Categories
Creativity Storytelling

Sleeping on Arch Street

A  100-WORD STORY

I slept on a cot near my grandmother’s bed in a room that smelled like eucalyptus. The aluminum frame squeaked when I moved, despite my small size and efforts to keep quiet. My grandfather slept in the adjoining room, his presence as unnerving as the Jesus portrait on the wall. The story goes he woke her once with a pitcher of water, threw it on the bed so she’d make his breakfast. I wonder if the train whistle ever disturbed him, pulled him down the tracks to the steel mill, back to the stacks and hot slag where he belonged.

 

 

 


©2022, Jen Payne.

Categories
Creativity Storytelling

The Fabric of Our Lives

A  100-WORD STORY

My first family was soft and warm, and covered me with enough love and affection to keep my heart hopeful for decades. My second family was threadbare, though, worn down so much that it hardly covered the dysfunction anymore, left me sick and unable to breathe. My third family fell apart at the seams. My fourth has been a patchwork of cotton and corduroy — thin in places, strong in others, woven together over time and enough to pull up to my chin, close my eyes and remember the little girl skipping, blanket always in tow, her Mom and Dad laughing.

 


©2022, Jen Payne.

Categories
Creativity Storytelling

Storykeeper

A  100-WORD STORY

I save their stories like scraps of stolen poetry. I know, for example, that she was conceived at the 1965 World’s Fair and that hidden above his left ear is a question-mark shaped scar. I remember the name of the child they lost, what she called the family dog, and that he wakes from nightmares as if in a back-alley brawl. Thief, collector, storykeeper — how easily I can tell the stories of couples in love and couples lost; about the pillow talk of lovers, the half-life of trauma, and the white-haired widow forever chasing a dog by the shore.

 


©2022, Jen Payne.

Categories
Creativity Storytelling

Sudden Death

A  100-WORD STORY

In sports, sudden death is a tiebreaker — two teams of equal measure play until one scores. In my family, sudden death was a torpedo in the East China Sea and a kamikaze’s final score. It was a flu pandemic in 1957 that meant game over for my 19-year-old aunt…and my grandmother, who never quite recovered her self. Sudden death was an 18-wheeler on a mountainous interstate in southwest Virginia — a certain game changer for my father, and for me who wakes more often than not with an adrenaline rush of grab the ball and run before it’s too late.

 


©2022, Jen Payne. Note: this showed up in exactly 100 words, first take, no editing.

Categories
Creativity Storytelling

Truth Bears Out

A  100-WORD STORY

It was Valentine’s Day, but we’d already broken up. I ended it days earlier because he never listened to me — not about extravagant gifts, not when I asked him to drive with both hands on the wheel, not when I said I was allergic to dogs. He also didn’t pay attention when I told him not to deliver the postscript Valentine’s gift furtively left at my door. It, a $75 teddy bear, was dressed in what he assumed was my regular working-from-home attire: suit, skirt, briefcase.

But removed of her conformity? I say: who couldn’t love a bear named Naked Betty?

 


©2022, Jen Payne.

Categories
Creativity Storytelling

Rest Stop, Mile Marker 173

A  100-WORD STORY

The Garden State Parkway Rest Stop was half-way to my grandmother’s. We’d pull off the exit and shuffle into the rose-colored stalls of the Ladies Room.

Inside, near the pink-vinyl couch, a pull-knob vending machine sold hairnets, bobby pins, and rainhats neatly folded into pastel plastic boxes.

The Rest Stop burned down in ’91, years after we’d stop traveling as a family. But in my mind, it’s all still there — the soft golden light and tiled floors, the vending machine, my sister sleeping, Dad singing I Got You Babe to Mom in the front seat, his hand on her knee.

 


©2022, Jen Payne.

Categories
Creativity

Donut Girl

A  100-WORD STORY

For sure there is a story to tell, of late-night clichés and coffee-stained romances there behind the counter of the midnight doughnut shop. She had written them in situ, on journal pages stained with raspberry-pink jelly: the dashing pirate, the rookie cop, the old war vet with a “crack in his cookie jar.” No doubt she learned more there than in any class at the university — or any day since. But could she find them again? Stir them up, let them proof and rise into something more than naïve schoolgirl impressions of the world and her life not yet begun?


©2015/2022, Jen Payne. If you like this story, stay tuned. We’ve got some exciting news coming!

Categories
Creativity

Forest Fellow

A 100-WORD STORY

I saw an elf bent over, studying the bark of a tree just up the path. “What are you looking at?” I asked, feeling curiouser and curiouser. “Mushrooms,” he told me, “these.” Then he bowed and plucked a bouquet from the log at my feet. Edible, he explained with a smile, so I asked “What are you making?” and he replied “Oyster mushrooms with a sherry cream sauce.” Mouths watering, we talked a bit about wild woods and food fare before we parted ways. Darn, I keep thinking, I forgot to drop my shoe. How will he ever find me?


©2014, Jen Payne.

Categories
Creativity Memoir Storytelling

Christmas Wonder

A 100-Word Story

Much to the alarm of a grandmother, I picked up the baby and ran, leaving the Christmas celebrations in our wake.

Gathering festive crinolines around her tiny feet for warmth, we dashed out to the front yard, and I pointed up to the sharp winter sky. “Look, Little Miss, it’s the Christmas star!” And she laughed and giggled and leaned into me — a shared  delight.

“Remember,” I said, “That’s the star the wise men followed.”

Who’s to say, of course, if it was just a plane as I was admonished. The spirit whispered love and hope and sweet small wonders.

Photo ©NASA/Bill Dunford

Categories
Creativity Storytelling

An Odd Courting

A 100-WORD STORY

I assure you, I did nothing to encourage him. I was simply kneeling trailside, counting petals on a flower — he loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not.

Then I heard him approach, footstepping through memories of trees scattered across the forest floor.

In his camouflage, I recognized fear and wonder, the wild and unpredictable nature of things, the magic of connection.

There was no amorous announcement to my ear, but a sound, a something sound I could not believe.

So as not to dash his hopes, I left quietly, wondering: do spiders really sing?


© Jen Payne, April 2014, From EVIDENCE OF FLOSSING: WHAT WE LEAVE BEHIND. Image: Princess Sotoori and Spider from the Series Zuihitsu (Essays) by Ogata Gekko, 1887.Click here to listen to the singing I heard: “Listen to The Creepy Sounds Spiders Make When They Want Sex.”

Categories
Creativity

Kismet

A 100-WORD STORY

In Austin, she bought a rock star coat — black velvet with embroidered-flower sleeves and a faux-fur, mid-calf hem. In the dressing room, she laughed — it was a perfect fit.

“I’d never wear it,” she told the saleswoman. “Back home, we’re all L.L. Bean and Talbots.”

She bought it anyway, hung it by the door — her alter-ego, set in wait.

Then she met her new neighbors, Zach and Joe, walking their two chihuahuas.

“This is Amy and this is Pacho,” Zack said, “they have a cabaret act.”

When they invited her to their house-warming party, she knew exactly what to wear.


©2021/2008, Jen Payne. Previously published online at Six Sentences.

Categories
Creativity

Missing Iguana

A 100-WORD STORY

It was an all-points bulletin: MISSING IGUANA! Jake likes to roam, be on the lookout. Don’t chase!

I was a little busy when I first saw the news; parking my car outside the hotel was proving more difficult than it should and the sun was in my eyes. Maybe that’s why I had a hard timing believing them when I saw the iguana on the hotel lawn, sitting atop a purple octopus.

I didn’t think to ask how the octopus was managing out-of-water, I was actually deep in thought, wondering: what inspires an iguana to roam in the first place?


© Jen Payne, April 2019

Categories
Creativity

Discarded

A 100-WORD STORY

She wonders if he remembers the night he found that cat. Left to fend for itself in the winter woods, it died by the trail — as if it waited for someone to return. Collar with its name, no address or phone. Alone.

He carried it to the vet, along with his warped sense of humor. “Were you attached to it?” she mocked. “Yes, and then I abandoned it,” he replied — each of them poking fun at intimate confessions they’d shared. Achilles heels, laid bare.

Ironic, how easily they laughed at the inevitable.

In his absence now, she remembers…poor discarded “Love.”


©2008/2021, Jen Payne. IMAGE: Winter Forest, Konstantin Yuon

Categories
Creativity

Canal Street Epiphany

A 100-WORD STORY

MaryAnne and I were shopping on Canal Street in New York City. My polite “No thank you” replies to the onslaught of “Tiffany! Tiffany! You buy?” catcalls clearly indicated my novicity.

Thirteen blocks of brand-name idolatry was her pilgrimage, but I didn’t see any religious icons in the dimly lit backroom we entered solemnly.

Behind faux red velvet curtains, a thousand ordinary pocketbooks lined the walls; two Asian women exchanged furtive glances and slipped our twenties into small black pouches.

Later, in the car, I looked at my purchase ambivalently. “Is that a Coach bag?” MaryAnne gasped. “OH MY GOD!”


©2011, Jen Payne.

Categories
Creativity

Sometimes Hearts Need Time to Catch Up

A 100-WORD STORY

I think, maybe, it’s our hearts I keep meeting in my dreams. Not as often now as before, but still, they’re curled under a winter’s weight of blankets, not daring to move. Reading by the fire with coffee before the sun rises. Walking through the woods on familiar paths, old stories kicked around like leaves. Sitting on lawn chairs in the back yard before the big storm changed everything. It’s always he who reaches out for her hand, calls for her attention. And she who closes her eyes and breathes it all in — just one more time before I wake.

©2021, Jen Payne.

Categories
Creativity

Oxymorons

A 100-WORD STORY

The born-again Christian man wore head-to-toe camouflage — a fabric used to disguise one’s appearance and to blend in with the surroundings. In nature, organisms use camouflage to sneak up on prey, to mask their identity and intentions. But his were clear. A warrior of god, proclaiming he is the way and the truth and the life. Praise God, he announces for all to see — while discussing guns and ammo with a friend in the post office lobby. They laugh, she thanks him for his advice, drives off in a car with a pro-life bumper sticker. Goes to stock up. Pray.

©2021, Jen Payne.

Categories
Creativity

Star-crossed

A 100-WORD STORY

I suppose I was a force to be reckoned with, even then at 19, when we stood in his driveway and I explained how my world was just bigger than his, drawing circles in the air like the orbits of planets. But he loved me then, loved how we could talk for hours when only the stars were listening, loved that I loved him back in those sweet moments we traveled around each other. In the end he was the only one with courage enough to ask me to marry … and I wonder what if maybe every blue moon.

©2021, Jen Payne. IMAGE: 1892 Solar System, Orbits of Planets.

Categories
Creativity Storytelling

Memory Vended

A 100-WORD STORY

Downstairs, along a neon-lit hall of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, there’s an Art-o-Mat. From it, for $5, you can purchase small, original works of art. But I confess, my fascination with Art-o-Mats is more about their past lives than their brilliant creativity. You see, their artwork resides in old cigarette vending machines, and with each purchase I am transported to the Route One Dairy Queen, 1984. That very first pack of cigarettes. The sound of quarters dropping, the brazen pull of the lever, the musical-mechanical delivery of Marlboros on the offering plate below. The light. The smoke. Magic.

For more about Art-o-Mats and where to find one near you, visit www.artomat.org.

Categories
Creativity Storytelling

Silly is as Silly Does

A 100-WORD STORY

I met a man in the woods. He was going for a walk with his frogs…two Sonoran Desert toads, actually, along the green trail on a rainy afternoon. He had them in a cat backback, facing forwards so they could see as they went past the pond and around to where the stream crosses the trail. “What if he lets them out,” I ruminated. “They would die, it’s too cold.” “But is it? Gloabal warming.” “What if he’s conditioned them? Got them used to colder weather.” “This is silly.” “More silly than a guy on a hike with pet toads?”

Categories
Storytelling Writing

Hindsight is 2020

A 100-WORD STORY

In my version of the 2020 apocalypse, I lit incense and whispered fervent prayers to Saint Anthony and Ganesh. I started meditating. He bought a gun safe. It’s as definite in his living space now as the altar to Buddha is in mine. This should not come as a surprise. I have loved on the cusp of the yin and yang all my life, and it has been no different with him these past seven years. Of the first gift I gave him, he wondered: Speartip? Pestle? Arrowhead? “It’s a heart shape rock,” I swooned, our end-time a forgone conclusion.