Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

Exchanging Van Goghs

Exchanging Van GoghsMy small novella, Exchanging Van Goghs, is now available as a paperback or Kindle eBook. It’s the story of a correspondence between a young artist and a recluse that touches on their shared fascination with painters, music and the nature of light. Here is an excerpt:

I’m a terrible gardener. My grandmother was born to garden. She touched soil and beautiful things happened. It was natural to her. I touch the soil and everything just flops over. But I’m learning. I found a small notebook in her bedroom with sketches and notes about plants she loved. It’s been helpful. I am the plant observer, not the plant nurturer. But they seem to like my presence. They come alive when I’m in the yard with my sketchbook or easel. Maybe they’re just vain. Ooh look, the grandkid is gonna paint us! The peonies are especially aloof. Okay, they are beautiful, but really.

Last year a lone sunflower started growing in the south garden. Maybe a seed blew in from a neighbor’s yard. Maybe it was a touch of Vincent’s spirit. I started noticing the flower would turn itself toward the sun in the morning, waking up. I thought that was magical. This year the sunflower did not return. So its magic was fleeting. I should probably plant some sunflower seeds, but I’m sure they would just flop over. Or the peonies would be jealous. -Rezzie, from Exchanging Van Goghs

For ordering information see: Exchanging Van Goghs


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San Francisco, August 1987

“The Jesus and Mary Chain are ok, but they’re not as good as Metallica.”

“You like Metallica?”

“My favorite band.”

Autumn gave him a sly smile.

Cliff looked at her, questioning the smile. “C’mon, what?”

She slowly shook her head. “Metallica is boy stuff.”

“What does that mean?”

“Heavy metal. You’re such a boy.”

“Metallica is different.” he said. “I’m taking you to see them.”

“I’ve seen them.”

“You have?”

“Four times. I first saw them at the Stone in ’83.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No. I was still in high school. There were only like five girls in the whole audience. Such a total boy stuff display. Metallica shows are so funny. All those boys shaking their hair and fists. I usually have the shortest hair in the place. It’s so cute.”

“Metallica is not cute.”

“Yeah well Kirk drives girls wild.”

“Shit oh brother.”

“Total boy stuff on overdrive.”

“You’re talking about the most awesome band there is right now.”

“Yeah, ok,” Autum said. “They’re pretty–what was that word?–oh yeah, ‘awesome.’ They are so awesome, dude. Like, they rage.”

“Well they do.”

“All those little boys in their black t-shirts. Oh it’s cute. I love Metallica.”

“You’re just doing this to piss me off. Cute, hell!”

“Ok, Mr. Metallica fan. Do you have the ‘Jump in the Fire’ cassette with the live tracks?”

“Of course. Hey, I have the No Life ‘Til Leather demo tape.”

“Shit, you better make me a copy.”

“No, it’s much too cute for you.”

“You better make me a copy or I’ll hit you.”

“I’m shaking in fear.”

“Do I have to crunch you, Mr. Metallica fan?” Autumn made a fist and playfully shook it at him.

“I’ll make you a copy.”

“Shit head.”

“So what other bands do you like, Miss Metallica fan?”

“Oh, Anthrax just rages, dude. And Iron Maiden…”


“Ok, let’s see, I like Book of Love. And Wednesday Week.”

“Probably girl stuff.”

“You’ve never even heard them.”

“You’re right.”

“And I like all the early punk bands,” Autumn said. “Ramones, Undertones, Pistols, Buzzcocks.”

“Really? I like all that stuff too.”

“Velvet Underground?”



“They didn’t exactly rage.”

Autumn shook her head. “Ok, Motorhead, Guns n’ Roses, Sabbath.”

“Yeah I like those bands.”

“Boy stuff. Figures. Do you like anything that isn’t metal?”

“I like…well I like…” He hesitated.

“C’mon, you can tell me.” Autumn smiled at him, pushed his shoulder.

“Well, I like some classical music.”

“Like who?”

“Wagner, Bach, Beethoven.”

“You really listen to that stuff?”

“Yeah. Wagner was like early metal.”

“Oh right.”

“No, it’s the same kind of thing. Real stormy. Lots of metal kids like classical music. The booming kind, anyway.”

“Booming kind…”

Cliff nudged her. “So tell me what you listen to besides girl stuff,” he said.

“Ok,” she said. “I like some old jazz. Guys from the forties and fifties. I’m just starting to listen to it though. Some of it reminds me of punk rock.”

“Sure Autumn. Jazz and punk rock. Uh, huh.”

She frowned at him. “Same rebellion. Different era.”

“Never thought of it like that.”

“Cause you have all that grungy boy stuff polluting your mind.”

They smiled at each other. Cliff nudged her again. “Boy stuff, yeah sure.”

“Well it is…”

© 1989 Joe Beine

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He speeds down Broadway in a borrowed beat up Chevy, listening to the radio. Loud. A song called “If Ya Want My Luv” pumps out from one of those renegade rock and roll stations that breaks all the rules. The song aches, pounds in his head: “If you’re spending time with me, better keep it hassle free.” The pavement glows with a dull sheen, polished by the street lights that line the road. He makes a left turn on Iowa Avenue, pulls over and parks. He walks around the corner and goes into a club called Herman’s Hideaway.

Inside he sees shadows and sweat, the blur of smoke and alcohol, a hard pumping band on a tiny stage. The place is small, packed tight with people. Pairs of dancers litter the dance floor in front of the stage. He buys a beer at the bar and disappears, barely noticed, into the crowd. And watches. The guitar player strangles fast and hard–Hendrix style. A bit of a show-off but it doesn’t really matter. It’s loud enough, tough enough.

From nowhere a woman appears: black hair, black leather, wispy features, slender, rather small. She says, “Wanna dance?” and before he can answer she takes hold of one hand and leads him through the sweat and smoke to the dance floor. He puts his beer down on someone’s table and dances with this woman, lost somewhere amid the clutter. The band is playing Hendrix’s “You Got Me Floatin'” twisted and hard. He yells, “What’s your name?” into her ear. “It’s not important. Just dance,” she shouts back. So he dances.

And watches her dance. Watches her closely. She is wearing a studded leather jacket over layers of lace, sort of a maze of mystery. He looks at her face–so smooth and light in contrast to her dark hair and clothes. She smiles at him coyly. And he smiles back. Tomcat and tomboy on the dance floor, he thinks to himself. And he doesn’t even know her name….

Later, mysteries lingering, he leaves the club and drives home fast–a black streak on the boulevard. The renegade radio station is still playing the right noise: “I’m a little mixed up, but I’ll be all right if I can hear a loud guitar all night.” The city lights blur into iridescence and merge with the woman’s image in his mind. Studs and lace. Coy smiles and pangs of lust. A maze of mystery. He turns the radio up and floats, just floats home.

by Joe Beine, copyright 1987
originally published in The Blind Armadillo #7 (Summer 1987)

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San Francisco, 1987

Torn jeans. Worn denim jacket covered with patches like tattoos. Seventeen, maybe eighteen, but Keisha looked older, acted older anyway, or at least tried to. She was dragging a skateboard and carrying a “don’t mess with me” attitude. Her shoulder length black hair tumbled in disarray around her firm, slightly girlish features that softened that attitude, much to her displeasure. Her skateboard scraped against the floor as she walked past racks full of record albums while New Order’s “Temptation” bounded through the record store.

Keisha was a mash of ethnicities: strong African, tough Mexican, a touch of quiet Asian. She was certain she had no Anglo or Celtic blood, but a friend once told her, “You must be Irish. You have an Irish disposition, quick tempered and brooding. And always yapping.” Dark freckles were scattered across Keisha’s face. But her gazelle eyes were darker than anything else about her.

She stopped walking in front of a rack stuffed full of records, and said, “Cool, they got the new Metallica.”

A friend of hers, obviously ready to leave the store, yelled something at her from the front door. Keisha yelled back loudly and in a very slow cadence, “My name is not ‘yo with the skateboard.'”

Then she noticed a girl browsing through the rack next to her. The girl had dark clothes, dark hair, a worn leather jacket. She looked a bit older and all at once sweet and tough. They smiled at each other.

To the girl Keisha said, “It seems there’s only two things in this life–” She pointed to herself. “–that work right. This board–” She pointed to her skateboard. “–and this music.” She pointed to the Metallica album. “My boyfriend–” She motioned to the guy by the door. “–mostly does not work right.”

The girl next to her said, “Boys can sure have a lot of stupid shit mashed into their brains.”

“Oh shit yeah,” Keisha said. “So what’s your name?”


“Hi, I’m Keisha.” She held out her hand and they shook. “Hippie parents too, huh?”

“Yeah. Keisha’s a real nice name though. At least they didn’t call you Sunshine or Moonshadow.”

“You’re right. There’s lots of poor souls in this city with summer of love names like that.”

“I was born in the summer of love,” Autumn said with a touch of disgust.

“So how come your name isn’t Summer?”

“My mom has this little story about how I was born in the autumn of her life.”

“Oh yeah?” Keisha said. “I used to think I was named after a drug–some obscure form of hashish only my parents knew about or something.” She dropped her voice into a low growl: “Hey kid, wanna smoke some Keisha?”

They shared a laugh.

“You know what gets me?” Autumn said. “These kids my age who follow the Grateful Dead.”

“Sprog Dead Heads. It’s pathetic.”

“I mean shit, I can’t stand my parents’ music. I need music that reflects my world, not something that happened twenty years ago.”

“I know what you mean,” Keisha said. “But when I think about those kids, it’s like–it’s their way of relating. They go to the shows and they hang out with all these other people who are doing the same thing. It makes them feel like they belong. Everyone wants to fit in. Me, I don’t wanna belong to anyone else’s club. I just wanna survive. I don’t wanna get high and escape. I wanna feel it, live it.”

“There’s so much to experience,” Autumn said.

“And so much variety,” Keisha added. “I feel just as at home with Beethoven as I do with Guns n’ Roses. That guy was into some crushing dynamics.”

“Loud and soft,” Autumn said. “Just like my world.”

“My world too.”

They paused and looked at each other with a reciprocal glimmer of curiosity in their gazes.

Autumn said, “Mostly loud.”

Keisha smiled. “Hey, I’m saving this spot–” She pointed to an empty section on her jacket. “–for a Beethoven patch.”

They were interrupted when Keisha’s boyfriend appeared from behind her. “C’mon Keish, let’s go,” he said.

She looked at Autumn. “This time he calls me ‘Keish.’ Isn’t that quaint?” To her boyfriend she said, “I wanna get the new Metallica.”

“Let me tape it?”

“Maybe.” She turned back to Autumn. “Where do you hang out?”

“I go to the Hideout a lot. And my boyfriend drags me to lots of metal shows.”

“Yeah? I go to the Hideout sometimes too. See you around, Summer of Love.”

Autumn smiled. “Yeah, see ya.”

Keisha started towards the counter, her skateboard in one hand, the Metallica album in the other, then she hesitated, turned back to Autumn and said, “Gonna go home and crank the Dead–relive my birth trauma.” She paused. “On second thought–gonna crank James and Lars. And get crushed.”

© 1988 Joe Beine

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