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Sue Spitulnik

Flash Fiction and personal thoughts

First Kiss – flash fiction

Tessa stomped snow off her boots before going into her parents’ house. “Is our toboggan still around? The choir kids want to go sledding.”

Her father answered. “I’ll get it out if you promise not to allow co-ed rides.”

“Why would you say that?”

“I seem to remember my teenage daughter coming home all flushed because she had been kissed while in a jumbled pile after a toboggan mishap.”

Tessa’s eyes widened and she laughed aloud. “I haven’t thought about that in years. Wait till I tell Michael you remember that.”

“Your feet didn’t touch ground for a month.”

 

Written in response to Charli Mills April 30, 2020, prompt from Carrot Ranch Literary: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that features longboards. They can be used in any way you imagine, including a name for sporting equipment. How are they used and who is using them? Go where the prompt leads!

Service–Military or Otherwise

When you hear the word SERVICE, what flashes through your mind? Currently, it may be a picture of doctors and nurses. It could be your favorite restaurant server, your mechanic, or someone in the military. I was an Air Force wife from 1972–1979 and I waited tables in the closest restaurant to the main gate of both an Air Force Base and an Army Post in Tacoma, Washington from 1978­­—1991 where most of the customers were active duty or retired members of the armed services. I moved back to the Finger Lakes area of New York State in 1991 and lost my connection to a military-based way of life. When I hear the word service my mind thinks military first, then may drift to other definitions.

I am a five-year member of the Rochester, NY Veterans Writing Group. We meet each month and I have only missed a few meetings since joining in 2015 because being with “my” vets has brought me home to a feeling I didn’t know I was missing until I experienced it again. When I started attending I found my “tribe” of brothers and sisters that “get it.” The group gathers around a table and writes personal experience memories brought forth from thought-provoking prompts. Once the allotted writing time ends, we read our musings aloud, sharing the highs and lows, and sometimes comical, points of military life. It’s a healing process and only safe to do with other vets who understand: the front lines come with exhaustion, bad food, blood, and death; the military comes with pride, service, boredom, and chaos; the home front can be supportive or fall away in a flash, and it takes 22 to 25 other members in the background to support the ones brandishing weapons no matter the circumstances.

I am proud to share, the groups’ anthology titled, United in Service, United in Sacrifice will be released in May 2020. The authors are veterans and family members ranging in age from 27 years to 95 years old. The stories start at WWII and move forward to Afghanistan. The authors’ goal is to help anyone understand the meaning and feeling of “tribe” or “brotherhood”  of the military and the sacrifice it takes to “sign on the dotted line,” hence the book title.

According to the National Conference for State Legislators, only 7.6% (in 2019) of all Americans have ever served in the United States military. I beg to differ because I was a dependent wife and had two children. No, I didn’t serve to the extent of following orders and being asked to brandish a weapon, but I carried a military dependent ID and served by being the back-up, the home front, who gave up my childhood roots, never gave them to my kids, then willingly packed and moved each time the Air Force ordered my ex-husband to do so. I made immediate friends with new neighbors and relied on other members of my husband’s unit as a family because I had no other choice. Becoming a military dependent changed my life by expanding the puddle in which I live.

Today I continue to serve by being the “Mom” of our writing group. I take the coffee pot to each gathering, check-in privately with a member when I can sense they need it, and present each new member a patriotic quilt on their sixth month attendance anniversary. I learned to sew when I was in high school and I’ve been making quilts ever since. I am very fortunate to have a large sewing studio in my home that has multiple cupboards full of many different colors of fabric, lots of it red, white, or blue.  My husband is often with me when I’m shopping for fabric. He carries the bolts I pick, chats with the person who cuts what I want, and pays for it knowing I am going to give most of it away. He’s a veteran too and his generosity keeps me occupied doing something I love, and gives both of us a way to acknowledge our fellow veterans.

The quilt pictured below was made for my WWII Veteran friend, Bob Whelan. It is a replica of the 13th Armored Cavalry (1944-’45) patch of which he was a member and is now the President of that unit’s reunion group. The quilt hangs in his study at home. The pattern for the recurring block is called Kaleidoscope. Fun fact; my husband was in the 50th Armored Division (1970-’76.)

WWII quilt

patqlt

The above quilt was a gift to Steve McAlpin

Vets

We had to say a final farewell to one of our own this past January. Some of “my” vets from left to right; Me, Gary Redlinski (Vietnam), Steve McAlpin (Afghanistan), his girl Carol, Holly Katie (family member), Vaughn Stelzenmuller (Vietnam), Bob Whelan (WWII)

There are so many different types of service whether it is in the military, to your family or community, at work, in your children’s schools, at the Carrot Ranch, etc. Service can be as simple as a smile in the check-out line at a retail store or brandishing a weapon not knowing if you’ll make it to the next day and all points and locations in between.

Charli Mills serves us by giving us a fun, safe, positive place to share the written word. I am thankful to be a part of Carrot Ranch and proudly talk of my international friends who keep my life puddle ever-expanding.

In the comments section please share your service story–military or otherwise.

 

Sometimes Close is Too Far – flash fiction

Tessa’s cell-phone woke her at 3 am. Frightened, she got out of bed to retrieve it. Not one of the kids, Michael.

“Michael. You frightened me.”

“I’m sorry. You’re too far away.”

“What? I’m only across town.”

“Might as well be the moon.”

“What are you talking about?”

Silence.

“Michael?”

“Memories. Painful ones of the rehab room in D.C., wonderful ones of sharing a room with you. The bad ones are winning. I’m admitting I didn’t want you to go home. You belong here.”

“If we close this distance, it’s permanent.”

“How soon can you get here?”

“Fifteen minutes.”

 

 

Written in response to Charli Mills April 23, 2020, prompt at Carrot Ranch Literary: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about distance dating. It can be any genre, era, or setting. Who is dating, and why the distance? How do the characters overcome, accept, or break up because of the distance? Go where the prompt leads!

Crazy Expectations

“Hi Michael, it’s Clare.”

“A phone call! What’s up?

“I need your help. How about a road trip?”

“Medical or musical?”

“Medical. Remember when you called me crazy the first time I asked you to get from the floor into your wheelchair on your own?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I have a young lady that added ‘bat s__t’ to the crazy part. She’s fully capable, but won’t even try. I think you’d be able to get through to her. Besides, I want to meet Tessa.”

“You know Tessa’s name?”

“Yeah, from your Mom’s Facebook page.”

“Figures. How soon are we traveling?”

 

Written in response to Charli Mills April 16, 2020, prompt from Carrot Ranch Literary: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about something crazy. Laugh like crazy, show the setting of stir-crazy or go off the rails on a crazy train. Have fun with the word and the situation, but go where the prompt leads!

 

Week 4 “Pause” in NY State

I have been staying at home with my husband since March 12, 2020, because of a worldwide pandemic. CORONAVIRUS, COVID-19, is a new strain of virus that has no vaccine and no cure, other than a person being able to weather the illness. It mainly affects the respiratory system; it comes with a headache, a lost sense of taste, dry cough, a fever, sometimes dangerously high and sometimes the need for a ventilator. It likes to kill people with underlying health problems or those who wait too long to get help when they are having trouble breathing. The information about it changes daily, as do the guidelines from the state governor and POTUS on how to protect ourselves. The main thought is to stay home and stop the spread. The television coverage has every person looking cross-eyed at anyone who coughs or sneezes near them, even at home. We are all washing our hands more often than we ever have because the virus is spread from germs on the hand to mucous membranes on the head.

I am not a paranoid person. I pretty much take what comes my way with little emotion. I am blessed with common sense and don’t take unnecessary risks with my health, except for liking to eat too much. I do get disgusted with the people in charge that talk double-talk and don’t stick to the facts, or change them to suit their political agendas. New York State is now four weeks into a statewide “pause” of life and the economy. I worry about the very large negative ripple effect on people’s livelihoods, families, businesses, schools, and even the state’s finances. The situation is creating an instantaneous economic crisis along with the health crisis.

Last year about this same calendar date the Rochester Veterans Writing Group which I belong to decided to put some of their memoir stories together and print them in a book. I know I didn’t know how much work was involved, but that’s another story. Today I had the privilege of driving to seven different personal addresses to drop off a proof book. At five addresses I left the book, in a bag, on a doorstep. At two places I got to talk to a friend and hand over the book in person.

As a retiree with a lot of hobbies, staying home for a month with the occasional trip to the grocery store or drive to pick up take-out dinner has not been an imposition. I will admit, the first week my internal resident child wanted to go out just because I had been told to stay home, but that passed. Today’s ride gave me a purpose and it felt wonderful. My trip took me from the southeast corner of Monroe County to the northeast corner, and then to the southwest corner. What was it like out there I was asked? The first difference in driving was being able to turn from my side street onto a normally busy main drag without waiting for a line of cars coming both ways. In fact, there were no cars in sight. The traffic on the expressway was sparse like a Sunday morning at a time of day it should have been busy. There were a few drivers that knew the police have stopped pulling vehicles over for infractions just so they don’t have to speak to anyone in close contact; thus the speeders were evident. I don’t know why anyone was hurrying, everything is closed from libraries to schools to shopping malls and bars. Restaurants are only allowed to prepare take-out orders. Some retail stores are doing curbside pickup sales so they can have a smidgen of income. And all pro-sports have been canceled so no crowds assemble including golf on those beautiful expansive courses, for the sake of the galleries.

It was very strange to drive past a school on a Wednesday and see the parking lot empty. I didn’t see children playing outside either. I did see people walking their dogs or jogging. When I stopped at an apartment complex the parking lots were jammed because people are working from home or laid off.

At 12 Corners, a very busy set of three roads intersecting in Brighton, I sat at a traffic light wondering why the color didn’t change because it seemed the wait was excessively long. Then I thought to how it usually is, so congested one might not make it through the light on the first try. The sparse traffic worked to my advantage, I was in the wrong lane and didn’t have trouble moving over to turn left. Driving past my grandson’s school made me sad because the sports fields were empty, and I haven’t spent time with him in a month.

The visual of empty parking lots and little movement existed no matter where I drove. The kicker was driving past the airport where the parking lot is usually packed and one can see at least one airplane descending or taking off. It was so quiet it made me more aware that most places on the earth are shut down. I know because the members of my international writing group are writing about the same fears I have and writing about trying to keep themselves busy at home and do homeschooling with little input.

The exceptions were hospitals, Wal-Mart and Wegmans’ parking lots. The contrast to those bustling made the quiet ones eerier.

Luckily we have great technology so we can have meetings via computer screens and we can hear each other’s voices and see faces. Let’s hope the power doesn’t go out. At this point, whoever controls the electricity controls the world. Now that’s a scary thought.

Showing Emotions – flash fiction

An IED bomb is a localized small blast meant to destroy one vehicle. All Michael remembers of the fateful sunny day when he met one was going outside the fence in a convoy. A month later he would be told, “Private Amanda Jennings was driving the truck behind your jeep. We had all come to accept her as one of us, but when your jeep went up, the male in us automatically took over and we made every attempt to shield her face from the sight. She cried right there on the spot; we wish we could have too.”

 

Written in response to Charli Mills April 9, 2020, prompt from Carrot Ranch Literary: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that declares, shield your face. It can be a knight of old, a doctor, or a senior citizen. What is the circumstance? Who makes the declaration? Go where the prompt leads!

Pizza Memories – flash fiction

At Tessa’s parents, Michael said, “This pizza is better than what I remember from high school.”

“Who remembers that far back?”

“I do. I came in one day and saw three pizza boxes on the counter. My mouth started watering, but I couldn’t smell them so I peeked in a box and it held quilt blocks. The other two boxes had the same. My hopes were dashed.”

They laughed at the visual.

Tessa added, “We now have square plastic boxes with handles to carry blocks in, but back then an unused pizza box was gold and hard to get.”

 

Written in response to Charli Mills April 2, 2020, prompt at Carrot Ranch Literary: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes pizza. It can be an original pizza pie (or slice) or something pizza-like. Go where the prompt leads!

Take Charge of Yourself – flash fiction

The church teen choir started practicing without Gaylan. He joined them ten minutes later and the group came to life.

Tessa’s father, Don, running the rehearsal, after dismissing all but Gaylan, asked: “Would you say you respect this group?”

“Sure.”

“Do you attend by choice?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you understand belonging comes with responsibility?”

“I guess.”

“Do you believe your continual tardiness proves your answers are the truth?”

Gaylan hesitated. “No, sir.”

“Michael wanted to ask you to take charge tonight but didn’t trust you to be on time. Show up early from now on and you’ll earn that trust.”

 

Written in response to Charli Mills March 26, 2020, prompt at Carrot Ranch Literary: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story in which a character takes charge. Who is this character, and what situation calls for their action? It can be playful or serious, fantastical, or realistic. Go where the prompt leads!

 

New Life – flash fiction

Trying to focus on paperwork in the Iraqi heat had Michael agitated. The only positive, he was inside. Then he heard the words, “The babies are out.” He grabbed his binoculars and joined the parade leaving the building. They raced passed a lone guy loading a truck, went to the far fence and raised their glasses. Michael enjoyed the moment then returned to the loader. “I’ll do this, you go have a look.”

“Thanks, Sarge.”

The newbie joined the group and after guidance, saw the hares playing on the burned remains of a jeep roof half-buried in the sand.

 

Written in response to  Charli Mills March 19, 2020, prompt from Carrot Ranch Literary: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a rabbit on the roof. Or many rabbits. Why are they there? Explain the unexpected, go into any genre. Go where the prompt leads!

Tapping Fingers – flash fiction

“Tap, tap, tap, tap. Michael’s fingers do it all day, sometimes in rhythm and sometimes not. It can get on my nerves.”

Michael’s mother nodded in understanding. “Have you ever seen the Dear Abbey response to the woman complaining about her snoring husband? It was something like, be happy he’s alive, be happy he’s home where you want him to be, and thankful he’s not out with another woman. And in Michaels’ case, it keeps him hearing music, not the sounds of war.”

Tessa thought. “Next time it gets to me I’ll ask him to sing what he’s hearing.”

The Physical Therapist – flash fiction

Michael’s mother and Tessa both held wadded wet tissues. They were looking at a photo album that chronicled Michael’s recuperation after his IED blast injuries.

Tessa blew her nose. “No wonder he doesn’t talk about that year. Who’s the cute, young nurse?”

Mom laughed. “She’s a physical therapy specialist, Clare Stelzenmuller. They nick-named her Clarice Alphabet. Michael said she wouldn’t take ‘no or I can’t’ from anyone, and Clare was too sweet a name for her bulldog ways. Expect to see the occasional card from her asking if he’s walking or riding. She’d be happy to know about you.”

 

Written in response to Charli Mills March 5, 2020, prompt at Carrot Ranch Literary: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about Clarice. She can be any Clarice real, historical, or imagined. What story does she have for you to tell? Go where she may lead!

Travel Times – flash fiction

Michael told his buddy, “Tessa’s daughter invited us to visit. It’s a seven hour drive, but Tessa wants to plan on nine, for meal and bathroom stops. I’m not used to making a long road trip with a woman. Is that normal?”

Tony rolled out a belly laugh, “Welcome to the land of traveling with a happy companion. Be glad she isn’t adding stops at quilt shops too. Your days of driving from home to destination without stopping are done. I call it a fair price.”

“Man, I’m having to learn a whole new way of thinking.”

Written in response to Charli Mills February 27, 2020, prompt at Carrot Ranch Literary: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes the open road. Where will the trip lead? Who is going, and why? Follow the open road wherever it may lead!

 

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