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Gravel into Gold
By Pamela Painter & Randall Brown


It was time for our considerable stand of bamboo to be restrained by a trench fence the landscaper told us as we stood by the towering, swaying mass. Interesting word, I thought, given the lack of restraints indoors.

We’d have do it ourselves, the last of our bank account spent on a vintage Skee-Ball game from a hurricane-wrecked boardwalk. A weekend in the trenches, with another storm on its way.

The owner of Happy Gardens looked at my husband's trench list and grimaced, saying, "No way should you do this yourself, cause one shoot gets through and your work is gone to hell." The look on his face was similar to the couples counselor's face when we told her we could only do three sessions. 

“How do you feel about bartering?” my husband asked, avoiding my eyes.

“What do you got?” the owner answered.

***

"Why did you leave Dad at Happy Gardens?" our eleven year old son asked when I pulled into the drive. "He can't get a cab, and needs you to come back for him, and wants me to come along."  

"We are going to leave Dad in the trenches for a bit," I told Mickey and he asked why we even needed a fence and why we couldn't just get someone to do it.

"Why, why, why," I said, as an answer.  

***

Mickey and I had a pizza-with-everything before I relented and, still not happy, pulled into Happy Gardens where Greg was sitting on a stone bench, sifting gravel. While Mickey was retrieving his father, I called our therapist to assure her we'd be back next week.  

“Look what I found,” Greg said as he entered the car. He held in his palm what looked to be a gold nugget.

Gold nugget, hah, I thought, as once again I was letting my perceptions, my hopes for our future, turn water into wine, gravel into gold.

Without looking at Greg, I took the piece of yellow gravel rapped it on the dashboard twice, and handed it to Mickey, who was bouncing up and down. 
Pamela Painter is the author of four story collections, the newest is Ways to Spend the Night from Engine Books. She is also co-author of What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers. Her stories have appeared in Harper’s, Five Points, Kenyon Review, Missouri Review, and Ploughshares among others and in numerous anthologies. She has received grants from The Massachusetts Artists Foundation and the National Endowment of the Arts, has won three Pushcart Prizes and Agni Review’s The John Cheever Award for Fiction. Her stories have been produced in LA, NYC, The Hamptons and London by WordTheatre.
The tires slipped and slid as I backed out of the parking lot and Greg dragged his finger through the leftover dirt on the dashboard. The car swerved in the wind gusts that likely sent our bamboo into the neighbor's junkyard that we'd been trying to hide from our view for years.

It was probably time for me to confess to Greg—and the therapist—what I’ve been trying to hide: that I’ve been sleeping with the head of the town’s planning board, someone I plan to stop seeing. “To get even,” I’ll say.
The tires slipped and slid as I backed out of the parking lot and and Greg dragged his finger through the leftover dirt on the dashboard. The car swerved in the wind gusts that likely sent our bamboo into the neighbor's junkyard that we'd been trying to hide from our view for years.
Randall Brown is the author of the award-winning collection Mad to Live, his essay on (very) short fiction appears in The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, and he appears in Best Small Fictions 2015 and The Norton Anthology of Hint Fiction. He blogs regularly at FlashFiction.Net and has been published and anthologized widely, both online and in print. He is also the founder and managing editor of Matter Press and its Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. He received his MFA from Vermont College and teaches in Rosemont College’s MFA in Creative Writing Program.

***This piece was a collaborative project between Pamela Painter and Randall Brown, with each writing two sentences at a time—and then working together to revise.