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A solution for nothing and not a thing to be solved, death loses him.

From the top of the hill, the tall fawn grass waves in the wind like the fringes we used to cut into the bottoms of our brown-bag puppets. We’d slice deep into the paper openings, my sister and I, making long hula skirts for the girls and stunted choppy shorts for the boys. Our stage, a bent up box, fashioned a Broadway buzz we’d only ever heard of, with its wide-open flaps draped in red.

The audience, made of the few neighborhood kids we’d manage to rope in, would wait while we tried desperately to remember our lines. More often than not, we’d end up filling the theatre that was our backyard with unplanned garbles and hysterical giggles ⎯both theirs and ours.

I look down at him now, from my perch on the hill, and although his feet are firmly set in the dark tousled dirt, he doesn’t know where he stands. He can’t fix this, so his hands are lost at his sides, compulsively ducking in and out of his trouser pockets. Weight shifts from one side to the other, but stays with him. Unable to shake it, he glances uphill, towards me.

We’d fought this morning⎯today of all days. Awakened from my fitful sleep by haunting catheter fuck-ups, I was tired and beyond sensible words, dreaming of broken needle tips, embedded and unreachable beneath her veiny skin. I’d envisioned the consequential surgeries and probable infections they would cause and the nightmare had stirred my sleepy heart, sending it stampeding through my ribs.

My eyes raced to find his for comfort, but as soon as he’d seen my sweat-glazed face shrouded in twisted sheets, impatience had crossed his own.

“You don’t have to worry about this anymore, Syd,” he’d said. “No more long days or late nights. We should move past it. We can move on.”

I’d looked away, sobbing. Crying until my softened soul frosted into a hard shell, like melted chocolate over ice cream.

“We?” We can move on?”

“Syd, I…”

We can’t do anything, Mark. Including care for my sister. That was me, not we.”

“That’s not fair, Sydney. I was here.”

“Yeah, here. Not there.”

I’d wanted to run. Put a literal distance between us, but I couldn’t. The day had different plans.
He became unrecognizable through my tear-clouded gaze and I’d dug my heels deep into the mattress, pushing against the headboard as tight as I could.

He’d sighed.

I’d buried myself in the useless warmth of the duvet, hoping he’d slide under and hold me, but when I heard the shower running, I’d dragged myself out to face the black buttoned blouse and matching skirt that darkened my closet door.

The stalky grass tickles my legs and I lift my bare feet up in the air. My toenails, normally primped and polished, are chipped and ragged⎯the skin on my shins, dry and scaly and suddenly, I can’t remember the last time I’d had more than a sip of water to wash down a Valium. My mouth is as dry as the Sahara.

“Do they make me look fat?” Stacey had joked as she slipped them over her long, twiggy fingers. I’d spent hours picking them out. Trying on pair after pair, imagining how they’d feel if my fingers were half the width. Finding a pair slim enough had been a challenging task and I’d taken great care so as not to stretch the fine black leather. But when she’d pulled them over her own hands, they’d fit, quite compassionately, like a glove.

“Well, they’re beautiful, but so are your hands.” I’d said. “I don’t think you have anything to cover up.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Stacey had balked. “I could be a hand double for Skeletor.”

As dramatic as she was, she’d earned it.

And, it was the truth.

I hold my hands up to the sun and study the opaque bones nestled inside the tangerine translucence of my own plump flesh⎯like Stacey’s hands are a part of mine. I slide back into my shoes, slap my sister’s well-worn gloves across my palm and for the first time in months, I’m light as I walk down the hillside.

After all, death is a solution for nothing and not a thing to be solved.

I can move on.

hands holding the sun at dawn

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Well, as often happens, I’m writing a post I didn’t plan on today. All right, if we’re splitting hairs, I don’t really plan any of them. However, I do dream of each one and fantasize about what I’m going to write before I write it, so that’s something, isn’t it?

I thought today I’d be penning some kind of sassy short⎯punchy and poignant, complete with a catchy, soul-shaking moral. Ideas came to me all week. Tricky ideas fooling me into thinking I’d remember them without jotting them down. Slippery ideas that slurped their tendrils back in as quickly as they’d appeared, stirring my creative juices.

Nope. No stories today.

Today, I am being inspired by crappy content. Yup. The crappier the better.

If you’re an aspiring writer, you may already know what I’m hinting at. You may know, without me having to explain, because you’ve been here. You are here. You live here.

Have you ever watched a movie or read a book and thought, how on God’s green earth is this out there for all to see? Who thought this was a good idea? and then, been shocked when you came up with the answer…two people. At least two people on the ground floor had to think this was a good idea⎯the creator and the buyer.

Good grief, Charlie Brown.

I know you’ve had these very thoughts. And not only have you marveled (and lamented) at the acceptance of these at best questionable works, but you have sworn that even your most embarrassing first drafts are better than them.

And I’m sure they are.

You can see where I’m going here. The very thing that deters our belief in the system can also be an open door. It may not be well-marked or easy to find, but there is clearly a way in.

No, the published crap might not seem fair, but we can certainly use it to fortify our faith.

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When my daughter was four, I made her a promise. She was distraught over her dad leaving for a business trip and I told her she could sleep with me anytime he was away.

From. Then. On.

And. She. Did.

She has slept beside me, over the past nine and half years many, many times. More times than I can count. She kicks, punches, head butts and talks. She grinds her teeth reminding me the stresses she’s under and in short, freaks me right out.

But I’m sure you know what I’m going to say. I love having her with me. I love her with ever fiber of my being and I wouldn’t change any of it for the world.

Because one day, she won’t be beside me.

Before I know it, my girl, the last baby of my brood will be off and out on her own, learning, living and leaving. Breaking free from the nest I have so carefully constructed around her.

I’ve been trying to write this post for a week now but it’s been difficult. Sure, I’ve been busy. In fact, I’ve barely had a moment’s peace. It’s been one job after another⎯never short of something to keep me busy. Which is weird, because I’m down one kid. You’d think I’d have at least a third more time.

Clearly, that’s not how it works.

My boy sailed off to University last week, and I don’t know how to feel. I know what I’m supposed to feel, but how do I really feel? Sad? Forlorn? Deserted? Happy? Proud? Excited? Broke.

Please note⎯that last one isn’t a question.

Truth be told, any mere mortal who reaches this stage in life will undoubtedly feel a cocktail of these emotions but hopefully, will be graced with one overwhelming standout⎯elation. We did it! We raised a child that not only meets the requirements of an excellent school, but one that also wants to go.

Rah, rah us!

Yes, it’s inevitable. Our kids will leave us. They may be eighteen. They may be older. They may be younger. Or heaven forbid, we might have to throw them out by the collar, but eventually they will leave.

In the meantime, I wonder if Ava and I can squeeze into that twin extra long…

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She moves through the office of pencil skirts, short shorts and barely-there bottoms, feeling like her very walk is an apology on behalf of women with thick ankles and swaying backsides everywhere. She hugs the files to her chest, hoping they cover what should probably be the least of her worries and tries to hold her head high.

She gets as far as the third cubicle.

Sure that Monica produces a snicker, certain Shelley looks up from her ledgers and giggles, mortified that Terry might’ve just let out one big howl⎯she looks down at her feet.

And walks on.

She endures growing consciousness with every step. Aware that the fabric in her own knee length skirt bunches with every movement, mindful no one wears hose anymore as her own cause her to sweat right through her high-wasted undies, regretful of the tightish blouse she’d questioned herself on twice this morning before eventually locking her apartment door with a sigh.

Today is no different than yesterday or the day before or the day before that. Her clothes never fit right. Never look right. Never, ever, feel right. She doesn’t walk the aisles with the ease the other women do. She doesn’t head in early to stand at the Keurig allowing everyone to acknowledge her new, may as well be painted on, skinny jeans.

Why did she chose an office where every day is Friday?

No, she comes in early to clamber into her chair and hide behind her desk before anyone else gets in. She waits well past much needed bathroom breaks, hoping for a clear coast and sits parched long after everyone else is off to be fed and watered.

“Hey, Dot. Sitting in again?”

Her boss is a tall man⎯thin and wiry, looming over her desk like a flag at full-mast.

“Oh, yeah, I guess. Just finishing these last reports.”

He glances at all the other desks sprinkled with open files, papers askew, clearly nowhere near completion.

“In a dream world, your co-workers would do the same.” He laughs.

“Well, we can’t all be perfect,” she jokes nervously.

She’s good at her job. Gets her work done. She’s thorough, accurate and always on time. She works through her lunch and stays late without complaining. She is perpetually professional and despite what she feels is a less than desirable façade; her appearance is unfailingly tidy.

“So true.” He smiles. “Ah, well I hope you get time to eat at some point today. I wouldn’t want you fading away.”

Her face is a fiery inferno. Fading away? Is he making fun of her now too?

With shaky hands hidden below the desk’s surface, she tries desperately to smooth out the fabric covering her belly. She pulls her body out of its slouch and shifts in her chair.

“No chance,” she replies uneasily. “I’m hardly that fragile.”

Mr. Brig looks her up and down and then directly in the eye.

“Don’t underestimate yourself, Dot.”

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Unearthly quiet fills creeks and crevices. Swings sway loosely in the intermittent wind, their rusty chains straining against the tongue-tied backdrop. They make their way through littered streets, Luna’s fingers loosely curved around Elian’s palm like the branches of a wallowing willow.

 

“My feet are so sore,” she says sadly, stooping to poke a finger down the back of her slack boot.

 

He knows they’re too big, but a good score nonetheless. There they’d been, waiting for him it seemed, on the red and gold foyer rug. He’d swung open the heavy double doors and their soft leather had slouched, making them look half as tall, their laces still strong and intact.

 

He’d found them in a house, clearly once cozy and comforting, now forlorn and deserted. Unable to face a childless life, many had fled the outbreak thrust upon them, running in search of a life restored. Luna had long been wearing sandals that barely clung to her feet and with winter approaching, he’d known that despite the size difference they were meant for her.

 

Anything left behind is fair game as far as he is concerned.

 

They come upon the market with its soaped out windows now caked in dirt. A yellowed newspaper lounges on the cement, lazily waving in the breeze.

 

“Won’t be much in there,” she smiles a little. Her hair, lit by the cold sun, looks like the soft caramel he used to eat.

 

Panic had ensued as missing person reports increased by the day. Hours had dissolved into a myriad of search and rescues, candlelight vigils, prayers and séances. Confusion and chaos became a way to survive and finally, angst and torment, depression and mourning, a way of life.

 

“It’s boarded for a reason.”

 

Elian has always been wise but has had to hone his wits since this all began. He is responsible for Luna and will protect her with his life. However, he needs to ensure it doesn’t come to that. He must remain with her and avoid any risk that might separate them.

 

He walks Luna over to a dormant vending machine and has her lean against it while he checks the perimeter of the market. Once he decides it’s safe, he returns and begins prying off the boards that have been haphazardly slapped over the entryway. They come off easily enough but he feels Luna watching him intently and is again reminded why he needs to maintain his strength.

 

As he wrenches the last board, she is at his side, wiping imaginary sweat from his brow, anything to stop the useless feeling that often overcomes her.

 

She coughs as a billow of grime hits them in the face.

 

On the second day of what they now call The Salvage, Luna’s younger brother and sister had disappeared. Like so many others, gone without a trace. After months of searching and hoping her parents had decided to journey on in pursuit of peace, maybe to the next town, perhaps across the ocean, they didn’t know, but Luna would not go with them.

 

She and Elian had taken over the family home, but were forced to leave when it became overrun with drug-toting squatters. Again, Elian had been wise in realizing it wasn’t worth the fight. He’d had to pull Luna by the arm for miles while she sobbed, devastated her siblings might return to the nightmare she’d left behind.

 

“Normally, I’d say after you, but in this case…” Elian steps inside and bats away the cobwebs that immediately engulf his face.

 

There had been many town meetings in which ideas were thrown about. Terrified mothers worried there’d been a mass killing and the bodies just hadn’t been found. Fathers held their shotguns at the ready, waiting for whoever had taken what wasn’t theirs, to return.

 

It was a long time before sense was made, but bit-by-bit, the town’s people had little choice than to admit the children now gone were conceived without love. They were the ones that had grown from desperation or greed – a marriage that needed repairing or a hole that had to be filled. At times, money had been the motivator or sadly, some were born an appointed whipping post.

 

The women, eager to replace what had been lost, tried to conceive through despair but their loveless attempts were no longer fruitful.

 

Luna follows behind Elian as he clears a path. Once inside, they stop in awe. Canned goods and jars of jellies practically glow on the shelves.

 

Elian opens a package and spreads a thin plastic tablecloth over the dirty floor.

 

“You’re my everything, Luna.” He says watching his wife stroke her pregnant belly.

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Once finished the rigors of publicly posting snippets of a short story, while in the process of writing it, what does one do?

 

Why…torment one’s self further, of course.

 

You must know (RIGHT?) that I just finished what impulsively morphed into a saga of troubled teens, pseudo mothers, absent fathers, confused counselors, hapless husbands, perverted Principals and one maniacal monster.

 

All in a brief 8400 words.

 

I started with my usual – a short shot. The kind you don’t swallow until the end, it’s that quick. And, as often happens, a few rowdies began pounding the bar, demanding more upon reaching the bottom of the glass.

 

And I was gonna shut ‘em down.

 

Secretly, I love it when you ask for more, but work with me.

 

“Ah, stop yer whingin’.” I said. (Hey, no need to freak out. Whinge is an actual word and because I was born in the UK, I’ve decided I’m perfectly welcome to use it) “Lemme me alone, kid. Here’s a lollipop. Go on now, scram.” (This is where I tousle your hair in case you weren’t imagining it already)

 

But Helena was melting ice, leaving a ring of reminders no matter where I laid my hat. Helena, who, in the initial mix, was a Shirley Temple but had poured herself into a Kahlua Mudslide by saga’s close. And sometimes the rowdies are right. Helena did deserve to be wiped up and I tried. Tried, but didn’t succeed and in the end, she was left with cloudy glasses and tarnished brass, unsalted peanuts (!) and sticky tiles. The barmaid’s apron, Helena’s world, was still full of holes, stains and hanging threads.

 

This can happen when we blog a story this way. It comes out differently than it would were we keeping it all to ourselves until the very end. There’s a want to serve. And to do it in a reasonably speedy fashion. Before interest is lost. Before, heaven forbid, characters are forgotten. Before someone steps out for a hit of Espresso due to our long shift changes lulling them to sleep.

 

Real-time readers can alter the way we think. Let’s face it, when writing a novel and stowing it on our computer, we’re aware that it may never get read. Clearly far from the dream, but it is the sometimes delectable fantasy that comes with our false sense of seclusion.

 

There’s the issue of being unable to act on hindsight.

 

No glossy red gumboots and matching raincoat if we’ve previously raved about the blinding hot sun. No right if we’ve already written the wrong. Too late – sold and bought, sprouted and planted. Those are just little things, but you get the idea.

 

During my progression, I found it difficult to write hard truths. Never a good quality to be found in a writer. I’d hesitate, feeling it might be too much for the blogosphere. Too heavy. Too dark. Too sad. Too real.

 

I let likes or lack of, influence my psyche.

 

I rushed to the finish line in a race against me, myself and I.

 

BUT…the positives far outweigh the negatives.

 

I wrote! I wrote 8400 words! With great abandon (for the most part). It was NaNoWriMo’esque and it was freeing. A quantity, not quality sort of liberty. The luxury in knowing I was simply laying a foundation. That I’d be able to return with walls and doors and windows was nothing less than exuberating.

 

And then there’s the feedback. Religious readers of every word, never failing to comment (thanks, mum) are inspiring to say the least. Being told you’ve created vivid imagery and mind-haunting characters…hooking people. It’s all so addictive motivating.

 

I hope your head aches for Helena because that my friends, is the sign of a great night out.

 

Aspirin’s on me.

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*This piece is part of an ongoing short story*

You can read parts one through nineteen HERE!

alive

Gladys can see what looks like the school Principal standing outside the doorway of the hospital room. He almost looks like he’s on watch – him against whatever dares try and make its way in.

But when she finally makes her way down the long, glossy corridor, Gladys can see that Mr. Anass is anything but on guard. His eyes are moist and his cheeks, slack. His face is so forlorn it immediately brings tears to Gladys’ eyes.

“Good evening, Ms. Harris.”

Gladys can’t help but think that referring to it as good is pushing it.

“Hello, Mr. Anass. I didn’t expect to see you here.”

He looks at the floor.

“Well, school business and everything.”

It’s clear to Gladys that that end of things could have been dealt with elsewhere, would’ve already been taken care of. He has no need to be here. Anass is here because he’s chosen to be.

“Yeah, I guess that puts you in the middle, doesn’t it. I’m sorry about that.”

“No, no. I, uh, am happy to be…” He stops. “Happy is the wrong word. I’m thankful to be of some service.”

“Can I go in?”

“Helena’s in there.” He gestures with his head towards the door behind him. “Under normal circumstances, it’s just immediate family, but since that’s not possible…”

They exchange a glance and Gladys swallows past the lump in her throat before reaching out to push open the dense yellow door.

It’s quiet in the room until a sharp beep from the life support machine pierces the air. Bitty lies still in the bed apart from the small, slow rise and fall of her chest under the delicate, light blue sheet. Her face is bruised and swollen. Her eyes sharp slits, her hands at her sides, cut and battered.

‘Shit,” breathes Gladys.

“She’s in a coma.” Helena whispers.

“What the hell happened?”

“Good evening, Ms. Harris.”

Again, with the good crap.

“My name is Stephanie Statton. We’ve met before. I’m sure you remember. And I’ve called a couple of times as well…left messages on your machine.”

The tall willow of a woman rises from her chair in the dark corner and takes a step towards her, extending her right hand, which Gladys shakes distractedly.

“What is going on? What’s happened to this poor girl? Who is she?”

“My friend.” Helena says dryly. “She’s my only friend.”

“I should explain, Ms. Harris.”

“Damn right, you should explain. You had me thinking it might be my daughter in this bed. Your message was so unclear.”

“I really do apologize. I was…well, I was panicked, quite frankly, but you’re right. I should have left more detail.”

Gladys looks at Helena and her heart swells. She’s okay. Still here. Still hers.

“I happened to be with Helena when the call came in. I knew she and Bettina had become friendly and I thought, considering Helena’s circumstances…and I guess, Bettina’s, that she should come along.”

“Helena’s circumstances?”

Mrs. Statton reaches into her bag and slides Helena’s essay out of one of the pockets.

“This is what I’ve been calling you about. I don’t know how much you’re aware of.”

“Okay,” Gladys lets out a frustrated sigh. “I’m not sure this is the time or the place. This poor girl,” she points towards Bitty’s beaten body, “is obviously fighting for her life.”

“She tried to end her life.” Helena says quietly.

“What? She did this to herself?”

“Well, no.” Mrs. Statton begins to explain. “It’s more complicated than that. Please bear with me. I’m only just piecing it all together myself through what I’m hearing from the police. Bettina has been…”

“Bitty,” Helena croaks. “She’s Bitty. Not Bettina.”

Mrs. Statton takes a breath.

“Yes, you’re right. Bitty has been on her own for some time. She used the address of a house where she dog sits occasionally to register for school, but doesn’t actually live there, we’ve since found out. She lives in a hostel. Pays for it through the dog grooming and I guess, the occasional sitting job.”

“She’s all on her own? No family?”

“Another piece we’re learning.” Mrs. Statton advises. “Her mother threw her out when an Uncle, and that title is questionable, got too close to Betti…Bitty. She never went back.”

“I don’t get it. Why this…now?”

“Her mother.” Helena says, still staring at Bitty.

“Her mother?” Gladys is even more baffled.

“Her mother came looking for her.” Mrs. Statton’s voice is working hard at sounding calm. “The Uncle finally ditched her and she decided Bitty was to blame. But Bitty wasn’t having it and when the mom realized she was being challenged she went off the deep end. Beat her daughter senseless, right there in the hostel room. Apparently slammed her face into the porcelain sink.” Stephanie gives up the battle and her voice breaks. “She took some cash from the room before she left, but what she didn’t realize was that a bottle of Vicodin had fallen out of her purse.”

“She swallowed every pill.” Helena is bent at the waist, twisting her hair, a shadow of a mass forming at her feet.

“God, it’s so awful I can’t even imagine.” Gladys looks from Mrs. Statton to Helena. “But I’m sorry. I still don’t understand the connection with Helena, other than, as you say, they’ve become friendly.”

Mrs. Statton looks to Helena and gets what Gladys deems as permission.

“Ms. Harris, do you know why Helena wears those bracelets?”

Confusion passes over Gladys’ features.

“She likes them? I mean…I know I bought one of them for her at the Dollarama. That one with the crosses. Remember Helena?”

“I remember.” Helena does not look up.

“Ms. Harris, she uses the bracelets to cover a scar. A scar I’m guessing you’re unaware of.”

“A scar? What kind of scar? Helena, what did you do?”

“Nothing. I stopped. I fixed it.” She finally looks away from Bitty and Gladys can see that this is about so much more than bracelets and scars.

“You got stuck with me. You think I don’t know, but I do.”

“Helena, I was never…”

“He left me.” She chokes, her quiet demeanor vanishing. He left me and he left you with me…with no choice.

“There’s always a choice, honey.”

“You drink because of me!” Helena is now pulling hair out by the tufts.

“Helena, I drink because of him. You’re the reason I don’t drink more.”

“Why would you want me? Helena practically screeches. “Why would I stick around for this?” She stands and her arms open at her sides, palms facing the ceiling in defiant question, bracelets swinging with the force of her movement. “You’re not even my mother.”

Mrs. Statton tries to quell the sound of her sharp breath.

The long, vertical scar on the underside of Helena’s wrist becomes visible and no one speaks for a moment. Even in her frenzy, Helena is aware that she and Gladys now share the wound.

Gladys swallows. Her mouth is dry and there is a pounding at her temples, a bellow for alcohol. Her hands shake as she takes the now slightly rumpled documents from her purse.

“I am your mother, Helena. He signed. Today.”

Helena pulls her flannel shirt tight around her chest.

“Signed?”

“I’ve been trying for years. It’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

What did you want?”

You, honey. When I first met your father, I knew he didn’t really love me. He was using me to raise you after your mother died, but I didn’t care. I loved you and that’s all that mattered to me.”

Helena sniffles, kicks at the hair on the floor and pulls her shirt tighter.

“He ditched you with me. I wasn’t born yesterday.”

“No, he was leaving me and he was going take you. Find someone else. I begged him to let me have you.”

“Then why was it so hard to get him to sign me over?”’

“Oh, sweetheart. I know it’s tough to understand, but the right thing isn’t always the easiest thing. No matter what, it would be difficult to give up your child. To admit that you’re not what’s best for them.”

Helena looks back at Bitty. Her face bruised beyond recognition, the tubes and pumps trailing off the bed, the sucking sounds of machinery replacing her lungs and suddenly she understands.

Like her own scar, Bitty’s tattoo means she’s alive.

~ The End ~

 

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