Random Number

Prompt: Test


The first time Andrew clashed with his mother’s boyfriend, Randy, was when he was late coming back from a date with Sophie. He couldn’t help it, the bus was late, but Randy took it upon himself to express his disappointment on behalf of the both of them.

“A curfew is not a random number,” said Randy.

“I didn’t know you were a mathematician,” said Andrew, who sat at the kitchen table eating leftover spaghetti out of the pot. Randy worked for airport security.

“Sweetheart…” said Andrew’s mother. Who she was addressing was anyone’s guess.

“Your mother was worried.”

Andrew twirled a perfect forkful of the spaghetti, and turned to his mother, who was still in her work clothes. “Sorry about that.” He stuffed it into his mouth.

“It’s ok,” said his mother.

“It really isn’t,” said Randy.

“I think it really is,” said Andrew. He startled himself. He had never spoken to an adult like this before. Not his mother, not anyone. It felt strange, somewhere between a tickle and an electric shock. He had been brought up to be respectful, no matter what his personal feelings. His newly found granddad had fortified the belief that respect was important, because Bernard earned respect. Randy? Their relationship was quietly amicable. No real respect issue, either way. Nothing wrong with him really, Andrew thought, until now.

His mother picked up the now-empty pot and took it to the sink, then ran hot water in it to soak. She stood there, facing the sink, her back to Randy and Andrew.

Andrew wondered if this was a test, or if this was how it was going to be from now on. Would his mother withdraw, as she just did, and let Randy tell him what to do? That made no sense.

“Well,” said Randy. “Just be sure—“

“Big yawn,” said Andrew, standing up and stretching. “Tired. Church tomorrow. Night, mom.”

He left the kitchen and took the steps two at a time to his bedroom.

There was no church tomorrow. That was a joke between Andrew and his mother.

Dear Agony Ant: Perplexed

Prompt: Facade


Dear Agony Ant,

My boyfriend says he doesn’t like spaghetti, but eats it all the time. I don’t like spaghetti, and so I don’t eat it. Why is he eating spaghetti?



Dear Perplexed,

Your boyfriend is a fraud. He says he doesn’t like spaghetti but then, unlike you, he eats what he purportedly can’t abide. This makes him a fraudulent, deceptive excuse for a human being.

On the other hand, spaghetti is good, providing it is sauced correctly. Do you only have experience with incorrect saucing on your spaghetti (ketchup or some canned sauces, for example), while your boyfriend has consistently enjoyed balanced, flavourful sauces on his pasta? If you have been exposed to homemade sauces and deliciously coated spaghetti and still deem that you don’t like it, there is something wrong with your brain.

If your boyfriend is not a lying scumbag, it could be that he is trying to create a peaceful environment in which to enjoy a relationship with you (why, I don’t know, since you don’t like spaghetti), so he puts up a genial facade and agrees with you on all things, but ignores such preferences completely in his day-to-day existence.

I suggest you both seek intensive couples’ therapy.

Peace and love,
agony ant


Dear Agony Ant,

I had a bad experience with spaghetti as a child— it has nothing to do with sauces.

My boyfriend does agree with me on everything, which I thought was a good thing. I see why couples’ therapy might be necessary, since he also says he likes White Zinfandel.



Dear Perplexed,

Overcooked spaghetti does not constitute a childhood trauma. Get over it, start eating spaghetti again, and lots of it.

Peace and love,
agony ant


Prompt: Disagree


“While I disagree with you, I defend your right to express your opinion,” said Graham, and took a small sip from his glass of Merlot. “But you are wrong.”

“Thank you,” said Envy, and behind her sunglasses she rolled her eyes so hard it almost gave her a headache. She took a large sip from her glass of iced Sauvignon Blanc. The restaurant patio looked out upon acres of terraced vineyards, and was surrounded by grape vine trellises, and featured an extensive local wine list, and could not be more grape-y if it tried.

She didn’t want to argue with Graham any more. He considered discussions a cerebral exercise. He had no real opinions, except those that, for fun, opposed hers. This winery tour weekend had turned into an eye-roll extravaganza for Envy, who realized her radar for tolerable human beings was definitely rusted out.

He was adorable though, on first meeting. Very blond and thin, with mediterranean blue eyes behind large dark framed glasses, and a piquant comment to make on each of the pictures in the gallery on opening night. Envy was impressed, especially that the exhibit she had curated was so thoughtfully critiqued by such a charming person. Naively, as it turned out.

“While it is aesthetically resilient,” Graham said about Cena Navidad, “it is less a revival of a past tradition than, say, an act of meditation.”

“Do you really think so?” she asked him, tilting her head as she gazed at the print, as if that would facilitate some kind of revelation.

“Don’t you?” asked Graham, and took a small sip of his glass of Merlot.

Later on, he made love to her with a precision that was admirable, though may have been more a reflection of her need than his skill. And when he invited her on a weekend of wine touring and other decadence, she looked forward to a fascinating, and very satisfying, two days.

A winery tour was a decidedly unfortunate idea, not for Graham, who revelled in the private tastings and the opportunity to express detailed opinions, but for Envy, who had to listen to them.

Lightly smacking his lips (which also grew into an intolerable mannerism) after tasting, Graham declared the 2014 unoaked Chardonnay from one winery to be “parochially lean and sharply melancholy”. Envy was too melancholy to make love that night.

He found that a pleasant (to Envy) 2010 Merlot possessed “creamy tang overtones with a flippant cactus perfume too narcissistic for everyday consumption”. Envy was too prickly to sleep with Graham that night.

And on this, their last lunch in the valley before the drive home, he disagreed that he was an “over-dry, overrated white, with distinctly sour pickle notes and a uniformly weak finish.”

The drive back was scenic, past the crystal lakes, the dry hills turning into mountains, but inside the car it was quiet. Almost melancholy.

Inside Out

Prompt: Unfinished

Good afternoon, Tuesday.

I don’t really consider the current U.S. election campaign to be political, or about policies, truth, accuracy, presidents, reality, or facts. It is about fantasy, horse racing, sound bytes, lies, laziness, racism, and sexism.

All because a person named Donald Trump is an actual candidate who may be elected to the presidency. Only because he is in the running. No candidate is perfect, but as I said, I do not consider him to be a political candidate. He is a joke. He redefines the word. There is no one word specific enough to describe this situation. (Jokemare? Crylaugh? Impossibull?)

You know how it is “too soon” to joke about some events, usually tragedies? This is like a “too soon” joke turned inside out. This kind of joke is always too soon and too late, simultaneously.

I don’t consider this post to be political, so I don’t think I need to explain or apologize.

With a tenuous relationship to today’s word prompt, “unfinished”, here is the first of several of my favourite cartoons:




Peace and serenity,




Prompt: Dilemma



“Hi, it’s me. I’m just waiting for a cab. I had to tell someone.

“I don’t want two children. I love him but I just can’t see having all that new responsibility and no one there, really there, for me. I desperately want this child too. I don’t know what to do. What should I do?

“I can’t say everything’s going to end, I’m not leaving or anything. Not today or tomorrow. I don’t know, maybe things will change. But I can’t see it, I’m confused. And how much should I tell him? I know, I know….

“So yeah, I tested positive, he put a baby inside me, despite precautions, and he is just a child himself. A grown-ass man child. Did you warn me? I don’t remember. It wouldn’t have mattered.

“Cab’s pulling up. I have to go, will be away for a week. Can we get together maybe next Thursday? Call me. OK?”


She listened to the message again, then hit the Call Back button. Now she got a recording. Virginia was probably on the plane, in the air, and unavailable. At the beep, she said, “Hi, it’s Envy. I’ll be home tonight and tomorrow night, call. And yeah we can meet on Thursday. Don’t do anything. I’m sorry, and I’m happy, and I’m sorry again.




  • Album art from Herbie Hancock’s Man Child.

A Witness

Prompt: Pretend


“Are you recording this?” asked Leep. The room was a little claustrophobic, with old grey metal filing cabinets in the corner, and an empty, unplugged water cooler, and a small square wooden table and three mismatched chairs.

Detective Spencer looked weary, with smudges around her eyes. Perhaps she’d had a long day. Leep had to work and couldn’t come in any earlier. Her hair needed a good brushing, but otherwise she was professional and trim, in a dark green shirt-dress with buttons from the neck to the hem, and a beige jacket with no buttons. With a wave of her hand, she invited Leep to take a seat.

“This is just an informal interview,” said Inspector Spencer, “just like the one we had at the factory. Should you decide to make a formal statement, we’ll document your testimony, and perhaps record it.”

“You remember me?” asked Leep.

“Of course,” said the Inspector. “A casual friend of Vincent Demarco.” She glanced at her watch. “Do you have some new information, or something you’d like to tell me?”

The chair he sat in was hard, uncushioned. He wondered if they did that on purpose, to make the person a little uncomfortable, put them on edge. It put him on edge. “I should have come in before, but I was nervous.”

“Nervous? Why?”

Leep shrugged. Inspector Spencer said nothing. She sat very still. “Anyway,” said Leep, “that night that Hootie was shot.”

“The Friday,” said Inspector Spencer.

“Right. Well I couldn’t sleep, and was watching a movie on TV, and wanted a snack, and the only place that was open was the 7-11 at the gas station on Burbank, so I went out.”

“What time was this, Leep?”

“Around 11:30, midnight? Maybe closer to midnight.” He didn’t want it to sound rehearsed, so he paused as if to think about it, and looked at his hands, which were folded on the table, and then he put his hands in his lap. He noticed he had something like freckles on the back of his hands. Tony Gizmodo had hands like that, but he was old.

“Go on,” she said.

“I walked, and took a shortcut, between the bank and that boarded-up place, the brick one,” said Leep. “I, um, heard some shouting coming from somewhere, some guy yelling. Hootie, I guess.” He looked up at Inspector Spencer. She did not smile or look encouraging. He shifted in his chair.

“And someone ran past me a minute later.”

“In the alleyway.”

“Yes, the alley. And he was in a hurry and it was pretty dark, so I didn’t get a really good look,” said Leep.

“Tell me as best you can, any details. Did he see you?”

“I’m not sure. I backed up agains the wall and he didn’t look at me exactly. Sometimes people don’t notice me,” said Leep. “I just blend in.”

“He was tall? Short?”

“A big guy,” said Leep, “in black. Bigger than me. Big shoulders and all that. In a black jacket with a hood or a scarf. I didn’t really see his face. He had a gun in his hand.”

“What kind of gun, Leep?”

Leep shrugged. “A… modern gun. Like a German gun. I don’t know much about guns.”

“Good,” said Inspector Spencer. She pushed her chair back and stood up. “I’ll get a pad and pencil, and you can write all that down, just as you told me, and we’ll transcribe it and have you sign it, ok? It won’t take long.”

“Ok,” said Leep. “So that’s it?”

“That’s it,” said the Inspector. “Unless you think of something else.”

Leep wrote out his story in his choppy, somewhat childish hand, erasing here and there so that the entire sheet of paper looked like badly executed homework, for which he’d been in trouble before. But Inspector Spencer took it away without comment, and brought him a glass of water, and fifteen minutes later he signed a printed-out copy of his statement.

“Thank you Leep. We may be in touch,” she said.

“You’re welcome,” said Leep. He would stop at the liquor store for some Czech Pilsner beer on the way home, and he would make scrambled eggs for dinner. He would watch Jeopardy!, and then that Scottish police drama, and get to bed early, even though he knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep. There was something about that interview with Inspector Spencer. Did he say something wrong? She was polite but very cold towards him, not like last time. She hustled him out of the interview room and out of the station, before he could even give her some of the other details he’d made up to make the story sound more authentic.

Maybe it had been a mistake to pretend to be a witness. He’d waited days and days after Hootie’s shooting to report his encounter with a murderer. That was suspicious, he knew. If she had pushed him, he was prepared with spontaneously remembered details like, what movie he watched, the man’s cologne, and in which hand he held the gun, and even why he didn’t come to them earlier. But she didn’t ask.

Tomorrow he would tell Deborah and Lizzie about what he saw. That would be hard too, but he would put all the details, even the ones he didn’t tell Inspector Spencer, into the binder. It was part of the story.



Prompt: Panic


Tabby dialled 911. Which is to say, she punched in the buttons with trembling fingers: 9-1-1.

She held tightly to Rosa’s hand, shaking her to try and silence her wailing. The bathroom door was closed and locked, and Tabby pressed Rosa and herself tightly against the tiled wall under the window.

“Nicky,” she called through the door. “Have you put it down? Put it down for mommy. Have you put it down?”

“Remain calm,” said a voice in her ear. A person at the call center. Remain calm? Fuck you.

“Mama!” Nicky called back, cheerfully. This was a new game.

Tabby said to the voice: “What do I do?”
She said to Nicky: “Put it on the floor!”
She said to Rosa: “Stay here, right here. Do not move! Do you understand?” Rosa put her thumb in her mouth. She had broken that habit weeks ago.

Then Tabby unlocked the door, and peered around into the bedroom. It was painted a pale yellow, with taupe and navy accents. She’d seen it in a magazine, she forgot which one. It looked better in the magazine, without a pile of laundry on the bed, curtains that had been clawed by the cat, and a child in a dirty diaper on the carpet, waving a loaded gun around.

Nicky held the gun by the handle. It was heavy for him, so he used two hands. He’d seen guns on the TV. Tabby had just been gone a second, two seconds! to turn off the oven when the timer sounded, and when she returned Nicky had the weapon in his sticky little hands. It was too heavy for him to point at his sister’s head, so the muzzle rested against her tummy.

She barely remembered scooping up Rosa and trying to take the gun from Nicky. He pulled away and fell on his back, now aiming at the ceiling. He was at that terrible stage when everything was a “No!” Tabby’s sister had been commiserating with her just the day before, laughing at the stubbornness of the twins. “It’ll pass,” said Nancy with a laugh. “The tyrant stage eventually does. Be patient!”

Be patient? Fuck off.

She rushed into the ensuite and deposited Rosa in the bathtub, then Rosa started screaming and Tabby picked her up and then set her down, and, in a panic, took her cellphone out of her apron pocket and debated whether to call Albert or 911. Al was busy with his nephew’s family, two hundred miles away. He could fix some things, but not this. It was all his fault anyway. Fuck him. Instinctively she called emergency but realized it was a futile move, the disembodied voice an irritant, and she ended the call, tossing the phone into the wastebasket.

Tabby stepped back into the bedroom closed the bathroom door behind her. Rosa had fallen silent. It wouldn’t surprise Tabby if she dropped off to sleep, since it was Rosa’s habit to explode with energy, then, expended, fall asleep where she sat.

“Bang,” said Nicky. His two chubby fingers squeezed the trigger as Tabby reached him. “Bang.”

There was no sound but the suddenly loud ticking of the bedside clock. Nicky looked up into his mother’s eyes, and his face distorted, his eyes and mouth and nose all scrunched together, and he let out a wail loud enough to wake his sleeping sister.

Nicky didn’t resist when Tabby took the gun from him. The grip was sticky. She carefully put it on top of the wardrobe. She picked up the boy and held him until his cries subsided into hiccups, then fetched Rosa from the bathtub.

“I’m glad you didn’t call the police,” Albert said when she called him, after she had calmed down enough and put the twins down for a nap. “Don’t need them nosing around. Anyway, the safety was on.”

Fuck you.


Rich Old Bones

Prompt: Generous


A chilling— and true? –quotation by novelist G.K. Chesterton in A Miscellany of Men, on the subject of generosity:

Among the rich you will never find a really generous man even by accident. They may give their money away, but they will never give themselves away; they are egotistic, secretive, dry as old bones. To be smart enough to get all that money you must be dull enough to want it.

Today there are many almost accidental millionaires; for example, those whose modest start-up companies are purchased for massive amounts of money by the juggernauts like Google, Microsoft, and Facebook. Even an innovator like Bill Gates, one of the richest men on the planet, may not have had the goal of multi-billionaire when he first started fiddling with computers. Along with Mark Zuckerberg, Mr Gates has lofty plans to make the world a better place.

But I understand Mr Chesterton’s meaning, in a broader sense. While great suffering exists in the world, does great wealth become a shameful thing? The bible is quite clear about this:

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
King James Bible

I am a dedicated fan of hard work, and I am not against material possessions; I have several of my own. But when money and the love of money actually rule the world, when corporations are given legal “person” status in the U.S., when wealthy individuals hide behind a corporate facade to avoid the consequences of destructive greed, when the gap between the desperate poor and the obscenely wealthy widens, I have two questions:

  1. How do such heartless people sleep at night? Is wealth enough?
  2. Why doesn’t the world revolt?


Crazy Dark Place

Prompt: Jump


Charlotte arrived home just after four am, and Jamie was asleep. The house still stank of beer, so he’d had friends over. The furnace had clicked over into overnight temperatures, so the house was cold– that especially bitter, early morning cold.

She went into the kitchen and washed her hands at the sink. She used Palmolive dish detergent as soap, and scrubbed up as thoroughly as the surgeons she occasionally worked with. Her hands, she noticed were looking pink and raw but she was too tired for a shower, and needed to wash away the death and decay.

Jamie had cocooned himself in the sheets and blankets at one side of the bed. She had to wake him, or sleep in the cold.

When she awoke the next day, she had a meal that was neither breakfast nor lunch, an egg sandwich and a glass of cranberry juice, followed by a can of beer. Jamie had gone off to work, and she was due at the hospital in less than an hour.

She combed her hair, thinking it was too long. Who was she kidding? Her hair was pale blonde and thick and there was no grey showing, but she was no longer the bright young beauty that had attracted Jamie and so many others. She rubbed baby lotion on her arms and chest. She put concealer under her eyes. She thought of Cassie, who was the wife of one of Jamie’s friends. Charlotte would agree to the Super Bowl party Jamie kept talking about, so Cassie could visit too and they could chat and Charlotte would inevitably laugh, because Cassie always put things into perspective. Cassie seemed to enjoy making Charlotte laugh. The world was a crazy dark place, that was Cassie’s philosophy. Might as well face it and deal with the paralysis of life with energy and a sharp tongue.

Charlotte understood that. She felt paralyzed but lacked the energy or power to feel that she was more alive than the patients she treated, and not one of the walking dead. She wanted handsome Jamie back. She wanted the feel of a hero’s arms about her, warm and soothing. She wanted a flat stomach and trim waist, and clothes that fit. She wanted to be admired and yes, even pampered. Instead she was surrounded daily by the dying, and had to fight off thoughts that the happiness of those she served might be better fulfilled by a deep, permanent, peaceful sleep.

Jamie had a gig that evening, and Charlotte would miss it. While she she nursed a vague nostalgia for the once inseparable performer and muse, she didn’t mind, and neither did Jamie. He was hardly the rock star she had worshipped as a girl. He was a DJ in a small town now. He didn’t write songs anymore, or sing them. She was no longer his inspiration. He played whatever music his clients wanted, even country and western. Being the wife of an indifferent DJ was not the same as being the wife of a rock star. To be honest, he was never a rock star either. Just a singer in a band that was no more.

He would be home from work by six, while Charlotte was at the hospital, then out again by seven, so she made him an egg sandwich too, wrapped it in cellophane and put it in the refrigerator. It was not a hot meal, but then Jamie was less of a cook than she was. It would have to do.

She had one more can of beer, and put another one in her bag.

She passed the hall mirror on her way out the door and looked into her own eyes. So, how she felt was obvious. They were as flat and matte as a painted doll’s eyes.

Cassie. She would wait to see Cassie before she made any decisions. Cassie could make her laugh. When she truly laughed, her eyes twinkled and shone. Many people had told her that, once.


Prompt: Stylish

Dear Wednesday,

The worst thing about the end of summer is the looming need to wear socks again. Except for those really fluffy ones you wear around the house in winter, socks are designed to prevent fresh, clean air from reaching your toes, and to crush the very soul out of your feet. They are functional and un-stylish, like fascist architecture.

On the subject of style, here are my three favourite cartoons this week:




Warmest regards,