Here at the beginning

Blood and pieces of bone begin to slide up the bedroom wall. A sonic boom sucks out buckshot, sealing holes left behind.

A pasty, overweight man in his late forties sits up in bed. Splatter flies off sheets. The back of his head pieces together, a jigsaw puzzle of skull and scalp.

He leans forward, removes the shotgun from his mouth, removes the cartridge, returns it to the box.

He stands, leans the gun against the wall.

He stares quietly at the gun, sighs, begins to feel less ready. He pushes a tear into his eye.

He sits at his desk, takes a pen, traces letters on a notepad. His sentences disappear under ballpoint. He returns the notepad to the drawer as shadows shorten with the rising sun. On the sidewalk below his apartment in the city, people open doors to return home, slip out of their clean clothes into something they’ve been wearing all day at the office, glad to be home, looking backward to tonight.

Over time the pasty, overweight man worries less about debt. About where he went wrong with his son who will someday speak to him again, play chess with him again. His wife begins to acknowledge him again, to spend more time at home in the old house they share. He ceases to concern himself about conversations cut short as he approaches his wife and her agent, Paulo. He ceases to find the silent glances exchanged with Paulo awkward.


Paulo died today.

Paulo can’t bring himself to move his knight. He could win in two moves, but he gazes over the chessboard with concern at his pasty, overweight friend whose skin is getting taught, tanned.

Over time, Paulo notices the man looking younger, beginning to enjoy chess, becoming more committed to the games with Paulo and increasing his focus. Eventually, Paulo shakes his head in disbelief and swears he will find a way to beat him.


In the new house, the table the man is building in the garage stands neglected, unfinished. He removes screws, pulls wood apart and removes its finish until it is raw lumber again, the smell of which fills him with joy again for what he built in the past. He no longer worries whether his wife loves him, he knows it. His thinking becomes clear. He gains confidence.

Soon his fiancé will discourage him from moving to this town, despite the money he could make. He begins to receive many offers of employment. He’s excited by possibilities but one stands out among the rest. He could go anywhere, and he is getting so young. He begins to drink less, go to the gym more. He looks forward to playing chess again with his father. He dreads some things to come that he remembers will happen, but he looks forward to chess.

He sits with his girlfriend on the patio of a cafe in Houston. It is summer, the heat oppressive even under fans. The air won’t move, so wet with humidity. This girl is so beautiful, laughing at his jokes. Her hair falls over her cheek. She begins to brush it away but stops, sensing something, he thinks, something electric. He moves to her side of the booth. He is falling for her.

That she might fall for someone else at some point in the past, that their son might leave him and never speak to him again, is inconceivable. The past has not happened, he is young and the world is wide open. He can go anywhere. New York. Madrid. Malaysia. One day in the past he might teach English overseas. He is free.

And this girl, so beautiful.

He dials. Puts down the phone. Unfolds the paper on which he will write her number.

In the library, it is clear she cannot focus. She keeps looking up at him. He holds her eye. They share a smile, a light between irises.

He has not yet asked but knows she will say yes.

This is the moment he has been looking forward to, that made him push a tear into his eye at some point in the past that he doesn’t remember, can’t imagine. This moment. Now. The moment he’s looked forward to for years.

Today it is real.

He sees her for the first time, after they collide, deep in the stacks of the campus library. He wants to hold her. Taste her lips. Here and now, at the beginning.


47 thoughts on “Here at the beginning

  1. Oh, Walt this is so clever – I’m dazzled. Such a trick thing to pull off technically and yet you do it with such seeming ease and confidence.
    Sad and sweetly nostalgic, tragically highlighting the fact that we ourselves can’t run backwards to the joyous beginning, but will always wind towards the bloated, pasty end.
    I can’t tell you how much I love and admire this.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That is a rare trick – you do this without any effort really. I just followed along, backwards, and felt like I was going forwards – does that make sense? This is creative in a way that you just don’t read much anymore, at least I don’t. I really thank you for this, Walt, it makes me want to get out there and write something good (it’s a hit and miss world, my friend).

    I was wondering where you’d been, actually. Glad you’re with us.


  3. I don’t think I’ve read anything on the internet yet that gave me such a vivid image as that opener did, by showing it without explaining it. I just had to get my piece in there, but will be back with more after I’ve reread. It stuck with me, as I flitted about the house afterwards doing chores. So glad to see you back here, too.


    • Thanks, Bill. The beginning is what hooked me too. Really didn’t know where it was going to go after that, but it can be fun to discover that as you go. Edited this one pretty heavily, though, which is something I had been trying to do less of, but this one seemed to need it. Good to hear from you, good sir.


      • It’s the puzzle image that locked into place for me, just magic, you nailed that. It’s like a wave when you catch it man and you have to keep getting back up.


  4. Bizarre: I have a post cued up that I started as a poem too, that didn’t hold, so I tried to stretch it in a post, sort of. So I like that connection, from a prior comment in this thread. This reminds me of that post you did of the couple that was breaking up in NYC I think. It’s very personal, I sense you’re drawing from some real-life experience which I like, it brings a vibrancy to it for me. This is the kind of flash fiction I can really enjoy because it feels like it’s celebrating the writing along with the story telling, a good balance. You talk about the editing (and I’d also thought of you for something along these lines): if you had to answer this stupid question, what ratio do you spend writing vs. editing, in general? Do you write like 20% and then edit like 80% of the time? That may be hard to answer, but thanks to you (your influence on me) I’ve been editing a lot more. There’s an element of fiddle-fucking of course, but if you can find the logical end, it’s worth it. It’s like you slowly shift it to settle where you think in some abstract way it belongs, but you can’t pinpoint it until you do it. I have a painter friend and we sometimes talk about when he knows if it’s done; sometimes he ruins paintings of course and can’t undo what he’s done. Last: I heard the first recording of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit last week on the radio. It was performed at an old venue here called the OK Hotel. It was weird, because you could hear the key elements of the song, the form, but it was so much different than the produced version, and not nearly as good. The production really brought it up where it is now. And that made me think of you and your editing, and your comments about some GBV songs: like, just finish it. So, nicely done and I’m going now. Bill


    • That’s a good question, not stupid. I don’t know. I might go so far as to say 20 / 80 (writing / editing). That really might not be far off reality. And the reason is because, I think (and don’t tell anyone I said this), I kind of don’t like the writing part. Yes. It’s true. I really like the editing part a lot more. Like, a lot more (I’ve already backspaced and edited this comment – I put in the first set of parenthesis, which was originally just commas). A blank page to me is not a piece of thing that needs filling up, or a place to experiment, to me it’s a very scary thing that I might make suck. I’d rather not touch it. But if I can get past that part, and just get the words down, and discover some structure, and somehow trick myself into thinking I’ve done something that at least doesn’t suck, than I can spend hours, sometimes days, polishing it. I like that part. That’s my favorite part. Those Beatles outtake CDs that came out in the 90s… the raw recordings, the piddling, the fiddling, I can listen to that all day. It’s fascinating to me, because I love to hear how those songs that became ubiquitous started out as a couple of chords strummed to placeholder nonsense lyrics. It humanizes their greatness. I would love to hear that Nirvana recording you mentioned, too. Love that kind of thing. As for the GBV stuff, I’ve felt for a long time that I rubbed you the wrong way with that comment, and I’m sorry about that and wish I hadn’t said it.

      I’ve gotten good responses to the pieces I’ve posted with minimal editing, which were in many ways influenced by you or your style. At one point after writing the one about the couple breaking up in NYC, I was worried about whether I’d be able to break out of that particular style. I felt like I’d gotten into something I might not be able to get out of. Seriously. And not that that’s a bad thing, but it was something I thought. I got out of it (mostly) in this one, but the influences are still there, I think. I don’t mind being influenced, that’s a good thing, I just don’t want to be a copy cat.


      And see here I am now again after having already posted this comment, I’ve clicked ‘edit’ and come back to add this little bit here at the end, because the thing seemed to end too abruptly, assholishly, even, and I don’t want that. So here I am again, smoothing it out a bit I hope, and now signing off. Have you read this yet? If you come back later you may find I’ve tweaked it a little.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. I visited your About page but didn’t see anywhere to leave a comment. I like your take on not being pigeon-holed. I’m the same way. I write what I want, and I have no interest in finding a ‘niche.’ You are not a target market.


  5. This is a very original piece, and well written to boot. It’s hard to say what is the worse tragedy; knowing how it will end, or living backwards, knowing that the first meeting for her will be the last one for him.


  6. I really enjoyed this piece walt. I was so moved and may i say inspired to hope to be able to write such interesting and vivid pieces somewhere in the future. I am such a long way off from this dare i say Asgard your writing from. Well done. Keep them coming.

    Liked by 1 person

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