Early last month, I sent up the proverbial Bat-signal for suggestions of song titles, promising to use them as the titles for new flash fiction (very short stories, only a few hundred words in length) and post the results here. Part exercise in new artistic directions, part homage to Mr. Tambourine Man, mostly an effort to fill this space with things worth reading. The quest for such titles goes on, and there are more coming for the remainder of the month and perhaps beyond. If you have a suggestions, share it on Twitter @gregsimonmusic, or email me using the Contact page. Here’s the second volume of song title flash fiction, with due credit to their respective sources (songs without sources are ones which I chose). If you’re curious to hear the songs behind the titles, just click the artist names.
by Katy Perry
Before his eyes were all the way open, he rolled to his left. He knew it was his imagination, but he felt warmth on the other side of the bed, as if someone had just gotten up.
He rose to a sitting position, his bare feet feeling the shag carpet. He walked to the kitchen; he thought he heard a creak and a shuffle from the bedroom, even though he knew he hadn’t.
He wasn’t much of a TV guy, but he switched on the miniature set anyway and set about making coffee. He flipped over to 24-hour news. Meteors were still coming down over Africa and parts of Western Europe, the talking head informed him. He ground the beans, pausing in between pulses and daydreaming that there were soft, tired footsteps in the hallway.
The head droned on – experts weren’t sure what had caused the problems yet. He pressed the black button on the coffee maker and switched off the monitor, wandering to the living room and tuning the bigger TV to the same channel. A spark igniting the oxygen supply was the current theory, maybe made worse by encounters with flying debris. He felt a few fingernails brush the back of his head, but he knew they hadn’t. The final count was fifteen people: five Americans, seven Russians and three Chinese. They had begun to notify families.
He went to the kitchen and poured two cups of coffee. It took only a second for him to realize his mistake. He hesitated for a long moment before leaving the second cup on the counter to run cold. He returned to the living room, turned off the TV, and stepped to the window to watch the sky, hoping that he might be able to see just one of the meteors return home.
Everything I Do (I Do It For You)
by Bryan Adams – suggested by Deb Hartman
I don’t know if you remember me. I don’t expect you to, I guess. You didn’t really notice me. You probably don’t even remember not noticing me. I remember you, though.
I remember what you ordered, which was a skinny caramel latte with an extra shot. I remember you were wearing an Nordstrom blazer over some dark blue jeans – 7 For All Mankind, I think. You looked like an artist. Or a philosopher. A college professor. But those aren’t why I remember you.
You seemed kind, I remember. You made small talk with the overworked barista whom you hadn’t met. Hi, how are you. Cold day outside. You left a tip – a whole bill, not the small change that people usually leave to avoid feeling guilty about not leaving a bigger one. You waited patiently for your latte, not making a fuss when they had to remake it because they’d accidentally used whole milk. You even smiled when the barista told you that it’d be another few minutes. I loved your kindness in that moment. But that’s not why I remember you either.
I remember you because there were no tables left. I got my drink – honest to God, I can’t remember what I had – and looked in vain for a place to sit. You glanced at me for a second, your eyes smiling like a saint’s, then looked down and used your left foot to push the chair across from you away from its place at the table. I sat down. We drank our coffee. We didn’t speak. There was no eye contact. You continued reading, and eventually you left. I wrote in my notebook, and eventually I left.
You gave me a seat at your table. You never asked my name. That’s why I remember you.
When Love Was King
by Gregory Porter – suggested by Garrett Shatzer
When I couldn’t sleep, my grandmother used to tell me a story. It was always the same story, but I didn’t care. It was about a bear who lives with a bunch of other bears. All the other bears eat salmon, but this bear doesn’t want to eat salmon. He doesn’t want to eat other animals, you see. So he tries to get all his bear friends to eat berries and leaves, but they’re having none of it. You’re a bear, they say. Eat salmon. Eventually the bear has to run away from his friends, he’s so against eating salmon. He tries to join a family of squirrels, but they’re scared he’ll eat them – because, you know, he’s a bear. Same thing happens with some deer, then a family of raccoons.
So this bear is getting awfully lonely, and just as he’s about to give up hope he finds a group of animals who have given up eating other animals – a wolf, a hawk, just about every kind of carnivore is there. They form this big, multi-species family, and they eat berries and leaves and live happily ever after.
I remember one Saturday night I couldn’t sleep and Gammy told me that story. The next morning we got up for church, and the reverend’s speech was about the sin of homosexuality. On the way home, I asked my grandmother if I was a bear.
Magic’s in the Makeup
by No Doubt – Suggested by Casi Preheim
Earlier in my career, I thought I’d gotten into acting because I wanted to be a star. My mom was a huge fan of the Oscars, and every year we’d watch from the beginning of the red carpet coverage. Joan Rivers would interview all these glamorous starlets, emerging from jet-black town cars or limousines and looking as if they’d been gilded, somehow preserved in the immaculate state in which they’d emerged from the salon or dressing parlor. Camera bulbs flashed, people yelled, the whole world stopped spinning: without saying a word, these women became the center of the universe, celebrated and lauded and adulated just for getting out of a town car.
When I just started, I thought I’d wanted that. The glamour and the star treatment and the hordes of paparazzi – I thought that had been my reason for getting into the business. Every time I’d miss out on an audition, or experience the slow anguish of auditioning and then never getting a callback, I’d picture myself on that red carpet, in a gorgeous floor-length gown with perfect hair bouncing around my shoulders, blinded by an endless array of flashbulbs and deafened by a wave of screams and not caring about either.
Eventually the phone stopped ringing. I thought harder about my mom. I remembered her exhausted from work and wearing an old stained hoodie, getting so excited because the Oscars were on. I remembered her, sitting on our stained couch, bitter and ugly, but with eyes aglow at the endless parade of beautiful ingenues. I remember the way she looked at the red carpet spectacle: not with love, but with adulation, the way a disciple looks to a guru for advice about how to live or what to do. A look of gratitude at their mere presence in the world, a look that celebrates and validates and says that everything will be okay because of them. I wanted my mom to look at me that way.
And ten years after my first audition, I realized that’s why I’d gotten into acting all along.
By the Time I Get To Phoenix
Damyon drives along 25 and takes in the Southern Colorado landscape, mountainous on one side and an endless sky on the other. His El Camino needs a new clutch, but at this speed — exactly 65 miles an hour — it hums as if it doesn’t care. He loves these long drives, especially in beautiful American country. He doesn’t love them for their beauty. He loves them because they’re maybe the only time he’s got alone anymore.
Some people would disagree, he thinks. Some people would say he spends most of his time alone. But taking a life doesn’t suddenly make you alone in the room, he whispers to himself (Greenhorn Mountain crawls by in the passenger-side window). A person doesn’t die with the body. There’s an electricity that lingers, radiating from the body with its blood or its breath. It’s like watching a downed power line dance on the asphalt, Damyon decides. The spirit is present, exiled from its body.
Sometimes Damyon will stay in the room for a minute, talk to his ghost. He’ll apologize, say he’s doing his job, pray that their cross to the next world was sweet and instant.
What matters, he thinks, is that he’s not alone in those moments. He feels vibrations in the air of a life ended unwillingly. They’re violent and abrasive, like a steel wool pad against his skin. He wouldn’t go so far as to say he hears the screams, but a buzzing energy invades everything, like an office fluorescent light. From the moment of the kill he is haunted, pursued by an angry presence he can’t see.
On these long drives, the buzzing stops. The spirits don’t linger in his El Camino. Damyon breathes in the summer day. He takes his eyes off the road to look into the mountains, then to the flat Eastern horizon. Before he looks back to the road, he glances at the address listed on a Post-It affixed to his dash.