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Good Narrative Principles

September 10, 2012
by Lee Eiferman
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Tom The Tailor (Please Vote)

On the night before Christmas Eve, a night without a specific name but none the less infused with holiday cheer, Mr. X., a man who seemingly had it all, was found dead in the back room of Tom the Tailor’s shop. The suspects are as follows:

  • Mr. X’s Nameless Business Partners: Greedy, lacking a morale compass, the Business Partners, in harmony with Mr. X, have embraced a “dog eat dog” corporate culture. Lately, Mr. X has been playing fast and lose with his deals. The firm’s lawyers have alerted the other Partners to the negative exposure Mr. X is generating for the firm.
  • Marie/Alias Marilyn, The Blonde Assistant: Ordinarily reconciling the books at the end of the year is a fairly straightforward task. However, this year, Marie is stuck at the office until late at night, baffled because the numbers simply won’t square. Though she enjoys the daily morning coffee Mr. X delivers with a sweet smile, her weekly “date” and dinner with her boss isn’t enough to buy her silence.
  • Tom the Tailor: Suffering from severe PTSD, lately, Tom’s busy finger therapy as a way of calming his rage, is failing him. Overworked, it’s possible that the crush of deadlines and disappointed customers has taken its toll.
  • Edgar, the Stray Dog (formerly Charlie): Tom, in an attempt to calm his rocky emotional state, adopts Edgar. For a while Edgar, happy to have a home, behaves. Lately, he’s become more “protective” lashing out at customers. Who knows what vicious habits a stray dog is forced to adopt on the mean streets of the suburbs during a long and icy cold winter?
  • Charlotte, the Wife: Because the wife is always a suspect.

August 10, 2012
by Lee Eiferman
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Tom the Tailor (Part 4)

The blonde has a name. It’s Marilyn, after Marilyn Monroe, though her father was distressed to discover that his idol’s real name was Norma Jean. Which gets Marilyn singing that pesky Elton John song. Once it fills her head with its insidious roundelay, it wipes away any other thought, melody or moment. Silence descends and she’s humming away.  She hums while waiting for the bus, sipping the coffee her boyfriend/boss Mr. X brought for her (a sweet habit) and then throughout the remaining ten hours while she’s balancing the end of year receipts. It’s a hard job that has never before required a full ten hours to complete. The issue is that the figures refuse to square up. She’s hoping to take the rest of the year off. Everyone else does.  But she can’t until she makes sense of the stray figures. She’s working harder now. Notices that it’s ten pm and picks up the phone to call her boss, her lover, Mr. X. He answers the phone as he leaves the shop. In the alcove outside the door, Mr. X peers in and watches Tom the Tailor rest his head on the bolt of cloth without bothering to lock the front door.

August 9, 2012
by Lee Eiferman
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Tom the Tailor (Part 3)

Mr. X always makes a point of bringing his Assistant, Marie a coffee from the corner place. It’s not that much of a hardship and he can almost hear her purring as she takes her first sip. He likes to do unexpected acts of kindness like that, because Mr. X thinks of himself as one of the good guys. He loves his wife Charlotte, within reason. He loves Marie, or, it might be more accurate to say that he loves the fact that a pretty blonde wants to be with him. Wants to spend her pre-Christmas with him. Marie confessed during her job interview that she had Daddy issues. (See: “That Skinny Lady” http://leewords.com/category/micro-fiction/stories-about-family/page/4) Mr. X, almost is willing to admit that he finds that oddly attractive as he struggles to break it off with her. He doesn’t like complications and lately, they’ve been accumulating. He’s noticed for instance that his suits are peppered with stray blonde hairs. So before having a drink with Marie on his way home to watch “The Matrix” with Charlotte, he orders three new suits. One for New Years with Charlotte. One for New Year’s Day with Marie. And one for the End of Year shebang with the Partners. Little do his partners know they’re soon to be one partner short.

August 8, 2012
by Lee Eiferman
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Tom the Tailor (Part 2)

Across town, Charlotte finished wrapping the numerous gifts for herself, her husband of twenty-three years, her two grown children and three grandchildren. (As a refresher, please read Charlotte’s story two postings back). She was finally ready for Christmas. Or nearly so. All that remained where the stocking stuffers. She liked buying new toothbrushes for everyone. But that was tomorrow’s assignment. Tonight, she had intended to curl up with her husband and watch “The Matrix” for the umpteenth time. Somewhere between her eldest applying for college and today, this film had become enshrined as one the their cherished holiday traditions. And while her sons are sheepish about rolling “The Matrix” in front of their young boys, Charlotte has come to relish it. Neo choosing between the red pill and the blue pill.  His watery arrival to Nebuchadnezzar. So many rich details to chew over each year with that Christmas-y feeling inside her. The problem is that her husband of twenty three years is late. Very late. It’s past ten and still no sign of him. He likes to introduce himself as Mr. X. As of late he’s been distant. Remote. She found stray blonde hairs on his impeccable three piece suit, but said nothing. On the cusp of jealousy, Charlotte stares out the window at the crazy display of Christmas cheer. And waits for the sound of Mr. X’s key turning the lock.

August 6, 2012
by Lee Eiferman
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Tom the Tailor (Part One)

It had snowed heavily that day so there were numerous surfaces to reflect the bazillion of lights twinkling, flashing and simply glowing on that night right before the serious holiday season commenced. Tom had been up the night before in a last ditch effort to finish the seemingly endless list of custom suits and alterations he had promised his most loyal customers. Generous to a fault, Tom extended the designation “loyal customer” to anyone who opened the front door causing the sweet bell perched above the hinge to ring out. It was well past eight pm when Tom flipped the sign in his shop from open to closed and was just about to leave when Mr. X walked in and without apologizing for the late hour ordered three bespoke suits in fine Italian wool. Fitting Mr. X took yet more time, but Tom remained level headed, trying his best to keep the lively patter going in between each fitting. Alone finally, or so he thought at ten pm, Tom lay his head on a comfy bolt of gray wool and fell asleep. When he awoke at two am he saw pools of blood catching the reflection of the Christmas lights still blinking despite the late hour.

February 2, 2012
by Lee Eiferman
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My Muse

On Monday she is dressed in ballet shoes (pink) that smell like leather, fish net stockings, mini skirt and rust colored sweater. Underneath it all she wears Carter’s underwear. Pure blue eyeglasses. With little jewels on each side. No earrings. No smile. She speaks the truth. Always the truth. Whispers it in my ear. I can count on her to pour it into my head straight. No chaser. She is before the notion of chasers or weed or wobbly walks down the street. She is before crazy go for it lust. But not before the witnessing of secret whispers of which you are not a part. This is OK ultimately. Because she feeds on it. The finely tuned observations of an outsider. Sting mixed with jaded humor.

On Tuesday she is a he. A football player, a soccer coach with a whistle perched in his mouth. Blowing the whistle and spitting it out along with the short percussive words “foul” and “out” and “step to it” “make it shorter” “tighten it up” blow the whistle again. Four toots and time to go to the gym. On Tuesday my Muse burns hot is demanding and then leaves. Game over.

On Wednesday my Muse has two rolls of fat around her midriff. She lingers over my meditation, interrupts my writing to coax me upstairs. Make yourself a peanut butter and banana sandwich she whispers. She loves to dress in fur lined things and stops from time to time to cut my cuticles. Pick my hair. Brush my teeth. Re-read for the umpteenth time what I wrote a few days back. And then finally after lunch she settles down and murmurs the secrets I need to hear before calling a cab so she can head home for a mid-day nap.

On Thursday my Muse dresses in skin tight clothes, wears high heels. Though I protest loudly, the heels don’t work with my inflamed knees she carries on. Cranks up the intensity and lets it roll. It doesn’t make sense I yell above the insistent beat. She doesn’t care. It’s all passion, energy, pumping white hot. Not one useful conversation or bit of dialogue but maybe a crumb. An angle a sentence a look that seems real. Truthful. No bullshit.

On Friday my Muse shows up in a suit and tie. An itchy woolen suit and tie on a hot summer day. He wants to be anywhere but here. At the desk. Figuring it out. He drags his feet. His shoes are immaculately polished. Wingtips that fit perfectly. Socks that never bunch or itch. It’s the suit that itches. The tie comes off between ten and eleven. The jacket is hung up neatly on the coat rack. The pants folded at the seam, turned upside down. Coins jingle out. And lo there is a boner. A beautiful hard on as my Muse strikes a chord and there is suddenly a connection. Something unexpected beneath the itchy suit.

On Saturday my Muse is distracted. Lets face it. She wears summer dresses. Her hair is in a French braids. She speaks foreign languages. Is more interested in collecting daises to decorate her hair, her long curly hair than to sit beside me and work it through. Her gift to me is her laugh. Like birdsong radio during a snow storm. A reminder that it’s not all fucked up. It’s just not all that focused either. She touches down. Toenails painted with bright green nail polish. Fingers hiding smiles. Lipstick a soft pink blush. She yearns for the fresh air. She wants more than anything to fill her lungs and let it all go. And then she guides me to that light touch. The moment that takes the melo out of drama.

On Sunday my Muse is more like Farmer Jones. He might work. He might not. Depends on the season. He wears shit kickers and suspenders. He’s looking forward to making a roaring fire and stuffing tobacco in his pipe and sitting back and thinking of nothing. He looks to the world and tells me it was ever thus. He reminds me of the dispassionate tree or robin perched in the tree watching the woman pack up the car with the kids and the dog and leave while the husband sleeps it off. The big drama down below. The air up there where people have always loved and hurt and lost each other along the way. And the hunger to make it happen. Make it grow. Let the story take root.

February 1, 2012
by Lee Eiferman
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Obsessing About the Floor

I wonder how much we paid the guy who installed our flooring? Who hired him? Probably Donna, right before or after we fired her — alias laid her off. Makes sense, she was after all the office manager. Maintaining and improving the physical plant used to fall under her purview. She probably hired this nincompoop, drug-addled floor guy in training, alias liar, moments after I called her into my office. The office that features the new flooring. I’m staring at it even as I jot down these notes.

Just look at the corner by the door. Good thing the door is locked because I’m on my hands and knees trying to rub out the stray globs of glue oozing between the seams. If the bank examiner who happens to be shouting my name on the side of the door somehow manages to pick the lock and say he’s feeling self-righteous and therefore opens the door with more enthusiasm than is warranted given the occasion, I’d be clobbered in the old noggin.

Maybe if I had offered Donna a Kleenex or softened the blow by asking the HR guy, what’s his name? I’m seeing the letter A. Alex maybe? No, that’s not right, but for the sake of story momentum let’s call him Alex. Maybe if after Donna had signed the requisite forms including the one releasing us from legal payback — again, I’m sure that legal action has a name. It’s not “liability” but it’s in that neighborhood. Anywho… if after the formalities were completed and I had coughed up a few kind words, maybe she wouldn’t have hired an imbecile to install the flooring.

Tears washed through the rancid layers of coagulating make-up on her prune face. She bolted from my office headed straight out the door. Didn’t even bother to collect the photographs of her three kids with her ex scissored out of the frame or her coat, even though it was January. We haven’t seen hide nor hare of her since. While she was in my office, Alex, not his name, had thoughtfully slipped a few empty cartons into her cubicle so that she could pack up at her leisure — leisure being the end of that week — proving we’re not a heartless bunch.

Her mind was probably buzzing with how she was going to wreck havoc, bring the bank down with her. So maybe hiring the flooring guy was just her point of entry, the beginning of a larger scheme. Maybe it was Donna who called up the FDIC and told them how to decode our quarterly filings to unmask the minor, infinitesimal, ever so slight accounting irregularities that all banks practice be they too big to fail or the S&L varieties that kept Bedford Falls from becoming Hoopersville.

I wish the Examiner would stop his caterwauling on the other side of the door.   A customer might think that a crime of passion is taking place right now inside my office.

I hate fusses. What I like is order. Cleanliness.

I’m just about to unlock the door. It seems that I’ve cleaned up the most egregious globs of glue. I walk the three steps to the door when I feel the soles of my feet adhering to the surface of the floor. Makes me feel like a gecko slithering up the side of an office building staging a get-away. I sit down on the floor and remove the glue residue from the bottom of each shoe. As I stand, I feel the seat of my pants peeling ever so gently from the flooring. I look down and there is a flattened bead of glue coated with the material from my pants.

I feel the seat of my pants. The pesky film of glue now covers my left butt cheek. The voice on the other side of the door sounds louder, angrier. I crank up the audio on my computer and select Metallica radio on Pandora, flooding the room with a defiant sound track. The same sound track they used in Iraq to break the spirit of the defiant terrorists.

The knuckles of the Bank Examiner must be blistering and bright red by now. All that knocking has to take its toll. The sun is slipping away. It does so at this time of year, making it harder to find the globs of glue. Just before I switch on the overhead office lights, red flashing lights from a patrol car sweep across my desk. And for a moment, just for a moment I feel the world slipping off its axis. What if the local press is waiting? And rather than the standard perp walk snapshot — you know me hiding my face behind my cuffed hands— instead they go for the moment when an Officer of the Law lowers my head into the back of the waiting police car, and my left cheek butt darkened with glue is smack dab in the center of the frame.

It will look like I’ve soiled myself.

Maybe I should call my lawyer already? Aah, but first would you look at that. A big fat bead of glue midway between my desk and the door.

Plain as the nose on my face.

November 30, 2011
by Lee Eiferman
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Things That Stick

The copier keeps jamming and I’ll be damned if I will get ink again on my cream colored suit that I just picked up from the cleaners having gone back not once, not twice but three times to remove the former stain caused by that very sticky ink they use in the cheapest copier in God’s universe. I won’t do it. I’m going back to my seat now and comb the Internet for the best buy I can find on Elizabeth and James boots. I have a hankering for them. Crazy, right? Is it worth the equivalent of two months salary? Maybe if I employ the old adage “the poor buy many times, the rich once” to justify this crazy expenditure I’ll feel better.

First it’s in my virtual cart and now I’m weighing the comparative cost of shipping the boots. The grand total makes my head spin. But that doesn’t stop me.

I click and it’s done. And now I’m excited. I don’t believe in buyers’ remorse. Buyers’ remorse if for losers.

But I digress. My boss expects the completed budgets on his desk, bound (he was very specific about that) in Levingers leather folios with the cover letter and his business card tucked neatly into the right hand pocket before three pm when FedEx comes for the last pick up of the day.

I can’t complete the assignment if the printer is jamming. I can curse, flirt with the IT guy but no one is stupid or motivated enough to jam their elbow way into the bowels of the copier and reseat the roller which is what is needed. I can tell them about it — “them” being the IT guy or Pretty Boy Bob who sits at the adjacent cubicle, is technically an intern and has a famous Mom who used to be an actress on a sitcom I watched religiously when I was in Middle School. He’s got a thing for me I can tell, but his thing for me isn’t big enough or deep enough to inspire him to get on all fours and rummage around the innards of the copier.

I should be all about anything for the job. I should be willing to go to any lengths to finish the task and let nothing stand in my way. I should be using this rare opportunity to prove my worth by tackling an obstacle and emerging successful, triumphant.

I should, shouldn’t I?

But instead I’m preserving my very dear to me cream-colored suit that now thanks to swimming every weekend and eating a salad for both lunch and dinner hugs my waist perfectly. No pinching. No holding my breath as I draw the zipper closed.

I could feign ignorance. Hold my bosses gaze firmly as I insist that the assignment was to be completed tomorrow not today. I’ll create an imaginary quote. Spew it back to him while blushing. Not that I can make myself blush on cue, I’m not that good. But I know myself well enough to know that outright lies make me uncomfortable. I sweat. I blush. I never look away. All signs of a true liar.

I like my boss as much as anyone can like their boss. I mean he still tells me to do stuff and I have to do it or else. I have to stay late and wait for the job to be printed, the budget approved. All the trivial stuff that because he’s old and I’m young my time is therefore more expendable. I know the job that he’s bidding on is important. As a member of the team, I should feel a part of it. I should feel a sense of ownership. Camaraderie. All for one.  But I don’t. I don’t have the big picture. The big vision. The hunger in my belly to be him when I grow up.

The truth is I don’t see positive models of how it’s all supposed to work out in the end anyway. It all seems so dreary — an endurance test. A thing you’re supposed to get through until the workday ends and the night begins.

There’s graduate school. There’s moving to a city like New York where I can simply stroll down the streets and be assaulted with bargains for beautiful things like Elizabeth and James boots. Probably there are boots even more beautiful and sumptuous. Boots that mold to the inner arch of my foot and hug my heel. Where the leather is soft, pliable and made to last forever like my Mom’s jacket that I wanted so very much and that my older sister inherited.

If she were here, she would remind me of the bigger picture, the broader perspective. The fact that this job is just the first of many and that the goal is mastery of something.

But she’s not here.

And in her absence I pout, I lie and I stumble in my new pretty boots that cost too much.

November 17, 2011
by Lee Eiferman
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Dentist

First of all let me make one thing crystal clear — clearer than the huge windows on my new fancy assed apartment that are cleaned every Tuesday and Thursday whether it needs it or not — I love my wife. I can hear you chuckling. And now you’re probably waiting for me to say, and that’s why I killed her. Sorry, that’s where I go to after all those years behind bars.

Ever since I got out, I’ve been going to the dentist once or twice a week the way other spoiled New Yorkers go to their shrink. They excavate their psyches. I get root canal. Same degree of pain, but I know the last day of my procedures will fall on a Tuesday mid-January. And those psyche excavators will be at it forever. After that, I’m supposed to be pain free. I’m supposed to be able to bite into a bagel (who knew that if you lived in the South you weren’t getting the real deal) or an apple. A honey crisp apple, my new favorite. Even the idea of having a favorite apple cracks me up. So pretentious. But now my life revolves around such big issues as choosing a favorite apple, sitting through root canal and deciding whether I prefer an everything bagel or plain. Toasted or warm with cream cheese. Don’t even get me started on sushi.

I’m a bit lost as you can imagine. For years, let me be specific here, twenty years, I’ve been fighting for my freedom. And now that I’m free all I want is to do is veg out. Go to the dentist. Deal with the sorry ass shape my teeth are in and then go home and veg out some more. I don’t want projects. I don’t want people to know about me.

My pathetic life story.

I spit on it.

But my wife won’t let it go. I get it. She’s laid her life on the line for me. Gave up her big ass job (note to self: why am I so stuck on the “ass” word?) and moved to be closer to me. And marry me. And campaign for me. And raise money to hire lawyers to get me out.

I couldn’t be more in her debt. So what if she can’t stop telling my story to anyone who will listen including my dentist.

Here’s what happened: I go in for a first check up. I want to hear the bad news. After all those years behind bars, imagining the worst, picturing it, the decay, the sugar attacking the enamel, the soft stuff underneath, working its way down like hot match heads until it reached a nerve and tucked in. Smiling. Pleased with it’s new home. I want to know exactly how far the evil mouth creatures got. I gave it a name.  Bob. Because Bob is pretty much a go along kind of guy. Wouldn’t really hurt anyone. But underneath, when no one is looking, Bob goes at it. Chewing up my teeth. My gums. And finally the nerves.

For the last fifteen years I’ve been in pain thanks to Bob. I chewed aspirin cuz that’s all they offer you in prison. Being exonerated meant I could get my teeth fixed finally. Yeah, there was the other positives like having sex, smoking weed, drinking, watching TV and going for a walk whenever the mood struck me. But first it was all about my teeth.

So maybe I’m being impatient. Maybe when my wife, who I owe everything to wants to tell her story, even to my dentist while waiting for the Novocain to hit I should step back. He was so caught up in the sorry ass tale (there I go again with ass) that he just sat down and listened. My mouth goes from numb and back again and still he’s not fixing me.

I could kill her. I left in a rage. Let the two of them chat it out. Maybe he’s gonna write me a check. She’s good at that. Old habits die hard. I don’t need a check. I just need my teeth fixed.

I’d like to say, honey how about I go to the Dentist alone. Not even state it as a question but more like a demand. More like myself.

A guy with backbone.

A guy who spent twenty years on death row and didn’t break.

June 18, 2011
by Lee Eiferman
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Coffee Liqueur

Here is the truth of the situation — she purchased coffee liqueur made with Tequila because she was drawn to the pale lavender box. The color she now realizes suggested that this Tequila would never exact a hangover as penance for a night of over-indulgence.

She gave it to him as an anniversary gift on the rare night they were together. They actually had to coordinate their calendars, which required far too many texts and emails to be called smooth or natural or an easy evening out. As she waited for him under the awning of the famous restaurant, she felt that they had miraculously triumphed over the primal forces pulling them apart. Standing there, watching the stray juice boxes and beer cans circle in the eddies around the sewer grate, she wondered how did they become that couple, the sort with private bank accounts and schedules.

There was no malice as far as she could tell on his part or hers. In other words, he didn’t willingly take on cases simply to be away from her. Nor did she accept job assignments with demanding and nutty clients that required that she wine and dine them just to eat dinner apart. Midway through a business dinner while searching for threads of commonality to help secure the partnership, the client, the job, she found herself missing him, his thoughtful silences, the lengthy pauses he took to chew and swallow before continuing to share the tale, the anecdote, the little nugget of observations that he had saved just for her.  Invariably when her thoughts turned to him, the flow of the evening with the client that she worked so hard to maintain would grind to a halt. The ordering of dessert, perusing the post-dinner liqueur options, hailing a cab would stretch before her. Each step an ordeal.

He chose the restaurant; she chose the day of the week. They worked from there, comparing schedules, reservation possibilities and last minute accommodations. A week before their anniversary celebration dinner, he had to muscle his way past demands that he fly to Paris to meet with a possible client. Instead he conducted the meeting via Skype. Over dinner he confessed to hving brushed his teeth before initiating the Skype call. They laughed over that.

Service was slow but attentive and so he was calmed by the hovering waiters, the warm toasty bread, the French butter that melted not too quickly so as to remind him of margarine nor too slowly which would bring to mind his Mother’s dislike of butter and how she hid it in the freezer until someone insisted that it be brought out. As he directed the butter perfectly across his bread, she felt a sudden rush of love. It surprised her. She said nothing. She neither gripped his hand tenderly, nor teared up. Instead she quietly watched his exacting temperament work through the challenge of buttering his bread with care.

She knows now that he’s at the mercy of his strong opinions which come out of nowhere like a storm brewing in the ocean. He despised the perfectly fine pink tiles in the bathroom of their most recent co-op. His hands flew helplessly between his hair and the air as he begged, almost pleaded with her to agree to a gut renovation of the bathroom.

She hates chaos. For months they lived in a cramped studio apartment in the 30’s near the sooty mouth of the Lincoln Tunnel as their bathroom renovation wound through its inevitable delays.

Now their bathroom is serene, serving as a welcome refuge from a trying day with demanding and dull clients. He crunches the bread, sighs with relief, then squeezes her hand. He must have seen something in her that similarly inspired a warm rush of love or gratitude or ease.

Before dessert they exchange gifts. Agreeing to a price limit so as not to incur ill-will or a lack of mutuality, she opens his gift first. It is a lovely and modest pendant that sits beautifully in the hallow above her sternum.

Then it is her turn. She hands the box with the name of his favorite liquor store embossed on the ribbon.

He opens it. Simultaneously they both registered her mistake. She forgives herself instantly, understanding that the bewitching lavender of the box lured her past the words.

She giggles.

He frowns.

And in that frown their agreement to stay together and present themselves to the world as a couple pivots slightly away from friendly acceptance.

A cool wind blows across the table.

Silence prevails as he pays the bill.