Albert J. Parisi
Award Winning Writer and Author
Here are a few examples of short, short stories
I have composed recently.
I do hope you enjoy them.
By Albert J. Parisi
I’ve never really had very good luck with neighbors. I’m the first one to be pleasant, give a wave and shovel out their sidewalks after a snow storm. Heck, I’ve even shoveled their driveways in a pinch, because that’s what neighbors are supposed to do for one another, right?
My North Jersey town is a bit toney, and when we moved up here 20 years ago from the city, it was a picturesque Norman Rockwell community with a nature center nearby with lovely hiking paths, great schools and a town hall, library, fishing pond and park all in walking distance.
Picture perfect: an acre of land, a center-hall Colonial and peace and quiet. Well, for the most part.
No one warned me about quirky neighbors. First there was John and Ellen. He was a Wall Street trader and she was a lawyer. Since as a successful trader it was his habit to steal, he felt that the same rules applied to property rights. I found him one day trimming bramble bushes on my side of the yard. Then he installed a sprinkler system that broached my property line. He insisted it was well within his boundary.
The kicker was when a hefty rock, not quite a boulder that my young son and I had dug out of the ground after considerable effort, vanished while my family and I were away for a long weekend. The stone, I noticed, had joined a rock wall he was building in back of his property.
I called in a survey company to stake my land and sure enough, they told me, my original property markers had been surreptitiously moved by a dozen feet.
With new markers in place, I broke the bad news to John.
“That’s my property line, you’ll need to move your sprinklers back, please don’t trim my hedges and, by the way, last week before we went away, there was a big old rock right here. Did you see anything odd in the neighborhood? I’m thinking that it may have been abducted by aliens.”
He glared at me, ranted that he had no idea what I was talking about and stormed off. Miraculously, the rock reappeared the next day. Go figure. Imagine such angst over a stone. You’d think we all had rocks in our heads.
Ginger and Paul are our newest neighbors. She’s a public relations exec on hiatus while raising two young kids and he, I think, runs a marketing firm. Ginger does all the home improvements and is as comfortable with a power saw as she is with a frying pan. I’m convinced she was a mule skinner in a previous life. Paul, it appears to me, doesn’t do much of anything around the house besides nod his approval on Ginger’s projects.
One day they decide to install a Koi pond with all the bells and whistles. There was the gurgling water fall, the stone landscaping, the murmuring water filter, all feet and earshot away from my fence and back patio. You know, Koi are nothing more than expensive gold fish with an attitude, but the night-time garden spotlights I found to be a bit much, especially those that pointed up toward our bedroom windows. After a word with Ginger, she did change the angle of the lights and placed them on a timer going off at midnight. Very considerate.
I awoke one morning to the sound of a power saw. A gnarled tree with a large knot hole dead center was being taken down and from my bedroom window, I watched as she placed animal-friendly steel traps along the fence.
“Ginger,” I asked her later that morning as she leveled and set the traps, “what’s doing?”
She pointed to the Koi pond. “Paul and I were admiring the pond last week and we noticed that we had less fish than we thought. Crazy, right?”
She took a deep breath and pushed back her hair from her sweaty forehead. “Yesterday I come out here and I find a raccoon leaning over the rim, scooping out Koi like she was standing on line at an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet, the little fucker.”
She pointed at the downed tree. “That’s where she and her babies lived down deep in the knot hole. If she wants to live here and dine on my dime, she can fucking pay me rent.”
A Distasteful Slice of Life
By Albert J. Parisi
Mrs. Frankel stiffed Randall for a tip on his last delivery, and that was just the start of an unpleasant, unsavory day. Sure, he was running a little late and the pizza was cold and the fettuccine alfredo container had leaked all over the bag, but shit, he thought, a $45 order from Nino’s Pizzeria still should have been good for a $5 tip.
Okay, maybe he wasn’t the most pleasant of delivery boys, but what did people expect? He had to use his own car, pay for his own gas, try and find houses on dark streets with no porch lights on, and take crap from soccer moms who wanted their orders in hand, like, yesterday.
And all this for $6 an hour and, oh, yes, tips. Still, it kept him in beer money and some good weed here and there. Mom and dad kept a roof over his head and at 26, he was in no hurry to bust up a good thing. He was a whiz at computers, but that 9 to 5 thing that his parents embraced wasn’t for him, especially if he had to wear a shirt and tie and cut his hair. Randall had even given in and tried it for six months, and his natural knack for being a trouble shooter had gotten him noticed, but falling asleep at his desk a few times after partying hearty all night had been the deciding and defining factor in getting him canned.
He pulled his battered Chevy Malibu into a spot behind Nino’s at the Franklin Shopping Center and cursed getting out when his foot sank into a freezing slush puddle that soaked his sneaker. From the trunk he removed half a dozen delivery-worn thermal bags designed to keep pizzas hot while on the road. Randall made his way through the back door and into the kitchen.
Hugo, the Colombian cook, made a face and pointed with a thumb to the dining room. Randall sighed and unzipped his down jacket.
The dining room was busy for a late Saturday and Nino was barking orders. Seeing Randall, he stopped and grimaced.
“Where the hell have you been?” he said, glancing at an imitation Rolex. Nino was 45, salon-tanned and to his customers, spoke in a breezy Italian accent accompanied by a wide smile and a sassy charm. But he was a Bay Ridge, Brooklyn boy and third-generation at that, and for the help, his accent was street wise, Saturday Night Fever direct.
Randall thought Nino was a real prick. He had a sweet wife, Gina, three young kids, a goomah on the side and was not above dallying with the young waitresses that came and went over the years.
“Get your lazy ass ready to go back out. There’s a whole bunch of orders ready to go,” Nino barked.
“I just got in and it’s sleeting outside. Give me a minute to warm up.”
“Time is money and I ain’t got enough of both,” Nino growled as he popped open the oven and removed a steaming pie for slices at the counter.
Randall eyed the pie as Nino sliced it into pieces of eight.
“I haven’t eaten.” said Randall, “Before I head out, I want to grab a couple of slices.”
Nino eyed him with disdain. He reached over to the counter case and cut two slices from the remains of a pie sitting cold and congealed in the corner.
“You go eat in the kitchen.”
“Hold on,” said Randall, taking in the aroma of the savory hot pie.
“I want two slices of that pie there. I’ll buy two slices.”
“That pie,” said Nino, a snarl forming on his lips, “is for customers.”
Randall was taken aback and numb, but not from the cold.
“Let me explain something,” Nino said, leaning in so that Randall could smell the garlic on his breath and his cheap cologne, “You just work here. You’re just a shadow in and out the door. I got paying customers. They’re the ones that matter and I have to keep up appearances.”
In the Pink Over Ink
By Albert J. Parisi
I’d just come out of CVS with a prescription in hand when my eye went to the aging veteran seated in a folding chair by a battered card table. There was a donation can and red paper poppies before him, all to raise funds for the local VFW Post. It was summer hot, and within seconds, the pharmacy’s air-conditioned comfort was replaced by a sticky, New Jersey swelter. The stinging sun reflected from car windows and the concrete walk as people walked past, all ignoring him or allowing for a casual, glancing and hurried nod.
He wore a black ball cap with the inscription “World War II Veteran” in yellow lettering. I judged him to be in his early 90s, thin but not quite frail, filling out a blue T-shirt with arms that were still solid and peppered with age marks. In his right hand he held a small American flag, the kind seen at cemeteries or held by laughing children along a Memorial Day parade route, and his face was wrinkled by years of sun, smiles and frowns.
I reached in my pocket and pulled out cash held tight in a money clip and walked to his side. He looked up and smiled as I thanked him for his service and placed a couple of singles in the donation can.
On his left arm, tanned, leathery and wrinkled, was a faded and curious tattoo: a familiar caricature of a young lady with a big head, curls, pouting lips and in a bathing suit. There was an inscription at her feet, but too faint amid the age spots to read.
“You were Army?” I asked.
“Sure was. Hundred and First. Survived Bastone and the fight into Germany.” He paused, looking away, a memory filling his eyes.
“Left a lot of good friends over there,” he said, his steel grey eyes returning to mine.
“Again, thanks for your service,” I said and shook his hand. He still had a steel grip. I turned and took three steps, then stopped and turned back.
“Mind if I ask you a question?”
“Not at all, son.”
“Why do you have a tattoo of Betty Boop on your arm?”
He smiled and chuckled, and his grin was that of a young man again.
“Son, back in ’44, I was 21 and that was Lana Turner. You might say that over the years, we’ve both aged badly.”
11/22/63: Innocence Lost
By Albert J. Parisi
On that day so very long ago, I was a first-grader home from school with a cold. I recall that the air was crisp, the sky blue, with no indication of the dark cloud that was to befall us all, my family and the nation.
My parents were Sicilian immigrants, my dad working a textile factory job in Paterson and my mom tasked with housework and raising a family. For them, the American Dream was a roof over our heads, food on the table and paying the bills. Yes, we were poor, but we just didn’t know it, compared to the abject poverty they had known in the “Old Country.”
There was an old saying among immigrants, particularly those who had come through Ellis Island, as my parents had: “In America, the streets are not paved with gold, most streets are not paved at all and we are expected to pave them.” Hard work was the key to success, and my parents embraced that.
In 1963, there was an air of hope, youth and vigor in what we all came to know as “Camelot.” My mom had a particular fondness for the Kennedys: Jackie was raising a young family, too, only in the White House. Jack had the weight of the world around his shoulders, as did any member of a struggling household, and mom and the president were the same age, both born in 1917.
Mom understood English but was not fluent. Still, that did not keep her from her favorite soap opera, “As the World Turns” on CBS.
On that day, lying in my pajamas before our small black and white television, we watched together the trials and tribulations of those soap opera characters whose lives were so very different from our own.
As I recall, just after 2 p.m., the first bulletin hit: Three shots fired in Dallas. The President gravely wounded.
In my memory, the images now are all a rapid blur with some etched in crystalline clarity over the course of four days that will last a lifetime: My mom’s face turning pale, a return to regular programing, an interruption again and Walter Cronkite, in tie, shirtsleeves and solemn, telling us of the developing tragedy.
Tears streamed down my mother’s face and she choked back a sob as my voice gave credence to what she already knew: “The president’s been shot.”
Another blur of faces and anxious voices and then, the image of Cronkite again, removing his glasses and glancing off-camera to a clock, confirming to a nation in a stoic voice on the verge of breaking that the president was dead.
I remember the shock and feeling of helplessness, but mostly I recall my mom bursting into tears, her shaking hands to her face and feet stomping the floor as her body was wracked by a spasm of unrelenting grief. We had lost a family member.
At six, one’s parents are one’s world and sense of security and stability. For me, the fear that closed over my heart was more about seeing my mother stripped of that security than the death of a young president.
In that very moment, for myself and a nation, our sense of innocence was lost.
On that November day, my mother was inconsolable, and for the next four days, we grieved with the Kennedys and were captive to our TV. The arrival in Washington of the casket, the flag-draped caisson bearing the president’s body, a riderless horse following, and of John-John’s salute to his lost father as he was about to celebrate his own birthday.
For me, that eternal flame in Arlington will always burn bright with hope, even at the cost of innocence.
Is Garfield a Cat or a Dog?
By Albert J. Parisi
It was low tide and the ocean lapped at the rock outcropping as a gull circled with a fierce cry. It swooped down low following a receding wave but finding a morsel alluding, it instead defecated in the bubbling sand.
“Do you know that John Garfield died here,” said Joan brushing back her hair, carefully balanced on a smooth rock and tapping away at her iPhone 6.
“John Garfield, the president. He died here in Long Branch back in the 1800s and, like, there’s a park dedicated to him and other guys who vacationed here.” She lightly touched the screen with her thumb and Brian could see a blur of images from the corner of his eye. He looked out at the horizon on this crisp and clear October morning and could see a freighter in the distance plying the waters. A 12-story cruise liner heading south was miles to its right. Above them, a gleaming 767, having sighted the coast, was winging north. Not far out to sea, the wave tops foamed in a stiff wind. A dear friend at such a sight used to say “the sheep are running.”
“John Garfield was an actor in the 1940s. You mean President James Garfield.
‘Yeah, well, yeah. Whatever.”
“It’s James Garfield. Not John Garfield. James Garfield was the 20th president of the United States. John Garfield starred in ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice.’ ”
“Well, I guess Wikipedia got it wrong then. Take it up with them,” she said, quite annoyed, her eyes never leaving the screen.
A wave broke on the rocks before them and Brian savored the spray that caressed his brow and checks. Joan muttered a curse and cupped her hand over the pad’s screen.
“My God, what a beautiful scene,” he said as his eyes scanned the horizon. On the crest of a wave, a gull bobbed blissfully in the sun.
Joan’s eyes rose and caught sight of the gull.
“Oh, way too cool,” she said, raising her iPhone and snapping a photo.
“What are you doing?”
“Taking a picture,” she said with a head toss to the right and brushing aside her hair. “I’ve got to share this.” She pulled the iPhone back from her eyes, thumbed to another screen and tapped an icon, then another. A smile crossed her face and her eyes never left the device.
“Can I see that for a minute?” said Brian.
“Your iPhone. Can I see it for just a minute?”
“I already sent the picture.”
“Yeah, I know. Just let me see it for a second.”
Joan handed off the iPhone and he held it gingerly. It was remarkable how light it was. A multitude of icons glared back at him.
Brian arched up from the rock, cocked back his arm and threw the iPhone hard. It cartwheeled through the air, lost momentum and splashed into a cresting wave, startling the bobbing gull. It squawked and rose on its wings, then settled back on the water.
Joan rose, too, her face turning red.
“You asshole! You fucking asshole!!! What did you do that for? Do you know how much that cost! It has all my fucking pictures on it!”
He turned away from her and ever so slightly shook his head as she punched him hard in the arm.
“You are such a fucking asshole! Joan howled. Her voice carried over a cresting wave. “What am I going to do for pictures now, you dick!”
“Try taking one with your mind’s eye. I’m sure, somewhere, there’s an app for that.”
Pound of Flesh
By Albert J. Parisi
The economy was for shit and Jim was reminded of it each time he went grocery shopping. Sticker shock over prices left a bitter taste in his mouth and it wasn’t getting any better.
Work was slow and as a carpenter, he took pride in his craft, but the reality was that new homes weren’t being built and not many people were willing to pay for the custom pieces that he was especially known for and the prices they commanded.
Sure he’d undercut his own prices on recent orders, but the demand just wasn’t there. Thank God Jeannie’s job as an office manager at an insurance agency was secure, for the time being anyway, and their health coverage was not a worry.
Still, money was tight with a mortgage and the kids’ needs and everything else that was priority to make ends meet.
Jeannie had been having a tough week so Jim decided to give her a break and go to the store. The shopping cart was full and he had one more stop to make before checkout. He passed on the steaks and opted for the hamburger. The kids always clamored for Mac and Cheese, and Hamburger Helper more than once saved the day. Pizza Fridays also helped, but he still felt a knot in his stomach by not going high end. In his mind, guilt ate away at him for not being a better provider.
He avoided the aisle where the hot rotisserie chickens glistened with their crisp, golden skin. Tonight he’d give Jeannie another break and make one of the few dishes he’d mastered: Spaghetti with garlic and olive oil. Good Italian bread and a salad would round it all out.
At the deli counter he took a number and waited his turn. The prices glared back at him as he looked about past the handful of soccer moms also waiting their turn, feeling uncomfortable and out of place in a T-shirt and faded jeans.
Jim wanted a treat for the kids. Some sliced Swiss and a pound of roast beef, the one listed on sale in the store flyer.
In the deli case with the sale tag attached was a savory slab of beef, its outer bark a dark marinate and its core a lovely medium-rare. He could almost taste it, but he knew that once he got it home, it would vanish once Terry and Julie learned of the treat. Maybe he’d get to enjoy the aroma.
He was a teenager before he’d ever tasted roast beef. Dad was a textile worker and money was tight for him, too, but one day he brought home a quarter-pound surprise and watched with delight as Jim enjoyed a sandwich, and then two. He never asked for a taste.
“Next,” shouted the teenage girl behind the counter as Jim’s thoughts returned to the present. “Next,” she repeated with annoyance, her darting eyes above a blemished face saying she was close to the end of her shift and wanted to be anywhere else but at work.
“I guess that’s me,” said Jim, holding up his number. “I’ll have a pound of that roast beef, sliced thin, please,” and he pointed to the roast in the deli case. The girl rolled her eyes and turned to a counter behind her and reached for a plastic-wrapped end-cut that resembled a piece of gnarled and darkened firewood. She pulled off the wrap and slapped it onto a slicer.
“Excuse me, miss, what are you doing?” Jim asked.
“You wanted roast beef, right?” she replied, further annoyed. “I’m slicing roast beef,” she added, as if addressing a young sibling.
“I’m sorry,” said Jim, “but I want that roast beef, the one in the case there.” She threw her hands up and looked with disdain at the ceiling.
“Look, my boss says I’ve got to use this up first. You want roast beef or not?”
Jim took in a deep breath. “Your boss isn’t paying for that roast beef, I am. And that roast beef in the case is what I want. If your boss has a problem with that, he can speak to me or eat that crap himself. I work hard for my money and that’s what I want.”
The deli girl looked at him long and hard, shrugged, then reached into the case for the fresh roast.
Jim felt a hand on his shoulder. A little old woman with cherub eyes smiled and whispered in his ear: “Good for you.” In a louder voice, she said: “And don’t put that away, honey. I’ll have some of that, too.”