokes. A bit further down the street sat the brownstone entrance to Winstone’s, an old bar with a usually grizzled type of clientele. Inside the bar, the lights were dimmed and the few windows were smeared with lime stains. A fire within the blackened open stone fireplace burned maple deadwood. An equally strong smoke came from the corner stool at the bar. Sal Jordan took a deep puff off his cigar – a soggy, long-burning Cohiba and reached for his lager.

“What say you, Sal?”

Sal looked up from his drink at Mark Winstone, the great-grandson of Thomas Winstone, and felt no immediate urge to respond. He took another sip, coughed and said, “Wasting time, kid. Wasting time.” Continue reading “Untitled short story”

The Fool’s Desire

The Fool’s Desire

            I was on an airplane for some reason or another.

Who knows why. Who cares, really? It was a luxurious plane, a plane I didn’t deserve to be on. We, the passengers, were flying to some designated location and would be arriving within the next hour or so. The captain was reassuring and we were sated creatures. The future, as always, was waiting a few steps ahead of us.

I recall sitting at my window seat near the back of the plane, ignoring the faceless entities surrounding me, staring at me like I was someone important. Was it my new cologne? Did I stink? I was sitting next to a charming woman who had nothing to talk about. The doldrums of transatlantic flight were magnified by intense boredom. Yes, that’s right, Europe. Paris. France. Soon we’d be landing in the post-coital excess of elation, or at least I would. The furthest thing from my mind was the unhappy thoughts of my fellow passengers. Was I going there for business? For pleasure? A rendezvous of some secret nature? My intentions always elude me successfully. I am my own greatest mystery. Continue reading “The Fool’s Desire”