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Archive for the ‘Young Adult Literature’ Category

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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My bag drops in a frayed heap by the front door and I walk the squeaky floorboards leading to the kitchen, my boots leaving sloppy prints on the dusty wood.  A pot caked in hardened cheese and bits of pasta, a crumb-covered counter and two crimson stained bottles in the sink show me that today, like most days, time has stood still inside my house.

“Sheila?” I call just loud enough to be able to say I did.

Pulling back a clump of dark wet hair from between my lips, I throw bread down on top of the stale crumbs and snag the peanut butter out of the cupboard.  Searching the fridge for jam, I realize there’s no point, nothing will have changed since this morning.  I smear extra peanut butter on one of the slices before whacking the two together.  We don’t cut crusts in this house.  I try to live by “waste not, want not” but seem to come up short most of the time.

I sit at the cluttered table as Eden leaps up ready to share, sending several unopened bills to the floor.  “No, no, babe.  I can’t.”  The cat rubs her shoddy fur against my sharp wrist bone and meows a feeble yowl.  “Sorry, Shitty Kitty,” I lean in to kiss her forehead, “I’m just too hungry to share today.”

“Shitty Kitty” had become my name for Eden when, years ago, Sheila had stumbled over her.  Angry, she’d booted the cat half way across the room and shrilled; “Get out ya goddamn piece of shit!”  Slurring; “Go da hell,” She’d slumped onto the couch and rubbed at her barely bashed shin.  When Sheila had finally crashed, the cat limped out from under a chair.  I’d picked her up and stroking her chin I’d whispered; “Yeah, but you’re my goddamn shitty kitty.”

I leave the plate for Eden to lick, grab my satchel and head upstairs.  As always, I try not to look as I pass her door but I catch a glimpse of Sheila’s bare leg wilting off the side of the bed.  Her narrow calve is as anemic as the paint on her walls.  It’s stark and still against her dark sheets, a hostage.

I open the door to my own murky room.  It groans at being forced to appear welcoming.  The light from the floor lamp muted with a grey silk scarf, casts moon glow off its dark surroundings.

Smearing the sooty liquid over my walls and ceiling way back when had been calming and the smell of fresh paint had blessed me with a welcome high.  Wiping out the lavender of younger years had felt like I was burying something I never wanted to see again and now the fragrant incense that I smoldered nightly to battle the wafts of Sheila’s stale alcohol smothered even that indulgence.

She never comes in here.  Not any more.  My room affords me numbness but for her, it is the opposite.  For Sheila, it threatens to wrench out the ugly from her booze-blunted brain.  The hurt and the pain toy with the corners of her waxy, Crayola-red lips.  Nightmares of the past curl their wicked fingers at her brow and flicker in her vacant eyes.  No, Sheila never comes close to my door unless she is fraught for something only I can give or get.

I drop onto the bed, bootlaces dangling, tongues drooping; my satchel landing beside me.  Smatterings of Eden’s hair cover my black leggings.  My long, white shirt is damp and my ribs push at the thin cotton.

Sheila is moving now, her bare feet making slow slapping sounds on the worn wood.  She stops at her end of the hall and I wait, ribs rising and falling.

“Liv? You home?”  Her voice is grave and marred by the icepick of a headache that comes with a hangover.  “Olivia! Are, you, home?”

“I called, Ma.  You didn’t answer.  What more d’ya want?”

Sheila is exquisite.  Her auburn hair drips over her pale shoulders and down her back in thick, wispy tendrils; her skin, porcelain without a lick of paint despite her self-sabotage attempts over the past five years.

“Throw the frozen Lasagna in, would’ya?”

We have frozen lasagna three nights a week.  That’s how long one tray of it lasts the two of us.  Sheila eats like a bird.

“Yeah, Ma.  I’ll get to it in a minute.”  I pause, knowing what’s coming next.

“And Liv?  Grab me the Advil and a glass of water.”

“Sure, Ma.  Whatever you want.”

Through the crack in the doorway I see her frail wrist and delicate fingers drifting back into lock-up.

I heave myself up from the bed, grab a dry shirt and throw my hair up in a bun as I saunter back downstairs.

Oven at 450, I open the freezer and take the Lasagna out, leaving it empty.  There will be a shiny new foil tray when Sheila gives me enough money to buy another one next week.

I fill a glass from the tap and bring the ever-present Advil back up the stairs.

Men loved Sheila.  Boyfriends used to come and go.  She was the kind of woman they could look after, protect.  She made them feel strong, in control.  She made them…powerful.

As I reach her door, the pills rattle in my hand and just like that, I’m ten again, carrying medicine to her, back when she only needed it once in a blue moon.  Her sheets were light then and matched my dress.  Lavender was her favorite color and I’d chosen it that morning to please her.  He was lying beside her, both of them face down and much like today, her leg had hung over the side.  I remember admiring her flawless skin and dainty, painted toenails.  White particles hovered all around them making my kid mind dream of snow.  Sun lit them both like gossamer angels.  Even at ten, I’d understood the irony.

Leaving the bottle and the water on her nightstand, I’d quietly backed out of the room not wanting to wake them.

I hadn’t realized my Mother had woken that morning, just as I was disappearing.  She’d lifted her head, about to call out to me, maybe even to ask for a cuddle, but instead, her bleary eyes had met with the three dark red splotches I hadn’t known I’d dripped onto her floor.  It wasn’t until I’d gone to the bathroom later that day that I’d discovered the blood and frantically scrubbed at the stains, ashamed she might see.

There were no more men after that and no more Mommy; just Sheila, me and the bottles; bottles of booze, bottles of pills, bottles of feelings we’d never discussed.  She blames herself.  I know that.  I blame him.  He knows that.

I’d tried my best to smother the lavender for her.  Turns out it’s a hardy vine.  I’d killed the color, but destruction had flourished and I will always blame myself.  No one knows that.

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