Story of the Story: Baby’s Breaths

Will this interest anyone? I don’t know. Writers get asked where the ideas for stories come from and seem not to like it, but we mostly hear from the writers who probably get asked that ten times a day. Hard for me to imagine getting annoyed fielding that question.

I was sorry not to hear what the story made other people think of but I realize people can like something and not know what to say or not like something and not want to say. I’m not that green. Also people see the link and intend to go back to it but don’t. Facebook makes returning to find anything rather difficult.

The story is here, if you’d prefer to read it before I give anything away:

“Baby’s Breaths” was a case of found money. I came across it in an old notebook under an entry dated June 2010. I wrote it after work when I wasn’t in the middle of anything, which means I sat to write with no plan. Usually when I do this I meander for a page and end up with nothing but a writing lesson and the enjoyment of the time, because after you learn to stop fearing filling a blank page it really does become enjoyable.

I was preparing to start the “parents raising children novel” I recently finished. I had my dad character but not my mom, so that half explains why I spent that page exploring the mother infant bond. But only half because I’d written a few random lines and had probably been people watching as I went, and I saw a baby tug on her mom’s shirt and expose her bra strap.

So I wrote the opening line of the story and, except for minor changes, only added the story’s last line when I prepared it last spring to submit to Toasted Cheese.

What I would ask people who read it is Who is the narrator?

It’s fair to say me, but I slipped into a kind of character as I wrote it and by rereading it years later I was able to come close to experiencing it as a reader. So I guess I can give my answer. I think, or I like to think, of the narrator as some manifestation of the transcendent. An angel of death. This entity is curious about what this mother might be feeling, doesn’t quite “get” why the mother cares so much about the infant, but finds it sweet.

The title, “Baby’s Breaths,” was meant to land somewhere between the sweetness of a baby’s breath and the panic that would come from thinking about that next breath coming.


“Baby’s Breaths” at Toasted Cheese

Toasted Cheese is a literary journal and forum for writers. Everything at the site is free and they accept no advertising, which means they get paid in gladness that comes through clicks to their site and activity. Here is their mission statement page:

If you’re a writer interested in receiving feedback on your work, they have a forum where your work can be downloaded and other writers will offer feedback. This isn’t a public forum, because that might exclude your work from being considered for publication at some places, but it’s all free, you just have to make an account. I plan on getting involved there. They only request that you give as much as you receive in terms of feedback, which is only fair. Plus, in my experience, you learn as much by offering feedback on the work of others as you do receiving feedback on your own work, I would even say probably far more. A link to that forum is here:

The June 2016 issue, which includes “Baby’s Breaths” can be found here:

I’ve submitted a few pieces to Toasted Cheese over the last few years. I like their system. Even though they don’t accept simultaneous submissions, they respond quickly if your work is eliminated from consideration on the first reading, which happened to me at least twice. Then if your work is “short-listed” you receive notice, which can be encouraging even if you end up with a rejection a month or so later, which happened to me twice, but “Baby’s Breaths” was my third time charm.

Toasted Cheese’s Submission Guidelines can be found here:

Pieces are accepted either as features or as an editor’s pick. An editor’s pick doesn’t mean your piece was an editor’s favorite; it means that piece didn’t get in by majority vote but got in on the strength of one editor rooting for it, which is pretty cool, too. “Baby’s Breaths” was Theryn “Beaver” Fleming’s pick.

If you feel like jumping ahead to “Baby’s Breaths,” this link should take you straight to it:

Baby’s Breaths

Thank you for reading and feel free to share a comment!

Earth Day at the Hannity Household

“Why are all the plasma TVs on when no one is watching them and why is the air conditioning on full blast with all the windows open?”

“Because it’s Earth Day,” Hannity said.

“Isn’t that wasteful?”

“Son, there’s nothing to waste! That’s just silly talk liberals made up. The earth will be here forever just the way it is now no matter what we do. We have all the resources we could possibly use for as long as we could possibly use them.”

“Aren’t there scientists who say digging up millions of years of buried energy and setting it on fire in the span of a century might be bad for Earth?”

“Sure, but we have scientists who say maybe it isn’t.”

The boy looked around…at the world. “If scientists are in disagreement wouldn’t the wisest course of action be to minimize our carbon footprint as much as possible, at least until we know more?” (the kid’s older than you were thinking. Sixteen, let’s say. I thought he was younger too, until I wrote that part.)

“No.” Hannity grabbed a can of bug spray, aimed it at a honey bee that landed on a flower nearby, and emptied half the bottle’s contents. The bee died. The flower wilted.

“I think I want to live somewhere else.”

“Don’t worry. Earth will be fine.”

“I mean I want to live in a different house, with a different dad. You seem like kind of an asshole.”

100th Blog Post!

A friend linked me to a site of two-sentence horror fiction, and soon after I started “writing” two-sentence literary fiction. I put writing in quotes because I came up with all of these while working them and even ordered the wording and then jotted them down on breaks. This is my favorite:

I wrote this post after work when “Looking for Space” by John Denver came on. I started with imagining his tragic death but I moved to thinking about two friends with friends who died tragically. Primarily I wrote it thinking of offering comfort to the parents of one of these stranger victims, a young woman. I think of it more as a fantasy that any words offered could be comforting.

I love this one because this story has a happy ending, and I managed to be of some help at a difficult time for someone. I got lucky. I usually miss opportunities like this. I missed one just the other day when I said hi to an old lady and recognized she was distraught. but much as I almost didn’t ask these three simple words in the instance below, I didn’t ask in that instance, so I try to also use this story as a personal reminder of how to be.

This moment from my novel came in one of my final rounds of edits. It’s moments like these where you draw from meaningful moments in your life and effectively (hopefully, at least!) insert them into your fiction that makes writing books rewarding even when dealing with miniscule sales and a paucity of readers. It still aches but you can live with it and keep going. This goofy monster has been with me for as long as I can remember, though I only named him when I wrote this blog. I had no idea it came from my heart beating; when I was little I thought it was real!

The title of this last one wasn’t meant to be funny or incendiary. Comparing tragedies is absurd, but there’s also something absurd about the generations passing down a near obsession with the sinking of the Titanic whereas the Johnstown Flood has been nearly forgotten. Not sure if it’s realistic but I’ve heard discussion about spending millions to raise the wreckage of the Titanic. Meanwhile for a few thousand dollars a walking tour memorial of the Johnstown Flood’s path could be built. There’s a memorial building at the flood site but little else. Also I think David McCullough’s excellent account should be read in schools.

Hard leaving some out, especially stories about friends and family, and the Polio fun facts which I enjoyed compiling although I edited the “fun facts” out of the title. They’re all still there, though, if anyone has some time and feels like reading through. I truly appreciate the gift of your time in reading, and I’ve tried to do my best to honor that investment of time with these blog posts. Hopefully another hundred are on the way. I already have a few planned, one about zoos, one about sports, and one about genocide. I hope you’ll continue to stop by and read when you have the time. Thank you!

April Fools’!

Sam spread his two shirts, one red and one blue, out on his coffee table with all the hems aligned. When his wire-less iron was hot, he touched it to the cloth. A soft sizzle and a vapor of grease rose. Taking great care, he pinned identical-looking name tags on each, just under the right shoulder. He grinned wickedly.

The next morning, April 1st, Sam woke up late, dressed, and sprinted to the bus terminal, catching his bus to work just as it was about to pull away. Settling into his seat, he realized he had not brought the extra shirt. He had left it out, folded, next to his backpack. Why he hadn’t put it in his back pack was a question he couldn’t have answered. Sam felt furious with himself. April Fools’ Day was his favorite holiday out of all of them. His plan had been to sneak into the break room whenever he got the chance and switch shirts. People would have thought they had gone insane arguing with each other when one swore he had been wearing a blue shirt just a second ago and the other swore, ‘No, it has been red all along. You are seeing things.’ Sam would have waited until everyone was talking about it before showing the second shirt and screaming, “April Fools’!” How everyone would have laughed!

As the bus merged onto the freeway, Sam started to pull out his cell phone, but he thought better of asking a neighbor to climb a tree behind his apartment, slither in through his tiny bathroom window, and rush across town to bring him a second uniform.

At the restaurant, three tables were already waiting for him, so Sam was able to forget about his forgotten shirt as he took drinks to his tables and put their food orders into computers. Everyone was extremely busy taking food out to tables and pouring dressings into ramekins.

An hour later, the restaurant was filled with a line of people at the door. Sam stood at the pass shelf waiting for fries, when Tuiey—one of the other servers—called that he needed a red ticket for a burger.

“What happened?” A manager asked.

“It had blood on it,” Tuiey said, then added, “sorry.” He walked around the pass shelf and disappeared into the kitchen. The manager held the burger over the trash, angling it under the lights, and peering in. Sam saw a couple of bright red dots on the bun. The manager dropped it into the garbage and told the kitchen to make a new one on the fly.

As Sam grabbed his fries that finally came up, Tuiey returned from the back. He had a bandage on his hand which looked odd, held against his side.

Sam wanted to make sure he was all right, but saw that he was getting double-sat and so he went out to his section, dropped off his fries, and started his next two tables. He got them drinks and got their food orders in and returned to the pass shelf, ready to run food. Tuiey appeared with another burger. “Sorry, it had blood on it.” He handed it to the manager and left for the back, holding his hand pinned in his armpit. This burger was streaked red. The fries were in a pool, thinner than ketchup.

The manager followed Tuiey into the back. Sam grabbed some dirty dishes and followed as well.

“Did you cut yourself?” The manager asked. “I should look at it; it could be a deep cut.”

Tuiey stood next to a sink. He reached into a first aid kit that hung on the wall and pulled out bandages. Sam saw a thin line of red falling from his hand. Heard the continuous splatter of it landing in the sink.

A group of employees had followed Sam back, and they all moved in closer. Tuiey dropped a blood soaked bandage into the trash can. “Tuiey, what happened?”

Tuiey turned and faced the group. Blood ran from his strangely-shaped hand, made a tapping sound as it dripped into the wet garbage.

“April Fools’! April Fools’, I cut off my pinkie finger!” Tuiey’s face emptied of color as quickly as the trash can filled.

One of the servers, Brita, emerged from the group and wrapped a fresh bandage around the stump where Tuiey’s finger had been. The manager yelled for someone to call an ambulance, then led Tuiey out through the back of the restaurant.

Brita (an avid fan of ER since the first season when George Clooney had been on) knew about the miracle of reattachment, so she snapped on a pair of food handlers’ gloves and picked through the bloody bandages in the garbage. She pulled out the pinkie finger and took it into dry storage. She came back out with it in a to-go soup cup. Excusing herself between some people standing in front of the ice machine, she scooped some ice in, burying Tuiey’s finger. She snapped the lid on and followed where Tuiey had gone out the back.

Everyone was still standing around the trash can, stunned, when Brita returned. She turned on the water at the sink and let it heat up while it washed away Tuiey’s blood. Then she washed her hands, for a little more than thirty seconds. She finished and the other servers still stood in a cluster. “Excuse me, I have tables.” Brita squeezed through the group and returned to work.

The rest followed. They had tables too. And new people would be coming in that didn’t know anything had happened, and they would need to eat.

When the lunch rush ended, Sam recalled how he had forgotten his extra uniform, but decided it was for the best. It had been such a busy shift that he wouldn’t have had time to be constantly changing shirts. And, anyway, it wouldn’t have been that funny.

Hi, A Definition

Ignore the Big Bang, the hundred billion stars in our galaxy and the hundred billion stars in each of a hundred billion galaxies beyond. Forget that our dark corner of the Milky Way is 25 trillion miles from another star. Do not contemplate that a million specks of Earth could fit in a star of average size.

Ignore the several billion years before life here caromed, as a means of survival, to an intelligence that included speech. Forget vervets’ alarm calls carrying through Africa millions of years before our grunting predecessors. Forget the several thousand generations of ancestors who bequeathed us communication. Hi is self-aware beings converging in the present. Hi means we are here, right now. Hi means our hearts beat, our lungs draw air. Hi means I love you for knowing you are going to die and nodding and smiling.

Lack of sincerity is Hi’s disguise.

Facebook Status Update

Great news! I got my house! The nice thing about purchasing a home is that they know what a fun and exciting thing the idea of purchasing a home is and they ensure that every step in the process of purchasing a home is just as fun and exciting. *rolls eyes* (sarcasm) The contract listed my name, AN UNMARRIED MAN, just like that in all caps. I don’t know why I took that as a judgment. I almost got married but I thought I was too young. I wanted to get married another time but she thought she was too young. I don’t spend time wishing I was married, but when you sign a contract dated to be completed thirty years into the future, you tend to think long term. I guess I would like someone to hold my hand and feel sad when I go. Someone to leave my home to, who would spend the rest of her years enjoying remembering me. Which is asking too much, but for a little while maybe. A year or two before I was left in a box in a spare room. I have trouble with relationships. Two people can spend their entire lives inching closer to the massive gap that will always remain between them. Sometimes even the people I care about most become these carbon constructions with wet film around the eyes and blood-filled lips working against each other and sounds come out that I have to make into words. Sorry. I don’t mean to be someone who says the things people are supposed to only think but never say, or maybe they’re things no one thinks but me. You don’t know unless you ask. ; )

Facebook Status Update is a work of fiction by Greg Metcalf, who coincidentally did just buy a house. If you enjoyed this, please consider sharing it with a friend. Also please have a look at the opening chapters of my novel, Flowers on Concrete, available as a free sample at amazon. Thank you for reading!