[Arrowheads IV-V]

August 20, 2010



“Oh! Excuse me!” She was new in the neighborhood, and was terrified.

“It’s fine,” I said.  Her eyes hadn’t relaxed and she continued to stare at me.  After a tense pause, I waved her away.  “It’s fine—go along now.”

She backed away slowly.  “I didn’t mean to bump you…God bless.”  She crossed herself.

I turned and headed past Luccio’s bakery and down to West 54th.  It was a Hell’s Kitchen summer Saturday and a few kids were playing with a hose, soaking one another as I went by.  A Sicilian boy tried to spray a little girl but she was too quick and instead, he got me on the arm.

“Johnny Brazzi!” his mother shrieked from the stoop of their building.  She ran over and yanked the hose from him.  “Show some respect!”  She looked up at me.  “I am very sorry—“she turned to Johnny “—apologize!”

Johnny stared at the ground, shuffling his feet.

I started to speak but she interrupted me, still looking down at Johnny. “Johnny, what do you say?”

“Sorry,” he said softly.

“It’s okay,” I said, “run along,” and felt the eyes from across the street.  The old men that played checkers and smoked cigarettes in front of Hudson Market had taken an interest when they’d heard her shriek.  I glanced over and they averted their gaze—Mario Abruzzo, the mortician, nodded in respect and I tipped my fedora back to him—then they all went back to their games.

I turned up 9th, heading for the park and realized I was late.  I picked up my pace, made it across West 55th before the light, but didn’t make it across West 56th in time.  A car blasted its horn as I reached the sidewalk.  I didn’t pay attention to the noise, but then a shout stopped me.  A cop was in the street, having stopped the car, and was walking around to the driver side.  “Show some respect,” he yelled at the driver, a middle aged man with accountant glasses, and then turned to me and pointed.  “Apologize!”

The accountant’s face was flush with fear and shame.  He meekly put up a hand.  “Sorry,” he said almost whispering.

“Louder!” the cop bellowed.


I waved him off and nodded to the cop.  He nodded back, pride and vindication on his face, and tipped his hat.

When I finally got to the park , I realized I didn’t know the meeting point.  This was not like me—I have to be very organized—so I headed east and began searching for faces.  Soon I came to the crowds by the rink.  This was a usual meeting spot, but there were others so I continued searching.  People moved out of my way.

Then, I heard: “Salvador!”

My brother-in-law emerged.  His face was tense, but he seemed relieved to have found me.  “This way,” he said putting a hand lightly on my shoulder and leading me away from the masses.  “We were worried something happened to you.”

“It was close,” I said smiling to myself.

We went down a path, in the shade of the trees, and turned a corner to a quiet meadow.  They were waiting patiently for me.  I remembered the spot now.

“Uncle Sal!” my two nieces shouted.

I kissed them on the forehead and held them tightly.  When it was her turn, my sister hugged me too, then became stern.  “Next time we are coming to get you.”  She kissed me on the forehead.  “This city is no place for a man in a wheelchair.”



He had wandered the forest for a very long time, alone.  And he believed it was good.  When he had emerged and the shine of the world consumed him again, he sat on his mat and the teacher asked for the sound of “Om.”  He heard the tones start apart, every set of lungs searching for greater resonance; they shook and sharpened until the quaking harmony tightened like a bridge being raised by its cables, and was one. The singular tone of many fastened to his soul.  A tear came to his eye.  And he believed it was good.

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Caleb Garling lives in San Francisco and wrote The St George’s Angling Club, available at




[Arrowheads I-III]

August 6, 2010

(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.

—That’s it?

—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?

—Yeah, ma.

—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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Follow Caleb at www.twitter.com/calebgarling

Caleb Garling lives in San Francisco and wrote The St George’s Angling Club, available at