July 3, 2020: “How I Left Ned” by Sherrie Flick

Happy day off of work, Story366!

Yesterday I spoke of the death of our refrigerator and the challenge to have a new fridge delivered to your house and installed, especially during coronavirus the start of a holiday weekend. It’s possible, but only if you wait three to seven business days. Do eggs and cheese and ranch dressing keep in a balmy house for three to seven business days? I guess we’ll find out in two to six days.

We got proactive today and went to some local stores, which wasn’t fruitful, as those are way more expensive, they don’t offer free delivery and installation, and they can’t guarantee anything any sooner than the big box stores. We also went to Menard’s, as we need a new light fixture for the dining room and a new toilet for the toilet room. Both the Karen and I realized that neither of us had ever been in a Menard’s before. It’s kind of neat, like the other big box hardware/houseware stores, only with some groceries and a lot of impulse items. They’re not the best for appliances—we still haven’t bought a fridge—but if I ever need to gauge the flush efficiency of a toilet and pick up light bulbs, gardening gloves, and a Twix bar on the same day, I’ll be back.

Today I read from Sherrie Flick‘s 2018 collection, Thank Your Lucky Stars, out from Autumn House Press. In April of 2016, I covered Flick’s “Breakfast,” from Whiskey, Etc. I’ve known Sherrie for a long time—we were at Chautauqua together one summer—and have always admired her work. We work together oSmokeLong Quarterly, too. I am proud to call her friend and to cover her again today—which also happens to be her birthday. Happy birthday, Sherrie. Thanks for your stories.

Flick has a reputation as a writer of flash fiction, a reputation she’s earned, as she’s one of the hallmark writers of that form. It should be noted that Flick writes more traditionally lengthed stories as well, which are also pretty damn good. The stories are all mixed together in Thank Your Lucky Stars.

One longer story I really like is “Singing Cowboy, Dayton, Ohio,” which is about Kenny. Kenny is a door-to-door salesman, decked out in a cowboy outfit, dragging a pony named Puff behind him. He sells Western photos to people, their kids climbing on Puff’s back, wearing the outfits, etc.—the photos can probably be ordered in cepia, that kind of thing. Kenny makes the mistake of knocking on one guy’s door one day, a retired cowboy named H.J. from Wyoming. H.J. invites Kenny—or “Bob Buckaroo”—in for a drink, for an apple for Puff, playing like he’s going to buy some photos. Soon, Kenny realizes that he’s in for more than which he asked, genuine H.J. taking offense at the entire scenario. I’ll note that the dialogue in this story is as good as any dialogue I can think of, the characters dancing around each other so much, it’s like they’re having different conversations. At least until they’re not. I think my students will read this story for years to come, on Dialogue day, just to see how it’s done.

I love Flick’s shorts, of course, what she does with that space, the language she employs, the drama she incites, and the characters that leave indelible marks. Some favorites? “Crickets,” “Sweetie Pie,” “And Then,” “The Bridge,” “Digging,” “The Bottle,” “Back Porch,” …. Okay, I’m doing it again, like I did for other short-short books, e.g., Kathy Fish’s, where I try to pinpoint favorites and I just want to name every story. So, my recommendation is the book.

Today I’m going to focus a bit more on the first story, “How I Left Ned,”which ends with the book’s title line, a story I particularly like. This one’s about a woman who runs into two guys with a truckload of corn on the side of the road. She wants to buy some corn from then, enough for dinner, an impulse by at an impulse stop.

However, something’s off. The guys don’t seem to know a whole lot about corn. Or sales. They want to argue about prices, about how many ears our hero can buy. As for our protagonist, for whatever reason, for a roadside impulse buy, she’s going to win this argument. They start to haggle, talk better prices and quantity, and before long, it’s clear no one’s giving any ground.

While these cornsellers aren’t farmers, our hero realizes that they’re crooks. And not just in the way they overprice their corn: This corn is hot. These men stole a truckful of corn and are trying to move it.

Does our hero relent, even with her life in danger? These men, in the middle of nowhere, could easily do her harm. They are as stubborn as she is, as persistent, and after a while, it’s clear that their confrontation is no longer about corn. I don’t want to reveal what happens to end this story, but remember the title of this story, “How I Left Ned,” for a hint. Even if you think you figure it out, you should track this story down. I really love it—what a bar to set at the start of a book. It’s a bar Sherrie Flick reaches over and over throughout Thank Your Lucky Stars.