Present Ghost

Telling stories


flash nonfiction

The Appraisal


At Central Watch, a woman with silver hair waited. Her red pill box hat capped her bob and accompanied her wool camel coat well. She had been wearing this outfit, or something like it, for at least 50 years. It looked good, even when she had started to shrink and her voice had begun to lose its easy, youthful volume. She stayed warm on her way to Grand Central.
When the clerk had taken my cash and returned my watch, she spoke.

“Excuse me, sir.”

From her leather tote she pulled a watch so bedazzled that the diamonds caught the light and broke it across the room in a thousand glamorous fractures. Certainly, it was meant for more than a timepiece, but it was more luxurious than jewelry.

Holding it a full arm’s length in front of her, she started again, “Do you know anything about this watch?” Continue reading “The Appraisal”




Unable to reach the sink, I stood inches from the top. I couldn’t see the whole body, just the curves. My mother, with her hands on a pink–grey neck, wept. She didn’t say anything, turning on the tap. She brushed her hair behind her ears and scrubbed all the down that wasn’t singed off its body.

My father cleaned factory floors at night, raised money for a small, now-defunct college during the workweek, distributed the Omaha World-Herald with my mother and siblings, and painted houses when the weather was good. When he wasn’t paid in cash, he accepted frozen birds that still had buckshot in them. My mother cooked, and we ate.

I never felt hunger at home. My mother had the gift of multiplication like Strega Nona or Mickey Mouse or Jesus. Continue reading “Hunger”

In gardens of improbable fruit


Forgotten tomatoes and carrots were gathered at the corners of the raised beds. I thought of taking some while my daughter played in the pond of a community garden in progress.

We came to exchange some books in the Little Free Library at the entrance. For an old cookbook and a self-help book that never helped, we got Wuthering Heights and “Curious George and the Pizza.” She didn’t want to sit on the bench and read with me. Shoveling dirt into the pond was more appealing. Someone had left a spade and a full bucket there, almost as if they knew she’d be coming.

I hadn’t read too many news stories yet, but I knew the neighborhood lore. A 10-year-old girl, maybe even on the ground over which I’d walked, had been raped and murdered two and half years before my daughter’s and my late morning visit.

If I’d remembered that before we skipped over the Little Free Library closest to our home, we might have gone somewhere else. Continue reading “In gardens of improbable fruit”

In the car

Most of the time, when I drive to work, I just drive. I follow the same blue-green Honda Fit plastered with bumper decals about universalism, hiking, and geology. If I’m not catching up with family phone calls, I’m listening to Vietnamese language CDs and pushing the “back” button again and again trying to pronounce impossible words before 8 a.m.

The other day at a stoplight, I looked to my left and saw a Sikh in his black 1997 Hyundai Accent, sipping on a homemade energy shake. His turban was pressed against the ceiling. In front of him, a salt-and-peppered post-professional man revved his engine and smirked in his Mercedes convertible. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt. To his right and in front of me, a woman was hotboxing it in her 4Runner, blaring talk radio so loud that I could hear the anger passing through her windows. The hatch bore a Navy ribbon. The woman to my right sat in an Avalon and applied her perfectly coordinated lipstick in the rearview mirror, sipped her Starbucks, and blotted. Continue reading “In the car”

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