The Insolent Caretaker

Combining elements of narrative, dialogue, and description, I wanted to create something that would be both meaningful and enjoyable and to create stories that provide insight and a deeper understanding of the human experience.

18 April 2023 | James Porteous | Clipper Media News

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This collection of short fiction and dialogues explore the diverse and complex lives of everyday people, their relationships, love, politics, religion, and humor, while highlighting the struggles and triumphs of people who are too often overlooked or forgotten.

Reminiscent of the works of Studs Terkel and David Mamet. 


The World According to Studs

While writing this short fiction collection,  I soon realized that many of the stories had been inspired by the work of Studs Terkel, an American writer, historian, actor, and broadcaster. 

His book, Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do (1974), redefined how we think about work.

These stories explore the diverse and complex lives of everyday people. They delve into themes such as relationships, love, politics, religion, and humor, highlighting the struggles and triumphs of characters who are often overlooked or forgotten.

By combining elements of narrative, dialogue, and description, I wanted to create something that would be both meaningful and enjoyable and to create stories that provide insight and a deeper understanding of the human experience.

The stories are reminiscent of the work of Studs Terkel, a renowned oral historian who captured the voices and stories of ordinary Americans in his writing.

Visit the threadbare world of husbands, wives and lovers, workers, religion, love, politics, relationships, and humor in this collection of short fiction. Inspired by the work of Studs Terkel.


Drive, She Said

Bonnie and Parker are not quite yesterday’s news but they are on the verge of something. They have been married longer than they can imagine and, for whatever reason, they are flying to Las Vegas and then driving through the Southwest together.

* * *

Bonnie: Do you have everything?

Parker: I haven’t had any complaints so far.

Bonnie: That’s fine, Groucho, but I’m serious. It’s a long drive, and it’s going to be extremely hot and humid.

Parker: Yes, I have everything.

Bonnie: Just say ‘yes’ next time.

Parker: Yes.

Bonnie: So drive.

Parker: Yes, dear.

Bonnie: Damn it.

Parker: Sorry?

Bonnie: It’s going to be a long week.

Parker: Yes, dear.

He turns the key, but the rental car does not turn over. Wait for it, he thinks.

Bonnie: You’re going to flood it.

Parker: It’s probably flooded. There was a huge storm last night. There was so much rain that cars were floating down the road in front of our hotel.

Bonnie: How do you know that?

Parker: It was on the news.

Bonnie: What news? When did you see the news?

Parker: While you were in the shower.

Of course, he did, she thinks. As soon as he checks into a hotel room, he locates the ice machine and then fixes the color on the TV. If they are staying in a motel, the order is reversed. He says motels never get the color right.

He tries again, and the car begins to purr like normal. Thank God.

They drive in thankful silence until they reach the highway that will take them to the Hoover Dam and then beyond.

Bonnie: Good Lord. Such a barren country.

Parker: It is a desert. No one was expected to live here. Except the Bedouin. But the damn dam is amazing! It is a true engineering marvel.

Bonnie: Yes.

Parker: Did you know that a man named John Gregory Tierney was one of the first casualties during the construction? Then 14 years later, to the day, his son, Patrick William Tierney, also died on the job.

Bonnie: That’s not true.

Parker: It is true.

Bonnie: That’s impossible. It must be one of those urban myths.

Parker: Urban myth. And it isn’t. It is true.

Bonnie: That’s hard to believe.

Parker: Ask the tour guide. There must be a plaque here somewhere.

Parker is captivated by the view and so does not notice when his wife returns to the car. She can have her ‘secret’ cigarette. He will enjoy the peace.

The sun is so hot. There is not a cloud in the sky. He must remember to keep water with him at all times. Okay, he is not likely to die of thirst in public, but he must be careful. He is delicate in the summer. And in the winter.

He rejoins his wife once she throws the butt on the ground.

Parker: Good Lord. Have you ever seen heat and humidity like this? Bonnie: No.

Parker: I can feel it in my lungs.

Bonnie: Have some water.

He has some water. He turns on the radio and flips the dial, searching for a song that might define the trip. Maybe he’ll get lucky and hear ‘On the Road Again.’

The AM radio is filled with what sounds like stations from Mexico. Or maybe there are Spanish-speaking stations in this area. The music is lively and uplifting. She turns it off almost at once.

They drive in thankful silence until they reach Kingman, Arizona.

Parker: Look at that! The ‘Welcome’ sign says Andy Devine was born here.

Bonnie: So?

Parker: Character actor. He was in ‘Dr. Strangelove.’

Bonnie: Oh. I did see that.

Parker: He was great. Riding that bomb to hell and back.

Bonnie: Oh yes. Cowboy hat and all.

Parker: That’s him.

He orders a burger and a Coke for lunch. He drinks one Coke a year. Today is his lucky day.

The waitress looks mortified and asks if he is okay. He excuses himself and goes to the washroom and is likewise horrified when he sees his reflection. He looks red, as a beet, as his mother used to say.

Parker: Christ. Why didn’t you tell me I looked like I was on death’s doorstep?

Bonnie: You always look like that.

Parker: Seriously. I look like my body is boiling over.

Bonnie: Have some water. Not coffee. Not too much Coke.

Parker: Strange. I always thought I liked the heat. Maybe the heat does not like me as much as I thought.

Bonnie: You’ll be fine.

Parker: I hope so.

Bonnie: So Flagstaff next?

Parker: Yes, yes. A college town. Lots of artisans and pubs.

Bonnie: I want to get something for Amy.

Parker: Perfect. Have you talked to her?

Bonnie: Usual text messages. Scant details. But I guess it is still early there.

Parker: She will be fine. It is good for her to be on her own for a bit.

Bonnie: I hope so. She is so… active.

Parker: I had a chat with her before we left. I don’t know if it helped.

Bonnie: Won’t hurt. I can’t wait for this ‘phase’ to end. She needs to calm down before she starts looking for a college. It’s not like it was in our day. You can’t prance around in your undies all night and expect to find a decent job.

Parker: There is still time.

Bonnie: Do you think she does drugs?

Parker: Pot, maybe. Likely. Everyone does.

Bonnie: I guess it is okay. The pot is different now. Higher THC or something? They don’t get as silly as we used to.

Parker: Just as long as she does not do anything else. She couldn’t cope with the hard stuff.

Bonnie: Well, all we can do is keep an eye on her, I suppose. Tell me, yeah?

Parker: Tell me what?

Bonnie: If you notice any changes. Drastic or not. She talks to you. You might notice changes.

Parker: Will do.

Bonnie: Did we do this to our parents?

Parker: Worse. Much.

Bonnie: I don’t know. It seems so in-your-face now.

Parker: Send her a text. Some bullshit like ‘having a wonderful time. Wish you were here.’

Bonnie: But I don’t wish she was here. She would be controlling everything.

Parker: She doesn’t know that.

Bonnie: She doesn’t want to hear from me.

Parker: But you want to. Screw it – just do it.

Bonnie: Okay, Mr. Nike.

Parker: (laughs)

She takes out her phone and rather painstakingly types out a message. She edits it four times. Rereads it a few more times. And then she can’t find the send button. He has finished his lunch before she has completed the task.

* * *

Parker: Didn’t you see the signs?

Bonnie: What signs?

Parker: The ones telling you not to take the stones?

Bonnie: Oh, seriously? Three stones, one for each of us.

Parker: Times how many people?

Bonnie: What? Are you suggesting that the Grand Canyon was created by tourists taking stones?

Parker: No, obviously not. I’m just saying that if everyone takes one or two stones, that’s a lot of

stones.

Bonnie: Fine. I’ll put them back.

Parker: Good. I’ll buy you a postcard instead.

Bonnie: Sure. We should send one to Amy as well.

Parker: It’s amazing, though, isn’t it? I’ve seen so many photos, but they just don’t do it justice.

Bonnie: Settle down, puppy. We aren’t fighting anymore.

* * *

Flagstaff is wonderful, but the motel is questionable. There is a huge sign at the front desk that reads: NO REFUNDS.

Normal people would probably inquire as to the reason for such a dire warning, and he is certainly tempted to do so, but he knows she will complain that he is always complaining, so he lets it pass.

He is relieved when he does not discover anything untoward in the room that might require a refund, had one been available.

So they relax after a long day of driving. They share a beer and a shower before retiring to bed to watch some TV.

Bonnie goes to sleep quite quickly, as usual, and Parker reads the local paper, as usual, and then he finally turns out his light as well.

He literally inhales the sweet and clean air and feels satisfied and happy that they decided to take this trip. He knows one of them will go to pieces at some point, but for now, it is fine.

He closes his eyes and is just on the verge of slumber when he hears the distant rumble of a passing train. He has always enjoyed the sound, but it is soon accompanied by a train whistle that seems to blast for the entire length of the city.

It is disorienting, but he vows to remain calm. He closes his eyes and beckons dreamland once again, but his desire is again thwarted by the awful, Huanting sound of the whistle.

Bonnie remains sound asleep. He wants to wake her, if only to confirm the horror of the infraction, but better to let sleeping dogs lie.

This routine continues throughout the night. It is likely 5:00 a.m. before he gets even a wink of sleep. It is almost daylight by the time the whistling finally stops.

He finally gets up and makes himself a cup of horrid coffee and then goes out to the front stoop.

He can see a level train crossing off in the distance. Perhaps they have to announce their arrival each time they cross the road overnight?

Fuckers. No refund. No sleep. And no coming back here again.

* * *

Parker: Okay. I have food, snacks, some smokes, and lots of water.

Bonnie: I get the food and snacks, but what’s with the two dozen bottles of water?

Parker: It will be a long, hot drive to the hotel. I’m thinking there won’t be many shops along the way.

He could be right. They have pulled off a four-lane highway onto a two-lane road. It will take some time to get to the Hopi reservation, and it is bizarrely hot. So far this morning, she has had three bottles of water and did not ask to stop off to pee even once. Where did it go!

She turns on the radio and twists the dial until she finds a station playing Spanish music. The sounds are still joyful and uplifting, but she leaves it on just the same. At least for now.

* * *

He pulls the car off the roadway at a random spot, and they move to the edge of a large cliff overlooking the vast desert. They sit quietly, watching a thunderstorm roll across the barren land.

Bonnie: “Beautiful, isn’t it?”

Parker: “Just amazing. You can feel it in the air. Something otherworldly. Or is it just me?”

Bonnie: “No, you are right. There is a force of some kind. Like you said, not of this world.”

She brushes her knee against his leg. He notices but assumes it is a mistake and moves his leg away. She moves her leg over to meet his leg again.

Parker: “What?”

Bonnie: “You know.”

Parker: “Here?”

Bonnie: “Why not?”

Parker: “It is kind of sacred ground.”

Bonnie: “It is Hopi sacred ground, not ours.”

Parker: “Shouldn’t we respect that?”

Bonnie: “I think they would understand if you respected my needs.”

Parker: “I suppose so.” (laughs)

And so they do it. They are ‘in public’ but no one can see them. Still, they only take off what they need to take off. And fortunately, she is wearing a skirt.

It is very nice. They both enjoy sex, but this time it is unusually memorable.

Bonnie: “I think the gods helped us out.”

Parker: “I think you might be right.” (laughs) “That was out of this world.”

Bonnie: “Thank you.”

Parker: “No, thank you.” (laughs)

Bonnie: “You’re an idiot.”

Parker: “Yes.”

They kiss again and then they get dressed, but they remain for a while, looking at the view and thinking about love and nature and this strange world that has served as their temporary bed and refuge from that other world out of balance.

The Hopi Cultural Center is located on Second Mesa and includes a hotel, a restaurant, and a gift shop. It is a nice mix of “traditional” and new, so the restaurant serves both “regular” corn flakes and “blue corn flakes.”

His dinner is dry without a beer, but it is fine.

They are locals, if only for a moment. They buy some silver and pewter handicrafts in the store and collect a few flyers from the lobby, and then they head back to their room. There is nothing else to do, really. It is already pitch dark, and there is a typical desert chill in the air.

Bonnie: “Well, maybe you should have brought along a bottle of single malt.”

Parker: (laughs) “Seriously. You can buy every flavor of Pop Tarts but no beer. How does that make sense?”

Bonnie: (laughs) “There is a toaster.”

Parker: “It is 9:00. I imagine the store is closed by now.”

Bonnie: “Maybe they will serve them in the restaurant for breakfast.”

Parker: “Blue Corn Pop Tarts.”

Bonnie: “Live and dream.”

Parker: “Live and dream.”

* * *

Santa Fe is their final big stop. The town is all adobe and blue skies. There is a huge outdoor market, and they have the best pancakes ever in a diner on the main square.

It turns out that neither of them was really prepared for the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. There are dozens of paintings, all larger, more detailed, and more beautiful than anything they have ever seen. It is breathtaking. They share a bench in the middle of the main room, holding hands and weeping quietly.

Bonnie: “I’m glad we came.” Parker: “Me too. I wouldn’t change a thing, really.” He kisses her cheek, and she instinctively pulls back.

* * *

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