Bruce Holland Rogers
This story is an exemplar for Bruce’s column on Flash Fiction of Character, part of the “MICE” (Milieu, Idea, Character, and Event) quotient.
For the first two years of grade school, Jerry’s mother dressed her like a boy and gave her a boy’s haircut. That was the only remarkable thing about Jerry. Pale, plump and quiet, she sat in the back of her classes. Her father wasn’t around much — weekends, mostly. But when he did appear, Jerry’s mother would suggest that Jerry go outside with him and throw a ball or look under the hood of her father’s truck. Sometimes Jerry and her father even followed the suggestion, tossing the ball for five minutes or talking about the function of different engine parts. The time between his visits got longer. Eventually he stayed away so long that Jerry’s mother stopped cutting Jerry’s hair and didn’t protest when, shopping for school clothes at the Goodwill, Jerry put a gray skirt in the basket.
At school, Jerry sat out the kickball games. She didn’t jump rope. Instead, she read her way through recess. She read during class, too, but often the wrong things. “This is math. Put away the encyclopedia,” the teacher would say. And later, “We’re doing spelling. We have finished with the math book for today.”
At home, she sometimes read a paragraph out loud to her mother, but half the time her mother said, “Not now,” and the other half of the time didn’t say anything at all.
In middle school, all of her classmates seemed to catch a fever that passed her over. The girls whispered, giggled, or cried. The boys laughed loudly or fought. Jerry read.
She kept reading in high school. She didn’t go to the dances. She didn’t ride in the cab of a pickup truck with a boy who was trying to grow a beard.
After graduation, many of her classmates moved away. Jerry stayed. She got a clerical job with the water utility.
She still shops at the Goodwill.
On slow days at the water utility, which is most days, she reads. Sometimes one of her classmates will come in with a billing problem, and if she greets them by name they are likely to give her a blank look, as if they aren’t sure where they know her from.
She lives in an apartment over the hardware store, two blocks from the public library that used to be a fire station.
Nights, when everyone else is asleep, she walks the silent streets to the park. She knows the Latin names of the trees and can recognize them by their black silhouettes. She knows that the rocks beneath the grass are Cambrian shale, half a billion years old. She watches the constellations overhead and can name the brightest stars. Betelgeuse, burning red, is much bigger than the orbit of Mars. At the other end of Orion, Rigel sparkles blue-white. When Rigel one day dies it will flare into brilliance visible in the daytime sky and cast night shadows as stark as the shadows cast by a full moon.
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About the Author
Bruce Holland Rogers
Bruce Holland Rogers has a home base in Eugene, Oregon, the tie-dye capital of the world. He writes all types of fiction: SF, fantasy, literary, mysteries, experimental, and work that’s hard to label.
For six years, Bruce wrote a column about the spiritual and psychological challenges of full-time fiction writing for Speculations magazine. Many of those columns have been collected in a book, Word Work: Surviving and Thriving as a Writer (an alternate selection of the Writers Digest Book Club). He is a motivational speaker and trains workers and managers in creativity and practical problem solving.
He has taught creative writing at the University of Colorado and the University of Illinois. Bruce has also taught non-credit courses for the University of Colorado, Carroll College, the University of Wisconsin, and the private Flatiron Fiction Workshop. He is a member of the permanent faculty at the Whidbey Writers Workshop MFA program, a low-residency program that stands alone and is not affiliated with a college or university. It is the first and so far only program of its kind. Currently he is teaching creative writing and literature at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, on a Fulbright grant.
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