A knife has many uses in the wilderness. I’ve taken Jamie’s knife from her, the weight of it added to mine in my pocket every day, the weight of trust hitting my leg, of no new scars.
She is my student on a month-long wilderness expedition. Our goals are to develop leadership skills, provide opportunities for reflection and growth, travel 150 miles by foot and canoe, and return everyone to their families safely. On the sixth day of the trip, another student tells my co-instructor and me that Jamie has both snuck a pocket knife on the trip, and told her teammate about her history of cutting. So it becomes my job, standing together on a trail slightly removed from the campsite, to ask Jamie for her knife. I tell her I, too, snuck my knife onto my expedition when I was a teenage student in our program. I ask her for the specifics of her past: where, when, under what circumstances, how recently. She cries and then confides, cutting, scratching, wrists, thighs, the past two years. I thank her and offer to carry her knife and allow her its use whenever she needs to chop vegetables or would like to whittle a stick or fillet a fish. We return to camp with the weight in my pocket doubled.
Characters find triumph in small moments in Vincent Chu’s new short fiction collection, Like a Champion. These quietly hopeful stories are a breath of fresh air.
Chu hands us a diversity of characters, all underdogs to varying degrees. For the most part, the stories follow a pattern: someone is having a rough day (or month, or year, or life), but then the universe sends them a small token of hope, or they find just enough courage to do something virtuous, and for one shining moment, they feel like a champion. Even protagonists who are downright unlikeable, like Hal in “Star of the World,” who thinks that the “Orientals” made up global warming to keep people buying Japanese, and sends his daughter a birthday card begging her to send him money and fix his computer, among other things, have redeemable moments.
JUNEY, a college-aged female
GEORGIA, Juney’s mom, divorced, early fifties
CATHY, Georgia’s sister-in-law and neighbor, late forties
DAVIS, Cathy’s husband, late forties
Present day, afternoon.
A middle-class family in a suburban neighborhood in Kentucky. A front door opens from the wings stage left into a kitchen. Center stage, a kitchen table with four chairs. Stage left, a “kitchen island.” Upstage right, a modest Christmas tree with lights lit.
Note: The use of a working “kitchen island” with built-in stovetop can be implied by a cabinet, no electricity to this cabinet is necessary. A real, pre-cooked packaged spiral ham, such as Kentucky Legend, is needed as a prop.
Play begins when JUNEY and GEORGIA return home from Sunday church service.
JUNEY and GEORGIA are carrying plastic bags of groceries looped around their wrists into the kitchen. JUNEY holds a pamphlet that had been wedged inside the screen door.
Despite having moved up in the world from fledgling to promising and then to someone with actual screen credits, Cutler found himself stuck in one of what he called his Between Projects Blue Periods, funks that invariably started the moment he went from the precarious status of being Only the writer, Merely the writer, or Nothing but the writer to something far worse: No longer the writer.
He had been in Hollywood long enough to know that, with the exception of certain hyphenates — a handful of writer-directors, plus those fortunate writer-producers who happened to create a TV series — screenwriters were deemed at best a necessary evil, with the emphasis invariably on evil. Their importance, to whatever degree such a term could be applied, ended the moment their final draft was turned in, which meant an instantaneous cessation of the phone calls and lunches designed to support a work-in-progress.
Though he detested Polish jokes, Cutler acknowledged that one was definitely on target:
Q: How do you tell which actress in the cast is Polish?
A: She’s the one fucking the writer.
I am not sitting in bed as I write this, and I am glad of it. Beds are terrible things, lousy with shoddy physics, crushed dreams, and sometimes, even lice.
A bed seems like a heavenly, therapeutic place. Ever since we upgraded from sleeping on splayed out hay (my uncle Shane still prefers this form of bed) the human bed has seemed like a lovely offering: four legs to elevate you, with a plushy surface on top to rest your corporeal frame, atop. The very invention of the bed seems like its creator got away with murder. Some shamelessly enterprising mind, at some point said, “Let’s not sleep on anything hard, anymore. Let’s put some marshmallowy stuff down, and go on top of that. In this way, we’ve made things better for ourselves!”
The unapologetic privilege of this maneuver suggests that beds were not invented by serfs.
O, the hypocrisy of a bed! A bed is manufactured for optimal niceness, but utilizing a bed is anything but nice.
Something was terribly wrong. My lower abdomen was swollen and sore. I had lost nearly ten pounds in the past two weeks. I could no longer keep my food down, and a screaming pain ripped through my vagina every time I peed. In order to keep this mysterious condition from my strict Mennonite missionary parents, I ran outside after almost every meal and vomited behind the hedge near the veranda of our house.
It was November of 1969. Just a few weeks earlier, I had graduated at the top of my high school class at the Liceo de San Carlos in Asunción, Paraguay. My life lay ahead of me like a shiny blank whiteboard, inviting me to imagine endless possibilities. Now, at home at my parents’ leprosy station for summer vacation, I felt only a dark cloud of pain and confusion.
Where Night Stops, a new novel by Douglas Light, is a gripping thriller written in deliciously literary prose. The protagonist ends up over his head in a money laundering scheme when a homeless man named Ray-Ray hands him a message in a bar of soap. That message leads him to the local library, which sets him off on a series of jobs that seem easy enough, and pay well. There’s just one problem: he has no idea what he’s doing, no idea why someone is paying him $300 to pick up checks from pre-arranged points and deposit them in library books. He calls these mysterious jobs “Kam Manning,” and inches in further and further, convincing himself that he’s not doing anything wrong.
The novel unravels slowly. It starts with our narrator in a bar with a woman who complains of being ugly. She sits next to our protagonist, trading a few lines of witty banter. She says that “My heart is a divided Vienna,” referencing Orson Welles’s The Third Man. Continue reading
It was early Spring in Los Angeles and the day was perfect; temperature in the high 60’s, an easy breeze drifting across the city. The conditions were ideal for sitting outside, listening to music and maybe even taking in a show. I have lived in Los Angeles for decades and learned to appreciate the colorful absurdity that is L.A., and the bizarre streak that runs through many of its inhabitants. As a purveyor of public transportation, I know that freaky things happen while riding the bus, but just as many occur while you wait.
based on “The Harbinger,”
a short story by O HENRY
© 2017 Roy Proctor
Inquiries regarding performance rights for “The Dollar Bill” should be addressed to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PUBLIC DOMAIN: “The Harbinger,” which was included in O Henry’s 1908 short story collection, “The Voice of the City,” is in the public domain.