In preparing Someone Left the Cake Out in the Rain, I chose to order my stories according to the year of my original draft, starting with "The Tryout" in 1977 and ending with "The Kidnapper's Lament," which I began and completed in 2020.
Here's the shortest story in the collection, and one of my earliest, entitled, "Annals of Science: The Caldwell Farm". Originally drafted in 1980:
There, on the knoll looking over Beaver Valley, behind the trees and the small white farmhouse, Sven Johnson dismembered his wife with an electric saw. While incarcerated in the Jefferson County Jail, he bartered the property to his attorney, Charles Caldwell. With a fine Victorian residence of his own in nearby Port Townsend, Caldwell had little need for the farm and left it to his son.
Only 24 at the time of his greatest discoveries, James Caldwell had never even visited a farm as a child. Yet at the University of Washington, where he taught zoology, Caldwell pondered the death of the self-sufficient family farm. Though he characteristically failed to record the place and time where he first seized on his radical insights into small-scale agriculture, his students contend that it happened here, in this farmhouse.
Historically, we know, chickens and cows have been the mainstays of the family farm. The Caldwell farm was no exception, and James initially tested his theories on these ordinary animals. In later years, his husbandry methods were shown, by scientists around the world, to work with all domesticated livestock.
Though he used sophisticated mathematics to prove his theories, anyone could understand the practical concerns that spurred his research: how much energy would be saved if hens could collect their own eggs, if cows could milk themselves?
In less than two years, the young Caldwell divined the answers. An additional problem – inducing beef cattle to commit suicide, in order to greatly simplify the operation of the slaughterhouse – vexed Caldwell for six more years. He wrote bitterly to friends of his failure to be the be the first to perfect this seminal advancement. As the world now well knows, Albert Heald, the British zoologist and winner of the Nobel Prize in biology, patented the first "suicidal cow" a scant three weeks before Caldwell published his own work.
A second fiction-in-minature is entitled, "Carrie Wore A White Bikini," written in 2015:
Carrie wore a white string bikini and chased the beach ball into the sea. I threw down the rest of my Tecate beer and gazed at the sailboats bobbing in the calm Caribbean waters. From a distance, she waved to me, the water covering her breasts and the waves, now and then, nipping at her sun-bleached hair.
I tossed the can aside and tightened my trunks. I tumbled out of the reclining chair and felt the soft, loose sand between my toes. The sun was high and hot and the sweat, having gathered under my arms, now ran down my sides. I pulled down the baseball cap on my head, cutting the glare, and staggered toward the sea, my balance destroyed by the looseness of the sand and my own impatience.
Somehow Carrie had found me in an Acapulco hotel and sent word for me to meet her on an island off the coast of Cancun. I left my brother Harry then and traveled to this island that the locals call Isla Mujeres. I don't speak any Spanish but Carrie spoke the language and we stayed in a bungalow on the beach with our own kitchen and a maid and a driver. In the ten days since we met here, we hadn't once spoken of the past, and we weren't going to speak of the past either because Carrie was leaving tonight and we had better ways to fill our final hours together.
I had arranged for Harry to pick up half of my Swiss money on the condition that he should wait at least a few months before pissing away his half in a casino somewhere. I figured I could live a year or two on my half. I had asked Carrie to stay with me in Mexico, only realizing my mistake after she politely turned me down. "Trust me, I'll never lose track of you," she told me in a confident tone, a wide smile on her face.
Though her words sounded like a kiss-off, somehow I believed her. Maybe she was my Guardian Angel. Maybe she'd been sent to watch over me. That would be fitting, even as a fiction.
I stepped into the water and felt a big wave crash against my calves. Over the sound of the surf, Carrie pleaded for me to swim with her. She punched the beach ball in my direction, and I dove into the bluish-green sea, surfacing with the ball in my hands. I tossed it in her direction. The ball came up short, and we both chased after it, coming together as another wave hit. She pulled me toward her and we kissed, salty water running down our faces and into our mouths.
Just then the beach ball was swept out to sea. I started after it, but Carrie held me back.
"Forget it, Z. It's too far gone."
My eyes searched for the retreating ball, spotting it one moment and losing sight of it in the next. I held my breath, wondering about the ball, the water, Carrie, the world and my place in it. Who am I and where am I going? Why am I here? I kept looking for the ball in the waves, and now I thought I would not see the ball again. At the loss of the ball, I felt sadder than I should, maybe as sad as ever. A lost beach ball triggering my tears and an epic sadness? A riddle?
Then from somewhere inside me I received a sign, an answer of sorts, a response to everything in my head. I heard the voice of Leon Thomas singing "The Creator Has A Master Plan," his haunting ode to the human spirit. One night, long ago, Leon Thomas sang this song most beautifully in Berlin's Philharmonic Hall (a team of German recording engineers captured his performance for posterity). Over beating congas and a pulsing piano, Leon's searing voice stirred with hope as he sang of a time when peace and happiness fill the hearts of us all, wherever we are.
I took a breath, Thomas' voice echoing in my head. Happiness filled my body and soul, and every trace of emptiness, of longing, of loss, vanished – erased without a trace. For one last time I caught a glimpse of the beach ball, floating far out to sea, bobbing in the waves, now irretrievably lost.
Carrie was right. The ball was gone, and we had surrendered so much, and yet in this instant we found our triumph. Ignited, I moved towards her, swiped at her bottom sweetly, then dove into the water and swam away from her, against the waves.
I hoped she would come after me.
Neither of these two minaitures are representative, and are presented here merely as teasers.