Ticklish Spot


When I was a small child, I spent two weeks during each summer vacation staying with my grandparents in Iowa. On Saturdays, I would get to ride along with my grandfather in his ‘63 Chevy Impala as he went on errands. The car’s brilliant, sapphire-blue upholstery was in sharp contrast to it’s simple white exterior. Running errands, my grandfather all to myself, was always a special treat.

Grandpa was half Blackfoot Indian and half French Canadian whose square-set jaw and high cheekbones gave a certain resolution to his blue-eyed gaze. He was a strong, stoic man, tough and dependable in ways my eight years couldn’t yet grasp, but could intuitively sense. He was a simple man that had gotten along with only a sixth-grade education. He worked very hard his whole life. His own childhood had been a brief-lived experience after his father died and his mother abandoned a family of nine children to fend for themselves. He and his three older brothers supported and raised their younger siblings. Maybe because of that experience, Grandpa didn’t know exactly how to react to young children. As I think back on those errands, he probably felt as anxious as his young grandson sitting next to him.

Seated close to him on the sedan’s front bench, I’d notice his deep, hard-labor tan and cable muscled arms earned from working a crane at the Rock Island Arsenal. His straight forward profile and Camel cigarette clamped between his lips, only made me curious to learn more about him.

My grandfather drove with a casual posture, one powerful forearm resting out the car window, the other handling the Impala’s large, blue steering wheel with just a thumb and forefinger curled around an ivory steering knob. It was difficult talking to him as he drove. My eight-year-old questions were answered by not much more than a “Yea-uh” that at least let me know he heard my chattering.

Along the drive, if I pestered him too much, asked too many questions, he’d say, “You’re noisier than a magpie” while not shifting his gaze from the windshield. The ‘magpie’ statement only made me giggle; at that age I didn’t really know what a magpie was. Grandpa would then breathe noticeably through his nose, signaling he didn’t know how to take the idle curiosity of a child.

Soon, my fidgeting with his car’s radio knobs, cigarette lighter and glove compartment latch brought on a warning, “Better stop that now, else Injun Joe’ll lower the boom on ya.” Injun Joe was a mythical entity that according to my Grandpa, lived in my grandparents old attic. He was an indian chief that punished mischievous youngsters by hanging them on a coat-hook behind the attic’s heavy door. For years, none of the grandchildren dared push past this warning.

But I was impetuous. The excitement of spending a Saturday morning alone with my grandfather was too great a moment to waste on caution. I laughed and wiggled my legs on the seat, mocking his stern warning about Injun Joe. He could see the tension building and suspected his threat had no effect on me. Grandpa tried showing a little give in his stern demeanor. “Alright now” he’d say in a voice used to still a spooked horse.

I looked back at him with a reckless sparkle in my own blue eyes. I was going past the bounds of common sense, foolishly believing I was winning some form of mental arm-wrestling. Without warning he slammed his rough, large hand down upon my bare knee with a smack and squeezed it with a vice-like grip. He always knew just the right spot where pressure on nerves and tendons could wrench a squeal and involuntary jag of laughter from his little grandchildren.

I couldn’t escape. I had stepped past the line of mercy. His thick thumb and fingers squeezed the spot just behind my kneecap over and over until I thought I might wet my pants from uncontrollable laughter. At the same time, my grandfather’s eyes widened in a crazed look and his mouth dropped in a forced “gotcha” laugh that sounded like a wolf howl. A frenzied moment of insanity took hold, neither he nor I able to release it.
By the time my grandfather and I reached our first errand stop, I’d still be rubbing my knee and giggling.

These are the old memories I’d have mixed in my adult mind later in life, now with my own son. I would pick him up from his mother’s house for my weekend visitations; a disquisition on modern commuter parenting. My fond childhood memories now mixed with more recent impressions of my rocky failed marriage and searing power-struggle divorce. All these jagged recollections I’d have swirling around in my head while trying to drive and listen to my son’s disconnected chatter. He’s a curious child like I had been and I’d try to answer his questions while keeping an eye on traffic. When he became too distracting, I’d remember my grandfather’s technique and unexpectedly grab his small knee and squeeze. Both he and I derived mirthful pleasure from the sudden tickle-assault.

But my son was braver than I at his age, he’d try and retaliate, lunging at me, trying to squeeze my knee for a similar reaction. He was surprised and disappointed when I didn’t laugh. Then he’d work his small fingers under my arms, across my ribs and even under my chin, all to no avail. I, for a time, had the ‘tickle spot’ advantage.

I kept this advantage for a while. After his failed tickling attempts, my six year old son would ask, “Dad don’t you have a ticklish spot? Why aren’t you ticklish?”
I simply told him I didn’t have one. My answer wasn’t satisfactory and during the course of our routine hour drive from his mother’s house to mine, he’d randomly try to surprise me and trigger a ticklish spot. Following each try to get me to laugh, he’d reluctantly stop and regard me with a calculating, squint-eyed expression on his young face.

This went on for several weeks until one day he stopped as if struck by epiphany and turned in his seat to face me directly. He then claimed, “Dad, I know where your ticklish spot is.”
“Oh, you do huh.” I challenged him back.
“Ok, buddy, where?”
“It’s your brain” he revealed confidently, then sat against the car door, folded his arms across his chest and smiled in victory.

I was dumbfounded. He was absolutely correct. A six-year-old child, my son, found my ticklish spot when no adult since my grandfather, had been able to find one. From that moment on, my son and I shared a special “knowing” between us, a private secret. We both knew each others ticklish spots and at that frozen moment in time, we shared a rare reward between adulthood and childhood.


Salt Shaker

The waitress paused in the middle of filling the diner’s salt shakers. She hadn’t really noticed their unique weight and design before. The first thing that caught her eye was the shiny, rounded chrome helmet-like top, like a deep sea divers helmet drilled with generous sized holes. The rest of the shaker was made of thick glass, formed with five sides meeting at round-bead corners. Even when empty they had a significant weight. She hefted the salt shaker in her hand as she took time to study it. Tilting her head, she casually wondered why, after performing this routine task, she had never realized their unique character before.

In the front of the diner, seated alone at a table set against the front window sat an old man. His order: a single fried egg, one strip of well cooked bacon and a dry piece of white toast had just been placed before him. The old man sat bearing a strong posture, back ridged, head held as if on a pike. He reached for a salt shaker with hands that showed the rugged scars of hard labor, then paused. If someone was observant, keenly observant, they’d notice a narrow reflection in the old man’s glasses. The image in the reflection made him pause. A speeding vehicle was weaving down the street with a police cruiser in hot pursuit. The cruiser’s naked red lights exploded across the town’s brick buildings and startled it’s pedestrians. The hard bearing vehicles flashed past the diner windows. Inside, the waitress continued to fill salt shakers and the old man broke the yoke of his egg. The terrible wake of the high-speed chase rattled the diner’s broad, plate glass windows.

The waitress missed the two cars slash by the diner, so intent on filling the shakers. The old man narrowed his eyes behind the metal frames of his glasses. He knew what was going on, old men always know. Old men that lived lives to over flowing, having walked many paths before. He knew exactly the reason for the chase and the reckless speed. He squint his eyes and the wrinkles ran into the sides of his coarse, severely cropped hair. His jaw muscles tightened under #40 grit beard stubble while his glance moved down to the heavy salt shaker in his hand, then moved again briefly, over a prison tattoo inked into his palm. Before salting his fried egg, he threw some from the glass shaker over his shoulder. At the same time, the waitress felt a compelling urge and also threw salt over her shoulder although she didn’t know why and went back to her job.

The man behind the wheel of the hounded car kept wiping his mouth every time he glanced at the rearview mirror. Normal passage of time had ceased to exist for him. His hands were a blur of action trying to control the steering wheel and the weight of the stolen Chevy Impala through sharp turns executed over and around city curbs. Built-up centrifugal force slid the Impala too far to one side and the car slammed momentarily against a pair of parked cars, then bounced back into the street at speed. During that scant, weightless moment, the driver saw a quick rerun of events that had occurred just minutes ago…

There’s always a first time for everything and a first time for robbing banks was no exception. Charles- alias “Chucker”, entered the bank and took a place in line for a teller. He stood there, his hands calmly hanging at his sides, but his mind raced, a scrambled whirlwind. His jittery eyes scanned the entire interior of the bank lobby. He spotted all the security cameras, then made a mental note of the position of the bank guards. He counted the total number of people in the lobby, 13. The line moved, Chucker took a step forward. His left hand began unbuttoning his long trench coat from the bottom, up. He noticed the second hand of the large clock on the wall behind the teller counter slide slowly around. The slender, red second hand left a hazy, pink smear behind it. There wasn’t going to be time for a hold-up note. He had left his car double parked and idling directly outside and that decision was already drawing attention.

No one says ready, set, go in a bank robbery. The start signal for the havoc is the drop of sweat that snakes down the forehead, slides off the bridge of the nose and drops silently with a warm splat on the upper lip. Chucker threw open the sides of his trench coat and cocked a pump-action shotgun one-handed. That sound alone got everyone’s attention without Chucker shouting a word.

“ON THE GROUND.” He ordered, then fired a shell into the ceiling. People fell, some stumbled, the guards froze like fountain statues. The red second hand on the large clock halted in mid sweep. “PUT ALL THE CASH ON THE COUNTER.” Chucker yelled and fired another slug into the wall next to the head of a bank guard who was slowly reaching for his sidearm.

The tellers threw bundles of cash onto the counter in front of them. They scurried like frightened mice, their hands and shoulders shook uncontrollably. Chucker started at one end of the counter and scrapped the money swiftly into a gunny sack while still holding the shotgun in one hand. He was quick, his method was primitive but effective. He only made one mistake, he turned his back on the guard near the door for one tick of that red second hand. When Chucker twisted the gunny sack closed and turned for his getaway, the door guard was just pulling his service revolver. Glass shattered, women screamed and men shouted. The red second hand of the wall clock stopped. The glass entry door to the bank was blown out. The guard lay, ripped open and draining life.

Chucker cleared his way to the door, swinging his shotgun like a Cro-Magnon club. He had exhausted his shells by cutting two more security guards in half and breaking the neck of a third. Alarms were ringing and people were fleeing the premises. Chucker used the flight of customers to cover his escape. Jumping behind the wheel of the idling Impala, he wrenched the steering column gear lever into drive and stomped on the accelerator just as a police cruiser side-drifted into the street one block behind him. He hadn’t made a clean job of the hold up.

The chase took the two cars tearing through downtown. Chucker tried to make it to an expressway entry ramp. the Impala’s V-8 horsepower would soon put distance between him and the pursuing cops. He just needed a couple breaks and he’d make his get away. The pursuit flew by stores and businesses and could be heard from blocks away. Only two blocks from the expressway. He threw the Impala between two support girders of the elevated train tracks, hoping to shake the police cruiser behind him. He shaved his angle too close and snapped off the side mirror. A chunk of metal whipped back and fractured the door window.
Chucker again saw a stop-action film run in fast forward before him.

His blood-shot eyes bore witness to countless scenes of his fingers drumming on school desktops. He struggled to forget the many times he didn’t stick around for the answers to his questions. He sucked his lips in at the images of an impatient young man too headstrong to wait in line. Bolt-and-leave was his answer to any problem. Chucker couldn’t sit still and just take things in.

The high speed chase made his adrenaline rush. He gripped and un-gripped the steering wheel. Chucker cut a glance into the rear-view mirror one last time. When his eyes flashed back to the current scene in his windshield, all he saw was the blade of a snow plow jerry-rigged to the front of a city dump truck careen into the side of his car. The heavy steel blade cut through the fender and across the middle of the Impala’s interior. The Chevy sheered in half, one section continued forward and another spun off to the side. As the momentum of events came to rest, Chucker found himself thrown clear of the wreckage, but his torso was severed in half.
Chucker lifted his shoulders from the asphalt so he could look down at his missing lower half.
“Ain’t that a bitch.”

His chin hit his chest and the light in his eyes dimmed as he watched the closing credits roll on his life. At the very end of the film, as the projector light flickered, he saw a puppy, a furry, energetic little puppy jumping and licking the hands of someone, someone who was giggling, he felt weightless and happy. The image darkened to black just as the puppy was seen running out into a busy city street.

The next thing he became aware of was his head being rolled on the hard edge of a railroad track. He believed his eyes were open, but all he could see was jet black nothingness as his head continued rolling. Gradually Chucker stopped feeling his head dragged on the iron. A drab, yellowish light flooded his lost vision. He suddenly found himself seated in a chair. He looked down and watched the lower half of his body re-materialize.

He sat behind a desk in a huge, endless warehouse full of desks and there was a steady hum of voices, like the hum of millions of flies. Chuck looked across the desk at another person talking to him. He tried to focus on the person’s lips that worked without voice. Someone turned the volume up.

“…. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ve been here for ages, and still I don’t know what to do. They told me you could help me. Are you going to say anything? Can you help me? What are you staring at?”
Chuck looked from side to side. There were countless rows of desks with a person on either side. The humming grew louder.
“What is this place.” Chuck asked the man opposite him.
“Why are you asking me? I thought you had all the answers, that’s what I’ve been waiting here for. And I want some answers, I’m not leaving until I get my answers.”

Chuck ignored the babbling man. He tried to push himself up to leave his seat. Nothing happened. He shoved at the desk hard. Nothing happened. Chuck looked down at the desk in disbelief then his eyes rose slowly to the babbling man on the other side. It was then he noticed something sobering. Behind the man that didn’t stop talking, stood another man, and behind him, another man and a woman, it went on like that as far as he could see. Nameless people waiting endlessly in line, each leveling a deadened stare at him. Chuck had no feeling, he couldn’t leave the desk and the man wouldn’t stop babbling.

Tired EMT’s threw the two halves of the body into a morgue bag and zipped it up before throwing it into the back of the ambulance. More police cars arrived and started to untangle all the snarled traffic. The failed get-away had grid-locked everything all the way back to in front of the diner where the old man put the last bite of egg into his mouth. He chewed slowly without looking out the window. After swallowing, he left a quarter tip on the formica table and left. The waitress screwed the chrome top on the last salt shaker. The old man ate at the diner every single morning. It was the waitress’s start of shift routine to fill all the salt shakers. The welcome bell on the back of the diner’s door didn’t ring when the old man passed through it.

Light Prisms

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There was a morning moon showing and something unusual happened. The rays of an early sun ignited the moon into a phosphorous dish. The sky was thickened by a sapphire vapor that sank down, staining the trees and buildings as if dying Easter eggs floated above them. The blue dye effect didn’t stain everything and left a beige blotchy line below the blue stain.

The breaking sun created light flares off the moon that morphed into gilded bird cages. These giant cages floated to earth and then turned molten and alloyed with the ground. Loud sizzling bubbles sent up flamingo mist that settled against every tree limb and building wall. A duotone of sapphire and flamingo spread viral across the planet.

Only a bastard black charing filled in windows, and outlined stone structures. The trees soon died and stood shrunken and charred. The moon’s phosphorous flame fizzled out, reducing it to a cooled, chrome plated crescent that faded dull into the thin, vaporous stratosphere.

This fantastic coloration petrified what was left into lost artifacts.

Pretzels My Latest Offering on Amazon Kindle

Pretzels is the third Ebook in my “snack stories” unofficial series. It’s filled with the same addictive reading goodness as the first two short story Ebooks and more. Pretzels contains some of my most favorite work to date. Quirky-twisty literary fiction. Stop by soon and explore.

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