Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Portrait of Words - Month Two - Bernie Has a Problem

The hunky Jeff hosts Portrait of Words. This is the second month. Participants build a story based on photos that Jeff randomly selects.

I hope you enjoy my story and I hope you visit JEFF’S PLACE to read all the other stories.

My story is based on these photos:

The sound of horns blaring drowned out the radio. Bernie fiddled with the dials and pulled at the bent antennae trying to get better reception. The normal sounds of his everyday work routine were making him anxious. The truck he couldn’t get a loan for had a sound system. Imagine that Bernie chuckled, a sound system. Bernie was always described as a “go with the flow” kind of guy and normally he was. He loved his family, did his job, got along with his customers. The All American family guy.

Except for weeks now Bernie felt subtle changes. The times when he was worried and anxious seemed to drag on forever while the peaceful, happy times at home flew by. Little things bothered him beyond proportion and big thing made him shut down. One of the guys had described Bernie’s feelings as a mid-life crisis, male menopause even. Male menopause made Bernie laugh. His wife kept telling him she was “going through the change”, maybe menopause was catching? He was consumed with an acute awareness of his life being more than half over and getting harder, not easier.

“Shut the fuck up and merge” Bernie yelled out the window. “Like a deck of cards you assholes, just like shuffling a deck of cards”. Out of the corner of his eye Bernie saw a car full of children pass on his left. “Oh crap” he muttered. He hated it when people cussed in front of his kids. He turned the volume on the radio all the way up and vowed to be quiet and calm, it was only 3 more exits to home.

Sharon glanced at the clock; Bernie should be home any time now. Each night she hoped today’s mood would be better. She had known Bernie all her life and they had been married for 17 years, right out of college. He was the love of her life. He was gentle and kind, a good father; he worked hard and spent all his free time with the kids. Once or twice a month he tried his best to be romantic by taking her to a fancy restaurant or to the city for a show. Sharon enjoyed these nights out but always told Bernie it wasn’t necessary. She knew when she married him that their life would be unadorned and that was fine with her. But Bernie insisted, saying he loved to see her all dressed up. Besides their older girl was 15 now, old enough to baby sit for her brother. There were ten years between the two. The plan had been to have just one child. To give that child all they had never had, more than their parents had scarified to give them. Plans change without being planned. They did the best they could.

Belle came running into the kitchen just as Bernie pulled the old dilapidated truck into the driveway. Belle hated the truck; it was an eyesore in the neighborhood and made their house stand out. At 15 all she wanted was to blend in. “Sam won’t wash his hands and I’m sick of trying to make him” she announced as she flung herself into a chair at the table. “Sam wash your hands now and come downstairs” Sharon called out. She glanced at her daughter with one of her don’t be so dramatic looks. Sam was running down the stairs dripping water on the carpet just as Bernie opened the front door. “Daddy! Belle is being mean to me again!” he shrieked as he catapulted from midway down the stairs directly into Bernie’s open arms. Bernie laughed and said what he always said. “You two have to get along, work it out”. Without skipping a beat Bernie carried Sam into the kitchen, touched his daughter’s head and told her “stop rolling your eyes, they’re going to get stuck that way”. And Belle’s question was always the same – “How do you know I’m rolling my eyes?” “Because you’ve been rolling them for 2 years” was Bernie’s stock answer. This all transpired while Sharon put dinner on the table.

Later that night Bernie and Sharon sat in the family room. Sharon’s birthday gift to herself had been TiVO and she was deeply engrossed in the last 2 nights of Dancing With the Stars. She was adamant about no one telling her who had been eliminated. Bernie laughed thinking of the time the suspense had been ruined for Sharon. He had come home to “That bitch Kathy Lee Gifford has no business on the Today Show. She talks so fast I couldn’t hit mute in time and now I know that the poor one legged girl is gone”. “What are you laughing at?” Sharon asked. Bernie shrugged and blamed it on Warren Sapp.

The 11 o’clock news was just starting when Sharon decided to go up to bed. “But you know who was eliminated” Bernie said. “Smartass” Sharon replied as she kissed his bald head. “I’m glad you’re feeling better” she added.

Morning at the Silver home was much like evening. It revolved around food and pleasant chaos. Sam asked for 5 more minutes, Belle changed outfits 3 times without once pausing her cell phone conversation, Bernie scanned the newspaper and Sharon made cornflakes. They left the house as cannon balls fired into the day. Sharon took Sam to school and then went on to her sales job at Sears. Bernie dropped Belle 3 blocks from the high school; she refused to be seen in the truck.

“Ya know, this truck pays for a lot of what we have. Plus Mom’s job of course”. Belle didn’t respond. Bernie couldn’t help but try. She had changed so much during the past 2 years; he wanted his little girl back. “We could try painting it” Bernie continued hoping he sounded enthusiastic enough. “We could try burning it” Belle said. Even she had to laugh at herself. “Dad we’re getting too close to school, pull over now!” She gave him the briefest, tiniest peck on the cheek and leapt from the truck. Bernie watched her run towards the intersection. Wait for it he told himself, wait for it. As Belle was about to round the corner she glanced over her shoulder and blew Bernie a kiss while flashing her million dollar smile. Bernie gave the horn a gentle toot and pulled away into traffic.

Bernie was whistling and still feeling the glow of that million dollar smile as he merged onto the turnpike. Traffic was blessedly light this early and he sailed along. Million dollar smile, million dollar smile – the warmth quickly evaporated. Bernie thought of the thousands of dollars paid to the orthodontist. Then the thousands more paid to Sam’s school. The second mortgage had barely covered both and now he could barely cover the mortgage. He felt that familiar pain in his arms and realized he once again had the steering wheel in a death grip.

The day went by quickly. Sales were down over 30% and Bernie had run out of new leads for the day. He decided to call it quits early and head home. He knew his dark moods had been worrying Sharon so maybe this would be a good time to come home early and in a good mood.

One of Bernie’s regular stops was the airport. He usually met this client, a small aircraft owner, first thing in the morning but today he had been asked to come by on his way home.

Bernie was a regular at this section of the airfield and since he knew most of the security officers it rarely took him more than a moment to get on the tarmac. His paperwork was always in order and his security badge hung from the rearview mirror. He pulled his truck close to the open hangar door and went into the office. The owner was out but his right hand man Adam was there. “Do you want me to off load in the front or round back?” Bernie asked. Adam seemed distracted and nervous and didn’t respond. “Adam?” Adam seemed to see Bernie for the first time. He stared at him for what felt like forever and then asked Bernie to pull the truck back behind the hangar.

“How long you been working like a dog Bernie?” Adam definitely wasn’t himself. “Feels like forever Adam. Especially lately. You know how bad business is. You got kids Adam?” Adam nodded and motioned for Bernie to follow him. They went out to where Adam’s SUV was parked. Adam popped the trunk and looked around nervously. Bernie couldn’t help but think it was all a bit like a bad TV crime show.

“I’m in a bind Bernie. I’ve been moving this stuff for a friend. I bring it in from South Carolina and then drop it off in Newark.” Bernie was barely listening; he couldn’t divert his attention from the metal case full of guns. Actually there seemed to be guns everywhere – under Adams’s coat, behind the spare tire – everywhere. “Close the trunk for Christ sake” Bernie said. His voice sounded very loud in his ears. “What the hell is wrong with you? Do you even know what you’re doing?” Adam shuffled his feet and stared at the closed trunk. “I got into some bad debt and this was they only way to get out of it. I swear Bernie, this is the last shipment but I can’t leave the hangar and it’s got to be there and …” Bernie cut Adam off. “What the hell are you asking me to do? I’m not carrying guns out of here, and taking them to Newark! What the fuck Adam, are you arming gangs?” “I don’t know where they go after me Bernie. And I don’t want to know. What I know is I had no way out. There is never a way out for guys like us Bernie”. Those last words hit Bernie. Suddenly it all became very clear to him. The dark moods, the impatience, the anxious feeling. There was no way out. After all the years of working. All the years of struggling. Building his business. Sacrificing to have his home. Raise his kids. Give them more than he had.

There was no way out.

Bernie didn’t recognize his own voice. “How much is in it for me Adam?” As desperate as Adam was he was surprised by Bernie’s sudden change of attitude. They discussed money as Bernie tried to focus. He felt a buzzing in his head. He face was red and hot. He could imagine Sharon asking “Is it a hot flash Bernie?” Sharon. She had stayed at home with Belle until Belle was 10 and in a good after school program. Sam was 5 and Sharon had been working at the store for over a year. And her salary did little to cut into their mounting debt.

There was no way out.

Bernie went to get the truck. How bad could it be? The guns would get there one way or another. He climbed into the back and began to move things around so he could hide the metal case. He pushed his inventory to one side and as he did a box fell over. “What the hell…” Bernie wasn’t sure what he was looking at for a moment.

Dear Dad – remember we have to finish our project on Saturday. Love Sam.
It was the jar full of alphabet beads that Sam and Bernie had collected. They were going to make word bracelets to help Sam learn to read.

Bernie jumped into the driver’s seat and drove away. He could see Adam staring after him.

Bernie just wanted to get out. And go home.

There was always a way out.


Cherie said...

That was great! I'm so glad that Bernie got the last minute save from his son.

Anonymous said...

Great story Dianne. What cherie said and this. I like that you didn't change Bernie's "stand up" guy demeanor.

Anonymous said...


anna said...

What a brilliant story, Diane. The characters to plump and palpable, they jumped off the page. The desperation, rage and hopelessness of so many hard working people, an all too familiar warp. The weft, the ultimate redemption of Bernie’s love for his family and his salt of the earth values.

Farmer*swife said...

Nice read. Gosh, I didn't do this and I haven't done WWC in forever either. Hmpft.

Glad you participated...though? I'm still curious about Bernie. Like I didn't quite get enough to let him go on with his life. I'm curious....

Does that make the story better? ;-)

Hope you are having a better day with the old ankle thing! Happy Hump-Diggity!

Farmer*swife said...

Does that make "this" a better what I meant. And, I think so....because I quickly became attached to the character.


Shelly said...

You had me hooked in the first're amazing girl.

San said...

I love the hopeful ending, Diane. And the way you drew the characters--you gave us a great feel for this family, this man named Bernie.

My favorite sentence in the entire story: "They left the house as cannon balls fired into the day." That is so fresh and lively!

Raven said...

Whew! I'm so glad Bernie made the right choice. Great writing as always. I wasn't able to come up with anything this month.

RiverPoet said...

Ah, a tale of hope and redemption! You have the knack for writing, my friend. Great story...Peace - D

Daryl said...

Oh Dianne, this was perfect! Way to go Bernie!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Akelamalu said...

Fabulous Dianne. I'm so glad Bernie didn't become a bad guy. There is always a way out! :)

Dianne said...

cherie - the power of children. thanks :)

spartacus - thank you!! I almost didn't! but I really want to believe the good guy can finish first and still stay the good guy, especially now.

rob - thank you! that made me very happy.

anna - "plump and palpable" characters - thank you! that is critical to me. all else falls into place if the characters are there and real. and guys and gals like Bernie are all too often invisible.
your comment is so appreciated.

farmers wife - if I could make you care about Bernie then I'm thrilled and flattered.
thank you.

shelly - thank you. the traffic dialogue is straight out of a day on the roads with me. especially "deck of cards" - I got that from my son and love it!

san - as I mentioned to spartacus above I just MUST remain hopeful. Bernie is attached to this election, to my injury, to the economy. To all those things that make us feel so lost. Hope is on the way I say :)
thank you for a lovely comment san.

raven - thanks, Bernie is a mensch, Nana would love him. I have been working on this, on and off, all month. It took many turns.

riverpoet - we need us some redemption and hope
thank you

daryl - thanks lady!!
haven't we all known a Bernie? I hope I always remember to pay attention to the Bernies :)

Dianne said...

akelamalu - I have been chanting that mantra a lot these days. there is always a way out :)
it's so f'ing hard, isn't it?
like your son's story. far too many obstacles in the way.

Dr.John said...

Wow! What a story. I felt for the Bernie and I just loved the ending. Great work.

Tammy said...


Richard said...

Dianne: How you reached into the psyche of a middle-aged man and wrote this story is amazing to me. Dear, you have talent you haven't even tapped yet.

Loved it.


Jeff B said...

This story flowed seamlessly from the interactions at the house to the ordeal at the airport.

You really did a fantastic job building a picture of who the family was too. Kind of like the "Smith" family from Anywhere USA.

I couldn't wait to get to the end to find out what happened to Bernie. Then, once I got there I wanted to read more.

Great job!

CrazyCath said...

I am sooo relieved Dianne! so relieved. For a minute I thought he was going to do it.

What a fantastic job you did on this. You built the characters up brilliantly and I just wanted to know they would be all right.

Great story.

Bear Naked said...

You are an amazing author.
You had me hooked from the very beginning.
I loved this story.

Bear((( )))

Sandi McBride said...

Oh Dianne, this was excellent...I especially loved the ending...and yes, there's always a way out...

Dianne said...

Dr John - I like Bernie, glad you did too. thanks!!

tammy - thanks!!

rich - as usual you are extemely kind, thank you.

jeff - thanks! I was hoping everyone would relate to the family :)

cath - for a minute so did I lol
thanks cath :)

bear - thanks!! I hoped folks would enjoy it.

sandi - important to remember, especially these days :)

Bear Naked said...

Come over to my blog today.
I have a little something for you.

Bear((( )))

Jeni said...

You really had me worried there for a while that Bernie was going to turn to a "life of crime" and then, at the last minute, turned him back around to being the good, stable guy! Great story, hooked me in from the get-go!

B. Roan said...

Bernie is a likable character. I started getting worried about the ending when you introduced Adam. Fortunately Bernie was saved. Enjoyable reading! BJ

Bob-kat said...

Fantastic writing as ever. I got the feeling that you were drawing on experience here when you wrote about Bernie and the way he was feeling (though not necessarily the circumstances or the offer!). I love how you played the wild card at the end so it bacme a pivotal moment for Bernie.

Thanks for visiting my blog and for what you wrote. I can tell you know exactly what I have been feeling (many people don't). I know exactly what it's like to try and manage with health issues (everything ecomes that bit more difficult to deal with and it's so tiring!) and then when people who are meant to care about you don't come through for you it can be crushing. I wish I lived closer. I would be there with moral support in whatever way it was required (sometimes the simple offer of help is enough though isn't it?).

Do you know, I had to laugh to myself because my parents and sister still insist that if I ever REALLY needed them then they would be there! I hate to think how bad things would have to be to require their help in that case! You are of course right, their apparent lack of care says more about their selfishness and laziness than it says about our worth. I am telling that to you now as you wrote it to me, because sometimes we need someone else to tell us that too.

I do hope you feel better soon and bravo on your latest short story. I hope to meet Bernie and his family again {hugs}.

tt said...

Excellent!!!!I was sucked in from the get go. I think we all have to remember...there's always a way out...I love optimism!

bobbie said...

Dianne, how do you do it? So good!

Real Live Lesbian said...

Yay for there always being a way out!

You rocked this one to the very tne!

CG said...

I totally loved it. Got completely absorbed!!

Dianne said...

bear - I LOVE my bouquet and will display it with joy. thanks!!

jeni - thanks!! I just couldn't let life get the best of Bernie.

b-roan - glad you enjoyed reading. at one point during the month I had the story getting all dark and twisted and Adam became so prominent a character and each time I re-read it I felt lousy which is not a feeling any of us need right now.

bob-kat - there is a whole lot of Bernie in me these days - as there is in many of us. It is such a difficult time to be a good person!
I value the fact that we each help the other with our experiences and support.
We're both doing just fine ya know :)

tt - I've never been all that good at optimism - snarky and sarcastic and fatalistic have always been my strong points lol
BUT hope is more than a political slogan - it truly exists !!

bobbie - thanks!!
this one took a lot of time this month. as I mentioned in other comments - I had this story going all over the place and I hated all of them. I just kept liking Bernie and kept asking myself what did I really want from/for him and then it got better. I wish I could have expanded the story but it was the 11th hour when it finally took acceptable shape. Maybe I'll write a few more Bernie stories, Lord knows we can all relate.

RLL - you're always too kind to me, keep it up LOL

cg - thanks!! getting absorbed in something I write is a wonderful compliment and means a lot to me!

Deb said...

Whew ~ I realized when I finished reading the story that I had been holding my breath for the last few paragraphs! I was so nervous that Bernie would go take the wrong fork in the road! Nicely done!

Dianne said...

deb - thanks!! I love that the story pulled you in!

SnoopMurph said...

What an amazing story and I agree that you definitely pulled us in quickly and hooray for Bernie finding a way out.

Keep up the wonderful stories.

Faye Pekas said...

It kept me interested all the way through. I hope Bernie's life gets better. He made the smart decision but does that make him happier. Hopefully so.

Michael Manning said...

Dianne: Fascinating to finally catch up with you and read such a well crafted story! Bravo! :)

Dianne said...

snoopmurph - thanks :)
I'm learning how to use dialogue to describe a character - it's fun.

faye - I hope all the Bernie's out there find a way to be happy. I'm so glad you were interested :)

michael - so cool to see ya! and glad you liked my story.
someday maybe I'll write a movie and you can feature it :)

Lu' said...

Dianne that was just great, great. I really enjoyed it. So much so that I kept reading it at work even though usually I'd save a longer story until I got home :)

Dianne said...

lu' - thank you! I love that you enjoyed reading it :)

Casdok said...

What more can i say! Brillient!

Dianne said...

casdock - coming from someone who writes the way you do that says enough - and more!! thanks!

Leighann said...

How many different way can I say.... I totally dig you, doll!


Knight said...

Good choice of ending. I have faith in people at that point. A real story about family and priorities. Nicely done.

Dianne said...

leighann - I dig you too sweet girl! and I still love when you call me doll!! nice to see ya :)

knight - look!! you and leighann came by together :) sweetness x 2 - it's important to keep the faith, especially when you have children. Bernie will be OK :)

Askew To You said...

Great job really fleshing out that character. I'm very glad that Bernie did not take the guns. :D

This sounds like a fun project.

I had not heard of Male Menopause the other day. I wrote about it for Dating Bernie definitely sounds like he's got a touch of it.

Dianne said...

askew - I hope you'll consider taking part in POW. It's once a month and the pics for next month should be up by now. try it out
I'll be sure to check out dating dames :)

Travis said...

Great job! You had me too. I thought for sure he would go the easy way. But you held firm. You let us see that even though there might not be a way out, there's still the satisfaction of working for whatever you can get.

There is diginity in that. And satisfaction. And love. And listening to the reminders of those things, wherever you find them.

Dianne said...

travis - thank you! I am big on holding firm - in fiction and in life :)
and love what you said about listening to the reminders, beautiful.