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Facing Grace with Gloria

William H. Coles

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Facing Grace with Gloria

Listen (21:09)   Facing Grace...  

I was sleeping in this mission after being discharged from the psych ward at DC General, and some hophead stole my cash from my veteran’s disability checks that had piled up while I was so rudely and unjustly incarcerated.  So I dropped by my best buddy, Arthur, who lived in two side-tilted Dumpsters at the edge of inner Washington, DC.

“You got any cash?” I asked.


“I want to visit my mother.”

“She write to you?”

“Not yet.  But she needs me.  Came to me when I was inside.”

Mother was in Eureka, California.  At least her spirit was, and her ashes were, too, in an urn in my older sister’s bungalow; I hoped they were out of reach of her two young children by her second husband.  My sister refused to see me, but Mother cared that I came to visit.  I slept in a cardboard lean-to near Route 101, and I could feel Mother in the air, even when it rained.

“I need money,” I said.

“Work the monument,” Arthur said.

“That’ll take weeks.”

“Hey.  You might get lucky.”

I cleaned up best I could in the restroom of a discount trade mart, and headed on down to the Potomac River.

I put my cardboard sign up on an intact discarded painter’s easel: “Crash site. Tours.  Flight 63.  $1.00.  Kids free.”  I waited.

A few folks dribbled by but they gave me wide berths and blank stares.  After an hour three ladies came up – I'm blessed, from my mother’s side, with a right-on feeling about people – and I knew at least two of these broads were trouble: cranky oldies who were dressed, one in brown the other in gray, like spinster twins, in ankle-length dresses with long sleeves, probably from a Midwest town too small to have a library.  These were women who cut their own hair without looking in a mirror.   But the third was a girl, maybe nineteen- or twenty-years-old.  She had even-edged shoulder-length hair and a round face like one of those angel paintings by Italians you see in the gallery near the toilets in the museum on a free night.  She wore this short skirt that didn’t cover her cute little knees – all puckered with dimples and curves like little midgets laughing.  And she moved as if she had no weight.  Her name was Gloria.

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Illustration(s) by Peter Healy

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29 Responses to “Facing Grace with Gloria”

  1. Paula Murphy Says:

    I had troble following the story, but I'm glad I read it.

  2. admin Says:

    Good thoughts. Your comments are very useful. Many thanks. WHC

  3. Tim Chambers Says:

    Mr. Coles,

    I have the greatest respect for you and your site, as I have said elsewhere, and for your writing.

    I do understand you are writing fiction here, but IMHO there are too many similarities to the actual event for the reader to assume you're not writing about it and to wonder why you altered the facts. This diminished the impact of the story for me, while for those that don't remember, it would not lessen the effect to have the actual facts memorialize the event.

    At the time, I lived a couple miles upriver, directly under the flight path.
    Every time I heard a plane I would wonder if were safe, and that jet might just as easily have come down on my house. So it is a very vivid and emotional memory for me (though I did have the bridge wrong in my comment, it was 14th Street Bridge, not Memorial.)

  4. admin Says:

    Thanks. The story is fictional, although set in D.C., and the bridge photo used was to label the story for the Internet post, and was not meant to suggest reality. My apologies. WHC

  5. admin Says:

    Thanks for the information. The characters and the story are entirely fictional, although the idea for the story was generated from descriptions of the crash years ago I think you describe. The crash scene as Arthur described it was used (and made up) only to advance story so the characters could reasonably make their story decisions. Again, thanks. WHC

  6. Tim Chambers Says:

    That photo is of Key Bridge, not Memorial Bridge.

  7. Tim Chambers Says:

    I was in Washington at the time. I remember it vividly. It happened late afternoon just before dark, not at midnight, as Arthur tells it. It was in the middle of a terrible storm, but I could see emergency vehicles headed down MacArthur Boulevard. One of them was towing a small boat. You wouldn't see that at midnight in a snowstorm. No way.

  8. Sahil Says:

    Nicely narrated,Beautiful discription of the Characters’ & location's. A simple but good short story, just like it should be.Loved it!

  9. Shirley Harrington Says:

    I loved the story. It had just the right mystery to keep you reading and wanting more.

  10. Beverly Darling Says:

    I thought that this story was very beautiful and moving, but there really wern't enough clues for most readers to understand that Arthur was Gloria's father. Perhaps instead of 'We're in Washington for a settlement', it would be a bit clearer as 'THE settlement'. Gloria could have mentioned that her father's name was 'Arthur'. Great story–I loved it!

  11. Angel Says:

    This is such a beautiful story, so graphic and real, as if readers could step into it and experience it just as the author did. I wish I could write like this. :)

  12. Ka5yla Says:

    i'm in highschool and i think it is a great story :)!!!(:

  13. angel Says:

    not so short tho i have to say for me ???

  14. andria sanders Says:

    hi fan great boy POO

  15. sarah-jane Says:

    not so short but i love it im trying to get ideas for a story i all ready wrote 3

  16. Phyllis Says:

    I love it I think I just might marry it!

  17. Elizabeth Says:

    Okayy.? Lovely story, I personally think you should put more action into it but all in all great job!

  18. Kailey Says:

    Nicee….story kids will love it. Hopefully, next time you can make a book out of it, if you do could you please inform me I would love to read it…!

  19. admin Says:

    I sincerely thank you for your question/comment and I am honored that you want to send your story. I also regret that I can't help. I am not involved in publishing. The stories posted on the sight have had the single purpose to provide resources for writers and readers of literary fiction. I do wish I had an easy answer for you. Many of the more commercial publishers are now requiring fees for reading, which they justify as contest fees. I personally find this distasteful, but it is becoming common practice. There are magazines that still read (usually at restricted times) without charge. You can find lists of these publications on line, if you haven't already. Good luck. Publication opportunities are shrinking, but don't let that discourage you from writing your best and trying, as you are, to discover a way for your stories to find their readers. WHC.

  20. mehreen ahmed Says:

    I would like to send you my short story for publication. Can you tell me where to send it. Thanks.

  21. Margaret Rodenberg Says:

    Lovely story, beautifully illustrating some of the principles you write about on this site.

  22. Dougie Quick Says:

    Wake up people! Listen, here is what went down. You know old Arthur? HE is the girl's dad, get it now? When the plane crashed HE was on it! "…some of the bodies were never recovered…" He just stayed right there in that area and made a monument to himself, a dead hero that his daughter could respect rather than the wreck of a looser he evidently had become. We might have assumed the above not probable if he had really been a man with Vietnam veteran status now "waiting on agent orange settlement" but if that were so why would he have needed "dr. cash" when the VA would have provided. Recall him finally starting to charge for crash site tours? I'm thinking the daughter found out he was still alive when she joined the class action suit (probably did that more at her mom's insistence and a chance to perhaps find out something about her dad than for money" Or maybe she was never any part of that suit. she did arrived at the site along with the other two old spinsters but nothing else in common with them in fact she informed them that she "had already settled" Possible that since she coincidentally walked up at the same time that she decided to use the same reason for being there? Somewhere along the line when the pieces started coming together she looked for him. A likely address he might have used would have been that motel. She would then find out that he was homeless right in that area and that he did the "tours". She looked all over that Expressway for signs of him so she knew there was no "crevice" to sleep in. Who knows how many times she had visited the "crash site" before she got lucky. I'm thinking the cash she brought along that day was FOR her dad. Somehow she had pieced things together but when she found him he KNEW it was her but assumed and did not want her to know it was him. And even though he really needed money he would not take it from her, it being so much more valuable to have her believe he was a dead. Recall too that she did not ask Arthur but waited till later to ask Arthur's friend what his last name was. She honored her estranged father's desire to at least let him believe that she thought her hero dad was dead. All three characters came away richer for the day. Re-read it and see if you aggree, If you find differntly by all means please tell me what I missed!

  23. K.L. Stover Says:

    Compelling story, powerfully told. I was engaged mentally and moved emotionally. You are gifted.

  24. Roger L Crain Says:

    A homeless veteran finds grace, and two people finds redemption through sharing. A great story! I enjoyed it immensely.

  25. deanna Says:



  26. Victor Lin Says:

    All this and jazz piano to boot. Great story!

  27. J.D.Loefgren Says:

    The real revelation was the ending wherein the narrator's inherent goodness won out over greed.This is such a well written piece and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

  28. Ivory Edwards Says:

    What a wonderful story, I felt as if I standing Grace as she listened to the gentleman describing the rescue of the woman in the water as her father, or even if was not her father, the gentleman gave her something that she could hold onto. She needed to have just a piece of her father's life. She needed this part of him, something that she was cheated up as she was growing up. Excellent storyline.

  29. Omari Jackson Says:

    This is an interesting story. It took my breath away and am loving it. The dialogue is great and the characterization is superb. Thanks for the story. I love it.

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