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Archive for the ‘Young Adult Literature’ Category

The corner store is peeling, its peach paint rolling down toward the dirt, dodging a lifetime of being stuck in one place. Where, she wonders, will the wind take it once it’s free?

 

She sits in the front seat of her car, grappling a family size bag of Ruffles, her only company the small sprouts of green budding through the dryness of the earthy lot. Alone, but for the weeds, she needlessly slumps below the driver’s window and listens to the hum of the wheels bumping through on the small town road behind her. The content of the bag is finally released with one more pull and she closes her eyes, breathing in through her nose, savoring the first crack of salty chip.

 

Bump, bump, bump.

 

She twists at her ring, normally a mindless habit, but her fingertips are oily and she’s forced to be conscious of the now slick metal. Her thoughts slip with the ring, back to long ago. Long ago when his photos and the few things he’d left behind had scorched through the night. Roaring flames shot from her mother’s bonfire as she had watched in fear, her legs extended and toes sinking deep into the mattress on which she’d stood, her pudgy hands gripping the windowsill with all her might. The back yard, lit only by the blaze, looked scarier than she’d ever seen it and she was relieved a week later, when she and her mother were forced to move to a studio apartment with no back yard.

 

Bump, bump, bump.

 

Her graduation ring, the one whisper from her father in all the years that have passed since that fiery night, marks her finger like the black circle left on the grass at the old house. She wears it anyway. It’s what she has—the ring, the pale pink box, the envelope he’d scribbled over in seeping blue ink and the outline of his face as he’d said good-bye to her in the low glow of her bedside lamp one last time.

 

Bump, bump, bump.

 

She could’ve walked. The store was close enough to home but she refuses to be caught in the streets clutching a bag of grease. No, relaxed in her car, shielded by its metallic shell, she’s safe from judgment. She knows it’s not right. The eating with reckless abandon, and often recites the many reasons she shouldn’t, but the crunch between her teeth, the crackle of fragments lining her cheeks and paving her tongue, bring her a sense of comfort she can, only in this moment, grasp. It is as simple, and as complex, as that.

 

But for a split second, she knows that she is, in more ways than one, like the chip—simultaneously curved and flat, plain and sparingly seasoned. One clench away from cracking and crumbling, breaking, but most of all, consumed by the lost, the disappointed and the dismissed.

 

She thinks of her mother, run off her feet at the deli, calling out Next! to the numbers that will reach into the hundreds today. She pictures her standing on the crowded bus, smelling like meat, her feet and aching back making the trek uphill from the stop to the small studio apartment they still call home. She knows she will pour herself a glass of wine and a bath and sit in the too small tub, knees exposed, pretending she’s anywhere but here.

 

She imagines her father’s image slithering down the peach wall facing her and sees him being lifted by the wind. To where, she does not know, but envisions it to be, of course, anywhere but here.

 

May bites into another chip and wonders what it must be like to dodge a lifetime of being stuck in one place. Her thoughts are as simple, and as complex as that.

 

Bump, bump, bump.

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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 seventeen HERE!

The gray, floor length sheers billow with the force of the floor vent below them as Gladys opens the front door. She pauses. Other than the curtains, there’s no movement in the house. No sound. No Helena.

Her heart flaps.

She shouldn’t have been away so long. She should have left more food in the fridge. She shouldn’t have left her to her own devices. Maybe she should have told her where she was going…why she was going. Or better yet, brought Helena with her.

Unsure, she tiptoes to the kitchen counter to set the groceries down. The crumple from the bags scratches against the silence and suddenly, she feels like she’s wearing a buttoned-up raincoat on a hot day. Trapped sweat makes its way down her back as the realization that she must check Helena’s room engulfs her.

Blurry images of a face, glossy-eyed with blue-lined lips, pool at the bottom of Gladys’ spine soaking into the waistband of her jeans. Swills of pills, strewn bottles, creased sheets and dangling fingers wade through her watery mind. Flashes of flowers and cascades of cards, torrents of tears and wallows of whiskey wash over her, muddling at her feet.

She puts the signed papers on the counter beside one of the brown sacs and sits on the cool of the waxy tiles. She’d almost made it. So close only to have it whipped away. In an instant. The reason she’s still here. The reason she still tries. The reason she’s still a Harris, withdrawn.

But she remembers Sharona. Her tale of the policeman and his walkie talkie.

Gladys heaves her heaviness off the floor and flies to the answering machine, fumbling to push the stiff play button with its insistent flashing light.

No, she won’t find Helena in her bed. There will only be the aching, hollow space where she had once been.

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The Band-Aids are blue and there are four that I can see, one masking each little knee poking from below her skirt’s hem and one on each elbow like patches covering holes on an old man’s cardigan. The rest are hidden, but I know they’re there. They’re always there.

Back one night as she lay on her firm cot, she’d whispered into the lamp’s soft glow; “They can change, you know. When I’m happy, they turn purple. It’s like magic.”

I’d stayed very still, blocking the breaths of the nine other girls asleep in the room, silently willing Evie to share more secrets.

“But they’ve been blue for a really long time.” She’d sighed before drifting off.

Alone now, we sit facing one another, and she scans my expression. I see her brown eyes, upturned and massive through strands of mousy hair. Her lips look dry and her petite hands are folded in her lap. Her eyes dart from me to Jiffy who is trying his best not to squirm.

I’d planned various greetings while waiting for them to arrive today, even said them aloud while fussing with the fruit bowl, but when the doorbell rang, I’d merely opened it and stood, my gaze dropping from the social worker’s eager eyes to Evie, her backpack and her Band-Aids. She seemed even more fragile out here in the big world and everything I thought I’d say had left me.

My heart thumps. What do I do with this helpless creature? Adopting Jiffy was so different. A single pat had sparked instant love. But this? I suddenly feel like a fraud.

When I finally stand, she pulls herself smaller, shrinking into the chair’s dark corner.

Resisting the urge to scoop her up like a curly new pup, I present Jiffy instead. “Want to hold him? He loves kids.”

She shakes her head, unfolds her hands and gathers her skirt into two mid-thigh rosettes.

“It’s okay,” I assure her. “He might want to get to know you first anyway. He’s smart like that.”

I smile and her body seems to grow just a tiny bit.

“You should definitely come see your room though. I think you’ll like it in there. At least, I hope so. I read every decorating magazine out trying to make it look cool.”

She doesn’t laugh, but gently leans over and picks up her backpack. It’s a small victory.

I walk delicately terrified she’ll break along the way, but when I open the door, I hear her draw a quiet breath behind me.

It’s cliché, really. A room much like the ones most girls her age should find themselves in; shades of lavender, a single bed, a fluffy rug and an old bookshelf I’d bought at a yard sale up the street. I’d been pleased with my efforts but now that she’s here, they somehow seem not enough.

My doubt mounts as she walks in, drops her knapsack and kneels in front of the crammed bookcase.

“I’ve never owned a book,” she says in a Christmas morning kind of whisper. “We weren’t allowed to take them out of the reading room in foster care.”

“Which one was your favorite?” I ask, hoping I’ve masked the sadness in my voice.

“I don’t know what it was called,” she answers. “The cover was ripped.” She picks up one of the books I bought at the same yard sale as the shelves and runs her hand across the front. I can see she’s already lost in it.

I set Jiffy down and am amazed when he doesn’t rush at her like he would anyone else. We watch in silence as she takes the book over to the big beanbag and sinks in. It’s like she forgets we’re here. Her body becomes so engulfed in the chair’s violet fabric all I can see are the milky cotton socks spilled around her ankles.

I sneak away to make some lunch. She must be hungry and I’m sure I’ve burned through a thousand calories by now my heart rate is so high.

I smooth jam over bread, but can’t help myself and tiptoe back to Evie’s room for a peek. I find her and Jiff asleep on the beanbag and as I move Evie’s backpack out of the way, a frayed, coverless book falls out onto the floor. Stooping to pick it up, I notice she’s scribbled over her blue Band-Aids with a pink hi-liter, turning them a mottled purple.

“It is magic.” I whisper.

Magic Purple Band-Aids

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Sad and hidden

She wrapped herself in the crooks of looks and nooks of books, cloaked her face with hair misplaced, hid her smile, for a while, in the cover of much denial.

She grew small it seemed, making her way, suppressing things dreamed. They laughed at things she thought she’d hid, talked of things she never really did.

Friends were enemies and enemies the same, taunted by voices not knowing her name. Lonely a thing she came to grasp well, a soft blanket she knit out of personal hell.

She didn’t know kind and missed out on close, pieces of heart limply strung by a ghost.

Until a day one reached out, offered the help she’d lived without.  A strong hand extended, a friendship made, a thing never had, a wish that wouldn’t fade.

It’s all it took to live and love, because of this she rose above…the hurt, the pain all overcame, the weak, the cursed, all reversed.

She ate from the orchards of strength and pride, found a new life, chose to decide…to believe she had worth and deserved a new birth, to start things anew, become what is true.

Not one to forget what it is to be small; she’ll be there when needed, a net for a fall.

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There are things no one knows and never need know.  They’re merely splintered shards that have been scattered like chicken feed under the sofa, behind the door…deep in the woods at the back of the house.

And there, they should stay.

Plucking them out of obscurity, chancing their sharpness will cut my thickened skin is needless.  No one knows they’re there.  Leave them.

Stare at the stars.  Stay perfectly still.

I tell myself that I believe the things I don’t know won’t hurt me.  That I believe what I didn’t see can’t cry out.  I leave the unknown to weaken and wither, trusting the sharp edges will dull and diminish in hiding.

I once thought my shards were secrets, but I’ve learned that secrets are soft lips pressed against matted hair and light, breathy whispers in curious ears.  They are flighty things meant to be shared by children on gravel fields and women huddled in coffeehouses.

There are no screams, only choked murmurs I can barely make-out, suspended in the air and like dead falling leaves they cover the ground in cracked fragments all around me.

No, I don’t have secrets.  My shards slither in from the trees and my heart-racing, sweat-waking terror will be whispered to no one.

Silence.

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