Tag Archives: short stories

Last four endings selected in contest to finish Roger Ebert’s short story

Among the last four entries selected by rogerebert.com as part of their contest to complete a short story by Roger, check out my own. And then check out the other three (’cause reading is fundamental) and vote for the one you like best!

How my ending begins:

“A failed Mozart?” Alex said. “That sounds like an empiricist’s nightmare. Throw him and his star-speckled wig on your science-fiction cover, Mason.”

Mason smiled a little. “Why not? Maybe all the space girl needs is an intermediator, someone who speaks the molecules’ language.”

As the waitress brought Regan the last piece of apple crumb cake, Regan tapped the bridge of her nose. “Thank you! I mean, mostly the waitress and Claire, of course. No offense to you space boys.”

“None taken,” Elliot said.

Find all of the entries here:


Gotta note: the great illustration above is by Krishna Bala Shenoi and was done for my own little ending (He’s done some really cool stuff for each of the others selected, as well).

That’s all for now. Have a good day and/or night, folks.



I smiled as I swept a lone cigarette into the dustbin.  It had been around the sidewalk beneath Elaine’s ledge, and was the best kind of cigarette–one that hadn’t been smoked before it was trash.

What were the chances a temp was the one who threw it away?

It was just about lunchtime, and I was finishing sweeping up when Curtis passed by again.  This time he was with some of my distant co-workers from public relations.  Curtis and I were both from the same side of town, and though he had lived elsewhere for a long time, it was through his old, poorer neighborhood that he was running for councilman.  His chances at winning weren’t great, but he seemed to be a popular source of community outreach photos.  Back in high school, I let him convince me to stop saving for a guitar and get a ukulele.

“Hey, Curtis!” I called out.  “You still playing the guitar?”

He didn’t look back.

My thoughts returned to the possibility of seeing Elaine.  I emptied the dustbin then headed upstairs, sweeping stray bits along the way.  On the third floor, there was a utility closet with a door inside that had been spackled to blend into a wall.  A chair propped that door open.  Sighing at the hint of smoke wafting in, I reached around the spackle and knocked on the building exterior.  “Any temps out there?”

“No,” Elaine said.  “Oh, wait . . .”

There were a few mini-roofs scattered around the five-story building.  When I stepped over the chair, it was onto one of these islands of a sort.  Her hands shooting down to her sides, there Elaine stood.

“The first one was me hoping,” she said.  “I’m sorry if you had to clean it up.  The second–well, I still don’t want you breathing in any of this stuff.”

“Still quitting, huh?”

Elaine showed me a nicotine patch on her arm.  “For lots of reasons.  Hypothetically–if I wanted to kiss someone, it shouldn’t be second-hand.  But that’s a process, Roger, like you getting a mobile phone.”

I smirked.  I really did hope to need one some day.

It had been a few weeks since we last saw each other.  After a little while, Elaine came over and sat down on the chair.  I leaned against the building and slid down until I was crouching.  This put us in close proximity to each other, and though that felt natural, distance between us and other people had a lot more mileage.  We’d both had our hearts broken once before, and that had been enough.  Elaine was brown-skinned and of Chinese descent.  Her family owned a restaurant that had been failing since one opened up a few stores down.  Their block was in the midst of rediscovery, and she said the new place offered some more traditional idea of Chinese decor.  This was why she was temping.

Elaine bumped her leg into mine.  “Hey, you should see your friend more often.”

“I see him.  I just don’t know why he’s still trying to play the blues.”

“Did he give you my last message?”

From my pocket I pulled out the nicotine patch that Arnold said was from her, then I held it up.  It was in this way that we saw a silver-haired man looking at us from a window of the building across the street–somewhere in the middle of its ten stories.

“What’s he looking at?” Elaine said.

“Maybe we should tell him it’s just a nicotine patch.”

“That’s none of his business!  But if he wants a show, let’s give him one.”

Elaine got up and shook my hand in a glorious textbook fashion.  We were still shaking hands, past the show of it, I thought, when a woman belted through the door.  She beamed as she announced her discovery of a new spot for smokers.


When I went to see Arnold in the subway, he was sitting on a milk carton and trying to play guitar.  An empty, upturned cap lay next to him.  With hands trembling, Arnold barely managed to fingerpick his way through an old blues standard.  The resulting tune wasn’t constant enough to sing to, but he was in his own little world.   I tapped the back of my ukulele to get his attention.

“I’ll play, you sing,” I told him.

“Okay,” Arnold said, putting his guitar down.  “I guess that’d work just this once . . . I’m glad to see you’re all right.  Elaine told me her family is re-opening their restaurant over on the west coast.  Just ’cause she’s going out there don’t mean you’ll never see her again.”

All of this was news to me, but I nodded and picked up playing where Arnold left off.  He sung the standard words: down and out again today, but maybe there’d be love tomorrow.  The ukulele made it all sound lighter than it was.

A small crowd soon gathered, and I recognized the sides of a face or two from my job.  When the crowd was thick with a mix of people coming and going, a pair of brown arms swung back and forth at the rear.  One arm had a patch on it.  Elaine waved through most of the song, and I smiled a little.  Then she pointed at her wrist where there might have been a watch.  After she left and the song was over, I put on her nicotine patch and played through another tune.

Near and Far (Part 1 of 3)

One day when I was pushing the mail cart at work and happened to sneeze, I realized no one said, “Bless you.”  There were about a dozen people around me, was the thing, and a curly-haired blond woman had just sneezed and gotten about four.

I laughed as I thought about it.  I was passing this lady’s desk, and she looked at me like I was the biggest weirdo on the planet.  So, really, it was a pretty normal day until I went back in the mail room and Phil was lifting one side of a large painting’s frame.

My friends Limon and Julia were either delivering or picking something else up.

“Roger,” Phil said.  “I need you to help Diego take this to Mr. Connors’ office.”

“Will do.”

On the way out, I noticed that the painting was really a map, and as Diego and I took it up five flights of stairs, I had time to decipher the words “Terra Incognito” on its northern portion.

When we got to Mr. Connors’ office, his secretary buzzed us in and he was there to show us to a wall full of framed maps.   Diego and I moved automatically to the empty portion and put up the new old map.

“Perfect,” Connors said.  Then he looked from Diego to me.  “I’m sure I’ve seen you two around, but I don’t think we’ve talked.  Where are you gentlemen from?”

“I’m from here,” I said, “the other side of town.”

He nodded, his eyes straining for a moment, and then he turned toward Diego.

“I’m from Mexico,” he said.

Mr. Connors began to talk about all the parts of Mexico he’d been to.  While he found that Diego only knew the denser parts, I looked at the maps.  They were mostly yellowed and limited to parts of Europe.  Anyplace beyond that, and there were less notes around it; everything got summed up in words like “Terra Incognito,” which I saw a few times, or in a few other Latin words next to a picture of a lion.  He also had a few old maps of towns I hadn’t been to.

Connors saw me looking at one.  “If you went to that place today,” he said, “it’s exactly the way it was fifty years ago.  Just beautiful.”

I resisted the urge to say, “Just beautiful, huh?”

When I went back to the mail room at the end of my shift, I’d cleared my head of antique maps.  I mentioned how I didn’t get a “Bless you” to Limon.

Picking his fro with a blowout comb, he said: “And you’re still alive?  I always wondered what would happen if no one said, ‘Bless you.’  Now I know.”

“It’s just, I think I automatically do that for just about anybody.”

“Well, if you want a ‘bless you’ for someone like us, what you should have done is obvious.”

“Enlighten me.”

“Yeah,” Julia said, popping up from somewhere.  “Enlighten us.”

“He should have taken out a handkerchief and blown his nose like a saxophone.  Then they would have started snapping their fingers automatically, like, ‘This is what’s up.'”

“Isn’t that what they do at those places you’re heading to these days?”

“Shut up,” he said with a grin.  “All right, I’m off to meet up with Nellie.”

“I’m out too,” Julia said.  “Tom’s been taking a little time off, so we’re going to go see a movie or something.”  She took a few steps, then turned back on her heels.  “What about you, Rodge?”

“Oh, you know, the usual: tennis, golf, maybe one of the Japanese sword disciplines.”

She smiled.  “Later, Roger.”


I passed by the old lot on the way home, thinking about nothing in particular.  Then after a sneeze, I finally noticed that the volunteer group whom thought they’d discovered the lot was prettying it up.  The weeds had been gone for years, but there had never been yellow flowers creeping in this close.


When Limon and I were younger, the old lot wasn’t an unofficial border between where we lived and streets where the boldest among the upwardly mobile could feel slightly comfortable.

One day we took the long way around the guys who’d taken up one side of its fencing.  At the lot’s furthest side we threw two broomsticks over, then climbed over the chain link fence after them.  I let go at the top of the thing like I usually did, and nearly fell on something gross and disgusting.  Limon carefully climbed down and had time to pick up the brooms while I recovered mentally.

“Yeah,” he said, “people throw all kinds of crap over here.”

“I think it was crap this time,” I mumbled.

Limon stuffed the cuffs of his jeans in his socks, and I was glad enough for the reminder that I ignored his chuckling.  Then we went through the nearest path where the stalks of the weeds had been kicked at.  There were lots of paths where someone did that until they got tired and just shoved their way through to the clearing by the old brick wall, like we were going to have to do.

“Wait,” Limon said, moving ahead of me.  “Stand back and check this out.  I’ve been practicing.”

He held a broom out in each hand and spun around into the stalks once before losing his grip on both of them.

“Well . . .” I said, “since they’re not actually real swords, it would have been even more cool–if that had worked.”

“Yeah.”  Limon picked them up with a sigh.  He held the new one in his right hand; the old one in his left.  “Which one do you want anyway?”

“They both belong to your mom,” I said.  “You pick.”

He made a face.  “Which one, Roger?”

“I don’t know . . . the old one’s more like a samurai sword.”

“That’s the one I want, too.  Let’s shoot for it.”

When we emerged into the clearing, I ended up with the new but heavier broom.  There were already a bunch of other kids around the wall.  They watched as Louis and Brett slowly circled each other with these sticks that looked like fancy wooden swords.  Louis was the only white kid there; he took fighting lessons on the other side of town.  Brett nobody ever said a bad word about (not to his face, anyway).  They were both cool.  Diane, on the other hand, hadn’t been just a grade ago when we talked a lot and some kid called her a female Roger.  Now here she was, sitting at the height of the brick wall.

“Hey, Diane!  It’s me!”

She didn’t look over at me until everyone else did.

“Who the hell are they?” Louis said, looking at Brett like he’d been ambushed.

Brett blinked.  “What?  You think they’re going to try to sweep the shit out of you?”

Louis stared back at him for a second, then he did this weird sort of headshake that you couldn’t call a “no,” exactly.

Brett went over to Limon.  “I said you should come.  Why did you bring him here?”

“Roger’s cool,” Limon said.  “Plus, he lives closer around here than you do.”

“Is that why he’s got you hiding money in your socks?”

Diane moved off the wall and spoke into Louis’ ear.  After a sigh, Louis stepped up.  “You know what?  It’s okay.  Everybody else has got wasters; they both got their brooms, so, you know, it’s a fair right.  Me and this guy . . . ”  He pointed at me.  “We can go.”

“Go ‘head,” Limon said. “Show ’em how it’s done, Rodge.”

Brett scoffed.  “He don’t look like no ‘Rodge’ to me.  He’s even more of a herb than that TV dude is.”

He shoved me closer to Louis, who swatted me on the side of the arm so hard I dropped the broom.  I picked it up, holding it just above the bristles.

Brett cupped his hands and shouted: “See if you can fly away on that shit!”

I waited for Louis to make a move, but every time he did, he followed it up with a quick dash at my ribs that hurt like hell.  Then he posed like he struck the killing blow in a samurai movie.

“All right,” Limon said.  “Let me go.”

“Nah,” Brett said.  He held his hand up to bar Limon from coming over.  Limon pushed it out of his way.  “Hey yo, Diane,” Brett said.  “Check this out.”

Brett swung his wooden sword and hit Limon with it on the side of his head.  Holding his ear, Limon screamed and dropped to the ground.  His eyes were tearing up.

Two other kids quickly walked off.  Diane got up and tried to drag Louis away, but he stood his ground and stared.

Holding one side of my ribs, I walked over to Limon.  Before I crouched down by him, I glared at Brett and shook my head in non-Louis fashion.

“Don’t you start, nigga,” he said.

Looking for support and finding none, I sighed in frustration.  I nervously patted Limon, still crying, on the shoulder.  “You okay?  Yeah, I know . . . stupid question.  But, come on, let’s get out of here.”

“I barely even touched him,” Brett said, looking to Louis.

Louis shrugged.   “I don’t know about that.”

Brett pushed me off to the side, yelling at Limon:  “Are you really going to cry, nigga?”

Behind the wall, there was a nest of dead weeds that I’d thought was wheat; they hid the part of the fence that closed off the lot where the old kids were.  After Brett starting yelling, it was from that direction that somebody started throwing beer bottles over at us.

“Who you talking to over there?” someone yelled out.

Green and brown glass bottles rained down, and everyone who was left scattered.  Brett ran toward the sound of the voice that had just rang out.  Diane finally got Louis to take off with her.  A bottle shattered on a rock near my hand, and a piece of glass cut me as I nudged Limon to speed-walking away.

By the time we got to another side of the fence, the tears had dried under his eyes.  But he was still holding the side of his head

“I don’t think I can get over this thing,” he said.  “If I take my hand away, it hurts too much.”

“All right,” I told him.  “I’ll go home, get some tape and I’ll be right back.”

Later, so he wouldn’t get in trouble with his mom, we went back for the brooms.


To be continued