Contemporary Sad

This story contains themes or mentions of substance abuse.

“It’s official. Lesbians are filthy,” Tetchy Tommy said, shaking his head. He bent down and picked up an empty plastic cup, filled with cigarette butts and a slightly pink liquid substance. He shuddered at what that might be.

“Wear some gloves, mate. Safety first,” Oliver said, surveying the massive amount of discarded Dixie cups, food wrappers, and gum that littered the arena.

“Butterfly Boudoir. Wha kind uv name is that?” Tetchy Tommy scoffed.

“A sexy name for a bunch of sexy women,” Oliver answered.

“Bollocks. Nothin’ sexy about a bunch of carpet munchers what can’t play their instruments, mate.”

“Oi. The boss lady’s givin’ us the eye. Shyte, here she comes.”

Cynthia Paul skipped down the steps from a side section of the O2 Arena and walked around with a clipboard in her hand, occasionally checking off something on her list.

“Tommy. Gloves,” Cynthia gestured putting gloves on. She dropped her clipboard.

“I hate this sodding job!” Tommy yelled loudly, at no one in particular. He put a pair of gloves on and continued to sweep the arena floor just fast enough not to appear dead.

The heads of a few other stadium cleaners turned slowly and stared at Tommy for a moment before continuing with their work. They didn’t pay too much attention to Tommy’s outburst because Tommy always yelled the same thing after every concert.

Oliver smirked at Tommy and shook his head. Cynthia did the same. The task of cleaning up after 20,000 fans trashed an arena was daunting, and Cynthia understood Tommy’s frustration.

Cynthia lit a joint and handed it to Tommy. He took it and smoked as he worked. Oliver also lit a joint, as did about half of the others that were working. Permission had been given.

Oliver paused and leaned on his broom, gazing at the cleaners in the stands. One person in particular caught his eye.

“Cyn. Who’s the old geezer up there? And what the hell is he doin’?”

Cynthia looked up where Oliver was pointing. Her shoulders slumped a little and she sighed loudly, shaking her head.

That’s my dad, and he’s barmy.”


Jimmy Paul had been a rock legend fifty years ago. Copper Jet was his band, one that was still spoken of with reverence by rock musicians. It all came crashing down twenty years later. Jimmy’s drug use and suicide attempts put an end to the band.

Five years later, Jimmy was out of money. His wife left him, and their daughter, Cynthia. Father and daughter went to live with Jimmy’s sister, who became Cynthia’s de facto mother and Jimmy’s de facto caretaker.

Jimmy sat in his bedroom all day long, strumming an electric guitar with no amplifier. He wrote unintelligible lyrics. He ate peanut butter and water biscuits.

Jimmy Paul and Copper Jet faded from the public’s mind. Def Leppard and Queen took over.


Jimmy Paul had long fingers and a still-deft touch. He tossed cup after cup onto each other, each one smoothly settling on top of the previous cup until he had a stack of thirty cups. He then took them apart and did it all over again.

“He does that at home, too. He can flick cards into a pot without missing. Left handed and right handed, mind you.”

Oliver whistled appreciatively.


“Sure, mate. A very marketable skill,” Cynthis scoffed.

The cleanup was progressing slowly in the stands. Chairs had to be cleaned first, then the seats had to be collapsed so that the floor could be swept. Most of the cups and wrappers had to be picked up by hand because brooms couldn’t corral them easily underneath the seats. Gum was embedded in the seats and on the floor and had to be scraped from the surfaces.

Oliver bent down and picked up a silver flask. He opened it, sniffing carefully. Nodding, he took a drink and handed it to Cynthia. She sniffed it also but declined a drink.

“From Lisa to Callie, with love,” Cynthis said, reading the inscription out loud.

“Sweethearts, then,” Oliver said. Cynthia handed the flask back to Oliver.

“Oi! Tommy!” Oliver tossed the flask to Tommy, who grabbed it in a smooth, easy motion.

“The boy’s got skills. Who knew?” Cynthia said.

Oliver didn’t even pretend to sweep in front of his boss. He continued to lean on his broom.

“Yeah. Big footballer. Top prospect until he blew out his knee.”

“I never knew that. He always seemed like just another kid trying to earn a few pounds for dope and pints.”

“That’s exactly what he is, boss. Coulda been a huge star, though. Now he’s just another burnout.”

“Like my dad.”

Oliver looked at Cynthia quizzically.

“He was…somebody back in the day. Too many drugs did ‘im in,” Cynthia said, shrugging.

“Yeah? An old hippie?”

Cynthia paused before speaking.

“Sort of.”

“Expand, boss.”

Cynthis eyed Oliver thoughtfully.

“Come with me. I’ll show you what I deal with on a daily basis,” Cynthis said, striding purposefully towards her dad. Oliver was out of breath when they arrived.

“I have a stitch in my side,” he complained.

“Suck it up, mate,” Cynthis sat down and watched her dad for a moment before speaking to him. She had learned to let him get used to her presence before asking a question of him.

“Dad. I want to lose weight. Any ideas?”

Jimmy Paul continued to toss cups on top of each other. Once he had enough stacked together, he stopped and turned to his daughter.

“Pumpkin! How nice to see you.”

“Dad? Losing weight. How can I do it?”

The man paused briefly before speaking.

“Easy. Cut your hair, climb to the top of a mountain, and take off all your clothes.”

Oliver made a choking sound. Cynthia explained.

“You weight less with less hair, and when you move away from the gravitational pull of Earth. The clothes thing should be obvious by now.”

“Fekkin’ hell.”

“Dad? This is Oliver. He wants to ask you a question,” Cynthia pulled Oliver forward.


“Ask him anything. The more mundane the better,” Cynthia whispered to Oliver.

“Er…yes…well. I er…I want to get rich. Any advice?”

Jimmy Paul finished stacking another set of cups.

“That’s easy. Find a rich woman with nymphomania genes and marry her.”

Oliver blinked. Cynthia laughed, kissed her dad on the cheek, and made her way back to the floor. Oliver followed, muttering to himself.

“Your dad’s barmy.”

“I told you that, mate. My life’s been like this for twenty-eight years.”

“Fekkin’ hell.”

“Oi! It had tequila in it!” Tommy held up the silver flask before stuffing it in a back pocket.

“He’ll sell that for a couple of pounds at the pawn brokers. And you know what else he does? He picks up all the joints on the floor and takes ‘em back to his flat. The ones he don’t smoke here, that is,” Oliver said, shaking his head slightly.

The arena was almost clean. The cleaners proceeded to slow down, wanting to get more hours in. It wouldn’t do to be hard working and efficient.

“My dad,” Cynthia said, “has about fifteen lucid minutes a day. You never know when it’ll happen. Every so often, I catch him when he’s normal. I once asked him what it was like, being a big man with lots of money. He told me that everyone wants Paradise but no one wants to take out the rubbish.”

Oliver smiled.

“And was he lucid?”

“Dunno, mate. Doesn’t matter at the moment. We have paperwork to do.”

Oliver followed Cynthia to her office to deal with the mountain of paperwork that accompanied cleaning up a 20,000-seat arena. The labyrinthine halls that they traversed always made him feel slightly claustrophobic and he was glad to get into a proper room.

They were silent for almost an hour as they busied themselves with filling out forms and checking off boxes. Oliver hated the bureaucracy of it all but he appreciated the extra pay.

Oliver finished his last report and leaned back, rubbing his neck and closing his eyes tightly, hoping that the figures dancing around in his head would go away. He looked at Cynthia; she looked very different when wearing glasses. Like she didn’t have a barmy dad who drove her nuts.

“Why aren’t you married, Cyn? You’re cute. Good figure. Almost pleasant when you want to be. You’d make some woman a good partner.”

“Sod off, wanker,” Cynthia said, laughing.

“Seriously, though.”

Cynthia took off her glasses and gazed at Oliver, a slight smile tugging at the corners of her lips.

“Never knew how to find the right person until tonight,” she said. Her eyes crinkled in amusement.

“How’s that?”

“I’m gonna take my dad’s advice. Find a rich woman with nymphomania genes.”

Oliver laughed and lit a cigarette, passing it to Cynthia before lighting one for himself.

“So. Easy.”

Cynthia sighed, pursing her lips so she wouldn’t start laughing.

“Yeah, mate. Just gotta narrow down the field a bit. Too many to choose from.”

“Maybe your dad isn’t all that crazy, then.”


The parking lot was empty as Jimmy, Cynthia and Oliver exited the arena, making their way to the subway. A chilly wind swept through the area, portending rain, a not-unusual occurrence for London in April. Jimmy Paul wore a leather jacket with too many zippers.

Cynthia wrapped her coat tightly around her. Oliver, being less prepared, suffered the wind with a light jacket and a stoic expression.

“You know,” Oliver said, “that flask. That’s a love story, innit? I mean, a symbol of love, and it’ll end up on some dusty shelf in some dark corner of a pawn broker’s establishment. Makes you think.”

“Doesn’t make me think, mate. My mind is on getting dad home and climbing into bed. I’ll leave the philosophy to people like you,” Cynthia said, smiling at Oliver.

Jimmy Paul stopped. Cynthia and Oliver turned to him. He had a lost look in his eyes, as if he had just heard a siren’s call but was unable to follow.

“Love often suffers an ignominious death. Just ask my daughter.”

The rest of the journey was conducted in silence, save for the soft sobs of guitar legend Jimmy Paul.


Cynthia threw her coat on the sofa and helped her dad get out of his jacket. He was humming to himself, moving his hands as if he were conducting a symphony.

“New song?”

“Yes, pumpkin. I call it ‘Worshipping the Marshmallow Steering Wheel when Summer Is Upon Us.’ The important part is when the steering wheel melts in the sun. One of my best, I think.”

“Sounds great, dad. You hungry?”

Jimmy Paul’s face lit up.

“I am! But I want something completely different tonight. If we have it.”

“Sure, dad. What do you have in mind?”

“I think I’d like some peanut butter and water biscuits!”

Cynthia smiled, despite the overwhelming sadness that roared through her body.

“Let me look, dad. We may have it.”

Cynthis trudged to the pantry and turned on the light. Amid the assorted tins and myriad packages of food were seven jars of peanut butter and five boxes of water biscuits. She wiped a tear from her eye and took down one of each.

June 09, 2023 20:31

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Mary Bendickson
20:50 Jun 09, 2023

Just what J said. Perfect in every way. You are always a winner.


Delbert Griffith
21:23 Jun 09, 2023

Wow, thank you so much, Mary. Your warm words encourage me so much. Cheers, my friend!


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Amanda Lieser
01:52 Jun 26, 2023

Hi Delbert, Oh, I was intrigued by the very first sentence! And the way that you decided to tackle this prompt was wonderfully done. I thought that your characters’ dialogue held my attention perfectly, and the way that you also used this piece to dive into a role reversal was incredibly well done. The moment that the child must now become the caretaker of the parent is something that nags in the back of many individual’s minds, and is often times earth shattering. That final quote about love was absolutely brutal, though, because I think th...


Delbert Griffith
09:20 Jun 26, 2023

Thanks so much, Amanda. Your insights are always spot on - and always appreciated. The parent/child role reversal is, as you say, heartbreaking. It's the saddest thing in the world, but also evidence of the purest kind of love. The entire tale was about love. As the barmy dad said, no one is willing to clean up the mess. Too many times, we simply chuck our relationships into divorce court instead of actually working on the relationship. Romantic love is a wonderful thing, but it isn't magic; you have to give as well as take. Thanks agai...


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Michał Przywara
21:59 Jun 12, 2023

There's certainly a bit of sad in this. It's not just dealing with an aging parent who's no longer all there. It's not just putting your life on hold to do it. Neither is it suffering an injury and missing out on pro sports, or losing a flask memento of love. It's the sadness that comes from when dreams collide with reality. That's the common thread here, I think. But like he says, "everyone wants Paradise but no one wants to take out the rubbish". "I call it ‘Worshipping the Marshmallow Steering Wheel when Summer Is Upon Us.’ The import...


Delbert Griffith
22:59 Jun 12, 2023

Well, Michal, you certainly understood what I was attempting to do quite well. Everyone, from Tetchy Tommy to Oliver to Jimmy Paul to his daughter to the lovers who lost a silver flask, suffers from the detritus of life. Well spotted, my friend. The Marshmallow Steering Wheel was indeed a reference to Icarus. Like the mythological character, Jimmy Paul flew too close to the metaphorical sun. Jimmy Paul, in a (maybe) lucid moment, also stated that love dies an ignominious death. The man had his pulse on the heartbeat of life, for better or w...


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Murray Burns
03:04 Jun 12, 2023

Great. The style reminded me of Salinger's "For Esme With Love and Squalor"...a brief interaction in a cafe (tea room?) where much is told with simple descriptions and dialogue. Nice.


Delbert Griffith
09:13 Jun 12, 2023

Salinger! Oh Lord, that's my favorite short story in his "Nine Stories" collection. "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" was excellent as well, though I hated to see the end of Seymour. I'm humbled and honored that anything of mine has even a passing resemblance to Salinger's works. Thanks so much, Murray. I like Jimmy Paul - on paper. I think he'd be exhausting to live with, though. Poor Cynthia. A good daughter. Hopefully, she'll find her way in life; she and Oliver are still searching through the rubble for their silver flask. LOL Again, than...


Murray Burns
00:08 Jun 13, 2023

I didn't realize it at the time, but J.D. Salinger regularly visited a hotel bar one building away from my dorm when I was in college. A retired professor friend of mine says he would talk to him on occasion at the bar. You can imagine how upsetting it is for me to have missed that. Catcher in the Rye is one of four books I keep in my room. The others- Dr. Zhivago, To Kill a Mockingbird, and...The Essential Lenny Bruce (Go figure.) I will read A Perfect Day for Bannifish.


Delbert Griffith
00:24 Jun 13, 2023

Damn! A chance to talk with the great J.D. Salinger! Those are all amazing reads, Murray. And Lenny Bruce is a generational talent. Very underappreciated these days, though his stuff is timeless. A Perfect Dat for Bananafish is the end of Seymour Glass of the fabled Glass family. He is at his zenith in "Raise High the RoofBeams, Carpenters." This book shows Salinger's genius at fully developing a character without the character hardly present. Great tale, Murray. Too bad you didn't get to meet Salinger. That would have been epic, my fri...


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Murray Burns
14:31 Jun 14, 2023

An update, should you be interested. My story has now been approved. The reason they gave me for its original dismissal: "It's not the traditional prose most stories are comprised of." I will be writing to the Reedsy gods for clarification....!


Delbert Griffith
14:43 Jun 14, 2023

I find that explanation vague and spurious. There are - more or less - 300 stories submitted for competition every week, each one with differing styles, syntax, structure, and tone. There is no "traditional" prose. In fact, they have had weeks where they have asked for non-traditional prose in the prompts. I don't buy that explanation. I'm pleased that it was accepted, but displeased that it had been dismissed. The tale was on prompt and on point. I'm a little disturbed that it had been rejected in the first place. Good luck with the inve...


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Susan Catucci
18:11 Jun 11, 2023

It is a sad tale beautifully told, Del. More homage should be paid to the balladeers of the past to the present. So many of them begin thinking music will and should be their lives - a gift from God that you want to share, to make a difference. Then, what comes first, the drugs or the downfall. Jimmy Paul is more the rule than the exception and he raises many more questions than answers: Is it better to "give up" and have regrets or is it better to die - or hide - trying? I think it's been established that the creative mind is a diffe...


Delbert Griffith
19:25 Jun 11, 2023

Wow, thanks so much for the praise, Susan. You warm my heart! Yes, Jimmy Paul is a 70's-era rocker who was prone to excess. His brilliance burned bright, but the aftermath is Cynthia's life. That's the problem with living in a paradise: no one wants to clean up the mess. Thanks again for your comments, my friend. You always seem to know how to get to the heart of the tale. Cheers!


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Mike Panasitti
15:53 Jun 10, 2023

I wouldn't call it one of your best, but the least I could say is that this is an intriguing way to create a story within a story. Is Jimmy Paul a stand in for Jimmy Page? Does Page have a daughter? Even if he doesn't, the story of a past-his-prime rock star is a fallow field for exploration of plot and character. Valiant effort, Delbert.


Delbert Griffith
15:55 Jun 10, 2023

Thanks, Mike. I wanted to explore something quite outside my comfort range. The aged rocker-off his rocker is the detritus of a life lived hard. Again, thanks for the comment. I appreciate it, my friend.


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Lily Finch
16:11 Jun 11, 2023

Del, that is an interesting tale. Jimmy Page stand in who has a daughter who happens to clean up venue aftermath and brings her dad along is quite a great plot for a story. I think you want to remove the following though: The one thing I could suggest would be if, in keeping with your vision of these wonderful characters, if you can pad them more and add to their fullness, that would be, I think, awesome. I think Jimmy Paul is so much more the norm, not the exception. It’s an old tale of going for gold and suffering the agony of defeat in...


Delbert Griffith
19:22 Jun 11, 2023

LOL Yeah, I left some comments in there when I submitted it. Since it was approved, I can't change it. I'm glad you liked the tale, Lily. It was inspired by the 70's rockers, some of whom are now burnouts. Thanks again, my friend. Cheers!


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