Write a story about Burt and Melba Toast's Thank You Note

Write a story about Burt and Melba Toast's Thank You Note
and Win the Drawing on the Right

The contest closes Monday February 14, 2011

Burt and Melba Toast's
Thank You Note 
11"x14" oil and mixed media 
on masonite
(vintage handmade greeting card, 
ephemera, and vintage wallpaper)
Here's what the note says inside:
The Eva and Benton they are talking about:
Benton and Eva Destruction, 11"x14"

Here's the link to their story!
The story you write should be a "Flash Fiction" which is a complete story in one thousand or fewer words.  Please post the story in the comment section, you will have to provide your name and an email address in order to be qualified to win or you can e-mail me at with your info.  There is a problem with how many characters can post (only about 4,000) so if you cannot post it.  E-mail it to me at

Go to my website for more contests:

Winning flash fiction stories will be integrated in with an exhibit in San Francisco at ArtHaus Gallery (April 8th for the reception).

The show is called:
Renovated Reputations: Paintings and Fiction inspired by Vintage Portrait Photographs

The exhibit will include a series of 20-40 paintings and mixed media works ranging in size from 8”x10” to 18”x24” framed with thrift store and vintage frames.  In addition to the exhibited works ArtHaus is publishing catalogs signed by me and as many of the authors as possible.

Catalogs/books will consist of image of the painting with the text of the “flash story” surrounding the image.  If I can get the authors to come to a book signing/party, authors would sign their pages for some of the printed stuff.

We're going to have a photobooth for the show for participants to play with and vintage costumes.

Of course I'll send the authors free copies of the catalogs. I will announce the winners the day after the closing deadline for the competition. I'm planning on doing one flash fiction competition a week every Monday from now until April. 

(If the conditions in the side bar are not to your liking, I'm totally flexible.  Send me a contract that you like and I will mail it back to you.  I just don't want to chase people for signatures when I publish the catalog!)
This came in by e-mail:
Thanks Again
by Sheila Florey
The urge to clean struck Melba earlier than usual that year and she decided to start with her dresser drawers.  She was down to the drawer where she habitually tossed old cards she had received – birthday cards, anniversary cards, thank you cards when suddenly she caught sight of a card that made butterflies land with a thud in the pit of her stomach.  Burt and Melba’s thank you card from Benton and Eva.   She couldn’t believe she had kept it all these years.  “The best gift of all was how you organized the rehearsal dinner for us.”  Ah, yes, the rehearsal dinner.  That had been the beginning of their downward spiral to destruction.
Well, maybe that was being a bit overly dramatic and really not fair.  The truth was that Eva and Benton were very happy for several years after marrying and the four of them – Eva and Benton, Melba and Burt – had remained close – for awhile.  Then Benton started acting weird.  It was only later that she and Burt found out that Benton’s business was going under and he’d gotten himself in deep with some loan shark.   Eva was distraught and needed a lot of comforting – from Burt, as it turned out.   One thing led to another and before long Benton and Eva robbed a bank.   When Eva came running to Burt for help after the robbery, he had helped her without question.  She took Burt and Melba’s car to make their unsuccessful getaway to Mexico.   Melba begged Burt not to get involved, but he was blinded by what he thought was love for Eva.
Melba looked down at the card she held tightly crumpled in her hand.  Tears tried to force their way out of her eyes and she tried just as hard to force them back.   She would not cry.  Not now.  Not after all these years.  It was so long ago.  Over.  But the emotions of that time flooded back like a tidal wave smashing into her memory and crashing into her soul.  She threw her hand down on the top of the dresser to steady herself.  How could a stupid thank you note cause her world to turn upside down so easily after all this time?
The rehearsal dinner had actually been fun to plan and fun to attend.  Why didn’t those memories cause happy emotions?  Why was it always the unpleasant that rose up so unexpectedly and slapped you in the face?
Poor Eva and Benton.   Fate had played a cruel trick on them.  No, it wasn’t fate.  It was their own doing.  Eva believed that actions always had consequences and fate had nothing to do with it.   Hadn’t she been able to save her marriage?  Hadn’t she refused to let fate take a hand?  Hadn’t it only required one short phone call about a stolen car?
Melba gently smoothed out the crumpled card and placed it back in the drawer.   Sometimes it was good to re-visit the past.  It was somehow reassuring to be reminded of how strong you could be in a crisis.

This came in by e-mail:

Come Sundown by Gigi DeVault
The pallets were stacked high with lumpy burlap sacks full to near bursting with spices.  Nutmeg and mace—kin from the same seed—occupied one long row.  A formation of sacks holding cloves and pepper took up the other side.  Melba once imagined that a job in that store would be just this side of heaven.  Now, anytime she smelled the spices that had filled Dutch coffers with gilt for centuries, she was that girl—feet skipping over rough planks, hands brushing the canyons of fragrant bags, stirring up the sweet dust.  The dark warehouse air grew pungent where it was heated by the sunshine that shot through the vents up top.  Melba would turn round and round until the spicy dust clung to her, until it stuck to her sweaty skin and turned her nearly as brown as that Indo boy she envied—the one who swept up.

Her mother complained that Melba was as flighty as a kookaburra and, with her hooping and hollering, just as relentlessly startling. But Melba’s dad relished the noise and excitement that swirled around his daughter and he, at least, was not concerned that she’d turn into one of the monkeys that chattered at them from the treetops.  Her dad didn’t seem to mind that she played with the Indo children.  To him, they were the same as the wodi wodi aborigines the family had left behind in Wollongong. 

“I expect you to take what you can learn from your mixed-breed mates, the same way I take nutmeg from their trees,” Melba’s dad said.

Melba’s mother had hated Indonesia. The sentiment stemmed, Melba guessed, from her inability to identify her enemies. 

“There are just too many kinds of snakes here,” Melba’s mother would say.  She meant that there was a pro-revolutionary soup—extreme leftists, Trotskyites and PKI communists, republicans, separatists, and dar-al-Islam devotees.  Her mother’s paranoia would have solidified with the Japanese invasion of the archipelago.  It was a good thing that her folks returned Down Under before then. 

Melba’s father used to say, “The Dutch just got a finger in the dike here in colonies, but they still try to lord it over everyone.”  Class resentment ran deep in him.  His lineage drew from the social reformers who challenged the British aristocracy—some had been felons, too.  He’d taught Melba to avoid bias.

Burt had his father’s British accent, threaded with only a trace of Dutch.  So the sound of Burt’s voice—when he did come around—didn’t set her dad’s teeth on edge.  Mostly, Burt and Melba ranged as far as they safely could, following the instincts of their age to avoid parental oversight.

Burt’s Sumatran mother taught him to respect Islamic law—syariah.  It all pretty much made sense to Melba, the way Burt explained it.  But Melba’s mother was Catholic and she had been working to save Melba’s soul ever since she was born.  Truth be told, Melba favored the aboriginal beliefs that spirits were in all things and found it even easier to believe here in the jungle—where things were likely to jump out at you— than in the arid expanses of Australia. 

Melba told Burt how the aborigines could sing their way across the outback, every detail that could save their lives included in the mystical recitations.  Burt said, “If we ever get separated you can sing me to you.”
“You better stay close,” Melba said.  “I can’t sing anything but Advance Australia Fair.”   
Eva sang Oh, Promise Me at their wedding.  Benton turned down Burt’s request to be best man, saying Burt had too many brothers to choose from and he didn’t want to start a squabble.  With the war on, other people stood-in for her family. Anyway, the marriage wouldn’t have gone over well with her mother.   Jap or Malay—one Asian was the same as another.

“I feel so safe with you, Burt,” Melba said. “You’re like a campfire come sundown.”
Burt shook his head. “You stay near the flames for protection, but there is a cost,” he said.  “The firelight blinds you to what is just outside its circle.”

Melba had never thought of herself as an enemy to anyone.  Her dad taught her the names of all the poisonous spiders in the bush, and where to watch out for them.  Now, Burt explained about the ethnic, religious, and political differences that cleaved the islands into complicated pieces of a dizzying puzzle.  She had tried to be just an observer, keeping herself apart from the contention that swirled around her.  But loving Burt changed everything.

The soldiers hadn’t killed her.  They tied her hands behind her back, pushed her to her knees.  They shouted at her, but her ears wouldn’t work – there was so much pressure inside her head, she thought it’d explode before the machete dropped.  Their mouths were laughing, laughing at her.  They shoved her into the mud and walked away to where they squatted to smoke cigarettes.  

She hadn’t remembered ashtrays, so at the rehearsal dinner Melba and Burt organized for Benton and Eva, they used seashells.  Cats’ pajamas, she’d thought at the time.  People didn’t know she had improvised.  When was that?  She tried to keep the chronology of things straight—tried to keep her mind on the “before time.”   The wedding party was so small it hadn’t been much of rehearsal, really, so they played a game of charades to lighten the mood.  Benton’s Lancelot and Eva’s Thumbelina tied the game.  No.  Melba chided herself.  That wasn’t right.  The Zeros overhead ended the game.

The hole was growing smaller.  She pulled the thread gently so as not to break it.  Rethreading the needle took time and slowed her down.  It was important to get all the mending they set before her done before that red sun went down—when the guard brought food.  Two meager meals a day, so she couldn’t afford to miss out.  She turned the sock inside out. 

This came in by email:

Appetizers--By Matt O'Malley

Melba trudged through the flour white snow from the backyard woodpile to her home where she climbed four stairs, balanced a pair of logs in one arm and opened the door to the mudroom with the other. She stomped the snow off her boots opened her clear plastic Old London disposable slicker and tossed it in the trash before entering the house proper; the remaining crumbs of snow falling from her crusty pants as she entered.

Inside and Melba carried the logs to the living room, warily glancing as she passed at the kitchen table that held an open photo album she’d been looking through since her husband Burt left for work at Oster Ground Control. She placed the logs into the living room fireplace and started a fire. She smiled for she knew that in just a few minutes the house would be toasty warm; just in time for Burt who was running late on his return home from work.

Melba returned to the kitchen and sat at the table. She turned the page of the photo album and stared intently at the images. The photos were from the wedding of their friends Eva and Benton Destruction. She smiled in reminisce and then reread the nice thank you card they had sent. Everything seemed so perfect back then, like a never ending afternoon tea party filled with small sandwiches and petit fours. But that feeling was from a long time ago. Lately things hadn’t been well for either Melba and Burt or Eva and Benton.

It had been four months since the great spaceship Destitute One had taken off, a virtual ark of genetically perfect Adams and Eves headed to a distant planet in hopes of saving the human race from extinction. It was thought at the time, the Earth was splitting in two due to a shifting magnetic field however since then, the earthquakes and volcanic eruptions subsided and the Earth had settled down. Now the last released reports stated that Destitute One was out of control, wobbling uncontrollably through space due to a “faulty” gyroscope. There currently was no way to help the astronauts or the pilots of this great ship, the pilots being Eva and Benton. 

Melba sniffed back some tears as she thought of her dear friends. Understandably, tension onboard the great spaceship were apparently running high. From what Burt had told Melba, recently during a heated argument, Eva had hit Benton over the head with a frying pan while he was at the controls of the ship. Benton had in turn, removed one of the guidance control handles and threw it at Eva and now that handle was inexplicably lost. Benton was also nearly incoherent during last contact; someone had snuck alcohol aboard the ship prior to liftoff.

Melba sighed then cried some more. Both Eva and Benton had become so impulsive, reckless. She just hoped they weren’t on the eve of their own destruction.

She had become so upset reminiscing that she found herself sopping wet with tears and her whole body felt weak and flimsy. She could no longer hold the thank you card from Eva and Benton in her hands. She realized she had to dry herself out and find out what was happening back at Oster Ground Control. She went to the living room and picked up the phone to call Burt.

“I’m so burned out!” Burt said as soon as he heard Melba’s voice.

This was not what Melba wanted to hear. She wanted Burt to pick her spirits up, not to bring her down. “I just hate it when you say you’re feeling burnt out.” Melba said, “You’re working to save our friends! You shouldn’t get cranky, crusty or snappy.”

“I’m snappy?” Burt snapped, “And you don’t get snappy?” Melba could hear the stress in Burt’s voice. “Sometimes you’re so brittle, I…” Burt took a breath, “Look. I’m just about done. We’ll talk when I get home.”

When Melba hung up the phone and found herself feeling sadder then before. Sure they had their problems, Melba and Burt Toast, but she was determined not to let the stress she and Burt were feeling tear them apart as it seemed to be happening to Benton and Eva. She decided at that moment that she was going to turn this ship around!

Melba went to the kitchen, stood in front of the fridge and decided to gussy herself up by first stripping down to the bare. “Hmm, a dab of Dijon mustard here, a bit of mayo there, and oh, a slice of cheese and ham will be perfect here!” Melba emptied the crisper and cold compartments of meats and cheeses and placed them on the table. She then climbed upon the table, surrounded herself with, and placed upon herself in strategic locations, the various delicacies and condiments.

“Honey!” Melba heard Burt yell from the front door. “I’m home. Sorry I’m late.”

Melba could hear Burt stomp his shoes clean and hang up his coat in the front foyer. “Oh what a cooker of a day!” Burt continued, “I have so much to do! I think I’ll be up all night!

“Oh honey!” Melba called out.

Burt pealed off another slice of clothing and murmured. “Oh, I’m so over-heated! Gotta remember not to overdress. You know,” Burt yelled for Melba to hear, “If it wasn’t Benton and Eva up there, well you could just about put a fork in me, ‘cause I’m so done!  Sweetie,” Burt called out, “Where are you?”

“In the kitchen!” Melba giggled and yelled.

Burt arrived at the romantically lit kitchen and found his wife splayed upon the table. A large grin crossed his face as he always liked to find his Melba Toast surrounded by cheese and pate.  

In the morning, Burt thought to himself, he would again work on the problem of Destruction.

This came in by e-mail:

By D.Charles Florey
She turned the coffee mug in her hands.  It vibrated on the wooden table.  On the wall behind her, a plastic cat’s tail swished beneath an analog clock which read eleven o five.
He sat across from her, resting his arm over the chair’s back and resting his foot over his knee.  He motioned with his hand and opened his mouth to speak.  
She traced inside the mug’s handle with the back of her thumb, then jerked her hand away.  The mug began to topple.  Orange tea sloshed up from inside it.
He watched the mug spin, his mouth still open.  His gaze drifted from the mug to the table and the Thank You Note which sat upon it.  
She leaned back in her chair and folder her arms.  Cat’s eyes darted above the analog clock.   He dropped his leg to the floor and leaned over the table, reaching.
She turned her head to one side, but kept her eyes focused on the table.
The mug turned and teetered, spinning toward the note that Eva had written them, the note which referred to her as ‘Mel’, the note that showed appreciation for their attendance and Melba’s organizational skills, the note that was strangely absent of any gratitude for Burt’s soft skin, his talented tongue, his inability to say no even to a drunken bride when she dragged him into a broom closet for ‘a little fun.’
The mug crashed onto the wooden table.  A sea of orange soaked the thank you note, smearing the black ink into meaningless streaks.
Burt blinked.
Melba stood and snatched the Cat Clock from the wall, then turned and walked out the front door.


This came in by e-mail:

Frangipani Dreams by Kate  Campbell
I finger the yellowed card, lay it on the faded hospital blanket, and turn toward the window to watch the ocean lapping at the little beach beyond the rest home’s sweeping lawn. I see them – hand-in-hand, walking barefoot along Waikiki, see Benton and Eva on the morning before the day they married, the morning Burt and me pushed the old green truck to get it going, jumped in, and chugged to the farmer’s market on the island’s windward side, the side where the attack would come from in ‘41. But not that day, not that day of pink hibiscus and frangipani, the flowers ancients said promised creation and recreation.
“Who were they?” My daughter asks, kindly, an explorer of a time that’s none of her business. My mouth is dry, tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. She’s clearing out my house now, closing things up. She says I won’t be going home anymore, insists on rifling through my papers and drawers. My daughter tries again. “How did you know them?”
I flutter the dog-eared pages of my mind. Think: Together we had a dream—a white and champagne wedding in the most glamorous and exclusive beachfront resort filled with dignitaries, fellow scientists, pilots, family and friends. We longed for hope, for a reason to celebrate. Burt offered to roast a pig in the garden pit behind his parent’s house on Diamond Head. We bought white table cloths and colored lanterns. We made potato salad. Burt’s Mom made poi and lumpia and sushi. Doing it together was so much fun, kisses tasting better than food.
After the rehearsal, coming straight from the church to the garden, Ben and Eva looked flushed, excited. I see her throat now, close my eyes. Splotched ivory, a long vase holding the flower of her head. I slap the face of the thank you card under my hand. Burt dead at Anzio in 1944, after the Germans scrubbed the Americans off the beaches of those little Italian resort towns, ridding them of what Hitler called the “Anzio Abcess.” And Burt, my smiling island boy, frangipani flowers tucked behind his ear, washed away with them.
“Mother, are you wandering again?” I swallow bitter impatience, lick my lips, feel a razor nick of anger.
“They were astronauts, Benton and Eva. When the earth split from inside out, they blasted off, they were perfect.”
“That’s nonsense, Mom, and you know it.”
“Everything OK in here, hon?” The nurse fluttered into the room. I closed my eyes. “Warm enough, Melba?” She didn’t wait for my answer, pulled the frayed blanket up higher on my chest.
I did what I could that day. Unstuck my tongue, warned them. “The earth is splitting. The magnetic field is shifting.” I looked at their plain, doughy faces, waited for the truth to sink in. “We’re going to the new planet. Burt is waiting. Benton and Eva, too!”


  1. Out of Sorts

    Melba sorted through the old antique trunk full of keepsakes from Earth; slowly, methodically, sadly and in tearful remembrance and reflection.

    The card … 3” x 5” … from a time long gone.

    “Thank You for the Wedding Gift” graced the front of this memento, as did the faded image of a flower - a faded image as distant as her memories of life on Earth decades upon decades earlier. The eons of time long past, or so it felt to Melba, before those dark, bone-chilling, pain filled hours, days, months and years captivated her in the pensive prison of her mind’s endlessly empty thoughts.

    As she raised her tearful eyes toward the ceiling skylight, she stared long at the twin crescent moons’ light that pierced the night’s dark cover through the glass pane overhead, ever so dimly, ever so sad.

    Melba reflected upon the note in her hand, the wedding of Captain Benton and the love of his life, Eva Destruction, and the long trip from Earth to this distant world. Xanz, as it is called by its inhabitants. The fourth planet in this distant solar system. A lonely place. It is home to those who, to this day, continue to refer to themselves as Earthlings; refugees from a dying, or rather more factually, dead planet. Earth, a Home-Sweet-Home that is no longer, only a sorrowful memory for those old enough to remember … before man’s error and greed had split the planet in two halves and forced mankind to flee in dreaded terror, or at least those lucky enough to escape.

    The Captain and Eva had been the first to depart the endangered terrestrial blue globe. Their dearest friends, Burt and Melba Toast, followed them into the sky and into an unknown future.

    The peoples of Xanz had welcomed the earthlings with open arms upon their arrival to their sparsely populated planet. It is quite a unique type of hug one experiences when embraced by humanoid creatures possessing two sets of arms and four very large hands. Hands featuring seven long finger-like appendages. One does grow accustomed to these peculiarities over time.

    On Xanz Melba had found a new life with Burt and the other fortunate few who had made their way through the silent darkness of space to this strange planet. A planet where night and day seem to appear and disappear without warning or predictability, though the indigenous inhabitants of Xanz have no trouble calculating time. It is a place where the men of Earth live short lives and the women of Earth never die.

    Chromosomes … DNA … RNA … Man … Woman …

    Who could have imagined, other than intellectually gifted medical personnel with elaborate analyzers and testing capabilities, that the male human species would be susceptible to aging more quickly in the atmosphere of Xanz? Who could have imagined that the effect would be a polar opposite with the female of the species from Earth’s human populous?

    Celestial rejuvenation. That is what some cult-like female figureheads of the clan of women call their favored fortune. Celestial degeneration … the other alternative … the male alternative.

    Burt … Captain Benton … long gone. Diminished to mere mists of memory.

    Melba lowered her tearful old, very old eyes, visually embracing the card in her hand.

    Best Wishes
    Eva &

    She read it over and over until she could read no more. The haunting memory of Burt’s celebrated champagne toast during Eva and Benton’s wedding rehearsal dinner echoed throughout her dismal thoughts. “For Better or for Worse!” Words that have echoed throughout time. Words that no one really ever means.


    Melba finished sorting the ancient trunk’s contents with thoughtful retrospection. Item by item she handled, examined and reflected. Her keepsakes of shadowy memories from days long lost. Those fading shadows that time has so mercifully left behind.

    “Out of sorts,” she said to herself softly, “Out of sorts!”

    by Royce A Ratterman

  2. Tues Feb 14 9:20 AM

    I will post the winner late tonight (Tues 15 11PM or so) or tomorrow.

    Running a little behind in my grading at school so I will have to reread all the entries when I can really give them some real thought. I want to give them the attention they deserve!