(This is the first installment of [Arrowheads], a new Garling Files section of super short fiction. I’ve never liked the term Flash Fiction, as it is often called, as it makes the work feel cheesy, in the same way I think Flash Mobs cheapen a particular reason to get together. Though, I guess Flash Photography is pretty important; and Flashing can sometimes be funny if the right parties are involved…. Anyway, we’re calling it [Arrowheads]. Three of them below.)
“We are Stairway to Heaven! Thank you!” Kyle sing-song-shouted into the mic, his long blond wig dancing in the blues and whites of the stage lights. “We’ll be back next month,” he reminded the almost-hundred people scattered about the converted horse barn. A long pinewood bar had been installed where there had once been bales of hay. “Check out our website at NotQuiteZeppelin.com for our schedule. Good night, Nebraska!”
“Do me Robert! Or—whatever your name is!” came a siren’s call from a far wall covered in bits, latigos, spurs and stirrups.
Kyle turned, smiling, to indicate undiscerning interest, but found a blond in a halter-top laughing with her friends over the apparent sarcasm. He looked at her for a moment realizing he’d been teased and jogged backstage into the dressing room. A case of Bud Light balanced atop a couple boxes of unused stage lights and pallets.
“Good show,” Dan said twirling his drumsticks. “We crushed Whole Lotta Love again.”
“Agreed,” Francisco echoed. His bass draped casually in his lap. He took off his wig and tossed it towards a duffel bag.
Both Dan and Francisco saw a storm on Kyle’s face when he’d walked in. He’d nodded to both of them so they were pretty confident his gripe was directed at Charles. It usually was.
Charles had his guitar in his lap on the floor, sipping a beer with his back against the planks of the barn wall. He still wore reflective black aviators and the pants with jaded dragons up the leg that Jimmy Page had made famous. With one knee bent upwards, the fire breathing lizard stood in front of him, on his shin, like a guardian demon. Unlike the rest of Stairway to Heaven, Charles didn’t wear a wig. His long, curly black hair was real.
“What was that?” Kyle hissed sipping a bottled water. He didn’t drink.
Charles took a sip of beer and played a couple riffs on his tattered, sunburst ’68 Les Paul Standard. Unamplified, the notes twanged nakedly and died in the high ceilings. “What was what…” he replied, almost to himself.
“You know what—that solo on Black Dog. We were supposed to be playing the version from Madison Garden ’72 and that wasn’t even close.”
The notes of Charles’s unplugged guitar twanged on.
Kyle continued, “I’ve never heard Jimmy Page play a solo even close to that. Was all that improvised?”
Charles continued plucking quietly on the floor.
“You’re such a bastard,” Kyle said, shaking his head and storming out to find the blond in the halter-top.
Office lights hummed overhead; the desk laminate reflected a white and brown ether.
“There are really…four…options for the fund,” the adviser said. His face softened. “Before we get started, though, can I get you something, coffee or a water?”
“No thanks,” Dennis said.
“No,” his wife echoed softly.
Dennis saw the sad breeze in her hand as she waved away the offer and saw her setting a rose on a casket—gentle as a firefly, smooth as silver, as only a mother could.
“Now,” the advisor said, “there are really four good rollovers for college funds, but the options are very different.”
As he continued, Dennis glanced sideways. She was doing her best to sit upright.
She’d sent me this black and white picture of her in a long satin dress, laid out like a rose on the couch, and I had no idea what to do with it. I’d shown it to Frank during lunch and he shook his head.
—I don’t know, tuck it away somewhere.
—Yeah. Don’t show that brawd from Friday.
I nodded and put it away.
The next day I’d forgotten until I reached for a folder and the veneer of the exposed film rubbed against the side of my thumb. I winced. I tucked it into a back pocket of my briefcase without looking.
A month went by and forgot about it, until one day my brother called me.
—Good afternoon. Rich Aretta.
—How a’ you?
—Fine. What’s up, Mikey?
—Not much, hey, you going to ma’s birthday pa’ty?
—Of course. What kinda question is that?
—I dunno, you know, just checkin’. Hey, I was also wonderin’—
—Hey Mikey, look, I gotta get back to work if you don’t have nothing else too important.
—No…okay. See you at ma’s.
I was glad he called; I hadn’t gotten a present; I ran out to Bloomingdale’s.
That next week at ma’s, Mikey was waiting outside when I pulled in.
—Glad you’re here, Richey.
—What’s with you, Mikey, ‘course I’m here.
—I know. Ma’s just been actin’ funny is all.
—Mikey, she voted for Hoover. What’d’ya expect these days?
—Yeah, I know, I know.
I walked in and set the earrings by the lamp. Ma never looked up. She just kept smiling at my two cousins by her chair and patting their hands. More guests arrived and the party started, but still ma never said a word to me. We started opening gifts. Mikey gave her an embroidered pillow; and she got serving pans, pictures and books from other people.
Then it was my turn. She opened the earrings, turned them over and held them to her ear. Everyone was watching.
—Look good, Richey?
—Yeah ma, of course. Beautiful.
—You think so?
—I look beautiful, Richey?
Her face got real serious.
—Then why couldn’t you tell me that when I sent you my picture?
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Caleb Garling lives in San Francisco and wrote The St George’s Angling Club, available at