12 November 2006

introducing alternative tales

Alright, as some of you may know, I write for a living, and that what I write in my daily grind is nowhere near what I want to be writing about. I used to write a lot fiction and poetry, but I've stopped. I plan to change that, and just to make it more fun to do, since music is also my foremost interest, I've decided to combine both music and fiction.

And so I'm going to try to run this series: alternative tales : stories from my ipod. Essentially, this is my self-imposed mental exercise, and it will only work with your help.

Here's what you do: Give me a song, pick a line from that song, and then give me a name, place, or object.

And here's what I'll do: I'll write a flash fiction – a very short story of 250 to 1,000 words – about or inspired by that song, throwing in the line and name, place, or object you picked. Anything but rap, metal, country and bubblegum pop.

To start, I give you Rudie Can't Fail – from the song of the same title by The Clash. A member of a forum I often visit suggested it, and he chose the line "How you get a rude and a reckless, don't you be so crude and a feckless, you been drinking brew for breakfast, Rudie can't fail." His person is Mother Teresa.

And so it is. Let me know what you think, and don't forget to make your own suggestions.

rudie can't fail : the clash
click here or on the image below to listen

Rudie took one final drag of his cigarette as he walked from the side of his car to the green-gray gate of the old house. "Today's the day," he said to himself. He rang the bell and craned his neck to look through the glass window that let the orange mid-afternoon sun wash over the musty living room inside. He could hear muffled voices and the clacking of shoes against the creaking wooden floor on his approach.

It had only been two weeks since his last visit, yet his father seemed to have aged a decade. Whatever it was that was eating his brain was also doing a good job at tearing his body apart. Rudie felt a tinge of pity for the man, whose once-proud military build now lay slouched on a tattered couch, head bowed down, left hand limply resting on the handle of his cane, right hand gripping a rolled-up newspaper – the same newspaper he had been holding for five years now, the one that had a picture of the crash that killed his wife. He had been driving and had fallen asleep, and in his guilt, Rudie believed, almost willfully drove himself to senility.

Rudie hunkered down to greet his father, yet again failed to look straight into his eyes for even a second. The dark spots that ringed his neck had formed a map, while the surface of his skin, nearly transparent in its whiteness, seemed to peel away from the flesh of his face. Rudie was taken aback when his father turned his eyes to grab his – a brief, fiery look of recognition that quickly melted into an empty, hopeless gaze. "How are you, Papa?" he asked, and when there was no answer, Rudie wrapped his hand over his father’s papery wrist, surprised both by its warmth and strong pulse. He eased down to his fist and tried to gently pry the newspaper from his fingers so he could hold his hand, but it only provoked a blow to the side of his head.

"How you get a-rude and a-reckless? Don't you be so crude and a-feckless!" his father howled, his voice mechanical, his eyes unmoved. From the vault of phrases he had uttered in the past that now sprung randomly from his mouth, that was a new yet familiar rebuke. Rudie's V-shaped scar at the tip of his eyebrow reminded him when his father had said it. He was fifteen, stumbling into the kitchen one morning, sneaking from the back door after a night of drunken disappearance. Rudie didn’t expect to find his father waiting. He grabbed Rudie by the collar, smelled his breath, and demanded in a guttural hush, "You been drinking brew for breakfast?" Before Rudie could say a word, he found himself thrown to the floor, his temple hitting the sharp corner of a chair. "Oh, so you care about me all of a sudden?" he shouted back as he wiped the stream of blood from his cheek. That was when his father said the line – humorous in its unintentional rhyme, callous in its unequivocal threat.

"Rudie can’t fail," came a crumpled voice from a woman sitting next to his father. "Did you bring me those vegetables from the market, Rudie?" She called herself Mother Teresa, although she looked nowhere near the late saint of the gutter. Tall and overbuilt, she one day mysteriously appeared at the doorstep of the house with blood running down her legs, carrying a single bag of clothes and a stack of post-dated checks that went on to the next seven years. No more aware, she had been his father’s companion since. Rudie squeezed her hand, stood up, and brought his father to his feet. Mother Teresa stiffened, turned to face Rudie, and asked weakly, "It’s time, isn’t it, Rudie?" He smiled and nodded. "Goodbye, George," she said.

Rudie guided his father to his room and gave him a glass of water before laying him down in his bed. There were pictures of his mother on the bedside table, on the wall next to the crucifix, on the mirror in the cabinet. "Happy birthday, Papa," he said, remembering the last time his father had been in his senses. He had gone to see Rudie in his house, but refused to come inside in spite of the rain. "I don’t have much to say, son," he had said. "Just take this and don’t fail me." And that was it – an envelope in his hand, an obligation to fulfill. Rudie took the will out of his pocket. He knew he needed to read the last line when this moment came, even though he'd had it memorized for five years. He whispered a prayer and wiped the tear that fell from his eye. He kissed his father on his forehead, and pressed a needle in his arm. George brought the newspaper to his chest, and pulled his final breath.


  1. Hello stranger :)

    The line: "Sailors fighting in a dance hall"

    The item: A postcard from Brussels

  2. Interesting song choice! Will do.