The Flash Fiction
of Glen Chesnut
These stories are condensed capsules taken from real life or fantasy from the author’s imagination or philosophical questions about the meaning of life. All, in short, short story form.
It’s a hot afternoon in August, and I stop in Club 33 on Mission Street for a cold beer. I’m sitting there sipping my beer, figuring out a few things, and an old man sitting next to me turns and says, “You know what day this is?”
I think for a minute, then say, “Yeah, this is the sixth day my room rent’s overdue.”
“That may be,” he says, “but let me tell you what today really is. Today’s the day they dropped the first atomic bomb.”
He’s a big hulk of a man, all hunched over the bar, hanging on to his Budweiser with both hands, expecting someone to try to take it from him. He’s wearing an old, beat-up Giants baseball cap with tufts of gray hair sticking out around it. I notice a crop of gray hair growing in his ears.
I take a drink of beer and look at the old man, not sure what I’m supposed to say.
“I know you wasn’t around then, but I was. You know what I was doin’ when I heard about it?”
I shake my head, no.
“I was 15 years old, and I was walkin’ behind an old mule plowin’ a field.”
I’m still not sure what I should say, so I just sit there with my beer. But the old guy doesn’t seem to need my input.
“It was gettin’ late in the afternoon,” he says, “and me and that old mule were lookin’ forward to knockin’ off for the day, when I saw a car comin’ down the road, kickin’ up a cloud of dust. The car stopped near the field, and I could see it was Reverend Osgood, the local preacher, in his old Model A Ford.
“He got out and waited for me and the mule to get up to the fence. And when we did, he said, ‘Buck, have you heard?’
“Hell, the only thing I’d heard all day was that old mule fartin’. No, I haven’t heard.
‘They just dropped an atomic bomb on Japan and wiped out a whole city. I hear that bomb wasn’t much bigger than a football. The war is all but over, Buck. Praise Jesus!’
“To tell the truth, I wasn’t all that happy with the news, ’cause I was hopin’ the war would last long enough for me to get in on it.
“Then the Reverend said, ‘Yes sir, this will put a stop to all wars till we get to the big one—Armageddon.’
“Six years later, when I was 21, I was over in Korea freezin’ my ass off. After that, I never paid much attention to what preachers had to say.”
He takes a long drink of beer, emptying the bottle, “Aah.”
I do the same.
“I’m havin’ another one,” he says, “you ready?”
“I’m ready,” I say.
Then the old guy shakes his head and says, “You know, I’ll never forget the way that preacher could say Praise Jesus!”
I’m sitting on the old couch, listening to Bach on the radio while perusing a travel brochure, and thinking about taking a trip up the Amazon. All of a sudden, the power goes out. Bach quits in mid-stride. So I decide to go to the post office and buy some stamps and mail some letters. But when I get there, the post office is closed because of the power outage.
On the way home, I decide to have a cup of coffee and think about the letters I didn’t get mailed, but the coffee shop is also closed because of the power outage.
I return home with my unmailed letters, put on some water for tea, and sit down on my favorite spot on the old couch. I have a good view out the back window and start thinking again, but not about taking a trip up the Amazon.
No, first, I think about the Madonna, and the reason I do is that the first thing I look at after I sit down is the icon hanging on the wall.
Then I think of an Aztec sculpture of a mother holding a child. The mother’s mouth is open as if singing a lullaby.
About then, Elvis Presley pops into my head. He doesn’t hang around long, for almost immediately, I start thinking about God.
Then I think of the big bang theory, and I figure that any idea of God would somehow fit him into the big bang. (I refer to God as him, not because I think God has a gender, but because it’s more convenient than using she or it.)
Anyway, before the big bang, it was theorized that all the matter in the universe was compressed into one tiny point. And it occurs to me that God was somewhere in that tiny point. Or, better still, maybe God was that tiny point.
I can see it now, God is all scrunched up there—a tiny little ball containing all the energy of the universe, humming and buzzing away. It’s all warm and cozy and safe—no time, no space, just God, all alone, vibrating in the middle of the infinite nothing. He’s thinking about things God might think about, like where I came from, and what is my purpose?
Then it happens. Nobody knows why. But maybe God says to himself, “This is getting boring. I’ve had enough of this. I’m breaking loose. I’m going to spread myself out.” And that’s precisely what God does. He opens himself up and, by so doing, creates time, space, light, and all the elements and laws that govern the universe. So God, happy as can be, spreads himself out across the great big nothing, filling it with more wonders than we can ever see or even imagine.
Then we come to the big crunch theory: Will the universe expand forever? Or will it begin to close in on itself? I look at it this way. If God keeps expanding forever, he will be spread so thin that it will be like death by suicide.
And I ask myself, does God want to commit suicide? I don’t think so. I think he’ll spread himself out just so far—till it starts getting a little too chilly out there; then, he’ll remember how warm and cozy it was when he was a little ball of humming energy. He’ll put on the brakes and start heading back home, taking space and time and light and all his marvels with him.
But what about us? Don’t we figure in this somehow? Well, I think maybe it’s enough just to thank God he gave us this chance to experience, for a short time, a small portion of all that God is. And maybe, just maybe, he has more in store for us than what we experience here. Maybe we are special, after all.
The power just came back on. “The Blue Danube Waltz” is playing on the radio, and the teapot is starting to whistle. So I think I’ll make a cup of tea, sit here on the old couch, sip my tea, and listen to music.
SIENA, MAY 26th
My first night in Siena—like a canto in Dante’s Inferno. Forcing myself to fall asleep (when my jet lag time was four in the afternoon) on a bed that became a torture wrack. No matter which way I turned, the bed was determined to break my back. I tried every position possible, including that of a praying Muslim. I doubled up the pillow. I put the pillow under my ass. I contemplated throwing the mattress on the floor, thinking the tiles would give it support.
Finally, from sheer exhaustion, I dozed off. Then I awakened to voices laughing and talking—happy people having a party. And from three floors down, on the road under my balcony, came the endless grinding whirr of motorbikes.
Then I became aware of a silvery light infusing the room. Through the open doors to the balcony, a gibbous moon was shining so bright and so near I could almost reach out and touch it.
I met her in Henry Africa’s, a bar touting liquor and ferns at the corner of Broadway and Polk. She was drinking vodka martinis, and I was drinking brandy on the rocks. She talked lovingly of her ocelot, on and on about this wildcat she kept as a pet. After we had drunk way too much, she took me home to see her ocelot.
The big cat was perched on the top of a bookshelf, high up near the ceiling.
“That’s Alfred,” she said. “Isn’t he beautiful?”
Alfred looked down at me with a chilling stare, like I was the prey, and he was waiting to pounce.
I stood there watching this wildcat stare me down. While she said, “Alfred, we have a guest. You be good now.”
What happens, I thought, if he decides not to be good?
After admiring Alfred for what seemed like forever, she made us drinks, and we headed to the bedroom to grope our way through boozy love. But we forgot to close the bedroom door. Alfred came in and chewed big holes in my socks. She said I was lucky he didn’t take a big chunk out of my ass. Now she tells me!
After our romp in the sack, she made us an omelet, while Alfred, back on his perch, was watching me. When the omelet was ready, I turned my back on the cat and began to scarf it down; I had worked up an appetite. Halfway through my omelet, Alfred leaped from his perch and hit me in the back with all four paws. I coughed up a mouthful of the omelet as Alfred disappeared somewhere in the house. I finished my omelet while she went after Alfred.
The ocelot had gone through an open window, gone outside, and climbed a tree.
She called out, “Alfred, Alfred, come down!” We both stood there looking up at Alfred.
Then she said, “I’ve got to get my snake.”
A snake? I was beginning to wonder what kind of menagerie this woman had.
She returned with a stuffed cotton snake about 10 feet long and waved it toward Alfred. “He always comes down when I show him the snake,” she said. But Alfred held his ground.
“It’s you!” she said. “Alfred hates you. I’m sorry, but you’ll have to go.”
I wasn’t at all disappointed. I was looking for an easy exit anyhow.
As I left, she waved at the snake and cried, “Alfred, Alfred, come down to mother.”
Funny thing, I remember that ocelot’s name, but her name has completely slipped my memory.
In Glen's Own Voice
All I wanted To Be When I grew Up
In the Middle of No Where
The Written Works of Glen Chesnut
What we didn’t know was that Mrs. Kelso had called the cops. Here he was, standing at our table: white Stetson, khaki uniform, cowboy boots, and a .38 special hanging low on his thigh, like a western-movie gunfighter.Want to read more?