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Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

While my daughter’s sweaty palms grip the plastic covered arms of a dental chair and she is inflicted with crazy kinds of torture, I sit, a few hundred yards away, in our local diner, somehow lucky enough to snag a deliciously cozy booth at the very back.

 

My intent was to hunt and gather, to try and squash three hours worth of errands into one, to rush. But, as we were leaving the house, my laptop somehow hitched a ride and I’m now imbibing on the creativity a morning away from home is able to squeeze out of my juicer.

 

It’s a writer’s dream. A secluded booth, back to the wall, a bird’s eye view of the little man who looks like someone I once knew, the adult daughter treating her elderly parents to breakfast, the middle-aged couple deep in some mysterious conversation that can only be cultivated by being together longer than they’ve been apart.

 

I relish the comforting heedlessness cloaked in hustle and bustle. No one’s worrying what I’m up to. No one cares how long I stay. No one wants me to stop. The server happily refills my cup as if as much to say; Yes, yes, write to your heart’s content my dear, for you are forbidden to do chores here. (I think she even had a glittering wand)

 

Now this is the point where we all imagine the sound a record player makes as its needle is abruptly lifted, scraping over several vinyl grooves on the way up.

 

I started this post yesterday morning, but just moments after deciding my waitress was in fact the good witch, my writing came to a halt. As it often does, life happened and for the next twelve hours, I was in the thick of it. Somersaulting from one thing to another, I never touched these keys again for the rest of the day.

 

But the good thing about being at this stage of my writing game is that I’m nobody. I have no obligations, no duties or requirements.

 

So basically, the pressure is off. I’m *too small to fail.

Photo courtesy of wallaadoo.com

Photo courtesy of wallaadoo.com

 

 

*Courtesy of the t-shirts the Saints servers wear at my local diner.

 

 

 

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*This piece is part of an ongoing short story*

I hope you’ll read parts one through five HERE!

 

Smoke shrouds her shaky, short pink fingernails, curls up past her nose and out the open window into the blue of the great big sky. Her view turns murky as she shoots a smooth, straight line at the windshield in front of her.

Coffee.

Joplin booms. Gladys signals left.

And baby deep down in your heart I guess you know that it ain’t right,
Never, never, never, never, never, never hear me when I cry at night…

“Black.”

The waitress looks disappointed. The place is empty. This will likely be her only chance at a tip ‘til lunchtime.

“Just the coffee then?” Her pencil is poised hopefully over a badgered notepad.

“Black.”

With the waitress gone, the sun glares into Gladys’ face and without the breeze, it’s incredibly warm. She shifts to the other side of the booth. Her stomach, a mind of its own, doesn’t follow. Her hands flutter like an indecisive butterfly, mimicking the thoughts flying through her mind.

She’d promised herself a sole slug, so it was important to wait for the cup to land in front of her. If she sipped straight from the flask, she’d want another in no time. She’d wait. She could wait.

The cup does eventually come, full to the rim. She’d forgotten that black meant no room for cream. She tips a little more than she should out onto the saucer and, as discreetly as possible, adds a generous pour into the steaming liquid. Her eyes close as the sharp vapor reaches her nostrils.

And, she sips.

But, it’s gone before she’s even had time to think. Time to decide why she’s really here. Time to convince herself that she shouldn’t just turn around and go home.

She could go home.

She could sit on the couch with her book and sip away. She could make beans and toast. She could watch True Detective. She could talk to Helena.

Helena.

Take another little piece of my heart now, baby.
Oh, oh, break it!
Break another little bit of my heart now, darling…

Gladys looks for the waitress. She’ll pay her check. Get back in the car. Drive.

She spots her over by the register, posing herself in such a way that the cook can ogle her without much effort.

Where is Damien when I need him? Gladys wonders as she heads for the till.

il_340x270.575925202_lvz7

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~ This piece is part of a short story ~

You can read Part One, Helena, HERE

Part Two, Gladys, HERE

Part Three, Mrs. Statton, HERE

Part Four, Eat Crow, HERE

 

Helena picks at the jagged piece of blue vinyl poking up from the empty side of her bus seat. Sure, Gladys had driven that first day of school, but now that her duty’s done, Helena is on her own. She doesn’t mind. She’d taken a long, hot shower this morning and had the mirror all to herself. Gladys, apparently long gone, had texted her to point out the obvious – bananas on counter, yogurt in fridge.

Forgoing sustenance, Helena had instead wrapped her slight fingers around the thick white handle of the carafe on the counter and poured herself a cup of steamy black coffee.

Now, her collar damp from her still wet hair, she shivers as the bus ride makes the liquid roll in her stomach.

Pulling the cord, she gets off at the stop before the one closest to the school and inhales before venturing on. She’d done something. Something that had seemed like a good idea. Well, not a good idea maybe so much as something she hadn’t been able to stop. The secrets had poured from her fast and furious, like the coffee out of the pot, dark and scalding. And now it’s too late. There they are, black and bitter.

Her bag pulls at her shoulder as she walks and her hair begins to sway as it starts to dry. She can smell the shampoo Gladys buys in the huge blue tub wafting in the breeze. Although the sun is out she shivers again, the damp now reaching the middle of her back.

Unaware of her fingers, she twists and twirls several strands before choosing just the right one to pluck from the bunch.

“You should leave some on your head,” a voice from behind her calls out. “Most people look better with hair.”

“Not interested.” Helena answers and keeps walking.

“Well, except maybe Sinead O’Connor. I have to admit she’s hot bald. A little old now maybe, but still…hot.”

Without turning around, Helena replies; “Like I said, I’m not interested in what you think of me or Sinead or our hair. Piss off.”

“Well, pick away then,” the voice continues. “But fair warning – you’re no Sinead.”

Sin-ad-O-Connor-sinead-oconnor-35217109-1000-1001

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My wordpress popularity really seems to fluctuate somewhere in between that was a fair Idol audition and good God, get off the stage.

 

And that’s okay. I appreciate that certain posts just don’t resonate, but I’d really like to understand the formula. I know there are probably prime times to publish, not to mention better days of the week. Appealing eye-candy for the more visual and just the right tags can also make all the difference.

 

I try to post fairly regularly and of course I always attempt to be fresh and witty…can’t you tell? Yes, I have a facebook page (which you are of course, more than free to share and like) and I do boast my posts through various other forms of social media. However, I’ve never topped thirty-five likes on a wordpress post.

 

I’m pleased with my progress to date, but it confuses me to see bloggers just starting out, that have already garnered thousands of views and the same in followers. I find posts that consist simply of a quote, one photo or a half-cocked thought, with hundreds of likes.

 

Don’t get me wrong – more power to these fellow floggers. I’m just dying to know err, interested in how this comes about.

 

On a more personal, specific level – I wrote a short story a few posts back, called Helena. It received twenty-five likes. Clearly, one of my more popular posts. The next, a continuation of Helena, only got thirteen.

 

Now, Gladys is written in the same style as Helena and continues the storyline from the original. The third installation, Mrs. Statton, is more of the same and hit fifteen likes. A little better, but still nowhere near the first twenty-five for Helena. Eat Crow, the fourth piece…eight whopping likes.

 

Whonh, whonh, whonh.

 

What I’d like to know is – did I post at a bad time, on the wrong day? Did my writing change from audition-acceptable to incapable of carrying a tune? Or, is it that you believe Helena should have remained where I left her?

 

Besides helping motivate continued writing, a writer’s hope is that blogging will bring the crucial feedback needed to sharpen and buff their trusted sword. So, it stands to reason, that in a perfect world, readers will be the worn grit paper and soft polishing cloth at the end of every post.

pen-sword

 

 

 

 

 

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Part One, Helena, is HERE

Part Two, Gladys, is HERE

Part Three, Mrs. Statton, is HERE

It’s just like any other day, Gladys decides as she applies her mascara, lifting each lash to its fullest extent. She fills the arch of her brow and shimmers her cheekbones before taking another sip of her lukewarm coffee.

Except it isn’t really. Today, she won’t be there to pick Helena up from school. She won’t be home to make dinner. And she may not even be back to watch the season finale of True Detective.

Her tummy does a bit of a flip. She smooths down the front of her blouse, smacks her lips and heads for the kitchen. After chucking her half full mug in the sink, she rummages through her purse and manages to round up sixteen dollars. Quickly scrawling something to the effect of get whatever this will buy you for dinner on a piece of scrap paper, Gladys takes one swig from the flask tucked behind the empty fridge and heads for the door.

Lying at the bottom of a stack of paperwork that’s taken me through ‘til nearly lunchtime, I come across a cluster of pages stapled together, sporting a hot pink Post-it. It’s covered with Mr. Crawford’s loosely looped handwriting – Stephanie, You need to read this, he advises. It’s a doozy.

I glance wistfully at the clock on the wall across from my desk. As tempted as I am to dive into the text, I know I don’t have time. I scan my calendar for a prompt on my lunch appointment and am reminded of what an unfortunate name Mr. Anass is for a high school Principal.

As the school Counselor, I’ve seen my fair share of varied troubling data, but have never been passed a student essay before. I sigh. It’ll have to wait. I tuck it into my briefcase, take a sip from my water bottle and set out to Manger Corbeau, where Anass will be waiting. During the drive I muse over the possible scenarios that could have led to naming the restaurant Eat Crow, but fail to come up with anything plausible.

It makes sense that it’s Anass’ favorite place to eat.

Eat Crow

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Part One, Helena, is HERE

Part Two, Gladys, is HERE

“We got a new girl today.” My blade presses through the taught, red skin. “She’s a bit tragic, I think.”

“And what makes you think that?” Rick asks, sipping his wine, eyes widening over the rim of the glass.

“Well, I’m not sure, really. She just seems so…independent.”

“And independent translates to tragic for you?” His eyes get even bigger.

“Okay, maybe she’s not tragic. Maybe her situation is tragic.”

“So, what’s her situation, exactly?”

Juice mists my fingers as the red pepper splits into halves and falls open on the cutting board.

“God, I don’t really know that either, I guess. Her mother didn’t tell us much.”

“Well, I think one of us is drunk, Steph cuz I don’t get it.” He grins and pours himself another.

Stephanie contemplates the thinning hair and mangle of bracelets, the easy blush and her eagerness to get the usually dreaded classroom antics out of the way.

“Honestly, there isn’t an issue to speak of. I just felt this, I dunno, gap between her and her mother. And Helena, well, she’s…ugh, okay I’m going back to my first thing – tragic.”

“But, is she hip?” Rick asks, swirling his wine.

I begin to answer before I realize he’s taking a stab, slipping in a joke about his once favorite band.

“Ha ha. You’re just hilarious.”

Rick circles the granite island and wraps his arms around her from behind.

“Steph, like you said, this Helena is…what was it? Independent? I’m pretty sure she’d want for you to enjoy your Friday night. Not to be thinking about her. I can guarantee she’s not thinking about you right now. Besides, your man here is gettin’ All Tore Up over the smell of that sauce.” He squeezes her a little tighter.

She pretends not to notice his second ‘Hip’ reference

Helena lies on the floor of her room, the pile of hair growing beside her, and wonders if Mrs. Statton will notice she’s added two new bracelets to her wrist.

Halved Red Pepper

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Although laundry as whole has not been a favorite pastime of mine, it has its rewards. Sure, I dread the collecting and sorting, but I don’t mind the washing and the folding quite as much. I despise the putting away, but love the fresh scent that I get to place in the drawers as a result of a task I saw through to completion.

However, I do find that things never quite look the same once they’ve been hung out to dry. That white shirt is never just as crisp and that black sweater always ends up a shade lighter than it once was.

It’s somewhat the same for me, when it comes to writing. I adore the process, but there are things about it that leave me feeling faded and worn.

That story that creeps in and convinces me it’s good, those lines, those words that shout, “I’m the one!” The subject that feels interesting and unique, the characters that promise to slay souls and sink ships.

They are silenced when suspended on the line to be judged. They become meek and mild when unpegged and pulled in. They stop clamoring for first and many times, let themselves fall down into the dirt below.

Luckily though, passion is persuasive and begs to be picked up, shaken out and washed again, as a clean slate offers endless possibilities.

You can read my (yet again) RUNNER UP short story HERE.

Fall 2013 Wow Contest Photo

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If you’d like to read Helena first, click here.

- – -

Ms. Harris perches at a small table, rolling melting ice cubes around in her short glass, vacantly staring in the direction of the empty chair across. Her lips purse as she surrenders to the realization he isn’t going to show…again.

“One more round, Gladys?”

It’s why she comes here. They know she’s not done, but are polite enough to ask as though she might be.

“Absolutely, Damien. Just one more.”

“Food today?”

“I’ve decided I won’t be here long.”

He gives the empty seat the same look she had, nods and heads to the bar.

Gladys. She’s never loved her name. Never understood how someone could look into a tiny newborn’s face and choose Gladys, but still, she prefers it to Ms. Harris. She’d been tempted many times over the years to return to her maiden name, but couldn’t bear to be separated from Helena, even if only by title.

She adjusts her blouse and crosses her legs.

Helena.

They certainly did not need to add different surnames to the long list of things they didn’t have in common. Besides, it would seem their name is all that held them together at times and Gladys never took that for granted.

She picks up her phone. No messages. She’s not surprised. He’s never had any respect.

Tempted to text her daughter, she puts the phone in her bag. The last thing Helena had said to her before entering the school this morning was; ‘I’m fine. Stay out of it.”

And, she’d tried. All these years she had tried to stay out of it, but had never quite managed. Had never had a choice. He’d made sure of that.

Damien returns with a whiskey on the rocks. Her second. And her last for today. Despite being unwanted, she’d be there waiting for Helena to emerge once the school day was done.

Eyeing up the shot, she waits for the ice to weaken the sting.

ice cubes 3

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If you’d like to read Gladys, which could be considered part two of Helena, click here after reading below:

- – -

It’s a small smile, but enough to show me that her two front teeth overlap. She stands a distance from her mother’s side, trying desperately not to look at either of us.

“I’m sure Helena will be welcomed with open arms, Ms. Harris. In fact, I’ll see to it that she is.”

I smile warmly, but the girl blushes from head to toe and moves farther away. She absently pulls her hair, strand by stand, dropping each one to the floor as it comes out at the root and it’s suddenly clear why there are sparse patches scattered across her scalp.

“Helena, stop.” Her mother’s whisper is sharp. “Remember what I said.”

I didn’t think it was possible, but the girl turns a deeper shade of red and I can’t help but wonder if she’ll be alright here.

“Nothing to worry about.” I reassure her. “You’ll be fine.”

Ms. Harris’ lips tighten. She turns to Helena and brushes roughly at her blazer, pulls on her tie.

“Well Helena, I’m off. And for heaven’s sake, keep your hands out of your hair.” With that she walks away, leaving the girl gaping after her. No hug. Not so much as a good-bye.

“You’ve got lovely hair.” I tell her as we head into my office. I walk to the chair behind my desk. “It’s so straight.” I reach up to my own curly mop and laugh.

She stands until I ask her to sit.

“We’ll head to your class when you’re ready.” I offer when I notice her eyeing the door.

“I’m ready.”

“Really? Because we can sit here for a while. Talk. There’s no rush.”

She pulls at her hair, adjusts her glasses and stands.

“No, I’d like to go now if that’s okay.”

The walk to Mr. Roy’s room is quiet, no one in the halls, just the sound of Helena’s loose laces slapping the floor.

“Your mother didn’t tell me much, I’m afraid.”

“I’m sorry about her. She’s like that.”

“Have you signed up for any of our teams? Or enrolled in the book club?”

“I suck at sports and book club is social suicide for someone like me. I don’t need any help being unpopular.” Her tone is well beyond her years.

We reach Mr. Roy’s door and Helena finally looks at me.

“I’m okay on my own.”

Several bracelets slide out from under her jacket sleeve and circle her thin wrist as she reaches for the doorknob.

“Helena…”

“Absolutely no jewelry allowed. Yeah, I know. I read the rules before I got here.”

“Yes, you’re right, but what I was going to say is, you know where my office is if you need anything.”

She enters the classroom and from the hall I hear her say; “What are you lookin’ at? Never seen a baldy, four-eyed, new girl before?”

I think of Ms. Harris and how Helena had stood so far away from her. How her mother had been so rough, how she hadn’t said good-bye. I think of her tight lips and her stern whisper and I know now, Helena has always been okay on her own.

bracelets

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I often come to this door, but have never turned the key.

Until this time.

This time, I press against the cold steel and watch my fingers curl around the handle and slowly twist. I can tell by the way I inch forward that I believe I’ll have the chance to choose whether or not I want to enter, after I see what’s inside.

But this is not so today.

The door opens and I’m in with such force that my cheeks draw back and my neck strains against the pressure.

It’s so dark.

Lack of light is not the issue. It’s well-lit. Sharply, in fact. Bright fluorescents so exposing, that I can see all of my smudges and every choice I’ve ever made.

Nonetheless, it’s dark in here.

The blaze of light showcases every setting, subject and sonnet I’ve ever engaged in and holds it up to the heat of the glare. The doubt of it all melts and it drips its hot, inky stain over my skin.

There’s often darkness in light.

But whether or not we turn the key, open the door, step inside or flip a switch, it goes both ways. There’s also light to be seen in the darkness.

We just have to imagine it’s there.

light in the dark 1

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